Steffi Graf and Monica Seles had big influence on my career – Serena Williams

Jim Slater 2/09/2015
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Home pride: Serena Williams.

Three-time defending champion Serena Williams, chasing tennis milestones set by Steffi Graf, credited the retired German star with inspiring her mental discipline ahead of her US Open second round against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens.

The top-seeded Williams needed only 30 minutes to advance 6-0, 2-0 over 86th-ranked Vitalia Diatchenko at Arthur Ashe Stadium – taking her 22nd consecutive US Open triumph since losing the 2011 final to Australian Samantha Stosur – when the Russian retired with a left foot injury.

Williams is trying to complete the first calendar year Grand Slam since Graf did it in 1988 and match Graf’s Open Era record of 22 grand slam singles crowns, two shy of Aussie Margaret Court’s all-time record.

“It’s great to be here in Arthur Ashe Stadium, to be American, just to be on this journey in my life,” Williams said of her pursuit of history.

“It’s kind of awesome that this is the last grand slam of the year, because if it were in a different country I think I would still love it, but it’s not the same as being an American playing in New York, playing for that ultimate goal.”

Williams credits her ability to focus and dig deep to find consistency in her game, “old school” traits she admits came from watching the grit and toughness of stars Graf and Monica Seles as a child.

– #360view: Men’s US Open brings unpredictability
 Also: Who is tennis' greatest? Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?

– INTERVIEW: Grigor Dimitrov talks ahead of the US Open

“I think maybe it just comes from just growing up watching so much tennis, enjoying Steffi and Monica, that era where it was just them,” Williams said. 

“They were such mental players – just looking at that and being so influenced by that, thinking one day I’m going to be there.”

Williams dislikes one potentially distracting idea, that of television interviews during matches such as one Coco Vandeweghe did.

“Hopefully they don’t make that mandatory,” Williams said. 

“I think it’s great for some viewers. Get in the mind of the athletes. But I also think, for me, I’m really focused the whole time. I’m really trying to think about what I want to do. I don’t necessarily want to answer questions about anything.”

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US Open: Jimmy Connors inspires Eugenie Bouchard in New York

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Proud: Eugenie Bouchard.

World No25 Eugenie Bouchard paid tribute to American legend Jimmy Connors who has helped her during her build-up for the US Open but is not her official coach.

Bouchard experienced an incredible collapse this season after a monster 2014 in which she made the Wimbledon final and Roland Garros semi-finals, rising to No5 in the world.

The 21-year-old entered the Open with a shocking 9-17 win-loss record in 2015 and with 10 opening round defeats, the last being a 6-1, 6-0 hammering by Roberta Vinci in New Haven last week.

But the young Canadian managed to win her first grand slam match since January with a 6-4, 6-3 battling victory over Alison Riske in the first round to set up a second round with Polona Hercog today.

– #360view: Men’s US Open brings unpredictability

 Also: Who is tennis' greatest? Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?

– INTERVIEW: Grigor Dimitrov talks ahead of the US Open

“I’m proud of myself for today. I just got to, you know, try to perform well in my next match,” said Bouchard after her first win.

“I think my loss last week was kind of a shock to me, a little bit of a wake-up call in a sense I had to get my act together a little bit.

"And then working this week with Jimmy, as well, has really given me a different side of things, like a different point of view. 

“He’s very energetic. He’s kind of lifted my spirits a little bit. He believes in me. He helped me kind of believe in myself more and regain that confidence.”

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Rafael Nadal eager to take form from Borna Coric win into round two

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King of Queens: Rafael Nadal.

It may not be an obvious statistic, but Rafael Nadal has lost just one US Open match since his semi-final exit to Juan Martin del Potro in 2009. 

His record in New York since then? An impressive 21-1. The Spaniard won the title in 2010 and 2013, lost the final to Novak Djokovic in 2011, and missed the event in 2012 and 2014 through injury. 

As he takes on Argentine Diego Schwartzman in the second round today, he admits Flushing Meadows provides an atmosphere upon which he thrives.

“It’s a tournament I like a lot. Atmosphere here is just amazing. The crowd, I feel the love of the crowd and the energy of them, so I enjoy a lot playing in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, especially night sessions,” Nadal said after extinguishing the teenage threat of Borna Coric 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 on opening night.

Slowly inching closer to his major-winning form, Nadal was explosive in his first two sets against the 33rd-ranked Coric, who had beaten him in their only previous clash, in Basel last season when the Spaniard was suffering from appendicitis.

Nadal landed 72 per cent of his first serves in, won an impressive 88 per cent of his first serve points and owned the net winning 16 out of 17 points up front.

“I think I played great. The first two sets I played a very high level of tennis. Then I get a little bit tired. I had some problems. I was sweating a lot. I didn’t feel strong enough after that,” explained Nadal.

“I did not feel physically perfect then. But then in the fourth I recovered little bit. I played more aggressively. It was an important victory for me.”

– #360view: Men’s US Open brings unpredictability
 Also: Who is tennis' greatest? Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?

– INTERVIEW: Grigor Dimitrov talks ahead of the US Open

The No8 seed elaborated on his physical problems in the third set, saying he got dehydrated from sweating too much in humid conditions and said he isn’t worried about it for his next match.

Searching for his best on-court performances all season, the former world No1 says he’s been practicing at a “very high level” leading up to the Open.

“That makes me calm. That gives me confidence. I know if I’m able to keep having that feeling, I will have the success again,” added the 29-year-old. Also in action today is Novak Djokovic, who takes on Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer in the second round.

The top seed dropped just three games in his opener against Brazilian Joao Souza on Monday. The Serb skipped past Souza 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in 71 minutes and was given a boost when No4 seed Kei Nishikori, a possible semi-final opponent for him, was knocked out in the first round.

“I couldn’t ask for a better opening of this year’s US Open. Hopefully I can continue in that rhythm,” said Djokovic. 

“It adds to your confidence. But it’s also making a statement for everybody that is out there watching. We are all watching each other’s matches. It’s important you’re sending a good message, and I’ve done so.”

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