Serena’s Antics Will Get Her In Trouble

Flushing Meadows, NY – When we last saw Serena Williams step foot in the Borough of Queens, she threatened a line judge with her racket after committing a foot fault, ultimately forfeiting her Semifinal Match against Kim Clijsters in 2009.

The incident cost her around $95,000 in fines and also put her on probation for the 2010 and 2011 US Opens.

She didn’t play last year due to a foot injury, so that made her first round matchup last night against Bojana Jovanowski her first appearance in the 718 area code since the foot fault heard around the world.

Even though she is a low seed (28th due to injuries), this is still Serena Williams so of course she cruised to a 6-1 6-1 victory.

But it’s not a Serena match without some controversy. Last night the Open set her match as the late start, so she had to wait three hours for Rafael Nadal to win his round. And of course Williams couldn’t hold her tongue about it.

“No, I think the guys should play second,” she said. “They’re guys. We’re ladies. We’re ladies. They should totally play second all the time. Ladies, you open the door for ladies. They should go second. It’s ridiculous.”

Before last year’s Open, the ladies always went first, but then in 2010 the Open decided to mix up the matches with some nights having the men in the leadoff spot.

It’s pretty obvious why this is done – money. With the Open taking ESPN’s money, they have become slaves to what the networks want to see in primetime. ESPN’s ratings are dictated by the Eastern Time Zone, which is the most populous part of the United States. Prime time is 8 pm to 10 pm, so you can understand why the network will want the biggest ratings grabber for its first match.

So when it came down to the defending US Open Men’s champion and international star, or Serena, whose first round matchup was a mockery then you can understand what would go first.

Frankly, Serena will be more than glad to take all the prize money from the Open – equal prize money with the men for that matter – so she should sometimes bite the bullet for the bigger and better matches.

With the spotlight on her this year and the zero tolerance policy she has with the Open after two years ago, Serena should just keep her head down and play the game.

The bottom line is this Serena got off easy two years ago, but if anything happens this year then she will probably face harsher sanctions from tennis’s governing bodies.

An Interview With Mary Jo Fernandez

Mary Joe Fernandez

TIM CURRY: We have on the call with us live from Australia, U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. It’s 7:30 in the morning in Melbourne, and she’s preparing again today for ESPN commentary duties once again but is joining us to announce the U.S. Fed Cup team that will take on Belgium February 5th and 6th in Antwerp.
This is Mary Joe’s third year as U.S. Fed Cup Captain and she has successfully led the U.S. to the finals her first two years as captain. After introductory comments from Mary Joe, we will open up the call for Q&A. Mary Joe.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Good morning from Australia. Good afternoon there in the states. Just wanted to let everybody know how excited I am to be starting as Fed Cup captain this year. And it seems like when you end the year and start the year it’s very quick, there’s a big gap between the semis and finals, but there’s a quick turnaround between the finals and the first round. But here we go. Right after Australia we head over to Belgium. And I’m pleased to announce my team.
I have the same core group returning with Bethanie Mattek-Sands playing; Melanie Oudin; Liezel Huber, and Vania King will be joining us again, two-time majors doubles winner last year. She’s been on teams before.
And we’re excited to have her return. So we’re looking forward to it. We have our work cut out for us in Belgium against the top players. But we’re going to go give it our best shot. I have great faith in the team and the capabilities. And we’ll see what happens. So I open it up to questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?

Q. You mentioned having your work cut out for you. What sort of intimidation factor might there be with Belgium apparently bringing (Kim) Clijsters and Justine (Henin)?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, it’s pretty clear. They’re two of the best players to play the game. And Clijsters is still here playing today in the quarterfinals. Justine went out early.
To me, the Fed Cup is very different than a regular tour tournament. And, again, hopefully I can offer some advice when I’m on the court. And you just — you really approach it as this one unique match. And you try to do all you can to disrupt all the great things that both those players do.
It’s not easy. But it’s been done before. And you go out with a very positive attitude.

Q. And you had expected or hoped that Venus Williams might have been able to play this time and I’m wondering when you found out she wouldn’t be able to play?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Yes, Venus was going to play, and unfortunately she got hurt during the Australian Open and just confirmed with her just a couple of days ago about her injury and she wouldn’t be able to go.

