2007 U.S. Open Review
by Ray Bowers
with Photography by John Meaney
All Slams are delicious--filled with action, emotion, high drama. U.S. Open
07 had its share of all these, nicely spread out over the full two weeks. The
weather was good, free of rain interruptions or extremes of temperature,
although high and shifty winds made shotmaking difficult on several dates. Form
generally held up well, where most favorites reached their expected places in the
late rounds. There seemed a higher number of very dramatic matches,
five-setters especially, through the middle rounds, and although the women's draw was
extremely unbalanced, this made for some wonderful confrontations earlier in the
tournament than usual.
Opening Evening honored the memory of Althea Gibson in wonderfully conceived
ceremonies, where all principals did their roles well. The tennis featured
Venus and Serena Williams, both returning to competition from injury-related
absences. Both sisters seemed in full health, though Serena, looking trim, seemed
easily winded and also slightly error-prone, though never in danger of losing.
Most members of the women's pre-tournament Big Six progressed through the
early rounds, generally by comfortable scores. Henin and Shaparova, both of them
former Open champions, overcame lesser opponents, as did the Serbian newcomers
Ivanovic and Jankovic. The Williamses also moved ahead by comfortable scores,
though again in round two Serena had a prolonged spell of excessive
The tournament's most shocking reversal came in round three, when an
error-prone Maria Sharapova, the tournament's defending champion, lost a split-setter
to solidly playing, Krakow-born Agnieszka Radwanska, 18. The Polish youth,
unheralded, had carried Kuznetsova to a close three-setter at New Haven the
previous week. Sharapova's serve would not behave (2 aces, 12 double-faults), and
although Maria continued her usual aggressive striking, amid high winds last
year's winner launched far too many unforced errors--a total of 49 against
Agnieszka Radwanska sent Maria Sharapova packing before losing to Israel's Shahar Peer.
Thus the five surviving members of the Big Six were all in the top half of
the draw, so that the anticipated match-ups among them occurred relatively early
in the tournament.
VENUS WILLIAMS vs. IVANOVIC, 64 62
It was a third-round pairing seemingly worthy of a Slam final. Venus, the
Wimbledon champion of early summer but with only a few and indifferent results
since then, faced a possibly superior opponent--Ana Ivanovic, who had lost to
Venus at Wimbledon but won the subsequent tournament at Los Angeles. Ana, who was
now fifth-ranked among the women at age 19 and an athletic 6-1 height, is
among the hardest hitters in the women's game, with a playing style featuring
power serving and stroking.
Venus had trouble in her first serving game, unleashing two double-faults and
several stroking errors amid an apparent resolve to hit fearlessly with
all-out power. Venus faced three break points in that game but Ana failed to
capitalize. From that early moment on, the superiority of Venus in nearly all
aspects of the game was on display. Her stokes carried a ferocity seen in no other
woman player today, screaming toward the lines and corners. There were many
errors but never enough to change the flow of the match. When Ana gained the
initiative in points, Venus usually turned back the attack long enough to produce
an error by Ana or perhaps an ill-advised net approach.
HENIN d. SERENA WILLIAMS, 76 61
Justine had defeated Serena in their last two meetings, at Garros and
Wimbledon, but Serena had won all previous match-ups on hard courts. Serena began
erratically, losing serve in the first game, but after that she steadily raised
her play, taking full advantage of her greater height and weight. When she
equalized at five-games-all, now forcing play with full energy, it seemed that
Justine's chances had passed--that Serena's superior power in serving and
stroking would henceforth prevail.
It seemed to me that often in the exchanges that followed Serena fell into
the habit of guiding the ball--i.e., taking full strokes but reducing her racket
velocity in order to cut down on her errors. Meanwhile Justine continued to
generate velocities seemingly beyond that possible given her small body frame.
The backswing in her forehand was short, but her timing and coordination
allowed her to produce power almost equal to Serena's but with far more precision.
Three service aces saved Serena in game eleven. But Justine overcame two
double-faults--she dared not soften her serving--and a set point in the next game to
reach tiebreak. Both players played well in the tiebreaker, but it was Serena
who contributed the critical errors.
