Labor Day Monday at the U.S. Open is always billed as the “best day in tennis” if nothing else for the fans lucky enough to have tickets allowing them to sample tennis from late in the morning to sometimes late at night. The last time I was at the Open was five years ago and although the courts have stayed pretty much the same, the “experience” is more a carnival than ever especially with all the shopping and food options one has now. But for those actually looking to watch tennis, the matches today more or less lived up to their billings.
And while Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet delighted fans with their flair and speed early on, the match of the day was of course the hoped for showdown between Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova which Wozniacki won in convincing fashion to not only cement her name as the favorite among the women in New York but also as the No. 1 player if she takes the title. Many people keep saying Sharapova is “all the way back”. And that might be so, but it may not be good enough anymore to win another Slam.
Although Sharapova kept the first set close and might have pulled it out had she converted on her break points chances, it was the Dane’s beefed-up serve and ability to go for winners mid-rally that not only surprised Sharapova but many in the crowd. Sharapova tried to change things up in the second set by hitting clever drop shots and heading into net to make the points shorter. And although that did work to some extent, Sharapova doesn’t do “Plan B” well enough to keep that up consistently if her “Plan A” scream attack doesn’t work.
When asked about her year which saw a first round loss in Australia, continued struggles with her shoulder and other early losses at the other Slams, Sharapova commented, “I need to string a few more things together than I did. It’s all really capitalizing on what you have. You work hard for something, and then you let it slip away. I think I’ve just got to capitalize on that. Obviously, a bit unfortunate in the Grand Slams. I had my fair share of chances and didn’t take them throughout this whole year in the big events. Uhm, you know, that’s just the way it’s gone. But (I’ll) keep moving forward, keep working hard.”
Sharapova certainly had her chances this year but found herself on the losing end to three completely different players in Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and today Wozniacki. And though I don’t doubt Sharapova will be back out there fighting as hard as she always does, the question for her now is, does her game, somewhat a product of the late 90’s and early 00’s “big babe” tennis formula of hitting the ball as hard as possible work anymore? Add in Sharapova’s not the greatest mover coming forward and one wonders if Sharapova can add a new dimension to her game. For Wozniacki, her win shows she can handle big hitters along with generate some pace on her own which was always considered her biggest weakness. She might still have to defeat Williams in a Slam at some point to prove she is the new “queen” of tennis (even if she does get the No. 1 ranking) but it’s fair to say not too many others can challenge “Sunshine” for that crown now.
When Williams withdrew from the U.S. Open, many people assumed Sharapova would take it because she was simply “Sharapova”. And though she will probably find herself back in the top 10 soon enough, if she can remain be a clear favorite, rather than a darkhorse contender, in the next few Slams will be interesting to watch. But on the “best day of tennis” Wozniacki certainly had to play her best to win today and by doing so proved she is worthy of her top billing on the biggest stage in the sport.