Tuesday, September 01, 2015

US.2 - They Almost Had Paris, but Not New York


After six seeds fell on Day 1 (three in the Top 10), things picked right up where they left off early on Tuesday, courtesy of Lucie Safarova and Timea Bacsinszky.

In June, the two women came within a Serena-Williams-teetering-on-the-edge-of-oblivion moment in the semifinals against Bacsinszky from meeting to decide the Roland Garros title in one of the more unexpected slam final match-ups in recent memory. As it was, Timea lost to Williams that day, and then Safarova did the same in her maiden slam final appearance two days later.

In New York, Serena is trying to win her fourth major title of 2015. But Safarova and Bacsinszky won't have anything to say about the outcome.



#6 Safarova, just a few days after defeating Lesia Tsurenko in the New Haven semifinals, couldn't pull off the feat again. Sometimes Tsurenko gets that look on her face that says, "Don't get in my way." And that was pretty much the tone of this match, as the two were tied at 2-2 in the 1st... and then Tsurenko just took over, winning ten of the final twelve games, including going up a double-break at 4-0 in the 2nd. She ultimately won 6-4/6-1, notching her fifth Top 10 win of 2015, but her first career U.S. Open main draw victory. Tsurenko out-pointed Safarova 63-41 on the day, as the not-on-it-at-all Czech committed more than twice as many (33-15) unforced errors.

Oh, and it WASN'T the shoes this time, either. While everyone else seems to be wearing florescent colored shoes at this Open, as the Ukrainian did last week, today Tsurenko simply wore plain, white footwear. The power of simplicity, I guess.



Meanwhile, it was an even worse day for #14 Bacsinszky, playing in more than relative obscurity on Court 9 versus Barbora Strycova. The match wasn't even available for streaming on the ESPN3 list of matches and the match stats didn't include winners/unforced errors, so I'm assuming that it's a non-TV court... and for a 2015 slam semifinalist and one of the best stories of the season, too. Good work, USTA. Of course, considering how things went, maybe anonymity was for the best for Timea, as she lost 7-5/6-0, dropping serve eight straight times to end the match.

Bacsinszky had actually held for 1-0 to start things off, then neither woman could find a way to hold. After seven straight combined breaks of serve, the Swiss served for the set at 5-3... but she was then the victim of an eighth straight break in the set. After Strycova broke the string and held, Bacsinszky was broken again, then Strycova held at love to take the 1st at 7-5. Bacsinszky didn't win another game, going out 7-5/6-0 as the Czech swamped her to the tune of a 63-37 advantage in points. The victory ends Strycova's three-match '15 losing streak in the majors.

Bacsinszky, such a great story all season, has had a miserable summer since leaving Wimbledon. This is her fifth consecutive loss, including going 0-4 on summer hard courts. Not. Good.

But she's survived worse.



=DAY 2 NOTES=
...things settled down on Day 2 after the early spate of (more) upsets. Especially at the very TOP of the bottom half of the draw, things were MORE than a bit quiet on Tuesday.


After #1 Serena Williams had a short work day/night on Ashe on Monday, with Vitalia Diatchenko retiring after eight games (6-0/2-0), #2 Simona Halep had a similar experience on Day 2. Her 1st Round opponent, Marina Erakovic, retired after eleven games today, as the Swarmette advanced 6-2/3-0.

#4 Caroline Wozniacki, somewhat forgotten as the actual RUNNER-UP last year, easily advanced past NCAA champion Jamie Loeb 6-2/6-0; while #20 Victoria Azarenka handled Lucie Hradecka 6-1/6-2. Vika was an Open finalist in 2012-13, and reached the QF a year ago. More reasons why you shouldn't overlook Azarenka at this Open.



#11 Angelique Kerber, the Stanford champ earlier this summer, put away Alexandra Dulgheru 6-3/6-1 in a little over an hour, winning in the 1st Round of a slam for the fifteenth time in the last sixteen. She's reached at least the 3rd Round in fourteen of the last sixteen.

...while the top half of he draw had its share of blown matches yesterday, #29 Irina-Camelia Begu stepped up in the first wave of Day 2 matches to help the bottom half keep pace.

The Romanian dropped the opening set to Belarusian Olga Govortsova 6-1, but quickly rebounded to take the 2nd at love and race to a 4-1 lead in the 3rd. She held a MP at 5-2, and served for the match at 5-3. But Govortsova broke serve, then took things to a tie-break. She won it 7-3, downing Begu 6-1/0-6/7-6(3), advancing the U.S. Open 2nd Round for just the second time in the last seven years (the 27-year old had a 3rd Round result in '12).

Later, Laura Robson did her part, as well. Shockingly, Hordette Elena Vesnina was the beneficiary of a 3rd set collapse, rather than being the perpetrator of one, as is often the case.

Robson, in the draw with a protected ranking, led the Russian 4-0 in the 3rd, only to lose seven of the last eight games of the match as Vesnina won 3-6/6-3/7-5. She hit an ace to give herself a match point, then Robson sailed a return to end things. Robson, who is now 2-7 in '15 after returning this summer after a year and a half absence following wrist surgery, hasn't won a main draw match at a slam since the 2013 U.S. Open. As the #30 seed, the Brit won a 2nd Rounder over Caroline Garcia in Flushing Meadows two years ago before losing a round later to Li Na. Robson is currently ranked #618.

...in the afternoon, 18-year old qualifier Jelena Ostapenko took out Germany's Annika Beck. Beck was a up a break on three different occasions in the 3rd set, but Ostapenko got the break back in the next game each time. The last break-back got things even at 4-4, then the Latvian held at 15, then broke Beck again (also at 15) to win the match 6-4/1-6/6-4. Last year's Wimbledon girls champ, Ostapenko got her first career slam MD win at Wimbledon earlier this summer (as a wild card), and has now added her first Open victory, as well.



Ostapenko's win continues the strength of the Baltic nations at this slam. On Day 1, Estonia's Anett Kontaveit and Kaia Kanepi both advanced.

...oh, if only the match was played at Wimbledon, things might have been different.

Tsvetana Pironkova, who hasn't exactly built on the first career tour title she won in Sydney at the start of 2014, looked as if she was going to get a good Open (not Wimbledon!) win over Mona Barthel today. But then, well, she didn't.

The Bulgarian took the 1st set 7-5, breaking the German on her eighth BP/SP of the twelfth game, then led 5-2 in the 2nd set. She served at 5-3, but failed to put the match away. She led 3-1 in the eventual tie-break, too, but Barthel ultimately won it 7-4. Then Pironkova fell behind 5-0 in the 3rd.

Every time something like that happens, you sort of keep your eye on it... you know, just in case a MAJOR collapse comes about. It didn't here, though. Barthel won 5-7/7-6(4)/6-1 to reach the Open 2nd Round for the fourth time in her career. She's never advances beyond that point, though.

...Wimbledon runner-up Garbine Muguruza didn't suffer the same fate as Bacsinszky today, as the Spaniard DID get her first win since leaving London. After going 0-2 in the summer hard court season, then dismissing her coach, the 21-year old took down Carina Witthoeft 6-2/6-4 today to record her first career U.S. Open match victory.

Meanwhile, #18 Andrea Petkovic was very Petko today, while Caroline Garcia was very, well, Caroline Garcia.

Garcia won the 1st set 6-3 against the German, and held four break points at 3-3 to grab an advantage in the 2nd. But Petkovic battled and held for 4-3, then Garcia was eventually broken in game #10 as Petko took the 2nd at 6-4. In the 3rd, again, Garcia found herself on the edge of grabbing hold of the match, only to fail to convert. Up 4-2, she held a BP for a 5-2 lead, but the German held and forced the Pastry to continue to hold serve if she wanted to play in the 2nd Round.

Not shockingly, considering her shaky past in such moments, Garcia wasn't able to do it.

Petkovic went up 40/love on Garcia's serve in game #8, breaking to get back on serve at 4-4. After Petko held to take a 6-5 lead, Garcia had to hold to stay in the match and force a deciding tie-break. In a tight game #12, Petkovic went up 30/15, only to see Garcia fire an ace to avoid a deep hole. Still, Petko got to match point. Garcia saved it, and held a game point of her own. Again, she couldn't put away the big point. On MP #2, Garcia netted a forehand and Petkovic advanced 3-6/6-4/7-5 in 2:34.



Well, at least it didn't happen on Ashe Court, or Chatrier. Right, Caroline?

...and, alas, The Bracelet is no more.

(Backspin pauses for a brief moment of silence.)

One year after Aleksandra Krunic put on a fabulous run to the U.S. Open 4th Round, defeating Keys and Kvitova (and nearly Vika, too) along the way, she is out of this year's Open in the 1st Round, dropping the Serbian women to 1-3 at this slam.

Krunic was likely under tremendous pressure to live up to her '14 result, but she still should have won her match against Danka Kovinic, largely because she had multiple leads but squandered them all. After winning the 1st set 6-4, Krunic was up a break twice in the 2nd (at 1-0, and 2-1), but failed to hold the lead against Jelena Jankovic's protege.

I just like saying that.

Kovinic won the 2nd 7-5, then raced out to an early lead in the 3rd and never gave it away, winning 4-6/7-5/6-1. The first Montenegrin to win a slam MD match, now Kovinic has two to her credit.

Oh, well. Krunic has still had a career year so far, and she'll be able to be the Serbian Good Luck Charm next season in Fed Cup, too.

Peace, Bracelet.


QUALIFIER WINS: Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR (def. Putintseva), Johanna Konta/GBR (def. Chirico), Jelena Ostapenko/LAT (def. Beck)
WILD CARD WINS: none so far
BANNERETTE WINS: Varvara Lepchenko (def. Flipkens)

QUALIFIERS STILL TO FINISH ON DAY 2:: Hibi, Mrdeza, Panova, Rogers, Sasnovich, Siegemund
WILD CARDS STILL TO FINISH ON DAY 2:: Gibbs, Vickery
AMERICANS STILL TO FINISH ON DAY 2:: Gibbs, Rogers, Vickery

...later in the afternoon/early evening, Francesca Schiavone lost to former Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3/6-1.

I mention the 35-year old former RG champ's defeat because the Italian continues to chase WTA slam history of her own, no matter what it takes. This is Schiavone's sixty-first consecutive slam, one off the tour record set by Ai Sugiyama. She entered this Open ranked #95, and her standing will drop still more after the Open, so she's in real danger of finishing the season outside the Top 100 for the first time since 1999. And that could play a part in ending her consecutive slam, since if she slips much farther she won't get an automatic spot in the MD at next year's Australian Open.

