It is remarkable how certain trends or realities persist over years, not merely months or weeks, in tennis. Look no further than the first week of the 2018 U.S. Open, which has recalled past U.S. Opens and past major tournaments.
On Wednesday, Ekaterina Makarova defeated a top-10 player, beating ninth-seeded Julia Goerges in the second round. The event is notable on its own terms. Goerges had just made the semifinals of Wimbledon a month and a half earlier. She was riding the biggest, tallest wave of her career. She had reason to be confident in her game. She had even beaten Makarova in New Haven a week earlier, 4 and 2. Makarova’s ability to turn the tide was impressive when viewed in microcosm, but it means a lot more when viewed in a larger context.
Per WTA Insider, only three active WTA players have more top-10 wins at major tournaments than Makarova: Serena Williams with 56, Venus at 37, and Maria Sharapova at 21. Makarova now has 13 after her win over Goerges.
This wasn’t an isolated win, or to put it another way, this wasn’t a rare event in the recent context of Makarova’s career. She didn’t load up on these wins many years ago and then cease to continue this tendency. She has done a lot of bracket-busted in the past two years at the majors: 4 of the last 7 and 3 of the last 5. She pulled off a top-10 upset in the 2017 U.S. Open round of 64, and now she has replicated the same achievement. This comes weeks after Makarova did the deed at Wimbledon against Caroline Wozniacki. Makarova has a knack, and she continues to add to her reputation as the unseeded player no top-10 seed wants to see in the first two rounds of a major. Yes, Makarova is erratic, and yes, she has a higher ceiling than what her results have shown, but the fact that she keeps completing these big-name victories puts her several notches above the players (there are many of them) who pick off an upset once in a while, but never with consistency. This was not a “once-in-a-thousand” occurrence the way it is for some pros. This is what Kate Makarova does. It is a credit to her.
Also on Wednesday, Kaia Kanepi notched a straightforward win over Jil Teichmann, avoiding a letdown after beating Simona Halep on Monday and shaking up the tournament. Kanepi is 33, but in her advancing age, she can still hit a ball with as much force as anyone on tour. Halep was not able to get Kanepi on the move, and she paid a steep price. Halep was far from her best, but Kanepi started the match on fire, briefly cooled off, and then regained her winning edge late in the second set to finish off the win. Was this an “out of the blue” occurrence?
Not if you have followed Kanepi’s career.
Though not the picture of iron-fortified consistency, Kanepi owns six major quarterfinal appearances. To put that in perspective, Julia Goerges, age 29, hadn’t made ONE major quarterfinal before Wimbledon this past July. Dozens of players with levels of talent comparable to Kanepi have not accumulated that many major quarterfinals. Like Makarova, Kanepi is volatile, as shown by the fact that she has made only FIVE quarterfinals in the nine Premier 5/Mandatory tournaments on the WTA Tour. Yet, within that volatility lies a layer of achievement most pros would love to equal… and haven’t. Kanepi will meet one of the Williams sisters if she wins her third-round match on Friday.
At the U.S. Open, a Williams sister on Labor Day weekend is usually the smart pick, but Kanepi — once she gets going at a major — can’t be written off. She has proved herself too many times at major tournaments to be dismissed.
Aleksandra Krunic did not play on Wednesday, but she also fits into this pattern of players who keep recalling particular gifts at the U.S. Open. Krunic, as noted by Pete Ziebron (@TennisAcumen), won a total of four GAMES in her previous three MATCHES before the Open, but sure enough, she won her first-round match on Tuesday.
How different is Krunic at the U.S. Open compared to other majors? She has qualified for six main draws in New York, no more than three anywhere else. She has won eight main-draw matches at majors, six at the U.S. Open. She has won a match at a major tournament in four separate instances; three such instances exist at the Open. Wimbledon in 2015 was the only other one.
Krunic could take a cruise or build Habitat for Humanity houses in July and the first half of August, and still come to New York in the final week of August and win a match.
The WTA doesn’t have a top 10 defined by consistency or stability. This makes it all the more amazing how various players outside the top 30 have all found a way to repeat meaningful accomplishments in the sport.
There is always a place — and a level — at which to make your mark. Not everyone can be a champion. Makarova, Kanepi and Krunic are finding ways to make the U.S. Open and major tournaments the sites of their fondest tennis memories and fattest tennis paychecks each year.
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