Serena sweats it out for spot in US Open third round

Jim Slater 3/09/2015
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Marching On: Serena.

Serena Williams struggled but moved nearer to the first calendar Grand Slam since 1988 by defeating Dutch qualifier Kiki Bertens 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 at the US Open.

World No 1 Williams, a threetime defending champion seeking her seventh US Open title overall, was outplayed early by her 110th ranked rival at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday.

But Williams overcame 34 unforced errors and 10 double faults to win and sustain her march toward history.

“I just kept fighting for each point, not for a lot but just one at a time,” Williams said. “I had been pretty relaxed. Today I was a little tight. I think it showed. Hopefully I can get back to where I was before.”

The 33-year-old American is trying to complete the first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988 and equal Graf’s Open Era record of 22 major singles titles, two shy of Australian Margaret Court’s alltime record.

Williams completed her second “Serena Slam” of four major wins in a row by winning the Wimbledon crown in July and the 33-year-old American can claim her Open Era-record seventh US Open title as well as extend her mark as the oldest woman Slam champion.

Bertens nearly derailed all those dreams, with more than a little help from Williams. After breaking Serena with a running forehand winner for a 2-1 lead, Bertens attacked and made tough shots while Williams sprayed unforced errors and was inconsistent with her serves.

– #360view: Men’s US Open brings unpredictability
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Bertens served for the first set at 5-4 but struggled with the pressure of the moment and Williams broke back to level, only to double faultfour times in the 11th game, which lasted more than eight minutes, before holding.

“I can’t find it,” Williams yelled toward coach Patrick Mouratoglou sitting in the stands as she searched for top serving form ahead of the tie-breaker.

Bertens rolled to a 4-0 lead in the tie-breaker but again faltered with the set within reach, surrendering the next five points, four on errant forehands, before Williams netted a backhand return to level the decider at 5-5.

Bertens netted a backhand to give Williams a set point and the US star had a net-cord ball drop on the sideline. Bertens swatted a desperate forehand long and Williams had taken the set, reacting by bending forward and screaming with fists clenched and her body shaking.

“It definitely doesn’t worry me, being down a lot,” Williams said. “I know I can make a comeback, make a run for it.”

After an early exchange of breaks in the second set, Bertens double faulted away a break to give Williams a 3-2 edge and she broke again in the last game to finish matters after 92 minutes.

Next up for Williams will be American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who beat compatriot CoCo Vandeweghe 6-2, 6-1.

“I’ll have to play a little better if I want to win,” Williams said.

Also, Australian Open semi-finalist Madison Keys ripped 100th-ranked Czech Tereza Smitkova 6-1, 6-2. Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova lost 7-5, 6-4 to Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit.

Meanwhile, defending champion Marin Cilic and seventh seed David Ferrer moved closer to a fourth-round meeting. Croatian ninth seed Cilic, trying to become the first repeat men’s champion since Roger Federer ran off five in a row from 2004-2008, fired 19 aces and advanced to the third round by defeating 139th-ranked Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Spain’s Ferrer, the 2013 French Open runner-up who missed the past 2 1/2 months with an elbow injury, downed 102nd-ranked Serb Filip Krajinovic 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4).

“I’m very happy I’m in the third round,” said Ferrer. “It’s a nice comeback playing on these courts. It’s not easy. Conditions are very difficult with this humidity.”

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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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