It's her slam results as she's been chasing down Sugiyama that are truly striking, though. This 1st Round loss is her fourth straight at the Open, and her third one-and-out at the 2015 slams. Not only that, but she's lost in her opening match at nine of the last ten slams, and eleven of thirteen.

Hopefully she'll put together something decent down the stretch this season to ensure herself the chance of #62 if she remains injury-free, and not have it come with anything resembling an "asterisk" that might come with a wild card (she wouldn't get one for Melbourne, but Roland Garros might award her one as she'd be going for a record-breaking #63 in what could even be a career farewell moment). Schiavone is just 2-9 since defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in that exciting match at Roland Garros in the spring. Maybe she'll be able to draw on that to put up a SF or better result at one of the smaller 4Q tournaments this fall and give herself a little wiggle room as far as her ranking heading into 2016.

Crossing fingers.

...I'm going to end the recap here, but if anything MAJOR happens in the early evening hours or into the night (Kvitiova plays the late night match on Ashe), I could come back with a Day 2.5 post. Otherwise, the final part of the Graf Era/Serena Era Volley series will probably be posted by morning.



Hmmmm... FROM DAY 2: Was it just me, and that yesterday had many little moments of drama, but was Day 2's schedule decidedly LACKING as far as compelling 1st Round match-ups? And many of the ones that were of note -- Safarova/Tsurenko, Bacsinszky/Strycova -- turned out to be busts. There just didn't seem to be a lot of buzz. There were stretches when there were, really, NO matches of great interest being played on the grounds. I mean, anywhere.

SUGGESTION ON DAY 2:



Hmmm, then maybe you shouldn't have set fire to a few bridges before you crossed them. You know, in case you might encounter trouble and need "safe passage." Sometimes you really do reap what you sow.

LIKE FROM DAY 2: Maria's not on the court, but...



LIKE FROM DAY 2: Varvara Lepchenko has been "promoted" by ESPN. In her first mention today after her win, she was simply called "American Varvara Lepchenko," rather than "naturalized (citizen) American Varvara Lepchenko," as she was a season or two ago. Incessantly, in fact.

DISLIKE FROM DAY 2: Of course, that public access television-ready LZ Granderson has been "promoted" to first-up-on-the-couch status with Chris McKendry and Patrick McEnroe in the network's opening segment ALSO says a great deal about the quality (or lack thereof) of the coverage provided by ESPN, which just has absolutely no storytelling abilities when it comes to covering the slams.

At one point today there were eleven matches going on, including those involving Lleyton Hewitt (in his last Open), Dominic Thiem (a NextGen player viewers need to become familiar with), Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza, Andrea Petrkovic vs. Caroline Garcia, Bannerette Christina McHale and multiple 2015 title-winner Anna Schmiedlova... and ESPN had Bobbsey Twins (Dreadlocks Edition) Granderson and Chris McKendry (who I generally used to enjoy... but she's been ESPN-ified) interviewing John Isner, showing Wozniacki press room snippets and Djokovic practicing. And then they went to commercial. Pathetic.


Someone should get a VCR and a box of old 6-hour cassette tapes of some of HBO's Wimbledon coverage from about twenty years ago and throw the ESPN directors and producers into a room, lock the door, and force them to watch how a slam SHOULD be covered on an all-encompassing daily basis. Maybe, after a while, they'd "get" it. Or, you know, they'd go all Uruguayan rugby team on each other and the network could just start over with a whole new group of well-fed, more creative people. Just a thought.

Here are some reminiscences about HBO's twenty-five years of coverage, which ended in 1999.

AMERICAN TENNIS "FANS" FROM DAY 2:



Of course, that person would probably be the new producer of ESPN's tennis coverage if the above item actually became reality. Sigh.

CHANGE FOR THE SAKE OF CHANGE ON DAY 2: The new Google logo



I like it... though I hate that I even care at all. But then I realize that I don't.

LIKE FROM DAY 2: Jeter. In. The. House. !!



LIKE FROM DAY 2: The Dream Team is in the house, too!



DISAPPOINTING TRUTH FROM DAY 2, no matter how much money ESPN pays to be the SOLE broadcaster of the U.S.'s home slam: It's pretty damn bad when you have to watch an entire slam online because the over-the-air coverage is so pathetic. At least there's the night session... but I'm sure they'll find a way to screw that up, too. Speaking of...

...and, finally... what do you do when a player embarrasses himself and the sport on an international basis? Why, you put him on center stage in a night match on the biggest court in the world in his very next slam match, that's what. Hence, Andy Murray vs. Nick Kyrgios on Night 2 on Ashe.

That'll learn 'im. Nick will think before he speaks next time. Yeah, okay.




















*BACKSPIN 2015 RISING PLAYER-OF-THE-MONTH WINNERS*
JAN: Madison Keys, USA
FEB: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
MAR: Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
1Q: Simona Halep, ROU
APR/MAY: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
MAY/JUN: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
RG: Timea Bacsinszy, SUI
2Q Clay Court: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
JUN: Camila Giorgi, ITA
2Q Grass Court/WI: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
JUL/AUG: Karolina Pliskova, CZE
AUG: Simona Halep, ROU
[2015 Weekly RISER Wins]
6...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
5...Garbine Muguruza, ESP
5...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
4...Caroline Garcia, FRA
4...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
4...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3...Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
3...Kiki Bertens, NED
3...Zarina Diyas, KAZ
3...Simona Halep, ROU
3...Madison Keys, USA
3...Karin Knapp, ITA
3...Teliana Pereira, BRA
3...Aga Radwanska, POL
3...Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
2...Alize Cornet, FRA
2...Camila Giorgi, ITA
2...Julia Goerges, GER
2...Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2...Tatjana Maria, GER
2...Monica Niculescu, ROU
2...Alison Riske, USA
2...ROU Fed Cup Team
2...Lucie Safarova, CZE
2...Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
2...Sloane Stephens, USA
2...Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
2...Anna Tatishvili, USA
2...Coco Vandeweghe, USA
2...Heather Watson, GBR





TOP QUALIFIER: (WC) Jessica Pegula/USA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Tereza Mrdeza/CRO d. #2 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ 5-7/7-6(8)/7-6(4) [3:12; saved 3 MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: xx
=============================
FIRST VICTORY: Mariana Duque/COL (def. Kenin/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #7 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. to Cibulkova/SVK)
UPSET QUEENS: xx
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Nominee: Serbia
CRASH & BURN: Nominees: Serbs (#7 Ivanovic, 1st Rd.-Cibulkova; #21 Jankovic, 1st Rd.-Dodin), #8 Ka.Pliskova (out 1st Rd. in :52 to Tatishvili; U.S. Open Series winner)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: Brengle/USA (1st Rd. - blew 6-2/4-2 lead, Sai.Zheng served at 5-2 and 5-4 in 3rd, Brengle broke to won on 6th MP of final game); Govortsova/BLR (1st Rd. - down 4-1 in 3rd to Begu, MP at 5-2 and Begu for match at 5-3)
IT ("xx"): xx
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: xx
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Bertens/NED, K.Bondarenko/UKR, Konta/GBR, Kontaveit/EST, Ostapenko/LAT, Pegula/USA, Tatishvili/USA
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Dodin/FRA, Mattek-Sands/USA
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Brengle, Davis, Falconi, Keys, Lepchenko, Mattek-Sands, Pegula, Tatishvili, Vandeweghe, S.Williams, V.Williams
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: Duval (lost in qualifying), Cibulkova, K.Bondarenko
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): xx
DOUBLES STAR: xx
BROADWAY-BOUND: xx
LADY OF THE EVENING: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx




All for Day 2. More tomorrow.

Read more...

BV: The Graf Era vs. The Serena Era, Pt.2


The "debate" rages on, with a few tangents here and there. All right, maybe more than a few.

But, hey, at least we didn't start discussing the upcoming "Star Wars" movie or anything. Secretariat, yes. Han Solo, no.

Note to self: next time, bring up Harrison Ford and the intelligence of flying experimental airplanes over residential areas.










Blue = Todd
Orange = Galileo



Todd Spiker: Back to the rivalry talk. Rivalries are nice, but they don't necessarily establish that an era has great depth. While the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray era is chocked full of rivalries, a great case can be made that the rest of the men's tour doesn't measure up because none have been good up enough to put up even a short-term challenger over the course of an entire decade (maybe Del Potro would have been that, but what can you do?). The men's game has mostly seen a "lost generation" of non-(slam) champions since the early 2000's, but that hasn't been the case with the women's game. Waves of young talent have arrived over the the past decade (Serena's era), while members of Serena's generation of players have actually achieved quite a bit.

Galileo West: But, see, they didn't lack the talent just the mental capacity.

TS: Granted, there's some of that (as there were in many cases during Graf's era, such as with Novotna). There's just something about this generation -- men and women -- of tennis players, I guess.

GW: Look at the French men as the classic example. Tsonga, Gasquet and Monfils have more pure talent than Nadal. But not even Atticus himself could persuade a court that they are better players. I also refuse to put Murray's name in the title of an era. He is not at the big three's level. He never has been. He never will be. Wawrinka came along and won two slams in the space of 15 months. It took Murray five years to achieve that feat. And Wawrinka beat two members of the big three. Murray has never done that before at a slam.

TS: Murray seemed to be greatly helped by good coaching. First, Lendl... then Mauresmo and, recently, with an assist from Bjorkman.

GW: But the point is I think the standard of Federer and Nadal was too great. The problem was that every major was covered by the pair and then some. You got one or the other in the semi-final and then the other in the final.

Yeah, waves of young talent. In my era players like Majoli (RG '97) were good enough to win slams. In this era the Vaidisovas and Chakvetadzes didn't make the cut.


TS: I think you're sort of cherry-picking two non-slam winners there. I could pick out multi-season Top 10 players like Sukova, Shriver, Maleeva,, Zvereva and Gigi Fernandez (yes, she was a four-time Top 10er in singles during those years) from your era and say the same thing. But, of course, in my era a player like Myskina was good enough to win a slam, too. Both she and Majoli were sort of "one-slam wonders." It happens. Plus, "second or third tier" players winning slams is a double-edged sword. It shows some depth but it also...

GW: Makes the era weaker?

TS: Exactly.

