Pete’s highlights: The US Open in fourteen facts

Should I have done this earlier? Yes, I should. But a mix of laziness + lack of time + lack of will to sit at the laptop to write delayed the process. Better late than never. Here, I present you, my final analysis of the US Open. A day-by-day commentary on all the action in Flushing Meadows.

 

This girl is gonna be a thing real soon.

Day 1 – The future is bright, my friends – If the first day of the US Open told us something (other than Kvitova’s consistency), it was that there are a bunch of young girls out there ready to make some noise. Americans Irina Falconi, Christina McHale and Madison Keys all survived the August, 29th, with wins over Zakopalova, Wozniak and Craybas, respectively; Heather Watson gave her best to Sharapova – and Maria barely survived; her countrygirl Laura Robson, who debuted at the main draw of a Slam, advanced to the round 2 after Ayumi Morita retired in the second set. Thing is, they may now be winning in the first Monday of Slams. Soon, it could be second.

 

Simona Halep celebrates: The last of the 2011 Slam champions fell to her hands

Day 2 – Meaning of ‘Open Field’ – As Simona Halep finished off with Li Na in two sets – 6/2, 7/5 – another thing was clear, after only two days into the Open: For the first time since 2008, WTA would crown four different Slam champions in the same season. With Kim out for the year-and-maybe-more and Petra Kvitova’s surprising-but-not-so-much loss to Dulgheru, Li Na was the only reining Slam champ alive in the draw. As she lost, 2011 Grand Slam winners left the US Open bearing an outstanding 0-2 record at the remaining Major. Good? Bad? I’m going for the first.

 

Waves after beating Dolonts; Let's just all hope this wasn't her last US Open win.

Day 3 – We are gonna miss Venus Williams – Whether you like the Sisters or not, you must admit they are true legends of the sport. Seven-time Slam champion Venus Williams, after getting through Vesna Dolonts in the first round, set the anticipated, big-serving meeting with Sabine Lisicki. A meeting which never happened – Venus was forced to withdraw due to an auto-immune disease that causes her retirements galore. At 31, and with health problems, Williams’ future as a tennis star doesn’t seem like a long road anymore. Which only shows how we are gonna miss her exotic dresses and big serves when she calls it a career.

 

Day 4 – Some people are stupid and should never be allowed to touch a computer – Seeded #29 and en route to an imminent third-round meeting with Wozniacki, Jarmila Gajdosova, or simply Jarka, had her run halted by doubles-specialist Vania King in the second round. Winning only two games – both in the first set – Jarka, who was born in Slovakia, said goodbye, to Flushing Meadows. And to Twitter. Thanks to some shitheads who offended her, Gajdosova announced she would no longer be part of the TwittFamily. The decision, however, was not permanent, and she is already back. What is, unfortunately, permanent is the prickness contained in some lost souls, who ramble around the Internets to harass players. Go get a life, morons. Or better. GFY.

 

Day 5 – Balance is maintained – Anyone who closely follows tennis could have called it: From the beginning, it was 100% certain Sharapova wouldn’t win the US Open. And I’m not saying that just because Serena was in the draw. No. Just because of this: Maria Sharapova has a 3-2 record in Slam finals, being 3-0 in even numbered years and 0-2 in odd ones. In the event that Masha had been the last woman to survive, I’m sure the balance that keeps the world as we know it would be disrupted, and we would be locked in a black hole that transgresses the limits of time and space. Truth or not, she lost to Flavia Pennetta in three sets, the first big win for the Italian in 2011. That automatically assured an “underdog” in the semifinals – since the other seed in this half, Kvitova, had already said goodbye.

 

Ashe's lights were too much for her and McHale; Soon it won't, anymore.

