Perfect Match Records Propel Venus and Vera Into Finals
November 8, 2008 -- Vera Zvonareva told Tracy Austin that she wanted to improve on her tennis today. The Russian bronze medalist came into her semifinal match against compatriot Elena Dementieva with a 3-0 record... perfect, so far. In the eight trips Dementieva has made to this prestigious year-ending event, this is her first shot at the final. Dementieva was 4-1 in head-to-head competition against Zvonareva as the semi got underway. However, the emotional maturity of Zvonareva and her ability to come from behind in her Doha matches has transformed her into a "New Vera," according to commentator Corina Morariu.
"She controls her groundstrokes much better and doesn't give away points," Lindsay Davenport added. "She hits through her forehand. It penetrates the court."
So why, then, was Vera Zvonareva smacking herself in the head at a changeover? If life was so good for Vera, why would she brutalize herself? Because she was down 1/4. She was frustrated.
The ghosts of her ultra-emotional past unleashed the demons, again. She ducked under her fuzzy white towel, hidden from the crowds and blaring festive music. Inside her cocoon of privacy she re-grouped. In the next game she got back one break of serve back, then another. She pulled even at 5-games all, a formidable fete against an opponent favored to win because of her tight ground game from the back of the court. But neither woman held serve. At 6/6 a tiebreak was on tap.
"The level of tennis has really picked up over the last few games," Lindsay said, before the tiebreak got underway.
Zvonareva was 8-12 in tiebreaks this year, whereas Elena Dementieva was 10-7. Even more evidence that the match should have gone Dementieva's way, or at least the first-set tiebreak.
Vera zoomed to a 5/1 advantage, but Dementieva arrested her momentum to even the score at 5/5. Zvonareva beefed up her aggression. Both players exchanged set points, but neither one could convert. The crowds dug the action. Both women let out squeals of exasperation. Vera tumbled on the court, not from an injury but from temperamental distress. In the end the New Vera came through 9/7. Her emotional ghosts must have been the friendly kind.
Not to be discounted, Elena Dementieva zoomed to a 3/0 lead in the second set. Her opponent looked drained from the roller-coaster tiebreak where she had to control her emotions or give Dementieva the one-set advantage in the match.
"Vera was down four-one in the first set," Lindsay began. "But she might have a more difficult time in the second. It looks as if Elena has settled in."
Dementieva executed flawless groundstrokes from the baseline... her meat-and-potatoes tennis. She didn't want to repeat mistakes of the first set and lose momentum. She won the set 6/3.
Although she'd played from behind in the first two sets, Zvonareva went ahead 2/0 in the third set. Could she tolerate a leading position? Being ahead can have its disadvantages too, given her propensity to crack emotionally. However, Zvonareva proved to be the more consistent player in the final set: from the baseline and at the net. She changed the ball's direction with ease, as if she'd finally found her zone, an inner peace that held her present and accountable for each and every stroke of the ball.
But, Elena is known for putting past points in their proper place -- behind her, locked far away from the goal of earning the "W." She got the match back on serve; but, Zvonareva was too consistent, too driven, and too stubborn to give the gold medalist a point. Zvonareva closed the match, earning her place in tomorrow's final, 76 (7) 36 63. She had played perfect tennis in Doha.
As the second semifinal got underway, Jelena Jankovic looked off. Unforced errors quickly piled up, which wasn't like the world's #1 player. To compound her uninspired start, Venus Williams's forehand was money. Not a good sign for Jankovic. She found herself in a hole before she knew it -- 1/4. For one game, Jankovic looked as if she might turn things around. If she could get a bit of confidence, she could put her best defensive foot forward. Having won the last five of six matches they'd played, a small amount of leverage was all she would need.
Venus Williams didn't let her get on a roll and closed the set 6/2.
As the second set got underway the magic and mystery that is Venus Williams slid away as unforced errors from her forehand accumulated. Jankovic went up 3/0 through her solid defensive game and by prolonged points. One was close to thirty rallies. Jankovic knew from experience that she could win more efficiently if Venus was forced to hit more and more balls in a point. Venus dominated opponents when her serve clicked, and she got to the net.
The audience came alive for the first time this week. A large section of Serbians roared with approval as their Jelena made inroads into the Williams game and tied the match with a 6/2 second set.
The sixth game of the third set was grueling for both players. Neither woman could close it out. Jelena had more at stake. She was down a break and needed the game. Deuce points mounted. On the sixth one Venus held, assuring her dominant position. Her athleticism, smart tactics and keen mental game against the defenses of Jankovic had pulled her through. She went on to win the match 6/3 in the third.
Like Vera Zvonareva, Venus goes into tomorrow's final with a perfect 4/0 record in round-robin play at this year's Sony Ericsson Championships. Zvonareva will be the underdog, although her performance this week was stellar. The tournaments she has won this year have been Tier II and Tier III events. Venus Williams, on the other hand, has five Venus Rosewater Platters from Wimbledon. You can never count out anyone in the top 100. On any given day all bets are off. Zvonareva has convinced many skeptics this week that she can play rough, too.
"I'm going to go for it tomorrow," Venus Williams told Tracy Austin.
We should all be ready to see Vera Zvonareva do the same thing. She doesn't seem very intimidated by the occasion.