Saturday, September 03, 2011

US.6- Rites of Passage

Win or lose, there are just some things that HAVE to happen at a slam, at least if you're a young player who wants to win a slam some day... and also if you're Francesca Schiavone in 2011.

While the rite of passage that Serena Williams experienced on Day 6 might not have been necessary for her to push toward a possible fourteenth career slam crown, it could be a good thing to have a half-set of intense competition in her back pocket should another player down the line in this tournament decide to try to "go all in" and advance her career another step along the way. Of course, it didn't SEEM like Williams' 3rd Round match with Victoria Azarenka was going to be very memorable at all, for Serena essentially buzzed through the Belarusian in the 6-1 1st set as she had in her previous four Open sets against Bojana Jovanovski and Michaella Krajicek (in which she dropped a total of three games).

But, for once (and maybe the only time) at this Open, though, it wasn't all about Serena.

It was when Azarenka was serving in the sixteenth game of this match, down 6-1/5-3, 40-love, that SHE stared down HER own rite of passage. Azarenka has tussled with some success against Serena in a slam before, but was forced to retire in a very competitive match a few years ago in Melbourne, and also blew a 6-4/4-0 lead against her (again) in Oz just last year. It's the sort of history that can lead a certain type of player to put a cap on her own expectations, and to think that reaching the highest levels of achievement that she'd dreamed about when she first picked up a racket was simply a bridge too far. Most players would have gone through the motions, giving in to the inevitable, if they found themselves in the fix Azarenka did today, looking up at the boot of Williams ready to crush her into the Ashe stadium hard court.

But Azarenka didn't do that. Instead, she fought. Harder. Better. So much so that, if you looked closely, you might have seen the actual birth of a future grand slam winner.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." - Yogi Berra, former New York Yankee catcher

What happened in the final seven games of the match didn't turn the tournament on its head, or even make anyone believe that Williams is anything less than the odds-on favorite that she was before play began on Monday. But it WAS important... for Azarenka. It wasn't as if Serena's game fell TOO far in the second half of the 2nd set. Her form DID dip a tad, but it was more a case of Azarenka raising HER level of play. She saved those three match points on her serve, then a fourth on Serena's one game later. After Williams saved one break point with an ace, Azarenka converted a second when she reflexively blocked back for a winner a hard Serena shot directly at her from the front court. It's the only time Williams' serve has been broken at this Open.

Azarenka saved a break point on her own serve, then pushed the set into a tie-break not long after most would have thought the match would have been long over. It was an impressive sight to see her challenging the best player in the world on the sport's biggest stage, and not blinking in the heat of battle. Serena ultimately won the tie-break 7-5, but the "extra time" included more than a few brilliant little moments for Azarenka, too (including one picture-perfect drop shot). Azarenka lost 6-1/7-6, but she stared down the biggest obstacle she'll EVER face in her tennis career, from about as bad a position as she could ever imagine. And she didn't wilt. In fact, she stand taller than she ever has... even in defeat.

It's the sort of thing a young player can catalog in her mind for the rest of her career. If she could do THAT, there's no reason why she can't gather together enough of her inherent intensity again and beat any other player she faces in the future. It's sort of like successfully manuevering a car over a severely icy road in the darkness... if sort of makes any "bad driving weather" faced at a later date seem like "child's play." She theoretically successfully "punched her way out of the corner" against Serena, but Azarenka is likely angry that she couldn't do still more in this match. That is a very good thing. It's that sort of attitude that will make her a slam champion one day... maybe sooner than later. And when it happens, one could very easily look back at the final seven games of this match and say, "Yep, I could tell then that it was DEFINITELY going to happen one day."

Meanwhile, the final rite of passage from Saturday involved Schiavone. At the start of the year, I wondered about what sort of crazy goodness the Italian might still have left to present to us the year AFTER her career season. Well, at the slams, we've found out. In 2011, no slam could really be called a slam unless The Artist played a part in at least one masterpiece.

