Saturday, May 31, 2014

French Open--what they said

I've been more relaxed than last year.
Sara Errani

I had to fight a lot and stay calm and defend a lot of balls.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

My confidence is rising, and that's the most important.
Jelena Jankovic

The sun, I think, helped me a bit, so I'm happy for the sun.
Sara Errani

Are you like a different person when you get to these tournaments?
No, not really.
Sloane Stephens

I found my good way to play, and I found a way to be relaxed on court and just to take the pleasure without pressure.
Simona Halep

...I haven't enjoyed any French wine this week, so that's okay, but I'm enjoying the baguettes.
Sam Stosur

Sharapova favored to advance to quarterfinals

Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur have played each other 15 times, and Sharapova has won 13 of those matches. Stosur's two wins came on hard courts, while Sharapova has won all three of their clay court matches. Should Sharapova prevail again tomorrow, she'll face either Garbine Muguruza or wild card Pauline Parmentier in the quarterfinals. Logic tells us that she'll face Muguruza, which might be interesting.

Muguruza, in my opinion, is technically more vulnerable to a Jankovic- or Halep-type player than she is to a Sharapova, in that those players would instinctively know how to move her around and expose her vulnerability. Having said that, I should add that for the Spaniard to beat Sharapova, she would have to play the same kind of "first strike over and over" game that she played against Serena Williams. As Vika might say, "good luck with that." All the same, an interesting proposition. Muguruza gets a shot at pressuring Sharapova to go for too much on her second serve and double-fault, though that hasn't stopped the Russian from winning before.

Angelique Kerber and Genie Bouchard have played each other only once, it was on a hard court, and Kerber won in three sets. The German says that her back injury has completely healed. If that's the case, she'll be quite a challenge for the young Canadian.

Probably the most interesting of the matches to be played tomorrow is the one that features Ajla Tomljanovic and Carla Suarez Navarro. Suarez Navarro has a history of serious choking, but she recently, finally, won her first tour title. On the other hand, this is a major, and there could be some regression. Tomljanovic has faced her demons at this tournament, and seems the more relaxed for it. At any rate--unless something goes really wrong--this has the potential to really be a match worth watching.

The round of 16 matches created by today's play are pretty interesting, too. A resurgent (for now) Svetlana Kuznetsova made her way past Petra Kvitova (I got to see only some of this completely frustrating yet exciting match, but Todd has written a detailed description of it), who had the match on her racket and let it go. It probably could have been called the Battle of the Talented Head Cases.

Anyway, Kuznetsova will play Lucie Safarova in the next round, and since both are so good on clay, the match should be a spectator's delight. Jelena Jankovic will play Sara Errani, and that promises to be a battle. Qualifier Kiki Bertens, who has emerged more or less out of nowhere, gets Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic is certainly favored to win, but the way things are going, we can't count on anything.

Finally, Sloane Stephens will play 4th seed Simona Halep, who has lost only eleven games so far. Stephens is 2-1 against Halep, but Halep won their only match on clay, which was in 2012, before the Romanian became the force that she is today.

When the tournament began, there were five former champions competing. Now there are two--Sharapova and Kuznetsova. There are also two former finalists, Stosur and Errani, who are still in the draw.

For a detailed list of interesting French Open stats, see WTA Backspin.

Kuznetsova into French Open round of 16

2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova took her 2014 campaign another step today when she upset 5th seed Petra Kvitova 6-7, 6-1, 9-7 in their 3-hour and 13-minute third round match. Next up for Kuznetsova is yet another left-handed Czech, Lucie Safarova. Safarova, for the fifth consecutive time, defeated Ana Ivanovic (6-3, 6-3). Apparently, all the commentators who have told us over and over in the last couple of days that Ivanovic was now a favorite to win the title failed to look at the draw. Or maybe they just didn't realize what it means when Safarova is in the Serb's draw, since I suspect they don't watch women's tennis.

For those who were hoping for a Kiki vs. Kiki event--sorry, it isn't going to happen. Kiki Bertens is still around; she quickly defeated Silvia Soler-Espinosa (6-2, 6-1) in today's French Open third round. But Kiki Mladenovic--despite putting up a big fight--lost her third round match to Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic. It was one of those matches in which you really didn't know, until the last moment, who was going to win. Petko served for the match at 5-3 in the third and was broken, continuing a pattern that had gone on throughout the event. But in the end, Petkovic won, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Sloane Stephens defeated Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-4 and used her Tennis Channel post-match interview to take a smiling swipe at her next opponent, Simona Halep. "She's played really, really well at the smaller tournaments, which I haven't," Stephens said. It is kind of pitiful, isn't it--winning Moscow and Doha? For her part, Halep, reached the round of 16 by beating Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-3, 6-0.

Jelena Jankovic defeated Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 6-2, and 2012 finalist Sara Errani defeated Julia Glushko 6-0, 6-1. Jankovic and Errani will face each other in the round of 16.

In doubles competition, there was a big second round upset today. Julie Coin (remember Julie Coin?) and Pauline Parmentier upset 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. The Chan sisters went out too, as did Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears. Spears, half of the top-seeded mixed doubles team (with Alexander Peya), got knocked out of that competition, too. Spears and Peya were upset by Arantxa Parra Santonja and Santiago Gonzalez.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Road to Roland Garros

Why are you so upset?

Building in Paris
The defeat of Aga Radwanska today by Ajla Tomljanovic marks the first time in the Open Era that the three top seeds have gone out of a major tournament before the round of 16. On the one hand, it means that Li Na's description of the WTA as "the crazy women's tennis tour" was right on the mark. But on the other hand, it means that the younger generation of players is undergoing a kind of group inspiration (as Tomljanovic implied) in Paris.

