May 30, 2010 -- From the look on her face Nadia Petrova wasn't about to let any Williams' sister get in her way. Venus had dominated the Russian in all four previous matches. But not today... that's the message Petrova dispatched from the first strike of the ball on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Petrova (#19 seed) defeated Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai 10-8 in the third set, yesterday. Petrova finally held serve, which helped her walk off court victorious. Petrova's serve against Venus was a potent power.
It has always been a force, too. However, she is one player who loses herself by drowning in negativity. But not today.
Mats Wilander said in his interview with Tennis Server on May 23: "'It's all mental strength for the women.'" That was the three-time French Open champion's bottom-line directive for victory.
Petrova seemed as if she believed she could win her first match against the elder Williams' sister. She came in the match as if she assumed Venus would have to step up and produce better tennis. There was no love lost between them, either. That was deadly apparent from the get-go. Petrova's gritty stare-down aimed at Venus added to her gut determination. It was a match-up of black lace versus blue frills, the baby blue hue pulling through to the quarterfinals.
Belief doesn't float around in its own universe. It enters the psyche when opportunity hangs around. Belief is tied to experience, confidence, the event's worth to the player, momentum gathered during a match and tournament, and to other inexplicable pieces that make up the puzzle called a tennis match.
Sports psychologist (and former Tennis Server columnist) Dr. John Murray wrote in an article about Andre Agassi, "'The thoughts, feelings, habits and sensations actually control the actions.'" He has also suggested that belief resembles a beginner's mindset, which seems willing and open to trust. In today's match between Petrova and Williams, the Russian showed a trust in her belief to pull out the "w."
Petrova's best results at Roland Garros, and at any major tournament, were two semifinals: 2003 and 2005. In 2003, she lost to Kim Clijsters who then lost to Justine Henin. In 2005, Petrova lost to Henin-Hardenne (She was married at the time.). Petrova is a seasoned tour player with more doubles career titles than singles titles: 19 to 9, respectively. There is absolutely nothing in her way to win the title.
But other players will try to disrupt anyone's momentum and dream.
Justine Henin (#22 seed) is obviously one of the toughest competitors in the women's game. She has shown us her best tennis when the scoreline is dismal. Up second on Court Philippe Chatrier this morning, to finish her match against Maria Sharapova (#12 seed), the petite 4-time French champion was 1-2 down in the third. Sharapova was on a roll -- Henin's balls were landing short.
Henin then changed her tactics. At 0/40 she attacked the net, which put pressure on Sharapova's serve. Coming to net also forced Sharapova to move more. She is not the best mover on the slippery red clay. Henin's shots disrupted the tall Russian's balance. The combination of better shot selection and placement, service accuracy, and most likely her enduring belief in her ability to win at Roland Garros, shifted the momentum to the Belgium's favor. She defeated Sharapova 62 36 63.
"That game was a relief," Henin said. "It really helped me to feel free, and just to play my game."
Henin next meets Samantha Stosur. She is at a career high ranking of #7, although Henin had the upper hand with Stosur in the final of Stuttgart recently.
"She has beautiful qualities on clay because she plays kind of a man's tennis. I mean she has very heavy balls. She is a very powerful girl. I know it's going to be difficult tomorrow. Anyway, from the round of 16 things get tougher, so I expect a good fight," Henin told the press.
Stosur went to the semifinals in Paris last year; and, she has to defend those points in order to keep her ranking. She also has to defend her pride, so a touch of revenge tomorrow could go a long way.
"Even is she's down and I've got the momentum, I've got to be aware that she's not gonna back down and she's going to keep swinging and go for it," Stosur said in her post-match press conference yesterday.
But no matter how much you believe in yourself and the quest to win, a bum right leg -- one that can't be used for extending upward toward a served ball, changing direction, or propelling pace -- will bring the best down as it did today for Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, the last French player standing. He retired at the end of the first set to Mikhail Youzhny.