Tennis star Oudin to endorse AirTran

Friday, September 18, 2009

Melanie Oudin, the 17-year-old Marietta, Ga., tennis phenom that captivated the nation with her performance at the U.S. Open, has signed on to be a pitch woman with AirTran Airways Inc., the airline said Friday.


Oudin will be featured in radio ads and billboards throughout the Atlanta area. Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran (NYSE: AAI) is the second-largest airline in Atlanta, as well as being the second-largest carrier at Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport.

 


"I am thrilled to have AirTran as a partner as I strive to reach my goals as a professional tennis player," Oudin said in a statement. "It means so much to me that a local company is supporting me and I am truly excited about this partnership."


Oudin joins a stable of Atlanta and national sports celebrity endorsers for the low-cost carrier, which has its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. AirTran's sports endorsers include Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun and Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver.


"Melanie Oudin has quickly become a household name in the world of tennis, and we are so proud of her accomplishments both on and off the court," Tad Hutcheson, AirTran Airways' vice president of marketing and sales, said in a statement. "Melanie joins a great lineup of celebrity endorsers including Indy Racing Star Danica Patrick, Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta Thrasher Ilya Kovalchuk and Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Peyton Manning just to name just a few."


Oudin became the youngest women’s player to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals since Serena Williams in 1999. She defeated No. 4-ranked Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova (No. 29) and Nadia Petrova (No. 13).


Oudin is now ranked No. 44 in the world, and is the third-highest rated American women’s tennis player.

AirTran recently took over as the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons.

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U.S. Open champion Del Potro returns home in triumph

Friday, September 18, 2009

U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro was greeted by thousands of fans and feted with rock band Queen's seminal "We are the Champions" when he made a triumphant return to his hometown of Tandil on Thursday.

An emotional Del Potro, who upset world number one Roger Federer in five sets, reached the town's main square on top of a fire truck waving to thousands of fans who turned the four kilometer ride along the city's streets into a carnival.

"I owe this to Tandil," he said from the balcony of the municipal palace after receiving the keys to the city where he played his first matches at the age of six. "I don't want to cry but thank all of you -- the ones that were cold waiting on the streets, the ones that ran along the route just to greet me," said Del Potro, wrapped in an Argentine flag.

Tandil, a modest rural town of 100,000 has turned into the unlikely cradle for Argentine tennis with ATP players Mariano Zabaleta, Diego Junqueira, Maximo Gonzalez and Juan Monaco all hailing from the city 350 km south of Buenos Aires.  Del Potro, who will turn 21 next Wednesday, made a stop at the Club Independiente, where he started his career, while loudspeakers blared out Queen's rock anthem.

The U.S. Open victory assured Del Potro of qualifying for the season-ending Masters tournament in London in November.

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One Word Costs Federer $1,500

Friday, September 18, 2009

Roger Federer’s choice of words during the United States Open final will cost him $1,500.

That’s decidedly less than Serena Williams’s $10,500 outburst during the women’s semifinal, in which she said something threatening — she does not remember what — to a line judge ($10,000) and abused her racket ($500). Williams apologized to fans and said she wanted to give the lineswoman “a big old hug.”

It’s all part of $31,500 in fines meted out to players at the Open, according to a United States Tennis Association spokesman.

The penalty for Federer, one of Switzerland’s 300 wealthiest people, is the same as the fines issued to Vera Zvonareva ($1.4 million in earnings this year) and Daniel Koellerer ($223,707) for using profanity. It represents 0.005 percent of the more than $25.9 million Sports Illustrated estimates Federer made last year in tennis earnings and endorsements.

Federer argued a call with the chair umpire during the final against Juan Martin del Potro, using a profanity that was picked up by the CBS microphones on the court for the live broadcast of the match.

