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U.S. Open marathon man (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday August 30, 2006 6:20PM; Updated: Friday September 1, 2006 1:47PM
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A match between Russian Anastasia Myskina (above) and Belarussian Victoria Azarenka had all kinds of Cold War connotations.
A match between Russian Anastasia Myskina (above) and Belarussian Victoria Azarenka had all kinds of Cold War connotations.
Al Bello/Getty Images
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4) 12:45 p.m.: Patience-Rochus, Court 12

When I last peeked over at the Battle of the Oliviers more than an hour ago, Rochus was walloping Patience 4-0 in the first set. His lead is 6-0, 6-2, 3-2 now, and the crowd is starting to drift away from this match over to Nalbandian-Berrer. Rochus rips another backhand winner, 40-15. Yawn. Meanwhile, the crowd behind me is getting more excitable. (The standing-room only is three-deep.) I'm off to investigate.

5) 12:50 p.m.: Nalbandian-Berrer, Court 11

I am too late. I filter inside just as Berrer has won a second-set tiebreaker 6-2 to draw within 4-6, 7-6. As both players settle into their chairs, it dawns on me that I haven't checked out the women yet. Better go soon before I'm branded a sexist.

6) 12:56 p.m.: Santangelo-Raymond, Court 4

We're all goose eggs in the first set and the crowd could not be less engaged. The majority of them have lined the bleacher steps for a bird's eye view of the action on practice courts 3 and 4. Rumor has it Andy Roddick is practicing. The onrushing heard of teenage girls bearing down on me on my way to Court 7 practically confirms it.

7) 1:34 p.m., Myskina-Azarenka, Court 7

My second foray into the women's side of the draw yields the most animated match of the day -- emotion that I'm happy to chalk up to good ol' post-Cold War tension. Victoria Azarenka is from Belarus, while Anastasia Myskina hails from Russia.

So great was the tension, it felt like the only thing keeping the two from blows was the 78-feet of blue court that separated them. On one side you had Azarenka, grunting like a felled goose as she labored to pad a 4-3 lead in the first set. On the other, the more muted Myskina, her body language bespeaking a player two years removed from winning the French Open and trying to stave off first-round elimination for the second year in a row.

When a double-digit rally that ended when Myskina's forehand missed long of the baseline, Myskina smacked a Wilson clear over the wall behind her into the Court 9 bleachers. (The chair ump issued her a warning.) Azarenka would respond in kind on the next point, after losing it on an unforced error.

She cried something in what I can only guess was Belarussian and spiked her racket to the floor -- then spiked it once more upon losing the game. This is getting too real for me. Time to motor.

8) 2:03 p.m., Monfils-Russell, Grandstand

I've heard and read the word "wiry" used a lot of time when describing athletes of varying musculature, but none are probably more deserving of the tag than Gael Monfils. From the shock-absorber muscles that coil his 6-foot-4 frame, to the finger-in-socket fro that crowns his head, Monfils, even at a standstill, looks like he's on the verge of motion -- like a sprinter in crouch.

In Tuesday's rain, Michael Russell of the U.S. had the Frenchman sliding and skittering from endline to endline. He'd find his footing a day later, in the third set trading blows with Russell in a furious rally that left me flailing upon conclusion. Not because of Monfils' glorious winner, which extended his lead to 6-2, 3-6, 3-0, but because of a bee that had buzzed into my personal space.

A kindly woman rose to my defense and popped a towel at the offending insect before sharing a hearty laugh with her friends. No time to stick around to see if it came at my expense.

9) 2:35 p.m., Federer-Wang, Ashe Stadium

If you hadn't a clue of the stronghold Roger Federer has on the men's game and wanted to get a sense of who was the better player between him and Yeu-Tzoo Wang of China, you'd find all the answers you needed just by glancing at the photographer pit.

Of the 20-odd lenses peering from the pit, maybe two looked off the reigning U.S. Open champ to snap a shot of Wang, his first challenger. While the paparazzi slept, Wang was quietly putting together a nice run, even punctuating one furious rally in the sixth game with a back-turned, between-the-legs thwack that drew a gasp from the crowd.

Federer countered with a drop shot winner on the way to a 4-2 first-set lead.

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