The 2017 US Open women’s final: Keys vs. Stephens


FROM THE US OPEN, FRIDAY, SEPT. 8 – Americans are quite pleased with the surprising women’s single final: the 22-year-old Madison Keys versus the 24-year-old Sloane Stephens.

Somewhat amazingly, Keys and Stephens have only played once, in 2015 Miami, Stephens out-ran Keys 6-4, 6-2. They have practiced we each other often, and say they are fast friends, but once they walk on court at the final at the US Open, they will forget about holding hands and lock in.   

Both of them have played spectacular matches during the past 12 days, swinging very hard, not giving up when you are down, running and running, believing yourself.

Keys can hit huge shots with her first serve, forehand and backhand. Stephens is very fast, and when she is ready, she can kiss the lines, being so powerful. So, she can be perfect, or she can slip. Her goal should be not to over-hit when she isn’t consistent, and when she is finally ready to attack, then she will push forward.

Too often Stephens backs off, trying to be steady. If her opponent isn’t making a ton of errors, then she has to be change tactics and be aggressive. Neither Keys not Stephens have reached a final at the Grand Slams before. They want it so bad to reach the final that they can taste it. They are very, very good, but one of them will be a little too nervous and make too many errors at the end. If Keys is patient when she needs to be, she will win. If Sloane is willing to go for it when it is super tight, she will win. A toss up, but a very fun one.

Nadal vs del Potro: rematch on the US Open

FROM THE 2017 US OPEN, FRIDAY, SEPT. 8 — Do you remember the last time that Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro played in the semis of the 2009 US Open? The Argentine crushed him, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, and he went on to win it all. Then, the Spaniard said that obviously, Del Potro played as well as he could, but that it was very unusual, and that he was in the zone. In a sense, he was right. Now, Nadal has won 15 Grand Slam titles, and DelPo has only won one.

DelPo has been hurt for the past seven years. Had he been healthy the whole time, the tall man might have won 5-10 Slam titles. But he has not, so he has to forget it about it.

In a sense, he put the injuries behind him. He shocked Roger Federer two days ago, and four days ago, when he was sick, he still managed to overcome Dominic Thiem in five classic sets. His huge serve and gigantic forehand are on top of the ball, and he is very smart. His so-called weak backhand has improved, and he really likes to slice and keep it low.

Nadal has improved, too, with his two-hander backhand, which he hits deeper and a little harder than in years past. For sure, the lefty smokes his heavy forehand, and he is extremely fast. Most importantly, he changes his serves: left, right, in the middle, twisted and flattened out.

They have played each other 11 times, all pretty close. Nadal leads 8 to 5, beating him at 2007 Roland Garros, at 2009, 2011 2013 Indian Wells, and at 2011 Wimbledon, among others. DelPotro not only blew out Nadal at the 2009 US Open, but last year in the Olympic Games, he edged Nadal 5-7 6-4 7-6(5) in the semis and in 2013 Shanghai. On Friday night at the US Open, it will be super close.

If it goes five sets, Nadal will exhaust him, but if DelPo starts immediately in the first set and he is touching the lines, then he will frustrate the Spaniard. No one will get nervous because both of them have been around for a long time. You have to think that Nadal will go for it towards the end, hoping that he will tire Del Potro. The same goes for DelPo, who will think that eventually, Nadal will get shaky and he will start to push the ball. Whoever is ready to pounce with the fans jumping up and down will move on into the USO final on Sunday. The winner will be favorite, no matter if Kevin Anderson or Pablo Carreno Busta wins the other semi. 

Star-spangled semis: Four American women

Photo: Mal Taam/MALTphoto

FROM THE US OPEN , SEPTEMBER 9 – American CoCo Vandeweghe pulled off an amazing victor overcoming Aga Radwanska 6-4 in the third set of the third round. Then she out-stroked Lucia Safarova in two tough sets. On Tuesday, she walked on court again, and rose up, edging the then No. 1, Katarina Pliskova. Those were three fine victories. A few years ago, Vandeweghe was barely so-so, and now she concentrates, all the time. She is not only strong, but faster, and smarter. Vandeweghe desperately wants to go even deeper at the USO.

