Tuesday, June 02, 2009

RG.10- Two Players, One Path?

If Dinara Safina were to hold up a mirror to Victoria Azarenka, she might see a younger version of herself looking back.

Once ruled by her emotions as much and sometimes more than by her talent, the current world #1 was often her own worst enemy. Safina's rise, possibly to her first grand slam title this weekend, was made possible by her winning the internal battle that threatened to hold her back.

Azarenka, having just reached the Top 10 in the past few months, would be smart to observe the top-ranked Safina and realize that, just like the Russian, she, too, is going to have to get a firm handle on her own on-court emotions if all that talent is going to be fully realized.

Today, in a QF matchup that in many ways was a case of Dinara, version 1.0 versus Dinara, version 2.0, the current model proved to be the one worthy of envy... and imitation.

Of course, the match didn't start out that way. With Safina battling nerves after ripping through her first four opponents (losing just five games), and Azarenka playing a cleaner brand of tennis than she's probably even played in her dreams, it was a mismatch.

The Belarusian teenager was the best player on the court.

Serving to begin the match, Safina fell behind love/40 and was immediately broken. A moment later, she was down 2-0. Then 5-1. After twenty-three minutes, Azarenka has won the 1st set at 6-1 and committed just ONE single unforced error.

In the 2nd set, Azarenka's steel visage cracked just slightly in the early going. It was enough. Safina broke her to go up 2-1. In the fifth game, Azarenka tossed her racket in frustration. When she double-faulted away another break, she did it again.

After looking like the player who'd run away with the 3rd set against Carla Suarez-Navarro in the 3rd Round, Azarenka suddenly reverted back to something resembling the one who nearly squawked her way out of that contest with the Spaniard after falling behind 7-5/4-1 in a hail of errors, admonishing remarks to herself and the world, slammed objects and hard-to-watch outbursts. The 19-year old somehow found a way to hit herself out of the darkness versus CSN, but Safina wasn't going to let her off the hook.

Up 5-4, Safina played her way out of a love/30 hole on serve to take the 2nd set. Azarenka slammed her racket.

In the 3rd, the Russian composed herself down the stretch, keeping her emotions in check just as she's learned to do while transforming herself into a potential champion. She held serve at a crucial moment to maintain her lead at 3-1, then raced to a 6-2 win in the deciding set.

Safina knows that this Roland Garros offers her a chance to reach her championship destiny. She's worked hard to hard to get here to allow herself to get in her own way.

So far, so good.

Azarenka's time will come one day, too. As long as she recognizes Safina's example, and follows the same path the Russian has traversed so well.

But that day wasn't today.

...in the other women's QF, Maria Sharapova finally hit the wall. Or maybe it was Slovakian backstop Dominika Cibulkova, who gets back pretty much every shot thrown at her without TOTALLY evil intentions.

Sharapova, looking like she'd reached her limit for success so early in her comeback, didn't really show up to play until the match was over (sort of like Cibulkova's last opponent, Agnes Szavay). Down 6-0/5-2, she DID make the diminutive Slovak take five match points to finally reach her first career slam SF. That was the extent of the Supernova's "highlights" here.

Still, after such an encouraging result on her worst surface, and with a few more months of match play and good health, Sharapova's prospects at the Open could look very nice indeed come late August.

...in junior action on Day 10, the big news was that #1-seed Laura Robson was upset by Poland's Sandra Zaniewska 7-6/1-6/6-3 in the 2nd Round. Meanwhile, the only WTA-ranked Kazakhstan player who was actually BORN in Kazakhstan (Almaty), Zarina Diyas, knocked off Lesley Kherkove, who defeated Ana Bogdan in the previous round. And speaking of one of the Romanian X-Bogs, #8-seed Elena Bogdan was ousted in a 3rd Rounder by #11-seeded Croat Silvia Njiric.

It was a good day for a pair of American girls, too. #15-seed Sloane Stephens upset #4 Timea Babos in a 3rd Round match to reach the QF, while Beatrice Capra defeated Richel Hogenkamp (def. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn).

...a big thank-you goes out to Sweden's Robin Soderling, who at the very least made up for his robbing us of a Nadal final by PREVENTING a Davydenko one today, defeating the Russian to reach his first career slam SF. On the twentieth anniversary of Michael Chang's Roland Garros title run, might Soderling be about to write himself an even bigger role in RG history than the one he's already claimed? Remember, in 1989, Chang upset #1-seed Ivan Lendl in the 4th Round (Nadal went down in the 4th Round, too), but wasn't finished in Paris. He went on to win the title, defeating SWEDEN's Stefan Edberg in the final. Only a sliver of something to hold onto there, but maybe it'll be enough to tie things in something resembling a bow over the weekend.

...RG AWARDS UPDATE: the "It Girl" and "Mademoiselle Opportunity" awards will be split up between the group consisting of Dominika Cibulkova (who's assured of getting one of them) and either Samantha Stosur or Sorana Cirstea. Meanwhile, Liezel Huber has an early advantage in the "Doubles Star" category, as she's the only woman alive in both the Women's Doubles and Mixed semifinals (but a team entry could still win out in the end).

...catching up on this weekend's ITF happenings, last week's ITF Player of the Week award goes to Canada's Valernie Tetreault, who won the $50K event in Carson, California. She defeated '99 Wimbledon semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson in the final. Meanwhile, 15-year old American Caitlyn Williams made her debut in a pro event in the Sumter, South Carolina $10K... and won the doubles title with partner Allie Will. Not a bad start.

...and finally, after finding herself on the opposite end of the "hand" controversy against Justine Henin years ago, then the "your cheatin' arm" one with Martinez-Sanchez the other day, Serena Williams has been scheduled to play her QF against Svetlana Kuznetsova tomorrow on Lenglen Court rather than the "#1" Chatrier. Meanwhile, Stosur/Cirstea gets that honor.

Not sure what the deal is with that... but some might try to read a touch of "disrespect" into such scheduling for a player who often seems to rile the French crowds.

Of course, considering the scenario could play out that would see Serena defeat Safina in the final, be the reigning champ at three slams (vs. Safina's zero) and STILL be #2 behind the Russian in the WTA rankings, it goes without saying that weird things tend to swirl around Serena when she visits Paris.

Oh, and the Mid-Round Awards arrive tomorrow. Later in the week, it'll be the Roland Garros version of the "Decade's Best" series (hmmm, let me think, who'll be the #1 RG player of the decade?), along with the latest cutdown of the Backspin "Players of the Decade" list.

SF - 2007
QF - 2004, 2005, 2009
4th - 2006, 2008
1st -2003
RECORD: 23-7

#1 Dinara Safina/RUS def. #9 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#20 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK def. Maria Sharapova/RUS
Sorana Cirstea/ROU vs. #30 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#7 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

#23 Robin Soderling/SWE def. #23 Nikolay Davydenko/RUS
#12 Fernando Gonzalez/CHI def. #3 Andy Murray/GBR
#5 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG vs. #16 Tommy Robredo/ESP
#11 Gael Monfils vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

#1 Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) vs. #3 Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual (ESP/ESP)
#12 Azarenka/Vesnina (BLR/RUS) vs.
#9 Hsieh/Peng (TPE/CHN)

#1 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/ZIM) vs. #3 Dlouhy/Paes (CZE/IND)
Moodie/Norman (RSA/BEL) vs. #2 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA)

#1 Huber/B.Bryan (USA/USA) vs.
Groenefeld/Knowles (GER/BIH)
#4 Petrova/Mirnyi (RUS/BLR) vs.
King/Melo (USA/BRA)

TOP QUALIFIER: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Dinara Safina/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: Corinna Dentoni/ITA d. Sesil Karatantcheva/KAZ 4-6/6-3/6-2
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS d. Mathilde Johansson/FRA 1-6/6-2/10-8 (saved 7 MP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (1st Rd.- Shvedova/KAZ)
UPSET QUEENS: The ex-Russian Kazakhs
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR & Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (both to 3rd Rd.)
IT GIRL: xxx
CRASH & BURN: Elena Dementieva/RUS - dominated by Dokic in 2nd, but advances with retirement, then taken out by Stosur in 3rd Rd.
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Victoria Azarenka/BLR - was down 7-5/4-1 vs. Suarez-Navarro in 3rd Rd., won and reached first slam QF
LAST PASTRIES STANDING: Aravane Rezai & Virginie Razzano (both to 4th Rd.)

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


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