time defending champion

Clijsters and Venus Serve up Spectacular

Well, given Venus’ penchant for a double fault last night I’m not too sure if that is the correct title.

Fans of beautiful tennis may not have been heavily impressed by the first two and a half sets but those who appreciate sheer guts and determination would have been gripped to their TV sets like never before.

The sporting cliché “refuses to lay down and die” was whipped out by both players who looked like two ageing stars playing their last Slam in terms of grit and determination to stay in the competition.

Then, with Clijsters 4-3 and 30-0 up in the third set the match exploded in to one of the most breathtaking and clinical displays of tennis seen this fortnight.

Venus showed some trademark Williams grit and clawed her way back to 4-4, courtesy of a horrifying Clijsters miss with an over-hit volley.

At this point it looked curtains for Belgian Kim. Surely her wits were abandoning her and it was time to return to baby Jada while Williams slugged it out with Vera Zvonereva for the title? Not a chance!

Putting pressure on Venus’ serve Kim began finding some impossible angles with that backhand and then produced one of the most sumptuous lobs I have ever witnessed to fight back and put Venus to the sword.

At 5-4 and Clijsters serving for the set Venus looked perilously close to tears. She, more than anyone else, was wondering how this had happened.

Venus had looked dominant taking the first set off the two-time defending Champion and when Clijsters threw away a 2-0 lead in the second it looked like Venus was to stride home in straight sets.

But Kim showed the fighting spirit which has epitomised her comeback from becoming a mother and those who claim that tennis now plays second fiddle to her family probably haven’t watched her play too often. This was definitely pride in tennis. A pride in her career and a will to give Jada something to be immensely proud of as she grows older.

The records are waiting for her. She is now unbeaten in 20 consecutive US Open matches which equals Venus’ best effort as well as Monica Seles, Margaret Osborne du Pont and Martina Navratilova. Only Chris Evert stands ahead of her on 31. Three more titles Kim and then you can stop.

Awaiting her is Wimbledon finalist Zvonereva who is gunning for her first Slam. Kim has a 5-2 record over the No. 7 seed but Vera has won both matches since Kim’s return to the tour.

A few people are backing Vera after she toppled the No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki but for me it is written for Kim to lift this. I have been wrong (many times) before but I will be gunning for Kim to keep the flag flying for working mothers above Flushing Meadows.

“I just tried to make the points and when I felt I had an opportunity to step up and accelerate I tried to take advantage,” Clijsters said in typical modest fashion.

But play it down all she likes this girl is dynamite. And come 3am tomorrow morning (British time) Kim will be lifting her third consecutive crown and taking all the plaudits once more.

Zvonereva is a quiet player with efficient and effective shot selections. She has snuck in to this final through the back door as all the talk has been of other stars. This makes her extremely dangerous. But Kim knows all about doing that from last year’s Championship. This will give her the upper hand and she’ll be too much for young Vera.

Kim to take it in three.

STOSUR GOES FROM PRETENDER TO CONTENDER: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Stosur Breakthrough – As the dust begins to settle after a fantastic, albeit wet two weeks in Paris, I wanted to take a moment to tip my hat to a handful of individuals who have proved their mettle at this year’s Roland Garros.  First and foremost, I have to start with Sam Stosur. Over the course of her career, the Aussie has shown glimpses of what could be, but her fitness was always slightly suspect and her mental toughness questionable. After stringing together some nice wins over the course of her 2010 season, however, Stosur looks like she might have finally put all of the pieces together. Her gritty win over Justine Henin in the round of 16 was impressive, but her win over Serena Williams in the quarters is where she crossed the line from being a pretender to a contender. Having lost the second set to Williams after serving for the match, as well as losing the early break in the third, the Sam Stosur of old would have crumbled.  Congratulations to her for finding her resolve, and here’s hoping she’s soon to be adding Grand Slam champion to her résumé.

Super Soderling – Robin Soderling momentarily made the world take notice when he dumped out 4-time defending champion Rafael Nadal at the 2009 French Open, but it wasn’t long before he began to fade off the radar. At the 2010 French Open, there were only mere murmurs of what he had done a year ago, but on Tuesday, the big-swinging Swede reminded everyone that he’s capable of slaying dragons on the biggest stages in the sport. Though he was 0-12 against Roger Federer, Soderling showed great resolve in his four-set, rain-interrupted quarterfinal victory over the world No. 1. Even more impressive, Soderling fought against history, as he snapped Federer’s streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. Even if he ultimately doesn’t reach the final, there’s little doubt that Soderling is looking more and more like he’s ready to make a move into the world’s top 5.

Awesome Austrian – The French Open has seen its share of surprise semifinalists, finalists, and champions, but I doubt there are too many out there who had Austrian Jurgen Melzer penciled in for a semifinal berth. Melzer has had some hard fought wins en route to his best showing at a major, as well as some stellar victories, including a straight sets win over Spaniard David Ferrer.  But the match that Melzer is to be most commended for is the match that saw him reach the semis, his come-from-behind five-set thriller over Novak Djokovic. Granted, Djokovic is a shadow of the player that he was two years ago, but any time a player fights back from a two set deficit, he is to be applauded.

Last American Standing – Props are in order for American Robby Ginepri, the only American to survive through to the round of 16. With only one tour-level match victory under his belt in 2010, Ginepri could not have come in to Roland Garros on a lower note.  He suddenly found his game at the perfect moment, however, stringing together some solid victories, including a five-set see-saw match over former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.  Hopefully for Ginepri, this is going to be a turning point in his season.

Calling Time – In an honorable mention, I have to tip my hat off to chair umpire Carlos Ramos who had the guts to call a big star like Rafael Nadal on violating the time rule between points in his match against Nicolas Almagro, not just once, but twice.  As mentioned before, one of my biggest pet peeves is that some players do get by with abusing the clock, which in my opinion, is a form of soft cheating.  Hopefully Ramos’ enforcement of this rule wasn’t a one-off and is something that will be applied more frequently across the board for players ranked both high and low.

Federer’s Basel Debut

Roger Federer hits the courts this week in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland for the Swiss Indoor Championships. Roger is the three-time defending champion at the event, but it was, at one time, an elusive title for him as it was not until 2006 that he won his first “hometown” title. Rene Stauffer, the author of the Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) details Federer’s first playing experience in Basel in 1998 in this exclusive book excerpt.

In recognition for his results in Toulouse, Federer received a wild card entry into the Swiss Indoors, Switzerland’s biggest tournament, from tour­nament director Roger Brennwald. This tournament guaranteed him a prize money paycheck of at least $9,800. The tournament took place at St. Jakobshalle in Basel’s south side, within walking distance of Federer’s home in Münchenstein. This event, played originally in an inflatable dome in 1970, is one of the most important indoor tournaments in the world that almost every great player has played in. When a virtually unknown Czech player named Ivan Lendl defeated the legendary Björn Borg in the Swiss Indoor final in 1980, it garnered major headlines around the world. The 34th and final duel between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors took place at the Swiss Indoors in 1991. Future world No. 1 Jim Courier won his first ATP tourna­ment in Basel in 1989. Stefan Edberg won the Swiss Indoors three times and Ivan Lendl won the title twice. Borg, McEnroe, Boris Becker, Vitas Gerulaitis, Goran Ivanisevic, Yannick Noah, Michael Stich, Pete Sampras and Guillermo Vilas are also champions of the event.

For Roger Federer, the Swiss Indoors is like a Grand Slam tournament. The St. Jakobshalle is the place of his dreams, like Centre Court at Wimbledon. In 1994, he was a ball boy at the event, grabbing balls for such players as Rosset, Edberg and Wayne Ferreira, who won the title back then. Now, four years later, he was a competitor in the event. His first-round match was against none other than Andre Agassi. In his youthful hauteur, Federer boldly stated “I know what I’m up against—as opposed to Agassi who has no idea who I am. I am going to play to win.”

But Agassi, the former No. 1 player ranked No. 8 at the time, was without question a larger caliber opponent than what Federer faced in Toulouse. Agassi allowed the hometown boy only five games in the 6-3, 6-2 defeat and said he was not overly impressed by the Swiss public’s new darling. “He proved his talent and his instinct for the game a few times,” the American said kindly. “But for me it was an ideal first round where I didn’t have to do all that much and where I could get accustomed to the new conditions.”

It’s Del Potro In An Upset

NEW YORK – The reign is over. Long live the king.

Juan Martin del Potro, appearing in his first Grand Slam tournament final, overpowered five-time defending champion Roger Federer to capture the US Open on Monday 3-6 7-6 (5) 4-6 7-6 (4) 6-2.

Riding a fearsome forehand that rocketed winners from way behind the baseline, del Potro became the second Argentine to win America’s premier tennis tournament. Guillermo Vilas won in 1977 when the US Open was played on clay at Forest Hills. Now, it’s on hard court, del Potro’s favorite surface, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“When I would have a dream, it was to win the US Open, and the other one is to be like Roger,” del Potro said during the on-court ceremony where he collected a check for USD $1.85 million. “One is done.”

Then, addressing Federer directly, del Potro said: “I need to improve a lot to be like you. I’d like to congratulate you for fighting ‘til the last point.”

Federer was seeking his record-tying sixth straight US Open championship and his third consecutive Grand Slam tournament title this year, having captured his first French Open and his sixth Wimbledon earlier this summer. But del Potro had other ideas.

“A dream came true,” del Potro said. “I don’t have words to explain how I feel.”

Words weren’t needed. The tears of joy streaming down his face spoke volumes.

Del Potro, who turns 21 next week, snapped Federer’s 41-match unbeaten streak at Flushing Meadows as he completely dominated his Swiss opponent who has been called the greatest tennis player of all time.

“It’s difficult to explain this moment,” said del Potro. “You know, since young I dream of this and now I take the trophy with me. I did my dream, and it’s unbelievable moment. It’s amazing match, amazing people. Everything is perfect.”

Federer admitted del Potro was the better player on the final day of this rain-delayed tournament. But he felt it was still a great year despite the loss.

“Five was great, four was great, too,” said Federer, who came into the US Open having won a men’s record 16 Grand Slam singles titles. “Six would have been a dream, too. Can’t have them all. I’ve had an amazing summer and a great run.

“I’m not too disappointed just because I thought I played another wonderful tournament. Had chances today to win, but couldn’t take them. It was unfortunate.

It wasn’t a typical Federer match. A lot of that was because of the play of del Potro, who controlled their baseline rallies with his monster forehand, which he ripped deep into the far reaches of the court or down the line, shots that Federer for the most part only could wave at or watch the ball clip off his racquet.

The Swiss superstar came within two points of taking a two-set lead. But del Potro recovered, then won the tiebreak to level the match. Federer won the third set and was up 5-4 in the fourth, again two points from winning the title while leading 15-30 on del Potro’s serve. It was the last time Federer came close as del Potro held, then went on to win yet another tiebreak.

It was only the third time since he began his championship run that Federer has had to play a fifth set at the US Open. It was the first time he has lost.

“Got to give him all the credit because it’s not an easy thing to do, especially coming out against someone like me with so much experience,” Federer said. “Towards the end, of course, up 5‑2 in the fifth. That was easy. But he had to live through some really tough moments earlier on in both breakers throughout those sets to come back. So his effort was fantastic.”

In the end, it was del Potro who dominated, the Argentine who rose to the occasion and won.

The reign is over. Long live the king.

Two days after she left the court amid a chorus of boos, Serena Williams returned to Arthur Ashe Stadium and with her sister Venus won the US Open women’s doubles title for the first time since 1999. It was the sister’s 10th Grand Slam tournament women’s doubles title, half as many as the record held by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.

The Williams sisters downed the top-seeded team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-3 6-2.

Panatta’s First Win Over Borg

There was much talk of Adriano Panatta being the only player to ever beat Bjorn Borg at the French Open in lieu of Robin Soderling’s startling Sunday upset of Rafael Nadal – handing the four-time defending champion his first ever loss at Roland Garros. Borg won six French titles in eight appearances with Panatta ending the other two Borg runs. The first Borg loss happened on June 2, 1973 – as documented below from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com). Panatta’s other win came in the quarterfinals of the 1976 French Open, where he defeated the Swede 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 en route to the title. Panatta had another salient win on this day, back in 1976 as you will also read below. The following is the entire June 2 chapter of ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY.

June 2

1973 – Adriano Panatta of Italy ends the upset run of 16-year-old Bjorn Borg of Sweden in the fourth round of the French Open, beating the future six-time champion 7-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6. Borg, playing in his first major event, plays the event seven more times in his career and loses one other time – again to Panatta in the quarterfinals in 1976. Borg’s ring of upset victims in the tournament include No. 9 seed Cliff Richey of the United States in the first round, Pierre Barthes of France in the second round and Dick Stockton of the United States in the third round. Says Stockton of Borg after his 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 loss, “He’s got a really great future ahead of him. He works really hard and is a dedicated player and he deserved to win.”

1962 – Rod Laver wins the second leg of his eventual “Grand Slam” sweep of all four major singles titles, coming back from two-set-to-love down to defeat fellow Australian Roy Emerson 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 9-7, 6-2 in the final of the French Championships. According to UPI wire dispatches of the final, “The last three sets were excellently played, and the fourth and fifth brought the 3,500 fans in Roland Garros Stadium to their feet cheering on a number of occasions.” Laver trails 0-3 in the fourth set, but rallies to take the extended fourth set before breaking Emerson twice to ride out the fifth set. The previous day, Laver finishes off a darkness delayed five-set semifinal win over fellow Aussie Neale Fraser 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, with the match being resumed at 2-2 in the fifth set. In the quarterfinals, in another all-Aussie affair, Laver saves a match point in a five-set win over Marty Mulligan. Nineteen-year-old Margaret Smith, herself who herself would capture a Grand Slam in 1970, wins the French women’s singles title, also defeating a fellow Aussie, Lesley Turner, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in the final.

1994 – Steffi Graf is shockingly dominated in the semifinals of the French Open as native hope Mary Pierce of France crushes the world’s top-ranked player 6-2, 6-2. Says Graf, “There was very little I could do. She attacked the ball, took it early, played very deep and very hard and my level of game wasn’t enough to push her to make some errors.” Pierce advances into the final with the loss of only 10 games in six matches, but falls to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the championship match.

1976 – Adriano Panatta, the No. 5 seed from Italy, saves a match point and survives a first-round scare at the French Open, defeating Czech Pavel Hutka 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 0-6, 12-10. The match becomes crucial and significant in the annals of the French Championships as Panatta goes on to win the title, becoming the fourth man to win the singles title after trailing by a match point.

1982 – Two years removed for a bout of hepatitis that threatened his tennis career, Jose Higueras advances to the semifinals of the French Open with a  6-2, 6-2, 6-2 victory over top-seeded Jimmy Connors. Guillermo Vilas also advances into the semifinals with a 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Yannick Noah of France.