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Serena Williams And Andy Murray Both Have Great Wins At Cincy / New York • WTA | ATP Review

Serena Williams hits a return against Arantxa Rus during their second round match in the Western and Southern Open.

By Alix Ramsay

In the new normal, life is somewhat restricted. The world’s best players – well, a lot of them, anyway – are in New York, one of the most exciting cities in the world, and yet they are holed up in Queens, forbidden from enjoying the temptations on offer across the river.

Their focus is on the Western and Southern Open and, beyond it, the US Open. They have no choice. They cannot nip out for dinner; they are not allowed to go shopping. Even sightseeing is verboten. Unless, of course, you are Serena Williams.

Serena, unlike her mortal opponents, is not shacked up in an official hotel. She is enjoying family life in a rented house on Long Island which allows her to rest and relax in between matches and practice sessions. She has the chance to sit in the sunshine in the back garden; she can make her own dinner should she wish (although the thought of the great champion defrosting some fish fingers and peeling a few spuds seems a little bizarre). She can even go sightseeing.

Serena walks onto the court before her match.

She had her first trip out on Monday as she took on Arantxa Rus of Belgium. The Western and Southern Open is, as we all know, being held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the home of the US Open. And in many, many a long year, Serena has seen nothing of the complex other than the players backstage areas, the public practice courts (where the world and his wife gather to catch a glimpse of the legend) and the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium, her home from home in the Big Apple.

But on Monday, she was out on the Grandstand Court, a venue other players may dream of but, for Serena, is pretty much the boon docks. It is still the main court for this tournament but it is not her home ground, not by any means. Next week when the US Open begins, she will probably never go back there but, for now, this was a novelty.

Williams hits a return to Arantxa Rus during their second round match at the Western and Southern Open.

What was not so novel was the sight of Serena in full flight. She has had a tennis court and a gym built at her real home (no, not on Arthur Ashe) and she has clearly been making full use of them during the interregnum. Yes, there were tan lines on her shoulders but they were obviously from spending hours on court in Florida and she looks the fittest she has been since the birth of her daughter, Olympia, in 2017.

The only concern was the tape she had down both sides of her spine and down the outside of her left thigh. Whether those are precautionary or the portent of a real problem to come, time will tell.

When it came the crunch, though, Serena was in no mood to take in the surroundings. Rus is the world No.72 and has never really set the world alight with her game but, that said, she has been playing a lot of late. As soon as the WTA Tour resumed, Rus was off and running: she played in Prague, she played in Palermo and then she headed to the US and qualified for Cincy. Or Cincy by way of New York.

By way of contrast, Serena had played just 13 matches since the start of the season. No wonder then that when she tried to pull the trigger, she found there was little ammo in the chamber. That, though, doesn’t matter to Serena: if there is a way to win, she will find it.

And from winning a squeaky first set tiebreak to dropping the second set and then coming back at the latter stages in the third, she got the job done. Gradually the ‘C’mons’ and the Serena roars became louder. It was as tight as tight can be – Rus served for the match at 6-5 – but Serena came through 7-6, 3-6, 7-6 in just under three hours. No one was there to cheer her on but it did not matter. Sightseeing be damned. Once this week was over, she would not be back on Grandstand.

Serena Williams (L) and Arantxa Rus playing to an empty Grandstand Court.

“At one point I was pumping my fist and saying, Come on.” Serena said. “I had a crowd in my head or something. It was actually funny to me. I don’t know. For me, it was like there was a crowd there.

“I’m taking it a day at a time. I’m going to see how I feel tomorrow obviously. But I’m ready. I’m excited.

“I’m actually super fit and I’m super ready. I feel like I’m ready for anything. I think the reason I wanted to be super fit was because it is six weeks in a row basically playing tennis every day, so this is a really good opportunity for me to get ready and be super ready for clay, as well.”

There is nothing like planning ahead. We haven’t even got to the US Open yet and already Serena is looking towards the French.

Andy Murray has not dared to plan ahead for most of the past three years. From climbing to the top of the rankings at the end of 2016, he managed just six more months of unfettered play before his right hip gave up – it was a five-setter against Stan Wawrinka in the French Open semi-finals that did for him – and after limping out of Wimbledon in the quarter-finals a few weeks later, he has only played 30 more matches. Three surgeries, (including a hip resurfacing procedure) later, he is back in New York and back in the hunt for titles.

Andy Murray earned his first Top 10 victory in more than three years at the Western & Southern Open on Monday, beating World No. 7 Alexander Zverev 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

That he came through three sets against Frances Tiafoe on Saturday was a good sign; that he repeated the feat against Alexander Zverev on Monday was more than anyone could have hoped for. Apart from Murray, that is. It took two hours and 32 minutes of some brilliance, an awful lot of nous and a barrowload of his trademark cussedness to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

The way he set about the world No.7 from Germany in the opening set was Murray of old. He knew the big man’s weaknesses and he knew his own strengths – and that was a combination that Zverev could not match. For all that he has a tin hip, the Muzz was moving freely and with abandon: there was not a ball he was not willing to chase down, not a running forehand he was not willing to clatter for a winner.

But Zverev is not in the top 10 for nothing. He started to serve with more consistency and he made the most of the errors that were creeping into Murray’s game. As Muzz’s first serve started to falter and his backhand lost its bite, Sacha was back in business to win the second set.

Alexander Zverev loses in a two-and-half hour thriller at the Western & Southern Open.

The final set was a rollercoaster: Muzz got the early lead and then lost it again as Sascha won three games on the bounce. Suddenly the mood had changed and as Muzz berated his coach and physio (he really was back to his old self), it looked for all the world as if he was on his way out. Then again, he has never in his life given up on a cause, however forlorn, and as his German rival went to serve for the match, Muzz was on his toes.

Sure enough, the pressure told and with three double faults, Zverev handed over his serve to the Scot. Another two doubles as he now served to stay in the match at 5-6 proved terminal: Muzz broke and he was through to a meeting with Milos Raonic in the third round.

After three days of mayhem with seeds falling left and right in both the men’s and women’s draws, it was left to the two old timers to show the youngsters how to win matches when it really matters. ‘Murrena’ (as the Murray-Williams mixed doubles partnership at last year’s Wimbledon was called) had upstaged them all.