After battling to qualify for her 16th US Open quarterfinal on Monday night, Serena Williams threw doubt on whether she will play at Roland Garros later this month, citing worries about the organisers' plans to host a crowd.
Last month the 23-time grand slam champion said she definitely saw herself competing at the French major if it went ahead, but following updates to protocols in recent days, Williams was less sure.
Due to more flexible conditions at the US Open, Williams is currently staying at a private home in New York, while forking out for 24-hour security to make sure she does not leave her bio-secure bubble. But it was announced on Sunday that the French Open – which starts on September 21 – will take a stricter approach, with all players required to stay in one of two tournament hotels.
"I was hoping to stay at my apartment in Paris, but I'm just taking it a day at a time," Williams said after her fourth round win over Greek No 1 Maria Sakkari on Monday night, declining to give a definitive answer as to whether she will play. "[The organizers] are doing the best that they can. So I can't point fingers."
When it was pointed out to her that the French Open had still not ruled out hosting fans at 60 per cent capacity though, Williams became more concerned - citing her reduced lung capacity which puts her in a higher risk category when it comes to coronavirus.
"If there are fans, then we should be able to stay elsewhere," she said. "I'm super conservative because I do have some serious health issues, so I try to stay away from public places, because I have been in a really bad position in the hospital a few times.
"I'm going to have to make the best decision for my health. Maybe it will be good for me to talk to the organizers just to see how that works with the crowd and how we will be protected. But I think it should be okay... I don't know what the number [of spectators] will be and how close they will be. I still have some questions, but I'm really, ironically, focused on New York. It's hard because these Grand Slams are so close to each other this year."
Sakkari also voiced doubts, saying "it doesn't make sense to have fans and have us in a bubble", while British doubles player Jamie Murray echoed the worries after his and Neal Skupski's quarter-final loss: “It increases the chances of players picking stuff up if they are in or around members of the public... Having been here and seen how much of a lockdown it was, you feel safe. The thought of going into play with members of the public, how do they manage that?"
Coronavirus cases are spiking in Paris, and on Sunday French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said that it was “too early to say” whether any fans would be allowed. Seeing Williams's thoughts may prove a factor in their decision-making, especially if she wins her record-equalling 24th grand slam title in New York, which she remains on track to do despite a tough challenge from Sakkari on Monday night.
When Williams lost to the Greek No 1 13 days ago at the Western & Southern Open, she described her growing inability to close out matches as “like dating a guy that you know sucks". On Monday, at Arthur Ashe Stadium against the very same opponent, she definitely dumped him - but the 38-year-old had to recover from a break down in the third set to get the win, in what was a mesmerising and physical fourth round tie.
"Thank God I got rid of that guy," she joked after the 6-3 6-7(6) 6-3 victory. "Never want to see him again. He was the worst."
Her 100th win on the Flushing Meadows main court, she will need to recover from the 2 hour 27 minutes three-setter, her second in a row at the tournament for her quarter-final on Wednesday. She plays Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova - competing in her first tournament since Wimbledon 2017, after taking time out to have her first child.
Williams on no crowds:
It’s definitely less pressure. I miss the fans. But this is different. It’s also different because the breaks [between points] are a little bit longer when clapping is longer. So I could have used a bit of that this match.
WILLIAMS WINS! Williams 6-3 6-7 6-3 Sakkari
As we have seen her do for decades, Williams relies on her serve to begin her attempt to see out the match.
Then she is hurtling forehands at Sakkari, trying to go for the winner, but Sakkari is not backing down. She draws Williams to the net and then hits a cross court shot past her. 15-15.
The Greek hits two shots long next though, and Williams has two match points.
She misses her first serve. And the second one is not strong enough, Sakkari attacking it and then hitting a forehand winner. 40-30.
Sakkari somehow gets a racket behind her serve next, and a battling, blistering rally follows. Williams has to throw the kitchen sink at her. But it is enough eventually, and Sakkari hits her reaching shot into the net. Williams screams in victory. That was another level Williams found. Just when she looked on the back foot. Just when we doubted. She got the win.
Williams 6-3 6-7 *5-3 Sakkari
Williams hits a forehand winner and then battles through Sakkari's onslaught of attack to go 30-0 up on the Greek's serve.
