Saturday, September 5, 2009

Preview: Wozniacki - Cirstea Look to Bolster Their Slam Reputations

Chaos reigns supreme in the woman's side of the draw at the U.S. Open. Under scrutiny for much of the year for having a No. 1 ranked player who is clearly inferior to its No. 2 ranked player, the WTA has done little to dissuade critics of its dearth of consistency at the top in the first five days of singles action at Flushing Meadows.

18 of the 32 seeds in the ladies draw have been unceremoniously bounced from the tournament, including No. 4 Elena Dementieva, No. 5 Jelena Jankovic, and No. 8 Victoria Azarenka.

But what the WTA lacks in predictability it certainly makes up for with spontaneous combustion and gut-wrenching drama. Whether you are nonplussed by the poor quality of serving currently being seen on tour, or disappointed by the lack of variety in the woman's game (volleys are as rare as double faults are common), these deficiencies seem to lend themselves to a heightened sense of drama as the matches unfold. Unlike the men's matches, where one break of serve often means that the set or the match is over, on the woman's side, nobody is ever out of a match.

For those who claim that the current state of women's tennis is not up to snuff, I ask the following question: Which is more exciting, an environment where anybody can win on any given day, or the alternative, the classic stranglehold where a few rule the many, and the good matches are those titanic struggles that instead of happening on any given day, happen in the quarterfinals and beyond?

Whichever your preference, it won't change the reality of the situation. Other than the Williams sisters (particularly Serena), we might as well wipe the slate clean after every match. Anyone can win, and we'd be wise to embrace the situation rather then moaning about it.

Of the eight 3rd round matches on the docket today at Flushing Meadows, there are only two in which both opponents are seeded.

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Sorana Cirstea is one of them.

Once again, rankings don't tell the whole story as the lower-seeded Cirstea has triumphed over Wozniacki in their last two matches. In 2009 Cirstea defeated Wozniacki in the third round of the French Open (she eventually advanced to the quarters - something that Wozniacki has never done in a slam) and she also defeated Wozniacki earlier in the summer in L.A, coming back from a 1-6 drubbing in the first set to win a third set tie-break.

Wozniacki has had another great year, but even as she has finally cracked the top-10 this year, her Slam results leave a little bit to be desired. She came in hot at Wimbledon this year, but bowed out to Sabine Lisicki in the 4th round after winning the Eastbourne title one week earlier.

19-year-old Cirstea comes in to the match serving quite well. She's 2nd in aces among all women with 15, and even more impressively she's first among all women in first serve points won (78%).
I watched Cirstea's 2nd round match against Canadian Stephanie Dubois on Thursday and came away from it unsure about whether Cirstea had the stuff to make a run similar to her French Open run this spring.

Her serve was very tough, but she was plagued by double faults (5 in the third set, 8 over all). Her forehand can be a weapon but it can also be erratic. But what was most impressive about Cirstea's performance on Thursday against Dubois was that she was able to maintain concentration in a very difficult third set. Dubois had the crowd on her side and was playing perhaps the best match of her career. And yet as the third set neared its conclusion Cirstea started nailing her forehand with reckless abandon.

Long story short: Instead of getting tight, Cirstea got loose. When it comes down to tight matches you can throw the numbers out the window. The winner more often than not is the player who can overcome her fear and let her desire dictate her actions. Cirstea appears to be the rare breed of player who is guided by hunger instead of limited by fear. In todays WTA that could go a long way.

As for Wozniacki, she's getting a taste of what life in the top-10 can be like. There are no guarantees, and you are only as good as your last match.

It should be a good one on Armstrong today between these two up-and-coming 19-year-olds with great games and even greater aspirations.

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