Sunday, May 29, 2011

RG.8- "Four Upbuilding Discourses, Pt.1" *

Day 8 was about first chances, second chances... and maybe "last best chances?"... and the chance to live up to old expectations for the women in the top half of the draw.

"Once you label me you negate me." - Søren Kierkegaard

Of course, in the current and near-future world of the WTA, one never knows when the ol' slam roulette wheel will spin in any player's favor, but going into Sunday's play it WAS somewhat easy to categorize and label what many of the ultimate winners and losers were playing for.

19-year old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova doesn't appear to be near ready to win a slam. But, apparently, neither is 26-year old Vera Zvonareva. A few weeks ago in Stuttgart, two-time slam finalist Zvonareva defeated Fed Cup teammate Pavlyuchenkova in a three-set match, and she would be called upon to attempt to do the same today in Paris in a streak-filled match. The younger Russian quickly grabbed a 2-0 lead, only to see her elder countrywoman race to a 5-2 advantage and seem well on her way to taking advantage of a draw that had left her as the top-seeded player remaining before the end of the first full weekend of play.

Serving for the set at 5-3, though, Zvonareva fell down love/40 and had her serve broken. She held a set point in game #12, but saw Pavlychenkova hold to force a tie-break. After the OTHER youngest player in the Top 20 had failed to attempt to seize the initiative in HER match the other day, Pavlyuchenkova did not fall into the same pattern. She won the tie-break 7-4, and put the pressure on an obviously tight Zvonareva. Vera responded, too. For a while. She claimed the 2nd set to knot the match, and even got an early break and led 2-1 in the 3rd. Zvonareva missed a volley on game point, though, then got broken as the score was leveled at 2-2. Immediately afterward, Pavlyuchenkova held for 3-2, then earned a break to take a 4-2 lead before coasting to a 7-6/2-6/6-2 win to reach her first career slam quarterfinal. Meanwhile, with #3-seeded Zvonareva gone, after it'd become the first Open era slam without the women's #1 or #2 seeds in the Round of 16, this slam has now become the first to ever be without any of the top three seeds in the QF.

Tour players used to be ready for BIG things as teenagers. As recently as 1997-98, teenagers won five consecutive slam titles. But it's been almost five years since a teenager lifted a slam trophy (19-year old Maria Sharapova in NYC in '06), and even the fact that the last three teen champs were Russian just like Pavlyuchenkova doesn't change the fact THIS one -- even though she's the BEST teenaged player in the world -- would seem to be far outmatched by her elders when it comes to winning THIS title RIGHT NOW.

Pavlyuchenkova is still a work in progress. You can visibly see that she needs to get into better shape in order to sure up one of her obvious liabilities -- her movement. But she HAS improved a great deal in that area since last year, and even while undergoing the usual growing pains as a junior champ tries to gain her footing in the WTA, she's already netted three tour singles titles and has a Top 15 (and rising) ranking. While Paris has been the site of many young players' (non-flukey) first-time slam championship runs -- for the likes of players named Evert, Graf, Seles and Sanchez -- it's hard to believe that the Russian is going to be lifting the Coupe de Suzanne Lenglen next weekend, or even playing in the final (though she HAS already been a slam finalist in one Backspin reality), but her continued gradual climb has still moved her up a very important ladder rung.

In the Francesca Schiavone/Jelena Jankovic match, a contest that would last more than two and a half hours, it was a case of players looking for second chances. For the Italian vet, it was about seeing the opportunity to edge one match closer to living a dream. Again. For the Serb, the motivation came in suddenly having the chance to contend for her first elusive slam title sort of fall into her lap, after her own lackluster spring, due to the foibles and pratfalls of the players ranked above her. In a match littered with break point chances, both capitalized upon and not, the final result was in question late into the deciding 3rd set. But just as it looked as if Schiavone was out of magical Parisian rabbits to pull out of her hat, and that 26-year old JJ and her "Pinky Tuscadero" outfit were going to live to fight another day on the clay, the Italian rediscovered the joie de vivre that turned her into one of the most unlikely slam champions ever one year ago.

At 4-4, the feeling was thick in the air that the winner of the ninth game of the set was going to take the match. When Jankovic had game point, it appeared that it'd be her. But she sailed a backhand long. Then, on another game point, she double-faulted. After a wide forehand error had given Schiavone a break point, Jankovic paused before her serve to look to the sky, as if straining to be worthy of some sort of divine intervention. For a brief instant, she seemed to be deemed as such, as the defending champ netted a forehand.

