Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wozniacki knocks Sharapova out of U.S. Open

For some reason, I just wasn't quite as into today's Sharapova vs. Wozniacki match as other people seemed to be. Maybe I was tired, maybe my eyes needed a rest, maybe it just wasn't the kind of tennis that gets me excited, though the final set certainly got my attention.

I expected some drama, and I was right about that. Wozniacki wasn't happy about all the time Sharapova was taking before she served, and the Dane complained to chair umpire Marija Cicak. Her complaint was ignored, even though Cicak had already given Sharapova a time violation for taking too long during the heat break. Talk about mixed messages. I stand by what I've said for a while: Violating the rules by taking too long to serve doesn't get you into much trouble, but following the rules by expecting your opponent to play at your pace can be a problem.

But I digress. Sharapova looked about as pleased to be playing Wozniacki as she looked when she played Sabine Lisicki, which is to say, not very. There were some strategically directed "Come on!"s from both players and a lot of animation from Sharapova, especially. After Wozniacki took the first set 6-4, it felt (at least to me) like it was going to be a three-set affair. Sure enough, 'Pova cranked it up considerably for the next set, hitting 22 winners and making only 12 unforced errors.

The last set, however, was a different story. Wozniacki went up an early break when Sharapova's serve became shaky, and the 10th seed never really looked back. She played a clean final set and continued to serve well. She also looked quite fresh toward the end, but Wozniacki was like that way before she ever trained for a marathon. She is a picture of endurance.

Earlier in the day, Fighting Italian Sara Errani ended Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's run, beating her 6-3, 3-6, 6-0. Lucic-Baroni had a problem with her knee, had it taped, and then pulled the tape off because it made her uncomfortable. She wound up hitting 46 winners and making 69 unforced errors. Errani's stats? Four and nine. The Italian was running and spinning, running and spinning, for an hour and 46 minutes. Both players' press conferences were notable: Errani's for her candor, and Lucic-Baroni's for her refusal to cooperate with efforts to get her to trash-talk her opponent.

Lucie Safarova and Peng Shuai were scheduled to play this afternoon, but play was suspended because of rain.They played on Court 5 tonight, and it was really all about Peng, who came out with the same winning attitude she's had since the beginning of the tournament. Peng hit 17 winners and made only seven unforced errors. She hit nine aces, two to end the match. Safarova served well, but she could not stop Peng's aggression.

It's probably obvious to all tennis fans that Peng has not had to have her thigh wrapped in a long time. But I've noticed something else this season: Her posture is better, and the round-shouldered walk and stance have gone away. Whoever helped the Chinese player with her hip and spine has definitely helped her to endure more continuous play and to develop more confidence. She looks like a different player. This is Peng's first time to reach a quarterfinal at a major, and it's a real pleasure to watch her make this run at the U.S. Open.

The night match featured 9th seed Jelena Jankovic and Swiss upstart Belinda Bencic. JJ looked slow to me in the first set, which she lost in a tiebreak (after both players held set points and JJ served for it twice). Nothing especially bothers Bencic, which is one of her strongest characteristics as a competitor. She's often compared with Martina Hingis (they both came out of the Melanie Molitor school of very clever tennis), but Bencic's expert redirection of the ball is equally reminiscent of none other than Jankovic.

The longer the match went on tonight, the more tired Jankovic looked. She was missing shots she usually hits like target practice, and she was backing up and giving Bencic a world of space to do her razzle-dazzle. The 17-year-old won the second set 6-3 and advanced to the quarterfinals, in which she'll play Peng, who won't allow her to be the only aggressor.
There are now only two of the top eight seeds left in the draw--number 1 seed Serena Williams and number 7 seed Eugenie Bouchard.

In doubles, Venus and Serena Williams defeated Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-0. Also advancing were 4th seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. In mixed doubles, Taylor Townsend and Donald Young upset 2 seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Alexander Peya.

Oh, my: There was a lot of buzz today about the presence of Dick Enberg at the Open and about how much he is missed. And while I know that making sexually inappropriate comments to and about women is so "in" these days (and all days, for that matter), it will never be okay with me, so I'm not among those who miss him.

Mary Carillo said today that she's expecting Li Na to retire from the tour during this year's Asian swing. Say. It. Isn't. So.

