Things We Learned on Day Seven of the US Open


1. Inside Tennis interviewed Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou:

IT: Was it the greatest sports prediction ever when Richard Williams said that both of his daughters would become No. 1 players?

PM: I wouldn’t say that it’s the greatest prediction, I would say that he’s the greatest coach of all time. From what I know, no one else in the history of sports raised two different children to become No. 1.

2. Jeff Sackmann took a look at how the Hawk-Eye challenge rates differ by tour at Grand Slams, finding that there is a higher rate of challenges for ATP players, even after controlling for the discrepancies in sets played.

The structural difference doesn’t entirely account for the gap. For instance, there were roughly 90 men’s matches and 90 women’s matches played on Hawkeye courts in Melbourne this year, and the men’s matches averaged about 60% more points. Men challenged calls once every 32 points, while women challenged once every 37 points.

That’s not quite as dramatic as the 2:1 ratio we started with, but it’s still notable, and it has remained consistent throughout multiple slams this year.

One possibility is that men challenge more because, on average, they hit the ball harder, particularly on the serve. The harder the shot, the tougher it is for everyone to see exactly where it lands, and the greater likelihood of disagreement. To corroborate, it would be interesting to know whether chair umpires are more or less likely to overrule in men’s matches.

3. As a hardcore tennis observer, I always get annoyed by personality-driven (rather than tennis-driven) “rivalries.” Case in point: tonight’s match between Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens. The only reason I can think of for calling these two “rivals” is because they don’t like each other (spare me their spin from this week complimenting each other). I fail to see how Stephens beating a hobbled Serena at the Aussie Open makes this any sort of actual tennis rivalry. And the match showed that. The outcome was never in doubt. I understand the need for the tournament and the networks to promote the match as a big test for Serena, but I think the other tennis media should know better than to encourage that stuff. It’s intellectually lazy.

4. I was bummed for Tim Smyczek today, not because I care about the success of American tennis, but because it was hard to see him fight so hard for five sets, only to fold at the end. It would’ve been nice to see him pull through, as someone who works hard and plays above his talent level. To enter the top 100 for the first time in his career as a result of his run here (He still can, depending on Challenger results from next week) would’ve been a sweet payoff.

Juan José

1. I fail to understand the point of the Tennis Channel’s existence if they’re going to do something like what they did tonight. On the legendary Grandstand court, Tim Smyczek entered a fifth set against Marcel Granollers, and thus, was trying to avoid making more and more infamous history for American men’s tennis (if he were to lose, there would be no American males in the fourth round of the US Open for the first time in the Open Era). At the same time, Novak Djokovic was wiping the floor with his surprising third round opponent, Joao Sousa from Portugal. Which match do you think was shown on Tennis Channel?

Djokovic-Sousa, of course.

The atmosphere on Ashe was stale, and nobody could possibly blame the crowd for being bored by the spectacle. On Grandstand, the atmosphere was electric, as the crowd did their best to push Smyczek over the finish line.

On one court you have a star playing a boring match, and on another you have a fun battle that’s entered a do-or-die fifth set. Also, this five-setter had historic implications on the line. And yet, the former was chosen in favor of the latter for the vast majority of the Smyczek-Granollers fifth set.

It’s truly depressing when I’m forced to write that it’s a shame CBS didn’t have the night session as well as the day session, since they were doing a great job by showing tennis on both the main network as well as their CBS Sports cable channel.

A note to the Tennis Channel: you’re the only channel devoted to our sport. Hence, when you get a chance to show what’s magical about tennis, do show it instead of persisting with the star-driven telecasts that are inevitably pushing tennis further and further into obscurity in this country.

