Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Day 10: Screw Karma

Oh, sorry if that title sounds a bit impolite. But, well, the tone sort of fits, doesn't it?

Now, while I may be experiencing a tingling of my Backspinner sense that's telling me that a full-fledged tennis "love letter" to Le Petit Taureau might be coming to this space in the near future, this particular column isn't meant to be as such.

You see, the fact is that Serena Williams really did have a four-year old bone to pick with Justine Henin in this QF rematch of their 2003 Roland Garros SF. You remember, the one where Henin raised her hand while Williams was serving. Williams served a fault, then Henin refused to admit that she'd called for a time-out. Serena got bent out of shape. The crowd turned on the player who was then in the midst of her "Serena Slam" run, and Henin went on to win her first slam title.

That was four years ago today, and while time may have lessened the sting of what happened, it didn't change the facts. Mind you, this incident came before Henin turned Backspin into such a fan with her edge-of-your-seat performances in the U.S. Open a few months later, but I still harbor the same feelings about "the wave" now that I did then: there's gamesmanship, and then there's outright dirty pool. And what Henin did, though I think it's so far in the past now that it's no longer an issue, surely crossed the proverbial line of death that separates the two. Justine was wrong then, and is still wrong in restrospect. Backspin has long since forgiven her for it, but it doesn't change the facts.

So, had Williams won the two's quarterfinal match on la terre battau today -- Henin did, by an easy 6-4/6-3 score after Serena put up relatively and uncharacteristically little fight -- it would have been easy to say it was an act of karma paying Justine back. I wouldn't have had much of an argument against it, either. But...

Screw karma.

It didn't play a part in anything that happened today. Instead, Serena was correct when she said that all Henin really had to do today "was show up." True, but Williams has turned matches around from bigger deficits than she faced against Henin, so the simple act of surviving against the Australian Open champion can hardly be looked as a non-accomplishment.

Henin's quest for a third straight Roland Garros title -- the last woman to do so was Monica Seles in 1992 -- continues, and she'll take her record thirty-one straight sets won in Paris into the SF in the role as the white whale to Jelena Jankovic's Captain Ahab.

The moment of truth has arrived... or at least it will the day after tomorrow.

Love-Love...karma wasn't involved in the Henin-Williams match, and it wasn't in the Maria Sharapova/Anna Chakvetadze QF, either.

After hearing boos following her well-timed racket replacement against Patty Schnyder in the Round of 16, Sharapova had to answer post-match queries about her conduct after Sunday's match. Her quote was about as on-the-nose brilliant as you'll hear from a 20-year old tennis player. She said, "It's tough playing tennis and being Mother Teresa at the same time."

I'm seeing a "Quote of the Year" award in the Supernova's future.

As far as the match, Chakvetadze didn't play poorly, but Sharapova is the better player between the two and even the red clay couldn't make up the difference in Sharapova's 6-3/6-4 win. She simply outhit her Russian countrywoman, and one wonders if this is where Chakvetadze begins to feel herself bumping up against her personal glass ceiling as far as the slams go. After all, she IS something of a Hingis, version 2.0, and Martina herself never really found a way to consistently make her way past multiple Big Babes in the four biggest events of the year. Anna might not be able to, either.

The Doll might strive to be as successful as the Supernova, but there are different levels of potential success for all players. Sharapova's prospects are simply grander.

Odd, isn't it, that the two players who might have faced karmic repercussions for their past actions both won today? Not coincidentally, Henin and Sharapova, whose mindsets and approaches to the game of winning are far more alike than they are different, are also the two top-ranked women in the game. Go figure.

Hmmm, might they end up facing each other on Saturday, with Henin playing on her best surface and Sharapova on her worst? Now THAT might say something about the remainder of the '07 season, huh? Could it be that Pierre and I were right after all about this year ultimately being a battle of Justine vs. Maria?

Yeah, imagine that.
15-love...in the other two women's quarterfinals, the Fantastic Two made it a very good day for Serbia.

Ana Ivanovic reached her first career slam SF with a sometimes-dominating performance against a Svetlana Kuznetsova who one could have sworn was dipping in and out of consciousness on the court. Maybe it was the pressure she felt after Roger Federer complimented her game, or the abdominal muscle injury, but whatever the cause she did what she's often done in 2007 -- fail to show up in the big moment. Ivanovic won 25 of the first 33 points of the match, then 15 of the final 16 in her 6-0/3-6/6-1 win. AnaIvo now has a current tour-best 11-match winning streak.


That's "What Would Roger Do?" The Contessova had better figure it out if she wants to live up the King's praise.

Jankovic just continued to roll as she has so often during the clay season (when she's not facing Henin, at least), taking out Nicole Vaidisova 6-3/7-5, with her biggest difficulty coming in actualy closing out the match. It took her five match points before she finaly did it on Day 10. While Jelena's walkover in Strasbourg officially "ended" her winning streak for Backspin's purporses, as far as actual matches PLAYED are concerned, she's won her last twelve.

That means it's been 23 matches since the two female members of the Fantastovics have lost.

