March 22, 2018

USTA reaps rewards of Diversity and Inclusion as three of the four American women in US Open semifinals are Black women

With professional tennis player Serena Williams out on maternity leave, many thought that this year’s US OPEN would have a little less excitement. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was plenty of excitement on the women’s side. In the opening round, Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, stunned the tennis world when she beat German player, Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-1. A serious upset for Kerber, as she is only the second U.S. Open women's champion in the Open Era to lose in the first round the following year who was ranked No. 1.

And then, no one saw this coming. For the first time since 1981 at the US OPEN, the final four in the Women’s Semifinals were all Americans, Venus Williams, Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, and Sloane Stephens. In 1981, the final four American women included: Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter. Navratilova had just become a naturalized US citizen.

Seven-time grand slam winner, Williams was up against Stephens and 15th-seeded Keys was ready to battle it out with 20th-seeded Vandeweghe. Many tennis analysts and prognosticators expected a Venus Williams and Madison Keys final, but Sloane Stephens, who ranked 957 in early August, said not so fast.

In a gritty semi-finals match on Thursday, Stephens eked out a 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 win against Williams. Also on Thursday, the 15th-seeded Keys’ dominated No. 20 Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2, leaving the US OPEN Women’s Final to feature two American women whose last names are not Williams.

Flavia Pennetta defeats Roberta Vinci 7-6, 6-2

The excitement continues at the US OPEN 2015.

First, second-ranked Simona Halep loses to Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 6-1 in Friday's first US OPEN women's semifinal. Next the shocker of all shocks, world No. 1 Serena Williams fell to Roberta Vinci 2-6, 6-4, 6-4; which sets up the all-Italian US OPEN finals match of the over-30-year-old set, between Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci.

Today, in the US OPEN Finals, Flavia Pennetta overpowered Roberta Vinci 7-6, 6-2; which in and of itself isn’t so shocking. However, the shock came when 33-year-old Pennetta, announced to the U.S. Open crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium that she was immediately retiring from tennis.

Pennetta said: “One month ago, I made a big decision in my life; and this is the way I would like to say goodbye tennis. This was my last match and I couldn’t think to finish a better way. Before this tournament, I never thought to be this far, to be a champion. It’s been a long time getting here. It’s a dream come true. It’s also nice to play against a friend. She has had an incredible two weeks. We know each other since we were really young. Our first match, I was nine years old.”

Drop the mic.

Clarifying her plans afterwards, Pennetta said, “I will play until the end of year, but this was my last match here in New York. I’m supposed to play Wuhan, Beijing, the only two.”

As for Vinci, who just beat Serena Williams in the semi-finals the day before, offered her thoughts and congrats to Pennetta.

“It was tough, over 24 hours there were a lot of things on my mind, a little tired, Vinci stated. “But I’m really happy to be in the final, really happy for Flavia. It’s tough to play someone you have known for a long time. Flavia played a great match.”

Flavia Pennetta wins $3.3 million USD in prize money, while Roberta Vinci, as the runner-up receives $1.6 million USD.

Roberta Vinci shocks the world as she defeats Serena Williams 2-6, 6-4, 6-4

In one of the most shocking events in tennis history, 43rd-ranked player, Roberta Vinci upset world No.1 Serena Williams in the US Open 2015 semi-finals 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, ending Serena’s chances of completing a calendar grand slam.

The loss also defers Serena’s tying Steffi Graf’s record of 22 grand slam wins to another date.

Chances are the name Roberta Vinci is not in your memory bank, but going forward she will always be remembered as the player whose play on the court, said not so fast Serena Williams, your date with history breaking records will have to wait.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," Serena Williams began in her mandatory post-match press conference, which was brief. "If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

Serena insisted that pressure did not aid in her defeat.

"I told you guys I don't feel pressure," she said. "I never felt pressure. I never felt that pressure to win here. I said that from the beginning.

But reporters weren’t buying that explanation.

"I made a couple of tight shots, to be honest, but maybe just about two.

"But that, I think ... in any normal match you make two tight shots. Other than that, I don't think I was that tight."

Many fans are saying if it wasn’t pressure, then perhaps, lack of focus was the issue since Serena was seen with former and rumored to be back on-again boyfriend, hip-hop artist Drake.

Oddly enough, with both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeded women out in the semi-finals, this tournament could go down as one of the strangest in US OPEN history.

Italian Flavia Pennetta upset second-ranked Romanian Simona Halep 6-3, 6-1 in Friday's first women's semifinal.

