By Tumaini Carayol
(May 10, 2013) Madrid – First to book her place in the final four was Serena Williams, but it wasn’t in the manner expected. The tournament and majority of onlookers had firmly resigned themselves to a routine straight-setter to the expense of their home favorite. Early on, it appeared Williams was well on her way to a routine victory as she secured the first set 6-3. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the American could be found struggling to serve over 90 mph and direct the ball between the white lines as all chances of a routine victory were killed spectacularly.
After the disastrous second set, Williams spent only a quarter of the allotted time in her chair, instead deciding to rise from her chair early in in order to do squats and stretches net to her chair. It’s not something Williams has ever done before, but it worked as, with a renewed intercity – and grunt – she eventually toughed out a tight victory.
“I felt just kind of ‑‑ I don’t know. I wasn’t really there. I wasn’t really in it. My feet weren’t moving. I don’t know what happened,” she said afterwards.
To turn it around I got up earlier on the changeover and started doing high knees and just stretching and doing anything to try to get my intensity back up where it needed to be.”
In stark contrast to the world No. 1, Maria Sharapova’s 6-2 6-4 victory over Kaia Kanepi was memorable for only two reasons. Firstly because the Russian extended her red clay winning streak to a monumental 24 wins. Secondly, thanks to the mischievous message the Russian left when signing the camera after her victory. In reference to paparazzi capturing her with her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, early in the week, the 26 year-old wrote “how did you catch us???”
During her news conference afterwards, there was much laughter during the Russian’s exchanges with Tennis Panorama.
Tennis Panorama News: So, the writing on the camera, I wonder what that was about?
Maria Sharapova: (with head in hands) I don’t know. You tell me. (Laughter.)
TPN: Ok, serious question. (Laughter.) I’m sure you’re sick of answering questions about how you’re good on clay, but when you were younger…
MS: I never thought that day would come. (Laughter.) Where’s my trophy?
TPN: When you were younger you came on the tour and played well on grass and were really good on grass and not as good on clay. Now it’s kind of switched around: You’re great on clay and your grass results haven’t been as great recently, aside from reaching…silver medal.
MS: Aside from the final a couple years ago and the silver medal last year. No biggie. For some people that’s a pretty good achievement.
TPN: OK, OK! (laughter.)
MS: (laughing.) Obviously it’s funny when people talk to me it’s like, ah, that’s not really a great result. I’m like, I don’t know. Thinking about that on surgery table, I’ll take that any time of the day. You have to be pretty realistic and fortunate. And yes, I lost in the fourth round, and two weeks later I came back at Wimbledon and got to the finals. So that was a great, great week for me.
Yeah, I definitely have improved my game on clay and improved myself physically. I also think the grass has changed over the years tremendously. The clay has pretty much stayed the same. But it’s not like I woke up one day and said, Yeah, I’m just going to get better and tomorrow I’m going to be better on clay. Instead it took many years and many matches and many practices. And mentally as well just to get myself prepared for long matches and battles and get through them.”
More notably, Sharapova had much to say about the recent prize money issues and the five-hout meeting that took place during the Istanbul WTA Championshps last year. There is a misconception that only the male players contributed to the monumental prize money changes that have occurred in all Grand Slams this year, but the champion rebuffed the notion with some interesting information.
“I remember sitting ‑‑ we had like a five‑hour meeting the day before the first round of Istanbul last year, the Championships. I don’t think one player in that meeting was really happy about the timing.”
“I will say that every tournament director and a couple of their staff made their way. Craig Tiley flew all the way from Australia just for that meeting. We sat there and they presented kind of their future prize money ideas.”
The men were next. After an embarrassing performance in the Acapulco final which saw the world No. 4 capture only two games against a returning Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer brushed off the embarrassment and played calm, aggressive tennis to establish a lead over the King of Clay. An early 4-1 lead in the first set fast became a set lead, and before long the set lead was complimented with a second set break.
Still, at a set and 4-2 many still expected the champion to triumph and as Nadal charged back to steal three games in a row and serve for the set, not many were surprised. The pendulum swung again, however, with Ferrer showing an abundance of typical resilience to capitalize on a few thoughtless unforced errors. By the time the pair next sat down, Ferrer was a game away from the big win.
Three points later, it happened. With the score at 6-4 6-5* 15-30 to the underdog, Ferrer contested seemingly the perfect point, dragging the champion from tramline to tramline and exposing his hampered movement. After having his way with Nadal for a series of shots, the elder Spaniard was finally presented with an open court forehand to catapult him to double match point. Instead, he opted to hit the ball straight to Nadal, who pulled out a spectacular defensive lob to win the point. From that tragically missed opportunity, Ferrer failed to win a single game for the remainder of the match.
After the defeat, Ferrer had some interesting things to say about his mentality and outlook, which perhaps explains why he so seldom emerges victorious over the four players above him.
Q. Rafa said that you deserved to be in the semis. Do you think that is a smaller gap with the top 4, or do you think they’re too good and when you reach the moment of truth they have got a little extra?
David Ferrer: Sincerely, I don’t care. I think they’re really good. I’ve always said that. They’re the four best players of the world. They make the difference compared to the other players.
I always talk about the same thing. Berdych, Tsonga, Del Potro, they all come like airplanes. Now Dimitrov and Wawrinka and Almagro too are pushing really hard.
With the amount of good players we’ve got down there, I’m not thinking about getting up there with the top 4. It’s really complicated.
Finally, after his impressive victory over Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych displayed some of his polarizing confidence as he amusingly tipped himself to win a Grand Slam
TPN: As you said before, your level doesn’t seem to change depending on the surface. You’re one of the few players. Even the big four have their favorite surfaces. What is your favorite surface?
Tomas Berdych: Well, it’s really tough to say. I can find good results on the grass, on the hard, and on clay as well.
So, you know, probably when I’m going to reach my first slam, then we going to see which surface is that going to be. (laughter) Then I can point this is the one that is the really on top, and then we don’t have to talk about the others.
So far, there is only the final and then the rest with some semifinals, so it’s not enough. Really, I want to do more. Then I can I tell you the one.
Tumaini Carayol is in Madrid covering the Madrid Open for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault. Follow his tournament updates on @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @TumCarayol.