Tuesday, September 04, 2012

US 9.0 - The Maria Files

Somebody up there likes Maria Sharapova.

Two days ago, Sharapova found herself down 2-0 to Nadia Petrova in the 3rd set when a rain delay turned around the 2006 U.S. Open champion's game, night and, quite possibly, tournament. Could we have seen a repeat of the scenario today in her quarterfinal match with Marion Bartoli?

After a bad weather forecast led the tournament to cancel all the scheduled junior matches before the day even began, then a passing cell had delayed play for several hours, the Pastry and the Hordette finally took to the court in the late afternoon. But all the waiting around hadn't dampened Bartoli's spirits. Or her game. After winning twelve of the final fourteen games against Petra Kvitova in the 4th Round, she was on fire again on Day 9. She got an early break of Sharapova, and then another when the Russian double-faulted on break point. With La Trufflette up 4-0 and controlling each and every notion of the match, she went about undertaking her own service game. She fell behind 15/30... and then it started to rain again.

They never made it back onto the court.

And when they return on Day 10 (or will it be Day 11? This is the Open in late summer, without a roof to be found anywhere, after all.), one wouldn't expect Sharapova to be in the same state she was in today. Bartoli, one of the few players capable of putting her own "star-crossed" cred on the table and have it stack up high enough that it might actually challenge that of Petrova's, might not be able to catch the wave she was still riding today, either.

Sigh. What did we miss happening today? But maybe the biggest question is this: Just what did one of the Tennis Gods bet on Maria in this tournament, anyway? It must have been something big.

...in the one women's quarterfinal that was completed today, the two former slam winners who've been mostly ignored in all the potential champion discussion -- amazingly, they're the #1 seed and the defending champ! -- met to decide the first semifinalist of this U.S. Open.

And it's Victoria Azarenka!

But, in the overall, BOTH players showed that their previous slam success, and the on-court personality changes that it has helped to make possible, aren't as elusive as one might have feared in the past. Consider that Sam Stosur, the defending U.S. Open champ, came into this match with 0-6 record against Azarenka. She hadn't taken a set off Vika, or even won more than three games in a single stanza. From the jump, this wasn't going to be an easy day for her. And when Azarenka raced to a 3-0 lead in the 1st, it looked like it might be a painful one, too.

But -- imagine this! -- then the rains came.

A couple of hours later, the players returned to the court. Vika immediately held to take a 4-0 lead, but the time away (with herself and coach David Taylor) had done Stosur wonders. She put together a good hold for 4-1, and got to deuce on Azarenka's serve one game later. It was too late to do anything for her in the 1st set, which Vika took at 6-1, but the Aussie carried over her improved play into the rest of the match.

She broke Azarenka to start the 2nd set, and was up 40/15 on the Belarusian's serve in the next game. Vika held, but it was only a temporary fix against Stosur. She got another break chance at 3-3, and this time she converted. She held for 5-3 (she'd only lost three points in her last three service games), then held again to win the set 6-4 and knot the match.

So, already this was Stosur's best day ever against the world #1.

With Azarenka sporting a 10-0 record in three-setters this season, though, Stosur still had her back pressed firmly up against the wall. But every time the Aussie was shoved back into the corner, she came out fighting. Azarenka went up a break at 3-1, but Stosur got it back in the next game. Stosur threw in a double-fault to fall down love/40 on serve one game later. Vika broke her, then held game point on her own serve to grab a 5-2 lead. She didn't convert it, though, and the Aussie came storming back, grabbing a break on the strength of several winners produced by her stellar forehand. Soon, Stosur fired an ace to hold for 4-4.

In the past, this might have been where Azarenka's anger would have started to grow. After all, she'd been a point away from a 5-2 lead, and had twice blown break leads in the set. Plus, it was windy and she was having problems with her service toss because of it. But, as she did during her late '11 surge, then early this year when she won in Melbourne, rose to #1 and put together her 26-match winning streak, Azarenka remained strong and composed. The "crazy girl" of her past stayed there. At 5-5, Stosur held a BP on Vika' serve. Her response? She hit her first ace of the match.

The 3rd went to a deciding tie-break and, again, Vika grabbed an advantage, only to see Stosur battle back again. Azarenka took a 4-0 lead, with all four points coming from errors off the Aussie's racket. But when Vika was slow coming in closing on the net, she wasn't in position to cut off Stosur's shot for a winning volley. Instead, she found herself trapped in the middle of the court as Stosur's ball dove toward her feet. She missed the shot, and Stosur suddenly had a little life. A forehand winner got the score to 4-3, and a big wide serve and put-away combination got things to 5-5. But then Azarenka got a little help, in the form of a Stosur shot that bounced off the net cord, allowing Vika to get to it and hit a winning drop shot to get to match point.

A few moments later, a deep Azarenka shot forced Stosur to spray a backhand and it was all over. With a 6-1/4-6/7-6(5) win, Azarenka is in her first U.S. Open semi (and fourth in the last six slams) and is now assured of keeping her #1 ranking after this tournament.

For her part, Stosur, while she came up three wins short of defending her crown, now knows that she can add New York to a short list that only previously included Paris as grand slam cities in which she now knows she can go each year and fell comfortable, knowing that she can handle the pressure of the expectations her previous results -- good or bad -- there inevitably have placed upon her shoulders. As for Melbourne and London? Well, not to borrow a phrase from a certain Dane or anything, but she's got time to worry about them later.

...at least Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci got their doubles QF match finished the day before they're scheduled to meet in the singles QF. They defeated Julia Goerges & Kveta Peschke.

...and, finally, a little tidbit from the mini-me files. What is it? Well, an ages-old photo of a future Backspinner leading a MUCH older new-found friend out of the woods, quite possibly for the very first time. If you look closely, it's easy to wonder... "Could it be? Do my eyes deceive me, or could that be you-know-who? Honestly, I don't know. It's been a long time. But, I suspect the timing would be about right when it comes to our mutual cave-dwelling "friend's" introduction to modern society. The Neanderthal in question surely seems very "raw" in the photo. If it is HIM, could this have something to do with his longtime animosity towards me? More later, I'm sure... after a deeper investigation.

#1 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. #7 Samantha Stosur/AUS
#3 Maria Sharapova/RUS vs. #11 Marion Bartoli/FRA
#12 Ana Ivanovic/SRB vs. #4 Serena Williams/USA
#10 Sara Errani/ITA vs. #20 Roberta Vinci/ITA

#1 Roger Federer/SUI walkover #23 Mardy Fish/USA
#6 Tomas Berdych/CZE def. #11 Nicolas Almagro/ESP
#3 Andy Murray/GBR def. #15 Milos Raonic/CAN
#12 Marin Cilic/CRO def. Martin Klizan/SVK
#8 Janko Tipsarevic/SRB vs. #19 Philipp Kohlschreiber/GER
#4 David Ferrer/ESP def. #13 Richard Gasquet/FRA
#7 Juan Martin del Potro/ARG vs. #20 Andy Roddick/USA
#18 Stanislas Wawrinka/SUI vs. #2 Novak Djokovic/SRB

#16 Hsieh/Medina-Garrigues (TPE/ESP) vs. Chuang/Zhang (TPE/CHN)
#3 Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) vs. Lisicki/Peng (GER/CHN)
#8 Llagostera-Vives/Martinez-Sanchez (ESP/ESP) vs. #4 Kirilenko/Petrova (RUS/RUS)
#2 Errani/Vinci (ITA/ITA) def. #11 Goerges/Peschke (GER/CZE)

#6 Granollers/M.Lopez (ESP/ESP) def. #15 Peya/Soares (AUT/BRA)
Knowle/Polasek (AUT/SVK) vs. #5 Paes/Stepanek (IND/CZE)
#9 Qureshi/Rojer (PAK/NED) vs. C.Harrison/R.Harrison (USA/USA)
Benneteau/Mahut (FRA/FRA) vs. #2 Bryan/Bryan (USA/USA)

#1 Huber/Mirnyi (USA/BLR) vs. #4 Peschke/Matkowski (CZE/POL)
#7 Hradecka/Cermak (CZE/CZE) vs. Makarova/Soares (RUS/BRA)

All for Day 9. More tomorrow.


Blogger Eric said...

Wow, I just watched the highlights of Serena versus Bartoli at Wimbledon 2011 and I was surprised to see how much thinner in the face Serena looks now. That's just a little over a year ago. That's amazing.

Wed Sep 05, 12:48:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

She's in such good shape now (did you see her on Letterman?). Plus, remember, she was just first coming back from almost a year out when she played a Wimbledon last year, too.

Wed Sep 05, 01:56:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Even Carl couldn't squish someone that cute!

Wed Sep 05, 10:17:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

He just bided his time. I just hope he never joins forces with The Radwanska.

Wed Sep 05, 11:49:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

So as I recall, Sharapova had some rain "luck" during her 04 WIM run...

And during AO 12, Azarenka lost only 10 games in her first four round and was taken to 3 sets in her QF match...

So Sharapova/Azarenka SF... who's side will destiny be on?!?!??!

Wed Sep 05, 05:16:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I don't know how Andy Roddick held his serve down match point... I was emotional watching him. I don't know how he's holding it all in.

(And he had towel fuzz on his face for much of the match...)

Wed Sep 05, 05:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I don't think the rain delay helped Sharapova as much as people seem to think. I don't know that it helped her at all. She lost the first set, and she had to fight like hell against Bartoli to the very end.

Wed Sep 05, 06:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

Ugh...I'm a wreck.

This was the first time I'd seriously watched Andy play in years. And I have to say...he's still the best among the American men. He's improved his variety so much (and his backhand) and he was aggressive at the right times today. He really didn't leave a stone unturned in his quest to become better. That takes so much discipline...and such a lack of ego. And I believe him when he says that he doesn't begrudge others of their success. So admirable.

But I think having the visual of him playing JMDP for his last match was good. Because while Andy wasn't doing badly, JMDP's natural skills just reiterated the fact that Andy has become the least prodigious of the geniuses. And by "genius" I just mean the Big 4 + JMDP + Tsonga (and maybe Berdych). And so Andy's decision ultimately feels right.

The emotions come because Andy's carried the flag for a long time by himself (for the men). And he did it with discipline day-in-day-out for 12 years...which is more than a lot of people can do. And also, it's a demonstration of the harsh reality that despite everything, there's always someone better...and that the field can pass you by.

But he's got a lot of things going for him and he'll probably become a fixture on a radio or tv show somewhere.

Wed Sep 05, 06:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Eric said...

I don't know Diane...Bartoli was playing like a woman possessed. And she was hitting everything. And that surprised Sharapova. And Sharapova started slowly.

Not saying Sharapova didn't earn her win today...but having the opportunity to regroup and consult her coach had to have been a huge benefit...(especially if she was panicking some...though she'll never admit to that...)

But either way, the rain delay definitely did Bartoli no favors.

Wed Sep 05, 06:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

I agree, it didn't help Bartoli.

I'm so sad to see Andy go, but it's time. I don't know why everyone was so shocked when he announced it. I have high regard for Andy Roddick, and have just appreciated him so much for so long.

Wed Sep 05, 06:49:00 PM EDT  

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