Daniela Hantuchova played possibly her most impressive match last night with a dominant victory over vastly talented seed-killer Agnieska Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 6-2.
The game itself was no classic; being the first match of the day the intense atmosphere and full capacity crowd were missing. But a high quality level was evident from both players throughout.
The more experienced Hantuchova was playing her fourth Grand Slam quarter final (her last was exactly five years ago), but a first against an opponent other than a Williams sister and, crucially against a player ranked lower than her. Suddenly the mentality of needing to play out of her skin to win was not needed.
Knowing that her teenage opponent, despite such huge wins already in her career (Sharapova – US Open) and particularly in this tournament (Kuznetsova and Petrova) would probably be slightly more nervous Hantuchova just had to play her game, leave margin for error and try and stay calm.
She did just that.
A now considerably more bulky Hantuchova (reminiscent of her weighty look in summer 2004) displayed a level of control and composure that we have not seen in at any time in her career. It was a true master class of movement, power, precision and a near-faultless mental clarity resulting in a varied repertoire of shots (aggressive lobs, drop shots and THAT double-handed backhand down the line) all arriving at exactly the right moment.
There was no rushing, panicking or anything nearing emotion from the 9th seed. Never was this more clear than during the few nervy moments which, in the past would have caused wobbles. A warning for a time violation, five 1st set points unconverted (due to Radwanska’s often top-ten calibre shot-making rather than a Hantuchova error) and a long service game at the start of the second were all crises swiftly and deftly dealt with.
Yes, despite Radwanska’s undoubted talent, she is still a teenager and the scoreline would probably have been different against a top fifteen or top ten player, but the result would not have changed.
Radwanska, never one to display her feelings was realistic about the result and her tournament: “I tried my best, but it just wasn’t my day…I made some mistakes, so next time…I reached my first Grand Slam quarterfinal – I beat two good Russian players, both seeded. So I’m happy.”
Hantuchova, who’s grace on court is matched by her delightfully down to earth, slightly shy persona was gushing and blushing after her win: “I think it means a lot – I guess I had to get through all the tough times and get experience to get to this stage…that’s why I appreciate moments like this much, much more…it’s going to be a new experience for me. Whoever I play, it’s going to be a tough match”.
It was a revelatory performance, all without the screaming, shouting and stomping of Sharapova’s equally dominant quarter final.
Ivanovic will likely be a step up too far, but this match will provide a stepping stone for a stellar year for Hantuchova and one that will live long in my memory.