Little Known, Little Being Said
January 22, 2010 -- Late into the night and early hours of the morning a little-covered match roared between the #3 seed, and reigning French Open singles champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova and qualifier Angelique Kerber. Rafael Nadal had defeated Philip Kohlschreiber; Juan Martin del Potro had defeated Florian Mayer; Croat Ivo Karlovic had beaten his countryman Ivan Ljubicic; and to the disappointment of mega fans... Nadia Petrova had taken down the #15 seed Kim Clijsters -- one projected winner of The Australian Open.
Svetlana Kuznetsova had her hands full with Kerber, a lefty from Germany currently ranked #118. It was the German's first experience into the third round of the Australian Open -- the farthest she had ever gotten Down Under. Who was to say she wouldn't go farther? Kuznetsova is a formidable two-time major champion. However, loose canons can fire from any angle and during any match.
Kerber won the first set on two breaks of serve. Kuznetsova, visibly annoyed, committed 17 unforced errors. However, Kerber's lefty serve was sharp. She won 86% of her points off of first serves -- an astonishingly high percentage that even Andy Roddick doesn't approach. But Kuznetsova didn't make her seed by giving up, no matter her foul mood.
Very skilled in doubles, the Russian began to approach the net with success. Then her backhand, which she leans in on to the point you might think she'll fall over, found its mark. She was up a break. Her drop shots worked and her dark mood dissipated. A series of breaks marked the third set, and either player was on track to win the match.
But Kuznetsova held off break points from Kerber late in the set. It was Kuznetsova's conversion of break points that pushed her over the finish line -- 67%. It was her net points that pushed her over the finish. It was her mind that held her together throughout the two-hour match.
Kuznetsova won 99 total points for the match. Angelique Kerber won 98 points for the match.
No one was particularly focused on veteran Russian Nadia Petrova, the #19 seed, until this evening when she faced crowd-favorite Kim Clijsters. Petrova has slid in the rankings since a career high of six in 2006 due to injuries and lackluster results. For example, she lost in the first round of Brisbane this month, as the second seed, to wildcard dynamo Justine Henin. Then in Sydney the following week, she lost in the first round to qualifier Kimiko Date Krumm. However, since turning pro in 1996, Petrova has earned 9 tour singles titles and 18 tour doubles titles. She is a serious champion, in her own right, with an all-court game topped with a serve that penetrates.
Petrova was 0-4 against Clijsters before this evening's match. But when Petrova broke for the second time in the second set, a light went on.
"When I broke her again in the second set, then I realized, you know, this is like a two-set match for me," Petrova said. "I just start cruising through it."
Her win gave Petrova a lift and confidence for upcoming rounds. A perfectionist at heart, Petrova showed little signs of her frequently reckless attitude. She can beat herself when the demons are released, and she knows it.
"If I'm able to perform like today and keep the composure as I did today," Petrova began, "then, of course, I can come up with more upsets in the event."
Nadia Petrova faces countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova in the round of sixteen. The last, and only, time Petrova defeated Kuznetsova in their six meetings was in 2006 on a hard court in Stuttgart, Germany. However, with Petrova's win today anything could come her way next.
"I have a day off tomorrow," Petrova said. "It's going to be another practice day. I'm not overexcited. I'm not supper happy because I know the tournament isn't over yet. I should stay focused and get ready for the next one."
Dinara Safina held the #1 ranking until Serena Williams displaced her when she won the year-ending Sony Ericsson Championships. Safina was criticized throughout 2009. She whipped through draws and choked in finals, the most poignant disaster being her loss at Roland Garros to Kuznetsova. The press hounded Safina about her serve, about her negative attitude, about her coach -- the crazed looking one with spiky hair in the player's box.
Although she hits the ball as hard as the Williams sisters, her mind and her serve have undermined her success.
"Overall my game is trying to put pressure on opponent," Safina said. "So I was manage to dictate from the first point of the match. During this [today's] match I was trying to do it more and more, and give her less time."
Safina is the #2 seed at The Australian Open. Little has been said about her steady move through the draw. She has not dropped a set. She reached the round of sixteen today when she defeated Germany's Elena Baltacha 61 62 in less than an hour. Safina's serve has steadied, proven today by having committed only 3 double faults. She had 19 winners and only 14 unforced errors in the match, one of the only women today who could boast a positive ratio.
Safina will play Maria Kirilenko next. Kirilenko defeated her friend Maria Sharapova -- the famous one -- in the opening round. Kirilenko is having a breakthrough tournament. Her best performance at a major was at the Australian Open in 2008. She made it to the fourth round, same as this year. She is healthy and fit. There is no reason she couldn't defeat Safina.
If she does, she might make her first semifinal at a major.
Last but not least is Yanina Wickmayer, the third member of team Belgium. She had to qualify, which puts her present position at a premium. It's her seventh round. Wickmayer played close-to-perfect tennis in the opening set against Sara Errani of Italy. Then her back started to tighten. After seven rounds, any other player in the main draw would have hoisted the winner's trophy by now. So her back could be a glitch in her aggressive game style.
Qualifier Wickmayer will play Wildcard, and Belgian teammate, Justine Henin. Wickmayer's serve is more powerful. Her will is steely. Her drive races toward her mother's memory, and it is a vivid one. She fights. She is as much a competitor as Henin, yet with less experience.
Perhaps if Wickmayer can make her way past Henin, her name will become more prominent. Then her little known bio and tennis career will make its way to the front of the sports page. Her anonymous status could then evaporate.