The US Open Remembers 9/11

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Although this was Super Saturday at the US Open, it was also the ninth anniversary of September 11th. Even with tennis as the centerpiece in Flushing Meadows, a solemn air hung overhead and the USTA and athletes involved made sure it was remembered.

In the distance, the blue lights of the Twin Towers of Light shined to the stars and the Empire State Building was clad in red, white, and blue.

Ten-time Grammy Award winner Chaka Kahn sung “America The Beautiful” after a moment of silence. The flags in Arthur Ashe Stadium hung at half mast and after their matches Kim Clijsters and Rafael Nadal honored the victims.

“Nine years ago the world changed for everybody, and when I come to New York I think about 9/11,” Clijsters told the crowd after she won the US Open Women’s Title. “It was an honor to play here today and maybe give the people a distraction as well.”

Nadal also made sure he mentioned the victims of the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“I don’t want to forget, it’s a very special day for everybody. I want to express my support for the victims of 9/11 and their families,” World No.1 told the New York crowd after posting a 6-2 6-3 6-4 semi-final win over Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

“Nine/11 was a big shock for everybody in the world. Everybody remembers where they were at that moment, and I remember what happened that day and where I was.

“It was a terrible shock for me, especially because I was in the top of the twin towers a few months before.

“That’s just the minimum thing that I can say. All the support for the victims and for the families for sure is always in my mind.

“When I came back after the disaster, in the first six years, I always was there at Ground Zero every time watching that.

“So that’s probably the most impact view that I had in all my life.”

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.

Bryans Claim The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The net divides the court like a nylon wall, but resembled a bridge bringing two teams, three nations, more than 20,000 fans and an often overlooked form of tennis together today. In a high-quality clash between dynamic doubles duos, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat 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.

Facing mini-break deficits in both tie breakers, the Bryans bumped up their level of play when it mattered most.

“I think today we were phenomenal. I mean, there was a 50 miles an hour wind coming down the court, and I thought we were seeing the ball great,” Bob Bryan said.  “It’s awesome when you can see the finish line.  There’s one more match to go. You could leave it all on the line. That’s what kept pushing us forward.  You don’t think about being down a mini break in a finals of a Grand Slam.”

They own two of the fastest sets of hands in tennis — so fast they could jointly juggle jagged bits of broken baseball bats without concern of contracting splinters — but by the end of this encounter, the twins had their hands full at net and were at a temporary loss for a reply.

That moment came after the Bryan brothers played what they called one of the best matches of their professional careers as they leaped into each other’s arms after an ace ended the match. Father Wayne Bryan, the twins’ first coach and long-time doubles promoter who rarely attends his sons matches because he gets too nervous watching them play, leaped out of his seat simultaneously in an eruption of emotion.

In a season in which the Bryan brothers broke the record for most Tour-level doubles titles in the Open Era when they captured their 62nd title in Los Angeles in July, they now stand behind the Woodies, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, for most major titles in the Open Era. The Woodies on 11 major titles together and the Bryans are on pace to shatter that mark if they stay healthy.

The net divides the court, but two become one when Bopanna and  Qureshi share the doubles court. Sport serves as a source of unity as Bopanna, born in Bangalore, India, and Qureshi, from Lahore, Pakistan have reached an accord on court that contrasts with the agitation that can exist between their neighboring nations.

The pair have become promoters of peace and in a gesture larger than tennis Qureshi took time out during the trophy presentation to reiterate the message he and Bopanna have share throughout their partnership: they spend their professional lives striking shots, but peace is their ultimate aim.

“Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries I feel people have wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation,” Quershi said. “I just wanted to declare that we are very friendly, loving, and caring people, and we want peace in this world as much as Americans want and the rest of the world wants.  We all on the same side.”

Those sentiments struck a chord in his opponents.

“It choked me up. I could see him; he was quivering a little bit,” Bob Bryan said. “Just to give that message to everyone was very heartfelt.”

Both Indian and Pakistani fans sat side-by-side cheering on the pair, the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the United Nations sat in adjacent seats and after the match, the Pakistani ambassador  presented the Bryan brothers with matching traditional scarves made from ancient cloth as a show of appreciation for the donation the twins made to help victims of the floods in Pakistan.

“When it comes down to it, a lot of people in Pakistan who don’t have homes and are out on the street. What they’re doing to bring India and Pakistan together is pretty special,” Mike Bryan said. “A sport can bring people together.”

It was one of the rare moments when the action after a final was even more profound than the play itself.

