Nadal Completes Career Grand Slam With Win Over Djokovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Hurling himself into the final ferocious forehands of the night like a fighter unleashing uppercuts with incisive intentions, Rafael Nadal took his shot at tennis history on the rise and completed his Grand Slam coronation in stirring style tonight.

Nadal captured his first career US Open championship to complete the career Grand Slam with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Novak Djokovic in the Flushing Meadows final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s more than I dreamt,” said Nadal, whose fingertips, still tinged with adhesive tape, tickled the shiny silver title trophy that eluded him for so long. “I know, for me, it’s a dream have the career Grand Slam, but this is more (of a) dream (to) have the US Open.  Is some moments unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined have the four Grand Slams.”

On championship point, Nadal coaxed a final forehand error from Djokovic, watched Djokovic’s shot sail wide, dropped his Babolat racquet and fell flat on his back behind the baseline while camera flashes flickered continiously like a force of fireflies descending on Flushing Meadows to light up the night. Then he rolled over on his stomach, his palms pressing down on the court as if embracing the largest Grand Slam stage in the world in a heart-felt hug.

Throughout his career, the US Open was the one major title eluding him, but on this night, in this event, Nadal conquered the hard court once deemed to fast for game and brought more than 22,000 adoring fans along for the ride.

When it was over the appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd stood and gave both men a rousing ovation.

At the age of 24 years, 101 days, Nadal took another giant stride toward tennis immortality in becoming just the seventh man in history to complete the career Grand Slam. Nadal is the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in succession. He is the third youngest man to complete the career Grand Slam after Don Budge (22 years, 357 days) and Laver (24 years, 32 days).

It is the ninth career major championship for Nadal, who is the first Spanish man since Manuel Orantes in 1975 to win the US Open. He spent some of the early years of his career as the second-seeded shadow to 16-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer. But now Nadal, five years Federer’s junior and owning a 14-7 career edge over the Swiss stylist in their head-to-head series, can stake a claim as one of the greatest players of all time. Should he he continue his winning pace, and there’s no one on the horizon who appears capable of slowing Nadal’s Roland Garros reign, can the muscular Mallorcan surpass Federer as the mythical Greatest Of All Time?

“Definitely,” Djokovic said without hesitation tonight. “He has the capabilities already now to become the best player ever.  I think he’s playing the best tennis that I ever seen him play on hardcourts.  He has improved his serve drastically.  The speed, the accuracy, and of course his baseline is as good as ever. So he’s a very complete player.”

Solidifying his status as the best big-match player in the sport, Nadal is 6-0 in his last six Grand Slam finals.

Racing so far behind the baseline he could have almost tapped the blue back wall with his racquet, Nadal ripped running backhand passes that left Djokovic shaking his head in disbelief at times.

The match featured six rallies of 20 more strokes and those punishing exchanges took a toll on Djokovic, whose depleted legs, drained from the five-set fight with five-time champion Roger Federer in the semifinals, looked like licorice by the early stages of the fourth set.

A rhythm player who actually seems to grow stronger as the match goes longer, Nadal was seemingly swinging with even more force as he saw the finish line in the fourth set.

A titanic topspin forehand down the line gave Nadal a double break point in the third game of the fourth set. Djokovic retaliated with his own ripping forehand down the line to save the first break point, but that shot was effectively the Belgrade baseliner’s last stand. A Djokovic forehand tripped on the tope of the tape and landed long as Nadal broke for 2-1.

Two games later, Nadal was at it again, pummeling punishing shots that hounded Djokovic like a pack of pit bulls unleashed on a trespasser. When Djokovic, who fought so hard for so long, flattened a forehand into the net, he hung his head falling into a 1-4 hole, wearing the weary resignation of a man well aware the dream was evaporating in the night air.

Djokovic was serving at 4-all, 30-all in the second set when the skies opened up and rain began pouring down. Tournament referee Brian Earley, clutching his ever-present walkie talkie came out quickly and acted decisively. “We’re going in. Take them in,” Earley told the security team, which escorted Nadal and Djokovic back into the locker room.

After a one hour, 57-minute rain delay, the players returned to the court at about 7:48 and Djokovic struck the serve that officially resumed play at 7:59.

Serving at 5-6, Nadal bumped a drop volley into net to fall to 30-all. Djokovic drilled a backhand down the line to draw an error and earn break point.

Reading the serve down the T, Djokovic moved right to cut off the angle and drove a forehand return down the middle that flirted with the front of the baseline. Forced to respond off his back foot, Nadal could only lift an off-balance forehand into the net as Djokovic broke to seze the second set.

Winding up for a windmill fist-pump, the veins bulging in Djokovic’s neck were visible from courtside as he trotted to his court-side seat deadlocked at one set apiece.

Sprinting seven feet behind the baseline, back in the territory typically occupied by ball kids, Nadal somehow angled a backhand pass crosscourt to earn triple break point at 0-40 in the third game of the third set. Djokovic erased the first with an ace and saved the second when Nadal netted a backhand. On the third break point, Djokovic slice a serve wide, drew the short ball he desired, but lifted a crosscourt forehand wide as Nadal broke for 2-1. Nadal quickly consolidated for 3-1.

Cranking up the pressure like as if tightening a tennis vise, Nadal earned five break points in the seventh game of the fourth set. Serving under immense pressure, Djokovic played with more aggression on the break points and time after time denied Nadal a second break. Attacking net, Djokovic saved a fifth break point when Nadal mis-fired on a backhand pass. A gam that featured 16 points and spanned more than 11 minutes finally ended when Nadal knocked a backhand into net.

Djokovic dug out a hard-fought hold for 3-4, but his legs and lungs paid a steep price.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Nadal went toe-to-toe with Djokovic in a demanding rally that spanned more than 20 shots. It ended with Djokovic clocking a crosscourt forehand winner. Another fierce forehand down the line drew Djokovic to 15-30.

A determined Djokovic ripped a forehand crosscourt drawing a Nadal backhand beyond the baseline as Djokovic broke at love for a 3-1 second-set lead screaming “Come on!” as his parents jumped out of their seats in support.

Nadal had been broken in just two of 91 games in the tournament, but Djokovic broke him twice in the first seven service games of the final.

Whipping his backhand down the line to set up his inside-out forehand, Djokovic hammered an inside-out forehand to hold at love for 4-1. The Serbian strung together 11 consecutive points and appeared to have the second set under control.

Nadal had other ideas.

The USTA announced total attendance for the US Open was 712,976 total attendance.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Queens of Queens As King and Shvedova Win Women’s Doubles

The Doors’ “Love Me Two Times” echoed around a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium shortly before the climactic tie breaker of today’s US Open women’s final while Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova both bounced on their feet in nervous anticipation as if trying to tap thumb tacks into the court with the soles of their shoes.  It was an appropriate anthem for the pair whose affection for doubles is so strong they seem to play every point as if powered by passion.

Minutes later, they were moving their feet in unison on championship point, eye-to-eye with Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova entrenched at net rapidly repelling every drive streaming at them with reflex volleys.

That’s when Shvedova took decisive action: She took touch to new heights.

Taking a small step back, Shvedova measured her shot and lofted an exquisite rainbow lob down the line directly over the 5-foot-10 Petrova’s head. Working the short court down the line is a difficult shot  under any circumstances — it’s downright demanding given the magnitude of the moment.

“Up! Up! Up! Up!” Huber urged, imploring her partner to take a leap at the sailing shot that carried championship hopes in its flight.

Petrova jumped, but the yellow ball floated like a runaway kite beyond her outstretched Babolat racquet,slowly spiraled in the air for what seemed to be several seconds before  kissing the corner of the blue court for a clean winner to complete a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) victory as King and Shvedova captured their first US Open championship and second consecutive major following their title triumph at Wimbledon in July.

“For me, it was like slow motion. It’s like in the movie.  It’s unreal,” Shvedova said of her winning lob. “But for me it was like this. I saw the ball was so slow. Vania was on the left, I was just waiting, and I saw Nadia was trying to get it. Then I was like then she didn’t get it.  People start to scream, and I was like I didn’t feel like we won.  It was so strange.”

The stroke of genius was a shot of relief for King, who watched the end of the final exchange unfold in silent prayer.

“She played like 10 balls in a row.  It was like, ‘Okay.  Hit a winner, please hit a winner, please hit a winner, please hit a winner, please miss, please miss, ‘ ” King said of her internal emotional dialogue. “Then she hit the lob, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s deep.’  So if it goes in, we win.  If it doesn’t, we lose the point.  Then it’s the next point.  I was like, Go in, go in, go in, go in.”

It went in, but Shvedova, who hit also gorgeous backhand lob winner to hold serve at 5-6 and force the breaker, did not actually see the shot land. She felt its impact in King’s leap of joy.

“They didn’t call anything.  I turned to Vania, and Vania jumped.  I was like so happy,” Shvedova said.

Petrova, who would come in second place in emanating positive energy even if Eyore was her opponent in a singles match, had a slightly less enthusiastic response to the winner  — she flung her Babolat racquet in frustration at her court side chair.

“There’s nothing you can do. I mean, I could just applaud her,” Petrova said. “Well done.  We were trying out hard and to give all today, and absolutely no regret.”

The softest shot of the rally had the most resounding impact of the match, sealing the first US Open doubles for the pair, who raised their Grand Slam record together to 12-0. It’s a remarkable achievement when you consider King and Shvedova won only one match together during the US Open Series.

Sisters Venus Williams and Serena Williams had won six of the last nine Grand Slam doubles titles prior, but with Serena forced out of this Open with a foot injury the sisters were unable to defend their title. King and Shvedova, who became the first player from Kazakhstan to win a US Open title of any kind, saw the opportunity and made the most of it.

They have won the first two Grand Slam tournaments they’ve played and the speed of their success an ease of their partnership — they sometimes answer questions as if setting each other up for a response — has surprised both of them.

“I don’t think we expected it as well, because usually great pairs pair together for a long time to know each other, and they really get a feel for each other and become a true team,” King said. “We had that from the beginning.  I mean, we bonded together so well and we’re also good friends, which helped. Yeah, like she said, it’s strange. I mean, it’s amazing.”

