Sunday, May 30, 2010

RG.8- Welcome Back to Paris, LPT

After having been so rudely interrupted by darkness yesterday, Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova made overnight plans about how to best complete their 3rd Round encounter on Sunday. Would La Petit Taureau make a welcome return to the Roland Garros stage, or would the Supernova be reborn... on red clay, of all things?

Ummm, I think everyone probably figured they knew the answer. But it wasn't exactly an open-and-shut case, neither before nor during the deciding 3rd set of action.

Coming into this final set after having seen her record forty-set Roland Garros winning streak end yesterday, Henin and all the LPT backers should have been bolstered by the fact that she hadn't lost a 3rd set in Paris since she lost there to Aniko Kapros in 2002. But, then again, that was the last time she'd been bageled in a 3rd set before she lost 0-6 to Aravane Rezai in Madrid a few weeks ago, too.

Yeah... that's not exactly as heart-warming a stat as it SHOULD have been. Still, Henin played ill in both those losses. She seemed to be in good health on Day 8.

Nonetheless, Henin's game was the one that was sluggish at that start. She double-faulted to give Sharapova two break points in the opening game, as the Russian continued the 2nd set tactics (applying pressure, stepping inside the baseline) that allowed her to knot the match yesterday. When Henin sailed a forehand long, the battle was afoot. Down 2-0, another Henin double-fault to begin the game proceeded to dig a hole that, it was very apparent, could end her dreams of a fifth Roland Garros crown. Soon, Sharapova held triple break point.

It was time for La Petit Taureau to show up. And she did. Fashionably late, but not TOO late. Henin saved four break points in the game, avoiding a dangerous 3-0 deficit and allowing her remaining time in Paris to potentially have a "Zombie"-like edge.

From that point, Henin returned to the clay court brand of tennis that has made her a surface legend. She started moving Sharapova around the court again, breaking the Russian at love, then holding her own serve to take a 3-2 lead. In the sixth game, Henin continued to play good defense and send her groundstrokes deep in the backcourt to keep Sharapova from moving forward as she so wanted to continue to do. A long Sharapova forehand gave Henin her fourth straight game.

If Henin goes on to win this title, her run, for all intents and purposes, will have started here. From 0-2, love/40 down to 4-2, she once again, as she did so often in Melbourne in January, proved herself capable of reaching down (and back in time) for that old LPT boldness in the face of pressure on the biggest stages that the game presents.

Of course, it still wasn't going to be a stroll to the Round of 16. Henin had to endure one more tight spot.

An Henin error gave Sharapova a break point, and a double-fault brought the score back on serve at 4-3. But Sharapova's moment of reprieve didn't last long. When a shot from the Russian bounced off the top of the net and back onto her side of the court, Henin's appetite was whetted with a quick opportunity to break back. Sharapova saved the break point with a wonderful inside out forehand up the line, but Henin carved out another when the long rally her great defense initiated finally coaxed an error off Sharapova's racket to end a seventeen-shot rally. Henin then rifled back a 2nd serve return at the feet of the Russian, whose reply set up an easy backhand down the line winner to give the Belgian a 5-3 advantage.

Serving for the match, Henin opened with two big serves up the "T," producing a service winner and an ace. After passing Sharapova on a short ball off a drop volley, Henin had triple match point. After tossing in an "excuse me" double-fault to delay her happiness, Henin ran Sharapova wide on the next point, and the Russian's return shot sailed out.

Henin def. Sharapova 6-2/3-6/6-3. Whew! I knew it all along. (Ummm, I think.)

Some of the final numbers were telling.

Henin had just a 46% 1st serve percentage for the match, but she won 78% of the 1st serves she DID get in. Both players won just 42% of their 2nd serves. And Sharapova, while she had her chances, ended up just 3-for-15 in break point attempts. In other words, when it REALLY mattered, Henin rose to the occasion in this match, finding a way to win her twenty-fourth straight match at Roland Garros (third-most by a woman, just five behind Chris Evert's record). Still, after not being bothered in Paris by the overwhelming service shenanigans that have hounded her for more than a year now, and with her confidence seemingly intact, Sharapova looks like she could be in for a pretty nice summer run on the grass and hard courts.

Henin, though, still has some work to do in Paris.

With the Little Bang now behind her, and the Big Bang with Serena Williams still a match win away, "all" Henin has to do next is defeat Samantha Stosur, who before the Belgian defeated her in the Stuttgart final a few weeks ago was the hottest clay court player of the spring. Uhh... okay. One step at a time. It's all a scientific process, after all.

Bring on the Intermediate Bang.

...after today's results, the face of the bottom half the draw changed dramatically.

For one, Venus Williams is now gone. Hmmm, could her Paris mojo have been lost when the chilly weather led her to cover up her much-talked-about dress with a long-sleeved black top, or is that just a coincidence? Whatever the "true" reason, after looking like a true possibility to reach the final over the past week, her old Roland Garros demons reached up from below the clay and dragged her down once again on Day 8.

Well, it was that and a very different Nadia Petrova from the one we've often seen at this stage of a grand slam in the past.

