Monday, September 05, 2005

US Open Day 8: Lapsing the Field

You'll have to forgive the somewhat downcast mood that might creep into Day 8's edition of "The Daily Backspin," for things are a little sad around here tonight.

For the Queen is gone... long live the Queen.

A piece of Backspin's heart always tends to leave with Justine Henin-Hardenne when she bows out of a grand slam (and not just because her loss to Mary Pierce pretty much cripples any chance I have of defeating Pierre Cantin in the "Battle Royale 2," either -- the best I can hope for now is a draw). As long as she's around, no lead is safe, and no "brink of defeat" moment is etched in stone.

Come now, who didn't believe -- at least for a few moments -- that when JHH ticked off three straight games after falling behind Mary Pierce 0-5 in the 1st set that she'd end up winning the thing? Or that when she turned back three Pierce match points while down 3-5 in the 2nd that she was simply setting the stage to be the latest slam champion to come back from being match point down to take the title?

This time, though, it didn't happen. Thing is, this was an utterly predictable result if Henin-Hardenne's off-and-on lapses weren't eradicated. They weren't. In fact, things got even worse and they virtually took over her entire mental outlook for long stretches of action against Pierce. Her "ice cold" start on Monday night was only a symptom of what's been bothering her since her return to action a few weeks ago. Framing balls... throwing in uncharacteristic double faults (10 vs. Pierce)... allowing "beaten" opponents a breath of life rather than putting them out of their misery. This just isn't Le Petit Taureau that Backspin's come to know and love. On this night, Henin-Hardenne was the one in misery.

Pierce, on the other hand, was in ecstasy... or as close as she can get to it on a tennis court, in polite company. She'll now face fellow Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo in the quarterfinals, with the winner most likely taking on Lindsay Davenport. As #12, Pierce is the lowest-seeded woman remaining, and one of four women who can continue the anything-but-a-#4 seed-or-higher slam champion run dating back to last year's Roland Garros.

#6 Elena Dementieva, #9 Nadia Petrova & #10 Venus Williams will all be underdogs in their quarterfinal matches... but Pierce might just arguably be considered the favorite in her's. So why can't she continue this remarkable run of unlikely women's champions, hmmm?

Why not, Mary?


...the 30-year old's Round of 16 win matches her career-best U.S. Open QF result of 1994 & '99. Last year, she knocked off Sharapova at Flushing Meadows. Like a fine French wine, Pierce is getting better with age.
RISER: Elena Dementieva
...others fall, but Punch-Sober perserveres. Today, she took out Patty Schnyder -- and she only had 8 double faults (as opposed to the 19 she had against Chakvetadze). Her serve isn't really much better than it was a year ago. But, apparently, since she expects the shot to be horrific, she simply doesn't bother herself being disappointed by it. What is it that they say about ignorance being bliss?
SURPRISES: Elena Dementieva & Flavia Pennetta I said, Dementieva just won't go away. In 3rd Round doubles action, she and Pennetta upset #4-seeded Petrova/Shaughnessy.
VETERAN: Martina Navratilova
...on the 30th anniversary of her defection from Czechoslovakia to the U.S., Martina and latest pupil Anna-Lena Groenefeld defeated Ting Li/Tiantian Sun to advance to the quarterfinals, where they'll meet Alicia Molik and Martina's former pupil, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
FRESH FACE: Vania King
...the 16-year old American who qualified for the Women's Main Draw (and upset Klara Koukalova), opened up play as the #10-seed in the Girls Singles on Monday. She wiped out Canada's Jillian O'Neill 6-0/6-0.
DOWN: Justine Henin-Hardenne
...goodbye. Farewell. Until we meet again.


1.4th - #12 Mary Pierce def. # Justine Henin-Hardenne
...6-3/6-4. Pierce had never beaten JHH before Monday. Mauresmo is next -- Pierce is 2-4 against her, with a four-match losing streak. I like her odds.
2.4th - #6 Elena Dementieva def. #11 Patty Schnyder
...6-4/6-3. When it comes to serving, Dementieva is Miss Oblivious. Most top players would be disappointed with eight double faults, but Elena says, "Yeeeesssss! Single digits!!!!"
3.4th - #2 Lindsay Davenport def. #15 Nathalie Dechy
...6-0/6-3. I'm surprised this "classic" wasn't chosen as a night match. Davenport is looking scary good.
HM- Doubles 3rd - Zi Yan/Jie Zheng def. #5 Daniela Hantuchova/Ai Sugiyama
...6-3/3-6/7-5. When two Cookies team up, watch out.


Mixed Doubles QF - Katarina Srebotnik/Nenad Zimonjic def. #7 Martina Navratilova/Leander Paes
...7-6(2)/5-7/7-6(11-9 STB). Martina's success on Monday was mixed (no pun intended) with a little failure, too. In the deciding Super Tie-Break, she and Paes held two match points but ultimately lost the lead, and then the match on a Paes double fault.

3...Russia (Sharapova/Dementieva/Petrova)
2...USA (Davenport/V.Williams)
2...France (Mauresmo/Pierce)
1...Belgium (Clijsters)

...and people wonder why so few American sports fans know any of the top men's tennis players. Well, Monday night was a good reason: USA Network, generally good about such things in the past, dumped out of the Ginepri-Gasquet match in the 3rd set, tied one set each, to show a re-run of "Law & Order: SVU" because their coverage "time window" closed. If an American having the slam of his career playing one of the top up-and-coming teenagers in the sport isn't enough to delay the latest adventures of Benson & Stabler then all hope might just be lost.



TOP PLAYER: Maria Sharapova
RISER: Elena Dementieva
SURPRISE: Maria Vento-Kabchi
VETERAN: Lindsay Davenport
FRESH FACE: Sania Mirza
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova

1st Rd - Karatantcheva def. Shaughnessy ...2-6/7-5/7-5. Shaughnessy led 6-2/5-3 and held two match points. A set and a half and a slew of moonballs later, the Bulgarian teen was on her back raising her fists in celebration after a 2:24 match.

4th Rd - V.Williams def. S.Williams
...7-6(5)/6-2. Yawwwwnnnn.

Elena Dementieva served 19 double faults against Anna Chakvetadze in the 3rd Round, and still won the match.

Elena Dementieva gets the nod for finding a way to win no matter how hard her own serve works against it. For the entire tournament, Pierce & Petrova (& maybe even Venus) are still in contention for the nod.

Here ye, here ye. A new Backspin slam award has been born. The "It" Girl Trophy will go to the young player without whom the tournament would not have been nearly as enjoyable. The inaugural winner: the Indian Princess herself, Sania Mirza.

UPSET QUEENS: The Americans


Tomorrow night, the women take center stage at Arthur Ashe. Hopefully, USA Network will see fit to show both matchs in full.

#1 Sharapova def. #9 Petrova
#4 Clijsters def. #10 V.Williams

All for now.


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