Lucie Safarova vs. Ana Ivanovic reach Roland Garros semis, who will be calmer?

Safarova 2012

 

Roland Garros, June 4: Lucie Safarova and Ana Ivanovic have known each other for a long time, since 2007. Back then few knew who they were and they played each other in front of almost no one on a hot, smoggy day in Los Angeles, where Ivanovic prevailed 6-2, 6-2. There was no way to predict whether the teenagers would ever meet in the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament, but if you looked them in the eye, you could tell they were burning for desire.

In 2008, Ivanovic was already coming hard and she was at Roland Garros, crushing Safarova 6-2, 6-1 in the fourth round and eventually won the tournament. Ivanovic was never nervous; she was flying high, she was No. 1 and she could stay there forever.

But the world now knew who she was and there was tremendous attention and pressure. Within a month or so when she hurt her hand, she thought about every match, every moment, what she should be doing and what her opponent were thinking. She became was too emotional — too much and she began to slide, way down.

Safarova wasn’t moving up the charts quickly, but the left-hander knew how to handle herself.   On hard court, she pulled Ivanovic around, attacking her backhands, winning in Toronto and Tokyo in 2009. In 2012, Safarova had improved her first serve and forehand, beating Ivanovic in Sydney and then in the Fed Cup final at home in Prague, she won it 6-4 6-3, with aggressive net play. Safarova was the hero, taking down Jelena Jankovic and Ivanovic when the fans were very loud and she knew that the pressure was on top of her. But she loved the glory because the Czech Republic does not have a big WTA tournament and many knew about her compatriot Petra Kvitova, who had won Wimbledon twice. But Safarova wanted the fans to know about her, too.

She was gaining, little by little, and by 2014, both players were feeling confident. They were not playing perfectly every week, not by a long shot, but their self-reliance was growing.

In the 2014 French Open, Safarova was ranked No. 22 while Ivanovic was ranked No. 13. They met in the third round and for the second time they faced off, where once again, Safarova was very comfortable and on clay, she beat the 2008 champion 6-3 6-3. The right-handed Ivanovic slugs her forehand about as hard as she can and she moves left quickly, ready to jump. But sometimes she gets caught and hits the ball the wrong way. She gets anxious and then she isn’t sure how to attack.

In October, though, on hard courts, Ivanovic smashed Safarova 6-2 6-2 in Tokyo.

Ivanovic could reach the top 5 again, ifshe wasn’t up and down all the time, became calmer, came to the net more and found more consistentency with her backhand. She went 2-1 at the WTA Final (although she wasn’t able to reach the semis) and at in the beginning of January, she reached the final of Brisbane, where she was close against Maria Sharapova. But after that, she slipped again, changing her tactics way too much. She left her coach in early May, and she decided she would be out on her own, making her own way. In the last 10 days at Roland Garros, she fell in love in Paris and now she is the favorite at the semifinal as she has been here before.

However, Safarova takes a long time to decide when she would go for it against the very good players. Last year, she reached the semifinal of Wimbledon falling to Kvitova, but this time she was willing to knock off very sharp angles and also go down the lines. Last November, she and the Czechs won the Fed Cup at home again, over Germany. Here in Paris, Safarova knocked out two huge hitters, Maria Sharapova and Garbine Muguruza, and she isn’t getting nervous at all. She still in the doubles too, with her partner Bethanie Matter-Sands, who upended top-seeded Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis.

The semifinal will be super close, but in the end, Safarova will kill the corners and overcome Ivanovic in three sets.

 

NOTES

What a nice story by Timea Bacsinszky but Serena Williams is a substantial favorite to win her 20th Grand Sla title. The Swiss is pretty fast and she seems to understand the court, but is she ready to win a very important semifinal and not be nervous? Even if she is having a great time, that’s doesn’t mean that she can actually beat Williams.

Novak Djokovic was spectacular. Mentally, he was finally able to play the right way, he wanted to play against Rafa Nadal, beating him on his own punch. His serves were much bigger and closer to the lines, his backhand was deeper and more consistent and he was just as good if not better with his forehand. He did everything right. The Spaniard Nadal finally let down deeply at Roland Garros for the first time. Yes, the nine-time RG champ did lose to Robin Soderling in 2009, but he was a bit closer and this time, after the first set, he wasn’t confident enough and by the third set he was completely gone. If he wants to have a chance at Wimbledon or the US Open, he has to play much better. He has to step up and believe in himself again. Perhaps it will take him the rest of the year.

Djokovic is a substantial favorite of Andy Murray, who beat David Ferrer 7-6(4) 6-2 5-7 6-1. Yes, Murray has improved on the dirt, but he hasn’t beaten Djokovic since 2013 Wimbledon and that’s almost two years ago. If Murray doesn’t play a super aggressive contest and mix it up from all the angles of the court then he will have no real shot. He will try hard though.

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