Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 1: Respecting Althea... and Venus & Serena

New York City and the US Open provide the perfect stage for tennis storytelling. Night 1 was but another fine example.

The 2007 Open began its first night session on Monday with a tribute to the late tennis great Althea Gibson on the 50th anniversary of the first African-American grand slam champ's maiden US Championship in 1957. Gibson was inducted into the US Open's Court of Champions as a string of successful African-American women (including Aretha Franklin, who gave a rousing rendition of "Respect" to conclude the ceremony) gathered together to celebrate on, quite fittingly, the court named for the first male African-American grand slam champ, fellow trail blazer Arthur Ashe.

Tennis-wise, Night 1 was all about gauging just where the Williams sisters fit into this year's Open. If healthy and determined, as we saw in Melbourne and London, they still have the ability of rip apart even the most stacked of draws. Judging from Venus and Serena's performances on this night, it's hard to tell if either could claim the family's third slam title of '07 in two weeks, but... so far, so good.

Venus, wearing one of her own tennis wear designs, pretty well blew through her overwhelmed opponent, qualifier Kira Nagy. She tossed in a 129 mph serve and, while she won't win this event because of this match, it's surely a better start than the one she had at Wimbledon when she very nearly lost in the 1st Round to Alla Kudryavtseva.

Serena, somewhat indifferent early in the match in her first action since Wimbledon, eventually put away a game Angelique Kerber. In the end, she probably had more trouble with the annoying bow (on her version of the little black dress) that didn't want to stay in place. Serena being Serena, she took care of the problem -- she simply ripped the bow off the dress during a changeover.

What happens from here on out with the sisters is anyone's guess. But they're here, and they'll likely get better as the tournament moves along. That might be the worst news the rest of the draw could ever hope to hear... well, at least the top half of the draw, where both sisters find themselves along with just about every other top contender not named Maria S, that is.

So, on a night honoring the first African-American tennis heroine, the two current ones head into the 2nd Round. In the end, though, one of them might just be writing the postscript to this tournament yet.

Love-Love... it didn't take too long for the first women's seed to fall at this year's US Open. Poor Slingin' Sammy. 17-year old qualifier Alize Cornet handled the Aussie, 6-3/6-2.

AO: #25 Anabel Medina-Garrigues (1r- E.Vesnina)
RG: #31 Severine Bremond (1r-M.Krajicek)
W: #30 Olga Poutchkova (1r- E.Vesnina)
US: #29 Samantha Stosur (1r- A.Cornet)


SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Women's Singles 1st Rd. - (Q) Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL def. Olga Poutchkova/RUS - 6-3/6-4.
...make that ten straight losses for the Hordette.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Men's Singles 1st Rd. - Max Mirnyi/BLR def. #18 Marcos Baghdatis/CYP - 6-3/7-5/3-6/7-6. this had gone five sets, it could have been a 1st Rounder to remember. But the Ghost of Andre Agassi prevailed, as AA's final victim went down, failing to push the match to a deciding set despite holding a 5-1 lead in the 4th set tie-break.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Men's 1st Rd. - (Q) Philipp Petzschner/GER def. Benjamin Becker/GER 2-6/3-6/6-4/6-4/6-1.
...did someone mention's Andre's ghost? Becker was the final player to defeat Agassi in his career farewell at the Open last year.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #4: Women's Singles 1st Rd. - #27 Vera Zvonareva/RUS def. (Q) Alina Jidkova/RUS - 6-0/6-7/6-0.
...and having a great qualifying run gets you an extra payday and maybe some free towels. Jidkova did overcome being match point down in the 2nd set, not that it mattered as Zvonareva returned to the court from a long injury layoff with a pretty impressive outing.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #5: Women's Singles 1st Rd. - (WC) Ahsha Rolle/USA def. #17 Tatiana Golovin/FRA - 6-4/1-6/6-2.
...that Other Tatiana showed up again here. But take nothing away from Rolle who, on a night that honored African-American females who excelled in their chosen fields, carved out a nice little accomplishment of her own.

Love-30... the race to be last qualifier standing is on. Winners amongst the Q-Ladies (and wild cards) on Day 1:

Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL def. Olga Poutchkova/RUS
Ekaterina Makarova/RUS def. Julia Schruff/GER
Alize Cornet/FRA def. #29 Samantha Stosur/AUS
Petra Cetkovska/CZE def. Jill Craybas/USA

Ahsha Rolle/USA def. #17 Tatiana Golovin/FRA

Love-40... for once this season, Jelena Jankovic might not have peaked the week BEFORE a slam... but that means she might have more tricky moments like the ones she had trying to put away Jarmila Gajdosova in their 1st Round match today. Oh, JJ won, but it took her seven match points to finally close out the 6-2/7-6 match. For the player who has a shot at 80 wins this season, timing has not exactly been her strong suit. Maybe that's about to change?
MATCH, "the reports of the death of American men's tennis may have been greatly exaggerated"... Back in the late 1980's, there was similar talk about the lack of young US men in the tennis pipeline. Then Michael Chang won Roland Garros, and suddenly he was joined by the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier on the grand slam champion's stage. Not that the new American stars will come anywhere close to the career success of that generation, but at least now there appears to be a group of men beginning to emerge from the shadows behind Andy Roddick and James Blake.

On Day 1, 18-year old Donald Young followed up his much-improved results of this summer by notching his first US Open MD win with a fine performance against Chris Guccione. Meanwhile, 6-foot-9 serve machine John Isner took out the #26-seeded Jarkko Nieminen (in a contest that was completed AFTER USA Network signed off its coverage mid-match in order to show "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"... yeah, "criminal" sounds about right. So THAT'S where the ESPN tennis producers who didn't agree with the hiring Bud Collins are moonlighting.)

At least now, when ESPN picks up coverage of some of the slams again in 2008, there'll be some new Americans to focus on (and Sam Querrey, who defeated Blake earlier this summer, gets his shot to be added to the list on Day 2) rather than simply starting up another round table discussion while actual live tennis is being played through the window behind Chris Fowler & Co. And for that we can all be thankful.

More tomorrow... when the Supernova emerges on Night 2, and Justin "The Clown Prince of Tennis" Gimelstob likely will end his grand slam career (he plays Andy Roddick) in a fury of flop sweat and diving flops. Don't worry, though. Gimelstob will be behind more television microphones in the years to come than could fill all of Arthur Ashe Stadium.

TOP QUALIFIER: Alina Jidkova / RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): (vacant)
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: (vacant)
UPSET QUEENS: (vacant)
IT GIRL: (vacant)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: (vacant)
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 1.


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