Thursday, September 10, 2015

US 10.5 - Simona Strong

The Simonativity is strong with this one.

This U.S. Open has been all about Serena Williams and her Grand Slam quest, with the side story being who -- if anyone -- really has a legitimate chance to block her path to history. As the tournament has pushed through to the quarterfinal round, most of that alternate conversation has centered around two names -- Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka. And, right on cue on Day 10, the #2 seed and the two-time Open finalist faced off for the right to get within one match of being the last obstacle standing before Williams and history in the women's final on Saturday afternoon.

While former #1 (but now #20-seeded) Azarenka has been trying to climb back up the WTA ranking ladder all season after an injury-plagued '14, Halep has been trying to make the sometimes even more difficult leap from "the next maiden slam winner" to the an ACTUAL slam champion. Both had shown signs earlier in this slam that they are headed in the preferred direction, as Azarenka displayed large portions of her former grit and drive in winning the women's match of the tournament against Angelique Kerber, while Halep's victory over Kerber's German countrywoman Sabine Lisicki in the New York heat and humidity forced the Swarmette to dig deep to pull up the inner belief that no match was out of reach. Something which may come in handy this weekend.

In the early going, Halep's game was locked in. She broke Azarenka to open the match, then after the Belarusian got the break back a game later she reclaimed the advantage by breaking Azarenka again for 3-1, finally converting on her fifth BP of the game. Azarenka had to wait until game #6 to get her first hold of the match, but Halep held at love and then served out the set at 6-3. For the set, the Romanian out-hit Azarenka twelve winners to four, and won 75% of her 1st serve points against one of the best returners in the game, while Azarenka struggled on her own serve throughout.

But Vika didn't come all this way to be shown the door so handily.

In the 2nd, after leaving the court for a bathroom break while Halep stayed behind, Azarenka held in the first game and was visibly pumping herself up immediately afterward. Meanwhile, perfectionist Halep, despite leading in the match, was angry after having dropped the opening game. It set the tone for the set, as a focused Azarenka edged closer and closer to showing the form she had against Kerber, while Halep fell slightly behind. The "Green Machine" (Vika was once again wearing her all-green, with yellow accepts, outfit -- this time with full Raonic-like athletic sleeves on both arms after complaining that her clothes were rubbing against her skin) broke Halep for a 2-0 lead, and held for 3-0. After Halep got the break back with a down the line winner to close to 3-2, Azarenka got the advantage back a game later (converting her third of three BP in the match to that point). Serving for the set at 5-3, it happened again. Halep got the break, but Vika followed up by breaking back to take the set 6-4 and send things to the 3rd.

After another bathroom break by Azarenka between sets, and with dark clouds rolling in from New Jersey over Ashe Stadium, the smell of a coming stoppage of play was in the air. Right out of the gate, the two engaged in a drawn-out struggle in game #1. After falling down 15/40, Azarenka saved three break chances on 2nd serves points to hold, then broke Halep to go up 2-0. Then, in what may have been the key game in the entire match, Azarenka fought off three more break points, but the Romanian managed to get things back on serve on BP #4 (Halep's first success on seven BP in the set) to get to 2-1.

It was just in the nick of time.

With the court being peppered by light rain a few points later, play was called with Halep one point from knotting things at 2-2. Had she lost the previous game, she would have been faced with fighting to stay in the match, rather than a few big shots from taking the lead. When the the two returned an hour and twenty-five minutes later, Halep was refreshed and raring to go. She opened things with an ace to finish off her hold of serve in just three seconds.

Meanwhile, Azarenka, now dressed in a (mojo-robbing?) black version of her Green Machine outfit, attempted to return to her aggressive style of play. It mostly worked early, as she easily held serve at 15 in the first full game after the resumption of play, but a rested Halep was a more lethal version of the Simona who'd slightly fallen away in the 2nd set. THIS Simona didn't allow Vika to run out ahead. Instead, she faced off with toe-to-toe in rallies that tended to eventually turn in her favor. In game #7, she forced an Azarenka error to end a long rally and get the break for her first final set lead at 4-3.

Her "Simonativity" had arrived.

Holding for a third straight time to get within a game of her first U.S. Open semifinal, Halep served for the match two games later at 5-4. She fell behind 15/30, but a forehand winner soon gave her a match point. When Azarenka failed to get back a short ball, Halep wrapped up a 6-3/4-6/6-4 victory, her first over the Belarusian in three career meetings. Later, she admitted that the rain delay had helped her greatly to regroup and return to the fine form she had displayed in the opening set. Overall, Halep's overall level of play was reflected in her advantage in both winners (40-38) and unforced errors (19-42), enough to overcome Azarenka's perfect 5-for-5 conversion rate on break points.

For Azarenka, it was a "fail" in a match that she'd seemingly seized control of before the rain delay. Perhaps if she hadn't eaten up so much time on the clock between sets with her multiple bathroom breaks she would have been able to take advantage of a tiring Halep down the stretch in the 3rd set (version 1.0) and finished off a win -- or nearly so -- just before the court became two slippery on which to play. But while one lives by the bathroom break sword, one sometimes dies by it, as well.

For Halep, though, all now seems possible. Flavia Pennetta will be up next in the semifinals. Hardly an easy foe, but Simona will still be the favorite, even if it may take a while to determine a winner. As things stand, though, the Romanian for the first time can "see from here" the chance to play in her second slam final and to prove to herself, once and for all, that she really CAN repeat the win over Serena that she put up during last years WTA Finals.

Despite some questionable moments in 2015, Halep has conditioned herself to say all the right things. And she's seemed to believe them, even when she faced off again with Serena in Miami and Cincinnati. She may have legitimate reason for a modicum of confidence, too, when it comes to whether or not "Simonativity" might just pose a serious threat to "Serenativity" on the sport's biggest stage. With more pressure pushing down on Williams than quite possibly has EVER rested on one player's shoulders -- no matter how strong -- in a single match, Serena would be dealing with far more concerns and thoughts than just the player on the other side of the net.

Theoretically, Halep would "only" have Williams herself. Her recent ability to push anything else out of her head would once again be called upon, and believing that she CAN win -- as her idol Justine Henin noted a few weeks ago -- could be the difference between being a footnote in history, or making a bit of it herself.

Will it matter at all? We might be a few days from finding out.

=DAY 10.5 NOTES= women's doubles, Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza advanced to the final, where they'll attempt to win a second straight major against the winner of the Dellacqua/Shvedova vs. Groenefeld/Vandeweghe semifinal.

Hingis returned to the court after the men's quarterfinals in the final match of Night 10, winning a Mixed Doubles semifinal match with Leander Paes over Chan Yung-Jan & Rohan Bopanna.

So, Hingis now has a a shot to sweep the WD and Mixed for the second straight slam. If she wins both, she'll have claimed five slam titles this season. She and Paes, who also won the Australian Open title this year, will face Mattek-Sands/Querrey in the final. BMS already has three slam titles in 2015, as well (two doubles w/ Lucie Safarova, and the RG mixed with Mike Bryan).

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. Roberta Vinci/ITA
#26 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #2 Simona Halep/ROU

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #9 Marin Cilic/CRO
#5 Stan Wawrinka/SUI vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

#1 M.Hingis/S.Mirza (SUI/IND) def. #11 S.Errani/F.Pennetta (ITA/ITA)
#4 C.Dellacqua/Y.Shvedova (AUS/KAZ) vs. A.Groenefeld/C.Vandeweghe (GER/USA)

S.Johnson/S.Querrey (USA/USA) vs. #8 J.Murray/J.Peers (GBR/AUS)
#12 P.Herbert/N.Mahut (FRA/FRA) vs. D.Inglot/R.Lindstedt (GBR/SWE)

B.Mattek-Sands/S.Querrey (USA/USA) vs. #4 M.Hingis/L.Paes (SUI/IND)

#13 Vera Lapko/BLR vs. #9 Sonya Kenin/USA
(WC) Kylie McKenzie/USA vs. #11 Fanni Stollar/HUN
Iryna Shymanovich/BLR vs. Francesca Di Lorenzo/USA
#10 Sofya Zhuk/RUS vs. #2 Dalma Galfi/HUN

#1 Taylor Fritz/USA vs. (WC) Alex Rybakov/USA
#3 Mikael Ymer/SWE vs. #11 Chung Yunseong/KOR
#5 Tommy Paul/USA vs. #4 Hong Seong-chan/KOR
Alex De Minaur/AUS vs. #2 Michael Mmoh/USA

#1 Brooke Austin (Florida) vs. Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA)
#3 Lauren Herring (Georgia) vs. Maegan Manasse (California)
Julia Jones (Mississippi) vs. #4 Julia Elbaba (Virginia)
Josie Kuhlman (Florida) vs. #2 Robin Anderson (UCLA)

#1 Ryan Shane (Virginia) vs. Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA)
#4 Gonzales Austin (Vanderbilt) vs. Winston Lin (Columbia)
Jared Hiltzik (Illinois) vs. #3 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (Virginia)
Quentin Monaghan (Notre Dame) vs. #2 Mackenzie McDonald (UCLA)

2006: Maria Sharapova (W), Justine Henin-Hardenne (RU), Jelena Jankovic, Amelie Mauresmo
2007: Justine Henin (W), Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU), Anna Chakvetadze, Venus Williams
2008: Serena Williams (W), Jelena Jankovic (RU), Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina
2009: Kim Clijsters (W), Caroline Wozniacki (RU), Yanina Wickmayer, Serena Williams
2010: Kim Clijsters (W), Vera Zvonareva (RU), Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki
2011: Samantha Stosur (W), Serena Williams (RU), Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki
2012: Serena Williams (W), Victoria Azarenka (RU), Maria Sharapova, Sara Errani
2013: Serena Williams (W), Victoria Azarenka (RU), Li Na, Flavia Pennetta
2014: Serena Williams (W), Caroline Wozniacki (RU), Ekaterina Makarova, Peng Shuai
2015: Simona Halep, Flavia Pennetta, Roberta Vinci, Serena Williams

**2015 WTA SF**
6...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (5-1)
6...Angelique Kerber, GER (4-1+L)
6...Maria Sharapova, RUS (3-2+L)
6...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (3-3)
5...Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (3-2)
5...Sara Errani, ITA (2-3)
5...Elina Svitolina, UKR (1-4)

**2015 SLAM SF - by nation**
5 - United States (S.Williams-4, Keys)
3 - Russia (Makarova, Sharapova-2)
2 - Italy (Pennetta/Vinci)
1 - Czech Republic (Safarova)
1 - Poland (A.Radwanska)
1 - Romania (Halep)
1 - Serbia (Ivanovic)
1 - Spain (Muguruza)
1 - Switzerland (Bacsinszky)

**CAREER SLAM SF - active**
20...Maria Sharapova (10-10)
19...Venus Williams (14-5)
7...Victoria Azarenka (4-3)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
5...Ana Ivanovic (3-2)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
5...Petra Kvitova (2-3)
4...Samantha Stosur (2-2)
4...Vera Zvonareva (2-2)
4...Aga Radwanska (1-3)

**SLAM SF - 2010-15**
16 - Russia
15 - United States
8 - China, Italy
7 - Belarus, Czech Republic
5 - Belgium, Germany
4 - Denmark, Poland
3 - Australia, Canada, Romania
2 - France, Serbia
1 - Bulgaria, Slovak Republic, Spain, Switzerland

**SLAM SF - 2010-15**
12...SERENA WILLIAMS (11-10)
10...Maria Sharapova (6-4)
7...Victoria Azarenka (4-3)
6...Li Na (4-2) - ret.
5...Petra Kvitova (2-3)
4...Aga Radwanska (1-3)
4...Caroline Wozniacki (1-3)
3...Kim Clijsters (2-1) - ret.
3...Vera Zvonareva (2-1)
3...SIMONA HALEP (1-1)
3...Sara Errani (1-2)
3...Genie Bouchard (1-2)

