Friday, September 06, 2013

US.12 - Breaking Bad: "Present Imperfect, Part VI"

Years ago, Leonard Nimoy hosted a paranormal investigation series called "In Search Of..." Oh, if only we could go back to those days... because someone needs to find Victoria Azarenka's New York groove before it's too late.

Vika, newly-minted finalist, has scratched and clawed her way through this U.S. Open, often with the scrapiness of a street fighter grasping for anything at hand to win a brawl with an opponent. But rather than a chunk of brick gathered from beneath a crumbling wall and hurling it at her foe in order to distract her, Vika has often employed a point-shortening angled forehand to drag her opponent off the court, then utilized a well-timed net rush to put away a winner and escape to the next point like she would use a garbage can lid swung at her opponent's face to win a "moment" to allow her to breathe. Her "French Touch" drop shop? Just call it the rough equivalent of a broken beer bottle Vika found at her feet. There's an art to threatening someone with a lethal weapon that can just as easily be turned back against her, as drop shots don't always work, and Azarenka has lived -- but not died, yet -- by such ballsy tactics for most of the past two weeks.

There's striving to be an "old school Noo Yawker," a good thing at the Open, and there's dangerous behavior... and Azarenka is seriously blurring the lines right about now.

Six matches in, Vika IS still looking for that groove -- something will come in handy if she's going to leave Flushing Meadows after this weekend with a bit more hardware in hand than she did a year ago -- but something has to be said for the grit and competitive pugnacity of this young woman. Few players, save maybe her next opponent, have managed to drag herself into a slam final while simultaneously finding herself painted into a corner by her own hand at nearly every turn, as she has. Today's alley-partner was world #83 Flavia Pennetta, 31, in her first career slam semifinal after having successfully battled back from wrist surgery last summer. She came into the semifinals having not lost a set at this tournament. Meanwhile, #2-seed Azarenka had been taken to three sets twice and lost more games than any of the final four women in the women's singles draw.

Any thoughts that maybe Vika had found her groove somewhere between a Stevie Wonder original and a Marvin Gaye tune went out the window in the first few minutes of the match. From the outset, again, it was apparent that this Azarenka was going to bear a striking resemblance to the one who has often stumbled through large sections of her Open matches, transforming them into instructional seminars on how to simply "hold on." After breaking Pennetta in the opening game, she immediately fell down 15/40 in her own initial turn to serve. After failing in multiple attempts to put a winner past the Italian at the net, Azarenka was broken. Much like in earlier matches, as soon as Vika would raise her game -- breaking at love for 3-2 -- she'd quickly fall back on the other side -- hitting her fourth double-fault of the match (already) to fall down 15/30 -- and get broken. This time for 3-3.

It went on like his all set, as seven of the first nine games featured breaks of serve. While Azarenka's game was scratchy, Pennetta's own service difficulties allowed her to be and still not let the match (or set) get away from her. After the Italian had failed to convert a game point in Game #9, Azarenka finally got the break for 5-4 on a Pennetta forehand error. But, naturally, Vika wasn't going to take the set easily. While she successfully served out the 6-4 set, she did so after failing to put away five set points. On the bright side, the tenth game did allow Azarenka to finally get her first forehand and backhand winners of the match.

The 2nd set began just like the 1st, with breaks of serve in the first three games. Finally, in Game #4, Azarenka got an easy hold, and it seemed to clear her head and allow her to simply play the game that has made her the best hard court player in the world the last two seasons, no matter that it hasn't looked that way all too often this year in New York. She broke Pennetta at love for 4-1, taking eleven of twelve points. Still, after going up 40/15, Vika managed to drop serve for 4-2. But after breaking the Italian for the eighth time in nine service games, Azarenka upped her aggression and put away a stinging swinging volley winner to go up 40/love and reach triple match point. Three points later -- if you thought it'd be sooner, you hadn't been watching -- she was finally able to celebrate a 6-4/6-2 win and a return trip to the U.S. Open final, her fourth straight such result in a hard court slam.

