Tuesday, September 04, 2018

US.9 - The City was Made for Second Chances

Sometimes, you get a second chance. Or, in the case of Anastasija Sevastova, even more.

The Latvian retired from the sport in 2013 due to injury and illness. When she returned a year and a half later, she began down the path that led her to this day in New York, when she became a slam semifinalist for the first time in her career.

The first came success in her comeback came on the challenger level then, in 2016, at the U.S. Open. She upset Garbine Muguruza in the 2nd Round and reached her maiden slam quarterfinal. Unfortunately, an in-match injury caused her to struggle there against Caroline Wozniacki. A year later, after seeing younger countrywoman Alona Ostapenko become a major champion at Roland Garros, Sevastova won her first tour-level singles title in seven years, then returned last summer to Flushing Meadows and defeated another slam champion and former #1, Maria Sharapova, en route to another QF. She held a break lead on Sloane Stephens in the 3rd set, leading 3-1, before ultimately going out in a deciding tie-break. She then watched Stephens win the title two rounds later. While Sevastova hasn't gone on some sort of Sabalenkian siege of various European or North American cities over the past year, she's maintained her Top 20 position on tour and won another title, all the while knowing she had the U.S. Open "in her back pocket."

Well, wouldn't you know it, the 28-year old has once again found her best stride in the city. After blitzing #7 Elina Svitolina in the Round of 16, Sevastova found herself in a familar position. In a U.S. Open QF for a third straight year, with Stephens on the opposite side of the net for the second consecutive year.

With a second chance... or maybe a third?... or was it really a little more than that? Either way, Sevastova got her way today. Finally.

Playing in the most intense heat conditions in New York since the debilitating days at the start of the first week, Sevastova and Stephens were set to battle it out on Ashe Stadium, with the winner getting the spoils... or at least a shot to reach a slam final in a SF clash with either Serena Williams or Karolina Pliskova. Not an easy task, either way, but still a moment to shine on a stage where both have been at their very best in the past.

Thing is, the battle never really happened.

Oh, Sevastova won the most contested game of the match, the third in the 1st set. In an eleven-minute service game, played by the Latvian on the sunny side of Ashe court, Sevastova saved four break points as Stephens consistently failed in her return efforts. She finally held on her third game point opportunity to take a 2-1 lead. It didn't long before Stephens dropped serve in the aftermath, with a forehand error putting her down 15/40, then a low volley error giving Sevastova the break for 3-1.

Sevastova staved off two more BP in game #5, saving one by employing a shot that she'd use all day long to great success -- a drop shot. Stephens got to the shot, but then couldn't handle her follow-up high backhand volley attempt. Sevastova held for 4-1, then for 5-2 with another drop shot, once again retrieved but not put away by Sloane, then followed by the Latvian flicking the ball into the open court past a chasing Stephens. Armed with a variety of drops, spins and the like, Sevastova continued to stretch Stephens physically by making her hit shots that she didn't want to (and doing so over and over again, often until she made a game-ending mistake), breaking her serve to take the set 6-2, converting her second of two BP chances. Meanwhile, Stephens was 0-for-7 on BP in the 1st.

While Stephens seemed to be unable to handle the heat, Sevastova played a contained game in the conditions. She was hot, but not significantly slowed by the weather. She grabbed a 2-0 lead. Stephens tried in vain to turn the tide, roaring (trying to channel Serena?) loudly after getting a break in game #3. But while coach Kamau Murray tried to encourage his charge from the stands (and, really, pretty clearly give her coaching tips, though Stephens was never admonished for it), it was clear that Stephens would likely need a collapse from the oft-emotional Sevastova to get back into the match. Sevastova did play a few nervous games as the semifinals were in sight, giving back a break of serve for 4-3 after having re-taken the lead with a break of her own a game earlier.

It briefly appeared as if Stephens might yet have a chance. Up 30/love in game #8, she held three GP, only to commit errors on all three to stop cold any legit comeback talk. Finally, Sevastova pulled out another drop shot to reach her second BP of the game, then got the break for 5-3 with a slice drop shot so perfect that even she had to laugh at the audacity of it after she'd won the game. Serving for the semifinals, the Latvian went up 40/love. It took her all three MP opportunities to finally seal the win, but it came via a Stephens backhand error to make the final score 6-2/6-3.

Stephens, who converted only two of her nine BP chances on the day, and won just one point on her second serve, kept the end of her U.S. Open title defense in perspective. She should expect to be back in contention for still more slams in the future as, today notwithstanding, for the most part she's proven herself to be a reliable force to reckon with on the sport's biggest stages since her title run at Flushing Meadows last summer, winning in Miami and reaching the RG final.

Twenty-three slams into a "second" career that included a four-year stretch during which Sevastova didn't appear in ANY slam main draws, the Latvian has never climbed this high before and, even with her three-years running prowess at Flushing Meadows in hand, may never see things from such a height again. In the semifinals, she'll face a former #1 with more experience than she has in such a moment.

Sevastova has already overcome a lot. Her road may end soon. But just getting there has been an embraceable journey that is yet *another* fascinating story embedded within The Most Interesting Tour in the World.

...as admirable as Sevastova's journey to her first slam semi has been, one might have had a hard time discerning as such during ESPN's coverage of the match, which lurched between being simply partisan to overly Stephens-centric, and finally, outright embarrassing.

As an addition to the comment I made about ESPN commentators and U.S. players vs. anyone else who might get coaching from the players box during a match, today Mary Joe Fernandez casually noted that Kamau Murray, who has consistently given shouted signals at this Open, was giving Sloane Stephens instructions "to get the ball up" (which she did on the next point) in the 2nd set. Pam Shriver made no negative peep about it, after *always* making sure throughout the event to point out whenever a non-U.S. player's coach might make a hand signal that she deemed "illegal," not to mention constantly announcing the shock clock progression early on last week. She's at least curbed that, though yesterday she made a point to note that the shot clock was a :12 -- TWELVE seconds! -- at one point. Pammy logic.

Also, it might have been good to actually say something good before, you know, the match was OVER about how well Sevastova's drop shot-heavy game plan was working (as a tactic, not just how Sloane wasn't putting them away when she got to them), how well she was playing and that *she* wasn't being taken down by the heat. Especially since she'd nearly beaten Sloane LAST year in the QF -- so we know she was *capable* of beating her in NYC -- and that while the result was an upset, it wasn't Millman-over-Federer II like Shriver was trying to push. Actually, it's been nice in, on occasion, it'd been acknowledged that Stephens was actually playing a living, breathing OPPONENT, something which was hard to gauge most of the time. Apparently, the only thing that mattered was that Sloane either, 1) had a cold today, 2) had issues with her legs, 3) was tired from her long match in the heat SIX days ago vs. Anhelina Kalinina, or 4) that the intense heat conditions were so tough today that no one could rightfully manage them (though Sevastova was playing in them, too, and her only hiccup was a brief lapse when she had an early lead in the 2nd set).

Okay, then.

I can't imagine the conniption fit about unfairness they'd have had if it was Stephens serving in the second game of the match rather than Sevastova when a replay challenge overrule on a converted game point caused the game to continue, even while the ushers were still allowing people into the stadium to go to their seats because they thought the match was between games.

Fact is, Shriver and MJF have *always* brought out the worst in each other as commentators, especially when doing matches featuring players with whom they have a connection, going all the way back to listening to them doing Jelena Dokic matches vs. say, Lindsay Davenport. I called them the "Bobbsey Twins" then. Over the years, they've often (thankfully) been separated in the booth by ESPN, which was a good thing. But not today.

It was embarrassing.

At least Rennae Stubbs managed a few "commercial breaks" from the seeming Sloane Channel coverage of the match.

Commentators shouldn't make you prefer a player of Stephens' quality to lose on the day just to spite them, but it was hard to avoid that today.

...Serena Williams and Karolina Pliskova will meet tonight in Tuesday's other quarterfinal. Whether it'll warrant a "U.S. Open at Night" post remains to be seen.

...in doubles, #2 Babos/Mladenovic edged closer to a possible face-off with #1 Krejcikova/Siniakova in an all-2018 WD slam champions final, winning today in the quarterfinals over #6 Hradecka/Makarova.

Babos/Mladenovic won the AO title this season, while the Czechs swept RG and SW19. They didn't meet en route to any of their slam wins.

Krejcikova/Siniakova are still to face #7 Mertens/Schuurs in the QF, with a SF match-up with #13 Barty/Vandeweghe awaiting. Babos/Mladenovic will face the winners of Pavlyuchenkova/Sevastova vs. Stosur/Sh.Zhang.

...before the heat caused a suspension of play for the juniors this afternoon, a few matches got in under the wire.

Top-seeded Coco Gauff (USA) advanced to the 2nd Round with a win over Romania's Selma Cadar, #3 Wang Xiyu (CHN) defeated Kamilla Rakhimova (RUS), and Bannerette Lea Ma (#16) conquered Slovak Lenka Stara, on a break from shooting a "Game of Thrones" scene in Central Park. Also with a win was #4-seeded Colombian Maria Camila Osorio Serrano.

