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No. 188 takes care of No. 1

French qualifier Coin stuns Ivanovic in an upset for the ages at the U.S. Open.

August 29, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- Choose your favorite preposterous factoid from one of the biggest upsets in tennis history.

Maybe it's that when No. 188 Julie Coin played No. 1 Ana Ivanovic on Thursday in the second round of the U.S. Open, Coin played the second WTA Tour-level match of her 25-year lifetime. Maybe it's that two weeks ago at a second-tier tournament in the Bronx, Coin lost to 423rd-ranked Kelly Liggin of Ireland.

Maybe it's that two months ago at Wimbledon qualifying after another galling loss from ahead, Coin figured she'd probably give up tennis after 2008 and pursue tennis coaching or something related to her degree in mathematical sciences. Maybe it's that when Coin called her parents at home in France after defeating Ivanovic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, they'd seen only the third set because French TV hadn't shown the first two.

Maybe it's that Coin, a U.S. Open qualifier, all but quaked with dread when some rapid early finishes prompted officials to move her match from smaller Louis Armstrong Stadium to the largest tennis stadium on Earth, Arthur Ashe Stadium. Maybe it's that Coin looked just daunted enough by reporters afterward that a tour representative felt moved to tell her, "They don't bite."

Or heck, maybe it's that this French girl went to Clemson, as if that doesn't sound like some loopy but potentially smart movie script.

Even if Ivanovic looked ripe for felling in the first round, it's outlandish that it's Coin who wrought the biggest upset of a No. 1 player since the rankings began in 1975. Even though Ivanovic had the newly repaired thumb and the lack of practice time, it's crazy that it's Coin who caused the earliest exit of a No. 1 player in U.S. Open history. Even if Ivanovic already lost to then-No. 133 Zheng Jie at Wimbledon, still, Julie Coin?

"I don't realize yet that I beat the No. 1 in the world," Coin said. "I don't realize that I played at the big court. I don't even know how I'm going to sleep tonight. I don't know. I don't know when I will realize everything."

Not even Amelie Mauresmo had seen her play, curious given Mauresmo hails from the same French region, but by the dinner hour Thursday, a few thousand lingering New Yorkers had seen her and so had Mauresmo in a scouting role, with Coin her third-round opponent.

They watched in the waning edge of the day session, hours after Venus Williams had shown no shakiness in romping through 113th-ranked Rossana De Los Rios of Paraguay, 6-0, 6-3, and saying, "Obviously winning Wimbledon makes you confident." They watched just before Serena Williams took the court, routed 71st-ranked Elena Vesnina of Russia, 6-1, 6-1, and said, "I like quick matches. They're the best."

They watched just as Sam Querrey of Thousand Oaks reached his first U.S. Open third round with a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Nicolas Devilder of France. And they watched well before No. 1 Rafael Nadal won, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, against the 261st-ranked American Ryler DeHeart, who won hearts at Arthur Ashe when some luminous talent replaced his early nerves.

They watched as an Australian Open finalist and the French Open champion, Ivanovic, looked unlike a No. 1 player, such that she said, "Obviously if you would ask me at the moment if I'm playing like No. 1, probably not, but I can't judge too much on that because I really haven't had the chance to practice."

She floundered with Coin's excellent serve and sprayed around 34 unforced errors, but she still had three break points at 2-2 in the third set, whereupon Coin hogged 10 straight points to go 4-2 and 40-15. All that remained was the serve for the match and a match point at 40-30, whereupon Coin hit a fault graphically long and . . . "And I was like, 'Oh, shoot.' "

She double-faulted but grinded to another match point. Ivanovic hit a winner smack onto the doubles line, but Coin grinded to another match point. Ivanovic yanked a forehand far wide and Coin smiled and exulted just a bit. Then the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year in 2004 and a veteran of the drudgery of lower tours and qualifying explained just how she took until almost age 26 to get here.

"Well, I've always been really slow," Coin said, smiling.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Today's featured matches

Andy Roddick (8) vs. Ernests Gulbis (40). It's an appealing bout between two crushers of the tennis ball. It's just a shame New Yorkers dislike loudness and power and prefer elegance and nuance.

Roger Federer (2) vs. Thiago Alves (137). See that "2" that keeps turning up beside Federer's name? That's the weirdest-looking "2" in the world.

Zheng Jie (37) vs. Jelena Jankovic (2). Jankovic has a marvelous backhand, and Zheng has a gorgeous impressionist painting of a backhand.

Lindsay Davenport (24) vs. Marion Bartoli (13). With a real chance to venture deep here, Davenport plays the woman forever known for upsetting Justine Henin at Wimbledon then earnestly crediting the sight of actor Pierce Brosnan in the Royal Box.

Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Robert Kendrick (113). Kendrick would be the one who once had a two-sets-to-love lead on Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon but didn't hold on. Absolutely nobody on Earth blames him.

Victoria Azarenka (14) vs. Caroline Wozniacki (18). An upwardly mobile 18-year-old plays an upwardly mobile 17-year-old in a Future Bowl. Savants and good spellers notice.

Note: World rank in parentheses

-- Chuck Culpepper

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