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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wild Day 3 at the Open; Keys Impresses Despite Loss

Day 3 at the US Open took us on a wild ride. It started with #6 seed Robin Soderling pulling out of the Open and then lucky loser Rogerio Dutra Da Silva, ranked 114 in the world defeating Louk Sorensen who is ranked #618. This section of the draw has now opened up for Isner, Del Potro, Simon, and Wawrinka to make a deep run.

Imagine what Dutra Da Silva and Sorensen were thinking when they were on the court. My chance to make the second round of a Slam. And, $31,000 plus the ranking points. What an opportunity! How a player interprets this situation, however, determines the performance. It has happened before where a player suddenly has a great opportunity to win and move on but the opportunity becomes a burden. Why? Now there is something to lose.

Sharapova was impressive last night, even after waiting out the Roddick-Russell match that really went on far longer than most expected it would. Sharapova dominated Yakimova from the beginning and despite making many unforced errors she continued to be aggressive and control the match. I like her attitude. She doesn't back off. She goes for it. Sharapova knows she is going to miss because she hits big, but she also knows that she is controlling the match. This is exactly what every player wants when going into battle.

Interestingly, Maria is faced with the same psychological phenomenon that Dutra Da Silva and Sorensen dealt with earlier in the day. A great opportunity has been presented to her. She probably is the favorite to win the Open. Will she look at it as an opportunity and go get it or something to lose, and play not to lose?

Sharapova has to be looking at the events of Day 3 and thinking her chances are getting better and better to win the Open. Venus pulls out with the diagnosis of an illness. I wish her the best in terms of dealing with it and hope she can be back soon. Li, Cibulkova, Radwanska, and Bartoli are sent packing. Clijsters is already out having announced that she was injured and would not play before the tournament. Kvitova lost as well in the first round. There will be some surprise names in the 2nd week for the women and you know that Sharapova is fired up thinking about the opportunity before her. The key here is to look at it as an opportunity and not a burden.

Three American women were impressive yesterday - Christina McHale upset Marian Bartoli, Irina Falconi defeated Dominika Cibulkova, and Madison Keys had every opportunity to move on against Lucie Safarova. Day 3 provided some optimism for American tennis; when the Williams' sister retire we may some young women ready to step in and compete in the second week of the Slams.

I was most interested in watching Keys play Safarova on Day 3 because I heard a lot about her strength and serve. There is no doubt Keys can compete on the WTA tour (can she handle the week-to-week grind is another question to be answered later). She is impressive at such a young age. I felt Keys was in better form than Safarova and really should have put the #27 seed away in the second set. Unfortunately, it seemed the 16 year-old Keys knew too well what she was on the verge of doing and the situation got to her. Safarova steadied her game, started making a lot more balls, and Keys went for low percentage shots under pressure. Clearly she was feeling the pressure.

Like Ryan Harrison, and even more so, I'm willing to give Keys the benefit of the doubt. She is 16. The mental maturity required to play at the highest level is something that takes time to learn. Keys will need more of these professional level matches to develop her mental game. With more experience and good training she will be able to handle the pressure and make good on court decisions for the whole match. At the same time lets give Madison credit. She was trying to work the mental game in the second set, and all credit to her for starting fast. She must have been mentally prepared. Keys was attempting to take her time between points and compose herself. It worked for awhile but you could see her become more tense as she was unable to finish off her service game late in the second set. As the game wore on the pressure rose and Keys began to rush. She then double faulted several times and was broken when she missed wildly. Again, it is not all negative. I would rather see Keys going down swinging than push the ball.

When Safarova broke and took the second set she started playing better. Safrarova has a great deal of experience and really wore down Keys in the third set. I was still impressed with Keys, however. She was very dangerous in the third despite being fatigued and disappointed with the fact that she was still on the court. It just seemed that the anxiety she was feeling finally sapped her of her energy which was enough for Safarova to get through the match. Yesterday's match will be a great lesson for Keys that will help her become a better player in the future.

To top off a wild Day 3 Andy Roddick decided to go after the media in a post-match interview with Chris Fowler. After Roddick's ok performance against Michael Russell you could tell that Andy was frustrated with his performance and relieved to move on. The ESPN2 commentators talked at length about Roddick's unwillingness to adapt, such as being more aggressive and stepping in to the court on the return, to still be a threat at the Slams. It almost seemed that someone was feeding Roddick this information as he finished the match because he looked upset at the media from the start of the on-court interview and post-match with Fowler. He barely looked at Darren Cahill during his on-court interview and was visibly upset when talking to Fowler. Is this a distraction for Roddick? Hardly. I think it helps him. Roddick needs to play with passion and belief which are missing right now. Creating a "me-against-the world" mindset can work for Andy. It certainly added to an interesting Day 3. Can't wait for Day 4 of the Open!

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