Two seeds fell on the opening day of the Western & Southern Open at Macon, Cincinnati in Ohio on Monday, as fan frustration grew over with the re-scheduling of the evening showcase match between Emma Raducanu and Serena Williams, which was postponed until Tuesday, leaving ticket-holders in the sell-out crowd disappointed after a spokesperson stated this was ‘on account of a number of factors related to scheduling’.
When I look at her, I suddenly kind of forget that I’m here as the World No 1. I see Serena and it’s, ‘Wow, Serena!’ You know? And I feel like I’m a kid from kindergarten just looking at her. So it’s tough. I haven’t talked to her, but I’m just trying to say Hi! Iga Świątek
While 9th-seeded Daria Kasatkina, the San Jose champion, and No 13 seed Leylah Fernandez, the 2021 US Open finalist, were the big casualties of the day, falling to Amanda Anisimova and Ekaterina Alexandrova respectively, the news buzz surrounded Williams and Raducanu.
Williams, now 40 and the owner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, is preparing to ‘evolve away from tennis’ after brief appearances at Eastbourne, Wimbledon and Toronto following a year away from the tour due to injury, with next week’s US Open likely to be her final competitive event before she sets her sights on having another child and her business interests.
Rumours are rife that the American former World No 1 has picked up another injury and that Cinci organisers are giving Williams more recovery time ahead of her match against 19-year old Raducanu, who is the defending US Open champion.
“The countdown has begun,” Williams said in Toronto after losing to Belinda Bencic. “I plan to relish these next few weeks.”
The aura surrounding Williams remains, and even the current World No 1, Iga Swiatek, is star-struck.
“I have a hard time catching eye contact with Serena,” Swiatek said at her pre-tournament press conference ahead of the WTA 1000 event. “And I just wanted to say ‘Hi’ a few times. But it’s tough because she always has so many people around her, and I’m pretty shy.”
The 21-year old Pole has claimed 6 titles this season during a 37-match winning streak, and already has won two French Open titles.
“When I look at her, I suddenly kind of forget that I’m here as the World No 1,” Swiatek admitted. “I see Serena and it’s, ‘Wow, Serena!’ You know?
“And I feel like I’m a kid from kindergarten just looking at her. So it’s tough. I haven’t talked to her, but I’m just trying to say Hi!”
Raducanu is excited at the prospect of playing Williams in the night match on Tuesday [midnight UK time].
“I think it’s gonna be an exciting match,” she said over the weekend. “I’m looking forward to it.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to play, probably, the best the best tennis player of all time. It’s probably going to be my last opportunity to ever play her.
“I think that, for our careers to have crossed over, I think, I’m really fortunate that I get to play her.
“Whatever happens, I think it’s gonna be a really good experience for me, and something that I will remember for the rest of her life.”
Meanwhile, Anisimova improved her record against Kasatkina to 3-0, after the American dispatched 9th-seeded Kasatkina, 6-4 6-4, in their 1 hour and 19 minute 1st-round match, and has yet to drop a set to the Russian.
The 20-year-old from New Jersey continued her domination of Kasatkina, firing 33 winners to just 5 from her opponent and although Anisimova dropped her serve 4 times, she also converted 6 of her 7 break points to take the win, the 7th Top 10 victory of her career, 4 of which have come this year.
Anisimova has won 33 matches on tour this season, the fourth-most among all players, as well as winning the Melbourne Summer Set 2 title and also reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
The American saw a first-set lead slip from 3-1 up to 4-4, but then slammed a forehand winner for a love hold for 5-4, and ended a rally with a backhand winner to break for the one-set lead.
In the second, powerful forehands gave Anisimova another 5-4 lead, and while Kasatkina went up 40-30 in the next game, a passing winner brought the American to deuce, and 2 forehand winners in succession allowed her to close out the match from there.
Alexandrova, ranked 27 and from Russia, mounted a pair of come-backs to defeat 19-year old Fernandez from Canada, 6-4 7-5, in their opener.
Playing her first tournament since Berlin, Alexandrova rallied from 0-3 down in the first set, and 1-5 in the second, to up-end Fernandez and level their head-to-head to 1-1.
Fernandez served for the second set twice, but Alexandrova wiped out 2 set points to prolong proceedings, ultimately winning the last 6 games of the match.
