U.S. Open: Women's Semifinal Rewind

Originally Published: On the Baseline Tennis News
September 11, 2011
Flushing Meadows, NY—A little extra rain in the morning hours couldn’t stop Super Semifinal Saturday at the U.S. Open. While the men played the afternoon session, the women kicked off the night session, with Sam Stosur taking on first-time opponent, Angelique Kerber under the lights of Grandstand Stadium. That match was followed by Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Due to the rain delays earlier in the week, the U.S. Open was forced to find an alternate venue for one of the women’s semifinal matches. Armstrong was out of commission due to a water damaged court, so Grandstand it was. It didn’t have the grandeur of Arthur Ashe Stadium, but the intimacy of the court (with no reserved seating) made it a special treat for fans to get an up close view.
World No. 92 Angelique Kerber made her Grand Slam semifinal debut last night, upsetting both Aggie Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta en route to the semifinal. Prior to the U.S. Open, the 23-year-old leftie had lost in the first round of the last four Grand Slams, and had won only one match in her three previous US Open appearances. This time around, she won five matches in a row.
Sam Stosur  was playing her third Grand Slam semifinal (first U.S. Open semifinal) and defeated Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals to get to this stage.  She is the first Australian woman to reach U.S. Open semifinals since Wendy Turnbull in 1984, the same year that Stosur was born.
When the match began, Stosur took the first two games easily, and an early 3-0 lead, but Kerber held her serve, winning her first game against Stosur at 3-1. In the sixth game, Kerber held again, but Stosur maintained a comfortable lead in the first set at 4-2. Kerber began to show some signs of frustration, with more audible screeches after every racquet swing. It didn’t seem to help much. Stosur took the game, bringing the score to 5-2. Momentum began to shift in Kerber’s favor, when she scored her first ace of the match and won the game at 5-3, but Stosur prevailed, taking the first set 6-3.
As the more experienced player, Stosur seemed to be on her way to a straight set victory, but lost some concentration and momentum in the second set. Kerber, with a triple break point, took a 3-1 lead and was dictating points. Stosur held serve at 4-2, but with Stosur’s shaky forehand, Kerber went on to win the next two games, breaking Stosur (and the handle of her racquet) to take the second set 6-2.
Stosur switched gears in the third set, and consistently dominated at the net, winning 27 out of 29 net approaches. She quickly advanced to a 5-0 lead, but couldn’t close it out, giving Kerber the next two games. In what seemed to be the longest game of the match, Stosur fought back, to win the set 6-2, and the match.
After the match, Kerber admitted to having some nerves. “The first few games was too fast for me,” said Kerber. “I came out there and it was everything new for me, so many people and the lights.”
Sam Stosur is the fifth Australian woman in the Open Era to reach U.S. Open final after Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kerry Reid, and Wendy Turnbull.
“It’s great now that I’ve got a second chance to try and win one of these titles. I’ll definitely go out there and give it my best shot,” said Stosur.
Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki played the second semifinal match of the night on Arthur Ashe stadium. Both are very fit players, but there was no denying that Serena, with 13 Grand Slam titles and three U.S. Open titles was the favorite going into the match. She also had an 18-0 W/L record on hard courts this year, and had not dropped a set leading up to the semis.
No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki was bidding to reach her second U.S. Open final (runner up in ’09). She defeated Kuznetsova and Petkovic en route to the semifinals, and had only lost one set.
At the start of the first set, Serena took an early 2-1 lead. Wozniacki put some pressure on in the fourth game (which lasted over six minutes), but Serena prevailed, taking a 4-1 lead. During the changeover, Serena called for the trainer for pain in her right foot, followed by a medical time out to deal with toe pain. Serena quickly rebounded and took the first set 6-2. It was apparent that Wozniacki was playing to survive more than to win. She simply didn’t have enough power to battle back against Serena, earning zero winners in the first set, compared to Serena’s 15.
In the second set, Serena took a 3-1 lead, and in the blink of an eye, advanced to 5-3. She had been dominating at the net throughout the match, winning 17 out of 21 net approaches, compared to Wozniacki, who won just 1 out of 3. Serena was serving for the match at 5-3 when Wozniacki broke Serena, but it wasn’t enough. Serena won the match 6-2, 6-4.
“That serve was just a killer,” said Wozniacki, in her post-match press conference..
Having won the semifinal, Serena Williams is projected to rise to No.16. No. 12 if she wins the title.

