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.

Petrova Out, Wozniak to the Semis

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec – They are now down to the final four up in Canada.

The big story is top seed Nadia Petrova retiring before the second set due to an illness, meaning fifth seed Melinda Czink advances after a 7-6 (4) first set.

Czink will be taking on Aleksandra Wozniak. The Quebec native beat Alla Kudryavtseva in a 6-1, 6-1 route. Czink has beaten Wozniak in all three of their previous meetings. Their only WTA meeting came earlier this year on grass in Birmingham, with the Hungarian edging the Canadian in about as tight a three-setter as you can get, 67(7) 75 75.

In the other semifinal, Lucie Safarova and Julia Goerges both advanced. Safarova beat wildcard and last year’s finalist Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-3, 6-4, while Goerges had a 6-2, 6-4 win over Lilia Osterloh.

The two women have never faced off before, but will now meet in the semis Safarova is aiming for her seventh WTA final (she is 4-2 in the first six). Goerges has never been to a singles final on the tour; this is her third career semifinal, going 0-2 so far.

The semifinals will take place later today with the finals going on Sunday.

Nadal/Gonzalez Suspended Along with Fans

A really good men’s quarter between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Gonzalez was suspended due to incoming rain. The entertaining match to take on previous winner Juan Martin Del Potro in the semis had already been stopped twice and apparently, reports of more rain made it impossible to complete before disappointed Ashe spectators who patiently waited it out.

What they did at least get were two high quality sets in which neither player broke with Nadal leading 7-6 (4), 3-2 in a second set tiebreaker. Despite a visit from the trainer along with a three-minute injury timeout to treat his strained abdominal muscle, the gritty No.3 seeded Spaniard was in front thanks to fighting off two set points in the 12th game of the opening set- getting a little help from Gonzalez who had a soft 92 mph second serve but misfired a return forehand.

The set went to a tiebreak where Nadal proved to be more consistent playing superb defense while Gonzalez self-destructed contributing a few of his 18 unforced errors including a wild forehand to give the six-time grand slam winner the set.

That’s when an ailing Rafa was visited by the trainer before action continued. Neither player changed their strategy much in a gunslinger second set where Gonzalez continued to pound away against the counter punching Nadal whose defense made it increasingly tough for the 11th seeded Chilean to find any momentum.

The first rain delay came at two all lasting exactly an hour. When they returned, it looked like they might get the rest of the set in which included three huge saves by Gonzalez to get out of trouble in the 10th game. He fought off three set points delivering with a pair of service winners and a monstrous forehand into an open court. Two more big forehands down the line allowed him to hold for five all.

Each then held to force another breaker. Unlike the first one which Gonzalez fell behind in 1-4, he and Nadal exchanged mini-breaks thanks to great defense forcing errors to make it 2-3. But with Gonzalez ready to serve, a few drops came making wild conditions which already included swirling winds impossible to continue.

The players first sat in their chairs hopeful it would pass but eventually went back to the locker room thanks to another rain delay.

As the clock struck midnight, returning fans clapped expecting the players to return to a dried court ready to do battle. Unfortunately, veteran chair umpire Pascal Maria delivered the bad news to some jeers and “Ohhhh’s and Awwww’s.”

Who could blame them? If only the USTA had enough common sense to plan ahead. Would it have really hurt to move the two doubles matches to Louis Armstrong?

What they could’ve done was keep the mixed doubles championship on Ashe while asking the Williams sisters to play on Armstrong due to the weather forecast. While that might not have been too popular a decision, at least it would’ve made sense with the popular Serena and Venus Williams playing a women’s doubles semifinal they prevailed in the old stadium so the men could at least get the final quarterfinal in.

Now, the winner will have to play consecutive days and potentially three which could really be a disadvantage the rest of the weekend. Had they been more prepared, it also wouldn’t have been such an inconvenience for fans who paid hard earned money to see a high quality match.

What happens now? They’re screwed because as Maria sadly announced, Session 22 was considered complete. On the official U.S. Open site, the following message reads:

We are currently planning to play the Friday day session # 23 as scheduled. Due to weather, we recommend you continue to check USOpen.org for weather and scheduling updates.

The big question is what does this do to the two women’s semis scheduled for later today with Caroline Wozniacki taking on Yanina Wickmayer while Serena battles Kim Clijsters. Originally, the first match between the ninth seeded Wozniacki and unseeded Wickmayer is supposed to go off at 12:30 today with the battle of champions to follow.

Why not move the ladies back allowing Gonzalez and Nadal to complete their match on Ashe? It all depends on the weather which while not expected to be as bad, could be sketchy with possible rain.

Complicating matters is that the men’s doubles final between fourth seeded Lukas Dlouhy/Leander Paes and third seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles was supposed to be played on Ashe at approximately 3:30 PM.

If you go by the emergency schedule, they list Nadal-Gonzalez not before 2 PM with a possible relocation to Armstrong. Apparently, that option is also available for Wozniacki-Wickmayer and the doubles championship.

It wouldn’t be fair to move the ladies to Armstrong as each has earned their place on center stage at Ashe. Something they’d never consider for Williams-Clijsters.

Shouldn’t the guys get theirs in as early as possible due to having to go on Super Saturday against a more rested Del Potro? One would think so. But that’s the dilemma facing the USTA due to CBS. With three networks covering the final grand slam, this shouldn’t be such an issue. But thanks to CBS who has exclusive rights the rest of the event including the women’s semis and men’s doubles final slotted between 12:30-6 PM, it’s a dicey situation for viewers.

Unless you have high speed internet access, you’re likely to get the shaft in terms of missing either the Nadal-Gonzalez conclusion or Wozniacki-Wickmayer which definitely isn’t fair.

Oh. CBS will do the best job possible moving between venues to update. But it kinda sucks if you’re a hardcore tennis fan.

These two weeks have been kind to New York with last night the first rain interrupted session. You almost never can make it through one slam without at least one of these situations arising.

We just wish the USTA had done a better job planning with the biggest weekend ahead.

Match Notes:

Gonzalez drops first set in tiebreak to Nadal 7-6 (4).

-Gonzalez hit big striking more than double winners (16-7) while also serving 5 aces to keep serve during tight set.

-But Nadal saved 2 set points with one huge Gonzalez forehand return netted on a 92 MPH 2nd serve.

-In tiebreak, Rafa took a 4-1 lead thanks to more consistency. Gonzalez miscues including a wild forehand handed him the set. Nadal made just four errors while Fernando committed 18.

-At end of set, trainer visited Nadal treating his injured abdominal muscle.

2nd Set

-Nadal and Gonzalez on serve 2 all when rain suspends play for first time all tournament.

-1 hour rain delay

-No breaks of serve

-10th game gusts fly up blowing things around and Gonzo stops to watch trying to stay in set. Nadal then plays amazing D getting to possible winners drawing an errant overhead for 0-30. Double hands Nadal 2 set points. 2 service winners save them.

-3rd set point on long backhand in memorable 10th game. On set point after great Gonzo save, tennis ball blows onto court for let. Weird. On let, Gonzo shows heart with forehand winner into open court saving another pumping self up. Gonzalez then wins challenge for forehand winner on line. Another cross court forehand gives him big hold.

-Nadal holds at love for 6-5 putting pressure on Fernando, who holds easily for another breaker.

-Rafa plays great defense forcing long forehand to earn mini-break for 2-1.

-Gonzo comes back drawing Nadal backhand miss to earn mini back for 2-2.

-At 3-2 Nadal, rain drops suspend play again and players go to locker room after waiting to see if it would stop.

-Over an hour delay again as they ready court with tiebreak on serve with Gonzalez to serve 2-3.

-With reports of more rain as the court was dry and ready to go with fans who stayed excited, play is officially suspended ending Session No.22 to the dismay of those who stuck around, throwing a wrinkle into Friday’s Session 23 that includes both women’s semis and the men’s doubles final.

Sweet Caroline Smiles To The Semis

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Although America’s Sweetheart is out, “Sweet Caroline” is still plaing music at the Open. And with Melanie Oudin going home, Caroline Wozniacki becomes the story in Flushing.

The attractive 19 year-old from Denmark, has slowly been improving and now has reached her first Semifinals at a Grand Slam. She is just soaking in every minute as she emerges into the tennis spotlight.

“It’s an amazing feeling, especially when you’re playing at night,” she said. “Playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium, 23,000 people watching you going on the court, I mean, you cannot really describe the atmosphere. It’s just magical. It’s amazing.”

What was amazing was how this cool Scandinavian came in with a game plan against the sentimental favorite Oudin. Instead of playing her game, she stayed back and let the 17 year-old’s inexperience come out. The result was a 6-2, 6-2 win and a trip to meet Yanina Wickmayer in the Semifinals.

“Yeah, today definitely I was like, I have to get as many balls back as possible and try to make her run,” she said. “Keep her on her backhand, but also, you know, make her run on her forehand. That was my goal, and I think it was a good way to play the match today.”

Even with Oudin on the court, it’s are to root against this attractive 19 year-old because of her sunny disposition. Her million dollar smile lights up the room as she graciously speaks about her opponents.

And that includes her Semifinal partner Wickmayer. Both player each other in juniors and Wozniaski says they are friends. Although she won’t let anything else out of the bag.

“I’ve tried not to watch too much tennis while I was here,” she said. “I mean, I watched Melanie’s matches because they were shown a lot. She’s a young player coming up, so I wanted to see her play. But I haven’t seen Yanina playing too much this tournament, but I know her really well from the juniors and we’ve played each other growing up.

“So, I mean right now I’m just so happy I’m in the Semifinals. I’m just going to enjoy a day off tomorrow, and I’ll talk to my dad who is also my coach about the strategy. But right now, I don’t really have any.”

