Monday, September 03, 2012

US 7.0 - Oh, Na- ...well, you know

You just knew it was going to happen.

Is there a more star-crossed player in tennis than Nadia Petrova? Don't even answer that. Anything other than a big "y-e-s" would be incorrect. On Night 7, we just got another example of it.

With Petrova in the best shape she's been in years, and relatively healthy all season, the 30-year old, longtime Backspin favorite has had something of a resurgence in relevance. She's been popping in and out of the singles Top 20 and doubles Top 10, won a grass court title in the Netherlands to complete a career surface slam, and claimed a Bronze medal in women's doubles at the Olympics. Coming into her Round of 16 match against Maria Sharapova, she ranked behind only Serena Williams in aces on the WTA tour this season. A two-time slam semifinalist, Petrova was maybe in the best position she's been in in quite some time to reach her first U.S. Open quarterfinal in seven years.

Of course, when Sharapova ran off a 6-1 1st set win, it was easy to think that her career 73-22 mark against fellow Russians was going to have added another routine win to the total in short order. But then Sharapova's game went off a bit, and Petrova stepped up her serve. Petrova took a 4-0 lead. Sure, Sharapova charged back to knot the score and get to break point at 4-4, but when Petrova put away a volley and ended up holding for 5-4, the momentum swung back in her favor. When she broke with a forehand winner to take the 2nd set at 6-4, there were a few moments when all those years of hoping for the best for Petrova looked like they might actually bear a little fruit on this night.

A few moments, I said. For, you see, SOMETHING always derails Petrova. Often, it's her nerves. Or an injury. But neither of those proved to be her downfall against Sharapova. So when she got a break and took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd, while it was hard to get TOO excited, there was stil a weird feeling of building elation that was waiting on-deck, ready to see the light of day... if only the coast was clear. Just a little more time it might have been safe to dream.

But then it started to rain. And you just knew it was all over.

When Petrova and Sharapova were finally taken off the court and an inevitably long delay was assured, the Murphy's Law bullet point that has been Petrova's entire career struck yet again. I mean, when you're depending on Ricardo Sanchez -- Petrova's latest coach, in a coupling that is so crazy it feels like fate -- to come out a hour or two later looking like a some sort of medium who can bring together player and calming sanity to create some legendary Russian brilliance, well, you know you're in deep trouble.

[SIDE NOTE: I wonder if JJ has asked Nadia, "Did Ricardo make you climb mountains in Mexico, too?"]

That said, Petrova didn't crumble when play resumed. Sharapova just reached into her countrywoman's soul and ripped the match away from her.

Petrova came out looking pretty good. Pounding serves, she went up 40/15, but didn't put the game away. It was all the room to maneuver that Sharapova needed. Tennis Channel's Lindsay Davenport noted how Sharapova, perhaps after consulting with coach Thomas Hogstedt during the rain delay, had begun to move slightly back in the court to return Petrova's serve compared to her positioning before the interruption of play. It seemed to make all the difference, as she was able to get into or take control of the points more often, and it kept Petrova from controlling things with her big shot. Sharapova got to break point in the first game back, then converted it with a big return to get back on serve. In all, she had four winners in the game.

Oh, Nadia.

From there, Petrova did the best she could, but she was ultimately helpless to stop the onslaught of a Sharapova who was maybe more demonstrative in her celebrations on big points than she's ever been. Her typically clenched fist was tighter. Her screams were louder. Her full-body punctuations were, dare I say it, almost Serena-like in their intensity.

But Nadia didn't have an ugly collapse. She was able to hold serve in games #5, but in game #7 it was Sharapova who made the big move. After Petrova put in a huge serve, Sharapova returned it into the mid-court. Petrova retrieved the ball and got it back into the deep corner, only to see Sharapova put up a picture-perfect lob to take a 30/love lead. She got the break in the game to go up 4-3. Petrova held for 5-4, forcing Sharapova to serve out the match. But other than double-fault on the second point, she didn't blink, holding to win 6-1/4-6/6-4.

Now 11-0 in three-set matches in 2012, Sharapova is into the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the first time since her "Exquisite in the City" title run in 2006. After the rain delay, Sharapova won six of the eight games played, and lost just five points in her four service games.