Day 6 – Easy, USA – First of all, let’s cut this “USA teniz iz dead!!!!!!11111!!!”. It is not, mainly on the ladies’ side. But still, let’s be patient, shall we? For the second consecutive day, the organizers put one of the up-and-coming players to play on Ashe, night session. Just like Christina McHale in the day prior, Sloane Stephens couldn’t show her best tennis, as she fell to (a reborn?) Ana Ivanovic in two sets. Can’t blame neither Sloane or Christina. They are still teens, with lots to learn. Better not expect anyone to sub in for the Williamses like, now. We all know what happened to Oudin. Giving time to time is the key.

 

This was from her McHale match, but really, I could not leave this pic out.

Day 7 – Ladies’ nite in Queen’s – Anyone who stayed for the night at the BJK complex and truly appreciate this sport can’t say they felt disappointed. On the Grandstand, Samantha Stosur and Maria Kirilenko played an instant classic – besides the longest WTA Slam tie-break, with Sam squandering eight match points and Kirilenko battling her way to a third set. In the end, the Aussie, as you can imagine, survived a clash that showed all the grit, fighting and skills that women’s tennis have, proving that strong is beautiful, yes, but beautiful beyond photoshopped athlete-models and Stella McCartney dresses.

 

Yeah.

Days 8 –  AWESOME. (While it lasts) (And it’s not a lot) – Wasn’t that hard to figure out I was talking about Svetlana Kuznetsova, right? The crafty Russian, who has two Slams to her name, showed once again her enormous potential in the match v. Caroline Wozniacki, in the fourth round. Sveta, alongside Schiavone and Stosur, has one of the most interesting and plastically pleasant styles in the whole WTA. However, Kuznetsova is like a time-bomb these days. She was hitting forehands with a good depth and volleying like awesome (though her overheads were simply ludicrous). She kept the level until the 7th game of the second set, if I’m wrong, when she squandered a break lead (she was holding her games with certain ease before) and everything went boom. Caro won 6/7, 7/5, 6/1, and not only sent Kuznetsova packing, but also “helped” sending Juan Monaco home in a quicker way.

 

Bored Pavs is bored. And cute.

Days 9 and 10 – Rain rain go away rain – The morning of the ninth day of the US Open saw rain. The morning, noon and night. Play was called off before anybody even thought about calling it on. The very next day saw another ‘wet problem’, as the discussion about a roof began to surface again. As a result, only 10 games were played (3 in Muller-Nadal, 3 in Young-Murray and 4 in Roddick-Ferrer) that day, that even saw the ladies’ coming out to warm up. Play was once again canceled, though. HOWEVER, thanks to rain we had this EPIC pic from Anastasia Pavlyuchencute.

 

Day 11 – WTA is not ready for Serena – As I’m used to say, you can’t blame someone for being too good. You can’t also force other people to love it. That’s more or less how I feel about Serena Williams (by the way, I know this topic would fit better in other days, but apparently the other days were already taken by better headlines). Thing is, as she made a typical-WTA first set, but picked up the pace and demolished Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second, it was clear that that woman, who stayed almost a full year away from pro-tennis and was back into a Slam semifinal without dropping a set, is way above the others. You can’t really blame her. Her opponents? Maybe. But still, while she keeps hungry the way she is, only someone playing the match of a lifetime will be able to beat her. As for the others, expect beatdowns and sleepwalks through the late rounds.

 

Day 13* – There is nothing wrong with Caroline Wozniacki’s game – And this affirmative is justified by the last topic. Let’s say Caro suddenly changes from her comfort zone, morphing into a more aggressive – therefore more susceptible to errors, like, say, Cibulkova. I can already see people claiming her style is “dumb”, mere “ballbashing” and that “she doesn’t deserve to be #1”. Caro is what she is, guys. Can’t blame her for dating a golfer, can’t blame her for making whatever capitol sins she commits on Twitter. It’s not pushing – it’s defense-oriented tennis. (I think). It’s not pretty, but has assured her a lead by over than 3000 points on the #2 Maria Sharapova.

