Frantic Friday at Wimbledon – Choices, Choices, Choices

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 5 is called Choices, Choices, Choices

WIMBLEDON – We’ll have to assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no way for the All England Club to get special dispensation from the Merton Borough Council to break curfew – just this once.

Because a 1 a.m. finish for Djokovic vs. Nadal Friday night into Saturday would have been a better solution for all concerned.

The winner of the match could have slept in Saturday, perhaps had a light hit, a lot of treatment. And then, on Sunday, play the final.

As it is, one of them had to play late Friday, relatively early Saturday – and again on Sunday, where he will face the equally exhausted Kevin Anderson.

Anderson spent over 11 hours on court from Wednesday through Friday, just in two extra-time matches against John Isner and Roger Federer.

11:03 p.m.: the end

choices

If the All England Club had the option somehow, and didn’t exercise it, it did two of its illustrious former champions a disservice.

As it was, they returned to the court just 14 hours later to finish where they left off Friday night, when Djokovic squeezed out the third-set tiebreak to lead two sets to one.

The decision to start their semifinal – which kicked off around 8 p.m. because of the length of the Anderson-Isner marathon – under the roof was up to the referee, Andrew Jarrett.

It made sense, because there wasn’t going to be much daylight left, and better to take the time to close the roof and get the air-conditioning systems adjusted during the break after the first match.

It was going to have to happen anyway at some point, and time was precious.

The decision to resume on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with the roof closed was also Jarrett’s. Except, if both players agreed to play “outdoors”, with the roof open, at what is an outdoor tournament, it could have been changed even if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

One wanted to, one did not, is the general consensus although there’s no official confirmation from any of the parties involved at this point. 

No. 1 Court option not an option

There certainly is precedent at Wimbledon for a men’s semifinal to be played on No. 1 Court.

We tend to forget all the years when rain played havoc with the schedule, often threatening to prevent the tournament from finishing on time. And a couple of times, it actually did.

But as former finalist Andy Roddick pointed out Friday night on Twitter, he’s been there.

Once he was moved over to finish. On the second occasion, he played the entire match there.

Roddick celebrates after beating Mario Ancic on No. 1 Court on the second Friday of Wimbledon 2004.

Both times, he won, and ended up losing to Roger Federer in the final.

But Djokovic vs. Nadal in 2018 is not Roddick vs. Ancic, or Roddick vs. Johansson a dozen years ago.

No offense to those two fine players.

There was virtually no chance in Hades the tournament would move Nadal and Djokovic to No. 1 Court to finish their match.

Beyond the television considerations, the players likely would have both raised a ruckus.

It would have eliminated the roof-or-no-roof choice, though.

Had the second semifinal featured, say, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov, you can speculate it might have been a different story. Had the women’s final not featured Williams, it might have been another story again.

Maybe.

The women pay the price – again

The way the schedule panned out, part of it no one’s fault, is a tough one for the men.

But it’s an even tougher one for the women.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will reprise their 2016 final.

choices
Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber in a final women’s final in 2016, the last time Williams played. They started on time.

Except they had no clue when they would play. They couldn’t be sure when to eat, when to warm up, when to do anything.

And that was especially key because of the lack of a fifth-set tiebreak for the men.

At precisely 1 p.m. Saturday, when they were due to walk on Centre Court with their flower bouquets, Nadal was just wrapping up the fourth set against Djokovic.

Didn’t it seem as though we were beyond this back in the 1990s, when they finally did away with the facetiously-named Super Saturday at the US Open?

For a couple of decades, the women were an afterthought. They were the white creme between the two Oreo cookies as CBS dictated they be scheduled between the two men’s semifinals on the second Saturday.

Mercifully, that finally ended.

Serena and her sister Venus had everything to do with this when, back in 2001, it was decided that they could headline a night session with their significant star power.

The end of CBS’s longstanding contract as the event’s main broadcaster also allowed for more flexibility.

And then, the fact that someone finally decided that having the men play best-of-five sets on the Saturday, and come right back on the Sunday afternoon and play another best-of-five sets for a major title didn’t make for optimal tennis.

Well, maybe they considered that. Maybe.

Super Saturday to the max

The epic moment in Super Saturday history came on Sept. 8, 1984. Every match went the distance and every player on court that day was a champion.

First off was a legends’ match that began at 11 a.m. when Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe. Ironically, CBS had requested that extra match because the previous year’s Super Saturday had featured three blowouts.

Then came the first men’s semi: Ivan Lendl defeated Pat Cash 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4). (Thank goodness for the fifth-set tiebreak).

Then, finally, the legendary Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova came on to play the women’s singles final.

Navratilova won that one, 4–6, 6–4, 6–4.

Then, closing in on 7:30 p.m., bitter rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors finally took the court for the second men’s semi.

McEnroe won that one, 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3. It all ended at 11:16 p.m.

Women’s doubles also a casualty

With Nadal and Djokovic taking priority on Centre Court, one of the other finals was bumped off.

