Serena Williams was sensationally knocked out of the Australian Open third round by China’s Wang Qiang on Friday, torpedoing her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam crown.
Williams, 38, was the bookies’ favourite to win an eighth title at Melbourne Park but she came unstuck against a determined Wang, who took only one game off the American last time they met.
The 6-4, 6/7 (2/7), 7-5 upset means Williams, whose last Major win was at the 2017 Australian Open when she was pregnant, has fallen short at eight Grand Slams since returning from having a baby in 2018.
Serena Williams finds chasing after her two-year-old daughter Olympia has helped her pursuit of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open as her 38th birthday approaches.
Williams would match Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Slam singles titles and claim an unprecedented seventh US Open title with a victory in Saturday’s final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Being on the court is almost a little bit more relaxing than hanging out with a two-year-old that’s dragging you everywhere. I think that has kind of been a little helpful,” Williams said after her 6-3, 6-1 semi-final victory Thursday over Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
Just two years ago, Williams was fighting for her life with a blood clot in her lung after giving birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
Now she could become only the fourth mother in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam title after Aussies Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Belgium’s Kim Clijsters.
“I think it’s amazing to come back with a baby and win because it’s hard,” Williams said. “My day off isn’t a day off.
“I’m literally hanging out with baby. I’m doing activities with her. I don’t want her to forget me. I try to spend as much time (as I can) with her. I’m a full-time mom first, foremost. That means the most to me. So I train and then I rush home.
“Being in a Grand Slam is difficult because it takes away a lot of time that we normally have together.”
Three weeks shy of her 38th birthday, Williams would become the oldest women’s champion in Grand Slam history, surpassing the age mark she set in winning the 2017 Australian Open at 35 while pregnant.
Williams seeks a record seventh US Open title to surpass the mark she now shares with Chris Evert. If she wins the finale it would give her 102 US Open match wins, one more than the record 101 she shares with Evert.
Williams says she definitely would still be playing at an age when most rivals have put down the racquet even if she had already passed Court’s once-thought unassailable mark.
“I definitely would still be playing if I had already passed it. I’ve had so many chances to pass it and (hope) to have a lot more, but it’s cool because I’m playing in an era… five eras with so many amazing players.
“If you look at the span of the career, the players I’ve played, it’s amazing that I was able to get this many.”
‘A sick joke’
Williams, who won her first Slam title 20 years ago at the US Open, said if someone had told her at 17 she would still be playing two decades later, “I would definitely not have believed them.
“At 17 I thought for sure I’d be retired at 28, 29, living my life. So I would have thought it was a sick joke.”
Williams has missed three prior Grand Slam finals chances to match Court and collect her first Slam as a mom, falling in last year’s US Open and the past two Wimbledons.
“I think it’s great. To be this far in my career, to be playing at this level with these amazing new players, is cool,” Williams said.
“It’s cool that I’ve been in more finals than I think anyone on tour after being pregnant. I think that’s kind of awesome.
“It’s not easy to go through what I did and come back, and so fast. To keep playing, to also not be 20 years old, yeah, I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Svitolina marvels at Williams as well.
“What she does is unbelievable effort on a daily basis. You have to work every day. You have to be always ready, always prepared for any match,” Svitolina said.
“What she does and what she achieved, it’s something unbelievable. For sure, everyone dream about it. For now, only her who can do it.”
Serena powers into 10th US Open final
Serena Williams cruised into a 10th US Open final Thursday as she brushed aside fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 to claim a record-equaling 101st win at Flushing Meadows.
Williams is seeking a 24th Grand Slam singles title to match Margaret Court’s all-time record and will face either Belinda Bencic or Bianca Andreescu on Saturday in her bid for a seventh US Open triumph.
The 37-year-old American, who made her US Open debut in 1998, also drew level with Chris Evert for the most wins in tournament history after advancing to a 33rd major final.
“It’s impressive. To be in any club with Chrissie is awesome,” said Williams, who lifted her first Grand Slam title at the 1999 US Open.
“I couldn’t have done it without this crowd. You guys have literally been here for 20 years and I’m still here.”
Williams fought off six breaks points across her opening three service games before finding her rhythm to dispatch Wimbledon semi-finalist Svitolina in 70 minutes, hitting 34 winners against just 20 unforced errors.
“I know how (Svitolina) can play, she’s such a good player. Obviously two semis in a row is really hard to do and I just wanted to not get off to a slow start and I wanted to hang on in there.”
Williams, who was beaten by Simona Halep in the Wimbledon final in July, returns to the championship match in New York a year on from her infamous meltdown in a loss to Naomi Osaka overshadowed by controversy.
