US 12.0 - Hello, Her Name is Victoria
The women's singles finalists were determined on Friday. Going in, one's name was something of a given. The name of the other was a real question, though.
As it turns out, her name is Victoria.
Victoria Azarenka def. Maria Sharapova 3-6/6-2/6-4
...in the first semifinal of the day, Sharapova seemed bound and determined to not fall into the same sort of hole she had against Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals. As Azarenka seemed tentative, Maria was anything but. She jumped on the Belarusian quickly, and Vika double-faulted on break point to fall behind 2-0 before finally holding serve in game #4. But when Sharapova got another break for a 5-1 lead, it looked like the 1st would be over in a flash. Except it wasn't. While she couldn't entirely pull back the set, that's was when the world #1 finally got into the match.
Vika broke Sharapova for 5-2, then held to force her to serve out the set. But Sharapova double-faulted to fall behind 15/30, then a hard Azarenka groundstroke jammed her and resulted in a sprayed backhand. 15/40. But Azarenka slipped ever-to-slightly back into her early-form, enough to produce a few errors that took away her advantage. On her second set point, Sharapova fired an ace to claim the stanza.
Sharapova went up an early break at 1-0 in the 2nd, too. But Vika struck quickly after that, with a big return getting her a break point, which she converted to get back on serve. Another Sharapova double-fault allowed Azarenka to break for a 3-1 lead. At 4-2, she saved a break point and, one game later, came back from a love/40 deficit on Sharapova's serve (courtesy of a couple more DFs) to break on her second opportunity of the game and win the 2nd set.
As the 3rd set began, it was good to note that Sharapova was 12-0 in three-set matches this season, while Azarenka was 11-0, making it crystal clear that this match was going to come down to something of a staring contest. Whoever blinked first would lose. Azarenka, with momentum on her side, was ready, willing and able to meet the challenge. She didn't even want to take the between-set 10-minute break that was allowed because of Extreme Heat conditions. Sharapova took it, though. After stepping out for a few minutes, Vika returned, while Sharapova lingered off court for the full allotted time. In the meantime, Azarenka decided to hit a few balls to the ball people to warm up, even though they didn't even have any rackets -- they'd just throw the balls back to her. Never seen THAT before.
After Azarenka took a 2-1 lead, Sharapova made her stand. In a ten-minute, five-deuce game in which she faced two break points, Sharapova managed to hold to get things knotted at 2-2. But it turned out to be the Russian's last stand. Late in the match, after Azarenka had held for 5-4, Sharapova served to stay in the match. She quickly fell behind love/30, but got things back to 30-all. But a forehand error gave Azarenka a match point. Vika missed a forehand down-the-line shot that could have ended it, but she got another chance to convert after she'd gone on the attack with a gutsy shot that caught the line, then followed it up with a put-away winner. On Azarenka's second match point, Sharapova aired a ball long and it was over. Azarenka had advanced to her first U.S. Open final.
As she promised IMFAO's lead singer Redfoo earlier in the tournament, Azarenka celebrated with a little on-court shuffling.
Serena Williams def. Sara Errani 6-1/6-2
...I'm not sure why this match wasn't scheduled before the Sharapova/Azarenka match, since what was going to happen was pretty much figured correctly by everyone (probably even Errani) before the match started. It would have served as a better appetizer than the dessert it was presented to be. As it is, Errani lost the first five games of the match, but ended up winning a total of three... which is about three more than I'd feared for her might be the case before the match. There's no shame in Errani losing 1 & 2, for Serena took out even higher-ranked players than #10 Errani in recent matches by even more dominant scorelines, including one Ms. Vika Azarenka at the Olympics.
So, here we are. Vika is 1-9 against Serena in her career, but has often played her especially well on hard courts (she led a set and 4-0 in Melbourne once, only to see Williams surge back to win, then go on to win the tournament... naturally). But the Vika that fell apart in that match isn't the Vika we're seeing on the court right now, and have for a large chunk of this season (and ALL of the hard court circuit). As she showed today, the current world #1 is capable of staring down one of the tour's steeliest competitors on a huge stage and emerging with a victory, with nary a single tempter tantrum or public scolding of herself to "tarnish" the result in the minds of some, either.
But, as usual, if Williams plays the "Serena Tennis" that she's been so searching for -- but, according to her, hasn't quite found just yet at this tournament -- Azarenka might not have much say in things on Saturday night. But we sort of thought that at this time a year ago, too. Yet it was Sam Stosur who came to Flushing Meadows two weeks ago as the defending champ, not Serena. No matter the outcome, Vika will still be ranked #1 after the women's final, but it's easy to see the final match for the Open crown as something of a battle for the heart of the 2012 season. A Serena win (a 15th slam) will mean her Golden summer will have included titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Open. No woman has won in London and NYC in the same summer since Serena herself did it in 2002, and none have also included a Gold medal in the mix since Venus pulled off the feat twelve years ago. A Serena win, no matter her ranking, will make her unquestioned queen (again) of the sport. Meanwhile, Azarenka will be looking for not only a sweep of this season's hard court slam crowns, but also the ability to claim that she's conquered ALL the reigning slam champions at this one event -- with wins over the '11 U.S. champ (Stosur), '12 RG winner (Sharapova) and '12 Wimbledon titlist (Serena), while having won the '12 AO and '12 U.S. herself.
That'd be quite a resume-builder. Who knows, it might even be enough to finally "force" those people who still want to spend the majority of their time talking about the noise she makes on the court, or why she's not as likeable, "worthy" or "huggable" as some of the other top players on tour, to finally accept her for the champion she's become over the past year, rather than the current "oh, yeah, and then there's the #1 player, who no one is paying attention to" tone that has sometimes developed around her time at the top this season.
While Serena's legacy and place in the game are secure, Saturday night is Azarenka's chance to author the second chapter in her attempt to forever change many of the perceptions about her. It's her opportunity to rise above the din, to stand up and say, if only in her mind and those of everyone watching, "My name is Victoria... and I'm the best in the world."
But, of course, Serena will have a LOT to say about that, too.
=DAY 12 NOTES=
...Azarenka gets the "Zombie Queen" award for her comeback from a set-and-a-break deficit to reach her first Open final.
...in the juniors, Bannerette Vickie Duval's dreamy U.S. Open continues. After upsetting #3-seed Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday, she defeated #9 Anna Danilina (KAZ) today to reach the SF. A wild card entry in the draw, Duval will face #12 seed Anett Kontaveit (EST) next. Kontaveit upset #1-seed Taylor Townsend today. The other semifinal will feature another American wild card, Samantha Crawford (who made it through the women's qualifying, too), who advanced via a walkover from #2-seed Yulia Putintseva, against #4-seeded Antonia Lottner (GER).
In the Girls Doubles, Townsend & Gabby Andrews (the #4 seeds) will face #2-seeded Belinda Bencic & Petra Uberalova (SUI/SVK). Townsend & Andrews won the Australian Open Girls title in January, and were the U.S. Open Girls runners-up last year. Townsend also won this year's Wimbledon Girls doubles final with Bouchard, defeating Bencic, who was teamed with Ana Konjuh (CRO).
...DISLIKES FROM DAY 12:
-- today, I did something I've never had to do before -- turn down the sound on Mary Carillo. Apparently, now she's a full-fledged member of "them," one of the media members who've now made the issue of how much noise certain players make on the court more important than the play that's actually going on there during matches.
At one point today, CBS even went so far as to air footage during the match of both Sharapova and Azarenka's PRACTICE SESSIONS, while Carillo whined about them making less noise then than during the match. Then she dragged out the already-ancient chestnut about the Wimbledon official telling her about all the complaints he hears from fans and how it might be hurting attendance. Blahblahbah. Talk about a lot of noise.
A big thank-you to Bill Macatee, though, who saw fit to break into the nonsense with actual facts about the MATCH. Imagine that. Who knew THAT was going on? Of course, that didn't mean that Carillo couldn't come back again later -- at 4-3 in THE THIRD SET, for Goolagongis' sake! -- and go off on another mini-rant about the loudness. Carillo said she was "disappointed in the WTA" for not doing more to punish current noisy players, instead choosing to focus on preventing the next generation of players from following in their loud footsteps. Well, I was even more disappointed in Carillo.
Of course, Carillo seemed to have something prickly up her butt all day today, sounding off more loudly than usual about players not making replay challenges quickly enough, blahblahblah. In the particular instance today, she complained because Sharapova had the gall to ask for a replay look about three seconds after the point, rather than the "concrete" limit of two. As I've said for a while, the players are already limited in the number of replays they can ask for in match, so to me it's not that big a deal if a player takes a moment (without going to an extreme of 10-15 seconds of contemplation) to consider whether they want to potentially waste one of their few chances to possibly get a call corrected. I mean, what's the goal here, anyway? To get the call CORRECT, or to make sure a match doesn't last a few seconds longer? On the flip side, if a player starts throwing out replay challenges willy-nilly (like, say, a certain chaotic Serb sometimes does), you just know they're going to be criticized for THAT, too. Additionally, why it's such a BIG DEAL that a player gives a quick look to the players box to see about a call is beyond me, especially if someone there might have had a better view. Once again, as I've said before, once the WTA decided to allow coaches to come onto the court during matches in regular tour events, to restrict such visits -- or for commentators to complain if a player asks for a little assistance in something so they don't make some ridiculously-bad challenge -- seems a bit absurd.
The can of worms has been opened already. If you don't like it, then close it again. THEN there'd be a basis for complaint.
...and finally, Esther Vergeer is now a four-time Paralympic singles Gold Medalist. She defeated countrywoman Aniek Van Koot (about a decade younger than Vergeer, and playing in her first Games) 6-0/6-3 in the woman's wheelchair final. She's won Gold at Sydney in '00, Athens in '04, and Beijing in '08 before winning in London. Vergeer has now won 470 straight matches, a streak just a few months short of a full decade of utter domination.
On Saturday, she'll go for her third career Gold in doubles.
