Friday, September 09, 2005

US Open Day 12: The Edge of Night

In the dual "Battle of the Blondes" matches to determine the U.S. Open finalists on Friday, all four competitors were pushed to the edge of the day. But only two -- Kim Clijsters & Mary Pierce -- now move on to dance on the edge of night on Saturday.


PLAYER OF THE DAY: Kim Clijsters
...on that edge of night, Clijsters' future will be decided. We saw both sides of her against Maria Sharapova. Entering the match with a 3-0 career mark against the Supernova, Clijsters handled her in the opening set after exchanging breaks the first four games. In the 2nd, she ran out to a 6-5 lead and was up triple match point, 40-0 on Sharapova's serve. Then the old "Kim C. Clijsters" appeared. Five blown match points and a tie-break later, Sharapova was alive and well and into a 3rd set. Then the visage of the former #1 re-appeared, and it was suddenly 4-0 Clijsters. But wait! Just as quickly, Clijsters wavered again as Sharapova fought back, breaking to close within 4-2 and 5-3... before Clijsters finally got a final break of serve to win 6-3, and breathe a sigh of relief. Sharapova wasn't quite up to par in this match, but wouldn't go down without a struggle. Clijsters was all over the board, winning out against her worse tendencies in the end. But as Saturday night edges on, which side of Clijsters will prove to be more dominant? The one who's 6-0 in singles finals in 2005, or the one who's 0-4 in slam finals during her career? She's one win away from redemption... or one more loss away from threatening to become the best women's player to never win a slam.
RISERS: Alexa Glatch & Vania King
...the American team of Glatch, 15, and King, 16, advanced to the Girls Doubles final on Friday. Glatch, who knocked off #3-seed Dominika Cibulkova (6-0/6-4) in the QF on Friday, is still alive in the singles -- the only player capable of pulling off a junior title sweep in either the Girls or Boys draws.
SURPRISE: Mihaela Buzarnescu
...the 17-year old Romanian, the Girls #14 seed, advanced to the Girls SF, where she'll meet #1-seed Viktoria Azarenka.
VETERAN: Mary Pierce
...Pierce, too, found herself balancing on the edge on Friday. After dropping the 1st set in the SF to Elena Dementieva (with a dobule fault on set point, no less), Pierce decided to put a stop to the proceedings... temporarily, at least. She had her thigh wrapped. She had her back stretched, too. After the twelve minute delay, she came back out and pretty much broke down Punch-Sober in two quick sets. Were the injuries real, or was the delay a bit of gamesmanship? It doesn't really matter, since it was allowed by the rules. Did Dementieva lose her momentum? Sure. But to try to blame the loss -- as some commentators did -- on the delay is a bit simplistic. Come now, Dementieva had two full sets to get her mojo back... this wasn't the mid-5th set, mid-game power play ala Novak Djokovic's actions against Gael Monfils last week that rankled everyone. Was the stoppage convenient for Pierce? Of course. But it's also pretty common. Heck, even Dementieva tried to do it with a "bathroom break" after the 2nd set was over... but it didn't work quite so well for her, though. All week, the 30-year old Pierce has marveled at the fact that it's nice to still be able to have "career firsts," such as winning her first American hard court title (San Diego), and this appearance in the final at the Open being her best result in Flushing. But there's more here for Pierce than even a third slam title on the edge of Saturday night... she's going for her third different slam championship. A year ago, her Hall of Fame credentials were good, but not "striking." But with an Australian (1995), Roland Garros (2000) and U.S. title trio on her resume her career standing could take on quite different proportions with one more victory.
FRESH FACE: Viktoria Azarenka
...the #1 seed from Belarus defeated Marina Erakovic (who retired at 5-2 in the 1st set) in the QF, and is the only of the Girls' top six seeds to reach the SF. She'll face Mihaela Buzarnescu, with the winner facing the survivor of the Alexa Glatch/Nina Henkel SF match-up.
DOWN: Maria Sharapova
...for most anyone else, three grand slam SF appearances in one season would be something to rejoice about. But this is the Supernova we're talking about here, and slam titles are what she wants to be her on-court stock and trade. Thing is, winning Wimbledon at 17 has ramped up expectations for a player who hasn't really even grown into her still-growing body just yet. Remember, Serena won an early U.S. Open title in 1999 at age 17, then didn't win her second slam crown until 2002. Somehow, it's hard to see it taking that long for Sharapova to secure her slam follow-up.


1.SF - #4 Kim Clijsters def. #1 Maria Sharapova
...6-2/6-7(4)/6-3. Nice Kim is now 4-0 against Sharapova. But she still has one more shot to choke.
2.SF - #12 Mary Pierce def. #6 Elena Dementieva
...3-6/6-2/6-2. Last year, it was Dementieva who pulled off the Roland Garros/U.S. Open final appearances combo.
HM- Girls QF - Nina Henkel d. Elizabeth Plotkin
...7-5/7-5. The 18-year old German is the only unseeded player to reach the Girls SF.

==DAY 12 ODDS & ENDS==

24...Henin-Hardenne (April-June)
17...Clijsters (March-April)
12...Sharapova (February-March)

#6 Myskina (2004 Roland Garros)
#7 S.Williams (2005 Australian)
#9 Kuznetsova (2004 U.S. Open)
#10 Henin-Hardenne (2004 Roland Garros)
#13 Sharapova (2004 Wimbledon)
#14 V.Williams (2005 Wimbledon)
#4 Clijsters vs. #12 Pierce (2005 U.S.)

2001 Roland Garros (lost to Capriati)
2003 Roland Garros (lost to JHH)
2003 U.S. Open (lost to JHH)
2004 Australian (lost to JHH)
1994 Roland Garros (lost to Sanchez-V.)
1995 Australian (def.Sanchez-V.)
1997 Australian (lost to Hingis)
2000 Roland Garros (def.Martinez)
2005 Roland Garros (lost to JHH)

1-0...hardcourt clay

2003 Filderstadt SF (Hardcourt) - Clijsters 7-6(2)/6-0
2004 Paris F (Carpet) - Clijsters 6-2/6-2

Australian - Sharapova (SF)
Roland Garros - Petrova/Likhovtseva (SF)
Wimbledon - Sharapova (SF)
U.S. Open - Sharapova/Dementieva (SF) matter who wins on Saturday night, some interesting history will be made. If it's Clijsters, she'll leave Amelie Mauresmo all by her lonesome as the only #1-ranked player to never win a slam title. If it's Pierce, she'll maintain her slam-title-every-five years pace and carve out a nice little corner for herself in the tennis history books by being 3/4 of the way to a career slam (but don't expect her to hold her breath about getting that elusive Wimbledon title in'06).


#12 Pierce def. #4 Clijsters
...Pierce maintains the anyone-but-a-top-4-seed slam champion run, and Clijsters is left to wonder if she'll ever get that pesky albatross off her shoulder.

All for now.


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