Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ready for Week Two?

Last week was surely one of the most unusual Wimbledon first weeks ever. Who knows what the final week has in store for us, but in the meantime, here's a look at some of the events we've already witnessed:

Five former WTA world number 1 players went out in the second round on what's now being called Black Wednesday. Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of a knee injury she sustained in the first round. Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, and--the biggest news of all--Maria Sharapova, were all defeated in straight sets. Two former ATP world number 1 players were also defeated.

Five players retired or withdrew because of injury on Black Wednesday. Most of those were ATP players, but--in addition to Azarenka--Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew from the tournament.

Players slipped and fell on the grass repeatedly. Azarenka, Sharapova, Wozniacki, and Petra Kvitova were among the many who slipped, sometimes more than once.

Monica Puig became the first Puerto Rican player in the Open Era to reach the round of 16 at a major.

Three Italian players made it to the women's round of 16, a phenomenon that fans would be expecting to occur in Paris, but not in London. One of them was not Sara Errani, Italy's top player.

While you're waiting to find out what kind of bizarre things are yet to come, you can enjoy the latest installment of the adventures of Citizen Anna, Commander Sloane and poor soul Maria Sharapova, as they fight bravely to save us all from the ultimate evil of The Radwanska.

WTA Live: 40th Anniversary Celebration Event

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Passing shots

Want to take a look at and compare the women who have won Wimbledon? Here's a very good way to do that.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame induction of Martina Hingis will be shown on Tennis Channel on Saturday, July 13 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

Go on the scene and behind the scenes of Wimbledon via

Laura Robson and Madison Keys are featured in a new Wilson ad.

A documentary, "Venus Vs.," about equal prize money, will be aired on ESPN on July 2. "Venus Vs." is the first of the Nine for IX series.

Steve Tignor compares and contrasts Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys.

Wimbledon--what they said

I probably would drop-shot her all day if I were standing at the other end.
Commented about Laura Robson

It’s difficult for me to keep a high level for a whole match. I played so well in 2011. Every shot was going in. It’s not the same this year. I have moments when I’m not playing well. Sometimes I have trouble with my serve and do some double faults. That’s a key. I have to focus on each point, just thinking about that point and not about the past. I do feel more relaxed not being the defending champion this year. There is less pressure on me.
Petra Kvitova

I feel better physically now than I have in a long time. I try to play better with each match, so going into the second week there are a lot of things I would like to improve.
Serena Williams

She plays pretty flat and also pretty deep.  Sometimes I really I was feeling I have dug my knees in the ground and I can't hit the ball.  I mean, this is grass court.  Lucky not so many players like her.
Li Na, commenting on Klara Zakopalova

 I think a couple of months ago some journalist asked me who is one of the youngest players, you know, coming up and doing some good results. You know, I picked her.
Agnieszka Radwanska, commenting on Madison Keys

When Robson plays well, she plays on instinct. She doesn't try to make it happen--she lets it happen.
Match commentator

I didn’t have a good night’s sleep. The match was still in my mind, what was good and bad. Today was another day for me. I played aggressively and that was the key. Yesterday it was quite close every game and we held serve. Then after the rain I played so well and was on fire but some easy mistakes came again and it was difficult to come back in the match so I was glad it was quite dark and we continued today.
Petra Kvitova

That's gonna be a shotmaker's paradise.
Pam Shriver, predicting the Radwanska-Pironkova match

I'm not bad--I'm just drawn that way

Today at Wimbledon, Tsvetana Pironkova sped through the first half of her third round match against Petra Martic. Then, with a 6-1, 4-1 lead, the Bulgarian Mystery Woman went all Kvitova and allowed herself to get dragged into a third set. The "real" Pironkova returned for that set, and she won the match 6-1, 4-6, 6-2.

As a result, Pironkova will face 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska in the round of 16, and it can't be anything Radwanska is looking forward to. I am, though, and I plan to get up at the crack of dawn on Monday to watch the match. (You don't know me, but--trust me--I very rarely get up at the crack of dawn for anything.) The Bulgarian player made it to the semifinals in 2010, and to the quarterfinals in 2011. A good-enough but tame opponent (and that's an issue that really should be discussed) the rest of the year, Pironkova tends to go crazy on everybody at Wimbledon. Ask five-time champion Venus Williams, who lost to Pironkova in straight sets (with the same scoreline) two years in a row.

It's Radwanska's "luck of the draw" that she has to contend with Pironkova in the tricky round of 16. In 2010, when Pironkova played Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals, she took the first set, and at some point in the second--when it looked like the match was on her racket--she realized she she was about to go to the Wimbledon final, and she choked the match away. Pironkova talked about this choke recently, and the fact that it's on her mind means she may have learned from the experience. (Pironkova went on to defeat Zvonareva at Wimbledon the next year.)

Possessed of a big and varied serve, a very useful forehand slice, and a better-than-ever backhand, Pironkova poses a threat to Radwanska. Over at WTA Backspin, the upcoming match is referred to as the "Monster Movie Special"--The Radwanska vs. The Pironkova. This has the potential to be a highly entertaining match, even if you don't like scary movies.

I should add that Radwanska is 7-2 against Pironkova. She's 2-1 against the Bulgarian on grass. Radwanska beat Pironkova at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007 (before Tsvetana became The Pironkova). Last year. however, Pironkova beat Radwanska in straight sets in Eastbourne.

But let's talk about Radwanska. The 4th seed got put through the ringer today by Madison Keys, who hardly gave Radwanska a chance to breathe during the entire 2-hour-and-22-minute ordeal. And while the Evert-faced Radwanska didn't show any signs of cracking, she did just stand there and shake her head in disbelief at one point. Keys was coming at her, over and over, from both sides, and she was serving unbelievably well, if we just count her first serve. Keys hit 15 aces. She hit 67 winners. And I know that Chris Evert discovered her and trained her so there has to be a huge bias involved, yet I think Evert is right when she implies that Keys is the real "Sloane." (Evert tried to tell us about Keys years ago, but we just had to wait and see for ourselves.)

The interesting point about this story, however, is that Radwanska won. She endured all manner of upstartery from the 18-year-old, but she was able to keep her cool, avoid unforced errors (she made only 10, compared with her opponent's 51), and emerge with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

If Radwanska beats Pironkova, she'll next face either Roberta Vinci or Li Na. And if she wins that match, she is very likely to get another go at Serena Williams in the semifinals.

Li, of course, didn't give herself an easy time of it (when was the last time she did?), but she beat Klara Zakopalova--ahem--4-6, 6-0, 8-6. What kind of crazy score is that, anyway? Zakopalova obviously picked it up in the final set, but then she faded as the situation became more tense.

Did anyone really think that Sam Stosur would beat Sabine Lisicki? Well, maybe if Lisicki had undergone one of her famous medical emergencies, but a finger injury was all that plagued the German today. She defeated Stosur 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, and next plays none other than Serena Williams, who easily defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm today.

As I suspected, Laura Robson had a lot to handle in Marina Erakovic, but she handled it, winning in three sets. This marks the first time in 15 years that a British woman has made it through to the round of 16. Robson is handling the hype quite well, too.

Roberta Vinci had an easy time of it, taking out Dominika Cibulkova, and Kaia Kanepi defeated Alison Riske.

In the "leftover" matches from yesterday, Monica Puig beat Eva Birnerova, Sloane Stephens beat Petra Cetkovska, and the "real" Petra Kivitova defeated Ekaterina Makarova, even though Makarova was up a break in the third when the match was suspended last night. There is now only one person in Kvitova's way, but she's such a tricky opponent; that would be Petra Kvitova. Theoretically, the 2011 champion should cruise (unless Marion Bartoli starts slapping everyone around again) to the final. (Petra, you're only six pineapples away--you can do it.)

Stephens, after getting a bagel in her second set, returned to the court today and won the final set 6-4. But I'm not totally buying the ESPN commentators' take on the matter. According to them, it was Stephens' champion-in-the-making's heart that got her the victory. Well, she certainly overcame a very bad patch and took care of business, but there was also this pesky fact: Cetkovska went to pieces in the third set. It helped Stephens' cause, to be sure.

Players kept slipping on the grass and falling today. Fortunately, most of the tournament's fallen (including Kvitova)--so far--have managed to recover nicely. Azarenka and Wozniacki, however, have some healing to do.
There are three Italian players in the round of 16.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

Sometimes they do a massive groan when I deliver a double fault, but I’m doing it too, so we’re going through it together.
Laura Robson
I guess it just clicked, or I finally gained the amount of experience needed to play on grass. Because back home, we don’t have any grass courts, we don’t have even one grass court. So I never played before I came here for the first time.
Tsvetana Pironkova the third set she was playing unbelievable and I couldn’t do nothing.
Angelique Kerber

Most of the time I have an injury or I’m not in good condition.
Kimiko Date-Krumm

Second week of a Grand Slam is a new start, especially here where you have two days off.  It's really a new tournament starting.  I have to make sure I stay mentally very tough and keeping the same intensity.
Marion Bartoli

I really like that, that when you hit a ball, it’s actually a winner. It’s not like on clay, you keep hitting, hitting, hitting, and then you cannot make a winner.
Tsvetana Pironkova

Rain delays play at Wimbledon

There was enough rain at the All England Club today to postpone match play, and as a result, some matches in the second round were not completed.

Of note in that category is the match between 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and Ekaterina Makarova. When Kvitova won the first set 6-3 and won six games in a row, it would have appeared--to an outsider--that she was on her way to victory. But this was Petra--and....this was Ekaterina Makarova, who is a tough cookie. Kvitova's slump in the second set aside--there wasn't much to stop Makarova, who took control of the set with masterful groundstrokes and big serving. The Russian won that set 6-2.

I so like watching both of these players and wish that one of them didn't have to exit in the third round. Despite oncoming darkness, third set play was begun, and when the match had to be suspended, Makarova was up a break at 2-1.

If fans have to turn away when they see Petra Kvitova "leave the scene," I can only imagine what they have to do if they're cheering for Sloane Stephens. Stephens won (7-6) a tight first set against Petra Cetkovska, then lost every game in the second set. Cetkovska is good on grass, and this was never going to be easy for Stephens, who lost her composure during the second set, but has a chance to start over again tomorrow.

Karin Knapp sent Michelle Larcher De Brito off, Kaia Kanepi upset 7th seed Angelique Kerber (not a surprise), and Marion Bartoli advanced to the next round with a win over Camila Giorgi. Flavia Pennetta overcame an opening bagel set to defeat Alize Cornet, and Carla Suarez Navarro defeated Eugenie Bouchard.

The news was better for Bouchard's friend, Laura Robson, however. Robson defeated Mariana Duque-Marino in straight sets, giving the home crowd some hope. Robson's next opponent will be Marina Erakovic, who likes the grass, and who could give the young Brit a bit of trouble.

Also winning was Kirsten Flipkens, who defeated Vesna Dolonc, and Alison Riske, who beat Urszula Radwanska.

In addition to the Kvitova vs. Makarova and Stephens vs. Cetkovska contests, there's also an unfinished match being played between Monica Puig and Eva Birnerova. Birnerova won the first set and is up a break in the second.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci advanced to the third round. If Errani and Vinci win Wimbledon, they will have a Career Slam. 2nd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka also advanced, as did the Australian team of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua.

The so-called "popcorn" match tomorrow will be between Sabine Lisicki and Samantha Stosur. They know how to hit each other off of the court, but they are both prone to mental lapses. Lisicki, however, has a strong history at the All England Club, and will undoubtedly take some confidence into this match.

Madison Keys faces Agnieszka Radwanska tomorrow, and Kimiko Date-Krumm gets Serena Williams. Tsvetana Pironkova will play Petra Martic. Pironkova leads their head-to-head 3-0, and that number includes a 2011 2nd round win at Wimbledon. Should the Bulgarian make it 4-0, she would get the winner of the Keys vs. Radwanska match in the round of 16. Is there anyone who doesn't want to see Radwanska and Pironkova have a go at each other? Sounds interesting to me.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

She's so strong. It's very, very difficult to beat her. I never play her. I need to just try my best. I hope I can stay more than one hour, one hour half.
Kimiko Date-Krumm, commenting on Serena Williams

It's always difficult to play Serena, but I played much better than in the French Open because maybe I know her a little bit and I know what is going to happen.
Caroline Garcia
When did like that (creating intimidation among opponents) a burden to you?
Chris Evert

When one set all, (I told myself) wake up, she okay. She kick your ass already in the second set, so you should ready for a final set.
Li Na

I'm happy I didn't play yesterday.
Sabine Lisicki

I remember that final so I don't need to watch any more. Every point, trust me.
Agnieszka Radwanska, on whether she has watched the 2012 final

Thursday at Wimbledon--not like Wednesday

After yesterday's shock and carnage, today's Wimbledon play seemed practically boring. There were no big upsets and no one had to retire or withdraw. Simona Halep did have to have treatment for her back, however, and she did lose to Li Na. Kimiko Date-Krumm advanced to the third round, as did Sabine Lisicki, 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Roberta Vinci. Vinci and Jana Cepelova played for about two and a quarter hours, and the score was 6-1, 4-6, 9-7. It was a pretty entertaining match.

Lisicki beat Elena Vesnina, so with both Vesnina and Halep out today, and Hantuchova already out, all of the pre-Wimbledon champions have been defeated.

Some players didn't get to start their matches because of a rain delay that slowed everything down.

Defending champion Serena Williams defeated Caroline Garcia in straight sets, and will next face Date-Krumm.

In doubles, 9th seeds Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova lost to Shuko Aoyama and Chanelle Scheepers.

Petra Kvitova plays Ekaterina Makarova tomorrow, and I may even get up early to watch. Of course, watching is an issue for me because something has gone wrong with my cable connection. The problem has existed for a while, but it recently got much worse, just in time for Wimbledon. Two attempts to fix it have not worked, so on Monday morning, I get a visit from a supervisor. In the meantime--for those moments (or hours) when the picture disappears--at least there's ESPN3.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

I don't think I've ever fallen three times in a match before in my career, so that was a little strange.
Maria Sharapova

...She showed great composure mentally, rising to the occasion. I liked everything--she showed great shot selection and held up well under pressure. She has a technically sound game and she constructs points well....
Martina Navratilova, commenting on Eugenie Bouchard

It's been more like a MASH unit than Wimbledon.
Pam Shriver

I'm really excited. I really can't believe it. It's a little bit of shock and excitement.
Michelle Larcher De Brito

In the cringe category, a record was set for the most withdrawals or retirements in one day at a major, with seven players (can you name them?) bowing out of singles action because of injury.
Nicholas McCarvel

I am sure I will be more confident in my next match. To beat Jelena was unbelievable.
Vesna Dolonc

As the star names either limped towards the exit or were pushed there by young upstarts who seized their moment with both hands, we needed someone to rely on. Someone who could steady the ship. We needed Marion Bartoli.
Alix Ramsay

What's going on?

Those who believe that a Malevolent Force is wreaking havoc at Wimbledon should not be dismissed as either superstitious or uninformed. Indeed, since this is only Day 3 of the tournament, it would be better for us all to brace ourselves for whatever might be next. Because the mayhem certainly can't end here.

Yesterday, a two-time Wimbledon champion went out in the first round, and today, a seven-time champion went out in the second round. But hey-- that's just the ATP; all kinds of chaos has ensued with the WTA, also. Both male and female players are slipping and falling, sometimes with terrible consequences. The powers of Wimbledon have explained to us that the courts themselves are no different than they were last year, which lends even more credence to the "malevolent force" theory.

Consider Victoria Azarenka. The 2nd seed took a nasty (but not uncharacteristic) spill in the first round, and though an MRI showed no structural damage, her pain became worse. Today, Azarenka withdrew from the tournament, and gave a walkover to Flavia Pennetta.

5th seed Sara Errani went out in the first round, as did 10th seed Maria Kirilenko and 13th seed Nadia Petrova.

3rd seed Maria Sharapova fell in straight sets today to former phenom and current world number 131 Michelle Larcher De Brito.

Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew today because of a right arm injury, giving a walkover to 2011 champion Petra Kvitova.

Also going out today was 9th seed Caroline Wozniacki, but I wasn't surprised by that. Wozniacki slipped and fell and hurt her foot. Petra Cetkovska--who slipped and fell and hurt herself badly on a Wimbledon court at the Olympics--is at her best on grass, and grass is the Dane's worst surface. And Wozniacki wasn't the same after she fell; she said the injury affected her Achilles tendon.

Eugenie Bouchard beat Ana Ivanovic in straight sets, and Vesna Dolonc beat countrywoman Jelena Jankovic, also in straight sets.

Somewhere in London, Kvitova has her feet up and is snacking on a pineapple, while Serena Williams is perhaps picking out a new nail color. Who can begin to guess what Tsvetana Pironkova is up to?

Time for some Linda Perry:

A scary movie

There was a once a girl named Maria who hit hard and screamed loud. When she was just 17,  she won the Wimbledon title and became an international star.

And there was once a girl named Michelle who hit hard, screamed loud, and double-faulted a lot. At age 14, she was called a major tennis phenom and it was predicted that she would do very great things.

Maria grew into a celebrated and poised young woman who won big tennis events, but got hurt, and then started to double-fault a lot. Michelle didn't become a star, but instead, faded into tennis obscurity.

