What You Missed at the U.S. Open While You Were Glued to Serena Williams
The Serena Williams show has come to an end, quite likely for good in competitive tennis. Even if Williams continues to say “you never know” and her current coach Eric Hechtman and long-ago coach Rick Macci have their doubts.
“As of now, I guess we could say it’s over, but in her own words, the door is not slammed shut and locked, right?” Hechtman said on Saturday. “I’d say there’s a crack open.”
“Just my hunch, but I think she and Venus are still gonna play doubles,” said Macci, whose Florida academy was the sisters’ longtime base in their youth. “They have two of the best serves in the world and two of the best returns in the world, and in doubles you only have to cover half the court. When the Williams sisters play together, it’s the greatest show on earth. Anything’s possible.”
The Williamses are indeed full of surprises and enjoy springing them. But what is 100 percent clear is that they are both out of this U.S. Open and that Serena’s prime-time farewell saga will no longer be the mega-story that blocks out all the light in the press room (or at least the American press room).
“It’s completely her tournament, in my opinion,” said Daniil Medvedev, the No. 1 seed and defending U.S. Open men’s champion.
But there has been a great big Grand Slam tournament going on for nearly a week in New York. Let’s catch up on what you might have missed:
Last year’s fairy tales are not this year’s fairy tales
In 2021, two multicultural teenagers made just about anything seem possible in tennis (and beyond). Leylah Fernandez, an unseeded 19-year-old Canadian with roots in the Philippines and Ecuador, knocked off favorite after favorite to reach the women’s final. Emma Raducanu, an 18-year-old Briton born in Canada with roots in China and Romania, defeated Fernandez in that final, becoming the first qualifier in the long history of the game to win a Grand Slam singles title.
But midnight struck early this year, and the carriage turned into a pumpkin in the first round for Raducanu, who lost to the Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, and in the second round for Fernandez, who was beaten by Liudmila Samsonova of Russia.
There was no dishonor in either defeat. Cornet is playing the best tennis of her career at 32 and upset No. 1 Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon. Samsonova has won two hardcourt titles leading into the U.S. Open.
But the early exits certainly do underscore how wild and crazy the Open was last year. Truly.
Some players are retiring and locking the door
While Serena was dragging her sneakers and talking about “evolving away from tennis,” some of her lesser-known peers had no trouble saying the “R” word, including two longtime American pros, Christina McHale and Sam Querrey.
McHale, a thoughtful 30-year-old from New Jersey, announced her retirement discreetly after losing in the first round of the qualifying tournament. She turned pro at 17 and soon reached the third round of all four majors, peaking at No. 24 in the world in 2012.
“I am so grateful to have had the chance to live out my childhood dream all of these years,” she said on her Instagram account.
Querrey, a 34-year-old Californian with a laid-back manner and a power game best suited to fast courts, won 10 tour singles titles and peaked at No. 11 in the singles rankings in 2018, the year after he rode his big serve to the semifinals at Wimbledon. The All England Club was also where Querrey recorded his biggest victory: upsetting No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who then held all four major singles titles, in the third round in 2016.
Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, also 34, had some big victories of her own and broke into the top 10 in 2011 after reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and U.S. Open. She came back from a major knee injury early in her career and became a hard-running baseliner. She has been a fine player but probably an even better wordsmith: writing articles and giving interviews full of wisdom and wit in German and English, as she did again at the U.S. Open after her first-round loss to Belinda Bencic.
Serena Williams at the U.S. Open
The U.S. Open was very likely the tennis star’s last professional tournament after a long career of breaking boundaries and obliterating expectations.
- Glorious Goodbye: Even as Serena Williams faced career point, she put on a gutsy display of the power and resilience that have kept fans cheering for nearly 30 years.
- The Magic Ends: Zoom into this composite photo to see details of Williams’s final moment on Ashe Stadium at this U.S. Open.
- Her Fans: We asked readers to share their memories of watching Williams play and the emotions that she stirred. There was no shortage of submissions.
