Maria Through The First With Good Open Chance

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s pretty easy for Maria Sharapova to blame her sluggish start today on the weather.

Sure today’s conditions were perfect, but this past weekend kept her indoors.

“I think the last couple days have been tough on players,” said Sharapova after she downed the unseeded Heather Watson 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. “Obviously none of us practiced yesterday.  The day before was raining.  Everybody was trying to get 30 minutes on an indoor court, which is always a little bit tough.

“So I think it was just going out there and trying to find that consistency.”

So the 2006 US Open Champion spent yesterday in her hotel room, playing with her dog, going to the gym and taking in what was open in New York City.

Yet, her dog may have been trying to tell her something during the storm yesterday.

“My dog kept like going back to his little bag,” she said.  “It kind of freaked me out because that’s a sign he wanted to go home.  Maybe the hurricane was going to be bad.  We were lucky, yeah, that it was just a little rain.”

New York was lucky yesterday and the No. 3 seed was lucky today when she survived the match with British Watson, even though she committed 58 unforced errors (39 in the first set) and eight double faults.

“I don’t think I did enough to make her feel like she had any pressure in the first set,” Sharapova said.  “You know, I’d hit one, two good balls, then hit an error.  Whether it was a centimeter or two out, it doesn’t matter, it’s still an error.”

Even with the slow start, Sharapova was too much for Watson. Using her power game, she was able to squeak by in the second set and then dominate the third to advance in this version of the US Open. She is the new Maria, someone who is older, wiser and out to prove she isn’t washed up at the tender age of 24.

Instead, after years of injuries and inconsistencies, Sharapova is ready to dominate again. A year of resurgence saw her win in Rome and then Cincinnati, while losing the finals in Miami and of course Wimbledon. It was good enough to rank her No. 3 in Flushing, and one of the odds on favorites for the tournament.

“Well, I just feel like this year I’ve improved,” she said. “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.”

Even at her still young age, Sharapova is the grizzled veteran on the circuit. And much like any other sport, she has made adjustments. Where she was a pure power player before, the Russian by the way of Florida is now a more complete player, with a defensive game to go with her attack.

During her journey back, which she called it “the process” she had many pitfalls, but her hard work is now looking like it is paying off.

“Well, it’s just great to still be a tennis player,” she said.  “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.”

And now with the first round hiccup out of the way, Maria Sharapova seems poised for her Open run.

Of course let’s hope there are no more hurricanes.

HENDERSON’S MUHAMMAD FALLS IN HOMETOWN EVENT TO ALBANESE, WHO FACES CIRSTEA NEXT ON 21st BIRTHDAY

LAS VEGAS, Nev., (Sept. 30, 2010) – Lauren Albanese had a miserable 20th birthday one year ago, losing to Asia Muhammad in both singles and doubles at the Lexus of Las Vegas Open.

A day before her 21st birthday on Thursday, Albanese got some satisfying revenge, beating the hometown hero from Henderson in the same round as last year, 6-4, 7-5.

It was a boisterous Red Rock Country Club crowd cheering all the way for Muhammad who lost in last year’s quarterfinals one round after beating Albanese. “I can understand it; you would expect it with her being from here,” Albanese said of the fans. “Maybe I can get them on my side tomorrow. I’ll need it. It’s no fun losing on your birthday.”

Muhammad let a 5-1 lead slip away in the second set as Albanese survived two sets points down 5-4 in the most intense game of the match. Muhammad was disappointed she couldn’t force a third set. “I just love this tournament and I’m encouraged with how well I played this week,“ Muhammad said. “Lauren played the best I’ve seen her play.”

Albanese, ranked No. 238 in the world and from Jacksonville, Fla., will have her hands full Friday as she goes up against No. 3 seeded Sorana Cirstea in the quarterfinals. “I’m excited to play a former Top 100 player and to see how I’ll do,” Albanese said of Cirstea, the 2009 French Open quarterfinalist.

Cirstea is guaranteed to have several fans on hand as she trains part time with the Adidas group in Vegas with Andre Agassi’s former coach Darren Cahill, who was on hand to watch on Thursday while Gil Reyes and Sargis Sargsian were on hand for her first-round match on Wednesday.

