McHale and Falcone Will Fare Better Than Oudin

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The Cinderella stories are over for the two young American girls who made so much noise two days ago.

Both Christina McHale and Irina Falconi lost their matches today – McHale to Maria Kirilenko, 2-6 3-6 and Falconi to Sabine Lisicki 0-6 1-6 – but there first few matches give hope for the future of American tennis.

“I had two really good wins my first two matches,” said McHale after her match today.  “This one, it’s disappointing.  But, yeah, I think I just kind of have to take the positives from it and keep working hard and, yeah, keep going.”

Added Falconi: “I am just going to take this week and the next week as a huge stage on my career, hopefully what can translate into a follow-up fall season. Next week I go to Quebec City for a tour event and hopefully do some damage there as well. There is nothing but positives to take out of this week.”

Both girls showed their inexperience today. Neither of them was attacking the ball like they did on Wednesday and even admitted to playing tentative.

“I was too passive today,” McHale said.  “I think the other day I took my chances when I had them.  But [Kirilenko] was playing well, too, so it made it difficult today.”

And then there were the bright lights of Ashe, where she admitted she was a little nervous playing under the lights in front of the sold out crowd.

“I think it didn’t really help me, my nerves, tonight,” McHale added.  “I never really felt as comfortable as I wanted to feel on the court.”

Yet, it will be interesting to see how both girls handle their first success of the Open.  Melanie Oudin melted under the pressure after her run two years ago and hasn’t made any noise since.

But Oudin could be considered a special situation. Both McHale and Falconi didn’t get the celebrity treatment like Ouidin did and the press didn’t start look into their personal lives.

Plus Oudin seemed to enjoy the celebrity spotlight, whereas both of these girls seems to care more about winning than stardom.

So it will be interesting to see how both do in the fall and then at the Australian Open come 2012. But it also important to remember they are both very young with McHale only 19 while Falconi can get a drink in bar…well barely. And it will take time for both players, so don’t get excited if one or both makes a quarterfinals and expect to see the second coming on Chris Everett.

Rather this is more like the baseball minor leagues where the two girls are honing their skills. Some success here will help them, but until they learn to be winning at a consistent level in high profile tournaments, they will remain prospects.

But all prospects have upside and this past week we may have just seen the future.

A Ray of Sunshine Through the Rain

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – If the Serena Williams/Kim Clijsters Semifinal was strange, then the other match going on last night was just surreal.

Because of the long rain delay, the Semifinal match between Yanina Wickmayer and Caroline Wozniacki was moved to Armstrong Stadium and with what was left of the crowd mainly stayed in Ashe to watch the other match, so there were about 300-400 people watching the contest.

Throughout the match, not a peep could be heard, except Wickmayer’s Flemish grunts as she whacked the ball.

This intimate setting didn’t faze the ninth seeded Wozniacki, who said she actually liked the quiet atmosphere.

“Maybe actually it was easier, because, you know, you didn’t really feel the thing that you’re in the semifinals,” she said. “You didn’t feel the pressure too much that actually you’re so close to being in a finals. Only two matches away.

“So I mean, I understand the people. We were waiting all day to get to play, and the weather really didn’t want everything like we wanted it today. But we got to play, and I’m very happy.”

Seats that would have gone for $10,000 dollars on Ashe were just general admission and many who would never be able to sit in the front row for a Semifinal, could do so with ease.

None of this mattered to 19 year-old Wozniacki, who beat fellow teen Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3, to earn a date tonight with Clijsters in the finals.

“I’m in a Grand Slam final,” she exclaimed. “I mean, I’m in the US Open final. I cannot describe it with words. I’m so excited. I’m so happy I pulled it through today. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a dream come true to play the finals of a Grand Slam, and now I’m here. So I mean, I have absolutely nothing to lose.”

Right now, she’s playing with house money. Even though Clijsters is unseeded, she is a former champion. Actually the two know each other and played doubles together when Wozniacki was just 16 back in 2006.

Clijsters knew she was going to be a star.

“Just by the way she was hitting the ball, by the way that she was doing everything, you could just tell that she was going to be, you know, a rising star,” Clijsters said. “You know, she’s shown that in her results. She’s very consistent. You know, she’s a super nice girl, as well. I’ve been able to get to know her a little bit better. I knew her a little bit from the past, but then got to know her a little bit better over these past couple of weeks. She’s a very sweet girl.”

Wozniacki beat Wickmayer using the same strategy that she used against Melanie Oudin. She played a defensive game and let her less experienced opponent make mistakes. Although Wickmayer had a stronger serve, the Danish princess was able to play to her Belgian opponent mistakes.

“I think two night matches has really helped me,” Wozniacki said.”I mean, it’s the world’s biggest stadium we’re going into, and it’s different. But now I’ve tried it twice this year and I won two times. I won it one time against Melanie where the whole crowd was behind her. So I think I got some experience there, and hopefully that can help me tomorrow.”

The match started a little after 9 p.m. but was delayed because the court was still wet. Afterwards, Wozniacki was able to get the first break with the score 2-2 and then rolled to the first set.

Then in the second, Wickmayer was able to get up a break 3-2, but Wozniacki bowled over her opponent from there.

“She made not any mistakes,” said Wickmayer, who committed 40 unforced errors to 14 for Wozniacki. “She just kept bringing the ball back and back. … She was really fast.”

As was the completion of the match. With the crowd waiting to get in after Williams imploded over at Ashe, Wozniacki was able to serve for the win and then broke into tears, as her dream was finally realized.

Kim’s Cooler Head Prevails

The circumstances were far from ideal. The rain hadn’t stopped all day throwing another curve into the schedule which forced both women’s semifinals to be played at the same time in Ashe and Louis Armstrong while both doubles matches were pushed back.

Perhaps that’s why Kim Clijsters is in her second straight U.S. Open final trying to become the first Mom to win a grand slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 (Wimbledon).

Oh. Did we also mention that when the Mom of 18-month old Jade plays ninth seeded Caroline Wozniacki for all the marbles later tonight in primetime at 9 PM on ESPN2, the unseeded Belgian was absent from the last three? Indeed, the 26 year-old former 2005 champ missed a chance to defend her crown due to injury and wasn’t even on the WTA Tour the past two years until 10 weeks ago. Since then, she’s gone 11-2 and will aim to become the first ever ladies wildcard to win a major.

“Maybe a little out of today’s match just because, you know, you want to finish that last point, kind of, especially when you hit like I was seeing the ball really well, I was hitting well, and I was really focused,” a pleased Clijsters said on whether her return has inspired people.

“It’s a little bit unfortunate that I didn’t have that, but it’s not going to take anything away from tomorrow’s match or how special that would be for me, and for both of us.”

Now, her incredible comeback continues by doing something few have. Not beating one Williams but both even if it was under bizarre circumstances with Serena Williams losing her cool late on a controversial call in a very tight second set.

Yes, the overwhelming favorite didn’t keep it together after a line judge nailed her for a foot fault handing Clijsters double match point. CBS replays were inconclusive with the call coming at a pivotal moment. As she was about to step up and serve, Williams made the costly mistake of walking over to have a few choice words for the poor judge. Unfortunately, the 27 year-old American let out several expletives which resulted in a very awkward and devastating conclusion to a quality match.

“I”m not going to sit here and make an excuse. If I foot fault, I did. It was what it was, and that’s basically all it was,” lamented Williams.

Following a meeting between the chair umpire and lines person, she reported what was said. With Serena anxiously waiting at the baseline and Clijsters wondering what was happening, eventually the 11-time slam winner was called up by the umpire forcing tournament referee Brian Earley to pay a visit along with tournament official Donna Kelso.