In Australia, it was her 4:44 marathon against Svetlana Kuznetsova. In Paris, it was her comeback from a 6-1/4-1 deficit against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (and her own near-squandering of a 5-1 3rd set lead in the same contest). At Wimbledon, Schiavone and Tamira Paszek battled for 3:41, with the Austrian ultimately prevailing in an 11-9 final set. At the Open on Day 6, Schiavone added a Flushing Meadows chapter to her '11 slam memoir.

South Africa's Chanelle Scheepers served for the match against the only '11 slam finalist still left in the women's draw, leading 7-5/5-4 when she held a match point. But when the 27-year old couldn't close out the win there, she didn't get another chance against the 31-year old. Scheepers double-faulted on break point to knot the set at 5-5, then Schiavone went on to run away with the match by a 5-7/7-5/6-3 score. After celebrating with the crowd, a beaming Francesca Schiavone let out the sort of victory scream that makes you want to scream along with her. No word yet on whether or not Patrick McEnroe or Stacey Allaster made any sort of post-match push to punish Schiavone for her natural exuberance.

Schiavone's already won one "Zombie Queen" crown this slam season. Could she now be in line to win another? Well, if it's any indication of what's to come, it should be noted that Francesca will face Pavlyuchenkova once again in the Round of 16.

Anyone for seconds?

=DAY 6 NOTES= the night session, Sloane Stephens' rite of passage wasn't the one she was hoping for, as she lost in straights sets to Ana Ivanovic in the 18-year old's first career match on Ashe. But since this was just her tenth career WTA main draw match, and considering this scheduling wasn't entirely a case of a bigger-name player being the REAL reason the match was put under the lights, her quick ascension is nothing to sneeze at. The youngest player in the Top 100 come ten days from now, she'll be back.

(Last Wild Card Standing) Stephens' loss means that, hardly surprisingly, Serena is the "Last American Standing" winner. Meanwhile, Carla Suarez-Navarro's win over countrywoman Silvia Soler-Espinosa means than the latter's run as the "Last Qualifier Standing" is now officially in the record books, as well.

...while the five-woman strong contingent of Americans in the women's singles draw was pared down to a single Serena after the 3rd Round, the Bannerettes struck gold again in the Mixed Doubles. In 2nd Round action, Melanie Oudin & Jack Sock defeated #1-seeded Liezel Huber & Bob Bryan, while Irina Falconi & Steve Johnson took out #2-seeded Katarina Srebotnik & Daniel Nestor. Both wild card teams are now in the quarterfinals.

...R.I.P., Queen Chaos (6-4/6-4 loser to Pavlyuchenkova). You will be missed at this Open.

...the junior draws are out. Here are the Top 10 Girls seeds:

1. Caroline Garcia, FRA
2. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
3. Ashleigh Barty, AUS
4. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
5. Daria Gavrilova, RUS
6. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
7. Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR
8. Natalija Kostic, SRB
9. Indy De Vroome, NED
10. Annika Beck, GER

#12 Madison Keys/USA d. #3 Ashleigh Barty/AUS
#2 Irina Khromacheva/RUS d. #6 Yulia Putintseva/RUS
#12 Keys/USA d. #2 Khromacheva/RUS

...Talk about consistency. Roger Federer not only reached his record 30th straight slam Round of 16 today (he's done it in 33-of-34 and 36-of-38, as well), but he also got his 59th career U.S. Open main draw victory. It means, at this (odd) moment in time he has exactly 59 career wins at three of the four slams. His 59 Australian Open wins rank him first on the all-time list, while his 59 at Wimbledon is good for fourth there. His 59 at the Open is still twelve wins behind #4 all-time Pete Sampras' 71, but his (only) 49 wins at Roland Garros do put him at #4 on the all-time list in Paris.

...I really liked CBS's opening credits to begin the network's first day of coverage today. All the video of players mugging for the camera, I think, works much better than any of the U.S. Open Series ads that have tried to "humanize" the players, as well as the great-looking, but they-sort-of-all-look-the-same artsy shots that ESPN2 tends to favor showing leading into matches that feature some of the players involved.

