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The Spartan Believer 03/29/2010 - 10:47 PM

96475752 by Pete Bodo

Well, it wasn't exactly Borg vs. McEnroe, Wimbledon 1980, but Sam Stosur and Jelena Jankovic played an entertaining and meaningful tiebreaker this evening under restless, roiled skies in breezy Miami.

It ended badly for Jankovic, the No. 7 seed and winner at Indian Wells last week, as Stosur held on to win the breaker 11-9, and with it the match. Jankovic's chance to win back-to-back Premier Mandatory events went pinwheeling off into the night like so many chickadees buffeted by the wind, but the palm fronds surrounding the court continued clicking and rattling, taking Jankovic to task for blowing an interesting opportunity.

Stosur had already laid a little wood on Jankovic's fanny when I walked into Court 1, under the erroneous impression that I had plenty of time to settle in and enjoy the show. I might have suspected the direction things were taking by the pair of menacing turkey vultures that rode the gusts like a rollercoaster right above the court. They dropped low often enough to make me wonder if one of them wasn't about to descend and peck out Jankovic's eyes, but some things are better left to coaches, moms, agents and other professionals.

I say that only half in jest, for while windy conditions are equal opportunity irritants, they ought to have been more manageable for Jankovic, one of the most lithe and adaptable of players. Instead, they seemed to have an unduly deleterious effect on Jankovic, at least judging by the scoreboard, and the way her sherbet-green dress kept boiling up around her waist, as if our favorite WTA flake were doing an interpretation of that famous Marilyn Monroe subway-grate photo, but on behalf of Anta.

It ought to have been the other way around. Slammin' Sammy Stosur's game is, on the whole, more dependent on precision and timing (more on that later), and acting out something very like set pieces, all based on her outstanding serve. That serve, she would tell me after win, has been the cornerstone of her recent success. "I've had some good results starting about this time last year, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm serving well. I've been getting a good percentage of first serves in, and no matter how well you serve the ball, if you're not getting it in, who cares?"

Jankovic, by contrast, is at her best when she's free to improvise, counter-punch, and use her natural flexibility to retrieve her opponent's most invasive questions. In fact, she's a lot like a yellow lab, or similar retriever breed of dog. She goes into a serene, focused state when when she's scampering east-to-west along the baseline, at full stretch, making desperate reaction-born fetches. She can do wonders chasing a ball, and never seems happier, or more in tune with what she's cut out to do. But like that lab, there isn't a whole lot she can do if you just give her the ball with the command, Okay, Jelly, now do something...

Whether it was the difficult conditions or Jankovic's flair for the dramatic, or some combination thereof, she was error-prone, grumpy and out of sorts; time and again she would drive a backhand into the net, or miss with the forehand, then volubly rue her fate, addressing the crowed with a slender arm elegantly extended - until she had to drop it to quell the hemline fluttering around her waist. 

Jankovic began to pull herself together in the second set, but she was up against a young lady who's as practical and disciplined as Jankovic is flighty and profligate. Stosur has gradually evolved into something like the consumate professional. When her own hot-salmon dress rode up, the serious tan lines on her upper thighs told the story - this is a woman who has spent a lot of time in shorts, presumably whacking balls under a broiling sun. The dedication shows in her game, too, and not just in the familiar ways. There's a point of diminishing returns where focusing on technique and execution, on maximizing your strengths and hiding our weaknesses, eventually leaves you with a game that, apart from anything else, looks studied. 

But such hard work has its rewards, even if it's at the expense of the natural. The serve is the one shot over which a player has absolute control; theoretically, at least, a player could go an entire match without having his or her serve returned. Stosur plays as if that's her aim, and the priority and focus she assigns the task is palpable. She's learned to trust her serve, and to try to get the most out of each delivery. She's built her game around it in a way that suggests that screwing up is not an option, and that's unusual on the WTA tour.

Jankovic returned her share of Stosur's well-placed bullets, but she was backed into a corner  throughout the second set. Stosur's ability to hold, and to work her way out of potentially sticky situations (15-30, or deuce) with the serve must have had a corrosive influence on Jankovic's game. Oh, the Serbian star kept finding ways to stay with Stosur, for that's what she does best; she's the human equivalent of the philanthropic world's "matching grant." But Stosur set the pace, and her ability to hold, slamming the door of opportunity shut each time she leaves it open a crack, eventually took its toll. It always does.