Shvedova celebrated her 23rd birthday yesterday with King and a cake they ate inside the WTA Tour office upstairs inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Birthday banter did not include the 6-2, 2-6, 5-4 deficit the pair faced when rain postponed the doubles final on Sunday, forcing the USTA to schedule completion of the match at 3 p.m. today.

“Then when they canceled us, we went to dinner, and we were just focusing on her birthday,” King said. “It’s pretty special for her, for her birthday.  And then today, yeah, we decided to make a long warm up.  We don’t really talk that much about tennis off the court.  Our coaches like to do that.”

Huber partnered with Bob Bryan to win the US Open mixed doubles title and has been a pivotal player on the United States’ Fed Cup team that will host Italy in the November 6-7th final at the San Diego Sports Arena. Huber, who has a charitable foundation and supports social causes around the Houston area, was philosophical in defeat.

“I think we, as athletes, are very fortunate.  We can bring something good from the sport back to the normal life,” Huber said. “We can kind of relate. So in the tough times that we, are and maybe when you lose a point or you lose a close match like this when you’ve actually had an opportunity, you could walk away from it and sulk and not learn, or you could just say, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity to grow.’  And if you do okay in the bad times, imagine how good you’re gonna do when times turn around.”

Doubles is often relegated to the outer courts in the shadows of Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. A sad irony when you consider both Ashe and King were outstanding doubles players and that most of the tennis-playing fans who watch the Open play doubles. But when you rewind the highlight reel of this US Open consider that two of the most spirited and excited matches of the Flushing Meadows fortnight were contested on the doubles court. Twins Bob and Mike Bryan outdueled India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) to capture their third US Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title before an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that gave all four men a rousing ovation at the conclusion of a memorable match and King and Shvedova prevailed before a sparse, but adoring group of fans today.

There’s something about seeing two athletes put their heads, hearts and spirits together on the court. Two were truly one when it mattered most today.

“Doubles is a team sport.  It’s not like singles where sometimes it’s just power,” said King. “I mean, I think especially in the woman’s tennis there is a lot of finesse, a lot of touch. We try to play with combination.  I don’t think we play like a typical team, and I think it kind of throws off our opponents.  I think that people can see us playing and kind of aspire to that, you know, because it’s more about strategy where you place yourself, what shots to pick. You don’t have to be like 6’4″, 200 pounds and bash the ball.In doubles it’s a lot of creativity.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Championship Sunday Postponed Until Monday

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Rain, rain go away was the theme of the US Open on Sunday as the steady drizzle came down and pre-empted play.

The Women’s Doubles Finals will now take place tomorrow at 3 p.m. It was suspended in the third set with set still on serve. The team of Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova took the first set, 6-2 then the team of Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova rebounded during the second set to win 6-4. Play was suspended when the third set was 5-4 Huber/Petrova hold a 0-15 lead in the 10th game.

Then after that match – and not before 4 p.m. – the Men’s Finals will pit No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal against No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic. Nadal won his match over Mikhail Youzhny yesterday, 6-2 6-3 6-4. But Djokovic had to endure a 5-set classic over Roger Federer, 5-7 6-1 5-7 6-2 7-5.

With an extra day off, the rain may help Djokovic as he will be able to recover from the Federer showdown. Both Nadal and Djokovic are looking for their first US Open Championship.

Clijsters Becomes An Open Dynasty With Her Third Title

Daughter Jada sat in the stands playfully pulling designer watches up her right wrist as if they were toy bracelets. On the court below, Jada’s famous mother, sporting the same blond haystack hairstyle, turned the title match into child’s play in issuing a tennis time-out to Vera Zvonareva. Playing with the speed of a dutiful mom determined to get her daughter home for bed time, Kim Clijsters crushed Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-1 to capture her third US Open championship.

It was the most lopsided women’s final since Chris Evert dismantled Evonne Goolagong, 6-3, 6-0, in the 1976 final and the shortest women’s final since the USTA has timed title matches (in some pre-Open Era years players did not sit down on changeovers, resulting in finals that lasted less than an hour).

“A little bit of experience definitely helps,” said Clijsters, who collected the $1.7 champion’s check plus a $500,000 bonus for finishing second in the US Open Series to Caroline Wozniacki, the woman she defeated in the 2009 final. “Last year was a lot more confusing not having played for so long. So it was kind of different emotions starting to the tournament. I was able to play, especially in my last two matches, at my highest level. Obviously you want to do well at the places you’ve done well before. I know if I played well and if I’m healthy I can beat any of the top players.”

The second-seeded Belgian stretched her US Open winning streak to 21 matches, successfully defending her Flushing Meadows championship in dispensing her most comprehensive conquest of the tournament.

Give Clijsters 60 minutes (the official match time was 59 minutes) and she’ll give you a major title. Clijsters completely overpowered and overwhelmed Zvonareva, who was helpless to slow a woman playing at the peak of her powers, and sobbed into her towel after the match. Zvonareva’s eyes still glistened with tears as she spoke to the crowd following her second straight Grand Slam final loss.