Next up is Madison Keys and the two Americans know each other pretty well. Keys, who finally stopped being so disappointed when she wasn’t playing well, continues to battle, and she managed to push down No. 4 Elena Svitolina. Floridian Keys is a massive hitter, from her backhand to her forehand to her first serve. Over the past few years, she has played fantastic and then loses emotional control and falls off badly. Finally, she is maturing.      

Once again, both of them love to bash the ball, and hit some gigantic serves. Whoever becomes gutsy will win the match. 

Venus Williams vs. Stephens

We all know that Sloane Stephens is on a roll. She beat Domi Cibulkova and Anastasia Sevastova in three sets, because she is moving so well, is very confident when she has an opportunity to hit deep groundstrokes. She can run forever, and she likes going down the line.With about a doubt, Stephens has played fantastic over the past six weeks.

She and Venus Williams have played once at the ‘15 Roland Garros first round with the younger American winning 7-6, 6-1. Williams didn’t play great, and it was on clay, so this is completely different.

Venus has won this tournament twice, in 2000 and 2001. She played fantastic, but it was a long time ago. As always, Williams has a fine backhand, a big first serve and she is super cagey. She can bother Stephens because she can be quite patient. Of course, it will go three sets. Of course, they both want to win — badly. At the end, it will be who is willing to kiss the lines. Toss-up? Maybe.

Picking the US Open Women’s Draw

The First Quarter

No.1 Karolina Pliskova almost won the 2016 US Open, but Angie Kerber took her down, 6-4 in the third set. The Czech has played pretty well recently. She has improved a lot over the past two years. She is a little bit faster, she crushes the ball and she is very good at the net. Here, she is one of the favorites to win her first Grand Slam. But, at times, she can get angry and be off her game.

Pliskova might have to face against Shuai Zhang in the third round, which could be difficult, but she should get through. In the fourth round, then she will have to play ball. Assuming that Kristina Mladenovic gets through, then the Frenchwoman will be set to attack Pliskova. Mladenovic loves to come into the net, and while she isn’t very fast, she can create angles.

In the quarters, there are five players who can challenge the Czech: the good veterans – Svetlana Kuznetsova, CoCo Vandeweghe and Lucie Safarova – and the two very young players, CiCi Bellis and Anett Kontaveit. Pick the teenager Bellis, who is rising super fast, to move through the early rounds. But, by the time she hits the quarters against Pliskova, she will tap out.

The Second Quarter

There are lots of possibilities.

Elina Svitolina has played extremely well this season. She recently won Toronto, smoking her backhand and forehand. She is very determined. However, she has yet to go deep at the majors.

She might have to face Daria Gavilova in the third round, who has reached the final in Connecticut. She is small, but she loves to play and she is super fast. But Svitolina will move on, and then she will go up against Madison Keys, who is finally happy again. The American is ready to go on the court and stay there for hours. Both Keys and Svitolina want it bad, and in the end, Keys will hit harder and she will reach the quarters.

Guess who will play against Keys? How about the RG champion Jelena Ostapenko? The young big swinger hasn’t played great on the hard courts, but she knows what to do: powder the ball and hope it goes in. Without a doubt, if she faces against Angie Kerber, she will win in the fourth round, because the German is mentally gone.

Can Keys beat Ostapenko? Toss-up, as both of them are aggressive all the time. Give it to Keys, in a great marathon.

 

The Third Quarter

Ms. Garbiñe Muguruza is the favorite, hands down. She won Wimbledon, and she just won Cincy. She is on fire, and while she can get mad and pout, her first serve, forehand and backhand are very, very good.

