First reaction after the Tsonga – Nadal semi? Wow. That’s pretty much all there is to say. Little Ali just blew Rafa off the court out there, which I expected might have happened for one set, but surely not three straight sets. And let’s be honest, Nadal was definitely not playing a poor match by any means. The Frenchman was just too good. Like he said in his presser, everything he hit was going where he wanted it to go. Tsonga was serving incredibly well and his reflexes at the net were sometimes just ludicrous. He kept pounding away on Nadal’s high-bouncing spin balls, and he showed again how soft his hands are around the net when moving in for the kill. Jo-Willy hit a ton of aces, mixing up his serves from hitting full-paced rockets down the tee, slice serves in the deuce court and heavy kicks out on the ad-side.
In the third set, Nadal desperately tried to turn the match around. He went all-out attack for a game or two, but Tsonga showed he can not only hammer winners from any position on the court, but also knows how to play defense when needed. Jo-Willy said he had never played a better match than this one. The question now is, can he keep as cool as he did today, and play one more match at this incredibly high level in a Grand Slam final against Federer or Djokovic? If he does, he has a good shot at winning the title, but I have a feeling we’ll relive the Baghdatis story from ’06 and see the rookie go down when he starts thinking about what he might achieve.
The women’s semis offered one entertaining, hard-fought affair, and a routine straight sets win, as was expected beforehand. It’s just that they played out in different order. Jelena Jankovic quickly fell behind 5-0 in the opening set to last year’s finalist Maria Sharapova, because the Russian was continuing where she had left off after bageling Justine Henin in the quarters, and JJ was playing way too defensively at the start. The Serb wasn’t swinging on her returns like she did so well against Serena Williams, and she looked very tired from the get-go. Sharapova tightened up a little closing out the set, producing a couple of double faults we hadn’t seen from her all tournament and Jankovic was becoming a little more aggressive. But Mighty Maria made no mistake serving for the set a second time: 6-3. From there on, it become a routine win for Masha, as Jankovic clearly struggled physically to keep up and went down quickly, 6-1.
Ana Ivanovic was struck by nerves when she realised she was the favorite to reach her second Grand Slam final of her career against Daniela Hantuchova, and the Slovak started the match playing the best tennis I have ever seen from her. Hantuchova benefited from poor serving from her opponent, and the fact that Ivanovic wasn’t moving her feet and subsequently mistimed on one shot after another. Hantuchova was swinging freely on each ball and never gave Ivanovic the opportunity to get in a rhythm. Every forehand was flying in for a winner, not to mention her first serves, so before she knew it, Hantuchova had won the first eight games of the match.
Ivanovic had realised at the start of the second set though that she needed to be aggressive were she to have a chance to fight her way back into the match, and it started to pay off just in time for the Serb. Hantuchova tightened up and started to miss more while Ivanovic’ confidence level was rising fast. The match turned upside down quickly as Ivanovic won 6 out of the next 7 games to win the set and looked set to race through the third to advance to the final. Ivanovic indeed had the better start in that final set, but Hantuchova didn’t drop serve and it was the Slovak who had the chance to struck the first blow when Ivanovic faced a break point serving at 2-3. Hantuchova was up against a second serve, but she made the inexplicable play of going on defense and see if Ivanovic would produce an error. She was punished hard, as the fourth seed slammed a forehand winner past her and eventually won the game after 7 deuces.
At 4-all and 30-40 down, Hantuchova was at net and thought she had won a point after she hit a short volley, but Ivanovic scrambled to get it and Hantuchova failed to hit a forehand volley over the net and into the open court. Her feet were stuck to the ground. Again she couldn’t step it up on a crucial point and it cost her the match. A couple of good serves and missed returns from Hantuchova in the next game sealed the win for Ivanovic.
So that puts the Serbs on a win and a loss in the semis, and a nation glued to their television sets for the women’s final. Can Novak Djokovic create some special interest for Sunday’s final as well? It’ll be one heck of a match to watch, that’s for sure. Djokovic showed in the US Open final that he doesn’t have to fear Federer from the backcourt, but he wasn’t ready for an upset yet mentally, as he blew all those set points in the first two sets. I’m sure he’s learned from that encounter, as Nole learns from any big match. Will it be enough to upset the King in Australia? A lot will come down to how well Federer will serve tomorrow. Íf he serves as well as he did against Tipsarevic, I don’t see Djokovic pulling through. But if he shows occasional lapses in his delivery, like against Berdych, the Djoker won’t fold as badly as the Czech did and he will cause Federer real trouble. I’ll stick with the champ in five.
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