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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sock, McHale and Falconi Get Big Wins Wednesday at US Open

Jack Sock became the first Kalamazoo champion to win a match at the US Open since 1995, and Irina Falconi and Christina McHale both took out Top 16 seeds Wednesday in an exciting day for American tennis at the US Open.

Sock, in one of the last singles matches of the day session, beat French veteran Marc Gicquel 6-4, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 to reach the second round. Since 1995, when Justin Gimelstob did it, no Kalamazoo champion had managed to get out of the first round at the US Open.

Last year Sock took a set from Switzerland's Marco Chiudinelli, yet he never looked entirely comfortable on the court in his grand slam debut. But after claiming the US Open boys title, which gave him plenty of time to experience the atmosphere at Flushing Meadows, and having a year of physical growth and maturity, he looked at ease in the first two sets of the match, which was played on the new Court 17. Sock served better than Gicquel and showed no nerves, getting the only break of the first set with Gicquel serving at 4-5. In the second set, Sock saved two break points against him in the third and fifth games, then broke Gicquel in the sixth game, which was again the only break Sock needed.

Sock lost his serve for the first time in the match in the second game of the third set, and once his serve went off, so did the rest of his game. Gicquel, who at 34 was the oldest man in the draw, played less tentatively, while Sock lacked energy and focus. When Sock dropped his serve in the third game of the fourth set, it was hard to escape the feeling the match was slipping away from the teenager. But Sock's first serve started to set up his forehand again in the fifth game, and he broke Gicquel in the sixth, putting the pressure squarely back on the Frenchman. Gicquel held his next service game, but serving at 4-5 he cracked. At 15-30, he netted a forehand, and although he saved one match point with a good serve up the T, he put a backhand into the net on the second match point to give Sock the win.

While Sock was setting up his second round meeting with the winner of the Andy Roddick and Michael Russell night match, Irina Falconi was battling to stay in her match with No. 14 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia. They had split sets in the match, which was moved to Arthur Ashe Stadium when Venus Williams withdrew due to illness, with Falconi forcing a third set with a 6-3 win in the second, after Cibulkova had taken the first 6-2. The 21-year-old former Georgia Tech All-American, who grew up in New York, trailed 4-1 in the final set, but came back to win the next five games, breaking Cibulkova at 4-4 to serve for the match. She didn't get to match point, with a costly double fault at deuce contributing to the break, but Cibulkova returned the favor, double faulting at game point to give Falconi another chance. This time Falconi put her nerves aside, taking a 40-0 lead, but hit a forehand long on the first match point.

On the second match point, Cibulkova brought Falconi into the net with a short ball very near the umpire's chair that Falconi had to sprint to, but she got there and while wide of the umpire's chair, hit a sharply angled shot along the net, which fell in near the far sideline to give her the point and the match. She began jumping for joy almost immediately, and the crowd, which had been behind her throughout the day, roared. Falconi went to her tennis bag to pull out an American flag before talking with Pam Shriver.

In the press conference, Falconi was asked about the flag gesture.

"I've heard so much about media talking about American tennis, and I really wanted to portray that there's a huge wave of American players. I have an American coach and trainer, Jeff and Kim Wilson. I strongly believe in all that is USA, and I wanted to represent it and show the world that it's coming. It's coming. No need to wait any longer."

That statement was also made earlier in the day by Christina McHale, who continued her outstanding summer by beating No. 8 seed Marion Baroli of France 7-6(2), 6-2. McHale has now beaten Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Marion Bartoli in the past three weeks, and she is projected to reach the Top 50 for the first time when the post-US Open rankings are released.

Falconi will meet No. 22 seed Sabine Lisicki of Germany in the third round, while McHale will face No. 25 seed Maria Kirilenko of Russia.

Although she didn't win her match today against No. 27 seed Lucie Safarova, Madison Keys also made a statement about her place in American tennis' future. Keys dominated the first set and although she lost 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, the power and poise of the 16-year-old impressed anyone who saw the match on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

NCAA champion Steve Johnson lost a tough one, playing great tennis for the first half of his match with Alex Bogomolov, but he was unable to sustain it and lost 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3), 6-3. Bogomolov was serving for the fourth set at 5-4, but Johnson fought back, getting the break and forcing the tiebreaker. But Johnson began to cramp early in the tiebreaker, and although his movement improved somewhat after he received treatment at the set break, he couldn't play at the same level as he had in the first four sets. Bogomolov deserves tremendous credit for keeping his composure during both Johnson's highest level, which Bogomolov called "brilliant tennis", and Johnson's physical struggles.
Johnson's serve, which produced 23 aces, was impressive, as was his defense, but Bogomolov never stopped believing he could win the match and made it happen. He will next play lucky loser Rogerio Dutra da Silva of Brazil, who went in for No. 6 seed Robin Soderling, who withdrew with an illness.

