Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Day 10: Safina Finally Tested; Sharapova Finally Bested

Dinara Safina's biggest weakness now appears to be her biggest strength. 

The 23-year-old Russian was treated rudely in the first set by Victoria Azarenka today on Court Philippe Chatrier, as the feisty Belarusian served 93% for the first set and also scored three service breaks against the previously untouchable No. 1 seed.  

But Safina kept her calm and weathered the storm.  

In the second set Safina stabilized herself, something she may not have been able to do a year ago, and moved out to a 4-1 lead on Azarenka.  

But it wasn't over yet.  The fearless and dynamic Azarenka scored two service breaks to level the set at four games each.  Safina was only two games away from being bounced from the tournament that she had been dominating so thoroughly up until today.  But again, her sense of calm in these difficult situations provided her with the edge she would need to survive.  

While the 19-year-old Azarenka was routinely bouncing her racquet on the court (and hearing it from the ultra-contemptuous Parisian crowd), Safina was gathering herself together and devoting every ounce of her energy to staying focused and executing her game.  

In a match that was played at a very high level from the onset, the difference between winning and losing came down to maturity.  

Safina has worked hard in this last year to gain it, and she used it to her advantage today.  

Azarenka, meanwhile, clearly has a thing or two to learn from this match.  She looked to be her own worst enemy at times, berating herself instead of remaining calm.  

Safina secured her third break of the second set to go up 5-4, and even as she went down 0-30 while trying to serve it out, she gathered herself again, and closed the set out with four  straight points.  

In the third set Safina never trailed.  Azarenka hung close until the middle of the set but Safina was too strong, too determined, and too hungry.  

She closed it out going away, and has now reached her third straight Grand-Slam semi-final.  

In the 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory for Safina, she lost more than twice as many games (12) than she had lost in her four previous matches.   She will move forward to face Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova, buoyed by the belief that she can win the tough matches - if she can just stay focused.  

Sharapova Finally Sent Packing

Maria Sharapova's return to the court for this years French Open was definitely a shot in the arm for the woman's game.  After a ten month layoff and only three matches prior to last week, Sharapova stepped onto the clay displaying a fighters mentality.  

After three grueling matches, all of which went the distance, the Sharapova express was finally derailed today.  

Dominika Cibulkova may have benefitted from the fact that Sharapova had to be both mentally and physically fatigued, but the 5'3" fireplug played a brilliant match and deserves all the credit for her one-sided victory against the three-time Grand-Slam champion today.  

The recently turned 20 Cibulkova committed only 9 errors in her straight set destruction of Sharapova.  Furthermore, she showed wisdom beyond her years by keeping the pedal to the metal against Sharapova.  Cibulkova's body language and energy never faltered throughout the one hour and 15-minute affair, and when Sharapova finally awoke from her match-long slumber, there was too much ground for her to make up.  

The 6-0, 6-2 upset by Cibulkova was very nearly a double bagel - only Maria's determination kept it from being so.  

It was dicey at the conclusion with Sharapova storming back to win two games and threatening for more, and Cibulkova expressed her thoughts on the matter openly in her post-match press conference.  

"And the crowd, you know, I was a little bit surprised, because this never happened to me, that so many people were like - they were maybe not against me, but they wanted Maria to beat me...in the beginning I got a little bit pissed.  You know, like why against me?  They don't like me or what's happening?  But then I realized I cannot think of these things."

Cibulkova will face Dinara Safina in the semi-finals on Thursday.  Cibulkova's previous best Grand-Slam result was her round-of-16 loss to Elena Dementieva in the 2009 Australian Open.

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