Thursday, September 30, 2010

Azarenka and Schiavone first players into semi's

As eight becomes four at the Toray Pan Pacific Open on Thursday, with Victoria Azarenka the first player to book her spot into the semifinals of the $2-million Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournament.

Azarenka, seeded No.8, ended the run of American qualifier Coco Vandeweghe, winning five consecutive games from 1-2 in the first set and six straight from 0-1 in the second set for a 6-2 6-1 win. Azarenka has now gone one round better than in her debut appearance here last year, where she was a quarterfinalist.

"I played her in an exhibition match in the summer, so I knew a little bit about her," Azarenka said of Vandeweghe. "She has a big serve, plus she had won a lot of matches here, so I knew it would be tough. My game plan worked well today. She started very well in the beginning but I was able to focus and be aggressive and I'm really excited to be in my first semifinal here in Tokyo."

Next for Azarenka will be either No.1 seed Caroline Wozniacki or No.6 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who played later in the day.

Vandeweghe, just 18 and ranked No.172, was playing her second career quarterfinal, having made it to the final eight at San Diego in the summer. She had upset No.14 seed Aravane Rezai en route to her match-up with Azarenka.

Francesca Schiavone, the No.5 seed, was the second player into the semifinals, outlasting Kaia Kanepi in a tight three-setter, 7-5 4-6 7-5. Schiavone missed a crosscourt backhand on her first match point at 5-4 but closed the match out two games later, finishing it on a big serve that drew a Kanepi return into the net. The marathon match lasted three hours and nine minutes.

Next for Schiavone will be either No.2 seed Vera Zvonareva or No.7 seed Elena Dementieva, who played the last match of the day.

Caroline into quaters and Doha.

Caroline Wozniacki stormed into the quarterfinals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open as well as into the field of the WTA Championships, making her the first into the singles field of the season-ender in Doha.

Wozniacki, the No.1 seed in Tokyo, had never dropped a set to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and that trend continued on Wednesday evening, as she routed the No.16 seed in an hour and 10 minutes, 6-1 6-2.

After a year that has seen her win four Sony Ericsson WTA Tour titles and the US Open Series, as well as reach a career-high ranking of No.2, the 20-year-old Wozniacki qualified for Doha for the second consecutive year.

"It feels really good to qualify for the WTA Championships in Doha. I'm really happy I'm in the Top 8 and also I've qualified first, which is a special feeling," Wozniacki said after her win in Tokyo. "At the beginning of the year I was just hoping to qualify; it's great to reach one of my goals for this year."

Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik became the second doubles team to qualify for Doha later in the day, after Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta had already booked their spot in the four-team event this summer.

"Caroline and the team of Kveta and Katarina have had terrific seasons, highlighted by a series of titles," said Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the Tour. "Caroline's 2010 accomplishments have brought her to a career high ranking of No.2 and Kveta and Katarina are headed to Doha as a team for the first time in their careers. All three of these players are terrific ambassadors for the sport and I congratulate them on qualifying for the WTA Championships."

And the race to the Championships from Tokyo now gets less complicated and here it is:

Vera Zvonareva
reaches semifinals OR
Victoria Azarenka does not reach final AND neither Dementieva nor Radwanska wins title

Serena Williams
Victoria Azarenka does not reach final AND
Dementieva does not win title

Kim Clijsters
Victoria Azarenka does not reach final AND
Dementieva does not win title

Venus Williams
Victoria Azarenka does not reach semifinals AND
Dementieva does not reach final AND
Radwanska does not win title

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vera gets first win at Pan Pacific Open.

Playing her first match since her magical run to the US Open final, Vera Zvonareva was impressive in her opening match of the Toray Pan Pacific Open, dispatching Sara Errani in straight sets, 6-3 6-3.

Zvonareva was 0-2 at the Premier tournament, but as the No.2 seed this time there are more expectations and she shouldered them well on Tuesday, scoring her third win in as many career meetings with the feisty Italian.

In her two previous appearances at this event, Zvonareva lost opening matches in 2007(to Samantha Stosur) and 2009 (to Alisa Kleybanova).

Also scoring wins on Centre Court during the day were Victoria Azarenka and Elena Dementieva. Azarenka, the No.8 seed, improved to 5-0 in matches - and 10-0 in sets - against Lucie Safarova, 6-1 6-3, while Dementieva, seeded No.7, needed just 51 minutes to roll over Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-0 6-1.

"It was a nice and quick match," Dementieva said. "I played very aggressively and consistently the whole match. It's always good to get into a rhythm. There are a few big tournaments left so I want to play my best - no matter how well you do in the beginning of the year, it's always good to have a strong finish."

For the second straight day, rain forced the Centre Court roof to close and some matches to be sent indoors. "It has been tough not being able to practice because of the weather," Dementieva added. "All the girls were waiting hours for their matches, so I was lucky to play under the roof of Centre Court."

Kimiko Date Krumm continued her run while leading Daniela Hantuchova 2-6 6-0 4-0, when Daniela was forced to retire.

Samantha Stosur, Shahar Pe'er and Svetlana Kuznetsova were the only seeded players to fall.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Defending champion Sharapova sent packing by Date Krumm

One day shy of her 40th birthday Kimiko Date Krumm had ousted Defending champion and former world number 1 Maria Sharapova 7-5 3-6 6-3 at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.

After being down 2-3, 0-40 with Sharapova serving in the 3rd set the Vetran went a roll infront of her home crowed and even served out the match to love, in two hours and nien minutes. The loss will also see Sharapova fall out of the top 20.

Date Krumm has proven that she is more than worthy of being a "come back queen" especily at the age of forty. When Date Krumm decided to return to the tour two years ago (aged 37 then) she wasn't given a "free pass" like the Hingis', Clijsters' and Henins of the world get, she had to work her way back, it was no Wild Cards and qualifying all the way for th three time grand slam semi finalist and even having to qualify for ITF tournaments, she was give very few Wild Cards to smaller tournaments because she was a "nobody" to the tennis world.

Date Krumm rose back to the top 100 after winning in South Korea last year. And scince then the former world number four's comeback gained momentum after her twelve year break from the game. This year she has started getting to the later stages of tournaments and taking down big names, including top 20 wins over Virginie Razzano and Nadia Petrova in Australia, Dinara Safina at Roland Garros, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova last week in Seoul and now Sharapova, currently ranked No.15 in the world.

Sharapova said, "It takes a lot to come back and Kimiko is extremely fit."

Next for Date Krumm is Daniela Hantuchova, who won her first round match on Sunday. Date Krumm leads her head-to-head against Hantuchova, 1-0.

Rain has plagued most of the Play at Tokyo so far today with only one other match played so far with Yaroslava Shvedova downing Korean Wild Card Kurumi Nara 4-6 6-2 6-1.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Maria survives 2nd set nerves to see off María

Li Na was forced to withdraw from the tournament before her match due to GI illness.

"My stomach felt terrible this morning. I was in a lot of pain and feeling very uncomfortable," Li, ranked No.12 in the world, said. "After my warm-up I was feeling even worse. I tried everything I could to play but unfortunately I was in too much pain. I want to apologize to all of my fans here in Tokyo. I always want to try my best for them here. I'm really hoping to come back next year."

Li was a semifinalist here last year: "I did well here last year and it's just so disappointing for me to have to pull out as I really wanted to put in a good performance this year. Hopefully I'll start feeling better in the next few days."

Li's opponent, Maria Kirilenko, instead played lucky loser María José Martínez Sánchez and won, 6-3 6-7(5) 6-1. Kirilenko looked headed for a straight set win as she built a 6-3 5-3 lead, even up 30-0 serving for the match at 6-3 5-4; she lost four points in a row from there, three on double faults, and eventually lost the set, but stormed through the decider to reach the second round.

No.16 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova edging Dominika Cibulkova, 7-5 7-5.

Kaia Kanepi, Daniela Hantuchova, Lucie Safarova, Alona Bondarenko, Andrea Petkovic, Olga Govortsova, Kateryna Bondarenko and qualifier Greta Arn also scored first round wins during the afternoon session.

Laura Robson to make first main draw appearance out of England.

Laura Robson reached the main draw of a WTA Tour event on foreign soil for the first time with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Romania’s Simona Halep, at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.

The 16-year-old Londoner, who beat world number 57 Anastasija Sevastova in the last round, sealed the win with a break in the final game of the decider.

Robson will play Greta Arn with the winner taking on Caroline Wozniacki.

Arn qualified for the tournament proper with a 6-0 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 defeat of British number one Elena Baltacha.

Robson made up a deficit of 127 ranking places in beating world number 100 Halep, but Baltacha found Arn in uncooperative mood once again.

Balata is ranked 56 places above the world number 106, but had succumbed in both their previous meetings, most recently in qualifying in Rome earlier this season.

World number 41 Jarmila Groth also failed to make her way into the tournament proper after 18-year-old Coco Vandeweghe of the United States won their encounter 6-4 7-6 (7-2).

World number one Serena Williams has withdrawn from the tournament, which begins on Sunday, as she continues to recover from a foot injury, but the field remains very strong.

World number two Wozniacki is the top seed with US Open runner-up Vera Zvonareva, world number six Jelena Jankovic, French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and defending champion Maria Sharapova among the entrants.

In the Korea Open in Seoul, Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic advanced to the final as top seed Nadia Petrova retired from the opening set of their semi-final with the score at 4-5.

The unseeded Zakopalova will play Alisa Kleybanova in the final after the Russian overcame Hungary's Agnes Szavay 6-3 6-2.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Serena pulls out of China, still likely to qualify for Year End Championships.

Serena Williams may have only played in six tournaments this year but she still looks good to qualify for Doha, even after now pulling out of the China Open.

These are the following senarios that could see six playaers qualify after Tokyo;
Caroline Wozniacki
- needs to reach quarterfinals OR Azarenka does not win title
Vera Zvonareva
- needs to reach semifinals OR Azarenka does not reach final and neither Dementieva, Li, Peer, Radwanska nor Petrova (if reaches Seoul final) wins title
Samantha Stosur
- needs to win title
Serena Williams
- Azarenka does not reach final AND neither Li nor Dementieva wins title
Kim Clijsters
- Azarenka does not reach final AND neither Li, Dementieva nor Petrova (if wins Seoul title) wins title
Venus Williams
- will qualify unless one of following three things happens:
i) Azarenka reaches semifinals
ii) Li or Dementieva reaches final
iii) Radwanska, Peer, Sharapova, Rezai or Petrova wins title.

How ever, According to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, in Serena’s absence from both Asian events, Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva both have a mathematical chance of seizing the No.1 spot, but not until the week of the Beijing tournament (4-10 October). The 19-year-old Dane, runner-up at the US Open last year, will have three opportunities to become the first Dane to be ranked No.1 in the world: if she wins Beijing (regardless of her result in Tokyo), if she reaches the semi-finals or better in Tokyo and the final in Beijing, or, if she wins Tokyo and makes the quarter-finals or better in Beijing.

In the event that Wozniacki does not achieve either of the three scenarios, should Zvonareva win both titles, or reach the final in Tokyo and win the Beijing tournament, she will overtake Serena as the world No.1.

If Serena were to retain top spot and qualify for Doha, I think it shows how Dominate she is, even in playing just six tournaments.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Serena Williams withdraws from Pan Pacific Open.

Tennis fans in Japan will have to wait at least one more year before they can see Serena Williams in action, after she has not returned to Tokyo after her 2002 title.

Williams has withdrawn from the Toray Pan Pacific Open, set to begin next week at Ariake Tennis Forest Park in Tokyo, due to her ongoing recovery from surgery on her right foot two months ago. It has been eight years since the 28-year-old Williams last played in Japan.

The number-one ranked women’s tennis player cut her right foot on broken glass at a restaurant in Munich on 7 July and has not played since. Immediately after the incident, Williams received stitches on her foot. It was about one week later when Williams underwent surgery on a lacerated tendon on her right foot 15 July in Los Angeles.

The odd injury forced the 13-time major champion to withdraw from every summer event she was scheduled to play in, including tournaments in Istanbul, Cincinnati, and Montreal. She did not participate in this year’s U.S. Open in New York City, where a controversial tirade aimed at a lineswoman during last year’s semi-final ended up costing her a spot in the final.

She said she still plans on playing in the Fed Cup final against Italy in November.

Her 13 major titles, which include five victories at the Australian Open and four at Wimbledon, ranks her sixth in career major victories. She won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year, which upped her WTA career win total to 37.

Even though the tournament has lost its top draw, there is no shortage of top-tier players set to take the court. Second-ranked player Caroline Wozniacki, fourth-ranked Vera Zvonareva, and French Open champion Francesca Schiavone will all participate in the event. Maria Sharapova, who won the title last year, will be back to defend her title.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Kimiko keeps her winning steak at seoul.

A year ago, Kimiko Date Krumm hit the big time in her comeback, capturing her eighth Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title here at the Hansol Korea Open. On Wednesday she kept that momentum going, winning her first round match against fellow Japanese Junri Namigata, 6-2 7-5.

Date Krumm, who won this title at age 38 last year, the second-oldest player ever to win a Tour title, started strongly, cruising through the first set and twice going up a break in the second set; Namigata broke back and eventually held for 5-4 but Date Krumm won 12 of the last 15 points to close it out.

"This is a lucky place for me that brought me another title last year, and I have lots of good memories," Date Krumm said. "I felt a lot of pressure coming here as defending champion, so I try to keep thinking I'm just the challenger."

Date Krumm was 38 years, 11 months and 30 days when she won here last year, second only to Billie Jean King, who won Birmingham in 1983 at 39 years, 7 months and 23 days. Date Krumm is now older than that, meaning should she win another title on the Tour, she would break that record.

"I have a lot of tournaments coming up and my goal this season is to stay in the Top 50," said Date Krumm, who has cracked the Top 50 since her comeback, but is just a bit down at No.51 this week. "I already made it to the Top 50, but I want to keep it. I want to be in the Top 50 on the season-ending rankings."

A wave of seeds passed their first tests earlier in the day too, with No.2 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova saving set point in the first set tie-break then easing past Anastasia Rodionova, 7-6(6) 6-1; No.3 seed Maria Kirilenko beating Urszula Radwanska handily, 6-3 6-1; No.4 seed María José Martínez Sánchez beating qualifier Hsieh Su-Wei, 7-6(3) 6-4; and No.6 seed Yaroslava Shvedova edging last year's runner-up Anabel Medina Garrigues, 6-4 7-5.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Paszek wins in Quebec City.

Austrian teenager Tamira Paszek made a forceful return to the winner's circle in Québec City Sunday afternoon, edging Bethanie Mattek-Sands for her second career Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title.

Paszek, a former No.35 who had to make it through qualifying this week on account of her current No.151 ranking, didn't drop a set en route to the final and showed she could still play big time tennis on Court Bell, saving two set points in the first set and rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the third to win, 76(6) 26 75.

"It's overwhelming," said Paszek, who has ties with Canada - her father lived there for 15 years. "I'm extremely happy. Anytime you win a tournament for the first time it's very special. This is something I'll remember the rest of my life."

Paszek's 2009 was marred by injury, and at only 19 she is trying to work her way back up. She is projected to return to the Top 100 after this. "I want to thank my family and friends for supporting me during tough times last year.

"I always believed I could come back."

Paszek is now 2-1 in career finals, also winning in Portoroz as a 15-year-old in 2006. She was a runner-up to Patty Schnyder at Bali in 2008.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Serena Williams unlikely to return at the Pan Pacific Open.

Women's world No. 1 Serena Williams is unlikely to make her return to tennis at the WTA Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, a source with knowledge of the situation tells ESPN.

Williams, who's not playing in the U.S. Open due to a cut on her right foot that required surgery, has had a protective boot removed. She has said she was targeting the Pan Pacific Open, which begins Sept. 26, for her return to action.

Williams hasn't played competitively since winning Wimbledon. She was reportedly hurt by a broken glass at a restaurant while she was in Munich in July. She had surgery on July 15.

