by: Tom Cochrane
Day 12 saw Maria Sharapova claim a spot in tomorrow’s French Open women’s final, and reclaim the world number one ranking in the process.
Day 12 Recap
7 years after first becoming the world’s top-ranked player, and almost 4 years since she last held the position, Maria Sharapova ensured she would return to the top of the rankings summit by defeating Petra Kvitova in straight sets to make her first French Open final. The second seed will be looking to complete a career Grand Slam, having won each of the other 3 majors once.
Early on, it looked like Sharapova was in for a tough day at the office, as she was forced to fend off several break points in her opening service games. But Sharapova gritted her teeth and bulldozed her way out of trouble, and when Kvitova’s forehand started to misfire the Russian took full advantage, breaking in the fifth game of the set and again in the ninth game of the set to take it, 6-3.
After trading service breaks early in the second set, Sharapova capitalised on some poor unforced errors from the Czech to claim the decisive break in the eighth game and obtain the opportunity to serve for the match. Notoriously inconsistent on serve, the Russian held her nerve to claim a straight sets 6-3 6-3 victory, sealing victory with a rare ace.
Sharapova will face Sara Errani for the crown on Saturday, after the Italian upset Sam Stosur in 3 sets in the other women’s semi-final on Day 12. After entering her quarter-final match against Angelique Kerber with a 0-28 record against top 10 players, Errani beat a second top 10 player in as many matches, ousting Stosur in a gripping encounter.
Rain delayed the match early on, before it was eventually played in various patches of sunny weather and windy conditions. Errani, who is also through to the women’s doubles final with compatriot Roberta Vinci, recovered from an early break to get back on serve in the opening set, and at 5 games apiece broke the Australian’s serve and served out the opening set.
After making a myriad of unforced errors in the first set, Stosur’s game clicked into gear in the second set, the sixth seed breaking Errani twice in a row to establish a commanding 5-0 lead. Errani added some respectability to the second set scoreline by finally holding serve, but Stosur closed out the set in the next game to push the match into a deciding third set.
Going into the final set, it seemed as if all the momentum was with the Aussie, but the tenacious Errani wouldn’t be denied. The Italian broke Stosur in the second game of the set, as the sixth seed appeared to tighten up, double faulting and making a raft of unforced errors.
Stosur broke back to level the set at 3-all, but another sloppy service game in the eighth game of the set gave Errani the chance to serve out the match. The petite Italian did so, collapsing onto the red clay immediately afterwards as she struggled to contain her emotions.
Will Errani be able to emulate her countrywoman Francesca Schiavone and claim the title at Roland Garros? We’ll find out tomorrow.
Matches of the Day – Day 13
1. David Ferrer vs. Rafael Nadal
A French Open quarter-finalist on 2 previous occasions, David Ferrer is now through to his first-ever semi-final at Roland Garros. It’s well-earned by the popular Spaniard, who has proved to be one of the world’s best clay-court players over the past few years.
Ferrer now faces mission impossible against the 6-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, who has yet to drop a set in the tournament. Ferrer has won 5 of 21 matches against Nadal, which isn’t bad going considering Nadal’s legendary status. They’ve played twice on clay this season, with Nadal winning a tight match in Barcelona, 7-6(1) 7-5, and also in Rome, where Ferrer lost the opening set tiebreaker 8 points to 6 before capitulating in the second set.
To put the enormity of Ferrer’s task into perspective, consider that fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro is probably in the best clay-court form of his life, and played a good match against Nadal in the quarter-finals, yet came away from the match without having won a set. Nadal’s relentless intensity, fitness, weight of shot and agility on this surface combine to make it incredibly hard to win mere points against him, let alone games and sets.
Ferrer really has two choices in this match. He can either play his normal game involving consistency from the back of the court and selective counterpunching, a strategy which won’t really harm Nadal unless the second seed has a particularly off day, or Ferrer can step out of his comfort zone and look to dictate play as much as he can. That won’t be easy against the heavyweight Nadal, but it’s Ferrer’s best shot at victory to my mind – if he is going to go down, he might as well go down with all guns blazing. I think Ferrer is good enough to snare a set, but that’s probably where it will end for the sixth seed. Nadal in 4.
2. Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
On paper, this is the biggest match of the tournament to date, although it must be said that both players were not at their best for large parts of their respective quarter-finals. Roger Federer had to weather a barrage of ballistic groundstrokes in the opening couple of sets against Juan Martin Del Potro, the Swiss master eventually turning around his initially sluggish performance to register a 5 set victory. Novak Djokovic similarly had to withstand the creative brilliance of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and survive 4 match points before escaping with a hard-fought and fairly fortunate win. That fighting win came after the top seed’s scrappy 5 set comeback victory over Andreas Seppi in the round of 16.
At the start of the tournament, I favoured Djokovic to win this much-anticipated clash, a rematch of last year’s semi-final in Paris where Federer put an end to Djokovic’s unbeaten streak in 2011. But I haven’t been too impressed with the Serb’s form in the tournament to date, especially in the cold and windy conditions of recent days which have slowed the courts considerably. Of course, the world number one is capable of turning around his form in an instant, and he did beat Federer on clay a couple of weeks ago in Rome, but I think the slower conditions which are again predicted for today in Paris will suit the Swiss star more than his opponent.
Since last year’s heartbreaking US Open defeat to Djokovic, Federer has probably been the most consistent player on the ATP Tour, and his forehand, when on song, has created a lot of problems for the Serb in the past. Federer put in a superb serving performance to beat Djokovic in last year’s French Open semi-finals and the third seed will need to replicate that performance if he is to claim another victory against one of the best returners of all-time. I think he can do it. Federer in 5.
That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.