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Friday, June 26, 2009

High-five as Hantuchova hits form

Photo Titled Hantuchova blow
Slovakian Daniela Hantuchova on Court 18 on Day 5 against Ai Sugiyama.
Daniela Hantuchova overcame a shaky start to see off friend and doubles partner Ai Sugiyama 6-4, 6-3, celebrating the victory with a high-five handshake with her Japanese opponent.

In a match that saw the ball struck beautifully by both women, Hantuchova was under pressure from the start. With two players who not only play together but have similar world rankings – Hantuchova is 32, Sugiyama 38 – a close match was expected, so Sugiyama might have felt that breaking in the opening game would be a crucial advantage.

Certainly every game was closely contested and Hantuchova, who is unseeded at Wimbledon for the first time since 2004, was not afraid to mix up play, throwing in drop shots, lobs, plenty of slice and making regular forays to the net.

Sugiyama, the 2003 ladies doubles champion, was content with pummelling balls cross court and drilling the lines, only charging the net on occasion.

It was perhaps unfortunate that the draw had pitted these two women together. The pair will see enough of each other when they team up as 6th seeds in the doubles.

But while Sugiyama led 6-4 in their single head-to-heads, it was to be Hantuchova who would close the gap today.

The 26-year-old managed to break back to level the match at four games apiece, and Sugiyama began to feel the pressure, missing first serves. Within a blink of an eye, Hantuchova’s fortunes had turned and she was soon in possession of the set.

An exchange of breaks followed early in the second, but the 33-year-old got broken again and the set began to slip away.

When Sugiyama hit a ball long on match point, the friendly battle was all over. There was a smile of sympathy from Hantuchova and the women daintily exchanged kisses before the high- five handshake which underlined their camaraderie.

Or maybe it was a reminder that this is the first of five matches the Slovak needs to win to be a Wimbledon champion. Step two comes on Monday against No.2 seed Serena Williams in the fourth round.

Court 18 - Ladies' Singles - 3rd Round
Daniela Hantuchova SVK Winner66
Ai Sugiyama JPN 43

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