US.9 - Paradise Found, Then Lost
Angelique Kerber's possible march to the #1 ranking continued at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday. But it took a glorious set of tense and excruciating problem-solving (i.e. playing Roberta Vinci) to keep things headed toward that potential pot of gold at the end of this U.S. Open's rainbow.
One year after she stopped cold Serena Williams' quest for a Grand Slam in the semifinals, Vinci returned to Ashe Stadium court on Day 9 with the opportunity to thwart yet another run at history. While she talked of being tired, and was playing with a leg injury that seemed to have some impact on her movement, after advancing to her fourth Open quarterfinal in the last five years, the 33-year old looked none the worse for wear throughout the opening stretch of today's match with #2 Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian Open champ, Wimbledon finalist and Rio Silver medalist who is in the midst of a career season five years after she made her slam breakthrough with a final four run in New York in 2011. The German has improved on nearly every aspect of her game over the past two seasons, from the mental and emotional aspects that used to be her Achilles heel to her serve and more aggressive in-game tactics. Her defense has always been stellar, but her more intense training has actually managed to even improve her longtime calling card. Hence, the overall polishing of the Kerber oeuvre throughout the 2016 season.
But Vinci really didn't care much about all that in the opening set.
Employing her "throwback" game of slice-heavy variety, net approaches and drop shots, the Italian found ways to bedevil Kerber early and often in the 1st. And the Germany didn't particularly like it, either. Her frustration was evident as, just as she'd done vs. Williams a year ago, Vinci consistently pulled and tugged Kerber to the areas of the court she desired, then sent a ball in the opposite direction for a winner, or past her while the German's feet remained plastered to the court. Vinci got a service break to open the match. It would be a common occurrence in the set, as the Italian's brand of magic often got the better of Kerber. Thing is, Vinci could never back up her breaks with service holds in order to build a lead. Every time Vinci would edge ahead, Kerber would pull her back to even by recording a break of her own, waiting for something more to go her way.
Vinci has 9 winners:— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) September 6, 2016
3 passing shots
1 drop shot
1 passing shot
1 approach shot
8 of Kerber's 13 are groundstrokes
At 4-4, Kerber's efforts to problem-solve Vinci's frustrating game plan hit a major snag when she suddenly lost control of her own groundstrokes, misfiring on four consecutive points with a string on unforced errors that broke her own serve at love and gave the Italian the chance to serve out the set. When the first point of game #10 saw Vinci approach the net and fire a forehand directly into the tape, only to see the ball pop up, ricochet to the left and clear the net by only an inch or two and bounce helplessly on Kerber's side of the court, well, it looked like the Tennis Gods might just be with her again in New York. But another net cord shot from Vinci failed to clear the net two points later, putting her behind 15/30. She pulled to 30/30 with a forehand winner, but the backhand and forehand errors that ended the next two points once again allowed Kerber to get back on serve with a responding break at 5-5.
Kerber held a game later and, serving at 5-6, the verve had seemingly (and suddenly) gone out of the Vinci game as, perhaps, after failing to seize her moment to take the lead in the match produced the break in concentration that finally allowed all the factors working against her -- a mediocre season, bad summer, fatigue, injury and, you know, Kerber herself -- to all come to bear in a perfect storm that took her out once and for all. She quickly fell behind love/40, then saw the set end on a foot fault on a second serve at SP, as a great set of tennis ended with a whimper with Kerber taking the 1st at 7-5 while never having to swing her racket on the final point.
Vinci sarcastically gave a "thumbs up" to the linesperson who made the call (call it the "anti-Serena" reaction?) as she walked to the changeover area. It would be the Italian's last act of note in the match, as she wouldn't win another game as the "tennis paradise" that we witnessed in the opening set just wilted, dried up and went away in the 2nd... just like Vinci's game.
In the 2nd, either Vinci's slice and variety no longer bothered Kerber, who fully found her footing after committing 22 errors in the 1st set, or the '15 finalist's game just lost its punch and effectiveness. Either way, it was an unfortunate end to what had been a fascinating struggle of wills in the opening set, until the final game.
Kerber's 7-5/6-0 victory, in which she swept the final nine games, keeps alive her hopes for surpassing Williams for the #1 ranking, which would end Serena's record-tying (w/ Steffi Graf) streak of 186 consecutive weeks in the top spot. Kerber's work at this Open means that Serena has to at least make the final to stay on top (if Kerber loses in the semis), and would need to win the title to stay ahead if the two meet in their third major final of the 2016 season. There is still work to be done on both sides, but the scenarios are becoming much clearer now.