Of course, it was the women’s doubles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

choices

They had been scheduled after the women’s singles final and the best-of-five sets men’s doubles final.

That’s long enough to wait (and with the men’s doubles also not having a deciding-set tiebreak, who knows how long).

But with the change, they have been relegated to “Court to be determined – not before 5 p.m.” status along with the far less consequential legends match featuring Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis.

So they don’t know when they’re going to play. And they don’t know where.

It’s thin soup. Even given the extraordinary circumstances, you feel somehow that the tournament could have made better choices.

There is Serena – and then there are the rest

WIMBLEDON – There is no way of knowing if Serena Williams’s path to the Wimbledon women’s singles final might have been interrupted along the way, had so many of the top players in the women’s game not been shocked out of the tournament so early this year.

But the way she has been playing, who’s to say she might not be standing in the exact same spot?

Williams didn’t have to face Elina Svitolina, or Madison Keys, or Coco Vandeweghe, or Caroline Wozniacki. The high seeds and big servers that looked to be obstacles when the draw was revealed two weeks ago, fell by the wayside before they got to her.

But in defeating No. 13 seed Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-4 on a day when the much-improved German shows few signs of succumbing to first-time Slam semifinalist nerves, the 36-year-old mom made a statement.

She’s here to win it, in only her fourth tournament back after pregnancy, childbirth and a host of complications in the aftermath.

And it feels like every day, with every match, she’s getting fitter and better.

Favorite or underdog? Serena can’t decide

the restWilliams is the favorite to win the tournament. And some had her as the favorite even before it began. The lady herself is allowing herself to be impressed with what she’s accomplished so far.

“It’s like, ‘C’mon guys, this is pretty awesome’. To hear people say, ‘Oh, she’s a favorite. Like, the last 16 months, I’ve played four tournaments, and was carrying another human half that time. It’s interesting,” she said. “But when I wasn’t a favorite, I was kind of upset about that. It’s like, ‘C’mon, what can make me happy?’ Have to figure out which I prefer.”

There was a different look about Williams when she headed out to Court 9 to warmup for her match, around 11:30 a.m.

It all looked fairly typical. Williams had on a skirt, as she usually does during a pre-match warmup to better simulate what she wears during matches. She didn’t take any volleys, which is typical.

She was silent – as was everyone on her team – save for a few instructions to hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins. 

But Williams barely missed. She hit the ball much harder than she often does, and the sound coming off the racket would have intimidated any opponent, had she been nearby to hear it.

That’s what she took to the match court. And despite a hiccup when she served for the match – with new balls, no less – she was nearly flawless.

Pulled out her very best – again

“I don’t know what I expected from this tournament. I just expected to win a match, then win the next match. Whenever I go out there, I just try to win my match. That’s literally all I do,” Williams said. 

“I don’t know what my toughest match was. I mean, obviously against Camila (Giorgi), she played really, really well. She pushed me and won the first set against me. But today was tough, as well. Like, I think every match has its challenges. I don’t think any of them have been easy. Each one I have to kind of adjust to.”

the rest

Goerges said she was proud that Williams had to pull out her best to beat her. 

“Overall I think she knew how to win that match by her experience, and I didn’t have that stage in my career yet. I’m looking forward to getting there another time and getting more experience,” she said. “But overall I’m not frustrated about the way I hit. I think that she steps up her game. Yeah, it’s a big word, which is ‘respect’ towards me that she brings her “A” game in a lot of important moments.”

Kerber stands in the way of No. 8

the rest

Of all the possible opponents who managed to scratch their way into the second week, perhaps Angelique Kerber is the most prepared, on form and experience, to take Williams on.

the restKerber easily dismissed first-time Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Ostapenko in the first semifinal.

The 6-3, 6-3 score probably makes it seem closer than it was; Kerber was a willing and able accomplice in Ostapenko’s mission to defeat herself with errors.

It was just the right tactic, although not that many players have the tools to execute it.

Still, it was a great tournament for Ostapenko, as it was for Goerges.

The last time Williams played Wimbledon, in 2016, she also faced Kerber. The American won it, but it was a tight, competitive final.

Williams was all the more motivated because the two had squared off in the Australian Open final less than six months before.

And in that one, it was Kerber who won in three sets to earn her first career Grand Slam title.

Attacking that second serve

What we remember most about that Australian Open final was how Williams was looking in the warmup to practice attacking what was, then, Kerber’s biggest weakness: her second serve.

Then-hitting partner Robbye Poole tried with all his might. But he couldn’t duplicate the feebleness of Kerber’s second delivery.

And, in the end, that was a big key to Kerber’s victory. Williams just wasn’t able to give that second serve the pummelling it deserved. And that allowed Kerber to hold serve a bit more easily than she should have.

Ironically, Kerber’s second serve is a lot better, 2 1/2 years later. So is the rest of her game. But even if she has become a much better attacker, she will still need to rely on her defense if she wants to defeat Williams on Saturday.

“She’s always going out there to win the matches. I think it doesn’t matter against who she is playing. She’s trying to (play) like she played the years before where she won the big matches. Now for sure she had a lot of big confidence, especially after the matches she won here already,” Kerber said of Williams.

