Golovin extends Sharapova to third set
From noon to midnight, from Sharapova to Federer, Bonnie DeSimone was all over the Nasdaq-100 Open on Thursday watching the best players in the world.
Editor's Note: With both world No. 1 players on the court -- along with Andy Roddick, James Blake and Maria Sharapova -- at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Fla., Bonnie DeSimone will be filing journal entries throughout the day and during each of the four singles matches.
Oh boy. It's 2 hours, 43 minutes into the match, Sharapova's serving up 4-3 in the third set but down a break point, 30-40, and Golovin just rolled her left ankle badly tracking down a baseline shot. She let go of her racquet, tumbled to the ground and stayed there. A collective groan rises from the crowd and from inside the press room -- even from the reporters whose deadlines are blown or about to be blown.Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesGolovin trailed 4-2 in the third set when an ankle sprain ended her evening.
Deuce, but I doubt it'll matter. Sharapova has turned her back and is staying in her end, bouncing around, trying to stay warm.
Golovin receives an injury time out and the trainer ices her ankle. We're getting a close-up view of the naked truth about a tennis player's foot -- toes taped and blisters everywhere. The trainer elevates her foot and tapes it. No one can believe Golovin's going to try to play, but the crowd is clapping rhythmically and hopefully.
She's up, testing it. The fans are going nuts. Then Sharapova serves, Golovin returns it wide and it's clear she can't continue. She's crying as she walks to the net. Sharapova drops her game face and takes Golovin's hand over the net, cradling it to her chest, and says what looks like "I'm sorry."
Golovin is helped off the court, prematurely ending one of the best matches of the tournament. It'll be Sharapova-Kuznetsova in Saturday's final.
On the men's side, if you're rooting for plot development Friday, you might have to go for David Nalbandian of Argentina over Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic in the semis to walk down the plank against Roger Federer in the final -- assuming he gets by David Ferrer in the evening.
Nalbandian, of course, toppled Federer in the ATP year-end championships last year and has a winning record against him, but has lost four out of the last five. Miami's substantial Argentinian community would give the crowd some partisan flavor, judging from his previous matches. Ljubicic last beat Federer in '03 and is 3-9 versus the No. 1.
Looks like we're headed for an all-Russian women's final here, and I like Svetlana Kuznetsova's chances over Maria Sharapova, even though the higher-ranked Sharapova (No. 4 vs. No 14) has beaten her the last two times they've played. Both of those outings were big events -- the Aussie Open quarterfinals in 2004 and the first round of the '03 WTA championships.
Sharapova has played just well enough to win here, letting opponents back into points and games (she just served for the match at 5-1 and was broken by Tatiana Golovin) and then noisily closing it out.
The unassuming Kuznetsova will come in with the emotional advantage of having beaten the world No. 1 and barely breaking a sweat in the process.
Sharapova hasn't exactly been a crowd favorite here in Miami, but her favorable rating just hit a new low: She was booed for taking a bathroom break leading 5-4 before Golovin's serve. Golovin is sitting with a towel over her legs and the crowd is chanting her name.
Whoa -- Golovin has just saved a fourth match point. A lot of people took off to beat the traffic when Sharapova was up 2-0. They missed some great, attenuated rallies. And now Golovin has broken Sharapova for the second time and they're back on serve.
Here comes the tiebreak.
OK, Sharapova has a few fans left in the stands. They're crying "Maria, Maria" with a slightly agonized air, like Tony in "West Side Story."
There's a trick. Sharapova just switched her racquet from her right to her left hand and hit a forehand from the left side. But now Golovin has hit a sweet little drop shot and it's set point.
Golovin's forehand ticks the netcord, pops up and lands on the line. Sharapova challenges but it's good. Buckle your seat belts.
And what I meant to say before is, looks like we're heading for an all-Russian-BORN final, since Golovin moved to France from Russia as an infant.
9:13 p.m. ET
Progress against Roger Federer necessarily comes in small increments. I picture it in millimeters, like the distances reported on the brand-new Hawk-Eye challenge stat sheets.
This Nasdaq-100 quarterfinal rematch between Federer and James Blake, coming so soon after Federer's dismantling of Blake in the final at Indian Wells, was tighter and had less of that here-he-comes inevitability than the last one.
"I'd get better and better if I played him every week," Blake said, which is a great attitude to have.
But his latest learning experience wound up in the L column again and proved that sometimes Federer only needs one point, rather than a run of games, to make his point. This time it was the way Federer answered Blake's charging, leaping, Samprasesque overhead shot early in the second set -- with a businesslike dash along the baseline and a flicking crosscourt backhand winner.
That'll take the helium out of anyone's balloon.
"He just blocked it back like it wasn't that much of a big deal," Blake said.
"I push him to play well against me. But I'm starting to feel like a basketball player who played in the early '90s," during Michael Jordan's reign, Blake added.
"Maybe one of these days he'll get a bad night's sleep or have a fight with his girlfriend or something. But he seems to be able to find a way to win even when he's not playing that well ... There's not many things I can say bad about him. He's too nice. Everything comes so easy to him, you want to hate him. But he's too darn classy."
Unsurprising trivia tidbit: Federer has now played 10 tiebreaks this season. He's 9-1, his only loss coming to troublesome Tommy Haas in this tournament.
7:56 p.m. ET
Another loss, another engaging, wide-ranging press conference from Andy Roddick today. Is he being paid for product placement? Just kidding, but you can't blame me for asking. After his fourth-round ouster at Indian Wells, it was Cheetos (Roddick said he was laying off them). This time it was a popular board game.Al Bello/Getty ImagesAndy Roddick fought his way back, but lost in the third set.
Roddick was giving a serious answer about whether he was still tweaking his game.
"I feel like I changed and I tinkered and now I'm kind of maybe getting back to maybe untinkering," he said, and stopped dead in his verbal tracks. "Wow, that's a great Scrabble word if it's in there," he said.
Once he gets rolling, you can only hope to contain him. Roddick informed the assemblage that 'za, as in short for pizza, is in the Scrabble dictionary and carried on about that for a while, offering to bet anyone who didn't believe it.
I would wager that Roddick is laying off the deep-dish these days, too. His manner was interpreted as oddly chipper by some. I just think he's striving for selective amnesia, trying to extract the positive and not linger on the negative with each match, trying to win the head game with himself instead of becoming a head case.
One thing is sure. The Davis Cup second-round tie next weekend on grass couldn't come at a better time for the lawn-loving Roddick. "I'm like jonesing," he said. "Instead of two weeks on grass, I get three now."
David Ferrer, who will move back into the top 10 -- he debuted there earlier this year -- was subdued and modest as he spoke through an interpreter. "Maybe you're saying [Roddick] is going through a bad patch, but everybody does," he said. "Maybe next week he can win Wimbledon. I'm sure he will win titles again."
5:35 p.m. ET
Andy Roddick comes back from 0-40 to win the first game of the third set. On his next service game, he's super-animated, leaping, torquing in mid-air, loading the ball with a whole lot of hot sauce. One serve registers at 139 mph -- the highest I've seen so far.
"You can do it, Andy," an adorable child's voice -- gender unclear -- calls out from the stands. Some things are clichés because they really do happen a lot.
David Ferrer breaks Roddick in the fifth game. I double-check how long it's been since Roddick made a final. That would be last October, when he won in Lyon, France.
Double break point for Roddick after Ferrer hits one wide to end a rally where I wish I'd been counting shots -- must have been at least 30. Roddick bares his teeth as he whacks a return winner and Ferrer hurls his racquet courtward almost as hard. Four-all.
Ferrer is relentless, though, covering a lot of ground, hair flapping. Not hard to see how he's climbed to 11th in the world -- he's obviously gotten more comfortable on hardcourt. He breaks Roddick again. On Ferrer's first match point, Roddick line-drives a forehand into the net and it's over. He tips his hat and strides quickly off the court as the public address announcer helpfully booms, "We will see him again!"
4:10 p.m. ET
Upset karma is in the air. (It's strong, sort of like patchouli incense.) Andy Roddick is down love-4 to Spain's David Ferrer -- the same hole Amelie Mauresmo found herself in.
Ferrer's serving for the set now, up 5-3, 40-love. Roddick shanks a backhand into the net.
The crowd noise has dissolved into a kind of concerned mumbling. I really enjoy the varied fan soundtrack here. Seeing a match in this stadium is like seeing a baseball game in St. Louis, or another ardent baseball town, where people really know what they're watching.
Back to Svetlana Kuznetsova. Reporters are working her to get the up-close-and-personal stuff they need to preview the women's final. She talks about being a tomboy growing up, hanging out with the guys on her father's cycling club. He coached six Olympic champions, including Lance Armstrong's longtime teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov. I've covered the Tour de France six times, but I have to admit I wasn't aware of that tennis-cycling connection. I am, however, extremely proud of having learned to spell "Viatcheslav" without looking it up.
Fresh start. Roddick wins a love game on his own serve. The speed gun reads 133 mph.
I must pause to observe here that it is rare, anymore, to see two players wearing almost all white. Rafael Nadal's tennis-ball-chartreuse-colored sleeveless shirt was the latest addition to the palette. I'm a little surprised no one complains. Shots anywhere near his torso would blend right into that background.
Long rally just ended with Roddick cracking a deep forehand crosscourt winner. He's got a break point now. A great, sneaker-squeaking get by him goes for naught when he hits the next ball long. Roddick comes to the net. Ferrer fetches the slightly deep volley.
Roddick ties Ferrer in knots with a couple of bullet serves. He looks in control and then he doesn't and then he does.
I retreat inside to listen to Mauresmo, who finally has arrived for her postmortem. She's gracious. "If I brought my best game to the court today, I wouldn't be sitting here as a loser," she said.
