That golden glow: Julian Finney/Getty Images via Daylife
“The match was a joke.” That was Li Na’s estimation of the women’s final, a roller coaster affair that saw Li squander a 6-4, 4-0 lead; fight back from two breaks down in the third; lose a match point at 5-6, ad-out, on her opponent’s serve; wait out two hours of rain delay before playing the ultimate tiebreak; go down 0-3 in said tiebreak but fight back to 5-5 before finally giving up the ghost.
That’s what happens when the punchline is Maria Sharapova.
Jokesters share a laugh: REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi via Daylife
The match may have been a joke, but it was a good one. After weathering the ups and downs of the first two sets, I think everyone expected the dueling streaks and comebacks of the third and the build to a dramatic finish. The third set, starting with Li Na’s comeback down 1-4, included not only drama but some great play. You know things are getting interesting when Maria Sharapova wins a point on a top spin lob. And as the rain started pouring down – I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard rain fall while watching a match on television before – it was fun to watch the women simply play through. I imagined chair umpire Kader Nouni calling off the ball kids, the supervisors and camera men and even the crowd eventually filing out of the stadium, leaving the two women to play on in the deluge, determined to FINISH THIS THING NOW.
“I don’t mind rain – actually I like it,” Sharapova said after the match. “One time it helped me a lot, when I won Wimbledon. In the semifinals it started raining when I was down and out against Lindsay Davenport. I was pretty much booking my ticket back home. But when we came back I managed to turn it around.
“Today the court was wet and slippery when we came back, but the umpire told us it was our decision, and both of us wanted to keep going.”
It was satisfying to see Maria grit her teeth and curl her fists around this victory. Maria’s growing more expressive and therefore more human in this mid-career period. She shows a bit more frustration and is less robotic on court than she used to be. She inspires sympathy as much as awe and from her recent comments regarding the Williams sisters, Azarenka and the WTA’s scheduling issues, she appears to be as ready as ever to speak for herself and the game. But she’s more than just a wise “old” veteran, she’s also a favorite for this year’s French Open title. Let’s not forget that a title at Roland Garros would complete her career slam, a great accomplishment for this supposedly “one dimensional” player.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Li Na, though given a big break when Serena pulled out with a lower back injury before their semi, showed why she’s the reigning French Open champion. Though she has yet to win a title since then, she appears to be finding her game at just the right time. This match may not give us much confidence in her always questionable mental fortitude, but there’s no doubt that Li Na enters the Roland Garros field as a contender.
The men’s final between Novak Djokvovic and Rafael Nadal has been delayed until Monday at noon, local time. Nadal, per usual, busted through this semifinal, deflating feisty David Ferrer: 7-6 (6), 6-0. Novak Djokovic then beat Roger Federer in a similar scoreline: 6-2, 7-6 (4). All credit to Nole for taking charge in that match and challenging Federer to come up with his best stuff. Roger was in now way up to the challenge, and I found myself grumbling “poor effort, Rog” while watching him hit error after error. Was he feeling the same kind of lower back twinges that made his fellow Madrid champ, Serena Williams, check out early? Was he saving himself for the French Open? Was he simply out played by the undisputed No. 1 player in the world? These post-match comments will have people speculating (via Tennis.com):
“I’ve been living and breathing tennis every day. I’m looking forward to some days off and getting ready for Paris,” said Federer, who is the father of two twin girls. “I’m happy in some ways that the event is over for me. We’ve got two kids running, they’re growing up. We have a lot on our plate. This is the best time of my life and I wouldn’t change it for anything. But I like to put the kids to bed and that’s impossible with the schedule I’ve had over the last two weeks. Don’t feel bad for me, I’m okay with it all. I’ve probably had night sessions for the last 10-11 nights, it catches up with you, but at least you can sleep in. I’m not complaining but you need that dinner and time to relax and not have to go to bed right away. It’s tough and it’s always been that way but I love it.”
“I knew I wouldn’t win both (Madrid and Rome), I actually expected this final (between Rafa and Nole). I’m just happy the tournament is over for the moment.”
I think many of us expected a Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal final this weekend. We have to wait an extra day for it, but that only ups the tension. This is a match, given recent history and Nole’s stated goal to take the French Open this year, that has a whole lot riding on it. It’s safe to say it will be no laughing matter.