As for Nadia, what can you say? A year after failing to get past Samantha Stosur at this event in a fantastic battle, she watched the Aussie go on to take the title. Might this night eventually lead to a severe case of deja vu for Backspin's favorite star-crossed Russian?

Quite possibly. But it's best to not even think about that. Now is the time to curse fate, and wonder what Nadia did to deserve being on the wrong end of it so many times.

...Laura Robson's star-making run at this Open came to an end on Day 7, but not before she made Samantha Stosur sweat.

Try as she might, the 18-year old just couldn't get the best of the defending champ as she had Kim Clijsters and Li Na. Robson got an early break in the 1st to take a 2-1 lead, but Stosur broke back a game later. She had two breaks point on the Aussie's serve in game #9, but Stosur held for 5-4. After going down love/40 on serve, Robson battled back to 30/40... but double-faulted to give Stosur the set at 6-4. For the first time at this tournament, her age was showing.

It was more of the same early in the 1st, as Robson had three break points on Stosur's serve in game #3, but the Aussie's ability to mix up her serves helped her hold for 2-1. In the next game, Robson held a game point, but Stosur broke her to take a 3-1 lead. Down 5-2 and match point down, the Brit could have gone away quietly. But she didn't. That's when she decided to fight, and we'll never know just how close she game to tearing Stosur's mental wall down.

Robson saved five match points in that game, holding for 5-3, then two more on Stosur's serve. With Robson hitting out on all her shots, she coaxed Stosur into a long forehand to give her break point, then a big return produced another error. Robson's break got her back on serve at 5-4 and, for the first time over this past week, the pressure of the Open had a shot at getting into the defending champ's head. Was this where the it would finally take her down?

As it turned out... no, it wasn't.

Stosur went up 40/15 on Robson's serve, but fired another shot long on match point #8. At 40/30, a Robson shot bounced off the net cord. Stosur scooped the ball back over the net, and Robson went for a winner down the line but, on match point #9, Robson missed. Stosur won 6-4/6-4.

While the Aussie lives on, so will Robson. The six-foot-tall, powerful lefty will rise to around #75 in the next batch of rankings, but, at every turn at this Open, she's given reason to believe that she's no where near close to stopping her rise. Until next time, M'Lady.

...somewhat overshadowed by the drama of the 3rd set of the Sharapova comeback, Marion Bartoli eliminated a big fish, too, pulling off her upset -- ala Stosur last year -- under the cover of darkness away from the bright lights of Ashe court.

La Trufflette got run over by Petra Kvitova in a 6-1 1st set, just like she was for an entire match in Montreal a few week ago. But then the Czech did what she seems to do quite often. She went away in the 2nd, losing 6-2. Normally, Kvitova gets things righted in the 3rd set. But not this time. Instead, Bartoli surged over and past her, taking the set at love to advance to her first career U.S. Open quarterfinal, putting a nice touch on what has been a mostly disappointing summer for the unconventional, energetic, sometimes-angry, sometimes-sweet, sometimes-frustrating, sometimes-exhilarating Pastry.

A look at the stats show just how lopsided things were in the final set. In the 3rd, Bartoli won 25 of 32 total points, and converted three of four break points. Meanwhile, Kvitova had three double-faults, won just two of the eight 1st serves she got in, and none of her six 2nd serves. She won just five of nineteen return points, and failed to convert both her break points. Ouch.

I don't know if Kvitova's heavy summer schedule finally got the best of her against the Energizer Bunny-like Bartoli, if her asthma was an issue, or if this was just another of those Kvitova stretches where she couldn't keep anything in the court. Or whether it was really just Bartoli's command of the moment that was the REAL story. Either way, Kvitova's out of the tournament, leaving Bartoli as quite possibly the best potential success story of the second week of this Open. It won't be easy for her to add another layer of drama to this slam, with Sharapova, Azarenka and Stosur remaining with her in the top half of the draw. But, as Ted Robinson said on Tennis Channel tonight, after getting burned by doing do in the past, he'll "never overlook Marion Bartoli again."

Exactly. the other Round of 16 match, the aforementioned Victoria Azarenka continued her mostly-unnoticed rampage, eliminating Anna Tatishvili 6-2/6-2 (she's lost fewer games than any other remaining woman) to reach her first U.S. Open quarterfinal.