GW: But I say it proves that the players are stronger. Majoli beat 5th seed Davenport in three in round 4 and then dismissed Hingis in the final. She had a Cilic career arc but she was a clay and carpet specialist. Like a better Pironkova, except a specialist on a different surface. Davenport beat her in the quarters the next year. She made four French quarters and won it once.

TS: Myskina defeated Capriati and Venus en route to her RG title in '04, and reached five other slam QF, but never another semi.

GW: Majoli was a player who just played well at one slam before bad fortune and bad decisions spoiled things. I miss the one-court specialists in some ways.

TS: Ivo Karlovic (on grass) used to be that. But, darn it, then he's gone and improved on all surfaces this year and "ruined" it! Ha!

GW: I like how you can make a career out of a serve. Cough, Pete, cough.

TS: Lisicki on grass borders on filling the Ivo spot on the women's tour, though.

GW: I thought she'd beat Bartoli 2 and 1.

TS: Sabine probably did, too. Of course, there's still a shot she'll get another chance at the AELTC. Okay, let's get on with "pumping up" and/or comparing these eras.

GW: I think Graf's era (1986/87 or so to 1999) was probably the most talented decade or so of tennis. The '80s were just concluding, a decade where Connors, Borg and Evonne Goolagong had all won slams. But the question of who would succeed the Evert/Navratilova dominance was the topic on everyone's lips. In early 1986 Graf was ranked number six. By the 1987 French Open she was the world number two. And after she won that French Open she just kept on winning. Like how Forrest just kept on running.

TS: Of course. Life, and tennis, is like a box of chocolates, too. :)

GW: Navratilova was beating Graf up until 1993. She had a 9-9 record with the German, better even than Seles. And Graf was only 7-6 in her head to head with Evert. And then once they started to fade, suddenly this young Yugoslav with a grunt and two hands on the racket turned up. Her opponents during her twelve years had around 320 weeks at number one, while Graf had 377. But more importantly, all her era's number one players actually won slams.

TS: Sure, the likes of Wozniacki and Jankovic rose to #1 in an era -- mostly while Serena was injured, and the Belgians were retired -- never won a slam and maybe wouldn't have ever been #1 in a "regular" situation on tour, but the same can't be said for others. Henin reached #1 and won multiple slams. Clijsters did, too. As did Davenport (in both eras). And Capriati. And Venus. And Mauresmo. And Sharapova. And Vika. Ivanovic won one and got to #1, though she's not exactly a sharp tool to use for my argument (she's sort of this era's Novotna, minus the HOF-worthy doubles career and less consistency). The period of time when Caro and JJ (and Safina, though the Russian didn't fail to win a major due to a lack of slam-worthy ability -- the problem was "elsewhere") reached #1 was only a window in time where consistency allowed them to rise to the top of a ranking system that stressed it over winning majors, and it wouldn't have likely happened if not for multiple retirements and/or injuries to the other former #1's and slam winners that all struck during a 3-4 year stretch.

GW: I like how Sveta only managed to win slam finals against mentally weaker players. Dementieva and Safina made her look like Borg. That was another problem. Mentally this era is weaker. Serena makes her opponents flinch. That shows weakness. Or good survival instincts.

TS: Oh, that's one I won't argue with you about. While Novotna stood out for such characteristics in the Graf era, there are far too many top players who have similar hang-ups in the current game. As Henin noted a few weeks ago, today's players first need to actually BELIEVE they can beat Serena before they can go about actually doing it. Too many of them don't. Of course, Serena's presence is more intimidating than most, what with the roars that go along with the sudden surges that ultimately steal matches from the clutches of defeat. But still, she can be beaten.

GW: Why are so many players in your era past their best after they turn 25? I can think of only one besides Serena. One slam winner, of course, but, in general too.

TS: Overall, I think it's been pretty clear that in this era many players are reaching their peak years AFTER age 25. I'm not sure where you're getting that players are achieving less in their late twenties now.

GW: What I mean by that is players generally tend to fade as they get older. Take Mauresmo. Done by 28. Clijsters and Henin both retired young and then came back a bit worse, then retired older. And there are less players staying relevant much past 25. Look at the rankings now. A few 27 year olds but that's about it. It just feels this last two years the younger players have been taking over. I think it comes in waves. But players aren't lasting from a young age through to an older one. I felt you had that a bit more in the last gen.

TS: At the moment, five Top 10ers are 26 or older (and CSN will be 27 soon). Four are 28+. Twelve of the Top 20 are 26+, as are sixteen of the Top 24.

And I think Clijsters came back far better (at least mentally) in 2.0 than 1.0, then retired again. Henin just wasn't quite the same... I think she'd lost the singular drive that propelled her career. Players retiring before reaching 30 has always been common (even Graf did it), but that seems to be changing.

One of reasons I think the most recent era is underrated is the fact that careers actually last longer, but maybe begin a bit later, and a player's "slam window" isn't a brief 4-5 year stretch before their 24th birthday. While you had someone like Navratilova playing well into her thirties during Graf's era, she was far more of an anomaly than is likely to be the case in this era. Players like Stosur and Schiavone won maiden slams at nearly thirty. Same with Li Na and Bartoli. Players play longer and more effectively over an extended span than was the case during Graf's era. She was "old" when she won her final slam at age 29, while today some players are just coming into their own at around that age (Cibulkova reached her first slam final at nearly age 25, Safarova at 28). It's a different sport now, with multiple generations able to compete over long stretches for slam titles.

At the moment there's something of a transition going on. There are teenagers coming up with big wins and early twentysomethings starting to break through who are beginning the process of replacing some of the players who have been near the top in recent seasons, though many of them are also still very relevant. I think it's a great, multi-generational combination... a little something for everyone.

In Graf's era, it was an older Navratilova and the next generation. Today, it's the survivors of the Serena generation (one of which, Venus, I believe you just recently picked to reach the Wimbledon final ahead of Serena... and it was a legit possibility), the mid-twentysomething players AND the new group of teenagers-or-nearly so (Muguruza and Bencic, both of whom have beaten Serena in the last fifteen months) coming in, as well, with many of them in the running to win slams.

Actually, I think this is all a great development for today's game, leading to longer careers and more opportunities for success. Part of it might be the more physical nature of the sport -- as is the case on the men's side, too -- making it a necessity for players to be stronger in order to be consistent and healthy enough to compete over the course of a long season. Also, the "Capriati Rule" was instituted after the mess that became her early career led to teenagers' opportunities to play tour events to be somewhat curtailed, robbing them of the ability to get a lot of big-time experience early in their careers, leading to a somewhat slower journey to some players' peak career years. On the positive side, the time -- and less wear on the body -- seems to be allowing them to be competitive later and longer in their careers.

Also, the training that is common now -- and, quite frankly, the money that can be won by the top players the longer their careers last -- gives a huge incentive to be careful and plan for a long career into their early to mid (and, we shall see, maybe even late) thirties. Once again, Navratilova was among the first to "change the rules," and now those ARE the rules.


GW: Yes, but again that is because of developments. Back in my era athletes in a whole bunch of sports were fat. Fitness had not yet taken over. Physios did not travel. And in the NFL head trauma was barely an issue yet. Navratilova is the biggest anomaly. Except perhaps that one election Jimmy Carter won like 3 or 4 states. Schiavone never should have won that French Open. I know it's a cliché, but she was not a deserving champion. And this era is riddled with them. Had Stosur not been nervous and choked she would have eased past Schiavone. Stosur was far and away the best player of that tournament.

TS: Then this speaks to how much better prepared and fit the players are today. I think I actually score points when you point out what wasn't up to par in the Graf era.

And, of course, it should be noted that an "undeserving" Schiavone also returned to the RG final a year later. Stosur, of course, then won the U.S. Open soon afterward (in a rare win over over Serena in a slam final). Sounds like depth, to me. And if we're going to talk about "flukey" slam winners, then it's hard to get past the likes of Majoli and Martinez (at least at Wimbledon, though that's the only one she ever won), who are surely in the discussion.


GW: But Schiavone only won that French Open because Stosur choked after beating the three favourites for the title back to back. But Stosur earned that U.S. Open win. There's no doubt. Majoli had injuries. And Martinez was a very solid player. She went 33-22 in finals. I think she was a solid 1-2 slam winner. She made two other finals. She earned her ranking of two.

TS: And Schiavone earned her title, too. By the law of averages and computations, all the non-Graf winners of slams in her era couldn't have been great, undervalued players while all the non-Serena winners of hers a fluke that only won because her opponent lost. If it were true, it might benefit your side, but I really don't think it is. I'm just sayin'.


GW: About my Wimbledon prediction, I picked Venus to defeat Serena because I was sick and tired of picking Serena for every damn slam year in and year out. Every tournament I say the same -- well, Serena is the heavy favorite but she might beat herself. Still I can't pick against Williams. Let's just be honest. It's boring. It's dull. I can't remember the last tournament where Serena was not the favorite. And that feels wrong. I didn't really believe Venus would beat Serena. I just can't pick Serena anymore. I really hate it. And Venus was the only other player I could justifiably choose.

TS: Turned out, there were several other legitimate choices to win or reach the final, though. Muguruza being one, and Kvitova (your overall pick) was another. She HAS won two slams. Twice as many as, say, Sabatini, with a lot of career to go. You DID predict Kvitova to win five Wimbledons, I believe, before this year's tournament.

GW: Yeah, I chose Kvitova to win and look what happened there in this supposed era of strength. Kvitova, the defending champ, imploded in a loss to somebody who is 20-12 lifetime at Wimbledon and 4-5 since 2011. I mean that's a bad loss. But I stand by that. Kvitova will win five Wimbledons in her career. Just when nobody picks her and we look the other way for seven matches.

TS: Was Kvitova the favorite? Yes. But I say that was a three-set match, and not one in which she just "disappeared." Again, I think that shows depth. Oh, and that "player" you were referring to is none other than Jankovic, a former #1 and slam finalist who's had a resurgent season at age 30 (and a 20-12 record at Wimbledon is actually not bad at all for a mortal), which I think goes to prove some of my points.

GW: Serena had an annoying habit of not playing a lot, which had to do with her injury, then turning up at slams and winning them. Despite the fact there was usually a world number one and top seed to contend with. Although for a period of time the WTA sullied the phrase "world number one." The best player in the world Wozniacki was not and probably never will be. And Serena looked finished before 2007 after a poor 2006. But back she has come. And then she survived life-threatening surgery. And the fact that a player with a history of injury, who had life threatening surgery, and is now 33 can dominate the WTA is actually a little embarrassing.

