Saturday, August 28, 2021

Hurricanes and the U.S. Open

In 2005, we (I was married at the time) evacuated from the Northshore (my community is north of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans) because of Hurricane Katrina. We went with our two cats to a historic hotel in central Louisiana. We had a really bad television, but I was able to watch the U.S. Open. Between that and blogging for my social/political issues blog and blogging for Mother Jones (whose staff interviewed me about hurricane evacuation), I kept busy. (I wrote song parodies about the horror of how the government was dealing--or not dealing--with Katrina, and a man in New England sang them in a coffeehouse.)

It was a scary time. The things that were going on in New Orleans were sickening (I won't go into them here), and they still make me feel sick, sixteeen years later. I typed so much that I developed an RSI. Somewhere on the Internet, I found a message from relatives in the U.K., asking if anyone knew our whereabouts. I was surprised to see my name on a list of "missing Louisiana poets."

Velma learns about Katrina

That was the year that the "Can Andy find his Mojo?" promotion was used. It was kind of funny--until he lost in the first round. Later, after Maria Sharapova had a really good win, an interviewer asked her how she did it, and she said "I found Andy's mojo."

It was a while before we could go home, and when we got there, our front gutters were crushed,  there was a tree on our roof,  and a giant oak had fallen, leaving what looked like a moon crater in the back yard. In other words, we were lucky.

I really wanted to watch the U.S. Open final, but of course, we had no power. There was a chain restaurant near my house with both power and televisions, and the manager kindly offered to let me watch the Open from there. But he was unable to get the channel on which the event was showing, so I had to go home and look at the scores on my phone app. 

Tarzan gets into Birmingham hotel life

In 2012, we evacuated during Hurricane Isaac. This time, we took four cats with us to Birmingham, Alabama, and stayed in a hotel with considerably more space than we had in 2005. We also had a better hotel, and again, I watched the U.S. Open (on a much better television). That turned out to be a false alarm for us; we returned to an intact house and yard. But the trip back took such a long time (you can imagine) that again, I missed the U.S. Open final.

And here we go again. Tomorrow evening, the power will go out. How long it stays out depends on how many trees go down, and there are a lot of trees in my community. Fortunately, we have a hard-working, very efficient power company. Also, through some fluke, my house is on the hospital grid, so I get my power back before my neighbors do. But I'll miss the early part of the U.S. Open, an event that I've come to associate with hurricanes.

Friday, August 27, 2021

From Giorgi to Barty, the U.S. Open warmup season produces more questions than answers

Camila Giorgi's win in Montreal may wind up being--for me--one of major tennis stories of the year. For a decade and a half, fans and commentators--and I'm sure many others--watched the Italian player in frustration because she refused to use any but the "hit the ball hard' gear. I imagine that most of us had given up on her, but then, out of nowhere, Giorgi decided that adding some strategy--changing pace, using spin, paying attention to the court--would be a good idea. 

It was. She won the Montreal tournament, a WTA 1000 event, defeating Karolina Pliskova in the final, and knocking off the likes of Elise Mertens, Petra Kvitova, Coco Gauff, an Jessica Pegula along the way.


The next week, world number 1 Ash Barty won the prestigious Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. So far, Barty has won majors on clay and grass, but not on hard courts. She has won hard court tournaments, though, including Miami in 2019, so she definitely goes into the 2021 U.S. Open as a favorite. 

I think that Barty has a strong chance to take home the title in New York. It goes without saying that one of the players most likely to turn that script upside down is two-time champion Naomi Osaka, who loves hard courts. Some are saying that Karolina Pliskova could win the title. The Tall Cool One was the runner-up in 2016, and she's more or less always a contender, but it has to get tougher for her each year, not winning a major. Assuming that it does, how will she deal with her mindset?

World number 2 Aryna Sabalenka is also mentioned a lot as a contender, and she certainly is, though have to wonder if she's really ready to claim that big a prize. Then there's Elina Svitolina, who--like Piskova--has yet to win a major, but this could be her time. 

Simona Halep is back--maybe. Halep has never won the U.S. Open, so here's hoping she's healthy enough to compete at the highest level. Iga Swiatek, Jennifery Brady, Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic, and Barbora Krejcikova can all be tossed in, as well---any of them could win it. Throw in Danielle Collins and Maria Sakkari if you like. (I wish that I could say that about 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu, but right now, I can't.)

And then there's Angie Kerber. Kerber is back. Her appearance in the Wimbledon semifinals was a huge announcement. She's won the U.S. Open before, and she looks ready to do it again. The German star is in the third quarter of the draw, which also contains Svitolina, Elena Rybakina, Halep, and Osaka. 

First rounds of interest:

Karolina Muchova (22) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo
Victorija Golubic vs. Bianca Andreescu (6)
Tsvetana Pironkova vs. Daria Kasatkina (25)
Camila Giorgi vs. Simona Halep (12)
Madison Keys vs. Sloane Stephens
Donna Vekic vs. Garbine Muguruza (9)
Alize Cornet vs. Ons Jabeur (20)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Rain, injuries, a huge pay gap--and some great tennis

Photo by Diane Elayne Dees
It feels a bit strange not to be in Cincinnati this year, but then, "a bit strange" has become the norm in the last year and a half. Humidity and rain define much of the Cincinnati summer (very much like where I live), and there has been plenty of rain at this tournament, causing several delays in play.

