Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ivanovic to face Henin in French Open championship

Ana Ivanovic took out Maria Sharapova in what looked like an almost effortless romp through her French Open semifinal

Last week, when Maria Sharapova was interviewed about her vulnerability on clay, the droll, self-deprecating two-time Grand Slam winner described herself as a "cow on ice" on the Roland Garros surface. Today, in her semifinal against Ana Ivanovic, she lived up to that description.

Ivanovic, who began and ended the match with aces, not only brought her power game to the match; she brought a lot of confidence, and a gracefulness that defies her large frame. It took Ivanovic barely over an hour to dispense with Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, and she left the court as fresh as she entered it. Sharapova was never even in the match, and indeed, had the same kind of bad day that Serena Williams had against Justine Henin in the quarterfinals. She never had control of the ball, her serve was off, and she repeatedly missed her signature swinging volleys.

In the second semifinal, Justine Henin played as near-perfect tennis as we are ever likely to see from anyone. Her first and second serves were excellent, her timing and movement were superb, her court sense was stunning, and the famous backhand was at its most lethal. Her opponent, Jelena Jankovic, who has given her a lot of trouble in the past (twice losing to Henin when Jankovic was up in the third set--once when she was up 4-0) had trouble getting into the first set. Jankovic was rushing things, and--as ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez pointed out--the sudden humidity made the ball very heavy, which meant that Henin's heavy topspin was even harder to return than usual. The second set was a different story. Jankovic broke Henin when Henin was serving at 3-1, but her hopes were dashed when Henin broke her right back. The games were close from that point on--until the very end--but Henin found a way to prevail.

Jankovic's serve, never anything to brag about, was especially poor today. It is the only part of her game that is weak, but it is an important part, and she needs to improve it. Jankovic's strategy could have been better, too. On the one hand, she did go to the net a lot more than usual, which is crucial when playing Henin, but she didn't show enough originality. She hit a whole string of drop shots, which Henin countered with her own drop shots, resulting in a string of points for Henin.

Henin's game is a puzzle that Jankovic has actually solved before, only to cave at the last minute, presumably because of nerves. But today, she was overwhelmed by the Belgian. Anyone would have been.

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