Thursday, September 08, 2011

US.11- Caroline Gets Her Wish... so, now what?

Is it a task fit for Dane? I guess we'll find out on Friday. Check that, make it... Saturday? What? Grrrr.

Whenever it takes place (or when I'D prefer it did... more on that later), the prospective semifinal match-up between the world's #1-ranked player and the world's best player will become a reality at this U.S. Open. If Caroline Wozniacki has wished for her opportunity to prove herself slam-capable, she now has it in the form of Serena Williams on the other side of the net in the semifinals. While the two have been friendly off the court, they've only met twice on it -- and it's been two and a half years since they actually played a full match, as Wozniacki retired from their second. They've never met in a grand slam draw.

Will the Dane regret that she got what she wished for, or relish the opportunity to prove her many eyebrow-raisers wrong?

"So I'm ugly. I never saw anyone hit with his face." - Yogi Berra

For her part, Williams wasn't exactly in her finest form against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in their quarterfinal match on Day 11. Her timing was off, and she had more uncharacteristic errors than she has in her previous four matches in this tournament. Even her serve was broken three times in the 1st set. But she still won in straight sets, 7-5/6-1, and has yet to drop a single set at this Open. Winning ugly, for Serena, is still usually a compelling situation, since the wait is generally on for the brief moments when her champion's mettle cracks the surface just long enough to dispatch an opponent who simply wasn't up to the task of even playing up to her "lesser" level. Pavlyuchenkova, a talented 20-year Russian with a bright future, was that player today. Even while being able to break Williams' serve, her own serve wasn't able to take advantage. After claiming a three-setter over Francesca Schiavone last round while tossing in double-digit double-faults, she had about the same number of miscues here and it prevented her from even taking a set.

It was just as example of how different it is to play Serena compared to other players, even a previous slam-winner.

In her quarterfinal match against Andrea Petkovic, Wozniacki spent the 1st set uncharacteristically hitting her groundstrokes from inside the baseline -- I believed it since I saw it -- while the self-described, slow-starting "diesel" from Germany had a hard time getting up to speed. The Dane took the set 6-1, but then slowly saw Petkovic begin to work her way into the match in the 2nd, breaking Wozniacki as she served for the match at 6-1/5-3. Surging as C-Woz's game seemed to tighten, the German soon got another break for a 6-5 lead and served with a chance to knot the match at one set each. Suddenly, the chance to prove herself in the heat of battle against a surging opponent seemed at hand for the Dane.

"We made too many wrong mistakes." - Yogi Berra

But then Petkovic gave away what proved to be the final two games of the match. Serving for the set, she committed four unforced errors to break herself. In the tie-break, down 4-3, Petkovic worked a long rally to her favor, stepped to the net to put away the winner and knot the score... and missed the easiest shot of the entire point. Moments later, after saving two match points, Petkovic ended the match with another error. Wozniacki won 6-1/7-6, getting some measure of revenge for the German's upset of her in Miami earlier this season, but never really getting the chance to truly be tested before she runs head-first into Serena in semis.

Williams had her own lapses today, but it's a rare occasion when she single-handedly fumbles away an advantage such as Petkovic did late in the 2nd set today. What are the chances she'll have another similarly "off" day in her next outing? Will Wozniacki be able to step into the court, as she did in the 1st set today, against what will likely be the penetrating, punishing (even Victoria Azarenka has recently talked of the literal "pain" of exchanging shots with Serena) groundstrokes of Williams, or will she be forced into the no-win situation of having to try to take down Serena from behind the baseline? If she finds herself in that position, barring a Serena groundstroke meltdown that extends the match, their semifinal match-up could be a short one. She'll need to step in to take away some of Williams' power advantage, but will her comfort level with such a gameplan allow the tactic to be successful against Serena? Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin have employed such gameplans to defeat Williams in the past, but they did so while armed with far more offensive weapons that Wozniacki currently posseses. Plus, as of yet, the Dane is still feeling her way around her atttempts to develop a more forward game. In the 2nd set, with Petkovic hitting with more power, Wozniacki often tried to move toward the net with little plan of attack, and was immediately passed. One has to think her best shot will be for Williams' timing to be off again, and her game to be littered with enough errors that Wozniacki can hang with her and hope she doesn't lift her game up on big points.