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Del Potro stands tall in U.S. Open win

Monday, September 14, 2009

It would be difficult to overstate Roger Federer's reign of dominance here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Coming into his championship final match with Juan Martin del Potro, he had won 40 consecutive matches and was looking for his sixth consecutive title, something that hadn't been achieved in 84 years. In successive finals, he had beaten, in order, Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

On Monday, Federer ran into a fearless 20-year-old from Argentina who, after a first set marred by nerves, was not awed by the aura Federer has worked so hard to craft. This was del Potro's first Grand Slam final. The Swiss star, acknowledged widely as the greatest player ever, was appearing in his 17th of the past 18.

Del Potro, an underdog of almost unimaginable proportion, rode his massive forehand to a 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory for his first major title.

After his 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 semifinal victory over Rafael Nadal, del Potro called it the greatest moment of his life. How did this feel?

"Much better," del Potro deadpanned in his on-court interview.

The last match of the Grand Slam season ran 4 hours, 6 minutes -- the longest final here in 20 years -- and it offered extraordinary quality along with quantity. Federer, almost always a lock in major championship tiebreakers (he was previously 18-3), uncharacteristically lost both extra sessions to del Potro.

"It's one of those finals, maybe I'll look back and have some regret," Federer said. "In the end, he was just too tough. That's the way it was.

"His effort was fantastic."

Del Potro can't legally celebrate with a bottle of Dom Perignon, but he is the first player to beat Nadal and Federer in a Grand Slam tournament. At 6-foot-6, he also becomes the tallest Grand Slam champion in the Open era.

"It's amazing for me," Del Potro said. "I'm very happy to be with this crowd, this people, this court. This will be in my mind forever in my life. I don't have words for this."

The last player to win his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open was Andy Roddick in 2003.

"I had a great run myself, but he was the best," a gracious Federer conceded. "Of course, I would have loved to win. I never would have believed I could win 40 in a row here. It's been an amazing run for me."

Del Potro overcame his unsteady start and, after serving to stay in the match in the third set, two points from defeat, played with astonishing confidence in the late going. In the fourth set, after he sprinted to track down a sharply angled shot from Federer, following with a nifty little forehand winner, del Potro nearly ran into the first row at Arthur Ashe Stadium. He high-fived a dozen fans before he returned to the baseline.

Federer, meanwhile, slowly lost his composure.

He was infamous for his temper as a junior, but in putting together the greatest sustained streak of excellence in the game's history, Federer learned to master his emotions. On this night, he dropped several choice and inappropriate rejoinders on chair umpire Jake Garner that were worthy of Serena Williams. He questioned line calls and let the irritation linger. He grew agitated when Garner declined to play a point over after a fan yelled "out."

Federer, in the end, looked disheveled. His forehand unraveled;, he didn't serve well (low tosses dogged him all night); and when opportunities presented themselves, in the form of break points, he did not take them. Federer had 22 chances and converted only five.

Going in, the history -- almost all of it -- was against del Potro.

Federer had won each of their six previous matches. The only encouraging thing? After losing the first 12 sets to Federer, del Potro won two of three in their semifinal encounter earlier this year at Roland Garros before losing in five.

In his semifinal win over Rafa, del Potro fairly oozed with confidence. Early in Monday's final, that swagger -- and his cranked-up forehand -- were missing in action.

The second game of the match set a tone that ultimately proved to be irreversible. With a nervous del Potro serving, Federer pressed him continually and scored five break points; the fifth was the charm. Federer won a crazy, scrambling point -- the best of the match -- making two terrific gets and finishing it with a savage forehand crosscourt winner.


[+] EnlargeNick Laham/Getty Images
A visibly disheveled Roger Federer saw his 40-match U.S. Open win streak come to an end.
That elicited an uncharacteristically early fist pump from Federer and dropped del Potro into what seemed to be a deep hole.

Sixty-nine minutes later, it was del Potro who was launching a rousing uppercut fist pump of his own. Federer had been serving for the set at 5-4 when del Potro, for the first time, started playing as if he thought he could win.

At 30-all, del Potro hit a forehand down the line that was called out, but a challenge replay revealed it had nicked the line. On break point, del Potro hit a gorgeous running forehand loaded with topspin and sidespin that hooked into the corner for 5-all. The tiebreaker went to the Argentine when he converted his third set point with a crosscourt forehand winner.

"It's a pity," Federer said. "If I win that second set, I'm in a great position to come through."

The third set was similarly contentious. When del Potro considered a challenge, while Federer was on his way to his changeover chair with a 5-4 lead, Federer assailed Garner, who told him to be quiet. Abusive language ensued.

Del Potro, unstrung by a netcord that went against him, double-faulted twice to give agitated Federer the third and seemingly pivotal set. This is when del Potro grew more sure of himself and Federer, at the same time, began to let niggling things distract him from his greater purpose.

"At that moment I start to think I'm playing with Roger, the best player of the history," del Potro said, "Nothing to lose. Keep fighting. I started to believe in my game. It helped me."

The fourth-set tiebreaker wasn't really close; Federer's forehand couldn't find the court. The fifth set was, startlingly, a blowout. On del Potro's third match point, Federer ripped a backhand long and the young Argentine fell back on the court and sobbed.

"Juan Martin played great," Federer said. "He hung in there and played great in the end, he was a better man. I had chances today to win, but couldn't take them. It was unfortunate."

Nine years ago, a swashbuckling 20-year-old Russian lit up Pete Sampras and the U.S. Open. Marat Safin won his first Grand Slam title, and these del Potro wins over Nadal and Federer, the game's finest, had that sort of feel and texture.

"I have to compare it to my first at Wimbledon," Federer said. "It's the best feeling on the planet. It's kind of unexpected. It's good to see him so happy and emotional about it.

"He should enjoy it. He deserves it.

Federer mused aloud about his rivalry with Nadal and added, "Who knows, maybe del Potro's going to join that thing in the future."

Less than an hour after he won, del Potro seemed subdued. Maybe it's because he didn't sleep much the night before the match.


"When I laid down on the floor, many thing came to my mind," del Potro said. "Family and friends. It's my dream, it's done. I will go home with the trophy. It's the best sensation of my life.


"Maybe next week I will believe in this. I don't understand nothing."

 

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Kim Clijsters wins U.S. Open women's title

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kim Clijsters wrapped her hands around the U.S. Open championship trophy and held it aloft, high enough for the principals of her new life, her husband and daughter, to see the crown jewel of her old life.

Minutes later, the two spheres combined. Clijsters' 1-year-old daughter Jada toddled out on the court and touched the trophy. Her husband, Brian Lynch, a Christian Brothers Academy graduate, walked over. All three posed with the bauble.

Then Jada went back to tumbling all over Arthur Ashe Stadium.

 

The crowd cooed, because four years after she first won her only Grand Slam title here and two years after she retired from tennis, Clijsters defeated No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki, 7-5, 6-3 in the sleepy, steady finale of a madcap tournament. Injuries prevented Clijsters from preserving the title she won here in 2005. So her victory last night provided a bow-tie for her serendipitous comeback.

"I don't have words for this," Clijsters said. "I'm just glad I got to come back and defend my title from 2005."

When Clijsters first held this trophy, she was single and childless and a bit of a head case on the court. Before 2005, she folded in big moments and lost her first four Grand Slam finals matches. Now she's married and a mother. She was the most composed player in a women's tournament overcrowded with wilting challengers early and marred by Serena Williams' controversial outburst late.  Clijsters, 26, is both the first unseeded champion and first wild-card champion in Open history. "Thank you, USTA, for giving me a wild card to come back here," she joked during the trophy presentation. 

And to think, this all began by accident. Earlier this year, Clijsters was invited to play a mixed doubles exhibition at Wimbledon. The exhibition was scheduled for May and it would serve as a demo for the new roof at the All England Club.

Clijsters accepted. To make sure she didn't embarrass herself, she started working out again. The game came back to her and a fire lit. Clijsters realized she wanted to come back. She linked up with old coach Wim Fisette and hunkered down.