A champion in s’Hertogenbosch, Alexandrova came into Cincinnati just 2 spots below her career-high ranking of No 25, while her win over Fernandez is her 4th Top 20 win of the season.
Elsewhere, Elena Rybakina earned her second victory since claiming the Wimbledon title, defeating Egyptian Mayar Sherif, 6-3 6-2.
It was an efficient and focused win against an opponent who was playing only the second match of her come-back from a foot injury that had sidelined her for 2 months, and proved intermittently dangerous.
The Egyptian, ranked 58, struck her heavy forehand with relish and ultimately tallied some impressive stats, finding 11 winners to 5 unforced errors.
Sherif led by a break at 3-2 in the first set, but from there on in Rybakina settled into a groove on serve, backed up by several lethal backhands.
The Kazakh saved all 4 further break points against her to reel off 10 of the next 12 games, and finished with 13 winners to 11 unforced errors.
The World No 25 set up a 2nd-round clash with 8th seed Garbiñe Muguruza, the title-winner here in 2017.
Rybakina’s success rate since defeating Ons Jabeur in the All England Club final has been modest, with a 1st-round defeat in San Jose, and a 1-1 record last week in Toronto.
The 23-year-old Kazakh lifted her game in the second set, though, to end with 5 aces and 13 winners against Sharif.
“I was slow at the beginning, but I got my rhythm and served well,” Rybakina said. “But my serve always helps me.”
The newest Grand Slam champion said she is trying to look ahead in her career as she adjusts to her status.
“Wimbledon gave me confidence, but now I’m focusing on my other tournaments and trying not to think of the past,” she added. “I’m looking forward to playing as much as i can here.”
Rybakina is teaming up with Raducanu in the doubles, and the pair will open their campaign against Lucia Hradecka & Sonia Mirza, probably on Wednesday.
Another Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, who won The Championships twice, got past Jil Teichmann from Switzerland, 6-7(2) 7-6(6) 6-3, saving a match point on her way to ousting last year’s Western & Southern Open finalist.
Making her 11th Cincinnati appearance, which is tied for the most at the event, the Czech held on to prevail after 2 hours and 47 minutes against the World No 21, who held a 2-1 head-to-head lead coming into the battle of left-handers against the 23rd-ranked Kvitova.
Teichmann nearly won in 2 tiebreak sets, saving a set point at 5-4 in the second, and holding her match point at 6-5 in the breaker, but former World No 2 Kvitova found a big serve to set up a forehand winner and erase that chance, then levelled the match with a put-away on her second set point.
In the third set, Kvitova won all 16 of her first-service points and was never broken, completing the come-back win.
Of the two Estonians in the draw, No 2 seed Anett Kontaveit takes on Czech qualifier Tereza Martincova on Tuesday, who was a 6-7(4) 6-4 6-3 winner over Spain’s lucky loser Nuria Parrizas-Diaz in a 1st-round match that lasted over two and a half hours, while Kaia Kanepi fought long and hard but eventually fell to former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, 6-3 4-6 6-3, in a contest that also stretched beyond the two-hour mark.
After both players broke each other’s serves in the opening games, Azarenka edged into the lead after breaking Kanepi again in the 5th, before the Estonian double-faulted to hand the Belarusian the first set having saved 2 set points at 3-5.
Azarenka took a 2-0 and then 3-1 lead in the second, before Kanepi staged a strong come-back, snagging the next 4 games in a row on her way to levelling the match at a set-all.
The decider saw 4 consecutive breaks before Azarenka was able to hold onto her serve, and she then broke Kanepi again before consolidating to take a 5-2 lead.
Kanepi held to narrow the gap, but Azarenka served out her last game without conceding a point to book a place in round 2.
“If you had asked me when we last played, I wouldn’t have remembered,” said Azarenka, a two-time Southern & Western Open champion, who last faced Kanepi 13 years ago. “She’s a great player who has proven, time and time again, that she can play very well against top players.
“It was a very tough match, and I’m glad I was able to turn it in my favour in the end.”
Other Monday results included Veronika Kudermetova, who defeated Czech Barbora Krejcikova, 6-3 6-3, while American Sloane Stephens cruised past Alizé Cornet, 6-1 6-0, and fellow Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, a qualifier here, was a 6-3 6-3 winner over lucky loser Petra Martic from Croatia.