Thursday, September 01, 2016

US.4 - Halep on a Half Shell

For Simona Halep at a grand slam, every day is a test.

A test of her game. A test of her confidence. A test of her temperament.

On Thursday, she went under the roof on Ashe for the very time, and was soon tested by Lucie Safarova, too.

Less than a day after the U.S. Open's new roof was closed during a match (Nadal vs. Seppi) for the first time, Halep and Safarova had the honor of playing the first-ever FULL match indoors at Flushing Meadows. (Well, if you want to call it an "honor" rather than just a matter of fact. But that's IS the party line since a decade-late, error-correcting, retractable cover over a typically over-built structure has been overwhelmingly judged a big enough story to snuff out any of the other more distasteful USTA "truths" being openly discussed on certain television outlets. As expected, "big-and-shiny"-ness of it all blots out everything else.)

But, hey, at least it's all led to the birth to a rather entertaining new Twitter account:

As far as the match, well, it wasn't exactly a work of art. It would swing in one player's direction, then in that of the other. Both often had a hard time holding serve, but the final result mostly hinged on 2015 Roland Garros finalist Safarova (now ranked #44 after a slow quest for total health since she was hospitalized with a bacterial infection last fall -- she even admitted the other day to getting ill TWICE during her start-to-finish Olympic experience in Rio) and her inability to string good games and good points together, as well as Halep finding a way to wring out her anger at her own inconsistency and keep her head up, not handing over any advantage to the Czech that she wasn't able to grasp on her own with her current form.

Halep took the first three games of the match, but it only served to set up a pattern that played out for the next ninety minutes or so. 3-0 became 3-3, then Halep broke back (the fifth break in the first seven games) immediately afterward, as Safarova continued to put herself in position to place true scoreboard pressure on the Romanian, only to be unable to back it up with a hold of serve. Again, Safarova held a break point in game #8, but for the first time in the match she failed to convert. Halep held for 5-3, as the Czech missed wide on consecutive backhands down the line. Down love/40 a game later, Safarova saw Halep step in on a weak second serve and blast a return winner into the corner to complete a sweep of the final three games of a 6-3 opening set.

In the 2nd, the whole thing started all over again. Safarova got a break to open the set, causing Halep to toss her racket across the court surface. Later, she noted in her on-court interview that, while she's trying to remove such outbursts from her game, that that little fit of anger actually seemed to work for her on this occasion since she then broke the Czech's serve in the following game. Of course, Safarova was soon up a break again, only to give it back as Halep took a 4-3 lead. Serving down 4-5, 15/40, Safarova double-faulted on match point, presenting the #5-seeded Halep with a 6-3/6-4 win and her fourth straight trip to the U.S. Open 3rd Round.

For a bit there, it looked like the ol' Cliffs of Simona crime scene photos might need to be kept handy, but Halep didn't have a "death wish" on this day. She was just out for a leisurely stroll under the roof. She had to avoid a few obstacles (but not puddles, so the USTA is a "genius" organization, I suppose), but handled it all with a smile (well, at least afterward) rather than a head-down, head-first dive into the sort of frustratingly hopelessness that has sometimes characterized her slam outings in the recent past.

So, still "all-in."

But, that said, if the Summer of Si-mo-na is going to become a reality, she'll have to play better than she did today.

=DAY 4 NOTES= player who has been remarkably quiet thus far at this U.S. Open is Karolina Pliskova. And that's a good thing for the Czech. On Day 4, the Cincinnati champ matched her career-best 3rd Round slam result by defeating Montserrat Gonzalez 6-1/7-5. Pliskova played a remarkably clean 1st set, committing just six unforced errors, but had to tough out a tight 2nd vs. the qualifier from Paraguay. Still, it's just Pliskova's fourth such result in eighteen slam appearances for the current #11-ranked player in the world.

Suddenly, she's one win away from FINALLY advancing to her first Round of 16 at a major. Something HAS to give at some point, right? So why not now? (Said the person hoping that the "AnaIvo Prediction Magic 8 Ball of '15" can strike again, since he held his breath and picked the Czech to reach the semifinals.)