U.S. Open--what they said

What do you do well on these faster courts?
I like to run....
Sara Errani
Can you remember winning, the last time you won six matches in a row?
It's been a little while. It's been a little while. Today I felt like my body just wasn't willing to--it wasn't willing, but it just kind of broke down a little everywhere. I have blisters, tapes, pain everywhere in my body, so I burned out a little bit today.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
She's competing better than she's playing....
Mary Carillo, referring to Maria Sharapova

She's very good at getting a lot of balls back and making you hit another one. In the end, I went for a little too much.
Maria Sharapova

You said her service was slow. Did you...
You want me to say something I really don't want to say because you want to write something fun, but I'm not going to do that.
Why not?
Because I'm a fair competitor. She plays the way she plays and she fights well. You know, she had five winners in the whole match and missed maybe three balls. You know, she runs and she fights hard. That's the way it is. I wish her good luck. Respect.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

Way back when you did all that training with boxing and then obviously you were around the golf world for quite a while and now the marathon, in a word, what do you learn from each of those three and which of those three benefits tennis the most?
Well, I think it's very different. You know, now I'm running the marathon. It's hard work. You know, I run a lot already in my training, so to put those extra miles in, I think it helps my head. Kind of clears my head. I feel more free when I go on court. The boxing, I love the boxing. It's so tough. You know, I always get killed during that training, but, you know, it makes me stronger and I know I can push myself really far. You know, the golf is obviously a mental sport. Sometimes it's the small putts that can make a huge difference. You make a few putts here and there. Again, same with tennis. You make a ball here, there. You know, important points, those are the ones that count.
Caroline Wozniacki

I need to start the point where I want. So sometimes is better for me to serve not that fast, because if you serve fast the ball is coming faster. So I try not to hitting that fast. I try to change a bit the direction and be ready for making the point on the baseline.
Sara Errani

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Oh, Petra--and other highlights of the day

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova continued her not-so-good U.S. Open pattern today, losing in straight sets in the third round to an on-fire Aleksandra Krunic. The Jankovic-like athleticism of Krunic, as well as a steady mindset, kept the young Serbian player going during times when Kvitova was hitting her impossible-to-defend winners. Krunic, whom some of have admired for a while in Fed Cup competition, made less than half the number of unforced errors as her opponent, and that was pretty much the crux of the 6-4, 6-4 story. Oh, Petra.

One Russian went out, as Elena Vesnina won only two games against two-time U.S. Open finalist Victoria Azarenka. Another Russian, Ekaterina Makarova, advanced to the round of 16 with a straight sets victory over Zarina Diyas. Flavia Pennetta kept the Italian spirit going (as if, with Sara Errani, it needed to be cranked up) when she defeated Nicole Gibbs 6-4, 6-0. Casey Dellacqua beat Karolina Pliskova, and Kaia Kanepi took out Carla Suarez Navarro, 7-5, 6-0.

Serena Williams defeated Varvara Lepchenko (her third countrywoman in a row), and became the only player from the USA who remains in WTA and ATP singles competition in the tournament.

In the night match, Genie Bouchard had to fight both herself and the always-determined Barbora Zahlavova Strycova through three sets. Until the middle of the third set, it looked like it could go either way, but the Czech player's second serve had already left the stadium, and Bouchard wound up with a 6-3, 7-6, 6-4 victory. It was an entertaining match, despite the wind, and despite the deficits of both players. Bouchard was all over the place. Her next opponent is the eternally inconsistent Ekaterina Makarova, so whether Makarova is having a "good" or a "bad" day may be the deciding factor.

The biggest upset of the day occurred in doubles. The Australian pair, Jarmila Gajdosova and Ajla Tomljanovic, upset top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4. Martina Hingis and Flavia Pemnetta advanced to the third round when they defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-0.

U.S. Open--what they said

When you have everything, you don't know...what you actually need.
Aleksandra Krunic

If not Sharapova, then a relatively unknown will come through to the final.
Chanda Rubin

You know, for me, I don't feel 25 years old. Sometimes I feel I'm 12 years old. Sometimes I feel I'm 50 years old.
Victoria Azarenka

Petra Kvitova sailed another forehand, slumped her head, and leaned on the handle of her Wilson racquet like a weary traveler hanging onto a cane during a draining journey.
Richard Pagliaro

If you’re worried about the sounds Victoria Azarenka is making at the U.S. Open, you need to narrow your focus.
Louise Pleming

It was an honor to be on the same court with Petra.
Aleksandra Krunic

How good do you think Belinda can be? How far do you think she can go in this sport? 
Well, I think there is huge potential for her. I mean, I definitely think she can be top five. She's on the way to get there. How far, it's up to her. You know, nobody can play the matches for her and win matches, win the tournaments. But she showed yesterday that she can win a big match when she has to. Hopefully there will be more opportunities in the near future. Maybe here, you know.
Martina Hingis

At the last point you didn't seem to look very well. The last points.
The last point, it doesn't matter.
Petra Kvitova