She then blasts a return winner to set up three break points. This is a sudden switch around, the momentum this set has been all Sakkari's.
She misses the first one, with a long forehand, and then Sakkari stretches her to the brink in baseline hitting before hitting a superb approach shot to save the second break point.
In the end though, the six-time champion breaks at the third attempt, when Sakkari hits an uncharacteristic soft backhand into the next. There's little reaction from Williams though. She's about to serve for the match. I don't even know where she got that energy from.
Williams 6-3 6-7 4-3* Sakkari
Sakkari is lecturing herself for a long forehand. She wants to keep the pressure on Williams, sensing her fatigue. She makes it the next chance she gets though - and Williams watches it whizz past her.
Sakkari tries to attack Williams's second serve but her return goes long. She does better on the next return and Williams hits her shot long.
Two sets all, three games all.
Williams hits her fastest serve of the tournament next at 124mph, to go 40-30 up and then holds after another long return from Sakkari. The fighting work of a champion - but I'm not sure how much she's got left in the tank.
Williams 6-3 6-7 *3-3 Sakkari
Sakkari keeps the points short and sweet and holds to love, including two aces. Not a morale booster for Williams by any means.
Williams 6-3 6-7 3-2* Sakkari
Williams plays almost the perfect point, but misses on her forehand and is berating herself - she cannot be missing opportunities now.
She gets a much-needed ace to secure an easy point. But Sakkari is forcing long rallies where she can, and betters Williams to threaten at 40-30. But Williams makes it out of the game, holds and it's her third on the trot.
Williams 6-3 6-7 *2-2 Sakkari
More tense moments in this game.
Williams leaps to a return winner - she needs short rallies like this. But Sakkari is running the show. She powers Williams around the court and then approaches the net - smoothly putting away her forehand. That confidence-inducing point is followed by a double fault though, giving Williams a glimmer of hope - 30-30.
She comes to life as Sakkari hits a short second serve and bags another return winner. Break point Williams.
But again, Sakkari clips the net and it bounces into the corner of the court. Deuce, and then advantage with a strong serve next. Williams isn't done though. She's going deep into her energy banks, and hauls herself through a long rally, forcing an error from Sakkari to bring it back to deuce.
Another return winner and she has a second break point. She needs this.
Sakkari approaches the net and Williams clatters a cross-court forehand past the Greek. She's broken back.
Williams 6-3 6-7 1-2* Sakkari
Sakkari is dragging Williams around the court, but then hits her forehand long. The American is breathing very heavily though and having to work hard for every point in a way she wasn't on serve in the second set.
She hangs on to hold, but a look of worry lines her face as she walks to her chair for the break.
Williams 6-3 6-7 *0-2 Sakkari
Sakkari goes 40-15 up but then double faults. A slight show of nerves? If it was, she is helped to a hold by Williams's wide backhand next. Work to do here for the 23-time major champion.
Williams 6-3 6-7 0-1* Sakkari
Last time they played each other, Williams lost the tiebreak and then fell away to lose the decider 6-1.
If the first point of this third set is anything to go by, she does not look like she is going to fall away in any sense - hitting a blistering backhand winner down the line.
But a couple of shots hit into the net give Sakkari a chance in this game, and it goes to deuce. Williams doesn't do enough with her approach shot next, and Sakkari hits a passing backhand winner. Break point.
Sakari's backhand next clips the net and luck is on her side again. It throws Williams and she hits long. Sakkari gets the break.
SECOND SET TIEBREAK: Williams 6-8 Sakkari
Williams hits her return wide. A fifth set point to Sakkari. The American's serve is not strong enough this time, and Sakkari and her get into a rally - Williams hits her forehand way long.
Sakkari takes the second set - she coped phenomenally considering Williams comeback in that tiebreak. This is going the distance.
SECOND SET TIEBREAK: Williams 6-6* Sakkari
They get into a rally and Sakkari hits into the net.
Next Sakkari hits a backhand slice to lure Williams into the court, and then a backhand winner down the line to follow. 5-3.
Williams turns up the intensity though and forces a mistake out of Sakkari next.
