Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Quote of the week

"A Nero d’Avola, strong enough to make your head spin."
Francesca Schiavone, on what she would be if she were a wine

(Thanks to Forty Deuce for this interview.)

Russian Fed Cup team announced for 2011 1st round

Captain Shamil Tarpishchev has announced the members of Russia's Fed Cup team for the first round of 2011 play. Competing for Russia will be Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Russia will play France on the 5th and 6th of February in Moscow. The matches will be played on an indoor hard court.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Former tour player Leila Meshki is the director of the Baku Cup tournament.

Alina Jidkova, as expected, has retired from professional tennis. When she played (and lost in the final) of the U.S. Open qualifying playoffs, she said it was her last opportunity to play in the U.S. Open. Jidkova, who defeated Serena Williams in 2004 in Linz, attained her highest ranking in 2005, when she was ranked number 51 in the world. Her career-high doubles ranking was number 50. The Russian veteran is getting married next month. She and her fiance sell fine pearl jewelry.

"I'm not even 20 and there's someone who's 40 who could kick my butt," Rebecca Marino says of you-know-who.

Tennis Channel's latest "Tennisography" feature is about Vera Zvonareva. Using Leo Tolstoy's work as a backdrop, the story of Zvonareva's tennis life--her performance and her feelings--is told by her mother, her coach, and by Zvonareva herself. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it comes off well. What doesn't come off well is Tennis Channel's decision to use white subtitles on a lot of light background--a persistent problem on U.S. television.

And in tribute to Vera, here's the great Joan Armatrading:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mattek-Sands to replace Williams in Hopman Cup

Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been named to the USA Hopman Cup team. Mattek-Sands replaces Serena Williams, who was forced to withdraw from the tournament because of her foot injury. Mattek-Sands and John Isner will represent the USA in the international team event, which begins on January 1. The USA is in Group B, with Great Britain, Italy and France. Group A includes Serbia, Belgium, Australia, and Kazakhstan.

Friday cat blogging--feral edition

These feral cats, who live in Mississippi, aren't so reclusive that they won't pose for photos

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Serena Williams withdraws from Australian Open

Defending champion Serena Williams has withdrawn from the 2011 Australian Open. Her foot injury was recently became worse after she went into training, and she had to have more surgery. Her doctors have determined that returning to tennis right now would put her at too much risk.

Williams missed the 2010 U.S. Open because of the injury, which was caused by broken glass when drunken World Cup enthusiasts threw bottles in a Munich restaurant where the former world number 1 was a patron. She recently withdrew from Hopman Cup competition, causing fans to fear that she would also withdraw from Melbourne.

Williams won the Australian Open in both 2009 and 2010.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The USTA has filed a suit against Olympus, the sponsor of the U.S. Open Series. The contract between Olympus and the USTA, which runs through 2013, stipulates that the camera company can opt out of the last two years if wishes to, but Olympus officials decided to opt out in 2011, which is a year early. The USTA is calling this action a breach of contract, but Olympus maintains that the USTA already breached the contract by permitting Panasonic to infringe on Olympus's sponsorship rights. USTA officials have referred to this opinion as being "without merit."

Don't miss WTA Backspin's WTA Yearbook.

A number of tennis and sports websites are reporting that Kimiko Date Krumm will retire next year. When she lost in the Asian Games, she said that she was very tired and maybe would have to quit next year, then she almost immediately felt better and talked about her future tennis plans. Though she certainly could stop after next year, the statement that she absolutely "will retire" was taken out of context by the Asian press and has been carelessly reprinted.

Laura Robson, who split with her coach in September, is reported to be looking for a new one.

Here are some early, and really cute, photos of the Williams sisters.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peng wins gold at Asian Games

Peng Shuai has won the gold medal in singles at the 2010 Asian Games. Peng defeated Akgul Amanmuradova 7-5, 6-2 in the final. China had already won the team gold medal.

The gold medal winners in doubles are Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung, who used to be a force on the tour before they began playing with other parnters. Chan and Chuang defeated Chang Kai-Chen and Hsieh Su-Wei 7-5, 6-3, meaning that both gold and silver belong to players from Chinese Taipei.