I think this is your 100th Grand Slam win today. Did you know that?
Really? Where is my cake, then? Like for real. Tonight? Thank you. Put some icing on it.
Victoria Azarenka

You said you were watching the Wimbledon final. Were you rooting for Petra or Bouchard?
Petra. I like Petra a lot as a person. She's very down-to-earth and I respect her a lot. I like when I can say hi and talk to the players that are much higher ranked than me and I don't feel such a difference in our levels....
Aleksandra Krunic

How important was it to get to the second round? You used to take it for granted. But this year...
To get to?
To the second week, sorry.
I mean, I can't believe I'm in the second week. It's like a dream come true for me at this point.
Why can't you believe it?
I'm being sarcastic.
Serena Williams

Friday, August 29, 2014

Don't blink

You might miss an upset at the U.S. Open. Today, the big upset was Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's straight set defeat of 2nd seed Simona Halep. Halep held a 5-2 lead in the first set, and after Lucic-Baroni "caught up," it was pretty much over for Halep, who was defeated 7-6, 6-2 in a comeback moment that was--for a few reasons--reminiscent of Jelena Dokic's run at the 2009 Australian Open. Halep was obviously having an "off" day, but part of the reason she was having trouble was the switched-on game of Lucic-Baroni.

It wasn't just Halep who made an exit. There was also 6th seed Angelique Kerber, who lost in three sets to tough-minded Belinda Bencic from Switzerland. Bencic is a really big talent, and this kind of thing was going to happen sooner or later--and my bet was on "sooner." Coached, from time to time, and mentored by Melanie Molitor, the 17-year-old has the mindset of Martina Hingis, but is a much bigger hitter. Bencic handled the occasion with a nice combination of excitement and steadiness, and advances to the round of 16.

The biggest drama of the day was Sara Errani's 6-0, 0-6, 7-6 defeat of Venus Williams. (If that has a familiar ring to it, here's why: Kim Clijsters defeated Williams 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 in the third round of the 2009 U.S. Open.) Williams made 52 unforced errors. On the plus side, she and sister Serena won their second round doubles match.

Peng Shuai, Lucie Safarova and Caroline Wozniacki all advanced, defeating Roberta Vinci, Alize Cornet and Andrea Petkovic, respectively. And--a happy moment--the Light and the Joy moved to the round of 16, allowing Johanna Larsson to win only game. As I write this, Maria Sharapova is a set away from advancing; she took the first set 6-2 over Sabine Lisicki.

U.S. Open--what they said

I'm just going to the hairdresser, manicure--who cares about tennis, right?
Jelena Jankovic

Every time I play against her she won against me very easy. So I thought that I had to make my level higher, try to be much more aggressive than any time, and try to keep focus every point. Even if I'm going down like in the second, just keep going and try to be focus as I can.
Sara Errani

How happy are you with the way that you are playing, the way you're handling pressure, and how much confidence do you feel going into the fourth round?
How happy? Now I'm still happy. I don't know, because every day you have like a different feeling, you know. Like when I play Aga I think I play really good tennis, and then even today was also good. And then I don't know how it's in Sunday. I hope I will be same.Yeah.
Peng Shuai

Yeah, doubles teams come and go, but we stick together. Why not, though? She plays so well. I think she can rely on me out there, as well. It's a match made in heaven maybe.
Venus Williams

...yeah, at 19, I did not know what was going on. I had a big chance. You know, I was up against Justine Henin a set and 4-2, 40-15. I had the whole match in my hand and I was thinking about celebrating and I'm going in the finals. Of course at the time I was inexperienced. I didn't know what's happening. I was just a child, and, you know, I was playing so well, though...
Jelena Jankovic

It's only been 15 years since you got to the second week of a slam. It's not that long.
I know, right? I feel good about the fact I'm 32 and I'm still here. After so many matches I feel fit. I feel strong. I still have a few years to catch up to Kimiko, so I'm good.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stosur and Ivanovic say goodbye to Flushing Meadows

Well, that didn't last long. The "revived" Ana Ivanovic and the slightly less "revived" Samantha Stosur were both upset in the second round of the U.S. Open today. AnaIvo fell to Karolina Pliskova, who is very quietly making her (big-serving) way through the twists and turns of WTA competition. Pliskova hit only seven aces today, though she generally goes into double digits, and beat 8th-seeded Ivanovic 7-5, 6-4.

2011 champion Stosur went out in a thriller against the mercurial Kaia Kanepi. Each held two match points in a very tense third set tiebreak, and Kanepi saw it through with a 10-8 win. Also making an exit was Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who lost to Nicole Gibbs. Genie Bouchard needed three sets to defeat Sorana Cirstea in what was a most entertaining night match. Serena Williams beat Vania King in under and hour, and Petra Kvitova beat countrywoman Petra Cetkovska in straight sets.

