For the first eight games of their epic battle Sunday afternoon inside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in the fourth round of the 2013 US Open Championships, the match between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, the top two American women in the world, lived up to its hype. Williams went up 4-2 after breaking the serve of Stephens, but the 20-year old Sloane returned the break immediately, and the two were tied at 4-4 in the first set. The dominant Williams took over from there, winning the next two games to take the first set, then continued her spectacular play by winning the second set 6-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.
To her credit, Sloane was very poised after the match when she spoke to the media after her loss. “Obviously she’s number one in the world for a reason. I thought she played really well.” When Serena Williams is playing her best tennis, there isn’t a woman in the world able to match her play, including Stephens. She has yet to drop a set in four matches at the US Open, and is three wins away from her second-straight US Open title, which would be her fifth overall in New York and her 17th Grand Slam title overall. At this point, you would be a fool not to pick her to win it all, and Momma didn’t raise a fool in the Johnson household. Look for Serena to be holding the trophy once again on Sunday.
The first week also saw two big wins by African-Americans on the women’s side, as 17-year old Victoria Duval defeated 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first round, and 18-year old Sachia Vickery defeated Mijuana Lucic-Baroni, also in the first round. Though both lost in the second round, these two have a lot of potential and should make some more noise in the tennis work in years to come.
During the peak of his career, African-American tennis star James Blake wore long locs, called ‘Dreadlocks’ by some because those who wore them were dreaded. Blake’s opponents often dreaded facing him during his career, as the top African-American player on the men’s side for over a decade was ranked as high as number 4 in the world at his peak. That career ended last week when Blake lost a three hour and 24-minute, five-set match to Ivo Karlovic from Croatia.
After the match, Blake spoke very candidly, as he has often done, about his career, and how his race played a part in it and the honor of carrying the torch for black male tennis players. “I understood that when I started on tour, when I first sort of burst onto the scene…I realized that I might have a different path than a lot of other guys.”
Blake continued about his desire to let his play on the court speak for itself. “The other thing that made me extremely proud was when I stopped getting questions about being the only African American as opposed to just being a tennis player. It made me feel like I really accomplished something because people were talking about my tennis instead of just my skin color.”
Blake also understands how he inspired people during his career. “I know there are people that look up to me that may not have ever been involved in tennis, may not have thought of tennis, because they saw someone that looked like them on TV. They hear that I started playing tennis in Harlem.” Harlem thanks you James Blake for inspiring so many with your play, your style, and your enthusiasm. You will be missed.