“She was called for a foot fault, and a point later, she said something to a line umpire, and it was reported to the chair, and that resulted in a point penalty,” a very subdued Earley explained. “And it just happened that point penalty was match point. It was a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Due to Williams breaking her racket following losing the first set which she received a warning for, the temper tantrum cost her any chance to repeat, resulting in a point penalty which meant the match. When Serena walked across the net to congratulate Clijsters, the stunned Belgian almost didn’t want to accept the 6-4, 7-5 semi victory which she quite deserved before a stunned, loyal half capacity crowd.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s unfortunate that a match that I was playing so well at to end that way,” a surprised Clijsters remarked after improving to 2-8 career versus Serena.

“You know, obviously, yeah, I still to this point I’m a little confused about what happened out there, and, um, just because I was so focused. You know, just trying to win that last point for me. So then things ended up ending a little bit different than I expected.”

“Well, I said something that I guess they gave me a point penalty. Unfortunately it was on match point,” was how Williams put it while adding:

No, I didn’t think I would get a point penalty. I didn’t think about it.”

Sometimes in sports, things happen. Chalk it up to emotions getting the better turning the champ into chump. Yes. The cooler player prevailed. With few giving her a chance after already sending Venus Williams home two rounds prior, Clijsters was superior.

Following a lengthy eight and a half hour delay, it was Kim who dealt with the elements better to pull off another upset knocking out the three-time Open winner.

It took a while for both players to get going due to a few sprinkles which fell and seemed to unnerve Serena more than Clijsters. The difference was that Clijsters hit the cleaner ball while an unsteady Williams misfired from the baseline. Able to deal with the pace, the speedy popular former champ was able to run down shots and come up with precision hitting creating nice angles.

They exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games but ultimately, Clijsters stayed strong holding for 5-4 to put pressure on Serena to stay in the set. A couple of points from squaring it, she fell apart dropping the next four to hand it over. After a Clijsters forehand winner made it 30-all, two Williams miscues including a netted backhand gave her gritty opponent a set lead to which she slammed her racket in disgust. Who knew that would play such a big role in a match of this magnitude?

When Williams seemed ready to make a run breaking Clijsters in the opening game of the second set highlighted by a couple of lethal return winners, she allowed Kim to stick around by dropping serve with a double fault.

All match, the WTA’s best server struggled mightily winning just 32 percent of second serves (10 of 31) due in large part to Clijsters’ aggressive play. That was the biggest difference making Williams’ serve attackable with Clijsters breaking her one more time than she’d been all tournament. Four when she had only allowed three entering last night.

Despite her serving issues, a sharper Williams pressed on earning a break in the fifth game when a nice dropshot setup a textbook crosscourt pass for 3-2. But yet again, a resilient Clijsters came right back. After Serena fought off three break points, she earned a fourth and converted thanks to a big forehand which drew an error to get back even.

Following Clijsters digging out of 15-30 to hold for 4-3, a big backhand gave her two more chances to break and serve for the match. However, as often happens with Williams, she toughened saving both winning a baseline exchange and a swinging volley winner. Still in trouble, she delivered an ace out wide to fight off a third. Entering the game, she had three aces but matched that total with clutch serving for four all.

Each then traded holds. A Clijsters ace out wide put her a game away from the final. Then came the embarrassing conclusion to a great set that had fans into it.

Already trailing in the critical game 15-30 due to a pair of errors, Williams faulted. Then came the foot fault from Hell.

“I used to have a real temper, and I’ve gotten a lot better,” an under control Williams said during a long postmatch press conference. “So I know you don’t believe me, but I used to be worse. Yes, yes, indeed.”

Not on this night.

When the Rain Stops, The Matches Are Great

Will the rain ever stop? They’re praying it will so that the women can actually get their semis in sometime tonight.

Caroline Wozniacki takes on Yanina Wickmayer in the first match moved to Louis Armstrong. And the second semi pits reigning champ Serena Williams against comeback queen Kim Clijsters who has proven that she still has quite a bit of game even though she took two years off to get married and now has 18-month old daughter Jade following her.

Can the former 2005 Open winner rundown enough balls and hit with enough variety versus the powerful Serena, who is looking to make it three slams this year and four of the last five? Yet that’s not good enough to be ranked No.1. Everyone already has Williams taking the trophy but figure her to get a fight from the feisty 26 year-old from Belgium.

Though Serena has gone out of her way to praise Kim saying how she admires her, you know once they get out on Ashe, it’s on. And she’ll also be aiming for a measure of revenge for older sis Venus, who Clijsters ousted two previous rounds receiving plenty of love. So, the 11-time grand slam winner has plenty of incentive.

We’re just glad the men were finally able to complete the quarter that got suspended by a heavy downpour Thursday night. Even if poor Fernando Gonzalez offered token resistance, allowing Rafael Nadal to win the final four points of a crucial second set tiebreaker before getting bageled.

So, here’s Rafa again showing the tremendous heart in spite of the abdominal strain which was ailing him the other night. That the 23 year-old kid from Mallorca can give you this much effort when the odds are stacked against him tells us all we need to know about him. He’s two matches from making history by completing a career grand slam.

Don’t forget he beat Federer in five down under this year before Robin Soderling got him at Roland Garros and then Nadal couldn’t even defend his Wimbledon crown due to balky knees. Now, he will face tough sixth seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in one semi tomorrow. So, it won’t be easy against a player who has proven to be an excellent hard courter posting a 16-1 mark since Wimbledon. The last time they met, Del Potro won in straights at Montreal before losing to Andy Murray in the final.

The other semifinal hasn’t gotten much talk even though it’s Federer trying to keep his bid to match Bill Tilden’s six straight Opens alive against fourth seeded Serb Novak Djokovic. Here’s the kicker. They’re only meeting a third consecutive year with Feds prevailing in the 2007 final and last year’s semi in four sets going onto a fifth championship in a row over Murray.

So, even without Murray or Andy Roddick, there’s plenty of star power/storylines which will make the men’s Final Four compelling.

Let’s just hope the ladies can get their matches in tonight which is asking a lot with the weather not cooperating. Wozniacki is coming off her impressive 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over new 17 year-old American sweetheart Melanie Oudin, whose run captivated everyone.

What the 19 year-old blonde bombshell from Denmark did was come in with a great strategy using her speed to play excellent defense while mixing in a consistent topspin forehand that forced Oudin to go for more resulting in unforced errors.

The ninth seed is a good player and this has been expected. She had never before made it past the fourth round until this tournament. But after disappointing results at the first three slams, Wozy has stepped up following her win in New Haven. Her game is a breath of fresh air in that she doesn’t just rely on power but on precision along with solid D to stay in points. Something which frustrated former Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Dane’s come from behind three set Round of 16 win.

Aside tom the consistency is the wonderful smile which can win crowds over as can her positive attitude, even admitting that when it got interesting early in the second set versus fan favorite Oudin, she didn’t show any frustration because the wise teen had used any negativity in her upsets over the big Russians to her edge.

Now, there will be even more pressure with Wozniacki facing another 19 year-old in Wickmayer. A player she knows well from juniors. Thus far, the Belgian has had a breakthrough of her own to reach this point. That included a first round straight set upset of No.16 seed Virginie Razzano and a come from behind three set Round Two triumph over Shuai Peng.

Wickmayer also had to show mettle rallying from a set down to defeat Dinara Safina conqueror Petra Kvitova in the fourth round. Even her quarter win over Kateryna Bondarenko got dicey when after sneaking out the first set late, she fell behind 1-4 having to save break points before righting herself to reel off the last five games for the big win.

Not bad for a player who’d never surpassed the second round of a major. Wickmayer hits a bigger ball than Wozniacki. So, she’ll likely be going for more while the counterpunching Wozniacki will try to use a similar gameplan that worked so well against Oudin. The contrast in style should make for an intriguing match.

Now if only the rain would go away.

This Talk of a Roof is Just Lip Service

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – So here we are another day looking to be a washout. Already the doubles matches have been canceled and the women may be coming soon.

Yet, today the USTA addressed the situation and, of course, some reporters asked about a roof.

