Saturday, September 02, 2017

US.6 - A Czech Maiden is Faithful One-Hundred Percent

In every match that world #1 Karolina Pliskova plays at this U.S. Open, a great deal is at stake. Not that you'd usually be able to tell if you're watching any of her matches without the benefit of live commentary or an available scoreboard.

She's yet to find the form at this slam that took her to the final at Flushing Meadows a year ago, but when she's needed to, she's found a way to discover fire all over again.

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Not only is the Czech seeking to win her maiden slam in the first major at which she's the top seed -- the last woman to do that was Justine Henin at the '04 Australian Open -- but she has to reach the final just to hold onto her top ranking. So far, she's managed to do enough to see five of the seven other woman who came to New York in pursuit of her #1 ranking, but she had a devil of a time today overcoming her own inability to kick her game into gear, as well as veteran Chinese player Zhang Shuai continuing her recent (and career-long, on some level) ability to play well against highly-ranked opponents.

28-year old Zhang, discouraged after a poor 2015 season that saw her fall all the way down to #186, was essentially set to retire after last year's Australian Open before she upset Simona Halep in Melbourne and advanced all the way, in Cinderella fashion, to a career-defining (and re-writing, and extending) quarterfinal finish. Zhang, who years ago set the record as the lowest-ranked player to defeat a #1-ranked player (as #226, def. Dinara Safina in 2009), climbed as high as #24 last year after having never previously finished a season inside the Top 50. She came into this Open still ranked at #26, and into this match with five Top 10 wins on her career resume. Still, she lost 2 & love to Pliskova on hard court earlier this season, so one would have thought that Pliskova would find a way to avoid being, oh, "so Czech" during their 3rd Round encounter today.

But I guess you can't take the Czech out of the Czech. But, then again, why would you? (I mean, other than for mental and cardiac health concerns, of course.)

After having dropped the opening set in her 2nd Round match against Nicole Gibbs and being forced to go three, Pliskova opened today's match with a break of he opponent's serve. But that didn't last. Zhang broke right back and ran off three straight games. She served for the set, putting it away at 6-3 with an overhead volley.

Here we go again.

"If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too."
"Dr. Seuss"

In the 2nd, Pliskova led 2-0, but back came Zhang as Pliskova, who'd later have her arm treated by a trainer, was consistently spraying shots around the court. Having fought her way back from the early deficit, Zhang served for the match at 5-4. She staved off a break point after Pliskova fired two balls into the net, giving the Chinese woman a match point. But right when she needed it, Pliskova blasted a forehand down the line that Zhang couldn't get back. Zhang sailed a shot long on the Czech's second BP, and they played on.

But while she seemed almost ready to crack, Zhang still saw three BP chances in game #11. Pliskova saved all three, two of them with aces, as the WTA tour's ace leader (though she's had a hard time revving up her biggest shot all summer) found her bread-and-butter to avoid starvation on Day 6. She held for 6-5, then quickly went up 15/40 on Zhang's serve a game later courtesy of a double-fault. A big backhand return got the break, claiming the 2nd set at 7-5 and sending things to a 3rd.

Zhang opened the set by breaking Pliskova's serve, then backing it up with a hold. But Pliskova had knotted things on the scoreboard again two games later. A break at 5-4 gave the Czech the chance to serve out the match, and survive and advance. She did it with relative ease, closing it out on her first MP chance to lock away the win, then letting loose a fists-clenched roar that reminded everyone that, yes, a fire *does* indeed burn within. Even with her personal tournament-high total of thirty-eight unforced errors (most of them forehands), she came out of top of the 3-6/7-5/6-4 scoreline.

I meant what I said and I said what I meant. A Czech Maiden is faithful one-hundred percent.

This is the first time that Pliskova had own back-to-back three-setters at slam level, but things will only get tougher from here. One year after knocking off both Williams Sisters en route to the final, she may just have to be a home slam player killer once again at this Open for her dreams to come true. She'll face a Bannerette in the next round, and could still face another in the next, and the next... and maybe even the next.

"For a host, above all, must be kind to his guests."

Hey, she's game if we are.

=DAY 6 NOTES= the battle of two opposing forces, and a rematch of this season's (then) all-teenager Charleston final, well, there wasn't a whole lot of opposition. At least not during the match, I mean, since it was Alona Ostapenko who lost out to Dasha Kasatkina today, and you know that whenever Latvian Thunder loses in the sort of aggravating way she did today then the post-match handshake is going to be a must-see, even if the match wasn't.

