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Sep 9th, 2008, 11:36 PM
U.S. Open: Final Grades
by Steve Tignor
http://tennisworld.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/09/sw.jpg (http://tennisworld.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/09/sw.jpg)The 2008 Open floated in on a wave of good vibes and youthful energy. The glow of the Olympics—remember those summer nights with Nastia, Michael, and Usain?—could still be felt as the players, fresh from Beijing, took over the courts at Flushing Meadows. By the end of the first week, the added excitement of revolution was in the air as a walking forest of young male players briefly loomed over the men’s tournament.

Two weeks later, it felt much more sober and sensible around the National Tennis Center. Halfway through the tournament, the amateur passion from Beijing had given way to the hard calculation of presidential politics. Evening after evening, the Open bumped up against pomp and circumstance from Denver and a brand-new culture war from St. Paul. The promising youth of Flushing Meadows, including top seeds Ana Ivanovic and Rafael Nadal, was dismissed. Depending on your point of view, the final weekend felt either like a monarchical restoration or The Empire Strikes Back.

Or maybe, since school is in session again, it was just time for the seniors to assert their positions for another year. With that in mind, it’s time to give everyone their grades from the last two weeks of work.

Serena Williams
I watched Serena’s first-round match, against Katernya Bondarenko, in Ashe Stadium. Over the next two weeks, no one would command that vast stage quite so thoroughly and casually. More important, Serena was sharp right from the start, even if she didn’t need to be.

I watched Serena again in Ashe a week later, at night, when she beat her sister. This match, with its savage, full-run, corner-to-corner exchanges, proved that the Williamses continue to set a bar that the other women have yet to reach. When they play like this, there’s no one around today who can match their speed and shot-making, not to mention their bloody-mindedness. This one went to two tiebreakers and was essentially a toss-up, but Serena, just a little more desperate for a win, stole it from under her older sister’s nose.

In the final against Jelena Jankovic, Serena commanded Ashe with her physical power alone. Opponents must feel a certain intimidation factor even when she’s walking with that slow-footed gait between points. As far as her game, Serena hit with more margin and patience than I can remember seeing from her in recent years. The screaming forehands and backhands didn’t need to land near the lines to make their point. Her returns, which she hit with something bordering on disdain, set the tone for Jankovic’s service games, rather than the other way around. Even when she got tired and frustrated and faced four sets points at the end of the second, it only served to show how stubborn Serena can be when she’s on the brink of defeat.

Rather than a sign of things to come or a full-time return to form, every Williams title over the past three or four years has been an event unto itself, maybe to be repeated, but nobody knows exactly when. I don’t believe that their longevity is due to the fact that they have “outside interests” or that they’re more well-rounded than the other players. I also don’t think you can say they’ve done it “the right way,” as if their method should be imitated.

The Williams sisters are unique among tennis players, in their background and ability, and they’ve used that to write their own career narratives without regard to anyone else’s expectations. They skipped the junior circuit as kids. They’ve held themselves aloof from many players and never pretended that they thought any of them are as good as they are. They’ve let their interest in the sport wax and wane. They’ve set their own goals, even is they’ve been slightly inscrutable to the rest of us. And they’ve plowed ahead without letting the subsequent criticism change them in any perceivable way. Serena seemed surprised but not overjoyed about becoming No. 1 again. Instead of reaching for outside validation in a computer ranking, she said she “just tries to do her best.” That’s the kind of old-fashioned goal—both personal and realistic—we tell our kids to set for themselves. Serena showed us that, even in a field as seemingly cutthroat as pro tennis, it can still work. A+

Roger Federer
This was the first question of Federer’s post-victory press conference yesterday:

When you came in to this tournament, for whatever reason you were brimming with confidence. Is that really true?

Federer: No, I mean, I was coming here happy being an Olympic champion. I think that's what really made the big difference. If I wouldn't have played doubles at the Olympics, say, you know, I would have come here with three sort of maybe tough losses, you know.

But with the Olympic gold in doubles, it really sort of made me forget about it, and just sort of come in here and enjoy this tournament.

“Enjoy this tournament”: Those are words we want our athletes to say, but we also know that competition is serious business. Most players put too much on the line to merely “enjoy” a tennis match, and those who do typically don’t become champions.