In the tiebreaker, however, Stosur served up a mortifying double fault at 1-1 (let's remember, it wasn't all that long ago that Stosur was a poster child for head case tennis players worldwide). But Jankovic responded in kind (see what I mean about "matching grant?"). From there on, though, both women played pretty tight tennis. Jankovic started points, then tried to figure out ways to win them. Stosur figured out what she needed to do, then started points - and tried to end them on her terms.

The tiebreaker points went on serve until Stosur reached match point, at 5-6 (with Jankovic serving). Stosur made a forehand error and in the blink of an eye Jankovic had a set point. But Stosur brushed it aside. Stosur had another match point at 8-7, but blew it with a wild forehand error. Then it was Jankovic's turn again, with a set point, but Stosur erased it with a good forehand. She ended it two points later with a backhand laser down the line.

Stosur is aware of her shortcomings and she's built around them just as much as she's based her game on her signature stroke. She's developed a streamlined game plan on her journey from electric but sometimes ghastly shotmaker (think Amelie Mauresmo, or Hana Mandlikova). She's become a spartan believer in "the game plan."

Of course, tennis isn't entirely about figuring it out; you have this little matter of physical and even mental limitations, a complex and inter-related set of strengths and weaknesses. Every player's game is unique, like a fingerprint. When a player does due diligence, the way Stosur has, it tends to heighten the visibility of her shortcomings as well as her strengths. In Stosur's case - and it really seems a novel one for a player with such natural feel and athleticism - the outstanding flaw is, ironically, something as fundamental and seemingly second-nature as body positioning relative to the ball.

You'd think that any world-class player would have this distance-to-the-ball thing down pat, but it's surprising how often Stosur overruns a ball, or ends up playing it too close to her body (one by-product of that is a slice backhand that lacks sting). I suppose it's a sign of bad footwork, or slow reflexes. The conditions certainly had something to do with her positioning difficulties tonight, but it was still clear that Stosur doesn't - make that can't - adjust nearly as well to the ball as does Jankovic. Never mind. Stosur compensated for the shortcoming by having a clear idea of what she was going to do, and deciding that nothing was going to stop her. She had the game plan.

When I asked if she was worried that the tiebreaker might slip away and leave her dead-even despite the great start, she merely shrugged and said: "Well, I knew what I wanted to do in that match (serve well, take the game to Jankovic, end points with crisp, positive tennis), so it didn't really matter. I had to keep pushing her. If I'd lost that second set, I would have gone on in the third doing the same thing."

And that's the spartan way, isn't it?


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Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

Allez Justine what a point

Justine will serve for the 1st set

Vinatage Henin

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

allezz!!! justine breaks after a wonderful point!!! 6-5 justine to serve for the set!

Posted by Christopher 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

As someone who was watching and playing tennis starting in the late-70's, let me just say, you call these things moonballs?!? Andrea Jaegar lifts up the top of her nun's habit to laugh at you! Hell, go watch men's matches from RG in the late-70's and early 80's and then we can talk about moonballs.

You can get a taste of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kW4z0FnUz4o

This other is mostly highlights, you don't get the full effect of hours of Lendl shuffling around lazily tossing up lobs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWUVDI-Uunw

Though watching this again, it's interesting to see how much Borg actually comes to the net at RG.

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

Allez Justine! Now serve out the set!

Posted by carnap 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

Watching any Evert/Austin match would be worse than waterboarding. They were the Queen and Heir Apparent of moonballing.

Posted by greenhopper 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

Caro could have let that lob go, but it might have caught the side line.
I have no faith in Justine holding serve here.

Posted by Pspace (Proud Rafaelite since Shakira) 03/31/2010 at 02:12 PM

Btw, somewhat tangential question. Juju's career prize money on the SB shows up as 20+ mill dollars and 34 cents. Any1 know where the 34 cents comes from? *cue Grant*

Posted by Christopher 03/31/2010 at 02:13 PM

CL-- Anything by Murakami.

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:13 PM

overhead by justine to finish that last point off for anybody who isnt watching.

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:14 PM

Booo!

Posted by carnap 03/31/2010 at 02:14 PM

Pspace: LOL...it was a tip from Sampras.

