Monday, June 04, 2012

RG.9- Keeping One Step Ahead of The Radwanska

On Day 9, Maria Sharapova took The Radwanska's (um, and Klara Zakopalova's) best shot and lived to tell about it.

Damp, cold, heavy conditions are bad enough on the terre battue, as they slow the speed of play and make the balls especially heavy and more difficult to hit through the court, a particular disadvantage for a hard-hitting player such as Sharapova. But it was also windy this Monday, creating a bit of havoc with the Russian's serve. Thankfully for Sharapova, but not the probably-vexed Radwanska, Zakopalova had more than enough troubles of her own in this Round of 16 match.

Due to all the things mentioned above, and maybe a bit of a case of nerves (at times) from both players, this match was a virtual break-FEST and, as a result, any swing of momentum that occurred during it was arbitrary, inconclusive and, ultimately, only temporary. Things opened with three consecutive breaks before Sharapova finally held for 3-1. But, serving for the set at 5-2, the Russian failed to convert. It was the seventh break of serve in the match's first eight games. Zakopalova's only hold of the set came for 5-4. As The Radwanska huffed and puffed from It's perch in the clouds, Sharapova had trouble with her ball toss in Game #10 and soon faced another break point. But the veteran Czech couldn't take advantage of the opportunity, and her errors allowed the Russian to hold on, winning the game to take the set 6-4.

The series of broken serves continued into the 2nd. Zakopalova couldn't convert game points in the opening game and was broken, and once again a set began with the server failing to hold three straight times. Once more, it was Sharapova who finally did for 3-1. After Zakopalova followed up with a hold of her own, Sharapova opened Game #6 with a double-fault, then ended it with one to break herself. At 4-4, with 13-of-18 games having featured breaks of serve, a Sharapova shot bounced off the net cord and out (The Radwanska strung the net just tight enough!), giving Zakopalova a game point to hold and take her first lead at any point in the match. One point later, chasing after a ball just behind the windswept baseline, Sharapova snapped back a crosscourt forehand shot, then caught her toe in the clay and tumbled to the ground. Meanwhile, the ball caught the net cord and bounced inside the lines on Zakopalova's side of the net. Deuce.

So, is this how The Radwanska will ultimately be defeated? With clay on one's back, legs up in the air and red undergarments showing?

A Sharapova backhand winner got the break for a 5-4 lead, but, naturally, a miss of a nearly open court forehand gave the break right back at 5-5. After fighting out of a love/40 hole, Zakopalova couldn't keep her momentum going, getting broken for 6-5. Sharapova's seventh DF of the match came in her next service game (she had seven through three matches before Day 9) and led to yet another break, the 17th in the match's first 22 games, and forced a tie-break.

Then, The Radwanska had a little fun.

With Zakopalova up 1-0, the Czech fell in the back court during the middle of a point, but she got back up and continued playing. One of her shots landed near the right sideline in Sharapova's court and the Russian reflexively hit it back, then seemed to stop play and call for the chair umpire to look at the mark. As Julie Kjendlie (with whom Sharapova had a series of disagreements throughout the day) climbed out of her chair, Zakopalova returned the shot, then Sharapova couldn't stop herself from hitting it back for a winner. But the umpire looked at the previous mark, ruled that the ball had been in, then gave the point to Zakopalova because Sharapova had stopped play (and, thus, forfeited the point since the ball had been in). At any rate, Zakopalova was up 2-0. The two traded errors the remainder of the tie-break, but the original two-point advantage of Zakopalova's ultimately provided the cushion in a 7-5 TB victory to end a set that had gone on for 1:22.

But would The Radwanska get It's wish and send Maria packing from this Roland Garros?

Ummm, no. Not yet, at least. Sharapova may not have played well in this match, but she played well enough when she had to, while Zakopalova played just under that level to prevent herself from getting her second slam win over the Russian (as an unmarried Koukalova, she beat Sharapova in Maria's grand slam debut in Melbourne in 2003). Finally putting breakFEST to rest, Sharapova held to open the 3rd set, then broke Zakopalova on a net cord winner. She held again for 3-0, then again for 4-1. Sharapova failed to convert a match point, double-faulted and was broken for 5-2, but when Zakopalova double-faulted on MP #2 Sharapova finally won 6-4/6-7(6)/6-2 in a 3:11 match (after she'd played a combined 2:54 over her first three matches in Paris).

This sort of performance is a perfect example of when, in recent slams, I'd point out that Sharapova NEVER wins slams when she has to make her way through a match like this, one in which she is far from at her best. Winning when a player is in mediocre-or-worse form is often a slam prerequisite that picks up a player like a Serena. But that's never been the case with Maria. After having seven double-faults in Rounds 1-3, Sharapova had twelve today in the heavy and windy conditions. After holding a 67-9 advantage in winners against her first three opponents, she had a deficit today. In fact, Sharapova actually had fewer winners than Zakopalova (38 to 44) AND more unforced errors (53 to 48). Even for power players who have a more inherently "risky" game, those aren't the sort of numbers that generally lead to a lot of wins.

But they did today. "It was," Sharapova said, "a good test for me.

After going on record after Rome that, at least on clay (where her power game is naturally going to be taken down a notch anyway), and at least at this Roland Garros, that I thought she now COULD win a slam while serving poorly and having to scuffle with her own game at some point along the seven-match trek, I'll have to continue to stand by the notion, for now. If it proves out, this match will then serve as the example that proves that the (temporary?) exception to the rule was the right way to go.

Good try, Radwanska... but not enough.

Of course, while Sharapova may have won her battle with The Radwanska (and Zakopalova) today, there is still the overall war to contend with. The way she was flexing her wrist and shaking out her arm during this match, it seemed obvious that, at the very least, the Russian's arm had gotten tired while trying to hit balls through the heavy conditions of Day 9. She said that she'd jammed it during a service return. Might a more serious injury have been incurred, or could one come over the next few days as a result of the strain she put on her arm today? We shall see.

The Radwanska may yet have the last (sinister) laugh. But, as of Day 9, Sharapova is managing to keep one step ahead of tennis' shadowy menace.

...even when a slam is viewed through Radwanska-colored glasses, some losses are just that. Losses. Like the one suffered by defending champ Li Na today to qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova.

Li won the opening set 6-3, serving at 79% (and winning 80% of 1st serve points, while collecting 100% of her 2nd serve points) against Shvedova's 55% 1st serve percentage (winning 55%). But things reversed over the last two sets, as Li served at a 53% clip in the 2nd set (winning just 50% on 1st serve, 25% on 2nd) and 60% in the 3rd (50% and 25%) while Shvedova was at 73% (winning 56%) and 78% (62%). The Kazakh breezed to 6-2 & 6-0 wins the final two sets.

One match win away from the SF, Shvedova will next be looking to become the first qualifier since Alexandra Stevenson at Wimbledon in '99 (the American had beaten fellow qualifier Jelena Dokic in the QF) to reach a slam Final Four. Of note, NO woman with an actual ranking as high as Shvedova's #142 has ever reached a women's slam final (though a few "unranked" players, such as Henin and Clijsters, have done so while not having enough tournaments to their credit to be included on the WTA's computer rankings).

This is actually Shvedova's second RG quarterfinal, as she reached the same stage two years ago (attaining a career-best #29 ranking soon afterward) before injuries slowed her and, last year, knocked her outside the Top 200. Thus, she gets the "Comeback Player" award for this Roland Garros.

...while Sharapova had difficulty (and maybe injured herself in the process) with the heavy conditions today, Petra Kvitova did not. Maybe that the Czech's match took place later in the day had a little to do with it, but her naturally harder shots were also likely heavy enough themselves to allow her to hit through the slower court of Day 9. The "unlucky" player on the other side of the net was Varvara Lepchenko, which ESPN2 and Tennis Channel came to call a "newly-minted" American today rather than "naturalized." Hmmm, aside from when it came from fellow naturalized American Martina Navratiova, the change smelled a bit like a response to the "read-between-the-lines" nature of the references to Lepchenko over the weekend, when it seemed like the networks were trying to kick up a campaign of outcry should Lepchenko earn an Olympic berth over a "real" American. If someone got slapped around over all that, then good for whomever it was that did the slapping.

Kvitova won 6-2/6-1 to get her fifth QF-or-better result in the last eight slams, better than any other woman no tour. Still, Kvitova has been something under the radar this entire tournament. Even as Sharapova's prospective draw was discussed on air today. Before Li lost, Kvitova was mostly overlooked, although the Czech DID have Li dead to rights last year in Paris before the Chinese vet wiggled free and went on to take the title. RG was a title that could have been Kvitova's BEFORE she won Wimbledon (in fact, SOMEONE I know actually picked her last year in Paris). After not looking like she'd get a second slam in '12 for most of this season, Kvitova is suddenly rounding into form. Even if she doesn't make the trip back into the winner's circle in Paris, it DOES speak well about what form her game might be in by the time she shows up in London to defend her title there.

...late in the day, Arantxa Rus pushed Kaia Kanepi to a third set, but the Estonian made quick work of the Dutch woman there, winning 6-1/4-6/6-0 to advance to her fourth career slam QF, and 2nd at Roland Garros (2008).

...some junior results of note: Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) over #13 Daria Gavrilova (RUS), Olga Doroshina (RUS) knocking off #6 Anna Danilina (KAZ), and Canada's Francoise Abanda taking out American Kyle McPhillips.


ESPN2's Darren Cahill doing at least a little to cut down the ludicrous "ooh, their shrieks hurt my virgin ears!" cries from the sidelines -- and from in front of television and computer screens, which, to me, is even worse since those people actually HAVE volume controls. Talking about being on the sidelines during one of the "offending" matches, he said that, since the likes of Azarenka and Sharapova have a pretty consistent, shot-after-shot sound, he didn't even notice the loudness after a few minutes. It was just a normal part of the action, like the sound of the racket striking a ball. Of course, Chris Fowler had to chime in about "some viewers" maybe not being able to say the same thing, though he wasn't quite as dismissive of Cahill's opinions later in the day.

Oh, I so wish Cahill had answered back about where those viewers had been over the past twenty years since Monica Seles' noisy play began this controversy in the early 1990's, and wonder out loud -- on ESPN's airwaves -- just how much ESPN's incessant sniping about the issue has actually served to make it the point of such contention that it's become of late.

...and, finally, in ITF news:

In the $25K challenger in Gimcheon, Korea, Duan Ying-Ying (CHN) won her second straight ITF title, defeating Chanel Simmonds (RSA) in the final. In the $10K event in Karshi, Uzbekistan, Belarusian Ksenia Milevskaya won her third ITF event of the season, defeating Nadiya Kichenko (UKR) in the final. Nadiya had defeated her sister Lyudmyla in the quarterfinals.

And, of course, in a $10K event in Arad (seriously, I'd never make this stuff up -- it's in Romania... hmmm, home of Dracula, and you can read anything into THAT that you wish), 17-year old Macedonia’s Lina Gjorcheska swept both the singles and doubles titles.

Everything ties together, I guess.

#15 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK vs. #6 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#21 Sara Errani/ITA vs. #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 vs. #5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA
#3 Roger Federer/SUI vs. #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) def. #14 Gajdosova/Rodionova (AUS/AUS)
#4 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) def. #6 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS)
#7 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS) vs. #3 King/Shvedova (USA/KAZ)
#5 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. #2 Peschke/Srebotnik (CZE/SLO)

#1 Mirnyi/Nestor (BLR/CAN) def. Ebden/Harrison (AUS/USA)
#14 Bracciali/Starace (ITA/ITA) def. Dodig/M.Melo (CRO/BRA)
#10 Qureshi/Rojer (PAK/FRA) vs. #3 Llodra/Zimonjic (FRA/SRB)
Marach/Zeballos (POL/ARG) vs. #2 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA)

#1 Huber/Mirnyi (USA/BLR) vs. #5 Vesnina/Paes (RUS/IND)
Jans-Ignacik/S.Gonzalez (POL/MEX) def. Grandin/Hanley (RSA/AUS)
Voskoboeva/Bracciali (KAZ/ITA) vs. Llagostera-Vives/Marach (ESP/POL)
#7 Mirza/Bhupathi (IND/IND) def. #2 Peschke/M.Bryan (SLO/USA)

[2012 RG QF, by ranking]
#2 - Maria Sharapova, RUS
#4 - Petra Kvitova, CZE
#6 - Samantha Stosur, AUS
#10 - Angelique Kerber, GER
#16 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
#23 - Kaia Kanepi, EST
#24 - Sara Errani, ITA
#142 - Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ
[by career slam QF; active players]
33...Venus Williams
32...Serena Williams
19...Kim Clijsters
12...Svetlana Kuznetsova
OTHER '12 RG: 5-Kvitova*, 5-Stosur, 4-Cibulkova, 4-Kanepi, 2-Errani*, 2-Kerber, 2-Shvedova
* - also in 2012 AO QF
[slams 2010-12 QF; last 10 slams; active players]
5...Caroline Wozniacki
4...Victoria Azarenka
4...Kim Clijsters
4...Li Na
4...Francesca Schiavone
4...Serena Williams
4...Vera Zvonareva
[slams 2010-12 QF, last 10 slams; by nation]
16...Russia (w/ Sharapova)
7...Italy (w/ Errani)
7...United States
6...Germany (w/ Kerber)
5...Czech Republic (w/ Kvitova)
['12 RG QF; by preseason "Grand Slam Master List" rankings]
2 - Kvitova
4 - Stosur
6 - Sharapova
23 - Cibulkova
26 - Kanepi
41 - Kerber
unlisted - Errani,Shvedova

2007 Patty Schnyder, SUI
2008 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2009 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2010 Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2012 Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ

56...Guillermo Vilas
53...Ivan Lendl
51...Andre Agassi
49...Bjorn Borg

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: Nominees: D.Cibulkova/SVK, S.Errani/ITA & The Radwanska/???
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: Nominee: #1 Azarenka (came back from down 7-6/4-0, BPs for 5-0, to Brianti 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), N.Llagostera-Vives/ESP, Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP), K.Jans-Ignacik/POL, G.Voskoboeva/KAZ & E.Vesnina/RUS

All for Day 9. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

todd, the Radwanska struck one at a time. Li, it was, and to a qualifier. what a run!

well, kerber was struck down by a very smart play errani today. i could see that she wanted to cry half way through 2nd set, more like she was deflated after her service games broken 2 times before the tiebreak. when it finally got there, no more fighting spirit... what a great fun game performed by errani, the variety she displayed on clay court. will be fun to see how she matches up for stosur. and for stosur, must be like a rematch of another italian 2 years ago?! :)

it's how it always goes, when vika was struck down by cibu, and cibu got struck down by stosur. and you kind of imagine, if it was vika vs stosur, stosur would be backed down a bit mentally. oh well...

Tue Jun 05, 09:58:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

As Lindsay Davenport was pointing out on Tennis Channel during the last few games, Kerber looked awfully tired there at the end. Of course, everyone looks tired when put next to Errani, I guess.

Tue Jun 05, 11:08:00 AM EDT  

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