Serena Williams v Ajla Tomljanović: US Open tennis 2022 – live! | Serena Williams

Who is Ajla Tomljanovic?

Basic facts:

  • She was born in Croatia but has switched her nationality to Australia.

  • Her top career singles ranking is 38th, set in February of this year. She’s currently 46th.

  • She has reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon two straight years.

  • Her favorite city to visit is … Charlotte, NC, maybe not the world’s biggest tourist destination but a place where she has some family.

  • She made her WTA main draw event in 2009 and cracked the year-end top 100 in 2013.

  • Her father played handball. (For American readers who don’t follow the Olympics, we mean the kind with nets, not walls.)

  • Her best tennis memory was her first time on the court with Chris Evert, so it’s a little unfortunate that Evert is absent from the broadcast booth tonight. Mary Jo Hernandez is up there with John McEnroe and Chris Fowler.

Pre-match pomp and circumstance is ending. Here we go…

Meanwhile, in men’s tennis…

Top-seed Daniel Medvedev once again has the dubious honor of trying to follow Serena at Arthur Ashe Stadium, facing Yibing Wu and reminding me of when I saw Cheap Trick in top form opening for an indifferent Robert Plant.

But like the women’s draw with Serena, the men’s draw’s highlight is the progression of fellow veteran Rafael Nadalwho advanced today despite bashing himself in the nose.

It’s as if women’s tennis was taking place in some alternate timeline, and Serena followed Spock through a time wormhole or whatever it was that made it possible for Leonard Nimoy to appear in the Star Trek reboot.

None of these players have ever played Serena.

Not Danka Kovinic, Serena’s first-round opponent here. Not Kontaveit. Not Tomljanovic, tonight’s opponent.

Not Samsonova or Krunic (first names will be at the end of this post), her prospective fourth-round opponents.

Not her prospective quarterfinal opponents, fifth seed Ons Jabeur and 18th seed VEronika Kudermetovawho have already won their third-round matches.

Not even top seed Iga Świąteka two-time French Open champion who’s less accomplished on hardcourts.

If these players were up-and-coming prodigies with youthful swaggers that make them impervious to the Serena mystique, maybe they’d have more of a chance. Kontaveit gained confidence for a while, fighting back in the first set to force a tiebreaker and then rolling past Serena in the second set, but it always seemed as if Serena was just catching her breath before unleashing the fury in the third.

But with the exception of the 21-year-old Świątek, these are veteran players who know they’re supposed to be intimidated, and they are, even if Tomljanović has come up with a novel way of blocking out the crowd that already annoyed her when she was playing several courts away.

(This is a home-court advantage of a type rarely, if ever, seen in tennis. On occasion, a handful of people have cheered opponents’ service errors, but for the most part it has been an appreciative crowd – and Serena herself once shut down fans who grumbled about a line call, an unusual complaint in a tournament whose line calls are judged electronically.)

The most interesting bracket right now would determine a potential semifinal opponent for Serena. Coco Gauff defeated Madison Keys in a matchup of younger US players inspired by the Williams sisters. In Louis Armstrong Stadium tonight, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu faces a solid player in Caroline Garcia.

Serena still has to win five matches to match Margaret Court‘s record of 23 Grand Slam victories, a mark set in an era in which the field of competition was nowhere near as vast as it is today. Streaks end, and Serena’s might come to a close before she has a chance to play that dream final. But there’s no one in this field who makes you think, “Yes, THAT is the person who will beat Serena.” Not after seeing Williams play Wednesday as a supposed underdog who thoroughly outclassed the world’s No. 2 player.

(Those first names: Lyudmila Samsonova and Aleksandra Krunic.)

Could Bianca Andreescu stop Serena?  We'd have to wait a while to find out.
Could Bianca Andreescu stop Serena? We’d have to wait a while to find out. Photograph: Danielle Parhizkaran/USA Today Sports

Spare a thought today for those in the world-enveloping field of sports betting.

If you had bet on Serena Williams before Monday, chances are your purchased your ticket at 50-1 odds. Now she’s in the 14-1 range. And doesn’t THAT seem a little too skeptical, given the way she has marched through these first two rounds?

We have to ask at this point – who’s going to beat her?

defending champion Emma Raducanu? Out in the first round.

Wimbledon champ Elena Rybakina? Also out in the first.

Second seed Anett Kontaveit? Lost on Wednesday to somebody… oh, right… Serena Williams.

How about two-time champion Naomi Osaka, like Serena a player whose recent lack of activity and success believes her ability? Nope. Out in the first.

Also out in the second round: Third seed Maria Sakkari and fourth seed Paula Badosa.

All told, only six of the top 11 made it to the round of 32.

Tonight, Serena plays Ajla Tomljanovic, the 46th-ranked player in the world. Should she win that one, she’ll face the winner of a match being played all the way out on Court 17 between 35th-ranked Samsonova and 96th-ranked Krunic. Bonus points if you know their first names. Answers in the next post. This one is already my longest of the week because I’m essentially describing a cosmic alignment not seen since the Harmonic Convergence of 1987.

The bad news for Serena is that she and Venus Williams lost their double opener Thursday night. But that just means more rest for someone who’s at the age at which men start buying flashy cars to compensate for their receding hairlines and dad bods. (Not me. I have a sensible car.) She can focus on smashing her way through a succession of opponents whose summaries compare to Serena’s about as well as my book sales compare to that of children’s author David Pilkey. (Yes, I’ve been working in a library recently, and I have sneaker tracks on my back from all the kids stampeding to grab the latest Dog Man books.)

Beau will be here shortly. In the meantime, here’s Merlisa Lawrence Corbett on Venus and Serena’s joint farewell last night.

Serena Williams often says there would be no her without Venus. So if this was indeed their last tournament together, it is fitting that they went out in the doubles on Thursday night in the same manner as they arrived more than two decades ago: as a team – The Williams sisters.

After they retire officially, you’ll find them on the pages of sports, business, health, fitness and fashion magazines. The Williams sisters transcend sports. They’ve obliterated records, broken barriers and precedents to the point that little is left for proteges like Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka. The chance to become the first black woman to win a career grand slam? Gone. The first black woman to win Olympic golds in singles and double? Gone. The first black women to win grand slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles? Gone. The first black women ranked No 1? Gone.

What’s left is a sports legacy unequaled in its impact and cultural significance. The Williams sisters changed how the game is played and who is playing the game. Forty-one years passed between Althea Gibson winning her last grand slam title and Serena winning her first. Today, four black women playing at this year’s US Open have a combined 35 grand slam singles titles.

Venus has five Olympic medals (one silver, four gold), the most won by any tennis player, male or female, in the Open era. Serena ranks second, with four gold medals. They are a perfect 14-0 in grand slam doubles finals. Black women – Serena (23), Venus (seven) and Osaka (four) – hold the top three spots on the list of most major titles among active female players. There were more black women in the main draw at the 2022 US Open than there were African Americans in last year’s World Series.

Venus and Serena have reshaped the tennis landscape to such an extent that it’s easy to forget what it looked like before they arrived. Women’s tennis matches were rarely played in US primetime before Venus and Serena. Billie Jean King fought hard for equal prize money at the majors. But that didn’t happen at all four grand slam events, until Venus and Serena started drawing mega television ratings.

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