...a shocker in women's doubles! No, the Williams Sisters didn't lose. But #1-seeded/#1-ranked Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond did, being upset by #16-seeded Hsieh/Medina-Garrigues, 6-4/2-6/6-4. It continues the spring and summer of the all-American team's (mostly) discontent. Hmmm, so maybe it wasn't ALL that big of a shocker, I guess.

Meanwhile, Sania Mirza & Colin Fleming have advanced to the Mixed Doubles quarterfinals after knocking off surprise 2011 champs Melanie Oudin & Jack Sock.

...junior action has begun. Here are the seeded girls:

1. Taylor Townsend, USA
2. Yulia Putintseva, KAZ
3. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
4. Antonia Lottner, GER
5. Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS (1st Rd.)
6. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
7. Petra Uberalova, SVK (1st Rd.)
8. Sachia Vickery, USA
9. Anna Danilina, KAZ
10. Chalena Scholl, USA
11. Belinda Bencic, SUI
12. Anett Kontaveit, EST
13. Ana Konjuh, CRO
14. Carol Zhao, CAN
15. Krista Hardebeck, USA
16. Marcela Zacarius, MEX

The way the draw is set up, we could see a semifinal meeting between #1 seeded Townsend, who swept the Girls singles and doubles crowns at the Australian Open, and #3 seeded Bouchard, who swept the Girls singles and doubles crowns at Wimbledon. Victoria Duval, who'll go down as the very last player to lose to Kim Clijsters, won today. Her next opponent will be Bouchard.

Some of the interesting results from Day 7: #16 Marcela Zacarius (MEX) defeated Christina Makarova (USA), Ellen Allgurin (SWE) upset #5 Elizaveta Kulichkova (RUS), and #3 Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) took out Gabby Andrews (USA).

...even with Robson's exit, I'm giving her the "It" award for this slam. For the record, this makes her the first player to win both "Junior Breakout" honors (at the '08 Wimbledon, when she was the Girls champ), as well as being an "It" honoree.

A year ago, it was wheelchair champ Esther Vergeer who won the "It" award for the Open. She's not in NYC this year, of course, since there is no wheelchair competition at the Open, as all the athletes are participating in the 2012 Paralympics in London. The tennis has begun there and, wouldn't you know it, Vergeer has won her first match, dropping just one game to reach the Round of 16. The Dutch woman is a three-time Paralympics singles Gold Medalist, having won in 2000, '04 and '08.

...meanwhile, Canadians are thriving.

-- the "ITF Player of the Week" is Canada's Sharon Fichman. She won the $25K Mamaia, Romania title, defeating Swarmette Patricia Maria Tig in the final.

-- back home, in the Canadian Junior Championships in Repentigny, Quebec, 15-year old Francoise Abanda took the title, defeating Germany's Antonia Lottner in the semis, then Carol Zhao (CAN) in the final.


Azarenka in her on-set interview on Tennis Channel with Ted Robinson, Tracy Austin and the "I'm Sexy and I Know It" guy. Hopefully, we'll get to see Vika "shuffle" before the end of this Open.


oh, Nadia, Nadia, Nadia, Nadia. Oh. Sigh.

...????? FROM DAY 7:

I saw it coming anyway when the rain arrived, but when I thought for a moment in the 3rd set of the Sharapova/Petrova match that we could be a few games away from Petrova and Bartoli facing off for a slam semifinal berth, it sort of sealed the deal. Just the thought of it made me feel a little light-headed, and looking for a chair to lean on.

The Tennis Gods, for all their eccentricities, look out for our health. There was no way They were going to have a situation occur that might produce a massive, global fainting spell. Plus, I think Goolagongis had Sharapova in the office pool.

-- Lindor Truffles has a second ad with Roger Federer ("Federererer?") & the airport counter women running in heavy rotation at this Open. I must say, it's an improvement on the old one, which was pretty much focused around a text book case of sexual harrassment.

...and, finally, the first "Open for Brunch" (hey, I made a new logo and I want to get some use out of it) of this U.S. Open will be posted during the day tomorrow, where I'll say my fitful goodbye to a certain Belgian.

