Saturday, September 28, 2013

Kvitova wins Toray Pan Pacific Open

Petra Kvitiova won the Toray Pan Pacific Open today, defeating Angelique Kerber in the final of the the event's 30 anniversary. The victory was a portrait of both the truly great player Kvitova became in 2011, as well as the inscure, error-prone player she became following her banner year. She defeated Kerber 6-2, 0-6, 6-3, and the scoreline paints the portrait.

Kvitova swept through the first set, hitting winners into both corners and comporting herself easily at the net. She so dominated Kerber that it would have been easy to think that she was actually going to get off the court with a straight sets win. But hey--this was Kvitova, and this was a big match. There was still time for her to lose her way. And lose her way she did (following a between-sets chat with her coach--just saying). Second set Petra was an error machine whose clumsiness boosted Kerber's confidence, which is really all that the German needed to bring up her own level.

So befuddled was Kvitova that Kerber was able to take the second set 6-0 while hitting only a few winners.

But we knew how it would end. Kvitova raced to a 4-0 lead in the final set, Kerber then made things harder for her, but--on her fourth match point--Kvitova won her second title of the year, and the 11th of her career.

It had been four years since two leftys contested a WTA fnal, and 20 years since two of them contested a big (what we now call "premier") final: In 1993, Martina Navratilova defeated Monica Seles for the Paris indoor event final.

Cara Black and Sania Mirza won the Tokyo doubles title. They defeated Chan Hao-Ching and Liezel Huber 4-6, 6-0, 11-9. This win gives Mirza four doubles titles for the year.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sweeping the court

Li Na is the fifth player to qualify for the WTA Championships in Istanbul. The others who have qualified are Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, and Agnieszka Radwanska.

Serena Williams will end the year as the number 1 player in the world.

Li, in the meantime, has been named a Global Athlete Ambassador for Right To Play.

Get to know Stephanie Dubois and Jovana Jaksic.

Venus Williams dreams about Hostess Sno Balls.

Martina Hingis's estranged husband says that Hingis and Melanie Molitor physically assaulted him.

Patty Schnyder and husband Reiner Hoffman are alleged to have separated. I generally wouldn't mention this type of news about a retired player, but so many fans have expressed concern about Schnyder's well-being, I thought I'd pass this along, for what it's worth.

Jovanovski wins Ningbo title as Kvitova and Kerber reach Tokyo final

Bojana Jovanovski won her second WTA title in three weeks today when she defeated Zhang Shuai 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 to win the title in Ningbo. Zhang won her very first WTA title last week in Guangzhou. Jovanovski was a set and a break down in today's final. The Ningbo event is a 125K Series tournament.

Zhang and "Wrong Way" Bojo broke each other 18 times.

Zhang did win the doubles title, with partner Chan Yung-Jan. Seeded at the top, Chan and Zhang beat Irina Buryachok and Oksana Kalashnikova 6-2, 6-1.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova played a "comeback match" to rival any. Williams showed no sign of the Sjoegren's syndrome fatigue that has taken her out of the latter stages of tournaments for some time, nor did she show any sign of the lower back problem that has inhibited her serve lately. For her part, Kvitova didn't show any of the "Oh, Petra" nonsense we've come to expect from her. It was as if both women were telling us "Don't give up on me--I can still play tennis really, really well."

Both players served wonderfully in this semifinal, and some of the rallies were stunning. In the end, Kvitova took control of the third set tiebreak, going up 6-0, and winning it 7-2. Her opponent in the final will be yet another woman who seems to be telling us to remember who she is--Angelique Kerber. Kerber defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 7-6.

The doubles final puts Liezel Huber against two players who, without a doubt, don't want to hang out and have dinner with her at the tournament's conclusion. Huber and partner Chan Hao-Ching will play Cara Black and Sania Mirza, who upset top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai in the semifinals. Black and Huber, who held the number 1 spot for a long time, split a few years ago in a painful, public fashion. As for Mirza, she once became so frustrated with Huber's antics that she knocked her right down with what I think is still the fiercest forehand in women's tennis.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

40 LOVE Story, Episode 5

Venus into Tokyo semifinals

Venus Williams answered a tough challenge from Eugenie Bouchard today in the Tokyo quarterfinals, but emerged the winner, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. Williams beat Mona Barthel in the opening round, and easily got past a visibly ailing Victoria Azarenka in the second. Before knocking out Bouchard, Williams defeated Simona Halep 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Next for Williams is Petra Kvitova, who has also had a very good week in Tokyo, beating Belinda Bencic in the second round (Bencic got her first tour win, over Daria Gavrilova, in the opening round), Madison Keys in the third round, and Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.

In the other semifinal match, Caroline Wozniacki will play Angenique Kerber. In Tokyo, everything old is new again!

Kerber, by the way, reached the semifinals today by knocking out 2012 runner-up (and 2011 champion) Agnieszka Radwanska.

In Ningbo, top seed (and Tashkent champion) Bojana Jovanovski reached the semifinals with a win over Johanna Larsson. She is joined there by Guangzhou champion Zhang Shuai, who defeated Yvonne Meusburger 6-3, 6-0.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Radwanska wins Seoul title

It took her three sets and two hours and 45 minutes, but top seed Agnieszka Radwanska won the Korea Open championship today when she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 in the final. Pavlyuchenkova beat Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (8), 7-6 (11) in her semifinal match, in which she had to come from behind in both sets.

This is Radwanska's 13th WTA title, and her third of 2013.

In doubles, the top seeds, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, were upset in the final by Chan Chin-Wei and Xu Yi-Fan, who defeated them 7-5, 6-3.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Jill Craybas retires from professional tennis

Veteran of veterans Jill Craybas has announced her retirement from professional tennis; the U.S. Open was her last event.

Craybas, always popular with U.S. fans because of her easy-going personality and hard work on the court, began her professional tennis career 16 years ago. She was in the top 100 for 10 straight years, and she reached a career high ranking of 39 in 2006, and a career high doubles ranking of 41 in 2008.

