Monday, January 21, 2008

Day 8: Nadia & the Brain

You don't need to out hit or out run an opponent if you're smart enough to realize that a little patience can outwit and outlast (and, ultimately, outplay... even if it is by virtual default) them instead.

That's Agnieszka Radwanska's game, and she plays it oh so well.

After her string of upsets at the last two slams, it's now apparent why I couldn't quite figure out what it was that made A-Rad such a tough opponent when first catching glimpse of her game early last year. While she is capable of hitting a winner here or there, she usually doesn't. None of her individual shots are big and/or tricky enough to worry an opponent on their own.

But she IS very smart, and knows how to move an opponent around, get balls back and make more talented (though perhaps also more mentally, emotionally or confidence-challenged) players beat her in a battle of mental smackdown. Maria Sharapova learned the hard way that the Polish teenager was capable of out-psyching even an experienced champion at the US Open. Svetlana Kuznetsova met the same fate, though not quite as dramatically, a few days ago in Melbourne.

Nadia Petrova was the latest Russian on Radwanska's hit list.

That A-Rad would outwit Petrova on Day 8 really comes as no surprise. Nadia's jungle hut of success and/or failure has always been connected to the outside world by a pair of rickety bridges leading to her head and body. If they're simultaneously strong, she can beat anybody. But if one fails her, then no lead is safe. It's a fine line between sudden achievement and utter disaster for Petrova... and her career has often suffered from the same "if only" fate that befell the likes of talented-but-challenged Jana Novotna in the past (and made Nadia something of a "teacher's pet" in Backspin's "Current Tennis Events-101" class every Monday the last few years).

In the Round of 16 match with A-Rad, a classic case of Petrova-itis was easy to diagnose... one good symptom was mixed with two bad. And for a brainy opponent like Radwanska, that's tantamount to Petrova offering herself up as a fish to shoot in a barrel.

Petrova led 6-1/3-0 and was dominating the match, but could not allow Radwanska back into the match if she was going to take advantage of a draw that could take her back to a surprise slam SF. If she gave A-Rad an opening, she'd risk seeing the #29-seeded Pole block her clear path to the QF and a great kick-start to her '08 campaign a season after a string of poor slam results in '07. Unfortunately for Nadia, that's just what she did. And once A-Rad gained some footing, Petrova's house of cards collapsed.

Petrova found a way to drop the 2nd set, called for a trainer to treat an injured thigh, then proceeded to melt like a sand castle at high tide in the 3rd (yeah, I know I'm mixing metaphors... but it's sort of appropriate when it comes to Nadia, you know?). In the final set, Radwanska won 24 of 28 points (losing just one on serve), committed zero unforced errors (preferring, as is her wont, to force/wait for her opponent to screw up rather than go for risky winners herself... a tactic which worked, as Petrova threw in 12 UE's) and walked away with the match's final nine games to win 1-6/7-5/6-0.

In Backspin's many dream scenarios, for a single fabulous fortnight, Petrova would be able to keep herself under control. In one glorious moment, she'd reach a career height that would make all the crash-and-burn moments worthwhile... just like Novotna did at Wimbledon in 1998, though Nadia wouldn't even be held to needing to WIN the title to complete the story.

It's a legitimate scenario. After all, Iva Majoli and Anastasia Myskina are listed as grand slam champions, for Clijsters' sake... so weird things CAN happen. But it's the "dream" part that tends to clog up the works. That and a pair of rickety bridges.

Oh, Nadia... a special edition of "Backspin What If" might be needed to make this wild notion come "true."

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Women's Doubles 3rd Rd. - #13 Janette Husarova/Flavia Pennetta (SVK/ITA) def. #3 Chan Yung-Jan/Chuang Chia-Jung (TPE/TPE) - 6-2/7-6. far in 2008, the top Asian doubles teams of the past two season have swapped places. 2007's best Chan/Chuang are out, while 2006's top team of Yan Zi/Zheng Jie are back in the drivers seat and competing for the Oz "Comeback" award with Marta Domachowska. But since they face Venus & Serena next, it's probably safe for Marta to dust off an imaginary spot on her imaginary mantle for Backspin's imaginary trophy.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Women's 4th Rd. - #9 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK def. #27 Maria Kirilenko/RUS - 1-6/6-4/6-4.
.....Wonder Girl hasn't reached a slam QF since the 2003 Australian Open.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Women's Surprise $25K Final - Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL def. Angela Haynes/USA - 6-2/4-6/6-4., really. The town where this ITF event was held IS named Surprise (it's in Arizona). Leave it to Sesil to qualify and give a little gas to her comeback by winning there, huh?

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #4: Girls 1st Rd. - Marija Mirkovic/AUS def. #6 Cindy Chala/FRA - 6-1/1-6/6-2.
....the first top seed is out of the junior competition, and it was Aussie Mirkovic playing the part of the "junior Dellacqua."

3...SRB (Jankovic/Ivanovic, Djokovic)
3...USA (Williams/Williams, Blake)
2...RUS (Sharapova, Youzhny)
2...ESP (Nadal/Ferrer))
1...BEL (Henin)
1...FIN (Nieminen)
1...FRA (Tsonga)
1...POL (A.Radwanska)
1...SVK (Hantuchova)
1...SUI (Federer)

Olga Savchuk (3rd Rd.)
Anne Kremer, Alla Kudryavtseva, Tamira Paszek, Julia Vakulenko, Renata Voracova (2nd Rd.)
Marta Domachowska, Hsieh Su-Wei (4th Rd.)

#1 Bryan/Bryan vs. #6 Bhupathi/Knowles
#8 Erlich/A.Ram vs. Gicquel/Santoro OR Ball/Feeney
Coetzee/Moodie vs. #4 Damm/Vizner
#7 Clement/Llodra vs. #2 Nestor/Zimonjic
#1 Black/Huber vs. Bondarenko/Bondarenko
#4 Peschke/Stubbs vs.#10 Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual OR Jankovic/Mattek
#12 Azarenka/Peer vs. #13 Husarova/Pennetta
#4 Yan/Zheng vs. Williams/Williams
#1 Black/Hanley vs. #5 Sun/Zimonjic
#6 Chuang/Erlich vs. #3 Yan/Knowles OR Tu/Matkowski
#8 Dechy/A.Ram vs. Chan/Butorac
#7 Peschke/Damm vs. #2 Raymond/Aspelin OR Mirza/Bhupathi

[Women's Bottom Half]
#8 V.Williams def. #4 Ivanovic in 3 sets
#9 Hantuchova def. #29 A.Radwanska in 2 sets

[Men's Top Half]
#1 Federer def. #12 Blake in 3 sets
#3 Djokovic def. #5 Ferrer in 4 sets

TOP QUALIFIER: Julia Schruff / GER
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st - Jankovic def. Paszek 2-6/6-2/12-10
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): (vacant)
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #32 Julia Vakulenko / UKR (1st Rd.-Vesnina)
UPSET QUEENS: The Russians
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Marta Domachowska / POL & Hsieh Su-Wei / TPE (4th Rd.)
IT GIRL: Casey Dellacqua / AUS
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Jelena Jankovic / SRB (1st Rd.- down 3 MP to Paszek)
CRASH & BURN: #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova / RUS (3rd Rd.- A.Radwanska)
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 8. More tomorrow.


Blogger Ian said...

That picture of Nads is hilare. Love it.

Tue Jan 22, 12:35:00 AM EST  
Blogger Zidane said...

Quote of the YEAR:

I thought, Oh, my God, again, another one? I'm kind of sick of all these injuries. I want to be healthy and I want to play without any pains. But, again, when I have pain I focus more.

When I don't have pains I'm kind of like, Okay, whatever. I have time. I can play three sets, no worries. Three hours on court is fine.

So now I pay more attention to myself, I have more focus, and I am doing well.

From my favourite Serena'ass kicker!

Tue Jan 22, 03:01:00 AM EST  

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