Thursday was a day of celebration at Indian Wells! There was young Taylor Townsend jumping for joy after her first win in the main draw of a WTA Tour tournament, veteran Lleyton Hewitt fist-pumping his way to a victory over Lukas Rosol, and tournament organizers celebrating the arrival of crowd favorite Rafael Nadal (last week we heard rumors of his withdrawal).
But there were also a couple of parties away from the courts. One Indian Wells tradition had Bob and Mike Bryan entertaining the crowd (Mike played guitar, Bob on the keyboard), with invited musicians like the Counting Crows drummer Jim Bogios rounding out the Bryan Brothers Band. Attracting a respectable crowd, the band rocked out to some classics by Van Morrison, Aerosmith, and others. Much drinking and dancing ensued as the boys carried on for about two hours.
For the first time since 2007, "Sweet Caroline" will not be blasting from the Stadium Court at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale during the Singles Final. The four-time New Haven Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki, was forced to retire down after losing the first set of Friday's Semifinal to 7th seed Maria Kirilenko. It was just the fourth set Wozniacki has lost in New Haven in five years, and her match record here is 20-1.
A knee injury that flared up during the Dane's quarterfinal encounter with Dominika Cibulkova caused too much pain for Wozniacki to continue. "I felt it from the start," she said. "But, you know, it just started to get a bit worse." She said she decided to play the Semifinal after doctors advised the injury would not get worse, in order to try to give it her best shot and to avoid disappointing the spectators. But it was too painful and pointless to continue.
If you missed the Men's Singles Final, you probably already know that this one was a must-see. My first urge is to suggest that when you watch it recorded, you skip the first two, or perhaps even three sets. That would save you over three hours and cringing at some average tennis (much below par, as far as Djokovic and Nadal are concerned).
However, to truly appreciate the remainder of the match and the players' last heroic act of being able to stand for the trophy photo-op, one must go through 'the agony and the ecstasy' of the entire 5-hour 53-minute battle. In fact, in addition to watching this – the longest Grand Slam final in history – in its entirety, I also urge you to watch, or re-watch, the semifinals, particularly Djokovic's Friday night five-set defeat of Andy Murray. Then, towards the end of the 7-5 fifth set to the final, when you yourself feel like you have no energy left to keep your eyes open, you might truly appreciate the inhuman effort from both finalists.
In fact, it made me feel downright nostalgic. No, not back to when the new Czech "It Girl" was Nicole Vaidisova (less than a year older than Kvitova!), or to even more recent times, when Ana Ivanovic was that "It Girl" recent Slam winner. No, my memory only extended as far back as the previous weekend, when the 2012 Australian Open was in its nascent state.Now, sipping hot cocoa in front of a fire (all right, drinking wine out of a coffee cup in front of a space heater the previous tenants left in my apartment), I'll recall the memorable moments of Week One and wistfully look ahead to the coming late stages of the tournament.
After a fourth straight Monday Final, the 2011 US Open may be remembered just as much for the weather as for the tennis, even with the high-level competition produced in the closing weekend. So, checking all the patterns produced at this year's tournament, here are (no-guarantee) forecasts for some of the biggest names from the 2011 US Open.Sunny Skies
Sam Stosur: Not since Svetlana Kuznetsova's 2004 US Open win had a first round loser in the previous Slam become Champion in the next, but in what might be called fitting of Stosur's peaks-and-valleys career, she managed just that with a courageous 6-2, 6-3 drubbing of Serena Williams. Stosur learned the hard way about the power of positive, aggressive play in her first Grand Slam final, courtesy of Francesca Schiavone. It was fair to wonder if she'd ever get a second chance at a major. But a kind draw combined with mental fortitude in moments when she may have previously cracked set the stage for a record-setting run. With the longest women's match and the longest tiebreak (albeit lost) in women's US Open history, Stosur etched her name on the Champion's trophy with power serving and aggressive second serve returns, essentially beating Serena at her own game.
Summaries of Thursday's quarterfinal action in New Haven:
The players were scheduled to take the court at 1:00 pm, but were delayed by rain until 3:30 pm, and showers continued to interrupt play throughout the afternoon. While the official match time was just over two and a half hours, the two players did not complete their match until shortly before 8:00 om. It was difficult for either woman to get into a rhythm, and, unfortunately, injury played a role in the final result. Li took the first set, courtesy of three Pavlyuchenkova double faults in the tenth game. After a lengthy weather delay at the start of the second set, Pavlyuchenkova gained the momentum. She won a marathon ninth game with eight deuces, and broke Li to force a third set. With Li serving at 1-0 in the third set, the match was interrupted again. In this instance, it was a medical timeout by Pavlyuchenkova, who sought treatment for a twisted ankle. With the Russian unsure about her movement, Li raced to a 5-0 lead. Li thought she won the match when Pavlyuchenkova framed a shot on match point, but chair umpire Lynn Welch ordered that the point be replayed. A linesperson had started to call Li's ball out, then corrected the call, and Welch believed this was a hindrance to the players. A frustrated Li dropped the next two games before securing the win, and advancing to her sixth semifinal of 2011.
Sunday, the WTA All-Access Hour offered the media an opportunity to talk with three of the tournament's top four seeds, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, and Na Li.
Immediately preceding the roundtable was a special announcement. First Niagara Bank, the presenting sponsor of the New Haven Open, would donate $10,000 to breast cancer research if Wozniacki, Bartoli, and Li participated in the Pink Ribbon Run. The Run features a pink treadmill located on tournament grounds, and for each mile walked or run on the treadmill, donations are made to two charities: The Susan G. Komen Connecticut affiliate and the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven. Wozniacki also announced she will donate $5,000 to the cause on behalf of the WTA.
A common misperception of the WTA Tour is that the top players won't play the week before a Grand Slam event. But closer inspection of past draws of the New Haven Open, formerly Pilot Pen Tennis, shows that is not the case. Former titlists of the event, played the week before the US Open, include Grand Slam champions such as Steffi Graf, Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. When you factor in former finalists such as Jana Novotna, Monica Seles, and Amelie Mauresmo, the honor roll looks like a current and future Tennis Hall of Fame roll call.
This year is no different. Headlining the 2011 action in New Haven are World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, the current French Open champion Na Li, Grand Slam titlists Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone, and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic. Added to the mix are two of the summer's hottest players, Marion Bartoli and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Wozniacki, the top seed here, is no stranger to the Yale campus, where the event is held. She has won the title three consecutive years, and has an undefeated 13-0 record in New Haven. However, Wozniacki's success at smaller tour events has not translated to success at the Grand Slams. Adding to the pressure are her back-to-back losses this summer at tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati to players who are also in the New Haven draw, Roberta Vinci and Christina McHale.
Indigestion is not so good for athletic performance, as Robin Soderling showed us on Saturday in his third round loss. But the Swede was not the only sufferer of what was allegedly a bad batch of pasta in the player's restaurant. According to Portuguese journalist Miguel Seabra, other victims include Hantuchova and Agnieszka Radwanska, both of whom have lost in the first week. Better stick to strawberries and cream!
Here are some other highlights from the fortnight.
Record of the Decade
Novak Djokovic has lost only one match in six months. Rafael Nadal has lost only one match at the French Open. 2011 French Open Women's Wheelchair Champion Esther Vergeer has lost only one match in ten years.
Women: Na Li
She overcame seeds and favorites Petra Kvitova (9), Victoria Azarenka (4), Maria Sharapova (7), and Francesca Schiavone (5); ghosts of the Australian Open Final; a previously unfriendly surface; a new coaching partnership; and the expectations of a nation of 1.3 billion.