venus-and-serena*Flushing, New York – Saturday at the U.S. Open featured tantalizing play from the three  top-ranked American players left in the top half of the draw: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and the one to watch, Madison Keys.

During the day session on Ashe, Venus Williams had to face a qualifier, Anet Kontaveit of Estonia, the beneficiary of a weakened draw that allowed her to make the tournament’s fourth round. She did well to make it through Casey Dellacqua, Anastasia Pavyluchenkova and Madison Brengle to earn the round of 32 berth – and made nice money doing so, but she met with a very steady Venus Williams, who proved too much for her to handle.

Venus, the oldest woman left in the draw, easily took the first set, 6-2, with aggressive play and never facing a break  point. And the second set didn’t veer too far from that script, except Kontaveit managed to earn her first and only break point of the match as Venus was trying to close it out at 5-1. But that was only a blip, because the two-time champion didn’t waste any time correcting that mistake and shut the spent Estonian down, 6-2, 6-1.

Venus, for the first time in over a while, did her part in setting up a prospective match up with her sister – which  would help punctuate the history that will be made this fortnight.

Serena Williams was up next, against Madison Keys, a fellow American and an opponent many felt had the goods to upend the defending champion and derail her hopes of claiming her first Calendar Slam.  But a relaxed and sharp Serena Williams is virtually “un-upendable,” which is how she entered the match:

“I haven’t really felt a lot of pressure.  Only in that second round, for whatever reason, I got tight.  I don’t really feel like if I win this tournament it’s going to make or break my career,” she revealed.

Madison came out pretty relaxed and sharp, too, but ….

As expected from the two, the match started out with big serves – hovering around 115 average – and few rallies.  That play carried the match to 4-3, Serena, with no breaks of serve, neither threats thereof.  But the first window of opportunity came at 15-30 in the next game when Madison blinked on her serve … and Serena snagged the first break, setting herself up to serve for the set.

She had been having serving and closing challenges prior to this match, but they didn’t rear their head during this match:

“…I’ve been serving so many of them recently,” she said of her double-faults.  “Normally I serve like this [well] my whole career.  Past year and a half, I haven’t.”

Her serve didn’t fail her, but she did botch an easy net put-away in the process of trying to close the set.  She hung at the net for a spell to compose herself, then eventually made her way back to the line to complete the task of closing … and she did, 6-3.

Keys didn’t appear daunted though, as she knew Serena wasn’t gonna give her anything with so much on the line:

“I feel like once Serena plays a couple of matches, she just gets better and better.  I knew she was definitely going to be tough to beat today,” she said.

Though she had counted up the costs, the young American was almost broken immediately as she started the second set.  That danger, however, was averted by a few line clippers that caught Serena off guard. They went back and forth with deuce advantage for a few points, one causing Madison to do a “Serena split” to chase down a hard-hit ball, but she managed to hold on after a another net clipper went wide on break point for Serena and she hit two big follow up serves. It was then 2-1, Madison.

After that, back to the routine big serving it was for the quarterfinal-hungry ladies, up to reaching  3-all … until – at the same juncture as set one, a hiccup by Madison on serve gave Serena the break for 4-3. And with the world no. 1 having a lights out serving day, Madison could forget retrieving that break:

“I think her serving was amazing today, so I never really had any chance to have any break chances or anything like that,” she said.

Like clockwork, Serena served and held for 5-3.

Now serving to stay in the match, but feeling a little deflated, Madison took the first two points, 30- love, but double-faulted to give Serena a look in the game.  Then an unforced backhand error by Madison took it to 30-all and the smell of blood was in the water. Serena went for a blistering backhand return on Keys’ next serve, drawing a second Serena split from the 20-year-old on a net clipper at 30-all, then at 30-40 a double-fault by keys abruptly ended the match, 6-3, 6-3 in favor of the world 6-time champion.

“I think I played really well.  I had to play well,” Serena proudly said after the match. “I did hit a ball that bounced before it hit the net, so that is a first (smiling).

Another American down, but she paved the way for an all-Williams quarterfinal that fits perfectly with the narrative surrounding this US Open. It would seem to illuminate just how important to the game of tennis the sister act has been for all these years and  just how talented and capable they were and still are:

“I think it’s been an amazing rivalry.  I think it’s meant a lot.  We’ve done a lot for the sport.  I think you know, it can continue for as long as we play,” said the 21-time Grand Slam champion.

As for Madison Keys, she’s is a growing player with plenty of years left and she will have her chances. She realizes that and, though she did her best, she’s glad to see the sisters – who she idolized growing up – meet for such an auspicious occasion and is rooting for Serena to take it all:

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I feel like every American has had to play each other in this part of the draw, so it’s unfortunate that they have to meet in the quarters instead of, you know, the semi or final. Really looking forward to the match.”

“Now that I’ve lost, definitely I want her to make history and win the calendar slam.”

Venus was looking forward to the match up as well and did her part, leaving – and hoping for – Serena to do just the same:

“We’re both prepared obviously hoping she gets through this match. She’s looking good. We both know the draw, so we are both prepared to play each other in case we both play well, she said about the clash prior to Serena’s win.

The Williams sisters will clash on Tuesday; their head to head is 15-11, Serena.

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