Archive for September, 2011

This Is No Rehearsal

Posted by Brodie under: Serena, Superhero, USO

13 Sep 2011

After a foot injury turned to a life threatening disease, Serena Williams missed her chance to return to the biggest stage of tennis and right the wrong that was her infamous shouting tirade on lineswoman Shino. She missed the chance to defend her Australian Open title, and missed Roland Garros too. Finally, she returned to Wimbledon in a wave of emotion that moved tennis fans everywhere. She was so happy to be there.

Truth be told, no one expected her to win that tournament, and she didn’t. That was fine. It was the calm before the storm, the trumpeting of the return of the “real” number one. The Queen was back, baby.

The stage was set all too perfectly. After casting out the number 1 Caroline Wozniacki like a heretic from the church of tennis nerddom, she was in the final. This wasn’t any final, however. Pushed back to Sunday because of the rain, it would take place on the 10th anniversary of September 11th in New York, happening at the same time as the triumphant return of the NFL’s first Sunday. It was all so American. All too perfect.

Her opponent would be Australian Samantha Stosur who she had dismantled in the Toronto final just weeks earlier, and had dismantled on many occasions before.

It wasn’t such smooth sailing, however. In many fans thirst for blood in the semifinal, they failed to see the chinks in the armour of Serena. She looked impatient at times, and missed easy shots. Her defense backed her up against an opponent seemingly incapable of hitting winners, and she was fine.

Stosur is not Wozniacki, however. She made her pay, keeping her off balance with her trademark kick serve, and punished the short balls down the line on the forehand wing when the opportunities presented themselves. She took the first set.

We as tennis fans didn’t jump to conclusions. It’s why they play the games, but it’s also why they play three sets. Serena would make errors, keep her calm with her trademark stretched left arm, palm-to-the-court “I’m not going to freak out” look. She would spank a couple winners, get fired up, gain her focus and composure, and her opponent would crumble under the weight of it all. It would be one way traffic from there, and the prophecy would be fulfilled.

If football is a game of inches, tennis is a game of milimetres. It’s also a game of milliseconds. After hitting that fateful forehand at the start of the second set, she yelled out a “come on!” before Sam got to the ball and lay a racquet to it. The point was rightly awarded to Stosur. It was one way traffic indeed, but the cars were on the wrong side of the road.

“You’re out of control. You’re totally out of control. You’re a hater, and you’re unattractive inside. Who would do such a thing? And I never complain. Wow. What a loser.” Just some of the deep insights that came out during the changeover.

Serena, rather sarcastically if you ask me, reflected after the match that she would have to check the rule book and thought obstruction was more like the “hat rule”, in that if you lose your hat, the point is called a let and you replay it. She was wrong.

Ironically, the tour has come under much scrutiny with the absence of Serena, Maria, Kim, and now permanently Justine in that many lower ranked players are able to make it deep into tournaments and in fact win them as the top seeds crumble and fall away. Sadly, despite Serena doing the same thing, Stosur rose to the occasion and took it, and not just in this match.

Her match versus Petrova was incredible (see my post below). The longest match in US Open history for the women, she dropped the second set, barely. But like what many of the top men do, frankly, they keep faith in that they were the better player on the court, stick to the game plan of staying aggressive and looking for openings, and wait it out on their way to victory, however slim it may be.

It was the same story in the next round as her and Kirilenko ground out one of the longest tiebreaks ever. While it would be lovely to say that winning it was a turning point for Stosur, that was not to be as Kirilenko took it 17-15. That was all fine and dandy for Stosur. She kept working, kept attacking, and smothered the exhausted Kirilenko and the train kept rolling.

When we look back at this tournament, it will be highlighted by the final, the return of Serena, and her inevitable frustration and fall. Really, it should be highlighted by those two fantastic, epic, historical matches that took place late at night on Louis Armstrong and the Grandstand respectfully. While the worlds’ eyes were elsewhere, a champion was forging the ground work for an historic run to the finish line.

Fistful of Steel

Posted by Brodie under: MaKiri, Superhero, USO

5 Sep 2011

It just wouldn’t be a Labour Day weekend without some drama after the sun goes down and the lights come on.

What was originally scheduled as the third match on Arthur Ashe was pushed all the way to a late start on the Grandstand as to avoid delaying the night session, and the fans were treated to some tennis dessert as Samantha Stosur took on Maria Kirilenko.

