How do you solve a problem like Serena’s?

PARIS  – You feel like Serena Williams still wants to play tennis.

No matter how much you’ve won, how much you’ve made, the competitive fire that helped get you there doesn’t just disappear from one day to the next.

But if her body isn’t up to it, she just shouldn’t play until it is. Because this Serena is not the Serena anyone – including Serena, probably – wants to leave behind as a final act.

We know Williams is chasing some history, which seems to be running a little ahead of her at the moment, extending slightly more out of her grasp each day.

But one thing we know: Williams didn’t come back to lose to Sofia Kenin in the third round of the French Open. Or to anyone else, for that matter.

She came back to pick up those two major titles she needs to get to 25, and put that all-time number – Open era record or Margaret Court record – out of reach. Also, because this is what she’s done her whole life. And because she loves to compete and win. And, yes, of course, because she’s brand building for her post-playing career.

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Williams’s range on the court was basically a couple of steps each way. Which is a tough way to win a tennis match.

The way the fairy tale was supposed to play out, Williams would have won last year’s Wimbledon and US Open and hit “that” number. And then, she would have made whatever decision is right for herself and her family.

But it didn’t happen. A veteran named Angelique Kerber and a newbie named Naomi Osaka thwarted that perfect ending.

And now, she finds herself with a conundrum on her hands.

Regression, not progression

If Williams she wasn’t quite ready when she returned 15 months ago at Indian Wells, we thought surely she’d be back in the groove by now, right?

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Kenin was pretty shocked at beating the great Serena. But the Serena she beat was not the “great” Serena of old.

But she’s not progressing. She’s regressing.

Fellow American Kenin, Williams’s opponent in their third-round match Saturday, didn’t seem overawed or intimidated during her 6-2, 7-5 third-round victory, mind you.

The 20-year-old went after it. She played the ball, not the opponent. And she didn’t give up a single point without a fight. 

This is a reflection on where Williams sits. It’s no knock at all on the young woman born in Moscow, who now lives a long Hail Mary pass away from the new home of the Miami Open.

She played the Serena she had in front of her, and she beat her fair and square.

After winning the match, Kenin could barely look up at the handshake. Playing the tennis to beat 2019 Serena was something she could do. Looking straight into her eyes of the legend at the net afterwards was actually a more daunting prospect. Even if Williams could not have been more gracious.

But this was not the old Serena. It wasn’t even “old Serena”. It was the Serena we have at the moment. And it’s a bit of a painful version of Serena.

No Serena roar

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The Serena roar only lasted for a few games late in the second set, enough to get her back into the set. But not for long enough.

Only for a few games later on in the second set against Kenin did Williams have that look on her face. You know the one. The “I’m gonna shove that ball down your effing throat” look. The one that’s usually punctuated by a big increase in decibel level. The one that tells the opponent, “You’re not going to beat me. You’re going to have to kill me first.”

It didn’t last. Williams was most often limited to a couple of steps in each direction. She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t in control of her own destiny.

And that, after 20 years at the top of the game, is what stands out.

Until Williams went off on maternity leave, through her injuries and health issues and periodic breaks, you always felt that every match she played was on her racket. 

If she wanted it to happen, it was going to happen. She would will it to happen. And most often her opponents bent to that superior will, because it was backed by superior talent.

In Williams’s brief appearances on tour since her return, that hasn’t been there often enough.

Wimbledon and the US Open

After three wins at the 2018 French Open, her first major after coming back, she won three rounds. But then she withdrew from a match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral injury.

Williams regrouped quickly. Her next tournament was Wimbledon where, still unseeded, she reached the final. But lost in history is the the fact that she did not have to face a top-50 player until the semis

SerenaAnd when she did, it was Julia Goerges who, in 41 straight Grand Slam tournaments had not even made a major quarterfinal, let alone a semifinal. 

But still, she made it.

Williams won only one match until she put together a fabulous US Open – until the final, of course. No need to rehash that one. 

But then she didn’t play for the rest of the season.

After only a few matches in the summer, Williams returned for real at the US Open. And she made the final again. Her run to that final, in terms of quality of opposition, was far more impressive than the run at Wimbledon.

But then she ran into Osaka. And then she didn’t play the rest of the year.

Williams returned for the Australian Open in January and did … okay.  She had won all her singles matches in the exhibition Hopman Cup event that led up to it.

SerenaShe hurt her ankle in Australia. The knee is bothering her. She was sick at Indian Wells and retired in her second match, against Garbiñe Muguruza. She pulled out of Miami before her second match, against No. 18 Qiang Wang. And she pulled out of Rome before her second-round match against her sister.

It was within the realm of possibility that Williams would skip Paris entirely.

“I’m just pretty far away (from her best shape), but that’s the optimistic part is I haven’t been able to be on the court as much as I would have. That’s okay. At least I can start trying to put the time in now,” Williams said.

“I am glad I came. You know, I love the city, and I love the tournament. I really wanted to be here. So I’m glad I came, at the end of the day,” she added.

More matches needed

It’s not a state secret that Williams needs to play. Earlier in her career, when she played less than average, she was able to swoop in and pick up titles. There was that time in Australia in 2007 when she arrived rusty, heavy and out of shape. But she played her way into form and won the tournament. But she was only 25 then. A lifetime ago.

“I’m definitely feeling short on matches, and just getting in the swing of things. I don’t really like playing out points when I practice,” she said. “I have some time on my hands, so maybe I’ll jump in and get a wildcard on one of these grass court events and see what happens.”

Williams perhaps is realizing that it’s going to be a more challenging task than she thought it would be to own her own piece of history. 

The question is, is she ready to pay the price?

And, more crucially, will her body allow her to do what’s necessary? If she tries to play more, will she get hurt more? These days, it seems like she’s getting hurt when she plays at all.

She’s Serena Williams. Never count her out. Ever. But she has to make a move. Because losing in the third round of a major to Sofia Kenin – or anyone – is not why she came back.

This is, in its own way, the biggest challenge of her career.

After one match, Serena out of Rome

It was like déja vu for Serena Williams, back to the last time she played tennis.

At the Miami Open two months ago, the 37-year-old met Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in her opening match. She won it – and then pulled out of the tournament before she was to face Qiang Wang in the next round.

On Monday in Rome, Williams defeated Peterson again. And Tuesday, the day before she was due to meet sister Venus in the second round, she pulled out of the tournament – again.

The culprit is the same left knee. It’s not the first time she’s had an issue with that knee over her long career. But at this stage, it’s definitely more of a concern.