Chan, with partner Yang Tsung-Hua, also won the gold medal in mixed doubles. Chan and Yang defeated Sania Mirza and Vishnu Vardhan 4-6, 6-1, 10-2. They were the second seeds.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Williams withdraws from Hopman Cup

Serena Williams, citing continuing problems with a foot injury, has withdrawn from the USA Hopman Cup team. She was scheduled to represent the USA with John Isner. An announcement is expected tomorrow on whether a new player will pair with Isner, or whether the USA will withdraw from competition.

This is the third time that the frequently-injured Williams has had to withdraw from the tournament.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peng and Amanmuradova to play in Asian Games final

Akgul Amanmuradova and Sania Mirza played for 2 hours and 49 minutes in their Asian Games semifinal match, and Amanmuradova emerged the winner with a score of 6-7, 6-3, 6-4. The third seed will play Peng Shuai, who is seeded fourth, in the final. Peng defeated Kimiko Date Krumm 7-6, 3-6, 6-2. Date Krumm, who won the Games in 1994, had problems with her serve, and she was also somewhat tired, she said later; she credited the crowd with pushing her to the third set. The former gold medal winner hit 59 winners and made 73 unforced errors.

Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung, formerly a highly-ranked team on the WTA tour, got back together for the Asian Games, and have made it to the doubles final. Their opponents will be Chang Kai-Chen and Hsieh Su-Wei. Chan will also play in the mixed doubles final. She and Yang Tsung-Hua will compete against Sania Mirza and Vishnu Vardhan.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vergeer increases win streak to 400 matches

Esther Vergeer increased her winning streak to 400 matches today at the Wheelchair Masters event in Amsterdam. Vergeer won her semifinal match against Jiske Griffioen.

Mirza advances to Asian Games semifinals

Sania Mirza has advanced to the semifinals of the Asian Games by upsetting 2nd seed Tammy Tanasugarn 6-2, 6-3. Her next opponent will be 3rd seed Akgul Amanmuradova. Mirza and Vishnu Vardhan also advanced to the mixed doubles semifinals.

Mirza won the silver medal in singles in the 2006 Asian Games; Zheng Jie won the gold. Mirza and Leander Paes won the 2006 gold medal in mixed doubles.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Matt Cronin says the Williams sisters are headed toward retirement.

Venus Williams says she is hoping to win some titles and has her mind on the Olympic Games. "Serena and I will have to be in the best shape of our lives for London. We have to be machines to play in three events. It's something like fourteen matches in eight days. We had better be ready."

Not surprisingly, Vera Zvonareva was recently presened with Russia's Female Tennis Player of the Year award.

James LaRosa says that Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic are still in the running to win majors, and that Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova are still in the running to attain career slams.

Sania Mirza has made it to both the singles quarterfinals and the mixed doubles quarterfinals at the Asian Games. She defeated Zhang Shuai in the second round.

Edina Gallovits is getting married during the off-season.

Friday cat blogging--holiday bulb edition

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010--a year of the unexpected

Every season has its highlights and surprises, and, unfortunately, one of the highlights of the 2010 season was the long list of significant injuries. Not all of them were sustained on the court, either. Kim Clijsters got a nasty infection in her right foot after she had a mole removed, and Serena Williams was in the wrong place at the wrong time when drunk World Cup revelers decided it would be fun to throw bottles inside a German restaurant. After a piece of broken glass cut her foot, Williams had to have two surgical procedures, and she missed the U.S. hard court season and everything after that.

Venus Williams continued to have problems with her knee, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had a recurring hip injury, and Justine Henin--having already broken her finger during Fed Cup competition--injured her elbow at Wimbledon, and missed the rest of the season. Countrywoman Kim Clijsters injured her left foot in Fed Cup play, and had to withdraw from the French Open. Dinara Safina, who had been assured her back problems were over, once again felt the dreaded back pain, and had to stop playing.

Elena Dementieva was forced to retire during the French Open semifinals because of a calf strain, and she missed Wimbledon. Katarina Srebotnik's shoulder bothered her so much that she retired from singles play. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was out for an extended period because of a knee injury, which put and end to her outstanding doubles run with Nuria Llagostera Vives. Agnieszka Radwanska is currently walking around on crutches because of surgery she had to treat a stress fracture in her foot, and she is expected to be out until March of next year.