TS: You're actually helping me out here, Galileo. I don't think it's "embarrassing" at all (and, remember, Navratilova won a slam at 33 and played in a major final at 37, so some players are just special like that). Just look on the men's side, as Sampras' final slam run was the epitome of just showing up and winning a slam with one superior skill (his serve), while Agassi's career arc is actually very similar to Serena's as far as injuries and a lack of focus early in the careers of both allowing them to be more mentally fresh, willing to train in a way to keep ahead of the field, and dedicated into their early to mid-thirties than they might have been otherwise. Federer is his own unique case, as he's been at a consistently high level on both fronts from his early twenties to his early thirties, but most players can't say the same.

GW: Yes, but this isn't just a loss of form. Serena nearly died. She could have passed on. The fact that she can come back from that and the fact that she won majors before some of her competitors were born is ridiculous. She should not even have been able to compete let alone dominate after that. Federer must make sports aging experts so frustrated. If there is such a thing.

TS: If he wins this year's Open, he'll make a lot of people eat their words (again), too.

Again, though, just because Serena is a remarkable athlete and is capable of great things doesn't mean that everyone else is a chump(ette). It means Serena is remarkable, and great. And as far as winning majors before her competitors were born, well, I don't think she's played a 15-year old quite yet (since said competitor would have had to have been born in the final months of '99 or after January 1, 2000). But she might play Claire Liu soon... so that might not hold up much longer. Ha!

And now for something TOTALLY different. Ha! Here's an interesting note, even if seemingly a little off topic. Secretariat won a Triple Crown in horse racing in 1973 in dominating fashion. It didn't mean that the other horses of the year weren't any good. Secretariat was just special. And when that animal died in '89 it was revealed that his heart significantly larger than that of an ordinary horse, meaning it had a larger and stronger "engine" than any of its competitors. It proved what happened sixteen years earlier had been a singular phenomenon made possible by the unique traits of the top performer of the time, and why Secretariat is considered the greatest racehorse of all time (ESPN even ranked him at #35 on the Top 100 North American Athletes of the 20th century in 1999, right in the middle of the Graf and Serena eras!). Now, that's not saying that decades from now Serena is going to be cut open like a tree and her inner rings will reveal the "true" secret to her success. But, you know, you get the idea. She's just got something that her peers don't. It's not her fault, or theirs.


GW: Now that is interesting.

TS: Well, at least different!

As good as she was when she was younger, Serena has become a better player later in her career since joining forces with Patrick Mouratoglou. 33 has never been "old" in the real world, and it no longer is as much in tennis, either. As noted, various factors can lead to top athletes being at or near the head of their field at that age in other sports (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols and I'm sure some soccer players that I'd never think to mention, etc.) if they so choose to be, and don't have some career-threatening injury. Back when Venus was the only Williams Sister anyone really knew about, her father Richard always said that Serena was going to be "the one." No one believed him then, but he was right. If not for her, Venus might have been the one with the 15-20 slams, not Serena, and the "What If?" story there might have revolved around her illness and how many more titles she could have won without the reality of that. Yes, Serena is still winning more than anyone. But, again, it's not because the talent isn't there on tour. Serena's just that good. Navratilova was able to compete for slams into her mid to late thirties (at least at SW19) because she was a singular talent.


GW: That's why Haas is so impressive, I think. He's been relevant and a force in three decades. Think about that for a second. A top 15 player in three decades. Multiple surgeries. Oh, and I disagree -- Bencic didn't beat Williams. Williams beat Williams.

TS: I'm not going to rob Bencic of the credit she deserves. Is it true that Williams, just like Graf, never was and never will be beaten when 100% in form? Of course it is. But as is the case in most tennis matches, the trick is often staying even with an opponent, then winning the few big points that turn the match. It looked like Serena was going to pull away in Toronto, but Bencic didn't crumble in the moment. That counts for a great deal, especially when it comes to defeating Serena. As Henin noted -- belief is key. Of course, it probably helped that Bencic is 18 and "didn't know any better."

GW: The last straight sets match Serena lost. When was that? Muguruza at last year's French?

TS: Serena's been solid for the past year or so. Hence, the Grand Slam bid. (Naturally, it's coming the season AFTER I predicted she'd do it in 2014, though.)

GW: And why have this string of world number twos been unable to challenge her? Sharapova played her best match ever against Serena back in 'Straya. She didn't get a set. And Kvitova imploded against Jankovic. On grass. You know, on grass. At Wimbledon. The event where Jankovic has never been past the fourth round despite being a world number one. That's the kind of era we're talking about. Mental implosions and inconsistencies. Sure it was there in the '90s, but it wasn't so prevalent.

TS: I agree, there IS too much that in today's game.

But, of course, I have to stick up for Jankovic, too. JJ has won a title on grass, so it's not like she's incapable on the surface. Kvitova is, well, we know how Kvitova can be... but when she's good she's brings-Hall-of-Famers-to-their-feet good (literally). And that Jankovic, at 30 and after having fallen outside the Top 20, was able to muster such a win against the reigning Wimbledon champ, I think, says a great deal about HER. She's played well on hard courts this summer in the afterglow of that run, too. (even if she did just lose in the Open 1st Round)



GW: One of the interesting things from Graf's era is that they seeded 1-16 at slams. Lori McNeil was in the top twenty at the time she beat Graf in that Wimbledon upset. Imagine Serena running into a Stosur in New York. And if they had seeded properly, the upsets would have been lessened and the player ranked 16-32 would have been stronger and more consistent. And this pattern is repeated throughout Graf's era. Let's take a random slam. One she didn't even win. 1993 Australian Open. World number 18 Zina Garrison was seeded 16th and she played world number 19 Amanda Coetzer in the first round. World number 21 Kimiko Date, who belongs in this era, ran into the tenth seed in the second round. The world number 22 Leila Meshki ran into the 13th seeded Nathalie Tauziat in the first round. And that pattern was repeated throughout the Graf era. And how strong was that top 32? Stronger than today's. And that's another point. Look at the top 40, the top 50. So much strength in depth. And as you look down so many famous names, so many excellent players. See if we'd been around in the '90s on the Interwebs your sister-watch would have been about the Maleevas. Little tangent -- in that 1993 Australian Open Mary Pierce lost just nine games, including a double bagel of Mary Joe Fernandez and a 3 and 0 thrashing of Davenport, who qualified but then blew three match points in the quarterfinals and lost to Gabriela Sabatini 4-6, 7-6[10], 6-0. Isn't that just Pierce's career writ small?

TS: Yeah. I'm wondering who might be the equivalent to Pierce in this era. Maybe Kuznetsova? Good. A multiple slam winner. But still seen as something of a career underachiever who might have been so much more if there'd been any consistency there. Ever.

GW: Yeah, our beloved Sveta. That 2009 FO match where she beat Serena might be my favourite match this century on the women's side. The best was probably the 2007 U.S. Open semi-final. It's funny the semi-finals at that event had both the best and worst match.

TS: On the other point, though, do you really think Meshki was a great threat? A good little player, yes, but not a "top" player by any means. I'd say the same about Coetzer and Date. They were good players, but not really slam championship contenders. I'd take up to a half a dozen of the second-tier (and maybe third) Russians from Serena's era over Soviet/Georgian Meshki. Garrison, though, was a talent, and maybe one of the most undervalued players of the era (four slam SF and a RU).

GW: Garrison was top five in singles and doubles. She made more than forty doubles finals and thirty-six singles finals, winning fourteen. She was a solid consistent player from the mid-80s through to about 1993. This is a big problem I feel with the WTA. One good year is rewarded above five or ten or fifteen solid consistent years. You get a higher ranking for having one very good year and that feels wrong. I'd rather have a consistent top four career over a ten-year period along with doubles success than have a good/best ranking but only have one-three great years. And MJF was a double Gold medal winner with sixteen slam quarterfinals (going 9-7). And then in the doubles she did even better, winning two slams. She made seven major doubles finals. And with six finals at the Australian Open overall (but 2-4) and two other semi-finals (not to mention overall a combined twelve quarterfinals there) she was one of the best ever at that slam not born in Australia. And as for Pierce... well, she won slams and beat Graf 2 and 2 once. She, when she got it right, was unbeatable, unstoppable and unplayable.



TS: Personally, I was never much of a fan of Fernandez as a player. At the time, I thought that she was going as far into slams as she was was something of an indictment of the rest of the field. So, I guess I don't come by my feelings about the Graf era only of late... I've always sort of felt this way. And, no, that opinion of MJF isn't colored by how I feel about her inept captaincy of the U.S. Fed Cup team, either. Honest!

On your previous point, yes, the 16-seed slams provide a few more potential early-round upsets than in the 32-seed slams (and that was bad luck for them), but I really think there are just as many -- if not more -- players capable of such wins today. Just at this past Wimbledon, Serena was challenged by unseeded Heather Watson. Her only 1st round slam loss came against unseeded Virginie Razzano. Defending Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova lost in the 3rd Round (to JJ), while #2 Simona Halep was tripped up in the 1st. Even with 32 seeds, while you'll still get early-round blow-out wins for top players, at every slam there are 1st/2nd Round match-ups before the start of play that are potential looming upsets by unseeded players, several of which happen at every major. Plus, you'll still get early-round match-ups with top players who've fallen due to an injury and are on their way up (such as Vika vs. Serena in the 2nd Round at this year's RG). We've seen players seeded outside the Top 16 go deep into slams of late, as well (four in the semis of the last five Wimbledons, to cite an example).


GW: But seedings helped. Again, Lori McNeil was world number 20 when she beat Graf. If there had been proper seedings the famous upset may never have happened.

TS: In that specific case, I agree.


GW: If I'm being honest, it is time for the Williamses to retire. They have had 20 years now of being on the tour. And they have had 17 years of being at the forefront. It's just time for new blood. In Graf's era it was never this boring.

TS: Now, now, Galileo. I understand. I really do. But, truth is, well, actually, it was. Much more so, in fact, a lot of the time... mainly because Graf was such a "machine" at times that there was no real drama and entertainment involved in her march to victory. I remember the era well, and it's why the loss of the "real" Seles hurt so much. I understand the "picking Serena is boring" thing, because I felt the exact same way when Graf was running roughshod over the field while winning many of her majors. Serena's longstanding dominance sometimes serves to make this era seem "lesser" in terms of competition, but the same was the case with Graf. I checked back on some of my slam predictions during the 1990's, and I picked Graf to win Wimbledon six of seven years from 1990-96 (and got five picks right), and the U.S. Open four times in five from 1992-96 (getting two). If I'd been picking in the late 1980's during her Golden Slam period I'm sure the pre-slam picks would have even been more lopsided in the German's favor. Remember, Graf won ten of the thirteen slams she played from 1993-96 after Seles' stabbing following her own seven-of-eight stretch.

