Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Serena survives, will face Venus in Lexington

Serena Williams, playing her first match in six months, came
within five points of losing to Bernarda Pera today. 2018 photo
by Mal Taam
   Serena Williams figured to have some trouble today.
   Not only was she playing her first match in six months, she faced left-hander Bernarda Pera for the first time. 
   The top-seeded Williams came within five points of losing but rallied to defeat the 60th-ranked Pera, a 25-year-old American born in Croatia, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky.
   Fans are not allowed at the tournament, the first in North America in almost one year, because of the COVID-10 pandemic.  
   "It was a really calm atmosphere, really chill," the ninth-ranked Williams, a 38-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, said on wtatennis.com. "I can't say I disliked it. It was different; I've been through so many things in my career. I think I won today because I was calm for once, so that was really helpful."
   Williams won the singles title in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014 before the tournament moved to nearby San Jose as the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in 2018.
   Williams is scheduled to face Venus Williams, 40, for the 31st time on Thursday. Serena Williams leads the head-to-head series 18-12 with nine victories in the last 11 matches.
   This will be the earliest meeting between the Williams sisters since their first one in 1998, a 7-6 (4), 6-1 victory by Venus in the second round of the Australian Open. They were supposed to play each other in the second round of last year's Italian Open, but Serena withdrew with a left knee injury.
   In a matchup of former No. 1 players and Bank of the West singles and doubles champions, Venus Williams dispatched Victoria Azarenka, 31, of Belarus 6-3, 6-2.
   Venus Williams made her professional debut indoors in Oakland, Calif., at 14 years old in 1994. She reached the singles final of the Bank of the West Classic eight times, winning in 2000 and 2002. 
   Two teenage sensations, Coco Gauff and Leyla Fernandez, also advanced today.
   Gauff, 16, of Delray Beach, Fla., defeated qualifier Caroline Dolehide, a 21-year-old American who advanced to last year's U.S. Open doubles semifinals with Vania King, 7-5, 7-5.
   Gauff is playing in her first tournament since the Australian Open, in which she beat Venus Williams and defending champion Naomi Osaka en route to the round of 16.
   Fernandez, a 17-year-old qualifier from Canada ranked No. 120, ousted seventh-seeded Sloane Stephens, a Fresno, Calif., product who won the 2017 U.S. Open, 6-3, 6-3. 
  Fernandez, a 5-foot-4 (1.62-meter) left-hander, won last year's French Open girls singles title and reached the Acapulco final as a qualifier in the last week of February. The week after Acapulco, she upset Stephens 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in the second round at Monterrey in the last tournament before the tours shut down.
   Stephens fell to 1-6 this year. She has tumbled from a career-high No. 3 in July 2018 to No. 37.
   Gauff, ranked No. 53, is set to face Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka, seeded second and ranked No. 11, for the first time on Wednesday at about noon PDT (Tennis Channel). Sabalenka reached the San Jose final last August, losing to China's Zheng Saisai. 
   Fernandez will meet U.S. wild card Shelby Rogers, a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 winner over Misaki Doi of Japan, on Thursday.
   CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up in nearby Atherton, dismissed American lucky loser Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-1, 6-2 in 62 minutes. Fourth-seeded Amanda Anisimova, an 18-year-old rising star from Aventura, Fla., withdrew with a shoulder injury.
   Bellis, a right-hander continuing her comeback from three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow, will play hard-hitting American Jessica Pegula, who eliminated former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 on Monday.
   Bellis and Pegula, the 26-year-old daughter of Buffalo Bills and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, will meet for the second time. Pegula prevailed 6-0, 6-4 in the first round at Auckland in January en route to the final, in which she lost to Serena Williams 6-3, 6-4.
   Also today, Anna Blinkova of Russia defeated qualifier Kristie Ahn, a 28-year-old Stanford graduate, 2-6, 6-4, 3-1, retired.
   Ahn, who reached the round of 16 in last year's U.S. Open, was playing in her third three-set match in three days. Her two qualifying matches lasted 3 hours, 3 minutes and 2 hours, 1 minute. Today, Ahn quit after 2 hours, 7 minutes.

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