Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Serena Williams defeats own demons and Kuznetsova at Roland Garros

The quarterfinal played by Serena Wiliiams and Svetlana Kuznetsova at the French Open today didn't have everything, but it had enough drama to qualify for French theatre. Both women are past French Open champions--one with a fierce backhand and the other with a fierce forehand. And until today, the one with the fierce backhand (whose forehand isn't too shabby, either) had pretty much romped through the tournament without dropping a set.

Today, however, was a different story. Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of the best clay court players on the tour, and she's currently in the midst of a comeback following rehab from a knee procedure, which apparently re-ignited her enthusiasm for the sport. Her knee was fine today, but Kuznetsova had to deal with an abdominal injury that prevented her from serving very hard or fast for much of the match. Take away her big serve and she doesn't stand a chance against Williams, right?

Not exactly, though it certainly looked that way for one set--a set that Williams won, 6-1. But in the second set, Kuznetsova became more creative, and she also used her forehand to blast the lines with groundstrokes that were untouchable. She obviously surprised her opponent, and suddenly, the Russian led 5-1. She won that set 6-3, and then broke Williams right away in the first game of the final set.

Kuznetsova then held for 2-0, and it was in the next game that the story of the match was told in microcosm. Williams saved break point after break point, finally held for 1-2, and that was the end of the Russian surge. Williams won the third set 6-3 with her 37th winner.

There were times, during the second set, that Williams' face was a picture of emotional agony. Her only French Open win came in 2002, though--through the years--she's collected numerous trophies for the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But the slowness of red clay has never been an element that has worked in Williams' favor--at least not in Paris. She came into this tournament, however, having won both Madrid and Rome (and Charleston, on green clay, which is a bit faster). She also came into this French Open with a lot of special training and a renewed determination to conquer the demands of the world's biggest clay court event.

Now the world number 1 has two more challenges. In the semifinals, she will play Sara Errani, who was last year's runner-up. Errani is the consummate clay court player, but it's hard to imagine her getting much momentum against the big-serving Williams. Which means that--barring some unusual circumstance--Williams will get to the final.

Errani won her semifinal against Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 7-6. Tennis Channel showed the Williams-Kuznetsova match, and since Tennis Channel live streaming ended yesterday, many of us in the USA were unable to watch the other match, which was infuriating. For, as thrilling and important as the Williams-Kuznetsova match was, I was just as interested (maybe a bit more) in watching Errani and Radwanska. ESPN aired it later in the day.

Radwanska's second serve let her down even more than usual today, though Errani's was just as much of a problem. Errani, however, capitalized on every break opportunity but one.

Today's victory marked the first time in her career that Errani has beaten a top 5 player.

Speaking of Errani, she and her Fighting Italian doubles partner, Roberta Vinci, advanced to the quarterfinals today with a straight-set win over Janette Husarova and Sabine Lisicki. Errani and Vinci, the top seeds, are also the defending champions. Also advancing were 10th seeds Kristina Mladenovic (making her mark in doubles lately) and Galina Voskoboeva. Sania Mirza and Bethanie Mattek-Sands retired against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova. The retirement came about when Mattek-Sands sustained a groin injury.

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