The Aftermath

It’s over. 

Serena Williams beat big sister Venus in their quarterfinal last night in a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3. 

The sisters walloped the ball like no two other women can in tennis. The match was an honor to witness, although the sympathetic Venus, at 35, was left to feel the full force of Serena’s determination. She pulled out all stops in the third set, making a comeback by Venus close to impossible. 

Waiting for Serena is unseeded Roberta Vinci who has advanced to her first Grand Slam semifinal in singles. But make no mistake. Vinci may be unheralded in singles, but has a career Grand Slam in doubles earned alongside long-time partner, another Italian, Sara Errani. The occasion, therefore, should not unsettle Vinci. 

Roberta Vinci uses deft touch on this half-volley during her quarterfinal victory over Kristina Mladenovic Tuesday, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Photo credit Leslie Billman

“I’m so happy. I would like to enjoy my semifinal Thursday,” Vinci told the press, after advancing in her quarterfinal match against Kristina Mladenovic earlier Tuesday. “I did not expect one semifinal at the US Open, so I’m really happy. Now I enjoy my day. Tomorrow rest and play my game. I have nothing to lose.”

We all know what’s going to happen, no matter the experience Vinci has had in doubles or singles. She may have finesse and guts, and an Italian fighter’s attitude, but Serena will bring her power game, plus finesse, and an attitude that’s proven way too tough for the best, including Venus, Serena’s biggest and baddest competition. 

Extra incentive from Vinci could spur her on, though. She’s 32. There won’t be many major semifinals in her future. 

“I’m not young,” she said. “So probably my experience today help me a lot. Kristina [Mladenovic] is a young player. Of course I think I’m at the end of my career, so my semifinal, first semifinal, it’s incredible. I’m very proud of myself.”

Vinci and Serena have played four times. They met in Montreal at Rogers Cup in August. Serena won 6-4, 6-3. Straight set wins for the American have been the norm against Vinci.

“You know, I have a lot of experience,” Vinci began. “But when you play against Serena [it] doesn’t matter (smiling). You have to play better then better then better. Yeah, I have a lot of experience but against her I don’t need this experience.”

Serena doesn’t agree.

“I played her in Canada,” she said last night. “She played me really tough, and I didn’t really expect that. That’s when I sprained my finger, actually, playing against her. I’m not going to underestimate her.”

No one gets to the semifinal of a Grand Slam without gaining confidence and proving themselves during five rounds. However, Vinci’s draw could be called ‘lucky.’

Her section of the draw was decimated early. Carla Suarez Navarro (No. 10) lost in the opening round, as did Jelena Jankovic (No. 21) and Ana Ivanovic (No. 7). Eugenie Bouchard would have been Vinci’s foremost opponent, but as luck would have it, or bad luck if you view it from Bouchard’s perspective, she withdrew due to a concussion. Vinci slipped into the quarterfinals then by walkover.   

“I played someone first round at Wimbledon who hit some rocket one-handed backhands,” Serena said about Vinci’s ‘vintage’ style. “She has that mean slice on that backhand, too.”

With all predictions leaning in favor of Serena, what could possibly go wrong for the American who is two wins away from a Grand Slam?

One word … pressure.

You can bet Vinci might conger up an ounce or two of pressure Thursday. It is the US Open. But Serena Williams, if not careful, could be swallowed by the occasion as she approaches an historic moment tennis hasn’t witnessed since 1988 when Steffi Graf won her Grand Slam in singles. 

Serena’s dominance in majors clearly indicates her potential to pull off the Grand Slam, especially since she’s won four majors in a row now. But, she can lose, too. 

Virginie Razzano, ranked No. 110 at the time, completely came out of nowhere to send Williams packing in the first round of Roland Garros in 2012. Just last year, she lost in the second and third rounds of Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Garbine Muguruza, ranked number 35 blew Serena away, 6-2 6-2, in Paris and is now ranked in the top ten. Alize Cornet took out Serena in the third round at Wimbledon, seeded No. 25, to Serena’s No. 1. 

Williams has played 61 Grand Slams, including this Open. She’s won 21 or about 35% of those. From that angle, her chances seem less than ideal. Yet, Venus Williams, has only won 7 majors over a 20-year career, having played in 70 Grand Slams. That’s a far smaller percentage of titles. Plus, these two women have dominated tennis like no two others ever have during their careers. At every major, when the Williams’ sisters are in the draw, every player knows or assumes that if they want to go far at some turn they will meet face-to-face with one or both. 

This dominance has bred confidence, a special kryptonite. 

After Serena lost to Razzano in Paris, the American hired Patrick Mouratoglou. He’s coached her to a 7-0 record in Grand Slam finals since. Therefore a portion of that kryptonite that Serena brings to court every match has his name written on it. He has helped her believe and rely on her champion’s mind, athleticism and tennis skills. He calls her a ‘great champion’ on many an occasion. 

“He’s a great coach, and I’m a great student, and we push each other,” Williams said, The New York Times reported in June.

Tennis is a mental exercise and will be Serena’s greatest asset Thursday against Vinci. But remember. Just last year Marin Cilic took the US Open by storm and won. The year before Marion Bartoli defeated a sure-shot Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon final. Thus … there are no guarantees. 

But, as that increasingly annoying song from Chase Bank has beaten into our heads — ‘you can’t stop me now’ — may be the clearest indicator to what’s ahead for Serena. 

Simona Halep, the number-two seed, runs down a forehand in her quarterfinal win today over a tenacious Victoria Azarenka, No. 20 seed, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Halep advanced to her first-ever semifinal in New York, as a result of her win. She will play Flavia Pennetta, No. 26, in the other semifinal. The Italian defeated Petra Kvitova today, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Photo credit Leslie Billman




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