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During a period when the US Open Series has endured widespread ridicule, these events can garb themselves in a few shreds of continued relevance.  Reprising the rain-bedeviled Rogers Cup final is one of the US Open semifinals, which features the two leading stories of this summer.  Despite the disparity in their ages, Wozniacki and Zvonareva have evolved into stylistically similar players with modest but generally reliable serves, outstanding backhands, fluid movement, an aversion to the forecourt, and a proclivity for high-percentage tennis.  Until recently, however, the world #2 distinctly trumped the Wimbledon finalist in the department of fortitude, exhibited most dramatically during a three-set victory at the year-end championships in Doha.  Battling excruciating leg cramps, Wozniacki somehow gritted her way past the flustered Zvonareva in a victory of the game’s mental dimension over its physical component.  While the Russian has transformed herself into a more formidable competitor, vestiges of former frailty resurfaced during a slovenly loss to the Pole-Dane in the Montreal final.  Slightly superior in ball-striking and slightly inferior in movement, Zvonareva might consider targeting the top seed’s forehand, which remains a less aggressive shot than her supporters would wish.  By contrast, the Russian can strike that stroke with greater authority and might be able to thrust her opponent behind the baseline by channeling cross-court rallies in that direction.  Across the net, Wozniacki should hope to hit deep groundstrokes down the center of the court and lull her opponent into a series of neutral rallies, which eventually could frustrate Zvonareva.  Mustering an improbable victory over Clijsters at Wimbledon, the Russian long has possessed the potential to reach a hard-court Slam final; she seized the second most important non-Slam on hard courts last year at Indian Wells.  If the wind plays a role, neither player should be overly disturbed by it.  Not reliant upon their serves or of statuesque physique, the first and seventh seeds have adapted with minimal discomfort to windy conditions before.  In her Wimbledon semifinal against Pironkova, Zvonareva evinced early traces of nerves despite confronting an overmatched opponent.  Able to rally after losing the first set that time, she can’t afford to allow Wozniacki a significant early lead, for the world #2’s stingy style renders comebacks exceptionally difficult.  Will it be consecutive US Open finals for the Pole-Dane, or consecutive Slam finals for the Russian?   It’s hard to argue with the 13-match winning streak of a player two victories away from the #1 ranking, but Zvonareva has carried herself like a legitimate contender throughout the fortnight and can be expected to muster sterner resistance than she did in Canada.

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A year ago in New York, Clijsters enjoyed the vociferous support of the crowd as her comeback climaxed implausibly with her second major title.  This year, the sentimental favorite may be her opponent, a 30-year-old legend seeking to summon the energy for one last statement before her game continues its irreversible decline.  After struggling with the elder Williams early in her career, the Belgian has convincingly reversed the momentum in their rivalry and won both of their meetings following her comeback.  While one should discount the Miami final in which Venus competed on not one but two wobbly knees, their three-set encounter in last year’s US Open does offer a potential preview of what might unfold late on Friday afternoon.  A streaky server in her twilight years, the American stumbled through an erratic match against Peer and squandered leads in both sets of her quarterfinal with Schiavone before profiting from the Italian’s untimely profligacy.  At the peak of her dominance, Venus could play entire matches against elite opponents without losing her serve, a trait that no longer characterizes her.  On the other hand, Clijsters has endured chronic serving woes even during her most emphatic wins here; in her quarterfinal with Stosur, moreover, she was broken in five consecutive service games.  Unlike Venus, though, her service interruptions have stemmed less from physical sources than mental causes, suggesting a lack of focus or a cautious diffidence odd to observe in a defending champion.  These two-time US Open titlists have demonstrated opposite trends in their matches, for the American has looked strong early in sets and fragile late, while the Belgian has looked fragile early and strong late.  If their patterns continue, Venus will find herself in the lead and then struggle to maintain it.  Yet spectators might well be subjected to a bizarre, arrhythmic series of events parallel to their clash in the fourth round a year ago, when these dignified ladies unceremoniously threw bagels at each other before settling down to a moderately competitive third set.  Comprising an unpredictable mixture of massive first-strike potential and ghastly miscues, the elder Williams presents a complex conundrum for Clijsters, who must decide whether to aggressively seize control of the rallies or cautiously lure her opponent into errors.  On a surface as swift as the courts in New York, we would recommend the former tactic.


While Federer and Nadal brace themselves for one last pair of obstacles before a Sunday collision, the 2009 women’s finalists hope to schedule another rendezvous with each other on Saturday night.  Will we witness an encore performance, or will their hopes vanish into the afternoon shadows?

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