 

This pic is pretty lovely

Day 14 – Samantha Stosur is a FREAKING MONSTER – #1, she’s Australian and #2, she is a former doubles #1. These two factors combine into the fact Sam has the variation running through her veins. And she indeed does! Very few players can mix it up like Stosur these days – with an outstanding kick-serve, slices and volley. Sam is, however, also a paradox: her best results as a singles player came in the slow clay surfaces, like Charleston and Roland Garros. And even though she is already a grown woman (27) who’s not part of the “blonde” group of WTA players who sometimes drag more attention thanks to their looks rather than their tennis, she is also keen to having blackouts, walkabouts and then it’s done.

The former #4 did, however, leave all the downsides of her game in the closet when she left the hotel room that day. Samantha brought her A-game into the final and, counting with Serena’s inability to work with the first set, the Aussie literally ate her up with the 2nd serve forehand return winners to clinch her first Major title, 6/2, 6/3 scoreline. Quite good for her debut on the Arthur Ashe stadium, huh?

I would also like to leave my sincere wishes that this title triggers Stosur’s A-game more often. I know she has been in the top-5 and now she is a Slam winner, but with her skills, she should have way more than three singles titles. She should be a permanent contender for any and every WTA tournament held.

 

* – The day 12 of the US Open was used only to play the ATP semifinals.

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Two statements

When it comes to Grand Slams and main courts it’s hard to please everybody. Too many matches involving too many top players, someone is always going to be relegated to an outside court.

The criteria DA uses? Not sure, but I believe “history” and “prospect” play a pivotal role on it all. And if sometimes the gambles fail, other times they pay – a lot. Something like a flood of golden coins falling off the slot’s mouth into your bucket.

But in even rarer cases, these matches reach a whole new level. They become unforgettable pieces of artwork, that will make future generations feel sorry they didn’t watch it. These some-of-a-kind matches are statements.

Luckily for us, Wimbledon’s Centre Court – the most central tennis court of the Earth – saw two of these statements in consecutive days. And since my toothless words won’t make justice for them, I’ll leave you the highlights and a quick thought in the end of the post.

Just play the videos and enjoy!

 

[23] Venus Williams def. Kimiko Date-Krumm – 6/7 (6-8), 6/3, 8/6

 

 

Sabine Lisicki def. [3] Li Na – 3/6, 6/4, 8/6*

 

 

Some people say WTA is lame nowadays. This is the best answer. Better than ANY ATP match I’ve watched so far.

 

 

*: Not the best highlights video, but the best I could find. There will probably be better ones later. I could update this post, then.

One for the books

“What a frivolous title, Pete!”, the few of you who will read this might think. “You could use the same title for every Slam!”. Yes, I could. But some of them are more historic than others – like, this Australian Open. Though I was happy to see Djokovic winning the title and completely inebriated to watch Kimmie lifting the trophy, the Aussie Open 2011 will always be… only the Aussie Open 2011.

But this Roland Garros turned out to be something else. Yes, something else. We lived the expectations of watching the completion of a Career Slam in the women’s side and the extension of an already enormous winning streak + the crowning of a new number 1. Pure history.

And yes, we got history. But from different characters.

 

Is it heavy?

It all started on Saturday, with the final of the ladies’ championship – Li Na from China and Francesca Schiavone squaring off. Li was playing her second career Slam final (Kim had spoiled her glory back in the Australian Open), just like Fran, the defending champion. And, well, for more I hate this labels, history was made: the 29-year old, against all odds, I think (didn’t see anyone listing her as a top contender), needed two sets, repeated last year’s scoreline, 6/4, 7/6, and carved her name in the list of Grand Slam champions – the first Asian player to do so. A milestone of the new world order, that’s for sure. 100% deserved, that’s also for sure – not because she ‘carries the weight of 1.3 billion’ (and a few more enthusiasts), but yes because she proved herself capable.

Enjoy it, Na.

 

Then Sunday came. “The biggest tennis show on Earth”, one said. Federer vs. Nadal, 24 meetings, more Major finals than any other pair. Nadal was seeking a record-tying sixth Roland Garros trophy, the CLAYGOAT epithet and double-digits Grand Slam titles.