Craybas won the Japan Open in 2002, and she won five WTA doubles titles. She was a four-time member of the USA Fed Cup team, and a member of the USA's 2008 Olympic team.

The 39-year-old Craybas (born on the 4th of July) graduated from the University of Florida, and was the NCAA singles champion in 1996.

Craybas reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2005, and on her way there, she took out Serena Williams; the next year, she beat Kim Clijsters in Miami. Craybas also had victories over Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva and a half dozen other top 20 players.

Jill Craybas was the first tennis player to get a sponsorship from Under Armour, and the company outfitted her before it officially manufactured and sold women's clothing.

In announcing her retirement, Craybas said:

"I tried to put the wins and losses into perspective and I hope I handled the ups and downs they provided with equal grace. I have truly cherished my years on the tour as they have taught me so much and encouraged me to grow into a unique, determined individual."

Zhang wins Guangzhou Open

Zhang Shuai
Zhang Shuai won her first WTA title today when she defeated Vania King 7-6, 6-1. Zhang, who got a wild card into the tournament, won the final 13 points of the match. The Chinese player was a semifnalist at the event in 2010.

One of the players Zhang beat along the way was defending champion Hsieh Su-Wei. Hsieh and her partner, Peng Shuai, won the doubles title. They beat King and her partner, Galina Voskoboeva, 6-3, 4-6, 12-10. Hsieh and Peng were the top seeds. Last year, Zhang was a member of the winning doubles team.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Safarova wins Bell Challenge

3rd seed Lucie Safarova won the title in Quebec City today when she defeated Marina Erakovic 6-4,6-3 in the final. This is Safarova's fifth WTA title, and her first one in over five years.

Erakovic was the runner-up in 2011, also.

Alla Kudryatseva and Anastasia Rodionova beat top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, also 6-4, 6-3, to win the doubles title. Hlavackova and Hradecka made their run to the Quebec City final after winning the U.S. Open.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sweeping the court

Bojana Jovanovski won the Tashkent Open today when she defeated Olga Govortsova 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 in the final. Jovanovski, who was the top qualifying seed, went on to become the top seed in the tournament (has this ever happened before?). Top seeds Timea Babos and Yaroslava Shvedova won the doubles title.

The Backspin third quarter awards have been published, and do not miss the video of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova dancing after winning the U.S. Open. 

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is out for the rest of the year with a knee injury. Mattek-Sands tore her right MCL during the third set of a match in Quebec City this past week. 

Anna Chakvetadze has retired from professional tennis. Chakvetadze, who was the number 5 player in the world six years ago, suffers from chronic back probems and therefore cannot continue to play.

How great is this photo

Maria Sharapova says that her goal is to play in the WTA Championships at the end of the season, but of course, that depends on the progress of her rehab from shoulder bursitis.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What would you do?

Congratulations! You've just been put in charge. No, you're not the coach--you're the boss of everyone involved, including the coach. You have about two weeks to do your job. So, what would you do for/with any or all of these players during your time of ultimate authority:?

Petra Kivitova
Li Na
Sam Stosur
Sloane Stephens
Venus Williams
Simona Halep
Maria Sharapova

Feel free to add the names of players who need your help!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sweeping the Court

Defending champion and top seed Kirsten Flipkens was upset in the first round in Quebec City today. Polona Hercog beat Flipkens 6-3, 6-1.

If you live in the U.S. and you missed the PBS American Masters feature on Billie Jean King, check your local PBS station's schedule for re-broadcasts; it's really worth seeing. And even if you did see it, you may want to see more. Here, you can find all kinds of interviews and excerpts.

It's time to get to know Julia Glushko.

Sloane Stephens: Is she destined for the top 10?

Sabine Lisicki is a new brand ambassador for Peugeot.

Marion Bartoli is a surprise entrant in the All England Club's members-only end-of-season mixed doubles competition.

A plea on behalf of Vika

We don't need no Jockey waistband
We don't need no elastic folds
No dreary pink and gray and coral
Nike, leave them shorts alone
Hey--Nike! Leave them shorts alone
All in all it's just some ugly lint on the ball
All in all it's just some ugly lint on the ball

We don't need no hybrid outfit
We don't need no flouncy skirts
Makes Vika look like all the others
Nike, leave them shorts alone
Hey--Nike! Leave them shorts alone
All in all, it's just some ugly lint on the ball
All in all, it's just some ugly lint on the ball

Monday, September 9, 2013

My U.S. Open top 10

Interior, Grand Central Station
My top 10 U.S. Open occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Don't like the weather?: Just wait a day and it will get worse. This U.S. Open featured extreme heat, a lot of rain, and enough wind to give the finalists fits.

9.  The young and the winless: Down they went, the young ones, taken out by veteran players who know what it takes to win big matches. The only "youngster" who  made it to the final four was 24-year-old Victoria Azarenka, who lost to a 31-year old in the final. The final eight was mostly made up of older players, too; the youngest players to make it to the quarterfinals were Azarenka, Carla Suarez Navarro (24) and Ekaterina Makarova (25).

8. The best match no one talked about: On a very hot day at the Open, Carla Suarez Navarro beat Angelique Kerber. It took her 2 hours and 41 minutes, and in the first two sets, the momentum swings were outrageous. The third set was an all-out thriller, and one of the highlights of the tournament.

7. Still a fragile golden flower: Will it ever change for Li Na? She's fitter than ever, has the best coach she's ever had--and one who really understands her--but she showed us in the quarterfinals that she can still come unglued when the stakes are high.

6. We just started playing, and you're already upset: Stanford and Carlsbad champions Dominika Cibulkova and Samantha Stosur were both upset in the first round of the Open. The Stosur upset got all the press because Stosur is a former U.S. Open champion, and because she was upset by a very young player from the USA. But the Cibulkova upset was big, too.

5. Caio, I'm back!: Thought Flavia Pennetta was finished? Then you don't know anything about Fighting Italians, and especially this one. For the second time in her career, the Queen of Fed Cup has made a huge comeback. So huge, in fact, that she reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open for the first time. At 31, Pennetta is one of the "old" players, and it would be excellent instruction for the young players to study not only her game, but the way she approaches her career.

4. Getting closer all the time: Victoria Azarenka didn't really look like herself throughout much of the tournament, yet she still managed to fight all the way to the final. And she made that final memorable. Down a set and two breaks, she forced a second set tiebreak, which she won. The two-time Australian Open champion didn't win the tournament, but she showed us, yet again, that she has what it takes to rise to a very high level. Stay tuned.

3. Czechlist--first, you beat the Williams sisters: And they did. Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, the 2011 French Open champions, defeated Serena and Venus Williams in straight sets in the semifinals. So if you can do that you should be able to win the whole thing, right? And they did. The Czech pair won the U.S. Open doubles title when they defeated Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 in the final.

2. Giving "doubles" a whole new meaning: Andrea Hlavackova not only won the women's doubles title with partner Lucie Hradecka, she also won the mixed doubles title with partner Max Mirnyi. This victory marked Hlavackova's first major mixed doubles title.

1. Having a blast: When asked if she was having fun at the Open, Serena Williams said she was "having a blast." I guess so. The world number 1 pretty much romped to the final, in which she was given a true fight by world number 2 Victoria Azarenka. But in the third set, Williams pulled out all the stops, and that was that. She won her fifth U.S. Open title and her 17th singles major.  An extraordinary athlete with great finesse and exceptional mental strength, Serena Williams appears to be in her prime. Williams says she's feeling exceptionally good physically, and we can only imagine what that will mean in 2014.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

She really made it happen. In that particular moment, she was tougher today. She was more consistent, and she deserved to win.
Victoria Azarenka

In the third set, Serena really found a way to calm down and restart from zero and quickly erase what happened.
Patrick Mouratoglu

If there was one player that you could meet and have a conversation with, maybe not even a hit with, somebody either on the tour now or who played before, who would that be?
Maybe like Federer. Yeah.
What would you ask him?
I don't know. I'd just be like, I love you.
Tornado Alicia Black

...I have never felt better. I feel really fit. I can play a tournament like this, singles, doubles, with tough, tough schedules. For the most part, I felt really good. You know, I haven't felt like this in a number of years. I'm excited about the possibilities. I don't know what can happen. I just keep playing and do the best that I can.
Serena Williams

...It hurts really bad. I'm not gonna lie. It hurts bad. But to just take the most positive out of that and, you know, see that light in the tunnel, as you can say, is good. I can see a lot of positive things from that. So I'm just gonna go back out and work my ass off, you know, to go and fight hard again, to put myself in this opportunity again.
Victoria Azarenka

You just said you stayed calm, but obviously the crowd were behind your opponent. How tough it gets for you to stay calm?
Well, it's always tough. I mean, she's American. I mean, that's normal. But somehow that gave me even more power to win, and I'm really happy that I had my team out there. They were like also loud for me, so, yeah.
Ana Konjuh

You handled Serena's serve pretty well for the most part all day. Were you happy with your own serve? Do you think the wind affected it?
Didn't help. Didn't help, for sure. You can always pinpoint what could have been better. I'm just trying to look overall. And, yes, I'm going to try to improve that particular aspect, because the gap between Serena's serve and my serve is pretty big. But I don't want to compare that because, you know, I think she has the best serve of all time, definitely. I'm just trying to find the way to raise my level on that.
Victoria Azarenka

What was particularly unique about this Grand Slam journey?
Well, I don't know. I just felt so good playing the doubles. I felt like it really was able to help me a lot in my singles matches. I was so focused these two and a half, three weeks really. I have just been so focused and so, you know, just really kind of crazy where I'm not losing, I'm never leaving my room and just really trying to stay in the zone and stay in the spirit. What's unique is just the fact of finally reaching number 5 at the Open, so that's pretty cool.
Serena Williams

Serena Williams: Queen of the hill, top of the heap

When I think back on today's outstanding U.S. Open final, the image that will come to my mind first will be that of Serena Williams' pink flared skirt blowing in the wind. The wind blew her skirt all the way up on several occasions, and the top seed had to make adjustments to it over and over. It wasn't really the skirt she needed to wear on a very windy day, but it was the least of her problems. Williams fought the wind, her skirt and an opponent who simply refused to give up.

Down a set and two breaks, Victoria Azarenka somehow forced a third set, making this year's final as good as last year's. The outcome, however, was the same: Williams won her fifth U.S. Open, 7-5, 6-7, 6-1. In doing so, she also won her 17th major.

The wind was a factor in every game, frustrating both women, and sometimes--when they least expected it--helping them. The match began with an exchange of breaks, and then Azarenka asserted herself as the player more able to handle the wind. In the ninth game of the set, Azarenka hit her peak, hitting fluid, accurate groundstrokes, and looking dominant on both serve and return.

At 4-5, Williams double-faulted. It got dicey for her for a while, but she held when she hit a 104 mph. serve, after hitting a winning backhand volley on the run. Williams then broke Azarenka, and served for the set. She held at love.

Azarenka was broken right off in the second set, and Willliams followed the break with a hold at love. It would have been easy for a casual spectator to start discussing dinner plans, but this was only the beginning of what would turn out to be one of the more dramatic sets of tennis we've seen this year.

At 1-3, Azarenka double-faulted twice in a row at 30-all, giving Williams a second break (now, can the dinner plans be discussed?). At this point, even to the not-so-casual spectator, it looked like the world number 2 was going down fast. But then she got two break points in Williams' next service game. Williams saved one, but then--after a long rally--Azarenka broke. She then held with a forehand up the line hit after a long rally.

Serving at 4-3, Williams held at love, and threw in another ace to get to game point. Azarenka then had a solid hold. Serving for the match at 5-4, Williams double-faulted and made crucial errors. She was broken. But she broke right back. During all this drama, the wind never let up.

Once again, Williams served for the match. She began with an ace, but then became visibly tight, and double-faulted to give her opponent another break and to set up a tiebreak. Williams, putting the last game behind her, went up a mini-break right away. Azarenka then proceeded to hit a swinging volley that blasted its way right to the baseline. After Williams tossed a volley into the net, it was 3-all. The score became 4-all when Williams hit a ball long, then Azarenka went up 5-4 with a volley that Williams also returned long, just as the wind churned even harder.

Suddenly, Azarenka had two set points. Williams saved one with a huge, out-wide serve, and then she saved the second one, too. But then Azarenka hit a second serve right into her opponent's body, and--on set point--Williams hit a return out. A third set was established.

I can only imagine what it felt like to the players to come down a bit after that second set. I felt depleted just from watching it. Azarenka, of course, had accomplished the seemingly impossible, but she still had a set to go.

Each player held at the beginning of the final set. The third game was fascinating, with Azarenka double-faulting twice, but also with Williams starting to throw everything in her considerable repertoire at her opponent. For the rest of the match, the world number one would volley, spin, lob, and masterfully serve her way to victory. In the fourth game, Williams hit an unreturnable serve, a lob that made it to the baseline, a 126 mph. ace, and an ace up the T. What's a world number 2 to do?

Williams broke Azarenka to go up 5-1, then served for the match for the third time. At 15-all, she got a bit of assistance from the wind when a ball went in that was expected to perhaps go out. At 40-15, Azarenka saved a match point, but then the inevitable could no longer be postponed, and Serena Williams became the 2013 U.S. Open champion.

Williams hit nine aces. She had 76-47 first and second serve win percentages and she hit 36 winners. She missed a lot of volleys, she experienced a great deal of frustration, and she looked across the net and saw the kind of attitude she herself carries into every big match. It was a long--2 hours and 45 minutes--ordeal. The crowd couldn't have asked for a better final. And in the end, Serena couldn't have asked for a better one, either.

Serena wasn't the only winner today. 2nd seed Ana Konjuh of Croatia won the junior girls title by defeating unseeded Tornado Alicia Black 3-6, 6-4, 7-6. And Aniek Van Koot, seeded 2nd in women's wheelchair singles, won the title when she defeated top seed Sabine Ellerbrock 3-6, 6-2, 7-6.

Konjuh had some company--a Croatian player (and friend of Konjuh's) won the junior boys title.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

 ...our junior girls won the title today, and they inspired us, for sure.
Andrea Hlavackova

I like to fight a lot in matches.
Tornado Alicia Black

We all know--me, mostly--that you sometimes ask for an umpire not to be in the chair.
Rennae Stubbs

We'll get one one day, and it'll feel good.
Casey Dellacqua

I cannot believe I won two Grand Slams in two weeks.
Andrea Hlavackova

Hlavackova and Hradecka win U.S. Open doubles championship

Lucie Hradecka had a lot of work to do tonight in the U.S. Open doubles final. Not only did she have to fight off the Australian duo of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua, she also had to soothe the nerves of her suddenly cranky partner, Andrea Hlavackova.

Hlavackova, high on having won the mixed doubles title, was as loose as she could be when the Czech pair defeated the Williams sisters in the semifinals. But her mood changed the moment she walked onto the court to play the final. Literally, the moment. Hlavackova wasn't pleased about the choice of chair umpire and complained about it. Once the match got going, she just couldn't settle down, and the Australians took the first set in a tiebreak.

Having lost the first set, Hlavackova visibly came out of her funk and took the pressure off of Hradecka. It took the Czechs just 30 minutes to romp through the second set and win it 6-1. During those 30 minutes, they hit 11 winners and made just one unforced error.

Not surprisingly, Barty and Dellacqua put up a much bigger fight in the final set, breaking the Czechs early. But Hlavackova and Hradecka broke back, and broke again, then served for the match in style, winning the third set 6-4.

In 2011, Hlavackova and Hradecka won the French Open. Last year, they were the runners-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and they won silver at the Olympic Games. Their opponents know what that feels like: Barty and Dellacqua have now won the runner-up trophies at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2013.

It's been a good year for the Czechs. Not only did Hlavackova and Hradecka win the title today, with Hlavackova also winning mixed (with Max Mirnyi), but also, two Czech girls won the junior doubles title (they also won titles at the French Open and Wimbledon). And Hradecka won the mixed doubles title at the French Open.

Vika and Serena, together again

As you always wanted to see them.

Last year, Victoria Azarenka took Serena Williams right to the brink in the U.S. Open final. She served for the match, in fact, but--when doing so--made three consecutive errors and was broken. And that was pretty much that. In other words, she was done in by nerves.

This year, Azarenka has had to battle all kinds of tennis demons to even get to the final, while Williams has blasted her way through. It looks like a fifth U.S. Open championship for Serena is just a day away, but.....Azarenka could raise her level and make a real contest out of it.

Paths to the final:

1st round--def. Francesca Schiavone
2nd round--def. Galina Voskoboeva
3rd round--def. Yaroslava Shvedova
round of 16--def. Sloane Stephens (15)
quarterfinals--def. Carla Suarez Navarro (18)
semifinals--def. Li Na (5)

1st round--def. Dinah Pfizenmaier
2nd round--def. Aleksandra Wozniak
3rd round--def. Alize Cornet (26)
round of 16--def. Ana Ivanovic (11)
quarterfinals--def. Daniela Hantuchova
semifinals--def. Flavia Pennetta

Today, top seed Sabine Ellerbrock and 2nd seed Aniek Van Koot both advanced to the women's wheelchair singles final. Van Koot and partner Jiske Griffioen, the top seeds, won the women's wheelchair doubles competition. They beat 2nd seeds Ellerbrock and Yui Kamiji in straight sets.

