Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Day 11: Thar She Blows...but who'll survive?

Hmmm, I liked the execution of this year's Roland Garros preview column. And since the thrust of the events at Roland Garros have allowed it to maintain its relevance, I figured I'd use some of it again (all that Herman Melville research will officially pay off TWICE!) since the semifinal battle of literary consequence that I talked about eleven days ago has actually come to fruition.

Of course, I've included a few timely additions, as well. So...

Call her Ishmael?

"Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!" - Moby Dick (1948), by Herman Melville

It is said that it is futile and often fatal to try to interpret the White Whale's moves and motives. One can only chase, and hope to survive.

The same can rightly be said about those who choose to take up the mission of hunting down Justine Henin at Roland Garros. Le Petit Taureau came to Paris as the two-time defending RG champion, the trophy-holder three of the last four years, the #1 seed and the #1-ranked played in the world by a fairly wide margin at the moment. Now, she enters the semifinals just two victories away from becoming the first woman in fifteen years to three-peat in Paris, and she'll be bringing not only her rackets with her to Court Chatrier on Thursday, but also her Roland Garros record 31-set winning streak.

Of course, the driving story of this Roland Garros before the start of play, at least from this space, was whether the seemingly destined meeting of the world's best clay courter, Henin, and the star of the '07 clay court season, Jelena Jankovic, would actually become a reality. The perfect structure of this tournament would have allowed for an Henin-Jankovic final, but in keeping with the Serb's Ahab-like existence when it comes to the Queen, even if she does indeed meet and defeat her own personal White Whale she'll still need to win ANOTHER pressure-filled match against either Maria Sharapova or her fellow Fantastovic team member Ana Ivanovic in order to claim her first grand slam crown.

Poor Ahab, err, I mean Jelena. She just can't win for winning. Not that she will do THAT when the Jankovic-captained Pequod gets the face-to-face battle with her own version of Moby Dick, the Belgian who she's never been able to find a way to defeat in five career meetings (three times on clay, two of them just last month). Even when she recently won in Rome, Jankovic still had Henin on her mind... probably only half-jokingly saying she was only able to win because the Queen didn't show up that week.

I wonder if Jelena sees Justine in her dreams?

Still, after being the star of the pre-Paris clay season (of course, go ask Nadia Petova how much that'll buy her in a sidewalk cafe on her off-day), Jankovic HAS indeed pursued Henin to that destined semifinal battleground. What happens now is up to her and her white whale.

Hey, what's that sound? Is it Queequeg carving out his own coffin? Ahh, no... it's just Jelena with a box of tools.

Does she know something that we don't?

#1 Henin d. #4 Jankovic in 2
#2 Sharapova d. #7 Ivanovic in 3

...can Jelena slay her Belgian demon? Ummm, I'll say no. Not yet, anyway. If Jankovic is going to upend Justine, look for it to happen in North America, not Paris. The Pequod is about to sink, and Jelena to disappear below the sea's surface, attached to her White Whale by the harpoon she had hidden in her racket bag. Justine will head to the area of the deep ocean where only she can breathe and thrive.

"Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!" Moby Dick (1948), by Herman Melville

Meanwhile, as Serena, Venus and Amelie catch a ride on the Rachel to England, Maria might have some unfinished business she has to take care of before she can join them. You see, she has this very glamorous (have any two players had more magazine covers over the past year than the Supernova and AnaIvo?) tennis match she has to play, and maybe another one after that.

You could have gotten pretty long odds that Sharapova and Ivanovic would meet in the semifinals at Roland Garros on what's the worst surface for both players. But I guess we sort of knew all along that anything could happen on the bottom half of the draw. The top had Justine, Jelena and Serena, but the bottom was a collection of players either coming in injured, unprepared or without a history of rising to the forefront in Paris. Amelie buckled. Svetlana bombed. Patty choked. Anna was outhit. So Maria and Ana survive to battle for a berth in a grand slam final.

Movement on the clay has always been an issue for both, but Ivanovic has fashioned an 11-match winning streak this spring in Europe which included a Tier I in Berlin. Sharapova's mobility is still a liability on the dirt, but the serve that abandoned her in January has at least been popping in for cameo appearances again of late. How much her shoulder injury might have had to do with her early '07 stall is unknown, but it says a lot that as she's somewhat regained her health she's also regained control of her most important weapon this side of her monstrous heart.

Will Sharapova really reach another slam final, which would be her first tour final on clay in her career (but her second slam final of '07, with her two best slams still to come)?

Maybe, maybe not.

I just know that after picking against her the last two rounds that I'm not going to do it for a third time. If this SF turns into a three-set battle, it'd be difficult to not think that the Supernova would prevail whether the match is on hardcourt, grass, clay, or, as Sharapova noted herself the other day, mud. So, I'll go with Sharapova to survive for one more round.

Love-Love...all hail Katarina Srebotnik.

She's the only non-junior player with the chance to walk away from Roland Garros with TWO titles. She's in the final of both the Women's (with Ai Sugiyama) and Mixed (with Fantastic Serbian doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic) Doubles.

#1 Roger Federer vs. #4 Nikolay Davydenko
#2 Rafael Nadal vs. #6 Novak Djokovic

#6 K.Srebotnik/N.Zimonjic vs. #8 N.Dechy/A.Ram

#7 K.Srebotnik/A.Sugiyama vs. #17 A.Molik/M.Santangelo


#1 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova(RUS) vs. #8 Nikola Hofmanova(AUT)
Micaela Larcher De Brito(POR) vs. Mariana Duque Marino(COL)
#6 Ksenia Milevskaya(BLR) vs. Petra Martic(CRO)
#5 Evgeniya Rodina(RUS) vs. #2 Alize Cornet(FRA)

...there's a possibility of a repeat of three of the four Girls semifinalists from Oz, as Pavlyuchenkova, Milevskaya and Cornet all reached the final four in Melbourne. As it stands, Milevskaya may have the inside track for "Junior Breakout" after wins over Urszula Radwanska (matching her win over her in the Australian juniors) and Madison Brengle (who knocked off the Belarussian teen in the SF in Oz).

#1 Matteo Trevisan(ITA) vs. Cesar Ramirez(MEX)
Vladimir Karusevich(RUS) vs. #5 Greg Jones(AUS)
#10 Kellen Damico(USA) vs. #4 Fernando Romboli(BRA)
#12 Vladimir Ignatic(BLR) vs. #15 Ricardas Berankis(LTU)


1-0...Serena Williams
1-0...Anastasia Myskina
1-2...Mary Pierce
0-1...Elena Dementieva
0-1...Svetlana Kuznetsova
0-1...Venus Williams
0-2...Martina Hingis


SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Women's Doubles SF - #7 K.Srebotnik(SLO)/A.Sugiyama(JPN) def. #1 L.Raymond(USA)/S.Stosur(AUS) 1-6/6-4/6-3

...Srebotnik pulled off the rare honor of being a member of the doubles teams that knocked out the #1-seeds in both Mixed (the Bryan brothers) and Women's Doubles.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Junior Boys 3rd Rd - #15 Ricardas Berankis(LTU) def. #2 Jonathan Eysseric(FRA) 6-3/3-6/6-3.

...the French fans are running out of home-grown products to root for.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Women's Doubles SF - #17 A.Molik(AUS)/M.Santangelo(ITA) def. #2 C.Black(ZIM)/L.Huber(RSA) 6-3/3-6/6-3.

...we might still get #1 vs. #2 in the Women's and Men's Singles, but not in Women's Doubles. Not after today's pair of upsets.

#1 Federer d. #4 Davydenko in 4
#2 Nadal d. #6 Djokovic in 4

...Djokovic will get there eventually, but not yet. Now, it'll either be a Rafa three-peat (the first since Bjorn Borg won four straight from 1978-81) or a "RogerSlam" of four straight slam titles.

Justine Henin def Jelena Jankovic
As much as I'd like to see Jelena win (no offence to Justine), I just don't think she has the confidence or game to pull it off.

Maria Sharapova def Ana Ivanovic
Could be a very good match, I think Maria's serving will make a big difference.

Roger Federer def Nikolay Davydenko
Same story as playing Robredo...the guy just doesn't have a weapon to attack Roger.

Rafael Nadal def Novak Djokovic
So last year Novak said he felt in control of the match if you ignore his injury, time for him to prove his point...or not.

ROUND OF 16: Backspin 76-71 (RG: Pierre 21-17)
QUARTERFINALS: Pierre 41-34 (RG: Pierre 12-9)
SEMIFINALS: Pierre 39-36 (RG: tied 5-5)
FINALISTS: Backspin 12-10
...we both picked Henin/Kuznetsova, Federer/Nadal finals
CHAMPIONS: Backspin 3-2
...Backspin: Henin/Federer; Pierre: Henin/Nadal

MATCH, "And if you had Damico, Glatch and Zsilinszka give yourself a round of applause"...yep, those are the last Americans standing in Paris, all juniors. Kellen Damico has reached the Boys QF in both Singles and Doubles, while Alexa Glatch and Reka Zsilinszka are parts of two of the Girls teams that have advanced to the QF.

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 11.


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