There were the "usual" injuries, too--ankles, feet, back, etc. that affected a number of players. Zheng Jie was out ill for much of the season, and a stomach virus attacked several players. Maria Sharapova continued her struggle to return to pre-shoulder injury form, Sabine Lisicki tried unsuccessfully to return to pre-injury and -illness form, too. Then there was Victoria Azarenka, who sustained a concussion while running sprints right before the second round of the U.S. Open, and passed out on the court.

Now for some better memories: Li Na became the first Chinese woman in history to crack the WTA top 10, and she and Zheng Jie both reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. Cara Black completed her mixed doubles career slam, but she was in the news more because of the not-so-amicable breakup of the team of Black and Huber. The Williams sisters completed their career doubles slam by winning the French Open, and the great former team of Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva were inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Last year, Alexandra Dulgheru came out of nowhere and, as a qualifier, won Warsaw; in 2010, she accomplished the unlikely feat of defending that title. Ekaterina Makarova qualified for the main draw of Eastbourne, and won the title. Ana Ivanovic won her first title in two years, leading her fans to hope for better times in 2011. Aravane Rezai had the most dramatic run of all: She won Madrid by taking out Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and--in the final--Venus Williams. She was also the second consecutive unseeded player to win a premier tournament.

Kaia Kanepi and Petra Kvitova both reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, and provided quite a bit of surprise entertainment to the proceedings. Anastasia Rodionova won two gold medals and a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. In Osaka, Tammy Tanasugarn and Kimiko Date Krumm played the "oldest" final in tour history--one was 33 and the other was 40. And in one of the more touching moments of the season, 30-year-old Francesca Schiavone, after she defeated Date Krumm in Tokyo, said of the Japanese comeback star: "To come back and show the people anything is possible is really inspiring."

Jelena Jankovic continued her "Princess and the Pea" decline. Jankovic was bothered by everything from a sprained ankle to a respiratory infection to an eye problem (for which she just had surgery). Having worked so hard to improve her serve, Jankovic should have had a much better season than she did.

Sam Stosur looked like a potential Queen of Clay when she ran over Vera Zvonareva in the Charleston final, but the crown eluded her. Stosur had an exceptional season, nonetheless. Venus Williams had a very fine season, too, though it came to a disappointing end when she lost in the U.S. Open semifinals, and then wound up on crutches because of her knee.

Camille Pin retired from professional tennis, as did doubles specialist Janette Husarova. Unfortunately, the news of the accomplished Husarova's retirement fell on deaf ears.

The tour celebrated the 40th anniversary of its founding, unveiled a new logo that looks like something Don Draper would fire people over, and of course, the "sexy" airbrushing went on as usual, so on the player site, the women all still look pretty much the same--just nothing like themselves.

Though 2010 lacked the drama of 2009, there was plenty to keep us all interested and entertained. Here are my personal top 10 occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Martinez Sanchez wins in Rome
Rome is Jelena Jankovic's sacred ground. Rome is where she found the strength to go on when she thought she might leave professional tennis, and Rome is where she has looked her best on the clay courts. This year was no exception: Jankovic became the first player in history to beat both Williams sisters on clay at the same tournament. The former champion was poised to win her third Italian Open title, but Spanish clay court artist and doubles expert Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez got in the way. As fast as Jankovic is, and as good a mover as she is, she could not escape being sliced and cut to exhaustion by the unseeded Spaniard, who also possesses one of the tour's better serves. Martinez Sanchez spun and dopped the ball so much that she confounded inexperienced fans and even some "experts," who insisted on calling her cleverness and aggression "unorthodox." Mostly, she confounded Jankovic, and defeated her 7-6, 7-5 in one of the year's most entertaining finals.

9. Zvonareva reaches two major finals
Now that the great Russian onslaught has faded a bit, there was still one Russian standing tall in 2010, and that was Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva, who has had more than her share of bad fortune on the tour, was so steady this year, and played so well in unfavorable conditions, that she reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, her performance faded in both matches, but her winning ways earned her an end-of-the-year ranking of number 2 in the world.

