Tuesday, May 31, 2011

RG.10- "Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing" *

Even eventual masterpieces are built upon a series of rough drafts.

"What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music." - Søren Kierkegaard

There have certainly been times when Francesca Schiavone has had every reason to be unhappy with herself this spring. Citing her physical limitiations, she took a step back from her long-time and beloved Fed Cup duties, only to see defending champion Team Italia be unceremoniously bounced from the semifinals without her assistance. Then her own clay court singles results took their good sweet time coming around, too. Eventually, though, they did. As the springtime weeks went by, her results grew from 2nd Round and 3rd Round exits, to quarterfinal and semifinal finishes. The other day in Paris, the '10 champion said that she wasn't playing great tennis, but that she thought her heart and experience were pulling her through.

The same can be said about the 30-year old's quarterfinal match with Russian teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Day 10. Luckily for Schiavone, though, a true artist isn't judged by their creative process. The Italian's early stabs at creativity were massive failures on Tuesday. Pavlyuchenkova raced to a 4-0 1st set lead, won the stanza at 6-1, then built a 4-1 advantage in the 2nd set against the error-strewn veteran. Sometimes inspiration comes at odd times, and sometimes it comes just in the nick of time. That's what happened today.

Just as was the case with Schiavone's Round of 16 match with Jelena Jankovic two days ago, the REAL moment when the match would be decided would eventually come, and it would be THEN that the defending champion's fate would be sealed. That moment beckoned in game #7 of the 2nd set, when Schiavone finally carved out a break of Pavlyuchenkova's serve to get back on serve at 4-3. In the next game, the "old" Francesca that won so many fans a year ago began to reappear. With an expert drop shot, she held serve for 4-4. Two games later, she began to go for her shots with the abandon that she'd lacked earlier. The results: a reflex winner, a backhand-with-a-hop winner and the notion that her latest work of art was only now coming into focus within her artistic being. 5-5. Pavlyuchenkova then double-faulted on break point to give Schiavone her first lead in the match at 6-5. She held for 7-5 and, in an instant, the earlier plotline about the heartwarming champion of a year ago having to wave goodbye with her head held high had to be furiously rewritten.

Schiavone got a break to go up 1-0 in the 3rd, then she remembered all the brilliant shotmaking she'd used during her title run. After fighting off a break point and getting back to deuce, the Italian raced crosscourt to reach a Pavlyuchenkova drop shot, then scooped a forehand over the net post and safely into the corner to reach game point. Perhaps still stunned by Schiavone's passion, Pavlyuchenkova then knocked a shot wide to fall behind 2-0. Looking like her game was about to totally go off the rails, the streaky 19-year old quickly had her serve broken to give Schiavone a 3-0 lead.

The champ skipped off the court to her chair for the changeover.

But as we learned yesterday, and throughout this Roland Garros, no lead is safe in Paris this year... even you've won nine of the last ten games and, albeit belatedly, managed to right your game and diversify your shot selection to keep your opponent off balance just as you did while winning the final over Samantha Stosur one year earlier. Just when Schiavone's masterpierce seemed to be ready to write itself, the script was flipped. Briefly. And then flipped again. And then again.

Pavlyuchenkova got a break to forestall her slide, getting to within 3-1, but Schiavone broke back and held for 5-1. But what did I just say about no lead being totally safe? Serving into the wind at 5-2, the Italian quickly fell down love/40 and was broken by a Pavlyuchenkova winner. At 5-4, Pavlyuchenkova took at 40/15 lead on Schiavone's serve, only to see her smash an ace. But just when the Italian seemed about to rip off her latest chapter of greatness at Roland Garros, the Russian took a return and lobbed it over the serve-and-volleying Schiavone. It landed just inside the court and the set was tied at 5-5.

But lest we forget who was the real artist in this contest.

Pavlyuchenkova opened game #11 with a double-fault, and quickly fell behind 15/40. A Schiavone forehand pulled the Russian wide, and her only response was to slap a shot into the net. Schiavone grabbed the break to lead 6-5. On her third try to serve out the match, the Italian led 30/love... and THEN things got REALLY strange. It was as if the Tennis Gods were being purposely coy, almost minx-like, not letting anyone know their true intentions, but leading us all on with every move in the book. How much did they want to make Francesca sweat? How much did they want to show their love? Did they really have any love, or was it all an act?

