French Open: Hantuchova ends Wozniacki’s Slam hopes
The draw was blown wide open as Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur joined Kim Clijsters on the plane home
It was the opening day of the third round in Paris and the first time that the seeds got to face one another in their bid for French Open glory.
Play started on the two show courts with each of last year’s two women finalists in action. Francesca Schiavone on Suzanne Lenglen and Sam Stosur on Philippe Chatrier, and both arenas were to take their share of the day’s drama.
It was not Schiavone against No29 Shuai Peng who got the keyboards rattling. The current champion played a solid first set and then watched the increasingly sick Chinese woman retire early in the second.
The same crowd was then treated to a match barely 10 minutes longer than the first, though it was adequate compensation – a Roger Federer master-class that conceded just eight games to Janko Tipsarevic.
It was, however, the third match that was destined to make the closing day’s headlines. It featured top seed Caroline Wozniacki aiming to win her first Slam, and things had seemed to be working in her favour.
Both the Williams sisters were absent with injury and Kim Clijsters was beaten in Round Two, so Wozniacki was already guaranteed to retain the No1 ranking after Paris.
She also came into Roland Garros on the back of her fourth title of the year, on the clay of Brussels. But if she thought her biggest challenges lay in the second week in the shape of Julia Goerges or Stosur, she could not have been more wrong.
Both those women were tipped to go deep into the draw but both had already fallen. In fact, Wozniacki’s biggest challenge stood on the opposite side of the net in the tall, slim shape of Daniela Hantuchova.
There had been warning signs that the 28-year-old former world No5 from Slovakia was coming back into form. She came close to beating Schiavone in Rome and reached the semis in Strasbourg last week. So when Hantuchova turned it on, it should not have been too much of a surprise. It was the Wozniacki response that silenced the crowd.
Hantuchova rushed to a 6-1 first set, helped not a little by an uninspiring Wozniacki who looked as insecure in her tactics and shot-making as she had in staving off Aleksandra Wozniack in a close second-set tight-breaker in the previous round.
Indeed, the Dane did not make a winner in the entire first set compared with 15 from Hantuchova: proof, if it were needed, of which player was going for her shots.
The top seed summoned some resistance in the second set, making her first winner in the second game and pulling back one break of serve from 4-0 down. But the Slovak showed more steel than she has often done in the past to break again for a 6-3 match-winning set.
Hantuchova will next face Svetlana Kuznetsova, who took the most convincing victory of the day, a 49-minute trouncing of Rebecca Marino.
The 13th-seeded Russian, winner of the 2009 French title, is a woman who rises to the challenge on the big occasion and this is her favourite Major: She also reached the final here in 2006 and the semis in 2008.
And looking at the rest of this quarter of the draw, she has suddenly become one of the chief contenders -unless Hantuchova can keep the steel and the accuracy she showed against Wozniacki.
The reason this quarter has opened up such possibilities is down to the other results on a day that constantly threatened storms from Paris’s leaden-grey skies. The rain held off, but the mood felt heavy, and no-one personified that mood more than Stosur.
The Australian was a finalist last year and a semi-finalist the year before. What’s more, she came to this year’s event having beaten Schiavone and then Li Na in Rome with some blistering tennis. She had also turned around a match in Madrid against today’s opponent, Gisela Dulko, after losing a first set.
But Stosur seemed straight away to struggle both with the cool conditions and with the Argentine’s pummelling to her forehand. Dulko opened with a four-game run before Stosur got on the board.
Despite being broken back when serving at 5-2, Dulko continued to be aggressive on her returns of the Stosur serve, especially with her off-forehand, and another succession of errors from Stosur handed Dulko a love service game for the set, 6-4.
The Australian gritted her teeth and produced some energetic play to run through a 6-1 second set, but still her error count was high and that would become her downfall.
Dulko broke to lead 2-1 in the third but a double fault handed back the break. However, the Australian continued to let errors fly. Her movement looked unsteady and she seemed unable to defend her extreme forehand wing: 27 of her 35 unforced errors were on that side.
In a collapse reminiscent of Clijsters the day before, Stosur handed Dulko the chance to serve out the match at 5-3 and she did so with ease, appropriately taking the set with a botched forehand reach from Stosur.
The unseeded Argentine put on an impressive, attacking performance to take out her second top-20 player in Paris, but she now faces No11 seed, Marion Bartoli.
The French woman was equally impressive in beating one of the outside favourites for the title, Julia Goerges, and she leads the head-to-head against Dulko by four wins to none.
Bartoli’s aggressive style also whips up the vociferous home crowd: It will be a difficult combination for the Argentine woman to master. But she has an incentive of her own.
Dulko missed out on the birth of her first nephew and niece the day before in Buenos Aires. “I was emotional because I would love to have been there, but I’m here. It was one of my most important matches, and that’s why I made a towel for them,” she said. And she proudly held it aloft as she celebrated a famous win.
With five of the eight seeds gone from this segment, Dulko suddenly seems to have as good a shot at that semi-final place as any of them.