There have also been several injuries and retirements.Simona Halep, back after a long injury (calf tear) layoff that caused her to miss Wimbledon, where she was the defending champion, had to withdraw after the first round because of an adductor tear. In doing so, she gave a walkover to Jessica Pegula. And in the round of 16, Karolina Muchova retired in her match against Belinda Bencic because of an abdominal injury.

Sadly, two of the four quarterfinal matches were decided by injury. Petra Kvitova, suffering with an abdominal illness, retired in her match against Angie Kerber. And Paula Badosa, arguably the hottest contender at the event, retired against Karolina Pliskova because of a shoulder injury. 

Then there's the matter of the prize money gap, which--this year--is greater than in the past. For example, a first-round WTA winner gets $12,385, while a first-round ATP winner gets $23,650. In the quarterfinals, the respective prizes are $47,820 and $116,655. The WTA champion gets $255,220, and the ATP champion gets $654,815. (Perhaps it's time to have Sinona Halep explain to us again how there's no sexism in professional tennis.)

Two elite players who are "back" did well--or not that well--depending on your glass half empty/full point of view. 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza, who has made a slow climb back to form, fell in three sets in the round of 16 to the now-dangerous French Open champion, Barbora Krejcikova. And Angie Kerber lost in straight sets to world number 1 Ash Barty in today's semifinals.

The break-out star of the event is wild card Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, a very talented player who has had some injury struggles in recent times. Teichmann took out 2nd seed Naomi Osaka in the round of 16. This was the biggest win of her career, and some wondered whether the emotional toll of that achievement might be too much for her. It wasn't. She went on to defeat Olympic gold medal winner Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals. Then, in the semifinals, she upset 5th seed and 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

There have been several outstanding matches. In the opening round, Paula Badosa and Petra Martic (both very interesting to watch!) went after each other in a two and a half-hour event which Badosa won 11-9 in a third set tiebreak (after saving five match points). That was the Spaniard's warmup: She next faced 3rd seed Aryna Sabalenka, favored by many to win the championship, and defeated her, too, also in a third set tiebreak. 

In the round of 16, Angie Kerber defeated Alona Ostapenko in what really could appropriately be called a "battle." The two of them threw everything they had at each other, with Ostapenko breaking Kerber the first time she served for the match. In the end, it was Kerber who prevailed in what was a really thrilling contest.

World number 1 Ash Barty has blazed through this event without dropping a set, not even to Barbora Krejcikova and Angie Kerber, both of whom I thought would give Barty a hard time. Barty also delivered a bagel to Victoria Azarenka, so that gives you an idea of how she's playing.

The final will be played tomorrow. Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--bye
round 2--def. Heather Watson
round of 16--def. Victoria Azarenka (14)
quarterfinals--def. Barbora Krejcikova (9)
semifinals--def. Angeique Kerber

round 1--def. Sorana Cirstea
round 2--def. Bernarda Pera
round of 16--def. Naomi Osaka (2)
quarterfinals--def. Belinda Bencic (10)
semifinals--def. Karolina Pliskova (5)

In doubles, the breakout stars are 6th-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani. The pair upset 2nd seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in the semifinals, and will face Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai in the final.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

A dozen medals later, Olympic tennis concludes

I've read, on Twitter, that many tennis fans didn't watch much (or any) of the tennis matches at the Olympics. Some fans opted to watch sports that they don't otherwise get to see, or at least, see very often. And some just weren't interested, given the absence of some major players, and the early exit of others. My problem involved time zones--I just couldn't wake up in the middle of the night or the very early morning to watch matches.

I did get to see some live matches, however, and I watched a few replays. There were a few standouts in singles, and two of them had something in common: Elina Svitolina played in them. Her round of 16 match against Maria Sakkari was thrilling and of very high quality, as was her bronze medal match against Elena Rybakina (who continues to impress). The other memorable match was the final (which is always a nice thing), in which Belinda Bencic defeated Marketa Vondrousova.

Svitolina, incidentally, is the first tennis player from Ukraine to win an Olympic medal.

As always, some of the subtexts and backstories were as interesting as the tennis. Bencic has long been known as a talent to watch, yet she has never reached the heights to which many thought she would climb. Now, she has Olympic gold and silver. Then there's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose backstory is about the same as Bencic's. When the Russian player reached the final of the French Open, it felt like it was such a long time coming. At that time, Pavlyuchenkva said, "I want to believe that the best is yet to come," and now, she has a gold medal for mixed doubles.

Pavlyuchenkova's countrywoman, Elena Vesnina, took 32 months off for maternity leave. Upon her return, she reached the third round of the French Open in singles, and the final in mixed doubles (with Aslan Karatsev). At Wimbledon, she and Veronika Kudermetova knocked out the defending champions (and top seeds), and finished as the runners-up. 

Quite a comeback. Vesnina and Karatsev made it all the way to the final at the Olympics, too, and held a match point in the process. The Russian came away with a silver medal (she also played for a bronze in doubles), but we will also remember her for acing (and defeating) Novak Djokovic.

Here are the winners:

gold--Belinda Bencic (Switzerland)
silver--Marketa Vondrousova (Czech Republic)
bronze--Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)

gold--Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic)
silver--Belina Bencic/Viktoija Golubic (Switzerland)
bronze--Laura Pigossi/Luisa Stefani (Brazil)

Mixed Doubles
gold--Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Andrey Rublev (Russian Olympic Committee)
silver--Elena Vesnina/Aslan Karatsev (Russian Olympic Committee)
bronze--Ash Barty/John Peers (Australia)