Clay is known as the "upset" surface because the slowness of the surface and the heaviness of the balls (especially in damp conditions, like we've seen lately in Paris) neutralizes power, creating longer rallies. Also, players--no matter how good they are--can run into problems if they aren't adept at sliding. One of the great oddities of professional tennis, in fact, is that Chris Evert is the all time Queen of Clay, despite the fact that she was born and trained in the United States.

Getting back to the "inspiration" part: If a Frenchwoman known for her doubles skills can take out former French Open champion Li Na in the first round, then a small crack has been made in what commentators and writers like to call "the order of things." So then a talented young Spaniard upsets Serena Williams. What next?! Well, that would be a talented young Croatian player showing the exit to Aga Radwanska.

Does it stop there, or does Muguruza's countrywoman, Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, plan to take it to Simona Halep? I think it stops there, but surely Torro-Flor is feeling a bit of the spirit as I write this. (If we keep going with this list, the next supposed victim is Petra Kvitova, who has to face a former French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova. I actually like Kvitova to win this match, but even if she loses it, it won't be to a young and suddenly inspired upstart.)

Blair Henley has written an analysis for the WTA called "The Anatomy Of an Upset," and it's worth reading.

Another thing to consider is the makeup of the top three seeds. On any big occasion, Li is as likely to go out in the first or second round as she is to lift a trophy, and Radwanska just doesn't like playing at the French Open. As for Williams, it really didn't come as a big shock to me that she fell to Muguruza. I think Muguruza is quite vulnerable to someone who can move her around a lot, unless, that is, she does that "rapid fire from the first shot right to the end" thing that she did to Williams. And can she (or anyone) really keep that up? It was an amazing display of aggression, but there was also psychological cooperation from the opponent.

To her credit, Muguruza kept her head together and defeated Anna Schmiedlova, who's not an easy customer. The Spaniard gets another member of the "upset group," Pauline Parmentier, next, and that's a match she can win. If she does, then she gets a shot at either Sam Stosur or Maria Sharapova.

Tomljanovic has a tougher upcoming round: She plays Carla Suarez Navarro. Meanwhile, Kristina Mladenovic--who also made it through the second round after the big upset--has a third round meeting scheduled with Andrea Petkovic. Really, anything can happen. Best to not let it upset you.

French Open--what they said

If I got a wild card into Wimbledon, I would pass out right now.
Taylor Townsend

...I think she’s very unique. She has great hands. She has power, and we always say she really is retro to the new age. She has everything, and she has both, so it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
Zina Garrison, referring to Townsend

After seeing the two first seeds go out, you kind of feel like, "I can do this, too."
Ajla Tomljanovic

I have beaten her before. I know what it takes. I know I have to play very well against her. I know there are certain things I have to do well and if I don't, then it makes life very, very tough that day.
Sam Stosur, on playing Sharapova

I don't think it was my day today.
Agnieszka Radwanska

I know everyone always says it, but it really works.
Ajla Tomljanovic, on the subject of "one match at a time"

It's difficult to find your rhythm against her, but I managed the game.
Carla Suarez Navarro

Jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais, jamais.
Marion Bartoli, on a possible comeback

Muguruza wins again at French Open

Garbine Muguruza could be forgiven for doing the expected--having a big letdown after creating a big upset. But the Spaniard who took out top seed and defending champion Serena Williams in the second round got herself a ticket to the round of 16 today when she defeated Anna Schmedlova in the third round. Schmiedlova upset Venus Williams in the second round, and has been the focus of a fair amount of attention herself.

Muguruza "played big" again. She hit 24 winners and made 33 unforced errors. She was successful in eleven of eleven plays at the net, and she broke Schmiedlova four times to win 6-4, 6-2.

And at least in France, they're not coming--they're here. Ajla Tomljanovic upset 3rd seed Aga Radwanska 6-4, 6-4. Radwanska was hardly "herself," making twice as many unforced errors as winners. The French Open is hardly her tournament, and the conditions didn't help. Tomljanovic--whose mentor is Chris Evert--was happy to take advantage, and she was fun to watch. Those drop shots!

Radwanska's not-so-unexpected (by anyone who actually follows tennis) upset prompted a Tennis Channel commentator to announce that Simona Halep (seeded number 4) is now the highest remaining seed, but perhaps order can still be restored. Wow--maybe the officials at Roland Garros should have given Maria Sharapova a special seeding or something so that we wouldn't have to deal with all this Halep nonsense?

Taylor Townsend is gone. She was soundly defeated (6-2, 6-2) by Carla Suarez Navarro, who will next face Tomljanovic, and that should be a lot of fun to watch. Who knows, though, if we'll get to watch it?

Sam Stosur beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-4, meaning that Cibulkova is now 0-5 against the Australian. Maria Sharapova made quite a statement in her third round match, defeating Paula Ormaechea 6-0, 6-0. Genie Bouchard had trouble with Johanna Larsson, but defeated her 7-5, 6-4. Larsson had some decent opportunities against Bouchard, but couldn't do anything with them.

Angelique Kerber defeated Daniela Hantuchova (I'm always a bit sorry to see her go) 7-5, 6-3. And in what may have been the real dramatic result of the day, wild card Pauline Parmentier beat Mona Barthel, who was up 5-3 in the third set and appeared to be on her way to the round of 16.

