Sloane Stephens

Getty Images

U.S. Olympic women’s tennis qualifying already looks intense

Leave a comment

Serena Williams is in strong early position to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team. For everyone else, including older sister Venus Williams, every set of ranking points could be crucial over the next 10 months, including at the upcoming U.S. Open.

The U.S. has seven women in the world top 36 — not including 52nd-ranked Venus — but only four singles players can go to an Olympics from any one country come the rankings cutoff next June.

Serena Williams leads the way for Americans in second place overall in Olympic qualifying — which counts WTA rankings points starting after the 2019 French Open and running through the 2020 French Open. She has 1,885 points despite playing just two events the last two months, taking runner-up at Wimbledon and the Canadian Open.

Only Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, who has already been named Romania’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer, has more Olympic qualifying points (2,395).

After Serena, three more U.S. women are in the top 10 in Olympic qualifying — Sonya Kenin (No. 5), Madison Keys (No. 8) and Alison Riske (No. 10).

Keys, a quarterfinalist or better at all four Grand Slams in her career, jumped from outside the top 20 among Americans to the No. 3 American by notching her biggest title in Ohio last week.

Notables who must improve their ranking start with Venus Williams, who moved from 18th on the U.S. list to eighth by reaching the Cincinnati quarterfinals. She turns 40 before the Tokyo Games and could become the oldest Olympic singles player since the sport returned to the Olympic program following a 64-year break in 1988. She already owns the modern-era record of five Olympic tennis medals from her five previous Games and could still get to the Olympics in doubles if she doesn’t qualify in singles.

Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, is 12th in U.S. Olympic qualifying, winning a total of three matches among four tournaments in the window.

The veterans Williams sisters, Keys and Stephens, who made up the 2016 U.S. Olympic singles team, must fend off an emerging class.

Kenin, 20, backed up her French Open upset of Serena Williams by winning a lower-level event in June and then beating the world Nos. 1 and 2 the last two weeks.

Riske is playing some of the best tennis of her career at age 29. She beat world then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make her first Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon, a week before her wedding.

Then there are two of the phenoms of the year. Coco Gauff, 15, is ninth in U.S. Olympic qualifying after a run to the Wimbledon fourth round. Gauff was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open, after which she can’t play in more than five senior tournaments (and possibly no more than three) until her 16th birthday in March due to WTA age restrictions to keep young teens from burnout.

Amanda Anisimova, 17, is 13th in U.S. Olympic qualifying. Her best results this year — French Open semifinal, Australian Open fourth round — came before the Olympic qualifying window.

It’s looking like the toughest U.S. Olympic women’s singles team to make outright since 2004. Back then, the U.S. had Nos. 4 (Lindsay Davenport), 7 (Jennifer Capriati), 8 (Venus Williams), 11 (Serena Williams) and 18 (Chanda Rubin). Davenport, Capriati and Serena didn’t play at the Athens Games, opening the door for Lisa Raymond to play singles and doubles in Athens.

In 2000, Serena Williams didn’t make the Olympic singles field despite being ranked eighth in the world. A max of three players per nation were taken to Sydney, and the U.S. had Nos. 2, 3 and 6 in Davenport, Venus Williams and Monica Seles.

An Olympic rule mandating a minimum of Fed Cup appearances could affect Tokyo 2020 eligibility. However, the fine print allows for that to be bypassed in discretionary exceptional circumstances.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Tokyo 2020 Olympic master competition schedule

U.S. Olympic Women’s Singles Qualifying Standings (Max. 4 can qualify)
1. Serena Williams — 1,885 points
2. Sonya Kenin — 1,081
3. Madison Keys — 972
4. Alison Riske — 802
5. Jennifer Brady — 356
6. Jessica Pegula — 348
7. Madison Brengle — 344
8. Venus Williams — 302
9. Coco Gauff — 298
10. Bernarda Pera — 280
11. Lauren Davis — 245
12. Sloane Stephens — 238
13. Amanda Anisimova — 230

Sloane Stephens upset at U.S. Open before possible Serena Williams match

AP Photo
Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Sloane Stephens‘ U.S. Open title defense ended in the quarterfinals, one match shy of a possible Serena Williams showdown.

Latvian Anastasija Sevastova upset the American 6-2, 6-3 on another steamy day inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Temperatures reached the low 90s. All but a few games were won by the player on the shady side of the net.

Stephens also dealt with a “bad” sinus infection since Monday.

“Nothing was wrong with me before the match,” Stephens said. “Obviously, the better player won. … It was hot for both of us. She handled it better.”

The 18th-ranked Sevastova, not No. 3 Stephens, will face the winner of Tuesday night’s match between Williams and former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova for a spot in the final.

Williams is now the only woman left in the draw with a Grand Slam singles title — 23 of them, one shy of Margaret Court‘s record.

Stephens ended an up-and-down year in Grand Slams that included a French Open final loss to Simona Halep and first-round defeats at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Stephens made a remarkable run to her first Grand Slam final at the 2017 U.S. Open. She had missed 10 months due to a foot injury, unable to walk for four months after January 2017 surgery, and was ranked No. 957 less than a month before the tournament.

Her run included a three-set quarterfinal win over Sevastova, followed by ousting Venus Williams and Madison Keys to become the first U.S. woman other than the Williams sisters to win a Grand Slam singles title in nearly 16 years.

Stephens followed that by losing eight straight matches between September and January.

“I s— the bed for, like, 10 tournaments in a row,” she said. “I could have s— the bed in the first round [here], and that would have been really bad. So the fact that I made it to the quarterfinals and played some really good matches and I just competed as hard as I could, I mean, a lot to be proud of.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Sloane Stephens upset, Roger Federer debuts new look to open Wimbledon

AP
1 Comment

LONDON (AP) — Sloane Stephens’ Grand Slam career has fallen into an all-or-nothing pattern: She alternates runs to the final with first-round losses.

At Wimbledon on Monday, it was time for another early exit.

Stephens, No.5 Elina Svitolina and No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov were the top-15 seeds sent packing on the opening day. Roger Federer, wearing Uniqlo for the first time after his Nike contract ended, and Serena Williams, in her first grass-court match in two years, swept into the second round.

WIMBLEDON: Full Scores

Stephens was the U.S. Open champion last season and the French Open runner-up last month, but otherwise, she can’t seem to win a match at the majors.

The No. 4-seeded American bowed out at the All England Club in the first round for the second straight year, lasting a mere 71 minutes in the tournament before her 6-1, 6-3 loss to 55th-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia was over.

“Not too much you can do,” said Stephens, her arms crossed and face a blank slate, revealing no emotion. “I’m not going to, like, go cry a bit, bang my racket.”

Might have made her forget how she played, though.

Vekic, who entered the day with a 0-5 record against opponents ranked in the top five, barely needed to produce much in the way of the spectacular. She generated only 12 winners among the 64 points she won.

The other 52 were split evenly between forced and unforced errors by Stephens, who is capable of playing much more cleanly and letting her superior defense hurt opponents. Instead, Stephens’ uneven strokes allowed Vekic to overcome nine double-faults.

“It was frustrating. Obviously I wasn’t making the shots I wanted to make. Wasn’t being as consistent as I wanted to. My feet were a little bit slow,” Stephens said. “Sometimes it happens. There’s nothing more, nothing less to it. I wish I would have made some more shots.”

In 2017, she arrived at Wimbledon to begin a comeback after sitting out for about 11 months because of an injured right foot that required surgery. Stephens quickly began playing the best tennis of her life, posting a 15-2 record to climb from 957th in the rankings and collect her first Grand Slam title in New York.

Right after that U.S. Open triumph, though, Stephens went through a rough patch, losing eight matches in a row, including a first-round loss at the Australian Open in January.

Her coach, Kamau Murray, spoke at Roland Garros last month about how Stephens was able to shrug off that troublesome time without letting it push her off course. He credited Stephens with knowing what matters and what doesn’t, and not allowing “the outside pressure to sort of … make her panic. That’s sort of the key to her success.”

Asked about her attitude in the face of days such as Monday, Stephens said she doesn’t dwell on the bad moments.

“We play a very long season. There’s no one that is going to win every single week. Even the No. 1 player in the world loses. It happens. Sometimes people do overreact, say, ‘I need a new coach, new physio,’ whatever it is,” she said. “I do believe that if you just work on yourself and focus on yourself, you’ll allow yourself to have success, no matter what else is going on around you.”

The eight-time champion Federer began his title defense in style, brushing aside Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 in 79 minutes on Centre Court.

Lajovic held serve in the opening game but that was as good as it got for the 58th-ranked Serb. Federer, 36, reeled off the next nine games to take charge and was in cruise control for the rest of the match.

Williams needed six match points to finish off a 7-5, 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands.

Williams broke for a 5-3 lead in the second set and led 40-15 when serving for the match, but Rus saved the first two match points and then another three after reaching deuce. However, Rus finally sent a shot into the net to give Williams a winning return to the All England Club.

The seven-time champion missed last year’s tournament while pregnant and is playing this week for the first time since withdrawing during the French Open with a pectoral muscle injury.

Williams could have played Svitolina in the third round but now would not play a seed until at least the fourth round (No. 10 Madison Keys).

MORE: Serena Williams says it is unfair she gets drug tested more

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!