Grand finale in Madrid — Sharapova, Ivanovic, Chakvetadze, Henin
by Abe Kuijl | November 9th, 2007, 12:27 pm

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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15 Comments for Grand finale in Madrid — Sharapova, Ivanovic, Chakvetadze, Henin

Nick Says:

Sharapova’s serve is bringing back that confidence for her this week, but I think she doesn’t want to face Henin until the final so beating Ivanovic today was good news for the Russian.

John (1) Says:

Chakvetadze plays Sharapova.
Justine plays Ivanovic.

IMO, Chakvetadze has the best shot at an upset.


She came closest to taking Justine to 3 sets.

Before Serena’s knee was a problem, Anna was playing well. (And she did take the first set 6-4.)

And then she beat Jankovic.

jane Says:

Wish I could see some of this on TV – sounds like Sharapova is playing some of her best tennis this year, easily elimintating Chakvetadze to reach the final.

Henin has a winning record against Sharapova, but when Maria was on form last year at the US Open, she beat Henin in straight sets to win the title.

An upset? It’s possible, but it won’t be by Chakvetadze.

grendel Says:

Sharapova is looking awesome. And she knows it, of course. In her on court interview after demolishing poor Ivanovic, Shriver tried to elicit from her the response that she had done well to win, and thereby avoid Henin. She immediately bridled, and said ominously that if she plays like she did today, she needn’t worry about anyone.

This may be true, but I hope not. Don’t want to deride Sharapova as just a ball basher – as some do. She IS a ball basher, but an astonishingly good one. And she has worked hard at developing her game – she actually moved forward quite quickly today to hit a winner off a short ball, and one or two of her volleys were presentable.

But although I personally find Henin’s intensity tiresome – I particularly dislike the way she clenches her fist at an opponent’s error (Sharapova does that, but then she would of course) – her game is so miraculous, I don’t want her to lose just because the other player is a heavyweight to her lightweight.

Sharapova will try to bully Henin. She may succeed, where probably noone else can at the moment. But I hope Henin ties her in knots.

Giner Says:

“I particularly dislike the way she clenches her fist at an opponent’s error (Sharapova does that, but then she would of course)”

Many people do that. It’s a reflex. Hewitt does it, Nadal does it, Sharapova herself does it. They don’t do it to rub it into their opponent, they do it to fire themself up. Winning a point, is winning a point, and it’s something to be positive about, especially if it’s a big point. Doesn’t matter how you won it. It’s nothing personal. They aren’t happy their opponent made an error, they are happy because they won the point.

I do the same thing myself. I can’t control it any more than Shazza can control her grunting. Don’t blame the players.

jane Says:

Glad to see that the women’s final is a tireless battle so far; henin just broke back to 4:3 so she will likely win it, and with her year, deservedly so, imo

Still, I am happy henin didn’t “tie sharapova in knots” as grendel had hoped. who’d want a one-sided, year-end championship match? Not me.

Thank goodness sharapova came out of the woodwork to give henin a run for her money!

Hako Says:

Justine always had the match in her hands IMO. She needed to serve decently, minimize the double faults in particular, in order to hold serve. Against Ivanovic she gave up nine double faults in two sets, but somehow managed to over-come that deficit. Today she lost the first set, in part due to the four double faults, but managed to steady the serve in the second set…..that was really key. The rest of her game, in all it’s variety, is quite consistent. Congratulations to Justine for a spectacular year. For 2007 at least, she really is Queen Justine.

grendel Says:

Henin and Sharapova are frequently guilty of gamesmanship, and most certainly try to rub their opponents noses in it, they more than most. Not, however, in this match, they had too much respect for each other I’m thinking.

It was a great match, and wasn’t Sharapova impressive. Henin’s serving was, to say the least, suspect, and her volleying well below par. She’s still the best player in the world, but on this showing, it won’t be too long before Sharapova catches her up -imho.

jane Says:

I always have to remind myself Sharapova has only just turned 20; she seems like a veteran compared to a number of the other players at the top of women’s tennis. But at her age she has a lot of time to work on her footwork and her volleys, and to improve her serve further. I’m happy to see that she’s already placing her serves more carefully and not just powering them in; it’s got to be easier on her shoulder.

With her competitive grit and powerful game, a little more thought and finesse could make her a lethal opponent on the women’s tour. To bad Yuri’s part of the package!

rogers twin sister Says:

Congratulations to Justine Henin for an incredible year. She, more than anyone on the tour, deserves to be Year-End Champion. The final was a terrific slugfest between two warriors.

Skorocel Says:

Well, first of all, congratulations to Justine for winning the title! She deserves it more than any other player on the WTA tour, simply because she’s the only one who REALLY PLAYS TENNIS these days among the women… Say what you want, the others (including Sharapova, Williamses, Ivanovic, Kuznetsova, etc etc) are all nothing but ball bashers!

But on the other hand, what really saddened me when watching that Sunday’s final was the all but sportsmanlike behavior of both players… Of course, I agree with grendel in a sense that there wasn’t any bad blood between the two (and the whole match itself went fair), but… It took Sharapova literally an eternity to adjust that haircut & then bounce the ball before finally serving! Same as certain Spanish player usually does, she prolonged the breaks between the rallies as much as possible – what a silly tactic! I understand that it’s sometimes better to take your time before an important point – but she was doing the same thing between 1st and 2nd serves as well (!)… Think of Agassi or Federer – those guys never used to waste any time doing such silly things between the rallies – and rightly so!

But what REALLY got me was when Henin (I think it was somewhere around 3-3 in the final set) screamed that characteristic “Allez!” after, AND NOW READ CAREFULLY, Sharapova missed a 1st serve (!)… Well, I can only ask myself where are those days of TRUE champions like Graf, Navratilova or Evert (?)…

jane Says:

I agree with you in this Skorocel, I do miss Graf. She was the absolute BEST; she accomplished more than any other tennis player, male or female, in her career. Plus, she was great to watch. How appropriate that she married Agassi… another great champ.

Skorocel Says:

There you go, jane! I too consider “Fräulen Forehand” as the best player to ever hold a racket (among both men and women), results-wise to say the least… She maybe got a bit lucky when that German maniac stabbed Monica, but 22 Slams (including that “Golden Slam”), 107 tourneys, 377 (!) weeks as No. 1, and 8 (!) times as the year-end No. 1 is one helluva achievement!!!

P.S. I’ve almost forgot to mention one more weird thing about Justine – that is, how often she “interacts” with her coach during her matches… That’s just ridiculous! I would think that “on court coaching” experiment was a silly idea, but after watching Justine yesterday – well, I don’t know:-)

Skorocel Says:

Sorry, that should read “Fräulein”…

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