YOU KNOW... ON DAY 9: This guy was so funny to watch the last few sets last night... it *almost* made it worth it.




Noticed that at the time, too. Subtle, and nice.


That was such a blatantly "duh" type of question that I literally predicted her answer out loud before Sevastova said it. I mean, there might be only two or three players -- if that many -- *on tour* who wouldn't give the same answer.
Tomorrow, Chris will go to the Bronx Zoo and ask an anteater what its favorite snack is.

QUESTION ON DAY 9: We have "break points" in a game for a returner, and "game points" for the server. But, thing is, "break points" are ALSO "game points," just for a different player. Why don't we call GP's "hold points?"

Questions for life.

LIKE ON DAY 9: With a certain result tonight, otherwise known as "Serena at the Open"...

...and, finally...

U2 began recording "Achtung Baby" in Berlin in late 1990. The album was meant to foster a change in the group's musical direction, being both more introspective and self-deprecating that their earlier, more earnest, work. None of the band members knew if it would be a successful endeavor.

Needless to day, it wasn't a productive process at first, either. The band's recording sessions were filled with conflict and arguments, nearly causing the group, together since 1976, to break up. But by the time U2 began to record again the next year in Dublin they had the makings of their masterpiece. What resulted was a rare album on which *every* song is good, bordering on great. "Achtung Baby" won multiple Grammys, was the basis of U2's amazing "Zoo TV" tour, and even spawned another follow-up album ("Zooropa") which was inspired by the "sensory overload" aspect of the tour.

Considered by many to be one of greatest albums ever recorded, it reinvigorated the band, which is still one of the most successful in the world forty-two years after it was originally formed when the members were teenagers in Ireland. Bono called the album a "pivot point" in the group's career, saying, "Making Achtung Baby is the reason we're still here now."

It yielded so many great songs it's hard to pick just a few out. Personally, though, my all-time favorite U2 song is...


Also great on "AB" were...

["Mysterious Ways"]

["Even Better Than the Real Thing"]

#17 Serena Williams/USA vs. #8 Karolina Pliskova/CZE
#19 Anastasija Sevastova/LAT def. #3 Sloane Stephens/USA
#30 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP vs. #14 Madison Keys/USA
#20 Naomi Osaka/JPN vs. Lesia Tsurenko/UKR

#1 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE) vs. #7 Mertens/Schuurs (BEL/NED)
#13 Barty/Vandeweghe (AUS/USA) def. Jakupovic/Khromacheva (SLO/RUS)
Pavlyuchenkova/Sevastova (RUS/LAT) vs. Stosur/Sh.Zhang (AUS/CHN)
#2 Babos/Mladenovic (HUN/FRA) def. #6 Hradecka/Makarova

(WC) McHale/C.Harrison (USA/USA) def. #5 S.-Hlavackova/Roger-Vasselin (CZE/FRA)
Mattek-Sands/J.Murray (USA/GBR) def. N.Kichenok/Koolhof (UKR/NED)
Rosolska/Mektic (POL/CRO) def. Olaru/Skugor (ROU/CRO)
Sh.Zhang/Peers (CHN/AUS) def. #2 Melichar/Marach (USA/AUT)

You can kiss my hass... see what I did there? 👄🥑 🤣 #ad

A post shared by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

AO: Sloane Stephens/USA
RG: -
WI: Kirsten Flipkens/BEL
US: Flavia Pennetta/ITA
AO: Genie Bouchard/CAN
RG: Simona Halep/ROU (RU), Andrea Petkovic/GER
WI: Lucie Safarova/CZE
US: Ekatarina Makarova/RUS, Peng Shuai/CHN
AO: Madison Keys/USA
RG: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI
WI: Garbine Muguruza/ESP (RU)
US: Roberta Vinci/ITA (RU)
AO: Johanna Konta/GBR
RG: Kiki Bertens/NED
WI: Elena Vesnina/RUS
US: Karolina Pliskova/CZE (RU)
AO: CoCo Vandeweghe/USA
RG: Alona Ostapenko/LAT (W)
WI: Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK
US: -
AO: Elise Mertens/BEL
RG: -
WI: Julia Goerges/GER
US: Anastasija Sevastova/LAT (+Osaka/Tsurenko winner)

[ROU Champions]
[ROU Finalists]
[ROU Semifinalists]
1997 Irina Spirlea
2015 Simona Halep
[ROU Quarterfinalists]
1976 Virginia Ruzici
1978 Virginia Ruzici
2016 Simona Halep
[ROU Rd. of 16]
1977 Virginia Ruzici
1980 Virginia Ruzici
1980 Lucia Romanov
1982 Virginia Ruzici
1998 Irina Spirlea
2011 Monica Niculescu

