WTT draft features familiar faces


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – World Team Tennis, the exhibition league founded by Billie Jean King that takes place after Wimbledon, held its draft Tuesday.

And among the faces this summer will be 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who is in the fourth round of the women’s singles at this week’s BNP Paribas Open.

The league plays for the last two weeks in July, with the final in early August. It’s an opportunity for a lot of lower-ranked players and doubles specialists to pick up some extra cash. And look for other names to perhaps join the various teams for a couple of matches during the short season.

The 2017 champions are the Orange County Breakers, who defeated the San Diego Aviators 22-18 at the La Costa Resort and Spa just outside San Diego.

This year, Jack Sock returns to the Springfield Lasers. As well, Genie Bouchard will be back with the New York Empire and Venus Williams will make a few appearances with the Washington Kastles. 

Here are the draft selections, including the “franchise” type players each team is allowed to protect before the draft begins.

The first overall pick was by the Kastles. The D.C.-based team selected Tennys Sandgren to head to the nation’s capital.

Washington Kastles

Venus Williams (protected)
Mike and Bob Bryan(protected)
Madison Brengle (protected)

Tennys Sandgren (1st overall pick)
Robert Lindstedt
Nicole Melichar

Philadelphia Freedoms

Sloane Stephens (protected)
Taylor Townsend (protected)
Fabrice Martin (protected)

Amanda Anisimova
Kevin King
Kevin Anderson

Springfield Lasers

Jack Sock (protected)
Abigail Spears (protected)

Vania King
Miomir Kecmanovic
Daniel Nestor

New York Empire

Mardy Fish (protected)
John Isner (protected)
Genie Bouchard (protected)
Neal Skupski (protected)

Tatjana Maria
Dennis Novikov
Maria José Martínez Sánchez

San Diego Aviators

Naomi Broady (protected)

Marcus Willis
Marcin Matkowski
Anna-Lena Groenefeld

Orange County Breakers

Yanina Wickmayer (protected)
Andreja Klepac (protected)

Marcelo Demoliner
Stéphane Robert

Venus prevails in too-early sisters clash


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – For the 29th time as professionals, sisters Venus and Serena Williams met on a tennis court Monday night.

It was the third round of the BNP Paribas Open.

And it was the earliest the sisters – who seemed, until life intervened, destined to meet in every Grand Slam final for forever – had met since their very first meeting in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open.

That was more than 20 years ago. And each meeting since then has had its own story, a distinct chapter in a book with pages of footnotes with hidden subtexts that only two people on the planet could ever understand.

In this case, it was younger sister Serena’s first tournament back in nearly 14 months, after a baby and a wedding and some frightening post-birth complications. The last time they met, in the 2017 Australian Open final, the two shared a secret known to few: Serena was already expecting little Alexis Olympia.

Big sister prevails

Venus won, for only the second time in their last nine meetings, the 12th in 29 total meetings.

prevailsThe 6-3, 6-4 score was made more competitive by the elder sister’s failure to serve out the match at the first time of asking. Very nearly, she failed to serve it out the second time as well. 

But she did, with her serve reaching 120 mph on a regular basis. Venus won just four more points than Serena overall – we can use first names here, because chair umpire Juan Zhang decided to go that route.

But it didn’t seem that close. It felt this close to a Serena breakthrough moment at times. But while there were flashes, she “isn’t there yet”, as she has reiterated a few times this week.

“I think this is the best she’s played in a while. She didn’t make a lot of errors. She served very consistently. You know, she just did everything great. For her, I think it was a really good match,” Serena said.

“Her level is super high and it was very difficult to close out the match, just getting one ball back. Like I said, I have had a few more matches. Even though I haven’t even played that much this year, the matches in the last year count,” Venus said.

In their own bubbles


The two sisters were transported to the stadium for the evening-session match via golf cart. This is general practice: the players share a cart, studiously avoiding each other, sometimes buried deep in their Beats headphones. 

That ride, shown on the big screen inside the stadium, seemed endless even to those who watched. Even with the company, it seems such a lonely ride.

prevailsVenus was in the second seat, Serena hanging on the open bench facing in the opposite direction. Their backs were to each other. They didn’t speak.

As they took the court, Serena entered first, Venus last, the privilege granted to the higher-ranked player.

