Serena Williams rolled into Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday night with her arsenal of serves and groundstrokes fully stocked in search of her 24th Grand Slam title at the U.S Open. Maria Sharapova had no chance. Despite a career that includes five Grand Slam championships, she found herself against Williams and again found herself without any answers.
Williams ran right over Sharapova, 6-1, 6-1, in a first-round match that lasted only 59 minutes. It was her 19th straight victory over Sharapova and she has a 20-2 record against her. Sharapova has won one set against Williams in 10 years.
“I just feel like her game really matches up well against mine,” Williams said. “I always said her ball somehow lands in my strike zone. I don’t know. It’s just perfect for me.”
The calm, cool and collected scene was in sharp contrast to last September at Ashe Stadium when Williams lost a controversial final to Naomi Osaka, with Osaka in tears and Williams in a vehement argument with the chair umpire.
That chaos seemed a decade away on Monday night. Dressed in her black bodysuit, Williams was all business, all purpose, all-out unbeatable. She served five aces, four service winners and hit 16 winners. When Sharapova put some pressure on her serve in the second set, accumulating five break points, Williams just amped up her game and saved them all. A passing shot on a break point in the second set put an exclamation point on Williams’ performance.
“I think I was able to zone in, especially down break points, not letting her in the match because she’s the kind of player that keeps going,” Williams said. “Even towards the end, she just wants to keep fighting.”
And Williams seemed to answer all the questions about the effects of a recent back injury.
“The body is good, the back is a lot better,” Williams said on court at the end. “I’m excited, it’s going to be fun.”
This has been a season of fits and starts for both players, but Williams has had far more success without winning a title. She has a 20-5 match record for 2019 and reached the final at Wimbledon, where she lost to Simona Halep. She also reached the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto early this month, but had to retire with a back problem in her match against Bianca Andreescu, and that issue forced her to pull out of the following tournament in Cincinnati.
Earlier in the season she pulled out of a tournament in Rome and the Miami Open with a left knee injury. At Indian Wells she pulled out of a match against Garbine Muguruza with a viral illness. At age 37, the mileage appeared to be taking its toll, though she said that her practices leading into Flushing Meadows were “super intense, super focused.”
Sharapova, 32, has been beset by a balky right shoulder. She had what she described as a small surgical procedure on it after the Australian Open. The shoulder was first operated on in 2008 and has been the subject of other procedures since. After the last one she didn’t play again until June and had to retire from a match at Wimbledon with a left forearm problem. She has only an 8-7 match record for the season. A rusty Sharapova was not much of a match.
“I thought she served really well. Found her spots really well,” Sharapova said. “Didn’t feel like we got into too many long rallies. I think the 1-2 punch, she won a majority of those points. If I saw the percentage of that, I think that’s where she hurt me a lot.”