Coming back from childbirth was always going to be her biggest challenge, but the baggage of trying to become the all-time great is proving a formidable haul even for Serena
Eight years ago, the documentary Venus and Serena followed the Williams sisters as they tried to survive the nadir of their careers. Venus prepared to do battle with Sjogren’s syndrome, while Serena plotted her way back from the first pulmonary embolism that had nearly killed her. During a quiet moment of the documentary, a quick break in the middle of practice, Serena noted to no one in particular that she had returned to the top 10 of the rankings. Isha, her sister, frowned and then responded with the question that has consumed all followers of the sport for 21 years: “Girl, how can you and Venus keep in the top 10 and y’all never play?”
The question remains unanswered. This week, Williams returned to the top 10 for the second time this year, one year after her first grand slam competition following maternity leave. It is absurd. She has completed only one tournament in 2019, the Australian Open, withdrawing after one match in her last three events. Over the past 52 weeks, she has only completed five events. For much of her career, she loomed as large over the tour in her absence as when she was there, but now her absence seems normal. The sport goes on.
Swiss now eight behind Jimmy Connors on career singles list
American hampered by foot injury in second set
Roger Federer became tennis’s first repeat champion of 2019 when he won his 101st career singles title on Sunday by beating defending champion John Isner in the Miami Open final, 6-1, 6-4. “It’s unbelievable. I played here in 1999 for the first time and here I am in 2019. It means a lot to me,” said Federer after sealing the victory.
The trophy presentation! James Blake – the former tennis player, not the post-dubstep musician – is thanking everyone. Including the people who watched – which I guess means us. That’s nice.
Isner limps up for a chat. He pays tribute to his opponent: “Roger, we’re so lucky to have you and we want you to keep playing and literally never retire”.
Roger speaks: He says breaking early was “a dream start” although he acknowledges the end of the match “wasn’t real” after Isner’s injury. He said he “had to keep working hard” even when he saw Isner was hurt.
A shame because before he was injured Isner was coming back into the match and the second set had been fairly even. That was Federer’s 101st career title, he’s not eight behind Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 109.
The commentary crew on ESPN says Isner told the trainer he thinks he may have a stress fracture in his foot – he had the same injury as a junior and it feels similar. Anyway, he going out to serve. Or attempt to. His first serve is hit at half speed and Isner barely moves around the court. It looks like, to Isner’s credit, that he will try to see out the match. Federer doesn’t appear to be going full pelt on his returns – he doesn’t need to either. Isner actually wins a few points to make it 30-40 and looks like he’s made it deuce but the challenge show the ball was long and Federer is the champion.
Second set: Isner 1-6, 4-5 Federer* (*denotes server)
A little hop as Isner returns – he’s clearly feeling pain in his foot. A few points later he yelps in pain and limps around the baseline: he barely moves for the next return of serve. This may not last long…
Second set: *Isner 1-6, 4-4 Federer (*denotes server)
Isner is being treated by the trainer – he’s having his foot looked at. He glances across at his opponent and says “Sorry, Roger”. Excellent manners, his parents should be proud. Anyway, Isner is able to continue but doesn’t look entirely comfortable on his serve (not that that stops him from sending down an ace to make it 30-15, and another to hold).
Second set: Isner 1-6, 3-4 Federer* (*denotes server)
Although Isner has improved his serve, he’s still not troubling Federer on his serve at all. Isner already appears to be playing for the tiebreak, where he has a decent record against Federer (4-4). A big serve ends the game for Roger.
Second set: *Isner 1-6, 3-3 Federer (*denotes server)
Federer clips the ball down into Isner’s ankles and the defending champion can only volley wide: 15-30. A great response from Isner though: a 118mph second serve is too good for Federer. Isner has been much better this set and his serve is starting to crank up. Big serves help him to hold.
Second set: Isner 1-6, 2-3 Federer* (*denotes server)
Isner pumps his fist as a Federer mishit makes it 15-15. When there is first pumping at 15-15, you know Isner is searching for scraps. Federer goes on to win the game and there is no more fist pumping.
Second set: *Isner 1-6, 2-2 Federer (*denotes server)
Isner goes for some serve-and-volley. The serve is fine, the volley less so and he bumbles the ball into the net. A strange point at 15-15, Isner hits it long but Federer thinks it’s in and plonks it into the net. He doesn’t challenge either and Isner gets away with one. He goes on to win the game too, but Roger missed a chance to put Isner under pressure.
Second set: Isner 1-6, 1-2 Federer* (*denotes server)
On ESPN, they think Isner is playing too far behind the baseline, giving Federer too much room to cause chaos. Which he is doing. Roger holds to love with a nice drop shot.
Second set: *Isner 1-6, 1-1 Federer (*denotes server)
A much better game from Isner – a huge serve brings up 40-0 and he holds shortly afterwards. Now all he needs to do is figure out is how to get remotely close to breaking Federer.
