This has been a memorable U.S Tennis Open for me even if I didn’t get to watch the finals and the players I was rooting for both wound up as runners-up. However, for different reasons,I am not in the dumps about the result.
The match of the tournament, of course, was Roberta Vinci’s shocking upset of Serena Williams in the women’s singles semi-finals. Commentators have been trying to think of past upsets of this magnitude and they have failed. The closest, they agree, was Helena Sukova’s ambush of Martina Navratilova in the Australian Open semi-finals in 1984 when Martina was gunning for a Grand Slam. But, unlike Sukova, who was an up and coming player and later had a decent singles record, Vinci is hardly known to tennis fans except as a doubles specialist. I myself had never heard of her before Friday’s semi-final and it is no wonder that she was a 300 to 1 underdog. I tuned in to the match rather late and was amazed that it had gone to three sets. Even as I watched the final set unfold, I still thought that Serena would pull it out. Then , as the set wore on, as Vinci hung in there and ran Serena ragged before finishing off rallies with delicate half volleys and drop shots I began to have second thoughts. I had started watching without any particular rooting interest , so sure was I that Serena would win, but Vinci won me over when, after a winning a marvelous 16 shot rally, she gestured to the crowd exhorting them to cheer for her play too. From that moment on, I was for her and, I think, so too were many in the crowd at Flushing Meadows. Such a pleasure to see her repertoire of shots, so rarely on view in women’s tennis today. Such a pleasure to see her candid oncourt review after the match and share in her joy at this unexpected victory. I was hoping that she would pull off one more upset against the higher ranked Panetta in the final but it was not to be. I was otherwise engaged and couldn’t watch it but by all accounts it was an enjoyable one, marked throughout by class and sportsmanship and capped by Panetta’s announcement of her year-end retirement.
As for Serena, I’m sure she will win more Grand Slams and pass Steffi Graf on the all time list but another such opportunity for all four Grand Slams in a calendar year is a long shot. I saw a photograph of Serena from some years ago and she looks to have put on weight; at age 34 ( the same age as Roger Federer) one wonders how much she has left in the tank. The power game is still there but I thought she was winded by the extended rallies. The pressure she was under definitely was a factor in her defeat but so too was her conditioning, or lack thereof.
The articles in the N.Y. Times about these matches have attracted a lot of comments with some expressing their appreciation for Vinci and Panetta’s playing style and knocking Serena’s demeanor and others characterizing such sentiments as racist. I am firmly in the first camp and racism has nothing to do with it. I was a fan of the Williams sisters when they first came on the scene and I always thought Serena was the more talented of the two even when Venus was beating her. Knowing their impoverished background and the difficulties they had to overcome made me admire them. Since then, however, I have flip-flopped about them often. In Serena’s case, I was charmed to read that she speaks French fluently and is well read. However, her meltdown some years ago at the U.S Open when she berated and threatened a helpless lineswoman and her surliness after defeats were off putting. So was her on -court behavior, the screaming and fist pumping and loud grunting ( I hate that in Sharapova too) have turned me off, permanently.
The Mens singles final was delayed and was not available on TV because of conflicts with regularly scheduled programming; so I did not see Novak Djokovic turn back Roger Federer in four sets. From the newspaper accounts, it seems that Federer was not able to replicate his form from previous rounds. Earlier, he had been masterful in handling the big-serving John Isner and in utterly demolishing Stan Wawrinka. I had hoped he would continue to play at that elevated level and win his 18th Grand Slam but it was not to be. Novak was just too consistent and Roger failed to make the most of his chances. Novak is so good a player that Roger has to be absolutely flawless to even stand a chance; anything less than his best just will not be enough. Too bad but, from Roger’s post match comments, it looks like he will be around for some time more and we can continue to enjoy the beauty of his game. Who knows? Perhaps he can recapture the magic one more time and make it 18 and 8.