In the toughest 2020 US Open Test, Serena Williams finds a way to battle back

Serena Williams was walking in her chair with her head still before she was dismissed at the final point of the first set against Sloane Stephens during a third-round clash at Arthur Ash Stadium on Saturday.

Stephens came out strong, ignoring her 1–5 record against the six-time tournament champion. He followed every ball, won almost every extended rally and won the set 6–2. It seemed so regular, he didn’t even crack a smile or close his fist at its conclusion.

At any other US Open, Williams shouted and cheered fans, encouraging him to return to the match as he has worked countless times in his career. But it is not like any previous tournament. This time, Williams had her own inner voice as she sat in her chair during the set.

In the end, it was clear that the voice was more than adequate.

The 38-year-old storm returned – rarely to his trademark shout “Come!” After the big points – won 10 of the last 12 matches 2-6, 6-2, 6-2. In the deciding match, he recorded a 92% win percentage on the first serve.

“I just said, ‘I don’t want to lose in straight sets, because I was like,’ How can I beat [her]The She is playing very well. Oh my gosh, “” Williams said during his on-court interview after the match. “And I liked, ‘OK, Serena. Just get a game. Bring a game.’ And the next thing I know, I won the second set and I was like, ‘Oh, well, great.’

Williams struggled in his first two tournaments after tennis resumed due to a coronovirus epidemic, losing in the top seed open quarterfinals and losing in the third round of the Western and Southern Open. After defeating invincible players in their first two rounds, the No. 26 seed Stephens, was clearly the biggest test for Williams. Both have a controversial history on the court, making it a must see match of the day.

For the first 38 minutes, it seemed that Williams would be eliminated as soon as possible at the US Open since his debut in 1998. He changed it, not only recording one of the most impressive wins of the year, but solidifying his position. Favorite to win the tournament and tie Margaret Court’s longtime record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

Williams has been following the court trail since returning in May 2018, eight months after giving birth. She has a chance at four slam finals, including the last two in New York. But in each title match, she struggled falling in straight sets. As his time in the game is essentially near a close, each loss is met with increasing skepticism about his ability to win under such enormous pressure.

He has avoided such questions in the past and has seriously credited his opponents for having a better day. But when everyone was asked about its weight on Saturday, she agreed for a moment.

“Sometimes it’s harder than others,” she said. “Having ‘Serena’ on your back every day, for touring, for the press, for stress is a big goal. But as Billie Jean King said, ‘Pressure is a privilege.’ So I wouldn’t want it any other way. So I just try to think how lucky I have been to be in this position, and honestly, to be Serena. “

In a year of unprecedented uncertainty and widespread restrictions around the tournament, the biggest question at the event was how Williams would respond to playing in front of vacant seats. Many wondered if she had become accustomed to the energy of the crowd of reverence and would struggle in the absence of it. Others wondered if the crowd was really a hindrance, as it increased the pressure on him. Williams has not given much information during any tournament since the restart but has called it “relaxing” on several occasions.

On Saturday, Williams said – save for the noise of the fake mob and the occasional voice of her 3-year-old daughter, Olympia, watching from her suit – gave her the clarity she needed against the wall with her back against a stiff opponent.

“I love a crowd so much, and especially this crowd, but like I’ve said, I’m so intense that this I’m in practice is incredibly intense,” she said. “So, I think I’ve been working on this for years through my practices.”

Williams faced Maria Sakkari on Monday in the 16th round. Sakari defeated Williams at the Western and Southern Open last week. Although the previous win helps the 15-seeded Sakri advance into the match with confidence, he acknowledged how tough it would be even without the supporting crowd behind the superstar.

“You know, Serena is Serena,” Sakri said after her win on Saturday. “You have to come up with some great tennis. Otherwise there is no chance against him.”


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