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Serena Williams prepared a little differently for this US Open

Serena Williams, the odds-maker underdog against second-seeded Annette Kontavate on Wednesday, returns to her familiar place as the favorite against unseeded Adjla Tomljanovic on Friday.

Rumors spread, boosted by a roar at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Even just weeks after she turned 41, it’s surprising, but not necessarily surprising.

Sven Groneveld, longtime coach of Bianca Andreescu and Maria Sharapova, says: “We can all ride bikes in our old age. You can even ride a bicycle without holding it.”

“It’s like walking for Serena,” Groeneveld said. “She has spent 90% of her life playing tennis.”

Williams has no shortage of positive memories to draw from his youth when he got out of a tailspin in haste.

In 2007, she was unseeded at the Australian Open and ranked 81st. The previous year she only appeared in five tournaments, losing early in her only warm-up her event.

However, she quickly hardened and defeated six seeded players, including top-ranked Sharapova, in the finals.

In 2012, Williams lost in the first round of the French Open to world number 111 Virginie Lazzano. It was Williams’ most major tournament loss to date, and it left her reeling and uncharacteristically open to change.

She brought in a new coaching consultant, Patrick Mouratoglou, who had never attended a tune-up event before arriving at Wimbledon, but was soon in devastating form. She won titles and gold medals in Olympic singles and doubles, playing what is widely considered the best tennis of her career.

It was definitely a no-handlebar moment, but she’s coming from farther afield this time around, having not played tennis in nearly a year and having won only one of her four singles matches this season to make it to the U.S. Nationals. Arrived at the Open. Strange but true, No. 605.

Kathy Rinaldi, captain of the U.S. King Cup, said, “Serena is Serena and she’s a great athlete, so with more practice and more practice matches, I think she’ll be able to qualify for the event. “I’ve seen her do it in the past. If you’ve seen her match with Kontaveit, her movement got better and better by the third set. A great athlete would do that.” I think you can.”

Among other players’ fitness coaches, Thursday, head over images of Williams struggling to cover the court at the National Bank Open in Toronto and the Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio. was waving… in the early rounds.

“The change in one month is unbelievable,” said Maciej Ryszczuk, fitness coach for world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

However, Williams said that when she returned to the tour she felt the level of practice was quite high, but that this did not carry over to her matches. She was dealing with what people said was a flare-up of tendonitis in her knee, which neither she nor her staff confirmed.

But Williams’ new coach, Eric Hechtmann, said the groundwork was in place for success in New York.

“The shotmaking and serving were there,” he said in an interview after his win over Kontaveit. “She was actually moving really well, so in New York, we added her sideways running drills, and I think that helped.”

So does the packed crowd of about 24,000 at Ashe Stadium wholly in Williams’ corner.

“That stadium is so big, and having such an enthusiastic crowd packed into it is a game changer,” said Hechtman. “It takes a little while to get into the rhythm, but it’s starting to come together. It was a great win over Kontavate, but it’s only the second round. None of us are crazy.

Lost to Tomljanovic

It actually makes Williams come full circle. She also lost her third round in her first singles appearance at the 1998 US Open, and has since won her six titles in 19 appearances.

However, this year’s expectations are different. Given her recent level of play, the third round feels like an achievement. But as Williams goes deeper in tournaments, the challenge is managing the load that comes with stacking singles matches and doubles matches. , lost 7-6(5) 6-4 to Czech Republic’s Lucy Hradecca and Linda Noskova in the first round on Thursday.

Unlike regular tour events, Grand Slam tournaments allow female singles players a rest day between each singles round, with occasional exceptions. Unlike the men, who play best-of-five sets, the women play best-of-three sets.

But playing doubles on recovery days could create greater risks for the 40-year-old Williams. The last time she and Venus played doubles at a major — at the 2018 French Open — Williams withdrew from singles before the fourth round after her chest injury worsened during the doubles match. .

Mouratoglou complained that he had advised him not to play in both events as Williams had returned from a lengthy layoff, and Williams had never played singles and doubles with his sister in the majors.

But in what is most likely Williams’ final tournament, this sounds like a mind-boggling decision.

“I think it was very important for her to be on this,” Williams said of Venus. I’ll do the same thing again. It’s been a long time.”

Hechtmann, who is also Venus Williams’ coach, said he fully supports the decision. “I think it’s great that she’s playing doubles,” he said of Serena. is.”

Hechtman didn’t push for Serena to play doubles in the warmup event.

“This is a different situation,” he said. “This is her last tournament. This makes perfect sense.

Also significant for Hechtman was the decision to play the tournament in singles heading into the US Open. Williams didn’t do it before Wimbledon. At Wimbledon, she lost in the first round to Harmony Her Tan, an unseeded Frenchwoman.

“Personally, I thought I was ready for Wimbledon,” he said. “The only thing we didn’t have was those matches. I think those tournaments were important to get to the level that hit.

Reconnaissance and preparation were also important in New York. She has never faced her first-round opponents Danka Kovinic or Kontaveit, nor has she faced Tomljanovic. Hechtman said he and Williams were working closely with Rinaldi and David Ramos, director of performance analysis, to get information about opponents from the US Tennis Association’s analytics team.

“It helps to get a clear understanding of how Serena’s strengths match up with her opponent’s weaknesses, and then go from there,” says Hechtman.

Hechtmann also said he welcomes the arrival of ESPN analyst, coach and former doubles player Rennae Stubbs, who is providing advice in New York.

“They’ve been friends for a long time and the more positive people are, the more emotional this is, the better,” he said. “I’m all for it. See, I’m here to win, so anything that helps me get over that mountaintop.”

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