“What they are doing is a lot more important than winning the US Open,” Bob Bryan said.

At a time when religious and political extremes can create so much diviseness in the world can two men running around in shorts smacking felt sphere over a net truly make any impact?

Winning doubles demands cooperation, communication, mutual respect and shared problem solving  — the very qualities people are sometimes resistant to apply in rallies of rhetoric.

On changeovers during their early-round matches, Bopanna and Qureshi watched with joy as the United Nations ambassadors to their respective nationsl shared smiles and conversation giving both men a glimmer of hope that while tennis can’t solve complex international issues it might just start a dialogue

“We always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach.  I think it’s above all the religion and politics,” Qureshi said. “Seeing both ambassadors sitting together and going for one cause obviously is a start.  So I would take it in a positive way.  And like Rohan says all the time:  If you can change few personal people’s mind on Indian or Pakistan’s side, I think it’s a great thing.”

The unity the two men exhibit on court is being reflect back at them at the mixed crowds they saw at their US Open matches.

“Crowd is getting better.  More Indians and Pakistanis coming.  They’re all mixed together sitting in the crowd.  You can’t tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian,” Qureshi said. “That’s the beauty about sports.  That’s the beauty about, I guess, our playing.  Before our pairing you would never see that in any sports, fighting for one cause.  It’s really good to be part of it.”

Competing for a cause binds both teams together.

Five years ago, the Bryan brothers, their father Wayne and several of tennis’ top doubles stars, including Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi sat in interview room one inside Arthur Ashe Stadium explaining why they were filing a lawsuit against the ATP.

The lawsuit, which was filed on September 1st, 2005, alleged that the ATP’s experimental efforts to “enhance” doubles competition was in fact a concerted effort by tournament directors to diminish and eventually eliminate  doubles players’ ability to gain entry into main draws as a cost-cutting measure to save the tournament’s money.

“There is no credibility left for the ATP,” Knowles said that day. “They are basically trying to annihilate one form of the game, which is doubles..”

Essentially, the players sued the very union that was created to represent them and asserted the ATP was placing the interests of tournament directors above its own players when it came to doubles.

“Five years ago we were sitting in this room giving a press conference on trying to save doubles,” Mike Bryan said. “It was on its way out.  My dad worked behind the scenes for about a year and got it done, and with a lot of top players.  Now doubles is strong.  I mean, right out there it was just a packed house for a couple of doubles teams.That was the best atmosphere.  That’s a TV match, which is huge.  So I mean, we’re very happy that we’ve been able to help doubles out.”

The twins from Camarillo, California went on to win the Open the week after the lawsuit to become  the first brothers to lift the U.S. Open doubles title trophy since 1924 when the Kinsey brothers, Howard and Robert, accomplished the feat.

The Bryans believed they saved their best tennis for the final; some observers believe they saved much more that that.

“Doubles seems to have been on life support for so long,” said Hall of Famer John McEnroe, widely regarded as perhaps the finest doubles player of the Open Era. “The Bryan brothers play with so much energy and enthusiasm for the game. They seem to be singlehandedly saving doubles.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of 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.

Carroll: Very little U.S. at U.S. Open

It has not been a secret that Americans have not been dominating the world of professional tennis since the days when Andre Agassi would routinely battle Pete Sampras in the finals of Grand Slam events.
American futility on the men’s side was clearly in evidence at the U.S. Open as the fading Andy Roddick and the perpetually mediocre Taylor Dent, Donald Young and Robby Ginepri were all eliminated before Labor Day weekend. James Blake managed to survive until Saturday when Novak Djokovic disposed of him with ease in straight sets.

Things were not brighter for the red, white and blue on the women’s side as Venus Williams was the only American left at the tournament’s halfway point, though it’s safe to say that her sister, Serena, would have been there as well had she not hurt her right foot and missed the tourney. Melanie Oudin, the teenager from Atlanta who went deep into the Open last year, was gone by the second round. This year’s Cinderella story, Maryland’s Beatrice Capra, was slaughtered 6-0, 6-0 by Maria Sharapova in a third round match.

A United States Tennis Association executive looked as if she was about to cry in the press room when 18-year-old Louisiana native Ryan Harrison lost a grueling five-set match that required a tiebreaker to Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine. Harrison blew three match point opportunities in the tiebreaker. If he were a more seasoned player, the media would have called it a “choke,” but since he is young, and was quite mature in his post-loss press conference, everyone was charitable.

James Blake is a huge Mets fan, and he frequently wears a Mets baseball cap into Interview Room 1 at Arthur Ashe Stadium. He became far more passionate about the Mets’ woes than about his tennis game when he was asked what the team needs to do next year. “I believe that they need to make changes at the top,” he said, referring to Mets Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon, General Manager Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel.

Blake chatted with me briefly after the formal press conference. “They need to blow the whole team up and start over,” he added emphatically, meaning that he would not be averse to seeing such core players as Jose Reyes and David Wright traded. When I mentioned that it would highly unlikely Jeff Wilpon would leave anytime soon since he’s the son of team owner Fred Wilpon, Blake replied somewhat forlornly, “I know.”

Wozniacki Shows A Lions Heart Against Cibulkova

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – In the squared circle, boxers knew Mike Tyson was mean and Mohammed Ali would talk their ears off, right before making them into cauliflower.

Yet, it’s tough to see Caroline Wozniacki in that position. She looks so nice on the outside that it’s hard to see the tiger raging within.

Actually, though, look closely on the court and there’s a bit of Ali’s technician and Tyson’s fire in that’s beautiful blonde body. And maybe that’s why she feels as comfortable in the boxing ring, as she does on the tennis court.

“Boxing, it’s just a different way for me to work out,” Wozniacki said. “It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s great because I have this great coach who knows how to get me in good shape and what I need for my tennis, as well.

“Yeah, I wanted to try something different, something that was not the usual things.  I just love the training.  It’s great.  It’s really hard not only physically, but also the conditioning.”

Dominika Cibulkova learned that the hard way today as she was swept out of the Open by Wozniacki, 6-2 7-5. It was the No. 1 seeds 20th win since Wimbledon as she improved her record to 20-1.

Although this may have been her toughest match to date in Flushing Meadows, the 20 year-old still seemed to have a pretty easy time. That is of course with the exception of this year’s Open nemesis, the heavy swirling winds of Arthur Ashe.

“It was really difficult to play today,” she said. “It was very windy, and from one side you barely hit it and the ball was flying, and from the other side you had to really hit through because the ball didn’t go anywhere. “So it was tough, but it was the same for both of us.”

Much like every good fighter, Wozniacki endured and even fought for the tough points. In fact, the chair umpire saw some of the toughness come out as the tournament’s top player gave her an earful on a replayed point.

“I’m really competitive,” she said.  “I really don’t like losing, and, you know, when I’m on court I’m just thinking about the next point and the match that I want to win.  I’m focused on that.”

So now Wozniacki will move onto the Semifinals against Vera Zvonareva, someone the rising star knows very well and calls it “definitely a tough match. I mean, she’s a really good ‑‑ she’s playing really well at the moment.  She’s playing aggressively, hitting through the ball.”

That will be on Friday. So maybe with tomorrow off, Wozniacki will go back into the squared and score a boxing knockout.

Or maybe not.

“I’m a good girl,” she said. “I don’t do those things.”

No, only on the court. Look out Vera.

Z-Girl Goes To the Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Vera Zvonareva fell over the edge in an emotional meltdown on Arthur Ashe Stadium last year. Today, Zvonareva successfully straddled the physical and emotional tightrope to march into the US Open semifinals. The seventh-seed Zvonareva swept Kaia Kanepi, 6-3, 7-5, to reach her second straight major semifinal.

Zvonareva has always been capable of hitting the high notes, but lately she’s been making her mark with a sustained level of play. What statement does her second straight major semifinal send?

“I’m still improving. I’ve been playing for a while, but I’m still out there and still working hard,” Zvonareva said. “That feels great.  I can go out there, and I will try to work even more.”

The Wimbledon runner-up is now one win removed from reaching her first US Open final, but she may well have to beat top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to get there.

Riding a 12-match winning streak, US Open Series champion Wozniacki plays 45th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova in tonight’s quarterfinal with the winner meeting Zvonareva in the semifinals.

“I know both players and I’m sure it will be a great match,” said Zvonareva, who has won all 10 sets she’s played in the tournament. “It’s gonna be tough match for both of them tonight.  I don’t know who’s gonna win yet, Caroline or Dominika. If it’s Caroline, she’s playing great tennis at the moment.  She’s been so consistent this year and won a few tournaments in a row.  She’s very tough opponent.  We played few times and we always had tough matches.  I’m expecting a very tough one in the semifinal.  And even if Dominika wins, we just played a three setter like few weeks ago.  It was a very tough one. No matter who’s going through it, it’s gonna be a tough challenge, and I’m up to it.”

Former US Open finalist Novak Djokovic calls Arthur Ashe Stadium the toughest Grand Slam stage in tennis because of the swirling winds that can making hitting through the wind a task as easy trying to squeeze a shot through a chan-link fence.

World No. 32 Kanepi managed both the conditions and her mind in defeating 2008 finalist Jelena Jankovic in the round of 32 before edging 2009 semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, 0-6, 7-6(2), 6-1. But Kanepi clanked shots into the net and beyond the baseline today.

“It was blowing in every way,” Kanepi said. “When I played against Jelena, it was the same thing so I was a little used to it. But today was tough. I just didn’t find the rhythm and the control of the ball.”

Zvonareva presented a different challenge for Kanepi in that while she lacks a major weapon she can hit every shot from virtually any position on the court. Hitting with plenty of margin for errors, Zvonareva shrewdly played with enough aggression to engage the explosive Estonian, but did not over play.

“I was trying to make it as difficult as possible for her,” Zvonareva said.  “With those conditions, well, unforced errors, it looks like it’s an easy shot.  But with the wind going all the different directions and blowing, it’s not easy to make those shots. So sometimes you have to make the right choices.  I think today I made, you know, right choices where I had just to, you know, put the ball in play and where sometimes I had to step up a little bit and do a little bit more with the ball.”

That measured tactical approach gave Kanepi just enough rope to hang her hopes with 60 unforced errors, including nine double faults.

“Sometimes we had some ridiculous rallies,” Zvonareva said. “I was putting all effort to hang in there no matter the conditions. In these conditions the most important thing is to find the right balance between being aggressive and being patient and keep the ball in play and go for your shots.”

There was a time when major match pressure constricted Zvonareva like an emotional strait jacket as she dissolved in sobs and smashed rackets in past majors. Laast September, Zvonareva blew six match points in imploding in a painful loss to Flavia Pennetta at the 2009 US Open. She sat down on the court looking as disconsolate as a kindergarten kid denied recess, ripped at the adhesive tape wrapped around her leg and slapped at thigh repeatedly in imploding last year.

The woman who spends changeovers with a towel draped over her head to block out external distractions was focused from the first ball today.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Nadal KOs F-Lo In Three

Rafael Nadal has changed his grip and asserted a strong hold on this US Open field. Continuing to wreak devastation on the men’s draw, Nadal flogged Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, to storm into his third consecutive US Open quarterfinal. The top seed has not surrendered serve or dropped a set and played with the ferocity of a man who may well run the table in New York, complete the career Grand Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open championships simultaneously.

Gone are the questions about Nadal’s two-handed backhand, which betrayed him in Cincinnati. Gone are the questions about his ability to tame the fast Flushing Meadows hard courts given the fact he has not won a hard-court title since the 2009 Indian Wells and gone is the uncertainty over Nadal’s readiness to reach his first US Open final.

Perhaps the only person in Arthur Ashe Stadium who wasn’t thoroughly impressed with Nadal’s performance tonight was the top-seeded Spaniard himself.

Always the perfectionist, Nadal says he’s playing well, but can get better.

“No, I think I am playing well, but I (am) not playing yet at my highest level,” Nadal told Tennis Now in his 1:30 a.m. press conference. “But I am playing well. To be in the quarterfinals of the quarterfinals of the US Open without losing a set and without losing serve, two things must work really well: the concentration and the serve. Without those two things, you gonna lose for sure serves, no?”

Nadal will take on former Davis Cup teammate Fernando Verdasco in the first all-Spanish US Open quarterfinal in Open Era history.

The eighth-seeded Verdasco fought back from a two-set deficit and a 1-4 hole in the fifth-set tiebreaker, winning six straight points to score a stirring victory over David Ferrer.

Running down a Ferrer shot well behind the baseline, Verdasco stumbled slightly, regained his balance then sprinted forward to lift a lunging forehand pass up the line  — an exceptional exclamation point to punctuate a 5-7, 6-7(8), 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory that vaulted Verdasco into the US Open quarterfinals for the second straight year.

“After I lost the first two sets, of course, it’s tough,” Verdasco said. “You just need to win all the other sets. I came back till the fifth set and of course even that I was 4-1 down in the tie break, I was not going to say ‘Okay, that’s it. I was going to try my best until the end. I was, of course, with 4-1 down in the tie break  much more chances to lose than to win, but I just kept fighting and trying.”

When Verdasco saw Ferrer near net, he anticipated the volley, streaked forward on a diagonal line and was near the doubles alley when he caught up to the ball. Reaching the ball was a feat in itself, it’s what Verdasco did with it that will make this shot one for the highlight reel.

Seeing a sliver of space up the line, he squeezed his stretch forehand down the line, watched the ball land and then fell flat on his back, staring straight up into the white lights as the crowd exploded in support.

“(It) is tough to explain. You are with your sixth sense in the ball knowing how important that is just trying to run, fight,” Verdasco said. “When I did the backhand along the line passing shot, I was like even surprised that he took the volley. Of course my reaction was just keeping the point and start running forward…So I start running I just saw the space. When you see there is a little bit of space, you just try to put the ball in. It was like unbelievable.”

Will Verdasco, who is winless in 10 career meetings with Nadal, have any legs left for the quarterfinal?

“I hope that this is gonna give me big confidence, this match,” Verdasco said. “And I also hope to be 100 percent physically after a tough match like today to play against one player like Nadal that you need to be like 100 percent to try to face him, to try to beat him. I will just try to do all the things right and good as best as possible. Everybody knows that he’s No. 1 in the world; he’s a great plaeyr. My record is not too good against him. But I will keep trying and keep fighting to make the first time here.”

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Mrs. Lynch Goes To The Semifinals

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – New York City may own Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the deed to Arthur Ashe Stadium is in the name of the USTA, but for the last two years, Kim Clijsters owns the US Open.

No greater proof of that came than tonight as the defending Women’s Champion and current No. 2 seed fought off bad play and tough conditions to beat No. 6 seed Sam Stosur, 6-4 5-7 6-3, in their Quarterfinal matchup to improve to 19-0 over the past two years.

And how did Mrs. Lynch win it?

“I think by mentally just staying focused out there,” she said.  “You know, I felt that I was really reading her serve well in the return games.  I really felt that I was just ‑‑ even, you know, those heavy kick serves I felt I was getting into her backhand well, and, yeah, just made her go for some errors.

“Obviously she, you know, wasn’t serving great, either.  I just really felt that, you know, if I could just get that return deep, I felt that I was, you know, kind of in charge of a lot of rallies.”

It got so bad that Clijsters and Stocur could not hold serve on the first seven games of the third set. Part of it reason was the wind, as both players could not have that hard first serve land where they wanted it.

And part was because both players didn’t have their strong games out there, as both admitted after the match.

“Yeah, it was definitely tough conditions, windiest conditions I’ve played in all week, and probably the worst I’ve served all week, as well,” said Stocur, who had her highest finish at the Open of her career.  “Put those two things together, and you don’t hold serve for the third set and you lose.”

“I still didn’t play a good match, but I was obviously able to win it,” Clijsters said.  “That’s obviously, at the end of the day, what we try to do out here, is try to win the matches whether you play good or bad.

“Like I said, even after the match, I was like, How did I win this?  I didn’t feel like I was playing well.  Sam is a good player, you know, so I was just kind of ‑‑ yeah, talking to my coach and fitness coach and just, Wow, what just happened?  How did I win?”

Well it was just sheer guts and guile on Clijsters behalf. She was able to utilize her speed and eventually held serve in Game 8 of the third set. When that happened, it was all over. In fact, she then broke the Australian in the final game with the winner coming on an ace.

“Yeah, that’s probably all the frustration that comes out at the end,” Clijsters said.  “I’m like, I don’t like to hit one more rally.  I just want to finish it with a good shot.  Um, I don’t know.  It’s the rhythm.  It’s been frustrating.”

Clijsters now faces Venus Williams in the Semifinals on Friday. This will be a rubber match of their career head-to-head with both players winning six apiece. But Clijsters has won the last four matches, including the Round of 16 at last year’s US Open, 6-0 0-6 6-4.

But Mrs. Lynch is not taking anything for granted.

“I think obviously the way that she’s been playing and the way that she has mentally looked,” Clijsters said. “I think it’s maybe been even been good for her to have been away for that long, because she looks more hungry than ever.”

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – New York City may own Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the deed to Arthur Ashe Stadium is in the name of the USTA, but for the last two years, Kim Clijsters owns the US Open.

No greater proof of that came than tonight as the defending Women’s Champion and current No. 2 seed fought off bad play and tough conditions to beat No. 6 seed Sam Stosur, 6-4 5-7 6-3, in their Quarterfinal matchup to improve to 19-0 over the past two years.

And how did Mrs. Lynch win it?

“I think by mentally just staying focused out there,” she said.  “You know, I felt that I was really reading her serve well in the return games.  I really felt that I was just ‑‑ even, you know, those heavy kick serves I felt I was getting into her backhand well, and, yeah, just made her go for some errors.

“Obviously she, you know, wasn’t serving great, either.  I just really felt that, you know, if I could just get that return deep, I felt that I was, you know, kind of in charge of a lot of rallies.”

It got so bad that Clijsters and Stocur could not hold serve on the first seven games of the third set. Part of it reason was the wind, as both players could not have that hard first serve land where they wanted it.

And part was because both players didn’t have their strong games out there, as both admitted after the match.

“Yeah, it was definitely tough conditions, windiest conditions I’ve played in all week, and probably the worst I’ve served all week, as well,” said Stocur, who had her highest finish at the Open of her career.  “Put those two things together, and you don’t hold serve for the third set and you lose.”

“I still didn’t play a good match, but I was obviously able to win it,” Clijsters said.  “That’s obviously, at the end of the day, what we try to do out here, is try to win the matches whether you play good or bad.

“Like I said, even after the match, I was like, How did I win this?  I didn’t feel like I was playing well.  Sam is a good player, you know, so I was just kind of ‑‑ yeah, talking to my coach and fitness coach and just, Wow, what just happened?  How did I win?”

Well it was just sheer guts and guile on Clijsters behalf. She was able to utilize her speed and eventually held serve in Game 8 of the third set. When that happened, it was all over. In fact, she then broke the Australian in the final game with the winner coming on an ace.

“Yeah, that’s probably all the frustration that comes out at the end,” Clijsters said.  “I’m like, I don’t like to hit one more rally.  I just want to finish it with a good shot.  Um, I don’t know.  It’s the rhythm.  It’s been frustrating.”

Clijsters now faces Venus Williams in the Semifinals on Friday. This will be a rubber match of their career head-to-head with both players winning six apiece. But Clijsters has won the last four matches, including the Round of 16 at last year’s US Open, 6-0 0-6 6-4.

But Mrs. Lynch is not taking anything for granted.

“I think obviously the way that she’s been playing and the way that she has mentally looked,” Clijsters said. “I think it’s maybe been even been good for her to have been away for that long, because she looks more hungry than ever.”

Aaron Proud To Break Barriers

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s fitting that the United States Tennis Association, decided to honor baseball Hall of Famer Henry Aaron in its annual “Breaking the Barriers” Reception, because it happened in the shadow of the US Open’s centerpiece Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Actually, the former home run king actually met Ashe a few times during their storied careers.

“I met Arthur twice,” said Aaron, who was honored along with former USTA president Judy Lavering and AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega. “Once when he was about to do a television show with my wife. She used to do a television show in Atlanta. And then I met him in Milwaukee, but I read so many things about him, I knew I admired him and what he stood for. He was an example of what I always wanted to be in my life.”

Aaron sees Ashe as a mirror to his own career. When he came up to the Milwaukee Braves back in 1954, he experienced the same racism as the former US Open Champion did in the 1960s. “I think he handled it some of the same,” he said.  “I would say Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson almost had the same kind of reaction as Jackie [Robinson] and me or everyone with some color.”

Things on the racial front have gotten better according to Aaron, but he does feel that there is still room to improve.

“One of the things that bothers me is that after Jackie Robinson broke in 1947, we had so many American blacks playing baseball,” he said. “It’s not that case anymore. It seems like it has gone backwards and it’s gone the other way around. Had things had gotten better, yes. We can stay in the hotels we want to stay at and we can go wherever we want to go. But if you don’t have the money, then you don’t have the money to do those things.”

Of course there are reasons for it. Economics for one, according to Aaron, as young African Americans are choosing to go the quicker money in football and basketball, rather risk a longer career in baseball. So, he feels baseball needs to get the message out and get more and more athletes playing the sport.

The same holds true for tennis, but events like tonight’s, of course improve the sport’s standing in the community.

And maybe one day Aaron will see another African American champion on at the US Open. Although James Blake was the sport’s top player, he never won the big match.

For now, though, Aaron will enjoy the game as it is. A follower of the sport since John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg had their epic battles in the last 1970s and early 1980s; Aaron likes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to meet in the finals during this tournament, and is a real big fan of Kim Clijsters.

“She showed that she can weather some adversity when she went to have her family and now she’s back and on top,” he said. “I wish her all the luck in the world.”

Fitting words from a fitting honoree.