Serena Williams, underdog with expectations-makers against second seed Annette Kontaveit on Wednesday, will return to familiar territory as a favorite against unseeded Agila Tomljanovic on Friday.
Word got out, and it roared at Arthur Ashe Stadium: Williams very quickly made her way back into shape and entered the third round of her US Open finals.
It’s cool but not necessarily amazing, even a few weeks after she turns 41.
“We can all ride a bike at an older age, and once the stress is gone, you can even ride without holding the handlebars,” said Sven Groenefeld, lead trainer with Bianca Andreescu and longtime coach Maria Sharapova.
“It’s like walking for Serena,” Groenefeld said. “She has played tennis 90 percent of her life.”
Williams has no shortage of positive memories to draw from her younger years Pull out the tailspins . pins In a hurry.
In 2007, she entered the unranked Australian Open and ranked 81st, having played only five tournaments the previous year and lost early in her only warm-up event.
But she soon got involved, defeating six ranked players, including top seed Sharapova, in the final.
In 2012, Williams was defeated in the first round of the French Open by Virginie Razzano, a Frenchwoman ranked 111. This was Williams’ first defeat to date at a major tournament, and it left her reeling and unusually open to change.
She brought in a new training advisor, Patrick Muratoglu, and although she hadn’t played any tuning events prior to her arrival at Wimbledon, she quickly worked her way up to a devastating level. She won the title and then played what is widely considered the best tennis of her career to win Olympic gold in singles and also in doubles with her sister Venus at the London Olympics on the same All England Club grass courts.
This was, no doubt, a no-fly moment, but one from a farther back this time: She hadn’t played competitive tennis for nearly a year, and reached the US Open having won just one of four singles matches this season and was ranked, strange but true. No. 605.
“I think just because Serena is Serena and she’s such a great athlete, the more practice and practice matches she gets, the more she can play her way into the action,” said US King’s Cup captain Cathy Rinaldi. “I’ve seen her do it in the past, and if I watch the match against Kontaveit, her movement for me just got better and better in the third set, and I just think a great athlete can do that.”
Serena Williams at the US Open
The US Open may be the tennis star’s last professional tournament after a long career of breaking boundaries and obliterating expectations.
Some of the other players’ fitness coaches were still shaking their heads Thursday at seeing photos of Williams struggling to cover the court at the National Bank Open in Toronto and the Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio: tournaments she lost last month in the early rounds.
“The change is amazing in a month,” said world number one fitness coach Iga Swiatek, world number one Maciej Rechchuk.
But Williams said she felt her level in practice was often too high when she returned to the Tour, but that didn’t carry over to the matches. The exception was the Western and Southern Opens, where she was dealing with what many people said was an outbreak of hamstringitis: something that neither she nor her staff confirmed.
But Eric Hechtman, Williams’ new coach, said the platform for success so far in New York is there.
“The hitting industry was there, the serving was there,” he said in an interview after her victory over Kontaveit. “She was moving really well, so in New York, we added some tandem runs, and I think that helped.”
As well as selling crowds of nearly 24,000 at Ash Stadium Entirely in the corner of Williams.
“This stadium is so big, and once you fill it up that way with a bunch of motivated people, it’s a game changer,” Hechtmann said. “It takes a while to get some rhythm, but it’s starting to come together. It was a great win over Kontaveit, but it’s still only the second round. None of us get carried away.”
A loss against Tomljanovic
That would bring Williams back full circle. She also lost in the third round in her first appearance at the US Open in 1998 and has never failed to go further in 19 matches since then: she has won six titles.
But expectations are different this year. Given her recent level of play, the third round looks like an achievement. But the challenge as Williams delves into the tournament will be managing the burden that comes with piling up singles and doubles matches. she She played doubles with her sister Venus In a championship for the first time in more than four years, he lost in the first round on Thursday to Lucy Hrdecka and Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (5), 6-4.
Unlike regular Tour events, Grand Slam tournaments allow a rest day for women’s singles players between each singles round, with occasional exceptions. Unlike men, who play the best matches of five groups, women play the best matches of three groups.
But playing multiples on what would normally be recovery day may still pose a greater risk to the 40-year-old. The last time she and Venus played doubles at a major tournament – at the 2018 French Open – Williams withdrew from the singles before the fourth round due to a chest injury that worsened during the doubles match.
Muratoglu, who was advised against playing both events because Williams was returning from a long absence, was upset, and Williams has not played singles and doubles with her sister again yet.
But in what is likely to be the Williams Final, that sounds like the right decision.
“I feel like it was very important for her to be a part of this,” Williams said of Venus. “She is my rock. I am so excited to play with her and do it again. It has been a long time.”
Hechtman, who also coaches Venus Williams, said he fully supported the decision. “I think it’s great that she’s playing doubles,” he said of Serena. “It’s not just about the duos, it’s the fact that you get the actors on the serve and you come back and you play the points and you play with the fans again.”
Hechtman did not pressure Serena to play doubles in her warm-up events.
“This is a different situation,” he said. “It’s her last tournament. It’s a Grand Slam and you have a day off between singles matches, and you usually train that day, so instead you play doubles. I talked to her a little bit about that at Sensei, and it was like, ‘You know what?'” This makes perfect sense.”
What also made sense for Hechtman was the decision to go into singles heading into the US Open, which Williams had not done before Wimbledon, losing in the first round to Harmony Tan, an unseeded Frenchwoman.
“I personally thought we were very ready for Wimbledon,” he said. “The only thing we didn’t have were those matches. Even if it was a little turbulent in Sensei, I think those tournaments were crucial to getting to the level I’m at here. You can’t definitively say they made the difference, but I can say they were very important.” .
Scouting and setting were also important in New York. never faced Danka Kovinichor discounted in the first round or Kontavit Tomljanovic also did not play. Hechtman said he and Williams were getting input on opponents from the US Tennis Association’s analytics team, working closely with Rinaldi and David Ramos, director of performance analytics.
“It helps us see how Serena’s strengths match the opponents’ weaknesses, and we go from there,” Hechtmann said.
Hechtman said he also welcomed the arrival of Rena Stubbs, ESPN analyst and coach and former No.1 doubles player, who has been advising in New York.
“They’ve been friends for a long time,” he said, “and the more positive people are – this is a very emotional state – the better.” “I’m all for her. Look, I’m here to win, so anything will help us get past that mountaintop.”
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