Unseeded 29-year-old American Abigail Spears beat wild-card Chelsey Gullickson to also move into the quarterfinals. The 2010 NCAA singles champion from Georgia Gullickson lost the first set at 6-0 for the second straight match. But unlike her last match where she came back to beat Julia Cohen, Gullickson couldn’t hold off Spears. 6-0, 5-7, 6-4.

“I just came out and didn’t miss,” said Spears, who said she was unaware of Gullickson’s slow starting issues. Spears, who was born and raised in San Diego, currently resides in Pueblo, Colo.

She will meet Mirjana Lucic, the No. 4 seed from Croatia, in the first match on Stadium Court at 10 a.m. Friday.

Thursday’s Second-Round Singles Scores

q: qualifier; wc: wild card

Mirjana Lucic, Croatia (4), def. Heidi El Tabakh, Canada, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3

Sorana Cirstea, Romania (3), def. Julie Ditty, U.S. (q), 6-2, 6-3

Edina Gallovits, Romania (1), def. Alexandra Mueller, U.S. (wc), 6-3, 6-4

Valerie Tetreault (Canada) (8), def. Kimberly Couts, U.S., 0-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2

Abigail Spears, U.S., def. Chelsey Gullickson, U.S. (wc), 6-0, 5-7, 6-4

Varvara Lepchenko, U.S. (2), def. Lindsay Lee-Waters, U.S., 7-6 (8), 6-3

Anna Tatishvili, Georgia (6), def. Alexa Glatch, U.S. (wc), 3-6, 6-3, 7-5

Lauren Albanese, U.S., def. Asia Muhammad, U.S., 6-4, 7-5

Second-Round Doubles Scores

Alexandra Mueller, U.S. / Ahsha Rolle, U.S., def. Kimberly Couts, U.S. / Anna Tatishvili, Georgia (3), 6-2, 6-3

Lindsay Lee-Waters, U.S. / Megan Moulton-Levy, U.S. (4), def. Christina Fusano, U.S. / Courtney Nagle, U.S., 6-2, 6-3

Irina Falconi, U.S. / Maria Sanchez, U.S., def. Madison Brengle, U.S. / def. Amra Sadikovic, Switzerland, 6-4, 6-3

Abigail Spears, U.S. (2) / Mashona Washington, U.S., def. Stephanie Foretz Gacon, France / Alexa Glatch, U.S., 7-6 (3), 7-5

Friday’s Order of Play

Stadium Court Starting at 10 a.m.

Abigail Spears, U.S. vs. Mirjana Lucic, Croatia (4)

Followed by Sorana Cirstea, Romania (3), vs. Lauren Albanese, U.S.,

Followed by Lindsay Lee-Waters, U.S. / Megan Moulton-Levy, U.S. (4), vs. Abigail Spears, U.S. (2) / Mashona Washington, U.S.

Court 2 Starting at 10 a.m.

Varvara Lepchenko, U.S. (2), vs. Anna Tatishvili, Georgia (6)

Followed by Valerie Tetreault, Canada (8), vs. Edina Gallovits, Romania (1)

Followed by Irina Falconi, U.S. / Maria Sanchez, U.S., vs. Alexandra Mueller, U.S. / Ahsha Rolle, U.S.

The following is a tentative schedule of events supplementing the tournament:

COMMUNITY EVENTS

  • Friday, Oct. 1 – Volkl/Becker Racquet Day, 6-8 p.m.

USTA Members Day ($10 off admission for all current USTA members)

  • Saturday, Oct. 2 – Super Semifinal Saturday; USTA Ladies League Luncheon.

