Monday, August 29, 2011

US.1- Another Natural Disaster

Flushing Meadows experienced two natural disasters before the start of play. First, it was a 5.8 earthquake. Then Hurricane Irene. The grounds saw a third today... courtesy of Petra Kvitova.

Who knew that it'd only take a few hours into Day 1 for the first major post-Irene clean-up on a show court to have to take place? Then, almost as soon as the first major mess had been taken care of, another bigger one ALMOST happened.

In a USA Today article that appeared today, Wimbledon champ Kvitova said, "For me as a person, I'm not feeling different (than) before Wimbledon. But I know people recognize me, and everything around me is a little different... I don't like too much the attention, (but) it's important for the WTA, the tournament and for everybody."

What the future holds for the 21-year old #5-seeded Czech still seems especially bright, but she's not going to win this year's U.S. Open. Her error-strewn, straight sets loss to Alexandra Dulgheru today saw to that. With a 2-3 record since lifting the Venus Rosewater plate at the All-England Club, Kvitova is going to need all those right-thinking, pressure-thriving traits that her coach and everyone else has been praising her for the last few months in order to eventually make her way through the latest dense thicket of expectations to thwart the aspirations of a rising women's tennis star.

"It gets late early out here." - Yogi Berra, former New York Yankee catcher

Kvitova's first-up match on Louis Armstrong Stadium today highlighted all the things that led many to believe that, while her future seemed limitless, the Czech might not be quite ready to win a slam at the start of the summer. After an immediate break from play after winning in London -- part injury-related, perhaps, but likely largely a smart decision to try to decompress -- Kvitova has had a very difficult time harnessing her powerful forehand, an element of her fire-on-all-cylinders game that has sometimes abandoned her during her career. When she's "on," she's nearly unbeatable. When she's "off," she usually beats herself. She lost twice to Andrea Petkovic in tune-up events coming into the Open, but often struggled to claim the matches she DID win in Toronto and Cincinnati. There was hope that the big stage would help to center her game, and that after getting a few matches under her belt she'd be in form for the second week. But it wasn't meant to be, as her opening match in Flushing Meadows presented a microcosm of her post-Wimbledon troubles.

Kvitova tried to hold together her game in the opening set, a stanza that included six breaks of serve between the two players. Twice, the Czech was a point away from getting break #7 and locking away the set. But her unforced errors kept Dulgheru's service game in play, and the Romanian held and forced a tie-break. There, Dulgheru raced to an early lead, and won 7-3 to claim the set. While her opponent produced over twenty unforced errors of her own, Kvitova trumped her with thirty-two, two-thirds of them courtesy of her wayward forehand. In the 2nd, Kvitova went up 2-0, but then fell right back down the hole. Dulgheru won six of the final seven games. Fittingly, the match ended on a forehand return error off the Czech's racket -- her fifty-second UE of the day. She also only put in 49% of her first serves. Dulgheru won 7-6/6-3.

Such an early exit isn't anything resembling a deathblow to talk of Kvitova's future, but it surely puts her in the position of having something to prove again in '12. That said, it's noteworthy to take a glance at the results of other first-time slam winners in recent years. After Serena Williams won the U.S. Open in '99, she went out in the 4th Round in her next slam. It'd be five years before she exited so early in a slam again, but it took her two years to reach her second slam final and two and a half before she won #2. Once she did, she was off on her "Serena Slam" run. Maria Sharapova followed up her '04 Wimbledon title with a 3rd Round exit at the U.S. Open. She'd go eleven slams before she had a similarly early loss at a major. It took her two years to win her second slam, as well.