Did Petrova's "Zombie-fied" escape from her 3rd Round match with Aravane Rezai do precisely for her what Svetlana Kuznetsova's 2nd Round nailbiter against Andrea Petrovic SHOULD have done for the defending champ, but didn't? Is Petrova suddenly immune to big stage collapses in this tournament now that she's "playing with house money" and has nothing to lose after very nearly being out of this Roland Garros two days ago?

Maybe. At the very least, she did a masterful impersonation of that person against Williams today.

After winning the 1st set at 6-4, Petrova got a break point on Venus' serve at 3-3 in the 2nd. A Williams error gave the Russian an advantage that clearly opened a path to her second slam QF result of 2010. After going up 30/love on her own serve, though, she was presented with an opportunity to throw it all away. In the past, it was a 50/50 proposition (and that's being generous in her favor) that Petrova would do just that and end up lamenting yet another lost opportunity to move closer to that elusive first career slam final.

30/love turned into 30/15, then a double-fault made it 30/30. Visions of a Venus comeback/Petrova collapse danced in everyone's head. But, apparently, not Nadia's. Even after a line call error caused her to repeat her first serve on a shot that it could have been argued that Williams could not have properly returned even if the linesperson hadn't wrongly called it out, Petrova didn't blink. She surely could have. Instead, she put away a clean volley, then hit an ace to go up 5-3. Within mintues, she'd won 6-4/6-3 and will now face Elena Dementieva for shot at her third career RG semifinal appearance and a (last best?) chance to right what have been so many wrongs in Paris during her often frustrating career. At the moment, she's playing better than the women who stand in the way of her first final, and (yikes!!) she's every HEALTHIER than the two most notable opponents. When's the last time that was the case? After all these years, have the stars suddenly aligned in Petrova's favor in Paris?

Oh, Nadia.

...with Petrova playing her countrywoman in the QF, we're assured of having a Russian in the Roland Garros semifinals for the eighth straight year. There's been at least one in the Final Four in twenty-two of the last twenty-five slams, but this ends the recent aberration which saw zero Hordettes reach the SF at the last two slams.

...meanwhile, Flavia Pennetta is probably experiencing the sort of restless sleep that Petrova avoided tonight. In her three-hour battle of attrition with Caroline Wozniacki, the Italian vet had her chances to push the Dane's back to the wall and force her to step outside of her preferred defensive, wear-down-her-opponent style of play, but she just couldn't quite bring herself to get it done.

These two entered the match having unexpectedly being the two players who'd lost the fewest number of games on the women's side through the first three rounds of play. In the 1st set, Pennetta held a set point at 5-4, but she seemed to pull back her aggression, allowing C-Woz to victimize her with a defensive lob that produced an awkward Pennetta overhead that weakly bounced in the middle of the court before being quickly put away for a winner by Wozniacki. The Dane ended up claiming the set.

After failing to put away set points at 5-4 and 6-5 in the 2nd, then double-faulting while up 5-3 in the deciding tie-break, Pennetta finally knotted the match by winning the final two points of the breaker. If she'd been able to do the same thing in the 1st set, she'd have already been in the QF. But, instead, she was heading to a 3rd set with Wozniacki, and that's rarely been a good thing for opponents over the last year. It wasn't this time, either.

Wozniacki quickly went up 2-0, lost her advantage, but got it back with another break for a 4-2 lead. She won 6-2 and continued on her way in this slam with little fanfare. Pennetta, though, will remember this match... even if she wishes she wouldn't. was announced the other day that six days after Wimbledon an exhibition will be held at Cowboys Stadium in Texas. Called the "Cowboys Tennis Slam," it will feature a pair of three-set matches -- Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova, and Andy Roddick vs. John Isner.

...somehow, my RG Women's champion pick Henin is still alive, but the juniors took the ol' Backspinner Hex hard today, as BOTH of the Pliskova sisters, who'd been playing so well on the challenger level in recent weeks (though those tournaments WERE on hard court and carpet), were knocked out of the 1st Round today. #2-seed Karolina lost to Pastry Morgane Pons, while #8 Kristyna fell to Danka Kovinic (MNE... that's Montenegro, by the way).

Boys' #1 seed Daniel Berta was upset by American Junior Ore.

...Coco Vandewegh gets the Week 21 "ITF Player of the Week" award after knocking off fellow American Kristie Haerim Ahn in the final of the $50K challenger in Carson, California.

A few other ITF champions of note: Anna Tatishvili (GEO) - $25K Grado, Tamira Paszek (AUT) - $25K Izmir, Alexandra Cadantu (ROU) - $10K Craiova, and Channel Simmonds (RSA) - $10K Durban.

...the "Junior Star" honors is a three-part affair for Week 21. Freshman Mallory Burdette got the first part for her role in leading Stanford to the NCAA team championship. Hordette Irina Khromacheva gets part two for winning the Grade 1 event in Charleroi, Belgium (def. Waffle An-Sophie Mestach in the final). The third part will go to the NCAA singles champion, who'll be crowned this week.

...and, finally, leave it to NBC to perpetuate the notion that since Venus won't be in the Roland Garros singles final (she hasn't been since '02) the ultimate finalist will turn out to be a player whose inclusion in the championship match will be some tennis version of "shock and awe." What is it about the networks that cover tennis that TPTB think that anyone taking the time to watch the sport on an American holiday weekend is "surely" only familiar with players named Williams or Sharapova, or ones from Belgium (unless they're named Yanina, as Pam Shriver proved last year)? Sure, the four remaining players in the bottom half have yet to win a slam crown, but two of them have reached slam finals (Wozniacki and Dementieva, the latter at THIS event), another has been a semifinalist at this very tournament (Petrova), while another (Francesca Schiavone) is a veteran whose best surface has always been clay. Schiavone might not be as known a quantity as the other three to casual fans, but any one of the Russo-Danish trio being in the final wouldn't be a knock-me-over-with-a-feather situation. Dementieva is generally acknowledged as one of, if not THE best player without a slam. Wozniacki was the #2-ranked player in the world a few weeks ago. And Petrova has been possibly the most star-crossed top player on tour in slams (well, other than maybe Safina) over the past decade.

After the tape-delayed airing of the Venus/Petrova match that set the bottom half's final four, though, judging by the surprised tone in Ted Robinson's voice, you'd have thought that the players remaining were named Scheepers, Rezai and Dulgheru rather than the familiar three players who actually defeated those women earlier this week en route to the quarterfinals. Before the tournament, I said that there was a possibility for a "shocker" finalist, but with most of the top players down there actually raising their game at this slam, that's not really the case anymore since this group has made it through (again, though, Schiavone in the final would be a eyebrow-raiser).

It'll be a great opportunity for someone... no matter which player they'll be playing in the final.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #18 Shahar Peer/ISR
#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
#17 Francesca Schiavone/ITA def. #30 Maria Kirilenko/RUS
#3 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. #14 Flavia Pennetta/ITA
#5 Elena Dementieva/RUS def. (Q)Chanelle Scheepers/RSA
#19 Nadia Petrova/RUS def. #2 Venus Williams/USA

#1 Roger Federer/SUI def. #20 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI
#5 Robin Soderling/SWE def. #10 Marin Cilic/CRO
#15 Tomas Berdych/CZE def. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#11 Mikhail Youzhny/RUS def. #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

#1 Williams/Williams (USA/USA) vs. #11 Kirilenko/A.Radwanska (RUS/POL)
#3 Huber/Medina-Garrigues (USA/ESP) vs. #5 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA)
#12 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO) vs. TBD
TBD vs. #2 Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP)

Melo/Soarez (BRA/BRA) vs. #10 Knowle/A.Ram (AUT/ISR)
#3 Dlouhy/Paes (CZE/IND) vs. TBD
M.Lopez/Riba (ESP/ESP) vs. TBD
TBD vs. #2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

TBD vs. #6 Srebotnik/Zimonjic (SLO/SRB)
#3 Llagostera-Vives/Marach (ESP/AUT) vs. TBD
Shvedova/Knowle (KAZ/AUT) vs. TBD

29...Chris Evert
25...Monica Seles

Justine Henin, BEL
Maria Kirilenko, RUS
Nadia Petrova, RUS
Francesca Schiavone, ITA
Samantha Stosur, AUS
Serena Williams, USA
Venus Williams, USA
Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
Justine Henin, BEL
Ana Ivanovic, SRB
Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
Serena Williams, USA
Elena Dementieva, RUS
Ana Ivanovic, SRB
Jelena Jankovic, SRB
Kaia Kanepi, EST
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
Dinara Safina, RUS
Patty Schnyder, SUI
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Victoria Azarenka, BLR
Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
Sorana Cirstea, ROU
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
Dinara Safina, RUS
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Samantha Stosur, AUS
Serena Williams, USA
green- still alive at 2010 RG

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 (4th Rd.)
IT GIRL: xxx
CRASH & BURN: #9 Dinara Safina/RUS, 2008-09 Runner-Up (1st Rd. - lost to Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN)
Petrova/RUS down 3 MP vs. Rezai/FRA (3rd Rd)
Henin/BEL down 0-2, love/40 in 3rd set vs. Sharapova/RUS (3rd Rd)

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

All for Day 8. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

todd, i wasn't as optimistic as you were after the day closed with 2nd set won by maria. it was clear maria upped her game to be more offensive and putting justine at back foot. when started with the 3rd set, maria was just very hot, taking every opportunity like she just continued seamlessly from the night before. at 0-2/0-40 for justine, i was thinking...maybe maria would get a chance for her career slam afterall if she continues to play like this. but again it's amazing how justine could do the unbelievable turnaround. in recent interview she said her fans suffer a lot cos she knows she is the one always involved in comebacks, long and crazy matches. i guess she just cannot play safe nor go all the way. the roller coaster ride is just how she lives on the edges all the time.

i really admired both though in this match, so competitive and so professional, there was nothing but pure tennis.

Sun May 30, 11:19:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

忙碌的一天終於過了,來看看文章轉換心情,也幫你加個油哦~ ..................................................

Mon May 31, 02:07:00 PM EDT  

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