In case you missed it: The defending women’s singles champion, Emma Raducanu, is out, and a few players not named Serena retired, too.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
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 tennis 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 epic 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 of Russia, the No. 1 seed and defending U.S. Open men’s singles champion.
But there has been a great big Grand Slam tournament going on for a week in New York. Let’s catch up on what you might have missed:
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 singles 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 veteran Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet, and in the second round for Fernandez, who fell to 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, 23, 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.
While Serena Williams was dragging her sneakers and talking about “evolving away from tennis,” some of her lesser-known peers had no trouble being more direct, 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 the 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 of Switzerland.
“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.”
There will be no seventh U.S. Open singles title for Serena Williams, but someone is winning their first. None of the women who reached the fourth round have taken the singles title at Flushing Meadows.
If Iga Swiatek continues to rumble, she deserves to be the favorite. Swiatek is No. 1 in the rankings by a huge margin after a 37-match winning streak earlier this year that included three hardcourt titles. The new champ could be American: Jessica Pegula, the new top-ranked American, and the big-hitting Danielle Collins, who reached the Australian Open final in January, are both contenders.
So is Coco Gauff, the 18-year-old American who is seeded 12th and reached the quarterfinals in style after defeating Zhang Shuai of China, 7-5, 7-5, and covering the court like few women have covered it before. But the player rising the fastest is actually Gauff’s next opponent: the 17th-seeded Caroline Garcia, a French veteran who has been steam-rolling the opposition.
Garcia, 28, once a top-five player, has been back 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 in Ohio. She is playing with near-relentless aggression, standing well inside the baseline to return, frequently pushing forward to the net and ripping her groundstrokes, above all her potent forehand. It is all clicking, and she is on a 12-match winning streak after defeating Alison Riske-Amritraj of the United States, 6-4, 6-1.
“I’m afraid to get too close to you,” said Blair Henley, the on-court interviewer. “Because you are red hot.”
Garcia’s signature airplane-inspired celebration — arms spread wide — seems quite appropriate. She is in full flight, but Gauff has beaten her in their two previous matches and will have the nearly 24,000 fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium behind her on Tuesday in what will be the first U.S. Open quarterfinal for both players.
Should be a good one. Could be a great one.
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.
One week into this major, no Ukrainians are left in singles, but Russians and Belarusians comprised a quarter of the remaining singles players in the fourth round.
Ilya Ivashka of Belarus and Medvedev, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov, all of Russia, reached the men’s round of 16.
Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Samsonova and Veronika Kudermetova of Russia reached the women’s round of 16. One other big difference from Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic, the men’s singles champion at the All England Club, is absent from New York because he was not allowed to enter the United States due to his remaining unvaccinated against Covid-19.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort