We are in Linz, Austria for the finals of the Generali Linz Open. The Danube River flows next to the Intersport Arena where the tournament is being played on an indoor carpet. Whenever I hear that the surface is carpet, I expect janitors to come out during the set break and run over the court with vacuum cleaners.

Nadia Petrova, a Russian, is playing Patty Schnyder, a Swiss national. In a recent interview on The Tennis Channel, Petrova was asked why there are so many good Russian women tennis players. She said that Anna Kournikova inspired many young women in Russia to play tennis and that the competition between the Russians has made them good players. Petrova shares a dubious distinction with Kournikova: she has never won a tournament. If she can win today, she will climb to number eight in the rankings and give herself a good chance of getting one of the eight spots in the year-end championship tournament in Los Angeles.

Schnyder is currently sixth in the standings. Lindsay Davenport, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Mary Pierce and Amelie Mauresmo have already qualified for Los Angeles.

Schnyder is an emotional player. During her semifinal match, she threw her racket down on the ground and it bounced up and cut her hand. She’s experienced controversy during her eleven-year career. When she was nineteen, she became involved with a controlling man twice her age named Rainer Harnecker. He put her on an extreme diet and used bizarre healing techniques on her. The contoversy isolated Schnyder from her peers. Her parents were so concerned they sent a private detective to extricate her from the relationship. Schnyder responded by falling in love with the detective, Rainer Hofmann, and now they are married.

Schnyder may be trying to find a parental figure or someone to give her direction in life. If so, Hofman might not be the best choice. He was convicted of fraud in a German court and given an eighteen month sentence that was later reduced to a fine.

…so now we have two women swinging rackets at the ground in disgust. Doesn’t anyone here enjoy playing the game of tennis?

This should be a good match because Petrova and Schnyder have complementary games. Petrova has a powerful serve and likes to come to the net. Schnyder stays on the baseline and moves her opponent around with slices and heavy topspin ground strokes. The problem is that the pressure of winning a tournament and getting to the year-end championship seems to make Petrova nervous. She fails to get a first serve in and double faults in the third game of the match to fall behind, 1-2.

Schnyder keeps you off balance with an abundance of tactics. In one thirteen-point rally, she hits high looping shots, runs Petrova wide then hits behind her, and attacks Petrova’s forehand, her weaker side. When Schnyder’s not punishing herself with her racket, she’s punishing her opponent.

I hate to complain about a player’s net play because there is so little of it in the game today, but Petrova doesn’t yet know what to do once she gets to the net. On some points, Schnyder’s best option is to pass down the line but Petrova fails to read it, stays in the middle of the net and gets passed. Despite failing to cover down the line at the net and squandering five break points, Petrova finally breaks Schnyder to get back on serve at 3-3 then immediately hands the break back with a double fault and missed first serves. There’s a pattern here.

With Schnyder serving for the set, Petrova goes up 40-0 but can’t win the game. She drops her racket on the court in dismay. Luckily it doesn’t bounce up and hit her. Petrova fails to play the critical points well, she converts only one of nine break point opportunities, and Schnyder wins the first set, 6-4.

Schnyder and Petrova trade breaks early in the second set then Schnyder goes on a walkabout. She loses the measure of the court; balls go sailing over the baseline or into the net. Petrova takes advantage of Schnyder’s wayward state and breaks her to get back on serve then breaks her again. Schnyder finally wakes up but she’s not controlling the points as she was earlier and it’s making her mad. Petrova is already mad at herself for failing to convert break points so now we have two women swinging rackets at the ground in disgust. Doesn’t anyone here enjoy playing the game of tennis?

Petrova is hitting approach shots for winners, which is a good idea because it means she doesn’t have to play the net. After trading breaks yet again, Petrova gets another break to win the second set, 6-3, and even the match.

Schnyder loses her first two service games in the third set to go down 0-3 and is so discouraged that she doesn’t even bother to yell at herself. She wins only one more game and Petrova gets her first title, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

The day after this final, Justine Henin-Hardenne announces that a hamstring injury will keep her out for the rest of the year. Both Petrova and Schnyder will go to Los Angeles where they’ll be able to play in more pressure packed tennis matches. Thankfully, they seem to thrive on it.

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