Tuesday, August 31, 2010

US.2- Who Likes Drama? JJ Likes Drama.


Does anyone else get the feeling that that's pretty close to what Jelena Jankovic shouted this morning as she left her hotel and jumped into the courtesy car that would take her to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center?

Maybe not, but she may as well have. Not that the notion that it might happen before THIS U.S. Open is any different from any potential scenarios before any of the others she's played. Actually, the same goes for all her other slam appearances. Umm, and most of her regular tour stops, too. Every time she steps onto a court, an adventure is possible. Hey, JJ can't help it. She's got chaos in her Serbian bones.

And that's why we love her so much... no matter how many times we've imagined clunking her over the head with whatever was within arm's reach while we were watching her do things like she did today in her 1st Round match against Romania's Simona Halep.

The '08 U.S. Open runner-up found herself where she often is in the early stages of a slam -- with her hands full. 18-year old Halep entered today with only two Top 50 wins in her career (with her best having come at the expense of countrywoman Sorana Cirstea), but she more than threatened to make world #5 Jankovic's the new prize WTA pelt on the wall of her family's den.

But, remember, we ARE talking about Jelena.

Jankovic won the 1st set 6-4, but as her first serve percentage went down and her double fault/unforced error totals went up, the course was reversed in a hurry. Halep went up 4-0 and 5-1 in the 2nd, and managed to hold on even as JJ closed the gap on the scoreboard, winning 6-4 to knot the match. As the Serb was looking for all those uninformed in the "ways of JJ" that she was likely to be the first women's seed dumped from this event, the Romanian was sensing a truly big moment in her career (and getting a code violation levied against her for coaching).

In other words, it was your typical Queen Chaos match.

As the 3rd set wore on, the first truly gripping heat of this Open settled down and began to strangle the life out of the proceedings. In the afternoon, the "heat rules" went into effect for what will likely be the first of many times at Flushing Meadows over the next two weeks. As anyone on the east coast of the U.S. this summer knows from the past few months (more than once the temps have hit 108-degrees at Backspin HQ!), the heat of 2010 is nothing to sneeze at. Pass out to? Yes. Sneeze at? Never. Halep would eventually learn this the hard way, but not before she had the chance to serve for the match at 5-4. At 30/30, she was two points from the 2nd Round.

But it wasn't meant to be. JJ grabbed a slight advantage in the game, quickly gave it back, then seized it again on her second chance. It was 5-5, even as Jankovic was edging close to fifty UE's for the match. From there, the Serb did what she's always found a way to do -- keep her opponent moving, wear her down and wait for her to find a way to lose a match. She's perfected the practice over the years, and it came in handy in the heat today. After being so close to victory, the Romanian wilted -- literally and figuratively -- down the stretch of the final set. And JJ watched it happen from over the net. From love/30, Jankovic held serve for 6-5, then broke the physically-at-her-limit Halep at love to win 6-4/4-6/7-5 in the 2:19 match.

The drama bled over into the next match up on Ashe, as the all-Serb match-up between Novak Djokovic and Viktor Troicki nearly became the story of the tournament so far. Djokovic went down 2-1 in sets, and almost found himself down a double-break in the 4th. But, like JJ, he, too, held on and his opponent wilted down the stretch in the adverse conditions to advance in five sets.

Blame it on Jelena, Novak -- she warped the mojo of Ashe. Well, maybe he should THANK her. He did win, after all. As for match #3 on Ashe? Well, as I'm writing this Maria Sharapova just wrote a virtual note to herself to crib a similar thank-you to her fellow WTA star after her own go-the-distance 1st Round victory. (But I'll discuss that more later on tonight.)

In the end, Jankovic simply used Day 2 to get her bearings after a less-than-lackluster, injury-tinged summer, throw her hat into the ring for Zombie Queen honors for this slam, AND notch an early-round credit point in the race for the first-ever "Broadway-Bound" award in one fell swoop. You know, just what I and everyone else who keeps track of the wacky world of Queen Chaos expected before the first ball was ever struck in this tournament.

Ah, at least SOME things aren't absent from this Open, huh?

...for a while, it looked possible that both Jankovic AND Svetlana Kuznetsova might be on their way out of this tournament before both pulled their matches back and put away three-set victories. Kuznetsova downed 39-year old Japanese vet Kimiko Date-Krumm, 6-2/4-6/6-1.

In other results of note, 28-year old Mirjana Lucic, a Wimbledon semifinalist in '99 (along with fellow surprise Final Four-er Alexandra Stevenson that year at SW19), notched her first slam main draw victory in eight years (and her first at the Open in eleven) when the '10 Open qualifier defeated Alicia Molik 7-6/6-1 today. Also, Yanina Wickmayer, a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows last year who is flying so low under the radar this time around that Pam Shriver might have actually forgotten who she is (well, all right, that might not take any super stealth effort from the Belgian, now that I think about it). Shriver was great in the stands with Martina Navratilova on Day 1, though (even if some of the mugging facial expressions were slightly unnerving).

Speaking of Shriver, she was modeling a wonderfully horrible hat to protect herself from the searing New York heat today on ESPN2. I know I couldn't avoid uttering, "That's some bad hat, Harry"... err, I mean, Pammy, when she did it.

(That's a Roy Scheider quote from the original "Jaws," by the way... but you can see an animated version of that scene in the production company logo positioned at the end of every episode of "House." Ah, tennis and TV end credit trivia, too. Wow.)

...finally, the first women's seed was dumped out of the 1st Round late in the afternoon on Day 2, and it was #8 Li Na, a semifinalist in the first slam of the '10 season in Melbourne. Kateryna Bondarenko won their three-set match 2-6/6-4/6-2. Unless the Ukrainian pulls off a stunning career-best slam run, Li's "unGrand Slam" string of losing to the eventual champion at four straight slams will now come to a merciful end.

Then again, K-Bond DID play Wickmayer last year in the QF for a berth in the Open semifinals. So, you know, MAYBE. Nahhhh.

The Chinese veteran's loss served as an air-filled balloon finally being let go to spiral around the room, as the tournament's second women's seed to fall came soon afterward when the similarly-hard-to-read-on-a-weekly-basis #26-seed Lucie Safarova went down in three sets to qualifer Tamira Paszek, who's quietly making a comeback from her recent troubles. And the Austrian, even though she's seemingly been around forever, is STILL only 19 years old. I guess that sort of messing-with-time thing happens when a player wins a WTA singles title at age 15, huh?

Not long after that, qualifier Lourdes Dominguez-Lino took out #30 Yaroslava Shvedova.

Meanwhile, Urszula Radwanska looks to finally be emerging from the darkness of her injury-damaged season. Today, she knocked off '07 Open semifinalist Anna Chakvetadze -- the good-form winner of that $100K challenger in the Bronx this weekend -- in the 1st Round today by a shockingly easy score of 6-3/6-3.

Wild card Beatrice Capra's win over Karolina Sprem runs the total of 1st Round wins by qualifiers/wild cards to ten (8/2), with a handful more still to finish tonight.

...QUICK!! Someone get some ChapStick to the ESPN2 set!! STAT!! Hannah Storm and Darren Cahill will most surely be in need of it after kissing James Blake's butt as much as they were during the brief coverage of his 1st Round match.

...during Venus Williams' match on Monday night, Mary Carillo shared some previously unknown information about Serena Williams' foot injury. She said it occurred while Serena was in a bar in Munich when Germany was eliminated from the World Cup. Needless to say, it was a bit rowdy. Wearing sandals, Williams stepped on glass (probably a broken beer bottle?) and a shard went an inch deep into her foot, resulting in a very bloody injury. She went ahead and played the Belgian exhibition, then went immediately home for real medical attention.

Yet another reason to turn a blind eye to soccer, I'd say.

...a little housekeeping from this weekend's "Bare Bones Backspin": in the $10K challenger in Portschauch, Austria, Julia Mayr defeated her sister Evelyn 6-3/6-1 in the final. The Italian siblings also won the doubles title.

...and, finally, after Serena Williams was the first (and only) woman to ever get the "main attraction," second-up match spot during a night session a year ago, it's only taken until Day 2 for the set-up to become a reality this year. Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki will take on NCAA champion Chelsey Gullickson (both are 20 years old, with the Georgia Bulldog sophomore having celebrated the big two-oh on Sunday) tonight after the completion of Rafael Nadal's 1st Rounder.

I'll post a second, after-hours version of Backspin tonight, following the "Late Night with Caroline (& Chelsey, too)" match on Ashe. I'll talk about the Maria Sharapova/Jarmila Groth match, as well, and will tie up any other potential loose ends that weren't covered here.

AO: #14 Maria Sharapova (lost to Kirilenko)
RG: #10 Victoria Azarenka (lost to Dulko)
WI: #5 Francesca Schiavone (lost to Dushevina)
US: #8 Li Na (lost to K.Bondarenko)
[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 #8 Li Na, CHN (lost to K/Bondarenko)

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)
FIRST SEED OUT: #8 Li Na/CHN (lost to Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 2. More tonight.


Blogger jo shum said...

mmm another seed, petrova, she is quite ups and downs in the season. i only saw the last set tiebreak so have no idea if petrova played poorly or petkovic played superb? well in any case, barbie would be happy. :)

Tue Aug 31, 11:12:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, a very disappointing result for Nadia. Especially after how well she did in New Haven.

Wed Sep 01, 01:52:00 AM EDT  

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