The difference is that Serena's runs are very rarely ever "boring" in practice, match in and match out (as most of Graf's championships were), even if the on-paper final result has often been the same -- a title. The drama that Williams brings to the table, while some might grow tiresome with it (and even question it), makes every match a potential "classic comeback." Graf rarely had those. Truthfully, when I think about it, I think I'd be nodding my head agreement with you more here if your case was Graf vs. Williams, not their respective eras. Interestingly.


GW: I'd just like to say to anybody reading this whenever or wherever you are, Todd and I have been working our butts off for six weeks on this. Just want to point this out.

TS: Haha! Well, if they're this deep into this then things are fine, or they're gluttons for punishment! Either way, welcome!

GW: Anyway, here is an excerpt from the excellent S.I. Mailbag column were tennis-themed questions are answered by Jon Wertheim:

Q: I've always appreciated your willingness to acknowledge how professional tennis is rife with conflicts of interests, particularly among the commentators covering the sport. I was struck by an exchange between Cliff Drysdale and Mary Joe Fernandez during ESPN's coverage of the Western and Southern Open final. Fernandez noted that Serena had already lost nine sets in Grand Slam play this year while Graf only lost two during her 1988 Grand Slam year. Drysdale asked, "Doesn't this reflect how much stronger the women's game is today?" Silence. Drysdale then rephrased the question as, "Does it mean that women's fields are deeper today since I realize I'm asking about your generation?" Fernandez bluntly said, "No. There's no difference. I remember hitting with Steffi Graf before matches and being tired just from the warm up." I have never been so struck by a commentator's choice to defend her own era at the expense of credibility, and I have never been so embarrassed for a former professional athlete to acknowledge how poorly prepared she was to compete at the highest level of the game. So I would ask you, Jon, does Serena Williams face a significantly deeper field in her pursuit of the Grand Slam in 2015 than Graf did in 1988? — Robert Webb

JW: I will always maintain that these conflicts really stunt tennis’s growth, deprive the fans of honest/objective coverage and make the sport look small and incestuous. But I don't see a conflict here. Cliff Drysdale asked a reasonable question, the kind we would expect one analyst to ask of a former player. Mary Joe Fernandez gave what I assume was an honest answer. I don’t think it’s her “defending her era” so much as her giving a candid assessment. There is a sense among many —- fans, media, Justine Henin -— that, without diminishing Serena, she is not exactly competing against a murderer’s row. If anything, good for MJF for taking the question seriously and resisting the easy answer.


TS: Need I say more about MJF? Maybe she was exhausted from hitting with the powerful Graf because she was a string bean with no muscle at all? That said, while I've already stated my opinion of MJF as a player, a Fed Cup captain and, truthfully, over the years, a commentator (and none of them have been complimentary), I'll give her credit for the career she had because I can't think of any real reason she had it other than she worked really hard to get as much (and then some) out of her body and herself as she possibly ever could. Wow, I actually complimented Mary Joe... someone needs to mark this date on the calendar!

Wow, and speaking of "incestuous" answers, and a fellow media member taking up for another and not exposing her with the truth that was fairly plain as day (sort of how no ESPNers will ever criticize Fernandez's inept FC captaincy). I think Wertheim is plain wrong. It was definitely a case of MJF (rather feebly, I might add) defending her era. It wouldn't take a lot of listening to her commentary, which I'm sure Wertheim hasn't done much of since he's covering the same events she's working, to know that that's "the usual" sort of thing you get from MJF. We got the silence because she couldn't believe a colleague would dare to speak the truth... which is quite rare in an ESPN tennis broadcast. The fact is she DID give the easy answer rather than, as Wertheim called it, "taking the question seriously." Please, all she did was say something good about the BEST player of her generation. Drysdale wasn't questioning Graf, he was talking about her competition. If she'd "resisted the easy answer" she would have had to go into the subject far more than the questioner noted there that she had.


GW: I think Steffi came in right at the best time game-wise, not competition-wise. The way she played...well it was like when Connors came in. Nobody had seen anybody play like that before. It was new and astonishing. He made his first three finals in 1974. He won them all. In the second at Wimbledon he beat Rosewall 6-1, 6-1, 6-4. Also in grass in New York he beat Rosewall 6-1, 6-0, 6-1. OK, Ken was 41 but still. Nobody had seen that style before. I think the story is the same with Steffi.

TS: Yes, her speed and huge forehand were a shock to the system. The same was the case when Seles' wicked two-handed-on-both-sides angles, which very few players even had a prayer of defending when she was at her best.

Oh, and as far as Wertheim's mention of Henin's comments. Here they are in context, where she notes the lack of belief of many of the players that they can defeat Serena (which I mentioned earlier). And, also, let's not confuse that sentiment about any "lesser" competition during Williams' Grand Slam attempt (though, ironically, she's had a slew of three-set matches and close calls -- namely vs. Bacsinszky and Watson in Paris and London, during her '15 slam runs) with the overall "Serena era," of which Henin was a large part.

But back to the eras...


GW: Navratilova and Evert were still around until 1990. Then Seles took over. Then a whole host of very good players, injury and scandal kept Graf back until 1997. Then Hingis, Davenport and the Williamses arrived. She had more talented players in her era than Serena does. Navratilova is the greatest of our sport. And while Evert retired in 1989 she was still able to beat Graf six times. I believe, Todd, you wrote a post on how it would have been if Seles had not been stabbed. Well, then surely you can attest to her greatness. And who in today's era was really a greater player than Seles with the exception of the Williams sisters?

TS: Well, thing is, Venus plays a HUGE part in evaluating Serena's era. While they have always been and always will be thought of together, Serena and Venus WERE competitors during their careers, if not playing each other than defeating the non-sibling competition of the other. Venus maybe strengthens the talent base of Serena's era more than any other player, even if their head-to-head never really measured up as a "rivalry" because of the family dynamics. At the start, remember, it was Venus who was the Williams who was revolutionizing the women's game. Serena was the first to win a major, but it was during the stretch when Venus had a 5-1 head-to-head advantage in their match-ups. Venus' 35-match win streak in 2000 was the longest of the era, and her back-to-back Summer of Venus (SW19 & U.S. titles) runs in 2000-01 were arguably the best non-Serena stretches of dominance on tour since some of Graf's extended bits of brilliance. Also, Venus was on the losing end of all four slam finals during the original "Serena Slam," but defeated Serena in a pair of slam finals in 2005 and '08. Venus is an intricate part of Serena's era. If not for Serena and her Sjogren's condition, this might have been the "Venus era."

GW: I think she does play a huge role. And I think the fact she beat Serena all those times is impressive. But she is a case in point. All these players in your era on both sides never quite lived up to their potential. Venus should have won more than seven. Sharapova should have so many more. Henin should really have won Wimbledon. Venus just seemed to lack the fitness. Even before the syndrome she had struggled outside of Wimbledon and certain hard courts. Broadly speaking after 2006-07 she really tailed off. Except at Wimbledon and on certain hard courts she was no longer a factor. That being said, she was really consistent from 1999-2005 and then again briefly from 2007-2010. But she never became as great as she could be. It almost feels wrong to say Sharapova is greater, but I think she may just be.

TS: Heehee, well I actually listed Sharapova one spot ahead of Venus on my all-decade list for the 2000's and took some grief about it, but I think that speaks to the well-rounded nature of Sharapova's career that you rank her ahead of a seven-time slam winner, Gold Medalist and lock Hall of Famer like Venus. Incidentally, Venus was still a Top 10 player from 2007-10, and then the illness likely slowed her down from that point. Still, the fact is, many slam winners have had to go THROUGH Venus to win titles over the past decade, and I'm not just talking about Serena. From 2005-10, the U.S. Open winner had to defeat Venus en route on five occasions (only one was Serena), and then again last year at Wimbledon Kvitova's best match all fortnight came from Venus in the 3rd Round. Truthfully, at 35, anything we get from Venus at this point is just another layer of icing on a well-decorated cake. It might not be quite as grand as Serena's... but it's still quite spectacular.

GW: Yep. I like Venus and I think she's great, but she was always a one and a half slam player. Which is strange considering she usually does well on clay.

TS: Clay was always a struggle for both. For Serena, her footwork probabaly held her back in Paris more than anything, until Patrick M. helped clean up some aspects of her game. She won on natural power for so long, it's quite remarkable that she was able -- and willing -- to become a more well-rounded player so late in her career. Same with Sharapova.

GW: Well, you must have known that Evert's name would come up a lot. Let's not forget on clay Evert could still compete with Graf. There's no reason to drop this in here but I feel I have to point out she won 125 clay court matches in a row. Just sit and think about that for a second. It is beyond extraordinary.

TS: No doubt, Evert is one of the greatest players ever. That's not even an issue up for debate. I just don't think she plays much of role in terms of judging Graf's era. Navratilova, yes. Evert, no.

Where Evert is concerned, she was mostly out the door by the time Graf arrived. Her thirteen-season streak with at least one slam title ended in 1987, and she never won another after claiming Roland Garros in 1986. She lost to Graf in the first leg of the "Golden Slam" in '88, but by the end of the next season her career was over.


GW: But, yes the point is good. She had had enough. I think it was the rise of Graf that possibly convinced her, having reached her first final in 1973, that her time was coming to a close. That '73 French Open was possibly the best women's final at slam level in the 1970's. Martina was something else.

Serena, I think, is special in a different way. She wasn't innovative. She was special because she was so ultra-dominant and nobody ever really found a way to beat her. But Evert, Navratilova and Graf were all innovators. They all brought something new to the game. I would go further. I don't think there is a fitful comparison in all of sports.


TS: I think Serena's SERVE and overall power did revolutionize the game. Along with Venus, they forced the rest of the field to become stronger, fitter and, in a sense, take more chances on the court in order to have a shot to beat them. The players of the mid to late 2000's did a better job of that than some of the current ones, but it should be noted that so many of today's young players grew up idolizing Serena and/or her game. For most, that's probably crazy intimidating. Of course, that doesn't excuse not beating her more often.

