Thursday, June 03, 2010

RG.12- The Business of Emotions

Hey, before this tournament began, everyone thought there was a pretty good chance that a player with a one-handed backhand and a penchant for wearing a white cap on court was going to win this year's Roland Garros singles title, right?


So what if it took TWO players to fill those categories rather than the ONE that everyone was talking about... at least we were onto SOMETHING, weren't we?

As things turned out, Day 12's women's singles semifinals didn't offer even a grain of clay dust of the in-match narrative that twisted and swirled around the women's draw the last few rounds. The ending of the first match of the day was as stunning in its anticlimactic reality as it was simultaneously frustratingly disappointing and heartwarmingly joyful. The second match... well, it was just a bloodbath.

Throughout the opening set of the Elena Dementieva vs. Francesca Schiavone match, the contest had the feel of a close battle that would go three sets and test the will of whichever player was going to get the chance to go for broke in the women's final. Dementieva hit her groundstrokes for winners, while Schiavone played her usual brand of patient clay court tennis, using her one-handed backhand to push Dementieva off the court in an attempt to wrestle away control of long rallies. They traded advantages and, not surprisingly, were forced to decide things in a tie-break. The Russian went up a quick mini-break, but then Schiavone quickly got it back. Ultimately, Schiavone claimed the breaker and the set, then went to her chair to get a rest and try to figure out how she was going to win another.

Then Dementieva walked up to her and shook her hand. The match was over. Dementieva could go on no longer.

Schiavone was astonished, while her opponent did a pretty good job of containing her obviously thwarted emotions. Coming into the match with a calf injury, Dementieva's gait had started to slightly labor late in the set (the Italian didn't notice) and even pulled her hat down at one point and hid the evidence of the incredible physical pain and disappointment she was feeling. Once she left the court, she quickly entered the trainer's room just inside the lockerroom entrance and burst into tears. After the match, she said the pain was too great to go on, and insisted that she would have had to retire even if she'd won the 1st set. (Umm, I'll list that one right next to her comment about the Olympic Gold being "better" than winning a slam -- it's a nice attempt at justification, not to mention telling herself that probably makes her feel a TINY bit less crushed about her situation.)

So, while Dementieva's slam dream ends yet again (and she likely exited the grounds wondering if she'll ever get this close to a slam final/title the rest of her career), Schiavone's continues, though I seriously wonder if even she ever saw herself being one win away from being forever known as the champion of Roland Garros. The jubilant Italian repeated her personal tournament tradition of getting a chinful of clay dust after literally kissing the terre battue following a victory that extends this unexpected late-career run. As huge as the her smile was today, I can't even imagine what'll it'll look like if she actually wins on Saturday. I'm not sure her face could hold it.

If only the other semifinal had such melodrama, albeit abbreviated and fractured, for Samantha Stosur simply worked over Jelena Jankovic all match in semifinal #2. As Justine Henin and Serena Williams learned earlier, the Aussie has a way of frustrating an opponent on the clay and making them feel helpless. Henin had a chance to win, and Serena was one point away. But JJ didn't even get a sniff of feeling like she could compete against Stosur's firing-on-all-cylinders game, even though she came into the match with a 3-1 head-to-head advantage over her.

Stosur got a break to go up 3-1 in the 1st, and never looked back. A backhand slice up the line forced a Jankovic shot down the middle of the court, setting Stosur up for yet another forehand winner that closed out the set at 6-1. Jankovic managed a break of serve in the second game of the 2nd set to take a 2-0 lead. She wouldn't win another game, though.

The Aussie won 6-1/6-2, and was the very picture of composure while racing into her first career slam singles final. With her positioned-just-right cap, cool-looking shades, basic black form-fitting tennis dress, perfectly-fit athletic build, spotlessly-neat appearance and, as Darren Cahill called it today, "flatline personality" on-court since she learned to control her sometimes-wavering emotions over the past year, Stosur had a very distinctive, all-business, take-no-prisoners and get-no-blood-on-my-hands-while-doing it single-minded look and way about her today.

At least Jelena didn't get any blood stains on her pretty yellow dress... she wasn't close enough to a lot of the balls that Stosur hit to worry about being hurt by them.

