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andrewbroad
Feb 22nd, 2004, 02:42 PM
A noteworthy week indeed for Maria, as she overcame a recent illness (according to wtatour.com) to reach the semi-finals of the Kroger St. Jude at Memphis... then lost to the intriguing Vera Zvonareva, who was also her doubles partner this week.

I've had a soft spot for Vera ever since she beat Venus Williams in the fourth round of the French Open 2003 (my first time to see Vera play). The BBC actually televised the third set - and wow, what a match! The enormity of the situation made it very exciting to watch - Venus just couldn't power her way through as the piranha-like Williams sisters always seemed to do whenever their opponents showed the slightest sign of weakness.

Vera is a pleasure to watch, with her sharp, thin, flairsome groundstrokes, and the lovely `thock' of the ball against her racket. She has great court-coverage, and tremendous fighting spirit even when she's very tired, as she was in the third set of her victory over Venus Williams. She's cute, too, with very pretty eyes (Ultrabeat's "Pretty Green Eyes" always reminds me of Vera, even though Vera's eyes are blue - the irony of which should not be lost on Maria's fans! ;)).

I like Vera a lot, but I'm not yet ready to become a Zvonareva fan, and I don't know if I ever will be. Perhaps if I do, I will look back on her victory over Maria and be happy for Vera, because something tells me that it will be Maria dominating their head-to-heads in the years to come. But right now, I'm sad that Maria lost to a player outside my fanship (even if Vera is my favourite such player).

From the moment I saw the draw for Memphis, the thought most prevalent in my mind was the possibility of a Sharapova v Zvonareva semi-final. I greatly desired for this mouthwatering match to come to pass, and every result that brought it closer felt sweet, even when Gisela Dulko (who is very pretty, BTW) eased Vera's path to the semis by removing fifth seed Ashley Harkleroad in the second round.


In the first round on Tuesday, Maria dismantled Conchita Martínez Granados (not to be confused with Conchita Martínez) 6-2 6-2 in 55 minutes, having beaten the same opponent 6-4 6-3 in the first round of the Australian Open on CMG's birthday.

Maria: "I think I played pretty well. I was the one controlling the match, and it was in my hands the whole time, but I thought I needed to improve a few things from the Australian Open, where I played her in the first round. But I think that for my first match, after being sick last week, I just did what I had to do."


This set up a second-round match against qualifier Tatiana Panova. Maria said, "I think it will be a tough match. I've never played her before so I'm very excited about it. Hopefully I can raise my game, and that's what I want to do as the rounds go on."

Unfortunately Panova, who was off the tour from June to December 2003 for reasons that are too sensitive for me to discuss, had to retire with an upper respiratory illness on Wednesday, with Maria leading 2-1 in the first set.


This set up a quarter-final against sixth seed Amy Frazier, one of the few active players who were playing on the tour in the 1980s.

Maria: "I have a tough one in the next round against Frazier. She's a very solid player. She's a veteran on the tour. I'm gonna have to step up my game a little bit in that match. I'm going to have to do that in order to win. I played her once more than a year ago [at the Pittsburgh ITF tournament in November 2002 - Maria won 4-6 6-3 6-4].

"Slowly by slowly, I've been progressing to the good side so I'm very thankful for that. I've been working hard and I think the work will pay off. You set goals for yourself and you have to work hard in order to achieve them. I want to be able to continue working hard and be mentally ready for the toughness that's out there on the Tour. I want to be No. 1 everyday, but I know it's going to take a little time."

Maria gave an interview of which you can find a transcription here:

http://www.atptennis.com/memphis/news/04sharapovaq.asp

A sound-file for each of Maria's answers is available for downloading; I particularly recommend "Maria Sharapova (III)" because she has a really cute bout of giggling as she says "My mom, well, if I get to the final of a Grand Slam, I'll fly her over!" :lol:

The quarter-final itself was roundly ignored by the media as Maria swept to a 6-2 6-4 victory over the solid, hard-hitting but unspectacular Frazier on Thursday.


This set up the mouthwatering semi-final I'd been hoping for all week as Maria (the third seed, aged sixteen) would face Russian compatriot Vera Zvonareva (the top seed, aged nineteen) on Friday.

Before the semi-final, Vera said: "I've never played her before. I know she's a really great player, so we'll see. I'm going to have to play my best to beat her and that's what I'll try to do. We'll have to play doubles afterwards, so I think we'll be a really good team."

Although both girls demonstrated intensity and vigor in their first match against each other, the match was rather disappointing from my perspective in that it wasn't as much of a contest as I'd hoped for, and the wrong player won. Maria lost 7-6 (7/5) 6-2 - a similar scoreline to her previous defeat, 7-6 6-1 by the wonderful Daniela Hantuchová in Tokyo, which does bring Maria's stamina into question.

Maria got off to a flying start, leading 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3 in the first set. Vera shifted into high gear at 0-3, and Maria started to tire at 4-1. The first set featured a monstrous six breaks of serve before the tiebreak, the last coming when Vera served for the first set at 6-5.

Maria: "I played well until 4-1. Then I just ran out of gas, but I gave it my all."

Vera: "She definitely had a great start and didn't give me many chances, but at 3-0 down, I found my game, and in the tiebreak, I was a bit lucky and was able to take the set.

"Maria started to play really, really well. She didn't give me a chance to relax, and was hitting lots of winners. But then I held my serve at 3-0 and found my game a little bit. In the tie-break, I had a little bit more luck to win. I knew I had to play really good tennis to beat her. I started to serve a little bit better and keep more balls in court."

In the second set, Vera broke Maria to lead 3-1, and remained in control to win it 6-2.

Maria: "In the first set, I was moving well, but in the second set, I just didn't have any more energy and didn't take my chances."

Vera: "I think the biggest difference between the first and second sets was that I started to serve better and obviously keep more balls in the court."


Vera took the singles title on Saturday, beating defending champion Lisa Raymond 4-6 6-4 7-5 in the final. Raymond had a 5-2 lead in the third set, and Zvonareva saved three championship-points! Vera now has two WTA singles titles, the same as Maria (all four of their WTA singles titles have been Tier III tournaments).

Sadly for us, having lost to Vera in the singles, Maria lost with Vera in the doubles final after the following results:
1r + Tatiana Panova/Galina Voskoboeva, 6-4 6-7 (8/10) 6-4
qf + Gisela Dulko/Patricia Tarabini, 6-4 6-2
sf + Jennifer Embry/Mashona Washington, 6-2 5-7 6-3
f - Asa Svensson/Meilen Tu, 6-4 7-6 (7/0)

I've often wondered whether Zvonareva is pronounced "zvon-a-ray-va" ("zvon" as in "on") or "zvone-a-ray-va" ("zvone" as in "zone"). But according to my mother, who is a former teacher of Russian, it's "zvan-a-ray-va" because the stress is on the second syllable!

Free time permitting, I'm considering learning Russian next year.

--
Dr. Andrew Broad
http://www.geocities.com/andrewbroad/
http://www.geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/
http://www.geocities.com/andrewbroad/tennis/shara/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/maria_sharapova/

the cat
Feb 22nd, 2004, 06:19 PM
Thanks for the detailed report, Andrew. Vera Zvonareva really deserved to win the Memphis title. :) She knows how to play tough tennis. On the other hand Maria Sharapova has yet to learn how to play tough tennis on the WTA Tour. Learning to play tough tennis is vital for Masha's future as a tennis player. She needs to learn how to win tough matches against good tennis players like Zvonareva.