Wednesday, August 31, 2011

US.3- Viewing the Spectrum From Both Ends

On Night 2, a blue-clad SuperSerena easily (surgically, really... with nary a single smile or blip of emotion from the first ball struck to the last) dispatched Bojana Jovanovski, sending a direct message to the field about the WTA landscape over the next two weeks. On Day 3, some of Williams' (younger) fellow Americans gave a glimpse of THEIR (farther off) futures. Meanwhile, Venus Williams made an announcement that served to raise even more questions about HER's.

The learning curve that a young player, American or otherwise, must traverse was on full display on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Wednesday.

16-year old Madison Keys had been the youngest player in the U.S.'s pre-Open wild card tournament, and was the youngest player in the main draw and youngest 1st Round winner on Monday. Today, the big-hitting Floridian faced off with #27 seed Lucie Safarova. Keys quickly grabbed a 5-0 lead on the Czech, who was either taken aback by the power of the big teenager, or was just pulling her usual now-you-don't-see-me-but-soon-you-will act. Keys took the 1st set 6-3 and went up a break at 2-0 in the 2nd. Safarova turned things around to knot the match at one set all, but Keys got a break late in the 3rd to take a 4-3 lead. It was then that either nerves or fatigue -- or some lethal combination of both -- finally descended upon Keys. The Czech broke back immediately, then swept the final two games, as well, to win 3-6/7-5/6-4.

Chalk it up as a learning experience for the promising Keys, who, if she can stay healthy, seems like she could one day fit in rather nicely in the Big Babe, go-for-winners class of players who are capable of winning any tournament they enter if they can just keep their own game in working order.

"Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical." - Yogi Berra, former New York Yankee catcher, showing off his flair for numbers

In tennis, the "difference" might be even more pronounced, especially for a young player.

Flashforward a few years, and maybe Keys will more resemble the version of 19-year old American Christina McHale that we saw today. McHale's learning curve has been on full display on the tennis world's biggest stages the last three seasons. In Melbourne in '09, she was on the losing end of a dramatic 1st Round match against Aussie Jessica Moore in the wilting Australian heat. At the end of her physical rope, McHale teetered around the court, looking ready to fall over Azarenka-style at any moment. Ultimately, she lost a 9-7 3rd set. My advice at the time? "Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!" She locked away that part of her training, only to have another monster test fall into her lap that she would go on to fail. Earlier this year in Paris, McHale led Sara Errani in their 1st Round match by a 5-0 score in the final set. Her lost her concentration, then, as she later admitted, she allowed "panic" to overtake her as she found a way to "pull a Novotna" and lose the match (again, in a 9-7 final set). Rather than sulk, though, she went off and played a $50K challenger. She made it through qualifying and won the tournament to claim her first pro singles title.

McHale has been surging ever since. Two weeks ago, she upset world #1 Caroline Wozniacki, then a week later got her second '11 win over Svetlana Kuznetsova. In New York, with her ranking inside the Top 60 for the first time, she faced off with #8 seed Marion Bartoli in the 2nd Round today. After fighting through the 1st set and winning a tie-break, she grabbed a 3-0 lead in the 2nd. But she didn't repeat her Roland Garros fumble, and instead closed with style. Serving up 5-2, McHale didn't panic... and then "pulled a Serena" and smashed an ace on match point. to close out her 7-6/6-2 win.

With the physical and mental aspects of her game improving all the time, McHale's fortunes continue to look up.

But while those players were experiencing the brightly-colored spectrum -- with varying degrees of Day 3 success -- that is the start of their careers, Venus was experiencing the more murky other side of her's. While Serena was snugly fit into her 2nd Round slot and the youngsters were staking their claims to future success, Venus was exiting the tournament.

Turns out, ESPN2 might have (inadvertently) been onto something about never mentioning Williams' 2nd Round opponent, Sabine Lisicki, the last two days, since the German ended up NOT playing the American. Instead, she got a walkover into the 3rd Round when Venus pulled out with the same illness that has dogged her for months. Later, she released a statement saying that she'd been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease that effects her energy level, and also causes joint pain. Williams' season is likely over, but hopefully she'll find a way to treat and live with her recently-diagnosed ailment in a manner that will allow her to not only return to the game in 2012, but also live a long and healthy life.

Later in the afternoon, 19-year old Bannerette Coco Vandeweghe put up a nice fight against Samantha Stosur, getting the look at a few break points at 4-4 in the 2nd set before going down in straights. But where Vandeweghe failed to make the American girls' big day a triple threat, it was a former college tennis star who stepped up and pulled off the feat.

While Keys and Coco still have to learn some of the things that McHale has picked up through experience, 21-year old Irina Falconi showed just what on-the-job-training looks like. Earlier, this season, Falconi won the similar pre-RG version of the wild card tournament that Keys claimed last week, then reached the semis in the WTA's College Park event last month. She was set to face off with #14-seeded Dominika Cibulkova on Court 11 before Venus pulled out of the tournament, but saw Williams' loss as her Ashe Stadium gain as the day's final hours of sunlight bore down on Flushing Meadows. It looked as if it was going to simply be a nice first-time experience for Falconi when she found herself down 4-1 and two breaks in the 3rd set against the Slovak. But then Falconi refused to lose.