The Italian Open is only Williams’s fourth tournament of the season. And she still has only completed one.

The American lost 7-5 in the third set to Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. You remember that one; after upsetting No. 1 Simona Halep in the previous round, she was up 5-1 in the third set and had four match points before Pliskova came all the way back. 

And even that one wasn’t straightforward, after Williams rolled her ankle late in the match.

Ankle, viral illness, knee – and knee

At Indian Wells, a viral illness led to “dizziness and extreme fatigue”, and Williams retired early in the second set of her match against Garbiñe Muguruza after a hard-fought victory over Victoria Azarenka in her opener.

Then, Miami. And now, this.

Here’s the statement provided by the tournament.

“I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee. I will miss the fans and competition at one of my favorite tournaments.

“I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome.”

Williams seemed in very good spirits during an interview with the Tennis Channel after her first-round win. Turns out, she’s a better actress than we think.

She said she felt “good, really good”. And that she wasn’t sure how she was going to feel, because she “didn’t have a lot of time to get myself together.”

The spirit is willing, the body less so

Of course, if Williams could only get through one match after a two-month break, it’s hard to see how another two weeks will measurably improve her chances to make a serious run in Paris. But hope springs eternal.

It’s ironic that, earlier in their careers, the Williams played relatively little compared to other players. And some of that was because of outside interests – and because they were so good, they didn’t have to play a huge number of weeks to keep winning.

But now, in the twilight of her career and after returning from maternity leave, Serena Williams says she really wants to play. But her body isn’t letting her.

Sister Venus, who needed over three hours and nine match points to defeat Elise Mertens in her own first-round match Monday, thus gets a walkover to the third round.

She’ll play the winner between No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens and Johanna Konta.

Situation normal: Venus and Serena at IW (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Venus and and Serena Williams will never forget why they didn’t come to the BNP Paribas Open for nearly 15 years.

No one is likely to, any time soon.

But now that they made the decision to return – first Serena in 2015, then her sister a year later – it all just seems so … normal.

The sisters met up and chatted on adjoining courts Tuesday, with Venus having already practiced inside Stadium 1.

During perhaps the longest-ever ankle tape job (more than 20 minutes), the sisters gabbed. And then, as Serena went through her paces with hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins, they took another little break later, as Venus headed off to the rest of her day.

The moments when you see the two together at tournaments are fairly rare. They don’t practice together on site much. And while both prefer early-morning practice slots, they often follow each other.

It’s just a reminder about how the very best, most incredible thing about their legacy is their unbreakable bond, their sisterhood.

It’s hard to even fathom having two champions of such stature in the same family. And for them to be competitive when they meet on court, to have one surpass the other, but to have never have et it affect their sisterhood, is a life lesson for all.

Here’s what it looked like. 

As you can see, there were people packed into every available spot within even a long-distance view of the sisters. 

Enjoy the pics and videos. Who knows how many more times we’ll see it.

WTA Tour says farewell to Singapore (photos)

The WTA moved its season-ending event – the crown-jewel event of its season, and its biggest revenue generator – to Asia for the first time in 2014.

It was clearly a “follow the money” move, as so many decisions by the women’s tennis association have been in recent years.

At the time, the WTA said it had received “expressions of interest” from 43 cities. Singapore was chosen over finalists Tianjin (China), Monterrey (Mexico) and Kazan (Russia).

Then-CEO Stacey Allaster said the event represented 35-40 percent of the tour’s net operating revenues. And that the deal was worth more than the $14 million US a year it generated during the three-year stint in Istanbul.

The prize money for the first year in 2014 was upped to $6.5 million, as Allaster said it would rise more from there over the length of the deal.

That didn’t really happen, to any significant extent. It was raised to $7 million in 2015 – and remained at that level for the rest of the Singapore stay.

farewell

(2010: Doha; 2011-13: Istanbul; 2014-18: Singapore; 2019- : Shenzhen)

The offer from Shenzhen, where the tournament will move next year, will double the prize money to $14 million.

Photos from 2014

It was a happier, more innocent time. 🙂

We covered the inaugural event in 2014, which seemed to create a fair amount of engagement in the city and was spectacularly well put on by the organizers.

(The players were: Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and, in her career-making 2014 season finale, Genie Bouchard. There was a significant amount of star power for this one, with some of the most high-profile and popular players in recent years).

Here are some of the pics from that year.

Yes, there are a lot of photos of Bouchard. That was the main reason for being there, as the lone Canadian journalist. But there also are photos of the scenes, the other players and the activities.

Scenes:

Players:

In the press room:

Genie Bouchard – with Halep, Williams and Ivanovic:

The attendance was impressive – announced at 129,000 for the first year. That was a bit misleading, as the WTA’s report at the time indicates that number was for fans attracted “to the Singapore Sports Hub during the 10 days of tennis, entertainment and business.”

The actual match attendance was put at “more than 93,000” through 14 sessions, including three reserved for the “Rising Stars” event featured the first couple of years. That’s an average of 6,642 per session, with the final being the last of four sellouts, at 9,986 fans.

Attendance numbers well-spun

Attendance for the second edition in 2015 was announced at 130,000, but over 18 sessions. While it was difficult to judge the fullness of the stands with the dark lighting, sources on site indicated that they weren’t nearly as full as the first year. 

That’s not unusual, as the first year was impressive. And in any event of this nature, the novelty is more likely than not to  wear off by Year 2 in an area of the planet without any sort of established tennis tradition.

farewell

For 2016, the WTA Tour didn’t announce any official attendance figure. 

In 2017, the WTA announced attendance as 133,000, over only 11 sessions with no legends, and the straight-elimination doubles draw.  By those numbers, the event would have had 11 sellouts, plus another 23,000 fans attending the experience. Might be a little … optimistic.

This year, there’s been no number announced although, as we laid out here, there were plenty of good seats available for every session.

WTA CEO Steve Simon, in his season-ending press conference last week, said he expected a record.

“I think that you can see that through this year we will have record attendance again. I believe it will exceed last year’s 133,000 people. You have seen it the first few nights at the event. You have seen it in the evolution of the fans here,” Simon said.

Law of diminishing returns

Perhaps the lesson to be learned from Singapore is that a five-year stay helps create, as Allaster said when the venue was announced, financial stability. But in a country without an established tennis fan base – the type of fan base you need to fill an arena for a week or more – it’s a challenge to keep an event growing.

The players who would attract the less-than-diehard tennis fans – notably, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova – have not been annual attendees.

Williams played only once in Singapore – the first year in 2014, when she defeated Halep in the final.

farewell

Sharapova qualified in 2014 (exiting after the pool stage) and 2015 (undefeated in the round robin, but out in the semifinals to Kvitova). But she hasn’t played since.

The challenge with the new 10-year commitment in Shenzhen, China will be the same – except double.

Shenzhen has double the population base to draw from. And it’s also near several other large population hubs. And it does have somewhat more of a tennis tradition with annual WTA and ATP Tour events held there.

Halep does the double in Shenzhen

“The largest and most significant WTA Finals deal in the 45 years since the WTA was founded and promises to take the event to a spectacular new level,” Simon said when the deal was announced.

A 10-year commitment

The prize-money pool will double, to $14 million in 2019.

The deal, according to Sports Business Journal, is reportedly worth close to … $1 billion. That’s $100 million a year, or more than seven times the reported value of the deal in Istanbul five years ago even though the prize money is “only” doubled.

Simon told the New York Times the deal was actually worth in excess of that figure. But that number includes the reported $450 million to be spent on the new indoor arena to be built, which the WTA won’t actually own, “and other real-estate elements”. Simon also said that the share of the WTA’s total revenues generated by the event is now less than that 35-40 per cent figure stated a few years ago by Allaster.

It’s a number that stretches credulity, on the face of it. Let’s just say it’s right up there with he WTA’s $525 million, 10-year live media rights and production deal with beIN and Perform, and the 25-year, $3 billion deal between the ITF and the Kosmos Group for the “new” Davis Cup.

(After the first two years of the five-year deal with beIN, the rights in the U.S. have switched over to the Tennis Channel for 2019).

The new arena in Shenzhen won’t be ready in time for the inaugural edition in 2019.

Farewell Singapore, hello Shenzhen

The main priority, though, is that the WTA be able to create a lasting, significant tennis tradition in new its home.

The WTA couldn’t confirm that the annual WTA stop in Shenzhen, which takes place just two months after the Tour Finals, would survive. So it may have to find another home in Asia (or Australia, for that matter) for a tournament amidst a tricky time within the game.

The ATP Tour is planning a team event beginning in 2020. And that tournament looks to taking place in several venues where there are currently joint WTA/ATP events. Among the possibilities are Perth (where the Hopman Cup is in danger). Also being considered are Brisbane (well-attended by the top WTA players) and Sydney, the week before the Australian Open.

Shenzhen is so far away from North America and Europe that it’s not going to be able to count on hordes of women’s tennis fans making the long, expensive trip. So it’s going to have to find its market around that part of China. That was, of course, also true in Singapore.

There are enough people in the area; that’s for sure. The challenge will be get them to the event, and keep them coming.

Serena Williams to co-host 2019 Met Gala

Last year, Serena Williams attended the glamorous Met Gala in New York City with the future Olympia on board, looking all a’bloom and impossibly fabulous.

Next year, Williams will co-host it.

Vogue Magazine reports the 37-year-old (!!!!!) will co-chair the 2019 edition.

She’ll join Lady Gaga, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, stylish former One Direction singer Harry Styles and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

That is some heady company, indeed.

It takes place Monday May 6, 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

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All the way back in 2004, before it was even called the Met Gala, Williams was on hand.

Last year’s theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.

That’s a bit of a delicate one – as all issues involving religion are.

Which was, of course, why Rihanna came dressed as the Pope.

But adhering to the theme dress code is not mandatory.

The 2019 Met Costume Institute’s spring exhibition, which opens later in the week, has as its theme “Camp: Notes on Fashion”.

So we’ll see what that produces.

Scheduling conflict

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About five months pregnant, Williams attends the 2017 gala with future husband Alexis Ohanian. Next year, she’ll co-chair.

Getting it back to tennis, that means that there’s no chance Williams plays the Premier Mandatory in Madrid.

It is the week following the gala.

If it were a small event, perhaps they could push Williams’s start back to Wednesday.

That’s assuming she were inclined to play.

But because it’s a joint event, the women’s main draw is scheduled to start on the Saturday anyway.

So it looks like a short clay-court season once again for Williams.

Perhaps just Rome before the main event.

Still, that’s more than this year.

Williams didn’t play between Miami and the French Open, where she withdrew with a shoulder issue before her fourth-round match against Maria Sharapova.

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Williams attends the 2011 Met Gala with … headwear.

Serena vs. Roger highlights Hopman Cup

We’re still nearly three months away.

But the launch of the 2019 Hopman Cup already has targeted the big day: New Year’s Day 2019.

That’s when Team Switzerland takes on Team USA.

And that means that two of the best of all time, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, will square off on court in mixed doubles.

Those are two pretty big gets for the exhibition event, which could well be in its final edition if the new ATP team event starts up, as planned, in 2020.

So if this is the finale, that’s quite a way to go.

Federer will again team up with Belinda Bencic to defend their 2018 title. Williams will pair with young countryman Frances Tiafoe, making his first appearance.

Hopman

Young, attractive field

If the field appears, at first glance, to lack a little star power (having those two legends is already enough), tournament director Paul Kilderry did point out that it includes four Grand Slam singles champions (Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza are the others), three top-10 players (Federer, Zverev, Kerber) and eight top-20 players.

Already announced was the new “it” tennis couple from Greece, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari.

From Great Britain, no Andy Murray or Johanna Konta. Instead, they’ll have the duo of Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulte – an impossibly good-looking combo.

With Muguruza will be … David Ferrer. And you thought the 36-year-old, currently ranked No. 147 and playing a Challenger in Monterrey, was done? Apparently not.

You’d have to think, if he’s going all the way Down Under, that Ferrer plans to play one more Australian Open as well. Perhaps that’s why he’s still out there on the Challenger circuit this week, trying to squeeze into the Melbourne main draw.

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The 2017 finalists, Switzerland and Germany, return intact this year.

Barty and Ebden for Australia

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The teaming of brother-sister combo Marat Safin and Dinara Safina was long-awaited in 2009. But big brother celebrated the pairing a little early in a Moscow bar, before heading down to Perth. LEGEND.

Our thinking was that the most glam matchup for the home team would have been the off-field couple, Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic.

It’s always an extra bit of fun when real-life couples play mixed doubles together.

Absent that, they’ve come up with top Aussie woman Ashleigh Barty and 30-year-old Matthew Ebden, who’s ranked fourth in the country behind Kyrgios, young Alex de Minaur and John Millman.

The French team of Lucas Pouille and Alizé Cornet, who won the event in 2014 with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are in the field.

Kerber and Zverev, last year’s finalists, also team up again and have by far the best combined ranking in the field.

Draws already done

To be able to start promoting Serena vs. the Fed, you had to have the round-robin draw done.

And so it is. Looks like Group B is the tougher group. But only one of those tandems can make the final.

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Dec. 29 kickoff with the Greeks

The schedule is here. The proceedings kick off with Great Britain vs. Greece on Saturday, Dec. 29 (coming up before you know it).

There is no session on New Year’s Eve evening or on New Year’s Day. The event always has a pretty fantastic New Year’s Eve party – and they definitely have the field to gussy it up.  (Remember when Marat Safin showed up after a rough night back home in Moscow, his face all bruised up?)

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The Maui Jim pair will team up in Perth, a farewell tour for the 36-year-old Ferrer. (Photo: Madrid Open)

The USA vs. Switzerland tussle will be New Year’s night.

New this year at the event, it’s free kids’ ticket day for all day sessions.

You hope this isn’t really, truly the last-ever Hopman Cup. The event has been around since 1989, when Czechoslovakia’s (!!!) Helena Sukova and Miloslav Mecir defeated Australia’s (!!) … Hana Mandlikova and Pat Cash in the final.

(Mandlikova’s Aussie citizenship didn’t last nearly as long as the event).

Here’s their history roll, with some classic pics.

It’s built up a lovely tradition. And the players seem to have a blast playing it. No doubt this year they’ll have a lovely tribute to Lucy Hopman, the wife of the legendary Aussie coach for whom the event is named. Hopman passed away during the US Open, at the age of 98.

A Florida resident, she made it to Perth every year until 2018, when she was 94.

Progress …

Haggerty-approved

If you wanted to hear from ITF president David Haggerty – the Hopman Cup is under the ITF umbrella – here is his requisite press release quote.

“We are delighted once again to see such a strong entry for the 2019 Mastercard Hopman Cup, the ITF’s mixed team competition, at the start of the new tennis season. The ITF team competitions, which also include Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, give players a special opportunity to represent their countries, one that they value long after their playing days are over,” Haggerty said.

“Hopman Cup also offers fans a unique chance to see some of the game’s biggest names team up to play mixed doubles, which remain some of the most popular matches of the week. I would like to recognize our title sponsor Mastercard, and all the other sponsors and partners who continue to support the Hopman Cup.”

Looks like he got ALL the sponsors covered there. As one does.

Ramos and Adams meet again in Croatia

The ITF finally got around to issuing a statement in support of its longtime chair umpire Carlos Ramos late Monday.

But it may well be making another statement by maintaining his next planned umpiring assignment.

Ramos, 47, is set to be one of the two chair umpires for the Davis Cup World Group semifinal tie between the USA and Croatia, set to begin Friday in Zadar, Croatia.

And, indeed, an ITF spokesperson confirmed to Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press that Ramos remains assigned to work that tie.

The Spanish- (and French-) speaking official from Portugal has chaired many high-profile Davis Cup ties, including Spain vs. Great Britain earlier this year and the Spain-Serbia quarterfinal last year.

On one side will be Croatia. On the other side will be the USTA, whose president and CEO Katrina Adams stood firmly behind Serena Williams in the wake of the events during Saturday’s women’s singles final.

Avoided social media

Journalist Miguel Seabra, a former umpire and fellow Portuguese who has been Ramos’s friend for decades, wrote in Tribuna Expresso that Ramos received hundreds of messages of support from friends, colleagues, players and former players.

Wisely, he avoided social media, and didn’t walk the streets in New York the next day.

Ramos wouldn’t answer specific questions about the incident, with rules preventing officials from doing so. (It might have been helpful, in this case, to have a pool reporter talk to him Saturday after the match, to at least lend some balance to a very one-sided situation. But it is what it is).

“I’m doing well, considering the circumstances,” he told Seabra. “It’s not a pleasant situation, but there’s no such thing as “à la carte” umpiring.”

Ramos and Adams, reunited

Ramos’s presence in the chair might make it a little uncomfortable for USTA president Adams, who normally would enjoy her camera-friendly front-row seat as she cheers on the American team.

In Adam’s eagerness to stand behind Williams last weekend, she essentially threw the umpire under the bus and all but said he was sexist.

She spoke to ESPN the following day, and had this to say.

“It’s a give and take on the court, when you’re talking about what’s transparent, or what’s judgment. A judgment call from the umpire. I would say that (Saturday) night it was unfortunate. We have to have consistencies. Because when you look at what the woman – in this case, Serena – is feeling … We watch the guys do this all the time. They’re badgering the umpire on the changeover, and nothing happens,” Adams said, inaccurately.

A private conversation among millions

And then, Adams told interviewers that Williams was not aware of the large microphones on the court. Nor was Williams aware, she said, of the routine practice of showing clips of goings-on during changeovers, after returns from commercial breaks.

“For Serena, she carried on maybe a little further than what she should have. It was on the changeover, she didn’t expect for it to be on camera, or on air at all. And so that was a conversation between she and him that was then publicized, was on air. And then she got penalized for it, in his judgment, of being abuse,” she said.

So, the former longtime WTA Tour doubles player said Williams believed she and the umpire were having a private conversation – in a Grand Slam final, with 23,000 fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium, microphones all around the cout, and networks broadcasting the match live around the world.

“All about gender equality”

(Click below to see the interview)Adams

“There’s no equality when it comes to what the men are doing to the chair umpires, and what the women are doing. And I think there has to be some consistency, across the board, at every level of officiating,” Adams said. “I’m all about gender equality. And I think when you look at the situation, is there conversations that will be imposed in the next weeks?  We have to treat each other fairly and the same. And I know what Serena did, and her behaviour, was not welcome. It could have been a line where it should have been drawn.

“But when you look at Carlos, or the umpire in this particular situation, it’s a ‘judgment’ (Adams used air quotes) call, to give that last penalty, because she called him a thief. They’ve been called a lot worse.”

In Adams’ insistence that the male umpires “communicate” differently with men”, she could certainly point to an incident earlier in the tournament involving Nick Kyrgios. But that’s a rather small sample size. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

When the interviewers questioned her contention that that the code violation had been assessed merely because Williams called Ramos a “thief”, Adams did admit that Ramos “took a lot.”

