Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stosur and Jankovic advance to French Open semifinals

Thrill Ride may be out of the picture right now, but--after today--Sam Stosur will do as a substitute, thank you very much. Stosur and top seed Serena Williams--attempting yet again to get beyond the quarterfinals of the French Open--provided plenty of thrills for viewers in Paris today. Stosur, who defeated four-time French Open champion Justine Henin in the round of 16, served up a storm and dominated Williams in the first set, taking it 6-2. Williams had problems with her second serve, and even more problems with Stosur's backhand slice.

Stosur, up 5-3 in the second set and serving for the match, then faced what so many players have faced over the years--a combination of her own nerves, and the sight of Serena Williams on the other side of the net. It felt almost inevitable that Williams would not allow Stosur to beat her in straight sets, and--indeed--she broke her. The set went to a tiebreak, and by this time, Williams was playing at full steam and easily won the tiebreak, 7-2.

The momentum had indeed shifted. Williams, now in full control of her serve, suddenly had an even easier time of it because Stosur, for some reason, stopped using her backhand slice. For most of the set, Williams dominated, and Stosur played catch-up. Several times, the 7th seed was on her way to getting broken, and she would pull out a couple of huge serves and save herself. Serving at 4-5, she faced a match point, but Williams' forehand went long, and play continued.

At 5-6, it was as though a switch were turned on in Stosur--the same switch that usually gets turned on in Williams. Her service game became dominant again, the backhand slice returned, and the momentum shifted one more time. At 6-all, Stosur hit a couple of crosscourt winners to break Williams, and then--not surprisingly--she hit three brilliant service winners to win the third set 8-6.

The whole affair lasted 2 hours and 24 minutes. Williams hit 39 winners, including 13 aces, but she also made 46 unforced errors. The top seed is a go-for-broke player, but this time, she just made too many errors--forced and unforced--against an opponent who, out of nowhere, has learned how to dominate on clay. With her big first serve and high-kick second serve, her heavy topspin, and her reliable backhand slice, Stosur has defended her 2009 French Open semifinal points.

There was another quarterfinal match today, and one I quite enjoyed, though it wasn't easy, trying to keep up with both of them. 4th seed Jelena Jankovic defeated Yaroslava Shvedova 7-5, 6-4 with her signature defense and her ability to win big points. It was Shvedova's first time to play in a major quarterfinal, and I thought she handled herself well under the circumstances. Unfortunately, most of the post-match talk will probably be about the break point smash she whiffed. Shvedova has a much better than average serve, and she hit 30 winners, including 8 aces.

Jankovic will play Stosur in the semifinals, and Stosur has already announced that she will have to be more patient against the 4th seed.

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