- Sisterhood on the Court: Since Williams and her sister Venus burst onto the tennis scene in the 1990s, their legacies have been tied to each other’s.
“I think I brought everything to the game that I had to give,” she said. “Obviously it’s not in the amount as Serena, but in my own little world, I feel like brought everything to it, and my narrative was done.”
She may play one final European tournament to give her European friends and family a chance to help her say farewell, but she looked like an ex-player already this week with a beer in hand at the beach.
“First day of retirement,” she wrote on Instagram. “Enjoying my six-pack while it lasts.”
And maybe there are some advantages to retiring in America after all, despite Europe’s bigger social safety net.
“Every American that I encountered and told them I’m retiring, their first reaction was, ‘Congratulations,’” Petkovic said. “Every European I told this, they were, ‘Oh my God, what are you going to do now?’ I have to say the last few days I’ve embraced the American way of looking at it a little bit more.”
Other American women are still in contention
There will be no 24th Grand Slam singles title for Williams, but there could be a first for Jessica Pegula, Coco Gauff and Danielle Collins, all safely into the fourth round of their home Grand Slam tournament.
Pegula, the No. 8 seed, Gauff, the No. 12 seed and Collins, the No. 19 seed, are the three highest-ranked Americans in the world. Pegula and Gauff are also relatively new doubles partners who reached the French Open final together in June. No such luck in New York, where they were upset in the first round, but 18-year-old Gauff, working with new coaching consultant Diego Moyano, and 28-year-old Pegula, still working with coach David Witt, have continued to advance in singles.
So has Alison Riske-Amritraj, a 32-year-old with a lively personality and flat-hitting game who is back in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2013.
She has a tough assignment on Sunday, however, as she tries to stop the resurgent Caroline Garcia of France. Garcia, once a top-five player, has been on the rise since June and became the first qualifier to win a WTA 1000 event when she took the Western and Southern Open title last month.
Her traditional airplane-inspired celebration — arms spread wide — is becoming very familiar, and though Riske-Amritraj beat Garcia on grass in Nottingham in June, Garcia is in full flight now.
Wimbledon was a different world
In the last major tournament, Wimbledon barred Russians and Belarusians from participating because of the invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. Open did not follow that lead to the dismay of some Ukrainian players.
Nearly one week into this major, no Ukrainians are left in singles, but Russians and Belarusians comprise nearly a quarter of the remaining singles players.
Ilya Ivashka of Belarus and Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov, all of Russia, are in the men’s round of 16.
Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Samsonova and Veronika Kudermetova of Russia are in the women’s round of 16.
One other difference from Wimbledon: The men’s singles champion Novak Djokovic there was not allowed to play in New York.
The men’s tournament has a blockbuster
On the same night Serena waved goodbye in Arthur Ashe Stadium after giving tearful thanks to family and fans, Medvedev and Nick Kyrgios set up a fourth-round duel on Sunday night that would normally have been the talk of the tournament.
Medvedev beat Kyrgios at this year’s Australian Open, but he has lost three of their other matches, including a round-of-32 loss at the National Bank Open in Montreal last month.
It is a box-office matchup and contrast in styles: Kyrgios’s offense and quick-strike, unreadable serve versus the 6-foot-6 Medvedev’s elastic defense and ability to avoid errors and absorb pace deep in the court (the Russian can also serve plenty big himself).
But Kyrgios, riding high after his first Wimbledon final in July, is playing the best, most consistent tennis of his hot-and-cold career, even if he was just fined $7500 for spitting and swearing at his own support team during a victory over Benjamin Bonzi on Wednesday. Medvedev has had an unsettled season, full of forced breaks (hernia surgery and the Wimbledon ban) and defeats, even on his preferred hardcourts.
But on court, both remain volatile and audible as well as ridiculously, iconoclastically talented. And in this case the court is Ashe Stadium. Should be a good one. Could be a great one.