Has Field Caught Up To Federer?

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – A US Open Final without Roger Federer?

That’s like the Yankees without the postseason or New York without the Statue of Liberty.

Or even Batman fighting crime in Gotham without his cape and utility belt.

Well it happened and you can thank the Djoker for having it come true.

In what is maybe the best match of the tournament, The Maestro goes down in a five set classic to Novak Djokovic, 5-7 6-2 5-7 6-2 7-5.

Djokovic wasn’t perfect in the match, but it does show how much ground was made up over the past few years. Before, Federer was clearly the best player in the tournament with every other player hoping for second place. Now, the playing field seems more level.

“It’s normal, because you can’t go through 10‑, 15‑year career thinking you’ll always be at the very top,” Federer said.  “I think I did incredible work staying so long in the top 2 in the world. I never would have guessed in ’04 when I got to No. 1 for the first time that it was going to carry me for so long and that I was always going to be part of quarters, semis, finals of slams, and get a shot over and over again.

“I struggled to get into my first Grand Slam final back in 2003; whereas everybody predicted I was gonna win many and get to No. 1.  It’s just not as easy as it seems.  You can see with other players who are trying it.  There’s many tough guys out there, and it’s gotten very physical, very mental. But I think I’m doing really well under the circumstances with as many challengers.  I got a few guys back who were able to beat me, and many times when I lose I feel like it’s on my racquet.  That’s a good thing, you know.

“I wouldn’t want to feel the way that I couldn’t compete with the new generation, but I can.  It’s not a problem for me.”

Of course, Rafael Nadal is still standing in the Serbian’s way to his second Grand Slam title and after the Spaniard’s easy win, 6-2 6-3 6-4 over Mikhail Youzhny, Djokovic may have his hands full.

Federer, though, isn’t even bothering to watch. After being immersed in tennis over the past few weeks, the five-time champion said he had no interest in watching a final where he’s not playing.

“I will be spending time with the kids and go shopping,” he said. “I don’t know if the shops are open on Sunday in New York, but something will be.”

You can’t blame him though. The Maestro played his heart out and had a double match point in Game 10 of the fifth set. Yet, Djokovic was able to fight back, win that point and break Federer in the next game.

“I lost a couple more with match points this year, so they all pretty much feel the same, you know,” said Federer, whose only Grand Slam this year came in Melbourne.  “They feel somewhat empty at the end because you have tried everything, and maybe it was luck.  Maybe it was he played well.  Maybe you didn’t pick the right shot; maybe he did, you know.

“Can’t turn back time, but, look, obviously had to come up come up with a couple of good shots on match point, so I don’t feel I have that many regrets in that regard.  Obviously you feel like you left something out if you lose the match having had match point.

“Yeah, it wasn’t the final, so I’m not as disappointed it would have been the final.  That’s the only positive news to enjoy anything out of it.”

What was surprising, though, was the relative easy Djokovic had in the second and fourth sets, where Federer only managed one and two games, respectively. It may have been there, where the former US Open Champion lost the match, because it gave the Serbian a belief he could win.

“Oh, it was close in the fifth,” he said.  Unfortunately the second and fourth just kind of snuck away from me, I guess.  The 1‑All 40‑15 game for me was a tough one to take in the second set, because I thought momentum was completely on my side. I tried to play aggressive, not to give him too much rhythm, and it all came back at me.  I let him back in the match like that.

“At the end, it’s not easy, you know.  3‑All, 4‑All, 5‑All in the fifth, anything can happen.  That’s the good part, not the bad part, because it’s not purely in your control.”

“Sure, now looking back I missed a few too many forehands at the very end, but the match won’t be decided on winners only.  You can also see mistakes, and he pushed me to make those.  Credit to him.”

And so on a day where New York wanted to finally see the ultimate matchup of Federer vs. Nadal, the Djoker spoiled the plans. And now Gotham’s Dark Knight will have a rare early September Sunday off, while the world’s eyes will turn to Federer-free final for the first time since 2003.

The Djoker Is Not Foiled by the Great Fish Caper

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Mardy Fish reshaped his body and resculpted his game but couldn’t revise his past history with Novak Djokovic. Fish’s inspired run through this US Open Series came to a halt at the hands of Djokovic, who fried Fish, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to advance to his sixth straight major quarterfinal at the US Open.

