Archive for September, 2009
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009
Fresh off the story of the summer for tennis fans, another great returns to the game. Just a few days after Belgian Kim Clijsters defeated Caroline Wozniacki to capture her second U.S. Open, compatriot Justine Henin has announced that she too will grace the courts again.
Henin, who left the game as the top player in the world last spring, has watched the game she dominated get younger. While Clijsters made it look rather easy en route to the spotlight in New York, Henin enters the fold again at the ripe old age of 27 and with more questions than answers. Will she be mentally sharp enough to play at the highest level after such a break? Is her body going to be able to hold up against the grind of a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour season, when historically she has had injury problems?
Clijsters stunned the tennis world by winning the final Grand Slam of the year (which included wins against both Williams sisters) after a two-year hiatus to raise a family. Let’s not underestimate the magnitude of this athletic feat. Henin, in my opinion, has one of the prettiest backhands in the game, man or woman.
While the on-again, off-again status of athletes is sometimes annoying, I think fans just want to see the best in their favourite sport, and that means having more champions compete. There’s no question that Henin will have an immediate impact on the Tour. The Youth Movement will be put to the test, Serena and Venus will have more competition at the Slams, and suddenly, Belgium looks pretty good in Fed Cup (especially when you consider how the non-former No. 1 players did in Gotham.
Henin plans to play exhibition tournaments in Charleroi, Belgium, and Dubai to hone her skills ahead of a return to the WTA tour in 2010. Next year has the makings of being the best in recent memory. If Justine can capture even a spark from the Belgium flame, fans will be the biggest winners.
Monday, September 14th, 2009
A six-foot-six giant killer. It certainly wasn’t David versus Goliath but still one of the biggest upsets in years. Juan Martin del Potro, the 20-year-old Argentine, seeded sixth at the U.S. Open, knocked off five-time defending champion and the most decorated tennis man in history, Roger Federer, to capture the first Grand Slam of his career. In the longest U.S. Open final, a match that spanned four hours and six minutes, Del Potro captured the final major of the 2009 year with an impressive 3-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 defeat of R-Fed.
Federer was facing his sixth different opponent in the US Open final, and came into the encounter with the edge. Whereas he was appearing in a record 21st Grand Slam final, del Potro was playing in just his 14th Grand Slam tournament. Additionally, the Swiss had won all six of their previous meetings.
Federer’s serve failed him throughout the final, finishing with a 47 per cent mark (91/192) and 11 double faults. Del Potro had one of the most punishing forehands I’ve seen in years. It was more than Federer could handle on this day. The Argentine played with no fear. You wouldn’t think he was playing the mighty Federer in his first Grand Slam final. The second and fourth set wins for Del Potro came via tiebreak but the fifth set was all Juan. He served at a 78 per cent rate and Federer made 15 unforced errors. The Swiss was broken at his first service game
Del Potro had earned his place in his first Grand Slam final with a decisive win in the semi-finals – handing Nadal his most lopsided Grand Slam loss. He became the first player to post wins over both Federer and Nadal at the same Grand Slam tournament, and also became the first player this year to defeat the world’s top three players, having beaten Andy Murray in Madrid this past May. He dropped the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank final in Montreal in three sets to Murray.
The script for many may have read Federer Secures Sixth but del Potro changed the storyline and earned his place in Grand Slam history. Make no mistake about it, this champion is here to stay. It was a Federer / Nadal fable for a few years but others have joined the fold. The 2009 version of the U.S. Open has opened the contender’s door wide open.
Monday, September 14th, 2009
I was going to write that I was the happiest person in the household when Kim Clijsters won her second U.S. Open on Sunday night, but realized that my wife’s family is from Belgium.
It is the type of sports story that could never be written. One of the most-liked players on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour returns after a two-year hiatus from starting a family, plays just two warm-up events (including Toronto) and smashes through the competition at the final Grand Slam of the year.
“This has been so exciting for me. It wasn’t really part of the plan. I just wanted to play these three tournaments and get used to all of the surroundings again,” Clijsters said during the on-court trophy presentation. “Caroline (Wozniacki) is such a great fighter. Women’s tennis should be proud to have such a great girl playing.”
Clijsters is right. I had the chance to work with the young Dane as part of the downtown street tennis event at Yonge/Dundas during Rogers Cup. Wozniacki was a doll. She is just what the Tour needs – a warm, media-friendly ambassador – who is also one of the best defensive players I’ve seen in years. It was kinda fitting that two of the nicest players in women’s tennis fought tirelessly to win the last major of 2009. My grandmother once told me that good things happen to good people.
I’m quite sure that tournament organizers around the world had a little smile on their faces Saturday night after defending U.S. Open champion Serena Williams experienced an emotional meltdown on centre court during her high-profile match against Clijsters. The incident will be talked about for months as Williams, who was beaten 6-4 in the opening set of the women’s semifinal against the Belgian, was serving to stay in the final Grand Slam of 2009 and was called for a foot-fault, bringing up match up for Clijsters. What’s more frustrating for me is not the way the match ended, or even the extreme display of unsportsmanlike conduct by a so-called living tennis legend. This poor show of judgment took away from the fact that former world No. 1 Clijsters achieved the unthinkable, and just 24 hours later, put an exclamation point on one of the greatest comeback stories in sport.
Let’s not forget in all of this hoopla that the Belgian played some phenomenal tennis. We’re talking world-class forehands and rabbit-like footwork. Her strength does not mean the competition is weak, this win speaks more about how great of a player Clijsters really is.
A year ago, administrators and fans were questioning the future of women’s tennis. Player dropouts, a lack of challengers, a rotating door at No. 1 and only the Williams sisters with notoriety in the Top 10. Turn the clocks ahead and most would agree that all of the hard work to made the game better, combined with the return of a champion and the emergence of some terrific talent, means a healthy Tour in 2010.
