NBC viewers – what did you think of today’s coverage? You know, squishing Sharapova vs. Henin, Petrova vs. Venus, Federer vs. Wawrinka and the Williams sisters’ doubles match into one three-hour thick, tape-delayed tennis club sandwich? (Even when there was actual live tennis going on?) It left a bad taste in my mouth, but I admit to being more in the mood for grab ‘n’ go than a six hour long tennis feast today. Sometimes even a hard core tennis fan appreciates having a few free hours added to her day. (Plus, it’s back to Tennis Channel and ESPN tomorrow, so we’re safe.)
The big news of the day: Nadia Petrova took out World No. 2 Venus Williams in straight sets: 6-4, 6-3. I take three things away from this result:
1. Petrova is a damn good player when she wants to be (and perhaps Clijsters’s defeat at the Australian had more to do with this fact than Kimmie was willing to admit at the time.)
2. Venus is devoted to her doubles. She and Serena went on court afterwards and won their 3rd round match 6-1, 6-2.
3. This could be Elena Dementieva’s last best chance to win her favorite Major. Dementieva beat qualifier Chanelle Scheepers 6-1, 6-3 in her Round of 16 – karmic payback for that second round vs. Henin at the Australian Open. But Nadia swears not to make it too easy for her countrywoman, saying that their upcoming quarterfinal will be “like a battle to death.” Now we’re talking!
Pennetta vs. Wozniacki wasn’t quite a battle to the death, but is came close to bringing Flavia to her knees. Pennetta was so close to winning the match in straight sets, but Wozniacki played absolutely merciless defense and ground it out : 7-6 (5), 6-7(4), 6-2 in over three hours. It’s one of those matches I wish a WTA-hater would actually deign to watch – yes, there were a ton of breaks, but there was also great shot-making, strategy and loads of heart and drama. Wozniacki gets another Italian, Francesca Schiavone in the quarterfinals.
Schiavone was in good spirits after her 4th round win over Maria Kirilenko:
Q. Is Roland Garros special for you? Is it your favorite Grand Slam?
FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE: Yes. Yes, it’s one of the best for me. I have in the heart because it’s clay. So many finals I don’t know. If I switch on the television and I see Rafa against Federer playing final here, I go crazy.
So I think it’s beautiful to play this tournament.
Q. How do you see the next match is against Caroline Wozniacki?
FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE: A you are Danish.
Q. No, I am not.
FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE: Ah. Okay, so I can answer.
Q. So how do you see this match?
FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE: Will be tough for sure. She’s great player. She has been No. 2. She played already one final in Grand Slam. So I think I have to play my tennis and to be concentrated. It’s a good opportunity for me, and I’m ready to play.
Q. I’m Danish, first of all…
FRANCESCA SCHIAVONE: You can go. There is a door. You can go out. I joke.
I don’t need to wave my WTA pompoms when I say that the third set of Maria Sharapova vs. Justine Henin was some of the most riveting tennis of the tournament. They came onto court tied at one-set all from Saturday night, and picked up the intensity as if they’d never left the court. Sharapova, who is – rejoice! – close to her old self, took the first two games and had three break points on Justine’s second service game. But suddenly it was Justine who found a new level, and she managed to see the victory through: 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
We’ve spent a lot of time wallowing in the WTA soap opera lately, so it’s nice to celebrate the kind of battle royale that leaves everything on the court – and not in the press room. Justine on Maria:
Q. Could we say this was the test match that you needed?
JUSTINE HENIN: Well, I don’t know, but you always need to test yourself and go through tough moments. It’s true that this was a match that I feared a bit, because I have great admiration for this girl [Sharapova}. She proves it all the time. And even though she is coming back, she's a real fighter. Each time she had opportunities, like at 5 3 today, 40 Love, she kept encouraging herself. She has great qualities in that respect.
Justine was also highly complimentary (I think) of her next opponent, slammin' Sammy Stosur:
"She [Stosur] has beautiful qualities on clay because she plays kind of a man’s tennis. I mean, she has very heavy balls. She is a very powerful girl. She has a beautiful forehand and a very good backhand, as well. It was difficult in Stuttgart [where Henin won 6-4 2-6 6-1 in the final]. I know it’s going to be difficult tomorrow.”
Masha makes a funny:
Q. You just said we’re in Europe. Even if the fans were supporting Justine today, I mean, the French fans, they like people who risk it, like Rezai or Safin in the past. I think you give them exactly what they wanted today.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I gave them a win for Justine? Is that what you’re saying? (laughter.)
Q. No. They cheered…
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Thank you, Maria. Merry Christmas.
Moving on, and quickly. The men’s draw is progressing with a swiftness. Three of Sunday’s four fourth round matches were wrapped up in straights, and in the fourth, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired against Mikhail Youzhny – apparently with a pesky back injury – at the end of the first set. (Le sigh – we Jo-Dubs fans continue our vigil.)
The upset that wasn’t: 4th-seeded Andy Murray lost to No. 15 seed Tomas Berdych. I think this is about as far as most optimistic Andy watchers thought he’d go. Similar to the other Andy, we can assume his real focus is on Wimbledon and he’ll take positives from this tournament, time to train, blah, blah, blah. As for Berdych – he’s transformed from a dangerous floater to a legitimate threat. It will be interesting to see how he handles Youzhny, knowing that he’s just one match away from being a Major semifinalist.
(Wow, Roger really is enjoying a Championship hair moment, isn’t he?)
Roger Federer overcame a slight lapse in the second set vs. friend and countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, eventually taking the match with relative ease: 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-2. He faces Robin Soderling next. The Swede dominated yet another opponent, this time the No. 10 seeded Marin Cilic: 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Roger remains confident about his chances vs. Sodering, reminding the pressroom about his 12-0 advantage in their official head-to-head: “I’ve never lost against him [Soderling], so obviously that’s a good record to have. But because of the improvements he’s made, he’s an opponent not to underestimate.”
In fact, Soderling did score a win over Roger the last time they played this January in Abu Dhabi. “Exhibition play,” Roger dismissed it. But the match was a breakthrough to Soderling, who said afterwards: “I always said the more times I play him, the closer I’ll get, and here I am today.” The way he’s playing, he could be too close for Roger’s comfort.
Not to freak out the Fed Fans even more than they already are (you are a little nervous about Soderling, right?), but let’s remind ourselves what’s riding on this quarterfinal match: If Federer makes it to the semis, he’ll hold onto his No. 1 ranking at least long enough to tie Pete Sampras’s all-time record of 286 weeks at No. 1. He’ll also become only the fifth player with 200 career Major wins. And, of course, he’ll extend that consecutive Major semi-final streak to a jaw dropping 24.
Now excuse me while I prepare my ice bath (with vodka).