Who can upset Muguruza? Maybe Petra Kvitova, if she is really back. But the two-time Slam champion hasn’t played well at all during the last five weeks and she has a tremendous amount of work to do. Possibly Venus Williams, but the former No. 1 is up and down on hard courts. Caroline Garcia has gotten better, but is not yet a real threat to top players. And then there is Caroline Wozniacki, who has played very, very well this season, but once she reaches the final, she really backs off.

It has to be Muguruza, hands down.

The Fourth Quarter

Well, well, what a great contest coming up in the first round with the five-time major champion Maria Sharapova versus the No. 2 Simona Halep. Sharapova is just coming back, and if she can be healthy, maybe then she can win another major. But until she is 100 percent physically, she will struggle.

But she is better than Halep. The Romanian is 0-3 in matches this year when one win would have given her the top ranking. She has frozen and played very badly, going down very quickly. Just last week, Muguruza destroyed her in the Cincy final, dashing her third shot at No. 1.

Remember in the 2014 final at Roland Garros? Sharapova beat Halep 6-4 in the third. Maria rose up at the end, and Halep pushed the ball. At the USO, both of them will be nervous, but Sharapova – if she isn’t hurt – will continue to attack. Halep will back off. Sharapova will win.

Who will reach the quarters? Look to Jo Konta, Ana Konjuh,or Sloane Stephens. Pick Stephens, who is lights out right now.

Elina Svitolina wins Toronto, smacks Wozniacki

FROM TORONTO, THE ROGERS CUP, SUNDAY, AUGUST 13: Now Elina Svitolina is the top of the charts.

The 22-year-old blasted Carolina Wozniacki 6-4, 6-0 to win Toronto. Admittedly, she was tired, because day after day, she has to run back and forth, side to side, forward and back. She is very strong and determined. She barely slept last night, maybe three to four hours, which is incredible. She was showing the effects of beating three strong players: Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep.

During the first set, Svitolina was up and down. Her forehand and backhand were pretty good, but she was a little late. Her serve was decent, but she could not kiss the lines. She was terrific at the net, bending very low and going the other way. At 4-4, Wozniacki looked pretty tired, too, while Svitolina kept pushing. She broke taking won the first set,

In the second set, the Ukrainian was almost perfect. She woke up, her legs returned, she attacked quickly against the Dane. She rarely hit an unforced error, while Wozniacki was super frustrated. She wasn’t going anywhere, and she was totally gone.

The former No. 1 Wozniacki has reached six finals this season — which is fantastic — but lost them all. She doesn’t know why she can read her opponents’ strokes. Overall, she isn’t aggressive enough and she freezes.

Svitolina has won five titles this year and thinks she can win the US Open. She hasn’t been close, but now, she knows that if she really believes that if she can play 100 percent, then she can knock down anyone.

Incredibly, the No. 1 ranking will be up for grabs by five women, according to TV commentators. Besides the Toronto finalists, current No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber and the almost-there-but-can’t-convert Simona Halep could all be the top woman by Sept. 11.

She wants to sleep soon, but she is so, so happy.     

“I was very, very tired after the first game of first set. And I knew that I need to give everything because Caroline doesn’t miss much,” she said. “You have to work really hard to get unforced error from her. I just decided I’m going to just play every ball and just leave everything on court. And that’s why, emotionally I was relieved when I won the first set, and then was playing better and better in the second. I really couldn’t believe that it all finished and I’m holding the trophy.”

Svitolina: ‘The mental part is also a very stable’

FROM TORONTO, THE ROGERS CUP, SATURDAY, AUGUST 11: Elina Svitolina is already pretty close to winning a major. But first, she has to really believe in herself. The Ukrainian has been darn good this season, she is already No. 5, winning Rome, Istanbul, Dubai and Taipei City. In Dubai, she took out Caroline Wozniacki in the final. Guess what? They will clash on Sunday, an extremely important event here at the Canadian Open.

