By Jane Voigt
Fluttery bubbles of anticipation that circle first-round matches are probably more a part of fans’ experiences than for players. But don’t be fooled. Players are nervous, too, especially since the U. S. Open is the last major tournament of the year. They want to make a statement. They want to be heard.
Sabine Lisicki, seeded #16, did her best to lose to Sorana Cirstea today, ironically enough. Lisicki, one woman in the draw that most expected to see next week, was an example of poor technique and a bad attitude. And Cirstea did her best to thwart the German by playing some potent tennis.
Another German, Julia Goerges, seeded #18, lost to qualifier and first-time U. S. Open player Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic. Goerges’ doesn’t have a stellar record at any slam, but her loss today didn’t ring true.
Anabel Medina Garrigues, seeded #27 found herself in the same boat, at a loss. Her case is easier to understand, given Lucie Hradecka was on the other side of the net. She and partner Andrea Hlavackova won a Silver Medal in Doubles at the London Olympics. Lucie’s still on a cruise-control high.
So why the falling seeds?
The weather wasn’t ideal, first off. Hot and humid, players clothes showed telltale signs of abundant sweating. Then the downpour and a four hour wait. Lisicki was on a downward slide before the deluge, but the break didn’t prove beneficial. Maybe if it had been an hour wait things would’ve turned out differently for her.
But 20 winners compared to 42 unforced errors doesn’t win matches. And Cirstea was most likely the last player Lisicki wanted to pull in the draw. Their head-to-head record favors the Romanian 3-0. They are both the same age, 22, and play similar styles of tennis — hit the ball hard, harder, and hardest … a lot.
Each woman’s game favors their forehand. And each can keep groundies deep in the court, meaning there wasn’t much room for an alternative plan, if Lisicki even had one. Cirstea’s shots sent Lisicki way beyond the baseline, opening up the court for angles. With discouragement written all over her face, Lisicki double faulted to lose the match: 46 62 62. Given the Lisicki serve is one of her biggest weapons, and one the biggest serves on tour, the 8 double faults marked the depth of her implosion.
New York hasn’t been good to Lisicki, either, which didn’t do much for her psyche. In 2009 she took a bad tumble on match point against qualifier Anastasia Rodionova and was taken off court in a wheelchair. Last year, her best showing, she lost to Vera Zvonareva in the round of sixteen — the coveted second week was a good exit.
Yet Lisicki’s record this year would make you think she was a shoe-in at Flushing Meadows.
At The Australian Open Lisicki lost to Maria Sharapova, however with a respectable run to the fourth round. Then Lisicki shocked fans at Wimbledon when she beat Sharapova for the first time in her career. Lisicki’s quarterfinal encounter next with Angelique Kerber was one of the best matches of the fortnight. Kerber edged Sabine 7-5 in the third set. At the Olympics Lisicki once again came face-to-face with Sharapova. The steely Sharapova would have nothing to do with Lisicki’s desire for a two-in-a-row stomping.
Both Lisicki and Cirstea have much to learn about consistency. Cirstea’s young career has been spotty. Ranked as high as #37 in 2008, she plummeted to #95 within two years, yet has bounced back to #38 — her current spot in the top 100. She has reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, her best slam result. Today’s win puts her one round to the good compared to her first-round exit last year.
Cirstea is a dangerous player and now has a good chance to advance. Goerges was in her section of the draw. With her and Lisicki out, the road could be clear until an expected clash with #1 seed Victoria Azarenka in week two.
On a more positive note … American Wildcard James Blake got crowds in gear on Louis Armstrong Stadium as he took his bust-out game to Slovackian Lukas Lacko — 75 62 36 63.
Blake told the press later that he’s feeling great and happy to be back in New York for his 12th Open.
“The shoulder feels better than ever,” Blake began. “The knee feels better than ever. I’m actually feeling great. It’s a really good feeling.”
Blake is known for his loyal J-Block fans. They weren’t out today, but if the Harvard student pushes through a couple rounds you can bet they’ll regroup and let the world know in a big and loud way that they’re back with one intention — to motivate their hero James Blake.
“You know, every time I come back here it’s still sort of the goosebumps walking out on Louis Armstrong and Arthur Ashe Stadiums,” Blake said. “I get to see my fans and friends having a good time. That definitely keeps my spirits up, keeps my head up throughout the whole match. It’s still an incredible feeling to be here and to be doing what I dreamed of as a kid.”