Home > Tennis > Heart Felt in Paris: Sixth Time Lucky

Heart Felt in Paris: Sixth Time Lucky

There is a reason why we play the first week of the Slam. As far as the top players are concerned, it is only of academic interest — how many games have they lost? How well are they serving? Are they expending too much energy? You get the point. It is about warriors like Isner, Mahut and Mathieu — yeah, Matheiu battled bravely to take the match to the decider after being two sets down, and that after playing the marathon against Isner. It is about scrapers like Juan Monaco, who battled the giant serving Canadian, Raonic, in five. It is about feel good stories like Brian Baker.

It is also about some ridiculously frustrating stories. Like the one involving Kaia Kanepi as she played the former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

It was classic dirtball tennis of the 90s. It involved long, endless rallies. Not exciting ones like Djokovic and Nadal, but exhausting ones like Bruguera and Berasetagui. It involved moonballs in the middle of the court. It did not involve winners, not many of them, if you will. And when it comes to the classic dirtball of the 90s, either the more powerful one wins, or the more consistent one. Consistency was the hallmark of Wozniacki in her glory days, as the commentators like to say, “she was so consistent that it had an arrogance to it.” But it has rapidly faded away since Australia this year, as her ranking has plummeted to 9 in a mere five months. And so the power of Kanepi was doing the trick. In no time, she was up a set, serving for the match at 5-2 in the second.

What I didn’t know, though, was Kanepi’s history. At the very moment, John McEnroe reminded us that Kanepi has had a long history of failing to pass the finish line. Just two years back, she blew away five match points against Petra Kvitova. She is like the poor (wo)man’s Dementieva. Sure enough, it was true. She waited to get to a match point. Blew it away with an error. Wozniacki broke eventually — as she had often done last year — and that fierce look in her eye. Kanepi’s shoulders slacked. Everybody knew what was coming. Wozniacki held for 3-5. Broke Kanepi for 4-5. Held for 5-5. She then took it to the tie-breaker, and easily won it 7-3. The writing was on the wall for Kanepi.

In fact, I did not know she had such a long history of blowing away matches. In another match, when Granollers, with his own history of blowing away matches, was up 4-1 in the fifth against Matheiu, John McEnroe exclaimed, “he is the Kaia Kanepi of men’s tennis!” Despite all the exaggeration, I had to laugh out loud at that. Mary Carillo informed McEnroe that Kanepi was now 4-1 in the third set. McEnroe snapped back, “I’ll give her a 20% chance of winning.” I had to laugh again.

The games in the middle of a set are not a problem for Kanepi. She broke Wozniacki for 5-1 and served for the match … for the third time. She went to 40-30 (her third match point), and double faulted. She got down a break point, and saved it with a winner down the line. She again got to match point, and shanked a backhand. Unable to digest all this, she got broken again. Just to rub it in further, McEnroe reminded us that Kanepi was up 5-1 in all three sets. Oh, what a tragedy if she loses again.

Wozniacki held, and Kanepi went back to serve. She raced to 40-15. The rally went on and Wozniacki took control. It was destined that Kanepi could not win the match. Hence, Wozniacki decided to lose it. The uber consistent Dane shanked her forehand long and Kanepi raised both her arms in the air. I couldn’t believe it. Neither did she. Neither did Wozniacki.

Kanepi tried to do a Guga by drawing a heart on the dirt. Nobody cared. The TV camera did not even zoom into it. But Kanepi did not care the ignorance, either. It was her moment, and she had given us another of those memorable first week stories. Well, the story which we will likely forget the next week.

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  1. Jun 2, 2012 at 1:08 PM

    Even for the connoisseurs the first week of Slams is indeed of academic interest. We start obsessing about the stats – how many backhand returns did Novak paint the lines with, how many inside-out forehands did Rafa hit? We start mentally pitting players against each other from the beginning of the tournament itself. But that’s like a Geek with his pressing questions – an obsession that is a necessity rather than a pleasure.

    The pleasure indeed comes from these first-week acts of heroics. In the deeper recesses of our minds, we might value them better on some aspects, knowing that we enjoyed them without being biased towards one player or another, but purely because of the tennis played, and the play that tennis being the way it is could only have created. It’s, in one word, unadulterated.

    Anyways, it’s indeed very surprising about Kanepi – what you have posted here. 5-1 in all three sets and choked on all three? She was lucky the choke didn’t go the distance. (Which McEnroe was it by the way? :)). Dirt can test your body. And from reading your post, even dirty tennis can test your mind.

    Thanks for bringing our attention to this one, mate. I think I get an idea as to how the match would have looked, and how jaw-dropping it could be – that 5-1 in the last set. However, I think if she had lost, we would still have shrugged and moved on 🙂

    • rjsays
      Jun 2, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Yeah, I think it is appreciable what the lesser players perform during the first week. Like how Monaco battled on and on from 20 feet behind the baseline against the giant, and then showed his delight on winning, knowing fully well that he has a 99.99% chance of taking a flight out of Paris two days later (he plays Nadal). Same with the first set of Haas/Gasquet. It was pure, beautiful tennis and very enjoyable. Like you said, “unadulterated.”

  2. Juta Sinn
    Jun 3, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    “It did not involve winners”

    You got is wrong there. Kaia Kanepi made 46 winners, even against the great defence of Wozniacki. Yes, she should have finished it earlier, but she will improve 🙂
    (Kaia’s fan)

    • rjsays
      Jun 3, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      You are correct. It should more have been like, “It did not involve winners during the late parts of the second and third sets.” And good to see a Kaia fan. Congratulations to you, and thanks for leaving a comment!

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