The Truth Be Known
August 21, 2009 -- With all the discussion this week about the state of the women's game, it's good to backtrack and realize that in the end it's always one match at a time. Win or lose. Seeded or unseeded. Qualifiers penetrating the quarterfinals. They are all part of any tournament; and, the draw, which kicks off the event, is meaningful only in that it attempts to logically order what will be in the end a roll of the dice. Once cast, it's anyone's guess who will advance and who will end up in the winner's box.
The women's singles draw at Rogers Cup is a case in point. By the round of sixteen all but five seeds were out of the competition. Dinara Safina (#1 seed) lost her first match -- remember the 17 double faults? "Disaster," she called it. But with a wry sense of humor she promised to work harder -- on her serve, et al -- and prepare for the U. S. Open. She is talented, driven, and hardheaded. Good qualities for a tennis superstar, and the current reigning world's number one player on the WTA tour.
Venus Williams (#3) fell from grace in her first round match, too. "I've never done well here," she said. Kuznetsova (#6) went out to 'Sammy' Stosur, who looks intent on drilling the draw come the U. S. Open. Caroline Wozniacki (#8) couldn't get her mental game back on tract after blowing a robust opportunity in the first set at 5/4 40-love, plus the next nine games.
Jelena Jankovic (#5) has progressed steadily through her quarter. Last night against crowd-favorite Kim Clijsters, the Serbian looked as if she'd lost her luster when she dropped the first set having won only one game. She righted her ship quickly, stepped up her game and won the match well after midnight. Jankovic feels good about herself. She gained weight to improve, a few months back. Then lost the weight to improve. She said she is back to her 'old' self. Alisa Kleybanova has her work cut out today.
The lowest seed in the quarterfinals -- Agnieszka Radwanska #14 -- got the green light when Venus bid adieu. Lucky for her. She is 4-1 against the elder Williams sister. Radwanska is crafty and quick, and not a blueprint ball basher. Her record against Maria Sharapova, her opponent, is 1-2.
Maria Sharapova (unseeded) stockpiled seventeen double faults the same day, as did Safina. Difference??? She won her match and now finds herself in the quarterfinals, having sent Vera Zvonareva (#7) back to the physiotherapist: her right ankle still weakened from her tumble this spring in Charleston, South Carolina.
Little Lucie Safarova, the remaining qualifier, is the outlier of the draw. She has legitimately made a difference this week. First she upset Ana Ivanovic (#11), which Safarova categorized as one of her best career wins. She'll have played five rounds by the time she meets Serena Williams (#2).
The 2009 Rogers Cup singles competition has run its own course. No Ouija Board or Magic 8 Ball could have predicted the state of things as they stand today. As Plato would argue it lies beyond experience, a metaphysical entity unknown before its life.
Many of the seeded women could chalk up their early losses to fatigue. Many could blame themselves for poor shot selection or mental lapses. However, as today unfolded all the right players were in their proper berths, their starting points.
How The Day Turned Out
Elena Dementieva (#4) and Samantha Stosur were bombarded with blasts of wind through out their match. Left-over tornado weather whipped on the Rexall Centre center court, fluttering flags until stiff and Dementieva's tennis dress like laundry on a clothesline.
"It was quite windy out there," Dementieva said. "It was not easy to play; you just try to be very aggressive with your footwork, trying to get very close to the balls and just to get good control on the racquet head. I had to go for my shots."
There were eight breaks of serve in the first set. Not normal by any means, but notable because Stosur's serve is one tough nut to crack.
"It was really unusual," Dementieva said. "Especially for her because she has one of the biggest serves on the tour. It's not easy to break her."
To break Stosur takes skill and concentration. While the wind caused its own havoc, breaking Stosur seemed almost impossible. But Dementieva broke Stosur four times. And Stosur broke Dementieva four times. Neither one could hold their own service game. So in the end, a tiebreak decided the set. Stosur took advantage of her serve and favored forehand, closing the tiebreak at 3.
"I was a little disappointed," Dementieva said. "I was trying to forget a quick as possible and focus on the second set."
Stosur met her un-Maker in the second set: her lack of technique. Players frequently experience a let down after winning a set. However, Stosur's was pure meltdown. She over-hit groundstrokes. She missed first and second serves. She tried too hard to correct herself. She didn't win one point on her second serve and couldn't convert a break point.
When she strode from the deuce to the ad side of the court you could imagine her teeth grinding against each other. Even in her silence -- she abstains from grunting -- fans sensed her anger and frustration. She boiled. She lost the set 6/1.
Stosur's serve let her down, again, in the third. The two stayed close, but Stosur's unforced errors climbed. Dementieva won the match 67 (3) 61 63 on a break. She fell to her knees.
"For me it's not about Tier III, Tier I, or a Grand Slam," Dementieva said. "When I come to the court, I'm trying to play my best. And today it was a good fight. It was a very tough match against her, so I was very happy to win. I like competition."
Serena Williams had no trouble with Lucie Safarova. In less than an hour the America had squashed any hopes the Czech had to advance to the semifinals.
Serena served 7 aces, was 71% on first serve percentage, and won 100% of her second service points.
"I actually felt really good out there," Williams said. "I felt like I was really consistent. I felt like I was moving really well. Yeah, I felt good."
About tomorrow's semifinal against Elena Dementieva, Serena said, "I think it will be a great match. She is obviously a great player. Our last match was, you know, really insane. I love playing her. It will be good."
They last met in the semifinals at Wimbledon. That match became an instant classic, with Serena squeaking by in three tough sets. Said Elena, "That match was one of the best matches of my career, even that I lost. Tomorrow is going to be a completely different challenge."
Drama has followed Jelena Jankovic wherever she's played. Tonight in a three hour sixteen minute drama fest, Jankovic challenged on her own serve, asked the audience if she should challenge, and gave the chair umpire hell about the poor linesmen. At one point she beat Hawkeye on three out of four calls. For the match, there were 21 challenges.
But the bad line calls stressed Jankovic. She couldn't and didn't trust the line calls. Combine that with an opponent she'd never faced and, voila· more drama, more conversations with her support group.
"I mean, it was a lot of bad calls from the referee, and then, you know, I was -- I didn't really trust so many of those calls," Jankovic said. " I challenged, especially in the first set, and I was right. If I didn't challenge, I would have lost that first set for sure. Those challenges saved me."
Alisa Kleybanova kept steady through it all in her march through the match. She had her questions about line calls, too, but didn't stay focused on any one call long enough to get her off track. She lost the first set, after having a 5/1 lead in the tiebreak but looked assured that if she continued the tide could turn.
Jankovic had a set point in the second, but wasted it. Kleybanova won the second set on the eleventh attempt. In the third, Jankovic was visibly tired and Kleybanova exploited it. She moved the Serb around the court, created sharper angles, and continued to serve well.
"I was exhausted," Jankovic said. "My energy and everything went down, and you know, she took advantage of that."
Kleybanova wracked up 13 aces for the match. Her win over the fifth seed at 67 (8) 76 (7) 62 was the upset of the day.
"Physically I think I didn't feel tired," Kleybanova said. "It was a very mental game today. When you have so many important points and every point that you play is so tough, you have to give it 100%. It really kills your brain more than physical. I don't think I could survive something like this maybe about six months ago. I think this really paid off during this match today."