Friday, January 15, 2010

Jodi's Epic Tennis Adventure 2.1 - Look At Me, I'm Lena D

It seems that I've been chasing Elena Dementieva across the country for the past two weeks, and you know what? there are worst players to chase. After a bad bad start at the Hopman Cup where she got whaled on by Sabine Lisicki ('bad bad' said, Lisicki can whale on anyone if she has her day) she played some lovely stuff - including the match I saw her play against Laura Robson - and she followed it up tonight.

I was at the Medibank International tonight watching the women's final. I only just got there in time for the 7.30 start and worried I was going to miss the beginning, but the men's semis ran long, so all was well. (Gasquet/Baghdatis will be the final in the men's draw, which I will see tomorrow. There are worse finals - and I was expecting a lot worse!) Considering Serena/Elena at Wimbledon was the women's match of the year, but both are capable of fizzling spectacularly, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had a hunch in the Dementieva direction, but Lisicki was at the back of my mind...

It certainly wasn't an Epic Clash OMG. It was more towards the fizzle end of the spectrum, but I don't think it was true fizzle. Serena looked out of sorts, especially as the match went on - but I don't think it's because she wasn't trying. There's just something about Dementieva's game that troubles her. Sometimes she can steamroll over it (Australian Open semis last year, for example) but sometimes it just sort of gets to her.

This is, I think, why that Wimbledon semi was so epic tonight, and why Lena D won tonight. If I had to say exactly what it was that irks Serena, I think it's the fact that Dementieva is extraordinarily aggressive off the return of serve. She certainly was tonight, that's for sure - she was hitting the ball hard and flat right back at Serena a lot, and it was fast fast fast. This, coupled with Dementieva's speed, meant it was really hard for Serena to get cheap points off the serve and one-two punches... and when Serena started dumping serves into the middle of the net, you knew she wasn't exactly on the 'I Am Extraordinarily Invested In This Match And You Will Have To Shoot Me To Win' Bandwagon.

This has been a pretty confused rambling - sorry, I'll try and be more concise. Let's start with Serena. In this match, she didn't play great and Dementieva did. Because Lena D is a good player with the capacity to trouble Serena a lot and this tournament is not a Slam, Serena lost the match. When it comes to the Australian Open, I don't think this damages Serena's chances one bit. However, it's not an odd numbered year...

For Lena D... she is looking as good as I have ever seen her, is steelier than usual with few, if any, signs of the mental fragility that has been her downfall in the past. This does not mean, however, that they will not come out at the Open, but that remains to be seen. She's moving well, returning very very well and the serve... is not the creampuff it used to be. It's still not great, but she hit some service winners off it.

However. However however however.

The reason, in my opinion, that Lena folded so badly against Serena in Australia last year was that she had just played too much tennis. She'd won Auckland and Sydney and then through to the semis of Oz, which was something like fifteen matches. That is a lot lot lot, and more than I think she would have expected to play.

This year, she played Hopman Cup. No points or anything, but a good warm up. Three singles matches, three mixed doubles matches. Plus a tournament win in Sydney. Hopman Cup is low key, but she's still played a lot of tennis coming in. And then...

...she's probably going to play Justine Henin in the second round in Melbourne. And if I had to pick someone to get through that match, it would be JuJu. Sorry, Lena.

That said, I think Lena is a good investment bet for the Open - if you were the gambling type and wanted to back a dark horse that might pay out big. She's certainly capable of beating anyone, I think - like I said, she's playing as well as I've ever seen her. But will she? Time will tell. She's got all the elements in her game to win a Slam (even though that serve will never be great). But her draw is most emphatically not a cakewalk, and if she wants to lift that first Slam trophy, she's going to have to go through a pint-sized-in-reality-but-huge-in-mentality Belgian.

As to the actual experience of the tennis on this first night - Ken Rosewall Arena is a nice arena, but it's not as atmospheric as either of the venues I was in last week, I feel. It's too big to be intimate, too small to be spectacular, in a way. That said, I still had a great time and look forward to going back there for the men's final tomorrow!

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