Saturday, September 3, 2022

The last twirl

If you're watching the U.S. Open and you're a serious tennis fan, you may feel exhausted by now--I know I do. Top seeds falling in the first and second rounds, the defending champion going out in the first round, ESPN's failure to deliver anything but consistently trashy streaming, and Serena Williams making one last--and very dramatic--appearance on Arthur Ashe Stadium. 

It was never going to be easy against Ajla Tomljanovic, one of those players who rises to the occasion at majors (though, oddly, nerves have tended to do her in at regular tour events--go figure). The Australian, however, is a very good player, despite her not having the titles to show for it. And from the moment she entered Arthur Ashe Stadium, she appeared to be in a kind of personal, protective, bubble. 

It served her well, as the crowd would go on to cheer all of her faults and sit in stone silence when she hit winners. The chair umpire "tried" to take control of the crowd, but it was a half-hearted, fruitless effort. No matter--Tomljanovic hit them anyway.

The match went to a third set (with Williams winning the second in a tiebreak), and Tomljanovic, certainly aware of Williams' lack of match play, refused to fade, unlike so many others who have had to face Third Set Serena. At 1-5 down, however, Serena gave the crowd what they wanted--the kind of relentless defense that has worn down many a player with credentials much more impressive than Tomljanovic's. She saved five match points, but Tomljanovic won, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1, in a dramatic contest that lasted over three hours.

The post-match atmosphere was memorable, between Serena's lovely and emotional goodbye and Tomljanovic's perfectly hit notes of respect, admiration and humor. ESPN's Alexandra Stevenson mentioned, after the match, that she had recently had an encounter with Tomljanovic that had left her convinced that the Australian player had entered a different mental zone. If that's true, players should watch out; Tomljanovic has always had the talent and skills.

A favorite of some to win the Open, Simona Halep, seeded 7th, was taken out in the first round by world number 124 Daria Snigur. Defending champion Emma Raducanu also made an exit in the opening round; Raducanu lost to resurgent French veteran Alizé Cornet. Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina lost to  world number 131 Clara Burel, two-time champion Naomi Osaka lost to (an obviously recovered) Danielle Collins, and 10th seed Daria Kasatkina was defeated in the first round by Harriet Dart. 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu lost in the opening round to Harmony Tan.

Both 3rd seed Maria Sakkari and 4th seed Paula Badosa were defeated in the second round. Sakkari lost to Wang Xiyu, and Badosa was defeated by Petra Martic.

In other news, the always-under-the-radar Veronika Kudermetova has yet to drop a set.

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