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Three to See, US Open Day 5: Serena Williams' next test: Ajla Tomljanovic—plus breakdowns of Berrettini vs. Murray and Gauff vs. Keys
Will the 2012 men's champion pull out a vintage performance to upstage the Italian in Friday's first match on Arthur Ashe Stadium?
Published Sep 02, 2022
Matteo Berrettini vs. Andy Murray
Berrettini, 26, and Murray, 35, seem to come from different eras, so it was a little surprising to be reminded that they’ve played three times. The most recent of those encounters was a three-set win for Berrettini on grass in the Stuttgart final in May.
You might think that bodes well for the Italian, and it does. But I’d say it bodes equally well for the Brit. The fact that Murray could take a set from the 2021 Wimbledon runner-up on grass shows that he can, at the very least, stay with the younger man. So far this US Open has also been one of Murray’s more promising efforts of the season. He’s won two matches in a row and beaten a seeded opponent, two things he hadn’t done since that same run to the Stuttgart semis in June.
This the first match of the day session in Ashe, and Murray will have the fans with him. But Berrettini played well enough here to reach the semifinals in 2019, and he surely wants to make up for having to pull out of the last major, Wimbledon, with Covid, when he was favored by many to win the tournament. Berrettini has a knack for holding serve, and winning close sets. In his first-round match, against Hugo Grenier, he allowed his opponent just four break points in four sets, and he won the last two in tiebreakers. He might just win a fourth-set tiebreaker to close out this one as well. Winner: Berrettini
Coco Gauff vs. Madison Keys
Once upon a time in tennis, an 18-year-old WTA player might have been considered in her prime, while her 27-year-old opponent was well past it. Those roles have been reversed here. At 27, with a decade on tour behind her, Keys would seem to be primed to play her best tennis and fulfill her great potential. At 18, Gauff is still learning who she is as a person, and how good she can be as a player.
She’s off to a strong start. Gauff has already reached a Grand Slam final, something that Keys has also done once (neither played all that well when they got there). The two Americans have faced each other once, on a hard court in Australia in January, and Keys won 7-5 in the third set.
Gauff says she’s a different player now, and that the key for her will be to be aggressive.
“In the beginning of the year I feel like in general, I wasn’t in a good head space, I wasn’t confident in my tennis,” she says.
“I feel like now I’m really confident in my tennis. I feel like that maybe might change the outcome of the match, maybe not.
“I mean, she's an aggressive player, so I feel like I need to take my chances when I can.”
Would you be surprised to learn that Keys also thinks the key is to be aggressive?
“It’s going to be another match where we”re both big hitters and we’re both going to be trying to be the aggressor,” she says. “I look forward to it.”
Keys will likely be the more aggressive player, but Gauff will be the better defender. “Defense wins championships,” they say. And, I’m going to guess, this match. Winner: Gauff
Serena Williams vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
It didn’t take long to get back to thinking, “Serena is always the favorite,” did it? When the Open started, many understandably believed that she would bow out in the first round; after all, in her most recent match, she had lost a bagel set to Emma Raducanu. Now, just five days later, the whispers about Slam title No. 24, and Jimbo in ’91, are starting to grow louder. And why not? Serena just beat the No. 2 seed, Anett Kontaveit, and looked darn good doing it.
In Tomljanovic, she’ll face a similar, if lower-ranked, opponent. The Croatian-turned-Australian is 46th in the world and had to qualify to reach the main draw in Toronto and Cincinnati. But she’s also a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. Just as important, she has gotten better at winning close matches, like her hard-fought first-round victory over Evgeniya Rodina, 7-5 in the third set.
But like Kontaveit, Tomljanovic may not quite be powerful enough, or steady enough, or mentally ruthless enough for the opponent and the atmosphere she’ll face in Ashe Stadium. As for Serena, she hasn’t lost before the semifinals at the US Open since 2007. Winner: S. Williams