Serena, Djokovic, Murray All Win To Stay Alive

WASHINGTON, August 25, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

When 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams made her Western & Southern Open debut in New York on Monday afternoon, she probably wasn’t expecting to be pushed by unheralded, power-hitting Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

When their two-hour and 48-minute three-set marathon ended on the Grandstand court, the No. 3 seed Williams prevailed – overcoming all of the obstacles she faced. The two-time Western & Southern Open champion held off the 72nd-ranked Rus, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (0).

It was the longest match the 38-year-old Williams had played since a first-round defeat against Virginie Razzano at the 2012 French Open, and each of the four matches she’s contested since returning to the WTA circuit after a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic have been three-setters. Williams is 3-1.

The win advanced Williams into Tuesday’s round of 16 against 13th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who handled No. 33 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 6-4, 7-6 (9).

During her chill virtual press conference, a relaxed and smiling Williams remarked, “Now I feel like I have passed that test, and now I can pass the test at the Open, playing Ashe Stadium.

“At one point I was pumping my fist and saying, ‘Come on!’ I had a crowd in my head or something! It was actually funny to me. I don’t know. For me, it was like there was a crowd there.”

When she was asked to describe what it was like to play inside the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, bereft of fans cheering for her, Williams said, “It’s a different atmosphere. It’s different. I don’t know. it feels like I’m back in, like, juniors but at a bigger level in a weird way, because it brings you back to the ’80s. Yeah. Wow, that’s a long time ago.”

While the third seed Williams withstood the threat of an upset, unlike what happened Sunday evening to No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova and No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin, another prominent seed was knocked out of the women’s draw when sixth seed Petra Kvitova, who is ranked World No. 12, lost to No. 48 Marie Bouzkova in an all-Czech battle. The 22-year-old Bouzkova, who was a quarterfinalist two weeks ago in Lexington, rallied to win against Kvitova, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, in two hours and 25 minutes. It was Bouzkova’s sixth career Top 20 victory and it advanced her to play No. 12 seed Anett Kontaveit. The Estonian ended the run of 54th-ranked Swiss qualifier and Lexington finalist Jil Teichmann, 6-3, 6-4.

During her virtual press conference, Bouzkova was all smiles. She said: “Petra is such a power player and I was just trying to hang in there in the beginning. I think as the match went on, I was feeling more confident. … I just started playing my game.

“I was trying kind of to force myself to believe it, to go out there and be a competitor, not just a fan of hers.“

Despite the loss, Kvitova took it all in stride. “I didn’t think I played badly. I really started well, everything was on my side,” she said during her virtual meeting with reporters. “I played aggressively. In the second set, she played a little bit better. I made a few mistakes, which definitely helped her. 

“In the end, unfortunately, I think it was the energy and the heat. I’m not used to it, so that’s sad and that’s the bad thing today. Anyway, my performance wasn’t that bad.”

No. 2 seed Thiem off his rhythm

While Kvitova was only one of two seeded women to lose, there were six on the men’s side of the draw, none bigger than No. 2 Dominic Thiem of Austria. The World No. 3 lost to No. 32 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, 6-2, 6-1, in 61 minutes. Krajinovic fired five aces, won 94 percent (32 of 34) of his service points and didn’t face a break point. Thiem never found his rhythm and won just 30 of the 93 points contested.

“I think I started really well today,” said Krajinovic during an on-court interview. “I was aggressive and I’m really happy that I’m in the third round. I don’t think Thiem was playing today good tennis, but I took the chance and I think I deserved to win.”

The victory was just the second against a Top 20 player for Krajinovic, who still sports a paltry 2-16 lifetime record against the best. But it pointed him in the right direction going forward.

“I knew what I had to do. I had a good preparation with my coach. I knew that I have to play aggressive if I’d have any chance. I think everything went my way today,” he said.

Meanwhile, according to Thiem, “It was just a horrible game by myself. Didn’t play well at all,” he said. “Didn’t get any rhythm. I felt like I didn’t win any points on his serve. I had [a lot of] trouble with returning. It’s tough to understand right now, but I will think about it and hopefully I’ll find better answers in the next days.”

Next, Krajinovic takes on 84th-ranked qualifier Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, who beat No. 14 seed and 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

Djokovic remains undefeated at 19-0

World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic improved his season record to 19-0 with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 win over qualifier Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania in one hour and 41 minutes. Djokovic served eight aces and won 71 percent of his first serves. His serve was broken three times by the former Lithuanian No. 1 junior, who broke Djokovic at the start of each set. Against Berankis, Djokovic won 47 percent of his return points and broke his opponent four times.

In between sets, Djokovic was tended to by a physio for a neck ailment that required an adjustment. He was asked about it during his virtual press conference soon after he left the Grandstand with his first victory in five months. He said: “It’s getting better. It’s been four days. It’s not yet where I’d like it to be but it’s heading in the right direction.