Then, one day in June of 2013, nine years after Maria lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish, the two met on Court 2--the name, incidentally, of Wimbledon's former Graveyard Court.  They hit hard and they screamed loud. Michelle played like people used to say she would some day play, and she hardly double-faulted. She even won the first set.

Everyone knows the plot of this movie: Maria pulls herself together and overcomes her opponent, who gradually fades away. But no one gave Michelle the plot outline! She just kept out-maneuvering Maria, and quickly recovering those few times that she made mistakes. She played like Maria does, and forced Maria into engaging in long rallies. She got into Maria's head. She stayed pumped up and filled with confidence, no matter what happened.

But there was another plot twist: Maria slipped and fell down three times, like so many before her at the 2013 event. It was shocking because Maria just doesn't fall down. The third time--toward the end of the second set--she sustained hip pain, and she had to have treatment.  Michelle's momentum was stolen by whatever slippery grass thing was going on at the All England Club. And when an opponent's momentum is stolen, someone like Maria can get bandaged, get up, and take care of business.

But oops--Michelle didn't know about this part of the plot, either. She stayed on her feet, shadow-swinging and hitting serves, and not paying any mind to the medical drama around her.

When Maria returned to the court after almost ten minutes, she played better than she had the entire match. She became as aggressive as Michelle. This was "it," right? Maria would get past the pain and show Michelle how champions do it.

It looked that way when she saved four match points. But she couldn't convert either of the break points she had, and Michelle just kept kept taking it to her, and then--whoosh!--a ball flying from Maria's racket slammed into the net, and Michelle, on her fifth match point, had beaten the mighty Maria 6-3, 6-4.

Not intended for general audiences.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Passing shots

Agnieszka Radwanska will be featured in ESPN's 2013 Body Issue, which hits the stands on July 12.

David Ferrer likes Ana Ivanovic for the cover of FHM.

The National Obesity Forum (yes, only in Great Britain could something be called that) is going after Maria Sharapova for pushing candy onto Britain's youth. This isn't the first time that Sharapova has been criticized for selling a sugar product (Sugarpova, to be specific), and I'm sure it won't be the last, but we may not see this again: The NOF accused Sharapova "of being 'irresponsible' for using her role model status to promote unhealthy eating and failing to identify the difference between snacking and excessive consumption." Oh, that 'Pova--she just can't keep her role model status self out of trouble, can she?

Victoria Azarenka reports that an MRI showed no structural damage to her knee.

Serena Williams has now won 32 straight matches. Williams is the first player to have that long a streak since Justine Henin marked 32 matches in 2007-2008.

Wimbledon--what they said

Is it alright for you to pass her?
She told me it's time for me to pass her.
Serena Williams, on possibly beating her sister's Wimbledon record

I think it was a big one for me because although I really like grass and I seem to play well on it, I've never actually done overly well here.  I've only made the second round once. So yeah, it was a big win for me.
Laura Robson

I feel like my game isn't back yet. My reactions are slow. I'm not moving like I usually move, getting balls back. I don't feel quick and the same as I used to be.
Heather Watson, commenting on her return to the tour following illness

Of course, it was not easy to get my rhythm, but I get it in the end.
Angelique Kerber

I still have to get used to playing on grass, so I was feeling pretty happy today.
Li Na

That strapped up the ankle, but it hasn't strapped up the unforced errors.
David Mercer, on Pavlyuchenkova's time with the trainer

Robson upsets Kirilenko at Wimbledon

Laura Robson, Britain's number 1 player, advanced to the second round of Wimbledon today when she defeated 10th seed Maria Kirilenko in straight sets. Robson, who is already the lone Brit left in the draw (my, that was quick) will face Mariana Duque-Marina in the second round. The winner of that match will play either Peng Shuai or Marina Erakovic; Erakovic has an edge on grass courts.

Also winning--and quite handily--today was Tsvetana Pironkova, who won every game in the first set and all but one game in the second, against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Toward the end of the match, Pavlyuchenkova saw a trainer about a foot issue, but really, it didn't matter. Pironkova, who made only two unforced errors, was her usual Wimbledon self, putting on a bit of a clinic for spectators, and making it all look so easy. What can you say? Pironkova at Wimbledon.

Angelique Kerber beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands, which surprised me a bit. Sabine Lisicki advanced, as did Sam Stosur, Li Na, Roberta Vinci, and both Radwanska sisters. Defending champion Serena Williams (I really like her outfit) won in straight sets over Mandy Minella ("Manilla," according to Mary Joe Fernandez on ESPN), but Minella did manage to break her opponent's serve once. 6-1, 6-3 doesn't sound that good, but Minella played a nice second set, and she looked so happy just to be there, playing Serena.

Zheng Jie is out, beaten by Caroline Garcia. Two of the pre-Wimbledon grass champions--Simona Halep and Elena Vesnina--advanced today, but Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova fell to Klara Zakopalova.

And finally--Nadia Petrova lost in straight sets to Karolina Pliskova. Petrova, the 13th seed, also went out in the opening round of the French Open. Oh. Nadia.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

Honestly, I'm not feeling that great. My back is hurting a little bit. But, yeah, I'm not lying on the ground like in Australia.
Jamie Hampton

I'm rolling up my sleeves.
Pam Shriver, anticipating more Williams-Sharapova discussion opportunities

My season is up and down, I know it.
Petra Kvitova

At that moment, it's shocking because you have no ground. You basically just fall. You know, your legs go one way, and there is no balance or nothing. Nothing I could control in that moment, and that's scary.
Victoria Azarenka

That's the way!
Maria Sharapova, after hitting a winner

Azarenka down, Errani out

Victoria Azarenka took what appeared to be a terrible spill during her first round match at Wimbledon today. The Australian Open champion hurt her knee and underwent a lengthy medical treatment, but came back to defeat Maria Joao Koehler in straight sets. Azarenka later indicated that the injury wasn't nearly as bad as it appeared to be when she took the fall. But it looked so Azarenka-at-a-major, you know?

5th seed Sara Errani made a quick exit, falling to Monica Puig in straight sets. Sloane Stephens beat Eastbourne runner-up Jamie Hampton, Eugenie Bouchard barely escaped loss and overcame Galina Voskoboeva, and Petra Kvitova--all together together now!--lost the second set against Coco Vandewegh. Kvitova had a match point on Vandewegh's serve, but wound up having to serve out the match. (The barking, I should add, was some of the best ever.) Kvitova slipped a couple of times and hurt her hip in the first set, and the injury affected her serve, making things even more difficult for her.

Maria Sharapova had a fight on her hands against Kristina Mladenovic. This didn't surprise me. Mladenovic is really maturing, and her considerable doubles skills serve her well. Sharapova took control in the first set tiebreak when Mladenovic had a collapse of nerves. The Russian went on to win the second set 6-3. Had Mladenovic retained her mental edge, the match would have become even more interesting.

On ESPN, Chris Evert did her best to detract her fellow commentators (and especially Pam Shriver) from talking about the Serena vs. Maria "confiict," but Shriver would have none of it. Always the voice of reason, Evert will have her work cut out for her at this tournament.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Wimbledon championship predictions

No need for another list--it's unanimous again for Serena.

If she wins, it will be her sixth Wimbledon title and her 17th major.

In the opening round, the defending champion plays Mandy Minella. After that, she's probably going to get the speedy Zheng Jie. Theoretically speaking, the only players in her half who could give her trouble are 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska--though she tends to wilt the moment she sees Williams on the other side of the net--and Li Na, who will be lucky if she makes it far enough to have to think about Serena.

Passing shots

Laura Robson is changing her service motion. Sometimes (e.a., Amelie Mauresmo), this is a career-saving move. Other times, it creates a cycle of confusion and decreased condidence. Here's hoping it works for Robson, whose serve wasn't too shabby before.

Robson, by the way, says she's making an effort to cut down on the "bad" language she uses on court. From the looks of this, she's actually cutting down her entire personality. Please, Laura, say anything you want--just be cheeky, witty, bad-ass Laura Robson.

"I don't stick my ass out anymore, okay?" Maria Sharapova tells "journalist" Novak Djokovic at a pre-Wimbledon press conference.

The All England Club has launched the official Wimbledon iPad app.

Guess who's on the cover of The Sunday Times Style?

And speaking of style, Bethanie Mattek-Sands will wear Google Glass on the court at Wimbledon, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The grass is greener on the Serena side

It's always hard for me to mentally prepare for Wimbledon, since my post-French Open letdown tends to last a while, and since Wimbledon is not exactly my favorite major. I wish there were more time between the two events (I know--me and and 20 busloads of players), but here we are, less than two days away from the big tournament in London.