At 30/15, Schiavone broke a string on her racket in the middle of the point, losing it and then having to retrieve another stick. With a new weapon in hand, she pounded an ace to get to match point, only to see Pavlychenkova respond with a winner of her own one point later and then reach break point. But "The Artist" was not through. Hitting out on all her shots, Schiavone's strokes ran Pavlyuchenkova along the baseline, and then she blasted a forehand so far out of reach of the right-handed Russian that she couldn't reach it even while lunging with her racket in her left hand. Match point #2 came after Pavlyuchenkova sprayed a backhand on a point during which the sun suddenly came out from behind a cloud to bathe the court in light. Were the Tennis Gods setting up for a better view of Schiavone's triumph? Maybe, but then Pavlyuchenkova hit a second serve return winner to keep the match going still longer. Finally, suffering artist Francesca had been made to anguish long enough. The Tennis Gods showed a little mercy. The Italian successfully placed a nervy drop shot out of the teenager's reach to get a third match point, and then was allowed to have the final lines of her latest work flow from her pen... err, I mean racket.

Schiavone hit a wide serve, then popped up Pavlyuchenkova's return down the center of the court on the Russian's side of the net. Pavlyuchenkova hit a forehand, then followed behind it to the net. Schiavone slapped a forehand back at the teenager, who half-volleyed to produce a slow-bouncing mid-court setter than the Italian raced to with anticpation in her heart. One backhand passing shot down the line later and she'd finally won, 1-6/7-5/7-5. Just how she'd planned it... well, sort of.

While this particular rough draft wasn't exactly pretty, it was beautiful. It's not the creative process that matters... it's the end result. And Schiavone might not yet be finished constructing this particular masterpiece.

At least we can hope.

* - Thanks again, Søren.

...in the day's second QF, Marion Bartoli became the first Pastry to reach the Roland Garros SF since Mary Pierce was runner-up in 2005, as Svetlana Kuznetsova wasn't able to keep her roll going. Down 7-6/5-2, Kuznetsova prevented Bartoli from serving out the match in her first atttempt, but not in her second as the Frenchwoman won the 2nd set 6-4.

Before this tournament, after she'd been forced to retire from the Strasbourg final days before her first scheduled match in Paris, Bartoli said it'd take a "miracle" for her play at Roland Garros. Now, she IS French, so dramatics are in her blood, but it's still pretty impressive that she's battled her way through and now finds herself one win away from living her life-long "dream" of playing in the RG final. Of course, she'll face Schiavone, against whom she's 1-4. They've never played on clay, and surely not also in front of a partisan French crowd, either. Either way, we'll get a finalist not too many people would have picked. I DID have Schiavone in the semis, at least. Naturally, "Carl" had her in the final... so if Francesca wins I'm sure I'll hear about it from him before Wimbledon, even though he actually picked Clijsters to beat her.

What with all their celebrations, physical ticks, skipping, heart-on-the-sleeve facial expressions and the like, a Bartoli-Schiavone match-up almost begs for two of those full-time camera shots on both players between points. Franki-cam! Pastry-cam! Surely it'd be worth the effort, since what those two will be doing when the match isn't taking place will certainly be almost as interesting to watch as what will transpire during play... and THAT could be something to see, as well.

...I know Gael Monfils is supposed to be "fun" to watch and all. At least that's what all the television commentators tell me I'm supposed to think. But I'd rather not, I think. Truthfully, it seems sort of a pointless endeavor. The Frenchman has had a pretty good career (somehow he stays in the Top 10, though it's hard to remember too many great moments he's had since he stopped dominating the juniors), but he never lives up to the high praise that he's always given every time one of his matches airs. Too enthralled with making the "brilliant" and "exciting" shot, he always wastes his energy and is never either brilliant nor exciting when it really matters. Monfils will occasionally have a good day in a slam, like he did against David Ferrer in the Round of 16, but I always sort of view it with a sigh, since it means he'll trot out again in a match that will be get loads of attenton, then he'll either end up hurting himself, have another of his no-show performances because he left all his verve on the court in the previous match, or he'll blow a two sets to none lead. Many French players have been like this for decades, but at least the "most French" (you know, flair-conscious and dramatic, ala golfer Jean van de Velde, who doomed his British Open chances years ago by going for a spectacular shot rather than a smart one) of that lot, Henri Lecconte, did manage to reach a slam final during his career. There doesn't seem much chance that Monfils will even be able to put six matches together over two weeks and do that, though. So part of thinks time would be better utilized by watching something else when he's playing. The usual happened today against Roger Federer. Monfils was never really in the match, then even when he pushed things to a tie-break in the 3rd he was grabbing at his legs, seemingly hinting that he probably wouldn't make it through the match anyway, even he did somehow keep it going into a 4th or 5th set.

