Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ain't no Sunshine when she's gone

Photo by Daniel Ward
This weekend, Caroline Wozniacki won the Pan Pacific Open. There was a time when that wouldn't have been considered news--she's won it before--but in 2016, it's a flashy headline. Wozniacki, who entered the U.S. Open as number 74 in the world, and now she's close to getting back into the top 20. Seemingly out of nowhere, the former world number 1 known as Sunshine (and some affectionate canine names--The Great Dane and The Golden Retriever) won her 24th WTA title when, only recently, it appeared her career was sliding into nowhere.

Not that we didn't have a hint that this was coming. Wozniacki came back to life at the U.S. Open, where she made it to the semifinals, losing to eventual champion Angelique Kerber. During her run in Flushing Meadows, Wozniacki upset both 9th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova and 8th seed Madison Keys.

The Tokyo draw was a tough one. Wozniacki had to beat Belinda Bencic, 4th seed Carla Suarez Navarro and 2nd seed and defending champion Aga Radwanska. Her opponent in the final was a surprise. 18-year-old Naomi Osaka had to remove the likes of Misaki Doi, 6th seed Dominika Cibulkova and an on-fire Elina Svitolina just to make it to the last round. Wozniacki defeated Osaka 7-5, 6-3 to win the title.

But what does this mean, insofar as the big picture is concerned? So many times, Wozniacki has come back from a seeming slip into the lower rankings, yet has always managed to find a way back to the top or near-top. She has managed to win at least one title for the past nine years. This time, her comeback was dramatic, which could be a big motivator for her--or not.

Wozniacki has always been hard to read as an athlete. A very physically strong player with amazing on-court endurance, the Dane has long been considered one of the greatest defensive players in the game. She has demonstrated her grit on the court on many occasions. We also saw her demonstrate it off the court when her response to the break-up of her primary relationship was to run the New York Marathon--in an unbelievably fast time.

Wozniacki's critics have emphasized two themes throughout her career--her hesitancy to add (or sometimes, to retain) aggression in her game style, and her reliance on her father as her coach. Others have tried to coach Wozniacki, but in the end (which is generally much sooner than later) they were all sent packing in favor of Piotr Wozniacki. Wozniacki becomes suddenly aggressive and wins matches she might have lost before--and then she drops the aggression.

It's hard not to compare the Danish star with Angelique Kerber. They are both very strong of leg and have mighty endurance. They are both known for their sterling defensive play. Both of their serves range from good enough to excellent, depending on the match. But Kerber, rather than wavering on the aggression she added to her game, has made a commitment to integrating it. She has also won two majors.

This latest dramatic comeback from Wozniacki adds quite a bit of intrigue to the 2016 season. Is the Dane about to put it all together and win that elusive major in 2017? In the past, it's been hard for her fans to bet on that prospect. But in professional tennis, players can rise and fall at the most unexpected times (consider Kerber, and--sadly, Petra Kvitova). Wozniacki now represents a major question mark as we move toward the end of the season.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

My U.S. Open top 10

John Lennon plaque in garden of Cathedral of St. John the Divine

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

10. Shorts!

9. You here again?: Who knew that Caroline Wozniacki would be one of the stars of the second week of the U.S. Open? Wozniacki entered the tournament ranked number 74 in the world, quite a comedown for someone who had twice been a finalist. Had she gone out in the first round, it wouldn't have been a surprise. But she made it all the way to the semifinals, and her road was a rough one. The Dane had to take out 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, the tricky Monica Niculescu and 8th seed Madison Keys. She lost to Angie Kerber, but what a run it was.

