Saturday September 3rd, 2011

Donald Young

Donald Young advanced to the third round of a major for the second time. (Carlos A. Saavedra/SI)

Observations from U.S. Open Day 5, where all hell broke loose. In good and bad ways.

Oh, hi, Donald Young. You did that.

If you were to ask me 12 hours ago if Young had the guts to fight off a seeded player in a tight-five setter at a Slam, let alone in a decisive fifth set tiebreak, I would have told you no. But Young did a lot to build a bigger bandwagon for himself Friday by outlasting 14th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (7), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) victory in 4 hours, 20 minutes, showing the mettle that had been lacking for so long. It was a career win for the 22-year-old and one that put him back on the radar.

But does Young have what it takes to be a top 30 player? I still have my doubts. He has tremendous hands but his serve is still a weakness and he's slightly undersized. That said, he has tremendous court sense, but his game might just need time to develop.

Another heartbreaker for Sharapova.

Once again, Maria Sharapova comes into a Slam as a favorite and once again she falls short. There was a lot to be hopeful for at this U.S. Open for Sharapova fans, as she had a strong summer and won a title in Cincinnati. But I get the sense that the Sharapova Swagger just doesn't intimidate the way that it used to, and against a veteran like Flavia Pennetta, who easily played the best match of her subpar year, the intimidation factor was virtually nonexistent.

By the numbers, Sharapova has had the best season on the WTA (she's No. 1 2 in the race rankings) and she could rise to No. 2 in the world depending on how this tournament rounds out for the other top players. But we've heard it time and time and again from players who have tasted the glory of winning a Slam: Once you win one, rankings no longer matter. It's all about the Slams, and for Sharapova, the disappointment is palpable. She'll take no solace in numbers and points.

Andy Murray vs. Andy Murray, with a little Haase on the side.

Five-set matches aren't always awesome. Sometimes they're five-set matches because they're absolutely horrible. Neither player can find a way to will himself to victory and you're stuck watching two players battle their own heads for three-plus hours. On a day that saw upset after upset wreak havoc on the draw, it seemed appropriate that the most up-and-down player on the ATP Tour found himself in quite the predicament.

Murray is his own worst enemy and on Friday he just couldn't get his legs firing for the first two sets. Sluggish and heavy-footed, the Scot was either dumping the ball into the net or watching as Robin Haase blasted winner after winner into the open court. He eventually found his legs and would reel off 13 straight games before, rather inexplicably, Haase mounted a charge down 0-4 in the fifth set to pull even at four games apiece. From there this match completely fell apart as both players became their own worst enemies, missing easy sitters and returns, and spinning in sub-80 mph serves. It was, in short, a car wreck, and Murray was lucky to get through 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4.

In like a lion, out like a lamb.

Young Americans Christina McHale and Irina Falconi slinked out of the U.S. Open with decisive losses. Falconi's loss was somewhat expected (though the bagel-stick she ate at the hands of Sabine "Boom-Boom" Lisicki was a bit much), but I did expect a better showing from McHale, who lost to No. 25 Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-3 in a night match. That said, it was a great run from the both of them and a huge confidence booster for McHale for the rest of the season. I'm still not sold on her, but she definitely made her pitch this week.

Unity in the insane asylum. It's quite something to be in an international media center during those rare moments when a single match has everyone tuned into the same channel. More often than not everyone is focused on their own storylines, their own matches and their own hurried to-do list. But the Murray-Haase debacle seemed to grab the attention of everyone, and whether it's because the end of the match was absolutely horrible or because we're all punchy and fueled by little more than caffeine, the reactions around the room put Twitter to shame. Just imagine a bunch of journalists cursing a television set with colorful variations on "You have got to be kidding me."

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