Top Players Recall Memories of 9/11

Flushing Meadows, NY—As we near the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, players competing at the U.S. Open are keenly aware of how the devastating events of that day impacted the world. Sam Stosur, Vera Zvonareva, Serena Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki took the time to share their memories of that day — where they were when it happened, and what the experience was like for them.

Sam Stosur
“I was playing a 10,000s tournament in Japan. I woke up to the TV. One of the other Aussie girls there was calling the room and saying, ‘Turn on the TV and look what’s going on.’ Obviously it was unbelievable. I was only 17 at the time. There were four or five of us traveling around in a group together and had no idea what was going to happen. We all thought planes aren’t going fly ever again and didn’t know. Obviously watching those images, going out to play your matches at a 10,000 event all of a sudden became pretty irrelevant.  And obviously watching the TV recently, you see all the shows and documentaries about it again. It certainly brings it all back. It’s kind of strange to be back here in New York on the 10th anniversary. It’s great to see how people have moved on. Obviously it was a really sad time, but obviously everyone’s getting through it.”
Serena Williams
“You know, I think everyone that lives in America has been affected by 9/11.  I was in D.C. at the time, and I just remember seeing a lot of Army trucks. You know, it was what it was. It’s hard to believe it’s 10 years later, but, you know, it’s good…good we are kind of coming together and New Yorkers and New York have been so strong.”
Vera Zvonareva
“9/11 was a terrible tragedy for everyone around the world. I was playing a junior event here [at the U.S. Open], and flew out the day before. As soon as I landed, it was on TV all over in Russia. We got off the plane and were watching it on TV. I felt like we were still here. We just left and there were a lot of players that were still staying there. It’s terrible what happened. I think everyone remembers it. Everyone is still thinking about those who died there.”

Caroline Wozniacki
"I was actually practicing [in Denmark], and I was going home from practice and my brother was in his room.  His room was on the first floor when you went in.  He was watching TV. I asked him, What are you watching?  What movie is that?  He said, ‘It’s not a movie. It’s happening.’ Me and my Dad said, No, come on. Stop joking. It’s not funny.  We were changing the channels and it was just on every channel. We were pretty much shocked what was going on. We have quite a few friends here, so we called them and asked if everyone was okay. And, you know, the people I knew here, they were all safe.  But, you know, still, so many people died. 9/11 is coming up Sunday…10 years.  It’s gone past very fast.”

U.S. Open Tribute
On Sunday, September 11, the U.S. Open will pay homage to those who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks, as well as to those people who risked their lives to save the victims of the attack. In addition to a moment of silence prior to the men’s and women’s singles championships matches, Arthur Ashe Stadium will have “9-11-01″ inscribed on the court. The 9/11 memorial logo, created by the city of New York, will be placed on the upper ring of Arthur Ashe stadium. A military flyover is also planned. A giant American flag will also be displayed over the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium by a United States Marines Corps color guard.