Williams said doctors advised her not to play the U.S. Open so that her foot can heal, and she called missing the tournament "one of the most devastating moments of my career." The top-ranked Williams has won three titles at Flushing Meadows, part of her 13 Grand Slam singles championships.

Kim Clijsters said she saw Williams' foot lacerations and "it's not something that she's making up or that it's a small cut or anything."

After she was hurt, Williams played in an exhibition match against Clijsters that drew a tennis-record crowd of 35,681 in Brussels on July 8.

Clijsters said Monday that Williams actually had cuts on both feet, but she doesn't recall whether they were on the top or bottom.

It was against Clijsters in last year's Open semifinals that Williams went on a tirade against a line judge over a foot-fault call. That led to Williams losing the match and receiving a record fine.

Mattek-Sands storming towards title.

In a week where the favorites just haven't been able to keep up with their challengers Bethanie Mattek-Sands put the final nail in the coffin, sending the last seed standing home in an absolute demolition job in the semifinals of the $220,000 Bell Challenge on Saturday night.

Mattek-Sands had lost both of her previous meetings against No.3 seed Lucie Safarova in straight sets but she changed all that in just 54 minutes on Court Bell, scoring some 6-2 6-1 revenge on the big-hitting Czech left-hander.

"Bethanie just played too well," said Safarova, who was runner-up to Melinda Czink here last year. "It seemed everything she got her racquet on went in."

Mattek-Sands was the runner-up to Nadia Petrova at this event in 2008.

Earlier, Tamira Paszek continued to burn through the draw, cruising past fellow teen Christina McHale, 6-2 6-2. McHale, at 18 years the youngest to reach a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour semifinal this year, was overpowered by the 19-year-old Paszek, who reached her third career final and will go for her second title.

"She was a tough opponent. I didn't know what to expect," said Paszek, whose first title came at Portoroz four years ago. "Everything seems to be finally fitting together this week. I'm feeling healthy."

Paszek has now won seven matches in Québec City, three in qualifying and four in the main draw. She hasn't lost a single set during the week.

McHale was complimentary in defeat. "She played very solid," McHale said. "I was under pressure to go for more as she had an answer for everything it seemed. I had a good week though. I'm disappointed now, but I'm pleased to have made my first quarterfinal and semifinal here this week."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Groth stroms to frist final.

Jarmila Groth stormed into her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour final, crushing Edina Gallovits in the semifinals of the Landsky Lighting Guangzhou International Women's Open in just 38 minutes, 6-0 6-1.

Groth, the No.1 seed at the International-level event, broke serve five times - winning almost half of Gallovits' first serve points and 86% of her second serve points - and never lost her own serve for the lopsided win, a near mirror image of their only previous meeting, which Groth won with the loss of one game too.

"I'm the No.1 seed so there's always pressure, but I've been trying to play my best and so far it's working," Groth commented afterwards. "I'm very happy to be in the final. I've had a great week so far here in Guangzhou. I'm excited to make it past the semis as it was my second semifinal this year."

Groth, currently ranked No.55, is projected to crack the Top 50 for the very first time after this week, a move that has been helped by reaching fourth rounds at the French Open and Wimbledon - her first second week runs at majors.

"It's very exciting to finally get inside the Top 50," Groth added. "I've had injuries and every time I got close in the past, I couldn't play. It's my first final and I'll do everything possible to win, so fingers crossed I can go higher than just Top 50."

In a second semifinal between two players hovering just outside the Top 100, No.103 Alla Kudryavtseva won the first eight games and held off a late surge from No.101 Zhang Shuai, beating the Chinese rising star by a 6-0 6-4 scoreline. Kudryavtseva's best Tour finishes before this week were five quarterfinals.

"I played very solid today. She was tired from her last match but I think we both showed some good tennis in the second set," Kudryavtseva said. "Zhang has great potential. She's obviously a hard worker and still very young. I'm sure she'll have a good future. I'm happy with myself and how I was able to close it out."

Groth and Kudryavtseva are tied in their head-to-head, 1-1.

"I'm looking forward to the final," Kudryavtseva said. "Jarka's playing very well and so am I, so we'll see. We play the final at 2pm tomorrow so it's going to be another killer. I hope it's going to be cloudy tomorrow!"

Groth still dominate in China.

A Chinese champion remains a possibility at the Landsky Lighting Guangzhou International Women's Open, with 21-year-old world No. 101 Zhang Shuai winning through to her first Tour semifinal on Friday. But Australian top seed Jarmila Groth remains the title favorite after a dominating performance in her quarterfinal.

Groth, who saved five of six break points to blitz Maria Elena Camerin, is through to her second semifinal of the season. On Saturday she'll be gunning for her first final on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

"It was a tough one - the conditions were very hot and humid, so it wasn't easy to play," she said after her 6-0 6-2 defeat of the Italian on Friday. "She started a little slower in the beginning and gave me a lot of chances to close the first set quickly but she had chances in the second set, which was a lot tougher, and I'm very glad to be through in these conditions."

So far, the 23-year-old is handling her top seed status - a career first - with aplomb. "I'm trying to prove that I'm number one seed, but every match is different so I just have to play my best and so far it's been working," she said. "I would love to reach the final, so I will definitely fight very hard and hopefully I can sustain my form and win two more matches!"

First hurdle for Groth is Romania's Edina Gallovits, who ended the run of Chinese wildcard Han Xinyun, 3-6 6-2 6-4. But local fans had plenty to cheer when Zhang Shuai edged Indian star Sania Mirza, 6-4 1-6 6-4.

