DAY 13 – SATURDAY/11 SEPTEMBER 2010
What happened today?
The day began at Arthur Ashe Stadium, heart of the National Tennis Center, with the duo of men’s semifinals preceding the women’s championship. But before we get there, let’s look at the outer courts and everything that was happening out there during the day…
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The girls’ and boys’ finals were set after semifinal clashes amongst the final four in each bracket. Sloane Stephens couldn’t prevail against top seed Daria Gavrilova — despite winning two more games overall, including the 6-1 second set that forced a third, Stephens couldn’t clamp down in the tiebreaks bookending the match and missed her chance on home soil 7-5 1-6 7-6(4). But despite the departure of Stephens, the Americans will be represented quite well at the junior level by the boys. The state of men’s tennis has been decried in recent years, picking up pace this summer as Andy Roddick’s departure from the top ten left the ATP rankings with no American male amongst the ten best players in the world for their three-plus decades of existence. But if the recent success of both #10 Denis Kudla (who knocked out #8 Agustin Velotti, this year’s French Open boys’ champion) and unseeded Jack Sock (who ousted #2 Marton Fucsovics, this year’s Wimbledon boys’ champion) is any indication, there could yet be a renaissance in the works.
Stephens didn’t need to even play a point to win her doubles final with teammate Timea Babos of Hungary. In a walkover the most dominant pair in girls’ doubles won their third straight Grand Slam title, adding the U.S. Open to the titles from Roland Garros and Wimbledon earlier this year. (Would it have been a junior doubles calendar Grand Slam if the pair had began playing at the Australian Open this year, where Babos made the final with Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski?) The only sad part about the victory is that it was uncontested, the unseeded pair of An-Sophie Mestach and Silvia Njiric unable to take the court. While it was highly unlikely that the French-Croat duo was going to take out Babos and Stephens, it’s always tough seeing championships handed over without a fight.
Esther Vergeer teamed up with Sharon Walraven for yet another Grand Slam title to add to her ever-growing stockpile of championships...
We also saw finals in the wheelchair divisions, doubles day yielding winners in both men’s and women’s brackets as well as the quad (quadriplegic) division. For the women, Esther Vergeer proved her dominance yet again, teaming up with countrywoman Sharon Walraven to take out top seeds Daniela Di Toro and Aniek Van Koot. The presence of three Dutchwomen is evidence of the sport’s widespread esteem in the nation, one of the original places where it flourished in the 1970s as a rehabilitative exercise for the wheelchair-bound. Vergeer is the most dominant player against her peers of any in tennis history — and that includes everyone from Rod Laver and Roger Federer to the Williams, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King and on back throughout history. With a winning streak of 395 matches and counting between singles and doubles play, there might never be a player who simply imposes her will on a match quite like Vergeer. And today, in a straight-sets 6-3 6-3 victory alongside Walraven, she proved once again just how athletic people can still be despite losing the ability to use their lower extremities. It is an inspiration both for her fellow wheelers and everyone who loves tennis.
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The final was notable as much for the absence of Japanese dynamo Shingo Kunieda as those who were present. But despite missing Kunieda, admittedly a better singles than doubles player, there was plenty for the fans on hand to cheer for amongst the finalists — after all, we had the potential to see an American winner. But Maikel Scheffers and Ronald Vink, bitter from the outset that they hadn’t received one of the top two seeds, went about destroying their opponents. Jon Rydberg, the clothing magnate from the Twin Cities and top men’s wheelchair tennis-playing American, was teamed up with Frenchman Nicolas Peifer in this battle. And while Rydberg has been amongst the best in the sport (and is also an accomplished wheelchair basketball player as well), he simply couldn’t keep pace with the Dutchmen on the other side of the net. It was a brutal mismatch, Peifer and Rydberg failing to win even a single game. It was a bagel for each of the losing finalists, the 6-0 6-0 scoreline asserting just how good Scheffers and Vink really are…
All this action, and we haven’t even discussed the men’s semis or the women’s final yet! So now that we’ve wandered around the rest of the action from around the National Tennis Center grounds, let’s get back to Arthur Ashe Stadium for the showcase events of the day. It all began with the men’s semifinals on this Super Saturday, one after the other to decide which two men would be dueling for the championship on Sunday.
Rafael Nadal and Mikhail Youzhny took to the court at noontime, kicking off the series of events for the day on the main stage. Nadal, with the opportunity to become the first man to win three consecutive Grand Slam events in the same calendar year on three different surfaces (following his French Open win on clay and Wimbledon title on the lawn) and first to win three straight altogether since Rod Laver’s calendar Grand Slam in 1969, was determined to get the jump on Youzhny early and keep the Russian from harboring any hopeful dreams of an upset.
It was over in just over two hours, Youzhny never seriously challenging the Spaniard in his bid for a ninth Grand Slam title that would complete the career sweep of the Slams. Nadal allowed just one service break the entire match, serving at 65% accuracy on first serves and hitting three aces versus just one double fault. He won thirty more points than his counterpart, committed fourteen fewer unforced errors and generally played the cleanest game he possibly could given the naturally-windy conditions of the stadium. There wasn’t even enough time to get a good vodka buzz going for those fans who were hoping for a Youzhny victory, the bottle left to instead drown the sorrows of opportunity lost.
