×

Venus Williams suffers her most lopsided U.S. Open loss

Venus Williams suffers her most lopsided U.S. Open loss

By HOWARD FENDRICH | AP Tennis Writer

NEW YORK — There was a Williams sister out there in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night, much to the delight of spectators who offered a standing ovation at the end of the match. Except this time it was Venus, not Serena, and there was no ceremony, no formal farewell – and, unlike a year ago, no indication of what the future might hold.

Her younger sister’s playing days are done after one last hurrah at Flushing Meadows in 2022, but Venus Williams is still competing, still striving, even if her age, 43, and a bum knee did her no favors on this muggy evening. Williams was eliminated by Belgian qualifier Greet Minnen, 6-1, 6-1, in the first round of the U.S. Open, her most lopsided loss in 100 career matches at the Grand Slam tournament where she won the trophy in 2000 and 2001.

The crowd, which seemed thrilled just to get a chance to see Williams play in person, sent her toward the locker room with applause and yells. She gave a quick wave and a smile as she walked off, her red racket bag slung over her left shoulder.

“It was really great to hear the support. I know the fans have been here for me forever, so that’s fantastic to still have that support even more than ever,” said Williams, the oldest player in the field. “So it’s a beautiful thing, and I love the Open.”

The first 21 times Williams entered the event, she went 21-0 in the first round. But this was her third consecutive opening-round loss since.

Afterward in Ashe, defending champion Carlos Alcaraz advanced to the second round when his opponent, Dominik Koepfer, stopped playing while trailing 6-2, 3-2. Koepfer turned his ankle on the match’s eighth point and, while he initially continued after getting treated, eventually conceded.

The 26-year-old Minnen – who threw an uppercut and raised her arms after winning – was born in August 1997, the month before Williams reached the U.S. Open final for the first time.

“For me, it was incredible to play a legend like her. I have huge respect,” said Minnen, who is ranked 97th and entered the evening with a 4-12 career record in Grand Slam matches. “To be there at 43 years old, it’s amazing really.”

Williams owns seven major championships, including five at Wimbledon. But she has lost in the first or second round in each of her past 12 Slam appearances, including bowing out at the All England Club in July after taking a tumble in her opening match.

Various injuries have limited her to 10 matches this season – she is 3-7 – after just four in all of 2022. The latest problem is with a knee that forced her to withdraw from a tune-up tournament in Cleveland a little more than a week ago and left her unsure of whether she would be able to play in New York.

But there she was.

“I have to really thank my doctors for helping me to get here. That in itself was a blessing,” Williams said. “I love playing here. I really gave it my all today. I really played some great shots, but she had some incredible answers to that. I wish I could have been more prepared for that.”

The temperature was in the low 70s, but the humidity was 90%, and Williams was not able to stay in the points with Minnen.

It was quickly 3-0, with Williams – the owner of what used to be one of the most intimidating serves in the game – broken twice right away. She lost each of her first half-dozen second-serve points.

Minnen did what she could to keep Williams off-balance, particularly with drop shots, and it worked.

“Already when I was 5, 6 years old, she was on TV almost every Slam. She was going so far in every tournament,” said Minnen, who acknowledged feeling jittery before the match because of the opponent and the size of the largest Grand Slam stadium. “She’s always been an amazing player and she still is now. I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game to beat her. Even though she’s a bit older, she keeps hitting the ball very good.”

For more than two decades, Venus and Serena traveled the world together, swapping the No. 1 ranking and the biggest trophies in their sport the way other siblings might share clothes or hobbies.

Now that Serena, who recently had her second baby, is done playing on tour, there are inevitable questions about how much longer Venus will compete. She has grown used to those queries and grown adept at deflecting them and did so again Tuesday, unwilling to say for sure whether she will play again this season, let alone beyond.

Was it hard to be at Flushing Meadows without her sister?

“I mean, I was very much aware that Serena wouldn’t be playing the tournament, so I think I was OK. I’ve had a chance to get used to that idea even before she retired,” the elder Williams said. “I kind of knew that was coming.”

Koepfer showed grit as he tried to play through his injury against Alcaraz. He fended off a break point in the third game of the first set but was overheard telling his team that his ankle was in terrible shape, as his camp questioned whether he should continue.