Parmentier's 1-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory means that at least one Frenchwoman will be in the final 16. There will be two Frenchwomen in that round if Kiki Mladenovic wins her third round match against Andrea Petkovic.

For her efforts, Parmentier will now have to play Muguruza. Muguruza better be ready for a very rowdy crowd (same goes for Petko, but we know she can handle it).

In doubles, top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai advanced to the next round, as did 2nd seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. The recent hard-luck team of Kristina Mladenovic and Flavia Pennetta also advanced.

The top-seeded mixed doubles team of Abigail Spears and Alexander Peya won their first round match against Iveta and Jergen Melzer. Melzer and Melzer (she was "Benesova" then) won the title at Wimbledon in 2011.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Qu'est-ce que c'est?

Two French players will be left standing after the second round. Name them.

"Cornet and Garcia, of course."

Isn't that what we all would have answered? But the talented Alize Cornet, whose career has recently (and fortunately) been resurrected, is gone, as is rising star Garcia. Cornet, of course, lost that second round thriller to Taylor Townsend. Garcia admittedly crumbled under the pressure of the occasion, and made it pretty easy for Ana Ivanovic to beat her in the first round.

So instead, we have the unlikely pair of Pauline Parmentier and Kristina Mladenovic. And while a lot of fuss is being made of Mladenovic because she took out Li Na in the first round, Parmentier's wins have been rather impressive, too. In the opening round, she beat 9th seed Roberta Vinci. And while Vinci hasn't had the best of seasons, it was still quite an upset.

Today, Parmentier defeated Yaroslava Shvedova, who has twice reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Next for Parmentier is the unpredictable Mona Barthel, whose career really took off for a while, and then sputtered and became nothing to talk about. She's doing pretty well in Paris, though. She beat Karin Knapp in the first round and then won her second round match when Sabine Lisicki retired (shouldn't we just have a code number for that now, so we don't have to keep typing it?).

Parmentier, by the way, is ranked number 145 in the world.

Mladenovic is a bit of a different story. The very talented doubles player is a different person when it comes to singles. As a rule, she just doesn't have the same confidence, and then there's the issue of her serve, which isn't bad--it's just all over the place. Mladenovic can pile up both double faults and aces with abandon, and, if someone would come along and help her fix that inconsistency, we might see a different player on the singles court.

I know this--even though I don't technically "know" it: At this tournament, Mladenovic is the "bloodline" recipient of the spirit of both Marion Bartoli and Amelie Mauresmo. The young Frenchwoman is very close to Bartoli, and Mauresmo, of course, is the French Fed Cup captain.

Bartoli wisely chose Mauresmo to shadow her during every moment of her 2013 Wimbledon run, and it was Mauresmo who broke Bartoli's learned rigidity and got her to relax and enjoy. When Bartoli was ready to do her endless drills, Mauresmo made her dance instead. This was a revelation to Bartoli, who never lacked mental strength, but who really did need to chill out a bit during tournaments. (It was also Mauresmo who urged a "hopeless" substitute French Fed Cup team on to a 3-2 victory against the USA this year.)

By the way, where is Mademoiselle Bartoli? I've yet to see her in the stands.

Talk about work the crowd. Mladenovic hasn't been shy at all about getting the French fans to go full strength for her in the stands. And she's also been pretty showy, during her singles matches, with her considerable volleying skills. Next, she gets Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic, who is re-building her career after a long struggle with multiple injuries. Petkovic went three sets today against Stefanie Voegele.

This time last year, there were three Frenchwomen left in the draw--Bartoli, Cornet and Virginie Razzano.

French Open--what they said

Have you done a Tennis Channel bag check yet?
No. I’m a little nervous. I’m not so tidy either, so I’m hoping they don’t do it.
Ajla Tomljanovic

I think she's one of the fastest players on the tour.
Jelena Jankovic, referring to Karumi Nara

The whole environment made it difficult to calm myself down. I got too psyched up, too into the moment. I didn’t calm my adrenalin, couldn’t calm myself so I could play my game in that environment.
Alison Riske

She stopped hoping her opponent would beat herself. Instead, she started encouraging her opponent to set herself on fire....Then she figured out how to light the match and start the fire herself.
Louisa Thomas, writing about Simona Halep

I have been playing her the last three Grand Slams, and the person she lost to in the last three Grand Slams was me. You know, hopefully in Wimbledon we don't play against each other. I hope not.
Jelena Jankovic, referring to Nara

The moderator in interview Room 3 had to leave and come back with a box of tissues for a sobbing player. Not always fun, tennis.
Ben Rothenberg
I think it's very French. I love it.
Jelena Jankovic, referring to her (very French!) dress

Mladenovic keeps the faith

Taking out Li Na is one thing. Getting your head together to win your next round is another. Kiki Mladenovic advanced to the third round of the French Open today when she defeated Alison Riske 7-6, 3-6, 6-3. It wasn't easy for the Frenchwoman, what with her "excellent to terrible in one game" serve. She also had some kind of issue with her lower back. But she went out of her way to get the crowd pumped up for her, and she used the crowd's enthusiasm to help her get her second victory. Mladenovic and her partner, Flavia Pennetta, also won their first round doubles match against Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia.

Looking really, really good today was Petra Kvitova, who defeated Marina Erakovic 6-4, 6-4. Kvitova's winner-to-unforced error ration wasn't very good (17 to 27), but that reflects her go-for-it style of play. Careful, she isn't. She served really well, however, and won the final point at 40-0 with a second serve. Nice.