Navratilova wasn't quite at her peak in Graf's early years, but she held on for as long as she possibly could (Graf's slam singles career only lasted five years beyond Martina's, even with their 13-year age difference), especially at Wimbledon. After Graf's early upset in '94, Navratilova played in her last Wimbledon final at age 37 that year (and it wasn't an embarrassment that she did it). She has to be factored into the act of comparing the eras, and I'm not sure there's a fitful comparison in Serena's era. Really, only Venus at this stage of HER career might come close (but not really).


GW: I think the closest Evert equivalent for Serena is probably Seles.

TS: Hmmm. Maybe. Not the same player (and not as good as a late-career Martina), but still competitive. If Graf had played into her thirties, maybe it might have been her. Well, it WOULD have.

All right, let me take a swing.



Basically, I think I can make my era's point best simply by comparing a few players, or groups of them. Here's my initial go-around. First off, how about the two-headed national threats comparison? While Graf had the Spaniards Sanchez and Conchita Martinez, Serena faced Belgians Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. Graf was 29-8 (5-2 in slam finals) against Sanchez, and 13-1 vs. Martinez. That sort of dominance over some of the biggest Hall of Fame-level achievers of her era sounds familiar. Meanwhile, Henin (a close 6-8 vs. Serena) defeated Williams in three straight slams at one point. It was her sudden retirement when she was #1 that created the environment that led to the AnaIvo/JJ/Caro/Safina stints at #1, which wouldn't even be an issue if she'd stuck around. Meanwhile, Serena had Clijsters' number in the less-than-it-should-have-been KC 1.0, but the Belgian's 2.0 comeback saw her as a player who no longer felt the pressure to win and her return featured three more slam titles and a brief return to #1. The only time THAT Clijsters faced Serena, she won in the '09 U.S. Open semi (one of Williams' three career defeats in 28 slam SF) in the match that included Serena's meltdown directed at the "foot-fault judge." In a head-to-head comparison, I'd take Waffle #1 (Henin) over Spaniard #1 (Sanchez), as well as Waffle #2 (KC) over Spaniard #2 (Conchita).




GW: When ASV ruled the world, she did it with seemingly nothing but excessive determination and complete utilization of all the talent she had been given. Which was little. She is like Ferrer in that aspect.

TS: Of course, Ferrer has never able to win a slam in his era. Sanchez won four in hers.



GW: Well, ASV won 759 matches and Henin 525. ASV had a longer period of relevance. They both had 12 slam finals. And ASV played Seles and Graf in every single one of them, except two. She played Pierce in two and won one. Because when Pierce gets it going nobody could stop her. Not even Graf could handle Pierce at her peak. Henin played Kuznetsova in implosion mode and Pierce in implosion mode. She played Ivanovic, too. She also played Clijsters three times. These are all players she could beat. ASV played the two greatest players of her era. Henin played two Williams sisters in slam finals. Plus ASV made 22 slam semi-finals, but Henin only 17. Consistency was something that ASV had over Henin. I think KC was a better player than Martinez, but Conchita won 725 matches. Clijsters just 523. And look at some of the players who the Belgian played in her finals. Wozniacki and Zvonareva. CM had Hingis and Navratilova. Plus Pierce, who went into some upper level of tennis.

Sanchez and Martinez are 1st and 3rd all time for clay wins. They are 2nd and 4th for French Open wins. Neither Henin nor Clijsters feature.


TS: Well, I think Henin will take her four RG titles in five years vs. Sanchez's three and Martinez's zero and be content. Henin is the greater player of the two between her and Sanchez. I feel totally secure in that assessment. Even on the best surface for both -- clay -- La Petit Taureau holds sway. As far as the match win totals, they're just numbers. I think we know that the shorter careers (but, still, more slam title-laden) of the Belgians are the reason for that. As far as who were her opponents in finals, it can't be ignored that Henin often knocked off bigger names getting to the finals of the seven slams she won, including Davenport ('04 AO), Sharapova ('05 RG), Capriati ('03 US) and Serena ('07 RG, one of the three straight times she defeated Williams in majors that season).

GW: And of course Hingis, too, was a strong number one.

TS: I think Hingis' rise was somewhat akin to what happened with Wozniacki and Jankovic. Aside from her actually winning slams, of course.


And, on that note. To be continued one final time... all for now.



NEXT TIME: Hingis, Capriati, the Russians...and Seles (DUM-DUM-DUUUUM)


Read more...

Monday, August 31, 2015

US.1 - Oh, AnaIvo


Oh, what are we going to do with Ana Ivanovic? Really, I'm seriously asking. Because she just seems destined to forever be a future subject of a "What If?" scenario about the career she never had.



The now 27-year old Serb burst onto the WTA scene early, winning her first tour title at age 17. With a big forehand that dreams are made of, she seemed to be tough and mentally strong. She reached her first slam final at 19, finished '07 in the Top 5, then opened the next season with a second slam final at 20. On the heels of Justine Henin's sudden retirement in the spring of 2008, Ivanovic reached her second straight slam major, replacing the departed Belgian as the Roland Garros champ and world #1. All great things seemed possible.

And then they all went to hell

Well, not really. But sort of. AnaIvo has had a good to very good career, and has never fallen all the way off the tennis map like so many young stars who don't fully pan out, but all the promise that she showed before she rose to the top of the sport disappeared pretty much right at that very same moment. Not ready for the pressure of the spotlight, but in demand in many corners off the court, Ivanovic lost track of the Hall of Fame-worthy talent and the confidence her rise should have given her. At the end of the summer, as the world #1 in New York, she became the first top seed to lose before the 3rd Round when she was sent out in the 1st Round of the Open by #188-ranked qualifier Julie Coin, the biggest upset (numbers-wise) ever at the event. By the end of that '08 season, she'd lost the #1 ranking to fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic and finished at #5 WITH a slam title, after having been #4 WITHOUT one the previous year.

What followed was a string of year-end finishes that were, quite frankly, below her. #22, #17, #22, #13 and #16. Along with the relative mediocrity came a slew of coaching changes and questions. Finally, in 2014, while the coaching in-and-out continued, she somewhat righted her career ship. She upset Serena Williams in Melbourne and reached the Australian Open QF (just her second at a slam since winning RG in '08), won her first tour singles title in three years (eventually grabbing a career-best four), returned to the Top 10 after a five-year absence and even finished in the Top 5.

AnaIvo opened '15 with a final in Brisbane, but hasn't reached another since. Her semifinal in Paris was her first at a major in seven years, but it's been her lone slam result of note since that Melbourne QF run. With her 1st Round loss to Dominika Cibulkova today at Flushing Meadows, Ivanovic's has put up 3rd-3rd-2nd-1st-SF-2nd-1st Round results at the last seven majors.

Ivanovic is still just 27, and her admirable 44 consecutive slam streak could eventually put her in the WTA record books (though she's still four and a half years off the all-time tour best of 62), but time is running out on the hopes that maybe the Serb could still reclaim some of the luster her career has lost over most of the last decade. She'll always be a fan favorite, and successful off the court. But she shouldn't have been a one-slam winner in the style of Gabriela Sabatini.

She was better than that.

As for now, though, I guess it's officially, "Coach, Watch Your Back" time in AnaIvo Land. I mean, shouldn't we be expecting some sort of familiar announcement soon?



Meanwhile, Cibulkova has had just the opposite sort of career arc.

The Slovak's 6-3/3-6/6-3 win on Day 1 included several swings of momentum but, ultimately, it was Cibulkova who showed the most fight. She came back from 0-2 down in the 1st, getting three straight breaks of serve to end the set. Ivanovic overcame a 3-1 deficit in the 2nd to force a 3rd, but Cibulkova wasn't about to bow to the pressure. AnaIvo broke her to take a 1-0 lead in the final set, but then Cibulkova reeled off four consecutive games, saving two break points in game #6 to hold for 4-2 in what turned out to be Ivanovic's last true stand. The loss made #7 Ivanovic the first seed to fall at this year's Open... but anyone who dubs this a "surprise," or even a real "upset," isn't really being true in the face of the facts.



Cibulkova was a bit of a late bloomer, with her aggression-and-speed combo not securing her first tour title until 21 after she'd been "the best title-less" player on tour for a few seasons. Always a dangerous firebrand of a player who could upset anyone on a good day, she reached her maiden slam final last year in Melbourne at 24, and became a Top 10er for the first time two months before turning 25.

She returned to the AO this year and reached the quarterfinals, but Achilles' surgery put her out all spring. As the summer hard court has progressed, Cibulkova's game has started to round back into form, leading up to today's easy morning pick for "Most Intriguing Match-Up" with Ivanovic.

After surviving today, the unseeded Slovak now assumes the role of "de facto" #7 seed in AnaIvo's place, and the fiery firecracker (hmmm, is that redundant?) is dangerous and more than up to the task. Well, at least more so than the actual #7 seed she now replaces in what has become a virtually decimated quarter of the draw after Monday's string of high profile losses in what was once the "Sharapova Quarter." Assuming her health isn't an issue, Cibulkova seems to have a clear shot at the quarterfinals, and might be the favorite there to reach the semis should she get that far. She should be approached with caution.


Oh, and, of course, she's one of the many players at this Open sporting a pair of those you'd-sort-of-like-to-cover-your-eyes-because-of-the-brightness-but-they-look-too-good-to-turn-away shoes.



Go, Domi, go.




=DAY 1 NOTES=
...it's Day 1, so the first award -- for the first main draw victory -- usually is dispensed within the first hour. At this Open the "First Victory" honors go to Mariana Duque. The Colombian defeated the youngest player in the draw, 16-year old wild card Bannerette Sonya Kenin, 6-3/6-1 in just under an hour. Duque's win is another sign that the fortunes of South American women's tennis are FINALLY starting to take an up-tick. Brazil's Teliana Pereira has won two tour titles this year, and was also the "First Victory" winner at Roland Garros. So after no South Americans were given this slam honor since I've been keeping track of it since 2009, TWO won it in 2015. That might not sound like a big deal, but at some slams in recent years NO South American women posted 1st Round wins, and I believe more than once there weren't ANY in the main draw to even get any victories.

Pereira lost today to '14 Open semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova (#13) 6-3/6-3.

...#15 seed Aga Radwanska, a year after being the first woman to advance to the 2014 Open 2nd Round, was the second to do so today, taking out young Czech Katerina Siniakova 6-2/6-3. The Pole showed some nice aggression in the match, winning 13 of 15 net approaches and hitting four aces, including a final one on match point. She won 81% of her 1st serves, and 69% of her 2nd serves. Especially for her, that's pretty good.

