Tuesday, September 06, 2011

US.8- A Good Night's Work... or was it?

It was an impressive win for world #1 Caroline Wozniacki over former U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova on Night 8, but I, for one, am not really sure we learned a whole lot about her in the match that we didn't already know.

Fact is, the Dane was very nearly run out of this Open on a rail tonight by the Russian. But then they both reverted to previous form three-quarters of the way through the 2nd set. From that point on, Wozniacki outlasted Kuznetsova in the three-hour contest, while the '04 champion of this tournament looked like a shell of the player she'd been just one hour earlier.

Seven years ago, it was easy to think that Kuznetsova was the most talented of all the slam-winning Russians in the Hordettes' breakout season. For sure, she had all the shots. She still does, in fact. But it's her head, heart, intensity and all those "intangibles" that make a consistent tennis champion where she lacks the goods to be a slam-in, slam-out contender. She's won two major titles, but her career still feels like something of a disappointment. She'll make the Tennis Hall of Fame one day, but it's hard to escape the nagging belief that she really doesn't FULLY belong there.

Against Wozniacki, we saw a lot of the good about Kuznetsova, but just enough of the bad to make it a disappointing night for her.

It was the back-and-forth opening set, and Kuznetsova's game was all over the place with ill-timed errors and some Novotna-esque (as in the Wimbledon '93 final variety) overheads and high volleys. Still, the stanza went to a tie-break. Wozniacki led 5-2, and Kuznetsova would probably have gone on a walkabout in the 2nd set had she dropped the 1st, but the Russian caught a wave with a few nice shots -- especially a second serve return winner -- and quickly started to roll. "Out-aggressioning" Wozniacki on the big points, Kuznetsova knotted the tie-break at 6-6. Wozniacki double-faulted to give Kuznetsova a set point, then a forehand error won it for her at 8-6.

In the 2nd, Kuznetsova quickly went up a break and was blistering the ball. Wozniacki's exit seemed only a matter of time, as long as the Russian could maintain anything close to her level of play. She led 7-6/4-1 and held a point for 5-2 on her serve. But a handful of errors stopped her cold, and Wozniacki got the break to close to within 4-3. The pair traded off breaks in the set's latter stages, until the Dane finally held to win 7-5 and knot the match.

From there until the finish, Wozniacki's game, which had previously mixed in a few costly errors, became much cleaner, while a tiring Kuznetsova's became more and more sloppy. She didn't really spark again until she was down 5-1, when she saved four match points before Wozniacki finally put the finishing touch on a 6-7/7-5/6-1 win.

While this was a nice win for Wozniacki, highlighting her fitness (after going three hours tonight, she said afterward she could have gone five if she'd had to), it didn't really present us with anything we didn't know going in. The Dane even came back from a 4-1 deficit in a set against Kuznetsova in the 4th Round of the U.S. Open before, in 2009. As we saw for most of this match, Wozniacki can be outhit by a more aggressive player who can control the flow and direction of the match until it's conclusion as long as their own shots don't go haywire. But the longer she's able to drag out a match, the more the percentages favor Wozniacki. This match is a perfect example of how she is able to defeat a higher-quality opponent than the Vania King's and Nuria Llagostera-Vives's of the WTA world. When she's in danger of losing to a power-oriented player, if she can just stay steady, she gives herself a shot to win if her opponent's level of play goes down. Kuznetsova's surely did that tonight, as she couldn't maintain her momentum (though she STILL very nearly won even with quite a few hair-raising errors BEFORE her late-match fade) and committed a whopping 78 errors. If Kuznetsova had hit her shots, she'd have won. She didn't, so Wozniacki did.

It's a formula that worked for the Dane tonight. But I don't think it'll work for much longer at this Open.

If there was one thing about Wozniacki's game in this match that might have been slightly new it was a seemingly growing willingness -- perhaps an offshoot of her mysterious new coaching arrangement? -- to occasionally venture to the net to close out a point. At one point, I was impressed by her aggressive move to sneak in behind a shot in a 25-stroke rally and put the point away with a volley, and she even ended the match with a put away at the net. Still, though, as Chris Evert pointed out all night on ESPN2, she was camped out way behind the baseline all too often, making it difficult for her to hit offensive shots.

