US.1 - The Past and the Future... but what about the present?
In a matter of a few hours on Day 1 at this U.S. Open, we were blessed with competing images of two players who are the past and future of American tennis. Whether they're also the PRESENT, though, will take a few more rounds of play to determine.
Going into Monday, it was easy to look at the draw and have good feelings about #15-seeded Sloane Stephens, 20 years old and in just her third U.S. Open, prospects as she faced off with veteran Mandy Minella of Luxembourg. In contrast, I think everyone was prepared to try to not feel TOO bad when it was all over about unseeded Venus Williams, 33 and working on her fifteenth Flushing Meadows edition, and her likely less-than-sterling chances against #12-seeded Kirsten Flipkens. After all, while Stephens defeated Venus' sister Serena in Melbourne in January to reach the Australian Open semifinals, Venus' back injury (leading to slow serves when she's played in recent months, taking away Williams' biggest weapon) and lingering Sjogren's Syndrome-related fatigue kept her out of Wimbledon, where Waffle Flipkens reached her own maiden slam semifinal. A few weeks ago in Toronto, Flipkens had defeated Venus, as well, even after dropping the 1st set at love.
First, isn't it nice to be wrong about Venus? And, second, isn't it still hard to quite make out just what -- or which -- Stephens is out there in any given match?
Williams was up first and, in a turnabout of expectations, she largely had an easy time of it. In less than ninety minutes, she defeated Flipkens 6-1/6-2 to send out the highest-seeded woman so far at this Open. Of course, that Venus is scheduled to play doubles (as of now, at least) with Serena in NYC is probably a good sign that she's feeling a bit better. And this win only solidifies the notion. How long Venus can last in this slam is up for debate, for a variety of known and unforeseen reasons. But, it should be noted, there IS the possibility of one more Venus/Serena U.S. Open meeting in the quarterfinals.
How about it? For old time's sake?
Naturally, on court after the match, Venus was essentially asked yet another retirement question (come on, can't the women get a break when she wins?) in relation to James Blake's announcement today, but she handled it with ease. As usual. During an ESPN2 set interview, it was noted to her that even with her recent early losses, she never seems to get down about anything. "What would be the point of that?, she wondered, with a smile. It's that great attitude, along with so many other things, that is why I'll continue to hold onto the idea I brought up many years ago that Venus should be the WTA CEO one day. Surely, she'd find a way to drum up business at a tournament without having to drag in ATP players to "do a man's work," right?)
One would hope that, eventually, a little bit of Venus' persona (although they have VERY different personalities, of course) will rub off on Stephens. So often on the court she looks like she just stepped on her favorite bug, then a few moments later realizes she really DIDN'T step on her favorite bug. But, of course, then a few moments later she realizes that, no, she actually DID step on that bug. Really, it's a never-ending cycle until a match is over.
In Stephens' 1st Round match against Minella, we got all the usual push-and-pull of a Current Sloane match. Minella went up quickly 5-2 in the 1st, and held three set points, but Stephens battled back to 5-5, only to see Minella take the opening stanza on her sixth set point. Stephens then handily won the 2nd, but fell behind again in the 3rd as she was bothered by the appearances of some sprinkles, the safety of the court and, as ESPN2's Pam Shriver noted, the question bouncing around inside her head about whether or not she should really be out there (and after what happened vs. Azarenka in Melbourne, Stephens needs no extraneous thoughts competing for attention inside her skull during a match -- she has more than enough of them fighting to escape in her POST-match moments). Minella led 4-2 in the final set, and Stephens looked like she might crash out of the slam where she's been set since January to be a headliner and home crowd favorite.
And then she morphed into a Day 1 "Zombie Queen."
Stephens broke for 4-3, then held for 4-4. As Minella was bothered by an injured ankle (or cramping) and probably nerves, causing her to go for quick winners and avoid long rallies, Stephens held even and took things to a deciding tie-break, the second of her U.S. Open career (2011 1st Rd. -- def. Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani!). Minella shot to a 3-1 lead, but then Stephens saw the bug was safe and reeled off five straight points, including a momentum-gathering ace to get to 3-3, as well as a nice volley winner for 4-3. Up triple match point and serving at 6-3, though, Stephens dropped both service points, the second on an error. Of course, the idea of returning serve under such circumstances was probably more preferable, and armed with less inherent pressure, for the American.
