Friday, September 07, 2007

Day 12: Justine's New York Groove

More than two weeks before the start of Autumn, Justine Henin put an abrupt halt to the "Summer of Venus" on Friday.

Even with all she's accomplished over the years, La Petit Taureau manages to surprise. Making her way through the Roland Garros draw without dropping a set is impressive, but not stunning. Doing it in New the "Top Half of Death" side of the draw, while having to play BOTH Serena and Venus Williams? Now THAT is something that would have given all those people betting on Nikolay Davydenko's SF match on Saturday a moment of pause, huh? Yet, after outplaying Venus in the semifinals on Friday, winning 7-6/6-4, that's what Henin has done, so far. After six rounds of action, it's a case of twelve sets down, two more to go.

After being "lucky" enough to defeat Serena for a third straight time in a 2007 slam QF, Henin had to call upon all of her championship experience to cut down another Williams on a humid and windy late afternoon at Flushing Meadows.

First, she was opportunistic, jumping to a quick lead by breaking Venus in the maiden game of the match after Williams opened the door with a few unforced errors. Then, she was impeccable. She used probably her best serving period since she shortened her service motion a year ago to keep Venus at bay, dropping just two points on serve through her first four service games of the match.

But when Henin served for the set at 5-4, Venus came alive to save three set points and knot things at 5-5 with a break and then hold serve to take a 6-5 lead. Where Jelena Jankovic had failed to match Williams when she upped her level of play against the Serb in the QF, though, Henin played like a six-time slam champion in crunch time. She took Venus' punch, then delivered one of her own as she took control of the deciding 1st set tie-break, winning it 7-2 and then jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the 2nd set.

Still, a rout was most definitely not in the cards. With Henin serving at 3-1, 40/15 , Venus challenged her yet again. She broke the Belgian and in a matter of minutes the set was deadlocked at 3-3. One game later, Williams held break points for a 4-3 lead. But in perhaps her greatest moment of truth in what is now likely her US Open title to win, Henin held and then quickly jumped out to a 40-love lead on Venus' serve. The American was broken...then immediately broke back.

At 5-4 Henin, the virtual exchange of deadly blows continued until Williams led 30-15 on her own serve. It was then that an undaunted La Petit Taureau's mettle won out. Henin tied the score with a shot that skidded off the baseline, a moment which was followed by a forehand error from Venus that handed the Belgian a match point. In the end, it was an errant backhand that sent Henin to her second straight US Open final (and third in five years)... but it was really all the anything-but-luck preparation and hard-won battle scars that paved the way.

Opportunistic. Impeccable. Undaunted. "New" Justine is alive and well, and she's not even in Paris.

And was REALLY that two different TV commentators referring to Henin as essentially a "consummate professional" this week? Wow. I guess that match about eighteen months ago in Melbourne isn't going to "taint" her career, after all, huh? Imagine that. In fact, I believe I even saw an amazingly rare sight during this match -- Justine actually laughed and gave a playful "whew!" hand motion after a replay showed that a particularly close call really DID go her way at one point. Hey, it's no "Novak the Entertainer" doing a dead-on Supernova impersonation... but it's a start.

On Saturday night, Henin, made more "human" after "real life" infiltrated her insular world at the start of this '07 season, will have her chance to be embraced by the tennis world. Maybe for the first time. If this tournament's results are any indication, it's an opportunity she's not likely to squander.

As for Venus, I suppose it's time to ponder what her 2007 season will represent in her career. A blip on the radar screen, as her '05 Wimbledon title turned out to be, or the start of a resurgence that will carry on until she decides to walk away from the game? As has often been speculated in this space, it would seem that the older Williams sister is more likely to remain committed to having herself prepared for more long-term success on tour than her super-talented younger sibling. At 27, she might have a few more Wimbledon titles (and maybe even a US Open, if this tournament is any indication) left in her. If she wants them badly enough, that is. In fact, as Lindsay Davenport prepares to return to singles action on the tour next week at age 31, it's obvious that Venus could still put together a late-career renaissance that might end up pushing her on-court accomplishments past that of Serena's over the long haul.

But, as usual, that would seem to be entirely up to her. If she wishes for it, there are still some wonderful chapters of a Hall of Fame career to be written. Hmmm, I smell a future "What If?" column doing push-ups in the corner.

Of course, getting back to La Petit Taureau, it'd be something of a shame for Henin to defeat both Serena and Venus in the same event, but then lose in the final. But that IS exactly what happened to Martina Hingis, the only other player to defeat both sisters in the same slam, in Melbourne in 2001 (she lost in the final to Jennifer Capriati).

Henin will certainly be the overwhelming favorite on Saturday night to claim her seventh career slam title, as she holds a 14-2 lifetime record against final opponent Svetlana Kuznetsova. Still, Henin DID lose their most recent meeting in Berlin this summer. But, come now, for someone with the "luck" of the world #1, maintaining her groove and closing out this tournament on a championship note shouldn't be a problem.


Love-Love... for a set on Friday, it was difficult to tell that it was Svetlana Kuznetsova and not Anna Chakvetadze who'd actually navigated the pressures of a US Open SF before Day 12. The Doll swept to a 6-3 opening set victory as the Contessova produced what even she declared was an embarrassing number of errors. But once '04 US Open champ Kuznetsova righted her game's ship, and Chakvetadze simultaneously was engulfed by the wave of the moment, she sailed through to her third grand slam singles final, 3-6/6-1/6-1.

