By Jane Voigt
Of course they are all talking about Novak and Rafa, the dream semifinal. Okay, that’s fine. The predictions came true. Betting houses are happy as are the ones that hedged their bets. But what about Maria?
She survived a 3-set tussle against an inspired Jelena Jankovic, after losing the first set at love in 29 minutes — 06 64 63.
Jankovic’s plan was straightforward. She would move Maria. Big players usually are not a Michael Chang on clay, or any other surface. Maria confessed not too long ago that on clay she felt like a ‘cow on ice.’ But that’s not entirely true anymore. If she’s such a cow on ice, why is she the defending champion?
In the first set, though, Jankovic was in command. Not only was her plan in play, her strategies and technique were executed well. Her shots found their marks. She stretched Maria wide on forehands, backhands and serves. The No. 18 seed forced the tall Russian to hit on the run, pulling her outside her comfort zone. She committed 20 unforced errors to Jankovic’s 4 during the set.
“I started with a lot of unforced errors,” Maria admitted. “She played very well. It was the opposite for me.”
‘JJ’ smiled and memories awoke of three prior French Open semifinals: 2007, 2008, and 2010. She has never won a Major title. Plus her head-to-head record against Sharapova is dismal: 1-7. However, this was their first red clay battle. Jankovic was certainly more adept on the slippery stuff.
In August, 2008, Jankovic reached number one in the world. That year she was a semifinalist at the Australian Open and, as mentioned, The French Open. At the U. S. Open, she lost in the final to Serena Williams. She had 12 WTA career titles. Then the slide.
At one stage I just lost the hunger and was just flat on the court, and that showed in my face when I competed. Now I think I’m a different person. Even though I’m yelling, whatever I’m doing on court, this is me. (EuroSport.com)
She added no titles between 2010 and the end of 2012, and fell out of the top 20 for the first time in five years.
Marko Jankovic, her brother, stepped in as her interim coach. He was the brunt of all things good and bad on court today. If she was up, she glared at him. If she was fumbling, she ranted at him. These are familiar sights when Jankovic plays tennis.
“It’s about passion, about really enjoying yourself. Even though I’m sometimes getting frustrated I really enjoy being there and competing and putting myself into position to win these big matches in front of a huge crowd on a huge court,” Jankovic told the press.
Sharapova bit down at the start of the second set, breaking Jankovic to go up 2-0. It was an important step for the No. 2 seed.
“I knew I was capable of doing much better,” Maria said.
Jankovic fought and evened the score. She lead at 5-4. “Anything could have happened,” she began. “She came up with some great serves and took the second set.”
The third set was tough.
“Overall it was a big fight,” Jankovic said.
Maria’s returns were brilliant and Jelena’s shot selection and technique waned. Her execution was off by a hair, which was all Sharapova needed to thread winners. Jankovic’s break vanished. Sharapova went up 4-3 and crossed the finish line first.
“I’m certainly happy to be through,” Sharapova said, quite businesslike.
She plays Victoria Azarenka (right) in the semifinal. Azarenka, No. 3 seed, defeated Maria Kirilenko in the other quarterfinal today in Paris. They are first up tomorrow, Thursday, June 6, at 9 a.m. est. They will be followed by the second semifinal of Serena Williams and Sara Errani. Photo credit: Tennisclix.com