I must admit it was a relief to see Sania Mirza back in action, and just not just about back in contention but actually proving a point. I can say without any jitters that, Yes! Our champ is back and she is back with her old self to boot….
The forehands were back, possibly were stinging a bit too much than usual. Her backhands were class apart, and more consistent than ever. Her movement were quicker, perhaps a step faster than the usual. And finally the serve, though in quantity fell short but in quality has seen a sea change. Yes, the serve has undergone a amendment, has acquired potency to it and accumulated a wider variety of dimensions to itself. The only ornamentation required is a consistency.
But what is truly wondrous is that the fighting spirit has not left, the confidence has not diminished, the strangeness to the big arena has not crept in the game. Agreed, her opponent in the match was a lowly ranked Polish woman whose name must not have been heard other than to the biggest tennis enthusiast but the 61st ranked player had the goods which mattered. Agreed, that against the quality of Mirza, she would have faded, but the odds were stacked against the Indian. A six month lay off is not an easy task to come back from especially when it’s a Grand Slam that you foresee your singles arrival. Take a peak at Daniela Hantuchova. She is also manufacturing an injury comeback and had to fight a stiff 7-6 (13/11) 6-4 win over the talented but humbly ranked Aussie Cassey Dellaqua.
With a straight sets wins over an out of sorts world number 25 Agnes Szwazay (she lost in the first round of the Australian Open too) at Hong Kong must have given her confidence. But what would give her a moral booster would be her 6-4 6-4 loss to Anna Chakdevatdze at the same exhibition. It was a consoling loss as the score line suggests a close fight to the finish, something which has eluded the flashy Indian in all the prior meetings with the Russian.
In the second rounds lies greater challenge in form of Nadia Petrova, seeded 10th. With a head to head record at 1-1, I will still give a heads up to the resurgent Russian. Petrova has seen off late a change in fortunes in the last few months of 2008, with tournament wins and deep finishes in high level draws across Europe. With form back on her side and a narrow loss of a top 10 finish for last year, she is back as a dark horse whose ride could take her to yet another second week outing at this Grand Slam. The others came at the French, Wimbledon and the US Open in different years. And if she is lucky she can finally fulfill her under-achieving talent of picking up her first silver ware at the Big 4.
The score line of both the matches, involving the two, has never gone beyond a two set affair or beyond two game wins for either in their losses to each other. In the first meeting in San Diego in 2005, the Indian debutante shocked the in form but injured Petrova with a commanding scoreline. Two years later the Russian scored a sweet revenge with a similar scoreline at Wimbledon where Mirza was coming back from a career threatening knee injury. After that match Mirza achieved her best season at the US Hard-court with a final finish in a Tier II event, and a couple of semi final and quarter final stop overs. In addition to that she had wins over Hingis, Safina (6-1 6-1, mind you) and Golovin.
Both play similar games, both love hard courts though Petrova has the versatile game to flourish on clay and both are bitter competitors. Both will have in mind their history and will try to rip each other off. Points will remain short and the only difference would come from the serves where the Russian owns a complete edge. But given the showcase today Mirza should bank upon quality serves on Wednesday. What might just be another difference could be the net game. Even if Mirza has flourishing doubles record (6 titles), Petrova may have the edge if she shortens the points by rushing to the net.
Mentally both seems tough but Mirza would be on the softer side of pressure, having scored her first singles win on the tour after six months, being relieved of being injury free and of any expectations. She will come swinging out without any inhibitions. She is a big match player, always excels against big names and is fearless to the point of being insane. Petrova has a similar attitude but expectations off the 10th seed seems to be more and she could wilt under the newly grown reputation as the comeback giant.
Expect a tough-ie but the Russian should prevail in all practicality in three if Mirza is having a good day. But with Mirza, anything is possible…. But what we can anticipate is a big hitting, high temperature encounter with flamboyant winners for our healthy appetite of flashy tennis. At the end of the day, the mind says the Russian but the heart says the Indian might just pull it off….. Let’s hope she does.