The first set was all Stosur from the beginning, dominating from the baseline off the forehand wing and troubling Kiri with her big kick serve. Kiri scratched out a hold and broke Sam serving for the set, but was then broken herself, and the set was over in a blink, 6-2.

From then on, MaKiri decided it was do our die, and it was a beautiful thing to see. Instead of trying to out hit Sam from the baseline, she took any and every opportunity she could to get to the net. This often meant taking short balls inside out on the forehand and pushing Sam to her weaker backhand side. It was textbook net rushing harkening back to the often used strategy of 20 years ago and more.

The greatest part, however, was that it was working. A wonderful doubles player in her own right, it didn’t matter if it was forehand, backhand, or right at her, Kiri had all the answers at the net.

After a grind of a set, it was off to a tiebreak, one that is now already partly legendary. Set points and match points saved abound, it was full of insane winners, long rallies, and missed opportunities. 32 points, and 17-15 to Kiri.

Jacked up on adrenaline, she came flying out of the gate in the third to hold at love and take a couple points off Sam’s serve. Two nights ago, Sam played the longest women’s match in US Open history against Petrova, where she served for the match in the second and blew the tiebreak. She kept calm on serve in the third and found a way to secure the only break of the final set at 5-6 to take the decider.

Not unlike two nights ago, Sam kept her cool. Something has to be said about both her mental strength and her fitness. It was pretty clear that Kiri’s adrenaline and level of play would not hold up all set, and like a vulture swooping in to claim its prey, Sam broke early and cruised to take the match as if the second set had never happened.

Make no doubt about it, Sam is playing incredibly well right now. The errors are there, and always will be when you play the way she does. The important thing is that she’s sticking to her game plan (kick serves, finding a way to the forehand, pushing out wide and staying patient) even when things get tough, but not playing stubborn enough to not make small adjustments (such as her approach to passing shots against Kiri, specifically the third set). Her past two matches have been insanely close, but her opponents have been on their game and they’ve deserved to be.

After a great run in Toronto, and now overcoming two difficult three set matches, Sam’s confidence has to be sky high. Up against Zvonareva in the quarters and then possibly the winner of Pennetta/Kerber, she might just be the favourite to make the final.

Glory Days

Posted by Brodie under: Flavs, Masha, USO

2 Sep 2011

These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

It’s been a weird summer for Maria Sharapova. After getting blown off the court in Toronto, literally and metaphorically, by a crafty youngster, she went on to win Cincinnati. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy, but above all, it was effective. At the end of the match she was the better player, and at the end of the tournament she was the best player.

Unfortunately for her, it was a fine balance, and this week the scales didn’t quite tip as she would have liked them.

“I made way too many unforced errors. I fought back to get myself back in the match in the third set. I think the first three, four games on every game I had a chance to win that game, whether it was a breakpoint or it was a game point on my serve, and I didn’t win those games.” “Um, I didn’t feel comfortable with most of my game today,” said Sharapova.

Make no doubt about it, there are always two players on the court. Pennetta was incredibly consistent today, and persistent. She also overcame a huge mental hurdle in the third set, when she blew two break points to go up 4-0 and eventually found herself back on serve.

” Well, I just starting to play not too much shots in the same position to try to move her a lot and try to let her run a lot, and I think it was working really good. All the time when she move on the forehand she have a little bit of problem; with the backhand she can do whatever she want. So also I starting to be really aggressive when she was serving. I try to just let her think too much and maybe make some double fault,” said Pennetta. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s experience, maybe it’s luck, but getting Maria Sharapova to over think is a wonderful strategy, and it worked.

For Masha, it’s a match in a string of frustrating up and downs since her comeback from her shoulder injury. The ability is there, but the changes to the serve still haven’t quite worked out and one could argue the mental steel isn’t quite there either. After a double fault that brought up 0-30, 4-5 on her serve in the third she looked near tears. It was as if to say “no matter how hard I push back, I just can’t quite make it.” She lost that game and the match.

Luckily for Sharapova, her year is not over and she has a chance to return to Asia, where she found success last year, and the Year End Championships. ” I’m not really looking forward to a 14 hour flight in a couple of weeks. Yeah, the year is not over. We’ve still got I think I still have three tournaments to go or so. Yeah, once they come then it will be time to play again and raise my level. Until then, I just have to, you know, keep working in order for me to go out in the match and raise it.”

Photo: Getty

The Changeover Podcast:

Episode #56 – Indian Wells Wrap