Wednesday, June 03, 2009

RG.11- A Course Correction on Lenglen

Every time Svetlana Kuznetsova looked as if she was going in one direction in her quarterfinal meeting against Serena Williams, she changed course and headed in the opposite way.

In the end, it worked out pretty well for her.

Coming into this Day 11 matchup, Kuznetsova had her work cut out for her. Any time in a slam in which Serena Williams manages to escape a few tight, early-round predicaments it's usually a sign that she might end up NEVER losing over the course of the tournament's two weeks. Factor in Kuznetsova's seasons-long inability to close out big matches (in the past, she's held match point against two eventual Roland Garros champions in Paris) and the thought that even a slight hint at a downturn in the Contessova's fortunes might trigger a complete collapse was anything but a far-fetched scenario.

Kuznetsova opened the match in fine form, getting two early service breaks and going up 3-0. But just when she seemed on her way to a 1st set victory, serving at 5-4, she blinked. Williams broke her serve for 5-5, and moments later Kuznetsova found herself down set point on her own serve. It was easy to think, "There goes the set, and probably the match."

But it didn't happen that way.

Rather than hand over the momentum of the match -- and likely the whole match itself -- to Williams, Kuznetsova battled back instead of capitulating to the ten-time slam winner. She saved set point (the only break point either player failed to convert in the set), held serve and handily won the tie-break 7-3.

Having pulled herself back from the edge, she burst into the 2nd set by taking 2-0 and 4-2 leads. She looked to be cruising into the semifinals. But wait. She turned her ankle in a fall at the baseline and, covered with clay nearly from head-to-toe, proceeded to fail to win a game point and ended up being broken for 4-3.

Oh, no. "Here we go. THIS is were it slips away, right? THIS will be the turning point." That's what everyone was thinking.

But rather than zig, Kuznetsova zagged. She broke Williams' serve to go up 5-3. But then rather than zag, she zigged. A backhand error up the line completed Serena's own immediate break back. Another break put Williams up 6-5, and she claimed the set at 7-5. Not only that, a deflated Kuznetsova was broken to begin the 3rd set.

"This one's over," was the prevailing thought, as the Serena cakewalk to the semis seemed certain. Everyone wrote a note to themselves (all right, it was ME who did it) that read, "Who's she going to blame this time? Last time it was the closing of the Laver Arena roof in her loss to Serena in Melbourne, but what now? She only has herself to blame."

But then Kuznetsova confounded expectations and corrected course again.

She broke Williams for 3-3, then saved a break point on her own serve and held to take a 4-3 lead. Serena cracked an ace on game point, tying things at 5-5, and seemed ready to pull through another tight match in the clutch. But Kuznetsova was the one who rose to the occasion on the big stage this time. She held serve, then broke WILLIAMS to claim the 3rd set and the match, 7-6/5-7/7-5.

Who saw that one coming? Probably not even Kuznetsova.

Maybe Svetlana's clay court resurgence this spring DID mean something. Maybe the installation of Larisa Neiland as her new coach in recent weeks was the perfect move at the perfect time. Maybe no matter how much Serena says she "gave away" this match, Kuznetsova actually TOOK it. Maybe Kuznetsova is finally through with being possibly the biggest underachiever on the women's tour. Maybe.

Of course, it won't mean anything at this Roland Garros if she goes out and loses her next match to Sam Stosur, will it?

Ah, on the WTA tour there's always another obstacle that pops up that has to be overcome. No course correction can prevent that, no matter how expert or long overdue.

...many felt that Gael Monfils, a RG semifinalist and loser against Roger Federer in Paris a year ago, would give Federer a real challenge today. He did, for a set. Once the Frenchman failed to take the 1st set, then injured his knee (darn, I was one round late when it came to predicting a Monfils injury), Federer ran away with the match to extend his all-time record of consecutive slam semifinal appearances to twenty.

...Samantha Stosur's quick QF win over Sorana Cirstea makes her the thirteenth Aussie woman to reach a slam SF in the past thirty years, but only the second in the last twenty seasons (Jelena Dokic at SW19 in '00). The complete 1979-09 list can be found below.

Stosur's win gives her the "Mademoiselle Opportunity" award for this tournament, and Cirstea's ouster clears the way for Dominika Cibulkova to be the '09 Roland Garros "It Girl."