Lost in all this, though, of course, is that Federer has reached the semis without dropping a set in the tournament. Maybe the Babolat balls and weather are helping? Now he'll face Novak Djokovic with a shot to get back to the final for the first time since he completed his career Grand Slam in '09, with the chance to end the Serb's winning streak (keeping John McEnroe and Guillermo Vilas' names safely in the ATP record books), but also to possibly inadvertently preserve Rafael Nadal's #1 ranking for a little while longer, depending on what happens in the Nadal QF match with Robin Soderling (and the SF, if Rafa wins there... and then in what would have to be a final against Federer himself). The "trivalry" is getting a bit weird. In a good way.

...I found something interesting while tooling around in the WTA records section last time. I figure it might come into play soon, so I'll go ahead and mention it.

Caroline Wozniacki has 16 career WTA singles titles, and very well could push her number to 20 by the end of the season. If she does, and hasn't yet won her first slam, she'd be one of only two women in tour history with 20 or more singles titles, but no slam singles championships. The other woman? Why, none other than Pam Shriver, who won 21 but could never break the Navratilova/Evert stranglehold on the slams. She DID win many slam doubles titles, though, which C-Woz has not done.

Had Elena Dementieva not retired, she would be in contention for the list, as well. She also won 16 singles titles. The closest slam-less active players to Wozniacki are quite a way back -- Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, both with 12 titles, and Vera Zvonareva, who's won 11 times. But with Wozniacki so consistent on a weekly basis, and so much younger than those players, how high might her career titles number go before she wins a slam? She can get to 20 in 2011... 30 in 2012-13... yikes, 40 not long after that? Whew! That sort of combination of results would be quite something.

...the Women's Doubles semis are set, and the highest-seeded team remaining is still #3 Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova. They'll face the all-Czech Hlavackova/Hradecka (by the way, I saw on Tennis Channel's ticker that Hradecka has so far recorded the fastest women's serve at this year's RG) team in an attempt to earn a berth in the final and get the chance to claim their third major title in the last four slams. I don't know about the numbers, but I'm really hoping for King/Shvedova to do this... if for nothing else than it would keep alive my pre-season prediction that King would at some point in 2011 be the #1-ranked player on the doubles computer. Dulko & Pennetta's Oz title sort of set things back, but Paris could keep hope alive. In the other other SF, Mirza/Vesnina will face the the all-American veteran pair of Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond. Huber is still looking for her first post-Cara Black Women's Doubles slam crown.

In Mixed Doubles, top-seeded Katarina Srebotnik (w/ Nenad Zimonjic) advanced to the semis. Nadia Petrova is still alive with Jamie Murray (they're still to play their QF), but she and Anastasia Rodionova lost to King/Shvedova in the Women's, so no woman advanced to the Final 4 in both Doubles competitions this year. One Aussie will be in the Mixed final, though, as Jarmila Gajdosova (w/ Thomaz Bellucci) and Casey Dellacqua (w/ Scott Lipsky) will meet in the SF.

Dellacqua, by the way, thus picks up this slam's "Comeback" player award (with Kuznetsova out, and Sharapova the "Zombie Queen") as her return from last year's injury-decimated season continues to get better and better.

...in junior action, the first quarterfinalists have emerged. Top-seeded Daria Gavrilova and #9 Ons Jabeur ('10 runner-up) will face off in the only Final 8 contest that's been set up so far. In the Boys draw, qualifier Miki Jankovic (Serbia) advanced to the quarters after knocking off Yaraslau Shyla, who'd previously upset #1-seed Jiri Vesely in the 1st Round.