Q. Obviously you’ve been to Australia and you’ve been watching Melanie and Bethanie and Vania and Liezel play. How impressed are you with how they’ve all started their years and how they’re looking now in the year?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, Liezel just won last night her doubles. She’s going to be playing in the semifinals later today with Nadia Petrova. And she’s been looking her usual prepared self and playing smart tennis on the doubles courts.
Bethanie had a great run down here in Australia winning the Hopman Cup with John Isner and then getting to the finals in a warm-up tournament before. She had a tough first-round match against actually a qualifier named (Arantxa) Rus. Was down a set in the break and fought really hard and came back and started up the match in the third and had a tough time closing it out.
But in the mixed doubles lost her doubles yesterday. So she’s been playing a lot of tennis, which is good. She’s match tough. She’s prepared.
Melanie had a tougher time down under, not winning any matches, and losing a tough three set match here in her first round here at the Australian Open. She’s not as confident. But Fed Cup seems to bring out the best in Melanie time and time again. And she’s practicing hard again this week. And we’ll be ready for her next week.
And Vania won her first round and then lost to (Caroline) Wozniacki in a tough second round. Wozniacki is still in the tournament. She’s in the semis. That was a tough drop for her. But she’s coming from last year playing two major finals and winning them in doubles, with (Yaroslava) Shvedova. She didn’t win here.
But she as well is back at home and starting to practice and get ready. So overall pretty good. They all have played matches and will be ready.

Q. I know obviously until you actually get down there and you are watching the girls play and everything, you don’t really know how you’re going to do it. But obviously Liezel and Bethanie have had a lot of success the last couple of years for you in doubles, yet obviously Vania has had great success at the Slams last year and everything. Do you have any inkling of what way you stay with the combination that’s been working or you go with Vania, or you just can’t even think about that yet?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think about it. The nice thing about having Vania on the team, she’s very versatile, can play both singles and doubles. And I do make my decision sort of towards the end. We’ve changed our double teams a few times right before that fifth match.
Leaning at the start, definitely to go with the team that’s been there before. And that’s played. Having said that, Vania and Liezel have played a couple times at Fed Cup as well. They complement each other very well, too.
We’ll obviously have to play it by ear as it gets to the fifth match. But during the week we’ll have everybody practice doubles with each other, because you really have to be prepared for any situation. But that’s the good news having Vania is she can play many different roles.

Q. You talked about the timing. You also mentioned that. I would imagine having Fed Cup and having to travel on the heels of the Australian Open would not be what most people think is the most ideal timing.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: It depends where you’re playing. It’s a tough flight, obviously, for me because I’m going straight from here. But for the ones that are back at home, it’s not as bad.
And we’re playing on a surface we like. It’s indoor hard. And we went to France last year and played well. So we’re used to it. We’re used to the travel. We’re used to the time changes and getting used to it.

Q. I was wondering if you could talk about Melanie and how have you seen her develop since her run at the U.S. Open a couple of years ago, and how she’s played last year for you at Fed Cup?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Sure. Melanie, not last year but the year before, was the Cinderella story of the US Open and it really started before that when she qualified at Wimbledon beating Jankovic along the way. She has so much determination. She works extremely hard.
In my mind, she’s improving, trying to get better. She’s not as focused on day-to-day results it is about getting better at her game. I think last year was a tough year for her.
I think players figured her game out. She had a little bit more of a target on her back. And I think it was a tough year for her to get used to all the attention, all the publicity and really the expectation of being the next great American.
She handles it well. She has a great head on her shoulders. For Fed Cup, she’s been instrumental, and I couldn’t ask for a better team player because she really puts the team first.
You’ve seen her play. She fights for every single ball from the first ball to the last. That’s what you want to see during team competition.
So she’ll get there again. I think she’s doing the right thing. She’s trying to get, develop a better serve, a little bit more power. She’s trying to become a little more offensive. For me, the important thing is if she can’t get away from her strength, from her movement, from her consistency. I think that’s really what got her the breakthrough and she’s got to have that balance and combination in her game.

Q. Is this going to be the key for her to jump to that top 20 level?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Again, I think her base is how quick she is and how well she can maneuver around the court and defend. For someone that tall, she really packs a pretty big punch with her forehand. She’s trying to learn to use that better and be a little more aggressive. You just can’t come, I think, too much outside your game sometimes and leave the consistency behind. So once she starts figuring out the balance of the two, I think that’s when she’s going to start winning a lot more matches.

TIM CURRY: While we wait for further questions to be queued, I wanted to mention that win or lose, the U.S. Fed Cup team will play their next match the weekend of April 16-17. If the U.S. wins, we will host the winner of the Slovak Repubic/Czech Republic quarterfinal. If we lose, we will be competing the World Group Playoff that weekend, most likely against one of the teams currently in World Group II, to determine our status for the 2012 Fed Cup.

Q. Just curious to get your thoughts on some of the results of some of the young American women, in particular Lauren Davis and Beatrice Capra, Christina (McHale), Coco (Vandeweghe), and if any of them will be coming along as practice partners to Belgium?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Sure. Lauren Davis will be coming along as one of our young players. Won the (USTA) wildcard playoff tournament to the Australian Open and lost to Sam Stosur in the first right here. And playing Juniors and had a tough win yesterday, and I think she’s on court again today. So I’m looking forward to having her there.
She’s won so many matches in the last season winning Juniors and Challengers and everything. So I think it’s something like 35, 36 matches. She’s definitely one to watch.
And we had eight American women in the main draw here that were 21 years old and younger, which was really nice to see, and that included Christina McHale and Coco Vandeweghe. Alison Riske, Jamie Hampton. So it was a nice break-through.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get past the first round. So we still have a lot of work to do. But they’re slowly getting there. I really believe that all these women should be in the top 100. They should be consistently getting into the majors and perhaps going a lot further and breaking the top 50. I think it was a big step to get so many in the main draw, whether it was through qualifying or like Lauren won the (USTA) wildcard tournament and got straight in risk got straight in, and (Irina) Falconi came thru qualifying as well. It’s definitely looking better. And the women are working hard.
I was down in Florida, the USTA Training Center in December, watching a lot of the girls practice and they’re taking it really seriously. And that’s why I really suspect a big jump from a lot of them here in 2011.

TIM CURRY: Many of the top young players that Mary Joe mentioned, including Coco Vandeweghe, Allison Riske and Irina Falconi, will be competing at the $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Midland, Mich., the week following Fed Cup as well as some of the young players who have been part of previous U.S. Fed Cup teams such as Sloane Stephens, Alexa Glatch and Christina McHale. Qualifying in Midland actually begins while the Fed Cup matches are being contested.

Q. Did Jim Courier at all stop you or ask for any tips since he’s starting his captaincy and yet you recently did, I was wondering if you guys had any conversation on that?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: We’ve had a few conversations about what a long road it’s been, two South Florida juniors have come through, and he is Davis Cup captain and I’m Fed Cup captain, how nice that is. I’ve known Jim forever. And I think he’s going to do a fantastic job. Tips, no. He jokes around all the time, how do I get to the final my first year. (Laughter)
But, again, he’s a great guy. He’s very smart. He knows his tennis. Strategy. Great camaraderie with all the U.S. men and looking forward to seeing him do great things with the Davis Cup team.

Q. Wondering your opinion on potentially Rafael Nadal can win the Nadal Slam, it won’t be a calendar slam, but it will be a non-calendar slam. Particularly in the men’s game, I know it’s been done in the women’s game, nobody’s done it since 1969. And when Rod did it as a calendar slam, if he does that how do you view that accomplishment?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I think it would be unbelievable. I mean, for him to get four in a row during a time where the competition is just so high would be outstanding and what I love about Nadal is his improvement, just in the last few years. I mean, every year he’s better. And for someone who just started off as a great clay quarter, you know, now he dominates on every surface. He’s remarkable. So he’s very close. I think he can do it.
And it would be just, it would be great to see because it has been a long time since it’s been done. And I think it would be great for tennis, too.

Q. Wanted to ask how have you treated putting on the different hats or roles of potential coach, friend, mentor, even parent sometimes to these young girls, and if you could talk about a situation where you’ve had to play those different roles?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, one of the things I really enjoy about Fed Cup and the week of Fed Cup is learning — now I have a sort of base group that I’m getting to know really well. But their personalities. I mean, everybody’s very different. Billie Jean King was my mentor, Fed Cup and Olympic captain.
And she’s always giving me such great advice about how you really have to treat each individual differently and learn what works with each one.
Some like to be talked to more, some less. When to find those moments. And the most important thing for me is to try to get the best out of them, to make them the best they can be. And it’s a challenge. But for me it’s very rewarding. It’s a lot of fun. And I enjoy following all these American women through the year. And at a time now where we’re really trying to develop the next generation of players, it’s fun. It’s been exciting, and I enjoy, when I watch them practice and see what their intentions are, what their goals are.
So you are, you’re coach, you’re friend, you’re trying to help any which way you can. And they become family, the ones that you deal with on a very frequent basis, and it’s been — I’ve said this before, it’s been a great experience. And one of the favorite things that I get to do.
TIM CURRY: Thank you.

Tennis 360 Has Brad Gilbert on Wednesday

Join Andres as he welcomes ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert to “Tennis360″ this Wednesday October 13th. Listen in as Brad discusses his thoughts on the state of the game, the current Davis Cup coaching vacancy, and his friendship with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Gilbert, an Olympic Broze Medalist and former coach to Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick & Andy Murray, will join us LIVE this Wednesday. Don’t miss out!

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Tennis360 Debuts And Is A Huge Success

The “Tennis360″ radio show comes to you LIVE from the Lexus of Las Vegas Open, a $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event featuring some of the best female tennis players in the world.

Listen in as Andres Borowiak interviews renowned coach and ESPN analyst Darren Cahill about his current training program with adidas, his past coaching experience with Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, and his thoughts on the Lexus of Las Vegas Open.

Also joining on this show are Tournament Directors Tyler Weekes and Jordan Butler who discuss their second annual event, as well as USTA Nevada Executive Director Ryan Wolfington and defending NCAA Champion Chelsey Gullickson.

Don’t miss any of these guests as “Tennis360″ debuts on TennisLedger.com!

Del Potro Beats Up A Beaten Up Nadal

There will be no Federer-Nadal final. Thanks to a virtuoso performance by Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro, that will have to wait at least another year at the U.S. Open.

“I’m sorry,” del Potro told a chuckling crowd which he earlier thanked for their support at his favorite event while speaking with ESPN’s Darren Cahill. “But tomorrow, I’ll fight until the final point for you, for everyone, to show good tennis.”

“It’s part of my dream, you know. I’m very close to do it, but this moment is so nice, and I always dreamed of this moment.

I’m very happy to beat Rafa in straight sets, play unbelievable match. Of course it’s great for me and for my future being in finals.”

The 20 year-old Del Potro had other ideas playing remarkable tennis to dominate one of the game’s best, crushing Rafael Nadal in the first men’s semifinal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 before a stunned Ashe Stadium in Flushing this afternoon.

Maybe the wear and tear finally caught up to the six-time grand slam winner who was playing a day after dismantling Fernando Gonzalez with a heavily wrapped stomach due to an abdominal strain he’d nursed throughout the final slam of the season. Even if the gutsy 23 year-old Spaniard wasn’t at his peak, a lot of that had to do with his opponent who played a perfect match to make his first ever slam final where he’ll await the winner between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic taking place later.

“I think this is the best moment of my life,” the excited del Potro said after becoming the first Argentine to reach the men’s final since Guillermo Vilas in 1977 to a nice reception.

“Just have to congratulate him,” said Nadal who had nothing to be ashamed of.

In his first Open semi, a locked in Del Potro just had too much in his arsenal turning the match into a rout. The six games he permitted was the worst beating Nadal had ever taken in a slam match with only Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faring worse when he dropped seven games in a 2008 Australian Open semifinal.

Unlike his come from behind four set quarter win over Marin Cilic, Del Potro came out sharp firing on all cylinders. Early on, both players had some scintillating rallies making the first few games very long. That included a fun point that had Nadal scrambling even pulling a crowd pleasing tweener which Del Potro volleyed back that a stumbling Rafa couldn’t finish off.

Nadal had his chances including an early opportunity to break but with his bread and butter forehand setup, he missed just wide blowing it which allowed Del Potro to crawl out of the third game. That would be a common theme with the younger Argentinian serving out of trouble by fighting off all five break chances while he remained aggressive, converting six of 16 on Nadal’s serve.

The first break came in the next game. After Nadal couldn’t put it away, a hustling Del Potro forced a backhand volley long that gave him an early 3-1 lead. A frustrated Rafa tapped his leg perhaps realizing how crucial that moment was.

Nadal tried to come back but Del Potro served well all day with the sun peering out following the dreary weather that caused so many scheduling gliches. When he needed a big serve, the lanky 6-6 fifth year pro took advantage of his big frame to find the angles forcing errant replies. He only had six aces but it felt like more due to the velocity and placement which gave Nadal trouble. For the match, Del Potro won 79 percent on his first serve (44 of 56) compared to 57 percent (40 of 70) for his more accomplished foe.

“I played a great match. I was so focused with my serve, with every breakpoints, playing serve, you know, trying to put the ball into the court and trying to be aggressive,” explained del Potro of why it went so well.

Still down a break at 2-5, Nadal tried to hold serve and stay in the set but ultimately, he was outhit by Del Potro who mixed in a lethal backhand which drew miscues off the normally solid Rafa forehand. The firepower he came with was too much closing the set with a forehand winner.

Undeterred, Nadal continued to throw everything at Del Potro and had a slight opening in the first game of the second set. But once again, the sixth seed used his serve to get out of trouble with a couple of service winners flustering Nadal. The combination of his bigger serve along with penetrating groundstrokes gave him a decided edge finishing with 14 more winners (33-19).

If not for Rafa’s speed and competitiveness, it could’ve been a lot more. Instead, Del Potro who stepped inside the baseline to control rallies earned more unforced errors off Nadal’s racket. A rarity. He committed 27 to Del Potro’s 28. Not bad but given how big the player who beat him in Montreal last month was hitting, it was easy to see why the French Open semifinalist had entered winning 16 of his last 17 since Wimbledon.

It didn’t take long for Del Potro to break earning another on a double fault for a 3-1 lead. With the crowd trying to rally the struggling Nadal, Rafa continued to put in a maximum effort running down every ball. However, Del Potro just wouldn’t miss.

Even when there was a slight opening, it was closed quickly. Up 5-2, Del Potro didn’t slow down breaking Nadal a fourth time to go up two sets. Despite only dropping four games at that point, he still needed an average of 50.5 minutes to win the sets giving an indication of how hard Rafa tried even when it wasn’t his day.

“The first two sets was 6 2, but I have a lot of chances, I think. A lot of chance to keep the score more tight. If it’s like this, you never know what happened. But nothing to do today,” Nadal pointed out.

By the third set, the outcome looked certain. Nadal continued to compete but a streaking Del Potro didn’t take his foot off the gas pedal accelerating with more tremendous hitting that featured some wicked winners including an inside out forehand and a backhand cross that was Agassi-like.

So dominant was he from the ground that he pinned Nadal behind the baseline even finishing off points at the net where he did well converting 71 percent (17 of 24).

“I saw Rafa in the baseline, but too far away on the baseline. That’s important for me to come to the net and to do a short point.”

Del Potro also punished Rafa’s second serve taking 14 of 20 points. While he struggled himself in that department dropping 17 of 29, they weren’t frequent enough and never came at critical moments.

Already leading by a break 5-2, he went for the kill easily breaking Nadal a sixth time when the 2009 Australian Open champion sent a forehand way long for the biggest win of his career.

An overjoyed Del Potro pumped his fists in almost disbelief before receiving congrats from a wounded Nadal, who made no excuses in a brief postmatch interview with ESPN’s Pam Shriver.

“Here, it was disappointing, I had a little bit of a (bad) break,” Nadal said while giving Del Potro his due. “The right abdominal. To compete with these players was difficult.”

“I did a good result, very positive result for me after coming back. Semifinals. Today he played better than me. He beat me, and right now I just try to recover. Is not very important injury, so that’s really important for me, too.”

Most players after such a defeat would’ve dodged the questions and walked off the court. But not Nadal who even was nice enough to sign autographs for fans winning even more.

A night before, we saw the worst in a player who lost her mind handling a tough situation very poorly typifying what’s wrong with today’s athletes. Today, even in defeat, we saw what’s very right and why Rafa Nadal is so easy to respect and root for.

It just wasn’t his day. Today was about a rising star who should move up to No.5 in the world no matter what happens in tomorrow’s Monday final to be seen on CBS at 1 PM.

“I think so,” del Potro assessed on if it was his best win. “It was so focused every moment because Rafa’s a great player. He can run for 5, 6 hours. I’m not very strong but I do my best, and I’m in the final.”

“I don’t remember, but I think was I saw the stadium too big, and I say, This will be my favorite tournament.”

Now he’s one match away from winning it.

“I hope to be quiet for tomorrow to enjoy the moment, but could be difficult for me, because I never play a Grand Slam final.

“But I have the game to win tomorrow. I just want to be focused with my tennis and try to beat Roger or Novak.”

Federer Hangs Tough Over Soderling

For two sets, it wasn’t a contest. Roger Federer was making quick work of Robin Soderling, looking like a lock for a grand slam record 22nd straight semifinal.

Perhaps it came too easy because his U.S. Open quarterfinal match against the No.12 seeded Soderling completely changed, suddenly becoming a whole lot more interesting with the underdog trying to pull off the impossible. Comeback from two sets behind against Federer at a slam, who brought a perfect 147-0 record under such circumstances.

Despite a valiant effort from a player he beat in Paris to complete the career grand slam and eliminated in a close three sets on his way to winning a record 15th major at Wimbledon, the five-time reigning Open champ earned No.22- hanging tough for a four set win over Soderling, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6) before a pumped up Ashe Stadium in Flushing.

“It was so close towards the end. It’s a great relief to come through, because Robin started playing better and better as the match went on,” a relieved Federer told ESPN’s Darren Cahill after escaping. “I knew he’d be tough, but the beginning was way too easy. He found his way into the match.”

Somehow after looking completely out of it, Soderling had fought back even earning set point to level the match. But the determined champion found his way out of trouble, winning the final three points to setup a semi rematch from last year versus a familiar foe Novak Djokovic, who got out of trouble earlier in the day prevailing in four sets over Fernando Verdasco.

“Yeah, I mean, look, we’ll see how it goes against Djokovic, I guess,” Federer said while discussing the style differences between his next opponent and Soderling. “It was good that I had maybe a bit of a test, but it’s not something I’m really looking for. The hoped I could close him out in three. I should have.”

“In the end, I’m lucky to be through in four.”

Following Caroline Wozniacki ending Melanie Oudin’s run, Federer was all business against what he termed a ‘dangerous opponent‘ in a press conference yesterday. In the opening pair of sets, that wasn’t the case with the Swiss world No.1 coming out of the gate so sharp that he even bageled Soderling.

Things didn’t get much better for the 25 year-old French Open runner-up as he couldn’t find an answer for Federer’s bread and butter forehand which produced plenty of a match best 64 winners. If only it were that simple. There’s also his movement which during sets one and two made it seem like he was out for a walk in the park.

Remarkably, Soderling was making better than 70 percent first serves but still found himself in a huge hole with an opportunistic Federer breaking him four times. He took full advantage of a weak second serve, taking firm control to jump out to a commanding two set lead.

Could anything stop him?

“For sure, I feel like I have a chance every time I play against him, even though it’s pretty small,” Soderling said after falling to 0-12 career versus Federer. “He always plays well, it feels like.”

The first game of the third set looked like it would be a similar script with Federer winning the first three points on Soderling’s serve but instead of going away, the Swede hung tough saving every single one with large serves and even bigger hitting which helped turn the match.

“You see how quickly tennis can change around if you don’t take those. I think he did well to hang in there, because it wasn’t easy after what he had to go through in the first two sets,” Federer duly noted.

“So I have to give him a lot of credit for hanging there and playing so well in the end.”

Suddenly, the switch went on. New York fans started to see why the gifted player is having a breakout year on the cusp of the top 10. Playing the same style that dethroned Rafael Nadal in Roland Garros, Soderling traded shot for shot with the game’s best making for much more compelling action. He even started getting the better of the rallies unleashing a lethal forehand which scored a good chunk of his 36 winners.

When he wasn’t hitting a flat out winner, it was mostly due to the speed of his world class opponent who did plenty of scrambling to stay in points, even having to fight off break chances to keep the third set on serve.

As the set wore on, a determined Soderling kept holding as if to say,’I’m not going away,’ gaining plenty of support from a boisterous New York crowd that wanted more tennis. If the ladies’ quarter disappointed with Oudin running out of steam against a focused Wozniacki who made her first slam semifinal, they sure got their money’s worth.

Fittingly, the well played set needed a tiebreak. At that point, ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe wondered if Soderling’s serve would suddenly go off. Early on, he looked prophetic with the Swede committing a couple of bad miscues to fall behind 0-4 making it feel over. But to his credit, he never quit stealing the next point on Federer’s serve to get a mini-break back.

Amazingly, against one of the best tiebreaker players ever, Soderling got back even at five apiece thanks to some enormous shots including a wicked forehand up the line. After a big serve, he had set point. However, Federer saved it in remarkable fashion playing great defense before running down a drop volley to come up with a slice forehand pass yelling, “Come on.

Soderling didn’t let it slip taking the next point before forcing a long Federer miss to claim the set, giving cheering fans another set.

“It’s tough to play worse than I did in the first two sets. It could only get better,” Soderling pointed out. “I think I was putting a lot of pressure on him from the start of the third set.”

The fourth set would be even better. With Federer serving first, he figured to have an edge because he could then put all the pressure on Soderling, who had to know one slip up and the comeback bid would be all for naught.

After digging out of a Love-30 game early to hold, the Swiss Maestro turned up the heat, ratcheting up his serve increasing the ace count. He took a page from the 50 he needed to edge Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. In the set, whenever he needed one, he got it cracking at least eight of 28 to keep holding.

“For me, it’s very tough to read his serve, and I was very impressed about the way he served during the circumstances,” praised Soderling. “It was very, very windy.”

For his part, Soderling remained undeterred doing his best to emulate Federer. In one game late in the chess match, he served three consecutive aces going as big as possible even catching the edge out wide to win a challenge.

When he didn’t hit them, he was outslugging Federer with tremendous power from both sides of the racket striking lines. For as hopeless as it looked early with the first two sets taking less than an hour, suddenly Soderling was in the zone giving the crowd plenty of hope for a fifth set. At one point, a fan screamed:

Come on Robin. We want a fifth set.

He sure tried. As each guy stepped up and held, there was no doubt where the fourth was headed. And a Soderling service winner gave them another breaker.

Unlike the first one, neither player budged. Though Soderling got a couple of great looks at Federer second serves. But his go for broke return forehands sailed just wide. Had one connected, who knows? They might still be playing.

When Soderling kept his cool for 6-5, it was suddenly set point with a chance to actually send it the distance. Over an hour before, who ever would’ve believed it? Unfortunately, a more desperate Federer wasn’t so willing saving it with a big serve and then getting a little help from Soderling, who misfired a backhand when he had it lined up.

Just like that, it was match point. With the crowd hoping for more tennis, it was Soderling who finally gave in missing a forehand wide to which an excited Federer pumped his fist and let out a scream of relief.

He had avoided the upset. It sure got dicey. But when push came to shove, the great champion again showed why he is moving a step closer to matching Bill Tilden’s once thought unbreakable Open record of six straight titles back in the 1920’s.

Federer already owns one ridiculous record making 22 straight semi appearances at the slams.

“Not what I aimed for, that’s for sure,” the clever champ responded. “Probably one of the greatest records for me, personally, in my career. Glad it keeps going.”

They don’t call him the King of Queens for nothing.

After Win, Djokovic Challenges Johnny Mac

It’s not often a player gets more of a challenge from the broadcast booth. But that was precisely the case for Novak Djokovic, who had an easy go of it in a straight sets 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 Round of 16 triumph over No.15 veteran Radek Stepanek.

The same pair met a couple of years ago giving the crowd a lot more drama with Djokovic overcoming cramps to pull out a final set tiebreak en route to the final. But tonight was nothing like that match with the overlooked No.4 Serb having too much for an unsteady Stepanek.

In the lone competitive set, a perfect forehand topspin lob gave Nole a break of serve for 4-3. He managed to save one break point in the next game. Following a Stepanek hold that featured some nifty volleying skills, Djokovic crawled out of Love-30 taking the next four points to advance to a quarterfinal versus 10th seeded Fernando Verdasco, who bounced back from a set down to oust American John Isner in four 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Isner’s departure was historic because it marked the first time in U.S. Open history that no American male had made the quarterfinals. Pretty sad considering it’s been around since 1881.

At the conclusion of Djokovic’s win, he entertained the same audience he irked last year in a quarter win over Andy Roddick. This time, the chatty Serb while talking to ESPN’s Darren Cahill challenged John McEnroe to come down and hit with him. The hilarious confrontation which included Djokovic impersonating Johnny Mac’s serve and his infamous “You cannot be serious” quote at umpires will surely go down as one of the most classic things to happen at the Open.

Eventually, McEnroe who took off the tie made it down to courtside and did a funny imitation of his own pretending to serve like Djokovic bouncing the ball which got plenty of chuckles. They played three points with the popular four-time winner earning two points with what else but his crafty net skills which still looked pretty good.

If the moment is right, it comes spontaneously,” Djokovic later said after shaking hands with the idol. “I thought the moment was right. The crowd loved it, and that was the most important thing.

As for the real stuff, at least the Ashe Stadium capacity crowd got to see one superb match with No.9 Caroline Wozniacki coming back to edge former 2004 champ Svetlana Kuznetsova (6) 2-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3). Playing against the two-time slam winner including this year’s French, the 19 year-old from Denmark showed tremendous poise after getting outplayed in the first set.

Kuznetsova worked her from side to side slugging plenty of winners from all angles. The 24 year-old Russian was the aggressor throughout which might better explain how she wound up with over triple the winners (Kuznetsova-59, Wozniacki-16). But as often is the case when you go for more, the unforced errors can pile up and that’s exactly what happened in the second and third sets where she committed a large part of a match high 63 to her younger opponent’s 25.

