By Maud Watson
Living the Dream
Tennis fans know the name Sara Errani. The plucky Italian woman has been one of 2012’s most consistent performers on the dirt, and she’s an excellent doubles player. But few, including her, saw Errani reaching the final of the year’s second major. Her ability to play admirable defense while mixing it up and implementing her doubles skill set when possible has enabled her to knock off more than a few big names this fortnight, including former champions Ivanovic and Kuznetsova, as well as Top 10 players Kerber and Stosur. She’s also delivered in the doubles, where she’s reached the final with Vinci, providing her the opportunity to become the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to win both the singles and doubles titles. The pair of Italians will have their work cut out for them against the tough Russian duo of Kirilenko and Petrova, but Errani’s bigger test will come in the singles final where she’ll have to knock off another Russian, Maria Sharapova, to make her singles dream come true. It’s a daunting prospect, but after what her countrywoman Schiavone did in 2010, anything is possible.
One Down, One to Go
No matter what happens on Saturday afternoon, Maria Sharapova is assured that she will be the new No. 1 player in the world when Monday’s rankings come out. It is a phenomenal achievement for a player who has struggled to find her way back after shoulder surgery. But the more important prize that the Russian hopes to leave Paris with is the Roland Garros title – a title that would give her a career Grand Slam. Many, myself included, were reluctant to give the once self-proclaimed “cow on ice” the tag of a heavy favorite, but she has delivered where many of her fellow top stars have not. Sharapova may even be feeling a sense of destiny, as with the exception of Kvitova, she has seen most of her potentially tricky roadblocks, such as Serena and Wozniacki, eliminated by lesser opposition. Even Stosur faltered at the penultimate hurdle to see Errani – a player who lacks fire power and has never been touted as a future Grand Slam singles champion – through to the final. In short, Sharapova has been handed a golden opportunity. She will be in control of her own destiny come Saturday. How she handles the nerves of going for the career Grand Slam, as well as being the overwhelming favorite, will determine the outcome. Either way, one woman is going to leave Paris very happy indeed.
We Meet Again
Both men took an exciting and roundabout way of getting there, but in the end, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer managed to set up a highly anticipated rematch of their 2011 Roland Garros semifinal encounter that saw the veteran Swiss end the Serb’s win streak and derail his chances at a potential calendar-year Grand Slam. Hard saying how this one will unfold. Both men have struggled to find their form, both have had to come back from two sets down, and Djokovic had to save four match points against native Frenchman Tsonga in the quarterfinals. But like the champions that they are, they found a way to get the win. Champions also tend to bring out the best in one another, and much like last year, there’s something extra riding on this match with Djokovic looking to move one step closer to becoming the first man since Laver in 1969 to hold all four majors. Hopefully this latest chapter in their rivalry lives up to the hype and fans are treated to another spectacular spectacle.
Crashing the Party
We were on course for the Big Four to once again reach the semis of a major, but David Ferrer had other ideas. The No. 2-ranked Spaniard was relentless against Murray, running down shots, running Murray, and refusing to buckle, even when the momentum appeared to temporarily leave him. His reward is a match with Rafael Nadal. They’ve had some dog fights in the past, but this one is going to arguably be the biggest test of Ferrer’s career. He has the game to hang with Nadal, but the question with Ferrer has always been whether or not he has it between the ears when it matters most – a question that will be further put to the test given that he’s also playing for a spot in his first Grand Slam final. Add to that the fact that Nadal has been absolutely brutal in dispatching the opposition, and it’s safe to say that Ferrer will be waging a real uphill battle. Still, as only one of two men to have defeated Nadal in a major after dropping the first set, he has a sliver of a chance to pull off the upset.
We’ve seen some great comebacks and subsequent painful losses as the two weeks of Roland Garros have gone by, but perhaps none were more heart-wrenching than seeing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga go down to Novak Djokovic in five sets. For a man who gave himself no chance before the event began, he played superbly and fought valiantly against the Serb. He produced scintillating tennis, hitting his backhand better than ever. He came ever so close to playing three sets of winning tennis, and he even carved out four match points before going on to fold in the fifth and lose the match. To be fair, on three of the four match points you had to tip your hat to Djokovic, who played brave, champion-quality tennis to save them. But there was that one forehand on match point that Tsonga drilled into the net that he’s likely still having nightmares about. He will be one to watch in the coming weeks as fans look to see if he takes the positives from his quarterfinal loss, or if it instead has lingering negative effects.