Of note, Sharapova's near-conqueror Caroline Garcia barely escaped her 2nd Round match today with qualifier Catalina Pella, rebounding to win 4-6/6-2/9-7.

...and, finally, congrats to the NCAA tennis champions. Top-seeded Jana Juricova (California) defeated Stacey Tan (Stanford) 6-0/7-6 in the women's final, while Steve Johnson (USC) prevailed over Rhyne Williams (Tennessee) 4-6/6-2/6-1 in the men's championship. Jeff Dadamo & Austin Krajicek (Texas A&M) won the men's doubles, while Stanford's Hilary Barte teamed with a second Burdette sister (Mallory) to claim her second consecutive doubles crown (she won it with Lindsey in 2010). Here's a link to Colette Lewis' recap of the finals over at Zoo Tennis.

#11 Marion Bartoli/FRA def. #13 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
#5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA def. #14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
#6 Li Na/CHN vs. #4 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#7 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #15 Andrea Petkovic/GER

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #5 Robin Soderling/SWE
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. Juan Ignacio Chela/ARG
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. #9 Gael Monfils/FRA
#2 Novak Djokovic/SRB walkover Fabio Fognini/ITA

#7 Mirza/Vesnina (IND/RUS) vs. #4 Huber/Raymond (USA/USA)
#3 King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ) vs. Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) or #5 Bopanna/Qureshi (IND/PAK) vs.Cabal/Schwank (COL/ARG)
#4 Llodra/Zimonjic (FRA/SRB) vs. #2 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN)

#1 Srebotnik/Zimonjic (SLO/SRB) vs. Petrova/J.Murray (RUS/GBR) or Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA)
Gajdosova/Bellucci (AUS/BRA) vs. Dellacqua/Lipsky (AUS/USA)

#1 Daria Gavrilova/RUS vs. #9 Ons Jabeur/TUN
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

(Q) Miki Jankovic/SRB vs. Mate Delic/CRO
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

2007 Patty Schnyder, SUI
2008 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2009 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2010 Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS

21...Pam Shriver
19...Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere
19...Nancy Richey
16...Elena Dementieva
16...Caroline Wozniacki (active)
15...Dianne Balestrat

TOP QUALIFIER: #21 Sloane Stephens/USA
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #8 Samantha Stosur/AUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Ekaterina Bychkova/RUS d. Lindsay Lee-Waters/USA 3-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 2nd Rd. - #3 Vera Zvonareva/RUS d. (Q) Sabine Lisicki/GER 4-6/7-5/7-5
FIRST WINNER: Simona Halep/ROU (def. Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)
UPSET QUEENS: The Romanians
REVELATION LADIES: The North Americans
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Chan Yung-Jan/TPE & Nuria Llagostera-Vives/ESP (3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARDS STANDING: Iryna Bremond/FRA, Caroline Garcia/FRA & Pauline Parmentier/FRA (2nd Rd.)
CRASH & BURN: #2 Kim Clijsters/BEL (lost in 2nd Rd. to #114 Arantxa Rus/NED after leading 6-3/5-2 and holding 2 MP; worst slam result since 2002
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #7 Maria Sharapova, RUS (down 6-3/4-1, 2 breaks, in 2nd Rd. vs. Garcia)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: #11 Marion Bartoli/FRA (in SF)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Virginie Razzano/FRA

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


Blogger tennischick said...

very insightful comments.

Tue May 31, 10:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

according to the WTA match notes, Vania and Leizel both have a chance at becoming number 1, but only if they win the title...

since Leizel's been number 1 before, I hope that Vania gets it...also because I bet after Wimbledon, the ranking will change hands and Leizel will get her chance again. Vania has a lot of points to defend and Leizel and Raymond are playing well...

Tue May 31, 10:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Schiavone Schiavone Schiavone, i am rooting for you!

i love her will, her heart, and her passion. just hope she will go to the end.

Wed Jun 01, 11:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

ugh...I opened my mouth and Vania and Leizel lost...

Wed Jun 01, 03:44:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I should never have predicted VK to be #1.

(I guess there's enough "blame" to go around.) :)

Let's see. Now I have to write apologies to Vania, Petra, Vika, Alison...

Wed Jun 01, 04:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Alison who?

Wed Jun 01, 05:03:00 PM EDT  

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