Azarenka Comes Out At The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – She dances, she sings, and heck she can hit the ball too.

This is a different Victoria Azarenka we are used to seeing. In the past, she could be testy, yelling at the umpires, linespersons and even ballboys and ball girls.

But now, she is having fun.

All thanks to a sitdown with her grandmother Nina.

“I guess it’s just the mentality change, you know, the approach change,” Azarenka said. “I just know how to prepare myself to be in that state of mind.  It’s never always the same.  Sometimes to come up with that fire it takes a little bit more energy out of me or, you know, a little bit of adaptation, something that I have to bring myself.

“But, yeah, the approach is there.  I enjoy playing on the court.  It’s always there.”

Quietly, we have started to see it the last two weeks. Even though she’s the No. 1 seed, the 23 year-old has been overshadowed by the more household names on the tour.

But after her thrilling 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in the Semifinals, everyone is starting to know her now.

And she is having the time of her life.

“It’s sometimes it’s not as fun,” she said with a laugh.  “Especially in that first set today it wasn’t that fun. But I try to enjoy my moment.  I feel like I don’t want it to end.  I’m living this great run, you know, this great opportunities that coming at me, that I just want to continue and enjoy that ride.

“When I’m on the court, I feel like I’m in paradise.  I’m in that most comfortable place I can be.  Why not enjoy it?”

The Belarusian has made a name for herself this year. In the semifinals once in a Grand Slam before 2012, she is now on the cusp to win her second major of the year after winning the Australian earlier this season.

But now, she is facing maybe her toughest competition: Serena Williams.

“Well, first of all, if you look at our record it says it all,” Azarenka, who is 1-9 careerwise against Serena, said. “I mean, I haven’t won in any last meetings, so I definitely need to find something to surprise her tomorrow, because she’s in a great form, you know, feeling really confident right now.

“She has everything on her side.”

And that includes the crowd, who will support the American every day of the week. Azarenka, though isn’t going to be wearing Bobby Bonilla style earplug to drown out the noise.

“I will not really use ear plugs, but I definitely I would be surprised if it would be the other way, so I kind of know that already,” she said. “It’s not the first time for me to kind of face that.  It’s definitely gonna be the first time being in the US Open, but, you know, there is a lot of things that been for the first time for me in this year.  I just need to adjust and try to be, you know, who I am on the court.”

But to win the championship or even make it a game, what does she have to do?

“Well, I have to, you know, try to return well, definitely,” she said smiling.  “And serve.  Because, well, with Serena it’s not really the long rallies.  It’s all about, you know, who grabs the first opportunity, who is more brave to, you know, step it up right from the beginning.”

And if she does it, she will have a puncher’s chance against Serena. But whatever happens, the No. 1 seed will have fun with it.

At least that’s what her grandmother told her to do.



It’s A Family Win For Clijsters

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s tough to say what made Kim Clijsters happier tonight. Was it just winning the US Open or being able to celebrate it with her 18 month-old daughter Jada?

Maybe it was a little bit of both.

“Just the way [Jada] was looking at herself up on the screen,” Clijsters said after she defeated Caroline Wozniaski in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3 to win her second US Open title. “[Husband] Brian [Lynch] and I were just talking to her and like laughing, with, yeah, the way that she was handling it all.

“Brian and I were, you know, a lot more nervous than she was. She just thought it was the most normal thing, I guess. So, no, it was nice to share that with my family, that moment, yeah.”

With just two tournaments under her belt, Clijsters comeback is complete with the US Open championship. Even without that much practice, she mowed down her competition throughout the two weeks and came back to a sport she enjoyed.

And that’s the same sport she put behind herself two and a half years ago. In fact when Jada was born a year and a half ago, she would never of even thought of coming back to the courts and would have hung up on anyone who suggested it.

“I would have gone click,” she said simulating hanging up the phone. “Not until the start of this year, that’s when it came back. So 18 months ago or 18 and a half months ago, tennis wasn’t even on my mind at all, you know. I was just a new mom and just going through those experiences, as well, which is a lot of fun.