"I'm so excited to reach the semifinals," said Zhang, who next plays Alla Kudryavtseva - a 6-3 6-1 winner over Ksenia Pervak. "I can't believe it. I'm very happy with the win, it was such a close match but I managed to stay focused and win the important points."

In an all-China doubles semifinal, Han Xinyun and Liu Wanting beat Lu Jing-Jing and Xu Yi-Fan to advance to their first Tour final of any kind. They await the winner of Saturday's semi between Gallovits and Mirza versus Olga Savchuk and Tamarine Tanasugarn.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Americans strong in Qubec.

Americans continued to thrive across the border, with Christina McHale and Alexa Glatch becoming the third and fourth US players into the final eight of the Bell Challenge in Québec City, Canada.

At night, McHale and Glatch bested Québecois players, McHale beating Valérie Tétreault, 64 63, and Glatch defeating Stéphanie Dubois, 7-5 6-2.

"I knew the crowd would be behind her, but that it would be nothing against me," McHale said. "I knew she was playing well, so I just tried to play solidly and use my forehand. I just had to focus on myself and my game."

Glatch lost three games in a row from 4-2 up in the first set but regrouped well, winning the next five games in a row to lead, 7-5 2-0. She didn't let up.

"I like playing here in front of a big crowd," Glatch told reporters after the match. "The surface suits me well. Stéphanie made me work for it."

With Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin making it into the quarters on Wednesday, this will be the first time in three and a half years that four Americans have made the final eight at a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event. The last time it happened was at Memphis, also indoors, in February 2007.

Earlier in the day, No.8 seed Sofia Arvidsson and qualifier Tamira Paszek grabbed quarterfinal berths. Arvidsson, a former finalist here, recovered after blowing a 5-1first set lead to beat Mirjana Lucic, 5-7 6-4 6-2, and Tamira Paszek beat Jill Craybas, conqueror of No.2 seed Aravane Rezai, 6-3 6-2.

"Jill had a good start, but I hung in there and fought for every ball," said Paszek, who lost the first three games of the match before snapping into form. "I feel healthy and I'm playing well. I really love this tournament."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Clijsters crushes Zvonareva for 3rd straight US Open

In yet another rousing performance in a US Open final, Kim Clijsters decimated Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 to win her third title in New York.

Moving swiftly, serving accurately and dominating action off the ground, the Belgian and part-time New Jersey resident set a record for the least amount of time played in dispatching the Russian in 59 minutes (officials began to keep time records in 1980). It was the most one-sided final at the US Open since American Chris Evert smoked Evonne Goolagong 6-3, 6-0 in 1976.

It was a near perfect performance for Clijsters, who found incredible depth and angles off the ground, hammered away with her forehand, kept her backhand sharp and played every big point as if it were her last.
Zvonareva had beaten Clijsters twice this summer at Wimbledon and Montreal, but could never find enough accuracy off the ground, or the consistency with her serve and returns that led her to an upset of top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.

The Russian began the match in fine fashion, trading holds with the Belgian to 2-2, but then the wheels came off. After Clijsters held to 3-2, Zvonareva committed two backhand errors to be broken to 4-2.
Clijsters pushed the Russian around the court in the next game and then broke to win the set when Zvonareva dumped another backhand into the net.

The second set began as badly for Wimbledon finalist Zvonareva as the first set ended. After Clijsters whipped a forehand that the Russian couldn't catch up to, she smashed her racket off the cement three times and broke it, receiving a warning. Zvonareva doubled faulted away the next game and Clijsters easily held to 3-0. Finally, Zvonareva stopped her seven game losing streak when Clijsters inexplicably committed four unforced errors and the Russian held at 3-1. But even though the Russian slapped her thigh, bounced up and down on her feet and yelled at herself to get moving, she could never find a high level and lost one physical rally after another.

Clijsters fought off a break point with an ace and held to 4-1, then broke Zvonareva again when the Russian double faulted, and finally won the match when she crushed a forehand crosscourt winner.

Clijsters smiled widely and spent a good eight minutes thanking the crowd, her husband Brian Lynch and daughter Jada, and all of her friends and support team.

She finished the match with 17 winners, 10 forced errors and 15 unforced errors, to only six winners, 17 forced errors and 24 unforced errors form the Russian.

Clijsters became the first player to repeat as titlist since Venus Williams since 2001, and given that she won the title in 2005 and didn't play from 2006-2008 due to injury and retirement, she became the first player since Evert to win three titles in three appearances. Evert won four straight between 1975-1978.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kim and Vera set for Primetime Final showdown

She's 30 years old, almost ancient by the unflinching standards of professional tennis. Her long, lanky body doesn't recover the way it used to; she didn't play a match the two months between Wimbledon and this U.S. Open because her cranky knees wouldn't allow it.

So even with sister Serena and Justine Henin absent, Venus Williams wasn't the prohibitive favorite here. Defending champion Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka were the fashionable picks to win.

But some things never go out of style. Big serves and plenty of nerve to move forward can carry you a long way on the swift courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium. On Friday, shrieking with vintage ferocity, only a successful tiebreaker separated Venus from an unlikely berth in the final -- when she suddenly, alarmingly showed her age.

Back-to-back double faults -- at the worst possible time -- cost her the pivotal extra session, like the yips that sometimes visit aging golfers when they're trying to sink an important five-foot putt.

Venus, the No. 3 seed, never recovered and the No. 2 Clijsters was a 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 winner.

