After The Win, Nadal Basks In Glory

In the city that never sleeps, Rafael Nadal wasn’t resting on his laurels after capturing his first career US Open to complete the career Grand Slam on Monday night. The World No. 1 stayed on site at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center until after 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, celebrating with his family and friends, making a point to personally thank the members of the USTA staff for running the tournament and conducting interviews with Spanish television.

“I had the control antidoping, and saying hello, all the US Open staff and say thanks, everybody, for the organization, for the facilities that they give me, they give to me,” Nadal said in explaining his activity immediately after he crashed to the court following championship point.  “After that, I was with the authorities, they came, thank you very much. And the president of the Spanish Federation and the family.  Just be out there for the family for a few minutes, and afterward I was in the locker room organization, and having organizing all the clothes.”

So exactly what did Nadal do the morning after his triumph in New York City?

Nadal and girlfriend Xisca, who sat by herself in the player dining area gazing out of the window and watching the rain fall during the one hour, 47-minute rain delay that interrupted the men’s final, sat side-by-side in a van that took the pair back to their Manhattan hotel after 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning.

The nine-time Grand Slam champion only got about three hours of sleep before heading to Times Square with his family and management team for a photo shoot across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe.

Tourists and fans, seeing the swarm of photographers waiting and blue police barricades set up in Times Square knew something was about to happen and began to crowd the area.

Nadal and his team rolled up, he jumped out of a car and posed for a series of photos while fans screamed support (and a couple of marriage proposals) in his direction. An immensely popular presence in New York, Nadal acknowledged the crowd then it was back in the car for the short ride to Nike Town in mid-town Manhattan where fellow Nike endorser and tennis television analyst John McEnroe, who picked Nadal to win the Open before the tournament began last month, conducted a question and answer session in front of fans wearing Nike Nadal t-shirts staffers passed out at the door.

At the start of the interview McEnroe asked Nadal the question that had long been on his mind.

“How are you so damn humble?” McEnroe asked. “(You must be thinking) Why is this old man asking me these boring questions I want to get the hell out of here  and go home.”

A grinning Nadal replied: “Always a pleasure to talk to you John. That’s the only thing I can do (be nice to people). There are people out there every day waiting for a photo. That’s the normal thing to do. That’s my opinion.”

An unconvinced McEnroe shot back, “I tell them to get a life sometimes” prompting laughter from both the crowd and Nadal.

Nadal said life in Mallorca has shaped the player and man he has become.

“It’s part of the character in Mallorca; we are very relaxed,” Nadal said. “The life there goes a
little slower than here in New York so for that reason I am more relaxed on court.”

Completing the career Grand Slam on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court, Nadal fell to his back in a complete collapse and said his match point moment was purely a physical response.

“You don’t have control of your body at that moment,” Nadal said. “I don’t have any plan to go down when I win the title. When I won the last point I am (there).”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Nadal Completes Career Grand Slam With Win Over Djokovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Hurling himself into the final ferocious forehands of the night like a fighter unleashing uppercuts with incisive intentions, Rafael Nadal took his shot at tennis history on the rise and completed his Grand Slam coronation in stirring style tonight.

Nadal captured his first career US Open championship to complete the career Grand Slam with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Novak Djokovic in the Flushing Meadows final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s more than I dreamt,” said Nadal, whose fingertips, still tinged with adhesive tape, tickled the shiny silver title trophy that eluded him for so long. “I know, for me, it’s a dream have the career Grand Slam, but this is more (of a) dream (to) have the US Open.  Is some moments unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams.”

On championship point, Nadal coaxed a final forehand error from Djokovic, watched Djokovic’s shot sail wide, dropped his Babolat racquet and fell flat on his back behind the baseline while camera flashes flickered continiously like a force of fireflies descending on Flushing Meadows to light up the night. Then he rolled over on his stomach, his palms pressing down on the court as if embracing the largest Grand Slam stage in the world in a heart-felt hug.

Throughout his career, the US Open was the one major title eluding him, but on this night, in this event, Nadal conquered the hard court once deemed to fast for game and brought more than 22,000 adoring fans along for the ride.

When it was over the appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd stood and gave both men a rousing ovation.

At the age of 24 years, 101 days, Nadal took another giant stride toward tennis immortality in becoming just the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam. Nadal is the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession. He is the third youngest man to complete the career Grand Slam after Don Budge (22 years, 357 days) and Laver (24 years, 32 days).

It is the ninth career major championship for Nadal, who is the first Spanish man since Manuel Orantes in 1975 to win the US Open. He spent some of the early years of his career as the second-seeded shadow to 16-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer. But now Nadal, five years Federer’s junior and owning a 14-7 career edge over the Swiss stylist in their head-to-head series, can stake a claim as one of the greatest players of all time. Should he he continue his winning pace, and there’s no one on the horizon who appears capable of slowing Nadal’s Roland Garros reign, can the muscular Mallorcan surpass Federer as the mythical Greatest Of All Time?

“Definitely,” Djokovic said without hesitation tonight. “He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever.  I think he’s playing the best tennis that I ever seen him play on hardcourts.  He has improved his serve drastically.  The speed, the accuracy, and of course his baseline is as good as ever. So he’s a very complete player.”

Solidifying his status as the best big-match player in the sport, Nadal is 6-0 in his last six Grand Slam finals.

Racing so far behind the baseline he could have almost tapped the blue back wall with his racquet, Nadal ripped running backhand passes that left Djokovic shaking his head in disbelief at times.

The match featured six rallies of 20 more strokes and those punishing exchanges took a toll on Djokovic, whose depleted legs, drained from the five-set fight with five-time champion Roger Federer in the semifinals, looked like licorice by the early stages of the fourth set.

A rhythm player who actually seems to grow stronger as the match goes longer, Nadal was seemingly swinging with even more force as he saw the finish line in the fourth set.

A titanic topspin forehand down the line gave Nadal a double break point in the third game of the fourth set. Djokovic retaliated with his own ripping forehand down the line to save the first break point, but that shot was effectively the Belgrade baseliner’s last stand. A Djokovic forehand tripped on the tope of the tape and landed long as Nadal broke for 2-1.