“(I’m doing) a little bit better right now than 10 minutes ago when I was losing everything,” Zvonareva said in bringing some levity to a humbling defeat. “Kim just played tremendously well today and she deserved to win. Even though I’m disappointed at the moment, I still love New York.”

Zvonareva beat Clijsters in their last two meetings, scoring a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and registering a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the Montreal quarterfinals last month. The Wimbledon loss was particularly painful because it came after Clijsters defeated arch rival Justine Henin and appeared to be on course for a climactic clash with Serena Williams.

“I knew getting into the match which things were that I didn’t do well in the matches I lost,” Clijsters said. “Obviously the one at Wimbledon was, to me one of the most disappointing losses that I’ve dealt with so far in my career.”

Clijsters tried to overpower Zvonareva in those losses, this time she varied the height, speed and spin on her shots and applied relentless pressure with her fast feet and sliding, skidding splits.

“She’s the type of player who is consistent and likes the pace and likes to take over the pace from opponents,” Clijsters said. “I think today I was able to just mix it up well and just stay calm during the rally as well. Just put enough pressure and variety in there to throw up some high balls here and there. I think that just got her thinking even more just besides the fact that she was probably thinking about the occasion where she was playing and being in another final, which is always something that does have an effect on the way you feel, obviously.”

Still, the seventh-seeded Russian got off to a solid start and played Clijsters on even terms through the first four games in forging a 2-all tie. Then the blowout began.

Clijsters found the sweet spot on her Babolat and began to blister the ball with such confidence the shots flowed like all the right answers on a standardized tests. Zvonareva plays a similar style to Clijsters, but the former World No. 1 is bigger, stronger, more athletic and does everything a bit better.

Clijsters held for 3-2 to ignite an imposing run that saw her reel off seven straight games and effectively put the match out of reach.

“Physically today she was just much better than me,” Zvonareva said. “Physically, i was not capable of playing the same level as I was able to play yesterday….I tried my best out there. I gave 100%. I was not able to hang in there physically. Hopefully, I will have another chance.”

Characteristically classy, Clijsters took time out to console Zvonareva before raising the shiny silver US Open title trophy. Clijsters, who dropped her first four major finals, is the only woman in Open Era history to lose her first four Grand Slam finals before winning one. She put that experience to good use in offering encouraging words to Zvonareva immediately after the match.

“I think she’s a great person and she really knows how to be in those situations,” Zvonareva said. “When she gives such support, it’s great from her. She’s a great champion, but also a great person. Maybe because she said that maybe I’m not so disappointed right now.”

It was such a thorough thrashing coming in the aftermath of the Novak Djokovic’s dramatic five-set semifinal victory over five-time US Open champion Roger Federer, Clijsters sounded slightly chagrined by the result that sent the masses, who had waited anxiously for the men’s semifinal to end, streaming for the masses.

The 27-year-old Clijsters is the first woman since Venus Williams in 2001 to successfully defend the US Open championship and is the first woman to win three US Open titles in three consecutive appearances since Hall of Famer Chris Evert, who was in  Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight, won four straight US Open crowns from 1975 to 78.

Clijsters, husband Brian Lynch, a former Villanova basketball star, and their daughter Jada call New Jersey home for several weeks each summer. The Belgian-born Jersey girl has dominated the largest Grand Slam stage in the world as if it’s her own Garden State backyard.

When Clijsters beat Mary Pierce in the 2005 US Open final,  to claim her first career Grand Slam title, she capped a commanding hard-court season in which she posted a 36-1 record on North American hard courts.

Returning to New York as a wild card last summer, she beat both Venus Williams and Serena Williams en route to the final before sweeping Caroline Wozniacki to capture the 2009 Open crown.

In the aftermath of that match, daughter Jada captured the hearts of fans playfully tugging at her mother’s leg and pulling off the top of the silver title trophy as if it were part of her toy collection. Mother and daughter embraced again tonight and in the post-match interview Clijsters, who has already walked away from the game once and is well aware of how small the window of opportunity can be for champions, spoke about her desire to collect another major.

Widely respected for both her grace and game, Clijsters has become an adopted citizen of all four Grand Slam host cities. Formerly engaged to Lleyton Hewitt, she is revered as an honorary Aussie in Melbourne where some fans still call her “Aussie Kim”. She reached her first Grand Slam final at the 2001 French Open, falling to Jennifer Capriati, 12-10, in the third set and with Belgium bordering France she remains a popular presence in Paris. Clijsters is so well respected at Wimbledon, the only major where she’s yet to reach a final, the All England Club invited her to join Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Tim Henman to play the roof raising exhibition event in May of 2009.

“They all motivate you in a different way, obviously,” Clijsters said. “Tactic-wise you always have to adjust a little bit to each and every single one of them. But I think the one where I’ve felt I can do better than I have is obviously the Australian Open. Similar surface. They’ve gone away from the Rebound Ace in the last couple of years. So I’ve always enjoyed playing there. That’s obviously a Grand Slam I want to do well. I want to do well in all of them, of course.”

