Saturday, August 27, 2022

U.S. Open first rounds of interest

The opening round of a major is always tense, for players and fans alike. Here are some first round matches that have the potential to be of particular interest:

Zheng Qinwen vs. Alona Ostapenko 
Ostapenko does better on slower courts, but--when she can exert some kind of control over her whack-the-rubber-off-the-ball instincts--she can be a fierce competitor on any surface. Zheng, if she can keep from being overpowered by Ostapenko, could make this match interesting.

Garbine Muguruza vs. Clara Tauson
"Which Garbine will show up?" is a question most of us are tired of asking. If you-know-who shows up, this has "upset" written all over it.

Emma Raducanu vs. Alize Cornet
Of all the unseeded players for the defending champion to draw in the first round, Cornet may be the last one she wants to see. The Frenchwoman, just off of a semifinal run in Cleveland, is playing very well, and is obviously enjoying the latter part of her career. Raducanu looked fantastic in her first two rounds in Cincinnati, dramatically knocking out both Serena Williams and Victoria Azareanka. She looked pretty good in the third round, too, but was defeated by Jessie Pegula. Raducanu will have her hands full with Cornet, and we are likely to see some quality tennis in this match.

Naomi Osaka vs. Danielle Collins
Osaka is trying to find her way back to form, and Collins--the 2022 Australian Open runner-up--will be a test.

Zhang Shuai vs. Jil Teichmann
Both of these players can be inconsistent, but their "ups" are notable; Shuai is probably favored at this time, but one never knows when Teichmann is going to rise to the occasion

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The 2022 U.S. Open champion will be ???

Who is likely to be the new U.S. Open champion? Most members of the tennis media, as well as serious fans, acknowledge that it's a free-for-all, and hard to predict. This is nothing new, of course, but it seems more pronounced this year, for a few reasons:

1. World number 1 Iga Swiatek is not happy with the balls used for WTA players at the U.S. Open (and throughout the U.S. Open Series). They are lighter than the balls used by ATP players, and Swiatek argues that they are too hard to control; world number 4 Paula Badosa joined Swiatek in calling for an end to the use of lighter weight balls, and--according to Swiatek--a lot of WTA players have the same complaint. (Former world number 1 Ash Barty's coach had mentioned that the lightweight balls had made it difficult for Barty to compete optimally at the U.S. Open.)

2. Naomi Osaka, who has two U.S. Open titles, hasn't had much match play lately, and isn't the strong contender that she has been in the past.

3. Top players such as Badosa, Maria Sakkari and Ons Jabeur haven't looked their best lately.

Cincinnati was revealing. 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu looked quite impressive, despite being defeated in the third round. Petra Kvitova was playing at 2011 grass court level until she got to the final, during which she sustained a leg injury and couldn't move too well (she was also up against an absolutely on-fire Caroline Garcia). Champion Caroline Garcia was superb throughout the tournament, surpassing even her former high level of play.

No one wants Kvitova to do well at the U.S. Open more than I do, but--not only do we not know the extent of the leg injury--Flushing Meadows has never been a place where the Czech star has felt comfortable. The heat and humidity don't agree with her respiratory system, though--it should be noted--I live in Louisiana and I find the Cincinnati heat and humidity almost unbearable. Go figure. Could we get another surprise champion? Absolutely. It's also possible that Swiatek, Jabeur or Sakkari could rise to the occasion, and both Garcia and Jessie Pegula have to be considered serious contenders.

Of course, this year's event will have another focal point--it will be the final U.S. Open, and the final tournament, for six-time champion Serena Williams, who is retiring from professional tennis. Williams won the U.S. Open twice in doubles, and once in mixed doubles.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Organic and evolving

Serena Williams' recent announcement that she will retire after the 2022 U.S. Open has elicited some emotional responses, as one would expect. No name stands for "tennis" like the name "Serena." People who have never watched a tennis match are fascinated by her accomplishments and are inspired by her courage and determination.

Unfortunately, the announcement has also added new fuel to the tiresome G.O.A.T. discussion. One hopes that that won't detract from the simple process of saying goodbye to Serena, who is moving on to the next stage in her very interesting life.

But it isn't just Serena's upcoming departure from professional tennis that portends significant change--there really is a lot of depth on the tour (though there are people on Twitter who cannot name one good WTA player--hmm, I wonder why.....), and there is an entire generation that is evolving into a force. Elena Rybakina's recent Wimbledon victory is a good example of this evolution, not to mention the already highly impressive accomplishments of world number 1 Iga Swiatek.

Almost a year ago, we were treated to this, and we have been fortunate to watch the impressive rise of such players as Ons Jabeur, Coco Gauff, Paula Badosa, Maria Sakkari, Jessie Pagula, and--most recently--Zheng Qinwen and Beatriz Haddad Maia. There have also been some nice comebacks: Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina are back in the mix, and former world number 1 Simona Halep is back in the top 10. Veterans like Alize Cornet, Shelby Rogers and Kaia Kanepi continue to bring excitement to the events in which they compete.

Tomorrow, we could see a new star rise on the tour, an--sadly--it won't be long before we see some more of our favorites say goodbye. There are people who long for a Chris-Martina/Steffi-Monica-type rivalry, and--while that would be exciting--it is hardly necessary. The tour doesn't suffer from a lack of talent, personality, or excitement. It does suffer from an abundance of sexism and misogyny, which is never really addressed, other than in symbolic, "showy" ways. 

Everything changes. Beloved players retire, our favorites sustain injuries and are out for a while, top players go into slumps, new players break through, and players who were always under the radar suddenly demand our attention. Nothing can ever be exactly the way it was, even a day ago. The tour is an organic entity, always evolving--and that's a good thing.