Jonathan Newman and James Rogers are the hosts of The Body Serve Tennis Podcast. In the The Body Serve Diary, Jonathan and James write conversationally about the various happenings in the wild world of tennis.
JR: That Shania concert was … something. This US Open night session is on schedule like a Lauryn Hill concert.
JN: I don't want to go in too hard on Shania; I own Shania records (something you've long given me grief about), but that was so bizarre and not good. Oooh, here’s Maria with Rinaldi in the tunnel.
JR: I see you were working on that Canadian citizenship years before you even moved to Canada. Chrissie just did a mini-monologue about how hard Maria has had it. Chrissie has HAD IT! It is so strange to see Maria back on a tennis court.
JN: Simona is all primary colours in Pharrell’s Adidas line, and Maria is in all black with some sparkles. These two are so different in style of play and their outfits are showing that contrast tonight too. Maria Sharapova to serve. Quiet please, thank you. Ready. Play.
JR: Maria has clearly got a game plan …. Well, to be fair, it is the only Sharapova game plan there has ever been. Hit hard, control the middle of the court. All offense all the time. She holds serve to open the match.
JN: Can we talk about this nonsense that Halep is mostly just a counterpuncher? She’s got plenty/enough power to trouble anybody. It’s a matter of having the moxy on court to execute it.
JR: I don’t know if I’d say she has enough power to “trouble” anybody, but she can hang with basically anybody. She gets a lot of torque out of her body. Speaking of moxy, Simona brought up the first break point of the match at 1-1. Maria will not stop hitting out, so Simona has to seize on Maria’s errors.
JN: Maria rips a crosscourt forehand winner on the run to save it and eventually hold for 2-1. This has been verrrrry entertaining so far. Mayweather v McGregor, eat your heart out. The crowd is loving it.
JR: Unrelatedly, this stadium must be super loud because I can’t hear the SI-MO-NA crowd at all. I was expecting Maria to tell them to Haide up their …. Anyway, Simona is being pretty aggressive on the serve, by her standards; she’s trying to mix up the placement of her first serve, especially. Of course, just as I type that, she drops a 74 mph second serve right into Maria’s forehand strike zone. Absolutely stunning retrieving from Simona at 1-2, Ad Sharapova.
JN: Yeah, Simona’s second serve is everything Maria could hope for and more. Maria thwacks another 70+ mph sitter to break for 3-1. Just when I’m starting to count the number of games won:lost ratio for Simona in her last two matches, she summons some of her best stuff to snatch the break right back. Admit it, you are entertained.
JR: Indeed. But it hasn’t stopped the Chris twins from talking all the way through points. Just like that, though, Simona is down 0-40 on her serve. And there’s the third straight break of serve.
JN: Make that FOUR in a row. Sharapova seems to be battling her serve a bit more; we’ve now seen a couple of those double fault shockers that we used to see PM. And no, I'm not talking about Patrick Mouratoglou.
JR: After all those breaks, Halep held serve after a storm of Sharapova errors. Maria has had real chances to shut down this set, but she is alternately imperious and sloppy. There is no in between with her.
JN: Maria eventually breaks to take the first set 6-4. The stats don't show much difference between the two at this point, even in the second serves that I've maligned Simona for. Ultimately, Maria is just a bit more tenacious and her much talked about intangibles have carried her to the first set finish line.
JR: Since I’m incapable of giving Maria an unqualified compliment, here goes: she won the first set in spite of letting Simona off the hook repeatedly with wild mistakes. Simona is making things difficult for herself, though, by not being able to rely on her serve.
JN: LOL, where is the compliment in that?
JR: “She won the first set.” Did you miss that part?
JN: I'm a let you finish but… Simona, you in danger girl! Maria breaks for 6-4 3-1 and we’re now just three games away from losing Halep and Konta (two of the favourites) on the opening day. Wow! Whatever you do, find a highlight of that 3-1 15-all point.
JR: Maria is just doing a fantastic job of hitting behind Simona; I imagine it’s demoralizing for an opponent to create opportunities on your biggest asset (speed). With a perfect inside-out forehand, Maria goes up 4-1. I’m afraid this one is done and dusted.
JN: See, was that so hard? You actually managed to compliment Maria, maybe because you weren't actually trying this time, lol. But you are absolutely right, Simona doesn't seem to have any answers at this point: pretty incredible given the disparity in match play these two have had leading into this match. Make no mistake, this is a terrible draw for both players, but this is looking like a horrible loss...again...for Halep.
JR:I know this is easier said than done, but Simona needs to do something differently against these power hitters. She cannot feed balls down the middle; Sharapova is teeing up and whacking winners with impunity. (She’s at an astronomical 39 winners after 16 games.) Simona is fighting, though, no doubt about that.
JN: I was definitely too harsh for saying this would be a horrible loss for Halep. She hasn't played poorly overall, she just hasn’t played the key moments well enough and the serve has been a big letdown. Well, look at that, Halep breaks at love and we’re back on serve, 3-4 second set. Is Maria playing as well as the Chris twins are saying? Pretty sure I heard something to the effect of: “this is close to the best we’ve seen her play,” which…
(I’ve teed up another compliment opportunity for you)
JR: I don’t really follow her career, so … I have no idea. She’s playing very well, yes. I don’t understand the need for superlatives that are impossible to either prove or refute.
JN: You jinx! Halep has strung together four straight games since you declared this one done and dusted; she'll now serve for the second set at 5-4. Maria didn't just blink, were her eyes even open these last few games?! Simona has also raised her play, hitting out much more from the baseline.
And HOW BOW DAH?!?! Halep wins five straight games to send it to a third set. I guess Game of Thrones will have to wait for us until tomorrow night.
JR: Like Blanche Devereaux, I am stunned -- stunned! Gotta give so much credit to Simona there. She started hitting with more belief and made it happen. The commentators are starting to speculate on Maria’s fitness and footwork, and I can’t tell how much of that is an excuse and how much is genuine analysis. All I know is that Simona played admirably in that set when she could have easily folded.
JN: Sharapova has bolted out of the gate in the third set and has a 3-0 lead. Simona has been down early in each set so far and has at least evened it late in both. Can she do it one more time? Time for your jinx, sir; is this one done and dusted? Also, is Chrissie EATING?!?!
JR: Listen, Chrissie is the Kathie Lee of the US Open night session. Let her live! As for your first question, I have no idea, but I’m still having fun watching.
JN: Chrissie definitely has Today Show Fourth Hour loose lip syndrome right now. I ain't mad. Just heard: “Are you saying that I was a PUSHER?!”
JR: I was so scared for Mary Joe in that moment. Chrissie set the record straight that she controlled points with her placement. Run and tell that. Back to today’s tennis, we’re exactly where we were in the previous set: Maria is up 4-1, with Simona fighting to stay in it. She’s played a good service game. It seems like she is a bit freer when she has something to fight for.
JN: This 5-3 game with Maria serving for the match is must-see stuff. Both women are tearing the cover off the ball, trading winners and unreturnable groundies. Such a fantastic display for tennis on this so-called biggest stage in tennis.
JR: Well, that’s it. Maria holds serve and takes out the #2 seed after 2 hours 42 minutes. It was a great match, there’s no doubt about that. I’m just finding it hard to keep my rude thoughts to myself, so you should take over.
JN: We don’t often get this much time to anticipate a big time matchup in tennis. That's because this match (unfortunately) happened in the first round and we knew about it since the draw came out Friday afternoon. And boy, did it deliver: seriously impressed by both women. Top showing for tennis and the WTA. I want to ask you about what you make of Maria’s emotions on court after the match, but I think we’ll save that for our mid-Open episode of the podcast.
JR: It definitely was a great night of tennis. I’m off to bed. Bye!