Thursday, July 02, 2009

W.10- Something Funny Almost Happened on the Way to the Final

As it turned out, an all-Sisters Wimbledon final WAS inevitable... but, whew, it came THIS CLOSE to not happening.

In fact, in today's semifinal matchup between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva, BOTH women gave performances worthy of a player ready to win a grand slam title. The difference between the two was often less than the width of a finger... or one-quarter or less of the width of the baseline stripe, made only barely apparent by the video challenge system on multiple occasions. But at this point in the careers of these two twenty-seven year olds, Williams has won ten slam singles crowns, while Dementieva has won none. By the end of this classic match, while the Russian didn't show why she HASN'T won, the American surely did prove why she HAS so many times through the years. Dementieva's performance was award-worthy, but with the equivalent of a multiple Oscar winner on the other side of the net, it just wasn't enough.

Still, she made Serena work for every single point she got in this match. And considering that Dementieva used to give away service points at the drop of a hat, that's quite an accomplishment.

From the start, it was apparent that Williams wasn't in for an easy day (unlike one member of the Williams clan, as you'll soon see). She fired an ace on the first point of the match, but the tone of the afternoon was set when Dementieva ended up breaking her in that initial serve game. Williams immediately broke back for 1-1, and the race was on.

Unlike her Russian countrywoman in the second match of the day, Dementieva held her nerves -- and serve -- throughout the tight 1st set. In fact, she was outhitting Williams not only on the ground, but also through the air. After coming up short so many times in her career in the past, today she wasn't a one-legged woman (server) in a two-legged race. With more unreturnable serves coming off her racket than Serena's, she won the opening set in a tie-break to give Williams her first lost set in the tournament.

The 2nd set opened with Williams breaking Dementieva's serve, but the Russian got the break back to knot the score at 3-3 in a game of give-and-take (take-and-take?) that lasted close to three hours. She saved a break point in the next game, and very nearly pushed Serena over the cliff in the one after that. Down 3-4, Williams saved a break point on a shot in the right corner that hit both lines and needed a failed Dementieva replay challenge to prove something that was hard to tell with the naked eye.

With those few milimeters going against her, Dementieva came THIS CLOSE to grabbing a 5-3 lead and serving to reach the final.

Williams saved a second break point with a forehand shot to the corner, held at love two games later to tie the score at 5-5, then broke Dementieva to take a 6-5 lead when Dementieva lost yet another razor-thin call on a challenge. Dementieva held a break point for another tie-break, but when she missed an open court return Serena grabbed the set at 7-5.


In the 3rd, Dementieva got an early break to go up 3-1, but lost the advantage in the next game as there was absolutely no give in either woman in a classic match that is just what grand slam tennis is supposed to be about -- two players giving their all, not succumbing to the moment, and with the best woman winning in the end even while it would be difficult to call the other a "loser." It was the longest women's semifinal match at SW19 in the Open Era.

It wasn't Nadal/Federer in the '08 Wimbledon final, but it was as close to it as a semifinal not played in fading light could get.

At 5-4, Dementieva finally carved out a match point for herself. She even got a look at a second serve, but when she failed to do enough with her return, Williams showed why she'll be playing for an eleventh slam title on Saturday. Showing absolutely no fear of the moment, she came in to the net behind her second serve and cut off Dementieva's return with a volley. It skidded off the net cord, then landed safely in the backcourt to put the score back to deuce. Williams hit an ace on the next point, and a few moments later it was 5-5.


Two games later, Williams sneaked a cross court forehand pass just under Dementieva's arm at the net -- a wickedly pinpoint shot -- to tie the set at 6-6 and let out one of her patented primal screams. From there, you could see the thought-inevitable result of this match finally overcoming the reality of what it turned out to be. Serena broke Dementieva to go up 7-6, then served for the final. Less than half an hour after staring down a match point, Williams hit a shot that bounced off the top of the net to Dementieva, who was awaiting it in the corner. Perhaps the change of speed caught her off guard and turned an easy shot into an awkward on, as the Russian's backhand went just wide down the line and gave Williams the win.

Again, it was THIS CLOSE. Serena won 6-7/7-5/8-6. And no one is going to forget this one for quite a while.

Whew! What a day. And Williams still has to play a five-time Wimbledon champion in the final?

Lucky us.

...meanwhile, in the other semifinal, Venus hit the ball against the Centre Court wall for about an hour.

Well, not really. But she might have gotten a better workout if she had. Since she and Serena didn't have a scheduled doubles match today, I suspect Venus might have ended up going out to hit a bit AFTER her match today since she barely broke a sweat on Centre Court against Dinara Safina.

From the start, it was apparent that Safina didn't feel as if she belonged (probably after another of those sleepless nights, foodless mornings like the one she endured before her no-show in the Roland Garros final). Amazingly, this one was even worse than Paris. Safina lost the first five games of the match, got one measly little game to avoid a shut-out in the 1st set, and then proceeded to make up for that "lapse" by putting a big goose egg on the board in the 2nd. Venus won 6-1/6-0 in sixty-one minutes.

