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September 13, 2010
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U.S. Open 2010 Review
by Ray Bowers
It began amid four days of brutal heat, humidity, and Sun. Spells of shifting winds helped break the misery for watchers but only further tormented the players, already struggling to find their best tennis. The conditions acted as an equalizer, contributing to a greater-than-usual number of close escapes and unexpected losses among the favorites.
Thus a total of six members of the high-seeded sixteen males were dismissed in the first two rounds, including Berdych and Davydenko among the first eight. Last year, in contrast, all members of the high-seeded sixteen succeeded in reaching round three.
The near-miss of Hurricane Earl, which passed offshore on the first weekend, brought only a half-hour of rain, but the aftermath on Middle Saturday meant extremely strong winds, severely affecting the play. Conditions were fine on Sunday but the high winds returned after that, hurting the quality of the tennis. The problem was at its worst in the middle of the second week and persisted until the last Saturday. Finally, after all that, rains on final Sunday caused a one-day postponement of the men's singles final.
The winds made serving measurably more difficult. Aces in the last four rounds were less frequent than at any of the last four U.S. Opens, indeed fewer than at any Slam of 2009 or 2010. But the effect did not carry into the winning of points and games by servers, where the percentages held slightly above the normal. Net approaching also was about as frequent as usual.
The usual leaders of late -- France, Spain, and the U.S. -- headed the early tally of match wins among the various male contingents. The American men had regularly finished ahead in past U.S. Opens, but now after the first round of men's singles it was France with 12 wins, Spain 11, and U.S. 7. Then when Mathieu, Clement, Gasquet, and Monfils all advanced on the first day of the second round, it looked as if the French advantage would continue. But on the second day of second-round play, Friday, four members of the Armada knocked out French opponents, while Nadal and three other Spanish players also advanced. With Tsonga not having entered and with Roddick already ousted, Spain's clear-cut lead in the tally seemed all but conclusive.
Meanwhile the Russians took command in the early women's tally, though the possibility remained that late strength in doubles could lift the Americans ahead.
WOMEN'S SINGLES -- TOP QUARTER
In this quarter were two plausible tournament champions -- Caroline Wozniacki, 20, winner of the summer-long U.S. Open Series and, in the absence of Serena Williams because of foot injury, the top-seeded player here at the Open, and Maria Sharapova, a former Open champion, now age 23. Maria in August had shown serving prowess and all-around power approaching that of her past best. The fast courts at the Open seemed likely to favor Maria's power, attacking game.
Both Wozniacki and Sharapova successfully reached their expected fourth-rounder on Monday, Labor Day, carried on CBS late-afternoon tv. Not surprisingly it was Maria ripping away using the full power of her wiry 6-2 frame, seeking winners and dominance in the rallies. Caroline responded with softer stroking, rarely going for winners, showing excellent patience and stamina in the many long rallies. Maria seemed to relish her target practice, but her serving toss was troubled by the strong wind and when she abruptly delivered three consecutive double faults she lost serve in game four. Maria shortly equalized the service-break count but then gave back the advantage in game eight with errors and another double fault. First set to Wozniacki.
The pattern persisted, the tall princess striking flat rockets, often aiming close to the lines, meanwhile scoring on several stellar drop shots and coming to net more than occasionally. (For the match Sharapova won 16 of 18 net approaches.) The younger princess played safer using overspin, staying in back court, but Caroline was also increasing her own forceful play, sometimes making Maria move about the court as much as Caroline herself. Both played with excellent grit and intelligence. But the victory went to Caroline, in essence because her counter-stroking ability neutralized the Sharapova extreme power, forcing Maria to excessive risk. Wozniacki d. Sharapova, 63 64.
Wozniaki next met Dominka Cibulkova, 21 -- short in stature but long in competitive fire and stinging ground strokes, having just beaten former Open champion Kuznetsova. The extreme winds of Wednesday were at their peak. Caroline was the first to adjust and ran off the first set. But as both players learned how to cope with the wind, it was Cibulkova whose more aggressive style began to take effect. The score reached five games all in a tense second set. But Cibulkova's harder and flatter deliveries produced errors outnumbering Wozniacki's in that last five or ten minutes. Wozniacki d. Cibulkova, 62 75.
