Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Semifinal preview: Will Jelena Jankovic puh-leeze stand up?

Many expect the top two seeds in the men’s draw of the French Open to hold to form, and a showdown between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seems imminent. On the women’s side, though, anything could happen.
Justine Henin will face Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals, and for defending champion Henin, this could be her toughest match yet. Her expected battle against Serena Williams turned out to be a dud, with Williams swinging wildly for the fences -- and missing even those. However, Jankovic has a solid all-around game that has given Henin some trouble lately.
At last year’s U.S. Open, for example, Jankovic was a set and a 4-2 against her, but got distracted by a questionable line call. Or, more to the point, went ballistic. After the match, she questioned whether Henin really had a back problem. Hopefully, by now, she's realized that it doesn't matter. In Jankovic’s last three losses to Henin since then, she’s been very close to sealing the deal -- on clay, no less -- and she just hasn't been able to do it.
Jankovic's serve is also going to be a problem. Nicole Vaidisova tried to attack it, but Henin can consistently go after an easy serve. There's not a lot she can do about it now, but Jankovic can definitely improve that shot, and if she does, she's going to be more dangerous.
But Jankovic’s movement and defense still could pressure Henin into mistakes. These are the best two players remaining in the draw, and whoever emerges from this match will probably win the tournament.
The other women’s semifinal will pit another Serbian, Ana Ivanovic, against Maria Sharapova. Sharapova’s been dealing with a bad shoulder for the entire tournament, and hasn’t played her best. She was lucky to escape her fourth-round encounter with Patty Schnyder, who was outplaying Miss Power Shot. It seems Sharapova’s will to win, and her ability to blast the cover off the ball, has kept her hanging around. In Ivanovic, she faces a fellow teenager enjoying her best appearance at a Grand Slam. Her quarterfinal win against Svetlana Kuznetsova, who was last year’s French Open finalist, is a sign that she might be ready for prime-time.
This matchup should be interesting, since these two weren’t exactly expected to be around this far into the tournament. No one expects Sharapova to win the French Open, since a clay surface requires a little more patience and thoughtfulness on court than she’s ever exhibited. And although Ivanovic has shown a lot of promise over the past two years, she’s never put it all together at a major.
The serve will be key in this match as well. Sharapova’s shoulder has limited her serve, and she’s hitting too many double-faults. If Ivanovic can hold her serve, and stay aggressive against Sharapova’s, she has a great chance to play in her first Grand Slam final.
Even if Henin or Jankovic win the whole thing, Sharapova/Ivanovic is the one that could really go either way. It sure would be nice to have more quality matches in the women's draw.

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