Francesca Schiavone - 2011 US Open - Day 4

Schiavone vs. Kanepi:  Through the first two and a half sets of her epic quarterfinal victory over Jankovic, Schiavone escaped from one perilous situation after another.  Eluding her opponent when she served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, the feisty Italian successfully stared down multiple match points a few games later and then clawed herself out of a 3-1 third set.  Her unquenchable optimism throughout this three-hour comeback recalled her Melbourne marathon against Kuznetsova a year ago, although one wonders the battle-scarred veteran can recover successfully from her exertions.  On that earlier occasion, Schiavone competed valiantly with Wozniacki for a set and half before fading, and she certainly will need every ounce of agility available to withstand Kanepi.  Pummeling Pavlyuchenkova for the loss of just three games, the robust Estonian stifled the second-seeded Petkovic nearly as emphatically in the quarterfinals.  In both of those matches, she surged through a commanding first set and sustained that momentum through a more competitive second set, so the early stages of this semifinal could prove crucial once again.  Thumping twelve aces against Petkovic, Kanepi dropped her serve only once against two of the WTA’s brightest rising stars—an intimidating prospect for a player like Schiavone who lacks a consistently formidable delivery.

Seven of the last eight sets between the Italian and the Estonian have lasted ten games or more, suggesting that their seventh meeting will hinge upon a timely burst of shot-making from the former or a timely spurt of scrambling from the latter.  A prototypical collision of guns against guile, their semifinal will test Schiavone’s talents for artistic improvisation under pressure as much as it does Kanepi’s ability to finish points and take time away from her opponent.  If she can win the battle of court positioning, the younger woman’s weapons will prevent the third seed from crafting the type of point with which she unhinged the less muscular Jankovic.

Clijsters vs. Hantuchova:  Undefeated in nine meetings against the Slovak, Clijsters has won 18 of the 19 sets that they have played while recording eight bagels or breadsticks.  But all of those dismal statistics date from the Belgian’s first career, which ended nearly five years ago.  While Clijsters has won three of her four majors in her widely lauded second career, she also has succumbed to odd stumbles more often than usual (see her debacle in Melbourne 2010 or her loss to Arantxa Rus at Roland Garros last year).   The schism between her Jekyll and Hyde personas surfaced in her second Brisbane match, a whiplash-inducing rollercoaster in which she won six of the first seven games, lost nine of the next ten, and then won six consecutively.  To a certain degree, however, those oscillations reflected peaks and valleys in the prowess of her opponent, Ivanovic, as well as Kim’s rust on physical and mental levels.  In her quarterfinal against Benesova, she struck both wings of groundstrokes with an authority born of increasing confidence.

Very much a Jekyll-and-Hyde player herself, Hantuchova enjoyed one of the better seasons of her career in 2011 while recording victories over players as notable as Zvonareva and Wozniacki.  Yet she possesses essentially the same game that she did when losing those nine consecutive meetings with Clijsters, far superior in movement and overall athleticism.  With those two advantages, the Belgian could counter Hantuchova’s sharply angled but not quite stinging groundstrokes until she could transition from defense to offense.  Had not Serena sprained her ankle a round earlier, in fact, Hantuchova almost certainly would not have earned this opportunity to duel with a four-time major champion.  Although Clijsters may consider herself fortunate in one sense, she probably would have profited more from the experience of playing one of her more significant rivals as the Australian Open approaches.

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