Still, after the match, Evert seemed to think that Wozniacki's mostly successful attempts at aggression -- especially her activity in the 3rd against a physically sagging Kuznetsova -- would help her in her next match against Andrea Petkovic. I'm not sure I agree with Evert on that, though. Petkovic has been the most consistent, though not spectacular, performer at the slams in '11, and she's already got a hard court win (Miami) over the Dane this year. It's true that Wozniacki will likely need to employ a little more aggression to take out Petkovic, as the German can't be depended on to have oh-so-many errors as Kuznetsova did tonight. Maybe Wozniacki WILL go with that gameplan from the outset. But I'll believe it when I see it.

[It should be noted that Evert also thought that Maria Sharapova would use her close win over Heather Watson in the 1st Round to good effect later in the tournament, too... and we saw how that thought played out. That said, I thought Sabine Lisicki was going to beat Vera Zvonareva and possibly reach the final. So... take all those previous thoughts -- from both Evert and myself -- for what they're "worth."]

Although Kuznetsova at her best is probably a better opponent, a QF win over Petkovic might be a better litmus test for where Wozniacki is at this slam. Of course, I'm not sure how much it'll matter should she play Serena Williams in the semifinals. In that match-up, unless Serena is in a bad way physically, it's hard to escape the feeling that she might grind down the delightful Caroline into little Danish nuggets (Wozni-ettes?).

Ah, but that's a potential pounding to discuss on another day.

=DAY 7 - cont'd=
...Sunday night's Vera Zvonareva vs. Sabine Lisicki match was done in by the German's inability to get her serve going, extending the streak of too-quick women's (and men's) night matches on Ashe until the late night goings-on that (finally!) took place on Night 8... well, at least until Roger Federer steamrolled Juan Monaco.

Actually, the best night matches so far have STILL been the ones scheduled on other courts that drifted into the evening because the previous matches ran long. And the best of THOSE matches have included one Sam Stosur. The other night, she won a long, tight match over Nadia Petrova, and then on Sunday night she played a little part in grand slam history.

"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken." - Yogi Berra

After the Australian had claimed the 1st set, Stosur and Maria Kirilenko's 32-point 2nd set tie-break, won 17-15 by the Russian, goes down as the longest tie-break in women's slam histroy. During the TB, Stosur held five match points, while it took Kirilenko six attempts to finally put away a set point. Of course, maybe the most "interesting" aspect of the whole thing was that on three different occasions -- three!! -- Kirilenko was forced to challenge line calls in order to have the correct call made, including one call that had given Stosur a match point in point #23, and another that had effectively ended the match on point #28.

In the past, after dropping the tie-break, this is exactly the type of match that Stosur would allow to mentally slip away from her. She didn't this time, and went on to win 6-2/6-7/6-3, finally putting things away after Kirilenko had saved a sixth and seventh MP after trailing 3-5, love/40 in the 3rd. Stosur had had a pretty bad season until this summer on hard courts, and seems to have developed something of a non-Paris slam backbone at this Open.

Of course, as the matches get bigger, one has to wonder if she'll maintain this sort of composure. She's stated in the past a discomfort with all the things going on around the courts at the Open, but she has something of a comfort factor going for her under the lights at Flushing Meadows. Last year, she was the victor in the latest-finishing women's match (vs. Elena Dementieva in the 4th Round, which concluded at 1:35 am) ever in an Ashe night session.

Thing is, she'll probably have to reach the final in order to get a scheduled date on Ashe under the lights at this tournament.

...during the day on Labor Day Monday, both Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic had to labor through windy conditions in their Round of 16 match. After Williams grabbed an early 3-0 lead in the 1st, the key moment in Williams' quick day came when Ivanovic managed to knot the set at 3-3. She even held a break point on Williams' serve. But Serena saved break point, let out a thunderous "Come on!" shout, held serve, then saw AnaIvo essentially give away her service game with three double-faults one game later to break herself. Serena went on to win five straight games, and closed out the 6-3/6-4 win in one hour and fourteen minutes.