So, Saturday will be an historic match, but not what fans were willing to pay $280 per ticket to watch. It will be the first US OPEN women’s final between two Italian players since the OPEN era began in 1968, and with two women over 30-years-old.

If there is any consolation for Serena Williams fans, Serena still shares the Open era record of six US Open titles with Chris Evert and she receives a check in the amount of $410,975 USD.

For Williams, tie with Steffi Graf’s Grand Slam Wins Put on Hold

If you were hoping for No. 1 ranked and defending Australian Open champion, Serena Williams, to tie Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 tennis Grand Slams with a repeat win at the Australian Open 2016, you are probably sorely disappointed. Serena lost to Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

The Australian Open 2016 marked Serena Williams’ first competitive major tournament in four months.

Just like the US OPEN 2015, the pressure was on Serena Williams. There is an expectation with every tournament that Serena will rack up the wins, as she steamrolls her opponents; and Serena feels it.

"I mean, every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life," Serena Williams stated in her post-match news conference. "As much as I would like to be a robot, I'm not. I try to."

As straight to the point that Serena may have been with the media, she showed every bit of good sportsmanship towards Angelique Kerber.

"You did so well, let me be the first to congratulate you," Williams said on the court. "You truly played so well in the moment."

Kerber kept her wits about her and her nerves in check throughout the tournament. It could have been lights out in the first round when she met Japan’s Misaki Doi. However, Kerber saved a match point to advance.

Reflecting on the first round, Kerber jokingly said to the crowd assembled at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, “I was with one leg in the plane for Germany.”

Not only did Kerber handle Doi to advance, she sailed past Victoria Azarenka, a former world No. 1, in the quarterfinals 6-3, 7-5.

“I take my chance to be here in the final and play against Serena,” Kerber said. “My dream come true tonight, on this night. My whole life I was working so hard and now I can say that I’m a Grand Slam champion… it sounds so crazy.”

“I’m really enjoying this moment right now,” Kerber said regarding playing in her first major final. “This is the best two weeks of my life, my career. I had goosebumps when I was playing on the court."

Kerber is the first German woman to win the Australian Open since Graf’s win in 1994, and she acknowledged receiving a congratulatory message from Graf.

In acknowledging Serena Williams, Kerber said: "You are really an inspiration for so many people, so many young tennis players. You created history, you are a champion, you are a really an unbelievably great person, so congratulations for everything you did already."

It was graciousness all the way around, at the Australian Open 2016.

Serena Williams and Madison Keys move on to second round

On Tuesday, No. 8 seeded Venus Williams lost her first round match to upstart Johanna Konta of Great Britain 6-4, 6-2, at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Not many people saw this coming, least of all Venus Williams because she was one of the favorites coming into the Australian Open. After all, Venus reached the Australian Open quarterfinals last year and she won three titles last year: 2015 ASB Classic; Wuhan Open, and the 2015 WTA Elite Trophy.

Not to mention that Venus was seeded inside the top 8 at a major for the first time since the 2011 Australian Open, she had played the Australian Open 16 times prior, and she was playing an opponent making her Australian Open debut.

The pair only met once and that was last fall in Wuhan, China. Venus prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in a match that required a staggering 2 hours, 39 minutes.

Additionally, Venus had won 47 WTA singles titles, compared to zero for Konta.

Konta told the media on the court after the upset that when she realized that Venus Williams was her first round opponent, she thought to herself, "I just hope I stay out there more than an hour."

Perhaps, disturbed at her performance against Konta, Venus Williams skipped her post-match news conference. Venus does suffer from the effects of Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune condition that leaves her prematurely tired and could have affected her execution.

Nonetheless, since the post-match press conference is mandatory for players, Venus faces a fine up to $20,000. It should be noted that Venus also skipped the post-match press conference at the 2015 French Open and was fined $3,000 USD, after losing to fellow American Sloan Stephens.

Venus, who will be 36-years-old in June, was the oldest woman in the draw and it was only the eighth time in 62 Grand Slam appearances that she lost her opening match.

Meanwhile, her younger sister, defending Australian Open champion and No. 1 seed, Serena Williams, won her opening round against Italian Camila Giorgi 6-4, 7-5. This was Serena’s first competitive match in four months.

Ranking at No. 15, fellow American, Madison Keys, overcame some nerves in a first-set tiebreaker and defeated Kazakhstani Zarina Diyas 7-6 (5), 6-1 in another bottom-half match. Keys, a 20-year-old Floridian, was a semifinalist at last year's Australian Open. She lost to Serena Williams in the semis.



Flushing Meadows, NY - The air is filled with anticipation, as kids from Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities Community Center from Corona, Queens, fill the Grandstand court waiting to meet the reigning US Open Women's Champion, Serena Williams.

