Isner Bulldogs It To The Third

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY- Although John Isner is keeping a watchful eye on the other matchups today after his second round win over fellow American Robbie Ginepri, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, his biggest concern is tomorrow’s big game.

It’s when his beloved Georgia Bulldogs take on Boise State.

“I’m just getting mentally prepared for that,” he said.  “I don’t watch too much tennis.”

He doesn’t need to keep watching after his strong performance on Armstrong today. The Georgia native has been on top of his game this year. This win will be his seventh in a row and that follows one that was what he thinks is an “eight or nine match” winning streak.

He took the Hall of Fame Tournament in Newport back in July and won in Winston Salem, just a few weeks ago to start his winning streak.

And what’s the secret of his recent success?

Why confidence, of course.

“It’s as high as it’s ever been,” he said. “You know, I don’t like to think too much about it, but, you know, I have won seven matches in a row now, and earlier this summer I won, I think, eight or nine matches in a row:  won Newport, made the finals of Atlanta.

“I’m just winning it a lot of matches and I’m very, very confident and I feel good.  I feel like I’m, you know, moving very well, you know, especially for myself.  I’m getting to balls and able to get a lot more balls back in play because I’m very comfortable out there.”

This is a different from the Isner we all have seen earlier this year, where he lost in French Open in the first round and Wimbledon in the second. He also had a disappointing loss in Chile during the Davis Cup.

“That was probably one of the biggest down points of my year so far, going down there and just not playing well and not really able to contribute to the team,” he said. “You know, I lost to a guy ranked pretty low in Davis Cup, and I just ‑‑ it all started once I got back to the States and started playing tournaments stateside.  Very comfortable over here.  It’s just, you know, once I won a few matches in a row ‑‑ at Newport I started ‑‑ you know, I knew my game was going in the right direction, because the first five months of the year frankly it was a disappointment.”

But the 26 year-old is now back and ready to continue on at the Open. Fortunately he has a the fifth set tie break here and there will be no repeat of his match last year at Wimbledon when he won a fifth set over Nicholas Mahut, 70-68, in a match that lasted 11 hours and five minutes.

“Every slam is different,” he said.  “To me, to be honest, I like the tiebreaker, because if it goes to a fifth set and it happens to go down to a tiebreaker I like my chances, especially with my serve.  You know, I beat Andy a couple years ago in a fifth set tiebreaker.  You know, I do like the system now.

“But, you know, I don’t think anything should change as far as the other tournaments go.  It’s just how the US Open does it.”

But that didn’t happen today – maybe later in the tournament. Right now, though, it doesn’t seem like he cares because his Bulldogs will take conter statge for him tomorrow.

And who is going to win?

“I’m partial to Georgia,” Isner predicted. “I think they’re virtually playing ‑‑ you know, they’re in their backyard playing in the Georgia Dome.  They’ll have the crowd support and it’s gonna be ‑‑ it’s a huge game to start the season, for sure.”

Spoken like a true Georgia alumni.

STRONG QUARTET OF SEMIFINALISTS WIN EXCITING MATCHES ON DAY 4 OF LEXUS OF LAS VEGAS OPEN

LAS VEGAS, Nev., (Oct. 1, 2010) – The top four seeded players moved into the semifinals at the second annual Lexus of Las Vegas Open being played at the Red Rock Country Club in Summerlin.

There were no upsets on Friday with No. 1 Edina Gallovits, No. 2 Varvar Lepchenko, No. 3 Sorana Cirstea and No. 4 Mirjana Lucic all advancing to Saturday’s semifinals with the sole American Lepchenko needing three sets to
beat Anna Tatishvili, the No. 6 seed from Georgia.

Saturday’s Lucic-Lepchenko semi will be a rematch of last weekend’s semifinals in Albuquerque, N.Y., which Lucic won on her way to the $50,000 title. The Croatian is now riding an eight-match winning streak.

“I’m feeling really great right now and healthy,” said Lucic, 28, the 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist. “I’ve been slowly playing these events and gaining my confidence.”

Lucic qualified for the U.S. Open and lost in the second round last month. She stands at No. 104 in the world currently, very close to a goal she would like to reach by the end of the year. “The goal is still Top 100 by the end of the year,” she said. “I’m very close. I just want to reach that one and then move on to the next.”

Cirstea had the easiest time Friday, beating American Lauren Albanese on her 21st birthday, 6-2, 6-3. Albanese knew she’d have her hands full against the 2009 French Open quarterfinalist and a player who already has career wins over four players currently in the Top 10 in the world: Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Francesca Schiavone and Agnieszka Radwanska.

