Serena Wins Fourth US Open

Serena Williams collapsed to the tennis court and then jumped for joy after she won her fourth US Open of her career yesterday. The 15th Grand Slam victory of her career wasn’t as easy as it seemed at the beginning, and Williams was actually two points away from losing her second-straight US Open final.

Serena dominated the first set of the matchup, winning 6-2, and breaking the serve of her opponent, 23-year old Victoria Azarenka, ranked #1 in the world, three times. It appeared that the 30-year old Williams would win the final easily, without losing a set to any opponent, something she also accomplished in 2002 on her way to the US Open title. But Azarenka stormed back to take the second set 6-2, to create the first US Open Women’s final to go to a third set in 17 years.

Williams and Azarenka traded breaks in the third and final set, and Azarenka was in control, up 5-3 and a break. At 30-30, Williams took over, holding serve, then breaking Azarenka to tie the set at five, then held serve again before converting a final break that crowned her the champion.

Serena talked about her opponent being two points away from handing her defeat after the match. “At 30-all I figured I could serve out and just make her serve for it…after that, I thought I could just force another game and obviously never give up. I never, never quit. I have come back so many times in so many matches.”

With her win, Williams becomes the first woman ever to win a Grand Slam title in three different decades. “That’s kinda cool” she responded, when asked about the accomplishment. Serena praised the play of her opponent. “You can tell by the score line that she really worked hard and she pushed me.”

Azarenka also had positive things to say about Williams. “She never gives up…she’s definitely the toughest player mentally there is. She continued, with an upbeat attitude. “I have to be positive, you know, because I feel like these kind of matches, every time I play Serena, it really pushes (me) to be better, to improve, to move forward. I have to be thankful to her for that.”

There were numerous entertainers in the star-studded crowd of 23,771, including tennis legends Billie Jean King and Boris Becker, New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Mets pitcher RA Dickey, actors Will Ferrell, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Judd Hirsch, and James Caviezel, actresses Jennifer Connelly, Minka Kelly,and Vivica Fox, musicians Redfoo of LMFAO and Mandy Moore, supermodel Tyra Banks, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

Fish Withdraws From Open and Federer Match

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – This was the last thing Roger Federer wanted in his fourth round match against Mardy Fish.

But he will take it anyway.

Fish withdrew from the US Open for precautionary reasons after Saturday’s night win against Gilles Simon. It was unknown if it was for the same heart condition which sidelined him back in May, but the 30 year-old is not taking any chances.

“I am really sorry for Mardy,” Federer said in a statement. “I just want to wish him a speedy recovery. We all want to see him back on tour soon.”

Fish was sidelined for 2 1/2 months back in March for an accelerated heart rate and had a medical procedure done. It first happened on March 29th in Key Biscayne, FL, after losing a match, and being checked out for the heart rate.

He said in a statement today’s action was for “precautionary measures” and looks forward to “”to resuming my tournament schedule in the fall.”

For Federer, his walkover means he reached his 34th consecutive quarterfinal, extending his own record. The Swiss Master will be playing No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych, who beat No. 11 seed Nicholas Almagro 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-1.

“It will be a tough match against Tomas,” Federer said.  “We have played many times in the past and he has always been a tough opponent.  I will have to continue to serve well and dictate the points.”

Fish’s withdrawal means Andy Roddick is the only American man left in the single’s draw.

Harrison Shows He Belongs

FLUSHING MEADOWS – Is Ryan Harrison America’s Great Hope?

Well, he certainly hopes so.

“I mean, hearing the good stuff is always exciting,” he said. “But I think that those guys have obviously had such extraordinary careers.  They’ve done so well for U.S. tennis.  I’ve got such a long ways to go.  Hearing stuff like that doesn’t really come into play.  I mean, I’ve never made third round of a slam.  After that you got to get second week.  It only gets tougher from there.

“The closer you get to the top, the more difficult it gets.  I have a long ways to go.  I do believe I can get there ‑‑ and I’m going to do my best to get there ‑‑ but it’s not going to be easy.”

And it won’t be easy in the second round when he get Juan Martin Del Potro, after the young American beat Benjamin Becker 7‑5, 6‑4, 6‑2 to win a round this year.

 

“It’s going to start with my serve,” he said. “If I serve well, everything kind of becomes a lot less, I guess, pressure on the rest of my game because I can dictate and I can actually swing out on some return games and have a little bit of a crack because there’s not as much pressure.  It’s going to start with that.

“If things go my way, then I know I can return well enough to where I can put some pressure on him.  I play good defense, so with some of his shot‑making, I can make him hit a couple extra balls on some of his service games.

“Like I said, it’s not going to be easy, but I think I have the game to do it.”

That’s great confidence and he will need it to beat the No. 7 seed, but there is work to be done. Harrison has a goal to make the second week, but he knows the obstacles in front of him. Just 20, he has a long career ahead of him and can work on his game and make this Open a learning experience.

“Obviously you want to, but I’ve got a really tough opponent next round,” he said. “I know I can do well and I know I can win this match if I play well.  It’s going to be not easy, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

“It will be fun.”

Yes it will. Watching this American always is.

 

 

Inside The US Open Coming Out Later This Year

“After the epic Wimbledon match, Nadal hugged his parents,shook the hand of Federer’s father in the players’ box and shook the hands of the Spanish Crown Prince Felipe in the royal box.After beating Federer in straight sets in the final at Roland Garros in June, Nadal said he limited his celebration out of respect for his opponent.” p. 36.

That quote from Inside The US Open will be replicated with much more as one of our writers, Richard Kent will be updating his well received book on the ins and outs of the Open after this year’s event.

Kent will again focus on ballboys, referees, juniors, senior players, broadcasters,etc. in providing the reader with a true inside look at the greatest sporting event in the world.

The update is due out in December, 2011.

The Best There Ever Was

If there is a better and more erudite interview in sports than Roger Federer then I must have missed him over the years and this comes from a writer who has interviewed Arnold Palmer, Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma, Coach K., Vivian Stringer, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and a whole host of others.

Federer spends a good hour after each match answering questions in English,French and Swiss.And he answers every one thoughtfully.

One might get a few word answer from Rafael Nadal to a question and that in part is a result of his lack of command of English,but Federer is good for a full 3 paragraphs on each question,be them about his opponent,his daughters or his perspective on Tiger Woods,a friend.

Federer is very bright and has a keen perspective at the age of 30 of his place in the tennis lexicon.But there is more to his life then tennis.he is a fan of a bunch of sports,is a great family man and when he vacations tennis is the furthest thing from his mind.He made that clear in his Saturday press conference after his win over Marin Cilic.

After the match, Cilic marveled about Federer and made it clear that in his mind Federer has a few more Majors to win.

This US Open could be one of them.

Forever Young

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s been so long that the tennis world waited for the arrival of Donald Young, that it seems like he’s been at it for almost 15 years.

“15 years?” he laughed. “That would mean I would be like a lot older than I am now.”

Yes that would mean the American would have turned pro when he was seven years-old. So maybe not 15 years, but it still seems like forever.

But today Flushing Meadows got a taste of what they wanted to see all the way back to 2007 when Young was a junior champion. He won a five set classic against the 14th seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, 7-6 3-6 2-6 6-3 7-6, that lasted four hours and 20 minutes on Court 17 in one of the best matches of this US Open.

“It’s great for me, you know, to play 4 hours and 20 minutes,” he said.  “I saw the clock at the end.  Throughout the whole match I was looking at the clock, and like, Oh man, am I going to make it the whole time?

“But that’s what you put the work and the practice for.  To actually have it come through, yeah, it’s just great to win.”

And great for American tennis to see Young develop. This match showed why he was so hyped over the past few years. He battled his more experienced opponent even when he was down two sets to one and came back.

On fire in the fourth, he rattled off two breaks to beat the Swiss national and forced a fifth set.

