April 2, 2010

April Fool!

It seemed like an ordinary day on the tennis courts. Sure Marion Bartoli tried to put up a fight on Thursday, breaking Venus Williams to begin the second set and even up their semifinal match in Miami. But the three-time winner here proved she had what it took to avenge her loss in the Stanford finals, and things seemed to be playing out according to plan.

But then giant-killer Tomas Berdych took the court against Fernando Verdasco, a man he beat just two weeks ago in Indian Wells. The higher-seeded Spaniard took the opening set, but failed to close it out in the next tiebreak, allowing the sixteenth seed back in the game. After nearly three hours, Berdych was the victor, having earned a spot in the semis where he'll face Robin Soderling for the chance to play for the championship.

Things didn't end there, this April Fools' Day. When long-time rivals Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin took the court a little after nine p.m. I thought the match would go fairly routinely to the 2009 U.S. Open champ. Not that Justine is pushover in any sense -- she actually lead their head-to-head 12-11 -- but she didn't seem to be playing quite as well as we were used to. Sure she made the finals in Brisbane and the Australian Open, but she just didn't seem to have the spark Kim's had since she returned last year.

This, of course, was the first tournament since Henin's comeback in which she was ranked -- a but her #33 position was just out of seeding territory, meaning she had to battle her way through five straight seeded rounds, including a quarterfinal with newly-minted world #2 Caroline Wozniacki and a rematch with Elena Dementieva. She was certainly more challenged than her semifinal opponent during this ten-day span.

So when Clijsters took the first set 6-2 and got off to a 3-0 lead in the second, I thought she'd run away with it -- she was winning a good percent on her first serve and breaking Henin when she needed to. But Henin saved break point and battled back, even earning the chance to close out the second set. They ended up in a tiebreak, though, which Justine won pretty soundly, and fans were left wondering if maybe they'd been tricked into thinking this would be a quick match.

The third set was one break after another, with both ladies losing serve three times. Clijsters found herself down in the tiebreak too, but somehow found a way to win six of the next seven point to serve with a 6-3 lead. But Henin was not quite ready to give up -- she took both of Kim's next two service points and drew even at six all, reminding us all of why these two have such a storied rivalry. In the end, though, it was Clijsters who pulled out the next two points, first with some dazzling net work and then with a beautiful forehand winner to seal her spot in the final.

So at the end of the day, we had some scares, got fooled a few times, but we still made it through relatively unscathed. And maybe we learned not to be too complacent, 'cuz you never really know when the next prankster will get you!

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