Saturday, September 29, 2012

Toky-o Nadia!

Official 2012 Radwanska-slayer Nadia Petrova won the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo today, defeating defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 1-6, 6-3. The Russian pulled this off the hard way, too, entering the tournament with a back injury bad enough to cause her to withdraw from play in Seoul last week.

Twice in Tokyo, Petrova looked done. She had to play for over three hours against Petra Martic in the third round, and she came from a set and 1-4 down to beat Sara Errani in the quarterfinals. In the course of the event, Petrova beat three top ten players--Errani, Radwanska, and Samantha Stosur (in the semifinals).

In the first set of the final. Petrova hit 16 winners and made only three unforced errors. Anyone who has followed her career (and that of Radwanska) knew, however, that the second set would be different. It was. Radwanska significantly raised the level of her serve, and Petrova began making a number of unforced errors. Serving for the set at 5-1, the defending champion seemingly effortlessly reeled off three aces in a row.

The third set, as expected, was much closer. At 3-all, however, Radwanska blinked. The 3rd seed double-faulted twice in the seventh game, and was broken. Petrova smoothly served for the match, which gave her her second tournament win for 2012. Her other victory this year was in 's-Hertogenbosch, and there, she beat none other than Urszula Radwanska in the final.

Radwanska committed only three double-faults in the entire match, but two came at such a crucial time, they more or less decided her fate.

Contrary to what Tennis TV broadcast over and over, this is not Petrova's first premier-level title. She won both Charleston and Berlin in 2006.

The unseeded team of Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears won the doubles title. They defeated 4th seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke 6-1, 6-4 in the final.

Friday, September 28, 2012

WTA stars in Tokyo!

Radwanska and Petrova to play for Tokyo title

Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska is one match away from winning the Toray Pan Pacific Open twice in a row. 3rd seed Radwanska needed under an hour to beat Anglique Kerber 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals. Radwanska hit 20 winners and made only four unforced errors in the match. Her opponent in the final will be Nadia Petrova, who defeated Sam Stosur 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals. Petrova, who hit nine aces, had first and second serve win percentages of 85 and 63. (Oh, Nadia!)

Petrova is now 6-3 against Stosur.

In the doubles semifinals, Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke beat Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 1-6, 6-1, 10-7. Also, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears defeated Sabine Lisicki and Lisa Raymond 6-4, 6-3.

Friday cat blogging--stretch edition

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Azarenka too ill to continue in Tokyo

Top seed Victoria Azarenka, who was feeling sick when she played her third round match in Tokyo against Roberta Vinci, had to call it quits today. Azarenka, who has been experience some dizziness, gave Angelique Kerber a walkover in the quarterfinals. Kerber's semifinal opponent will be defending champion and 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska beat her friend, Caroline Wozniacki, in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

Meanwhile, 2nd seed Maria Sharapova lost to 10th seed Sam Stosur, who defeated her 6-4, 7-6. Stosur won the tiebreak 10-8. The Australian will face Nadia Petrova in the semifinals; Petrova defeated Sara Errani 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Last year, Radwanska won the Tokyo and Beijing titles back-to-back, a feat that is rarely accomplished. Radwanska's fortunes have been mixed lately: She went out in the first round of the Olympic Games, but reached the final of Wimbledon. The Polish star suffered a recurrence of a shoulder injury during the U.S. Open Series, then lost to Vinci in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. So far, though, she appears to be making the same kind of comeback in Asia that she made last year. In 2011, Radwanska went out in the second round of the U.S. Open.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A note to readers

For those of you who keep in touch with me (and I really enjoy that you do)--please note that the email address for Women Who Serve has changed.

Also, there will be minimal and/or sporadic posting for a while because of an upcoming move and a change in my computer system. I'll be checking in, however, and posting when I can.

Li and Bartoli out of Tokyo

Caroline Wozniacki had to play for over two and a half hours, but she defeated Li Na 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the third round in Tokyo today. Sara Errani defeated Marion Bartoli in three sets, and Sam Stosur beat Dominika Cibulkova. 2nd seed Maria Sharapova defeated Lucie Safarova.

In the second round, Sharapova had to go three sets to overcome qualifier Heather Watson, who upset Sabine Lisciki in the opening round.

Top seed Victoria Azarenka has advanced to the quarterfinals, as has defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Victoria Azarenka vs. Angelique Kerber
Agnieszska Radwanska vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Sara Errani vs. Nadia Petrova
Sam Stosur vs. Maria Sharapova

Radwanska qualifies for WTA Championships

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wozniacki and Hsieh win Seoul and Guangzhou titles

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki won the Korea Open today, defeating 3rd seed Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 6-0 in the final. Wozniacki has now won 19 WTA singles titles.

Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, the top seeds, won the doubles title, defeating Akgul Amanmuradova and Vania King 2-6, 6-2, 10-8 in the final.

Hsieh Su-Wei won the Guangzhou International Women's Open yesterday when she defeated Laura Robson 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Hsieh, in fact, served for the match in the second set, and held match points. To get to the final, Robson took out 2nd seed Zheng Jie, 7th seed Peng Shuai and 3rd seed Sorana Cirstea.

Tamarine Tanasugarn and Zhang Shuai, the number 3 seeds, won the doubles title. They beat top seeds Jarmila Gajdosova and Monica Niculescu 2-6, 6-2, 10-8 (same scoreline as Seoul) in the final.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Passing shots

Maria Sharapova has qualified for the 2012 WTA Championships.

Tashkent finalist Donna Vekic's main draw debut was the best one on the tour since Alexandra Dulgheru won Warsaw in 2009. (Dulgheru would go on to defend her title the next year.) You can get to know Vekic here.

You can also get to know Kristina Mladenovic.

Top seed Marion Bartoli had to retire in the first round of the Guangzhou International earlier this week.

Iveta Benesova and Jurgen Melzer were married last week.

I'm still gratefully accepting donations for Farm Sanctuary. Please navigate to the "Support Diane" banner on the right-hand side of this blog. (If you donate or someone you know donates and there is no personal "thank you," it's because I'm not on Facebook.)

Is keeping score in your own matches is sometimes a bit difficult. ScoreBand solves the problem by doing it for you. You can set ScoreBand for tennis, golf, or to an AllScore mode that gives you scores, stats and counts. When you aren't playing, ScoreBand functions as a regular watch.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Flipkens and Begu win first titles

Kirsten Flipkens won her first WTA title today in Quebec City. Flipkens defeated Lucie Hradecka 6-1, 7-5 to win the Bell Challenge. This was the champion's first-ever WTA final, and she upset both Dominika Cibulkova and Mona Barthel along the way. (It was Hradecka's fifth final, but the Czech player has yet to win a title.)

The doubles title was taken by 3rd seeds Tatjana Malek and Kristina Mladenovic. They defeated top seeds Alicja Rosolska and Heather Watson 7-6, 6-7, 10-7.

In Tashkent, Irina-Camelia Begu won her first WTA title yesterday when she defeated 16-year-old qualifier Donna Vekic in the final. Begu ended the surprise run of Vekic with a 6-4, 6-4 victory. The unseeded Begu took out the second, third and eighth seeds on her way to the title.

Paula Kania and Polina Pekhova won the doubles title. They took the first set 6-2, then their opponents--Anna Chakvetadze and Vesna Dolonc--retired. The retirement came about because of an injury to Chakvetadze's back.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Flipkens upsets Cibulkova in Quebec City

Top seed Dominika Cibulkova is out of the Bell Challenge, upset 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the first round by Kirsten Flipkens. Cibulkova served for the match in the third set.

Flipkens defeated Mirjana Lucic to win her second round.

Lauren Davis beat 2nd seed Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-1 in the second round. Both Wickmayer and Cibulkova got into the event with wild cards.

In Tashkent, top seed Monica Niculescu went out to Karin Knapp (Italian inspiration?) in the first round. Knapp, however, lost in the next round.