In this event, Svitolina has beaten two terrific players here, who had great Wimbledon results: Garbine Muguruza and Venus Williams.  On Saturday, Svitolina crushed Simona Halep 6-1 6-1. She was strong, and Halep was exhausted.

At Roland Garros, Svitolina thought she could go very deep and actually win it. She won the quarterfinal first set against Halep, thought she could nail it during the second set and move ahead, but she stopped, and Halep out-though her, winning 3-6 7-6(6) 6-0. She cried then. But, on Saturday, she locked in, showed her power and was ready to be patient.

“In Paris it was very difficult to have that loss, but I think it also was the experience,” Svitolina said. “So that’s why, from the first point today ‘til the last point, I was very focused and I was just 100 percent on every ball. I just learned. I learned from that experience that you need to play until the last point and, you know, just one point at a time. There will be nerves, but that’s how you need to try to manage them and to put them in the right direction. You know, to don’t push the ball, go for the shots and move your feet quickly. Because every player is different, but you need to know what happens with you when you are very stressed. So I try to learn this from the experience.”

Svitolina is very rugged, has a fast but varied serve. She can mix it up and bash it. Last year, she was pretty decent, but the 22-year-old needed to change a couple things and become substantial better. Her forehand, her backhand and the lob are forceful.  

“I’m more consistent with my game. With the mental part is also a very stable,” she said. “Yeah, it’s just the small things. I’m 22 years old, so I’m always changing. And I see some things differently than, one year ago, two years ago.So just something clicked together and it’s working.”

The same goes for Wozniacki, who has now reached six final tournaments this season. Without a doubt, she has been super consistent, but when she reaches the final, she gets nervous, and then she panics. Is she the favorite here on Sunday? It is hard to say. Svitolina beat her in February, but the 27-year-old Wozniacki has been on the WTA Tour for 10 years. That is a very long time. She knows all the other players, she knows exactly what she has to do, but in the finals, she becomes too conservative.

This time, she cannot, or Svitolina can blast her and destroy her forehand. Caro is so quick, she knocks it back all the time. Her backhand is so consistent, especially crosscourt. His first serve is much better now, and occasionally, she puts away the volleys.

At the press conference, a journalist asked: “It’s your sixth final of the year and you’re still looking for your first win. Does that weigh on your mind at all?”

Caro said, “No, not unless I get asked about it (with a laughter.) So I put myself in great positions and I’m going to try and make the most of it.”

Sloane Stephens: ‘Everyone else is, like, huffing and puffing’

FROM TORONTO, THE ROGERS CUP, THURSDAY, AUGUST 10 — Sloane Stephens is coming back strong, upsetting Petra Kvitova and Angie Kerber in Toronto. While she was off for almost a year, she increased her practicing and got better.

American Stephens was hurt last year and had foot surgery. She stopped playing in August 2016. She returned to play on the WTA Tour at the end of last June.

“It’s kind of like I’m just starting my season and everyone else is, like, huffing and puffing. I feel good,” said Stephens. “Obviously I haven’t’ played, so I’m really looking forward to getting on the court every time I step on the court and just happy to be out there. And not that the other girls aren’t happy, but they’ve already had a really long season, and it’s been tough for them. So maybe that’s a little bit of an advantage.”

The 24-year-old reached the semis at the 2014 Australian Open, upsetting Serena Williams before losing against Vika Azarenka, who won the event. She cracked the top 10 that year. She didn’t do much in 2015, but in 2016, she won Auckland, Acapulco and Charleston before her injury stopped her stellar progress.

She said that before she came back at the tour, she practiced a lot and she is trying to improve.

“There was a lot of things I needed to improve. I was on a peg leg for, like, 15 weeks, so I couldn’t do anything,” Stephens said. “I was walking on that stupid thing. And then when I first started actually hitting on the court again, like, I couldn’t run full on. I couldn’t do anything.