Qualifier Aleksandra Krunic defeated Madison Keys, and CiCi Bellis, the new "big thing," lost in three sets to Zarina Diyas (and gave Diyas a bagel in the second set). U.S. Open-loving Flavia Pennetta advanced, as did Vika Azarenka. Two Russians, Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova, also moved on to the third round.

In doubles, Venus and Serena Williams beat 7th seeds Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic 7-6, 6-7, 6-1. That was quite a match to have in the first round. Top seeds Errani and Vinci and 2nd seeds Hsieh and Peng advanced to the second round.

U.S. Open--what they said

Let's get over it a little bit and let her have a normal life and progress in her tennis.
Chris Evert, on CiCi Bellis

And the wigs, I really need a Tina Turner wig.
I don't know about that one. I don't do that.
You can do that.
No, I don't.
Serena Williams

It was windy. Our court start with the shade and it was slowly to cover all the court. Sometimes I couldn't really see the serve. You know, sometimes when it's going from the sun to shade, it's not really visible.
Petra Kvitova

The final set was a tense affair, with neither dropping serve until the ninth game. Kanepi served for the match only to serve to stay in it two games later, but the pro-Stosur crowd was begging for a final-set tiebreak.
David Kane

My job was to be kind of a wall today. I think I managed to do it very well.
Aleksandra Krunic

She's almost afraid to make that commitment to win--kind of like a Sloane Stephens.
Chris Evert, referring to Sorana Cirstea

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We didn't even get a chance to count the dots

4th seed Aga Radwanska and her lovely black and white polka dot dress have parted Flushing Meadows. Radwanska is an outstanding hard court player who just cannot--for some reason, she says it's a mystery--negotiate the courts of the U.S. Open. Radwanska lost today in the second round to Peng Shuai, the woman who took her out in the second round in 2010. Peng defeated the Polish star in straight sets today.

That was the big news, but it wasn't the only news. Sloane Stephens was also upset in the second round, by Johanna Larsson. Larsson lost the first set but then went on a campaign that combined her athleticism with determination, and which resulted in yet another "what's wrong with Sloane?" ongoing media discussion.

Known for having a mediocre (that may be too kind) record in "regular" tournaments but a very good record in the majors, Stephens' 2014 season has, to some degree, tarnished that odd reputation; she went out in the first round at Wimbledon.

Kurumi Nara was the 31st seed--not a major player at the Open--but a potentially very dangerous one. That danger was removed today by Belinda Bencic, who defeated Nara in three sets. In the thriller of the day, Andrea Petkovic barely survived Monica Puig, and Simona Halep, Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, and Maria Sharapova all advanced.

In the first round of doubles, 6th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears were upset, as were 10th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. The Pliskova sisters lost to Cara Black and Sania Mirza, and received a second set bagel. Tomorrow--and what a first round match this is--the Williams sisters play Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic.

U.S. Open--what they said

And if you could have changed one thing in your progression, which of course has been very even, but if you could change one thing in your early career...
No, I don't want to change anything. It was perfect. I'm happy how I am now. Everythings are going how they have to be, so I'm happy with the way I did in the past. Now in the future for sure I will do also great job.
Simona Halep

When the stakes get higher, I hit harder; I can't help it.
Venus Williams

For me, this is very perplexing.
Tracy Austin, on Sloane Stephens' lack of progress

He's (Groenefeld) quite energetic in the box. Do you like that?
I don't think he was like that before. I think I just make everybody energetic.
Maria Sharapova were you playing differently then when you were making deeper runs in Grand Slams as opposed to right now?
That's something normally you guys write about because you guys critique it. I mean, there's not much really I can do. It's a game. The girl I played played a good match today. She played really solid. There is a lot of things I could say that's different, have changed, better or worse. That's just a matter of, I don't know, just things. I don't know.
Sloane Stephens

Do you prefer to practice in private, though? 
No. I like just to practice everywhere.
Simona Halep

How disappointing is this for you?
I mean, it always is, especially in the Grand Slam your first week. But, well, I think here is not really the new thing for me. Unfortunately.
Aga Radwanska

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Day 2 of U.S. Open brings significant upsets

Your average 15-year-old doesn't wipe out a Tornado, then turn around and diffuse a Pocket Rocket, but CiCi Bellis does not appear to be your average 15-year-old. The teenager from California, who upset 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova today, is the youngest player to win a main draw match at a major since Anna Kournikova did it 18 years ago at the Australian Open.

