RG.9- "Four Upbuilding Discourses, Pt.2" *
While most of yesterday's Round of 16 match-ups were characterized as being about various forms of justification, redemption and retrieval of promise, Day 9's centered on a group of players attempting to seize a moment that could lead to something that will change the scope and/or legacy of their careers.
"Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts." - Søren Kierkegaard
Some of the women in action on Monday handled their moments with intelligence, skill and/or toughness. (At least) one will go to sleep tonight with some regret, though. It's the dominant thoughts -- both good and bad -- that resound inside a player's head under grand slam pressure that often carve out the path of a career. Thus, today could be the impetus for a great many things for the players involved.
First up on Day 9 was Petra Kvitova against Li Na, the same match-up that had resulted in a lopsided win for the Czech in Madrid, as Kvitova went on to win the title. At this tournament, though, Kvitova's game has shown some sloppiness in recent outings. She was able to get away with it against the likes of Greta Arn, Zheng Jie and Vania King. But it killed her chances in this match. Kvitova came into her face-off with Li, after having looked positively smashing at times this year while compiling a 5-1 record against Top 5 players (with wins over #2 Kim Clijsters, #3 Vera Zvonareva and #4 Victoria Azarenka), with a real shot at pulling off a slam result even better than her Wimbledon SF run of last season. She blew a huge opportunity today, as her lapses in concentration re-emerged at precisely the wrong time, allowing Li to grab hold of the match in the 3rd set after having fallen behind 3-0.
With Kvitova's game a bit off, the Chinese vet smartly employed a gameplan that essentially fed Kvitova balls that would eventually produce "instant errors" after the Czech had been moved side to side during a rally. By placing her shots deep in the court, Li managed to keep Kvitova off balance by not allowing her to step into her shots and gain quick control of the point with the sort of thunderous and flat groundstrokes that had blown Li off the court in Madrid and, at times, earlier in this Round of 16 match.
In the match's early moments, Kvitova's serve had allowed her to climb out of a few sticky situations. She faced break points in each of her first three service games, but never dropped serve and won the 1st at 6-2. Li got an early break in the 2nd, though, as the Czech's sloppy play overwhelmed her and she lost her mental edge as the usually stone-faced (except for brief moments of exultation) Kvitova was visibly frustrated with her poor mechanics and shot selection. Li took the set 6-1. In the 3rd, Li double-faulted to open and close the second game, then Kvitova held to take a 3-0 lead. It looked like the Kvitova landslide that took place in Spain was going to happen on the Parisian plain, as well.
But it didn't. While Li steadied herself, Kvitova's game went on another silde. She was broken in her next two serve games as Li turned a match that had mostly consisted of short rallies that favored the Czech into one that revolved around longer rallies that almost always went the Chinese woman's way. Holding on by a thread while down 5-3, Kvitova went up 40/love on serve, but then again fell victim to the error bug that had turned a "sure" QF berth into a needless dogfight. She was broken yet again, and Li claimed her sixth straight game to win 2-6/6-2/6-3 and back up her Australian Open final run (in which she saved MP in the semifinals) with her first quarterfinal result at Roland Garros.
Kvitova picked the wrong time to have her game go "wobbly," and most assuredly had it happen against the wrong player. Her lapses gave Li an opening, and she took it and opened a Great Wall-sized path to the quarterfinals. The Czech lost out on a big chance to continue to build her tennis career's worth today (though she'll likely have more chances on the more-favorable-to-her grass and hard court slams later this season), and will have to quickly move past any "What If?" funk and prepare herself to defend big points at SW19 in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, I finally lost my RG champion pick. As I said before the tournament, though, I still think the attempt was worthwhile (wait... did I just sound like Kim when she exited the tournament last week? Hmmm.). See, I knew that Kvitova/Azarenka match-up wouldn't happen since I talked the other day about wanting to see it. But at least Azarenka held up her end. As the tournament's highest-remaining women's seed, the (oddly) favored-to-win-the-title Belarusan really did nothing to dissuade anyone from thinking that her time to stake a claim to the top spot in women's tennis JUST MIGHT come on Saturday.
After coming into today with a 75% 1st serve percentage, and just two breaks of her serve, for the tournament, Azarenka was broken in her first serve game by Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian is an underrated player, having knocked off three seeded players in this year's two slams (and played eventual AO champ Clijsters very well in Melbourne), but Azarenka, who also bounced back from being a break down in the 2nd, didn't fall into a Kvitovian-trap and let her grab control of things. Instead, she held her concentration and won 6-2/6-3.
