Saturday, June 6, 2009
A long time coming--Kuznetsova wins French Open
For over a year now, when Dinara Safina has found herself at a set and 2-5 down, she has come out of nowhere and taken us all on the Thrill Ride that caused me to create that name for her. Today, at Roland Garros, she was down a set and serving at 2-5, and--while things didn't look good at all for her--I had to wonder: Is she about to do it again?
The answer was no. Already troubled by the damp conditions that slow down the ball, and already more than troubled by an on-spot Kuznetsova--who likes a slow court--Safina double-faulted on championship point. That final double fault, one of seven in the match, was--unfortunately--a fitting ending to Safina's disaster of a day.
The conditions were especially nice for Kuznetsova, who was better able to neutralize Safina's powerful groundstrokes. Kuznetsova put on quite a clay court show for spectators--spinning the ball, changing the pace, and finding angle after angle. She also made Safina do a lot of vertical court movement, something that is not her strong suit.
The match began with an exchange of breaks, which set a nice clay court tone. Serving at 3-4, Safina saved a break point, but then got broken anyway when a ball hit by Kuznetsova failed to bounce, and Safina could not pick it up. However, when Kuznetsova served for the set at 5-3, she was broken at love. She went on to win that set, however, 6-4.
At 2-all in the second set, Kuznetsova went down 0-30 while serving, but Safina was unable to exploit this opening. Down a set and 2-4, she yelled at her coach, "Why am I such a chicken?!" Pushing back tears, Safina once again saw a major title slip away from her. At the conclusion of the match, she smacked her racquet on the clay, then composed herself and walked to the net to shake the hand of her friend, Svetlana.
It is well worth noting that Safina had multiple opportunities to win more points and more games--opportunities that she created. But--over and over--she would set up a winner, and then hit an unforced error at the crucial moment. The only explanation for this phenomenon is one involving mentality. Safina knew what to do--she even did it. But she was too unsteady to finish it. Interesting, Kuznetsova made the same number of unforced errors--22--but hers were not always made at such important moments.
Kuznetsova, one of the finest clay court players in recent tour history, lost the French Open final (after holding a match point) to Justine Henin in 2006. She also lost to Henin in the 2005 round of 16; and in 2004, she lost in the round of 16 (after holding a match point) to the eventual champion, Anastasia Myskina.
Kuznetsova's 6-4, 6-2 victory is the lastest in a long string of two-set French Open women's championship scorelines.