Bondy: Serena Williams shows she’s still player to beat at U.S. Open

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiRobert Sabo/New York Daily News Serena Williams has her 18th major within reach at the U.S. Open.

There was was a moment in the second game of the second set on Monday when Kaia Kanepi looped a high ball back to Serena Williams standing in the middle of the court on Ashe Stadium, and the American star suddenly looked like a public courts hacker. She swung awkwardly at the overhead, barely making contact.

“I didn’t want to hit it,” Williams said, after her fourth-round, 6-3, 6-3 victory. “These are the shots Venus usually takes in doubles. Where is Venus when you need her? I was like, ‘Should I let it bounce?’ Pride got the best of me. I was like, ‘Take it out of the air.’ Just wishing Venus took it.”

So Serena is human after all, and maybe a barrage of mid-court moon balls would prove to be her kryptonite. Short of that, however, she figures to be around for a while, slowing the incursion of youth that is so evident at this tournament.

It has been a watershed U.S. Open for the women, a long overdue changing of the guard. Seven of the top eight seeds were gone by the time Serena Williams took the court on Monday afternoon. There is good reason now to believe Belinda Bencic and Eugenie Bouchard will win several majors before they are through, while Cici Bellis and Madison Keys are likely to challenge them for many years to come.

Until then, though, we get the Serena twirl. The delicate little dance comes after every bully-ball victory, and she trotted it out there again on Ashe after she dismantled Kanepi to move into her first major quarterfinal of the year.

Arms up in the air. Then the twirl, and a wave.

Serena Williams takes care of business against Kaia Kanepi.Robert Sabo/New York Daily News Serena Williams takes care of business against Kaia Kanepi.

“I finally made a quarterfinal this year,” she shouted. “I just kept fighting. I told myself, ‘Serena, whatever happens, you’re still in doubles.’ ”

Well, yes, she is in doubles, but then nobody really cares about that, the way nobody really cares about the men anymore around here until Roger Federer takes the court against Novak Djokovic. Americans are provincial. We demand a piece of the action, or we press the snooze button. Good matches, like the fourth-rounder Monday between Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray, do not necessarily make for good headlines.

Fortunately, Williams is still around to carry this tournament on her broad shoulders, like Atlas. She walked onto the court in brutal conditions, the wind whipping, the air a

steam bath, sweat falling like heavy raindrops. She found herself in an early battle before Kanepi cracked and made three straight errors to be broken in the eighth game.

Once she is ahead, Williams is a brilliant frontrunner. Flavia Pennetta is next for her in the brackets, and frankly doesn’t stand much of a chance. The Italian baseliner is 0-5 against Serena, and hasn’t taken a set off her since 2008. In their most recent meeting two weeks ago, Williams won, 6-2, 6-2.

Pennetta went to the net exactly twice in her entire 80-minute victory Monday over Casey Dellacqua. She said she can’t really change her game for Williams; that she’ll just have to do what she does better.

“You cannot invent something,” Pennetta said. “I mean, you just have to play your tennis and do your best. Of course, she’s better than me, but I still believe I can beat her, maybe if she doesn’t have a good day I can do that.”

This has not been a great year for Williams in the Slams, and she wasn’t at her best again at times on Monday. Kanepi insisted Serena was serving better than ever, with better placement and power. Williams only converted 45% of her first serves in the second set, however, and suffered a walkabout in the eighth game of that set in which she double faulted twice and was broken.

Williams won most of the longer baseline rallies and the biggest points, and she has not lost a set yet at this Open. Yet Williams will need to lift her game in the last couple of rounds, if she is to win her 18th major. If not, she insisted, that’s OK too.

“I’ve been trying to see the bigger picture kind of thing,” she said. “So many opportunities of traveling. I get to go to China and Europe and Australia and all these other places. I’ve been to India and Africa. I probably never would have been to those places before, so it’s really, really awesome.”

Travel is nice, but she can’t kid us. Slam titles are nicer. 

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