8. Surprise!: Some thought it was surprising that 2015 runner-up Roberta Vinci made it to the quarterfinals, but not I; Vinci is a Fighting Italian. But there were a couple of surprises. One was 18-year-old Ana Konjuh, who has shown a lot of talent throughout her brief career, but who had not yet made the kind of breakthrough she did in Flushing Meadows. Konjuh began by upsetting 20th seed Kiki Bertens, then beat Karumi Nara, and followed that with a win over Varvara Lepchenko. Her biggest feat, however, occurred during the round of 16, when she upset 4th seed Aga Radwanska in a brilliant performance. But then the nerves hit, and she was very easy pickings for Karolilna Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

And even bigger surprise was the quarterfinal run of Anastasija Sevastova. The Latvian player retired from pro tennis in 2013 because she was so tired of dealing with injuries. In 2015, she came back, and at the U.S. Open, she came to life in a way that thrilled spectators. Sevastova began her campaign by defeating Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (I know, who hasn't done that lately?), then went on to beat Kateryna Bondarenko, and then--Johanna Konta. I expected Konta to reach the semifinals, so once again: What do I know? Who knows? Sevastova herself might have reached the semis, but in the first point of the second game of her quarterfinal against Wozniacki, she injured her ankle, and that was pretty much it for her, though she completed the match. Again, it was quite a run, though it ended sadly.

7. Get well soon!: Laura Siegemund was ill during the first week of the U.S. Open, but feeling optimistic about her recovery, she went in search of a partner for the mixed doubles competition. She didn't have much luck, though, because, she said, "No one would play with me because I looked so unhealthy." Fortunately, Mate Pavid decided to take a chance on Siegemund's health. They had never before played together, but it all worked out: They won the U.S. Open, defeating 7th seeds CoCo Vandeweghe and Rajeev Ram in the final.

6. The original basket of deplorables: If you live in the USA, you're stuck with ESPN for your U.S. Open coverage. This, it turns out, is actually worse than being stuck with the other channel (but at least ESPN doesn't have the gall to call itself "The Tennis Channel")--at least that channel has Martina Navratilova to neutralize some of the madness.

But I digress. ESPN spent weeks bragging about how it was going to show us oh, so many matches, all the time. However, for an entire week, the only way to access these matches was via the WatchESPN App or its Internet counterpart, ESPN3. All well and good if you're in front of a computer and/or if your ISP has a contract with ESPN. And you have decent streaming. No matter--it was still a bait and switch routine.

And then there was the usual inane commentary, filled with inaccuracies, mind-reading and just plain stupidity. At one point--when the commentators finally noticed that Karolina Pliskova was even playing (she was performing brilliantly at the business end of the tournament), there was suddenly a discussion of all the "big new talent." It went on for some time, but without any mention of Garbine Muguruza, who won the French Open just a few months ago.

They also made a point of disparaging Caroline Garcia's season, which was her best ever. And they damned Pliskova with such faint praise, it was embarrassing. And there was the usual  patronizing of female players, which reached its peak when Chris Evert referred to 36-year-old elite athlete and social/cultural leader Venus Williams as a "young lady."

A group of people spinning a wheel for random answers could have done better. Maybe that's the way to go in the future.

5.  Welcome back!: We knew she was "back," but Simona Halep (wearing wonderful Addidas shorts--see no. 10) boldly underlined the fact when she took Serena Williams to three exciting sets in the quarterfinals. This may have been Halep's "greatest" loss. The Romanian star had a tougher draw than most. To get to the quarterfinals, she had to beat Kirsten Flipkens, Lucie Safarova, Timea Babos, and Carla Suarez Navarro. That's quite a group. She played extremely well against Williams, despite losing, and just looks like herself again.

4. "She comes from Czech Republic, she's long and she's tall": Every year, we say, "Why can't Karolina Pliskova get past the third round of a major?" No more. A few weeks ago, Pliskova won her first big title, defeating Angie Kerber in the final to win the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. Having skipped Rio, she arrived in New York fresh and confident, and was she ever a force with which to be reckoned. Among her victims were Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, teen sensation Ana Konjuh and both Williams sisters. Only three other women have beaten both Venus and Serena at a major.

