Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What a day it was

The rain came down violently and relentlessly, and the front part of my property flooded for only the second time since I've lived here. We were under a flash flood watch and a tornado watch for most of the day. The power went out--no television, no lights, no Internet.

My trainer kept checking his phone, since he assumed I wouldn't be able to get to the gym. But I put on some beach shoes (I can't find rain boots or rain shoes that I can wear) and made my way through the water and over the familiar route so that I could keep my appointment.

All in all, it was a difficult and drama-filled day. Rain, flooding, no lights. What else? Oh, yeah--Garbine Muguruza decided she should kick her childhood idol's butt out of Roland Garros.

In just over an hour, the young Spaniard, who had to miss most of last season because of an ankle injury, put the big hurt on defending champion and top seed Serena Williams. Muguruza just about couldn't do anything wrong. She pounded the ball down the center of the court over and over, taking away Williams' potential to harm her, while zoning in on invisible--and perfect--targets, much the way that Petra Kvitova used to do all the time. Muguruza never let up. She served steadily, she won at the net, she stayed calm, and she broke Williams five times.

For her part, Williams looked flummoxed, as though she needed a moment to figure things out. Only Muguruza wouldn't give her a moment, so Williams just kept making errors. There are a couple of images from this match that will stick in my mind for a while. One was watching Williams make a complete turn around the court in an attempt to do something with a return, only to find herself--just twirling. The other was the look in the defending champion's eyes as Muguruza served at 40-0 for match point. The look said "just kill me now."

The Spaniard obliged, taking the match 6-2, 6-2.

When was the last time that Serena Williams won only four games in a match at a major tournament? The answer is "never." This was, in fact, only the third time that Williams has gone out of a major before the third round. With Li Na's loss yesterday and Williams' loss today, another statistic has been created: This is the first time in the Open Era that the two top seeds have lost in the first round.

Perhaps Li isn't feeling quite so bad today. And perhaps Maria Sharapova is feeling--optimistic.

Venus Williams made an exit, too. The older Williams sister lost to Anna Schmiedlova, who beat her 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Shmiedlova had never before taken a set off of a top-30 player, but today, she held fast, and used her impressive backhand to advance to the third round, in which she'll play Muguruza.

How crazy is this tournament going to get?

Without a doubt, the day belonged to Garbine Muguruza, but if she's willing to share a little corner of it, then the rest of the day would have to belong to Taylor Townsend. In what turned out to be an absolute thriller of a match, the wild card upset 20th seed Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. This match had everything--the drama (in a good way) of Cornet, the admirable determination of the talented Townsend, an insanely wild French crowd, and crazy momentum swings. The third set was practically heart-stopping, as Cornet scratched and clawed her way from 1-5 to 4-5, carried by her own spirit and by the full-out emotion of her countrywomen and -men.

It seemed, in fact, practically fated that the Frenchwoman would find a way to prevail, but Townsend didn't let that happen. Playing in the first major main draw of her career, the wild card from the USA stood up to not only a Safina-like impossible comeback player, but to a stadium full of screaming French fans.

18-year-old Townsend is the youngest player from the United States to reach the third round of Roland Garros in eleven years. I have to be honest: As pleased as I was for Townsend, I hated to see her opponent go. I was hoping Cornet would be around in the second week, not only because I've followed her career for a long time, but--well, mainly--because I find her so extremely entertaining in every way.

There's more. Maria Sharapova had to contend with Tsvetana Pironkova, but what was distracting about this match was listening to the Tennis Channel commentators express shock that Pironkova could be so good and could win Sydney, and then kind of disappear. Hello! Once again, I ask, do they even watch women's tennis? It doesn't matter what Pironkova does--continually beat Venus Williams in majors, win Sydney, or maybe, in the future, take out the top three seeds in consecutive matches at the U.S. Open. She's always going to be the "now you see her, now you don't" Bulgarian Woman of Mystery.

She gave 'Pova a good first set, too. But then Pironkova had some bad luck. Some really bad luck. Down 5-6, 15-40, the Bulgarian player saved a set point. She then hit a tricky high return that skimmed the line but was called "out." The chair umpire inspected the mark and corrected the call, but the point had to be replayed, which kept Pirnokova from reaching deuce. On the replay, Sharapova hit a ball that struck the net cord--and then just dribbled over. The Russian then won the second set 6-2, and that was that.

Other things happened today, but they were hardly noticed because of the exit of the Williams sisters, and especially the exit of Serena. But other things did happen. Genie Bouchard advanced to the third round, as did Aga Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Sam Stosur, Carla Suarez Navarro, Dominika Cibulkova, and Daniela Hantuchova. Gone are Flavia Pennetta and Karolina Pliskova. Sabine Lisicki is gone, too; she retired with a wrist injury.

9th seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova lost, as did 10th seeds Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova.

And it's supposed to rain here all day tomorrow.

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