Worn out from a long summer in which he won back-to-back championships in Newport and Atlanta, producing a career-best 11-match winning streak in the process, and went on to reach the Cincinnati final, a flat Fish lacked both the energy and execution to pose problems for Djokovic.

“I tried to, you know, get to the net, tried to stay more, you know, be a little more aggressive towards the middle part of the match,” Fish said. “I had some chances.  I just didn’t execute, generally.  He played great.  He kicked my butt.  He played great.”

It was a match that was never much in doubt as Djokovic, who took the court with a 5-0 lifetime record against Fish, asserted his authority at the outset.

The third-seeded Serbian swept American wild card James Blake, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3, and wisely took the pro-Fish American crowd completely out of the match in surging out to a 4-1 lead.

Djokovic’s superior speed around the court and his ability to extend Fish in baseline exchanges were key components to the win. The 2007 US Open runner-up remains one of the best hard-court returners in the game and picked Fish apart in longer rallies.

“I was making him play an extra shot and I was using the court very well,” Djokovic said. “This (win) gives me a lot of confidence, definitely. It’s great to raise the level of my performance toward the end of the tournament. It’s been a great couple of years for me in New York so hopefully I can go on.”

Seeking his fourth consecutive trip to the US Open semifinals, Djokovic is a decided favorite against quarterfinal opponent Gael Monfils.

In an all-French fourth round meeting, the 17th-seeded Monfils broke Richard Gasquet mentally in scoring an entertaining 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. Monfils saved a set point in the second set and roared back from a 3-5 deficit in the third set to send the fragile fellow Frenchman packing and become the first French quarterfinalist since Arnaud Clement in 2000.

“I tried to be very tough and hard with him, showing him that I’m the man and I’m the leader,” Monfils said of Gasquet. “So I think I try also to get him a bit in the head, to show him like I will be strong and he might hit a good shot, but it’s okay. For me it’s nothing. I will try to reach every ball and show him…if he come in I will be everywhere.”

The Djokovic-Monfils match pits two of the fastest, most charismatic, flamboyant and sometimes flakiest players in men’s tennis. They are two men who play as if empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond their reach which should create a highly entertaining match.

“Gael is very charismatic and very athletic,” Djokovic said. “He slides a lot and so do I so I guess there’s going to he a lot of sliding between him and me.”

Djokovic is 4-0 lifetime vs. Monfils, including a controversial 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(5), 0-6, 7-5 triumph in the 2005 US Open first round in which some spectators believed Djokovic resorted to gamesmanship in pulling a lengthy injury time out to rest and recover.

Their most recent encounter saw Djokovic outduel Monfils and silence the Parisian crowd in an explosively entertaining, 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(3), victory in the Paris Indoor final last November.

Master showman Monfils, who has entertained the New York City crowd with his electrifying shotmaking skills on the run, his expressiveness and even his impromptu post-match dance moves, is hoping he can work the crowd into a festive frenzy.

“I can get the crowd behind me,” Monfils said. “I know him perfectly. We had like always a tough match. And then, damn I had revenge to take it because he won against me at home in Bercy (Paris). So this time I hope to win.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

The Winds of Change for Jankovic

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The ball fluttered in the gusty bluster as predictably as a piece of popcorn tossed from the promenade deck and the sweet spot looked as large as a lifesaver when Jelena Jankovic shanked a serve so badly it sailed several rows back into the stands prompting one fan to duck the felt foul ball.

That frame shot symbolized the type of day it was for the 2008 US Open finalist: a frustrated Jankovic fretted, framed balls and even yelled at the elements at one point while Kaia Kanepi continued to swing away through the drafty day.

In the end, the 31st-seeded Estonian managed both her emotions and shots better than Jankovic in bouncing the fourth-seeded Serbian out of the US Open third round, 6-2, 7-6(1) on a day in which wind gusts reached more than 25 mph on Arthur Ashe Stadium Court.

“Oh, the wind was really tough. The conditions were really, really tough to play,” said Jankovic, who got to the post-match press conference so quickly you wondered if she sprinted down the hall way. “I had a really hard time hitting the balls. obviously, they were going all over the place. The wind was really strong and she handled those kind of conditions a lot better than I did…You hit the ball in one direction, it goes another. You’re just getting ready to hit the ball and it just moves away from you. She was the better player today. Congrats to her.”

