Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Stosur out in first round of Portugal Open

Bagels seems to be a popular item at the Portugal Open. Timea Bacsinszky delivered one to 3rd seed Sam Stosur in the second set of their first round match; Stosur lost the first set 4-6.

Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Zhang Shuai 6-4, 6-0. But Lucie Safarova was the one who was really baking and boiling. In her first round match, she  defeated Magdalena Rybarikova 4-6, 6-0, 6-0.

Of note: 2nd seed Genie Bouchard defeated Alisa Kleybanova 6-4, 6-1 in the opening round. Kleybanova was coming off of a very good week in Stuttgart.

Merrakach champion Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor advanced to the second round with a straight sets win over Peng Shuai.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sweeping the court

Victoria Azarenka, still out with a foot injury, has withdrawn from both Rome and Madrid.

Andy Murray has made a list of possible coaches, and at least one of them is a woman. A few years ago, Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo was on the short list of candidates to become the French Davis Cup captain.

I'm posting this a little late, but you can still get to know Jana Cepelova. I recommend it, in fact.

Laura Robson is working with Virgin Active to find a couple of young tennis stars.

The WTA still isn't offering any official gear for fans to buy. Nothing has been available since the tour became the WTA again and not the Sony Ericsson WTA. What is that about? My Sony Ericsson WTA shirt wore out a long time ago. I still have my (much better quality) "Get In Touch With Your Feminine Side" (my favorite of all the WTA promotional themes) shirt, but--unless you're a teenager--how many places can you wear a tiny hot pink shirt that has the words I'M IN TOUCH in huge letters on the front?

Torro-Flor wins first title

Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor won her first WTA sinagles title today. Torro-Flor defeated Romina Oprandi 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the Marrakech final. Both players were unseeded; Oprandi took top seed Daniela Hantuchova out in the semifinals.

Torro-Flor is the sixth woman to win her first singles title in 2014.

Oprandi had a better outcome in doubles. She and partner Gabine Muguruza won the championship when they defeated Katarzyna Piter and Marnyna Zanevska 4-6, 6-2, 11-9.

The Portugal Open begins Monday. The top seed is Carla Suarez Navarro, who was injured this week in Stuttgart. The second seed is wild card Eugenie Bouchard. Defending champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova isn't playing. Both Torro-Flor and Oprandi are in the draw.

Sharapova wins Stuttgart for third consecutive year

Maria Sharapova had the relaxed look of experience today as she drove her new blue Porsche off the ramp and onto the red clay of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. But before she could get the keys to her new car, the two-time defending champion had to fight back from being a set and a break down against Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic spent the first set giving Sharapova the "one-two" that Sharapova is known for delivering to her opponents. Ivanovic went up 5-0 in that set, won it 6-2, then went up 3-1 in the second set.

Was it almost over? Of course not. This was Sharapova (and this was Ivanovic), who turned on the switch we've seen her turn on so many times before. Ivanovic was a point away from going up 4-1, but that was as close as she would come to at least giving the appearance that the end was near. Sharapova got the break back, took the second set 6-4, and then cruised through the final set 6-1.

This is the Russian's 30th WTA title. She is now 8-2 against Ivanovic.

Sharapova is a brand ambassador for Porsche. The latest Sugarpova gummy candy is Speedy ("Sweet Ride"), a replica of the Porsche 911.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won the doubles title. In the final, they defeated 2nd seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza, 6-2, 6-3. Errani and Vinci hadn't won a title since their Australian Open defense, so this victory is a reminder of how good they are on clay. (During the trophy ceremony, the emcee suggested that the Italian pair lobby for Porsches to be awarded to the doubles champions, so Vinci turned to the Porsche representatives and asked for her car!)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sharapova takes another step toward Stuttgart final

Maria Sharapova defeated top seed Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets in Stuttgart today, which puts the two-time defending champion into the semifinals. It's funny--years ago, we might have assumed that Radwanska had more of a chance on clay and Sharapova on grass, but now the reverse is more likely. Sharapova had a time of it at the end, though, winning on her eighth match point.

Sharapova's opponent in the next round will be Sara Errani, who won her quarterfinal against Carla Suarez Navarro. Suarez Navarro retired in the middle of the third set because of a wrist injury.

The other semifinal match will be Serb-to-Serb. Former Stuttgart champion Jelena Jankovic will take on Ana Ivanovic. Jankovic defeated Alisa Kleybanova in straight sets, and Ivanovic defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Both Ivanovic and Kuznetsova are former French Open champions. Ivanovic is 8-3 against Jankovic, and 2-1 against her on clay.

Jankovic and Kleybanova are playing doubles together and have reached the semifinals, in which they will play top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Defending champion squeaks by in opening Stuttgart round

Two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova had her hands full yesterday with Lucie Safarova on the red clay in Stuttgart. I didn't get to watch it all because of work, but I have an idea that those who did watch it may have felt exhausted by the end. It took Sharapova over 3 hours and 23 minutes to defeat Safarova 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. The Russian led 5-1 in the third set and held three match points, but was forced to go to yet another tiebreak. I wish I could have watched the whole thing.

Last year, Sharapova had to tangle with Safarova, too, in the second round, and that also went three sets, with Sharapova winning 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. And last month, in Miami, the two of them went at it for almost three hours, with Sharapova emerging the winner.

But the drama wasn't confined to Maria and Lucie. Jelena Jankovic had to fight like crazy against Mona Barthel and wound up saving four match points to win 2-6, 7-6, 6-3. It's good to see Barthel doing so well; she tends to go into lengthy slumps (can you call it a "slump" when it lasts that long?).

Incidentally, Roberta Vinci has advanced to the second round, and Sara Errani has advanced to the quarterfinals, giving the Italians a bit more clay court "normalcy" than they've had lately.

For court-side coverage of the Porsche Tennis Open, check Marija's reporting at Women's Tennis Blog.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Czech Republic and Germany advance to Fed Cup final

For Italy and Australia, today was just more of yesterday in the Fed Cup semifinals. Petra Kvitova defeated Roberta Vinci (subbing for Sara Errani) in straight sets, clinching her country's spot in the 2014 Fed Cup final. The fourth rubber was skipped and the doubles rubber was played, and the Czech Republic won that, too, with Andrea Hlavackova and Klara Koukalova beating Camila Giorgi and Karin Knapp 6-2, 5-7, 11-9.

In Brisbane, Angelique Kerber won the deciding match, defeating Sam Stosur 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the third rubber. The doubles rubber was played in that tie, too, and Australia won it, so they went down 1-3. Taken out of the semifinals by both Germans, Stosur can't be feeling too good right now. Australia's top player just cannot perform on home turf.

Who would have guessed that Sorana Cirstea would be Romania's Fed Cup star this weekend? The talented but wildly inconsistent Cirstea followed up her victory over friend Ana Ivanovic with a 6-3, 6-6, 6-3 victory over Bojana Jovanovski, putting Romania into the World Group. And what a match it was. It took Cirstea six match points to get the job done, and there were many moments when Jovanovski looked like she was going to take control of the match. She took the long road, but the shaky Romanian won. There was an attempt to play the doubles rubber, but the Serbian team retired in the second game of the first set.

I have to hand it to Cirstea. A player who seems to practically walk onto the court mentally conflicted, she nevertheless found a way to beat her best friend, and to equalize Simona Halep's 1-1 record for the weekend.

