This all-American matchup is probably not the one most fans thought they would get at this juncture. Most people anticipated an encounter between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, the sleek but inconsistent young American who has beaten Williams in a major. But Stephens was crushed by another American, CoCo Vandeweghe, who in turn got destroyed, 6-2, 6-1, by the veteran American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Mattek-Sands, 30, is a colorful character, one fond of dyed hairdos and tattoos, knee socks and crazy kits. But she is also a fan of the big stage. So playing in front of the night crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium, with Serena closing in on a Grand Slam, is probably right in her wheelhouse. Mattek-Sands is returning from a left-hip injury that required surgery in 2014, but the former doubles specialist is playing very well. She won two Slam doubles championships this year, at the Australian and French Opens, and she will again enter the Top 100 in singles after the US Open.
However, Mattek-Sands has never made it past the second round in Flushing Meadows in singles; her best performance at a Slam has been the fourth round, which she reached at Wimbledon and the French Open.
A matchup between the dominant No. 1 player in the world and the No. 101 on paper probably doesn't seem like much of a match.
Williams and Mattek-Sands have played just twice in their careers, and the last time was seven years ago, at Wimbledon. Williams back then had little trouble with her fellow American, surrendering just 10 games in four sets. Serena has obviously been on a tear all year, losing just twice (to Petra Kvitova and Belinda Bencic). She is on a mission to win her fifth major in a row and achieve the elusive Grand Slam. But in her second-round match against the unheralded Kiki Bertens, Williams looked decidedly shaky and emotional, double faulting 10 times and making 34 unforced errors (against just 23 winners). Was that performance an anomaly, or a sign that Williams may be feeling the pressure of her historic campaign?
Mattek-Sands is a pretty fearless competitor, and it’s almost a given that she will make this an entertaining encounter. There’s always the chance that Serena comes to play and blisters her outgunned opponent. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising for Mattek-Sands to play Williams tight and force her to a third set. Pullling off the huge upset and derailing her Grand Slam, however, is an awfully tough ask.