Thursday, April 1, 2010

Belgians gone wild

Tonight in Miami, 14th seed Kim Clijsters and wild card Justine Henin played the second semifinal match of the day, but you could just as well refer to it as 2 1/2 hours of relentless agony, interrupted by tennis. We learned some things from this match, specifically: 1. Henin's resolve to be more aggressive can be kept in check by the right opponent, 2. Henin needs to keep working on her serve, and 3. Clijsters is just as prone to go all Goolagong in this career as she was in her first one.

Clijsters took control early in the match, pinning Henin to the baseline, hitting repeatedly to her backhand, and using her serve and forehand effectively to get a 6-2 win in just half an hour. She then went up 3-0 in the second set, and had a chance to break Henin and go up 4-0...and then it happened--that thing Clijsters does. She just went away. In the fifth game, she double-faulted three times, and before you could say "Kim won the match in straight sets," it was 3-all. Clijsters pulled herself together by mid-set, and again, it looked as though there was likely to be a straight set victory. But by this time, Henin's confidence had increased, and she was a little more steady. She broke Clijsters at 5-all, and when she served for the set, she saved two break points. Clijsters saved a set point, however, and got a break point when Henin double-faulted. She then converted that break point, forcing a tiebreak.

Henin went up 5-1 in the tiebreak, as Clijsters--looking as tight as she had the entire match--couldn't seem to do anything right. Henin went on to win that tiebreak 7-3, then went up 2-0 right away in the third set. But if you thought Henin was going to run away with the momentum, you needed to think again. Clijsters broke her back, and then--at 2-all--Clijsters broke Henin at love. When Henin served at 2-4, Clijsters had another break point, but could not convert it; instead, she was broken back, and it was 4-all.

The players then exchanged breaks, and Clijsters, serving at 5-6, 40-30, double-faulted again. But--for the first time in the match--she successfully scooped a volley from her feet to create an ad point. There was a  second deuce, then Clijsters held.

In the second tiebreak, despite going down an early mini-break, Clijsters looked great, but failed to convert three match points at 6-3. She converted on her fourth match point, however, on Henin's serve, to win the tiebreak 8-6. The last two shots from Clijsters' racquet were appropriately thrilling--a dribble-over backhand volley and another forehand winner on match point.

Clijsters made 63 unforced errors, and Henin made 44. They double-faulted 18 times between them, and there was a total of 12 breaks. But this was just part of the story. There was also some thrilling shot-making. Clijsters used her backhand-inside-out forehand combination to hit a number of smart winners, and--as always--Henin fought back to the last moment. There were times, in the third set, that she even displayed some of the angles that confounded Vera Zvonareva in the fourth round.

But the real story of this match is that Kim Clijsters was winning it handily and then went to pieces. As a rule, a player who does that when Justine Henin is on the other side of the net is a player on her way to the next stop. But Clijsters, to her credit, fought as hard as Henin, and--when it mattered the most--she put the recent past behind her and won the hard way.

There was, of course, another semifinal match played today. 3rd seed Venus Williams, with considerably less drama, defeated 13th seed Marion Bartoli 6-3, 6-4. Bartoli's second serve was nowhere to be found, and she was broken four times.

Williams and Clijsters will compete in the final on Saturday.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Shaking my head. An after thought for the first semifinal today?

Diane said...

I didn't get to see much of it, Anon. I was at work, taking a peek now and then. I saw Marion having trouble with her serve. Anything of note from you?

Karen said...

Hmm, Diane I watched the Venus/Bartoli match. It had its head shaking moments, but none of the drama that the other semi had. Venus played a tactical match and one of the things that I am loving about this Venus is her ability to change her tactics mid match. I always knew she could do it but seeing her adapt as a match was in progress is a joy for me to watch as a fan. During the match Bartoli kept putting the balls down the middle of the court and forcing an error from Vee. Vee realising this started moving her feet better and getting around the ball to get a better hit on the ball. She also started to take the ball a lot earlier and coming in to net to take away that play from Bartoli. She made 8/8 net points at the net. She played some beautiful drop volleys that had the crowd oohing and aahing. Bartoli sunk herself as she made a number of double faults but all in all it was a good match. The other semi IMV was a head scratcher (to put it nicely). At no point in the match did you know who had the upper hand. Even when Clijsters won the first set she did so more because of Henin's numerous errors rather than her great play. People keep talking about that Brisbane match and how it was wonderful. No it was not. The match in Brisbane was just as awful as this one. Numerous breaks of serve, numerous break points faced, countless UFE and few winners. Is it because it is Henin and Clijsters why everyone is all gaga over their play. For my money their present match ups are like what the Williams Sisters used to play early on in their career. Neither player wanting to win and neither wanting to lose. I hope Vee takes the title on Saturday as I really cannot deal with the whole working mother theme of Clijsters that the media seems to think makes her different. For my money a better story line is seeing Venus at 29 years old still competing with players much younger than her and winning. That shows mental fortitude and a game that has withstood all the challenges that life has forced upon it. In Australia she was trashed by the commentators as not having adapted to the changes in the game and that her game has remained stagnant, yet here she is at 29 years old competing for premier titles while much younger players than her cannot find their way to the final weekend without having some man whisper in their ears. Go Vee

Diane said...

I laughed out loud when Lindsay Davenport said that Henin did things the "old school way," without having her coach come onto the court. He doesn't need to come onto the court; he does it all from the stands. Davenport apparently realized what she had said and made a big point, a bit later, of at least implying that Henin was not alone in her decision-making.

In fairness, I should add that Carlos Rodriguez has owned what he does. The point he made (this was before Justine retired) was that "everyone else does it," so why shouldn't he? And while not quite everyone else does it, many do.

An argument has been made that the umpires are simply not doing their jobs by letting this go on. A counter argument has been made that the umpires cannot fully focus on the court if they are also scanning the stands to see who is coaching. I give the umpires the benefit of the doubt here.

Sunny said...

I must have watched a different game. I saw the whole Belgian battle, and did not see Carlos gesticulating from the stands when the cameras were on him. He seemed to be talking to someone next to him. When the cameras were off, I don't know what he did.

Diane said...

I wasn't really referring to this match, Sunny--just to Rodriguez, in general. But the commentators implied they saw him communicating with Henin. She was looking up at him constantly, for whatever reason.

Karen said...

Both players were very animated last night. I dont think I have ever seen Justine so disgusted with herself. She was gesticulating to Carlos and people in her box, as well as berating herself constantly when she made errors. Kim as well was having discussions with box as the match wore on. One of the things that struck me after the match was the look on Clijsters' face. She was looking fierce. I do not think that regardless of what is said in the press that either player likes the other and I do not think that they have any respect for the other as well. Neither player wanted to lose but Justine more so. Her return to active play has not been as successful as Kim's in that she is yet to win a title and she has only made it to the finals of 2 events and lost both of them, one of them after having match points. It must be quite unsettling for her. I am not particularly fond of either player as I have found them in the past to not be engaging personalities and their matches usually leave me wondering what did I spend the last couple hours of my life doing.

Sunny said...

I don't know what the commentators were seeing but.... the fact is MANY players look at their box both the men and the women. I have seen Oracene Price move her hands around but everyone says that was for encouragement but how to we know? I am not indicting anyone but like I say players from Ivanovic to Murray to whomever talk to their box etc. And of course there are many players who look at their box for the box to tell them whether to challenge or not. This is the most obvious thing. I am not defending Justine in particular, I can only go by what I saw. As far as personalities go, Karen, I guess unless a player is mean or nasty or cuts down someone else, or makes fun of the lack of titles they have won, then I don't go on personalities. That is what is wrong with the WTA-pushing personalities. I am there to watch the sport.

Diane said...

I'm glad you brought that up, Sunny. The looking at the box to decide whether to challenge is something the umpires could easily stop.

Of course, I'm also somewhat sympathetic because the entire challenge system irritates me to no end. I agree with Mary Carillo that players should get as many challenges as they want. I remember once that Pam Shriver was so pleased that a study showed that the line officials were right 70% of the time. If I were right only 70% of the time in my job, I'd be out of work.

Karen said...

Sunny, apart from how a player actually plays the game, I am usually drawn to players by their personality. I like my players to be fierce competitors. I like players who step it up when the chips are down. I like players who never give up until the umpire calls game, set and match. That is one of the reasons why I am a die hard Serena and Venus fan. They both brought me to the game of tennis and it was their personalities moreso than their games which drew me to them. It helped that they also looked like me and I could also relate to their background having grown up in similar circumstances, albeit in a different country. There are players whose games I do love like Federer and after coming to know them I like their personalities as well. Then there are players who even though they have the fighting spirit that I like (Sharapova) I have not gravitated towards them because of their personalities. I admire Justine's game but not personality and I neither like Kim's game or her personality. ARad on the other hand does not have much of a personality but I love her game, so tactical and different.
In relation to the WTA pushing personalities, I have said here and elsewhere that if the WTA marketed all its players and not just a few then the players that the media considers not worthy of prime time would be better for the sport. The WTA and the media did a disservice to tennis when they decided to market a lone personality as the face of the Tour rather than the whole tour. Not everyone was drawn to the Sharapova juggernaut in 2004 and when I heard ESPN and NBC refer to her as the face of tennis in 2005 after losing to Venus at Wimbledon it just made me realise that the sport was in a bad way. Circle 2010 and now Sharapova is all but gone from the landscape and they are attempting to do the same thing all over again by proclaiming Wozniacki as the new IT girl. They tried that with Ivanovic but she proved that she does not have what it takes, either game wise or personality wise to be the face of tennis. Why must we have a face of tennis, why can they not do a promotion on the faces of tennis and promote every single player.

Diane said...

We have to have a face because the tour is as sexist as the culture. And that face is going to represent society's manufactured idea of beauty, and that face is going to be white.

Sunny said...

Thank you Karen, for your last explanation. It helped. I guess we have different ways we see the grit of different players. I too like venus and Serena but also see their grit in other players who might not be as successful but no less fighters. I have seen Justine come from behind and win so often. And I remember the 2003 US OPen when she and Capriati went at it forever in the semis until they were dead on their feet. Henin had a IV drip that night and came back and won the Championship. But I digress. I don't have one favorite player so I shouldn't speak about just one. There are many on the tour and I root for them.
But again, I am grateful for your last post.
I appreciate the civil discussion on this blog.

Karen said...

Diane, you are so right about what the "face"of tennis should look like.
Sunny, I love so many of the players that are currently on the Tour that this blog would not give me room to name them all. I love them all for very different reasons. They all bring something unique and different to the same sport and it is just sad that the WTA and the media decides to choose for whom we should cheer and that is usually based on the fact that said player defines society's view of beauty. Anyway ...