Ginepri prevents U.S. shutout in Paris; Sharapova wins
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
PARIS ” Robby Ginepri is easy to spot at the French Open in his oh-so-American getup: black baseball cap turned backward and sleeveless T-shirt.
His game, remarkably, has the feel of someone from somewhere else. He slides across the court comfortably. He plays defense. He waits, patiently, for openings. Even more remarkably, he is into the fourth round at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament, the first man from the United States to reach that stage since Andre Agassi in 2003.
That Ginepri would beat Florent Serra of France 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 Saturday is not necessarily newsworthy, in and of itself. Ginepri is 25 years old, ranked 88th and was a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2005; Serra is 27, ranked 94th and lost in the first or second round at each of the previous 13 major championships he entered.
Yet consider this: A week ago, Ginepri owned an 0-5 record at Roland Garros and a 6-24 career mark on clay. He was ranked 171st in January after losing in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open.
“He is back,” Serra said.
Had Ginepri lost, one day after Venus and Serena Williams were sent home, this French Open would have been only the second Grand Slam event in the 40-year history of the Open era at which zero American men or women reached the fourth round. The only time it happened was at the 1973 Australian Open, where, it must be noted, zero American men or women were in the field.
“Last guy standing. It’s a good feeling,” said Ginepri, who shares coach Jose Higueras with Roger Federer. “I would definitely like to have a lot of the other Americans still in the tournament, of course, but really not trying to let that weigh on my shoulders.”
There are other countries finding far more success.
Despite Serra’s departure, for example, five men from France reached the French Open’s fourth round, something that last occurred in 1971. There also are five Russian women still around, and, coincidentally, four find themselves in the same quarter of the draw, led by No. 1 Maria Sharapova.
She faces No. 13 Dinara Safina for a place in the quarterfinals; the winner will meet No. 7 Elena Dementieva or No. 11 Vera Zvonareva. All won in straight sets Saturday, as did No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and 2006 French Open runner-up, who eliminated yet another Russian, No. 25 Nadia Petrova.
After stumbling through a pair of three-set victories, accumulating 27 double-faults along the way, Sharapova was sharper ” for about a set, anyway. Her 7-6 (4), 6-0 victory over No. 32 Karin Knapp of Italy wasn’t without hiccups, including nine more double-faults, two of which allowed Knapp to break when Sharapova served for the first set at 5-4.
But Sharapova’s serve and other strokes grew sturdier. She hit a high-kicking service winner to get to set point in the tiebreaker, then smacked a cross-court backhand to end it, punctuating the winner with a shriek of “Yeah!” That presaged a strong finish.
“It was like my twin sister was here,” Sharapova said, “and then Maria actually made her flight, and made it for the second set.”
Federer, the No. 1 man, put himself in the second week at the 16th consecutive Slam by beating Mario Ancic 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Ancic was the last player to beat Federer at Wimbledon ” back in 2002, before the Swiss star won any of his 12 major titles ” but has since lost all five of their encounters.
Federer called himself “the overwhelming favorite” going into his match against one of the French Five, 55th-ranked Julien Benneteau, who celebrated his victory over Robin Soderling by tossing his shirt and sneakers into the stands. Other fourth-round matchups include No. 5 David Ferrer vs. No. 21 Radek Stepanek, and France’s Gael Monfils vs. No. 28 Ivan Ljubicic, who erased a two-set deficit to defeat No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
If Ginepri is to reach his second Slam quarterfinal, he will have to beat 2007 Australian Open runner-up Fernando Gonzalez for the first time. Gonzalez, who got past No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets Saturday, won all three previous meetings against Ginepri, though none was on clay.
“I’m going to just keep playing my game the way I have in the last three matches,” Ginepri said, “and hopefully come out on top again.”
He credits his recent turnaround to strategic pointers from Higueras, who guided Michael Chang and Jim Courier to French Open titles, and motivational support from his other coach, Diego Moyano.
“Talking with both of them has really opened up another door with me on the clay court,” said Ginepri, who’s been wearing an odd-looking mix of white and black tape from his right shoulder to his wrist to prevent a triceps injury from acting up. “Before, I really had no clue how to construct points or what type of shots to hit when I was in trouble.”
He limited himself to 18 unforced errors Saturday. Serra had 43.
At 4-4 in the third set, Serra let a 40-15 edge slip away, starting by sailing a forehand long. At deuce, Serra blinked first during a 25-stroke exchange, slapping a forehand into the net. He netted a backhand on the next point to seal the break.
Serving for the match, Ginepri faced three break points ” and saved them all, wrapping up a 6-for-7 day in that category. On his second match point, Ginepri scrambled along the baseline to extend the 12-stroke point until Serra sent a forehand wide.
“I’m staying focused throughout the whole, entire match,” said Ginepri, who calls Kennessaw, Ga., home. “Maybe a couple years ago I would have dropped the third set and tried to pull it out in the fourth. So to get through in three today is a great achievement.”
Even better, of course, would be a berth in the quarterfinals, where Federer could await.
What would Higueras do if his two employers were to play each other?
“If that ‘problem’ occurs,” Federer said, “I think he’s happy.”
Now 40 years old, the downhill racer from Utah is still speeding along with no plans of slowing down anytime soon. Sure, his back sometimes aches but it’s not enough to deter him from chasing after the feeling of a perfect race.