...and, finally, two years after she was wheeled off the court at Flushing Meadows, Sabine Lisicki will finally get her day in the sun at this Open... and it'll take place under the moonlight. She'll face #2-seed Vera Zvonareva tomorrow night on Ashe, as the second-up featured match. Of note, it's a rematch of the Roland Garros 2nd Rounder between the two that ended with Lisicki cramping up and crumbling to the court after shaking Zvonareva's hand at the net, then being carried off on a stretcher. She'd served at 6-4/5-4 against the Russian that day, led 5-2 in the 3rd and held a match point before losing. All the drama of it all seems to have helped the now-healthy German's career turn the corner. Sporting a stunningly-big smile seemingly all the time these days, she's gone 24-4 since, winning two titles and reaching the Wimbledon semis. With all the upsets in the bottom half of the draw, one could make a case that the winner of this match-up might just be the favorite to reach the final.

#1 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs. #15 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
#10 Andrea Petkovic/GER vs. Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
#28 Serena Williams/USA vs. #16 Ana Ivanovic/SRB
#17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS vs. #7 Francesca Schiavone/ITA
Monica Niculescu/ROU vs. Angelique Kerber/GER
#13 Peng Shuai/CHN vs. #26 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
#25 Maria Kirilenko/RUS vs. #9 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#22 Sabine Lisicki/GER vs. #2 Vera Zvonareva/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #22 Alexsandr Dolgopolov/UKR
#20 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero/ESP
#3 Roger Federer/SUI vs. Juan Monaco/ARG
#11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #8 Mardy Fish/USA
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

(WC) Oudin/Sock (USA/USA) vs. xx
Govortsova/Matkowski (BLR/POL) vs. #7 Vesnina/Paes (RUS/IND)
xx vs. Gajdosova/Soares (AUS/BRA)
Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) vs. (WC) Falconi/Johnson (USA/USA)

[U.S. Open]
2008 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2009 Serena Williams, USA (SF)
2010 Venus Williams, USA (SF)
2011 Serena Williams, USA (in 4th Rd.)
[2011 home nations]
AO: Samantha Stosur, AUS (3rd Rd.)
RG: Marion Bartoli, FRA (SF)
WI: Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong & Laura Robson, GBR (2nd Rd.)
US: Serena Williams, USA (in 4th Rd.)

[through 3rd Rd., with walkovers]
19-12...Russia (Kirilenko,Kuznetsova,Pavlyuchenkova,Zvonareva)
14-14...United States (S.Williams)
12-3...Germany (Kerber,Lisicki,Petkovic)
9-5...Italy (Pennetta,Schiavone)
8-5...Spain (Suarez-Navarro)
5-2...Serbia (Ivanovic)
5-4...Australia (Stosur)
5-4...Romania (Niculescu)
4-3...China (Peng)
3-0...Denmark (Wozniacki)

[by age]
20...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
21...Caroline Wozniacki
21...Sabine Lisicki
23...Angelique Kerber
23...Carla Suarez-Navarro
23...Ana Ivanovic
23...Monica Niculescu
23...Andrea Petkovic
24...Maria Kirilenko
25...Peng Shuai
26...Svetlana Kuznetsova
26...Vera Zvonareva
27...Samantha Stosur
29...Flavia Pennetta
29...Serena Williams
31...Francesca Schiavone
[by ranking]
#1 - Caroline Wozniacki
#2 - Vera Zvonareva
#8 - Francesca Schiavone
#10 - Samantha Stosur
#11 - Andrea Petkovic
#14 - Peng Shuai
#16 - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#17 - Svetlana Kuznetsova
#18 - Sabine Lisicki
#19 - Ana Ivanovic
#25 - Flavia Pennetta
#27 - Serena Williams
#29 - Maria Kirilenko
#68 - Monica Niculescu
#76 - Carla Suarez-Navarro
#92 - Angelique Kerber
[by career slam Round-of-16's; w/ number at U.S.]
37...Serena Williams (11)
23...Svetlana Kuznetsova (6)
16...Francesca Schiavone (6)
16...Vera Zvonareva (4)
11...Ana Ivanovic (3)
11...Caroline Wozniacki (4)
8...Flavia Pennetta (3)
6...Samantha Stosur (2)
5...Maria Kirilenko (1)
4...Andrea Petkovic (2)
3...Sabine Lisicki (1)
3...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2)
3...Peng Shuai (1)
3...Carla Suarez-Navarro (1)
1...Angelique Kerber (1)
1...Monica Niculescu (1)