Of course, Pliskova has thus far only knocked off a wild card and a qualifier, and things will bet a bit more complicated when she faces off with her next opponent, the survivor of a contest featuring 2015 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Kristina Mladenovic and 2011 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

The two women were a victim of the rain, with their match pushed well back into the afternoon, then interrupted with Pavlyuchenkova up 1-0 in the 3rd. Mladenovic came back and got within a point of a 3-1 lead, but failed to grab it. Soon, she was serving down 4-5. After going up 40/15, the Pastry had to save three MP -- w/ a big serve and two forehand winners, it should be noted -- and managed to hold serve. Serving to extend the match again at 5-6, she forced a tie-break. But the #17-seeded Russian took it, 7-5, after Mladenovic sailed her return of a body serve on Pavlyuchenkova's fourth MP.

Pliskova is 3-0 in head-to-head meetings with Pavlyuchenkova, with all coming in straight sets in the past two seasons on hard court -- '15 Dubai, '15 Fed Cup Final and '16 Sydney -- though Mary Joe Fernandez said on ESPN2 that the Czech was a "player (Pavlyuchenkova) has never lost to"... but, well, how can she be expected to know such things, right? (Sigh.)

Since the Russian's Open QF five years ago, Pavlyuchenkova has failed to advance out of the 3rd Round in her last four Flushing Meadows appearances.

So, here we go.

...late in the afternoon, after squandering a big lead in the 1st Round and being forced to play a tight 3rd set vs. Kateryna Kozlova, Venus Williams found herself in the same position today when she was leading Julia Goerges 6-2/4-2. She held for a 5-2 lead, then got the chance to serve out the match at 5-3. But she fell behind 15/40. She proceeded to save both BP with an unreturnable serve up the middle and another into the Germany's body. When Goerges couldn't get a third straight big serve up the middle back, giving Williams her first MP.

The game continued as Goerges won a rally, but Venus got her second MP with a huge serve that the German sailed long. Williams would then scramble to reach a drop shot, scooping it over the high right side of the net. Goerges' responding crosscourt backhand volley failed to get over the net and onto Williams' side of the court. Venus 6-2/6-3 win puts her in her fifteenth career U.S. Open 3rd Round, nineteen years after she reached her first in 1998. It's her third straight, as well, after three years in a row when it didn't happen, starting with the 1st Round loss in 2011 that preceded the announcement of her Sjogren's syndrome diagnosis. Those are the only three times in eighteen Open apperances in which Venus failed to at least advance this far.

...with the 2nd Round nearly complete, here's a look at the attrition of the seeded players in 2016's early rounds at the slams:

AO: 12 / 6
RG: 9 / 2
WI: 1 / 11
US: 9 / 2 (so far)

Of course, with all the rain today, there are quite a few seeds still to play their 2nd Round matches as of this post, including #1 Serena Williams (who WILL play under the Ashe roof tonight), #4 Aga Radwanska, #11 Carla Suarez-Navarro, #15 Timea Bacsinszky, #16 Samantha Stosur, #19 Elena Vesnina, #25 Caroline Garcia and #26 Laura Siegemund., it's awards time!

A slew of honors can now be handed out.

...6-1 through the first two rounds, Ukraine isn't just about Elina Svitolina anymore. Also joining her in the Final 64 (all in the bottom 32 of the draw) are Lesia Tsurenko (def. #24 Begu) and Kateryna Bondarenko (def. Zheng Saisai). And, remember, the likes of Dayana Yastremska recently played in the Wimbledon girls final, while the nation's squad won the ITF 14s world team title last month. So, it looks like i's "game on" for Ukrainian women's tennis.

...the Chinese women went 5-1 in the 1st Round, with the likes of Zheng Saisai (def. #32 Puig), Wang Qiang (def. #23 Daria Kasatkina), Zhang Shuai and qualifiers Duan Yingying and Wang Yafan advancing. They also won the "Revelation Ladies" award for this year's Australian Open, as the post-Li era of Chinese tennis finally seems to have found its sea legs.

CRASH & BURN: Monica Puig, PUR
...while Muguruza's latest sleepwalking loss (until a late surge, mostly due to her opponent's tightness) last night to Anastasija Sevastova surely puts her in the running for her second straight "C&B" (dis)honor, the Olympic Gold medalist arrived in NYC having had little time to prepare to play tennis after her Puerto Rican homecoming. So, her quick 1st Round exit (after her adrenaline got her off to a 4-1 lead in the 1st set) vs. Zheng Saisai wasn't any more shocking than the exit of #3-seeded Spanish. But it's good to pass this hot potato around, you know?