Martina Navratilova and Rennae Stubbs won the Women's Champions Doubles event when they defeated Chanda Rubin and Iva Majoli in straight sets.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won the junior girls doubles title, defeating Belinda Bencic and Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-3, 6-4. Krejcikova and Siniakova, the top seeds, also son the doubles titles at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Finally, in junior girls singles, Tornado Alicia Black of the USA advanced to the final when she defeated 7th seed Antonia Lottner today in the semifinals. Also advancing to the final was Ana Konjuh. Black is unseeded. Lottner took out top seed Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Czeched out

Andrea Hlavackova, who--earlier in the day--won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title, has advanced, with partner Lucie Hradecka, to the women's doubles final. The Czech team beat Serena and Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2 in tonight's semifinal match.

How do you beat the Williams sisters in doubles? You serve really well, and you hit the ball right at them--repeatedly. Hlavackova and Hradecka never let up on their aggression, and they ruled at the net from start to finish.

In the final, the Czech team will play Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. This is an interesting match-up from a stats point of view. Barty and Dellacqua were the runners-up this year at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Hlavackova and Hradecka were the runners-up last year at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and they won a silver medal at the Olympics. The Czech team, however, has tasted major victory, as they won the French Open in 2011.

Meanwhile, the women's wheelchair doubles final will be contested by top seeds Jiske Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot, who will face 2nd seeds Sabine Ellerbrock and Yui Kamiji.

The women's wheelchair final will be played between top seed Ellerbrock and 2nd seed Van Koot.

Top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova will face 3rd seeds Belinda Bencic and Sara Sorribes Tormo in the junior girls doubles final.

U.S. Open--what they said

If you had to pick another player to be your tour guide around New York, who would you take?
I would take Daniela Hantuchova because I always feel comfortable when I’m talking with her. We are best friends, so we don’t have to worry if I say something wrong.
Li Na

I have said it I believe in some other press conferences I kind of feel that I helped the diamond in the rough to be polished.  And from a young age, both Victoria and Serena....
Max Mirnyi

...I never did well in mixed doubles and I could not figure out why, and then I got this great partner.  We didn't do well in Wimbledon, and I was like blaming myself. Then here, you know, playing so well, I started to believe it from the first round match. It's great. I'm so happy.
Andrea Hvlackova

I mean, today doesn't matter who is the opponent. Problem is myself, because today I cannot face to the problem, you know. So even, I don't know, even today I was play against maybe the ranking 100, still the same problem, you know. So, I mean, I really have to face to this thing for next step.
Li Na

I didn't serve really well today, but she neither. I think it was a lot of wind in the court. It's moving a lot the ball all the time. It was not easy to serve. But for me, I think I didn't serve in the way I was serving before because she make me a lot of pressure. I know I had to try to find a good serve for start of point, and I didn't today. Actually, I was trying doing the same thing all the match, and in the moment was working and in another moment not.
Flavia Pennetta

And you dance on court a little bit.
I do. I love that. 
If you win the title, maybe singing on court?
Let's just wait.
Victoria Azarenka

We know you said that Carlos saved your marriage. Now, with Serena, she's being coached by her boyfriend. Now that you have been through all this, what would be the advice you would give to Serena for being coached?
Don't be married, okay?...
Li Na

Hlavackova and Mirnyi win U.S. Open mixed doubles title

Andrea Hlavackova and Max "The Beast" Mirnyi won the mixed doubles title at the U.S. Open today. Seeded 7th, Hlavackova and Mirnyi defeated Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez 7-6, 6-3.

This was Mirnyi's third U.S. Open mixed doubles title, and Hlavackova's first major mixed doubles title. She and her partner, Lucie Hradecka, are trying to get to the women's doubles final, but first they have to get past Serena and Venus Williams. The players are warming up as I write this.

Tales from Na Na Land

Not long ago, some of us were hanging out in the Backspin Lounge, and someone wondered: Where does Li Na go when she "goes off"? The answer? Na Na Land, of course.

Unfortunately, the Chinese star chose the U.S. Open semifinals as the time for her latest trip to Na Na Land. Just half an hour after the television commentators said that the second semifinal had to be better than the first one, Li found herself not just down a set, but down a set 0-6. It wasn't just that Serena Williams was serving up a storm and returning just as well; it was that Li was flat, hesitant and out of rhythm.

The second set didn't look like it was going to be any better for Li, but then, suddenly, she was plucked out of Na Na Land and deposited back into Reality, which wasn't pretty. Li then went about picking up her serve, hitting the lines right at Williams' feet, and rushing the net. But the clock was ticking, and the 5th seed soon found herself serving at 2-5. And it was then that she had a true "Li Na moment." She saved six match points in a game that went on for almost 14 minutes. That one game was what the entire match should have been.

Li held for 3-5, and for a moment, it looked like she might break Williams when she served for the match. That wasn't to be, however, and Williams advanced to the final, and a chance to win her 17th major.

Williams' opponent, once again, will be Victoria Azarenka, and the 2nd seed will definitely have to raise her level if she intends to get the title. She looked awkward playing her semifinal against Flavia Pennetta, and Pennetta let go of so many chances to make the match more competitive--or to win it. Neil Schlect, writing for the U.S. Open website, sums it up perfectly:

Flavia Pennetta, who had come back from injury and unexpectedly streaked through the draw without losing a set, arrived at her first U.S. Open (and Grand Slam) semifinal. She had upset high seeds and slammed the door on one of the summer’s hottest players, Simona Halep.

On a perfect 70-degree and cloudless early autumn afternoon, Pennetta met No. 2 Victoria Azarenka and impressively broke serve five of six times in the match.

Pennetta lost, 6-4, 6-2.

That’s not a misprint. 

