Tuesday, June 05, 2012

RG.10- What Time is it Paris?

As Sam Stosur is showing in Paris, a player can learn just as much from failure as success.

Stosur came to this Roland Garros with some great Paris results in her near past, but coming off a less-than-great EuroClay tuneup season. But as so many would-be contenders have fallen by the wayside in the top half of the women's draw, the Aussie is looking like she might be prepared to take care of some unfinished business at this slam. After her straight sets quarterfinal win today over Dominika Cibulkova, she's now just one win away from playing for her second grand slam title.

Stosur's early career split her focus between singles and doubles, with the emphasis leaning slightly to the latter because of her great success there. She won two slam Doubles & two Mixed crowns while reaching the doubles #1 ranking while she was also slowly climbed up the singles ladder. After missing much of two seasons with Lyme Disease, Stosur decided to focus more on her singles about four years ago. But, without a helping on-court hand just a few feet away, her attempt became one of much trial and error. While armed with a big kick-serve, an it's-never-too-far-to-run-around-her-backhand-if-she-can-hit-it forehand and a good volley, it was the mental aspects of Stosur's game that often failed her.

For the longest time, Stosur was the sort of player who'd melt under the hot lights. When the tough moments came in big matches, she'd back down. No lead was safe from a comeback from her opponent. Turning back that tendency was a long, torturous battle. A semifinal run at Roland Garros in '09 showed that she was on the right path. Still, she had a difficult time winning her first tour singles crown, going 0-5 in career finals before finally putting one away in Osaka late in the '09 season. With that accomplishment in hand, she set her sights on finding a way to succeed in the sort of pressure situations that would allow her talent to shine deep into a grand slam. In 2010, she reached the RG final, becoming the first Australian woman to reach a slam final since 1981. But she still hadn't won "The Big One."

Last summer in New York, after fighting through adversity in a series of night matches away from the show courts, Stosur managed to build the sort of confidence that would allow her to thrive when bigger moments on bigger stages came her way down the line. And one did when she reached the final against Serena Williams. Staring down the 13-time slam winner and never once allowing her game to back down in the sort of situations that it formerly ALWAYS would, Stosur became the first woman other than Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova to defeat Serena in a slam final. She was the first Aussie woman to win a slam since 1980, the first to win the U.S. Open since 1973, and joined the Williams Sisters as the only active players with slam singles, doubles and mixed titles to their credit.

In that final at Flushing Meadows, there was a point in the 2nd set when the pressure began to eat away at the edges of the moment, when the "aura" of Williams threatened to turn a mid-set argument with the chair umpire into the kick-start of a great comeback stoked by an electric crowd. The OLD Stosur would have allowed it to happen. After taking a moment to regain her bearings, though, the NEW version of the Aussie showed composure where there'd once been panic, mental strength where there'd once been weakness.

It's a skill she's employed more than once in Paris over the past week, most notably while defeating Nadia Petrova and Sloane Stephens, and it's because of that she could break through another career singles ceiling within the next few days.

Against an aggressive opponent in Cibulkova, a small, speedy Slovak with far more power in her shots than most would have any right to expect, Stosur needed to call upon all her past successes and failures to succeed. After getting a break for a 3-2 lead, Stosur saved a break point and solidified her advantage at 4-2. But after failing to attempt a surely-point-winning lob over Cibulkova when she'd nearly slid into the net while retrieving a short shot, Stosur found herself in another of the sort of "mole hill" situations that often became "mountains" because she allowed them to do so. Letting a chance to go up 5-2 slip away could turn the match. But unlike a few of her fellow slam-winning WTA counterparts at this slam, Stosur has often avoided allowing such potentially sticky situations from getting dramatic in Paris. And she did it again here.

Stosur battled back to get a break point on Cibulkova's serve, then converted it to take that 5-2 lead. But she then failed to serve out the set, getting broken for 5-3 and putting herself in yet another "don't look now, but things could turn here" moments. Serving at 5-4, Stosur saw consecutive Cibulkova drop shots allow the Slovak to take a 40/15 lead. Then Stosur made her move again. Rather than back off, she upped her aggression, putting away a volley to get to deuce. Facing another break point, Stosur used a kick-serve to set up a forehand crosscourt winner to save it, then called upon her forehand two more times to lock away a 6-4 set.

Early in the 2nd set, Stosur strung together eight consecutive points, breaking for an early 2-1 lead and then running away with the set at 6-1. The win makes her 48-0 in slam matches when she wins the 1st set.

With much focus on Sharapova and, to a lesser extent, Petra Kvitova in the bottom half, here's Stosur still alive in the top. She's one of the three slam winners left in this draw, but the only one with a Roland Garros final appearance in her past. Does this actually make HER the favorite? Well, why not?

Of course, even a second slam title this weekend wouldn't totally erase how Stosur bombed out in Melbourne in January when her '11 U.S. Open title had made her the focus of many dreams and hopes for the Aussie fans. But she can only swat away so many flies at one time. Australian success can come later. This week, right her past Paris wrongs is the curent obstacle at hand. She can get to "the rest" later.

Give Sam a little time. So far, it's worked out pretty well for her.

...in the day's other women's QF, Sara Errani continued her mastery of this event.

Having already taken out '08 champ Ana Ivanovic and '09 winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, today she grabbed the first Top 10 win of her career by defeating '11 U.S. Open semifinalist Angelique Kerber. Errani grabbed the 1st set 6-3, then saw Kerber twice serve for the 2nd. Perhaps tired, perhaps nervous -- neither good traits for a player playing against the bouncy, indefatigable litttle Italian -- Kerber seemed simply not up to the task. Errani won the tie-break to take the match in straights, following up her first career slam QF in Melbourne (something that the commentators on ESPN2 and Tennis Channel should really mention at least once at this event, after noting how great she is on clay) with her first slam SF in Paris.

...there was no evidence of The Radwanska's invisible hand in Day 10's women's action. So I guess It decided to take in a little men's tennis today. Hmmm, after what happened, that seems pretty certain.

After dangling Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on a string two days ago, only to see the Tennis Gods place a net underneath them and usher them to safety, The Radwanska got a second opportunity to create mayhem on Day 10. And, again, It was thwarted... but The Rad got a whole lot closer to crossing the treacherous Gender Gap and completing a successful mission behind ATP lines this time around.

In simultaneously played matches, Federer fell behind two sets to love to Juan Martin del Potro, while Djokovic trailed two sets to one to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. While del Potro's legs wore down, allowing Federer to cruise through the last two sets of a five-set come-from-behind win, Djokovic had a bit more trouble keeping his "NoleSlam" dreams alive.

Down a break in both the 2nd and 3rd sets, Tsonga charged back to win them. In the 4th, Djokovic seemed worn, then hyper-extended his knee reaching for a shot on the baseline. But over the last eighteen months, when the Serb's back has been against the wall is when he's been the most dangerous. It was the case again on Day 10. He saved two match points at 5-4, then two more at 6-5 while the camera-loving French Tennis Federation president wiggled in and out of his seat (not that he needs much outside stimuli for that to occur at this event). Djokovic forced a tie-break, won that, and then took control of the 5th as, quite possibly, Tsonga continued to re-live the blown match points in his mind's eye.

So, while for a while it looked like it'd be Tsonga and del Potro in the semis, it'll instead be Djokovic and Federer. I bet no one predicted THAT before the tournament!

...either results like this are GOOD news for Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova, as The Rad's powers may be eroding as this slam moves along. Or it means It is getting frustrated and may put on an all-out effort to take out the bottom half's remaining Big Two in one fell swoop. Remember, of course, that Sharapova has been The Radwanska's nemesis for longer than anyone, while Kvitova has already defeated a blood relative of you-know-who at this RG.

Hmmm, could we really have a slam semifinals with Errani, Kaia Kanepi AND Yaroslava Shvedova? I wouldn't put it past The Radwanska to make it so.

...meanwhile, in the quieter -- less Radwanskian -- corners of the Roland Garros grounds, Errani became the last woman alive in both singles and doubles when Yaroslava Shvedova & Vania King lost to the all-Hordette pair of Maria Kirilenko & Nadia Petrova.

In Mixed Doubles, Elena Vesnina settled another old Melbourne score with Liezel Huber, once again getting the best of the top-ranked American as she and Leander Paes took out top-seeded Huber & Max Mirnyi in the QF. Vesnina's doubles partner, Sania Mirza, is also still alive in the Mixed semis with Mahesh Bhupathi, the ex-doubles partner of Paes. Bhupathi & Paes won three slam titles together, but don't get along very well (to say the least) anymore. So, should the two teams meet in the Mixed final, it'd be quite the mash up of friends & enemies.

...in juniors, #1-seeded Taylor Townsend (USA), the AO Girls champ, outlasted Canada's Carol Zhao 6-7/7-6/6-4, while Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) defeated Ilka Csoregi (ROU) and #8-seed Donna Vekic (CRO) lost to Rebecca Peterson (SWE).