Contrary to the expectation of some, Pliskova didn't seriously blink in the final--until the end. She did have some trouble getting herself going in the first set, but she overcame that problem gracefully. At the end, though, having watched Angie Kerber hold at love, Pliskova saw herself broken at love. My prediction is that something like that will never happen again. The tall, fast-talking Fed Cup beast had her initiation, and next time, she won't fold. She may not win, but she won't fold. Tennis world, meet Plishy. You're going to see a lot of her.

3. How about a big silver cup to go with that gold and bronze bling? Top seeds Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic won the first set (6-2) of the women's doubles final, though Garcia's serve was shaky. The French pair, strengthened by some brilliant net play from Mladenovic, went up a break in the second set and served for the championship. If Mladenovic had been serving, this story might have had a different outcome, but it was Garcia, and she was broken at love. 12th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova went on to win that set in a tiebreak.

By this time, Garcia had straightened herself out, but her partner was showing signs of mental collapse. Indeed, Mladenovic uncharacteristically (in doubles) turned into a complete mess, making outrageous errors and opening the door wider and wider for Mattek-Sands and Safarova to overcome the French team. Mattek-Sands and Safarova are a great team and very might have won, no matter what. But there's no doubt that Mladenovic's meltdown made it easier for Mattek-Sands and Safarova to end the match with a 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory.

The pair won the Australian Open and the French Open in 2015, but then Safarova became seriously ill with a bacterial infection, and that led to reactive arthritis. Their season, as a team, was over. They got back together this year, and won Miami. At the Olympics, Mattek-Sands and her partner, Jack Sock, won the gold medal in mixed doubles, and Safarova and Barbora Strycova won the bronze medal in women's doubles.

2. Driving the Cloudmobile to the very top: Had Angie Kerber won the Cincinnati tournament, she would have become number 1 in the world. Karolina Pliskova kept that from happening, but then the Czech star "made it happen" at the U.S. Open when she defeated Serena Williams in the semifinals. So going into the U.S. Open final, our KareBear was already number 1. Kerber, 28, is the oldest player to ever debut at the number 1 spot. Her season has included defending her Stuttgart title, reaching the final at Wimbledon, winning an Olympic silver medal, and....

1. I'll have another, thank you: Angelique Kerber didn't just win the Australian Open; she beat world number 1 Serena Williams in the final. Kerber and Williams went at it again at Wimbledon, but this time, Kerber would hold the runner-up plate. No worries. The hard-working German star with the strong legs and the stunning transition game won her second major yesterday in Flushing Meadows. Defeating Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in a very high quality, extremely entertaining, final, Kerber became the first woman since Martina Hingis (in 1997) to win both hard court majors in the same year. She's also the first German player to win the U.S. Open since Steffi Graf did it (for the fifth time) in 1996.

Even the television commentators have to take Kerber seriously now that she's won two majors and a silver medal. 2016 is the Year of Angie.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Kerber's racket does the talking: "I'm number 1!"

Just over a year ago, I wrote about the dramatic evolution of Angelique Kerber's career. It didn't really surprise me when, five months later, she won the Australian Open. Her runner-up result at Wimbledon this year only emphasized how confidently the German star had settled herself into the tiny spot of turf that only champions can occupy. Then came the silver medal at the Olympic Games.

Then came today. Playing in a breathtaking U.S. Open final and down a break in the third set against breakout star Karolina Pliskova, Kerber remembered who she was. She steadied herself as only champions can do, and finished the match with a very dramatic flourish--holding at love, then breaking at love. It doesn't get any more "I'm in charge here!" than that.

It didn't occur to me that this match would be anything but high quality, though I did expect some jangling nerves from Pliskova, who only recently left her rut behind and greeted her immense potential with a confident smile. Nerves there were, but not for too long. The big-serving Czech had some problems finding her way around the opening set, in which she made errors she wouldn't normally make. This is to be expected when a player finds herself in a major final for the first time in her career.