Her opponent in Saturday night's prime-time match will be No. 7 seed Vera Zvonareva, who earlier handled No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3.

Clijsters has won five of seven matches against Zvonareva.

The 27-year-old Belgian has won 20 consecutive matches at the U.S. Open, a truly remarkable run; only Chris Evert's streak of 31 (1975-79) is longer.

Venus had lost her past four matches with Clijsters, but she came out throwing heat and Clijsters, who is generally more disposed to hit winners from the security of the baseline, looked extremely defensive. On several occasions, she busted out her signature sliding split -- a move that has been largely dormant since the onset of motherhood. Set point was text book; Venus ripped a 120-miles-per-hour serve, sprinted forward and closed it out with a big forehand.

Clijsters fought back, taking a 4-2 lead when her shot skipped off the line and Venus rifled an errant backhand. But with Clijsters serving for the second set, she temporarily lost her mind. A wild backhand, sprayed far wide, got Venus back on serve.

In the tiebreaker, Venus showed her age, a bad case of the yips that sometimes visit aging golfers when they're trying to sink an important five-foot putt. After dumping a backhand into the net for a 0-1 deficit, she double-faulted twice (after just one through most of two sets). On her next two service points, she blew an overhead, missing it long, and made a fourth unforced error, another low backhand.

Technically, as Clijsters walked to her changeover chair, the match was all square. Why did it feel like Clijsters' to lose?

Sure enough, Clijsters broke Venus in the third game, but serving at 4-3, she suffered some yips of her own. Clijsters double-faulted at 30-all, then sent a swinging forehand volley well long -- a horrible miss under the circumstances since she went for more than she needed to.

And then Venus gave it right back, double-faulting at 30-all, pushing a weak forehand volley, then watching helplessly as Clijsters blooped a sweet backhand lob over her head. When it bounced two feet inside the baseline, Venus staggered as if she'd been hit in the jaw. Clijsters managed to served out the match, sealing it with a backhand winner.

A year ago at Arthur Ashe, Zvonareva was a disheveled mess. In the process of losing to Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round, she cracked her racket, angrily tore at the tape on both knees and openly sobbed.

It was this wrenching image that skewed the conventional thinking before Zvonareva met Wozniacki early Friday afternoon. Additionally, Wozniacki was riding some impressive numbers into the semifinals

Wozniacki, who had won more matches (49) than anyone on the Sony Ercisson WTA Tour, but she still hasn't beaten a top-five player in 18 months; Maria Sharapova was the only player ranked among the top 40 of her five victims here.

Still, Wozniacki was defying charges of overplaying when she ran into Zvonareva, a 26-year-old Russian who has blossomed relatively late in terms of tennis.

Zvonareva played in 28 Grand Slam events, but never, ever reached a final -- and now she's done it back-to-back, at Wimbledon and here in New York. She played bigger than Wozniacki (18 winners to 13) and made fewer unforced errors (25 to 31). Twenty of those errors came on the forehand. Zvonareva managed to break the Dane's serve four times.

"Last year is something that was in the past," Zvonareva said of her meltdown. "I had some experience last year, not only here at the U.S. Open, the whole year overall I played a lot of matches. I take that experience and I try to use it to my advantage. Never look back."

"A tough day for me in the office," said Wozniacki, "and unfortunately it was today. Just made a few mistakes and she took advantage of it."

Said Zvonareva of the final, "Any match with Kim will come down to the tough challenge. She's a great mover on the court. She has a lot of experience. She won here last year. It's going to be tough."

Clijsters took the title in 2005, then missed the event with an injury and a two-year sabbatical from the game. Last year, she won again and now is in position to take her third crown in three attempts.

A year ago, she outslugged Serena Williams in the semifinals, but that was overlooked in the wake of the foot-fault controversy.

There are no peripheral issues this time; On Saturday, Clijsters could win her third consecutive U.S. Open title. And who will find fault with that?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Zvonareva Storms to Semi's

Whether it was the windy conditions or the pressure and nerves of reaching her first US Open quarterfinal, No. 32 seed Kaia Kanepi of Estonia crumbled in her match against Vera Zvonareva Wednesday, allowing the No. 7 seed to advance to the US Open semifinals for the first time with a 6-3, 7-5 win.

Kanepi, who eliminated No. 4 seed Jelena Jankovic in the third round, just could not gain control of her game the entire match, committing 60 unforced errors, 35 of which came in the second set alone. Zvonareva experienced a few struggles of her own on serve, and between the two players, there were 10 breaks of serve in the match.

But overall, the Wimbledon runner-up was successful by putting pressure on Kanepi every chance she got, forcing the Estonian to go for more and commit the errors.

"I don't think she was just making errors for no reasons, you know," Zvonareva said. "I think I was making it difficult for her. She had to go more for her shots. I was trying to guess where she was playing and read her game. So I was trying to make it as difficult as possible for her. With the wind going all different directions and blowing, it's not easy to make those shots. I think I made the right choices where I had to just put the ball in play and step up a little bit and do a little bit more with the ball."

Kanepi admitted that not only was her opponent the stronger player, but the wind was also frustrating for her throughout the match, and it made conditions a bit tricky.

"It was blowing in every way," Kanepi said. "When I played against Jelena, it was the same thing, so I was a little used to it. But today was tough. I just didn't find the rhythm and the control of the ball. Vera obviously played very well."