[ITA Champions]
2015 Flavia Pennetta
[ITA Finalists]
2015 Roberta Vinci
[ITA Semifinalists]
2012 Sara Errani
2013 Flavia Pennetta
[ITA Quarterfinalists]
2003 Francesca Schiavone
2008 Flavia Pennetta
2009 Flavia Pennetta
2010 Francesca Schiavone
2011 Flavia Pennetta
2012 Roberta Vinci
2013 Roberta Vinci
2014 Flavia Pennetta
2014 Sara Errani
2016 Roberta Vinci
[ITA Rd. of 16]
1986 Raffaella Reggi
1990 Linda Ferrando
1996 Rita Grande
2002 Silvia Farina Elia
2002 Francesca Schiavone
2004 Francesca Schiavone
2009 Francesca Schiavone
2011 Francesca Schiavone
2013 Camila Giorgi

JAN: Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
AO: Sloane Stephens, USA
FEB/MAR: Latisha Chan/Andrea S.-Hlavackova, TPE/CZE
MARCH: Johanna Konta, GBR
APR: Maria Sharapova, RUS
MAY: Latisha Chan, TPE
RG: Alona Ostapenko, LAT
JUN: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
WI: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
JUL/AUG: Madison Keys, USA
AUG: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
[2018 Weekly DOWN Award Wins]
4 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE
3 - Johanna Konta, GBR
3 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
3 - Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
3 - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
3 - Alona Ostapenko, LAT
3 - Sloane Stephens, USA
3 - Elina Svitolina, UKR
2 - Latisha Chan, TPE
2 - Caroline Garcia, FRA
2 - Simona Halep, ROU
2 - Dasha Kasatkina, RUS
2 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
2 - CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
2 - Marketa Vondrousova, CZE
2 - Venus Williams, USA

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Unseeded - 2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
Unseeded - 2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
Unseeded - 2014 Peng Shuai, CHN
Unseeded - 2015 Roberta Vinci, ITA (RU)
Unseeded - 2016 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
Unseeded - 2017 Sloane Stephens, USA (W)
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#28 - 2011 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#26 - 2015 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (W)
#20 - 2017 CoCo Vandeweghe, USA
#19 Anastasija Sevastova, LAT
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic,SRB
#17 - 2014 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
#15 - 2017 Madison Keys, USA (RU)
#12 - 2005 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
#12 - 2007 Venus Williams, USA
#10 - 2001 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#10 - 2002 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
#10 - 2012 Sara Errani, ITA
#10 - 2014 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (RU)
#10 - 2016 Karolina Pliskova, CZE (RU)
[IN 2018 U.S. OPEN QF]
Unseeded - Lesia Tsurenko
#14 Madison Keys
#17 Serena Williams
#20 Naomi Osaka
#30 Carla Suarez-Navarro

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 ("Court"): (new) Louis Armstrong Stadium (four of top 5 women's seeds -- #1 Halep, #2 Wozniacki, #4 Kerber, #5 Kvitova -- fall in first three rounds on the newly rebuilt #2 show court, as well as slam winner #12 Muguruza and summer stars #13 Bertens and #26 Sabalenka)
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: Nominees: Osaka, Suarez-Navarro, Sevastova, Tsurenko
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Karolina Muchova/CZE (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Victoria Azarenka/BLR (3rd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: In QF: Keys, Stephens(L), S.Williams
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: S.Williams
VETERAN PLAYER (KIMIKO CUP): Nominees: S.Williams, Sevastova, Suarez-Navarro, Tsurenko
BROADWAY-BOUND: Kaia Kanepi/EST (new Armstrong Stadium premieres w/ Day 1 def. of #1 Halep)
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: S.Williams, Suarez-Navarro

All for Day 9. More later.


Blogger colt13 said...

That 3-4 game where Stephens got up 30-0, and missed the gimme was the match. Won by two great Sevastova drop shots and slice.

Stat of the Day-2- The number of Top 10 wins in Sevastova's first career.

Thank Jankovic and Stosur for that. But if you want to see how much better she has been in her second go round, take a look at this.

Top 10 Wins:

Wins between 11-20:

Record vs Top 20:
4-17- Before
12-19- After

For someone who has never been in the Top 10, these are good numbers. In fact, she has been so consistent that up to now, this run wont even get her to her career high of 15. 16 in live ranking, she would eclipse that with a win.

Wed Sep 05, 08:18:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home