Saturday, May 8, 2010
Unseeded Martinez Sanchez wins Italian Open
And I thought she would. But Martinez Sanchez, whose bag of tricks makes me long for days gone by, knew what to do. She lost her nerve a few times, yes, but she found it when it mattered most.
When contemporary tennis experts were handing out today's "rules," Martinez Sanchez wasn't listening: Never use a drop shot on return of serve. Use a drop shot only in an emergency. Work your way into the rallies. "Pardon--did you say something?..."
It can be successfully argued that the Spaniard over-used her favorite shot in the first set, but--on the other hand--even the drops that didn't work kept what had to be a tired opponent running and running. But Martinez Sanchez is about more than drop shots. She can slice, spin, volley from all parts of the court, and make it up as she goes along. She's fast, she can stretch out quickly, and she has that increasingly elusive gift--a good serve.
Jankovic, it should be noted, played well. The 7th seed is one of the very best movers on the tour, and she's harder to push around with aggression than many other players would be. She's also a very smart player, and there were moments in the Rome final when you could literally watch her figure out her opponent. She also knew--as did we all--that nerves would be a major factor in Martinez Sanchez's first big tour final. Jankovic had not only been there before, she'd won the title twice before.
Martinez Sanchez went up 5-2 in the first set, and had a set point at 5-3, but was broken. At 5-all, Jankovic broke, but was broken back, and a tiebreak ensued. Martinez Sanchez won that tiebreak 7-5, closing it with serve-and-volley finesse. Martinez Sanchez immediately broke in the second set, but was broken back to create a 3-all scoreline. Martinez Sanchez then went up 5-3, but was broken again. At 5-all, the Spaniard hit two flat forehand down-the-line winners to go up 6-5, and she won the match with another serve-and-volley play. At 7-6, 7-5, Martinez Sanchez fell backward onto the clay before greeting the crowd and accepting her trophy. In two sets, she hit 44 winners, many of which were either smacked or gently nudged from the net.
There were many entertaining moments in the match, particularly when--toward the end of the second set--the two women engaged in rapid-fire volleying right at the net. Jankovic hit the clay so often that by the end of the match, she looked something like a lime-tinted Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Both women had great tournaments. And although Jankovic failed to win a third title in her beloved Rome, she can still say she took out both Williams sisters in one tournament--and consecutively, at that. Jankovic is playing very well on clay right now, and also seems quite strong mentally. The big win for Martinez-Sanchez represents yet another turning point in the late-blooming Spaniard's career, and clay season just gets better and better for fans.