Friday, August 31, 2018

US.5 - Fancy Meeting You Here...Again

Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka just can't get enough of each other.

Combined, they've won three major titles, and played in three other slam finals. They met three consecutive years in Melbourne from 2013-15 in the time span at the tail end and immediately after Azarenka's run at #1, and the start of Stephens' initial big stage breakout moments on tour. Their meetings were often loaded with drama, though much of it was speculative (puffed up, really), having grown out of the needless controversy surrounding Azarenka's "double medical time out" during the '13 Australian Open semifinal in which she'd been dominating the Bannerette. Oddly enough, all three of those trio of matches -- all claimed by the Belarusian -- were straight sets affairs.

While Stephens staged a comeback last summer from ankle surgery, winning the U.S. Open title and then going on to reach the final at Roland Garros this spring, and arriving at Flushing Meadows as the #3-ranked player in the world, Azarenka's own pregnancy break and custody battle have often-times made her seem little more than a tour rumor over the last two seasons. Not long after winning the Indian Wells/Miami "Sunshine Double" in '16, going 26-1 to start that season, she was part of the game in name only. She played just two events in '17, and didn't begin her '18 season until March. Ranked #208 to end '17, she still managed to reach the semis in Indian Wells in her second event back this year. Oh, and even while they existed on opposite ends of the ranking spectrum, she and Stephens faced off that month. Twice, in fact. Stephens won both meetings, with their semi in Miami being their first ever three-set encounter.

With Stephens looking to defend her Open title, and now-#79 Azarenka trying to make the most of what remains of '18 and then set her mind to be better prepared for '19, once again each woman found the other standing in her way in a very big event. Stephens was coming off a comeback win over qualifier Anhelina Kalinina in her most recent match, while Azarenka had efficiently downed #25-seed Dasha Gavrilova.

Stephens, in form and serving nearly flawlessly, grabbed an early break advantage in the 1st set, and led 3-1. Azarenka finally carved out a break point in game #6, but failed to convert when she mistimed a jumping backhand crosscourt approach shot. A yanked forehand led to a Stephens hold for 4-2. Down 5-3, Azarenka was broken at love to end the set. Stephens had missed on just *one* first serve.

At 1-1, with Azarenka trying to find a crack through which to slip into the match, got a BP chance in game #3. But Stephens' solid, clutch play over a series of rallies allowed her to hold serve. The confidence that Stephens developed over the course of her summer-long, post-injury break Open run in '17, along with an innately in-tune relationship with Coach Kamau Murray, has made her one of the tougher nuts to crack on tour since she "found the key" to success that she'd been actively in search of after her early-career slam runs. Because of this, Azarenka had little margin for error if she was going to make a match of things. Unfortunately, as has been the case since her return to the tour, Azarenka has had difficulty sustaining the flashes of the "old Vika" that she's occasionally shown.

The same scenario would play out in this 3rd Round match (with a healthy assist "from above").

Up 40/15 on serve, Azarenka lost control of her service game as Stephens got the best of her in their baseline battles, reaching BP and getting the break for 3-1 thanks to a forehand error from the Belarusian. But Stephens' play didn't *continue* to rise. She squandered a 30/love lead of her own a game later, then double-faulted on BP to get the 2nd set back on serve. In game #4, Azarenka climbed out of a love/40 hole, saving three straight BP, and then an additional fourth. She came into the net behind a deep ball and put away a forehand volley to reach GP, then fired a big serve that handcuffed Stephens, holding for 3-3. Azarenka raced to a 15/40 lead a game later, as Stephens briefly lost control of the action. Azarenka's netted backhand volley allowed the game to get to deuce, but a Stephens DF gave her another BP chance. Vika's aggressive second serve return elicited a Stephens error and she took the lead with break for 4-3.

But just when it seemed as if Azarenka might have finally wrestled away momentum in the match, but it was now that the decision was made to close the Ashe Stadium roof. Even while rain was really not an issue (play wasn't interrupted on other courts), and ultimately wouldn't be for the remainder of the time frame in which the match was played. After an 8-10 minute delay, the players returns to the court and, well, things had changed.

At 30/30, Azarenka suffered a lapse of focus that resulted in a bad shot selection and loose error, as well as a service break that got Stephens even at 4-4. Two games later, down 5-4 and 15/30 on serve, a wide Azarenka forehand gave Sloane a match point. Vika blocked a low-bouncing shot at the net that landed in the short court. Stephens raced from behind the baseline to retrieve it and fired a match-ending forehand passing shot to win 6-3/6-4. And then she went fist-shaking crazy.