But Francesca doesn't wait and ask for proof of a higher tennis power. She takes things into her OWN hands. At least she does in THIS tournament, and this was the moment when she did it here. Moments later, working her way forward as the next point's war was waged, she expertly put away a high backhand stab volley for a winner, then performed the same vivacious "hop, skip and a jump" celebration across the court that came to symbolize her title run in 2010.

The corner was turned.

Jankovic hit a crosscourt backhand long and Schiavone got the break to go up 5-4. In the next game, Schiavone threw in a serve-and-volley point to prove that she "was feeling it." JJ knocked a shot long, and the Italian had match point. After Schiavone had moved in to make another volley, Jankovic's wide backhand reply brought the proceedings to a close. Final score: Schiavone 6-3/2-6/6-4... and that much closer to a shot at ANOTHER Roland Garrros title.

Women age 30 or over been crowned slam singles champions twelve times in the Open era. At 30 years of age, Schiavone entered 2011 as an even more unlikely slam champion than she'd been at 29 a year ago. While Jankovic, who'll now drop out of the Top 10 for the first time in quite a while, might have just lost her "last best chance" to become a slam champion, Schiavone has to be wondering to herself just what she might be in the process of doing for an encore. After slowly -- verrrry slowly -- getting her game into something resembling a groove this spring, might Schiavone have actually found a way to peak at her most important event? If her 2010 title run was an outright "shocking" turn of events, what would another one be?

Late in the day, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daniela Hantuchova met to see which would move forward and have another chance to make due on the promise they showed when they first burst onto the WTA scene. In the opening set, the 28-year old Hantuchova looked ready to follow up her upset of world #1 Caroline Wozniacki. After going up 4-2 in the 1st set tie-break, only to soon be down two set points to Kuznetsova at 6-4, the belief that the young Slovak showed in the early 2000's was as evident as it had been versus the Dane. She won the tie-break 8-6, and her dreams of winning a slam seemed alive and well.

Well, not really. Kuznetsova ended up getting her bearings and winning 6-7/6-3/6-2.

Hantuchova gets credit for persevering in her career. But she knows she's at the point of not having many of these chances left. For all the obvious talent she's always had, she's never possessed the fighter's spirit and verve of a Schiavone. And when the 25-year old Kuznetsova is motivated and really puts her mind to being a great tennis player, these sorts of things always tend to happen. Fortunately for the rest of the WTA, the Contessova doesn't feel that way all the time. The Russian's performance in this slam -- as well as others -- shows how good she can, and should, be. This is her fifth QF-or-better result at Roland Garros in the past six years, and she was the champion in '09. Since she won two years ago, though, and for a while before that, too, she's always seemed to be a flip-the-coin sort of player who'll show up one week and be great, or pretty much not show up at all. She makes you want to pull your hair out and harm small animals (well, maybe I went too far with that one... but you get the idea).

Backspin's "link" to Kuznetsova is through the prediction of "the most talented Hordette" to finish the year at #1 in '05 after her U.S. Open title run as a 19-year old the previous season. She finished #18, and the "Kuznetsova Curse" was born. It wasn't really a "curse," though. It was just Sveta being Sveta. Litttle has changed over the years, either. At the moment, she's feeling good and has fellow Hordette and '04 RG champ Anastasia Myskina acting as a consultant, voicing "Mind of Myskina" nuggets of motivation in her direction after matches. So far, it's working out well. For now. Thankfully, when it comes to possibly winning a third career slam title, Kuznetsova only needs to keep her heart and mind in the game for another six days.

She just might do it, too. If she did, she'd become only the fourth women's player (with Hana Mandlikova, who had Navratilova and Evert as ranking glass ceilings, and Virginia Wade & Ann Haydon Jones, who played part of their careers without easier-to-climb-to #1 weekly rankings) in Open era history to win three majors but never earn the #1 ranking. Seriously, few honors would better illustrate the "wonderful, horrible" nature of Kuznetsova's career talent-to-accomplishment quotient. She's sometimes great, but not as great as she should be. She'd be an assured Hall of Famer with title #3, but one who'd still seemingly left so much more glory unclaimed.

All of these women lived up -- or down -- to their missions on Day 8. They may never have the oportunity to win a slam that quite equals the one that they have at this particular wild-and-wooly one. Well, at least that's the way it looks now. We might have something like this happen in Paris in '12, too. After all, craziness has sort of become the "norm" at Roland Garros in recent seasons, hasn't it?

So, in other words, keep those "labels" handy next spring.

* - Thanks again, Søren.

