Top Seed Day 1: Venus-Serena set for R2, Gauff notches win

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - AUGUST 11: Serena Williams prepares to serve during her match against Bernarda Pera during Top Seed Open - Day 2 at the Top Seed Tennis Club on August 11, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - AUGUST 11: Serena Williams prepares to serve during her match against Bernarda Pera during Top Seed Open - Day 2 at the Top Seed Tennis Club on August 11, 2020 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Serena Williams made her post-restart debut at the Top Seed Open and struggled to her first win. Her sister Venus and young star Coco Gauff also collected Round 1 wins.

Serena Williams finally made her return to tennis today at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of debuts against World #60 Bernarda Pera but nevertheless, the 23-time Grand Slam champion got it done.

The pair opened up strong to start the set, each holding twice. Serena’s serve was extremely effective as she lost only 3 points on her serve in two games. Her first slip-up came serving at 2-all. She was broken at love (the first of four times she faced a triple break point on her serve) and followed that up by failing to convert two break point chances of her own.

Another quick hold by Williams got her within arm’s reach of a 4-all tie; she wasn’t able to convert yet another break point chance and squandered the opportunity to tie the match. She held for 4-5 but wasn’t able to manage a break of serve, losing the opening set, 6-4. It was a rough opening for Serena who, despite winning 83% of her first-serve points, couldn’t convert on the return (winning only 2 of 22 points returning Pera’s first serve).

Serena didn’t look better at the beginning of the second set but was able to hold off 3 break chances by Pera; it marked the 2nd time getting down love-40 in the match. She was able to win five straight points and take the game. Pera held at love (a huge advantage she had throughout the entire match) and Williams fought yet another break point on her way to a hold of serve.

The first break of serve finally came for Serena at 2-1. It took three chances for the 38-year-old but she finally got it done after an error from Pera. Unfortunately for Serena, she gave up yet another break of serve, falling behind love-40 for the third time in the match and saving only one point for the loss.

Four straight holds followed, including a Serena hold for 5-4 that saw her save four break points from love-40 down in a three deuce game. It was her 9th break point she saved during the set (out of 10), which brought her total to 11 total points faced against her. A huge break of serve by Serena gave her the set. After a shaky first two sets, the momentum had shifted in her favor.

What followed could only have been described as “Vintage Serena”. She lost only two points on her first serve (13-of-15) and saved all three break points she faced. She converted 2 of 3 break points during the set and capped it all off with a hold at love to take the set, 6-1, and the match, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. It wasn’t the prettiest win of her life but she got the job done when it counted.

Venus Williams def. Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-2

This was old-school domination by the 40-year-old Venus Williams. No one was quite sure what her level of play would be after such an extended break (her last match was an opening-round loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in Mexico) but she was able to overcome her 0-3 start to the 2020 season and notch a victory in her first post-restart match.

Not only did she win in dominating fashion, but she also did it against a two-time major champion, Victoria Azarenka. The pair have faced off 7 previous times in their career, and while Azarenka hasn’t given her rival too much of a fight, it’s certainly best close over the last few matchups (most recently in Aukland last year; a 3-set Venus win).

Venus is one of the best servers of all-time and she most definitely showed it today. She faced just one break point for the entire match (serving for the first set at 5-3) and won 68% of all points on her serve (28-40 on first serves, 11-17 on seconds). The first set was overall nothing more than a serve-fest; only two games were taken into deuce (both on Venus’ serve) and were quickly ended after just one. Venus was able to break at love to get the only distance she needed in the set, ultimately taking it 6-3.

Despite Azarenka’s serving performance, she was thoroughly outmatched on the ground. Venus is 9 years older than her Bulgarian opponent but moved as if she were 9 years younger. Her mobility might just have been her crowning achievement today; Azakarenka struggled to put the ball away well enough out of reach for Williams, which cost her a good amount of points she should’ve won.

Venus stepped up her game in the second set, winning the first four games before giving Azarenka the chance to get on the board. From there, it was four straight holds by the pair and was ended by a comfortable Venus hold to take the match 6-3, 6-2.

Venus and Serena will now face off in the second round of the Top Seed Open. It’ll be their 31st meeting in their careers (Serena’s most-faced opponent only behind Azarenka).

Notable Round 1 Results

  1. 16-year-old Coco Gauff notched her first post-restart win with a tight two-set victory (7-5, 7-5) over Caroline Dolehide. Currently ranked 53rd in the world, she’ll face 2nd-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in the 2nd Round.
  2. Fellow teenage prodigy, Leylah Fernandez, took down Sloane Stephens (seeded 7th in the tournament) 6-3, 6-3. This marks the second time she’s beaten Stephens (last coming in Mexico this past March) and is the only top-40 player she’s taken down in her career. The 17-year-old faces Shelby Rogers in Round 2.

Top Seed Open Day 2 (2nd Round) Schedule

*All matches on Center Court*

11:00 AM EST: (8) Ons Jabeur vs Olga Gvortsova

Followed By: Anna Blinkova vs Marie Bouzkova

Followed By: (2) Aryna Sabalenka vs Coco Gauff

Followed By: (6) Madga Linette vs Jennifer Brady

Next. Former US Open Champ Kuznetsova withdraws from 2020 event. dark