Stephens may very well have turned the course of the match back in her favor without the roof closure. She's earned enough benefit of the doubt over the last year to believe she had in it her to do it without any "assistance." And Azarenka admitted as much, citing her own failure to win key points, as well as her errors and Sloane's mostly in-form play, for her fate. We'll just never *really* know what might have been.

We'll surely get another version of this match-up soon to get a better idea, though.. Likely on a big stage. With big stakes. It's just the way Sloane and Vika are.

=DAY 5 NOTES= the other early-starting women's 3rd Round matches on Sunday, #19 Anastasija Sevastova continued to ❤ New York, while #15 Elise Mertens reached her third 2018 slam Round of 16, and first in New York.

The Latvian has reached the QF in Flushing Meadows the last two years, and had 3-1 3rd set lead vs. Stephens in their match last year. Today she edged to within one win of matching her previous final eight runs with a 4-6/6-1/6-2 win over Ekaterina Makarova.

Makarova's loss leaves Maria Sharapova as the last remaining Russian in the women's draw, set to play another Latvian (Alona Ostapenko) tomorrow. At least one Hordette has been in the Round of 16 at 69 of the last 72 majors, and have done so at all but one U.S Open (2016) since 2000.

Playing in her overall 102nd match of the season's first eight months (she and Demi Schuurs won their WD opener yesterday), Mertens defeated #23 Barbora Strycova in straight sets, holding tough to hold in game #12 of the 2nd, then overcoming a 3-1 tie-break disadvantage to win 6-3/7-6(4). Mertens is now 13-3 in the majors this season. She'd been just 2-4 before her Australian Open semifinal run in January.

Later in the afternoon, the U.S. Open experience of Asian Games Gold medalist Wang Qiang (hmmm, at least I think she's the correct Wang in this match... ah, yes she is!) was ended by #7 Elina Svitolina. After making Magdalena Rybarikova the First Seed Out on Day 1 (the same thing she did to Venus Williams in Paris this year), Wang fell 6-4/6-4 today. The loss ends Wang's seven-match winning streak. She's still 13-3 (unofficially, w/ her AG wins) from the start of her Nanchang title run last month.

Since dropping the 2nd set of her 1st Round match vs. Sachia Vickery, Svitolina has won five straight and slipped into the Round of 16 for the second straight year in New York. No one is paying her much attention, and I'm sure that's fairly well to her liking. She'll face Sevastova next, but could get Stephens after that. People would be watching then, so we'll see how she handles that moment if it comes to fruition. in women's doubles today included #2 Babos/Mladenovic (so Kiki's injury last night while losing to CSN wasn't so debilitating that it kept her out this afternoon... hmmmmmmm, and I'll leave it at that), and #1 Krejcikova/Siniakova, who defeated five-time slam champs Mattek-Sands/Safarova by charging back from a 3-1 2nd set deficit to win 6-4/6-3. Winners of Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year, the Czechs are on a 14-match slam winning streak.

Into the 3rd round at @usopen ????????

A post shared by Katerina Siniakova (@siniakovakaterina) on

Speaking of Katerina Siniakova, as I noted in the comment section of yesterday's post, she DID IT AGAIN. Two days after Anett Kontaveit served for the match against the Czech, Ajla Tomljanovic did it last night at 6-5 in the 3rd (after Siniakova has failed to serve out the match herself). In both cases, Siniakova managed to win the match... just as she did vs. CoCo Vandeweghe and Ons Jabeur under the same circumstances in the opening two rounds at Wimbledon. She won "Zombie Queen of London" then, and she's followed up by becoming the "Zombie Queen of New York," as well.

Meanwhile, WD's #9 Bertens/Larsson lost to Hibino/Kalashnikova in straight sets.

...well, I'm just going to briefly close up shop for now, since the first "U.S. Open at Night" post for this year will be necessary due to Serena/Venus XXX on Friday evening. It took five days... so that's not too bad.

Of course, as was painfully apparent during Tom Rinaldi's piece (though he didn't mean it to be) on ESPN today, we've officially reached the breaking point after two decades. It is now "officially" an act of mindless repetition to once again recount the entire history of the Williams Sisters in one sitting (or one segment). We've heard it all so many times that it's almost imperative to hit the mute button or else one might want to yell at the television something along the lines of, "All right, I KNOW all that already." And, frankly, that's sort of disrespectful of all they've accomplished. So, please... just stop, ESPN. That sort of retrospective should really now be held for the *end* of their active tennis story, not each and every time they're on the court together (unless if and when it might be known before hand that it'll never happen again). Who knows when that time may comes, and still could be a while, but that's when the Greatest Tennis Story Ever Told can be fully appreciated in its entirety.