Two games later, Nadal was at it again, pummeling punishing shots that hounded Djokovic like a pack of pit bulls unleashed on a trespasser. When Djokovic, who fought so hard for so long, flattened a forehand into the net, he hung his head falling into a 1-4 hole, wearing the weary resignation of a man well aware the dream was evaporating in the night air.

Djokovic was serving at 4-all, 30-all in the second set when the skies opened up and rain began pouring down. Tournament referee Brian Earley, clutching his ever-present walkie talkie came out quickly and acted decisively. “We’re going in. Take them in,” Earley told the security team, which escorted Nadal and Djokovic back into the locker room.

After a one hour, 57-minute rain delay, the players returned to the court at about 7:48 and Djokovic struck the serve that officially resumed play at 7:59.

Serving at 5-6, Nadal bumped a drop volley into net to fall to 30-all. Djokovic drilled a backhand down the line to draw an error and earn break point.

Reading the serve down the T, Djokovic moved right to cut off the angle and drove a forehand return down the middle that flirted with the front of the baseline. Forced to respond off his back foot, Nadal could only lift an off-balance forehand into the net as Djokovic broke to seze the second set.

Winding up for a windmill fist-pump, the veins bulging in Djokovic’s neck were visible from courtside as he trotted to his court-side seat deadlocked at one set apiece.

Sprinting seven feet behind the baseline, back in the territory typically occupied by ball kids, Nadal somehow angled a backhand pass crosscourt to earn triple break point at 0-40 in the third game of the third set. Djokovic erased the first with an ace and saved the second when Nadal netted a backhand. On the third break point, Djokovic slice a serve wide, drew the short ball he desired, but lifted a crosscourt forehand wide as Nadal broke for 2-1. Nadal quickly consolidated for 3-1.

Cranking up the pressure like as if tightening a tennis vise, Nadal earned five break points in the seventh game of the fourth set. Serving under immense pressure, Djokovic played with more aggression on the break points and time after time denied Nadal a second break. Attacking net, Djokovic saved a fifth break point when Nadal mis-fired on a backhand pass. A gam that featured 16 points and spanned more than 11 minutes finally ended when Nadal knocked a backhand into net.

Djokovic dug out a hard-fought hold for 3-4, but his legs and lungs paid a steep price.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Nadal went toe-to-toe with Djokovic in a demanding rally that spanned more than 20 shots. It ended with Djokovic clocking a crosscourt forehand winner. Another fierce forehand down the line drew Djokovic to 15-30.

A determined Djokovic ripped a forehand crosscourt drawing a Nadal backhand beyond the baseline as Djokovic broke at love for a 3-1 second-set lead screaming “Come on!” as his parents jumped out of their seats in support.

Nadal had been broken in just two of 91 games in the tournament, but Djokovic broke him twice in the first seven service games of the final.

Whipping his backhand down the line to set up his inside-out forehand, Djokovic hammered an inside-out forehand to hold at love for 4-1. The Serbian strung together 11 consecutive points and appeared to have the second set under control.

Nadal had other ideas.

The USTA announced total attendance for the US Open was 712,976 total attendance.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Queens of Queens As King and Shvedova Win Women’s Doubles

The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” echoed around a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium shortly before the climactic tie breaker of today’s US Open women’s final while Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova both bounced on their feet in nervous anticipation as if trying to tap thumb tacks into the court with the soles of their shoes.  It was an appropriate anthem for the pair whose affection for doubles is so strong they seem to play every point as if powered by passion.

Minutes later, they were moving their feet in unison on championship point, eye-to-eye with Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova entrenched at net rapidly repelling every drive streaming at them with reflex volleys.

That’s when Shvedova took decisive action: She took touch to new heights.

Taking a small step back, Shvedova measured her shot and lofted an exquisite rainbow lob down the line directly over the 5-foot-10 Petrova’s head. Working the short court down the line is a difficult shot  under any circumstances — it’s downright demanding given the magnitude of the moment.

“Up! Up! Up! Up!” Huber urged, imploring her partner to take a leap at the sailing shot that carried championship hopes in its flight.

Petrova jumped, but the yellow ball floated like a runaway kite beyond her outstretched Babolat racquet,slowly spiraled in the air for what seemed to be several seconds before  kissing the corner of the blue court for a clean winner to complete a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) victory as King and Shvedova captured their first US Open championship and second consecutive major following their title triumph at Wimbledon in July.

“For me, it was like slow motion. It’s like in the movie.  It’s unreal,” Shvedova said of her winning lob. “But for me it was like this. I saw the ball was so slow. Vania was on the left, I was just waiting, and I saw Nadia was trying to get it. Then I was like then she didn’t get it.  People start to scream, and I was like I didn’t feel like we won.  It was so strange.”

The stroke of genius was a shot of relief for King, who watched the end of the final exchange unfold in silent prayer.

“She played like 10 balls in a row.  It was like, ‘Okay.  Hit a winner, please hit a winner, please hit a winner, please hit a winner, please miss, please miss, ‘ ” King said of her internal emotional dialogue. “Then she hit the lob, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s deep.’  So if it goes in, we win.  If it doesn’t, we lose the point.  Then it’s the next point.  I was like, Go in, go in, go in, go in.”

It went in, but Shvedova, who hit also gorgeous backhand lob winner to hold serve at 5-6 and force the breaker, did not actually see the shot land. She felt its impact in King’s leap of joy.

“They didn’t call anything.  I turned to Vania, and Vania jumped.  I was like so happy,” Shvedova said.

Petrova, who would come in second place in emanating positive energy even if Eyore was her opponent in a singles match, had a slightly less enthusiastic response to the winner  — she flung her Babolat racquet in frustration at her court side chair.

“There’s nothing you can do. I mean, I could just applaud her,” Petrova said. “Well done.  We were trying out hard and to give all today, and absolutely no regret.”

The softest shot of the rally had the most resounding impact of the match, sealing the first US Open doubles for the pair, who raised their Grand Slam record together to 12-0. It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider King and Shvedova won only one match together during the US Open Series.

Sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams had won six of the last nine Grand Slam doubles titles prior, but with Serena forced out of this Open with a foot injury the sisters were unable to defend their title. King and Shvedova, who became the first player from Kazakhstan to win a US Open title of any kind, saw the opportunity and made the most of it.

They have won the first two Grand Slam tournaments they’ve played and the speed of their success an ease of their partnership — they sometimes answer questions as if setting each other up for a response — has surprised both of them.