47 - Marion Bartoli (2013 Wimbledon)
45 - Jana Novotna (1998 Wimbledon)
39 - Francesca Schiavone (2010 Roland Garros)
34 - Samantha Stosur (2011 US Open)
31 - Amelie Mauresmo (2006 Australian Open)
29 - Jennifer Capriati (2001 Australian Open)
28 - Kerry Melville-Reid (1978 Australian Open)
26 - Lindsay Davenport (1998 U.S. Open)
25 - Victoria Azarenka (2012 Australian Open)
Pennetta: 49th slam
Vinci: 44th slam

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Unseeded - 2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
Unseeded - 2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
Unseeded - 2014 Peng Shuai, 2014
Unseeded - 2015 Roberta Vinci, ITA
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#28 - 2011 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#26 - 2015 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic,SRB
#17 - 2014 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
#12 - 2005 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
#12 - 2007 Venus Williams, USA
#10 - 2001 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#10 - 2002 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
#10 - 2012 Sara Errani, ITA
#10 - 2014 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (RU)

2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL (RU)
2007 Justine Henin, BEL (W)
2008 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS (W)
2012 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2013 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2014 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2015 Simona Halep, ROU
AO: Maria Sharapova, RUS (RU)
RG: Lucie Safarova, CZE (RU)
WI: Maria Sharapova, RUS & Garbine Muguruza, ESP (RU)
US: Simona Halep, ROU
(W) - won title

2006 Wimbledon - Justine Henin-Hardenne (RU)
2007 Roland Garros - Justine Henin (W)
2008 Australian Open - Maria Sharapova (W)
2008 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic (W)
2009 U.S. Open - Serena Williams
2010 Wimbledon - Serena Williams (W) *
2010 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2013 Australian Open - Maria Sharapova
2013 Roland Garros - Serena Williams (W)
2013 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W) *
2015 U.S. Open - Simona Halep
* - co-Top Player in Early-Rds.

TOP QUALIFIER: (WC) Jessica Pegula/USA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Simona Halep/ROU
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Simona Halep/ROU
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Tereza Mrdeza/CRO d. #2 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ 5-7/7-6(8)/7-6(4) [3:12; saved 3 MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #12 Belinda Bencic/SUI d. Misaki Doi/JPN 5-7/7-6(3)/6-3 (down 3 MP in 2nd; outburst/crying/no shake umpire's hand)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd. - #20 Victoria Azarenka/BLR d. #11 Angelique Kerber/GER 7-5/2-6/6-4
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: Petra Cetkovska/CZE d. #4 Carolina Wozniacki/DEN 6-4/5-7/7-6(1) (saved 4 MP; ended past midnight after 3:02)
FIRST VICTORY: Mariana Duque/COL (def. Kenin/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #7 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. to Cibulkova/SVK)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Serbia (1-4; #7 Ivanovic, #21 Jankovic and '14 star Aleksandra Krunic out in 1st Rd.)
CRASH & BURN: #8 Karolina Pliskova/CZE (1st Rd. loss to Tatishvili/USA; :52; U.S. Open Series "winner")
ZOMBIE QUEEN: (LL) Daria Kasatkina/RUS (lucky loser, reached3rd Round after wins over Gavrilova & Konjuh -- best LL slam result since 1997, best at Open since 1993)
IT ("Kiki"): Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Johnna Konta/GBR & Anett Kontaveit/EST (both 4th Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (3rd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: #1 Serena Williams (in SF)
COMEBACK PLAYER: #20 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Hingis, Mattek-Sands
BROADWAY-BOUND: Lisa Raymond (farewell New York performance)
LADY OF THE EVENING: #1 Serena Williams/USA

All for Day 10.5. More tomorrow.


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