Tuesday, September 02, 2014

US 8.5 - Good Luck & the Belarusian Idol

They say that the making of the sausage isn't always pretty. But something it's pretty exciting. Case in point: Victoria Azarenka vs. Aleksandra Krunic in the Round of 16 on Ashe.

A week ago, no one could have really foreseen the match-up that occurred at Flushing Meadows on Labor Day Monday. After a disappointing, injury-marred season, former #1 and two-time finalist Azarenka came to New York barely holding onto a Top 20 ranking after entering 2014 as the solid #2. An ankle injury took her away from the game for months, only to make her appreciate the sport more and take unbridled joy in finally being able to spread her toes, knowing that it was a sign that she was close to returning to the court. A knee injury played havoc with the Belarusian's pre-Open hard court season, and it truthfully wouldn't have been a shock if she'd failed to last beyond the opening few rounds at this slam. And she almost didn't, being pushed in her opening match, before gradually beginning to regain her past verve and form over the next two matches heading in the 4th Round. Whether she was on the verge of truly regaining her form was unknown... sort of like her #145-ranked, 4th Round opponent in the eyes of many.

Krunic, 21, has mostly maintained a doubles presence in recent seasons, playing a key role in Serbia's run to the Fed Cup final in 2012, only to often be snubbed by her nation's tennis federation ever since, left off FC rosters with regularity in favor of players who'd accomplished less than her both before and after they were gifted with roster spots over the last two years. It's no wonder that Krunic's words seem to hint that she has very little confidence in her ability to truly compete against the best singles players on tour, no matter that she'd done just that through the first week of the Open. Splitting from her coach before the tournament, one of the first arguments she had with her new one centered on her unwillingness to book her hotel room into the SECOND week of the tournament (why do it if you think you won't still be in the draw?). When told she needed to believe she could last until the end of the tournament, Krunic said, "come back to earth, please." Yet after making it through qualifying, all she'd done since was knock off seeded American Madison Keys and Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, showing keen defensive skills, nice variety and a remarkable power despite her 5-foot-4, 105-pound frame. Maybe it was the heart that seemed to be the size of the entire city that made the difference. Looking at photos of Krunic standing alongside her past FC teammates, her head not even reaching the height of Ana Ivanovic's shoulder, the Serbian Good Luck Charm who's barely the size of a charm bracelet has always been easy to root for. At this Open, it turned into something more, well, real. She proved she has game, even if she might still need a little bit of convincing how good she might be.

Before heading out to play her 4th Round match with Azarenka, Krunic was visably in awe of the size of the largest tennis stadium in the world, and said her game plan was "to stay on the court for as long" as she could. It didn't exactly sound like a player who thought she could win. But she very nearly did.

Oh, and what a match it turned out to be, too.

At times it was thrilling, while at others crazed. All the while, both players passed momentum back and forth like a hot potato lit on fire by a white-hot metal rod poking through its middle. First, Krunic flummoxed Azarenka with drop shots, lobs and change of pace balls, only to grab the lead and then become noticeably more tentative as Azarenka seemed to grab control of the match. Of course, that wouldn't last long, as the speedy Krunic's fearless -- and more offensively-minded -- streak would return sized twice as big as her tiny self, wrestling back the direction of the match in come-from-behind fashion, only to see Azarenka's fire stoked still more as she battled through several error-strewn patches that saw her hanging on, staying barely a step ahead of her opponent and causing the crowd to become engrossed with the ENTIRE match, not just Krunic's fate.

[ Speaking of the crowd, it should be noted that the New York fans who once again showed the two-time finalist great respect while she faced off with a plucky underdog that arenas filled with fans in other grand slam cities -- psst, Melbourne and Paris, I'm talking about you -- would have sold their souls to get behind totally, while simultaneously turning against Azarenka in the process. That sort of nonsense never happened in this match. It was all about the tennis, and both players were appreciated for the show they put on. The Ashe crowd refused to root against Vika, but still cheered wildly for the Serbian qualifier as she sometimes fired crushing shots off her racket from seemingly out of nowhere, combining them with her peerless defense for some of the best shots we have or will see at this U.S. Open. ]

We had aces and volleys. Net cords and drop shots. Clenched fists and full body thrusts. And, in the end, a victory that means so much more than just a means of advancing one single round into a grand slam. Oh, and then we had a sing-along session. But, ummm, more on that later.

Of course, in the early going, the questioning Krunic nearly made it a runaway for Azarenka. Nervous and tight, she was broken to start the match, then fell down a double break at 3-0. She lost twelve of the first fourteen points. But then Vika double-faulted to break herself and cut the score to 3-1, and all holy hell broke loose. Suddenly, Krunic caught a wave and won eight of ten points, winning four of five games. Serving at 4-4, Krunic faced break point, but survived the game with a combination of drop shots, long rallies, and both elicited and unforced errors off Azarenka's racket. Krunic held for 5-4, and a game later was up 40/love on Vika's serve. Azarenka saved three break/set points, but a drop shot and pass combo from the Serb gave her a fourth opportunity. Azarenka's netted forehand gave Krunic the 1st set at 6-4, and a frustrated Vika -- who'd won just 38% of her 1st serves -- had a manic look on her face that looked to be about another break of serve away from what we saw during that Australian Open semifinal against Sloane Stephens last year.

Krunic held to go up 1-0 in the 2nd set to win her seventh of eight games, while Azarenka was forced to play from behind while serving second. While Vika was desperately trying to pump herself up with shouts and fist pumps, Krunic was almost silently putting together multiple all-inspiring shots. Like this gem:

Azarenka seemed to pull away and take control, going up 40/love on Krunic's serve at 3-3, and getting the break lead when the Serb committed a forehand error. Vika held for 6-4 to knot the match, then broke to start the 3rd. But all it took was for Azarenka's play to end its forward momentum for a moment, and Krunic grabbed the opportunity to shine when the pressure of leading the match had been lifted off her slight shoulders. In game #4, Krunic held double break-point and Azarenka's error got things back on serve at 2-2. Then Vika seemed to surge ahead again, profitting form a double-bounce off the net cord that gave her a break point at 3-3. A down-the-line backhand winner put the Belarusian winner up 4-3, and things appeared to finally be pointing in the direction of a Vika victory.

Even after another spate of errors put Azarenka down 15/40 on serve a game later, she was able to hold onto her advantage by the barest of margins. Another net cord and a half-volley, down-the-line passing shot winner from the baseline saved one break point, then a long Krunic error saved another. Azarenka moved forward and cut off a Krunic shot for volley winner to reach game point, then another error from the Serb gave Vika a 5-3 lead.

But Krunic wasn't going to go away easily. She wasn't ready to come back down to earth just yet.

A game later, she fired two aces and held for 5-4. Azarenka opened game #10 with a double-fault and error to fall behind love/30. A wide serve and forehand winner combo prevented a deep hole, and the poor decision by Krunic to attempt a drop shot from two feet behind the baseline took away her lead as the ball failed to cross the net. On match point, Krunic's long return gave Azarenka a 4-6/6-4/6-4 victory and a third straight trip to the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

The former #1's path back to contender status hasn't always been pretty at this Open, but the end result still could be beautiful. Azarenka has her game face back, while her fitness and match toughness are still a work in progress. But she's getting closer. She's loving tennis, life and her continuing existence in this Open.

But, well, then there was this. Umm, I think the less said the better. Heehee.

All right, so she's not going to be the winner of the next season of "Belarusian Idol," but I think she can live with that.

For now, anyway.

2006 E.Birnerova/CZE,Y.Fedossova/FRA,K.Flipkens/BEL, V.Lepchenko/UZB,A.Radwanska/POL (2nd Rd.)
2007 Alize Cornet/FRA & Ekaterina Makarova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld/GER (4th Rd.)
2009 Anastasia Rodionova/AUS (3rd Rd.)
2010 Lourdes Dominquez-Lino/ESP, Mandy Minella/LUX (3rd)
2011 Silvia Soler-Espinosa/ESP (3rd Rd.)
2012 Olga Puchkova/RUS (3rd Rd.)
2013 Camila Giorgi/ITA (4th Rd.)
2014 Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO (4th)
AO: Zarina Diyas, KAZ (3rd Rd.)
RG: Kiki Bertens, NED (4th Rd.)
WI: Tereza Smitkova, CZE (4th Rd.)
US: Aleksandra Krunic/SRB, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO (4th)

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Unseeded - 2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
Unseeded - 2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
[ Unseeded - Belinda Bencic, SUI ??? ]
[ Unseeded - Peng Shuai, CHN ??? ]
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#28 - 2011 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic,SRB
[ #17 - Ekaterina Makarova, RUS ??? ]
[ #16 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR ??? ]
[ #13 - Sara Errani, ITA ??? ]
#12 - 2005 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
#12 - 2007 Venus Williams, USA
[ #11 - Flavia Pennetta, ITA ??? ]
#10 - 2001 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#10 - 2002 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
#10 - 2012 Sara Errani, ITA
[ #10 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN ??? ]

All for Night 8. More tomorrow.


Monday, September 01, 2014

US.8 - A Tale of Two Cities

It'a the best of times. It's the worst of times.

As we cut down to the final eight in the women's singles draw at this U.S. Open, the competition is evolving into a tale of two cities. The one occupied by Serena Williams, and the one playing host to everyone else.

Yes, make no bones about it, it's becoming more and more apparent that Serena Williams looks to be settling in in New York. And that's probably not good news for anyone but her.

Today, Williams faced off in the Round of 16 with Kaia Kanepi, who'd managed to save two match points earlier in the tournament against 2011 title winner (and Serena conqueror) Sam Stosur. While her opponent wasn't the now-faltering Aussie, two-time defending U.S. Open champ Serena played close with the Estonian. For half a set. The two were tied at 3-3 in the 1st, but from that point on Williams simply went about matter-of-factly and singlehandedly making sure that the United States didn't fail to place a player -- male or female -- in ANY grand slam singles quarterfinal for an entire season for the very first time. Williams broke Kanepi's serve in four of five games in the 2nd, going to to win 6-3/6-3 to reach the final eight for the first time at a major since she defeated Sloane Stephens in the 4th Round at Flushing Meadows one year ago.

Calm and in control and, during her post-match interview, seemingly with a huge weight lifted from her shoulders after finally advancing into the second week at a '14 slam, Williams has to be looking at the landscape of this tournament and realizing that she could be less than a week away from having yet another weighty matter -- that Martina & Chris tying 18th major title -- removed from her agenda, and she's already a little giddy about it. Yes, there are still handful two slam finalists and another slam winner left in the draw, but if Williams has returned to being Serena, rather than the slam impostor we've seem on three other occasions this season, it's hard to believe she won't be smiling come the weekend... and not just about a doubles effort with Venus.

Right now, Serena is looking like she might be the toast of the town yet again.

...meanwhile, Genie Bouchard's North American summer came to the sort of ending today that one might have seen coming for weeks, save for the notion that the Canadian has been the most consistent slam performer on tour throughout the 2014 season and because of that she just might be able to slowly build her momentum-less hard court season into something similar to the three semifinal-or-better results at majors that she's already put up this season both before and after she celebrated her 20th birthday.

But it wasn't meant to be against Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

The only player to have career wins over both Williams sisters but never to be ranked #1, the Hordette has a history of taking down big names in slams, and New York Times Sunday Magazine cover girl Bouchard surely has managed to make herself just that heading into this U.S. Open. While the Canadian retained some of the fight that she had in Melbourne, Paris and London today, Makarova and the heat eventually drained what was left of it out of her.

Down a double-break early in the 1st, Bouchard failed to break back after holding triple break point soon afterward. Down 4-2, though, she came roaring back, throwing in back-to-back aces while holding for 5-4, then aggressively moving in on Makarova's serve a game later. After going up 40/love on the Russian, Bouchard again flirted with failing to break, as the point reached deuce, but a Makarova double-fault and error combo helped things along. The break knotted the set at 5-5, then Bouchard struggled to hold (finally doing so on her third game point) before Makarova forced a tie-break. An early mini-break was ultimately all that the Russian would need there, grabbing the advantage and never relinquishing it, controlling the tie-break with her groundstrokes and taking it at 7-2 to win the 1st set.

In the 2nd, Makarova's play remained high, while Bouchard was nearly done in by the heat of New York, as sticky humidity has engulfed the east coast of the U.S. the last two days after what has been a fairly mild summer. After the fifth game of the 2nd, with Makarova up 3-2, the Canadian was treated by trainers, had her blood pressure checked (Maria... shhhhh) and was declared to be suffering from heat illness. She came out and was immediately broken for 4-2. But Makarova played a poor service game immediately afterward, putting things back on serve as she dumped her service game and gave Bouchard hope that if she could just hold on physically she might be able to win the mental game in the 3rd set.

But it didn't happen. Serving to stay in the match down 5-4, the visably flagging Bouchard couldn't continue with her comeback. She quickly fell behind love/40, and when Makarova blasted a return winner off a mediocre serve it was all over. The Russian won 7-6(4)/6-4 to reach her second consecutive U.S. Open quarterfinal, while Bouchard will have to wait a year to attempt to complete a "Career Slam QF Slam," as she would have reached the Final Eight at all four majors after playing in just seven slams had she won today.

Hmmm, could Makarova be heading toward finally, on the tenth anniversary of Svetlana Kuznetsova's NYC title run, ending the decade-long drought of a NEW slam-winning Hordette? Well, she's CAPABLE of it, having already beaten Serena in a slam in the past. But the Russian always seems to come up just short in such situations, having never reached a slam semifinal since she's so far not been able to string together wins over big-name players in the second week of a slam. And if she ends up facing Victoria Azarenka in her next match, that's precisely what she would have to do.

I'm thinking she might be wishing for Aleksandra Krunic to be on the other side of the net, though. Afterall, putting off that second big win -- possibly over Serena in the SF -- for another round surely wouldn't be a bad development for the usually-eventually-star-crossed Makarova. Sometimes it's all about kickin' the can down the road, a little bit at a time.

...it was a good day for Flavia Pennetta. Not that that is anything new when she comes to New York.

A year after reaching her first career slam semifinal at Flushing Meadows, the 32-year old is back in the QF for the fifth time in her last six Open appearances. She defeated Casey Dellacqua in the first Round of 16 match completed on Labor Day Monday, then she went right back out a little later for some more rewarding work. In the doubles, Pennetta and Martina Hingis advanced to the final eight there, as well.

...elsewhere in doubles, another high seed was sent packing as #2 Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shual were knocked off by Kimiko Date-Krumm & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova.

With the Women's Doubles QF set, and with the Mixed still to decide three of the semifinalist teams by the end of Monday, there are multiple women alive in multiple draws.

SINGLES/DOUBLES: Makarova, Pennetta, S.Williams
DOUBLES/MIXED: Cara Black, Sania Mirza, Kveta Peschke, Katarina Srebotnik

...in junior action, #1-seeded girl CiCi Bellis got a 1st Round win over Mexico's Renata Zarazua on the Grandstand Court. After signing some autographs, of course.

No, Vika wasn't part of "The Fappening." She posted this herself.

...LIKE FROM DAY 8: A very intriguing Mixed Doubles pair moving onto the semifinals.

...AUTUMN-LIKE FROM DAY 8: The American Experience.

Even if I hate fantasy football, and much prefer the real thing.


Remember when junior champs used to arrive on tour the following year and make a big mark? Yeah, it's been awhile. But 17-year old Belinda Bencic, last year's girls #1 and a two-time junior slam winner, is on the cusp of doing just that at this U.S. Open. She's already knocked off Yanina Wickmayer (a former Open semifinalist), Kurumi Nara (#31 seed), Angelique Kerber (Top 10 & former semifinalist) and Jelena Jankovic (Top 10, an ex-#1 and former Open runner-up), with only unseeded Peng Shuai now standing between her and a maiden slam semifinal berth. Peng is probably the favorite going into that match, but there's a reason the Chinese vet has yet to win an official WTA singles title, and it isn't because she always lives up to her advanced billing.

...HIDDEN MESSAGES FROM DAY 8??: During a CBS Sports informational "Tennis for the Modern World" tidbit (sponsored by esurance) today, the changing of tennis attire was noted, specifically how it's gone from long pants and baggy skirts to outfits that are "just as performance-focused as the players themselves," with "smart clothing" (which track perspiration rates and links the data to smart phones) causing "one-time fashion statements to transform into performance statements." Yeah, yeah. That's all fine and good. But the "fashion statement" phrase was uttered just as a clip of Vika in her '13 monstrosity was shown. Hmmm, coincidence?

