Semifinals day in Cincinnati started out with John Isner taking on Juan Martin del Potro on Center Court.
Del Potro had plenty of chances on Isner’s serve in the first set, but Isner stood up to the task until playing one sloppy point in the tiebreaker to lose it.
When Del Potro broke for a chance to serve out the match in the second set, a win for him appeared inevitable. But as a result of a nervy double fault on match point and some amazing returning from Isner (yes, I really just typed that phrase), the set went back on serve. Isner took it in a tiebreak. Del Potro kicked his bag after losing the set.
In the third set, it was clear that Del Potro was mentally gone, and Isner was feeling strong. Isner broke for an early lead, and held onto it to get his third straight big win over a top 10 player.
It struck me while watching Isner up close just how tough the task of returning serve and hitting certain shots is for his body. To return serve, he goes into a deep knee bend, but he can’t really get low enough to reach certain balls and get a good reply on them. He could improve his return game, but with his size, the odds are stacked against him. I don’t know that it’s physically possible for him to become an average-to-good returner.
At any rate, it was another display of good tennis from Isner against a top player. I’m not sure what to make of his wild swings in form.
Next up, Tomas Berdych produced a very Tomas Berdych match against Rafael Nadal, folding late in both sets. As @tomasberdych would say, “Uffff.”
Despite a bit of a spotty performance against Li Na, Serena Williams advanced to the final, winning in straight sets. Li showed that she can hang with Serena for stretches, but no lead was safe for her in either set. She hit an absolutely ugly double fault on match point, second serve landing square on the wrong side.
In the final match of the day, Jelena Jankovic battled Victoria Azarenka for a place in the final.
The crowd was insane, with vocal fans of each player shouting encouragement. Jankovic took the first set after the players traded multiple breaks.
Because it was a Jankovic match in Cincinnati, it needed to go three. Azarenka fought back and took the second set handily. (And not without producing some entertaining moments in the process.)
Azarenka was the better player in the third set, and she held a lead throughout most of it, but Jankovic kept fighting — sometimes with the chair umpire.
In the end, Azarenka was too strong.
Appropriately, the last match I saw in Cincinnati in 2011 was the dramatic final between Jankovic and Maria Sharapova. Cincinnati left me with another Jankovic three-setter as my final match here. Until next time.
Quotes of the day:
Juan Martin del Potro on John Isner: “You know, it’s tough. I couldn’t close the match, and that’s it. When he got a chance, he did very well. I’m proud of him. He’s a nice guy, nice player. He deserved to be in the final.”
John Isner on Del Potro: He’s one of the better guys on tour. There’s no doubt about that. You ask anyone, and they will say the same. That’s just how he is. He’s a very, very good guy. I have nothing but the most respect for him. You know, we are good friends in the locker room. We’re always saying hi. We’re very, very cordial with each other, and he’s as I said, he’s a class act and a very good guy.”
Q: “Rafa, you have experience being successful at defending Grand Slam titles. Andy Murray‘s going to try that for the first time coming up in the US Open. What kind of advice would you offer him if he asked you?”
Rafael Nadal: “Not win. No, I am joking. No, Andy’s a great guy and a fantastic player. He really doesn’t need any advice. When you come back in a tournament that you already won, my feeling is it’s not a big, big difference. The only thing that is different and will help, you did it in the past, and when you did it one time in the past, it’s easier to do it again because you know that you can do it. That’s all.”
Victoria Azarenka, on having a lot of breaks in the match: “I don’t care about that. As long as I won the match, that’s all that matters, and I didn’t count. I noticed it was a lot of breaks, but who really cares?”
Azarenka: “I actually heard that from my boyfriend for the first time, he said, ‘Why do you stick your ass out when you play?’ I said, well, I don’t do that. He’s like, Yeah, you do. Like what? He’s like, Yeah, you do that, and he was trying to imitate me. I really don’t notice that when I do that. It’s just reaction.”
Q: “What are you most pleased about from the week and even going back to Carlsbad, about your game, kind of after Wimbledon? Like technically, specifically, serve? Movement?”
Azarenka: “Really, serve?”
Thank you for the mental image of Redfoo demonstrating that Azarenka pose.
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