After losing that first set 3-6, Pliskova became both more accurate and more creative. Moving better than her reputation has allowed, the Cincinnati champion relaxed and began the task of throwing Kerber out of her rhythm. Both women can hit electrifying groundstrokes, and--while those shots are part of Pliskova's bread and butter game--the Czech player showed some finesse at the net, and was especially impressive when she broke Kerber with a sweet lob she lifted from the ground. Pliskova took the second set 6-4.

The third set had everything but a tiebreak, and I'm a little surprised it didn't have that. Pliskova, by now a portrait of momentum, broke Kerber in the third game. Kerber broke her back. Serving at 4-all, the Australian Open champion held at love. I still didn't look like it was over to me, but then Kerber broke Pliskova at love, and it was over, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

Pliskova was better at the net in this match, and Kerber had a better second serve. Pliskova hit 40 winners, but made 47 unforced errors, while Kerber hit 21 winners but made only 17 unforced errors.

The path to Kerber's victory was unusual. When Pliskova upset Serena Williams in the semifinals, Kerber became number 1 in the world, and entered the final as the new ranking-topper, so today's win was a large exclamation point to go with that number. The German star is the first woman in 19 years to win both hard court majors in the same year; Martina Hingis did it in 1997.

What a year it has been for Angelique Kerber. She defended her title in Stuttgart, was the runner-up at Wimbledon (losing to Williams), won a silver medal in Rio, won the U.S. Open, and became number 1 in the world. Not bad for someone commentators and sportswriters used to dismiss as a journeywoman.

The other part of this exciting story has to do with Karolina Pliskova. Prior to this year, the very talented Czech--who has recently taken over Petra Kvitova's role as the Czech Republic's very kick-ass Fed Cup leader--couldn't get past the third round of a major. She had some titles, but they weren't big ones. Then, just a few weeks ago, she won Cincinnati (beating Kerber in the final), then came to Flushing Meadows and defeated both Williams sisters; only three other women have ever done that at a major tournament.

This isn't the last final in which we'll see Pliskova; she has finally broken through to a new place on the tour. Her performance today was outstanding.

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Pliskova Effect

A lot of us were joking on Twitter about the sudden "power" of Karolina Pliskova to make or break a ranking. In Cincinnati, the Czech star prevented Angie Kerber from overtaking the world number 1 spot when she beat her in the final. At the time, a dry-humored Pliskova told Kerber, "I think you deserve to be number 1, but maybe next time." Then, at the U.S. Open, Pliskova upset Serena Williams in the semifinals, which did make Kerber number 1 in the world.

That's all kind of funny and interesting, but what effects might Pliskova's breakthrough (finally) have on a couple of other players?

Her sister, Kristyna, who has an ever crazier-big serve than Karolina, is currently competing in the Dalian Women's Tennis Open, a WTA 125K series event. Kristyna has made it to the semifinals and might, in fact, be inspired by her twin's performance in Cincinnati and Flushing Meadows.

And then there's Petra Kvitova, who is now out-ranked by Pliskova. Not only that, but--for now--Pliskova has taken over as leader of the Czech Republic's killer Fed Cup team. Could the unintended competition from Pliskova be a fire that lights Kvitova's flame once again? Or could it have the opposite effect? Or perhaps it doesn't matter at all, especially considering the likes of the good-natured, all-for-one/one-for-all human puzzle that is Petra.

It may take a while before we know if there really is such a thing as a Pliskova Effect. 

Angie, Karolina and that uninvited guest, Pressure

Billie Jean King is famous for saying "Pressure is a privilege," a remark I've never truly understood. I think pressure is a pain in the ass. At this point  Angie Kerber may be inclined to agree with me. Which is worse: having to beat Serena Williams in a final in order to become number 1 in the world, or becoming number 1 and then having to win the U.S. Open in order to "validate" your ranking?