Of course, there's at least one example on the other side of the equation. After Ana Ivanovic won the Roland Garros title in '08, her fall was precipitous. She followed up with 3rd, 2nd and 3rd Round exits at her next three slams, and hasn't reached a slam QF since. Francesca Schiavone was the "First Seed Out" at Wimbeldon last year after winning in Roland Garros. And then there's Svetlana Kuznetsova, who's been a constant hit-or-miss wild card at slams since she won the Open in '04. Kvitova has proven to not be a "clone" of Venus Williams or Justine Henin, who followed up their maiden slam wins with a second before the end of the season, but where she falls along the slam winner sliding success scale is still to be determined. But one would think that a good head, big game and enough intelligence to try to learn to, if not dial back on some of her shots when she's misfiring, then at least slightly redirect a few in order to give herself more margin for error, slow down her slide on days like this pretty cruddy Monday for the Kvitova family. Either way, her loss today DOES throw her post-slam title career trajectory up for discussion.

While Kvitova was losing, over on Arthur Ashe Court, the Czech's fellow Wimbledon finalist was about ready to have to fight for her own Open life. Maria Sharapova, after having survived tough early-round battles with youngters (Caroline Garcia in Paris, then Laura Robson in London) in the last two slams, got yet another from 19-year old Brit Heather Watson today. The Russian's spotty play from the Cincinnati final against Jelena Jankovic (ol' QC... she's already causing chaos and she hasn't even played yet) seemed to carry over to this match, and Watson took full advantage of Sharapova's unexpected gifts. She jumped up 5-2 in the 1st set. Sharapova saved two set points, but Watson took the stanza 6-3.

In the 2nd, Sharapova went up a break and led 4-2, but double-faulted to break herself to give it back. Watson got to within a few points of the match, but could never quite get into position to win. Sharapova took the set 7-5, then predictably quickly surged ahead 3-0 in the.3rd. Often, young players in this situation will lose the final set at love, or maybe win one game. Not Watson. She battled, and got things to 4-3 before Sharapova finally pulled away to win 3-6/7-5/6-3. Just like Kvitova, Sharapova put up over fifty unforced errors... but the three-time slam champ found a way to win, while the one-time one didn't.

It's still not a good sign that Sharapova has started so poorly at this Open, already throwing in a half-clunker before Day 2. For a player who thrives on confidence, the memory of her performance in this match will continue to sit on Sharapova's shoulder, ready to grab her by the throat at any moment over the next two weeks. I guess we'll see whether or not she can "trick" herself into having complete confidence that she can keep that little gremlin at bay for six more matches. I didn't agree with Chris Evert today on ESPN2 when she said she thinks this tough win will help Sharapova later in the tournament. That's the case with many top players, but it never has been with the Russian. It seems like I've been saying this at every slam lately (probably because I have), but I still cling to the notion that Sharapova can't win a slam unless she coasts all the way through the draw. She's never won a major any other way, and now the throught will be put to the test once again. I figure that her history in moments like this will eventually breakdown, but so far it's proven sound. So, until further notice, I'm sticking to it.

The Sharapova-Kvitova quarter seemed like a two-headed monster twenty-four hours ago. Now, one of those heads has been lopped off. I'm still dubious about Sharapova's chances to actually win this tournament, but who in the draw seems in position to beat her until she at least reaches the semifinals? Rezai? Goerges? A-Rad? Wickmayer? They've all got issues of their own to deal with.

Sometimes, survival is the key to slam success. Sharapova at least gave herself a chance today. Kvitova will have to figure things out so that she can do the same the next time.

...first things first. The very first woman to advance to the 2nd Round on Day 1 was Laura Pous-... no, wait. No it wasn't. It was actually Monica Niculescu, who defeated Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (the Austrian, by the way, was on the other side of the "First Win" equation in Melbourne in '09, becoming the first woman to advance there) 6-3/6-3.

Laura Pous-Tio LOOKED like she was going to be the first female winner of this U.S. Open, taking a set and 5-2 lead on Misaki Doi this afternoon in their early match. But Doi forced a tie-break and ultimately won it 14-12. While the Japanese player was extending the match late in the 2nd set, Niculescu snuck through the proverbial back door (the match was about half-way through the 2nd when Pous-Tio was close to wrapping things up) and was the first to reach the Final 64.

As it turned out, Doi went up a break in the 3rd and held a 2-0 lead. But Doi began to cramp, and Pous-Tio won the next five games. Doi eventurally retired from the match down 5-2 in the 3rd. Thus, it was a case of delayed satisfaction for the Spaniard, but a whole lot of work (and pain) for nothing for Doi.