She spent all spring and summer training, entered a couple hard-court tournaments in August. She played good, not great. But she felt ready for a Grand Slam appearance.

In Flushing Meadows, things broke her way. Her early draw was favorable and allowed her to gain confidence. The top seeds all collapsed. Clijsters knocked off both Williams sisters.

"I feel that Kim played an incredible match," Serena Williams said Saturday night, after her last-minute tirade at a line judge marred Clijsters' semifinals upset.

She looked calm. She looked nimble. She looked like her old self. Maybe better.

But Wozniacki, a 19-year-old Dane, made it tough last night. She broke Clijsters three times and won a batch of tough first-set games to take a 4-2 lead. Her dipping, precise shots confounded Clijsters and induced 34 errors.

"Caroline's such a great fighter," Clijsters said.

But Clijsters was better. Her serve straightened out and she began pounding winners. Her athleticism and Wozniacki's counter-punching style meant Clijsters could control rallies and control the pace of the match.

"She played a great match," Wozniacki said. "She deserved this trophy."

After 93 minutes of work, Clijsters could hold that old trophy. On the match's final point, Clijsters crushed her final winner and crumbled to the ground. Her face, both steely and serene for the past two weeks, broke into sobs. She pulled herself off the floor and waved to the crowd.
She mouthed "I love you" to her husband and jogged over to the box holding all her friends. She climbed the railing and hugged them all. In a separate section, a nanny held Jada, her mouth plugged with a pacifier. The family wanted her to see this.

"We tried to plan her nap time a little bit later today," Clijsters said. "So she could be here today."

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Clijsters Wins on Penalty Assessed on Williams

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Serena Williams, the defending United States Open champion, lost her semifinals match in the United States Open to Kim Clijsters in the most shocking and improbable manner Saturday night, stunning the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

When Williams picked up a second code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, she had no points left to give.
When a lineswoman called Williams for a foot fault to set up match point for Clijsters, Williams argued spitefully and then berated the judge with profanity. She picked up a second code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct, but she had no points left to give.

Clijsters, the 26-year-old making a joyful return to tennis after a two-year retirement, had mostly outplayed Williams to that point, but she never got to play match point. Williams came over to Clijsters and shook her hand as Clijsters, a wild-card entry to start the tournament, advanced to the finals of the Open with a 6-4, 7-5 victory that will almost certainly prove as memorable as it was contentious.

It was the first time Clijsters had reached a Grand Slam final since she won her only Grand Slam tournament — the Open — in 2005. She will face Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated Yanina Wickmayer, 6-3, 6-3, in the other semifinal.

“I am still in shock,” Clijsters said after dispatching the defending champion.

Brian Earley, the tournament referee, explained that “she said something to a line umpire, it was reported to the chair and that resulted in a point penalty and it just happened that point penalty was match point,” he said.

As the line judge approached the chair umpire and reported what Williams said, Williams responded incredulously on court: “I didn’t say I would kill you, are you serious? I didn’t say that.”

This rescheduled semifinal was in the original time slot of the women’s final, a prime-time special created eight years ago, in part because of the draw of the Williams sisters. Until the fateful point that decided the match, the action was worthy of a final.

Clijsters, in a mere 35 minutes, had done what no other player had accomplished this tournament: she won a set off Serena Williams.

And with the first-set defeat, Williams threw her racket to the court in disgust. She picked it up and, still angry, slammed it to the court for effect. This time, she mangled the frame.

Her emotions seemed to be as unsettled as the weather as she sprayed 15 unforced errors in that first set.

Clijsters had gotten the early break in the sixth game as Williams, uncharacteristically, served two double faults. But the vintage Serena Williams flashed into existence on the next point, rocketing a crosscourt winner on Clijsters’s 104 m.p.h. serve.

On the second point of the game, as Williams let a defensive lob fall to the court, the stadium cheered in anticipation: she smashed it with so much it landed in the second row of seats.