...the 17-year old's win over Shelby Rogers yesterday placed her into her first career slam 3rd Round, and with Richel Hogenkamp's loss today to Timea Babos, the Bannerette is officially the "LQS."

LAST WILD CARDS STANDING: Lauren Davis/USA, Kayla Day/USA and Vania King/USA
...okay, so this isn't OFFICIAL, but Davis and Day lost their 2nd Round matches yesterday, while King plays Serena under the lights tonight. I think it's probably safe to say this is a shared honor. If not, well, we will have officially have our biggest moment of the Open before the clock strikes midnight.

LIKE ON DAY 4: What you do AFTER the biggest win of your career. A career, mind, you, that you prematurely gave up on three years ago...

"IN CASE YOU MISSED IT ON DAY 3, AS I DID" ON DAY 4: ...since you have to have three heads and multiple screens sometimes to know what's going on, you know, when you actually try to watch a match on ESPN and are never updated about ANYTHING that's happening elsewhere on the grounds. I mean, they wouldn't even go away from the not-close Keys/Day match to get back to the #3-seed going down in flames until it was the only match taking place on a show court.

Umm, where was I? Oh, yeah. Bondarenko-Zheng...

Looks like it was the (crazy, for sure, but isn't tha often the criteria?) match of the tournament so far.

"NOT GETTING THE BIG DEAL HERE" ON DAY 4: Whoa... he jumped into the air to hit a ball. I'VE NEVER SEEN A TENNIS PLAYER DO THAT BEFORE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!!!!!!!!! (Said all those who fall into groupthink about how a certain Frenchman is the "bee's-knees" because he jumps high and hits balls through his legs, when he's actually the biggest waste of talent in the sport.)

Later, he was out practicing in the pouring rain... because he'll one day encounter such conditions in a match, of course. And ESPN had great fun showing Monfils and his team playing some sort of bocce ball-style game while rolling tennis balls toward the baseline through pools of water.

Hmmm, I wonder if an illness-related retirement or virtual no-show is in the future due to playing around now and later getting sick because of such nonsense?

But, hey, he's a "born entertainer."

Yeah, exactly. The ONLY one. And that says it all, doesn't it? And, pssst.... (in a tiny little whisper) that's not a good thing.

LIKE ON DAY 4: That time has been very kind to a few in this photo. Not as much to some of the others.

"UH, REALLY, YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY BE SAYING THIS WITH A STRAIGHT FACE, RIGHT?" ON DAY 4: What was it that I said the other day about ESPN being expert at promoting how great its coverage is, but far less so when it comes to the actual coverage (which doesn't really have all that much actual tennis).

I loved the first two responses to that tweet, too...

And, of course, it's always fun to note when Hannah Storm, following Pam Shriver's interview with Venus (where Pammy actually managed to make the Ashe court crowd get totally silent, for a few seconds, at least), shows a screen-full of courts (7 or 8 of them) where action is taking place all over the grounds... then says when they come back from break they'll lug a few bodies onto the set to talk about all the tennis that took place earlier in the day because, why show live tennis when you can talk about all the action that took place earlier that you also didn't show live, right?

(Well, she didn't say it QUITE like that, but six of of one, half a dozen of the other, right?)

Then, over on ESPN2, as actual tennis was shown, the on-screen scoreboard during the concluding tie-break was apparently watching some other match taking place on Mars (or maybe someone was confused because both players were wearing the exact same outfit... again). In order, in the early going, it read:

2-0 Pavlyuchenkova (correct)
1-1 (wrong)
2-1 Mladenovic (wrong)
3-0 Mladenovic (wrong)
[P.McEnroe announces the wrong score on air]
[MJF says it's actually 3-0 A-Pavs -- true... shockingly]
3-1 Mladenovic (still wrong)
3-3 (still wrong)
[the scoreboard disappears]
3-1 Pavlyuchenkova (Eureka!)

ESPN... the best in the business. (Just ask 'em... or don't, because they surely tell you within the next hour, anyway.)


LIKE ON DAY 4: That Halep is using a shot of the SimonaShortz as the header photo @Simona_Halep.

LIKE ON DAY 4: Little Elena-with-a-big-bow...

