03 September, 2011
US Open Day 5 - 3 Thoughts
I took the day off actually attending the US Open today and experienced the tournament like the rest of the world, via TV. Of course, the day I pretend that a major tennis tournament isn't happening seven miles from my couch turns out to be the day I've been waiting for all week. Big upsets, barnburner matches and breakthroughs marked day five, here's Blacklabel Tennis' thoughts on the day.
You can only walk the tightrope for so long. That's ultimately the story of 3rd seeded Maria Sharapova's upset loss today at the hands of an unyielding 26th seed, Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. After Sharapova dropped the first set, the commentators began a desperate incantation "Sharapova is 12-0 this year in three set matches." Pam Shriver must have said it at least six times during the final set of the match. First of all, anyone televising the US Open had to be praying the Siberian siren would get to 13-0. In a women's draw utterly devoid of star power, Maria is pretty much the only player outside of Serena who's anything approaching the household name status of Martina or Chris Evert, both of whom are commentating on the Open this year.
Looking just at the tennis though, Sharapova is now 41-11 this year with losses to such leading lights as Greta Arn and Galina Voskoboeva. Before her second rounder, I commented "Who knows what they're going to get from Sharapova these days" and that remains the story. She was dominant in that second round versus Anastasia Yakimova, but self-destructed against Pennetta who just would not go away. Sharapova's serve is still prone to maddening breakdowns at inopportune moments and her ground game falls with it. Always less mobile than the other top players, Sharapova's success depends on the success of her first-strike, a huge serve setting up a put away groundie (preferably on the backhand side). She littered up the stat sheet yesterday with 12 double faults and 60 unforced errors versus 30 winners in the ugly 2 1/2 hour contest and somehow still found herself on the verge of pulling out the win.
A close up of Sharapova at 0-30 in the final game of the match betrayed her emotions, she was visibly devastated by the impending loss and more likely by her inability to find her best stuff when it matters. Since winning the US Open in 2006, Sharapova has not been past the fourth round. For a player who's been at the very apex of the game, playing at anything other than your best level is always disconcerting. Maria Sharapova's famous fight is still there, but her game comes and goes. And when it goes, so does she.
Andy Murray played a wild one yesterday against Robin Haase of the Netherlands, and although Haase played well to snatch the first set in a tiebreak, leaving the Scottish No. 4 seed reeling, I couldn't help feeling that I'd seen this movie before and knew how it ended. Last year at Wimbledon, Robin Haase played a virtually identical match against then World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, also in the 2nd round.
US Open 2011 scoreline: Murray d. Haase - 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4
Wimbledon 2010 scoreline: Nadal d. Haase - 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3
Seriously, the matches were essentially twins, from the first set shocker, to the fourth set bagel, to the fifth set (almost) comeback, and they ended the same with the 41st ranked Dutchman shaking hands with the superstar as the loser.
24 year old Haase appears to be peaking, winning his first title this year on the post-Wimbledon clay of Kitzbuhel and twice extending Big Four players deep into fifth sets, but what I notice are the bagels. In both cases, after three sets Haase led two sets to one; regardless of how set three plays out that's a winnable position going into the fourth, both times he was bageled. Yes, the better player raised his game both times; but Haase ultimately was too scared to finish. No such issue for Murray, who, tested, will move on to face a player with no fear of finishing the deed, 25th seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
On the other hand, you have a guy who did get it done yesterday, in Donald Young. It feels like Donald Young has been around forever. This is his 7th US Open main draw, after all. It feels like he's been a disappointment forever too and he and his parents have been at odds with the USTA forever as well, most recently after a profanity-laced tweet over not being gifted a Roland Garros reciprocal wildcard he apparently believed that he deserved, getting his ranking into the top 100 just after the cutoff date for entry. For the moment though, all of that is (a lot of) water under the bridge. Donald Young gritted out a big win yesterday, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) over the No. 14 seed Stanislas Wawarinka of Spain.
After Young's first match, I tweeted that I felt this match was winnable for Young and I'll tell you why. First off, to be candid, I just don't like, trust or believe in Wawrinka as a top tier player. I don't know him, I'm sure he's a great guy, but I half-jokingly call him "Stani-claus" because every time he seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough, he gives it back. I love his beautful backhand, he's a physical specimen who looks like he could play a four hour match and come back for more, but he just doesn't "bring it" in the way you would expect from a top player. Wawrinka reached No. 9 in the world on the back of a semi in Barcelona and final in Rome in 2008, then proceeded to backpedal furiously, only making one semi the of the year (at home in Gstaad) and ending that year and the next without so much as sniffing another final. He has three career titles and is most famous for being "The Other Guy" in Swiss tennis, winning Olympic gold in doubles with Roger Federer.
Donald Young is also not a player anyone would call consistent. He's never sniffed the top 40 let alone the top 10, but the American lefty is on the verge of a career high ranking, had a career best win over Andy Murray earlier this year and had a deep run in Washington a few weeks ago. Not to mention, he was playing at home in the close confines of the USTABJKNTC's quasi-completed Court 17 where local support could shower down on him.
Down 2 sets to 1, a losing position where Young would've been forgiven for being satisfied with playing above his ranking and testing a top 20 player, he buckled down, got the break in the set, served his way into a tiebreaker in the fifth and ultimately dominated the final stage of the match. What does this mean for Donald Young? A date with the "tennis elderly" 32 year old veteran Juan Ignacio Chela in the 3rd round. Is it winnable? Yes, Chela's best results have come on the clay and despite his 24 seeding, he's not a viable threat to win the tournament. Can Young go in a hole like he did against Wawrinka and pull out a win against Chela? Not likely. The kid's got work to do if he wants to make a career best fourth round in Flushing.