For additional event and ticket information, please visit www.lexuslvopen.com

LAS VEGAS PAST CHAMPIONS

Singles

Year                Winner                                                Runner-up

2009                Regina Kulikova (RUS)                      Aniko Kapros (HUN)

2008                Camille Pin (FRA)                               Asia Muhammad (U.S.)

2007                Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)                 Akiko Morigami (JPN)

1999                Erika de Lone (U.S.)                           Hila Rosen (ISR)

Doubles

Year                Winner

2009                Aniko Kapros (HUN) – Agustina Lepore (ARG)

2008                Melinda Czink (HUN) – Renata Voracova (CZE)

2007                Victoria Azarenka (BLR) – Tatiana Poutchek (BLR)

1999                Erika de Lone (U.S.) – Annabel Ellwood (AUS)

PRIZE MONEY

SINGLES:                  Prize Money              Points

Winner                         $7,315                         70

Runner-up                   $3,990                         50

Semifinalist                 $2,185                         32

Quarterfinalist             $1,235                         18

Round of 16                $760                            10

Round of 32                $475                            1

DOUBLES:                Prize Money (per team)

Winner                         $2,660

Runner-up                   $1,425

Semifinalist                 $760

Quarterfinalist             $380

Round of 16                $285

USTA Pro Circuit

With 94 tournaments throughout the country and prize money ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, the USTA Pro Circuit is the pathway to the US Open and tour-level competition for aspiring tennis players and a frequent battleground for established professionals. Last year, more than 1,000 men and women from more than 70 countries competed on the USTA Pro Circuit for approximately $3.2 million in prize money and valuable ATP and WTA Tour ranking points. Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Lindsay Davenport, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jelena Jankovic are among the top stars who began their careers on the USTA Pro Circuit. The USTA Pro Circuit is world-class tennis administered on the local level and played on local tennis courts as part of the fabric of communities nationwide — an opportunity for current and new fans to experience the excitement and intensity of the professional game in their neighborhood.

Kim’s Cooler Head Prevails

The circumstances were far from ideal. The rain hadn’t stopped all day throwing another curve into the schedule which forced both women’s semifinals to be played at the same time in Ashe and Louis Armstrong while both doubles matches were pushed back.

Perhaps that’s why Kim Clijsters is in her second straight U.S. Open final trying to become the first Mom to win a grand slam title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley back in 1980 (Wimbledon).

Oh. Did we also mention that when the Mom of 18-month old Jade plays ninth seeded Caroline Wozniacki for all the marbles later tonight in primetime at 9 PM on ESPN2, the unseeded Belgian was absent from the last three? Indeed, the 26 year-old former 2005 champ missed a chance to defend her crown due to injury and wasn’t even on the WTA Tour the past two years until 10 weeks ago. Since then, she’s gone 11-2 and will aim to become the first ever ladies wildcard to win a major.

“Maybe a little out of today’s match just because, you know, you want to finish that last point, kind of, especially when you hit like I was seeing the ball really well, I was hitting well, and I was really focused,” a pleased Clijsters said on whether her return has inspired people.

“It’s a little bit unfortunate that I didn’t have that, but it’s not going to take anything away from tomorrow’s match or how special that would be for me, and for both of us.”

Now, her incredible comeback continues by doing something few have. Not beating one Williams but both even if it was under bizarre circumstances with Serena Williams losing her cool late on a controversial call in a very tight second set.

Yes, the overwhelming favorite didn’t keep it together after a line judge nailed her for a foot fault handing Clijsters double match point. CBS replays were inconclusive with the call coming at a pivotal moment. As she was about to step up and serve, Williams made the costly mistake of walking over to have a few choice words for the poor judge. Unfortunately, the 27 year-old American let out several expletives which resulted in a very awkward and devastating conclusion to a quality match.

“I”m not going to sit here and make an excuse. If I foot fault, I did. It was what it was, and that’s basically all it was,” lamented Williams.

Following a meeting between the chair umpire and lines person, she reported what was said. With Serena anxiously waiting at the baseline and Clijsters wondering what was happening, eventually the 11-time slam winner was called up by the umpire forcing tournament referee Brian Earley to pay a visit along with tournament official Donna Kelso.

“She was called for a foot fault, and a point later, she said something to a line umpire, and it was reported to the chair, and that resulted in a point penalty,” a very subdued Earley explained. “And it just happened that point penalty was match point. It was a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.”