“It’s a situation for him to say,  ‘Hey, we’re getting out of hand here, let’s tone it down, or I’m going to have to … I think it would have (defused the situation). I think it’s a bond that they have in the communication, the way they communicate, and maybe not understanding that they can have that same conversation with the women. Because they have it with the guys all the time.”

Adams a two-term president

Adams, who turned 50 a few weeks ago, reached a high ranking in singles of No. 67 as a player. She was a top-10 doubles player who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 1989. And then, she accepted a job as a USTA national coach, and retired.

She was one of the commentators when the Tennis Channel first saw the light of day 15 years ago. The enterprising but under-experienced Adams admits she pushed her connections with her friends Venus and Serena, then top-two players in the world, to get her foot in the door.

She has a lot of titles: President and CEO of the USTA. Chairperson of the US Open. Chairperson of the U.S. Fed Cup team. Executive director of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program. Chairperson of the ITF’s Fed Cup committee. Board of directors member for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Vice-president of the International Tennis Federation (one of three under president David Haggerty).

She also chairs the ITF’s new “Women in Sports” committee and the ITF’s Joint Media Commission.

Adams was a USTA vice-president in 2011-12, and a director-at-large on the organization’s board of directors from 2005-2010.

In January, 2015, Adams became the first former player, first African-American and the youngest person ever to become the president of the USTA. She succeeded Haggerty, who went on to the big job with the ITF.

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As the only two-term president in the USTA’s history, the only African-American and the only former player, Adams’s influence has far surpassed that of her many predecessors, some of whom are depicted on this rather eerie wall of plaques on Arthur Ashe Stadium. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Two years later, she was re-elected to an unprecedented second term. That term ends at the end of 2018.

It will be interesting to see what her next move is, and how the accomplished Adams manages the criticism she has received for her impassioned but factually flawed defence of her friend Williams.

First up, of course, the very good chance that she will come face to face with Ramos this weekend in Croatia.

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Breaking the typical protocol, chair umpire Carlos Ramos was not acknowledged at the start of the trophy ceremony. Given the mood inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, it was a wise move. Ramos was escorted off the court by tournament referee Brian Earley).

Serena vs. Ramos: drama at the US Open

NEW YORK – The gap between social media and real life was glaringly evident Saturday night, when Serena Williams essentially bombed out of the US Open final against neophyte Naomi Osaka.

The virtual truth, as always, was cut and dried on one side or another.

The truth, as always, had multiple shades of gray.

If you’re a Serena fan, you defended her to the death. If you don’t like her – and she’s one of the most polarizing figures in sport in part because she’s one of the most famous and accomplished, while being a strong African-American woman – you slammed her unapologetically.

Williams lost her cool and couldn’t regain it in the heat of the moment. Chair umpire Carlos Ramos, whose track record shows he’s one of the few not reluctant to apply the rules of tennis as they should be applied, did his job.

They were two intractable forces that, when they collided in a major final, led to what happened Saturday night. 

It may not have been the most unpleasant finish to a Grand Slam final (Williams owns that one, too, against Kim Clijsters back in 2009). But it was up there.

“I don’t cheat to win. I’d rather lose.”

What set Williams off, and what she never fully recovered from, was the coaching violation called against her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, early in the second set.

It was only the first step of the penalty process: a warning.

But it struck a nerve with Williams. And given her history, you can completely understand where she was coming from.

Throughout her brilliant career, Williams has always been dogged by suggestions that she “cheated”. Her detractors want to think that because she’s a strong, fabulous, muscular female, she must be getting there by artificial means. And yet, Williams is tested often, and has never come up positive. Over 20 years. But the campaign persists.

She is also one of the few women not to avail themselves of the on-court coaching option available during regular WTA Tour events.

Serena drama means high ratings for ESPN

But in the heat of the moment, Williams made an illogical leap. As far as we know, she’d never been called for Mouratoglou sending along signals before. Which doesn’t mean it’s never happened. All the coaches do it – Mouratoglou included. And he admitted during a live interview shortly afterwards that he had. He knows that there’s a camera on him, so there wasn’t much point in denying it.

What’s more, Williams may well have seen him. She referred to Mouratoglou giving her “the thumbs up”, which may have been what she saw from her vantage point, or how she chose to present it to the chair umpire. But however clearly she saw it, the advice was something she immediately began to implement.

Still … a coaching violation is against the coach, not the player. It doesn’t matter if the player saw the signals or heard the advice (or whatever form it takes). It is not an accusation of cheating against the player.

But Williams would not be dissuaded.

On the next changeover, Ramos did his very best to defuse the situation, to assure Williams that he was not, in fact, accusing her of cheating. She seemed satisfied.

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But somewhere, in her head, she seemed to think that meant the code violation, and warning, were rescinded. Which would prove relevant later on.

Shortly after that, Williams sabotaged herself with an impressive trashing of her Wilson racket. Williams had been up a break in the second set at 3-1. But she double-faulted twice in that game to surrender the break.

Second code violation: point penalty.

Williams pleaded ignorance on that one, thinking it would only be a warning. 

“This is unbelievable. Every time I play here I have problems,” she said to Ramos. “You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching. You owe me an apology. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her. You owe me an apology.”

And then … it got ugly

After Osaka held for 4-3, Williams went back at Ramos on the next changeover.

“I explained that to you (the non-coaching). For you to attack my character.  … You’re attacking my character. You owe me an apology. And you will never, ever be on another court of mine as long as you live. You are the liar,” Williams said.

And she wouldn’t let it go.

“When are you going to give me my apology? You owe me an apology. SAY IT. Say you’re sorry. … Then don’t talk to me. How dare you insinuate that I was cheating?”

And then, the coup de grâce.

“You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too,” she said.

And that was enough. Ramos assessed another code violation. Which, given it was the third, now came with a game penalty.

The common narrative out there was that she was unfairly docked a full game  merely for calling Ramos a “thief” – when many other (male) players have done far worse, with far more four-letter words. (Williams, a notorious potty mouth, showed remarkable restraint in that regard considering how angry she was).

But to cherry-pick that argument is to ignore that most often, the unacceptable language comes as a first violation. Therefore, a warning. Or, at worst, a second violation for a penalty point.

Had Williams not already had two strikes on her, it would have been the same for her.

Rarely does it escalate to a being the third violation. If it does, and the chair umpire assesses a violation for umpire abuse (which they almost always will), it would be a game penalty – for any player.

Williams was not singled out in this regard.