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:14 PM

Sherlock - I think 1/5 is the answer to how much 1/2 MINUS 1/3 is. OR, how I drink liquor after matches like last night. As in," by the fifth."

Hmm..yeah, I'm sure DM had lots to say...might want to hear about from a slightly less messianic point of view. I guess I will just browse the history section of the not so local library.

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:16 PM

Oh Justine! Why must you do this on your service game for the set?

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 03/31/2010 at 02:16 PM

I remember a certain Anke Huber from times gone by, who was also a moonballer.

Posted by imjimmy 03/31/2010 at 02:16 PM

""Pspace: LOL...it was a tip from Sampras.""

Or the total ATP prize money that Andre Agassi earned in his career.

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:17 PM

carnap - thanks - is that all one title?

Grant -well, I wasn't really trying to herd and do something, you know, constructive. I thought I would just stay with complaining for now.

Posted by Neveah 03/31/2010 at 02:17 PM

And she breaks back!

Posted by Grant 03/31/2010 at 02:18 PM

"Any1 know where the 34 cents comes from?"

her triples team won a buck. she drew the long straw.

"it was a tip from Sampras."

the other tip he gave her was "retirement sux", but she just had to see for herself :(

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:18 PM

30-0 justine forehand winner.
30-15 df by justine
30-30 good defensive play by woz. justine bh error into the net.
30-40 jusitne fh long.
game wozniacki as justine hits another fh long

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:18 PM

Why? Playing so well for a game and a half and then Kaput! gone.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:18 PM

Blah Henin what were you thibking there?

Pfft t/breaker which I loathe.

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:18 PM

Christopher- thanks!

**goes to get pen to write things down.***

Posted by Sherlock 03/31/2010 at 02:19 PM

He he, CL. I couldn't resist. :)

LOL. Bravo, Carnap! :)

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 03/31/2010 at 02:20 PM

I want to thank the posters who answered my moonballing questions but I'm not sure where I am any longer!:(....following match comments on three posts...ugh!

Posted by Grant 03/31/2010 at 02:20 PM

1/2 = 3/6
1/3 = 2/6

3/6 + 2/6 = 5/6

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:20 PM

Was that a serve? What the crap?

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:20 PM

Caro gone nutso up top in the thinking department

Posted by Christopher 03/31/2010 at 02:21 PM

"carnap - thanks - is that all one title?"

CL-- Was this actually directed at me and my Murakami suggestion?

Posted by greenhopper 03/31/2010 at 02:21 PM

You keep going for too much on those returns. There's absolutely no consistency on Justine's shots.

Posted by Tim (Year of Red Rogie ) 03/31/2010 at 02:21 PM

Justine just throws points away, just like a Swiss I know...

Woz just keep throwing up those moonballs, and wait for the error... the better player certainly isnt winning this, defense over offense, booooo

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:21 PM

Henin your f/hand?

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:22 PM

Grant- So you ARE 'smarter than a fifth grader'!! Beats me - I am still stuck in 3rd...grade AND gear.

Posted by Grant 03/31/2010 at 02:23 PM

"Caro gone nutso up top in the thinking department"

I like how you had to include the last four words to keep the fanboys focused.

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:23 PM

Good Lord! This is awful.

Posted by Grant 03/31/2010 at 02:24 PM

CL - pretty sure I was smarter as a fifth grader than I am now.

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:24 PM

This is awful

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:24 PM

Caro with a b/hand DTL

Caro 6-2

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:24 PM

Christopher - no, that was for carnap and his "Madame Butterfly- Pinkerton Was a Bastid" recommendation. Wasn't sure if that was one title or two.

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:25 PM

Please save these set points Justine!

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:25 PM

Caro with a mishit

Caro 6-4

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:26 PM

Live by the moonball, die by the moonball.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:27 PM

Blah Caro

Henin putting the pressure back

Henin faults??????

Caro 7-6 1st set

Errors from both there.

Posted by swalker007 03/31/2010 at 02:27 PM

There will be mayhem of epic proportions at a certain WTA tennis forums if Caro wins this...

Posted by karin1492 03/31/2010 at 02:27 PM

Yeah, I'm done with this match. This just isn't my cup of tea when it comes to tennis.

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:28 PM

W=Wozniacki J=Justine
1-0 W after service winner
2-0 W after J bh error
2-1 W after J fh winner
2-2 after strong fh by J to create forced error by W
3-2 W after wild fh return by J
4-2 W after J fh error
5-2 W after W hits a bh winner
6-2 W after she wins challenge after stopping the rally on J bh
6-3 W after J fh winner
6-4 W after W error
6-5 W after W bh error

7-5 Set to W after J bh error.

crap this is not what i wanted to happen. come on justine you can come back just stop going for your shots soooo much. wait for the right opprotunity.


Posted by Christopher 03/31/2010 at 02:28 PM

CL-- By the way, I would start with his "Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World."

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 03/31/2010 at 02:29 PM

Good show from Caroline so far. :)

Supper time, see everyone later. :)

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:29 PM

Justine Has to do something with her "new serve" cause its just not working

If she thinks she can win RG she better think twice.

Posted by carnap 03/31/2010 at 02:29 PM

imjimmy: VERY clever!! I love it.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:31 PM

OMG, she done it! Go Caro go!

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:31 PM

justine holds at love. 1-0 second set.

Posted by jkl 03/31/2010 at 02:32 PM

W-UFEs stat?

Posted by greenhopper 03/31/2010 at 02:32 PM

11w/14ufes Caro
24w/27ufes Justine

Posted by Neveah 03/31/2010 at 02:33 PM

Go Caro!Am I the only one rooting for little miss sunshine? hehe:-))

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:33 PM

looks like justine is not going for soooo much now which may be good.

Posted by lurker 03/31/2010 at 02:34 PM

Go Caro! loving this.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:35 PM

It doesn't matter if Caro wins, people will just say that Justine is playing bad, judging from the above comments.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:36 PM

Henin ground strokes are gone AWOL

Posted by moonballs 03/31/2010 at 02:36 PM

When will top players figure out the way to play against Moonball Woz?
JJ did recently. Does it take a pusher to beat a pusher?

Posted by Diane 03/31/2010 at 02:37 PM

Of Samantha, just enjoy watching your two favs and don't get ahead of yourself!!!!!

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:37 PM

And people were saying she would go down easy. I don't think so.

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 03/31/2010 at 02:37 PM

SamE: Like you, I assumed Justine would take it....good on Caro for keeping up.

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:38 PM

justine holds. 2-1.

Posted by Sherlock 03/31/2010 at 02:39 PM

I can't believe how badly Justine is playing. She's just giving it to Caro.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:40 PM

Diane, I'm posting from class so I can't see the match. This will be a huge win for Caro.

Posted by Master Ace 03/31/2010 at 02:41 PM

London,
Thanks for the match call on the TB as I just got back from a meeting at my day job.

Posted by greenhopper 03/31/2010 at 02:41 PM

LOL, Sherlock.

All said, Caro did hit winners in 2 digits today. She's hit a few good backhand passers.*

*off weak approaches, bad volleys etc, but still...

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:42 PM

Christopher - many thanks - I am writing it down.

Posted by Master Ace 03/31/2010 at 02:43 PM

Greenhopper,
Thanks for the stats as both ladies are -3. That is better than an ATP match or two.

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:43 PM

justine with a break point!! no more.... deuce after wozniacki comes in with a backhand swingning volley.

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:43 PM

"She's just giving it to Caro." Right Sherlock!

Posted by Sherlock 03/31/2010 at 02:44 PM

Hee, 'Hopper. :)

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:44 PM

Gee, some people are giving up awfully early on the 'great fightin' Queen.' Only one set on the books as far as I can see.

Posted by Tim (Year of Red Rogie ) 03/31/2010 at 02:44 PM

Henin is as frustrating and fun to watch as Rog, winner, error, ugh... keeep hoisting up those moonballs Woz, you might win this one today...

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:45 PM

finally justine with a return winner after all those errors. then hits two more return errors to lose the game.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:45 PM

Both girls serves are in need of???

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 03/31/2010 at 02:45 PM

Samantha: Pay attention to class!! *best schoolmarm voice*

Posted by sod'sfriend 03/31/2010 at 02:45 PM

"Diane, I'm posting from class so I can't see the match. This will be a huge win for Caro"

is it any wonder some hs teachers are asking to not allow kids to bring computers to class (or turn off in-class ones) during class?

samE, u in college or still finishing hs? hope it's not too personal to ask.

Posted by Sherlock 03/31/2010 at 02:47 PM

Du er den bedste, Caro!!!