Some players thrive on their flowing emotions (cue Serena's primal scream in your mind's eye), but Stosur seems to be just the opposite when she's inside the lines. Remember, this is the same player who less than two years ago found a way to lose to Nicole Vaidisova at Wimbledon after leading 3-6/6-0 and a point from 4-0 against an opponent who'd pretty much decided to quit playing for the day (and did ENTIRELY a few months ago). She's been a doubles #1 and a rising singles player before, reaching the Top 30 in 2007 before missing most of a year with Lyme disease from mid-'07 to the spring of '08 and then finding herself dizzy on the court when she did manage to play. In the last two years, Stosur has managed to re-build her body, reinforce her game, learn how to win tight matches, control her emotional responses (and resulting collapses) and build up her confidence as a result of the entire process. So far, what's resulted is a player who's playing her best tennis at 26 and has been looking pretty awesome this past week, and the last few months, as well, as she's into her third clay court final this spring (only Schiavone on tour has now reached more than one during the span).

In the end, we now get a Saturday final between the first-ever Italian women's slam finalist (Schiavone was also the first Italian in a women's slam SF in the Open Era, and the overall first since 1954) and the first Australian women's slam finalist since 1980. It's been thirty years since an Aussie woman any slam, but thirty-seven since Margaret Court won in Paris. Not only that, this is the first meeting of two first-time slam finalists since 2004, when Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina battled at this same tournament in the maiden all-Hordette slam championship match. With no Russians, Belgians or Williamses in the final, that means this will be only the fourth of the last thirty-three slams (and just the second since Wimbledon '06) where it won't be a member of the WTA Triumverate who turns out to be the women's slam champ.

Just as everyone predicted two weeks ago.

...the first champions of this Roland Garros was crowned on Thursday, as Katarina Srebtonik and Nenad Zimomjic defeated Yaroslava Shvedova and Julian Knowle in the Mixed Doubles final by winning an 11-9 3rd set super-tiebreak. It's Srebotnik's fourth career slam Mixed title, tying her with Cara Black, Daniela Hantuchova and Lisa Raymond for the most amongst active players. the junior quarterfinals, three unseeded girls reached the semis. Croatia's Silvia Njiric knocked off #1-seed Monica Puig, while Ukrainian Elina Svitolina took down #9 Beatrice Capra and Ons Jabeur (TUN) upset '09 RG junior semifinalist Sloane Stephens. The only seeded player to survive to the final four is #3 Irina Khromacheva (RUS), who defeated Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

Svitolina is the only girl still alive in both singles and doubles, as she and fellow Ukrainian teen Lyudmyla Kichenok reached the SF (as it turned out, Svitolina got a SECOND QF win over Capra, along with partner Veronica Cepede Royg). Torro-Flor and fellow Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, Stephens (USA) and Timea Babos (HUN), as well as China's Zhang Saisai and (wow, a Danish player not named Caroline) Mai Grage reached the doubles semis on Day 12.

...with Shvedova losing in the Mixed final, and Jabeur reaching the Girls singles semi, I'm giving the teenager the "It Girl" honor for this Roland Garros if only for the novelty of having a player from Tunisia reaching such a stage. It'll be the second time (Coco Vandeweghe - '08 U.S. Open) that a junior player has gotten the imaginary-but-totally-shiny-and-expensive-looking-in-my-head "IG" trophy.

So, that leaves the "Junior Breakout" award still to be detemined. If Jabeur wins the Girls crown, the "JB" will be whichever other unseeded player (it's Njiric vs. Svitolina in the other SF) reaches the final. If Khromacheva defeats Jabeur in the next match, it'll go to the girl who wins in the final.

As far as the last possible award addition, again, Kveta Peschke would get a share of the "Doubles Star" award if she and partner Katarina Srebotnik defeat Venus and Serena in the Doubles final to get the Czech vet a twenty-pro-years-in-the-making maiden slam trophy.

...and, finally, with no women's singles matches being played on Friday, and my own intense desire to try to consolidate some things so that I won't have so many Backspins to do next week (after the finals, there's also the Clay Court Awards post, the next Time Capsule to prepare and the Week 23 picks coming in there at some point, too), I'm going to go ahead and to the "Odds and Ends Between Paris and London" grass court preview in tomorrow's RG Day 13 post.

#7 Samantha Stosur/AUS vs. #17 Francesca Schiavone/ITA

#5 Robin Soderling/SWE vs. #15 Tomas Berdych/CZE
#22 Jurgen Melzer/AUT vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#1 Williams/Williams (USA/USA) vs. #12 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)

#3 Dlouhy/Paes (CZE/IND) vs. #2 Nestor/Zimonjic (CAN/SRB)

#6 Srebotnik/Zimonjic (SLO/SRB) def. Shvedova/Knowle (KAZ/AUT) 4-6/7-6/11-9

Silvia Njiric/CRO vs. Elina Svitolina/UKR
#3 Irina Khromacheva/RUS vs. Ons Jabeur/TUN

Agustin Velotti/ARG vvs. James Duckworth/AUS
Andrea Collarini/USA vs. #9 Duilio Beretta/PER

Grage/S.Zheng (DEN/CHN) vs. #5 Babos/Stephens (HUN/USA)
#8 L.Kichenok/Svitolina (UKR/UKR) vs. Arruabarrena-Vecino/Torro-Flor (ESP/ESP)

Arguello/Velotti (ARG/ARG) vs. #3 Baluda/Biryukov (RUS/RUS)
#7 Beretta/Quiroz (PER/ECU) vs. #2 Heller/Krawietz (GER/GER)

30...Shahar Peer, ISR
29...Venus Williams, USA
29...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
27...Caroline Wozniacki, DEN

2006 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2007 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2010 Ons Jabeur, TUN (jr.)
=other 2010 winners=
AO: Maria Kirilenko, RUS

4...Cara Black (A/R/W/U)
4...Daniela Hantuchova (A/R/W/U)
4...Lisa Raymond (R/W/U)
2...Victoria Azarenka (R/U)
2...Samantha Stosur (A/W)
2...Rennae Stubbs (A/U)
2...Serena Williams (W/U)
2...Venus Williams (A/R)
2...Vera Zvonareva (W/U)
1...Elena Bovina (A)
1...Anna-Lena Groenefeld (W)
1...Carly Gullickson (U)
1...Liezel Huber (R)
1...Jelena Jankovic (W)
1...Sania Mirza (A)
1...Virginia Ruano Pascual (R)
1...Sun Tiantian (A)
ALSO: 1-T.Golovin (R)

1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams
2000 Wimbledon - Venus Williams
2003 Roland Garros - Justine Henin
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova
2005 U.S. Open - Belgian Barbie
2008 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic

Serena Williams - 12 singles, 11 doubles, 2 mixed
Venus Williams - 7 singles, 11 doubles, 2 mixed
NOTE: Samantha Stosur has 2 doubles & 2 mixed titles

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)
26...Lindsay Davenport, USA ('98 U.S.)

=oldest first-time champions=
[Francesca Schiavone is 29]
29...Jana Novotna, CZE ('98 Wimbledon)
29...Kerry Melville Reid, AUS ('77 Australian)
26...Amelie Mauresmo, FRA ('06 Australian)
[Samantha Stosur is 26]
=last two first-time finalists=
2004 Roland Garros - Anastasia Myskina def. Elena Dementieva

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): Venus Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): Samantha Stosur/AUS
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
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): 3rd Rd: #19 Nadia Petrova/RUS d. #15 Aravane Rezai/FRA 6-7/6-4/10-8
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: Ons Jabeur/TUN (jr.)
CRASH & BURN: #9 Dinara Safina/RUS, 2008-09 Runner-Up (1st Rd. - lost to Kimiko Date-Krumm/JPN)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS (QF - down MP to Serena Williams/USA)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Marion Bartoli/FRA & Aravane Rezai/FRA (3rd Rd.)
DOUBLES STAR Kararina Srebotnik/SLO

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.


Blogger xyz1903319 said...

Congrats to both.

I'm not a fan of this year's final. Looking forward to Wimby.

Thu Jun 03, 09:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

seriously this year's RG sucks big time. worst SFs and F for the decade to come. only if the draw was more even out from the 1st quarter, we will be in for a treat. and look now. lackluster. i literally stopped watching the women's games after henin's loss. men...also boring at this stage with fed out.

Fri Jun 04, 02:47:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I agree worst semifinals, but I think the draw for the final is wonderful. A great clay veteran, and a new clay expert--that's a big treat for me, not to mention how refreshing it is to have some new people in a final.

Fri Jun 04, 11:32:00 AM EDT  

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