Friday, August 31, 2012

US 4.0 - The Past, the Present and the Future

On the day that the man who carried American tennis on his back for a decade announced his forthcoming retirement, the U.S. Open revolved around three Bannerettes... the past, present and future of American women's tennis.

Serena Williams, both the past and present (and maybe future, too) of U.S. tennis, is still the favorite at this event after all these years, (although she's lost more games than the likes of Azarenka, Sharapova & Stosur). On Day 4, she continued on her season-long quest to "officially" climb back atop the WTA standings (though she can't claim the #1 ranking after this Open). Her 2nd Round opponent was Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, an old "rival" who Williams once called a "cheater" after a contentious match at Roland Garros. Serena fell behind the Spaniard early in the 2nd set, but still pulled things together to win 6-2/6-4, closing out the match as Andy Roddick was holding the impromptu press conference in which he revealed that he'll end his career after this U.S. Open. Not that Serena missed anything. Friends with Roddick since she was ten years old, Serena said she knew he'd been thinking about making the announcement for a while now. Serena... always a few steps ahead of the curve.

As Williams was playing, so was Sloane Stephens. "Future Sloane" isn't revealing exactly how big she's actually going to be for American tennis, but with every win her importance surely seems to grow. Once again, Stephens' match-closing shakiness played a role in the drama of her match, but for the second time at this U.S. Open, she found a way to overcome it. After having held off Francesca Schiavone's dangerous 2nd set charge in the 1st Round, Stephens faced Germany's Tatjana Malek on Thursday.

Stephens found herself in a familiar position in the match -- serving for the 1st set. Unfortunately for her, she experienced a familiar sensation soon afterward, as well. As in managing to let the set slip away just moments after having been serving at 5-4. At 5-5, Stephens went to her frustrating "bad place" once again after a particularly strange replay situation, as a call was made, then changed by the chair umpire, then changed back... and then Stephens was told that she couldn't ask for a replay because she hadn't asked for one quickly enough. Hmmm... maybe she might have if she'd known exactly what the call was that she might want to challenge? Just a thought. As it turned out, the call SHOULD have gone in Stephens' favor. She ended up losing the game, then being broken again as Malek took the set at 7-5.

In the 2nd, Malek's tactic of not giving Stephens any pace to work with continued to pay dividends, visibly frustrating the American. Down 3-2, in an all-important over 15-minute, 26-point game #6, Stephens staved off break point to hold serve. Finding a way to avoid another collapse emboldened Stephens. After Malek held for 4-3, Stephens ran off a string of consecutive games, taking the set at 6-4 and quickly grabbing a two-break advantage at 4-1 in the 3rd. She won the match 5-7/6-4/6-2 to match her 3rd Round result at the Open from a season ago. She'll next face #12-seed Ana Ivanovic, the player who defeated her at this tournament last year. If she can turn the tables, only one of two other unseeded players -- Tsvetana Pironkova or Silvia Soler-Espinosa -- would stand between "Current Sloane" and her first career slam QF result. Has "Future Sloane" been holding out on me? Is this Open going to play host to the moment in which Stephens comes a "star?" We shall see.

Later in the night session on Ashe, Venus Williams attempted to see if her future role in American tennis will even come close to the one she had in the past. Facing off with #6-seed Angelique Kerber, both players had a difficult time holding serve in the early-going as the match began with five straight breaks. Kerber finally held for 4-2, then closed out the set at 6-2. In the 2nd, after having lost all five of her service games, Williams finally began to hold, doing so twice in a row to take a 3-2 lead. Soon after, the break-fest picked up again. Three straight breaks of serve, two pulled off by Kerber, allowed the German to serve for the match at 5-4.

Suddenly, Venus, with a vocal crowd backing her, looked more and more like her "old self" (but not her "old" self). Meanwhile, Kerber sometimes resembled the ready-to-explode player who failed to convert five match points against Tamira Paszek in the Eastbourne final in June, then blew a lead against Li Na in the Cincinnati final two weeks ago. Williams broke back when Kerber missed on an opposite court forehand directed behind the running-along-the-baseline Williams, then Venus finally hit her first ace of the match in the next game. She held for 6-5 then, when Kerber failed to convert a game point in game #12, broke the German to take the set 7-5.