Either way, it should be fascinating, table-setting match for the next year or so on the tour. It could be the pivot point on which Serena's climb back to the #1 ranking is launched, giving Wozniacki a gauge on what it will take to win a slam in the near future, or it could be the Dane's moment to begin to assume an unassailable place in tennis history, while also giving Williams something/someone additional to shoot for in '12. I'm more inclined to believe the former over the latter, but Wozniacki's occasionally prolonged attempts at this tournament to move inside the baseline during rallies, combined with Williams' recent somewhat-less-than-awesome moments on court, at least leave open the (however slight) possibility that Wozniacki might be able to stick around long enough for Serena to play herself out of the tournament. If C-Woz had been in Pavlyuchenkova's shoes today, a third set, at the very least, would probably have become a reality.

Either way, with neither having to go the distance in their matches today, at least they'll be rested for the match when it comes on Friday... oh, wait. Make it Saturday... which probably isn't a good thing for Wozniacki, since giving Serena an extra day to prepare is never on the "What I Need To Have Happen To Defeat Serena" lists of Williams' opponents.

...once again, Vera Zvonareva exited the Open quietly. Well, actually, I suppose it's not REALLY true that she's been dumped out of slams particularly "quietly" in recent attempts. I mean, she made that big scene at the Open in '09, and then acted as a pin in the balloon of the final last year against Kim Clijsters. I guess it just seems like the Russian exits with little commotion, since, usually, just when some people think she might have a chance to accomplish something big in a slam, that's generally when she ducks her head and makes her way out the slam backdoor.

At least she got it over with a little earlier this time around, losing 6-3/6-3 to Sam Stosur in the quarterfinals rather than waste another deeper trip into a slam draw. It's the Aussie's eighth straight win over Zvonareva. Thus, Stosur is once again within reach of having a chance to become one of the few players with a singles, doubles and mixed slam crown to her name. She's won two slam titles in each of the doubles disciplines, and the only currently active players with at least one of each of the three titles are Serena (13/12/2) and Venus (7/12/2).

"Ninety percent of this game is half mental." - Yogi Berra

But, now, with unseeded Angelique Kerber the only person standing between Stosur and the final, she's suddenly the favorite in the bottom half of the draw. Stosur hasn't exactly faired all that well in similar situations in slams, so, while it seems inconceivable that Kerber could reach a slam final, I suppose it's not out of the question that we still might see the most outside-the-box slam finalist in over three decades.

Speaking of the #92-ranked, 23-year old German. There were a lot of people picking a German (or two) to reach the Open semis, but I'd say it's safe to bet that NO ONE had Kerber being the one. But that's what happened, as she pulled away from Flavia Pennetta in the 3rd set today when the Italian veteran let the moment get to her just enough to through off her game and produce some ill-timed unforced errors down the stretch. Pennetta's missed overhead on game point allowed Kerber to go up 5-3 in the 3rd, then the match ended on her missed volley, as Kerber won 6-4/4-6/6-3. She's the first German to reach the U.S. Open Final Four since Steffi Graf in 1996.

Iva Majoli's title run at Roland Garros in '97 is probably the case of the most surprising recent slam finalist, but she was the #9 seed that year and had been Top 5 prior to that, so I'm thinking you'd have to go back to Chris O'Neil ('78 AO champ) to find anyone with which to rightfully compare Kerber should she make a final run.

...Kerber's result garners her the "Ms. Opportunity" award for this slam. Meanwhile, I went ahead and closed out the "Lady of the Evening" (Stosur) and "Broadway-Bound" (Francesca Schiavone) races, as well. Doubles, with the defeat of Wimbledon champs (and #1-seeded) Kveta Peschke & Katarina Srebotnik in the QF by Maria Kirilenko & Nadia Petrova, just as in the case in the women's singles, the four slams will produce four different champions in '11. AO champs Gisela Dulko & Pennetta, as well as RG winners Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, departed this Open earlier in the draw. The most recent slam champs still alive? Defending 2010 U.S. Open champions Vania King & Yaroslava Shvedova.

Meanwhile, Melanie Oudin's Mixed Doubles Open "redemption" run continues, as she and Jack Sock advanced to the final via a walkover. They'll meet the Argentinian pair of Dulko & Eduardo Schwank.

...while a step on a patch of court on Louis Armstrong resulted in water bubbling to the surface today (leading to yet another on-court -- and in-the-tunnel -- scene co-starring the tournament referee), causing the Andy Roddick/David Ferrer (and, later, Wozniacki/Petkovic) match to be moved to Court 13, once again, nothing could stop Esther Vergeer. The Dutch wheelchair star opened her Open play on Day 11 with a 6-0/6-1 win (when are her scores ever anything else?), extending her match winning streak to 423.

