Serena Williams just keeps writing more history as she notched up her 103rd at the US Open after she defeated fellow American Kristie Ahn in straight sets, 7-5 6-3, and surpassing Chris Evert for the most US Open wins in the history of the tournament, male or female.
Out of the three matches I have played officially on tour, I think this by far was my best one. I think you look at a loss in a little bit more of a mature way, in a sense than, maybe 10 years ago. It’s a process. That’s what I told myself at the start when I took this challenge on, was that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and losses. That’s part of it. Kim Clijsters
Winning doesn’t come as easily for Williams these days and she had to claw back from early 2-0 deficits in both sets, but when the chips were down, she still was able to convert 4 out of the 6 break points she created in the match.
On serve, she was also impressive, particularly on the first delivery that won her 32 of the 38 points when she found her spots, including 13 aces.
“It’s been since the ‘90s since I won a match in straight sets,” she joked in her on-court interview, although, in fact it was also her first straight-set win since February.
Despite the slow start, Serena got into her stride, blasting 28 winners to her 24 unforced errors en route to victory.
“It was just getting the rhythm in the early part of the match,” she said. “First round is always tough for me.
“I think Kristie, she really strikes the ball really hard. She mixes up a lot. She plays a lot of the different shots. You don’t really know what to expect.
“I really thought her game was really, really, really good to the point where I had to make sure. I was down a break at one point, so I was really fighting for everything.”
Cleared the first of 7 hurdles in her quest to emulate Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles, Serena is happy with her start.
“I was really happy with how I fought for every point, no matter how I was playing. I just had to get my ‘Serena’ focus back,” Williams said with a laugh. “But I felt really good throughout the match, I just kept telling myself that I needed to be Serena and close it out. I was able to do that and I’m happy to move on.”
She dominated the first set, but credit to Ahn, who showed no sign of nerves and played aggressive tennis, taking it to the No 3 seed and exerting pressure through a tight 7-5 opening set.
The second set opened exactly like the first, with Ahn getting an early break and a 2-0 lead but she made a few costly mistakes and began to unravel, allowing Williams to win 6 of the next 7 games to close out the match.
With her 39th birthday on the horizon later this month and the increasing depth of the women’s field, Williams’ chances of tying Court’s all-time record may be dwindling, but she still can so easily prove everyone wrong.
Awaiting the former No 1 at the second hurdle Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan, who outlasted Olympic Gold medalist Monica Puig from Puerto Rico, 6-2 6-7(0) 6-0.
Venus and Kim fall at first hurdle
Veterans Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters both bowed out at the first hurdle on Tuesday as seeded players dominated the women’s draw for a second straight day.
Hours after younger sister Serena had battled into the second round, Venus, 40, was back in the spotlight in what was her 22nd US Open appearance.
She reached the final on her debut in 1997, but on this occasion was beaten in the first round for the first time in her glittering career by Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.
Muchova, the 20th seed, had too much poise for Williams en route to a 6-3, 7-5 win.
Time is running out for Venus’s career at the top level and she has not gone further than the third round at a Grand Slam since 2017, but she insists that she plans to continue playing, starting with this month’s French Open at Roland Garros.
“I love this game,” Williams said. “I’m good at what I do. It’s easy to stay motivated and excited about doing something so amazing. Not many people get to do this.
“But I look forward to a few days off. It’s been a lot of work. Looking forward to just having a little bit of a rest before the clay courts.”
Alexandrova takes out Clijsters
Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, meanwhile, is making the second comeback of her career and her first appearance at a Grand Slam since 2012, raising hopes of an upset after taking the first set of her match with Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova.
The 37-year-old three-time US Open champion ran out of steam, though, as Alexandrova, seeded 21, rode out an impressive 3-6 7-5 6-1 win.
Clijsters decided to hang up her rackets in 2012 and 8 years later received a wild card entry into the main draw.
“It’s always a pleasure for me to come to the US Open, whether it is for legends or for commentary or whatever,” Clijsters told press. “So to be here as a player is even more special.”
In 2005, Clijsters scaled the railing to join her coaches and family in her player’s box after defeating Mary Pierce in the US Open final.
That night she captured her first Grand Slam title, but some of her most-cherished moments in New York were long before her first major triumph.