The notion held firm, too, as Stephens fired back a crosscourt backhand pass attempt that Minella was unable to volley over the net. Stephens won the tie-break 7-5, and the match 4-6/6-3/7-6(5). Stephens is now 15-5 in 3rd sets in 2013. Not quite "Future Sloane" stuff, but the Current version is at least getting closer to optimum.
With just five Open wins to her credit, Stephens is still a work in progress. So is Venus (w/ 63 wins, fifth all-time on the women's side)... just a much more complicated work. The future seems bright for both Americans, even if the present has unique sets of questions for the two women. Their very different times will come, and they'll find the strength to succeed. Of course, maybe they can find some additional time to do the same over the course of the next two weeks, as well. It could lead to something wonderful.
But what are the odds of that?
=DAY 1 NOTES=
...well, it very nearly turned into a horse race to determine the First Victory at this Open, as the Suarez-Navarro/Davis and Li/Govortsova matches hurtled toward early finishes. Perhaps if American Lauren Davis had won a game -- ANY game -- against Carla Suarez-Navarro she would have avoided the dishonor of being the first woman to see her U.S. Open end. But she didn't. CSN (obviously no Kuznetsova) won 6-0/6-0 in fifty-eight minutes, while the Chinese vet advanced soon afterward after losing just four total games.
Aga Radwanska, in the first match on Ashe, took out Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-1/6-2 in good time, as well. Later in the day, the Radwanska family moved to 2-0 at this slam when Ula took down Irina-Camelia Begu 6-1/6-3.
...the search for the First Seed Out looked like it may become a nail biter, too. After all, #25 Kaia Kanepi, coming off another period of inactivity, was down a set and in a 2nd set tie-break with wild card Vania King, while #29 Magdalena Rybarikova was down a set and a 2nd set break against "lucky loser" Patricia Mayr-Achleitner. But Kanepi pushed through and won the breaker, then the entire match, over the Bannerette, while the Slovak ultimately fell to the Austrian 7-6/6-3.
...elsewhere, Sabine Lisicki defeated qualifier Vera Dushevina... but only after a stoppage in play when a squirrel scurried onto the court and had a difficult time finding safe passage off the blue surface. It finally did behind a scoreboard.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova didn't fall flat (imagine that!), defeating wild card Virginie Razzano 7-5/6-0, while teenager Anna Schmiedlova upset Stefanie Voegele in a 3rd set tie-breaker. And, in the continuation of one of this season's "feel good" stories, Alisa Kleybanova got a win over one of 2013's young slam stars, Monica Puig. It's the first slam win by the Russian since the '11 Australian Open (and first at the U.S. Open since '10), before she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma later that year.
QUALIFIER WINS: Kurumi Nara/JPN, Coco Vandweghe/USA
WILD CARD WINS: Ashleigh Barty/AUS
LUCKY LOSER WIN: Patricia Mayr-Achleitner/AUT
BANNERETTE WINS: Jamie Hampton, Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA, Sloane Stephens/USA, Coco Vandeweghe, Venus Williams (w/ S.Williams & Keys to complete matches)
...meanwhile, it was a "good" day for Australia. Not only did wild card Barty notch a win, but the land down under ADDED a name to the women's draw when Japan's Ayumi Morita pulled out with a back injury. She'll be replaced by "lucky loser" Olivia Rogowska, who'll face #4-seed Sara Errani in the 1st Round on Day 2.
...check out the U.S. Open photostream on Pixable.com.
...in ITF action from Week 34, well, I may as well get it over with (for a second time today):
Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani!
Yep, the hungry Hungarian fed her appetite for ITF crowns once again over the weekend, winning a $10K in Prague to up her circuit-leading season title total to eight. She's 8-1 in finals. The ITF's second-leading title-winner for 2013 is Israel's Denis Khazaniuk, and she added title #6 to her win column, as well, at the end of last week in a $10K in Wanfercee-Baulet.
Elsewhere, Hordette Anna Morgina won season title #4 in the latest $10K Sharm El Sheikh challenger in Egypt.
...LIKE FROM DAY 1:
-- Venus' dress. Though I'm more than a bit on the fence about the magenta-colored hair.
...DISLIKE FROM DAY 1:
-- The American Express ad featuring sketch comedian Carrie Brownstein. I mean, this commercial was fine the first couple times it was aired a few months ago. But when it's been run over and over and over and over and over and over again on every channel ever since, you sort of want to see a piano fall on her spectacled, ice cream cone eating version of herself before the character reaches the end of the sidewalk. Make a "template of a template" of that, I say.
...Ummmm, ????? FROM THE NIGHT BEFORE DAY 1:
--at least Miley didn't change her name to SugarCyrusPova for that performance. Of course, a case could be made that she SHOULD have, though, I suppose.
...if events warrant it, as will be the case throughout the Open, I'll have an additional "U.S. Open at Night" post later this evening/early morning. Serena (vs. Schiavone) and Federer will play in the featured matches in the first night session on Ashe. Otherwise, I might just add appropriate updates in the comments section.
...and, finally, as always at the slams, Anabel Medina-Garrigues' time in the draw has an expiration date stamped on its forehead. At the 2013 edition of the U.S. Open, that date was today.
In January, the Spaniand lost in the 1st Round of the Australian Open to #11 seed Marion Bartoli. In the springtime in Paris, she was ousted in her opening match by #6 Li Na. In London, it was #24 seed Peng Shuai who did the deed. In New York, it was Pastry Kristina Mladenovic (6-1/1-6/6-1) who handed AMG her 21st career 1st Round slam exit in forty-six slam appearances.
Medina-Garrigues has now lost in FIVE straight 1st Rounds (and is 0-6 in her last six slam matches), achieving an "unGrand Slam+1" with the first such run of TRUE slam futility in her career. The stretch began last summer at Flushing Meadows, when the #27-seeded Spaniard was the "First Seed Out," losing to Lucie Hradecka. Today's loss gives AMG a record of 10-31 vs. Top 50 players in slams, and 23-41 vs. Top 100's. Mladenovic is ranked #36, while Medina-Garrigues came into this week at just #97.
Actually, the U.S. Open is the Spaniard's second-best slam, after Roland Garros, in terms of results. This is her fifth 1st Round exit at the Open, fewer than at any slam site other than Paris, where's she only been ejected so early once (in her 2001 debut). Her best Open results were 3rd Round appearances in 2005, '07 and '11.
Okay, now here's where I'm obliged to once again note that AMG is STILL linked in history with Anna Smashnova as the only players to ever win double-digit WTA singles titles but never reach a slam Final 8. There, that's another Daily Backspin slam ritual checked off the list. Medina-Garrigues, 31, now has a career slam match record of 43-46 (even with her current six-match slam losing streak, it's still far better than Smashnova's record, see below). She's 9-11 at Flushing Meadows for her career.
On the bright side, maybe she and Mladenovic will team up for doubles in the future... they might be a good combo!
Oh, well... keep on fighting the good fight, AMG.
Another peek at the Maria Sharapova Social Channel, as Maria, her agent Max and her best friend Sophie talk about the start of Maria's tennis career.
The MSSC Faceback page has added a new feature to the app called SharaVideo, which allows fans to send video messages directly to Sharapova. She'll choose her favorites and respond to them. Naturally, fans are sharing their best wishes to Maria for a speedy recovery.
*RECENT "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)
AO: Maria Sharapova, RUS (def. Puchkova)
RG: Sara Errani, ITA (def. Rus)
WI: Lesia Tsurenko, UKR (def. Arruabarrena-Vecino)
US: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (def. Davis)
*RECENT "FIRST SEED OUT"*
2005 #28 Flavia Pennetta, ITA (lost to Schruff)
2006 #15 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER (lost to Rezai)
2007 #29 Samantha Stosur, AUS (lost to Cornet)
2008 #24 Shahar Peer, ISR (lost to Li)
2009 #25 Kaia Kanepi, EST (lost to Chang)
2010 #8 Li Na, CHN (lost to K.Bondarenko)
2011 #5 Petra Kvitova, CZE (lost to Dulgheru)
2012 #27 Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (lost to Hradecka)
2013 #29 Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (lost to Mayr-Achleitner)
AO: #22 Mona Barthel, GER (lost to Pervak)
RG: #11 Nadia Petrova, RUS (lost to Puig)
WI: #5 Sara Errani, ITA (lost to Puig)
US: #29 Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK (lost to Mayr-Achleitner)
