Tuesday, September 03, 2013

US.9 - Ugly Is As Ugly Almost Does?

Once more at this U.S. Open, Victoria Azarenka found herself -- put herself? -- in the position of being forced to live up to some sort of impromptu "The Art of Getting It Done" self-help mantra/torture when her very best self once again ended up being nowhere near the vicinity of Ashe Stadium court on Tuesday.

You know, the same court on which she was playing the final women's Round of 16 match against Ana Ivanovic?

Oh, Vika scratchily won the match. But it was ugly, if not downright "fugly," at times. In fact, once in a while it was almost as ugly as that dress she's been wearing on court for the last week and a half. Almost.

The morning after three never-been-to-a-slam-final wins by thirtysomething veterans in yesterday's rain-interrupted proceedings, #2-seed Azarenka and #13 Ivanovic, both former slam winners and world #1's, met as the two most accomplished women remaining in the bottom half of the draw. Obviously, the stakes were high. And, in the end, after much wrangling and passing of the hot potato that was a match win on Day 9, both women lived up to their current reputations.

Ivanovic got off to a good start, while Azarenka was decidedly flat and, quite simply, her game was not up to speed on this day. I'd be easy to say it was because the match was pushed back nearly twenty-four hours because of the weather, but Azarenka has, in various shades, looked the way she did today on other (brief) occasions at this slam, and on hard courts all summer long, even if she has nevertheless managed to continue to win matches with stunning regularity in the face of this sometimes-mediocrity. Here, Vika lost her first service game when a forehand sailed long and put her behind 2-0.

And the long ordeal was on.

Games later, as Azarenka served and held a game point while down 4-1, the Belarusian was still looking for her first winner of the match. After facing a break point for 5-1, Azarenka finally put away a volley to notch a tiny little "1" on the winners chart nearly seven games into play. She held with an ace, but AnaIvo's continually and increasingly aggressive forehands ultimately ruled the set. Try as Vika might, every advantage that she'd manage to carve out didn't last long. As the Serb served for the set at 5-3, Azarenka went up 40/love and finally broke with back-to-back volleys... but then was broken one game later, dropping the set 6-4, when she couldn't get back a big Ivanovic forehand on set point.

While AnaIvo was playing rather well, she left the door open for Azarenka to walk through and return to contention. Her errant service tosses in the 1st set were early signs that the non-slam winning Ivanovic was aching to get out, but Vika simply couldn't take advantage of it. At times in the 2nd, it appeared as if she maybe never would. Azarenka struggled, but ultimately got a break to open the set, but then she followed up with a two-double fault game to hand the break back one game later. While Azarenka simply was not up the speed, AnaIvo, as has often been the case since she won Roland Garros in '08, wasn't up to taking advantage of such a situation against a top-ranked player, either.

At 1-1, on Azarenka's second break point, Ivanovic double-faulted. Essentially, AnaIvo's "life saving procedures" on Ashe brought Vika back into the match right then and there rather than burying her in an even deeper hole. The opportunity was there to do so. Of course, Azarenka still managed to fight against being resuscitated for as long as Vik-ily possible. She went down love/40 one game later after gesturing toward the stands at coach Sam Sumyk after being passed by Ivanovic following a poor approach shot, then dropped serve yet again after missing a backhand. In Game #5, Azarenka led 40/love on AnaIvo's serve. The Serb saved two break points, and seemed to hit an ace on the third. But the call was overturned on replay, and Ivanovic replaced the ace with a double-fault as the two combined for a fifth straight break of serve and Vika took a 3-2 lead. Down 5-3, Ivanovic tossed in her seventh double-fault of the match (fifth of the 2nd set) and Vika broke to win the set 6-3.

Almost in spite of herself, the Belarusian suddenly found herself on even footing in the match.

In the 3rd, Azarenka grabbed a quick 2-0 lead and it was apparent that the match was now hers to win, as AnaIvo's forehand error totals began to grow. Vika's strength was increasing as the match wore on but, still, things didn't go easily for her. Ivanovic's power rose up in the moment, getting her multiple break point attempts one game later. After Azarenka double-faulted on her own game point, AnaIvo broke serve with a topspin lob winner for 2-1 as her (once more) increased aggression faced off with Azarenka's continued scratchy play to produce four straight breaks of serve between the women.