An error from Williams though gifts Sakkari two more set points. Pressure on Williams again - and she responds with a rocket 89mph forehand winner - 6-5 Sakkari. Still one more set point to defend, and she does it with aplomb - hitting a backhand return winner down the line. We're even at 6-6. This is TENSE.
SECOND SET TIEBREAK: Williams *2-4 Sakkari
Sakkari wins the first point on serve. Then Williams hits her forehand into the net. The Greek player hits a brilliant return to Williams' feet next and the American can only lift the ball waywardly into the air.
Sakkari is up 3-0.
Williams hits another forehand into the net. She's 4-0 down and in a whole world of trouble.
She needs something here. Sakkari misses the second serve, and Williams hits a backhand return winner down the line to the applause of the watching tennis royalty in the stands. Sakkari cannot return Williams serve next and we're at 4-2.
TIEBREAK TIME: Williams 6-3 6-6 Sakkari
Sakkari's cool forehand winner hits the corner of the court at 87mph, Williams only able to watch it.
Then Williams approaches the net, and hits her half volley into it. Sakkari is up 30-15 with an opportunity here if she can take it.
Sakkari tries to find the corner again though and goes just long. Next the net helps Sakkari though, as her forehand clips it and it drops softly over, leaving Williams screaming in despair at the baseline and the Greek up a break and set point.
Williams composes herself. She pauses. Gets a let call on her first serve. Then smashes a serve out which Sakkari cannot return.
But as the next point descends into a rally, Williams hits into the net again - and Sakkari gets another set point. Williams uses her serve to get out of trouble again. And she holds. Just.
We have a tiebreak and Naomi Osaka is watching the tense moment intently from the stands.
Williams 6-3 *5-6 Sakkari
Some fantastic rallies this game, and an impressive show of Sakkari's strength of character - she did not allow Williams to out-muscle her.
She did mistime her smash at the net though, and Williams makes her pay for it, going 30-15 up.
Then Sakkari follows it up with a perfectly placed backhand winner. Another follows, low and extremely flat, and Williams screams as she realises it has her beat.
Williams wants to make a move this game, and she battles and chases every ball, but Sakkari found another level in the face of extreme pressure. She holds, and Williams must once again serve to stay in this second set.
Williams 6-3 5-5* Sakkari
Sakkari is using her pace to do some excellent defending in the first point, but Williams steps up to the net to smash the ball out of reach of the Greek No 1.
Two aces next and the stats are showing Williams is winning 86 per cent of points on her first serve. That is dominance.
Her forehand clips the net to help Sakkari win one point on Williams serve. But that's all she gets, as Williams holds. 5-5 - who is going to flinch first?
Williams 6-3 *4-5 Sakkari
Williams with a brilliant return to remind Sakkari of the threat on the other side of the court.
She outpaces Williams in the next rally though, and then relies on her favoured serve down the T for another ace. She hits a winner next - then another ace. She is composed, and not ready to fold by any means. Williams with the pressure on now.
Williams 6-3 4-4* Sakkari
Sakkari is jumping up and down on the baseline readying herself to return, but Williams is not giving an inch. She goes 40-0 up without playing a rally.
But then she double faults. And next point hits her backhand into the net. Is this a chance for Sakkari?
Nope, another strong 112mph serve from the American is too difficult to return, and she holds.
Williams 6-3 *3-4 Sakkari
Sakkari has maintained some scary levels of serving accuracy this match, and it is keeping her in the mix this set. At 40-0 though she mishits a Williams return and it flies way wide. She shouts in frustration, and puts a hand to her brow.
Williams attacks her next serve with a brutal return, and suddenly Sakkari is giving her an in in this game. 40-30.
They play a longer rally next, and Sakkari plays a very short but high-bounce drop shot. Williams races to reach it and swipes the ball down the line. So much for mixing things up - that told Sakkari. Deuce.
Sakkari gets the hold in the end, but Williams was threatening there - she wants this, and looks closer to getting a break than Sakkari does if we're basing this solely on momentum.
Williams 6-3 3-3* Sakkari
Sakkari goes 30-15 up - the first time she is ahead in a Williams service game since she was up three break points at 3-2 in the first set. It doesn't last, unfortunately for the Greek, as Williams powers down two supreme serves to get to game point.
