LEXINGTON, Ky. This Friday, Serena Williams had played 967 tournaments at tournament level as a professional, with just four losses against opponents ranked outside the top 100 – and none in eight years.
Now, it’s time to add to that list: Williams was defeated by No. 116 Shelby Rogers 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the Top Seed Open quarterfinals.
“It’s good to know I can play a lot, much, much better,” Williams said.
She wants to do it so soon: The US Open begins August 31st.
Rogers, who is from South Carolina, took six of the last eight points Friday after trapping 3-1 in the tiebreaker to collect only her third career victory over an opponent in the top-10.
She also reached her first WTA semi-final since 2016. Finding this kind of tournament exit for former No. 1 Williams requires looking even further back in the record books: The owner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles had not bowed to her someone who has been so low in the rankings since no. 111 Virginie Razzano surprised herself at the 2012 French Open.
Shortly afterwards, Williams teamed up with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who is still working with them and was in the stands on Friday among the few people – fans are not allowed on the first tennis tournament in the US since the start of the pandemic of coronavirus.
It had only happened three other times, including qualifying at Quebec City back in 1995, when Williams made her professional debut at the age of 14. Now she’s 38; Rogers is 27.
“It’s every child’s dream when they grow up, watch their play, to do something like that,” Rogers said. “Strange circumstances, strange attitude, but a win is a win and I know we are all just happy to play back.”
Later Friday, 16-year-old American Coco Gauff reached her second WTA semi-final with quite a comeback. One point of trailing through a set and two innings, Gauff has won 10 of the last 11 games around no. 8 seed to eliminate Ons Jabeur 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Gauff was 4-2 down in the second set and looked for a break point, but Jabeur sailed a backhand long. That was enough to keep Gauff back in the game, and she soon took full control.
In the semifinals, Gauff will face Jennifer Brady, who advanced by defeating Marie Bouzkova 6-1, 6-2.
Rogers comes on Saturday against Jil Teichmann from Switzerland. Teichmann needed seven match points to reach the first semifinal semifinal of her career with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over CiCi Bellis.
The loss to Rogers was the third consecutive three-setter for Williams on the hard court Top Seed Open. She dropped the opening set from each of the others before returning to win, including against older sister Venus in the second round.
On Friday, starting after a rain delay of more than two hours, Williams looked en route to a much simpler victory. She never faced a break point until she served while trailing 5-4 in the second set.
That’s when things changed.
Rogers earned three break points – each a set point – and converted the third when Williams dumped a forehand into the net.
There were no breaks in the third set, and after Williams took the early lead in the tiebreaker, she had her own undo with miss after miss, including a long backhand back to end it.
“I made it difficult for myself by making an abundance of unforced errors,” Williams said.
With social-distancing rules, players were not allowed to meet the usual handshake of postmatch. As they sat to their sidelines, Williams smiled. Rogers just sat down and quickly shook a fist.