Irina-Camelia Begu has had an impressive run so far. She defeated Akgul Amanmuradova in the first round, 3rd seed Alize Cornet in the second round, and 8th seed Galina Voskoboeva in the third, after going down 2-5 in the final set. Begu's opponent in the quarterfinals will be 2nd seed Urszula Radwanska.

Monday, September 10, 2012

My U.S. Open top 10

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 U.S. Open happenings:

10. How to play the wild card: Samantha Crawford got a wild card into the U.S. Open junior tournament by applying for it. She was a virtual unknown, and the hopes of the USA lay in top seed Taylor Townsend and crowd favorite Vicky Duval. But Crawford (who had a bit of luck when she got a quarterfinal walkover from the 2nd seed) prevailed, winning the final in straight sets.

9. It's raining, it's pouring, this waiting is boring: Once again, rain played a role in the U.S. Open. Perhaps the most blessed by the weather (though I don't think the rain played as great a role as others do) was Maria Sharapova, who was getting trounced by Marion Bartoli before the rain came. It rained on and off for a few days, sometimes causing players to make tunnel walks back and forth as showers came and went.

8. Good thing they aren't triplets: Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares won the mixed doubles title, and--in doing so--they took out both Bryan Brothers. Makarova and Soares signed up to play in the event around thirty seconds before the deadline.

7. Pardon?: First she took out Kim Clijsters, then young Brit Laura Robson--just for good measure--took out Li Na, who was expected to be a major contender for the title this year. In beating Clijsters, Robson delivered the Belgian her very last professional singles match. The big-serving left-hander was finally stopped by defending champion Sam Stosur, but she was also stopped by a sudden case of nerves. It wasn't a quiet farewell, though: Robson made Stosur play nine match points.

6. I put a spell on you: One tennis writer suggested that Marion Bartoli was "possessed" during the latter part of her match against Petra Kvitova. It looked like it. The Frenchwoman won only one game in the first set, but with Kvitova, there's always a decent chance of taking the second set (and especially when she's just played multiple consecutive matches in three hard court events) from her after she has played almost flawlessly. Indeed, the Czech player won only two games in an error-filled second set. It was the third set that really got our attention: Bartoli--swinging wildly, yelling, jumping, fist-pumping, and generally going over the top in every way--won every game of the final set. Some people don't like the Bartoli Show, and I understand that. But for sheer entertainment, it was hard to beat.

5. Farewell--too soon: Three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters went out in the second round, which abruptly ended her singles career, once and for all. She stayed on to play doubles and mixed doubles, and to chat and banter with fans and the with the sports press. Clijsters' leave-taking was gentle and under-stated, and was a more than fitting ending to a very celebrated career.

4. You again?: World number 1 Victoria Azarenka came from a set and a break down to beat Maria Sharapova in the semifinals. The match was a test of wills, as well as a test of tennis and a test of fitness. It was very hot, and the hitting was very hard. A lot was at stake: Sharapova had struggled in New York since her triumphant 2006 U.S. Open win, Azarenka was trying to reach another major final. In Australia, she had practically beaten the Russian star down in the final. This was WTA drama at its finest, and it was the world number 1 who advanced, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

3. Ciao!: Agnieszka Radwanska was the second seed. Angelique Kerber was considered a contender to reach the final. But the Italians didn't get the memo, or at least they didn't bother to read it. In the round of 16, Roberta Vinci defeated Radwanska in straight sets, and her best friend and doubles partner, Sara Errani, took care of Kerber, also in straight sets. Errani and Vinci then had to play each other, and that was a somber affair. Errani won, but was no match for Serena Williams in the semifinals. But it was a wonderful tournament for the Fighting Italians....

2. We're number 1!: They won the 2012 French Open, and they won the 2012 U.S. Open. Errani and Vinci, the hottest team of the season (they've now won eight titles), had to play the final against the team to whom they had lost at Wimbledon and in Cincinnati. Non c'e problema! The Italian pair won in straight sets, and as of today, Errani is the world number 1 doubles player; Vinci is ranked number 2.

1. A New York state of mind: The woman whom Petra Kvitova unintentionally, but oh-so-appropriately, called "The Serena" a couple of years ago, has now won 15 major singles titles. Yesterday, Williams came from a break down in the third set to defeat world number 1 Victoria Azarenka. It was an unusually good final, in which Azarenka served for the championship. Under other circumstances, she would probably have wound up holding the trophy; Azarenka has turned out to be a pretty tough customer. But when you're facing The Serena at such a big moment, fortune has a way of slipping through your sweaty fingers. This is Williams' fourth U.S. Open title, and one that she will surely always look back on as a triumph over many forms of adversity.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

U.S. Open--what they said

The doubles team that wins this will split $420,000. That'll buy you a lot of pasta.
Pam Shriver

...every time I play Serena, it really pushes to be better, to improve, to move forward. I have to be thankful to her for that, you know, as well.
Victoria Azarenka

I enjoyed this U.S. Open as much as I ever could.
Andrea Hlavackova

I feel intimidated.
Chris Evert, discussing doubles with Pam Shriver

You're hilarious.
Victoria Azarenka, to chair umpire

This is like trying to put out a grease fire.
Mary Carillo

Was your love‑6 first set loss in the third round the toughest part? How did you feel at that point?
I mean, I felt like after that I kind of just was playing more freely and wasn't worried about anything because I was thinking, like, I couldn't do any worse than that.
Samantha Crawford

I really was preparing my runner-up speech.
Serena Williams

...having few of the players like that in the women's tour right now is something priceless, you know, something that you cannot take away. It's the people who, you know, like Maria, like Petra, those kind of girls, they always push me to be better. I mean, it's great opportunity, so I have no regret. 
Victoria Azarenka

Is that your first performance of it?
Yes. So bad, eh? So bad.
Roberta Vinci, on her post-match dance

Serena Williams wins 4th U.S. Open title

Serena Williams, the greatest player of her generation (and right up there with all generations) won her fourth U.S. Open title today. Williams hadn't won the title in New York in four years, and she came within two points of going out against world number 1 Victoria Azarenka today. But Azarenka, despite making a huge comeback in the final, gave up the only chance she had to win the final, giving Williams exactly the edge she needed to claim her 15th major singles title.

The first set set was all about Williams, who took it 6-2 in 34 minutes. It looked like it was going to be a beat-down, and--at that point--I found what was going on in the LPGA to be much more interesting--but more about that later.

Azarenka came out a different player in the second set--and so did Williams. Williams had trouble with her footwork, and appeared sluggish and even frozen at moments when she needed to move fast and take charge. The world number one quickly went up a break for 3-1, and she did so rather dramatically when she hit a one-handed backhand return and followed it with a sliding forehand down-the-line shot. Serving at 1-4, Williams saved two break points, then saved a third with an ace. Azarenka broke on her fourth break point, however, then held for 5-1. Williams then held at love, and Azarenka--providing a bit of a preview for what was to come--then double-faulted twice when she served for the set.

Azarenka did hold, however, and took the second set 6-2. (In the meantime, Paula Creamer and Jayai Shin went into a sudden-death playoff at the Kingsmill Championship in Williamsburg, Virginia, when Creamer blew a shot that would have made her the champion. The two events would continue to parallel one another throughout the evening.)

In the final set, Azarenka had a very difficult hold for 1-all. She then held two break points against Williams. Williams saved the first one with an ace, but was broken on the second one. But she immediatel broke back, to put the players on serve again. At 3-all, Azarenka broke Williams at love. She then saved a break point on her own serve, and won the game with a wicked forehand down the line. Williams then held for 4-5, and the tension was high.

(Meanwhile, in Williamsburg, Creamer and Shin continued to be totally even through a number of holes, as the sun started to set, and it became more and more difficult to see the ball and the hole.)

Azarenka served for the match at 5-4, and it was as though she looked across the net and realized how the script was supposed to end: She made three consecutive errors. Serving at 0-40, the world number 1 hit a huge serve, high and out wide at 107 mph., and saved a game point. But she was broken on her next serve, and it seemed obvious that the Aaarenka door had closed.