Also in World Group II Play-Offs, Sweden defeated Thailand 4-0, and Switzerland defeated Brazil 4-1 (Timea Bacsinszky was the star). The Netherlands beat Japan 3-2. Team Bertens and Rus actually clinched the tie at 3-1 but the doubles rubber was played, and Japan won it.

The USA and France had to go to a deciding fifth rubber in doubles. Sloane Stephens defeated Virginie Razzano, who substituted for an ailing Alize Cornet (causing commentator Rennae Stubbs to "sort of" apologize for her not-so-veiled speculation that Cornet's leg pain was less than significant). Stephens had a pretty easy time of it, but then Caroline Garcia took to the court again and beat Madison Keys in straight sets.

For the doubles rubber, both nations tossed out their originally announced teams and went with today's singles players, i.e., Keys/Stephens vs. Garcia/Razzano. Stephens had an excellent junior record as a doubles player, making her the only one of the four with any kind of doubles record of which to speak. The irony is that the USA has a real wealth of great doubles players--the Williams sisters, of course, but also Vania King, Lisa Raymond, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Raquel Kops-Jones, and Abigail Spears. King and Mattek-Sands are also good singles players. Mattek-Sands, when she isn't injured (as she is right now) and can create some momentum, is an especially fine singles player.

But I digress. The Frenchwomen won the first set pretty easily and it looked as though they would cruise through the second, but Keys and Stephens, down a double break, were able to get those breaks back. That was as far as it went, though, as France pulled off the win at 6-2, 7-5. France's 3-2 victory over the USA puts the spotlight on Caroline Garcia, who put the "3" into 3-2. Garcia's amazing Fed Cup weekend (her first one ever) comes only a week after she won both the singles and doubles titles in Bogota. Some of that spotlight needs to shine on captain Amelie Mauresmo, too. (And I have to believe that Marion Bartoli's fighting spirit also hovered over that French team.)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the close French win is that Mauresmo's team pulled it off with two of their key players injured. Kristina Mladenovic, who is frequently half of a very successful doubles team known as Mladenovic and Anybody, had to withdraw from the competition because of an arm injury. Then France's top player, Cornet, sustained an injury during the first day of play and had to be replaced by Virginie Razzano today. Razzano lost her singles rubber, but she was an able partner for Garcia in doubles. Fed Cup--where anything can happen, and usually does!

Russia redeemed its World Group status with a 4-0 win over Argentina. Canada emerged 3-1 over the Slovak Republic (Jana Cepelova lost to both Wozniak and Bouchard) and Poland beat Spain 3-2. That was kind of interesting, with one Radwanska (Aga) winning both of her singles rubbers, and the other Radwanska losing both of hers. But then the elder Radwanska teamed with Alicja Rosolska to beat the Spaniards in straight sets in doubles. On clay, in Barcelona. Well done, A-Rad!

Vekic upsets Cibulkova to win Malaysian Open

First it was Cornet when it was "supposed" to be Radwanska, then it was Garcia when it was "supposed" to be Jankovic. And now, just a week later, top seed Dominika Cibulkova is departing from  Kuala Lumpur with the runner-up trophy. 17-year-old Donna Vekic, who has been in a finalist position twice before, won her first WTA title today, and also got her first top 10 win. In today's Malaysian Open final, Vekic defeated Cibnulkova 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 in a 2-hour and 51-minute thriller.

When Cibulkova was up 7-5, 5-4, it looked like the match would soon be over, but Vekic then won seven games in a row, which put her at 4-0 in the third. Cibulkova, not unexpectedly, fought her way back in, and at 5-2, Vekic saw three match points disappear. The set went to a tiebreak, which Vekic won. She wound up with only one point more than Cibulkova in what turned out to be a very close and exciting final.

Vekic said that "I was up 5-1 in the third set and she came back out playing insane, so I'm happy I was able to get through in the end."

Top seeds Timea Babos and Chan Hao-Ching won the doubles title. They defeated Chan's sister, Chan Yung-Jan, and Zheng Saisai in the final.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vekic reaches her third WTA final

Donna Vekic, who is 17 years old and ranked number 95 in the world, has rather quietly reached her third WTA final. She lost her other two to Irina-Camelia Begu (2012 Tashkent) and Daniela Hantuchova (2013 Birmingham). Tomorrow, she'll go up against top seed Dominika Cibulkova for the Malaysian Open title. The Croatian teenager defeated 2nd seed Zhang Shuai in the semifinals.

And speaking of the Malaysian Open, the Pliskova sisters played six rounds between them and hit a total of 59 aces. That number "should" have been higher, but Karolina slipped in her first round and hit only one ace. The sisters have the ace-hitting thing down. Cibulkova and Vekic, by the way, each had to beat a Pliskova sister to advance to the final.

Meanwhile, quaifying is taking place in Stuttgart. Tsvetana Pironkova is the top qualifying seed and has made it out of the first round.

Agnieszka Radwanska is the top seed in Stuttgart. Here are some potentially interesting first round matches:

Lucie Safarova vs. Maria Sharapova
Jelena Jankovic vs. Ana Ivanovic
Andrea Petkovic vs. Flavia Pennetta
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Sabine Lisicki
Julia Goerges vs. Sorana Cirstea

Sharapova is the defending champion.

Czech Republic and Germany each one rubber away from Fed Cup final

Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber didn't drop any sets in their Fed Cup wins over Australia today. Petkovic beat Sam Stosur 6-1, 7-6, and Kerber ran over Casey Dellacqua, 6-1, 6-0. It was like that for the Czech Republic, too. Lucie Safarova, continuing her excellent form of late, defeated Sara Errani 6-4, 6-1, then Petra Kvitova took care of Camila Girogi, 6-4, 6-2.

Russia, led by Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, now have a 2-0 score against Argentina in the World Group Play-Offs. Spain and Poland are 1-1, with one Radwanska winning and the other (Ula) losing.

Canada is 2-0 over the Slovak Republic, though both rubbers went three sets. Aleksandra Wozniak defeated Jana Cepelova 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, and Genie Bouchard defeated Kristina Kucova 7-6, 2-6, 6-1. 

In the USA vs. France contest, Caroline Garcia expertly handled Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2. Garcia has had problems with her mental game in the past, but her double title in Bogota last week showed that she has done some off-court work. Against Stephens, she was close to meticulous.

Commentator Rennae Stubbs was all over captain Mary Joe Fernandez and the USA team for not actively cheering Stephens on and even getting in her face a bit. Maybe Stephens' teammates are tired of all the hype followed by the failure to deliver and the "I'm in no hurry" speech? Just wondering. Garcia had never before played a Fed Cup match, and she looked like she was there to win every moment. No so much Sloane Stephens.

Ah, but the drama was to come. Alize Cornet was on next, so of course! Cornet (who generally runs about a 7.5 on the Lisicki/Tipsarevic scale) was her usual self, expressing all over the place, getting down on herself, jumping around (in a good way), and causing captain Amelie Mauresmo's brow to furrow just a bit. She played Madison Keys, who broke her when she served for the first set at 5-3. The set went to a tiebreak, which Cornet won.

Cornet became preoccupied with her left thigh, which was apparently strained--or she had a cramp--and had trouble pushing off for her serve. Considering that her second serve was already in the Errani category, it didn't look good for the Frenchwoman. She took a medical timeout and returned, only to get broken again when she served for the set at 5-4. But this time, when the set went to a tiebreak, it was Keys who won it.

Keys went up two breaks in the third set, but then Cornet broke back for 2-4. But by this time, Cornet--struggling with her leg and her serve--was kind of a mess, and Keys got another break, then served for the match and went down three break points. She saved two, but then double-faulted. Then she had a match point on Cornet's serve, which Cornet saved. Then, with her 14th and 15th double faults, Cornet was beaten, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.

The match lasted a few minutes short of three hours (a typical Cornet outing), and it wasn't very pretty to watch, but credit to Keys for hanging in and keeping her team comfortably in the mix. It was a big win for her. As for Cornet, she's probably exhausted. She played three consecutive three-set matches on her way to the title in Katowice last week.

In the World Group II Play-Offs, Romania leads Serbia 1-0. Sorana Cirstea defeated best friend Ana Ivanovic 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. And if anyone on the WTA tour is less predictable than Cirstea, it would be Ivanovic. The second rubber, in which Simona Halep was up a break over Bojana Jovanovski, was rained out and will be played tomorrow.

Also in the World Group II Play-Offs, the Netherlands and Japan are 1-1, Sweden is 2-0 over Thailand, and Brazil is 0-2 against Switzerland.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quote of the day

"Who says the City of Light can't be the City of the Light and the Joy?"
Ben Rothenberg, in his "why not?" prediction that JJ will win the French Open

Sweeping the court

The Pliskova effect: Karolina Pliskova has gotten into the habit of hitting a whole lot of aces in almost every match, but, for some reason, that hasn't happened as much in Kuala Lumpur (well, except for the 9 aces she hit in her quarterfinal). But her sister, Kristyna, seems to have gotten the hang of it, hitting 27 aces in two rounds. Impressive.

"Speedy" is the latest Sugarpova flavor. The "sweet ride" is a gummy replica of the Porsche 911.

Here are Sara Errani's game day foods.

Here are some photos of the Malaysian Open player party. Kimiko shows them how to do it off-court, too.

There was a recent Vika sighting in Sydney.

Laura Robson, still out with a wrist injury, has announced that she will miss both the French Open and Wimbledon. Robson is having wrist surgery at the Mayo Clinic.

Lepchenko out of Fed Cup

On paper, Varvara Lepchenko's withdrawal from this weekend's Fed Cup World Group USA vs. France Play-Offs looks like a minor thing; after all, she isn't scheduled to play the singles rubbers. But let's examine reality: The steady, non-chokey Lepchenko is whom you put in when your "A list" players don't perform well under pressure (or just flat-out don't perform well). Lepchenko is injured, and has been replaced on the USA team by Lauren Davis. That's not a bad thing, but having Lepchenko (or the also-injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands) would be a better thing.

The opening rubber will feature Sloane Stephens against Bogota champion Caroline Garcia, and that will be followed by Madison Keys vs. Katowice champion Alize Cornet. The USA is 11-1 against France in Fed Cup play. Again, it looks good on paper.

But on to more important events. Italy will meet the Czech Republic in the semfinals, and Sara Errani and Lucie Safarova will begin the fight, followed by a rubber featuring Camila Giorgi and Petra Kvitova. The two countries are the huge Fed Cup stars of recent time--one of them has won the championship every year in the last five year--but one of them has to go this weekend. They're playing on an indoor surface in Ostrava, and that favors Kvitova in a big way. After the reverse singles are played--should the tie go to a deciding doubles rubber--the Italian doubles team of Karin Knapp and Roberta Vinci could be replaced by Errani and Vinci.

The other semifinal features Australia against Germany. The two countries will play on a hard court in Brisbane, and the Australians will have all they can handle in Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber.

In other World Group Play-Offs, Russia plays Argentina, Canada plays the Slovak Republic and Spain plays Poland. Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have, for some reason, re-joined Russia's Fed Cup team, which was pretty much dismantled recently because of players' anger toward the Russian Tennis Federation.

Of particular interest (at least, to me) in the World Group II Play-Offs is the Romania vs. Serbia tie.

Here's a bit of Italian attitude, as Errani and Vinci prepare for what is apparently being called The Ding-Dong.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mladenovic withdraws from Fed Cup play

Kristina Mladenovic has withdrawn from the Fed Cup World Group Play-Offs this weekend because of an injured right forearm. France's most notable doubles player will be replaced on the French team by Claire Feuerstein. Not having Mladenovic on the team is a disadvantage for France, but only if the contest against team USA should go to a fifth, deciding rubber. Singles play will be handled by Katowice champion Alize Cornet and Bogota champion Caroline Garcia, with Virginie Razzano standing by.

Here's a bit of the press conference transcript:

Have you had a chance to experience St. Louis or done anything fun around the city?
Cornet: Is there some fun? Is there some fun things to do? We're motivated to know that!
Garcia: We been to the Hard Rock Cafe yesterday, but we were the only ones.

Meanwhile, USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez said of her team's opponents: "...Their top two are coming off big wins last week, one in Poland and one in Columbia. Cornet, the top player, is a great competitor and runs a lot of balls down--great backhand. Garcia is very aggressive. I think she's 20 right now...."

And from Sloane Stephens: "...Got to just go out there and do your thing, and hopefully everything goes well."

The draw will take place on Friday at the St. Louis Public Library.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Garcia wins everything in Bogota, France rules weekend

Caroline Garcia won her first WTA title today. The Frenchwoman upset top seed and defending champion Jelena Jankovic in the Bogota final, beating her 6-3, 6-4. This was Garcia's first win over a top 10 player. Serving for the match at 15-all, Garcia hit two aces followed by a winner.

Jankovic had trouble finding her clay court legs in Charleston, and apparently has some work to do in this clay court season.

Garcia, with partner Lara Arruabarrina, also won the doubles title. The champions upset top seeds Vania King and Chanelle Scheepers 7-6, 6-4 in the final. Garcia also beat King in singles in the semifinals.

The 20-year-old Garcia, who is coached by her father, is currently ranked number 74 in the world, but her ranking will rise as of tomorrow. Garcia precedes both world number 18 Sloane Stephens and world number 19 Eugenie Bouchard in grabbing a first title.

The unseeded Giorgi had a good week, defeating 2nd seed Roberta Vinci and 3rd seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

Meanwhile, in Katowice, Alize Cornet won her fourth WTA title, and did it in expected Cornet fashion. First she upset top seed (a lot of that going on) Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. She won 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, saving a match point along the way. That is so Cornet. But the real excitement was yet to come. In the final, the 4th-seeded Frenchwoman defeated Camila Giorgi 7-6, 5-7, 7-5. The match lasted over 3 hours and 11 minutes, and contained enough drama to probably please all spectators. Part of that drama was the Italian player's fight to extend the match after going down 3-5 in the second set.

The Katowice doubles final also involved an upset of the top seeds. The unseeded team of Yuliya Beygelzimer and Olga Savchuk defeated number 1 seeds Klara Koukalova and Monica Niculescu 6-4, 5-7, 10-7.

Cornet and Garcia are both on the French Fed Cup team which will compete against the USA Fed Cup team April 19 and 20 in the World Group Play-Offs.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jankovic advances to quarterfinals in Bogota

Top seed Jelena Jankovic advanced to the quarterfinals in Bogota today when she defeated lucky loser Sofia Shapatava in the second round. Caroline Garcia also advanced to the quarterfinals.

Sloane "I'll win when I'm 30" Stephens went out in straight sets in the opening round, defeated by Mariana Duque-Marino. Stephens, it was announced yesterday, will lead the USA Fed Cup team against France later this month. Other members of team USA are Madison Keys, Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale. The French team is composed of Alize Cornet, Caroline Garcia, Virginie Razzano, and Kristina Mladenovic.

In Katawice, top seed Agnieszka Radwanska moved to the quarterfinals with a straight set win over Francesca Schiavone. 2nd seed Roberta Vinci lost to countrywoman Camila Giorgi in the second round (and that match included a third set bagel).

Monday, April 7, 2014

Some final thoughts on Charleston

Photo by Daniel Ward
The Family Circle Cup has long been known as a "star-maker" and "breakout" tournament, and it seems only natural that Andrea Petkovic would firmly emphasize her comeback by winning it. The event also showcased the considerable talent of Genie Bouchard, as well as some lesser known, but exciting, young players who have lots of potential. I thought it was a real treat that Jana Cepelova, Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic were all there, and they all did quite well.

Photo by Daniel Ward
Cepelova won our hearts with her "all by myself" independent spirit. Her box was empty, she had no coach for most of the tournament, and she had no other staff or family or friends there. Some of us wanted to "adopt" her, or at least take her out for a good meal. I'm not sure Jana understood what the fuss was about; she was just there to play tennis! I imagined her sending a text message home: Tired & starving, FCC staff bringing me plate of food 4 dinner, beat Serena W 2day, need 2 get some rest

The Charleston event features a relaxed atmosphere, and the players always get really special treatment from the staff and volunteers (Charleston volunteers are great!). They also enjoy dining out in the city and frequently mention that the food in Charleston is one of their favorite things about the tournament. This year, the weather was superb--it was unbelievable that the rain completely missed the stadium on the final Sunday.

Photo by Daniel Ward

This year, I left Daniel Island with some lasting images (many of which, yes, do involve JJ) of the event, which I'll share here:

Petko publicly telling her team, regarding her behavior: "I'm sorry for everything."
Question: "...did you know that Fila calls that color 'Diva Pink'?"
Jelena Jankovic: "Yeah, of course, because I'm a diva. What else do you expect?"

Sara Errani, standing with her face mashed against the glass outside the media building, wondering if she was supposed to come in and do a press conference after her opponent retired in the second set

Gladys Knight catching an autographed ball hit into the stands by Venus Williams

Errani with her hand over her face, shaking her head over and over as she was driven from the stadium in the golf cart after being upset by Belinda Bencic

Jankovic climbing the steps of the umpire's chair (while Eva Asderaki was in it) to stretch her calves

Both finalists saying they didn't want or need
on-court coaching

Sitting with other press directly behind JJ and Petko at their second doubles match, when Jankovic turned around and said to us, "What's wrong with her? Do something to pump her up!"
The Petko superfan who yelled loudly, "Hit it, AP!" or just "AP!" throughout Andrea's semifinal and during the final. At one point in the final, she yelled "What's wrong with you, girl?!"

Belinda Bencic getting an obscenity warning from the chair umpire a day after she talked about how calm she was on the court

Abba's "Dancing Queen" blaring throughout the stadium right after Petkovic hit match point in her quarterfinal

Anastasia Rodionova retiring after getting hit in the head by a ball that came off of Chan Hao-Ching's racket--after Rodionova had repeatedly aimed balls right at Chan and hit her in the chest (Liezel Huber was out of the tournament--got to hit someone)
Petkovic, taking Asderaki's hand in both of hers instead of shaking it when she won the final

Pam Shriver doing the Petko Chair Dance on ESPN (WTA Backspin has the video with instruction from You-Know-Who, about halfway down the page, on how to do the Petkorazzi Dance)

Photo by Daniel Ward
Jankovic explaining her new au naturel look: "Here I want to look like a beast. I just want to look as scary as possible. I don't want to look pretty and all nice and dolled up. For what? I'm going to get dirty and sweaty. The only thing, my hair has to be slick. That's the only thing."

Ivanovic wins Monterrey title

In the WTA's first-ever all-Serbian final yesterday, 2nd seed Ana Ivanvic defeated the unseeded Jovana Jaksic 6-2, 6-1. The Monterrey title is the 13th of Ivanovic's career. Her victory moves her to number 8 in the Road to Singapore rankings.

Ivanovic defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals. Jaksic defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm, who took out top seed Flavia Pemetta in the first round.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Petkovic dances her way to Charleston title

Photo by Daniel Ward

Andrea Petkovic, who--after sustaining two serious injuries in succession--doubted she'd ever play in another big WTA final, won the premier-level Family Circle Cup today in Charleston. The intelligent, good-humored, dancing German defeated upstart Jana Cepelova in straight sets, 7-6, 6-2, to take the biggest title of her career. She then performed the Petko dance to wild applause, hit some autographed balls to the crowd, and delivered a very charming and entertaining acceptance speech at the trophy ceremony.

Petkovic spoke throughout the week about the highs and lows of being a professional tennis player, and she described herself as a "doubter." Petkovic said she was devastated after losing in the first round in Indian Wells, and she hopes that she can keep her Charleston victory in her mind the next time she feels doubt. "I just hope I can remind myself of this moment and sort of what I've said now in the press conference, and maybe I can read back the transcript."

Photo by Daniel Ward
The former world number 9 was off the tour for a long time after injuring her ankle, and then her back (and most recently, her knee). What she learned from that, she explained, is that she cannot rely on her fitness the way she used to, so she has had to become a more tactical player.

The champion had high praise for her opponent, Jana Cepelova, who spent most of the week without a coach or anyone else to help her or even provide companionship for her, and who defeated top seed Serena Williams and 2011 runner-up Elena Vesnina. Cepelova's most impressive performance, however, occurred during the two and a half hour semifinal thriller she won against teenager Belinda Bencic.

Photo by Daniel Ward
"If you had said something before," Petkovic deadpanned to Cepelova at the trophy ceremony, "I could have coached you."

Petkovic broke Cepelova to start the match, then broke her again to go up 3-0. But Cepelova fought back, and had two set points on Petkovic's serve. The German player saved them, producing the first deuce of the set at 4-5. She held, and then served again for the set at 6-5, closing on her second set point.

After that close first set, Petkovic broke away. Hitting her groundstrokes with more consistent depth than she had in the first set, she quickly took control of the set. Petkovic also made quick work of
many of Cepelova's serves, especially her second serves. Up 5-0, Petkovic served for the match and had to save a break point. But then Cepelova hit a backhand passing shot and broke her opponent. The young Slovak held very easily for 2-5, and the question, "Is this a turning point?" arose.

But it wasn't. Petkovic served a love game to win the second set and become the 2014 champion of the Family Circle Cup.

In her other matches, Cepelova's movement was very impressive, but in this one, she was slower and less instinctive. Fatigue had set in, and Cepelova couldn't get control of the action. There was a bit of wind today, too, and Cepelova went through patches in which she repeatedly hit the ball long. I should note, however, that there was no indication that the 20-year-old let the occasion get to her mentally; she was just tired, and she was up against that very tricky opponent--experience.

Photo by Daniel Ward
It was quite a week, nevertheless, for the up-and-coming Slovakian player. Asked to describe herself in one word, she immediately replied, "Fighter." Her work in Charleston will result in her breaking the top 50 for the first time.

After the final, Petkovic said that she was preparing to return to Germany. "I'm going to have champagne and I don't even drink champagne, but I'm just going to have it for the heck of it in the airplane," she told the press. "I'm going to get drunk. I never get drunk on the airplane. That's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to walk around and dance with the cabin attendants…. And I'm going to let them touch my trophy…. I will drink champagne from my trophy. That's going to be fantastic. I won't be able to come to Fed Cup. I'm sorry."

Medina Garrigues and Shvedova win Charleston doubles title

Photo by Daniel Ward
The unseeded team of Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova won the doubles championship at the Family Circle Cup today. Medina Garrigues and Shvedova defeated the sister team of Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan 7-6, 6-2 in the final. Chan and Chan were also unseeded.

Rain was expected today, but play went on as scheduled. However, the doubles trophy ceremony was postponed until after the singles trophy ceremony in order to move play along.

When they won, Medina Garrigues and Shvedova did a little Flamenco move with their hands. In the press conference, they were asked whether they speak English to one another on the court. Shvedova said that they do, and her partner added, "I clapping her in the Spanish...." "Sometimes, if I get mad," Shvedova added, "I speak Russian, and she's asking 'what did you say?!'"

Medina Garrigues had to catch a flight, so she missed the trophy ceremony. But, she said, "I'm going to celebrate. In Spain I will celebrate, and it's a good place to celebrate."

Sweeping the court

I haven't had a chance to mention this OK magazine photo of Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova wearing 1920s era tennis outfits, but I think it's wonderful. Makarova is looking kind of retro Cate Blanchett there.

What's next for Serena?

Novak, Richard and Andy ask 'Pova some questions.

Kamakshi Tandon takes a look at what's going on with ITF drug testing.

There'll be an all-Serbian final in Monterrey today, as Jovana Jaksic faces off with Ana Ivanovic. In the semifinals, Jaksic defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 and 2nd seed Ivanovic defeated 3rd seed Caroline Wozniacki 7-6, 6-4.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

And now a few words from Professor Petkovic

All photos by Daniel Ward

"When I was in school and I was in fifth grade and 13-graders....The 13-graders were walking past me. I was in awe. Wow, the big ones, the teenagers smoking, being all cool with their backpacks and their pants down to their knees. I thought they were the coolest in the world, and when they were walking past me, I was like, please don't see me, please don't see me, please don't see me.

"And then when I was in the 13th grade, the fifth graders, they were running around, hitting our backpacks, throwing at us balls and stuff. They didn't respect us at all.

"But that's good, you know. For tennis it's good. For me as a 13-grader, I wanted to be the cool one, but I wasn't. So you know, I feel like in tennis it's the same. The new generation doesn't care about the names anymore. They're just very confident, and they believe in themselves a lot, which is great for tennis, but I was just never that type of person. I needed a lot of experience. And so yeah, but it's good for them, I guess."

Two unseeded teams to compete for Charleston doubles title

Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova advanced to the Family Circle Cup doubles final tonight when they upset 3rd seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 7-5, 6-7, 10-8. The two-hour match included a medical timeout taken by Medina Garrigues for treatment of her leg.

That was a pretty routine medical timeout; then there was the medical timeout taken by Anastasia Rodionova in the other semifinal. To the best of my memory, it's been a while since the Russian-turned-Australian has been involved in on-court drama (it used to be constant), but she was involved in a lot of it tonight. She and partner Alla Kudryavtseva played Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan, and Rodionova was hitting forehands right at Chan Hao Ching's body. She got her in the chest, and shortly after that, a ball came back and hit Rodionova in the head. Rodionova had some things to say.

Then Rodionova began hitting moonballs, and then there was a medical timeout with a pulse check, and finally, Rodionova retired. Chan and Chan won the match 6-2, 3-1.

Photo by Daniel Ward

Cepelova wins Charleston thriller and advances to final

Photo by Daniel Ward

I was so looking forward to the Charleston semifinal between Belinda Bencic and Jana Cepelova (I had referred to the Bouchard-Petkovic semifinal as the "appetizer"), that right before the match began, I had to remind myself about what happens when you build something up too much in your head. I also reminded myself that one player (Bencic) had already played six matches, and that the other one had sustained a leg injury during the tournament, and had complained of a sore shoulder. Was I expecting too much?

Well, it turns out I wasn't. The 17-year-old Swiss player and the 20-year-old Slovak brought everything they had onto the Billie Jean King Stadium Court this afternoon, and for over 2 hours and 33 minutes, fans were treated to just about everything they could ask for in a semifinal, and a little more. The drama ended with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 victory for Cepelova, and the scoreline alone should give you an idea of what a drama this match was.

Bencic and Cepelova--though undoubtedly weary both mentally and physically--went after each other with a fierceness that made me wonder whether I had been transported to a second-day Fed Cup match. And while not everyone in the crowd may have entered the stadium knowing just who the players were, it didn't take them long to get caught up in the drama of this clay court thriller. "Go Belinda!" somone would yell. "Come on, Jana!" someone else would call out. "Pome!" screamed Cepelova. And then Bencic would channel Maria Sharapova and scream "Pome!" right back at her.

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)
Bencic was able to rely on her serve to get her out of trouble at big moments. She hit seven aces, and two of them were hit in the last game of the second set, which she won. This was after she had served for the set three times, so the aces were especially impressive, considering the pressure she was under. Also, at 3-4, deuce, in the third set, Bencic hit two big serves to even the set at 4-all. And--most dramatic of all--serving at 4-5, 30-40 in the final set--she saved a match point, then hit an ace to hold.

The match featured momentum swings that occurred suddenly, and then disappeared just as suddenly. There was an excessive amount of running, sliding and bending, and Cepelova took another spill, this time scraping her knee, for which she needed a brief medical timeout. Cepelova is nothing if not scrappy, and is therefore a very physical player. Bencic is more cerebral, and this tension created some of the innate drama in the match. Both players had repeated emotional outbursts, but these outbursts seemed like natural releases of energy; both Cepelova and Bencic seem to know just when to "let it out."

It seemed inevitable that a third set tiebreak would happen, and it did. And, as so often occurs in the third set tiebreak of a long, tense match, one of the players goes flat. It was Cepelova, who let Bencic run up to a 4-1 lead. But--given the dynamics of the match, and given the fighting spirit of Cepelova--no easy path could be predicted for the Swiss woman. Momentum change--Bencic began making errors, including a double fault. Then, after she won a long, exciting rally to go up 5-all, Bencic double-faulted again. She thought she had hit an ace on her first serve, and then appeared somewhat rattled to find out that she hadn't.

Cepelova had a second match point at 5-6 in the tiebreak, but she landed the ball in the net. When Bencic hit a backhand out, Cepelova had a third match point, but tossed that ball into the net, too. That put them at 7-all. At 8-7, Cepelova had her fourth match point, which she converted when Bencic--aiming for the far ad corner--hit another ball out.

Photo by Daniel Ward
Cepelova, as I mentioned earlier, is here alone--no coach, no physio, no family, no anybody. Last night, she had dinner on site, and said that she would do room service tonight, and that the tour will make a physio available to her. Cepelova said she wishes she had someone close to her to talk to, but that she was communicating with home by fist-pumping toward the cameras. She knows how to motivate herself; when she was three points from victory, she wrote a "3" into the clay.

Resurgent Petkovic ends Bouchard's run in Charleston

Photo by Daniel Ward

This week in Charleston, 6th seed Eugenie Bouchard has made a specialty out of winning three-set matches, but today, she found herself on the wrong end of the third set. The young Canadian--who has created quite a buzz this week at the Family Circle Cup--was defeated 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals by former top 10 player Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic, whose career was put on hold because of serious injuries she sustained to her ankle and her back, is seeded 14th in Charleston.

Photo by Daniel Ward
A little over a year ago, Petkovic's ranking had dropped to number 177 in the world, but she had brought it back up to number 40 (but only after having to take more time off to rehab a knee injury) by the time she entered the Charleston tournament this year. Because she dropped off the radar for a time, the popular German player hasn't been the focus of a lot of attention lately, and that may have worked in her favor this week. After going three sets with Lesia Tsurenko, Petkovic went 6-0, 6-0 against Lourdes Dominguez Lino. She then lost only one game against 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki. In the quarterfinals, Petkovic defeated 9th seed Lucie Safarova.

In today's match, Petkovic (whose father played tennis for the University of South Carolina) said that the first set didn't really feel like 6-1 to her. "It was kind of each game I had my chances, and I just didn't take them, and Genie was there. Every time I gave her something, she took it...yeah, very decisively." Bouchard has beaten players--including number 2 seed Jelena Janovic--all week by taking the ball very early and keeping it low. Her shot-making has thrilled the crowd and overcome her opponents.

Photo by Daniel Ward
And it looked like she was headed to the final after she went up 4-2 in the third set. But then her level slipped a bit, and Petkovic stole the momentum from her. It was an error here and an error there, with Petko fighting for every point. After she won, Petkovic cried a bit. She later said that she was "so relieved and I was proud that I came back from all these injuries, and I never thought that I would play finals in the big tournaments again...."

The German player, known for her keen wit and post-match dancing, also confirmed that she has given up on-court coaching. "...I don't want to do it anymore, to be honest," she told the press. "because I feel like I'm 26 years old now, and I'm very experienced. I'm a big girl. I can handle myself."

Charleston semifinal notes

One of the participants in today's Family Circle Cup semifinals is The Unknown. 6th seed Eugenie Bouchard and 13th seed Andrea Petkovic have never played each other before. Also, the unseeded Jana Cepelova and qualifier Belinda Bencic have never played each other.

17-year-old Bencic, because she had to go through qualifying, has now played six matches, while her opponent has played four. But Cepelova has had to deal with issues with both her shoulder and her leg, and has acknowledged exhaustion, so the young pair may be fairly matched in terms of fatigue.

The lowest seed ever to win in Charleston was 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki, who was seeded 16th. Justin Henin was unseeded when she won in 2005 because she had just returned from a long layoff because of illness. In 2002, the unseeded Iva Majloi won the tournament. Her opponent in the final was the unseeded Patty Schnyder. That was the year that Schnyder took out Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Serena Williams, and top seed Jennifer Capriati.

Charleston quarterfinal gallery

All photos by Daniel Ward

Sara Errani
Genie Bouchard

Daniela Hantuchova

Jana Cepelova

Belinda Bencic

Lucie Safarova

Andrea Petkovic

Jelena Jankovic

The kids are alright

While the veterans--Serena Williams, Li Na, Flavia Pennetta, etc.--have taken over the tour lately, in Charleston, the upstarts are alive and well, thank you very much. Friday's quarterfinal action brought about the exits of Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani and Daniela Hantuchova. They were shown the door by Genie Bouchard, Belinda Bencic and Jana Cepelova, respectively. Bouchard and Cepelova are 20; Bencic turned 17 last month.

Eugenie Bouchard (photo by Daniel Ward)

What's going on here? One thing that's going on is that some pretty talented young players (including Elina Svitolina, who lost to Bencic in the third round) showed up for the action. Also, the Family Circle Cup has a history of "star-making": Players do tend to break out during this hard court-to-clay court transition. It's a tradition.

Photo by Daniel Ward
In the case of Jankovic, who many thought would win the tournament again (she won it seven years ago and was the runner-up last year), it was a combination of a "bad day" and a tough opponent. Jankovic came out flat and lost the first set, as Bouchard kept pushing her back. In the second set, the Serbian star had to work awfully hard for the points, but she was able to break Bouchard--who had a bit of a lull--twice and win the set.

The third set was up for grabs, and Bouchard grabbed it. After Bouchard broke JJ to go up 3-2, she went up 30-15 and blurted out a very loud "Come on!" It felt like a turning point, and it probably was. The two then began pulling each other around the court in a very entertaining rally, which ended when Jankovic hit a forehand up the line, which Bouchard put into the net. But then, when JJ hit what looked like a perfect lob, it turned out that the ball went just over the line. Bouchard won on her second game point.

Jankovic then held, and then Bouchard held with a 106 mph ace. Jankovic was broken in her next game, which meant that Bouchard had won the match, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Later, Jankovic said she thought it was her movement that betrayed her. "...a lot of things had to depend on me," she said. "That's my fault that I did not move my feet or I did not turn to hit the ball clean. I was kind of flat and waiting for the ball to kind of come to myself, not that I move up and do the right thing."

That was a pretty good assessment of what happened. The 2nd seed went on to say that Bouchard's strength is that she stays low, takes the ball early "and just picks them up so easily and kind of directs them, and that's her biggest strength, that she can absorb someone's ball and just use it."

Later in the afternoon, Errani and Bencic came to the court, and qualifier Belinda Bencic--after she got settled down--put on a show that left the Italian star literally shaking her head in disbelief. An argument can be made that Errani wasn't herself; she came to the net less than one would expect, and she hit fewer drop shots than usual. But an argument can also be made that she wasn't herself because the Swiss teenager messed with her head.

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)
Bencic understands tactics, and one tactic she used throughout the match was to change the pace of her ball, sometimes in surprising ways, which included hitting a few soft, high shots down the line. Errani would get into a groove, then Bencic would destroy her rhythm. This is, of course, the Swiss Way. Bencic was also quite aggressive when she needed to be, and she took Errani out 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in what was turned out to be an intriguing performance.

When she left the tunnel, Errani hopped into the cart to be driven to
the players' lounge. I happened to step outside at that moment, and I watched the cart move across the grounds while the Italian--one hand covering her face--shook her head repeatedly.

Not to be outdone, Jana Cepelova made pretty easy work of Daniela Hantuchova (6-2, 6-1) in the night match.

Cepelova may be having the most interesting experience of any player at the tournament. First, she got some instant fame by beating Serena Willams. But then she had to deal with shoulder pain. Her next job was to defeat 2011 finalist Elena Vesnina, but during that match, she had to contend with a calf injury. Friday morning, she said, she woke up "and I was, 'whew, I am physically dead'."