“So, it was just like a lot of slow feeling and working on stuff. So, I had a lot of time to work on a lot of stuff that I didn’t want to work on. I had time to improve, keep playing and you have really good results.”

She will face against Lucie Safarova, who has already beaten Dominika Cibilkova and Ekaterina Makarova, on Friday.

Karolina Pliskova: ‘Maybe the pressure is a little bit bigger’

FROM TORONTO, THE ROGERS CUP, WEDNEDAY, AUGUST 9: Karolina Pliskova is now No. 1. But she hasn’t won a Grand Slam yet, the monkey also on the back Caroline Wozniacki who went years with that notorious distinction.

Obviously, this situation can be awkward, because she has come close to winning the major, like last year at the US Open, when she lost against Angie Kerber, 6-4 in the third. She didn’t choke, but she hesitated, and she got a little bit nervous, and she backed off.

Pliskova is so much more consistent now. Three years ago, when she wasn’t playing well, she would check in and out. Now, she is composed and can keep her flat shots in the court. Her consistency has increased and she can mix it up, deep and very short, and on the lines.

“I feel more experienced now,” she said.

This season, she has been pretty good, but not great. She won Brisbane, but then she lost in the quarters against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the Aussie Open. She won Doha, beating Wozniacki. At Roland Garros, she reached the semis, but then she went down to Simona Halep in three sets. On grass, she won Eastbourne, taking down Wozniacki. At Wimbledon, in the second round, she lost to Magdalena Rybarikova. Bye-bye.

“Everything still the same,” Pliskova asked about being No. 1. “Still going out for practices and still want to win every match. So, maybe the pressure is a little bit bigger, but that’s normal, you know. So, just counting with that and nothing has changed.”

She will play against Naomi Osaka on Thursday.

MORE FROM THE ROGERS CUP

Wozniacki and her close friend Aga Radwanska will face off on Thursday. They have played each other 16 times, with the Danish being a little bit better, up 10-6. In 2016, Wozniacki beat her in Tokyo, 6-4 in the third. In Wuhan and Beijing, Radwanska was the victor. In 2017 in February, Caro beat Aga in Doha. Last year, they were both pretty hurt but are in much better shape now. We say it’s 50-50 between there fantastic friends on Thursday.

Venus Williams will go up against Elina Svitolina tomorrow night. Venus came pretty close to winning Wimbledon again, but she is getting slower. While her first serve and backhand are phenomenal, her problematic forehand is still up and down. She is better than Svitolina. Maybe Venus is looking to grab the No. 5 spot from Svitolina. … Garbiñe Muguruza was so-so last week, but she is incredibly confident. She can still get too frustrated. Can she win Toronto and the US Open? Maybe, but first off, she has to face Australian Ashleigh Barty who is getting better and better. … Sloane Stephens is back, upsetting Kvitova 76 36 62. She was out for nine months but returned at Wimby and now showing constituency and strength again.

Aga Radwanska: ‘I’m fresh, so I’m also happy’

FROM TORONTO, THE ROGERS CUP, TUESDAY, AUGUST 8 – Aga Radwanska has been a WTA mainstay for many, many years. In 2007, 10 years ago,  she shocked Maria Sharapova in the US Open, which was stunning because the American/Russian was winning all the time. But Radwanska was very young, super thin and she wasn’t powerful enough to dominate a Top 10 player.

Radwanska strengthens are in her legs; she is very fast and bends down so low. Also she can deposit her backhand deep in the court and can mix it up all day.

But she has yet to win at a Grand Slam. She did reach to No. 2 in 2012. At Wimbledon, she reached the final, knocking off Maria Kirilenko and then Angelique Kerber in the semis, finally losing against to the great Serena Williams in three fun sets.

At the Aussie Open in 2014, Radwanska was very consistent, her forehand was stronger and she was confident at the net. She reached the semis, and she was ready to grab the trophy. But she backed off her shots and lost to Dominika Cibulkova. In the ’06 Australian Open, Serena crushed her in the semis. The only way to upset S. Williams would be to jump on the ball immediately, rather than waiting, which she did not do, and the American blew her out.

These are also great times personally for the Pole as she just wed her longtime boyfirend and hitting partner Dawid Celt.

When Radwanska is very happy, and she was feeling very good, she can push herself. Or she can get better, especially with her weak second serve, and to continue improve her forehand, which is decent, but she has to smash the ball crosscourt.

On Tuesday in Toronto, Radwanska  beat CoCo Vandweghe is straight sets.  She is health again, and she moved inside the courts all the time. But over the last year, she was injured, all the time, but she won’t stop, at least for a couple weeks. This season, she should have pulled out for a long time, but she couldn’t.

“Playing all the time with no breaks — you want to keep going, it’s hard to make the decision that you want to stop and have a break. I didn’t, I just keep going, I didn’t want to not play anything just pushing yourself, and you’re doing injections, you can’t play, you’re skipping those weeks that you’re at home so you’re not practicing at all. Especially the Grand Slams, I didn’t want to not play Paris, Wimbledon. I had a really bad virus, before grass — I was even thinking not play Wimbledon, but I was like, there’s no chance I’m not going to play [a] Grand Slam. You’re pushing yourself, but every day you’re feeling better and better, and I was able to play great matches. And then, there was the foot again, and more injections, and I didn’t play for two weeks. … But I’m fresh, so I’m also happy that I’m playing good tennis with little preparation.”

If she wants to win a major, she will have to change the tactics, like going more to the net often, and immediately go for her shots against the excellent competitors, or she will loses in the final rounds of the majors.

She won her round of 16 match by crushing Timea Babos 6-0, 6-1. However, this week, she has to be patient and not be maudlin. 

Bouchard: ‘Some days I feel like I’m better at dealing with it’

FROM THE ROGERS CUP, TORONTO — Genie Bouchard is up and down this year. When she is into it, she can move from corner to corner and be effective. But, when she is mentally out of it, she can spray the ball. Hopefully, in the next five weeks, she will play great on the court and she will start belting the ball.

In the court, that is.

Three years ago, Bouchard was coming fast. She went deep at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She didn’t win, but she was right there. She was young and fresh. She was ranked No. 5. But at the end of that year, she began to slip. She fell, way down. She has yet to comeback. Somedays, she looks pretty good. Other days, she collapses.

Let’s look at the good news: If Bouchard becomes more consistent and confident, then she can return to the top 10. But she has a long way to go. She is currently ranked No. 70, which is not great, but at least she has put together two good tournaments: she reached the semis at Sydney, upending Dominica Cibulkova, and she reached the quarters in Madrid, surprising Maria Sharapova.

Those were two good wins, but other than that, she can get extremely nervous.

“Well, look, Serena still says she feels nervous before matches. So I don’t think it’s ever something that any athlete completely masters. I think it’s more about how well you deal with it,” Bouchard said. “And it’s just an ongoing battle, really. Some days I feel like I’m better at dealing with it than others. I’ve learned more and been able to maybe detach it a little bit and really make it. ‘Okay, this is my job and it’s not, so personal.’ But it’s an ongoing process. It’s something I’ll always have to deal with for the rest of my career.”

NOTES
Sloane Stephens took out Yulia Putintseva in three sets. Stephens is just coming back. Slowly, slowly. … Petra Kvitova didn’t play very well in California, but she looked aggressive and consistent on Monday in Canada. I would think that very soon, she will come back into the Top 10. … Domi Cibulkova has had a very tough year. She is straining. … Barbora Strycova wiped out Kristina Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman looked spry in May and June, but now she is backing off. … What a great win by the 31-year-old Varvara Lepchenko, who upset the RG champ Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 in the third. Lepchenko has been playing at the WTA for 16 years, which is a very long time. But without a doubt, she plays as much as she can and if she locks in, she could push herself extremely deep at the end of the summer.