In women's doubles, the wild card team of Jessica Pegula and Taylor Townsend won their first round match, beating the Polish team of Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Alicja Rosolska 6-2, 6-3. US National 18s champions Keys and Samantha Crawford lost to No. 6 seeds Sania Mirza of India and Elena Vesnina of Russia 6-2, 6-0.

For complete draws see usopen.org.

Thursday's schedule will feature Sloane Stephens, who will try to join McHale and Falconi in the third round. Stephens' second round opponent is No. 23 seed Shahar Peer.

There are also mixed, men's and women's doubles on the schedule, with NCAA champions Jeff Dadamo and Austin Krajicek of Texas A&M and Hilary Barte and Mallory Burdette of Stanford among those playing their first round matches.


russ said...

Just wanted to add my two cents to Colette's report on the Jack Sock and Steve Johnson matches. I watched Jack's entire match from behind the baseline and I agree completely with Colettes's perception that Jack appeared more comfortable this year than last. Last year when he walked onto the court he had a "deer in the headlights" look. This year his demeanor was poised, focused and ready to win.

His game is also much better this year from last. He has way more pop and better placement on serve (though that could be because he was suffering from shoulder problems last year). I was really impressed with how he moved it around the box with different action and pace. Popped some at 134 but generally it was in the 110 to 125 range depending on choice of serve and where he hit it. His second, which he often used as a first (especially in the ad court to open up the forehand side of Gicquel), has great kick.

Mid way through the second I thought Jack was better than Gicquel and that it was a good decision to turn pro. He's ready. His forehand is heavier than before and the complicated take back not as much an issue as in earlier years. His volleys were deft and I liked how he hit them short, two-three bouncers when he didn't drop em. Too many volleys nowadays are too deep--they make for easier opportunities to pass. Backhand needs to be heavier and deeper, and he had trouble changing direction when he wanted to go down the line; but other than that...he showed alot. Great focus, tempo, command, for instance. Except for when he came back from his extended bathroom break and blew up the third set. You could see from his face as he walked on the court that he had lost that same focus, that zoned out expression. He was hurrying and just not ready to compete. Bad decision, unless he was puking or ...

Same thing happened to Steve Johnson when he came back from his bathroom break after winning the first two sets. In winning those first two he was all business, not letting anything disrupt his focus. The turning point came when he was broken early in the third. He was up a game point and a bad linesman call (overruled by the chair) cost him the game. They replayed the point, with Johnson whining about having to do so. After losing that point and then the next two his misfortune was totally inside his head. He complained frequently about future line calls, missed opportunities at net, good shots by his opponent. He managed to regroup in the fourth but he was never the same mentally and when his cramps appeared in the tiebreak the loss seemed inevitable.

Johnson should have beaten Bogomolov, in my opinion as he had more physical tools than Bogomolov. The loss of his mental edge cost him the match.

AR Hacked Off said...

great to see the young Americans doing well. Sloane Stephens just advanced alongside Falconi and McHale.
Also very happy for Sock, he seems to have a much better demeanor than Harrison and I like his strokes much better. He could give Roddick some issues Friday night

russ said...

Yes, it will be an interesting match between Jack and Andy. They've hit with each other before so there definitely won't be that element of surprise; however, Arthur Ashe on Friday night with a full house looking in: now that might be an intimidating experience.

Two things that Andy does well could give Jack problems. In the Gicquel match Jack had problems returning serve on a consistent basis. There were a few games where he failed or managed to put the ball in play just once. In addition he was helped out plenty of times by Gicquel making unforced errors, especially on big points. With Andy's steady grind it out game I don't see that happening.

If I was advising Jack, and I've seen Jack do it plenty of times before, he'll come up to net frequently. Andy doesn't pass well and playing so far back he'll be susceptible to Jack's excellent volleying skills. Good luck to the new blood.