In a surprise run of events this week in Madrid, Maria Sharapova is playing perhaps her best tennis of the season, Serena Williams pulled out with injury, Anna Chakvetadze is through to the semis and Justine Henin double bagelled Marion Bartoli. Yes, there’s plenty of action going on at the Sony Ericsson Championships, and for the first time since the US Open, the WTA stars finally make for some entertaining, high-quality matches again.
So what has been the most newsworthy item of the week? Even though not a single soul would have picked the slumping Anna Chakvetadze (6-1 6-0 loss to Patty Schnyder coming in to Madrid, ouch) to advance in a group with Serena, Henin and Jelena Jankovic, and Henin seemed to be on another planet on Thursday when she took the ultimate revenge over Marion Bartoli for her Wimbledon loss to the Frenchwoman, I have been most impressed by Sharapova’s performance so far.
The Russian started off with a great win over Daniela Hantuchova on Tuesday, and her serve was solid throughout the match. She was on top of her game from start to finish. However, Sharapova’s 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 comeback achievement over Svetlana Kuznetsova was nothing short of remarkable for a woman troubled by a bum shoulder, and who only played her second match after a disappointing US Open earlier in the week.
Kuznetsova, who managed to keep up with Sharapova’s high pace in the opening set, got pushed back further as the match progressed and couldn’t score as many free points on her serve as she did in the early stages of the encounter. Sharapova became increasingly successful in attacking her countrymate’s second serve, which ultimately won her the match and earned her a spot in the semifinals.
This may sound ridiculous after Henin’s masterclass on Thursday, but if Sharapova upholds her current level and her shoulder doesn’t break down, she might very well trouble the Belgian, should the two meet somewhere along the way.
Anna C. defies the odds
I wonder if Anna Chakvetadze herself believed she’d reach the semifinals after she got drawn in the same group with Henin, Serena and Jankovic. The Russian came into Madrid in her worst form in over a year. She lost three consecutive matches in Luxemburg, Stuttgart and Moscow, before being humbled by Schnyder in Linz. The last time Chakvetadze fell in three consecutive matches was all the way back in May 2006. In other words, she has been one of the most consistent players on Tour ever since.
Not a single press conference or interview seems to go by, without Chakvetadze dropping the word ‘confidence’. She is very insecure on court, but never gives up. This is what got her through her match against the severely burned-out Jankovic on Thursday, when she completely went away after winning the first set, losing seven straight games. But, and this surprised me, Chakvetadze stayed very calm throughout and came back from a break down in the final set to claim her sixth career win over J.J. Of course she got a little lucky when Serena retired in her first match, but she did what had to be done and therefore fully deserves her semifinal position.
In the semis, she could face Sharapova for a fourth time this year, if her compatriot beats Ivanovic. Chakvetadze has yet to win a set off Maria in ’07.
Ivanovic meanwhile has been impressive this week as well. However, she needs to learn how to deal with a lead. In her first match against Kuznetsova, the Serb was playing lights out tennis until she let Kuzy back in the match at 6-1 3-0. The same thing happened in the final set, when the Russian again rallied from a 3-0 deficit, before going down 7-5. Against Hantuchova, Ivanovic was in firm control with a set and a break but almost had to endure another third set when the Slovakian held a couple of set points in the second set tiebreak. Credit goes out to Ivanovic for closing out these matches nonetheless, but she needs to calm down more and play smart when she finds herself in a commanding position.
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