Calling the referee

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(Brian Earley and Donna Kelso were also the officials for Williams’ 2009 semifinal default against Kim Clijsters).

Williams called the referee and the supervisor, Brian Earley and Donna Kelso, to plead her case after the game penalty.

She then pulled out the heaviest artillery.

“This has happened to me too many times. This is not fair.  To give me a point – to lose a game for saying that, is not fair. It’s really not. You know how many other men do things, they do much worse than that,” she told them, near tears. “There’s a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things, and because they’re men, it doesn’t happen to them.

“Because I’m woman, you’re going to take this away from me?  You know that’s not right. I know you can’t admit it, but you know it’s not right. I get the rules, I’m just saying it’s not right. … And it happened to me at this tournament every single year that I played, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair.”

On the final changeover, just before Osaka was to serve for the match at 5-4, Williams returned to the corner of the court to have another go with the officials. Her longtime agent, Jill Smoller had already been there to plead Williams’ case. Which is extraordinary in itself.

Williams agent Jill Smoller (far left) had her say with the tournament officials during the eighth game of the second set, which was followed by one last visit from Williams.

The sexism argument

The first argument put forth by many of Williams’ defenders was that the coaching rule is not universally applied, and so is unfair. That may be true. But it’s also a rule. And Ramos is known to apply it unlike many of his colleagues who prefer to avoid the confrontation. He even docked Williams’ sister Venus for it at the 2016 French Open.

The other is that it was a blatant case of sexism.

There are plenty of arguments to be made for everyday sexism in all walks of life. Tennis is hardly immune.

But if you’re going to try to make that argument in this case based upon the fact that Williams is a woman and Ramos is a man – or that men wouldn’t get the same sanction in the same situation – you’re not on solid ground.

Just because Williams pulled that out – both on court, and in her press conference afterwards – doesn’t make it fact.

If there were multiple examples of women abusing chair umpires in far less vulgar fashion than the male players, and yet being excessively penalized in relation to them, you could build a case.

But it rarely happens. The women argue, but it almost never escalates to this point. Williams stands nearly alone in that regard. So there really aren’t comparables.

The only argument she could make would be that she was unfairly singled out, personally. But there’s no history with Ramos in that regard. Williams even conceded during her press conference that he “has always been a great umpire.”

And nothing Ramos Saturday night did was out of line with how he chairs every match he works. You could see that he did his best to try to calm Williams down.

But at a certain point, when a player is accusing you of things you didn’t do (such as “attacking her character”), is calling you both a liar and a thief and demanding an apology multiple times when you’ve done no wrong, there’s a line that gets crossed.

By the above definition in the Grand Slam rulebook, Williams crossed that line. A few times. 

Unfortunately, because Williams already had two code violations, the penalty was severe.

Williams was on a losing track

On a stormy night, Naomi Osaka is a Grand Slam champion

Williams, seeking to make history with her 24th major title, denied that opportunity at Wimbledon back in July by Angelique Kerber, was losing.

Not only was she losing, she was being beaten by a better player on the day. There’s a distinction there, in that if Williams were beating herself, she would have every hope that she could turn it around by simply playing better, playing to her legendary level.

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But that’s not what was happening. In fact, Williams was having to change her game. She was having to try Plan B and Plan C to try to find something what would hurt Osaka. The 20-year-old major final rookie was playing flawless tennis. She was earning it.

We’ve all seen Williams when she’s behind, and fighting with everything she has to try to come back. It’s loud. It’s even desperate at times. She is the toughest competitor the women’s game has ever seen. There is simply no one in her class.

But this isn’t the same Serena as before she had Olympia. Even she admits it; if she had to put a number on it, she’d put it at 50-60 per cent.

So she doesn’t have the same tools to fight with – not at the moment, at least. And that has to be a source of frustration for her as well. She knows exactly what she’s capable of doing at full Serena-strength. But she’s not quite sure she’s got at this particular stage of her career.

And after two weeks of fighting through some of the most challenging weather ever at the US Open, winning six matches and dealing with all of the other distractions, she was tired. And she couldn’t keep her cool.

Kindness to Osaka

The trophy ceremony was as awkward as they come.

Most of the fans in the largest crowd in tennis probably didn’t even fully understand what had happened. Ramos’s announcements largely were drowned out by the noise inside a closed-roof Arthur Ashe, and the very vocal Serena fans were causing a ruckus.

To her credit, Williams reached out to Osaka at the net with it was over, and gave her a big hug. She also tried to quiet the crowd down to give Osaka her due. And she was comforting on the stage when the 20-year-old was overcome with understandable emotion after all that had come before.

So Williams did what she could. 

But the drama was all of her own doing. And as agent Smoller led the inappropriate applause in the press conference room when Williams was done saying what she had to say, she has no one to blame but herself.

The fines, in the end, turned out to be a rather manageable $17,000 US, $10,000 of which was for the verbal abuse. The racket smash cost her $3,000, and Mouratoglou’s coaching moves the other $4,000.

It could have been (probably should have been) much worse. In fact, it has been worse. 

Flashback to 2009

Williams was fined $175,000 following an investigation after the 2009 US Open semifinal, which featured her pointed threats towards line umpire Shino Tsurubuchi.

Tsurubuchi had called her for a foot fault, on a second serve, when she was two points away from defeat.

(Note that the same two officials, Earley and Kelso, were also on court for that one. They look a lot younger 🙂 )

The fine ended up being cut to $82,500 after Williams committed no further infractions over the next two years. 

In that instance, Williams also received a point penalty, to put her down match point at the time. The subsequent advance towards Tsurubuchi earned her the game penalty – and gave the match to opponent Kim Clijsters.

Here’s the statement she put out the day after that one.

“Last night everyone could truly see the passion I have for my job. Now that I have had time to gain my composure, I can see that while I don’t agree with the unfair line call, in the heat of battle I let my passion and emotion get the better of me and as a result handled the situation poorly. I would like to thank my fans and supporters for understanding that I am human and I look forward to continuing the journey, both professionally and personally, with you all as I move forward and grow from this experience.”

(Screenshots from ESPN/TSN)

On a stormy night, Naomi Osaka is a Grand Slam champion

NEW YORK – The reverberations of an unfortunate and most dramatic Saturday night at the US Open will last well into the beyond.

But it’s important not to relegate the most important to the inside pages.

Naomi Osaka, the 20-year-old who was born in Japan, raised on Long Island and tennis-educated in South Florida, is the US Open women’s singles champion.

And she soundly defeated Serena Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam champion and her childhood idol, to win it.

There was so much more. But that’s for another space.

Osaka played and competed in her first major final as though she had her omnipresent ear buds still in her ears. Somehow, she was able to completely shut out the loud crowd noise under the roof – and the major distractions emanating from the other side.

She played as though it wasn’t a big occasion – the biggest of her career. She played as though the greatest female player of all time wasn’t across the net. 

Poised, confident, flawless

It was a remarkably poised, confident performance at the end of an impressive fortnight. And along with the trophy and the huge check, it will catapult Osaka into the top 10.

“I mean, it doesn’t really feel that real right now. I think maybe in a few days I’ll realize what I’ve done,” Osaka said during the general press conference that was the last stop on an extensive media tour after the victory.

“Right now it just feels, like, I don’t know. Aside from the fact there’s a lot of press in this room, it feels just like another tournament,” she added.

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It was hard to find a happy face after this US Open final, full of drama and discovery and conflict.

“I feel like she was really, really consistent. I think her game is always super consistent. And I felt like she played really well. Like I said, she made a lot of shots. She was so focused. I think, you know, whenever I had a breakpoint, she came up with some great serve,” Williams said. ” Honestly, there’s a lot I can learn from her from this match. I hope to learn a lot from that.”

No. 20 seed last one standing

It was a women’s tournament full of early casualties. In the very first match on the very first day, the official opener on Louis Armstrong stadium, No. 1 seed Simona Halep was beaten in straight sets by Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

Osaka was quietly going about her business on the Grandstand and out on Court 17. She lost just seven games through her first three rounds. And then, she was under the radar no more. Osaka survived a tough one against another 20-year-old, Aryna Sabalenka, who was the form player coming in. And after she dismissed 2017 finalist Madison Keys in such impressive fashion in the semifinals, there was room to hope she could handle Williams’s power well enough to at least make it an entertaining final.

She did so much more than that. If it felt, before it happened, that it was mostly up to Williams, it ended up being primarily up to Osaka. Which must have been a serious shock to Williams.

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There was a WHOLE lotta noise on Arthur Ashe Stadium, so Osaka found a little safe place.

Osaka served beautifully. She handled Williams’s second serve well. Crucially, she handled the important points well. She did everything well – especially finding a way to shut out all the noise.

“I think I was able to do that because it was my first Grand Slam final. I felt like I shouldn’t let myself be overcome by nerves or anything, and I should just really focus on playing tennis because that’s what’s gotten me to this point,” said Osaka. “So, yeah, I just thought, like, no matter what happens outside of the court, for me, when I step on the court, it’s just about tennis.”

Coach Sascha Bajin said during the ESPN broadcast that his charge was extremely nervous. But although we still know little about what makes Osaka tick,  we do know this: the nerves, the fatalistic thoughts that she may not play well, are such an integral part of her being as a competitive tennis player, she may not even let them faze her even on this big night.

Emotions flowing

Osaka’s reaction on court after one last error from Williams, when she had won the title, was to slide her visor down over her face. 

She was greeted at the net by a big smile and a big hug from Williams who, to her credit, did her utmost in the aftermath of all the drama to at least try to ensure that Osaka’s first Grand Slam win would be a good memory. 

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“I felt at one point bad because I’m crying and she’s crying. You know, she just won. I’m not sure if they were happy tears or they were just sad tears because of the moment,” Williams said. “I felt like, ‘Wow, this isn’t how I felt when I won my first Grand Slam’. I was like, ‘Wow, I definitely don’t want her to feel like that.’ “

There were plenty of emotions on that court in the aftermath from both women. Osaka said she was trying to process it all, and couldn’t attribute them to winning, to feeling sad for her idol losing as she chased history, to all the drama, or to what the triumph might mean to both her career, and to her entire family.

“I just feel like I had a lot of emotions, so I had to kind of categorize what was which emotion,” she said.

Oblivious to the magnitude

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Few have ever been in Osaka’s situation – never mind at that age. So it’s impossible to even fathom how this introverted, remarkably childlike young lady could take it all in and handle it. She just did.

Maybe a few days from now, it will all hit her. Her innocence and insouciance is probably making the enormity of it only a theory, for now. 

When she goes back and looks at the video – if she does – she’ll see all the drama that went on around her. It was drama she insisted she really didn’t hear, partly because of the noise of the crowd and also because of her own determination to stay on her own side of the court.

Maybe she won’t even grasp what an impressive feat it was until she gets into that position again and has something to compare it with. And there’s no reason to think she won’t.

At this point, Osaka may not even grasp how incredibly difficult it is to do what she did. She just did it. It’s just something she did. No biggie.

The most emotional moment may well have been just before she hugged her lookalike mother Tanaki after she made her way up to see her friends and family.

Mom, by all accounts far more outgoing and expressive than her daughter, tried to stay composed. But as she neared her daughter – when she first made eye contact with her – she just dissolved into tears. (She wasn’t the only one).

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A coach-player relationship that worked

The talented young player with great power that had yet to be harnessed has blossomed, with the help of an inexperienced coach who turned out to be the perfect choice. The raw ore morphed into a polished product capable of performing that way on the biggest stage.

There is so much more to come for Osaka. Not all of it will be good. A lot of it will seem like too much. The expectations that weren’t there before will now be laid upon her strong shoulders. Everyone in Japan is going to want a piece of her.

And, as it happens, Tokyo is her next WTA Tour stop. 

So there will never be a moment this pure, this innocent. You hope she can, in her own iconoclastic way, find a way to enjoy it to the fullest before the avalanche hits.

(Screenshots from ESPN/TSN)

Legend takes on upstart in US Open women’s final

NEW YORK – Even as she was trying to close out her semifinal match against Madison Keys, Naomi Osaka was using a potential meet-up with the legendary Serena Williams in the final as motivation.

And she got there, in impressive fashion.

And so, during a US Open in which the WTA Tour’s top 10 were, collectively, not up to the task, it is the No. 20 seed against the upgraded No. 17 seed for the title.

And somehow, it feels right.

Osaka made a big splash last March, when she ran through the field at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. It was a huge victory – her first and, still, only title – and one she might not have been ready for. 

But these things happen when they happen. Six months on, after an impressive run in New York, she seems better equipped to handle what may come.