...and, finally, late in the afternoon, the USTA announced a schedule change that pushes the women's & men's SF to Saturday, the women's final to Sunday, and the men's final to Monday.

"All pitchers are liars or crybabies." - Yogi Berra

And so, I suspect, are bloggers.

So, let me complain about the women's final being moved to Sunday at precisely 4pm -- the same time as the Washington Redskins' season opener. I'm really not looking forward to having to move back and forth between the women's final and the game, meaning I won't really be able to effectively watch either as closely as I want. Why can't the women's final remain on Saturday? Do they really need a day off between the QF and SF, considering they just had two days off, and only one of the four QF matches went three sets? Unlike the men, who break from the usual ATP pattern to play best-of-five at the slams, the women are used to playing QF, SF and final best-of-three matches on consecutive days throughout the season.

This whole set-up just inconveniences me to the nth degree. And I hate that. Why can't the USTA do that I want? Waaaaaahhhh!!!

Hmmm, I guess that puts me on the "crybaby" side on this occasion, huh?

Of course... we could get another rain-out and maybe BOTH finals could be played on Monday. Sort of makes me want to do a rain dance or something.

=MIDDLE ROUND AWARDS - 3rd-QF Rounds (Days 5-11)=
TOP PLAYER: Samantha Stosur/AUS
...she's won the longest women's match of the tournament, as well as the one that had the longest-ever women's slam tie-break. She's also knocked off the highest seed (#2) ousted, and has put together her best hard court slam run ever. Not bad... and she might not be finished yet.
RISER: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...back in January, Wozniacki failed to convert match point against Li Na in the Oz SF to give herself another shot in a slam final. Eight months later, she's one match away again. Taking down Serena, though, will likely be more difficult a task than winning the entire tournament.
SURPRISE: Angelique Kerber/GER one really expected THIS German to be around late into the second week (with or without the rain).
VETERAN: Flavia Pennetta/ITA
...she missed out on her (possibly last best?) golden opportunity to reach her first career slam semifinal, but the Open -- where the Italian has reached all three of her career slam QF -- still managed to carve out a little bit bigger corner in her career's heart.
FRESH FACE: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...her second slam QF result in '11 didn't produce a first career major semi, but she's the youngest player to last so long in this Open. Her time will come.
COMEBACK: Serena Williams/USA, which would be the more impressive feat? Kim Clijsters coming back from retirement to win the Open in her third tournament back in '09, or Serena coming back from a near-death experience to win the Open in her sixth tournament back?
DOWN: Maria Sharapova/RUS
...back to the slam drawing board in 2012.

CRASH & BURNER (3r-QF): Maria Sharapova won the Open in 2006, but she hasn't advanced to a QF in Flushing Meadows since. This year's 3rd Round exit was her third such result In her four NYC forays over the last five years.
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Two years ago, Flavia Pennetta saved six match points against Vera Zvonareva and won the ZQ award for that Open. Technically, she didn't face any MP against Peng Shuai in their 4th Rounder this year. In fact, she won the 1st set, and held her own MP in the 2nd. But with heat illness leaving her a hunched-over heap in the back of the court, ready to throw up and questionable for being able to survive a three-setter, her 5-0 hole in the 2nd set tie-break was a daunting mountain to climb. The four set points that Peng held starting at 6-2 in the tie-break essentially might have been akin to match points, so when Pennetta -- with the crowd behind her -- charged back to win the TB by an 8-6 score her remaining in the draw was surely as close to the dead walking amongst us as anyone has any right to expect.
LADY OF THE EVENING: Samantha Stosur, under the lights but not on Ashe, starred in the longest women's match of the tournament (vs. Petrova), and played in the longest women's slam tie-break (vs. Kirilenko) ever, winning both matches.
BROADWAY-BOUND: Francesca Schiavone's back-from-MP win over Chanelle Scheepers gave her a clean sweep of 2011 slams with dramatic moments one season after she won Roland Garros, with her contests against Svetlana Kuznetsova (4:44 in Australia), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (a comeback from 6-1/4-1 in Paris), Tamira Paszek (an 11-9 3rd set loss in 3:41 at SW19) joined by her win in NYC.
LAST AMERICAN STANDING: Serena Williams outlasted all the Bannerettes, and might still outlast the entire women's field
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Sloane Stephens/USA (3rd Rd.)
HORDETTE UPDATE: with the QF losses by Zvonareva and Pavlyuchenkova, there are no Russians in the SF of a slam for just the fourth time in the last thirty-one majors