 

Nadal, lifting his Courierx3 Roland Garros trophy

He made it. Because if history gets into Rafa’s way, I tell you, he will grind history away, hammering forehands and running around for four consecutive hours without even gasping. And if Rafa does that to history, you guess what he ‘do’ with Roger Federer. Nadal routines RogerFederers for breakfast. And he saves set points and triple-break points as appetizers. And now, a 7/5, 7/6, 5/7, 6/1 later, Nadal and Borg are tied. But since the Swede retired way to soon, the path is wide open for Nadal to step up and become the best player to ever walk on the shattered bricks.

Just to finish, some other milestones reached by Nadal today: 10 Grand Slams titles (only the fourth player in the Open Era to do so), 100 weeks as #1 (8th player to do so), 6th French Open title (the fourth over Federer), 10-2 in Major finals (must be one of the best records ever).

Streaks, Li Na, Rafael Nadal, and the French Open. 2011 will surely have a special chapter in the books.

Not this time… again

Smiling after knocking the last teen out of Roland Garros. Not a coincidence

 

Roland Garros semifinals are finally set. By now, we all know the last four brave women who will fight for the second Grand Slam of the year. What does it tell us about the situation of women’s tennis? Well, it only confirms what we all already know.

WTA scenario is completely different from the one we had a decade, 15 years ago or so: after the generation of teen-wonders – like Hingis, Capriati, even Sharapova – experience is talking louder these days. Go check it.

As the 1989-born Victoria Azarenka fell today (making me sad, I admit), the only players left in the draw are Marion Bartoli (turns 27 in November), Francesca Schiavone (will celebrate her 31st birthday next month), Li Na and Maria Sharapova – who have already turned 29 and 24, respectively, this year, and even though Maria is the youngest of the four, she won her first Slam seven years ago. It’s like she was 30 or something, in tennis years.

“But this is an isolated event”. Oh, is it? So tell me how come the Aussie Open was final was contested between Kim Clijsters and Li Na? Or how we had Serena and Zvonareva (twice), Kim, Sam, Fran and Henin in the Major finals last year? The youngest of them is Vera, who was 26 – still young, but come on, Hingis almost had the Grand Slam complete when she was 10 years younger.

Explanations and theories? I have some. Of course, I have my opinions Two main ones: 1-) N-E-R-V-E-S – Way easier to hold yours when you already have some mileage and gone through that situations (LIKE, serving for the set or holding for your life) before, something that, and here comes the item 2-) teens can’t have anymore – since WTA has deployed some age-limitation measures. If I’m not wrong, you can’t play the full season until you turn 18. Tell me how, exactly, a girl who still has her brackets on can pull a surprise at, say, Wimbledon, when all she’s got is junior experience? She will have to be REALLY good. And even though you might argue that the current #1 is a 20-year old Danish, never forget she still hasn’t pulled her best on the main stages, winning seven consecutive matches with all the spotlight and eyes on her – it’s not hating, it’s a FACT.

If this is good or not? Heck, don’t know, you tell me. If you start too soon you are also likely to finish it soon, right? But if you like that super-talented prodigy girls, I must warn you: WTA might be disappointing these days – Ana Ivanovic was the last really young player to win a Major (she was 20 back in the day) and, in my humble opinion, she is likely to hold this record for a while.

PS: In case you wonder, the last teen to lift a Grand Slam was Maria Sharapova, at the US Open, in 2006, at the tender age of 19. She defeated Justine Henin in the final. 

Girls’ day in Madrid

Ain’t WTA fascinating? I mean, really. ATP has all the matchups, the rivalries, Rafole, Fedal, and stuff. But WTA is the real deal, homies. No matter how much you criticize the girls’ game and personality, when it comes to unexpected results… we have THIS:

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Samantha Stosur – 7/6 (4), 6/3

 

This new kit fits her REALLY well. She looks awesome. SHE IS awesome. Plus, she's playing some real good tennis


Ok, not THAT unexpected. I watch Pavs playing Marion, and that was just world class. And even though Sam is a top-10, Roland Garros runner-up, clay specialist and blablabla, she’s sucking right now. Whatever. I wondered if Pavs had what it takes to challenge top players. Of course, she’s not the most reliable player in the game and she has SERIOUS issues (just like most of the other girls, tho), but at least for Madrid, yes, she can!