A long baseline rally ensues next, and Sakkari pushes Williams to run out wide. The American chases it, but looks to have had a hole in her racket and in a moment of comedy misses the ball almost completely. She smiles in confusion.
Two more unreturned serves gets her over the line though, and she holds. 3-3 in this second set.
Williams 6-3 *2-3 Sakkari
An easy hold from Sakkari too, with more great serving and not a lot of rallying.
Williams 6-3 2-2* Sakkari
Uneventful game, completely dominated by excellent serving from Williams. She holds easily and, apart from one return getting her on the board, Sakkari does not get a look in.
Williams 6-3 *1-2 Sakkari
Sakkari is dealing with Williams aggression better this set, and has adjusted enough to chase down balls and then attack back - not just defend.
But Williams keeps stepping further into the court, pushing Sakkari back and making her err more than she was at the beginning of this match. She is playing better than she has in a long, long time.
Sakkari has to mix it up, approaching the net for the first time to put to bed one point. Continuing to serve well, she is guaranteeing herself some easy points too - and she manages to hold despite being pushed to deuce by Williams.
Williams 6-3 1-1* Sakkari
Sakkari is challenging Williams in this service game. When not being pushed around the court, she has the ability to place the ball at angles Williams cannot reach.
But the American hasn't let up, she is still being loud and aggressive. And she secures the game with a strong serve.
Williams 6-3 *0-1 Sakkari
A forehand winner down the line gives Sakkari a boost in this opening game of the second set, and she shouts come on, complete with first pump.
Williams responds by pummeling Sakkari's slice down the line in a backhand winner - letting out a louder scream of her own.
Sakkari is unperturbed though, and she holds with a strong serve. This is getting intense though.
WILLIAMS TAKES THE FIRST SET: Williams 6-3 Sakkari
Williams flexes her wingspan wide to send a forehand winner down the line. An ace next. Then an under pressure Sakkari hits into the net. Three set points to Williams.
Then a second serve ace to put it to bed. That was a clinical game from Williams. That was a strong finish from the champ, and Sakkari didn't have any answers.
Williams *5-3 Sakkari
A couple of unforced errors from Williams gives Sakkari breathing room and she holds to love to give her hope yet. She will have to break back next if she wants to remain in this set.
Williams 5-2* Sakkari
Williams looks laser focused now, and she holds this game to 15 with ease. She is striding around the court with a confidence that opponents dread. Sakkari must serve to stay in the first set next.
Williams *4-2 Sakkari
Longest game of the match after around 10 minutes of back and forth.
Williams pounces on a slower serve and gets a signature return winner. Sakkari has to make sure she puts the last game to the back of her mind. She seems fine though, two unreturned serves next.
Next Williams rushes the net for the first time after playing a deep ball, but Sakkari chases it down and tries for a passing shot backhand. Though the American stretches her racket to it she can't lift the ball over the net.
Sakkari is getting frustrated though, as Williams is finding another gear here, upping the power in her shots. She forces a mistake from the Greek and is taking control of the points - earning her first break point.
Though Sakkari escapes with some supreme serving, she does look a little bit rattled and wastes her advantage by sending an easy smash long. Williams is bringing the intensity.
We get to a fourth deuce. A great return from Williams catches Sakkari off guard and we have another break point for the six-time champion. Her next return inches wide though.
But she gets another opportunity, her third, to break and takes it this time. Sakkari has to settle for a second serve, and Williams plays a patient point, moving her opponent between the tramlines before delivering the blow - a tightly angled forehand Sakkari can't get a meaningful racket to. Williams draws first blood.
Williams 3-2* Sakkari
Sakkari is definitely the more aggressive of the two when the rallies do get going. She's scored five winners so far. Two shots into the net from Williams then offers Sakkari three break points.
The sun is bothering Williams again, opting for two tosses before serving. She looks on the back foot in the rally, and would have been beaten if not for Sakkari's blistering forehand going slightly long.
The Greek falters on the second break point, hitting her forehand into the net and she shakes her head - one more shot at breaking... But Williams's serve is too strong and we are at deuce.