...once again, Francesca Schiavone and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova played a three-set slam match, but after the Russian blew that 6-1/4-1 lead in Paris, this one played out a tad differently. This time, it was the Italian -- the oldest woman left in the draw -- who took a lead on the 20-year old, the youngest woman left in the draw. Both players had a difficult time holding serve, as more than half the thirty-one games in the match were won with a break of serve. Pavlyuchenkova, even with her high double-fault total, ultimately faired better in the end. After taking an early lead in the set, she once again found herself in prime winning position... only to promptly blow two match points with backhand errors. But a Schiavone double-fault gave the Russian a third match point, and she ended things with a forehand down the line to win 5-7/6-3/6-4 to reach her second slam quarterfinal of '11. Afterward, she mentioned her squandered Paris match, saying that when she LOST the 1st set this time she thought it was "a good thing" since it meant the same scenario wasn't going to play out all over again. Unfortunately for her, she'll next face Serena. In a couple of years, Pavlyuchenkova might give her a go, but I'm not expecting much this time out.

...meanwhile, Andrea Petkovic didn't have to work quite as hard to get past Carla Suarez-Navarro, winning in straight sets (although, a 5-1 2nd set lead that ultimately ended up 6-4 had to annoy her a bit). CSN's loss means she won't reach the Final 8 at a third different slam in her career, though that she's even that close to doing it provides quite as odd comparison to her countrywoman Anabel Medina-Garrigues' career stats. CSN has zero tour titles compared to AMG's eleven, but AMG (hmmm, where have I heard this before?) is still looking for HER first career slam QF result. Oh, and speaking of AMG, she and Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez lost their Doubles QF match today (and, no, that QF doesn't count).

Petkovic, by the way, has reached the quarterfinals at three slams this season, more than any other woman in 2011.

...the eight women who've reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals are all different from the eight who reached the Final 8 at Wimbledon. In fact, there aren't that many repeats from the quarterfinalists in Melbourne and Paris, either. Three (Wozniacki, Zvonareva and Petkovic) are repeats from the Australian Open, and only two (Pavlyuchenkova & Petkovic) had similar results at Roland Garros.

...a little Week 35 housekeeping: Croatia's Ani Mijacika is the ITF Player of the Week. The 24-year old (#225 in the world) won the $25K challenger in Sarajevo, defeating Argentine Florencia Molinero in the final. Mijacika has 30-9 overall record in 2011, and this is her third singles crown on the circuit this year.

The "Junior Star" of the week is Canada's Eugenie Bouchard. The 17-year old -- the #4-ranked junior in the world, and a Girls semifinalist in Melbourne in January -- from Montreal won the Grade 1 Canadian Open in Repentigny. She defeated Indy de Vroome in the semis, then fellow Canadian Francoise Abanda in the final.

...in doubles on Day 8, #15-seeds Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci took down #2-seeded Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta. Meanwhile, in Mixed, wild card entry Melanie Oudin/Jack Sock advanced to the semifinals. As of now, there are only two women (both Czechs) still alive in both the Doubles and Mixed draws: Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova (QF w/ Iveta Benesova, SF w/ Philipp Petzschner) and Lucie Hradecka (QF w/ Andrea Hlavackova, SF w/ Frantisek Cermak).

...the Girls singles 1st Round is complete, and after twenty American girls were installed in the 64-player draw, there are still fourteen alive in the Final 32, including the likes of Madison Keys, Krista Hardebeck and Kyle McPhillips. In the biggest upset of Day 8, Sweden's Ellen Allgurin defeated the aforementioned #9 seed de Vroome (NED).

...a spare note from the other night: it was great to hear Martina Navratilova compliment Lisicki's off-court personality, calling her "a good egg." I've always loved that expression.

...a spare note from today: during a break in the action between Janko Tipsarevic and Juan Carlos Ferrero, when both players were being treated by trainers, John McEnroe and Mary Carillo briefly commented about the rash of retirements and walkovers at this tournament, with McEnroe especially harping on the belief that the season needed to be shortened in order to allow the players to be better able to survive the physical toll the sport puts on their bodies. The way they talked, you'd think that it was a truly important issue for the sport, and one that should be discussed seriously and acted upon for the best interest of the athletes, and the sport as a whole.

Silly television commentators. Don't they know that the biggest problem in tennis right now is the sounds the women make on the court? I thought everyone knew that. I practically begged -- through the mental mind bridge we all like to make through the TV screen -- one of the McEnroe and Carillo duo to come to their senses and remind the other about this. After all, they'd both spent time with Patrick McEnroe and Stacey Allaster over the past week. No such luck, though.

...and, finally, one has to wonder what kind of schedule we'll get on Day 9 in Flushing Meadows, what with the whale-of-a-rain-storm racing up the east coast today, tonight and tomorrow. I guess it was to be expected that this would come at some point during this fortnight, considering the earthquake/hurricane combo that kicked off the tournament.

And, alas, no roof is anywhere in sight in the near (or even distant, apparently) future for the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Sigh.

#1 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs. #10 Andrea Petkovic/GER
#28 Serena Williams/USA vs. #17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
Angelique Kerber/GER vs. #26 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
#9 Samantha Stosur/AUS vs. #2 Vera Zvonareva/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #22 Alexsandr Dolgopolov/UKR
#20 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB def. Juan Carlos Ferrero/ESP
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. Juan Monaco/ARG
#11 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA def. #8 Mardy Fish/USA
#28 John Isner/USA vs. #12 Gilles Simon/FRA
(WC) Donald Young/USA vs. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#5 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #21 Andy Roddick/USA
Gilles Muller/LUX vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#1 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO) vs. #5 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS)
#3 King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ) vs. #8 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)
#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. #7 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU)
Marrero/Seppi (ESP/ITA) vs. #9 Melzer/Petzschner (AUT/GER)
#6 Fyrstenberg/Matkowski (POL/POL) vs. #4 Bhupathi/Paes (IND/IND)
#5 Bopanna/Qureshi (IND/PAK) vs. Fleming/Hutchins (GBR/GBR)

(WC) Oudin/Sock (USA/USA) vs. #7 Vesnina/Paes (RUS/IND)
Dulko/Schwank (ARG/ARG) vs. Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE)

#10 Petkovic d. #1 Wozniacki IN TWO SETS (7-6/7-5, but if it goes 3 I'd take C-Woz)
#28 S.Williams d. #17 Pavlyuchenkova in TWO SETS (6-1/6-3, or somewhere thereabouts)
#26 Pennetta d. Kerber in TWO SETS (6-2/7-5... and no vomiting allowed)
#2 Zvonareva d. #9 Stosur in THREE SETS (say, around 7-5/4-6/6-2)

...Zvonareva (or, glory be to Goolagongis -- Pavlyuchenkova) winning would mean a Hordette has reached the semifinals at 28 of the past 31 slams. A Petkovic or Kerber win... well, I'm not even going to bother checking, but I'm SURE the last time a German woman appeared in the semis at back-to-back slams at least one (or both) of the instances involved a lady named Steffi. If both Petkovic and Kerber won? Well, I know two Germans were in a slam SF at RG in '93.

[through 4th Rd., with walkovers]
21-14...Russia (Pavlyuchenkova,Zvonareva)
15-14...United States (S.Williams)
14-4...Germany (Kerber,Petkovic)
10-6...Italy (Pennetta)
6-4...Australia (Stosur)
4-0...Denmark (Wozniacki)

[2011's career slam QF; w/ number at U.S.]
32...Serena Williams (9)
6...Vera Zvonareva (2)
5...Caroline Wozniacki (3)
4...Samantha Stosur (2)
3...Flavia Pennetta (3)
3...Andrea Petkovic (1)
2...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (1)
1...Angelique Kerber (1)
[career Slam QF - active; * - in U.S. QF]
33...Venus Williams
32...Serena Williams *
18...Kim Clijsters
15...Maria Sharapova
12...Svetlana Kuznetsova
9...Nadia Petrova
7...Jelena Jankovic
7...Dinara Safina
7...Francesca Schiavone
6...Kimiko Date-Krumm
6...Li Na
6...Vera Zvonareva *
5...Victoria Azarenka
5...Ana Ivanovic
5...Caroline Wozniacki *
[most in 2011; * - in U.S. QF]
3...Andrea Petkovic *
2...Victoria Azarenka
2...Marion Bartoli
2...Petra Kvitova
2...Li Na
2...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova *
2...Andrea Petkovic
2...Francesca Schiavone
2...Maria Sharapova
2...Caroline Wozniacki *
2...Vera Zvonareva *
[2011 Slam QF - by nation; number in U.S.]
7...Russia (2)
5..Germany (2)
3...Italy (1)
2...Czech Republic
2...Denmark (1)
1...AUS(1), AUT, BEL, BUL, POL, SVK, USA(1)
[Most SLAM QF - by nation, 2010-11; number in '11 U.S.]
13...Russia (2)
7...United States (1)
5...Germany (2)
5...Italy (1)
4...Belgium, Denmark (1)
3...Australia (1), Belarus, Czech Republic
2...Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Slovak Republic
1...Austria, Kazakhstan, Poland, Serbia

