Serena Williams struggles to beat teen Caty McNally at U.S. Open

Serena Williams survived a second-round scare at the U.S. Open on Wednesday with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 win over American wildcard Catherine McNally to keep alive her hopes of securing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title.

World No. 8 Williams, who captured the first of her six U.S. Open titles two years before her 17-year-old opponent was born, spent the first half of the match trying to find her rhythm but when she did she was off to the races.

McNally, competing in only her sixth tour-level event of her career and against the highest-ranked player she has ever faced, used an old-school serve-and-volley approach along with a lethal slice backhand to unsettle Williams.

So effective was McNally, who has tried to model parts of her game after Swiss great Roger Federer, that at one point in the match Williams screamed at her racquet “why are you missing?”

But Williams, whose earliest U.S. Open exit came in her 1997 debut when she lost in the third round, turned the match around when she finally broke McNally’s serve and then consolidated in a tight service game for a 5-2 lead in the second set.

Williams looked more like herself in the decider — both serving and returning better — as she went up a double break for a quick 3-0 lead before storming home and sealing the match when she broke to love.


Serena Williams shows her frustration after losing a point to Caty McNally during their second-round match at the U.S. Open on Wednesday. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

On the men’s side, two multi-Slam champs also had struggles as both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic dropped the opening set before winning their second-round matches.

Federer, a five-time champion, beat Damir Dzhumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday to reach the third round of the U.S. Open.

With rain affecting play in Flushing Meadows for the first time in the tournament, only the matches on Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadium, which also has a retractable roof, were able to be played in the early afternoon.

The covered conditions were no help at the start to Federer, though he couldn’t quite explain why.

“I don’t have an answer to you,” he said. “It’s just poor ball striking in the beginning.”

WATCH | Federer into 3rd round:

After dropping the opening set, Roger Federer rallies to defeat Damir Dzumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 1:02

Djokovic, the defending champ, shook off a left shoulder problem to get past Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero 6-4 7-6(3) 6-1. He takes on fellow Serbian Dusan Lajovic or American Denis Kudla in the next round.

Djokovic was treated by the trainer multiple times in the match and appeared in trouble when he fell behind 3-0 in the second set. But he battled back to take it in a tiebreaker and had an easy time in the third set.

No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina beat two-time U.S. Open champion Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 on Armstrong. Other winners included No. 3 Karolina Pliskova, who beat qualifier Mariam Bolkvadze 6-1, 6-4; and Kei Nishkori, the 2014 men’s runner-up at the U.S. Open who beat Bradley Klahn 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

WATCH | Ailing Djokovic advances:

Novak Djokovic defeated Juan Ignacio Londero in straight sets on Wednesday. 1:00

WATCH | Barty wins in straight sets:

Second seed Ash Barty defeated Lauren Davis 6-2, 7-6 in the second round on Wednesday. 1:04

Second-seeded Ash Barty barely avoided getting pushed to a third set and got past Lauren Davis of the United States 6-2, 7-6 (2) to reach the third round.

Federer had a night match on the opening day of the tournament, dropping the first set against qualifier Sumit Nagal before winning in four sets. It was another slow start Wednesday against Dzumhur, whose No. 99 ranking was just good enough for direct entry into the final major of the season.

Federer, winner of a men’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, was a little frustrated but not entirely surprised.

“I mean, look, I got exactly what I expected from both guys,” Federer said. “I knew what Nagal was going to give me. I knew what Dzumhur was going to give me. But I didn’t expect to hit 15 to 20 unforced errors, which is basically in the entire set just sort of donated. But look, they came out and they were well prepared and got me to do that. But I clearly have to play better from the get-go.”


Roger Federer returns a shot to Damir Dzumhur during the second round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/The Associated Press)

Williams had trouble herself at the start, and her team hoped some caffeine would be the pick-me-up she needed against Svitolina. So a cup of coffee was delivered after the set to a ballboy , who tried to bring it to Williams. But she walked off to the court back into the tunnel before he could get it to her, so he eventually dropped it off next to her seat.

Williams then came back to take a 3-0 lead to start the second. But having to save four break points for a tough hold in that third game seemed to take something out of the 39-year-old Williams, as Svitolina came right back to take five straight games for a 5-3 lead.

“I had to stay very focused,” Svitolina said.

“I was expecting that she would raise her level.”

Williams did, fighting off five match points in a 22-point game to hold her serve before Svitolina eventually ended it on her sixth chance, improving to 13-3 in Grand Slam matches this season.

All doubles matches were cancelled Wednesday and plenty else had to be adjusted because of the weather.

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