Daughter Jada is two-and-half years old now and Clijsters says she wants to have more children in the coming years so the watch on her daughter’s wrist is a reminder the career clock is ticking down.

“I would like to keep it going until the (2012) Olympics,” Clijsters said. “But then again, you never know what can happen. My main goal is to try and just stay injury free. if I can do that and if I can practice hard and work hard obviously the Grand Slams will always  be my focus. So now that I’m playing well obviously I’m not going to just give it up. I just want to keep it up.”

Clijsters made quick work of Zvonareva tonight and plans to make the most of her time in achieving her aim of taking these successful New York Nights on the road and winning another Grand Slam title.

“I will try everything that I can to be in the best shape possible to try to achieve what I achieved here,” said Clijsters, who then worked her way toward the door to take care of another important obligation: putting Jada to bed.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Bryans Claim The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The net divides the court like a nylon wall, but resembled a bridge bringing two teams, three nations, more than 20,000 fans and an often overlooked form of tennis together today. In a high-quality clash between dynamic doubles duos, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan beat India’s Rohan Bopanna and Pakistan’s Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 7-6(5), 7-6(4) to capture their third US Open championship and ninth Grand Slam title before an appreciative Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that gave all four men a rousing ovation at the conclusion of a memorable match.

Facing mini-break deficits in both tie breakers, the Bryans bumped up their level of play when it mattered most.

“I think today we were phenomenal. I mean, there was a 50 miles an hour wind coming down the court, and I thought we were seeing the ball great,” Bob Bryan said.  “It’s awesome when you can see the finish line.  There’s one more match to go. You could leave it all on the line. That’s what kept pushing us forward.  You don’t think about being down a mini break in a finals of a Grand Slam.”

They own two of the fastest sets of hands in tennis — so fast they could jointly juggle jagged bits of broken baseball bats without concern of contracting splinters — but by the end of this encounter, the twins had their hands full at net and were at a temporary loss for a reply.

That moment came after the Bryan brothers played what they called one of the best matches of their professional careers as they leaped into each other’s arms after an ace ended the match. Father Wayne Bryan, the twins’ first coach and long-time doubles promoter who rarely attends his sons matches because he gets too nervous watching them play, leaped out of his seat simultaneously in an eruption of emotion.

In a season in which the Bryan brothers broke the record for most Tour-level doubles titles in the Open Era when they captured their 62nd title in Los Angeles in July, they now stand behind the Woodies, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, for most major titles in the Open Era. The Woodies on 11 major titles together and the Bryans are on pace to shatter that mark if they stay healthy.

The net divides the court, but two become one when Bopanna and  Qureshi share the doubles court. Sport serves as a source of unity as Bopanna, born in Bangalore, India, and Qureshi, from Lahore, Pakistan have reached an accord on court that contrasts with the agitation that can exist between their neighboring nations.

The pair have become promoters of peace and in a gesture larger than tennis Qureshi took time out during the trophy presentation to reiterate the message he and Bopanna have share throughout their partnership: they spend their professional lives striking shots, but peace is their ultimate aim.

“Since September 11, every time I come to the States or western countries I feel people have wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation,” Quershi said. “I just wanted to declare that we are very friendly, loving, and caring people, and we want peace in this world as much as Americans want and the rest of the world wants.  We all on the same side.”

Those sentiments struck a chord in his opponents.

“It choked me up. I could see him; he was quivering a little bit,” Bob Bryan said. “Just to give that message to everyone was very heartfelt.”

Both Indian and Pakistani fans sat side-by-side cheering on the pair, the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors to the United Nations sat in adjacent seats and after the match, the Pakistani ambassador  presented the Bryan brothers with matching traditional scarves made from ancient cloth as a show of appreciation for the donation the twins made to help victims of the floods in Pakistan.

“When it comes down to it, a lot of people in Pakistan who don’t have homes and are out on the street. What they’re doing to bring India and Pakistan together is pretty special,” Mike Bryan said. “A sport can bring people together.”

It was one of the rare moments when the action after a final was even more profound than the play itself.

“What they are doing is a lot more important than winning the US Open,” Bob Bryan said.

At a time when religious and political extremes can create so much diviseness in the world can two men running around in shorts smacking felt sphere over a net truly make any impact?

Winning doubles demands cooperation, communication, mutual respect and shared problem solving  — the very qualities people are sometimes resistant to apply in rallies of rhetoric.

On changeovers during their early-round matches, Bopanna and Qureshi watched with joy as the United Nations ambassadors to their respective nationsl shared smiles and conversation giving both men a glimmer of hope that while tennis can’t solve complex international issues it might just start a dialogue

“We always said sports can reach places where no religion or politics or politician can reach.  I think it’s above all the religion and politics,” Qureshi said. “Seeing both ambassadors sitting together and going for one cause obviously is a start.  So I would take it in a positive way.  And like Rohan says all the time:  If you can change few personal people’s mind on Indian or Pakistan’s side, I think it’s a great thing.”

The unity the two men exhibit on court is being reflect back at them at the mixed crowds they saw at their US Open matches.

