Friday, July 6, 2007

Brilliant Bartoli too good for Henin

In the back of my mind, I knew Marion Bartoli had the game to possibly upset world number 1 Justine Henin, but several factors prevented me from believing she would actually do it: Bartoli did not seem fit enough to go through another very tough match, the strong wind forecast for today is not generally kind to the very flat balls Bartoli hits, and Henin has the type of mental toughness that Chris Evert had.

It turns out Bartoli was fit enough, handled the wind well enough--placing just-right spin on her balls, and was even tougher than Henin. In the first set, she looked lost, obviously stunned by being on Centre Court in a Wimbledon semifinal. But even as she lost that set 1-6, I was thinking "She won't go down like this--not this way." Sure enough, from the moment the second set began, the Frenchwoman was a different player. Throughout the tournament, she has come from behind, usually with the help of a rain delay, but today, she did it during a rare interval of sunshine. She found her groove again, sometimes channeling her idol, Monica Seles, playing double-handed on both sides and finding wicked angles over and over. Henin, like Jelena Jankovic--whom Bartoli beat in the round of 16--is extremely fast on the court, but Bartoli just kept them coming, patiently waiting for Henin to make the error. She took the second set, 7-5.

The third set was all Bartoli. It was obvious, by that time, that Bartoli was inside Henin's head, just as she got inside Jankovic's. At 0-5, Henin won her first game, and it was over when Bartoli served for the match.

Bartoli has a very good (though very strange) serve, she volleys well, hits deadly groundstrokes, and moves better than one might think she would. She will have her hands full when she faces Venus Williams tomorrow. Williams dispatched semifinalist Ana Ivanovic rather easily, 6-2, 6-4, and is certainly going to be the fresher of the two. Normally, there would be a day of rest between the semifinals and the final, but because of all the rain, all the matches are backed up.

Player of the day: Marion Bartoli, who--not content to take out just the number 3 seed--went one better and took out the number 1, denying Henin a chance to win the one Grand Slam that has eluded her.

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