Thursday, May 28, 2015

Schiavone-Kuznetsova French Open Match Recalls Their Epic 2011 Aussie Battle

Age is a relative spiritual thing, of course, but in tennis how old you are draws a lot of attention. The closer you are to 30, the further you are assumed to be away from seriously contending for a major championship. With the exception of Serena Williams, of course, who apparently did not get the memo.

But in a little slice of what you might call "old home week" at the French Open today, two lady veterans squared off in Round 2 action, demonstrating that you are always as young as you feel.

Francesca Schiavone
With her 6-7 (11), 7-5, 10-8 victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Francesca Schiavone, who will turn 35 on June 23, gave tennis fans a little nostalgic dose of the Fountain of Youth, while also dredging up the memory of the combative Italian veteran's biggest win in her entire career, which happened here in Paris in 2010, when she won her only major in a surprise defeat of the Australian Samantha Stosur.

Schiavone's career, both before and after her 2010 French Open triumph, has always been respectable, and she can throw down with anyone, though her career win percentage in singles play is a good but not great 57%. She's won $10.3 million since turning pro in 1998, and that's not nothing. Still, Schiavone has never advanced past the quarterfinals in any of the other majors, and in recent years she's been mostly invisible, hampered in part by a shoulder injury. (And, the fact is that, as tennis players age, we tend to expect the gradual waning of their skills.)

Svetlana Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova, who turns 30 on June 27, is a relative youngster, still younger than Serena (33) or her sister Venus, who turns 35 on June 17, which makes her the grandest old lady of them all, save for Kimiko Date-Krumm, the Methuselah of women's tennis at 44, still competing in majors, though without the success of her heyday in the mid-'90s, when she appeared in three major semifinals.

But maybe what was historically most important about today's 3-hour, 50-minute match is how much it mirrored one of the greatest matches in modern women's tennis, when Schiavone and Kuznetsova squared off in the fourth round of the 2011 Australian Open and lay one down for the ages.

Through three tumultuous sets, covering 4 hours and 44 minutes (including a three-hour finale!), Schiavone and Kuznetsova bellowed, shrieked, grunted, groaned and otherwise set the standard for prolonged guttural vocal calisthenics, as the Italian outlasted the Russian, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14, with a third set that had no tie-breaker formula and had to be played out in games (as always, win by two).  

Here's the link: If you're a true tennis junkie and have a spare half hour, the match highlights are must viewing. Never have two lady tennis players tussled with such animal ferocity. The match could've gone either way, but the wiry, court-savvy Schiavone somehow outlasted the powerful and aggressive Kuznetsova, who turned pro in 2000, has career earnings of $19 million, a singles W-L record at 68% and two majors to her name, the 2004 U.S. Open and the French Open in 2009.

In the glamor-saturated world of women's tennis, where Sharapova, Bouchard, Ivanovic and others earn as much money modeling or doing commercial endorsements as they do from playing the game, Schiavone and Kuznetsova can't compete in any way other than what they do on the court. They tend to be among tennis' forgotten "aging" ladies, but in their brief, shining moments, they've represented women's tennis at its admirable best.

So Sveta is out, off to lick her wounds. Next up for Schiavone is the Romanian Andreea Mitu, a relative unknown, ranked #99 in the world, and a mere 23 years old.

To visit the French Open website, go here:


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Lucic-Baroni Once Again Stymies Halep in Major; Cornet Advances

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
For the second time in eight months,Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has knocked Simona Halep out of a tennis major.  The 33-year-old German-born Croatian's second-round, straight-set, 7-5, 6-1, victory today over #3-seed Halep shocked the French Open crowd on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, as Lucic-Baroni yet again made a serious stride in her late-career resurgence at the expense of the popular and gifted Romanian.

Lucic-Baroni also stunned Halep in the second round of the  2014 U.S. Open, defeating her there in straight sets as well, 7–6(8–6), 6–2. That U.S. Open victory gained ML-B a spot in the Round of 16—the best result of her career in that tournament, and her best showing at a Grand Slam since reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon way back in 1999 at the age of 17.

ML-B pulled off another upset at the Coupe Banque Nationale event in Quebec City in 2014 by beating Venus Williams, 6–4, 6–3, setting a record for the longest gap between titles in WTA history. Her previous win happened 16 years and four months earlier at the 1998 Croatian Bol Ladies Open. 

Lucic-Baroni’s comeback is notable not only because of her age but also in light of the series of personal and financial problems that stalled her career some 15 years ago. She managed to continue to compete seriously on occasion but has also taken extended hiatuses from the sport, with only spotty results when she did enter tournaments. A minor breakthrough in her rejuvenation was achieved in 2012 at Wimbledon when she reached the third round as a qualifier, including a surprise defeat of ninth-seeded Marion Bartoli. 

Alize Cornet
Meanwhile today, over on Court 1,  #29-seeded Alize Cornet defeated the Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru, 6-2, 7-5, in a spirited match that threatened to go to a third set until the hard-hitting Dulgheru failed to send the second set to a tie-breaker, blowing a 40-0 advantage at 5-6.

With the partisan crowd chanting “Ah-lee-ZAY, Ah-lee-ZAY,” the 25-year-old Cornet—with her brunette ponytail, jittery on-court antics and self-affirming vocal enthusiasms—looked more like a teenage American bobby-soxer than France’s probable best hope for a French Open title. Yet she again displayed her admirably tough defensive play and uncanny ability to get to nearly every ball sent her way.

Cornet now faces Lucic-Baroni in third-round play.