A prime-time gala came to America’s Grand Slam on opening night, and all that was missing was the red carpet. You had two of the biggest, bold-face names in the sport, Serena and Maria, last names optional. You had a big-event buzz, and a phalanx of photographers training their cameras on every move.
It was Legends Night at the U.S. Open on Monday, about five or six rounds before you would’ve expected it. The only trouble was that for a decade and a half, the rivalry between the bold faces has been marginally more competitive than the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals.
And so it was again on the blue hardcourt of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Serena Williams put on a display of punishing power and unrelenting pressure, her old indomitable self, as if she had turned the calendar back a decade or so, as if she wanted to administer this 6-1, 6-1 pummeling of Maria Sharapova to impress the smartly dressed bearded fellow in the President’s box, Mike Tyson, who knows a few things about quick knockouts.
In scoring her 19th consecutive victory over Sharapova, Williams abruptly changed her troublesome recent narrative. She may be the greatest player ever, but Williams is also a 37-year-old mother who has been gripped by back spasms for most of a month. She was forced to retire from the finals of the WTA stop in Toronto earlier this month, and then withdraw from Cincinnati a few days later. It raised questions about her health, and her ability to withstand the seven-round rigors of a Grand Slam tournament.
This opening night was the perfect balm for No. 8 Williams, who seemed to announce herself fully ready to resume her quest for a 24th major title, which would tie her for the record with Margaret Court.
Back spasms? What back spasms?
Someone asked if she feels this is her tournament to win, even though she hasn’t won the Open since 2014.
“Yeah, I feel like I’m here to do that,” Williams said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Williams has lost the last three finals she has been in – the last two Wimbledons and here at the Open last September, when she behaved badly, got penalized a game and wound up getting drubbed by Naomi Osaka, unquestionably one of the low points of her storied career.
So the finishing has not gone especially well of late for Williams, and the Ashe crowd clearly reveled in seeing her in peak form, even if it came against Sharapova, a player she is now 20-2 against and has lost only three sets to in the past 15 years.
The 32-year-old Sharapova, of course, has had long-running injury issues of her own, limiting her to 14 matches this year, which begins to explain her No. 87 ranking and why she won the last of her five Grand Slams five years ago – and why, without the protection of a seed, she was subject to the whims of a random draw.
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SOURCE: USA Today – Wayne Coffey