Ostapenko, perhaps feeling bad (and maybe getting progressively worse as the match wore on, but what was happening may have played a part, too) actually led 3-0 in the 1st. Then a hail of errors (especially on the forehand side) saw her drop the next ELEVEN. Not points, but GAMES. The Russian won an "inorganic bagel" to take the 1st 6-3, then nearly produced an "organic" one in the 2nd, leading 5-0 before Ostapenko finally got on the board. She broke Kasatkina and held to at least get on the board, but then the last remaining Dasha in the singles draw served it out for a 6-3/6-2 win. Which, actually, is a *better* scoreline for Alona than the one she lost by (6-3/6-1) in Charleston. The Latvian had 38 unforced errors (vs. 23 winners) in the match's seventeen games, more than she had in either of her longer outings in the first two rounds.

Then, of course, everyone slid to the edge of their seats to see what Ostapenko would do when she reached the net for the post-match handshake at the end of a day she'll want to forget. It turned out to be little -- very little -- but that's Ostapenko's way on a bad day, and I say have a little fun with it, even if she's not in the mood for the same.

She'll never top what happened after that Naomi Broady match, after all. the final hours of the day session, three Bannerettes tried to push their way into the second week of their home slam.

22-year old Jennifer Brady continued her great play in the hard court slams. She put on a Round of 16 run in Melbourne in January, and has followed up in New York with maybe an equally as surprising (though I did at least predict it last week) 4th Round run at the Open. After posting wins over Andrea Petkovic and #23 Barbora Strycova earlier in the week, she went three to take out Monica Niculescu today. Up a set and a break, she was forced to a 3rd by the Romanian. There, again up a break and serving for the match at 6-5, Brady was broken and had to win a deciding tie-break (7-3) to advance, finally winning 6-3/4-6/7-6(3).

25-year old CoCo Vandeweghe came into her match with Aga Radwanska with a 1-5 career mark vs. the Pole, with all five losses coming without her winning a set. But Aga has never thrived under the unique conditions of the Big City Slam, and it's the only major at which she's never reached the QF, falling in the Round of 16 five times. She dropped out of the draw one round earlier than her previous best today, losing in three sets.

Radwanska held the early break in the 1st, but Vandeweghe wrestled control of the set and served for it at 5-4. After being broken, she angrily spiked her racket (hey, this *is* the opening weekend of college football in the U.S., after all), then broke back and held to take the set at 7-5. After being forced to a 3rd, Vandeweghe won ten of the first eleven points of the set, only to be broken immediately afterward. Still, as expected, New York City-born CoCo used the crowd to her advantage, gesturing and stoking the fires (on Jimmy Connors' birthday, no less).

After being up a break on three occasions in the set, Vandeweghe finally got the chance to serve for the match at 5-4, and finished off Radwanska's Open stay with a hold to win the 7-5/4-6/6-4, 2:56 match to notch her fourth Top 10 win at a slam this season (Kerber and Muguruza in Melbourne, and Wozniacki at SW19). Five of her last six Top 10 wins (of thirteen in her career) have come in majors.

Vandeweghe's first Open Round of 16 result gives her three (w/ AO SF, WI QF) 4th Round or better finishes at the four majors this year, as well as a lead role in Team USA's trip to the Fed Cup final. In her other eleven "regular tour" events, she's produced just two additional QF and one appearance in a final.

Against #4 Elina Svitolina, one of the three (and she would have been one of two had Pliskova lost), 24-year old Shelby Rogers, fresh off her comeback win over Dasha Gavrilova in the longest-ever U.S. Open women's match, failed to join the likes of home stars CoCo, Venus, Jen and Sloane (and maybe Madison) in the Round of 16, but she was surely game for a battle, making the Ukrainian work, and possibly continue the process of exorcising a few slam demons as she continues her push for the #1 ranking and her maiden slam title.

Serving for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd, Svitolina failed to convert three match points and soon saw Rogers hold for 5-5. In Paris, Svitolina led Simona Halep 6-3/5-1 and held a MP in the Roland Garros QF, only to ultimately lose via a bagel 3rd set. But with Rogers serving at 5-6 to force a third TB in her last five sets at Flushing Meadows, Svitolina closed the match on MP #4 with a mid-rally net cord ball that plopped just onto Rogers side of the court as the Bannerette was positioned well behind the baseline, ending the 6-4/7-5 match. Svitolina is into her first U.S. Open Round of 16, her third straight at a major in 2017.

...elsewhere, doubles #1 Lucie Safarova handled Kurumi Nara 6-3/6-2 to reach the Open Round of 16 for the second time (2014), while qualifier Kaia Kanepi outlasted Naomi Osaka, coming back from a break down in the 3rd to win 6-3/2-6/7-5. It's the 32-year old Estonian's first slam 4th Round since her Round of 16 at the Open in 2014.