But, up 3-2, Azarenka leaned into the finish line, as champions generally do, even on their not-so-great days. And, make no mistake, that's what Day 9 was for Vika.

After holding for 4-3, Azarenka's seven-of-eight points run put her up 40/love on AnaIvo's serve. When the Serb shot a backhand wide, the break made it 5-3. Serving for the quarterfinals, Azarenka reached match point two hours into this mess of a match. But, naturally, it wasn't going to be easy today. After backhand errors on TWO match points, Vika was broken by a big Ivanovic return on break point #2 for 5-4. But holding was always going to be AnaIvo's toughest task in the closing moments of this (near) battle of attrition. And so it was. AnaIvo saved MP #3 when she hit a winner behind Azarenka after having pulled her off court one shot earlier, but on #4 she netted a backhand and finally ended things. Azarenka won 4-6/6-3/6-4, and breathed a sigh of relief.


In all, Azarenka racked up thirty errors, including nine double-faults. She was broken seven times, a stat only made palatable by the fact that she broke Ivanovic on nine occasions. But that's one big difference between Azarenka and Ivanovic. These days, Azarenka can have a mediocre outing, at best, but battle to find a way to advance in an attempt to live up to her own high expectations; while Ivanovic can play rather well at times, but still find a way to not have to live with the expectations from others that would come along with a such truly big victory.

Some credit should go to Ivanovic for having managed to climb back to relevancy after slipping down to around #20 in the rankings from 2009-11 after her '08 title run in Paris, but she doesn't seem able to take that next step up to becoming a Top 10er with slam-winning aspirations once again. During today's match, ESPN2 put up a rather telling stat. From 2007-08, AnaIvo was 32-7 at slams, reached two finals, won one and claimed a total of six tour titles. In the five seasons since, she's 40-19 (now 40-20) at slams, reaching no finals and winning just three overall titles. As odd as it sounds to say it, it seems that the worst thing to ever happen to Ivanovic's career was winning that RG title and briefly ascending to #1. She didn't embrace it and couldn't get herself to live up to it, and one has to wonder if during matches like this, with so much at stake, and an opportunity staring her in the face to become something of an "Ana 2.0" at a slam, she suddenly remembers how if felt the last time she experienced it and then -- poof -- she manages to keep herself from having to re-live it. It's not that she's consciously doing things -- bad service tosses, poorly-timed double-faults, missed easy volleys... all of which hampered her today -- to lose matches like this on purpose, but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. Or doesn't want, in this case.

Meanwhile, Vika has some ongoing -- and strong-hearted -- stats that stand in stark contrast to those of Ivanovic. She's now 13-4 in three-set matches at slams from 2010-13, is 29-1 on hard court this season and 24-1 at the last four hard court slams. Her performance might not have been pretty today, but those numbers certainly are.

Hmmm, maybe Vika should just change that outfit. You know, and wear something different, just to change things up. I mean, I know a pair of shorts is too much to ask for these days. But maybe she could try... umm, ANYTHING else? That dress is just, well, really bad. So much so that I'll end here by talking about that rather than how unattractive her performance was for most of today.

Who says being the "Face of Backspin" doesn't get you at least ONE benefit?

...remember that masterful performance that Li Na put on the other night on Ashe against Jelena Jankovic? You know, the match that very well might have been the best she's ever played? Well, she didn't make a duplicate of the original today in her quarterfinal against Ekaterina Makarova.

In fact, right from the start, it was apparent that things were going to be different. After never facing a break point against JJ, Li dropped her very first service game against the Russian. Luckily for the Chinese vet, the break came after she'd opened the match by breaking Makarova. Throughout the 1st set, the Hordette had trouble holding serve, facing a break point or reaching deuce in all five of her serve games. Li's break for 4-3 was all the advantage she needed, though, and she served out the set at 6-4.

The 2nd was even more mixed up. The two woman traded off breaks of serve, both dropping three service games in the first eight games of the set. Ultimately, as it probably should have, the set went to a tie-break. Li took a 3-0 lead, only to once again slip off the pedestal. A double-fault put the breaker back on serve at 4-3, and as Li's errors mounted, Makarova took a 6-4 lead. On her second set point, the Russian put away the TB at 7-5 -- handing Li her first lost set at this slam -- to knot the match and send things to the 3rd.

