Serena Williams, a victory away from tying the record (24) for most major titles, moved into the second week of the U.S. Open Saturday, outlasting No. 26 Sloane Stephens 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the third round. When the match ended, Williams waved to Alexis Olympia Ohanian, Jr., her three-year-old daughter and husband, Alexis Ohanian.
“I would have never thought I would be playing as a mom,” Williams said. “The plus is that one day your daughter can say she was there (when I played), whether she remembers or not. We can have pictures. The minus is like (when) I’m not with her, (when) I’m not around her, it’s hard for me.”
Two other moms, Victoria Azarenka (Leo, 3), Belarus, and Tsvetana Pironkona (Alexander, 2), Bulgaria also will play Monday in the round of 16. Azarenka defeated Iga Swiatek, Poland, 6-4, 6-2 and Pironkona beat Donna Vekic, Croatia 6-4, 6-1. “I’m so happy that there are so many moms in the event,” Williams said. “Obviously, because I’m one. I have a totally new respect for moms.”
Since capturing her 23rd major title at the 2017 Australian Open, Williams has failed to grab No. 24 in her last nine attempts. Four of the nine attempts were straight sets losses in the final – two at Wimbledon and two at the U.S. Open. Stephens was asked if the pressure on Williams to tie Margaret Court’s record was extreme. “If she’s feeling pressure, I hope she releases it and gets to 24,” said Stephens, the 2018 US Open champion.
“Every tournament I enter is important to me” Serena said. “(But) quite frankly, I’m playing for the Grand Slams (major events)… to try to have a chance.”
Williams faces Maria Sakkari, Greece, Monday in the fourth round. Sakkari defeated Williams in three sets last week in the Western and Southern Open, played here in New York. “Serena is Serena,” Sakkari said. “You have to come up with some great tennis. Otherwise, there is no chance against her.”
On the men’s side, two young black pros Felix Auger Aliassime, 20, Canada and Frances Tiafoe, 22, Hyattsville, Md., also advanced. Auger Aliassime beat Corentin Moutet, France 6-1, 6-0, 6-4 and Tiafoe defeated Martin Fucsovics, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Both hope to establish themselves as strong contenders at all ATP Tour events. No. 15 Auger Aliassime would move a step closer if he upsets No. 2 Dominic Thiem, Austria, and Tiafoe needs to oust No. 3 Daniil Medvedev Monday in fourth round matches.
“It’s a good thing to go through the first three matches without losing too much energy,” Auger Aliassime said. “Now I’m going to get tested. We’ll see how I respond to that.”
Though Thiem has never played Auger Aliassime, he has tracked his career and sees danger in his game. “When he was only 16, he won his first challenger in France,” Thiem said. “Then last year, (reached) the final in Rio, played great at Indian Wells. He’s a great player, no real weaknesses. Great to watch, great athlete, great person. The only thing missing is experience. That’s probably my biggest advantage.”
Thiem fell to No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Serbia, in the 2020 Australian Open earlier this year and lost in the French Open final in 2018 and 2019.
Said Auger Aliassime: “Dominic has been getting stronger and stronger year after year. He’s becoming like a power in the tennis world.”
Tiafoe had similar praise for his friend Medvedev. “I’m going to have to stay solid, play smart, can’t give him too many unforced errors,” Tiafoe said. “He’s going to play funky, return from far back and put that extra ball back in play. He’s a tough out. He’s confident right now, playing the best tennis of his life. When I’m playing the way I’m playing, I feel like I have a chance against anybody in the world.”