RG.3- An Anticlimactic Ending, a Re-Comeback (?) and Serena Dances a Duet with Defeat... so what else is new?
Boy, we've seen this scene played out before, haven't we?
AP Photo / Lionel Cironneau
It's become something of a grand slam's right of passage to see Serena Williams attempt to walk the precarious high wire stretched between one early slam round to another. It usually looks like her trip will be a breeze, then she nearly falls, only to catch herself and go on to bigger and far better things, leaving us to wonder "what if?" It happened in Melbourne when Victoria Azarenka had Serena dead to rights in the 4th Round, only to be felled by the heat while Williams went on to win the title.
On Day 3, Serena did her dance with defeat with Klara Zakopalova, the Czech who provided loss #2 in Williams' current career-long, four-match losing streak.
Well, Serena didn't really dance with "defeat" as much as she tangoed with trouble. You never got the sense that she was TRULY heading for her first-ever 1st Round slam loss, but she sure didn't look ready to win the match, either.
Up a set and 5-3, after falling behind 3-0 early in the 2nd, Williams failed to convert five match points against Zakopalova. She seemed to wait for the Czech to capitulate, but the Maiden instead got more aggressive and erased Serena's seemingly insurmountable lead, winning a tie-break to send the proceedings to a 3rd set. There, Zakopalova went up a break at 2-1, then Williams surged back to go up 5-2... but then failed to convert a sixth, seventh and eighth match point.
Finally, on the ninth MP, she put Zakopalova away, winning 6-3/6-7/6-4. Just your usual grand slam teeter-totter of a match, courtesy of the world #2.
Before the tournament, I gave Serena little chance of pulling through seven matches to win the title. In fact, I was rather stunned when I saw that some members of the major media (SI's Jon Wertheim, for example) were picking Williams to win, at her worst grand slam with a bum knee/leg (especially when some of those predictions were coming from people who hadn't, as I had, picked her to win in NYC and Melbourne at the previous two slams). Of course, poor results/fitness/match play often are a sign that Serena is about to soar to unimaginable heights.
But, personally, I still think that I was on the right track.
Serena can play her way into shape and pick up match play, but her knee has more often than not been her Achilles heel. And having an injury that effects her movement on red clay would seem to be too much for her to overcome for seven straight matches.
Of course, when it comes to Williams, there's a very fine line between predictors of success and/or failure looking smart, or being proven stupid (this time). "Good" often means bad. "Bad" often means good. We'll know soon on which side this tournament's version of Serena will fall. In a few weeks, she'll either be gearing up to bounce back in London, or heading there with the currently-flying-under-the-radar possibility of completing a second "Serena Slam" by winning a fourth straight slam crown.
Which will it be?
(Cue the "Jeopardy!" music.)
=DAY 3 NOTES=
...picking up where we left off yesterday, #10-seed Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Dushevina returned on Day 3 to complete a 1st Round match that Dushevina once led 6-4/3-1. Things ended on Monday with the Russian stopping play mid-point to challenge a call on a C-Woz shot at the baseline, but when the umpire ruled against her the 2nd set went to the Dane.
Maybe the late-blooming Dushevina thought about her blown lead and call all night, because what happened today was the very definition of an anticlimax. Wozniacki quickly got a break of serve, went up 3-1 and raced to a 6-1 3rd set win. Not that I was all that upset at the "lost chance" for a great finish... it's a little too early in the week for a truly Jankovician moment for the Dane.
If this was C-Woz's "gulp" moment prior to a potentially big Round of 16 meeting with Jelena Jankovic, she seems to have made it through with flying colors.
Day 4 also provided a hint at a potential "re-comeback." By whom, you ask? Well, pray tell, I'll tell you.
I'd be talking about Jelena Dokic. You remember her, right? She was the story of the tournament back in Oz in January, but she'd gone 1-4 in tour MD matches ever since. After dropping the 1st set to Karolina Sprem today, she settled herseld, cut down her avalanche of early unforced errors, and handily won by a 3-6/6-1/6-2 score. As you have to do when talking about Dokic these days, here's where I mention that this was the Aussie's first RG win since 2003 (of course, she hadn't played a 1st Round match there since '04).
Her next opponent? #4-seed Elena Dementieva, against whom she put up a 5-3 mark in her "previous life" from 2001-04, including a 2-0 record in clay matches (both on green clay, though, as they've never met on the red dirt). Could recent slam history be about to repeat itself? Yeah, probably not... but it'll certainly be a result to keep an eye on, just in case.
Dokic's best results always used to come at the bigger events. In 2009, that hasn't changed.
Meanwhile. on the other side of the looking glass, Nicole Vaidisova is still lost somewhere in Wonderland. Three years ago, the Czech was one poor forehand shot selection away from having a match point against Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the RG final. Today, she went down in straight sets to veteran Virginia Ruano-Pascual 6-4/6-3. VRP gets Serena next. If she can't take out the #2 seed, the next player to get a shot in the 3rd Round could be Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, who advanced in three sets past Peng Shuai on Day 3.
...things returned to normal for American men's clay court tennis today, as both Mardy Fish and James Blake (I knew that decent clay court season he's been having was likely a mirage) were sent packing without getting a win in Paris.
...there were no dramatic endings to suspended matches today, at least not like the one with the Wozniacki/Dushevina tussle from yesterday. Alize Cornet, though, will have to ponder overnight whether her snake-bitten clay season will continue when she resumes her 1st Round match with Maret Ani on Day 4, with the Pastry leading 6-4/4-4. Also, Venus and Serena still have to complete their 1st Round Doubles match with Hlavackova/Hradecka, with the sisters leading the on-serve Czechs 4-3 in the 3rd set.
...and, finally, congrats to Mallory Cecil. The Duke freshman has won the NCAA Women's singles championship, defeating Miami's Laura Vallverdu 7-5/6-4 in the final. Cecil also was a part of the NCAA championship-winning Duke women's team last week.
Oddly enough, Georgia freshman Chelsey Gullickson, who lost in the semifinals to Vallverdu to end her sixteen-match winning streak, was earlier named the college "Rookie of the Year" for the NCAA season.
You know, that's sort of like Serena being the reigning champ at two slams at the moment, but being #2 on the computer to Safina, who's won none (but reached two slam finals). Yeah, it's a slight stretch... but I needed SOMETHING to end this notes section with, right?
*QUALIFIERS (and others) IN THE 2nd ROUND*
Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
Polona Hercog, SLO
Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
Petra Martic, CRO
Arantxa Rus, NED
Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
Olivia Rogowska, AUS
Psssst, I still think I was right about Serena.
TOP QUALIFIER: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xxx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: Corinna Dentoni/ITA d. Sesil Karatantcheva/KAZ 4-6/6-3/6-2
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xxx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (1st Rd.- Shvedova/KAZ)
UPSET QUEENS: xxx
REVELATION LADIES: xxx
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: xxx
IT GIRL: xxx
MADEMOISELLE/MADAM OPPORTUNITY: xxx
COMEBACK PLAYER: xxx
CRASH & BURN: xxx
ZOMBIE QUEEN: xxx
LAST PASTRY STANDING: xxx
DOUBLES STAR xxx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xxx
All for Day 3. More tomorrow.