Friday, September 9, 2011
Queen of the hill, top of the heap
In old New York
If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you
New York, New York
World number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, whether she likes it or not, is having a "Liza Minnelli moment" at the U.S. Open. She's made it to the semifinals, and now she faces what many consider the ultimate test: She plays Serena Williams. They have played each other only twice, both matches were played in 2009, both were played on hard courts, and both were won by Williams. Wozniacki and Williams have never opposed each other at a major tournament (though one of their matches was played at the WTA Championships).
Seeded 28th, Williams has yet to drop a set at the Open. She looked a bit off her game in her first set against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarterfinals, but she won in straight sets, nevertheless. The other signirficant challenge she faced was from Victoria Azarenka, and she met that one.
Is it fair to say that Wozniacki "has" to beat Williams in order to rightfully own her number 1 ranking? Probably not, but it would give the Dane some breathing room so that she can work on her game without being constantly observed and picked apart by sports journalists and the like. Wozniacki claims she doesn't care what anyone thinks about her status, and perhaps she doesn't, but--in my opinion--her demeanor somewhat belies her words. Still, Wozniacki didn't create the ranking system--she just knows how to work it.
No matter what happens tomorrow, Serena Williams walks away owning one of the greatest comebacks in recent sports history. She's the runaway favorite to win the tournament, of course, but a loss for her wouldn't have the same meaning, in certain circles, as a loss for Wozniacki. Of course, in the film, New York, New York, Liza Minnelli also sings "But the World Goes 'Round":
Somebody loses and somebody wins
And one day it's kicks, then it's kicks in the shins
But the planet spins, and the world goes 'round
Let's not forget, by the way, that there are two other players involved. After looking kind of flat and uncreative for several months, Sam Stosur has made herself noticed again--in a big way--in New York. She played in the longest women's match ever recorded at the tournament, and then she played in the longest tiebreak ever played by two women at a major. She lost that tiebreak 15-17 against Maria Kirilenko, but came back to win the match. This spirited and highly competitive Sam Stosur is a great addition to the final group of four.
And that brings us to the unseeded, unheralded Angelique Kerber, the "other" German, the one who survived the quarterfinals. Ranked number 92 in the world, Kerber has played the tournament of her career, taking out both 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska and 26th seed Flavia Pennetta. Pennetta has a 4-0 record against Stosur, so surely the Australian feels a certain amount of relief that she doesn't have to face the Queen of Fed Cup.
However, Stosur has never played Kerber, so we might see a set in which both players try to adjust to each other's games. So far, Kerber has gone merrily along through five rounds, but it would be surprising if the weight of the occasion doesn't affect her soon, even if she remains physically fit. Regardless, her U.S. Open run is a pleasant surprise, especially considering that she has outlasted her more famous countrywomen at a time when German tennis is on the rise again.
There are only four women standing. Here, for a little inspiration, is one of New York's classic survivors: