Martínez Sánchez's creativity scores Italian Open win
I just cleared some space in my tennis video library for a Spanish woman named
Few will take heed. Even if budding players became fascinated by Martínez Sánchez' wildly creative mixture of slices, drop shots and angles, their coaches probably turned off the television within a rally or two. Variety? Ingenuity? Something other than a punishing groundstroke from the baseline
In truth, there is much to distrust in Martinez Sánchez's left-handed game. Her two-handed backhand is little more than a stab, with only a hint of backswing or follow-through. Her forehand, strictly critiqued, lacks authority. For a player who specializes in doubles (quarterfinal appearances in all four majors over the years), she has little rhythm or power behind her overhead, basically pushing the ball to the desired location.
What Martínez Sánchez unveiled in the final, a 7-6, 7-5 victory over
It's probably a good thing that the tour isn't entirely populated by four-named eccentrics who defy every coaching tenet from Moscow to Fort Lauderdale. But how wonderful to see such ingenuity even once -- and her performance was a week-long masterpiece.
This had been a crazy tournament from the time the draw got serious. Jankovic absolutely destroyed
"I was just saying, 'Please get in the court,'" Jankovic said later. "I can't even remember what happened, but I did win the point, and it was amazing." As Serena described it, "I was looking at that serve and thinking, 'Man, that's great!' She played an incredibly lucky shot, a framer. But I don't want to be a person that dwells."
That was the first of two occasions on which Serena failed to serve out the match. "I completely choked," she said. "I wasn't unlucky; it was all on me. I think I had an apple in my throat."
There was a touchy moment in the third-set tiebreaker when Serena served an ace, to go up 3-0, and Jankovic claimed she hadn't been ready to receive. Because she hadn't given a hand signal to the chair umpire, her protest was disallowed. Later on, with Jankovic serving, a point
Oh, for God's sake.
Back to the present: Jankovic looked puzzled for a second or two, as if to ponder Serena's words, then joyfully pranced toward the enter of the court to celebrate a most remarkable achivement: joining that highly distinguished list of players --
If Serena had finished off Jankovic, we would have taken yet another trip back in controversial time. In the third round of last year's French Open, with Martínez Sánchez approaching the net, Serena unleashed a powerful backhand that appeared to bounce off Sánchez' right arm -- not her racket -- and landed on Williams' side of the net. The chair umpire didn't notice the violation, and when Sanchez didn't concede the point -- the honorable thing to do -- Serena was furious.
When it comes to Serena's temper -- generally held in check behind a very genuine foundation of sportsmanship -- this incident became a prelude to her notorious outburst at last year's U.S. Open. As the television cameras zeroed in on Williams during a changeover, she very clearly said, "I'm going to get you (Martínez Sanchez) in the locker room for that. You don't know me."
The crucial thing to remember is that Serena was looking straight ahead, essentially talking to herself, with Martínez Sánchez unaware. But it was a distinct bit of fury from Serena, who later claimed in her press conference that Martínez Sánchez was a "cheat."
OK, are we leaving Club Catty? Let's get back to the canvas, made of clay, where Martínez Sánchez so brilliantly dispatched Jankovic. At the age of 27, Martínez Sánchez has elevated her ranking to a career-best No. 19, while making major news in her homeland. You wouldn't be surprised to see four Spaniards contest the semifinals at any men's event on clay, but this was the first notable singles win by a Spanish woman since
Martínez Sánchez carved it out in a swirl of suspense: drop volleys, half-volleys, cross-court winners punched from severely restrictive angles. Her backhand drop shot is a study in deception: the racket brought back quickly, as if to crush a groundstroke, only to dissolve into a feathery little snowflake, often coming to rest just inches beyond the net. Jankovic managed to return a few of these, but just as many found her flailing, and they
"It was really difficult," Jankovic admitted. "She plays very differently than most girls, and she's left-handed. She mixes up her game, doesn't have just one weapon. She's tricky with all these things she does."
True to her nature, Martínez Sánchez mixed some surprises into her post-match speech to the crowd, whimsically drifting between English, Italian (earnest applause) and her native Spanish. Later, in the interview room, she said a most important thing: "When I was small,
It turns out there was one young girl, in Spain, who was entranced. She's now at the peak of her game, a champion of radical thought. I'm sure I won't watch the Martínez Sánchez-Jankovic tape as often as say,