Venus Williams

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Venus Williams has earliest U.S. Open exit in six years

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NEW YORK — Venus Williams in 2019 Grand Slams: three match wins, four match losses. She hasn’t reached the second week of a major since her resurgent 2017, and, at age 39, has fallen outside the top 50 for the first year since 2013.

Williams lost to fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the U.S. Open second round on Wednesday, two days after dropping just one game in round one. It’s her earliest exit from the tournament since 2013.

Also Wednesday, Roger Federer dropped the opening set of his first two matches at a Slam for the first time. He rallied again, beating Bosnian Damir Džumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round. Later, Novak Djokovic swept into round three, while Serena Williams rallied past 17-year-old American Caty McNally 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

Play on courts without roofs — all but Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums — was cancelled due to rain.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Venus Williams, a seven-time major singles champion, played strong at times this season, reaching the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in March and in Cincinnati two weeks ago. She beat top-10 players Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.

She gritted her teeth and challenged Svitolina in the second set, after coffee was delivered to her chair following the opening frame. That included saving five match points in her final service game that lasted 17 minutes.

“I did a lot of things right today,” said Williams, who was up 3-0 in the second set. “A lot of great things to build on.”

A slide wasn’t surprising after that incredible 2017, when she made two Grand Slam finals and re-entered the top five for the first time since she was diagnosed with energy-sapping Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011.

This year, Williams was stopped in the Australian Open third round by No. 1 Simona Halep. Swept by Svitolina in a tough French Open first round draw (so it goes when you’re not ranked high enough for a seed). Booted by 15-year-old Coco Gauff on the opening day of Wimbledon, where she won five titles between 2000 and 2008.

Williams customarily bats away questions about her future, but has said she will play in 2020.

“As Billie Jean King says, I love this game,” Williams said in a rare public moment of exclamation on court after Monday’s opening rout. “I love, love, love my job. I get to work outside. My whole job is to stay fit and get a six-pack. You don’t get better than that. I love what I do. I’ll be doing it as long as I can, and when I can’t, I’ll be watching with y’all.”

A potential sixth Olympics is a goal. It would take an incredible turnaround to qualify for the four-woman U.S. team in singles. More on the intense U.S. battle for Olympic spots here.

“It’s something that is the peak of your life, of your career,” Williams said of the Olympics in 2016.

Williams, the most decorated Olympic tennis player with five medals, could be chosen via discretionary pick for Olympic doubles. She has the credentials: Olympic golds with her sister in 2000, 2008 and 2012 and a mixed doubles silver in 2016.

If she goes to Tokyo, Williams will do it at age 40, older than any previous, modern-era Olympic tennis medalist.

“I’m trying to stick around for that,” she reportedly said in 2017 of the Games.

MORE: Serena Williams gives terse response when asked about 2018 chair umpire

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

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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.

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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

Venus Williams ousted by Coco Gauff, 15, at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Coco Gauff grew up admiring the Williams sisters. Picked up a tennis racket as a little girl because of them. And on Monday at Wimbledon, still just 15, Gauff beat one of them.

Gauff, the youngest competitor to qualify at the All England Club in the professional era, showed the poise and power of a much older, much more experienced player, pulling off a 6-4, 6-4 victory in the first round over Venus Williams, who at 39 was the oldest woman in the field.

When it ended, Gauff dropped her racket and put her hands on her head. After a handshake and exchange of words at the net with Williams, Gauff knelt by her sideline chair and tears welled in her eyes. Up in the stands, her father leaped out of his seat.

“Honestly, I don’t really know how to feel. This is the first time I ever cried after a match. Or winning, obviously; I’ve cried after a loss before,” said Gauff, who is based in Florida. “I don’t even know how to explain how I feel.”

This was her third tour-level match; Williams has played more than 1,000. This was Gauff’s first match at Wimbledon, where Williams has played more than 100 and won five titles. By the time Gauff was born in 2004, Williams already had spent time at No. 1 in the rankings and owned four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies.

“It didn’t really seem real, for a moment,” said Gauff’s father, Corey, between handshakes and slaps on the back and requests for selfies from spectators leaving No. 1 Court. “On the walk to the court, I was walking behind her. She was excited. I was excited. She seemed confident, but I wasn’t sure if it was false confidence or she really was. I just said to her: This match is really magical. Just enjoy it. Your first Wimbledon main draw and you’re on a main court against somebody you looked up to from the beginning.”

It was by far the most anticipated match of Day 1 at the grass-court tournament, but hardly the only upset. Two-time major champion Naomi Osaka, who was No. 1 until a week ago, lost 7-6 (4), 6-2 to Yulia Putinseva, joining two young members of the men’s top-10, No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev and No. 7 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, on the way out.

This one, though, was special, potentially the sort of changing-of-the-guard moment that people could remember for years.

Gauff certainly has the mindset of someone who intends to go far.

“I’ve said this before: I want to be the greatest. My dad told me that I could do this when I was 8. Obviously you never believe it. I’m still, like, not 100 percent confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens,” she said. “If I went into this match saying, ‘Let’s see how many games I can get against her,’ then I most definitely would not have won. My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened.”

How far does she think she can fare this fortnight?

“My goal,” she said, her face expressionless, “is to win it.”

Well, then …

Gauff came into the week outside the top 300 but was granted a wild card by the All England Club to enter qualifying. She rolled through those rounds at a nearby site, knocking off the event’s top seed.

But this was a whole other task.

Gauff was sensational and showed zero signs that the moment or the matchup was too daunting for her. It’s the sort of unusual calm and steady way she has progressed through the various levels of youth tennis, including reaching the U.S. Open junior final at 13 and winning the French Open junior title at 14.

The first set was remarkable: Gauff had 10 winners to only two unforced errors, all the while trading powerful groundstrokes at the baseline with Williams, and never facing a break point.

“The sky’s the limit,” Williams said. “It really is.”

Gauff, who is black, idolized Williams and her younger sister, Serena Williams, the first African American women since Althea Gibson in the 1950s to win a Grand Slam singles championship.

Serena has said Gauff reminds her of Venus.

After Monday’s match, Gauff said she thanked Venus “for everything she did.”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” said Gauff, who joined the crowd in applauding for Venus as she walked off the court. “And I was just telling her that she’s so inspiring. Like, I always wanted to tell her that. And even though I met her before, I guess now I have the guts to.”

She showed plenty of grit in this match, particularly after getting broken to make it 4-all in the second set. Gauff steadied herself right there, though, breaking right back with a pair of forehand passing shots that drew errant volleys.

And then in the final game, Gauff needed to erase the disappointment of wasting her initial three match points. She did just that, converting her fourth when Venus put a forehand into the net.

Many 15-year-olds might spend an early summer day at the beach or at a mall. This one played a tennis match at Wimbledon against Venus Williams — and won.

“People just kind of limit themselves too much. Once you actually get your goal, then it’s like: What do you do now?” Gauff said. “I like to shoot really high.”

WIMBLEDON: Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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