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.


Unknown said...

Yes, congrats to Kerber. She's number one now, two majors plus a silver from Rio, she should be taken notice of. Saying that, I believe Serena will get at least two or more majors before she puts her racquet down. Also I would love to see Serena and Venus try play more doubles, hopefully win the end of of the year doubles championship before they both retire. But again, congrats to Kerber, wonderful job!

Diane said...

I'm looking forward to what Serena does next year. I'm like you--it's hard to imagine her not picking up one or two more big trophies, and it's hard to imagine her and Venus retiring, though it has to happen some time.

Todd.Spiker said...

Still waiting for ESPN to ever mention Pliskova's Fed Cup leadership and success quite likely having a hand in her ability to handle the pressure in NY. (Yeah, right.) I guess MJF mentioning would have led to her having to possibly admit to how atrocious her record is as FC Captain, as opposed to the dominant run by the Czechs.

I thought it was both humorous and sad how 24 hours after Chris Fowler was saying that Pliskova was "anonymous" he was suddenly talking with a "I-know-my-stuff" tone about how people perceived her and her reputation, etc. I didn't know anonymous people had "reputations" and overwhelming opinions held about them.

Oh, and as a side note, while I really didn't see much of the men's final, I had to laugh that when it finally ended and ESPN handed over the airwaves to baseball coverage, it literally took less than 15 seconds for the announcer to mispronounce BOTH Wawrinka and Djokovic's name. Or, should I call him "Dovak Nokovic," as was said last night?

(Do a search for that on Twitter and you'll at least get a little chuckle.) :)

I wonder if Serena & Venus might, eventually, evolve into a Hingis-like existence on tour and at some point essentially stop playing singles and become a full-time (or their equivalent to that) doubles duo. They'd still be able to play, it wouldn't be as taxing and they'd be able to be together. Of course, that would still be a few years away, when both were approaching 40. Look at how long Navratilova was able to hang around in WD/MX. Their careers, like the Swiss Martina, could have a very lucrative (major title-wise) final chapter... if they chose to go for it.

Diane said...

I wa tuned into ESPN when he got Novak's name backwards. That's the kind of mistake someone makes when he's really tired, but it would happen on the network that had already gotten so much wrong. The commentators' (and that goes for TC, too) lack of knowledge is shocking, and then factor in their biases, their shameless conflicts of interest, their laziness and lack of respect for the players, and their insensitivity. Thank goodness for Tennis TV.

I've wondered for some time whether the Williams sisters would retire in singles but continue in doubles. I now feel that they won't. Just a gut feeling, but I see them making a clean break. They both have so much going on outside of tennis, and they could probably make easier transitions to the "real world" than most players.