Azarenka has a chance now to emerge from Paris as THE new star on the WTA tour, and maybe send a friendly shot across her friend Caroline's proverbial bow about what it takes to successfully complete "the next step" in a tennis career after having previously watched the Dane usually be the one of the two to take the first steps onto any unchartered career ground. Naturally, I had wanted to pick Azarenka to win this tournament a few weeks ago, but her string of retirements made her "too hot to handle." [NOTE TO SELF: Don't second guess.]
Of course, nothing says Azarenka still isn't going to meet some unfortunate end at this Roland Garros. If it's not at the hands of Li (who handily defeated Azarenka 6-3/6-3 in Melbourne in January), it might be by her own. After all, it's always SOMETHING with Azarenka at the slams. Hopefully, her inner circle will slap a "Handle with Card" sticker on her, wrap her in bubble wrap, put a cold compress on her forehead, then tuck her away for safe keeping into a bed of feathers tonight, being sure in install rollover bars on either side of her sleeping platform, then take care to wheel her to the breakfast table and flank her with velvet-gloved guards en route to the entrance to the practice court tomorrow. And for as long as she's still in this tournament... repeat as necessary.
Of course, once she hits the court it'll be all up to her to "stay safe." Uh-oh.
Meanwhile, few players offer a better comparision to 19-year quarterfinalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, when it comes to how different a make-up the tour has when it comes to the ages of its top players, than Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic, at 23, is what used to be called a "late bloomer," but should probably now be looked at as the way things are in the WTA these days. The German, who defeated Maria Kirilenko 6-2/2-6/6-4 today, is actually just five months younger than Maria Sharapova. Still, while the 24-year old Russian seems to have been around forever, having won a slam at 17 in '04, Petkovic has only recently risen nearer the top of the sport. Even better things seems on the horizon for her, though.
Seemingly poised to soon enter the Top 10 for the first time, Petkovic would be the first woman from her country to first experience such a tour breakthrough since Anke Huber in 1992. Further solidying herself as the lead member of the current crop of rising Germans, Petkovic is now just the second German woman to reach the Roland Garros QF since Steffi Graf won the title in 1999. The other woman to so do was Anna-Lena Groenefeld in 2006. ALG has never reached another slam QF, while this is now Petkovic's second straight such result at a slam, making her one of just three women currently sporting consecutive slam Final 8 streaks. If the lack of success in German women's tennis produced a "lost generation" of national stars in the post-Graf years, it's safe to say that Petkovic is now basking in the spotlight as her tennis nation's "dancing fool" (in a good way, don't you know).
Oh, and did someone mention Sharapova a moment ago?
Of course, while the rest of the bottom half of the draw was concerned with taking big "first" and/or "next" steps in their careers, Sharapova was faced with the ongoing task of trying to add a legendary layer of accomplishment to her career resume. Against Agnieszka Radwanska, against whom she sported a 6-1 career record, the feeling was that a surging Sharapova might blast through her opponent on this day. It didn't happen, though. For some of this contest, it more closely resembled the one match the Pole had previously won against the Russian -- at the U.S. Open in 2007, when A-Rad polished off the '06 champ by keeping her off-balance, allowing her to beat herself (sort of like what Li did to Kvitova).
With Sharapova not at her best, Radwanska got an early break to go up 2-0, led 4-1 and held break point for a 5-1 lead. But Sharapova served well under pressure once again, holding for 4-2. It set the pattern for the match. Back into the set, the Russian got a break for 4-3, then won a tie-break to claim the set by once more relying on her serve to clean up the messes she found herself in due to the error totals her game was producing. The 2nd set was a rerun of the 1st, except that A-Rad had even MORE opportunities handed to her that she didn't capitalize on. She had a break point at 2-2, but Sharapova held serve. Leading 5-3, Radwanska had the first of what would be five set points that she could not convert in the 2nd, including three in a single game at 5-4. Sharapova broke her serve to knot things at 5-5, and then raced to the finish line on the strength of a very risky go-for-winners gameplan that produced higher error and double-fault totals than she's had in recent outings, but which paid dividends because her serve worked when it needed to do so. Sharapova won 7-6/7-5, riding a wave of mometum to break A-Rad to close out the match.