I like to think that Kerber doesn't care, but she might. Standing in the new world number 1's way is Karolina Pliskova, who--during the last few weeks--has finally made good on the massive potential she's displayed for a long time.

Pliskova has the serve, Kerber has the speed and movement. Both have tremendous return games. The final is almost guaranteed to be good. Kerber has the advantage of having been there before; she won the Australian Open and was the runner-up at Wimbledon. Pliskova has the advantage of not being judged regarding her "worthiness."

Paths to the final:

round 1--def. Sofia Kenin (wc)
round 2--def. Montserrat Gonzalez (q)
round 3--def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (17)
round of 16--def. Venus Williams (6)
quarterfinals--def. Ana Konjuh
semifinals--def. Serena Williams (1)

round 1--def. Polona Hercog
round 2--def. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
round 3--def. CiCi Bellis (q)
round of 16--def. Petra Kvitova (14)
quarterfinals--def. Roberta Vinci (7)
semifinals--def. Caroline Wozniacki

Thursday, September 8, 2016

When you mix stripes and Czechs at the U.S. Open

Karolina Pliskova's run at the 2016 U.S. Open has been quite impressive, though--if you just listened to commentators--you'd scarcely know that the rangy Czech star was even in the mix. Pliskova won her first big event, in Cincinnati, just a couple of weeks before the start of the Open. To get that win, she had to beat a red-hot Angelique Kerber in the final. All the same, the Czech's poor showing in majors (never getting beyond the third round) led many to believe she would ride her Cincinnati wave for a while and then crash in the early stages or the tournament.

Only she didn't. She made it to the round of 16, and then--before you could say "Ana Konjuh is the breakout player at the U.S. Open"--Pliskova had knocked out an extremely nervous Konjuh and reached the semifinals.

Pliskova, with her Kvitova-like English syntax, mellow demeanor, and intricate arm and leg body art, has become a Fed Cup beast. And while that doesn't always translate into domination at other events (here we are, right back to the subject of Kvitova), it certainly helps. Already having defeated Venus Williams in the round of 16, the Czech star's job tonight was to defeat Serena Williams. Serena was injured--she later said she hurt her knee in the second or third round--which made Pliskova's job easier.

We've all seen Serena play through various injuries, but tonight, she said, having an injury caused her to think about her knee rather than to focus solely on her game.

But this isn't to take anything away from Karolina Pliskova, who kept her cool throughout what had to be the most emotionally charged match of her career. Pliskova won 84% of her first serve points, which is a huge statistic. She also hit seven aces. Her 6-2, 7-6 victory made her the eighth woman to defeat both Williams sisters in one tournament, and the fourth woman to do so at a major.

While the television commentators rightfully heaped praise on the Czech player for her serve, it should be noted that Pliskova's return game was huge. She not only handled some of Williams's biggest serves, but steadily worked her way into rallies until she had the confidence that she could take control of the points. Her timing was that of a mature and elite player.

It should also be noted that Williams' quarterfinal match was a very tough one. Taken to three thrilling sets by Simona Halep, the world number 1 had to work very hard for a long time to get to the semifinals. Pliskova, for her part, had an easy time dispatching the suddenly very nervous Ana Konjuh, who had performed so brilliantly against Aga Radwanska.

The 18-year-old Konjuh, by the way, will be seen on a big stage again. She has a huge game, and her mental collapse in the quarterfinals is likely to be a "never again" moment for her.

Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki easily won her quarterfinal when her opponent, Anastaija Sevastova, sustained an injury early in the match. Sevastova (who took out 3rd seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round), played on, but she was clearly hurt and unable to move very much.

That put world number 74 (and former world number 1) Wozniacki into a semifinal contest against world number 2 Angie Kerber. Kerber defeated Roberta Vinci in the quarterfinals, and their first set was a thing of beauty, which the German won 7-5. But Vinci was done, and didn't win a game in the second set.

