Saturday, September 09, 2006

Oh, great. Now it's the back: Womens final preview

Looks like someone finally broke the Mauresmo/Henin-Hardenne monopoly on the Grand Slams. Maria Sharapova took Amelie Mauresmo to the woodshed in their semifinal match on Friday, in an oddly lopsided score: 6-0,4-6,6-0. Sometimes, when you're on a roll, you're on a roll. (Although, after witnessing Sharapova's dad tell his kid when to eat and drink during a match, you'd have to wonder if Sharapova would know she was on a roll unless pops was there to tell her.) The Russian has earned herself another berth in a major final for the first time in more than two years. Besides her serve, which has improved, she seems to be bringing the same game to a final as she did at Wimbledon against Serena Williams. This could be a problem, because her next opponent, Justine Henin-Hardenne has no problem whatsoever with power.
Speaking of JHH, she pulled a little Houdini stunt in getting out of a tight spot against Jelena Jankovic, who came thisclose to making her first Grand Slam final. Jankovic played some great tennis until she had a point for 5-2 in the second set, after winning the first. Then she had a problem with a line call, got pissed at the umpire, and said to her racquet: "That's it. I'll get off here, please." And she did. She lost every game after that, falling to JHH 6-4,4-6,6-0. Now, melting down like that is bad. And it happens to everyone. But if you take a shower, change your clothes and sit down before a press conference without yet realizing you choked that match away, that is really bad. Jankovic is a sophomore college student back in Serbia, and she seems to be doing well in Advanced Bellyaching. Get a load of this:

Q. Near the end of the second set, she began to take a lot of time between points, bending over a bit. Did you sense she was getting tired?
JELENA JANKOVIC: I don't know what she was doing, but she was acting like she had pain in her back, and she was, like, trying to get start me thinking or something, you know. Because I was looking at her, and she was, Oh, I have pain in my back, or whatever she was doing, I don't know. That's the time when she was losing.
Then when she was winning. All of a sudden she's hitting the biggest serves ever and all that. I'm like, Now your back doesn't hurt? Actually, I was the one who couldn't even tie my shoes the other day, two days ago ...
Q. Did you hear her say anything when you say, Oh, my back? Did she actually say her back hurts?
JELENA JANKOVIC: No, but she was like (bending over holding her back).
Q. Do you think there was some gamesmanship?
JELENA JANKOVIC: I don't know. But I think from my point of view, I think you should play fair. And if you have pain, you have pain. But then when you if you have really pain, then you gonna have pain when you're winning, as well. But then how come when she's winning, she serves like 120 mile serve, and then when she's losing, she barely pushes it back? Just to kind of say, Oh, that's why I'm losing or something.
For me, that's not quite fair play. I'm a quite fair player. I give the credit to all the players, it's okay, I lost this match, but... (smiling).
I don't know.

Now that is sophomoric. Boy, I love jumping on the anti-JHH train. But what the hell was Jankovic expecting from a Euro-flopper? It's so true that tennis is a mental game. All of a sudden, Jankovic is distracted by a call. All of a sudden, there's the wind blowing. All of a sudden, her opponent is playing better. I'm no doctor, but is it possible that her back was tight, then somehow ... loosened up? As Jankovic, is JHH's back any of your concern? No, it's the backside you want to kick. But Jankovic is young, and hopefully she'll learn to keep her bitter piehole shut after losing a match. 'No comment' is a valid response. Seriously, Jankovic blinked, and for some champions, that's all they need.
If JHH comes out with a 'tight back' as I hope she does, Sharapova won't blink, and the match will be over before Henin-Hardenne can quit. Maybe.
Although Sharapova can't match JHH's variety, she can belt the hell out of the ball, and she has become, I think, the mentally-toughest player out there at age 19. Is she ready to beat Henin-Hardenne in a major final? Mentally, yes. Physically, she seems to be the fresher of the two. But can Sharapova stay consistent and fight off JHH's arsenal of shots? After seeing her play for the past two weeks, I think she can. Sharapova in two.

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