Thursday: match of the day
Match of the day: Williams (No2) v KirilenkoBy Guillaume Baraise
Wednesday, May 26, 2004Serena Williams will be expected to sweep Maria Kirilenko aside on Thursday. But if we’ve picked this one out as our match of the day, it’s because we think the 17-year-old Russian just might give the American a scare.
Serena Williams made her legion of fans happy here on Tuesday. Not only did she demolish her first round opponent Iveta Benesova 6-2 6-2, she also revealed her latest on-court gear, a striking pink ensemble that had the fashion photographers scurrying. Yet behind the sheen, you could detect a few frailties in her game, little signs that she is not yet back to her best. Her preparations for Roland Garros were cut short by treatment to her fragile left knee, and she is only appearing in her fifth tournament of the year. Two defeats on clay, to Nadia Petrova at Amelia Island and Jennifer Capriati in Rome, can hardly have filled her with confidence. Those are a just a few reasons for young Kirilenkoto be cheerful – and optimistic - as she prepares for the biggest match in her young career.
Maria Kirilenko is the baby of the pack of Russian youngsters currently taking the WTA rankings by storm. A run from the qualifiers to the third round of the US Open at the age of 16 last year was a first sign of her remarkably quick transition from the juniors to the seniors (she was US Open junior champion in 2002). In February this year, a few days after her 17th birthday, she reached the final of the Hyderabad tournament in India. More recently, she won the tournament in Saint-Gaudens. Kirilenko is clearly in a hurry to get to the top, and for a shortcut to stardom she could have wished for nothing better than a match with Serena Williams at the French Open.
THE KEYS TO THE MATCH
Of course, should Serena play anywhere near her best, she’ll knock the Russian over in double quick time. But the former world number one has lost some of her sparkle recently. She appears slower around the court. Could she still be suffering with her knee? One thing she certainly hasn’t lost is her phenomenal racket speed and subsequent thunderous shot-making.
Maria Kirilenko has never come across anyone like Serena before, but she is remarkably composed for one so young, and, in the mould of her fellow Russians, is unlikely to be overawed. She has enough power in her own shots to stand firm in the long exchanges, but her major handicap is her physique. A featherweight fighting above her category, she risks being blown away like so many before her. Nevertheless, with the Roland Garros fans behind her, she just might cause a major upset.
HEAD TO HEAD
The two have never met. The highest-ranked player Maria Kirilenko has faced so far in her budding career is Amйlie Mauresmo, at the US Open in 2003. The French No1 won 6-4 6-2 that day, but not as comfortably as the score would suggest.