It's common speculation that world number 1 Serena Williams is all set to win her sixth Wimbledon title. Another final between Williams and Sharapova is possible, and--considering the high quality of their French Open final--probably would be a fitting end to the tournament. But anything can happen, of course. And while there aren't many grass specialists left on the tour, there are enough women proficient on grass courts to make things interesting.

Williams' quarter contains several players who have done well on grass courts, including Zheng Jie, Tamira Paszek, Sabine Lisicki, and Urszula Radwanska, plus a few others who are fairly good on the surface. But with the exception of Lisicki, it's hard to imagine any of them making a deep run, and I have my doubts about the German.

And speaking of Germans, Angelique Kerber is also in that quarter, and she has a scary first-round draw against Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Considering how Mattek has been playing lately, if her recent injury proves not to be a big deal, she could make things uncomfortable for Kerber. Kaia Kanepi is also lurking in that quarter, and is very likely to get the winner of the Kerber vs. Mattek-Sands match.

2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska leads the second quarter, and while Radwanska went out in the first round of Eastbourne this year, she also went out in the first round last year, and the loss didn't appear to affect her at all. It's a tricky quarter, however. The mysterious Tsvetana Pironkova is there, and--while she won't have Venus Williams to kick around this year--she'll probably still come to life as soon as she sees the SW19 sign. Pironkova's love relationship with Wimbledon is one of the oddest phenomena in women's professional tennis. I, for one, hope that she sticks around for a while, because it just isn't Wimbledon without the bewildering Bulgarian.

Oh-Nadia Petrova is in Radwanska's quarter, and so are the clever Roberta Vinci, Daniela Hantuchova, Simona Halep, and Li Na. Halep will probably be tired; she just won two consecutive tournaments. But if she can find the energy, she could give just about anyone problems. Li plays Michaella Krajicek (remember Michaella?!) in the first round. The Dutchwoman is pretty good on grass courts. If the more-inconsistent-than-ever Li gets past her, she'll probably have to deal with Halep in the second round.

Also in that quarter, Heather Watson and Madison Keys play each other in the first round.

Next is Maria Sharapova's quarter, which contains 2007 runner-up Marion Bartoli and Petra Cetkovska, who has done well at Wimbledon in the past. Sara Errani is there, and so is Sloane Stephens (who plays Jamie Hampton in the first round). But there isn't anyone (not even Bartoli, given her recent travails) who really appears ready to knock out 'Pova. That is, until we get to the semifinals, and at that point, Victoria Azarenka might be able to do the job.

Finally, there's the Azarenka quarter, and an interesting quarter it is, too. Ekaterina Makarova, on paper, should be challenging, yet her Wimbledon history isn't impressive at all. Still, she's worth keeping an eye on. Keep an eye on Yaroslava Shvedova. Shvedova has a big game that could take her places on the Wimbledon courts. She'll likely get 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the second round, and given Kvitova's decline, an upset is possible. (Ouch. I hate even writing that). Should Kvitova keep her wits about her, she's most likely to meet Makarova in the third round, and that has the potential to be a really fine match.

Both Serbian stars--Ivanovic and Jankovic--are in Azarenka's quarter, and so is the resurgent Yanina Wickmayer.

The Radwanska and Azarenka quarters look to be the least predictable of the four.

First-round matches of interest:

Sabine Lisicki vs. Francesca Schiavone: Schiavone has gotten as far as the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and if she has a good day (and Lisicki has a bad one--not an unusual event), things could get interesting.

Maria Kirilenko vs. Laura Robson: These two have never played each other, and while Robson has the "big" game and will be the runaway crowd favorite, she's vulnerable to the cleverness and consistency of the Russian.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Angelique Kerber: When Mattek-Sands feels well, she tends to play well. On a grass court, her aggression could get the better of Kerber. Mattek-Sands is already 2-0 against Kerber.

Klara Zakopalova vs. Daniela Hantuchova: This could be a very good match. When Zakopalova is "on," she can be a tough opponent.

Sloane Stephens vs. Jamie Hampton: Two up-and-coming players from the USA face each other right away. Hampton made it to the final in Eastbourne; could her lower back issue put her at risk?

Vesnina wins Eastbourne

I like that so much, I have to say it again: Vesnina wins Eastbourne.

So often, finally getting that one tournament win, after just missing out on so many titles, gives a player the confidence to go on winning. Francesca Schiavone is a prime example. Today, it was Elena Vesnina who won her second WTA title, the premier event in Eastbourne. Vesnina had to fight both opponent Jamie Hampton and some very strong wind, but she didn't appear to have to fight her nerves.

"Maybe my time has come," the new champion said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature...."
Maybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:
"Maybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:
"Maybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:
"Maybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:
"Maybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:
aybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:
Maybe my time has come," Vesnina said. "Maybe I've changed a little bit as a player, as a person. I grew up. I started to be more mature. - See more at:

To get to the final, the unseeded Russian player had to dispense of 7th seed Ana Ivanovic, Heather Watson, 2nd seed Li Na, and Yanina Wickmayer. Not bad for a week's work.

Vesnina beat Hampton 6-2, 6-1. After going 0-6 in finals, Vesnina began this season by winning Hobart.

Top seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik won the doubles title, defeating Monica Niculescu and Klara Zakopalova 6-3, 6-3.

The other big news of the weekend was that Simona Halep won the title in 's-Hertogenbosch. The unseeded Halep defeated 4th seed Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-2 in the final. Earlier in the week, she took out top seed Roberta Vinci, 6-0, 6-1. And only last week, Halep won the clay court event in Nurmberg--her first WTA title. The very talented Halep is now on a ten-match win streak. In her first Wimbledon round, she plays Olga Govortsova. Should she win, she'll probably see Li again in her next round.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vesnina to play Hampton for Eastbourne title

Who would have thought it? The finalists in Eastbourne--and worthy finalists they are--turn out to be Jamie Hampton and Elena Vesnina. Both players have moved more toward their potential in the last several months.

In today's semifinals, Hampton defeated 5th seed Caroline Wozniacki 6-7, 7-5, 6-3, and Vesnina defeated Yanina Wickmayer 6-2, 6-0.

The doubles championship will be contested by the top-seeded team of Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik and the team of Monica Niculescu and Klara Zakopalova.

Over in the Netherlands, at the Topshelf Open, Simona Halep defetaed 3rd seed Carla Suarez Navarro in the semifinals. Halep's opponent in the final will be 4th seed Kirsten Flipkens, who defeated Garbine Murguruza. The doubles title went to 2nd seeds Irina-Camelia Begu and Anabel Medina Garrigues. They beat Dominika Cibulkova and Arantxa Parra Santonja 4-6, 7-6, 11-9!

Hampton has not yet won a WTA title, and Vesnina recently won her first title, after contesting several finals. This will be Hampton's first WTA final. Flipkens and Halep each have one title; Halep won hers recently in Nurmberg, on clay.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

WTA Live from the Red Carpet

Here's a look at the red carpet activity surrounding the Pre-Wimbledon party. Some of the players look really lovely, and check out the hair! (Don't miss JJ with a side braid and tassled Jimmy Choo shoes and bag).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Passing shots

Both Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova have withdrawn from Wimbledon--Williams because of her back, and Kuznetsova because of an abdominal strain.

Both Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber went out in the second round in Eastbourne today. Yanina Wickmayer beat Kvitova (who was leading in the third set), and Ekaterina Makarova beat Kerber. Sam Stosur lost to Lucie Safarova, and Li Na advanced when Marion Bartoli gave her a walkover.

British players Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Elena Baltacha all lost in the second round in Eastbourne today. Robson lost to Caroline Wozniacki, who also beat the British number 1 at the French Open.

Meanwhile, in the second round of the Topshelf Open in the Netherlands, the increasingly dangerous Simona Halep upset top seed Roberta Vinci 6-0, 6-1. Really, 6-0, 6-1.

Here's a look at the Addidas by Stella McCartney Barricade line for Wimbledon.

Serena Williams made a fashionable appearance at the Burberry Men's Show in London.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

They don't call her consistent for nothing

For the second year in a row, Agnieszka Radwanska has suffered defeat in the first round of the Aegon International. The top seed lost today to qualifier Jamie Hampton, who defeated her 7-6, 6-2. Last year, when Radwanska was also the top seed, the Polish star was overcome in the opening round by the grass court danger otherwise known as Tsvetana Pironkova.

Actually, Radwanska's "consistency" could serve her well at Wimbledon. Last year, she left Eastbourne for London, played extremely well, and made it all the way to the final, in which she lost to Serena Williams.

Radwanska wasn't the only one. Defending champion Tamira Paszek was taken out in the first round today by Caroline Wozniacki.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hantuchova wins Birmingham

Daniela Hantuchova won the Birmingham championship today when she defeated Donna Vekic 7-6, 6-4. (Last year, Vekic made it to the final of her first WTA main draw event.) The team of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua won the doubles title. The Australians defeated Marina Erakovic and Cara Black--also 7-5, 6-4. Barty and Dellacqua were seeded third.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Halep wins first WTA title

After several tries, Simona Halep has won a WTA title. Today was the talented Romanian player's fourth final, and this time, she got it right. Halep defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-3 in Nurmberg. Halep, the 7th seed, served especially well; four of her six aces were hit to close service games. Halep also saved all eight break points against her.

The doubles result was an upset. Top seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke were beaten 2-6, 7-6, 11-9 by Raluca Olaru (another Romanian) and Valeria Solovyeva.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Jankovic upset in Nurnberg

Top seed Jelena Jankovic was defeated 6-4, 6-3 in the Nurnberg semifinals today by Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic's opponent in the final will be Simona Halep, who beat Lucie Safarova 6-3 0-6, 6-2 in the semifinals.

In Birmingham, Francesca Schiavone did what she seems to like to do frequently: She played a very long match (3 hours and almost 23 minutes). She lost, however, to Daniela Hantuchova. Hantuchova beat her 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals. Also going out were 3rd seed Sorana Cirstea (def. by Donna Vekic) and Madison Keys (def. by Magdalena Rybarikova). Rybarikova won the second set 6-0.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Passing shots

It's time for the Backspin clay court awards.

Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Johanna Konta, Tara Moore, Samantha Murray, and Andrea Petkovic have been given wild cards for the Wimbledon main draw. Two more wild cards will be announced soon.

No respect? Or is it a Scandinavian utilitarian thing? 

Here's how 'Pova and Serena will look for the Wimbledon tournament.

Speaking of Wimbledon--don't you think all on-air staff at an establishment called "Tennis Channel" should be able to pronounce it? (I know--it's a lot to ask, like still assuming they would all be able to pronounce "Evert").

Anne Keothavong did some blogging from Birmingham.

The WTA wants to know what your favorite 40 Love moment is.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My French Open top 10

Sculpture, Centre Georges Pompidou
Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 French Open happenings:

10. So this is what it feels like to win: The now-legendary Esther Vergeer totally dominated the women's wheelchair events for so long that it became unnecessary to check results--Vergeer won everything. The champion retired this year, however, and--while we may have expected to see a more familiar name on the last line of the draw--it was German teacher and athlete Sabine Ellerbrock who won the French Open.

9. My inky flowers can beat your golden flowers: Bethanie Mattek-Sands, her arm heavily tattooed with flowers she recently referred to as her "Zen garden," put the hurt on 2011 champion Li Na in the second round. Mattek-Sands, whose big game has been repeatedly hampered by injury, pretty much played "Li Na style," and she did everything better than Li, beating her 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

8. The charm of Paris--better if shared: Lucie Hradecka, who--with partner Andrea Hlavackova--won the women's doubles title in 2011, won the mixed doubles title this year with partner Frantisek Cermac.

7. What's Paris without a floor show?: Tennis is sport, but it can also be theatre, and nobody knows that better than France's Marion Bartoli, who always puts on at least one memorable performance at every big tournament. She didn't waste any time at Roland Garros, delivering her show in the first round. Bartoli and Olga Govortsova played for 3 hours and 12 minutes, not counting several rain breaks. There were plenty of double faults, match points saved, and very lengthy games. From the Frenchwoman, we got what we expected--repeated fist pumps, shadow-swinging, jumping up and down, stern glares to the box. Bartoli won 7-6, 4-6, 7-5. As for the show--you either like it or you don't. I do.

6. Fighting Italian stays in the fight: I don't think many observers thought that Sara Errani would make it to the semifinals this year, but that's exactly what the 2012 runner-up did, and she took out Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska along the way. Errani would go on to lose in the semifinals to Serena Williams.

5. Did those women miss their flights?! What were all those players from the USA doing hanging around in Paris after the early rounds had been played?  American women made up 25% of the round of 16--who would have thought it? In addition to Mattek-Sands, there were Serena Williams, Jamie Hampton and Sloane Stephens. Varvara Lepchenko made it to the third round, in which she was defeated (for the first time) by Angelique Kerber.

4. Is that a helicopter I hear overhead? Just when you think she's too "out of it" to make a return, Jelena Jankovic shows up playing some really good clay court tennis. She won the tournament in Bogota, and made it to the final in Charleston (and took a set off of Serena Williams). Jankovic also made it to the final 16 in both Stuttgart and Rome. At Roland Garros, she made it to the quarterfinals, won a bagel set against Sharapova, and then lost her mind again and went out of the tournament. But really, what can you expect from the 2008 Stuttgart champion who chose the red Porsche as her prize because it matched a pair of her heels? That's my JJ.

3. Nothing to prove on clay: Defending champion Maria Sharapova ended this year's tournament as the runner-up, but she did so in style. Sharapova took out Zheng Jie, Sloane Stephens, Jelena Jankovic, and Victoria Azarenka. Not bad. The Russian had to once again meet her nemesis, Serena Williams, in the final, but Williams' 6-4, 6-4 victory was hardly a beat-down. Sharapova wasn't as good as her opponent, but she was very good, and she showed, yet again, that she has solved her clay court issues.

2. We're Russian, too!: The biggest Russian victory at this year's French Open took place in doubles, as Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina beat top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-2 to win the championship. Errani and Vinci were the favorites, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to fans that the team of Makarova and Vesnina was able to pull this off. Both excellent doubles competitors, the combination really seems to work for them.

1. "Patience on red clay" gets a new meaning: Think about Serena Williams' lone Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, sitting atop a shelf all those many years with no one to talk to. No silly anecdotes, no shared war stories--why, those shiny flat Venus Rosewater bidules don't even speak French! But Williams does, and so does her Wilson Blade.

For the past year, Williams has been learning a lot about how to be patient on a clay surface and carve out points she can win quickly on grass and hard courts. And since her only other French Open win took place in 2002, she has also had to exercise a lot of patience in terms of adding at least one more Paris victory to her list of incredible accomplishments. She did that today, beating defending champion Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4.

Move over, seasoned Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, and make room for a a shinier version. There's plenty to talk about now.

French Open--what they said

She played probably the best she's played me. She really wanted it.
Serena Williams

She has a different confidence now. There just haven't been as many ups and downs as she's been known for….
Sascha Bajin, commenting on Serena

Honestly, for us, it's a surprise that we didn't drop a set for the whole tournament, because it was a really difficult tournament. It's always tough to even win one match here.
Elena Vesnina

I think we're extra happy because we beat them first time. We played a lot of times against them; they're the best team in the world.
Ekaterina Makarova

I want to go out in my peak. That's my goal. But have I peaked yet?
Serena Williams

Makarova and Vesnina win French Open

The team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina won the French Open doubles championship today. The Russian team, seeded fourth, defeated top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-2. Makarova served out both sets, and held at love when she served for the match.

This is the first major women's doubles title held by either player. Makarova, with partner Bruno Soares, won the 2012 U.S. Open mixed doubles title.

Errani and Vinci were the favorites going into the tournament. The Italians have won the French Open, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

French Open--what they said

I don't know if she really cares about what's going on on the other side. I think in the last few matches (I’ve) always been slow starting, so I definitely wanted to give myself a bit more energy than maybe I have done previously.
Maria Sharapova

Honestly at that point I was just so nervous, I thought "I'm not going to be able to hit ground strokes." No joke. As you can see, the one ground stroke I did hit went a hundred feet out. I thought to myself, "Look, Serena, you've just got to hit aces. That's your only choice." I wouldn't have been able to hit a forehand or a backhand or any shot, for that matter.
Serena Williams, on how she ended the match

I played a great tournament and I ran into a really tough champion today.
Maria Sharapova

I love Paris. I spend a lot of time here. I live here. I practice here. I think I am a Parisian.
Serena Williams

Bencic wins French Open junior championship

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland won the junior title at the French Open today, defeating 5th seed Antonia Lottner 6-1, 6-3 in the final. Bencic went down 0-3 in the second set, broke her opponent, but then went down 0-40 in the next game. She held, however, and Lottner would not win another game. Bencic was seeded 2nd at the tournament.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won the doubles title. The Czech team, seeded 2nd, beat Domenika Gonzalez and Beatriz Haddad Maia 7-5, 6-2 in today's final.