She is chasing a first Slam title since the 2017 Australian Open and hasn’t won the US Open since 2014.
Svitolina was attempting to become just the second Ukrainian to play in a Grand Slam singles final after Andrei Medvedev, who lost in five sets to Andre Agassi at the 1999 French Open.
Serena Williams faces Maria Sharapova in a blockbuster first-round match Monday at the US Open, the feature showdown on the first day of the year’s final Grand Slam tennis event.
Eighth-ranked Williams, who lost to Naomi Osaka in last year’s US Open final and to Simona Halep in last month’s Wimbledon final, is seeking her 24th career Grand Slam singles title to match Margaret Court’s all-time record.
The 37-year-old American owns a 19-2 record against Russia’s 87th-ranked Sharapova and has beaten her 18 consecutive times dating to 2005.
That lopsided rivalry, however, has not prevented the matchup from being the talk of the tournament since Thursday’s draw announcement.
“Of course I’m going to watch it,” Osaka said. “I think everyone in New York is going to watch it.”
Williams owns a 3-1 record over Sharapova in Grand Slam matchups, having lost their first such meeting in 2004 at Wimbledon, but this will mark the first time they have met in a US Open.
“Someone texted me about it,” US 10th seed Madison Keys recalled. “I think I was shopping, had no idea the draw was actually happening. So it was like, ‘Oh my God. Look at this first round.”
Williams last won a Grand Slam at the 2017 Australian Open, while pregnant.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, 32, failed a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open and served a one-year ban. The 2006 US Open winner last won a Slam at the 2014 French Open. She has reached the fourth round at the past two US Opens.
Two years ago, Romania’s Halep who was handed an epic first-round matchup against Sharapova, just back from her doping ban, and lost.
“Yeah, it’s OK. We don’t talk about that. It’s past, so we just live the present,” Halep said. “It’s going to be a big match, definitely.”
Other first-day matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium send Swiss third seed Roger Federer against India’s 190th-ranked Sumit Nagal, top-seeded defending champion Novak Djokovic against Spain’s 76th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena and French Open champion Ashleigh Barty, the second seed from Australia, against 77th-ranked Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.
Crazy Open atmosphere
US Open crowds are known for loud and boisterous behavior, an atmosphere where some thrive and others must adapt.
“Here in New York, the atmosphere is crazier than any other Grand Slam,” said 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu, who won a WTA tuneup event in Toronto.
“Everyone makes it so intriguing. You never know what you’re going to see on the streets. There is always something to do.”
Halep tries to relax to deal with the energy and uncertainty Flushing Meadows crowds can produce.
“You expect very loud crowds. You expect loud atmosphere here,” Halep said. “I’m trying just to stay on my rhythm. I have my restaurants where I’m going. I went to Central Park just to relax myself. So I’m doing easy things to get the pace I need.”
Barty revels in the thrill of New York.
“There’s no place in the world like New York,” she said. “I know how it works. You come here and you just take it in your stride. You enjoy it. There’s no point fighting it.”
The US Open will unveil Monday a sculpture of Althea Gibson, who shattered tennis racial barriers in the 1950s and 1960s. She was the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title at the 1956 French Open and also captured the 1957 and 1958 US Open and Wimbledon singles titles.
“I think it’s really important,” Osaka said. “She has done so much for tennis.”
Sloane Stephens, an African-American who captured the 2017 US Open women’s crown, also applauded the tribute.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said. “Recognizing the greats that came before us, people that have done amazing things for our sport, is cool. She’s a really important part of our tennis history.”
The 23-time Grand Slam champion fired 12 aces and didn’t face a break. Williams next faces either fourth-seeded Simona Halep — who beat her in the Wimbledon final in July — or Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova.
Although Osaka won’t depart Toronto with a trophy, her run to the quarters — along with a second-round departure for top-ranked Ashleigh Barty and a quarter-final exit for world number three Karolina Pliskova — will see the Japanese star regain the world number one ranking next week.
On Saturday, Serena Williams will try to win an eighth Wimbledon title and record-equalling 24th Grand Slam.
Here is a look at her previous seven victories at the All England Club:
2002 bt Venus Williams (USA) 7-6 (7/4), 6-3
— Serena defeats two-time defending champion and sister Venus to win her first Wimbledon singles title. Serena also claims the world number one ranking for the first time, adding the All England Club crown to her win the previous month at the French Open.
2003 bt Venus Williams (USA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
— Serena clinches her second straight Wimbledon crown with victory coming in the wake of her defeat to Justine Henin in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
Venus struggled with an abdominal and thigh injury which affected her serve and movement as the final went on.