Before then, though, a certain Romanian has the next opportunity to act as proxy for the German. But if Serena continues to sport the "superhero" garb and heroic sense of the moment that she's thus far displayed in New York, Angie is likely going to have to take matters into the own hands if she wants this to happen.
Good luck with that. It would be a true "moment" to behold if she can spin it into reality.
=DAY 9 NOTES=
...there was also a pretty big-time women's doubles match that took place on Tuesday. It didnt' turn out to be as great as advertised, though. And the crowd was frighteningly small on the Grandstand court, too, by the way.
The 1st set between #1 Garcia/Mladenovic and #7 Mirza/Strycova was a close one, as things stood even at 5-5 and eventually went to a tie-break. But it was around that time that the Pastries assumed control. Winning nine of eleven points in a stretch, they took a commanding 5-0 TB lead, won it 7-3 and raced to a 3-0 bulge on the 2nd set scoreboard before a somewhat brief rain delay.
The break seemed to offer an opportunity for the more veteran pair to maybe turn things around vs. their younger, oft-emotional counterparts. But it didn't happen. Garcia/Mladenovic closed out a 7-6(3)/6-1 win, and will now face the winner of Hingis/Vandeweghe (oh, look what we ALMOST got) vs. Krejcikova/Siniakova (trying to spin their '13 U.S. Open girls doubles title into something bigger).
The loss by Mirza/Strycova ended the perfect 8-0 run by the Cincinnati title-winning duo since they teamed up following the announcement of the split of Hingis/Mirza during the Olympics, and also brought to a close the Indian star's personal twelve-match winning streak (having also won a title in New Haven w/ Monica Niculescu).
The other WD semifinalists who advanced today were the Rio Gold medalists, #5-seeded Makarova/Vesnina (they've won thirteen straight), as well as #12 Mattek-Sands/Safarova. Those pairs next face each other for a berth in the final.
The mixed semis are also set, with only #7 Vandeweghe/Ram (who defeated defending champs Hingis/Paes) as a seeded pair remaining. Vandeweghe is the only woman still alive in both doubles draws. She and Ram will face Groenefeld/Farah next, with Siegemund/Pavis and Y-J.Chan/Zimonjic facing off in the other semi.
...in Day 9 junior action, half of the Round of 16 were determined.
The "biggest" result was probably the loss by #10-seeded Claire Liu. The 16-year old, who won the International Hard Court Championships in Maryland just a few weeks ago, fell to unseeded 17-year old Pastry Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, 2-6/6-4/6-1. Liu is currently the #10 junior in the world, while Andrianjafitrimo is #221... but that's because the French player has only played four junior events over the past year. While Liu is just 8-10 in her career in pro event appearances, Andrianjafitrimo has already won a pair of challenger titles and reached four ITF finals over the last thirteen months (1-1 this season).
Also of note, #13 Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) defeated this past weekend's Canadian Open Junior Championships winner Iga Swiatek (POL), while qualifier Ashley Lahey (USA) took out fellow Bannerette Natasha Subhash.
Along with Lahey, the U.S. also has #8 Sonya Kenin (her opponent) and #4 Amanda Anisimova still alive in the top half of the draw. There will be Bannerettes playing in seven of the eight 2nd Round matches in the bottom half of the draw tomorrow, as well. Of course, it won't likely happen, but that means there COULD be ten U.S. girls in the final sixteen.
...of note, at least as far as the bookkeeping is concerned, Ana Konjuh's win last night over Aga Radwanska, in their second face-off at the last two slams, wrapped up the "It" ("Teen," in this case) honors for the 18-year old Croat at this U.S. Open.
After saving three MP and being "fortunate" enough for Konjuh to step on a ball and turn her ankle at SW19, Radwanska was never really in this match. Her usually stellar anticipation looked rusty or haywire, as Konjuh often wrong-footed her and hit behind her when the Pole chose the wrong direction for an upcoming shot. Not only did the teenager control the action, though she never really pulled away in either set in her 6-4/6-4 win, with her off-the-ground power and big serve (she was broken in her first service game, then was never threatened after that), but she even out-drop-shotted Aga (!!!!). Konjuh pulled off a winning drop shot in the opening games that caught Radwanska totally off guard, while Aga scarily duffed a drop shot attempt of her own during the same stretch. It felt like a bad omen, and it was. While she did all she could to hang close, hoping for a break in concentration or case of nerves from Konjuh, Radwanska was never able to open her bag of tricks or press her case in the match. The kid was just too good.