“Hopefully, it will not react with the inflammation after tonight’s match. We’ll do everything possible with the physio and then we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Next, Djokovic faces American wild card Tennys Sandgren. The 55th-ranked Sandgren defeated No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime from Canada, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (5) in two hours and 50 minutes.

First Top 10 win in three years for Murray

While it remains to be seen whether British wild card Andy Murray places more importance of being able to stay healthy or winning, on Monday against No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, he did both. The two-time Western & Southern Open champion survived an epic three-setter against Zverev, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. It took him two hours and 31 minutes to accomplish what he set out to do, but in the end – especially after breaking Zverev, who was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set – Murray fought hard, felt good and stayed alive to play another round.

“I don’t think either of us played particularly well when we were close to the finishing line, but [that was] maybe to be expected since we haven’t played any matches for such a long period,” Murray explained during his virtual press conference. “He didn’t serve so well at the end, which obviously helped me. But I fought hard and it is a good effort to win that after not playing for a while.”

Indeed, although Zverev fired 10 aces, he also committed 11 double faults and his serve was broken four times by Murray.

The last time Murray had won a Top 10 match was back at the 2017 French Open against Kei Nishikori. Since then, he’s undergone two hip surgeries. His current ranking of No. 134 reflects his inactivity and Monday’s win over Zverev was just his second of 2020.

Next, Murray will face unseeded and 30th-ranked Milos Raonic of Canada in the round of 16 on Tuesday. On Monday, Raonic advanced with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Great Britain’s Dan Evans, ranked 28th. Murray leads the career head-to-head 9-3 and has won the last eight. He was asked about Raonic during his press conference and offered this assessment:

“I have played him a lot, huge serve. I saw a bit of his match today against Dan Evans. He is serving well, playing aggressive, which is when he plays his best,” Murray said.

“We have played each other in some big matches. We played at the US Open, Cincinnati, Wimbledon final, the Australian Open. He has had his injury struggles as well. So, it is nice to see him back.”

Around the Western & Southern Open

• No. 3 seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev was successful in his return to the ATP Tour with a 6-4, 6-4 win over 101st-ranked qualifier Marcos Giron of the United States. The World No. 5 hit eight aces and won 92 percent (34 of 37) of his first-serve points. Plus, he saved all three break points he faced and outpointed Giron 72-60. Next, Medvedev faces 61st-ranked qualifier Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia, who won 7-6 (5), 7-5 over No. 24 American Taylor Fritz.

• Others seeds moving into the round of 16 include: No. 6 Matteo Berrettini of Italy, who ended the run of 21-year-old 100th-ranked qualifier Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-5; No. 8 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, who beat No. 50 Richard Gasquet of France, 7-5, 6-1; No. 11 Karen Khachanov from Russia, who defeated Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta, ranked 25th, 7-6 (8), 6-1; and No. 16 John Isner of the United States, who bested No. 43 John Millman of Australia, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5).

• Also advancing: Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, ranked 34th, took out No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov from Canada, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4; and in the battle of tall and small, it was 6-foot-11 American Reilly Opelka over 5-foot-7 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

• Seven women’s seeds moved into the round of 16: No. 4 Naomi Osaka of Japan, who accepted a wild card into Cincinnati, bested No. 26 Karolina Muchova from Czech Republic, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2; No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka defeated 249th-ranked American qualifier CiCi Bellis, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5; No. 8 Johanna Konta of Great Britain beat 79th-ranked Belgian qualifier Kirsten Flipkens, 6-2, 6-0; No. 14 Elise Mertens of Belgium defeated France’s Kristina Mladenovic, ranked 43rd, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3; No. 16 Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine moved on with a 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3 win over No. 61 Bernarda Pera of the United States. One seed who didn’t advance was defending champion and No. 7 seed Madison Keys of the United States, who bowed 6-4, 6-1 in an hour to No. 39 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.

• Others advancing: American qualifier Jessica Pegula, ranked 83rd, defeated No. 28 Amanda Anisimova of the United States, 7-5, 6-2; in a matchup of qualifiers, No. 270 Vera Zvonareva of Russia beat No. 67 Laura Siegemund of Germany, 6-1, 6-1; 90th-ranked American qualifier Christine McHale defeated No. 27 Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia, 6-1, 7-6 (8); and No. 59 Victoria Azarenka from Belarus beat No. 49 Caroline Garcia of France, 6-2, 7-6 (8).

What they’re saying

Naomi Osaka was asked by Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference why she thought she won: “I think the difference [between winning and losing] was probably attitude. It kind of boils down to attitude, because for me I feel like I’m more open-minded when I’m calm, so maybe if I was upset I wouldn’t have been able to apply the things that I knew I was doing wrong.”