Cincinnati 2016: Reflections on Semifinal Saturday

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Kerber counter-punching – Credit Mike Kooris

Prelude: Burritos to Go?

My semifinal Saturday, started with an unexpected surprise.  Before entering the grounds with Mike Kooris (a good friend who is a better tennis player than me), and I went to Chipotle to get less expensive food than what is offered on site.  While eating a tall Canadian entered the restaurant and picked up a to-go order.  Milos Raonic’s nutrition plan for the day involved a burrito for lunch.

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Muguruza looking to get to the airport – credit Mike Kooris

Act 1 – Karolina Pliskova vs. Garbine Muguruza

This match started with Muguruza claiming the first 5 points.  Pliskova steadied herself and began to dictate with her serve and forehand.  Muguruza’s serve was quite off as she hit many double faults.  The conditions were windy, and Muguruza looked clearly out of sorts.  Pliskova as playing well at a time when Muguruza’s mental game seemed to in New York rather than Cincinnati.  The result was a one sided 6-1, 6-3 victory that ended less than 1 minute before rain began to fall.  Pliskova’s timing was a good as her game.

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Halep moved well as one would expect – Credit Mike Kooris

Act 2 –  A Kerber vs. Halep Main Event?

Angelique Kerber beat Simona Halep at Wimbledon.  Halep turned the tables beating Kerber at Montreal.  Their summer clashes were high quality matches.  Hopes were high that their Cincinnati match would be equally compelling.  The result was not a bad match, but it certainly was not at the same level as their earlier matches this summer.  Kerber led 4-3 on serve when a first set rain delay hit.  After a semi-brief break, Kerber was able to quickly break and hold serve to take the first set 6-3.

Halep seemed rattled by the quick change in match dynamics while Kerber was emboldened.  Kerber won 6 consecutive games after the rain delay to lead 6-3, 4-0.  Halep dug in to win 3 straight games and forced Kerber to a change over at 6-3, 4-3.  Kerber won the final 2 games in a match that featured many deuce games and many good points, but this match never really saw each player playing well at the same time as her opponent. Kerber winning match point off of an unforced error despite breaking a string was interesting, but it also highlighted that Halep was not quite as error resistant as she needed to be to win this match.

One thing that was very apparent in this match was that Kerber and Halep alike had spots on the court they tried to find during rallies.  If Halep could get into a spot that an angled two-handed backhand drive cross court was in the offing, Kerber was in trouble.  Kerber served Halep’s forehand almost exclusively in part to avoid this sort of pattern.  Similarly, Kerber’s lefty forehand could be lethal if a ball was left short to that side, and Halep sought to avoid this.  If each player could find the spots on the court her opponent disliked, the point was generally won even if the final shot of the point was several strokes later.  Each player knew her opponent’s preferences.  It was nice to see this strategic outlook after an earlier match in which Muguruza seemed to wilt in the face of both windy conditions and Pliskova’s steady execution of big serves and forehand drives.

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Kerber serving – Credit Mike Kooris

Post Script – Men’s Doubles

Mike and I caught the final 2 games of a doubles match involving Daniel Nestor (older than me – what is my excuse?).  It was ice to see some massive serves, backhand overheads, and deft volleying.  It was also nice watching the matches with a solid tennis player.  Mike picked up on Muguruza’s discomfort with the wind before the second changeover of the match.  Mike was also nice enough to use his smart phone to grab a few photos for Tennis Abides.  The doubles match ended 5 minutes prior to another rain shower so fortunate timing occurred even if Nestor double faulted to end the match.

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“I wonder why these front row seats are empty?” “Eh, let’s finish these guys before the rain.” – Credit Mike Kooris
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