“She knows the feeling to (go) out on this stage where you are in the finals, especially here. She won here I don’t know how many times. … Yeah, she’s a fighter. She’s a champion. That’s why she is there where she is now.”

Serena Williams and the Amen Corner in Wimbledon semis

WIMBLEDON  – It is most definitely not the semifinal lineup most expected.

But you bet against Serena Williams at your peril.

The top 10 women in the world dropped out of Wimbledon, one by one.

Most dropped out in the very early going.

Maybe they wanted it too much. If there’s anything that unifies tennis players, it’s how much they love this tournament and how badly they want to win it.

(We’ll put a caveat there for the French and other players from clay-court nations at Roland Garros. But even they, generally speaking, seem to consider Wimbledon the wonderland of tennis, this magical place where everything is different and so civilized and wow, being Wimbledon champion would just be something else).

As the last four women standing take the stage, Williams is the lowest seed at No. 25.

And it is only by the grace of the All-England Club that she is seeded at all.

But as the last 10 days have gone by, Williams’s tennis has gotten better and better. And you can see her getting fitter practically by the day.

And the hunger is evident.

So it is Serena and the “Amen Corner” of the women’s draw – the No. 11, No. 12 and No. 13 seeds – who will vie for a spot in the final Saturday.

[11] Angelique Kerber (GER)
vs. [12] Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) 

Amen

They are nine years apart in age, and nine years apart in professional experience with Kerber having turned pro in 2003, Ostapenko in 2012.

But even though both have been around long enough, they have never met before. What a place for an introduction.

And so there are no priors with which to gauge how this match might go. But despite the baseline of both being relentless baseliners, it remains a match of intriguing contrasts.

Kerber, who is now rounding into form after a significant but understandable dip in form following her accomplished season in 2016, has added some oomph to her retrieving game.

Ostapenko is all oomph. The dynamic here is whether the German can retrieve enough balls to force Ostapenko into errors. As well, it’s about whether she can be more aggressive than she typically is on serve return – especially on second-serve return – to put pressure on Ostapenko’s superlative second shot.

Kerber’s second serve, if improved some, remains the most attackable part of her game. There are no questions about whether Ostapenko will give that shot what it deserves. 

[25] Serena Williams (USA)
vs. [13] Julia Goerges (GER)

At 29, and in her 15th year as a pro, Georges has known ups and downs.

After being in the top 20 all the way back in 2012, she finished outside the top 50 four straight seasons until last year. And this year, she put her toes in the waters of the top 10 for the first time in her career.

Williams and Goerges met for the first time just a month ago at the French Open, after not having played each other since 2011.

In only her third tournament back and her first in more than two months, Williams posted a surprisingly routine 6-3, 6-4 win. The only down side to that win was that it was the match in which Williams injured her pectoral muscle.

That forced her out of her next scheduled match, against Maria Sharapova.

The Unlikely Eight look for Wimbledon SF spots

WIMBLEDON – The women’s game is unpredictable these days.

That’s a reality, although the reasons for it depend on your point of view.

It could be parity, and a general rise in overall level that makes more upsets possible. It could also be a corollary to that – that there are numerous very good players, without many true champions in the game at the moment.

With the absence of an indisputable champion in Serena Williams for close to a year and a half, the contrast with the rest of the field is stark.

Perhaps so many of the women wanted to win Wimbledon so badly, their nerves got the better of them, in some cases.

Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a combination of a few factors, here we are.

Draw doesn’t shake out as planned

Here is what the women’s singles quarterfinals looked like on paper, when the draw came out.

We bear in mind that Williams, seeded No. 25, was always a dangerous wild card. Victoria Azarenka, another former No. 1 who has Grand Slam titles on her resumé, also looked to do some damage.

unlikely

But with the top 10 seeds all long gone – many in shocking fashion – here are the matchups Tuesday.

There were injury concerns with Williams after the French Open, where she pulled out before a scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral injury. But as she has played her way into form during the fortnight, who would bet against her reaching the final now?

But first, a stern test against an inscrutable opponent in the Italian Giorgi.

Williams is 3-0 against Giorgi. Their last meeting came in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open. Since then, Giorgi has fallen down the rankings and picked herself right back up.

She plays the same game against everyone she plays. So Williams knows what she’s going to get.

Unseeded Cibulkova lets racket do the talking

unlikely

There was a fair bit of pushback from Cibulkova before the tournament.

Wimbledon’s decision to award Williams a seed meant Cibulkova, who would have been seeded No. 32, ended up unseeded and therefore vulnerable to a tough early draw.

The Slovak ended up with a friendly draw – in terms of the seeds she faced. Cibulkova defeated No. 22 Johanna Konta, who has been struggling. Then she upset No. 15 Elise Mertens, who was never really considered a serious contender and also has been struggling some in 2016.

No. 1 seed Simona Halep was eliminated by Hsieh Su-Wei. And then Cibulkova defeated Hsieh.