#1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Anna Tatishvili/GEO
#7 Samantha Stosur/AUS def. Laura Robson/GBR
#3 Maria Sharapova/RUS def. #19 Nadia Petrova/RUS
#11 Marion Bartoli/FRA def. #5 Petra Kvitova/CZE
Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL vs. #12 Ana Ivanovic/SRB
Andrea Hlavackova/CZE vs. #4 Serena Williams/USA
#6 Angelique Kerber/GER vs. #10 Sara Errani/ITA
#20 Roberta Vinci/ITA vs. #2 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL

#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. vs. #23 Mardy Fish/USA
#11 Nicolas Almagro/ESP vs. vs. #6 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#3 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #15 Milos Raonic/CAN
#12 Marin Cilic/CRO vs. Martin Klizan/SVK
#8 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB vs. xx
#13 Richard Gasquet/FRA vs. #4 David Ferrer/ESP
#7 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG vs. #20 Andy Roddick/USA
#18 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB

#16 Hsieh/Medina-Garrigues (TPE/ESP) vs. Chuang/Zhang (TPE/CHN)
#3 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. x/x
x/x vs. x/x
x/x vs. #2 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA)

x/x vs. x/x
Knowle/Polasek (AUT/SVK) vs. #5 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE)
#9 Qureshi/Rojer (PAK/NED) vs. C.Harrison/R.Harrison (USA/USA)
x/x vs. x/x

#1 Huber/Mirnyi (USA/BLR) vs. Llagostera-Vives/Marrero (ESP/ESP)
#4 Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL) vs. Mirza/Fleming (IND/GBR)
#7 Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) vs. #3 Vesnina/Paes (RUS/IND)
An.Rodionova/Rojer (AUS/NED) vs. Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA)

2005 Sania Mirza, IND
2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2007 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2008 Coco Vandeweghe, USA (jr.)
2009 Melanie Oudin, USA
2010 Beatrice Capra, USA
2011 Esther Vergeer, NED (wheelchair)
2012 Laura Robson, GBR
AO: Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
RG: Sara Errani, ITA
WI: "The Radwanska"
US: Laura Robson, GBR

[Monthly/Quarterly winners]
JAN: Mona Barthel, GER
FEB: Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
MAR: Sloane Stephens, USA
APR: Simona Halep, ROU
MAY: Sloane Stephens, USA
JUN: Melanie Oudin, USA
JUL: Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
AUG: Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
[2012 Weekly "FRESH FACE" Wins]
5...Mona Barthel, GER
5...Christina McHale, USA
5...Sloane Stephens, USA
4...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
4...Heather Watson, GBR

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: (WC) Krista Hardebeck/USA def. Tamaryn Hendler/BEL 7-6(9)/5-7/7-6(3)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #6 Angelique Kerber/GER def. Venus Williams/USA 6-2/5-7/7-5
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: Nominee: 2nd Rd. - #6 A.Kerber/GER d. V.Williams/USA 6-2/5-7/7-5 (2:45, ends at 12:20 am)
FIRST WINNER: Anna Tatishvili/GEO (def. Foretz-Gacon/FRA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #27 Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP (lost to Hradecka/CZE)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Germany (four of five highest-ranked Germans fell in 1st Round)
CRASH & BURN: #8 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (lost 1st Rd. to I.Begu/ROU -- was Open #1 seed in 2010-11; second straight 1st Rd. slam loss)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominees: #6 Kerber/GER (down 4-2 in 3rd set vs. V.Williams, 2nd Rd.); #3 Sharapova/RUS (down 2-0 in 3rd set vs. Petrova in 4th, before rain delay)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Mallory Burdette/USA & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA (3rd Rd.)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: Serena Williams/USA (in 4th Rd.)
IT: Laura Robson/GBR
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: M.Bartoli/FRA, A.Ivanovic/SRB
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: S.Stephens/USA, K.Clijsters/BEL, M.Bartoli/FRA
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: A.Kerber/GER, A.Ivanovic/SRB, M.Sharapova/RUS

All for Day 7. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

so Roddick wins atlanta for his first and last career titles...and he's also still the last US man standing at his last event of his career.

how fitting.

Mon Sep 03, 12:56:00 PM EDT  

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