And so it went. Azarenka "found a way," as they say, to not only win, but to win in straight sets. Pennetta, playing in her first major semifinal, could probably kick herself for ultimately not taking advantage of Azarenka's service weaknesses. The 2nd seed knows how to win the big points, and she emphatically did that today. But her opponent in the final isn't likely to give her the luxury of "finding a way"-- Azarenka has to serve better if she is to have a chance against Williams.

Last year, Williams and Azarenka played in a highly competitive and thrilling U.S. Open final. Perhaps memories of that final--and memories of losing it--will give Azarenka the motivation she needs to clean up her act.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

40 LOVE Story, Episode 2

Sweeping the Court

Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce and Conchita Martinez have been nominated for 2014 induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Li Na has been awarded the 2014 U.S. Open Sportsmanship Award. David Ferrer won the award for the men.

Vicky Duval appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Wednesday night. She apparently survived.

Monica Seles will be inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions on Sunday. Seles won the Open twice.

Sara Errani does CNN Open Court.

And here's a new interview with Sania Mirza.

U.S. Open--what they said

It's going to be epic.
Brett Haber, on the upcoming Legends match

Rennae Stubbs: I want to know how you got stuck with me.
Martina Navratilova: I don't know...
"racket as mic" "interview" before Legends match

It was a black day.
Esther Vergeer, on winning silver in Beijing in 2008

Defending champions out of U.S. Open

Defending champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci made their exit from the U.S. Open today when they lost their quarterfinal match to Serena and Venus Williams. The Williams sisters--who won 6-3, 6-1--were truly on their game. Venus was especially impressive, between her serving and her volleying. They never let the Italians in at all.

Next up for the Williams sisters are Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. Whoever wins will face Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua in the final. This is the third major final the Australian team has reached this year, and they'll be looking for their first major victory.

Tomorrow, Serena plays Li Na in the semifinals, and Flavia Pennetta plays Victoria Azarenka. I'm really pleased with the final four, and especially pleased to see Pennetta reach the semifinals (and at a time when observers probably thought that she couldn't). And while a Williams-Azarenka final is predicted, anything could happen. All four women have very impressive hard court skills.

Women's wheelchair top seed Sabine Ellerbrock will play her first match tomorrow.

One final note on today's action: Monica Seles is officially a skeleton. Scary.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

My coach said "There's hope for you."
Victoria Azarenka, who is now listening to Motown

Many people see your game and say that it's a game from a different period maybe, that it's very different from the way most women play today with your use of slice and coming to the net so much.  Do you feel this yourself, that you're a little bit different from these other women?
Yes, of course I have a different kind of tennis. I know, but I think this is my key. Sometimes help me; sometimes not, you know. Depends of course the opponent. But, yeah, this is my kind of tennis. I cannot play in different style. I'm happy that I'm different.
  Roberta Vinci

If you win too easily and you're not tested, you don't know how good you can be.
Chris Evert

Personally I think she's really positive girl.  She always try to find the light, no? When you see everything really dark. So she always really a good person.
Flavia Pennetta, commenting on Roberta Vinci
Pennetta’s winning strategy was ruthlessly uncomplicated. She made the match about her opponent’s weakness, and she refused to allow Vinci to coax her into playing points that would take Pennetta away from her game plan.
Geoff MacDonald

Good luck against all the old ladies.
Pam Shriver, to Vika Azarenka

There's no Fighting Italian like an old Fighting Italian

If you thought Flavia Pennetta was done, think again. The 31-year-old Queen of Fed Cup has had a rough year, yes, but today, she did something she's never done before: She reached the semifinal of a major. Just over a year ago, Pennetta had surgery on her right wrist, and her comeback has been long and difficult.

It's not the first time Pennetta has been through something like this. Several years ago, the Italian star had to leave the tour for several months because of injury, and when she returned, she had little confidence, so she played in small tournaments until she felt like herself again. Pennetta then returned to "regular" tournament play and did well.

Today, she beat countrywoman Roberta Vinci, whose performance against Pennetta was not unlike Vinci's performance against doubles partner Sara Errani at last year's U.S. Open. Put another waya--Vinci didn't really put up much of a fight. Apparently, playing her Fed Cup teammates at a big event just doesn't agree with her.

After defeating 10th seed Vinci 6-4, 6-1, Pennetta thanked--among others--her former coach, which I thought was a nice touch.

Pennetta has a history of doing well at the U.S. Open, where she has reached the quarterfinals four times. In 2009, the Italian star reached the Open quarterfinals by defeating Vera Zvonareva in the round of 16. Pennetta saved six match points--five of them with winners.

In the semifinals, Pennetta will have her work cut out for her. She'll play 2nd seed Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Daniela Hantuchova in straight sets tonight. Hantuchova had multiple opportunities to stretch this to a three-setter, but the ball coming off of her racket just couldn't find the lines. Following Hantuchova's stunning performance in the round of 16, this was--sadly--kind of what you would expect to happen.

The doubles quarterfinals were somewhat of a massacre. 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina were taken out in straight sets by 8th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua, and 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik lost to 5th seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. Serena and Venus Williams defeated 11th seeds Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova, and 10th seeds Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie beat 4th seeds (and Wimbledon champions) Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai.

The Mladenovic watch is over. She and partner Daniel Nestor lost in the mixed doubles semifinals to Andrea Hlavackova and Max Mirnyi. In the other semifinal, Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues and Bruno Soares.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

She could break Steffi's racket--I mean, record.
Chris Evert, caught in a Freudian slip when commenting on whether Serena Williams can win more than 22 majors

Are you concerned about the slow starts, two matches in a row?
If I'm concerned?
Yeah, are you concerned?
No. I'm chill.
Victoria Azarenka

...if you only think about what opponent doing, of course you already lose the match before you come to the court.
Li Na

You talked about when you have fun you play better. How much fun are you having this week?
I'm having a blast this week.
Serena Williams

 ...opponents like Vika, Maria, Serena, they're top of the game. So if you don't put them under pressure, they're going to use that and they're going to kill you out there.
Ana Ivanovic

You became a dropshot maniac.
I always had that. I just didn't feel like I needed it too much; today I did.
Victoria Azarenka

I'd like to thank all my fans who supported me.
Chris Evert, when told that 64% of those voting in a poll said they thought Serena Williams would overtake Evert's record of winning 18 majors

Li Na moves forward

Once there was a young woman who played tennis very well. She had a great gift, but she also had fear, and she tended to choke away big matches. Her coach told her she had to learn to come to the net much more frequently, but she she said she didn't want to because she was uncomfortable doing that. Her coach, however, was as stubborn as she was, and he finally had his way. She learned to come to the net, she overcame her fear, and then went on to win seven majors. She also gained recognition as the greatest clay court player of her generation.