In the 3rd, Li finally, at least on the scoreboard, started to at least resemble the player she'd previously been at this U.S. Open. She managed to hold serve, then got a break for a 4-2 lead and ran off a nine-of-ten points won stretch. She held for 5-2, then moved her career record to 4-0 over Makarova when she broke the Russian to win 6-4/6-7(5)/6-2. While Li had 42 errors (w/ 8 DF) in this match, she had just five (to 14 winners) in the 3rd, as she pulled things together down the stretch and ended up with more winners (44) than errors for the day, which she can ultimately live with in the more-aggressively styled game she's displayed the last nine days. But Li and Carlos Rodriguez obviously have a bit of tidying up to do before Thursday.
Thus, Li reaches her fifth career slam semifinal... and likely will find one Miss Serena Williams waiting for her there.

...in junior play on Day 9, Bannerette Michaela Gordon upset #5-seeded Hordette Darya Kasatkina, a Girls quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, while (of course) another Italian had a victory of note, as Jasmine Paolini knocked out Mexico's Victoria Rodriguez.

...LIKE FROM DAY 9... err, 8: Richard Gasquet -- Champion Sock Thrower

Great distance!

...LIKE #2 FROM DAY 9:

Vika saying in her post-match interview that Sumyk calls the drop shot that she so often -- and so effectively -- used today her "French touch."


LZ Granderson sighting! Nooooo! Don't worry, though... he didn't say anything worth remembering. Why change course now?


While Lleyton Hewitt lost today (blowing multiple leads vs. Mikhail Youzhny), I'll still talk about this.

I was never a fan of Hewitt back when he was at the top of the game. In fact, I didn't like him at all. The "Come ons!" got on my nerves, and I really looked at him as a bit of a jackass. In fact, I think part of the reason I turned against Kim Clijsters had as much to do with the fact that Hewitt was her then-fiance as it did with my affinity for LPT (even if some might have hung some of the very reasons I didn't like the Aussie right around the Belgian's neck, too). Yet all the coverage back then was about how Hewitt was such a competitor, the undersized underdog, yaddayaddayadda. I didn't buy any of it.

Now, at 32, he's a true underdog after all the injuries, and surgeries and being long-ago passed over in the sport by other players. He's a much more likable player now, and some compared his win the other night over Del Potro to something from Connors' '91 Open run. Much like Jimbo (especially in the latter years of his career, when he played up the part to the hilt), Hewitt's fire is captivating and fun to watch these days. It's sort of like watching an old movie or television show, or reading a favorite novel for the first time in a decade, and seeing things with entirely different eyes.

Of course, that's not the only thing that's "different." Today, ESPN2's commentators were talking about how Hewitt wasn't much liked by people back in the day. That was interesting because it's a notion that they -- and many of the voices ARE the same -- never talked about being a possibility back when it would have shown him in a more harsh light than the one in which he was spotlighted. Hewitt may not have been called a "loved" player years ago, but they wouldn't have said he was "unlikable." Which he was. Now, though, to belatedly speak the truth makes his current story better... so the words are spoken out loud.

Hey, it only took about a decade.

...and, finally, Serena faces off with Carla Suarez-Navarro on Ashe tonight. Could be fun.

I might be back later, but maybe not. We'll see how things play out.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #18 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
#5 Li Na/CHN def. #24 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
#10 Roberta Vinci/ITA vs. Flavia Pennetta/ITA
Daniela Hantuchova/SVK vs. #2 Victoria Azarenka/BLR

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #21 Mikhail Youzhny/RUS
#3 Andy Murray/GBR or Denis Istomin/UZB vs. #9 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI or #5 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#8 Richard Gasquet/FRA vs. #4 David Ferrer/ESP
#10 Tommy Robredo/ESP vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#1 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) vs. Williams/Williams (USA/USA) or Pavlyuchenkova/Safarova (RUS/CZE)
#3 Petrova/Srebotnik (RUS/SLO) vs. #5 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)
#10 Mirza/J.Zheng (IND/CHN) vs. #4 Hsieh/Peng (TPE/CHN)
#8 Barty/Dellacqua (AUS/AUS) vs. #2 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) or #13 Black/Erakovic (ZIM/NZL)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) def. #12 Fleming/Marray (GBR/GBR)
#4 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE) vs. #5 Qureshi/Rojer (PAK/NED)
#10 Dodig/Melo (CRO/BRA) vs. #16 Huey/Inglot (PHI/GBR)
#2 Peya/Soares (AUT/BRA) def. J.Murray/Peers (GBR/AUS)

Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) or #5 Medina-Garrigues/Soares (ESP/BRA) vs. Spears/S.Gonzalez (USA/MEX)
#7 Hlavackova/Mirnyi (CZE/BLR) vs. Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN)

*2013 ASHE NIGHT SESSION LEADERS - through Night 8*
[multiple matches]
2-0...Novak Djokovic, SRB
2-0...Rafael Nadal, ESP
2-0...Serena Williams, USA (plays Suarez-N./ESP Night 9)
1-1...Caroline Wozniacki DEN
[ 1-0 - Andy Murray, GBR - plays Istomin/UZB Night 9 ]
3-0 = USA
2-0 = ESP
2-1 = SRB
1-1 = DEN,ITA
0-2 = FRA,GER

[1st Round Weekend]
MVP: Roberta Vinci, ITA
RISER: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
SURPRISE: Varvara Lepchenko, USA
VETERAN: Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
COMEBACK: Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
FRESH FACE: Ayumi Morita, JPN
DOWN: Serbian FC Team
[SF Round Weekend]
MVP: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
RISER: Anna-Lena Groenefeld/Sabine Lisicki, GER
SURPRISE: Paula Ormaechea, ARG
VETERAN: Roberta Vinci, ITA
COMEBACK: Marion Bartoli, FRA
FRESH FACE: Eugenie Bouchard/Sharon Fichman, CAN
DOWN: Slovak FC 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
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: Nominees: V.Duval/USA, Giorgi/ITA, Suarez-Navarro/ESP
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Li/CHN, Vinci/ITA, Suarez-Navarro/ESP
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominees: Giorgi/ITA, Duval/USA, Li/CHN (w/ a one-woman show)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominees: S.Williams/USA, Duval/USA, Giorgi/ITA

All for now. More soon.


Blogger Diane said...

Thanks for the video so I could watch Gasquet throw his socks again! For some reason, I was totally taken with the sock tossing. I was actually totally taken with that whole match.

Are Vika and Na better off for having had "bad" days today?

Tue Sep 03, 11:01:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

ah credit to all who finished watching that match of vika. i did for first set and decided that i better save my health and not stayed up in the middle of night to watch crappy match play. :o am still glad i did. haha.

as in her post match interview, she never really look back at othe tournaments and draw much from those moments, it has felt like all through the tournaments that she is just not confident enough to start the match, and not until she gets out of her 'sleeping' mode and warms up after cruelling rallies does she play more like a player there to win. the only good thing was those execution of drop shots in those tight moments were charming. pulling that off. but she was honest too, she always has the shot but never really needed to use it until today. ana was playing really good groundstrokes. how vika continues to win is a bit beyond me, good thing is that she doesn't seem to be tired at all. the longer she plays, the better she plays. weird.

Tue Sep 03, 11:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

oh yes todd, that skirt, truly repulsive to good taste. nike, nike, what are you doing... that dress fits a lady style like ana, for vika, it is like trying to put laces on her street fighter look. oh well, at least she gets to wear the glow-in-the-night black shoes again tomorrow.

Tue Sep 03, 11:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Diane -

I loved how none of the ball persons in the changeover area went out and got them, either. They were just left there. All alone. Wet and lonely. I don't know if there are some sort of guidelines about personal apparel not being picked up like that or not (someone always will pick up a racket and bring it back if one gets tossed during a changeover). I couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like the chair umpire might have told/asked him about picking them up at one point.

Jo -

I can surely understand the desire to avert your eyes. Haha. Thing is, as crappy as Vika was playing, maybe because it was AnaIvo across the net, I never really had a moment where I thought she was going to lose. There was almost one of those when she failed to serve things out in the 3rd, but them I remembered that Ivanovic still had to hold serve, too. Of course, that never happened.

A couple of those drop shots were very Radwanskian. ;)

Well, maybe she'll be able to continue to win in spite of herself, and peak in the final.