The Russian's play was spotty today, and for the second time in three matches she looked like she might be heading down the same sort of dark alley that she's hopelessly wandered down many times over the past two years. Thing is, can anyone capitalize on their opportunities against her the way that Caroline Garcia and Radwanska ultimately did not? Petkovic is cabable, but slightly flighty in big moments... though she has beaten Sharapova in a slam before. Azarenka definitely could, but she's about to enter a place in a slam where she's never been and her inexperience could show... though she HAS defeated Sharapova twice in their last three meetings, and was leading her in Rome when she retired. Li, or one of the vets in the top half of the draw, might be better able to depend on their experience to weave their way through a match in which Sharapova's game is showing signs of fraying, I suppose. Sharapova is 23-10 against the players left in the draw (interestingly, four of those losses have come against one -- countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova, a potential opponent in the final). Either way, Sharapova once again managed to survive a match in Paris, so once more I'll mention how she's never put together a slam-winning run that consisted of outings in which she ever had to go through the ringer like she has in recent days.
But, again, maybe THIS is the pattern that has been set for "Supernova II," and the career Grand Slam WILL be her's come Saturday night. I'm still not yet convinced she's ready to win another slam. As long as her health remains good, I won't be saying the same by the end of this summer, though. But Sharapova might not end up needing that additional time. After all, HER dominant thought is always focused on the biggest possible prize and how to attain it as quickly as possible.
We'll find out soon enough how this all plays out.
* - Thanks again, Søren.
=DAY 9 NOTES=
...Li is at it again. Apparently, she "fired" (though she said she doesn't like to use that word for it) her husband as her coach after her long on-court dry spell a while back, demoting him to hitting partner. Today, he was in the stands when Kvitova took a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set. He got up and walked out... then Li won six straight games.
"Even myself, I didn’t believe I can come back, you know, because she has a huge big serve," Li said. But, she added: "I don’t know what happened. Maybe just my husband left and I can win six games in a row."
Really, if she and Schiavone faced each other in the final, I think I'd wish for the post-match interview session to go on for about an hour or two.
...in Doubles, both the women's top two seeded teams were dumped out of the QF. A day after Gisela Dulko retired in her singles QF, she and the other half of the world's #1-ranked doubles team, Flavia Pennetta, lost to #7-seeds Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina 6-0/7-5. #2-seeded Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik lost to unseeded Czechs Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka. With Srebotnik's loss, only Nadia Petrova is now still alive in both the Doubles and Mixed draws.
...in junior action, #14 Maryna Zavenska defeated Cristina Dinu, and will next face top-seeded Daria Gavrilova. Meanwhile, 2nd Round action has begun and a great 3rd Round match-up has been set, as #7 Yulia Putintseva will meet #11 Alison van Uytvanck.
At the NCAA Championships, California's Jana Juricova will face Stanford's Stacey Tan in the Singles final. Stanford's Hilary Barte will team with Mallory Burdette against Clemson's Josipa Bek & Keri Wong for the Doubles crown. In 2010, Barte teamed with Mallory's sister Lindsey to win the Doubles championship. Barte lost in the singles QF the other day. On the men's side, Steve Johnson (USC) will meet Rhyne Williams (Tennessee) for the Singles title, while Bradley Klahn/Ryan Thacher (Stanford) will go against Austin Krajicek/Jeff Dadamo (Texas A&M) for the Doubles title.
...Sharapova gets the "Zombie Queen" award for this slam, barring some out-of-the-world situation in the next few rounds. Meanwhile, here are a few updates on the nominees for the remaining RG Awards:
Marion Bartoli, FRA
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
Li Na, CHN
Andrea Petkovic, GER
Francesca Schiavone, ITA (again)
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Victoria Azarenka, BLR (in singles QF and Doubles QF)
Caroline Garcia, FRA
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
Casey Dellacqua, AUS (in Mixed QF)
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
Anastasia Rodionova, AUS (a Doubles title would sooth FC deciding doubles match wounds)
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Rennae Stubbs, AUS (in Mixed QF)
Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE
Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ (trying for 3rd slam title in last year)
Sania Mirza/Elena Vesnina, IND/RUS
Nadia Petrova, RUS (in Doubles QF and Mixed QF)
Caroline Garcia, FRA
...and, finally, after twenty-seven years, John McEnroe might have received some good news in Paris about his 1984 ATP record forty-two match season-opening winning streak. Or not.