“I was a little erratic at the start and thought I could have played better,” Albanese said. “I’m playing so much better than I was at this time last year and to start the year. I think I lost the first 10 matches I played. When I go big, I go big.”

In the doubles final on Sunday, wild cards Irina Falconi and Maria Sanchez will face No. 4 seeds Lindsay Lee-Waters and Megan Moulton-Levy in the first match on beginning at 11 a.m.

Friday’s Quarterfinal Singles Results

q: qualifier; wc: wild card

Mirjana Lucic, Croatia (4), def. Abigail Spears, U.S., 7-6 (3), 7-5

Sorana Cirstea, Romania (3), def. Lauren Albanese, U.S., 6-2, 6-3

Edina Gallovits, Romania (1), def. Valerie Tetreault (Canada) (8),

Varvara Lepchenko, U.S. (2), def. Anna Tatishvili, Georgia (6), 7-6 (5), 6-7
(5), 6-3

Friday’s Semifinal Doubles Results

Irina Falconi, U.S. / Maria Sanchez, U.S. (wc), def. Alexandra Mueller, U.S.
/ Ahsha Rolle, U.S., 6-2, 6-2

Lindsay Lee-Waters, U.S. / Megan Moulton-Levy, U.S. (4), def. Abigail
Spears, U.S. (2) / Mashona Washington, U.S., 3-6, 6-2, 11-9

Saturday’s Order of Play

Stadium Court Starting at noon

Mirjana Lucic, Croatia (4), vs. Varvara Lepchenko, U.S. (2)

Followed by Sorana Cirstea, Romania (3), vs. Edina Gallovits, Romania (1)

Note: The doubles final will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday followed by the
singles final.

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

COMMUNITY EVENTS

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

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

Clijsters Becomes An Open Dynasty With Her Third Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com.

Clijsters Goes for an Open Dynasty

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The distance between the two old rivals shrunk to the size of the sweatband Kim Clijsters used to swipe the sweat off her forehead. The reigning US Open champion had watched her third-set lead evaporate and could hear Venus Williams’ fast footsteps approaching net with the set deadlocked at 4-all. That’s when Clijsters created closure by playing over Williams’ head.

Lofting a looping topspin lob into the wind, Clijsters watched the ball sail over Williams’ outstretched Wilson racquet and land a few feet inside the baseline, earning her the crucial break and a 5-4 lead.

Exploring every stroke in her shot spectrum, Clijsters served out a tense 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 conquest of Williams in a rollercoaster of a wildly windy match to advance to her fourth US Open final in her last four Flushing Meadows appearances.

“I thought as long as I keep trying, I have to make one,” Clijsters said of the lob. “It’s instinct. You decide to do that and it works. It was an important point and I’m happy to get through. You can put a little bit more behind it because I was against the wind.”

It was Clijsters’ 20th consecutive US Open victory, tying her with Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Venus for the second-longest US Open winning streak in the Open Era.

“It obviously means a lot to be in the final and to give myself a chance to defend my my title from last year. It’s a great opportunity,” Clijsters said. “I think today was probably one of the best matches that I’ve played throughout the tournament. I was able to raise my level, and that’s probably what I’m most please about is obviously I was able to win a close match like this, but that I was able to kind of rise to the occasion when I had to.”

It was the 13th meeting between Venus and Clijsters, who has won five in a row to take a 7-6 lead in the head-to-head series. Tennis’ top working mom denied Williams’ quest to return to the US Open final for the first time since 2002. Williams entered the Open without playing a single match during the US Open Series yet came within a few points of navigating her way to the final.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be back next year. This is what I do, and I feel like I played great tennis even with minimal preparation,” Venus said. “Obviously I would have liked to win this match and be playing tomorrow.  I may have lost the match, but that’s just this match.  There will be others.”

Serena Williams, looking champion chic in Venus’ support box, sat this Open out and in Serena’s absence Clijsters is the best hard-court player in the world, in part because she’s the most balanced offensively and defensively. Then there’s the fact she’s always been at her best on North American hard-courts. When she stormed to her first career Grand Slam title at the 2005 US Open, Clijsters simply wore out Williams in rallying for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 quarterfinal victory, and posted a 36-1 record on American hard courts that year.

“I always feel good here so I know that if I play good tennis and if I can give myself an opportunity to get into that second week and play those big matches, I mean this is where I’ve played some of the best tennis that I’ve ever played,” Clijsters said. “So if I can give myself those opportunities to play these kind of matches and not get surprised by opponents in the beginning of the tournament, then anything is possible.”

The second-seeded Clijsters will carry a 5-2 career record into tomorrow night’s final against Vera Zvonareva. But Zvonareva has the game to pose problems for the two-time champion as evidenced by the fact she’s won their last two meetings. Zvonareva surprised Clijsters, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in June then grounded a slightly hobbled Clijsters, who suffered a leg strain, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in last month’s Montreal quarterfinals.