Williams would go on to hold her serve. Serving at 5-6, Azarenka got to 30-all, then hit a two-handed backhand volley to get a game point, but the game went to deuce instead. Azarenka got a second game point, but hit long, which gave Williams match point. The three-time champion converted that point and became the 2012 U.S. Open champion.

It was a good match by almost any standard, and Azarenka's comeback was a highlight of the tournament. But when she had the chance to win it all, Azarenka did not handle the moment, and that was all Williams needed to do what she does best--take over play and shut down other options.

(In Williamsburg, Creamer had another big chance to win the whole thing but blew a birdie shot, and the players and their teams had an extended discussion about whether to carry on in the near-dark or resume play tomrorow morning. They decided to carry on, but then their teams talked them out ot it, and the opponents were taken away in their respective carts, after playing eight rounds of sudden death.)

Serena Williams, who has gone though more than many professional athletes can even think about, has had an outstanding 2012 season. She won Wimbledon, she won a gold medal in singles (and doubles) at the Olympic Games, and now she has won the U.S. Open.

The Serena Curse at the U.S. Open was lifted today. There was an argument with the umpire, but it was Azarenka who had it. A foot fault was called against Williams, but all involved handled it with either equanimity or humor.

I'm exhausted from all the WTA/LPGA drama all going on at the same time. I'll get up tomorrow to see how the golf drama plays out. The U.S. Open men's final has once again been postponted until Monday, but the women's part of the Open is done, and Serena Williams looks as dominant as she ever has--15 and counting.

Clay not required: Errani and Vinci win U.S. Open

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the hottest doubles team of 2012 and winners of the 2012 French Open, won the U.S. Open today when they defeated Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 6-2 in the final. It was a bad day for Hradecka, who never seemed to be able to shake her nerves, and whose usual big serving abandoned her. Errani and Vinci, meanwhile, put on a clinic in lobbing, attacked whenever they had a chance, and were dominant over the team to whom they had lost at the Olympics and in Cincinnati.

The U.S. Open championship is the 8th title of the year for Errani and Vinci. Their on-court celebration after the match, led by Vinci, was a highlight of the week--a Petko-worthy dance moment (as opposed to Azarenka and Stosur).

Meanwhile, seemingly out of nowhere, an unseeded wild card, Atlanta-born Samantha Crawford won the junior title. Crawford defeated seed Anett Kontaviet 7-5, 6-3. Crawford ended the match with some the unusual first-and-second serve win percentage stats of 60 and 82. She hit six winners and made only two unforced errors.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Andrews and Townsend win U.S. Open junior doubles title

Gabrielle Andrews and Taylor Townsend repeated their Australian Open success today by winning the junior doubles championship at the U.S. Townsend also won the singles championship in Melbourne, but was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Anett Kontaviet. 4th seeds Andrews and Townsend defeated 2nd seeds Belinda Bencic and Petra Uberaliva 6-4, 6-3.

12th seed Kontaviet, who represents Estonia, advanced to the singles final at the expense of Vicky Duval, who has had a great U.S. Open run. Kontaviet's opponent will be Samantha Crawford, who beat Antonia Lottner in the semifinals. Crawford, who is from the USA, is unseeded.

U.S. Open women's singles final postponed

Because a storm is forecast for Fushing Meadows tonight, the U.S. Open women's singles final has been postponed until tomorrow. The match time will be announced later by U.S. Open officials.

Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka will contest the match.

The women's doubles final was already scheduled for Sunday.

Passing shots

With all the summer tennis excitement, I forgot to mention that Amelie Mauresmo, who was on the short list to be France's new Davis Cup captain, has been named France's new Fed Cup captain.

A reader reminded me today about the current controversy over Taylor Townsend's fitness.

Esther Vergeer has won her fourth Paralympic Games gold medal. Vergeer defeated Aniek Van Koot  6-0, 6-3 in the final in London. The match marked the champion's 470th consecutive win.

So now we're taking some time out to bash Sara Errani, too?

Here is some data on Serena Williams' performances at the majors.

Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova have qualified for the WTA Championships. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci have qualified in doubles.

Martina Hingis and Helena Sukova have been nominated for membership in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

U.S. Open--what they said

We can discuss the first and the second, but ultimately when it gets to that third set, I just don't think I did enough on those games to put any thought in her mind.
Maria Sharapova

Has it been as much fun as it appears to us?
Well, sometimes it's not as fun, you know. Especially in that first set today it wasn't that fun.
Victoria Azarenka

It's loud, it's aggressive, it's gritty--much like herself.
Mary Carillo, referring to Azarenka's desire to live in New York City

I think when you're in the situation of a third set you have to put pressure on your opponent. I just don't think I did that at all.
Maria Sharapova

Can you compare reaching your first final in Melbourne and here?
Definitely different. Every time you don't really know what to do, how it's gonna come up. It's just so natural it brings out those emotions, those feelings that you don't know. It comes from somewhere so deep inside of you that you don't know what to expect from yourself.
Victoria Azarenka

...I have really gotten out of being so into routines because it can really drive someone bananas.  I've been on the verge of going bananas because I have to have this, this this. It wasn't helping me win. It wasn't helping me lose. It has nothing to do with that. I kind of have chilled off on that.
Serena Williams
There's a reason why everyone is in the draw. There is a reason why everyone puts the net up in the morning for us to play matches. No matter who is going in there as the favorite, no matter how confident they are, everyone has a chance. She's No. 1 in the world, and there is no reason why she shouldn't have a chance.
Maria Sharapova, referring to Victoria Azarenka

What do you think about the final? Is Serena the clear winner?

We will see tomorrow, but I think she can win. I think she will win, but I don't know, of course. They have to play, and Azarenka is also a strong player. I think Serena is another level.
Sara Errani

Do you go back through the archives though and look at any video footage of yourself against Serena in the next 24 hours?
Well, I don't want to be depressed.
Victoria Azarenka

For once nothing weird or distracting has happened here.

Hey, it's not done yet.
Serena Williams             

Azarenka advances to U.S. Open final

I tried to watch yesterday's semifinal between Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka very closely; I really did. Several times, however, my viewing was interrupted by this or that, and--I have to confess--I didn't really mind. I did see almost every shot, but after a while, I figured it was okay to be interrupted because it was the same thing, over and over, for two hours and 42 minutes. It made  me tired just to watch it. The two of them assaulted each other mercilessly from the baseline, but without any of the twists or whimsy (or beyond whimsy--think Frenchwoman) that is sometimes attached to these kinds of slug-outs.

The fact that stands out, though, is that Azarenka came from a set and a break down to win the match and to beat the woman she mercilessly stomped on in the Australian Open final. Sharapova was prepared today, but so was the world number 1; it just took her longer to get in high gear.

A lot was at stake. Prior to this semifinal, both women had perfect season records in three-set matches. The first set was all about Sharapova, who got an early break when Azarenka double-faulted on break point. Suddenly, the Belarusian was serving at 1-5, but Sharapova was nervous with her ball toss, double-faulted, and was broken. Azarenka had a chance to break back when Sharapova served for the set, but the 2006 U.S. Open champion hit an ace to take that set 6-3.

Sharapova then broke immediately in the second set. Azarenka broke back, as her opponent struggled with her second serve. In the seventh game of the set, the players engaged in some very intense rallies. Sharapova double-faulted, then missed a smash volley to give Azarenka a set point. It took three set points, however, before Azarenka won the second set 6-2.

At the beginning of the final set, Sharapova had a difficult hold or 1-all. More intense rallies ensued, and just when you thought one player had a definite edge, the other one woulld step in and tie the score. At 2-3, Sharapova put two ball in a row into the net. She committed a ninth double fault to take the game to its fourth deuce, then--out of nowhere--hit an ace. There was a brief rally, and Sharapova held. The Russian star also hit an ace to hold for 4-all, but she went down 0-30 in the next game. She hit an out-wide serve and then brought the game to 30-all.

