Thursday, May 28, 2009

RG.5- What Did We Just Miss?

I had today's Daily Backspin all ready to go. Then it happened, and it ruined everything.


The other day, I mentioned the potential of a "re"-comeback by Jelena Dokic at Roland Garros. After being the story of the tournament in Melbourne, the once-again Aussie had pretty much been a non-entity on tour ever since. Then, after a slow start in the 1st Round against Karolina Sprem on Day 3, Dokic suddenly became very sharp and ran off two well-crafted sets to move into the 2nd Round at Roland Garros for the first time since 2003.

On Day 5, against #4-seed Elena Dementieva, Dokic's roll continued. She broke the Russian in the first game of the match, held to go up 2-0, then held again in a dicey six-deuce game to take a 3-1 lead. While Dokic's nerve, groundstrokes and serve were as crisp as they'd been in years -- even more so than in Melbourne, where she had to battle to go three sets every time out -- Dementieva's game was off. As perfect as Dokic's timing was, Dementieva was spinning in her tracks. Throwing in double-faults at inopportune times (on break point down to give Dokic a 4-1 lead), the Russian saw the 1st set slip away by a 6-2 score.

(Not that ESPN2 viewers were seeing any of this, as the network was busy showing the Venus Williams match from many hours earlier in the day.)

Dementieva opened the 2nd set with another double-fault, though she saved two break points and eventually held. Dokic wasn't about to bend, though. She broke the Russian again to take a 2-1 lead, and I could see the Daily Backspin headlines dancing in my head.

"Dokic Does It Again!, "She's Baaaack... for more!," "The Comeback, Take Two."

With fellow Aussie Samantha Stosur awaiting the winner in the 3rd Round, and either Virginie Razzano or Tathiana Garbin in the 4th, another slam quarterfinal looked possible for Dokic.

Then it happened.

In the next game, Dementieva flirted with a break back, then got it when Dokic double-faulted to knot the score at 2-2. Moments later, perhaps as a result or the cause of that DF, something slipped inside Dokic. A slight move at the baseline caused the Aussie to stop in her tracks and grab the small of her back in pain. Wincing, she leaned over on her racket, then gingerly walked to her chair, buried her face in a towel and awaited a tournament trainer.

With a 6-2/2-2 lead, no one wanted to entertain thoughts of what anyone watching KNEW might be about to happen. No, not NOW. She'll be okay. She HAS to be. Right?

After an off-court injury break, Dokic returned and attempted to play out the match, perhaps hoping that the late-in-the-day contest might be suspended by the oncoming darkness and she'd be saved to fight another day. Wincing and unable to put her full body into her groundstrokes, though, watching her was like watching an injured animal struggle. You just wanted to avert your eyes, hoping for a miracle. She didn't want to give up, but her head was telling her she HAD to or else she'd damage her body even worse.

Finally, in the middle of the 2nd set's eighth game, she tearfully approached the chair umpire. It was over. Dokic led the match 6-2/3-4, but she wasn't the player who'd be advancing to the 3rd Round.

After seeing what the Aussie is still capable of on the grand slam stage in January, what type of May/June story were we just robbed of? We'll never know, but with some time to heal maybe we'll find out at SW19. It's always been Dokic's favorite slam, and where she's had the best moments of her odd career. Her caution today, as sad and disappointing as it was, might ultimately allow this story to be continued at the All-England Club in a few weeks. At least, we can only hope. I didn't get to write the story I wanted to today, but maybe I will soon.

Elena, you owe Jelena -- and us -- one.

...neither Venus nor Serena might end up lasting until this tournament's final weekend, but both are showing signs that their game faces are ready to be put into place for their attempts to defend their Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles.

Serena didn't have another Zakopalova moment on Day 5, easily dispatching veteran Virginia Ruano-Pascual 6-2/6-0. Meanwhile, Venus broke out quickly in the resumption of her match with Lucie Safarova. She won the 2nd set 6-2 to knot the contest. But then things got interesting.

The match really boiled down to one game. Venus was serving down 5-4 when Safarova showed why the results of the '07 Australian Open quarterfinalist can sometimes be so maddening. Up 30/love on Williams' serve, the Czech missed a wide open backhand shot, then had the next point end when a Safarova ball hit the net cord and dribbled onto her side of the net rather than Venus'. Moments later, she had a match point. Venus saved it, holding for 5-5 and essentially ending the match. Williams took 40/love leads in both of the next two games, winning both to claim a 6-7/6-2/7-5 victory. You can't give a Williams sister a second chance at life on the tennis court. Safarova did, and now she's out.

