September 8, 2011

Raining Reining It In

After two days of virtually no play at the U.S. Open, the grounds were finally abuzz again Thursday, as players and fans packed all the courts at Flushing Meadows and tried to cram in as much tennis as they could. There were some upsets, some breakthroughs, and some serious beat-downs, and as we draw ever closer to determining this year's titleists, even with more storms in the forecast, it's clear that the ones who will prosper are those who've best controlled themselves during some very adverse conditions.

The men finished up their fourth round matches first, many resuming sets they'd barely started Wednesday -- understandably, to the complaints of several. Defending champion Rafael Nadal and #4 seed Andy Murray each had fairly simple days, with the Spaniard overcoming a early break by Gilles Murray to win the match in straights and the Scot powering through five games in a row to claim the first set before finishing off Donald Young in under two hours. Both were clear beneficiaries of their experience, and never allowed their opponents to play catch-up in matches that should have been completed two years ago.

Over on the outer courts, two Americans found a way to power through higher-ranked players despite delays, court bubbling and an unusual change in locale. John Isner, who never began his match on Wednesday, came back from a break down against former top-ten player Gilles Simon to win the first set in a tiebreak. About two hours later he withstood losing the lead in the fourth and ultimately notched the upset, making his first ever Slam quarterfinal. At about the same time, 2003 U.S. Open champ Andy Roddick was finishing up a match way out on Court 13, usually reserved for little-known players and juniors matches. Having his match suspended yesterday after securing a break, he was unflustered on resumption, taking a two-set lead and finally closing out the win over fifth-seeded David Ferrer in about two-and-a-half hours. That earned the veteran his best performance here since 2008 and showed he still might have what it takes to get a big win.

When those men were done, the ladies took the courts to contest their quarterfinals. World #1 Caroline Wozniacki, who displayed some real fight in her fourth round, late-night match against Svetlana Kuznetsova Monday, was similarly relentless against feisty Andrea Petkovic. After grabbing the early lead quickly, she failed on her first attempt to serve out the match in the second, but ultimately won the tiebreak to make her third straight semifinal here. She'll have to meet non-paper favorite Serena Williams to advance, though, and the American continues to play some of her best ball. Though she traded breaks with young Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the first six games of their match, she ultimately held strong to make her nineteenth Major semi, and you gotta like her chances here on out.

The upsets, though, came in the bottom half of the women's bracket. Last year's runner-up Vera Zvonareva was slated against Sam Stosur, herself a Grand Slam finalist in 2010, who must have been thrilled for the respite after battling through two long three-setters in her previous two rounds. The Australian took control early, dropping just four points on first serve in the opening set, and quickly finished off her opponent, marking her eighth straight win over the second seed. The bigger shock, however, came in this half's other match where super-unseeded Angelique Kerber took on recent giant-killer Flavia Pennetta. In a match with sixteen breaks of serve, and incidentally the only quarterfinal that took three sets to complete, the twenty-three year old German, whose previous Major best was a couple third round appearances, was ultimately the victor.

The last couple matches that took the court today largely proceeded as expected -- or at least as you'd expect these days. Novak Djokovic was slightly spotty against compatriot Janko Tipsarevic for two sets, giving up and getting back breaks all over the place, but won nine games in a row before his friend retired midway through the fourth set. And in the night session grudge match between Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the five-time champion had an early break before, once-again, rain halted play.

Of course the schedule for the rest of the tournament has been somewhat turned on its head, and with a less-than-inspring forecast the next few days threatening more stop-and-go action, everyone left will have to continue to keep their cool on the court. There will certainly be more frustration and delays ahead, but if the players can stay focused and protect their games and their safety, we have the prospect of several days of great tennis ahead of us!

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