Simona Halep, Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani, Ana Ivanovic, and 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova (she'll play Kvitova next) all moved on to the third round, as did Sloane Stephens and Lucie Safarova. Ivanovic looked very good against Elina Svitolina. The Spanish flag continues to wave, with wins by both Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor and Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Sorana Cirstea has also advanced to the third round, in which she will play Jankovic.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova retired in the third set because of a back injury (again). Her retirement puts Kiki Bertens into the third round.

Gone are Camila Giorgi (def. by Kuznetsova), and 21st seed Kirsten Flipkens, who lost to Julia Glushko. In the first round, Glushko defeated teen phenom Donna Vekic. Next for the Israeli player is Sara Errani, but even if she doesn't get past the third round, Gushko's accomplishments at this French Open are worth noting.

Julia Glushko, a name most have never heard, is ranked number 98 in the world. She was born in Ukraine, but lives in and plays for Israel. Glushko holds eight ITF singles titles and eight ITF doubles titles. She reached the third round of the 2013 U.S. Open, defeating Nadia Petrova and Sachia Vickery, before Daniela Hantuchova defeated her 3-6, 5-7, 6-2.
Errani, by the way, is now the last Italian standing.

And, for now, the bleeding has stopped.

In doubles, top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai advanced to the second round with a straight sets win over Svetlana Kuznetsova and Samantha Stosur. 2nd seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci are through to the next round, as are 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova (who advanced in singles, also) and Elena Vesnina. Charleston champions Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova were upset in the opening round by Kimiko Date-Krumm and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

On another note entirely: Few things, in my professional opinion, damage a person more than narcissistic parenting. I see the terrible results every week in my practice. In Ben Rothenberg's excellent New York Times piece on Timea Bacsinszky, he lets the Swiss player tell her story, and she tells it eloquently. I was touched by Bacsinszky's realization that her own emotional void exists because her parents used her and her talent to try to fill theirs. It's an excellent read.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sweeping the court

Former "Real Housewives of New York City" star Jill Zarin will compete in the mixed doubles division of the U.S. Open National Playoffs. Her partner will be Kyle Owens, who teaches at the Murphjy Jensen Tennis Academy. Zarin's tennis game isn't too shabby, by the way.

You can now get to know Taylor Townsend. (She can play the violin.)

Paul Annacone doesn't understand his iPhone at all. Unfortunately, Sloane Stephens thinks this has something to do with his age. Sorry, Sloane--it just has something to do with his inferior gadget aptitude.

The WTA Championships are now the "WTA Finals." Go figure.

Julia Goerges is the first player to use a "connected" racket at a major tournament. Goerges' Babolat can tell her a whole lot about what she did on the court, and the German player is very impressed with it.

French Open--what they said

I knew the match was going to go fast, because she plays really fast and I play really fast. I was thinking that...if I change the way I was playing, then she will begin to feel better, you know, and turn around the match. But I said, "Okay, this is my chance. I'm going to continue doing the same no matter what happened."
Garbine Muguruza

If I couldn't play better I would be even more disappointed. But I know I can, so I know I have something to look forward to.
Serena Williams
It was really me who wasn't doing what I was supposed to do in the first. I was giving up too many short balls, no pace, and it's no surprise she's going to take control if I do that. It just wasn't  good enough. I pulled myself together and started playing the way I know I need to play and I was able to take control.
Genie Bouchard

You cannot lose a match like this. I'm really an idiot.
Flavia Pennetta

She's going to be even better as she continues to play. I see wonderful things for her.
Venus Williams, referring to Anna Schmiedlova's great sometimes to get knocked down because you have to get back up. I love getting back up. I love the challenge.
Serena Williams

Serena lost? She did? Oh, oops. Whoa.
Seriously, you didn't know?
No, I thought she won. I saw 2 and 2. I was like "Oh, that was fast."
Taylor Townsend

Okay, don't lose your mind.
Garbine Muguruza, admonishing yourself as she served for the match

What a day it was

The rain came down violently and relentlessly, and the front part of my property flooded for only the second time since I've lived here. We were under a flash flood watch and a tornado watch for most of the day. The power went out--no television, no lights, no Internet.

My trainer kept checking his phone, since he assumed I wouldn't be able to get to the gym. But I put on some beach shoes (I can't find rain boots or rain shoes that I can wear) and made my way through the water and over the familiar route so that I could keep my appointment.

All in all, it was a difficult and drama-filled day. Rain, flooding, no lights. What else? Oh, yeah--Garbine Muguruza decided she should kick her childhood idol's butt out of Roland Garros.

In just over an hour, the young Spaniard, who had to miss most of last season because of an ankle injury, put the big hurt on defending champion and top seed Serena Williams. Muguruza just about couldn't do anything wrong. She pounded the ball down the center of the court over and over, taking away Williams' potential to harm her, while zoning in on invisible--and perfect--targets, much the way that Petra Kvitova used to do all the time. Muguruza never let up. She served steadily, she won at the net, she stayed calm, and she broke Williams five times.

For her part, Williams looked flummoxed, as though she needed a moment to figure things out. Only Muguruza wouldn't give her a moment, so Williams just kept making errors. There are a couple of images from this match that will stick in my mind for a while. One was watching Williams make a complete turn around the court in an attempt to do something with a return, only to find herself--just twirling. The other was the look in the defending champion's eyes as Muguruza served at 40-0 for match point. The look said "just kill me now."

The Spaniard obliged, taking the match 6-2, 6-2.

When was the last time that Serena Williams won only four games in a match at a major tournament? The answer is "never." This was, in fact, only the third time that Williams has gone out of a major before the third round. With Li Na's loss yesterday and Williams' loss today, another statistic has been created: This is the first time in the Open Era that the two top seeds have lost in the first round.