Sporting an 18-2 mark in three-setters this season, though, Kerber knows something about outlasting an opponent. While she DOES have a tendency to let her anger wobble her a bit in a tight match, she usually pulls herself together in the nick of time. Such solidness of game and temperament is why she's risen from outside the Top 100 to on the border of the Top 5 is a little over a year. And those fighting traits showed up again in this match. Down 4-2 with Williams serving, a scrappy Kerber's put away of a spectacular volley brought forth a clenched fist that morphed into a "#1" sign before she closed her hand and punched the sky. Whether or not she was gesturing to the pro-Venus crowd, which had wildly cheered a Kerber double-fault earlier in the match and sometimes called out in support of Williams at inappropriate times, her feelings were clear -- she wasn't going to just hand over the match to Venus no matter how much the crowd might have wanted her to do so. Kerber got the break for 4-3, picked up steam and saw the finish line ahead of her once again.

After breaking Venus for a 6-5 lead, Kerber once more served for the match. As Venus' unforced error total grew to over 60 (she'd hit her 15th DF three games earlier), the German didn't let her serve slip away this time. Just as she did against countrywoman Sabine Lisicki at Wimbledon, in which she overcame a 5-3 3rd set deficit on her way to the semifinals, Kerber was able to find her best game at the end of a long, tough battle. She won 6-2/5-7/7-5 in 2:45, with the match concluding at 12:20 am.

So, while Roddick's departure will leave U.S. men's tennis without its past leader, and still looking for a true champion for the present and future, the same can't be said of the American women. Right now, THEIR past, present and future are still front and center... sometimes all at the same time.

...Kim Clijsters took one more step toward FULL retirement on Day 4, as she and Kirsten Flipkens lost their 1st Round doubles match against Chuang Chia-Jung & Zhang Shuai. By this time tomorrow, though, it could be ALL over. KC and Bob Bryan face off with Irina Falconi & Steve Johnson in the Mixed Doubles 1st Round.

...a few awards were wrapped up today:

-- the Pastries get the "Revelation Ladies" honor in a tight race over the Bannerettes. Wild Card Kristina Mladenovic notched wins over Marina Erakovic and #17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, while Pauline Parmentier took out Michaella Krajicek and #25 Yanina Wickmayer. Also, #11 Marion Bartoli is still alive in the draw. I'd also considered the Americans, spurred into contention by the likes of Sloane Stephens, Varvara Lepchenko and Mallory Burdette, the three U.S. woman not named Serena in the 3rd Round.

The "Last Qualifier Standing" is Hordette Olga Puchkova. It took her a few attempts to finally serve out her three-set 2nd Round match against Kiki Bertens on Day 4, but she finally managed to do it. In a match taking place almost in lock-step with that one, the only other qualifier still alive in the draw -- Britain's Johanna Konta -- also took multiple stabs at serving out HER match against Olga Govortsova. She wasn't as lucky as Puchkova, though. Govortsova ended up winning the three-setter.

Caroline Wozniacki's 1st Round conqueror didn't last long, as Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) was taken out today by Siliva Soler-Espinosa (the "LQS" at this Open last year, by the way). Thus, Begu joins in on the Swarmette 2nd Round collapse. Still, the Romanians win the "Upset Queens" award for this slam, highlighted by 1st Round wins over Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki and Iveta Benesova, although they followed up their 4-2 1st Round mark by going 0-4 in the next round.