There had been no strong favorite in this quarter. Highest seeded was Jelena Jankovic, whose recent record had been disappointing. Vera Zvonareva was next, having reached the final round at this year's Wimbledon and winner over Clijsters recently in Montreal. The quarter also included two younger stars -- Agnieszka Radwanska, 21, whose controlled game seemed to lack forcefulness, and Yanina Wickmayer, 20, a final-four member at U.S. Open 09.
Of the aforementioned four, only Zvonareva made it to the final match of the quarter, doing so impressively, without loss of a set. Her opponent in that last match was Kaia Kanepi, 25, from Estonia, who had beaten Jankovic and Wickmayer. Amid unrelenting strong wind, Zvonareva played with extreme patience, stroking at three-fourths power mainly using the middle third of opponent's court. Kanepi was the more forceful, flatter stroker, but the wind raised her risk of error, so that Vera's caution carried the day. Zvonareva d. Kanepi, 63 64.
Two superstars, both heavy hitters, seemed destined to meet in the final match of this quarter. But Victoria Azarenka, 21, who had been picked by some to win the tournament, collapsed early in her second match apparently because of a head injury sustained during practice.
Victoria's premature exit left Venus Williams, a two-time past champion at the Open now aged 30, the solid favorite to capture the quarter. In her early matches Venus convincingly upheld that honor, moving and driving the ball to achieve the full effect of her physique and athleticism. Meanwhile Francesca Schiavone, who had won Garros 10 but shown poor results since, also advanced impressively. In their meeting on Second Tuesday, as expected Venus was the heavier server and striker, Francesca the more intriguing in her athleticsm and movement. Many of the points were highly contested, and the game scores stayed close. But Venus's bigger guns prevailed when it counted most. V. Williams d. Schiavone, 76 64.
This was the quarter of defending champion Kim Clijsters, now 27. Kim moved through her first four matches without loss of a set, including a comfortable victory over a recently surging Ana Ivanovic. Meanwhile Samantha Stosur, this year's Garros runner-up, fulfilled her first-eight seeding by saving four match points and then prevailing late at night against Dementieva.
In the final match of the quarter Stosur started well against an initially erratic Clijsters. But Kim, seldom temporizing in her weight of shot, gradually cut down her errors, thereby winning the first set and positioning herself to take the second. But a run of fine stroking by Samantha, whose hitting now equaled Kim's in pace and direction, allowed the Aussie to equalize at one-set-all.
Perhaps it was the gusty winds or perhaps both players were tiring -- Sam from her diffiicult road earlier in the week, Kim still below her peak fitness after years away from the tour and relatively limited activity since. Probably both factors explained the run of erratic play that next ensued. Neither player could hold serve for the first six games of set three, where all games were brief and marked mainly by error-making. At the finish it was Kim who rediscovered her consistency, closing out strongly against a still-erratic Sam. Clijsters d. Stosur 64 57 63.
The summertime magic of Caroline Wozniacki ended on a breezy, autumn-like Second Friday afternoon, destroyed by Vera Zvonareva's moderately aggressive but relentless striking. Caroline seemed nervous at the outset, largely unable to find her usual consistency as a way to break Vera's pressure. Zvonareva answered any too-soft offering by Caroline with freshened firepower. Caroline tried to step up her own forcefulness, resulting in some marvelous points. But Vera -- covering court better than Caroline, who sometimes seemed slow -- showed superior volleying, meanwhile adjusting to the difficult changes in headwind or tailwind with each change of end. Caroline equalized the second set at two games all, but Vera closed matters by winning four of the last five games, twice breaking serve against little resistance. The surprising absence of Wozniacki's usual airtight tennis was probably owed in part to the wind and the court's fast bounce. Zvonareva d. Wozniacki, 64 63.