Bellis earned a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw when she beat Tornado Alicia Black in the final of the USTA Girls' 18s National Championship. Appearing nerveless in her opening match in Flushing Meadows, Bellis went all aggressive with Cibulkova's second serve and beat her 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. Her next opponent will be another aggressive player, Zarina Diyas.

20th seed (and 2004 champion) Svetlana Kuznetsova went out in the first round today, too. The Russian lost a third set tiebreak to Marina Erakovic. The Kuznetsova Curse remains a very reliable reality.

Donna Vekic seemed to go to pieces after her successful first set against Coco Vandeweghe, and Kiki Mladnovic won one game against 3rd seed Petra Kvitova.

Other than Elina Svitolina's loss to Polona Hercog, everything else went pretty much as it was expected to go. Genie Bouchard, Sam Stosur, Vika Azarenka, and Flavia Pennetta all advanced, as did Ekaterina Makarova. Top seed Serena Williams, looking like her "real self" in a leopard print and hot pink, advanced to the second round when she defeated Taylor Townsend 6-3, 6-1.

U.S. Open--what they said

She raises her hand like she’s in school.
Chris Evert, describing Taylor Townsend’s challenge gesture

This is such a different atmosphere here in New York. Some people love it here. How do you respond to this kind of tournament? 
I'm not really this person, really love it. But that's the Grand Slam, it's important one. Yeah, I mean, if I'm comparing with Wimbledon, it's really big difference. It's more crowd, it's more big show, something like that. So it's not really my person....
Petra Kvitova

Do you think it's feasible to display a clock so that the players, the fans, and a chair ump could see the time tick off? 
Yeah. We actually had a meeting about that couple weeks ago. Yeah, I don't think that would be a bad idea. You know where you stand. Yep, that's it. That's what we've gotta do.
Sam Stosur

You're actually trending on Twitter now. If you had a hashtag to sum up this afternoon, what would it be?
I know some of my friends were doing hashtag like, take down Cibulkova, something like that. I know three of my friends did that, I guess.
CiCi Bellis

You're probably too young to know much about Carling Bassett, but I'm wondering what kind of Canadian tennis influence you have had, if any?
I never had any Canadian tennis influences. I looked up to the best: Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova. I remember watching Monica Seles playing. Any great champions I looked up to.
Genie Bouchard

Monday, August 25, 2014

U.S. Open day 1

There is never a "normal" opening day for a major, is there? Some of today's highlights:

Venus Williams and Kimiko Date-Krumm, who have a combined age of 77, did what they like to do--drive each other crazy on a tennis court. Date-Krumm made things hard for Williams, but Williams won in three sets. What appeared to be a bee attacked Date-Krumm, and then it went about messing with Williams' serve. These two and their matches.....

Both Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber looked shaky in their first rounds, but both won. By the time she got to her press conference, Halep was talking confidence and "nothing to lose" (really?!), but when she stepped off the court, she sounded more candidly anxious. Her opponent, Danielle Rose Collins, had a great debut.

Camila Giorgi is already out of the tournament, defeated by Anastasia Rodionova. Overall threat and huge hitter Garbine Muguruza, the 25th seed, is out, too. The Spaniard lost to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Also making an exit was Kirsten Flipkens, who lost to Sara Errani. New Haven finalist Magda Rybarikova retired in her third set against Caroline Wozniacki. (Is Woz back to her old tricks and zapping opponents with the retirement curse?).

Aga Radwanska and Venus Williams are wearing beautiful tennis dresses. Radwanska's polka dots really suit her.

Chris Evert revealed that she has Petra Kvitova on her list of possible U.S. Open champions, and also had her marked as a top seed who could go out early. I think that says it all.

U.S. Open--what they said

Honestly, I have won slams where I didn't feel like I was playing my best. I have won when I felt like
I wasn't prepared. I felt like I lost when I thought I was playing amazing.
Venus Williams

She kind of plays all over the place...It was very difficult for me.
Andrea Petkovic, referring to Ons Jabeur

Have you been to the Bronx or what is the idea behind the shirt?
It's an Under Armour shirt. Every day I'm going to wear a different New York shirt just because I'm cool like that.
Sloane Stephens

She wins the points she's supposed to win, and then she wins some she's not supposed to win.
Martina Navratilova, referring to Simona Halep

What was it like to have the stadium behind you?
Oh, it was awesome. I have never played at that level and I have never played in a stadium like that. It was amazing. I mean, I could get used to that.
Do you ever feel old out there?
Not yet.
Venus Williams