3rd Rd. - Stosur d. Petrova 7-6/6-7/7-5
...Petrova saved four match points in the non-Ashe night match, but the Aussie advanced after 3:16.
[32 points]
4th Rd. - Stosur d. Kirilenko 6-2/6-7/6-3
...Kirilenko claimed the 2nd set battle (17-15, a slam women's record), but Stosur (again) won the match. Still, the drama of the 2nd set tie-break in which Kirilenko saved five match points, while Stosur saved five set points, and the Russian overturned three different calls (one on MP which had seemed to end the match) via replay, will likely outlive the memory of which player actually raised her arms in victory at the end.
[7 games]
3rd Rd. - S.Williams d. Azarenka 6-1/7-6
...Azarenka stared down the barrel of a 5-3 40/love hole against Serena in the 2nd set and managed to force a tie-break. She lost, but the experience might make her a winner in the long run.
3rd Rd. - Pennetta d. Peng 6-4/7-6
..."barf bag" not included.
[The Usual Slam Drama from Francesca]
3rd Rd. - Schiavone d. Scheepers 5-7/7-6/6-3
...Scheepers served at 7-5/5-4 and held match point. Once she didn't get it, was there any doubt that Schiavone was going to charge back and win another 2011 slam nail-biter?
[Best Night Match On Ashe]
4th Rd. - Wozniacki d. Kuznetsova 6-7/7-5/6-1
...another of the old "Wozniacki Special" matches in which she managed to hold on through an extended rough patch -- Kuznetsova was a point from a 7-6/5-2 lead -- and win when her consistently cleaner game outlasted that of her sloppier opponent down the stretch. It was an example of how she got to #1, but not really of how she'll get the slam title albatross off her back.
[Best Show In the Press Room]
...Wozniacki's smile-worthy quick impersonation of Rafa Nadal's under-the-table slide after suffering a post-match cramp. Some seemed to think it was out of line, but not I. Funny is funny... and no one was hurt.

"It ain't over 'til it's over." - Yogi Berra

Ah, but is the best still yet to come?

#1 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs .#28 Serena Williams/USA
Angelique Kerber/GER vs .#9 Samantha Stosur/AUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #20 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. #11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#28 John Isner/USA vs. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#21 Andy Roddick/USA vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#5 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) vs. #3 King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ)
#9 Benesova/Zahlavova-Strycova (CZE/CZE) vs. #4 Huber/Raymond (USA/USA)
Hantuchova/A.Radwanska (SVK/POL) vs. #15 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA)

Bolelli/Fognini (ITA/ITA) vs. #9 Melzer/Petzschner (AUT/GER)
#6 Fyrstenberg/Matkowski (POL/POL) vs. #5 Bopanna/Qureshi (IND/PAK) or Fleming/Hutchins (GBR/GBR)

(WC) Oudin/Sock (USA/USA) vs. Dulko/Schwank (ARG/ARG)

2009 Sydney QF - S.Williams 6-7/6-3/7-6
2009 WTA Chsp SF - S.Williams 6-4/1-0 ret.
2011 US Open SF - ??

=U.S. Open=
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2007 Justine Henin, BEL *
2008 Serena Williams, USA *
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS
AO: Li Na, CHN
RG: Li Na, CHN *
WI: Maria Sharapova, RUS
US: Samantha Stosur, AUS

[U.S. Open]
2004 Shinobu Asagoe, JPN
2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Tatiana Golovin, FRA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2010 Kaia Kanepi, EST
2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
AO: Li Na, CHN
RG: Li Na, CHN & Francesca Schiavone, ITA
WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
US: Angelique Kerber, GER

[U.S. Open]
2010 Venus Williams, USA
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS
AO: Andrea Petkovic, GER
US: Samantha Stosur, AUS

