August 14, 2022

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU EVER NEEDED

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Were your spidey senses tingling when you looked at the list of potential first-round opponents for the women qualifiers at the Citi Open, once Canadian Rebecca Marino made the cut?

Because among the illustrious names was one Venus Williams.

Open Court had a feeling. So did Marino’s coach, Bruno Echagaray.

And so it came to pass that the 31-year-old Canadian and the 42-year-old American, who first met nearly 12 years ago in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, will have a sequel Monday night in Washington, D.C.

Marino didn’t want to look ahead at the possibilities – which also included No. 2 seed Emma Raducanu and No. 3 seed Simona Halep. She had business to take care of in the qualifying.

And it needed all her attention, as impending rain and a tricky opponent in Sachia Vickery made it challenging in a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3 victory Sunday.

Here’s what she had to say about it. It turns out she remembers that match in great detail. And why shouldn’t she; it was a turning point in her nascent career.

Heat, humidity, rain and the crowd

In that final qualifying hurdle Sunday, there was also a fairly pro-Vickery crowd, which grew as the match progressed, to deal with.

Marino was down in the first set. Then she caught up. And then she had three set points – denied.

The two had one rain delay, which only kept them in the locker room for a short period. But by the end, as Marino served for the match, it was raining pretty hard.

As it turns out, it might have been tricky for them to finish Sunday. And since Williams was already scheduled for Monday night, that would have been an interesting dilemma had the placement of the qualifiers turned out the same way.

Marino is pretty composed out there on court; the occasional Marino eye roll is about the most she’ll show.

Opponent Vickery is the polar opposite. As an opponent, you probably don’t want to look over there. Because as hard as she competes, the facial expressions after just about every point she loses are priceless.

You can see some of them here.

Venus, The Sequel

The two will get a spotlight night match Monday on the Stadium court.

It’s a tribute to Venus’s enduring star power that this match will bump one between a former champion (the No. 1 seed, Jessica Pegula) and the girl who grew up right down the street from the tournament (wild card Hayley Baptiste) is bumped to the Grandstand.

Williams was out practicing Sunday morning, part of the time hitting with sister Venus, who was a surprise guest star on the Citi Open practice courts.

The 42-year-old hasn’t played a singles match for nearly a year – since a small WTA 250 one-off tournament in Chicago the week before the US Open. She … did not look good there. And indeed, she pulled out of the US Open the following week.

Venus Williams on the practice court Sunday in Washington, D.C. with sister Serena.

Williams returned to action with a last minute wild card in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon a few weeks. And she looked far more mobile – and healthy. But it was mixed doubles.

That was also true Sunday; she looked very good. She had a large “Kid’s Day” morning crowd oohing and aahing with her power.

Clearly she wants to change the ending of her story and whenever she does go out, it will be at full speed.

Which hasn’t stopped the Venus fans on social media from being seriously concerned about this one, knowing how well Marino serves and how well she can play.

After their match in 2010, when Marino was just 19 and long before life hit both in different ways, Marino was impressive in her Grand Slam main-draw debut.

Ranked No. 179, Marino had won three matches in qualifying (defeating countrywoman Sharon Fichman in the final round). And then, she had come through a tough one against Ksenia Pervak, 7-5 in the third set, in the first round of the main draw.

Williams was No. 4 in the world at the time, but she had pulled out of the hard-court tuneup events because of a knee issue, and hadn’t played since Wimbledon.

She ended up going all the way to the semifinals, where she lost to Kim Clijsters.

Williams mentioned Marino’s big serve and “plus-one” (although it didn’t have an official name back in 2010) in her post-match press conference. And the heat. (Otherwise, it’s kind of cringe, as we recall having sat in the room).

“I guess I know what it’s like playing myself”

But on court after the match, she said of the first set, “Seemed like every time I had an opening she would hit a big serve. So I guess I know what it’s like now playing myself. I was very impressed. She’s got a good future ahead of her.”

As we know, and this has always been true, Williams isn’t huge on praising her opponents publicly, even though she’s always extremely gracious at the net.

So that was big. And Marino, as she says in the interview with Open Court linked to at the top, remembered it well.

Oddly, one of the things we remember most about that match Williams’ outfit (actually, if you follow Open Court at all, that’s probably not so odd).

At the time, the information was that she had held a design contest for her US Open outfit, and this was the winning entry. It was by far the best kit she had worn in years, to be honest.

Who knew where life would take both? Williams was already 30 when they played in New York; Marino is 31 now.

And they’re both still here, after a lot of challenges.

Hopefully, it’ll be a barnburner.