US Open: Serena Williams tested by 17-year-old rookie

Meanwhile, Venus Williams saw her campaign ended by Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina

After the endless hype and anticipation of Serena Williams’ all-superstar first-round grudge match with Maria Sharapova, in the end it was a mere rookie who had the audacity to step up to the all-time great and fearlessly push her to the edge of despair. But despite many troubles, Williams defeated 17-year-old Caty McNally, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, to move into the third round of the US Open after an electric night on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

As packed are Williams palmarés and records, it is astounding how blank McNally’s slate was as she arrived on the biggest tennis stadium in the world, its lights off and music booming. This was Williams’ 949th career tour-level match, compared to McNally’s 10th. This year marks Williams’ 20th US Open, while it was McNally’s first. In total, the youngster had only competed in the main draw of five top-level events.

McNally’s game seemed forged by the memory of the type of players Williams would face back in those early days. She came armed with a disrupting slice backhand, a heavy topspin forehand and the insatiable desire to chase down the net. Most importantly, the young American, who would watch Williams play as a youngster at her home tournament in Cincinnati, matched Williams serving blow-for-blow throughout the first set.

As the first set wore on, McNally began to back up her strong serving by finding her range on her groundstrokes. The pair held through the first nine games, with few return opportunities for either, but just as it seemed that Williams was working things out, she missed an easy backhand at 5-4, 30-30 and her composure crumbled.


At 5-all, Williams’ game became replete with unforced errors, and it was all the encouragement McNally needed as broke the greatest serve of all time with a searing forehand return. When Serena came racing back to 0-40, McNally calmly saved break points with a mixture of big serving a drop shots to seal the set.

This has been an extremely difficult year for Williams with countless injuries and she did not return to the scene of most of her greatest on-court traumas to lose in the second round. Williams despaired for a while, but then she fought and roared, eventually elevating her game as she so often does.

After a series of tense early second set exchanges, Williams broke McNally for 4-2 with a return winner as the youngster swept to the net for more. McNally continued fight, saving four set points and forcing Williams to serve out the set 5-3, which she achieved with ease.

By the final set, the 37-year-old had solved every necessary problem. Where McNally started the match comfortably securing free points, Williams was suddenly taking large cuts on return and making them. Williams broke serve immediately in set three with a piercing return, then the youngster gave up the second break for with a double fault as the pressure from Williams return told. Finally, Williams sealed the match with a forehand return winner to march on.

Serena’s sister Venus Williams saved five match points before her 21st US Open campaign was ended by Elina Svitolina.

Serving to stay in the match, the 39-year-old showed her never-say-die spirit remains undimmed in a marathon penultimate game.

She forced Svitolina to serve for the match, the Ukrainian fifth seed eventually crossing the line for a 6-4 6-4 victory.

“It was a really incredible match,” said Svitolina.

“It was really special. It’s unbelievable what Venus does, on and off the court she is a big inspiration.

“I had to stay very focused and try to put an extra ball over the net. She knows how to handle moments like this, it was incredibly tough and only a few points decided the match.”

Third seed Karolina Pliskova is also through to the third round, the 27-year-old from the Czech Republic beating Georgia’s Mariam Bolkvadze 6-1 6-4.

Second seed Ashleigh Barty beat Lauren Davis of America 6-2 7-6 (2) and 10th seed Madison Keys saw off China’s Zhu Lin 6-4 6-1. – Guardian

US Open Women’s Singles second round results

(5) Elina Svitolina (Ukr) bt Venus Williams (USA) 6-4 6-4, (10) Madison Keys (USA) bt Lin Zhu (Chn) 6-4 6-1, (3) Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Mariam Bolkvadze (Geo) 6-1 6-4, (8) Serena Williams (USA) bt Catherine McNally (USA) 5-7 6-3 6-1, (2) Ashleigh Barty (Aus) bt Lauren Davis (USA) 6-2 7-6 (7-2).