open semifinals


By Bob Stockton

It was a year ago that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played one of the greatest Australian Open finals ever – and provided for one of the most touching moments in tennis in many years.

At the time, Federer was two major singles titles shy of breaking Pete Sampras all-time record of 14. However, the Swiss maestro was showing vulnerability in that he was going to achieve the goal everyone predicted he would reach. In January of 2009, Federer, as some severe critics characterized, was “reeling” by his very high standards. He was fresh off being jolted by Nadal from the No. 1 ranking – a ranking he held without threat for a record 237 straight weeks. The top ranking and the three titles he treasured the most – Wimbledon, the French Open and Olympic men’s singles gold – were all in the possession of Nadal. He lost the Wimbledon final 9-7 in the fifth set to Nadal, lost the French Open final in the second-most lopsided men’s final ever, and the year before he was also humbled by Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals, with the Djokovic camp claiming “the King is dead.”

The 2009 Australian Open final was a bitter pill for Federer. He lost an epic five-setter to the man who was taking away everything he wanted. After his 7–5, 3–6, 7–6(3), 3–6, 6–2 loss to Nadal, Federer could not contain his disappointment and could not compose himself in his post-match runner-up speech. Uncontrollably, he began to cry.

Nadal, showing incredible class and respect for the occasion and for Federer, hugged his biggest rival after receiving the Norman Brookes Trophy as the champion. He acknowledged his rival’s pain.

You know that an event crosses into the main stream of the public consciousness when Don Imus, the controversial American radio talk show, talks about it on his “Imus in the Morning” program on 77 WABC in New York and now on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox Business television network. Imus, however, surprisingly did not have kind, mushy words for Federer and his emotions, calling him a “blubbering, cry baby sissy boy” following his loss.” Said Imus of his Federer’s fifth-set effort, “He folded like a cheap lawn chair” and of his runner-up check, “He won $700,000 and he is sobbing like a sissy-boy.” Anyone who listens to Imus knows that his “schtick” is to make fun of just about everyone to get a laugh. The hard-nosed New York audience responds well to his critiques, jabs and barbs. No one is safe, including the great Federer.

Nadal’s effort was one of the best of his career, if not in the entire history of the sport. He won his semifinal match against Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4 in 5:14, the longest match in the history of the Australian Open. Said Imus of Nadal after winning the men’s final and semifinal in a combined time of 9 hours, 37 minutes, “If anyone should be crying, it should be him!”

To view the emotional and touching post-match ceremony from 2009:

Clijsters comes through again, reaches Open semis

Kim Clijsters pulled off another upset that didn’t really look like one. Now, she’s only two wins from a U.S. Open title hardly anyone could have seen coming.

The mother of 18-month-old Jada, Clijsters dismantled 18th-seeded Li Na, 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals Tuesday, punishing China’s top tennis star with deep, stinging groundstrokes that were part of a game that looked about like it did when Clijsters retired two years ago.

Or maybe better.

The 26-year-old Belgian is back at the U.S. Open for the first time since 2005, when she won the tournament, and now has a winning streak of 12 matches at Flushing Meadows. Her next match will be against the winner between No. 2 Serena Williams and No. 10 Flavia Pennetta.

Clijsters has already beaten No. 3 Venus Williams and two other seeded players, and nothing seems like too big a stretch at this point.

“I’m glad I got through it again, stayed focused on my game,” Clijsters said. “I wanted to be aggressive and I think that’s what helped winning those important points today.”

The few important points there were in this one came midway through the second set, after Clijsters had lost a break to turn a 3-1 lead into a 4-4 tie. Li responded with four unforced errors to give away the ninth game and the match was over a few minutes later.

Clijsters became the first unseeded player to make the U.S. Open semifinals since Elena Dementieva in 2000. Clijsters was unranked because she hadn’t played enough tournaments in her comeback to get on the board, but she’ll be in the low-50s or better when the next rankings come out.

As efficient as she has been—moving better now than she did when she was constantly battling injuries toward the end of her last stint—her run through this tournament might also be seen as a statement about the state of women’s tennis.

Serena Williams is the only top-five seed left. Three of the players on the opposite side of the draw—the “Melanie Oudin side”—are ranked 50 or higher, joined by No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki. All are playing in their first major quarterfinals.

“I saw her when she came back in her first tournament,” Li said, referring to Clijsters. “I knew she was at a high level. She’s much stronger than other girls, so I knew, if she was going to come back, it must be a strong comeback.”

The men’s tournament, meanwhile, is going much more to form.

Roger Federer breezed through his fourth-round match Monday with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 14 Tommy Robredo for his 38th straight win at the U.S. Open. The world’s top player is going for his sixth straight title at Flushing Meadows.

Clijsters’ match was followed by one between No. 2 Andy Murray and No. 16 Marin Cilic.

Third-seeded Rafael Nadal, winning less impressively so far—possibly because of an abdominal injury that caused him to call for the trainer in his last match—had a match against No. 13 Gael Monfils later Tuesday.