But just when things looked good for Sharapova, she once again hit a shot into the net, giving her opponent a match point Sharapova saved that match point with a big serve, followed by a crosscourt forehand, which Azarenka hit wide. But then Azarenka hit a down-the-line shot that set up another match point. When Sharapova hit a forhand long, it was over. Azarenka's 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victor put her into the final of the U.S. Open for the first time, while Sharapova was denied yet another chance to win a second major in New York.

Azarenka hit 19 winners and made 19 unforced errors, while Sharapova hit 44 winners and made 42 unforced errors. The Russian went for everything, and she almost made it, but by the end of the third set, one couldn't help but believe that she was a bit tired--at least, mentally--and that Azarenka was stilll mentally and physically fresh, despite the very hot weather (Azarenka wasn't even interested in taking the 10-minute heat rule break between sets). Victoria Azarenka has come a long way. The talent was always there, but there was the thigh injury, the on-court meltdowns, the fainting, the illness--or something.

These kinds of matches are not my favorite to watch, yet, by the end, I was enthralled with the fact that one of these players was about to go to the final, while the other--having gone through so much--would be very disappointed. The handshake left much to be desired. Azarenka and Sharapova barely looked at each other, and really, the match could have been honored a bit more. I'm not one to complain about a handshake; ir just seemed so anticlimactic that this very big match wasn't mutually acknowledged by the competitors at the end.

Much worse, however, was CBS's Mary Carillo's lengthy rant about the players' vocalizations. She acknolwedged that "grunting is permissable," so everyone on the ATP got a pass. Good to kinow. And while Carillo is certainly entitled to her opinion (and I actually applaud her opinion that a "grunt-o-meter" is nothing but a profit-making device), and is entitled to express it, did she have to go and on and on about it while two of the world's top players were fighting to determine who would be a match away from holding a huge trophy?

The other match was predictable and brief. Serena Williams took an easy 6-1 first set from Sara Errani, and then Errani made her work a little harder to get a second, 6-2, set. In my opinion, no honor was lost by the Fighting Italian; she just happend to be fighting Serena. Good luck with that.

Tonight, Williams and Azarenka will play a match that will determine who the 2012 U.S. Open champion is. Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Alexandra Panova
round 2--def. Kirsten Flipkens
round 3--def. Zheng Jie
round of 16--def. Anna Tatishvili
quarterfinals--def. Sam Stosur (7) (defending champion)
semifinals--def. Maria Sharapova (3)

round 1--def. Coco Vandeweghe
round 2--def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez
round 3--def. Ekaterina Makarova
round of 16--def. Andrea Hlavackova
quarterfinals--def. Ana Ivanovic (12)
semifinals--def. Sara Errani (10)

Williams has a 9-1 overall record against Azarenka, and a 5-1 record against her on hard courts.

In junior tennis, top seed and Australian Open champion Taylor Townsend was defeated in the quarterfinals by Anett Kontaveit, and 2nd seed Yulia Putintseva was defeated by Samantha Crawford. The 3rd seed, Eugenie Bouchard (Wimbledon champion), was defeated by Victoria Duval, who lost to Kim Clijsters in the main draw.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

U.S. Open--what they said

You seemed much more relaxed on court than Bruno. The end of the first set seemed a little bit nervous, and also at the match tiebreak. You hold things much better than him.  Did you feel that?
Bruno Soares: The whole tournament.
Actually, no, I didn't feel that. I think I was more nervous than Bruno in this match, for sure. The tiebreak first set and the final tiebreak, I don't know, maybe I seem like too good, but inside I was really nervous. Like when it was 8‑4 for sure I started to be tight.
Ekaterina Makarova

It was not easy; they make many strategies.
Roberta Vinci

I went to middle school in Harlem so I knew that to get my New York fill I had to visit the school where I got made fun of because I played handball with the boys. What can I say? I was the only girl who could muscle the ball way over the building.
Irina Falconi

Same question for you, too.
Bruno Soares: What do I do good?
Volleys, it's definitely volleys. Because I just returning, and then Bruno did everything else, like close all the court. So I think in mixed for sure, like moving when the guy is moving really good and volleys. I'm like I'm just standing there on the baseline. 
Ekaterina Makarova

Makarova and Soares win U.S. Open mixed doubles title

The unseeded team of Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares won the U.S. Open mixed doubles championship today. They defeated 4th seeds Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski 6-7(8), 6-1, 12-10. Makarova and Soares, who had played together twice before, signed up for mixed doubles about 30 seconds before the deadline. They played three super-tiebreaks, and they took out both Bryan brothers (Bob Bryan and Kim Clijsters, Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond) along the way.

Makarova and Soares led 8-4 in the super-tiebreak, but Peschke and Matkowski caught up, and even held two match points. Makarova and Soares won on their first match point, shortly after Makarova hit what may have been the shot of the match, ending a thrilling rally involving all four players.

This was Peschke's third U.S. Open mixed doubles final, and her third loss.

In women's doubles, 2nd seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci defeated 8th seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals. Also advancing to the final were 3rd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova. They defeated 16th seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Anabel Medina Garrigues 7-6, 6-4.

Hlavackova and Hradecka defeated Errani and Vinci this year at Wimbledon, and again in Cincinnati.

In junior play, top seed Taylor Townsend won both her second and third rounds today. Victoria Duval defeated Wimbledon champion Eugenie Bouchard in the second round.

Serena Williams takes last U.S. Open semifinal spot

Playing in the early night match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Serena Williams handled Ana Ivanovic in straight sets yesterday and advanced to the semifnals of the U.S. Open. Williams' 6-1, 6-3 win included the striking of 26 winners. The former U.S. Open champion appeared somewhat subdued during the 58-minute match, during which she hit 12 aces. However, shortly after the match's conclusion, Williams was talkative and good-humored during an ESPN studio interview.

Williams' next opponent will be Sara Errani.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

U.S. Open--what they said

Right when we were walking literally in the hall of the locker room we went back on because it started drizzling. I mean, I have done like 20 different types of warmups in the gym. I was so sick of it. I was like, Let's just play tennis. So I was really happy that we got it in without another break. Another break means another warmup. I can't handle it anymore.
Maria Sharapova

Yeah, it was very difficult match, I think. Quarterfinal with your best friend, of course, is difficult. There is many tension. Also for the rain, we were going out, in, then out, in, out. So it was difficult. We know each other very well. We played together many times. So was also strange to see her on the other side of the net.
Sara Errani

This is like a war without guns.
Brett Haber

She's such a fighter, and so strong, and so quick.
Serena Williams, referring to Errani

Back to Serena, am I wrong in thinking that both the Williams love power? They seem to want their opponent to bang it with them. Even when Hingis was younger, when she was playing, she mixed it up a lot with them. I don't think they like that. Is that correct, or what's your thoughts on that?
I can't help but laugh at your question. I'm sorry. No, it's a good observation. But I think if you're going into a match in which you feel like you have to play a different game than what you've worked on or what has won you matches before in order to beat that one person, I don't know if it's extremely smart. I mean, I think it's always good to have options in your pocket if things are not going well. Sometimes those don't work. But to prepare for a match and not believe that if your game is power or being aggressive that that's not going to work, then, I mean, it's not a good confidence booster.
Maria Sharapova

Passing shots

Esther Vergeer has reached the semifinals of the Paralympic Games in London. She did so by winning her 468th consecutive match.

Serena Williams is a finalist for the Women's Sports Foundation's Sportswoman of the Year (in individual sports) award for 2012. There are still a few days left for voting.

 Net cord tension is measured at the U.S. Open.

Mats Wilander says that Laura Robson will win a major.

Women Who Serve sends best wishes to Andy Roddick, who played his last professional tennis match tonight in Flushing Meadows. Roddick, in addition to being an outstanding tennis player and an outspoken and sharp-witted character, is a long-time friend of the WTA.

Sharapova and Errani advance to U.S. Open semifinals

It was most unfortunate that all the rain crowded the schedule and the Sharapova vs. Bartoli match had to be played at the same time as the Errani vs. Vinci match. I found it impossible to "really" watch both of them, and though my heart was with the Italian match, I wound up paying more attention to the other one.

