Having been around the stadium more than 12 hours a day, I chose today, the day of the singles and doubles semifinals, to take a break. I’d only been getting a few hours of sleep a day, and didn’t want to fall sick just as my exams started, so I took a break, and decided that I’d skip the singles matches and just catch the doubles match that was the last one scheduled. I know, some of you may think I’m crazy.Singles Semifinals
Anyway, I slated Joanette Kruger to take the title, although I would have preferred Asa Carlsson to take it. Joanette has a good game, and is by all means a player who should climb back up the rankings soon, but Asa has more matches behind her recently, and can count on her Swedish-flag-bearing supporters.
Joanette and Asa had the first tough match of the day, and Asa ended up taking it 7-6(5) 7-5. Erika de Lone booked her place in the finals, beating Rita Grande 6-2 6-3. Having watched both play during the week, I’ll anticipate a good final match tomorrow, but Erika has the advantage from playing a shorter semifinal and having one of her opponents retire from her match.
Anyway, I came into the stadium uncharacteristically late. I had planned on getting there at 5.20, but ended up reaching at about 6. To my delight, Jelena Kostanic, Tina Pisnik, Laurence Courtois and Alicia Molik were starting to warm up. Not surprisingly, my usual seat was taken, and I settled into a seat in the fifth row, even though there were empty seats lower down.
The match soon started, and Alicia would open for her team. With Anastasia Myskina out of the tournament, the sole survivor from my first day at the tournament was Jelena Kostanic. Fond of Laurence and Alicia I am, but I was pretty sure that I would be cheering for Jelena and Tina.
The match immediately promised to be a good one. Alicia managed to hold serve, but only after a bit of a struggle. Jelena opened for her team. JK/TP faced one break point on Jelena’s serve, but saved it with a good wide first serve. Two errors from her gave Laurence and Alicia the early break in the match. This looked like trouble - Jelena usually had the stronger service game early in the matches.
Laurence Courtois then took her turn to serve, and faced two break points. Her team saved both, and took the game. While Alicia and Laurence had given up leads before, they showed no signs of relenting this time. They played great tennis to get a second break on Tina’s serve, going up 4-0. At 30-all, Jelena nearly made a rookie mistake by hitting a ball that was clearly going out before it landed. She was standing 3 feet behind the baseline, but if she had hit the ball with her racquet, it would still have been considered in play. Good thing she got her racquet out of the way in time.
Laurence and Alicia continued their excellent teamwork, and Laurence especially was really playing well, although Alicia was no slouch either. Some more unforced errors from the youngsters gave Laurence Courtois and Alicia Molik the first set 6-0. At this point, a lot of people started leaving the stadium. Luckily, a lot of people also came in during changeovers, so the stadium still kept a pretty decent crowd.
Jelena and Tina finally broke Alicia’s serve to open the second set and finally get on the scoreboard, but not without a struggle. LC/AM broke back, but a double-fault from Laurence gave JK/TP the break again. Jelena had an extremely difficult time on her service game, but she and Tina fought hard to consolidate the break..
Saving game point JK/TP broke Alicia’s serve again to go up 4-1. A bad line call gave LC/AM a break back on Tina’s serve. Some excellent playing gave Laurence her service game at love, so Tina would have to serve for the second set.
TP/JK went up 30-love, but made some errors to bring it to 30-all. Tina chose that moment to score an ace, giving the pair set point. Alicia saved it with a nicely angled passing shot. The umpire called a passing winner by Tina out (what a time to wake up), but she countered with a good serve on the next point to get set point #2. Once again, Alicia saved it. A volley error from Tina then gave LC/AM break point, but Alicia made a careless service return error. Two winners from Laurence gave her her service game, and Jelena would serve to keep her team in the match. She held serve easily to bring the second set to a tie-breaker.
I started to get nervous, knowing that a few points could mean life or death for the youngsters in the match. Alicia served first, and a spectacular passing shot hit on the run by Tina gave her team the mini-break. Tina served and got both her points. Another bad line call against Laurence lost her one of her service points, but her team played well to get the other. The score was now 4-1 with Jelena serving. Jelena mishit an easy cross-court forehand to give a break back. Tactical errors on her behalf gave another break back. The score was now 3-4, Molik serving. She made a volley error to give the break to JK/TP, and a slight error in judgement gave Alicia her second service point. A volley from Tina gave the break back, but a good solid volley from Jelena forced Laurence to serve to stay in the set. All four players played hard, but the youngsters got the point to take the second set 7-6(5).
Talk about a close shave! I was on the edge of my seat throughout the last part of the set, and I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my cardiovascular system. Jelena served to open the third set. She lost the first point, but played well to get the next four, hitting an ace to take the game. Some more fine playing from gave LC/AM an early break on Tina’s serve to go up 2-1. LC/TP held their service game, and Alicia went up 40-15 on hers, but lost both points for her team. She made up for it in the next point by getting game point #3, but Tina saved it with a spectacular volley. Alicia forced another error with her serve. This time, spectacular volleying from Jelena saved it. A wild service return error from Tina gave AM/LC game point #5. I could almost have predicted it: a double-fault from Alicia. 2 nice volleys from Laurence gave her team back the advantage and the game.
Tina Pisnik would now serve, and her team went up 30-love, but they lost the next three points. She saved break point, and forced a service return error on the next point. A nice slice angled shot from Alicia saved the game point, but another nice serve forced an error from Laurence. Tina was really serving well by now, and a horrible mishit on the service return from Alicia gave JK/TP the game. The score was now 4-2.
As if playing without abandon, the youngsters played absolutely fantastic tennis to get the break back. At 4-all, Jelena served well to set up the points for her team, and took a 40-15 lead. At which point she double-faulted. She made up for it with an excellent first shot down the middle, though, to let her team go up 5-4! Alicia would have to serve to stay in the match.
The adrenaline levels in my blood were near critical -- Tina Pisnik and Jelena Kostanic had actually clawed their way out of a pit, and now had a chance to take the match! Alicia served and went up 30-love. She missed an easy overhead and made an error to bring it to 30-all. Sensing that the match was slipping away, she took the next point and made no mistake on the next overhead to bring it to 5-all.
The hair on the back of my neck was standing -- the match was absolutely even. Either team could take the match in the blink of an eye! My heart was pounding so fast that I actually had to take a deep breath before each point to calm myself down! My hands were rather sweaty and I found it a little difficult to hold on to my pen. The last time this happened was when I was watching Wimbledon live and Mirjana Lucic defeated Monica Seles.
Tina Pisnik went up to serve, and got a 30-love lead. She extended it to a 40-love lead, and put away the easy overhead to hold serve at love and go up 6-5! Now it was Laurence's turn to serve, and she would have the task of giving her team a good first shot to keep them in the tournament.
She lost the first point, but a superb volley from Alicia evened it at 15-all. A bad service call gave Laurence a double-fault and JK/TP a 30-15 lead. They were now just 2 points away from the match again. Laurence made sure she got her next serve clearly in, but an easy overhead hit wide by Alicia gave JK/TP 2 match points. An error saved the match point, but the youngsters had another one. Tina hit a spectacular passing shot, but it landed long, and the game went to deuce. Talk about thrillers!
On the next point, Laurence worked hard to get the advantage, but a double-fault brought it back to deuce. Another double-fault (I thought the line call was questionable) gave the youngsters the advantage. Laurence and Alicia then woke up, played unbelievable tennis, and reeled off 14 points in a row to take the game, set and match! Just kidding. Laurence and Alicia played hard, and showed no signs of giving the match away, but an excellent lob over their heads that landed 2 inches inside the baseline by Tina Pisnik took her team to the finals!!! The two girls were ecstatic, and hugged each other. The crowd had become very vocal by then, cheering mostly for Laurence and Alicia, but they all applauded the valiant effort of both teams. After a nice hand-shake and all, both teams sat down to think about their match. JK/TP walked off the court first, while Laurence buried her head in her towel. It was only for a moment, so I’m not sure if she was crying. But I wouldn’t blame her if she was. That was two close matches she’d lost now. The crowd gave them a good ovation when they walked off the court.
I headed to the tournament office to collect the scores of the day (I missed the singles matches, remember?), and met Jelena’s coach in the corridor. I smiled, and told him that I got so nervous watching the match. He smiled, and told me to calm down. I got the scores, and headed outside to catch the victors of the day.
They certainly took their time to come out, and I walked around the whole stadium in case I had missed them. I then thought the safest bet would be to wait next to the bus. There, I met the Japanese girl again -- she was also staying at the Concorde Hotel, and took the bus back there. She said that she’d read my articles, and I was surprised - I asked her how she knew they were mine, and then remembered the Barabanschikova match. After a while, she got on the bus, and I was arranging my notes when I noticed Alicia’s coach sitting nearby. He was looking at me, or rather my large tennis ball, so I asked him if he coached both Laurence and Alicia. He said no, he was just Alicia’s coach, but was helping Laurence out at the moment. She had recently split with her coach, and would probably get a new one next year. I asked if they would play doubles together at Pattaya, and he said that they weren’t sure yet (they should, they make a good team). I asked him to wish them good luck for me, and he said thanks very nicely. I packed up my stuff and headed to the other corner of the stadium where I knew I would catch Jelena and Tina.
When I turned the corner, sure enough, Jelena and her coach were standing there, waiting for Tina and her coach. I walked up to them, and her coach smiled. I congratulated them on a good match, and told Jelena that I was so nervous watching that match that my hands were still sweating and I’d have to write my report later because I couldn’t hold my pen, at which they both laughed. The coach then asked me what a room nearby was, and I explained that it was a prayer room for Muslims. He asked where the most famous church in KL was, and I told him that there were a number, but I didn’t know which one was the biggest. I asked him if it was to pray for the match tomorrow, and he said yes. He then asked if I thought they’d mind if someone from a different religion went to pray there, and I said that I didn’t think they’d mind at all. I told him that maybe he could pray to their God and ask Him to pass the message along to his God. He found this very amusing, and quipped, "they have postmen up there, ya? He make a phone call to pass my message?", to which I replied, "and fax, and e-mail...". That was a nice light-hearted moment, and Jelena asked if I had bought the ball. I said no, and joked that I had stolen it. Just then, Tina came up, and I said that it was her turn to sign the ball. She signed it very nicely, although she looked a little stressed out (who wouldn’t be, after that match!), and Jelena’s coach joked, "Why did you sign it Martina Hingis?". It didn’t get a smile from her, but it got a smile from Jelena.
Jelena’s coach is another very nice guy, and I walked along with them to the bus. He was very friendly, and I talked to him while the other three walked a few steps ahead. Just before he got on the bus, he shook my hand (not the regular way, but the more sporty way where it’s like you’re about to arm wrestle). I said I’d catch them tomorrow, and made my way to the car, still excited from the night’s match.
Tomorrow would see Asa Carlsson take on Erika de Lone, and doubles action where Jelena Kostanic and Tina Pisnik would take on Rika Hiraki and Yuka Yoshida.