“I don’t think we expected it as well, because usually great pairs pair together for a long time to know each other, and they really get a feel for each other and become a true team,” King said. “We had that from the beginning.  I mean, we bonded together so well and we’re also good friends, which helped. Yeah, like she said, it’s strange. I mean, it’s amazing.”

Shvedova celebrated her 23rd birthday yesterday with King and a cake they ate inside the WTA Tour office upstairs inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Birthday banter did not include the 6-2, 2-6, 5-4 deficit the pair faced when rain postponed the doubles final on Sunday, forcing the USTA to schedule completion of the match at 3 p.m. today.

“Then when they canceled us, we went to dinner, and we were just focusing on her birthday,” King said. “It’s pretty special for her, for her birthday.  And then today, yeah, we decided to make a long warm up.  We don’t really talk that much about tennis off the court.  Our coaches like to do that.”

Huber partnered with Bob Bryan to win the US Open mixed doubles title and has been a pivotal player on the United States’ Fed Cup team that will host Italy in the November 6-7th final at the San Diego Sports Arena. Huber, who has a charitable foundation and supports social causes around the Houston area, was philosophical in defeat.

“I think we, as athletes, are very fortunate.  We can bring something good from the sport back to the normal life,” Huber said. “We can kind of relate. So in the tough times that we, are and maybe when you lose a point or you lose a close match like this when you’ve actually had an opportunity, you could walk away from it and sulk and not learn, or you could just say, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity to grow.’  And if you do okay in the bad times, imagine how good you’re gonna do when times turn around.”

Doubles is often relegated to the outer courts in the shadows of Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. A sad irony when you consider both Ashe and King were outstanding doubles players and that most of the tennis-playing fans who watch the Open play doubles. But when you rewind the highlight reel of this US Open consider that two of the most spirited and excited matches of the Flushing Meadows fortnight were contested on the doubles court. Twins Bob and Mike Bryan outdueled India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) to capture their third US Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title before an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that gave all four men a rousing ovation at the conclusion of a memorable match and King and Shvedova prevailed before a sparse, but adoring group of fans today.

There’s something about seeing two athletes put their heads, hearts and spirits together on the court. Two were truly one when it mattered most today.

“Doubles is a team sport.  It’s not like singles where sometimes it’s just power,” said King. “I mean, I think especially in the woman’s tennis there is a lot of finesse, a lot of touch. We try to play with combination.  I don’t think we play like a typical team, and I think it kind of throws off our opponents.  I think that people can see us playing and kind of aspire to that, you know, because it’s more about strategy where you place yourself, what shots to pick. You don’t have to be like 6’4″, 200 pounds and bash the ball.In doubles it’s a lot of creativity.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Clijsters Becomes An Open Dynasty With Her Third Title

Daughter Jada sat in the stands playfully pulling designer watches up her right wrist as if they were toy bracelets. On the court below, Jada’s famous mother, sporting the same blond haystack hairstyle, turned the title match into child’s play in issuing a tennis time-out to Vera Zvonareva. Playing with the speed of a dutiful mom determined to get her daughter home for bed time, Kim Clijsters crushed Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1 to capture her third US Open championship.

It was the most lopsided women’s final since Chris Evert dismantled Evonne Goolagong, 6-3, 6-0, in the 1976 final and the shortest women’s final since the USTA has timed title matches (in some pre-Open Era years players did not sit down on changeovers, resulting in finals that lasted less than an hour).

“A little bit of experience definitely helps,” said Clijsters, who collected the $1.7 champion’s check plus a $500,000 bonus for finishing second in the US Open Series to Caroline Wozniacki, the woman she defeated in the 2009 final. “Last year was a lot more confusing not having played for so long. So it was kind of different emotions starting to the tournament. I was able to play, especially in my last two matches, at my highest level. Obviously you want to do well at the places you’ve done well before. I know if I played well and if I’m healthy I can beat any of the top players.”

The second-seeded Belgian stretched her US Open winning streak to 21 matches, successfully defending her Flushing Meadows championship in dispensing her most comprehensive conquest of the tournament.

Give Clijsters 60 minutes (the official match time was 59 minutes) and she’ll give you a major title. Clijsters completely overpowered and overwhelmed Zvonareva, who was helpless to slow a woman playing at the peak of her powers, and sobbed into her towel after the match. Zvonareva’s eyes still glistened with tears as she spoke to the crowd following her second straight Grand Slam final loss.

“(I’m doing) a little bit better right now than 10 minutes ago when I was losing everything,” Zvonareva said in bringing some levity to a humbling defeat. “Kim just played tremendously well today and she deserved to win. Even though I’m disappointed at the moment, I still love New York.”

Zvonareva beat Clijsters in their last two meetings, scoring a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and registering a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the Montreal quarterfinals last month. The Wimbledon loss was particularly painful because it came after Clijsters defeated arch rival Justine Henin and appeared to be on course for a climactic clash with Serena Williams.

“I knew getting into the match which things were that I didn’t do well in the matches I lost,” Clijsters said. “Obviously the one at Wimbledon was, to me one of the most disappointing losses that I’ve dealt with so far in my career.”

Clijsters tried to overpower Zvonareva in those losses, this time she varied the height, speed and spin on her shots and applied relentless pressure with her fast feet and sliding, skidding splits.

“She’s the type of player who is consistent and likes the pace and likes to take over the pace from opponents,” Clijsters said. “I think today I was able to just mix it up well and just stay calm during the rally as well. Just put enough pressure and variety in there to throw up some high balls here and there. I think that just got her thinking even more just besides the fact that she was probably thinking about the occasion where she was playing and being in another final, which is always something that does have an effect on the way you feel, obviously.”

Still, the seventh-seeded Russian got off to a solid start and played Clijsters on even terms through the first four games in forging a 2-all tie. Then the blowout began.

Clijsters found the sweet spot on her Babolat and began to blister the ball with such confidence the shots flowed like all the right answers on a standardized tests. Zvonareva plays a similar style to Clijsters, but the former World No. 1 is bigger, stronger, more athletic and does everything a bit better.

Clijsters held for 3-2 to ignite an imposing run that saw her reel off seven straight games and effectively put the match out of reach.

“Physically today she was just much better than me,” Zvonareva said. “Physically, i was not capable of playing the same level as I was able to play yesterday….I tried my best out there. I gave 100%. I was not able to hang in there physically. Hopefully, I will have another chance.”

Characteristically classy, Clijsters took time out to console Zvonareva before raising the shiny silver US Open title trophy. Clijsters, who dropped her first four major finals, is the only woman in Open Era history to lose her first four Grand Slam finals before winning one. She put that experience to good use in offering encouraging words to Zvonareva immediately after the match.

“I think she’s a great person and she really knows how to be in those situations,” Zvonareva said. “When she gives such support, it’s great from her. She’s a great champion, but also a great person. Maybe because she said that maybe I’m not so disappointed right now.”

It was such a thorough thrashing coming in the aftermath of the Novak Djokovic’s dramatic five-set semifinal victory over five-time US Open champion Roger Federer, Clijsters sounded slightly chagrined by the result that sent the masses, who had waited anxiously for the men’s semifinal to end, streaming for the masses.

The 27-year-old Clijsters is the first woman since Venus Williams in 2001 to successfully defend the US Open championship and is the first woman to win three US Open titles in three consecutive appearances since Hall of Famer Chris Evert, who was in  Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight, won four straight US Open crowns from 1975 to 78.

Clijsters, husband Brian Lynch, a former Villanova basketball star, and their daughter Jada call New Jersey home for several weeks each summer. The Belgian-born Jersey girl has dominated the largest Grand Slam stage in the world as if it’s her own Garden State backyard.

When Clijsters beat Mary Pierce in the 2005 US Open final,  to claim her first career Grand Slam title, she capped a commanding hard-court season in which she posted a 36-1 record on North American hard courts.

Returning to New York as a wild card last summer, she beat both Venus Williams and Serena Williams en route to the final before sweeping Caroline Wozniacki to capture the 2009 Open crown.

In the aftermath of that match, daughter Jada captured the hearts of fans playfully tugging at her mother’s leg and pulling off the top of the silver title trophy as if it were part of her toy collection. Mother and daughter embraced again tonight and in the post-match interview Clijsters, who has already walked away from the game once and is well aware of how small the window of opportunity can be for champions, spoke about her desire to collect another major.

Widely respected for both her grace and game, Clijsters has become an adopted citizen of all four Grand Slam host cities. Formerly engaged to Lleyton Hewitt, she is revered as an honorary Aussie in Melbourne where some fans still call her “Aussie Kim”. She reached her first Grand Slam final at the 2001 French Open, falling to Jennifer Capriati, 12-10, in the third set and with Belgium bordering France she remains a popular presence in Paris. Clijsters is so well respected at Wimbledon, the only major where she’s yet to reach a final, the All England Club invited her to join Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Tim Henman to play the roof raising exhibition event in May of 2009.

“They all motivate you in a different way, obviously,” Clijsters said. “Tactic-wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them. But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously the Australian Open. Similar surface. They’ve gone away from the Rebound Ace in the last couple of years. So I’ve always enjoyed playing there. That’s obviously a Grand Slam I want to do well. I want to do well in all of them, of course.”

Daughter Jada is two-and-half years old now and Clijsters says she wants to have more children in the coming years so the watch on her daughter’s wrist is a reminder the career clock is ticking down.

“I would like to keep it going until the (2012) Olympics,” Clijsters said. “But then again, you never know what can happen. My main goal is to try and just stay injury free. if I can do that and if I can practice hard and work hard obviously the Grand Slams will always  be my focus. So now that I’m playing well obviously I’m not going to just give it up. I just want to keep it up.”

Clijsters made quick work of Zvonareva tonight and plans to make the most of her time in achieving her aim of taking these successful New York Nights on the road and winning another Grand Slam title.

“I will try everything that I can to be in the best shape possible to try to achieve what I achieved here,” said Clijsters, who then worked her way toward the door to take care of another important obligation: putting Jada to bed.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Djokovic Wins Dogfight With Federer To Get To Finals

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Arthur Ashe Stadium was rocking in rumbling roars in anticipation of the first Roger vs. Rafa US Open final as Roger Federer stood one point away from the creating the most electrifying encounter in recent US Open history. Firing his forehand with ambition, Novak Djokovic stood up to the five-time champion and more than 20,000 screaming fans in pulling the plug on the Big Apple buzz with audacious shotmaking.

In a dramatic duel that saw tension escalate with each brilliant baseline exchange, Djokovic fought off two match points with successive scorching forehand winners in the 11th game of the final set then withstood a break point in the 12th game to subdue five-time champion Federer, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 and advance to his first US Open final.

When Federer’s final forehand sailed wide, Djokovic stood wide-eyed on the court as if frozen in utter disbelief of completing his comeback and snapping Federer’s streak of six straight US Open finals. Thrusting his arms in triumph, Djokovic crossed himself, pressed his palms together as if in prayer then knelt down and kissed the court.

“It’s really hard to describe the feeling I have right now; 10 minutes ago I was a point from losing this match and now I managed to come back,” said Djokovic. “It’s one of those matches you will always remember in your career. I’m just so happy to be in the final.”

It is Djokovic’s second US Open final in the past four years, but he won’t have much time to celebrate. The 2007 runner-up will face World No. 1 Nadal in Sunday’s 4 p.m. final.

The top-seeded Spaniard stormed into his first Flushing Meadows final, overwhelming 12th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in a two hour, 13-minute semifinal that started the day of play on Ashe Stadium.

Continuing his quest to complete the career Grand Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession, Nadal may well be reveling in the fact he made quick work of Youzhny while Djokovic, who has been dogged by breathing issues, survived a physically-demanding five-setter with Federer.

“Having three sets match and two hours, or a little bit more, of the match always is great, no?  I gonna be in perfect conditions tomorrow, so that’s very positive,” Nadal said.  “We will see what happen.”

Given the fact Nadal has not surrendered a set so far, has only dropped serve twice in this tournament, owns a 14-7 career edge over Djokovic and Djokovic is coming off a a grueling semifinal with little turnaround time you might think the final could be as closely contested as an arm-wrestling match between the Incredible Hulk and Olivier Rochus.