8. Wozniacki becomes number 1 in the world
Caroline Wozniacki, the Great Dane, played and played and played in 2010, and she won and won and won. She failed to reach the final of a major, however (she reached two rounds of 16, a quarterfinal, and a semifinal), and she lost the WTA Championships final to Kim Clijsters. Nevertheless, Wozniacki won six titles, and she won the U.S. Open series. She also added a better seve, more power, and more aggression to her game, giving fans more to look forward to in 2011.

7. Italy defends Fed Cup title
The Italian Fed Cup team--Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani, and Roberta Vinci--have been in five Fed Cup finals in the past five years, and they have won three of them. Last year, they defeated the USA in the final on clay in Italy, and this year, they did it on a hard court in San Diego. Once again, Flavia Pennetta sealed the deal for the Italians, who achieved a 3-1 victory. Forza!

6. King and Shvedova spring the surprise of the year
Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova had played together only a couple of times when they entered Wimbledon as a doubles team. They had a high old time, smiling a lot on court and inviting strangers in London to watch them play. They won the title, too, and--in doing so--brought about Vera Zvonareva's second big defeat on the last day of the tournament. After Wimbledon, the pair failed to get very far in competition--that is, until the U.S. Open rolled around. And once again, despite having to work really hard and despite all odds being against them, they won the title.

5. Clijsters rules in the final quarter
It was one thing when Kim Clijsters returned to the tour last year and promptly won the U.S. Open. It was quite another when she defended her title this year, and then--for good measure--beat the world number 1 in Doha to win the WTA Championships. Clijsters didn't play a lot this year; she had a lean schedule (which included a win in Miami) to begin with, and then had to deal with two foot injuries. But she was healthy for the U.S. hard court season, and defended her title in Cincinnati. At the U.S. Open, she was just too good, dispensing of Ana Ivanovic, Sam Stosur, Venus Williams, and Vera Zvonareva. Clijsters then topped her season off by defeating world number 1 Caroline Woznacki at the WTA Championships.

4. Dulko and Pennetta ascend to the top of the doubles rankings
Exactly like Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Nuria Llagostera Vives before them, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta had played doubles together, on and off, for years, but in 2010, they decided to make a serious go of it. They won eight titles, including the WTA Championships. Dulko, in fact, won nine (one with Elena Gallovits). They are now the top-ranked team in the world, and Dulko is now the number 1 doubles player in the world. The two women have been friends for a long time, and now they are big-time champions together.

3. Serena Williams wins two more majors
The older Serena Williams gets, the more beaten up her body gets, and the better she plays. Go figure. This year, she won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and she won the latter without dropping a set. That makes 13 major singles titles, and there is every reason to expect that number to increase. Williams' forced leave from the tour the past several months turned everything topsy-turvy, and gave crisp meaning to the term "conspicuous by her absence."

2. Dementieva retires
At the end of the season, Elena Dementieva became the first of the great post-Morozova Russians to leave the tour. And though the Russians (with the exception of Zvonareva) no longer display their former brightness, their ascent brought about a major change in women's tennis. Dementieva had a long career, in which she managed to somehow manifest intelligence, athleticism, wit, class, and gut-wrenching frustration--all at the same time. It was fun to watch her, and easy to cheer for her, even though you knew that--half the time--you would wind up shaking your head and murmuring "Oh, Elena...." She never won a major, though she was a second-week regular and played some memorable matches. She did win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, and she won 16 singles titles, as well as six doubles titles. Hers was a great career, despite its disappointments, and it will probably take us all a long time to adjust to her absence. I already miss her.

1. Schiavone wins the French Open
The good-natured and impressively athletic Francesca Schiavone has long given us her hilarious heartfelt wisdom--often spoken in her delightful broken English--but until this year, fans had to search for her press conferences. Schiavone's career, until a few years ago, involved a lot of consistent play, but also a lot of choking in finals. She lost eight finals in a row before she finally figured out how to win one. After that, she became better on all surfaces, even reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year. Schiavone and her friend, Flavia Pennetta, have been Fed Cup stars for several years, and--inspired by Fed Cup victories--Schiavone did something smart and creative this spring: She hired Italian Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti to be her coach for the French Open. In other words, she went to Paris to win.

