Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Serena blows lead, falls listlessly in W&S Open

Six-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Reilly Opelka
is the United States' best hope to end its
17-year Grand Slam title drought in men's
singles, ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert
said. 2018 photo by Paul Bauman

At this rate, Serena Williams will not tie, much less break, Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

The third-seeded Williams lost to 13th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 tonight in the third round of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Williams, who will turn 39 next month, led 5-2 in the first set and served for the match at 5-3 in the second set against the 21st-ranked Sakkari on another muggy night. Williams played listlessly throughout the third set, shaking her right arm and holding her racket in her left hand between points late in the set.

Williams was coming off a grueling 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-6 (0) victory over qualifier Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands in 2 hours, 49 minutes on Monday.

In two tournaments since the WTA tour resumed on Aug. 3 after a pandemic-induced hiatus of almost five months, Williams has failed to reach the semifinals. She lost to No. 116 Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the quarterfinals in Lexington, Ky., two weeks ago.

Williams can tie Court's record by winning the U.S. Open, which begins Monday. It will help that players have a day off between singles matches in Grand Slam tournaments, but Williams has lost her last four major finals in straight sets.

A part-time Silicon Valley resident, Williams won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 20112012 and 2014

Sakkari advanced to the final of the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, which replaced the Stanford tournament, in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, losing to Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania.

Earlier today, two Americans upset high-seeded Europeans to reach the biggest quarterfinals of their careers.

Reilly Opelka, 22, of Delray Beach, Fla., eliminated sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, an Italian who advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals last year, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

In the women's draw, qualifier Jessica Pegula, a 26-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., ousted fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. 

Opelka and Pegula are the only remaining Americans in the singles draws.

The 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Opelka belted 19 aces and committed only one double fault on the fast hardcourts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He won 33 of 35 points (94%) on his first serve and 16 of 23 (70%) on his second delivery.

Opelka lost in the first round of the 2018 Stockton and Fairfield (Calif.) Challengers as the second and fourth seed, respectively.

ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert said Opelka is the United States' best hope to end its 17-year Grand Slam title drought in men's singles. 

"You can't coach height, and he moves very well for 7 feet," said Gilbert, a former top-five player who has coached Grand Slam singles champions Andre Agassi, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick (the last U.S. man to win a major title). "He has top-three potential." 

Pegula, the daughter of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, advanced to the final of the 2012 Sacramento (Calif.) Challenger at 18 and semifinals of the 2018 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger

Sabalenka reached the final in San Jose, Calif., last August, losing to Zheng Saisai of China, and won the U.S. Open doubles title with Elise Mertens of Belgium one month later in Flushing Meadows. 

Like Opelka, Milos Raonic has a big serve. The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Canadian dominated Murray, a 33-year-old wild card, 6-2, 6-2. Raonic, 29, pounded 10 aces in a rematch of the 2016 Wimbledon final, which Murray won 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2).

Both players have struggled with injuries since then. Murray, who captured the first of his three Grand Slam singles titles in the 2012 U.S. Open, is playing in his first tournament of the year as he continues his comeback from hip operations in 2018 and 2019.

Murray and Raonic combined to go 23-0 with five titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic improved to 20-0 this year with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over wild card Tennys Sandgren of Gallatin, Tenn. Djokovic showed no sign of the neck problem that nagged him in his 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory over qualifier Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania on Monday.

Sandgren, who had hip surgery in 2014, reached the final of the 2017 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2018 and 2020.  

Wednesday's quarterfinals are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on ESPN2. 

On the Grandstand, Pegula will face the 14th-seeded Mertens, followed by third seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev against eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, followed by Djokovic versus unseeded Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. Eighth-seeded Johanna Konta is set to meet Sakkari not before 2 p.m. 

Raonic will play unseeded Filip Krajinovic not before 4 p.m. on Tennis Channel.

On Court 17 starting at 10 a.m. on ESPN2, fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka will meet 12th-seeded Anett Kontaveit, followed by Victoria Azarenka against Ons Jabeur in a matchup of unseeded players. Opelka will take on fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas not before 2 p.m. 

Azarenka and Konta won the Bank of the West Classic in 2010 and 2016, respectively. Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut at Stanford at 16 in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

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