And The Hits Just Keep On Coming
June 2, 2009 -- Fernando Gonzalez became the third spoiler in the men's draw at The French Open today when he knocked out Andy Murray, the #3 seed, 63 36 60 64, making his way to his first French semifinal.
Robin Soderling, who any gambler in their right mind would have bet against after he killed the King Of Clay Rafael Nadal on Sunday, thumped Nikolay Davydenko 61 63 61, earning a berth in the semifinals -- the farthest he has ever gone in Grand Slam competition.
These two unexpected, and deserving, players will be on new turf when they face off in one semifinal this Friday.
Dinara Safina who is expected to take possession of "la coupe" on Saturday, pleaded to her coach Zeljko Krajan while on court for somethingÉ anythingÉ to help her stop the onslaught from her opponent Victoria Azarenka, in the first set. She drove balls so hard and deep at the Russian she didn't know what the heck to do. In twenty-three minutes Azarenka had disturbed Safina's hold on expectations of glory, winning the set 6-1 while committing only one unforced error. The map pointed south for Safina, if she didn't right the ship.
But, she did.
And something has to be said about this woman who people want to lash out at as "not the real number one" because of this and that. Dinara Safina is a force. She's the real thing. She is hungry. She listens to her coach, who quite frankly yells at the woman at times. Nonetheless, Dinara dug out of that wrenching first-set deficit and won this crucial quarterfinal match 16 64 62. And she did it on Court Chatrier against a player who is about as tenacious as a pit pull.
"Well, if I will not fight in the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam and being number one in the world, then obviously I'm not deserving this spot," Safina said. "So this issue -- this is something that I have. That I fight till the end. For me the match is never over."
Remember when Richard Williams danced on top of the broadcast booth at Wimbledon's Centre Court immediately after Venus won her first title there? He held up a sign that read: 'This is Venus's party and nobody's invited.' The 2009 French Open Safina version of this sign reads: 'Safina Declines Invitation to Masquerade Party.'
Ever since Safina defeated Venus Williams in the semifinals of this year's Internazionali BNL D'Italia, the Russian's confidence has soared. She had never gotten a set off Venus, let alone a match. Safina seemed to fix her mind in Rome. She played one point at a time, which seems the obvious tactic. However when you face Venus Williams knowing you've never had any success, well, then, the mind can lasso your thoughts and tie up your legs tight enough that they don't and can't function. Then the match turns into a smack-down.
As well as she played today, Safina's game will have to go up a notch to win the championship. Azarenka had many opportunities to break in the second and third sets but did not convert. If Safina meets, let's say Serena Williams in the final, then she better have an ace up her sleeve because Serena will eat up those chances to her very own, and dramatic, advantage.
"I think she [Azarenka] was missing way too much today," Safina began. "Like in the third set, every time I was break up, but I was always struggling to hold my serve. I had couple times like love-30."
Dinara Safina's rise to the number one spot has been through work: on court and off court. She travels with a coach and not her mother, who coached her from the time she was a child. The histrionics displayed at last year's Roland Garros are gone, too. She has lost weight, toned up, and focused her energy.
"It's good that I was managed to change it [emotions]," she said. "I knew this is my weakness, and I deal with it. That's why I think I did such a big jump."
The diminutive 20-year-old Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, #20 seed, in her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal demolished crowd favorite Maria Sharapova 60 62. Cibulkova, in her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal, will face Dinara Safina.
Cibulkova's victory over Sharapova probably came as a bit of a shock for most people. She is small compared to today's women players, but her name is big like her rivals and complicated to pronounce. Cibulkova's game is an athletic one. She likes to move her opponents around the court and outlast them. Her groundstrokes, especially her forehand, penetrate the court and land deep to the baseline. She moves like the wind, low to the ground and intent on scrambling for every ball. Her serve can be a weakness, which it was at times today. However once a point starts, she's off and running.
Cibulkova took three match points to close out Sharapova. At six-love, five-love, she started to think.
"It was really tough, because when I was up 6-0, 5-0, 40-30, in this moment I realized what I can make," Dominika said. "I realize I can beat, you know, Maria Sharapova 6-0 6-0, and to go to semifinals in a Grand Slam. I got shocked a little bit."
Sharapova broke. She started to hit the corners of the court. Fans anticipated another comeback from her. She had done it in her previous rounds. Why not today?
But, she didn't.
On her third match point, at 5-2, Cibulkova ended Sharapova's run at Roland Garros.
"So it was 5-2 and I knew that I was serving and I have to make this game," Dominika said. "Because, then it will be really difficult, if it will be 5-3, then 5-4. Then I can get really tight."
The shifts and surprises at this year's French Open have continued. Now, only a few remain. The air in Paris is filled with anticipation. Players who have never penetrated a Grand Slam draw have risen to the top. The excitement. The nerves. The magnificent shots and unexpected thrillers will unfold over the next several days. Dinara Safina was the finalist last year; can she breakthrough to the upper echelon? Roger Federer is now the highest seed left in the men's draw. All eyes will be on him, as those eager to prove themselves on this grand stage attempt to foil his mission.
Bob and Mike Bryan, too, have played their way to the men's doubles semifinals. They won their first Grand Slam title here in Paris in 2003. If they win this year, they will have a total of eight majors. There are no surprises here.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 1, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Vacuum Left by Nadal
May 31, 2009 French Open Coverage: Both Defending Champs Out At French Open
May 30, 2009 French Open Coverage: Draw Opens as Djokovic Falls In Three
May 29, 2009 French Open Coverage: What's Up With All That Noise!
May 28, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Shifting Clay of Roland Garros
May 27, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Heart of a Champion
May 26, 2009 French Open Coverage: American Women in Paris
May 25, 2009 French Open Coverage: Sharapova Fights On, Nadal and Federer Cruise
May 24, 2009 French Open Coverage: Bienvenue au Paris