Friday, August 14, 2020

Serena falls to No. 116 Rogers; Gauff, 16, rallies; Bellis out

Serena Williams lost to wild card Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4,
7-6 (5) today in the quarterfinals of the inaugural Top Seed
Open in Lexington, Ky. File photo by Paul Bauman

Serena Williams lost to a player ranked in triple digits for the first time in more than eight years today.

Of course, Shelby Rogers is not really that caliber.

Rogers, a wild card ranked No. 116, stunned Williams, seeded first and ranked ninth, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in an all-American quarterfinal in the inaugural Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky.

"It's every kid's dream when they're growing up watching her play to do something like that," the 27-year-old Rogers, a former top-50 player rebounding from knee surgery, said in an on-court interview. "Weird circumstances, weird setting, but a win is a win, and I know that we're all just happy to be back playing. It's great to see everyone fit and playing well." 

There is little seating at the site, which isn't a problem because no fans are allowed at the tournament, the first on the WTA tour in North America in almost one year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tournament featured four Grand Slam singles champions (Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Fresno, Calif., product Sloane Stephens), all in Rogers' quarter of the draw.

Rogers is scheduled to face unseeded Jil Teichmann of Switzerland for the first time on Saturday at 8 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). Teichmann, 23, needed seven match points to subdue CiCi Bellis, a 21-year-old San Francisco native who grew up in nearby Atherton, 6-2, 6-4.

Teichmann, who has not lost a set in three matches, will be Rogers' third left-handed opponent this week.

"I'm not sure I've ever done that before," said Rogers, who beat lefties Misaki Doi of Japan in the first round and Leylah Fernandez, a 17-year-old qualifier from Canada, in the second round. "It's definitely rare."

After the Rogers-Teichmann match, Coco Gauff will meet Jennifer Brady for the first time in a showdown of unseeded Americans.

Gauff, a 16-year-old phenom ranked No. 53, defeated Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, seeded eighth and ranked a career-high 39th, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Gauff trailed 2-4 in the second set but won 10 of the last 11 games.

Brady, ranked No. 49, drubbed unseeded Marie Bouzkova, a Czech ranked one notch higher, 6-1, 6-2. Brady, who reached the Dubai semifinals as a qualifier in February, has lost only 11 games in her three matches this week.

Williams, a 38-year-old part-time resident of Silicon Valley, suffered her first loss to a player ranked No. 100 or below since falling to No. 111 Virginie Razzano of France in the first round of the 2012 French Open.

Rogers, meanwhile, recorded her third victory over a top-10 player. She defeated No. 8 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada in the second round at Montreal in 2014 and ousted No. 4 Simona Halep in the first round of the 2017 Australian Open.

Rogers reached the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2016 and climbed to a career-high No. 48 the following January. However, she suffered a knee injury in a first-round loss at Indian Wells in March 2018, had surgery and sat out for one year.  

All three of Williams' matches in the tournament went to three sets, including her emotional win over Venus Williams on Thursday.

Against Rogers, Serena Williams led 3-1 in the tiebreaker and netted a putaway forehand that would have made it 4-1. Rogers won the next three points to lead 5-3. 

Williams made it 4-5 with a swinging forehand volley but netted a backhand to give Rogers two match points. Williams saved the first one with a service winner but then slugged a backhand long. 

"I was definitely a little bit overwhelmed in the first set with the pace, heavy spin and serve," Rogers admitted after playing Williams for the first time and reaching her first WTA semifinal in more than four years. "I just tried to make a few more balls, make one more, one more, run down a few more."

Rogers converted only 45 percent of her first serves in the match.

"The serve was a struggle for me today, but the second serve came through when I needed it," she said. "Then (on the second) match point, I made a first serve, so that's all that matters, I guess."

Gauff, coming off a three-set victory over second-seeded and 11th-ranked Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday, reached her second WTA semifinal. She won the title in Linz, Austria, last October as a lucky loser.

Gauff, who advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open in January, is guaranteed to rise to a career-high No. 48 on Monday. 

Jabeur won the French Open girls singles title in 2011 and reached her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Australian Open in January, ending former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki's career in the third round.

Bellis survived all six match points with Teichmann serving at 5-3 in the second set and finally broke on a double fault. But Teichmann, who has one of the best returns-of-serve in women's tennis, broke serve for the sixth time to close out the match. 

"That was tough," Teichmann said of the next-to-last game. "I was serving very well from this side, but obviously when you serve for the match, it's a bit different. You start thinking a bit, and she was starting to play a bit more aggressive. She hit a few lines, and I was hitting a little bit out, so it was a very close game. I'm happy to close it in the next game."

Teichmann lost the first two games of the match but won the next nine en route to her first WTA hardcourt semifinal. Bellis converted only 22 percent of her first serves in the first set and 43 percent overall.

"I started a little bit slow, and CiCi started very well," said Teichmann, who will rise at least five places to No. 58, four spots off her career high in July 2019. "I just knew I had to get into a rhythm, and I was lucky to get it in the third game. After that, I played very consistent." 

Teichmann, who was born in Barcelona and lived there until she was 15, and Bellis met for the first time as professionals. Bellis routed Teichmann 6-2, 6-1 in the 2015 French Open girls quarterfinals. 

Curiously, Teichmann decided to play in Lexington rather than defend her title on clay, her favorite surface, in Prague. Her other WTA singles title also came last year on clay, in Palermo.

Bellis was seeking her first WTA semifinal since the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, a five-minute drive from her childhood home, in August 2017. The 5-foot-7 (1.68-meter) right-hander missed almost two years, from March 2018 to November 2019, while undergoing three operations on her right wrist and one on her right elbow.

Lexington was the fifth tournament of Bellis' comeback. Ranked a career-high No. 35 in August 2017, she will jump from No. 302 to No. 250 after reaching her first WTA quarterfinal since Doha in February 2018.

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