“But, you know, yeah, no, I would have definitely hung the phone on you. Sorry.”

Clijsters is trying to prove something to working mothers everywhere. You can have a career and at the same time enjoy your family. Although it would make sense for her to keep it going, the Open Champion is going to take it easy and pick and choose her tournament.

The next will be in Luxembourg in October and then she will think about when she will play next, although the Australian Open is on the calendar. By picking and choosing she will stay fresh and at the same time she will pretty much be the stealth contestant on each of these tournaments, because she won’t accumulate points to move up in the rankings.

But all of that doesn’t matter to Clijsters. She’s a mother now and for her family comes first.

“I don’t know how I’m going to top this, but it’s a challenge, you know,” she said. “It’s a challenge now at each tournament you play to try to show your best tennis and to stay in good shape, obviously. It’s something that I’m going to be, you know, really focusing on is to try to pick, you know, think wisely about my schedule and pick my tournaments and just try to really whatever I play and whenever I play, just really try to, you know, peak at certain situations.

“And, yeah, so I think it’s something that, you know, now with my coach, my physio and everybody, that’s something that we’re just going to keep focusing on, is making sure that, you know, I still work hard and everything.

“But also, they also know how important it is to have that family life at the same time. So I’m not, you know, playing next week or anything. I just want to go home and relax for a little bit.”
And she will enjoy herself. The beaming look on her face tells the whole story. Clijsters wasn’t just able to just win, but she also had Jada there to enjoy the moment.

Wozniacki Has Bright Future Ahead

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s not easy losing the US Open after a tremendous run, but Caroline Wozniacki has nothing to be embarrassed about.

“There was nothing I could do anymore,” she said. “I lost the last point and I lost the match. She just played better than me. I really did my best. I tried my hardest, and I had a great two weeks. I think it’s just about enjoying the moment, enjoy and enjoy that you were in the finals and just be happy about that.

“Because, I mean, if I started saying, Oh, I should have won, I should have done this and that, I think that would be kind of a sin. I’ve really done great, and I think I should be proud what I’ve achieved.”

Wozniacki didn’t lose the match because she wasn’t talented enough to stay with champion Kim Clijsters – losing 5-7, 3-6 – but the 19 year-old lacked experience. You can see it in the first set as the veteran Belgian lost four games in a row, but then started to make adjustments to Wozniacki’s game.

And although, Wozniacki was two points away from the set, Clijsters would not let her Danish counterpart close her out.

That’s the mark of a champion.

“The first couple of games I wanted to get into the match,” Wozniacki said. “I wanted to just know what I’m up against, and I fast found out that I’m up against a really strong player that doesn’t give away any free points.

“I really had to fight for it. I mean, she played really well. She played aggressive. I mean, yeah, she’s playing really well.”

Clijsters used her experience to move up on Wozniacki as the match went on. Playing on the baseline for most of the first set, she learned that she could come in and volley the ball against her opponent.

The first set was also a return game with six breaks and neither player establishing their serve, but Clijsters was able to do that in the second, which made Wozniacki easy pickings.

“Actually, I feel like I’ve been serving really well the whole tournament, and also today I had parts where I was serving well,” Wozniacki said. “I think, I need some more experience. And, I mean, of course, when I came to the net I was doing the right thing. Sometimes I just missed, and that’s tennis. You can’t hit everything straight.

“But of course all the volleys I wished I could have, you know, finished them up.”

That will come in time. Wozniacki established herself as a force on the tour this year with seven finals under her belt. Although for the first week and a half of the tournament the story was Melanie Oudin, this 19 year-old was the real story and one that has a very bright future ahead.

“Obviously I don’t like losing,” she said. I’m a competitor and I love winning. But I think I’ve had some great weeks here. I mean, I was in the finals of a Grand Slam. I’m only 19 years old, like you were saying.

“I mean, my ranking will go up again, and I’m just happy the way I’m playing and the way I’ve been progressing so far. I feel like, yeah, I’m playing good tennis.”

And that’s all that matters.

US Open Throws Book at Serena

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Serena threatens and the USTA took action.

