rare feat

Vera Zvonareva’s Run at US Open and Wimbledon Was no Fluke – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

A Familiar Face & a First – When the last ball was struck at the final major of the year, the fans at Flushing Meadows saw two of the game’s biggest stars crowned the victors in what was an historic US Open. On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters secured her third consecutive US Open title, putting on a clinic as the pre-tournament favorite easily brushed aside Russian Vera Zvonareva without even breaking a sweat. Hopefully Clijsters will be able to use this experience and find her way to another major title at one of the other three Grand Slam events. But as great as Clijsters’ championship run was, the bigger praise has to go to Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard had a mediocre summer by his lofty standards, but he saved his best for when it really counted. His win in New York saw him complete the career Grand Slam, and at the age of just 24, he’s the youngest to have accomplished the rare feat. The standout player of 2010, fans can only look forward to seeing what he’ll do for an encore in 2011.

Second Fiddle – While few ever remember those who finished second, it’s worth recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of both US Open singles finalists Vera Zvonareva and Novak Djokovic. Many thought that Vera Zvonareva’s run to the Wimbledon final was a fluke, but her finalist appearance in New York seems sure to suggest that she has officially put it together and is a legitimate threat to win a Slam. As for Djokovic, he’s essentially been the forgotten man for the better part of the year, despite his ranking always being within the top 2-4. With his captivating win over Federer in the semifinals and new-found fighting spirit, he’s reminded the rest of the tennis world that he is a major champion, and a second championship title may not be too far around the bend.

Double the Fun – In what has to be described as the best summer of their careers, the Bryan Brothers ended the Grand Slam season where they began – in the winner’s circle. They took their ninth major doubles title (3 behind the all-time leaders of Newcombe/Roche, and 2 behind Open Era leaders the Woodies) over the highly-praised pairing of Pakistani Aisam-Ul Haq Qureshi and Indian Rohan Bopanna. Still the top-ranked doubles duo, odds are good that they may yet break the record for most majors as a team. On the women’s side, the less known combination of American Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan triumphed in their second straight major, dismissing both of the top two seeded teams en route to the title. So while American fans may be lamenting the state of tennis in the United States, there appears to be plenty to still smile about in the doubles arena.

Best Few have Seen – Many are aware of the multitude of streaks compiled by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Justine Henin, etc., but even the longest of win streaks by any of these stars pales in comparison to what Dutch player Esther Vergeer has managed to accomplish. The sensational wheelchair tennis star defeated Daniela di Toro love and love to not only win her fifth US Open Championship, but her 396th consecutive match! Her incredible run has done much to continue to raise the profile of this fascinating sport, and if you haven’t had a chance to see it, take the first opportunity that you can to do so. These athletes are truly an inspiration to all.

Raise the Roof – A hurricane wasn’t the culprit this time around, but for the third straight year, the men’s final was postponed to Monday. To make matters worse, Monday’s final suffered yet another lengthy rain delay that forced it to a second television network in the United States, and very nearly a third. Needless to say, there have been further grumblings about the need for a roof. Rumor has it that the USTA is looking at the possibility of building a new stadium with a retractable roof, and tennis enthusiasts around the globe sincerely hope that the USTA will see this through. It can’t afford more of these Monday finals, nor can it afford to lag behind the other majors.

Agassi Praises Federer

It was highly appropriate that Andre Agassi was the man to hand Roger Federer La Coupe des Mousquetaires as the 2009 French Open champion. With his win, Federer completed a “Career Grand Slam” and made claim to being the greatest tennis player of all-time with this 14th major singles title – tying the all-time record set by Pete Sampras. Federer became only the sixth man to win a Career Grand Slam – with Agassi being the last man to complete the rare feat, also at Roland Garros 10 years earlier in 1999. Following his 2005 US Open final-round loss to Federer, Agassi praised Federer as the best player he ever played. The following excerpt from Rene Stauffer’s book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com) documents Agassi’s remarks.

Following the match, Agassi had the highest of praise for Federer, calling him best player he ever faced. “Pete (Sampras) was great, no question,” Agassi said. “But there was a place to get to with Pete. It could be on your terms. There’s no such place with Roger. I think he’s the best I’ve played against.” Said Federer of Agassi’s comments, “It’s fantastic to be compared to all the players he’s played throughout his career. We’re talking about the best-some are the best of all time. And I still have chances to improve.”

Federer, fighting off the partisan crowd and a determined and inspired Agassi, said he felt the match was lost in the third set. “I’m amazed that I did it and that it’s already over,” he said just after the match. “Agassi was like the fish that had gotten away from me.” Next to Martina Navratilova, Agassi was the only living-legend still active on the tour. “Playing against him while I am at the peak of my career and his is coming to a close, in New York of all places, and in the final of the US Open-that was probably the most impor­tant match in my life.”

Federer was not resentful-or surprised-of the biased crowd that cheered so vociferously for Agassi. “I was prepared for the worst but it was harder than I expected,” he said of the crowd. “I hoped that there would have been more applause when I made good shots, but I understand the crowd. The stars were in the right alignment for Agassi to potentially end his career like Sampras or Ivanisevic by winning a Grand Slam title.”