Fans deserve it, just as much as the ladies deserved their results this fortnight.
Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
The only unfortunate thing about the Cinderella of the U.S. Open, Melanie Oudin, is that her next opponent will not be from Russia. The wide-smiling 17-year old from Georgia (the American state, not the country) has stolen the hearts of U.S. tennis fans more-so than any countrymate since a then-17-year-old Serena Williams won the tournament over Martina Hingis in 1999.
Oudin (pronounced EW-den) has knocked off four Russians en route to her quarter-final appearance against ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark. Say good-bye to a three-time Grand Slam winner and former No. 1 (No. 29-seed Sharapova), the reining Olympic gold medalist and Rogers Cup champion (No. 4 Elena Dementieva), as well as a former world No. 3 (No. 13-seed Nadia Petrova). Say hello to the most recent teenage sensation.
Interestingly, Oudin has won her last three matches after dropping the first set. Her made-for-Hollywood shoes have the inscription BELIEVE, and that’s exactly what she has made out of the crowds at Flushing Meadows. Through the first eight days at the U.S. Open, Oudin has been a bigger story than even Federer’s quest for a sixth straight win in New York. It’s funny what reaction a young American does for the local press.
Oudin’s notoriety came just a couple of months ago in Jolly ‘Ol England. She reached the fourth-round of a Grand Slam for the first time at Wimbledon (as qualifier, defeated No.29 seed Bammer and No.6 seed Jankovic en route). Afterwards, she made her Top 100 debut and entered the final Grand Slam of the year at No. 70. She will soar to Top 45 most likely when the U.S. Open is over. Not bad for a woman who claimed the Quebec City Challenger quarter-final appearance as one of her best accomplishments. The big wins for Oudin at Wimbledon proves that the kid might not be just a flash in the pan.
At the beginning of the 2009 U.S. Open there were 15 Russian women in the main draw. Heading into the Final 8 of the tournament, there are no Russians left – and they have Melanie Oudin to thank for more than a quarter of the fatalities. Whether the American teenager goes down Wednesday or keeps the dream alive, she has been the lead story in the Big Apple.
Sunday, September 6th, 2009
While I have a profound respect for the careers of both Serena and Venus Williams, I have to admit, I was more than thrilled when Kim Clijster’s serve was unreturnable Sunday afternoon, thereby eliminated the third seed, and eldest sister. I don’t even know if it’s about S + V or more about the total bias displayed by our broadcasting friends south of the border.
True, Venus has been experiencing knee problems (not that I think that had anything to do with her tanking in Toronto). At times, she has looked old on court. But I’ve also seen her move like a rabbit in some rallies, getting to balls she has had no business striking. That all being said, her match against former No. 1 and ‘Comeback Kid’ from Belgium, Kim Clijsters, was pretty even in terms of handicaps. Clijsters has played just two tournaments (including Rogers Cup) before this stint at the US Open after a two-year layoff to have a child – who is absolutely adorable and a Mini Kim.
So when the two elite players squared off Sunday at Flushing Meadows, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person scratching their head when Venus and Kim exchanged bagels. I can’t remember the last time I saw that. After two sloppy sets, the women gave fans one of the more entertaining and skillful third sets we’ve seen at this year’s last Grand Slam. However, when Kim made a shot, it was Venus, according to American TV, who just physically couldn’t give anymore because of her injury, not the fact that Clijsters is pretty darn good in her own right. Her forehand is one of the most powerful in the game, even after such a long break. If she can get her fitness to a higher level and continue to work on her serve, there is no limit to Clijsters’ success.
Her next opponent is veteran Na Li of China. If she can pull that quarter-final match off, her reward will be a Thursday semifinal date with Serena. Can she take out the Williams Family? Here’s one broadcaster, who for once is picking sides.
Thursday, September 3rd, 2009
Aleksandra Wozniak (Blainville, QC) proved she belonged on tennis’ grandest stage Wednesday at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, the final Grand Slam event of the 2009 season.
Playing on the famed Arthur Ashe Stadium Court at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the 21-year old posted a dominant 6-4, 6-0 victory over two-time Grand Slam champion and former World No. 1 Amélie Mauresmo to reach the third round of a Major for the second time this year and for the first time in Flushing Meadows. After dropping the first three games of the match, Wozniak quickly righted the ship and went on to dismantle her esteemed opponent, seeded seventeenth in the tournament, in just over an hour. The world No. 39 won 25 of the 35 points played in the second set alone.
In the Round of 32, Wozniak will face another stiff test in world No. 10 Flavia Pennetta of Italy. The two players have met once before and it was Pennetta who won last summer on hard courts in the opening round at Los Angeles on the heels of Wozniak’s maiden tournament triumph in Stanford. Their second encounter will be contested on Friday in New York.
Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
Stéphanie Dubois (Laval, QC) achieved a career milestone on Tuesday U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, the final Grand Slam event of the 2009 tennis season.
The 22-year old earned her first main draw victory at a Grand Slam after defeating the top ranked junior player in the world, Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-0, 6-4 to advance to the second round. After sweeping through her opponent in the opening set in just 20 minutes, Dubois found herself down 1-4 in the second before reeling off the final five games of the match to overcome the first round hurdle, breaking Mladenovic a total of seven times en route to the win.
Ranked no. 113 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings, Dubois had cracked the singles main draw of a major on six previous occasions including the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year before coming up with her first triumph on tennis’ biggest stage. On Thursday, she will be looking to make two in a row when she goes up against Romanian Sorana Cirstea, seeded 24th in the tournament and no. 26 in the world.