TOP PLAYER: Justine Henin
RISERS: Jelena Jankovic & Ana Ivanovic
SURPRISE: Maria Sharapova
VETERANS: Katarina Srebotnik & Anabel Medina-Garrigues
FRESH FACE Lucie Safarova
DOWN: Patty Schnyder
MATCH: 4th - Sharapova def. Schnyder 3-6/6-4/9-7... the Supernova sneaks away with a win when Sneaky fails to win after serving for the match three times and holding two match points

#1 Justine Henin vs. #4 Jelena Jankovic
#7 Ana Ivanovic vs. #2 Maria Sharapova

#6 K.Srebotnik/N.Zimonjic vs. #5 Z.Yan/M.Knowles
T.Sun/J.Knowle vs. #8 N.Dechy/A.Ram

#1 L.Raymond/S.Stosur vs. #7 K.Srebotnik/A.Sugiyama
#17 A.Molik/M.Santangelo vs. #2 C.Black/L.Huber

#9 L.Dlouhy/P.Vizner vs. #4 F.Santoro/N.Zimonjic
#6 M.Knowles/D.Nestor vs. M.Bhupathi/R.Stepanek


**2007 WTA SF**
9...JELENA JANKOVIC (4-3 + w/o loss)
6...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-2)
4...Amelie Mauresmo (3-1)
4...ANA IVANOVIC (2-1)
4...Sybille Bammer (1-3)


SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Junior Girls 2nd Rd. - #6 Ksenia Milevskaya(BLR) def. Urszula Radwanska(POL) 6-2/6-2

...hmmm, might Belarus (also home to Victoria Azarenka, Anastasiya Yakimova & Olga Govortsova) be the subject of next season's Nation-to-Watch "Intriguing Question?"

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Junior Girls 2nd Rd. - Simona Halep(ROU) def. #3 Anastasia Pivovarova(RUS) 6-4/1-6/6-3.

...Pivovarova won an ITF event in Moscow during the first week of main draw action in Paris, but Halep (another of the Romanians) has won several of those herself in '07. On Day 10, she did a little bit more.
Deuce...Roger Federer's Grand Slam record for consecutive sets won was ended by Tommy Robredo at 36. King Roger still won the match, of course. He'll face Nikolay Davydenko, a winner over Guillermo Canas, in the SF. The Nadal/Moya and Djokovic/Andreev quarterfinals will be played on Day 11.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Men's Doubles QF - #9 Lukas Dlouhy(CZE)/Pavel Vizner(CZE) def. #1 Bob Bryan(USA)/Mike Bryan(USA) 5-7/6-4/6-4.

...the brothers reached the RG final in three of the last four years, winning in 2003.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #4: Men's Doubles QF - Mahesh Bhupathi(IND)/Radek Stepanek(CZE) def. #2 Jonas Bjorkman(SWE)/Max Mirnyi(BLR) 3-6/6-1/7-6.

...again, Bjorkman's singles success precedes an earlier-than-usual exit from the doubles.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #5: Women's Doubles QF - #17 Alicia Molik(AUS)/Mara Santangelo(ITA) def. #5 Yung-Jan Chan(TPE)/Chia-Juang Chuang(TPE) 6-3/4-6/6-1.

...go Steamer!
Deuce #2...leave it to Maria Sharapova to match her career best clay court result... and do it at a grand slam to boot. She's now reached at least the SF at all four slams. No matter what happens in the SF against Ivanovic, the Supernova seized her opportunity when Schnyder faltered. The rest is just cake. Of course, Maria likes to have her cake and eat it, too.

06 Australian Open: Martina Hingis
06 Roland Garros: Svetlana Kuznetsova
06 Wimbledon: Severine Bremond
06 U.S. Open: Tatiana Golovin
07 Australian Open: Serena Williams
07 Roland Garros: Maria Sharapova

Meanwhile, after Liezel Huber lost in the Mixed Doubles QF with partner Kevin Ullyett, only Katarina Srebotnik managed to advance to the SF of both the Women's and Mixed Doubles. She gets the Doubles award for her versatiliity.

06 Australian Open: Zi Yan/Jie Zheng
06 Roland Garros: Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur
06 Wimbledon: Zi Yan/Jie Zheng
06 U.S. Open: Martina Navratilova
07 Australian Open: Liezel Huber
07 Roland Garros: Katarina Srebotnik

Ad..."It Girl" will, naturally, come down to Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. If they both lose in the SF, Ivanovic gets it for a career-best slam result. If one wins while the other loses, it's elementary. If they both win, they'll battle it out in the All-Fantastovic Final.
MATCH, "What's the deal with...?"...the Roland Garros schedule-makers putting BOTH Serbians on the court at the same time? And having the #1 and #2-seeded women playing at the same time on different courts, as well? Seems all a bit "off," doesn't it?

TOP QUALIFIERS: Timea Bacsinszky & Ioana-Raluca Olaru
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Justine Henin
TOP MID-ROUND (3r-QF): Justine Henin
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #31 Severine Bremond (1r- M.Krajicek)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Dominika Cibulkova, Alla Kudryavtseva & Ioana-Raluca Olaru (all 3rd Rd.)
IT GIRL: (vacant)
DOUBLES STAR: Katarina Srebotnik

All for Day 10.


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