Sure, Azarenka has been "forced" to spend more time toiling on the court at this slam than any other woman, but if she can find that elusive groove and play at a winning level in the final, or even find yet another way to survive and prosper, none of what's happened since last Monday will matter in the early evening hours this Sunday night. What has so often been looked at as a potential champion on the verge of "breaking bad" could end up being a testament to the Belarusian's heart and desire in the face of not being at her best. After all, this sort of thing has happened before. Just look at her final opponent at this Open, one Miss Serena Williams. She's won a handful of her sixteen slams after having teetered on the edge of defeat with scratchy-or-worse form over the previous two weeks, eight times coming back from match point down (3) or having her opponent serve for the match (5), including in last year's final vs. Azarenka, as well as at the '10 Australian Open against Vika, to eventually win a major title. For all the trouble that Azarenka has flirted with at this slam, she hasn't had her back pressed against the wall in quite that fashion. Well, not yet, anyway.

Of course, after yet again leaving the match out there for an opponent to win and living to tell the tale, the
"mulligans" really need to end in her next match. The odds of pulling off that sort of thing against Serena are more than long, they're nearly a myth... and it's unlikely even Nimoy could find them.

When this U.S. Open started, it looked like a Serena vs. Vika final was imminent. As it turned out, it was. Now we'll get to see what we've been waiting for, and determine whether it was all worth it. Of course, watching Azarenka, seemingly without a care in the world, dancing around on Ashe court today, hitting autographed tennis balls to fans in the stands, one couldn't help but be struck by a notion. Namely, that maybe she simply has this whole thing figured out, and it's just the rest of us who are worrying for nothing. Hmmm.

Umm... Leonard?

=DAY 12 NOTES= the other semifinal, there was far less exasperation on the winning side. Or on the losing side, for that matter, as Li Na had one of those moments in women's tennis where a player meets up with an immovable object.

In other words, she played Serena Williams... and seemed to revert back to her pre-Carlos Rodriguez, what-is-going-on? self, at least until the last moment.

Serena came into today having already nearly reached top form following her 2nd set dispatching of Sloane Stephens and double-bagel of Carla Suarez-Navarro in her last two matches. The Chinese vet ultimately had little chance against the gale force wind of Williams. The American polished off a third straight bagel set, then added another game to open the 2nd set and stretch her consecutive game-winning streak at this Open to twenty-four. From there, Li got a brief second wind (or first breath?), finally holding serve and then getting a break (just the second of Williams at this slam) for a 2-1 lead. She led 40/love in Game #4, as well, only to see Serena sneak back and get the break, then another for a 4-2 lead two games later.

At that point, it was just a matter of time. But Li made Serena wait, and work, a little bit longer. Down 5-2, Li served and saved six match points in an eight-deuce game and held for 5-3. Williams ultimately served things out to win 6-0/6-3 in eighty-nine minutes, with fourteen of them taken up by Li's last, brilliant-in-its-never-give-up-tenacity, service game.

Next up: Vika, in whatever form she'll come to Ashe with on Sunday afternoon. One would like to think that the "real" Azarenka would show up from the first game in the final, but if Serena hasn't yet peaked at this Open, it might not matter a bit. Ugly dress or no ugly dress.

...the first champion at this U.S. Open was crowned in the Mixed Doubles, as Andrea Hlavackova teamed with Max Mirnyi to claim the title with a 7-6/6-3 win over Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez.

Hlavackova is still alive in the Women's Doubles semis, too. She and Lucie Hradecka are set to face the Williams Sisters later on Day 12.

Other finals set on Friday:

* - in Girls Doubes, top-seeded Czechs Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova will play #3 Belinda Bencic & Sara Sorribes Tormo (SUI/ESP), who defeated #2 Ana Konjuh/Antonia Lottner (CRO/GER) today. The Czech won the junior doubles earlier this season at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

In the Boys Doubles, it'll be a pair of unseeded teams, as Kamil Majchrzek & Martin Redlicki (POL/USA) will face Quentin Halys & Frederico Ferreira Silva (FRA/POR).

* - in Wheelchair, top seeded Sabine Ellerbrock (GER) will play #2 Aniek Van Koot (NED) in the women's final, while #1 Shingo Kunieda (JPN) will meet #2 Stephane Houdet (FRA). junior singles, top-seeded Bencic (a two-time Girls slam champ in '13), in a turnaround of the doubles semifinals, was upset by Lottner, who'll face American wild card Tornado Alicia Black. Black knocked out unseeded Belarusian Iryna Shymanovich in her quarterfinal match-up, leaving her with the sole responsibility of attempting to extend the streak of home nation Girls champions at the Open, after Grace Min (2011) and Samantha Crawford (2012) won the last two years. In the bottom half of the draw, AO Girls champ, #2 Konjuh defeated #10 Louisa Chirico (USA), while #11 Mayo Hibi of Japan ousted #3-seeded Siniakova.

In the Boys, #1 Alexander Zverev (RG RU) of Germany will face #4 Borna Coric (CRO) in one semi, while Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis (AO Jr. RU), who defeted #2 seed Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy (Wimbledon champ) today, will face Chilean #3 Christian Garin (RG champ).

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #9 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI
#8 Richard Gasquet/FRA vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

Williams/Williams (USA/USA) vs. #5 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)
#8 Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS) def. #10 Mirza/J.Zheng (IND/CHN)

#4 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE) vs. #2 Peya/Soares (AUT/BRA)

#7 Hlavackova/Mirnyi (CZE/BLR) def. Spears/S.Gonzalez (USA/MEX) 7-6/6-3

#7 Antonia Lottner/GER vs. (WC) Tornado Alicia Black/USA
#11 Mayo Hibi/JPN vs. #2 Ana Konjuh/CRO

#1 Alexander Zverev/GER vs. #4 Borna Coric/CRO vs.
#3 Christian Garin/CHI vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis/AUS

#1 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE) vs. #3 Bencic/Sorribes Tormo (SUI/ESP)

Majchrzak/Redlicki (POR/USA) vs. Halys/Silva (FRA/POR)

#1 Sabine Ellerbrock/GER vs. #2 Aniek Van Koot/NED

#1 Shingo Kunieda/JPN vs. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA

#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) vs. #2 Ellerbrock/Kamiji (GER/JPN)

Jeremiasz/Scheffers (FRA/NED) vs. Fernandez/Gerard (ARG/BEL)

1999 US Open - def. Martina Hingis
2001 US Open - lost to Venus Williams
2002 Roland Garros - def. Venus Williams
2002 Wimbledon - def. Venus Williams
2002 US Open - def. Venus Williams
2003 Australian Open - def. Venus Williams
2003 Wimbledon - def. Venus Williams
2004 Wimbledon - lost to Maria Sharapova
2005 Australian Open - def. Lindsay Davenport
2007 Australian Open - def. Maria Sharapova
2008 Wimbledon - lost to Venus Williams
2008 US Open - def. Jelena Jankovic
2009 Australian Open - def. Dinara Safina
2009 Wimbledon - def. Venus Williams
2010 Australian Open - def. Justine Henin
2010 Wimbledon - def. Vera Zvonareva
2011 US Open - lost to Samantha Stosur
2012 Wimbledon - def. Agnieszka Radwanska
2012 US Open - def. Victoria Azarenka
2013 Roland Garros - def. Maria Sharapova
2013 US Open - vs. Victoria Azarenka
2012 Australian Open - def. Maria Sharapova
2012 US Open - lost to Serena Williams
2013 Australian Open - def. Li Na
2013 US Open - vs. Serena Williams

14...Venus Williams (7-7)
8...Maria Sharapova (4-4)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
3...Li Na (1-2)
3...Ana Ivanovic (1-2)

4...Venus Williams (2-2)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
1...Maria Sharapova (1-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (1-0)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Caroline Wozniacki (0-1)
1...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)

5...Maria Sharapova, RUS (2-3)
4...Simona Halep, ROU (4-0)
4...Sara Errani, ITA (1-3)
3...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL (2-1)
3...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (2-1)
3...Petra Kvitova, CZE (1-2)
3...Li Na, CHN (1-2)
3...Sabine Lisicki, GER (0-3)

34...Chris Evert (18-16)
32...Martina Navratilova (18-14)
31...Steffi Graf (22-9)
29...Margaret Court (24-5)
22...Helen Wills-Moody (19-3)
18...Billie Jean King (12-6)
18...Evonne Goolagong (7-11)
18...Doris Hart (6-12)

