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Three Sets, Three Stories for Serena Williams in the Fourth Round of the US Open

Serena Williams advanced to the quarterfinals of the US Open on Sunday with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 win against Kaia Kanepi. However, as the score likely indicates, it wasn’t exactly a routine victory for the 23-time Grand Slam champion.

In fact, it was truly a tale of three sets — each feeling like a completely separate match, with a different version of Williams playing in each.

How so? See for yourself with our set-by-set breakdown:

First Set: A shutout

For 18 incredible minutes, it was vintage Serena. Yes — 18 minutes. That’s all it took. It was the fastest set of the tournament thus far.

Williams lost the first point of the match, but then rattled off four consecutive points for the game and never looked back. She was eight-for-eight on her first serve and crushed 14 winners, including four aces. Williams, 36, had just two unforced errors.

Everything looked easy. There were no “Come on!” cries or fist-clenching moments, because, well, there was just no need. In the sixth game, Williams had a statement return that perhaps best sums up the first set:

That’s right — she was already walking away before the ball even bounced on the other side of the net, because she was that sure it was good.

What Williams said: “We also always have really tough matches. I was just happy for the quick start.”

Score: 6-0

Second Set: Ruh-roh

The crowd was abuzz during the break between the first and second sets. How fast was this going to end had to be the collective question on everyone’s mind. After all, it was the 25th time Williams had won a 6-0 opening set of a major match, with all the previous matches ending in two sets.

But … it was like watching a superhero lose her powers. She had no confidence. No speed. No answers.

Kanepi completely immobilized Williams. The former world No. 1 moved gingerly, appearing almost as if her feet were glued to the floor at times as she watched balls whiz by. It was such a contrast, it felt as if she must have been suffering from an inconspicuous injury.



Williams lost the first game, and as she was trailing in the second, she ran over to her chair to change her racket. A desperate attempt to reverse her fortunes? Not so much. She lost that game, too.

The crowd seemed confused. So did Williams. She looked at her racket, and waved her arms around. She tried to calm herself down. But no matter what she did, nothing worked. With a 4-2 lead, Kanepi reached break point with an incredible forehand winner. Williams then double faulted to lose the game.

Kanepi, who upset top-seeded Simona Halep in the first round, needed three more games to close out the set and force a third frame.


What Williams said: “I made one or two crucial errors and that cost me the second set, or at least cost me the first game. Then she was holding pretty well at that point. So it wasn’t like my level went down tremendously. It was one or two points that made a huge difference in that second set.”

Score: 6-0, 4-6

Final set: Everything’s gonna be all right

Williams showed no emotion on her face as she sat in the changeover chair, waiting for the final set to begin. The crowd on the other hand cheered loudly for their American hero — and she responded.

Williams clocked a clean crosscourt, backhand winner to win the opening game and unleashed a roaring scream.

“It was a ‘Serena scream,'” she said. “I don’t try to do it. It just comes out, and it’s just emotions and just — you’re out there. This is my job, and this is what I do. This is how I earn a living. I’m going to do it the best I can.”

Williams went on to win the next two games, thanks to big serving, including one at 118 mph, and was running with renewed energy. Trailing in the fourth game, she calmly said to herself: “You have this, you have this, it’s OK.”

Even when Kanepi came back to make it 5-3, an animated Williams fed off the crowd. Was there any doubt she would win? A rhetorical question, yes. She finished the set with eight aces and won 16 of 17 points when she converted her first serve.

Just for fun, Williams clinched the match with this impressive winner:

What Williams said: “I was just happy to get through, to be honest. … Fortunately I didn’t feel pressure. And I don’t really feel pressure, because I’m on this journey of getting back to where I was.”

Score: 6-0, 4-6, 6-3


Written by How Africa

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