Still, it was Justine who looked the more tired, and it seemed likely that
Serena could again produce the stroking power and accuracy that had faded late
in the first set. But it was not to be, as Justine's forehands now began
consistently ripping into the corners. As the score turned to her favor, Justine's
tiredness seemed to vanish. The snarling Serena Williams who refused to
lose--seen so often in the past--never appeared, as the error-making persisted. Could
it be that Serena lacked zest for a semi-final battle against her sister?
VENUS WILLIAMS d. JANKOVIC, 46 61 76
It was a magnificent battle between the supreme aggressive player in women's
tennis, Venus Williams, and an opponent--Jelena Jankovic--whose skills in
movement, error-avoidance, and defensive play were an almost perfect counterpoint.
Throughout, Venus was the more aggressive, though she seemed to stroke a bit
softer than in recent matches, perhaps trying to cut down on errors in the face
of Jelena's ability to lengthen points. Toward the end of the first set,
Venus showed some of the dominance seen against her earlier opponents, but Jelena
saved the set by winning the last four points by producing some superb play,
mixing offense and defense.
But Venus's raised level resumed early in the second set, and the American
superstar built an early lead that Jelena never threatened. In the third set,
however, Venus's errors increased and Jelena's play improved. Both players held
serve throughout twelve games, but in the final tiebreaker it was Venus who
built an early lead from several unforced errors by her opponent and rode that
advantage to victory.
In the many extended rallies from back court throughout the match, it was
more often Venus who committed the point-ending error. Venus finished with 56
unforced errors against Jelena's 24. But Venus had 60 winners including 9 aces
against Jelena's 17 winners, with no aces. Most decisive was Venus's success in
coming to net and finishing points once there. Able and willing to advance
with little tactical preparation, she often raced forward following a single
very-hard-hit ground-stroke sometimes from baseline depth. Her swinging-volleys
from mid-court or forecourt were usually deadly, her overhead absolutely
conclusive, and her volleying powerful and backed by an impressive wingspan, all
backed by a remarkable athleticism. Jelena answered with several fine lob-winners
and some effective passing shots. But it was not enough. Of 55 points decided
with Venus at net, Venus won 39. In contrast Jelena was at net only six
times. It was an appropriate outcome to a thrilling match.
HENIN d. VENUS WILLIAMS, 76 64
This superlative match-up pitted the respective champions at Garros and
Wimbledon a few months earlier, clearly the two strongest performers in the
tournament to date. They had not faced one another for four years.
It began predictably, Venus surrendering her first serving game. But the play
soon evened up as the rocketry of the tall American came under control.
Henin--slender and seven inches shorter than her lithe opponent--seemed able to
generate almost as much power as Williams, while Williams was less polished in her
movements and stroking but favored by her extreme reach and athleticism. Both were
renowned for their excellent backhands--Henin's a classic, sweeping
one-hander, Venus's a violent two-hander usually of excellent accuracy. But it was the
forehands that dominated in the play--Venus's often suspected of unreliability
but capable of extreme power, Justine's better controlled thanks to a limited
backswing, yet remarkably potent.
Also critical were their respective strengths in serving and serve-returning.
Both produced excellent first-serve velocities, Venus's as usual the fastest
in women's tennis, though both players proved almost equally capable at
producing aces. Second serves were more problematic--Venus contributed an undue share
of double-faults, while Justine always felt threatened by Venus's ability to
step up and punish second serves. Over the full match, Justine's second serves
held up fairly well, carrying enough pace and depth to neutralize Venus's
potency. Indeed, Justine's second-serving, despite a few double-faults, may have
been the most critical aspect in determining the final outcome.
Henin's defensive skills were at least as good as Venus had seen from
Jankovic. Thus Venus could again produce winners off the ground only from well inside
baseline or by taking excessive risks. Underlying most exchanges was Venus's
unending threat to move forward. The odds favored Venus when at net, where she
won 23 of 35 points, although Justine's excellent mobility and passing-shot
skills could be deadly if Justine had set-up time and reasonable court position.
Justine stayed ahead in the first set until a thrilling tenth game, when
Venus produced her best tennis. Justine briefly retreated into passive play
awaiting errors by Venus. But her softened hitting instead fed Venus's
aggressiveness and scarcely improved her own avoidance of error. But Justine did not repeat
the mistake in the set-ending tiebreak game, which ended in a forcing
serve-return winner down-the-line by Justine.