...around the grounds, Yaroslava Shvedova won't be around to challenge any top seeds at this slam. After taking the lead against #20-seed Roberta Vinci and seemingly being on her way to victory, Shvedova saw the Italian vet "pull a Schiavone" and stage a comeback that ended with Vinci winning 3-6/7-5/7-5. #2 Agnieszka Radwanska, too, seemed in trouble today after dropping the 1st set against Carla Suarez-Navarro. But another melon didn't go to waste, as A-Rad surged back to knot the match, then crushed the Spaniard 6-0 in the 3rd, taking the final eleven games of the match.


during one of ESPN2's "multi-box discussions," after Mary Joe Fernandez had begun to break up while talking about the departures of two of her favorite players -- Clijsters and now Roddick -- Patrick McEnroe, from another location, shouting out to Darren Cahill, standing next to MJF, to "give Mary Joe a hug."

-- the video of Kim Clijsters, after sitting down behind the microphone for her final press conference, looking out at the assembled media with a grin on her face. Then suddenly quickly clapping her hands like a little kid and saying, "Last time!" It was actually quite endearing.


Venus' hitting partner David Witt's words -- or at least their tone -- about Kerber during the 1st set during his in-the-stands interview with Pam Shriver. Although Williams WAS breaking Kerber's serve in the match, Witt's dismissive-sounding comment that Venus "can break this girl's serve whenever she wants" wasn't exactly the epitome of tact. Kudos, though, to Shriver -- who knows a little about people's reactions to a poorly-toned comment during a U.S. Open night match -- for quickly pointing out that he was talking about the #6-ranked player in the world, who'd won more matches this season than any other woman on tour. She could have, and should have, also reminded Witt that Kerber had also already beaten Venus AND Serena in the last month, too.

...?????? FROM DAY 4:

the A-Rad vs. JJ 3rd Rounder WILL take place. I hope the world can handle it.

...and, finally,

=EARLY-ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rounds (Days 1-4)=
TOP PLAYER: Samantha Stosur/AUS
...remember her? The defending champ. While top-seeded Vika Azarenka has been said to be operating under the radar at this even, Stosur is so out-of-mind that no one's even THINKING enough of her to call her "under-the-radar." Still, she's managed to maneuver through the tricky early rounds, proving at least that she's not going to bomb out as early in NYC as she did in Melbourne. She's lost just five total games in the first two rounds.

2. Maria Sharapova, RUS
3. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
4. Serena Williams, USA
5. Li Na, CHN
HM- Petra Kvitova, CZE

RISERS: Angelique Kerber/GER & Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP
SURPRISES: Mallory Burdette/USA & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
VETERANS: Nadia Petrova/RUS & Mandy Minella/LUX

"This completely feels like the perfect place to retire." - Kim Clijsters

FRESH FACES Laura Robson/GBR & Sloane Stephens/USA
COMEBACKS: Olga Puchkova/RUS & Marion Bartoli/FRA
DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & the Germans-not-named-Angelique

"Why Chinese still use chopsticks? Why Chinese have to put the family name first, right? I think lot American people couldn't understand, yeah. Two thing already. I couldn't find a third one." - Li Na, on what Americans don't understand about China

[U.S. Open]
2002 (Week 1 POW) Serena Williams, USA *
2003 (Week 1 POW) Jennifer Capriati, USA
2004 (Week 1 POW) Serena Williams, USA
2005 (Week 1 POW) Maria Sharapova, RUS
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS *
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Venus Williams, USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS
AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR *
RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS *
WI: Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
US: Samantha Stosur, AUS
* - won title

[U.S. Open]
2006 Russia
2007 Ukraine
2008 Slovak Republic
2009 Belarus
2010 North America
2011 United States
2012 France
AO: Germany
RG: France
WI: Netherlands
US: France

[U.S. Open]
2004 Russia
2005 United States
2006 France
2007 Russia
2008 China
2009 United States
2010 Taiwan
2011 Romania
2012 Romania
AO: Russia
RG: United States
WI: United States
US: Romania

[U.S. Open]
2006 E.Birnerova/CZE, Y.Fedossova/FRA, K.Flipkens/BEL, V.Lepchenko/UZB, A.Radwanska/POL (2nd Rd.)
2007 Alize Cornet/FRA & Ekaterina Makarova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld/GER (4th Rd.)
2009 Anastasia Rodionova/AUS (3rd Rd.)
2010 Lourdes Dominquez-Lino/ESP & Mandy Minella/LUX (3rd Rd.)
2011 Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP (in 3rd Rd.)
2012 Olga Puchkova/RUS (in 3rd Rd.)
AO: Nina Bratchikova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
RG: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (QF)
WI: Carmila Giorgi/ITA (4th Rd.)
US: Olga Puchkova/RUS (in 3rd Rd.)

[through 2nd Rd.]
13-6...Russia (Kirilenko,Makarova,Petrova,Puchkova,Sharapova)
9-12...United States (Burdette,Lepchenko,Stephens,S.Williams)
8-5...Czech Republic (Hlavackova,Kvitova,Safarova)
7-4...France (Bartoli,Mladenovic,Parmentier)
6-6...Spain (Soler-Espinosa)
5-1...Serbia (Ivanovic,Jankovic)
4-0...Belarus (Azarenka,Govortsova)
4-1...China (Li,Zheng)
4-3...Italy (Errani,Vinci)
4-4...Australia (Stosur)
3-2...Slovak Republic (Cibulkova)
3-3...Great Britain (Robson)
3-5...Germany (Kerber)
2-0...Bulgaria (Pironkova)
2-0...Georgia (Tatishvili)
2-0...Luxembourg (Minella)
2-1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
=no players left in draw=
4-6 = ROU
3-3 = BEL
2-4 = KAZ
1-1 = CAN
1-2 = JPN,SWE
1-3 = NED,SUI
1-4 = HUN
0-2 = CRO,ISR
0-3 = UKR

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JAN: Maria Sharapova, RUS
FEB: Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
MAR: Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
APR: Jelena Jankovic, SRB
MAY: Alize Cornet, FRA
JUN: Melanie Oudin, USA
JUL: Olga Puchkova, RUS
AUG: Jelena Jankovic, SRB
[2012 Weekly "Comeback" Wins]
3...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2...Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
2...Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
2...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2...Venus Williams, USA
2...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: (WC) Krista Hardebeck/USA def. Tamaryn Hendler/BEL 7-6(9)/5-7/7-6(3)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #6 Angelique Kerber/GER def. Venus Williams/USA 6-2/5-7/7-5
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: Nominee: 2nd Rd. - #6 A.Kerber/GER d. V.Williams/USA 6-2/5-7/7-5 (2:45, ends at 12:20 am)
FIRST WINNER: Anna Tatishvili/GEO (def. Foretz-Gacon/FRA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #27 Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP (lost to Hradecka/CZE)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Germany (four of five highest-ranked Germans fell in 1st Round)
CRASH & BURN: Nominees: #8 Wozniacki/DEN (lost 1st Rd. to Begu, after Open #1 seed in 2010-11; second straight 1st Rd. slam loss); #23 Clijsters/BEL (lost 2nd Rd. to Robson; ends 22-match U.S. Open match win streak)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #6 Kerber/GER (down 4-2 in 3rd set vs. V.Williams, 2nd Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Olga Puchkova/RUS (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Mallory Burdette/USA & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA in 3rd Rd.
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: 4 Americans in 3rd Rd.
IT: xx
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: S.Stephens/USA

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

That first set between Venus and Kerber was hard to watch. Venus is turning into Davenport...unable to close big matches...and my heart can't stand to watch those types of matches too much. By the third set, I was so invested that I knew that if Venus lost, I was going to be in a bad mood.

At least it was tempered by the fact that Kerber is amazing. She got to SO MANY balls. And her humble attitude, but steely competitiveness (for every point) is appealing. (Kinda like Nadal.) I'm turning into a big fan. Although...watching her turn her opponents into error-hitting messes does kind of lose it's appeal after awhile... She handled the crowd beautifully and I hope that she'll get more support in the future.

But seriously, her opponents need to exploit her second serve, forehand, and positioning on the deuce court better... And they need to come into the match not underestimating Kerber. Kerber is always ready for EVERY point from the FIRST point and Venus, Petra, and Serena (and the tour) haven't been able to handle that. Li Na also barely escaped.

