Wednesday, September 14, 2016

3Q BSA's: The Match Lists

Angie? Here. Karolina? Here. Si-mo-na? Here. Erika Vogelsang?

Yep, she's here, too.

A roll call of the top matches of the 3rd Quarter...


[Most Dramatic]
U.S. Open 4th Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Venus Williams
On a Labor Day holiday that was seemingly set up to be the most recent celebration of the ongoing Williams era of professional tennis, a tall, big-serving wrench was thrown into the works. Her name: Karolina Pliskova.

While Williams reached the final in her Open debut in Flushing Meadows nineteen years ago, Pliskova just two days earlier had finally gotten over the proverbial "hump" by reaching her first Round of 16 at a major in her eighteenth appearance in the main draw of a slam. She was playing in her first career match on Ashe Stadium court. You'd never have known it.

Williams jumped on Pliskova early in the 1st set, closing on the net and essentially looking like the Venus of our tennis dreams. She got the early break and led 5-1. But when serving for the set at 5-3, her game dipped as Pliskova's lifted just enough for the Czech to save a set point and break Venus to get back on serve. After saving two more SP, Pliskova dropped serve to lose the set. But she was over her slow start and back in the match. Williams grabbed a break lead in the 2nd, as well. Once again, she lost that lead. Only this time Pliskova didn't squander the momentum. After falling behind 3-0, and with Venus serving up 3-1, 30/15, the Czech got the break, held, then broke again. Serving at 5-4, Pliskova was solid, blasting an ace past Williams into the corner to take the 2nd and send things to the 3rd, setting up a classic final set battle.

With Venus seemingly tiring early in the set as the rallies grew longer, Pliskova went up a break at 2-1. One game later, the Czech fired an ace on a Williams BP, then saved another with a big wide serve that produced an error on the return. After another big serve up the "T" gave Pliskova a game point, she double-faulted and was soon forced to save a third BP. She called upon her serve once again to reach her second GP, then saw a Williams return skid off the net cord and go out to give Pliskova a hold for a 3-1 lead. With the Ashe crowd definitively (as one would expect) on the side of Williams, Pliskova stepped up to the baseline to attempt to hold serve for a seventh straight time and get within four points of the win. But Williams moved in to put away a volley, then Pliskova missed a volley of her own to go down BP. A backhand error gave Williams the break as things were again even at 4-4. Two games later, Pliskova served to stay in the match. A Venus return at her feet elicited an error from the Czech that gave Williams a match point.

Pliskova's Open epitaph seemed to have already been written. But it really wasn't.

Rather than accept an unwanted fate, Pliskova did what too few players looking to make a breakthrough do -- she threw caution to the wind and settled in behind her biggest weapons. Coming into the net behind her serve she swatted a swing volley winner to save MP, then fired a crosscourt forehand winner to reach game point. Another big serve got her a miraculous -- and frighteningly efficient in its closing points -- hold for 5-5. Suddenly hitting full out on all her shots, after having briefly been tentative and trying to avoid mistakes while seeing her 3rd set lead slip away, Pliskova came back from love/30 down and broke Williams with a crosscourt backhand that bounded off the net cord and over the racket of Venus, who'd been in perfect position for an easy put-away volley. Pliskova's break gave her a 6-5 lead and a chance to serve out the match.

With her summer of progress hanging in the air and in the balance, Pliskova hit a service winner, ace and forehand winner to reach triple MP. But with Pliskova seemingly trying to fire a match-ending ace on every serve, she failed to pull it off each time. Instead, she double-faulted on MP #1, then saw Williams put away and volley on MP #2 and get back to deuce with a MP #3-saving crosscourt backhand winner that looked remarkably like the one that the Czech hit to break Venus for a 6-5 lead. Williams stepped into the court to put away a forehand winner to reach BP, then whacked another behind Pliskova at the baseline to record her fifth straight point after falling down triple MP, getting the break to force a deciding tie-break.

Pliskova took a mini-break lead at 1-0, but saw Venus get it back two points later with a backhand down the line. From there, while Pliskova's game held steady, it was the veteran Williams whose errors brought her down to earth. A netted backhand put the Czech up a mini-break again at 3-1. Serving up 3-2, Pliskova fired a serve up the middle that Williams reacted to with a backhand down the line, only to see the Czech's half-volley drop shot put her up 4-2. Back-to-back Williams errors made it 6-2, as Pliskova upped the ante from her earlier triple match point by being up quadruple match point. On MP #4, Pliskova saw Williams' shot go wide to end the match. Ah, but wait. Venus challenged the Czech's ball at the baseline before her own reply. Replay showed that it was out, handing Williams the point and extending the TB. On the next point, though, Pliskova put in another big serve to Venus' backhand. Williams' return flew out, giving the Czech a 7-3 TB win to reach her first career quarterfinal at a major. She eventually also defeated Venus' sister Serena to reach her maiden slam singles final and climb past Venus to a career-best #6.
[Best Singles Set]
U.S. Open QF - Serena Williams def. Simona Halep [2nd set]
On a night when she came up against an opponent who understood that in order to defeat her she'd have to effectively walk a thin tightrope stretched across the surface of Arthur Ashe Stadium court, Williams reminded everyone -- one more time -- why she's a 22-time major champion.

Fierce, focused and one step closer to Grand Slam 23. #Serena #usopen

A photo posted by @usopen on

Halep did nearly everything possible to take this match, but it still wasn't enough. Still, even with her every mistake -- the few that there were -- magnified exponentially, the Romanian found her way into a match that easily could have gotten away from her very quickly. For a moment, it even appeared as if a ceiling-shattering victory might be within her grasp as she pushed Serena to three sets, with momentum seemingly on her side after emerging on top in a titanic 2nd set struggle.

And then -- poof! -- it was gone.