I want to enjoy this, but it's not easy.
Simona Halep

Sunday, August 24, 2014

U.S. Open champion predictions

Jon Wertheim--Serena Williams
Peter Bodo--Serena Williams
Courtney Nguyen--Serena Williams
Greg Garber--Serena Williams
Richard Pagliaro--Serena Williams
Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Brad Gilbert--Simona Halep
Ed McGrogan--Serena Williams
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Richard Deitsch--Serena Williams
Kamakshi Tandon--Maria Sharapova
Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Melissa Isaacson--Serena Williams
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Todd Spiker--Svetlana Kuznetsova
Mary Joe Fernandez--Serena Williams
Matt Wilansky--Serena Williams
Howard Bryant--Serena Williams

Friday, August 22, 2014

I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way

2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova faces countrywoman Maria Kirilenko in the first round of the U.S. Open. And while neither Russian Maria has been quite the same lately for various (and maybe, in one case, unknown) reasons, a Kirilenko who is "on" is a dangerous opponent on a hard court. Sharapova has won most of their matches, though Kirilenko pulled a big upset in 2010 when she took Sharapova out of the Australian Open in the first round.

Sharapova is in the Simona Halep quarter of the draw, but before she even gets to Halep, she has other potential obstacles in her way, including Andrea Petkovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams, and Garbine Muguruza. Maybe even Sabine Lisicki, though I really don't see 'Pova losing that one. Of course, Halep has those obstacles, too. The fourth quarter is filled with dangerous players, including New Haven finalist (and who knows?--maybe champion) Magdalena Rybarikova, Camila Giorgi, Sara Errani, and Kirsten Flipkens.

But let me put myself back into some kind of reasonable order. The first quarter is the Serena Williams quarter, and Williams has to hit the ground running by playing Taylor Townsend in the opening round. Townsend may or may not give Williams a good warmup. 2011 champion Sam Stosur is in that quarter, and it's likely the two will meet. Coco Vandeweghe, who starts against Donna Vekic (maybe not an easy start) is also is in the Williams quarter, as is Flavia Pennetta, and--perhaps most important--Ana Ivanovic. Both Stosur (even though she got slapped out of New Haven tonight by Kvitova) and Ivanovic have revived their careers in recent weeks, and both like hard courts.

Kvitova leads the third quarter, and has a potentially challenging first round against Kiki Mladenovic. 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vika Azarenka, Dominika Cibulkova, and Ekaterina Makarova are all in that quarter, as are upstart Elina Svitolina and career-reviving Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Upset specialist Sorana Cirstea lurks there, also, and--oh, yes, Genie Bouchard. What a quarter!

Finally, there's the third quarter, which features Aga Radwanska and Angelique Kerber as the anchors. Jelena Jankovic, Lucie Safarova and Alize Cornet are in that quarter, too, as is Sloane Stephens (Stephens starts against Annika Beck). Potentially dangerous floater Kurumi Nara is also in the Radwanska quarter.

In a "normal" season, we'd be looking at Azarenka to challenge Serena Williams as the winner, but not this year. Williams, seeking her 18th major, comes in as the favorite by virtue of being the top seed, the U.S. Open Series winner, and well, Serena Williams. Williams has yet to win a major this year, which seems to make it even more likely that she will play at her top level and be unbeatable in this, her last chance to win a big one in 2014.

There are arguments, however, to made for the likes of Stosur, Ivanovic, Kvitova (who has never gotten past the round of 16), and Halep. Radwanska and Wozniacki cannot be totally ruled out, nor can Kerber. The U.S. Open tends to be either really great or really strange (in a "not great" way) for Williams. She is the two-time defending champion, so the last two years have been of the "really great" variety for her.

The top seed is headed for a potential ("potential" being the key word here) contest with either Kvitova or Bouchard in the semifinals. On paper, that looks like a good draw for Serena, and--if Bouchard gets to the semifinals--I think it's still a good draw. Should Kvitova get that far--and the humidity hasn't put her asthma into full tilt--it could be a bit tricky.

No woman has won the U.S. Open more than twice consecutively since Chris Evert won it four times in a row from 1975 through 1978. Several women have won the Open twice in a row but could go no farther. Will Serena Williams break that pattern?

As for Sharapova, one doesn't like to say that she cannot win the U.S. Open. At least, this "one" doesn't. To win it, the Russian would have a tough job, but she thrives on tough jobs, and who knows?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Serena Williams wins her first Cincinnati title

Top seed Serena Williams got off to a slow start in today's Cincinnati final against Ana Ivanovic. but then she did what she needed to do early in the first set, which she won 6-4. After that, it appeared that the Serbian star was all but sleep-walking through the match. Williams won the second set 6-1.

Despite losing the final, Ivanovic had a good tournament. Her 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 semifinal victory over Maria Sharapova was definitely the highlight of the event, for the drama, if nothing else. Ivanovic led a set and 4-0 when Sharapova made her almost last-minute comeback. A questionable line call upset Ivanovic, and (in a style more reminiscent of Jankovic), she went to pieces, letting Sharapova in. Sharapova, of course, lives for these moments, when she can wipe out an opponent's momentum and take over the match.

But this turned out to be no ordinary match. At the start of the third set, Ivanovic took a medical timeout. She said later that she felt nauseous and had stomach pain. A blood pressure check was done on her, and that action would lead to an "instant classic" 'Pova moment later in the match. Sharapova, after double-faulting and getting broken to put the score at 4-all, tapped her arm with her racket and said to the umpire, "Check her blood pressure."

Okay, so it isn't as good as "Allez up your f___ing ass!" and certainly not as good as "Isn't she back in Poland already?" (one of my all-time favorite tennis quotes), but it still made me laugh. Apparently, it angered some people, and I understand and respect that, but then again, I burst out laughing when I heard "...and you're unattractive inside," so my spontaneous laughter mode apparently overrides every other mode I possess.

Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears won the doubles title when their opponents, Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic, retired early in the second set of the final. They retired because Mladenovic sustained a back injury

Anyway, systolically and diastolically speaking, the WTA tour is vibrant and healthy. Both Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki (who lost to Sharapova in the semifinals) look really good. Aga Radwanska has picked her game up considerably, and even Sam Stosur looks like she's ready for serious action.

And then there's Serena, who hasn't won a major this year, but she gets a final shot in Flushing Meadows in just a little while. She's the winner of the 2014 U.S. Open Series, so she'll also be going for a $1 million bonus at the U.S. Open. It's rare for the world number 1 to play three events in a row, but she did, and she won two of them.

Iveta Melzer retires from professional tennis

Iveta Melzer, whom we knew mostly as Iveta Benesova (name changes always baffle me), has retired from professional tennis. It's sad to see a lefty Czech player go, but we haven't seen much of Melzer lately, so this announcement isn't a surprise.

In singles, the talented Melzer was often frustrating for fans. She had an unusually good serve, and could certainly use it to her advantage, but she also had an especially fragile temperament and was often her own worst enemy on the court.

It was in doubles that she really showed her gifts, even though she was most often paired with a player with an equally fragile temperament--Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Together, though, they could make trouble for the best of doubles teams.

Melzer won two WTA singles titles, 14 doubles titles (10 of them with Zahlavova Strycova), and--with not-yet-her-husband Juergen Melzer--she won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 2011, the year that Czech players swept all the Wimbledon titles. Melzer reached a career-high ranking in singles of number 25 in the world, and a career-high ranking of 17 in doubles. She was a member of the Czech Fed Cup team and the Czech Olympic team.

In 2012, Melzer sustained a shoulder injury that kept her off of the tour for a year and a half. In announcing her retirement, the 31-year-old Czech player said that being out for a year and a half contributed to her decision to stop playing professional tennis.

"I would have never believed that time would fly so fast," Melzer said. "I still remember like it was yesterday when my father brought me to the court when I was seven and I started to hit my first tennis balls, or later, when I decided to put in all of my devotion and try to become professional.

"I remember the first points on tour and the goals I was trying to reach; the hard times I was giving my coaches, because there were certain situations i was difficult, but also the fun we had along the way; all of the great and successful moments and also the bad ones. I would have done a few things differently, but I have absolutely no regrets.

"I am grateful for every single experience and I believe it was part of the process to learn, become stronger and a better person. Today I can say I enjoyed my career with all the ups and downs."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Radwanska wins Rogers Cup

Isn't it just like Aga Radwanska to sneak a big win in just when fans are talking about her 2014 slump? That sneak attack is so very Radwanskian, to borrow a term from WTA Backspin. In today's Rogers Cup final, the world number 5 defeated Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2 to win her 14th title. It was a great week for both players, with Venus beating Serena for the first time in five years, and with the Polish star taking out Sabine Lisicki, Victoria Azarenka and Ekaterina Makarova.

It wasn't such a great week for the "all Bouchard all the time" trend network. The Canadian player went out in the second round with a bagel sandwich delivered to her by Shelby Rogers. That seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Rogers herself would win only one game in the next round, when she became the victim of Caroline Wozniacki.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. who are so "back," won the doubles title, defeating 4th seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza, 7-6, 6-3 in today's final.

