Well, the run is officially over for Petko, but what an amazing run it was. On some level it was reminiscent of Sam's 2010 run at Roland Garros, taking out the #1 player and former #1 player in surprising fashion. I might have let my imagination run a little bit and think that Petko's run would follow the same turn: take out yet another former #1 and then lose to a non-former #1 in the final.
I don't think Masha liked that story. And I'm pretty sure she didn't want to see that damn dance ever again. Leave it to her to retire it for good. Based on her presser comments, I'm thinking that dance was on her mind:
Q: She thought you would be tired in the third after the long match you had the previous night. Didn't seem to be that way.
Sharapova: Because I didn't do the dance after. I wasn't tired.
AHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHA. HAH. Haha. Heh.
Petko came out firing on a windy day in Stadium Court, playing just like she had been practicing a few hours before. She played steadily and let Maria make the early mistakes, which she seemed happy to do. Whether it was the wind or concern over her ankle, Masha wasn't moving her feet to the ball, often finding herself either jammed or reaching. Petko's steady play, it wasn't spectacular, just steady, got her the first set without too much drama, 6-3.
"I felt like I was just making a lot of errors in the first set and I wasn't moving my feet at all. And especially with the wind I wasn't moving towards the ball and letting the ball come to me and not really being aggressive. That's what's won me so many matches in my career is that I step in and I hit my strokes and they come deep. I just wasn't doing that.
So first and foremost I felt like I had to start doing that and making little steps and adjusting my game a little bit."
Adjust she did. This is Maria Motherfuckin' Sharapova (she doesn't actually fuck her mother, it's just a colorful turn of phrase us bloggers like to use). She wasn't going down without a fight and you got the sense that if she would just step up her game, clean it up a little bit, she was right back in this. Petko wasn't overpowering her. Maria was just making mistakes.
Well, she didn't just step it up a little bit. She stepped it up a hell of a whole lot.
"In the second set, on one hand, I felt like Maria really stepped up her game; on the other hand, there were so many close games, deuce, advantage, advantage, so many breakpoints, game points, and I didn't manage to stay close to her. All of a sudden, it was 3-0, 4-0, 5-0. A champion like Maria goes with it and starts to play much better."
Andrea's right. That was the weirdest 6-0 set I've seen in a long time. It was six games that could have easily gone 3-3 or 6-0 the other way. Masha finally started moving her feet and getting to the ball, attacking the lines with precision. She also started to figure out Petko's serve. As the set wore on, Petko started to feel the toll of her back-to-back three setters and the frustration of not being able to pull out any of those deuce games:
"By the end of the second set I was getting frustrated with myself because I felt my energy slowly slipping away. Of course I'm in a semifinal and I want to win this, so it's a little dialog inside of you. You're like, Come on, you can win this, but your body is like, No, I don't want to.
So, yeah, I was fighting with myself inside. In the third set, as I said, my energy was slipping away. A champion like Maria, she just feels kind of weakness, and she just played much, much better. It was very tough for me to get inside the match.
I was telling myself she also had a three-and-a-half hour match. She must be feeling tired, too. You're not the only one who's tired here, so come on, move your ass."
And Masha knew it.
"More than anything, I sensed that she was tired -- probably a lot of the dancing that she's been doing -- and I took advantage of it."
Anyway, Petko was honest and gracious in her presser. No shock there. She was eager to point out that, basically, Masha's got that "thing" that separates her from the rest:
The thing is the top 10 players or champions, they just feel any kind of weakness that, even if you're not showing it or you think you're not showing it, they just feel it. That's what makes them so much better. So I really think she felt it and she went for and she exploited it.... I think that's the difference actually in the end between the Grand Slam champions and the other top 10 players maybe.
And she admitted that this was going hurt for a bit, though she didn't have to say anything. Her red puffy eyes already gave her away:
"Right now I'm still a little disappointed, and I think I still -- I will feel empty the next two or three days trying to work things out. But I think after a week maybe or so I will be able to look at it, at the positive things, and I think I will gain a lot of confidence from especially the two victories over Caroline and Jelena. I think it was the next step for me, beating two top 10 in a row. I showed some good tennis, you know, on peaks and points. But if I really want to reach the goals I have set for myself, I need to keep up my consistency."
I raise my mass of Spaten Optimator and salute you, Petko. She really did make my stint in Miami a lot of fun. It was fun to sit in the back of the room and watch her charm the press corps. But it was even more fun to see her gain a legion of fans on court with her tennis. Death Cab for Cutie gettin' name-checked on The OC, you guys. It's happening and I couldn't be more happy for her. People need to know the Petko.
So have a cheeseburger and beer on me, dude!
Just tell them to put it on Forty's tab.
Oh, and Masha? You better fucking win this whole goddamned thing.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)