From there, she broke back, but Williams still seemed a bit off.

At first, when droplets of rain floated from the sky, Williams seemed bothered by the slippery court conditions. She registered her complaints with the linesman on a changeover.

And after Clijsters first broke her, Williams looked over to her father and coach, Richard, and held out her arms as if to say, “What am I doing?”

As Williams tried to channel her anger, Clijsters appeared far more relaxed. About two hours earlier, she wore a contented smile on her face as she went to check the court conditions during the interminable rain delay.

“Can they make it stop raining?” she asked the security guards.

After being away from tennis for 27 months, what were another couple of hours? As Williams had predicted, Clijsters felt no pressure. This was, after all, a night out for Clijsters and her husband, Brian Lynch, the parents of a toddler.

On a soggy Saturday when talk of constructing a roof was all the rage, perhaps it was only appropriate that Clijsters was playing in the night’s semifinal. Were it not for a roof, she might not have returned to tennis.

But in January she was invited to play in an exhibition with Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Tim Henman to launch the new roof at Wimbledon. Clijsters figured she had to get back into shape so as not to embarrass herself.

And then she realized how much she missed the game, enjoying the training and the challenge once again.

“Seems like she’s even faster than what she was before,” Williams said. “I was thinking that maybe I should have a baby and then I’ll come back faster.”

Clijsters admitted that she was, indeed, fitter than before, perhaps liberated by not having the same pressure on her as Williams. She knocked off Venus Williams in the Round of 16, marching deep into the tournament, but into territory she had charted.

Over in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the two 19-year-olds could not say the same. Wozniacki may have been ranked No. 8 in the world, and had won three tournaments this season, but she had never reached a Grand Slam semifinal before. Wickmayer had never advanced past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament before this Open.

The pairing made the undercard, and the players took the court 10 minutes after the Clijsters-Williams semifinal began, before barely 300 fans.

 

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Danish Wozniacki advanced to the US Open final

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Danish teen Caroline Wozniacki, never before in the last eight at a Grand Slam, advanced to the US Open final by defeating Belgium's 50th-ranked Yanina Wickmayer 6-3, 6-3, on Saturday.

Wozniacki, the ninth seed, won a matchup of 19-year-olds to put herself into Sunday's championship match against Belgium's Kim Clijsters, who dethroned defending champion Serena Williams of the United States 6-4, 7-5.

"It feels fantastic," Wozniacki said. "I'm really excited."

Wozniacki, who has never played Clijsters, won her 11th match in a row, including a title run at New Haven the week before the US Open began, and is set to reach a career-best seventh in the next world rankings.

Nearly eight hours of drizzle delayed the start of the match and forced it to be moved from Arthur Ashe Stadium to the secondary Louis Armstrong Stadium once the showers stopped and the courts could be dried.

After losing the opening point on her serve, Wickmayer complained to umpire Lynn Welch about the slick surface, sliding her foot along the court to a near-splits position to show her concerns.

Welch sent both players to their chairs, scuffed the lines with her feet and called for the lines to be toweled off. After another test, she said, 'Seems OK now' and sent the players back onto the court.

Wozniacki and Wickmayer exchanged service breaks to open the match but the Dane broke again in the fifth and seventh games for a 5-2 edge, the latter when Wickmayer netted a forehand after a lengthy rally. Wickmayer broke back at love to 5-3 but surrendered four of the next five points, netting a backhand volley to give up the break and drop the first set after 49 minutes.

Wickmayer broke for a 3-2 edge in the second set, winning a review appeal on a forehand volley to seize the lead, but sent a backhand wide to give back the break in the next game.Wozniacki took the critical break in the eighth game when Wickmayer netted a backhand, then held serve to win the match. Wozniacki sent a backhand long on the first match point but Wickmayer was wide with a crosscourt forehand volley on the second to hand Wozniacki the victory after 96 minutes.