“Crowd is getting better.  More Indians and Pakistanis coming.  They’re all mixed together sitting in the crowd.  You can’t tell who is Pakistani and who is Indian,” Qureshi said. “That’s the beauty about sports.  That’s the beauty about, I guess, our playing.  Before our pairing you would never see that in any sports, fighting for one cause.  It’s really good to be part of it.”

Competing for a cause binds both teams together.

Five years ago, the Bryan brothers, their father Wayne and several of tennis’ top doubles stars, including Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi sat in interview room one inside Arthur Ashe Stadium explaining why they were filing a lawsuit against the ATP.

The lawsuit, which was filed on September 1st, 2005, alleged that the ATP’s experimental efforts to “enhance” doubles competition was in fact a concerted effort by tournament directors to diminish and eventually eliminate  doubles players’ ability to gain entry into main draws as a cost-cutting measure to save the tournament’s money.

“There is no credibility left for the ATP,” Knowles said that day. “They are basically trying to annihilate one form of the game, which is doubles..”

Essentially, the players sued the very union that was created to represent them and asserted the ATP was placing the interests of tournament directors above its own players when it came to doubles.

“Five years ago we were sitting in this room giving a press conference on trying to save doubles,” Mike Bryan said. “It was on its way out.  My dad worked behind the scenes for about a year and got it done, and with a lot of top players.  Now doubles is strong.  I mean, right out there it was just a packed house for a couple of doubles teams.That was the best atmosphere.  That’s a TV match, which is huge.  So I mean, we’re very happy that we’ve been able to help doubles out.”

The twins from Camarillo, California went on to win the Open the week after the lawsuit to become  the first brothers to lift the U.S. Open doubles title trophy since 1924 when the Kinsey brothers, Howard and Robert, accomplished the feat.

The Bryans believed they saved their best tennis for the final; some observers believe they saved much more that that.

“Doubles seems to have been on life support for so long,” said Hall of Famer John McEnroe, widely regarded as perhaps the finest doubles player of the Open Era. “The Bryan brothers play with so much energy and enthusiasm for the game. They seem to be singlehandedly saving doubles.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

US Open Mens Preview

(August 28, 2010) In the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, paradise came to the parking lot of the US Open. Clad in a white warm-up, Roger Federer popped out of the back seat of a Mercedes and walked to the red brick building to pick up his US Open player credential at about 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon. Moments later, Rafael Nadal, wearing a white t-shirt and shorts, Babolat racquet in hand, walked by to greet Federer in meeting of two men who have split the spoils in combining to win 20 of the last 22 Grand Slam titles.

World No. 1 Nadal and the second-ranked Federer met briefly in the parking lot drizzle, will their paths cross again in what could be a day of dazzle in the US Open final?

You might think after transforming Grand Slam center courts into their own personal stomping grounds for several years, either man might grow slightly complacent, but both Nadal and Federer figure to be highly motivated to reign in New York.

The top-seeded Nadal, a semifinal casualty in each of the last two years, may be looking at his best shot to capture his first career US Open championship, complete the career Grand Slam and solidify his status as one of the greatest players of all time by becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold the Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open crowns simultaneously.

A resurgent Federer, who snapped a six-month title drought in defending his Cincinnati title on Sunday, is aiming for his seventh straight US Open final as he attempts to reclaim the crown he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in five sets last September. Should Federer win the Open he could challenge Nadal for the year-end No. 1 ranking and move closer to his stated goal of winning 20 career majors and surpassing Pete Sampras’ record fo 286 weeks at No. 1.

Two guys who have lapped the Grand Slam field could be racing toward history and each other in two weeks’ time.

Del Potro, who beat Nadal and Federer in succession to win his first major, is out of the Open with a wrist injury, 2007 finalist Novak Djokovic is mired in malaise and fourth-seeded Andy Murray appears to be the only man capable of derailing the first Rafa-Roger US Open final.

The US Open draw was conducted today and while the women’s draw is more wide open that at anytime in recent memory, the men’s draw revolves around three men — Nadal, Federer and Murray — who serve as the tennis equivalent of Manhattan gridlock for aspiring upwardly mobile members of the men’s draw:  paralyzing presence to be avoided at all costs.

Here’s a look at each quarter of the draw.

First Quarter

Nadal opens against Teymuraz Gabashvili and while this year’s Open is hardly a case of now or never for the 24-year-old Mallorcan, former US Open champion John McEnroe says this may well be the best shot the muscular Mallorcan ever has of mastering the Flushing Meadows major.

“I think this is the best chance perhaps he will ever have to win the Open and I don’t think we should forget the fact he has improved his efforts pretty much every year the last two years,” McEnroe said in a conference call with the media today. “Despite having issues physically — the stomach last year and the knees a couple of years ago — he’s gotten to a couple of semis. I think he’s poised. He’s had the time off, he says he’s 100 percent healthy, the body is there and he is much tougher to beat in a best of five set match.”

The biggest issue for Nadal may be beneath his feet. Can he tame the game’s fastest Grand Slam tennis that has left him looking bewildered on some occasions and overwhelmed on others in his US Open losses? Nadal is a more complete player now than he was when he fell to Murray in a four-set US Open semifinal loss played out over two days two years ago.