Schiavone's opponent in the final was Samantha Stosur, who had shocked Vera Zvonareva in the Charleston final, and had already taken out Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in Paris. Stosur was expected to win the French Open, and to perhaps even become the new queen of clay. But 17th seed Schiavone, who upset Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, hadn't received the memo that she was supposed to be the runner-up. We will probably never know what Barazzutti whispered in the Italian's ear, or exactly what transpired within her head, but--briefly stated--Schiavone took it to Stosur. From the first moment of the final, Schiavone was in charge, and nothing much that Stosur did seemed to bother her. It wasn't that Stosur played badly; she was just never given the chance to play really well.

Schiavone served very well, she gave Stosur repeated doses of her own heavy topspin, and she volleyed with grace and accuracy. Perhaps most important, she never appeared to doubt herself. Schiavone's 6-4, 7-6 victory, attained just a month shy of her 30th birthday, made her the first Italian woman to win a major title. It was a victory for Italy, a victory for older players on the tour, and a victory for the power of perseverance. "I couldn't stop it," the French Open champion said of her increasing confidence and energy as the second set tiebreak progressed. "I really felt that that one was my moment. I took it. I didn't lose the chance. I didn't care about nothing. I want to take that point and play my tennis. It was the moment."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Led by Li Na, the Chinese team has won the gold medal for team tennis competition at the Asian Games. Li, however, is not entered in the singles competition, and neither is Zheng Jie. The top seed is Kimiko Date Krumm, who won the competition in 1994.

Be sure to check out the final "Ms. Backspin" awards for 2010. Pour a cup of coffee and take your time--there's plenty to read, including stats you would probably never find on your own.

The Bondarenko sisters, at least for  now, have been removed--by mutual decision--from the roster of the Ukrainian Fed Cup team. Youngers players will compete for Ukraine, though Kateryna Bondarenko says that she and her sister may return to the team in the future.

Greg Garber and Pam Shriver say it's hard to pick the Player of the Year. Women Who Serve agrees.

"Tiger" Murphy will slice you.

"I just need to pack my racquets up and leave them alone somewhere, just not touch them for three weeks or something," says Vera Zvonareva, who reflects on her stellar season.

Louis Armstrong stadium to be torn down and replaced by two smaller stadiums

Louis Armstrong Stadium, which is located at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, was built on a marsh, and is expected to deteriorate within eight years. Some time within the next six to eight years, it will be torn down. In the meantime, $30 million, a tenth of what is needed, has been dedicated to overhauling the entire complex by creating two smaller stadiums where Louis Armstrong Stadium now stands. The Grandstand will also be replaced by a new stadium.

There is a possibility that the new Armstrong Stadium will get a roof, but it is expected that Arthur Ashe Stadium will not get one because its structure cannot support one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Srebotnik's shoulder takes her out of singles competition

When an older player has sustained a significant and recurring injury, it is sometimes a wise decision to concentrate on doubles only--assuming the player has a decent doubles career. Nathalie Dechy did it, and was successful. Now Katarina Srebotnik is doing it, and--while fans will miss Srebotnik's singles play, just as we missed Dechy's--this is a decision Srebotnik has made regarding her health.

Srebotnik put Slovenia on the map in terms of women's tennis. She was ranked as high as number 20 (2008) in the world, and she is a fan favorite because of her athleticism, volleying skills, and playful, easygoing manner. In singles, she is especially remembered for her third round upset of Serena Williams at the 2008 French Open.

In the last few years, Srebotnik had to face some professional misfortune. She was out for most of 2009 after injuring her Achilles tendon. Her rehab was also unfortunate, in that she sustained another injury while trying to get stronger. When she finally returned to the tour in good health, her long-term relationship with her coach ended. Srebotnik began to focus on doubles, and it seemed very likely that she would make the decision that she announced last week--that she would end her singles career. This decision came about because of a recurring shoulder injury.

Tennis fans have plenty to look forward to, however. Srebotnik and her current doubles partner, Kveta Peschke, won Indian Wells this year, and made it to the final of the French Open. They also got to the semifinals of the WTA Championships.

