PARIS – It was a good day for the heartbreak kids. The year’s first major, the Australian Open was a crusher for both of them: Svetlana Kuznetsova and Roger Federer. He actually wept, on court, after losing the final to Rafa Nadal. I bet she bawled in the dressing room after blowing a true shot at the title by bungling in her semifinal against Serena Williams, who became the champion.
Up against Serena again, in the quarters, Koozy seemed to be staging a mournful reprise. She had served to beat Serena in Melbourne, leading, 7-5, 5-3, I remember unkindly thinking that she wouldn’t make it – and she didn’t, 5-7, 7-5, 6-1.
And here we were — for a tearful encore? Koozy, having dodged a set point in the 12th game, was again serving for it at 7-6 (7-3), 5-3. Uh-oh. Would her nerves give way once more? Yes, although the loud and combative Serena had something to do with it, too. Koozy was 2 points away at 30-30 and deuce, but before she knew it the games slipped away and she was behind 3-1 in the third.
Nevertheless the husky Russian fought her way back to 5-4. Serena, who specializes in rescuing herself, blotted 2 match points, holding to 5-5. However, Koozy, who did think back to Australia now and then, also forgot about it and displayed closing resolve as sturdy as her legs, winning 8 of the last 9 points.
Serena, gracious as ever, said, “I lost because of me, not anything she did.”
But Kuznetsova did do something: she kept her cool when everybody thought she wouldn’t. She said she was haunted by Australian memories, but “convinced myself I could win.”
Roger Federer is silencing some of his doubters, people asking if he would quit as Bjorn Borg did after losing Wimbledon and U.S. Open in 1981 to John McEnroe. He’s back in stride, re-connected with his confidence. I thought the electrifying local guy, Gael Monfils, had an excellent chance in their quarter-final. But when he couldn’t take the set point against Roger’s serve in the opening set tie-breaker, it was all over, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, 6-4, and the crowd went home saddened. Maybe only sort-of because anybody, seeing Roger at work, after his curious starts against Acasuso and Mathieu, then slumping 2 sets behind Tommy Haas, could only appreciate his revived touch and artistry – even if it was at Monfils’ expense.
Of all Roger’s records and titles maybe the most remarkable is attaining a major semifinal for a 20th straight time. Imagine that. Unheard of highest quality for an incredibly long time, starting with 2003 when he won his first Wimbledon.
Now the long lusted-for French championship is within closer reach than ever before – 2 wins away, and those big bad bears, Nadal and Djokovic, far out of sight in the woods, sending post cards saying, “Wish you were here and we were there.”
But the pressure is on the Lord of the Swings because many feel it looks like a fox trot the rest of the way: Del Potro, then the survivor of Gonzalez-Soderling. I think there will be difficulties, and he says that the pressure gripped him earlier in the tournament when he was struggling to find form.
He’ll never have a better Nadal-free chance at the goodies: a French title and with it membership in the tiny exclusive club of those who have won all four majors: alongside Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi. Also he can catch up with Pete Sampras’s 14 singles majors.
Such opportunity. If Roger makes it, as I believe he’s about to do, he should make provisions in his will for Phillipp Kohlscreiber and Robin Soderling, who respectively removed Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal from his path.