The marquee match on the first Saturday of the French Open involves a four-time French Open winner/former No. 1 against another Slam winner/No. 1. No, I’m not talking about the battle between Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt, but rather Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova.
When the ladies’ draw came out last week that’s one of the potential first week matches that grabbed my attention, and now it’s here.
Sharapova, who was ailing with a bad shoulder for the better part of the last 18 months and more recently a troubled by a bum elbow, got through another Belgian today, Kirsten Flipkens, 6-3, 6-3. But the key matchup will be against the big Belgian, Justine, tomorrow.
“She has the ability to come out against all different types of players, no matter how big they hit or how strong they are,” Sharapova said about Justine. “She’s able to, you know, take pace really well, and, you know, play her own game and make you hit lots of balls. You really gotta be patient against her. You know, I look forward to it. Like I said, I’ve had really tough losses against her here, but in many of those matches, I learned so much. You know, and wins against her. We’ve had some good quality matches and a few not so good. But hopefully this one will be a good quality one.”
Yeah, I know Maria.
Henin, who finished off Klara Zakapolova today, has won six of nine career meetings with Maria and is looking forward to a tenth contest and first since the Russian erased her 6-4, 6-0 in the 2008 Australian Open quarterfinal.
“It’s gonna be an interesting match,” said Henin. “Comes very early, of course, third round, but I expect a big fight as we always had in the past. It’s gonna be very exciting to play her again, you know, in the second career. I think, of course, I’ll have to raise my level and really put the intensity, the concentration, and the motivation is gonna be really high just to keep going in this tournament. I know it’s gonna be a tough match, but I feel ready for it.”
It should be an interesting match, no doubt. My pick remains for the tournament: Henin. Henin has won 23 straight matches in Paris which includes 39 consecutive sets. Her best surface is clay which is Maria’s worst surface. If you can’t move you cannot win. And Maria doesn’t move very well on the dirt. Henin does.
My other semifinals pick, Maria Kirilenko, pulled the semi-upset of the day ousting Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kirlenko nearly gagged at the end but held on the upset her countrywoman and defending champion. Good for her.
Other winners on the women’s draw on a very busy Saturday were Flavia Pennetta, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva and Caroline Wozniacki. In the only third round match suspended because of darkness, Aravane Rezai and Nadia Petrova were knotted at 7-all in the third. Both players did their best to choke and each squandered multiple matchpoints and opportunities to serve for the match. If I had to pick I think Rezai wins when they finish tomorrow.
As for the women’s tournament, I still like Venus to get the final. She’s playing really well. I think Serena will get tested tomorrow then ultimately lose to Henin. Wozniacki is impressing me in that she keeps winning, and we might see Jelena Jankovic go down tomorrow to Alona Bondarenko.
In the men’s field, the 16s are really looking nice on the top half. But we need to get through one more day of semi-interesting matches on the bottom. Nadal should hammer Hewitt (don’t forget Lleyton had to go five sets today). I think Roddick struggles but wins. Djokovic is slowly starting to impress and the Spaniards Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Juan Carlos Ferrero seem to be at home in Paris. So a big day for Spain on Saturday.
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