And it’s the first time it would have happened since 2002 Wimbledon, when Venus was No. 1 and Serena was No. 2. (They don’t introduce the players as they walk on the famed Wimbledon Centre Court, a subtle distinction).

Serena kept Venus waiting, big sister at the net ready for the coin toss while little sister fussed with her sports drinks and made sure the plastic bag they came in was properly disposed of.

Once there, they didn’t look at each other. They posed for the obligatory net photos like two strangers. Venus had a slight smile; Serena had a sort of a tense-looking smirk. Venus’s left arm and Serena’s right may have been slightly touching. Or perhaps not.

And then, it took 14 minutes to play the first two games, seven minutes and 35 seconds for Serena to hold serve in the second game.

So much unknown

When Venus beat Serena at Wimbledon in 2008, little sister did not take it well at all even if she did have a hug for her big sister at the net. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Among all their matches, it might have been one of the ones with the more unpredictable outcome.

Logic dictated that Venus, who had a superb 2017 and a lot more match play in her tennis bones, would have a relatively easy time of it.

Serena always calls her sister her toughest opponent – even when she’s going full throttle. So the added elements of the new mother’s return would just make it even more challening.

But Venus had played just two official tour matches so far in 2018 – both in Australia in January – and had lost both. So she wasn’t exactly match tough even if she did post two wins in Fed Cup last month, over two Dutch players ranked outside the top 100.

And it’s Serena, so you never know.

The occasion might have summoned up an hour or so of vintage play, enough to remind her big sister of her eight losses in their last nine meetings. Serena has often played her best tennis against her sister because she feels, more than with any other opponent, that she has to.

While big sister has always been gracious in defeat, and sometimes of late their matches had that air of inevitability, little sister Serena has never felt that way.

As with most little sisters, Serena always wanted to win.

Serenity for Serena, and an early test

prevailsWhen Venus won their 2008 Wimbledon clash, Serena could barely look at her, barely summon up a smile for a beloved sister who won what would turn out to be the last of her five WImbledon titles, and her perhaps her final major title. Her competitiveness is peerless.

This time, when it was over, the hug was genuine. And Serena was sanguine.

“You know, it’s good that I don’t have to say that this is the best tennis I have ever played – and I lost. My room for improvement is incredible. So I have just got to keep saying each tournament my goal is just to be better than the last,” Serena said.

She faced the opponent who always gives her the best measure of what she needs to do, where she needs to be. Now, she knows. So it’s back to work for 10 days or so before Miami.

“I haven’t played in over a year. It’s definitely not less disappointing. I wish it were, but it’s not. But then again, I (don’t) wish it wasn’t. Then I wouldn’t be who I am,” Serena said. “Yeah, so I just have a long way to go, and I’m looking forward to the journey

Indian Wells media day missing famous faces


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Tennis is in a rather extraordinary place at the moment in the sense that many of the best players – the most compelling stories – aren’t currently in the top eight.

So that meant that on Wednesday at the BNP Paribas Open, with all due respect to the top-eight players who attended the mandatory media availability / WTA All-Access hour, the players fans and media might most want to hear from at this moment in tennis were not the players who were made available.

It’s not a criticism as much as it is a window into procedure on the pro tours for these kinds of pre-tournament media availabilities.

Serena Williams (unranked, a wild card) is officially returning to action after being out since the 2017 Australian Open. Not there.


Victoria Azarenka (No. 204, a wild card) is back at a tournament for the first time since last year’s Wimbledon. Not that she hasn’t been in the tennis news for other reasons, with her ongoing custody dispute. Not there.

Maria Sharapova (No. 41), is back at the tournament she has won twice, for the first time since 2015. Not there. She did, though, have a match to play Wednesday night.

Novak Djokovic (No. 10), has been out since losing in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and having played just four matches all season. He won the tournament in 2008, 2011, and three consecutive times from 2014-16. 

A procedure on his elbow after the Australian Open left Djokovic’s participation in doubt as the tournament neared. But he’s here, and brings mentor Andre Agassi to the desert for the first time.  Not there.

All four of the above have been world No. 1. All four have won the BNP Paribas Open – and all of them have won it more than once. 

Men and women all at once

An added twist, which is often the case here.

Media availabilities for both the men and the women (for whom the main draw matches began Wednesday) were both on Wednesday. 

And that meant that at times, male and female players were available at the same time, and so if you wanted to speak to both, it was challenging.

The women tend to lose those one-on-one battles for attention. It’s not fair, but it is what it is.