But the result was hardly unexpected… unlike the second match of the Saturday program. It was a showdown between #2 Roger Federer and #3 Novak Djokovic, a battle so truly worthy of the semifinals that it is a rematch of the semifinals from each of the past two years — as well as a rematch of the 2007 U.S. Open final. The career series between the two men may be firmly in Federer’s favor (10-5, including the most recent matchup between them at the ATP Toronto tournament in the run-up to this U.S. Open), but Djokovic has had his share of big defeats. For instance, the only Grand Slam yet won by the Serb in his career, the 2008 Australian Open, was won not when he defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final but earlier in the semifinals when he smacked down Federer in straight sets to get the championship berth.
Federer took the early lead despite sloppy serving in the 7-5 first set. He hit just 17 of his 37 first serves into play in the first 51 minutes and 12 games, a sub-50% conversion rate that would ultimately prove his undoing as the match advanced. Djokovic took the second set with ease, breaking the Swissman’s serve twice in rolling to a 6-1 equalizer. The Serb wasn’t serving much better, but he was defending both his first and second serves with more urgency than Federer seemed to bring to the match. It was a reversal of fortunes, Djokovic often derided for a perceived lack of intensity but showing scads more in this match than his much more lauded opponent.
Roger would fight back to take the lead once more, heading into the fourth set after another 7-5 set win needing just six more games to reach his seventh straight U.S. Open final. But losing that third set seemed to only renew Djokovic’s focus. Just as he did in the second set, Novak turned the fourth to his advantage. He gained two more service breaks despite Federer’s finally-improving service games, and used up little more than a half hour to send it to one deciding set for the spot opposite Nadal. Federer had his chances, but committed 21 of his 66 total unforced errors in the match in the final set. Spraying shots errantly, smacking balls into the net, it was an uncharacteristic display from Federer. But perhaps that’s the problem… it has become all too characteristic this season.
So we lose that opportunity for Nadal and Federer to square off in the U.S. Open final for the first time in their career, and instead get the resurgence of Djokovic pitted against the chance at history for Nadal. It will be a hell of a match, even if it isn’t what people were pining for when the draw was released…
And that goes without discussing the women’s showdown between Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva. Clijsters returned to the sport last year with renewed focus after a couple years away, winning the U.S. Open for her second straight time contesting the tournament (she won in 2005 and then did not play in Flushing Meadows from 2006-2008) over Caroline Wozniacki. This time she was up against the only Russian currently in the top ten in the WTA rankings, Zvonareva having come off of a finals appearance at Wimbledon as well this year.
So it seemed a fairly well-matched pairing for the final. But Clijsters needed less than an hour to prove why she is currently the queen of Queens, demolishing Zvonareva 6-2 6-1 for her 21st straight match win in the Big Apple. The Russian never really had a chance, Clijsters hitting shots left and right and displaying the full range of her game in a way that nobody could’ve dealt with on this day. Her daughter playing around her legs as she accepted the trophy, Clijsters has completely rewritten the story of her career in this second act. Her newfound dominance on the hard courts is at complete odds with her previous run of play earlier in her career. And her nice streak has turned 180° and focused itself to a razor’s edge. The streak moves on…
DAY 14 – SUNDAY/12 SEPTEMBER 2010
What happened today?
Just three of the finals on tap were able to compete their rounds today, as inclement weather set in at the National Tennis Center just as the event was trying to conclude its festivities. The boys and girls crowned their titlists, and women’s wheelchair maven Esther Vergeer was able to claim yet another trophy for her overflowing trophy room — yielding no ground to Daniela Di Toro in the 6-0 6-0 slaughter for her 16th career Grand Slam singles title — but the headliners of the day were relegated to wait until Monday to play out their finals.
On the girls’ side, top seed Daria Gavrilova was able to take her first Grand Slam juniors title against compatriot Yulia Putintseva without breaking much of a sweat. The recent gold medalist at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore last month continued her hot run of form to claim the biggest win of her young career. After losing last year’s French Open final, Gavrilova came out determined this time around and earned the 6-3 6-2 victory with ease.
The boys waged an all-American final, with #10 Denis Kudla winning the first set before losing his focus and dropping the final two to squander his opportunity. Instead it was Jack Sock of Overland Park, Kansas who emerged as the unseeded revelation of the juniors tournament. The 17-year-old played phenomenal tennis when it counted most, remaining calm even after going down a set to prevail 3-6 6-2 6-2. It was a bit of a shocking turnaround, though Sock will surely be discounted no more after his breakthrough victory at Flushing Meadows.
For the third straight year, fans coming to Flushing Meadows on the "final" Sunday were rained out from getting to see a men's final...
But all the news centered around what didn’t get awarded. At Louis Armstrong Stadium the early match pitting the teams of #6 Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova and #2 Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova made it all the way into the last few games of the third set when play had to be suspended. Huber and Petrova were on the cusp of the championship, up 2-6 6-4 4-5 (0-15) and just three points away from the title. But perhaps, similar to the resurgence of Oregon’s football Ducks in Knoxville yesterday, the team of King and Shvedova will be able to regroup over their delay and come out swinging their way back into the match.
Also postponed was the men’s championship between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, slated to be played at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the late-afternoon showcase. It may not have been the dream matchup that everyone had hoped for when the brackets were released, but people had been hoping to at least see something take place on the men’s side today. But after Clijsters won her third straight yesterday, there was no U.S. Open joy to be had Sunday for either the Serb or the Spaniard. The two top-three players in the sport would have to defer their duel until the new week had begun, extending our time a day longer in the process. So tune back in tomorrow for the conclusion of the Grand Slam season… hopefully the weather cooperates this time around. For the third straight year, we will see Monday play thanks to wet Septembers in New York…
2010 U.S. Open – Championship Weekend Musings (Days 13-14) is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust