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Fifty parting shots from U.S. Open

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.

• Just as Federer revealed plenty about himself when that idiot accosted him during the French Open final, how telling was Nadal's playful reaction to the fan who tried to kiss him? We hear that after the match the USTA apologized profusely to Nadal. He waved them off, saying it was no big deal and hoped no charges would be pressed. Also, how do you not love a guy who loses (badly) in a Grand Slam semifinal and still signs autographs before leaving the court?

• Walking through the tunnels, I'm always struck by how many players --even winners -- are limping, grimacing, heavily wrapped. Yes, "injuries happen in sports," the fallback line for the apologists. But the emperor is wearing new attire and it is an ice pack! Might someone address this in a meaningful way?

• This was Federer's sixth different opponent in the last six U.S. Open finals. He had beaten, in order, Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

• The most entertaining match? My vote goes to Taylor Dent vs. Ivan Navarro, two serve-and-volleyers going five sets on the Grandstand in the second round. (It should have been broadcast in black and white.) You kept hearing about Navarro, the "Spanish serve-and-volleyer," and it sounded like a punch line.

• Many of you are still hammering ESPN's Pam Shriver for her awkward interview with Melanie Oudin's younger sister and her dig at Wickmayer. My take: I agree it was not her finest hour. But consider her overall body of work and cut her some slack. Plus, listening to Shriver, I often learn things, something one can't say about all of her colleagues.

• The ESPN coverage was generally excellent. Darren Cahill continues to do superior work. Mary Carillo calls it like she sees it. Patrick McEnroe brings a lot to the table. The network didn't cut away from tennis for higher-rated events. My one critique: It feels like people were playing out of position. Former players should not be doing Michael Barkann's old job at USA Network, interviewing the celebs. Patrick and John McEnroe are both great, but benefit from a Ted Robinson setting them up -- the brothers' partnership felt strained. Plus, it was awkward when Patrick McEnroe and Mary Joe Fernandez, who both draw a check from the USTA, were weighing in on the appropriateness of the tournament response to Serena-gate.

• Full disclosure: I did some work for Tennis Channel. Those who get it, love it. Those who don't get it, don't love it. Direct your outrage to your cable operator.

• Note to all broadcasters: Unless you're specifically describing melons, grapes, kumquats and the like, it's probably best to avoid use of the adjective "fruity."

Sam Querrey, your U.S. Open Series winner, bowed out quietly with a third-round loss to Soderling. Not a bad loss, but a bit of a letdown after his summer success. Still, check out Querrey's results from last fall and I'd say odds are good he finishes the year in the top 15.

• Speaking of Querrey, the documentary Unstrung is out on DVD.

• It's time to take a long, hard look at the U.S. Open Series. Let's see: It's done nothing to lure top players; in fact, the fields in locales such as Indianapolis were weaker than ever. The TV is still iffy -- big matches are tape-delayed in favor of the Little League World Series; the Cincinnati final was on CBS, yet the Toronto women's final was on ESPN. One event, in Carson Calif., has already announced a relocation and another is pending. The "bonus money" is a joke, benefiting no one other than a few players. And every four years, the Olympics throw a monkey wrench into things. We don't have the answers --apart from a suggestion to take the ridiculous bonus money, currently yielding no return on investment, and applying it to inner-city coaching and racket distribution -- but let's go back to the drawing board here.

• Not to harp on the ridiculous U.S. Open Series bonus money ... but if Elena Dementieva had won the title, she would have earned a $1 million bonus. As it was, she lost in the second round (thanks, Melanie Oudin!) and pocketed only $25,000 in bonus money. Just curious: Where does that $975,000 in savings go? (Down payment on a roof, perhaps?)

• A theme this year: "The plots change in a hurry." One early storyline was how the American men had stormed through the first few rounds, and how John Isner was a breakout star. Then, suddenly, there were no Yanks in the quarterfinals for the first time.

• If you get a chance, check out Austrian Daniel Koellerer, a third-round loser to del Potro. Primus wants its drummer back. Think we have our next bad boy.

• I'm thinking Vera (Crimea River) Zvonareva needs to drink Gatorade simply to replace the fluids she loses by crying each match.

• That yellow tape you see is for the Ana Ivanovic crash site. This has gone from a slump to a full-fledged disaster.

• Anyone else having a hard time figuring out Maria Sharapova? Fighting instincts, yes. But no matter how bad the shoulder is, don't 21 (!) double faults in a three-set loss to Oudin suggest some mental issues in need of maintenance?

• This Donald Young saga continues to deteriorate. He received a letter from the USTA essentially telling him he'd no longer have access to training assistance until he showed more commitment.

• Note to the deejay: You do a great job and your subtle music jokes are appreciated by many. But there is no place for Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy at a sporting event. Let alone a major. Ever.

• The Edward R. Murrow Award goes to the intrepid journalist who saw Andy Murray's attire and asked, "Who's Fred Perry?"

• From reader G. Miller of New York: "A little after midnight [during Roddick's second-round match against Marc Gicquel], an Open staffer roamed the upper deck shouting, 'Anyone with kids?' When I responded, he gave us green cards to go with about 25 other people and sit courtside. Although there wasn't much time left, the gesture was appreciated. It gave 13-year-old Gail Quintos the opportunity to almost brush up against the handsome Dominic Cooper, of the films Mamma Mia and The Duchess, who was leaving, and the chance to see Roddick up close, which she was still talking about on Friday night during a trip to Boston."

• We're helpless to stop the Bryan brothers media juggernaut: 60 Minutes will devote a segment to the twins this fall, hosted by Leslie Stahl. We eagerly await the book deal, reality show and action figures.

• R.I.P., Jack Kramer.

• Programming note: New England readers, I'll be giving a talk at 6 p.m. ET Thursday at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Consider yourself invited.

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