Monday, August 30, 2010

US.1- Episode One: "Confusing Jada"

Welcome to the new television reality series, "Are You My Mommy?"

Truthfully, it was hard to tell what to make of defending U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters on Day 1 of the 2010 edition. In winning in Cincinnati a few weeks ago, Jada's Mama showed once again that the North American hard courts are where her tennis heart resides. At that moment, she looked like a good bet to defend her crown at Flushing Meadows. Then she was bothered by an injured hip in Montreal (an eerie dose of deja vu, considering an injured wrist in Montreal prevented her from defending her Open title in '06), and the door was opened to question her ability to confidently rise to the occasion again in NYC after a season with just as many puzzling lows as ranking-elevating highs for the current world #3.

After today's match against Hungarian vet Greta Arn, the questions will persist.

Clijsters handily won the 1st set today 6-0, then saw her serve go off in the 2nd. Within mintues, Arn was up 4-0. Visions of the Belgian Barbie's collapse against Vera Zvonareva at Wimbledon earlier this summer, as well as was that stunning near-double bagel loss to Nadia Petrova at the Australian at the start of the year. Of course, one figured that Clijsters' Day 1 rut was just a temporary lapse in a match in which she shouldn't have much trouble. A hiccup that would soon pass. That WAS the case, too, as she charged back to win 6-0/7-5.

But there it is. During the match, an ESPN2 instant poll showed that neary 60% of the voters didn't think that Clijsters would defend her title, and it's dark patches like today's against Arn that are as good a reason as any to agree with the assertion. Focus and consistency (even in her big wins over Justine Henin earlier this season) have been lingering issues with Jada's Mama all season. Circa 2009, Mommy Dearest was able to go through BOTH Williams Sisters on her way to her second slam title.

But, at this instant, does anyone believe she's up to that level this time around? Of course, Clijsters might not have to be "Williams-worthy" to win a third Open. It's a good thing, I guess.

2010 has not included a KC Comeback upgrade. She says her hip isn't bothering her now, but will that be the case four, five, six matches into this tournament, in a long battle in which she'll have to use her legendary defensive skills and movement to stay in tough points? Will any slight tightness along the way put questions in her mind, and cause the sort of walkabout that briefly interrupted the proceedings today?

Time will tell, and we will watch for signs that will tell us with some measure of certainty which of Jada's Mommies has shown up at Flushing Meadows this year. And so will Caroline, and Maria, and Venus, and...

...Melanie Oudin was back at her old (well, 2009) stomping grounds on Day 1. She won in fifty-six minutes, taking out Ukrainian Olga Savchuk 6-3/6-0. She'll get #29-seed Alona Bondarenko next.

Hmmm, last year, Little MO feasted on a steady diet of Russians at Flushing Meadows, might it be Ukrainians who are the Blue Plate Special at this Open? A-Bond, after all, is also Ukrainian. I guess SMALL changes ARE to be expected for Oudin one year later. Another? Rather than having "Believe" on her shoes, she has "Courage" this time around.

...though she nearly did, Oudin wasn' the FIRST player to notch a win this year at Flushing Meadows. That honor went to Roland Garros champ and #6 seed Francesca Schiavone, who handed young Japanese hopeful Ayumi Morita a headache-inducing 6-1/6-0 loss. Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim actually picked Morita over Schiavone as his 1st Round "Upset Special." So I'm happy to say that I didn't make the WORST prediction about this year's Open. Haha.

Then again, maybe I'd better shut up, huh? There's still plenty of prognostication dishonor left to be handed out over the next two weeks. a rare instance for Day 1, as I write this, no women's seed has fallen. The closest: #29 Bondarenko defeated Vera Dushevina 6-0/5-7/6-4, #10 Victoria Azarenka survived a 2nd set stumble to defeat Monica Niculescu 6-0/5-7/6-1, and #5 Sam Stosur escaped her opening match against Elena Vesnina to grab a rare 1st Round Open victory for herself. The Russian won the 1st set 6-3 and opened the 2nd with a break, only to see Stosur come back to go up 3-1, and then go on to win the set in a tie-break. The Aussie then ran off with the 3rd set at 6-1.

...after I ranted a bit in Bare Bones Backspin and the Preview about Jelena Dokic's lack of a wild card into the main draw (and then subsequent loss in qualifying), reader Ian tried to keep me from vandalizing some Tennis Australia property by pointing me toward a story about how TA justified giving an Open WC to Sophie Ferguson. In a nutshell, when the decision was made (July 19/20), Ferguson was ranked higher, so she got the nod.

Sounds reasonable. Well, except for the fact that Dokic had just won the first of those three challenger titles she grabbed this summer immediately before the date that decision for the WC was supposedly made. The reason her ranking wasn't above Ferguson's at that instant was largely because of time missed with injury, and that single title proved that that was no longer the issue when it came to choosing the recipient of the "discretionary" berth from TA. Of course, the reason it's "discretionary" is because the spot can be awarded to the player who is the better "choice" for the spot, ranking be damned. Usually, this means a player with a good slam history will get the nod over a twenty-something player will little success (a low-ranked, young up-and-comer, though, might be justifiably picked, as well), and under those circumstances it's pretty clear who that SHOULD have been. If current ranking was the only rule then TA (or the USTA or French tennis organization) wouldn't even have had a say in choosing the players who got those eight spots in the draw -- they'd get automatic bids based on who's ranked highest.