When we left off yesterday, Marion Bartoli had taken a 4-0 lead in the first set of her semifinal against Maria Sharapova. It rained again this morning, so the players had to wait even longer to get on the court. And while popular opinion supported a huge Sharapova comeback, I wasn't so sure. Indeed, though Sharapova broke right away today and brought the score to 3-5, Bartoli had a strong hold to take the set 6-3.

Serving at 1-all in the second set, Sharapova saved multiple break points. A while later, Bartoli found herself down 3-4, 0-30. She saved a break point at 30-40, and went to get a game point on a second serve. The game returned to deuce, and Bartoli sent a ball long to give her opponent another break point; Sharapova broke with a forehand down the line, then held at love to take the second set.

The players exchanged breaks in the early part of the final set. At 2-3, Sharapova saved two break points and held with her ninth ace. At 4-all--when the tension was thick--Sharapova held two break points against Bartoli. Once again, the Frenchwoman used a second serve to get herself out of some trouble, and then held when Sharapova made a forehand error. Bartoli hit a huge crosscourt backhand following yet another big second serve. In spite of this all-out effort, however, Bartoli was broken.

Serving for the match, Sharapova went down 15-30, but came back for 30-all. She got to match point by hitting an ace out wide to the deuce court, and then she hit an unreturnable serve to advance to the semifinals.

It was a tense, well-played match--another one that could have gone either way. Sharapova hit 44 winners to Bartoli's 18, and she made 35 unforced errors. The Russian hit 10 aces and double-faulted 11 times. Sharapova--who hasn't had an easy time of it at the U.S. Open since she won it in 2006--will play top seed Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. Azarenka is 5-4 against Sharapova, and 4-2 against her on hard courts.

The all-Italian semifinal was, sadly, not very Italian. The opponents are (highly successful) doubles partners and best friends, and they approached today's match with a solemnity that is totally uncharacteristic of them. There was no fist-pumping, no yelling, not even much response from the player boxes. Clearly, it was an uncomfortable affair for all involved. But it was Sara Errani who handled the occasion better, taking control of an error-prone Roberta Vinci and winning the match 6-2, 6-4.

Errani broke Vinci five times. Vinci made 37 unforced errors, despite hitting 21 winners to Errani's 14. Errani made 15 unforced errors and was steady throughout. Despite the grimness, the match was often fun to watch because both players are such good shot-makers. The two matches could not have been more different from each other, and it was just too bad that the all-Italian match couldn't have gone on longer. When it was over, in an hour and 12 minutes, Errani held her racquet up briefly, but did not step onto the court to celebrate.

There was a rather significant upset in doubles. Despite going into the quarterfinals with all kind of momentum (including a defeat of the Williams sisters) 4th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova were defeated 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (couldn't be much closer) by the Spanish team of Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. The Spaniards, of course, have an excellent record, but ever since their huge success was interrupted by Martinez Sanchez's long injury break, they have not been considered an elite team.

Also winnning in doubles was the team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. The 3rd seeds defeated Sabine Lisicki and Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1. In another quarterfinal, Hsieh Su-Wei and Anabel Medina Garrigues defeated Chuang Chi-Jung and Zhang Shuai 6-2, 6-1. 2nd seeds Errani and Vinci had already reached the semifinals.

In the mixed doubles semifinals, Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski beat top seeds Liezel Huber and Max Mirnyi 7-5, 6-2. Peschke and Matkowski are seeded 4th. They will play the unseeded Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares in the final.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

U.S. Open--what they said

The defending champ is looking like she did last year--stubborn.
Pam Shriver

Well, I never thought that I was going to lose, but you certainly don't want to get ahead of yourself and think, Oh, I have just broken back again; I'm going to win.
Sam Stosur

Again, she made me play my best tennis.
Victoria Azarenka

I’ll warm her up today, but not tomorrow.
Sara Errani, referring to Roberta Vinci

You don’t want to know what I kept telling myself. I would have to beep that, I think.
Victoria Azarenka

Take a breath....
Pam Shriver

...I knew we were playing a good match. It was exciting and there was, you know, momentum here, momentum there. We were hitting winners and running all over the court. So I knew that was going on.  Again, you can feel that, but you don't sit down at change of ends and say, "Oh, gee, this is fun" or anything. They are the matches you like to play.  They're the most enjoyable, but not necessarily at the moment you've got that going through your head.
Sam Stosur

I hope you enjoyed it because I surely did.
Victoria Azarenka

Float like a butterfly, look like a bee

World number 1 Victoria Azarenka, decked out  like a speeding bumblebee (she's actually wearing a shade of neon green, but on all of my screens, the color appears more yellowish), defeated U.S. Open defending champion Sam Stosur today in their quarterfinal match in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Azarenka and Stosur had played six times before, and Azarenka had won every one of those matches in straight sets. Today, however, was a different story, even though that story ended the same way.

Azarenka cruised through the first part of the opening set. At 3-0, there was a rain break that lasted for an hour and 15 minutes. When play resumed, Azarenka had a bit of a problem serving at 4-1, but managed to hold. She won the first set 6-1.

Stosur broke right away in the seond set, and Azarenka broke her right back. Azarenka then began making unforced errors, and--on her third break point--Stosur produced a 3-4 score. Her confidence on the rise, the defending champion started playing much more aggressively, and took the second set 6-4. this was, of course, the first time she ever taken a set off of the world number 1.

Azarenka got an early break in the third set, giving her a 3-1 lead. Stosur then served at 0-40, and was broken at 15. Those who have watched both Stosur and Azarenka could have been forgiven for expecting a bit of an Australian meltdown at this point, but that didn't happen. Instead, Stosur saved a game point on Azarenka's next serve, and the game went to deuce. Azarenka then hit a drop shot into the net, but saved a break with an especially good serve. But Stosur would then crack one of her many dominant forehand shots to get to her second break point, which she converted by again hitting a mighty forehand.

Stosur looked very confident in her next service game, which she punctuated with an ace to get to 4-all. In the next game, the Australian showed a kind of patience she doesn't always display, engaging Azarenka in a bit of cat-and-mouse play, but Azarenka held for 5-4. Stosur replied with a strong service game. Then Azarenka held again, as did Stosur, and a tiebreak ensued. And really, in this exciting and excellent match, what more could fans have asked for?

The world number 1 was quick to dominate in the tiebreak, going up 4-0, mostly because of Stosur's unforced errors. Had Stosur finally cracked? Yes, but only for a little while. Perhaps playing those nine match points against Laura Robson gave her a new kind of toughness? At any rate, Stosur held both of her serves, to make the score 3-4. Azarenka held serve for 5-3, but then she double-faulted (who's nervous now?). Stosur then tied the score at 5-all on her own serve, but--after a ball from her racquet just rolled over the netcord--Azarenka retrieved it and won the next point with a drop shot. It was 6-5, with Azarenka serving.

The Belarusian faulted on her first serve, which probably gave considerable relief to her opponent, but when Stosur popped a ball out of the court during a rally on Azarenka's second serve, the match was over, and Azarenka had advanced to the semifinals.

Azarenka's victory keeps her as number 1 in the world. The match could have gone either way, but Azarenka managed to pull off the win over a very tough opponent. Stosur served well, moved well, and hit well. The two-hour and 23-minute match was a highlight of this year's Open, and now Azarenka will get the winner of Maria Sharapova vs. Marion Bartoli match. That match was stopped because of rain. When the players left the court, Bartoli was leading 4-0 in the first set. Play will resume tomorrow. In the meantime, for those of you who can't get enough of the Frenchwoman, here she is preparing for the U.S. Open:

And now it's time to talk about Italians again! Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won their quarterfinal match, 6-2, 7-6, against Julia Goerges and Kveta Peschke. Errani is now the number 1 doubles player in the world, and Vinci is the new world number 2. Errani is the second Italian woman in history to get the number 1 ranking; Flavia Pennetta held it for 18 weeks last year.

In mixed doubles, top seeds Liezel Huber and Max Mirnyi will play Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski in the semifnals. The other semifinal will feature Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak playing against Ekaterina Makarova and Bruono Soares.

