Tuesday, June 01, 2010

RG.10- A Crazy Tale of Two Russians

When they took the court on Day 10, Elena Dementieva and Nadia Petrova carried into their quarterfinal match-up the knowledge that the winner would have to go it alone after today as the only remaining woman carrying the Russian tennis federation flag in the semifinals in the same tournament that hosted the first-ever all-Hordette grand slam final six years ago.

Dementieva was in that final in 2004. She ultimately lost to Anastasia Myskina, then dropped a second slam final later that summer in New York to another countrywoman, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Ever since, even as her serve, nerves and overall game has improved through the years, she's never been able to work her way back into position to grab her first career slam title. In 2008, she won Olympic Gold in Beijing, proclaiming it at the time to be even better than winning a slam. But, even then, while she was likely sincere in the moment, it was hard to not declare her opinion as the obvious and easier road to take for a player in the back-half of her career and with her slam-winning window quickly closing a little more with each passing season. Last year at Wimbledon, Dementieva failed to put away a match point against Serena Williams in the semis, only to then see Serena go on to take the title. Somewhere inside, the Russian had to think that it might have been her last best shot to grab a major.

Nadia Petrova, on the other hand, has never even been as lucky as the star-crossed-in-her-own-right Dementieva. Whether it be a case of nerves or simply a bad day on the worst day possible, Petrova has always seemed to come up a step short in the biggest matches of her career. And if it wasn't something of her own doing that did her in, it was her body that was letting her down. In 2006, she was the most successful clay courter on tour in the spring, but a hip injury incurred during practice nearly put her out of the first slam she would have entered as one of the leading favorites to take the crown. As it was, she lost in the 1st Round and withdrew from Wimbledon to crystalize the hard-luck pattern that has dogged her her entire career. Even as a two-time semifinalist in Paris, and a multiple-time quarterfinalist at each of the other three slams, Petrova's legacy has seemed destined for quite some time now to be defined by what she DIDN'T do rather than what she did.

So, as these two Russians began play today, one was assured of at least one more chance to right her biggest career wrong by the end of this week. But which one would it be? Dementieva, who'd been surprisingly in-form throughout after entering Paris with no momentum, or Petrova, who'd survived three match points against Aravane Rezai in the 3rd Round and followed up that escape by never really being in trouble while taking out Venus Williams in straight sets in the 4th? A pretty straightforward, who's going to be better today match-up, it would seem, right? Oh, no. The fact is, finding out who'd continue on in this tournament would be, well, pretty downright odd.

Neither seemed to be able to get into their games in the 1st set, then a rain delay sent the entire contest into some weird "Jankovic Zone." During the break, when officials decided to keep the players on the court, Dementieva went off court for injury treament (she's been nursing some sort of calf injury all tournament). Petrova simply sat in her chair. Then, after Dementieva had returned, THAT was when Petrova decided that SHE would now take her turn to leave the court for the treatment of an injury (a gamesmanship move no doubt inspired by the long-held notion that Dementieva tries to wring out every advantage she can by stretching the rules for off-court injury timeouts during tight matches). As Petrova was taken off court to whistles from the crowd, Dementieva could only shake her head and smile at the craziness of it all.

When Petrova came back, the umpire allowed them a warm-up hit since they'd been out of action so long, an unheard of thing considering no official move was ever taken to remove the players from the court for an extended period of time due to the weather. Wild.

Petrova won the 1st set 6-2, but then everything went downhill from there.

Dementieva got an early break in the 2nd, then Petrova slowly but surely was taken down by her own body yet again. With her thigh/groin wrapped, Petrova was noticably laboring and/or not chasing after balls as she normally would. Not only that, she'd had to retire due to sickness from her doubles match with Sam Stosur yesterday. Not a good combination... feeling bad, and having a hard time moving.

Needless to say, what resulted was another of those moments in Petrova's career in which a huge oppurtunity goes down the drain. Dementieva took twelve of the final fourteen games of the match, winning 2-6/6-2/6-0.