Due to Williams breaking her racket following losing the first set which she received a warning for, the temper tantrum cost her any chance to repeat, resulting in a point penalty which meant the match. When Serena walked across the net to congratulate Clijsters, the stunned Belgian almost didn’t want to accept the 6-4, 7-5 semi victory which she quite deserved before a stunned, loyal half capacity crowd.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s unfortunate that a match that I was playing so well at to end that way,” a surprised Clijsters remarked after improving to 2-8 career versus Serena.

“You know, obviously, yeah, I still to this point I’m a little confused about what happened out there, and, um, just because I was so focused. You know, just trying to win that last point for me. So then things ended up ending a little bit different than I expected.”

“Well, I said something that I guess they gave me a point penalty. Unfortunately it was on match point,” was how Williams put it while adding:

No, I didn’t think I would get a point penalty. I didn’t think about it.”

Sometimes in sports, things happen. Chalk it up to emotions getting the better turning the champ into chump. Yes. The cooler player prevailed. With few giving her a chance after already sending Venus Williams home two rounds prior, Clijsters was superior.

Following a lengthy eight and a half hour delay, it was Kim who dealt with the elements better to pull off another upset knocking out the three-time Open winner.

It took a while for both players to get going due to a few sprinkles which fell and seemed to unnerve Serena more than Clijsters. The difference was that Clijsters hit the cleaner ball while an unsteady Williams misfired from the baseline. Able to deal with the pace, the speedy popular former champ was able to run down shots and come up with precision hitting creating nice angles.

They exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games but ultimately, Clijsters stayed strong holding for 5-4 to put pressure on Serena to stay in the set. A couple of points from squaring it, she fell apart dropping the next four to hand it over. After a Clijsters forehand winner made it 30-all, two Williams miscues including a netted backhand gave her gritty opponent a set lead to which she slammed her racket in disgust. Who knew that would play such a big role in a match of this magnitude?

When Williams seemed ready to make a run breaking Clijsters in the opening game of the second set highlighted by a couple of lethal return winners, she allowed Kim to stick around by dropping serve with a double fault.

All match, the WTA’s best server struggled mightily winning just 32 percent of second serves (10 of 31) due in large part to Clijsters’ aggressive play. That was the biggest difference making Williams’ serve attackable with Clijsters breaking her one more time than she’d been all tournament. Four when she had only allowed three entering last night.

Despite her serving issues, a sharper Williams pressed on earning a break in the fifth game when a nice dropshot setup a textbook crosscourt pass for 3-2. But yet again, a resilient Clijsters came right back. After Serena fought off three break points, she earned a fourth and converted thanks to a big forehand which drew an error to get back even.

Following Clijsters digging out of 15-30 to hold for 4-3, a big backhand gave her two more chances to break and serve for the match. However, as often happens with Williams, she toughened saving both winning a baseline exchange and a swinging volley winner. Still in trouble, she delivered an ace out wide to fight off a third. Entering the game, she had three aces but matched that total with clutch serving for four all.

Each then traded holds. A Clijsters ace out wide put her a game away from the final. Then came the embarrassing conclusion to a great set that had fans into it.

Already trailing in the critical game 15-30 due to a pair of errors, Williams faulted. Then came the foot fault from Hell.

“I used to have a real temper, and I’ve gotten a lot better,” an under control Williams said during a long postmatch press conference. “So I know you don’t believe me, but I used to be worse. Yes, yes, indeed.”

Not on this night.

Unseeded Parrott and Gullickson Win Mixed Doubles

Entering the Open, Travis Parrott wasn’t even sure who his mixed doubles partner would be because original partner Abigail Spears opted to play with Robert Kendrick instead.

As fate had it, that turned out to be a good omen as it allowed him to text Carly Gullickson who was looking for a partner two days before the tournament. So much for needing practice as the unlikely unseeded American pair got a wildcard and rode it all the way to the mixed doubles crown capping off a great run by upsetting defending champs Cara Black and Leander Paes 6-2, 6-4.

Usually, Black and Paes are as tough as it comes. But the underdogs caught them by surprise to pull it off. Up two breaks in the second after crusing through the opening set, they dropped serve making things tight.