The final is not a foregone conclusion though. Djokovic has won seven of 10 hard-court meetings with Nadal, including three in a row without dropping a set. Nadal’s last hard-court win over Djokovic was a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 triumph in the semifinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

It might sound borderline blasphemous to even suggest it, but could Djokovic, whose two-handed backhand is a more effective hard-court shot than Federer’s one-handed backhand, actually be better equipped to challenge Nadal on the US Open Deco Turf than 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer?

“When he’s playing well, probably (he) is the player who can play at high level for moments, no?  Because he can have winners from every part of the court.  He serve, when he’s serving well, help him a lot, because he can have very good serves,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “He’s a very difficult opponent for me, especially I had a lot of loses against him in this kind of surface.  I have victories, too, but I have loses.”

Djokovic’s recent US Open have been littered with a littany of loss all at the hands of Federer.

Down 15-30, Federer pulled out the slice forehand for the first time all day and moved forward behind that shot, slicing a sharp-angled backhand crosscourt to draw even. A scrambling Djokovic dug out a difficult running forehand to elicit the error and it was deuce. Two points later, Federer fired his 10th ace to take a 2-1 lead in the fifth set.

Deadlocked at deuce at 3-all, Djokovic was in control of the point and hit a backhand that landed on the line. The shot was incorrectly called out, chair umpire Enric Moline overruled, the point was replayed and Federer hit a service winner. On the second deuce, Federer fied a backhand down the line to open the court followed by an inside-out forehand winner for ad.  Djokovic was beyond ball boy territory, nine feet off the court when he made a spectaculaar get. Federer netted an open-court forehand to face another deuce.

After a fourth deuce, Federer held when Djokovic netted a return for 4-3.

In the eighth game, Federer was racing off the doubles alley aiming for an open area down the line. If he connected on the shot it would have been a sure winner and given Federer double-break point, but he flattened a backhand into the net near the Mercedes symbol and Djokovic dug out a difficult hold for 4-all.

More than two hours into the match, Djokovic, a man whose past questionable conditioning, breathing issues and willingness to tap out in major matches has haunted him, showed resilience in his spirt and spring in his step.

Storming the net, Djokovic deflected a series of reflex volleys then leaped to snap off an overhead winner for break point. He broke for 2-1 and quickly consolidated for 3-1.

A distracted Federer sprayed a backhand long as Djokovic earned double break point at 15-40. Federer fought off the first two break points, but did not move his feet and laced a backhand into the net to hand Djokovic a third break point. Cutting quickly to his right, Djokovic drilled a forehand pass down the line that ricocheted off Federer’s Wilson racquet and he trotted to the side line raising a clenched fist toward his parents, who leaped out of their seats in support, holding a 4-1 fourth-set lead.

Despite serving just 48% in the fourth set, Djokovic permitted only five points on serve to seize the set in 31 minutes.

The fight for the final would go the distance.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Rafa Rides Right To The Finals

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The ball sped off the strings so fast for a moment it appeared the force of the swing could send a vibration dampener spinning around the string bed like a particularly lively super ball bounding around a roulette wheel. Rafael Nadal watched his final serve land safely and exploded into the air like a man propelled from his own personal launching pad. He landed in his first career US Open final after wrapping up a 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Mikhail Youzhny in today’s semifinal.

The semifinal had served as a stop sign for Nadal in each of the past two years — he fell to Andy Murray in a rain-interrupted 2008 semifinal and was blown off the court by big-hitting Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in last September’s semis — but the top-seeded Spaniard played with authoritative ambition in surging to his 20th consecutive Grand Slam victory today.

“For me, it is a dream I am going to play the final here in the biggest center court of the world,” Nadal said. “I try my best so after a lot of work so I am very happy for that.”

Playing progressively stronger with each passing round, Nadal has kicked his game into a higher gear like a sprinter downshifting into speedier strides with the tape in sight as he is now one win removed from becoming the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam.

Continuing his quest to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession, Nadal has not surrendered a set in six tournament victories and now the world watches and waits for a potential electrifying encounter in tomorrow’s final.

If five-time champion Roger Federer defeats Novak Djokovic for the fourth consecutive time at the Open in today’s second semifinal then the archrivals will face off in their first Flushing Meadows final. It would be their 18th meeting in a championship match, second to Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, who met in 20 finals.

Nadal and Federer have split the spoils at the Grand Slam table in combining to claim 21 of the last 24 major championships.

It would be a historic match-up marking the first time in history two men squared off in all four Grand Slam tournament finals. A Federer-Nadal final would be their eighth Grand Slam title match, setting the record for most major meetings (they currently share the record of seven major final face-offs with Bill Tilden and William Johnston, who met in seven straight US Championships from 1919-1925.).

Seeking to become the first Russian man to reach a major final since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open and the second Russian finalist in Flushing Meadow after Safin, who stunned Pete Sampras to capture the title a decade ago, Youzhny need to play big and bold, but instead looked tired and timid for long stretches of the match.

Youzhny punctuated a few of his errant shots by tapping his adidas with the rim of racquet as if trying to shake some sense into his shot selection through flogging his feet.

“Maybe he was a little bit more tired than me; he played a longer match during the week,” Nadal said.

Depleted by his 3-6, 7-6(7-), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over 25th-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka that spanned exactly four hours, a spent Youzhny looked like a man fully aware he had little left in his inner reservoir. The clarity Youzhny showed in his shot selection against Wawrinka was missing at times today. Nadal’s fast feet and ability to track down balls that elude most mortals caused Youzhny to think before he struck at times and he conceded that the mind-body connection was a bit out of sync.

“I cannot say I’m really tired, but yeah, (I) was not fast enough today,” Youzhny said. “My decision was not really fast. I mean, I (was) moving well, but my head was one step back of my hand and my legs. So that’s why I was thinking too long where I have to play. That’s why some mistakes and that’s why made the score like this one.”

Nadal has a habit of infiltrating opponent’s heads with his anticipation, unerring consistency and court coverage that seems to squeeze the court to the size of a parking space.

“He’s consistent. He play really high level all year,” Youzhny said of Nadal. “Not everybody can play like this. Some players play really well maybe three tournaments and four, five tournaments play not so well. Even top players. But Federer and Nadal I think (are) more consistent players. His level is a little bit higher than all other players.”

Read more of Rich Pagliaro at TennisNow.com.

Youzhny Moves To Semis After Five Set Classic

The American flag flapped frantically behind a biting wind at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium while Mikhail Youzhny and Stanislas Wawrinka fought furiously on the court below.

