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By Chris Oddo

Li Na hits a groundstroke during the first round of the 2012 US Open (August 29, 2012) -- Another perfect day for tennis in beautiful Flushing Meadows, New York turned bittersweet as Kim Clijsters met her eventual demise on Arthur Ashe at the hands of promising 18-year-old Laura Robson of Great Britain. Just three days into the US Open and one of the major storylines of this event has fallen by the wayside. But not to worry, tennis afficionados: there are lots of hopes and dreams still very much alive in this year's draw.

1. Farewell Kim Clijsters


As far as second-rounders go, Clijsters' knock down, drag out scrap with up-and-coming Laura Robson pegged the fun meter and the emotional meter too. Sadly, there are many who wished that Clijsters could have summoned some more of her post-motherhood fairy dust and sprinkled it around Arthur Ashe Stadium to help her pull another miracle, but the fact of the matter was that Robson was just simply too good on this day.

But Clijsters did air out some of that trademark grit and eye-popping athleticism before it was all said and done, and the determined look in her eyes -- and in her husband's eyes as he sat looking nauseated in her box -- during the big moments of this match was priceless. When Clijsters knocked back Robson's first two match points like Cool Hand Luke to force the second set tiebreaker, for a fleeting moment it appeared that she was going to pull through.

"I had conflicting feelings when I watched that match," said Chris Evert afterwards. "I was very sentimental for Kimmie--it's her last match, I certainly didn't want her to lose that match. But on the other hand I have to admit I had some signs of excitement for Laura Robson, because I think a champion was born. I think this girl's got a really, really bright future."

"I think she's shown a way that you can be humble," said Darren Cahill of Clijsters, (he also mentioned that he did indeed shed a tear for her on Wednesday). "You can show a lot of class, you can win in the right way, and I think she's just been an example for everybody to follow."

True that.

2. Li Na feeling French

When asked "when was the last time you felt this good?" by a reporter after her 6-4, 6-4 win over Casey Dellacqua, Li Na said "Last year in the French Open," with a smile. If that's really true, the rest of the draw better watch out.


3. Wade not too high on Kvitova

Virginia Wade was all over Petra Kvitova's game during her lackadaisical straight-set win over Alize Cornet, pointing out all of the things she'd like to fix in the World No. 5. "It's a little bit of an afterthought I feel with her footwork," said Wade. "I mean it's not that she's necessarily slow, but (she's) not consistently quick."

"She certainly doesn't look like a woman who was able to win Wimbledon," Wade's partner Doug Adler added. "Or the US Open," said Wade. "You go and get one of the good groundstrokers like an Azarenka or Li Na against her and they're going to beat her on the groundstrokes."

4. Virginia Wade on Alize Cornet losing her cool

Alize Cornet is such a talented player. She's got gorgeous ground strokes, plays with great spin and court sense, and has a lot of fire. So why is the former World No. 11 such a non-factor at Grand Slams these days? Virginia Wade, a former Grand Slam winner who commentated her match against Petra Kvitova with Doug Adler thinks she knows why: "I haven't watched her so much in the last couple of years. It's all coming back loud and clear what the issues with her were, and one of them is definitely losing her cool."

Cornet was her usual fiery self today in her straight-set loss to Petra Kvitova. She berated herself at every opportunity, and gradually, as the pressure in a tense first set mounted, she melted down, serving a double-fault to give Petra Kvitova her first break of the day.

5. Mallory Burdette playing for love -- at least for now

Rising Stanford senior Mallory Burdette didn't even expect to make the US Open this summer, let alone find herself in the third-round and preparing for the match of her lifetime against Maria Sharapova. But after fantastic efforts in the first two rounds -- voila, here she is. As far as the $65k in prize money that she's earned, not so fast. Burdette's amateur status means that she'll have to forfeit any prize money she earns in NY. "I have already checked the amateur box," said Burdette, "so if I know correctly, you can't go back once the tournament starts.  So it's done."

Thankfully for American tennis fans, Burdette is still not done in New York (she faces Sharapova in round three).

6. The understatement of the day from tennis commentator Elise Burgin:

“I’m not sure that Clijsters knew that Robson could go toe-to-toe with her, but she is doing just that.” I know I'm probably a little late to the Robson for future Wimbledon champion bandwagon, but consider me officially on board. The 18-year-old has a deadly power game, a nasty left-handed pull-you-off-the-court slice serve and all kinds of moxie on the big stage. The knock on her is that she can't manage her nerves in big situations, and it may be true, but first of all she's 18, and second of all the reason she's even in these big situations is because she has a knack for rising to the occasion on the big stages.

7. An epic dogfight breaks out on court 17 between Gulbis and Haas


It was painful to watch 34-year-old Tommy Haas struggle with his fickle body on Court 17 as he engaged in tennis warfare with Ernests Gulbis over the course of their grueling five-set marathon. For Haas, who worked so hard to get his game together and earn a seed in New York, it was the worst possible scenario: A suddenly en fuego Gulbis playing with the purpose that so many of his adoring fans have craved to see in him, while Haas, stubborn and unrelenting in his own regard, simply couldn’t muster the strength to run with the young buck.

With legs cramping in the seventh game, Haas had his look at a chance to avoid blowing the two-set -and-a-break lead to Gulbis. He forced Gulbis into a 0-30 hole with a beautiful running forehand passing shot, but the Latvian fought back to hold against the weary veteran and converted a break in the very next game.

With the fire-bombing Gulbis’s serve on point, there was nothing that Haas could do but hope for a meltdown that never came. We can only hope that Haas will muster the will power to keep his aging body together for one last run at Grand Slam glory in 2013. As for Gulbis we can only hope that he builds on this mammoth comeback effort.

8. The Tweet of the day: How's this for sportsmanship? No wonder why Juan Monaco has such a huge cult following:



9.The second-best Tweet of the day:
Echoing the sentiments of emo-tennis fans everywhere:

10. Azarenka looking like No. 1

World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has never been beyond the quarterfinals of the US Open, and perhaps her most memorable match in New York came in 2010 when she passed out on the court on Grandstand in her second-round match against Gisela Dulko. Vika had to be carted off the court on a stretcher then, but this year her opponents in the first two rounds are the ones in need of assistance (maybe not medical, but surely emotional). Azarenka has boldy stated her case this week, blasting past Alexandra Panova and Kirsten Flipkens while only dropping five games. It's exactly the kind of authoritative, professional effort that Azarenka needs if she is to have the good mojo working for her in the later rounds.

Her efforts are serving to remind us that while she has suffered a few losses along the way this year, Azarenka is still very much in possession of the talent that saw her flourish early in the year when she went undefeated for her first 26 matches.

As for Azarenka herself, she's feeling quite relaxed. "I don't feel like I have to prove something," she told reporters today.   
 
(Photo Credit: AFP/Patrick Kovarik)

 

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