Waiting For The Sun
March 29, 2010 -- A miserable morning of pelting rains turned into a sunny south Florida afternoon today at the Sony Ericsson Open. Sparse crowds and frustrated grounds crews made multiple attempts to get the day's matches in gear. But the only thing that moved for hours on end were bands of rain that crawled over Key Biscayne on tiny television screens mounted above reporters' desks in the Media Center.
Things looked dismal.
But with a revised schedule of play, hopes rose that all was not lost to bad weather.
Initially scheduled to follow the Fish/Lopez match on Stadium Court, Roger Federer's match replaced the American's spot and was ushered out first in the re-shuffling of matches.
"You always have to be expecting to play right away," Roger said. "Usually they give you a notice of maybe 30 to 45 minutes. This time around there was one hour fifteen, which was good to know because all of a sudden they said they're moving the first match away."
There was no thirty-minute warmup plus a bit of rest, a shower and food in preparation for Federer or his first-time opponent, Frenchman Florent Serra.
"We warmed up only for five minutes and off we went," Federer continued. "Maybe that's one of the reasons rhythm was lacking for both of us in the beginning."
Up a break in the first set and two breaks in the second, Federer thought he had his advantages lined up. But Serra kept true to his aggressive baseline strategy, relying heavily on his forceful forehand to hold off Federer by saving double break points in both sets.
"Sure I still have to tidy up my game a bit, having had one break up in the first and two breaks up in the second," Federer began. "It's normally something that doesn't get away from me."
Serra pressured Federer until the last ball was hit at 76 (3) 76 (2).
"He definitely pushed me a little bit by playing really aggressive," Federer continued. "I had to come up with some good defensive stuff. I dug out a few I think incredible things, and especially at crucial moments. That's why I'm happy to still be through."
However, the same happy ending couldn't be said about the #1 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova on the WTA side. She won only three games in a straight set defeat by Marion Bartoli 63 60. Kuznetsova's poor performance here adds to an overall gloomy start to her season. She lost in the first round at the BNP Paribas Open just two weeks ago.
"The weather condition was very tough to play," Kuznetsova said. "I felt from the first point when I start to return that it was not my day. She broke me, and then at 5-3 I started to serve and I felt like a pull."
The Russian kept serving, but things weren't right with her shoulder.
"It was so painful I almost had stars in my eyes," Kuznetsova added.
After three courtside visits from a physiotherapist, Kuznetsova chose to continue. But, she admitted, she should have pulled. Fortunately, the muscle in her shoulder is pulled but not seriously damaged.
Talk about putting a sunny slant on a previously wet day, nothing beats a hard-fought match between two of the tallest women on the WTA tour: Daniela Hantuchova and Venus Williams.
The soggy start of the day threw off Venus's match rhythm initially just as it boggled Federer's rhythm.
"I was a little bit off and struggling to find the court," Venus said. "Days like this you just have to figure out a way to win the point, even if it's not pretty. So, I enjoy the battle."
Between sets one and two she told herself to get more aggressive, which is her normal mode during her workday. At 5/4 she served for the second set. However, Hantuchova's steady ground game halted Williams until she won the second set 7/5.
"She was playing well," Venus began. "She was giving it one-hundred percent effort. When I hit it hard she got it back. When I hit it high she got it back."
But with the second set under her belt, the day's delays and afternoon wiggy winds, which cleared out clouds of humidity, continued to hamper play. Assertive points were followed by bland unpredictable tennis from both women... until the end of the match approached.
Venus's serve in the ninth game was clocked between 115-119 mph. Her groundstrokes weren't far behind, although a speed gun didn't record them. Daniela Hantuchova's fluid long groundstrokes, some of the best in the WTA, defended the brute force that came off her opponent's racquet until one ball clipped the net cord and bounced out, giving Venus the keys to the match -- a 5/4 lead on her serve.
She grabbed the opportunity, winning the match 16 75 64. She will meet Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Sony Ericsson Open.
With each break in the rain early today, red-coated maintenance crews appeared on the courts all around the site. One man on Stadium Court pushed his squeegee in circles, starting at the 'service tee' and working outward in yet another attempt to finally move forward. But more rain followed. Plus more and more rain.
As Yogi Berra said, "It's like deja vu all over again."
But for the players who waited, as they all had to do, and then battled through physical and mental elements of the day, came victory plus another chance to prove themselves at this year's Sony Ericsson Open.