The best big-match player in the game looked like a solid favorite to finally break through in Flushing Meadows when he rolled Tomas Berdych in straight sets to win his eighth career major at Wimbledon last month. But in losses to Murray in the Toronto semifinals and Marcos Baghdatis in last week’s Cincinnati quarterfinals, Nadal looks more like the guy who endured an 11-month title drought than he does the Flushing Meadows favorite.

Things happen quickly in tennis. Remember the euphoria surrounding Murray’s run to the Melbourne final when many were touting him as the next No. 1 after he bounced defending champion Nadal out of the tournament? The fact is Nadal has not won a hard-court title since the 2009 Indian Wells and looked as capable of adjusting to quick Cincinnati court conditions as a commuter trying to catch up to speeding cab. Julien Benneteau does not serve as big as Boris Becker, but Nadal could not consistently hit deep returns in that match, resorted to chipping his backhand and basically bluffed his way through the second set, saving a match point playing defense and waiting for the Frenchman to crack.

In practice sessions this week, Nadal’s two-handed backhand return has not been consistently sharp, but if he can regain the range on that shot he should get through the top quarter of the draw that features some dangerous players in the form of 10th-seeded David Ferrer, who beat Nadal in the fourth round of the 2007 US Open, 24th-seeded Ernests Gulbis, a talented, but extremely volatile Latvian who pushed Nadal to a 6-4 third set in the Rome semis on clay in May, and the dangerous David Nalbandian, who has thrashed Nadal on hard courts in the past, but has never beaten him in a best-of-five set match.

Coming off an opening-round exit last year, Gulbis has the game to push through to the quarters, but can degenerate into morose moods and periods of flaky play on court.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (24) Ernests Gulbis or (31) David Nalbandian

Second Quarter

Murray has arguably the smoothest path to the semifinals of the top three contenders. The two-time Grand Slam finalist opens against Lukas Lacko with 25th-seeded Swiss Stan Wawrinka looming as his first potential seeded opponent. Wawrinka’s game is based on a brilliant one-handed backhand, he can serve big and has become a more disciplined match player working with coach Peter Lundgren, who formerly coached Federer and guided Marat Safin to the Australian Open title. But Wawrinka hasn’t been able to sustain himself in running rallies with Murray, a much smoother mover around the court. Murray destroyed the Swiss the last time they met in New York and should dispatch him again should they meet here.

Sam Querrey, who opens against American wild card Bradley Klahn, should reach a third-round match with 14th-seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro, who can hammer the ball as big as just about any Spaniard on Tour. If Querrey can get past Almagro he could test Murray in what would be a rematch of the Los Angeles final. Querrey fought off a match point to beat Murray in LA, but the best-of-five set format favors the Scot, who is fitter, faster and a better player at this point. If Querrey is landing his first serve, can shorten up the points with his forehand and get the New York City crowd into the match he has a shot should that match come off.

“I think Andy is the better player right now,” McEnroe said. “Sam showed a lot of heart and is is getting into better condition. People are looking carefully at Sam. In a best of five, Andy should be a strong favorite, no question about that. Andy should have beaten Sam in LA, he entered at the last minute, but I wouldn’t discount Sam particularly if he was rested for that match. Certainly, he’s fitter than he’s ever been and is a dangerous player. Things have set up for Andy about as good as he could have hoped for.”

Wimbledon finalist Berdych opens with a potentially tricky opponent in French left-hander Michael Llodra. American John Isner, who upset Andy Roddick last year, is still in the draw, but if he does play, Isner figures to be hampered by the right ankle injury he sustained in Cincinnati. If Isner was healthy, he could test Berdych in the fourth round, but given the tenuous condition of his ankle, Berdych should get through to the quarters to face Murray.

Berdych swept Murray in straight sets in the Roland Garros round of 16. And you could look at the fact another tall, lanky, big hitter, Marin Cilic, bounced Murray out of the Open last year as a sign Berdych could overwhelm Murray, who is prone to periods of passive play at times, this year. But Murray has had a consistently solid Grand Slam season in reaching the Australian Open final and the Wimbledon semifinals, knows he has a real opportunity to return to the semifinals and is coming off his second straight Rogers Cup title.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (4) Andy Murray vs. (7) Tomas Berdych

Third Quarter

This is the most wide open of the four quarters of the field with Djokovic the highest seed in this section, but based on the fact the Serbian showman has shown little confidence and played with a sense of resignation in losing to Andy Roddick in Cincinnati last week, it’s difficult to imagine Djokovic returning to the semifinals unless he pulls out some electrifying wins along the way to ignite some intensity in what has been a timid game recently.

Djokovic takes on Davis Cup teammate and good friend Viktor Troicki in the first round. The four players to watch in this section are sixth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, a former US Open finalist and ATP World Tour Final champion, Roddick, Mardy Fish and Marcos Baghdatis.

