maria marches on

Posted on January 24, 2008


If I had paid to watch the Australian Open semi-final match between Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic in Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena, I would have demanded my money back.

It was hardly worthy of being a semi-final match, being so woefully lackluster and one-sided. Sharapova was simply superb, but unfortunately, Jankovic was not giving her much competition, nor very much a workout either, losing 6-3, 6-1.

The difference between the two women was night and day.

Sharapova was sharp, aggressive and more importantly, hungry and out to win.

Jankovic is usually a competitive player but today, she could have very well been a mere spectator, from the many occasions she just seemed to stare glumly at the deadly passing shots fired by Sharapova.

And that was the crux – Jankovic just didn’t seem to be in the mood to fight very hard or run after Sharapova’s shots. Hers was not a face that believed she stood a chance against the grimly determined Russian, or one that was prepared to fight for every single point. Whether it was more due to her back pain and other injuries coming home to roost or a lack of will, however, is the question, although Jankovic was reported to have needed painkillers before taking to the court.

Not to be callous, but it was honestly a painful match to watch. One wished Jankovic would have just retired since the pain was affecting her so badly or since she decided to stay in the game, tried a little harder not to be completely routed by Sharapova.

Not that Jankovic didn’t have her chances tonight against Sharapova, unlike poor Justine Henin in the quarter-finals against Sharapova. In that match, Sharapova similarly came out swinging but did not let up one bit.

In tonight’s semi-final, there were many times when Sharapova’s serve deserted her, causing her to double-fault twice in a single game. Also, Sharapova’s first service percentage was only 55 per cent, compared to Jankovic’s 73 per cent. Regrettably, Jankovic failed to capitalize on those chances, nor did she attack Sharapova’s second serves enough when her first serves faltered.

It is a tribute to the Russian’s famed toughness that despite a few jitters and an interruption to the match brought on by Jankovic’s injury timeout that she stayed focused and ended the one-sided match in a rapid 78 minutes.

Going into the final, Sharapova is the definite favorite, as unlike her, neither one of her next potential opponents, Ana Ivanovic or Daniela Hantuchova, has been in an Australian Open final. The way Sharapova has been performing, the odds seem stacked in her favor to be the one lifting the champion’s trophy in Melbourne, and banish the nightmares of a terrible thrashing by Serena Williams in the same place last year.