...Backspin's Q-Player of the Week advanced to the 2nd Round, as well. Jessica Pegula defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 7-5/6-3 today to get her first career slam win.



The daughter of the owner of the NFL's Buffalo Bills and NHL's Buffalo Sabres, I've been seeing Pegula called "heiress" the last day or so. Though technically correct, I'm not sure if it was meant as a compliment or not, considering how often so many seem to be mention with disdain that Ernests Gulbis comes from a rich family. Of course, Pegula isn't the first "heiress" on tour -- remember, Carling Bassett?



...as the afternoon wore on, along with the loss by AnaIvo, things got a bit, ummm, how should I say? Interesting.

#30 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and Kristina Mladenovic traded off trying to choke away their good fortune in their 1st Round match-up. The Pastry won the 1st set 6-3, then went up 4-1 in the 2nd. She served at 5-4, holding triple match point at 40/love... and then burped out four straight unforced errors, hit a double-fault, and handed over the break to the veteran Hordette and former Open champ. But Sveta being Sveta, it wouldn't last. She was immediately broken back as Mladenovic took a 6-5 lead, then served out the 6-3/7-5 win on her second chance, winning on MP #5.



But that was nothing compared to the match between Madison Brengle and Zheng Saisai. In a spinny, moonballing contest, the Bannerette -- who, you might remember, finally ended her decade-long career quest by recording her first career slam MD match win at last year's U.S. Open -- led 6-2/4-2, only to lose serve three straight times to drop the set and see the Chinese woman take a 5-2 lead in the 3rd. Zheng served for the match at 5-2 and 5-4, but the long, drawn-out (eventually 3:21) match eventually went Brengle's way when, in game #12 of the 3rd, she finally got the break of serve to win on her sixth MP (all in that final game), 6-2/5-7/7-5.

She then dropped her racket, raised her arms in celebration, picked up the racket up again... then trudged, with the sort of short steps you see from an exhausted tennis player, to the changeover area, where she plopped herself down in her chair like a worn-out dish rag that had been forced to sop up way more liquid than it could hold. Just like any early Zombie Queen nominee should, I suppose.

...meanwhile, what was once the "Sharapova Quarter" was simply decimated. With #3 Sharapova absent, and #7 Ivanovic and #30 Kuznetsova already having been ousted, the carnage wasn't over.

#21 Jelena Jankovic won the 1st set over hard-hitting wild card Oceane Dodin, but the Pastry charged back to win the 2nd and take a 4-2 lead in the 3rd. With her right leg taped up from mid-calf to mid-thigh, Dodin fell behind love/40 on serve as JJ looked ready to get back on serve. But Dodin held for 5-2, then served for the match at 5-3. She held at love, taking the match 2-6/7-5/6-3.

ALL the Serb hopes aren't dashed, though. Bojana Jovanovski won today, and '14 Open star Aleksandra Krunic plays tomorrow.

In the same quarter, in a match that went on simultaneously with the Jankovic loss, U.S. Open Series champ (cough, cough, hack, hack) Karolina Pliskova (#8) was ridden out of town on a rusty rail with a few jagged nails sticking out by qualifier Anna Tatishvili in 52 minutes. The Georgian-turned-Bannerette played spectacularly, but it's hard to not see this as another weak-ass slam result from the Top 10 Czech, who has STILL yet to advance past the 3rd Round at a major (hey, at least she outlasted twin sister Kristyna at this slam... but only barely, as she lost in the opening round of qualifying). After winning the 1st set 6-2, Tatishvili ran off to a 5-0 lead in the 2nd, while Pliskova was left to stew in her pre-Open remarks of a week or so ago about focusing on doing better in the slams.

Serving at 5-1, Tatishvili held at love to take the match, almost insultingly ending things against the big-serving Maiden with a second serve ace up the "T" on MP. Ouch.



Later, #10 Carla Suarez-Navarro went down 6-1/7-6(5) (double-faulting on MP) to Czech Denisa Allertova, losing her SEVENTH consecutive match (she hasn't won since before Wimbledon); while

#13 Makarova, #17 Elina Svitolina and #25 Genie Bouchard (a good straight sets win over Alison Riske) were the only three of seven seeds in the Former Sharapova Quarter to win today, essentially assuring a "surprise" or newcomer semifinalist. Of course, Makarova reached the final four a year ago, but she's been injured and off-form on hard courts this summer, so it was hard to expect a similar result a few days ago. Who knows whether she's physically right enough to repeat today's performance for four more (at least) rounds.

In The Match That Time (and Maria) Forgot, it was a Battle of the Darias, as battery-powered Russo-Aussie Gavrilova faced off with "lucky loser" Hordette Kasatkina.

Quite possibly the absence of her expected opponent (Sharapova) put a little pressure on the back of Gavrilova, who had to take a gander at the draw on front of her and realize that a BIG opportunity could be there for the taking. The young Russian got the better of her early, taking the 1st set 6-2, and was up a break at 3-2 in the 2nd before Gavrilova got her footing in the match, breaking her to get back on serve. She won the 2nd with a break at love to send things to a 3rd.

In the 3rd, at 1-1, Gavrilova took a medical timeout as a trainer came to the court and massaged the back of her thighs while she stretched out on her stomach on the court surface. She then came out and held serve, then broke Kasatkina to go up 3-1. The Russian got the break back a game later. The two exchanged breaks again in games #7 and #8, then Kasatkina broke for 6-5 when Gavrilova let a passing shot go at the net, only to see it catch the sideline and break her to give the Russian a chance to serve for the match.

During the changeover, while Kasatkina sat in her chair Gavrilova stayed on her feet and walked around, as one had to believe she might be experiencing some cramping in the latter stages of a humid New York day. In the final game, from 30/30, Gavrilova sprayed a pair of shots and Kasatkina had her first career slam victory, winning 6-2/4-6/7-5 in 2:26. While Gavrilova doubled Kasatkina in winners (40-20), she more than did the same in unforced errors (52-24), as well.

Kasatkina, the 2014 RG girls champ, is the first "lucky loser" to notch a slam MD win since Irina Falconi at the 2014 Australian. The last time a female LL reached the 3rd Round at a major was Sandra Kleinova at the 1997 AO. The Russian faces Ana Konjuh in the 2nd Round.



Of course, the survivor of the former Sharapova Quarter will meet the winner of the Serena Quarter. Hmmm, maybe it's not Serena who's feeling the MOST pressure of history at this U.S. Open, huh?

...update as of the late afternoon:


QUALIFIER WINS: Kiki Bertens/NED (def. Lucic-Baroni), Anett Kontaveit/EST (def. Dellacqua), Jessica Pegula/USA (def. Van Uytvanck), Anna Tatishvili/USA (def. Ka.Pliskova)
WILD CARD WINS: Oceane Dodin/FRA (def. Jankovic), Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA (def. Kozlova)
BANNERETTE WINS: Madison Brengle (def. Sai.Zheng), Lauren Davis (def. Watson), Irina Falconi (def. Crawford), Madison Keys (def. Koukalova), Bethanie Mattek-Sands (def. Kozlova), Jessica Pegula (def. Van Uytvanck), Anna Tatishvili (def. Ka.Pliskova), Coco Vandeweghe (def. Stephens), Venus Williams (def. Puig)

AMERICAN STILL TO FINISH ON DAY 1:: S.Williams

...late in the afternoon, after a disappointing hard court lead-up, Venus Williams (#23) didn't suffer one of "those" losses that you try to put out of your mind as quickly as possible, but it looked a little shaky for a bit.

Williams served for the match at 6-4/5-3 against Monica Puig, but failed to close things out. Things went to a tie-break, where Venus led 6-3 and held four match points. But Puig won six of the final seven points of the TB, and things went to a 3rd set when Venus double-faulted on the Puerto Rican's set point. But Williams rebounded in the final set, breaking Puig on her fourth BP of game #1 and never giving up the advantage. Venus never faced a BP in the 3rd, winning 6-4/6-7(7)/6-3 to notch her 65h career U.S. Open match win (fifth all-time, behind Evert, Navratilova, Serena and Graf).

...meanwhile, the American media's veneration of Coco Vandeweghe continued on ESPN today.

As it turned out, though, the big-hitting Bannerette actually deserved it on Day 1. Though I'm sure she'll say something that will tick me off soon. She simply overpowered #29 Sloane Stephens, winning 6-4/6-3.

Oh, and she made a little history, too, agreeing to the USTA/ESPN notion of being interviewed between sets by Pam Shriver.



Not sure if this a good idea, though. It was interesting, but it sort of reeks of ESPN desperation, I think.

...before the start of the night session, qualifier Kiki Bertens dispensed of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who made big headlines at the Open last year with her upset of Simona Halep (who she also beat at this year's Roland Garros).



DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: No Maria.



Alas, Sharapova withdrew from the Open on Sunday. Any slam without Sharapova loses a little luster, and she's now missed the event two of the last three years.

It's also a sad development for Sharapova. With or without the leg injury that cost her her entire hard court summer schedule, she probably didn't have much of a shot to win this title. Truth is, she may never again really be a TRUE threat to do so, with her best chances at more major crowns likely being at Roland Garros or even at the Australian Open. And that, too, is a lamentable development, for Sharapova more than any other player -- male or female -- fits snugly into the bright lights, big city vibe of the Open in New York.

Remember, she was once Exquisite in the City. At the time, it seemed the Open was going to be "her" slam over the course of her career. Things change.


LIKE FROM DAY 1: Googlicious.



LOVE FROM DAY 1: I always enjoy the Swiss Mini-People!



FORGOTTEN WOMAN FROM DAY 1, Part 1: Quick! Name the missing 2014 U.S. Open semifinalist who reached the final four of this event one year ago! There was Serena, Caro, Makarova and... to be continued...

UPDATE FROM DAY 1: The other Russian Maria...

??? ?? #babyboy #mishutka

A photo posted by Maria Kirilenko (@maria_kirilenko87) on


LIKE FROM DAY 1: A nice little moment-put-to-paper (or screen, I guess) from the other OTHER Russian Maria...



Hmmm... FROM DAY 1: Probably not a good sign. Two months after reaching the Wimbledon final, but after a winless hard court season, Garbine Muguruza has confirmed her split with coach Alejo Mancisidor after Cincinnati.