And now on to Cincinnati, where Serena Williams is the top seed. Williams has a bye in the first round, and will play--well, will maybe play--Sam Stosur in the second round. Stosur plays a qualifier in the first round, and we all know how that might turn out. Andrea Petkovic and Sloane Stephens play each other in the opening round, as do Alize Cornet and Madison Keys. Another first round match to keep an eye on--Lucie Safarova vs. Montreal finalist Venus Williams.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Princess Diaries

July 5, 2014--got my ass kicked, 6-3 6-0 by Kvitova in Wimbledon final

July 15, 2014--IMG wants me!

July 24, 2014--withdrew from Citi Open with French Open knee injury

August 2, 2014--Genie Army lands in Montreal with new song!

August 5, 2014--got my ass kicked 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 by Shelby Rogers in Montreal second round

Many years ago, when I was in the public relations business, my business card was somewhat of a collector's item because in small print, on the bottom, were the words Hype Springs Eternal. It does. The hype machine has damaged players before; in fact, Petra Kvitova comes to mind right away. The charming and somewhat introverted Czech star didn't really know how to handle being looked at by the world as The Wimbledon Champion in 2011. It took her three years to win Wimbledon again, and when she did, she beat the young woman who is now the hype machine's number 1 victim.

Hailed as "the next Sharapova," Genie Bouchard has rightly stated that she doesn't want that comparison. "I don't want to be the next someone," she said recently, "I want to be the first of me." I have never liked the comparison, partly because I don't like those kind of comparisons, but also because I don't think there are many young players made of the stuff that Sharapova is made of. Sharapova is as tough as they make them. Bouchard is tough, I think, but not yet tough in a Sharapova sense.

Bouchard pulled out of the Citi Open for somewhat vague medical reasons (a common enough action in pro tennis) that seemingly had to do with a knee injury she sustained during the French Open. A very big deal was made of her Rogers Cup participation, and that big deal was wiped out rather emphatically earlier this evening when Shelby Rogers put on a serving show that sent Bouchard packing in the second round (she had a bye in the first).

No one (except Bouchard) can say for sure exactly what went wrong tonight. For one thing, Rogers was the anti-Bouchard: She was cool and focused, even when she lost the second set. She gets all credit. But as good as Rogers was, it was obvious that Bouchard was giving Rogers plenty to feel confident about. The Canadian star "wasn't feeling it," as commentators like to say. How much does the excessive hype have to do with that? Some, you can be sure.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Williams wins third Stanford title

Down 1-5 in the first set against Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams--not surprisingly--turned on "the switch" in today's Stanford final and overcame Kerber 7-6, 6-3. Kerber served for the first set at 5-4 and was broken, then saved a set point and took the set to a tiebreak. The German star won only one point in that tiebreak, however, and the rest of the match was pretty much about Serena.

3rd seeds Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro won the doubles final, defeating Paula Kania and Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 4-6, 10-5.

At the Citi Open in Washington, DC, Svetlana Kuznetsova claimed her first singles title in four years. Kuznetsova defeated Kurumi Nara 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the final. Nara, with partner Hiroko Kuwata, had to settle for runner-up status in the doubles final, too. 2nd seeds Shuko Aoyama and Gabriela Dabrowski won the title, defeating Nara and Kuwata 6-1, 6-2 in yesterday's final.

Rogers Cup qualifying was tough. Elena Vesnina, Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Mladenovic failed to make it to the main draw. Donna Vekic and Kimiko Date-Krumm failed to make it out of qualifying, too, with Vekic losing in the first round. Defending champion Serena Williams, the top seed, has a bye in the opening round.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Petkovic reaches Stanford semifinals

Andrea Petkovic continued her upward climb yesterday with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 victory against Venus Williams in Stanford. There were eleven breaks of serve in the match, which lasted just under an hour and 50 minutes. Top seed Serena Williams had to go three sets against Ana Ivanovic, but Williams prevailed, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5. Ivanovic continues to impress, and maybe this time, her fans can breathe a little easier when they think "comeback."

Angelique Kerber made short work (not many do, these days) of Garbine Muguruza. Kerber will play Varvara Lepchenko in the semifinals, while Petkovic will have to face her second Williams sister in a row.

At the Citi Open in Washington, DC, Kurumi Nara will face off against Marina Erakovic in the semifinals. In the quarterfinals, Nara and Erakovic defeated on-the-rise Kiki Mladenovic and Bojana Jovanovski, respectively.

I haven't been around here much because I lost a fight against what seemed like a thousand choking vines on a small fence in my yard. Somewhere in there was some poison ivy, and--though I had an immunity to urushiol for many years following extreme childhood exposure--I'm now very sensitive to it.