This time of year I sometimes enjoy bitching about the state of the tennis season more than I actually enjoy watching the game. But I’m just being silly. Sure, I’d pay more attention to the women’s Porsche Grand Prix tennis tournament in Stuttgart if it was played on grass and preceded Wimbledon, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun to watch.
There was a good field in Germany this year, and I was glad to find Justine and Jelena battling it out on the Tennis Channel yesterday. It was a highly entertaining semi, with some great scrambling by both players and an awesome show of strength by Henin. Forget about the fabled backhand, this woman’s forehand is jaw-dropping. And her opponent, Jankovic, is not only one of the most solid players out there (check out these stats, which show her playing more tourneys this year than Davydenko and more matches than Djokovic – scroll down to AmyLu’s posts at 8:02 and 8:32 p.m.), she’s also one of the most engaging. During a slo-mo replay, you could actually see her breaking into a grin while scrambling towards one of Justine’s un-returnable drop shots. The girl could smile the skin off an alligator (and turn it into a stylish handbag, no doubt), but she can’t charm a set off of Justine.
The fun continued today in the final, Justine taking on the Russo-French Floridian, Tatiana Golovin. I’ve gained respect for this nineteen-year-old over the past couple of seasons – remember that gritty match against Sharapova in Miami last year (which she was close to winning before twisting her ankle in spectacular style) and this year’s title in Amelia Island? Like many of her compatriots on the men’s side (Gasquet, Monfils, Benneteau, Clement, Santoro, etc., etc.) Golovin has the game and the guts to be a consistent spoiler against the top players (and no, this isn’t an oxymoron.)
She was definitely spoiling things for Justine at the outset today, having the audacity to break the number one seed, fight tooth-and-nail to consolidate it, and then break again to take the first set 6-2. And Justine wasn’t off, Golovin was playing classic in-the-zone tennis: hitting the lines, serving big, executing the drop-shots, creating acute angles on her forehand, and sending her opponent scrambling like a ball kid from one corner of the court to another. This was the first set Justine had lost since going down to Bartoli at Wimbledon (what is it about these French teenagers, anyway?)
Flinty Justine was really miffed by the second game of the second set. She’d managed to break Golovin in the first game, but the French woman wouldn’t let her consolidate. You could almost hear Justine muttering, “What’s up with this mall rat with the black eyeliner and dangling necklaces?” She probably considered distracting Golovin with news of a big sale at Bebe.
Henin took the highroad and brought out her perfect all-court game instead. She broke again to go up 3-2 and eventually claimed the second set at 6-2. Henin didn’t take her foot off the gas from there until that Porsche was practically pulling into her driveway in Monte Carlo, winning the final set 6-1.
Tatiana, deflated and heady, started mixing in the unforced errors with her ripping forehands, and succumbed to the most dangerous of tennis maladies: a sense of reality. She’ll definitely be bumping some people out of the top ten next season (please, please, take the hint, Kuzy!) and I predict some kind of career-making result from her next year (Olympic medalist, perhaps?) This is why this part of the season is so intriguing – we get a preview of next year’s attractions. Let’s just hope Tati doesn’t let this promising start fizzle out as quickly next Spring as she did today.
Alright, I’m no saint, I can’t write a post without getting a little snarky about the Tennis Channel. Allow me to share some of Barry MacKay’s tiresome commentating chestnuts:
1. If a player wears the same outfit two days in a row (which I believe is the norm, is it not?) Barry will say, “Katrina, Golovin’s wearing the same outfit she wore yesterday, do you think she’s a little superstitious?”
2. At the start of every match he asks: “Players love these indoor hard courts, don’t they Katrina?”
3. When Henin hits a backhand, he will undoubtedly proclaim it “The best backhand in women’s tennis!”
4. At various points throughout the match he will say, “this is a crucial game for both the server and the returner, is it not, Katrina?” It could be 1-0, it could be 3-4, it could be 5-2. I ask, when is it not a crucial game for at least one player or the other?
No offense, Barry, but you might want to try mixing things up a bit – at least some of us are tuning in, you know?