Wednesday, June 05, 2013

RG.11- Calamity & Chaos on Red Clay

Only Jelena Jankovic could find a way to put herself on the disadvantage in a match in which she'd just won an opening set at love. Is there any wonder why she's been known as "Queen Chaos" in these parts for years?

That Jankovic faced Maria Sharapova today in the Roland Garros quarterfinals, her first such result in a slam since she last did it in Paris in 2010, was a glorious example of the Serb's ability to rebound from tough times. It was also something of a return to the roots of her previous WTA rise. Remember, it was on the terre battue where she nearly grabbed the #1 ranking -- and maybe a RG title that would soon instead belong to her countrywoman -- in 2008. Her semifinal opponent on that day was Ana Ivanovic, who JJ would lose to in three tough sets. Jankovic would ultimately surpass a flagging AnaIvo that season and finish the year at #1, but she's never managed to climb as high in the public's eye as Ivanovic did that spring on the back of a win over JJ.

Of course, reaching the '08 U.S. Open final and ending the year as #1 didn't exactly lead to more and greater things for Jankovic. As it turned out, she turned her WTA standing on its ear by pushing TOO hard (remember the offseason training in the mountains?) to add power and muscle to her scrambling defensive game in order to better compete against the game's power players. It didn't work. In fact, it took away her greatest assets, made her doubt herself and sapped the joy and drama out of a player who'd previously been, alternately, the most joyous and dramatic (for good and bad) player on tour. Jankovic has spent recent seasons drifting along in the WTA clouds, looking for a way to get back some of what she lost before it was too late in her career to have a chance to rebound.

Essentially, she had to get back to the basics. Her basics. For good and bad.

First, the good news. Over the past year, Jankovic has seemed to have found "it" again. The love of the game and the moment, going hand and hand with the sort of tennis that is just as frustrating to her opponents as JJ's oft self-destructive on-court personality sometimes is for herself and her fans. Of course, for a couple of seasons, Jankovic hasn't even been capable of eliciting such chaotic emotions. Often, her results have been depressing. But that's changed since she fell out of the Top 20 during the '12 season. Since then, her results have gotten more and more consistent as she's climbed back into the Top 20, won a tour title for the first time in three years and rediscovered much of the on-court joy she had when she was using her speed and defensive skills to string along opponents on the baseline until they made a mistake that allowed her to pounce for a well-timed winner. Why, while replacing coaches like they were batteries in a flashlight, she's even added a little bit of punch to a serve that formerly had none.

Of course, with "vintage" JJ, the good almost always comes with a touch of the bad. And we saw much of both on Day 11.

Good Jelena ruled the day in the 1st set, making defending RG champion Sharapova nearly irrelevant. The Serb got an early break for a 2-0 lead and never looked back. The Russian, almost as if she was facing Serena Williams rather than Jankovic, against whom she sported a 7-1 head-to-head record, was noticeably pressing and ineffective. Racking up a total of twenty errors -- many forced, but not all -- in just six games, Sharapova never won a game, dropping the set at love in just twenty-nine minutes. Jankovic, loving every minute and hogging the spotlight on the big stage (unlike Ivanovic, who has often wilted on it), was shining in her preferred element, creating chaos in a good way. Of course, that JJ's success against a top player might be deemed a "chaotic" result probably says a lot about her career. And it didn't take long to find out why. In fact, it didn't even take a full game.

Good Jelena, meet "Bad" Jelena. And get out of the way.

Jankovic's penchant for instilling unnecessary frustration into her game popped up in Game #1 of the 2nd set. Much like she did earlier this year in the Charleston final against Serena Williams, in which she'd won the 1st set but then chose to light a fire under Williams by verbally "challenging" her during play and spelling her quick doom, JJ did everything she could in this match to break her own concentration and derail what could have been a startling success. At 0-0, after failing to win a few points, Jankovic's frustration began to show and she directed it toward her brother/coach in the player's box. As the commentators did on ESPN2, you had to wonder, "Did she think the score was going to be 6-0/6-0?" After failing to execute a shot at 30/15, she was unsettled. Game point turned into break point, and JJ double-faulted away her service game to give Sharapova her first breath of life in her initial game won in the match.

It didn't take long before Jankovic was wandering around the court, mumbling to herself. You've seen it before. It's incredibly entertaining... but usually not good for JJ's results.

Of course, she didn't implode. Jankovic still had some great moments, but the momentum toward defeat that she'd kicked off while LEADING 6-0/0-0 was an unstoppable force. Eventually, Sharapova was, too. As JJ's error numbers grew, Sharapova's made fewer and fewer appearances. Jankovic carved out a break to get to 5-3, and survived a “classic JJ smile“-inducing successful Sharapova drop shot and still more gesticulations toward the player's box to hold for 5-4. But Sharapova held to win the 2nd 6-4 and send things to a deciding set, where she'd won twenty-nine of her last thirty-one three-setters.

As QC's Hamlet act continued, Sharapova simply played like the champion she is. Both held serve for six games, but then the Russian grabbed an advantage with a break for a 4-3 lead. JJ got to break point a game later, but failed to convert it. Back-to-back forehand errors from Jankovic ended the match a game later as Sharapova won 0-6/6-4/6-3 to reach her third straight RG semifinal.

Thus, Jankovic's -- and Queen Chaos' -- run at this Roland Garros ends right after it seemed to be picking up some serious steam. It's nice to have her back. Both of her. Of course, since Good Jelena and "Bad" Jelena have always had a weird, symbiotic relationship, JJ once again leaves Paris wishing she had more to take with her as she goes.

Jankovic aficionados know all about that feeling. But when JJ is involved, it just goes with the territory. Love the chaos, or hate it. After all these crazy years, it's still hard to take your eyes off it.

...the other women's quarterfinal had less inherent drama, but that was to be expected. After all, JJ wasn't playing in it.

As occurred in her last match, Victoria Azarenka spent the day trying to hold onto her serve, getting better and better at it as the day wore on against Maria Kirilenko. The situation was mutual for the Russian, who was treated for a hip injury during the match, but in the end she wasn't able to keep pace with Vika's improvement. In the 1st set alone, both players had their serves broken three times each. Azarenka was 3/9 in BP attempts, while Kirilenko was 3/4. In the deciding tie-break, the server lost four of the first five points before Azarenka surged to a 7-3 win (closing things out on her third set point) to take a 1:16 set which took as long as the first TWO sets of Sharapova/Jankovic.

The story changed in the 2nd, as Azarenka faced no break points on her serve, and converted both chances she had on Kirilenko's. The last came on match point, as Azarenka won 7-6(3)/6-2 to advance to her first career semifinal at Roland Garros. She's won two Australian Open titles, reached a U.S. Open final and two Wimbledon semis. Vika has reached at least the semis at five of the last six slams. Doubles, just like in singles, three of the Top 4 seeds have reached the semifinals, including the champions at the last two Roland Garros competitions -- #1 Errani/Vinci (2012) and #2 Hlavackova/Hradecka (2011). World co-#1's Errani & Vinci, who also the Australian Open this year, are the champs at three of the last four slams.

In Mixed, Liezel Huber (w/ Marcelo Melo) won the QF match with ex-partner Lisa Raymond (w/ Bruno Soares), but then lost in the semis to Czechs Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak, who'll face Pastry Kristina Mladenovic and Canada's Daniel Nestor. Nestor is a four-time winner of the Men's Doubles at RG, including three of the last four years. Mladenovic/Nestor defeated Cara Black (w/ Qureshi) in the SF, as the veteran from Zimbabwe was knocked out of both doubles draws on Day 11, losing in the Doubles QF to Hlavackova/Hradecka. Hradecka is now the only woman alive in both draws.

...AWARDS UPDATES: with Cara Black's losses in both Doubles and Mixed, the floor was cleared for Jelena Jankovic, even with her SF loss, to take the "Comeback Player" honors (fellow quarterfinalist Svetlana Kuznetsova won the "CP" at this year's Australian Open) with her first slam final eight appearance since 2010. Serena Williams, with her first RG semifinal since 2003, wins the "Joie De Vivre" award. And "Mademoiselle Opportunity" is Vika Azarenka, who reached her first career RG semi today.

...the wheelchair competition has begun, so the quest to become the first official slam champion in the post-Esther Vergeer era (Vergeer's countrywoman, Aniek van Koot, won the title in Melbourne before the absent-from-the-AO Dutch woman announced her retirement). The top two seeds, Van Koot and #2 Jiske Griffioen (NED) are in the semifinals. Van Koot will play Sabine Ellerbrock, who she defeated in the WC Women's final in Australia.

...and, finally, with two shots on Day 11, the chances that the Hordettes would put yet another player in a slam singles semifinal were pretty good. As it is, Sharapova's advancement makes it thirty-two of thirty-seven slam SF that have included at least one Russian, including the last eleven editions of Roland Garros, beginning with Nadia Petrova in 2003.

Oh, and speaking of Nadia. She still lives and breathes in this tournament, advancing to the Doubles semis today with Katarina Srebotnik. Petrova was the '98 Girls champ at RG, but the 30-year old (31 on Saturday!) is still seeking her first career slam title as a pro.

#1 Serena Williams/USA vs. #5 Sara Errani/ITA
#3 Victoria Azarenka/BLR vs. #2 Maria Sharapova/RUS

#1 Novak Djokovic/SRB vs. #3 Rafael Nadal/ESP
#4 David Ferrer/ESP vs. #6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/FRA

#1 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) vs. #5 Petrova/Srebotnik (RUS/SLO)
#4 Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/RUS) vs. #2 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE)

#1 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA) vs. #7 Peya/Soares (AUT/BRA)
Cuevas/Zeballos (URU/ARG) vs. Llodra/Mahut (FRA/FRA)

#5 Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN) vs. Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE)

#1 Ana Konjuh/CRO vs. #5 Darya Karatkina/RUS
Elizaveta Kulichkova/RUS vs. #5 Antonia Lottner/GER
Louisa Chirico/USA vs. (Q) Kristina Schmiedlova/SVK
#11 Taylor Townsend/USA vs. #2 Belinda Bencic/SUI

#13 Guillermo Nunez/CHI vs. #8 Borna Coric/CRO
Christian Garin/CHI vs. Calvin Hemery/FRA
#5 Kyle Edmund/GBR vs. #4 Alexander Zverev/GER
#6 Gianluigi Quinzi/ITA vs. #2 Nikola Milojevic/SRB

D.Gonzalez/Haddad Maia (ECU/BRA) def. #1 Bencic/Lottner (SUI/GER)
#8 Matteucci/Stojanovic (ITA/SRB) def. Lekaj/Lushkova (CRO/UKR)
Shymanovich/Silich (BLR/RUS) vs. #3 Konjuh/Zhao (CRO/CAN)
Fett/Soylu (CRO/TUR) vs. #2 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE)

Mattos/Zormann Da Silva (BRA/BRA) vs. Bonzi/Halys (FRA/FRA)
#3 Edmund/Ferreira Silva (GBR/POR) vs. #7 Nishioka/Panta (JPN/PER)
#5 Garin/Jarry (CHI/CHI) def. Onishi/Saito (JPN/JPN)
Marterer/Miedler (GER/AUT) def. Favrot/Henery (FRA/FRA)

#1 Aniek van Koot/NED vs. Sabine Ellerbrock/GER
Kgothatso Montjane/RSA vs. #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED

#1 Shingto Kunieda/JPN vs. Maikel Scheffers/NED
Gordon Reid/GBR vs. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA

x/x vs. Ellerbrock/Walraven (GER/NED)

x/x vs. #2 Reid/Vink (GBR/NED)

[by career slam SF]
23...Serena Williams
17...Maria Sharapova
6...Victoria Azarenka
3...Sara Errani
[by career RG SF]
4...Maria Sharapova (3 con.)
3...Serena Williams
2...Sara Errani (2 con.)
1...Victoria Azarenka
[WTA most career slam SF - active]
19...Venus Williams (14-5)
6...Jelena Jankovic (1-5)
5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-1)
[WTA most slam SF since 2010 - active]
4...Petra Kvitova
4...Li Na
[WTA slam SF since 2010 - by nation]
11...RUSSIA (Sharapova)
8...UNITED STATES (S.Williams)
6...BELARUS (Azarenka)
5...ITALY (Errani)
4...Belgium, Czech Republic
3...Australia, Denmark, Germany
1...Bulgaria, France, Poland, Serbia
[2013 WTA SF]
6...SARA ERRANI (3-2)
4...Li Na (3-1)
4...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (3-1)
4...Agnieszka Radwanska (2-2)
4...Angelique Kerber (1-3)

2003 Nadia Petrova
2004 Elena Dementieva (RU), Anastasia Myskina (W)
2005 Elena Likhovtseva, Nadia Petrova
2006 Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU)
2007 Maria Sharapova
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina (RU)
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova (W), Dinara Safina (RU)
2010 Elena Dementieva
2011 Maria Sharapova
2012 Maria Sharapova (W)
2013 Maria Sharapova

2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS & Elena Dementieva, RUS
2005 Mary Pierce, FRA
2006 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Francesca Schiavone, ITA & Li Na, CHN
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2013 Victoria Azarenka, BLR

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
2013 Jelena Jankovic, SRB

2011 Virginie Razzano, FRA
2012 Virginie Razzano, FRA
2013 Serena Williams, USA

2006 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2007 Justine Henin, BEL *
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB *
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS *
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2011 Li Na, CHN *
2012 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2013 Serena Williams, USA
* - won title

AO: (3r) Ivanovic d. Jankovic; (3r) Sharapova d. V.Williams
RG: (QF) Sharapova d. Jankovic, (SF) Sharapova vs. Azarenka

TOP QUALIFIER: Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP MIDDLE-ROUND (3r-QF): #1 Serena Williams/USA
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q2: #24q Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE d. Alexandra Panova/RUS 1-6/7-5/10-8
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): 1st Rd. - #13 Marion Bartoli/FRA d. Olga Govortsova/BLR 7-6(8)/4-6/7-5
TOP MIDDLE-RD. MATCH (3r-QF): QF - #1 Serena Williams/USA d. Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS 6-1/3-6/6-3
FIRST VICTORY: #5 Sara Errani/ITA (def. Rus/NED)
FIRST SEED OUT: #11 Nadia Petrova/RUS (lost 1st Rd. to Puig/PUR)
UPSET QUEENS: Slovak Republic
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Czech Republic (2-8 in 1st Rd.)
LAST QUALIFIERS STANDING: Paula Ormaechea/ARG & Dinah Pfizenmaier/GER (both 3rd Rd.)
LAST WILD CARD STANDING: Virginie Razzano/FRA (3rd Rd.)
LAST PASTRIES STANDING: Marion Bartoli/FRA, Alize Cornet/FRA & Virignie Razzano/FRA (3rd Rd.)
IT "??": Nominees: Pfizenmaier/GER, Errani/ITA, Mladenovic/FRA, The Radwanskas, The Schmiedlovas
COMEBACK PLAYER: #18 Jelena Jankovic/SRB
CRASH & BURN: #10 Caroline Wozniacki/DEN (4 of 5 pre-4th Rd. slam exits since lost #1 ranking, before which had reached 4th Rd.-or-better 10 of 11 times)
ZOMBIE QUEEN: #13 Marion Bartoli/FRA (1st Rd.: down a break 3 times in 1st & 2 MP in 3rd set; 2nd Rd.: down 4-1 in 1st & a break in 2nd set in 2nd Rd.)
JOIE DE VIVRE: #1 Serena Williams/USA
DOUBLES STAR: Nominees: Hradecka/CZE, Mladenovic/FRA, Petrova/RUS
AMG SLAM FUTILITY UPDATE: lost 1st Rd. to #6 Li Na, once again failing to reach a slam QF in her career (so Anna Smashnova still has a buddy)

All for Day 11. More tomorrow.

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Blogger Zidane said...

What happened with that line call?? The camera clearly showed the ball to be out (Hawk-Eye also agreed, though that doesn't count), why did Azarenka get the point and not Sharapova? Stopping play too late?

After being mostly responsible for the adoption of the Hawk-Eye except for clay court, will Maria Alves also be responsible for the system being adopted on clay as well?

Thu Jun 06, 10:28:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, if there is one interesting (and maybe game-changing) development that has come out of this clay season (and this RG) it's that checking ball marks the "old school" way because there's evidence left behind on the clay court is hardly a full-proof way of getting things right. And the argument that replay challenges take too much time isn't an argument, either, as the process of the umpire jumping out of the chair, running across the court, "divining" whether the mark is in or out, talking with both players, then running back across the court and climbing back into the chair takes longer than most replay challenges do. Plus, players have a limit when it comes to asking for replays, while they can ask the umpire the check marks all day long as long as the umpire is wiling to climb down every few minutes.

They really should use replay on clay, just to eliminate the arguments about whether or not a call is correct or not. The HawkEye system might not be "100% accurate," either, but at least the players and everyone else pretty much have agreed to follow what the technology says without creating needless controversy.

Thu Jun 06, 04:03:00 PM EDT  

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