American women supporting each other – while competing against each other

The much hyped clash in the third round of the French Open between Americans Jennifer Brady and Coco Gauff didn’t end as either of them had hoped.

After Gauff won the first set in just 19 minutes, Brady pulled back with a foot injury and later revealed it was plantar fasciitis at last month’s Italian Open. The two hugged and Brady apologized for not being able to continue. Gauff applauded Brady, who left the place in tears.

While Saturday wasn’t an example of either player playing at their highest level, Kathy Rinaldi, USTA director of women’s tennis and captain of the Billie Jean King Cup team, believes camaraderie and support helped Pushing all American women to do their best.

“They’re tough competitors on the pitch, but then they leave the pitch and are right back to supporting each other,” said Rinaldi. “I think that’s why this is [American] Women have so much success: They pushed and inspired each other, and that goes from generation to generation.

“It’s going back to Serena [Williams] and Venus [Williams], and then it is Maddie [Keys] and Sloane [Stephens] and Jenny [Brady] and Jess [Pegula], and now you have Sonja [Kenin] and Coco [Gauff]. If you see [a peer] to get to the finals, like Jenny did this year or Sonya last year, they say, ‘She can do it; I can also.’ It just inspires everyone. “

Between the age of 17-year-old Gauff and 39-year-old Serena Williams, eight compatriots made it to the round of 16 – the best rating at Roland Garros since 2003. Six had to play against each other and four (out of a maximum of five) advanced into the second week.

Gauff and Williams as well as 28-year-old Stephens and 22-year-old Kenin are all staying and want to extend their stays in Paris during the fourth round on Sunday and Monday. It will be Gauff’s first fourth round at Roland Garros and Williams’ 13th.

“I think American women’s tennis is obviously in a really great place,” said Stephens. “I think we all have good results and we all play well. Of course it’s different. I think we’re all friends, we’re all very friendly, we all support each other. We all love to see each other.” others do well. “

Stephens has seen a new upswing at the French Open. The 2017 US Open winner and 2018 finalist at Roland Garros had problems during last year’s event as well as at the beginning of the 2021 season. Stephens lost in her opening round game in all three tournaments she played in Australia, including the Australian Open, and only won one game on hard court before the tour went to clay. But she has achieved better results with the change of surface, including a quarter-final in Charleston and a semi-final in Parma, and she has beaten a number of formidable opponents in Paris.

Two points before losing to Carla Suarez Navarro, Stephens fought back for a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 win. She had no such fights Karolina Pliskova, the former number 1 in the world, won a set in a row on Thursday and held the challenge Karolina Muchova 6-3, 7-5 on the third round.

“She looks to me like she’s on a mission,” Rinaldi said of Stephens. “She’s really locked up and she looks great. She just plays really good, solid tennis – she hits the ball well, moves extremely well. Sloane has tremendous talent and I feel like she kept building every week before she comes here, so I’m not surprised. “

Now Stephens is back in her first big fourth round since the 2019 French Open. She will face herself Barbora Krejcikovawho has pissed off No. 5 seeds Elina Svitolina in the third round, on Monday.

Count Chris Evert, a woman who is a year or two old, what it takes to win a Grand Slam, is among those who have been impressed by Stephens during the fortnight.

“If she continues to be aggressive and focused, she could win this thing,” Evert wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Should Stephens get past Krejcikova, she could potentially play a quarter-final match with Gauff.

The teenage phenomenon reached the fourth round in their debut slam at Wimbledon in 2019 and the Australian Open 2020, but Gauff has not yet reached the quarter-finals. Having won singles and doubles titles in Parma last month and winning their first two games in a row, Gauff is more confident than ever.

“I think that’s mine [third] Time in the second week of a slam and I’ll say that this was probably, like my trip there, probably the most professional, “said Gauff, who will take on the task Ons Jabeur On Monday. “[There have been] no, you know, unnecessary three-set matches and such. I think you can tell that I’m improving and making smarter decisions on the pitch. “

Kenin is also on the same side of the draw, and a semi-final duel between the 22-year-old and Stephens or Gauff is possible. After a 2020 breakout season in which Kenin won her first major title at the Australian Open and reached the final at the French Open, the new year had not been friendly.

Kenin lost in the second round in Melbourne, fell to an unrated qualifier at the Phillip Island Trophy the following week, and then had an appendectomy two days later. She was without a win on clay after competing in three tournaments before arriving in Paris, and Kenin announced that she broke up with her longtime coach – her father Alex – last month.

But the fire has returned for the fourth seeded Kenin in Paris – and with her typical screaming on the pitch, her shrug and her never-ending mood. She overcame the 2017 French Open Jelena Ostapenko in three sets in the first round and defeated the American in her next two games with a routine win over the 19-year-old Hailey Baptiste and another three-set match against Pegula on Saturday.

“I mean, you will see her, she will talk to herself [in frustration]but when she comes back to that line she can quickly focus and let go, “Rinaldi said of Kenin.” She’s already set back and got to the next point and is so mentally strong. Sonya is just really a tough tough competitor and extremely solid and has that killer drop shot, one of the best in the business. Her focus and determination is really just her. “

Kenin who is confronted Maria Sakkari on Monday is the highest seeded player in the tournament, followed by Williams, who is on the other side of the draw.

Williams, the 23-time major champion, is eager to break Margaret Court’s long-running record since returning from birth in 2018. Many of the other top players are no longer involved in the tournament, including Naomi Osaka and Aryna Sabalenka In her draw, Williams looked increasingly like a contender over the fortnight. You defeated Americans Danielle Collins 6-4, 6-4 on Friday.

“I think we’re all friends, we’re all very friendly, we all support each other. We all love it when we do each other well.”

Sloane Stephens

“Serena is getting better and stronger with every game here and she looks great,” said Rinaldi. “Your movement looks more comfortable, it served really great [against Collins] and she also seems more confident. Everything gets better the more matches she gets. “

Williams will play Elena Rybakina on Sunday at the first career meeting of the two. A win by Williams could recreate their semi-final defeat at the US Open against. to lead Victoria Azarenka. But Williams said she wasn’t thinking about her next game.

“There are a lot of games left, a lot of great players as we can see,” said Williams. “This game has so much depth now, whether you play in the first round or not, you really have to fight for every game and nothing is easy.”

Whether for a decorated champion like Williams or a relative newcomer like Gauff, there is never a lack of incentives at a Grand Slam. But there was additional motivation in Paris as places on the Olympic team are available. The top four American players at the end of the tournament make up the roster. Kenin already secured their spot last month and Williams and Brady are near bans, leaving Gauff and Pegula among a small group of players battling for that final position.

Stephens went to the French Open as eleventh-placed American and was 59th overall, three places outside the ranking cutoff, but a tournament win would bring her last place. Otherwise, with the defeat of Pegula on Saturday, Gauff will form the team. (Williams, who is currently the runner-up American and four-time Olympic gold medalist, recently expressed doubts about her participation, which could open up another place. Two other women will only be selected to compete in doubles and mixed doubles.)

Of course, with so much at stake, Rinaldi said they are still rooting for each other.

“The amazing thing about this group is that they all obviously want to form the team, but they all want the other to make it too,” said Rinaldi. “You really are just that thoughtful and considerate.”

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