LIKE FROM DAY 1: By the way, I really like the skeleton, work-in-progress look of Arthur Ashe Stadium as the project to finally get the roof in place is ongoing. Of course, it'll look very different a year from now.

I also enjoyed seeing Centre Court the year before the roof went up there, when the structure was somewhat stripped down without the overhang, making the whole feel a more "open" one.


FORGOTTEN WOMAN FROM DAY 1, Part 2: Well, of course, it's Peng Shuai. We won't likely hear her name uttered during this slam because, well, we're sort of stuck with ESPN covering it. But the Chinese woman had quite the dramatic Open a year ago. Unfortunately, it ended that way, too.


Peng concluded '14 by ending her longtime doubles partnership with Hsieh Su-Wei, and it's been downhill from there. Her season record is 6-7 (and 0-4 in doubles, after being ranked #1 as recently as July '14), and when we last saw her she was retiring at Roland Garros with a back injury, then announcing that it was severe enough that she was ending her season right then and there.

Peng was supposed to pick up the torch set down by Li Na this season. It hasn't worked out that way.

DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: Really, ESPN? You take the ENTIRE U.S. Open package, leaving CBS and even the-fill-in-the-slam-gaps Tennis Channel out of the mix, and then promote your wall-to-wall coverage of the event as something great. And then you leave the first two hours of each day during the event to air on ESPN3 rather than any of your THREE over-the-air networks? After having used the same hours of the day to air Wimbledon earlier in the summer, your own home nation slam isn't worthy of something other than online coverage? Typical.

Worse yet, even the actual network coverage that ESPN does deign to air seems to have no rhyme or reason to it. There's no all-knowing-eye coverage of the event that keeps everyone fully updated about the happenings on all the courts, jumping from one match to the other when events call for it, but there's also no real coverage of even the matches that are chosen for air. The Williams/Puig match was left for a long stretch in the 3rd after the Puerto Rican won the dramatic 2nd set tie-break, only coming back when Williams was a game away from putting away the match.

(Rolls eyes.)

...and, finally...

ATP Backspin's Galileo West and I have combined for a "Backspin Volley" that looks at the players that made up the "Graf Era" and the "Serena Era." The first part debuted earlier today, with the other two rolling out over the first few days of this Open.

Here's something from that collaboration that was left on the editing room floor. It's something of a "Baffle the Backspinner" quiz. I tried to answer GW's brain teasers, and you could, too, if you wish.

Galileo: We're going to play a game. I have taken five different players from the Open era and I would like you to guess their highest rankings. Don't try to guess the player. I want you with an open mind and nothing but the information before you guess what their highest ranking was. And remember these players could be anyone. I may even throw in a man just to throw you off.

Player 1: Number six in doubles. 4-4 in slam finals. 27-24 in all finals. Four Fed Cups. 14 slam semi-finals.

Todd: I tried to so as you said, but it's hard not to try to match up an actual player (so I did both). I'd say somewhere between #3-5, largely because the four slam titles cuts down the candidates. Someone with a Hana Mandlikova-like career.
GW: You nailed it. Mandlikova it indeed was. She only ever got to world number three and she won four slams [equal to Clijsters]. Two out of two [one for the player and the ranking, seeing as you tried to name payers].

Player 2: Number one in doubles. 1-3 in slam finals. 40 finals in singles. Three Olympic medals. Has beaten several different number ones.

TS: Well, that one's easy because all those numbers are very familiar to me. That's my All-Time Backspin fave Jana Novotna, who got to #2.
GW: I thought you'd nail that one. Yes you're correct again. It was Novotna. She made it to world number two as we all know. So four from four.
TS: Ah, Jana.

Player 3: Has thirteen Tier 1 finals. 0-1 in slam finals. 6 slam semi-finals.

TS: Hmmm, 0-1 in slam finals, but a solid near-high end career. I'd say between #5-8. (Maybe someone like Pam Shriver, since you said Tier I? I could be way off on that one. Dementieva is close, but I know she was in two slam finals.)
GW: That's Jankovic and she of course was world number one. Her career feels better than those numbers, doesn't it? That's four from six.

Player 4: Has four finals at the YEC. 1-2 in slam finals. 55 singles finals. 30 in doubles. 18 slam semi-finals.

TS: Somewhere between #4-6. I'm getting a Conchita Martinez vibe, but the 18 slam semis is too high. A 1970's era player?
GW: World number three. Sabatini. Four from eight.
TS: Wow, 18 semis. She really should have won more than one slam.

Player 5: 4-3 in Tier 1 finals and 21 finals overall. 0-1 in slam finals. Two junior slam titles.

TS: I won't go as high here. Maybe #11-15? (Or could this be the ATP player?)
GW: That's a world number two. That's Aga Radwanska. And I thought you'd guess one of either her or Jankovic. So four from ten. I would've got about 2 out of ten. In fact I think four is a great score. No sarcasm here.
TS: I think the "Tier I" sent me off course. If it'd been "Premier" I might have focused in better. This is a good brain exercise though!





Vika's 2006 U.S. Open debut... she got her first career slam MD win and reached the 3rd Round at 17 years old.




Multi-talented Caro.




And ANOTHER cover.





Or not. Oh, well... a surprise run was a nice idea while it lasted.







*RECENT U.S. OPEN "FIRST VICTORY"*
2009 Vania King, USA (def. Yakimova)
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA (def. Morita)
2011 Monica Niculescu, ROU (def. Mayr-Achleitner)
2012 Anna Tatishvili, GEO (def. Foretz-Gacon)
2013 Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (def. Davis)
2014 Aga Radwanska, POL (def. Fichman)
2015 Mariana Duque, COL (def. Kenin)
[2015]
AO: Julia Goerges, GER (def. Bencic/SUI)
RG: Teliana Pereira, BRA (def. Ferro/FRA)
WI: Victoria Azarenka, BLR (def. Kontaveit/EST)
US: Mariana Duque, COL (def. Kenin/USA)

*RECENT U.S. OPEN "FIRST SEED OUT"*
2005 #28 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (Schruff)
2006 #15 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER (Rezai)
2007 #29 Samantha Stosur, AUS (Cornet)
2008 #24 Shahar Peer, ISR (Li)
2009 #25 Kaia Kanepi, EST (K.Chang)
2010 #8 Li Na, CHN (K.Bondarenko)
2011 #5 Petra Kvitova, CZE (Dulgheru)
2012 #27 Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (Hradecka)
2013 #29 Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (Mayr-Achleitner)
2014 #25 Garbine Muguruza, ESP (Lucic-Baroni)
2015 #7 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (Cibulkova)
[2015]
AO: #32 Belinda Bencic, SUI (Goerges)
RG: #31 Caroline Garcia, FRA (Vekic)
WI: #24 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (Diyas)
US: #7 Ana Ivanovic, SRB (Cibulkova)

*BACKSPIN 2015 PLAYER-OF-THE-MONTH WINNERS*
JAN: Serena Williams, USA
FEB: Andrea Petkovic, GER
MAR: Simona Halep, ROU
1Q: Serena Williams, USA
APR/MAY: Angelique Kerber, GER
MAY/JUN: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2Q Clay Court/RG: Serena Williams, USA
JUN: Angelique Kerber, GER
2Q Grass Court/WI: Serena Williams, USA
JUL/AUG: Angelique Kerber, USA
AUG: Serena Williams, USA
[2015 Weekly POW Award Wins]
5...Serena Williams, USA
3...Simona Halep, ROU
3...Angelique Kerber, GER
2...Belinda Bencic, SUI
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE
2...Maria Sharapova, RUS
2...Samantha Stosur, AUS
1...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
1...Camila Giorgi, ITA
1...Martina Hingis/Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
1...Teliana Pereira, BRA
1...Andrea Petkovic, GER
1...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
1...Lucie Safarova, CZE
1...Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
1...Washington Kastles (Team of the Week)
1...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
[2015 Fed Cup Overall MVP Wins]
1...Sara Errani, ITA
1...Andrea Petkovic, GER
[2015 Fed Cup Team MVP Wins]
2...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
2...Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
2...Arantxa Rus, NED
1...Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
1...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
1...Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
1...Bianca Botto, PER
1...Veronica Cepede Royg/Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR
1...Misaki Doi, JPN
1...Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
1...Sara Errani, ITA
1...Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
1...Olga Govortsova, BLR
1...Anett Kontaveit, EST
1...Petra Kvitova, CZE
1...Akvile Parazinskaite, LTU
1...Andrea Petkovic, GER
1...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
1...Charlotte Roemer, ECU
1...Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
1...Anna Schmiedlova, SVK
1...Maria Sharapova, RUS
1...Prarthana Thombare, IND
1...Venus Williams, USA
1...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
*...Captains of the Week: Amelie Mauresmo/FRA(1), Anastasia Myskina/RUS(1)




TOP QUALIFIER: (WC) Jessica Pegula/USA
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Tereza Mrdeza/CRO d. #2 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ 5-7/7-6(8)/7-6(4) [3:12; saved 3 MP]
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: xx
=============================
FIRST VICTORY: Mariana Duque/COL (def. Kenin/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #7 Ana Ivanovic/SRB (lost 1st Rd. to Cibulkova/SVK)
UPSET QUEENS: xx
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Nominee: Serbia
CRASH & BURN: Nominee: Serbs (#7 Ivanovic, 1st Rd.-Cibulkova; #21 Jankovic, 1st Rd.-Dodin), #8 Ka.Pliskova (out 1st Rd. in :52 to Tatishvili; U.S. Open Series winner)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: Brengle/USA (1st Rd. - blew 6-2/4-2 lead, Sai.Zheng served at 5-2 and 5-4 in 3rd, Brengle broke to won on 6th MP of final game)
IT ("xx"): xx
Ms.OPPORTUNITY: xx
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Day 1 wins: Bertens/NED, Kontaveit/EST, Pegula/USA, Tatishvili/USA
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Day 1 wins: Dodin/FRA, Mattek-Sands/USA
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: Day 1 wins: Brengle, Davis, Falconi, Keys, Mattek-Sands, Pegula, Tatishvili, Vandeweghe, V.Williams (S.Williams to finish on Day 1)
COMEBACK PLAYER: Nominee: Duval (lost in qualifying), Cibulkova
KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM VETERAN CUP (KDK CUP): xx
DOUBLES STAR: xx
BROADWAY-BOUND: xx
LADY OF THE EVENING: xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx




All for Day 1. More tomorrow.

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