It is Thursday afternoon of "Qualies" week and after participating in the Open "Draw Ceremony", the No.1 Women's Player in the world who had already appeared on Dave Letterman the day before, will be front and center during Arthur Ashe Kids Day in two days on Saturday. I mention these activities because I think we take for granted the Williams Sisters and Serena especially and the hefty responsibilities that she and her sister have carried for the better part of 15 years as the best of American tennis and never more so than now. It's amazing to watch them handle their media and philanthropic obligations, play singles and doubles in the same day, and on consecutive days. It really shows how strong-willed they are, their incredible commitment, sacrifice and desire to win and how important it is to have that strong family bond that their parents created from the start. It's also been a real boon, as fan favorites, to the entertainment value of each day's US Open ticket, to have them as part of the daily draw.

An unfortunate casualty of the first round draw was pitting the defending champ against American Junior Champion, Taylor Townsend of Chicago. The eighteen-year-old lefty, as an American and African American, may have made some noise in the tournament, if not for playing her mentor and friend in the opening round. That is correct, I said friend, as we confirmed in Serena's first interview when asked What was your initial reaction when you found out you were opening against top-ranked junior, Taylor Townsend?

"Yeah it's going to be a great match for me," said Serena. "She's such a great player. Extremely young, I have been able to see her play a little bit. She does everything really, really well. We're really good friends. We always talk and always text each other. It's going to be a really tough match for me."

I followed by asking about her thoughts on the history that lay ahead.

"You talked after winning the Western & Southern, you feel like you could play for a long time," I said. "If you get to 22 or 23 Grand Slam titles might you decide to hang them up?"

"Well, that would be just really amazing if I can make it that far,' she said. "Competition is a little stiff now, so I have to do the best I can and I can't even think that far to be honest."

Watch Video: Serena Williams on Getting to 22 or 23 Grand Slams

"Well, would you consider it an unsuccessful year if you don't win a Grand Slam," I asked.

"Probably, yes," Serena stated. "But there's always next year and the year after, so I don't necessarily – you don't give up. You just keep going and you keep fighting to continue to win more."

Watch Video: Serena Williams on If She Didn't Win a Grand Slam This Year

How is your school in Kenya going," I asked switching the subject.

"It's going good," responded Serena. "We just had a great update. We built a new building. It's been really, really amazing".

A reporter asked Serena that a couple of people had heard that she was having a show for Aneras in a couple of months and asked if she could talk about it.

"Yeah, no; I'm having a fashion show for Serena's Signature Statement and I'm launching Aneras," Serena Williams responded. "They are two totally separate fashion lines. This show we are doing for fashion week, New York has always been a dream of mine to have a fashion show at NY Fashion Week. We are doing the collection that sold on HSN for Serena's Signature Statement. We have casted the models and it's been a really great experience. I'm really excited and nervous at the same time to see the reactions and hopefully, we'll get a full house."

Watch Serena Williams talk about her fashion line, Serena's Signature Statement

During her early matches, Serena's biggest challenge was the unpredictable winds that made consistent serving difficult. Until adjustments could be made, her opponents never really threatened her, as she never conceded more than 3 games in any set, winning each match in straight sets as she did in two previous title wins. Although she hadn't really been tested in the singles and unfortunately lost in the doubles with sister Venus, this is the first Grand Slam all year that she had reached the Singles Quarterfinal round and it showed as she raised her arms in victory over Kaia Kanepi in the 4th Round and gave a ball to an adoring fan and emphatically declared to the cheering crowds "I made it to the Quarterfinals!" And with all that was riding on it, it seemed like destiny, here's what was at stake.

Serena Williams' milestones are historic:

-15th Anniversary of her first Grand Slam victory, and US Open - the 1999 US Open.
-18th Grand Slam Title which ties her with Chris Evert & Martina Navratilova, for fourth all time. Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Helen Wills Moody (19)
-She is a three-peat US Open Champion, winning the Open 3 years in a row.
-Her 6th US Open Title overall, tying Chris Evert for top honors.
-At 32, Serena continues to extend her reign as the Women's Champion with the greatest number of years between her first and last titles (15)
-She is the 2014 Emirates Airlines US Open Series Champion winning an additional $1MM and Serena's prize money has made Women's Tennis history, taking home a record $3MM check for a new highest payday in tennis and wining $4MM total after clinching the title. She already holds the previous record at $3.6MM, with Rafael Nadal, for winning it last year.

In our last interview we asked her what we know everyone's been dying to know.

