September 11, 2011

A Day to Remember

For several reasons today carries a lot of meaning for so many, New Yorkers in particular. So it's only appropriate that we take the opportunity to remember and honor those we lost on this date, ten years ago. But at the same time, it's reassuring to know that we are able to find escape and enjoyment in things today, and the four men and women left standing at the U.S. Open have done more than their part to give us a show. It might not be the matches we expected at the outset, but both finals promise to deliver sparks we'll be talking about for a long time.

The ladies will contest their final later this afternoon, less than twenty-four hours after they each booked their spots.

Sam Stosur seems to have regained the form that made her the favorite at last year's French Open. The hard-hitting Australian was tested in some early rounds, going three sets against both Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko last weekend, but breezed into the semis with a straight-set win over 2010 runner-up Vera Zvonareva. Last night versus world #92 Angelique Kerber she was seemingly in control before the German took the middle set but finally came through to reach her second Major final.

In the late match last night 2008 champion Serena Williams continued her comeback and added to the doubts swirling around world #1 Caroline Wozniacki, who's now gone just about a year in the top spot without a Grand Slam title. Though she's shown a bit more vulnerability in recent matches, she's largely dominated her opponents, one by one, and leads the field in serving and acing statistics. Now the only player in any draw who hasn't dropped a set, she's clearly the one with experience on her side on Sunday.

The two have met a handful of times over the past few years, with Serena taking their last match in Toronto in two quick sets. But Stosur should take heart in their amazing Roland Garros quarterfinal last year, which produced some of the best points of the tournament -- she won that battle to establish herself in the top ten. It's true that her route to the final might have left her a bit winded, but this has the potential to be the best-contested championship on the women's side we've seen in a long time.

On the men's side Rafael Nadal made his way to a second consecutive final in New York with his win over Andy Murray last night. Both were playing matches on back-to-back days, but the Spaniard was the fresher from the start. After taking a relatively quick two-set lead, he finally gave up a break in the third, but was able to hold on for the win in a relatively uneventful match. After some early losses over the summer and limited hardcourt play, I'm not sure many believed the world #2 would repeat the run, but it's good to see him hitting and moving as effortlessly as always.

He might even have the advantage over his opponent, top-ranked Novak Djokovic who withstood a brutal five set marathon in the first semi contested yesterday. After losing the first two sets to five-time champion Roger Federer, it looked as though the Serb was down for the count. He managed to get and hold onto a break early in the third and somehow even forced a decider, but when Fed took the lead it seemed all his efforts were for naught. But somewhere in him, he found the strength to save two match points, draw back even, and ultimately serve out the match. It was the fourth time Djokovic had beaten the legend this year and avenged his loss in the Paris semis -- famously one of only two losses he's so far suffered this year.

So under some of the most unlikely circumstances the top two men in the world will play for the U.S. Open trophy tomorrow. Nadal, of course, holds the overall lead in their head-to-head history and won their meeting here just last year, but the margin has significantly narrowed over the last nine months with Djokovic winning all five of their face-offs in 2011, including, somewhat surprisingly, the Wimbledon championship. It's been a strange and exciting struggle to watch, and one you have to think will end sooner-or-later. But his long semi notwithstanding, Djokovic's game is certainly more suited to this surface, and something tells me we could be in for a good fight on Monday.

It's nice to know that on this anniversary date there are still some things out there that can make us smile and cheer and leave our deeper concerns aside for just a little while. It's a tough day for all of us, but we can take comfort in the fact that life can go on from here, and if we're lucky there's some good tennis along the way.

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