It's moments like that makes one wonder if Safina will EVER get over the proverbial hump in a slam. Her countrywoman Dementieva comported herself far better today, but still couldn't even get into the final. Nothing is assured, especially since the Sisters have managed to fill the post-Henin vacuum with a dual late-career renaissance that is serving to write a remarkable Third Act to their story of WTA dominance. This will be the fourth of the last five slams claimed by either Venus or Serena, and they'll likely be the favorites to win in New York, as well. Escpecially since, by then, there's a good chance they'll be the #1 and #2 arnked players and will be assured of not having to face each other before a potential meeting in the final.

...the contenders for "Doubles Star" are still almost too numerous to count. Cara Black, Liezel Huber and Virginia Ruano-Pascual are all alive in the semis of both the Women's and Mixed Doubles. Plus, Venus and Serena could still run their career/decade record as a duo at SW19 to 29-1 if they win their fourth Wimbledon crown this weekend. THAT might be too hard to overlook.

...hey, with the Venus/Serena final, that means I've correctly predicted five of the six women's slam finalists in '09 in my pre-tournament predictions. The only miss was Svetlana Kuznetsova in Paris... who I'd pretty much predicted to get there two weeks prior to Roland Garros, but then got cold feet at the last second. So close, and yet so far. You know, sort of like Dinara. the junior QF, RG Girls champ Kristina Mladenovic "pulled a Venus" on Sloane Stephens, winning 6-1/6-0. She'll next face unseeded Miyabi Inoue of Japan. 2008 SW19 junior RU Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (THA) will meet Hungary's Timea Babos, who knocked off upset princess Quirine Lemoine today, in the other semi.

The "Junior Breakout" winner for Wimbledon will likely come to down to either the unseeded Inoue or #6 Babos. If one of them reaches the final, either over former Girls #1 Lertcheewakarn or the current top-ranked Mladenovic, they'll wrap it up. If both win in the semis, it'll come down to the final. least one American will reach the Boys final, as NCAA champ Devin Britton will face Jordan Cox in one semi, while Aussie Bernard Tomic goes up against Russia's Andrey Kuznetsov in the other.

...and, finally, was it some form of karmic "justice" that ESPN got to show the fabulous Serena/Dementieva match live today, while NBC's "exclusive" Venus/Safina match turned out to not even be broadcast-worthy? If the tennis Gods have a sense of humor, and I think they do, then that's the story I'm going to go with today.

#3 Venus Williams/USA vs. #2 Serena Williams/USA

#6 Andy Roddick/USA vs. #3 Andy Murray/GBR
#24 Tommy Haas/GER vs. #2 Roger Federer/SUI

#1 Black/Huber (ZIM/USA) vs. #4 Williams/Williams (USA/USA
#3 Stosur/Stubbs (AUS/AUS) vs. #2 Medina-Garrigues/Ruano-Pascual (ESP/ESP)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. Blake/Fish (USA/USA) or #2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

#1 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND) vs. #12 Ruano-Pascual/Huss (ESP/AUS)
Huber/J.Murray (USA/GBR) vs. #9 Groenefeld/Knowles (GER/BAH)

#1 Kristina Mladenovic/FRA vs. Miyabi Inoue/JPN
#4 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA vs. #6 Timea Babos/HUN

Devin Britton/USA vs. Jordan Cox/USA
#3 Bernard Tomic/AUS vs. Andrey Kuznetsov/RUS

5...Kim Clijsters (1-4)
4...Maria Sharapova (3-1)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
(ALSO: 7-Davenport, 3-4)

*SLAM FINALS - 2000's*
11...Justine Henin (7-4)
5...Lindsay Davenport (1-4)
5...Kim Clijsters (1-4)

TOP QUALIFIER: #1q Victoriya Kutuzova/UKR
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #3 Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #2 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Vesna Manasieva/RUS d. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn/THA 6-7/6-4/6-1
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Ana Ivanovic/SRB d. Lucie Hradecka/CZE 5-7/6-2/8-6 (saved 2 MP)
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 4th Rd. - Melanie Oudin/USA d. Jelena Jankovic/SRB 6-7/7-5/6-2
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Aleksandra Wozniak/CAN (1st Rd.-Schiavone/ITA)
IT GIRL: Sabine Lisicki/GER
MS. OPPORTUNITY: Elena Dementieva/RUS
CRASH & BURN: Maria Sharapova/RUS - lost to Gisela Dulko/ARG in 2nd Rd.
ZOMBIE QUEEN: Dinara Safina/RUS - in 4th Rd., down set and a break, then 3-0 in 3rd to Amelie Mauresmo/FRA; advanced to first Wimbledon SF
LAST BRIT STANDING: Elena Baltacha/GBR (2nd Rd.)

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


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