Thursday, June 06, 2013

RG.12- The Day Before the Day Before

In an honest-to-goodness tennis rivalry, this is the way things are supposed to go, with the mettle of two champions being tested over the course of a match, right down to the last points. And make no mistake, when it counted the most, Maria Sharapova handled the twists and turns of her semifinal match-up with Victoria Azarenka just a little bit better than her opponent.

As a result, she'll get the chance to defend her Roland Garros singles crown this weekend. (Clears throat.) Umm, good luck with that.

As the two former #1-ranked players entered their match on Day 12, Sharapova was the favorite. But the expected end result of their meeting was anything but a "sealed deal." Overall, Azarenka led their head-to-head by a 7-5 advantage. Sharapova was 2-1 vs. Vika on clay, but Azarenka was 2-0 against Maria in slams. While Sharapova had to learn to play on the red dirt, Azarenka is still a work in progress.

Early on, the match was all Sharapova, thanks to another of the slow starts from Azarenka that have become habit for the Belarusian over the past two weeks in Paris. In the opening game, Azarenka managed to employ a drop shot and broke Sharapova at love, courtesy of a pair of double-faults donated by the Russian, but for the rest of the 1st set, Azarenka would quickly fall behind at nearly every turn. In three straight service games she found herself down love/40 to Sharapova, getting broken all three times en route to losing six straight games as the '12 champ won the set 6-1.

But no REAL rivalry (wink, wink) stays one-sided, and neither did this match.

Just as she'd done in previous rounds in Paris, Azarenka righted her serve-holding ship in the 2nd set. Through the first five games, neither player faced a break point, and when Azarenka finally got one she converted as a Sharapova error gave Vika a 4-2 lead. After holding following going down love/30 one game later, Azarenka got lucky when Mariana Alves ruled that one of her shots on the baseline had touched the line (replays showed otherwise), and soon afterward, as Alves and tournament officials hemmed and hawed over whether to stop play because of the falling rain, Azarenka knotted the match at one set each as Sharapova double-faulted on break point to hand the set to Vika, 6-2.

After a rain delay that allowed her time to consult with coach Thomas Hodgstedt, Sharapova emerged from behind closed doors as anything other than the inconsistent, error-prone player who was outplayed in the 2nd set. With her forehand firing, she immediately got a break point on Azarenka's serve. Vika held, but Maria got the elusive break in her column two games later to take a 2-1 lead. But then the ebb-and-flow of the match started to move back and forth between both players.

In a feast-or-famine service game, Sharapova hit two aces and double-faulted four times, saving herself with nervy second serves before finally double-faulting herself into a break to get things back on serve at 2-2. But then the Russian surged back, hitting two lines on a break point to go back up a break at 3-2, then held a tight game for 4-2 in which she registered her ninth ace to even things with her nine double-faults. Up 5-2, Sharapova seemed ready to coast into the final.

But there was still some more ebb-and-flow to come.

In Game #8, Sharapova, serving for a berth in the final, failed to convert on four match points as Vika's big returns threatened to turn the seemingly-over match back in her favor. Azarenka took three break points to finally win the game, but suddenly everything was in question again as, naturally, it was a Sharapova double-fault that was the final straw. Holding at love to get to 5-4, Azarenka put the pressure back on Sharapova's shoulders -- one surgically-repaired, and one not.

This time, the champion didn't flinch. Instead, she went up 40/love and then hit an ace to close out the 6-1/2-6/6-4 victory in a good, entertaining -- albeit far from perfect -- match befitting the world's closely-ranked #2 and #3 players.

Clay used to be Sharapova's worst surface, but now it's where she has her best shot at slam glory. Barring unforeseen circumstances, that won't likely be the case with Azarenka in a few years time, but her series of performances in Europe and at Roland Garros over the last few weeks HAVE given rise to hope that the Belarusian, who exits Paris with her first career RG semifinal berth in her hip pocket as she heads off for (literally and figuratively) greener pastures and bluer surfaces to conquer this summer, might just be able to follow in the Russian's footsteps in the red stuff one day. Sure, she could have won today. But Vika held her calm throughout, and leaves town in a better place than the one in which she arrived. Not a bad two weeks, I'd say.

As for Sharapova, well, congratulations to her. But now comes the REALLY hard part.

(I'd say "bless her," but I'm not sure that will do her any good whatsoever.)

