Big hype but no surge today
Justine Henin beat Serena Williams today in rather straight-forward fashion in two sets, 6-4, 6-3, denying fans what looked initially like a barnburner of a quarterfinal match. This match showed us exactly where the two players are this weak in their respective games.
Williams got here by the seat of her pants, working her way through lesser players by dint of her greater physical strength and her competitive zeal. Henin, by contrast, showed off her variety and her consistency, the two elements that have helped her dominate here at Roland Garros. She was dialed in from the beginning, she held her ground steadily and did not allow Serena a way back into the match.
Basically what cost Serena was that she hasn’t played that much high-quality tennis. And when she meets a quality player like Henin, the gaps in her preparation start to show. It was not a flattering match for Serena. While she can play her way into things with most of the other players, she couldn’t do that against Henin. There would be no repeat of their meeting in Miami when Henin blitzed Serena 6-0 in the first set only to see Williams come back and win the match in three.
Serena started slow, gave up the early break, then embarked on a game plan that took her away from her normal aggressive style. It’s one thing to learn how to be patient when playing on clay. It’s another thing when you try to convert your game in midstream to that of a clay court player. Serena took a detour, in other words, from her offensive style. She tried to rally with Henin too much, attempting a lot of slice off her backhand side, and the errors started creeping in. Fortunately her serving game looked pretty good. A lot of first serves landed in but Henin had all the defensive answers she needed.
We kept waiting for Serena to make a move, but the surge never came. Surely Serena would get it going in the second. They traded breaks, then Justine got her fourth of the day and it was enough. Serena needed more fitness and more match play. The top women are too competitive now for her to coast along. Hopefully we will see better from her at Wimbledon, although personally I think that could be Venus’s tournament. Today the clay was not at all to Serena’s liking.
“I didn’t do anything I was supposed to like move up and the other things I was supposed to do,” said Serena after the match. “I stood back and let her take advantage of me.” She spoke of how she felt violated, but it was more at her own hands.
A few other people played today too, and one of them, Maria Sharapova, may actually stand a chance of winning her first ever clay final. Her bruising match with Schnyder sent Sharapova a definite wake-up call, and today she upped her game big time. Serving problems, what serving problems? Her forehand pushed her countrywoman Ana Chakvetadze every which way. The final score was 6-3, 6-4.
Maria is a monster competitor, maybe the best in the women’s game. She’ll need all her stuffing to cope with the other Anna still alive here, Anna Ivanovic. She beat up on Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets, surrendering the second set before blitzing the Russian in the third, 6-0, 3-6, 6-1. A Sharapova-Ivanovic semifinal would be an interesting pairing of similar styles. Both hit big forehands, Maria’s travels quicker through the court but Ana hits a heavier ball. Ana’s serve is a little bigger and heavier too, and more consistent. But if Sharapova can continue to improve her serving, she could out compete the Serb.
Jelena Jankovic, variously known as Jelly or the Alien (and both are meant affectionately, by the way), had relatively little trouble with the big blond bomber, Nicole Vaidisova. This match was won/lost on their respective styles of play too. Jankovic was far steadier, played well within herself, and retrieved nearly everything hurled at her. Vaidisova wanted to cream every ball every which way. She takes her serving very very seriously and can even kick a big serve out wide that few women on tour can match. She can open up angles and go for shots. That’s the problem though, she doesn’t know how or when to rein herself in. God help the women on tour if she ever figures out a way to harness that power.
Jankovic now faces Henin in the semis. They’ve had interesting matches before but Henin has held sway. She holds a 5-0 record. Jelena will have to serve well, especially on her surprisingly timid second serve, or Henin will be feasting on her all day. If she can play without fear and keep her mind under control too, Jankovic has got a shot.
And now, Les Girls:
Henin in three over Jankovic (I want Jelena, but she may not be quite ready yet for a first slam win)
Sharapova in two over Ivanovic (While I would love to see a first-time all-Serbian final, I think Maria is sinking her teeth into life now, and Ivanovic is going to be her next victim).
Sorry to say, I can’t stand these two women. Pardon me while I hold my nose and grit my teeth for a Henin win. Given my druthers I want the Serbian girls. Oh well. Their day is coming.
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