Wickmayer, whose mother died of cancer at age nine and whose father gave up his construction job so his daughter could follow her tennis dream, had longed for a finals matchup against her idol Clijsters.  Instead, Wozniacki became the first Danish man or woman to reach a Grand Slam final, surpassing the 1978 Australian Open women's quarter-finals run by Dorte Ekner as her homeland's best showing.

Completing the semi-finals Saturday averted the first US Open women's singles final on a Monday since 1974, provided Sunday's sunny forecast holds.

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Rain postpones today's matches at U.S. Open

Friday, September 11, 2009

The U.S. Open was rained out today, pushing both women's semifinals as well as the continuation of a Thursday night men's quarterfinal to Saturday.

The rain also means that at least the men's final will be played on Monday instead of Sunday for the second year in a row.

According to Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the Open, beginning at 9 a.m. PDT Saturday, third-seeded Rafael Nadal and 11th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez will try to complete their quarterfinal that was stalled on Thursday night when the rain first began. Nadal is leading 7-6 (4), 6-6, 3-2 in the tiebreak.

However, the forecast calls for rain through at least 11 a.m. PDT on Saturday.

The rest of the Saturday schedule is tentatively to have the men's doubles final after the Nadal-Gonzalez match, followed by the women's semifinal between ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki and Yanina Wickmayer followed by, no earlier than 5 p.m. PDT, the second women's semifinal between second-seeded and defending champion Serena Williams and former No. 1-ranked Kim Clijsters.

This would all be on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court and holders of tickets for Friday's session will have their tickets honored Saturday.

Saturday's tennis would all be shown on CBS.

The rest of the schedule is less certain.

There is likely to be a men's semifinal on Sunday that would not be televised by CBS, which has its opening NFL slate of games. Widmaier said discussions were being held with both ESPN and Tennis Channel.

That would be followed by the second men's semifinal to begin at 1:30 p.m. PDT and then the women's final about 6 p.m. PDT. Widmaier said Open officials were in discussions with CBS about whether the network would televise an evening women's final.

The men's final will be Monday at a time still to be determined on will be on CBS. Last year's Monday final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray began at 2 p.m. PDT.

On Friday morning, the plan had been for Williams and Clijsters to play at 9:30 a.m. PDT with Nadal and Gonzalez next and then Wozniacki and Wickmayer as the third match on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

As the bad weather stretched into afternoon, the schedule changed to have Williams and Clijsters at Ashe; Nadal and Gonzalez at Louis Armstrong stadium and Woziacki and Wickmayer at the Grandstand Court simultaneously.

But by 2 p.m. PDT, with the rain still falling, it was announced the women wouldn't play at all today and that if Nadal and Gonzalez continued, it would be at Ashe. At 3 p.m. Nadal and Gonzalez were released from the grounds.

Last year, Nadal's semifinal against Andy Murray was moved from Ashe to Armstrong when the remnants of a tropical storm were predicted to cause trouble. After a mid-match postponement, Nadal and Murray finished their semifinal on Sunday at Ashe, and Murray won.

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Federer tops Soderling to reach U.S. Open semis

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Upsets and unexpected story lines aside at the U.S. Open, the substantial presence of established stars such as Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal notwithstanding, there is no getting away from the Roger Federer footprint, no avoiding talk of Federer's ever-expanding portfolio.

Federer's eventual dismissal of Sweden's Robin Soderling - tricky winds aside - from last night's quarterfinal, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6), turned dramatically competitive late but was a good enough exhibit for a small place in the Federer hall of masterpieces. It was Federer's 12th-straight victory over the 12th-seeded Soderling.

Another title in Flushing Meadows would make Federer the first man since Bill Tilden in 1925 to win six straight U.S. titles, a comparison Federer called "fantastic" even as he reminded that he never saw Tilden - Tilden died 28 years before Federer was born - "so it's hard for me to say about that, really."