...the junior quarterfinals are set, and while there are two Russians in the main draw final four there are three Hordettes -- Oz junior champ Ksenia Pervak, Daria Gavrilova & Valeria Solovieva -- remaining in the Girls elite eight. In a big 3rd Rounder today, #3-seed Pervak knocked off #14 Christina McHale.

...and finally, two finals have been set.

In Mixed Doubles, Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan (who won the title with Victoria Azarenka last year) will face Vania King and Marcelo Melo. King will be seeking her first career slam title. Huber goes for her fifth.

In Women's Doubles, '08 champs Anabel Medina-Garrigues and Virginia Ruano-Pascual (def. #1-seeded Black/Huber) will face Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina. While Vesnina will play for her first slam crown, Azarenka will go for her third, having won last year's Mixed title as well as the '07 U.S. Open Mixed with Max Mirnyi.

While AMG has only the '08 RG title in her career, VRP will be playing for her seventh Roland Garros championship. She's won one Mixed title and five Women's Doubles titles (four with Paola Suarez) in Paris, and has claimed ten slam titles overall in her career.

TOP PLAYER: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
...the last line of defense took Serena out. Barely. (RU: Dinara Safina/RUS)
RISER: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK career-best slam result. (ALSO: Victoria Azarenka/BLR & Aravane Rezai/FRA)
SURPRISE: Samantha Stosur/AUS
...first Dokic in Melbourne, now this. Are we sure this is 2009? (ALSO: Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN & Vania King/USA)
VETERANS: Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP/ESP
...the only potential repeat women's champions at this tournament. (ALSO: Serena Williams/USA & Liezel Huber/USA)
FRESH FACE Sorana Cirstea/ROU
...this likely won't be the last we hear from the top Swarmette. (ALSO: Siliva Njiric/CRO, Bianca Botto/PER & Sloane Stephens/USA)
DOWN: Jelena Jankovic/SRB & Ana Ivanovic/SRB
...a year ago, they met in the SF with the #1 ranking at stake. (ALSO: Elena Dementieva/RUS & Venus Williams/USA)
COMEBACK: Maria Sharapova/RUS matter how it ended (down 6-0/5-0 to Cibulkova... yikes!), Paris was far more fun for her than she had any right to expect it to be. (ALSO: Agnes Szavay/HUN)

BEST MATCH: SF - Kuznetsova d. S.Williams 7-6/5-7/7-5
...sure, she won the U.S. Open back in 2004, but this win might be the most important of Kuznetsova's career just because it proved to her that what she did in NYC five years ago need not be the aberration it's become.
BEST/MOST UNSEEMLY COMEBACK: 3rd Rd. - Azarenka d. Suarez-Navarro 5-7/7-5/6-2
...her methods were neither pretty nor endearing, but she managed to erase a 7-5/4-1 deficit and win this two-day match. She eventually reached her first career slam QF.
MOST SEMI-JANKOVICIAN MATCH: 4th Rd - Cirstea d. Jankovic 3-6/6-0/9-7
...said JJ, about serving up 5-4 in the 3rd, "I should have won. I had 30/love, and what more can I ask for? All of a sudden, point by point, and the game went in her favor and everything got complicated." When doesn't it when Queen Chaos is involved?
MOST CONTENTIOUS CONTEST: 4th Rd. - S.williams d. Martinez-Sanchez 4-6/6-3/6-4.
...things have a tendency to get sticky when one players says the other is a "cheater."
LEAST SHOCKING UPSET: 3rd Rd - Szavay d. V.Williams 6-0/6-4.
...Venus always has her eye elsewhere in Europe at this time of the season.

ZOMBIE QUEEN: Victoria Azarenka
IT GIRL: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
LAST PASTRIES STANDING: Virginie Razzano & Aravane Rezai
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ and Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR
LEAST LIKELY TO BE INVITED TO A TENNIS-PLAYING SISTERS FAMILY REUNION (other than MJMS, of course): Nadia Petrova & Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who knocked off two all-sisters doubles teams -- the Williamses and the Bondarenkos -- en route to the SF.

US - Sania Mirza, IND
AO - Samantha Stosur, AUS
RG - Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
WI - Li Na, CHN
US - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
AO - Shahar Peer, ISR
RG - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
WI - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
US - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
AO - Casey Dellacqua, AUS
RG - Dinara Safina, RUS
WI - Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
US - Coco Vandeweghe, USA (jr.)
AO - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
RG - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK

AO - Fabiola Zuluaga, COL
RG - Anastasia Myskina, RUS & Elena Dementieva, RUS
WI - Maria Sharapova, RUS
US - Shinobu Asagoe, JPN
AO - Nathalie Dechy, FRA
RG - Mary Pierce, FRA
WI - Venus Williams, USA
US - Elena Dementieva, RUS
AO - Martina Hingis, SUI
RG - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
WI - Severine Bremond, FRA
US - Tatiana Golovin, FRA
AO - Serena Williams, USA
RG - Maria Sharapova, RUS
WI - Marion Bartoli, FRA
US - Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
AO - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
RG - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
WI - Zheng Jie, CHN
US - Jelena Jankovic, SRB
AO - Vera Zvonareva, RUS
RG - Samantha Stosur, AUS

1979 Roland Garros - Wendy Turnbull
1979 Roland Garros - Dianne Fromholtz
1979 Wimbledon - Evonne Goolagong
1979 Australian Open - Margaret Sawyer
1980 Roland Garros - Dianne Fromholtz
1980 Wimbledon - Evonne Goolagong
1980 Australian Open - Wendy Turnbull
1981 Australian Open - Wendy Turnbull
1984 US Open - Wendy Turnbull
1984 Australian Open - Wendy Turnbull
1988 Roland Garros - Nicole Provis
2000 Wimbledon - Jelena Dokic
2009 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur

1...Slovak Republic
1...United States

5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (3-1)
4...Dinara Safina (2-1)
1...Dominika Cibulkova (0-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (0-0)

2002 (unseeded) Clarisa Fernandez, ARG
2003 (unseeded) Nadia Petrova, RUS
2005 #16 Elena Likhovtseva, RUS
2005 #21 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
2006 #16 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2009 #20 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2009 #30 Samantha Stosur, AUS

3...France (Mina/Mladenovic/Simmonds)
3...Russia (Gavrilova/Pervak/Solovieva)
2...Germany (Becker/Schulz)
1...Argentina (Collarini)
1...Brazil (Clezar)
1...Croatia (Njiric)
1...Finland (Laaksonen)
1...Peru (Botto)
1...Slovak Republic (Horansky)
1...Sweden (Berta)
1...United States (Stephens)

#1 Dinara Safina/RUS vs. #20 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
#30 Samantha Stosur/AUS vs. #7 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS

#23 Robin Soderling/SWE vs. #12 Fernando Gonzalez/CHI
#5 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

#3 Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual (ESP/ESP) vs. #12 Azarenka/Vesnina (BLR/RUS)

#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.
King/Melo (USA/BRA)

Chanel Simmonds/FRA vs. #9 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
#15 Sloane Stephens/USA vs. #4 Siliva Njiric/CRO
Valeria Solovieva/RUS vs. #3 Ksenia Pervak/RUS
Bianco Botto/PER vs. Daria Gavrilova/RUS

Richard Becker/GER vs. Daniel Berta/SWE
Henri Laaksonen/FIN vs. Filip Horansky/SVK
#11 Gianna Mina/FRA vs. #3 Andrea Collarini/ARG
Guillerme Clezar/BRA vs. #14 Dominik Schulz/GER

Kirilova/Trevisan (RUS/ITA) vs. Holland/Rogowska (AUS/AUS)
#3 Babos/Watson (HUN/GBR) vs. Paliivets/Simmonds (CAN/FRA)
#6 Buchina/Pervak (RUS/RUS) vs. #4 Mladenovic/Njiric (FRA/CRO)
#7 Capra/Embree (USA/USA) vs. #2 E.Bogdan/Lertcheewakarn (ROU/THA)

Britton/Cox (USA/USA) vs. Brydolf/Urbanek (SWE/CZE)
#4 Clezar/Huang (BRA/TPE) vs. #7 Ehara/Sekiguchi (JPN/JPN)
#5 King/Kudla (USA/USA) vs. Draganja/Marcan (CRO/CRO)
#6 Schulz/Souto (GER/VEN) vs. Maamoun/Scholtz (EGY/RSA)

TOP QUALIFIER: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Dinara Safina/RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Svetlana Kuznetsova/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)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): SF - Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Serena Williams 7-6/5-7/7-5
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: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
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 11. More tomorrow.


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