INDIAN WELLS, California — She was like a kitten chasing its tail. Vera Zvonareva tried to catch up with the yellow tennis ball that seemed to circle her.
“I couldn’t actually get it in front of me,” she would say later of the point that ended so ignominiously. Waving vainly at the ball, she lost balance and fell on her face. Vera had been aced by a 68 MPH second serve, a dipsy-doodle off the racket of Ana Ivanovic. No credit to her, the darling of the boys in the balcony, Ana’s Serbian compatriots, who tried to scream and flag-wave her to one of the two singles titles available at the Indian Wells Garden.
Nasty Mother Nature was the culprit — neither Ana nor Vera — blowing up a wind that made every ball toss a wayward adventure, nearly every stroke a curiosity that wound up fleeing, flying out of control. Despite the lusty, gusty, dusty gales of up to 35 MPH, the blonde Russian Zvonareva did not fall on her face competitively. She was “tougher mentally than I was,” lauded her foe, Ana, the French Open champ. “This was the toughest conditions I’ve ever played in, very, very windy. It was just who could handle it better, stay tougher mentally.”
That was not Ivanovic, with twice as many booboos (46-23 plus 5 double faults), wasting 3 set points in the opening set of the 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, decision. You could call it beauty and the beastly matinee: the lovely Ivanovic undone by the swirling blasts from the desert. Not to overlook Zvonareva, taking her most important championship, the BNP Paribas Open, and a $ 700,000 bonbon for her hope chest.
At times, with her fuschia skirt raised by the winds, Ana seemed to be auditioning for the Marilyn Monroe role in “The Seven Year Itch.” But she had to settle as a stand in for Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind. Ana’s itch is to return to No. 1, a pinnacle she occupied briefly last summer.
How long will Rafa Nadal stay up there? His 6-1, 6-2, title round victory over Andy Murray is just another indication that “Roundhouse Rafa” is going to be very rough to dislodge, even by a hurricane. Murray, in his 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, semifinal triumph over Roger Federer, moved the ball and himself so handsomely that it’s clear he’s another headache for besieged Roger. Nadal had pried a niche inside Federer’s brain, and now Murray wants in, too.
Federer’s legion of admirers felt he could get Nadal off his back here – but Murray crashed that prospective party. Now, the next stop on the West-East hard court double, the Sony Ericsson Open at Key Biscayne, Fla., increases the pressure on Federer. When, if ever, can he stop the bleeding?
To watch Nadal and Murray go at it, using the entire enclosure, constructing breathtaking exchanges, you forgot the wind. Stronger, quicker than the women whom they followed to the arena, they put on a brilliant show for the multitude of 15,943. (The tourney drew a record 332,498.)
Three games for Murray? Ouch. He had to earn them. Trouble was Rafa always had the last word. “I never stop the legs,” he says. “But I have more options of things to do. Better serve, some volleys, playing more inside [the baseline], I don’t have to run as much.” But what sprinting he does is prodigious.
Nadal laughed that his quarter-final win over David Nalbandian, ending at 2:02 AM, was “like a new tournament. I shouldn’t win.” But he did – rescuing 5 match points – 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-0. His semi over Andy Roddick, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), was a happy occasion for Americans, definite proof that Andy is quicker, sharper under the tutelage of Larry Stefanki.
After a string of perfect days, the weather went a bit south: still sunny, but high-velocity breezy. The last time this happened here was 1976 when Jimmy Connors beat Roscoe Tanner in the final, 6-4, 6-4, visibility low and painful in the sandstorm. Both Jimmy and Roscoe asked for a postponement until Monday. “Sorry, fellows, but NBC has contracted for a Sunday final,” said a tournament official. “That means you’ll play.”
As usual, TV dictates.