Slowing Down the US Open Train

All of this is happening way too fast.

Serena Williams is three wins away from a Grand Slam, but first she has to beat her beloved older sister, Venus, in the quarterfinals. Never mind that Venus is diverting attention away from the story of the Open — Serena. The elder sister is now on course to perhaps derail the dream in front of 23,000 people packed in Arthur Ashe Stadium come Tuesday night.

Why not? She’s the more sympathetic Williams. She suffers from Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that raises its debilitating head without a moment’s notice. And, she hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon, 2008, her fifth and last from her favorite venue. Plus, she hasn’t won the US Open since 2001, her last of two in New York. 

Serena Williams gets pushed around by a shot from Madison Keys yesterday at the US Open. Williams thumped the young American Keys, 6-3, 6-3. Serena will face elder sister, Venus, Tuesday evening in their highly-anticipated quarterfinal match. 
Photo credit Leslie Billman

That was the year CBS turned tennis broadcasting on its head. It scheduled the final, which was by the way, between Serena and Venus, at 8 PM Saturday. The place was packed. Her best result since, in New York, was a semifinal run in 2010. 

Serena, though, is steamrolling for a seventh US Open crown. It’s a place no one, male or female, has been. And, she could tie it all up in a red, white and blue bow, if she wins the Grand Slam. The news cycle on those stories could last a week, if we’re lucky. 

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler,” Venus said in her post-match news conference. “I think people love to see history being made. But at the same time, you’re focused on winning your match even though the circumstances are much different for you. But, it’s pretty clear what’s up for grabs here.”

Is it really true that 17 years have passed since the sisters first appeared with their beaded hair and positive attitudes? They didn’t come up the usual route. Their father, Richard, coached them and here they were, two black power players about to raise the women’s game multiple levels. 

It all moves too fast. Fans are lucky to still have them because nothing beats the Williams’ sisters for tennis and all sports.

Last night Novak Djokovic came up against a determined and gutsy Roberto Bautista Agut. The number-one seed used his anger and frustration to put an end to Agut’s assault, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. The win advanced Djokovic to his 26th consecutive quarterfinal in a major. Yet he hasn’t won the US Open since 2011. 

Roberto Bautista Agut connects with a forehand against Novak Djokovic yesterday in their round of sixteen match. Djokovic worked hard to get the win. Photo credit Leslie Billman

“I mean, sometimes [emotions] go in your favor, sometimes against you,” Djokovic said later. “I’m not saying that this is a proper way to do, to express your emotions. Sometimes you’re not proud of what you do. But, again important thing is to be award of what you did and to kind of bounce back and gather the concentration.”

The match was careening toward a disastrous result, like the one from Rafael Nadal and Fabio Fognini. Nadal had the match locked up in the third round, up 2 sets and a break. Then the Italian slipped into overdrive, upping fans’ enjoyment one-hundred fold. He beat Nadal for the third time this year. Of course, Fognini lost in the next round. Not enough juice in his tank. But the damage was done. Nadal was out before week two of another Grand Slam; and, the year ended on a low. It’s the first time since 2004 he hadn’t won a major. 

Lucky for fans, Nadal remained hopeful. 

“My mind allows me to fight until the end,” Nadal said, after his loss to Fognini. “Is something that I was missing for a while, that feeling that I am there. For the nerves, for the anxious that I had for a long time this season; I was not able to do it. I was not able to be fighting the way that I was fighting today. So, is an improvement for me. I take that like a positive thing; and, I know what I have to do.”

With his victory over Bautista Agut, number-one seed Novak Djokovic moved on to his 26th consecutive quarterfinal at a major. Photo credit Leslie Billman

Nadal is gone and Novak survived. Wouldn’t it be nice just to savor that win, run the highlight reels a few more times. Watch ESPN’s top-10 countdown from Sunday again and again. But we’re on to talking about his quarterfinal with Feliciano Lopez (No. 18), who’s lucky to have penetrated the draw like he has, beating the Nadal slayer yesterday in straight sets. 

Lopez was a game away from packing up his bags when he was up against Mardy Fish in round two. The now retired American, and heavy crowd favorite, served for the match in the fourth. But his recurring anxiety wouldn’t allow the put-away. The hiccup opened the door for the lefty Spaniard. And, now, just look. He’ll play Novak. 

“For players like me, is not easy,” Lopez admitted. “Once you reach the fourth round you have to beat the top 2, 3 guys in the world. Is so difficult. You have to play your best every day. Now, I will have to beat No. 1 player in the world to reach the semis.” 

This will be Lopez’s first quarterfinal in singles at the Open. He’s never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at any slam, although he’s made the quarters twice at Wimbledon. He likes quick courts, to serve and volley, and impose his cranky left-handed serve. 

Some news from the week, we’d rather not prolong. Eugenie Bouchard’s concussion is one of those stories. The incident tightened a knot of tragedy to her US Open, where she was having a good run for once this season. 

The poor girl hadn’t won three matches in a row since The Australian Open. Then on Friday she closed out a doozy against the wily Dominika Cibulkova. After her mixed doubles victory later, alongside Aussie hipster Nick Kyrgios, Bouchard slipped and fell in the locker room. Yesterday, she couldn’t walk a straight line, as she arrived at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. She wore sunglasses. Her face was shrouded under a hoody. And, she needed assistance to guide her into the facility. 

And as quickly as American Donald Young made news with two come-from-behind wins over No. 11 seed Gilles Simon and No. 22 seed Viktor Troicki, he’s gone. He lost today to French Open Champion Stan Wawrinka, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. 

American Donald Young, one of only two Americans left in the men’s singles draw as of today, fought hard against Stan Wawrinka in their fourth-round match today. Photo credit Leslie Billman

Young is a polarizing figure in American tennis. A star at 15, he has fallen miles short of expectations. But at this US Open he’s shown fine form, not only coming from behind but coming from two sets down to win in five twice.

Today was different. HIs shots landed too short too often. His heavy-hitting Swiss opponent just whacked them away for winners. He also crushed another racquet, as he’s done in prior rounds. Something about control, frustration, and utter disregard for equipment. 

“It was a tough match for sure,” Wawrinka said in his on-court interview. “It was a tough atmosphere [with Americans cheering on Young]. But I really enjoyed it today, playing on this court.” 

Two kids sitting behind Wawrinka’s changeover chair yelled to him after he obliterated the racquet. They wanted to know if they could have it. Stan obliged. 

“I’m sorry I don’t think you can play with it anymore.” he told them, during the same interview. “But come after and I will give you something. I don’t think a broken racquet is very nice.”

Although this moment will get swallowed up in the time line of life, it will be one to remember.




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