"Does the new leopard print outfits mean the "catsuit" might be making a comeback," I asked.

"That's a good question," said Serena. "We all loved the catsuit; at least I did."

"Gives us hope," I responded.

"Keep hope alive," Serena added.

"Where is the catsuit," another reporter inquired.

"Yeah, I have all of my outfits. I saw it the other day actually in my closet, Serena said.

"Sounds like a hashtag campaign," I added.

"Right," Serena concurred and then added, "Of course hashtags didn't exist back then."

So please hit us up at #411SportsTV and join the #BringBackSerenaWilliamsCatsuit campaign.

Watch Serena Williams Talk About Her Famous Catsuit

 All jokes aside, Serena Williams' victory in the US OPEN 2014 Women's Final over close friend Caroline Wozniaki (6-3, 6-3) was another seminal moment in arguably the greatest female athlete's career ever and it makes us even more excited about 2015 and going down under to Australia...we'll see ya there.


With the win, Serena Williams claims a $2 million first prize

Legendary tennis player, Serena Williams, won her third successive WTA Finals title and fifth overall by beating Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 on Sunday.

Halep easily beat Williams just four days earlier during the group stage of the tournament, but Williams stepped up with an aggressive game plan for the big win.

Williams won 11 of the last 12 games in the match to join Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf as the only players to have won five titles in the season-ending championships.

"I just started training, because I had such a bad knee in Beijing I didn't know if I'd be able to play here, and now I have won the Billie-Jean King trophy -- I am so excited," Williams told ESPN.

"I was nervous before the match that I had to play this big final," Halep said. "I couldn't manage very well the situation."

With this win, Williams claimed the $2 million first prize, claimed the Billie-Jean King Trophy, and also had a breed of orchid named after her in recognition.

Way to go, Serena!

Taylor Townsend found out on Twitter that she would be playing Serena Williams

It was 2007 when Taylor Townsend was sitting in the nosebleeds watching Serena and Venus Williams play a night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Fast-forward to 2014 where Townsend earned a huge seat upgrade, not simply in the front row, but on the court, as the opponent of the No. 1 seed, Serena Williams, at the same stadium for the opening-round match of her US Open debut.

When Townsend found out about the news she didn't believe it.

"I found out on Twitter," she said. "Okay, let me double-check. It was true. So then I was just immediately really excited. I just thought that it was a huge opportunity."

Townsend turned professional at the end of the 2012 season after achieving the world No. 1-ranking as a junior, the first American girl to do so in 30 years. She made her Grand Slam debut earlier this year at Roland Garros as a wild card and advanced to the third round.

Taylor Townsend 2012 Australian Open Girls Singles Champ Shuji Kajiyama APTownsend winning 2012 Australian Open girls’ singles title. Photo: Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press

In lieu of the 18-year old Townsend's success, she looks up to Serena as she is one of the main reasons why Townsend is present in the tennis world.

"I mean, Serena's an African-American woman from Compton, California who won [now 18] Grand Slam titles. Like, who would have thought? Anything is possible. She's paved the way for me and not only African-American girls but girls in general, people in general, [she] just has changed the game of tennis. I think I've just learned from her story that anything is possible."

Their friendship blossomed last year at the Fed Cup in Delray Beach, Florida, when she talked to Serena and Venus Williams during a rain delay. Surprisingly they didn't talk about tennis, just casual girl-talk about hair and nails. Then later in Charleston, South Carolina, they chatted again for more than an hour and capped it off with selfies at the players' party.

Taylor Townsend Selfie With Serena and Venus Williams resized 540x829Taylor Townsend’s selfie with Serena and Venus Williams

Williams was just as excited to play Townsend for the opening draw match.

"We're really good friends. We always talk and always text each other. It's going to be a really tough match for me." Serena continued,"she's such a great player. [She's] extremely young. I have been able to see her play a little bit. She does everything really, really well."

Entering the match, they both won in the nail department. Townsend wore a gel manicure with deep, hot pink polish with blue tips. Williams rocked pastel pink nail polish with crystal, pink and black leopard prints her middle nails. But only one could win the tennis match, which was Serena 6-3, 6-1 who moved on to win her first 1st Grand Slam title of 2014.

Taylor Townsend Power Hitter Getty ImagesAmerican professional tennis player, Taylor Townsend Photo Credit: Getty Images


Serena Williams Finger Nails Collage Getty APLegendary American professional tennis player, Serena Williams, rocking pale pink manicure. Photo Credits: Getty Images (right) and AP (left)

Although Townsend lost the match she didn't let it get to her negatively. She was honored to face her idol and was all smiles.