After taking a 3-0 lead, it was legitimate to wonder whether Halep might be overwhelmed by the tsunami-like tide of the Williams game blasting at full power and volume. But then the Romanian got a minor foothold with a hold for 3-1. And when Williams opened game #5 with a double-fault, Halep smelled a slight opening. Williams had faced just one break point through the first four rounds of the Open, but when she fired a forehand wide on Halep's second BP she'd dropped serve for the first time.

But game #6 proved to be key to the opening set. Serving at 2-3, with her second game point after saving two BP, Halep failed to put away a routine passing shot, hurrying as Serena approached the net and firing it just under the tape. Her mistake would prove costly. Rather than knotting the set at 3-3, Halep was BP down two points later, and her double-fault handed the break back to Serena, who led 4-2. Two games later, Williams, moving forward into the court yet again, punched a volley winner to take the set 6-2.

While the ultimate conclusion of the 1st was determined by one mid-set game, the 2nd came down to a pair of games that bookended the stanza. Again, both of them were Halep service games. Only this time the Romanian managed to hold on both occasions.

Down 0-1, Halep quickly fell behind love/40 in the very next game. Dropping serve felt as if it might prove fatal to her chances. Ten minutes later, after saving seven break points, the Romanian held on her second game point. Her survival proved to give her an injection of confidence. Suddenly, her shots were coming off her racket with more power. After being driven to the very back of the court by Williams' shots in the 1st, it was Halep who was keeping Serena at bay behind the baseline with the depth of her own groundstrokes. With Serena failing to move into the net as she had earlier, the hard-hitting rallies began to last longer, more often than not going in Halep's favor. One game after escaping with a hold for 1-1, Halep went up love/30 on Williams' serve. Serena saved a BP, firing back-to-back-to-back aces, but ultimately double-faulted twice, the second time on the Romanian's fourth BP of the game, as Halep took a 2-1 lead. Halep's double-pumping-fists celebration provided still further evidence of her newly-starring role in the battle.

While Williams was utilizing her most lethal weapon, hitting big serves in order to hold serve without having to engage in the rallies that were now going Halep's way, Halep herself was hiding her own attackable second serve by getting in nearly all her first serves. She held for 4-2 and was playing as well as she possibly could, though it was apparent that she was operating with a razor thin margin of error in her attempts to keep one step ahead of Williams. In game #10, serving up 5-4, after saving seven BP in a ten-minute hold eight games earlier, Halep went thirteen more minutes to get another hold, saving five more BP chances before finally converting on her own fifth set point.

The remarkable battle had taken 1:05 to complete, with twenty-three minutes of the set taken up by just two key Halep service games in which Williams went 0-for-12 on BP chances, while it took Halep seven total GP attempts to secure the holds. Halep's attempt at a "perfect game" in the 2nd, even with Serena nipping at her heels with sharp teeth all the way, proved successful, as she committed just four unforced errors in the set and seemed to now have the momentum in the match. With Williams' #1 ranking at stake, the magnitude of what Halep had just done began to sink in. Firing power groundstroke-for-groundstroke with Williams, she'd kept her at bay with the match on the line, giving herself a chance to prevail in a match that seemed all along to be one game from totally tipping in Serena's favor in what would have been a straight sets affair.

And then the 3rd set began... and Williams proved why she's STILL the best at age 34, mere weeks from 35, and seventeen years after she won her very first major title on the same Ashe Stadium court. After saving a BP in the opening game, Williams held with a volley winner, a sign that the forward aggression that largely went away in the 2nd set would surely be back in the deciding 3rd. After going up 40/15, then hitting back-to-back DF, Halep held for 1-1. But the DF's may have been the "canary in the coal mine" moment of this match, as they proved to be unimportant in what ultimately was a hold of serve but were a possible hint that Halep's laser-sharp concentration and give-away-nothing stance in the 2nd set might have cracked ever so slightly. Two games later, Halep suddenly played her most "loose" game of the entire match, falling behind 15/40. After missing on a 1st serve, the Romanian was forced to hit one of the second serves that she'd kept away from Williams during most of the 2nd set. Serena blasted a big return to get the break and go up 3-1. Williams held at love to go up 5-2, then routinely served things out two games later.

[Most Historically Signficant]
Rio Olympics Final - Monica Puig def. Angelique Kerber
Rather than feel the pressure, Puig got stronger as the match progressed. After a slow start in the 2nd, she saved BP to avoid falling down a double-break at 3-0, then calmed her game and soon afterward broke the German to even things at 4-4. Kerber broke back for 5-4 and served out the set, but the less experienced big match player seemed the more stable and consistent force in the 3rd. Kerber, while her defense remained nothing short of stellar, had a few brain lapses in key moments, including breaking herself with a bad drop shot for 4-0 after having been up 40/15. Love/40 up on Puig's serve in game #7, the German missed on an easy overhead to even the game at deuce, allowing Puig's fight to ultimately stave off six BP before winning on MP #4 when Kerber pushed a forehand wide.


[Most Impressive Clash of Styles]
U.S. Open Final - Angelique Kerber def. Karolina Pliskova
The Open final contested between Kerber, playing in her third major final of the season, and maiden slam finalist Pliskova, while not the "battle for #1" clash between the German and Serena Williams that many had been anticipating, was a very desirable match-up of players with opposing temperaments as well as game styles.

In the 6-3 1st set, Kerber had committed just three unforced errors to Pliskova's seventeen, while the Czech's second serve win percentage was hovering around 30% as she was broken to start, as well as end, the set, while failing to put away BP in two of the German's service games. In the 2nd, the Czech needed to improve her play. And she did. Her first serve percentage went up, and she continued to move forward and attempt to pressure Kerber. Finally, in game #7, Pliskova got her first break of the match on her fifth BP chance. Serving to force a 3rd, Pliskova held firm just as she did in potentially stressful situations vs. both Williams Sisters. Firing her first ace of the set, she reached set point and held to take the 2nd at 6-4 without having had to face a BP since dropping serve to end the 1st.

It was just the third time in the last TWENTY-ONE years that the U.S. Open final went the distance.

