Sunday, September 02, 2007

Day 6: In a Puff of Smoke

So much for a US Open with no surprises, huh? Okay, then... now what?

For Maria Sharapova on Day 6, it was a case of now you see her, confident and roaring after the first two rounds, now you don't, as the shaky and psyched-out Supernova's title defense plans went up in smoke under the mid-day sun on Ashe Stadium with a 6-4/1-6/6-2 loss to Polish teenager Agnieszka Radwanska in the 3rd Round.

In the end, Sharapova only has herself to blame for a grand slam flame-out that fairly well crystallizes her disappointing 2007 season. An unforced error count hoving around half-way to 100. Twelve double-faults. A forehand that was flying long. And the decided lack of a belief that things were going to turn out all right in the end. It was a very un-Supernovian performance, but one pretty much par for the course as far as most of this season has been concerned.

Weaned on the crafty play of Martina Hingis (who, it should be noted, Sharapova was blitzed by the first time she faced her in early '06), A-Rad's main weapons in this match seemed to be her intense desire to mess with Sharapova's head. The Pole rarely actually hit a winning shot of her own volition, and instead was intent on sending back off-speed shots of various spins and such just to see if Sharapova was smart enough to figure out how to win a match when her opponent wasn't doing her a favor by trying to get into a ball-striking contest with the queen of the smash-the-hell-out-of-the-fuzzy-yellow-thing set. The teenager didn't play that game, and the defending Open champion let her get away with it during the most important parts of the match -- its beginning and end.

It took her a while, but Sharapova DID seem to find a way into the match during the middle stages when she got A-Rad to actually hit back. After dropping the 1st set, she won eight of the next nine games and led 2-0 in the 3rd. But then the serve game that's bothered her all season, and held her back throughout the match, completely imploded. After that little foreshadowing moment when she double-faulted twice on match point in her 1st Round match against Roberta Vinci, the final six games in this 3rd Rounder were a vivid example of a top player completely lost in the clouds. Of course, Radwanska's some-would-say-questionable tactics didn't help.

A-Rad's practice of hopping up to just behind the service box as Sharapova began her serve machinations, then hopping back as the Russian's toss went up, surely served its stated purpose to distract Sharapova into mistakes. Of course, if the likes of a certain Belgian had stepped this close to the gamesmanship line she'd have been hung out to dry for it, but the Pole's brash youth might provide her with a pass. I suppose it does from Backspin, too, for it would be sort of hypocritical to bum-rush A-Rad after defending Henin's technically-within-the-rules moves in season's past, huh?

So, I'll just say this: some corners might say that Sharapova, who was noticeably bothered by the tactic during the match though she smartly didn't make an issue of it at the time nor afterward, should have launched a quick second serve at (or over, if she'd wanted to take the "nice girl" approach) A-Rad's head before she pranced back to the baseline during Sharapova's serve toss. You know, just to give her a little warning and to see if she'd continue with her psychological warfare after receiving a virtual warning shot across the bow. After all, all's fare in love, war and US Open tennis, right? Hey, this IS New York City... it's all right to play with a little "are you talkin' to me?" attitude. Ah, where's Irina Spirlea when you need her? (Has it already been ten years since her "accidental" bumping of Venus?)

It certainly would have made the match a more memorable one, for rarely has such a large tree fallen on a tennis court in an upset so devoid of actual BIG moments and shots. The closest thing to "memorable," tennis-wise, in this one was probably the mini-battle late in the 3rd set when it took a fourth break point before A-Rad finally broke Sharapova's serve for an insurmountable 5-2 lead. Even with all her troubles, it was THAT moment where Sharapova could have saved herself and become this Open's "Zombie Queen." But it didn't happen, and Team Sharapova is going to have to brainstorm to figure out how to reclaim the Supernova aura that's really slipped away as this season as gone along.

As for Radwanska? Well, we'll see if Shahar Peer's on-court intellect shines in the 4th Round where Sharapova's disintegrated in the 3rd. One wonders if the Pole will be quite so fortunate a second time.

Love-Love... with the Teen Brigade employing a scorched earth policy in the draw's bottom half, the remaining sixteen women bear little resemblance to the usual lists at this time in a grand slam.

SOME FACTOIDS: there are still more Russians remaining than women from any other country, but there's only one more Hordette than there are Austrians in the 4th Round. Five teenagers remain, and eight of the final sixteen are 21 years of age or younger. Half of the eight women in the bottom portion of the draw are unseeded, while none are without seeds in the top half of the bracket.

With the Round of 16 match-ups set, the stark difference between the top and bottom halves of the draw is now even more pronounced. In career grand slam final records, players in the top half are a combined 20-14 (with five of the eight players having played in slam finals in '07), while the bottom is 1-1 (with Svetlana Kuznetsova accounting for both matches). So, the bottom half is now assured of producing a seventh different 2007 slam finalist. If Jankovic, Safina or Bammer reach the final from the top half, it'll be the first time since 1977 that a season will have seen eight different women reach the year's four slam singles finals.

