Will the real Henin please stand up?
April, 6, 2010
By Ravi Ubha, ESPN.com | ESPN.com
There was one clear winner from the Indian Wells and Miami double -- Andy Roddick. Roger Federer departed early at both and Rafael Nadal picked up steam. Venus Williams almost extended her winning streak to the clay-court season, while Kim Clijsters and Jelena Jankovic got much-needed victories.
Here's our spring Masters 1000 evaluation:
All you Roddick bashers, give the guy some credit. For eight straight years, he's finished in the top 10, mirroring a certain 16-time Grand Slam champ. You can't do that with just a serve. Roddick showed his court smarts in Miami, turning things around against Nadal in the semifinals by being aggressive from the baseline, then resorting to his comfortable defensive style versus Tomas Berdych in the final, forcing the Czech to err. Destiny, it seemed, was on Ivan Ljubicic's side in Indian Wells. Too bad, for Roddick's sake, we can't jump straight into the grass-court season.
Is this the start of a renaissance for Berdych, who was supposed to have won a Grand Slam by now? He looked focused, keeping up with Nadal in Indian Wells after demolishing Fernando Verdasco and eliminating Federer (down a match point), Verdasco and Robin Soderling in Miami. Berdych seemed content to take Federer to five sets at the Australian Open last year, but after downing the Swiss in Florida, said this, which is a good sign: "To beat the No. 1 player in the world is a great feeling. But still, it was not a final. There is another match waiting." Berdych is an all-court threat, so the clay won't bother him.
By the time his match against Roddick ended, Nadal was visibly ticked. He blew a one-set lead after doing the same against Ljubicic in the Indian Wells semis, where he collapsed in a third-set tiebreaker. Not typically Rafa, who usually plays the big points well. Pondering the two tournaments further, though, Nadal should be pretty pleased -- if he's healthy. He outdid Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Did his frustration have anything to do with more knee trouble? During a changeover against Roddick, he slapped his left thigh and seemed to point to his left knee.
Federer said it in the past, and it's worth repeating: No matter how talented he is, Federer needs solid prep time, like anyone else, to hit top form. Denied the practice courtesy of a lung infection, he lost to a pair of dangerous floaters in Indian Wells and Miami, Marcos Baghdatis and Berdych, respectively. If he converts a match point against Baghdatis, Federer steamrolls Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, and who knows what happens against Roddick in the quarterfinals? Similar story in Miami. Deliberating too much about Federer's losses away from majors is pointless. The timing will be back, and he'll reach another Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros, where the pressure is off.
Losing to Federer in the Australian Open final obviously shook up Murray, more than anticipated. "Mentally" not right and banged up physically in the weeks leading up to Indian Wells, the Scot was upset by Soderling in the quarterfinals. Call that one a minor surprise. But losing to Mardy Fish in Miami? Sure, Fish is fitter after getting rid of the junk food, but Murray traditionally eats up big servers thanks to his usually flawless return game (look at his record against Ivo Karlovic). Given Murray's least-productive surface is clay, the slump might not end quick.
If Djokovic still had a hangover following Serbia's Davis Cup win over the U.S., that's a bad sign. He had a week to prepare for Indian Wells, and Soderling reached the semis fresh off Davis Cup duty. Djokovic blew a break lead to Ljubicic in the opening set in California. What of the second-round loss to Olivier Rochus in Miami? The serve continued to be a problem, Djokovic was too passive, and mentally he's not the same player of late 2007 or early 2008.
Skipping Indian Wells, again, did little to alter Williams' momentum. She backed up her titles in Dubai and Acapulco by reaching the final in Miami, the 15-match winning streak ended by Clijsters. Perhaps Williams should have played more conservatively in the wake of a poor opening set against Clijsters. Then again, playing longer points isn't desirable when nursing a leg injury. Like Roddick, it's unfortunate clay is on the horizon for Williams.
It was gut-check time for Clijsters in Miami, and she came through. Take away her nail-biting win over Justine Henin in the semis and Clijsters conceded a miserly 18 games in five matches. Clijsters hung in there mentally in a third-set tiebreaker against Henin after blowing three match points at 6-3, helped by a mishit backhand volley. There was third-set tiebreaker agony in Indian Wells. Clijsters let slip a 4-0 lead in the third round against the dangerous Alisa Kleybanova, losing the next seven points. Which Clijsters shows up in Marbella this week?
Wozniacki has an inflated ranking, and she doesn't really hit a lot of winners. But to dwell on the negatives (here, anyway) would do Wozniacki an injustice. The Dane turned her season around by progressing to the final in Indian Wells and quarterfinals in Miami. Similar to the 2009 year-end championships, Wozniacki overcame physical problems to win, especially facing Maria Kirilenko in Miami.
One match can make all the difference. Jankovic was on the verge of exiting in the third round in Miami, first in a second-set tiebreak, then trailing feisty Italian Sara Errani 4-2 in the final set. The Serb recovered and didn't drop a set the rest of the way, showing glimpses of the form that got her to No. 1 two years ago. A streaking opponent (Samantha Stosur) and the conditions derailed Jankovic in Miami's fourth round. "On that day I couldn't have done much on the court and play well, since the strong wind gave me no chance to develop the game," she told her Web site. Bring on the clay for JJ.
The top seed in Indian Wells and Miami, Kuznetsova won a combined three matches. To her credit, she gutted it out against Marion Bartoli in Miami when hampered by a shoulder injury. Kuzy is as frustrating as ever.
Somewhere in between
Henin is trying to be more aggressive on court, desiring to shorten points to preserve her body. "Trying" is the key word. In Miami, she toiled for nearly three hours against Wozniacki and went 2.5 against Clijsters, a different type of player, in the Brisbane sequel. Just a thought: Why not play a little more of her sublime defense to draw errors like the pre-comeback Justine, who didn't do so bad? Her time away from the game helped her recharge physically, and she doesn't seem the sort to play into her early 30s, which the Williams sisters plan on doing. Henin did a Clijsters and produced the goods in Miami after struggling in Indian Wells.