Jana Cepelova (photo by Daniel Ward)
There's more. Cepelova is alone at the tournament--no coach, no physio, no family members, no companions. Her coach went home after the Miami tournament, so Janette Husarova signed on to be her Charleston coach, but then Husarova went home. Cepelova is in touch with her coach via Skype and messaging, but she's on her own when it comes to dealing with her aches and pains and with the reality that she has reached the semifinals of a premier event. Asked if she would name anyone else to be her on-court coach, Cepelova replied, "I don't need it."

For someone who's exhausted and dealing with some physical tweaks, the young Slovak is moving awfully well and showing some great form. She took what looked like a nasty spill in tonight's match, falling backwards onto the court, but she rose immediately and signaled to the crowd that she was fine.

Photo by Daniel Ward
There was also a quarterfinal that didn't feature teenagers and almost-teenagers. Andrea Petkovic defeated 2012 runner-up Lucie Safarova 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. And while it pains many of us that we can no longer be entertained by Jankovic, Petko has done a rather nice job of stepping in to fill the void. After her quarterfinal match, the German player regaled the press with stories about her father's vanity and her bad poetry.

On a more serious note, Petkovic said that--since returning to the tour after having sustained some serious injuries--she has changed her training schedule to give herself more rest. Another major change, she noted, is that she now pays attention when she has pain, rather than toughing it out and not telling anyone or doing anything to treat it.

The last doubles quarterfinal was played tonight. Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova defeated 4th seeds Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-1, 6-4.

A final word about youth: In Friday's Monterrey quarterfinals, being young got you a trip to the airport. 43-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm defeated 20-year-old Monica Puig 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Day 5 at the Family Circle Cup

The weather has been splendid so far at the Family Circle Cup, with the exception of the rain that soaked the courts the night before qualifying began. There may be some drizzle tomorrow, and there is likely to outright rain on Sunday, when the finals are played.

Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova beat Marina Erakovic and Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals in today's first match.

This morning, I took a stroll around Daniel Island and overheard two women who had just driven here from somewhere or other and who were discussing whether they should cross the street and watch the quarterfinals or--just go drink. Ladies, wherever you are, please don't attend the night match.

A couple of days ago, someone here to cover the tournament asked me why a military publication would cover a tennis tournament. I actually had to make a service motion while saying "You know, tennis--serve" before the light came on. A few years ago, I was watching a match on the Club Court, and a volunteer asked me what part of the media I represented. I told her I published Women Who Serve, and she asked me what branch of the military I was in. "Women who serve--you know, tennis," I said, gesturing that a play on words was involved, and she gave me a blank look. Then the other volunteers started yelling at her, "you know, serve--tennis!" but she just continued to stare blankly at us while we walked away.

There are no former champions left in the draw. 6th seed Genie Bouchard took Jelena Jankovic out in three sets a while ago (more on that later) in a match in which Jankovic was the clear crowd favorite.

Date-Krumm advances to Monterrey quarterfinals

Kimiko Date-Krumm has advanced to the Monterrey quarterfinals, with wins over top seed Flavia Pennetta and Timea Babos. Date-Krumm and partner Karolina Pliskova have made it past the first round of doubles competition. 2nd seed Ana Ivanovic also advanced to the quarterfinals today with a win over Aleksandria Wozniak.

Pliskova, by the way, has been at it again this week, hitting 16 aces in her second round match against Donna Vekic.

In other news: Li Na has withdrawn from the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Her withdrawal places Sorana Cirstea into the main draw.

Charleston quarterfinals to be played Friday

The ESPN-televised Family Circle Cup quarterfinal on Friday will certainly be one worth watching: 2nd seed Jelena Jankovic will play 6th seed Eugenie Bouchard. Jankovic, who won the event in 2007 and was a finalist last year, has shown very good form this week, and has also gotten in some work in doubles. Bouchard, who defeated Venus Williams today, has created quite a bit of excitement in Charleston.

Following the Jankovic-Bouchard match, Lucie Safarova will play Andrea Petkovic. Safarova was the runner-up here in 2012; Petkovic has cruised through the draw. Petkovic has a 3-2 record against Safarova. They have never before played each other on clay.

The third quarterfinal will feature clay court specialist Sara Errani and Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, the last qualifier standing. The night match will be played between Slovaks Daniela Hantuchova and Jana Cepelova. Hantuchova is flying way under the radar at this event, but all that will change on Friday night.

Bouchard has her Genie Army in tow, and today she thanked everyone for all the support and added, "keep the stuffed animals coming." The Canadian wasn't the only with a cheering squad, though. This year, the "Aussie Aussie Aussie!" chant for Sam Stosur was pervasive, with the "Aussie" part yelled from one end of the stadium and the "Oi" part yelled from the other end. Nice.

The Petko Dance has returned!

And, speaking of Petko, time for a few words about Sabine Lisicki. The 2009 champion posted first and second serve win percentages of 36 and 28 in her 55-minute match against Petkovic today. Lisicki won one game. At her press conference, she confirmed that her shoulder wasn't yet "100 per cent." When asked whether a shoulder problem inhibited her serve, she simply repeated that her shoulder wasn't yet fully healed.

Lisicki, who has sustained repeated injuries and illnesses in the past few years, isn't exactly forthcoming. Recall that, when asked on Monday how many injuries she had sustained in the past six months, she replied "You can look it up." Today, in the midst of major defeat, she took a medical timeout to treat a cut on her finger. And so it is her right. But it's always something. Whether she's retiring mid-match, getting hauled off the court on a stretcher, or getting a lesson in mental fortitude from Mademoiselle Bartoli, drama surrounds her. Not legs-in-the-air JJ drama, or even exceedingly foul mood Vika drama--but rather, predictable and uncomfortable drama with a big "D." And far too much of it.

Photo by Daniel Ward

Thursday, April 3, 2014

JJ and Petko go out laughing

Photo by Daniel Ward

Not long after she finished playing her third round singles match in Charleston and meeting with the press, Jelena Jankovic had to go to the Althea Gibson Club Court and play doubles with partner Andrea Petkovic. The wild card team, who beat Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond in the first round, played 3rd seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears tonight, and again, the hilarity ensued.

Jankovic had barely gotten settled when she complained to nearby press members that she was starving. She ate some fruit, then there was a lot of business with a bottle of protein powder, which Petko tried to open, but some of the powder wound up on JJ. This is probably the funniest doubles team to ever get together (and let's not forget that Jankovic used to play doubles with Li Na, but that was a long time ago, before Li became a world-class comic).

And though they continued to crack one another up throughout the match, Jankovic and Petkovic gave the doubles specialists on the other side of the net some serious problems. Kops-Jones and Spears won the first set 6-4;  Jankovic and Petkovic won the second set 6-1. Then it got really interesting, and especially for me: I was sitting with my friend Steve Ferber, who is covering the tournament for the Daniel Island News. At 3-2 in the tiebreak, Steve turned to me and announced that the tiebreak would go to 16-14. Just like that.

Behind at 4-6, Jankovic and Petkovic won four consecutive points to go up 8-6. After that, the tiebreak turned into a total thriller, with Kops-Jones and Spears saving four match points, and JJ and Petko saving two match points. When it got to be 12-all, I had a funny feeling. At 14-all, I was on edge, waiting to see who would win the next point. Kops-Jones and Spears did, and then Kops-Jones and Spears won the 16th point, and the match. Of course. 16-14. I knew that. Steve told me so. Freaky.