Denise Castelli's sideline view second to none


September 5, 2011
(Originally published in espnW.com)
Chasing down tennis balls at the U.S. Open wasn't exactly part of 25-year-old Denise Castelli's plan for this summer. Of course, the same could be said for much of the past three years of her life: not part of the plan.
In 2008, Castelli was a senior studying criminal justice at the University of New Haven. She excelled at sports, particularly softball. In April of that year, while playing in a college game, Castelli made a move -- one that she had made a thousand times before -- sliding into second base on a steal. Only this time, her right leg got caught underneath her. In an instant, her life changed forever.
"It happened so fast," Castelli said. "I went down, and felt this unbelievable pain. I knew immediately that I had broken my leg." She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered she had a spiral fracture that required surgery to insert a rod below her right knee. Concerned but calm, Castelli assumed her leg would heal normally, and she could go back to an active life.
By August, her leg still hadn't healed properly and her family was beginning to worry the situation was much worse than they'd originally thought. Further tests revealed a serious infection in her right leg where the rod had been inserted. For the next 15 months, Castelli was virtually immobile, checking in and out of the hospital as doctors tried to combat the infection before it spread further. "I was in the hospital for two weeks, then I'd be discharged for a month. Then I'd be in for a month and come back for a week," she said. "There was never a time when I wasn't sick in that whole period."
Her prognosis turned grim in February 2009. "That's when I started to worry that maybe I was not going to be the same. Maybe my leg was too damaged to play softball again," Castelli said.
Denise CastrelliDenise Castelli competed with 500 applicants for one of the 80 ball person spots at this month's U.S. Open.
But it was more serious than even that: Doctors had to amputate two of her toes, and later, her foot. Incredibly, the worst was still to come. The infection in her leg proved to be uncontrollable. In November 2009, doctors had no choice but to amputate her right leg below the knee. Friends and family from her hometown of Netcong, N.J., showed support by staging a fundraiser and raising close to $12,000 to help cover Castelli's mounting medical expenses and prosthetics.
After nearly a year and a half of suffering, Castelli was actually optimistic about her chances of a normal post-amputation life. "From the get-go, I knew I was going to be OK after the operation," she said. "I believed my doctor when he said, 'You'll be fine. Eventually, you'll play ball again. You'll run again.'" What she didn't realize was how long "eventually" would take.
Long road back
"I had to be patient, even though it was really frustrating," Castelli said. Going through the recovery process was mentally exhausting. "There were times when I would think to myself that I wouldn't be able to do these things again. Even playing softball. I would always say, 'If I can't get out there and be as good as I used to be, I don't want to do it. It'll just bring me down.' It definitely took a lot of time and a ton of physical therapy."
Castelli remembers when she first began physical therapy, and the demanding process of learning how to walk again. "I had a cane, and I really relied on it. I didn't have that much confidence in my prosthetic."

If it changes one person's mind about the way they look at disabilities, it was definitely worth it.
-- Denise Castelli
Talking with other amputees helped Castelli gain confidence in her new limb, but the physical therapy was grueling.
"In the beginning, I could walk really well for 2½ hours, then I'd have to take my leg off," she said. "Once I started building up strength in rehab, I could wear the leg for longer. And now, I can wear it all day, even lately when I'm walking around New York City and going up and down stairs."
Her reward for all that rehab? After more than two years of being out of the game, Castelli is back to playing softball, recently joining a local league to test her athletic skills. When she first picked up a bat, she admitted to having some nerves, but didn't feel any difference once she stood on the field.
"It was like riding a bike," she said. "I just started hitting. My first at-bat of the season, I hit a home run. I couldn't believe it!"
In June, an opportunity arose to handle a different kind of ball, this one at the U.S. Open. Castelli joined more than 500 candidates vying for just 80 positions at her first U.S. Open ball-person tryouts. Within weeks, she received news from the U.S. Tennis Association that she'd made the final cut.
Castelli temporarily put softball on hold to focus on her new duties. Wise move, since the job is harder than you might think.
[+] EnlargeDenise CastelliCourtesy of Denise Castrelli
Denise Castelli is playing softball again, but has a new prosthetic running leg and an eye on the Paralympics.
"During warm-ups, we get balls for players," she explained. "Once the match starts, the work depends on the game. On odd game numbers, we sprint off the court; sometimes players will need more water, or [we'll] hold umbrellas over players. If it's an even game, the serve is going to change sides, but we don't leave the court. I either throw all of my balls down to the ball person on the other end, or they throw theirs to me."
At the tryouts, Castelli and other candidates went through a series of tests for arm strength, throwing ability and speed. "They give you three tennis balls to throw, then people throw balls at you," she said. After the tryout and callback, she still had to get through the qualifying rounds in order to make the cut for the main draw, which she did.
Coming full circle
For Castelli, who has never played tennis before, being a ball person at the U.S. Open has given her a chance to test herself physically and emotionally. "I get to prove to myself that I can do these things, but also to show other people that I am out there running, using my feet with able-bodied people," Castelli said. "If it changes one person's mind about the way they look at disabilities, then it was definitely worth it."
Fortunately, Castelli's softball skills -- speed, agility and a good throwing arm -- have come in handy as a ball person, working behind the baseline. "Physically, it's less difficult than I anticipated," she said. "But mentally, you really have to be in the game at all times. You have to know the score, and you have to know when there's going to be a ball change or a side change."
While the U.S. Open ends next week, this marks only the beginning of Castelli's return to athletics. "The Paralympics are always in the back of my mind," she said. "I would love to eventually get there." Her sport of choice: track and field. "I just got a new prosthetic running leg a few weeks ago, and I can't wait to learn how to use," she said.
In the meantime, Castelli is focused on first serves and net balls. This is one time she's proud to be on the sidelines.

