Vera “The Crying Game” Zvonareva is one of the most mentally unstable players on the WTA Tour, but in the pressure-packed semifinals of the US Open on Thursday, it was the Russian who held things together while top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki crumpled 6-4, 6-3 in a self-doubting, tentative display in Flushing Meadows.
Zvonareva forced early breaks in each set, and was the aggressor while Wozniacki appeared unsure of when to step into the court and attack or when to play defense. But waiting for the Russian to miss was folly. In the end it was Zvonareva finishing points at the net while Wozniacki, in an example summing up the match from her end, at one point rather than taking an extra step forward to volley away an easy floating ball, stepped back to let it bounce then, still off-balance, stroked a two-handed backhand wide.
“I had chances, and I don’t know, I made some mistakes today that I usually don’t do,” Wozniacki said. “Yeah, it was a tough day for me in the office, and unfortunately it was today. That’s the way tennis is sometimes.”
Zvonareva’s composure almost cracked when, after breaking her fourth string-job on a racquet, she needed to have racquets brought in from off-court, and started gesturing and looking exasperated when they were not to her liking. Late in the match she began talking to herself in an effort to calm down and close out the match, and while at times her face took on the three-year-old-about-to-burst-into-tears look, she kept it together long enough to gain her second Grand Slam final of the year after Wimbledon.
“I am wanting to celebrate this win now and not talk about the past,” said Zvonareva, who last year exited the Open in a sobbing, racquet-smashing fit.
The loss broke Wozniacki’s 14-match winning streak, and was perhaps testament to the Dane playing so many events right up to the beginning of the two-week Slam, where her usually-steely concentration and nerve seemed to leave her on a windy Friday afternoon. Entering the match two wins away from wrestling the No. 1 ranking away from Serena Williams, Wozniacki now looks toward the European indoor season and the year-ending WTA Championships as perhaps a chance to attain the No. 1 ranking for the first time.
In the final Zvonareva will be the slight underdog against defending champion and No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters, who came from a set down on Friday to defeat No. 3 Venus Williams 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4.
“I just tried to make the points,” Clijsters said in her on-court interview. “I tried to step up and accelerate a little bit, I tried to keep the pressure on her. I’m glad she made a few double faults in the tiebreaker. It wasn’t easy but it was a fun night.”
Zvonareva is 2-5 career against Clijsters, but both those wins came earlier this year at Wimbledon and Montreal, both in the quarterfinal round, and both from a set down. In fact five of their seven matches have gone three sets, dating to their first meeting at the 2002 US Open where Clijsters won from a set down.
Clijsters improved to 7-7 in career Slam semifinals, while Williams fell to 14-5.
In the men’s doubles final on Friday, American’s Bob and Mike Bryan Bob and Mike Bryan won their third US Open championship. The 32-year-old identical twins defeated No. 16 seeds Rohan Bopanna from India and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi from Pakistan in two tiebreakers for their 65th career title and ninth Slam title.
They are now two Slams behind the all-time record of Australia’s “Woodies,” Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, and are also on course to finish the year No. 1 for a sixth time, which would eclipse another Woodies record.
“This was the best match we’ve ever played,” Bob Bryan said. “Bopanna and Qureshi played awesome. We just matched their energy and played incredible. The flood gates have kind of opened since (LA) and we’ve played the best tennis we’ve ever played. This is the craziest summer we’ve ever had. To win Toronto, Cincinnati and the Open is a dream come true.”
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