“She’s tougher than I ever thought she was,” said Serena.
“I knew she was tough but she’s gone on to a whole different level. To play today knowing she was injured, she’s definitely up there with the real fighters and champions.”
2009 bt Venus Williams 7-6 (7/3), 6-2
— Serena again defeats her sister, the two-time defending champion. It is her third Wimbledon singles title and 11th Grand Slam singles trophy overall. She takes victory after having saved a match point against Elena Dementieva in the semi-finals.
Venus was attempting to become the first player to win the women’s singles title for three consecutive years since Steffi Graf from 1991-1993.
2010 bt Vera Zvonareva (RUS) 6-3, 6-2
— World number one Serena powers past Vera Zvonareva in just 66 minutes to win a fourth Wimbledon, preserving her record of not having dropped a set in the process.
It is her 13th Grand Slam singles title.
2012 bt Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 6-1, 5-7, 6-2
— The 30-year-old American wins a fifth Wimbledon and 14th major, becoming the oldest winner since Martina Navratilova in 1990.
The younger Williams sister draws level with Venus on five titles at the tournament.
Radwanska is the first Polish woman in a Grand Slam final since 1939.
2015 bt Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 6-4, 6-4
— A 21st major for Serena as she adds Wimbledon to her Australian and French Open titles in 2015, completing the ‘Serena Slam’ having also won the US Open in the previous year.
“There was definitely pressure towards the end. Garbine started playing really well and I just had to think to stay out there and work really hard.”
Serena was unable to complete the calendar Grand Slam when she went on to lose in the semi-finals in New York to Roberta Vinci.
2016 bt Angelique Kerber (GER) 7-5, 6-3
— A seventh Wimbledon for the American and 22nd Grand Slam title, equalling Steffi Graf’s Open era record of major titles.
“It makes the victory even sweeter to know how hard I worked hard for it. This court definitely feels like home,” she said.
Serena Williams survived a first-round scare at the French Open on Monday as she battled back from a set down to defeat Russian world number 83 Vitalia Diatchenko, while Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both eased through.
The 37-year-old Williams, who is attempting to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles, racked up her 800th career main draw win with her 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory in front of a half-full Court Philippe Chatrier.
Nadal started his bid for a record-extending 12th men’s Roland Garros title with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win over German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, before world number one Djokovic saw off Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets.
This was only Williams’ fifth match since collapsing to defeat late on against Karolina Pliskova in the Australian Open quarter-finals earlier this year, but she showed excellent form in the second and third sets in Paris.
“I just got nervous out there and I stopped moving my feet. And I was, like… ‘You gotta do something’,” said the 10th seed, who has not won a major title since the 2017 Australian Open.
“But compared to other matches, I’m always a little nervous in Grand Slams, especially in the first round.”
The three-time French Open winner, who took to the court wearing a black and white cape adorned with the words ‘mother, champion, queen, goddess’, started poorly, and was punished as Diatchenko broke to love in the fifth game en route to the first set.
But having made 14 unforced errors in the opener, Williams made just 10 more in the rest of the match as she overpowered her opponent, dropping only one game in the process.
Nadal cruises into round two
Nadal, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, set up a clash with another German qualifier — world number 114 Yannick Maden — in round two.
Nadal had suffered three consecutive semi-final defeats earlier in the clay-court season, but appeared to find his best in an Italian Open title success sealed with victory over old rival Djokovic, while his French Open win-loss record now reads 87-2.
“It’s always amazing to play here… It’s been an important place in my career,” the second seed said.
“I played a good tournament in Rome which was very important for my confidence. Now we’ll see.”
The 32-year-old Nadal raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set before a second break of serve in the eighth game sealed it after just 40 minutes.
The second set was over in a flash as Nadal crushed nine winners past the beleaguered Hanfmann.
The winning line honed into view when Nadal broke after a lengthy game to take a 2-1 advantage in the third, and the Spaniard completed the job on his first match point as world number 184 Hanfmann blasted long.
Djokovic laid down an early marker in his bid to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously for the second time, powering past Polish youngster Hubert Hurkacz.
The 15-time major champion impressed in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 triumph and will face Swiss lucky loser Henri Laaksonen in round two.
“I put myself in a situation where I can actually make history of tennis again and obviously I have very high ambitions for this tournament,” said the top seed.
Twelve months ago, Djokovic dropped out of the world’s top 20 after a shock quarter-final loss to Marco Cecchinato and even pondered skipping Wimbledon, but he has instead reclaimed his place at the top of the game.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki collapsed to a 0-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Russian world number 68 Veronika Kudermetova in the first round.