“I remember one of the most, for me, big first moments was playing Serena, I think it was 1999, when I qualified,” she said. “I played her I think first or second round. It was on the old Louis Armstrong stadium.”
Clijsters fell to Serena Williams in the third round in three close sets on that occasion.
“It was an incredible match. The atmosphere was great,” Clijsters said. “For me, that, kind of, I think started the energy that I feel here when I play here.
“Any night match that you get to play here at the US Open on Arthur Ashe is incredible. It’s nothing like anything else anywhere else.”
She would memorably win the US Open in 2009 and ’10 after the birth of her daughter Jada. The Belgian has since had two more children, sons Jack and Blake.
Last week, Clijsters withdrew from the Western & Southern Open due to a pulled abdominal muscle, which began bothering at World TeamTennis in July.
Although, she was a perfect 5-0 at last month’s World TeamTennis event, she was also forced to pull out of the singles portion due injury.
“I felt in World TeamTennis my level really went up to where I want it to be, where I’ve been training for getting in to it,” she said.
The Belgian made a blistering start to her first singles match at Flushing Meadows for eight years but Alexandrova stood firm to level up the contest in a hard-fought second stanza and then ran away with the third as the 37-year-old faded on a cool evening.
In all, Alexandrova struck an impressive 29 winners to 32 unforced errors, while Clijsters made 22 winners to 36 unforced errors of her own.
Breaking serve 5 times, the 25-year-old Russian put down 6 aces and won 70% of points behind her first serve.
Up next for the No 21 seed is American Caty McNally, who dispatched Slovak star Viktoria Kuzmova in straight sets earlier in the evening.
Still without a win since coming out of retirement for the second time in February, Clijsters is keen to focus on the positives.
“Out of the three matches I have played officially on tour, I think this by far was my best one,” she said. “I think you look at a loss in a little bit more of a mature way, in a sense than, maybe 10 years ago.
“It’s a process,” Clijsters added. “That’s what I told myself at the start when I took this challenge on, was that it’s going to take a lot of hard work and losses. That’s part of it.”
The best of the others on Day 2
This year’s women’s field in New York is more open than ever with World No 1Ashleigh Barty, the second-ranked Simona Halep and defending champion Bianca Andreescu all electing to skip the US Open due to the pandemic.
One of the leading contenders for the title, second seed Sofia Kenin of the United States, got off the mark with a 6-2 6-2 win over unseeded Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.
The 21-year-old, who won an emotional maiden Grand Slam title at this year’s Australian Open, later revealed she had cried to herself before the match in order to alleviate stress.
“Crying. That’s what I did. I mean, I had to let it out,” Kenin said. “It’s fine. It worked.”
Kenin will play Canada’s Leylah Fernandez in the second round, who opened her campaign with a 6-4 7-5, win over another veteran, Vera Zvonareva from Russia, on Tuesday.
Ninth seed Jo Konta meanwhile won the ‘Battle of Britain’ against compatriot Heather Watson, winning 7-6(7) 6-1. For the full report, click HERE.
No 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka set up a meeting with fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka by beating the big-hitting Oceane Dodin from France, needing just over an hour and a half to edge through with a 7-6(1) 6-4 victory.
Sabalenka made a strong start to the season before the 6-month coronavirus pause, reaching the semi-finals at the Adelaide International, quarter-finals at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and lifted the trophy at the Qatar Total Open in Doha to cap it off.
While she has struggled to find her form after the tour’s resumption, and was pushed to the limit in a gruelling first set by Dodin, contesting her first US Open in three years after battling injury, but found her way through, building her confidence.
At the start of last week, Azarenka had come into the relocated Premier 5 tournament without having won a match in exactly a year, but by the end of the week, she had claimed her first title since 2016 and dropped just one set in the process.
She showed the same form against Austria’s Barbara Haas on Tuesday, posting 5 unanswered games in both sets as she broke her opponent twice en route to a comfortable straight sets win, 6-1 6-2.
The two Belarusians will next face off at the US Open for the second year in a row.
“Honestly, I would be really excited to have that challenge,” Azarenka told journalists after her straight sets win. “We had a really great match last year. It was really high quality. It didn’t go my way. I feel like this year it’s a great opportunity to kind of see where my level is at versus her level.
“It’s going to be a great challenge. She’s a great fighter. She’s been showing great tennis. I’m really looking forward if that’s going to be the matchup.”