...LIKE FROM NIGHT 7: Cool TwitPics from Roger Federer.


...LIKE FROM DAY 8: Petko being Petko.

...and, finally, The Face of Backspin II vs. The Serbian Good Luck Charm tonight on Ashe. Will Vika cross the line and set up a QF match with Ekaterina Makarova, with the possibility of a third straight Open that includes a meeting with Serena maybe awaiting her in the semifinals, or is Krunic not ready to end her career run just yet? Could be a good one. Same with Raonic/Nishikori.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #11 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
(Q) Aleksandra Krunic/SRB or #16 Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #17 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS
Belinda Bencic/SUI vs. Peng Shuai/CHN
#10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN vs. #13 Sara Errani/ITA

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #22 Philipp Kohlschreiber/GER
#8 Andy Murray/GBR def. #9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#16 Tommy Robredo/ESP vs. #3 Stan Wawrinka/SUI
#10 Kei Nishikori/JPN vs. #5 Milos Raonic/CAN
#6 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. Dominic Thiem/AUT
#14 Marin Cilin/CRO vs. #26 Gilles Simon/FRA
#7 Grigor Dimitro/BUL vs. #20 Gael Monfils/FRA
#17 Roberta Bautista-Agut/ESP vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

Hingis/Pennetta (SUI/ITA) vs. #5 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)
#3 C.Black/Mirza (ZIM/IND) vs. Diyas/Y.Xu (KAZ/CHN)
S.Williams/V.Williams (USA/USA) vs. #4 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
#8 Hlavackova/J.Zheng (CZE/CHN) vs. Date-Krumm/Zahlavova-Strycova (JPN/CZE)

#1 B.Bryan/M.Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #7 Marrero/Verdasco (ESP/ESP)
Lipsky/R.Ram (USA/USA) vs. #12 Butorac/Klaasen (USA/RSA)
Berlocq/L.Mayer (ARG/ARG) vs. #4 Dodig/Melo (CRO/BRA)
#11 Granollers-Pujols/M.Lopez (ESP/ESP) vs. #2 Peya/Soares (AUT/BRA)

#1 Mirza/Soares (IND/BRA) vs. #6 Srebotnik/Bopanna (SLO/IND)
YJ.Chan/Hutchins (TPE/GBR) vs. Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL)
Spears/S.Gonzalez (USA/MEX) vs. #3 C.Black/Paes (ZIM/IND)
[wc] Townsend/Young (USA/USA) def. Barty/Peers (AUS/AUS)

**WTA CAREER SLAM QF - active**
33...Venus Williams, USA
21...Maria Sharapova, RUS
15...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
12...Victoria Azarenka, BLR (to play 4th Rd.)
10...Li Na, CHN
10...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL

**WTA SLAM QF - 2010-14**
10...Victoria Azarenka, BLR (to play 4th Rd.)
8...Petra Kvitova, CZE
8...Li Na, CHN
8...Maria Sharapova, RUS
7...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL

[began w/ 2001 Wimbledon]
01 US - Bedanova
02 AO - Ad.Serra-Zanetti
02 RG - Pierce,C.Fernandez,Suarez
02 WI - Likhovtseva
02 US - Bovina
03 AO - Shaughnessy,Ruano-Pascual
03 RG - Pierce
04 WI - Sprem
04 US - Asagoe
05 RG - Karatantcheva
06 AO - Hingis(wc)
06 WI - Bremond(q)
07 AO - S.Williams,Safarova [Serena won title]
07 US - Szavay
08 RG - Kanepi,Suarez-Navarro(q)
08 WI - Zheng(wc),Tanasugarn
09 AO - Dokic(wc),Suarez-Navarro
09 RG - Sharapova,Cirstea
09 WI - Lisicki,Schiavone
09 US - Wickmayer,K.Bondarenko,Oudin,Clijsters(wc) [KC won title]
10 AO - Henin(wc) [Henin reached final]
10 RG - Shvedova
10 WI - Kvitova,Kanepi(q),Pironkova
10 US - Cibulkova
11 WI - Lisicki(wc),Paszek
11 US - Kerber
12 AO - Makarova,Errani
12 RG - Shvedova(q)
12 WI - Paszek
13 AO - Kuznetsova
13 RG - Kuznetsova
13 WI - Kanepi
13 US - Hantuchova
13 US - Pennetta
14 RG - Muguruza
14 WI - Zahlavova-Strycova
14 US - Bencic
14 US - Peng
NOTE: (q)Krunic still to play 4th Rd.

JAN: Petra Kvitova, CZE
FEB: Roberta Vinci, ITA
MAR: Petra Kvitova, CZE
APR: SRB Fed Cup Team
MAY: Petra Kvitova, CZE
RG: Serena Williams, USA
JUN: Serena Williams, USA
JUL: Samantha Stosur, AUS
AUG: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
[2014 Weekly DOWN Player Award Wins]
7...Petra Kvitova, CZE
6...Serena Williams, USA
4...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
4...Sloane Stephens, USA
4...Samantah Stosur, AUS
4...Roberta Vinci, ITA
3...Kaia Kanepi, EST
3...Sabine Lisicki, GER
3...Franesca Schiavone, ITA
3...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2...Jana Cepelova, SVK
2...Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2...Alize Cornet, FRA
2...Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2...Caroline Garcia, FRA
2...Simona Halep, ROU
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2...Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
2...Karin Knapp, ITA
2...Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2...Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
2...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...SRB Fed Cup Team
2...SVK Fed Cup Team

TOP QUALIFIER: #32q Aleksandra Krunic/SRB
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Duan Yingying/CHN d. Irena Pavlovic/FRA 6-3/1-6/7-6(5) [Pavlovic up 5-1 3rd, held MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - (WC) CiCi Bellis/USA d. #12 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK 6-1/4-6/6-4 (Bellis world #1208)
FIRST WINNER: #4 Aga Radwanska/POL (def. S.Fichman/CAN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #25 Garbine Muguruza/ESP (lost to M.Lucic-Baroni/CRO)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: United States (12 Bannerettes 2nd Rd.)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: France (1-5 in 1st Rd.; only win in Pastry-vs.-Pastry match-up)
CRASH & BURN: #12 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (AO runner-up; lost 1st Rd. to Bellis/USA, 15-year old in slam debut)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO (in Round of 16 for first time in 15 years, after family's abusive background<)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 4th Rd.: A.Krunic/SRB, M.Lucic-Baroni/CRO(L)
IT ("Girl"): CiCi Bellis/USA (15-year old Wild Card; youngest MD win since 1996 - Anna Kournikova)
COMEBACK PLAYER: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: S.Errani/ITA, A.Krunic/SRB, B.Bencic/SUI, V.Azarenka/BLR
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: S.Williams/USA

All for now. More later.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

US.7 - Dawn of the Dane

When Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki met on Day 7 in the U.S. Open Round of 16, it was a case of a player who's been struggling to find her form during the summer hard court season going up against the player who's posted the most wins on tour since Wimbledon. No matter the large difference in their grand slam results over the course of their respective careers, in order for the "favored" Russian to advance, both players would have to alter their recent course.

As it turned out, what we've seen over the course of the summer continued to play out at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and it just might have changed the meaning of the word "favorite." Not just at this U.S Open, but for the next phase of the career of the formerly #1-ranked Dane.

In the early going, the sort of slow start that has plagued Sharapova since -- and during -- her Roland Garros title run was back for yet another encore. That Wozniacki, with a tour-best sixteen hard court wins this summer, was busy employing many of her newly-aggressive game tactics only made the noticeable difference between the level of play of the two more stark. The Dane got an early break for 2-0, and led 3-1 as she flashed her willingness to approach the net for volley put-away shots. Still, even in the face of this very different Dane, Sharapova managed a break to close to within 3-2. But then the issues that have been dogging the Russian cropped up yet again -- her inconsistent serve and propensity for errors, especially on her forehand wing.

