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Serena Williams tops 17-year-old Caty McNally at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK (AP) — Serena Williams flubbed yet another shot and wailed, “I keep missing my forehand!”

She was in trouble, if only briefly, against 17-year-old American Caty McNally, who is friends, and doubles partners, with Coco Gauff.

Making key adjustments to her serve and straightening out her other strokes, Williams avoided what would have been her earliest loss in 19 appearances at the U.S. Open, coming back to beat McNally 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in a match that ended as Wednesday turned to Thursday.

“I wasn’t practicing like this at all, so I knew I could play better,” Williams said afterward, “and kind of let Serena come through for once, a little bit.”

Williams improved to 38-0 in the first two rounds at Flushing Meadows. The only time she was beaten as early as even the third round in New York was in her tournament debut all way back in 1998 — when she was just 16 herself.

The following year, Williams won the first of her six U.S. Open championships. McNally hadn’t even been born yet.

Now, Williams owns 23 Grand Slam singles titles in all, and she showed off why while powering her way through a deficit, taking 16 of the final set’s initial 17 points.

McNally had never won a match at any major tournament until Monday. She is ranked 121st and received a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association for singles and for doubles, the latter with 15-year-old sensation Gauff.

It was Gauff who beat Williams’ older sister, Venus, on the way to the fourth round of Wimbledon last month. Might another stunner be in the offing?

Seemed a possibility for a set, anyway, with McNally charging the net, serving-and-volleying, and looking like someone who belonged on this stage.

Maybe that’s why Williams never looked comfortable early. Took time to get into a real groove. Went stretches without being the dominant force she’s been for a couple of decades and sure was just the other night while absolutely overwhelming five-time major champion Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 in the same arena.

The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, made louder than usual under the retractable roof that was closed all day because of showers, alternated who it was pulling for, more than happy to cheer for either woman representing the United States at the country’s Grand Slam tournament.

Who doesn’t love to support an all-time great, after all? And who doesn’t enjoy getting behind a true underdog?

So there was McNally, almost strutting to the sideline while waving her arms, trying to get the spectators to offer even more noise and more applause after she pulled out the opening set in impressive fashion. First, McNally converted her only break point of the match to lead 6-5. Then she served out the set despite falling behind love-40, erasing three break points and hitting a 103-mph service winner to seal it — and implored the fans to get loud.

They obliged. And for a bit, McNally stayed with Williams in the second set. But Williams started to pull away, in part by dispensing with the serves out wide that McNally was handling well, and in part by reducing her mistakes from 15 unforced errors in the first set, to 11 in the second to two in the third.

U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

Sebastian Korda
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The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. No nation will have more. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Monday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

An American man is already guaranteed to reach the third round — Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second-ranked female golfer Nelly Korda, next faces Isner.

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Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

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Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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