Roaring back, Falconi won four straight games and served for the match at 5-4. She was broken. But the American wasn't going to let her opportunity slip away so easily. She broke back, then served for the match again at 6-5. Falconi saved the best for last, racing to reach a Cibulkova drop shot on match point, finally catching up to the ball as she was about to run into the changeover area, then flipping an angled forehand along the top of the net and out of the Slovak's reach to close out her 2-6/6-3/7-5 victory. Falconi exploded, leaping into the air with Connors-like intensity as the crowd at Ashe who'd been disappointed about not seeing Venus ended up happy that they'd been able to witness a totally unexpected great moment.

Just like that, another American star was born in New York. Or two. Or (almost) three or four. The likes of Melanie Oudin and Beatrice Capra pulled similar spotlight-stealing feats the last two years, only to sink once they left the Big Apple. What Keys, McHale and Falconi's (and maybe Vandeweghe's) futures hold is a wait-and-see situation, but that likely not the case for the American at the other end of the success spectrum. While those of the Bannerettes' seems brighter all the time, and Venus' remains cloudy, Serena's future is STILL now.

Without Venus, I guess this means that Serena is now "playing for two" Uh-oh.

...elsewhere, #2-seed Vera Zvonareva struggled against Kateryna Bondarenko, but won 7-5/3-6/6-3. Anabel Medina-Garrigues won, too, taking out qualifier Laura Robson. So, is the Spaniard's career-long quest for her first slam QF picking up steam? Whoa! Don't get ahead of things. She faces Zvonareva next, and would face the winner of Lisicki/Falconi after that.

Speaking of "Zvonareva," I'm not sure what Tennis Channel is accomplishing doing those on-site spelling bees for fans at Flushing Meadows, using players' names as the word list. Today, the "stumpers" offered up were "toughies" like "Keys" and "Williams." Oooh. Then, when a "fan" finally gets a name that an elementary school kid might not be able to tackle, they act as if they've been asked to spell "Buyukakcay" (as in Cagla) or something. Or appear dumbfounded on a whole different level by the task, since it's obvious they've never heard of anybody named "Soderling" (a two-time slam finalist) or "Zvonareva" (the world #2, and runner-up at THIS TOURAMENT last year). Anyway, I had to turn the sound down today to avoid getting into an argument with an uncommunicative video screen.

Meanwhile, if you were metaphysically in tune with this Open, you might have heard Petra Kvitova wince today. Her 1st Round conqueror, Alexandra Dulgheru, wasn't even the best Romanian on the court today in her 2nd Rounder against Monica Niculescu. In another case of a young player not being able to solidy her position after an upset in the previous round, Dulgheru lost 6-3/6-0.

In Men's Doubles, the #1-seeded Bryan brothers, the defending champs, were ousted in their opening match by Ivo Karlovic and Frank Moser. some Early-Round Award news, as mentioned yesterday, the "Upset Queens" (Romania) and "Revelation Ladies" (U.S.A.) have been determined. The "Poor Souls" is still in doubt, but the Czech Republic's 2-5 1st Round mark, after such a great all-around Wimbledon, seems to put the Maidens in the lead for the (dis)honor. The only other nations with more 1st Round losses were Russia (8) and the United States (7), but those two counties also put the most women (8 each) through to the Final 64.

If Sloane Stephens wins her 2nd Round match tomorrow against Shahar Peer, she'd be the "Last Wild Card Standing." Otherwise, she'll share the honor with Madison Keys. The "Last Qualifier Standing" is still up in the air, too. Robson and Romina Oprandi lost today, but Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Michaella Krajicek are still to complete their 2nd Rounders.

...once again, the "Maria and Andy Show" is currently taking place on Ashe tonight, as the Russian/American pair was YET AGAIN been scheduled to play under the lights on the same night for what seems like the umpteenth time. Not wanting to be like ESPN2, here's where I'll mention that Roddick is playing Michael Russell, while Sharapova faces Anastasiya Yakimova in the nightcap. By the way, it's the first time ever that a women's match has been scheduled as the second match up on back-to-back nights.

...the revisionist history on ESPN2 once Venus pulled out of the tournament was somewhat amusing. Once Lisicki had advanced, Patrick McEnroe talked about how the Venus/Lisicki match had been the women's "Match of the Day." Funny, then, that the network never even saw fit to give any discussion of that fact much of the time of day before it was announced that it wouldn't happen.

Speaking of odd decisions, what was up with ESPN2's moves during the tail-end of the Keys/Safarova match? The network, which so often likes to tell everyone that no fans will watch unless an American player is on air, finally gets what it wants -- a young, promising American in a big career moment -- when Keys got that break for a 4-3 lead in the 3rd. Two games from the youngest player in the draw getting the biggest win of her career moving into the very first crucial moment in a big-time match, ESPN2 suddenly decided that it was NOW going to be the network that moves around the grounds and shows other matches. Rather than Keys, the network began to air the Zvonareva/K-Bond match, missing Keys' serve getting broken and the match slip away. Oh, the network eventually returned, but it missed "the moment." and Tennis Channel picked up the slack in the moment, but why would the lead carrier of the tournament bail out at THAT moment? Astounding.