Hang in there, Samantha. Don't let the naysayers get you down. :)

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:47 PM

I dunno Master Ace...Justine's Wiiners/UFEs look a bit like Fed's from last night. He must have jinxed the court. Hopefully for Justine, she will be able to tighten up her came more, and for longer periods, then Fed was able to do last night.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:47 PM

Sherlock Stop stirring Samantha Elin

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:47 PM

Freshmen college, these are my two favorites, I can't stop watching and i never thought Caro would do this well. It's so weird hoping for Juju to lose.

Posted by Mr. and Mrs. D. 03/31/2010 at 02:48 PM

I prefer SamE posting/texting from class than while driving (which, btw, I'm told she no longer does!).:)

Posted by lurker (aka sokol) 03/31/2010 at 02:48 PM

this is one of the few occasions when I'll cheer on Caro :-)
I think she'll be an easier opponent for Kim than Justine, so go, Caro!

Posted by Samantha Elin 03/31/2010 at 02:50 PM

LOL Sokol, we shall see if Caro can beat Justine she can certainly take Kim who isn't as good as Juju.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:50 PM

I am sick of typing those coded messages in the type pad

Who is in charge of the Type Pad here cause they are going to hear from me big time blah.

Trainer out for Justine

I suspect Caros father will appear

Posted by TennisRone 1000 03/31/2010 at 02:51 PM

I like that Caro is the picture of consistency. At least somebody is out there in the WTA.....it just goes to show the old tennis adage always matters....you can't win the point if you hit the ball out.....

It would be cool if Caro gets herself another title shot.

Posted by Master Ace 03/31/2010 at 02:51 PM

Sokol,
Caroline did play well at the USO against Kim in the final so if Caroline wins today, her match against Kim tomorrow will be a "Pick 'em".

Posted by sod'sfriend 03/31/2010 at 02:52 PM

on another note - to phyllikat, Annie, others, re: knowing where to go for match-calls or where "the action is" when one first comes to tennis.com.

a suggestion:

- tw can design a simple side bar with links to the "most active" blogs, and use factors like "frequency" (of posts) and/or "volume" (total posts) and/or "users" (total # of different posters) to get a sense of where the action is.

just a thought.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:52 PM

Henin appears to have hip trouble

Yes Caros dad is speaking to her now

Posted by lurker (aka sokol) 03/31/2010 at 02:52 PM

"she can certainly take Kim"

she certainly can (those moonballs can frustrate anyone :-)), but she didn't the last time they played... plus Kim still has to pass Stosur :-), but anyways mentally for Kim it'll be easier to face Caro than Justine, IMO

Posted by Master Ace 03/31/2010 at 02:52 PM

Aussiemarg,
What is Justine's injury?

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:53 PM

Christopher- I read some reviews of "Hard Boiled..." on Amazon and it sounds fascinating, but I am not clear that is actually has to do with post WW2 occupied Japan?

Posted by Master Ace 03/31/2010 at 02:53 PM

"Sokol,
Caroline did play well at the USO against Kim in the final so if Caroline wins today, her match against Kim tomorrow will be a "Pick 'em"."

REVISED


Sokol,
Caroline did play well at the USO against Kim in the final so if Caroline wins today, her match against Kim tomorrow will be a "Pick 'em" if Kim also win today.

Posted by london 03/31/2010 at 02:54 PM

i hate that i have to go to class right now! be back in about an hour. hopefully they are still playing which means justine will have won the second set! go justine!!! allez!

Posted by Master Ace 03/31/2010 at 02:54 PM

By the way, Piotr talking to Caroline does NOT count as a visit since Justine getting treated.

Posted by Aussiemarg,Madame President,Rafa just get rid of those shorts 03/31/2010 at 02:55 PM

Master Ace Trainer was massaging Henin's left hip flexor to me.Though all that was said was Henin is taking medical time out.I will listen if the Commies on this match say something regarding the injury time out.

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:56 PM

Seriously, Fed must have left some bad FH cooties on the court last night and they have jumped all over Justine.

Posted by CL 03/31/2010 at 02:57 PM

Bad PB conversion cooties as well.

Posted by sod'sfriend 03/31/2010 at 02:57 PM

samE thanks.

u sure sound maturer than ur years. not to talk of ur fighting spirit ;)

caro looking good with one set in her pocket.

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