Before the rains came to interrupt the evening session, an upset had seemed possible when Marin Cilic led his fellow 20-year-old, Juan Martin del Potro, by a set and 3-1 in the first of the day’s quarterfinals.
But we should have remembered that the same thing happened when they met for the only previous time at the Australian Open in January. Cilic had won the first set there, too, only to lose the next three. The score here was a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 victory for the lanky Argentine.
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For a time, the sixth-seeded del Potro looked out of sorts as he came up with double faults and pushed his forehand into the net. Cilic, who has had his coach Bob Brett here with him at these championships, was obviously full of confidence following his demolition of Andy Murray in the previous round. Big serves and a whipped forehand were causing del Potro all kinds of trouble, but the conditions had changed dramatically from the early part of the week and that huge serve was not jumping as much as it had done against Murray.
“I would say it was a different match because, with Andy, he doesn’t have as much power as del Potro,” Cilic said, “and it was a little bit hotter that day and the ball was going through the court more and jumping up much more. So I didn’t need to force so much. Today, you really needed to hit the ball to be able to get in some good positions.”
Cilic did that for a while, but the Argentine is a steely eyed competitor who does not panic and does not flinch. He started to get his rhythm and find his spots to leave Cilic lunging for balls even with his considerable reach. The Croat felt the greater power of the del Potro return on his racket and began missing lines he had been hitting with deadly accuracy in the first set.
The longer the match went on, the tighter del Potro turned the screw and, by the start of the third set, he was in total command.
But del Potro will have to wait to find out who’s up next for him. Rafael Nadal was taking on Fernando Gonzalez in the late match at Arthur Ashe Stadium before rain forced play to be suspended with Nadal leading 3-2 in a second tiebreak after taking the first set 7-6.
Nadal and Gonzalez will try to finish Friday after the completion of the women’s semifinal match between Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters.
There was an upset in the mixed doubles final — an aspect of the game which is not played nearly enough at the top level, in my opinion. The defending champions, Cara Black of Zimbabwe and India’s Leander Paes ¹ real veterans of the doubles game in all its forms — were soundly beaten by a scratch pair of American wild cards, Carly Gullickson and Travis Parrott 6-2, 6-4.
Gullickson and Parrott had saved match point in a tiebreak in the first round when faced with the formidable pairing of Max Mirnyi (who once won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Serena Williams) and Nadia Petrova. So they had plenty of confidence going into the final and it only increased as it became apparent that Paes was having an off day and the crafty Black, never a power player at the best of times, was getting very little stick on her volleys in the wind.
Parrott, ever gallant but also truthful, praised Carly for her performance.
“Carly played awesome today,” said the man from Portland, Oregon. “But she played this well the whole week. For me the psychology changed because she is so good at the net. I don’t feel the pressure of having to come up with the big serve. In mixed doubles in the past I’ll end up double faulting a lot because I have to get a lot of free points, you know. With Carly, put a good serve in there and she’ll clean up. So it’s been … we’ll look at each other on the changeover and, like, God, this is fun. Why can’t we play like this when we’re playing the rest of the year?”
For Gullickson, winning a U.S. open title seemed a little surreal.
“You know prior to this, my tennis career highlight was winning the NCAA championships in Georgia,” she said. “My whole family is pretty athletic. My Dad played professional baseball for 17 years, my younger sister plays tennis at Georgia, my brother plays baseball at Georgia. It was really nice because a few of them got to come and watch the match today.”
And they weren’t the only ones. The vast Arthur Ashe Stadium had a few thousand people enjoying the action — the rare sight of men and women sharing a tennis court. It happens all the time at your local tennis club, so why not in the pros?
When is someone going to stage a World Mixed Doubles Championships? Make Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf top seeds and go from there. Even in these economic conditions you could find a sponsor for that.