I think that early in the tournament Serena was wearing the same dress as Azarenka, and it looked really bad on her, too. She's been wearing something similar, but more suited to her, every since. Aside from the dull colors -- orange, or whatever that is, and gray? really? -- I think the worst part of it is the elastic waist in the middle that I guess is supposed to make the dress resemble a top and skirt... but it instead rides up the players' torso as she plays and makes it look like she's wearing a skirt that she's pulled, "old man style," half-way up her chest. Very unflattering.

Still don't know why Nike went away from the shorts thing with her so fast. Like Rafa's old sleeveless and long pants look, it had a shot to be a trademark. They could have done all sorts of things to style her shorts differently, and it didn't have to be a long-term thing that they couldn't eventually go away from.

It seems a minor thing, but what a player wears CAN serve to mold the personality/style/image that everyone attaches to a player, which only can help the player and the clothing manufacturer. For example, I don't know who provides Giorgi's clothes, but she had a totally different look from any other player at this Open (at least the ones that got big court matches). Ivanovic, too, always looks stylish, as well as Sharapova. Venus, of course, just took the whole thing into her OWN hands. Literally. ;)

Then again, there IS something to be said for Vika not particularly caring how she looks on the court. "Just throw something -- anything, really -- on and go get it done." In some ways, I guess, that HAS become her overriding on-court fashion style. :)

Wed Sep 04, 01:08:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

i have a theory. i think the shorts went away because after AO last year, vika put long leggings underneath it when weather is chilly and nike didn't know how to re-style the whole thing. :p and now with the new waist band makes vika looks like she doesn't have a waist at all.

gasquet's sock throwing is funny... but bit disgusting.

Wed Sep 04, 01:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Maybe that's why no one picked them up for him! :D

Wed Sep 04, 01:55:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Trivia Time!!

QUESTION: Makarova's loss in the QF means that no Russians reached a slam semifinal for the season's second straight slam. When was the last season that happened?

ANSWER: The last time that happened in the same season was 2003, at Wimbledon & the US Open (after Petrova had reached the semis at Roland Garros). That streak actually reached three, extending to the '04 Australian. Of course, the Hordettes then WON three straight slam titles (and, amazingly, next year is already the TENTH anniversary of that Russian Revolutionary feat... so I suspect some new "Time Capsules" will be in order). The last time no Russians reached the semis at back-to-back, non-calendar year majors was at the '09 US and '10 AO.

Wed Sep 04, 02:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

Let's be honest. Vika has clearly put on a pound or twelve since AO 2012, and there's no way she would fit in those same shorts today. Not saying she's unfit, but she is bigger now than then, no?

That said, this dress is particularly unflattering, I agree.

Wed Sep 04, 06:18:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

That's one of the worst tennis dresses I've ever seen. Azarenka appears to have lost most of the weight she put on after the AO, but yes, some does linger. But no one would look good in that dreadful thing.

Giorgi's dress was lovely.

Wed Sep 04, 08:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


True. And that's where the dresses can work out for her... but someone has to put at least a little bit of effort in designing them. ;)


And in the two matches I saw -- vs. Wozniacki & Vinci -- she wore two DIFFERENT outfits, too. Both were good.

Wed Sep 04, 11:34:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I forgot about the other dress--yes, they were both very nice and suited her well.

It's hard for me to understand how someone like Vika, who has a really individual style about everything, could tolerate being given such bad clothes. Maybe we could start a "Bring Back the Shorts!" campaign.

Wed Sep 04, 01:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Boy Interrupted said...

Todd, Camila Giorgi's girly outfits are designed by none other than Claudia Giorgi ... Camila's mother :)

Excerpt from an article on usopen.org, you can read it here http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2013-09-02/201309021378085867689.html?promo=next_article

"On court, Giorgi wears the distinctive tennis outfits of none other than her mother. “My mom designs. She’s a fashion designer,” said Giorgi the day after her win. “She has people who sew for her, of course, but my mom designs all my tennis outfits. We’re going to launch a company together, although we don’t have a name for it.”"

"She has people who sew for her, of course" Hilarious :D


Thu Sep 05, 05:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ha! That's great! Thanks, Michel.

Sometimes it's the personal touch that works best, I guess.

Thu Sep 05, 06:33:00 PM EDT  

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