CHINA OPEN (Beijing, China; hard; WTA Tier II)
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Online video of Super Maria Sisters' match:
+ Maria Kirilenko d. Jamea Jackson [Q], 7-5 7-5
If only Little Maria could have had that result at Birmingham (in front of me) instead of here.
Instead? Well that's what I wrote at the time - little did I suspect that she would go all the way!
Super Maria Sisters:
+ Maria d. Aiko Nakamura [Q], 6-1 7-6 (7/3)
+ Maria d. Shahar Peer, 6-0 5-7 6-2
If you hadn't been following this tournament, you wouldn't know which was Sharapova's result and which was Kirilenko's, would you?
Super Maria Sisters:
+ MARIA SHARAPOVA  d. Shinobu Asagoe, 6-4 6-1
+ Maria Kirilenko d. Sun,Tiantian [WC], 6-1 6-3
Once again, Little Maria got a better scoreline than Big Maria. Congratulations to Little Maria for reaching her first-ever Tier II (or higher) semi-final.
+ Maria Kirilenko d. MARIA SHARAPOVA , 6-4 *2-1 retired
A semi-final between the Super Maria Sisters is something I never dared dream of when I saw the first-round draw (which had Serena Williams as Little Maria's likely quarter-final opponent).
But the dream turned into a nightmare as Big Maria's right pectoral muscle strain flared up again. It's very sad and upsetting that this mouthwatering match should have been marred by injury.
This is the third time that this particular injury has forced Big Maria to withdraw from a tournament once play was underway: Philadelphia 2004, Los Angeles 2005 and now Beijing 2005.
Semi-finals have been Big Maria's unlucky round this year.
I fear that Big Maria's right pectoral muscle is going to be an ongoing problem for her throughout her career (just as Monica Seles is plagued by a recurring stress-fracture in her left foot, which would keep her out of action for six months at a time - currently 28 months and counting).
Well I don't think Big Maria's injury is that
serious, but I do fear that it is worse than first feared, and it's not a good feeling that it could flare up again at any time.
But I don't want to take too much away from Little Maria, who played very well throughout the week to reach her first-ever WTA Tier II (or higher) final, even though she benefited from some incredible luck along the way.
I have a new respect for Little Maria as a player after this week (I wrote this before
she won the final). I've known for 15 months that she has tremendous innate all-court talent (not to mention how extremely cute, pretty and sweet she is), but before this week I believed that she was too inconsistent and physically weak to thrive in an era where other players in the top 128 are more powerful and athletic than ever before.
Now, however, I believe that if Little Maria is injury-free and plays her attacking, all-court best, she has a fighting chance of being competitive against players who sometimes take her to the woodshed - perhaps even beating them.
Perhaps, even, of one day being inducted into my eternal fanship (right now I see six candidates for the next place in my fanship: Little Maria, Tatiana Golovin, Nicole Vaidišová, Sania Mirza, Anna Chakvetadze and Ana Ivanovic - every week I have a different idea of who it's most likely to be, so I'm nowhere near my next eternal vow of fanship yet).
My Preview as I wrote it before the match
A most intriguing semi-final showdown between the Super Maria Sisters. In their only previous professional singles meeting in 2r Los Angeles 2005, Big Maria beat Little Maria 7-6 (9/7) 6-2 - a closer scoreline than many expected.
I think Little Maria can do even better this time. Her last two scorelines have been better than Big Maria's, and Little Maria has added new attacking options to her game: now serve-and-volleying, and being more aggressive with her returns of serve. The more Little Maria can get to the net against Big Maria, the more successful Little Maria will be.
I definitely think Little Maria can break Big Maria's serve at least once in the match, and although it would be a stunning upset if Little Maria were actually to win the match, I wouldn't be surprised if she got a set.
Big Maria: "I don't think I have more of an advantage now that there are only two seeds remaining. Whoever I'm playing against, if it's in the quarter-final or semi-final, has obviously played well enough to get there and deserves to be there.
"It's difficult to play someone you know very well, but any semi-final is competitive. Maria Kirilenko is an up-and-coming player, and she has played very well this week."
I wish Little Maria a good performance, but my loyalty is with Big Maria and I hope for a repeat of the Seoul 2004 final: Sharapova v Domachowska.
Big Maria hasn't actually won a Tier II or higher title (Birmingham is Tier III) since Doha in February, so I would be very disappointed if she were to blow this golden opportunity with the Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport all beaten or withdrawn.
Ranking-wise, it's important for Big Maria to build up a rich buffer of points before last year's WTA Tour Championships come off, otherwise she's very likely to lose the #1 ranking at the end of the 2005 season and miss out on the coveted year-end #1 spot.
I haven't seen the match myself (yet?). I distilled the following information from the WTAworld scores-thread:
(thanks to LostGlory
for point-by-point scores, and to chopen
for details of play)
SHARAPOVA 1___* * *_ 4
KIRILENKO 1@*@ * * * 6
The match started at 19:12 Chinese time. Here are my notes as I wrote them at the time:
Sharapova serving 1-1: 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), 30/40, broken!
: "Kir is playing out of her mind, she is playing on the mobility of sharapova and she is getting her....."
Kirilenko serving 2-1: 30/0 -> 30/30, 40/30, held.
Sharapova serving 1-3: 0/15, 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs), 30/40, broken.
I heard that Big Maria had her right thigh taped yesterday. I do hope it isn't bothering her - it would be such a shame if this mouthwatering match were ruined by Big Maria retiring.
Kirilenko serving 4-1: 0/40 (3 BPs), 15/40, broken.
Sharapova serving 2-4: 40/30, held.
Kirilenko serving 4-3: 30/0, 30/15, 40/15, held.
Sharapova serving to stay in the first set at 3-5: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, double fault, 30/30, 30/40 (SP), MK forehand wide, 40/40, MK netted a forehand, ad MS, MK backhand return wide.
Big Maria plays the big points so well, especially when she's break-point (in this case set-point) down.
Kirilenko serving for the first set at 5-4: MS forehand long off a second serve, 15/0, MS backhand return long, 30/0, MK "very good serve,Big BH", 40/0 (3 SPs), service-winner (according to other sources, "a pummelling forehand"). Little Maria won the first set 6-4 at 19:56!
SHARAPOVA __* 1 retired
KIRILENKO @*_ 2
Sharapova serving 0-0: 0/15, MS netted a backhand, 0/30, MK netted a forehand (unforced), 15/30, second serve, MK netted a backhand return, 30/30, MK backhand return wide, 40/30, MS forehand wide, 40/40, MS backhand pass-winner, ad MS, MK forehand return winner, Deuce #2, MS netted a backhand, ad MK (BP), MS netted another backhand - broken!
: "little Masha playing really good, keeping her off balance, serving great, smart"
Kirilenko serving 1-0: ace, 15/0, MS netted a forehand return, 30/0, MS forehand return wide, 40/0, MS backhand wide, held.
Sharapova serving 0-2: MK forehand return long, 15/0, MK backhand return long, 30/0, MK backhand return wide, 40/0, MS netted two backhands, 40/30, MS backhand wide, 40/40, MS backhand volley-winner, ad MS, MK forehand long.
Phew! The last thing Big Maria needed was an attack of Alexandra Stevenson's syndrome (dropping serve from 40/0 up) when she's already a set and a break down!
But my relief was short-lived as Big Maria retired at 20:12.
Big Maria quotes
"Even if I couldn't walk, I'd want to finish the match. It's something that I can't control. It's a very mysterious injury. It was getting worse and worse with every shot.
"It was really sore in practice, and when I was playing, every forehand and every serve it got worse and worse.
"In reality, yes it hurts and it's very painful. I had an MRI in L.A. and they said it was just a muscle-problem or inflammation. It's kind of up and down and it comes unexpectedly. I took a week and half off to get ready for the US Open, and after all that it was still not better, so that's a concern.
"It comes on unexpectedly from day to day and I can't control it. I'm not a player who goes on court without intending to finish a match. It's bad enough to have to withdraw before you play, but to retire during a match is even more disappointing.
"At the same time I want to congratulate Maria. She's a great player and a great person, and we had a nice conversation after the match. I'd like to wish her all the best for the final."
Little Maria quotes
"I didn't see that she had a problem. It was a surprise for me when she called for the trainer.
"I will just play my normal game, I will try not to think of it as a final. The only other time I reached a final, I was only 17 and I was very nervous. Tomorrow I won't be afraid."
That's the spirit!
My Preview of the Final
* Maria Kirilenko v ANNA-LENA GRÖNEFELD 
Originally, Little Maria was drawn to play Anna-Lena Grönefeld in the first round, before Grönefeld was moved to the bottom of the draw to replace the injured Lindsay Davenport (which I thought was a change for the worse as it pitted Little Maria against her nemesis Jamea Jackson instead).
Now that Little Maria is playing Grönefeld in the final
, it's like a tale from a parallel universe; like a dream I once had in which the Super Maria Sisters were interchangeable.
Little Maria has played Anna-Lena Grönefeld once before: in qualifying for Bol 2003, where Grönefeld beat her 7-6 (7/5) 6-2. I've never seen Grönefeld play, and I don't know much about her except that she has one of the biggest serves in women's tennis.
Neither player has ever won a WTA singles title before. Little Maria's first WTA singles final was the Tier IV at Hyderabad in February 2004, when she was little - not big! She lost 7-6 (7/3) 6-1 to Nicole Pratt.
Grönefeld had one previous WTA singles final too: Pattaya City 2005, also a Tier IV.
+ Maria Kirilenko d. ANNA-LENA GRÖNEFELD , 6-3 6-4
Aside from a bit of panic when Maria served for the title at 5-4, Grönefeld was Makirinated!
It's so cool that Little Maria has joined the class of players who have won a WTA Tour singles title in their careers, and to do it at a Tier II is something very special. A week ago, I never would have believed that Maria was ready for this breakthrough, but now at last the WTA and the media must realise that they have a beautiful and abundantly-talented new star.
I did not get to see the match myself, but distilled the following information from the WTAworld scores thread:
(Thanks to LostGlory
for point-by-point descriptions, and nouf
Grönefeld won the toss and elected to serve. The match started at 19:10 Chinese time.
KIRILENKO _* * *@*@ 6
GRÖNEFELD * * *____ 3
Grönefeld serving 0-0: Grönefeld backhand winner. 15/0. Maria mishit return long. 30/0. Grönefeld forehand long. 30/15. Double fault. 30/30. Maria forehand long. 40/30. Grönefeld backhand winner.
Kirilenko serving 0-1: Ace. 15/0. Grönefeld netted a forehand. 30/0. Maria netted a forehand. 30/15. Double fault. 30/30. 30/40 (break-point). Maria backhand winner. 40/40. Ad K. Service-winner.
Grönefeld serving 1-1: Maria "great forehand return". 0/15. Maria backhand winner. 0/30. Grönefeld forehand long. 0/40 (3 BPs). Grönefeld backhand winner. 15/40. Ace. 30/40. Maria netted a forehand. 40/40. Grönefeld drive-volley long. Ad K (BP #4). Maria forehand long. Deuce #2. Maria backhand winner on the line. Ad K (BP #5). Service-winner. Deuce #3. Double fault. Ad K (BP #6). Service-winner. Deuce #4. Ace. Ad G. Service-winner.
Oh dear! It won't be easy for Maria to serve after wasting six break-points.
Grönefeld is "moonballing like hell".
Kirilenko serving 1-2: Maria forehand long. 15/0. Double fault. 15/15. Grönefeld forehand winner. 15/30. Grönefeld forehand long. 30/30. Maria netted. 30/40 (BP). "Great shot from Kirilenko". 40/40. Ad K. Maria netted. Deuce #2. Grönefeld lucky netcord. Ad G (BP #2). Grönefeld netted a forehand. Deuce #3. Maria dropshot, Grönefeld runs it down, Maria drive-volley long. Ad G (BP #3). Maria forehand winner. Deuce #4. Maria volley-winner. Ad K. Maria forehand long. Deuce #5. Grönefeld missed a forehand. Ad K. Grönefeld won a net-rally. Deuce #6. Maria volley-winner. Ad K. Maria netted a backhand. Deuce #7. Maria lost a net-rally. Ad G (BP #4). Grönefeld netted a forehand. Deuce #8. Grönefeld forehand long. Ad K. Grönefeld forehand long.
Grönefeld serving 2-2: Grönefeld forehand winner. 15/0. Grönefeld netted (forced by good volleying by Maria). 15/15. Service-winner. 30/15. Second-serve ace. 40/15. Maria hit an error-forcing forehand. 40/30. 40/40. Ace. Ad G. Service-winner.
Kirilenko serving 2-3: Two service-winners. 30/0. Maria backhand winner. 40/0. Grönefeld forehand pass-winner. 40/15. Grönefeld backhand pass-winner. 40/30. Maria "great winner".
