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Little Miss Sunshine January 24, 2010 - 9:26 AM

Petrova_matchpoint Shortly after Andy Murray finished off John Isner this afternoon, I ran over to Hisense Arena to catch the third set of Nadia Petrova’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 defeat of Svetlana Kuznetsova, my pre-tournament pick to win it all here (so much for that). Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, never seemed to get her rhythm in this tournament, making 43 unforced errors in her come-from-behind victory over qualifier Angelique Kerber in the third round Friday night and another 52 today. Looking scattered and frustrated, the world No. 3 lost her serve three times in the deciding set, and afterwards cited the fact that she is short on match play as a contributing factor to her low level here (she lost early in Sydney, her only Tour event leading up to this one).

But though Kuznetsova “deserved to lose,” as she bluntly put it, the result had as much to do with the powerful play of No. 19 Petrova as it did with Kuznetsova’s errors. The veteran Petrova has always been a big server with penetrating groundstrokes, but she’s been notoriously short on poise in the most critical moments of big matches. Twice a semifinalist at the French Open, she’s reached the quarterfinals at each of the other majors, but has made a name for herself not as a perennial Top 15 player (with a career high ranking of No. 3 achieved in 2006), but as a would-be major player who is prone to major meltdowns. Just last year, in fact, she suffered excruciating exits from two Slams. In the second round at Roland Garros, she led Maria Sharapova at 2-4, 15-40 in the third set before losing 8-6. And in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, she was dominating Melanie Oudin when her game disintegrated in the second set; Oudin won in three.

Today, Petrova showed more of the form that earned her a stunning 6-0, 6-1 defeat of Kim Clijsters on Friday. Despite making 47 unforced errors, Petrova returned Kuznetsova’s serve well and managed not to unravel after being broken in the opening game of the deciding set. “I fought hard. I chased every single ball possible,” she said, echoing comments she’d made after the Clijsters match.

Petrova said her off-season fitness work gave her the confidence to play aggressively—“I know how much gas I have in my tank, so I know that I can really push and dig really deep”—but the source of her newfound on-court composure is harder to pinpoint.

“It’s just a game. It’s not the end of the world if you lose a match, because life goes on,” she said of the perspective she’s gained from more than 11 years on the tour. “Maybe because of that, I feel a little bit more relaxed. I’m not as stressed if I make a silly mistake or something doesn’t go my way, because I can still make the best out of this day.”

The new nothing-to-lose attitude should serve Petrova well against Justine Henin, a woman who has beaten her twice already (once in exhibition) since her recent return from retirement. Also a factor is the fact that Henin has played three tough three-setters in a row. Petrova is the fresher of the two, and if she is as fit as she claims to be, she might have the edge against the Belgian in a long match.

“I’ve played her recently twice, so I know what to expect,” Petrova said. “I know what kind of balls are going to be coming at me. It’s going to be maybe even easier for me to play her, because it’s so fresh in my mind.”

Regardless of whether familiarity will breed success, Petrova’s run to the quarterfinals—her best Aussie Open result in four years—is one of the better storylines of the women’s tournament so far this year. Her fallibility has always made her a sympathetic character; she’s a little pudgy, a little gawky, appealingly earnest. But now that she seems to have developed some competitive fortitude to go along with her powerful baseline game, her best results may still be ahead of her.

“That’s why, you know, I’m still here,” the 27-year-old said today. “I know there’s still a lot to accomplish. There’s still a lot to let out.”


19 Comments

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Posted by TennisFan2 January 24, 2010 at 09:42 AM

Congrats to Nadia - some gifts come later in professional careers and it appears that she's opened hers and is using it well.

Posted by Jerell January 24, 2010 at 09:44 AM

The fittness come be huge, even with the off day. And if Petrova can keep her nerve like she did against Clijsters, she can certainly win this match.

Posted by andrea January 24, 2010 at 10:21 AM

Henin-Petrova, a very difficult match for Justine.

Posted by Matheus Martins January 24, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Esta na hora de uma mulher diferente ganhar um Slam

Posted by TennisRone 1000 January 24, 2010 at 10:59 AM

+1 to Nadia. It's good to see somebody that is a long-standing veteran that DOES have some game find a way to dig deeper and commit just one more notch above her previous level and see it get rewarded. I was floored by the Clijsters result.

It will be interesting to see how she may fare against a Williams sister if she can make it through this match.

It does seem like fitness/preparation is kind of a part of the story underlying this tournament....esp on the women's side.

Posted by TennisRone 1000 January 24, 2010 at 11:00 AM

BTW.....today's slate of women's action is pretty darned solid. Comparable to yesterday's men's draw....

Posted by Marshall1 January 24, 2010 at 12:47 PM

Thanks for the shout-out to Nadia, Lorge! It's incredible how much little respect she gets even after winning against Clijsters and Kuznetsova! There is hardly any article on espn.com, and probably even si.com. Certainly no male writers in tennis.com have written about her. I hope she can go all the way to the final (although I'm picking Justine based on her mental tenacity alone)!

Posted by observer January 24, 2010 at 02:10 PM

Definitely agree that Petrova deserves all the credit for these last two matches. It is nice to see her finally get some big wins at a slam. The problem I see for her in the quarter is that I've noticed Petrova somehow seems to end up playing the same person 3-4 times in a short amount of time (much moreso than other players), and she usually ends up losing to them if they're good. Last summer she lost to Maria at RG and at least two of the summer tournaments in the US even when Maria probably should have lost those matches because of her serving. So far she has played (and lost to) Justine at that exo, in the 1r at Brisbane, and now here.

Sharapova fans should appreciate Petrova, and not just for the usual reason that she seems to be addicted to losing to Maria. But in the last two matches Nadia has stopped the two women in the tournament w/ 2 grand slams who seemed like they had a good chance of equaling Maria's slam count this AO.

Posted by Gerard January 24, 2010 at 03:33 PM

Petrova vs. Kuznetsova? They are 2 of the most boring and unappealing women on the tour. Given that no one actually watched that match, why would anyone want to read about it later? How about giving us some stories about this up and coming Maria Kirilenko? She seems like such a nice girl.

Posted by Bobby January 24, 2010 at 04:28 PM

Petrova's new confidence in her fitness and her focus on maintaining her composure seem to be helping a ton. I still can't seem to get my mind around that drubbing of Clijsters though; think that one owed a bit to Petrova being really on and Clijsters being, well, asleep. P.S. Love the title of this one.

Posted by Xaira January 24, 2010 at 05:02 PM

I don't see Petrova beating Justine in their quarterfinal. And that's such a shame because Nadia's back-to-back Clijsters/Kuznetsova 1-2-punch would go down as a major fluke.

However, I too, still cannot wrap my head around the way Kim's level of play dropped so drastically since the Brisbane tournament. Her shots and the rallying in that final against Justine were just wicked good. Something was not right with her from the very beginning of the Petrova match.

Posted by dweezil January 24, 2010 at 05:04 PM

To Gerard: so Kirilenko is "nice" but Petrova/Kuznetsova are "boring?" What's the difference? I'm reading between the lines that you think Kirilenko is better looking, but looks don't win grand slams and Petrova has a way better chance than Kirilenko.

Posted by Charles January 24, 2010 at 05:11 PM

Henin is going to kill Petrova.
Petrova has been luck to run into an off form Clijsters and a disinterested Kuznetsova

Posted by ben January 24, 2010 at 06:26 PM

thank you, dweezil. that comment was so transparent. kuznetsova and petrova are two of the best hitters on tour. they both seem very nice and kuznetsova's actually known as a bit of a prankster on tour. hardly boring.
and to the poster above, henin will not kill petrova. it will be a very close match

Posted by sioux January 24, 2010 at 09:21 PM

I've appreciated that Petrova did her part in eliminating Henin's major rivals in the draw, but given their recent history, if Henin can stay on her feet she will win. In straight sets. Also, given her wins, Kirilenko has been largely ignored, which is ridiculous. We have all seen the Williams sister play every match since conception. We know they're good, but could somebody explain to me why they are the only ones ever on TV? All the others share broadcast times with simultaneous boring men's matches, and no matter how insignificant, we get to watch Roddick dispatch mediocre player after mediocre player. Annoying. Give the air time to the big games, not the Americans.

Posted by Michelle January 25, 2010 at 01:16 AM

If you do not want to see the American tennis players (Venus, Serena and Andy R.), which is all you are going to get on American Sports Channel ESPN2, then you need to go to ESPN360 which allows you the ability to replay any of the matches on your computer.

Congratulations to Nadia and I hope she sends Justine packing tomorrow. I just don't like Justine and I wish she would crawl back into retirement.

Posted by Marshall1 January 25, 2010 at 05:36 AM

From some of the comments above, it still proves that Petrova (and other players like Dementieva and Kuznetsova) still gets no respect. But come to think of it, who wants respect from sexist people? I know the chance of Petrova beating Henin is slim, but I will root for her and hope she can come up with a miracle again.

Posted by roGER January 25, 2010 at 05:52 AM


"Despite making 47 unforced errors..."

Unfortunately, that just about sums up the state of the women's game right now. Who on earth wants to pay money to see the winner make 47 unforced errors?!?

Posted by Charles January 25, 2010 at 06:36 AM

predicting Henin will wallop Petrova does not make one sexist


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