Serena Williams Bids Farewell At The US Open

Serena Williams (photo: US Open video)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 3, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Serena Williams, arguably the greatest women’s professional tennis player – and, certainly, the most decorated one with 23 major crowns, 73 WTA-level titles, eight different times ranked No. 1 in the world, and four Olympic gold medals – likely ended her remarkable career at the US Open Friday evening.

Part Three of the Serena Show, featuring the electric energy of the 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams, took center stage on Arthur Ashe Stadium before another packed house of 23,859 screaming, passionate and adoring fans at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Unlike Monday and Wednesday evenings, when Williams defeated Danka Kovinic of Montenegro and No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, this time 46th-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic, the Croatian-born Australian, proved to be a most formidable opponent – and, ultimately, one which the six-time US Open champion Williams, who entered the year’s last Grand Slam event ranked 605th, was unable to pull off a miracle finish.

Tomljanovic won the third-round match on her sixth match point, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-1, in three hours and five minutes. The last game alone consumed 12 minutes and it was memorable. Williams saved five match points and earned three break points of her own. The final point of the match was a netted backhand by Williams that likely marked the conclusion of her storied career. It was just the second time Williams had lost in the third round at the US Open and first since 1998.

As soon as they shook hands at the net, Tomljanovic stepped aside and allowed Williams to take one final curtain call – and the Arthur Ashe Stadium audience gave their beloved Queen of Queens one final standing ovation.

On a day in which the US Open set an all-time single-day attendance record with 72,039 fans (42,202 for the day session that included Andy Murray and Coco Gauff and 29,837 for the night session), Williams was the featured attraction. All week long, the 40-year-old American icon of tennis generated plenty of buzz that could be felt throughout Arthur Ashe Stadium and spread out onto the sprawling plaza, which has been a lively, central meeting ground for those without a night-session ticket in Ashe to watch Serena light up the big video screen.

On Friday evening, there was plenty of curiosity to see if it was time for Williams’ evolution away from tennis, or if she could continue her farewell run into the second week. Among those attending the Williams-Tomljanovic match was NFL quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, singer Ciara, filmmaker Spike Lee and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Williams’ mother and her older sister, Venus, herself a two-time US Open champion, sat in her box.

“It’s definitely something I’ll never forget in my career,” Tomljanovic said prior to the third-round match. “It’s going to be a huge moment no matter the outcome.

“No matter the fact that I’ve been a Serena fan since I was a kid, on Friday night, I’ll just be a competitor and I’ll try my best to win.”

Tomljanovic withstood 11 aces from Williams and saved eight of 13 break points she faced. She converted eight of 13 break points and outpointed Williams 123-115 to advance to Sunday’s fourth round against No. 35 Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, who defeated 96th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia, 6-3, 6-3.

During an on-court interview with ESPN‘s Mary Joe Fernandez, Williams, wiping away tears, said: Thank you so much. You guys were amazing today. I tried. Ajla just played a little bit better. …

Thank you, Daddy. I know you’re watching. Thanks, Mom,” Williams added, fighting back tears. “It all started with my parents. And they deserve everything. So I’m really grateful for them.

“These are happy tears, I guess.

“I wouldn’t be Serena if there wasn’t Venus, so thank you, Venus. She’s the only reason that Serena Williams ever existed.

“It’s been a fun ride. It’s been the most incredible ride and journey I’ve every been on in my life. I’m just so grateful to every single person that’s ever said, ‘Go Serena,’ in their life. I’m just so grateful.”

Berrettini makes a statement with win over Murray

Matteo Berrettini advanced to the second week of the US Open for the fourth straight year following his 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (1), 6-3 victory over former World No. 1 and 2012 champion Andy Murray of Great Britain on Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday afternoon.

The 13th-seeded Italian from Rome struck 18 aces, hit 55 winners overall and won the three-hour, 46-minute duel against three-time major winner Murray after recovering from a third-set dip, in which he was unable to convert any of his eight break-point chances. Berrettini rallied from a break down in the fourth set and completed the task of advancing to the fourth round with his third career victory over the Briton and 15th win at the US Open.

“You learn from the past and learn from mistakes,” Berrettini said in his on-court interview, looking back at his win over Murray, who climbed to No. 43 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings following two earlier wins this week. “I wasn’t aggressive enough with the break points [in the third set] but that is tennis. I think Andy played a really good set in order to not get broken, but I was feeling better. I had more chances and I thought the same thing in the fourth set. I had my chance and I took it.”

Next, the 14th-ranked Berrettini, who was a quarterfinalist here last year, will face No. 39 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. The Spaniard defeated 94th-ranked Colombian qualifier Daniel Elahi Galan, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in an entertaining matinee match on Court 17.

Jabeur advances to US Open fourth round for first time

World No. 5 and fifth seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia reached the fourth round at the US Open for the first time after rallying for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 31 seed Shelby Rogers of the United States in two hours and 17 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Jabeur, whose previous best results at Flushing Meadows were a pair of third-round finishes in 2019 and 2021, put away Rogers on her sixth match-point opportunity.

After reaching her first major final at Wimbledon earlier this season, Jabeur has now reached the second week at each of the majors and six times overall. Against Rogers, she won 75 percent of her first-serve points, converted four of eight break points and outpointed the American 105-88.