While the sisters might not reach their peak in Paris, there's always London and New York. Again. Consider that an early Wimbledon and U.S. Open "preview."

...DAY 5 QUICK HITS: Hmmm, was that the Roger Federer we've come to know and question over the past year popping up again against Jose Acasuso today? Sure, he erased a 6-3 deficit in a 1st set tie-break (he won 10-8), then came back from a 5-1 hole in the 3rd set when he was staring at a possible two-sets-to-one lead by his opponent. THAT was good stuff, but the Federer who beat Nadal in Madrid wouldn't have had to do that. Really, does anyone really thing that Rafa WON'T win a fifth straight Roland Garros title? ... Next up for Serena is MJMS. I picked an upset in that one before the tournament. We'll see. Needless to day, I'm worried. ... Serena & Venus finally finished off their 1st Round doubles match against Hlavackova/Hradeka. ... C-Woz opened up great against Jill Craybas, taking the 1st set 6-1. But then she fell into the American's trap and starting exchanging moon balls and playing non-aggressive tennis. She was soon behind 3-1 in the 2nd. Whenever she took the initiative, she had it made in the shade (she took the set 6-4), so she can't let that happen again, especially if that match with Jankovic becomes a reality in the 4th Round. ... Oh, and if you blinked you probably missed both Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova's first-match-up wins at the start of the day. Between their and Safina's first-match destructions of their unwitting opponents in recent days, early-bird patrons might wonder if they accidentally walked in on a practice session.

...AMG UPDATE: Anabel Medina-Garrigues lost in the 2nd Round today to Virginie Razzano, thereby keeping her on track to join Anna Smashnova as the only player in WTA history to win ten or more tour singles titles (she's currently at 9) but NEVER reach a slam quarterfinal.

...and, finally, I only noticed it for a brief period of time today on Tennis Channel, but the "dream team" announcing duo of John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova did share commentary duties during some of the network's coverage this morning. I don't even remember what match it was on, as it was very early and I was listening between cat naps from a safe distance away (with a nice soft pillow), but I DO remember wondering why they don't team up more often. Why is it that things that should be obvious hardly ever seem to become reality when it comes to American tennis coverage? Sigh.

=EARLY ROUND AWARDS - 1st/2nd Rds.=
TOP PLAYER: Dinara Safina/RUS
...she's won 24 of 26 games. (RU: Ana Ivanovic/SRB... quietly rounding into defending champion form?)
RISERS: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Aravane Rezai/FRA
...JJ vs. C-Woz would be nice. A week after winning her first title, Rezai is still rolling. (ALSO: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Virginie Razzano/FRA)
SURPRISES: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ & Tathiana Garbin/ITA
...away from Russia, Shvedova is now her new nation's #1. Garbin was the only woman to defeat Henin at RG in the Belgian's last five appearances in the tournament. (ALSO: Jarmila Groth/AUS & Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN)
VETERANS: Iveta Benesova/CZE & Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP Benesova over her Fed Cup disaster? MJMS gets Serena next... gulp. (ALSO: Venus Williams/USA & Serena Williams/USA)
FRESH FACES Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR & Sorana Cirstea/ROU
...The Kid finally gets her first big grand slam win (over Zheng). Cirstea finally put Cornet's EuroClay season to bed. (ALSO: Olivia Rogowska/AUS & Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP)
DOWN: Amelie Mauresmo/FRA & Flavia Pennetta/ITA
...their RG '09 visits weren't supposed to end like THAT! (ALSO: Anna Chakvetadze/RUS & Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez, ESP)
COMEBACKS: Maria Sharapova/RUS & Agnes Szavay/HUN
...she's back, even if this is supposed to only be a "tune-up" for Wimbledon and the hard court season. Szavay will face Venus -- another one in which I picked an upset before the tournament. (ALSO: Jelena Dokic/AUS)

BEST ESCAPE: 1st Rd. - Diatchenko d. Johansson 2-6/6-2/10-8
....the Russian saved seven match points. Seeing that her countrywoman was "stealing her act," Dinara Safina put the teenager -- and her odd, poodle-bark sounds after almost every shot -- out of her misery in the 2nd Round.
BEST STRUGGLE WITH HERSELF: 1st Rd. - S.Williams d. Zakopalova 6-3/6-7/6-4
...the usual early-slam trip to the psychiatrist's coach for Serena = needing nine match points to win to you and me.
...the Czech had a match point at 5-4 in the 3rd. She didn't convert it. She didn't win another game.
BEST EXAMPLE OF WHY THE SUPERNOVA IS STILL THE SUPERNOVA: 2nd Rd. - Sharapova d. Petrova 6-2/1-6/8-6
...down 4-2, and a point from 5-2, Sharapova pulls out the big serve and big-point superiority that didn't wilt away during her ten-month absence.

FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (lost to Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ)
UPSET QUEENS: The (ex-Russian) Kazakhs. After Galina Voskoboeva knocked off the first seed at the Australian (Szavay) in January, her old-and-new countrywoman Shvedova did it at Roland Garros. For her part, Voskoboeva took out Sania Mirza in Paris. After winning "Revelation Ladies" in Melbourne, I'm giving the Kazakhs this one for Paris. Interestingly, currently the top three ranked players in Kazakh tennis are imports -- Moscow-born Shvedova and Voskoboeva, and Bulgaria's own Sesil Karatantcheva.
REVELATION LADIES: The Aussies. After rising to the occasion Down Under, they did so again in Paris. Sam Stosur, Jelena Dokic, Jarmila Groth and Olivia Rogowska all won 1st Round matches. Stosur and Groth are still alive in the 3rd Round and, if not for an ill-timed back injury, Dokic almost assuredly would have knocked off the highest seed (#4 Dementieva) yet to fall in this tournament today.
ZOMBIE QUEENS (1r-2r): Venus Williams faced down a match point against Lucie Safarova in the 2nd Round, while Maria Sharapova was down 2-4 in the 3rd set against Nadia Petrova. Both won. But no player surviving in the 3rd Round looked more D.O.A. than Elena Dementieva did today before she got a "get out of the graveyard free" pass courtesy of Dokic's retirement (man, how awful is it to have to retire from a match you're dominating?).
LAST PASTRIES STANDING: Aravane Rezai and Virginie Razzano are in the 3rd Round, but top-ranked French women Marion Bartoli, Alize Cornet and Amelie Mauresmo are not.
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Yaroslava Shvedova and Michelle Larcher de Brito will get a shot to reach their first career slam Round of 16's.
MOST INTERESTING VISITOR... or not: Justine Henin again showed up on the RG grounds on Day 5... but continued to express her lack of any desire to return to the tour. Sigh.

9...France (2/7)
8...Spain (3/5)
7...Russia (5/2)
3...Argentina (1/2)
3...Australia (2/1)
3...Serbia (2/1)
3...United States (2/1)
2...Belarus (2/0)
2...Czech Republic (1/1)
2...Hungary (2/0)
2...Romania (1/1)
2...Switzerland (0/2)
1...Austria (0/1)
1...Belgium (0/1)
1...Canada (1/0)
1...Chile (0/1)
1...China (1/0)
1...Croatia (0/1)
1...Denmark (1/0)
1...Germany (0/1)
1...Great Britain (0/1)
1...Italy (1/0)
1...Kazakhstan (1/0)
1...Poland (1/0)
1...Portugal (1/0)
1...Slovak Republic (1/0)
1...Sweden (0/1)
1...Ukraine (1/0)
ALSO: Djokovic/SRB vs. Stakhovsky/UKR and Ferrero/ESP vs. Kohlschreiber/GER winners

2004 - Ukrainians
2005 - French
2006 - Americans
2007 - Romanians
2008 - Czechs
2009 - (ex-Russian) Kazakhs

2006 - French
2007 - Italian
2008 - Czechs
2009 - Aussies

TOP QUALIFIER: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Dinara Safina/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: Corinna Dentoni/ITA d. Sesil Karatantcheva/KAZ 4-6/6-3/6-2
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS d. Mathilde Johansson/FRA 1-6/6-2/10-8 (saved 7 MP)
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (1st Rd.- Shvedova/KAZ)
UPSET QUEENS: The ex-Russian Kazakhs
IT GIRL: xxx
ZOMBIE QUEEN: (temporary) Venus Williams (down MP to Safarova in 2nd Rd.), Maria Sharapova (down 2-4 in 3rd set to Petrova in 2nd Rd.), Elena Dementieva (dominated by Dokic in 2nd Round, but advanced when Dokic injured back)

All for Day 5. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

I'm glad I didn't see it. I wasn't surprised, but it is very upsetting. Poor Jelena just can't catch a break.

Fri May 29, 03:19:00 PM EDT  

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