Second set: Isner 1-6, 0-1 Federer* (*denotes server)
First set stats: Isner won 46% of his service points, Federer won 92% (100% of his first serves). That’s all you need to know about the match so far. An ace seals Federer’s hold to love. The Miami Marlins are playing across town at the moment, if Roger hurries he can catch the rest of the game.
Federer peppers Isner with big shots on the baseline until the American prangs a forerhand out. Federer is getting plenty of Isner’s serves back and seems to be picking everything his opponent throws at him. And soon as Isner’s serve is neutralised there’s not much left. Another unforced error gifts the set to Federer in 25 minutes. Yikes.
First set: Isner 1-5 Federer* (* denotes server)
They say the key to beating Isner is to break him early – and Federer has done so twice (he opted to let Isner serve first too). Isner’s serve has been good but not great today, and he’s missed a few chances: no chance against Roger if he keeps that up. Federer holds to love – this one could be over quickly (he writes just before Isner stages the greatest comeback of all time).
First set: *Isner 1-4 Federer (* denotes server)
Isner moves Federer around the court nicely before sending a stabbed volley down past his opponent to make it 15-30 after early wobbles. But then Isner misses an easy forehand for his second costly unforced error of the set and it’s 15-40. A good comeback though, capped with an ace and we’re at deuce. Isner then just misses a shot down the line and Federer has a good chance to put this set firmly under his control. Isner thinks he’s saved the break point with a volley but Federer races across court and whistles a forehand past his opponent to seal another break.
First set: Isner 1-3 Federer* (* denotes server)
The weather in Miami is hot and humid but no rain – good news after a stormy few days earlier in the tournament. Federer holds that game as easily as Isner did the last. The ease Roger held there is not good news for Isner as he attempts to break – Federer barely broke a sweat.
First set: *Isner 1-2 Federer (* denotes server)
That’s more like it from Isner: three big serves take him to 40-0 and he seals it with a nice backhand down the line.
First set: Isner 0-2 Federer* (* denotes server)
Going a break down in the first game against the greatest player of all time* isn’t the perfect start. Isner does very little to correct matters in the second game, and it’s an easy hold for Federer.
First set: *Isner 0-1 Federer (* denotes server)
Federer gets off to a quick start and has Isner under pressure at 15-30. How much pressure? Isner dumps his next two serves into the net and there’s an early break point on offer for Roger. He wastes the first opportunity with a wide backhand but can’t do much about the next shot from Isner: an ace down the middle. But a lovely passing shot brings up advantage for Federer and then Isner’s unforced error gives the Swiss an early break.
As you may have heard one or 57,856 times, John Isner has an excellent serve. Unsurprisingly, Federer believes it will be key to the match. “He’s definitely got one of the serves that you basically can’t read. It’s that simple,” said Federer. “You just hope that the stars align, that you pick the right side, he picks the wrong side, maybe he misses a serve, that you can put him in uncomfortable situations time and time again, and at the end somehow find a way.”
These two are evenly match when it comes to head-to-head tiebreaks: they’ve won four each in previous meetings.
If Isner wins the final today, it will complete a US sweep for the men’s titles here: the Bryan brothers won the doubles earlier against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Wesley Koolhof.
It’s been four years since these two men met (in a match, I’m sure they chat in the locker room/on luxury yachts all the time) and that was in a Masters even too – the Paris Masters to be exact. Isner was the winner then, although Federer has the better record overall in the head-to-head. He leads the series 5-2.
But Isner has form in Florida, and won the title – his first Masters – here last year. He’s yet to drop a set this tournament but has won all but one of them on tiebreaks, which is remarkable even by Isner’s standards. Oddly, Federer’s toughest match came against the Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot in his opening match. Those Moldovans though, tough tennis players.
Tom will be here shortly, in the meantime here’s how the women’s final panned out on Saturday:
Ashleigh Barty had 15 aces and became the 33rd different player to win a title in as many ATP and WTA tournaments this year when she beat Karolina Pliskova 7-6, 6-3 on Saturday in the final of the Miami Open.
The 22-year-old Australian, seeded 12th, won her fourth title and the biggest of her career. She improved to 18-3 this year and will rise next week to career-high ranking of No9, the first Australian woman since 2013 to reach the top 10 in the world.
This time last year Andreescu picked up $392 for losing at an ITF event. Now the teenager has landed $1.35m and is the toast of tennis and Canada after her star-making Indian Wells win
Twelve months ago Bianca Andreescu was toiling in obscurity on the lowest rung of professional tennis, grinding for points to boost her world No 198 ranking at a $25,000 ITF tournament on a university campus in Toyota, Japan. An array of physical woes, including back injuries, shoulder ailments and stress fractures in her foot, were wearing on her teenage body. Her prize money after a straight-sets defeat in the second round was $392. As she recalled last week: “I wasn’t really in a good spot.”
Dominic Thiem edged error-prone Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to win the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, denying Federer a record sixth title in the desert while claiming the biggest title of his career.