The images are still fun, though, especially without the sound. The march of time is ever forward.

But there IS a match to play tonight, and that is STILL a noteworthy event on a huge stage. So, Daily Backspin Day "5.5" it is.

Bannerette Sonya Kenin fill face off with Karolina Pliskova (still chugging along with Conchita Martinez keeping a watchful eye at this slam) under the lights on Armstrong, as well.

Still to finish during the day session as of this post: Kanepi/Peterson and Barty/Muchova.

LIKE ON DAY 5: Pre-HoF (for now) Conchita

IS PAMMY AUDITIONING FOR THE WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS JOB? ON DAY 5: The ESPNers like to point out every blessed move the coaches make in their boxes during matches. Check that, they like to make an issue of it "breaking the rules" when it's a non-U.S. star. Yet today when Mary Joe Fernandez pointed out today that Kamau Murray was standing up and yelling instructions to Stephens during the match, Pam Shriver essentially shrugged it off with a but "everybody does it" comment.

Allll right.

Personally, I don't have any problems with it, since once the WTA officially began to allow in-match coaching during the season and allowing players to depend on the tips and encouragement, I think, it rendered any lingering issues against coaches skirting the rules (at best) during the majors an over-it argument. Something about putting the toothpaste back into the tube.

And I won't even go into Shriver's incessantly annoying practice this week of seeing fit to do a "4...3...2...1..." countdown any time a player is beginning his or her service motion as the shot clock is winding down toward zero.

"Inside voice," Pammy. "Inside voice."

Hmmm... ON DAY 5: Did someone say "Upset Court?"


*whispers softly* Ostapenko-Petkovic, too

I think Sloane/Vika had it's moment, and the *potential* to be something special, but never quite lived up to it because Azarenka just wasn't able to sustain her momentum and make it so. And just when it looked like the might, they closed to the roof for a nonexistent "rain shower."

...and, finally...

A nation turns its lonely eyes to... Canada.

First, Alannah Myles' paean to Elvis Presley, "Black Velvet."

Second, a personal favorite my mine from "back in the day," k.d. lang. Reportedly, upon meeting lang, Madonna said, "Elvis is alive... and she's beautiful!"

lang has had many different musical periods over the course of her long career, from her "cowboy punk" persona to country crooner and standard-belter, with a heavy does of successful pop music thrown in, as well. For me, for all her amazing performances singing iconic and BIG songs, her country stage was her most glorious because it bucked convention on nearly every level, as the Alberta native broke nearly every mold as a vegetarian from Canadian cattle country who just so happened to also be an androgynous gay woman with close cropped hair who often dressed in suits while she belted out some of the most beautiful melodies anyone had seen in country music since Patsy Cline. She never quite perfectly "fit" in country music, but that was why her unique existence within its borders was oh so right.

While the power and grace of her voice has never been questioned by anyone who's ever heard her, I still don't think she's ever *really* got (or gets) her true due. Hers was/is one of the great voices when great voices still mattered in music.

Some vintage early lang country songs...

["Pullin' Back the Reigns"]

["Trail of Broken Hearts"]

["Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray" - on "The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson"]

She ultimately owned Roy Orbison's classic, making it her own after having recorded with him before his death...

lang ultimately broke through big time with her early 1990's "Ingenue" album, and her still-heard-quite-often hit "Constant Craving"

#goodmorning #beautifulday #bestplace #home?? @stejariicountryclub

A post shared by Simona Halep (@simonahalep) on

2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2011 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2014 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
2015 Daria Kasatkina, RUS
2016 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
2017 Madison Keys, USA and Sloane Stephens, USA
2018 Katerina Siniakova, CZE
AO: C.Wozniacki, DEN (2nd Rd.: Fett served up 5-1, 40/15 in 3rd set; 2 MP)
RG: Y.Putintseva, KAZ (3rd Rd.: down 6-1/4-1 & 2 MP, 3-0 in 3rd, vs. Q.Wang)
WI: K.Siniakova, CZE (1st/2nd Rd. opponents served for match)
US: K.Siniakova, CZE (1st/2nd Rd. opponents served for match)

[CAN Semifinalists]
1984 Carling Bassett
[CAN Quarterfinalists]
1992 Patricia Hy
[CAN Round of 16]
1970 Jane O'Hara (3rd Rd.)
1985 Carling Bassett
2014 Genie Bouchard
2015 Genie Bouchard

[SWE Round of 16]
1970 Christina Sandberg (3rd Rd.)
1985 Catarina Lindqvist
1986 Catarina Lindqvist
1987 Catarina Lindqvist
1996 Asa Carlson