Persuant to the rules for the maximum permissible on-site fine for an Unsportsmanlike Conduct, Serena Williams was hit with a $10,000 fine for her on court behavior last night in her straight sets loss to Kim Clijsters in the Women’s Singles Semifinals. Williams was also fined $500 for racquet abuse which took place at the end of the first set.

Williams is $10,500 lighter because she threatened the lineswoman last night after she was called with a foot fault in the last game of the match. Serena proceeded to threaten the official in a profanity laced tirade, saying, “I will shove these [bleeping] balls down your [bleeping] throat.”

After conferring with officials, Clijsters was given the match point die to unsportsmanlike conduct. Williams was warned after the first set for smashing her racquet.

The Grand Slam Rule Book also allows for an investigation to be conducted by the Grand Slam Committee Administrator to determine if the behavior of Serena warrants consideration as a Major Offense for which additional penalties can be imposed.

The investigation has already begun.

It’s A Washout In Flushing Meadows

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s a washout here at the Open and all matches are moved to tomorrow.

That means today – Session 23 on your tickets – will be honored tomorrow with Rafael Nadal resuming his match with Fernando Gonzalez at 12 noon, although weather may dictate that match may be moved to 2 p.m.

I will be followed by the Mens Doubles Finals and then the first Women’s Semifinal of Yanina Wickmayer against Caroline Wozniacki.

Tomorrow night – and not before 8 p.m. – the Serena Williams vs Kim Clijsters matchup will take place.

On Sunday, Session 24 tickets will be honored (the ones for originally for Saturday afternoon). The two men’s Semifinal matches will take place. Right now they don’t know the order. Also taking place tentatively is the Court of Champions ceremony, and that will take place after the first match.

Now the USTA is working with their television partners to put the Women’s final at 9 p.m. If they can then Session 25 tickets will be honored for that day. If they can’t then the  men’s semifinal matches will take place concurrently with the women to follow afterwards.

If Williams wins her match then they will move the Women’s Doubles to Monday, otherwise it will be on Sunday if Clijsters wins.

On Monday, Session 26 tickets will be honored and the Men’s finals will take place around 5 p.m. Yet, that is not entirely confirmed yet.

Sound confusing? Sure, but if you have ticket, just remember to push it back a day. Friday’s tickets for tomorrow. Saturday tickets on Sunday and then Sunday ticket on Monday.

Ivanovic Ends Her Open Early The Second Year In A Row

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – First for the good news: Ana Ivanovic has plenty of time this year to shop on Fifth Avenue and take in the sights and sounds of New York City.

And now for the bad: This is the second year in a row, she became a tourist after in the first week.

Much like last year the 21 year-old former No. 1 took an early exit at the US Open, this time losing to  52 ranked Kateryna Bondarenko in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-7 (7).

“I created a lot of chances for myself,” Ivanovic said. “I’m really disappointed that I made a few mistakes in the important moments and my forehand let me down on a few occasions and obviously it hurts.

And it hurts her in the rankings as well. Last year, she was the No. 1 seed and in 2009 she fell to spots to No. 11. This Open is the cumulation of a bad year for the Serbian who just really couldn’t put it all together.

“I think it’s been, you know, as much as it hurts and was disappointing, you know, times so far, I feel I learned a lot from it,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself and you know, people around me and about what I have to do and in order to become a better player, because there was a point that, you know, I really trusted the team around me, so I didn’t question many things that were happening.

“Many times, you know, I didn’t know why I was doing certain things. So now we have, with the changes that happened, I’m more aware of certain things and more aware of the things that helped me get better. That’s obviously really good things.

“Now I know for myself what’s going to help me to improve, and you know, what kind of work it’s going to help me, rather than just rely 100% on a coach, because many times they can’t feel – all the time they can’t feel what I feel. That’s one thing that I feel I learned in last month or two.”

This time she lost top Bondarenko, who was nursing a “strained muscle” in her upper left leg, which she injured playing in Toronto. “She was wearing a wrap all game and it looked like it was aggravated by the end the match.

“It started to hurt more,” Bondarenko said. “Before the match it was okay but by the end it was more.”

Ironically as the match went on Ivanovic was the one that faltered. She won the first set 6-2, but then dropped the second 6-3. The Serbian was able to come back being down in the third to force a tie breaker, but could not withstand the Ukrainian’s will and determination.

“You know, 6-5 in the third and deuce I believe and  I played great and set myself up and made the mistake, in the net every time,” said Ivanovic who is now 24-13 this year.  “It’s a little frustrating. And then on match point, maybe it was wrong shot. Also, a few times I think I made a wrong shot selection, as well.

“Just also a little bit to do with confidence, just some of the shots I think weren’t the right shots but were not really coming. That was really frustrating.”

Now she will have some time to think about it and maybe take in the sights and sounds of New York. And don’t worry, after last year, Ivanovic knows the good places.

Safina Survives Scare

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s supposed to be easy now to Dinara Safina. She’s the World’s No. 1 women’s player. This is supposed to be her time and her place where she cruises to her first Grand Slam of her career.

But no one told her first round opponent Australian Olivia Rogowska, ranked 167th in the world.

Instead of cruising to the next matchup. Safina struggled. First losing the first set, 7-6, then after taking the second set, 6-2, had to rally to take the final after being down 3-0 for a 6-4 win.

“I’m just like, I had so many opportunities, the set just didn’t go into my hands,” Safina said. “5-3, two balls that she hit, one on the line, one return, and then she kind of frame, I don’t know what, and the ball touched just a little bit, you know.

“Played terrible game on 5-4, Love-30 on her serve, and there I didn’t do anything and I would say poorly tiebreak from my side. But, you, know, I lost it, and definitely I would never give up. Just okay, second set, okay, just try to do more.”

This just may be the wakeup call the 23 year-old needs. All her life she has a goal to be No. 1 and now that she is at the top, it’s very easy to drop off. And she knows all she has to blame for it would be herself.

“I try to do something good, but when it doesn’t go good, then I go like too much into myself, what I’m doing right, wrong, instead of thinking more what I have to do with the ball,” she said. “I don’t know. I guess it’s just –the time, you know, it’s just there and you’re playing. Sometimes things go, some balls doesn’t go. Then, you know, I hit — I don’t challenge the ball and the ball is like this out. Then she challenged the ball and the ball is like this in.

“Just like everything goes wrong, but you still somehow manage, you know, to pull the match out, you know. I guess, you know, I had to do everything today.  It was a bad day and then some good points. So hopefully from today on it’s going to get better.”

Safina has some help. She can look to her brother Maret Safin, who struggled early on in when he won the 2000 US Open. Much like his sister, Safin had to rally in the first round to beat Sebastien Grosjean, which paved the way for his only Queens win.

“He won 7-6 in the fifth set, and they finished, I think it was 5-4,” Safina said. “He was up and the rain started, so they finished another day. So and then he had another like difficult match against Pozzi. So I remember he said he was struggling from the first round, but he made it. So maybe I’m following his steps this time.”

Possibly, but Safina will have to face stiff competition. Serena Willias cruised in her first round and aria Sharapova, who is looking for a comeback is pretty much could have played a ball machine rather than  Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova. Even an injured Venus Williams was able to eek out a win, which means she will be much stronger next round.

All this means is that it’s tough at the top and Safina only has one person to fall back upon – herself.

“I don’t really like think let’s say I’m No. 1 and like this,” she thought. “No. I think what I have to do. So it’s not really that I step on the court and I’m thinking, oh, I’m No. 1. I cannot lose this match. I mean, definitely, nobody is unbeatable in this world. I just think what I have to do right. That’s the only thing. But not really that say like, Oh, I cannot lose. More I think like what I have to do.”

And she better, when she faces German Kristina Barrois on Thurday.

“I know her,” she said. “I saw her playing. She’s a great player. Like very good serve. She does everything on the court. So it’s not easy match, but I still think that I have to focus more on myself, what I have to do, than to think what she can put against me.”