Thus, Dementieva, who had stumbled through this clay season and seemed destined to be a non-factor at this Roland Garros, suddenly is one match away from the final and a bit of late-career redemption. It's her ninth career slam semifinal appearance, and in her forty-sixth slam appearance she once again can harbor some dreams (especially, say, if Serena is upset in the QF or SF) of finally winning a slam (and removing winner-in-her-45th-slam Jana Novotna from the WTA record book).

As for Petrova? Well... while Dementieva still has an opportunity to experience the best of times in Paris, Petrova continues to experience the worst of times at virtually every slam she plays... eventually. Oh, Nadia. What can one say, really?

(After this, what could Queen Chaos possibly do tomorrow to reclaim her mantle as the woman whose matches simply DEMAND to be called the craziest on tour? Everyone take cover.)

...in the day's other women's quarterfinal, Caroline Wozniacki could never find an answer to Francesca Schiavone's great play. The 29-year old veteran won in straight sets 6-2/6-3 to advance to her first career slam SF, becoming the first Italian woman to ever do so. On Monday, she'll also join Fed Cup teammate Flavia Pennetta as the second Italian to ever reach the Top 10.

That's more than enough to get the "Mademoiselle Opportunity" nod for this Roland Garros.

...of course, the biggest story of the day was Robin Soderling's stone-cold stopping of Roger Federer's streak of twenty-three straight appearances in grand slam semifinals. Just how remarkable a record was it? Well, the next two, with ten each, on the all-time list -- Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver -- would STILL be behind Federer if their totals were combined. In a rematch of the '09 Roland Garros final, Federer actually held set point for a two sets to one lead, but failed to get it. Then the rains stopped play for over an hour.

After the players returned, Soderling simply proceeded to outhit and outplay Federer for the rest of the match. He got a quick break in the 3rd, then carried it out to take a two sets to one lead. In the 4th, Federer went up a break early, but Soderling immediately broke back. Federer could never get back on top in the match, as Soderling won 3-6/6-3/7-5/6-4 to advance to his second straight SF in Paris..

Needless, with the Swede pulling off this win a year after becoming the only player to ever defeat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, Soderling does not succumb to pressure or the whatever aura his opponent might bring into any particular match. A rematch with Nadal in the final could be a fascinating dance, no matter how well Rafa has been playing on clay the last few months. The Spaniard would likely still win, but without Federer as an opponent, the presence of Soderling would at least give everyone an opening to talk about what might happen.

...with Petrova no longer a possibility, I'm reaching back to the 1st Round to name this Roland Garros' "Comeback Player" -- Kimiko Date-Krumm. At 39, she knocked out Dinara Safina to become the second-oldest winner of a women's singles match in Paris, and notched her own first grand slam match win since 1996.

A few other Roland Garros Award nominee updates:

Aravane Rezai (a last resort choice)
Yaroslava Shvedova (surely if she reaches the singles SF, along w/ Mixed SF)
A Junior

Nadia Petrova (sort of by default, unless someone else can pull a big comeback this week)

Vania King (Mixed SF)
Nuria Llagostera-Vives (alive in Doubles SF & Mixed QF)
Kveta Peschke (Doubles SF)
Yaroslava Shvedova (Mixed SF)
Katarina Srebotnik (alive in Doubles SF & Mixed QF)

...well, the Pliskova's sisters' horrible trip to Paris finally (and mercifully) ended today. As the #1-seeded doubles team, they lost today to the unseeded Tunisian pair of Nour Abbes & Ons Jabeur 7-6/3-6/10-5.

Meanwhile, Montenegro's Danka Kovinic, who knocked out Kristyna Pliskova in the 1st Round, defeated Richel Hogenkamp today. Sloane Stephens (USA) took out Christina Dinu (ROU), and Spain's Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor upset #5-seed Timea Babos of Hungary.

