Top Seed Open, Lexington: What we learned from Brady’s title, Serena’s performance, and what you might have missed
- 17 Aug 2020
How Jennifer Brady overshadowed the Williams sisters and Cori Gauff to reach her best WTA ranking
Serena Williams’ appearance at an international event and her stunning second-round battle with older sister Venus drove headlines for much of the week at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky. And Coco Gauff’s riveting three-set victory over world No 11 Aryna Sabalenka and subsequent trip to the semi-finals was a major talking point as well.
Both Williams sisters and Gauff showed great form and have put themselves in position to be a factor as the tour switches scenes and heads to New York, but it was largely unheralded American Jennifer Brady who ended up stealing the show and raising plenty of eyebrows in Kentucky.
The 25-year-old American was a tour de force all week in Lexington. She didn’t drop a set, surrendered only 24 games and had her serve broken just three times as she rolled to the final and took out Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann (6-3, 6-4) for her first tour-level title.
Shelby Rogers vs Serena Williams, Top Seed Open match of the week
American Shelby Rogers hadn’t earned a top 10 win since long before a left knee surgery in 2018 caused her to plummet in the rankings. But the 27-year-old American, ranked 116 in the world, engineered a stunning comeback to defeat Serena Williams in a third-set tiebreaker. It was Williams’ first loss to a player ranked outside the top 100 since 2012, when she fell to Virginie Razzano in the first round at Roland-Garros.
Today was a day! Humbling and encouraging moment. Even with no fans on site, I can feel the support from everyone this week.
Thank you all!
— Shelby Rogers (@Shelby_Rogers_) August 14, 2020
- Serena, stunned: Serena Williams did manage to beat sister Venus in their 31st career meeting (3-6, 6-3, 6-4) – and first with no fans – but she’ll need to lift her game if she’s going to compete for that record 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open at the end of the month.
- For Jennifer Brady, a maiden title and a career-high ranking: The Top Seed Open in Lexington title means a new career-high for Brady in the rankings, at No 40. Thanks to many withdrawals, she’ll be seeded at the US Open. No one will want her in their section.
- Teichmann proves herself on hard courts: After reaching her first hardcourt final the Swiss spoke confidently of her ability to win on the surface: “Obviously everyone thinks I’m just a clay-court player,” said Jil Teichmann. “I think I’ve proven now that it’s not only this way, I’ve been feeling great on hard courts since the beginning of the year.” She acquitted herself well in the final and though she had the double-whammy of losing the doubles final too, it was a hugely-encouraging week.
- Closing in on a career-high (again) for Coco: The 16-year-old American reached her second career semi-final at the Top Seed Open in Lexington (after Linz in 2019) and logged two top 40 wins. She finishes the week one spot shy of her career-high ranking at No 50 in the WTA rankings on Monday. Not only is the kid the youngest player in the top 50 – she’s also the youngest in the top 500!
Mind the Stat: Ons Jabeur Drops Serve
Tunisian Ons Jabeur is one of the most fun players to watch on the Tour but she will want to forget the latter stages of her quarter-final with Coco Gauff. Leading 6-4, 4-2, she completely lost her way in a third set that saw her face 10 break points in her three service games. Jabeur, whose serve is far from her biggest weapon, only put three of 31 first serves in play, good for a percentage of just about 10 percent. She lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
“Tennis is a marathon, you basically play ten and a half months a year, you get six weeks off but those six weeks are pretty much on the court, there is no time to really rethink what you want to do or make changes – there’s just not enough time. So I used this off-season – forced off-season – to just reevaluate what I really wanted in my game. You’ve got time just to make a few tweaks here and there and that’s what I did. I’m quite happy with it, obviously the more matches I play I think the better I’ll get at it.”
40-year-old Venus Williams speaks about her revamped serve, and talks about how the long layoff due to coronavirus enabled her to change some technical elements of her most important shot. If her first match is any indication she’s on the right track. She saved the only break point she faced against Victoria Azarenka, one of the best returners in the sport.
— Times Sport (@TimesSport) August 13, 2020
Against Serena in the second round her numbers weren’t as good, but her kid sister did come away impressed as well.
“I saw the changes that she made and I think they are great changes, I think her coach Eric [Hechtman] is doing an amazing job and she’s playing unbelievable,” Serena said, adding: “Her serve is even better than before. It has a faster kick to it, it’s a lot harder. She’s hitting some big serves and some big aces.”
From one bubble to the next: which players look ready to play a major?
Tennis is back, albeit without fans and with all the complications that come with playing during the coronavirus pandemic. So what can we glean from this week’s performances?
While it was Brady that swept her way to the title, several other players restarted their season in a reasonable enough manner to think that they could be a factor by the time the US Open rolls around. Firstly, Serena Williams played three competitive matches, showed plenty of impressive tennis and perhaps most importantly, avoided any of the physical setbacks that could potentially provide a roadblock to her quest for a 24th major title. The week has been a success for Serena, and the early exit at the hands of Shelby Rogers could actually prove to be a blessing in disguise, as three matches is just about right for Serena in her first week back.
Remember, it’s not a sprint – it’s a marathon.
In addition to Serena, Coco Gauff and Venus Williams also managed to enjoy some success and build some confidence, as did first-time hard court finalist Teichmann, semi-finalist Rogers and quarter-finalists CiCi Bellis and Marie Bouzkova. The US Open promises to be a very wide open tournament, and any player that can peak at the right time this summer will have a shot at making a breakout performance in New York. We’ll be watching all of these names for follow-through performances next week when Cincinnati begins.