*Williams 5-7 4-0 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
Up 30-15, Tomljanović double faults, then folds. On break point, she hits meekly to the net, where Serena is waiting.
Williams 5-7 3-0 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
Consider Serena duly awakened. That hold was as routine as watering your plants.
Next door, Caroline Garcia rattled off a few games in a row to take the first set against Bianca Andreescu 6-3.
*Williams 5-7 2-0 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
Tomljanović opens with an ace and goes up 30-15. But Tomljanović is no longer playing the error-free tennis she played in much of the first set, and she drops the next two to face break point.
And after a few failed net approaches, Serena masterfully deflects a shot down and just barely inside the line. Break.
Williams 5-7 1-0 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
Serena’s serve was angry that day, my friend, like the sea tossing George Costanza away from the great fish, er, whale. A couple of rockets, and it’s 40-0.
Then a couple of errors, including a double fault, and Tomljanović is right back in it after catching Serena at the net and unprepared. Deuce.
A good rally puts Serena back up, but she is once again caught flailing at the net, stretching just to get any part of her racket on the ball.
The serve, though, is still a potent weapon when it’s on target. Two quick points, and Serena has held, winning her first game since she was up 5-3 in the first.
Tomljanović again elicits a Serena error. 30-0.
Then she hits a service winner. 40-0, triple set point. If Serena hasn’t felt any pressure thus far in this tournament, she’s feeling it now.
The GOAT hangs in to win the next rally. Tomljanović, who has made very few mistakes, makes one on that point and the next. 40-30.
No mistake on the next. Tomljanović paints the line, and Serena is flat-footed. First set over, and the crowd’s anxiety is palpable.
Williams 5-6 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
I’m not a coach, but now McEnroe is saying what I said earlier – wait for it to bounce, then smash it. Serena goes for the volley while she’s far over to one side of the court, and Tomljanović just anticipates it and hits into an acre of empty space. The big serve is missing now, and Serena falls behind 15-30. Tomljanović runs Serena around the court on the next point and earns two break points. She throws away the first with an unforced error, but she leaves Serena frozen with a well-placed drive to complete the break.
This isn’t happening, is it?
*Williams 5-5 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
The longer the rally, the better chance Tomljanović has. And now she’s finding her serve, coming back from 15-30 with a long rally, a well-placed serve that Serena returns weakly, and a surprise ace.
Williams 5-4 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
Tomljanović doesn’t look at all like she’s going to win this one, but this is some quality tennis with some scintillating rallies. After Tomljanović outlasts Serena, the 40-year-old seems to breathing heavily and taking her time before serving again. But she comes back to win at the net once again with a drop shot that leaves her opponent frozen. Tomljanović goes up 15-30, then watches an ace drilled down the center line. So nearly a second straight ace, but a fault is called, and the net cord is unfriendly to Serena.
Break point. Can Tomljanović, improbably, stay in this?
Yes! Serena hits long. And I have again written the final story too early. This is why I don’t bet.
*Williams 5-3 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
And now it’s a masterclass. Serena wins with her service returns. She wins by coming to the net. She just wins, breaking Tomljanović at love.
Tennis has big momentum swings at times, but we might be able to check out some other matches before dark if this keeps up.
Williams 4-3 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
Easily Tomljanović’s worst game of the match so far, misfiring wide and long and making it all too easy for Serena.
Spike Lee photo follows – we’ve also seen Seal and Russell Wilson. Don’t athletes focus on their own sports in-season any more? (Wilson, not Seal.)
*Williams 3-3 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
Not to second-guess the GOAT, but is there anything wrong with letting Tomljanović’s lob bounce before trying to smash it away? Serena tries the volley instead and ends a 21-shot rally with an unforced error into the net.
Maybe she’s pressing too hard? At 15-30, she hits Tomljanović’s second serve quite hard – too hard, and it sails long. Serena gets another point to make it 30-40, but Tomljanović does quite well to close out the game. Crafty player, she is.
Williams 3-2 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
An ace, a double fault, and a win in a long rally in which Serena dealt well with an effective lob, and Williams holds.
I will be looking carefully for a picture of Spike Lee’s suit.
*Williams 2-2 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
Say this for Tomljanović, though – if she can just avoid having a second serve blasted past her, she can hold her own here. She wins a long rally here and then lands a well-placed first serve to force an error and hold at love.
Williams 2-1 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
I’ve seen three replays of the lob Tomljanović hit over Serena at 0-15, and I still don’t see how it was out. But we’re not here to argue with infallible technolehjkaeme23hb h.
Anyway, Serena holds at love.
*Williams 1-1 Tomljanović (* denotes next server)
Ah, now we know why Tomljanović elected to receive. Her serve is nothing if not intimidating, and it is not intimidating.
As she did in her last match, Serena is happy to blast an opponent’s second serve across the court. She hits a clean winner to set up three break points. She only needs one.
Williams 0-1 Tomljanović* (* denotes next server)
Tomljanović won the toss and elected to receive. Someone smarter than I am will need to explain why that’s a good idea. Serena’s serve has occasionally faltered here, but it’s not something you want to face when she’s dialed in.
But early on, it’s not. Serena misses her first five first serves, and though she wins a point with a nifty angled drop shot at the net, she faces two break points.
On the first, she gets her second serve in, but Tomljanović easily returns, and after a brief rally, Serena hits one long. An early break for the Croatian-Australian.
Quick aside for our Australian readers: Nick Kyrgios faces American J.J. Wolf at Louis Armstrong Stadium (the second biggest after Arthur Ashe) after the aforementioned Andreescu-Garcia match.
Who is Ajla Tomljanović?
She was born in Croatia but has switched her nationality to Australia.
Her top career singles ranking is 38th, set in February of this year. She’s currently 46th.
She has reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon two straight years.
Her favorite city to visit is … Charlotte, N.C., maybe not the world’s biggest tourist destination but a place where she has some family.
She made her WTA main draw event in 2009 and cracked the year-end top 100 in 2013.
Her father played handball. (For American readers who don’t follow the Olympics, we mean the kind with nets, not walls.)
Her best tennis memory was her first time on the court with Chris Evert, so it’s a little unfortunate that Evert is absent from the broadcast booth tonight. Mary Jo Hernandez is up there with John McEnroe and Chris Fowler.
Pre-match pomp and circumstance is ending. Here we go …
Meanwhile, in men’s tennis …
Top seed Daniil Medvedev once again has the dubious honor of trying to follow Serena at Arthur Ashe Stadium, facing Yibing Wu and reminding me of when I saw Cheap Trick in top form opening for an indifferent Robert Plant.
But like the women’s draw with Serena, the men’s draw’s highlight is the progression of fellow veteran Rafael Nadal, who advanced today despite bashing himself in the nose.
It’s as if women’s tennis was taking place in some alternate timeline, and Serena followed Spock through a time wormhole or whatever it was that made it possible for Leonard Nimoy to appear in the Star Trek reboot.
None of these players have ever played Serena.
Not Danka Kovinic, Serena’s first-round opponent here. Not Kontaveit. Not Tomljanović, tonight’s opponent.
Not Samsonova or Krunic (first names will be at the end of this post), her prospective fourth-round opponents.
Not her prospective quarterfinal opponents, fifth seed Ons Jabeur and 18th seed Veronika Kudermetova, who have already won their third-round matches.
Not even top seed Iga Świątek, a two-time French Open champion who’s less accomplished on hardcourts.
If these players were up-and-coming prodigies with youthful swaggers that make them impervious to the Serena mystique, maybe they’d have more of a chance. Kontaveit gained confidence for a while, fighting back in the first set to force a tiebreaker and then rolling past Serena in the second set, but it always seemed as if Serena was just catching her breath before unleashing the fury in the third.
But with the exception of the 21-year-old Świątek, these are veteran players who know they’re supposed to be intimidated, and they are, even if Tomljanović has come up with a novel way of blocking out the crowd that already annoyed her when she was playing several courts away.
(This is a home-court advantage of a type rarely, if ever, seen in tennis. On occasion, a handful of people have cheered opponents’ service errors, but for the most part it has been an appreciative crowd – and Serena herself once shut down fans who grumbled about a line call, an unusual complaint in a tournament whose line calls are judged electronically.)
