Match Report: SCHNYDER vs TANASUGARN
I made it out to the NTC on Wednesday and watched the Patty vs. Tammy match from start to finish.
From the very first ball struck in this match, Tammy focused on a simple strategy against her more talented and famous Swiss opponent: she hit every ball she could to Patty's right (backhand) side. The first three rallies of the first game really set the tone - each ended with a backhand error from Patty, and she was immediately down 0-40. She saved the three breakpoints with big serves, but then Tammy was again able to engage her in rallies on the next two points, and Tammy got the only break she would need courtesy of a whopping 5 backhand errors from Patty, and led 1-0.
In her ensuing service games, Patty was able to dominate and frustrate Tammy with her lefty kick serve to the backhand and then setting up the points to hit a (usually forehand) winner or get Tammy on the run. After getting the break in the 1st game, Tammy was not really in contention on any of Patty's service games for the rest of the set. But on her own serve, Tammy dealt superbly with Patty's tricky game, never wavering from her basic strategy, and handling the pace of Patty's hard-hit crosscourt backhands to her own (weaker side) forehand extremely well. Tammy hooked most of her serves to Patty's bh, but she also popped a few big ones the other way when she needed them.
One thing that surprised me in this match was that the longer rallies, which in theory are the bread and butter of Patty's baseline game, clearly favored Tanasugarn in this match. Either Patty didn't have the patience to hit 8 or 9 shots to win a point, or her movement wasn't good enough, and she was much more effective when she could start off with a big serve and then hit a winner on the 1st or 2nd shot.
In the past I have noticed that many players seem to fear Patty's backhand because she occasionally hits such thunderous, intimidating winners from that side. But Tammy seemed to be saying, "OK, if you hit 30 backhand winners and you beat me, then that's just too good. But I'm not going to let you beat me with your forehand, because I know that's really your best shot." In fact, during the course of the match, Patty did hit 6 or 7 very flashy, crowd-pleasing backhand ground-stroke winners. But she made about 4 times as many errors from that side.
The most critical part of the match to my mind was when Tammy was serving for the 1st set at 5-4, 30-30. It was a pretty long and furious rally where both players played excellent defense, and Patty ended up missing a running forehand a little bit long. It was a forced error but also a ball that Patty the Top 10 player would certainly have made. Tammy took the set on the next point when another of Patty's backhands found the net after a short rally.
The second set was similar to the first, but with somewhat less tension as Tammy had now established herself as the more focused, more emotional player. Patty once again allowed herself to be outplayed from the baseline in her opening service game and went down a break. Tammy, now more confident, began to exploit the open court on the side of Patty's forehand with her own very strong cross-court 2-handed backhand. Patty played several miserable return games in this set, started to miss some forehands as well as backhands, and failed to earn a single break point.
In the final game Patty lost her serve at 3-5, and on the last point she missed a backhand wide off a forcing down-the-line bh from Tammy, who jumped joyously in the air and let out a euphoric squeal. Tammy had worked really hard and she was very, very happy to win this match. Both players had plenty of support from the crowd of several hundred on Court 11 (one of the NTC's 3 secondary show courts). Patty's fans knew that she was capable of better tennis than what she was showing. There was nothing really wrong with Patty's performance in this match, and there was also none of the bad sportsmanship which has sometimes been unfortunately associated with her name. Patty hit some great shots in both sets, but you were also left with the sense that she lacked passion, and only was out there because she felt it was her job. With Tammy, the sense was the exact opposite, so you can say that the better player of the day won the match.