Julia Goerges d. Caroline Wozniacki – 6/4, 1/6, 6/3

Oops, she did it again!


 

I convinced myself – and even wrote about it – to not get overexcited over Goerges’ win in Stuttgart a couple weeks ago. But then she faces Caro again… and beats her again! For me, this just proofs two things. First: Momentum can do wonders for a rising start. Second: Caro’s not invincible, even more on clay. Take note, people. This RG will be epic.

Victoria Azarenka d. Arantxa Parra Santonja – 6/0, 6/3

 

Pic not from Madrid. But too graceful to complain


The white dress is back? WOW WOW. That explains how Vika is steamrolling through the early rounds – she spend less than 3 hours in her first three matches, won 18 games and lost FIVE. Pretty impressive, huh? Let’s all jump in the bandwagon and predict Renka winning both Roland Garros and a Williams-less Wimbledon, taking over the number 1 before the end of the year, shall we?

Li Na d. Roberta Vinci – 2/6, 6/2, 6/1

 


Vinci was straight out of a clay title in Barcelona, and Li Na was still trying to find her Aussie form again. Okay, this is FAR from being an upset – Roby was the underdog here. But to praise Li’s return to top-10 form and her second consecutive Madrid quarterfinal.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands d. Francesca Schiavone – 7/6 (5), 6/3

 

Great personality. The kind of personality tennis needs. But I gotta say this new warpaint sucks


Whatever. Francy kicks-ass. She’s one of the greatest bad-asses out there in WTA, the defending Roland Garros champion, one of the leaders of Italy Fed Cup team, but eh. Not a single chance this diminishes BMS deed: She knocked out, in three matches, the ’08 and ’10 French Open champs and her fellow American Vania King. Which is simply awesome. Will play Li next, and, to be honest, I like her chances.

In the other 3rd round match played today, Safarova beat Jarka, 3 and 3. Two players I like. I just didn’t have anything useful to comment about it. Lucie will go on to take the Almighty White Dress impersonated on some random Belarus girl. Well done, Nike.

See? This Madrid quarterfinals – Julia vs. Paaaaaavs!, Vika vs. Lucie, Kvitova vs. Cibulkova and Mattek-Sands vs. Li Na – are the best. EVER.

Just sit and enjoy.

All pics taken from Yahoo! Images

A Tale of Two (Chinese) Players

Charles Dickens once immortalized in one of the greatest literary works of all time:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times (…)”

Not my intention here to compare the following piece with “A Tale of Two Cities”, but also cannot forget where the inspiration came from.

The best of times... (Photo: SI.com)

 

An absurd just like that, maybe even bigger, would be calling Peng Shuai the best of times, and her counterpart, Li Na, the worst. But still, the titles fits – this brief text will be about two Chinese players – and her fortunes on the pro circuit. Hence, their tales.

 

It’s a perfect plot for a novel. The prologue would be the Australian Open, exactly one year ago. Li Na – who is also featured in the main plot – and Jie Zheng – who could be the perfect choice for the supporting role – showed the world Chinese tennis was more than paddles and a table – the could play on a full-sized court! They both reached the semifinals, but fell, and Zheng basically faded, while Li Na showed some life in the grass swing, with a great QF run at Wimbledon and the Birmingham title, but pretty much only this.

 

Of course, it never comes easy. It takes some time to mature it, but when it does, when the perfect conditions are set, it works beautifully. That being said, we can set 2011 as the stage, WTA as the scenario and crowded courts all around the world as the background.