3...Russia (Chakvetadze, Kuznetsova, Safina)
2...Austria (Bammer, Paszek)
2...Serbia (Ivanovic, Jankovic)
2...USA (Williams, Williams)
1...Belarus (Azarenka)
1...Belgium (Henin)
1...France (Bartoli)
1...Hungary (Szavay)
1...Israel (Peer)
1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1...Ukraine (Vakulenko)

16...Tamira Paszek
18...Victoria Azarenka
18...Agnieszka Radwanska
18...Agnes Szavay
19...Ana Ivanovic
20...Shahar Peer
20...Anna Chakvetadze
21...Dinara Safina
22...Svetlana Kuznetsova
22...Jelena Jankovic
22...Marion Bartoli
24...Julia Vakulenko
25...Justine Henin
25...Serena Williams
27...Venus Williams
27...Sybille Bammer

#1 Justine Henin
#3 Jelena Jankovic
#4 Svetlana Kuznetsova
#5 Ana Ivanovic
#6 Anna Chakvetadze
#9 Serena Williams
#10 Marion Bartoli
#14 Venus Williams
#16 Dinara Safina
#19 Shahar Peer
#20 Sybille Bammer
#31 Agnes Szavay
#32 Agnieszka Radwanska
#41 Victoria Azarenka
#43 Tamira Paszek
#50 Julia Vakulenko


SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #1: Women's Singles 3rd Rd. - Agnes Szavay/HUN def. #7 Nadia Petrova/RUS 6-4/6-4.
...the Late Summer of Szavay continues, as the 18-year old has gone from Palermo champ to New Haven RU to the US Open 4th Round. And considering the Contessova's up-and-down results this year, the Hungarian might actually be the favorite to reach the SF.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #2: Women's Singles 3rd Rd. - Tamira Paszek/AUT def. #11 Patty Schnyder/SUI - 4-6/6-4/7-6.
...the excitable Austrian has made a tremendous leap since reaching the junior final a year ago. It just wasn't a good day for Swiss women (see below).

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #3: Women's Singles 3rd Rd. - Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. #16 Martina Hingis/SUI - 3-6/6-1/6-0.
...honestly, this wasn't really a surprise (except for the fact that Hingis scratched out only one game in the final two sets, that is). Azarenka has been a lady in waiting for a while now, and if she can take out '04 champ Kuznetsova in the 4th Round the bottom half will be turned on its head one more time.

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #4: Women's 3rd Rd. - #18 Shahar Peer/ISR def. #13 Nicole Vaidisova/CZE - 6-4/3-6/7-6. least Vaidisova saved three match points before finally going out in the two and a half hour match. Slowly but surely, she's getting there. But, really, what were the odds that NEITHER she nor Sharapova would make their potential Round of 16 date?

SCORELINE-OF-NOTE #5: Men's Singles 3rd Rd. - #1 Roger Federer/SUI def. (WC)John Isner/USA 6-7/6-2/6-4/6-2.
...well, it was nice while it lasted for Isner, huh? Hey, that's why he's ROGER FEDERER, right? Still, talk about an insanely quick rise for a guy who was playing in the NCAA final for Georgia just a few months ago.

Love-30... another day, another Backspin Slam Award. With Vaidisova's post-mono run ended, along with that of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza on Day 6, Vera Zvonareva stands as the last "Comeback Player" contender following her run to the Final 32 (and pushing of Serena there) after missing several months with a wrist injury.

Australian: Serena Williams
Roland Garros: Patty Schnyder
Wimbledon: Venus Williams
US Open: Vera Zvonareva


#1 Henin/BEL vs. #1 Safina/RUS
#10 Bartoli/FRA vs. #8 S.Williams/USA
#3 Jankovic/SRB vs. #19 Bammer/AUT
#12 V.Williams vs. #5 Ivanovic/SRB
Szavay/HUN vs. Vakulenko/UKR
Azarenka/BLR vs. #4 Kuznetsova/RUS
#6 Chakvetadze/RUS vs. Paszek/AUT
#18 Peer/ISR vs. #30 A.Radwanska/POL

Henin def. Safina in 2
S.Williams def. Bartoli in 2
Jankovic def. Bammer in 2
V.Williams def. Ivanovic in 3
Szavay def. Vakulenko in 2
Kuznetsova def. Azarenka in 3
Chakvetadze def. Paszek in 3
Peer def. Radwanska in 2

MATCH, "All right, is there anyone out there you'd like to have cursed? Because we've clearly stumbled upon the formula for carving negativity out of a seemingly positive environment"... as it's become clear that my and Pierre's old "Kuznetsova Curse" was passed onto Miss Sharapova when we again both picked the same year-end #1 way back in January, only to see the Supernova stumble and crash in '07 much like her fellow Russian did when we picked HER to finish #1 back in '05. Really, maybe we should charge a fee for our services starting next season.

TOP QUALIFIER: Alina Jidkova / RUS
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Maria Sharapova / RUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): (vacant)
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: (vacant)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: (vacant)
DOUBLES STAR: (vacant)

All for Day 6.


Blogger Topaz said...

A-Rad's return of service tactics are also completely within the rules, which state that a player can 'feint' at any time. Some may consider it bad sportsmanship, but I think screaming every time you hit the ball (masking the sound of the ball on the strings), and receiving blatant coaching right down to when you eat your banana is actually *against* the rules. So, Sharapova doesn't really have a leg to stand on if she was upset by A-Rad's tactics. Though, I am also mystified that she didn't 'fire one across the bow'. In a way, her poor serving let A-Rad get away with her little 'dance'.

Sun Sep 02, 06:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

here here, topaz :)

yeah, i'm *definitely* no sharapova's just a little disconcerting to see someone so mentally tough unravel like that.

Mon Sep 03, 12:51:00 AM EDT  

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