I hope Caroline is watching because she needs to make her game like this.

Fri Aug 31, 10:01:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I've never been a big fan of either Roddick or Clijsters' tennis...but as I've grown up, I've appreciated them as people. I always give a lot of kudos to Roddick for continually trying to improve and for his day-in-day-out dedication to the game over a sustained amount of time. Discipline and a lack of ego are very honorable things to have. And I've come to recognize that to Clijsters, family is the most important thing. Goals, career, fame/money don't motivate her. And she's had to marry that priority to her job...and it's not easy to give 100% to a job when your mind is on something else (as I've learned in my own life).

Their retirements have made me tear up a couple times already. It's just a reminder that time goes on and things change and good people move in and out of your life. And there's something innately bittersweet about that...the fact that you can't recapture the past.

Fri Aug 31, 10:21:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Eric, I feel the same way. With all their flaws (we all have them), Kim and Andy were dedicated champions, and treated both fans and peers with great respect. Most of the time--when Andy "went off"--I thought he was right on target. Usually, I admired him for saying whatever he said. Also, he was always very positive about the women's tour.

I never got to see Kim play live and close-up, but I got to see Andy play twice--once at the BNP Paribas Masters, and once at Davis Cup. I'm glad I was able to do that.

Fri Aug 31, 11:14:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Robson a star? Or li just not managing well, after such a pre tune up high, didn't manage to play up a gear in the last slam. Well, Carlos has more work to do, li is still no henin. Now, looks like stosur and vika, and it looks like a reasonable match up, a defending champ and the world no. 1. Of course unless someone gets in the way in next 2 rounds.....

Fri Aug 31, 01:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Robson couldn't possibly take out Stosur, TOO, could she? If she did, wow, we'd be starting to talk about an epic string of victories... with maybe more still to come.

Fri Aug 31, 02:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Here's something to think about: Stosur could have a mental lapse; Robson won't. Stosur needs to come out with the mind of a defending champion.

Fri Aug 31, 02:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I predicted Robson would take out Clijsters...but I didn't think she'd take out Li too...

Storm just said Lucie Saf-OVA and Marcus BaghDITE-is. I think that reading should be a basic requirement for commentating.

Fri Aug 31, 03:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Stosur's done a good job of that so far, but you never know when she'll revert back to past shaky form. Much like last year's run, she's yet to truly be put under the microscope (i.e. scheduled later in the day on a show court, or on Ashe in the night session... speaking of which, isn't it about time the defending champ was put on in primetime?).

I haven't been clunking HS over the head at this Open... but thank you for that. :D

Fri Aug 31, 03:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Stosur just seems to be the hidden woman in Flushing Meadows. If there's another rain delay, she'll probably have to borrow JJ's helicopter.

Fri Aug 31, 05:17:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

So sharapova announced her engagement was over since springtime. Is that why she suddenly starting to win tournaments? Singlemindedness.....

I love vika's post match interview saying she was listening to American rap songs implying with dirty words in the lyrics.... Haha. And her style of hoodie and earphone seem to sink in too. If anywhere , US crowd should be quite accepting to this style. I don't exactly like her dancing but she seemed so happy and enjoying herself under the lights.

Fri Aug 31, 10:55:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I should have added that their names are phonetic. SHEESH.

This is why people fear for the state of American education.

*eye roll*

I mean it's not like "Safarova" is "Hlavackova" or "Lertcheewakarn". I could forgive her for missing those ones. But even for the hard ones, it's her job to get the athletes' names right.

Fri Aug 31, 11:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, after she was calling Tsonga by the name "Jo-Wilifred" last year, I've sort of expected almost anything to come out of her mouth when she starts calling players by name. :)

Fri Aug 31, 11:32:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


Yeah, talk about "guarded." She's even joked (or so we thought) recently about there supposedly being a wedding in her future, wondering where people had heard that. Yet she never told the whole story until she was DIRECTLY asked the question. So very Maria. ;)

Fri Aug 31, 11:35:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home