Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 9.5: Three Times a Charm

The US Open's two-part "Night of Champions" miniseries began on Tuesday with the owners of 17 of the cached 35 grand slam singles titles attributed to the players scheduled to play on Nights 9 & 10 taking the court.

The 2007 season was ushered in back in January by Serena Williams, who defied expectations in Melbourne but surprised no one by coming from "nowhere" to win her eighth career slam crown there. Justine Henin, six-time slam champion, didn't head Down Under, but her presence has been in evidence at the other three slams this year. Just ask Serena.

Like magnets, the two top players of their tennis generation had managed to come together in the QF of the two slams that followed the Australian Open. And both times the result was the same. Henin moved on, while Williams was sent packing. What happened in Paris and London took place again on Tuesday in New York, as the world #1 sailed through with a 7-6/6-1 victory.

In 2003 in Paris, Serena-Justine was about Henin waving a hand. In Wimbledon in July, the match turned on Williams' injured thumb. No body parts were supporting players on Tuesday... well, unless maybe Henin's mindset counts. In this twelfth meeting between the two, it was the little Belgian who was the aggressor from the get-go. She jumped out of the corner like a boxer rushing across the canvas, grabbed an early lead with a break of Serena's serve in the first game of the match, then labored to hold off the attempts by Williams to even the contest. It was a strategy that worked.

Williams didn't see her first break point opportunities until she was down 2-3, but an ace and a Serena forehand error pulled Henin out of the hole and she held for 4-2 when a wild swinging volley from Williams sailed long.

But Serena wasn't going down without a fight, at least not yet. After saving a set point against Henin at 4-5, she finally broke to knot the set at 5-5 when she buried a second serve into the corner with a stinging backhand. Then, after saving two break points, she won her own service game to inch ahead 6-5. The American held a set point of her own on Henin's serve immediately afterward, but the Belgian fought it off and ultimately forced a tie-break with a game-winning ace.

The first point of the tie-break was where the match turned, but in an ironic way. Serena won the point, racing crosscourt and back again to get to a short volley deposited just over the net by Henin and slipping it past her for the score. But it turned out to be Williams' only highlight of the tie-break and, as it turned out, the rest of the match.

Henin won seven of the next nine points in the tie-break to win the opening set, and ultimately claimed eight of the final nine games of the match after saving Serena's set point in the twelfth game of the 1st. She broke Williams' serve early again in the 2nd set, in game two, and cruised to a 6-1 win in her first hard court win over the younger of the Williams sisters. She'll now move to the semifinals where she'll either meet older Williams sister Venus (against whom she's 1-7, but hasn't played in four years) or Jelena Jankovic (who's never beaten Henin in seven tries).

With wins over Serena in Paris, then London and now New York, La Petit Taureau's dependability on the grand slam stage in 2007, a year after reaching the finals of all four majors in 2006, remains intact. But just like this "Night of Champions" miniseries, there's still an awful lot of work to be done.

In the evening's nightcap, David Ferrer provided quite an encore for "Night of Champions I." In fact, if you look out your window, he's probably STILL running. Up. Back. Side to side. Leave the guy be. After all, he deserves his alone time just as much as his moment in the sun after chasing Rafael Nadal out of this tournament.

At around 2 a.m., after 3:28, Ferrer finally took out his fellow Spaniard, 6-7/6-4/7-6/6-2. In a sense, he out Rafa-ed Rafa, as the world #2 clearly wasn't 100% as the match wore on, the end result of a summer that saw his injuries linger and turned his hard court season into a head-shaker rather than a prelude to a US Open championship run.

Ever since he winced through his 1st Round match, the question has been floating around about whether three-time slam champ Nadal was going to have enough to make it to a prospective final matchup with Roger Federer, or even one in the semis with Novak Djokovic. As it turned out, he didn't. To his credit, Nadal wouldn't throw in the towel before or during the tournament, even if he likely realized he might go out by TKO before the end of the two weeks.

That moment happened on Night 9.

And after surviving another fan-making, heart-stopping challenge from Juan Monaco in four sets earlier on Day 9, Djokovic now "officially" grabs the role of favorite to face Federer on Sunday.

Up to now, he's been wearing the "unofficial" label quite ably... even if he did have to work overtime to prevent a few people from swiping it out of his grasp.

In other late news on Tuesday, Victoria Azarenka's big New York adventure continued as she and Max Mirnyi filled out the first final pairing of this US Open. The Belarus pair defeated #3-seeded Zi Yan/Mark Knowles and will face Meghann Shaughnessy/Leander Paes in the Mixed Doubles final.

All for "Night of Champions, Part One."


Blogger Topaz said...

I'm pretty much convinced that the only reason Serena won Australia is because Justine wasn't there. Her performance (Justine) was just incredible last night, and Serena's...disappointing both on the court and after.

Wed Sep 05, 07:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...



serena's play last night definitely leaves that argument wide open...but you have to think about that final against sharapova...I think that if serena played like that all the time, or last night, even henin would have trouble keeping up

we have to give serena's ability and talent some respect

Wed Sep 05, 10:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Ian said...

Todd, I'm just wondering where you weigh in on the whole illegal coaching thing? and gah, I feel like Carlos is being such an ass with some of his comments.

Fri Sep 07, 06:18:00 AM EDT  

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