But both remained poised winning on Parrott’s serve when Gullickson putaway a forehand volley into an open court, screaming in joy before hugging her victorious partner.

“I was super-relaxed because I felt no pressure on the court, because it was just fun,” the exhilerated Gullickson said.

The daughter of former MLB pitcher Bill Gullickson played the early hero during their amazing run with her volleying skills besting one of doubles’ best in Max Mirnyi back in Round One, saving match point in their comeback win over Mirnyi and Nadia Petrova.

“Then, you walk into that second round, and you’re just all of a sudden, just happy to be in the tournament,” a pleased Parrott noted. “It’s a whole new mind frame.”

“If she’ll play with me,” Parrott said as Gullickson fittingly replied:

“Yeah, for sure.”

Perfect conclusion from an unlikely duo took them all the way. One neither will ever forget.

A The Old Age of 26, Clijsters Is Enjoying Her Tennis Life

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Tennis may be the only sport where 26 is considered old. And Kim Clijsters is feeling it. The comeback kid on the tournament – who beat China’s Na Li in straight sets today, 6-2, 6-4, to earn a trip to the Semifinals – knows she’s not a teenager anymore.

“I definitely think my face has definitely changed over the years,” said the unseeded Clijsters. “I think when I was 15, 16 coming on, I remember Wimbledon, when I did well there, you know, I really had to stop myself from like asking everybody for autographs in the locker room and everything.

“I just remember just being so in awe with everything that was happening around me and then playing on the center court and everything. It just overwhelms you a little bit. You kind of just forget what you have to do out there to play good tennis.”

Yet now Clijsters is a veteran and even though she’s been away from the game for two years, the 2005 US Open Champion knows that an older tennis player needs to play wiser, yet sometimes you have to go past your limits.

“I believe that you shouldn’t focus on stopping at your limit,” she said. “I think you can always improve and improve, you know, where, in a match you don’t have to reach that far. I think that’s why we train and that’s why we have, you know, very intense workouts months before you get to a tournament is so that you can go out there and not worrying about, you know, I’m getting close to my limit. I have to slow down a little bit or anything.

“So I think that’s something that is mentally very important I think for any player, is knowing that, you know, I’ve worked out a lot harder in practice or in the gym or anything, so I know that I’m capable of doing it during a match, whether it’s a three-set match or even for the men a five-set match.”

Although overshadowed by up and comers like Melanie Oudin and Caroline Wozniacki, Clijsters has been one of the major stories at the Open, she will face the winner of Serena Williams/Flavia Pennetta match later tonight.

Much like Clijsters, Williams is a veteran on the tour – she’s actually a year older than Belgian – and they faced each other 10 years ago when they were just teenagers, like the 17 year-old Oudin and 19 year-old Wozniacki.

“I remember playing against her here a few years ago or many, many years ago, let’s say,” she said. “I think it was 2000 or ’99 even, so ten years ago -whew – where I was kind of in a similar situation as maybe Oudin or someone where you’re up and you’re playing those big matches.

“But it was fun. It’s just great. But that’s where I first saw, you know, the type of players that, you know, the type of player that Serena is. She was missing a few more shots. I was kind of just bringing a lot of balls back and she was kind of missing them. But then at 5-2 in the third set where I was up, she just, bang, started going for aces, started hitting winners. Like something switched in her head.”

Yet, Williams needs to beat Pannetta to have a date with Clijsters, and the crafty veteran will be ready for either player.

“You know, she’s a good friend, and I was extremely happy for her when she reached a top 10 ranking,” Clijsters said. “Probably I think it was after Cincinnati, she got to her first top 10 ranking. So that was really nice to just see that. She’s worked very hard and she’s a fun girl, as well. She’s improved her game.”

And if Clijsters is able to move on, she could face one of the teenagers in the Finals, something, the youthful veteran would look forward to challenging.

“I love watching Oudin play, Wozniacki, Wickmayer, it’s so much fun for me to just watch on TV and see the emotions that come out of them when they win a match,” Clijsters said. “I get so happy when I just see that.