*2011 WOMEN'S ROUND OF 16's*
[most by player; * - in U.S. 4th Rd.]
3...Victoria Azarenka
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova *
3...Petra Kvitova
3...Peng Shuai (2 consecutive) *
3...Andrea Petkovic *
3...Francesca Schiavone *
3...Maria Sharapova
3...Caroline Wozniacki (2 consecutive) *
3...Vera Zvonareva *
2...Marion Bartoli
2...Maria Kirilenko *
2...Li Na
2...Sabine Lisicki (2 consecutive) *
2...Ekaterina Makarova
2...Anastasia Pavluychenkova *
2...Flavia Pennetta *
2...Agnieszka Radwanska
2...Serena Williams (2 consecutive) *
[2011 Round of 16's - by nation]
17 - Russia
6 - Germany
5 - China, Czech Republic, Italy
3 - Belarus, Denmark, United States
2 - Belgium, France, Poland, Serbia, Slovak Republic
[Most Round of 16's - by nation, 2010-11]
32 - Russia
10 - United States
9 - Belgium, Italy
8 - China
7 - Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JAN: Petra Kvitova, CZE
FEB: Petra Kvitova, CZE
MAR: Christina McHale, USA
1Q: Petra Kvitova, CZE ("promoted" to RISER)
APR: Christina McHale, USA
MAY: Sloane Stephens, USA
2Q/CC: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
JUN: Alison Riske, USA (pre-Wimb.grass)
2Q/GC: Tamira Paszek, AUT
JUL: Ksenia Pervak, RUS
AUG: Christina McHale, USA
[2011 Weekly Award Wins]
5...Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
4...Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
4...Ksenia Pervak, RUS
4...Sloane Stephens, USA

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JAN: An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
FEB: Monica Puig, PUR
MAR: Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
1Q: An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
APR: Monica Puig, PUR
MAY: Irina Khromacheva, RUS
2Q/CC: Ons Jabeur, TUN
JUN: Indy De Vroome, NED
2Q/GC: Ashleigh Barty, AUS
JUL: Victoria Kan, RUS
AUG: Yulia Putintseva, RUS
[2011 Weekly Award Wins]
5...Irina Khromacheva, RUS
3...Victoria Kan, RUS
3...Monica Puig, PUR
2...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2...Indy De Vroome, NED
2...An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
2...Alison van Uytvanck, BEL

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #28 Serena Williams/USA
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
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.)
LAST AMERICAN STANDING: Serena Williams/USA (in 4th 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)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: Petkovic/GER (down set and 3-0 vs. Zheng in 2nd Rd.), Schiavone/ITA (saved MP vs. Scheepers in 3rd Rd.)
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: V.Williams ("One Night Only")

All for Day 6. More tomorrow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still think Serena is vulnerable. If you noticed her behaviour in the last part of second set - she was dead tired and if Vika had won the second set she would have won the match. That's why I think we'll have a Caro as winner if they meet in the semis - that is if they both get that far - because Caroline is not peaking until the Kuznetsova game. Glad you didn't mention her in your day 6 report that shows a little about reporters choice. She delivered actually a solid game doing no more no less so she could win but I guess that's not so interesting. She also showed glimpse of what she can do id she's under pressure. Both her serves and forehand has developed into a weapon. Welcome to the Wozzy world.

Sun Sep 04, 10:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I think you just got your Zombie Queen.

Sun Sep 04, 01:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, but playing against the pressure of King and the pressure of Serena are many world's apart. But if she pulled that upset -- and it would be a big one, no matter the ranking -- she'd surely quiet a lot of people.

Sun Sep 04, 01:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Jeez, Diane -- we must have posted those comments at exactly the same time.

I agree, though... as I'm sure you're talking about Pennetta. I actually just wrote "ZQ" under her name in my notes. :)

Sun Sep 04, 01:58:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

That's as zombie as you can get without being trapped in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania :)

Sun Sep 04, 02:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Sun Sep 04, 02:40:00 PM EDT  

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