Wednesday, April 5, 2017

How to Siegemund: Part 2

photo by Daniel Ward
Last year in Charleston, I wrote about How to Siegemund. Now, that guide gets an update. Laura Siegemund, who reached the Volvo Car Open quarterfinals in 2016, played for over three hours today, saw a match point come and go at the end of the second set, but stuck with her clever and relentless game. The German player eventually upset 3rd seed Venus Williams 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 in the Volvo Car Open second round, and the entertainment value of the match cannot be overstated.

The backstory is pretty good, too. On Monday, Siegemund played a three-hour and 19-minute match against Lesia Tsurenko on the Althea Gibson Club Court, and that, too, was very tense and entertaining.

Backing the story up a year: On the third day of the Volvo Car Open main draw in 2016, Siegemund had already spent nine hours on the court (singles and doubles). This is a player who used to worry about getting tired, but that concern was definitely put to rest.

The longer backstory is even better: In 2012, Siegemund had to leave the tour because of torn ligaments. She used her time off to get a degree in psychology and also to get her trainer's certificate. At that time, she didn't anticipate returning to full-time athlete status. But, of course, she was able to do so, and she does her best work on clay courts.

On Monday, I said that if the Siegemend vs. Tsurenko match were made into a movie, we might give it the working title of "Drop Shot Me to Hell." Today's match would be a sequel, perhaps, "Drop Shot Me to Hell: Feel the Burn." Williams, unlike the ailing Tsurenko, didn't try to beat Siegemund at her own game, though--being Venus Williams--she got to many of the German's drop shots, only to see them fly past her after she dropped them back over the net.

photo by Daniel Ward
Williams took a 4-2 lead in the opening set, but Siegemund then won four games in a row to take that set 6-4. The German held a match point at 5-3, but Williams would have none of it, and the set went to a tiebreak, which Williams won convincingly.

By the time they had finished the first two sets, the opponents had already lived through eleven breaks of serve, but there were more to come in a crowd-thrilling, momentum-swinging final set that--at times--had the crowd mesmerized. At 3-all, the tension was palpable, and Siegemund was on a roll with a series of drop shots (her signature, obviously) that--while not always successful--were successful most of the time. (I couldn't help, at this point, but think of Charleston rock star Patty Schnyder, who used to thrill spectators with her spinning drop shots, lengthy slides and expert lobs.)

On several occasions, Siegemund was forced to use the backhand slice, and every time this happened, she was able to flummox Williams; however, I don't recall seeing her use the backhand slice intentionally. Williams made Siegemund work harder and harder, the longer the match went on, and finally, the 3rd seed served for the whole thing, at 5-4. The end appeared near--well, maybe not, because at times, it seemed that there would be no end. Sure enough, Williams was broken, after holding two match points.

So many breaks had been traded at this point, it was reasonable to expect another tiebreak when Siegemund held at 6-5. But then the German player held again, and the long drama was finally over, with Siegemund victorious at 6-4, 6-7, 7-5. Between them, the players hit 97 winners and made 80 unforced errors, each ending with a positive differential.

Later, in the press room, Williams described Siegemund's performance as what "could be the best match she'll ever play in her life."

photo by Daniel Ward
Siegemund, however, was more measured in her assessment: "I know, in my aggressive game, I can do better than this. But I did a really good job today in defending, and I was covering the court really well. And I got a lot of sneaky points where she thought she had won the point already, and I got it back. But other things were solid, and some things I feel like, okay, I need to get this fixed to keep being in the competition...."

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