A Fateful Friday: The Russian Perspective

23 Jan 2010 by Matthew Zemek in Australian Open 2010
Nadia Petrova

Nadia Petrova

If the bottom half of the women’s draw at the 2010 Australian Open could be viewed as a battle of two nations, the one country that has created as much newsworthy activity as Belgium is clearly Russia. While Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Yanina Wickmayer caused much ink to be spilled after their Friday exploits, Russia offered its own stream of storylines on day five of this two-week event.

The headline grabber that will be talked about a lot in Mother Russia is Nadia Petrova’s moment in the sun. No player in this tournament - man or woman - did more to revive her career than Petrova did on Friday afternoon in Melbourne.

Petrova - the No. 19 seed with an above-average serve and considerable power from both wings - has been a perennial underachiever at Grand Slam tournaments. For all her skills and shotmaking capabilities, the 27-year-old Russian has reached the semifinals of a major on only two occasions (the 2003 and 2005 French Opens). Petrova has blown countless one-set leads and lost numerous high-stakes matches in her snake-bitten career. With a propensity for mental meltdowns that rivals anything Jana Novotna ever did on a tennis court, Petrova has not been able to deliver world-class results with top-10-level talent.

But on one heaven-kissed day in Australia, this psychologically shaky shotmaker finally calmed her mind and allowed her tennis to speak for itself.

In just 53 minutes, Petrova stunned a disbelieving Hisense Arena crowd - not to mention a dumbfounded worldwide television audience - by thumping one of the three main favorites in the women’s tournament. Petrova handed Belgian superstar Kim Clijsters a 6-0, 6-1 defeat in a result absolutely nobody anticipated. Petrova’s sharpness and precision matched Clijsters’s utter lack of concentration. While Clijsters hit only one winner and sprayed 17 unforced errors in a nightmarish first set, Petrova - who committed only 10 unforced errors in the entire match - attained the clean and consistent style of play that has eluded her in pressure situations.

Petrova has a tendency to get down on herself even in matches she leads. The Russian veteran can play great tennis for 45 minutes, but then berate herself for hitting two or three bad shots and allow that negativity to destroy her on-court performance. Now that Petrova has polished off the reigning U.S. Open champion, she might be able to fulfill her still-enormous potential.

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When she plays her next match, Petrova will ironically come up against an opponent with a history that’s very similar to hers, albeit on a smaller scale. If Nadia Petrova is a first-rate underachiever, her compatriot, Svetlana Kuznetsova, isn’t that far behind.

Kuznetsova is a two-time major champion, but the 24-year-old’s abilities are so evident whenever she takes the court that her mixed record of results in major tennis tournaments is a source of puzzlement to her fans. Despite maintaining a regular presence in the top 10 of the WTA Tour rankings, the Russian has reached the quarterfinals or better at just two of her past six majors. She won last year’s French Open, but then wilted in the early rounds of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Kuznetsova has served for the match on many big occasions against the likes of the Williams Sisters and other prominent pros, but the same nerves that have sabotaged Petrova and other Russian players have victimized Kuznetsova as well. This is another player who - despite a pair of major titles - has not produced results commensurate with her gifts.

Friday night - and technically, early Saturday morning - Kuznetsova might have authored a chapter that will re-write her own tennis story.

Placed on Rod Laver Arena after Rafael Nadal’s extended four-set win over Philipp Kohlschreiber, Kuznetsova didn’t finish her third-round match with Germany’s Angelique Kerber until almost 2 a.m. Melbourne time. The wait, however, was worth it.

Kuznetsova lost the first set and trailed for much of the second stanza as well. It appeared for all the world that another early-round flameout in a major was at hand, but something inside the heart of the No. 3 seed wouldn’t allow another premature exit at an important tournament. Kuznetsova - just three points from defeat at 4-5, 15-all in the second set - held her serve and her nerve en route to a hard-earned 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 triumph.

Just as two Belgians (Henin and Wickmayer) will meet in the fourth round, Kuznetsova will get to face Petrova in an all-Russia rendezvous in the round of 16. One player might falter, but after seeing the way in which these two Russians persevered on Friday, they might be ready to produce a level of tennis that will please themselves and their fans.

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1 Comment »

  • Woo woo! Give that commie broad a free set of kitchen steak knives for the poppity-pop, poppity-pop, poppity-pippity-pop ‘I win!’

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