Serena Williams makes key adjustments to her serve in beating Caty McNally

NEW YORK — Serena Williams flubbed yet another shot and wailed, “I keep missing my forehand!”

She was in trouble, if only briefly, against 17-year-old American Caty McNally, who is friends, and doubles partners, with Coco Gauff.

Making key adjustments to her serve and straightening out her other strokes, Williams avoided what would have been her earliest loss in 19 appearances at the U.S. Open, coming back to beat McNally 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 in a match that ended as Wednesday turned to Thursday.

“I wasn’t practicing like this at all, so I knew I could play better,” Williams said afterward, “and kind of let Serena come through for once, a little bit.”

Williams improved to 38-0 in the first two rounds at Flushing Meadows. The only time she was beaten as early as even the third round in New York was in her tournament debut way back in 1998 — when she was just 16.

The following year, Williams won the first of her six U.S. Open championships. McNally hadn’t even been born yet.

Now Williams owns 23 Grand Slam singles titles in all, and she showed off why while powering her way through a deficit, taking 16 of the final set’s initial 17 points.

McNally had not won a match at any major tournament until Monday. She is ranked 121st and received a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association for singles and for doubles, the latter with Gauff, the 15-year-old sensation.

It was Gauff who beat Williams’ older sister, Venus, on the way to the fourth round of Wimbledon last month. Might another stunner be in the offing?

Seemed a possibility for a set, anyway, with McNally charging the net, serving-and-volleying, and looking like someone who belonged on this stage.

Maybe that’s why Williams didn’t look comfortable early. Took time to get into a real groove. Went stretches without being the dominant force she has been for a couple of decades and sure was just the other night while absolutely overwhelming five-time major champion Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 in the same arena.

Novak Djokovic repeatedly was visited by a trainer for shoulder massages at changeovers during a ragged 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory over 56th-ranked Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina. Djokovic is a righty, of course, but he uses his other hand both for ball tosses on serves and on his two-fisted backhand — and both were less effective for stretches.

“I was definitely tested. This is something I’ve been carrying for a quite a while now,” Djokovic said. “It wasn’t easy playing with the pain and you have to fight and hope you get lucky with some shots.”

Even though he won for the 35th time in his past 36 Slam matches, including in a fifth-set tiebreaker against Roger Federer at the All England Club on July 14, the Serb looked uncomfortable.

Asked how he plans to prepare for his next match Friday, Djokovic replied with a laugh: “I’ll probably freeze my arm for 48 hours, not do anything with it, and then see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Federer got to the third round by beating Damir Dzhumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on an afternoon when rain postponed all but nine scheduled singles matches and every doubles match.

Still, it’s not as if the man is going to seek some sort of magic solution. Working up more of a sweat in the gym before heading to the court, say. Or playing an extra practice set.

What he chose to focus on, instead, is looking on the bright side: “Can only do better,” Federer said, “which is a great thing, moving forward.”

At a Flushing Meadows flush with surprises — half of the top 12 seeded men already were gone by the time Federer stepped into Arthur Ashe Stadium — he cleaned up his act quickly.

Indeed, Federer was one of the lucky ones who will stay on the usual play-one-day, get-a-day-off Grand Slam schedule. Only matches at Ashe or Louis Armstrong Stadium, the event’s two arenas with a retractable roof, were held.

No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina beat two-time U.S. Open champion Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 on Armstrong.

Other winners included No. 3 Karolina Pliskova, who beat qualifier Mariam Bolkvadze 6-1, 6-4; and Kei Nishkori, the 2014 men’s runner-up at the U.S. Open who beat Bradley Klahn 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Reilly Opelka’s winning streak in New York is over — and on his birthday, no less.

The American was beaten 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (2) by qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the last match completed at the U.S. Open on a rainy day that wiped out most of play.

Howard Fendrich is an Associated Press writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Serena-Williams-makes-key-adjustments-to-her-14396627.php.

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