Saturday, May 29, 2010

RG.7- Little Bangus Interruptus

There was every reason to believe that Justine Henin could outclass Maria Sharapova on the Belgian's favored clay surface in Paris today. Even after winning her first red clay event last week, Sharapova will never be mistaken for being the best claycourter in women's tennis over the last quarter-century. That woman would be Henin. And for a while, it looked as if the pair's 3rd Round meeting might be the type of open-and-shut case that some thought it could possibly be.

But, hold on.

Things didn't start out well for Sharapova with the heavy court conditions of Day 7 acting like a weight tied to her ankle. In the first game of the match, she double-faulted on break point and Henin went up 1-0. Henin pulled off a winner on a drop shot to go up 2-0, and soon after it was 3-0 as she moved the Russian around the court, countering her big shots with better tactics and shot placement.

This all looked very familiar... Justine at Roland Garros. But could Henin keep it up without one of the lapses that have hounded her comeback threatening to make this more of a match than it was in the early going?

That was the lingering question... and then it was answered.

Sharapova carved out break points in the fourth game, but Henin managed to hold for 4-0. She won the 1st set at 6-2, but the slight slippage in her game coincided with Sharapova's improvement to produce what turned out to be a record-ending 2nd set. In the second game, two Henin double-faults gave Sharapova a break point. She failed to convert, running her break chance numbers to 0-for-6. After getting another break look in Game 6, she was 0-for-7. But the score was 3-3, and Sharapova was chipping away at Henin's previous advantage.

Henin Watchers couldn't like the looks of this.

Still, in Game #7, a Sharapova double-fault gave Henin two break chances. She fought them both off, then a third, as well, in what very well might have been the most important moment in the match on Day 7. Henin blinked, and it changed everything. Up 4-3, Sharapova finally got a break of the Belgian's serve in the next game, then promptly took her first advantage in the match and ran with it. She served out a final game to win the set at 6-3, knot the match at one set each and somewhat unassumingly end one of Henin's dominating Paris streaks. Just like that (with nary a mention of the significance of the set from anyone on NBC), Henin's Open Era record of winning forty straight sets at Roland Garros ended. It was at this point, though, that play was suspended due to darkness.

Michael Joyce seemed to be pushing Sharapova from the stands to demand the match be suspended, but one wonders if she'd been better served to play a few more games in the hopes that she'd be able to ride her 2nd set momentum to an early break in the 3rd in order to have an advantage to work with when play resumes tomorrow. Somehow, after a night to think about things, it would seem that Henin would have the advantage in the final set. It took Sharapova a while to get herself into the match today, and she won't have such a luxury on Day 8.

So, the interrupted "Little Bang" continues... but will it end up pulling the rug out from under its scheduled "Big" follow-up for next week? It's hard to believe that she will under these circumstances, but if Sharapova were to pull off an upset of Henin at Roland Garros, the "Supernova" would officially be re-born.

Needless to say, now is the time for "La Petit Taureau" to step onto the Paris stage.

...on the type of windy, cool, overcast day that tends to cause big hitters to be thwarted on the red clay, Serena Williams had a bit more dramatic day... because of dizziness.

After running through Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the 1st set, winning 6-1 in :26 and commiting just two unforced errors, Williams suddenly was laboring throughout the 2nd. The Russian went up 5-0, and Serena was treated for dizziness and, I guess, a general "not feeling well" situation. Whatever the pills were that she was given by the trainer, they apparently worked. Slowly but surely, she seemed to feel better and her game improved. Pavlyuchenkova won the 2nd set 6-1, but Serena was ready to play again in the 3rd.

Attacking Pavlyuchenkova's second serve and hitting the ball harder than she had in the previous set, Williams held four break points in the second game of the 3rd. The Russian ultimately held in the five-deuce, ten-minute game to get to 1-1, but Williams' heart and body were back in the match. In the next game, Pavlyuchenkova held three break points (Serena slammed an ace on the third) in a four-deuce game, but Williams held and never really looked back.

She pulverized a Pavlyuchenkova second serve to break, after having been down 15/40, and go up 3-1 en route to claiming the deciding set at 6-2.

Five and a half matches down, two and a half to go.

...while #1-ranked Serena avoided an upset bid, the same couldn't be said for two other #1 seeds. The Bryan brothers were ousted by Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in Men's Doubles, while Liezel Huber & Mahesh Bhupathi were knocked out of the Mixed Doubles by Chan Yung-Jan & Eric Butorac. #2 Cara Black & Leander Paes won, though, so that pair is still alive in the race to follow up their Oz title with one in Paris. Huber won the RG Mixed with Bob Bryan last year.