TA using rankings -- even the rankings on July 19/20 -- as reason smells like a covering-their-butt move as much as anything else to me. History should have told the decision-makers that it was a wrong decision at the time, and what played out on the court over the next few weeks that followed shouldn't have made a difference. If nothing else, the decision should have been delayed for a week or so before being finalized, considering the choice was obviously between a mediocre Ferguson and a player who'd just reached a slam QF a year and a half ago and who'd just had a great result after a "coaching-up" period of adjustment this spring.

Dokic blew her chance to throw the decision back in TA's eye (something she'd likely have done verbally, and very publicly, years ago -- so it's a good continuing sign of her new it's-better-to-just-keep-your-mouth-shut maturity that she didn't cause a ruckus) by losing in qualifying, but it doesn't make the original TA decision any less wrong-headed. Just as Yanina Wickmayer's journey through qualifying at the Australian Open in January didn't erase the spectacular idiocy of not giving a wild card to a Top 20 player who'd been a semifinalist at the most recent slam because she didn't apply for one in time, which happened because she wasn't allowed to due to an ITF suspension that was thrown out of court and never actually enforced during the WTA season.

...Of course, here's where I note that "more-worthy-than-Jelena" Aussie WC Ferguson went down in flames today in the 1st Round to qualifier Maria Elena Camerin 6-4/6-0. She's now a combined 2-8 in slam main draw matches in her career.

Elsewhere, a handful of other qualifiers advanced on Day 1, as well. Luxembourg's Mandy Minella (def. Polona Hercog), Sania Mirza (over Backspin's Q-POW Michelle Larcher de Brito), Sally Peers (def. Aleksandra Wozniak) and Rebecca Marino (Ksenia Pervak) all reached the 2nd Round. Irina Falconi is still to play this evening against Flavia Pennetta.

...a few other interesting results:

-- after not winning a match (running her losing streak to six matches) since reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, Petra Kvitova finally woke up as another slam dawned. She defeated Lucie Hradecka in straight sets today. Fellow SW19 semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, who has also had a troubling post-Wimbledon summer, also won her 1st Round match today in straight sets over Renata Voracova. All-England Club quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi (or, as ESPN2's graphics called her today, "Kinepi") plays tomorrow.

-- Dinara Safina's win in New Haven over Daniela Hantuchova last week meant nothing today, as the Slovak won 6-3/6-4. After putting up a run of SF-RU-RU-SF results in four slams starting at the '08 U.S. Open, Safina has had 3rd-4th-1st-DNP-1st results since. Yikes.

...and, finally, the Flushing Meadows nighttime schedule -- the best time of the tennis season, in my opinion, as long as the schedulers don't punt their duty and give us a steady diet of non-competitve match-ups simply because of the name recognition of the favorites -- gets underway tonight. Martina Navratilova (great), perennial Wheelchair champion Esther Vergeer (good for the USTA), and James Blake (well, at least he'll have one positive moment at this slam, I suppose) have just been featured in the opening ceremonies on a TV screen I'm looking at now out of the corner of my eye.

Later, after Gloria Estefan performs, Venus Williams and Roger Federer will take to Ashe court for their '10 debuts. Venus, in particular, will be watched closely, as we haven't seen her since Wimbledon. She has a great opportunity to silence some critics at this Open, if her body is sound. Ditto for Federer. It would seem that Federer is far more likely to lift another singles championship trophy, though.

The Venus/Roger combo is a collective 36-3 in scheduled night session matches (Federer is 13-0), so there's probably little news to be made once the sun goes down on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center tonight.

(Oh, but I DID just learn that that hoped-for night match between Wozniacki and NCAA champ Chelsey Gullickson had indeed been scheduled for Night 2. Nice.)

AO: #14 Maria Sharapova (lost to Kirilenko)
RG: #10 Victoria Azarenka (lost to Dulko)
WI: #5 Francesca Schiavone (lost to Dushevina)
US: xx
[U.S. Open]
2005 #28 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Shruff)
2006 #15 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER (lost to Rezai)
2007 #29 Samantha Stosur, AUS (lost to Cornet)
2008 #24 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Li)
2009 #25 Kaia Kanepi, EST (lost to Chang)
2010 xx

AO: Dinara Safina, RUS (def. Rybarikova)
RG: Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (def. Ivanova)
WI: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE (def. Schnyder)
US: Francesca Schiavone/ITA (def. Morita)

TOP QUALIFIER: Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Laura Robson/GBR d. #2q Jelena Dokic/AUS 6-1/6-4
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST WINNER: #6 Francesca Schiavone/ITA (def. Ayumi Morita/JPN)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

Regarding "discretionary": I don't even like wild card playoffs. All wild cards, in my opinion, should be discretionary--but using the real definition, not the Tennis Australia one.

I was so happy that the television world got to see Esther Vergeer. Now, if the tournaments would just pay her some decent prize money.....

Mon Aug 30, 11:07:00 PM EDT  

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