...with Kvitova being the "1st Seed Out" at this Open, she might have also wrapped up the "Crash & Burn" (dis)honor, as well. It'll take something monumental to knock her off the podium. On ESPN2, Evert said that Kvitova's loss, as well as Sharapova's near one, shows the depth of the women's game. True, but I'm sure the talk tomorrow will be more about the things lacking at the top of the sport rather than the talent of the rest of the field.

In other words, the usual.

...meanwhile, after back-to-back years in which teenage American girls -- Melanie Oudin in '09, Beatrice Capra in '10 -- have starred in the first week at Flushing Meadows, 16-year old Floridian Madison Keys threw her name into the hat for the distinction this year. Getting into the tournament by winning the USTA's Wild Card Playoff tournament, the youngest player in the draw took out 37-year old fellow American wild card Jill Craybas in the 1st Round. Craybas has played almost as many U.S. Opens (15) as years Keys has been alive. The powerful Keys led 6-2/4-1 before a case of nerves (including a very wild forehand she jokingly later called "interesting" -- allowed Craybas to close to 4-4. Keys won though, 6-2/6-4. other matches of notes, Tsvetana Pironkova actually got a slam win over someone not named Venus. Her opponent -- Virginie Razzano -- DID have a name that starts with a "V," though; Agnieszka Radwanska defeated her sister Urszula; and, while Watson failed to close out Sharapova today, one Brit DID advance to the 2nd Round. Qualifier Laura Robson defeated Ayumi Morita.

...ESPN2 NOTES: Hannah Storm was stylin' in an all-white outfit (hmmm, would Tim Gunn say it had "major wow factor?"), and Patrick McEnroe once again went on a tired, overwrought rant about Sharapova's shrieks on Ashe. I thought it was funny how, in the middle of his much-warmed-over argument (coming from the sibling of a player whose on-court actions caused far more upsets than any of the sounds emanating from any of the women, by the way) that if the player on the other side of the net apparently has no issues with the noise then it's not an issue. And, as has been said often over the years in this discussion, most players say they're too concentrated on what THEY'RE doing to even hear what's happening on the other side of the court during points. Of course, that didn't stop P-Mac from going on for another minute or so on the topic.

It's too bad McEnroe couldn't focus as much of his energy on pronouncing Jill Craybas' name in any way seemingly close to correct, considering she's been on tour for, oh, about fifteen or so years. The WTA pronouciation guide phonetically lists her name as "Cray-bis," and all the women on ESPN2 today -- depending on various levels of diction -- either said it that way or "Cray-bus." Close enough for the benefit of the doubt, I say. Many of them, though, led by McEnroe (and later followed up by Mike Tirico), called her "Cray-bass." I don't remember ever hearing her name said quite that way, but it WAS either amusing or frustrating to listen to commentators (MJF & Shriver providing the counterpoint) have a single conversation with both individua's saying the name of the player differently... yet neither ever asking the other, "Hey, which one of us is right, anyway?", a little housekeeping:

1.Serena Williams, USA
2.Maria Sharapova, RUS
3.Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
4.Sabine Lisicki, GER
5.Andrea Petkovic, GER

1.Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
2.Samantha Stosur, AUS
3.Vera Zvonareva, RUS

1.Christina McHale, USA
2.Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
3.Petra Martic, CRO

1.Petra Cetkovska, CZE
2.Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
3.Angelique Kerber, GER

1.Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
2.Zheng Jie, CHN
3.Nathalie Grandin/Vladimira Uhlirova, RSA/CZE

1.Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2.Aravane Rezai, FRA
3.Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR

1.Kim Clijsters, BEL
2.Petra Kvitova, CZE
3.Julie Goerges, GER
4.Melanie Oudin, USA
5.Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS

1.Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
2.Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
3.Victoria Larriere, FRA