The math of Federer's career is increasingly staggering. A 187-26 match record in Grand Slam events, a record 15 major-tournament titles, 22 straight trips to a Grand Slam semifinal. Even his 7-13 record against his most impressive peer, Nadal, doesn't blunt talk that Federer could be the best ever to play his sport. Or, at the very least, that Federer brought his game to such a high polish that it demanded a loftier level from Nadal.

"I think this stuff you can talk about when my career is over, really," Federer said. "This is when you analyze, OK, how much did Rafa Nadal help my career and how much did I help his career? I don't know. I can't answer this."

But there is no avoiding that Federer, as a measuring stick, is a constant:

"I don't think," No. 4 Novak Djokovic said, "that you can always - you can ever - get your game to the perfection, you know. Only if you're Federer."

Watching Federer equal his accomplishment of a career Grand Slam by finally winning the French Open this spring, Andre Agassi declared "it would have been a crime had he not ever won in Paris. He's been the second best clay courter for five years running. He should have won four or five French Opens if it wasn't for one sort of freakish kid from Mallorca. He would have possibly won two Grand Slams - all four in the same year, two years in a row.

"What he's done in separating himself from the game he should be recognized, and the problem is, it wasn't being recognized if he didn't win Paris. I thought, once he did, the discussion's over with. For him just to remove that, as some sort of possible thorn, I think is right."

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Serena Williams all aces, earns date with Kim Clijsters at U.S. Open semis

Thursday, September 10, 2009

She plays with hoop earrings the size of tire rims, and the power of a tractor. Serena Williams didn't just turn one more overmatched opponent into tennis road kill at Arthur Ashe Stadium Tuesday night.

She plowed into the U.S. Open semifinals with an aura of complete invincibility, as if she were daring anybody to try to take her down.

Williams, the No. 2 seed and the defending champion, is now two victories away from her third Grand Slam title of the year, and the 12th of her career. She reached the Final Four with a stunning display of high-octane tennis, punishing a game quarterfinal opponent, No. 10 Flavia Pennetta, 6-4, 6-3, doing it with a serve that clocked as high as 118 mph, running her 2009 Slam record to a ludicrous 23-1.

Next up for Williams - the only player in the whole tournament who hasn't lost a set - is an intriguing matchup with the comebacking tennis mother, Kim Clijsters, the 2005 champion, who took out sister Venus in the fourth round, and did the same to Li Na of China earlier Tuesday.

Clijsters, 26, has beaten the 27-year-old Williams only once in their eight meetings, but she promises to bring a champion's fight to the court.

"She's always been able to step it up at the Grand Slams," Clijsters said. "I mean, I've seen her play here and she has that face where she's like, 'Okay, I'm here to do business.' But that doesn't mean that you don't get chances when you get to play her."

Said Williams of Clijsters: "She's even faster than what she was before. I was thinking maybe I should have a baby, and come back faster. She definitely hasn't lost a step."

Pennetta, who was looking to become the first Italian woman to make a Slam semi, fought off six match points in her fourth-round victory over Vera Zvonareva of Russia. She ran hard, hit hard and played splendid defense, but on a night when Williams is serving so dominantly - she won 30 of her 35 first-service points, and had seven aces - the openings are slimmer than the Mets' playoff hopes.

"I didn't have a lot of chance," Pennetta said. "Today I made a few mistakes on important points, and she just take the chance to close the match."

The first set was on serve until the final game, when Pennetta wobbled, with a double fault and two air-mailed forehands, Williams breaking her at love for the set.

"I needed to step up to the plate, and finally I was able to do that," Williams said.

In the first game of the second set, Pennetta had what would be her only two break points of the night. She netted a forehand on the first, a backhand on the second. Williams held with two aces, broke Pennetta on a double fault in Game 6 for 4-2.

Three games later, Pennetta still fighting hard, Williams finished a marathon rally - maybe the best point of the match - with a crackling forehand winner down the line.

The semifinals are next. Good luck to anyone standing in the way of the tennis tractor.

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