Before Kerber even stepped on to Arthur Ashe Stadium, she had a victory. Serena's loss meant that Kerber will be number 1 in the world when the new rankings are published on Monday. She would have become number 1 a couple of weeks ago had she defeated Karolina Pliskova in the Cincinnati final. So Pliskova kept her from getting the top ranking then, but tonight, was responsible for Kerber's rise to number 1. Funny.

Kerber defeated Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3. The German soon-to-be-number-1 hit 19 winners and made 16 unforced errors.

There was also exciting doubles semifinal action. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova defeated Olympic gold medal winners Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-2, 7-6, and top seeds Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic defeated Martina Hingis and CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-4.

Vandeweghe is still around, however. She and partner Rajeev Ram have made it to the mixed doubles final. Their opponents will be Laura Siegemund and Mate Pavic.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Karolina Pliskova refuses to leave Flushing Meadows

For a while, you could just copy and paste "never gotten beyond the third round of a major" when you were writing about Karolina Pliskova, the non-Barking Czech and Fed Cup super-player. And this week, she not only made it to the round of 16 of the U.S. Open, she entered the quarterfinals today by defeating 6th seed Venus Williams.

It was a very good match, filled with momentum swings. Pliskova saved a match point, and then saw three of her own match points disappear after she reached 40-0. She was able to take care of things on her fifth match point. The fact that she saved a match point and then recovered from seeing three of them evaporate on failed big serves says a great deal about the current Pliskova mentality.

She'll have her hands full when she plays Ana Konjuh. The 18-year-old dispatched of 4th seed Aga Radwanska in masterful fashion, playing a very "big" game and flummoxing the Polish star in straight sets. But Pliskova has to be breathing a sigh of relief because she stood very little chance of defeating The Ninja. She's 0-6 against Radwanska, who knows how to take the Czech player's legs away from her and make her head spin.

It had to be a special feeling for Konjuh, beating Radwanska, after the bizarre turn their Wimbledon match took. At 7-all in the third-set tiebreak, Konjuh attempted to retrieve a wicked Radwanska drop shot, stepped on the ball, and turned her ankle. She stayed on the court but lost the tiebreak--and the match.

The Pliskova-Konjuh match has the potential to be very, very good. Unless Konjuh gets too nervous. Or Plishy goes to that "Czech place."

Serena Williams easily defeated Yaroslava Shvedova and will face 5th seed Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. Halep (and her evil twin) defeated Carla Suarez Navarro today in the round of 16. It wasn't pretty some of the time, and if Halep can get that frustrated over the Spaniard, I can only imagine what might happen when she faces Serena.

In tomorrow's quarterfinal contests, 2015 runner-up Roberta Vinci will play 2nd seed Angelique Kerber. It's hard to imagine that this won't be the end of Vinci's run, but no matter--she has handled the 2016 U.S. Open like the Fighting Italian that she is. Also--you never know.

The other match will feature "surprise" quarterfinalist Caroline Wozniacki against surprise quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova. This was "supposed" to have been a Keys vs. Konta quarterfinal, and I was expecting Konta to serve her way to the semifinals. But in the "who knows which chapter?" of What Do I Know?, Sunshine took down Keys, and Sevastova beat a totally lackluster Konta.

But it wasn't all about Konta's oddly detached performance: Sevastova played really well and has had quite a run at this event. She first took out Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (I know, but honestly, Schmiedy has been doing better lately), then efficiently sent Garbine Muguruza packing, and followed that with a defeat of Kateryna Bondarenko. Considering her ranking, her circumstances and her draw, Sevastova could arguably be called the biggest achiever so far at the tournament.

Quarterfinals are also set for doubles competition, and top seeds Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic will face Cincinnati champions Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova in a "don't miss" match tomorrow morning.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Plishy breaks the curse, Keys gets mentally tough, Vinci stays alive

The third round of singles at the U.S. Open has contained a lot of thrills, though they may not have been the type fans were expecting. Most thrilling was Madison Keys' comeback from 1-5 down in the third set to defeat star-in-the-making Naomi Osaka. In the end, Keys found her champion mode, while Osaka blinked rather heavily.

