Tuesday, August 29, 2017

US.2 - Thing One and Thing Two

Much can change in the course of one year. No, I'm not talking about what passes for the U.S. executive branch these days, I'm talking about Angelique Kerber... and Naomi Osaka, too.

Kerber's reign as the the U.S. Open champion ended today in New York, in rather unceremonious fashion. Although, on some level, it did look an awful lot like the *last* time she tried to defend a slam title...

In 2016, the U.S. Open provided Kerber with the big stage on which she fully legitimized her gritty and unexpected rise to the top of women's tennis. With her second slam title run of the season, she erased the thought that her maiden win in Melbourne was a one-off, fluke or "lucky" result. She became the first woman in nearly a decade not named Serena to win multiple slam crowns in a calendar year, and joined Steffi Graf as the only Germans to top the WTA rankings. Her long stretch of confident, consistent performances, highlighted by sparks of career-changing on-court aggression, had not only become a dream season for Kerber, but one which all the other tour contenders could look to for inspiration when it came to maximizing their potential through dedication, hard work and a belief that her path was true.

But things have changed. And it was apparent from the very early stages of the '17 season.

Before the start of the Australian Open in January, just a few matches into the new season, I referenced Kerber by noting that "her play in the first two weeks of the '17 season hasn't presented any uncorrectable issues, but her string of service-related problems and ill-timed errors en route to a pair of losses...showed that the German wasn't quite yet in form." Seven months later, nothing has appreciably changed. If anything, the image that Kerber presents now is no longer simply frustrating, but a touch sad. On Day 2, things quite possibly got even worse after so many months of her brow-beating dip in results. Her 6-3/6-1 1st Round loss to Osaka will, at the conclusion of this slam, leave the woman who has spent more weeks than any other at #1 this season (and was still there as recently as mid-July) ranked outside the Top 10 for the first time in almost two years. She's the first defending champ to lose in the 1st Round in a dozen years ('05 Kuznetsova), and just the second woman ever to do so.

"When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done."
"Dr. Seuss"
Theodor Geisel (1904-91)
...children's book author, political cartoonist, poet, animator, book publisher, and artist

A year ago, Kerber didn't lose a game in the 1st Round, winning the first seven in her opening round match against Polona Hercog before the Slovenian was forced to retire. She'd ultimately claim thirteen straight sets before Karolina Pliskova (who has since overtaken her as #1) forced a 3rd set in the final. Today, in a match played entirely under the Ashe Stadium roof on a rainy Tuesday, Kerber's serve abandoned her, and she was unable to effectively move forward and turn defense into the sort of fist-clenching offense she displayed throughout the 2016 season. 19-year old Osaka controlled the match throughout, getting a late break in the 1st set before serving it out, then dominating the 2nd en route to her first Top 10 victory after starting out 0-9 in her career.

For the world #45 with Japanese, Haitian and U.S. roots (personality-wise she more closely hangs with the latter, as any of her interviews attest), this could very well be the result that sparks the next phase of her career. A big hitter with enough weapons to worry any opponent, Osaka's inconsistency has often been her undoing in the beginning stages of her career. A year ago at the U.S. Open, Osaka had the direct opposite experience in New York that Kerber did, blowing a 5-1 3rd set lead to Madison Keys in the 3rd Round (after having upset CoCo Vandeweghe in the 1st) and twice failing to serve out the match before losing in a deciding tie-break. Osaka often bears the resemblance of a star in the making, and maybe she will be soon.

"That one little feather she had as a starter. But now that's enough, because now she is smarter."

Meanwhile, after being able to carve out chances on even Serena Williams' serve in '16, Kerber never got a point on Osaka's first serve today. Without a title since her Open victory a year ago, the German has yet to even notch a Top 20 win in 2017. In '16 she posted twelve Top 10 victories, five in the Top 5 and one #1 win (after having 5 Top 10 wins in '15, and three additional Top 5). She's now lost seven times to players outside the Top 25 this season, including #45 (for now) Osaka. Her 1st Round exit at Flushing Meadows is her worst in New York since 2010 (the year before her maiden slam SF run there), her second such exit at a slam in '17 (w/ RG) and her seventh one-and-out tournament on the season.

