May 25, 2009

In Memoriam

Here in the U.S. today, Memorial Day, marks the unofficial start to summer -- but the original intent, of course, was more somber, meant to honor our fallen war heroes. So I've chosen to dedicate today's post to those competitors who've already fallen in the opening days of Roland Garros.

Of course the stakes in Paris aren't quite as high as they are on a battlefield, but for some players defeat must have been hard to swallow.

Hometown heroine Amelie Mauresmo has never made it past the quarterfinals at the French Open, but after winning her first title in two years this past February and making the semis in Madrid, she'd brought her ranking from #23 in the world to #16. In her first match she took on German Anna-Lena Groenefeld, a twenty-three year old who seems to have been around forever, but has only won one Tour title in 2006. The two had played five times before, and Amelie had only dropped one set -- she should have had an easy run to the second round. But Anne-Lena made quick work of the former #1. She served six aces, twice as many as Mauresmo, and won 87% of her first serves. In just over an hour she sent her opponent packing and earned the right to meet Gisela Dulko in the second round.

Flavia Pennetta must understand Mauresmo's frustration. She's had a decent year so far, making the finals in Acapulco and notching wins over Nadia Petrova and Jelena Jankovic at Stuttgart, she remains firmly in the top twenty. Her opening match against #116 Alexa Glatch, the surprising leading lady at the U.S.'s Fed Cup semifinal. Flavia clearly had the experience -- she's been pro since 2000 and made the fourth round here last year. Alexa on the other hand has only played in one Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open, and only won one match there, in 2005.

But the nineteen-year-old American dominated the clay court specialist. Flavia was out-served, out-hit and out-run. Though she did manage to convert one break point, Glatch never again ceded control of the match and won by an impressive 6-1, 6-1 margin.

The most remarkable upset however might not really be considered an "upset" at all. Most tennis fans are probably more familiar with Lleyton Hewitt than they are with Ivo Karlovic. The two-time Grand Slam winner was ranked #1 for almost a year and a half from 2001 to 2003, but plagued by a hip injury for the better part of 2008, he dropped to #108 earlier this year. A recent win in Houston and the defeat of James Blake in Memphis helped him gain some confidence, though -- even though he'd won their previous three meetings, Karlovic couldn't have been happy with the luck of his draw.

But the Croation was not going to go down quietly. He served an amazing fifty-five aces, a record in the Open era, and placed more than seventy percent of his first serves -- the fastest clocking in at 142 miles per hour. He played aggressively, scoring more winners and unforced errors than his opponent, and took an early lead, winning the first two sets in tiebreaks.

The one place Karlovic failed was in breaking Hewitt's serve -- in the nearly four hours and five sets they played, he only managed to convert on one opportunity. Lleyton on the other hand was able to return the favor four times and ultimately took the last set 6-3, sending the higher-ranked and twenty-sixth seeded player off.

Imagine. Being able to serve fifty-five aces and still not getting the win. My shoulder hurts just thinking about it.

And so I say good-bye to these great players -- at least for the next two weeks. At least they all have the opportunity to come back at the next tournament stronger and even more hungry for a win.

In the meantime, enjoy the start to your summer! Looks like it's gonna be a hot one!

No comments: