Friday, September 6, 2019

The Upstart vs. The Queen--and would you want it any other way?

Back in 1999, an amazing upstart named Serena Williams won the first of her six U.S. Open titles. She was 17 years old. Bianca Andreescu, on the other hand, was yet to be born (that would happen around nine months later). And if Williams was an upstart, Andreescu--who will face Serena in the 2019 U.S. Open women's singles final on Saturday--is something beyond an upstart.


It doesn't surprise me at all that these are the last two women standing in Flushing Meadows; in fact, I expected it. After all, Serena is Serena, and Bianca, or "Bibi," is a peculiar force of nature who--so far--defies classification. This is her U.S. Open debut, and I suppose she wanted to make it last as long as possible because here she is, in the final. That alone, is a head-turning fact. But there's more: Since undertaking her pro career, Andreescu is 7-0 against top 10 players. Consider also that, when the season began, the 19-year-old Canadian was ranked 152 in the world. Next week, she'll be in the top 10.

But back to Serena. Last night, she dismantled the game of Elina Svitolina with a kind of surgical skill. She had plenty of help from the Ukrainian star, who--after getting a quick taste of her opponent's resolve in the opening two games--faded (literally) into the background. Svitolina, who is as fast of foot as anyone on the tour, and clever, to boot, was simply not able to combine her skills to put together a fight plan against Williams. It didn't help her cause that Serena was serving in top form.

It wasn't that she didn't have opportunities, but Svitolina failed to convert any of the six break points given to her throughout the match. Williams got the job done in a little over an hour, and walked away with a 6-3, 6-1 victory.

Much more dramatic was the second semifinal, which featured former phenom Belinda Bencic and current phenom (to say the least) Andreescu. Both were playing in their first major semifinal, and their straight sets match had just about everything for which fans could hope. (Unfortunately, it had too much, as  the U.S. Open crowd continued to provide an alarming display of rudeness.)

This was one of those matches about which one needs to say "You had to be there" (literally, or watching on television). Because what transpired was a kind of trickery that even the great Aga Radwanska would find impressive. It didn't involve trick shots (thought there were a few of those), but rather, it involved what we might call a "trick mindset" on the part of the Canadian star. Belinda Bencic clearly led the first set. She was aggressive, she was consistent, and--most important--she was ahead. But if you're Bibi Andreescu, you consider that a minor detail that can be brushed away at the right time.

Andreescu saved all of the six break points that she faced in the first set, and, for good measure, she saved a set point. That put the set--which was on the Swiss player's racket--to a tiebreak, and before you could say Abracadabra, Alakazam, I'm Bibi the Beast, I am! Andreescu was up 5-0. She won the tiebreak 7-3.

Bencic, though, would have none of it. Rather than retreat into the corner, she came out fighting in the second set, and with her shot variety and her keen anticipatory ability, was able to flummox her opponent and take a 5-2 lead.

I suppose, at this point, we might say "Andreescu had her opponent right where she wanted her," for--as I wrote a couple of days ago--the Canadian woman thrives on problem-solving, and even participates in creating some of her problems. In her press conference, Andreescu said that when she was one game short of losing the second set, she knew she didn't want the match to extend to three sets. And so, just like that, she won five straight games, taking the set (and the match) at 7-5. Because that's the Andreescu way.

And as entertaining as that method may be for fans, it could be Andreescu's undoing against Serena Williams in a major final. When you're playing Serena, there's little time for performing side shows. Serena's serve is too good, and her returns are too good.

Andreescu says that she utilizes meditation and visualization to enhance her game. Today would be a good day for her to do a quick scan of her unconscious mind and perhaps focus on ways to win that don't involve making a dramatic comeback from a down position. She has skills galore, but against Williams, she'll need the ones that put her in the lead and keep her there.

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Katie Volynets
round 2--def. Kirsten Flipkens
round 3--def. Caroline Wozniacki (15)
round of 16--def. Taylor Townsend (Q)
quarterfinals--def. Elise Mertens (25)
semifinals--def. Belinda Bencic (13)

round 1--def. Maria Sharapova
round 2--def. Caty McNally (W)
round 3--def. Karolina Muchova
round of 16--def. Petra Martic (22)
quarterfinals--def. Wang Qiang (18)
semifinals--def. Elina Svitolina (5)


colt13 said...

Well said.

Andreescu is one of the few women that doesn't have to be more aggressive when she plays Serena. She already is balls to the wall. What she can't do is whack a ball back and have it hit Serena(see Kerber). So dialing it down from 10 to 9 and seeing if Serena implodes on her own would be beneficial.

If Serena wins, as much as she is about winning 24, it would be her first title in 2 1/2 years, which is an eternity for her.

Diane said...

I think it’s a dream final—most awesome debutante vs. most awesome veteran (or—anything). I’m interested in how both of them fare emotionally in this match.

busitechnews said...

19 year old Bianca Andreescu becomes first Canadian, be it male or female to win a Grand Slam singles title; Serena Williams remains one short of Margaret Court’s all-time haul of 24 majors.
Watch the Video @ Video: Bianca Andreescu defeats Serena Williams to win US Open women’s singles title