If Serena Williams somehow manages to conjure up another on-the-run, back-to-the-net, no-look, over-the-shoulder shot in her next Australian Open match, a local coronavirus flareup means there won’t be any spectators to react with the appreciative applause and yells that greeted this one.
That’s because while Williams was using that bit of magic Friday to help pull off a comeback victory over an opponent who is 20 years younger, the head of the Victoria state government was announcing a five-day lockdown in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel.
Competition at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament will be allowed to continue, but no fans can attend as of Saturday.
After the pandemic led to the cancellation of Wimbledon, zero fans at the U.S. Open and only 1,000 a day at the French Open in 2020, the government let Tennis Australia admit up to 30,000 daily, 50% of normal capacity.
But not anymore.
“It’s going to be a rough few days for, I think, everyone. But we’ll hopefully get through it,” Williams said after beating 19-year-old Anastasia Potapova 7-6 (5), 6-2 despite 25 unforced errors in the first set alone. “It’s been really fun to have the crowd back, especially here. It’s been really cool. But you know what? At the end of the day, we have to do what’s best. Hopefully it will be all right.”
A year ago, Williams dropped just three games against Potapova in the first round. But then the American was surprised in the third round, her earliest exit in Australia in 14 years.
This time at that stage, Williams — who has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in Australia — fell behind in the opening set, which Potapova served for at 5-3. But the 2016 Wimbledon junior champion double-faulted five times in that game, including twice on set point.
Williams then trailed 5-3 in the tiebreaker. But she took the next four points, the last on a 21-stroke exchange that ended with Potapova putting a forehand into the net.
“I don’t have much experience on those stages. For me, it was an absolutely mental thing. I was over-thinking. I was over-playing. Over-hitting,” said Potapova, who was visited by a trainer in the second set for what she described as pain between her ribs that made it hard to breathe.
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