Koepfer buried his head in his towel after Alcaraz forced him into a forehand error to convert on a break point chance in the seventh game.

Alcaraz, who won the Wimbledon title last month, was in fine form, sending over 19 winners with few mistakes across the match, and he broke Koepfer to love in the third game of the second set after the German whacked a backhand shot out of bounds.

Koepfer fended off a pair of break point chances in the fifth game before solemnly walking to the net to resign.

“Obviously I have to give credit to him,” Alcaraz said afterward. “First step on the court, I felt great … the same energy that I felt last year.”

MEDVEDEV STARTS STRONG

Daniil Medvedev sent an early message that this tournament might be more than a two-man race between Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic.

The 2021 champion rolled into the second round, beating Attila Balazs, 6-1, 6-1, 6-0, in just 74 minutes.

“That’s probably the fastest three-set match I (ever) played,” Medvedev said.

About 12 hours after Djokovic won easily in his return to the U.S. Open, the third-seeded Medvedev looked just as impressive as when he beat Djokovic for the 2021 title to deny the 23-time major champion the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969.

“Of course we know that the biggest, let’s say, players right now are Carlos and Novak,” Medvedev said. “But, well, they have to win their matches also to meet me, if I’m there. Same works for me.”

Medvedev certainly has the game to compete with either on these courts, where the Russian was also the runner-up to Rafael Nadal in 2019 before winning his first major two years later.

Andy Murray, who won the 2012 U.S. Open title but is working his way back from multiple hip surgeries, advanced in straight sets but needed nearly three hours to do it, beating Corentin Moutet, 6-2, 7-5, 6-3.

“It was a long one, but the way that we play it was probably always going to be like that,” Murray said, joking that it was still shorter than many of his matches these days at age 36.

John Isner, playing in his final event before retiring, showed he isn’t done quite yet. The big-serving, 6-foot-10 American swept past Argentina’s Facundo Diaz Acosta in straight sets in Louis Armstrong Stadium and was honored with an on-court tribute following the match.

Isner, 38, has won 16 singles titles during his career and has hit more than 14,000 aces, an ATP Tour record.

Sixth-seeded Italian Jannik Sinner handily beat German Yannick Hanfmann, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1, and will play compatriot Lorenzo Sonego next.

No. 8 Andrey Rublev won in straight sets, and was joined by Alexander Zverev (12), Cameron Norrie (16) and Nicolas Jarry (23) among seeded men’s players to advance.

No. 19 Grigor Dimitrov lost the first two sets in tiebreakers before rallying past Alex Molcan in the deciding fifth set, winning the tiebreak 11-9.

Russia’s Karen Khachanov, last year’s semifinalist who was No. 11 this year, was the top men’s seed to bow out after his loss to American wild card Michael Mmoh. Tallon Griekspoor (24), Borna Coric (27) and Ugo Humbert (29) also were among the seeds to lose.

PEGULA, KEYS ADVANCE

Third-seeded Jessica Pegula and former finalist Madison Keys each punched their tickets into the second round with routine victories that bolstered hopes for a homegrown winner.

Pegula, whose U.S. Open tune-up included a triumph in Montreal just over two weeks ago, earned a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Italy’s Camila Giorgi shortly after 2017 runner-up Keys beat Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus, 6-2, 6-4.

An American woman has not won the U.S. Open since Sloane Stephens beat compatriot Keys in the 2017 final, but Pegula has shown she just might be hitting her stride at the perfect time after making light work of world No. 52 Giorgi.

“I think we are all hoping that we hit the right form going into a slam, especially if you get through the first week trying to hit that stride in the second week,” Pegula said. “But you never really know what’s going to happen.

“Tennis is so day-to-day – you can feel great one week and then you can feel terrible the next. So you are just trying to really get through the first few rounds and try and get better each match.”

Pegula showcased top-quality footwork and movement as she went up a double break for a 5-2 lead in the opening set before serving out with a hold to love that she punctuated with a stinging backhand winner down the line.

In the second set, Pegula struck first when she converted her seventh break chance of a 26-point game that lasted 18 minutes to open a 3-2 lead. Then she broke again before closing it on her serve with another hold to love.