"I just tried to go out on the court and really have a good time, embrace the moment, embrace the crowd and just use it. I did the best that I could."

The match helped put in perspective that she's doing all the right things - her serve can be a weapon and she can be a threat in the pro circuit with her style of play.
Serena also applauded Taylor and referred to her as the "Future of Tennis." Williams continued to speak positively of Townsend.

"She's a lefty. I always wanted to be lefty," she said smiling with envy. Why does Serena envy lefties? "That just in general puts you on a whole new level as a player. She's a very aggressive player. She comes to the net, she makes her shots. You don't really see that in tennis so much. You see players that, you know, stay aback and hug the baselines, as I do. But it's good, refreshing, and I think it's the future of tennis just by doing what she does."

Just how Townsend is inspired by Serena's story, Taylor is creating a story of her own for the current and future generations of tennis.

"I've always said that I wanted to use my tennis to inspire and help people. I want to continue [to be an inspiration and role model] as I progress in the pros and get better just because if we have these gifts and talents [and] we don't use it to help try to make a difference, then it really doesn't matter."

Taylor Townsend with kids before 2013 New Haven Open Yale UniversityTaylor Townsend with kids before the 2013 New Haven Open Tennis Tournament at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Photo Credit: Bill Weiss/New Haven Open

As Townsend said, "anything is possible." It took her seven years to earn her huge seat upgrade, which she saw as unfathomable at the time.

Townsend serves as a refreshing reminder that one can achieve their dreams with hard work and dedication.



Lisicki receives Guinness World Record Award for accomplishing world's fastest tennis serve

July 29, 2014, marked a historic date for the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) where Sabine Lisicki from Germany clocked the world's fastest serve among women at 131 MPH in Stanford, California.

Guinness World Record awarded Lisicki with a certificate on Friday, August 22 before the  US Open 2014 kicked off. At the time when she set the record, Lisicki didn't realize her serve was that fast.

"I felt that I hit it very hard and good but it was only when I heard the crowd that I realized it was 131 (MPH) when I looked at the board."

As with any tennis player, Lisicki's main priority is to serve the ball inbounds.

"It's a natural thing. I just throw up the ball and hit it as hard as I can but not really thinking about it because it obviously has to go in so that's the main priority."

Lisicki is very excited about her world record and added: "I had 130 (MPH) serve about four years ago but it wasn't an official one, so I'm very happy that this one's official."

The previous record was set in 2007 by Venus Williams, who clocked in at 129 MPH during the US Open against Alla Kudryavtseva from Russia. This was the same year Venus won Wimbledon. Williams still holds a separate record where she became the lowest-ranked (no. 31) and lowest-seeded player (23 seed) to ever win Wimbledon.

Lisicki opened against a qualifier, Françoise Abanda from Canada. Abanda is a young star, 17 years old, whose parents hail from Cameroon, Africa. This is Abanda's debut at the senior level in the main draw of the US Open, ranking in at her career high, number 205.

Francoise Abanda The Canadian Press Graham HughesCanadian tennis player by way of the Cameroon, Francoise Abanda. Photo Credit: The Canadian Press/Graham-Hughes

 Williams, who is 34 years old, knocked out an even older opponent, 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm from Japan in the first round in a three-set thriller.

We'll look forward to seeing milestones reached in this tournament whether it's Lisicki meeting or surpassing her current serving speed record, Taylor Townsend shocking the world by defeating Serena Williams, or perhaps, Venus Williams winning the US Open.

VIDEO: Sights and sounds at the Arthur Ashe Kids Day 2012 held at the US National Tennis Center

Arthur Ashe Kids Day offers something for everyone. There were opportunities to watch tennis pros practice; attend concerts with pop and R&B stars such as Carly Rae Jepsen and Mindless Behavior; and tennis clinics for the little ones. The video also shows that kids and adults alike stood ready to get autographs from their favorite players.

Arthur Ashe Kids Day also celebrates the writing and artistic skills of young people connected to the National Junior Tennis and Learning network founded by Arthur Ashe. Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins was on hand to help celebrate the winners of the Arthur Ashe Essay and Art Contest. Mayor Dinkins also spoke about the genesis of the Arthur Ashe Kids Day and What's The 411 TV's Andrew Rosario captured it all.

Arthur Ashe was born on July 10, 1943, in Richmond, Virginia and is remembered for his excellence as a tennis player as well as his efforts to further social causes. He remains the only African-American player ever to win the men's singles title at Wimbledon, the Australian Open or the US Open. His legacy continues to have a positive effect on our society.

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