Sharapova immediately fell down love/40 in game #6. She got to game point, but double-faulted. After saving four break points, Sharapova held. But after taking a 30/love lead on Wozniacki's serve a game later, her ability to close abandoned her. Sharapova couldn't put the game away, and the Dane held for 4-3. In the tenth game of the set, Wozniacki grabbed a 30/love advantage on the Russian's serve. After Sharapova's bad error on a short ball -- her 20th UE in the set -- the game reached double break/set point for Wozniacki. Sharapova error #21 -- another forehand that crashed into the net -- gave Wozniacki the set at 6-4, and forced Sharapova to fight from behind after dropping the opening set for the sixth time in her last ten matches.

In the 2nd set, Sharapova managed the windy conditions, escaping with a tough hold in the second game after opening with a break of serve. For the rest of the set, the Russian's game picked up, but maybe more importantly it was the Dane's lack of forward movement that threatened to put an end to her resurgent summer. Playing the more defensive game that has aggravated so many tennis watchers over the years, Wozniacki was suddenly content once again to simply get the ball back over the net rather than come in behind her shots and hope for an error, or bring Sharapova forward toward the net. As a result, Sharapova dictated the rallies, cutting her error totals (12) and ending points in her customary fashion. Another break of Wozniacki's serve gave the Russian a 3-0 lead, and she pulled away to take the set at 6-2 to knot the match.

After a long break between sets, for which Sharapova was reprimanded for going over the 10-minute limit, it was Wozniacki who reclaimed her now-preferred game. In game #4, Wozniacki won her eighth straight point after a great defensive get from the Dane was netted by Sharapova to give the Dane the break and 3-1 lead. Wozniacki yelled and clenched her first, then turned Connorsesque for a moment, raising her arm in an attempt to stoke the crowd.

"Come on, I do THAT and that's all you've got? Cheer louder!" And the crowd did.

Sudddenly, this was Wozniacki's match to lose. If the Russian was waiting for her opponent to revert to past form, well, she's still waiting. Wozniacki's aggression and willingness to attack when presented with an opportunity were renewed and, not unexpectedly, the tactics continued to pay dividends. Sharapova never really got back into the flow of things. Serving down 5-2, Sharapova's error gave Wozniacki double match point at 40/15. Another backhand error sealed the deal.

Wozniacki's 6-4/2-6/6-2 victory, her third over a Top 10 player this summer, pushes her into a slam QF for the first time since the 2012 Australian Open. She's 17-3 since Wimbledon, and in her current form might just be the favorite to advance to her second career U.S. Open final from the bottom half of the women's draw. With her focus renewed, her head more clear and life a little less cluttered, the Dane, after all these years, might just finally be ready, willing and able to put on a legitimate push to fulfill her grand slam quest. After having difficulty taking down top players on big stages during her years at #1, this win could be the perfect confidence-booster that solidifies in her mind that the tweaks to her game that she resisted for so long DO indeed make her a more viable contender in situations like facing off with a former U.S. Open champ on Ashe for a berth in the second week of a slam.

Meanwhile, for all the success she's had on clay in recent seasons, Sharapova's game hasn't taken to the hard courts in New York for quite a long time. She's reached just one QF since her "Exquisite in the City" championship in 2006, and as she continues to be unable to find ways to remove the errors from her game, the Open will continue to be unforgiving when it comes to future success.

The Dane, though, has life. New life. Finally, Wozniacki's tennis lifeline is looking as if it could grow new wings. Fly, Caro, fly. You once said you "had time."

Well, what better time than right now?

...early in the day on Sunday, Sara Errani continued to thrive in her unofficial role of spoiler/dream crusher at this year's Open. After taking out crowd favorite Venus Williams on Friday, she outlasted underdog/qualifier/life favorite Mirjana Lucic-Baroni today, winning 6-3/2-6/6-0 to advance to her second QF in Flushing Meadows in the last two years.

Played in windy conditions, this is one of those matches that have the sort of stats that kind of make you chuckle, as the Italian's guts and defense helped produce some of the more lopsided numbers you'll ever see in a grand slam event. For the day, Lucic-Baroni led Errani in winners by the tune of 46-4, but her stunning disadvantage in unforced errors (69-9) more than made up the difference. Set by set, Lucic's winner numbers engulfed those of Errani: 1st (17-1), 2nd (20-2), 3rd (9-1). But the same was so for the UE's: 1st (24-1), 2nd (17-5 -- and MJB won that set), 3rd (28-3). The Croat only put in 50% of her 1st serves for the match.

Errani has arguably been the most fired up player at this Open. It's quite a contrast to the forlorn, stressed-out Errani we saw after her angst-heavy 2nd Round exit of a year ago.

...rain delays, the first of this Open, pushed the final two women's Round of 16 matches scheduled for Day 7 -- Jankovic vs. Bencic, Peng vs. Safarova -- into the evening.

...in doubles, the Williams Sisters, with almost shocking ease, dispatched the Spanish duo of Garbine Muguruza & Carla Suarez-Navarro.

The intriguing wild card duo of Taylor Townsend and Donald Young have advanced to the Mixed quarterfinals.

...the junior competition began on Day 7, and one big name has already been ousted, as #5-seed Kristina Schmiedlova, the Wimbledon girls runner-up and Roland Garros quarterfinalist, was upset by Hungary's Anna Bondar. Another young Bannerette, Usue Arconada, defeated unseeded Brit Gabriella Taylor, while her brother Jordi also got a 1st Round victory in the boys competition.

...things are going on away from Flushing Meadows, as well. In Repentigny, Canada the Canadian Open Junior Championship took place over the past week. Swarmette Elena Gabriela Ruse, 16, took the title, defeating Britain's Katie Swan in the final. Ruse also claimed the doubles with Indonesian's Tami Grende, who also won the Wimbledon junior crown last month. Ruse had been in good form lately, also reaching the girls semifinals at Wimbledon and the final at the International Hard Court Championships in College Park, Maryland.

In ITF action, Swiss Conny Perrin swept the singles and doubles titles at the $15K challenger in Bagnatica, Italy. She won the final (career title #8, and third this season) over Italian Anastasia Grymalska, with whom she teamed up to take the doubles. Perrin has won three ITF doubles titles in the past four weeks, and now has twelve for her career.

The Force was with Jana Fett. The 17-year old Croat who reached the Australian Open girls final earlier this season grabbed her first career ITF singles title in the $10K in Ostrava, Czech Republic. 22-year old Swarmette Andreea Mitu, a recent qualifier at Wimbledon, won her fourth circuit title of 2014 in a $25K in Mamaia, Romania; while Dutch Quirine Lemoine claimed her fifth title of the season in the Rotterdam $10K event. Mexico's Marcela Zacarius, 20, won the $10K San Luis Potosi (MEX) event, defeating American Lauren Embree in the final. A week ago, Zacarius reached the final of another Mexican challenger event, losing to countrywoman Victoria Rodriguez in Rosarito Beach. The pair teamed up to win the doubles titles last week, though, and they did it again this time. Zacarius has won six ITF doubles titles this season, five of them with Rodriguez (and they've reached two other finals).

On the sisters front, Slovak Kristina Kucova won the $25K in Fleurus, Belgium with a final victory over Russia's Evgeniya Rodina, while Colombian twins Maria Paulina & Paula Andrea Perez took the doubles in the $10K in Quito, Ecuador.

...DISLIKE FROM DAY 7 / FUTURE LIKE FOR 2016: The "greatest tennis venue in the world" finally gets a roof... in only two more years. Progress takes time, I guess.

...GENIE FROM DAY 7: The art of winning friends and influencing scheduling.

...MORE GENIE FROM DAY 7: Well, we know it's coming. How long before she has a guest-star cameo on "The Big Bang Theory" anyway?

...DISLIKE FROM DAY 7: Mary Carillo talking about the rumors that Li Na may retire during the 4Q Asian swing of the 2014 season. You know the day is coming soon, but it's difficult to not want to put it off for as long as possible. At least until Melbourne. We don't need a second straight season in which a defending slam champion returns the following year having retired since her triumph. That's not a good trend.

...and, finally, Vika returns to the U.S. Open night session schedule on Monday, facing Aleksandra Krunic. Might we finally get the great night session match that has so far eluded this tournament?

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. Kaia Kanepi/EST
#11 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #29 Casey Dellacqua/AUS
(Q) Aleksandra Krunic/SRB vs. #16 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#17 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS vs. #7 Eugenie Bouchard/CAN
Belinda Bencic/SUI vs. #9 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
#14 Lucie Safarova/CZE vs. Peng Shuai/CHN
#10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. #5 Maria Sharapova/RUS
#13 Sara Errani/ITA def. (Q) Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #22 Philipp Kohlschreiber/GER
#9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #8 Andy Murray/GBR
xx vs. #3 Stan Wawrinka/SUI
#10 Kei Nishikori/JPN vs. #5 Milos Raonic/CAN
#6 Tomas Berdych/CZE vs. Dominic Thiem/AUT
#14 Marin Cilin/CRO vs. #26 Gilles Simon/FRA
xx vs. xx
#17 Robert Bautista Agut/ESP vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

Gajdosova/Tomljanovic (AUS/AUS) vs. Hingis/Pennetta (SUI/ITA)
#9 Kudryavtseva/An.Rodionova (RUS/AUS) vs. #5 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)
#3 C.Black/Mirza (ZIM/IND) vs. Jankovic/Koukalova (SRB/CZE)
Diyas/Y.Xu (KAZ/CHN) def. #11 Hradecka/Krajicek (CZE/NED)
S.Williams/V.Williams (USA/USA) def. Muguruza/Suarez-Navarro (ESP/ESP)
#4 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) def. King/Raymond (USA/USA)
#8 Hlavackova/J.Zheng (CZE/CHN) vs. Dabrowski/Rosolska (CAN/POL)
Date-Krumm/Zahlavova-Strycova (JPN/CZE) vs. #2 Hsieh/Peng (CHN/CHN)

#1 B.Bryan/M.Bryan (USA/USA) vs. Klahn/Smyczek (USA/USA)
#9 Rojer/Tecau (NED/ROU) vs. #7 Marrero/Verdasco (ESP/ESP)
Lipsky/R.Ram (USA/USA) def. #3 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)
#12 Butorac/Klaasen (USA/RSA) d. Garcia-Lopez/Oswald (ESP/AUT)
#8 Pospisil/Sock (CAN/USA) vs. Berlocq/L.Mayer (ARG/ARG)
#4 Dodig/Melo (CRO/BRA) d. Fyrstenberg/Matkowski (POL/POL)
#6 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE) vs. #11 Granollers-Pujols/M.Lopez (ESP/ESP)
Kukushkin/Venus (RUS/NZL) vs. #2 Peya/Soares (AUT/BRA)

#1 Mirza/Soares (IND/BRA) vs. #6 Srebotnik/Bopanna (SLO/IND)
YJ.Chan/Hutchins (TPE/GBR) vs. Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL)
Spears/S.Gonzalez (USA/MEX) vs. #3 C.Black/Paes (ZIM/IND)
Barty/Peers (AUS/AUS) vs. [wc] Townsend/Young (USA/USA)

2007 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
2012 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2014 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
AO: Ana Ivanovic, SRB
RG: Andrea Petkovic, GER
WI: Vika's white shorts
US: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

AO: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
RG: Elina Svitolina, UKR
WI: Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
US: Daria Gavrilova, RUS
AO: An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
RG: Ons Jabeur, TUN
WI: Ashleigh Barty, AUS
AO: Grace Min, USA
AO: Taylor Townsend, USA
RG: Annika Beck, GER
WI: Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
US: Samantha Crawford, USA
AO: Ana Konjuh, CRO
RG: Belinda Bencic, SUI
WI: Belinda Bencic, SUI
US: Ana Konjuh, CRO
AO: Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
RG: Darya Kasatkina, RUS
WI: Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
US: ??

JAN: Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
FEB: Veronika Kudermetova, RUS
MAR: Kristina Schmiedlova, SVK
APR: Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
MAY: CiCi Bellis, USA
RG: Darya Kasatkina, RUS
JUN: Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
JUL: Tornado Black, USA
AUG: CiCi Bellis, USA
[2014 Weekly Junior Star Award Wins]
5...Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
4...Paula Badosa Gibert, ESP
4...Kristina Schmiedlova, SVK
4...Iryna Shymanovich, BLR
3...CiCi Bellis, USA
3...Katie Boulter, GBR
3...Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, ESP
3...Varvara Flink, RUS
3...Darya Kasatkina, RUS
3...Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
2...Francoise Abanda, CAN
2...Jana Fett, CRO
2...Ivana Jorovic, SRB
2...Elena Gabriela Ruse, ROU
2...Nina Stojanovic, SRB
2...Fanny Stollar, HUN

TOP QUALIFIER: #32q Aleksandra Krunic/SRB
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Duan Yingying/CHN d. Irena Pavlovic/FRA 6-3/1-6/7-6(5) [Pavlovic up 5-1 3rd, held MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - (WC) CiCi Bellis/USA d. #12 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK 6-1/4-6/6-4 (Bellis world #1208)
FIRST WINNER: #4 Aga Radwanska/POL (def. S.Fichman/CAN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #25 Garbine Muguruza/ESP (lost to M.Lucic-Baroni/CRO)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: United States (12 Bannerettes 2nd Rd.)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: France (1-5 in 1st Rd.; only win in Pastry-vs.-Pastry match-up)
CRASH & BURN: #12 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (AO runner-up; lost 1st Rd. to Bellis/USA, 15-year old in slam debut)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO (in Round of 16 for first time in 15 years, after family's abusive background<)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 4th Rd.: A.Krunic/SRB, M.Lucic-Baroni/CRO(L)
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: Serena Williams/USA (in 4th Rd.)
IT ("Girl"): CiCi Bellis/USA (15-year old Wild Card; youngest MD win since 1996 - Anna Kournikova)
COMEBACK PLAYER: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: J.Jankovic/SRB, S.Errani/ITA, A.Krunic/SRB, B.Bencic/SUI, E.Bouchard/CAN
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: S.Williams/USA, E.Bouchard/CAN

All for now. More tomorrow.


US 6.5 - A List for All Occasions

The Round of 16 field is set, and you know what that means.

[by ranking]
#1 - Serena Williams
#6 - Maria Sharapova
#8 - Eugenie Bouchard
#10 - Jelena Jankovic
#11 - Caroline Wozniacki
#12 - Flavia Pennetta
#14 - Sara Errani
#15 - Lucie Safarova
#17 - Victoria Azarenka
#18 - Ekaterina Makarova
#32 - Casey Dellacqua
#39 - Peng Shuai
#50 - Kaia Kanepi
#58 - Belinda Bencic
#121 - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
#145 - Aleksandra Krunic
[by age]
32...Serena Williams
32...Flavia Pennetta
32...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
29...Casey Dellacqua
29...Jelena Jankovic
29...Kaia Kanepi
28...Peng Shuai
27...Lucie Safarova
27...Maria Sharapova
27...Sara Errani
26...Ekaterina Makarova
25...Victoria Azarenka
24...Caroline Wozniacki
21...Aleksandra Krunic
20...Eugenie Bouchard
17...Belinda Bencic
[by nation]
2...Italy (Errani, Pennetta)
2...Russia (Makarova, Sharapova)
2...Serbia (Jankovic, Krunic)
1...Australia (Dellacqua)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...Canada (Bouchard)
1...China (Peng)
1...Croatia (Lucic-Baroni)
1...Czech Republic (Safarova)
1...Denmark (Wozniacki)
1...Estonia (Kanepi)
1...Switzerland (Bencic)
1...United States (S.Williams)
[by career slam Round-of-16's]
46...Serena Williams
32...Maria Sharapova
21...Jelena Jankovic
18...Victoria Azarenka
15...Caroline Wozniacki
12...Flavia Pennetta
8...Ekaterina Makarova
6...Sara Errani
6...Kaia Kanepi
6...Peng Shuai
5...Lucie Safarova
4...Eugenie Bouchard
2...Casey Dellacqua
2...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
1...Belinda Bencic
1...Aleksandra Krunic
[by consecutive slam Round of 16's]
4...Eugenie Bouchard
4...Maria Sharapova
3...Lucie Safarova
2...Ekaterina Makarova
2...Peng Shuai
2...Caroline Wozniacki
[by career US Round of 16's]
14...Serena Williams
5...Jelena Jankovic
5...Flavia Pennetta
5...Maria Sharapova
5...Caroline Wozniacki
4...Victoria Azarenka
2...Sara Errani
2...Kaia Kanepi
2...Ekaterina Makarova
2...Peng Shuai
1...Belinda Bencic
1...Eugenie Bouchard
1...Casey Dellacqua
1...Aleksandra Krunic
1...Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
1...Lucie Safarova
[by consecutive US Round of 16's]
4...Serena Williams (4th Rd. in last 14 app.)
3...Victoria Azarenka
2...Jelena Jankovic
2...Ekaterina Makarova
2...Flavia Pennetta (4th Rd. in last 3 app.)
1...Maria Sharapova (4th Rd. in last 2 app.)
[by preseason "Grand Slam Master List" rankings]
1 - Serena Williams
2 - Victoria Azarenka
4 - Maria Sharapova
10 - Sara Errani
13 - Jelena Jankovic
14 - Flavia Pennetta
16 - Caroline Wozniacki
19 - Ekaterina Makarova
20 - Eugenie Bouchard
24 - Kaia Kanepi
46 - Peng Shuai
47 - Lucie Safarova
unlisted - Belinda Bencic
unlisted - Casey Dellacqua
unlisted - Aleksandra Krunic
unlisted - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
[WTA career slam Round of 16's - active]
40...Venus Williams
27...Svetlana Kuznetsova
21...Nadia Petrova
20...Agnieszka Radwanska
18...Ana Ivanovic
18...Francesca Schiavone
[WTA slam Round of 16's since 2010 - active]
12...Agnieszka Radwanska
10...Angelique Kerber
10...Petra Kvitova
10...Li Na
9...Ana Ivanovic
9...Svetlana Kuznetsova
9...Francesca Schiavone
(use for end of rd of 16's)
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's - youngest]
17 - Belinda Bencic (US)*
19 - Eugenie Bouchard (AO)
19 - Tereza Smitkova (WI)
20 - Eugenie Bouchard (RG)
20 - Eugenie Bouchard (WI)
20 - Eugenie Bouchard (US)*
20 - Garbine Muguruza (AO)
20 - Garbine Muguruza (RG)
20 - Ajla Tomljanovic (RG)
20 - Sloane Stephens (AO)
20 - Zarina Diyas (WI)
21 - Sloane Stephens (RG)
21 - Aleksandra Krunic (US)*
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's - oldest]
32 - Serena Williams (AO)
32 - Serena Williams (US)*
32 - Flavia Pennetta (US)*
32 - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (US)*
31 - Li Na (AO)
31 - Flavia Pennetta (AO)
30 - Samantha Stosur (RG)
29 - Casey Dellacqua (US)*
29 - Jelena Jankovic (RG)
29 - Jelena Jankovic (US)*
29 - Kaia Kanepi (US)*
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's - unseeded]
AO - Casey Dellacqua, AUS (WC)
AO - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
RG - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
RG - Pauline Parmentier, FRA (WC)
RG - Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
RG - Kiki Bertens, NED (Q)
WI - Zarina Diyas, KAZ
WI - Peng Shuai, CHN
WI - Tereza Smitkova, CZE (Q)
WI - Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
WI - Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
US - Belinda Bencic, SUI
US - Kaia Kanepi, EST
US - Aleksandra Krunic, SRB (Q)
US - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO (Q)
US - Peng Shuai, CHN
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's - 1st-time GS 4th Rd.'s]
AO - Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
AO - Garbine Muguruza, ESP
RG - Kiki Bertens, NED
RG - Pauline Parmentier, FRA
RG - Ajla Tomljanovic, CRO
WI - Zarina Diyas, KAZ
WI - Tereza Smitkova, CZE
WI - Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
US - Belinda Bencic, SUI
US - Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's - lowest-ranked]
#175 - Tereza Smitkova, CZE (WI)
#148 - Kiki Bertens, NED (RG)
#145 - Pauline Parmentier, FRA (RG)
#145 - Aleksandra Krunic, SRB (US)*
#121 - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO (US)*
#120 - Casey Dellacqua, AUS (AO)
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's]
3...Simona Halep, ROU
3...Angelique Kerber, GER
2...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2...Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2...Sloane Stephens, USA
[2014 slam Rd. of 16's - by nation]
8 - Russia
6 - Czech Republic
5 - Germany, Serbia
4 - Canada, Italy, United States
3 - Australia, China, Romania, Spain,
2 - Belarus, Denmark, Croatia, France, Kazakhstan, Poland
1 - Estonia, Netherlands, Slovak Republic, Switzerland


...the junior competition starts tomorrow. Guess who's the top-seeded girl...

1.CiCi Bellis, USA
2.Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
3.Iryna Shymanovich, BLR
4.Tornado Alicia Black, USA
5.Kristina Schmiedlova, SVK
6.Jil Teichmann, SUI
7.Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, ESP
8.Paula Badosa Gibert, ESP
9.Anhelina Kalinina, UKR
10.Marketa Vondrousova, CZE
11.Anna Kalinskaya, RUS
12.Anastasiya Komardina, RUS
13.Naiktha Bains, AUS
14.Ipek Soylu, TUR
15.Ioana Loredana Rosca, ROU
16.Olga Fridman, UKR

13 Final: Konjuh d. T.Black

#1 Bellis d. #5 K.Schmiedlova
#9 Kalinina d. #3 Shymanovich
#4 T.Black d. #10 Vondrousova
#2 Ostapenko d. #11 Kalinskaya
#1 Bellis d. #9 Kalinina
#4 T.Black d. #2 Ostapenko
#1 Bellis d. #4 T.Black

...normally, after a junior has a "moment" like Bellis did in the women's draw, they'll go out earlier than expected in the girls draw. But Bellis seemed a bit different, so I'll go with her, I guess. At the very least, it keeps me from picking Ostapenko at ALL FOUR slams this year.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. Kaia Kanepi/EST
#11 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #29 Casey Dellacqua/AUS
(Q) Aleksandra Krunic/SRB vs. #16 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#17 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS vs. #7 Eugenie Bouchard/CAN
Belinda Bencic/SUI vs. #9 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
#14 Lucie Safarova/CZE vs. Peng Shuai/CHN
#5 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
#13 Sara Errani/ITA vs. (Q) Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO

All for Night 6. More tomorrow.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

US.6 - Good Luck Has Nothing to Do with It

New York is the Serbian Good Luck Charm Aleksandra Krunic's very own good luck charm. For Petra Kvitova? Yeah, not so much.

The little Serb with the big heart, 21-year old Krunic has been a Backspin favorite for a while now. Mostly, though, she's been a doubles star. Specifically in Fed Cup play. During Serbia's historic run to the 2012 Fed Cup final, the Moscow-born (and famed Spartak Club-trained) Krunic was the team's good luck charm, taking part in multiple victories during the series of tie-deciding doubles matches that gradually -- and dramatically -- pushed the team through each round. Since the start of 2013, though, the Serbian team has mostly failed to include Krunic on the roster, usually in favor of a newly-Serbian Vesna Dolonc, who had no FC history to speak of and who has performed poorly when called upon. It's been something of a karmic victory for all things right and "good-lucky" that ever since the Serbs started to throw anyone and everyone with "SRB" by their name onto FC rosters instead of (the now-only-added-to-the-roster-if-multiple-players-get-injured) Krunic, Serbia has yet to win a single tie. Their most recent loss to Romania in the World Group II Playoffs this past spring gives Team Serbia five straight tie defeats since reaching the final with Krunic in attendance and as an important contributor. The team's fall back into zone play in '15 is now complete. Serves them right.

Meanwhile, Krunic has gone about putting together an ever-improving singles career. Since the start of the 2013 season, Krunic has put away a pair of ITF titles, running her career mark in singles finals to 8-2. A year ago, she qualified for her first career slam main draw at the U.S. Open. She lost in the 1st Round, but last week she returned to Flushing Meadows and qualified again. Things have gone much differently in the main draw this time around. After opening with a win in her Open debut over Paula Kania, she moved up a level by taking out #27-seed Madison Keys in the 2nd Round for the biggest win of her career, showing surprising pop on her shots and serve, while never giving an inch in the area of competitiveness against the Bannerette.

Going up against Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova seemed as if it would be whole different ball of wax. As it turned out, though, it wasn't.

Kvitova has never reached the quarterfinals in New York. The chaos of the city and tournament grounds rub right up against her shy personal nature, and the humid U.S. east coast summer weather plays additional havoc with her asthmatic condition. Oh, and her post-Wimbledon title results have often left something to be desired, too. She didn't handle her new fame well three years ago after her first SW19 win, and she didn't play particularly well this summer on hard courts, either. Yes, she won in New Haven, but all the big names lost early and she was the only seed to reach the final eight in Connecticut. It was a hard court season-salvaging week in Connecticut for her, but it really didn't necessarily mean anything when it came to her chances at having her best ever U.S. Open. That said, she opened well, dominating in her first two matches in Flushing Meadows. But what was she going to do when the weather started to heat up, and so did her opponent?

That's what happened today... and Petra's bad history repeated itself.

With Krunic, though she showed great respect for Kvitova's tour statue after the match, giving no ground between the lines, the Serb dared the Czech to take the match. Employing good defense and a decided lack of fear, Krunic reached break point on Kvitova's serve in the ninth game of the match, firing a backhand winner down the line. Kvitova, looking pushed to the limit already, with sweat soaking through her clothes and dripping off her forehead, double-faulted to give Krunic the chance to serve for the set. Appearing fresh as a proverbial daisy in a field, the Serb used her defensive skills to make Kvitova play long points. With errors creeping into the Czech's game, the Serb won the long rallies and then threw in a drop shot to force Kvitova to race to retrieve it. Reaching the ball, she put it into the net to give Krunic set point, then fired a forehand wide to decide the matter. Krunic led 6-4.

Kvitova went up 2-0 in the 2nd, but Krunic didn't blink or back down. When the Czech failed to convert a game point for a 3-0 lead, Krunic got the break to get back on serve. A game later, the Serb sprayed an overhead and was break point down, but she saved it with a drop shot and open court winner. As Kvitova couldn't stop the errors from coming, Krunic held for 2-2. A game later, another long Kvitova forehand gave her opponent a break lead at 3-2, as the look of panic and desperation on the Czech's face was apparent. Trying to pump herself up with her patented, winner-punctuating shouts, Kvitova did enough to possibly break the will of less willful competitors. But not Krunic. The Serb refused to give the match momentum back, and challenged Kvitova to make the shots to the end long rallies in order to TAKE it.

Krunic went up a break at 3-2, then Kvitova saved two break points to hold and close to 4-3. After another drop shot, Krunic missed a passing shot and faced a break point, which the Czech converted for 4-4. But while Kvitova continued to visibly become drained in the heat, Krunic was no wilting flower. Great defensive gets helped produce a Kvitova error with a long forehand to reach break point. After failing on her first try, Krunic got a second BP chance courtesy of a backhand pass. A wild Kvitova backhand sailed long and the Serb got the break for a 5-4 lead.

By this point, Krunic was now the strong breeze, not the flower. Another drop shot gave her a 40/love lead a game later, reaching triple match point. After not getting the first, the Serb had no problem coming back a point later and stringing Kvitova along in a long rally until the Czech fired another errant forehand wide, giving Krunic the biggest win of her career via a 6-4/6-4 scoreline, a second win over a Petra at this tournament (Martic, in qualifying), and a trip to her first major Round of 16.

While Kvitova's summer hard court season ends with old/new questions about her (in)ability to live up to her ranking (she had a chance to end this Open as the #1-ranked player) anywhere outside the All-England Club, Krunic has no problem embracing chaos. Why, she's played doubles with her, after all.

Speaking of Jelena Jankovic, Krunic surely has seemed to pick up a few traits of her countrywomen over the years. Her hustle and affinity for doing splits on the court are very JJ, while her speed-talking post-match English interviews are reminscent of Ana Ivanovic. Why, she's even adopted the pulled-back-tight ponytail look of Queen Chaos, even if ol' QC isn't really sporting it at this Open. If she hadn't already won a slew of fans with her play, Krunic likely grabbed them with her on-court interview afterward. Dutifully respectful to Kvitova, having watched her at Wimbledon, she said she didn't think she really had a chance to win against the Czech. Able to be funny in one of multiple languages, Krunic might just be not only the Serbian Good Luck Charm, but a charm for many others, as well.

For once, karma has aided the slight, #145-ranked Serb. Her new coaching relationship with Branislav Jevremovic -- this is their first tournament together -- seems like pure kismet, and she's now exceeding even her own goals for herself by a wide margin. In a recently-conducted "Getting to Know" interview with Krunic on the tour's website, she stated her "short-term goal" as being able to reach the main draw at her favorite slam in Melbourne. As far as "long-term," it was to be Top 50 by the end of next year. Well, it all seemed reasonable, and maybe even overly optimistic, at the time, I guess.

Hmmm, maybe now Krunic won't even have to wonder whether or not she'll be on the 2015 Serbian Fed Cup roster. Imagine that. Actually, come to think of it, when she gets the call early next year, maybe Krunic should just say, "No thanks, I'm busy that weekend." If the team captain questions her change of heart, she can just say it's something she learned in New York.

She didn't find good luck in the city. It finally found her.

...the best thing about Vika Azarenka's win today over Elena Vesnina is that it went by so fast that before I'd realized that the match had started (hey, it was college football's opening weekend, as well, you know) it was already over. Azarenka, picking up steam with each victory, won 6-1/6-1 in less than hour. While she saved the only two break points she faced against the Hordette, she converted all five she held on Vesnina's serve. It's Azarenka's 100th career slam match win.

She'll get Krunic next, as Serbian Good Luck meets Vika Verisimilitude. May the best Backspin fave win.

...as ATP Backspin's Galileo West pointed out to me the other day, Casey Dellacqua is having a pretty good year in singles. So true, even if it maybe has gone hand in hand with a doubles campaign (w/ Ashleigh Barty) that hasn't flown quite as high as last season (after reaching the '13 final, the Aussies lost in the 1st Round in '14). Dellacqua is still alive in singles, though, reaching her second career slam Round of 16 today (the other came seven months ago in Melbourne) with a 6-3/3-6/6-4 win over Karolina Pliskova. The Czech serving monster out-aced Dellacqua 11-1, but Casey put up just enough points everywhere else (92-89 for the match) to outlast countrywoman -- and higher-ranked, for now -- Sam Stosur at the third grand slam this season. With Dellacqua now assured of passing #30 and achieving another singles career-high, she isn't that far off from becoming the highest-ranked Aussie in both doubles AND singles.

...Flavia Pennetta's affinity for New York continues, as the Italian advanced to the Round of 16 for the fifth time in her last six Open appearances, ousting "Last Wild Card Standing" Nicole Gibbs in straight sets. Gibbs leaves Queens in a very good mood, though...

Serena Williams is the "Last Bannerette Standing." Of course, she should be, I guess, considering she's now eliminated three countrywomen through the first three rounds of this U.S. Open. Today's victim was naturaliz-... sorry, I thought that was her actual name... fellow American Varvara Lepchenko, who lost 6-3/6-3. She'll next face Kaia Kanepi, who took out Carla Suarez-Navarro. Kanepi sometimes is unable to complete the deal in big matches, but if she's "on" that could turn out to be a very interesting match against Serena.

Meanwhile, two days after dispatching 15-year old CiCi Bellis, Zarina Diyas wasn't able to follow up with a win over Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian defeated the Kazakh in straight sets, reaching her second straight slam Round of 16.

...in doubles, a big upset came today in the form of top-seeded Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci losing in three sets to Aussies Jarmila Gajdosova & Ajla Tomljanovic. #2 Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai advanced, along with Martina Hingis & Pennetta, who all advanced to the Round of 16. the Original Swiss Miss, by the way, is still seeking her first slam title of any kind since winning the 2002 Australian Open with fellow "Spice Girls Doubles" partner Anna Kournikova.

...THIS JUST IN: JJ will play under the lights on Ashe on Sunday night! Yes, sir... and ma'am. Bencic gets her first big stage spotlight there, too.

...meanwhile, with no HUGE comeback situations, the "Zombie Queen" award has so far gone unfilled. While Errani, for her win after seeing Venus Williams serving up 5-3 in the 3rd, is a candidate. But since I don't think I can award the much-deserved "Comeback" honor to a very deserving Mirjana Lucic-Baroni after her return to the spotlight after fifteen years away or in the background for reasons beyond her control -- I already gave her a slam comeback award at Wimbledon three years ago when she beginning to slowly rebuild her career -- I think I'll go with the 32-year old Croat for "ZQ," for very different reasons than normally decide who gets it. And I'm perfectly fine with that.

