Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RG.4- Red Scare!

And on Day Four, we finally got the Supernova... and she almost didn't survive to see a Day Five.

After witnessing several rain-marred days before finally getting on court for her 1st Round match, Maria Sharapova found herself facing a 19-year Russian in her grand slam main draw debut. A junior performer a season ago, Evgeniya Rodina was looked at as the opponent in one of those "get it over with" early round matches. She was... for about a set.

Then Mother Nature stepped in and helped the young Hordette come THIS CLOSE to becoming an historical Roland Garros figure. You see, a #1 women's seed has never lost in the 1st Round in Paris... but Sharapova came within two points of earning the dubious distinction of being the first.

With the swirling wind (and red dust) playing havoc with her serve and general sense of ease, the Supernova threw in an ungodly seventeen double-faults. She saw her 6-1 1st set cruise turn into a 6-3 lost set in the 2nd, and felt a consistent come-from-behind pressure peering over her shoulder throughout the 3rd as Rodina served first and didn't fact a break point in the set until 6-6.

Ultimately, Sharapova pulled out some productive first serves late, stole that break and served out the set at 8-6. But you have to wonder if this was a weather-related near-stumble, or a sign that she's not going to be able to find the form to match and/or improve upon her Roland Garros SF result from a year ago.

The only other time Sharapova has suffered through anything resembling a similar ordeal in a slam 1st Round was at last year's Australian Open, when she won a 9-7 3rd set against Camille Pin. But that one, too, was precipitated by the weather conditions, as Extreme Heat nearly turned the Supernova into a Red Dwarf in a matter of a few hours. In the end, Sharapova reached the Melbourne final, where she was destroyed by Serena Williams.

Wonder what Maria did to get on Mother N's bad side. What about Yuri? Hmmm.

While she may no longer exactly resemble the "cow on ice" she used to feel like on clay, it should be noted that Sharapova's last two slam titles (excluding her Wimbledon uprising in '04) came about after she played at a high level of tennis throughout the event. In Melbourne in January, she never lost a set through seven matches. Unlike the Williams sisters, Sharapova hasn't yet shown a pattern of finding a way to "play herself into" a slam. She's either been "on" from the start, or not.

Completing a career grand slam with a RG title was always going to be a tough task for Sharapova... but it'll be a virtual impossibility if she's going to have to fight her own serve along the way while trying to do it.

...while #1-seed Sharapova was made to sweat in the top half of the draw, #2-seeded Ana Ivanovic cruised on the bottom half rather impressively yet again on Day Four. After handling dangerous 1st Round opponent Sofia Arvidsson the other day, she took out another potential spoiler in Lucie Safarova today by a 6-1/6-2 score. So far, the possible dual Sisters-vs.-Serbs QF matchups (AnaIvo/Serena & JJ/Venus) are still scheduled for next week. a slight surprise, #25 Nadia Petrova took down Aravane Rezai in straight sets, 7-6/6-3, when an upset win by the Pastry would hardly have raised an eyebrow. Good for Nadia. I guess we're at a point now where there are no expectations for Petrova, so every day she's still alive in the draw is a good day. Next up is Alisa Kleybanova... and it's probably best to have zero expectations for that one, too.

...Nuria Llagostera-Vives lost to #6-seed Anna Chakvetadze today, swelling the ranks of 1st Round victims to two who recently posed for nude photos. Of course, to be fair, Llagostera's efforts will ultimately be far less revealing than Ashley Harkleroad's will be in Playboy later this summer.

...sheesh! Yet another "lucky loser" in the men's draw won a 1st Round match today, as Luis Horna joined the unlikely crowd that includes Pablo Andujar and Sebastian Decoud in the 2nd Round.

...Zheng Jie, Bethanie Mattek and Magdalena Rybarikova won opening round matches today. That means nine of the twelve women's qualifiers won 1st Round matches at this RG. I'm not sure, but I can't believe such a high percentage of victories have occurred in a slam in recent years. At least at none that I can remember. A total of three wild cards notched wins, too, after Sam Stosur (def. #17 Shahar Peer) won today. Jelena Pandzic (Q), Anastasia Yakimova (Q) and Mathilde Johansson (a Pastry WC who lost to Serena in two sets after actually serving for the second stanza at 5-3), thinned the group of survivors a bit, though, with their 2nd Round defeats on Day Four.

...and, finally, can Gisela Dulko do it again? The Argentine's 1st Round match with Sara Errani was suspended earlier this week with Errani up 3-1 in the 3rd set. Dulko come back to win the match when it resumed the next day. Her Day Four 2nd Round contest with #19-seed Alize Cornet was suspended with the pair both having won a set, and tied 3-3 in the 3rd. Can you say "encore?"

2003 RG Q3 - def. Beygelzimer 6-7/7-5/8-6
2005 Aust.Open SF - lost to S.Williams 6-2/5-7/6-8
2007 Aust.Open 1st - def. Pin 6-3/4-6/9-7
2007 RG 4th - def. Schnyder 3-6/6-4/9-7
2008 RG 1st - def. Rodina 6-1/3-6/8-6

TOP QUALIFIERS: Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez/ESP & Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #15 Nicole Vaidisova/CZE (1st-Benesova)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

"Unlike the Williams sisters, Sharapova hasn't yet shown a pattern of finding a way to "play herself into" a slam. She's either been "on" from the start, or not."

I just finished saying almost exactly the same thing to someone, right before I looked at your post. It doesn't bode well for her. On the other hand, the one thing she has going for her is that the more clay is blown away, the faster the courts will get.

That was a real mess out there today.

Wed May 28, 07:54:00 PM EDT  

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