Play has begun on the junior level, and both Australian Open champion Taylor Townsend and Wimbledon champion Eugenie Bouchard won their opening rounds, as did Victoria Duval. Townsend is the top seed.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Williams crushes Hlavackova in U.S. Open round of 16

Andrea Hlavackova, who had a great win over Maria Kirilenko in the third round of the U.S. Open, walked onto the court today with bandages on both thighs. She was dealing with a hip flexor injury in one leg, and a hamstring injury in the other. But those problems were insignificant compared with Hlavackova's other problem--Serena Williams. Try as she did--and she tried hard--the Czech doubles star was unable to take even one game off of Williams. Hlavackova didn't even see a break opportunity until she was down 0-6, 0-5, and she failed to convert that one. The whole thing was over in less than an hour, but Hlavackova--to her credit--never gave up or faded away.

Also dealing with an injury was Tsvetana Pironkova, whose usually impressive serve was hampered in her match against Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic defeated Pironkova 6-0, 6-4, and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open for the first time. Ivanovic had not reached any major quarterfinals for four years, so her results in New York are already enough to give her renewed hope for her future in tennis. That's the good news. The bad news is that Ivanovic gets Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

Both Fighting Italians won their matches today, and we said goodbye to Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova, who lost to Serena and Venus Williams at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games, defeated the Williams sisters in straight sets tonight. The 4th seeds won 6-1, 6-4, and will face Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the quarterfinals. Maria Kirilenko was simply brilliant in this match.

Former U.S. Open champions Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova were upset today by Julia Goerges and Kveta Peschke.

Tomorrow, two singles quarterfinal matches are scheduled. Top seed Victoria Azarenka will play defending champion Samantha Stosur. Azarenka has a 6-0 record against Stosur. All six matches were played on hard courts, and Azarenka won them all in straight sets. In the other quarterfinal, Marion Bartoli will play Maria Sharapova. Sharapova has a 4-0 record against Bartoli, and has never dropped a set against the Frenchwoman.

So far, this has been a really interesting U.S. Open. Defending champion Sam Stosur  is playing more or less under the radar, just as she did last year. 18-year-old Laura Robson took out a U.S. Open champion and a French Open champion. Italian best friends and doubles partners now have to play each other for a spot in the semifinals, and Marion Bartoli put a hoodoo on Petra Kvitova.

And since so much about today's Open involves Italy, I'll close with the words made famous by a certain cheeky Italian American: There's no greater power than the power of Goodbye.

Mamma Mia!

Fighting Italians don't give you the match; you have to take it from them, and neither Angelique Kerber nor Agnieszka Radwanska was up to the task today. In fact, neither of them was up to taking even a set off of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. While the veteran Fighting Italians, Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, have faded this season because of injury and age, Errani and Vinci have put the boot back in Italy.

Together, their doubles record has been outstanding. Errani reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, and was the runner-up at the French Open. Recently, Vinci won her first outdoor hard court title, dropping even more of a hint that the Italian pair was more than ready for play in Flushing Meadows.

6th seed Kerber was the favorite going into today's round of 16 match, a fact that probably played right into Errani's graceful hands. The opponents exchanged constant breaks through the first set, and Kerber looked a bit sluggish. At 3-4, Errani hit what seemed to be the perfect drop shot, but Kerber somehow got to it, and hit an angled volley that got the attention of everyone, including her opponent. And just as Kerber had come to life after hitting a big stretch volley against Venus Williams, she came to life after hitting this spectacular volley off of the Italian's drop shot.

The first set went to a tiebreak, but when Errani had three set points, she completely backed off of the two she had on her own serve. Suddenly tentative, she looked like a different player. But then something happened that may have permanently changed the direction of the match: Kerber double-faulted, giving Errani the set.

Errani held easily in the first game of the second set, then broke Kerber on her sixth break point, and followed that feat by holding serve at love. By this time, Kerber was rushing her serve and was moving forward in uncharacteristic ways that were generally unsuccessful. She looked as though she needed to think, but didn't have time to do so, so she was acting on impulse.

Kerber did hold for 1-3, however, and then broke Errani to get back on serve. But Errani--putting the same kind of spin on the ball that used to take Kerber out of the French Open--would get to 5-3, and then win the match on her first match point.

Kerber made 38 unforced errors, and many of them, she made in moments when she appeared to be just mentally worn down by Errani's willingness to take control of most of the games, and by her refusal to give the German star the kind of pace she likes for hitting her groundstrokes.

Errani and Vinci come as a pair, and a pair of Fighting Italians can be a dangerous thing, as some Fed Cup competitors know very well. Errani is gritty and clever, and Vinci--when she's really on--is just plain clever. But so is Radwanska, so probably no one (except maybe a couple of Italians) predicted that the 2nd seed would win only five games against Vinci.

Vinci out-Radwanska'd A-Rad herself, breaking the Polish player five times with her relentlessly aggressive net play, a solid serve and an unwavering forehand. Hitting 29 winners and making only 16 unforced errors, Vinci beat Radwanska 6-1, 6-4. It was her first victory over the world's number 2 player.

Errani and Vinci will now play each other in the quarterfinals, and one of them will become the first Italian player in the Open Era to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open. Errani and Vinci are not only doubles partners; they are also best friends. It will be interesting to see how even Fighting Italians handle their emotions in such an unusual situation.

But wait--there's more! The Italian pair also came from a set down yesterday to win their third round doubles match. They will play Julia Goerges and Kveta Peschke in the quarterfinals.

U.S. Open--what they said

Is it fair to say that a racquet change has caused a career change for you?
Yes, I think so.  Of course. This year with this racquet made me feel different on the court and make me feel much better.
Sara Errani

I think Kerber needed to have some kind of physical explosion out there.
Virginia Wade

I know there is no easy way to do this, but how would you describe the last four years of your tennis career?
Like a roller coaster.
Ana Ivanovic

I'm just telling myself to stay calm, stay relaxed. That's the main thing I tell myself. Everyone tells me to stay relaxed. My whole theory is everyone can't be wrong.  Okay, Serena, maybe you need to stay relaxed out here.
Serena Williams

Is it hard to play someone who mixes it up so much, like every point you're sometimes getting some high balls and just dropshots?
Yeah, for sure it's not easy to play against opponent like this that mix the game. I knew this before the match. I know that she will play a lot of spin and also some dropshots, but, yeah, I tried to be aggressive. he was better today. What can I say?
Angelique Kerber

What was the difference between this match and the one in Paris?
Well, it was quite similar. Of course, here is a bit more difficult to play with topspin long because it's faster. But for my side was quite similar. The tactic was almost the same, so...
Sara Errani

Agnieszka said she found playing against you was uncomfortable, the variety of shots, you kind of kept her off balance.
Yeah, but I have a difficult style of tennis, for sure, different style. I mix a lot of balls. I go to the net. I play a lot of slice. So it's different. So probably she doesn't like my slice. Also when I go to the net, probably the passing not so good. That's why I won today probably. This is the key.
Roberta Vinci                   

The brilliant career(s) of Kim Clijsters

I began watching Kim Clijsters very early in her career, and was always impressed with her tremendous athleticism. The "Clijsters splits"--she called it the straddle--will forever be associated with the Belgian player (the move was also perfected by the equally rubber-like Jelena Jankovic). Clijsters' father was a football player and her mother was a gymnast; Clijsters was always quick to say she came by her strong legs and agility through heredity.

When you move that easily and that much, however, you're bound to pay a price, and Clijsters paid one in the form of constant injury. The assaults on her body caused her to retire from the sport in 2007 because, she said, she was in significant physical pain most of the time. Having listened to her talk about her pain and the long routines she had to do to prevent further injury, I had no doubt that Clijsters was done with the game.

So imagine my surprise when--two years later, having given birth to a daughter--the Belgian star announced she was returning to the tour. In an interview, she said that she'd seen the field, and she believed she could compete and win. She was right, but the Kim Clijsters story is so much more complicated than that.

