Things We Learned on Day 5 of the 2015 US Open


1. Serena soldiers on

For about a set and a half of tonight’s match, it seemed the tennis world collectively pondered the thought of Serena losing to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in her quest for All of the Records. And, while Bethanie put up an impressive fight, the idea of Serena losing now was just too random to contemplate. Luckily, Serena raised her level and ran away with the match.

It only gets harder from here on out — Madison Keys, Venus and a reinvigorated Genie Bouchard are the likely opponents on her side of the draw. If history is any guide, Serena will come out more focused than ever starting this weekend.

2. Genie toughs it out

So I guess this is really happening.

Apparently, Jimmy Connors will make his official unofficial appearance as Eugenie Bouchard’s coach on Sunday after she willed herself to a three set win over Dominka Cibulkova. The first set of this one, particularly the tiebreak, was an incredible display of hitting from both ladies. But, after surviving five set points in the first set, Bouchard clinched it with aggressive play on her second set point.

It will be interesting to see Connors in the player’s box for Bouchard. While his coaching stint with Maria Sharapova was shorter than a blink of an eye, it is likely that he has found more common ground with the young Canadian. Both disdain the idea of friendship among competitors, and approach the game from an outsider’s perspective. Clearly, Connors has been able to ignite something in Genie that has been missing for too long. While they won’t have any friends in the locker room, if this Connors-Bouchard pairing means that Genie is back in the mix, it’s worth it.

3. Two words: Fabio Fognini

So…that happened. Fabio Fognini’s winning record against Rafael Nadal this year has been as much of a punchline as a reality, it seems. And, for two sets, it seemed like Nadal was going to win this one easily as he continues to try to put the disappointments of this year behind him. Fognini had his moments of excellent shotmaking, but for two sets, Nadal converted the big points when they mattered.

Fognini snuck out the third and fourth sets, with inspired play, but the fifth set was the passion play for the ages. Trailing for most of the match, Fognini crept ahead by breaking Nadal’s serve at 1-all in the fifth set, and from then on, the pair traded breaks, and momentum until Fognini finally held serve at 5-4 to close it out. It’s no secret that Fognini is a talented ballstriker,, and the bullets he was hitting past Nadal were so hard and so accurate that the ESPN team was reduced to guffaws and grunts at times (as were many of us at home). That Fabio was able to regroup after being down 2 sets to love and come all the way back without losing focus or purpose was truly astounding. After all, this is the same player who did this:

Fabio will have his work cut out for him with Feliciano Lopez in the next round, but he’ll likely savor this one a little before then.

As for Rafa, the work continues. There were good moments, but there was little he could do against some of Fognini’s play. That said, as crunch time came, Rafa’s forehand misfired and landed short far too often, and the slice on his serve wasn’t there when he needed it. These kinds of miscues in crucial moments are jarring to see from a player whose calling card has been coming through under pressure again and again. Given how much time he has had to miss with injury over the years, it seems unlikely that a healthy but underperforming Rafa will pack it in for the season this year. The indoor swing doesn’t play to Rafa’s strengths, but it will give him time to work on his game, while moving past the disappointment of this year’s Slams.

This loss will sting, but one suspects Rafa was targeting Australia all along, and that gives him plenty of time to continue to work things out.


1. Hey guys. I have missed you so much this week! I have to think Amy, Anusha, and Andrew for keeping things going this week. I can’t wait to spend tomorrow getting caught up on the week by reading their TWL!

As many of you know already, I moved to DC (well, actually, Silver Spring, Maryland) last Saturday and started a new job as a Sports Reporter at ThinkProgress. It’s been a really exciting time, but also extremely stressful and exhausting and crazy, and there was just no time for tennis last week. I’ll definitely be watching everything I can over Labor Day weekend and writing here then, and we’ll see how next week goes. It’s certainly been strange not to be glued to the TV and twitter and writing non-stop about tennis during a major.

2. I did kick off my time at TP with a piece on Serena Williams, and the many similarities she shares with the trailblazing Althea Gibson.

Watching the documentary (which aired Friday night on PBS, I hope you watched it), I was pretty struck by the connection between the two women, beyond the obvious. Toughness was instilled in both of them from such an early age–their fathers and mentors knew that they had to be exposed to horrible situations in their formative years if they were going to be able to survive and thrive in the white-washed world of tennis. They both have swagger to spare, and a purposeful, confident way about them on court that can intimidate opponents.

But mainly, they both love the sport, and were willing to put up with a whole lot of BS in order to become champions against all odds.

It’s amazing that Althea came along when she did, breaking the tennis color barrier in 1950, but it’s so sad that she could never reap the rewards of Open Era tennis and the WTA. She retired so early in her dominance because she didn’t come from money and had to figure out a way to earn it, and tennis wasn’t giving her the option of making a living at the time, and she was too quickly neglected by the tennis community.

3. I mentioned this at the end of the piece, but I would like to repeat it: Serena Williams needs a ticker-tape parade in NYC if she wins this U.S. Open. That’s how big of a deal what she’s trying to do is.

4. Serena legitimately scared me in her match against BMS–I actually thought she might lose for about 10 minutes there, and it was an awful, awful thought. I usually root for Serena’s opponents to play really well because I love to see her tested and rivalries and great matches are so good for women’s tennis, but OMG, I legitimately don’t think my heart can take too much Serena drama this fortnight. I don’t think I realized how much I wanted to see her achieve this Grand Slam history until tonight.

5. New life motto:

6. I will watch and write about more than one match tomorrow, I promise. After I sleep for about 12 hours.


1. Serena Williams is ridiculous

I can’t think of another way of putting it. That was an amazing challenge from Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who gave the performance every single opponent of Serena should seek to give in this tournament. Mattek-Sands was out there to wreck the historic storyline and you could see the belief with which she played every point – that is an athlete’s job, and she should be commended for it.

But Serena Williams…what can you say? She was obviously nervous. She was facing a zoning opponent. She found a way to will herself through it. Best athlete in the world, bar none.

2. I am morally obliged to mention Paire

I know this wasn’t one of the BIG stories yesterday, but given my early-round foible I should point out that Benoit Paire played extremely well against Robredo to reach the fourth round. Paire has been playing much better than a lot of us (me) expected and defying his nay-sayers (me) round-by-round so kudos for that.

Also, he’s actually a really fun player to follow through a tournament, as I have been closely. He’s got a lot of talent behind that racket. It’s a good watch.

3. Madison Keys in finally on form

The big “young player finds form” story yesterday was obviously Eugenie Bouchard shocking everyone by winning yet another match and winning it well, but she’s already been mentioned further up in the article so I won’t dwell on that here. Madison Keys, who has not played particularly well of late, has found something here that has gotten her game revved up again.

While Serena was struggling against Mattek-Sands, Keys was making short work of Aga Radwanska, ripping the ball past her opponent and utterly dominating the play. It was a straight sets victory and sets up a very juicy fourth round encounter with Serena. (Fun, isn’t it, that there’s a run of Americans lining up to try and stop some American sporting history).

4. Raonic, Ferrer fall in the third

Two more big names in the men’s draw (besides Rafa) not making it through to R4 are Milos Raonic and David Ferrer. Neither have been at full fitness for a while so this isn’t a huge upset, but the good play of Jeremy Chardy to take out Ferrer in four sets and another solid showing from Feliciano Lopez to down the Canadian in straights should also be noted.

Lopez encounters Fognini in R4, while Chardy takes on the defending champion…

5. Marin Cilic has a scare, but survives

This was really, really on the edge for Cilic. In a draw that he ought to be relishing, Cilic will still understandably be feeling the pressure to go deep in a tournament from which he emerged champion in 2014. Nobody really expects him to defend that title, but a) HE will be aiming for that and b) every round is more points defended and another opportunity to remind people that he didn’t win a slam without considerable talent.

Kukushkin, who took out Grigor Dimitrov in the second round, pushed Cilic all the way to five sets but ultimately couldn’t maintain his form in the fifth. The defending champion increased his level in response to his labouring opponent, coming through 6-7 7-6 6-3 6-7 6-1.

6. Nicest people in tennis

Eugenie Bouchard and Nick Kyrgios were basically converting hearts and minds as well as match wins yesterday, as they giggled and joked their way through the mixed doubles. It was an odd sight, Bouchard having been the “darling” of tennis in 2014 but having caused fan frustration through marketing saturation and *cough* being more of a jock than the public are comfortable with a woman being *cough*, while Kyrgios has angered everyone by being…a bit of a prick, lately.

They’re human though, and this was all fun, and I will put it before your eyes and let you decide if you were enraged or endeared: