Written by Christopher Rourke
The 2005 tournament has brought some memorable and exciting matches in the women’s draw, and has thrown up a few surprises. At the end of the week, the 1/4 finals have all (but one) been decided: Venus Williams will face the rising teenager Nicole Vaidisova; Svetlana Kuznetsova will meet her Rome nemesis Dinara Safina for the sixth time, Justine Henin-Hardenne takes on Anna-Lena Groenefeld for the first time inher career; and Kim Clijsters will face the resurgent Martina Hingis a two-time finalist (1997, 1999) and three-time semi-finalist (1998, 2000, 2001) at this event.
Of the 1/4 finalists, Martina Hingis, Nicole Vaidisova and Justine Henin-Hardenne have been the most impressive performers so far of the tournament. Hingis relinquished just eleven games in her first three matches. Against tougher opposition, including the 2004 champion Anastasia Myskina, Henin-Hardenne has surrendered 24 games in four matches, trouncing Myskina for a 6-1 5-0 lead in around 45 minutes before losing her focus at the initial point of victory.Aside from a few mid-match and match-finishing wobbles, Henin-Hardenne has been in good-to-imperious form, always stepping up through gears when she has needed to do so. Vaidisova may just be [I]the[/I]danger player at this year’s tournament. Having sailed through the first three rounds comfortably, she took out home favourite Amelie Mauremso with some flair (and a good dose of power), 67(5) 61 62. Though Venus Williams enjoys Vaidisova’s attacking baseline (andoccasionally all-court) style of play, it is likely that the seventeen year-old will prove a very difficult challenge for the more experienced American;Vaidisova may even be considered the favourite going into the match, having just won the tier III event at Strasbourg before walking onto the red clay at Roland Garros. She also comes to the 1/4 final with 20 matchwins (out of 27 played this year) under her belt,against William’s reduced 10-3 record, having been sidelined through most of season as a result of injury.
However, it is Martina Hingis that has provided themost consistently accomplished performances in the first week of play. Hingis outclassed Tour veteran Lisa Raymond in almost every department in their first round encounter, before providing two scintillating performances against Zuzana Ondraskova and Ivana Lisjak in rounds two and three respectively.Hingis attacked with verve, moved beautifully and never looked anything less than in full control – of both her opponent and the match itself. Having come through a tricky fourth-round encounter 6-3 2-6 6-3,held over two days, against the nineteen year-old Israeli Shahar Peer, Hingis should be at least competitive against the Clijsters, twice a finalist at this event.
Venus Williams who lost to Martina Hingis in their Rome semi-final, has played well despite very little match play going into the tournament. Still searching for the destructive form that brought her four Grand Slams titles in a fourteen month span, from Wimbledon2000 to the 2001 US Open, Williams marched through thefirst two rounds comfortably before defeating Karolina Sprem 7-5 6-3 in the most brutal, hardest-hitting match (by some distance) of tournament. As in the Venus vs Serena match-ups, the ‘unforced’ errors quickly mounted, yet the quality of the bal lstriking was frequently magnificent, and from both players. Williams is making more net approaches than any of the top players, including Henin-Hardenne, winning 24 of31 (or 77%) forays into the forecourt in her fourth round match against the Swiss Patty Schnyder. Williams also finished with healthy total of 35 winners against 34 unforced errors; against a top-drawer clay court opponent such as Schnyder this is an excellent statistic. Hingis has also taken tothe forecourt with some abandon, and with excellent results – winning around 70% of her net approaches,looking particularly effective.
Kim Clijsters has played her way through the first week with mixed results, before making a dramatic improvement to top form in her fourth round encounter against Daniela Hantuchova. Hantuchova was simply dismissed 6-1 6-4, in little more than an hour. Though not many people’s choice for the title,Clijsters has the movement, weaponry and experience goal the way at Roland Garros. The first two attributes could also be applied to Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has moved almost unnoticed to the fourth round achieving a 1-6 6-4 6-4 win against the still-improving Italian Francesca Schiavone.Kuznetsova was defeated 3-6 6-4 7-5 by Dinara Safina in an agonisingly close semi-final at Rome, the most prestigious (and oldest) Tour event played on clay. The Russian players enjoy an intense rivalry and Kuznetsova will be keen to extract revenge against aplayer that has defeated her three times in five meetings. Indeed, Kuznetsova’s only completed match win against Safina came in the qualifying round of 16at Madrid 2001, a life time away in terms of their 500-place leap up through the world rankings.
Anna-Lena Groenefeld has also made very quiet progress through this year’s tournament, defeating the talented Argentinian Gisela Dulko 6-3 6-4 to earn her 1/4 final meeting with the two-time (2003 and 2005) champion Justine Henin-Hardenne. This should be an explosive encounter, both players equipped with plenty offirepower and [I]shotmaking[/I] capacity off both wings. Groenefeld’s serve has been more consistent than Henin-Hardenne’s this season but the Begian’s forehand is the more deadly; powerful and clinically accurate when its owner is truly ‘on’. It was thedetermining factor in Henin-Hardenne’s 58 minute 6-16-2 semi-final rout of the world no.1 Amelie Mauresmo at Berlin in May. Henin-Hardenne unleashed a flood of forehand winners that day, and though her form has been both erratic and unpredictable throughout the season, Henin-Hardenne is still more than capable of producing an equally devastating performance. Groenefeld may find the answers with her technically-excellent backhand, one of most powerful,and penetrating strokes, on the Tour today. In many ways, Groenefeld resembles a young Venus Williams:very, very powerful – explosively so off the ground and on the serve, blessed with intimidating athleticism and hard-to-get-past wingspan. Henin-Hardenne may find many of her best shots coming back with interest in this encounter – but is mentally prepared for battle: “I’m going to be very careful because this [Groenefeld] is someone who’s made extraordinary progress over the last few months…she’s really a fighter. She goes for it. This is her first quarterfinal in a Grand Slam. Obviously, she’s going to be very motivated”.
With 1/4 finals now determined, some of best and most-fiercely contested matches so far of the seasonare likely to place under on the mesmerisingly beautiful red clay of Roland Garros’ main show courts. In an increasingly unpredictable women’s game, the winner is still far from certain.
Written by Christopher Rourke