Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sharapova and Errani advance to U.S. Open semifinals

It was most unfortunate that all the rain crowded the schedule and the Sharapova vs. Bartoli match had to be played at the same time as the Errani vs. Vinci match. I found it impossible to "really" watch both of them, and though my heart was with the Italian match, I wound up paying more attention to the other one.

When we left off yesterday, Marion Bartoli had taken a 4-0 lead in the first set of her semifinal against Maria Sharapova. It rained again this morning, so the players had to wait even longer to get on the court. And while popular opinion supported a huge Sharapova comeback, I wasn't so sure. Indeed, though Sharapova broke right away today and brought the score to 3-5, Bartoli had a strong hold to take the set 6-3.

Serving at 1-all in the second set, Sharapova saved multiple break points. A while later, Bartoli found herself down 3-4, 0-30. She saved a break point at 30-40, and went to get a game point on a second serve. The game returned to deuce, and Bartoli sent a ball long to give her opponent another break point; Sharapova broke with a forehand down the line, then held at love to take the second set.

The players exchanged breaks in the early part of the final set. At 2-3, Sharapova saved two break points and held with her ninth ace. At 4-all--when the tension was thick--Sharapova held two break points against Bartoli. Once again, the Frenchwoman used a second serve to get herself out of some trouble, and then held when Sharapova made a forehand error. Bartoli hit a huge crosscourt backhand following yet another big second serve. In spite of this all-out effort, however, Bartoli was broken.

Serving for the match, Sharapova went down 15-30, but came back for 30-all. She got to match point by hitting an ace out wide to the deuce court, and then she hit an unreturnable serve to advance to the semifinals.

It was a tense, well-played match--another one that could have gone either way. Sharapova hit 44 winners to Bartoli's 18, and she made 35 unforced errors. The Russian hit 10 aces and double-faulted 11 times. Sharapova--who hasn't had an easy time of it at the U.S. Open since she won it in 2006--will play top seed Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. Azarenka is 5-4 against Sharapova, and 4-2 against her on hard courts.

The all-Italian semifinal was, sadly, not very Italian. The opponents are (highly successful) doubles partners and best friends, and they approached today's match with a solemnity that is totally uncharacteristic of them. There was no fist-pumping, no yelling, not even much response from the player boxes. Clearly, it was an uncomfortable affair for all involved. But it was Sara Errani who handled the occasion better, taking control of an error-prone Roberta Vinci and winning the match 6-2, 6-4.

Errani broke Vinci five times. Vinci made 37 unforced errors, despite hitting 21 winners to Errani's 14. Errani made 15 unforced errors and was steady throughout. Despite the grimness, the match was often fun to watch because both players are such good shot-makers. The two matches could not have been more different from each other, and it was just too bad that the all-Italian match couldn't have gone on longer. When it was over, in an hour and 12 minutes, Errani held her racquet up briefly, but did not step onto the court to celebrate.

There was a rather significant upset in doubles. Despite going into the quarterfinals with all kind of momentum (including a defeat of the Williams sisters) 4th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova were defeated 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (couldn't be much closer) by the Spanish team of Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. The Spaniards, of course, have an excellent record, but ever since their huge success was interrupted by Martinez Sanchez's long injury break, they have not been considered an elite team.

Also winnning in doubles was the team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. The 3rd seeds defeated Sabine Lisicki and Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1. In another quarterfinal, Hsieh Su-Wei and Anabel Medina Garrigues defeated Chuang Chi-Jung and Zhang Shuai 6-2, 6-1. 2nd seeds Errani and Vinci had already reached the semifinals.

In the mixed doubles semifinals, Kveta Peschke and Marcin Matkowski beat top seeds Liezel Huber and Max Mirnyi 7-5, 6-2. Peschke and Matkowski are seeded 4th. They will play the unseeded Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares in the final.

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