In a dream scenario, the alphabet soup of tennis (WTA, ATP, ITF) would all collaborate together to coordinate and get maximum exposure for all players.

As well, two of the most compelling of those top eight male players were both scheduled for 3:15 p.m. at one point. At least Juan Martin del Potro was later pushed back 15 minutes, as Alexander Zverev kept the original time slot.

Venus Williams was there – she squeezed in as the No. 8, and therefore honored the mandatory commitment and perhaps saved herself a fine. Had she been No. 9, she, too, would have been absent.

Here’s what Williams had to say.

Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem both scheduled their media availabilities for Thursday.

In the end, perhaps no one wanted to slight the top eight players present at the tournament (in the women’s case, the top eight ranked players in the world and in the men’s case, eight of the top 10 with Rafael Nadal and David Goffin out) by leaving them out to sub in accomplished former champions.

And perhaps the WTA and ATP are eager to showcase some of the other contenders for the men’s and women’s singles titles.

But the storylines that will most be watched in the sports world at large (and on a macro level, even in much of the tennis world) will not revolve around Kevin Anderson or Jack Sock or Thiem or Karolina Pliskova or Jelena Ostapenko or Caroline Garcia.

At least for the moment, it will be about Serena, and Vika, and Novak, and Maria.


Singles match No. 1,000 for Venus is a win


It might not have been the prettiest match of her career.

But a lot of round numbers came to be for Venus Williams Saturday, as she dispatched Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4 in the first rubber of the U.S.’s Fed Cup tie against the Netherlands.

According to the WTA Tour, it was singles match No. 1000 of Williams’ illustrious career. And it was singles win No. 20 in Fed Cup.

Here are some of the numbers behind the milestone.

(The ITF has her record at 758-223, so it’s her 982nd match. The WTA has her with 17 more wins and just one more loss – because they include qualifying matches. But hey, why ruin a good narrative).

“It’s never easy. It’s always a challenge. I think that’s why you play the match. It’s never a win until it’s over,” Williams said during her on-court interview. “On paper, it looked like I should win the match but it was a battle. And it’s a battle I’m glad the US won.”

Williams said the slight altitude in Asheville, North Carolina (a little over 2,000 feet) meant she had trouble finding the right balance, especially in the second set. “I like to go big. I was trying to find the balance between going big and too big,” she said.

Williams-Ohanian family representing

Sister Serena Williams was on the sidelines cheering. Williams is penciled in for the doubles, but who knows if she’ll play – if the U.S. clinches it with the first singles match of the day Sunday, they would skip straight to the doubles dead rubber).

So was Venus’s niece Alexis Olympia, with brother-in-law Alexis “Senior” chronicling the moments.

Venus is now 20-2 in singles in Fed Cup. This was her first tie since 2016.

Her only two losses came to Russians.

Elena Dementieva beat her 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in the 1999 final in Stanford, Calif. The other defeat was a  5-7, 6-4, 6-2 loss to Anastasia Myskina in the 2005 semifinals in Moscow.

As it happens, both those women – long retired – were on court just last week, having a hit-and-giggle as part of the St. Petersburg WTA Tour event. 

And Venus is still truckin’ at the top.

Match No. 1? Well, both the WTA Tour and the ITF agree on that. It came in Oakland, Calif. on Halloween, 1994 – a 6-3, 6-4 win against No. 58-ranked Shaun Stafford.

Venus, Serena to play Fed Cup in NC


MELBOURNE, Australia – Serena Williams will make her official return to tennis playing for her country.

The USTA announced Tuesday that Serena, sister Venus and Coco Vandeweghe are the first three nominees for the USA’s World Group I first-round tie against the Netherlands.

Asheville, NC, not too far from the sisters’ homes in Florida, will host the tie.

Their participation will undoubtedly give the event a boost even if the US team, minus the sisters, are the reigning Fed Cup champions after defeating Belarus in the final last November. And according to the venue’s ticketing website, it appears the 5,000 or seats for the two day event Feb. 10 and 11 are already gone.

So the Williams sisters are just value added. 

For them, it has the added bonus of counting towards their eligibility for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, without having to compromise their tournament schedule or involve much additional travel.

Vandeweghe was the top gun during the successful 2017 campaign.  The USTA will name the fourth member of the squad at a later date.

