Fifty parting shots from U.S. Open
This looks to be the first of many Grand Slam titles for Juan Martin del Potro
Will Kim Clijsters' immediate success motivate Justine Henine to return, too?
Rafael Nadal gracefully handled a scary incident with an overzealous fan
NEW YORK -- The U.S. Open felt like two separate tournaments. The first was an exciting, spirited 10-day party, played amid ideal conditions. The second was a soggy circus. But in the end, the sun came back out and we were treated to some compelling finals. Herewith, some scattered observations and opinions:
Juan Martin del Potro has officially arrived. One suddenly suspects the 20-year-old Argentine will add many more majors after breaking through here. In one of the bigger upsets in recent history, del Potro rallied past Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in Monday's final. Waxing Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the semifinals and then beating the five-time defending champion in the final is just a sensational result.
Kim Clijsters is your women's champ and, for all the yuks about motherhood, I submit she is playing better, smarter and more poised tennis today than she did when she became No. 1. Somewhere, Justine Henin must be thinking long and hard about her future.
For a guy who didn't win a single event until May, it's been a banner year for Federer: the French Open-Wimbledon double, the career revival, the wedding, the twins. But boy, you suspect when he reflects on his career, this final will stick in his craw, a la Pete Sampras against first-time major winner Marat Safin in 2000.
An impressive event for finalist Caroline Wozniacki, who proves there is an effective alternative to mindless baseline bashing. There are still some rough edges in need of buffing (starting with her play at the net), but it's easy to see the 19-year-old as a top 10 mainstay for years to come.
Nice to see Novak Djokovic back in the public's good graces. His tennis was first rate (ah, the restorative powers of Todd Martin!) and if this story doesn't move you, consult your cardiologist. Maybe Djokovic can lend Serena Williams his image consultant.
Though overshadowed by the final-weekend hijinks, Leander Paes and Lucas Dlouhy won the men's doubles by beating Mark Knowles and Paes frenemy Mahesh Bhupathi in the final.
The Williams sisters won the doubles title, rolling past Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the final. Venus and Serena collected three Grand Slam doubles championships this year, bringing their career total to 10.
She was a distant third to Clijsters and Melanie Oudin, but semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer rates high in the "feel-good story" department. Thanks to the quirks of the draw, her highest-ranked opponent (before losing to Wozniacki) came in the first round. It'll be interesting to see how she builds on this potential breakthrough.
A few more words about Serena-gate:
a. Opinions, predictably, are all over the map, but can we find common ground in agreeing not to demonize the line judge? Even if that woman blew the call -- and, frankly, I think she did -- no one deserves what she got from Serena. And to clarify: She didn't tattle to the chair umpire; she was asked to approach and explain what vitriol Serena had spewed.
b. This would have been obviated if Serena had been able to challenge the call. Paul Hawkins, creator of the instant-replay system Hawk-Eye, tells us that replay technology for foot faults "would be technically possible, but not something we do at the moment."
c. An NBA ref friend of mine said sarcastically, "Great feel for the match," implying an official doesn't call an infraction at such a critical juncture. Not sure I agree. Unlike basketball fouls, which are subjective, a player did or didn't foot-fault. Ignoring a violation based on the time of the match is dangerous. That said, if you're going to call a foot fault at 5-4 in the deciding set, it darn well better be unambiguous. And that wasn't.
d. Second only to the outburst itself, Serena disgraced herself with clumsy "damage control." Here was a chance to express some remorse and humility and instead we get this? Why even bother? (Williams issued another statement Monday in which she apologized for the "inappropriate outburst.")
e. On a final, lighter note, on rides to the Open I finally devoured the excellent A Terrible Splendor, which examines the 1937 Davis Cup match between Germany's Gottfried von Cramm and Don Budge of the United States. I couldn't help but chuckle at the observation that, when called for foot faults, von Cramm would thank the line judge for his vigilance and diligence.
British junior Heather Watson won the girls' event. Bernard Tomic -- whom we hear is finally ready to break with his father as his coach -- won the boys' tournament, beating Ohio State's Chase Buchanan in the final.
Now we know the answer: Nadal's knees are fine. It's the rest of his body -- his stomach in particular -- that causes concern.
American wild cards Carley Gullickson and Travis Parrott defeated defending champions Cara Black and Leander Paes for the mixed doubles title.
The USTA must figure out a solution for the rain. One patch of bad weather late in Week 2, and the tournament implodes. The answer is more complex than, "You make all this money with this wonderful event, spend some of it." But a little creative thinking is in order. Anything to avoid the debacle of Friday and Saturday. One idea: Build a cheap roof for the Grandstand, which at least will accommodate that swing match -- this year it was Nadal/Fernando Gonzalez -- that can free the schedule.
Odd stat: Only once in her career has Serena successfully defended a major title (at Wimbledon in 2003).
We're bigger fans than ever of Marin Cilic, who advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time.
A step back for the Andys. After losing 16-14 in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final, Andy Roddick fell 7-6 in the fifth set in the third round here. Sure, John Isner serves big. But Roddick needs to win that match. And Andy Murray was strangely flat, falling in straight sets to Cilic in the fourth round, making a fool of prognosticators everywhere.
The worst thing that could happen to Dinara Safina: She is still ranked No. 1.
Take note how well the players from Kazakhstan did, most notably Yaroslava Shvedova, who beat Jelena Jankovic in the second round. Sure, their recruitment was a bit sketchy (see Shvedova's interview transcript). But, as a certain mustachioed documentarian might say, "Great success is niiiice!"
Props to Robin Soderling, who nearly did the impossible, beating Nadal at the French Open and Federer at the U.S. Open.
He could not have been a more polarizing figure had he tried. And his big salary not only caused great dissent in the ranks but also undercut the USTA's "non-profit" rhetoric. But it's time to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Arlen Kantarian, the former USTA chief who helped make the Open an event, an extravaganza, and, therefore, recession-proof.
I wish I could take credit for this line about Russian players: "Not only are they willing to overcome hardships, but they insist on it!"
With Serena's meltdown, Safina's implosion, the double faults and the tears, the WTA could get a group rate on a stress-management seminar. (That, or a couch that seats about 80!)
Quarterfinalist Flavia Pennetta tells confidantes that getting "Aniston-ed" by Carlos Moya was the best thing that ever happened to her. She was devastated by a breakup she didn't see coming, dropped a scary amount of weight and took some time off. Eventually, she got it together and now feeds off that strength when she plays.
A final tip of the chapeau to Fabrice Santoro. Even after his elimination, we saw him trailed by cameras. We eagerly await the documentary.
Farewell, Marat Safin, who has mountains to climb.
And while we're on this topic, take a bow, Ai Sugiyama, a hard-working, relentlessly professional veteran who played her final Grand Slam.