Prior to teaming with Peschke, Srebotnik had success playing with a variety of partners, the most notable being Ai Sugiyama. Srebotnik holds 23 women's doubles titles, and four mixed doubles titles (three French Open and one U.S. Open). She also played in the finals of the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and The French Open (twice). Her highest doubles ranking, number 3 in the world, came in 2008. She is currently ranked number 6.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Katarina Srebotnik will stand aside, and Ana Ivanovic will play mixed doubles with Nenad Zimonjic at the Australian Open. It is assumed that Ivanovic and Zimonjic will pair for the 2012 Olympic Games, and the Australian Open will give them a chance to compete as a team. According to Women's Tennis Blog, Zimonjic will resume playing with Srebotnik at the other three 2011 majors.

Jelena Jankovic underwent minor eye surgery on Thursday; her stitches will be removed in about a week.

"Your matches were never boring...." That's one (and perhaps my favorite) of the many things fans said to Elena Dementieva after she announced her retirement.

Anastasia Rodionova recently relaxed for a couple of days at Port Sea with Cara Black and her husband.

Daniela Hantuchova spent some time in Hungary, where she did a photo shoot for a calendar to support her work for House of the Smile, a hospital in Cambodia for children with HIV.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday cat blogging--Santa Fe edition, part 2

Georgia lives at the Inn of the Turquoise Bear, where we stayed in Santa Fe recently

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wozniacki elected to WTA Players' Council

World number 1 Caroline Wozniacki has been elected to succeed outgoing WTA Players' Council member Patty Schnyder. Other members of the council are Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Francesca Schiavone, Akgul Amanmuradova, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.


Rafael Nadal is coached by his Uncle Toni, to whom he is reported to be quite close. Novak Djokovic's father attends a great number of his son's tournaments, and has behaved in such a way that Djokovic has had to clean up after him. But it was Andy Murray, whose mother (a coach and a significant figure in British tennis) attends his matches, who was criticized today by Boris Becker. Becker accused Murray of being too close to his mother. He also criticized Murray for being with "pretty much the same girlfriend for the last three or four years" (Murray's girlfriend broke up with him, he was with another woman for a time, and then he got back together with his original girlfriend), which Becker considers "immature" for a 23-year-old. Recently (and I was waiting for it), John McEnroe made fun of Denis Istomin, who is coached by his mother. McEnroe made a "joke" about the relationship, but it wasn't funny--and he would never have made it if Istomin were coached by his father. Sexism affects more than just the WTA.

Aaress Lawless, who has published On the Baseline for five years, has sold the site to Justin Pohn. On the Baseline is a mainstay of women's tennis news and features. Women Who Serve wishes Aaress the very best in her future endeavors, and also--welcome Justin!

Heather Watson won the $50k ITF tournament in Toronto last week.

Here's a doubles team I can get really get behind: Martina Navratilova and Elisabeth Shue played together on Sunday in the Chris Evert Pro-Celebrity Tournament in Delray Beach, Florida. Anna Kournikova was there, too.

Rebecca Marino is close to earning direct entry into the Australian Open main draw. (Thanks to On the Baseline for this news.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Italy defends Fed Cup title with a 3-1 victory

There was one bright moment for the USA Fed Cup team today: Melanie Oudin, looking very much like she did in the 2009 U.S. Open, soundly defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-3, 6-1 in the third rubber of the 2010 Fed Cup final. Bethanie Mattek-Sands was scheduled to play in this rubber, but after her cramping incident yesterday (Mattek-Sands told the press that she the only times she had ever cramped, she had been ill; it turns out that she arrived in San Diego with a sinus infection), USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez decided to keep her out of competition.

Oudin and Schiavone continually broke each other in the first set, then Oudin was able to hold for 5-3. That was all she needed. When she won the set, Italy's Flavia Pennetta left the stands and headed for the locker room, realizing that her services might be needed.

Though it would have been reasonable to assume that Schiavone would pull herself together for the second set, that assumption would have been wrong. Oudin held, then broke the error-prone Italian at love. Shiavone held at love after Oudin went up 3-0, and it seemed that the momentum would change. But by this time, Oudin was beating Schiavone at her own game. She regained her forehand form, and was able to slice and drop the ball and move Schiavone around successfully. Meanwhile, Schiavone made significant errors, and Oudin ended the match 6-3, 6-1 with an ace.

"I really approached it as 'I haven't had a big match in a while, I haven't played a top 10 player in a while, I had no fear'," Oudin said after the match.

Coco Vandeweghe (could her mother please start sitting with the Djokovic clan?) began her match against Flavia Pennetta by breaking the Italian. But it wasn't long before the USA's representative demonstrated enough inconsistency and poor movement to allow Pennetta to dominate. Tired though she may have been, Pennetta rose to the occasion and expertly defeated Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2. Pennetta made a total of only eight unforced errors in the match.

Italy defeated the USA in the Fed Cup final last year, also. The Italian team also won the title in 2006.

It has been a great year for Italy. The team won another Fed Cup title, Schiavone won the French Open, and Pennetta was half of the tour's top doubles team.

Ivanovic wins Bali championship

Ana Ivanovic won the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions today, defeating Alisa Kleybanova 6-2, 7-6. With this result, Ivanovic will enter the top 20 again.

A match to determine third place was also played, and that distinction was earned by Kimiko Date Krumm, who defeated Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 7-5. Date Krumm now goes to the Asian Games, which begin November 12 in Guangzhou.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fed Cup miscellany

Players are so tired at the end of the season, they probably appreciate any gesture that will lessen their workload. Usually, a player (or players) helps with the draw, but in San Diego, the job was given to Clyde the sea lion. The draw ceremony was held at SeaWorld, and Clyde selected the tennis ball which had Coco Vandeweghe's name on it, giving the young USA team member the first match against Francesca Schiavone, and setting up the weekend schedule. Schiavone's photo with Clyde is priceless.

Schiavone, by the way, is the final player to win a 2010 Fed Cup Heart Award.

For those unable to watch the final on television: You should know that Bethanie Mattek-Sands is wearing solid red knee socks this weekend.

Tomorrow, Billie Jean King will be given the 2010 Fed Cup Award of Excellence.

Spain's six top players have called off their boycott of the 2011 Fed Cup competition after reaching an agreement with their country's tennis federation that--according to Spain's sports minister, Jaime Lissavetzky--meets "the vast majority of the players' demands." "The objective," Lisavetsky said, "is to re-launch women's tennis in Spain over the short and medium term. The Spanish players who brought about the changes are Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Anabel Medina Garrigues, Arantxa Parra Santonja, Carla Suarez Navarro, Nuria Llagostera Vives, and Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

Fed Cup final, day 1: Italy leads 2-0

Italy is now one match away from winning a second consecutive Fed Cup final. The defending champions won both singles rubbers against the USA today. In the first match, first-time Fed Cup player Coco Vandeweghe was defeated 6-2, 6-4 by Francesca Schiavone. Vandeweghe was visibly anxious in the first set, but calmed down in the second, and occasionally issued a challenge to Schiavone.

The second match had some high drama. A tired and physically down Flavia Pennetta--playing her 72nd singles match of the season (she has also played 64 doubles matches)--was still able to go up 5-1 in the first set. But then her opponent, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, won five straight games. Pennetta held, and a tiebreak ensued.

Mattek-Sands, who is always fun to watch, worked so hard to get into the tiebreak, but then experienced a loss of focus, which gave Pennetta the first set. "After a while, I was beginning to breathe," Pennetta commented later about the tight first set. "For a while, I wasn't breathing at all."

By this time, the two players had competed for an hour and 23 minutes. Several games into the second set, Mattek-Sands began to cramp. Pennetta knew that something was going on, but--she revealed later--she didn't know what it was, and she allowed her confusion to overcome her focus. As a result, Mattek-Sands, who received routine treatment during a changeover, was able to hang in for a while against the Italian. Pennetta won the set 6-2, however.

Mattek-Sands is scheduled to play Francesca Schiavone in tomorrow's first match, but, of course, whether she plays depends on how well she recovers from the cramping. Vandeweghe is scheduled to play Pennetta, though there was some talk today about substituting Melanie Oudin. Mattek-Sands' health will dictate some of the decisions that USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez makes tomorrow.