“I think she got very lucky at the start of the second set and took advantage of the opportunities she got,” said Wozniacki.
Sixth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was forced to pull out before her scheduled opener against Sorana Cirstea with a left arm injury, but said she should be fit for Wimbledon, which starts on July 1.
Dutch fourth seed Kiki Bertens looked in fine fettle, though, beating home player Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-4.
In the men’s event, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka progressed with a 6-1, 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 6-3 win over Slovakian Jozef Kovalik.
Last year’s runner-up and fourth seed Dominic Thiem recovered from 4-0 down in a third-set tie-break against American Tommy Paul to win 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 in the twilight gloom.
Serena Williams will make her return to the Australian Open for the first time since winning in 2017 when eight-weeks pregnant, it was confirmed on Wednesday, with virtually all the world’s top 100 players due at Melbourne Park.
That includes injury-prone Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Williams returned from giving birth to her first child to reach the 2018 Wimbledon and US Open finals but suffered upset losses in both to leave her stuck on 23 major wins.
Australian Open organizers said she was among the entries for the opening Grand Slam of the year as she attempts to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24.
Her appearance will mark her first major since her controversial rant at an umpire during the US Open final loss to Naomi Osaka, which overshadowed the Japanese star’s biggest ever win.
In the aftermath, Roger Federer said Williams “went too far”.
“Serena Williams, currently ranked 16, will make her highly anticipated return to Melbourne for the first time since winning in 2017 when eight-weeks pregnant with baby Alexis Olympia,” said tournament organizer Craig Tiley.
The evergreen Federer will be back to defend his title, along with long-time adversary Novak Djokovic. Caroline Wozniacki defends the women’s crown.
Organizers said the world’s top 102 women and top 101 men have all confirmed they will be playing.
The only top-100 absentee from the women’s draw is 74th-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland who recently announced her retirement.
“It’s always special to see our defending champions — Caroline had her first Grand Slam win here last year so will be keen to start 2019 on a high,” said Tiley.
“And of course Roger Federer has special memories of Melbourne, having won here six times, something only Novak (Djokovic) and Roy Emerson have done in the past.
“I’ve been in touch with Rafa and he’s back to full fitness after cutting his season short after Paris and can’t wait to arrive in Australia,” he added.
Roger Federer will make a delayed start to the hardcourt season as the main draw of the Cincinnati Masters gets underway Monday with Serena Williams poised to return in the ATP-WTA event.
The last major tune-up prior to the August 28 start of the US Open gives men and women a final chance to polish their form before the final major of the season.
Former world number one Williams will be back on the court a fortnight after the worst loss of her career, with the 23-time Grand Slam champion playing unseeded, opening against Australian Daria Gavrilova.
The Wimbledon finalist continues to try and balance motherhood with a return to tennis almost a year after giving birth to her daughter.
Federer opted out of the Toronto stop on the ATP, preferring to concentrate his pre-Open energies on lifting an eighth Cincinnati title after taking the honours at four of the last six editions.
The event played at a venue on a motorway exit deep in the American flatlands will also serve as the re-entry point for Britain Andy Murray.
The Scot broke down in tears during a late-night, three-hour battle at the Washington ATP event but was unable to muster the strength to return the same day for a quarter-final.
Murray has been making a cautious return after his January hip surgery and refuses to push his luck.
“I need to be careful and to listen to my body as I come back from a long-term injury,” the 31-year-old said after withdrawing in the US capital.
The number 375 will begin against French 16th seed Lucas Pouille, Murray’s eighth match since returning in June.
Federer, top seed Rafael Nadal and the rest of the men’s top eight have byes into the second round.
Federer follows Nadal, with Toronto quarter-finalist Alexander Zverev on third ahead of Juan Martin del Potro, forced to pull out in Canada with a wrist problem.
Nadal, who come back from injury again this season, is pleased with how he is holding up on the cement which he has never favoured.
“I know I am playing well since I came back from the injury. I need to play well now on hard again – so let’s make that happen,” the US Open holder said.
Women’s number one Simona Halep, who lost the 2017 Cincinnati final to Garbine Muguruza takes the top seeding, ahead of Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki.
Muguruza is seeded seventh after failing to start matches in both California and Montreal due to injury. She comes onto the cement cold and will wait for an opponent in the second round.
US Open winner Sloane Stephens is seeded third, followed by Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, a first-round loser in Canada.
Stephens made it to the weekend in Canada as her form falls into place.
“When you’re playing good matches in big tournaments, I don’t think it’s peaking too soon,” she said. “It’s just getting confidence and playing good tennis.”