Sharapova Soars, Serena Sinks at Australian Open
by Abe Kuijl | January 22nd, 2008, 6:16 pm
  • 19 Comments

Justine Henin said before her match against Maria Sharapova she needed to up her level, were she to stand a chance against the in-form Russian. Well, that didn’t happen, but I’m not sure she could have stopped this Sharapova on one of her good days either. Mighty Maria played one of the best matches of her career against Henin today, who was lucky to hang in the first set long enough to almost take it away from her. The Belgian was down 0-3, 0-30 on her serve, survived a break point at 1-4 and benefited from a poor call in her next service game at 2-5, 30-30, which Sharapova challenged and earned her a let, instead of a likely set point.

Henin, as always, hung tough and fought her way through her service games back to 3-5. Serving for the set, Sharapova started to miss a few serves and produce a handful of unforced errors, which cost her the break. Sharapova had been hitting bombs from the get-go, and she moved exceptionally well for her standards as well. Henin was under constant pressure, but with the first set up for grabs, Sharapova started to hold back a little on her shots, taking less chances and thus losing depth and pace. She also got a bit sloppy on her footwork. Henin meanwhile was slicing her way back into the match, reminiscent of her male No. 1 counterpart.

When the Belgian got back on serve to 4-5, she looked set to turn the match around. But instead it was Sharapova who immediately raced out to 0-30. She got her first set point at 30-40, but the Russian overhit a backhand return on a second serve. Henin saved two more set points on second deliveries, one with a forehand that dropped dead for a winner after hitting the tape. On Sharapova’s fourth set point, the Belgian got her first serve in, but was caught by surprise at the net by a low-paced cross court backhand, which she couldn’t get to properly and dumped into the net. 6-4 to the ’07 finalist.

Despite dropping the first set, Henin battled bravely and seemed to have found some sort of way into the match in those last couple of games. But quickly that perception was shattered in the second set. In her first service game, Henin hit a forehand wide at 30-all, and Sharapova earned the early break after a spectacular rally with both players scrambling for balls, and which Sharapova finished with a backhand winner down the line. She comfortably held for 3-0, and when she hit a somewhat lucky forehand winner off her backfoot to go up 4-0 and a double break, Henin was fighting a lost battle. Undefeated for 32 matches dating back to Wimbledon, Henin earned two break points in Sharapova’s next service game, because the fifth seed seemed to get a little nervous, but a couple of good serves saved the Russian and she finished the match in the following game.

Next up: a friendly face

Sharapova will be very pleased with the result from the other quarterfinal in her half of the draw. She doesn’t have to face her nemesis Serena Williams in the semis – whom she only won 5 games against in 2 meetings last year – but instead finds Jelena Jankovic on the other side of the net.

Serena started well against Jankovic, winning the first eight points, but instead of building on that blazing start, she became lacklustre and hardly went after balls for the next couple of games. Jankovic tied for 2-2 by winning 8 consecutive points herself, and immediately broke Serena again to take the lead. Another break at 5-3 earned the Serb the opening set.

Williams tried to fight her way back into the match but we’ve seen more inspired efforts from her in the past when it comes to digging in mentally. In her press conference afterwards she more or less stated that there was something bothering her physically, but she didn’t want to use it as an excuse. I was a little bit stunned when I read in the transcript she actually credited Jankovic for being the better player. Did she mean it, or did she just say it to not give anything to the haters to churn at?

There’s no doubt that JJ was indeed dominant throughout the match. Serena never had the upper hand for long in a rally, even if she had started one off with some aggressive shots. Jankovic did a great job in countering Serena’s attacks by hitting deep and in the corners and she more often than not took over the initiative after one or two shots. She also returned very well, especially on Serena’s second serves, where she almost always put immediate pressure on her opponent by hitting deep and with outstanding placement. Jankovic knew that being too passive was not going to cut it against Serena and she executed her game plan to perfection. Who knew, with all the court time she’s had, JJ would actually be able to lift her game so well that she played one of her best and smartest Grand Slam matches ever?