Reaching the Flushing Meadows fourth round for the first time in five appearances, Kanepi is one win away from her second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal. The Wimbledon quarterfinalist will play either 15th-seeded Yanina Wickmayer or Swiss southpaw Patty Schnyder for a place in the last eight in what has become a wide-open second quarter of the draw.

“My coach told me we have a chance everywhere we go, so we have a chance here,” Kanepi said.

Player and coach have cause for such optimism.

In the span of four months, the 25-year-old Kanepi has completely revived her career in raising her ranking 108 spots from No. 140 to No. 32 after embarking on a 31-4 tear from the start of May through mid July. She played through qualifying at Wimbledon and strung together seven straight wins, beating French Open finalist Samantha Stosur at the grass-court Grand Slam along the way, before suffering a heart-breaking loss to Petra Kvitova, 8-6 in the third set, in the quarterfinals.

Following her Wimbledon run she swept World No. 12 Flavia Pennetta in the Palermo final to become the first Estonian woman to win a WTA Tour title in July.

The 5-foot-11 Kanepi has always been a big hitter, but has worked to temper her power with patience after bottoming out with a Flushing Meadows first-round loss last year that was one of 11 consecutive opening-round exits. During those dark days she bounced racquets off the court as frequently as fans through coins into the fountains outside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Now she’s collecting wins even in unforgiving winds and reaping the rewards of a more self-controlled approach.

“I changed my game and tried to play more patient,” Kanepi said. “Then I started winning and my confidence started getting higher. Last year, I started losing and I had to change. I’m still quite aggressive, but I try to play more patient.”

Patience and precision are the the cornerstones of Jankovic’s game, but that foundation cracked and crumbled as Jankovic, who is usually so adept at taking those short preparation steps before striking her shots, sometimes flailed off balance like a woman trying to hit the ball while embroiled in a game of twister.

On a day in which merely making clean contact looked as easy as threading a needle on a stuck on a spinning pin wheel, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist summed up her
tactical approach simply.

“I tried to hit as much balls inside the court as possible,” Kanepi said. “She was frustrated, but sometimes I also got upset.”

Jankovic is one of the fastest players in women’s tennis and plays concise combinations when she’s on her game, but could not use her speed to salvage a match of shoddy shotmaking in which she clanked 41 unforced errors against just 13 winners.

The former World No. 1 does not hit the ball as hard as Kanepi and struggled to hit through the wind when playing against it on the north side of the court.

“Why is it so windy?” Jankovic pleaded at the sky at one point as if seeking some celestial answer that never came.

“You get frustrated with the wind because you want to hit the ball in a certain direction and they want to go everywhere except where you want them to go,” Jankovic said in explaining her frustration. “And then, it’s physical because you have to move your feet a lot more. You have to be alert.”

The swirl sent a Jankovic backhand beyond the baseline as Kanepi broke for 5-3 in the second set. Serving for the match, Kanepi got tight and dropped serve for the first time when Jankovic stepped forward and smacked a backhand return winner down the line.

“That wasn’t because of the wind,” Kanepi confided afterward. “It was because of the head. Most of us start to think too much when we serve for it.”

The breeze blew the bottom of Jankovic’s purple dress up to her waist revealing her red
sports shorts. She held for 5-all then broke for 6-5, but Kanepi broke right back and hammered her way through the wind and Jankovic in the breaker.

Kanepi took the court with a 1-8 career record against top five players. She sealed her fourth career win over a top 10 player with two of those coming against Jankovic on hard court and received a congratulatory text from her father moments after stepping off court.

“He said ‘Well done. It was amazing,’ ” Kanepi said in summing up the sentiments of surviving her first appearance on the largest  — and windiest  — Grand Slam stage in the game.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Down Goes Roddick

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Andy Roddick stepped on the line then tumbled out of the US Open second round tonight. Janko Tipsarevic out served, out fought and out hustled Roddick, scoring a stirring 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(4) victory that sent Roddick to his earliest Flushing Meadows exit since he lost to Gilles Muller in the opening round five years ago.

The tattoos that adorn his arms combined with with the sports spectacles on his face make Tipsarevic look a little bit like a biker moonlighting as a philosophy professor. The explosive Serbian stood up to the ninth-seeded American and a pro-Roddick crowd cracking 66 winners against just 30 unforced errors.

“I thought I hit the ball pretty well,” Roddick said. “I thought he played very high-risk and executed for four sets. I kept telling myself this has to have an expiration date on it. Unfortunately, I needed another set for that.”

In the fourth-set tie breaker, Roddick sent a backhand beyond the baseline and Tipsarevic followed with a backhand volley winner for 4-2. Attacking net again, Tipsarevic forced Roddick to come up with a pass, but his backhand found the net and it was 5-2.

On the longest point of the set, a 19-shot physical exchange, Tipsarevic sent a backhand long as Roddick creeped closer at 4-5. But Tipsarevic launched his 5-foot-11 inch frame into a stinging serve down the middle and Roddick flailed a forehand return into net giving the Serbian, whose black beard seemed to grow longer during the three hour, 18 minute encounter, a match point.

Tipsarevic again attacked, anticipated Roddick’s reply and blocked a backhand volley winner down the line to wrap up his second win over Roddick in a major. He beat the former World No. 1 in the second round of the 2008 Wimbledon.

At net, Roddick congratulated Tipsarevic with both praise and a playful death threat.

“He said ‘Well done, man. You played great,’ ” Tipsarevic recalled. “And he said ‘If you lose early, I’m going to kill you.’ He said ‘You beat me at Wimbledon and now if you lose early, I’m going to freaking kill you.’ ”

Roddick says he’s recovered from the case of mononucleosis that plagued him earlier this summer yet the malaise continues to cripple his game.

The 2003 US Open champion played some of the best tennis of his career in reaching successive Masters finals in Indian Wells and Miami where he dispatched Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych back-to-back to capture the Sony Ericsson Open.

He returned to New York to contest his 11th consecutive US Open leading the ATP Tour in hard-court wins but looked reluctant to unload on his forehand and didn’t consistently delve into the corners of the box on his second serve. It was as if Roddick was waiting for Tipsarevic to tumble out of the zone, but that moment never arrived.

While Roddick rightly gave Tipsarevic the credit he deserves for producing some spectacular winners on down the line drives, the truth is Roddick simply did not take enough risk and play with enough aggression and ambition when it mattered most.

A  cranky Roddick erupted in anger when hit with a foot fault call while serving at 2-5 in the third set. The lineswoman correctly called the foot fault but incorrectly claimed Roddick’s right rear foot dragged on the baseline when it fact replay showed his left lead foot slid across the line.

An irate Roddick continuously harangued the lineswoman throughout the rest of the game, and was fired up enough to hold for 3-5. Roddick’s problems began before that call as Tipsarevic took advantage of Roddick’s timid tendency to hit straight down the middle.

A half-step slow to a slice backhand, Roddick shoveled that shot long and fell into a 0-30 hole. Roddick slapped a stiff-armed backhand beyond the baseline to face triple break point then bounced his blue Babolat frame off his court in disgust falling into a triple break point hole. Roddick saved the first break point but on the second he was stranded at net and stuck his racquet out like a man waving a cane in vain at a passing train as Tipsarevic blew a backhand pass by him down the line to break for 4-2.

With the exception of a few plaintive “come on Andy” exhortations, the crowd was as deflated as Roddick when Tipsarevic fired his 10th ace past a lunging Roddick to hold for 5-2.

The foot fault call came in the ensuing game inciting an incredulous Roddick to ask chair umpire Enrique Molina “Have you ever seen my right foot step over the line?” Molina shook his head.

“That is unbelievable! My right foot?” said Roddick, who wandered around the back of the court posing variations of that question to Molina, the lineswoman, coach Larry Stefanki and even in th direction of Tournament Referee Brian Earley, who was camped out in the corner of the court.

“Tell me one time my right foot has ever gone ahead of my left foot in my entire career,” Roddick said, seemingly unaware that in fact it was his left foot that touched the baseline. “If it’s my left foot don’t say it’s my right foot,” Roddick said.

Tipsarevic, who had lost only two points on serve in the third  set, fell to 30-all when serving for the set. Roddick had a shot to break back, but Tipsarevic hit a forehand volley winner to earn set point. Roddick attacked net but did not do enough with a volley, Tipsarevic ran it down and rifled a pass to seize the set.

The fired-up Serbian celebrated with a Lleyton Hewitt-esque viche, pointing his finger tips toward his eyes and fist -pumping to his box.

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Ivanovic Ends Her Open Early The Second Year In A Row

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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