Roddick must be feeling better. He just whipped off his ballcap and stuck it out to catch a mishit ball. Now, a great return but Ferrer holds anyway. Roddick's working quickly now. A 138-mph ace and some more slugging earns him a love game. Still no breaks in this set.
Interesting -- the chair umpire just put a Spanish-speaking linesman in the corner to make sure Ferrer isn't getting any illicit coaching.
Roddick just won a challenge on his own shot that was called long, but they're not replaying the point and Ferrer isn't happy about it. He hits a crosscourt winner and staves off a break.
Another quick Roddick service game and now he has a break and set point. The crowd comes out of its iguanalike silence. An extended rally, including one Roddick lob Ferrer couldn't quite put away, ends when Ferrer skies one of his own. The ball stays in the air so long Roddick has time to twirl his racket, coil, release and mash it right at Ferrer, who jumps reflexively out of the way. We're going to a third.
3 p.m. ET
With the Mauresmo match ending so precipitously -- over in 1 hour, 18 minutes -- I take a quick detour with two of my print colleagues down the corridor behind the broadcast booths to try to catch Jennifer Capriati, who just got done speaking at length to ESPN2's commentators.
Capriati is reluctant to stop for us at first. She said she has no real updates on her possible return to play after more than a full season. But the two reporters with me -- Michelle Kaufman of The Miami Herald and Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel -- have known her for many years, and Capriati quickly relaxes and chats for a bit.
She hasn't played since late 2004 and has had two surgeries apiece on her right shoulder and right wrist since, but said, "I'm not retired by any means." She has come back before from burnout and some well-publicized personal travails, but said being idled this long by injury feels very different. "This is harder than anything I've ever had because it's not in my hands," she said.
Capriati turned 30 Wednesday, and she said she had a quiet celebration with family and friends.
"If this is the way I go out, it's unfortunate, but I just have to look back at my career like one big accomplishment," she told us.
Roddick and Ferrer just got under way. No sign of Mauresmo in the interview room yet.
1:45 p.m. ET
Svetlana Kuznetsova just broke Amelie Mauresmo to go up 4-3. Kuznetsova just looks crisper. Mauresmo has put up more of a fight in this set, but she's still spraying her serves, just plain mishitting a lot of shots and getting out-swatted in baseline rallies. She seems to have such a small margin for error today that the service break makes it feel as though the match is over.
Two unforced errors by Kuznetsova on a couple of match points off Mauresmo's serve. Mauresmo holds, but now the Russian has double match point on her own serve. On the first, her forehand ticks off the net cord and goes wide.
Then she handcuffs Mauresmo with a forehand winner. Mauresmo whiffs her racket sharply in disgust. She's off the court less than a minute later, walking head down past the brigade of autograph-seeking kids holding giant tennis balls.
12:06 p.m. ET
Good afternoon. The lineup at the Nasdaq-100 Open is loaded -- the equivalent of a music festival where you don't want to leave your seat because you'll miss a great band. Women's semis, men's quarters and both world No. 1 players will be out on the court: Amelie Mauresmo-Svetlana Kuznetsova at 1 p.m. ET, Andy Roddick-David Ferrer at about 3, the much-anticipated James Blake-Roger Federer clash at 7 p.m., and Maria Sharapova, who grunts and shrieks loud enough to be her own rock band, versus Tatiana Golovin to end the evening.
Before going outside, I'm briefly distracted by the fabulous Bryan brothers, who are talking to reporters after winning their doubles semifinal. Bob and Mike are doing their finish-each-other's-sentences thing. Nicolas Massu, the Chilean who's gearing up to face the Bryans in doubles with partner Fernando Gonzalez in next week's Davis Cup, told me the other day that he has been playing the Bryans since he was a junior and still has no idea who's who. He just says hello and waits for one of them to strike a ball (Bob is a lefty, Mike a righty).
Kuznetsova is up a quick 4-love, and the crowd is murmuring. Mauresmo has had a relative cakewalk so far in this tournament with so many top seeds going out so quickly, but she looks really off so far. The venerable Bud Collins just walked in and asked whether he was reading the score correctly. As if in reply, Kuznetsova whacks a forehand off a defensive lob by Mauresmo.
Last night, one of my colleagues and I were both saying that Mauresmo is playing the best tennis of her career but not getting proper credit for it because of some of the big gaps opening up in the women's field: Williams sisters calling in uninterested; Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters battling injuries; and so forth. Even her first Grand Slam win at this year's Australian Open carries a bit of an asterisk because Justine Henin-Hardenne retired in midmatch.
I happen to think that playing well against "lesser" opponents is one of the most underrated qualities in sports. Kuznetsova, ranked 14th, is not exactly a pushover. Mauresmo has beaten her four out of five matches, but the Russian won last time out, just a few weeks ago on the hard court in Dubai.
Kuznetsova wins the first set 6-1. It's the first set Mauresmo has dropped in the tournament.
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