InsideOut. reports from Hong Kong (Day 2 Singles Report updated on Page 4)
I went to the HK exhibition on Day 1 and will be there for Day 2 as well. Unfortunately I didn’t take photos so I apologize for that. If you have any questions feel free to ask.
Before the Matches
I watched a few training sessions on the outside courts before entering the stadium. Wozniacki was hitting with Dulko, and they played a practice set. I didn’t see all of it, but what I saw was that Wozniacki was actually taking initiative, moving Dulko around the court, and finishing the point off at the net. From the little I saw I must say she doesn’t play like a pusher – at least in practice. Dulko’s forehand was fairly solid but she couldn’t do much once forced on the defence.
Azarenka was hitting with Edberg, and I was impressed – by Edberg. Azarenka had trouble just keeping the ball inside the lines and Edberg pretty much just absorbed all her pace and directed it back at her. Azarenka had a huge lot of trouble handling his backhand slice. But one thing she’ll never have trouble with is finding the energy in her vocal cords to belch out that horrible mooing grunt of hers – it was audible even inside the stadium, so you can imagine how annoying it was to stand next to her court, trying to watch players practice while a human banshee screamed her lungs out.
Sharapova was warming up with her hitting partner (forgot his name, sorry) and was hitting conventional volleys as I watched. As she was practicing on the court right next to Azarenka’s, for the sake of my poor ears, I could not stand there and watch for too long. But while her volleys looked solid they were far from convincing, which became evident later in the match.
Match 1: Vera Zvonareva def. Ayumi Morita 6-2 6-2
This match stood in stark contrast to the Sharapova-Zheng match later on both in terms of its competitiveness and the atmosphere within stadium court. With no Sharapova in the matchup, with no Venus in the contest, the crowd tried to rally behind Morita but soon realized that it just wasn’t worth it. The crowd didn’t care who won, and even occasional good shots didn’t elicit much applause from the quiet audience.
The match began with a beautiful inside-out backhand return winner from Zvonareva, and after one game it was clear that a demolition was about to unfold. Zvonareva didn’t have to do anything too special, and points usually ended with a Morita error. Zvonareva basically just had to stay in the rally, move her opponent around, and the error would come flying off Morita’s racquet. Whatever Morita did, Zvonareva was just that much better at doing it. She moved better, hit harder, had better tactics, was more consistent, served better, returned better.
One thing I must comment on is Morita’s return. Disregarding her near inability to return a first serve, her second serve return is truly cause for concern. There were only two possible scenarios for her second serve return: either she would hit it back short in the middle of the court waiting to be thwacked away, or she would hit it deep but straight at where Zvonareva was waiting and right into her hitting zone. Either way the results were the same, and the only way Morita got points on Zvonareva’s serve were when Zvonareva made a sloppy error.
Morita’s best moment in the match definitely came in the second to lost game, when she went up 40-0 on her own serve before being pushed back to deuce. She played some excellent points to hold her own serve, saving three match points along the way. One such point was a delightful half-volley winner at the first deuce, and a series of two-fisted groundstroke winners to save match points. No matter how she fought, however, there was never going to be any comeback. That much was obvious in the entire 2nd set, and sure enough Zvonareva closed it out comfortably.
Match 2: Maria Sharapova def. Zheng Jie
Unlike the first match, this match actually got the crowd going. On one side you had the world-famous glamour girl and longtime darling of the Hong Kong crowd in Sharapova, and on the other side you had Zheng, former Wimbledon semifinalist and importantly, an extremely successful Chinese player. The crowd was pretty much torn between the two, and I conclude that the general sentiment towards the players was much love and adoration for Zheng and sheer admiration for Sharapova. As the match went on, the crowd started rooting more and more for Zheng even as the match slipped from her grasp.
The first set was a fairly dramatic roller-coaster. In the very first game Sharapova went up 40-0 on Zheng’s serve but immediately lost five points in a row. However, some excellent returning coupled with Zheng’s weak, ineffectual serving, allowed Sharapova to break to lead 2-1 in Zheng’s next service game. But Sharapova’s serve was clicking and her early service games in the first set were all reasonably comfortable. Once the rally started, though, Zheng was aggressively dictating play, taking the ball on early and moving Sharapova around the court. Because of her resilience and aggression, Zheng deservedly fought back from 2-4 down to level at 4-4, before Sharapova broke again to serve for the set at 5-4. Perhaps affected by nerves, Sharapova allowed Zheng to once again take the initiative and Zheng broke right back and then held for 6-5. Tense moments ensued in the 12th game when Sharapova let a 30-0 lead close to 30-30, but strong serving bailed her out and she forced a tiebreak. Zheng played the first few points extremely aggressively and got the first mini-break to lead 4-1. Sharapova then exploited her opponent’s sudden tentativeness and pathetic serving to reel off four points of her own to forge ahead at 5-4 with a mini-break in hand. But Zheng, unwilling to give up, forced Sharapova into errors to take the first set tiebreak 7-5 after over an hour.
In comparison to the first set, the quality of tennis in the second set was considerably lower. Sharapova’s groundstrokes were losing their range and flew long, wide and into the net. Zheng took advantage, breaking at 2-2 and then consolidating for a 4-2 lead. From that point onwards Sharapova fought hard, and untimely mistakes for Zheng at *4-3 30-15 as well as at 4-4* 30-15 (Sharapova serving) cost her dearly. As Zheng started retreating into her shell and playing passively, Sharapova upped her level and claimed the second set 6-4 on a netted Zheng backhand.
The third set was all Sharapova – Zheng won points when Sharapova made errors, and lost them when Sharapova hit winners. From what I saw Zheng only hit one winner in the third set, in the very last game. Sharapova was dictating the play, moving Zheng around the court from left to right and back again. After 2 and a half hours of play Sharapova claimed victory off yet another error from Zheng.
In terms of her overall game, I can safely assure all Maria fans that she was serving suitably well – she had 10 aces and only a few double faults, and was generally serving around 100-110 mph for her first serves. Zheng, despite being extremely proficient at returning big serves, only managed to make Sharapova’s first serve look bad once or twice, and the rest of the time Sharapova’s serve won her quick points. However, her net game was pretty poor – while her drive volleys remain reliable as always, her conventional volleys left much to be desired. The few times she ventured to the net off a slice approach or a rolled forehand, she got passed easily or hit the volley into the net (either that, or it bounced off her racquet and landed right in front of her). The only instance I remember her winning a point off a conventional volley was when she reached out, arms flailing, at the passing ball and somehow got it back into play with her superior reach, and Zheng missed the easy passing shot. For Zheng, however, it would be prudent for her to return to the practice courts and work on her serve, which was simply so useless that she would be relieved that she just managed to spin it in. In the end, Maria’s power and fight won her the match.
Ana Ivanovic is now retired.
Justine Henin. Amelie Mauresmo. Francesca Schiavone.
Last edited by InsideOut.; Jan 8th, 2010 at 01:22 PM.