One thing she will be doing is trying to stay positive and not let anything get to her. Against Oudin, Wozniacki just tried to stay positive through the whole match, which allowed her the easy victory.

“Today especially today it was important for me just to keep positive, try to just fight for every point,” she said. Because I knew if I show her too much emotions she will pick it up straightaway. I’ve seen that before in her matches. I mean, the crowd helped her through, as well. So today was just important, just to keep positive, keep fighting for every point.”

Off the court, Wozniacki just tries to keep it cool. Right now she doesn’t have a boyfriend, yet has a sense of humor about it. Earlier today Wickmayer joked to the Belgian press that there were 2000 boyfriends out there for her.

Not so in Denmark apparently.

“I haven’t read the newspapers in Denmark, but I’m sure they can find a boyfriend for me,” she said. “I don’t have any real boyfriends right now, and usually I keep to one.”

Don’t worry though with her style, looks and personality, Sweet Caroline should have no problem finding the right man.

Can Anyone Beat Serena?

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – With all the talk of Melanie Oudin, Kim Clijsters, and even Caroline Wozniacki, no one is talking about the big stumbling block at the bottom of the draw.

Yet, No. 2 seed Serena Williams just keeps winning, not even dropping a set this tournament with a 6-4, 6-3, win in the Quarterfinals over No 10 seed Flavia Pennetta.

“I’m always taking every opponent super-serious,” Williams said. “Flavia is clearly a good player, and I was definitely not underestimating her. I thought it was a really good match. You know, she also has a good spirit.”

Williams is of course being gracious, because Pennetta had no chance in this match. The one thing Williams has is power, which no opponent can compete with. She can pretty much blow away the competition, especially on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

And she’s done just that. None of her matches were that close. In fact, Williams has a pretty boring show at this Open. How can you have drama, when one player is just so much better.

Yet, this could change on Thursday as Williams plays against Clijsters in the Semis. These two are very old rivals and also old friends, so the younger Williams sister is expecting a good match, even though Serena holds a 7-1 record over the Belgium Ace.

“Yeah, she’s a really good player,” Williams said. “She plays tough. She plays hard. Now it’s like a totally different level, because she has absolutely nothing to lose. I think that’s when you can play your ultimate best tennis.”

She also joked about how Clijsters is now faster after her pregnancy, but the fact remains, 7-1 is 7-1 and the only time Serena was beaten was on carpet.

And that’s the silent question no one wants to ask. Who can beat Serena. Even with Oudin’s great story, can she go toe to toe against Williams if they meet in the final. Can Wozniacki?

“I think [Oudin’s] doing great,” Williams said. “I think she can even win her next match, seeing all the players she’s beaten.I think she actually should win. It’s been my joy watching her play. It’s been exciting, especially for American tennis.”

Sure, Williams likes the way Oudin plays, she has the same spirit as Serena and her success takes pressure off the 27 year-old three time Open Champion. If people are talking about Oudin, then they are not discussing Serena.

And that’s the way she likes it. For all the diva like activities that comes with Serena, she is still a heck of a tennis player. And as we have seen over these last nine days, if left alone, Williams will go quietly about her business.

Yet, the fact remains Williams is still the best out there and the odds on favorite to win the tournament. Right now, she is playing her best tennis of the year, and no one whose left can compete with her power.

Of course anything can happen; just look at Andy Murray.

Isner’s Run Ends At Verdasco’s Hands

John Isner’s run has come to an end. A match after showing tremendous heart against Andy Roddick, the lanky 24 year-old American fell to No.10 seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in four sets 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 over on Louis Armstrong.

He got out to a good start like the other night but couldn’t maintain the level due to Verdasco’s counter punching and variety. The 25 year-old has improved leaps and bounds this year making the semis in Australia before losing an epic battle against countryman Rafael Nadal. His renewed commitment to fitness showed against the first-time fourth rounder as he outhit Isner from the baseline.

When Verdasco wasn’t winning long rallies, he was whipping winners off both sides of the racket past an attacking Isner at net where he never got in rhythm. In fact, he won barely half the points at net going 14-for-27 which couldn’t happen.

Verdasco was more efficient nailing many shots crosscourt for a match best 40 winners. Unlike Roddick, he also stood in taking Isner’s monstrous serve early keeping him in check with 13 aces while he served seven himself. Because he was able to get into points early, the Spanish lefty had excellent success breaking Isner four times in seven chances.

To his credit after falling behind a set, Isner tried to hang in there. But ultimately, Verdasco finally applied enough pressure to earn the one break needed to put it away. He did give the American one opportunity in the eighth game but saved a break point with some solid hitting before holding.

In the 10th game, he had little trouble serving it out drawing a long Isner forehand to secure his place in the quarters where he’ll await the winner between No.4 Novak Djokovic and No.15 Radek Stepanek later tonight.

On tap first at Ashe Stadium is a women’s clash between former 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova (6) and 19 year-old No.9 seed Caroline Wozniacki with a spot in the quarters up for grabs.

Tune into Tennis Channel for coverage of both matches.