An 120mph serve puts her at advantage and Sakkari goes long again to gift Williams her hold. That was a missed opportunity to shake Williams before she has had a real chance to get going in this match.
Williams *2-2 Sakkari
Obsessing over the serving stats a little bit here, but Sakkari gets her fourth ace in two service games.
She serves phenomenally to hold to 15. Little sign of being intimidated by this occasion, on the court Williams has won on so often.
Williams 2-1* Sakkari
Other than an off-balance backhand finding the net - and Williams shaking her head at it for a few seconds thereafter - she holds easily to 15. Sakkari is yet to find her range completely, sending a few aggressive shots long.
Williams *1-1 Sakkari
117mph ace to get Sakkari in the swing of things. And another immediately after. She's saying, I can do this too.
She wins a longer baseline rally, forcing an error out of Williams, and then an ace down the T to hold to love. Sakkari isn't here to make up the numbers.
Williams 1-0* Sakkari
A double fault to kick things off. Williams practices her ball toss a couple of times though, the New York midday sun shining bright in her eyes. She gets her 33rd ace of the tournament.
Then she gets the better of Sakkari in the first couple of longer rallies of the match, and holds easily.
Williams to serve first
Sakkari the sprinter
Greg Rusedski on Amazon Prime's coverage of the build up to this match is backing Sakkari, and a lot of the chat is focusing on the Greek player's fitness levels. Her fitness coach apparently used to work in athletics and says Sakkari runs 100m in 12.50secs.
Let's see if she can bring her top speed and level to this, the biggest match of her career so far.
The players are on the court, Williams just removing her red jacket, which looks suspiciously like a cape. Heroics to follow?
Mother of all Slams
More pertinently, our tennis correspondent Simon Briggs highlighted that three mothers have made it to the US Open fourth round this week, including Serena Williams. Read it here.
Not only are the mothers on the tour making major strides in continuing to perform at the top level while raising young children, their kids are also making the no crowd situation at the US Open a whole lot cuter. See Exhibit A:
I know I said this wasn't about Novak Djokovic...
... but this news is a little difficult to completely ignore. While we wait for Williams vs Sakkari to begin, here's a summary of events after we saw the world No 1 men's player forced to exit the US Open after he, unintentionally, launched a ball at a lines judge.
This stood out from some very strong Twitter reactions...
Swap me for jokers incident. ‘Accidentally hitting the ball kid in the throat’ how many years would I be banned for?— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) September 6, 2020
Hello and welcome!
While the last 16 or so hours have been dominated by the unceremonious exit of another Grand Slam champion, we will be switching the focus here to Serena Williams continuing her quest for her 24th major title. And aren’t you relieved?
She impressed over the weekend, in her turnaround victory over fellow American and 2017 champion Sloane Stephens. Stephens had perfectly executed the first set, ending it 6-2 in an almost error-free performance while Williams struggled with her serve, hitting only 50 per cent of her first attempts in. But just as quickly as Stephens had taken the first, Williams went on a run of domination - winning 10 of the last 12 games to take the victory, 2-6 6-2 6-2.
It was her first real test of the tournament, but it does not get easier from here on in. Up next is Maria Sakkari, a Greek player who beat her in their first ever meeting at the Western & Southern Open the week before the US Open began. Williams had been serving for the match, but was unable to close it out - losing the second set and then being swiped aside 6-1 in the third.
“It’s like dating a guy that you know sucks,” she said of her recent flakiness. “That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I have got to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”
She will no doubt feel empowered by her comeback against Stephens going into this tie though, as well as the two straight-setters she played in the opening rounds. Having proven she can close out during this fortnight, and that she can come up with answers and problem solve against strong opponents, her confidence should be high.
It will likely need to be. Sakkari, who is coached by 25-year-old Briton Tom Hill, is currently ranked 22nd in the world and is a player on the rise. Last year she claimed her first WTA title in Rabat, beating Johanna Konta in the final, and also reached the semi-final in Premier 5 tournament Rome. A win against Williams will see her improve on her best result at a slam, after she reached the last 16 for the first time at the Australian Open earlier this year.
We'll be here for all the action - keep up with our liveblog ahead of the 5pm start.