Having A Good Week in Charleston
April 16, 2010 -- It starts out as a murmur. Then a fist pump, or two. Finally, you upset a top seed and you're on top of the world. Or, at least, you've made your way to the semifinals at the 2010 Family Circle Cup.
Such is the story this week for Daniela Hantuchova. She played the shortest match of the week on Monday, and the longest match of the week yesterday. If the momentum of today's quarterfinal against Jelena Jankovic continued along the lines drawn in the first set, Jankovic would still be in the draw.
But, she is not.
Instead, a tired but tenacious Hantuchova played her way to the semifinals in a come-from-behind win 16 63 63 -- in two hours eighteen minutes. Another long day at the office.
"I feel a little bit tired right now," she said, grinning. "I was just so glad how I managed to get into the match. I just kept fighting. And, overall, it's been a great week so far. It's not over, yet, so obviously I'll just try to recover and focus on my next match."
Jankovic started strong. She locked up the first set in less than a half hour. She kept to her plan, to stay aggressive. But then, "I just stopped."
Hantuchova couldn't sense the slow down from her opponent, as the second set began. In contrast, Hantuchova indicated that she upped the ante, reversing her attitude and tactics.
"I tried to put a little more on the ball, move her a little more around and stay more aggressive," Hantuchova said. "That made the difference."
Some of Jankovic's trouble stemmed from her left wrist and backhand, according to the highest seed to exit the tournament.
"I've been having problems since a couple days before the tournament, so I've been struggling," Jankovic said. "It's hurting when I'm hitting the backhand, so a lot of times I lose power. And you know, she did good."
As the match progressed, JJ, as Jelana's known on Twitter and on the WTA Tour, acted frustrated. Her mother, Snezana, encouraged her daughter, "Come on JJ." Even a mother, one as loyal and loving as Snezana, couldn't make a dent. The dejected Jankovic kept crumbling to the point where she tried to smack caked clay from her shoes when obviously there wasn't a gritty piece left.
Hantuchova dug out of break points with her serve. She had six for the match, having had four total from previous matches of the week. Her down-the-line backhand, too, whistled past Jankovic.
"That's what really was a good sign today," Hantuchova said. "When I needed to I served well, and I stayed aggressive."
Everything about Hantuchova is long, including her time on court over the past two days: six hours. She stands just under six feet, her height bolstered by 44-inch legs. She's rail-thin, but not emaciated, as she had appeared at Wimbledon in 2003 when her weight became the talk of the British tabloids and ABC News. Her arms and legs remain spindly, but solid weapons. Her strokes are long and enticing to watch. She meets the ball far in front of her, having stepped in for early contact. The depth on her groundstrokes was remarkable, today, point after point. Keeping the ball that deep put additional pressure on Jankovic.
Hantuchova hadn't played the Family Circle Cup since 2003, but wonders aloud why she hadn't. The atmosphere and care from the tournament has delighted her. Her week has been a good one. And, sometimes when a player gets on a roll, the momentum continues.
Who could forget Kim Clijsters return to tennis last summer and her run to the championship title at the U.S. Open as a wildcard.
But to get to the final, Hantuchova has to get past Samantha Stosur, the fourth seed. Stosur has had a good week on Daniel's Island, too. She hasn't dropped a set through the quarterfinals and is certainly less tired than her up-coming opponent.
"It was definitely nice to finish that second set off pretty quickly," Stosur said, smiling. She defeated the only unseeded player in the quarterfinals, Shuai Peng 64 61 in sixty-one minutes. Stosur capped off her victory by serving three aces in the last game.
"It's never easy to serve out a match," Stosur said, wisely. "When you can step up to the line and get a good start with a couple aces, it obviously makes you feel more comfortable; and, they [opponent] never get a feel like they're going to break back."
The last Tour match Stosur and Hantuchova played was at Rome in 2006 on clay. Stosur won in three sets.
Both women, since then, have grown.
Stosur made a real commitment to singles, beginning in 2008. Hantuchova returned to the top ten in singles in 2007, after slipping out of the top twenty between 2003-2006. Both women are superb doubles players. Hantuchova has a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. Stosur, better known for doubles prior to her climb in the singles rankings, has two Major women's doubles titles, both with Lisa Raymond. She has two mixed doubles Majors, too. One with her Aussie compatriot Scott Draper and one with American Bob Bryan.
Be prepared to watch an all-court semifinal... definitely a good chance for something outside of baseline bashing.
As much as the crowd hoped and believed its teen tournament sweetheart Melanie Oudin would win the evening's marquee quarterfinal match -- she couldn't. Her opponent Vera Zvonareva mounted a strategy mid-way through the first set that upset Oudin's rhythm, drawing unforced errors and causing frustration enough to make the Georgia native crack from pressure.
"I started out well," Oudin said. "All of a sudden she started changing the pace up on me a lot. I felt like I could not get a rhythm. The whole end of the first and the whole beginning of the second I did not hit a clean ball. I definitely got frustrated."
Zvonareva, the seasoned and wiser woman tonight, had a tough time when the partisan and raucous crowd booed line calls that went her way, withheld cheers when she hit outright winners, and gave her little in the way of satisfaction when she won the match 75 61.
"It was pretty tough out there," Zvonareva said. "Sometimes I would hit a great shot and I don't have that many people cheering for me."
This is the Russian's eighth consecutive appearance at the Family Circle Cup. She believes the tournament 'is one of the most famous tournaments on the Tour.' She also feels at home.
"I feel a warmth. Everyone is so nice," Zvonareva said. "Indian Wells and Miami, back to back, they're a little bit crazy. Here's it's more relaxed but still a very tough draw. It's a great start to the clay court season."
Zvonareva enters the semifinals on even ground with her opponent Caroline Wozniacki. They are 1-1, head-to-head. Both matches were played in 2009. Both on hard court. Since clay is the great equalizer, the match should be close. Zvonareva looked determined tonight. Wozniacki is on a roll, having just come off her title win at Ponte Verde Beach, Florida.
With Wozniacki and Zvonareva having a good week, it's a matter of which woman will go on to have an even better week.