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.”

Power vs. Speed Highlight Sharapova and Wozniacki

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – One is a three-time Grand Slam Champion. She is a statuesque model on the court, who uses her power game to her advantage. A daughter of immigrants, who keeps her ancestry close to her hear, someone who is proud to be a foreigner in a foreign county. If she wasn’t a tennis player, she would be modeling in Milan or Paris.

The other was the runner-up in last year’s US Open and the No. 1 seeded player in the tournament. Her smile outshines her beauty on the court and uses her speed to break down her opponents. She is also a daughter of immigrants, but has embraced her new country as her own. If she wasn’t a tennis player, she would be a morning show personality or a weather girl.

The differences between Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki are clear cut. Yes, they may be the two most beautiful women in the tournament and when they face-off in the fourth round on Monday, it may be the true championship of this tournament, as both women may be on their hottest streaks of their careers.

“At the moment I’m feeling happy,” said Wozniacki who is now 18-1 since Wimbledon, after she disposed of Yung-Jan Chan, 6-1 6-0.  “I’m happy to be out there.  I’m happy to play, I’m happy to be fit, and that’s the most important thing.  I’ve really been practicing hard, and it’s giving me the results I want.”

Not to be outdone, Sharapova has won 12 out of 14 matches since the British championship. She is playing her best tennis since her shoulder injury in 2008 and maybe since she won the US Open back in 2006. Today she dispelled the Cinderella story of Beatrice Capra, 6-0 6-0 , almost a year to the day of getting knocked out by last year’s upstart Melanie Oudin.

“This was a new day,” said Sharapova. “And what happened last year, you know, I didn’t really want to go into the match thinking about it. Obviously I had lost the match and made way too many unforced errors.  On a day like today, I just wanted to make sure I was consistent and did the right thing, and, you know, maybe didn’t go for the lines as much and just played smart tennis.”

So now both Sharapova and Wozniacki will have a titan matchup. They have only met twice (both back in 2008) with the 23 year-old Russian holding a 2-0 edge. And this fourth rounder will be a showcase of Russian’s power versus the Dane’s speed with Wozniacki catching up to as many balls on the baseline trying to force the aggressive Sharapova to make errors.

“She can run all day and get a lot of balls back and make you hit tons of balls,” Sharapova said.  “She changes the pace really well, and gets her opponents off-balance.  She does many things well, you know.  That’s why she’s at the top of the game.”

Although Serena Williams is the No. 1 woman in the world, Wozniacki can claim that title with a win on Monday, especially after Jelena Jankovic out of the tournament. The 20 year-old will have her toughest fight of the summer against her Russian opponent, because of her mental toughness and ability to break down opponents.

“I think we’re different players,” Wozniacki said. “I feel like I’m maybe moving a bit better.  I don’t know.  I’m placing the balls better a little bit, but she’s maybe hitting the balls harder.

“I don’t know.  You know, she has won Grand Slams; I haven’t.  Yeah, I don’t know.  It’s tough.  I think it’s up to you guys [the media] to find out what you think.”

Prediction: Wozniacki In Three Sets

It’s a Wonderful Life for Beatrice Capra

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Now that Melanie Oudin is out of the US Open, we reporter types always need a new Cinderella story to report.

Enter Beatrice Capra.

If you haven’t heard of her, don’t sweat it as she’s ranked 317 in the world. But with her first Top 20 win against the 18th seed Aravane Rezai, 7-5 2-6 6-3, has put the 18 year-old right in Oudin territory.

And that suits the Maryland native just alright.

“I really look up to Melanie,” said Capra, who is playing in her first US Open.  “I watched all of her matches last year, and I was just so happy for her.  You know, it was really inspiring to me because I played her a year before, and then she was getting to the quarters of a Grand Slam.  It was just unbelievable, and I was so happy for her.

“You know, I think she’s pushed all of the Americans to do better.  I mean, for sure I talk to Melanie a lot, and I will for sure ask anything about Maria Sharapova.”

Although she may be seeking Sharapova’s advice, that may have to wait, because Capra may play the 14th seed Russian pending the results against Iveta Benesova laster tonight.

And that’s alright because right now, Capra is the talk on the Open. She was born to an Italian family and her father emigrated to America. “He’s from Monza,” Capra said, “and he came over to start his business, which it’s called the Tenax Corporation.  It’s an Italian company, so he started it in America.  While he was there in Maryland, my mom taught tennis lessons.  He wanted to take tennis lessons, so they met up and here I am.”

Her last answer got a round of laughs from the press conference and much like Oudin this young lady is very engaging as she moves up the ranks.

She trains at Chris Everett’s Tennis Academy and earned a wildcard into this tournament. As such, she has a tremendous confidence in the last 12 months.

“A year ago today I was actually playing the juniors here,”   I’ve been playing mostly juniors tournaments the entire year and concentrating on that.  I’ve played a couple of pro circuit events and done okay, but it’s been mostly juniors.”

“I played a couple of WTA events this year, and lost first round in the quallies in all of them.  So, I mean, this is definitely the best I’ve done so far.”

