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?


Carlos said...

O.K. I'm late with this post. I have been critical of "The Big Stuffed Bunny" for playing too many tournaments, beating cup cakes and raking up points like pin ball machine. That is how she got to be ranked number two in the world. As you mentioned in the post "Captain" she hasn't beaten any top five player in 18 months. I heard from Pam Shriver (I believe) that she hasn't beaten a top ten player in a year. All of this means she is not only losing to the better players but The Bunny's ranking is bloated. She is just taking advantage of the system. If she wants to be best she must beat the best and so far it is not happening. Why? Well let me tell you about a college American football team, Nebraska, back in the 80's. They would only schedule cup cakes and one tough opponent in the year. Since they were never challenged throughout the year, they would lose in the most important games of the year either that tough opponent or at the championship game. The 80's ended, Nebraska had an incredible record 90% of the games were victories and ZERO championships. I see the same thing with The Bunny, if you look at her loses in the last three slams she got slaughtered. You knew it was over after the first set in all those three matches. She has no clue what to do and she has this deer caught in the headlights face. She needs to have a plan B and she must face top opponents frequently to get the feel. BTW to get a plan B I think she needs a coaching change; or else we will continue to see the same thing from her. The Bunny has improved her game a lot, she no longer is the counter puncher, but again the lack of playing tough opponents is killing her. Well, she can always blame her loses on the Stella McCurse outfits.

Emily or as Carlos likes to call me "Captain" said...

There is no doubt that the rankings are flawed!

thats quite an intresting comparasin between the two. I think the statisics speak for them selves, Wozniacki is like many players, highly over-rated.

You can always blame, stella she took down Kiri's ranking and I have no doubt Wozniacki's will in time aswell.

Carlos said...

You are right "Captain", the McCurse took down "The Princess". I say McCurse should be ban from tennis. :P

One note: Since you started calling Kirilenko "The princess" it's no longer a self proclaimed title so from now on I have to call it "The Princess".

Divapova: I believe her shoulder injury/surgery was much worse than it was reported. My theory for "the cover up" is the lucrative contract that Divapova sign with Nike, again my theory. The only proof if you can call it proof is that her return was delay more than once (I think three times).

During the match against "The Big Stuffed Bunny" I noticed her shoulder getting tired, like a baseball pitcher who has thrown too many pitches. I could easily predict when the ball was going to lend on the net when she was serving. I know that ball bashers don't do well in windy conditions, but it wasn't the wind that was bothering Divapova. You can easily see the frustration on her face during the match, one thing that you didn't see from her before because she always had this poker face. In order for Divapova to get frustrated it must be something physically wrong and she knows it. As a tournament progresses her shoulder becomes tired unfortunately these are the later rounds where she faces the tougher opponents. Which brings back to The Bunny who solely on the victory over Divapova became the favorite to win USO 10.

Emily or as Carlos likes to call me "Captain" said...

She probably should be, just to save players, humility!

Ahahahah well I have no issue :) hahaha.

Well there is no doubt, Divapova is still hurting. And she probabaly should have saved her comeback till wimbledon 2009 instead of the French, cause she can't exactly stop now. hahaha.

Carlos said...

Conspiracy theory: Her major sponsor (NIke) forced her to an early comeback. :P

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