All tournament long, Pliskova had risen in the moment of truth. In the 3rd set, she held at love to level things at 1-1. In game #3, errors were coming off Kerber's racket, while the Czech was simultaneously calm and aggressive. Up 2-1 and serving next, Pliskova clenched her fist as she returned to the changeover area, while Kerber slammed her racket. It seemed as if the Czech's summer rise would continue, at Kerber's expense. But the German came into the day as the soon-to-be-#1 for good reason. The German's belief in herself had played out of the course of this season, as well as last. And it was her greatest preparation for the battle -- her fitness -- that would prove to be the key one down the stretch.

Pliskova fired an ace to hold for 3-1, but Kerber then held at love. Kerber took a 15/30 lead in game #6, and Pliskova missed on a backhand down the line on BP to lose her small but precious advantage in the set. The Czech seemed prepared to take it back, though, hitting out on her shots while Kerber seemed tentative. She led love/30 on Kerber's serve in game #7, but back-to-back errors got things back to 30/30. As fatigue began to set in with Pliskova, Kerber's muscle memory of a career season kicked in, re-lighting her inner fire as all the work she's done over the past two years to get there, once again, came to bear. The German blasted a forehand winner into the deep corner to reach game point, pumping her fists and raising her leg to reproduce a pose seen so often in Melbourne eight months ago. A Pliskova forehand error finished off a Kerber hold for 4-3.

Pliskova held for 4-4, but she tired down the final stretch, bending over at the waist numerous times in the closing games before weary errors took over her game as she served to stay alive down 4-5, finally sending a wild forehand out to give Kerber her second major title of 2016.

[Welcome to the Crazy Women's Tennis Tour]
U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Kateryna Bondarenko def. Zheng Saisai
In the 3:01 match, Zheng led 5-0 in the 1st set, lost five straight games, then closed out a 7-5 win. The Chinese woman led 5-3 in the 2nd, as well, served for the match at 5-4, as served two up 5-3 in the TB before losing four straight points as Bondarenko sent things to the 3rd. There, the Ukrainian led 3-0, then double-faulted on her second MP (on an underhanded second serve) before winning on MP #3. And if that wasn't enough, after it was all over, a breach (harmless, thankfully) occurred when a Zheng fan climb onto the court and reach the players before being hustled away by "security" personnel.

Montreal SF - Simona Halep def. Angelique Kerber
All the colors of the Halep rainbow, for good and bad. In the end, the good won out.

After bursting out of the gates by completing a love 1st set in a near-perfect performance, as Kerber's game improved in the 2nd all the perfectionist blood within the Romanian began to boil white hot. After dropping a game to fall behind 4-3 in the 2nd, Halep beat the Montreal court with her racket over and over, called for a talk with coach Darren Cahill, then hurried through a service game that resulted in a break, as the lure of The Cliffs of Simona looked to simply be too strong for Halep to resist. Kerber served out the set and completed her own six-game run as she took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd. But then Halep's better Swarmette angels prevailed, as she turned the momentum back in her favor down the stretch and ended the match just as she began it -- with a six-game winning streak. Converting on her fourth MP attempt, Halep advanced to her second straight Rogers Cup final, where she defeated Madison Keys.
Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Zhang Shuai def. Timea Bacsinszky
Timea's Olympic experience had been a bit incomplete so far. She missed the opening ceremonies because she had an early match scheduled the next day, then once that began she struggled mightily with Australian Open superhero Zhang, falling behind 4-2 in the 3rd but fighting back to hold -- and fail to convert -- three MP opportunities, the last up 6-5 in the deciding TB. Zheng ultimately won 9-7 on her own second MP when the Swiss flared a backhand wide to become the first (but hardy the only) seed ousted on Day 1.

Timea's time in Rio had a happy ending, though, as she and Martina Hingis combined to win the Bronze in doubles.
Stanford Final - Johanna Konta def. Venus Williams
Getting over the finish line wasn't easy, but the Brit proved solid down the stretch. It'd taken Konta two attempts to finally serve out the 1st, but then she squandered a 4-1, two-break lead in the 2nd, failing to put away MP and seeing Williams push things to a deciding 3rd. Konta went up 4-2 in the final set, but on a few occasions Venus threatened to make a game of things yet again before the first-time finalist finally wrestled the last stretch away from the 80-time finalist, denying Venus her 50th career title.

Rio Olympics 2nd Rd. - Madison Keys def. Kristina Mladenovic
At least Kiki had a better time of things in singles than she did in doubles (losing in the 1st Round in both WD and MX, with the former coming equipped with a wardrobe snafu and rant against the French tennis federation). But, still, this one goes down as something of a lost opportunity. Mladenovic served for the 1st, only to see Keys steal it in the closing games. She served for the 2nd set, too, but ultimately went to a TB and had to come back from 4-1 down, winning the last six points to force a 3rd. The second-longest Olympic women's match at 3:14, it ended with Mladenovic failing to secure the 3rd set TB after leading 5-3.
Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Johanna Konta def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova's quest to finally earn an Olympic medal soon ended with a QF loss in WD, but she "left her mark" in this one vs. the Brit in a defeat in which she won the 1st set, and led in the 2nd and 3rd sets before losing both. Sveta was up a break at 3-2 in the final set, but then lost three straight games as Konta served for the match at 5-3, She failed to secure the hold, but came back from love/40 down in game #11 to hold for 6-5, winning five straight points, the final two with aces. In game #12, Kuznetsova denied two MP at 6-5 and held a GP to force a deciding TB, only to see Konta win on MP #3. Oh, Sveta.
Rio Olympics Doubles SF - Bacsinszky/Hingis def. Hlavackova/Hradecka
The medal rounds are serious business. See? No, really... can you still see, Andrea?

Washington DC 2nd Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Usue Arconada
As is often the case, with Putintseva comes a touch of over-emotive drama, this time after the Kazakh let go of her anger at a specific cheering section after finishing off the game teenager.

U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Johanna Konta def. Tsvetana Pironkova
Iin the middle of the afternoon, with the heat and humidity (perhaps deceptively) at its worst, near-Top 10 Brit (AO semifinalist and Stanford champ) Konta suddenly (but "gracefully," as she would wryly note) went down in a heap while serving to stay in the 2nd set (down BP, at 5-6, in fact, after missing on a first serve). Dropping her racket and going to a knee, Konta was audibly wheezing and gasping for breath, and was soon on her back, wrapped in ice packs and wet towels while she waited for medical attention and the chair umpire kept a watchful eye on her as she ran around to get things organized and the correct personnel to the court as quickly as possible. Once the trainers got there, Konta was treated and, eventually, made it back to her chair.

In surprisingly quick fashion, she actually returned to the baseline, but only to serve her second serve (well long), securing the break for Pironkova and knotting the match at one set each. After a break between sets, Konta came back seemingly none the worse for wear. She got an early break lead over Pironkova, led 2-0, and never looked back, putting away a victory that was anything but routine.

U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Simona Halep def. Timea Babos
Whew-mo-na! Halep survives, but it isn't easy.

After racing to a 3-0 lead and taking the 1st set 6-1 over the big-hitting Babos, Halep soon found herself down a break in the 2nd. Cue Halep talking to herself, the "arguments" with coach Darren Cahill in the stands and the shedding of the lack-of-composure traits she talked about after her 2nd Round win two days earlier. As Babos lifted her game while Halep's sunk of her own accord, the entire momentum of the match shifted in the Hungarian's favor. Almost TOO far. Babos took the 2nd set 6-2, then grabbed an early break in the 3rd. She led 3-1. Then the match turned into a battle between the games and wills of the two women, but also to see which one would give away enough -- because of what was happening on the INSIDE -- that it ultimately might cause them to lose the match.

Babos took a 30/love lead on serve in game #8, but Halep's successful (and perfect) drop shot from the baseline preceded a Babos double-fault. Then she flew a forehand on a short ball to give Halep a BP for a chance to serve out the match. Babos saved it, as well as two more BP in the game as she held in a nine-minute game to tie the score at 4-4

But Halep wasn't finished walking on the the edge of the Cliffs of Simona.

She fell behind 15/40 in game #9. With her serve looking shaky, the Romanian was saved by Babos' game hitting a bad patch. Three consecutive errors (including one off a 65-mph Halep second serve) gave the #5 seed a game point, then another forehand fired into the net by the #31-seed closed out a hold that gave Halep a 5-4 lead in the set. With the Round of 16 within reach, though, Halep found herself down 40/15 on Babos' serve a game later. She threw her racket into the court, cracking it and earning a code violation (as well as avoiding getting knocked out cold by it on the rebound).

But as was the case in the 2nd Round when she abused another poor racket, it seemed to work like a charm. Halep never lost a point with her new "lucky" weapon of choice. Four straight points went her way, including a Babos error that gave her a MP. Then Babos double-faulted to end the match.
Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Ekaterina Makarova def. Cagla Buyukakcay
Buykakcay's ride has been a wild and rewarding one in 2016. It ALMOST added yet another successful chapter in Rio, as she nearly took out Makarova, failing to convert a MP up 6-5 in the TB. The Russian rebounded to take the final three points to get the win.
U.S. Open 1st Rd. - Madison Keys def. Alison Riske
Riske was one shot away from holding a match point for a straight sets victory, only to fail to convert and eventually lose a three-setter that didn't end until 1:48 a.m., the latest-ending women's match in the tournament's history.

[Best "Perfect" Match]
Bucharest Final - Simona Halep def. Anastasija Sevastova
We'll choose to look past the likely fact that this scoreline -- the first double-bagel final on tour in three and a half years -- will provide easy fodder for the WTA haters to harp on the quality and depth of talent on tour, and instead focus on Halep's 46-minute mastery of the moment. She just breezed past The Cliffs of Simona at "Back to the Future" DeLorean speed in this one. Also, I'll note that scorelines and quality don't necessarily always inform one another. Example: You know that other double-bagel final I mentioned? Well, that took place in Sydney in 2013, with Aga Radwanska defeating Dominika Cibulkova. Ummm, I think we've seen -- quite a few times, in fact -- the sort of quality matches those two are capable of producing (see Wimbledon).

Oh, and BOTH Halep Sevastova ended up reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

[Did Someone Mention Radwanska/Cibulkova?]
Stanford 2nd Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Ula Radwanska
Without Aga, another Cibulkova/Radwanska match didn't provide another classic. But Ula (who defeated K.Bondarenko in the 1st Round) did force a 1st set TB.

[A Long Time Comin']
Washington DC Q2 - Lauren Albanese def. Shuko Aoyama
Albanese's second straight win over a Japanese woman in D.C. qualifying got the world #275 into her first WTA MD since Bogota in 2010.

[A Family Peace]
Florianopolis Q2 - Nadiia Kichenok def. Lyudmyla Kichenok
No harm, no foul. While Nadiia advanced cleanly into the MD, Lyudyla did the same as a lucky loser. Nadiia lost in the 1st Round, while Lyudmyla reached the QF. Together, they won the doubles title. And they lived happily ever after...

*TO WIN IS LOVELY, but to make a comeback AND win is divine*

U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Madison Keys def. Naomi Osaka
Keys faced off in a 3rd Round match at Ashe Stadium with 18-year Osaka, whose big shots and large game, at their best, can hit with the likes of the hard-slugging Bannerette. Her future holds great promise if she can just harness her power into a more finely-tuned threat. Sort of how Keys was viewed two or three years ago. But that Osaka wasn't threatening Keys in this match for the first set and a half. Keys was dominating. Leading 7-5/4-4, she found herself with a triple game point. But a few loose errors led to her game very nearly unraveling like it used to when SHE was the one trying to harness her skills into a more consistent force. With Keys suddenly sending shots all over the court, Osaka took the 2nd set 6-4, then proceeded to simply out-hit her opponent in the 3rd.

While Keys' game went off the tracks in a hail of overzealous errors, Osaka grabbed an early break of serve and took off. Keys' double-faulted on BP to go down a double-break at 4-1, and Osaka had an easy hold to take a 5-1 lead. It seemed to be all over except for the post-match deconstruction of the Keys collapse. When the Bannerette held for 5-2, the burden shifted to Osaka. And that was when the teenager began to feel the moment, just as Keys got the scent of victory and refused to let it get away.

Twice the Japanese teen served for the match. Twice she failed to do so. Meanwhile, the flailing errors disappeared from the game of Keys, replaced by confidence and a string of winners. It was time for Osaka's game to go off the rails, which it did while she fought back tears as she watched it all slip away. Serving for the match for the second time at 5-4, Osaka was broken again. Osaka managed to hold to force a deciding tie-break, but it would only be Keys' proving ground, not her own. Keys' wide second serve was unreturnable as she escaped what would have been an early TB hole, holding for 2-2, the she coasted to a 7-3 win.

Cincinnati Q2 - Varvara Flink def. Misaki Doi
Wild card Russian Flink made the comeback from 6-0/5-2 to take out #1 Q-seed Doi, but Flink was ousted in the 1st Round while Doi entered the MD as a lucky loser in Serena Williams' #1 seed slot, complete with 1st Round bye. Doi then won her match to reach the 3rd Round. Ah, tennis.
Olympic Mixed Doubles1st Rd. - V.Williams/Ram def. Bertens/Rojer
...6-7(4)/7-6(3) [10-8].
Venus' road to Rio redemption began in the 1st Round of Mixed Doubles, when she and Ram saved two MP in the 2nd set, then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set TB, holding on to prevent Williams from going winless at these Olympics. They'd go on to take Silver, allowing Rio to give Venus the sort of Olympic send-off the four-time Gold winner deserves. Well, that is, unless...

Cincinnati Doubles Final - Mirza/Strycova def. Hingis/Vandeweghe
It just HAD to work out this way, didn't it? Almost immediately announcing the dissolution of their 16-month doubles partnership, Hingis and Mirza found themselves on opposite sides of the net. With Mirza & Strycova dominating the field to reach the final, while Hingis/Vandeweghe floated along above the draw while playing just one match due to opponent withdrawals. Even a 5-1 1st set lead, and three SP, weren't enough to hold back Mirza & Strycova, two players with definite minds of their own who could form one of the most intriguing, interesting and entertaining duos (on and off court) if this pairing takes hold beyond the current summer try-out phase.
Cincinnati 2nd Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Johanna Larsson
Larsson was cut no slack on her 28th birthday. After defeating Irina-Camelia Begu earlier in the day, the Swede was sent out again in the evening as the tournament tried to catch up after a series of rain delays. Up until midnight, Larsson was leading the Slovak, having come back from 4-0 down to take the 1st set and taking a 3-1 lead in the 2nd. But once Larsson's birthday was officially over at 12:01 a.m., it was Cibulkova's time to shine. She reeled off five of six games to take the 2nd, then saved two MP in the 3rd en route to the win.
U.S. Open Q2 - Eri Hozumi def. (WC) Amanda Anisimova
14-year old Bannerette Anisimova, the Roland Garros girls runner-up, notched a qualifying win in her first career women's match at a major, but her brief run ended in super-disappointing fashion, as she couldn't close out Hozumi despite leading 4-0 in the 3rd and holding a MP.
Nanchang Final - Duan Yingying def. Vania King
King led 6-1/2-0, but Duan broke back in game #3, saved six BP in her next three serve games and carried over the momentum all the way to the finish, preventing King from winning her first tour singles final since 2006.

Montreal 1st Rd. - Monica Niculescu def. Jelena Ostapenko
Ostapenko led 6-3/5-4 and served for the match, only to lose eight straight games. Niculescu won nine of the final ten games to take the match. Clear a path, everyone... Jelena's comin', and she's not happy.
Montreal 1st Rd. - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova def. Yulia Putintseva
The Hordette's QF run nearly stalled at the starting line, but she erased a 5-2 3rd set deficit to put away the Kazakh.
Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Daria Kasatkina def. Ons Jabeur
When the Russian teenager was down 6-3/3-1, thinks looked bleak for Kasatkina. But then she broke the Tunisian and led 4-3, only to give the break back and see Jabeur serve for the match at 5-4. But she got the break, and it was time to live again. She went up 6-0 in the 2nd set TB, winning it 7-4, then pulled away quickly in the 3rd. After reaching the 3rd Round in each of her four slam debuts in 2015-16, Kasatkina reached the QF in her first Olympic appearance, the best singles result of any of the Russians.
U.S. Open 1st Rd. - Timea Babos def. Barbara Haas
The Hungarian notches her first career Open MD win, coming back from 4-0 down in the 3rd to win in 2:41.
U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Caroline Garcia def. Katerina Siniakova
From 1-4 down in the 3rd, Garcia wins five consecutive games to put up her career-best Open result in her career-best season, lifting her singles ranking to a new career-high of #24.
U.S. Open Mixed Doubles 2nd Rd. - Vandeweghe/Ram def. Hingis/Paes
...7-6(1)/3-6 [13-11].
From down 8-4 in the deciding tie-break, Vandeweghe/Ram win 13-11 to take the match, as CoCo eliminates new doubles partner Hingis here, before later losing with her in the WD semifinals. Vandeweghe/Ram lost in the MX final to Siegemund/Pavic.
$10K Tarvisio 1st Rd. - Alona Bondarenko def. Erika Vogelsang
Oh, Vogelsang. (Just kidding.) Kateryna's sister, who never "officially" retired, finally returned to the court and notched her first victory in five years. Alona ranked as high as #19 in 2008, but hadn't played since the 2011 Kremlin Cup.