Simona Halep cruised through her first set against Timea Babos, but Babos found her rhythm (not surprisingly--she's getting increasingly dangerous) and took the second set from a somewhat slumping Halep. It was obvious that Babos, who was on quite a streak in the second set, got into Halep's head, and we all know what that can mean. But the 5th seed calmed herself and slowed herself down in the final set to walk away with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 victory.

Former finalist Caroline Wozniacki surprised many by getting through the third round, Petra Kvitova probably surprised many, too (not a nice thing to have to write), when she prevailed over Elina Svitolina. Kvitova has cut her practice time drastically, which may be just the right move for the physically fragile Barking Czech.

Anastajia Sevastova, who retired from the sport and came back, has also survived three rounds, as has Ana Konjuh. Sevastova, in fact, played the now-recurring role of "the sweeper" who brushes away Garbine Muguruza in the early days of a major. And Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova, who had never before gotten beyond the third round of a major, put a stop to that nonsense today with a straight sets win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

And look which fighting Italian is still in the draw! 2015 finalist Roberta Vinci is still around and still fighting. Vinci has taken out Anna-Lena Friedsam, Christina McHale and Carina Witthoeft (who impressively took out both 30th seed Misaki Doi and Yulia Putintseva).

Here is the round of 16 singles draw:

Serena Williams (1) vs. Yaroslava Shvedova
Carla Suarez Navarro (11) vs. Simona Halep (5)
Agnieszka Radwanska (4) vs. Ana Konjuh
Karolina Pliskova (10) vs. Venus Williams (6)
Madison Keys (8) vs. Caroline Wozniacki
Johanna Konta (13) vs. Anastajia Sevastova
Roberta Vinci (7) vs. Lesia Tsurenko
Petra Kvitova (14) vs. Angelique Kerber (2)

Notes on the draw:

Johanna Konta is now my write-in dark horse for every major but the French. The Brit is not only talented, but mentally steady and a terrific server. She is not to be under-estimated in any circumstance.

The absolute "must watch" match is Kvitova vs. Kerber. They are 4-4 against each other and have never played one another in a major. Given Petra's "problem," the odds favor Kerber. But if Scary Petra should show up, things could get very, very interesting. Listen for the barks.

The U.S. Open is not generally a happy event for Radwanska, but she now has a pretty good chance of advancing to the quarterfinals. As always, it's been a joy to watch her so far.

Madison Keys needs to keep the errors down. Wozniacki has endurance from hell, and doesn't care how long the rallies last. When she's playing well, she can keep a point going on and on, waiting for her opponent's error. And while her defensive play has also been her downfall, Keys is prone to making quite a few errors and could fall into Woz's "I'll wait you out" trap.

Pliskova and Venus might just hit each other off the court. The Czech player has a wonderful serve and a lot of confidence concerning that serve. If she doesn't go to whatever planet Czech players sometimes visit, she'll do whatever she can to out-serve Williams and break down her forehand.

Tsurenko, who has had a poor season, seems to have found her game again, but she'll have to stay very pumped up againt the Fighting Italian.

I think Halep will prevail over Suarez-Navarro, but these days, you never know.

And then there's Serena. She shouldn't have any trouble getting past Shvedova, though--if Shvedova should bring her big serve--she could win more games that some may expect.

In doubles, top seeds Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic have made it through to the third round. In mixed doubles. defending champions Martina Hingis and Leander Paes were defeated in the second round tonight when they both fell apart during the super-tiebreak (they had an 8-4 lead before they were destroyed by nerves). Hingis and Paes lost to CoCo Vandeweghe and Rajeev Ram.

Hingis and Vandeweghe are doubles partners, and have advanced to the third round in women's doubles.