That woman was Justine Henin, and that coach was Carlos Rodriguez. Now Rodriguez has in his charge another somewhat mentally fragile player who has long resisted coming to the net. Li Na, like Henin before her, is listening to her coach, and is showing more strength in her game than she has in a while. Of course, Li is 31 years old and an international celebrity, not an up-and-coming player like Henin was when she teamed up with Rodriguez. But she's very fit, and she undoubtedly knows that her one major title, the 2011 French Open, shouldn't be her only one.

Li, who retired once because she couldn't deal with the unfair treatment she received from her country's tennis federation, returned to the tour and revolutionized Chinese tennis. She went from having constant serious injuries to being extremely fit. It took her a long time to work things out, and then, after her triumph in Paris, she seemed to wilt. But the work she's being doing in the last several months appears to be paying off. Li stunned her U.S. Open opponents--up until today. Today, she had to deal with the tricky Russian, Ekaterina Makarova, who was the first player in New York to take a set off of the Chinese star.

Li's level went down today. So did Makarova's, but even with an opponent who isn't playing her best, Li has been known to make an exit from a big tournament. Today, though, Li used the final set to assert herself, and in doing so, she reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open for the first time. In defeating Makarova 6-4, 6-7, 6-2, Li booked a spot opposite world number 1 Serena Williams, who ran over Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-0. It was windy all day, but the wind really picked up this evening, and made it next to impossible for Suarez Navarro to get her breath and do so much as to win even one game.

Anything can happen, but something is telling me that the Williams-Li semifinal could turn out to be more of a show than the anticipated Williams-Azarenka final.

As for Azarenka, she had to play her round of 16 match today because of yesterday's rain delay. The 2nd seed was outsmarted and outplayed by Ana Ivanovic in the first set, but you know AnaIvo--she couldn't sustain that superior level. Still, watching the first set made me remember why Ivanovic won a major, and also just how dangerous she can be when her service toss is working and she's feeling good. That forehand!

Ivanovic's outstanding first set put Azarenka in a bad mood, and she stumbled and muttered and glared her way through the rest of the match. No matter--she won it, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. In the next round, she'll get Daniela Hantuchova, and she better hope that Hantuchova doesn't play at the level she did yesterday.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won their third round match against Anabel Medina Garrigues and Flavia Pennetta, and 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina beat Cara Blak and Marina Erakovic. In the other doubles match played today, 4th seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai defeated Jelena Jankovic and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

In mixed doubles, Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor advanced to the semifinals.

I'll end the way I began, with a comment about Justine Henin. The Belgian star was so tightly wound that--when she didn't have a tournament to play or a day of training--to relax, she jumped out of planes. It seemed to work for her. I don't foresee Li drifting through the clouds, but just imagine that she might: Wouldn't you love to hear her talk about it?

Monday, September 2, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

You are 30. Do you have the same motivation on the tour right now?
Yes, I do. Even more. Like I said, I just enjoy every single moment being able to be out there and compete. Doesn't really matter which way it goes.
Daniela Hantuchova

What would you say has been the key to your rivalry with Errani? 
Well, I know Sara of course a lot. I played aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. I know that she doesn't like when someone plays aggressive. She likes to play a lot of ball on the court. Yeah, I won the last two times, but I play really, really good.
Roberta Vinci

I'm sure you've been talking about this a lot the last couple weeks, but discuss how difficult it was to come back from wrist surgery.
It was and still is really tough. Since one year already. A lot of thing change when I come back in March. Was really tough. Everything was really different, from my coach, from my doubles partner, from the feeling I had in the court, everything. I try to just come back and play the most I can, single, doubles, mixed, everything. You know, when you stop for so many time, so long part, like seven months, something like that, when you come back, you feel different, and all your body have problem. You don't have problem in your hand, but you start having problem in the leg or the abdominal because you are not used to play for such a long time. Your body just need time to recover.
Flavia Pennetta

When was the last time you served so well?
Couldn't really remember. I guess eleven years ago.
Daniela Hantuchova

Veterans--3, Upstarts--0

I went to work today. I know, in the U.S., it's Labor Day, but I went to work. And just when I thought I would miss watching matches, the rain came. Unfortunately, it kept coming--hard--during my long break. In the end, I didn't get to see that much. The match I saw the most of, however, was the one I most wanted to see--Simona Halep vs. Flavia Pennetta. What I saw was Halep minus the confidence, rushing through points and making errors. It didn't help that the rain delay began right when Halep was at set point in the second set.

As for Pennetta, well--seems like old times. The Italian veteran likes the U.S. Open and has a good U.S. Open history. Now she's again into the quarterfinals, and will play countrywoman (but of course) Roberta Vinci.

Pennetta beat Halep 6-2, 7-6. Vinci beat (countrywoman) Camila Giorgi 6-4, 6-2. The match between Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic, scheduled for tonight, has been postponed until tomorrow. In the meantime, Alison Riske took Daniela Hantuchova to three sets, but Hantuchova prevailed, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. She also hit 15 aces.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Serena Williams (1) vs. Carla Suarez Navarro (18)
Ekaterina Makarova (24) vs. Li Na (5)
Roberta Vinci (10) vs. Flavia Pennetta
Daniela Hantuchova vs. either Ana Ivanovic (13) or Victoria Azarenka (2)

I'll watch them all, but I'm looking especially forward to the Makarova-Li match and the all-Italian match. So many Italians, so few rounds left!

For several weeks now, the commentators on ESPN have been irritating me beyond tolerance with their re-invention of tennis's markers of highest achievement, in their attempt to give the Bryan Brothers glory. They are now referring to the Grand Slam as the "Calendar Slam," implying that there's more than one way to win really big. And while I'm glad to recognize what we call a Career Slam (winning all four majors at some point in one's career), a Grand Slam is a Grand Slam, and that's it. You have to win all four majors in the same year.

This nonsense started when Serena Williams dubbed her four-in-a-row the Serena Slam. It had a nice ring to it, yes, but it was the beginning of the chiseling away at what is a truly outstanding accomplishment--winning the Grand Slam. If the Bryan brothers do win the Grand Slam, that would be very big indeed, but anything else is just number of majors-in-a-row. A very great accomplishment, but not a Grand Slam.

Over at the LPGA, they have an interesting problem because a fifth major has been added to the calendar. So there is discussion about whether the Grand Slam should remain the way it is--winning four majors in a calendar year (with winning all five to be called the Super Slam), or whether it should be winning all five.

That's a legitimate argument, and a tricky one. But calling a Grand Slam a Calendar Slam to make winning consecutive majors in different years "Another Slam" is an insult to those few players who did win the Grand Slam. ESPN has even gone so far as to say that the Bryans have won the Golden Slam, which they have not. They have won a Career Slam, plus an Olympic gold medal, and they even held all four major titles at once. That is a really big accomplishment. However, the only tennis entity to ever actually win the Golden Slam was Steffi Graf.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

I think this year has been a pretty good year for me. I'm going to try to end it with a bang.
Sloane Stephens

I just pumped my fist, I was down, and then I walked to the net.
To the box, when you pirouetted.
Well because I kept kind of falling over my pirouette, so I was trying to get the right semi half circle. I couldn't quite get it right. I think I was just off balance on that one.
Serena Williams

People seem to want Serena to mentor Sloane Stephens. She's spent her whole life trying to beat her sister--do you think she's going to mentor someone outside the family?
Mary Carillo

What did you have for breakfast?--because that's the most amazing match I've seen you play in a while.
You really want to know?
I'm not going to tell you.
Li Na

Are you interested in watching this match again? Would you watch a replay of this match to pick up something? Once the match is over, do you move on?
I definitely will watch it again. When I'm sitting at home in the off season and I don't have anything to do I watch tennis on my computer. It's kind of boring. It's something to do. You learn the most from your losses, so I'll definitely watch it again.
Sloane Stephens
I didn't listen to my husband at all, no mater what he say.
Li Na

Here comes Li Na!

Tonight at the U.S. Open, Li Na dismissed Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-0 in under an hour. Considering how well JJ has been playing lately, this was an unexpected dismissal. But there was nothing Jankovic could do to stop Li, who put on a display of serving, returning and volleying that was a joy to watch. She had seven break opportunities and converted all of them. Hitting 20 winners and making 12 unforced errors, Li made it look so easy, just as she did in the previous round, when she beat Laura Robson. Tonight, though, the Chinese star played a much cleaner match.

In tonight's other round of 16 match, Ekaterina Makarova defeated 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-4. Radwanska has been making a lot more unforced errors lately (meaning, more like a normal number; her unforced error count is generally kind of amazing). Tonight, she made 27, but she also hit 18 winners, which is uncharacteristic, too. Makarova's second serve stats tend to be high, and today was no exception--she had a 72 second serve win percentage.

The television commentators were kind of in shock, but I'm not sure why. Radwanska has always made an early (considering her ranking and her usual level) exit from the U.S. Open, and Makarova just keeps getting better, though it's always a "surprise" to the commentators when she wins a big match. Go figure.

In doubles, top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci had a comfortable win, but Kristina Mladenovic and partner Galina Voskoboeva are out, defeated by 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik.

Crazy from the heat

Detail of building near Morningside Heights, New York City
Sloane Stephens predicted that her U.S. Open round of 16 match against Serena Williams would be "epic." It wasn't, but the one between Angelique Kerber and Carla Suarez Navarro was. In fact, I had trouble taking my eyes off of it. Talk about a match having everything! The first two sets were so seesaw in nature, it was hard to believe. Rise, slump, rise, slump. The opponents each won clusters of games, then lost clusters of games. Kerber took the first set 6-4 and Suarez Navarro took the second set 6-3.

Consider the personalities involved. No one gets down on herself quite like Kerber, and few can choke big matches away quite like the Spaniard. The final set, postponed after a break--the extreme heat permitted the players to take a ten-minute rest--was so physical in nature that I think I burned a few hundred calories just watching it. Kerber looked like she was going to drop. Yet still, I thought she would win because I didn't think Suarez Navarro had the mental toughness to close.

But she did. She also did some fine, and very tricky, serving. Kerber, gathering all the strength she could, broke Suarez Navarro at love when the Spanish player served for the match at 5-4. "There it is," I thought. "The end has come for Carla." But the next thing I knew, the players were in a tiebreak, and--after working so hard to keep things even--Kerber blinked. Repeatedly. The final insult came when the German's superior forehand up the line fired past the baseline on match point.

They played for 2 hours and 41 minutes and, between them, they made 97 unforced errors. They also hit 75 winners, with 45 of those coming off of Suarez Navarro's racket. Suarez Navarro's celebration was kind of intense. However, this was her first time to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, and her next opponent will be Serena Williams, so why not?

Williams had a fight on her hands in her first set against Stephens. She won that fight 6-4, then won the second set 6-1. In the end, it was a routine win for Williams, though if Stephens had kept up her first set mode of play, it would certainly have been more interesting. More interesting, yes--but I don't think the result would have been different.