...and, finally, P-Mac was on a (mini) rampage again today against the sounds the women make on the court. During the McHale/Bartoli match, when Bartoli was given a point penalty for "hinderance" after, thinking she'd won the point with a winner, she yelled out in the middle of a rally, McEnroe yet again brought up "The Issue," saying Bartoli's sound was far less a "hinderance" than his own personal pet peeve. With that, Mary Joe Fernandez, or maybe Pam Shriver (I'm not sure which one it was), noted that WTA head Stacey Allaster had told her that NO player had ever come to her to complain about the noise. Just then, an ESPN poll flashed on the screen, showing that 57% of the fans responding didn't support a rule against "grunting." It still wasn't enough to dissuade McEnroe, as he said the question should be about "excessive" grunting (good luck coming up with the rules for THAT distinction) or, noting (in an ESPN2 first) that the men also "grunt," about "shrieking." And so on and so on.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Give it a rest, Patrick. Are you going to make this an endless personal crusade? You cannot be serious.

[U.S. Open]
2006 Russia
2007 Ukraine
2008 Slovak Republic
2009 Belarus
2010 North America
2011 United States
AO: Czech Republic
RG: North America
WI: Great Britain
US: United States

[U.S. Open]
2004 Russia
2005 United States
2006 France
2007 Russia
2008 China
2009 United States
2010 Taiwan
2011 Romania
AO: Russia
RG: Romania
WI: Russia
US: Romania

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JANUARY: Vera Zvonareva, RUS
FEBRUARY: Vera Zvonareva, RUS
MARCH: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
1Q...Andrea Petkovic, GER
APRIL: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
MAY: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2Q CLAY...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
JUNE: Marion Bartoli, FRA
2Q GRASS...Sabine Lisicki, GER
JULY: Vera Zvonareva, RUS
AUGUST: Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
[2011 Weekly Award Wins]
8...Andrea Petkovic, GER
7...Sabine Lisicki, GER
5...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
5...Peng Shuai, CHN

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexandra Panova/RUS def. #6q Andrea Hlavackova/CZE 3-6/6-2/7-6(7)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: Monica Niculescu/ROU (def. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Petra Kvitova (lost to Dulgheru/1st Rd.)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Nominees: Czech Republic, Japan & all nations of Asia
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Oprandi/ITA, Soler-Espinosa/ESP & Krajicek/NED to play in 2nd Round; Robson/GBR lost in 2nd Round
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Keys/USA lost in 2nd Round; Stephens/USA to play in 2nd Rd.
IT: xx
CRASH & BURN: Wimbledon champ, #5 Petra Kvitova/CZE (1st Rd./lost to Dulgheru) & Roland Garros champ, #6 Li Na/CHN (1st Rd./lost to Halep)

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I give PM no credit for acknowledging that men grunt. He just happened to be there the other day when MFJ said it. That was when she went off on a tangent about it, calling Seles' grunting "acceptable," but wondering whether she would be able to play against Azarenka.

I have turned the sound off several times.

Thu Sep 01, 10:43:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...


regarding your statement on the last post about McEnroe...WOW, I don't think I've ever heard him say those things...but I'll be on the look-out now. LOL

But you have to admit...the Monfils-Dmitrov almost peck was pretty funny. I keep thinking that he must have been dared bc he just went for it. I don't think I've even seen the Frenchmen exchange kisses after matches.

I would have paid money to be in the locker rooms after that. He must have been razzed to death. That would have been good tv.

Thu Sep 01, 12:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...


Patrick McEnroe is ALL about personal crusades (sometimes good, sometimes bad)...see:

1) US Davis Cup team (GOOD)
2) Grunting (get a life)
3) USTA Development Initiative (GOOD)
4) Donald Young (get a life)
5) (as Diane pointed out...) masculinity issues (get a life)

etc. etc.

Thu Sep 01, 05:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Eric, yes--it was quite funny. Monfils is funny. I remember the time he fell backwards into the crowd, turned around, shook a woman's hand, and introduced himself!

The whole kissing thing.....a week or so ago, we were hitting on the court and some woman I'd seen around joined us and we all played for some points. When we stopped, she came up to me and did the cheek-kiss thing, and all I could think of was "I don't know you!"

As for Patric McEnroe--I didn't read his book, but I saw some of the text. He apparently thought it was important that he trash one of Venus's dresses. Okay, I guess, but this is a man whose tie is never tied right and whose hair is often not combed.

Thu Sep 01, 09:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Eric -

I'll give him credit where it's due -- the DY "tough-love" seems to have worked (as far as his results, at least), and the USTA will surely scramble to take as much credit as possible for the success of the Bannerettes at this Open.

Thu Sep 01, 10:20:00 PM EDT  

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