The tricky wind conditions worsened during set two, where Justine won the
first three games and Venus then equalized at three-all. Both players complained
of weakness, where the latter's sensations of dizziness required pulse and
blood-pressure checks by the trainer. Venus's malady, perhaps related to
suspected anemia earlier, probably eased Justine's final path to claim her victory.
Justine once again showed her superb mental strength in the late stage of a
HENIN d. KUZNETSOVA, 61 63
Justine's final-round opponent was Svetlana Kuznetsova, U.S. Open champion in
2004 but still only age 22. The lower half of the draw, already unusually
weak, had been further thinned by the early departures of Sharapova and Petrova.
Thus in her journey to the final Kuznetsova faced only one top-twenty
player--Anna Chakvetadze, who Svetlana overpowered after playing a dismal, error-prone
first set. Justine had defeated Svetlana in twelve of their fourteen past
meetings, and she had been playing at her absolute best throughout the tournament.
Thus in looking to their Saturday-night final, the main uncertainty seemed
whether Justine could maintain her current levels of concentration and play.
Anna Chakvetadze lost to Kuznetsova in a match in which
they both seemed to play well below their abilities.
It quickly became clear that Justine was once again close to her best, while
Kuznetsova was well below hers, though she was playing better than at the
start against Chakvetadze. Svetlana finally held serve in the fifth game, but
Justine soon afterwards closed out the set. The second set was close, where
Svetlana played strongly, her weapons now under better control. But Justine captured
an extended fourth game (after seven deuces) to obtain the only service-break
of the set.
There had been no aspect of the game wherein Justine was not at least equal
to Svetlana, including serving and stroking velocity. Her point-winning
percentage at net was very high at 81%--she won nine of her first ten points at net.
She seemed to win nearly all the extended points. Her physical stamina held up
satisfactorily after a flicker of uncertainty, and her mental strengths were
scarcely tested. By winning her second Slam of the year--her second U.S.
Open--Henin added to a list of career achievements adding up toward historic
At the outset six male players had plausible chances of winning the crown.
Assuredly the favorite at roughly even odds was Roger Federer, who had won
Australian Open and Wimbledon 07. But a few vulnerabilities had appeared during the
year. Roger had been beaten on hard courts at both Indian Wells and Miami,
tournaments won by Djokovic and Nadal, respectively, and Nadal had carried him
to five sets in their Wimbledon final. (Roger had taken Rafa to four at
Garros.) Djokovic had beaten Roger in the final in Canada, and although Roger won the
tournament at Cincinnati, he survived his semi-final against Lleyton Hewitt
by margin of a third-set tiebreaker. Thus our pre-tournament Big Six consisted
of Federer, the others mentioned above (Nadal, Djokovic, Hewitt), plus Roddick
Two members of the Six stumbled early. Hewitt unexpectedly lost to Argentine
player Calleri in the second round. Nadal survived an uncomfortable opening
match amid knee trouble--a problem that had earlier led him to consider dropping
out of the tournament. Intensive treatment afterwards seemed to help, and Rafa
looked strong in overcoming French player Tsonga's power serving, stroking,
and volleying. But Spanish countryman David Ferrer produced superb mobility and
shotmaking to bring down the handicapped Nadal in a fourth-round four-setter.
Meanwhile Federer lost a set to the tall, unseeded American John Isner but
then solved Isner's difficult serving and net game. Davydenko advanced steadily
without loss of a set, and Roddick--aided by two mid-match retirements--reached
a quarter-final meeting with Roger.
The most harrowing--and probably also the most impressive--journey to the late
rounds was that of Novak Djokovic. The Serbian youth narrowly prevailed over
Czech veteran Stepanek in the second round in a match brilliantly played by
both men before a fully engaged evening crowd. Stepanek had been impressive
earlier in the month in Washington, where he extended Roddick in a split-setter.
Against Djokovic, Stepanek essentially equaled his younger rival in stroking,
movement, and variety, and was by far the more persistent in attacking net.
After nearly five hours, with Djokovic stepping up his game toward the end, the
Serb star captured the fifth-set tiebreaker in convincing fashion. The applause
was thunderous for both men.