Cincinnati QF - Simona Halep def. Aga Radwanska
Radwanska led 4-0 in the 1st, only to see the Romanian charge back and serve at 5-4, holding a SP. She didn't manage to hold, but broke and got another chance two games later. In an ironic twist, she stole the set from Radwanska with a deft drop shot from the baseline. Halep won twelve of the final fourteen games.

U.S. Open Q2 - Donna Vekic def. Alize Lim
. Though she lost in the final Q-round, Vekic briefly carried over her Cincinnati confidence (Q-run + upset of AnaIvo) to Flushing Meadows, where she won this one after staging a comeback from 6-3/3-0 down vs. the Pastry.
U.S. Open Girls 3rd Rd. - Bianca Andreescu def Usue Arconada
#9-seed Arconada, one of ten U.S. girls in the Round of 16, falls to the #7-seeded Canadian Andreescu, who'd trailed 7-5/5-2 before rallying for victory. Four other Bannerettes still advanced to the QF, with Andreescu losing in the semis to eventual champ Kayla Day.

[A Robson Renaissance?]
Laura Robson's tough journey through the tennis wilderness seems to have found a path back to civilization. Results have been slow to come in the (still only) 22-year old Brit's comeback from 2014 wrist surgery, but this summer has produced tangible evidence of good health AND improvement. A tight three-set loss to countrywoman Tara Moore in the Sacramento $50K in July was viewed from here as either a sign that Moore had officially "surpassed" Robson on the Crumpet Tennis Pyramid, or a hint that maybe Robson was getting "close" to something good. Apparently, it was the latter. Another three-set loss vs. Chanel Simmonds soon followed in a $25K on Forth Worth, but then it happened.

In a $25K challenger in Landisville, Pennsylvania, the then-#285 ranked Robson swept both the singles and doubles titles. She came back from a set down to defeat Ksenia Lyskina in the 1st Round, survived a rematch with Moore (dropping the 1st set, but seeing Moore retire in the 2nd due to heat illness), then didn't lose another set the rest of the tournament, including a double-bagel win in the final over Julia Elbaba. The win was a perfect complement to a no-sets-loss doubles title run with 18-year old Brit Freya Christie. They were Robson's first titles since wrist surgery. Actually, her last pro singles title came in 2008 (in a $10K challenger four months after she was crowned the Wimbledon girls champ), but this was her first appearance in a singles final of any sort since September 2012, the year before the Brit reached her career-high of #27 prior to her wrist injury in her first match of the 2014 season. After missing a year and a half, Robson returned to action during the summer of '15.

But Robson wasn't finished. She took off on holiday from North American to Europe, thinking she had no chance for a wild card berth into U.S. Open qualifying. But once she received word of her WC, within seven hours she was back on plane to the States. She stretched her winning streak to eight matches, going 3-0 in qualifying without losing a set, to reach the Open MD three years after she won her last slam MD match there in 2013. Robson lost in three sets in the 1st Round to countrywoman Naomi Broady, but it appears as if a significant corner has been turned. Finally.

[A Choke in Time -- or two -- Saves Nine... but not Schmiedy]
Bucharest 1st Rd. - Aliaksandra Sasnovich def. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
AKS led 4-2 in the 1st set, then 5-2 in the 3rd and held a MP. Serving for the match up 5-3, she double-faulted on BP and never won another game.
Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko def. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Oh, Schmiedy. Not to pile on AKS while she's already trapped under a pile of, umm, well, you know. Against Ostapenko, the Slovak had a 6-1, two-break lead, and held two MP at 5-4 in the 2nd. In the 3rd, AKS came back from 0-2, love/40 to lead 5-2 and serve for the match, only to drop serve twice in a row and lose the deciding TB to the Latvian. 4-23 on the season (not counting her 2-1 Fed Cup mark), having dropped from #26 to #99 (so far), the best that can be said is that she's at least won the 1st set in three of her last four losses, and gone three sets in six of seven. Other than that, well... at least the 2017 season is only three and a half months away.

[In a Category All Its Own]
WTA 125 Dalian Final - Kristyna Pliskova def. Misa Eguchi
...7-5/4-6/2-5 ret.
Kristyna Pliskova picked up the biggest title of her career less than twenty-four hours after her twin sister Kaorlina missed out on doing the same in the U.S. Open final. Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. After winning the opening set, the Czech seemed on her way to losing, dropping the 2nd finding herself serving down 2-5, love/30 in the 3rd, only to see Eguchi suffer a bad fall. After getting some medical treatment, she tried to play but had to retire after a few points, and was carted off the court.

So was this a "comeback," or was it not? Hmmm. Well, it was definitely SOMETHING. Not sure what... but SOMETHING.

IT's SUPER-... err, BAT-...
umm, UPSETS!*

Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Kirsten Flipkens def. Venus Williams
Four years ago, Flipkens missed out on playing in the London Olympics after life-threatening blood clots were discovered in her calf during the spring. During her two months of inactivity, her ranking fell outside the Top 250 and she lost her funding from the Flemish Tennis Association. That was surely the Belgian's low point, but the former Wimbledon junior champ (2003), who couldn't help but play in the long shadow of the likes of Henin and Clijsters for most of her career, has been battling her way back for seemingly her entire existence on tour. Back and wrist injuries have plagued her over the years, but she's always found a way to flip the script back in her favor. So it should have come as no surprise that back in '12 she went from being essentially abandoned in the spring to winning the first title of her WTA career (Quebec City) by the end of the summer, finishing the season at #54. A year later, she reached the Wimbledon semifinals and climbed as high as #13 in the rankings. Last season, a cyst in her wrist caused her to miss still more time and dropped her outside the Top 100 again, once more threatening her Olympic dream, as she finished '15 at #93.

Flipkens opened '16 by qualifying in Auckland and reaching the QF. In February, she played in the Monterrey final, her first on tour in nearly three years. But the wrist was bothering her once again this spring, when she had just a single win during the clay season, and lost 1 & love to Alize Cornet in the 1st Round of Roland Garros. But this is Flipkens we're talking about... you know what comes next. An upset of RG champ Garbine Muguruza on the grass in Mallorca set her summer on a better course, as did her pushing of Madison Keys to three sets in the 2nd Round at Wimbledon. Then came her belated Olympic experience.

On Day 1 in Rio, the 30-year old Waffle finally made her Olympic debut on Centre Court vs. Williams, who was fighting an undisclosed virus that led to her spending quite a bit of time off court between the 2nd and 3rd sets. Characteristically, the Flipkens fight came with her. And, in 3:13, Flipkens pulled off the biggest win of her career, as she (naturally) staged a comeback from a set down, survived Venus serving for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd (getting within two points of victory), didn't collapse after being broken at love when serving for the match herself at 6-5, nor when she lost a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set TB and found Williams once again two points from the win at 5-5. Flipkens may have been given up on in the past, but she never gives up on herself.


Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Serena Williams
Svitolina played within herself and didn't crack under the pressure of who her defending Gold medal winning opponent was (and still is). But, of course, all anyone will remember here is how Williams, after breaking to get back on serve at 3-3 in the 2nd set, double-faulted and fell behind love/30 in game #7. In the most un-Serena-like game imaginable, Williams would hit an ace to go up 40/30, then a DF, then an ace, than another DF. Another DF put her BP down, and another (her fifth in the game) gave the Ukrainian back the break advantage. Importantly, though, Svitolina then held at love, while Williams followed up by going down love/40 with still another DF. Svitolina won on her third MP.
Gstaad 1st Rd. - Rebeka Masarova def. Jelena Jankovic
The world #797, this year's Roland Garros champ who was making her tour debut, takes out world #27 and former #1 Jankovic to ingnite a run that didn't end until she'd reached the semifinals after putting up additional wins over Anett Kontaveit and Annika Beck. The 16-year old was coming off a spring/early summer junior run that saw her go 32-5 (w/ 16 consecutive wins at one point), winning the Roland Garros girls title, as well as two other Grade 1 events.


U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Anastasija Sevastova def. Garbine Muguruza
Sevestova's back-from-retirement, Cinderella-like second act on tour reached new heights at Flushing Meadows, gaining its footing in the early going with the Latvian's upset of the occasionally "Walking Dead extra-looking" #3-seeded Roland Garros champion. The Spaniard actually led the match 5-4, 30/love before dropping back-to-back games and then double-faulting to give Sevastova a SP before badly missing on a short ball to drop the 1st. After falling behind 4-0 in the 2nd, Muguruza nearly turned things around vs. her tight opponent, holding at love for 5-3 and breaking serve a game later. But a string of errors put Muguruza down love/40 soon after, and Sevastova won on her fourth MP. She'd ultimately reach the QF, but turned an ankle vs. Caroline Wozniacki and was but a shell of her previous Open self, only narrowly avoiding a double-bagel loss.
U.S. Open SF - Karolina Pliskova def. Serena Williams
Having never before advanced beyond the 3rd Round in her previous seventeen slams, Pliskova's run to the Open final proved to be both a revelation (to some) and proving ground (for the Czech herself) as the Czech Fed Cup hero rarely showed a hint of nerves on Ashe Stadium for the first time, against the world #1, no less. Even with Williams admitting to playing with a knee injury, Pliskova starred on the night, out-hitting and out-serving Serena (who then pushed things over the edge herself with a DF on MP) and holding firm down the stretch as she become just the fourth to ever defeat BOTH Sisters in the same slam event. The result ended Williams' record-tying 186 consecutive week run at #1.

"I can't believe it," Pliskova initially remarked after the win. But then she immediately added, "No, actually, I CAN believe it." She noted she always believed that she could accomplish such results if she worked hard enough at it.

Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Monica Puig def. Garbine Muguruza 6-1/6-1
Rio Olympics SF - Monica Puig def. Petra Kvitova 6-4/1-6/6-3
Puig's victory over Muguruza at once seemed monumental in its brief moment in time. But things would only get better for Puig.
Kvitova opened the match the winning twelve of the first fifteen points and taking a 3-0 lead, but the unbowed Puig managed to take the set in what turned to be a very familiar scenario for a three-set Kvitova loss.

Puig's win over Kerber in the final to become the first athlete to win Olympic Gold for Puerto Rico turned her into an "instant legend."
U.S. Open Q1: (WC) Amanda Anisimova d. #17 Veronia Cepede-Royg
Many active players (Venus, Oudin, Bellis, Kasatkina, etc.) have flashed big-time in New York while still in their teens, and 14-year old wild card Anisimova added her name to the list in her first pro match (barely two months after playing the RG girls final), even if her moment in the sun lasted just one round before the start of MD play.

Washington DC 1st Rd. - Risa Ozaki def. Sloane Stephens
This was Stephens' worst ranking loss since she lost to another player ranked #136 -- Aliaksandra Sasnovich -- last September in Seoul.

Montreal 1st Rd. - Kristina Kucova def. Yanina Wickmayer 4-6/6-2/6-3
Montreal QF - Kristina Kucova def. Johanna Konta 6-4/6-3
Kucova simply lived off upsets in Montreal, including two of the three title winners from the previous week. Her upset of Konta prevented her from becoming the first Brit to reach the Top 10 in thirty-two years.

Montreal 2nd Rd. - Kristina Kucova def. Carla Suarez-Navarro
After having made it through qualifying, Kucova maintained her MD roll with the biggest win, ranking-wise, of her career, by taking out #9 CSN. Roll... get it? Yeah, I know... sorry.

Montreal 3rd Rd. - Kristina Kucova def. Genie Bouchard
It seems like Kucova's entire week could be told in a series of post-match reaction videos.