“It was a crazy match,” Jabeur said during her on-court interview after improving her career win-loss record against American opponents to 11-1, including earlier wins against Madison Brengle and Elizabeth Mandlik this week. “Shelby plays really well. Even down 5-1, 40-love, she doesn’t make the mission easy for me. I am glad that I got the win. It was very difficult to adapt to how good she was playing. I was playing good, it’s not like I was playing bad. I was just just waiting for a moment to get in the match and get my break. I’m very happy that I kept fighting to the end.”

Next, Jabeur will face No. 18 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who needed just 46 minutes to defeat 2015 US Open junior champion Dalma Galfi of Hungary, 6-2, 6-0, on the Grandstand. Kudermetova leads Jabeur in their career head-to-head 3-0. “If I keep playing like this, I will be very happy,” the Russian said during her on-court interview.

Ruud wins five-set marathon over Paul

Fifth seed Casper Ruud became the first man from Norway to reach the second week of the US Open after holding off No. 29 seed Tommy Paul of the United States, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-0, in four hours and 23 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Ruud, who is 10-2 in his last 12 matches, remains in the chase to claim the World No. 1 when the Pepperstone ATP Rankings are updated after the US Open. It was the third straight five-set match for Paul, who earlier beat Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain and Sebastian Korda of the United States.

“We both were playing well,” Ruud said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Whenever someone broke, the other guy seemed to break back right away, so it was tough to get the lead and keep going with it. We were always close on the shoreline. It seemed like the only time I could break him was when I was broken first, so that’s not a good sign. But, in the fifth set, I played some of my best tennis of the year and the best tennis I’ve played this tournament. …

“It’s not everyday you surpass playing four hours on court, but that’s what we train for, we work hard for it,” Ruud added. “I will try to be fresh for Sunday.”

Ruud, 23, who improved to 41-15 for the 2022 season, will face 112th-ranked lucky loser Corentin Moutet of France, who defeated No. 66 Pedro Cachin of Argentina, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Gauff wins all-American battle against Keys

Playing in just her third US Open, 18-year-old American Coco Gauff is through to the second week in Flushing Meadows for the first time. The No. 12 seed’s 6-2, 6-3 victory over fellow American and 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, seeded 20th this year, showed she learned a lot after losing to her in Adelaide eight months ago at the start of the season.

“I learned a lot from that match,” Gauff said earlier this week. “In the beginning of the year, I feel like in general, I wasn’t in a good head space, I wasn’t confident in my tennis. I feel like now I’m really confident in my tennis.

“I think my serve is a lot better. I’m winning a lot of first-serve points. Forehand has improved a lot. Return has improved. Also, just my mentality on the court.”

Although Gauff hit only seven winners, she also made just 14 unforced errors and outpointed Keys 63-49 during the 71-minute match on Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday afternoon.

On Sunday, Gauff will face No. 36 Zhang Shuai of China, who defeated No. 106 Rebecca Marino of Canada, 6-2, 6-4.

Defending champs Ram-Salisbury march on

Defending men’s doubles champions and this year’s top seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain marched into the third round with their second consecutive straight-set win. On Friday, Ram and Salisbury beat Luke Saville of Australia and Aslan Karatsev of Russia, 6-4, 6-3, on the Grandstand. Next, Ram and Salisbury will play 15th-seeded Italian duo Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, who advanced with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over American wild cards Nicholas Monroe and Keegan Smith.

Friday’s US Open results

Saturday’s US Open order of play

By the numbers

• According to Matt Roberts of “The Tennis Podcast,” this is just the second Grand Slam in the Open Era where three of the top four women’s seeds (No. 2 Anett Kontaveit, No. 3 Maria Sakkari and No. 4 Paula Badosa) have lost before the third round. The only other time that it happened was in 2018 at Wimbledon.

• Going into the third round, there were five men from the United States remaining – more than any other nation: J.J. Wolf, Tommy Paul, Brandon Nakashima, Jenson Brooksby and Frances Tiafoe. Spain (Pablo Carreño Busta, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal) and Britain (Jack Draper, Andy Murray, Daniel Evans and Cameron Norrie) each had four.

Meanwhile, there were eight women from the United States who reached the third round: Lauren Davis, Jessica Pegula, Danielle Collins, Madison Keys, Coco Gauff, Alison Riske-Amritraj, Shelby Rogers and Serena Williams. The next best was China with four (Zheng Qinwen, Yuan Yue, Zhang Shuai and Wang Xiyu).

“Quotable …”

“Yeah, that’s kind of her time right now. I’m just, you know, playing and focusing on that, and that’s the most important thing for me.”

– World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek, following her second-round win over 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens on Thursday. It was her WTA Tour-leading 50th victory.

“I’m surprised that I was able to compete as well as I did with someone that’s as good as him with, you know, the situation that I’m in.

“I thought physically I did well, you know, considering coming in I wasn’t feeling great, but physically I did well in all the matches, which was good.”

Andy Murray of Great Britain, during his press conference following his three-set loss to No. 13 seed Matteo Berrettini on Arthur Ashe Stadium Friday afternoon.

“It’s been a really positive week for me. This is my second Slam on merit. It’s very different playing the five-set matches. Beaten a couple of really good players, and I felt like today I was coming back. I would have had a chance to win that match if I was injury free. I think in terms of reflecting, I can be very positive about the year I’ve had so far as well.”

Jack Draper of Great Britain, during his press conference after retiring to No. 27 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia in the third set due to an injury between his hamstring and groin after two hours and 28 minutes of play on the Grandstand. Draper trailed 6-3, 4-6, 6-5 at the time of the retirement.