Bouchard takes Venus Williams out of Family Circle Cup

Photo by Daniel Ward

Photo by Daniel Ward

It was a year ago, in Charleston, when Eugenie Bouchard reached her first premier-level WTA quarterfinal, and she advanced to the Charleston quarterfinals again today with a 7-6, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Venus Williams. Williams had two set points in the first set tiebreak, but was overcome by her opponent. The 2004 champion took the second set rather quickly, and went up a break in the third, but Bouchard kept it close, and broke Williams when she served at 4-5.

Lucie Safarova (photo by Daniel Ward)
Williams' exit from the tournament meant that only three former champions remained--Jelena Jankovic, Sabine Lisicki and Samantha Stosur. Stosur went out tonight in three sets to 2012 runner-up Lucie Safarova, who has become her nemesis, beating her in nine of eleven matches. Safarova focused on keeping her lefty serve and forehand pinned on Stosur's backhand, though she later said that the task was harder for her to accomplish on clay that it was on a hard court.

Lisicki was another story. The German player won one game against countrywoman Andrea Petkovic. Petko won her second round match 6-0, 6-0, and her third round match 6-1, 6-0. She has now won 26 of her last 27 games.

Andrea Petkovic (photo by Daniel Ward)

And then there was JJ. Jankovic defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-1, and that makes her the last former champion standing. Her next task is to take on Bouchard, and that will happen tomorrow at 1 p.m. on Billie Jean King Stadium Court.

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)
In the battle of the gifted teenagers, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland emerged the winner. Bencic defeated Elina Svitolina 6-7, 6-4, 6-1. Svitolina apparently didn't get the WTA memo about being quiet, and between her ball-striking yells and Bencic's emotional outbursts (this the player who had only just discussed with the press how calm she was in the second round--she laughed about it today), there was a lot of drama. Bencic even received an obscenity warning from the chair. It will be interesting to see where these two careers go--the two have quite a bit of talent between them.

Errani advances to Charleston quarterfinals in double tiebreaks

Photo by Daniel Ward
In what turned out to be a drop shot clinic, 3rd seed Sara Errani defeated Peng Shuai 7-6, 7-6 in the opening match on Billie Jean King Stadium Court today in Charleston. Errani hit so many successful drop shots in the first set, that the affair began to have a kind of "Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football" feel to it--until Peng came up with the idea of doing the same thing to Errani. Between them, they hit a lot of drop shots, most of them really good ones, too. The players hit 89 winners, too; 58 of them were Peng's.

In the first set, Peng had a set point at 6-5 but failed to convert it. She then saved three set points in the tiebreak, only to have Errani win the tiebreak 8-6. The second set was a lot like the first, with both players dropping and lobbing throughout. Peng seemed a bit tired and tried to rush some of the points, Errani would later remark, and no doubt she was, after having to virtually "start all over" in her second round match against Madison Keys, after being up 6-1, 5-1.

Photo by Daniel Ward
In the second set, Peng had a set point at 6-5--Wait! Haven't we heard this before?!--but couldn't convert it. Here we go again. Errani was a bit more efficient in closing this time, and looked quite relieved that the whole thing was over. When asked if it was important that she finished in two sets, Errani answered: "Well, the importance was to win more than finish in two sets....I can lose also in two sets."

Jana Cepelova (photo by Daniel Ward)

In the meantime, Daniela Hantuchova quietly dismissed Teliana Pereira 6-2, 6-3, and Jana Cepelova made good on her upset of Serena Williams by taking out 2011 runner-up Elena Vesnina 7-6, 3-6, 6-3. The pair played for over 2 hours and 40 minutes, and each player was broken six times.

In honor of National Poetry Month

Photo by Daniel Ward

The Errani-Browning Riff

How do I drop thee? Let me count the ways.
I drop thee to the depth and breadth and height
My racket can reach, when feeling out of sorts
For the ends of lobbing and ideal grace.
I drop thee to the level of every game's
Most quiet slide, by sun and stadium-light.
I drop thee freely, as women strive for rights;
I drop thee purely, as they return my second serves.
I drop thee with the passion put to use
In my old beliefs, and with my Fed Cup's faith.
I drop thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost ranking. I drop thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my career; and, if God choose,
I shall but drop thee better after Charleston.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Four former champions remain in Charleston draw

Serena Williams and Nadia Petrova are out, but four remaining Family Circle Cup champions have advanced to the third round. Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Sabine Lisicki, and Sam Stosur are all in the competition.

Venus Williams, who sounds pretty congested and says she's still battling some type of bug, got a good fight today from Chanelle Scheepers (who always plays well here), but the 2004 champion prevailed, 7-5, 7-5.

Photo by Daniel Ward
2009 champion Sabine Lisicki had to go three sets against an in-form Vania King (another player who does especially well in Charleston). Lisicki won the first set 7-5, but then became error-prone as King continued to play at a high level. King won that set 6-4, and then--in the final set--the Charleston Sabine of 2009 showed up and put on a show of serving and expert drop shot execution that was breathtaking. It reminded me a lot of the 2009 final, in which Lisicki beat Caroline Wozniacki.

In that third set, Lisicki had first and second serve win percentages of 75 and 83! She had overall percentages of 76 and 45, and she hit 12 aces. After the match, she talked about what a difference it makes when she feels relaxed. Before the final set began, something in her just loosened up, and she won that set 6-3. Lisicki is seeded fourth in the tournament; her next opponent will be Andrea Petkovic.

Photo by Daniel Ward
2007 champion (and 2013 runner-up) Jelena Jankovic defeated Lauren Davis 6-0, 6-3 in the night match. Here's JJ in all her hot pink stretchy glory.

After her victory, Jankovic told the press that playing that doubles match with Andrea Petkovic last night was the most fun she had ever had on a tennis court in her life. I believe it.

Photo by Daniel Ward
The 2nd seed entered the press conference with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders like a cape, and promptly declared herself a superhero. She was asked whether it was true that she had stopped wearing makeup on court, and she launched into a lengthy--and hilarious--speech about getting older, looking clean and well-groomed, not caring anymore about wanting to "look different," and using lip gloss because her lips are cracked from talking too much.

"Here I want to look like a beast,"  she said. "I just want to look as scary as possible. I don't want to look pretty and all nice and dolled up. For what? I'm going to get dirty and sweaty. The only thing, my hair has to be slick."

Photo by Daniel Ward
Also today, Daniela Hantuchova made easy work of qualifier Grace Min, Ajla Tomljanovic beat Zhang Shuai, 2011 runner-up Elena Vesnina defeated Petra Cetkovska, and Peng Shuai beat 15th seed Madison Keys 6-1, 6-7, 7-6. They played on the Althea Gibson Club Court for almost two and a half hours, and Peng (who was barely acknowledged by a disappointed crowd who had been yelling and screaming at Keys) was the one who stayed very calm and steady in the third set tiebreak. And this following her having gone up 5-1 in the second set, only to get broken repeatedly by a determined Keys.

There was a big upset in doubles. Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan defeated 2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-4.

"I want to look like a beast"

Photo by Daniel Ward