It shows the fitness level of Chicago native, who in the past was criticized for not committing to the game. So, he recommitted himself and came to play in shape.

“Yeah, like I say, you know, to do things you’ve never done before you have to do things you’ve never done before,” he said.  “In the off‑season I did something different, and that was great. Definitely to see it like come and know I could play that long in a match definitely makes you feel great.”

Yes winning is much better than losing, something Young can really attest to. So far he has just five challenger wins for his career and two challenger doubles titles. His knock was that he was never committed entirely to the game, instead treating it more like a job than a calling.

“I don’t think I was getting any motivation when I was losing all the time,” he said.  “You know, you have people around you that you feel and trust in what they say and they tell you you can do it.  You go out there and keep practicing.  This is my job at the end of the day.  Most people don’t just quit a job unless they have something else to do.

“I could obviously go to school, which would be great.  Not to knock that.  But this is something I chose to do.  They always told me it would be a waste to waste the talent you have and not do anything with it.”

Even with his journeyman status Young was always a threat. The word potential has always been used when describing this hard hitting volleyer, but with every negative comes a lesson, and he has been schooled over the years.

“You know, don’t take things for granted,” he said.  “I feel like when I was 18 and I got to 73 in the world, the youngest in the top 100, I was top 75, it all seemed kind of easy, not realizing how much work I put into it to get to where I actually was.

“Life lessons?  Just keep working hard.  Don’t give up if it’s something you really want to do.  Listen to the people you trust and you can always learn.”

Yet that can wait as Young is now the talk of the tournament and the tennis world will continue to marvel at his arrival when he takes on No. 24 seed Juan Ignacio Chela in the third round.

Maria Sharapova Transcript

Q.  How do you feel going into this tournament winning in Cincinnati?  Must have given you a lot of confidence.

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Yeah, I came into Cincinnati, you know, asking to play a lot of matches for myself, as many as I could at that tournament.

It was great to win the tournament.  I beat some really good opponents, played some good matches.  You know, the final was a little whacky, but I just managed to win that one.

Yeah, it’s great.  Obviously coming into the Open it’s great to have a title under your belt.

 

Q.  How different are you this year compared to last year at the same time for the US Open?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, I’m seeded higher.  I’ve won two titles this year.  You know, I feel like my tennis is at a much better level than it was last year.  Yeah, I’m a better player, definitely.

 

Q.  How do you expect to deal with the expected hurricane in the next 24 hours?  What are your plans and what are your thoughts about being here for this?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, I’m a Florida girl so I’m used to this stuff.  (Laughter.)

I think everyone’s a bit overreacting about everything, but of course you have to take precaution and all that.  But, I mean, where are we gonna go?  All hundreds of us?

So I just hope that our hotel is nice and tough and sturdy, you know.  That’s all we can do, right?

 

Q.  What do you know about Heather Watson?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Not too much.  I’ve never played her before.  I saw a little bit of her matches in the past I think at Wimbledon her first rounds.  Yeah, she’s someone that’s up and coming, and those are sometimes dangerous because they’re quite fearless when they go on the court, don’t have much to lose.

It’s not too often that you play an opponent you haven’t played against before, so, yeah, it’s not an easy first round.

 

Q.  You had experience of that obviously at Wimbledon against another British youngster in Laura Robson.

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Uh‑huh.

 

Q.  Sort of a similar situation?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Yeah, I guess, but they’re two different players.

 

Q.  In the (Head) advertising you were on the court with Djokovic or it’s…

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Yeah.  I was there watching it happen.

 

Q.  You always say you enjoy the process, but now that the process is paying off, where is your level of enjoyment in competing right now?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, it’s a lot more enjoyable when you’re winning more matches, that’s for sure.

Actually it’s a lot easier to go out on the practice court.  I mean, even when you take a few losses it’s a little bit easier to shrug them off because you know you have that level.  You just need maybe sometimes a little time or just a few things to click to get it back.

Whereas when you haven’t had it for a while, you kind of are trying to find it, trying to find it.  You play one good match, and then, Do I have it now?  Do I feel it?  It’s definitely different.