Serena Williams--queen of France, queen of tennis

World number 1 Serena Williams came to Roland Garros on a mission this spring--to win a second French Open. Her only victory in Paris had taken place in 2002; since then, a series of obstacles have gotten in her way, but not this time. In fact, even before Williams arrived at the tournament, she was the absolute favorite to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. The winner of Charleston, Madrid and Rome, the 31-year-old holder of 15 major singles titles--after going out in the first round of the French Open last year--made it her task to claim the title again. She hired Patrick Mouratoglou to coach her, and together, they turned Williams into the best clay competitor in the field.

With increased patience, better point construction, and more finesse in her clay court movement, Williams was not going to let anything--not rain, not wind, not mental demons, not defending champion Maria Sharapova--stop her. What makes the story more interesting is the fact that Sharapova even came to be the defending champion. Not known for her clay court skills, the Russian star made a vast improvement last year in her own movement and point construction, and won a Career Slam when she prevailed in Paris.

Not having beaten Williams since 2004, Sharapova's only strategy today was to just go for everything. Her sometimes-fragile serve let her down today, though not as much as it has in the recent past. Things started out badly for her when she went down 0-40 on her serve in the first game of the match, but she not only held, but broke Williams in the next game. Sharapova then went up 40-15 on her next serve, but--at one point away from holding a 3-0 lead--she was broken back.

That small chapter in the 2013 women's final accurately reflected the whole story. Whatever Sharapova did, it wasn't good enough to move her forward and give her some breathing room. She broke Williams to even things at 4-all after Williams became less precise with her forehand. Now, one thought, this could be the start of something really interesting. But Williams then stunningly broke back, and held for a 6-4 first set victory.

The second set opened in a way that was not unlike the first, only this time, Sharapova has to save five break points. Broken in the third game, the defending champion pulled off a very tough hold for 4-5. But that was all that was left for her, as Williams proceeded to hit three aces--one of them (123 mph) at match point, in what has now become a signature ("You know how I like to do it") move for her.

Not enough can be said about the champion's superior defense. Sharapova played well. Against other players, many of her almost-winners would have been greatly-applauded outright winners. But it has become increasingly difficult for even the best players to get anything by Williams, who has now added very agile and rapid clay court sliding to her list of deadly moves.

The eleven-year span between French Open titles is the longest ever experienced by a WTA player. Williams now holds 16 major singles titles. She has been counted out many times because of injury, illness, lack of focus, lack of surface skill, age--whatever. It doesn't matter. She always comes back, and when she does, she finds a way to win.

The great Arantxa Sanchez Vicario presented the trophies. Now a part-time resident of Paris, Williams addressed the crowd in French (as she has following every round). When she complimented her opponent's game and called her a great champion, Sharapova grabbed the microphone and said "Merci beaucoup." It was a charming bit of spontaneity added to what had to be a heart-breaking moment for the defending champion.

Friday, June 7, 2013

French Open--what they said

It’s my biggest win to date. I don’t know how I’ve managed to train, work and play at the same time through these past few weeks, but right now it feels great!
Sabine Ellerbrock

Maria is way too predictable against Serena. She never serves at her body anymore and plays her forehand way too much. She never hits hard down the middle anymore. It’s not a good match-up for her no matter what. Serena is just much better, but Maria has got to give herself a shot.When Maria she was 17 and 18, she was two or three steps faster and defended much better. She may never be able to do that again. Of course when you lose to someone for almost 10 years in a row it’s going become a little mental, but I think most of the mental is because Serena is the only player she can’t dictate to and play the way she wants all the time.
Michael Joyce

Despite that record and despite me being unsuccessful against her, I believe that I'm happy to be setting up chances to be going out and facing her, someone that's been playing and dominating tennis for almost a year now. Her success has been incredible. But going into a French Open final, that doesn't matter. It all starts from zero. You've got to play until the last point and believe in yourself.
Maria Sharapova

It was also very special to reach the final today because Ekaterina has a birthday today. It's very difficult to play on your birthday. Most of the players lose on that day, except Rafa of course, so it was some more pressure on me, but we played very well and we're really happy we won today.
Elena Vesnina

It feels good to hit volleys. I'm not a player that runs to the net all the time, so it feels really good to be able to hit some good volleys. Sometimes I'm surprised--I'm like, '"Is that me?" You know, I used to hit a lot of drop shots when I was younger. I'm just going back to the young days, I guess.
Serena Williams

Ellerbrock wins French Open wheelchair singles title

Sabine Ellerbrock of Germany upset 2nd seed Jiske Griffioen today to win the singles championship at the French Open. Ellerbrock defeated Griffioen 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Griffioen and her partner, Aniek Van Koot, the top seeds, won the doubles championship, defeating Ellerbrock and Sharon Walraven 6-2, 6-3 in the final.

Until this season, the great Esther Vergeer dominated wheelchair play in every tournament she entered. Vergeer announced her retirement in February.

Errani and Vinci advance to French Open final

Defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, seeded number 1 at the French Open, advanced to the final today when they defeated 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnk 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. Their opponents in the final will be 4th seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, who defeated 2nd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 7-5. Hlavackova and Hradecka won the French Open in 2011.

5th-seeded junior Antonia Lottner of Germany knocked top seed Ana Konjuh out of the semifinals today. Lottner beat Konjuh 6-0, 6-1 in just over an hour. Lottner was  broken one time. Konjuh, with partner Carol Zhao, is still active in the doubles draw.

Maria Sharapova said yesterday that, in order to defeat Serena Williams in the singles final, she'll have to do something different, since what's she's been doing (for years) hasn't worked. The defending champion really has her work cut out for her. Williams is out-serving her and out-moving her, even with Sharapova's greatly improved movement on clay. And Sharapova's service inconsistenies won't be negotiable when Serena is on the other side of the net. Sharapova has to bring her very best serve--first and second--and she has to wrong-foot Williams enough to get into her head. A formidable task, for sure.

(Note to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: That was a lot of talk about being such a better hitter and server than your opponent. Too bad that an apparent excess of testosterone has kept you from being consistently competitive--like, say, Serena or Maria.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

French Open--what they said

...I must say that apart from this defeat, it was incredible to play with Daniel. It's a great experience for me. I'll have to continue and improve and learn.
Kristina Mladenovic

So now we know. Maria Sharapova’s winning formula at Roland Garros 2013 is to lose either the entire first set or at least her opening service to love. From there, she’s a surefire winner.
Kate Battersby

The break changed the momentum for sure. I was trying to make things happen too quickly and started missing the ball. I'm not happy about the match, but I think it was a good fight. Overall I have to give myself credit for going one step further. This French Open is definitely the best for me so far.
Victoria Azarenka

What she did today is unbelievable. She's very strong. She's an unbelievable player. She had a great day.
Sara Errani. referring to Serena Williams

Obviously whatever I did in the past hasn't worked. So I'll have to try to do something different and hopefully it will..
Maria Sharapova, commenting on her upcoming final

Hradecka and Cermak win French Open mixed doubles title

Lucie Hradecka and Frantisek Cermak of the Czech Republic beat Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor 1-6, 6-4, 10-6 today to win the 2013 mixed doubles championship. Hradecka and Cermak were the runners-up at the Australian Open. Hradecka, with partner Andrea Hlavackova, is still in the women's doubles draw in Paris.

Today marked the first time in 22 years that a Czech team won the mixed doubles title at the French Open.

Williams and Sharapova to contest French Open final

Was I the only one who had trouble watching Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka play their Roland Garros semifinal today? Really, I had to fight to keep from getting distracted. It's true, of course, that I never especially enjoy their matches--that just isn't the kind of tennis that gives me a lot of pleasure--but today's match featured so few stretches of momentum, I found it particularly dull.

I thought Azarenka would be more up to the task of playing in her first French Open semifinal, especially since Sharapova's serve was all over the place. The defending champion double-faulted four times in one game, and eleven times total. She also hit twelve aces, including one on match point.

There was a half-hour rain delay toward the end of the second set, which Azarenka won. Sharapova had to serve for the match twice, and needed five match points to win it, 6-1, 2-6 6-4. She hit a total of 42 winners, and made 39 unforced errors. I should add that, the second time she served for the match, the Russian held at love.

The other semifinal was more of a "how to do everything in tennis" clinic put on by top seed Serena Williams. In just 46 minutes, Williams defeated 2012 runner-up Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1. Williams hit 40 winners (to Errani's two), and had first and second serve win percentages of 82 and 88, as well as an 80% success rate a the net. It was an amazing display of serving, returning, and everything else you can name.

No one can know what's really in another person's mind (sometimes I'm not sure what's in my own), but one has to believe that the world number 1 is--shall we say, "motivated"--to play Sharapova in the final. Sharapova hasn't beaten her since 2004,  and this is "Serena on a mission" if ever there were one.