The wind, still largely from the south though now slightly weaker, was more obviously influential in the second semi-final. Both players seemed able to avoid overhitting while playing from the upwind side. At first Venus Williams seemed better able than Kim Clijsters to handle matters from the north, her stronger serve penetrating the headwind better and she better able to answer Kim's wind-aided attacks. Kim surrendered the first set's only break of serve when serving into the wind in the seventh game. First set to Venus.
There were four service breaks in the 12 games preceding the tiebreaker in set two. All four breaks came with server facing the wind. The tiebreaker game began with Clijsters on the more difficult, downwind side. But the first four points all went to Kim, notably because of double-faults by Venus on the second and third points. In short order then, Kim made it one-set-all.
When Clijsters contributed consecutive double-faults, playing against the wind, the third set reached four-games-all. But Kim broke back in game nine, scoring a backhand pass and two lob winners into the wind against a net-rushing Venus. Finally Kim, now serving with the wind, closed out the last game nicely. For the full match Venus led in aces 9-1, and her first-serve velocities averaged 111 mph against Kim's 96. But Kim had more winners aside from aces, and also fewer unforced errors. Clijsters d. V. Williams 46 76 64.
With the wind no longer a factor, Kim had little trouble against Zvonareva in their Saturday-evening final. Kim moved ahead, breaking serve in the sixth game when Vera narrowly missed several attacking shots. Still, there had been little hint of the disaster that lay ahead for Vera. From then on, Kim would lose only one more game, delivering a endless stream of well-stroked shots to the sides and angles, even as her own mobility denied Vera every bid to recover the initiative. Even when Vera managed a forceful stroke sequence, Kim seemed always there to rip back an accurate reply. Frustrated, Vera lost emotional composure. She recovered midway in the second set and thereafter played strongly to the finish, but Kim would not falter in her run to victory. Clijsters d. Zvonareva, 62 61.
The warm post-match scene, which included Kim's husband and small daughter, was similar to that twelve months before. Kim's triumph was her third U.S. Open championship, to go with four runner-up appearances at Slams and two Slam doubles crowns. It also lifted her into position for a place at the season-ending championships in Doha and rekindled her chances for finishing the year ranked at #1.
MEN'S SINGLES -- TOP QUARTER
This was the quarter of top-seeded Rafael Nadal -- winner at Garros and Wimbledon, far ahead in the year-to-date points race. In early upsets, Ljubicic lost to teenaged American Harrison, and highly-regarded Gulbis lost to unseeded French player Chardy. Thus when the recent winner in Washington, Nalbandian, lost to Spain's Verdasco, it happened that the surviving four members of the quarter were all from Spain.
It was highly watchable tennis when Madrider Fernando Verdasco, the taller at 6-1 and younger at 26, faced Valencia resident David Ferrer, 5-9 and age 28. Past performance favored Verdasco slightly, but David played with surprising aggressiveness, winning the first two violent sets. Verdasco's height and strength advantage spelled a clear edge for Fernando in aces, serving velocities, and extreme power in the forehand, all translating into ultimate victory in a fifth-set tiebreaker.
Thus Nadal, who reached the quarter's final match by beating countryman Lopez, there faced fellow lefty Verdasco. Rafa had won all ten of their previous tour meetings, but memories remained of the pair's great five-setter at Australian Open 09, where Fernando's potent attacking forehand nearly stopped Rafa from becoming the eventual tournament winner.
Fernando started well amid the winds, early-on breaking the Nadal serve, previously inviolate during the fortnight. But Rafa's relentless perfection soon turned matters, and the straight-set verdict unfolded as expected. Nadal d. Verdasco, 75 63 64.
This quarter too produced surprising early outcomes, beginning when Michael Llodra, 30, behind a marvelous net-rushing style, defeated seventh-seeded power-hitting Tomas Berdych. Then on Middle Sunday, it was fourth-seeded Andy Murray who was beaten in four sets by Swiss player Stan Wawrinka.
Against Murray, Wawrinka played firm, moderately aggressive tennis, showing a surprisingly potent first serve along with a remarkable ability to nail winners into the corners with almost unfailing accuracy. Murray managed to come from behind to win the first set in a tiebreaker. But late in set two as his lead began to slip away, Andy became consumed with angry language and behavior. Although Andy's fuming gradually subsided, there was little break in Stan's fine serving, stroking, and mobility. Andy needed to raise his game, finding his absolute best. But it looked as though his distractions spoiled his doing so. Wawrinka d. Murray, 67 76 63 63.
Meanwhile, 12th-seeded Mikhail Youzney soldiered through the draw, working his way through his first four matches, all but one of them split-setters. He fell behind Wawrinka in the quarter's final, two sets to one, slightly outgunned by the stronger serving of the Swiss star. But his greater variety and perhaps better stamina told at the finish. Youzhny d. Wawrinka, 36 76 36 63 63.
Novak Djokovic had serious trouble in the first round against countryman Troicki amid searing heat and a spell of tiredness afflicting Novak. But the Serbian star recovered his power and mobility, eventually prevailing in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Meanwhile, Davydenko and Roddick both lost in the second round to unseeded opponents. Thus despite Djokovic's narrow escape, the removal of the two next-highest-seeded players in the quarter plainly improved Novak's chances.
Novak's play improved as the Serbian then defeated American Mardy Fish, who had been having his best-ever summer. Novak's opponent in the final match of the quarter would be French player Gael Monfils, who had in turn beaten the two players who had beaten Davydenko and Roddick, respectively.
The winds were at their worst, causing both Djokovic and Monfils to release their frustrations ostentatiously. Monfils fairly quickly settled into a defensive mode, partly from his usual bent and probably also in hopes of cutting down his own wind-induced errors. Replying to Gael's soft-balling, Novak often seized the initiative, usually to good effect, except when a more-than-occasional volleying error by Novak intruded. Also, the French player's rope-a-dope tactics caused Gael to expend by far the greater energy. Djokovic d. Monfils, 76 61 62.
The early upset of Cilic by Kei Nishikori, 20, in five sets in effect assured an eventual match-up of Federer and Soderling to settle this quarter.
The confrontation took place on Second Wednesday evening amid the severe wind conditions that prevailed most of that date. Neither Soderling nor Federer seemed as bothered as Wozniacki and Cibulkova or Djokovic and Monfils shortly before, at least until the wind velocities increased at about mid-match. Both men played with nearly full power on nearly every shot amid little feeling-out of one other. Both were defensively excellent, answering opponent's rockets to the corners with counter-blows often just as potent. Federer led in aces, 18-2, where the effect of the wind on Soderling's high toss diluted his serving effectiveness.
The deciding service break in all three sets often followed one or two points of absolute magnificence by Roger. Federer d. Soderling, 64 64 75.
Super Saturday arrived sunny and cool, the troublesome wind much diminished. For Mikhail Youzhny, having come this far, the reservoir of emotion or energy was now dry. For Rafa, it was a pleasant afternoon in the park, no hurry. Nadal d. Youzhny, 62 63 64.
What came next was entirely different. For nearly four hours they battled -- furious rallies, both men hitting screamers into the corners and sides, yet both so strong defensively that most points went on and on. Federer won the first and third sets, unveiling his full bag of attacking tennis, coming forward with resolve and often, showing his magnificent volleying and overhead skills. Novak Djokovic answered matters brilliantly, extending the rallies tenaciously, countering with powerful thrusts of his own, and -- especially -- yielding few errors that would mean easy points for Roger.
The second and fourth sets went to Novak, in both cases comfortably when Roger coasted upon falling behind. It was two sets all.
The fifth set brought sustained fury, both men utterly determined, both playing at their highest level. With the violence there was deftness too, as both players teased the other with occasional drop shots, typically opening the way for close-in exchanges. Novak seemed the more winded after long points, but there was never sign of tiredness when the ball was in play. Roger attained two match points to break serve in game ten. In both cases Novak responded with brilliance, equaling his finest tennis of the day. One game later it was Roger in trouble, and by a single missed forehand the outcome turned to the younger player.
Roger's determination had been strong. He was the more aggressive player in the odd-numbered sets, ahead in aces, serving velocities, and net approaches. The ultimate margin was narrow, contained in the drama of the concluding minutes. But what made the victory possible was Novak's edge in powerful and relentless stroking along with his superb mobility throughout. Djokovic d. Federer, 57 61 57 62 75.
The rain-delayed final began in dry, calm conditions on Third Monday afternoon. Rafael Nadal held the career edge over Novak Djokovic, though Novak had won their last three meetings and led by 7-3 in past wins on hard courts. Our formula for predicting outcomes at the Open made Novak the slight favorite, his recent head-to-head success overbalancing Rafa's weighted 14-month performance. The postponement seemed likely to enhance Novak's chances, having alowed him extra rest after the five-set marathon against Federer on Saturday.
As now seemed normal in meetings of the elites, from the outset there was little holding back by either player. Both delivered occasional aces, and both could crush first-strike immediate winners off too-soft serve returns that landed even slightly short. But more often, a point was decided in thunderous exchanges from the baseline, delivered at close to full power, both men maneuvering one another from side to side. The extreme ability of both in movement and in counter-punching was similar to that seen in the Federer-Djokovic semi except that error-making was even rarer. Rafa's deliveries carried the greater topspin, but Novak's flatter shots penetrated faster, could elicit weak replies more effectively, and could end points more quickly, albeit at slightly greater risk of error. Drop shots occasionally intruded, usually initiating a sequence demanding agility and quickness and accompanied by shrieks of admiration from the gallery.
The first set went to Rafa, and Novak broke early in the second. For Rafa there would be no temporary drawing back, however, no willingness to concede the set thereby saving energy. Rafa managed to reach four-games-all, but then the rains reappeared, giving Novak two hours to freshen from his accumulating expenditures of strength. When play resumed, Novak claimed the set.
Rafa broke early in set three. Novak would not back away, expending extreme efforts and managing to hang just one service-break behind as the games unfolded. Again and again Novak fended off adverse break points. Novak remained generally the heavier hitter, but Rafa too was often the aggressor. Holding serve in the set's final game was not easy for Rafa.
That proved the limit for Novak, who narrowly held serve to start set four and then won only one more game thereafter. Favored by his gentler road to the final match, Rafa's remarkable kind of tennis had once again carried the date. Nadal d. Djokovic, 64 57 64 62.
It was Nadal's ninth Slam triumph, three more than Federer at the same age. In winning his first U.S. Open, Rafa became the seventh player in tennis history to achieve the Career Grand Slam. His place atop this year's final rankings became assured, his status among history's five or six greatest players seemingly attained.
TALLY OF NATIONS
Spain's male contingent, led by Nadal, preserved its early lead in matches won. U.S.A. overtook France in second place, lifted by the triumphs of the Bryans in men's doubles and Bob Bryan in mixed. Here was the final men's tally:
Spain, 37.5 match wins
Meanwhile the early Russian lead among the women gradually eroded as Americans Huber, King, Shaughnessy, Mattek-Sands, and Raymond scored good success in doubles. (Vania King won the women's doubles, with Shvedova of Kazakhstan), and Liezel Huber won the mixed, with Bob Bryan.) The overall winning-most nation was not determined until Russian Zvonareva won and American Venus Williams lost in the singles semis. Here was the final count:
Russia, 30.5 match wins
The U.S. women had outscored the Russkayas at U.S. Opens 2008 and 2009. The new verdict restored the Russian primacy of 2003-2007.
We identify the tournament's overachievers by comparing each player's success with expectations as indicated in the official seedings.
The top female overachiever was the Slovak star Dominka Cibulkova. Unseeded, Dominika reached the final eight in singles. This equated to an overachievement of +3 levels (i.e., she exceeded her seeding by attaining the rounds of 32, 16, and 8).
The second highest overachiever was Vera Zvonareva, who was seeded in the top eight and reached the semi-finals in singles, thus earning credit for +2 levels of overachievement. In doubles she and partner Vesnina were seeded in top 16 pairs, and they actually reached the final eight. That +1 overachievement is divided, half to each partner, so that Vera's combined singles and doubles score comes to +2.5. (Four other women each scored +2.)
Our formula gives an unexpected outcome on the men's side. Seven different males achieved +2 overachievement levels in singles. Doubles lifts Tommy Robredo, where Tommy with partner Granollers were seeded in the first 16 pairs but actually attained the final four. As his share of the partnership's two levels of overachievement, Robredo gets half credit, or +1. Thus his combined score is +3.
Tommy's score is equaled by another player who did not even compete in the singles. Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan with partner Bopanna of India, seeded in the top 16, reached the final round in doubles, losing to the Bryans, thus overachieving by three levels. Also he and partner Peschke of Czech Republic, unseeded, reached the rounds of 8, 4, and 2 in mixed, also overachieving by three levels. Qureshi's +1.5 and +1.5 shares give him a total score of +3, tying Robredo.
Qureshi's pairing with Bopanna occasioned warm reflections, as relations between their two countries have been troubled, at times hostile. The ambassadors from Pakistan and India sat together during the final-round doubles match with the Bryans. Several years ago Qureshi partnered a player from Israel, bringing similar notice.
For those who dream that international tennis, indeed international sport, can contribute in the betterment of human society, there can be few better cases.
--Ray Bowers, Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.
2010 US Open Daily Report and Photography Archives from Tennis Server:
September 13, 2010 US Open: Men's Final - Nadal Wins Career Grand Slam & Ninth Major - Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic
September 12, 2010 US Open: Men's Juniors Final - Such Excitement
September 10, 2010 US Open: Zvonareva Shocks Wozniacki, Clijsters Scrapes by Williams - Vera Zvonareva, Caroline Wozniacki, Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams
September 9, 2010 US Open: Them - Rafael Nadal, Fernando Verdasco, Mikhail Youzhny, Stanislas Wawrinka
September 8, 2010 US Open: Below Par - Novak Djokovic, Gael Monfils, Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Roger Federer, Robin Soderling, Vera Zvonareva, Kaia Kanepi
September 7, 2010 US Open: A Precious Win - Stanislas Wawrinka, Sam Querrey, Venus Williams, Francesca Schiavone
September 6, 2010 US Open: The Important Stuff - Novak Djokovic, Mardy Fish, Robin Soderling, Albert Montanes
September 5, 2010 US Open: Seeing The Light - Rafael Nadal, Gilles Simone, Fernando Verdasco, David Nalbandian, Francesca Schiavone, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
September 4, 2010 US Open: Favorites - Mardy Fish, Arnaud Clement, Maria Sharapova, Beatrice Capra, Jurgen Melzer, Juan Carlos Ferrero
September 3, 2010 US Open: The Virtual U.S. Open - Ryan Harrison, Sergiy Stakhovsky, John Isner, Marco Chiudinelli
September 2, 2010 US Open: Way Below The Radar - Roger Federer, Caroline Wozniacki, Kai-Chen Chang, Andreas Beck, Robin Soderling, Taylor Dent
September 1, 2010 US Open: The Word - Andy Murray, Lukas Lacko, Venus Williams, Rebecca Marino, Gael Monfils, Igor Andreev
August 31, 2010 US Open: What's Age Got To Do With It? Arnaud Clement, Marcos Baghdatis, Novak Djokovic, Mardy Fish, Jan Hajek, Viktor Troicki
August 30, 2010 US Open: And Away We Go - Melanie Oudin, Kim Clijsters, Andy Roddick, Olga Savchuk, Greta Arn, Stephane Robert
August 29, 2010 US Open: Who's In, Who's Out
August 26, 2010 Between the Lines: U.S. Open Indicators
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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.