A Wimbledon finalist in singles and doubles, Zvonareva doesn’t have one overwhelming weapon, but she can hit any shot from any position on the court and showcased her net skills in today’s first semifinal.

“She’s a very, very tough opponent. Obviously, I’ve lost my last two matches with her,” Clijsters said. “She’s a player who doesn’t give you much. It’s not that she has a game that’s very unpredictable, but what she does, she does extremely well. It’s gonna be a lot different match than it was today. She has a really good backhand and she’s been serving a lot better in the last few months.”

The seventh-seeded Russian surrendered serve just once in scoring a stirring 6-4, 6-3 victory over top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki to advance to her second consecutive Grand Slam final.

Zvonareva snapped Wozniacki’s 13-match winning streak by playing with purpose and passion in persistently pushing the 2009 US Open finalist into defensive positions on the court.

“Any match with Kim will come down to the tough challenge,” 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. We played a couple of matches for the past couple of months, but those matches are in the past.”

Williams missed the entire US Open Series while recovering from a knee injury. Her court appearances were confined to World TeamTennis, a few clinics and a book signing appearance at the Los Angeles tournament. Though she was short on match play, Williams wields an abundance of experience, a whipping 120 mph first serve and wisely acted on the fact she could not grind with Clijsters today. Her best shot was moving forward and pressuring the reigning champion.

Pressure, the tormenting winds and Clijsters’ unrelenting pursuit of every ball created a cocktail of torture for Williams in the tiebreaker as she hit two of her seven double faults in the break then badly bungled an easy overhead to fall behind 1-5. Banging a backhand into the net, Williams handled Clijsters five set points and she closed the set in 62 minutes.

“Obviously in the tie break I wasn’t able to play as well as I wanted,” Williams said. “I had too many errors, and she played some good tennis”

Clijsters saved a break point in her opening service game of the final set. She broke for a 2-1 lead when Williams buried a backhand into the net.

Serving at 4-3,Clijsters unravaled in committing two double faults. She had a clear look at the open court but slapped a swinging forehand volley four feet long to hand back the break and it was 4-all.

Father Richard Williams was gnawing nervously on a toothpick as his daughter tried to consolidate the break only to see Venus victmized when Clijsters rode the current of the blustery breeze with two  running rainbow lobs that lit up the murky sky. Stabbing a stretch backhand lob in the corner, Clijsters hammered a forehand winner down the line and when Venus double faulted beyond the box, Clijsters had double break point.

Staying true to her game plan, Williams did the right thing and attacked net behind a vicious forehand, but did not do enough with the forehand volley and paused momentarily to watch that shot land. That’s when Clijsters, hitting against the wind, went airborne with the lob that broke Williams’ serve and shattered her hopes in the process.

“I felt like I was trying to be aggressive in that game, and I came in you know, three out of five points.  Unfortunately it didn’t work for me,” Williams said. “She was playing against the wind, so it just blows the ball back in.  There’s not so much I could do on those points.  It was kind of a little bit of bad luck for me. You know, she just played to win.”

A Clijsters’ win in tomorrow’s 7 p.m. final would make her the first woman to successfully defend the Open since Venus did it in 2001.

Rich 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.

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.

Ryan Harrison Loses Heartbeaker at Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Fans were hanging off the rafters high above the stadium like rowdy revelers crammed into every inch of Times Square anxiously waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve. And on the Grandstand Court below Ryan Harrison carried the crowd to the very edge of erupting in delirium, earning three match points in the fifth set tie break against Sergiy Stakhovsky. Then the 24-year-old Ukranian turned the tie break into heart break for Harrison.

Looking like the loneliest man in the building, Stakhovsky dug in and made a spirited stand.

The skinny Stakhovsky showed stubborn competitive backbone and a spirit as spiky as his Brillo-pad haircut in roaring back to win the final five points of the breaker to post a 6-3, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory in a dramatic duel that was one of the most exciting encounters of the tournament.

Harrison, who had played with the poise and purpose far exceeding his 18 years, was down a break in the fifth set but battled back, put one foot inside the baseline and blasting a backhand pass down the line to break back for 4-all.

Playing the first five-setter of his career, Harrison continued to press the issue, but Stakhovsky, who carried a six-match winning streak onto the court, refused to yield before a crowd chanting “Let’s Go Ryan!” throughout periods of the fifth.

This was a throwback tennis with both men playing all-court tennis in propelling each other to explore virtually every corner of the court as 172 of the 343 points played were decided at net.

