Sunday, September 01, 2013

US.7 - Return of the Serena

Quick! Someone call George Lucas (or maybe Disney?)! We've got something of a "Star Wars" thing going on on the WTA tour... and the "stars" are Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens.

Consider this, when Williams met her fellow American Stephens for the very first time back in Brisbane in January, it was billed as the first match between a "star of today" versus a "star of tomorrow." In effect, a tennis "Star Wars," with Stephens providing the "New Hope" part of the equation. What happened was a very good beginning, and a foreshadowing hint of fascinating things to come. Serena won 6-4/6-3, but the biggest news coming out of the match was the many (mis?)interpretations of Stephens calling Williams' celebratory shouts of "Come on!" very "disrespectful."

While the first encounter showed great promise, and maybe was even a bit "groundbreaking," we didn't realize that it would be immediately topped a few weeks later in its Melbourne sequel. "Star Wars" begat "The Empire Strikes Back," and Episode II of Serena/Sloane was something of a more complex and entertaining classic, as well. There, it wasn't "The Empire" but "The Upstart," young Skywalk... err, I mean Stephens, who struck back, showing a composed demeanor in the early-going, and ultimately upsetting Williams 3-6/7-5/6-4 in a match in which Serena fell and injured her ankle but the notion of a Future Sloane far outdistancing Current Sloane was the headlining story on that Australian Open afternoon.

Even without anything else, the Melbourne result was going to make Part III a HIGHLY anticipated and hyped event, far beyond its two predecessors. And that became especially so after the many intervening months included cyber-shots across each player's proverbial bow about whether or not Williams was actually Stephens' "idol," "friend" or "mentor." Or whether Stephens REALLY thought Williams was "mean" and didn't ever like her at all, the result of a perceived childhood slight that occurred when Kid Sloane waited for an Serena autograph that she never got. Then, of course, there was also the question of whether or not Serena was engaging in some Williams-brand style of psychological warfare with the youngster when she "unfriended" her online and joked -- or WAS it a joke? -- that she'd "made" Stephens by losing to her.

It was all used as breathless promotion for the moment on Ashe on Day 7 when the women met on the court once again.

Unfortunately, much like "Return of the Jedi," this third go-round didn't really live up to all the advanced billing. Instead, it played out something like a sequel not to Serena/Sloane, but Serena/Maria. You know, a match that takes place after a particularly galling past loss to a player that Williams has since sworn to be bound and determined to never forget, or repeat. Ms. Sharapova has been waiting nearly a decade to get another taste of defeating Serena after having first sampled it back in 2004. So far, it's never happened. Judging by the serious look on Williams' face during her and Stephens' Round of 16 U.S. Open meeting today, one has to wonder if Stephens will ever get her additional taste, either. I said back in January that I didn't think it would EVER happen, what with Williams' history of punishing young players who may have stolen her thunder on and off the court, and after Williams' 6-4/6-1 win over Stephens today, that scenario is still firmly in place.

Sure, just like "Jedi," this match will have it's backers, as it was not without its good moments. Namely, Stephens' ability to hold up to the pressure of Williams' game in the 1st set, often holding serve at the end of long games and keeping the end result of the set in question until its final stage. Also, the purposeful rallies the two engaged in during what was a very serious match, with mostly high-quality play, were sometimes thrilling to watch, as very few players can consistently engage in baseline power-bashing with Serena for too long. Stephens can, though. Oh, and, aside from a few possibly wind-affected serves that resulted in double-faults, Williams' often flawless play was also surely a memory to cling to from this one, as well.

But, aside from the all that, this turned out to be a fairly routine victory for the world #1.

Naturally, as has become a tradition in slams, Stephens was made to cool her heels at some point, waiting for her opponent (see Vika in Melbourne). This time, though, it was BEFORE the match, which began eight minutes behind schedule because of Serena's late arrival. Once she got started, though, Williams wasted little time proving who was still boss. She held serve in Game #1 at love, and only lost one point (via double-fault) in her first two service games.

Things were quite different for Stephens. In Game #4, she held serve, but only after taking nine minutes to do it in a six-deuce game in which she had to save three break points and often extended the action with errors on her own game points. The entire game took eighteen points to complete... then Serena came out and held at love again, meaning her first THREE service games had included a TOTAL of thirteen points.

After taking a break lead at 4-2, Williams seemed ready to coast to a 1st set win, but her serve hit a rocky patch in Game #7. A double-fault handed Stephens a break point, and then another one point later broke Williams' serve for the first (and only) time at this Open as the score closed to 4-3. Stephens saved a break point and held for 4-4, but two games later was lured into an error when a short Williams shot caused her to get trapped between a decision to hit a half-volley or a forehand, leading to an error and a love/30 hole. She got back to 30/30 and saved two set points, but a backhand miss on her own game point proved costly, as Williams got the break on a forehand miss from Stephens, taking the set 6-4.

In the 2nd, Williams had one brief moment where she could have been questioned, but she quickly put it to rest. She fell down love/30 on serve in the first game, and soon faced a break point. But she pulled the game back with serves of 125 and 123 miles per hour, holding for 1-0. She never looked back. She broke Stephens to go up 3-1, and ended up closing out the match winning fifteen of the final eighteen points, as well as a sweep of the final five games.

The two Americans will meet again. And Stephens' past victory over Williams will always be in the back of her mind. She knows she CAN beat Serena. But Serena knows that, too.

Ah, there's the rub.

Sure, age and/or injury might eventually put Serena in a position where the first American younger than her to ever defeat her might just get victory #2. But don't be so sure.

Serena has a very long memory. Just ask Maria.

=DAY 7 NOTES= the other daytime women's Round of 16 match, Carla Suarez-Navarro advanced to her second career U.S. Open quarterfinal when she took a 3rd set tie-break from 2011 semifinalist Angelique Kerber.

...junior action has begun, and the Australian Open girls champ, #2 seeded Croat Ana Konjuh, was immediately put to the test in the 1st Round. Facing Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, a junior quarterfinalist in Melbourne, Konjuh was forced to go three sets, coming back from a set down to win 5-7/6-4/6-4.

In other matches, American Christina Makarova defeated #15 Ipek Soylu (TUR), #11 Mayo Hibi (JPN) took out Sara Tomic (AUS), and Brooke Austin (USA) eliminated Kristina Schmiedlova (SVK). Meanwhile, Belarus' Iryna Shymanovich upset #9-seeded Hordette Varvara Flink, and Swarmette Ioana Ducu took out #16 Hsu Ching-Wen (TPE). doubles, Kristina Mladenovic will not be winning TWO titles at this Open. The Pastry is still alive in the Mixed QF with Daniel Nestor, but her run in the Women's with Galina Voskoboeva came to end when they lost today to Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik.


the total lack of promotion on CBS Sports Network of that network's coverage of the U.S. Open. Seriously, wouldn't you think that watching over four hours of coverage of the channel on Friday/Saturday night (bull riding = fun, wouldn't you know) might have, even by accident, allowed me to see some evidence that CBSSN was picking up where Tennis Channel left off last week, providing a second over-the-air place for network coverage while CBS took the lead (as ESPN2 did during the week, with TC also simultaneously on the air). But, no. Not a single ad was seen promoting that coverage, be it video or even in the scoreline ticker at the bottom of the screen.

This is precisely what happened during the network's tree-falling-in-the-forest coverage of the qualifying rounds, too. You'd think a sports network might promote their own programming... but, apparently not.

...and, finally, with an evening match featuring Aga Radwanska, and the Jankovic/Li meeting coming up last on Ashe tonight, there's a decent chance that there might be a Day 7.5 update later, or an "Open for Brunch" post on Labor Day morning.

#1 Serena Williams/USA def. #15 Sloane Stephens/USA
#18 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP def. #8 Angelique Kerber/GER
#3 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL vs. #24 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
#9 Jelena Jankovic/SRB vs. #5 Li Na/CHN
(Q) Camila Giorgi/ITA vs. #10 Roberta Vinci/ITA
#21 Simona Halep/ROU vs. Flavia Pennetta/ITA
(WC) Alison Riske/USA vs. Daniela Hantuchova/SVK
#13 Ana Ivanovic/SRB vs. #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. xx
#21 Mikhail Youzhny/RUS vs. Lleyton Hewitt/AUS
#3 Andy Murray/GBR vs. Denis Istomin/UZB
#9 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #5 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#8 Richard Gasquet/FRA vs. #10 Milos Raonic/CAN
#18 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB vs. #4 David Ferrer/ESP
#7 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #10 Tommy Robredo/ESP
#22 Philipp Kohlschreiber/AUT vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

x/x vs. x/x
#3 Petrova/Srebotnik (RUS/SLO) vs. x/x
#10 Mirza/J.Zheng (IND/CHN) vs. x/x
#8 Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS) vs. x/x

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #12 Fleming/Marray (GBR/GBR)
#4 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE) vs. x/x
x/x vs. x/x
J.Murray/Peers (GBR/AUS) vs. x/x

Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) vs. #5 Medina-Garrigues/Soares (ESP/BRA)
Spears/S.Gonzalez (USA/MEX) vs. #8 Huber/Melo (USA/BRA)
#7 Hlavackova/Mirnyi (CZE/BLR) vs. #4 Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL)
H-C.Chan/Emmrich (TPE/GER) vs. Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN)

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JAN: Petra Kvitova, CZE
FEB: Serbian Fed Cup Team
MAR: Petra Kvitova, CZE
APR: Slovak Fed Cup Team
MAY: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
JUN: Petra Kvitova, CZE
JUL: Angelique Kerber, GER
AUG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
[2013 Weekly Down Player Award Wins]
7...Petra Kvitova, CZE
6...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
5...Sloane Stephens, USA
4...Angelique Kerber, GER
4...Samantha Stosur, AUS
3...Mona Barthel, GER
3...Sara Errani, ITA
3...Tamira Paszek, AUT
3...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
3...Nadia Petrova, RUS
3...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
3...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Marion Bartoli, FRA
2...Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2...Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2...Liezel Huber, USA
2...Maria Kirilenko, RUS
2...Christina McHale, USA
2...Serbian Fed Cup Team

TOP QUALIFIER: Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR
Co-TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA & #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
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.): xx
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: Nominees: (Q) Duval/USA down set and 4-2 vs. #11 Stosur/AUS in 1st Rd.; #13 Ivanovic/SRB def. McHale/USA in 3rd Rd., McHale served for straight sets win; Hantuchova/SVK def. (Q) Glushko/ISR in 3rd Rd., 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)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Camila Giorgi/ITA (in 4th Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Alison Riske/USA (in 4th Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: In 4th Rd.: Riske, Stephens (L), S.Williams (W)
IT: Nominees: V.Duval/USA, Riske/USA, Halep/ROU, Giorgi/ITA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Kleybanova/RUS - first slam win/appearance since AO '11, prior to Hodgkin's diagnosis; Pennetta/ITA, Jankovic/SRB, Ivanovic/SRB, Hantuchova/SVK
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominees: Giorgi/ITA
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: S.Williams/USA, Duval/USA, Giorgi/ITA

All for now. More soon.


Blogger super said...

What a match between CSN-Kerber! Match of the tournament for me, Kerber really is one of the best retrievers out there and today she played great, but Carla... what a pleasure to watch this girl. Today she reminded me of Federer, at least at times. She almost choked it at the end of the 3rd, but unlike these years, she held her nerves in the TB. Maybe she's living up to her potential at last, and she will be a great addition to the top echelons of the WTA. How in hell did you forgot to put her in the slam power rankings?? Lol.
(BTW, it's her first US OPEN QF)

Sun Sep 01, 10:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

serena has a very good memory. sloane is turning out to be Mara II after the verbal volleys. it's so uncomfortable to see how both praise each other so unsincerely.

CSN is the real surprise package. yes kerber hasn't been great, she has played better after the bouchard match.

li is rolling to town. it resembles AO outing too. she can give a match to serena, she could have in cincy.

makarova, very nice shot making too, with a lot of touch. do i remember right that this is the first time she beat aga? The Rad is out for revenge.....

Sun Sep 01, 10:37:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Yes, it was Makarova's first win over Aga. I wish it had been a better match because I love watching both of them!

Yeah, Jo, Sloane and Serena are making me kind of ill, too.

Sun Sep 01, 11:14:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

super -

Wish I'd gotten to see more of that Suarez-Navarro/Kerber match. :(

I have no earthly idea, honestly, why I didn't have CSN on there. I've been a fan of her's for years, but I think maybe I got tired of waiting for her to finally take that next step and have a consistent slam season and it was some sort of passive aggressive thing, or I figured she'd just continue to be capable of pulling off big wins at slams, but just go deep into the second week (which is sort of what that preseason list is supposed to gauge. :-\

All -

And on the subject of all the Serena/Sloane stuff, I noticed today how Mary Carillo was talking about how it was stupidly pushed earlier this year that the two were friends. Yeah, she was right about that... but I really wish she'd remember to include that it was Stephens that perpetuated that whole thing with her "my friend Serena" name dropping during interviews and never correcting anyone when she was asked questions about her being her "idol," not a case of the media purposely because it fit better into the story.

Sun Sep 01, 11:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

At least MC did acknowledge that it was Serena who handled it well and Sloane who kept making it worse (my words--not hers).

The CSN-Kerber third set was amazing!

Sun Sep 01, 11:43:00 PM EDT  

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