Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK –– Given everything that happened with her sister in the previous 24 hours, Serena Williams had every reason in the world to be distracted Thursday afternoon.
Instead, an upbeat Serena took just 49 minutes to crush Michaella Krajicek, 6-0, 6-1 in Arthur Ashe Stadium to move into a much anticipated third-round match with No. 4 Victoria Azarenka. Serena has now won 14 straight matches and 29 of 30 on hard courts.
As expected, much of Serena’s post-match press conference was focused on the health of her older sister, Venus, who on Wednesday abruptly withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing an autoimmune disease known as Sjögren’s Syndrome.
“It really wasn’t that difficult, to be honest,” said Serena, a three-time U.S. Open champ who remains the favorite here despite her No. 28 seed. “I mean, she wants me to do the best; she wouldn’t want me to suffer. So now, if anything, it should motivate me more.”
Venus, the Open champ in 2000 and ’01, said Thursday on Good Morning America that she “absolutely” plans to return to tennis and is relieved to know the true cause of her “debilitating” fatigue.
Serena herself has had major health issues in the past year, undergoing two foot surgeries and also enduring blood clots in her lungs that she said nearly killed her.
All of that has put her tennis career, and this latest discovery about Venus, into a broader perspective.
“I visit kids in hospitals that have cancer, and I just…am so amazed at how the families are there and how blessed I am,” she said. “Okay, I had a blood clot or surgery. Thank God I don’t have this other disease. It can be — things can always be so much worse.”
At one point, when a reporter asked her yet again to reflect on her behavior here two years ago, when she threatened to shove a ball down a lineswoman’s throat after a foot fault call in the semifinals, Serena shot back at the inquiring reporter.
“Gosh, that was like so long ago,” she said. “I’ve died basically and come back and nobody’s really writing or thinking about that.”
Sjögren’s Syndrome has a genetic component and Serena was asked whether she is concerned about the disease potentially impacting her.
“Right now I feel fine,” she said. “I feel good. I don’t have the same symptoms she’s had in the past. Hopefully, it will be different.”
As for Venus, Serena said her sister remains in New York although she said she didn’t get to speak much with her on Thursday.
“She said she was going to hang out for a little bit, so we’ll see,” she said.
At 31, Venus, a seven-time Grand Slam tournament singles champion, was already on the down side of her career, and this new discovery could hasten the end of it.
After his four-set win Wednesday night, Andy Roddick said tennis fans might be taking the Williams sisters for granted because they’ve been so good for so long.
“I mean, if you think about their story, if you actually think about it, I think we take it for granted,” he said. “A lot of times they’ve drawn a lot of criticism. But, trust me, five years, when they’re gone, everyone is going to miss them. Everyone is going to realize they’re going to be living legends for the rest of their lives. Two girls from Compton dominating tennis. That’s not an everyday story, the way they’ve gone about it.”
While Venus may be done dominating, Serena is still going strong. Despite missing nearly a year with her own health issues, she rebounded to win back-to-back hardcourt tournaments in Toronto and Stanford.
She remains the favorite to win, even as she gets set to face the No. 4 seed in the next round.
“I kinda feel I’m definitely going in as the underdog because she’s won more tournaments and she’s been doing a lot,” Serena said. “I feel like I have nothing to lose in this match.”
(The AP contributed)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.