The first set featured several good rallies, but Kanepi's errors gave the Russian a 4-2 lead. Kanepi nearly gave up yet another break in the following game, but she fought back from a 0-40 deficit to hold after two deuces thanks to Zvonareva's groundstrokes sailing long. Two games later, the Estonian again dug herself out of triple set point, but this time it was Zvonareva who would prevail and break to put away the first set on a netted forehand from Kanepi.

Neither woman seemed to want to take control of the second set, and they traded breaks for four games before Zvonareva held for 3-2. Kanepi displayed a strong return game by pressuring her opponent into the backcourt on long rallies, often making the transition to the net for a volley or overhead putaway. But she had trouble closing out on her own serve, with Zvonareva pushing her to four or five deuce points on two occasions.

Zvonareva's errors and double faults allowed Kanepi to get back on serve at 4-3, but in the final game on Kanepi's serve, Zvonareva hit a defensive lob that just caught the line to give her match point. Kanepi's 60th error handed the Russian the match.

Zvonareva has yet to drop a set at this year's tournament, and she will next meet either top seed Caroline Wozniacki or Dominika Cibulkova in the semifinal round. The Russian is 2-2 against Wozniacki and 2-0 against Cibulkova.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Clijsters stroms past Peers

When Australian Sally Peers was 10 years old, she successfully secured an autographed photo from a fast-rising tennis player named Kim Clijsters. When she returns home to Melbourne, she may want to hide that photo someplace out of sight, so Wednesday's second-round match between the two will stay out of mind.

Clijsters, a two-time US Open champion, made Peers' debut on Arthur Ashe Stadium a forgettable one by speeding to a 6-2, 6-1 win in 56 minutes. The now 19-year-old qualifier held just once in seven service games.

Peers can take solace in the fact that for five games, she and the No. 2 seed were on even terms. That's because Clijsters let leads of 2-0 and 3-1 slip away, breaking Peers only to be broken immediately thereafter.

But after belting a down-the-line backhand winner to break Peers in the sixth game, Clijsters never looked back.

In a third-round match Friday, Clijsters will play No. 27 seed Petra Kvitova, who defeated former world No. 1 Dinara Safina at last year's US Open.

"Hopefully when the opponents get tougher, I'll play better," said Clijsters.

Azarenka's Open dream comes to a dramatic end.

Victoria Azarenka's US Open took an unfortunate and dramatic turn when the Belarusian collapsed and was helped off the court in a wheelchair during her second round match against Gisela Dulko on Wednesday.

Azarenka looked out of sorts from the first point of the match, which she double-faulted, and quickly fell to an 0-4 deficit. On the first changeover she summoned a trainer, who appeared to test her for signs of dizziness and exhaustion but did not request a medical timeout.

The No. 10 seed continued to falter, however, winning just one game and swiping in vain at a particularly awkward service toss which she lost in the sun. Then, serving at 1-5, 15-30 Azarenka suddenly crumpled to the ground behind the baseline and appeared to fall unconscious. Medics, ballboys and Dulko immediately rushed over with towels, ice and water.

It's not the first time that Azarenka has been forced to retire during a Grand Slam. In her fourth-round match at the 2009 Australian Open, the 21-year-old took a set off of Serena Williams before retiring from dizziness and illness.

This is the third consecutive day that temperatures in Flushing Meadows have hovered in the mid-90s.

US Open Tournament Referee Brian Earley said in a statement following the match: "Victoria Azarenka retired from her match with headache-like symptoms. She was taken to a nearby hospital for diagnostic testing. Out of respect to her privacy, we cannot give any more details. However, we can say that this does not seem to be primarily a heat-related illness."

Dulko will meet No. 20 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Serena Williams still talk of Tennis Town.

Serena Williams sure knows how to be the talk of the tournament at the U.S. Open. She did it last year with her dramatic exit, launching an infamous tirade after getting called for a foot fault and receiving a point penalty on match point in the semifinals against Kim Clijsters.

In the past, she's made dramatic entrances with her eye-catching outfits, playing in a catsuit one year and a denim skirt and boots in another. This time around, she's doing it by not even playing. Although a flood of first-round action has been taking place on the court, the corridor chatter at the U.S. Open has been about the mysterious foot injury that has kept Williams from playing this year's event.

Everyone has a different story.

The initial report was that Williams had cut her foot by stepping on glass at a restaurant in Germany the week after winning Wimbledon. Hosting a pre-ESPYS party a few days after the incident, she was photographed wearing high heels and a small piece of tape above her right foot. Soon after, it was announced that she had undergone a foot operation, forcing her to withdraw from all her pre-U.S. Open events. Since the surgery, she has been out and about wearing a walking boot on her leg.

These events caused mild curiosity for most of the summer until she withdrew from the U.S. Open. Williams missing regular tournaments with injuries is nothing new, but missing a major is something else again. What exactly happened?

In the commentary box Saturday, Mary Carillo said Williams was at a bar in Munich when things got rowdy during Germany's soccer World Cup semifinal match, and a beer bottle fell on her foot. On Monday, she retreated from the details, saying the cut was a one-inch-deep laceration caused by a piece of glass.

In mid-July, Williams' agent, Jill Smoller, had told AOL's FanHouse, "She didn't step on glass ... so I don't know where that came from. Her foot was cut. There was a deep laceration."

A statement from Williams announcing her U.S. Open withdrawal cited only "the surgery I had on my foot earlier this month." When asked about her sister's injury, Venus Williams said, "Serena released as much information that she wanted to about her leg."

