The French girl was good, but the Swiss girl was better. Sweet, too, nice, friendly, best nature on the women’s circuit.
In the quarter-finals at the French Open, Timea Bacsinszky stopped the Cinderella run by the tournament darling, Kristina Mladenovic, in two tightly fought sets, 6-4, 6-4.
Mr. Pleszczynski and I go strictly by the fair-and-accurate book in sportswriting, so I must explain the lead. I would not even use the first person singular, let alone talk about an athlete’s personality, but you have to know what Timea Bacsinszky, Switzerland’s greatest woman tennis star, was up against at the court central at Chatrier yesterday. She had the whole stadium against her, just like her compatriot Stan Wawrinka a day earlier. French fans are fair, they cheer and clap strong points by either side, but you should hear them screaming their heads off when it’s one of theirs who is on. You can understand: we Americans know what a championship drought is like in tennis, so who are we to talk. But, whew.
Fair and accurate: Kristina Mladenovic, a slim strong blond beauty from Normandy, Serbian parents with sports background, brother a pro soccer player, she has solid genes for a champ. But she was carrying the weight of local expectations, especially as the men crashed out one after another, the great Gael Monfils going down in flames in the third after two heroic sets when he tried his to unsettle the mighty Stan (see yesterday’s dispatch) and only unsettled himself with some crazy notion to vary his game when he knows perfectly well, or ought to, what his game is.
Plus Kiki, as they call their heroine, had the wind and the cold and the rain. But conditions are impartial. Kiki is a nickname, not a name name as with Miss Bertens, the Dutch star whom California teen CiCi Bellis — also a nickname, they all have nicknames — upset last week.
Plenty of folks thought the long rain interruption would tip the scales for her after she lost the first set. She likes delays, uses arguments over line calls to upset the other girls’ momentum. She did this against Shelby Rogers and Jen Brady in earlier rounds and, fair fandom, the otherwise partisan crowds objected with grumblings and waves of murmurs. “They forgive her when she wins,” my pal Bruce, an American observer, noted, “but they know she’s testing the ump’s patience.”
Timea, notwithstanding she broke my heart beating Venus (whoops, there goes my impartiality again), is so nice you have to love her. She says, “They’re not against me, they’re for her.” How decent can you get? She carries a bag with an Eiffel Tower logo and the inscription “C’est la vie,” what could better speak for the courage of a girl who had, by all accounts, a grueling childhood due to a father of the Hungarian Jewish background who pushed her hard (they do, they do, alas; consider why so many genius orchestra conductors are of that same stock) to learn the sport. Finally she had enough and struck out on her own, worked in the hotel and restaurant business (nice life if you can get it, in Switzerland, cute little mountain villages and all) but returned to tennis, and are we lucky she did.
Two days shy of 28, she is one of the best hopes to take over from Serena and Venus as the leader of the Tour, if they ever retire, which I hope they do not (my impartiality is shot anyway today, so). She is the best counterpuncher in this tournament but she turns her defense into shock offense, stepping up the pace at will. She serves steady, pulls out the big one over the alley to set up a serve-and-one winner, gets the clutch ace, as she did to close the first set. She never quits. And she stays happy, generous to her opponents.
It was getting downright cold after the three-hour rain delay, they both went at it with energy, eager to stay warm and get it done. Timea got hotter, sure. She took up where she had left off and went right into the match again, always more pace and pressure. She broke Kiki in the seventh game, at love, that was enough.
Held on game point in the eighth as Miss Mladenovic began to visibly falter (she plays a hard baseline game, too). There was another rain delay, too short to be a nuisance. The sun came out, Miss Mladenovic was determined to hold and did so despite a double fault — made up for it with an excellent cross court play on the serve-and-one that Timea could only push into the net. But it was hers to win now, and did she ever.
The lead went to Miss B., then she lost it and Kiki got the advantage, wasted it with an ordinary baseline shot to the net. Nervous, she tried to slice her way back into the ad but Timea was having none of that. She sliced forehands right back, stayed steady in the baseline rally, match point.
They again went into a baseline rally with increasing pace set by Timea, who suddenly sent a soft drop shot over the net. Kiki’s long legs and speed caught it, and it looked like she had a great passing shot as Timea had followed her play to the net. But she is fast too, and she made a great backhand to get it over again and Kiki — these things happen — had a clear volley to pass again but she sent it into the alley.
Who knows? Swiss trophies in both draws? They sure look good enough, Timea and Stan.
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