*Flushing, New York – Venus Williams stand over 6ft tall, but she had a tall task in front of her for her third round match Friday afternoon inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. She was up against a feisty teen, one of only two women who recently beat Serena Williams, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. Bencic bested Serena in a recent Toronto semifinal and went on to win the Rogers Cup title.
Venus, seeded 23, had a winning record against the 18-year-old Suisse going into the match, 3-0, but when they played those matches the U.S. Open 12 seed was a different player; she hadn’t won a title and she certainly hadn’t beaten a draw full of top 20 players in doing so.
But as far as weapons go, the match was always on Venus’ racquet, because on her good days she can almost match those of her little sister. That said, being the oldest woman in the draw, 35, she needed to employ them all; Bencic came into the tournament surging and she had the young legs to possibly wear the veteran down.
Once the match was underway, Venus had chances early in the first set to break, but she didn’t play with the urgency to take advantage of them. The two hung even with no breaks of serve until 4-3, with Venus leading, but that’s when the 7-time Slam champion turned up the heat, broke Bencic to love, then held for the set.
The experienced champion was steady on her feet and never even really looked troubled in the match.
At the start of the second, Venus immediately forced triple breakpoints on the Suisse, but wasn’t able to capitalize and instead spurred a momentum change, finding Bencic snatching her first break point and going up 4-1. That party didn’t last long, however; Venus remained calm and broke back to get back on serve at 3-4.
The next couple of games went Venus’ way, giving her the opportunity to serve for the match. But she had been very shaky on closing lately, so it wasn’t foregone that the deal was done. But, Bencic’s body language had turned to that of sinking defeat and Venus smelling that fresh blood confidently closed the match out, 6-3, 6-4.
18 years after first making it to the finals – and winning the title twice, Venus now finds herself in the third round of the U.S. Open:
“I love the game, I love the U.S. Open and I love how everyone got behind me when I was down,” she said after the win.
Venus got it done early in the day in straights and gave her little sister a tough act to follow later that evening on Ashe … and she seemed up to the task starting out.
Serena Williams, aka the one to watch, came out on court with fire in her eyes against compatriot and occasional hitting partner, Bethany Mattek-Sands … but the rest of her body didn’t get the memo. She dropped her first service game after failing to break Mattek-Sands, allowing the tricky fashionista to go up 3-0 before she ever got on the board. At 3-1, that signature passion began to rear its head , however, and she put enough pressure on her quirky opponent’s serve to earn the break back for 2-3. But the threat still wasn’t averted; she got broken right back.
Bethany serving at 4-2 was taken to deuce, but she managed to hold with a variety of shots that had Serena off completely off-kilter. The defending champion held next, giving Mattek-Sands the opportunity to serve for the set. That game went to deuce a few times, and after two close-but-no-cigar bullets, the 101 ranked American took the first set, 6-3.
We’ve been here before, though, right?
Serena came out of the gates in the second set with an easy hold … And she looked eerily calm. She earned more break points on the Mattek-Sands serve but was unable to convert. In fact, she’d held somewhere around nine breakpoints but went for too much each time … the scoreline was 1 – all at that point.
Bethany got back on serve and same scenario: Serena earns multiple breakpoints, but the doubles specialist miraculously digs out. It was then tied at 2-all.
Inspired play from both took the score to 4-3, with Serena still leading, but the Calendar Slam hopeful was still needing to notch up the pressure as it got to the business end of the set. With that, she finally converted a break point and screamed with relief.
5-3, Serena and she’s on serve.
The crowd sensed it was her time and got behind her with cheers, but the nerves were just to strong and she dropped the break of serve she’d just earned. But as champions do, she regrouped and waited for her next opportunity to break … and she did, taking the second set, 7-5.
With a little wind now beneath her famous derrière, she bolted out to a five games to love lead in the deciding set. All cylinders were firing, the Serena train was on the track full steam ahead and she closed it out with a ferocious blow of her proverbial whistle by not allowing Mattek-Sands another game. What began as an alarm sounding performance for her fans turned out as an emphatically ended match with a scoreline of 3-6, 7-5, 6-0.
She got it done under the bright Ashe light, and in front of a few luminaries from the entertainment world: Dougie Fresh, Tiger Woods, Kelly Rowland, Wendell Pierce, Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton), Carla Hall (The Chew) Teyonna Parris (Mad Men, Dear White People and Survivor’s Remorse).
Serena’s next opponent is American Madison Keys, who – for the first time in 5 tries – took out the crafty 15 seed, Agnieszka Radwanska from Poland, 6-3, 6-2 on Grandstand court.
Rewinding a little, on Thursday, a rejuvenated Donald Young advanced to the 3rd round in a Glam Slam for the first time since the 2014 French Open. Riding on the glory of coming back from 2 sets down to win his previous match against Frenchman Giles Simon, he didn’t lose heart when he dropped the first set against his lower ranked but sturdy opponent, Aljaz Bedene. The Brit was cranking out huge serves and powerful groundstrokes, giving Young just about all he could handle, but the American stayed the course and waited for the wheels to fall off his opponent’s game, going on to win the match, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. The Brit’s collapse could partly be attributed to Young’s resolve – buoyed by the home crowd support, but also the sweltering on-court conditions, which Young was well prepared for:
“I felt pretty good … But i’m from Atlanta so it gets quite hot, he said. “It’s actually hotter than this.”
They don’t call it “Hotlanta” for nothing.
As for the home crowd support:
“When you can look over and see support from familiar faces and people that care about you no matter what, it always gives you extra motivation,” he said.
This year’s US Open has experienced a record number of withdrawals due to the smothering heat.
Young will next face Serbian Viktor Troicki, but under cooler New York conditions.