Women’s draw wide open, Williams sees chance at US Open

The US Open has provided more than its fair share of drama and unexpected results, at least on the women’s side of the draw. Thus far, five of the top ten seeds have been eliminated, and the ones that remain are either young, like Eugenie Bouchard, former number ones (the women I like to call Slamless Wonders, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki, who looks good again), Maria Sharapova, and of course, Serena Williams. 

It’s been a wild time of it on the ladies’ side, and it started early, as 15-year-old Catherine “CiCi” Bellis of the United States took out Aussie Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova. Though she lost in the next round, youth was served in a number of other matches, with 17-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland beating 6-seed Angelique Kerber handily in straight sets. What was most interesting to me was the way that so many of the top seeds looked really good in their opening matches only to get absolutely handled by opponents ranked or seeded so much lower than they. 

Agnieszka Radwanska nearly double bageled her first round opponent and then lost quickly, 6-3, 6-4, to 50th-ranked Shuai Peng of China in the second round. Petra Kvitova was looking great, having steamrolled her first two opponents, only to lost meekly, 6-4, 6-4, to a 21-year-old Serbian qualifier. It was clearly a tough pill to swallow for the Wimbledon champ, who later gracefully gave all the credit to her opponent. It furthers an unfortunate streak that Kvitova has developed, of not really doing well in New York, especially after winning Wimbledon (she lost in the first round in 2011, after her first title at the All England Club). Her vanquisher, Aleksandra Krunic, will play a resurgent Victoria Azarenka in the round of 16, who has easily taken care of her second and third round opponents and seems to have found her stride since I saw her struggle in the first round. This is unusual because the DecoTurf of the US Open is fast, probably the surface most similar to the grass of Wimbledon in the game, and favors a player of her talents. 

Just when it seemed like Ana Ivanovic was working her way back to contention, she gets upset early by unseeded and 41st-ranked Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic (a nation that has produced a number of breakout female players, a lot like Russia in the mid 2000s, and similar to Australia with the men’s, and, to a lesser extent, the women’s side as well). Couple that with the struggles of Sam Stosur, who seems more and more like a flash in the pan, and the early exit of breakout star Simona Halep, and the women’s draw is absolutely wide open. 

Halep lost to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, whose surprise victory has given a wider audience to her story, which is absolutely amazing. A Grand Slam doubles champion in 1998, Lucic-Baroni fled an abusive father and spent several years away from the tour. She later returned, and at the advanced age of 32, looked stunning in dispatching Halep, the woman with the motor that never quits, who reminds me a lot of Justine Henin in terms of mobility and pound-for-pound power. At any rate, definitely watch out for her going forward, as her experience figures to serve her well against Sara Errani in the round of 16 and looking ahead to a possible quarterfinal matchup with Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki. 

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has overcome intense personal hardship to make it to where she is right now, and the victory over number two seed Simona Halep only makes it sweeter.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has overcome intense personal hardship to make it to where she is right now, and the victory over number two seed Simona Halep only makes it sweeter.

I think the quarterfinals will shake out thusly: Serena Williams-Flavia Pennetta, Victoria Azarenka-Eugenie Bouchard, Jelena Jankovic-Shuai Peng, and Caroline Wozniacki (here’s to hoping she beats Sharapova)-Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. 

One thing that may account for the unpredictability on the women’s side of the game is this, which at one point talks about the statistic that many of the women are much more likely to give a break back than consolidate it after breaking. This tendency probably has the effect of generally wreaking havoc with a player’s psychology, leading to scores like the one Errani beat Venus Williams by: 6-0, 0-6, 7-6. Either way, it appears that nobody is safe, as the top seeds have been dropping like flies. Additionally, the fact that the women only play best-of-three sets makes each point that much more important and the margin for error that much smaller. 

On the men’s side, all ten of the top seeds are still in, and most have looked pretty strong in reaching the third and fourth rounds. Without doubt, the matchup of the round of 16 is Milos Raonic-Kei Nishikori. Nishikori is an awesome mover and a great counterpuncher, Raonic is one of the hottest new names on tour and packs a wallop in both serve and groundstokes. It should be an amazing confrontation, and I cannot wait to watch it. The winner of that will get either Stanislas Wawrinka, fresh from a walkover against Blaz Kavcic, or Tommy Robredo, the ageless Spaniard (who, at 32, is actually younger than Roger Federer, but it seems like he’s ancient even though he beat Fed here last year). 

Robredo looked like he was going to be demolished by wave of youthful power and poise in the form of Nick Kyrgios, another hotheaded Aussie. But after dropping the first set, Robredo settled in and started allowing Kyrgios to make mistakes. And make them he did. It seemed impossible, but Robredo just wouldn’t go away, and the inevitable mistakes eventually got to the 19-year-old who earlier defeated Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, and he folded in four sets. It reminded me of watching Andre Agassi dismantling a younger, sprier opponent. With a great return, strong groundstrokes, and great anticipation of powerful shots, they just wear down younger guys who can’t understand how balls they’ve all but knocked the fuzz off just keep coming back. Keep an eye on Kyrgios, though. When he puts it all together, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. 

Novak Djokovic seems to be have recovered his form, as has Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will face Andy Murray in the round of 16. I think the Frenchman beats the Scot easily. Murray, as mentioned before, just hasn’t been right, and Tsonga is crushing the ball. That sets up an intriguing quarterfinal, and one I’m not ready to predict yet. Further down the draw, Federer looks poised to get Grigor Dimitrov, Gael Monfils, or Richard Gasquet in the quarters. I think it’ll be Dimitrov, who cruised in his second-round matchup, but then Monfils hits shots like this one, and I think he’ll pull some magic, especially if it’s a night match and the crowd is rowdy. 

Speaking of, I have to make a plug for the US Open ad campaign, “Nothing Beats Being Here.” Truly, nothing does. The announcers and the players keep going on and on about it, and they’re right. There’s nothing like being in a crowd that is almost as much a part of the action as the players, when they want to see spectacular tennis and it drives the whole affair to an entirely new level of intensity. Go, if you can. You won’t regret it. 

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