FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — The luck of the draw. Heading
into a Grand Slam, all a player can do is cross their fingers and hope things roll out well when it’s all said and done. But these days, with the looming presence of The Big Four — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray — there lies the unpleasant reality that no matter how it shakes out, if you have any second-week aspirations, you’re likely going to end up facing at least one of them.
There’s no avoiding it.
“You have to get through those guys, for sure,” said Mardy Fish, who finds himself playing the best tennis of his 11-year pro career. “Obviously, Novak has done what he’s done. He’s head and shoulders the guy you really don’t want in your draw right now. Those guys, they present so many problems…You have to get through one of them…It’s very lucky if you get to the semis.”
Fish has never reached the U.S. Open semis. In fact, he’s never ventured beyond the quarters at ANY major. But at 29, he’s all but reinvented himself, climbing into the ATP’s top eight with the Atlanta title, finals in L.A. and Montreal, and a semifinal appearance in Cincinnati, where he defeated Nadal. And with the results has come a newfound confidence.
“You position yourself to get to a top eight seed and you don’t have to play one of those guys until the quarters,” said Fish. “That’s where the hard work pays off, I guess.”
The luck of the draw has brought Federer into Fish’s quadrant in New York. But the Floridian, who moved into the third round after posting wins over German Tobias Kamke and Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri, isn’t look beyond third-round opponent Kevin Anderson (the rocket-serving South African who downed Murray in Montreal) or a potential fourth-round encounter with either Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
“It’s just really exciting to be in the position that I’m in,” he said. “I’m not taking it for granted. I’m not acting like I’ve been here forever. I think that’s pretty important. Not being satisfied with your results is something that I haven’t done well in my previous years. Just being hungry to try to take advantage of every opportunity.”
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: Yet another top women’s seed went down on Friday as No. 3 Maria Sharapova was shocked by No. 26 Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in a tense, two-hour/29-minute battle. “It’s disappointing. It’s disappointing to lose in the middle of nowhere. It’s disappointing to lose in New York. Losing isn’t fun for anyone because we work to win,” said Sharapova, who hadn’t been seeded this high at a Slam since Wimbledon in 2008. “We don’t work to try to lose. So when we’re faced with a position where we can win and we didn’t in the end, it’s tough.” Penneta, who will next face Shuai Peng, said, “I was a little bit nervous when I starting to think too much about closing the match…She’s a good fighter. You can never give up with her. You have to be focused until the last game, until the last point.”
VERA FORGOTTEN?: ’10 runner-up Vera Zvonareva, who became the first of the top seeds to move into the fourth round with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues, has been overshadowed by the likes of fellow Russian Sharapova and Serena Williams. But Zvonareva says it doesn’t bother her at all to fly under the radar. “I don’t really care about that,” said the Russian No. 2. “I don’t care about what people say and what’s going on around. When I’m in the tournament, all I think about and all I care about is how to prepare myself the best I can for the next match. That’s all. Those players…deserve that attention. They are Grand Slam winners. They are great players of all times. So it’s normal. If I win a Grand Slam or many Grand Slams one day, maybe people will talk about me the same way.”
GRUNT WORK: Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price called Sloane Stephens an “anti-grunter.” Quipped Stephens, “I’m not loud or anything. My coach grunts louder than me…I’ve got to work on that. I’ve got to step it up.”
HONORING THE LONE WOLF: Hall of Famer Pancho Gonzalez will be inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions.
FRENCH FROWN: France was blessed with 14 men in the main draw, but half lost in the first round and only Tsonga, Gilles Simon and Julien Benneteau were still standing by the third round. The French women didn’t fare any better. In fact, all seven were gone by the third round, including No. 8 seed Marion Bartoli, who fell to rising American Christina McHale in the opening round.
ON-COURT BUTCHERY: Following his lopsided 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 second-round win over overmatched Argentine Carlos Berlocq, top-seeded Djokovic was asked, “How hard was this butchery that you did on the court?” So quick was the match that a fan yelled out to the Serb, “Hey, listen, I paid 100 bucks. You’re staying an hour and a half on the court. That’s a lot to pay for a ticket. Give me something so I get back home with a happy face. Give me a racket or something.” But Darren Cahill left satisfied. Said the ESPN analyst, “It was the most entertaining 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 match I’ve ever seen.”
D-YOUNG’S LIFE LESSONS: When Inside Tennis asked Donald Young — who fought his way past Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka in five sets 7-6(9), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(1) — what life lessons he’s learned at this point in his career, the 22-year-old (believe it or not he’s seven years into his pro career) said, “Don’t take things for granted. I feel like when I was 18 and I got to No. 73 in the world, the youngest in the top 100, I was top 75, it all seemed kind of easy, not realizing how much work I put into it to get to where I actually was. Life lessons? Just keep working hard. Don’t give up if it’s something you really want to do. Listen to the people you trust and you can always learn.”
MURRAY SURVIVES: No. 4 seed Murray was lucky to escape with a five-set second-round victory on Friday, rallying from a two-sets-to-love deficit to top journeyman Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-7(5), 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4. How did the Scotsman turn it around? Well, he’s not exactly sure. “Don’t know. I started moving better. I was moving really badly the first couple of sets. That meant I was making a lot of mistakes I don’t normally make. My legs were not getting me around the court like they normally do and I was out of position for a lot of balls. Once I really just forced myself to get to as many balls as possible, kind of hustled a few points and got the break in the third set. I kind of started playing better, was moving better. That’s really a big part of my game, so I think it was down to that.”
‘DOWN GOES MONFILS! DOWN GOES MONFILS!’: Bud Collins said Gael Monfils‘ acrobatic habit of on-court diving has “put him on the floor more often than a punch-drunk pugilist.”
1: Events James Blake has played outside the U.S. this year, losing to Marcos Baghdatis in the 1st round at Wimbledon.
“It’s disappointing and it’s not where I want to be, in this position, but it’s the way it is. It’s called tennis.” — Third-round loser Maria Sharapova
“I think I should not listen to her or Venus.” — Caroline Wozniacki on the relationship advice she received from Serena Williams
“I’m not Federer.” — Mardy Fish
“The more I tried to push through it, the tougher it got.” — Venus Williams on her Sjogren’s syndrome diagnosis
“It’s not going to stop her.” — Oracene Price on her daughter Venus Williams
“I really had to start from zero in every department.” — Sabine Lisicki, on her comeback from an injury