Wozniacki’s consistency helped her stay in the match. When asked what turned it around by ESPN’s Brad Gilbert, the Dane indicated that she was more aggressive which didn’t allow Kuznetsova to dictate as much.

After taking the second breaker to level the match, she dropped serve falling behind 0-2 in the final set. But Kuznetsova’s level dropped allowing Wozniacki to claim the next three games. She was firmly in control after breaking for 5-3 but as often happens with an inexperienced player in such a big spot, the lanky teenager couldn’t close out Kuznetsova allowing her to get back on serve.

With the veteran serving to stay in the match, a running winner that finished off a scintillating point gave her match point. However, Kuznetsova showed why she’s won coming up with a deadly backhand winner down the line to erase it before holding. The former hitting pair in Eastbourne this past summer exchanged holds with Kuznetsova saving another match point with an ace to force a deciding breaker.

In it, a Kuznetsova double along with an unforced error handed Wozniacki a 3-0 double mini-break lead. But before you could blink, it was three all thanks to some great points by the Russian who found the angles.

Just when momentum seemed back on her side, she dropped the next point to go down 3-4. This time, Wozniacki won her two service points by playing steady while Kuznetsova misfired setting up three more match points.

With her first quarter berth on the line, she cashed in thanks to some great hustle running down a backhand in the corner to draw a Kuznetsova miss at the net. Pumped up, a smiling Wozniacki threw her hands in the air and tossed the racket before running up to get congrats.

She’s [Melanie Oudin] had an amazing run. Hopefully someone from the crowd will cheer for me,” cracked Wozniacki of her next opponent to cheers and laughter from Ashe spectators.

Whoever wins their quarter will be favored to make their first ever final with Kateryna Bondarenko and Yanina Wickmayer vying for the other spot in a top half that’s seen higher seeds go by the wayside with Oudin responsible for three Russians (No.4 Elena Dementieva, No.29 Maria Sharapova & No.13 Nadia Petrova).

With her win tonight, Wozniacki eliminated the last remaining Russian in either men’s or women’s draws meaning that for the first time in quite a while, not one player from Russia made the quarters. In fact, every single win by the 17 year-old from Atlanta, Georgia has come at the expense of Russia with her posting her first Open win back in Round One over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

“She’s on a roll. And she has nothing to lose,” pointed out Petrova after letting it slip away. “She goes, enjoys it, crowd is behind her. She’s just having a blast out there.”

“This,” Oudin said, “is what I’ve wanted forever.”

Maria Dominates The First Round Proving She’s Back

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Maria Sharapova has sent a message to the tennis world: She’s back.

After missing almost a year due to a shoulder injury, the tall lanky Russian took the court again in Flushing Meadows. The result was a straight-set win against Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-0.

“I was pretty happy because I kind of came from a slow court in Toronto to a pretty fast court here,” said Sharapova, who is playing in just eighth match of the season. “So it was all about adjustment.

“I played a tricky opponent who doesn’t give you much rhythm. It was real important to stay on top of her and do the right things from the beginning. I thought I had a little bit of a slow start, but once I got going, I did a a good job maintaining.”

It’s been a strange year for Sharapova, who is also making a comeback. She was out for almost all of 2008 with a shoulder injury, including last year’s Open. Although, she came back in time for this year’s French and Wimbledon, Queens is the place where she is at full strength, even though they said on ESPN she was looking towards 2010.

“I have been fortunate this summer to play as many matches as I have,” she said. “I think in Toronto, I played in six matches in seven days. I don’t remember the last time I did that. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and stepped it up. I certainly feel like I’m cutting down on the errors and getting confidence back certainly.”

Of course, much like any injury, Sharapova still has to worry about the shoulder. She said it now takes her longer to recover after each tournament, which is something she is not used to.

“It’s a little bit of a new stage for me, kind of dealing with that, and really being smart on the practice court,” said Sharapova, who is now 23-7 this year.  “Obviously you have a week to train before a grand slam but you want to do the right thing. I still have to work on my strength and do my program every single day of the last week, but also I want to go on the court and hit the tennis ball.”

“It’s a compromise. It’s something new in my career but that’s OK.”

That also means a new serve motion, which is easier on her arm.

“I’m pretty mobile,” she said. “My joints are pretty loose. I had a pretty loose motion but by the tie I would get to the hitting position my rotator cuff would be out of place because I am so mobile. With a shorter motion, it doesn’t have so much room to move around. It’s much more stable in the socket.”

And that will help her shoulder not get injured again.

In other words: She’s back.