She played a very strong defensive game today, but feels she needs to be more aggressive if she’s going to move forward.

Of course all of this may end on Saturday when she faces Sharapova or Benesova, but right now she’s enjoying it.

“Well, yeah.  I mean, I always wanted to play in one of the Grand Slams,” she said.  “You know, I would be watching the Tennis Channel leading up.  It’s just like, you know, I always wanted that.

“Whenever I want something, you know, I do my best to get it.  You know, every day I would be like, I want this, I want this, and I just can’t, you know, believe that it’s happening.”

Turely, this Capra is living a Wonderful Life.

Ooo Ooo Oudin Moves On

(August 30, 2010) The purple streak across the blue court created a color scheme that screamed bruising for the opening match on Arthur Ashe Stadium today. Melanie Oudin, who has taken her share of shots since she emerged as America’s tennis darling with her inspired run to the 2009 US Open quarterfinals, returned to the Open today and produced a purple patch in powering past Olga Savchuk, 6-3, 6-0, in 56 minutes.

Oudin has gone to great lengths in trying to distance herself from last year, patiently pointing out in several press conferences that Cinderella stories only occur once in a career. Instead of a glass slipper, she wore multi-colored adidas with the word “believe” inscribed on them.

“Everyone has one Cinderella story, and mine was last year.  Now it’s like everyone just expects me to do that because I did it last year,” Oudin said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to happen. I mean, I’m going to have to play well.  It’s not just going to happen for me.  I’m gonna have to play well and fight hard like I did last year, and, um, hopefully it will be good for me and I’ll be the better player out there.”

Clad in a purple adidas dress, Oudin’s footwear drew the attention of fans and the long lens of photographers. She has replaced the word “believe” that adorned the side of her sneakers with “courage” and played with fast feet in making quick work of Savchuk.

Oudin says she came up with “courage” to remind herself to play with the fearlessness she displayed last year, but she insists she’s still a believer in the believe brand that inspired a legion of Oudin fans across the country to emulate the slogan on their shoes.

“I mean, I just really thought of the word because I thought it goes well with believe.  I wasn’t trying to just go completely away from the whole believe thing,”  Oudin said. “I was just adding something else that I think that you have to do in order to believe is have courage when you play.I mean, for me, like, when I’m going for my shots and I’m swinging out and I have courage and I believe in myself that I know I can win, that’s when I’m playing my best.  I think they go together.”

The golden girl of a summer ago nearly delivered a golden set as Oudin did not drop a point until the fourth game of the second set and completed a near shutout set with 24 points compared to two for Savchuk.

The petite blond with the mega-watt smile made the nation swoon in reaching the final eight last year, but her results have sagged since her surge to the Open quarterfinals. Oudin entered today’s opener with an 18-24 record since the ’09 Open, including a 17-20 record this season.

Spinning her wheels in winning just four of her last 17 matches, Oudin was determined to burst out of the blocks quickly today and benefited from playing a 22-year-old opponent who has never won a US Open main draw match. Overcoming some early match jitters, Oudin won nine consecutive games to close a commanding victory.

“After I won the first set I started moving my feet a lot more and I felt a lot better,” Oudin said. “It means a lot (to play on Arthur Ashe Stadium).  can’t believe they actually put me first on starting the US Open so I really appreciate that.”

Showing a willingness to move forward, Oudin tried to take the ball early and pressure the 143rd-ranked Ukranian.

Holding a 4-3 lead at 30-all, Oudin pumped up the pace on her forehand and broke for a 5-3 lead. The match was pretty much one-way traffic after that.

Opening the court with the crackling cross court forehand she wielded like a whip in dispatching Russians Maria Sharapova, fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva and 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova en route to the quarterfinals, Oudin ripped a forehand winner down the line to close the first set.

Savchuk offered little resistance in the second set as an empowered Oudin won 12 of the 14 points played on Savchuk’s serve.

Now, the challenge really begins as Oudin takes on another Ukranian, the recently-wed Alona Bondarenko, in the second round. Bondarenko beat Vera Dushevina, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. The winner of that match could face French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the third round. The sixth-seeded Italian stomped Ayumi Morita, 6-1, 6-0.

The perpetually-positive Oudin, who seems to wake up with a smile plastered across her face, admits she has endured some melancholy moments during a season of struggle  — when her doctor informed the 5-foot-6 Oudin her height has peaked.

“The doctor told me that she didn’t think I was going to grow much more.  It was a pretty sad day,” Oudin said smiling. “t’s all right.  It’s all right.”

Is there room for growth in her game? Absolutely, but because Oudin lacks the height, reach and strength of larger opponents, she will need to try to add some muscle to her serve and continue to use her speed as an offensive weapon in moving to the front court. She will always be vulnerable to the high topspin as Caroline Wozniacki showed when she carved up Oudin in the quarters last year, but Oudin believes she has what it takes to take down the bigger players.

“I feel like I’m not going to backwards, that’s for sure,” Oudin said. “I feel like I’m still young, I’m still improving, and I think I have a lot more work to do, though, for sure.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.