Friday, September 8, 2023

U.S. Open semifinals--a drama in two acts

In the last couple of days, the U.S. Open has been a bit overwhelming, but not always in a good way. The extreme heat brought back memories of days at the Australian Open when players had to get IV fluids and the old Rebound Ace surface caused the rubber to melt on the wheelchairs. And there was the issue of the first semifinal, which was interrupted for 49 minutes as three environmenal activists were escorted out of the stadium while officials had to deal with a fourth one who had glued his feet to the stadium floor.

Then there was the tennis. 

In Thursday night's first semifinal, Coco Gauff easily dominated Karolina Muchova, whose usual very good serve wasn't there, and who also wasn't bringing her usual shot-making magic. It looked like a case of nerves, yet I did have that niggling feeling that it might also be physical. Muchova had quite a bit of tape on her body, but then, if I were she, I would, too.

Down 1-5, the world number 10 seemed to suddenly "wake up," and proceeded to win three straight games. But Gauff took that set 6-4. She led 1-0 in the second set when play had to be stopped because of a lot of yelling in the stands that turned out to be environmental protesters. As stated above, play was delayed for over three-quarters of an hour while those in charge extricated a protester who was glued to the floor. (You can't make this stuff up.)

During a portion of this "break," Muchova had a medical consultation. When the players returned to the court, they both held serve until Gauff broke Muchova to go up 5-3. But when the world number 6 served for the match and held a match point at 40-30, Muchova--looking totally like herself (i.e., gracefully making what look like impossible shots)--broke her. At 5-all, the match contained all the tension that it lacked earlier. 

Muchova would go on to save five more match points in the final segment of the match, which was as thrilling as anyone could imagine, and which had the crowd in awe of the players. 

In the end, though, Gauff simply would not be denied. Having had just about everything thrown at her that can be thrown at an opponent in a tennis match--including at the net and over her head--she remained steady. Near the end, there was a 40-shot rally that fans will be talking about for some time to come. Gauff then ended the whole thing on her sixth match point. Her 6-4, 7-5 victory puts her into the second major final of her career.

And while we might have thought that the second semifinal would be comparatively "normal," we would have been fooled. In that match, Madison Keys, who has been playing at an extremely high level in New York, walked onto the court and proceeded to do what some might consider a magic trick--she bageled the soon-to-be number 1 Aryna Sabalenka. Keys, who hit twelve winners and made only three unforced errors in the set, was totally dominant over a player who is not easily dominated.

Sabalenka--never one to hide her emotions--became increasingly frustrated and angry. And then an image of Dr. David Banner popped into my mind: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." 

That image proved to be an accurate metaphor. After emphatically losing her first set of the tournament, Sabalenka fought back. Keys went up 5-3 in the second set, but was broken. She then went up 5-4, but her attempt to win the match was destroyed by a series of errors, including a double fault. Sabalenka was able to take the set to ta tiebreak, which she won, 7-1. 

Keys broke to go up 4-2 in the third set, but Sabalenka broke her back. That set also wound up in a tiebreak, which Sabalenka won 10-5. (At the U.S. Open, a 10-point final set tiebreak is played. I see no need for this, and Sabalenka wasn't the first player to think that she'd won the match after she "won" a seven-point tiebreak). 

For what it's worth, the Belarusian star is only the third woman in the Open Era to win a major semifinal after losing the first set 0-6. The others were Steffi Graf (French Open) and Ana Ivanovic (Australian Open).

Sabalenka is 2-3 against Gauff, and 1-2 against her on hard courts.

Paths to the final:

round 1--def. Laura Siegemund
round 2--def. Mirra Andreeva
round 3--def. Elise Mertens (32)
round of 16--def. Caroline Wozniacki
quarterfinals--def. Alona Ostapenko (20)
seminfinals--def. Karolina Muchova (10)

round 1--def. Maryna Zenevska
round 2--def. Jodie Burrage
round 3--def. Clara Burel
round of 16--def. Daria Kasatkina (13)
quarterfinals--def. Zheng Qinwen (23)
semfinals--def. Madison Keys (17)

In other news, defending wheelchair champion Diede de Groot has now won 120 consecutive matches. If that sounds impressive--and it is--bear in mind that her mentor, Esther Vergeer, won 470 consecutive matches.

Some miscellaneous notes about this past week:

The WTA finally announced a location for the 2023 WTA Finals; the event will be held in Cancun, Mexico. Tomas Petera, negotiating for the Czech Republic's bid to have the finals held in Prague, had a lot to say.

Some advice: If you have no context whatsoever, and even less knowledge of the tour, please refrain from accusing a player of bigotry, and please refrain from automatically believing those with no context and even less knowledge.

And finally--but not at all surprisingly--an ESPN commentator, i.e., someone who is paid very well to say words, told us that she has a hard time with pronunciation; it just isn't her thing, Well, okay.

No comments: