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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grading the Pros: US Open Series Review

Maria Sharapova - Sloppy Success (8/10)
Maria is a player that truly decides her own fate in a match. When she's on point, she's great, but when she's bad, things get ugly. You wonder how she can be losing when her opponent has hit only three winners, and then you notice another statistic: she has 40 unforced errors...You might question the 8 out of 10 I've given her considering she exited Stanford in the quarterfinals and Toronto in just the round of 16, but there's more to Sharapova than the results. She peaked when she needed to and dominated play, taking Cincinnati by storm and denying Jankovic what could have easily been her title. Her wins weren't always pretty, but the aggression and passion are there and she's starting to look like the stone-faced champion she used to be. Also, you can't say her Stanford performance was too awful considering she lost to Serena—a player she hasn't beaten since 2004. All in all, she picked up her game at the end of the series and, if she keeps the double faults to a minimum, she could ride that momentum into a deep US Open run. Might she make the semis or better of a grand slam for the third time this year? The decision is hers.

Caroline Wozniacki - Worst Performance (2/10) 
What can you say about a world no.1 who loses her opening matches in two premiere tournaments in a row? You laugh and say something is wrong with the ranking system, but I digress. Caroline Wozniacki is by far the US Open series' biggest story and biggest failure. She lost to Roberta Vinci in Toronto (read "Sweet Caroline's Bitter Struggles" here) and to Christina McHale in Cincinnati, both in straight sets, both 6-4 7-5. What? Clearly she entered the tournaments with the wrong game plans and will need to get her head back on her shoulders if she wants to do well in New York; well, that and figure out how to hit a forehand. I can't give her a 1 out of 10, however, because I'm certain she'll do well in New Haven (again), unless of course McHale decides to ruin her day a second time. But should we really praise the world's best for winning at Yale? A title is a title, I guess... but it's not a grand slam trophy, and unless Wozniacki really turns things around now that she's dumped her father as a coach, I don't think she'll be hoisting one of those three weeks from now.

Jelena Jankovic - Most Improved (5/10)
Just when you thought Jelena Jankovic had given up on tennis, she decides to show off her skill again. Out of no where, JJ was buzzing around Cincinatti with as much defensive prowess as she did three years ago, slicing, lobbing and launching lethal backhands at will. It's been awhile since Jankovic has impressed anyone (she lost in the first round of Toronto) so it was refreshing to see a little life in her game. She is the easiest choice for "most improved," but I want to see more than just a one tournament surge. She has made the US Open final before and I want to see it again—I just won't make any bets on it just yet. Like Wozniacki, she needs to do more than just push the ball back into the court or else big hitters will trounce her when they find a rhythm. And for goodness sake, JJ, remember to use that backhand! (Read "Serb-Resurgence" here)

Serena Williams - Series Champion (10/10)
She won Stanford and Toronto as an unseeded competitor, she rose in the ranks from 160 something to 29, then she ditched Cincinnati for the Kardashian wedding (don't lie to us Serena... we know). Everyone knows she's back. Everyone knows she is a force to be reckoned with. She's the clear US Open favorite and the definite US Open series champion. Ladies and gentlemen, Serena Williams. (Read "Unstoppable Serena" here)

Vera Zvonareva - Head-Scratcher (6.5/10)
Known for being a headcase on tour, Vera Zvonareva messes with our heads too. Do we ever really know what to expect from her? She has the game to beat just about anyone, and the same game to lose to just about anyone. She won a tune-up tournament in Baku, then used that confidence to make the final of Carlsbad where she lost to Radwanska. Obviously, then, she lost to Radwanska again a week later in the round of 16 in Toronto, but then regrouped to make the semifinals in Cincinatti. Life is always full of ups and downs for the current top Russian, but what does that say about her chances in NYC? She made the final last year and, though I don't think she'll go as far,  I expect another good result this year. Overall she had a fairly good hardcourt series and earned a solid 6.5 out of 10.

Petra Kvitova - Lackluster (3/10)
After Wimbledon, I didn't know how Petra Kvitova would handle her newly acquired champion status. Would she crack under the pressure or continue her flawless play? Unfortunately, it was the former. She botched her appearances in both Toronto and Cincinnati, losing to Andrea Petkovic in both during the round of 16. Petkovic is a great player, but she is someone Kvitova should be able to go blow for blow against, especially considering the German's streaky play. Instead of being the calm and collected star we saw win Wimbledon on an ace, Kvitova played some really lackluster tennis. Maybe she'll rise to the occasion at the US Open.

Christina McHale - Cinderella Story (6/10) 
Ranked 66th in the world and only 19 years old, McHale gained a lot of fans this past week. The American earned the best win of her career by defeating a sluggish Wozniacki 6-4 7-5. How did she do it? Simply put, she out-Wozzy'd Wozzy. McHale put everything back into the court and played clean, forcing Caroline into long and exhausting rallies. The difference? When given the opportunity, McHale switched from rallying to attacking, and she did it with shocking success, especially when she clobbered forehands and backhands up the lines and out of the Dane's reach. She may have lost in the next round and she might not have done well in any other tournaments, but beating the world no.1 definitely deserves some recognition.

Other mentions:
Agnieszka Radwanska - Miss Consistent (7.5/10)
Good results. Nothing astonishing.
Li Na - Post-Clay Struggles (3/10)
She needs to make it past a second round soon,
Samantha Stosur - Finding Form (7/10)
Doing better, but still can't beat Serena.
Andrea Petkovic - Burnout (6.5/10)
She beats the players she shouldn't, then fizzles to someone she should beat.
Victoria Azarenka - Silenced (6/10)
She may grunt loud, but she hasn't been making much noise lately. Best match against Serena all series.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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