She’s finally back

Serena Williams hasn’t played an official match since winning last year’s Australian Open while two months’ pregnant. She returned exhibition in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago against Jelena Ostapenko, but chose not to come to Australia for the first Grand Slam of the season while she continued to get match-fit after some tough postpartum health issues.

The original posters advertising the first-round Davis Cup tie in North Carolina didn’t have the Williams sisters. Ticket sales were still impressive.

She has played relatively little for the US during her long career. Serena has played Fed Cup only in six seasons: 1999, 2003, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2015 (the first three came the year before an Olympic year).

Her last matches were nearly three years ago in Brindisi, Italy, a playoff tie to earn a promotion for the U.S. into World Group I.

Williams won both her rubbers against Camila Giorgi and Sara Errani. But Lauren Davis and then Christina McHale were unable to win the third, deciding singles rubber. And even Williams’ participation in the deciding doubles with Alison Riske wasn’t enough; they lost to Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta, and won just three games.

This will be the 10th year Venus Williams has played Fed Cup. But it will be her first tie since a quarterfinal round two years ago in Hawaii, right after the 2016 Australian Open. The U.S. easily defeated a Polish team that was without Agnieszka Radwanska on that occasion.

The Netherlands are led by Kiki Bertens, who was the No. 30 seed at the Australian Open and lost to No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the third round.

Venus Williams gets her hit (video)


Venus Williams, the only returning Australian Open women’s singles finalist from a year ago with her sister not yet back on Tour, is a huge fan of the 8 a.m. practices.

(Well, maybe not a huge fan. That probably requires a 6 a.m. wakeup call and not too many people are fans of those. But it’s nice and quiet on site, and there are no distractions).

Here she is on Thursday, going through her paces on the practice court.

The hair is in its full glory. Hopefully Venus will also let her tennis game fully hang out.

She opens her tournament Monday on Rod Laver Arena against a very, very tough opponent.

After a five-month absence in 2017, Belinda Bencic (a former No. 7) returned in the fall at the lower ITF level and has barely skipped a beat getting back to form.

Bencic’s last stop was Perth, Australia where she carried Roger Federer to the Hopman Cup title.

No fault found in Venus Williams crash


The Palm Beach Police have released an 18-page report on the car crash involving Venus Williams last July.

And according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, neither Williams nor the driver of the other car, Linda Barson, were found to be at fault. 

Therefore, no charges will be filed.

“Based upon this investigation and relevant Florida state statutes, no charges will be filed in this case,” the Sun-Sentinel reports, citing the police report. “The investigative report concluded that neither Barson nor Williams violated the other’s right of way… The unknown dark-colored vehicle… started a sequence of events resulting in (Barson) crashing into (Williams),” the report said.

Jerome Barson, the 78-year-old passenger in the other car, was admitted to hospital. He died about two weeks later.

At last word, the civil suit filed by Barson’s family against Williams is ongoing.

The determination of lack of fault by the police – and the mitigating factor that the third vehicle has not been found, its driver still unknown – probably doesn’t help the civil case much.

More here from the Sun-Sentinel.

No Vika as Fed Cup final rosters revealed


With her family issues ongoing back home in Los Angeles, the chances were remote that Victoria Azarenka would play.

But the announcement of the rosters for the Fed Cup final between Belarus and the U.S., to be played in Minsk Nov. 11-12, confirms it. They’re subject to change, of course.

On board for Belarus will be Aryna Sabalenka, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Vera Lapko and Lidziya Marozava.

CoCo Vandeweghe, Sloane Stephens, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske will make up the U.S. team.

Notable absentees include Venus Williams, who just wrapped her season Sunday at the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore, and Madison Keys.

Stephens and Riske replace the injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lauren Davis, who were on the squad that defeated the Czech Republic in the semifinals back in April.  Riske played the first round against Germany in early February.

Williams last played in the U.S.’s win over Poland in the quarterfinals in 2016. Keys, battling wrist issues, has played just once since 2014, in a playoff tie last year.


Tough year for Azarenka

For Azarenka, it has been a year to forget since Wimbledon. She had planned to take part in the WTA event in Luxembourg last month. But she found herself in court in California that week, part of the ongoing custody battle she’s facing with the father of her son Leo.

One deal-breaking issue has been the former No. 1 taking her son on the road with her when she plays tournaments. So the notion of bringing Leo back home to Belarus, where Azarenka has extensive connections, presumably would be exponentially out of the question.

It will be the first Fed Cup final for the U.S. since 2010. It will be the first Fed Cup final ever for Belarus.

The Americans are heavily favored, although recent form hasn’t been all that great.

Since the US Open, Vandeweghe had played just two tournaments (and won just one match) until defeating both opponents in her pool group at the Zhuhai event this week.

Stephens, who also is in Zhuhai, lost her first round-robin match to Anastasija Sevastova and plays Barbora Strycova Friday.

The US Open champion also had played two tournaments after New York, both first-round losses. She managed three games in one match, and four in the other.

Singapore WTA Tour Finals wrapup


In the end, the WTA’s season finale in Singapore was a microcosm of the season on the women’s circuit.

One day, a player looked like a world beater.

The next day, she looked as though she didn’t belong anywhere near the top.

Poor followed very good and was followed by average in the order we came to expect in a topsy-turvy 2017.

But in the end, it was the two most seasoned players who came through.

Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams handled the almost-unplayable slowness of the Singapore court. They handled the round-robin format that seemed to stymie some of the younger players so programmed to the regular elimination format. 

And if Wozniacki held up the big trophy at the end, it was Williams who continued to write the story of the season.

The 37-year-old didn’t win the Player of the Year award – even in this season, you really had to win a major to get that one. But she deserved it.

A renaissance season for Venus

That Williams will finish No. 1 in prize money for 2017 speaks to her results. Among the players in the top 100, Williams played fewer weeks this year than anyone not sidelined with longer-term injuries (Stephens, Keys et al) or a suspension (Sharapova).

Williams’s longevity, her unquenchable and ongoing thirst for the fight, and her willingness to leave it all on the court despite the challenges she deals with continued in the season finale.

The tennis, mercifully, improved throughout the week. Perhaps the court sped up a little with regular use. Perhaps the players gradually adjusted to it. But in the end, the surface was a significant sidebar.

It allowed Wozniacki, a premier defensive player, to have the time she needed to do what she does best. And yet, even the 27-year-old Dane felt the urgency to finish off some points more quickly than she might have otherwise.

It’s been a long season.

The surface also hurt Williams, who found herself in some marathons earlier in the week and by the second set of the final, had simply run out of legs.

Disappearing doubles

On the doubles side, the decision last year to ditch the round-robin format used in singles and adopt a single-elimination format for the eight qualifying teams relegated it to a footnote for the week.

Had it not been for the retirement of Martina Hingis (who along with partner Yung-Jan Chan was eliminated in her second match, following her confirmation that this would indeed be her swan song), it might have passed virtually unnoticed.

For the four teams eliminated in the first round, the notion of working all season to get to Singapore, to fly all the way to Singapore, and to play just one match is a little unfair. 

But it was made necessary by the fluctuating crowd support in Singapore. 

The first edition in 2014 was a huge success on the attendance side. And while the WTA Tour kept the attendance figures on the down low in the intervening years (the numbers are not even available for 2016), they cut early-week day sessions. They cut the legends’ event. They reduced the “Rising Stars” component to a regional Asian event that also passed unnoticed.

(Remember 2015, when 22-year-old Caroline Garcia, already ranked No. 35, was considered a “rising star”? A little crazy. But a final between Garcia and Naomi Osaka that year certainly had more marquee value than this year’s finals between … Priska Nugroho and Pimrada Jattavapornvanit, and Megan Smith and Ya-Hsin Lee.)

Singapore results and grades


[1] Simona Halep
Grade: C-

In her first round-robin match against Garcia, she looked like a world beater. It was Halep’s first match as the new world No. 1, and she played the part to perfection.

In her second, against Wozniacki, she won just two games. In her third, against Elina Svitolina, she won just seven games and was eliminated. 

She finishes the season ranked No. 1. But she didn’t finish it playing like a No. 1. Her challenge in 2018 will be to marry up those two concepts.

[2] Garbiñe Muguruza
Grade: C

The WTA Tour Player of the Year, the Wimbledon champion, didn’t finish her season the way she wanted to.

She began the week well against overwhelmed Singapore rookie Jelena Ostapenko. But then, it unraveled with a desultory loss to Karolina Pliskova. The defeat at the hands of Williams was a bruising one. Still, it was a straight-sets loss.