2. I did some LiveAnalysis for the Serena Williams – Sloane Stephens match, so all my thoughts about that can be found here. Since I was doing that, I couldn’t catch any of the dramatic three-setter between Carla Suárez Navarro and Angelique Kerber. My wife, however, did, and I asked her to share her thoughts here:

While much of the tennis world was watching the Serena/Sloane match, I found myself sucked into the third set between Suárez Navarro and Kerber. Overall, it was an incredibly entertaining set of tennis. What struck me the most, though, was how sound Suárez Navarro’s tactics were. She did a great job of pulling Kerber wide on her backhand corner, and she’d finish points with some stunning down-the-line forehand winners. I found this pattern pretty remarkable since 1) I think Kerber has a strong backhand that she defends well with and 2) When I think of Suárez Navarro, I think of her classic one-handed backhand. But in the third set, I felt like she won this match with her forehand. She did a great job dictating with it, and quite a few points ended with winners off that wing.Now, she didn’t always execute the plan to perfection, but she continually put herself in the position to win points.

After such a hard-fought third set, the tiebreak ended up being rather anticlimactic. Kerber’s backhand, in particular, really let her down at the start as unforced error after unforced error leaked off her racket. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed watching those two women battle, and I can certainly understand why Suárez Navarro was so happy after the match ended. I only wish more people could have viewed it.

3. Many kudos to Fila for making this fantastic dress for Jelena Jankovic:

Unfortunately for good taste in tennis fashion, Jankovic lost to Li Na 3 and 0, and thus her dress will no longer dazzle a tennis audience starved for decent tennis attire.

4. These are the quirks that make you love tennis: earlier tonight, Agnieszka Radwanska opened her fourth round match against Ekaterina Makarova by winning the first four games. The Russian lefty responded by taking the next eight (!!). I asked Twitter if Radwanska had ever lost that many games in a row before, and I got these responses:

Anyway, the streaks weren’t over: the No. 3 seed at this year’s US Open ended the rut in style, by winning the next 3 games. Makarova answered by winning 3 games of her own. What followed? The simple, usual pattern of a tennis match that had somehow been avoided so far: each player held serve to end the match.

Ah, tennis.

5. Tomas Berdych has yet to lose a set at Flushing Meadows this year. Last year’s semifinalist made quick work of Julien Benneteau today, and will have to face Stan Wawrinka in the next round. Stan actually leads the head-to-head 6-5, but Berdych has won all three of their best-of-five matches (all of which have been played on fast surfaces). Should be an interesting match.


1. Petra Kvitova had another virus during the US Open, similar to the one she had at Wimbledon. It’s a worrying trend that has been going on the past couple of years, so I’m glad to hear that she’s finally going to get some serious bloodwork done and get to the bottom of it. We all need a more healthy Petra-time in our lives.

2. Great to see two players I have always liked–Carla Suárez Navarro and Denis Istomin–having great runs here. Okay, yes, it’s weird to group them together, but they’re definitely pleasant surprises.

For CSN, this is her third major quarterfinal, but her first at the US Open and her first since 2009. It’s really great to see her put her game together on the biggest stages–she is really, really fun to watch.

And same goes for Istomin, just for completely different reasons. He needs to get his act together and get into the top 20 where he belongs, and wins like today’s over Seppi–to make his second Round of 16 at a major in his career–are a great step in that direction.

(And if you don’t know the Istomin refrigerator story, read up.)

3. Hewitt/Youzhny fourth round match??? Yes, please. How 2002-chic. I love it.

4. I think I’m starting to understand why Grigor lost to Sousa in the first round …

5. Taylor Townsend has no more interest in junior tennis. Go for it, girl. Just don’t get cocky.

6. You have got to feel for Tim Smyczek, who should be celebrating making the third round of a slam, but instead somehow disappointed all of America. There’s no reason he should have been in that place, as the only American man with a chance to make the fourth round. The fact that zero American men have gotten to a fourth round of a slam is just pretty pathetic–and yes, I’m looking at you, Quisner.

Of course, it does hurt that Isner had to miss the Australian Open and had to retire one game into his second-round match at Wimbledon. Still.

I miss Andy Roddick. For many reasons.

7. Oh Aga. She always struggles at the US Open–this is the only slam that she’s never reached the quarterfinals in–but after she won the first four games of her match against Makarova, she looked poised to be the only woman to reach the quarterfinals of all four Grand Slams this year.

