Friday, June 03, 2011

RG.13- "The Crowd is Untruth" *

Hmmm, first Li Na reaches the women's final, then Francesca Schiavone joins her there. Now, it's Roger Federer in the men's final. Just like everyone thought, right?

Seriously, how stupid were we?

"The crowd is untruth." - Søren Kierkegaard

This Roland Garros has had its share of memorable moments, but few matches came as pre-packaged a keepsake for history than today's men's semifinal match-up between world #2 Novak Djokovic and #3 Roger Federer. The Serb was on a 43-match winning streak stretching back to last December, his 41-0 mark this season was a single victory away from tying John McEnroe's 1984 season-opening men's record (a streak, by the way, that was ended in Paris), and if he could reach the men's final he'd assure himself of becoming the twenty-fifth man to be ranked #1 on the ATP computer. Of course, all Federer has done in his career is win more slam titles than any other man in history. Not that that fact mattered much going into this Roland Garros. All the talk was about either Djokovic or five-time RG champ Rafael Nadal when it came to who'd eventually walk away with the title. Federer was barely an afterthought. He hadn't played in a major final in over a year, had dropped to #3 in the rankings, was 0-3 this year against Djokovic, was "busy" and "content" being a recent father to twins and, as is often the case when tennis players stare down the big 3-oh, he was often being called "old."

But Friday was a case of history winning out over the present-day. And no player's place in history is more secure than Federer's. With Djokovic as his stepping stone, Federer crafted yet another magical entry in his career-long journal. In a match that oh-so-closely resembled some of Federer's slam finals in his dominating heyday, the Swiss Mister outshined his opponent on one of the world's biggest stages... for about two sets. After that, it became a case of Federer trying to outrun his on-the-verge opponent, and beat the encroaching darkness into the lockerroom with a victory.

Federer came into the semi having not lost a set in the tournament, and he wasn't quite ready to put a blemish on his spotless record. He broke Djokovic's service game the first time he faced it. The Serb broke back, then did it again to take a 4-2 lead. But Federer answered with a break of his own to get the set back on serve then, down 5-4, overcame a rash of missed 1st serves and going down 15/40, saving two set points. By winning the eventual tie-break that decided the seventy-minute set, Federer pushed his RG set streak to sixteen. Then, with Djokovic often listless, out of sorts and frustrated in the face of Federer's game, the Swiss vet ran it to seventeen by taking the 2nd at 6-3.

Federer had a 174-0 record in slam matches in which he was up 2-0. But it wasn't going to be that easy.

With his back against the wall, Djokovic finally got pumped up. As Federer's first serve percentage went down, the Serb's fortunes rose. He quickly raced to a 3-0 lead in the 2nd set, and claimed the stanza 6-3. After three sets, Federer was still in the lead, but his 3-for-22 mark in break point attempts was worrisome as 2011's best player seemed to be in the process of once again finding the game that has made him a juggernaut for the last six months.

With the light of Friday fading on Chatrier Court, the 4th set became a case of three forces meeting in one place -- Federer, Djokovic and the oncoming night. Federer still had time to close out the match, but if Djokovic could knot the contest and force a 5th-set-for-the-final meeting on Saturday the advantage would suddenly shift in the Serb's direction if he was going to get one night to charge himself up in order to achieve his life-long goal of becoming #1 just a few hours later. After falling behind earlier, Djokovic got a break to close to within 5-4, then held serve to get to 5-5. With Djokovic serving down 6-5, Federer got to within two points of claiming the match, but the Serb held again to force a tie-break as the clocks read 9:30 pm a short distance away in downtown Paris.

With the crowd decidedly on his side and having chanted his name during the match, Federer got to 3-2 in the tie-break. But when his drop shot attempt fell short to tie the score at 3-3, the feeling that the past and the present might be passing on the edge of night was palpable. Then the still-dependable Swiss luxury liner rammed the Serbian speedboat. Up 4-3, Federer served an ace to go up 5-3, then pounded a service winner to get to 6-3 and triple match point. A Djokovic shot dribbled off the net cord, and a scrambling Federer wasn't able to get it back over the net. Then the Serb smashed an ace to save match point #2.