LIKE ON DAY 4: It happened, and there were no hard feelings.

...and, finally...


A video posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

2002 (Week 1 POW) Serena Williams, USA (W)
2003 (Week 1 POW) Jennifer Capriati, USA
2004 (Week 1 POW) Serena Williams, USA
2005 (Week 1 POW) Maria Sharapova, RUS
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS (W)
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Venus Williams, USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2013 (co) Serena Williams/USA (W) & Victoria Azarenka/BLR
2014 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2015 Simona Halep, ROU
2016 ?
AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR (to QF)
RG: Lucie Safarova, CZE (to 3rd Rd.)
WI: Simona Halep, ROU (to QF)
US: ?

2006 Russia
2007 Ukraine
2008 Slovak Republic
2009 Belarus
2010 North America
2011 United States
2012 France
2013 Italy
2014 United States
2015 Japan
2016 Ukraine
AO: China
RG: France
WI: Russia
US: Ukraine

2004 Russia
2005 United States
2006 France
2007 Russia
2008 China
2009 United States
2010 Taiwan
2011 Romania
2012 Romania
2013 United States
2014 United States
2015 United States
2016 China
AO: Russia
RG: South America
WI: Germany
US: China

2007 Ahsha Rolle, USA (3rd Rd.)
2008 Severine Bremond, FRA (4th Rd.)
2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
2010 Beatrice Capra, USA & Virginie Razzano, FRA (3rd Rd.)
2011 Sloane Stephens, USA (3rd Rd.)
2012 Mallory Burdette/USA & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA (3rd Rd.)
2013 Alison Riske, USA (4th Rd.)
2014 Nicole Gibbs, USA (3rd Rd.)
2015 Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (3rd Rd.)
2016 L.Davis/USA, K.Day/USA, V.King/USA (3rd Rd.)
AO: Han Xinyun, CHN (2nd Rd.)
RG: Georges/FRA, Razzano/FRA & Townsend/USA (2nd Rd.)
WI: Tara Moore/GBR & Evgeniya Rodina/RUS (2nd Rd.)
US: L.Davis/USA, K.Day/USA, V.King/USA (3rd Rd.)

2006 Birnerova/CZE,Fedossova/FRA,Flipkens/BEL,Lepchenko/UZB,A.Radwanska/POL (2nd)
2007 Alize Cornet/FRA & Ekaterina Makarova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld/GER (4th Rd.)
2009 Anastasia Rodionova/AUS (3rd Rd.)
2010 Lourdes Dominquez-Lino/ESP & Mandy Minella/LUX (3rd)
2011 Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP (3rd Rd.)
2012 Olga Puchkova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
2013 Camila Giorgi/ITA (4th Rd.)
2014 Aleksandra Krunic/SRB & Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO (4th)
2015 Johanna Konta/GBR & Anett Kontaveit/EST (4th Rd.)
2016 CiCi Bellis/USA (in 3rd Rd.)
AO: Zhang Shuai, CHN (QF)
RG: Buyukakcay/TUR,Cepede Royg/PAR,Chirico/USA,Golubic/SUI (2nd)
WI: J.Boserup/USA,J.Cepelova/SVK,M.Erakovic/NZL (3rd)
US: CiCi Bellis/USA (in 3rd Rd.)

2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS (3rd Rd.)
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (2nd Rd.)
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS (2nd Rd.)
2010 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (2nd Rd.)
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE & Li Na, CHN (both 1st Rd.)
2012 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1st Rd.)
2013 Samantha Stosur, AUS (1st Rd.)
2014 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (1st Rd.)
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE (1st Rd.)
2016 Monica Puig, PUR (1st Rd.)
AO: #2 Simona Halep, ROU (1st Rd.; last Top 2 out in 1st - Ruzici '79)
RG: #3 Angelique Kerber, GER (1st Rd.; second AO champ in 16 yrs. out RG 1st Rd.)
WI: #2 Garbine Muguruza, ESP (2nd Rd.; '16 RG champ/'15 Wimb. RU)
US: #32 Monica Puig, PUR (1st Rd.; Rio Gold medalist)