“Well, look, would I love to have a roof? Absolutely,” said tournament director Jim Curley. “But it is certainly one of those situations where you have to really look at the practical aspects. In ’07 we didn’t have a single session rained out. In ’08 we had one, and thus far, knock on wood, hopefully we’ll only have one rained out in ’09.

So you weigh that against the potential costs of a roof on Ashe of $100 million or more, and it’s a tough decision. We’re trying to figure out the best ways to utilize the revenues to promote our sport. That’s a tough decision for us to make that, you know, nine-figure investment in a roof.”

Of course when it rains everyone wants to have a roof and Currey and USTA Chairman Gordon Smith also said they were looking into what it would take to cover Ashe.

Yet, the same problem will remain: No matter what material you use, the ground that the Tennis Center is built upon is very soft from the original landfill.

If you read the Great Gatzby, you will know that Flushing Meadows – Corona Park was once called the Valley of the Ashes. It was a garbage dump that the city plowed over for the 1939 World’s Fair. The lands that Shea Stadium, and now Citi Field, stands on also was part of the same landfill.

Back in the 1980s, the city looked into putting a dome on Shea, which was part of the original plan. Yet the feasibility study said that the weight of the roof would collapse the stadium because of the land it stood upon.

Now they want to do it with Ashe, which may have the same problems. Of course, the Tennis Center is newer, but Ashe sits on a water pool, that’s below ground. That’s why there’s always a drainage problem there. If you look at the pictures of the United States Pavilion – which was on the Ashe footprint in 1964 – from the World’s Fair, you will see the pool under the structure.

So it’s going to be difficult and expensive. The media is all for it though. It’s not their money and by pushing the Open back a day, the out of town members are forced to push their fights back and get night in the hotel. That’s an extra expense that none of the newspapers want to endure and why this is getting so much service.

And that especially comes from the British media. Because a roof was placed on Wimbledon, they think every other venue needs one too. Five years ago if this wad mentioned by anyone, all the royal subjects of the Queen would pelt you with their strawberries and cream.

Yet, what’s good for the Brits – and the Aussies for that matter, who need their roof because of the heat – may not good for the USTA. Remember that money that they will save will go elsewhere, such as promoting the sport in this country.

“We’re nonprofit,” Smith said. “Our mission is to grow and develop the game of tennis. We spend the money we make on the Open on grassroots tennis. The money we make here goes out into grassroots all around the country, including building this tennis center, which 11 months of the year is the nicest public tennis center in New York for New York citizens to use without having spent a penny of taxpayer money. Our money goes out and does that.

“So the question is, are you going to spend $100 million or more, we don’t know exactly, on a roof that you might use once a year, which would be the average? Or is the money better spent promoting the game that we have been promoting so successfully? Because over the last five years, grassroots tennis has grown tremendously. Tennis is growing more than any of the traditional sports in our country. So it’s a very difficult balance to make.”

No it’s not. The USTA has done a very good job upgrading Flushing Meadows over the past 20 years. It’s the best tennis center in the world. But to have roof insurance for the cost of over $100 million is a just too much of a price to pay.

Murray Just Too Much For Dent

Taylor Dent’s comeback story ended thanks to Andy Murray. The 2008 U.S. Open runner-up just had too much game for the 28 year-old American, coasting to a straight sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory at Ashe in Flushing tonight.

Against a good opponent whose serve-and-volley style tested his return game, the No.2 seeded Scot had all the answers in a virtuoso performance that makes him a strong contender to dethrone Roger Federer.

Amazingly enough, Murray got almost every powerful Dent serve back failing to return only six. That included two 145 MPH aces from the passionate guy who tried his best to make it a match with some crafty volleys which made for entertaining tennis.

But nothing was stopping Murray who after trading breaks in the first three games ratcheted up his level with a returning exhibition that made Tennis Channel analyst and former five-time Open winner Jimmy Connors proud. The precision with which he played made it difficult on Dent.

