September 18, 2009

The Lessons We Learned

What, you thought it was over?

It took a few days, but I'm finally over my U.S. Open hangover withdrawal and I've had some time to reflect on the happenings of the past two weeks. As with all tournaments, we created a few new stars, found a slew of surprising hotheads, and came to terms with a couple of facts we might have been trying to ignore.

Remember in 1999 when the Gonzaga Bulldogs, an unheard of team seeded tenth in the NCAA basketball tournament, advanced to the Elite Eight by beating #6 Florida and #2 Stanford? What a Cinderella story! But then the next year, again ranked tenth in their region, they beat another second seed in St. John's, and in 2001 they took out #5 Virginia. And still the moniker stuck. That made me think that maybe we should stop calling them "Cinderella" -- maybe we should just call them good.

Take note of that when you talk about Melanie Oudin. Yes, her run in New York was magnificent -- I don't think anyone else took out three top-thirty players this year, especially no one so unaccustomed to the big stage, and I certainly don't mean to detract from her accomplishments. Then again, Melanie's already proven her worth -- she took out Jelena Jankovic in Wimbledon, and in February she recorded a key victory over Argentina's Betina Jozami to keep the Fed Cup hopes of the U.S. alive.

Plus, she's not that young! Maria Sharapova was just a few months past seventeen when she won Wimbledon, and Martina Hingis was sixteen when she took home her first Australian Open crown. By that standard, Oudin -- without a single Tour title yet -- is kind of behind the curve. Sure she's new to the pro circuit, and if she's able to control her serve better, she's bound to become a champion. But maybe we should just confess that her performance is not a miracle.

Lesson learned: Maybe her wins are just a reflection of her hard work and developing talent, something that will hopefully pay dividends in the future.

The stories weren't all good, of course -- the tournament was muddied by outbursts from some unlikely sources. Most notably, of course, there was the frightening breakdown of Serena Williams, but there was also an angry Vera Zvonareva smacking the net and an annoyed Daniel Nestor berating a fan -- even consummate professional Roger Federer lost his cool during the final and was penalized $1,500. All in all the Open collected $31,500 in fines for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Lesson learned: Shut your trap! (Especially when there are microphones around!)

And there were some disappointing shows on the court too. Top seeded Dinara Safina failed -- again -- to win her maiden Major. She was pushed to the limit by teenager Olivia Rogowska and Germany's Kristina Barrois, both of whom took the first set tiebreaks, before ultimately falling to Petra Kvitova, ranked #72 in the world. And second seeded Andy Murray was hailed far and wide as one of the favorites to go all the way. Commentators were left singing another tune, though, when the Brits' best hope for a trophy was sent packing in the fourth round.

Dinara, of course, has long had to endure accusations that she didn't deserve her ranking, but this was the first time I'd heard anyone question Andy Murray's place near the top. All of a sudden there was talk that he'll never make it unless he can convert at the Slams -- this from the same people who'd been touting him for so long.

Lesson learned: Make sure you can back up your -- and others' -- tough talk.

And, I have to admit, I'm also becoming painfully aware of one other fact -- this may be the end for James Blake.

His third-round loss to Tommy Robredo was easy to overlook, given that it happened on the most tumultuous day of the tournament, but it was nonetheless a letdown. He had a break lead in the first set, but somehow ended up falling in straights. That matched his performance last year and was his earliest exit since 2001.

More disappointing, it's now been more than two years since he won his last title in New Haven, and while he did reach a couple of finals this year he just can't seem to capture the crown. And, while I was being somewhat facetious about Oudin's age, just a few months from thirty James really is getting up there -- he's going to have to pull himself together if he hopes to stage a comeback like Tommy Haas.

Lesson learned: I gotta find someone else to love.

So as we move into the last few months of this tennis season, we'll see if these lessons are taken to heart or if we're just fated to relive our mistakes in 2010. Though I guess that wouldn't be the worst thing -- after all, the U.S. Open was one of the most exciting we've seen in a long time.

And it just sets the stage for all the fun that's left to come!


Paula Vergara said...

Great post! I agree, letting go of James Blake will be tough, but all players must face the end of the tennis road sooner or later. I just hope that it's later for James.

Kavitha said...

I hear ya! I'm hoping he's got at least one more championship left in him. He's been through so much, you gotta think he's got more fight left in him!

Kim at TennisFixation said...

Good points! I am just happy to see a new American face in women's tennis come forward. I hope Melanie Oudin can keep it up.