=DAY 8 NOTES= the day's other women's Round of 16 match, Marion Bartoli advanced past Gisela Dulko when the Argentine retired in the 2nd set. La Trufflette is the first Pastry to reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals since 2005. The French women to advance this far since 2000:

2000 Mary Pierce (W)
2002 Mary Pierce (QF)
2003 Amelie Mauresmo (QF)
2004 Amelie Mauresmo (QF)
2005 Mary Pierce (RU)

...quick! Name the woman who currrently has appeared in the most consecutive slam quarterfinals!

Buzzzzzzzzzzz. Wrong! Well, unless you said "Francesca Schiavone," that is. The answer probably didn't spring to mind in TOO many places, though. Yep, this marks the Italian's third straight slam QF. There are still four women to play on Day 9 who could extend person slam QF streaks, but only to two-in-a-row. Looking to add to their Australian Open Final 8 berths from January are Andrea Petkovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na and Petra Kvitova. At least one WILL do so, as Li and Kvitova face each other.

Zvonareva had been going for a tour-leading fourth straight QF result today, and had she won she'd been playing to reach a fourth consecutive slam semi, as well. As it is, now only Li could extend a streak of slam SF berths, having advanced that far and been runner-up at the Australian Open.

Actually, Schiavone has now reached the quarters at four of the last five slams, with her only miss coming at Wimbledon last year. Of course, her 1st Round loss at SW19 came after her two-week post-RG celebration, so she gets a pass on that one. Maybe even more impressively, Schiavone has had Round of 16-or-better results in seven of her last eight slams. In her previous thirty-five slam appearances, she pulled off the feat just eight times. Like wine, Francesca gets better with age, I guess.

Additionally, Schiavone is the only woman who reached the Final 8 in Paris in 2010 who has returned there one season later. It's easy to remember that the likes of Sam Stosur, Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Elena Dementieva joined her in the QF last year, but maybe less so to recall that Nadia Petrova and Yaroslava Shvedova did, as well. Here are the QF-or-better results at RG since 2001 for players still remaining in the draw:

2010: Francesca Schiavone
2009: Victoria Azarenka, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova
2008: Svetlana Kuznetsova
2007: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova
2006: Svetlana Kuznetsova
2005: Maria Sharapova
2004: Maria Sharapova
2003: -
2002: -
2001: Francesca Schiavone

It's no eyebrow-raiser that '09 champ Kuznetsova has such a nice history at this event, but I'm a bit surprised at Sharapova's (underrated) consistency on the terre battue in spite of her previously not-exactly-title-strewn results during the EuroClay season throughout her career.

...VARIOUS MATCH NOTES: the Doubles and Mixed quarterfinals are set, and two women -- Katarina Srebotnik and Nadia Petrova -- are still alive in both competitions (Petrova and Anastasia Rodinova defeated Andrea Petrkovic/Julia Goerges on Day 8) ...Roger Federer advanced to an Open era record 28th consecutive slam QF today ...Novak Djokovic moved his 2011 record to 41-0, winning his 43rd straight match ...Fabio Fognini saved five match points against Albert Montanes, winning an 11-9 5th set amid controversy about his late mid-game treatment for an injury that was to be judged by the trainer as either a muscle pull or cramping (the distinction being the difference between the Italian being allowed to be tended to and return to action, and defaulting the match because treatment for cramping is not allowed during a match at any time other than during a scheduled time-out)... Boys #1 Jiri Vesely, the AO junior champ, was ousted in the 1st Round by Belarus' Yaraslau Shyla.

...ELSEWHERE: Chanel Simmonds (RSA) wins the "ITF Player of the Week" for Week 21 due to her championship at the #25K challenger in Changwon, South Korea. She defeated Japan's Yurika Sema in the final, claiming her second straight circuit singles title. Caroline Garcia gets the Week 21 "Junior Star" for her main draw win and near-upset of Sharapova in the 2nd Round.

In the Women's NCAA singles quarterfinals, top-seeded Jana Juricova (California) defeated 2010 champ Chelsey Gullickson (Georgia). Gullickson, unseeded this year, had defeated Juricova in the NCAA Championships' 3rd Round en route to her title a year ago. Joining Juricova in the semifinals are Nicole Gibbs (Stanford), Lauren Embree (from Team champion Florida) and Stacey Tan (Stanford).

...and, finally, it's "comforting" to see that little has changed at NBC when it comes to tennis, since the network again proved where its priorities are by not only airing the it-won't-decide-anything 3rd set of the about-to-be-suspended-for-darkness Ferrer/Monfils match rather than the deciding set of Kuznetsova/Hantuchova, but also for ditching coverage of the tournament entirely for scheduled early-hole coverage of the SENIOR golf tour.

