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Serena won't let up until last point
After watching Serena Williams wipe Andrea Hlavackova off the Arthur Ashe Stadium court 6-0, 6-0 on Monday, I was reminded of an incident that took place many moons ago in the locker room at the Houston Astrodome.
It was the night Muhammad Ali had made a terrible mess of poor Cleveland Williams, the latest in a long line of victims who found themselves boxing out of their class against the magical Ali in his prime.
I was sitting in a corner writing up some notes after the rest of the press pack had disappeared when I suddenly realized the voice I was hearing from behind a line of hanging clothes was that of the man himself. I suppose I eavesdropped but it was impossible not to.
Ali was talking to a friend, and the tone was very different from the boasting trash-talk that he used to publicize his fights.
“I don’t want to beat these guys up,” he said. “I could have killed that guy. What kind of a job is that?”
Serena doesn’t feel quite the same way because she does not lay physical blows on her opponents. But the level of superiority that the younger Williams sister now enjoys against the majority of her opponents is very similar. Right and left, she delivers knockout blows that, metaphorically at least, leave her opponents on the canvas.
Ali might have had sympathy for his opponents in the supposed privacy of the locker room, but Serena does not see it that way. Asked if she felt sympathy at 6-0, 5-0 up, she replied: “No, in this particular case. She was fighting really hard. You give people any type of chance, especially in tennis — look, the match is never over until you shake hands. There is always a comeback available. So I didn’t want to give her that opportunity — anyone that opportunity — to come back, especially her, in particular.
"She was getting so pumped, and she never gave up. I thought that was incredibly positive.”
Ali knew full well what a stray punch could do, even if the chances of anyone getting close to his jaw in his halcyon years were remote. So he would have been a 6-0, 6-0 tennis player, knowing there was a job to be done and making sure he did it.
Serena should meet a bit more resistance in the US Open quarterfinals, because Ana Ivanovic is starting to look like the player who won the French Open and rose to No. 1 in the world in 2008. Incredibly, she had not reached the last eight of any Grand Slam event since then until Monday, when she outplayed Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova 6-0, 6-4.
Ever charming and ever upbeat, Ivanovic went through some tough times through injury and lack of confidence, but her British coach, Nigel Sears, who has been working with her for a bit more than a year now, has helped her rediscover the fluent, hard-hitting game that took her to the top.
She also used plenty of drop shots off the forehand against Pironkova, which is really a sign of confidence because they have often been her downfall in the past.
“Sometimes, it is not the best choice of shot," Ivanovic said, "but I felt like I had a good touch today. And I did it, actually, in a few really important moments. I was very fortunate it went my way.”
Something strange will have to happen for it to go her way against Serena, to whom she lost here last year.
“I thought I had some chances in the second set, from memory," Ivanovic said. "But, you know it’s always tough. She’s, obviously, a great player, and I will have to be sharp from the first moment and stay aggressive.”
And stay off the canvas.
So, not for the first time at this US Open, ticket holders on Ashe were shortchanged by one-sided matches while spectators over on Louis Armstrong were offered an exciting, close-fought battle between Sara Errani, the surprise finalist at the French Open in June, and the fast-rising German Angelique Kerber, who was seeded four places above Errani at No. 6.
It was the little Italian who came through 7-6 (5), 6-3 after Kerber’s normally reliable ground strokes suddenly deserted her midway through the tiebreaker. A mis-timed forehand that flew wide was quickly followed by an error off the other flank and Errani gratefully grabbed the tiebreaker 7-5.
With her confidence on the rise, Errani was able to dictate play more in the second set. After coming out on top after some long baseline duels, she reached her first quarterfinal at Flushing Meadows in her sixth appearance here.
“It was an incredible fight, I think,” said Errani before offering up a different way of describing what one has to do to win a tennis match. “It was also a very tactic match, I think — trying to wait for the other; trying to do the better thing for me, the worst for her.”
Despite love and all that, it’s not really a game for tea and sympathy.
Errani will find herself facing her great friend and doubles partner in the quarterfinals. As dark clouds loomed over Flushing Meadows, Roberta Vinci, who won the French Open doubles title with Errani, caused a major upset by defeating the No. 2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-4. Not for the first time this year, it seemed that Radwanksa was restricted to some degree by a shoulder injury.