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Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Five things we learned from the U.S. Open

By Viv Bernstein

1. Full circle

We all bought into the new Serena Williams -- or at least, some of us did. We believed the diva had finally grown up, and that ridiculous outburst at a lineswoman that cost her against Kim Clijsters in the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Open was ancient history.

For all that Williams lamented she went through in the past year, from the lacerated foot that required surgery to the blood clots that forced an emergency operation, apparently none of it ultimately matured or humbled her. So there she was again Sunday on Arthur Ashe Stadium, embarrassing herself with a temper tantrum and verbal assault on a chair umpire in the middle of a championship match with Samantha Stosur and then refusing to apologize for it. Whether Williams realizes it or not, it cost her a whole lot more than a game.

2. USTA failure

The USTA jerked around the women repeatedly in the second week of the Open, when rain forced matches to be juggled and officials catered to the men's draw in rescheduling. The men demanded a day off between the semifinals and the final and the result: Finalists in the women's draw had less than 24 hours to prepare for their championship match. Williams didn't take the court until 10 p.m. on Saturday night to face Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals, and finished well after 11 p.m. She said she didn't get to sleep until 4:30 a.m. Williams then had to be back on court by 4 p.m. the next day for the final. That doesn't excuse Williams' childishness. Nor does it diminish the performance by Stosur, who earned that victory. But you have to wonder if Williams would have played so poorly if the USTA hadn't moved the women's semifinals and final to accommodate the men.

3. Come back, please

Williams' return to competition this summer gave the WTA its glitz back. But it will help the women's game immeasurably to have Clijsters on the court again, too. She missed Wimbledon with an ankle injury and then pulled an abdominal muscle in her summer hard-court return, forcing the three-time champion to withdraw from the U.S. Open. Just as Williams provided a certain order to the hierarchy of women's tennis when she returned, Clijsters is one of the few top-level players who can challenge Williams on court regularly and contend for Slams. It wouldn't hurt women's tennis for Venus Williams to come back, too. She withdrew from the Open after winning her first-round match, revealing she had been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, a disease that causes fatigue. As of now, Venus is scheduled to play in Tokyo and Beijing later this year.

4. Looking back

Some new talent emerged at this year's U.S. Open. German Angelique Kerber, ranked 92nd, made it to the semifinals before being dispatched by Stosur, upsetting No. 12 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and No. 26 Flavia Pennetta of Italy along the way. Kerber, 23, jumped to 34th in the rankings after the Open. The 17th seed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 20, of Russia, knocked off No. 7 Francesca Schiavone and No. 11 Jelena Jankovic to make it to her second quarterfinal round in a Grand Slam in her career and gave Serena Williams some trouble for a set. Pavlyuchenkova also reached the quarterfinals of the French Open. Whether she and Kerber will have some staying power at the upper levels remains to be seen.

5. Looking down under

Although major tournaments in Japan, China and the year-end WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, remain on the schedule, it's not too early to start looking toward the next Grand Slam event: the Australian Open in January. With three first-time champions in the Slams this year, from Li Na in the French Open, to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon and Stosur at the U.S. Open, it's hard to know if they are the new standard-bearers for women's tennis or one-Slam wonders. But Stosur is going to have the weight of a nation on her when she plays the Australian Open and tries to become the first Australian to win back-to-back Slams since Margaret Court in 1973.