Venus Wiliams

Venus Williams

*Flushing Meadows – Serena Williams is likely singing the same old song after yesterday’s matches: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll every do…”

As it usually goes on the back end of Grand Slams over the last several years, she usually finds herself still sitting at world no. 1 in the rankings and the lone American standing to rep the United States.  Venus Williams was on par to keep her sister company into the quarterfinals and set up a blockbuster battle between the two of them, but it wasn’t to be. She lost to Czechoslovakia’s Karolina Pliskova inside Arthur Ashe stadium during Monday’s day session.

The match was both a heart-breaker and a thriller.

Venus Williams came out playing well. She was in full control of the match, blasting winners, producing textbook volleys and serving like Venus of old. But after Venus was up a set and a break, 6-4, 3-2, she let off the gas and Pliskova – her first time on Ashe – shook her nerves and found her game. The lanky Czech began serving big and going for her shots and took the second set, 6-4.

The fans then had themselves a match.

The third set was a high-quality exchange of big serving and fearless winners from both ladies. It just came down to which one would blink first … and it was Venus Williams who did. Not to say that Venus didn’t have Pliskova on the ropes, because she held a match point on Pliskova’s serve, but the Czech came up with an out-wide serve/down the line combo that pulled Venus off the court and left her out of position for the down the line. She got a racket on it, but her defensive shot didn’t even make it halfway to the net. It was then 5-5 and Pliskova held that game and broke Venus in the next for 6-5, to attempt to serve out the match.

But Venus has 7 Grand Slams, and that depth of experience can go a long way.

Pliskova at first seemed steady in closing the match, hitting big serves to take it to 40-0.  And most players would mentally concede defeat under those circumstances, but Venus Williams dug deep into her resolve and reeled off the next five points to force the tiebreaker at 6-all.

That’s where the wheels fell off Venus Williams’ game.

All the hard and brave work Venus did to save three match points seemed to vanish in the breaker. She dropped the first point on her serve, while Pliskova held one of hers for 2-0. Venus got the mini-break back for 1-2, but dropped her next two serves to keep Pliskova in the lead. 4-1 Venus eked out a couple more points, but she gave them back up to unforced errors and Pliskova rolled to the finish line – the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).  It was indeed a heart breaker for the 36-year-old.

“Yeah, we both competed really well,” she reflected. “Of course I’d like to come out on top of that match. Just kept fighting till the end, but I don’t know, she had a little more luck today. I had a few too many errors in the tiebreaker.”

Serena Williams was up next.

The prevailing question after Venus Williams lost was how would it impact her sister, Serena Williams, since she was playing directly afterwards. She could’ve easily passed her heartbroken sister in the tunnel right before her match and they’ve been known to lose on the same day on occasion.

She answered it quite decisively, though.

Serena Williams faced off against Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, who hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament to that point. But Serena Williams is known for breaking streaks of players who had been on some kind of roll and did just that. She was utterly dominant on serve, hitting the fastest of the tournament at 126mph AND not having it broken the whole tournament, and she was sharp off the ground. It was a straightforward win – her 308th, putting her out in front of even Roger Federer now, with a score line of 6-2, 6-3.

“I just feel like I’m going out there doing what I need to do. I’m not overplaying, I’m not underplaying, I’m just trying to play my way into this tournament,” she said.

As for the 308th win:

“I think it’s really exciting. I just think winning 308 matches in general is pretty awesome. For that to be in a Grand Slam is pretty cool.

She’ll next face feisty Romanian Simona Halep, the no. 5 seed. She leads their head to head 7-1, having won the last three hard fought meetings, but she’ll need the win to remain on par to retain the number one ranking. Angelique Kerber has earned enough points to clench it at this point, leaving Serena Williams no choice but to win the tournament in order to hang on to it. Serena and Simona will play on Wednesday.

Madison Keys went down to Caroline Wozniacki on Monday afternoon. Wozniacki came out firing on all cylinders and playing the match of her life, while Keys’ game was littered with unforced errors. The occasion may have been to big for the young American, as she never found her rhythm, losing 6-3, 6-4.