But then she dropped the next EIGHT games of the match, and though she recovered a bit in the second set, she just never could find her rhythm against a peak-form Ekaterina Makarova.

It’s been a really rough few months for Radwanska–she lost the heartbreaker to Lisicki in the Wimbledon semifinal, then she got pretty much condemned to hell by Poland for her ESPN The Body Issue spread, and then her grandfather passed away a couple of weeks ago, and she flew to Poland for the funeral. (I’m not saying all of those are created equal–just going in chronological order.)

It’s time for her to rest up. Take a vacation. She deserves it.

8. Sloane Stephens played way better than I thought she would today. So there’s that.

9. The Bryan Brothers scared me to death today, but they kept moving on. I’m glad they’re getting Ashe time.

10 Responses

  1. coolede
    coolede September 2, 2013 at 12:22 am |

    Whenever anyone started talking about Stephens as someone who could win the US open and be a worthy rival to Serena, I would show them this:

    She has not beaten any top 20 players in slams, with the exception of an injured Serena Williams.

    Sloane had comfortable draws in the slams this year. She is a future talent, and I really hope some in the media would stop trying to make her “happen” too quickly. She isnt ready yet.

  2. Jason
    Jason September 2, 2013 at 12:48 am |

    “I miss Andy Roddick. For many reasons.”


  3. Q
    Q September 2, 2013 at 3:56 am |

    Good work for Hewitt to pull through after the delpo scalp, not sure if he can get through Youzhny

    ALso great to see Istomin play well, still waiting for him to break into top 30..

  4. Joshua
    Joshua September 2, 2013 at 9:15 am |

    In re: Williams v. Sloane, I have to offer some disagreement regarding ‘rivalry.’ Obviously, theirs is not a rivalry in tennis terms. They haven’t played very many matches and Stephens’s win in Australia, though a huge win for a young player, was certainly the product of Williams’s injury. However, a real rivalry requires not only competetive head-to-head results but an actual edge. The bad blood between the two makes theirs more of a rivalry than, to take a totally random example, Nadal v. Federer, which has neither bad blood nor competetive head-to-heads. (Federer’s supporters have often argued that the results are “skewed” by Nadal’s big lead on clay, but the real skew in the results comes from Federer’s 4-0 on indoor hard courts. He has only a narrow edge on grass and is 2-7 on outdoor hard courts.) In a world in which Nadal totally dominating Federer, and then being nice to him, can be considered a great rivalry, I think I’ll take Williams v. Stephens.

    But, for the record, while Serena was more or less in control throughout the match, the conclusion was hardly foregone. In fact, in many ways, the first set was far more about Stephens’s mistakes than Williams solid play. If Stephens makes a few more of her shots, she probably wins the set. And if she wins the set, who knows? I haven’t seen Serena so frequently off-balance, wrong-footed and unable to return a serve in a very long time. I don’t predict future success for players, so I can’t say where Stephens is headed. But she gets up for big matches (her receord in Slams proves it, though the most impressive feat is that she’s never lost to a lower ranked player, something Serena, sadly, can’t come close to saying) and clearly has a game that, when she brings it, can challenge Williams. There aren’t many people out there who can say that!

    1. Karen
      Karen September 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

      Hi Joshua (lovely name by the way). Did you actually read Juan Jose’s post? The most telling statistic of this particular match was how many returns of serve Serena put into play and Sloane was serving huge. In addition, every single unforced error that Sloane made was as a result of the defence of Serena. More importantly, I am not sure you even watched the match because I watched it, Juan Jose watched it, Steve Tignor watched it, and they all said the same thing, Serena dictated this match. She used her offense and defence to kill Sloane. Sloane thinks that her athleticism can win her matches against elite players, but Serena showed her that what happened in Australia is an anomaly.

      Sloane is 20 years old. When you compare her results to that of her peers, you can see that she is far behind. She may have a really good record at the Slams, but I am thinking that she needs to do much better in regular Tour events. There are only 4 Slams. She needs to find a way to not only get to the latter end of tournaments, but try and get to a final, something which she has been unable to do.

