Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sania Mirza survives scare at US Open

Sania Mirza, the first Indian woman to be seeded at the US Open, made good use of her dreaded forehand to see off Estonia's Kaia Kanepi in a first round match that gave her fans several anxious moments.

The 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1 victory at the Grandstand court that sent Mirza into the second round wasn't the easy romp the 20-year-old Hyderabadi had expected.

Mirza, dressed in red and white, had begun well, oozing confidence as she broke Kanepi in the third game of the first set.

The no. 26 seed was serving well and Kanepi seemed to wilt away as her returns increasingly found their way into the net.

The two hadn't met before and the Estonian's game, suited more for claycourts, had no answers for Mirza's forehand. Another break in the sixth game found Mirza serving for the set at 5-2.

Kanepi saved a setpoint and thanks to an inopportune double-fault by Mirza had a breakpoint. And then another. But Mirza recovered to win the set in less than 30 minutes.

Mirza hadn't lost a first round match in nine straight hardcourt tournaments and it seemed the record would be safely extended.


Unforced errors continued to pile up for Kanepi as she handed Mirza a break in the third game of the second set.

But the sixth game marked a turning point in the match as Kanepi, adjusting to Mirza's game, produced an array of shots to hold her serve. And then promptly broke Mirza in the next game.

With Sania's game unravelling and the momentum swinging Kanepi's way, the unseeded Estonian held her serve to go 4-3 up. And then 5-4.

The experienced Indian, who reached the Last 16 here two years ago, showed no sign of nerves as she served to save the set. An ace and a well-timed topspin lob was followed by an unlucky double-fault. Even under pressure - Kanepi was two points from the set - Mirza stuck to her guns and produced a textbook forehand shot and then an ace to even out the second set at five games apiece.

Kanepi, who seemed to be giving Mirza a taste of her own medicine with some smoking forehands, took control of the tie-breaker two games later, quickly going 6-3 up. The Indian saved the first setpoint with a killer serve. An error cost the Estonian the second. But an unforced error on Kanepi's serve by Mirza sent the match into the deciding set.

A dejected Mirza stepped up the pressure, displaying some good foot movement to win the first game of the third set.

Th momentum had swung Mirza's way again. She won the next 3 games as well - with Kanepi double-faulting on breakpoint to leave Mirza serving at 4-0.

Mirza made full use of her forehand - the best weapon in her arsenal. Her successful stint playing doubles also seemed to help, making her react faster at the net and adding to her confidence as the match progressed.

The fifth game was decided by errors. Mirza double-faulted thrice but still won - thanks to unforced mistakes by the 22-year-old Estonian.

Kanepi came up with an ace to get on the scoreboard in the next game. But Mirza wasn't about to let her come back into the match. She quickly set up two matchpoints on her serve and whooped as a Kanepi return hit the net. It had taken Mirza an hour and 40 minutes to make it safely to the second round.

She now faces American Laura Granville, an experienced player with a solid game but not a forehand like Mirza. But the Indian can't afford to lose concentration like she did in her hiccup against Kanepi.

Mirza finished with 28 winners and an astonishing 32 unforced errors. Her 8 aces were more than compensated for by an equal number of double-faults. In the end, experience counted and Kanepi was sent packing. But Mirza's next opponent might just capitalise on these mistakes so the Indian should watch out.

Mirza's opponents in the coming rounds

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