But Federer has, throughout his career, made competing seem like less of a chore than the last great champion, Pete Sampras, did. Federer likes to win, of course, but he also likes good sportsmanship, likes the other guys on tour, likes to experiment with every type of shot and play every part of the game as well as he can. His variety and flourish make other players’ games look grim—obligatory—by comparison.

There was one thing Federer, like everyone else, didn’t seem to enjoy very much: losing. The few times he lost during his run at the top made him mopey on court and mumbly afterward. Having to fight to win seemed a little alien to his nature. As he said in Australia, winning had become a "monster," the expectations an albatross around his neck. But losing the pressure of No. 1 has liberated him for the moment. Federer reveled in his Olympic gold like it was the first win of his career. When he fell behind to Igor Andreev at the Open, he suddenly found himself enjoying the challenge and facing it down, rather than nursing some vague sense of grievance or disappointment. Yesterday Federer said the Andreev match was the key to his tournament, and it offered the moment I’ll remember most from the 2008 Open: The sight of Federer bending forward to let out a full-body scream and fist-pump, and then standing back up with a bashful, surprised smile on his face. After being told for years he was too passive in defeat, Federer had found his own, slightly self-mocking, way to fire himself up.

http://tennisworld.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/09/rf2.jpg (http://tennisworld.typepad.com/photos/uncategorized/2008/09/09/rf2.jpg)The consensus long-term stories from this Open are that Federer is back on track to pass Sampras’ Slam record, and that his win was a tale of vindication, a slap back at the doubters and critics who jumped off his bandwagon this year. Yesterday, when he was asked if this title felt like “redemption,” Federer made a quizzical face and said he didn’t understand the word in this context. Just as Serena didn’t need the No. 1 ranking to be validated as a great player, Federer, who has reached two Slam finals this year, hardly needed to be redeemed. If there’s a longer-term story to be drawn from his win, I’d say it began with his celebrations in Beijing and continued with his exhortations against Andreev. In the past, Federer has shown us what it’s like to enjoy competing and winning, and what a pleasure that can be to watch, when everything comes easily. Now that his years of utter dominance are likely behind him, he may end up showing us how much the sport can be enjoyed, both as player and spectator, when winning is hard. A+

Andy Murray
The 2007 Open marked Novak Djokovic’s ascendance to the game’s highest echelon; this year it was his junior rival Andy Murray’s turn. The Scot seemed to grow—physically and mentally—over the course of the two weeks. His biceps got bigger with each round, as did his belief in himself. Murray showed that he can use his tricky game—as Federer said, he’s one of the few guys who can throw three totally different looks at you—to win in completely different ways. He gutted out close victories over Llodra and Melzer, ended Del Potro’s long winning streak by soft-balling him to death, and kept Nadal completely off-balance for the better part of four sets.

More than that, this Open was proof that Murray’s coaching entourage, which seemed a little absurd at the start of the year, has worked well, and his commitment to hard physical labor paid off over two grueling weeks in New York. When asked what made him proud about his Open run, Murray mentioned his improved stamina first.

If there’s a downside, it’s that, for the moment, we’ve lost Murray the character. He contains his rage on court, and he went through most of his post-victory press conferences without even a hint of a smile. That is, until yesterday. When he was asked what it felt like to receive $1,000,000 for reaching the final, Murray answered, in that deep, blank voice of his: “That’s about 10 pounds, isn’t it?” Just for a second, the far ends of his lips turned upward. He's a winner now, but he's not a boring guy quite yet. A

Jelena Jankovic
She beat only one Top 20 player on her way to the final, but Jankovic was good value once she got there. She fought Serena Williams as hard as she could while also enjoying the extravaganza—as a player and as a fan—to the fullest. Jankovic is one star who doesn’t put on airs: On Sunday night, she had glitter in her hair, but she also had a good laugh at the spectators who were trying to dance to the music in Ashe Stadium. Let’s hope it will make the 23-year-old want, a little more desperately, to experience those kinds of moments again. A

Rafael Nadal
What was the problem yesterday? You started too early? What was it?

Nadal: Probably more than 84 matches, no? It's difficult, no, every day be fresh, so I know one day going to happen something like yesterday.