In many ways, the Clijsters story is half of a bigger story--a story of two Belgian tennis stars who came to represent two opposing sensibilities. Clijsters had obvious physical strength, she was friendly toward all, and she seemed so at home with the media hoopla that surrounds top athletes. The other part of the story, of course, was Justine Henin, the "small" Belgian who always seemed a little uncomfortable with social interaction, whose on-court behaviors occasionally got her into trouble, and whose press conferences and interviews sometimes extended into narcissistic speech-making.

Fans, I think it's safe to say, tended to go with one Belgian or the other. I enjoyed watching them both; I enjoyed watching Henin a little more, in fact. But I was definitely in the "Kimmie" camp, when it came down to a choice. But none of that matters. What matters is that--like Chris and Martina--the sum of the two parts was sometimes overtaken by the whole. For the first several years of her career, Clijsters--for all her assets--could not overcome the the fluid, creative and amazingly mentally tough Henin. Later, Clijsters would emerge with a better "part two" career, but she would never again get a chance to challenge Henin on the really big stages of tennis.

In Clijsters' first career, she appeared in five major finals. In 2001, she made it to her first of those finals at the French Open, where she lost to Jennifer Capriati, who beat her 1-6, 6-4, 12-10. Of note is the fact that Clijsters' semifinal win was a three-set victory over Henin. In 2003, the two Belgians contested the French Open title, and Henin won, 6-0, 6-4. Later that year, they met again in the final of the U.S. Open, and Henin beat Clijsters 7-5, 6-1. The night before the final, after Henin played an epic match against Capriati (losing her only set of the tournament), she told the press that she was ailing so much physically that she might withdraw from the final. Instead, she defeated her countrywoman in straight sets.

In 2004, Clijsters was defeated by Henin in three sets in the final of the Australian Open. Finally, in 2005, Clijsters won her first major. The Belgian had an easy time of it in the U.S. Open final when Mary Pierce won only four games. Clijsters had also won the U.S. Open Series, so she received double prize money ($2.2 million) for winning the Open.

The following year, Clijsters was beset with all kinds of injuries--her hip, her ankle, her wrist--and had to withdraw or retire several times. Having already announced that she would retire at the end of 2007, the Belgian star retired from her tennis career in May of 2007 instead. Clijsters married that year, and in 2008, she gave birth to a daughter, Jada.

In March of 2009--shortly after the death of her father, Leo--Clijsters announced that she was returning to professional tennis. After playing a couple of hard court tournaments, she received a wild card into the main draw of the U.S. Open, and won the tournament, defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final, and taking out both Venus and Serena Williams along the way. The next year, Clijsters--ranked number 4 in the world--defended her U.S. Open title when she beat Vera Zvonareva in the final.

In the meantime, Justine Henin--who had abruptly retired from the sport in May of 2008-- returned to the tour in 2010. She made it to the final of the Australian Open, won a couple of titles, but was unable to beat Clijsters in the few matches they played against one another. It was during her Wimbledon round of 16 match against Clijsters, in fact, that Henin and slipped and fractured a ligament in her elbow. That slip would cost her her second career; Clijsters' long-time rival would retire for good in January of 2011.

Clijsters--long known as "Aussie Kim" because of her former romantic relationship with Lleyton Hewitt--gave that nickname meaning when she won the 2011 Australian Open, defeating Li Na in the final. She also returned to the number 1 spot, but missed the clay court season when she hurt her ankle while dancing at her cousin's wedding. Later in the year, Clijsters sustained an abdominal injury, then hurt her ankle again, and she withdrew from Wimbledon.

The Belgian rolled her ankle at the 2012 Australian Open, and again had to skip the clay court season. Once again, Clijsters' was fighting injury almost all the time, and she decided she would call it quits after the U.S. Open. She made it to the round of 16 at Wimbledon, and to the quarterfinals at the Olympic Games. Earlier this week, she lost to Laura Robson in the first round in Flushing Meadows. Her exit from the tournament was an emotional event for both fans and the press; Clijsters herself appeared at peace with her career, and she enjoyed a very affectionate send-off.

Though not as controversial as her rival, Henin, Clijsters nevertheless got under the skin of some fans and members of the sports media, who questioned her chronic "niceness" and some of her ultra-generous actions. When she won the U.S. Open the first time, she bought everyone in her hometown a beer. After another big win, she paid for a lot of champagne so that others could celebrate with her, leading one tennis writer to dub her "Champagne Kimmie." These behaviors may indeed stem from an excessive need to be liked, which can lead to the opposite effect.

I never made a judgment about any of that, though I understand why others did. I did make a judgment, however, about the media's extreme glorification of Clijsters' motherhood. Yes, it is impressive to have a baby and then return to the tour and win majors, and I give all credit to Clijsters (and to Evonne Goolagong before her). But the media behaved as if no woman had ever before given birth. They just couldn't stop talking about it. And when Clijsters herself reminded them that she had a lot of money and could afford a nanny and housekeepers and all kinds of things that other women couldn't afford, it didn't matter. They just kept on with "Clijsters blah-blah mother blah-blah-baby-blah blah" until some of us were driven crazy by it.

Clijsters was also a problematic player in that, despite her talent and extreme athleticism, she was often given to great lapses during matches, especially matches she played against Henin in the first part of her career. You just never knew when Clijsters was going to "go off" and lose a match she probably should have won (we could say that about a lot of players).

My only real problem with Clijsters was her collusion with Mattel to make a Barbie of "scary thin" Kim (with little Jada to accompany it). With girls getting a constant message to be thin, lose weight and look like models, the Clijsters Barbie was an affront to every effort made to encourage women to accept their bodies as they are, and to stop being obsessed with body image issues. The likeness was especially annoying because Clijsters herself has never been model-thin; rather, she has a sturdy, muscular body.

So what did Kim Clijsters accomplish in her years on the tour? A lot. She won 41 singles titles and 11 doubles titles in her 15-year career. Twice, she was named WTA Player of the Year, and she also received the ITF World Women's Champion title. Clijsters has received so many awards, in fact, that it would take to long to list them here. She held the number 1 ranking in both singles and doubles, with the top ranking in singles coming in both phases of her career. Clijsters holds a career match record of 522-126. And though she lost the big ones, she holds a 13-12 record against Justine Henin.

I'm going to miss her. I liked watching her play, and I liked watching her win. Clijsters' rivalry with her talented countrywoman made the tour more interesting, and her ongoing good humor generally made me smile. As she grew older, Clijsters handled interviews and press conferences with increasing intelligence and poise. She was also the face of Fila, always going for more of an old-school look than for a fashion statement; Fila and Clijsters seemed to be made for each other.

The 29-year-old Clijsters leaves the sport as a great champion and a beloved figure. Had she not returned to the tour after her first retirement, she would have still been a beloved figure, but her  missed potential would have defined her as a tennis player. However, the second part of Clijsters' career allowed her to transcend her weaknesses, even while she continued to strain and fracture various parts of her body.