JAN: Serena Williams, USA
FEB: Sara Errani, ITA
MAR: Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
APR: Angelique Kerber, GER
MAY: Serena Williams, USA
JUN: Martina Hingis, SUI
JUN: Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
JUL: Venus Williams, USA
JUL: Venus Williams, USA
AUG: Sania Mirza, IND
[2016 Weekly VETERAN Award Wins]
6...Barbora Strycova, CZE
5...Aga Radwanska, POL
5...Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
5...Venus Williams, USA
4...Angelique Kerber, GER
4...Mandy Minella, LUX
4...Samantha Stosur, AUS
4...Serena Williams, USA
3...Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
3...Marina Erakovic, NZL
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
3...Pauline Parmentier, FRA
3...Elena Vesnina RUS
2...Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2...Sara Errani, ITA
2...Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
2...Jiske Griffioen, NED (WC)
2...Lucie Hradecka, CZE
2...Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2...Tamira Paszek, AUT
2...Andrea Petkovic, GER
2...Virginie Razzano, FRA
2...Laura Siegemund, GER

TOP QUALIFIER: Taylor Townsend/USA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: Eri Hozumi/JPN d. (WC) Amanda Anisimova/USA 6-1/2-6/7-6(1) [Hozumi trails 4-0 in the 3rd, saves a MP vs. the 14-year old]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR d. Zheng Saisai/CHN (5-7/7-6(5)/7-5; Zheng served up 5-4 2nd and 5-3 in TB; 3:01)
FIRST VICTORY: Cagla Buyukakcay/TUR (def. Falconi/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Misaki Doi/JPN (lost 1st Rd. to Witthoeft/GER)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Belgium (0-4 in 1st Rd.)
CRASH & BURN: #32 Monica Puig/PUR (Olympic Gold medalist; lost 1st rd. to Sai.Zheng/CHN)
ZOMBIE QUEEN (TBD at QF): Nominees: #31 Babos (1st Rd. def. Haas/AUT, trailed 4-0 in 3rd); #13 Konta (2nd Rd. - collapses at end of 2nd set due to heat vs. Pironkova, wins 6-2 3rd set)
IT ("??"): Nominees: C.Bellis/USA, N.Osaka/JPN, C.Witthoeft/GER, Konjuh/CRO
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: C.Bellis, M.Keys, V.Williams; To Play: N.Gibbs, V.King, V.Lepchenko, S.Williams
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: C.Wozniacki/DEN, A.Sevastova/LAT
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: M.Keys/USA (won latest-ending women's match - 1:48 a.m.)

All for Day 4.


Blogger colt13 said...

Stat of the Day-24 - The amount of tournaments needed for Sevastova to reach the Top 100 in her return from retirement. She also plays another player who did the same in Bondarenko.

So it got me thinking about the comebacks of both, and other notables within the last 10 years. Split up by #1's and the others.

Name-Top 100-Top 50-First win- ITF-WTA


You would have thought that former Top 10's like Schnyder and Vaidisova would have gotten some early WTA looks, but if you aren't #1, that doesn't happen. Notice none of the #1's played any ITF events. Also, Sevastova's first match after reaching the Top 100 was against Bondarenko(Q-Dubai), while the asterik by the 66 is because Bondarenko hasn't yet reached the Top 50, but will if she beats Sevastova.

Thu Sep 01, 09:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Babos, at this point in her career, is capable of really messing with Halep. No one can relish seeing Babos in her draw in 2016. Could bet interesting.

Thu Sep 01, 10:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

With such a winding road, it makes it even that much more unlikely that Sevastova and Bondarenko's meeting will determine a slam Round of 16 berth. Hardly something one might have expected, well, ever. And the winner will face either Bencic or Konta, the latter of which probably has some interesting numbers as far as your list goes, as well, considering she wasn't Top 100 player a year ago but is now just outside the Top 10.

Especially if Simona has as much trouble holding as she did against Safarova. You can't expect Babos to give up her own serve anywhere near as readily as Lucie did. Babos seems due for a QF-or-so slam run soon, at least over the next year, so maybe it's upon us. Personally, I hope she sees fit to wait a little bit longer. ;)

Oh, and by the way, nice finish by Garcia yesterday, as she won the last five games (after being down 4-1) in the 3rd set to take out Siniakova. Maybe Chrissie will realize that what's been her career-best season really HAS been a pretty good one, after all. (But I won't hold my breath on that one.) :)

Fri Sep 02, 09:43:00 AM EDT  

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