 

Q.  Coming to a tournament now, fourth seed, obviously people think you’re one of the favorites here.  Do you feed off that?  Does it give you confidence coming into a tournament like this?  Do you feel a bit more pressure now that you’ve got more of an X on your back?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, I mean, to be honest, I have been seeded a lot lower and I’ve still been one of the favorites, so it’s not anything new for me that people expect me to do well.

 

Q.  How do you look back now on your run to the final at Wimbledon?  What do you come out of that tournament with?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, I mean, my opponent played a really unbelievable match.  You know, I had my chances, and it’s quite important in tennis to take them.  She was able to find an answer, you know, in things that I kind of challenged her with.

It was a really great match for her at a big stage.  That’s the only way you can really look at it.

 

Q.  She hasn’t had a great summer since then.  Is that pretty normal when you come off a great breakthrough win like that?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Yeah, it’s not easy, that’s for sure, especially after your first one, definitely.

Yeah, I think she’s a good enough player to find her form back here.

 

Q.  In all the time since your shoulder problems, how would you compare how you feel now with the process which was discussed earlier?  Getting over that, the surgery, everything till now, what is your feeling now compared to all the times since then?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, it’s just great to still be a tennis player.  I’ve said this many times.  I’m very fortunate to do what I do, obviously, to do it at a high level and to win tournaments and to win big matches obviously.

It gives you tremendous amount of confidence and delight that the work you’ve put in, you know, is paying off.  It’s the time that you spend away from the courts, the time that people don’t see what you put into the sport of trying to get back there.  Just to play a match, and then do it over and over again, not many people experience that feeling, see it.

So to be able to prove to yourself that you’ve put in that work and there you are at that stage again, giving yourself these opportunities to win Grand Slams again, it’s a good feeling.

 

Q.  But your level of play now and your level of confidence, how would you compare it with all the time since your shoulder problem?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  Well, I just feel like this year I’ve improved.  Last year I felt like I would play a couple good matches and then I’d play a bad match.  I didn’t have that sense of consistency, and that’s something I felt like something that has changed this year.

 

Q.  Do you have any memories of working out with Freddy Adu at IMG?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  No.

 

Q.  Somebody was doing something on him and said you guys might have crossed paths for a couple weeks.

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  I think we worked out at the same facility in Florida, but I don’t think I’ve ever ‑‑ I mean, I sure hope I wasn’t doing a soccer workout.

 

Q.  Just one of those questions we needed to ask.  Were you in the city at all this morning?  Could you characterize the mood here?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  This morning?

 

Q.  Yeah.

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  I left pretty early.  I left at 8:00 a.m., so I’m not really sure if everyone was sleeping in New York on a Saturday morning or if it’s the hurricane effect.  But it was pretty quiet.

 

Q.  You were talking about your chances and things like that.  When you see the news that somebody like a Kim Clijsters is not playing, what goes through your mind?  Do you feel like it opens up another alley?

MARIA SHARAPOVA:  I can’t really think like that.  I don’t think that’s a mindset of a winner, to be honest.  You’ve got to be ready to face anyone at any given moment.  It’s obviously unfortunate that she can’t come back as a defending champion.

But on the other hand, you know, she is the one that has the memory of holding up that trophy last year.  It’s I have been in that position before.  It’s definitely tough, there is no doubt about it, to not be able to defend such a big title.  It’s sometimes the adversity that we’re faced with.

Zvonareva Goes To Finals After Darkening Sunshine

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It was fitting the clouds started to cover the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center after Vera Zvonareva whisked Caroline Wozniacki out of the tournament, because Sunshine set.

The Russian’s 6-4 6-3 win over the No. 1 seed raised a few eyebrows – especially the CBS executives who wanted to see the rising star in the finals – but it didn’t surprise the hardcore tennis fans, who saw Zvonareva lost to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon finals. Much like Wozniacki, she is also a rising star, who went from the 21st seed at Roland Garros to No. 7 here in Flushing.

