Tuesday August 30th, 2011

Serena Williams

Chuckling and rolling her eyes, Serena Williams dismissed questions about her tirade in 2009. Darron Cummings/AP

Move over Irene. The time has come for Billie Jean, Arthur and Louis to command the attention of New York. We had fireworks, upsets, battles and everything in between. Here are some thoughts and observations from Day 1.

Serena Williams is over it. The press? Not so much.

The last time Serena was in Flushing Meadows to play a match, she stepped on a line (come on, she totally did) and all hell broke loose. Two years later, she's moved on, but the media clearly hasn't. The press is still asking her about that ball and that throat, and I have the feeling the questions will keep flying until someone gets an answer they like. But since Serena would probably rather be defaulted again before giving an answer like that, we're going to have to just get used to her entertaining non-answers.

Today's move: The Dodge and Snark.

"I just remember I lost, and that was that. I got really popular. A lot of people were telling me they thought I was super cool, that they'd never saw me so intense. So, yeah, it was awesome.

I don't know. I don't think about it. Are you still thinking about it? Oh, my God, that was like two years ago. This is like two years later."

No one can blame Serena's sarcasm. Really, what is it exactly that people expect her to say? She's over it and she doesn't want to get pulled back into the negativity of that moment. Heck, I don't even want to be pulled back into that moment. Two years is a long time in tennis years and so much has changed. We're all in a happy place now. Serena's moved on, fans have moved on, let's just all move on.

Nothing gets you a standing ovation like losing to Maria Sharapova.

Maria Sharapova must hate going up against Generation Next. Even when she wins she's stuck talking about them incessantly afterwards and somehow, in losing, their stock goes up. Laura Robson got a standing ovation from her home crowd at Wimbledon after pushing, but eventually falling to the Russian. Today, Heather Watson, another affable young Brit, was applauded off the court after she ran herself ragged and played her heart out to force Sharapova to grit out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 win.

It was a great performance by Watson, who played the match of her career on the biggest of stages against a three-time Slam champ. But Sharapova, aside from her trademark ability to compete (she seems hell-bent on convincing the good folks at Merriam-Webster to add "perma-fist" to the dictionary), was horrible. Her insistence on staying on the baseline instead of coming to the net to finish off points was frustrating. Had Watson stepped up on a handful of key points and played more aggressively, Sharapova could have bumped Petra Kvitova off the front page as the top seed to fall today.

Head-case players are ... well, headcase-y.

The most ominous distinction a professional tennis player can get is being labeled a "headcase." These are players who seem allergic to winning, scared that if they win, then OMG they might have to play another match that week! The funny thing about headcases: Even when you know they're headcases and adjust your expectations accordingly, they always feel compelled to remind you, sometimes in spectacular fashion.

Last year in Flushing, Viktor Troicki was up two sets to one on Novak Djokovic, before caving and practically handing the match over to his more talented countryman. This year, Troicki found himself up two sets and 4-1 on Alejandro Falla and still couldn't close it out, losing in five sets, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.

But in the worst crash of the day, Thomaz Bellucci was up two sets to love on the diminutive Dudi Sela, before losing in five sets and actually getting bageled in the fifth. If I could render a 3-D image of myself facepalming into a trophy, I'd give one to each of you.

Gael Monfils is the most entertaining player in tennis, whether you like it or not.

The Monfils Experience can best be summed up by one point from tonight's match. Midway through the second set, after calling the trainer for a leg injury, Monfils sprints from the baseline and leaps, Sampras-style, to hit a midair overhead smash. It's all setting up to be a graceful display of pure athleticism. Except Gael completely mistimes the leap and instead of hitting the ball at the apex of his jump, he's practically back on the ground by the time he hits the ball, awkwardly contorting his body to even complete the stroke. And he won the point.

Infuriating, awe-inspiring, underachieving. These are the words that come to mind whenever I watch Monsieur Monfils. He flies around the court with complete disregard for life and limb, he tries to hit, literally, the dumbest of shots in the book, and he hobbles around and calls the trainer one minute, only to chase down the most ridiculous of balls the next. It's enough to make the most die-hard of tennis fans swear him off and wonder why we should care when he clearly doesn't. But we don't swear him off and we keep tuning in because we know that in any given match, in any given point, we might see something we have never seen before.

Poor Vesna Dolonts.

Roger, Rafa, Novak, Serena, Maria, Venus. For all the one-name tennis stars that command the stage there are hundreds others you've never heard of, whose credentials seem to get scrutinized like a bouncer who suspects he's being duped by a fake ID. Vesna Dolonts, a 22 year-old Russian ranked No. 91, touched down in New York this afternoon, only five hours before her scheduled match against Venus. Her arrival was delayed by a deep run at an ITF challenger last week, and she had to scramble to replace her lost visa, getting a new one issued on Friday. With the hurricane canceling flights over the weekend, Dolonts was finally able to board a 10-hour flight from Moscow last night that arrived in New York at 2 p.m.  She arrived on site at 4 p.m., warmed up for her match, and stepped onto Arthur Ashe Stadium a little after 7. An hour and 18 minutes later, her U.S. Open was over. Rough.

Japan can't catch a break. In an hour, Kei Nishikori, Ayumi Morita and Misaki Doi all retired in their matches due to injury. This concerns me. Primarily because two nights ago I had dinner at the same Japanese restaurant as Kei and Ayumi, and heck, if I knew what Misaki looked like (sorry!) I might be able to confirm that she was there, too. So for those keeping score at home, the other player that was there that night who is still in the draw: Kimiko Date-Krumm. Get through your match, Kimiko!

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