De-Coding Brad Gilbert's Vocabulary

October 1, 2012

If you are familiar with ESPN's group of tennis analysts (and who isn't?), you'll know what it's like to listen to Brad Gilbert break down a match. Despite his level of expertise, it's not uncommon for tennis fans to listen to him and say, "What the heck did he just call that player? Scrabble?"

Without question, Brad Gilbert, a former top 5 player on the ATP Tour, has a way with words...and player nicknames. For example, "Gael Force" is Gilbert's nickname for Gael Monfils, not his take on the weather. When he's not hooked up to a mic on ESPN, Gilbert's colorful commentary can also be found on his Twitter page, where he writes his one-of-a-kind quips, in 140-words-or-less.

I've put together this handy list of player names and corresponding nicknames (created by Gilbert), so you can follow along on TV or Twitter, as he takes tennis commentating to new level. 

Player Name Nickname

Alex Bogomolov Bogey
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Scrabble
Andy Murray Muzza, Muzzard (credit to Darren Cahill for Muzzard)
Angelique Kerber Kerber Baby
Bernard Tomic Weekend at Bernie's
Brian Baker Baker's Dozen
Dudi Sela Duty Free
Feliciano Lopez Filo Lopez
Fernando Verdasco Fer-Ver
Francesca Schiavone Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Gael Monfils Gael Force
Giles Simon Simon Says
Gilles Muller Ferris Muller Day Off
Go Soeda Do not pass Go Soeda
Grigor Dimitrov Prime Time Dimitrov
Ivo Karlovic Dr. Ivo
Jack Sock Jack Knee-Socks, Rockum-Sock
Jarkko Nieminen The Shark Nieminen
Jelena Jankovic Double J
Jo Wilfried Tsonga Jo-Willy
John Isner Isman
Juan Monaco Club Monaco
J├╝rgen Meltzer Tuna Meltzer
Kei Nishikori Special K
Madison Keys Madison Ave
Marcel Granollers Granola Bars
Marcos Baghdatis Baghs
Mardy Fish Swordfish, Sushi, Fisherman
Maria Sharapova Shazza
Marin Cilic Marin County Cilic
Michaella Krajicek Cracker Jack
Milos Raonic Missile, Missile Roanic
Nicolas Mahut Marathon Man Mahut
Nicolay Davydenko Davy
Novak Djokovic Djoker
Petra Kvitova K-Vitty
Radek Stepanek Steps
Rajeev Ram Ram Truck
Richard Gasquet Dickie Gasquet
Roberta Vinci DaVinci Code
Roger Federer Fedfan, Fed Express
Ryan Harrison Ryan Express
Sabine Lisicki Boom Boom
Sam Querrey SQ
Stan Wawrinka Stan the Man
Thomas Berdych Birdman
Venus Williams VW
Vera Zvonareva Z-Von
Victoria Azarenka Aza
Xavier Malisse Xman

*If I've missed any names here, feel free to pass them along!