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Hsieh Su-Wei
round 2--def. Eugenie Bouchard
round 3--def. Zheng Jie
round of 16--def. Sloane Stephens (17)
quarterfinals--def. Jelena Jankovic (18)
semifinals--def. Victoria Azarenka (3)

round 1--def. Anna Tatishvili
round 2--def. Caroline Garcia
round 3--def. Sorana Cirstea
round of 16--def. Roberta Vinci (15)
quarterfinals--def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
semifinals--def. Sara Errani (5)

In women's wheelchair singles, top seed Aniek Van Koot won her quarterfinal match 4-6. 6-4, 6-4 by Lucy Shuker. 2nd seed Jiske Griffioen also advanced to the semifinals.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

French Open--what they said

It's a matter of applying your game and not allowing Maria to step up, because she loves to be aggressive and hit the first two shots and make you run after the ball. It's going to be definitely a battle.
Victoria Azarenka

The number of stare-downs and glares shot across the net during the Sharapova-Jankovic match made me really wish there was more of that on the men’s tour. It’s fun.
Courtney Nguyen

We have played each other so many times there are really no secrets between each other in terms of our game styles and what we do well and not.
Maria Sharapova

Good Jelena, meet "Bad" Jelena. And get out of the way.
Todd Spiker

Defending champion Sharapova advances to French Open semifinals

In one of today's French Open semifinals, some might say that Chaos ruled. Indeed, Jelena Jankovic delivered some vintage JJ--on a bagel, no less--to Maria Sharapova in the first set. JJ looked so much like her old self that it wouldn't have been a surprise if a ball machine had been set off on the other side of the court, and the 18th seed had returned all of those balls successfully, too. She was moving expertly, she was waiting for just the right moment, and she was firing winners.

Sharapova, for her part, didn't really seem to fully comprehend what was going on, and gave Jankovic all the help she needed by making repeated unforced errors, in addition to the errors being brought on her by her opponent's skill.

JJ with a 6-0 set against Sharapova? It could go only one way then, and it did, but not until there were a few more twists and turns.

Jankovic was broken in the first game of the next set, the break seemed "unnecessary," that is, Jankovic's mood had already turned from confident to a bit cranky, and it would get worse. The JJ Show, including muttering, yelling and especially yelling at her coach, ensued. Sharapova got better, to be sure--who didn't think that was going to happen?--but Jankovic got emotional and shaky.

When Sharapova served at 5-2 and Jankovic broke her, it looked like things might change. When Jankovic held for 4-5, it got tense. But Sharapova won that set 6-4, and that was pretty much that. Almost. JJ was broken, and looked like she was going to break back, but her momentum was gone, and Sharapova won the final set 6-3.

In the other semifinal, Maria Kirilenko (who sustained a hip injury today) and Victoria Azarenka broke each other a half dozen times in their first--very long--set, but then Azarenka won the tiebreak 7-3, and after that, as one might expect, she gained momentum and won the second set 6-2.

In doubles, defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci moved to the semifinals, as did 2011 champions Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. Also advancing was the team of Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik, who beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova, and Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, who put an end to the run of Kristina Mladenovic and Galina Voskoboeva. This means that the four top-seeded teams have made it to the semifinals.

Hradecka and partner Frantisek Cermak have reached the mixed doubles final. Their opponents will be Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor.

Top junior seed Ana Konjuh won her third round match today. The match lasted 2 hours and 37 minutes; Konjuh defeated Petra Uberalova 6-7. 6-4, 6-4.

The first of tomorrow's singles semifinals will feature Sharapova and Azarenka. A final between either of them and Serena Williams will be a much-heralded event. Azarenka has never before reached the semifinals at Roland Garros.  She leads Sharaapova 7-5 in career matches; Sharapova leads Azarenka 2-1 on clay (however, in one of those matches, Azarenka retired).

The second semifinal will be played between world number 1 Serena Williams and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

French Open--what they said

I was really trying to play aggressive and not in the one spot, going down the lines. It was the key, but she's very good runner as well.
Agnieszka Radwanska

We were fighting, competing against each other, doing anything to win. We were girls at a young age that had rivalries.
Jelena Jankovic, recalling when she and Sharapova trained together

Sometimes she was too clever for her own good.
Steve Tignor, writing about Agnieszka Radwanska

She's playing much more consistent than maybe she's done in the last couple of years, which is nice to see, because she was at a level that she has maintained for quite a bit of time. She's a tough opponent.
Maria Sharapova, commenting on Jankovic

I'm glad I played her in Madrid because I know she's here to play and she's here to compete. She's so serious. I can be ready for that.
Serena Williams, on Sara Errani

It’s my stage in life.
Jelena Jankovic, on playing on show courts at big events

It was a very tough match today, but it's good for me because, I don't know, but it's very good. I am exhausted.
Serena Williams

Serena Williams defeats own demons and Kuznetsova at Roland Garros

The quarterfinal played by Serena Wiliiams and Svetlana Kuznetsova at the French Open today didn't have everything, but it had enough drama to qualify for French theatre. Both women are past French Open champions--one with a fierce backhand and the other with a fierce forehand. And until today, the one with the fierce backhand (whose forehand isn't too shabby, either) had pretty much romped through the tournament without dropping a set.

Today, however, was a different story. Svetlana Kuznetsova is one of the best clay court players on the tour, and she's currently in the midst of a comeback following rehab from a knee procedure, which apparently re-ignited her enthusiasm for the sport. Her knee was fine today, but Kuznetsova had to deal with an abdominal injury that prevented her from serving very hard or fast for much of the match. Take away her big serve and she doesn't stand a chance against Williams, right?

Not exactly, though it certainly looked that way for one set--a set that Williams won, 6-1. But in the second set, Kuznetsova became more creative, and she also used her forehand to blast the lines with groundstrokes that were untouchable. She obviously surprised her opponent, and suddenly, the Russian led 5-1. She won that set 6-3, and then broke Williams right away in the first game of the final set.

Kuznetsova then held for 2-0, and it was in the next game that the story of the match was told in microcosm. Williams saved break point after break point, finally held for 1-2, and that was the end of the Russian surge. Williams won the third set 6-3 with her 37th winner.

There were times, during the second set, that Williams' face was a picture of emotional agony. Her only French Open win came in 2002, though--through the years--she's collected numerous trophies for the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But the slowness of red clay has never been an element that has worked in Williams' favor--at least not in Paris. She came into this tournament, however, having won both Madrid and Rome (and Charleston, on green clay, which is a bit faster). She also came into this French Open with a lot of special training and a renewed determination to conquer the demands of the world's biggest clay court event.

Now the world number 1 has two more challenges. In the semifinals, she will play Sara Errani, who was last year's runner-up. Errani is the consummate clay court player, but it's hard to imagine her getting much momentum against the big-serving Williams. Which means that--barring some unusual circumstance--Williams will get to the final.

Errani won her semifinal against Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 7-6. Tennis Channel showed the Williams-Kuznetsova match, and since Tennis Channel live streaming ended yesterday, many of us in the USA were unable to watch the other match, which was infuriating. For, as thrilling and important as the Williams-Kuznetsova match was, I was just as interested (maybe a bit more) in watching Errani and Radwanska. ESPN aired it later in the day.

Radwanska's second serve let her down even more than usual today, though Errani's was just as much of a problem. Errani, however, capitalized on every break opportunity but one.

Today's victory marked the first time in her career that Errani has beaten a top 5 player.

Speaking of Errani, she and her Fighting Italian doubles partner, Roberta Vinci, advanced to the quarterfinals today with a straight-set win over Janette Husarova and Sabine Lisicki. Errani and Vinci, the top seeds, are also the defending champions. Also advancing were 10th seeds Kristina Mladenovic (making her mark in doubles lately) and Galina Voskoboeva. Sania Mirza and Bethanie Mattek-Sands retired against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova. The retirement came about when Mattek-Sands sustained a groin injury.

Monday, June 3, 2013

French Open--what they said

Sometimes I can be very good. Sometimes I have bad days. I'm just a human being, trying to do my job.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

I've been playing here for ten years, and I finally make the quarterfinals. I think I'm improved.
Maria Kirilenko

We had a few freaky points, a few shanks. But overall I was happy with the way I focused most of the match.
Maria Sharapova

The two-time Australian Open champion was lethal and accurate from inside the baseline, never allowing the Italian to dictate play or confuse her with her variety of spins and speeds.
Matt Cronin, commenting on Victoria Azarenka

Can you beat her (Azarenka)?
Of course I can.
Maria Kirilenko

I don't care if I'm under or not under or flying or standing or whatever it is.
Svetlana Kuznetsova, when asked if she was flying under the radar

Azarenka advances to French Open quarterfinals

2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone's Paris run came to an end today when Victoria Azarenka reeled off nine straight games following a 3-all score in the first set of their round of 16 match. It took Azarenka a while to get her bearings--playing Schiavone on clay is no easy feat for anyone--but once she did, the former world number 1 was unstoppable. This is the first time that Azarenka has reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

Also winning in straight sets was defending champion Maria Sharapova, who defeated Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3.