“I always believe in myself,” Zvonareva said.  “I always believe I can beat anyone on the other side of the net if I’m able to play my best tennis.  There is nothing really changed for me, you know.  I know I’m not gonna play perfect tennis all the time, like most of the players, but that’s what we all trying to do.

“I know if I’m doing it, if I’m playing well, I can beat anyone.”

Today she proved just that. Controlling the match from the outset, the 26 year-old was able to break and then hold Wozniacki during the third game of the first set to easily cruse to a 6-4 win.  Zvonareva was able to control the match from the baseline, putting her younger opponent on heels, running from side to side, trying to track down balls.

“I think it’s the same probably as the previous match, very similar,” Zvonareva said. “It’s the right balance between being patient and being aggressive.  You know, with those windy conditions you have to play sometimes ugly, you know.  You don’t have to expect to play your best tennis.”

“That’s what I did well.  I was not expecting to play my best tennis, but, you know, I was trying to be patient when I needed, and step up when I got the chance.”

She got chances also early in the she when she went up a break, but Wozniacki broke back to show some fight. Yet, that game was the last the Pilot Pen winner won, as Zvonareva was able to break back and then serve for the win.

“She played a really good game, definitely,” Wozniacki said.  “You know, she was not missing a lot.  She was going for her shots.  Most things were going in.  You know, I had chances, and I don’t know, I made some mistakes today that I usually don’t do.

“Yeah, it was a tough day for me in the office, and unfortunately it was today.  That’s the way tennis is sometimes.”

Now Zvonareva will look for her first Grand Slam win by taking on Kim Clijsters tomorrow night. It will be a very interesting matchup as Clijsters is undefeated in Flushing Meadows since her comeback last year and leads the head to head matchup 5-2, but the two losses came this year. One at Wimbledon and then later this summer in Montreal.

“Any match with Kim will come down to the tough challenge, you know,” Zvonareva said.  “She’s a great mover on the court.  She has a lot of experience.  She won here last year.  You know, it’s going to be tough.  You know, we played a couple of matches for the past couple of months, but those matches are in the past.

“I will think about what worked the best for me, and I will try to take it with me tomorrow, and, you know, do it again.  Those things that didn’t work well for me, I tried to avoid them.  That’s it.”

And as for Wozniacki, it’s back to the drawing board for her Grand Slam, but as Annie once sung, “The sun will come out tomorrow.”

That means Sunshine as well.

Youzhny Moves To Semis After Five Set Classic

The American flag flapped frantically behind a biting wind at the top of Arthur Ashe Stadium while Mikhail Youzhny and Stanislas Wawrinka fought furiously on the court below.

On a day when a wickedly wild wind swirling at high speed made tennis balls bounce as bizarrely around the court as ping pong balls careening crazily inside the glass of lottery hopper, Youzhny effectively exploited the elements and mastered massive fifth-set pressure to advance to his second US Open semifinal with a hard-fought 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Wawrinka that spanned exactly four hours.

“It was so close,” Youzhny said. “Right now I’m happy because I just finished the match and I win this match. So (it is a) good result, but already you are in semifinal and you still play.  Of course you want more. Anyway, I don’t think now is good result, so I want more.”

The 12th-seeded Russian will face either World No. 1 Rafael Nadal or eighth-seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in Saturday’s semifinal. The winner of that match will face five-time US Open champion Roger Federer or third-seeded Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.

“He’s No. 1; he won two Grand Slams; he play really, really well; it will be very tough for me,” Youzhny said of Nadal , adding “Of course it’s better to play (Nadal) here (than) on clay.”

New York City has often brought the best out in Youzhny.

Four years ago, Youzhny reached the Flushing Meadows final four, falling to Andy Roddick, 7-6(5), 0-6, 6-7(3), 3-6..

“It was also close, tough match.  I won first set; I easily lost second.  It was tiebreak in third set.  Nobody know what happens if I won this tiebreak,” Youzhny said. “But, you know, it was four years ago.  Now I think it’s another time, and I’m like another player.  I cannot say I am better player now, but it’s another time and other opponent, so everything can happen.”

