Friday, September 08, 2006

Day 11: Pick Your Poison

The moment of truth has arrived, as the final four women remaining in the final grand slam of the season must now sort out their differences.

In a rather slow day of play dominated by doubles and junior action, about the only thing to debate other than whether or not Martina Navratilova should retire is which matchup in the women's final would be better:

Henin-Hardenne vs. Sharapova... this has been the popular pick from Day 1, with these two the most experienced/healthy/in form pair heading into the Open. For the most part, things haven't changed. JHH is going for a fourth slam final in '06, while Sharapova hasn't gotten past the SF in a slam since winning Wimbledon two years ago. But the "secret weapon" with this match is that one of the Open's biggest stars -- the little black dress -- would get a final turn around the dance floor.

Mauresmo vs. Henin-Hardenne... will the '06 slam trilogy become a reality? Could Mauresmo REALLY be going for THREE slams in a single year, and could JHH REALLY lose three slam finals to the same person in less than eight months? As sexy as a JHH/Supernova match-up would appear to be, this one has so many more juicy subplots. Melbourne has been the axis on which both players' seasons have turned, for both good and bad, and what more fitting way for the slam season to end could be found than for the year's top two players/adversaries to meet in a battle for what'll likely be the #1 ranking and "Player of the Year" honors? After the season she's had, this is all icing on the cake for Mauresmo. JHH, though, still may think she has something to prove to all the critics who hounded her for the Australian retirement... and what she couldn't do at SW19 against Mauresmo she might have a better shot at doing in Flushing Meadows.

Jelena Jankovic vs. anyone... nothing against Jelena, but her story just has to end here, doesn't it? Otherwise, she'd be one of the most improbable slam finalists in recent memory. We're talking Iva Majoli territory here. Of course, Majoli beat Hingis in that Roland Garros final in '97, didn't she? Hmmm, maybe she WOULD be an interesting finalist... but she'd HAVE to WIN the whole shooting match to make it worthwhile. What are the chances of that?

So, pick your poison. Either way, center stage will be waiting for two women on Arthur Ashe come Saturday night. Now it's just a matter of who'll walk out from backstage when the curtain opens.

LOVE-LOVE... in junior matches of note on Day 11, the Canadians continued to rise. Peter Polansky defeated Marcin Gowran to reach the Boys QF, while Sharon Fichman advanced to the Girls' final eight with a win over #4-seed Mihaela Buzarnescu.

#1 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs. #10 Raluca Olaru (ROM)
#13 Sharon Fichman (CAN) vs. Katerina Vankova (CZE)
Lauren Albanese (USA) vs. Petra Martic (CRO)
#11 Tamira Paszek (AUT) vs. Sacha Jones (NZL)

Peter Polansky (CAN) vs. #12 Roman Jebavy (CZE)
#4 Donald Young (USA) vs. #11 Pavel Chekhov (RUS)
#10 Dusan Lojda (CZE) vs. Artem Smirnov (UKR)
#9 Luka Belic (CRO) vs. #2 Jonathan Eysseric

30-LOVE... James Blake was close, but that doesn't even buy you a cigar wrapper when the opponent is Roger Federer. Their QF match-up featured Blake getting (and blowing) opportunities to claim the opening set, then getting smashed 6-0 in the 2nd. He finally rebounded in the final two sets, as Federer struggled to close out the match (nearly blowing a 5-1 lead in the 4th). But Roger being Roger, he DID ultimately do it.

What little juice remains on the men's side now must include a Federer-Roddick final... for an alternative all-Russian Davydenko-Youzhny affair on Sunday just might rekindle the Cold War.
40-LOVE... another top women's team was shot down in doubles as #7 Ruano-Pascual/Suarez lost to unseeded Dechy/Zvonareva. But the conspiracy theory died a quick death, too, as Martina Navratilova's career run in doubles ended when she and Nadia Petrova lost to top-seeded Raymond/Stosur 7-6/6-3.

#1 Raymond/Stosur vs. #8 Safina/Srebotnik
Dechy/Zvonareva vs. #6 Peschke/Schiavone

Damm/Paes vs. #4 Hanley/Ullyett
Fisher/Phillips vs. #2 Bjorkman/Mirnyi

Peschke/Damm vs. Pratt/Hanley
#5 Navratilova/B.Bryan vs. Shaughnessy/Gimelstob

...Martina Navartilova may have lost her Doubles match during the day, but she and Bob Bryan advanced to the Mixed SF with a nighttime win over Groenefeld/Cermak. They'll next face Shaughnessy/Gimelstob, and Martina is already muttering about getting back at the male half of the American pair for hitting her with a shot a few months ago at Wimbledon. Ahh, we're gonna miss her.

All for Day 11.


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