Now, she faces 2017 French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko.

The Latvian had the “worst” happen in Paris, where she lost in the first round in defense of her title. But with that rather heavy rock having fallen off her back, she is having a great Wimbledon.

“In this tournament, she seems to be in the right mood. Yeah, she’s playing aggressive. She’s playing with no fear. She just going for it,” Cibulkova said of Ostapenko.

Williams – Ostapenko final?

Despite all the bigger names in the women’s game (other than Williams) being out long ago, there is one rather appealing potential final matchup that could still happen.

unlikely
Serena v Ostapenko in the final? Could happen.

And that is with no disrespect meant to the others, all fine players but with much lower profiles with the more casual tennis and sports fans.

Ostapenko has had a good draw: wild card Katy Dunne, Kirsten Flipkens, qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko (who upset Maria Sharapova), and Aliaksandra Sasnovich (who upset Petra Kvitova in the first round)

The way has, in part, been cleared for her. And she has taken full advantage of it.

Can you picture a Serena vs. Ostapenko women’s singles final?

They have never met; Ostapenko’s rise came while Williams was off on maternity leave.

It would be a heck of an introduction on Saturday.

Of course, that likely means the final will be Cibulkova vs. Julia Goerges.

Because that’s the kind of Wimbledon it’s been.

Wimbledon ’18: Women’s singles draw analysis

WIMBLEDON – How to even begin to project a possible champion on the women’s side, when four of the top eight seeds have yet to even reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal in their careers?

That’s why predictions are a fool’s game, although it can be fun to be wrong as long as you can laugh at yourself, and weren’t foolish enough to wager on the outcome.

The only two former Wimbledon champions among the two eight are reigning queen Garbiñe Muguruza and No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova, who won it twice. They are also the only two to even reach the final.

One player (No. 1 Simona Halep) made a semifinal. Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Garcia have never gone past the fourth round. Sloane Stephens has made one quarterfinal, and big-serving Karolina Pliskova has lost in the second round five straight years.

Meanwhile, there are three former champions (Venus, Serena and Maria Sharapova) and three former finalists (Angelique Kerber, Genie Bouchard, Vera Zvonareva) outside that group.

Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur all have Grand Slam titles on their resumés.

So what to make of it? 

Let’s dive in.

Potential third-round matchups

With Serena Williams, Sharapova and others seeded in the 20s, the big-time clashes will start early.

*[1] Simona Halep vs. [30] Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
*[15] Elise Mertens  vs. [22] Johanna Konta
*[12] Jelena Ostapenko vs. [24] Maria Sharapova 
[8] Petra Kvitova vs. [26] Daria Gavrilova

*[3] Garbiñe Muguruza vs. [26] Anett Kontaveit
*[14] Daria Kasatkina vs. [17] Ashleigh Barty
[11] Angelique Kerber vs. [18] Naomi Osaka
[6] Caroline Garcia vs. [27] Carla Suárez Navarro

*[7] Karolina Pliskova vs. [29] Mihaela Buzarnescu
*[9] Venus Williams vs. [20] Kiki Bertens
*[13] Julia Goerges vs. [23] Barbora Strycova
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [31] Shuai Zhang

*[5] Elina Svitolina vs. [25] Serena Williams
*[10] Madison Keys vs. [19] Magdalena Rybarikova
[16] Coco Vandeweghe vs. [21] Anastasia Sevastova
*[2] Caroline Wozniacki vs. [32] Agnieszka Radwanska

In 11 of those 16 matchups, the lower seed has at least a decent chance to pull off the upset (those with asterisks).

That, of course, assumes all of them go according to form and make their seeding through the first two rounds.

Potential quarterfinals

[1] Simona Halep vs. [8] Petra Kvitova (or Sharapova)
[3] Garbiñe Muguruza (or Barty) vs. [6] Caroline Garcia (or Kerber)
[4] Sloane Stephens vs. [7] Karolina Pliskova (or Azarenka, or Venus)
[2] Caroline Wozniacki (or Radwanska, or Vandeweghe) vs. [5] Elina Svitolina (or Serena, or Keys)

See? There’s just no way

First-round matchups to watch

[12] Angelique Kerber (GER) vs. [Q] Vera Zvonareva (RUS)

These two are only a little more than three years apart, and both are former Wimbledon finalists. But surprisingly enough, they have never met.

Zvonareva had been off the Tour for awhile, as she married and had a baby. And that coincided with the period where Kerber rose to the top of the game. But still, it wasn’t as though Kerber was playing low-level ITFs when Zvonareva was around.

This will be the 2010 finalist’s first Wimbledon in four years.

[Q] Genie Bouchard (CAN) vs. [WC] Gabriella Taylor (GBR)

After toughing out three victories as she took part in qualifying for the first time, Bouchard ended up with a very kind draw for her first-round match.

Taylor, a 20-year-old ranked No. 182, won her first two matches on grass this season in Surbiton. She defeated countrywoman Heather Watson and Hungary’s Fanny Stollar back to back. Since then, she has lost three consecutive first-rounders.

Taylor defeated Bouchard’s countrywoman, Katherine Sebov, in the first round of the Wimbledon juniors in 2014. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She played the junior Wimbledon event three times, and the women’s qualifying event four times. But this will be Taylor’s first Grand Slam main draw – of any kind.

[18] Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs. Monica Niculescu (ROU)

Niculescu, 30, has one fourth-round effort at Wimbledon on her resumé. That was 2015, and it’s one only two occasions where she has made the second week of a Grand Slam (the other was the US Open in 2011).

Her iconoclastic, funky game of slices and net rushes could frustrate the hard-hitting Osaka on grass. Or the Japanese player could just swipe it away. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch.

analysis

Niculescu’s problem is that she has very little play since Miami, and only one grass-court match, this week at an ITF event in Southsea.

Osaka’s problem may be an abdominal injury. She played Nottingham and Birmingham, but retired in her second-round match there against Dalila Jakupovic.

[6] Caroline Garcia (FRA) vs. Belinda Bencic (SUI)

Bencic is still only 21. But doesn’t it seems as though she’s already lived four tennis lifetimes?

The former No. 7 clawed her way back to a decent ranking when she returned from injury in September of 2017. In fact, she won 15 straight matches (with the loss of only one set) at the 125K and ITF level to close out the season.

And then she went to Hopman Cup and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Osaka and Coco Vandeweghe (and all four of her mixed doubles matches with her scrub partner Roger Federer).

But since then, she’s not won two matches in a row. And she retired early in the second set of her last match, against a 25-year-old ranked No. 281.

We spotted Bencic out at the qualifying supporting her friend Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, so she’s still the same fabulous person she ever was.

Garcia has never done particularly well at Wimbledon, even though she’s such a great athlete you’d think she could do well on any surface. So it’s an opportunity for both.

[10] Madison Keys (USA) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

These two are good pals, both having spent time training down in Boca Raton, Fla. They teamed up for doubles at the Australian Open a couple of years ago. And Keys has even played mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Tomljanovic’s boyfriend, Nick Kyrgios.

analysis

It’s what Mary Carillo would call “Big Babe Tennis”, with both hitting hard, and both actually being able to serve.

Tomljanovic is slowly getting her big serve back after shoulder surgery. But that’s a tough first-rounder for both.

The Serena factor

After all that discussion and debate, Serena Williams ended up seeded No. 25.

That means that in her first Wimbledon in two years, she cannot meet any of the top eight seeds until the third round.

But as previously discussed, there are plenty of trap doors in the draw before then – some of them more dangerous than many of the top eight.

In this case, the first round is an “ease your way in” one against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus. But the rest of Serena’s section isn’t half bad, with the very vulnerable Elina Svitolina her potential third-round opponent.

After that, she could be looking at Keys in the fourth round. But that’s if she gets there. Williams developed a pectoral muscle injury at the French Open, doing double-duty in singles and doubles despite not having played in two months.

Venus and Serena are not playing doubles at Wimbledon.

In lieu of the Serena-Maria showdown, a little “she said, she said”

PARIS – The fourth-round showdown between Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams was a spicy thing to look forward to.

Only it never happened, because Williams had to withdraw due to a pectoral injury.

But in the buildup, the 36-year-old had some things to say about the references to her in Sharapova’s autobiography, Unstoppable, released last September.

Williams has not been at tournaments often since then. And in Indian Wells, when she returned, there were far more interesting, non-Sharapova subjects to talk about.

She was a new mother. She was about to be a wife. And she was returning after more than a year away from the game.

“100 per cent hearsay”

Principally, it was Sharapova’s contention that Williams’ extra motivation during their encounters – and thus the lopsided nature of the head-to-head between them – stemmed from the Russian spotting Williams crying in the locker room after her loss in their 2004 Wimbledon final.

showdown

“I think the book was 100 per cent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” Williams said after her third-round victory.

“You know, I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that’s what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it’s normal. … I think it would be more shocking if I wasn’t in tears,” she added. “And I am emotional and I do have emotions and I wear them on my sleeve. You know, I’m human. So for me I think it’s totally normal. I think what happens there should definitely maybe stay there and not necessarily talk about it in a not-so-positive way in a book. But regardless, that’s that.”

No negative feelings

showdown

“I don’t have any negative feelings towards her, which again, was a little disappointing to see in that hearsay book. So I have always, you know, and especially having a daughter, like, I feel like negativity is taught. One of the things I always say, I feel like women, especially, should bring each other up,” Williams said.

“You know, a lot of people always assume that I feel a different way and it’s not true. You know, if anything, I feel like we should encourage each other, and the success of one female should be the inspiration to another, and I have said that a thousand “

showdown

She also pointed out that when Sharapova’s doping suspension happened, she didn’t kick her when she was down, as so many of their fellow players did.

Williams didn’t quite come out and say it, but it sounds as though she actually did read it.

“I wanted to read the book and I was really excited for it to come out and I was really happy for her. And then the book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, Oh, okay. I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn’t necessarily true,” she said.

“So I was, like, this is really interesting, but, you know, I don’t know. I think maybe — I don’t know. I think maybe she — I didn’t know she looked up to me that much or was so involved in my career.”

Sharapova ousted by Muguruza

showdown

It wasn’t the best time to ask Sharapova for a rebuttal, after she had just been outclassed by 2016 French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza in their quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon.

Muguruza rolled, 6-2, 6-1 in just 70 minutes, and is in the semifinals.

But the Russian was game.

Sharapova took a slight little dig at Williams for waiting so long until she withdrew before their fourth-round match.

“I think she made everyone wait a little bit,” she said.

But as for Williams’ contention that the bits about her in the memoir were hearsay, and that she was surprised she played such a big role, Sharapova didn’t agree.

“Well, I think it would be strange for me not to include someone that I have competed against for so many years. I think there is a lot of autobiographies out in the world, especially in the sporting world, that don’t necessarily speak about whether they were rivals or someone they competed against. And I think we played many matches. Some of those matches were very defining for me,” Sharapova said.

It would be very strange, I think, if I didn’t write anything about her. I think everyone would ask me questions, as well. So I’m not entirely sure how to go about that answer. When you’re writing an autobiography, I don’t think  there is any reason to write anything that’s not true.”

It would only be right and just for the two two meet this year at Wimbledon, right?

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Serena Williams withdraws before Sharapova clash

PARIS – You could see it coming, the way Serena Williams was serving Sunday afternoon in her third-round doubles match with sister Venus.

She was just lobbing the ball in.

Some of the first serves barely broke 130 kilometres an hour.

And when she had the chance to crush a patented Serena smash, create a little intimidation, she passed on it.

So, an hour before she was to face rival Maria Sharapova in arguably the most highly anticipated match of the tournament Monday – men and women combined – Williams withdrew.

“I unfortunately have been having some issues with my pec, my pec muscle, and has unfortunately been getting worse to the point where right now I can’t actually serve. It’s kind of hard to play when I can’t physically serve,” Williams said, in a quickly-arranged press conference.

“The first time I felt it was against (Julia) Goerges in my last match. That’s when I started to feel it. I was, like, it was really painful and I didn’t know what it was.”

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The Williams pushed hard to get a third set in the doubles. But with Williams unable to serve, it was an uphill battle. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Williams tried various tape jobs and supports for the doubles match, which the Williams sisters lost, 6-0 in the third set, to No. 3 seeds Maria José Martínez Sánchez and Andreja Klepac.

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The velocity, even on Williams’ first serve, was appalling in the third set – that there was an issue was evident. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The issues on her serve began to show mostly in the third set, in large part due to the fact that it being doubles, she only had to serve once every four games. And they were obvious, as we chronicled in this piece last night.

But she wanted to try. It wasn’t only because the sisters feel confident they can win a doubles title every time they enter. It also was an opportunity to test things out to see if there was a way she could manage the injury, in anticipation of the singles Monday.

“Beyond disappointed”

“I gave up so much, from time with my daughter to time with my family. I put everything on the court, you know. All for this moment. So it’s really difficult to be in this situation, but I always, for now in my life, I just always try to think positive and just think of the bigger picture and hopefully the next events and the rest of the year,” Williams said.

withdraws“Yeah, it’s very difficult, because I love playing Maria. You know, it’s just a match I always get up for. You know, it’s just her game matches so well against mine,” she added. “I have made every sacrifice that I could. So it’s extremely disappointing. But also, I made a promise to myself and to my coach and to my team that if I’m not at least 60 per cent or 50 per cent, then I probably shouldn’t play. The fact that I physically can’t serve at all is a good indication that maybe I should just go back to the drawing board and stay positive and try to get better, and not get it to a point where it could be a lot worse.”

The 36-year-old said she had never had this type of injury before. 

She plans to undergo an MRI and seek out specialists in Paris over the next few days, to determine the extent of the injury and see where she goes from here.

“I don’t really know how to manage it yet. Sadly, when you do have an injury that you have had before, you can kind of manage it. I have pretty much had every injury in the book. But this is a little different, and, yeah, I’m clueless as to what to do,” she said. “I’m just going to do what the doctor thinks I should do and get all the evaluations on it.”

Sharapova also disappointed

“I was looking forward to my match against Serena today and am disappointed that she had to withdraw. I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon,” Sharapova said in a statement.

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Williams’s reactions when her low-speed serves came back more quickly then they were dispatched looked pretty much like this, during the doubles. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The Russian now is into the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2016 Australian Open – the last Slam she played before her doping suspension and the tournament at which she tested positive for meldonium, which resulted in 15 months away from the game.

She’ll play the winner of the match between No. 3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza and unseeded Lesia Tsurenko.

The head-to-head between the two now stands at an asterisked 3-19. Sharapova’s only two complete victories came all the way back in 2004.

But given the unique circumstances at this French Open, it certainly felt as though the Russian had a better opportunity than she had enjoyed in a long while to eke out another victory.

With Williams playing her first major in nearly 18 months, only her third tournament since giving birth to daughter Olympia, the playing field had been evened a little. And Sharapova had clearly been rounding into form between her effort in Rome, and her matches so far in Paris.

Looking ahead to the grass

In retrospect, perhaps the doubles could have waited until Wimbledon.

But Williams thought getting some needed match play in would be worth the risk of pushing herself too hard physically.

Other than the pectoral issue, she said she had been feeling better and better physically.

withdraws“Every match has been getting better for me. Physically I’m doing great. You know, again, it hasn’t been easy. I sacrificed so much to be at this event. I can only take solace in the fact I’m going to continue to get better. And I had such a wonderful performance in my first Grand Slam back. I just feel like it’s only going to do better,” Williams said.

“And I’m coming up on hopefully surfaces that are my absolute favorite to play on and that I do best on. Hopefully I can continue to heal and be able to play those events.”

Serena’s serving speed cause for concern

PARIS – In theory, the loss by Serena Williams and sister Venus in the third round of the Roland Garros women’s doubles Sunday might have had a silver lining.

But there  also was a dark cloud.

Williams has had little match play in the last few months. So the necessity to go out and play every single day, between singles and doubles, was clearly having a cumulative effect.

Not that the sisters didn’t give it significant effort against No. 3 seeds Andreja Klepac of Slovenia and Maria José Martínez Sánchez of Spain.

But it wasn’t enough.

They could have lost in straight sets – probably should have, as Klepac and Martínez Sánchez served for the match at 5-4 in the second set.

But they fought to win the second-set tiebreak before fading in the third set and lost, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-0.

Slow-motion serving by Serena

The concern after this match went well beyond the defeat in doubles.

Because by that third set, Williams was just lobbing her serve in.

She admitted she hasn’t gotten the velocity back on her powerful delivery yet, since having daughter Olympia and having to work hard to get her core muscles back on point.

But 117 km/hour? That’s less than 73 mph. Almost in reverse slow motion, by Williams serving standards.

Below are some of the speeds of Williams’s serve in that one game she served in the third set. Most of those were first serves.

It wasn’t just on the serve. 

At one point, down in the match, Williams had an opportunity to put away an easy overhead with a roar – and perhaps dent something in the process. In her previous matches, she had done just that.

But this time, Williams opted to hit a slow-motion overhead that wouldn’t have cracked an egg on contact.

Playing Sharapova Monday

If there’s an issue with the shoulder, arm or something in between, it could cast a completely different light on Williams’s fourth-round clash with Maria Sharapova in singles Monday.

The two haven’t met in 2 1/2 years, since the quarterfinals of the 2016 Australian Open. But it’s a highly anticipated matchup even if the head-to-head is heavily lopsided in Williams’ favor – 19-2, to be exact.

Sharapova’s two victories both came back in … 2004.

Williams has no interest in anything but continuing that dominance.

But if she can’t serve any harder than that, she’ll have a lot of trouble.

Was she saving her arm for the singles? Will it feel better when she comes out on Monday? And – worst-case scenario – if Williams feels she can’t serve full out, she’d certainly consider pulling out.

No chance she wants to lose to Sharapova, if she’s not fit to compete.

So much to contemplate ahead of this encounter.

Old grudges

The doubles match was a particularly delicious matchup in the sense that there was most definitely no love lost between Serena and Martínez Sánchez.

Here’s what it looked like:

The enmity dates back nearly a decade.

In 2009, at this very tournament, the two faced off in a fourth-round singles match that was won, 6-4 in the third, by Williams.

But early in the match, Williams hit a shot she was certain grazed Martínez Sánchez’s arm. The Spaniard wouldn’t cop to it, saying it had hit her racket. There wasn’t anything chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph, who hadn’t seen it, could do if Martínez Sánchez didn’t admit to it and concede the point.

“I looked at her dead in the eye, I said: ‘Why? Just be honest if the ball hit you or not,’ ” Williams said. “I mean, hello, it totally hit her. She was just, like, she wouldn’t even look at me. She looked down, and I just have no respect for anybody who can’t play a professional game and just be really professional out here,” she said.

“So the ball hit her body, and therefore, she should have lost the point instead of cheating,” Williams added. “I would never do that. I’ve never done that. I’ve never sunk low, and I would never do that to anyone on this tour and I never have.”

The microphones on court picked up some strong words. “I’m going to get you in the locker room for that; you don’t know me,” she said. And then, to Joseph, she added, “She better not come to the net again.”

The two met again a few months later, at the US Open. And they met twice more in singles, the last time in 2012. Williams won all of those.

Williams is savvier these days about the on-court microphones, you’d think. But it was clear that she had not forgotten the incident, all these years later.

She reminded chair umpire Kelly Thomson Sunday to make sure she enforced the rule. And the way these two teams were going at each other at the net, it well could have happened again.

Interestingly, they had met just once before in doubles. That came at the end of that 2009 season.

