Sabine Lisicki, right before crumpling to the court and being taken away on a stretcher (above).

Sabine Lisicki is better than world #120 whatever, and before her injury ravaged 2010, she was around 20 something, which is appropriate, considering that she has one of the biggest serves in the women’s game, and she knows how to play.  That long face of Vera Zvonareva’s today probably began when she took a look at the draw and realized that she had Lisicki in the 2nd round.  It couldn’t have been that she was stuck out on an odd court, because that would never bother Zvonareva.  Lisicki did bother her, and she took the first set, in a lot more dominant fashion than the 6-4 score line would indicate.

It seemed we were on the way to an upset special.  But no so fast.  Zvonareva re-grouped and pulled out the second set 7-5, and at that point the Zvonareva fan has to be feeling pretty good.  Vera, a talented player and hard worker, is definitely closer to 7th or 9th in the world, when all the ladies who should be in the mix are.  Maybe she is even better than we are giving her credit for, and we are fans.  Big ones.  She plays the right way.  She has a transition game, absent from so many.  She never gets too down, even if sometimes, she doesn’t smile.  And we’ve seen her pull out plenty of matches she has looked bad in.  Plenty.

Then she goes down 5-2 in the 3rd and she’s facing an MP and we are cursing up a storm.  Not at Zvonareva.  At Roland Garros.  The place where the best rarely wins and where grotesque upsets reign.  The courts are terrible.  They look gross.  They are gross.  If we have to see Roger Federer whiffing on forehands and stumbling around, that says it all.  Zvonareva looked terrible today.  And we are thinking, there goes another great talent who deserved better than an early upset here.  Lucky for her, terrible often wins here.  Even down a match point, she steeled herself, got it together, managed a hold and a break when Lisicki could have closed her out.  Before you know it, it’s 5-5 and Lisicki has the trainers out, having her blood pressure taken and getting worked pretty good on her left thigh.

Zvonareva, who served next, could have been very vulnerable there.  The match’s flow is interrupted right before a big service game.  As a player, you’d much rather have served before that kind of break than have to right after.  Zvonareva didn’t blink.  She sat for a brief time, then went and worked on her serve, practicing for a few balls.  Then she did some foot work drills along the back wall of the court, shadowed her forehand and backhand, and swung freely to keep her serve loose, doing the whole overhead, service lasso motion.

At points during the match, on changeovers and whatnot, Lisicki took a bite of a banana and drank some colorful energy drink.  Zvonareva just sat there with a towel over her head.  Eat all the bananas you want.  It doesn’t mean you are ready for a 65 minute set of tennis after already playing foor an hour and three quarters.  Zvonareva was ready when play resumed, won 4 quick points, then got out to a nice lead in Lisicki’s last service game, and took the match.  She didn’t even smile when she was done.

Despite getting out-winnered by more than two to one, and serving a good twenty kmphs slower on 1st and 2nd serve, and being all but out of the match, Zvonareva took 17 of 22 points at net, kept her errors down, and in a tough section of the draw for this watered down event, lives to see Anastasia Rodionova in round 3. 

And unfortunately for Lisicki, when they took her out on a stretcher in the end, it was she who had the towels covering her head.  4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

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