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Serena Williams’ last ride at U.S. Open just one week away

Serena Williams enters her final U.S. Open at age 40 — ranked 402.

After flaming out at Wimbledon and in two Open hardcourt tune-ups, the retiring tennis legend out of Compton, Calif., has as much a chance of losing in the first round as making it to the Open’s final four.

No final decision has been made but there’s a leaning the USTA will hold Serena off the opening-night card next Monday at Ashe Stadium and let the retirement drama fold into Tuesday evening.

The draw isn’t staged until Thursday, but everyone in tennis knows the unseeded Serena has never been more vulnerable. Her long quest to tie or break Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles has turned into a pipe dream.

But as one USTA insider says, “As has been said many times throughout her unparalleled career, never count out Serena Williams. That still applies in her final tournament.’’

Are the tennis gods listening? Pete Sampras came into the 2002 Open 20 years ago in a big slump, won the title, then retired at 32.

Serena has been stuck on 23 Grand Slam titles for nearly five years — last copping a major at the 2017 Australian Open. That makes 21 straight Slams in which Williams didn’t hold up the championship trophy — title-less since motherhood.

Serena’s blazing serve is still there, but that’s about all that’s amazing. Turning 41 in late September, Williams doesn’t move around the court well enough any longer and is flummoxed by change-of-pace opponents.

Serena Williams
Serena Williams

But Serena will be celebrated as the most accomplished women’s player ever despite hanging on too long.

At Wimbledon, in breaking a 364-day injury hiatus, Williams was bounced in the first round by softballer Harmony Tan.

Williams won her first match in Toronto earlier this month, then promptly lost to Belinda Bencic, 6-2, 6-4.

At the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati last week, Serena got stuck with a bad draw in taking on Britain’s Emma Raducanu, the surprise 2021 Open champion. Serena also lost in straight sets, but her superstar aura is still evident.

“To play her may be one of the last opportunities I get to play her,’’ Raducanu said afterward. “You have to cherish the moment, and you’re going to have this memory for the rest of your career. To be honest, I was just like in awe.’’

With Williams’ recent bad luck, she’ll draw France’s Caroline Garcia, the hottest player on the tour who captured the final tuneup in Cincinnati on Sunday over Petra Kvitova.

Garcia, a former top-5 player, has battled back from injuries and had to go through qualifiers in Cincinnati. She won eight straight matches to give her three WTA titles this year and will launch to 17th. The blistering server has won more WTA matches than anyone since June.

“Now I’m the superstar and the favorite for U.S. Open,’’ Garcia said with a giggle during the post-match interview. “Two months back, I was nothing. It’s a great tournament and I’m coming in with a lot of confidence.’’

The men’s draw is in a state of disrepair, mostly due to The Big 3’s travails.

Novak Djokovic, who won Wimbledon, is banned from entering the United States because he’s unvaccinated. Roger Federer just hit the practice courts after knee surgery last winter. And Rafael Nadal is coming off an abdominal tear that caused him to withdraw from the Wimbledon semifinals.

Williams secured her first of many Grand Slam Singles titles at the U.S. Open in 1999.
Williams secured her first of many Grand Slam Singles titles at the U.S. Open in 1999.
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Nadal has missed most of the Open tune-ups. He resurfaced in Cincinnati last week and was bounced by Borna Coric in his first match, claiming rust and tentativeness.

“The last month and a half haven’t been easy, because having a tear on the abdominal, you don’t know when [you are] 100 percent over the thing,’’ Nadal said after his defeat. “That affects a bit in terms of not being sure if you are able to try your best in every serve.’’

Nadal could still be the favorite since defending Open champion Daniil Medvedev is not in top form after being banned from Wimbledon — with Russian and Belarusian players not being allowed to compete following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — while Spanish teenaged star Carlos Alcaraz has cooled off.

“I need to move forward and just start to think about the energy that the crowd gives me in New York,’’ Nadal said. “I know it’s a very special place for me, and I enjoy it — unforgettable moments there.’’

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece could be a top contender for his first Open title even though he lost in Sunday’s Western & Southern Open final to Coric, 7-6, 6-2.

But the only Flushing star that matters now is Serena — as long as she’s still twinkling in the Queens sky.

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