“Of course it feels a little bit, like, surreal. Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam. Just the fact that it’s happening, I’m very happy about it,” Osaka said after the win over Keys. “At the same time I feel like even though I should enjoy this moment, I should still think of it as another match. Yeah, I shouldn’t really think of her as, like, my idol. I should just try to play her as an opponent.”

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Easier said than done, as Williams’s run to the final has been equally impressive. She’s not yet back to the best Serena, as her daughter Olympic turns one. But it has been close enough. And given the state of the women’s game at the moment, it has been more than enough.

“My mom said it takes, like, a full year to kind of get back. I’m at a full year now. But I’m also playing a sport professionally. The emotions and expectations and all the other stuff that you add on top of it, it’s a lot, you know. I just feel like I’m definitely not there. Even my body is different. Like, I actually weigh less than I did before I got pregnant, but it’s distributed differently now,” Williams said.

“I’m still waiting to get to be the Serena that I was, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be that physically, emotionally, mentally. But I’m on my way. I feel like I still have a ways to go. Once I get there, I’ll be able to play even hopefully better.”

Williams is looking for that record-tying 24th major title. As serendipity would have it, Margaret Court won her 24th and final major title exactly on this day, 35 years ago, at the US Open. It was held at Forest Hills then, and played on grass.

Serena thought she might get it at Wimbledon, but she was denied by Angelique Kerber.

But Kerber was a different opponent. She didn’t serve as hard, or hit the ball as hard. Plus, she was already a Grand Slam champion and had been ranked No. 1 in the world.

A new world for Osaka, citizen of the world

For Osaka, this is all new territory. And it’s the culmination of a turnaround this year, after a 2017 season in which she was below .500.

The addition of Sascha Bajin, the longtime hitting and confidante of Serena Williams who was getting his first shot at a coaching job, proved a stroke of genius.

At this level, there aren’t a ton of technical changes – or even significant tactical changes – that are made. The players’ games are what they are. And so on the itemized list of coaching qualities, the personal rapport between player and coach has never been more key. The rest is hardly rocket science.

Bajin, a loyal, likeable fellow, has been around big-time tennis long enough to know the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents. During his years with Serena, he got a close-up view.

And as a younger, less stern, highly energetic coach who also can keep up with his player on the hitting side, he has proven to be a huge positive.

One thing that has started happening is that Osaka is serving hard again.

We remember the first time we saw her play, more than three years ago at a small ITF event in Granby, Quebec, right after Wimbledon.

She was playing Laura Robson, who won Wimbledon juniors as a 14-year-old and has been a cautionary tale for too much, too soon ever since. Robson had hip surgery a few months ago.

But what we’d forgotten from that match was just how hard Osaka used to serve. She was blowing them past Robson. And at times, she’d come close to nailing a center line umpire – which made her apologize and giggle every time.

Coaches’ press conference

Bajin held his own press conference after Osaka reached the semis.

There’s no doubt he can be of serious assistance to Osaka against Williams. Because he knows his former boss so well – probably better than anyone she has ever worked with, with the exception of her parents and Patrick Mouratoglou.

“I think they really are different people, because the only similarity they have is that they kind of have the same hair – big hair,” he said, smiling. “I believe that they kind of want to play the same, you know. They are very powerful, big serves, big hitters, both of them. But even on court, Serena is very aggressive, you know, and Naomi, I have to push her to get a fist pump out of her. … I’m working very hard, and we are all, in the team, working hard to make sure that Naomi one day might own the court like Serena.”

Here’s Osaka 2 1/2 years ago, playing her first-round qualifying match in Charleston. Emotions on full display.

First meeting in Miami

It was the (bad) luck of the draw that Osaka’s first match after that Indian Wells win was at another big tournament in Miami against … Serena. Williams’s ranking was still down in the nether regions, and Osaka’s desert result hadn’t yet kicked in. So despite the 32 seeds in the Miami draw, both were unseeded. And they were drawn against each other.

Finally, Osaka was playing her idol. But Williams was a shadow of herself that day and it was, all in all, awkward. Osaka won 6-3, 6-2.

“I kind of wanted to impress her,” said Osaka. “I just wanted to make her say ‘Come on!’ one time, and I think she did, so I’m really happy about that.”

Williams was so chapped about the whole thing that she went out the exit from the stadium court, through the hallways leading outside – and straight into a waiting SUV and off she went.

It was only her second tournament back after a maternity break.

“It was good that I played her because I kind of know how she plays now. I mean, I was breast-feeding at the time, so it was a totally different situation. It was what it was,” Williams said. “I mean, hopefully I won’t play like that again. I can only go up from that match.”

All about carpe diem

Will Osaka seize the day? Coach Bajin says she “really craves the big stage”. Cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium, with more than 23,000 on hand, is the biggest stage there it.

“It’s really cool that I was able to play her so early (in Miami). Of course, I feel like since the circumstances were so different, I’ll be able to see, like, how she changed and stuff. I think that experience was really good for me,” Osaka said.

For Williams, chasing more history but in a far better place physically than she was a few months ago, it will very much come down to nerves. As she turns 37 in a few weeks, those match nerves become more of a factor. That’s true of every player, not just Williams.

She has been pushing back these younger rivals for years now. And there’s nothing like a player technically young enough to be your daughter poking the beast with the understandable, “I’ve been watching Serena since I was a little girl” types of quotes. 

But she’s getting more of her inspiration from her own journey.

“I got a little emotional out there (after the semifinal win) because last year I was literally fighting for my life in the hospital. I think I was on my fourth surgery by now. What is today? I was on my third surgery. I had one more to go still. To come from that, in the hospital bed, not being able to move and walk and do anything, now only a year later, I’m not training, but I’m actually in these finals, in two in a row. Like I said, this is the beginning. I’m not there yet. I’m on the climb still,” She said.

“I just feel like not only is my future bright, even though I’m not a spring chicken, but I still have a very, very bright future. That is super exciting for me.”

On this date in 2001

It was also 17 years ago today that Venus and Serena Williams met to contest the US Open final.

It was a Saturday night final, the first one.

The major schedule change to prime time was effected precisely because the two American sisters (and Jennifer Capriati) were in contention. And there was expectation that it would happen many more times over the years.

It was a purely American change, because it meant the final would be played in the middle of the night across all of Europe.

Venus won that one. Since then, she won three times at Wimbledon. But other than those triumphs on the grass, that was the last time she won a Grand Slam title. It’s crazy, when you think about it.

The all-Williams final at the US Open happened again the follow year. Serena won it. And it has not happened since.

Since then, the primetime final was moved back to 4 p.m.