Cracks appear as Venus loses at Russian roulette
Cracks appear as Venus loses at Russian roulette
It was about time a Russian got herself noticed at a grand slam event other than for the fact that she was Anna Kournikova. Yesterday Vera Zvonareva did just that.
June 2 2003
BY Stephen Bierley in Paris
It was about time a Russian got herself noticed at a grand slam event other than for the fact that she was Anna Kournikova and yesterday the 18-year-old Vera Zvonareva had the world's photographers on multi-motor drive with a stunning 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 fourth-round victory over Venus Williams, the world No3. So for the first time in five major championships there will be no all-Williams final at Roland Garros on Saturday.
There had been signs in the earlier rounds that Williams, who had lost the last four grand slam finals to her sister Serena, beginning here, was struggling to find her form and, perhaps, her motivation. Since losing to her at the Australian Open final in January, Venus has played in only three tournaments and she retired with an abdominal strain during the final at Warsaw against France's Am?lie Mauresmo in early May.
Venus served 12 double faults and made 75 unforced errors. She was clearly nervous against Zvonareva, although she denied it. "I was just having trouble keeping balls in. I didn't have enough preparation and I wasn't able to do all the things I would have like to do," she said.
Last year Zvonareva climbed from No371 to No45 in the rankings and entered the top 25 in May after winning her first tournament in Croatia. There are currently eight Russians in the top 50, with Zvonareva their No4. "I think she played really well but I'm really thinking about what I could have done better and played a lot smarter," said Williams, who achieved the last of her four slam victories at Flushing Meadows in 2001.
There are many who feel the dominance of her younger sister has had a detrimental effect on Venus's game and that she may have difficulties prolonging her career.
There was further changing of the guard when Jennifer Capriati, the No7 seed, lost 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to another Russian, Nadia Petrova, 20, ranked No76 in the world. Petrova now meets Zvonareva in the quarter-finals, with Zvonareva previously quoted as saying her most memorable day was losing 6-0, 6-0 to Petrova when she was eight. This order may be about to change.
It was a bad day for the Americans with Lindsay Davenport, the No6 seed, being forced to retire against Spain's veteran Conchita Martinez, with a previously sustained foot injury when trailing 6-4, 2-0. Belgium's Kim Clijsters, the No2 seed, was also in trouble, losing the first set to love against Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva before overcoming a bad attack of nerves to win 0-6, 6-2, 6-1.
On a day of intense Mediterranean heat Mauresmo remained the epitome of cool, reaching the last eight for the first time in nine attempts with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Spain's Magui Serna. Now comes the white-hot moment of truth: Serena Williams in tomorrow's eagerly anticipated quarter-final.
At the beginning of this year Williams held a 4-0 career advantage over Mauresmo and she nailed her again in the final of the Gaz de France indoor tournament in February. But in the semi-finals of the Italian Open last month the French woman finally struck, winning 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
As usual with Mauresmo this win in Rome was not without its moments of high crisis but, unlike on other occasions against the world No1, her self-belief prevailed. Not that Williams saw it this way. "All the matches I have lost I have pretty much beaten myself. Whenever I lose, it's not because the girl played an outstanding match. It's normally because I'm making 80 errors."
Mauresmo, 23, has invariably struggled with nerves here and has worked exceptionally hard to overcome them. The relief of reaching the last eight was palpable. "It's a really good feeling and maybe I'll be a little more relaxed when I play Serena. I will enjoy it, that's for sure. Beating her in Rome was an important step."
Williams conceded she was "a little off" in her fourth-round match against Japan's Ai Sugiyama, whom she beat 7-5, 6-3, but was 4-2 down in the opening set and on the floor at one point when she slid and crashed sideways into the net. Mauresmo will obviously be delighted if Williams is a little off again tomorrow.
Justine Henin-Hardenne had anticipated a tough match against Patty Schnyder, a player who has never fulfilled her potential at grand slam level, though she has the capacity to upset the leading players. The Belgian won a high-quality first set but then tailed off and was taken to a third. "The first set drained me a lot and I was using an ice pack because I was suffering from the heat. It was very hot, and they refuse to apply the heat and humidity rule here."
This WTA rule allows a 10-minute break between the second and third sets in extreme weather but it is up to the championship organisers to decide if they wish to apply it - except Wimbledon which never gets the chance.
Henin-Hardenne, already feeling nervous, had woken early on what was her 21st birthday with her husband, Pierre-Yves, still asleep. "It took him a few minutes before he realised what day it was which eased my tension because it was funny, butduring the warm-up I was a bit more nervous than usual."
There is rarely any talk of nerves in the men's game but for the women, who are far more grown up in these matters, nerves are all part of the emotions and can be talked about freely. Both Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo suffer more than most and by fronting up hope to conquer them. "I think the mental attitude [in the quarter-finals] is going to be pivotal," said Henin-Hardenne. "Most people think, 'Oh, well, the great players reach the quarter-finals with no problems', but that is not the way it goes."
"Everybody is tough," added Jennifer Capriati. "It's not just the Williamses."