Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oz 11- Old Habits are Hard to Break

In the end, "Punch-Sober" fell off the serving wagon.

Elena Dementieva was the hottest player on tour coming into Melbourne, and had run her winning streak to fifteen matches before her semifinal meeting with Serena Williams on Day 11. Back in her "Punch-Drunk" days, the Russian's serve was like a clock striking twelve on any of her Cinderella slam dreams. Now, though, after a great deal of work that has made her former Achilles' heel a legitimate sometimes-weapon rather than a liability, her standing as one of the "favorites" at this Australian Open was a well-earned position.

But old habits are hard to break.

In the 1st set against Williams, the American was battling against herself at times, throwing in enough errors to give Dementieva hope that she'd be able to grab the lead in an attempt to win her fourth straight match against the nine-time slam titlist. But Serena's serve kept HER head above water. Even as her 1st serve percentage was below 50%, she was winning over 90% of the points when she DID get it in, and hovered around a 50% winning percentage on her 2nd serve. It's hard to beat a Williams under those circumstances, and when your own serve chooses the wrong time to break down it's downright impossible.

That' what happened to Dementieva. A few ill-timed double-faults began to pop up. Serena broke her for a 5-3 lead, then served out the set at 6-3.

In the 2nd set, Dementieva survived three break points in the first game and went on to take a 3-0 lead. But the DF's returned and she was broken for 3-2. The Russian battled back in her receiving games, though, coming back from two Williams aces and a 40/15 lead to break the American and knot the score at 4-4.

But she couldn't hold her own serve. Again, old habits are to break, especially in a grand slam SF against one of the greatest players of all time in what's traditionally been her best major. Dementieva couldn't crack at all if she was going to win, but she did just that in the biggest games of the match.

After the break, Williams served out the proceedings for a 6-3/6-4 win and her fourth trip to an Australian Open singles final (which she'll play a day after she's in the doubles final with sister Venus, where they'll try to get their third Oz crown).

Six matches into this tournament, Serena is still looking for a true "A" game performance. But she's getting closer and closer to it, and she has one more chance to perfect things and celebrate in the Oz winner's circle yet again after becoming a back-to-back slam champion for the first time since completing "Serena Slam" in Melbourne back in 2003.

In the final, Williams will meet Dinara Safina. Not really a big surprise, considering that was a likely ultimate result of two weeks of action before this Australian Open had ever begun (at least in both my and Pierre Cantin's opinions, though we split on our picks for the ultimate champion, as I picked Serena).

Against fellow Hordette Vera Zvonareva, the outcome came down to what pretty much all of Safina's matches have come down to in Melbourne. Namely, Dinara herself. "Little Dinara" was asleep in this match, as Safina controlled the action from the outset. Taking the initiative, she had both more winners and errors than Zvonareva, a sure sign that Marat's sister was playing exactly the type of aggressive game she had intended to before the first ball was struck. I know Zvonareva had been playing very well going into this match, but for the life of me I couldn't quite understand how oddsmakers were seeming to favor Zvonareva in this one (and ESPN's Darren Cahill even picked her to win before the match).

Really? Even with all that Safina has done in the last nine months? Zvonareva seems to have finally gotten a handle on her emotions, while Safina continues to play a occasional game of Whack-a-Mole with her's, but Dinara is the more talented of the two, the most driven at the moment to win a slam and the most ready of any of the currently slam-less women on the WTA Tour (including Dementieva and Jelena Jankovic) to do it RIGHT NOW. Anyway, I thought a 2 & 1 Safina straight sets win was more likely than a Zvonareva victory going in.

Safina won 6-3/7-6, after Zvonareva had served for the 2nd set at 6-5. So, Zvonareva did indeed hold up pretty well, but the better player won in the end. As it should have been.

Safina will have to strive to take full advantage of any of Serena's potential lapses in the final if she's to win it. She surely CAN, but when was the last time Williams had any noticeable lapses in an Australian Open final?

Serena can smell her fourth Oz title now, and it'll take a monumental effort to deny her the prize. Safina is one of the few players who could do it, but I'm still going to take Serena in three sets, with the Russian winning a very close set in the first two before Serena takes full control of the match in the 3rd.

Williams' spot at the all-timer's table is already secure and reserved. Now she's just trying to get as close to the head seat as she can before the appetizers arrive.

...hmmm, amazing how that closed roof prevented Svetlana Kuznetsova from serving out the match the other day, huh? That darn roof, if he only knew he could cause a player to lose a game twelve games after he was closed he might have wielded his power more thoughtfully.

All right, enough of that. If we didn't have excuses we wouldn't have anything, right? much for the thought that Andy Roddick had a snowball's chance in the Melbourne heat of defeating Roger Federer for only the third time in their now eighteen career meetings.

Federer simply destroyed the American yet again, even out-acing him in the ultimate embarrassment for a player whose serve is the strongest aspect of his game. Aside from that two-set weirdness against Tomas Berdych, Federer has mostly resembled his old #1 self at this tournament. Whether he'll face Rafael Nadal or Fernando Verdasco in the final, we might just see Pete Sampras' all-time slam title mark equaled this weekend. the junior competition, the upcoming semifinals will include two intriguing matchups. In one, world junior #1 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (THA) will meet Wimbledon Girls champ Laura Robson (GBR), while the other will include a matchup of teenagers who'll both be trying to add their name to the list of recent junior slam champs from their home countries -- Ksenia Pervak (RUS) and Ana Bogdan (ROU).

Lertcheewakarn is still alive in the girls doubles SF with Beatrice Gumulya and is keeping alive the dream of a double-title performance in Melbourne. Also, 1st Round cramp-sufferer (and later Robson victim) Christina McHale is in the doubles semis with Croatia's Ajla Tomljanovic.

...and, finally, with the women's final not played until Day 13 (the Women's Doubles and Junior Doubles champions will be crowned, and the other finals are scheduled to be set with the completion of the remaining SF), Day 12's Daily Backspin will step away from this year's action in Melbourne for a day in order to present the first of this year's "Best of the Decade, 2000-09" series. The first " Player of the Decade" nomination list cutdown will take place and I'll present my rankings of the Top 10 players at the Australian Open over the last ten years. I'll do the same thing at the remaining slams this season, leading up to the final Top 20 "Players of the Decade" list at the end of the year.

4...Maria Sharapova, 2004-08 (3-1)
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2004-07 (1-2)
2...Olga Morozova, 1974 (0-2)
2...Elena Dementieva, 2004 (0-2)
2...DINARA SAFINA, 2008-09 (0-1)
1...Anastasia Myskina, 2004 (1-0)

13...Venus Williams, USA (7-6)
7...Lindsay Davenport, USA (3-4)
4...Maria Sharapova, RUS (3-1)
3...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA (2-1)
3...Ana Ivanovic, SRB (1-2)
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS (1-2)
2...Elena Dementieva, RUS (0-2)
1...Marion Bartoli, FRA (0-1)
1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB (0-1)
ALSO: 6-Mary Pierce (2-4)

9...USA (4-S.Williams, 2-Capriati, 2-Davenport, 1-V.Williams)
3...BEL (2-Henin, 1-Clijsters)
3...RUS (2-Sharapova, 1-Safina)
3...SUI (3-Hingis)
1...FRA (Mauresmo)
1...SRB (Ivanovic)

#2 S.Williams/USA vs. #3 Safina/RUS

#1 Nadal/ESP or #14 Verdasco/ESP
vs. #2 Federer/SUI

#9 Hantuchova/Sugiyama (SVK/JPN) vs. #10 Williams/Williams (USA/USA)

#2 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #3 Bhupathi/Knowles (IND/BAH)

Dechy/A.Ram (FRA/ISR) vs. Benesova/Dlouhy (CZE/CZE) or Mirza/Bhupathi (IND/IND)

#1 Noppawan Lertcheewakern/THA vs. #5 Laura Robson/GBR
#3 Ksenia Pervak/RUS vs. #2 Ana Bogdan/ROU

#1 Yuki Bhambri/IND vs. #7 Adrien Puget/FRA
Alexandro-Ferdinandos Georgoudas/GER vs. #2 Julen Uriguen/GUA

Isabella Holland/Sally Peers (AUS/AUS) vs. #6 Christina McHale/Ajla Tomljanovic (USA/CRO)
Alexandra Krunic/Sandra Zaniewska (SRB/POL) vs. #2 Beatrice Gumulya/Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (INA/THA)

#7 Francis Casey Alcantara/Hsieh Cheng-Peng (PHI/TPE) vs. Maximilian Neuchrist/Tristan-Samuel Weissborn (AUT/AUT)
#1 Yuki Bhambri/Huang Liang-Chi (IND/TPE) vs. Mikhal Biryukov/Yasutaka Uchiyama (RUS/JPN)

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Elena Dementieva/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Stephanie Dubois/CAN d. Urszula Radwanska/POL 6-4/6-4
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd: Suarez-Navarro d. V.Williams 2-6/6-3/7-5 (1 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd: Safina d. Cornet 6-2/2-6/7-5 (2 MP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Agnes Szavay/HUN (1st Rd.- Voskoboeva/KAZ)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Elena Baltacha/GBR, Alberta Brianti/ITA, Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL-KAZ (2nd Round)
IT GIRL: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
CRASH & BURN: Venus Williams/USA (lost in 2nd Rd.)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Dinara Safina/RUS (down 2-5 in 3rd, & 2 MP to Cornet in 4th Rd.)

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I can understand some people thinking Vera would prevail. She has been so good, while Dinara has been so sloppy. I really didn't know if Dinara could get it together for the semifinal. I was happy with a win by either of them, but I couldn't help but doubt Safina a little because she has been even sloppier than Serena in this tournament.

With some luck, they will both enter the final playing their best games. If they do, it will come down to something mental, I cannot really give either of them an edge there.

Thu Jan 29, 03:12:00 PM EST  
Blogger mjgrace22 said...


You have no idea how heartbreaking this loss of Lena's is for me. I really believed she can, but alas, it was the serve that failed us once again.

Fri Jan 30, 03:57:00 AM EST  

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