 

Because in ’11, we saw the first chapter of this tale, and it was written by a charismatic underdog, who slowly conquered fans and wins, until pretty much everyone had been bitten by the Li Na loving bug, and the wagon was pretty full. Would be foolishness and naivety to point the kickoff of her 2011 as the best of times, but when you look closely, she ended up being one win shy of bolding even more the history he wrote. 11 wins to start the ’11 season – got the unintended symbolism? – setting a new personal best, beating Kim Clijsters to clinch the Sydney title.

 

And then the Australian Open. And the unbeaten streak only increased. Six, seven matches, favorites falling, a consistent, forehand-based play, funny post-match interviews, and all of a sudden, she tied her ’11 Australian Open result. Yup, she made back-to-back semifinals. And better! In a twist of the plot, Li Na extended the reigning queen of the Association search for her maiden Slam at least for more five months. 11-0 to start the year, and a rematch with Kim Clijsters for the big prize. The perfect ending for a perfect history, a player who overcame an injury-plagued career, all the difficulties of being a female Chinese player.

 

(Let’s not lose ourselves in the timeline. The other main actress of this thing had fallen in the 4th round, to Agnieszka Radwanska; but at that point, no-one would care for one of the few both sides two-handed of the pro circuit)

 

But life is not art. It is not a book or something like, even though sometimes we live some crazy situations we thought could only exist in the disturbed mind and the pen of some writer. Or maybe this paragraph was totally unnecessary so far. But the point is, 11 didn’t become a dozen. Because on the other side of the net, in opposition of the Cinderella, was the Super Mom, a hero turned villain only for that night. And she denied the first ever singles title for an Asian player. But, you know, as we all say, game on. And by that time, our little rebel, tattooed, sympathetic Li Na was pointed by many as a strong nominee for best actress – and just in case you can’t read metaphors, no, by that I don’t mean become world no.1.

...the worst of times (Photo: Yahoo! Images)

But you know, yikes, life is more unpredictable than a disturbed mind. And when your mind is disturbed, life just becomes even more unpredictable. Who could imagine Li would suffer with the Runner-Up syndrome? Yes, because 11 didn’t turn 12 in the Land Down Under. And it also didn’t turn 12 in the desert. Or in the United States. And, dear readers, Li Na experienced the best of her times and also the worst – this 5-loss streak she’s currently riding is the worse of her career. Only the losses by themselves would be enough, but it gets even worse when you put it on perspective and realize she lost to players like Klara Zakopalova and Johanna Larsson.

 

 

And then you have her. (Photo: Yahoo! Images)

 

 

But while she struggles, a fellow countrywoman is stealing the show. If this were a book, Peng would be that secondary character that slowly gets more space and then boom, she’s there as a main star.

 

Well, ok, let’s not exaggerate things. Peng’s not poised to be a main star – yet – but this year’s being her best, without a single doubt, even though her career high dates back to 2005. Take a look at this and tell me you’re not impressed:

 

She beat a two-time Slam champion – Sveta, oh dear – twice this year; she also beat the defending Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, the former no.1 Jelena Jankovic and even Li Na. Peng also stands with a 3-2 record vs. top-10 this year, and has won just as many main draw matches as the world no.1 Wozniacki (21), a WTA best. Oh, and the rankings? Well, it’s o.k. if you don’t even notice the world no.72… but when this player climbs about 40 spots in less than four months, you ought to keep an eye on her.

 

2011 is a book. And here I’m calling that writer I’m sure still lives inside me (but he usually writes in his mother tongue). It’s a book still on its first chapters. There are still many twists in the plot, many killing, many fake-positives, many disappointments to happen. This is just the beginning. And yes, it’s a hell of an appetizer.

 

But one thing is for sure: at least for the Chinese tennis, it’s already being and has everything to be an even more, unforgettable year, a turning point. And, oh boys and gals, I tell you, never underestimate the Chinese. If they decide they like this racquet-net-ball thing, they will go on with that. And when they decide they want to be best…

 

 

Peter S., Daily Scores talking head and amateur Space Shuttle pilot in the spare time, never jumped in the bandwagon