In doubles, Shuko Aoyama & Yang Zhaoxuan upset #6 Ash Barty/Casey Dellacqua 6-0/3-6/6-4, while #13 Kristina Mladenovic & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova again had to fight back to advance, staging another comeback to defeat Wang Qiang/Wang Yafan 3-6/6-4/6-0. Y.Chan/Hingis, Safarova/Strycova, Mirza/Peng and the Dashas also posted wins. the Grade 1 junior event in Repentigny, Canada, top-seeded Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk (AO girls champ) defeated unseeded Canadian Layne Sleeth in a 6-2/6-2 final. Sleeth had defeated three seeds en route to the final.

Meanwhile, two other young Ukrainians -- Dayana Yastremska and Katarina Zavatska -- will face off for a $60K title on Sunday in Dunakeszi, Hungary.

...and, yes, it's about that time in another slam. With Keys/Vesnina coming up as the last match on Ashe tonight, I'll be back later with a quick post featuring the full "Lists-a-Palooza" treatment for the Final 16 women in the draw.

LIKE ON DAY 6: Well, Night 5, really.


Bethanie Mattek-Sands is going to have a very healthy post-tennis career on television. But that can wait for now, as she's progressing well in her recovery and says she'll be back on the court in 2018. Maybe she and Sloane Stephens will be calling matches together on the 15th anniversary of whatever ultimately happens at this Open.


GRUDGING LIKE ON DAY 6: Location, location, location.


I didn't get to do this yesterday, but Sharapova's win on Night 5 (and then Kasatkina today, with Vesnina still to play) means that the Hordettes have added another slam with at least one player in the Round of 16. That makes it sixty-seven of the last sixty-nine dating back to the 2000 U.S. Open. There's been at least one in the 4th Round at Flushing Meadows every season except 2016 (Sharapova's suspension Open), with the 2013 Wimbledon (aka "The Radwanskian Massacre" slam) the other without a Hordette in the final sixteen.


That after Night 5's win on Ashe over Sonya Kenin, Maria Sharapova didn't make any sort of sly reference to on-court interviewer Pam Shriver's ridiculous tweets and comments after last year's suspension, the Russian's out-in-front handling of the situation, and her eventual return to the tour. Oh, it'd been so easy to say something about how she was out trying to promote the game to kids, one of the things that (or something along those lines) Shriver said she should do rather than attempt to explain the situation, admit to error and defend herself and her reputation. [See Backspinner Rule #8 from yesterday.]

As it was, Shriver was turned into book promoter and asked Sharapova about her upcoming autobiography, Unstoppable. And she got a pretty good answer in response, too.


And, remember, Maria can deliver a subtle-but-withering jab with the best of them, if she wants to. See?

...and, finally... it's Labor Day weekend, and you know what that means...

In recent years, I've eschewed the actual re-posting of the old "Backspin Time Capsule" centering around Jimmy Connors' 1991 U.S. Open semifinal run, but here's a link to the most recent updated version of it from a few seasons ago.

#1 Karolina Pliskova/CZE vs. Jennifer Brady/USA
#20 CoCo Vandeweghe/USA vs. Lucie Safarova/CZE
#4 Elina Svitolina/UKR vs. x
Dasha Kasatkina/RUS vs. (Q) Kaia Kanepi/EST
Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP vs. #9 Venus Williams/USA
#13 Petra Kvitova/CZE vs. #3 Garbine Muguruza/ESP
#30 Julia Goerges/GER vs. Sloane Stephens/USA
#16 Anastasija Sevastova/LAT vs. (WC) Maria Sharapova/RUS

Chop chop ???????

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Goofy on set with #TheEdit @netaporter

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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.)
2017 Maria Sharapova, RUS (in 4th Rd.)
AO: Ash Barty, AUS (3rd Rd.)
RG: Chloe Paquet, FRA (2nd Rd.)
WI: Zarina Diyas/KAZ and Heather Watson/GBR (both 3rd Rd.)
US: Maria Sharapova, RUS (in 4th Rd.)

JAN: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
AO: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
FEB/MAR: Ash Barty, AUS
I.W./MIAMI: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
1Q: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
APR/MAY: Maria Sharapova, RUS
RG: Petra Martic, CRO
2Q Clay Court: TPFKAGB, CAN
JUN: Heather Watson, GBR
WI: Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
2Q Grass Court: Petra Kvitova, CZE
JUL/AUG: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
AUG: Sloane Stephens, USA
[2017 Weekly COMEBACK Award Wins]
4...Sorana Cirstea, ROU
3...Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
3...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
3...Peng Shuai, CHN
3...Sloane Stephens, USA
2...Mona Barthel, GER
2...Ash Barty, AUS
2...Jana Cepelova, SVK
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE
2...Petra Martic, CRO
2...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2...Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
2...Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
2...Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO/AUS
2...Heather Watson, GBR

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #3 Garbine Muguruza/ESP
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): 1st Rd. - (WC) Maria Sharapova/RUS def. #2 Simona Halep/ROU 6-4/4-6/6-3 (Night 1)
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
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Germany (2-7 1st Rd.; DC Kerber out; one of two w/ a win defeated another German)
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)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: Ka.Pliskova (down MP vs. Sh.Zhang in 3rd Rd.); Rogers (down 4-2 in 3rd set vs. Gavrilova in 2nd Rd.); Kuznetsova (down 3 MP vs. Vondrousova in 1st Rd.)
IT ("?"): Nominees: "Dasha" (Kasatkina), "Serb" (Krunic)
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Brady/USA, Kasatkina/RUS, Vandeweghe/USA, Svitolina/UKR
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Maria Sharapova/RUS (in 4th Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Brady(W), Kenin(L), Keys, Rogers(L), Stephens(W), Vandeweghe(W), V.Williams(W)
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominees: Sharapova/RUS, Stephens/USA, Kanepi/EST, Kvitova/CZE
VETERAN PLAYER (KIMIKO CUP): Nominees: V.Williams/USA, Goerges/GER, Suarez-Navarro/ESP, Safarova/CZE, Kanepi/EST
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominees: Sharapova/RUS & Halep/ROU (Opening Night)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: Sharapova/RUS

Preview: "Halep Hears a Who" (Horton Hears a Who!, 1954)
1: "Mugu on the Loose" (Dr.Seuss on the Loose, 1973 [CBS TV])
1.5: "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, 1958)
2: "Thing One and Thing Two" (The Cat in the Hat, 1957)
3: "The 500 Hats of Svetlana Kuznetsova" (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, 1938)
4: "Hop on Pop" (Hop on Pop, 1963)
5: "You'll Miss the Best Things If You Keep Your Eyes Shut" (I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, 1978)
6: "A Czech Maiden is Faithful One-Hundred Percent" (Horton Hatches the Egg, 1940)

All for Day 6. Lists-a-Palooza tonight.


Blogger Diane said...

I forget--has Backspin Academy done a Handshake 101 class? If not, Professor Strycova is always available. Handshake Theatre also has possibilities, with Ostapenko, Bouchard and Vandeweghe in starring roles. Put Bouchard in a kimono and they can do a Kabuki version (never mind, then you'd be appropriating a culture and would have to hang out with exiles like Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani).

Sat Sep 02, 09:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Heehee. And maybe Dulgheru can give a talk to the class about her first-person account of her own experience, too. ;)

Sat Sep 02, 10:08:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Oh yes--Alex as guest lecturer! She can borrow a pointer from Petra or Kiki, who, I'm sure, are available to teach astronomy.

Sat Sep 02, 10:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Brady has 7 md wins this year. All have been in slams.

Stat of the Day_11_The number of women in the sweet sixteen with a Hardcourt title.

Listed is the most recent title,or most important.

Kanepi 2012 Brisbane
Sharapova 2015 Brisbane
Safarova 2015 Doha
Kvitova 2016 Zhuhai
Suarez Navarro 2016 Doha
Stephens 2016 Acapulco
Williams 2016 Taiwan
Muguruza 2017 Cincinnati
Pliskova 2017 Doha
Svitolina 2017 Toronto
Keys 2017 Stanford"
Vesnina 2017 Indian Wells"

Bottom two pending.

The other five with their best results:
Vandeweghe 2012 Stanford RU, 2017 Stanford RU
Goerges 2012 Dubai RU, 2017 Washington RU
Kasatkina 2016 Olympic QF, 2016 St Petersburg SF
Sevastova 2017 Dubai SF, 2016 USO QF
Brady 2017 AO QF, 2016 Guangzhou QF.

Brady is the long shot. The only one without any title, her only semi was at a 125k.

Sat Sep 02, 11:04:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

That's quite the opening stat there for Brady!

Sun Sep 03, 12:27:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Brady is the latest--and the most dramatic--example of "big stage or go home" tennis. We saw it (and still see it) in Makarova. We saw it in Stephens, and until recently, we saw it in Muguruza. And then there's Shelby Rogers. It's an odd phenomenom, sort of backwards of what you would expect.

Sun Sep 03, 12:50:00 AM EDT  

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