Williams and Williams qualified for the year-end Tour finals in doubles, and faced Martínez and Nuria Llagostera Vives in their first match. 

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They lost that one as well, 2-6, 6-4, 10-8 in the match tiebreak.

History will note that the sisters were a right mess in that one.

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Serena’s Catsuit 2.0 is cool, but is it legal?

PARIS – Serena Williams’ comeback cat suit will make its third appearance of this French Open Thursday.

After being a winning suit in both her first-round singles and doubles matches, Agence France-Presse reported that a Nike spokesperson confirms she will wear it for her second-round match against No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty.

But it’s not without its controversy – something Nike almost seems to enjoy courting for the extra exposure it brings.

Remember the inappropriate “baby-doll dress” at Wimbledon in 2016? They definitely got a lot of mileage out of that one.

cat suit

With the cat suit, though, there are other issues.

Williams spoke of the medical benefits of wearing it in response to a question by ESPN’s Bonnie Ford – in addition to the statement she wants to make. But it’s not going unnoticed by the other players that Williams may have gotten a free pass on the rules.

(It’s likely that Williams can make the case that, because of her ongoing and significant issue with blood clots, the compression component of the suit was necessarily medically – or at least helpful. That’s called a great loophole!)

Russian Aussie Arina Rodionova wondered. 

Rodionova’s fellow Russian Alla Kudryavtseva was on the same page.

And they both were raked over the coals – with people making it personal – for even daring to question it.

Williams’s first-round opponent, Kristyna Pliskova, was equally unsure.

“I was wondering if it was in the rules. I don’t even know what material it is, it looks like neoprene,” she said. “They should follow the rules, otherwise play in the nude!”

(And no, Pliskova did not attribute the loss to Williams on what the American was wearing).

Serena is used to making waves on the fashion front. Two years ago in Australia, it was the “crop top”.

“Appropriate tennis attire”

cat suitThe rules, as stated, define certain things as “inappropriate” like jean cutoffs, T-shirts and gym shorts. But that list isn’t exhaustive. The interpretation of the rule seems to be up to the supervisors, in the end.

At Wimbledon, for example, there are very strict rules. Players have been told to change their attire for reasons as varied as non-white running shoe sole (Roger Federer), a headband with the official Wimbledon logo (Nick Kyrgios), a black lace bra under her shirt (Genie Bouchard) and, on several occasions, having the underneath of their visor not be white. 

Anne White looked amazing in her cat suit years ago. But it wasn’t legal.

cat suitAnd, per the specific Roland Garros rules (right), you could certainly argue that a cat suit is neither being dressed “in a professional manner”, nor is it “customarily acceptable tennis attire”.

The players who have noted the instances where supervisors have made it restrictive and complicated to cover up a little on cooler days are being straight up.

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Cat Suit 1.0 had no issues with excessive length.

They also understand that there are “different rules” for the superstars compared to the rank and file.

If anything, they can use it as evidence that exceptions can be made, the next time they want to keep warm with leggings.

Because no one is going to prevent Serena Williams from wearing it, that’s for sure!

Serena and Venus – together again

PARIS – It has been a couple of years since Venus and Serena Williams teamed up for doubles at a Grand Slam.

That came at Wimbledon in 2016. And they won the title.

They are back this year at the French Open, despite Venus Williams’ disappointing first-round loss in doubles.

And after shaking off some rust in the first set of their first-round match match against Japanese mighty mites Shuko Aoyama and Miyu Kato, they prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to advance.

In actual, real terms, that two-year absence isn’t that long. Serena Williams had only played one major since then. That was the 2017 Australian Open. And since she was playing doubles all on her own, with little Olympia, that actually would have been triples and therefore unfair.

Outstanding finals ratio

The sisterly pair has 22 titles together, including 14 majors (six at Wimbledon) and three Olympic golds.

Perhaps even more impressive, they have those 22 titles in 23 finals. In other words, only one time, once they reached the final, did they fail to take home the champions’ trophy. 

That came all the way back in 1999, in San Diego. They lost to Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu.

Quite frankly, that’s ridiculous.

They have won the French Open doubles title twice. In 1999, they defeated Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova in the final. In 2010, they beat Katarina Srebotnik and Kveta Peschke (who are both still playing, albeit with different partners).

Here are some pics of the sisters in action together through the years.

Can they do it again?

You kind of figure the sisters can do anything they set their mind to.

But of course, life is different now.

Williams has a tough second-round singles match against No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty Thursday. And when and if she loses in singles, it’s hard to know whether she will want to stick around the tournament just to play doubles.

As well, Venus will have to pick up her game. While Serena was roaring and intense and all over their first-round match, Venus had trouble keeping the unforced errors down.

(The size differential between the sisters and their Japanese opponents was substantial – FranceTV)

That was even more important, given she was playing the ad side.

Their next match will be between the winner of savvy veterans Sara Errani and Kirsten Flipkens, and a young French wild card team.

Their third-round match could be the No. 3 seeds, Andreja Klepac and Maria José Martinez Sánchez.