The most interesting bracket right now would determine a potential semifinal opponent for Serena. Coco Gauff defeated Madison Keys in a matchup of younger US players inspired by the Williams sisters. In Louis Armstrong Stadium tonight, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu faces a solid player in Caroline Garcia.
Serena still has to win five matches to match Margaret Court’s record of 23 Grand Slam victories, a mark set in an era in which the field of competition was nowhere near as vast as it is today. Streaks end, and Serena’s might come to a close before she has a chance to play that dream final. But there’s no one in this field who makes you think, “Yes, THAT is the person who will beat Serena.” Not after seeing Williams play Wednesday as a supposed underdog who thoroughly outclassed the world’s No. 2 player.
(Those first names: Liudmila Samsonova and Aleksandra Krunic.)
Spare a thought today for those in the world-enveloping field of sports betting.
If you had bet on Serena Williams before Monday, chances are your purchased your ticket at 50-1 odds. Now she’s in the 14-1 range. And doesn’t THAT seem a little too skeptical, given the way she has marched through these first two rounds?
We have to ask at this point – who’s going to beat her?
Defending champion Emma Raducanu? Out in the first round.
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina? Also out in the first.
Second seed Anett Kontaveit? Lost on Wednesday to somebody … oh, right … Serena Williams.
How about two-time champion Naomi Osaka, like Serena a player whose recent lack of activity and success belies her ability? Nope. Out in the first.
Also out in the second round: Third seed Maria Sakkari and fourth seed Paula Badosa.
All told, only six of the top 11 made it to the round of 32.
Tonight, Serena plays Ajla Tomljanović, the 46th-ranked player in the world. Should she win that one, she’ll face the winner of a match being played all the way out on Court 17 between 35th-ranked Samsonova and 96th-ranked Krunic. Bonus points if you know their first names. Answers in the next post. This one is already my longest of the week because I’m essentially describing a cosmic alignment not seen since the Harmonic Convergence of 1987.
The bad news for Serena is that she and Venus Williams lost their doubles opener Thursday night. But that just means more rest for someone who’s at the age at which men start buying flashy cars to compensate for their receding hairlines and dad bods. (Not me. I have a sensible car.) She can focus on smashing her way through a succession of opponents whose resumes compare to Serena’s about as well as my book sales compare to that of children’s author Dav Pilkey. (Yes, I’ve been working in a library recently, and I have sneaker tracks on my back from all the kids stampeding to grab the latest Dog Man books.)
Beau will be here shortly. In the meantime, here’s Merlisa Lawrence Corbett on Venus and Serena’s joint farewell last night.
Serena Williams often says there would be no her without Venus. So if this was indeed their last tournament together, it is fitting that they went out in the doubles on Thursday night in the same manner as they arrived more than two decades ago: as a team – The Williams sisters.
After they retire officially, you’ll find them on the pages of sports, business, health, fitness and fashion magazines. The Williams sisters transcend sports. They’ve obliterated records, broken barriers and precedents to the point that little is left for proteges like Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka. The chance to become the first black woman to win a career grand slam? Gone. The first black woman to win Olympic golds in singles and doubles? Gone. The first black women to win grand slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles? Gone. The first black women ranked No 1? Gone.
What’s left is a sports legacy unequalled in its impact and cultural significance. The Williams sisters changed how the game is played and who is playing the game. Forty-one years passed between Althea Gibson winning her last grand slam title and Serena winning her first. Today, four black women playing at this year’s US Open have a combined 35 grand slam singles titles.
Venus has five Olympic medals (one silver, four gold), the most won by any tennis player, male or female, in the Open era. Serena ranks second, with four gold medals. They are a perfect 14-0 in grand slam doubles finals. Black women – Serena (23), Venus (seven) and Osaka (four) – hold the top three spots on the list of most major titles among active female players. There were more black women in the main draw at the 2022 US Open than there were African Americans in last year’s World Series.
Venus and Serena have reshaped the tennis landscape to such an extent that it’s easy to forget what it looked like before they arrived. Women’s tennis matches were rarely played in US primetime before Venus and Serena. Billie Jean King fought hard for equal prize money at the majors. But that didn’t happen at all four grand slam events, until Venus and Serena started drawing mega television ratings.
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