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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Karolina Muchova

No. 20-seeded Karolina Muchova played masterful all-court tennis dealing Venus Williams her first US Open first-round loss in 22 Flushing Meadows appearances.

Photo credit: Simon Bruty/USTA

Bouncing on her toes atop the baseline, Venus Williams tried elevating her energy level in a near empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The 40-year-old Venus had been second to none in US Open first-round matches—until tonight.

More: Serena Williams Makes History with US Open Triumph

Playing crafty all-court tennis Karolina Muchova altered angle and spin shrewdly sending the seven-time Grand Slam champion to her first US Open first-round loss 6-3, 7-5.

"I think we both served pretty well," Williams said afterward. "I think I made just more unforced errors than she did. Just having some better shot selection. That comes with playing your way into the tournament, those sorts of things. Just ran out of time today."

On a day in which Serena Williams set the US Open for most career match victories and her big sister set the record for most appearances in tournament history, Muchova snapped Venus' perfect 21-0 record in US Open openers.

"I didn’t even know [Williams was undefeated in the first round] first of all," Muchova told ESPN's Rennae Stubbs afterward. "I just tried to stay focused and just to keep my serve. I lost I once and I was like I’m gonna keep on doing it. I had a few chances even before. So I tried and it worked out and I’m happy."

The 20th-seeded Muchova has shrewd court sense and is comfortable from anyplace on the court. Muchova out-aced Williams, 8 to 1, won 11 of 13 trips to net, returned serve with precision from the start and celebrated with one of her biggest fans, actress Rebel Wilson, who made a virtual appearance in her player box. 

Parting can be painful, but Venus kept it positive in her post-match presser.

"I love this game. I'm good at what I do," Venus said. "It's easy to stay motivated and excited about doing something so amazing. Not many people get to do this. Really fortunate and blessed to be someone who has gotten a chance to do it."

Twenty years after Venus won her first US Open crown—a year after sister Serena defeated world No. 1 Martina Hingis to win the '99 Open title—Muchova made her presence felt from the outset breaking in the opening game and fending off triple break point to hold for 2-0.

While Muchova doesn’t blow you away with service speed, she can dot all areas of the box with her placement.

Sister Serena Williams accompanied by her dog, Chip, was one of several pros watching the match from seats outside the corporate suites which have been converted into player lounges for seeds.

Venus Williams regained one of the breaks in the seventh game, but Muchova was timing the ball effectively and varying the depth and direction of her returns.

Handcuffing the two-time champion with a crackling return right back at the body, Muchova prodded a netted backhand breaking for the third time to snatch a one-set lead.

The 40-year-old American tried playing big to shorten points, but the result was periods of error-prone play. Williams more than doubled Muchova’s unforced errors—17 to 8—in the 51-minute first set.

Trying to activate her energy level, Williams was swaying on the baseline in a a predatory posture that drew a double fault and the first break of the second set for a 2-1 lead.

The former world No. 1 confronted a double-break point dilemma in the eighth game. Williams erased both break points then drilled some of her most decisive strikes of the set working through a tricky hold for 5-3.

Serving to force a decider, Williams saved a break point with a 108 mph body serve, but Muchova, reading the serve effectively, spun another deep return eliciting an error to break back for 5-all.

Muchova’s skill timing the ball right off the bounce was showcased when she scalded a clean backhand winner down the line part of a love hold for 6-5.

The flat forehand let Williams down in the second set. Her 10th forehand error expired in net putting her in a love-30 hole.

The Czech netted a backhand on her first match point, but a philanthropic Williams bounced a double-fault off the tape on the second match point.

On this night, Muchova played pivotal points with more conviction, winning 16 of the last 21 points to close in one hour, 48 minutes.

Williams, who was bidding to become the third woman in her 40s to win a US Open singles match, departed the first round for the first time. Hopefully, the end of her streak is not the end of an era.

Venus, who wore beads in her hair when she reached the US Open final in her 1997 debut, deserves a proper Flushing Meadows farewell in front of a full house at Arthur Ashe Stadium. 


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