I'm making this spot an NBC-free zone, too... but I thought I'd get in one shot just for the exercise. After all, "I'm tryin' reeeeal hard to be the shepherd."

Sorry... I watched "Pulp Fiction" on IFC last night. (Still a GREAT movie!)

#13 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS def. #28 Daniela Hantuchova/SVK
#11 Marion Bartoli/FRA def. Gisela Dulko/ARG
#14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. #3 Vera Zvonareva/RUS
##5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA def. #10 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
#6 Li Na/CHN vs. #9 Petra Kvitova/CZE
Ekaterina Makarova/RUS vs. #4 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#7 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #12 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
#15 Andrea Petkovic/GER vs. #25 Maria Kirilenko/RUS

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. Ivan Ljubicic/CRO
#18 Gilles Simon/FRA vs. #5 Robin Soderling/SWE
#4 Andy Murray/GBR vs. #15 Viktor Troicki/SRB
(Q) Alejandro Falla/COL vs. Juan Ignacio Chela/ARG
#7 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #9 Gael Monfils/FRA
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. #14 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI
Fabio Fognini/ITA def. Albert Montanes/ESP
#2 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #13 Richard Gasquet/FRA

#1 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA) vs. #7 Mirza/Vesnina (IND/RUS)
#4 Huber/Raymond (USA/USA) vs. #5 Azarenka/Kirilenko (BLR/RUS)
#9 Petrova/Rodionova (RUS/AUS) vs. #3 King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ)
Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. #2 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)

xx vs. xx
Bracciali/Starace (ITA/ITA) vs. Cabal/Schwank (COL/ARG)
Lipsky/R.Ram (USA/USA) vs. #4 Llodra/Zimonjic (FRA/SRB)
#9 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) vs. #2 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN)

#1 Srebotnik/Zimonjic (SLO/SRB) vs. #7 Benesova/Paes (CZE/IND)
Petrova/J.Murray (RUS/GBR) vs. Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA)
Stubbs/M.Melo (AUS/BRA) vs. Gajdosova/Bellucci (AUS/BRA)
Uhlirova/Mertinak (CZE/SVK) vs. Dellacqua/Lipsky (AUS/USA)

1997 Australian Open - Martina Hingis, 16
1997 Roland Garros - Iva Majoli, 19
1997 Wimbledon - Martina Hingis, 16
1997 US Open - Martina Hingis, 16
1998 Australian Open - Martina Hingis, 17
1999 Australian Open - Martina Hingis, 18
1999 US Open - Serena Williams, 17
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova, 17
2004 US Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova, 19
2006 US Open - Maria Sharapova, 19

5...Czech Republic
3...United States

3...Martina Navratilova (2 at 30, 1 at 33)
3...Margaret Court (2 at 30, 1 at 31)
2...Billie Jean King (30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert (30 & 31)
1...Virginia Wade (31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones (30)

42...John McEnroe, 1984
41...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 2011 (post-4th Rd.)
31...Bjorn Borg, 1980

46...Guillermo Vilas, 1977
44...Ivan Lendl, 1981-82
43...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 2010-11 (post-4th Rd.) - 26 hard,17 clay
42...John McEnroe, 1984
41...Roger Federer, 2006-07
41...Bjorn Borg, 1979-80

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
LAST PASTRY STANDING: #11 Marion Bartoli/FRA (in QF)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Virginie Razzano/FRA

All for Day 8. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

mmm... i like either kuzzy and schiavone, too bad they have to play each other the next round. if azarenka can last till the end, it would be a good break for WTA. she always has the talent, now see if she can really hold onto it.

Sun May 29, 11:42:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Hey Jo! Nice to hear from you again. It's been a while. :)

There are some great storylines in the bottom half but, personally, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better story than Schiavone winning AGAIN. Seriously, in celebration, would she climb all the way OUT of the stadium this time? :D

Mon May 30, 05:26:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Will Corby said...

Since you brought up NBC's coverage, I thought I'd add that during the coverage they did have of Kuzzy/Dani, Mary Carillo called Hantuchova a Czech. Sorry but as of 20 yrs ago, CZE and SVK are different countries. :-)

And I tell you, it is just something else watching Schiavone when she "gets happy". There's no reason she can't win again.

And PS - This would have been 4 straight semis for Vera.

Tue May 31, 01:07:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

hi todd, yeah i especially miss justine in clay season, still trying to get over it. schiavone will be my hero if she gets to the crown again! by the way, sharapova plays well so far....mmm career slam, really?

Wed Jun 01, 10:01:00 AM EDT  

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