Serena Williams Prepared a Little Differently for This U.S. Open

Oddsmakers are at a disadvantage against No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit on Wednesday, and Serena Williams will return to familiar ground on Friday against unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic.

The news was accelerated by a roar at Arthur Ashe Stadium: Williams returned to form at breakneck speed, heading into the third round of her final U.S. Open.

It’s remarkable, but not necessarily surprising, even if she’s still weeks away from turning 41.

“We can all ride bikes when we’re older and once the tension goes away, You can even ride the bike without holding the handlebars.”

“It’s like walking for Serena,” Groeneveld said. “She plays tennis 90 percent of the time.”

Williams draws positive memories from rushing out of trouble as a young man.

She entered the Australian Open as an unseeded 81st in 2007, having played just five matches the year before, and an early loss in her only warm-up match.

But she quickly nailed the target, beating six seeds, including No. 1 Sharapova in the final.

In 2012, Williams was defeated in the first round of the French Open by French woman Virginie Lazzano, who was ranked 111th. It was Williams’ earliest loss at a major event so far, and she was shocked and more than willing to change.

She hired a new coaching adviser, Patrick Muratoglou, and although she didn’t play any adjustment events before arriving at Wimbledon, she quickly entered devastating form. She won the title and then played what is widely regarded as the best tennis of her career, winning Olympic gold medals in both singles and doubles at the London Olympics with her sister Venus on the same grass court at the All England Club.

It was a handlebarless moment, no doubt, but this time she came earlier: nearly a year without tennis, winning only one of four singles matches this season to advance to the U.S. Open and rank, Strange but true, No. 605.

“I just think because Serena is Serena and she’s a great athlete, the more practice and practice games she gets, the more she’ll be able to play in her own way,” said King’s Cup captain Casey Rinaldi. Playing games.” “You’ve seen her do that in the past, if you’ve seen the game against Kontaveit, by the third set she’s getting better and better with me, I just think a great athlete can do that. .”

Some of the other players’ strength and conditioning coaches were still shaking their heads Thursday, with images in their minds of Williams struggling to cover the court at the National Bank Open in Toronto and the Western and Southern Opens in Mason, Ohio: She last month Lost games are in the first few rounds.

“One month’s change is unbelievable,” said Maciej Ryszczuk, fitness coach for world No. 1 Iga Swatek.

But Williams said when she returned to the tour, she felt her practice level was usually high, but that didn’t carry over to the competition. The exception is the Western and Southern Open, where she’s dealing with what several have said is a bout of tendonitis in her knee: neither she nor her staff have confirmed that.

But Williams’ new coach, Eric Hechtman, said the platform for success so far in New York is in place.

“The shot is there, the serve is there,” he said in an interview after the win over Kontaveit. “She’s actually doing really well in practice, so in New York we added some side-by-side runs, which I think helped.”

The sold-out crowd of nearly 24,000 at Ashe Stadium was also entirely on Williams’ corner.

“That stadium is so big, once you pack it with a bunch of passionate people, it’s a game changer,” Hechtman said. “It took a little while to get some rhythm, but it started to come together. It was a great win against Kontaveit, but it was still only the second round. None of us got carried away.”

lost to Tomljanovic

Will actually make Williams go around in circles. She also lost the third round in her first U.S. Open singles match in 1998, and since then she has never lost in 19 matches: winning six titles.

But expectations are different this year. The third round feels like an achievement considering her recent level of play. But as Williams gets deeper into the game, the challenge will be managing the burden of singles and doubles play. She played doubles in a tournament with sister Venus for the first time in more than four years, losing in the first round to Lucy Hradka of the Czech Republic 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the first round on Thursday. and Linda Noskova.

Unlike the regular tour, the Grand Slams allow women’s singles players to take a day off between rounds of singles, with occasional exceptions. Unlike men who play best-of-five games, women play best-of-three games.

But playing doubles on what is usually a recovery day still poses a bigger risk for Williams, 40. The last time she and Venus played doubles at a major – the 2018 French Open – Williams withdrew from the singles before the fourth round, aggravated by a chest injury in the doubles match.

Muratoglu had advised against competing in both events because Williams was returning from a long hiatus and she was unhappy that, until now, Williams has not competed with her in the majors. The sisters play singles and doubles together.

But in what is most likely Williams’ final game, it sounds like a heartbreaking decision.

“I think it was very important for her to be involved,” Williams said of Venus. “She’s my rock. I’m so excited to play with her and do it again. It’s been a long time.”

Hechtman, who also coaches Venus Williams, said he fully supports the decision. “I think she’s great at doubles,” he said of Williams. “It’s not just doubles, it’s the fact that you get reps when you serve, return and score and play with the crowd again.”

Hechtman didn’t push Serena to play doubles in her warm-up.

“It’s a different situation,” he said. “It’s her last match. It’s a grand slam, you have rest days between singles matches, and usually you practice on that day, so you play doubles. I talked to her at Cincy. A little, like, ‘You know what? That makes perfect sense.'”

Also meaningful to Hechtman is the decision to play singles ahead of the U.S. Open, something Williams didn’t do before Wimbledon, where she lost in the first round to unseeded French woman Hamo. Ni Tan.

“I personally think we’re ready for Wimbledon,” he said. “The only thing we don’t have are those games. Even though she took some hits in Cincy’s games, I think those games are crucial to getting to the level she’s doing here. You can’t say for sure they made changes, but I would say they are very important.”

Scouting and preparation are also important in New York. She has not faced her first-round opponents, Danka Kovinic or Kontaveit, nor Tomljanovic. Hechtman said he and Williams have been getting their opponents’ input from the USTA’s analytics team, working closely with Rinaldi and performance analytics director David Ramos.

“It helps us see clearly how Serena’s strengths match up against opponents’ weaknesses, and we go from there,” Hechtman said.

Hechtman said he also welcomes the arrival of ESPN analyst, coach and former doubles No. 1 Rennae Stubbs, who has been consulting in New York.

“They’ve been friends for a long time, and the more positive people — it’s a very emotional state — the better,” he said. “I’m all for it. Look, I’m here to win, so anything that helps us get over the top.”

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