The Spaniard has the mien and posture of a champion. But there’s something missing. It seemed as though she might be the one to come through and take a firm grasp on the top spot, in this window of opportunity caused by the absence of so many champions. But it didn’t happen. It’s an ongoing mystery.

[3] Karolina Pliskova
Grade: B

With one-week coach Rennae Stubbs on board, the on-court coaching consults definitely took an uptick – especially for non-Czech speakers. Pliskova had already co-opted Barbora Strycova coach Tomas Krupa for 2018, so it can go no further. But hopefully some of the other players in Singapore will give it some consideration, because Stubbs, a great athlete who mastered the entire court during her career, has something to offer.

Pliskova looked like a world-beater against a rusty Williams in her first round. In her second, against Muguruza, she looked great again. But then she was crushed by Ostapenko in what essentially was a meaningless match (beyond the money and ranking points). At 25, with plenty of experience behind her and in her second tour of Singapore, Pliskova definitely should have handled that “dead rubber” match with more aplomb. 

[4] Elina Svitolina
Grade: C

Svitolina gets some slack because it was her first appearance at the Tour Finals. The players have to arrive early, do a lot of media and promotion. The entire routine of a tournament is completely turned upside down. The week before the matches actually begin must feel endless.

She was thrashed by Wozniacki in her first match. But she fought valiantly and played some very good tennis in her marathon loss to Garcia in her second match – arguably the match of the tournament. 

But it was clear at that point that she’d had enough. Faced with the possibility that she wasn’t yet out of contention for the weekend after that match, her attitude and words suggested she’d just as soon not even entertain that notion. That’s not what you want to hear from one of the eight best players in the world.

[5] Venus Williams
Grade: A+

In the absence of her sister Serena, you wonder how different this season would have looked without Williams’ throwback effort.

She created the spark in Singapore that was missing with the rest of the field (And that, despite a desultory and somewhat disrespectful effort in her press conferences; those on hand were only doing their jobs, and had travelled a long way to do them).

For the 37-year-old to win the whole thing would have been a storybook ending. It couldn’t quite happen. But in the end, she wasn’t the best player on the week. So it was fitting.

[6] Caroline Wozniacki
Grade: A+

Wozniacki won the biggest title of her career in Singapore. And it was a perfect marriage of surface and playing style.

The commentators were gushing with praise about how she was playing her best tennis ever. But if they paid more attention to her on a day-to-day basis, they might revise that. The Dane has been playing excellent tennis all year. If she fell a little short in most of her tournament finals, she nonetheless made eight of them this season. And she improved her ranking from No. 19 at the start of 2017 to No. 3 at the end.

The muddy court was ideal for arguably the best defensive player in the game. But it was her veteran’s ability to adjust her tactics to take best advantage of it that won her the title. Wozniacki took advantage of the opportunities that did present themselves in points, and added a little more when she needed to.

[7] Jelena Ostapenko
Grade: C

Of all the players in Singapore, Ostapenko’s 2018 season is going to be the most fascinating.

Her win at the French Open, while well-deserved, was aided by the inability of some of her colleagues to seize their moment. With her inexperience, and insouciance, she had no such baggage and was the last one left standing.

But even on the Singapore court, the weakness of her serve cost her. When Williams pounced on her second delivery with impunity later in their round-robin match, the carefree ability to hit winners took a hit. And the surface hurt her in the same way it helped Wozniacki; the winners were harder to come by. And when a player used to hitting those winners isn’t getting them, they try to add even more. And that led to errors.

Only in her final match did Ostapenko exhibit that insouciance again. But there was nothing at stake for her; she was going home regardless. That was telling. Again, as with Svitolina, it was her first trip.

As well, coach Anabel Medina Garrigues wasn’t there, having left to take the Fed Cup captaincy in Spain. A calming influence, Medina Garrigues can take some credit for that French Open victory. The next coach is going to have a tough act to follow.

[8] Caroline Garcia
Grade: A

The last to qualify for Singapore by virtue of back-to-back wins at big events in Wuhan and Beijing (and an injury to main competitor Johanna Konta), the WTA Tour Finals were a coming-out party.

Of all the Singapore rookies, she was the only one who clearly lived the experience to the fullest – win or lose.

Smiling, talkative, a battler on the court, perhaps the time is now for the French player of whom so much has been expected. She let her game flow for much of the week, and it was a beautiful thing.