While the 28-year-old Russian could face an immense challenge against either Nadal or Verdasco, Youzhny is the only man left in the draw who has a win over Nadal at the US Open.

He beat Nadal in four sets in the 2006 US Open quarterfinal. Though Nadal has won seven of 11 meetings with Youzhny, the Russian with the brilliant one-handed backhand has a 4-3 record vs. Nadal on hard courts.

The victory vaults Youzhny back into the world’s top 10 for the first time since February of 2008 when he reached a career-high rank of No. 8.

Playing determined defense in the opening game of the fifth set, Youzhny centered the ball in a long backhand-to-backhand exchange. Finally, Wawrinka made a move to net, Youzhny bending his legs to get low lasered a backhand blast crosscourt to pass the Swiss and break for a 1-0 fifth-set lead. Youzhny worked his way through a deuce game to consolidate for 2-0.

Youzhny fought off a break point in the fourth game when Wawrinka steered a forehand pass up the line wide. But on the second break point, Wawrinka lured Youzhny forward and the Russian lifted a backhand approach beyond the baseline as a fired-up Wawrinka broke back for 2-2.

It proved to be a short-lived as Wawrinka set a backhand wide and Youzhny broke back for 3-2. Working his way out of a 30-all game, Youzhny held for 4-2.

Seeing the match slip away a frustrated Wawrinka smashed his racquet to the court after burying a backhand into the net as Youzhny held at love for 5-3.

A weary Wawrinka was playing with protective adhesive taping on both quads and took an injury time-out to get re-taped midway through the fourth set. Walking slowly behind the baseline between points, Wawrinka looked lethargic as if worn down by the draining duel he had with Sam Querrey in the fourth round. Wawrinka emerged with a 7-6(9), 6-7(5), 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 win in that match and it took a toll today.

“I think I gave everything today and I try for sure,” Wawrinka said. “I made some big mistake, but after four hours, you’re really tired. I was tired. So it’s not always easy to think and to play the right drop shots or to play the good point and not to break the racquet.”

Youzhny gained the early break and made it stand up as Wawrinka tried to shorten up the points. After Youzhny blocked a backhand volley winner into the open court  to hold for 5-2, Wawrinka left the court, returned minutes later and relied on some strong serving to hold for 3-5.

Wawrinka pulled a new Head racquet out of his bag, but lost his grip in the ninth game. After slicing a backhand into the net, the Swiss wound up and slammed the racquet to the court. Two points later, Youzhny served out the fourth set to level the match.

Wawrinka burst out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprise Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Maintaining his break lead throughout the set, Wawrinka, who bungled several volleys, was stuck at net. Youzhny had a clean look at a pass, but opted to lob and the wind tossed the backhand lob long giving Wawrinka  second set point. Rearing back, the Swiss slammed a 135 mph ace to take a two set to one lead two hours, 28 minutes into the match.

Serving at 5-6 in the second set, Wawrinka was at 30-all when a Youzhny drive was called deep. He challenged and replay showed the ball clipped the back of the line. It ws an unfortunate call for the Russian as Youzhny had the offensive at that point in the rally. He buried a backhand into net and two points later Wawrinka held to force the tie breaker.

Wawrinka withstood two set points and on Youzhny’s third set point he sliced a backhand that flirted with the top of the tape before settling on his side of the net.

Shrugging that near-miss off, Youzhny curled a crosscourt running forehand pass that eluded Wawrinka’s outstretched racquet for a fourth set point.

That shot prompted Youzhny’s typically non-expressive coach, Boris Sobkin, who can be as stoic as Stonehenge, to leap out of his seat and pump his fist toward Youzhny. Empowered by that shot, Youzhny cornered Wawrinka on the backhand side and beat him with an inside-out forehand winner, leaping in the air in celebration after seizing the one hour, 10-minute second set.

