Don't Mess With Maria; Federer Into Semifinals
March 31, 2011 -- Maria Sharapova is back -- screeches and all. After almost two years of shoulder problems and head problems linked to the shoulder problems, she blasted past the tournament's "It Girl," Andrea Petkovic, in today's semifinal to claim her spot in Saturday's final. Sharapova has not played in a tour final since Cincinnati, 2010.
"I'm really happy that I'm back in the finals here," she said smiling. "I was really happy I was able to change things around after losing the first set."
About as crazy of a competitor to step foot on a tennis court, Sharapova ran off 11 games in a row after losing the first set. She was testy and annoyed at the wind, sun, and her serve, as the match got underway. She served up three double faults her first game, out of eight for the match.
But after a strong start to the second set, Sharapova was practically unstoppable. Petkovic thought she was playing well. However, her confidence sunk and conversations in her head grew louder.
"I felt like I was playing well in the first set," she began. "In the second set, on one hand, I felt Maria really stepped up her game. On the other hand, there were so many close games and I didn't manage to stay close to her. All of sudden it was 3-0, 4-0, 5-0."
Andrea held back tears during a heart-to-heart chat with Coach Petar Popovic, when perilously close to being double double-bageled. She did well to get on the board, but succumbed to Sharapova's intensity and determination -- plus an elevated onslaught from her vocal chords.
"I was getting frustrated with myself because I felt my energy slowly slipping away," Andrea said pensively. "It's like a little dialog inside of you. You're like, come on, you can win this, but your body is like, no I don't want to."
The turn around from playing like a solid top-10 performer to one that left fans shaking their heads could be attributed in part to her head. She was aware of Sharapova's lengthy match from two nights ago and kept asking herself 'why isn't she tired?' With a dialog like that in her mind, her attention deviated from tactics, which Petkovic thought Maria sensed.
"A champion like Maria, she just feels any kind of weakness," Petkovic said. "She just played much much better."
"I sensed that she was tired," Maria said. "Probably a lot of the dancing that she's been doing, and I took advantage of it."
Petkovic relies on her fitness, which is the same for other women on tour. However, her groundstrokes could become, if they aren't already, problematic as she ascends the rankings.
Both her forehand and backhand are quite mechanical, which could increase unforced errors. She uses her muscles to power the ball to a greater degree than leverage coupled with hip rotation, although she does that as a result of shoulder rotation, not as a means to lift the ball and direct it.
Famous for her now-retired Petko Dance, perhaps what Andrea needs is some dancing lessons or a stint on Dancing with The Stars. Monica Seles did it. Or the German could watch tapes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. These two are fast, fluid, and awesomely effective. Their strokes, too, are longer and more adaptable, relying less on muscle memory and more on arm movement and flexibility.
Sharapova's strokes lengthened beautifully as she adapted to the windy conditions and moved to the ball rather than letting the ball come to her. She contacted the ball well in front, which made her happy.
Her return of serve, too, helped intensify her aggression.
"By me saying being aggressive, it starts from the first ball you hit," Sharapova said, with conviction. "That starts with the return because it puts something in their mind when they go up to the line. They have to go for a little bit more maybe. It's something that's going to be quite important in the final."
What would it mean to Sharapova if she won the tournament. "It would mean a lot. It's the biggest tournament I think after the Grand Slams. I look forward to going out there and getting it done."
Fan-favorite Andrea Petkovic had her best week at a tournament here in Miami. She defeated two top-ten players in back-to-back matches that went three sets, including Caroline Wozniacki, the #1 player in the world.
"I will feel empty the next two or three days, trying to work things out," Petkovic said thoughtfully. "But, I think after a week, or so, I will be able to look at it, at the positive things. But if I really want to go to the top ten I need to step -- to keep up my consistency."
Gilles Simon came up empty this afternoon, too. He retired against Roger Federer in their quarterfinal match after three games. He felt a pull in his neck, as he practiced earlier. He knew he couldn't play the type of tennis he wanted to, and needed to, while across the net from Roger Federer.
"Tennis is a hard game," Simon explained. "You have to play 100% if you want to have a chance to win. When you play Roger, you have to play more than that. Just after the second forehand I tried to hit it very hard. I felt it very hard also [he pointed to his neck]. I knew I have no chance to play today."
"He stopped pretty quickly when he was serving in his practice," Roger said. "But then I saw him in the locker room and everything seemed normal. But it really restricts you. I had a bad neck last week as well. It's really hard to play with."
Simon was discouraged about the situation, as was Federer. Both men sympathized with fans that booed Simon as he left Stadium Court. Federer also felt sorry that Simon had to go through that.
"The public pays the ticket to see the players and they want to see them," Simon said. "It's also tough for them to see Roger only ten minutes today."
Roger Federer won't alter his schedule this evening, having been on court for such a short time. He doesn't have excess energy and plans to dine out, after his children are asleep. However, his calm demeanor could leave him come morning as he realizes he might confront his rival Rafael Nodal.
"My number one rival is Rafa," Federer said expressionlessly. "Doesn't matter how many more times I'm going to be playing all the other guys. At the moment, we have that history and nobody can take it away. That's why the only thing really missing from us is a U. S. Open match, I guess, and a few other tournaments."
It's interesting to note that in 1996, Goran Ivanisevic retired from the final, at the then Lipton Championships, due to a neck injury. He and Andre Agassi were three games into that match, as well.