Lurking, but, progressively with each and every round, not nearly as quietly.

...LIKE FROM DAY 6: Arvidsson, sounding very Vika (and Sania) like.

...WORTH NOTING FROM DAY 6: It's Andy Roddick's birthday...

Roddick might have been both the luckiest and unluckiest player in recent memory. Unlucky, of course, because he came of age in the era of "The Big 3" or, on occasionally, "Big 4." And lucky because he was fortunate enough to at least slip ONE slam win in before the "dark ages" would arrive for anyone not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray.

For the women, Hana Mandlikova has to be in the "most unlucky" running, being faced with a career where she was constantly looking up at Navratilova and Evert in the rankings. Still, though, she won four slam titles at three different majors (and twice reached the Wimbledon final... losing to both women). Of course, her career high point came in New York in 1985, when she defeated both Chris & Martina to win her only U.S. Open title.

...LIKE FROM DAY 6: Anna C. continues to prowl the Open.

...LIKE/EYE ROLL FROM DAY 6: CBS Sports' broadcast open -- in the final year in which the network will hold TV rights, as ESPN takes over the full package in '15 -- included a "Who's Who?" montage of all the great players and voices of the last forty-six years. It started with Bud Collins! Good stuff.

Of course, then a few minutes later Bill MacAtee introduced the upcoming Serena/Lepchenko match by noting how Lepchenko was born in Uzbekistan but now represents the U.S. First, since she listed her nationality as being American in 2007, and began to represent the U.S. in 2011, it's not really "news." But, really, did the networks share an inter-office memo that commands everyone to note that Lepchenko wasn't born on American soil every time she plays a slam match? And what would they do if Lepchenko played Anna Tatishvili, the Georgia-born (and not the U.S. Georgia, either) player who only recently began playing under the U.S. flag -- spend the entire match talking about Uzbeki and Georgian geography?

No, of course not -- they'd probably just mention "Georgia" as often as possible, hoping the viewers would think Tatishvili grew up on Peach Tree Aventue in Atlanta. Or maybe Peach Tree Boulevard. Or quite possibly Peach Tree Way.

...WHEN IN DOUBT FROM DAY 6: Get new hair...

...WHEN IN RETIREMENT FROM DAY 6: ...or go to a spa, like Dinara.

...INTERESTING FROM DAY 5/6: Last night's win by Maria Sharapova over Sabine Lisicki (which means at least one Russian has advanced to the Round of 16 at 56 of 57 slams, by the way) makes her 18-0 in Ashe night matches, just two off Pete Sampras' record. Of note, though, is that she's only played forty TOTAL U.S. Open matches, meaning nearly half her total matches in New York have seen her given the star treatment of a night session showcase under the lights. I guess that'll happen when you enter the fray as a 17-year old star, and a decade later you've never stepped out of the spotlight.

Roger Federer, for example, who is now 26-1 on Ashe at night, has played eighty total U.S. Open matches. So his night match-to-total match percentage is very good, but it's not quite Sharapovian.

...with one 3rd Round match remaining, Genie Bouchard's Ashe Court (yep, she's getting the Sharapova treatment... this is her second night appearance in five career Open matches) meeting with Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, I'll be back later tonight with the traditional "You Show Me Your List, I'll Show You Mine" post highlighting all the important stats regarding all of this slam's final sixteen survivors.

...and, finally, some comments from Lucic-Baroni's emotional press conference the other day:

"I feel goofy right now. I feel like I'm 15 now. I feel so excited. It's crazy. I'm 32, but I don't feel like that. My body is really great. That's really important. I feel fit. I feel strong in my mind. I feel very excited, even after so many years on tour. That's what I find really -- exciting is not the word. Kind of surprising a little bit. I still have so much desire, so much to play. I have such an amazing husband and such a happy life at home that I don't need to do this. I would be perfectly fine having a family. But people don't realize how much I want this and how hard I worked for this. Yeah, it's these moments in these last two weeks that are just -- I mean, it's what I work for. It's just so fulfilling, so amazing."

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. Kaia Kanepi/EST
#11 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #29 Casey Dellacqua/AUS
(Q) Aleksandra Krunic/SRB vs. #16 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#17 Ekaterina Makarova/RUS vs. xx
Belinda Bencic/SUI vs. #9 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
#14 Lucie Safarova/CZE vs. Peng Shuai/CHN
#5 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
#13 Sara Errani/ITA vs. (Q) Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. xx
#9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA vs. #8 Andy Murray/GBR
xx vs. xx
#10 Kei Nishikori/JPN vs. #5 Milos Raonic/CAN
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

2008 Serena Williams (W)
2009 Serena Williams (SF)
2010 Venus Williams (SF)
2011 Serena Williams (RU)
2012 Serena Williams (W)
2013 Serena Williams (W)
2014 Serena Williams (in 4th Rd.)

AO: Venus Williams (3rd)
RG: Vania King & Bethanie Mattek-Sands (3rd)
WI: Serena Williams (4th)
US: Serena Williams (RU)
AO: Serena Williams (4th)
RG: Sloane Stephens (4th) & Varvara Lepchenko (4th)
WI: Serena Williams (W)
US: Serena Williams (W)
AO: Sloane Stephens (SF)
RG: Serena Williams (W)
WI: Sloane Stephens (QF)
US: Serena Williams (W)
AO: Sloane Stephens & Serena Williams (4th)
RG: Sloane Stephens (4th)
WI: L.Davis, M.Keys, A.Riske, S.Williams, V.Williams (3rd)
US: Serena Williams (in 4th Rd.)

JAN: Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
FEB: Belinda Bencic, SUI
MAR: Elina Svitolina, UKR
APR: Donna Vekic, CRO
MAY: Monica Puig, PUR
RG: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
JUN: Madison Keys, USA
JUL: Elina Svitolina, UKR
AUG: Elina Svitolina, UKR
[2014 Weekly Fresh Face Award Wins]
8...Belinda Bencic, SUI
4...Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
4...Lauren Davis, USA
4...Zarina Diyas, KAZ
4...Madison Keys, USA
4...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
4...Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
4...Elina Svitolina, UKR
4...Taylor Townsend, USA
3...Jana Cepelova, SVK
3...Ana Konjuh, CRO
3...Sachia Vickery, USA
2...Annika Beck, GER
2...Vicky Duval, USA
2...Camila Giorgi, ITA
2...Anett Kontaveit, EST
2...Grace Min, USA
2...Kurumi Nara, JPN
2...Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
2...Alison Riske, USA
2...Shelby Rogers, USA
2...Ajla Tomljanovic, AUS
2...Coco Vandeweghe, USA

TOP QUALIFIER: #32q Aleksandra Krunic/SRB
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Duan Yingying/CHN d. Irena Pavlovic/FRA 6-3/1-6/7-6(5) [Pavlovic up 5-1 3rd, held MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - (WC) CiCi Bellis/USA d. #12 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK 6-1/4-6/6-4 (Bellis world #1208)
FIRST WINNER: #4 Aga Radwanska/POL (def. S.Fichman/CAN)
FIRST SEED OUT: #25 Garbine Muguruza/ESP (lost to M.Lucic-Baroni/CRO)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
REVELATION LADIES: United States (12 Bannerettes 2nd Rd.)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: France (1-5 in 1st Rd.; only win in Pastry-vs.-Pastry match-up)
CRASH & BURN: #12 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (AO runner-up; lost 1st Rd. to Bellis/USA, 15-year old in slam debut)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO (in Round of 16 for first time in 15 years, after family's abusive background<)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: In 4th Rd.: A.Krunic/SRB, M.Lucic-Baroni/CRO
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: Serena Williams/USA (in 4th Rd.)
IT ("Girl"): CiCi Bellis/USA (15-year old Wild Card; youngest MD win since 1996 - Anna Kournikova)
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: C.Wozniacki/DEN, J.Jankovic/SRB
BROADWAY-BOUND: Nominee: J.Jankovic/SRB, S.Errani/ITA, A.Krunic/SRB, B.Bencic/SUI
LADY OF THE EVENING: Nominee: M.Sharapova/RUS, S.Williams/USA

All for now. More later.