Given how much tennis Garcia had played in the late stages to get there, her resistance through all those hours on the court was impressive. The three best matches of the week all had her on one side of the court.

Keys, Stephens win all-American day


NEW YORK – Whatever happened, there was going to be an all-American women’s singles final Saturday at the US Open.

What was left to be determined Thursday was who the participants would be.

Among the embarrassment of American riches in the final four, only two could advance to the final day.

It was going to be either Venus Williams or Sloane Stephens. And it was going to be either Madison Keys or Coco Vandeweghe.

In the end, it was the two youngest – Stephens, 24 and Madison Keys, 22.

Both of them pulled off bravado performances of very different kinds in the semifinals.

First to get to the finish line was Stephens, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 victory that had a little bit of everything.

By the third set, when both were playing well at the same time and giving it everything they had, it was nerve-wracking and dramatic and in doubt until the very end.

“I just wasn’t playing well. I just wasn’t playing well. Those are moments where you have to dig deep and figure out how to get the ball on the court and have a big game. I can’t be tentative and try to figure out how to put that ball in,” Williams said of that first set. “But I figured out a lot, but she played great defense. I haven’t played her in a long time. Clearly she’s seen me play many, many times. I haven’t seen her play as much.”

No solace for Venus

It didn’t matter what the question was, Williams wasn’t having much of it during her press conference. She wasn’t the least bit interested in talking about tributes, or about what a superb season she’s having, or any of that. She showed up to win, and she didn’t get the job done.

Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, 13 years apart but neck-and-neck at the end to try to get to the US Open women’s singles final.

Williams was the sentimental choice who obviously won’t have that many more opportunities to win another major. But the 37-year-old ran out of legs in the end.

She made a lot of errors, but she didn’t have a lot of options. Whenever the rallies went past a certain length, Stephens won most of them. “Yeah, it was definitely well competed. In the end, she ended up, you know, winning more points than I did. That’s what it adds up to,” she said. 

A month ago, unthinkable

Stephens’  sub-900 ranking just over a month ago has been well-documented. And she needed to use a protected ranking just to get into the US Open, It will be a first Grand Slam singles final.  

It also will be the first for Keys, who crushed Coco Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the nightcap.

“I think it’s amazing. I definitely never envisioned it happening this way, but I couldn’t think of a better person to have this first experience with,” Keys said.

Venus ran out of gas, though not out of will, by the end of the third set against Sloane Stephens Thursday.

After Williams came back with a roar in the second set, Stephens just tried to stay positive.

“I wasn’t making that many mistakes in the first set. Venus made a lot of errors. I think in the second set, obviously playing Venus, she’s an amazing competitor and she’s been here many times before. She wasn’t going to just give it to me. I think she really stepped up her game in the second set. I mean, you don’t expect anything else from multi-Grand Slam champion. She’s been here before,” Stephens said. “I tried just not to get too down on myself. I knew obviously in the third set I would have to fight my tail off and get my racket on every ball.”

All Keys, from first to last

If the first semifinal was dramatic, the second was one-way traffic – for Keys.

Madison Keys, despite a “something” in her right leg, was pretty sprightly after reaching the US Open women’s singles final Thursday.

The 22-year-old put up a performance of such quality and bravura over Coco Vandeweghe, there wasn’t a single solitary thing her countrywoman could do to stop her.

Even a medical timeout to have her right upper leg wrapped at 6-1, 4-1 didn’t interrupt Keys’ flow. All it did was take a match that would have lasted less than an hour and nudge it over the one-hour mark.

“None of it had anything to do with the occasion. It was more Madison played an unbelievable match. I didn’t really have much to do with anything out there,” Vandeweghe said. 

Vandeweghe was, needless to say, quite upset.

“She was playing a great first set. I thought at some point she might start running a little bit colder than what she was doing. But I mean, it’s really not over until the last point. I was fighting as hard as I could for as long as I could, but she stayed hot the whole time,” Vandeweghe added. “It’s a little bit frustrating right now how I’m feeling of that it wasn’t so much of my say-so. I don’t feel that way very often in my tennis, so I think it’s a little bit of an opportunity lost for me.”

Keys knew she couldn’t have done it much better.

“I played really, really well. It was kind of one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone. And I just kind of forced myself to stay there. I knew I was going to have to play really well in order to beat her. And, you know, I feel like once things started going, it just kind of fell into place. Luckily I was able to close it out the way that I did,” she said. “