306...Martina Navratilova
299...Chris Evert
278...Steffi Graf
232...Jimmy Connors
227...Roger Federer (post-4r) *
224...Andre Agassi
222...Ivan Lendl
210...Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario
210...Venus Williams *
206...Serena Williams (post-4r) *
203...Pete Sampras

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JAN: Lu Jing-Jing, CHN
FEB: Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
MAR: Anastasiya Yakimova, BLR
1Q: Anastasiya Yakimova, BLR
APR: Marina Erakovic, NZL
MAY: Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
2Q: Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
JUN: Anna Tatishvili, GEO
JUN: Eleni Daniilidou, GRE (grass court)
JUL: Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
AUG: Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
[2011 Weekly Award Wins]
2...Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
2...Marina Erakovic, NZL

1st Rd. Weekend: Flavia Pennetta, ITA
SF Weekend: Jelena Jankovic, SRB

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.)
IT: Nominees: A.Pavlyuchenkova, one of the Bannerettes, a junior, C.Wozniacki
MS. OPPORTUNITY: a singles semifinalist
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: S.Williams, F.Pennetta, 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 (in QF)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: S.Stosur (two dramatic night wins, neither in Ashe Stadium), S.Stosur & M.Kirilenko (for 32-pt tie-break in 4th Rd.)
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominees: V.Williams ("One Night Only"), F.Schiavone (for combined '11 slam dramatic performances), S.Stosur & M.Kirilenko (for 32-pt tie-break in 4th Rd.)

All for Day 8. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

if i had to choose (and hopefully fans can have both), I think i would rather have players being able to play instead of grunt meters. i mean players retiring or not showing up is really affecting the quality of the matches...and it's really apparent at the open. since most players profess to not notice the grunting, i don't think it affects play as much.


I feel like the US Open should grow on Stosur. I was at her match last year against Dementieva and you would not believe how much support she has in the stands.

Tue Sep 06, 09:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

i debated about posting this, so feel free to delete if you want...but i chuckled at the title of your last post...it sounded rather salacious lol. (this probably says more about me than anything else...)...anyway, thanks so much for all your posts :)

Tue Sep 06, 09:57:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you think Caro is impressive but I'm more impressed by other things you write which is feeding the thread mill again with all the negative stuff she can't do. Todd take one game at a time and look on the entertainment value. This match was a serial of long good duels with great entertainment value. That's what tennis and other sports is all about. On the other hand we have Serena's game which I think is boring, if you want to see "male tennis" you can just as well choose the right product. Serena has a generous serve, 90% of cases giving the basic to the attack and ending the duel. Highly effective but very boring. Such is sport you have to fight with the weapons you have. Can Caroline beat Serena? Why not we saw Serena on the brink of fatigue last time she played. Had it gone to a third set she was not in the open any more. So yes Caroline can go all the way and roll over Serena if she has the same spirit and game as in the Kuznetsova match. Remember how 27000 people or as many as they can be there were cheering and enjoying themselves. I've heard that people are complaining about types like Djokovic because it's a one sided job and people pay a lot to watch the evening games. Yesterday they were entertained - big cheer to the WOzzy world of tennis.

Tue Sep 06, 10:49:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...