“But then again, I think, you know, I’m talking to like my coach and everyone, Wow, she’s only 17. They were like, Yeah, but you were like that. You don’t think like that at the moment. You don’t really think about the age or anything. Unless like now that I’m older, I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow, you know, they’re young.’ You see that, the new face that’s still on there. They enjoy everything so much and they look at things in a different way when they get to a Grand Slam, because it’s so new.”

Spoken like at true veteran at age 26.

Clijsters Comeback Continues With The Ouster of Venus

The comeback continued. Kim Clijsters battled through to a quarterfinal date with No.18 Na Li by getting past No.3 ranked American Venus Williams 6-0, 0-6, 6-4 today at a supportive Ashe Stadium.

The 26 year-old Belgian has looked strong in her return to the game after taking a couple of a years off to marry former Villanova hoops star Brian Lynch and start a family. After decent results in two warmups, she’s shown no ill effects ousting two quality players to reach the final eight.

In Round Two, she got the better of Marion Bartoli bouncing back from a set down to advance in three. A round after dropping only two games, it figured to be tougher versus an old rival. But it was the more agile Clijsters who prevailed against a heavily taped Venus, who’s still battling knee tendinitis. Her run in singles is over but she’s also scheduled to play a fourth round doubles match with young sis Serena, who easily dispatched of Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-0 advancing to a quarter against either Vera Zvonareva or Flavia Pennetta in tonight’s night session.

The 2005 Open winner came out razor sharp breezing through the first set against a struggling Williams who couldn’t find the range. Meanwhile, Clijsters’ forehand was working helping build an early set lead. It was the first time her opponent had been bageled at the tournament since 1997 when Martina Hingis did it against an unseeded Williams in the final.

Perhaps it was too easy because the second set was a complete role reversal as it was Venus who elevated her game finally ratcheting up the serve and keeping more balls in play. Suddenly, Clijsters had a rough stretch with her forehand going cold and even tossing in a pair of double faults that helped Williams rebound quickly. Before the stunned Ashe knew it, they’d witnessed two ugly, uncompetitive bagel sets in just 49 minutes.

Surely, the deciding set would be better by default. With the crowd urging on both players, it was as each finally kept rallies going giving fans some more entertaining points that included some great hustle from Clijsters. Her speed seemed to get to Williams who missed on a few routine volleys including an overhead. That probably was the difference as she was able to dig in earning an early break which she never relinquished.
A jubilant Kim Clijsters celebrates her victory over Venus Williams to make the U.S. Open quarters in her return.

A jubilant Kim Clijsters celebrates her victory over Venus Williams to make the U.S. Open quarters in her return.

It still wasn’t easy putting away the seven-time slam winner who held her serve the rest of the more competitive 52-minute set, forcing the crowd favorite to serve it out. Showing some nerves, Clijsters missed a couple of shots to drop the first two points eventually falling behind 15-40. But she valiantly fought off two break chances with some solid hitting including an inside out forehand winner.

After drawing an errant backhand, she finally came to match point. With the crowd in a frenzy, she calmly struck a great wide serve which Williams barely got a racket on to clinch victory.

“It was unbelievable. I don’t know what to say,” an excited Clijsters expressed to CBS reporter Mary Joe Fernandez. “It was such a weird match, especially those first two sets. But after I lost the second at 6-0, I said, let’s start over and start a new match.”

The former champ proved she is still a contender. Now, she’ll draw Li, who got through in straights over Italian Francesca Schiavone (26), 6-2, 6-3. In her career, the 27 year-old from China has never made a semi in a major with this matching her best result that came in 2006 at Wimbledon. Clijsters owns a 3-1 head-to-head record taking two of three on hard courts. However, the last two have gone three sets with Li winning two years ago in Miami.

One thing it guarantees is there won’t be an all Williams semi showdown. But just maybe we’ll get a battle of two Open champs with the winner heavily favored to win the title.

“I’ve been working really hard the last seven, eight months and I’m enjoying it,” Clijsters said. “It’s something that’s really important for myself, as long as I can focus on tennis and have fun on the outside as well.”