I can’t recall having seen Serena choke so bad at crunch time before, but it’s exactly what happened at the end of today’s match. Jankovic played her worst game of the day serving for the win at 5-3 in the second set, but when Serena held two game points at 4-5 40-15, she lost the next four points. At 40-30, a Jankovic return sailed high and short over the net, but Serena failed to put away the easy backhand. At deuce, she double faulted, followed by a forehand miss on match point. Ouch. Guess that No. 1 ranking will have to wait for a while, as Serena will now drop out of the Top 10.

Some quick picks for tomorrow: Federer over Blake in 3, Djokovic over Ferrer in 4, Venus over Ivanovic in 3 and Hantuchova over Radwanska in 2 tight sets.


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19 Comments for Sharapova Soars, Serena Sinks at Australian Open

jane Says:

You’re probably right that Hantuchova will win, but I’m pulling for the Polish teenager anyhow. Otherwise I agree with your picks. Although it’s possible Ivanovic could beat Venus, Venus will be all the more motivate now that Serena is out – at least I think so.

I hope Blake can take a set.


jane Says:

Well, that was a rout: Hant through easily. Slug-fest going on in the other match though.


jane Says:

Yay Ivanovic!


SG Says:

Ivanovic plays much like Graf. She builds everything around pounding the forehand. And her backhand is solid too. She serves OK to. I like the fist pumps. You have to love it when players get fired up and show it. They just seem more human. I think it’s why people like watching Tiger. He pulls you along the rollercoaster with him. Anyway, it’d be nice to see her win.


Tejuz Says:

Ditto SG.. Ivanovic reminded me of Graf when i saw her play yesterday. There is something about her forehand which is very similar to Graf. Doesnt look too much of a power player like others, but more feminine and graceful like Graf.


Von Says:

Tejuz:
SG:

“There is something about her forehand which is very similar to Graf.”

Ahh, but Graf was like a gazelle. She could run down balls like none of the other women players could. Ivanovic reminds me of Seles.

I think Sharapova will just pound her with her monster shots. I would like to see someone other than Sharapova wins.


Tejuz Says:

yeah.. Graf had a more beautiful game.. single handed backhand.. nice slice and a killer forehand. Ivanovic’s forehand is a somewhat similar to Graf’s .. somehow she reminds me of Graf a little bit.


jane Says:

Graf was better than all of them; Maria has been using a backhand slice slightly reminiscent of Graf’s occasionally, especially against Justine, and at least she’s mixing up her game somewhat, not just hitting bombs. Although tonight against Janko she’s not looking quite as strong, mainly due to her serve being off.


SG Says:

Graf is one of if not) the best player to ever hit a tennis ball on the women’s side so comparing ivanovic to graf is not really fair. i only meant to compare the strategic approach of the two players. it’s true jane…graf could fly around a court like few others. she was a world class sprinter for germany at one point in her life. it’s not surprising. often, multi-sport athletes often dominate in tennis.


jane Says:

Graf is my favorite tennis player thus far – men’s or women’s. I loved watching her. Fraulein forehand, golden slam, 2nd most GS titles ever: there’s just so much to say about her.

Here’s hoping for another one to come along. How old are her and Andre’s kids?


jane Says:

Wow – Hantuchova is really playing well. She’s like a different player from a lot of the times I’ve watched her play. Hitting the ball clean & deep, dictating points, staying positive. It’s impressive. I’ve not seen one complete match of hers at this tournament (don’t think one has aired in its entirety), but she seems to really deserve her spot here at the semis. (Lord knows she’s waited for it.) Good for her.


Von Says:

SG:

“i only meant to compare the strategic approach of the two players…”

No comparison. Ivanovic cannot problem solve. Look at the FO ’07, she froze. She freezes a lot at the big ones. Graf could construct a point and follow through. She did not depend on her opponent giving her pace. Ivanovic, on the other hand, only gets going when she gets pace. She also has problems closing out. Very little similarity. Graf had nerves of steel.

Hantuchova did it again. I would have liked her to win. She is overdue.


Von Says:

Jane:

“How old are her and Andre’s kids?” Approx. 6 and 3 years, respectively, give and take a few months. The little boy has had a racquet in his hand from the time he could hold it. When Sampras’ son was born in an interview he was asked if he thought his son would beat Agassi’s. His response was “absolutely.” That might not prove to be true because Agassi’s son has the tennis genes on both sides, whereas Sampras’ son only has on one side. Would be interesting to see the two compete if they choose tennis as a career.


jane Says:

Von,

“Hantuchova did it again. I would have liked her to win.”

This is why I’ve had trouble with Hantuchova, with really being a fan of hers; remember when she used to have commanding leads in matches a few years back, but she could never close them out (maybe not quite as bad of a closer as Novatna)? And then she would fall apart, cry, etc.. I just stopped following her career because it was frustrating to watch and root for her.

Tonight, at least, she didn’t fall apart (though she practically ran off the court), but she could’ve done a little more with that volley that cost her the 3rd set break; I knew Ivanovic would get to it as soon as Hant hit it.

Oh well – it’s still somewhat of a break through for her, getting to the semis, holding her nerve fairly well.

On another note, I’ll be watching for Andre and Steffi’s kids!


Von Says:

Jane:

“This is why I’ve had trouble with Hantuchova, with really being a fan of hers..”

The same here. I was so sure she would win it this time. One set and 2-0 up and she blew it. Unbelievable.

Well, Tsonga won as we predicted. I had stated that his big serve would neutralize Rafa’s running game because he won’t have too many balls to run after. I was wrong, he annihilated Rafa’s game. He beat him at his own game. Those ridiculous drop shots and volleys = world class.

I think that Fed and Djok are going to have something to think about — how to play this guy, whoever wins their match. The dark horse is now Pegasus, flying through the air. Well, I know for sure the final is going to be action packed. Maybe, a five-setter? Would be absolutely fabulous. I can dream can’t I?

Deviating from the match, I think by now you know how I feel about ESPN. I have come to terms with the fact that they can’t get any worse. Wrong. After the last point was played and they were making their way to the net, at aprox, 5:50 a.m., dear ESPN interrupted the broadcast to do a station check,returned to the match for a second, while the commentators were doing their wrap-up, and interrupted again and reeled off about 6 minutes worth of commercials. I was livid. Is there any logic to this madness. I had to mention it so that my blood pressure would not escalate. Stay tuned for more on ESPN.


jane Says:

Von,

Yeah, I think Tsonga is really something – wouldn’t mind seeing him take the trophy at all after this performance. I’ve really found some players to watch this year: Tipsy, Cilic, Tsonga. Be interesting to see how the year plays out, but here’s another charge.


SG Says:

jane Says:

“On another note, I’ll be watching for Andre and Steffi’s kids!”

If there’s anything to forehand genetics, look out. These kids are gonna scary. Combine Steffi’s athleticism and Andre’s ball striking. Now there’s a scary thought.


Tejuz Says:

Yeah.. Tsonga’s game matched up well against Nadal’s… but against Fed it might be a dog fight. Both can vary their game and great moverment around the court. It might go the distance. But the last couple of years we have seen dark houses reaching the finals here (Baghdatis, Gonzo) and fall in the final hurdle against the No 1.

Against Djokovic, Tsonga might have a good chance cuz both will be aiming for their first Grand Slam win.


Tejuz Says:

I just said that Ivanovic’s game reminded me of Steffi.. that dint mean she played just like Steffi or that she had nerves of steel. Steffi will always remain my fav women’s tennis player.

Top story: Wozniacki Ousts Sharapova At US Open; Federer, Dimitrov Start Slow, Tsonga-Murray Monday
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1 Novak Djokovic1 Serena Williams
2 Rafael Nadal2 Simona Halep
3 Roger Federer3 Na Li
4 Stan Wawrinka4 Petra Kvitova
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6 Milos Raonic6 Maria Sharapova
7 Tomas Berdych7 Angelique Kerber
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9 Andy Murray9 Ana Ivanovic
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