After winning against del Potro in three sets, Djokovic again faced an
unusually dangerous opponent in the fourth round. Juan Monaco slugged away with
Novak for nearly four hours, moving superbly and showing intense competitive
mindset. Late in the match Novak seemed seriously fatigued and was clearly pacing
himself. His main superiority was in his first serve, which produced 14 aces
(against Monaco's three) and provided critical winning points when most needed.
It was over in four sets.
The young Serb's next two opponents were scarcely easier, but Djokovic
handled both of them--Carlos Moya and David Ferrer--in straight sets amid countless
points of brilliance on both sides of the net. Continuing the pattern seen all
summer, Novak's maturity and confidence seemed to grow in every outing.
Carlos Moya made a strong run at the Open before falling to Djokovic in straight sets.
ROGER'S RUN TO THE CROWN
Thus it was that Federer in turn would face the three other survivors of our
original Six--first Roddick, then Davydenko, and finally Djokovic. All three
were in excellent playing condition, all were filled with success from the early
rounds, and all would perform at what seemed their best, seriously
threatening Roger in repeated stretches. But Roger, who was at his absolute best only
occasionally through his final run, would not lose a set in defeating each of
In the quarter-final between Roger and Andy Roddick, both players tallied
more winners, even excluding aces, than unforced errors, though Roger's
winners-vs.-errors balance was considerably better. Total aces were about equal, though
Andy's first- and second-serve velocities both averaged more than 10 mph
faster than Roger's. It was enough to enable Andy to win all his serving games
through two sets, where Andy was serving at high percentage and Roger returning
conservatively. But Roddick could never break through Roger's superior
all-court play in games where Roger was serving. Roger won both tiebreakers, winning
four of Andy's eleven serving points, including a rare, potent serve-return
winner. Set three went to Roger after a nice run of superb play by Roger led to
the first service-break of the match in the set's sixth game. Federer, 76 76 62.
Nicolay Davydenko was a different kind of opponent--extremely strong in court
movement and shotmaking prowess, adequate but not superior in serving
strength. It was a strangely quiet match, the crowd not highly engaged, where
difficult winds made for conservative play in long stretches. The struggle was
essentially even in the first set, which ended abruptly when Nicolay, serving, made
two errors from thirty-all. The score stayed close in the third set also, where
serves were broken in eight of the twelve games--rather inexplicably, as the
winds had declined. Although he was clearly beaten, it had been a fine
tournament for Davydenko, whose burden included suspicion of involvement in a recent
betting scheme and who hopes to obtain Austrian citizenship. Federer, 75 61 75.
Nicolay Davydenko didn't lose a set at the Open until facing Federer in the semifinals.
Federer's final opponent, Djokovic, brought yet different mix of
strengths--serving ability comparable to Roger's, excellent court speed and
serve-returning quickness, relentless power in stroking from both sides like Roddick's with
excellent sense of placement, along with now-proven mental strengths pointing
toward match victories. He also brought the confidence of having beaten Roger
in Montreal a few weeks earlier.
The first set went quietly, both men playing carefully amid--once
again--difficult wind conditions. Roger was in his outwardly disinterested mode, and Novak
achieved early breaks of serve and then multiple match points in both first
and second sets. He collapsed badly late in set one but came back well in the
second, whereupon Roger began visibly stepping up his serving and stroking
power. Both men began hitting to the sides and corners more aggressively. (The
wind declined as evening set in.) Djokovic handled Roger's heavier game well,
fending off disaster except for two crucial near-aces by Roger midway in the
second-set tiebreak. The third set too was close, where Novak yielded the set's
only service break in the final game. It ended in a dismal drop-shot try by
Novak. Federer, 76 76 64.
Roger's newest Slam is his twelfth, and the missing Garros crown seems now
his only mandatory laurel (and perhaps a Davis Cup championship). With
clay-court champion Rafael Nadal now hurting, Roger's chances at age 26 seem inviting.
Much can now be expected of Djokovic, who is only 20. He has rapidly and
convincingly surpassed his contemporaries of a year ago--Murray and Gasquet. He has
proven himself the world's #2 hard-court player, and it seems likely that
with added experience his improvement will continue. It is hard to disagree that
greatness is at hand.
Extensive additional photography from the 2007 U.S. Open is available in the Tennis Server Pro Tennis Showcase.
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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.
Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular
competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75
singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four
years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where
the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington
Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history
of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A
tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award
from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.
Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Ray by using this form.