With the opening set still on serve at 4-3, Great Britain’s only hope at erasing Fred Perry’s name from the record book made his move earning a second break with a passing shot. He then served it out.

Dent continued to remain aggressive getting into net often but while he stuck to his game plan, the grinding Murray countered with quality shot making which included several of his 39 winners. Even when Dent had the edge in rallies with nifty touch, the younger 22 year-old scrambled after lob volleys running down every shot sending a message.

His return game was so effective that it made Dent pick his spots with the big man often staying back on second serves. Not shockingly, he didn’t win many points on seconds with Murray claiming 16 of 27. So much of a zone was he that he broke Dent consecutively to cruise through the middle set putting a damper on what fans came to see.

By the final set, even though Dent held twice for 2-1, the collective writing was on the wall because Murray was holding easily continuing to put the pressure squarely on his opponent’s shoulders. Eventually, his persistence paid off with a break for 3-2 thanks to some splendid return winners from both sides of the racket.

Though he didn’t get many chances converting one of two for the match, Dent had one opportunity to get it back. But Murray quickly erased it with a service winner taking the next couple of points for 4-2.

With the crowd sensing the end, they continued to urge the underdog on. But Murray would have none of it continuing to punish Dent serves by producing even more return passes. Clearly after dropping a set in his second round win, nothing was stopping him.

Even the net cord was on his side with a backhand fooling Dent to help get the double break that allowed him to serve out the match.

On his second match point, he punctuated it with a perfect backhand lob that initially was ruled out. But from the naked eye, it looked to catch part of the line. Obviously, Murray challenged and the replay showed that it barely got the edge giving him a third round victory.

The road will get tougher with 19 year-old Croat Marin Cilic next up in the Round of 16. The 16th seed was a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Denis Istomin.

Also in that part of the section No.6 seeded Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro advanced in four sets over Austrian Daniel Koellerer 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Last year’s quarterfinalist aims for a second straight against 2003 finalist Juan Carlos Ferrero (24), who moved on when No.9 Frenchman Gilles Simon retired. Ferrero led 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 1-0.

If the higher seeds advance, it would setup a quarter rematch between Murray and Del Potro which Andy won in four last year.

Meanwhile, No.3 seeded Rafael Nadal kept it going with a straight set win over Spanish countryman Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. The six-time slam winner won without a problem despite needing the trainer to treat a reinjured abdominal strain late in the third set. The tough champ closed it out in style with a whipping backhand crosscourt before getting a pat on the back from Almagro.

“I don’t want to talk about injuries,” Nadal pointed out. “Sorry. No, no. I am a little bit tired to talk about injuries.”

Who could blame him? He gives his all every point and will need to even more against electrifying 13 seed Gael Monfils, who ousted Jose Acasuso in straights 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. No doubt Monfils speed and athleticism along with shot ability should be a good test for Rafa in Round Four.

The winner gets either No.7 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or No.11 Chilean Fernando Gonzalez. Each posted straight set wins over Julien Benneteau and Tomas Berdych respectively.

In the women’s portion of the night session, it was 10th seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta showing true mettle by saving six match points late in the second including a pair in a tiebreak before pulling out a well earned 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-0 win over No.7 Russian Vera Zvonareva. For her trouble, she draws defending champ Serena Williams in the quarters.

Unfortunately, the bigger story was Zvonareva, who imploded even letting off some steam at the chair umpire during a changeover about a bad tape job on a her knee.

“I knew I didn’t have the physical ability for a third set,” the emotional Russian admitted while denying she lost it. “I knew that in the middle of the second set.”

“She’s always like this,” the triumphant Pennetta assessed. “I know her. She can cry on the court, and then next point she fight and she play good tennis.”

Note: Fourteen of the top 16 men have advanced to the Round of 16 setting a new mark at the Open. The previous high was a dozen back in 1992. The 14 also matched a grand slam record set at the 2007 Australian Open. Their record is 28-2 entering Week Two with just No.5 Andy Roddick (John Isner in 5) and Simon (ret. vs Ferrero in 4) eliminated.