*RECENT BEST "LUCKY LOSER" SLAM RESULTS*
2006 U.S. Open - Nicole Provis, AUS (2nd Rd.)
2006 Roland Garros - Kirsten Flipkens, BEL (2nd Rd.)
2007 Wimbledon - Alize Cornet, FRA (2nd Rd.)
2008 U.S. Open - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd Rd.)
2009 Roland Garros - Mariana Duque-Marino, COL (2nd Rd.)
2009 Wimbledon - Kristina Kucova, SVK (2nd Rd.)
2010 Roland Garros - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (2nd Rd.)
2011 Wimbledon - Stephanie Dubois, CAN (2nd Rd.)
2012 Roland Garros - Sesil Karatantcheva, KAZ (2nd Rd.)
2013 U.S. Open - Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, AUT (in 2nd Rd.)
Most Recent Better Results (3rd Rd.): Sandra Kleinova/CZE ('97 AO), Gloria Pizzichini/ITA ('96 RG)
*SERENA WILLIAMS at THE SLAMS - Rd.-by-Rd.*
51-1...1st Round ['12 RG: Razzano] (before 1st Rd. vs. Schiavone)
50-1...2nd Round ['98 AO: Venus]
20-3...Semifinals [Venus '00, Henin-H. '03, Clijsters '09]
16-4...Finals [Venus '01, Sharapova '04, Venus '08, Stosur '11]
*MEDINA-GARRIGUES' CAREER SLAM RESULTS*
0 - W
0 - RU
0 - SF
0 - QF
3 - 4th Rd.
12 - 3rd Rd.
10 - 2nd Rd.
21 - 1st Rd.
AMG SLAM W/L TOTAL: 43-46 - 5 con 1st Rd. exits, 6 con slam losses
AMG CAREER WTA SINGLES TITLES: 11
[Anna Smashnova's Slam Results]
0 - W
0 - RU
0 - SF
0 - QF
2 - 4th Rd.
7 - 3rd Rd.
10 - 2nd Rd.
30 - 1st Rd.
SMASHNOVA SLAM W/L TOTAL: 30-49
SMASHNOVA CAREER WTA SINGLES TITLES: 12
*2013 ITF TITLE LEADERS*
8...Reka-Luca Jani, HUN (8-1)
6...Deniz Khazaniuk, ISR (6-0)
5...Jovana Jaksic, SRB (5-2)
5...Melanie Klaffner, AUT (5-1)
4...Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR (4-2)
4...Anna Morgina (4-0)
*BACKSPIN 2013 PLAYER-OF-THE-MONTH WINNERS*
JAN: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
FEB: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
MAR: Maria Sharapova, RUS
1Q=VICTORIA AZARENKA, BLR
APR: Roberta Vinci, ITA
MAY: Serena Williams, USA
2Q/CC=SERENA WILLIAMS, USA
JUN: Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2Q/GC=MARION BARTOLI, FRA
JUL: Samantha Stosur, AUS
AUG: Serena Williams, USA
[2013 Weekly POW Award Wins]
TOP QUALIFIER: Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE-ROUND (SF-F): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Chanel Simmonds/RSA d. (WC) Taylor Townsend/USA 2-6/6-2/7-5
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF/Doub.): xx
TOP LATE-RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
TOP ASHE NIGHT SESSION MATCH: xx
FIRST WINNER: Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (def. Davis/USA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #29 Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK (lost to LL Mayr-Achleitner/AUT)
UPSET QUEENS: xx
REVELATION LADIES: xx
NATION OF POOR SOULS: xx
CRASH & BURN: xx
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Nominee: #15 Stephens/USA def. Minella/LUX after being down break at 4-2 in 3rd
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: lost 1st Rd. to Mladenovic/FRA, once again failing to reach a slam QF in her career (so Anna Smashnova still has a buddy)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Nara/JPN, Vandeweghe/USA
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Barty/AUS
LAST BANNERETTE STANDING: 1st Rd. wins: Hampton, Mattek-Sands, Stephens, Vandeweghe, V.Williams (w/ S.Williams & Keys to play Day 1)
COMEBACK PLAYER: xx
LADY OF THE EVENING: xx
DOUBLES STAR xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 1. More soon.