*WOMEN'S SINGLES FINAL*
#1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #4 Serena Williams/USA
*MEN'S SINGLES SF*
#6 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. #3 Andy Murray/GBR
#4 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#3 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. #2 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA)
*MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL*
#2 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) def. #5 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE) 6-3/6-4
*MIXED DOUBLES FINAL*
Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA) def. #4 Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL) 6-7/6-1/12-10
*GIRLS SINGLES SF*
#12 Anett Kontaveit/EST vs. (WC) Victoria Duval/USA
#4 Antonina Lottner/GER vs. (WC) Samantha Crawford/USA
*BOYS SINGLES SF*
#8 Kaichi Uchida/JPN vs. #13 Liam Broady/GBR
Yoshito Nishioka/JPN vs. #2 Filip Peliwo/CAN
*GIRLS DOUBLES FINAL*
#4 Andrews/Townsend (USA/USA) vs. #2 Bencic/Uberalova (SUI/SVK)
*BOYS DOUBLES FINAL*
#6 Kyrgios/Thompson (AUS/AUS) vs. #8 Edmund/Ferreira Silva (GBR/POR)
**U.S. OPEN "ZOMBIE QUEEN" WINNERS**
2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2011 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
AO: Kim Clijsters, BEL
RG: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
WI: Tamira Paszek, AUT
US: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
**MEN'S DOUBLES CHAMPIONS**
[recent U.S. Opens]
2002 Mahesh Bhupathi & Max Mirnyi
2003 Jonas Bjorkman & Todd Woodbridge
2004 Mark Knowles & Daniel Nestor
2005 Bob & Mike Bryan
2006 Martin Damm & Leander Paes
2007 Simon Aspelin & Julian Knowle
2008 Bob & Mike Bryan
2009 Lukas Dlouhy & Leander Paes
2010 Bob & Mike Bryan
2011 Jurgen Melzer & Philipp Petzschner
2012 Bob & Mike Bryan
AO: Leander Paes & Radek Stepanek
RG: Max Mirnyi & Daniel Nestor
WI: Jamie Marray & Frederik Nielsen
US: Bob & Mike Bryan
**MIXED DOUBLES CHAMPIONS**
[recent U.S. Opens]
1998 Serena Williams/Max Mirnyi, USA/BLR
1999 Ai Sugiyama/Mahesh Bhupathi, JPN/IND
2000 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario/Jared Palmer, ESP/USA
2001 Rennae Stubbs/Todd Woodbridge, AUS/AUS
2002 Lisa Raymond/Mike Bryan, USA/USA
2003 Katarina Srebotnik/Bob Bryan, SLO/USA
2004 Vera Zvonareva/Bob Bryan, RUS/USA
2005 Daniela Hantuchova/Mahesh Bhupathi, SVK/IND
2006 Martina Navratilova/Bob Bryan, USA/USA
2007 Victoria Azarenka/Max Mirnyi, BLR/BLR
2008 Cara Black/Leander Paes, ZIM/IND
2009 Carly Gullickson/Travis Parrott, USA/USA
2010 Liezel Huber/Bob Bryan, USA/USA
2011 Melanie Oudin/Jack Sock, USA/USA
2012 Ekaterina Makarova/Bruno Soares, RUS/BRA
AO: Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Horia Tecau, USA/ROU
RG: Sania Mirza & Mahesh Bhupathi, IND/IND
WI: Lisa Raymond & Mike Bryan, USA/USA
US: Ekaterina Makarova & Bruno Soares, RUS/BRA
**MEN'S SLAM TITLES**
[total singles/doubles/mixed - active]
[men's doubles slam titles - Open era teams]
12...BOB & MIKE BRYAN, 2003-12
11...Mark Woodforde & Todd Woodbridge, 1992-00
**CAREER ATP DOUBLES TITLES**
83...MIKE BRYAN *
81...Bob Bryan *
79...Daniel Nestor *
[teams - all-time]
80...BOB & MIKE BRYAN *
61...Mark Woodforde & Todd Woodbridge
TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #4 Serena Williams/USA
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
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 MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF/Doub.): Mixed Doubles 2nd Rd. - Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA) def. Clijsters/B.Bryan (BEL/USA) 6-2/3-6/12-10
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
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)
UPSET QUEENS: Romanians
REVELATION LADIES: French
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Germany (four of five highest-ranked Germans fell in 1st Round)
CRASH & BURN: #8 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (lost 1st Rd. to I.Begu/ROU -- was Open #1 seed in 2010-11; second straight 1st Rd. slam loss)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (in SF, came back from being down a set and a break vs. Sharapova in SF; reaches first U.S. Open final)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Olga Puchkova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Mallory Burdette/USA & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA (3rd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: Serena Williams/USA (in SF)
IT: Laura Robson/GBR (best British slam result since 1998)
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: #10 Sara Errani/ITA (first Italian in U.S. Open SF)
COMEBACK PLAYER: #12 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (best slam results since won '08 RG)
BROADWAY-BOUND: "Future Sloane" (entering the spotlight... eventually)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: S.Williams/USA, M.Sharapova/RUS
DOUBLES STAR: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Victoria Duval/USA
All for Day 12. More tomorrow.