Ah, Super Saturday. I always have to go to work on this particular tennis-packed day, which I guess has saved me from the misery of Roger’s past two five-set losses to Novak Djokovic. Cold comfort, certainly.
But let’s look at the line-up in Arthur Ashe, with the men’s semifinals starting at 11:00am:
Tomas Berdych vs. Andy Murray
Novak Djokovic vs. David Ferrer
And at 7:00pm, we have the women’s final: Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka.
Vika and Serena had wildly different semis on Friday, with Azarenka battling through an always determined Maria Sharapova in a tight three sets: 3-6, 6-2 ,6-4. I was rooting for Maria in this one – I’ve developed a soft spot for her in her post-shoulder-surgery years – but I admired Vika’s poise and grit on the court. She showed the mindset of the number one player in the world, and I think this battle will only help her when she faces the ultimate test – and yes, “the real No. 1” – in Saturday’s prime time final. Serena “owns” Vika, enjoying a 9-1 winning record against her. Azarenka needs all the self-help she can get, and she knows it, too, judging from her comments after Friday’s match:
Q. Why is she (Serena) so difficult for you?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, first of all, if you look at our record it says it all. I mean, I haven’t won in any last meetings, so I definitely need to find something to surprise her tomorrow, because she’s in a great form, you know, feeling really confident right now. You know, she has everything on her side.
Q. Do you go out on court with confidence against her? Because, you know, game to game it seems like you should play her a lot closer than you have the last two years.
VICTORIA AZARENKA: I guess. I mean, in Wimbledon I feel like the match was, you know, a lot closer. . .
Q. Do you go back through the archives though and look at any video footage of yourself against Serena in the next 24 hours?
VICTORIA AZARENKA: Well, I don’t want to be depressed. . . (Laughter.) I mean, there is not really something that you can look at.
As for Serena, I think Steve Tignor said it best after her semifinal blowout over Sara Errani:
“This is where we are with Serena Williams at the moment. She wins a Grand Slam semifinal 1 and 2 and people are praising her opponent for making it that tough on her. What’s next? Giving the women she faces a two-game head start in each set?”
Hey – that’s not a bad idea! But seriously, I’m not saying Azarenka has no chance on Saturday night. Serena’s loss to Sam Stosur in last year’s New York final, and her nervous loss to Razzano in the first round of this year’s French Open, show that she can become entirely and unexpectedly vulnerable in Majors. As she joked in Friday’s presser when a reporter commented on her drama-free progress this year: “Hey, it’s not done yet.”
Before we say goodbye to Maria for a while, I wanted to share these snippets from her post-match presser. Nice stuff:
Q. Jimmy Connors was saying last week that no matter what you do after you’re done playing, nothing is going to be like being out there in front of 25,000 people showcasing your talent.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I agree. There is nothing in life that gives you that ‑‑ it’s like that moment that you experience. You know, the losing is always not fun, but the victories and everything just happens in moments; whereas in other careers I think it’s such a different process. I always, you know, try to compare it to maybe other careers where, you know, you can be such a great actress or a model, but if nobody puts you on a cover of a magazine, you can be so good, extremely talented, but your career is always in the hands of other people. It’s just so difficult to think about. Or sometimes you can be kind of so‑so, and then you’re made into a star. So it’s such a unique situation. I was in a position where I was out of the sport and I got to do many things, but there’s nothing like being in that moment. I mean, as tough as these days are, it’s always so gratifying when you’re sitting in a press conference at the end of winning a Grand Slam, you know, and talking about how you got to that point. You can talk all day. It’s such a great feeling. . . I’m so happy I’m not in any other career. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.
Q. Are you going to stick around for fashion week or do you head home or what do you do?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t know. I have been in the city for three weeks. It’s been a while. But I’m looking forward to checking out the ice cream truck that’s around the corner from my hotel. It’s been haunting me. (Laughter.) I’m telling the driver, like, Get out of here. I can’t look at you anymore. So I’ll have time for that. But other than that, I think I miss home and I just want to be in a home atmosphere for a little bit.
Q. What flavor?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles.
Speaking of sweets, I tried to buy some Sugarpova tennis gum balls today only to discover that they’re sold out. So her second career as a candy-peddler isn’t going so badly, either.
Onto the men.
This is the first Major since the 2004 French Open that hasn’t featured Rafael Nadal and/or Roger Federer in the semifinal line up. Three of the four guys taking to the court this Super Saturday have never won a major before.
As dominant as Novak Djokovic is, with his five Major titles and amazing play throughout this tournament, I think the rest of the field still has a chance at the title. As great as he was vs. Del Potro in the quarters* Novak may be due for a let down in the next match or two. Then again, the same could be said – actually, shouted through a megaphone – about his semifinal opponent, David Ferrer, after his epic, physically brutal victory over Janko Tipsarevic. Both Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych have also displayed their brilliance and determination in NYC, particularly the testy Czech, as he took out Roger Federer in the quarters. Will that performance give him an edge over the Olympic Gold medalist, or is Murray finally too close and too confident to his first ever Major victory to let this opportunity slip away?
We may miss Roger and Rafa this weekend, but I don’t think we’ll be missing out on drama.
Finally, congrats to the Bryan Brothers for winning the US Open doubles title on Friday, taking out the capable team of Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek. This is the Bryan’s 12th Major title as a team, a new Open Era record.
Chest bump time!
*In a previous version I mentioned Del Potro wrestling a third set from Novak. Yeah, that never happened! Don’t know what I was thinking, but it was a bit late when I watched that match 😉