"Well, I kind of broke my racquet and then kind of cried a little bit. (Smiling.) And then I was okay."
Gosh. Where do I start. Deep breath. Sorry if this is really long. I just feel like a lot of people are curious as to what happened in this match and since no one could watch it and there weren't that many journalists courtside, I want to try and get it right. I feel like I owe it to both players. It was a great match.
Here we go.
While her doubles partner was on Stadium Court relying on her fitness to outlast JJ, Ana was wilting on Court 2 in a match that only the 2,500 people sitting courtside were able to watch. It's a damn shame this match wasn't streamed. I know Ana fans are carrying a heavy heart today, and if you're like me, that heavy heart feels more like a pit in your stomach this morning. But if you were able to see the match, you'd have a sense of pride, too.
She played well, you guys. REALLY REALLY WELL. For two and a half sets, Ana was absolutely flawless against Kim. Sure, she dropped that first set 76(4) but the point count? Kim: 37, Ana 36. Kim wasn't at her best in this match, but at least in the first set she was on her B+ game, dictating with her forehand and running Ana corner to corner just to stay in rallies. For her part, Ana was serving well, repeatedly holding at love or 15.
Uh oh, right? I was ready for a 61 set for Kim after that. The kid worked so hard in that first set, played at a high level, and still got nipped in the end. Time for the inevitable letdown.
But no. She came out of the gate with an ace, saving a break point to hold and race to a 3-0 lead. When she needed a big serve she usually got it, either with a service winner or short return that she put away with her forehand. Not only was she playing remarkably well, but she was emotionally contained throughout. There were no ajdes, there were no racquet swipes at the ground. A few silent fistpumps to herself, turn around, and go again. As Kim's level dipped just a tick, Ana ran away with it. Next thing you knew, Ana had the second set 6-3. No screams, no squeals. Just a quiet fistpump to herself, a steely look to her box, and a purposeful walk to the chair. It was so badass, which isn't a word I use to describe Ana, like, EVER.
"She was playing really well. I mean, it's been a long time since I've seen her play like that: playing aggressive, serving well. You know, she's tough to beat, so if she can keep that up..."
Kicking off the third set. I had already made up my mind that I was happy no matter how it turned out. I was really proud of Ana's performance here but I think we all knew that if Kim could pick up her level a little bit she'd find her way out of it. Kim's A-game is better than Ana's A-game. There was no reason to think Kim couldn't find her way back.
But sometimes I forget that as awesome as Kim is, she's still Kim. She's prone to sudden dips of form that come out of nowhere. Sure enough, she was pretty much crap for most of that third set. Rolling backhands into the net, double faulting all over the place, and coming up with panicked shot-selection at the oddest times. At one point she hit a backhand from the baseline that hit the strings but actually bounced twice before it hit the net. It was nuts. As Kim was falling apart, Ana maintained her level and built a 5-1 lead.
And that's when things got...interesting.
First of all, you know how I was saying Ana was emotionally contained throughout the match? Well after hitting a forehand winner to secure the 5-1 lead, she finally let it all out:
I was live-tweeting the match courtside and I think I was doing a pretty good job of not getting ahead of myself for much of the match. But at 5-1, just like Ana, I let loose:
And there it is. Two people on Court 2, one person on court, one person off-court, allowing themselves, even if for a brief moment, the indulgence to hope. Hope. Huh. Where have I heard that word before.
Kim came out to serve at 1-5 and looked like she wanted to go home and play with Jada. Through a slew of unforced errors, Ana found herself suddenly looking at 0-40, triple match point. Then, all of a sudden, Kim decided to play tennis again. She served those points really well and set up a series of one-two punch points that didn't give Ana a chance. Kim would save four match points in that game to hold to 5-2.
"I think because I've been on the tour for many years, you realize that you have to keep trying until the last point is played. In tennis, that's sometimes probably the frustrating part about it. But in my situation now, the good thing about it is that it's never over until that last shot is played. And, again, you know, even if it's 5-1, Okay, you start a game 0-0. She has to win four points. So you just try to work your way into it. And you do feel when your opponent starts to be a little less aggressive, starts to make a few more easier mistakes. You see her look at the sideline a little bit more. Those kind of things do -- I notice that, and I think that's what gave me a little bit of a, like, Ah, you know, maybe there is a little chance.
