Kirilenko: Mentally tough and physically buff
As Day 6 of the French Open came to a nerve-jangling conclusion beneath the darkening Paris sky, incredibly competitive WTA matches were featured all over the grounds.
While this is not a rare occurrence on the Grand Slam circuit, there are some pundits who can't seem to find enough negative things to say about the women's tour these days. Over the last year, we have read about how the rankings are a farce, how the game lacks gritty day-in-and-day-out battlers, and how the top players are susceptible to upsets because of their aversion to commitment and their interest in attaining celebrity and entrepreneurial status.
And you know what? Some of it may be true. At least the part about the upsets. Oh yeah, and the rankings could use a tweak or two. But more than likely the fact that there is so much negativity is the result of a media that sees criticism as it's preferred mode of operation.
Take the Henin-Clijsters semifinal in Miami, that was labeled by the media as a "chokefest." I saw this match as highly entertaining and dramatic. Sure there were a high number of errors in the thrilling see-saw battle between two of the game's all time greats, but only because the match was played aggressively, with very little margin for error, and both players aiming for the lines and trying to outhit the other.
And this isn't the only example of WTA-bashing by the media.
Pete Bodo, in this piece for ESPN, said that Sam Stosur is the closest thing the WTA has to a good role model. I think he's right to praise Stosur (and for the record, I love Pete Bodo as a tennis writer), but must it really be at the expense of the rest of the WTA? By implying that Stosur is the 'closest thing' to a real role model, isn't he also implying that the WTA doesn't really have a role model? And how should fans feel about that?
I'm not so sure.
But I am sure that I found eight role models today, and they were all on court at the same time, playing wildly entertaining matches like their collective lives depended on the outcome.
I found Nadia Petrova and Aravane Rezai playing in what has to be the best match of the whole tournament so far. And it's still not over. Did anyone else watch this match? Talk about electricity. This one felt like a Grand Slam final - and it is only the third round!
I found Alexsandra Wozniak nearly pulling off the upset of the tournament, but finally falling short to a bandaged yet determined Elena Dementieva, who sank to the clay when her victory was finally won.
I found feisty Maria Kirilenko, whose racquet looks almost bigger than her entire body, playing perhaps the best match of her entire career against defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who, true to form, made Kirilenko play her best tennis of the day to finally get the job done.
Finally, I found a bundle of energy named Francesca Schiavone and a mean go-for-broke ball striker named Na Li, engaged in a match that was a hell of a lot closer than the scoreline indicates.
In these four matches I found everything I could ever want in a role model: Strength, determination, power, intensity, courage, emotion, and the unquenchable desire to compete.
Needless to say, the fans at Roland Garros must have found something too - they certainly weren't screaming all over the grounds because they wanted to go home.