So, two years after a 17-year old Belinda Bencic reached the U.S. Open QF, her old junior rival (both won two girls slams each in '13, with Konjuh claming both hard court major titles) does so at age 18. Konjuh's result here already assures her that she'll now be (at least) knocking on the door of the Top 50, if not better, next week. She entered the tournament at #92, with a career-high of #55 last summer.
...the second women's singles quarterfinal of Day 9 will take place tonight on Ashe in an all-unseeded match between Caroline Wozniacki and Anastasija Sevastova. If Sevastova holds her nerve (remember, she WAS double-bageled by Halep in the Bucharest final earlier this summer), it might be a fascinating little three-setter that won't likely get nearly as much attention as it should.
Tomorrow, it'll be Serena vs. Simona under the lights, with Pliskova/Konjuh happening during the daytime.
"HMMM..." ON DAY 9: Step 1 of 3?
A difficult decision that I had to take. pic.twitter.com/XMUtOORCIG— Ana Ivanovic (@AnaIvanovic) September 6, 2016
LIKE ON DAY 9: It's almost time to get back at it in Rio...
Cloudy morning here in Rio! Great to be here. pic.twitter.com/IrD0QIgMMJ— jiske griffioen (@jiskegriffioen) September 2, 2016
ASSIMILATION ON DAY 9:
You know you've spent too much time in the US when you go to the supermarket in your Pjs— Alizé Lim (@AlizeLim) September 6, 2016
LIKE ON DAY 9: Big buttons on sleeves.
LIKE ON DAY 9: Umm, yeah.
Last night, the ESPN den of thieves... err, "crew"... were discussing who the best player of this tennis generation was without a slam title. Someone at Backspin HQ immediately said, "Halep... and don't you say Keys, Mary Joe." After fumbling around, Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez mentioned Radwanska, who was playing in front of them (and not particularly well, either). Someone at Backspin HQ immediately said, "Hey...Halep." Rennae Stubbs threw in Wozniacki (even with her play at this Open, that was sort of flabbergasting, honestly) Meanwhile, at Backspin HQ: "Halep!"
ESPN team discussing Woz and Aga.— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) September 6, 2016
IBM Fan Poll has gone with Simona.
And the result, for some reason, seemed to hit the crew like a shock wave. "Oh, yeah... her."
Of course, I guess that's to be expected when they've spent most days -- from the preview discussions to the daily too-long panel chats -- finding ways to AVOID mentioning the current world #5, who's had the best summer run of any player since Wimbledon. The only reason I can think for this is that they are SO trying to sound as if they're not playing favorites, since their colleague Darren Cahill is coaching the Romanian. Which is hilarious, considering ALL the ESPN den ever does is play favorites, either when it comes to U.S. players, the men's game or "big-name" stars they don't feel as if they have to introduce to an audience they obviously think is too dumb to be familiar with more than have a dozen or ten players.
It's this misplaced sense of "fairness" and mixed-up priorities that makes the network's coverage such a disappointment, when the collection of names and voices, as well as the technology to go almost anywhere at any time all over the grounds to show live tennis and/or follow ongoing stories, actually means that it SHOULD be the best tennis coverage ever.
But, unfortunately, it's worth far less than the sum of its parts.
"IF THEY ONLY WORKED AS HARD AT TENNIS COVERAGE AS THEY DO ON THEIR PROMOS AND SEGMENTS TO AIR DURING TENNIS COVERAGE..." ON DAY 9:
*WOMEN'S SINGLES QF*
#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #5 Simona Halep/ROU
Ana Konjuh/CRO vs. #10 Karolina Pliskova/CZE
Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs. Anastasija Sevastova/LAT
#2 Angelique Kerber/GER def. #7 Roberta Vinci/ITA
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES QF*
#1 Garcia/Mladenovic (FRA/FRA) def. #7 Mirza/Strycova (IND/CZE)
#16 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE) vs. #6 Hingis/Vandeweghe (SUI/USA)
#12 Mattek-Sands/Safarova (USA/CZE) def. (WC) Muhammad/Townsend (USA/USA)
#5 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) def. #13 Klepac/Srebotnik (SLO/SLO)
*MIXED DOUBLES SF*
#7 Vandeweghe/Ram (USA/USA) vs. Groenefeld/Farah (GER/COL)
Siegemund/Pavic (GER/CRO) vs. Y-J.Chan/Zimonjic (TPE/SRB)
*GIRLS SINGLES ROUND OF 16*
#1 Anastasia Potapova/RUS vs. Katie Swan/GBR
(Q) Ashley Lahey/USA vs. #8 Sonya Kenin/USA
#4 Amanda Anisimova/USA vs. #13 Viktoria Kuzmova/SVK
Tessah Andrianjafitrimo/FRA vs. Taylor Johnson/USA
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
After a rough 24 months, Caroline Wozniacki is rolling back the years at the U.S. Open. https://t.co/jKtOuqEakg— WSJ Sports (@WSJSports) September 6, 2016
**U.S. OPEN "IT" WINNERS**
2005 Sania Mirza, IND
2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2007 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2008 Coco Vandeweghe, USA [Jr.]
