French teen will be in spotlight one day
You may not have heard of Arantxa Rus and Caroline Garcia, but you will in the future — particularly the one who didn't win as a dramatic day unfolded on Philippe Chatrier Center Court in the French Open.
In the shock of the tournament so far, Rus, a 20-year-old from the Dutch town of Monster scored a monster of an upset by ousting No. 2 seed Kim Clijsters 3-6, 7-5, 6-1. Later in the day, Maria Sharapova was in grave danger of heading the same way against Garcia, a 17-year-old French girl who completely outplayed the former world No. 1 for more than an hour to lead by a set and two breaks in the second.
Rus is good, but Garcia is destined for greatness.
The way she cracked winners all over the court, especially off her pounding forehand, had Sharapova grasping at air. Lithe and long-legged, Garcia looks as a good a prospect as there is in the teenage ranks at the moment.
Sharapova was extremely relieved to be able to hang in there long enough to turn the match around. The fact she ran off 11 straight games should not diminish the brand of tennis that Garcia had produced earlier in the match. For long periods, Sharapova was merely a spectator.
Andy Murray tweeted that Garcia was destined to become world No. 1, and Martina Navratilova said, "She has the goods." Asked on Tennis Channel if she was looking at Garcia the way she had looked at Steffi Graf at the same age, Navratilova replied, "Absolutely!"
The match turned because Garcia's serve started to lose a little of its sting and her ground strokes carried a touch less pace toward the end of the second set. Sharapova admitted she had been flustered at the beginning.
"The wind was difficult, and it affected me, definitely," she said. "And she was playing really well. She served well and was aggressive, hitting great shots. But when I was able to relax a bit and get my feet moving, it changed. You know I'll never give up out there because a match is never over until the last point."
Garcia, who was born just outside Paris to a Spanish father and French mother, giggled when she realized she would have to answer some questions in the press conference in English. She managed alright but was relieved to use a translator when Mary Carillo started firing questions at her.
"Yes, I have a dream to be No. 1 and it gives me pleasure to hear great champions saying those things about me," she said.
Garcia said that Sharapova began hitting harder when she seized control of the match. But, even toward the end, as double faults started to creep in, Garcia never looked over-awed.
"At the beginning I was just concentrating on my game," she said. "I forgot about who I was playing. I didn't think about my opponent."
In the end, she was forced to because the heavy ground strokes that had enabled Sharapova to win the Italian title in Rome 11 days ago started opening up the court and the crowd's support began to wane. The fact some saw fit to boo the Russian was mindless because Sharapova, despite the screech, conducted herself with complete professionalism. She just looked very focused and very determined to win, and that proved too much for the teenager in the end.
Rus, despite her first name, has no Spanish heritage. Her parents, both low-key people who prefer to stay in the background, chose Arantxa simply because they liked the name. Good choice because, although their tall daughter does not play much like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, she has the ability to become a very good tennis player.
However, it must be said that Clijsters contributed to her own defeat after she had missed two match points at 5-2 in the second set.
"I felt I was in control and then I started doubting a little bit," said Clijsters who has been out of the game with an ankle injury sustained on the dance floor. "On clay, that's definitely the wrong attitude to have. It put me on the back foot, and in the third set I really couldn't play my aggressive tennis anymore."
She tried, but Clijsters just kept trying to hit winners and Rus, becoming more aggressive herself, found far greater consistency off the ground and ultimately deserved a famous victory.
Vania King maintained America's interest in the women's singles by recovering from a first-set reverse to defeat Scotland's Elena Baltacha 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
On the men's side, Mardy Fish reached the third round of the French Open for the first time with a fine 7-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over Holland's Robin Haase. There was disappointment for Sam Querrey who played a good first set against the veteran Croat, Ivan Ljubicic but then found himself out hit off the ground and pinned back his opponent's heavy serve. Ljubicic, who was a surprise ATP Masters Series winner at Indian Wells last year, came through in style 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Scotland still had a winner, despite Baltacha's loss, as Andy Murray handled the wind better than the Italian, Simone Bolelli to win 7-6, 6-4, 7-5. Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Rafael Nadal had an easier time against Spanish compatriot Pablo Andujar than he had against John Isner in the first round and came through 7-5, 6-3, 7-6. Nadal is still not at his best, but he has time to improve.