Well, wasn't the best moment because it was a semifinals of the US Open, but at the same time never is a good moment, no?

If that happen one week ago in the Olympics going to be a terrible moment. If that happen two weeks ago or three weeks ago when I was fighting for be No. 1 in Toronto and Cincinnati going to be terrible moment, too.

Always is bad moment, but I'm very happy for everything. I tried my best during all the tournament. I wasn't very fresh during all the tournament. I did semifinals, so very happy for that.

Today I tried my best for try to come back to the match. I did ‑‑ well, it wasn't 100%, but I did well, so happy for everything.

I'd give him a B+ for his performance, but I'm going to up him half a grade for this answer alone. A-

Mardy Fish
He’s settled down, given up the class clown image, and built his game up to the point where he can be unbeatable. For a set. B+

Dinara Safina
Losing the gold-medal match in three sets, then getting blown away in the wind in the semifinals here. Has the woman of the summer reached her upper limit? If so, she's risen higher than most of us ever thought she would. B+

Juan-Martin Del Potro
His game has a machine-like quality, but it’s a machine with a heart. While he doesn’t have the wheels or the flair, Del Potro has the patience and desire—he broke down in tears after losing to Murray—of a champion. B+

Marin Cilic
You knew he was tall; maybe you knew he could play, too. But did you know he was that fun to watch? B

Kei Nishikori
Love the clean ball-striking and tenacious, high-energy game. B

Caroline Wozniacki
At 18, she wasready to play at the top level, not quite ready to win. B

Novak Djokovic
I thought Andy Roddick’s joking comments may have woken him up for good, but Djokovic came out flat and discouraged—almost sheepish—for his semifinal against Federer in front of the same fans who had booed him two nights earlier. I never got the sense he thought he could win, or was desperate to win, the way he had been when he beat Federer in Australia. Here, Djokovic pretty much threw in the towel at the end of the fourth set, something no one wants to see in a Grand Slam semifinal. In the Aussie Open final, he was affected by the Melbourne crowd’s reaction to his cheering section; in Monte Carlo, he went away after Federer scolded his supporters; this time he let the New York crowd get to him. Is Novak Djokovic, for the moment, a little too sensitive? B-

James Blake
Another sensitive soul, Blake didn’t like seeing his friends upbraided by the chair umpire in Ashe Stadium during his loss to Fish. I thought he might be in trouble even before that, when he said in his pre-match interview that he was looking forward not to fighting for a win, but to putting on a good show with his buddy. We all have different goals, but even the Williams sisters don’t try to put on a good show when they play each other. They try to win, whatever the emotional costs. B-

Gael Monfils
I was ready to believe in the cartwheeling acupuncture patient. Until he was scared out of Ashe Stadium by Mardy Fish. B-

The Women’s Trophy Ceremony
The men’s version was passable this year, but the women’s was the usual train wreck we’ve come to expect at the Open. A stern Mary Carillo drove Jankovic, who was in rare comedic form, away from the mike. Even worse was the general, and typical, sense of disorganization, mixed with a focus on the obscene prize money being passed out. Yeah, it’s about cash at some level, but the classy thing would be not to point that out. F

Sep 10th, 2008, 12:26 AM
Was the playing style of Venus' and Serena's really "savage?":rolleyes:

Sep 10th, 2008, 12:30 AM
The Women’s Trophy Ceremony
The men’s version was passable this year, but the women’s was the usual train wreck we’ve come to expect at the Open. A stern Mary Carillo drove Jankovic, who was in rare comedic form, away from the mike.

:haha: :yeah:

Sep 10th, 2008, 12:30 AM
Omg, I AM NOT reading all of that. :o

Sep 10th, 2008, 12:39 AM
this article as usual has to subtly insult the sisters as human beings,as usual the usual suspects are not happy with this win.I think Serena and Venus played a fantastic match worthy of a final...I know they are not happy when a sister wins and always want to diss their worth.... typical

Sep 10th, 2008, 12:40 AM
Did Elena Got over rated and got a (F) That why shes not mention :tape: even for reaching a Semi Ve got mention Even when she's in The QF :banana: I would grade her B+