Character Essential on Court
September 1, 2008 -- Amelie Mauresmo had that kind of day. Her serve was off. She racked up 14 double faults in a two-set loss to Flavia Pennetta 6/3 6/0. For a player of her caliber -- a two-time Grand Slam champion -- Mauresmo's performance was distressful. Here's the odd thing, though. Mauresmo's first-serve percentage was 61% while Pennetta's was 42%. Peculiar? Not really. Because once the point started Pennetta fared better. She had half as many unforced errors -- 21 to Mauresmo's 40 -- and the Italian won more points on both her first and second serves. She only double faulted twice, too.
Mauresmo came to the U. S. Open hopeful and mentally rejuvenated, after her run to the semifinals at Pilot Pen Tennis last month. But her serve was shaky there, too, as if a harbinger of nightmares to come. Breaks of serves in her New Haven matches were as common as rain in a tropical jungle. Her head dropped too soon. Her hips rotated awkwardly. Her toss was off. And, her timing was rattled because of the poor consistency in her toss. No player can perform at an optimal level if the serve isn't grooving. The mind can't tolerate the errors when it intuitively understands the necessary standardÉ that the serve and return of serve are the two most important strokes in the game. If one's off the whole game could go because the mind bogs down in missed opportunities and, therefore, doesn't keep pace with the game as it moves forward.
Hopefully Mauresmo will take time to relax and regroup, watch video replays, pinpoint problems alongside her trusted coach Loic Courteau, then return to the game she fell in love with after watching her countryman and friend, Yannick Noah, win The French Open in 1983. Her fans would like that; and, the game of tennis needs her and her determination. Amelie is a leader in the women's game. Her versatility on court and her athleticism remain stalwarts of women's professional tennis.
Anna-Leon Groenefeld, the last remaining qualifier, lost to Dinara Safina today 7/5 6/0. Although the #6 seed Safina would have rather curled up in bed with a book today because of exhaustion, she persevered and found the answers she needed on court as the match progressed.
"I'm going to try what I can do today," Safina said in her after-match interview. "And slowly I started to feel like, okay, like I still can push myself."
Her perseverance worked beautifully along with her newly formed on-court patience and wisdom.
"I grew up I think a lot in the mind," Dinara began. "A year ago I would not be able to do these kind of things. I would already -- maybe even the match before against Baczinsky I would already lose. But somehow I started like to control better myself."
Dinara Safina will play Flavia Pennetta in the quarterfinals. The Russian is 4-0 against the Italian. But as Dinara said this afternoon, with regard to the possibility of one William's sister advancing to final after a number of years, "Well, there is always first time for everything in life." Her comment may be more prescient than she realizes.
Congratulations Sam Querrey! Congratulations for your positive outlook. For your willingness to take risks in the face of ultra wiggy topspin, Road Runner foot-speed, and a drive to win we have never seen demonstrated on a tennis court. Finally, congratulations Sam Querrey for taking a set from Rafael Nadal even though in the end when you shook hands with the Spaniard you did so knowing the score didn't go your way -- 6/2 5/7 7/6 (2) 6/3 -- today. You will be back. We can't wait.
Mardy Fish, an inspired man-on-court today, will play Rafa next. Nadal's match record against the American serve-and-volley player is 4-0. The last time they played was in the first round at Wimbledon in 2007. Much has changed since then. For both players. We are very familiar with Rafa's stellar year. However, this will be his first foray to the quarterfinals of the U. S. Open. Mardy has matured, too. Much of it occurring right here at this U. S. Open.
Like Querrey, Mardy Fish is unseeded. His run through the draw is noted by wins over qualifier Robert Smeets, Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, his friend James Blake in straight sets and, today, against Gael Monfils 7/5 6/2 6/2. This soon-to-be-married American has done himself proud, even if he doesn't make it to the semifinals. But, Mardy can't think of that now.
According to reports, Fish thinks he "'absolutely'" has confidence. He knows his style of play affronts Nadal's baseline grinding. Mardy knows he can't play the Spaniard's game. It isn't his gig. And, more importantly, it won't work against Nadal.
"'You've got to be able to finish points quickly,'" Mardy said in an interview with tennis reporter Kamakshi Tandon. "'He's going to last longer than anybody. He wants to keep the points as long as possible and run the guys down, kind of body blow after body blow. If he's on the other side of the net, I don't intend to let him do that.'"
Mardy Fish won 65% of his points at net today. With his big serve, height, and willingness to approach, who knows what could happen. His style will dictate to Rafa the need for him to produce accurate and efficient passing shots. In return the crowds will roar, as both men try their best to make it through to a first-ever semifinal at The U. S. Open.