According to classical histories, the Emperor Nero once played a violin on his palace balcony while admiring the spectacle of his flaming city. Equally inspired by the spectacle of Ivanovic’s flaming outfit, a Serbian chamber music ensemble must be tuning its strings in hopeful anticipation of an all-ajde final. But can Serena and a talented Spanish lefty (no, not Rafa) cancel the concert? We turn our gaze towards Friday’s intriguing semifinals…
S. Willliams (1) vs. Jankovic (7):
After adjusting to the surface in her first two matches, Serena looked as authoritative on clay as she has in quite some time during her win over Kirilenko. Her serve and forehand penetrated the court with ease, driving the Russian hopelessly far behind the baseline. In her quarterfinal, Jankovic required just 59 minutes to dismantle the aspiring actress who was auditioning to play Venus in an upcoming Italian-language biopic. The elder Serb has conceded just four games in her last five sets this week, including a bagel apiece for Wickmayer and the world #4. Although very few players have accomplished the feat of overcoming Venus and Serena in consecutive matches, the surface will augment Jankovic’s chances to join this elite circle.
All seven of their previous confrontations have been staged on hard courts, most notably the 2008 Miami final and 2008 US Open final. In both of those meetings, Serena started convincingly before wobbling in the second set. While she saved threee set points to right the ship in New York, the world #1 found herself thrust into a third set in Miami, where she again nearly regurgitated a significant lead. Arguably the most artful counterpuncher in the WTA, Jankovic clearly can fluster Serena with her tireless retrieving and seamless movement; the American admitted to a rare bout of nerves when attempting to close out the Miami encounter. Typically an ironclad competitor, Serena also suffered from tension late in her quarterfinal loss to Kuznetsova at the French Open last year. The combination of the surface and the opponent thus suggest that the match should be extremely close. Can Serena hold her nerve and her serve here? She probably won’t bring the same determination that she did to a major or to her favorite non-Slam, Miami. Like her ATP counterpart, the WTA #1 asaves her best tennis for the playoffs than showcasing it during the regular season. Pick: Ajde!
Ivanovic vs. Martinez Sanchez:
Only a truly superior soothsayer could have foreseen that this semifinal matchup would emerge from a lower half stacked with Dementieva, Azarenka, Petrova, Radwanska, and Wozniacki. While Ivanovic knocked off the first three bold-faced names without dropping a set, Martinez Sanchez regrouped from losing her first set of the tournament to shoulder aside Schiavone and world #2 (I know, but still…) Wozniacki. Building upon a startling quarterfinal run in Indian Wells, the Spaniard has adapted her serve-based style to clay with impressive success. Her game incorporates a few distinctive features unfamiliar to Ivanovic, such as the tendency to run around her forehand and hit backhands on mid-court sitters. How will the surging Serb respond to the psychological burden of being the favorite after three matches as a clear underdog? She has thrived this week in situations when she has nothing to lose, but she can’t afford to relinquish her focus if she wishes to ensure that the tables don’t turn.
Breaking down their respective games, there’s nothing that the Spaniard does better than the Serb with the arguable exception of volleys. There are two hidden factors to consider, however, that could open a door for the world #26. First, Ivanovic occasionally struggles against lefties more than she would against right-handed players of a similar level; in the last few years, she has suffered losses to the less than murderous trio of Bammer, Czink, and Safarova. (She has lost four matches to Schnyder but has won all four of their meetings since 2005, so that particular head-to-head holds greater hope.) More importantly, Ana’s passing shots looked mediocre at best during her win over Petrova, suggesting that she may struggle when MJMS charges the net, as is her habit. The Serb will want to keep the Spaniard pinned behind the baseline with deep groundstrokes that don’t permit her to create ingenious approach-volley combinations. In addition to remaining unruffled despite her opponent’s quirky, mind-twisting style, Ivanovic needs to serve and return as aggressively as she has against her more renowned victims. If Ana adheres to the tactics that brought her here, she should be able to compensate for pedestrian passing shots and navigate safely through occasional dips in her play, predictable in a competitor still rebuilding her confidence. Pick: Ajde!!!
Speaking of ajdes, keep up the good work on behalf of our favorite Serb, and perhaps we’ll enjoy an encore performance of the tableau below!