Since reaching back-to-back Masters finals at Indian Wells and Miami where he played some of the best tennis of his career, Roddick has slumped though he did reach the Cincinnati semifinals and failed to serve out the match in suffering a brutal loss to Fish. Roddick could be challenged in the second round against Olivier Rochus or Janko Tipsarevic, but should get to a fourth-round meeting with Davydenko, a player he has owned throughout his career, winning five of their six meetings. If Roddick can play more assertive tennis, his hit backhand up the line to open up the inside-out forehand even more, and use the speed of the court to pressure opponents, he has a solid shot to reach the quarters.

“His tennis earlier on in the year — when he got to the finals at Palm Springs and then he won at Key Biscayne — his tennis was certainly on a different level. He since seems to have lost that touch a little bit and maybe it’s just a little loss of confidence from losing a few matches — I think Wimbledon and his loss at Wimbledon set him back a little bit,” Hall of Famer Jimmy Connors, Roddick’s former coach, said. “I don’t think he ever expected to lose out on Court 2 to Lu. He is strong enough mentally and physically to be able to wipe that aside and to start playing the kind of tennis necessary to win a US Open now. He struggled during the summer. But certainly, he is strong enough and a good enough player to overcome that, especially with the excitement of the US Open and being the only American right now in the top ten. The crowd should give him a boost and help him lift his game to another level. I would look for him to go into the US Open with the right attitude and to play the kind of tennis to create a lot of excitement.”

The 19th-seeded Fish has never looked better, thanks to a nutrional plan that has seen him shed 30 pounds, and has never played better either. Fish sat out the Open last year and could take a quantum leap in the rankings toward the top 10 with a strong run in New York. Two years ago, Fish advanced to the quarters falling to Nadal and is a significantly improved player now. The quarterfinals are within reach, but he’ll likely have to beat Baghdatis, who beat Nadal in Cincinnati, and Djokovic back to back to make it. Fish is a combined 0-7 lifetime vs. those two players, but has never been in better form than he is right now. This could be a career-defining tournament for Fish.

Fish and Baghdatis opened the season playing a tremendous semifinal in Sydney with Baghdatis prevailing, 6-4, 6-7(7), 7-6(5) to raise his record to 3-0 vs. Fish.

“I think Mardy has a good chance,” Connors said. “Mardy Fish if he can handle the three out of five sets and over a two-week period, I think he also has a good chance as he has certainly been playing that kind of tennis over the course of the summer to put him in as a contender.”

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (9) Andy Roddick vs. (16) Marcos Baghdatis or (19) Mardy Fish

Fourth Quarter

Three former World No. 1 Grand Slam champions, Federer, No. 32 seed Lleyton Hewitt and No. 22 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero occupy three of the final eight lines of the draw.

Federer faces Brian Dabul in the first round and should cruise to a possible third-round meeting with Hewitt.

Given the fact Federer has lost just one match in the past six years in New York, he’s a strong favorite to advance to a quarterfinal against fifth-seeded Robin Soderling, who knocked the defending Roland Garros champion out of Paris at the same stage earlier this year.

Can Soderling, who takes mammoth cuts off both the forehand and backhand wings, time the ball effectively enough to beat Federer again here? Certainly, Soderling has enough offensive firepower to bea almost anyone when he’s on, but Federer is a much better defensive player and transition from defense to offense more effectively.

The surface is better suited to Federer’s style. Look for Federer to return to the semifinals.

Quarterfinal Conclusion: (2) Roger Federer vs. (5) Robin Soderling

Read more from Richard Pagliaro at Tennis Now, where this story originally was posted.

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.

An Excerpt from “Quest for Perfection”

Roger Federer is looking for his sixth straight US Open men’s singles title at the 2009. The first of his five straight titles in New York came in 2004 when he defeated Lleyton Hewitt, his third-round victim in 2009, in the final. Rene Stauffer, the author of the Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) details the 2004 US Open final between Federer and Hewitt in his celebrated tome. The brief book excerpt is seen below…

Awaiting him in the final was another of his past nemeses, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion. The Australian skipped the Olympic Games, but won the two ATP tournaments played concurrently to the Olympics in Washington, D.C. and in Long Island. Entering his match with Federer, he won his last 16 matches and did not surrender a set in his six-match run to the final.

It only took 17 minutes for Federer to hand Hewitt his first lost set of the tournament, losing only five points in a near perfect execution of tennis. When Hewitt won his first game of the match after Federer led 6-0, 2-0, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave him a standing ovation. Federer contin­ued to be the much stronger player, until a lapse of concentration and a run of errors and missed serves allowed Hewitt to win four straight games after trailing 2-5 in the second set.

“If he had managed to win the second set, it would have turned out to be an entirely different match,” Federer said. “I forced myself to keep positive. I said to myself that I only got this break because I was playing against the wind and I was serving with old balls. When I changed sides, everything actually did go easier.”

Federer held serve at 5-6 to force the tiebreak and won that 7-3. The two-set lead broke Hewitt’s resistance and Federer plowed through the final set 6-0 to win his first US Open championship.

“First I was surprised that Lleyton was no longer getting to the ball,” Federer said of his moment of victory. “Then I was suddenly lying on my back, look­ing into the sky at the lights of the stadium. I thought, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ Once again I was close to tears.”