...the Tennis Channel announcers noted in early coverage today how there was "all kinds of drama" late last night in Paris, surely causing many of the people who had to watch everything on ESPN2 yesterday to say out loud, "Yeah, it'd been nice to be able to see some of it." As it turns out, in the Aravane Rezai/Nadia Petrova match, Rezai had three match points of her own, while Petrova held two before play was stopped at 7-7 in the 3rd. Yeah, that's not something anyone watching tennis on ESPN2 would ever want to be able to see.

Anyway, the match resumed today, and it was Petrova who was the steadier presence. The first two games featured breaks of serve, but Petrova's good defense and penetrating shots seemed to be giving her an advantage that Rezai couldn't continue to overturn. A Rezai double-fault at 8-8 gave Petrova a love/30 lead, and she soon had triple break point. She got the break (the eleventh of the set) and once again served for the match. She went up 40/love, and finally won on her third match point of the contest, taking the set 10-8. Rezai finished 7-of-23 on break point attempts.

So, is Nadia the true "Zombie Queen?" We'll see. She faces Venus next. As for Rezai, her end in this RG once again was reminiscent of a slam exit by Jelena Dokic eight or nine years ago. The Pasty's tennis is exciting and she's a great ball striker, but her game's faults will always prevent her from being as consistently good as she SOMETIMES is (say, as she was in Madrid). Service sputterings, badly-timed unforced errors (often when she went for too much on shots) and a lack of a Plan B when hitting out wasn't enough to put away an opponent were always the obstacles that thwarted Dokic, and they seem to be the things that prevent Rezai from climbing higher than a certain point, as well. Players like Serena can win matches when things aren't going well, but the Rezais of the tennis world usually don't.

...Sam Stosur defeated Anastasia Pivovarova, officially making South Africa's Chanelle Scheepers the "Last Qualifier Standing" at this Roland Garros. Wild Card Jarmila Groth is the other pre-tournament addition to the draw who's still alive in the Round of 16. Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) is the only other unseeded woman remaining, and at least one will reach the QF as Shvedova will play Groth next.

...with Marion Bartoli losing today to Peer, she and Rezai tie for "Last Pastry Standing." It's the second straight year that Rezai has held a portion of that honor in Paris.

...poor Tennis Channel. After being burned by promoting ESPN2's "live" coverage yesterday, the network simply promoted NBC's upcoming Saturday block as "continuing coverage" today. Wouldn't you know it, the timing proved perfect for NBC and the chimps in the control room never had an opportunity to hit the "playback" button this afternoon. Coverage began with a live airing of the Nadal/Hewitt match, then the two live sets of action from the Henin/Sharapova suspended 3rd Rounder. Of course, with the schedule for Day 8 out, it looks like that match will resume during Tennis Channel's time period on Sunday. It'd be no surprise if NBC prevents TC from airing it live, preferring to save the 3rd set to air hours later when the peacock-feathered chimps are in control.

...and, finally, speaking of Tennis Channel, if anyone didn't get to see the segment devoted to Shahar Peer on Saturday they should try to find a way to catch it. The network has been airing intriguing clips of its June 7 special about Serena's trip to Africa to start a school there, and the Peer piece was great, too. It focused at times on her family life, the Dubai debacle and the Auckland protests against her from earlier this year. Also, it showed footage of the trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp earlier this year by Peer, along with her mother and grandmother. Grandmother Yuliana spent six months there when she was 14 during World War II, losing both her parents, and two siblings. She told the story of when the family was first sent to the camp, and how Josef Mengele pulled her out and asked her her age. She said 16 (she said she still doesn't know why she lied), and was quickly thrown to the right side of a line of people. Her younger brother and sister were thrown to the left, and went directly to the gas chamber.

A very sobering piece of footage that once again served to spotlight just how different Peer's life and mindset is from so many of the other players on tour.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #18 Shahar Peer/ISR
#12 Maria Sharapova/RUS or #22 Justine Henin/BEL vs. #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#4 Jelena Jankovic/SRB vs. #23 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK
(WC)Jarmila Groth/AUS vs. Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
#30 Maria Kirilenko/RUS vs. #17 Francesca Schiavone/ITA
#14 Flavia Pennetta/ITA vs. #3 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
#5 Elena Dementieva/RUS vs. (Q)Chanelle Scheepers/RSA
#19 Nadia Petrova/RUS vs. #2 Venus Williams/USA

#1 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #20 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI
#10 Marin Cilic/CRO vs. #5 Robin Soderling/SWE
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #15 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#11 Mikhail Youzhny/RUS vs. #8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
(Q)Teimuraz Gabashvili/RUS vs. #22 Jurgen Melzer/AUT
Robby Ginepri/USA vs. #3 Novak Djokovic/SRB
#7 Fernando Verdasco/ESP vs. #19 Nicolas Almagro/ESP
#24 Thomaz Bellucci/BRA vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

The junior draws have been made.

1. Monica Puig, PUR
2. Karolina Pliskkova, CZE
3. Irina Khromacheva, RUS
4. Nastja Kolar, SLO
5. Timea Babos, HUN
6. Gabriela Dabrowski, CAN
7. Daria Gavrilova, RUS
8. Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
9. Beatrice Capra, USA
10. Lauren Davis, USA

1. Daniel Berta, SWE
2. Jason Murray Kubler, AUS
3. Gianni Mina, FRA
4. Jiri Vesely, CZE
5. Tiago Fernandes, BRA
6. Denis Kudla, USA
7. Kevin Krawietz, GER
8. Dominic Thiem, AUT
9. Duilio Beretta, PER
10. Mate Zsiga, HUN

#7 Gavrilova/RUS d. #1 Puig/PUR
#8 Kr.Pliskova/CZE d. #4 Kolar/SLO
#14 Cepede Royg/PER d. #5 Babos/HUN
#2 Ka.Pliskova/CZE d. Dinu/ROU

#8 Kr.Pliskova/CZE d. #7 Gavrilova/RUS
#2 Ka.Pliskova/CZE d. #14 Cepede Royg/PER

#2 Ka.Pliskova/CZE d. #8 Kr.Pliskova/CZE

...the Czech Maiden Twins battle it out for the title. Karolina won the Australian Open Girls title, as well. Kristyna was in the SF.

2006 Aravane Rezai/FRA, Julia Vakulenko/UKR (to 3rd Rd.)
2007 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK, Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS, Ioana-Raluca Olaru/ROU (to 3rd Rd.)
2008 Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP (to QF)
2009 Michelle Larcher de Brito/POR, Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ (to 3rd Rd.)
2010 Chanelle Scheepers/RSA (in 4th Rd.)

W - Belgian Barbie/BEL (2009 U.S. Open)
RU - Justine Henin/BEL (2010 Australian Open)
SF - Zheng Jie/CHN (2008 Wimbledon)
QF - Jelena Dokic/AUS (2009 Australian Open)
4th Rd. - Severine Bremond/FRA (2008 U.S. Open)
4th Rd. - Jarmila Groth/AUS (2010 Roland Garros)

AO: Casey Dellacqua/AUS (4th Rd.)
RG: Alize Cornet/FRA, Emilie Loit/FRA (3rd Rd.)
WI: Elena Baltacha/GBR, Anne Keothavong/GBR (2nd Rd.)
US: Serena William/USA (W)
AO: Jelena Dokic/AUS (QF)
RG: Virginie Razzano/FRA, Aravane Rezai/FRA (4th Rd.)
WI: Elena Baltacha/GBR (2nd Rd.)
US: Serena Williams/USA (SF)
AO: Samantha Stosur/AUS (4th Rd.)
RG: Marion Bartoli/FRA, Aravane Rezai/FRA (3rd Rd.)

5...Russia (Dementieva/Gabashvili/Kirilenko/Petrova/Youzhny)
3...Spain (Almagro/Nadal/Verdasco)
3...United States (Ginepri/S.Williams/V.Williams)
2...Australia (Groth/Stosur)
2...Italy (Pennetta/Schiavone)
2...Serbia (Djokovic/Jankovic)
2...Switzerland (Federer/Wawrinka)
1...Austria (Melzer)
1...Brazil (Bellucci)
1...Croatia (Cilic)
1...Czech Republic (Berdych)
1...Denmark (Wozniacki)
1...France (Tsonga)
1...Great Britain (Murray)
1...Israel (Peer)
1...Kazakhstan (Shvedova)
1...Slovak Republic (Hantuchova)
1...South Africa (Scheepers)
1...Sweden (Soderling)
ALSO: Henin/BEL vs. Sharapova/RUS winner

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Venus Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: Kurumi Nara/JPN d. Monica Niculescu/ROU 4-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd: #6 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS d. Andrea Petkovic/GER 4-6/7-5/6-4
FIRST WIN: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (1st Rd. - def. Ekaterina Ivanova/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (1st Rd. - lost to Dulko/ARG)
UPSET QUEENS: The Australians
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: Chanelle Scheepers/RSA (in 4th Rd.)
IT GIRL: xxx
CRASH & BURN: #9 Dinara Safina/RUS, 2008-09 Runner-Up (1st Rd. - lost to Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN)
Kuznetsova/RUS down 4 MP vs. Petkovic/GER (2nd Rd.) - lost 3rd Rd.
Petrova/RUS down 3 MP vs. Rezai/FRA (3rd Rd)

LAST PASTRY STANDING: Marion Bartoli/FRA & Aravane Rezai/FRA (3rd Rd.)

All for Day 7. More tomorrow.


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