After relinquishing another lead and exiting the Western & Southern Open in the third round in New York, Serena Williams sounded a bit like ‘Sex and the City’ author Candace Bushnell, whose alter-ego Carrie Bradshaw chronicled the lives and loves of people she knew in the Big Apple.
“I put myself in a bad situation,” Williams told reporters. “It’s like dating a guy that you know sucks. That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I have to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”
Williams has pulled off her share of stunning comebacks in a remarkable 20-plus year career but the American is more used to closing out opponents in fairly routine fashion.
It hasn’t happened, though, since tennis’ resumption last month amid the coronavirus pandemic and didn’t happen Tuesday as Williams fell 5-7 7-6 (5) 6-1 to one of tennis’ brightest young stars, 13th-seed Maria Sakkari.
The result came just a week shy of the US Open, when Williams will once again try for a record 24th grand slam title.
All five of Williams’ matches since her return to the tour have gone the maximum three sets. She was upset in a third-set tiebreak in the quarterfinals in Lexington, Kentucky by Shelby Rogers last week and needed another third-set tiebreak Monday to see off 72nd-ranked Arantxa Rus.
Williams won the opener against Rus, like she did against Rogers, before being taken to a decider and letting slip a 5-2 advantage. Williams, who will turn 39 next month, eventually needed three hours to advance.
Her tussle against Greece’s Sakkari realistically should have been over in two sets. Williams built a 5-3 lead in the second, prior to another wobble.
After Sakkari clinched the second-set tiebreak, Williams – who received a time violation warning in the first – gently flung her racket over her shoulder.
She admitted to cramping late in the match and faced a staggering 16 break points in the third, although saved seven match points to delay defeat.
Her extended tussle against Rus wasn’t much of a factor against Sakkari, she insisted.
“There was no excuse,” she said. “Yeah, it was hard, but I had so many opportunities to win, and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again.
“I’ve just got to start learning how to win big points. It was literally one point since January. One point I could have won so many more matches, literally. So if I could just focus on how to win that one point, that would be better.”
She admitted her mindset heading into the US Open could be better.
“It’s hard to play the way I have been playing and to stay positive,” said Williams. “And to play nine hours in a week is too much. I don’t usually play like that. It’s all new for me.”
Williams won’t need to travel to Flushing Meadows since the Western & Southern Open, usually held in Cincinnati, is being staged on the grounds of the US Open to make for an extended tennis bubble.
Novak Djokovic remains in the draw at the Western & Southern Open, following up a tough win over Ricardas Berankis with a smoother victory over grand slam quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren 6-2 6-4 to improve to an unblemished 20-0 in 2020.
Sandgren nearly upended Roger Federer at the Australian Open in January but barring late in the second set, didn’t really trouble the Serb.
Djokovic’s fans will be relieved to hear that a lingering neck injury that necessitated a medical timeout Monday is healing fast.
Neck feeling better
“I’m pleasantly surprised with the way I recovered and felt today, just overall physically but also with the neck specifically, because that was a little bit of a concern,” said Djokovic, the heaviest favorite at the US Open in either singles draw.
“Going back four, five days, I did struggle quite a lot. I wasn’t really sure how that’s going to react after a first match. But it did really well. I’m as closest to a painless neck as I can be.”
Djokovic next battles big-serving German Jan-Lennard Struff.
The world No. 1’s rival from his junior days, Andy Murray, was eliminated at the hands of another big server, Milos Raonic, 6-2 6-2 in a rematch of the 2016 Wimbledon finale.
Three-time grand slam winner Murray temporarily switched to football in his post-match press conference when he discussed Lionel Messi.
He would love to see Messi, arguably football’s greatest ever player, join the Premier League after the Argentine’s days at Barcelona seem numbered.
“Be great for the league, for sure,” said the man with surgically repaired hips. “Maybe get the opportunity to go and watch him live a few more times. I watched him a bit when he was much younger.”