Phew, have we all recovered from so-called Super Saturday yet? Roger in yesterday’s presser: “I have to accept it and move on.” I wish I could. Thank goodness the powers that be have taken mercy on the players – and the fans – by holding the men’s final on Monday. I may be ready to watch.
But let’s try to take Roger’s advice and focus on the Here and Now at the US Open: Sunday, September 11, 2011. Right now, there are three Americans and one Kazak (King/Shvedova vs. Huber/Raymond) fighting for the women’s doubles title on Arthur Ashe. With Jack Sock and Melanie Oudin winning the mixed title on Saturday, American tennis seems to be doing just fine, thank you very much. It certainly seems that American Serena Williams, who won her first Open in 1999, and then a couple more in the “aughts” is very much the “here and now” in women’s tennis. What’s to stop her from winning a couple more Majors in the 2020s? Probably not this year’s semifinal opponent Caroline Wozniacki, who suffered a routine 6-2, 6-4 shellacking last night and appears to be resigned to the fact Serena just has more game .
“That serve was just a killer,” Wozniacki moaned in the press conference. “I was just looking and hoping the serve would go out.”
Probably not the best strategy – no wonder her coach is incognito.
Serena’s strategy going into the final sounds ominously Zen and free-flowing:
Q. You have mentioned that you get nervous. The sense of occasion tomorrow, does that make you more nervous or make you excited?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I’m definitely a little bit excited. You know, I really feel like — I know you guys are like, this can’t be possible — but I really feel like I don’t have anything to lose. I have beaten all odds. You know, six months ago I was in the hospital and now I’m in the final. So I feel like regardless of a result, I have just, you know, have been a champion for everyone out there who are fighting against all odds, and, you know, staying positive. So if I get nervous, I’ll be fine.
The one person who could stop Serena from taking the title today is Sam Stosur, who needed three sets to take out surprise semifinalist Angelique Kerber in their Grandstand-banished semifinal. Given the lack of female Major titlists in the final weekend – the Sharapovas, Li Nas, Clijsters, Venuses and even Schiavones all long gone – French Open finalist Sam Stosur is the best possible opponent for those looking for an upset, or at least some drama. Sam has a respectable 2-4 record against Williams, not counting the “wedding walkover” in Cincy, and has beaten Serena in a Major (the 2010 French Open) as well as on hardcourts (2009 Stanford). The fact that she’s competed in a Major final before, as the slight favorite vs. Schiavone, will probably help tremendously as she walks onto Arthur Ashe this afternoon as the big underdog.
Here’s hoping for a match worthy of the occasion.
So, we seem to have a “new normal” in men’s tennis, with the superhuman Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal competing for the big prizes, and Rafa finding himself on the defensive when it comes to recent results. You don’t need me to tell you that this is a really intriguing match up, especially with the “here” being NYC, where Novak faced his last big disappointment vs. Rafa in the 2010 finals. As for the “now” – Rafa put it bluntly:
Q. It’s a repeat of last year’s final. What similarities and differences do you think might be out there on Monday versus last year?
RAFAEL NADAL: Similarities is we are the same players. Differences, last year I don’t know if I had matches against him, but this year I lost last five matches against him, five finals. This will be the sixth. That’s an advantage for him. He’s obviously the favorite for the final, and I know I have to do something better than the other matches to try to change the situation. That’s what I gonna try.
Rafa was extremely forthcoming in his analysis of his recent struggles vs. the Nole the Conqueror:
RAFAEL NADAL: I am not very happy about my mental performance against him this year. That’s true, no? Because for moments I didn’t believe really 100% with the victory. That’s big problem. Because when that’s happening, you have your chances less, much less than if you believe. Because if you believe, you are running more, you are putting one more ball inside. So that was problem, and that’s what I gonna try to change for Monday. If I’m not ready to change for Monday, I have a goal to do it for next year. So I am ready to work hard. I am ready to work my tennis, to work my mental part, and hopefully I will ready for Monday. That’s what I would like. But if not, yeah, I really believe that I can come back next year and do it better.
Interesting that Rafa’s already talking about next year. He also mentioned preparations for next week’s Davis Cup semis – with Spain and Serbia playing in opposite semis, it’s tantalizingly possible that Nole and Rafa could face off in the ultimate tennis finale. (Forget the WTF!) It’s success in Davis Cup that spurred Nole’s amazing 2011 season, and the thought that he and his team may be defending the Cup vs. Rafa and Spain this year creates a mindboggling number of story lines and “full circle” style narratives. But that’s for later. Let’s keep our focus on Monday.
For Novak Djokovic, his success on Monday also comes down to belief. And he’s a believer (wouldn’t you be, after hitting that crazy forehand winner down match point?):
Q. You addressed the possibility of facing Andy Murray. If it is Rafa, what sort of challenge is that for you, knowing your history, knowing that you met in the finals last year, finals at Wimbledon, everything else? What is the key for you?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Just try to play my game. You know, I know that I have a game that is good enough to win against him. I proved that this year in three different surfaces, so I believe that I have a good chance. I need to go out on the court believing I can win. But, you know, we’re talking about a player who has won 10 majors already in his career and he’s only 25. He’s defending his title. I think last year in 2010 throughout the whole tournament and in the finals I never seen him serve better than that tournament. So I think, you know, again, depends from my serve and his serve, as well. But, yeah, it’s gonna be a tough match.
It’s going to be a tough match, a great match and a very important match as well. Now that I’m done writing this, I finally feel like I’m ready for it. Are you?
The men’s final will be shown live in the U.S. on CBS network, starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern