Saturday, 8 September 2012

Spain v Serbia - Take 2

Yes, for all of the fighting tennis produced by Spanish 4th seed David Ferrer, on his way to overcoming a defiant Janko Tipsarevic in the quarter finals at Flushing Meadows, another stumbling block from Serbia awaits him in the semis.  Not a minor obstacle this one - only the best hard courter and best returner in the world - Novak Djokovic.

For Ferrer to make his Grand Slam tournament final debut, he has to be the first player this year in New York to take a set off Novak, and then two more after that.  Of course this is possible, but given the sheer consistent brilliance of his racqetwork over the past week or so, Djokovic poses a challenge maybe too large for even the most resilient of players, and Ferrer has real claims to that title.

What enabled Ferrer to prevail in his quarter final was his consistency of weighted groundstroke when the match was in the balance.  While the Tipsarevic serve was on song, Ferrer was unable to dictate sufficient points and so he could only watch and hope for a decline in the effectiveness of the Serbian first delivery.  Once it occured, and it happened when Janko was serving for a 5-2 lead in the fifth set, the momentum turned for a final time, and control of the match stayed with David.  Ultimately it took a tie break to give Spain a presence in the semis, but even if it went the distance surely the same result would have been achieved.

Janko Tipsarevic can consider himself unlucky - he made the running for most of the match, and was only a few agonising minutes from the finishing line before the fatal stumble.  However, David Ferrer has a history of picking up the pieces of these stumbles and furnishing them into personal success.

He cannot rely on a similar stumble from the super slick Djokovic who played a fantastic match against Del Potro in his quarter final, where the standard of tennis grew throughout.  Straight sets belied the closeness of the contest.  If you were to rank the 4 quarter finalists from this part of the draw in terms of tennis played it would be Djokovic clearly atop, Del Potro clearly second, and a tie for third.  This is Ferrer's challenge - to raise his game sufficiently to give the world number 2 cause for worry, because victory will not be his by waiting for a drop in standard from Djokovic.  

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Vika & Sam supply the quality

As has become tradition rain in 2012 serves to frustrate organisers of the US Open, a privilege once the domain of Wimbledon for bragging rights amongst the majors.  Before the schedule was significantly affected, one of the highlights of the event was delivered to us.  It became a two course affair - pre and post rain - but the post rain piece of the quarter final between Vika Azarenka and Samantha Stosur consisted of some of the best contested women's tennis for some time.

Stosur's woeful record against the world number one continued with a first set dominated by Azarenka 6-1, and against all that momentum and history the defending champion drew on her well of reserves to match it with the talented Belarusian in most departments.  Casting self doubt aside, Stosur attacked with her forehand, knowing full well that some of her risk taking would be met with rifled winners either side of her because that is what Azarenka can do better than most.

However the risk can have a reward and the percentages began to favour Stosur as she pursued her revised game plan.  Increasingly the Azarenka serve appeared breakable, not dramatically but at least to the point where this became a contest.  Sam broke to lead 1-0 in the second set and led 40-15 on serve only for Vika to immediately strike back.  The stakes were high and the standard just as elevated for the remainder of the set and it was the Australian who managed to achieve the vital break in the ninth game.  The serve served her well and the match sat at a set apiece.

The final set unfortunately at the US Open is always decided by a tie-break should it reach 6-6.  It is the only Grand Slam tournament to abbreviate in this fashion and something that annoyingly denies us of some thrilling finishes in normal time by throwing in a lottery to free the impasse.

Of course some tiebreaks can be wonderful cameos and for this small mercy we have to be thankful.

For most of set three Azarenka looked assured of sprinting to the line and avoiding the tie-break.  She broke Stosur in the fourth game and served for a 4-1 lead.  Failed there thanks to a determined and skillful returning performance from the 7th seed.  Again Vika forced the issue to lead 4-2 with serve to come.  Once more Sam pushed it back with another thoughtful and effective returning game.

Then the players decided that holding serve had some merit and so 3-4 with Stosur at the line became 5-5 through this method.  Stosur pressured Azarenka to break point and asked the most serious question of the match yet of the Australian Open champion.  Vika answered clearly enough with her first ace, and with that flowed on to 6-5.  Disappointed at not capitalising on the break point, Sam steadied to take the match to a deciding tie-break which in my opinion favoured Azarenka.  Had the match gone to advantage Stosur may have had the legs to outlast Azarenka.

Quickly Stosur was down 4-0 and the court interviewer was preparing for Azarenka to answer questions surrounding her victory.  However, as had been the pattern for the whole match Stosur fought hard to level at 5-5.  With her next serve Sam would be holding match point on Vika's serve or be defending Vika's serve for the semi final spot.  The latter prevailed, and with the first match point for either player, the number one seed emerged victorious to reach her first US Open semi final.

6-1 4-6 7-6 (5) A top quality quarter final, one which concluded Samantha Stosur's honourable defence of her title, and announced Victoria Azarenka as the best bet from the top half of the draw to offer some resistance to the irresistible Serena Williams.