1.Victoria Kan, RUS
2.Yulia Putintseva, RUS
3.Anett Kontaveit, EST

...and, finally, Venus Williams -- unseeded in Queens for the first time since her Open debut in '97, when she reached the final -- is playing on court tonight as I wrap up this DS. It's her first tour action since Wimbledon (she's battled a virus for quite a while though did play some WTT sets), and the twenty-ninth time under the lights in her career at the U.S. Open. Her opponent is Vesna Dolonts. As of Sunday, Dolonts was still in Russia after having visa problems. Then her flight was cancelled due to the hurricane. She finally arrived at the airport this afternoon and headed directly to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center grounds for her match, eschewing even checking into a hotel. Yep, it sounds like she arrived VERY prepared for the match. Venus has won twenty-five U.S. Open night matches in her career, more than any other woman ever. The outlook for #26 looks pretty favorable (she just locked away the 1st set). As always, though, if something stupendous occurs after this Daily Backspin's deadline, there's always a chance I'll hop back into the mix with a "U.S. Open at Night" post later this evening, or "Open for Brunch" recap tomorrow morning.

[U.S. Open]
2005 #28 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Schruff)
2006 #15 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER (lost to Rezai)
2007 #29 Samantha Stosur, AUS (lost to Cornet)
2008 #24 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Li)
2009 #25 Kai Kanepi, EST (lost to Chang)
2010 #8 Li Na, CHN (lost to K.Bondarenko)
2011 #5 Petra Kvitova, CZE (lost to Dulgheru)
AO: #28 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (lost to Kulikova)
RG: #19 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Martinez-Sanchez)
WI: #22 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Pervak)
US: #5 Petra Kvitova, CZE (lost to Dulgheru)

[U.S. Open]
2009 Vania King, USA (def. Yakimova)
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA (def. Morita)
2011 Monica Niculescu, ROU (def. Mayr-Achleitner)
AO: Evgeniya Rodina, RUS (def. Rogowska)
RG: Simona Halep, ROU (def. Kudryavtseva)
WI: Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN (def. O'Brien)
US: Monica Niculescu, ROU (def. Mayr-Achleitner)

AO: Vesna Manasieva (Dolonts), RUS
RG: Sloane Stephens, USA
WI: Alexa Glatch, USA
US: Romina Oprandi, ITA

JANUARY: An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
FEBRUARY: Monica Puig, PUR
MARCH: Alison van Uytvanck, BEL
APRIL: Monica Puig, PUR
MAY: Irina Khromacheva, RUS
JUNE: Ons Jabeur, TUN & Ashleigh Barty, AUS (co-winners)
JULY: Victoria Kan, RUS
AUGUST: Victoria Kan, RUS

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Alexandra Panova/RUS def. #6q Andrea Hlavackova/CZE 3-6/6-2/7-6(7)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: Monica Niculescu/ROU (def. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
FIRST SEED OUT: #5 Petra Kvitova (lost to Dulgheru/1st Rd.)
IT: xx
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: #5 Kvitova (1st Rd./lost to Dulgheru)

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I agree with you about Sharapova. She doesn't "play her way into" matches. When she's "on," she just comes out blazing.

Petra :(

Tue Aug 30, 12:02:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both Wimbledon and French Open champions are out of US Open when did that happen last time? and what does it say about consistency? And Sharapova is rusty too could easily have lost but scared her oponent with her primal screams wonder why she's allowed to do that. It must be Carl's favorite since she is speaking the same language - maybe I'm a little rude to Carl - sorry. And Todd your favorite Dokic is through - congratulations. And of course Caro is through with promísing steps forward having a better serve especially her second is improved a lot together with netplay and forehand. Happy hours ahead ;-)

Tue Aug 30, 06:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Apparently, it's the first time both the RG and Wimbledon champs have lost 1st Round.

Tue Aug 30, 08:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

It's terrible. I don't know what to make of it. It doesn't help that those are two of my favorite players.

Tue Aug 30, 11:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Trust in QC. :)

(pause... while I wait for you to regain consciousness after passing out at the audacity of the idea)

Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't suggest doing something so hazardous to your health, huh? Sorry. :D

Wed Aug 31, 01:32:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home