No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

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Updated 12 August 2020

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

  • The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set

LOS ANGELES: Serena Williams shrugged off the absence of fans to make a winning return from her six-month coronavirus layoff on Tuesday, defeating lowly ranked Bernarda Pera in three sets at the WTA Top Seed Open tournament in Kentucky.

Williams, who before Tuesday had not played a competitive game since a Fed Cup appearance in February, came from behind to defeat American world No. 60 Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 15 minutes at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington.

The former world No. 1’s first round victory played out to an empty arena. This week’s tournament — the first WTA event in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic — is taking place without spectators.

Williams, 38, later revealed that the sedate surroundings had suited her game.

“It was a really calm atmosphere, it was really chill,” Williams said.

“I can’t say I disliked it. I didn’t mind it at all. I’ve been through so many things in my career and this was totally different. I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career.

“Kind of reminds me of junior days. Something nostalgic about that. I kind of enjoyed it.”

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set, but recovered from 0-40 down at 4-4 before holding and eventually winning the set.

“I just knew I could do better,” Williams said. “It was an interesting game. I just had to get used to her game a little bit. She played really well.”

Williams will now play either sister Venus or Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Pera had seized an early advantage in the first set, breaking Williams to take a 3-2 lead before holding for the remainder of the set to win 6-4.

Williams was soon in trouble on her service game in the second set, falling 0-40 in the opening game before battling back to hold.

Williams moved into a 3-1 lead with a break of Pera’s serve in the fourth game, but her Croatia-born opponent hit back immediately with a break of her own before holding to level at 3-3.

With the next two games going to serve, Williams looked to be in trouble after falling 0-40 down in the ninth game. But she dug deep to hold for a 5-4 lead and then broke for the set when Pera sent a forehand return wide.

The momentum spilled into the deciding set, and another misdirected forehand from Pera handed Williams a break to move into a 3-1 lead.

Another break took her into a 5-1 lead and she closed out the win by holding to love, wrapping up victory with a cross-court forehand that left Pera stranded.

This week’s WTA tournament is the first to be staged in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tennis season earlier this year.


Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

Updated 22 September 2020

Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

  • Pirlo’s Juve look slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri under Sarri

MILAN: Wearing a suit and tie, new Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo cut a very different figure on the sidelines to his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, who often appeared wearing a tracksuit.

And his Juventus team also looked slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri of the Sarri era.

Right from the start of Juve’s 3-0 win at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday there was an intensity to the team’s play that had been lacking for much of the previous year.

“We accepted the changes made by the club,” Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “This season, the new coach is Pirlo, who has changed our way of interpreting soccer that we had last year.

“It’s too early to say if it is right or not, but it is different.”

Juve’s new players also suit Juve’s new style even if Weston McKennie — the first American to play for the Italian champion — was the only player Pirlo signed.

McKennie assisted on two of his side’s goals and also had chances himself.

Two of the team’s other new players who stood out, Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur, were signed by Sarri but fit well into Pirlo’s set-up.

“We have four central midfielders with the right characteristics to play like this,” Bonucci said. “McKennie, Adrien and Arthur and Rodrigo cover a lot of the pitch. They have the legs to be aggressive and are also good at passing the ball.

“That way, we manage to unite being aggressive and having more quality in possession, I think that’s the difference from last season.”

Pirlo has had little time to settle into his new role. The 41-year-old was handed his first coaching job at the end of July when he was put in charge of Juventus’ under-23 team, which play in Serie C. But he had not led a game before he was promoted to replace the fired Sarri.

However, Pirlo knows several of the players well having played with them at the club.

The former midfield great kicked off an unprecedented era of dominance when he joined Juventus in 2011, helping the side to the first four of its record nine successive Serie A titles.

Pirlo has once again been tasked with leading the team to new heights — this time the Champions League, which Juventus hasn’t won since 1996 but which Pirlo won as a player twice with AC Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri went closest for Juventus, steering it to the final in 2015 and 2017.

“Pirlo is much more similar to Allegri (than Sarri), but everyone has their own character,” Bonucci said with a wry smile and a laugh. “Andrea transmits a lot of calm serenity, as he did when he was a player when you could give him the ball in the midst of five opponents and you were sure he wouldn’t lose it.

“We have great respect for him and for this path that has just begun, which I’m sure will allow us to take away great satisfaction.”