Australian: Serena Williams/USA
Roland Garros: Maria Sharapova/RUS
Wimbledon: Marion Bartoli/FRA
US Open: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS

2004: Shinobu Asagoe/JPN
2005: Elena Dementieva/RUS
2006: Tatiana Golovin/FRA
2007: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS


(Henin leads 14-2)
2003: Henin 2-0
2004: Henin 3-1
2005: Henin 2-0
2006: Henin 5-0
2007: Henin 2-1
LAST MEETING: Berlin SF - Kuznetsova 6-4/5-7/6-4

AO: Serena Williams/USA def. Maria Sharapova/RUS
RG: Justine Henin/BEL def. Ana Ivanovic/SRB
WI: Venus Williams/USA def. Marion Bartoli/FRA
US: Justine Henin/BEL vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS


SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: MEN'S DOUBLES FINAL - #10 Simon Aspelin/Julian Knowle SWE/AUT def. #9 Lukas Dlouhy/Pavel Vizner CZE/CZE.
...the pair win their first slam title as a team.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: BOYS SINGLES QF - #11 Thomas Fabbiano/ITA def. #1 Uladzimir Ignatik/BLR - 6-4/6-2.
...the "force" that's been striking down all the top seeds in this tournament -- well, except for Federer and Henin, that is -- once again has the last laugh.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: GIRLS SINGLES QF - Kristina Kucova/SVK def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS - 7-5/6-1.
...did someone say something about #1 seeds failing to advance at this US Open? Pavlyuchenkova has simply overstayed her welcome in the juniors, which she is no longer dominating at the slams as she has in past seasons. Just a year ago in the Girls final she was defeating Tamira Paszek, who reached the Round of 16 in the main draw this time around. The latest Russian now can begin to see whether or not SHE can translate her junior success to a nice career on the big tour.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #4: GIRLS SINGLES QF - #2 Urszula Radwanska def. #8 Lauren Albanese/USA - 6-1/1-0 ret.
...U-Rad has also advanced to the Girls Doubles final with Ksenia Milevskaya, where they'll meet Oksana Kalashnikova & Ksenia Lykina. As it is, three of the four Girls singles semifinalists will be taking part in the doubles final, as well.


AO: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS d. Madison Brengle/USA
RG: Alize Cornet/FRA d. Mariana Duque-Marino/COL
WI: Urszula Radwanska/POL d. Madison Brengle/USA
AO: Brydan Klein/AUS d. Thomas Eysseric/FRA
RG: Uladzimir Ignatik/BLR d. Greg Jones/AUS
WI: Donald Young/USA d. Uladzimir Ignatik/BLR

AO: Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (USA/USA)
RG: Mark Knowles/Daniel Nestor (BAH/CAN)
WI: Arnaud Clement/Michael Llodra (FRA/FRA)
US: Simon Aspelin/Julian Knowle (SWE/AUT)


#7 Dechy/Safina (FRA/RUS) vs. #5 Chan/Chuang (TPE/TPE)
Kristina Kucova/SVK
vs. Oksana Kalashnikova/GEO
#7 Ksenia Milevskaya/BLR vs. #2 Urszula Radwanska/POL

#11 Thomas Fabbiano/ITA vs. Jerzy Janowicz/POL
#3 Matteo Trevisan/ITA vs. #15 Ricardas Berankis/LTU

#3 Oksana Kalashnikova/Ksenia Lykina (GEO/RUS) vs. #2 Ksenia Milevskaya/Urszula Radwanska (BLR/POL)
#6 Jonathan Eysseric/Jerome Inzerillo (FRA/FRA) vs. Grigor Dimitrov/Vasek Pospisil (BUL/CAN)


#1 Justine Henin/BEL vs. #4 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS

Henin def. Kuznetsova in 2 sets's the 2003 champ vs. the 2004 champ, with La Petit Taureau not even needing to win to wrap up Player of the Year honors. Amazingly, even while having to navigate the tough top half of the draw, Henin has yet to drop a set at this Open. So why pick her to lose one now?

MATCH, "After 29 years, who'd have thought that Ace Frehley would be cool again..."

...or at least "cool" if having his great-but-forgotten "New York Groove" song from the 1978 solo album released during his Kiss years suddenly popping up everywhere all of a sudden qualifies him for that status. First, it played during the credits of "Entourage" on HBO a few weeks ago, and then today CBS was using it as the background theme for the opening of Friday's tournament coverage. First, Bud Collins and now this. I know, I know... don't be expecting this sort of thing ALL the time.

TOP QUALIFIER: Alina Jidkova / RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Justine Henin / BEL
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): (vacant)
FIRST SEED OUT: #29 Samantha Stosur / AUS
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: A.Cornet/FRA & E.Makarova/RUS (+WC A.Rolle/USA) to 3rd Rd.
IT GIRL: Agnieszka Radwanska / POL
MISS OPPORTUNITY: Svetlana Kuznetsova / RUS
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)
SPECIAL: CRASH & BURN- Maria Sharapova / RUS

All for Day 12.


Blogger Zidane said...

The most surprising thing about Kuznet is that she is still struggling to make a name for herself beyond the fact that she will be #2 in the world next week. I wish her to win, maybe the way she finally won her first title of the season left her a bad taste, and she will want to make it taste better.

I want her to win. Can you imagine that if she does, she will have a record as good as Sharapova in Grand Slam finals?

Sat Sep 08, 05:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

is this her 6th final of the year?


no wonder she'll be no.2

Sat Sep 08, 05:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

But, so far, she's just 1-4 in those finals, with the win coming from a retirement in a match she was losing.

Sat Sep 08, 06:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Ian said...

Hmm, I feel as though the second set wasn't quite what you made it out to be, but I'll have to watch it again to see. I just feel like it got tense, but they weren't playing as well as they did in the first set - Zhoo was getting a bit too defensive and neither of them was serving properly... I was really more relieved than anything that she came through!

Sat Sep 08, 09:10:00 PM EDT  

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