First Week of Open Is History
August 30, 2008 -- Ernests Gulbis hasn't made it past the fourth round of the U.S. Open. Neither has Rafael Nadal, for that matter. But the lanky Latvian did all he could last night in a four-set Friday night encounter on Arthur Ashe Stadium, which initially left fans inordinately quiet. They didn't quite understand what was happening as Gulbis left American favorite Andy Roddick on his heels and without answers, after winning the first set 6/3.
"I felt like a kid out here playing against him in the first two sets," Andy said, in his post-match interview with Michael Barcan.
At three-games all in the second set, Gulbis broke Roddick riling the #8 seed enough that he crushed his racquet. Gulbis kept his cool and the break until he served for the set at 5/4. Here was one of the biggest moments of his early tennis-playing career. If he won the game, he'd have a two-sets-to-none lead. But, he didn't do it. Gulbis had served brilliantly in the first set -- 64%. In the second it plummeted to 49%. With the score now at 5/5 and hope alive for their hero, the crowd roared delighted the match had taken a turn.
The rest is history. Roddick won the next six games. Gulbis dragged the missed opportunity into his play. His first serve percentage fell another point to 48%. He did rally in the fourth set, hanging with the resurging Roddick. But at 5/6 he was broken and lost the match 3/6 7/5 6/2 7/5. His 20th birthday had arrived on less than a happy note. Roddick's 26th birthday, on the other hand, couldn't have started better.
Ernests Gulbis remains one of the best players on the horizon. He was the only player at Wimbledon this year to take Nadal to four sets, before the final. Gulbis made it to the quarterfinals at The French Open, too, when he lost to his friend Novak Djokovic. Gulbis's service motion is graceful and highly effective. He had 17 aces last night to Roddick's 20. However, Gulbis's forehand presents a problem. A split second before he strikes the ball his wrist twists slightly. This twitch reduces the accuracy of the shot because the margin for error narrows. If his timing is off a little, the shot sprays. Couple this problem with his extreme Western grip and the riskiness of the shot skyrockets. However, the problem can be corrected, hopefully. Last night, too, Gulbis showed us another bit of magic with his drop shots -- a smart selection from the predominantly baseline player. Of his droppers, Andy said, "He was getting me with them all night."
Saturday was a day for American tennis dominance. Venus and Serena Williams showed their mettle when they defeated their opponents in a combined match time of two hours and twenty-two minutes. Both Serena and Venus allowed only three games from their respective opponents Ai Sugiyama and Alona Bondarenko. In the round of sixteen, Venus plays Agnes Radwanska of Poland. They've played once before, Radwanska the winner in 2006 at a Tier III hard-court tournament that's leaps and bounds away from a Grand Slam arena.
American and big-server Sam Querrey defeated Ivo Karlovic in straight sets today 7/6 7/6 6/2, setting the stage for a round-of-sixteen match-up between the Californian and the #1 seed Rafael Nadal. In his press conference, Sam told reporters about his first encounter with Rafa. They'd started the match at 2 PM. With ESPN coming on air with the match at 3 PM, Sam tried to extend it so he could "get some ESPN time." If you can't win a match, you might as well get the publicity.
Around the world, Amelie Mauresmo ended Julie Coin's historic run at the U. S. Open, defeating the qualifier who sent Ana Ivanovic home, in straight sets 6/4 6/4. Mauresmo has not played in any other Grand Slam this year and came to the Open having made it to the semifinals at Pilot Pen Tennis. Today she won 88% of her first serve points in the first set and 80% in the second set.
Gael Monfils slid into more shots in his match against David Nalbandian on Louis Armstrong Stadium today than most Americans during the entire clay court season. As a junior in 2004, Monfils won three of the four Junior Grand Slams, losing in the final of the U. S. Open. Since then, his match results have been spotty, as expectations out-paced on-court realities. Monfils seemed to put more effort into his court antics and flashy shot making, than into solid stroke production and strategic efficiency. He has now hired Australian coach Roger Rasheed, Lleyton Hewitt's former coach. Rasheed only agreed to coach Monfils after hearing that the athlete was committed to on- and off-court training.
Today against Nalbandian, Monfils demonstrated brilliant athleticism, serving prowess, and a willingness to run down anything. He must have run at least ten miles during his 3-set victory over the Argentine -- 6/3 6/4 6/2 -- who looked disgusted, discouraged, and overwhelmed. From a man who has recorded wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, all in the same weeks of AMS tournaments in Madrid and Paris, his performance today was nothing less than lifeless. His footwork was non-existent. He committed forty-one unforced errors. And, his first-serve percentage for the match was 44%. David's fans must have been very disappointed with this match. Many in Louis Armstrong were, including what looked like Nalbandian himself.
Qualifier Anna-Lena Groenefeld defeated Alize Cornet, the #17 seed, in an upset today 6/4 7/5. Anna is the last remaining qualifier in the women's draws. Groenefeld, too, has bettered her best third-round record in 2005 by making her way to the round-of sixteen.