On a day when a wickedly wild wind swirling at high speed made tennis balls bounce as bizarrely around the court as ping pong balls careening crazily inside the glass of lottery hopper, Youzhny effectively exploited the elements and mastered massive fifth-set pressure to advance to his second US Open semifinal with a hard-fought 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Wawrinka that spanned exactly four hours.

“It was so close,” Youzhny said. “Right now I’m happy because I just finished the match and I win this match. So (it is a) good result, but already you are in semifinal and you still play.  Of course you want more. Anyway, I don’t think now is good result, so I want more.”

The 12th-seeded Russian will face either World No. 1 Rafael Nadal or eighth-seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in Saturday’s semifinal. The winner of that match will face five-time US Open champion Roger Federer or third-seeded Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.

“He’s No. 1; he won two Grand Slams; he play really, really well; it will be very tough for me,” Youzhny said of Nadal , adding “Of course it’s better to play (Nadal) here (than) on clay.”

New York City has often brought the best out in Youzhny.

Four years ago, Youzhny reached the Flushing Meadows final four, falling to Andy Roddick, 7-6(5), 0-6, 6-7(3), 3-6..

“It was also close, tough match.  I won first set; I easily lost second.  It was tiebreak in third set.  Nobody know what happens if I won this tiebreak,” Youzhny said. “But, you know, it was four years ago.  Now I think it’s another time, and I’m like another player.  I cannot say I am better player now, but it’s another time and other opponent, so everything can happen.”

While the 28-year-old Russian could face an immense challenge against either Nadal or Verdasco, Youzhny is the only man left in the draw who has a win over Nadal at the US Open.

He beat Nadal in four sets in the 2006 US Open quarterfinal. Though Nadal has won seven of 11 meetings with Youzhny, the Russian with the brilliant one-handed backhand has a 4-3 record vs. Nadal on hard courts.

The victory vaults Youzhny back into the world’s top 10 for the first time since February of 2008 when he reached a career-high rank of No. 8.

Playing determined defense in the opening game of the fifth set, Youzhny centered the ball in a long backhand-to-backhand exchange. Finally, Wawrinka made a move to net, Youzhny bending his legs to get low lasered a backhand blast crosscourt to pass the Swiss and break for a 1-0 fifth-set lead. Youzhny worked his way through a deuce game to consolidate for 2-0.

Youzhny fought off a break point in the fourth game when Wawrinka steered a forehand pass up the line wide. But on the second break point, Wawrinka lured Youzhny forward and the Russian lifted a backhand approach beyond the baseline as a fired-up Wawrinka broke back for 2-2.

It proved to be a short-lived as Wawrinka set a backhand wide and Youzhny broke back for 3-2. Working his way out of a 30-all game, Youzhny held for 4-2.

Seeing the match slip away a frustrated Wawrinka smashed his racquet to the court after burying a backhand into the net as Youzhny held at love for 5-3.

A weary Wawrinka was playing with protective adhesive taping on both quads and took an injury time-out to get re-taped midway through the fourth set. Walking slowly behind the baseline between points, Wawrinka looked lethargic as if worn down by the draining duel he had with Sam Querrey in the fourth round. Wawrinka emerged with a 7-6(9), 6-7(5), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win in that match and it took a toll today.

“I think I gave everything today and I try for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I made some big mistake, but after four hours, you’re really tired. I was tired. So it’s not always easy to think and to play the right drop shots or to play the good point and not to break the racquet.”

Youzhny gained the early break and made it stand up as Wawrinka tried to shorten up the points. After Youzhny blocked a backhand volley winner into the open court  to hold for 5-2, Wawrinka left the court, returned minutes later and relied on some strong serving to hold for 3-5.

Wawrinka pulled a new Head racquet out of his bag, but lost his grip in the ninth game. After slicing a backhand into the net, the Swiss wound up and slammed the racquet to the court. Two points later, Youzhny served out the fourth set to level the match.

Wawrinka burst out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprise Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Maintaining his break lead throughout the set, Wawrinka, who bungled several volleys, was stuck at net. Youzhny had a clean look at a pass, but opted to lob and the wind tossed the backhand lob long giving Wawrinka  second set point. Rearing back, the Swiss slammed a 135 mph ace to take a two set to one lead two hours, 28 minutes into the match.

Serving at 5-6 in the second set, Wawrinka was at 30-all when a Youzhny drive was called deep. He challenged and replay showed the ball clipped the back of the line. It ws an unfortunate call for the Russian as Youzhny had the offensive at that point in the rally. He buried a backhand into net and two points later Wawrinka held to force the tie breaker.

Wawrinka withstood two set points and on Youzhny’s third set point he sliced a backhand that flirted with the top of the tape before settling on his side of the net.

Shrugging that near-miss off, Youzhny curled a crosscourt running forehand pass that eluded Wawrinka’s outstretched racquet for a fourth set point.

That shot prompted Youzhny’s typically non-expressive coach, Boris Sobkin, who can be as stoic as Stonehenge, to leap out of his seat and pump his fist toward Youzhny. Empowered by that shot, Youzhny cornered Wawrinka on the backhand side and beat him with an inside-out forehand winner, leaping in the air in celebration after seizing the one hour, 10-minute second set.

Wawrinka sprinted out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprised Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

All-Star Matchup In The Semis As Federer Takes On Djokovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In a match where timely shotmaking turned the tide time after time, Roger Federer fittingly rocked the court-side clock with one final authoritative ace to cap a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 sweep of Robin Soderling and fly into the US Open final four for the seventh straight year. Continuing his quest to regain the US Open title he lost to Juan Martin del Potro last September, Federer will square off against Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semifinals in their fourth consecutive Flushing Meadows clash.

It was a superlative serving performance from Federer, who ripped 18 aces and saved five of six break points in subduing Soderling. The fifth-seeded Swede had four break point chances at the outset of the match but could not convert and Federer picked up his serve considerably from that point forward.

“I think the serve was today the biggest key, because obviously he’s very famous for serving extremely accurate, extremely hard, over a long period of time,” Federer said. “That’s what makes him so hard to beat really. That wasn’t the case today.  He struggled to get the pace, the accuracy going, until midway through the third set when I think he started to hit it a bit better.  Then it was almost too late, really.”