It took 18th seed Jelena Jankovic just over an hour to pretty much run over Jamie Hampton, 6-0, 6-2. Jankovic last reached the quarterfinals in 2010.

More interesting was the match played between Maria Kirilenko and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Both women had to have medical treatment--Kirilenko, for a shoulder problem, and Mattek-Sands, because of nausea. Mattek-Sands' level did fall, and the Russian engaged in some pretty fancy shot-making toward the end of the match. She took it, 7-5, 6-4, and reached the quarterfinals for the first time in her career.

After the match, when Kirilenko said she enjoyed the Parisian wave, fans did one just for her.

In doubles, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Flavia Pennetta were defeated by Kristina Mladenovic and Galina Voskoboeva, and Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur were knocked out by Cara Black and Marina Erakovic. Top seeds and defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci advanced to the 3rd round.

Here is the quarterfinal singles draw:

Serena Williams (1) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Agnieszka Radwanska (4) vs. Sara Errani (5)
Maria Kirilenko (12) vs. Victoria Azarenka (3)
Jelena Jankovic (18) vs. Maria Sharapova (2)

Three former champions remain in the draw.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Roland Garros week 1--answers and questions

Gargoyles, Saint-Chapelle
During the first week of the 2013 French Open, some of our expectations--for better or worse--were met. Serena Williams cruised through the first four rounds, Petra Kvitova crashed out, Sara Errani put up a fight when she had to, and Caroline Wozniacki made an early exit.

Some questions were answered:

Can Li Na rise to meet the occasion? No.

Is Bethanie Mattek-Sands actually healthy? She appears to be.

Is JJ really on a comeback path? Looks like it.

Should you dye your hair blonde for the summer? Absolutely.

Other questions will be answered next week. Like, can anyone stop Serena? Are Serena and Maria going to contest the final? How far can Francesca Schiavone go? Is Victoria Azarenka going to surprise us?

The weather played a big role in the first week of play. Rain delays and cold, wet, slippery conditions went against some players. Host country France saw its last three hopes--Bartoli, Razzano and Cornet--go out in the third round (but not before Bartoli provided some first-rate theatre, especially in the opening round). Chinese speed-demon Zheng Jie gave Sharapova a bit of a contest. Four American women made it to the round of 16 (!), and the Williams sisters withdrew from doubles competition.

Those of us who live in the USA had to contend with a weekend controlled by NBC, the official Anti-Tennis Channel. I found my iPad next to useless (advanced Flash software is required, so the "app" workaround is there in name only) for watching Tennis Channel online, but fortunately, I was able to watch it on a non-mobile device.

The low point of the week, though, had to be hearing Justin Gimelstob--of all people--give everyone a stern lecture on character.

The French Open is my favorite major, so just about anything that happens is okay with me.

Of the twelve women remaining, Schiavone, at 32 years of age, is the oldest. Williams is 31, and Jankovic and Mattek-Sands are 28. Sloane Stephens, at 20, is the "young one." On both tours, the concept of "old" has changed. The most dramatic example in this tournament is Tommy Haas, who, at age 35, is into the round of 16.

French Open--what they said

I think it was maybe my serve. If you lose yours against her you have to win points over and over again.
Ana Ivanovic

She knows when to throw in a double fault.
Radio Roland Garros commentator, describing Ana Ivanovic
Last time we played here she won so that will probably get her pumped up, and she's on a comeback.
Serena Williams, commenting on her next opponent, Svetlana Kuznetsova

I've worn the same socks for thirty years.
Martina Navratilova

A huge roar was then heard emanating from Ms. Errani’s side of the court a split-second after match point--Sara had obviously got her breath back.
Andrew Lilley

Injured Errani makes comeback in French Open round of 16

At 5-all in her match today against Carla Suarez Navarro, Sara Errani--clutching the area around her stomach--called for a medical timeout. She wasn't ill, and she told the trainer and the doctor that it wasn't a muscle problem, and that she was having trouble breathing. Commentator Martina Navratilova suggested that the Italian player had somehow gotten a rib out of place, which is the logical conclusion (though this has not been confirmed, to my knowledge).

At any rate, Errani received treatment by getting her diaphragm released, but she lost the first set 5-7. It looked as though a retirement might be looming, but this was Sara Errani, who is as tough as they come. Also, she has finalist points to defend, and she was playing a woman known for finding ways to lose matches.

Indeed, Suarez Navarro went up 4-2 in the second set, but Errani fought through and broke her, and at that point, you kind of knew what was going to happen. Errani won, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Her opponent in the quarterfinals will be Agnieszka Radwanska, who defeated 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic in straight sets.

Radwanska tends to suffer on clay surfaces, but she's looked pretty comfortable so far at Roland Garros, and has yet to drop a set. Today, the queen of trick shots threw in a tweener, just for good measure. This is the first time in her career that Radwanska has reached the quarterfinals of the French Open--and the first time she's played in Paris as a blonde. Just saying.

Errani's doubles partner, co-world number 1 Roberta Vinci, lost in straight sets to singles world number 1 Serena Williams, but Vinci's performance gave spectators something to appreciate.

Williams will face 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals. Kuznetsova defeated 8th seed Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Ivanovic's exit means that four former champions are still in the draw.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Passing shots

Monica Puig's Road to Roland Garros is worth watching (she turns into The Djoker at the end).

Here's a good look at Aga Radwanska's forehand slice.

Just when you thought it was safe to listen to Brad Gilbert....He has nicknamed Jamie Hampton "Hampton Inn Suites." Not as bad as calling Yanina Wickmayer "Wicker Chair," but--well, it is as bad, isn't it?

Get to know Darija Jurak.

Jelena Gencic, who coached young Monica Seles, died today in Belgrade. Gencic also coached Goran Ivanisevic, and is credited with discovering ATP world number 1 Novak Djokovic.

French Open--what they said

It's my Zen garden.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, commenting on her tattooed arm

If I can win,  with serving like this, that's pretty remarkable.
Victoria Azarenka

She's a a machine, a juggernaut.
Alize Cornet, commenting on Azarenka

Clay is not my best surface, so this is really encouraging.
Jamie Hampton

There will be few prizes awarded for noticing that Sharapova's problem with double faults may come home to roost against elite opposition, but she will take huge confidence from the way she wrested back this second set.
Kate Battersby

American women dominate French Open round of 16

No, I haven't been drinking (if you don't count the OTC flu med) and you don't need to make haste to the optometrist's office to have your lenses adjusted. 25% of the round of 16 is made up of women from the USA. Serena Williams eased in yesterday, and today, she was joined by Bethanie "La Chaussette" Mattek-Sands, Jamie Hampton and Sloane Stephens.

Mattek-Sands needed three sets, but she defeated qualifier Paula Ormachea, and Stephens defeated Marina Erakovic. As for Hampton...

...Oh, Petra.

Francesa Schiavone, romping around like the former French Open champion she is, put the hurt on Marion Bartoli, using her signature slice and spin and superior movement to leave the Frenchwoman behind in a cloud of red dust. Schiavone, who won 6-2, 6-1, hit 32 winners and made only 14 unforced errors.

Victoria Azarenka got off to a slow start, but beat Frenchwoman Alize Cornet. Maria Kirilenko and Stefanie Voegele engaged in exactly the kind of entertaining match I was expecting from them, with Kirilenko coming out the victor, 7-6, 7-5. Match point was a ball from the Russian's racket that accidentally bounced softly off of the net cord and dropped onto the court, providing the final frustration for Voegele.

Those of us who live in the USA and don't have Direct TV were not able to watch the match contested between Jelena Jankovic and Samantha Stosur. NBC showed an ATP match (and here's hoping everyone got to see it--Tommy Haas won on his 13th match point), and neither Tennis Channel nor ESPN was permitted to broadcast online. Jankovic won, 3-6, 6-3. 6-4, on her fourth match point (an ace).

Finally, Maria Sharapova had to fight Zheng Jie--no surprise there--who was up 4-1 in the second set. 'Pova was also the victim of a ridiculous umpire decision, and after the match, commentator Rennae Stubbs suggested perhaps the Russian could use a little instruction from her on how to argue with the chair. Sharapova won, 6-1, 7-5.

There are three Russians in the round of 16--Kirilenko, defending champion Sharapova and 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and three Italians--2010 champion Schiavone, Roberta Vinci and 2012 runner-up Sara Errani.

Six former champions entered the tournament this year, and five are still standing. Li Na, the 2011 champion, was upset in the second round by Mattek-Sands.