Saturday, March 15, 2014

Notes from Na Na Land

We always know that it can happen. It did happen, when Li Na was trying oh, so hard to close her match against Aleks Wozniak earlier in the week in Indian Wells. It was there when she made 59 unforced errors against Dominika Cibulkova. But last night, "it" happened in the old, "I can't believe what I'm seeing" way. The top seed crumbled against a not exactly steady Flavia Pennetta in the Indian Wells semfinals.

Pennetta had already survived that crazy wind-blown third set against Sloane Stephens, so--despite some shakiness--she did know she was a survivor. Even after she served (not too well) for the first set and was broken, the Fighting Italian knew she had a chance to win the set. She won it, too, in a tiebreak. And that tiebreak was one of the few stretches in the match in which both players performed well.

Li went up a break in the second set, but her rash error-making and double-faulting (nine in all) continued, so Pennetta adopted the simple strategy of hitting the ball to the center of the court while engaging Li in long rallies and hanging in until Li made an error. It worked almost every time, and the Italian's 7-5, 6-3 victory earned her aa spot in the final, her first at a premier level.

Some trips to Na Na Land are what the Brits call mini-breaks. Some are all-out vacations with no forehand packed.

In the final, Pennetta will play Anieszka Radwanska. I had looked forward all day to seeing the semifinal between Radwanska and Simona Halep, and while it could have been better, I wasn't disappointed. Halep was obviously tired; she has played a lot of tennis lately and has played some of it with a double Achilles injury. Then energy wasn't quite there last night, but I may still like this match-up probably more than any other on the tour.

There were some very fine points in this match--a few that made me gasp. But Radwanska had no let-downs, and was able to conjure her special magic against a player who actually reminds me a bit of the Polish star. Halep doesn't have all the tricks (no one does), but she sure has the angles. Radwanska won, 6-3, 6-4, but Halep got a prize, too: She is now in the top 5.

Meanwhile, top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai ended the impressive run of wild cards Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sam Stosur. The top team beat the wild cards 2-6, 7-6, 10-2. They will face 5th seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza (who always remembers to pack her forehand) in the final.

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