The third-seeded Djokovic came to court with a dragon on his back, fire in his eyes and after an early mis-step found the swagger in his step in scorching a flat and floundering Gael Monfils, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-2, to storm into the semifinals.

Hard court is Djokovic’s best surface. He can use his expansive reach to rip returns down the lines off both sides, he covers the court quickly and the speed of the Deco Turf adds some sting to his serve. Federer has won eight of his 12 meetings on hard court with Djokovic, but believes Djokovic is at his best on hard court.

“I think this kind of favors his play the most, kind of a faster hard court, because he can pick up some incredible balls, you know, half volley them, redirect them,” Federer said. “It helps maybe serve a bit more, and on the return he can, you know, zone in a bit, and all of a sudden he’s really tough to pass, you know, when he’s returning. That’s what makes him one of the best players in the game right now, and especially on this surface he’s obviously in the top 3 or 4.  That’s why he’s been able to play consistent here at the Open.  He’s obviously waiting for a breakthrough where he can win this title.”

Djokovic fell to Federer in the 2007 final and was victimized by Federer’s stupefying between-the-legs passing shot in last September’s semifinal. Djokovic said stylistically, the rivalry has not changed; he’s just hoping to reverse the result on Saturday.

“We do have more or less same game, you know.  Just maybe experience wise in my case I feel better now,” Djokovic said. “Physically I feel better than I did last year.  I feel stronger, faster on the court.  The conditions are quite different, so let’s see, you know.  Let’s see how this Saturday is gonna come out, you know, if we gonna have normal conditions or not.”

The second-seeded Swiss is 10-5 lifetime vs. Djokovic, including a 6-1, 3-6, 7-5 win in Toronto last month.

“Here we go again,” Federer said in anticipation of the latest installment of his rivalry with Djokovic. “He’s a great player. I got really lucky to get through there in Toronto and he’s obviously looking for the big break through here at the Open, so it’s gonna be a tough one.”

Though Federer has won nine of the 10 sets he’s played vs. Djokovic at the Open, the matches have typically been tightly-contested affairs, including the Swiss stylist’s 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 6-4 triumph in the 2007 final in which Federer fended off five set points in the first set and two set points in the second set, relying on his edge in experience, expertise in playing the the right shots on pivotal points, exceptional anticipation and a first serve that was sharpest in crucial stages to subdue the first Serbian man to contest major final.

Since his five-set win over Serbian Davis Cup teammate Viktor Troicki in the first round, the Djoker has won 12 consecutive sets and will enter the semifinals playing his best tennis of the tournament.

Opening the season by capturing his 16th career major championship in Melbourne in Australia, Federer suffered successive Grand Slam quarterfinal setbacks at Roland Garros and Wimbledon ending his reign in Paris and London and increasing speculation that Federer was more vulnerable in majors than ever.

On a drizzly day in June,  Soderling reigned a series of resounding winners across the red clay in overwhelming Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the French Open quarterfinals to snap the World No. 1’s record streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. It was Federer’s first loss before a Grand Slam semifinal in seven years, ending one of the most hallowed record streaks in tennis history.

Soderling could not reproduced that form tonight, in part because the wind wreaked havoc with his high ball toss and because he has little margin for error on his flat strokes.

“I didn’t put so many first serves in as I needed to because of the wind,” Soderling said. “It was tough for me. So I could have needed some more first serves. Maybe I would have played better then.”

The lanky Swede did not hit an ace until the third set. To his credit, Soderling did not give up the fight as Monfils did in today’s first quarterfinal against Djokovic. He began to center his shots more and when Federer missed the mark on an inside-out forehand, Soderling broke for 5-3 in the third set.

The two-time French Open finalist could not capitalize on the break, putting a forehand into net as Federer broke back for 4-5.

Down 15-30 Federer benefited from a Soderling error to draw even then lured the big man forward with a drop shot followed by a forehand volley that rattled Soderling’s Head racquet. For all his prodigious power from the backcourt, Soderling is almost clueless at times at net and he screamed in frustration at himself as Federer eventually worked out a hold for 5-all.

Summer started with a struggle for Federer, who followed his French Open demise with a Wimbledon quarterfinal loss to Tomas Berdych. But he’s crafted another late-summer resurgence in picking up his play after Labor Day and working toward a potential blockbuster final against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

“I think he’s playing great. Because he lost in the quarters of the French and in Wimbledon, some people think he’s more vulnerable than ever.  But I think he’s actually playing really well,” Djokovic said of Federer. “He played great in Toronto and Cincinnati, and he’s just loves this surface.  He loves this tournament.  He has won so many times. Obviously he’s a favorite.  But, you know, we played so many times, and mostly we played on this surface.  It’s no secret in each other’s game.  Just I will try to hold on, you know.  He always tries to put pressure on his opponent.  He’s very aggressive.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

The Djoker Is Not Foiled by the Great Fish Caper

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Mardy Fish reshaped his body and resculpted his game but couldn’t revise his past history with Novak Djokovic. Fish’s inspired run through this US Open Series came to a halt at the hands of Djokovic, who fried Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to his sixth straight major quarterfinal at the US Open.

Worn out from a long summer in which he won back-to-back championships in Newport and Atlanta, producing a career-best 11-match winning streak in the process, and went on to reach the Cincinnati final, a flat Fish lacked both the energy and execution to pose problems for Djokovic.

“I tried to, you know, get to the net, tried to stay more, you know, be a little more aggressive towards the middle part of the match,” Fish said. “I had some chances.  I just didn’t execute, generally.  He played great.  He kicked my butt.  He played great.”

It was a match that was never much in doubt as Djokovic, who took the court with a 5-0 lifetime record against Fish, asserted his authority at the outset.

The third-seeded Serbian swept American wild card James Blake, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3, and wisely took the pro-Fish American crowd completely out of the match in surging out to a 4-1 lead.

Djokovic’s superior speed around the court and his ability to extend Fish in baseline exchanges were key components to the win. The 2007 US Open runner-up remains one of the best hard-court returners in the game and picked Fish apart in longer rallies.

“I was making him play an extra shot and I was using the court very well,” Djokovic said. “This (win) gives me a lot of confidence, definitely. It’s great to raise the level of my performance toward the end of the tournament. It’s been a great couple of years for me in New York so hopefully I can go on.”

Seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the US Open semifinals, Djokovic is a decided favorite against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils.

In an all-French fourth round meeting, the 17th-seeded Monfils broke Richard Gasquet mentally in scoring an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to send the fragile fellow Frenchman packing and become the first French quarterfinalist since Arnaud Clement in 2000.

“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”

The Djokovic-Monfils match pits two of the fastest, most charismatic, flamboyant and sometimes flakiest players in men’s tennis. They are two men who play as if empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond their reach which should create a highly entertaining match.

“Gael is very charismatic and very athletic,” Djokovic said. “He slides a lot and so do I so I guess there’s going to he a lot of sliding between him and me.”

Djokovic is 4-0 lifetime vs. Monfils, including a controversial 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-5 triumph in the 2005 US Open first round in which some spectators believed Djokovic resorted to gamesmanship in pulling a lengthy injury time out to rest and recover.

Their most recent encounter saw Djokovic outduel Monfils and silence the Parisian crowd in an explosively entertaining, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(3), victory in the Paris Indoor final last November.

Master showman Monfils, who has entertained the New York City crowd with his electrifying shotmaking skills on the run, his expressiveness and even his impromptu post-match dance moves, is hoping he can work the crowd into a festive frenzy.

“I can get the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “I know him perfectly. We had like always a tough match. And then, damn I had revenge to take it because he won against me at home in Bercy (Paris). So this time I hope to win.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

The Winds of Change for Jankovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The ball fluttered in the gusty bluster as predictably as a piece of popcorn tossed from the promenade deck and the sweet spot looked as large as a lifesaver when Jelena Jankovic shanked a serve so badly it sailed several rows back into the stands prompting one fan to duck the felt foul ball.

That frame shot symbolized the type of day it was for the 2008 US Open finalist: a frustrated Jankovic fretted, framed balls and even yelled at the elements at one point while Kaia Kanepi continued to swing away through the drafty day.

In the end, the 31st-seeded Estonian managed both her emotions and shots better than Jankovic in bouncing the fourth-seeded Serbian out of the US Open third round, 6-2, 7-6(1) on a day in which wind gusts reached more than 25 mph on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court.

“Oh, the wind was really tough. The conditions were really, really tough to play,” said Jankovic, who got to the post-match press conference so quickly you wondered if she sprinted down the hall way. “I had a really hard time hitting the balls. obviously, they were going all over the place. The wind was really strong and she handled those kind of conditions a lot better than I did…You hit the ball in one direction, it goes another. You’re just getting ready to hit the ball and it just moves away from you. She was the better player today. Congrats to her.”

Reaching the Flushing Meadows fourth round for the first time in five appearances, Kanepi is one win away from her second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal. The Wimbledon quarterfinalist will play either 15th-seeded Yanina Wickmayer or Swiss southpaw Patty Schnyder for a place in the last eight in what has become a wide-open second quarter of the draw.

“My coach told me we have a chance everywhere we go, so we have a chance here,” Kanepi said.

Player and coach have cause for such optimism.

In the span of four months, the 25-year-old Kanepi has completely revived her career in raising her ranking 108 spots from No. 140 to No. 32 after embarking on a 31-4 tear from the start of May through mid July. She played through qualifying at Wimbledon and strung together seven straight wins, beating French Open finalist Samantha Stosur at the grass-court Grand Slam along the way, before suffering a heart-breaking loss to Petra Kvitova, 8-6 in the third set, in the quarterfinals.

Following her Wimbledon run she swept World No. 12 Flavia Pennetta in the Palermo final to become the first Estonian woman to win a WTA Tour title in July.

The 5-foot-11 Kanepi has always been a big hitter, but has worked to temper her power with patience after bottoming out with a Flushing Meadows first-round loss last year that was one of 11 consecutive opening-round exits. During those dark days she bounced racquets off the court as frequently as fans through coins into the fountains outside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Now she’s collecting wins even in unforgiving winds and reaping the rewards of a more self-controlled approach.

“I changed my game and tried to play more patient,” Kanepi said. “Then I started winning and my confidence started getting higher. Last year, I started losing and I had to change. I’m still quite aggressive, but I try to play more patient.”

Patience and precision are the the cornerstones of Jankovic’s game, but that foundation cracked and crumbled as Jankovic, who is usually so adept at taking those short preparation steps before striking her shots, sometimes flailed off balance like a woman trying to hit the ball while embroiled in a game of twister.

On a day in which merely making clean contact looked as easy as threading a needle on a stuck on a spinning pin wheel, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist summed up her
tactical approach simply.

“I tried to hit as much balls inside the court as possible,” Kanepi said. “She was frustrated, but sometimes I also got upset.”

Jankovic is one of the fastest players in women’s tennis and plays concise combinations when she’s on her game, but could not use her speed to salvage a match of shoddy shotmaking in which she clanked 41 unforced errors against just 13 winners.

The former World No. 1 does not hit the ball as hard as Kanepi and struggled to hit through the wind when playing against it on the north side of the court.

“Why is it so windy?” Jankovic pleaded at the sky at one point as if seeking some celestial answer that never came.

“You get frustrated with the wind because you want to hit the ball in a certain direction and they want to go everywhere except where you want them to go,” Jankovic said in explaining her frustration. “And then, it’s physical because you have to move your feet a lot more. You have to be alert.”

The swirl sent a Jankovic backhand beyond the baseline as Kanepi broke for 5-3 in the second set. Serving for the match, Kanepi got tight and dropped serve for the first time when Jankovic stepped forward and smacked a backhand return winner down the line.

“That wasn’t because of the wind,” Kanepi confided afterward. “It was because of the head. Most of us start to think too much when we serve for it.”

The breeze blew the bottom of Jankovic’s purple dress up to her waist revealing her red
sports shorts. She held for 5-all then broke for 6-5, but Kanepi broke right back and hammered her way through the wind and Jankovic in the breaker.

Kanepi took the court with a 1-8 career record against top five players. She sealed her fourth career win over a top 10 player with two of those coming against Jankovic on hard court and received a congratulatory text from her father moments after stepping off court.

“He said ‘Well done. It was amazing,’ ” Kanepi said in summing up the sentiments of surviving her first appearance on the largest  — and windiest  — Grand Slam stage in the game.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.