JAN: Belinda Bencic, SUI
AO: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
FEB/MAR: Sara Errani, ITA
I.W./MIAMI: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
APR: Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, SVK
MAY: Maria Sharapova, RUS
RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
JUN: Barbora Stefkova, CZE
WI: Serena Williams, USA
JUL/AUG: Genie Bouchard, CAN
AUG: Allie Kiick, USA
[2018 Weekly COMEBACK Award Wins]
5 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
4 - Belinda Bencic, SUI
3 - Allie Kiick, USA
4 - Johanna Konta, GBR
4 - Serena Williams, USA
2 - Margarita Gasparyan, RUS
2 - Angelique Kerber, GER
2 - Rebecca Marino, CAN
2 - Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2 - Monica Puig, PUR
2 - Laura Siegemund, GER
2 - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
2 - Ajla Tomljanovic, AUS
2 - Stefanie Voegele, SUI

[wild cards]
3rd Rd. - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (US)
3rd Rd. - Pauline Parmentier, FRA (RG)
2nd Rd. - Olivia Rogowska, AUS (AO)
2nd Rd. - Taylor Townsend, USA (RG)
2nd Rd. - Katie Boulter, GBR (WI)
2nd Rd. - Ons Jabeur, TUN (WI)
2nd Rd. - Katie Swan, GBR, (WI)
2nd Rd. - Claire Liu, USA (US)

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 Serena Williams, USA
2017 Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2018 Kiki Bertens, NED
AO: Angelique Kerber, GER
RG: Elina Svitolina, UKR
WI: Simona Halep, ROU
US: Kiki Bertens, NED

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #13 Kiki Bertens/ NED
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #23 Marta Kostyuk/RUS def. Valentyna Ivakhnenko/RUS 4-6/7-6(6)/7-6(4) (saved 6 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - #10 Alona Ostapenko/LAT def. Andrea Petkovic/GER 6-4/4-6/6-4
TOP NIGHT SESSION WOMEN'S MATCH: Nominee: 2nd - (Q) Muchova d. #12 Muguruza
FIRST VICTORY: (Q) Jil Teichmann/SUI (def. Jakupovic/SRB)
FIRST SEED OUT: #31 Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK (1st Rd. - Q.Wang/CHN; second con. FSO at major for Rybarikova)
REVELATION LADIES: Belarus (four -- Azarenka, Lapko, Sabalenka, Sasnovich -- into 2nd Round of a slam for the first time ever)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Switzerland (1-4 1st Rd.; Golubic double-bageled, Bacsinszky love 3rd set)
CRASH & BURN: #1 Simona Halep/ROU (lost 1st Rd. to Kanepi/EST; first #1 to lost 1st Rd. at U.S. Open in Open era)
ZOMBIE QUEEN OF NEW YORK: Katerina Siniakova/CZE (1r: Kontaveit served for match at 5-4, 30/love in 3rd, Siniakova wins set 7-5, taking 12/14 points; 2r: Tomljanovic served for match at 6-5 in 3rd; opponent served for match in 1st and 2nd Rounds and saved MP)
IT ("??"): xx
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Karolina Muchova/CZE (in 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Victoria Azarenka/BLR (3rd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: In 3rd Rd.: Kenin, Keys, Stephens(W), S.Williams, V.Williams
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: Kanepi/EST (new Armstrong Stadium premieres w/ Day 1 def. of #1 Halep)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: S.Williams, K.Muchova

All for Day 5. More tonight.


Blogger Diane said...

I was thinking about k.d. lang only half an hour ago (specifically, I was thinking about “Pollyann”)—wow. And I, too, like “anti-country” lang the best. “Pullin’ Back the Reins” is a favorite, along with “Pine and Stew.” I rank her voice as one of the purest, most beautiful I’ve ever heard.

Fri Aug 31, 07:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hear, hear. ;)

I've sort of lost track of her musically a little in recent years after the genre change (beyond "Ingenue"), at least as far as watching and listening to *everything* like I did back at the start. But I'm thinking I might try to catch up now after watching and listening to some things the other day, including an interview she did on Canadian TV last year and a really nice 60 Minutes Australia from last year.

Fri Aug 31, 09:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Ooh, that 60 Minutes interview is good! Thanks for the link. Here's one for you--one of my favorites (and part of the playlist that helped me survive when I was getting divorced):

Now I want to hear some new kd, too,

Fri Aug 31, 10:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, I can remember watching that specific performance a lot back when she did it. As soon as I heard her comments at the start, it rang all the bells. :)

And that was on the "Shadowland" album, too, which was full of all sorts of great songs like that. So good.

Sat Sep 01, 12:47:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home