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Serena Williams Prepared a Little In a different way for This U.S. Open

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An underdog with the oddsmakers against the No. 2 seed, Anett Kontaveit, on Wednesday, Serena Williams will probably be back on familiar ground as the favourite against the unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic on Friday.

The word is out, expedited by the roars in Arthur Ashe Stadium: Williams has worked her way with great speed back into form and into the third round of her final U.S. Open.

It’s remarkable but not necessarily astonishing, even just a few weeks from her turning 41.

“We are able to all ride a motorbike at an older age, and once the jitters are gone, you possibly can even ride a motorbike without holding the handlebars,” said Sven Groeneveld, the leading coach who works with Bianca Andreescu and long coached Maria Sharapova.

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

Williams has no shortage of positive memories to attract on from her younger years of pulling out of tailspins in a rush.

In 2007, she got here into the Australian Open unseeded and ranked 81st, having played just five tournaments within the previous 12 months and losing early in her lone warm-up event.

But she soon locked in, defeating six seeded players, including the top-ranked Sharapova in the ultimate.

In 2012, Williams was beaten in the primary round of the French Open by Virginie Razzano, a Frenchwoman ranked 111th. It was Williams’s earliest defeat up to now in a serious tournament, and it left her reeling and unusually open to vary.

She brought on a latest coaching consultant, Patrick Mouratoglou, and though she played no tuneup events before arriving at Wimbledon, she quickly worked her way into devastating form. She won the title after which played what’s widely considered the most effective tennis of her profession to win the Olympic gold medal in singles and likewise in doubles along with her sister Venus on the London Games on the identical grass courts of the All England Club.

That was, beyond doubt, a no-handlebars moment, but she is coming from even further back this time: playing no competitive tennis for nearly a 12 months, arriving on the U.S. Open having won just one in all 4 singles matches this season and ranked, strange but true, No. 605.

“I just think because Serena is Serena and is an incredible athlete, that the more practice and the more practice matches she gets, she will be able to play her way into an event,” said Kathy Rinaldi, the US King Cup captain. “You’ve seen her do it prior to now, and in the event you watched the match against Kontaveit, her movement to me got higher and higher by the third set, and I just think an incredible athlete can try this.”

The U.S. Open may very well be the tennis star’s last skilled tournament after a protracted profession of breaking boundaries and obliterating expectations.

Some fitness coaches for other players were still shaking their heads on Thursday at their mind’s-eye images of Williams’s struggling to cover court on the National Bank Open in Toronto and the Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio: tournaments during which she lost last month in early rounds.

“The change in a month is incredible,” said Maciej Ryszczuk, the fitness coach of the world No. 1, Iga Swiatek.

But Williams said she felt her level in practice was often quite high as she returned to the tour, but that this was not carrying over into matches. The exception was the Western and Southern Open, where she was coping with what several people had said was a flare-up of knee tendinitis: something that neither she nor her staff has confirmed.

But Eric Hechtman, Williams’s latest coach, said the platform for the success to this point in Latest York was in place.

“The shotmaking was there, and the serve was there,” he said in an interview after her victory over Kontaveit. “She was actually moving well in practice, so in Latest York, we added in some more side-to-side running drills, and I feel that’s helped.”

So have the sellout crowds of nearly 24,000 in Ashe Stadium which might be entirely in Williams’s corner.

“That stadium is so big, and when you pack it in like that with a bunch of fired-up people, it’s a game changer,” Hechtman said. “It takes a bit of little bit of time to get some rhythm, but it surely’s starting to return together. It was an incredible win against Kontaveit, but it surely’s still just the second round. None of us are getting carried away.”

A loss against Tomljanovic would actually bring Williams full circle. She also lost within the third round in her first U.S. Open singles appearance in 1998 and has never didn’t go farther in her 19 appearances since then: winning six titles.

However the expectations are different this 12 months. Given her recent level of play, the third round looks like an achievement. However the challenge as Williams goes deeper within the tournament will probably be to administer the load that comes with stacking up singles matches and doubles matches. She played doubles along with her sister Venus at a tournament for the primary time in greater than 4 years, losing in the primary round Thursday to Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Unlike regular tour events, the Grand Slam tournaments allow a day of rest for girls’s singles players between each round of singles, with occasional exceptions. Unlike the lads, who play best-of-five-set matches, the ladies play best-of-three-set matches.

But playing doubles on what would normally be a recovery day could still create a greater risk for the 40-year-old Williams. The last time she and Venus played doubles in a serious — on the 2018 French Open — Williams withdrew from singles before the fourth round with a pectoral injury aggravated during a doubles match.

Mouratoglou, who had counseled against playing each events because Williams was coming back from a protracted layoff, was displeased, and Williams had not played singles and doubles along with her sister at a serious again until now.

But in what’s almost certainly Williams’s final tournament, this appears like a heart-over-head decision.

“I feel prefer it’s been very essential for her to be an element of this,” Williams had said of Venus. “She’s my rock. I’m super excited to play along with her and just try this again. It’s been a protracted time.”

Hechtman, who also coaches Venus Williams, said he fully supported the choice. “I feel it’s great she’s playing doubles,” he said of Serena. “It’s not only the doubles, it’s the very fact you get the reps on serves and return and play points and play with the group again.”

Hechtman had not pushed for Serena to play doubles in her warm-up events.

“That is a distinct situation,” he said. “It’s her last tournament. It’s a Grand Slam and you’ve gotten the day without work in between singles matches, and normally you practice on that day, so as an alternative you might be playing doubles. I talked to her a bit of bit about it in Cincy, and it was like, ‘You understand what? This totally is smart.’”

What also made sense to Hechtman was the choice to play tournaments in singles heading into the U.S. Open, which Williams didn’t do before Wimbledon, where she lost in the primary round to Harmony Tan, an unseeded Frenchwoman.

“I personally thought we were very ready for Wimbledon,” he said. “The one thing we didn’t have was those matches. Even when she was a bit of banged-up in Cincy, I feel those tournaments were crucial to attending to the extent she’s hit here. You may’t say definitively they made the difference, but I’d say they were very essential.”

Scouting and preparation have also been essential in Latest York. She had not faced Danka Kovinic, her first-round opponent, or Kontaveit and has not played Tomljanovic either. Hechtman said he and Williams had been getting input on opponents from the US Tennis Association’s analytics team, working closely with Rinaldi and David Ramos, a director for performance analytics.

“It helps us see clearly how Serena’s strengths match up against opponents’ weaknesses, and we go from there,” Hechtman said.

Hechtman said he also welcomed the arrival of Rennae Stubbs, an ESPN analyst, coach and former No. 1 doubles player, who has been providing counsel in Latest York.

“They’ve been friends for a very long time, and the more positive people — it is a very emotional state — the higher it’s,” he said. “I’m all for it. Look, I’m here to win so anything that’s going to assist us recover from that mountaintop.”

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