Sharapova Fights On, Nadal and Federer Cruise
May 25, 2009 -- If Rafael Nadal can do for men's clothing palettes what he has done for the sport of tennis then manufacturers start your engines! The Spaniard strutted his awesome self on Court Philippe Chatrier early today sporting a snappy Nike pink polo, neon yellow wrist bands and, to top it off, a matching neon yellow headband embroidered with a bright blue Nike swoosh. People… these are not your father's tennis clothes!
Only Mr. Nadal could pull off a flashy combo of colors like these at The French Open. But, as he is famous for having said, "I never lose here." And, it remains true. Nadal won his 29th consecutive match today against qualifier Marcos Daniel 75 64 63. It took the Spaniard just under two-and-a-half hours. Daniel had nothing to lose. He went for it, even breaking Nadal early in the second set to go up 31, but he lost the set 64 to Nadal.
Roger Federer also moved on, defeating his first opponent Alberto Martin 64 63 62 in less than two hours. Roger seems to have learned from his final against Nadal in Madrid two weeks ago where his aggression and change-ups paid off when he won the title at the Masters 1,000 tournament.
At times today Federer looked as if he were at a practice match. His confidence was apparent because he mixed up his tactics. His lethal forehand was back on-target, no longer a stroke expected to fly out of a stadium. His drop shots hit their marks with precision, too, throwing off the quick-footed Martin. In fact, Federer ended the match on a well-disguised drop shot.
"They [drop shots] worked well," Roger said after the match. "That's what I mean by mixing it up. Coming to the net, hitting drop shots. I'm happy I got to learn how to use it over the years."
To beat Nadal, Roger believes he will have to break the rhythm of the Spaniard, which will take all the tools in his court bag especially drop shots, serves and volleys, and consistent serves.
Both Rafa and Roger felt that they took time to get accustomed to the size of Court Philippe Chatrier. It is larger than most center courts and the ball is difficult to see initially. However, both men adjusted to the conditions.
It was great to see Maria Sharapova back on court after an 11-month hiatus. The last time she played a Grand Slam was Wimbledon 2008. Her familiar screeching was music to fans' ears, too. At least for the moment.
What's new with the Russian in addition to a mended rotator cuff? She has a brand new serve. Instead of a drawing her right arm back and making a large loop to begin her service motion, she raises both arms at once a la Andy Roddick and Pat Rafter. With less motion, she has less chance to re-injure her shoulder -- a critical element to her game.
Sharapova struggled in the first set, with her re-configured serve, against Anastasiya Yakimova. But after she found her rhythm, her confidence built. Along with her confidence came the trademark ground strokes that make her such a tough opponent. Although Maria doesn't move well on red clay -- The French Open is the only Grand Slam she hasn't won -- she proved to all the fans why she is a former number one player. Maria Sharapova is a fighter extraordinaire. She won the match 36 61 62.
Sharapova's second round match opponent is the #11 seed Nadia Petrova. This is good news and bad news. Will Sharapova be able to raise her game so early in the championship? She is 5-1 against Petrova, which is a good stat. However, Petrova has played 20 matches this year to Maria's three. Given the tenacity of both women, the match should be a good one and a good indication of Sharapova's direction for the remainder of the week.
America Alexa Glatch shocked #14 seed Flavia Pennetta, defeating the Italian 61 61 in sixty-one minutes. The normally tough Pennetta converted only 1 of 10 break-point chances, whereas Glatch converted 6 of 11. Glatch's returns were more forceful and consistent, too. She won a higher percentage of these points (63%) because she played a third less of them as her opponent played, emphasizing the gap in their service effectiveness.
The 20-year-old Glatch broke onto the women's tour in 2005. Expectations for her were high. However, her best Grand Slam performance came that year at the U. S. Open when she went out in the second round. Unfortunately that same year she was involved in a car accident while she rode her scooter. She broke her right wrist and left elbow. Eight months later she began to train again.
Alexa made her Fed Cup debut this year, rising to the occasion when she won both her single rubbers. As a result of her self-control and perseverance, Alexa pulled the American team out of its deficit and assured a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic.
Her favorite court surface is clay. We'll have to keep an eye on the California native. And any confidence she took away from her match today will be best stockpiled as she finds herself in Venus William's section of the draw.
Dinara Safina scored her first-ever double bagel in a Grand Slam against Anne Keothavong today, reinforcing the world's number one grip on that lofty ranking. News wasn't quite as good for #17 seed Patty Schnyder. She lost first round to Kateryna Bondarenko 64 63. Schnyder made it to the quarterfinals in 2008.
On the men's side, Stanislas Wawrinka, seeded 17, came from two sets down to defeat a fan-favorite Frenchman Nicolas Devilder 63 57 26 64 64. Wawrinka will next face Nicolas Massu who also played five sets today to advance to the second round. Massu is well known for his five set win over Mardy Fish in the singles final of the 2004 Athens Olympics. Massu came back from two sets down to win the gold medal, after having played and won the doubles gold medal with his compatriot Fernando Gonzalez less than eight hours prior to the start of his singles match. Massu reached a career-high ranking of #9 that same year.
On Court 7 today, the #19 seeded Tomas Berdych lost a close five-set battle against unseeded Simone Bolelli 64 64 57 46 63. This is the earliest exit for Berdych at The French Open. Bolelli lurks in Federer's quarter of the draw. Bolelli's racquet head speed and his penchant to go for broke make him a dangerous opponent. If both players advance they could meet in the round of sixteen.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
May 24, 2009 French Open Coverage: Bienvenue au Paris