Back then, McEnroe blew a two sets to none lead to Ivan Lendl in the final, becoming preoccupied with all the little stupid things that often made him explode like an over-sugared kindergartner on the court back in the day, and squandered his best chance to ever win the Roland Garros title on his long-time worst surface. The defeat ended his 42-match streak, and not until Novak Djokovic's current run has anyone really challanged the record. At least after today's news, it'll take a little longer before Mac's record can be offiicially snuffed out of existence. Djokovic's QF opponent, Fabio Fognini, withdrew from the tournament one day after his controversial win from five match points down in an 11-9 5th set against Albert Montanes. Fognini received mid-game treatment when he was one game from losing the match during the set, and the question of whether it was for a muscle tear/pull or cramping was an issue. Treatment for muscle injuries are fine at any time, but cramping cannot be treated other than during changeovers (unless the player forfeits all the games from that point until the next changeover, which Fognini couldn't do yesterday since doing so would have given Montanes the game he needed to end the match). Observers believed he was cramping, but the trainer ruled otherwise and Fognini was allowed to continue. Today, his pull-out is either a way to cover himself against more criticism, or he really DOES have a muscle tear that will prevent him from playing.
Either way, Mac's "gift" comes in Djokovic's QF walkover past Fognini, which will not count as an official "victory" for his streak. After playing three straight days, the Serb will now get four days off and won't play until his SF against either Roger Federer or Gael Monfils. If he wins the match, he'll be assured of becoming the 25th man to be ranked #1 on the ATP tour. That win would tie McEnroe's 42-0 mark, but now Djokovic will have to win the final in order to break it.
Of course, the player he COULD meet in a final might be Rafael Nadal, who is 42-1 at Roland Garros in his career. Of note, that one loss came at the hands of Robin Soderling, the Spaniard's next oponent. Also, Rafa has expressed dissatisfaction with his game at this tournament. Weeks after possibly correctly saying that he was going to lose the #1 ranking to Djokovic, Nadal said that he (Rafa) "can't win" this tournament the way he's currently playing.
Is Rafa an "ultimate truth teller," or simply playing oppossum? Or, to be most cynical, is he just shielding himself in case he DOES lose to Djokovic in the final?
*WOMEN'S SINGLES QF*
#13 Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS vs. #11 Marion Bartoli/FRA
#14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS vs. #5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA
#6 Li Na/CHN vs. #4 Victoria Azarenka/BLR
#7 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #15 Andrea Petkovic/GER
*MEN'S SINGLES QF*
#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #5 Robin Soderling/SWE
#4 Andy Murray/GBR or #15 Viktor Troicki/SRB vs. Juan Ignacio Chela/ARG
#9 Gael Monfils/FRA vs. #3 Roger Federer/SUI
#2 Novak Djokovic/SRB walkover Fabio Fognini/ITA
*WOMEN'S DOUBLES QF*
#7 Mirza/Vesnina (IND/RUS) def. #1 Dulko/Pennetta (ARG/ITA)
#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) def. #2 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)
*MEN'S DOUBLES QF*
#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #5 Bopanna/Qureshi (IND/PAK)
Cabal/Schwank (COL/ARG) def. Bracciali/Starace (ITA/ITA)
Lipsky/R.Ram (USA/USA) vs. #4 Llodra/Zimonjic (FRA/SRB)
#9 Lindstedt/Tecau (SWE/ROU) vs. #2 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN)
*MIXED DOUBLES QF*
#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)
*CONSECUTIVE SLAM QF - ACTIVE STREAKS*
3...Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2...Li Na, CHN
2...Andrea Petkovic, GER
*CAREER SLAM QF - ACTIVE*
Other '11 RG Quarterfinalists: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (1), Andrea Petkovic (2)
*CAREER RG QF - 2011 FINAL 8*
*RG "ZOMBIE QUEENS"*
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS (2 MP down in 4th, 2 MP down in QF; reached final)
2009 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (down 7-5/4-1 in 3rd Round, match suspended/darkness; reached QF)
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS (down MP in QF; reached final)
2011 Maria Sharapova, RUS (down 6-3/4-1 in 2nd Rd.)
*WOMEN'S OVERALL WON/LOST - BY NATION*
[nations w/ wins, through 4th Round]
2-1...Denmark, Estonia, Netherlands, Taiwan
1-1...Bulgaria, India, Slovenia, South Africa
TOP QUALIFIER: #21 Sloane Stephens/USA
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): #8 Samantha Stosur/AUS
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE ROUND (SF-F): xx
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
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): xx
TOP LATE RD. MATCH (SF-F/Jr.): xx
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.)
IT GIRL: xx
MADEMOISELLE/MADAM OPPORTUNITY: xx
COMEBACK PLAYER: xx
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 QF)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Virginie Razzano/FRA
DOUBLES STAR xx
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: xx
All for Day 9. More tomorrow.