Donal's picture

    Setting Stage for the US Open

    ESPN Classic was showing a 1980 US Open Men's semi final last night, and I happened to catch the fourth set. I remembered watching the other semi in which Bjorn Borg came back from two sets down against Johann Kriek, 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 but I didn't remember this match between Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. The idea that Kriek might actually take out Borg was amazing at the time. Kriek was muscular - he looked like a mini Lou Ferrigno - and fast, but no one was as fast as Borg.

    It was always tough watching Mac play Connors because neither man seemed to be playing well. Mac channeled Ashe in feeding Connors off-pace, junk balls to force Connors to generate his own pace. Connors, meanwhile, often returned Mac's twisty serves at his ankles. So both men made a lot of errors, and looked even crankier than usual. Maybe it was the tight shorts.

    While I enjoyed that era I am looking forward to the US Open starting at Flushing Meadow next Monday, probably in the wake of Hurricane Irene. I want to see if Novak Djokovic can win his third major of the year in a field with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, and whether any of the women can defeat a somewhat healthy Serena Williams. The NY Times posted a very good article, The Fierce Intimacy of Tennis Rivalries, just a few days ago.

    ... on some level that can only be called existential, the very best touring tennis pros have only one another to coax them to greatness on court, to potentially complete them in the minds of fans and to help players apprehend and countenance the aloneness that is at the heart of professional singles tennis, not only on the court but in their itinerant lives, their competitive hearts, their tightly strung minds. To be a great tennis player is to need a rival.


    To this fan, the greatest rivalry was the one between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova: 16 years; 80 matches, including 8 semis and 14 finals in Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open); and a mess (and I mean a mess) of social implication and complication along the way. It is true, though, that many of the most compelling rivalries have been on the men’s side over the years, and that women’s tennis today not only is without a serious rivalry but is in a who-wants-it? quandary, with a No. 1 player, the young Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who has — as she is reminded regularly on the tennis blogs — never won a Grand Slam title.

    Meanwhile, this is a golden age for men’s tennis — even better, perhaps, than the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Top 20 players have never been stronger (as John McEnroe, an embodiment of that earlier era, recently noted). In June Andre Agassi observed, “The players are quicker, stronger, bigger, fitter, and the whole package is that there is much more strength in tennis today.” His rival during the 1990s, Pete Sampras, told a reporter during Wimbledon that the top four players — Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Scotland’s Andy Murray — have never been more dominant. “These four guys are just better movers than everyone else,” Sampras said. “They’re better athletes.”

    Over the last few weeks I've been able to watch a fair amount of the Rogers Cup and the Western and Southern Open, two prominent hardcourt tournaments that lead in to the last major of the season.

    At the Rogers Cup, the men and women play in different cities, so mixed doubles is tough. This year, the women played in Toronto and the men in Montreal; next year they switch. The first thing that happened was that Murray lost in the first round to Kevin Anderson of South Africa. This was strange. Murray usually plays very well against the rank and file then falls apart in the finals.

    In the second round Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Federer again, surprising, but certainly not unprecedented, except that Tsonga won the third set 6-1. Also in the second round, I saw Nadal destroy Ivan Dodig 6-1 in the first set. Dodig started coming to net and squeaked out the second set tiebreak 7-6 (7-5) as Nadal made a lot of passing errors. I had to get some sleep and was sure Nadal would come storming back. But he also lost the second set, in an identical score.

    I began to wonder if Murray, Nadal and Federer were tinkering with their games to try to catch up to Nole (Djokovic), or just playing possum.

    Djokovic had an easy road to the final where he met another fellow on a diet, Mardy Fish, who has surpassed fading Andy Roddick as the number one American. Like Djokovic, Fish has seen his game transformed after shedding a lot of weight. He still doesn't hit a huge groundstroke, but he gets to everything now. It was a close match with a lot of running, but Djokovic won 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

    In Toronto, Clijsters retired to Jie Zheng and Caroline Wozniacki lost to Roberta Vinci in the first round. Wozniacki had been out for a month after retiring at Bastad with a shoulder injury. Maria Sharapova, Francesca Schiavone, Na Li and Petra Kvitova all lost in the second round. The final was Samantha Stosur against Serena Williams, who back on hardcourts looked like her old self. Stosur doesn't play finals well, and Serena does, creaming Stosur 6-4, 6-2.

    At the Western and Southern, in Cincinnati, Nadal and Federer made it to the quarterfinals. Nadal lost to Fish, and Fed lost to Tomas Berdych. But Djokovic beat Berdych and Murray beat Fish to reach the final. I tuned in just as Murray won the first set 6-4. Then Djokovic called the trainer and looked in pain as the man massaged the back of his right arm and shoulder. Djokovic retired at 0-3 in the second set, losing his second match of the year. There is a lot of speculation as to whether he can recover in time for tough matches at the Open.

    Wozniacki again lost in the first round, 4-6, 5-7 to an unheralded US teen named Christina McHale, who took a wildcard into the main draw. In addition to the injury, Woz has been linked romantically to golfer Rory McIlroy, and seems to be busy with off court demands. Stosur walked over Serena in the second round (meaning Serena pulled out), but lost to Sharapova in the quarters. Serena claimed a toe injury, but there was some talk that Serena was more interested in attending the Kardashian wedding.  Wimbledon champ Kvitova again lost to Andrea Petkovic, who lost to Jelena Jankovic. Vera Zvonareva was cruising until she lost to Sharapova in the semis, and Sharapova beat Jankovic in the final, 4-6, 7-6 (3) 6-3.

    I haven't seen any New Haven Open matches, but Wozniacki seems to have done better there. She is due to play Christina McHale again in the third round and weather permitting could easily meet Li Na or Marion Bartoli in the final.

    Sharapova is doing well, but I was frankly expecting more from Kvitova.


    Latest Comments