Such a "dirty" mind. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Hahaha. Umm, yeah. It thought someone might say that. But, I figured, let the mind wander where it wanders since it's only words. ;)


Oh, I thought she played very well over the last half of the match (it's easily the most entertaining night match on Ashe so far this Open). I tried to sort of sit on the fence after this match. The plot of the match was so very similar to the matches she's played in the past, which makes me question her ability to break through her glass ceiling at this slam. That said, I DID see progress in her willingness to go forward. As I've said many times before, it's going to take some time for her to get where she needs to, but she does seem to be going in the right direction at the moment.

And so ends today's Wozniology-101 course. Class dismissed. I'll check any additional comments and maybe include them in the next lecture. :D

I don't think a female player playing a physical brand of tennis is, in itself, a "male" game. Does that mean that Andy Murray plays a "female" game? I'm just saying, all players need to use the gameplan that has the best chance to make them the most successful they can be. Some fans like one style, while others enjoy a different one more. What's good about a one-on-one sport like tennis, we get to see those two sorts of styles go directly against each other and see what transpires. It's why it's so great when players with contrasting styles (like Navratilova/Evert) can BOTH be effective against the other, with the end result coming down to which player is playing better that particular day.

Tue Sep 06, 12:23:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Todd, can you explain why everyone is so excited for Sloane Stephens? I watched her match against Shahar and all i thought was weak backhand and lazy movement. Yes, she has a good first serve, but her second is slow and her forehand isn't that penetrating either. I can see how she might be a factor on clay...but I'm not seeing the "surefire top 30 talent" as people are writing.

I much prefer coco's weapons and key's serve and net skills and forehand and not too shabby backhand...

i agree that mchale will be a consistent top 50 player...and hopefully will become like a sybille bammer...lots of spin, good movement, occasional upsets...

i didn't see any of irina falconi. did you have an assessment on her?

vania is not doing badly either...and she actually has won a title so i don't understand why she gets no press...and i think her doubles play has helped her a lot. she's using angles really effectively these days. she's not going to ever blow anyone away, but if she gets a little stronger, i think she could be consistently in the top 40.

Oudin, riske, glatch could all be in the mix too if they got their heads in the right place.

but none of these players seems like the heir apparent or anything...(jury's still out on keys...i felt like she had a good mentality in her match...so perhaps she can handle the pressure)

Tue Sep 06, 02:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I'm most excited by Keys' potential. Physically, she's a big girl with a big game at 16, and with the possibility of really developing into a slam-winning type of player. The rest? Probably not, though McHale has made incredible progress over the last year, and Stephens seems to have the an untapped ability that could make her the wild card (along with Riske, who's had something of a disappointing '11) in the mix.

Honestly, I'm not good at picking out a player's best shots after just seeing them a time or two in matches. Well, unless a player has one particular shot that you simply can't avoid being wowed by -- which is probably why Keys' power makes me raise my eyebrows the most right now. It usually takes me a while to focus in on things like that. It just seems like I have a hard time watching matches in that way. I tend to focus most on a player's intesity, tenacity and big-point ability first, and then go from there. If they don't have the mental/heart intangibles, even nice weapons sometimes don't matter.

I think Stephens might have recently said that clay was her favorite surface, actually. Her game, in particular, seems to have the most room the grow. She put in a 119-mph serve in this event, so she's got some power. Her father was a great athlete, so it's in her genes, and her long legs remind me a little of Venus', and Williams has certainly been able to eat up the court with her big strides and get to all sorts of balls over the years. Stephens tends to drift in and out of some matches, though, and takes a while to get over bad shots. Her personality off the court is so great -- she's a star waiting to happen -- that you want to see her get everything out of her game that she can.

Of course, with all of those players, it'll be a wait and see situation. But if one or more can just be good enough to consistently be a Top 15-20 player, they'll have been more successful than any Americans over the past decade or so not named Williams, Davenport or Capriati. That's where the U.S.'s prospects have been so stunningly subpar of late. Having slam winning types is never a given, but there really haven't even been any consistent Americans in that NEXT (lower) level of players for a long time, either. Now, at least there seems to be a handful of players (well, 1 or 2) who have a shot at that. And beggars can't be choosers, you know.

Wed Sep 07, 02:47:00 PM EDT  

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