[U.S. Open only]
2010 Vania King, USA
2011 Francesca Schiavone, ITA

[Career Slam SF - active]
19...Venus Williams (14-5)
15...Kim Clijsters (8-7)
12...Maria Sharapova (5-7)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
5...Dinara Safina (3-2)
4...Ana Ivanovic (3-1)
4...Vera Zvonareva (2-2)
2...Francesca Schiavone (2-0)
2...Marion Bartoli (1-1)
2...Petra Kvitova (1-1)
2...Nadia Petrova (0-2
2...Zheng Jie (0-2)
0-0 = KERBER
0-1 = Azarenka, Chakvetadze, Cibulkova, Dokic, Hantuchova, Lisicki, Lucic, Pironkova, Wickmayer
[2011 Slam SF]
2 - Li Na (2-0)
2 - Maria Sharapova (1-1)
1-0 = Clijsters, Kvitova, Schiavone
0-1 = Azarenka, Bartoli, Lisicki, Zvonareva
[2010-11 Slam SF]
3...Li Na (2-1)
3...Vera Zvonareva (2-1)
2...Kim Clijsters (2-0)
2...Francesca Schiavone (2-0)
2...Petra Kvitova (1-1)
2...Maria Sharapova (1-1)
[2011 Slam SF - by nation]
2...China, Denmark, Germany
[2010-11 Slam SF - by nation]
4...China, United States
3...Belgium, Denmark
2...Czech Republic, Germany, Italy

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic,SRB
#12 - 2005 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
#12 - 2007 Venus Williams, USA
#10 - 2001 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#10 - 2002 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA

[best records - women/men]
3-0...Roger Federer
2-0...Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Caroline Wozniacki
[nations - women/men]
3-0...SRB, SUI

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #28 Serena Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #9 Samantha Stosur/AUS
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): 2nd Rd. - Irina Falconi/USA d. #14 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK 2-6/6-3/7-5
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - #9 Samantha Stosur/AUS d. #24 Nadia Petrova/RUS 7-6/6-7/7-5
TOP NIGHT MATCH: Nominee: 4th Rd - #9 Stosur/AUS d. #25 Kirilenko/RUS 6-2/6-7/6-3
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: Czech Republic (2-5 in 1st Rd., Cetkovska walkover in 2nd)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Sloane Stephens/USA (3rd Rd.)
IT: Nominees: one of the Bannerettes, a junior, C.Wozniacki
MS. OPPORTUNITY: Angelique Kerber/GER
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: S.Williams, M.Oudin
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)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Flavia Pennetta/ITA - sick and nearly throwing up on court late in the 2nd set, overcomes 0-5 hole and saves 4 MP in tie-break vs. Peng Shuai/CHN to escape with straight sets 4th Round win
LADY OF THE EVENING: Samantha Stosur/AUS (two dramatic night wins, neither on Ashe Stadium court)
BROADWAY-BOUND: Francesca Schiavone/ITA (for combined '11 slam dramatic performances)
DOUBLES STAR Nominees: King/Shvedova, M.Oudin, Huber/Raymond, Hantuchova/A.Radwanska

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.


Blogger Zidane said...

The day off is actually between the quarterfinals and the semifinals (today). It's kind of a tradition at the US Open, and I find it stupid. In the men's side, it takes off their day off between the semifinal and the final, so if a finalist goes in 5 sets and another cleans it in 3, one is highly advantaged.

I guess the push for Sunday's final is for the 9/11. I know that the tournament organization prepared some kind of memorial that was due for the men's final, and this was why they tried to push the men to complete the 4th round under the rain (with the result that we know). Once they decided to put the men's final on Monday, they had to move the women's final on Sunday to get the chance to use these memorial preparations.

Kerber in the final would definitely be the most unexpected finalist I would ever have seen! I kind of want it to happen at this point!

Fran├žoise Abanda beat Madison Keys in straight sets in the junior draw (losing in the third round), this sure is a win I didn't expect!

Fri Sep 09, 01:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i think the players are beginning to overstep...i get not playing in unsafe conditions...buuuut, not wanting super saturday hurts the fans (you know...those ppl with real jobs who can only make it on weekends...)...and it only impacts the following week for players who make it to those later rounds...which is about 4 people.

(and seriously...too bad that roger has to fly on tuesday...i mean it's not like he's flying's a freakin' private jet...and once he reaches his destination, he's going to save the world? no, he's going to play tennis...)


Fri Sep 09, 04:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Thanks for the catch on the QF/SF/F day-off thing. At least I had it explained correctly everywhere else. I figure I still have to screw up quite a few times before this tournament ends to catch up to the USTA's numbers, though. :)

Yeah, I suppose the 9/11 tribute is probably the reason for it all. Not that they'd ever admit that was the reason. But I still think they could have kept the schedule the same and had the men's final on Sunday. They only lost two days due to rain, not four, and essentially had two full days to get things in order on Thursday and Friday.


Well, the USTA, and tennis in general in the United States, gave up trying to do things in the best interest of fans, or trying to attract new ones, long ago.

They like to bill the Open as the "biggest and the best" of the slams, but, as we've seen this week, it's now the least-preprepared and most untintentionally-comedic of them all.

Sat Sep 10, 12:13:00 AM EDT  

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