If she would have served a couple of aces and then hit some really good forehands, then, you know, too good. But I was trying not to give it to her that easily. I was trying to just try and go for that backhand, and she hit a couple of short ones. Then I went for it on match point a couple times with my forehand."
I know a lot of people are going to want to say that Ana choked this match away. I'm not saying that you're wrong, but I'm also not willing to completely buy into that take of the match either. Kim really did play those 4 MPs well. She won them.
"You know, I just felt like I couldn't do much different. She really served well and played well on those. On my service games I didn't get any match points, and I do feel like I created chances. But, you know, many times in 30-All or important points, she played really well and, you know, got lucky with a few lines. Just really, really tough."
To the extent Ana choked, I think it was in her first chance to serve for the match at 5-2. She played some *very* tentative tennis in that game and gave Kim the opportunity to take control of the rallies and run her ragged until she missed.
"I think she got a little tentative towards the end to try and finish it off, and it gave me some chances to, you know, just stay in the match and try not to overplay, try not to make too many unforced errors."
Kim would break there and hold again (saving a MP) to 4-5. It was clear at this point that she had decided to switch tactics. For most of the match she was going for winners. She was the aggressor, working to put away short balls. That worked well in the first set, but she had been missing badly in the second and third. Now, with the pressure on Ana, Kim backed off, choosing instead to play backboard to force Ana into going for two much. The Rope-A-Dope worked. Ana had to work so hard from corner to corner and she was basically punching herself into exhaustion. I never see Ana out-of-breath for prolonged periods of time. But by 5-4 she was sucking air between every point. Her legs looked heavy, she was practically panting, and she was shooting worried/stressed/freaked out looks at Darren and Olivier after every point.
"I felt on my service game in the third set kind of my legs kind of, you know, left me a little bit. Tried to generate more power with my arm, and then started to force it a little more. So I couldn't generate as much power because I couldn't jump anymore.... You know, the way the year started in Australia, I got injured in my abdominal and it was kind of dragging on a little so I couldn't practice. So physically I really wasn't 100% there. Just tried to work hard."
I keep pretty detailed, point by point match notes when I know I'm going to have to write it up.
"5-5. No legs. Running on guts. It's over."
That's the last thing I wrote.
The serve that had carried Ana throughout the match was gone. Exhausted, she was panicking early, pulling the trigger at inopportune times and going for outright winners that she was just too tired to hit properly. The misses mounted, and despite Ana's valiant attempts to will herself to the win (she came back from 3-1 down in the breaker to level it at 5-5), Kim was just too steady. Game, Set, Match, Clijsters, 76(4) 36 76(5).
"It is very hard [to accept]. You should see my racquet. (Smiling.) But you know, I really felt like I haven't done much wrong, you know. I had my opportunities, and she played some really good tennis. You know, a few occasions got a little bit lucky as well. You know, I fought hard, and I felt I stayed throughout the whole match. I stayed with her and I created opportunities for myself. Just very disappointed to lose like that.
I think no matter what the ranking says, I think she's the hottest player at the moment. You know, it was gonna be a good test for me, and I managed to stay out there with her physically and also to create opportunities and create lots of match points for myself. That's a very positive thing for me to take from here, becaue, you know, coming into Indian Wells and Miami, honestly I wasn't feeling great physically. So to come all that way and challenge myself against, you know, best player, it's a good thing."
It is a good thing. They say that success come when preparation meets opportunity. Ana had the opportunity. She just didn't have the preparation. It's been a tough year of battling injuries that have kept her off the court and out of the gym. She simply hasn't been able to get her body into tip-top shape to compete at her absolute highest level. Yesterday, she redlined for two hours and ran out of gas. Nothing she could do about that, really. It sounds cliche, but she did the best she could for as long as she could, playing at a level I haven't seen from her since her slump. It just wasn't enough against the world's best player. That's why Kim's the best.
Still, there are a lot of positives for Ana to take away from Indian Wells and Miami as she heads back to Europe. She's already withdrawn from Marbella, citing the need to rest up and get her body healed. Smart move, I think. Hope she hits the clay season with not just a full tank, but a bigger tank.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)