I just love watching these two athletes compete. I love it more than just watching their tennis, to be honest. If I had to choose a player from the WTA or the ATP to play one match for my life I would pick these two without hesitation. That's not necessarily because I think they're the best tennis players who could beat anyone across the net, especially based on their form at the moment.
I would choose Masha and Rafa because they compete on every point regardless of the situation. Put them on a tiny court in a parking lot with used balls, wooden racquets, and no crowd, and they would fight until the end. Even if they lost I would die knowing that they fought for every point until the last. There is no fatalism with them, there is no "It's just not my day", there is no "I just don't have it today". Much like I said about Fran the other day, their ability to compete can pull their level up and they will make the effort regardless of whether it's a Slam final or a game of foosball at a bar.
Masha was solid through a set and two games, winning the first 62 and going ahead 2-0 in the second. Then the wind started to kick up a bit on Stadium Court and Masha's serve went wonky. As the serve goes, so does Masha's game, and Peng, who's had a quietly fantastic 2011 season (with wins over Fran, Sveta, and JJ) was able to capitalize with her aggressive game and even the match.
And that's when the competitor dialed it up to 11. Down break point at 2-3 in the third set, Masha would step in to hit a gutsy inside-out backhand winner to save it, and then follow up with two more clean winners to seal the game. From there it was pedal to the metal, as she took control of the match and reeled off the next 3 game to seal the match, 63 in the third, fist-pumping and come-on-ing all the while to keep herself positive and in the match. It was awesome to watch.
"It's realizing the situation and battling through no matter how good or bad you were playing, and knowing that you still have many points an games ahead of you and just make the most out of it. Yeah, there's no reason why - if you did it for that period of time in the beginning, there's no reason why you can't continue it. I knew that in my mind."
Ah, the power of the mind. I think Charlie Sheen talked about it but I'm way more convinced by Masha's take. Masha gets Caro on Friday night for a spot in the finals.
For the second straight night, Rafa was tested and came out on top despite not playing his best. Rafa's form has been far from brilliant this week. He seems to be struggling with his timing and the desert conditions. But great champions find a way to win and Rafa is nothing if not one of the greatest champions of all time. After dropping the first set 57, he would play some fantastic tennis to race to a 5-0 lead in the second, closing it out at 62. But his level dipped in the third and Ivo did what he did best: He served bombs. When asked what it's like to return Ivo's serve, Rafa likened them to penalty shots.
Forced into a decisive third-set tiebreaker, Rafa buckled down and returned fantastically well, building a 5-2 lead before finally closing it out 9-7. His reaction said it all:
Pull up a chair, kids. This is how champs get it done. He'll get Delpo on Saturday. Delpo's beaten him the last three times they've played. Juicy.
(Pics: Getty, Reuters)