[Open era]
31 years, 11 months, 3 weeks - Margaret Court (1973)
30 years, 11 months, 2 weeks - Serena Williams (2012)
42 years, 5 months - Molla Bjurstedt Mallory (1926)
NOTE: S.Williams born September 26, 1981

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
2013 Andrea Hlavackova/Max Mirnyi, CZE/BLR
AO: Jarmila Gajdosova & Matthew Ebden, AUS/AUS
RG: Lucie Hradecka & Frantisek Cermak, CZE/CZE
WI: Kristina Mladenovic/Daniel Nestor, FRA/CAN
US: Andrea Hlavackova/Max Mirnyi, CZE/BLR

TOP QUALIFIER: Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR
Co-TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA & #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Chanel Simmonds/RSA d. (WC) Taylor Townsend/USA 2-6/6-2/7-5
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - (Q) Vicky Duval/USA d. #11 Samantha Stosur/AUS 5-7/6-4/6-4
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF/Doub.): 4th Rd. - #18 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP d. #8 Angelique Kerber/GER 4-6/6-4/7-6(3)
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: 3rd Rd. - (Q) Camila Giorgi/ITA d. #6 Caroline Wozniacki 4-6/6-4/6-2
FIRST WINNER: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (def. Davis/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #29 Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK (lost to LL Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Australia [1-4 overall, Stosur out 1st Rd, Rogowska double-bageled, only WC Barty advanced to 2nd Rd.]
CRASH & BURN: #11 Sam Stosur/AUS - '11 champ, lost 1st Rd. to Duval/USA, 17-yr. old qualifier in second career slam match, ranked #296
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Daniela Hantuchova/SVK - 0-5 in last five slams, 3rd Rd. def. (Q) Glushko/ISR, down set and 5-2 and saved four match points
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: lost 1st Rd. to Mladenovic/FRA, once again failing to reach a slam QF in her career (so Anna Smashnova still has a buddy)
IT GIRL: Vicky Duval/USA
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: A.Hlavackova/CZE, Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS), Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE)
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Nominees: Black/USA, Hibi/JPN, Lottner/GER, Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE)

All for now. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

serena and venus are playing an awful doubles match.

Serena has held serve once and is missing so many returns. And Venus is just too inconsistent...and their communication is off. And I think Venus used to take the lead more often...but perhaps because of their current ranking or maybe bc she's not match tough, things are just not flowing.

also, just kind of turned off by their levity. It's the semifinals of a slam...don't laugh and joke your way to a set down and 1 5...

but good to see that their chemistry is still good...


also is serena pulling at her back a lot? wonder if something is wrong physically...could explain the bad returns.

Fri Sep 06, 08:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

I woke in the middle of the night to watch the semi , wanting to see an improved version in preparation. After 3-3 with 4 dfs, I pulled the plug on my TV again. Flavia was playing ok but vika had too much fire power, and she should win. What I hate is see is a good vika wrestling with a bad vika, and that went on for 6 games was enough for me. Here I go start blaming , bad dress, bad dress.

Ni la....she always has the game and not the brain. First semi at USO , wonder if it was nerves.

Fri Sep 06, 11:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


If Serena is possibly nursing an injury, I doubt we'll hear about it until later. ;)


It's been interesting, albeit frustrating to watch, to see her wrestle with her game but still find a way to overcome it. Serena has done it often in the past but, a few seasons ago, Azarenka wouldn't have been able to. She can now, so I'm choosing (trying?) to look at it as an example of how she's grown, rather than as an example of current growing pains. Judging by her mood afterward, she doesn't seem bothered too much by it... I think, maybe, after pulling through in Melbourne she feels as if, win or lose, she can't be "taken down" by anything and that sort of takes some of the pressure off her.

Really, in the final, the pressure to win will be more on Serena than Vika... especially considering the way both are playing going into Sunday. I think, in an odd way, Azarenka is almost in a win/win-big situation (sort of how it was in Cincinnati, after being out most of the summer). It worked out pretty well there, so maybe it could be a very good thing for her here, too.

Sat Sep 07, 01:16:00 AM EDT  

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