Last week, a column in The New York Times called for her to tell fans the full story, but there seems little prospect of that. Why not let the curiosity feed on itself?

With so little communication from the Williams camp, players who have seen Serena since Wimbledon have been pressed for information. Clijsters, who won a lopsided exhibition match over Williams in Belgium a day or so after the incident, said she didn't know what had happened but did witness the damage firsthand.

"I saw the injury," Clijsters said. "It's not something that she's making up or that it's a small cut or anything."

When asked whether the cut was at the top or bottom of Williams' foot, Clijsters said, "Both feet."

Both feet? Sensing the surprise in the room, Clijsters looked uncomfortable. When asked again whether the problem was at the top or the bottom of the (now apparently) feet, she said, "I don't remember. I wasn't paying such close attention."

Other players, officials and entourages are mysteriously reluctant to touch the topic, sometimes insisting that things stay off the record. One reporter was told that a player who saw the injury said Williams' toe was almost cut off.

Toe? What next? A self-pedicure gone wrong.

Some have even decided it's not the foot at all. Williams' nose looked unfamiliarly sculpted when she was photographed at a Hamptons Magazine party last week, prompting tabloid speculation that her hospital visit was for a nose job. The photo evidence is inconclusive.

All things considered, however, the anecdotal evidence suggests Williams did suffer some kind of foot injury. What, where and how? Still good questions, but so, increasingly, is -- so what?

The one thing we do know for certain is that someone will still lift the U.S. Open trophy at the end of next week, and her name won't be Serena Williams.

Sharapova steps up after first set loss.

It looked like trouble for Maria Sharapova as Jarmila Groth overpowered her in the first set, but one of the biggest fighters out there had come equipped, got a grip and buckled down for a 4-6 6-3 6-1 first round win.

Sharapova, the No.14 seed, was facing one of the most improved players on the circuit - Groth had reached the fourth round of the last two majors and has looked fitter than ever, and won the battle of big groundstrokers in the first set.

Groth had never beaten a Top 20 player before, though, going 0-15, and winning only two sets in those 15 matches. Sharapova seemed to sense that and her confidence only grew, as she defied her previous results after losing the first set at a Grand Slam - she was 88-5 after winning the first set, 9-21 after losing it - and beat the hard-hitting, Slovak-born Australian handily in three.

"She really swung and didn't give me much time to do anything out there," Sharapova said of the first set. "Against a player like that, who plays the 1-2 punch type of tennis, it's quite difficult to get a rhythm in the beginning, but I just hung in there. I knew it wasn't over. I knew I still had my chances."

Other notable seeded winners were No.7 seed Vera Zvonareva, No.9 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No.15 seed Yanina Wickmayer. The first set of upsets took place as well, with No.8 seed Li Na, No.17 seed Nadia Petrova, No.26 seed Lucie Safarova and No.30 seed Yaroslava Shvedova all going down on Day 2. Li was ousted by Kateryna Bondarenko, a quarterfinalist here last year, 2-6 6-4 6-2; Petrova was edged by Andrea Petkovic in a match between the No.1 and No.4 ace leaders so far this year, 6-2 4-6 7-6(4).

In the final match of the night, No.1 seed Caroline Wozniacki got past American wildcard Chelsey Gullickson in a match that started just before midnight, scoring a 6-1 6-1 win. It was Wozniacki's 14th straight win in the first round of a major, her only loss at this stage coming in her very first major at the French Open in 2007 (to the now-retired Nathalie Dechy in three sets).

Jankovic relieved to dodge embarrassment in first-round victory

In soaring temperatures at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Jankovic eventually prevailed 6-4 4-6 7-5 in two hours and 20 minutes, but only after world number 96 Halep had served for the match at 5-4 in the decider.

Jankovic revealed afterwards she had not initially realised the severity of the situation.

''I was in some sort of zone, I thought it was 4-3 and then thought, 'Oh my God','' she said. ''It was unbelievable, I'm so happy to get through.

''First-round matches are never easy and today was really hard. It wasn't my best game, so I had to work hard to get through. It's really hot out there, I don't know how many degrees but it's really hot, especially on one side (of the court) with the sun in my face.

''It was tough, I was lucky to get through and to have another chance.''

Jankovic will face Croatia's Mirjana Lucic in the second round, the former Wimbledon semi-finalist who vanished off the tour due to personal and financial problems.

Lucic, who beat Australian Alicia Molik 7-6 6-1, turned professional in April 1997 at the age of 15 and promptly won her first tournament, and was still just 15 when she won the Australian Open doubles title in 1998 with Martina Hingis.

''I feel fantastic, I'm so happy,'' said Lucic, ranked 150th in the world. ''I worked so hard to get here, this is my first US Open since 2002.

''I don't want to go into the reasons about everything, it was just unfortunate why I haven't played. It wasn't because I was sick of tennis or anything like that. It was just a lot of unfortunate circumstances.

''My dream never died and never went away. I was just waiting for an opportunity. I have it and I've been living my dream the last couple of years. Every match I win now it's like winning an entire tournament.

''I was really lucky and blessed to be so good when I was so young. I grew up winning since I was six years old and it was always normal. But once that was taken away for years it's incredible; every match gives me such satisfaction.

''It's almost like walking blind for years and really struggling a lot to finally be free again and reminding myself of the old ways and how good I can play and that I can play with these girls and beat them.''

Elsewhere, former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova needed three sets to beat Japanese veteran Kimiko Date Krumm, the 11th seed eventually winning 6-2 4-6 6-1.