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    Serena's Evil Twin

    The US Open has played out on the men's side more or less as expected - the top four seeds made it to the quarterfinals and the top two seeds made it to the finals. Mardy Fish and Andy Roddick had decent runs, but lost to Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Rafa Nadal. Tsonga could not beat Federer this time. The former teen phenom Donald Young had a good run but eventually lost to Andy Murray. In his bio, Hardcourt Confidential, Patrick McEnroe hinted at the stormy relationship he had with Young's parents, claiming that they demanded far more resources than USTA player development had to give. But as a broadcaster PMac had only positives for Young.

    In the second semifinal, Nadal handled Andy Murray in four sets of long rallies, but Djokovic is only in the final after gambling on making risky returns and denying two fifth set match points on Federer's serve. Federer looked masterful in the first two sets, winning 7-6, 9-7 in the tiebreak, and 6-4, but suddenly looked a step slow in the third set. Taking it easy for a set is not unknown, but Fed also looked out of sorts in the fourth set. (I found out later he did the same thing last year.) Roger did find enough strength to avoid losing the set 1-6 on his serve, and then pushed Novak's service game to deuce, but Djokovic tied the match at 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

    Fed stepped it up in the fifth set, breaking Djokovic at love to serve at 5-3, and going up double match point, 40-15 on his own serve. Novak rifled a good Federer serve back with a crosscourt forehand to save the first match point, then seemed more concerned with getting applause then defending the next point. At 40-30, Fed hit a better serve into Djokovic's body, but Novak returned a hard, flat backhand that Federer bounced off the net cord and wide. Federer fired one ace to save a break point, but double-faulted the game away and visibly slumped. Last year Djokovic also saved two match points - but on his own serve. It then seemed inevitable that Novak would find a way to the final, and he won the next four games to win 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

    Djokovic plays Nadal in this afternoon's final.

    On the women's side, I expected Maria Sharapova to go much deeper, but she lost to Flavia Pennetta in the third round. Pennetta lost to unseeded Angelique Kerber in the quarters. Samantha Stosur survived three-set matches again both Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko. Stosur looked good beating Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3 and Kerber in three sets to reach the final. Caroline Wozniacki's defensive game outlasted a serious offensive challenge from 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round, but Serena Williams ushered her quickly off the court in the semifinal, 6-2, 6-4. Serena blew through everyone in the field and I fully expected she would beat Stosur in straight sets.

    But after the first three games, it was apparent that the Serena who showed up on Sunday was not in good form. Her serves were strong, but she was otherwise sluggish, hitting shots late. Mary Carillo reported that Serena hadn't gone to sleep until 2:30 AM, (the NY Post reports 4:30 AM) but I wondered when she woke up. Stosur broke for 2-1, and soon was serving for the first set at 5-2. I told my wife, "this score should get Serena's attention."

    Serena did perk up a bit. With Stosur ahead 40-30, set point, Serena crushed a forehand that Stosur could just nick wide. But, and here's the problem, Serena yelled, "C'mon!" or something, really loud, before Stosur could have hit the ball. I wouldn't appreciate my opponent doing that, and in fact it is against the rules - being a "hindrance" - so the chair umpire gave the point and game to Stosur.

    From the booth, Carillo observed that shouting during a point was bad form (although grunting is not), while John McEnroe opined that the ump should have called a let (play the point over). From courtside Mary Jo Fernandez chimed in that the referee had confirmed that the call was correct. JMac repeated his opinion until his former doubles partner Carillo took him to task for his past antics, sympathizing with, "the poor mooks on the other side of the net." Hearing that was actually the best part of the match.

    Back on court was almost like 2009, as Serena harangued and pointed at the chair ump, except that she didn't curse or threaten anyone. The crowd cheered as Serena then played better, and booed Stosur, who predictably played worse. Serena broke Stosur, and briefly led 2-1, but her body couldn't sustain the effort. Serena wasted more energy, and lost the crowd, berating the chair ump ("Don't even look at me!"), while Stosur eventually reasserted her game and won 6-2, 6-3.

    I don't know if Serena's foot was hurting or if she was just worn out, but I found myself considering Doc Cleveland's Palin for Prez article, in which he suggests that Sarah was looking for a face-saving default from actually running. I briefly wondered if Williams knew she couldn't win that day, and was looking for some way out. But what happened strikes me more as Serena looking for someone to blame. She accused the chair umpire of being the same official that had defaulted her in 2009 (she wasn't). The Williamses aren't quitters but they have been blamers.

    Richard Williams has often suggested that the white tennis establishment was against him and his daughters, and both women have pulled out of at least one tournament where they perceived overt racism. To be sure, a lot of people have been against them, and if the usenet boards are any indication, there was overt racism. Richard Williams butted heads with and bypassed the junior circuit, making no friends in the process. His daughters played with a stony face to the tennis world, refusing to be quietly polite and dress the part like, say Chanda Rubin or Mal Washington - instead just wearing whatever they felt like wearing, and winning whenever and wherever they felt like playing. They got a stony reception at first, and suffered endless predictions of imminent failure or early burnout, but could not be ignored after dominating the majors for over a decade.

    Today, TV commenters desperately want to present Venus and Serena as American tennis heroes, and on some level they want to be acknowledged as such, but while Venus seems in control of herself now, Serena's emotions are still raw and close to the surface. She can calmly claim to be playing for the memory of 9-11 in one breath and in the next, frostily warn the ump to turn around and go back when she sees her coming down the hallway.



    Novak Djokovic: The Shot and The Confrontation

    One way to think about losing a tennis match, and specifically to think about the pain and disappointment of losing a great, tense, five-set tennis match the way Roger Federer did on Saturday, is to imagine yourself walking in to talk to the media afterward. Imagine that you have just spent several hours doing a physically exhausting, phenomenally difficult thing; that many thousands of people, and several television cameras, were watching you do this thing; that you could not look up while doing it without seeing a giant image of yourself hovering overhead; that your entire life revolves around this thing to the point that most of your waking hours are consumed by your obsessive work toward the goal of doing it successfully; that this has been the case since you were very young, so that succeeding in moments such as the one you have just been through is effectively the only purpose you have ever known; that you have just done the aforementioned thing at such a high level that almost no one in the history of the world could claim to have done it better; that you failed anyway; and that you failed because of an outrageous bit of bad luck, which came out of nowhere and upended all your work at precisely the moment when you thought you had succeeded. There: Now ready to answer some questions?

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