Sunday, September 9, 2018

My U.S. Open top 10

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

10. Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head: The heat at this U.S. Open made me wonder, at times, whether I was actually watching reruns of Australian Open matches. The heat rule was often in effect, and a men’s heat rule had to be instituted. The weekend brought mild temperatures, but then it went right back to being almost unbearably hot. Some junior matches were postponed, and players suffered in ways that were sometimes hard to watch.

9. Speaking of the intense heat: Lesia Tsurenko—who reached the round of 16 by taking out, among others, 2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki—cramped and staggered her way through her third round match against Marketa Vondrousova. Vondrousova did her share of staggering, too; they were both almost overcome by the heat. Tsurenko’s issues were serious enough that I thought she would retire from the match, but instead, she won it, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2. It was fascinating (and a bit scary) to watch, but what was worse was to watch Vondrousova accuse her opponent of “acting.”

8. I don’t want what they’re having:
ESPN and Tennis Channel commentators go into some kind of delusional trance when they call matches in which U.S. players participate. You wouldn’t have known, for example, that Sloane Stephens was losing her quarterfinal match to Anastaija Sevastova. And when it was over, a prominent Tennis Channel commentator declared Sevastova’s victory was due to her “consistency.” That truth was, it was due to her dismantling Stephens’ game with her variety and cleverness.

You also wouldn’t have known—at least during part of the match—that Naomi Osaka was handily defeating Serena Williams. To say that the ESPN and Tennis Channel commentators “have blinders on” is an understatement. They repeatedly refuse to see what’s right in front of them.

7. Working the graveyard shift: The newly renovated Louis Armstrong Stadium proved to be the undoing of several top players. World number 1 Simona Halep, Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, Wimbledon champion (and former U.S. Open champion) Angie Kerber, Petra Kvitova, and Garbine Muguruza all fell in early rounds—inside Louis Armstrong stadium.

6. Showing us why she’s Diede de Great:
Diede de Groot won both the women’s wheelchair singles championship and the doubles championship. She won the doubles title with Yui Kamiji, whom she beat in the singles final. Currently ranked number 1 in the world in both singles and doubles, de Groot has now won four singles majors and four doubles majors, in addition to sevefal other major events.

5. Can’t keep her down: After sustaining a horrible injury at Wimbledon last year, Bethanie Mattek-Sands spent much of the following months in surgery, in pain, and on crutches. But at this year’s U.S. Open, she teamed with defending champion Jamie Murray (whose 2017 partner, Martina Hingis, had retired) and won the mixed doubles championship. The unseeded Mattek-Sands and Murray defeated the unseeded Alicja Rosolska and Nikola Mektic 2-6, 6-3, 11-9. This was Mattek-Sands’  third major mixed doubles victory; she also won an Olympic gold medal (with Jack Sock).

4. What’s wrong with this picture?:
As the U.S. Open approached, there was much speculation about whether Elina Svitolina could finally overcome her peculiar pattern of winning huge titles on the regular tour, even defending titles, but crashing out too early in majors. Well, she did a little better in Flushing Meadows. The Ukrainian star went out in the round of 16, a victim of Anastajia Sevastova (who played a bagel third set). There’s no shame in losing in the fourth round, and certainly no shame in losing to someone as clever as Sevastova. But, looking at the big picture, Svitolina should be doing better at majors. She has let go of her coach, which is something she does from time to time; we’ll all have to stay tuned.

On a similar note, Alona Ostapenko set a very good precedent (for these times) when she reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon right after she won the French Open last year. But since then, the Latvian star has managed to both stun and disappoint at the same time. Her undisciplined game neutralizes her rather amazing power and aggression. If not her current coach, then some coach needs to help Ostapenko play a somewhat lower-risk game. She’s too talented to be this sloppy.

3. One is the loneliest number:
Simona Halep is the first number 1 player in the Open Era to go out in the first round of the U.S. Open. She lost in straight sets to big-hitting Kaia Kanepi, who has made somewhat of a career of being a ginat-killer at majors. It’s unforttunate that this occurred, but it wasn’t like she wasn’t facing a dangerous opponent. On the other hand, it’s probably inaccurate to assume that winning a major has somehow transformed Halep into a less mercurial player. I think she is less fragile, but she’s still Simona. (And that’s okay.)

2. The real final: Everything a fan could have wanted in a major final took place—on Sunday. Ash Barty and CoCo Vandeweghe defeated Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic 3-6, 7-6, 7-6. The rallies were thrilling, the tension never let up, both teams held championship points, and it was just non-stop excitement. Mladenovic was the stand-out player, which made it all the more bitter (also because she’s such a good server) that the match ended on her double fault. All in all, though, this was an outstanding match. Also, it's the first major title for both Barty and Vandeweghe.

1. A championship performance:
Big, poweful hitters often need to learn to control their aggression and develop more shot variety, though it’s tempting for them to avoid this part of their tennis education. Petra Kvitova learned. Alona Ostapenko is still (we hope) taking classes. Naomi Osaka took a crash course. She blazed her way through the draw with power, precison, and a much-improved serve, dropping only one set along the way.

Serena Williams is Osaka’s idol. No problem. The shy, soft-spoken Japanese player, once she stepped onto the stage that is Arthur Ashe Stadium, was in control, much like an introverted actor who switches into a totally different gear once the play starts. It was unfortunate that the drama which came to define the match robbed Osaka of the glory she deserved, but she handled that well, too. It was a very strange way to win a first major, but I believe she’ll be holding more big trophies—under better circumstances. Osaka is the first Japanese woman to win a singles major.


Todd.Spiker said...

You sort of wonder just how much will change this offseason because of what has happened with Osaka and Bajin. Most players surely knew her potential, but I wonder how many thought she'd win a major *this* year, and how many may come to the conclusion *now* that her path to such a moment may not have become reality so soon without the decision to bring Sascha aboard. Quite a few have to be asking, "Why can't that be me next year?"

Offseasons have usually kicked off a game of musical coaching the last few years, anyway, but it may be an especially busy period *this* winter. Svitolina's may be the first move (unless you'd count Pliskova as that) of many in that circle of not-yet-but-could/should-be-a-slam winners looking for the coach that'll get her to where Osaka is now.

Coaching changes and new doubles team announcements have kind of become the WTA's offseason "hot stove league."

Diane said...

I thought about that, too. I also wonder what goes into the coach-hiring decision process. There are also more choices now that more women are coaching. The coaching change I’d like to see is one by Ostapenko. This is not a criticism of her current coach; however, I think maybe someone needs to “take over” the careening train that is Alona, keep it running fast, but get it onto the track!

Todd.Spiker said...

Yes, especially considering her similarities to Osaka (well, aside from the serve), she would seem to be the one who might most immediately benefit from a change and put herself in position for the biggest things.

Debra Washington said...

Congrats to Naomi Osaka on her historic win. The first Haitian/Japanese player to win a major. I see many more coming her way! Well done!

Diane said...

I, too, think we’ll see a lot more of her, Debra.