Saturday, April 8, 2017

Here we are now, entertain us!

Jelena Ostapenko (l) and Daria Kasatkina (photos by Daniel Ward)
There was plenty of teen spirit at the Volvo Car Open today. Two teens, Daria Kasatkina and Jelena Ostapenko, pushed the veterans aside--something that's been very hard to do lately--and will contest for the title tomorrow.

The last time two teenagers played for the title was 2009, when 19-year-old Sabine Lisicki defeated 18-year-old Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

At the top of today's schedule was a stylistic contest between 19-year-old Kasatkina and Laura Siegemund. Siegemund took the first set, but an increasingly aggressive and fluid Kasatkina took over after that. Siegemund's ability to choose the right shot at any giving time, generally a big strength for her, went away in the third set. She said, after the match, that she was simply very tired and could no longer move. "You know what, it's frustrating if you know what you want to do and you know you need six shots for it and you only have energy for four."

Siegemund took a medical timeout at 0-4 down in the third set, right when Kasatkina was about to serve, a move which surprised her opponent, whose comment was "Usually it shouldn't happen." Following Siegemund's MTO, Kasatkina went down 0-40, but she recovered and went on to win the match, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.

In the second semifinal, 19-year-old Jelena Ostapenko took on the veteran of veterans, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Ostapenko's performance against 5th seed Caroline Wozniacki on Thursday night was near-perfect, and there was little chance she was going to replicate it, especially against the hard-hitting Lucic-Baroni. And yet, during the first set, the spirited young Latvian was able to overcome her opponent 6-3, with one extra break of serve.

It was no surprise that Lucic-Baroni came back strong in the second set, which was very competitive, and which the Croation star won after breaking Ostapenko when she served for the match. Ostapenko broke right away in the final set, and was soon up 3-0. But again, Lucic-Baroni came back. Yet despite her best attempt, it was Ostapenko who emerged the winner, at 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

This match, like the one before it, met my expectations, in terms of quality. The two semifinal matches were a dramatic contrast in styles. Kasatkina and Siegemund utilized every clay court trick in the book, slowly constructing points, and using equal forward and lateral movement. Ostapenko and Lucic-Baroni, as expected, were engaged in more of a hitting contest.

Ostapenko is a very hard ball-striker who can play aggressively. Kasatkina is savvy and fluid, but also aggressive. Both women have good serves, though good serves have been known to disappear in finals, especially among less experienced players.

Not only are both finalists teenagers; they are both unseeded. The last time that two unseeded players contested for the title was 2002, when Iva Majoli defeated Patty Schnyder in the final. Schnyder had done a lot of very heavy lifting in that draw, taking out 6th seed Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, 3rd seed Serena Williams, and top seed and defending champion Jennifer Capriati. But Majoli got the best of her, 7-6, 6-4.

It should be noted that Jelena Ostapenko had the potential to sweep the 2017 titles, but that potential disappeared this evening when she and Raquel Atawo lost their semifinal against 4th seeds Lucie Hradecka and Katerina Siniakova. Hradecka and Siniakova will face top seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova in the final. Mattek-Sands and Safarova defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke in the semifinals. If the top seeds win tomorrow, it will be the third Charleston doubles title for Safarova.

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