Montreal Doubles QF - McHale/Muhammad def. Hingis/Mirza
The final match played by Hingis/Mirza before the announcement of the three-time slam winning (since joining forces just sixteen months earlier) duo's split during the Olympics. Mirza won a pair of titles with two different partners after the switch, while a title-less Hingis went 5-2 the rest of the summer with CoCo Vandeweghe, including a loss in the Cincinnati final to Mirza & Barbora Strycova. Both failed to reach the U.S. Open final with their new partners. Hingis & Mirza have said they plan to play together at the WTA Finals.
Montreal Doubles QF - McHale/Muhammad def. Hingis/Mirza
The final match played by Hingis/Mirza before the announcement of the three-time slam winning (since joining forces just sixteen months earlier) duo's split during the Olympics. Mirza won a pair of titles with two different partners after the switch, while a title-less Hingis went 5-2 the rest of the summer with CoCo Vandeweghe, including a loss in the Cincinnati final to Mirza & Barbora Strycova. Both failed to reach the U.S. Open final with their new partners. Hingis & Mirza have said they plan to play together at the WTA Finals.

Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Zheng Saisai def. Aga Radwanska
After a nightmarish air travel journey to get from Montreal to Rio, things only got worse for the stressed and unprepared Pole once play began. The slow court bedeviled her, but Aga still had a shot to get back into the match. Zheng served for the win at 5-4 in the 2nd, but Radwanska broke to level things in game #10. But she gave the break back a game later, then saw Zheng win on her second MP with... wait for it... a drop shot. Oh, the irony.

Rio Olympics Doubles 1st Rd. - Doi/Hozumi def. Garcia/Mladenovic
Considering their post-Roland Garros title form (and the less-intimate setting than the wrapped-in-the-French-tricolor-with-Amelie-a-few-feet-away feeling that goes on during Fed Cup), it was a toss-up which version of the Pastries we'd see at the games. But who could have foreseen (well, maybe the FFT might have) the calamity over the duos' outfits, the poor reaction Caro & Kiki would have to the stressful moment after the issue was "settled" and then their inability to close out the match in the 3rd after making up for having lost the opening set at love? Either way, it was an ugly situation from start to, literally, finish (and beyond, thanks to the she-only-burns-white-hot-when-she's-upset reaction by Mladenovic).

The #2-seeded Pastries were lucky to avoid disqualification when they arrived on court for their 1st Round match vs. the Japanese duo. Apparently, there was a clothing rule that prevented the pair from wearing different color outfits, something which the French tennis federation (FFT) failed to inform the players about. Luckily, the DQ was avoided since Mladenovic had an extra outfit to lend Garcia, whose outfit was the (truly, stupidly) "offending" issue, but Garcia had to wear it inside out over her regular dress to cover up a sponsor's logo, etc. Basically, it was all a mess. And the (easily?) distracted French duo then went out and dropped the 1st set at love, winning just seven total points. They rebounded to take the 2nd (at love... welcome to Li Na's "crazy" tour), but lost the 3rd. But that wasn't the end of the matter. Afterward, Mladenovic publicly blasted the FFT regarding the overcite, blaming the French organization's "incompetence" for the stress that caused the duo's loss. Garcia was upset, as well, but was a bit more diplomatic about the whole thing, at least.

Ultimately, the FFT handed down suspensions to both for their actions (ah, but who watches the watchers, hmmm?). The duo managed to end their summer with something of a "do-over," reaching their second slam final of the season at the U.S. Open.
Rio Olympics Doubles 1st Rd. - Safarova/Strycova def. S.Williams/V.Williams
It wasn't known just what Venus had left in her after her 1st Round loss and lingering illness, while Serena was throwing in a doubles match following a 1st Round singles win earlier in the day. Coming in with a 15-0 Olympic record and seeking a fourth Gold medal, they seemed an easy medal pick even with a challenging draw that kicked off with the Czechs, who channeled their Fed Cup powers (x 2) to get the win. Safarova/Strycova ultimately won Bronze, while Venus rebounded to win the Mixed Doubles Silver.

Florianopolis 2nd Rd. - Ana Bogdan def. Jelena Jankovic
#127 Bogdan became the latest Swarmette putting her name in the headlines this summer. The 23-year old wild card's biggest victory in Brazil came at the expense of the top-seeded Serb, as Bogdan eventually found her way into the first tour-level semifinal of her career, leading to a new career-high ranking. Meanwhile, JJ pulled out of the Olympic singles with a shoulder injury and, well, maybe the lingering effects of that outfit.

Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Donna Vekic def. Ana Ivanovic
Newly-wed AnaIvo's 1st Round loss to #121 Donna Vekic (actually her "best" loss, as far as ranking, in seven defeats at the hands of players with triple-digit standings over the past two seasons) put her winless drought at months (and that was BEFORE her forthcoming 1st Rd. exit at the U.S. Open, as well). Ivanovic hasn't had more than two victories in row since last October. Down to the #31 in the rankings at the end of the 3Q, she's on pace to have her worst ranking season since 2004.

Washington DC 1st Rd. - CiCi Bellis def. Jelena Ostapenko
More than a month before her U.S. Open 3rd Round run, Bellis provided an early preview by coming back from 2-4 down in the 1st to win in straights over her fellow teen. Naturally, Ostapenko couldn't help buy try to make more new friends and influence still more people, saying afterward, "I mean, everything is so weird here, it's my first time here," noting, "The balls are Penn, which I never played anywhere. I think it's maybe on the American series, so it's not amazing conditions for me." Bless her Latvian heart.

U.S. Open Girls 2nd Rd. - (WC) Carson Branstine def. #2 Olesya Pervushina
Two days before her birthday, wild card Bannerettte Branstine gave herself an early gift when she saved two MP vs. the #2-seeded Russian to become one of ten U.S. juniors to reach the Girls Round of 16. She ultimately reached the QF, where she lost to eventual champ Kayla Day.

STILL TO COME: Top Performers & Performances

All for now.


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