Wawrinka sprinted out to a fast start in the third set, breaking in the second game and holding for a 3-0 lead. Sprinting with his back to the net, Youzhny hit a between the legs shot that seemed to surprised Wawrinka who pushed an easy forehand volley wide as Youzhny got on the board at 1-3.

Richard Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Z-Girl Goes To the Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Vera Zvonareva fell over the edge in an emotional meltdown on Arthur Ashe Stadium last year. Today, Zvonareva successfully straddled the physical and emotional tightrope to march into the US Open semifinals. The seventh-seed Zvonareva swept Kaia Kanepi, 6-3, 7-5, to reach her second straight major semifinal.

Zvonareva has always been capable of hitting the high notes, but lately she’s been making her mark with a sustained level of play. What statement does her second straight major semifinal send?

“I’m still improving. I’ve been playing for a while, but I’m still out there and still working hard,” Zvonareva said. “That feels great.  I can go out there, and I will try to work even more.”

The Wimbledon runner-up is now one win removed from reaching her first US Open final, but she may well have to beat top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to get there.

Riding a 12-match winning streak, US Open Series champion Wozniacki plays 45th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova in tonight’s quarterfinal with the winner meeting Zvonareva in the semifinals.

“I know both players and I’m sure it will be a great match,” said Zvonareva, who has won all 10 sets she’s played in the tournament. “It’s gonna be tough match for both of them tonight.  I don’t know who’s gonna win yet, Caroline or Dominika. If it’s Caroline, she’s playing great tennis at the moment.  She’s been so consistent this year and won a few tournaments in a row.  She’s very tough opponent.  We played few times and we always had tough matches.  I’m expecting a very tough one in the semifinal.  And even if Dominika wins, we just played a three setter like few weeks ago.  It was a very tough one. No matter who’s going through it, it’s gonna be a tough challenge, and I’m up to it.”

Former US Open finalist Novak Djokovic calls Arthur Ashe Stadium the toughest Grand Slam stage in tennis because of the swirling winds that can making hitting through the wind a task as easy trying to squeeze a shot through a chan-link fence.

World No. 32 Kanepi managed both the conditions and her mind in defeating 2008 finalist Jelena Jankovic in the round of 32 before edging 2009 semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer, 0-6, 7-6(2), 6-1. But Kanepi clanked shots into the net and beyond the baseline today.

“It was blowing in every way,” Kanepi said. “When I played against Jelena, it was the same thing so I was a little used to it. But today was tough. I just didn’t find the rhythm and the control of the ball.”

Zvonareva presented a different challenge for Kanepi in that while she lacks a major weapon she can hit every shot from virtually any position on the court. Hitting with plenty of margin for errors, Zvonareva shrewdly played with enough aggression to engage the explosive Estonian, but did not over play.

“I was trying to make it as difficult as possible for her,” Zvonareva said.  “With those conditions, well, unforced errors, it looks like it’s an easy shot.  But with the wind going all the different directions and blowing, it’s not easy to make those shots. So sometimes you have to make the right choices.  I think today I made, you know, right choices where I had just to, you know, put the ball in play and where sometimes I had to step up a little bit and do a little bit more with the ball.”

That measured tactical approach gave Kanepi just enough rope to hang her hopes with 60 unforced errors, including nine double faults.

“Sometimes we had some ridiculous rallies,” Zvonareva said. “I was putting all effort to hang in there no matter the conditions. In these conditions the most important thing is to find the right balance between being aggressive and being patient and keep the ball in play and go for your shots.”

There was a time when major match pressure constricted Zvonareva like an emotional strait jacket as she dissolved in sobs and smashed rackets in past majors. Laast September, Zvonareva blew six match points in imploding in a painful loss to Flavia Pennetta at the 2009 US Open. She sat down on the court looking as disconsolate as a kindergarten kid denied recess, ripped at the adhesive tape wrapped around her leg and slapped at thigh repeatedly in imploding last year.

The woman who spends changeovers with a towel draped over her head to block out external distractions was focused from the first ball today.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.