Standing at the baseline with the final on his racket, Federer was then designated in the fading light to once more try to call up the glory of his legacy. If he could. In Rome a few weeks ago, Andy Murray had had the opportunity to hold serve and halt Djokovic's winning streak at thirty-five. He couldn't do it. Federer stepped up and hit an ace, winning 7-6/6-3/3-6/7-6.

As he walked toward the net, Federer shook his index finger in a knowing, "you should have known better than to count me out" sort of way, then he let loose with a victory scream to relieve himself of any of the pressure he might have felt in the moment. Not that anyone had noticed that he'd been feeling ANY at all. At nearly 30, Federer's obviously not finished his dance with history. Not yet.

Federer's win keeps McEnroe's name in the record books, keeps Guillermo Vilas (and his record 46 straight wins) from having to sweat out the grasscourt season, and preserves Nadal's #1 ranking for at least a few days longer. I guess, even if you've had a pretty good career in your own right, it's not a bad idea to have maybe The Greatest of All Time in your corner, too, whenever your goals intersect with his own.

Awaiting Federer in the final, naturally, will be Nadal. For the fourth time in Paris (a record), the eighth time in a slam (another record) and the nineteenth time (one off the all-time men's mark) in their careers. A win and Federer joins Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as the only men in history with multiple wins at all four slams, but if he could accomplish the feat against Rafa it would be worth even more than that in history's eyes. Previously, the only blank line in Federer's career resume was his lack of a Roland Garros title. He took care of that in '09, but it came without having to face Nadal, who'd lost to Robin Soderling in what is still his only career loss in Paris in forty-five matches. Federer now has the chance to change that, and prevent Nadal from tying Bjorn Borg's mark of six career RG championships, as well.

No one was really pointed toward such a moment two weeks ago... but bring it on.

* - Thanks again, Søren.

=DAY 13 NOTES= Friday's other results:

-- Nadal advanced to his sixth Roland Garros final with a straight sets win over Andy Murray. He'll be attempting to tie Borg's all-time tournament men's record of six titles.

-- Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka defeated Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina 6-4/6-3 in the Women's Doubles final. It's the first career slam title for both Czechs. The last Czech to win the RG Doubles was Jana Novotna (with Martina Hingis) in 1998, and the last all-Czech team to be crowned champions were Novotna and Helena Sukova in 1990.

-- the Netherlands' Esther Vergeer won the Women's Wheelchair Final by a 6-0/6-2 score, claiming her fifth straight Roland Garros title and extending her match winning streak to 418 matches. Take that, Novak.

-- both the Girls' Singles SF were three-setters. Puerto Rico's Monica Puig defeated Pastry Caroline Garcia 6-2/1-6/6-2 to advance to her second junior slam final of 2011. She'll face 2010 RG Girls runner-up Ons Jabeur, a 6-3/1-6/7-5 winner over Hordette Irina Khromacheva. For the second straight year in Paris, Jabeur will try to become the first Tunisian to win a slam junior crown. Khromacheva still has a chance for a title, though, as she and Maryna Zanevska will face Victoria Kan & Demi Schuurs (Schuurs won a share of the '11 AO title) in the Girls Doubles final.

...Hlavackova & Hradecka win the "Doubles Star" award. Since Garcia won't be crowned the Girls winner, she gets the "It Girl" award, while the "Junior Breakout" honor goes to Puig, who just missed out on it in Melbourne. Jabeur has already won the "JBO," at last year's RG.

...and, finally, just a reminder: don't miss the post-match ceremony of the women's final tomorrow. No matter who wins, with quote machines Schiavone and Li in the mix (though one will have unfortunately experienced a real "mood breaker" moments earlier) it could quite possibly produce some of the best post-slam moments ever.

Hmmm, after begging out on her "bet" with her friends a year ago, I wonder if Schiavone, if she wins, will be convinced to run the Champs-Elysees in her underwear like her fellow post-RG revelers did a year ago? Actually, the bet back then was if she won the title they'd all run naked... but Schiavone totally begged out of the run herself and then amended the terms for her friends in order to save them the embarrassment, or at least lessen the possibility of being arrested, I guess. TWO titles might erase ALL inhibitions.

#5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA vs. #6 Li Na/CHN

#1 Rafael Nadal/ESP vs. #3 Roger Federer/SUI

Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) def. #7 Mirza/Vesnina (IND/RUS) 6-4/6-3

Cabal/Schwank (COL/ARG) vs. #2 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN)

Dellacqua/Lipsky (AUS/USA) def. #1 Srebotnik/Zimonjic (SLO/SRB) 7-6/4-6/10-7

#9 Ons Jabeur/TUN vs. #5 Monica Puig/PUR

#14 Dominic Thiem/AUT vs. Bjorn Fratangelo/USA

Kan/Schuurs (RUS/NED) vs. #2 Khromacheva/Zanevska (RUS/UKR)

Krueger/Vinsant (USA/USA) vs. #4 Artunedo Martinavarr/Carballes Baena (ESP/ESP)

2006 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2007 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2010 Ons Jabeur, TUN (junior)
2011 Caroline Garcia, FRA

2007 Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
2008 Simona Halep, ROU & Elena Bogdan, ROU
2009 Daria Gavrilova, RUS
2010 Elina Svitolina, UKR
2011 Monica Puig, PUR

2006 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
2007 Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
2008 Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP/ESP
2009 Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
2010 Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
2011 Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE

Agnes Szavay, HUN - 2005 Australian Open/Roland Garros
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS - 2006 Australian Open/Roland Garros
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS - 2006 US Open/2007 Australian Open
Urszula Radwanska, POL - 2007 Wimbleon/US Open
Kristina Mladenovic, FRA - 2009 Roland Garros/Wimbledon
MONICA PUIG, PUR - 2011 Australian Open/Roland Garros

[Women's Doubles]
2006 Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
2007 Alicia Molik & Mara Santangelo
2008 Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Virginia Ruano Pascual
2009 Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Virginia Ruano Pascual
2010 Serena Williams & Venus Williams
2011 Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka
[Mixed Doubles]
2005 Daniela Hantuchova & Fabrice Santoro
2006 Katarina Srebotnik & Nenad Zimonjic
2007 Nathalie Dechy & Andy Ram
2008 Victoria Azarenka & Bob Bryan
2009 Liezel Huber & Bob Bryan
2010 Katarina Srebotnik & Nenad Zimonjic
2011 Casey Dellacqua & Scott Lipsky

23...ROGER FEDERER (16-6)
12...RAFAEL NADAL (9-2)
5...Andy Roddick (1-4)
4...Novak Djokovic (2-2)
4...Lleyton Hewitt (2-2)

6...Bjorn Borg (1974-75,1978-81)
5...RAFAEL NADAL (2005-08,2010)
4...Henri Cochet (1926,28,30,32)
3...Gustavo Kuerten (1997,2000-01)
3...Ivan Lendl (1984,1986-87)
3...Rene Lacoste (1925,27,29)
3...Mats Wilander (1982,85,88)

3...Jaroslav Drobny (1946,1948,1950)
3...Gullermo Vilas (1975,1978,1982)
3...ROGER FEDERER (2006-08)

232...Jimmy Connors
224...Andre Agassi
222...Ivan Lendl
219...ROGER FEDERER (post-SF)
203...Pete Sampras

20...Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe
16...Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras
16...Boris Becker vs. Stefan Edberg
15...Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe
5...Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras
5...Ivan Lendl vs. Mats Wilander
4...Bjorn Borg vs. Jimmy Connors
4...Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe
4...Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick

[AO-RG-WI-US, years]
Margaret Smith Court [11-5-3-5, 1960-73]
Roy Emerson [6-2-2-2, 1961-67]
Chris Evert [2-7-3-6, 1974-86]
Steffi Graf [4-6-7-5, 1987-99]
Rod Laver [3-2-4-2, 1960-69]
Martina Navratilova [3-2-9-4, 1978-90]
NOTE: Roger Federer [4-1-6-5, 2003-10]

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
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - #5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA d. #14 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS 1-6/7-5/7-5
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.)
IT GIRL: Caroline Garcia/FRA
MADEMOISELLE & MADAM OPPORTUNITY: #5 Francesca Schiavone/ITA & #6 Li Na/CHN (both in final)
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)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Virginie Razzano/FRA
DOUBLES STARS Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE

All for Day 13. More tomorrow.


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