Trailing 2-3 in the breaker, Harrison sprinted rapidly to his right like a kid chasing a runaway rental car that had his racquets trapped in the trunk, caught up to the ball and rifled a running forehand pass down the line. By the time Harrison had skidded to a stop he was so close to the side wall he probably could have high-fived fans leaning over the railing.

Stakhovsky, who covered the line, went airborne in a full stretch dive as his body bounced off the blue court but his backhand clipped the net and died as Harrison evened the breaker at 3-all.

That stirring shot sequence brought the fans to their feet and Stakhovsky looked rattled by the resounding rorar as he scraped himself off the court and delivered a double fault to fall behind 4-3.

Two points later Harrison had triple match point at 6-3.

Stakhovsky, who won New Haven last weekend, saved the first two match points on his serve smacking an overhead winner on the first and a service winner on the second.

Serving on the third match point, Harrison, who had been effective hitting his kick serve to Stakhovsky’s one-handed backhand, dared to delve near the sideline, but missed his first serve. In the ensuing exchange, Harrison took a slight backward step and pushed a high backhand into net, for 6-all.

“I was trying to make sure I got the first serve in and trying to put pressure on him and missed that one barely,” Harrison said. “And then I wanted to play a long point and give myself an opportunity where I wanted to try to break him down and he didn’t miss. I ended up missing and then just kind of fell apart from there.”

Then the nerves constricted his right arm. Harrison sent a double fault beyond the service line, donating match point to Stakhovsky.

“It just wasn’t smart,” Harrison said of his eighth double fault. “I didn’t go about it the way I should have. I went for a big serve on the first serve at 6-all. Looking back, I probably should have just controlled that one in and looked for a forehand or for a first volley. But you know I can’t change it now.”

Attacking behind a stinging serve that pushed Harrison off the court, Stakhovsky blocked a high forehand volley crosscourt then crumpled to the court ending an enthralling encounter and turning magic into misery for Harrison.

As impressive as Harrison was competing on court, his sense of perspective following a gut-wrenching loss was equally as absorbing.

No tears, no excuses and no alibis. The son of a tennis coach who reads the game as comprehensively as a graduate student scouring a textbook, Harrison views the biggest match of his life as a learning experience in creating a career.

“Obviously, I’m not the happiest person in the world right now,” Harrison said. “But looking back on it, it was a great experience. My ranking is 220 in the world right now, and I’m trying to hopefully get to to the top 10. So I feel like one match doesn’t make or break that. It’s the experience of playing these type of matches that is really going to help me get there.”

Rich Pagliaro is the editor of TennisNow.com

Federer wraps up World Group berth for Swiss

Roger Federer helped his country wrap up a 20th consecutive World Group berth in Davis Cup, ensuring it with a straight set 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 over Italian replacement Potito Storace in reverse men’s singles Sunday in Genoa, Italy.

The 28 year-old grand slam record holder cameback after a day off to put away the Italians, who fell to 3-2 all-time in the head-to-head series.

“It was a tough weekend for us and I’m happy I could help Switzerland win,” a pleased Federer said after being responsible for two of the three victories with the other coming from 2008 Olympic gold medal doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka. “I was able to play very well.”

The significance of the match became necessary due to Federer’s Swiss teammates Wawrinka and late sub Marco Chiudinelli falling short in four sets to Starace and Simone Bolelli, who the 15-time slam winner beat in singles on Day One.

Even though he prevailed in straights, it was far from normal due to falling rain which delayed the middle of the second set for two hours before Federer returned to complete a bagel to take a two set lead.

“I tried everything, but he was particularly good today,” a disappointed Starace expressed while dropping his first Davis Cup singles match in 11 tries. He fell to 0-5 career versus the Swiss Maestro.

“Today, Roger was particularly inspired. I still managed to put him into difficulties but when he got the break to lead 5-3, he raised his game in an unbelievable manner. I definitely played my best match against him, but there was not much I could do.”

Despite a hectic schedule that saw him fall earlier in the week to Juan Martin Del Potro in his bid to match Bill Tilden’s U.S. Open record six consecutive singles titles, Federer still had enough in the tank to lead his country in Davis Cup, increasing his winning streak to 12 in singles play.

“I’m very happy to have won the point for Switzerland so that we can play in the World Group again. I’ m very happy with the quality of my game today, as I definitely didn’t feel the best and had a problem on my leg, which has troubled me a bit since the final of the US Open.”

Now, he’ll finally get some much needed time off to spend with wife Mirka and their twin girls.

“I have to go on holiday badly. I have a problem with my leg, I have a problem with my arm- everything is hurting,” he noted. “And I’ve got to do some baby-sitting. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the tennis court the last few weeks.”