Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens set U.S. Open clash

Serena Williams
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Some of Serena Williams‘ earliest memories are of schoolwork. Learning the alphabet in particular. She stayed up doing an assignment, but kept erasing her writing, crying because it wasn’t perfect. In the instance she remembered, she never finished the homework.

“That’s been really the story of my life,” she said Thursday night.

The story of the last two years has been Williams’ unfinished business in Grand Slams. She reached the finals of the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019 and lost each match, so far unable to win a 24th major to tie Margaret Court‘s record total.

Imperfection marked Williams’ return to competition in August during the coronavirus pandemic. She played five matches. All five went the full three sets. At the U.S. Open this week, she swept American Kristie Ahn in the first round, but dropped her opening service game each time.

Then on Thursday, Williams appeared en route to a more Serena-like rout of 117th-ranked Russian Margarita Gasparyan.

She was up a set and a break within 45 minutes. Then Gasparyan broke back and, on Williams’ next service game, made her play 16 points to hold. Williams broke Gasparyan one more time for the 6-2, 6-4 victory.

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I think that’s been what’s holding me back is I get frustrated,” Williams said. “But I’m out here, and I’m fighting. If anything, it could help me know what not to do next time.”

Next up is an anticipated third-round duel with 2017 U.S. Open Sloane Stephens on Saturday. The streaky Stephens swept 130th-ranked Olga Govortsova of Belarus 6-2, 6-2 in a much more routine victory earlier Thursday. It marked the first time since last September that Stephens won back-to-back matches.

“I played well, built on my first match,” said Stephens, who entered the Open with a 2020 record of 1-7. “Really looking forward to [playing in the third round], another shot just to have an opportunity to play, obviously, without having played that much this year.”

Williams is 5-1 against Stephens, winning the last four since Stephens upset her in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals. That marked the first time Williams lost to a younger American, and that’s only happened three other times since (Madison BrengleSofia Kenin and Shelby Rogers).

“She’s beaten me before, so she knows how to play well,” Williams said of Stephens. “She looks like she’s not taking a lot of energy and then, bam, there’s five winners.”

The Williams-Stephens winner could play more Americans — potentially, No. 22 seed Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round, No. 7 Madison Keys in the quarterfinals and No. 2 Sofia Kenin in the semifinals.

Williams leads the U.S. Olympic race for four singles berths. Stephens is well outside a qualifying spot but has nine months to chase points. The Olympic field is determined by the WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open.

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French Open: Daniil Medvedev stunned by 172nd-ranked qualifier

Thiago Seyboth Wild

No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev was eliminated by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild at the French Open, the first time a top-two men’s seed lost in the first round of a major in 20 years.

Seyboth Wild, a 23-year-old in his second-ever Grand Slam main draw match, prevailed 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in more than four hours on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“I’ve watched Daniil play for, like, my entire junior career until today, and I’ve always dreamed about playing on this court, playing these kind of players,” he said. “In my best dreams, I’ve beaten them, so it’s a dream come true.”

Seyboth Wild overcame the ranking disparity, the experience deficit (it was his first five-set match) and cramps. He began feeling them in the second set, and it affected his serve. Medvedev’s serve was affected by windy conditions. He had 15 double faults.

“I’m not going to look at it back on TV, but my feeling was that he played well,” he said. “I don’t think I played that bad, but he played well.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Seyboth Wild, who had strictly played in qualifying and lower-level Challenger events dating to February 2022, became the first man to take out a top-two seed at a Slam since Ivo Karlovic upset Lleyton Hewitt at 2003 Wimbledon, which ended up being the first major won by a member of the Big Three.

The last time it happened at the French Open was in 2000, when Mark Philippoussis ousted No. 2 Pete Sampras.

It’s the most seismic win by a Brazilian at the French Open — and perhaps any major — since the nation’s most successful man, Gustavo Kuerten, won his third Roland Garros title in 2001.

Tuesday marked the 26th anniversary of Kuerten’s first big splash in Paris, a third-round win over 1995 French Open champion Thomas Muster en route to his first Roland Garros title.

As a junior, Seyboth Wild won the 2018 U.S. Open and reached a best ranking of eighth in the world. Since, he played eight Grand Slam qualifying tournaments with a 1-8 record before advancing through qualifying last week.

The 2021 U.S. Open champion Medvedev entered the French Open having won the first clay tournament title of his career at the Italian Open, the last top-level event before Roland Garros.

“Because wind, dry court, I had a mouthful of clay since probably third game of the match, and I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t know if people like to eat clay, to have clay in their bags, in their shoes, the socks, white socks, you can throw them to garbage after clay season. Maybe some people like it. I don’t.”

Medvedev’s defeat leaves no major champions in the bottom half of the men’s draw. The top seeds left are No. 4 Casper Ruud, last year’s French Open and U.S. Open runner-up, and No. 6 Holger Rune. No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Novak Djokovic play their second-round matches in the top half on Wednesday.

Women’s seeds to advance Tuesday included No. 6 Coco Gauff, who rallied past 71st-ranked Spaniard Rebeka Masarova 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, plus No. 1 Iga Swiatek, No. 4 Elena Rybakina and No. 7 Ons Jabeur in straight sets.

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Olympians, Paralympians star on Top Chef World All-Stars in Paris


U.S. Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls get a taste of Paris in this week’s episode of Top Chef World All-Stars, premiering Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.

Olympic medalists Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Suni Lee and Paralympic medalists Mallory Weggemann and Hunter Woodhall team up with contestants for a cooking challenge in front of the Eiffel Tower, one year before the French capital hosts the Games.

Olympians have appeared on Top Chef before.

A 2020 episode set at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Coliseum included Diana Taurasi, Rai Benjamin, Nastia Liukin, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Christian Coleman and Kerri Walsh Jennings.

A January 2018 episode featured figure skater Meryl Davis, freeskier Gus Kenworthy and skeleton slider John Daly, one month before the PyeongChang Winter Games.

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