At Louis Armstrong Stadium, Keys went up a double break for an early 3-0 lead en route to sealing the opener in 32 minutes and never looked back as the 17th seed got the break she needed for a 3-2 lead in the second before relying on her serve the rest of the way.

Fifth-seeded Ons Jabeur, who lost to Iga Swiatek in last year’s women’s final, was checked by a trainer and was coughing and blowing her nose during her match before getting past Camila Osorio, 7-5, 7-6 (4). She said she has the flu and a history of asthma, calling it “a very, very tough day.”

“To be honest with you, I just thought: Just put the ball in and see what happens,” Jabeur said.

She found a way through, unlike Leylah Fernandez, the 2021 runner-up, who was eliminated by No. 22 Ekaterina Alexandrova, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4.

Also ousted was No. 7 Caroline Garcia, a 2022 semifinalist who was routed, 6-4, 6-1, by Chinese qualifier Yafan Wang.

Garcia, who two months after last year’s U.S. Open went on to claim the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals, was undone by 34 unforced errors against Wang, who is ranked No. 114.

With the loss, Garcia will fall from the top 10 of the rankings to outside the top 20.

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, the No. 9 seed, advanced easily by knocking out qualifier Na-Lae Han, 6-3, 6-0.

Second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka defeated Belgian Maryna Zanevska, 6-3, 6-2, closing out the action on Louis Armstrong Stadium with 27 winners to set up a meeting with Britain’s Jodie Burrage.

“I think she played an unbelievable match – she fought until the end,” the reigning Australian Open champion said. “I think I’m most pleased with my focus. … Hopefully I’ll do better with every game.”

NEW REVIEW SYSTEM FALTERS

Upon further review, the U.S. Open’s new video replay system needs a little work.

The new setup allowing players to challenge certain calls, such as double bounces, was used for the first time Tuesday when Moutet hoped to get a crucial call overturned in his match against Murray.

Unfortunately for the French player, the chair umpire’s tablet malfunctioned, preventing her from watching video footage and forcing the original call of a point for Murray to stand.

“It obviously didn’t go to plan in a pretty important moment of the match,” Murray said.

Related Articles

Tennis |


U.S. Open: Coco Gauff, irked by opponent’s pace, grinds out win

The video review introduced this year by the U.S. Open on five of its courts is a first in Grand Slam tennis. Players get three challenges per set for things such as double bounces, a ball touching a player’s body, a player touching the net or a player being hindered by noise. They’ll hold onto a challenge if they’re correct and receive an additional one in tiebreakers.

Murray had won the first two sets and was serving with a 5-3 lead in the third when Moutet lunged along the sideline in hopes of returning a shot. The call was that he hadn’t hit the ball before it bounced a second time, and Moutet quickly threw up his arms to initiate the challenge.

Chair umpire Louise Azemar Engzell put on headphones to watch a replay of the point, but the tablet brought to her malfunctioned.

“Per protocol, a video review and any call based off a review must be made by the chair umpire via the video delivered to their tablet on court,” a U.S. Tennis Association spokesman said in an email. “If the video is not available on the chair umpire’s tablet, the original call on the court – in this case, the ‘not up’ – stands.

The spokesman added that the tablet on the Grandstand was repaired after the match.

Had Moutet won the point, he would have had a break point. Instead, Murray closed it out moments later for a 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 victory.

Murray said the TV replay that was available clearly showed that the ball bounced twice, so the initial call was correct. The 2012 U.S. Open champion added that he didn’t understand how the new technology worked, but hoped it would be right for future matches.

“So, yeah,” Murray said, “it would be good if they could get that fixed.”

JOHN McENROE SAYS POSITIVE COVID TEST KEEPING HIM OFF TV

John McEnroe has COVID-19 and is missing time as ESPN’s lead tennis analyst for its U.S. Open television coverage.

“Unfortunately, after feeling a bit under the weather, I tested positive for COVID,” McEnroe said in a statement released by the network on Tuesday, the second day of the Grand Slam tournament. “I’m watching the U.S. Open from home and can’t wait to get back to work soon.”

ESPN said it wishes McEnroe well and looks forward “to welcoming him back when he’s ready.”

McEnroe won four of his seven Grand Slam singles titles at the U.S. Open.

The year’s last major tournament began Monday and ends on Sept. 10 with the men’s singles final.

AP Sports Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this story.