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Serena Williams returns to Maria Sharapova during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Serena Williams returns to Maria Sharapova during the first round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)|Associated Press

U.S. Open women's round of 16: Abrams picks Serena Williams vs Petra Martic, Madison Keys vs Elina Svitolina

First match at 2 pm EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

U.S. Open

Flushing Meadows, NY, USA

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Women’s Singles

Serena Williams over Petra Martic

Petra Martic had a nice win on Friday over Anastasija Sevastova, but her game is too limited for her to be able to beat Serena Williams. What separates Williams from the rest of the field today is her terrific serve, the pace with which she hits her groundstrokes, and her fierce ability to compete like no other. I don’t see how Martic can pull off this upset considering that she can’t match any of those three attributes that the American has. We all know that Serena isn’t who she was even five years ago. She’s slower, she’s not in as good shape, she doesn’t have the same balance she used to have, she misses way more groundies than she used to, and a lot of players can now match her power off the ground. But these are all issues that every athlete experiences as they grow older. Her serve is still as good as ever, and there’s never been a weapon so dangerous in the women’s game. And let’s face it: There’s nobody who competes like Serena does. Frankly, I find her histrionics well over the top, and I think she’d be more popular with traditional tennis fans if she showed more humility and less hostility, but I’m not sure that matters to her. What seems to matter is that she’s willing to do what she thinks is necessary to win, and she does. It’s not always pretty, but it works for her. She’s not the best women's player anymore, but she might be the hardest one to beat.

Elina Svitolina over Madison Keys

Madison Keys is playing great tennis, finally, and it would be wonderful for the American if she could advance here. But it would be hard for me to ignore her history of wilting under duress and pressure. Elina Svitolina may be the only woman on Tour who is as athletic as Keys, and Keys knows it. I’m used to seeing Keys spray balls long and wide, miss opportunities to break serve, choke when she needs big serves and solid service games, and I just don’t see how she wouldn’t, at some point, revert to her mean. Svitolina doesn’t seem to have the same problem with pressure, seeming to thrive on it, and if it comes down to a tight contest where the match is on the line, I expect Svitolina to grab it by it’s throat and figure out a way to win. I’d be as thrilled as the next guy to see Keys rise above that, but I find that extremely unlikely. Tennis is about more than just how you hit the ball, and how a player reacts to the pressure of being threatened is endemic to the outcome of every match. All the intangibles point to Svitolina. That’s just as I see it.


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