US Open: Serena Stands Strong, US Men Go Down, and Novak Springs a Surprise

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By Bill Simons, Lucia Hoffman and John Huston

JUST WONDERING: If football folks can call Johnny Manziel “Johnny Football,” why can’t tennis fans call Roger Federer “Roger Tennis”?

BUSINESS AS USUAL: Going into the second week, Serena Williams is the last American player left standing in singles—and she hasn’t lost a set.

FELINE PROWESS: After her third-round win, Serena was asked if her leopard-print dress meant that the catsuit she wore here in 2002 might make a comeback. “That’s a good question,” she said. “We all loved the catsuit. At least I did. I saw it the other day in my closet. I was nervous [when I wore it] because it hadn’t been done before.”

NOT EXACTLY BOLD AMERICAN LEADERSHIP: While American men’s tennis may be at an all-time low, ESPN’s Greg Garber noted that John Isner and Sam Querrey—both of whom lost today—aren’t exactly gripped by a sense of crisis. For example, Isner has said, “I just focus on myself. I’m not worried about the whole state of American tennis. I am just doing what I can do, as best as I can. Simple as that.”

THIRD TIME’S NOT A CHARM: For the third straight year in New York, John Isner lost in the third round to the same player, Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.

AND A CHILD SHALL LEAD US—UNDER THE AFRICAN SUN: No one’s more spontaneous or uses on-court interviews or the press room in a more fun-loving way than Novak Djokovic. Not only is he often a light-hearted prankster on court after matches, both Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova have crashed his press conferences pretending to be reporters.

Today, after his win over Sam Querrey, Novak finished his business-as-usual press conference and then, out of nowhere, invited a delightful nine-year-old, Zia Uehling, up to the podium to sing one of her own songs, “African Sun.”

For years Novak has been staying at the New Jersey house of Zia’s dad, Gordon, who used to play on the circuit. Zia, who was recently a flower girl at Novak’s wedding, bowled over a cadre of hardened reporters in the interview room with a sensitive-beyond-her years song. Written while she was in South Africa, it went something like this:

Look out your window on the wings of a dove

Hope’s gonna rise with the African sun

A sun is so bright in your eyes, something we don’t know today, may be coming in your way

We see you standing there, quiet and in despair

Your struggle is hard, but you go farther then you know

Even though you don’t know where to go

Look out your window, on the wings of the dove…We all can be one, play and have fun, under the African sun.

YET ANOTHER HAIR MOMENT AT THE OPEN: First Caroline Wozniacki‘s racket got all tangled up with her long braid. Now Jim Courier, while commenting on Milos Raonic‘s somber ways, said, “Raonic emotes like his hair.”

THAT WORKS FOR US: A couple of adept Americans—John McEnroe and Jim Courier—doing commentary together.

IS IT JUST US, OR…As the Open reaches its middle stages, that eternal question comes to mind—”Where’s Rafa?”

ALEKSANDRA THE GREAT?: Playing her sixth match at Flushing Meadows this tournament, Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic, 21, used rangy, flowing shotmaking, dynamic serving, a clutch sense of touch, and speedy defense to dismantle Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets, becoming the second qualifier (along with Mirjana Lucic-Baroni) to reach the second week.

The match grew dramatic when Kvitova overcame a break deficit to pull even at 4-4 in the second set. The powerful No. 3 seed began barking “Podj!” and charging the net more frequently in an attempt to impose dominance over her younger, less experienced opponent (who currently sports braces on her teeth). But the young Serb who some fans call “AK-47” made some tremendous saves on a point at 30-30 and hit a lovely angled backhand pass at deuce on her way to a pivotal final break.

Krunic went into the tournament ranked No. 145. She admitted to being surprised by her own “calm” while defeating Kvitova. “I was trying to take positive things from the crowd,” she said. “I didn’t expect that so many people would cheer for me … I cannot say I’m trying to stay on the ground, because I don’t think I’m going to change. I’m trying to believe it, but when I believe it I’m afraid I’m doing to have so [many] emotions. My coach is already screaming and jumping, and I’m trying to stay away from him … I think I pushed myself to my limits.”

Asked who she cheered for in this year’s Wimbledon final, Krunic said Kvitova, adding, “I like Petra a lot as a person. She’s very down-to-earth and I respect her a lot. I like when I can say hi and talk to the players who are much higher-ranked than me and I don’t feel such a difference in our levels. Because we’re still all human beings, and that someone is doing a better job in tennis than me doesn’t mean we’re not on the same level as people.

It’s an honor to be on the same court as Petra.”

SHE’S STRONG AT ARMSTRONG: Playing her last two matches at Louis Armstrong Stadium, 5’6″ underdog Aleksandra Krunic has taken down big-hitting seeds Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova.

ITALY 2, US 0: In singles matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Italy’s Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta have spoiled the hopes of veteran American Venus Williams and post-collegiate US hopeful Nicole Gibbs. One silver lining: Gibbs did beat Italian Francesca Schiavone in Cincy.

GO FIGURE: The New York Post tallied the 100-percent success rate of four women in US Open night matches: Maria Sharapova (17-0), Martina Navratilova (14-0), Chris Evert (7-0), and Pam Shriver (7-0).

HEADLINES:

• ERRANI’S “COTTAGE CHEESE” SERVE TOPS VENUS AT OPEN

• FOGNINI PERFECTS ART OF OUTBURSTS

FAST STUFF: Roger Federer returned a 147mph Sam Groth serve for a winner, and Milos Raonic hit a 140mph second serve.

YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE: After beating two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, Alexander Krunic said, “Of course I didn’t expect to win.”

THIRTY-TWO GOING ON 15: “I feel goofy right now,” said Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, this tournament’s most moving success story, after dismissing second seed Simona Halep on Friday. “I feel like I’m 15. It’s crazy. I’m 32, but I don’t feel like that … I feel fit. I feel strong in my mind. I feel very excited, even after so many years on tour. That’s what I find kind of surprising. I still have so much desire.”

QUIET PLEASE, NO DJOKING: “I kicked Djoko out from the quiet room in the gym before my match with Madison [Keys],” Aleksandra Krunic said after her win over Petra Kvitova. “Today, before my match, I also saw him in the gym. We were kind of joking. He said, “Keep kicking me out if you’re playing good.”

EASY RIDER: “How does he make it seem so easy? That’s sickening for poor Sam Groth.John McEnroe, after Roger Federer scored yet another beautiful winner in their second-round match.

NEW GUY IN CHARGE: Doubles specialist Eric Butorac is replacing Roger Federer as the head of the ATP Player Council. Federer held the position for six years.

THE LONELINESS OF THE THIRD-ROUND SLAM PLAYER: Sizing up a largely-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium at the very beginning of the Flavia PennettaNicole Gibbs match, a Eurosport commentator remarked, “I hope they don’t feel lonely out there.”