2009 Melanie Oudin, USA
2010 Beatrice Capra, USA
2011 Esther Vergeer, NED [Wheelchair]
2012 [Brit] Laura Robson, GBR
2013 [Bannerette] Vicky Duval, USA
2014 [Girl] CiCi Bellis, USA
2015 [Kiki] Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2016 [Teen] Ana Konjuh, CRO
AO: [NextGen BLR] Vera Lapko, BLR
RG: [Turk] Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
WI: [Wheelchair First] Jiske Griffioen, NED
US: [Teen] Ana Konjuh, CRO
*LOWEST-SEEDED WOMAN IN U.S. OPEN SF, since 2000*
WC Kim Clijsters, BEL - 2009 (W)
un Elena Dementieva, RUS - 2000
un Yanina Wickmayer, BEL - 2009
un Angelique Kerber, GER - 2011
un Flavia Pennetta, ITA - 2013
un Peng Shuai, CHN - 2014
un Roberta Vinci, ITA - 2015 (RU)
==un Ana Konjuh, CRO - 2016== (to play QF)
==un Anastasija Sevastova, LAT - 2016== (to play QF)
==un Caroline Wozniacki, DEN - 2016== (to play QF)
#28 Serena Williams, USA - 2011 (RU)
#26 Flavia Pennetta, ITA - 2015 (W)
#19 Jelena Jankovic, SRB - 2006
#17 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS - 2014
*AMERICAN COLLEGIATE INVITATIONAL CHAMPIONS*
2014 Jamie Loeb, North Carolina (Sophomore)
2015 Robin Anderson, UCLA (Senior)
2016 [played Sept.10-12]
*BACKSPIN 2016 "DOWN" WINNERS*
JAN: Simona Halep, ROU
FEB: Petra Kvitova, CZE
MAR: Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
1Q: PETRA KVITOVA, CZE
APR: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
MAY: Sara Errani, ITA
JUN: Angelique Kerber, GER
2Q Clay Court: ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA, SVK
JUN: Petra Kvitova, CZE
JUL: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2Q Grass Court: PETRA KVITOVA, CZE
JUL: Martina Hingis, SUI
AUG: Serena Williams, USA
[2016 Weekly DOWN Award Wins]
8...Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
7...Petra Kvitova, CZE
6...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
5...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
4...Sara Errani, ITA
4...Simona Halep, ROU
4...Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
4...Andrea Petkovic, GER
4...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
4...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
3...Caroline Garcia, FRA
3...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
3...Sloane Stephens, USA
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Naomi Broady, GBR
2...Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan, TPE/TPE
2...Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA/FAR
2...Olga Govortsova, BLR
2...Angelique Kerber, GER
2...Madison Keys, USA
2...Sabine Lisicki, GER
2...Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
2...Teliana Pereira, BRA
2...Roberta Vinci, ITA
2...Serena Williams, USA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): 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)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: xx
FIRST VICTORY: Cagla Buyukakcay/TUR (def. Falconi/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Misaki Doi/JPN (lost 1st Rd. to Witthoeft/GER)
UPSET QUEENS: China
REVELATION LADIES: Ukraine
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: #5 Halep (3rd Rd. - down 3-1 vs. Babos in 3rd set); #10 Ka.Pliskova (4th Rd. - down set and 3-1 vs. V.Williams, saved MP in 3rd set, wins on 5th MP)
IT ("Teen"): Ana Konjuh/CRO
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: A.Sevastova/LAT, Ka.Pliskova/CZE
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: CiCi Bellis/USA (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Lauren Davis/USA, Kayla Day/USA, Vania King/USA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: Serena Williams/USA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): Nominees: R.Vinci/ITA, S.Williams/USA
DOUBLES STAR: Nominee: Vandeweghe/USA
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: M.Keys/USA, A.Sevastova/LAT, S.Williams/USA
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: M.Keys/USA (won latest-ending women's match - 1:48 a.m.), S.Williams/USA (2-0 under the lights in "superhero" garb)
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 9.