The Italian players both displayed end-of-the-season weariness. "You arrive 'finished'," Schiavone said of the fatigue involved in traveling from Doha to California; Pennetta said she had not been feeling too good all week.

Ivanovic and Kleybanova to meet in Bali final

The two wild cards at the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions were sent packing today in the semifinals--both taken out by the only two unseeded players in the small tournament. Ana Ivanovic defeated Kimiko Date Krumm 7-5, 6-7, 6-2 in a contest that delighted spectators, and Alisa Kleybanova defeated Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-1.

Ivanovic (whose birthday is today) and Kleybanova are 3-3 against each other, with Ivanovic winning the last two times they met. Ivanovic, a former world number 1, is currently ranked number 24 in the world. Kleybanova is ranked number 27.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fed Cup final to be played this weekend

Defending champions Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani, and Roberta Vinci of Italy will play team USA this weekend in the 2010 Fed Cup final. The final will be held on a hard court in San Diego, with team USA represented by Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Liezel Huber, and Coco Vandeweghe.

The draw ceremony took place today. The opening rubber will feature 2010 French Open champion Schiavone against Vandeweghe. In the second match, Pennetta will play Mattek-Sands. Sunday's matches will feature Pennetta against Vandeweghe, and Schiavone against Mattek-Sands. The doubles rubber will be played for Italy by Errani and Vinci, and the USA's doubles team will be complosed of Oudin and Huber. The rules allow for changes to be made, and it is not unusual for captains to make them.

Italy defeated the USA 4-0 in last year's Fed Cup final; Italy also won the Fed Cup title in 2006. The USA is now 9-1 against Italy; however, the USA team won its last title in 2000.

2nd seed Rezai out of Bali competition

Alisa Kleybanova made short work of 2nd seed Aravane Rezai today in Bali. Kleybanova defeated the defending champion 6-1, 6-2.

The Russian's opponent in the semifinals will be wild card Daniela Hantuchova, who prevailed 6-4, 7-6 over 4th seed Yanina Wickmayer.

All four seeded players have been eliminated from the tournament, leaving two unseeded players--Kleybanova and Ana Ivanovic--and the two wild cards, Hantuchova and Kimiko Date Krumm.

Players say goodbye to Elena

Friday cat blogging--Santa Fe edition

Sculptures in front of a galley near the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Seeds 1 and 3 out in Bali

Top seed Li Na went out in the quarterfinals of the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions today. Li was defeated 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 by wild card Kimiko Date Krumm. Also going out was 3rd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It took Ana Ivanovic just over 56 minutes to defeat Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 6-1.

Pavlyuchenkova, as is often the case, had problems with her serve. The talented young Russian's serve is inconsistent, and she will need to do something about it if she wants to continue to go up the rankings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pavlyuchenkova and Ivanovic to start Bali competition

Anastasia Pavlyuchenova and Ana Ivanovic will begin the competition at the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions tomorrow. Pavlyuchenkova is seeded number 3. Following their match, top seed Li Na will play wild card Kimiko Date Krumm.

On Friday, Alisa Kleybanova will play defending champion and 2nd seed Aravane Rezai, followed by a match between wild card Daniela Hantuchova and 4th seed Yanina Wickmayer.

Rezai and Date Krumm have already faced one another (with some top chefs to help them) in the annual "Cookery Competition" in Bali. Rezai and Chef Doudou Tourneville received the Best Presentation award, and Kimiko Date and Chef Alexander Tanuhardja received the award for Best Dish.

The French player acknowledges she seldom has time to cook, while Date Krumm says that cooking is something she does to relax.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bali draw

Since there are only eight players in the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions, and since the round-robin format has been eliminated, all players have received a bye in the first round. Here is the draw for the second round:

Li Na (1) vs.Kimiko Date Krumm (wc)
Anastasia Pavyluchenkova (3) vs. Ana Ivanovic
Daniela Hantuchova (wc) vs. Yanina Wickmayer (4)
Alisa Kleybanova vs. Aravane Rezai (2)

The hard court tournament begins November 4.