      1. Joshua
        Joshua September 3, 2013 at 4:22 am |


        The funny thing about the universe is that four people can watch the same match and derive different conclusions. Otherwise, why would anyone need to read tennis writing? Although, I really don’t think it can be argued that the first set wasn’t extremely tight. There were significant points that, had Stephens won them (whether her errors are a result of Serena’s play or Sloane’s inability to rein herself in can be debated) the first set certainly could have been lost to Williams. And if that happened, what happens thereafter is an open question. After the critical opening games of the second set, which weren’t easy for Serena to win, she pulled away. That’s something Stephens will need to learn — Serena rarely checks out of a match entirely simply because she’s losing.

        As for the rest of the argument, obviously Stephens needs to be more consistent on Tour. But the same could, and was, said about Serena Williams not long ago, such as after Wimbledon 2009 when, despite holding the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns, she was not No.1. But all of that stuff only really matters if you think I’m trying to say that Sloane is in any sense Serena’s equal. Clearly she’s not. I merely believe that the match was closer in the first set than Juan Jose does.

  5. Faye
    Faye September 2, 2013 at 9:45 am |

    Hewitt, Haas and Youzhny? early-2000s indeed!
    Really gives you something to cheer for when these veterans of the game are slugging it out with the “future” (the young ones you constantly disappoints). Take Hewitt for example, hated his constant and uber intense “come ons” earlier in his career, but now I find his grit inspiring and even endearing (this coming from a huge DelPo fan). I think that’s what the younger players are lacking right now (even the American players, particularly Quisner) they lack “grit”, the never-give-up attitude.

    And Haas and Youzhny, don’t ever change and don’t ever go away!
    Youzhny having a “mini” meltdown (almost ripping his shirt off, kicking the backboard and smashing his racquet) when he was losing the 3rd set was amazing to watch. A bit subdued but still 🙂

  6. Master Ace
    Master Ace September 2, 2013 at 10:14 am |

    “You have got to feel for Tim Smyczek, who should be celebrating making the third round of a slam, but instead somehow disappointed all of America”

    Good point.

    American ATP disappointment in the past few years:
    Australian Open – Can not think of one
    French Open – No one making second round
    Wimbledon – No one making third round
    United States Open – No one making fourth round

    Also, in Open Era for one week, no American in Top 20.

  7. AM
    AM September 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm |

    I think Joshua is getting ahead of himself fact that Sloane has never lost to a lower ranked player is a meaningless statistic. You were definitely watching a different match Serena was in total control of her serve and should have won the first set more comfortably.

    Remember Serena won a grand slam ranked 80th in the world.

    Here is a statistic of note: Serena in her entire career since her debut in 1995 has lost 112 matches. Sloane has lost 93 already!!

    1. Joshua
      Joshua September 3, 2013 at 4:33 am |


      I’m not attempting to compare Williams’s and Stephens’s careers. I merely think that the first set of this match was closer than you all seem to think. For instance, you say Williams was in “total control of her serve”, I say she double-faulted in consecutive points to break herself. In any event, I’ve heard this thing about their respective number of losses — which proves nothing about the match at hand. But I still find the sort of awe with which people pronounce this, as if was Williams has accomplished is somehow shocking, rather strange. You have to balance that 112 losses against a relatively modest number of wins as well. Serena Williams has won 614 matches, which is less than Pam Shriver won. Of the women in the ballpark of her majors total, Evert won 1300 matches and Navratilova over 1400 and both have a higher winning percentage than Serena. Obviously, much has changed in tennis between them and her, and her numbers seem more or less on track toward Graf type numbers (900 wins), but there is nothing especially shocking about the number of losses she’s had — it’s more or less exactly the number of losses one would expect from a 16 time major champion, based on a percentage of matches played. If you don’t play that many tournaments, you can’t get than many losses. Chris Evert won about as many tournaments as Williams has played!

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