...AWARDS: After winning the "Ms. Opportunity" honor at the Australian Open, Errani moves slightly across the Backspin landscape and gets the "It" award for Roland Garros. And, for lack of a better candidate since the early days of the tournament, it looks like Victoria Azarenka has already come and gone as the "Zombie Queen" for the narrow 1st Round escape that prevented her from being the #1 seeded woman with the earliest-ever exit from Paris. Of course, with a few matches left, the winner there could change.


Arnaud Clement in the stands during the Djokovic/Tsonga match... naturally, wearing his customary shades.

...and, finally, the Wheelchair competition is about to begin at Roland Garros. In the women's draw, 30-year old Dutch woman Esther Vergeer will once again be attempting to extend her thunderous dominance in the event. Using a new wheelchair that she debuted in an event in Florida this spring, Vergeer will be looking to extend her 454-match winning streak, and add to her collection of 20 slam singles (5 at RG) and 20 slam doubles (4 at RG) titles.

It sure looks like The Radwanska doesn't have the guts to mess with Rafael Nadal at this RG. But what about Esther?

#6 Samantha Stosur/AUS def. #15 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
#21 Sara Errani/ITA def. #10 Angelique Kerber/GER
(Q) Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ vs. #4 Petra Kvitova/CZE
#23 Kaia Kanepi/EST vs. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB def. #5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#3 Roger Federer/SUI def. #9 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG
#6 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #4 Andy Murray/GBR
#12 Nicolas Almagro/ESP vs. #2 Rafael Nadal/ESP

#12 Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP) vs. #4 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA)
#7 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) vs. #5 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)

#1 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN) vs. #14 Bracciali/Starace (ITA/ITA)
#10 Qureshi/Rojer (PAK/FRA) vs. #2 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA)

#5 Vesnina/Paes (RUS/IND) vs. Jans-Ignacik/S.Gonzalez (POL/MEX)
Voskoboeva/Bracciali (KAZ/ITA) vs. #7 Mirza/Bhupathi (IND/IND)

xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
#9 Chalena Scholl/USA vs. #2 Annika Beck/GER

#1 Luke Saville/AUS vs. #11 Adam Pavlasek/CZE
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx
xx vs. xx

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
2012 Sara Errani, ITA

unseeded...Clarisa Fernandez, 2002
unseeded...Nadia Petrova, 2003
#30...Samantha Stosur, 2009
#21...Mary Pierce, 2005 (W)
#21...SARA ERRANI, 2012
#20...Dominika Cibulkova, 2009
#17...Francesca Schiavone, 2010 (W)
#16...Elena Likhovtseva, 2005
#16...Nicole Vaidisova, 2006
#14...Paola Suarez, 2004
#14...Justine Henin, 2001
#13...Dinara Safina, 2008
#12...Kim Clijsters, 2001
#11...Marion Bartoli, 2011
#10...Justine Henin, 2005 (W)
STILL TO PLAY: #23 Kanepi, (Q) Shvedova

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.; reached SF)
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR (down 7-6/4-0 in 1st Rd.; avoided earlier #1 exit; reached 4th Rd.)

TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: #1q Kiki Bertens/NED d. Annika Beck/GER 6-1/4-6/9-7
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - Virginie Razzano/FRA d. #5 Serena Williams/USA 4-6/7-6(5)/6-3
FIRST WINNER: #6 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Baltacha/GBR)
FIRST SEED OUT: #30 Mona Barthel/GER (lost 1st Rd. to Lauren Davis/USA)
UPSET QUEENS: United States
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Romania (1-5 in 1st Rd; A.Cadantu double-bageled & 18 total points)
LAST WILD CARDS STANDING: Claire Feuerstein/FRA, Melanie Oudin/USA & Irena Pavlovic/FRA (all 2nd Rd.)
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Mathilde Johansson/FRA (3rd Rd.)
IT: Sara Errani/ITA
COMEBACK PLAYER: Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
CRASH & BURN: #5 Serena Williams/USA (lost 1st Rd. to Razzano/FRA; led 6-4 & 5-1 in 2nd set tie-break; was 46-0 in career slam 1st Rd. matches)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (came back from down 7-6/4-0, BPs for 5-0, to Brianti/ITA in 1st Rd.; avoided earliest exit ever by RG women's #1 seed)
JOIE DE VIVRE: Virginie Razzano/FRA
DOUBLES STAR Nominees: Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA), Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP), K.Jans-Ignacik/POL, G.Voskoboeva/KAZ, Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) & E.Vesnina/RUS

All for Day 10. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

The latter stages of this event always makes me think of Vaidisova.

Life is funny.

Tue Jun 05, 10:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Ah, bad memories... and worse ones.

Tue Jun 05, 10:48:00 PM EDT  

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