After Clijsters lost her mixed doubles match at the U.S. Open--her last professional tennis match ever--the television cameras tracked her walk out of the stadium. Closely escorted by security personnel, the three-time U.S. Open champion made her way through crowds of fans wishing her well. She replied to a few of them, and she looked a bit dazed as she smiled and let the guards guide her off of the grounds. The popular Belgian player had finally ended what turned out to be a brilliant career.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

U.S. Open--what they said

I've never played anyone with a serve like hers before, so it does take you a couple of games to get used to.
Laura Robson

But as we’ve seen many times, the minute you make an assumption about Kvitova is the minute when she blows that assumption to pieces.
Steve Tignor

Bud is sort of the Kim Clijsters of the press room.
Jon Wertheim, referring to Bud Collins

What did Thomas tell you on that rain break?
Well, he told me to get my act together....
Maria Sharapova

Are you going to make a habit of doing this dance after this one?
I'm not making a habit after this one. That's something special for a couple of matches. If I do something really spectacular, you never know what might happen next.
Sam Stosur

She (Bartoli) plays the winner of Sharapova and Petrova next. Whoever it is, she might want to order an exorcism on Bartoli before the match.
Steve Tignor

This morning actually there was like a camera crew outside my hotel, which was a little bit freaky. I got really excited because I thought they were waiting for someone who was actually famous.
Laura Robson 

Oh, Nadia! Oh, Petra! and other highlights of the day

Nadia Petrova has been serving really well lately, and when Petrova serves well, she's a threat. She was a big threat to Maria Sharapova tonight at the U.S. Open, dropping the first set, winning the second, then immediately going up a break in the third. Then it began to rain, and the match had to be suspended. Oh, Nadia. It seemed obvious that a rain delay could only benefit Sharapova, and indeed it did. She returned to the court and broke Petrova right off, then raised her game to such a level that even Petrova's serve couldn't save her anymore. Sharapova won their round of 16 match 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

Sharapova's intensity in the third set probably could have powered a large building filled with electronic equipment. But consider this: The Russian's intensity was nothing compared with the show put on by Marion Bartoli in her match against U.S. Open Series winner Petra Kvitova. A few weeks ago, in Montreal, Bartoli won only two games against Kvitova, and said later that there was absolutely nothing she could do when Kvitova played at that level.

Indeed, Kvitova won tonight's first set 6-1. It looked like there might be a repeat of the Rogers Cup beat-down, but then things changed dramatically. Kvitova began making unforced errors, hinting that she was about to turn in one of her "off" second sets. She did; Bartoli won the second set 6-2. The final set was not only a meltdown for Kvitova--it was a kind of Mad Frenchwoman opera for Bartoli. The 11th seed more or less went crazy on Kvitova, putting on a serving clinic, yelling, fist-pumping, and shadow-swinging up a storm. It was a huge performance in every way. The Czech player did not win a game.

None of us knows for sure why Kvitova played in Montreal, Cincinnati and New Haven, though I suspect she did it in order to adapt to the humid conditions, which generally trigger asthmatic attacks in her when she plays on this continent. The good news is that she won two of those tournaments, reached the semifinals in the other, and won the U.S. Open Series. The bad news is that she played a lot of matches just before coming to the U.S. Open. One can't help but wonder "What was she thinking?"

But such is the unpredictable career of Petra Kvitova. At least she doesn't have to play Sharapova again. That job goes to Bartoli.

Not surprisingly, top seed Victoria Azarenka won her round of 16 match in straight sets. She defeated Anna Tatishvili 6-2, 6-2, but the match was certainly better than the score indicates.

Defending champion Sam Stosur--remember her?--ended the run of Laura Robson today. I was wrong, too: Robson did let the occasion get to her, which was part of her undoing. Stosur won 6-4, 6-4, but what drama! In the first set, Robson went up an early break, but made enough unforced errors to get broken back. She had break opportunities at 4-all, but couldn't convert them, and was broken at 4-5.

Robson went down 1-4 in the second set, and looked like she might get into even bigger trouble, but two really good forehand shots and a good second serve helped her hold. Serving at 2-5, Robson saved two match points, but double-faulted on two game points. She also hit a volley into the net. But she relied on her big serve to save three more match points before she was finally able to hold.

By this time, Robson's confidence had returned. When Stosur served for the match at 5-3, the British upset star saved two more match points and broke her. Robson then saved yet another match point on her own serve, but Stosur finally won the match on her ninth match point. The defending champion thrived on this kind of high drama at last year's Open, so who knows what might happen? Just like last year, Stosur's matches aren't being given much fanfare, and that's probably okay with her.

Defending champions Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock, after winning a thrilling first round of mixed doubles, went out today to Sania Mirza and Colin Fleming, who beat them 6-4, 7-6. Also going out were top doubles seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, who lost to Hsieh Su-Wei and Anabel Medina Garrigues. 2nd seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci advanced, as did 3rd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.

Passing shots

Here is a good piece on Sloane Stephens.

Christina McHale is reported to be suffereing with monnucleosis, and will be off the tour for a while.

This is kind of nice.

The World Team Tennis finals weekend will be held in Charleston again this year, September 14-16 at the Family Circle Tennis Center.

Here's a video of William Thach--the man who won the Facebook contest for a "date" with Petra Kvitova--playing tennis and having lunch with his favorite player:
Thach: "What do you think I need to work on, just the backhand?"
Kvitova: "On everything."

Goodbye, Isaac--Hello, Tsvetana!

I'm back from my hurricane-driven journey to Birmingham. On the return trip, I thought I'd watch the Radwanska vs. Jankovic and the Vinci vs. Cibulkova  matches on my phone, but I had a problem with the Flash software, so all I could do was follow the scoreboard (Radwanska and Vinci won). I got home in time to catch the middle of the first set played between Serena Williams and Ekaterina Makarova. That set was competitive, but Williams ran away with the second.

I wrote a lengthy description of the match played between Maria Kirilenko and Andrea Hlavackova, and it disappeared; obviously, I'm having a bad technology day. I'm too tired to re-write, but the very short version is: What a match. It was hot, humid and windy, and they went for two hours and 48 minutes. Kirilenko backed off in the third set. Hlavackova was very impressive at the net. The Czech player served for each set at 5-4, and was successful twice. She defeated Kirilenko 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in a match that had everything I like to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic both seemed determined to let the other win the night match, but finally, Ivanovic grabbed the momentum and didn't let go of it. Angelique Kerber easily defeated Olga Govortsova, and Sara Errani made very short work of Olga Puchkova.

And then there was Tsvetana Pironkova. Has there ever been anyone else like her? She has such a big, tricky serve, and when I watch her, I just want to yell (Luke Jensen almost did yell at her) at her, "Keep up the serving--and pay attention!" She goes away--I don't know where--and appears to be thinking about something other than her shot selection.

Today, Pironkova did a nice job of taking the first set, 6-1, from Silvia Soler-Espinosa, but then practically gave the second set away in a tiebreak. She really did look like she might want to get out of the heat and move on to more interesting pursuits, but then she won the third set 6-3. This means that Pironkova is in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. Who saw that coming? Somebody throw some sod down fast!

Kim Clijsters played her last U.S. Open match tonight. She and partner Bob Bryan lost in a super-tiebreak (12-10) match to Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares in mixed doubles. Clijsters was having such a good time, I began having a good time along with her. Makarova and Soares, by the way, have pulled off something special in mixed doubles at this tournament: They also took out Mike Bryan, who--with Lisa Raymond--was seeded 2nd.

Round of 16 play begins tomorrow. Top seed Victoria Azarenka, who is playing really well, will face Anna Tatishvili, and in the night match, 2006 champion Maria Sharapova will play countrywoman Nadia Petrova. U.S. Open Series winner Petra Kvitova will compete against Marion Bartoli, and Official U.S. Open Upstart Laura Robson plays defending champion Sam Stosur.

Conditions do not favor Kvitova, but they don't particularly favor Bartoli, either. Tatishvili is a good mover, but shouldn't give Azarenka much trouble. The Stosur-Robson match could go to three sets, which would be fun (well, for viewers). Robson is not likely to have any kind of mental lapse, though one could hardly blame her if she did.

(Oh, and I'll just say this now and get a head start--Oh, Nadia!)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

U.S. Open--what they said

You know, this is tennis, so you can't really play all the time amazing. So I think now I think she's coming back. She really was playing good today. I think if she's going to play like that, she will be back soon.
Agnieszka Radwanska, referring to Jelena Jankovic

Do you feel like your success started here? Does it feel special being back?
Yes, it's for sure special to be back here. Because last year everything starts here. I mean, nobody knows me one year ago. Right now I also have a little bit pressure.
Angelique Kerber

...I have tried either not to lose or not to watch matches that I lost.
You don't find any value though in watching matches you lost?
I do, but you can't imagine how I feel watching it. It's not a good feeling.
Serena Williams

I survived the match.
Agnieszka Radwanska

She didn't give it to you in the second set, she's not gonna give it to you here. Just get over it--win the match.
Luke Jensen, calling Tsvetana Pironkova's match