Big noise Kuznetsova drowns out Sharapova
Sharapova will regard it as a match she should have won
Sunday 02 April 2006
The common link between the two biggest wins of her career? Noise and lots of it. If the hubbub of the US Open is usually regarded as the biggest test of a competitor's concentration, a light aircraft which trailed a banner advertising a football tournament as it circled above the court here stretched the nerves of players and public to the limit.
The noise was constant throughout the vital first set and at one stage a spectator shouted out: "Get rid of the airplane!" Sharapova, who failed to build momentum at any stage of the match, raised her arms to applaud the sentiment.
"I think we got the point that there was a soccer match going on," Sharapova said afterwards. "It only circled about 50 times. It was pretty weird." Kuznetsova sensed that Sharapova had been upset by the noise but said she tried to put it out of her mind. "It was pretty annoying but I knew I mustn't lose my concentration," she said.
The plane left at the start of the second set, but by then the world No 14 was in full flight. After a gruelling week in which she had already beaten current and former world No 1s in Amélie Mauresmo and Martina Hingis and reached the semi-finals of the doubles, she had said that the first set would be crucial.
Kuznetsova has always been a powerful striker of the ball, but all too often there have been too many misses and not enough hits. She has deliberately taken weight off some of her shots in the search for accuracy, and the good length she regularly found denied Sharapova the chance to attack. At the same time her bludgeoning forehand remained a potent weapon.
Three successive breaks of serve left Kuznetsova 4-2 ahead in the first set as Sharapova, making uncharacteristic mistakes, struggled to put together more than two good points in a row. The former Wimbledon champion saved a set point at 5-2 and broke back to 5-4, but two errors at the end of the next game gave Kuznetsova the set.
Kuznetsova broke serve in the fourth game of the second set and served out for victory, which she completed with an ace, as she had at the 2004 US Open. It was her third win in five matches against Sharapova, who had won their two previous meetings. "Physically it was very difficult to keep up with Svetlana today," Sharapova said. "I just couldn't keep up with that pace."
Today's men's final brings together the two must successful players in the world this year. Ivan Ljubicic's record of 25 wins in 28 matches is bettered only by Roger Federer, who has lost just once in 28. But Federer has beaten the Croatian in all six of their meetings in the last 15 months, including a quarter-final in Indian Wells a fortnight ago when he dropped just five games.
Both men were in excellent form in the semi-finals. Ljubicic, who would jump two places to No 6 in the world with victory, beat David Nalbandian 6-1 6-2 in an hour and 12 minutes, hitting 12 aces and winning 24 of 25 points on his first serve. Federer beat David Ferrer 6-1 6-4 in under an hour. The Swiss played some stunning tennis, including several rasping forehand crosscourt winners and audacious drop shots from the back of the court.
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