Grönefeld serving 3-3: Maria forehand winner. 0/15. Grönefeld forehand long. 0/30. Maria wrong-footing backhand winner. 0/40 (3 BPs). Maria drive-volley "way out". 15/40. Maria forehand out. 30/40. Maria runs down a dropshot and threads a sublime forehand down the line behind Grönefeld to score the first break!
Kirilenko serving 4-3: Maria forehand just out. 0/15. Two service-winners. 30/15. Maria holds to 15.
Grönefeld serving to stay in the first set at 3-5: 0/15. Double fault. 0/30. Maria forehand long. 15/30. Maria netted a forehand. 30/30. 30/40 (SP). Grönefeld forehand long. Maria won the first set 6-3 at 20:06.
KIRILENKO _@*@* *__@ 6
GRÖNEFELD @____* *@_ 4
Kirilenko serving 0-0: 0/30. Maria netted a backhand. 0/40 (3 BPs). Double fault - Grönefeld breaks.
Grönefeld serving 0-1: 15/0. 15/15. 15/30. 15/40 (2 BPs). Maria netted a forehand. 30/40. Grönefeld forehand winner. 40/40. Maria forehand volley long. Ad G. Grönefeld backhand long. Deuce #2. Maria "great BH volley". Ad K. "Good 2nd serve". Deuce #3. Grönefeld forehand long. Ad K. Maria "great FH volley" - Maria breaks back!
Kirilenko serving 1-1: Grönefeld forehand long. 15/0. 15/15. Maria backhand winner. 30/15. Maria backhand long. 40/15. Maria forehand drive-volley long. 40/30. Maria forehand smash-winner.
Grönefeld serving 1-2: Broken.
Kirilenko serving 3-1: Grönefeld forehand long. 15/0. Maria forehand winner. 30/0. Grönefeld forehand long. 40/0. Maria "wrong footing".
Grönefeld serving 1-4: Grönefeld backhand lob long. 0/15. Maria backhand return-winner. 0/30. Grönefeld serve + backhand winner. 15/30. Ace. 30/30. Grönefeld serve + wrong-footing backhand winner. 40/30. Double fault. 40/40. Ad G. Held.
Kirilenko serving 4-2: Grönefeld backhand out. 15/0. 30/0. "Bad miss from ALG". 40/0. Held to love.
Grönefeld serving to stay in the match at 2-5: Grönefeld forehand way out. 0/15. Grönefeld forehand winner. 15/15. 30/15. Grönefeld forehand long. 30/30. Service-winner. 40/30. And again.
Kirilenko serving for the match at 5-3: Maria forehand long. 0/15. Grönefeld backhand winner. 0/30. Maria forehand into the net. 0/40 (3 BPs). Grönefeld forehand long. 15/40. Two service-winners. 40/40. Ad G (BP #4). Broken. Don't choke now, Maria!
Maria takes a medical timeout for treatment on her right wrist. "Her hand is already wrapped up."
Grönefeld serving to stay in the match at 4-5: Good return. 0/15. "Good net play by ALG but Kir the better player from behind". 0/30. Maria netted a backhand. 15/30. Grönefeld "great FH". 30/30. Maria forehand winner(?) on the line. 30/40 (Championship-Point). Grönefeld missed an easy volley. Maria won 6-3 6-4 at 20:58.
"It's unbelievable, my first WTA title. I was a little bit nervous. I tried to play like I played before, and finally I won.
"This is my first title and I'm so excited. It has been a great week for me. I have played hard and I'm glad that I was able to win today.
"With the top seeds out, I saw my chance to play well and work hard to make it far in the tournament. It is not often that you get a chance, but this time I took it and it was good for me.
"I can't believe I won. I think I'll understand it more later. Nothing will change but it's a very important breakthrough for me. Other players dropped out so maybe I was a little but lucky. But I was given a chance and I took it."
"I am sad that I did not win today but I had a good week. I played three good matches to get here. Unfortunately I couldn't do it today. Maria played well and had some good points. I'm not quite sure what happened. Overall I have had a good season and hopefully it will just continue to get better. I will learn from my mistakes, and hope I do better next time."
I'm very sad that Big Maria retired, especially against Little Maria in what should have been a mouthwatering match, but I'm very happy that Little Maria won the final and now has a WTA singles title.
Little Maria has strengthened her claim for the next place in my eternal fanship, but there are five other strong candidates, and I'm nowhere near a decision yet...
Dr. Andrew Broad