...oh, and there was another semifinal match on Thursday, too. But if you stepped outside a room for a breath of fresh air after Sharapova/Azarenka, you might have missed it altogether. In just forty-six minutes, Serena Williams destroyed '12 RG runner-up Sara Errani 6-0/6-1. In Serena's bagel set, she outpaced the Italian 18-1 in winners and won twelve of fourteen serve points. Errani got her one and only game of the match in Game #10, and when Williams' crosscourt backhand went wide on game point Errani raised her arms in celebration.

It'd be her only moment of levity all afternoon. Thankfully, she still has a doubles title to attempt to defend.

Serena thus becomes the sixth woman in WTA history to reach at least twenty slam singles finals. It'll be Williams' third slam final meeting with Sharapova, but the first in more than six years. They last met in a major deciding match in Melbourne in 2007 in a little smash-up I called "The Destruction Heard 'round the World."

...the first champions of this Roland Garros were crowned in the Mixed Doubles as Czechs Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak defeated Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor in a 10-6 3rd set to take the title. Hradecka won the Women's Doubles two years ago with Andrea Hlavackova (they're still alive in the SF, too), so her first career Mixed slam crown makes her the ninth active woman with slam wins in both doubles disciplines. The others: Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Lisa Raymond, Liezel Huber, Cara Black, Katarina Srebotnik, Sam Stosur and Vera Zvonareva. With a win the Doubles with Elena Vesnina, Ekaterina Makarova would become the tenth name on that list. juniors, three of the Top 5 seeds are in the semifinals, as #1 Ana Konjuh (AO jr. champ), #2 Belinda Bencic and #5 Antonia Lottner reached the final four today along with unseeded Louisa Chirico. Konjuh, who also won the Girls Doubles in Melbourne with Carol Zhao, is still alive in the junior doubles semis in Paris (once again with Zhao).

As far as the "Junior Breakout" award goes, since Konjuh won it at the AO, it'll go to one of the other three for RG. To Lottner if she wins the title, or whoever wins the SF contest between Bencic and Chirico if Konjuh gets half-way to a Junior Grand Slam.

Speaking of awards, Hradecka now has the inside track on "Doubles Star," though there are still a few other contenders. And as for "It" honors, it looks like the winner will be whichever woman wins the first "official" post-Esther Vergeer slam wheelchair singles title. In the women's semis today, Sabine Ellerbrock (GER) defeated #1 seed Aniek Van Koot (NED), who'd defeated her in the AO final to win the first "unofficial" post-Esther Vergeer slam, and will meet #2 Jiske Griffioen (NED) in the final. Ellerbrook is also in the doubles final, where she and her Dutch partner, Sharon Walraven, will face off with BOTH Griffioen and Van Koot.


that after acting as if it was the MOST IMPORTANT issue in all of sports over the last year, ESPN2 announcers hardly made any note at all about the on-court decibel level of the Sharapova/Azarenka match. Oh, Chris Fowler made a joke about it not sounding all that loud after having heard heavy metal concert music the night before, but that was about it.


did The Rad make it rain today, changing up the momentum of the match and eventually putting Sharapova in the driver's seat, so that Maria could get what might be coming to her over the weekend? Maria won't watch any video of the Errani match if she knows what's good for her.


do any of the Whack-a-Vikas think Azarenka's "Melbourne semifinal karma" came into play in this semifinal in Paris, as a delay in play partly led to HER demise this time around? If so, will it put the issure to rest forever? Yeah, I didn't think so.

...and finally, with Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic set to meet in the men's semifinals on Friday, we are assured that one of the Big 3 in the ATP will be in another slam final. That makes thirty-three straight slam finals with at least one of the trio of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. The last time none of them filled any of the slam final spots was at the 2005 Australian Open, when Marat Safin defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the championship match.

#1 Serena Williams/USA 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. Llodra/Mahut (FRA/FRA)

Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) def. #5 Mladenovic/Nestor (FRA/CAN) 1-6/6-4/10-6

#1 Ana Konjuh/CRO vs. #5 Antonia Lottner/GER
Louisa Chirico/USA vs. #2 Belinda Bencic/SUI

#8 Borna Coric/CRO vs. Christian Garin/CHI vs. Calvin Henery/FRA
#14 Alexander Zverev/GER vs. #2 Nikola Milojevic/SRB

D.Gonzalez/Haddad Maia (ECU/BRA) vs. #8 Matteucci/Stojanovic (ITA/SRB)
#3 Konjuh/Zhao (CRO/CAN) vs. #2 Krejcikova/Siniakova (CZE/CZE)

Bonzi/Halys (FRA/FRA) vs. #3 Edmund/Ferreira Silva (GBR/POR)
#5 Garin/Jarry (CHI/CHI) vs. Marterer/Miedler (GER/AUT)

Sabine Ellerbrock/GER vs. #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED

#1 Shingto Kunieda/JPN vs. #2 Stephane Houdet/FRA

#1 Griffioen/Van Koot (NED/NED) vs. Ellerbrock/Walraven (GER/NED)

#1 Houdet/Kunieda (FRA/JPN) vs. #2 Reid/Vink (GBR/NED)

34...Chris Evert (18-16)
32...Martina Navratilova (18-14)
31...Steffi Graf (22-9)
29...Margaret Court (24-5)
22...Helen Wills-Moody (19-3)

14...Venus Williams (7-7)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2-2)
3...Victoria Azarenka (2-1)
3...Li Na (1-2)
3...Ana Ivanovic (1-2)

1974 Wimbledon - Chris Evert def. OLGA MOROZOVA
1974 US Open - Chris Evert def. OLGA MOROZOVA
2004 Wimbledon - MARIA SHARAPOVA def. Serena Williams
2006 Roland Garros - Justine Henin-Hardenne def. SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA
2006 US Open - MARIA SHARAPOVA def. Justine Henin-Hardenne
2007 Australian Open - Serena Williams def. MARIA SHARAPOVA
2007 US Open - Justine Henin def. SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA
2008 Australian Open - MARIA SHARAPOVA def. Ana Ivanovic
2008 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic def. DINARA SAFINA
2009 Australian Open - Serena Williams def. DINARA SAFINA
2010 Wimbledon - Serena Williams def. VERA ZVONAREVA
2010 US Open - Kim Clijsters def. VERA ZVONAREVA
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova def. MARIA SHARAPOVA
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka def. MARIA SHARAPOVA
2012 Roland Garros - MARIA SHARAPOVA def. Sara Errani
2013 Roland Garros - MARIA SHARAPOVA vs. Serena Williams

3...Victoria Azarenka (2-1)
3...Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2-1)
3...Sara Errani (1-2)
3...Li Na (1-2)

*2011-13 WTA FINALS*
17...Victoria Azarenka (11-6)
13...Caroline Wozniacki (8-5)
11...Petra Kvitova (9-2)
10...Agnieszka Radwanska (8-2)
10...Li Na (4-6)
8...Sara Errani (5-3)

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
2012 Sania Mirza & Mahesh Bhupathi
2013 Lucie Hradecka & Frantisek Cermak

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: [post-Vergeer champ] Sabine Ellerbrock/GER, #2 Jiske Griffioen/NED
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, Petrova/RUS, Makarova/Vesnina (RUS/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)
JUNIOR BREAKOUT: Nominees: Bencic/SUI, Chirico/USA, Lottner/GER

All for Day 12. More tomorrow.


Blogger jo shum said...

This is the most calm vika I have ever seen. Thought missed some fire in her eyes. I got the feeling that she didn't believe in herself, some very tentative play and too many unforced errors. It was a very winnable match , some good fighting spirit in the end but too little too late. Maria was more committed in her shots, good and bad ones. That's the difference. Sure vika doesn't move as well on clay but having seen lat few maches she could have done better. As if she told herself that a semi is good enough step on clay, lets move on to something greener. Hardly will I say it, but her performance was dull today. But doesn't matter no chance against Serena in this form. So maybe she knew as well. :) she optimized her quarter, and a possible no. 2 seed at Wimbledon?

Thu Jun 06, 06:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, I sort of got some sense, too, that Azarenka was already satisfied with what she'd accomplished in Paris even before today's match.

Thu Jun 06, 06:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Her coach said vika needs to believe that she is better than she thinks herself on clay. Completely right.

Well slow start for her in all the rounds and worst whenever a rain delay, it kind of destroyed her a bit. Beck this year, stosur last US open. She is such a momentum player. Whereas rain delays almost always helped Maria. Think last year US open, twice.

Sometimes these things are meant to be.

Thu Jun 06, 07:01:00 PM EDT  

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