The second round of any tennis tournament is usually the one that separates the pretenders from the contenders. Some players may have slipped through easy first round opponents, but usually there are no weak games in the second round to be had. This is especially true with the women's tour. It seems like there is a new number one with every tournament played and a young player who breaks out. The women's tour is quite competitive and there is generally not much difference, for the most part, between players.
I had tickets to both the day and night sessions so I was looking forward to a long day of tennis. A long day is exactly what I had (around 8 hours) and there were a couple of really hotly contested matches amongst the five I got to see. My fellow tennis nut and I arrived at around 1:30 and headed straight over to the Banque National Court, which used to be Court 1 but has been extensively renovated, to take in Ana Ivanovic from Serbia against Jie Zheng of China. Ivanovic is a young 18-year-old who is just in her third year on the tour but she is already ranked number 19 on the WTA tour. Jie Zheng at 23 has been around for a bit longer and is ranked number 27 on the WTA tour. The match had already begun when we sat down with Ivanovic taking the first set 6-4. Ivanovic and Zheng's games are studies in opposites. At a statuesque 6'0, Ivanovic uses her height to generate much power on her hits whereas at 5'4 Zheng's game is about defense and ball placement. The game itself was also a contrast in opposites as the players either played very poor uninspired tennis or played brilliantly. There seemed to be no middle ground or consistency in the match with either player. Zheng was down and seemingly out in the second set but she battled back from one break down and down 0-40 on her own serve to force a tiebreaker. Again during the tiebreaker Zheng seemed to be down but did not capitulate and ending up winning 7-6 (7-5). Not about to let their girl fritter away a win, Ivanovic's large male fan club started becoming more vocal in their support of her. Ivanovic responded by hunkering down and breaking Zheng 3 times to win the third set 6-2. It was a long (over 2 hours) up and down match, but very interesting in parts.
Next up on the Banque National court (hey, why move?!?) were Russian Anastasia Myskina, who was ranked 5th in the tournament, and Shahar Pe'er of Israel, who is ranked 35th on the WTA tour. This should have been a match that Myskina would win, but on this day she did not bring her A-game. It was another up and down type match. The first set was very evenly matched with Pe'er finally winning in a tiebreaker 7-6 (7-3). Losing the first set seemed to wake Myskina up and she took off to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but then she fell asleep and allowed Pe'er back into the game. It was tied 5-5 when Myskina called for an injury time out and the trainer came over and worked on her right forearm. The therapy seemed to help as Myskina played better to win the second set 7-5. We were on to another three set/2 hour game. The third set was highlighted by back-and-forth breaks of serve and Myskina arguing with the umpire over three line calls she felt went against her. Pe'er eventually broke Myskina again in 9th game to go up 5-4 and held her own serve to win the third set 6-4. Another high ranked player was out (2nd ranked Nadia Petrova had lost earlier) of the tournament.
The final game we watched on the Banque National court was a doubles match opposing two very young Canadians Sharon Fichman (16-years-old) and Valérie Tétreault (18-years-old) against the very experienced duo of Martina Navratilova (49-years-old) and Nadia Petrova (24-yeas-old). Navratilova and Petrova had won the doubles title last year in Toronto and were looking to repeat. The desire to repeat was especially heightened due to highly ranked Petrova losing in the 2nd round in singles and the fact that Navratilova saying that this would be her last year competing. The Montreal crowd, who seemed to have adopted Navratilova since her appearance at this summer's Outgames, gave the tennis legend a partial standing ovation as she entered the court. Navratilova and Petrova were supposed to have faced Maureen Drake (Canadian) and Nicole Vaidisova (Czech) but Vaidisova bowed out because of a shoulder problem. The two young Canadians were pressed into action and were completely outclassed. Trying to rouse them the crowd was completely behind the Canadian duo, but it was not to be. After only 35 minutes, Navratilova and Petrova won 6-0, 6-1. Montreal would have at least one more chance to watch Navratilova play.
We then moved over to the Center Court to watch the big match seeing tournament number 1 and WTA number 2 ranked Kim Clijsters of Belgium take on crowd darling and Laval-native Stéphanie Dubois. Dubois, besides the fact that she is a Montrealer, had captured the hearts of the crowds with her feisty mature play in defeating Italy's Tatiana Garbin in the first round. It had been since 1984 that we had seen a Canadian advance to the second round of this tournament and this year we have two (Dubois and Marie-Eve Pelletier), who are both Quebecers to make it even better! No one held out much hope for Dubois against Clijsters, even Dubois herself said she was just hoping to learn from the great player. The first set showed the difference between a number 2 player and a number 153. Clijsters controlled the game and won quickly and seemingly effortlessly 6-1. The second set started off very differently. Dubois seemed to be holding her own and even pressing Clijsters. At 1-1 on serve Clijsters called for the trainer to come out and had her look at her left wrist. Anyone who knows Clijsters was concerned immediately as that wrist is one she had surgery on and kept her out for parts of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. The trainer taped up the wrist and Clijsters continued. It was still on serve until the fifth game when Dubois broke Clijsters. More importantly was the fact that on the last point Clijsters slipped and fell on her left wrist. The stadium went quiet and even Dubois came up to see if she was alright. After having the trainer look at it again briefly, Clijsters conceded the match to Dubois. The young Quebecer incredibly was on to the third round! Quelle victoire! Unfortunately another highly ranked player was out of the tournament. I guess, it is now anybody's game.
The final match of the evening opposed another Quebecer in Marie-Eve Pelletier against Australian qualifier Nicole Pratt. 24-year-old Pelletier has talent but has suffered injuries to both ankles which have kept her from playing very much. She was back now and her chances against the veteran Pratt seemed good. Pelletier, with much support from the crowd, won the first set 6-4. Unfortunately we had to leave and it seemed like we took Pelletier's game with us as she ended up losing even though she had chances win both of the remaining sets. Pratt finally triumphed 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. Oh well, one out of two on to the third round is still quite an accomplishment!