In Mixed Doubles, Yaroslava Shvedova kept her dreams of a slam title alive today no matter what happens in her QF meeting with Jankovic tomorrow. She and Julian Knowle upset #2-seeded Cara Black/Leander Paes in the QF.

...and, finally, I mistakenly was thinking yesterday that all those quarterfinals would be played today, so the Middle-Round Awards obviously didn't come today and instead will arrive tomorrow.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#4 Jelena Jankovic/SRB vs. Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
#17 Francesca Schiavone/ITA def. #3 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
#5 Elena Dementieva/RUS def. #19 Nadia Petrova/RUS

#5 Robin Soderling/SWE def. #1 Roger Federer/SUI
#15 Tomas Berdych/CZE def. #11 Mikhail Youzhny/RUS
#22 Jurgen Melzer/AUT vs. #3 Novak Djokovic/SRB
#19 Nicolas Almagro/ESP vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#1 Williams/Williams (USA/USA) vs. #3 Huber/Medina-Garrigues (USA/ESP)
#12 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO) vs. #2 Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP)

#10 Knowle/A.Ram (AUT/ISR) vs. #3 Dlouhy/Paes (CZE/IND)
#4 Moodie/Norman (RSA/BEL) vs. #2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

Vedy/Llodra (FRA/FRA) vs. #6 Srebotnik/Zimonjic (SLO/SRB)
#3 Llagostera-Vives/Marach (ESP/AUT) vs. #5 Kleybanova/Mirnyi (RUS/BLR)
King/Kas (USA/GER) def. Garbin/Matkowski (ITA/POL)
Shvedova/Knowle (KAZ/AUT) def. #2 Black/Paes (ZIM/IND)

2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS & Elena Dementieva, RUS
2005 Mary Pierce, FRA
2006 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA

AO: Serena Williams, USA
RG: Patty Schnyder, SUI
WI: Venus Williams, USA
US: Vera Zvonareva, RUS
AO: Yan Zi & Zheng Jie, CHN
RG: Elena Dementieva, RUS
WI: Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
US: Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
AO: Jelena Dokic, AUS
RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
WI: Ana Ivanovic, SRB
US: Belgian Barbie, BEL
AO: Justine Henin, BEL
RG: Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN

[Elena Dementieva in 46th slam]
45...Jana Novotna, CZE ('98 Wimbledon)
[Francesca Schiavone in 39th slam]
31...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA ('06 Australian)
29...Jennifer Capriati, USA ('01 Australian)
[Samantha Stosur in 28th slam]
28...Kerry Melville Reid, AUS ('77 Australian)
[Jelena Jankovic in 27th slam]
26...Lindsay Davenport, USA
22...Belgian Barbie, BEL ('05 U.S.)

*LOW-SEEDED SLAM SF - since 2000*
#32 Fabiola Zuluaga ('04 AO)
#30 Samantha Stosur ('09 RG)
#23 Venus Williams ('07 WI)
#22 Patty Schnyder ('04 AO)
#21 Mary Pierce ('05 RG)
#20 Dominika Cibulkova ('09 RG)
#19 Jelena Jankovic ('06 US)
#19 Nathalie Dechy ('05 AO)
#18 Marion Bartoli ('07 WI)
#17 Francesca Schiavone ('09 RG)
[wild cards]
2008 Wimbledon: Zheng Jie
2009 U.S. Open: Belgian Barbie
2010 Australian Open: Justine Henin
2000 Australian Open: Jennifer Capriati
2000 Wimbledon: Jelena Dokic
2000 U.S. Open: Elena Dementieva
2002 Roland Garros: Clarisa Fernandez
2003 Roland Garros: Nadia Petrova
2009 U.S. Open: Yanina Wickmayer
[Yaroslava Shvedova alive in RG QF]

2002: NR
2003: #494
2004: #756
2005: #315
2006: #132
2007: #89
2008: #91
2009: #53
2010: currently #36

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)

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

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


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