Tuesday, September 7, 2021

And what a round of 16 it was!

So it turms out that I’m no longer on the hospital grid, so I can’t go home. I also can’t use my MacBook Pro because my duck head adapter disappeared into a black hole. Apple wouldn’t sell me one online, so I had to order the whole unit, which was to be shipped overnight. But because of the storms, it couldn’t be. To make matters worse, it was shipped via UPS, which doesn’t deliver on Sundays and holidays.

So here I am with just an iPad and no ability to embed Tweets. Oh, and I’m also exhausted from having no power, not being able to live in my house, and all the usual hurricane stuff—limited food, canceled appointments, refrigerator disasters, unreliable cellular service and Wifi, downed trees, and on and on.

So I will be brief in discussing the U.S. Open round of 16 (some of which I’ve already done on Twitter):

Elina Svitolina (5) def. Simona Halep (12) 6-3, 6-3: Halep isn’t “back” yet, and Svitolina played an exceptional match.

Leylah Fernandez def. Angie Kerber (16) 4-6, 7-6, 6-2: This was an exceptional match for both players, but—toward the end—Fernandez wore down the mighty Kerber. I didn’t expect this to happen. Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal run spoke volumes about her status on the tour, but she didn’t have quite enough to hold off the (then) 18-year-old.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) def. Elise Mertens (15) 6-4, 6-1: I expected this to be a bit closer, but I wasn’t surprised by the result. Sabalenka is on a mission, and her former doubles partner—who is now a factor in singles—was destined to become a victim in the 2nd seed’s quest to win a major.

Barbora Krejcikova (8) def. Garbine Muguruza (9) 6-3, 7-6: I said quite a bit about this match on Twitter, so I don’t want to rehash too much of that. Muguruza, who I recently said was “back,” wasn’t back for this match. It was easy for Krejcikova to overcome a sluggish Muguruza in the first set, and when the French Open champion went up 3-0 in the second set, the whole thing appeared to be almost over. 

But two things happened: The sleeping Spanish giant awoke and suddenly began to look like—well, like Garbine Muguruza, using her efficient yet fluid style to catch up on the scoreboard. And Krejcikova appeared physically impaired. She was holding her diaphragm, and was quite obviously in respiratory distress. Things really went downhill after that. Krejcikova called for a trainer, and was taken off the court by the trainer and a doctor. 

When the Czech player returned, she didn’t look restored. She breathed heavily and staggered around the court. She also hit a series of deadly winners into the corners. I saw it for what I’ m pretty sure it was: She had to win the match in straight sets because attempting to play a third set would have meant certain retirement. I didn’t see the MTO as fake, as some did. I saw it as Krejcikova’s gathering  just enough relief to launch her incredible will to win the match.

But then there was the towel issue. Because of Covid, ballgirls and -boys aren’t there to hand towels to players; players have to fetch the towels themselves. And Krejcikova went for a towel after every point. This, quite understandably, annoyed the hell out of Muguruza. It annoyed me, too, and it made an already strange and unsatisfying match even more unsatisfying.

And while it appeared to go right by commentators and those I observed on Twitter, it was Muguruza who made the final, “Muguest” statement: She delayed going to the net for the handshake so that she could grab a towel. It was the only time I smiled.

Belinda Bencic (11) def. Iga Swiatek(7) 7-6, 6-3: Swiatek just hasn’t been the same since she won the French Open. And while this is a common phenomenon for young players who win majors, I thought that Swiatek would escape it. She rises to the occasion at times during a match, but she is no longer consistent, nor is she fluid. Bencic, for her part, appears bent on fulfilling all that long talked about potential.

Emma Raducanu (Q) def. Shelby Rogers 6-2, 6-1: Raducano, not unexpectedly, began the match in a state we would expect from a very young player who suddenly finds herself on a grand stage at a major. She was nervous, she was tight. But that didn’t last long. The young Brit who allowed Sara Sorribes Tormo only one game adjusted to the occasion, and then it was Rogers who looked out of sorts for the remainder of the match. 

Karolina Pliskova (4) def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (14) 7-5, 6-4: Pavlyuchenkova has been on a roll lately (and high time), but she couldn’t quite get past an especially sharp Pliskova. Both women served well, though Pliskova’s second serve stats were better. Surprisingly, the Czech star really shone at the net, and she was able to break her opponent four times.

Maria Sakkari (17) def. Bianca Andreescu (6) 6-7, 7-6, 6-3: If you thought that there couldn’t possibly be more drama at the U.S. Open, then you didn’t think it through. These two put on quite a show in Miami, but that was nothing compared with last night’s three and a half-hour extravaganza of blistering groundstrokes, Radwanska-like magic, jaw-dropping shot-making, and the strength of two very strong wills. It was pretty colorful off the court, too, with gaudy costuming, dancing that I can’t unsee, and at least one drunken version of “O Canada.” 

Andreescu took the first set in a dramatic (of course!) tiebreak, and she was within two points of winning the match in the second set. Sakkari won that tiebreak, though, and then—after the fifth game of the third set—it happened: All Together Now—Andreescu sustained an injury. She had already fallen on the court several times while making lunges for the ball, but this final fall appeared painful. She called for the trainer, and returned with her thigh wrapped. But she could no longer push off well to serve, and the writing was on the wall. She did continue to come up with some great shots, but with limited movement and an impaired serve, there was nothing she could do to stop Sakkari.

The Andreescu injury cycle needs to be seriously addressed because—whatever her team is currently doing obviously isn’t working. The 2019 champion is an outstanding and unique talent, and last night, she proved why some of us can’t get enough of her. She also proved why we have to hold our breath and hope that nothing bad happens every times she walks onto the court.

As for Sakkari—she has nowhere to go but up.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Emma Raducanu (Q) vs. Belinda Bencic (11)

Karolina Pliskova (4) vs. Maria Sakkari (17)

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Leylah Fernandez

Barbora Krejcikova (8) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

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