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.

 

 

The Sharapova Express Derails

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The Maria Sharapova Express hit a derailment today.

The 2006 US Open Champion was supposed to go pretty far in this tournament after fully coming back from her shoulder surgery and receiving the No. 3 seed.

But Italian Flavia Pennetta had something else to say about that with a 6-3 3-6 6-4 win over the Russian by the way of Florida in the third round of the US Open.

“I made way too many unforced errors,” she said.  “I fought back to get myself back in the match in the third set.  I think the first three, four games on every game I had a chance to win that game, whether it was a breakpoint or it was a game point on my serve, and I didn’t win those games.

“When you’re done 1‑4 and you get yourself back in a position where can you win again and start making errors, it’s just too inconsistent to win the match against her.”

Sharapova committed 60 unforced errors with 29 coming in the first set and 12 double faults in the match compared to only 35 self inflicted wounds by her Italian counterpart and only six giveaways.

She said she didn’t “feel comfortable” all game and just couldn’t get on track.

And when she got it in the third Sharapova couldn’t sustain her undefeated 2011 in third set. And even with that kind of confidence, it didn’t matter.

“I never think I’m going to lose the match, no matter if I’m 1‑4 or 0‑5,” she said. “I don’t have that mentality that I’m going to lose no matter how bad or how good I’m playing.  You can’t have that mentality.”

And thus another disappointing Open for the Russian. Even though she went to the Finals at Wimbledon, the 24 year-old leaves Flushing before Labor Day with the hopes of maybe a better Asian season this fall.

“I’m not really looking forward to a 14‑hour flight in a couple of weeks,” she said dryly.  “Yeah, the year is not over.  We’ve still got ‑‑ I think I still have three tournaments to go or so.

“Yeah, once they come then it will be time to play again and raise my level.  Until then, I just have to, you know, keep working in order for me to go out in the match and raise it.”

Rafa Bulls Past Monfils

Rafael Nadal is from Spain. So, he knows a thing or two about bulls. That was evident in the No.3 seed’s come from behind four set win over frenetic Frenchman Gael Monfils, advancing to a U.S. Open quarterfinal against No.11 Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, who earlier on Day Nine ousted No.7 Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

The 13th seed certainly put on a great show using his athleticism to stay in long rallies entertaining a packed Ashe Stadium but ultimately it was Nadal’s bulllike mentality that allowed him to come away with a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 win in what was a fun match that lasted two hours and  45 minutes.

Early on, Monfils proved why he was so dangerous breaking Nadal early to jump out to a 5-2 lead. However, that didn’t discourage the six-time grand slam winner who after holding broke back and then held suddenly squaring the first set at five all. Fittingly, an ultracompetitive set that saw plenty of action packed rallies with each player pushing the other all over the court needed a tiebreaker.

In it, it was the flying Frenchman who made all the right shots plays pulling out the breaker when he forced an errant Nadal shot, letting out an emphatic scream while pointing to his heart after taking it.

“No, no, I think I came back well in the 5 4 playing very good game to break back. And in the tiebreak he didn’t had any mistake with his serve. He play all first serves, so he beat me the first set, was tough,” Nadal said.

“But I still there, and physically it was tough for both. But I think for him a little bit more.”

Up a set, before Monfils could blink, a determined Nadal broke early in the second set and seemed on his way to leveling things. But just when it looked that way, here came Monfils right back with a magnificent game to break back for 3-4. So pumped was he after winning some wild exchanges with one going 31 strokes, it looked like he had a shot at an upset and his first Open quarterfinal.

As often happens though with Nadal, you just can’t count him out. Fittingly with ESPN’s John McEnroe noting that the 23 year-old from Mallorca would ‘come even harder’, that’s exactly what happened making for one of the most memorable games of the tournament. With Monfils trying to draw even at four, the two played some unbelievable points that seemed to take forever mesmerizing the crowd.

Following two successful exchanges, a pumped up Monfils pointed to his chest. Two points from drawing even, the point of the match came with Monfils and Nadal going toe to toe. About half a dozen times, it looked like the Frenchman had the point won but a desperate Rafa randown a shot just stabbing back a slice backhand to stay in it. Eventually, he drew a miss to get to 30-All, then pumping his fists. Possibly tired, Monfils lost the next two points to drop serve falling behind 3-5.

“I think I get a little fatigue. Also, Rafa playing good. It’s credit to him. He played more deep, more, heavy, more flight on his shot,” Monfils admitted.

Serving to square it wasn’t easy for Nadal who got plenty of resistance from a focused Monfils, who fought off three set points with great backhand winners. Instead of falling apart, the 2009 Australian Open champ got even stingier winning a tough point setting up a fourth set point to which he gave a double pump. After finally closing it out, he pounded his chest as if to say, ‘Bring it on!’

“I think it was a bit tough to keep going like that, to take the ball. I think I stepped back a little bit and just give him I think more time and more time to set up,” assessed Monfils. “And also, I think today he played very good, very good. His defense was very, very strong today. So I mean, this where I think the change for me.”

“Yeah, first two sets was really tough, really hard physically and I think the tennis was very good level,” said Nadal in agreement.

Perhaps the quality of the play took something out of Monfils. Either that or the moment got to him because he put up token resistance in a 28-minute third set that saw Nadal stick to the strategy of working his opponent over to the point of exhaustion. After some rallies, he was bent over trying to catch his breath.

Nadal took full advantage breaking three times in the set with the second for 4-1 resulting in the trainer coming out to retape Monfils’ wrist. With little left in the tank, he lost the next two games firing a wild forehand way long to hand Nadal a two sets to one lead.

Was there anything left for a comeback which an enthusiastic Ashe wanted to see even chanting, “Mon—fils, Mon—fils, Mon—fils” after he dropped serve to fall down an early break.

At first, it worked as he bounced back breaking Nadal while frequently talking to himself as if to say, ‘You can do it.’

But following a feisty Nadal hold for 4-3, Monfils finally cracked getting broken at love donating the eighth game with four errors including a pair of doubles that gave him an eighth service break in 14 attempts. By comparison, his opponent also did good going three for six but was silenced when it really mattered.

“I mean, I had like a lot practice behind me, and just come out with few match and a little bit practice,” pointed out Monfils who missed Wimbledon with an injury and had played only three matches entering the Open.

“So didn’t have that confidence also to keep going, didn’t have the miles in my legs. If I played maybe six tournaments before the US Open even, I think it will be more than an hour, 30 minutes. It can be two hours and maybe push him when I’m back in second set at 4 3.”

A cool Nadal then served out the match drawing one last of Monfils’ 63 unforced errors, advancing to a third Open quarter. Last year, he improved by making the semis before departing at the hands of upset victim Andy Murray, who oddly enough he just passed again to regain the No.2 ranking.

Afterwards, a very pleased Nadal thanked the crowd for their support even getting some unexpected love from a fan who ran onto the court to take a pic before Open Security took the grinning stranger away.

“No, for me it wasn’t the problem. The guy was really nice,” Nadal chuckled, then adding:

Yes. He was a great fan. He said, I love you, and he kiss me.”

Even the unexpected doesn’t faze him. He’ll try to keep it going against Gonzalez, who figures to be a good challenge.

“Right now, the rest of the tournament I know gonna be very difficult. I have to enjoy it. I must enjoy that, and I must to play very aggressive and the best tactically if I gonna have chances to continuing win any match.”

Might another Rafa vs Roger grand slam final finally happen in the city that never sleeps?

It remained possible after tonight.