"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple."
"Dr. Seuss"

At times this season, Kerber has rediscovered a bit of the energetic glow she exhibited so often in '16. The hope has been that she'd eventually play the one match that would bring it all together for her once more, the most recent being her 13-11 3rd set TB loss to Ekaterina Makarova in Cincinnati. But she's inevitably been unable to build upon such a win or loss, falling back into a less aggressive, tired sort of performance unable to be bolstered by a healthy dose of self-belief largely because, well, there hasn't seemed to be much of that in Kerber's corner this year, as it's easy to wonder if she even thinks she *can* come close to replicating her performances from her career year.

Without a big shot to provide a consistent liferaft, Kerber has had to grind her way through this season after maybe being ground down at the end of the last. It's been a recipe for disaster. In fact, unless she can set and accomplish the more modest goal of at least avoiding her first non-Top 10 season since 2011, the automatic reaction of many will be to look at her glory-filled '16 campaign as the aberration in her career, and believe that her inability to "finish" (remember the 1-8 record in finals during one early stretch?) is the real Angie. She may not *truly* be the player who accomplished so much a season ago, but she's not the negative-thinking player who failed to capitalize in so many situations earlier in her career, either. Like so many, her true self is positioned somewhere in between those extremes. What she does next will likely determine in which direction her ultimate reputation leans.

For a late-blooming player who found her greatest success in the shadow of her approaching 30th birthday (which will finally arrive next January), it should be familiar territory for Kerber. She found her way through the weeds once before, so there's no reason to think she can't find a more comfortable place in some sort of habitable clearing once again. As long as she believes it to be possible, that is.

If she's looking for inspiration in such an endeavor, she need not look far. She just needs to find a mirror. THAT Angie can do it, as long as that OTHER Angie doesn't stand in her way.

"Gray day. Everything is gray. I watch. But nothing moves today."

...without the Ashe Court roof, Tuesday would have pretty much been a wash-out. But, aside from a few matches that were completed very early on, pretty much all of the first-up matches were left in the lurch due to today's rain (even with a handful of them starting with love sets), and the rest not even getting started in the daylight hours.

One player who didn't get caught in the weather bind and will remain on schedule is world #1 Karolina Pliskova. Needing to reach the final to hold onto her top ranking after being the Open runner-up a year ago, the Czech handled Poland's Magda Linette 6-2/6-1 to join her twin sister Kristyna in the 2nd Round. She's 11-2 in the last three hard court majors.

But even with just two outer court matches being completed before the rains came, that didn't mean that a seed didn't fall in one of them, as #28 Lesia Tsurenko fell to Yanina Wickmayer.

...late in the afternoon, one of the unfinished matches, featuring RG champ Alona Ostapenko and Lara Arruabarrena, was shuttled onto Ashe for completion.

After having won the 1st set 6-2, then dropping the 2nd to the Spaniard by a 6-1 score, the Latvian opened play by serving up 3-1 in the 3rd set. No stranger to big stages, she held for 4-1 as Arruabarrena's culture shock of going from Court 17 to the biggest court in the world never really allowed her to get her footing. Ostapenko broke serve, then served out a 6-1 set, losing just two of fourteen points in the brief, three-game stint. She ended things with an ace.

Wham, bam. Thank you, ma'am. See ya later, alligator.

...Madison Keys is set to face Belgian Waffle Elise Mertens under the lights -- and presumably, the roof -- tonight on Ashe.

LIKE ON DAY 2: Yes, please.

See, it's not that difficult to be a little colorful and/or creative, and every outfit doesn't have to be identical to the next, even when they're from the same collection. It shouldn't be so hard.



LIKE ON DAY 2: Chakvetadze sighting! Sorta.

A post shared by Anna Chakvetadze (@achak87) on

OF NOTE ON DAY 2: So I guess this means we maybe haven't heard the last of Simona at this slam. She could still re-enter the discussion through the back door.

LIKE ON DAY 2: Oh, look who's back...

A post shared by US Open (@usopen) on

...and, finally... the Colt Surrender-or-Die Challenge saw two contenders fall on Day 1, but there are still plenty of challengers to sit on the New York version of the WTA Iron Throne.


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.)
2017 Angelique Kerber, GER (1st Rd.)
AO: #4 Simona Halep, ROU (second consecutive AO 1st Rd. exit)
RG: #1 Angelique Kerber, GER (first women's RG #1 out in 1st Rd.)
WI: #16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (had 7 MP in 1st Rd. loss)
US: #6 Angelique Kerber, GER (second DC to lose 1st Rd.)

2005 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
2006 Nathalie Dechy & Vera Zvonareva, FRA/RUS
2007 Nathalie Dechy & Dinara Safina, FRA/RUS
2008 Cara Black & Liezel Huber, RSA/USA
2009 Serena & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2010 Vania King & Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
2011 Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
2012 Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2013 Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
2014 Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
2015 Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
2016 Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
2017 TBD
AO: Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
RG: Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova, USA/CZE
WI: Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS

[since end of Evert/Navratilova era]
1991 Monica Seles (Roland Garros)
2002 Jennifer Capriati (Australian Open)
2002 Serena Williams (U.S. Open)
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne (Australian Open)

**TEEN SLAM CHAMPS - since 1997**
1997 Martina Hingis/AO (16)*
1997 Iva Majoli/RG (19)*
1997 Martina Hingis/WI (16)
1997 Martina Hingis/US (16)
1898 Martina Hingis/AO (17)
1999 Martina Hingis/AO (18)
1999 Serena Williams/US (17)*
2004 Maria Sharapova/WI (17)*
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova/US (19)*
2006 Maria Sharapova/US (19)
*-first slam title
NOTE: 2017 Ostapenko/RG (20y,2d)*

JAN: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
AO: CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
FEB/MAR: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
I.W./MIAMI: Johanna Konta, GBR
1Q: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
APR/MAY: Daria Kasatkina, RUS
MAY: Simona Halep, ROU
RG: Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2Q Clay Court: Elina Svitolina, UKR
JUN: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
WI: Johanna Konta, GBR
2Q Grass Court: Alona Ostapenko, LAT
JUL/AUG: Katerina Siniakova, CZE
AUG: Elina Svitolina, UKR
[2017 Weekly RISER Award Wins]
6...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
5...Elina Svitolina, UKR
4...Caroline Garcia, FRA
4...Simona Halep, ROU
4...Johanna Konta, GBR
3...Kiki Bertens, NED
3...Dasha Gavrilova, AUS
3...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
3...CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
2...Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
2...Ana Bogdan, ROU
2...Duan Yingying, CHN
2...Camila Giorgi, ITA
2...Nao Hibino, JPN
2...Yui Kamiji, JPN (WC)
2...Daria Kasatkina, RUS
2...Anett Kontaveit, EST
2...Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
2...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2...Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
2...Alison Riske, USA
2...Shelby Rogers, USA
2...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: Jamie Loeb/USA def. (PR) Vera Zvonareva/RUS 7-6(4)/5-7/6-4 (3:16; delay after fan faints as Loeb to serve out at 5-4 in 3rd)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: Nominee: 1st Rd. - (WC) Sharapova def. #2 Halep (Night 1)
FIRST VICTORY: Kristyna Pliskova/CZE (1st Rd. - def. Eguchi/JPN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Lauren Davis/USA (1st Rd. - lost to Kenin/USA
CRASH & BURN: #6 Angelique Kerber/GER (lost to Osaka/JPN; second U.S. DC to lose 1st Rd.loss, w/ '05 Kuznetsova; out of Top 10 after more weeks in '17 -- 18 -- at #1 than any other player)
IT ("?"): xx
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Kenin/USA, Ar.Rodionova/AUS, Sharapova/RUS
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: In 2nd Rd.: Kenin, Stephens, Vickery, V.Williams
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: Sharapova/RUS
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominees: Sharapova/RUS & Halep/ROU
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Sharapova/RUS

Preview: "Halep Hears a Who" (Horton Hears a Who!, 1954)
Day 1: "Mugu on the Loose" (Dr.Seuss on the Loose, 1973 [CBS TV])
Day 1.5: "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, 1958)
Day 2: "Thing One and Thing Two" (The Cat in the Hat, 1957)

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


Blogger Galileo Sutherland-west said...

I have been drawing comparisons all year between this season and the 2007 Mauresmo season. Kerber got shafted because she had such a great year last year. That AO final last year is probably [probably] the best match ive seen in the last three seasons on the womens side. And the only ones that really live with it are a few Wawrinka performances and this year's men's AO final. I miss Angie Kerber. I hope its a slump and not a career collapse.

Tue Aug 29, 07:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Note the sarcasm: Horrible loss for Halep, she lost to somebody outside the Top 100!

I mention this because Halep's record this season in 2 sets is 29-6, but in 3? 10-7. The only 3 set matches she has played with players outside the Top 100 besides this one? Pironkova and Duque-Marino.

Stat of the Day-4- The career high ranking for Kimiko Date-Krumm

Hmmm, will Osaka put up the numbers Date did the first time? Date reached the SF at 3 of the slams, best at the USO was QF.

Date may not have been relevant in terms of being a contender for deep slam runs in her second career, in fact, on tour level she only had one winning record(2010) the second time around. But she did do some amazing things, and here are the numbers to back it up.

Best Three Years
1st Time
1994-32 wins

2nd Time
This was a combo of WTA/ITF. Numbers not as good, but then look at the amount of tournaments played.


So at 41 and 42, she managed to play 58 tournaments. Pretty amazing. Also note that her 2nd career actually is a year longer than the first. Then made herself into a doubles player, winning 5 of her 6 doubles titles the 2nd time. Her ITF numbers also improved as 9 of her 14 singles titles were after her comeback.

Quiz Time!
1.Date, similar to Dementieva, played the YEC the year she retired. Who was her final match against? Use the next question as a hint.

2.In 1996 the YEC was played under the old format, in which 16 women played single elimination. 5 of those women came out of retirement at one point. Name three.

Insert rain delay music

1.Date's final match was against Martina Hingis, who similar to Date, has played just as long in her 2nd and 3rd comebacks that she did the first time.

2.Date and Hingis are two. The smart guess is the right one for the third in Davenport. The other two? Sanchez Vicario, who had already come out of retirement, and Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, who set the record for fastest serve in her second go round.

Tue Aug 29, 07:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


As it turns out, 2018 might have nearly as many comebacks as 2017 has.


1. Hingis (based on the second question)
2. Date, Hingis and Davenport

I finally got them ALL. :)

I didn't even remember ASV coming out of retirement.

Tue Aug 29, 10:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I miss Angie, too. What she accomplished was a testament to openness to new ideas and dedication. Also, she's a genuinely nice person.

Tue Aug 29, 10:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Mixed draw is out. Of the 32 women in the draw, Ostapenko and Vandeweghe are the only seeded singles in.

Mertens famously missed the AO because she was out busy winning. So this is only her 4th main draw. And has faced a seed in the 1st rd in all of them. Losses to #3 Muguruza, #10 V.Williams and #15 Keys. Beat #24 Gavrilova, then lost to #10 Williams again in the 3rd.

What projects well for her next year is that she is ranked 39 now. Even lowballing it and having her just improve one round in each would make her 25th.

Wed Aug 30, 01:41:00 PM EDT  

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