2013 US Open : Week 1 Review
Everything is going Serena Williams’ way as the women’s singles reach the quarterfinals and Week 1 of the 2013 U.S. Open comes to a close. The way Williams is playing, she doesn’t need any help to get back to the finals and have a shot at winning her fifth U.S. Open – but she’s getting plenty of it anyway.
Two of Williams’ biggest threats never hit a shot at the U.S. National Tennis Center this week: Maria Sharapova decided to rest her injured shoulder, and Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli decided to rest her entire body and retired last month. When third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska dropped a straight-setter to Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round, Williams’ side of the draw consisted of no bigger challenge than fifth-seeded Na Li – provided she could get past Sloane Stephens in the fourth round.
That made alone made the Serena/Sloane showdown a must-see match, and the stakes seemed even higher in the wake of Stephens’ victory over a hobbled Williams at the Australian Open, and the ensuing flap over an interview in which Stephens bristled at the idea that Serena had been anything like a mentor or friend to her. With that drama as a backdrop, and with the draw disintegrating around them, the Sunday slugfest took on a championship feel.
The opening set featured the two baseliners matching each other shot for shot. Serena broke Stephens, then gave the break back with a rare poor service game – including a pair of double faults to end the game. At that point, Serena found another gear, pressuring Stephens into a series of errors that gave Williams the first set and the momentum to turn the second set into a rout.
The second set is where Williams showed that she is still the game’s dominant player, and that only injury or indifference can slow her down. Despite giving away 11 years to Stephens, Williams used her experience and power to put on a clinic: six aces, 22 winners, and a finishing run where she won 11 of 12 points to finish off her 6-4, 6-1 victory. Despite the loss, Stephens showed that she belongs in the conversation about the game’s top players – Serena even graciously asked the crowd after the match, “Are you excited for the future of American tennis?” – and you wished that she’d come along to challenge Serena five years ago so their rivalry could last longer.
The other story of the first week was about another young American who appears to be hitting her stride at the highest level. Alison Riske was the last wild card left in the women’s draw at age 23. The late-blooming Pennsylvania product announced her arrival with a stunning 6-3, 6-0 shellacking of seventh-seeded Petra Kvitova in the third round after a pair of straight-set wins on the outer courts. This surprising run brought Riske to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time as a professional, where she took the resurgent Daniela Hantuchova to a third set before bowing out. Riske’s rise adds depth to Stephens and the other talented American players who’ll take up the torch from Serena and Venus Williams in years to come.
But that’s the future, and this is now: With Williams and Azarenka humming along, the story of Week 2 promises to be whether anyone from the depleted draw can derail a rematch of their 2012 showdown at Arthur Ashe Stadium.