Perhaps Li isn't feeling quite so bad today. And perhaps Maria Sharapova is feeling--optimistic.

Venus Williams made an exit, too. The older Williams sister lost to Anna Schmiedlova, who beat her 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Shmiedlova had never before taken a set off of a top-30 player, but today, she held fast, and used her impressive backhand to advance to the third round, in which she'll play Muguruza.

How crazy is this tournament going to get?

Without a doubt, the day belonged to Garbine Muguruza, but if she's willing to share a little corner of it, then the rest of the day would have to belong to Taylor Townsend. In what turned out to be an absolute thriller of a match, the wild card upset 20th seed Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. This match had everything--the drama (in a good way) of Cornet, the admirable determination of the talented Townsend, an insanely wild French crowd, and crazy momentum swings. The third set was practically heart-stopping, as Cornet scratched and clawed her way from 1-5 to 4-5, carried by her own spirit and by the full-out emotion of her countrywomen and -men.

It seemed, in fact, practically fated that the Frenchwoman would find a way to prevail, but Townsend didn't let that happen. Playing in the first major main draw of her career, the wild card from the USA stood up to not only a Safina-like impossible comeback player, but to a stadium full of screaming French fans.

18-year-old Townsend is the youngest player from the United States to reach the third round of Roland Garros in eleven years. I have to be honest: As pleased as I was for Townsend, I hated to see her opponent go. I was hoping Cornet would be around in the second week, not only because I've followed her career for a long time, but--well, mainly--because I find her so extremely entertaining in every way.

There's more. Maria Sharapova had to contend with Tsvetana Pironkova, but what was distracting about this match was listening to the Tennis Channel commentators express shock that Pironkova could be so good and could win Sydney, and then kind of disappear. Hello! Once again, I ask, do they even watch women's tennis? It doesn't matter what Pironkova does--continually beat Venus Williams in majors, win Sydney, or maybe, in the future, take out the top three seeds in consecutive matches at the U.S. Open. She's always going to be the "now you see her, now you don't" Bulgarian Woman of Mystery.

She gave 'Pova a good first set, too. But then Pironkova had some bad luck. Some really bad luck. Down 5-6, 15-40, the Bulgarian player saved a set point. She then hit a tricky high return that skimmed the line but was called "out." The chair umpire inspected the mark and corrected the call, but the point had to be replayed, which kept Pirnokova from reaching deuce. On the replay, Sharapova hit a ball that struck the net cord--and then just dribbled over. The Russian then won the second set 6-2, and that was that.

Other things happened today, but they were hardly noticed because of the exit of the Williams sisters, and especially the exit of Serena. But other things did happen. Genie Bouchard advanced to the third round, as did Aga Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Sam Stosur, Carla Suarez Navarro, Dominika Cibulkova, and Daniela Hantuchova. Gone are Flavia Pennetta and Karolina Pliskova. Sabine Lisicki is gone, too; she retired with a wrist injury.

9th seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova lost, as did 10th seeds Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova.

And it's supposed to rain here all day tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

French Open--what they said

Nobody say if you are number 2 in the world, you have to win all the matches.
Li Na

...the pressure has been building up around me for the last few weeks, and I couldn't be the person I usually am. Sometimes stress can be positive, but this time I didn't manage it.
Caroline Garcia

I think I have big muscles and I have to recover them very well.
Simona Halep
Every Grand Slam has a particularly different atmosphere.  When you're on a court like that, do you hear the saxophone and the accordion being played outside the court?
I didn't today because the crowd was so loud. I feel like ever year I play here I get such good support.  Just the atmosphere, loads of them are British. They've got the British flags. I just feel like they're really loud here....
Heather Watson

Instead, it was the Pastry who raced to a 5-1 lead, while Li somewhat played the role of an abandoned amusement park. So much fun could be had there, but...ummm, it wasn't happening on this day.
Todd Spiker

I really believed in myself from the beginning, before the match.
Kristina Mladenovic

I have no pain so far, so knock on wood....
Andrea Petkovic

I had my feet stuck on the ground, and when you play Ivanovic, things go very fast and you need to be very fast on your legs. I was totally stuck. So I was like a tractor out there.
Caroline Garcia
...I think today, I just give it away, for the match.
Li Na

Curse of the Golden Flower

What I do not give, you must never take by force.

Kiki Mladenovic stuck to the script today at the French Open, winning her first round by letting her opponent, 2011 champion Li Na, give her the opportunity, over and over. It wasn't pretty. Mladenovic, for all her doubles strength and elegance, has yet to figure out a winning plan for singles. No worries--just get Li on an "off" day--and this was as "off" a day as the Chinese star was likely to have.

Early on, it was obvious that the 2nd seed was "somewhere else." She should have been destroying Mladenovic's second serves--most of her first serves, too--but instead, the Frenchwoman took the first set 7-5. Li won the second set 6-3, and the general assumption, I'm sure, was that she would cruise through the third. She did--but not in a good way. She won one game.

What can you say, other than maybe "Li Na makes Hana Mandlikova look like Chris Evert."

According to coach Carlos Rodriguez, most of Li's down side comes from a lack of self-belief instilled in her by the "bad parenting" of the Chinese federation. I find that quite credible. But if Rodriguez's coaching hasn't produced a better result, perhaps there's someone else who can help? Or is it just that--in addition to her other demons--clay is something Li doesn't want in her professional life?

Meanwhile, the young Frenchwoman of whom much was expected returned to her old anxious ways. Caroline Garcia never had a chance against Ana Ivanovic, who beat her easily in straight sets. Just when you think a player has put certain behaviors and mindsets behind her, along comes a really big occasion, and it's often accompanied by regression. That's human, and that's what happened to Garcia. Better luck next time.

While all this emotional content was being processed, Simona Halep practically ran over Alisa Kleybanova, who just escaped a double bagel. Sloane Stephens got her first victory over Peng Shuai, who was unable to convert a set point in the second set, and lost 4-6, 6-7. Former world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki went out to Yanina Wickmayer, Ula Radwanska retired with an ankle injury, and Sara Errani had to go three sets to beat Madison Keys. Errani's countrywoman, Camila Giorgi, defeated Bojana Jovanovski.

Li's first round defeat comes a day after Stan Wawrinka's first round defeat, making this the first time in history that both the female and male Australian Open champions are out in the first round of the French Open.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sweeping the court

JJ's mom may not travel with her anymore, but she uses the phone to scold her about her mouth.

Virginia sophomore Danielle Collins defeated California's Lynn Chi 6-2, 7-5 today to win the NCAA singles championship. Collins is the first player from the Virginia program to win the championship. Maya Jansen and Erin Routliffe of Alabama won the doubles championship, defeating Georgia's Lauren Herring and Maho Kowase 6-1, 6-0.

Angelique Kerber talks about fitness, her family and a few of her favorite indulgences.

Genie Bouchard makes an appearance in the June issue of Vogue.

Nominations are now open for the Women's Sports Foundation's Individual Sportswoman of the Year award for 2014.   

Sharapova and the "praise" that cuts

I turned on Tennis Channel a while ago, and there it was again--that footage of Maria Sharapova "explaining" to the press why--what with everything she's achieved and all the injury she's had to endure--she doesn't retire from professional tennis. She has "everything," we always hear--fame, a lot of money, a Career Slam. She's had ongoing shoulder problems. And then she tells the press, over and over, that she's an athlete and what she wants to do is to play her sport.

It isn't that we haven't heard a similar question asked about and of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. They are both "old" for their sport, they've won a truckload of majors, and--in Federer's case--he has four children; in Serena's, she's had multiple injuries and a life-threatening illness. The question is somewhat more relevant for them, and yet it doesn't come up with them nearly as often as it does for Sharapova.

Today, Lindsay Davenport told us that Sharapova has "good excuses" to leave the sport, but she doesn't leave. Really? So if tomorrow, Sharapova were to say that she was tired of dealing with her shoulder or that she wanted to concentrate on being an entrepreneur, it would be an "excuse"? Sorry--the pun cannot be escaped here--but the backhanded compliments poured on Sharapova by the media have become a bit obvious.

I think Maria needs to stop explaining herself to the press (though there isn't anything she can do about the Tennis Channel gang dragging out old video so that we can all go through the whole thing all over again). Enough. When and why she retires is her business. And even those who are not fans of the Russian star would surely have to acknowledge that she has overcome great odds more than once to achieve great things in her sport.

Yes, she's an international star. Yes, she's very rich. Yes, she has looks that help her make money. But she's also smart. And--what's that other thing? Ah, yes, she's a dedicated, hard-working, talented athlete.

French Open--what they said

I didn't know what I'd done; I saw everything flashing before my eyes.
Sam Stosur, describing a recent accident she had while box-jumping

I think that the French crowd is a tough one, and when you have it with you, it's unbelievable.
Alize Cornet

Obviously many people look forward to matches where we play each other. But in many ways it doesn’t matter if it’s the fourth round, quarters, semis, or final. There is only one champion at any tournament. So it’s not really about when you face somebody. It’s about who comes through. Right now it’s not my concern.
Maria Sharapova, talking about You-Know-Who

Definitely I prefer grass, but I had a good run 2012 here. I won in Madrid, so definitely I know that I can play well on the clay. So I'm not thinking that the clay is my opponent. I will be ready.
Petra Kvitova

Each time you are in Paris, you enjoy eating macaroons. 
Maria Sharapova

...for three years I've been playing in Strasbourg, they just don't like me there. I don't know how it can be possible, but apparently, they just don't like me.
Alize Cornet

Mixed results for the French on second day at Roland Garros

Five Frenchwomen played at Roland Garros today, and two of them won. France's top player, Alize Cornet, advanced to the second round when she defeated Ashleigh Barty, and Pauline Parmentier was victorious in three sets over Roberta Vinci. Vinci was seeded 17th.

Losing their first-round matches were Virginie Razzano (got a bagel from Dominika Cibulkova), Fiona Ferro (def. by Sabine Lisicki) and Mathilde Johansson (def. by Karolina Pliskova). (Here's the always stylish Johansson at the player party--scroll a little over halfway down). Tomorrow, Caroline Garcia will face Ana Ivanovic in a highly anticipated first round match.

2014 Strasbourg champion Monica Puig was run over by Sam Stosur, and 2014 Nurnberg champion Genie Bouchard beat Shahar Peer 6-0, 6-2. Elena Vesnina had to serve for the match more than once, but she emerged victorious over Christina McHale. And Petra Kvitova won her first round match against Zarina Diyas in straight sets. (I shouldn't even have to be mentioning that.)

No thanks to commentator Linday Davenport for reinforcing the sexist belief that a woman over 30 should be "embarrassed."

And finally, 2012 champion Maria Sharapova had a straight sets win over Ksenia Pervak. So, at least for now:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Collision courses in Paris

Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams is on a track to collide with very familiar opponents at Roland Garros. If she wins her second round match against Garbine Muguruza, her third round opponent could be her sister, Venus. Venus fairly easily knocked off Swiss star-in-the-making Belinda Bencic today, and will face Anna Schmiedlova in the second round. If both sisters win their second round matches, they will meet in the third round. Just like old times--only much sooner. How strange is that?

And if Serena wins her third round match--against whomever it may be--and then wins her round of 16 match (a pretty likely possibility), she will probably play Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals. Just like old times---only much sooner. Sharapova first has to get past Ksenia Pervak, then the Bulgarian Woman of Mystery, then who knows, and who knows?

Is it more merciful for 'Pova to be taken out in an early round rather than face her nemesis in the quarterfinals? By "merciful," I mean, is it better for Sharapova's psyche? Last year, defending champion Sharapova lost to Serena Williams in the final. Sharapova hasn't beaten Williams in a long, long time, and an argument can be made that a victory against her in the Roland Garros quarterfinals could be all 'Pova would need to propel her to a second French Open championship. And perhaps beyond.

Of course, all this leads to the inevitable question: Will either Venus or Maria ever beat Serena again?

French Open--what they said

Playing Chrissie was like having someone stiff-arming you in the chest, just holding you back. She didn't topple you over, but you couldn't move forward.
Julie Anthony 

How would you compare your form this year on the clay compared to last year?Well, I was in really top form last year on the clay, or at least I thought I was. This year I'm just going day by day.
Serena Williams

It hadn't even occurred to my mind that it could happen.
Alize Lim, on learning that she would play Serena

...I think when I just broke myself in the end of the first set I think I was more confident, and then I think I started to play much better.
Agnieszka Radwanska

If Pervak should somehow upset Sharapova on Monday, she would earn a rest day in the sun on Tuesday, which would be a perfect way to celebrate her 23rd birthday. Maria though is unlikely to be in the mood for gifts.
Andrew Brenner

Li Na--doesn't matter how easy her draw is, her draw will always contain herself....
Courtney Nguyen

It was an odd thing with Chris. She didn't seem that fast, but man, the amount of court you could hit into got small and the amount you had to cover felt big.
Pam Shriver

Schiavone out in first round of French Open

It's the headline that probably no one wants to write, but there it is. Despite her very strong opening rounds at the Italian Open, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone made a straight-sets exit at Roland Garros today, courtesy of Ajla Tomljanovic. The artistic and endlessly entertaining Schiavone, who was also the French Open runner-up in 2011, will be 34 years old next month.

A seeded player was toppled on opening day, too. Kaia Kanepi, seeded number 25, lost to Monica Niculescu.

Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams defeated her pal, Alize Lim, in straight sets. Williams had an unusually hard time closing the final point and acknowledged that she was a bit nervous. Her sister, Venus, sent home young Swiss rising star Belinda Bencic, also in straight sets.

Both Aga Radwanska and Angelique Kerber looked great in their first rounds, as they defeated Zhang Shuai and Katarzyna Piter, respectively. It was a bit of slow start for Radwanska, however, as she had to struggle through eight consecutive breaks of serve. Maria Kirilenko, sadly but not unexpectedly, is out in the first round. Coming back from a long injury layoff is always difficult because with each loss of a match, there is usually some loss of confidence.

An interesting Day 1 note: The Bulgarian Woman of Mystery, Tsvetana Pironkova, won her opening round! Please--don't anyone tell her that it's a major tournament on red clay. Pironkova defeated Annika Beck.

Zheng Jie is out, defeated by Anna Schmiedlova, who will get Venus Williams next. And next for Serena is Garbine Muguruza, the young, big-hitting Spanish player who is on the rise.

Don't miss Joel Drucker's expert deconstruction of the clay court genius of the great Chris Evert.

Sloane Stephens plays Peng Shuai tomorrow. Stephens is 0-2 against the Chinese player; both of their matches were played on clay. Also tomorrow, 2014 Strasbourg champion Monica Puig takes on 2010 French Open finalist Sam Stosur,

Saturday, May 24, 2014

French Open champion predictions

Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Kamakshi Tandon--Maria Sharapova
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Brad Gilbert--Serena Williams
Todd Spiker--Serena Williams
Mary Joe Fernandez--Serena Williams
Patrick McEnroe--Serena Williams
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Ravi Ubha--Serena Williams
Greg Garber--Serena Williams
Courtney Nguyen--Serena Williams
Jon Wertheim--Serena Williams
Matt Wilansky--Simona Halep
Howard Bryant--Serena Williams
Steve Tignor--Serena Williams

Puig and Bouchard win first titles

Two WTA players won their first tour titles today. Monica Puig picked up the trophy (and the check, and some flowers, and something wrapped in a box, and a jeroboam of wine) in Strasbourg when she defeated qualifier Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-4, 6-3 in the final. All respect to the Spaniard--it was her eighth match in eight consecutive days, and she had to be tired. Puig, on the other hand, didn't break a sweat, and looked completely confident from the moment she stepped onto the court right until she converted match point.

2nd seeds Ashleigh Barty and Case Dellacqua won the doubles title. They defeated Tatiana Bua and Daniela Seguel 4-6, 7-5. 10-4 in the final.

In Nurnberg, the winner's trophy went to 2nd seed Genie Bouchard. Bouchard defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in a topsy-turvy match. There were five breaks of serve in the final set, and the outcome was a mystery almost to the last moment.

Pliskova did win a title, however. She and partner Michaella Krajicek defeated Raluca Olaru and Shahar Peer 6-0, 4-6, 10-6 in the final.

So far, it's been quite a year for the winning of first titles, with Tsvetana Pironkova's Sydney victory being the most dramatic (and I think we'll say that when the year is over, too, because it will be very hard to top what she did). Still no title for Peng Shuai, though. Oh, and no title for Sloane Stephens, either.

Everyone who isn't already in Paris heads to Paris now. The French Open qualifying event has been completed, and here are the qualifiers:

Grace Min
Heather Watson
Maryna Zanevska
Yuliya Beygelzimer
Danka Kovinic
Aleksandra Wozniak
Kiki Bertens
Ksenia Pervak
Timea Bacsinszky
Sofia Shapatava
Michelle Larcher De Brito
Tamira Paszek

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ivanovic and Garcia to meet in first round of French Open

Talk about starting out with a bang. A couple of days ago, I wrote about the possibility that both Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Garcia could cause major problems for those who face them in the French Open draw. Well, those problems will be decreased by half after the first round, in which the two of them are drawn to play each other.

I hate it when something like this happens. It's hard enough to imagine the French Open without former champion Ivanovic, but it's also hard to imagine the event without the newly confident and very much on the rise Garcia. One of them goes, however, and I'm not going to even try to guess which one it will be. Certainly, the odds favor Ivanovic to advance, but this could get tricky.

There are some other interesting first rounds, though none as tense (for me, anyway) as the one I just described. Belinda Bencic will get a crack at Venus Williams, Monica Puig (who just defeated Madison Keys in the Strasbourg semifinals) will play 2010 finalist Sam Stosur, Madison Keys plays 2012 finalist Sara Errani, and Kimiko Date-Krumm gets Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Simona Halep doesn't get an easy start--she plays Alisa Kleybanova in the opening round. Both Halep and Errani are questionable in terms of recent injury; an abdominal issue for the Romanian and a left hip problem for the Italian. Here's hoping both are fully recovered by the time their opening matches occur.

In the meantime, tennis is being played in both Nurnberg and Strasbourg. In Nurnberg, Karolina Pliskova, who upset top seed Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals, won her semifinal against Elina Svitolina today. Pliskova's opponent in the final will be Eugenie Bouchard, who beat Karin Knapp today in the semifinals.

Pliskova is all over this tournament. She and partner Michaella Krajicek just upset top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, and advanced to the doubles final. Their opponents will be Raluca Olaru and Shahar Peer.

In Strasbourg, Puig defeated Keys in the semfinals, as I mentioned above, and the other semifinal was won by Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Qualifier Soler-Espinosa (a first-time finalist) defeated Christina McHale in the semifinals. The Spaniard has now played seven matches in seven days.

In the doubles final, Tatiana Bua and Daniela Seguel will play 2nd seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The wonderful mystery of the French Open

Outside a Paris shop
More than any other major, the French Open can create sudden, unexpected stardom. Except during the reigns of Chris Evert and Justine Henin, there has always been a bit of mystery surrounding who will grind it out for two weeks, play seven matches and win the championship.

The surprises have come in different packages. In 1997, Iva Majoli upset top seed Martina Hingis in the final. In 2004, Anastasia Myskina defeated Venus Williams and Jennifer Capriati, and became the first of the "Russian wave" to win a major when she defeated countrywoman Elena Dementieva in the final. 17th-seeded Francesca Schiavone surprised many when she won the French Open in 2010. And Maria Sharapova, who so many said could "never win" at Roland Garros, completed her Career Slam in Paris in 2012.

Of  particular interest is Schiavone, who reached several finals in her career before she won a tournament. The Italian star went to Paris in 2010 with a clear physical, strategic and mental/emotional plan, much like Marion Bartoli did last year when she won Wimbledon. Schiavone was already in the latter part (I think!) of her career, and it was as if everything she had ever learned suddenly spun out (pun intended) in a trajectory that left her competitors in a whirl of red dust.

To win the French Open, a player must engage in grueling baseline hitting and endure many breaks of serve. Her physical and mental fitness must be at a high level. And even though we know we can be surprised by a French Open champion, reality informs us that there are only a few women on the tour who can be called true contenders. They are (in alphabetical order because I don't even want to think about any other kind of order):

Simona Halep

Not many weeks ago, I know I wasn't alone in thinking, "If Halep could just raise her serve to another level, she'll be a top, top contender at Roland Garros." The good news is that she did just that. While we were discussing the one gap in the Romanian's game, she was fixing it. Halep's serve is now spot-on, with lots of nice pop and variation. Her movement is, of course, unparalleled, and her mental game is first class.

But there's a problem: Halep had to withdraw from Rome after the second round because of an abdominal injury. Not good, especially since she has had other big withdrawals this year because of problems with her heels and other parts of her feet. So I'll say that if Halep is healthy, she is indeed a serious candidate to win the French Open.

Li Na

We know Li can win in Paris; she's already done it. The 2011 champion has everything it takes to win the title again--superb physical fitness, a deadly backhand and the ability to move around the court--and move an opponent around the court--without breaking much of a sweat.

The problem with Li? We all know that--it's her head. She can go "off" just like that. She has gone "off" during this clay season. She could lose in the first round at the French Open, or she could win the whole thing. My suspicion is that she'll be around during the second week, and then we all just have to wait and see.

Maria Sharapova

Sharapova recently said about clay: "I like winning on it better than I like playing on it." This is probably going to turn into one of my all-time favorite 'Pova quotations. She was discounted as a clay court player long ago because of the deficiency of her movement, but that didn't stop Sharapova. She practiced, then practiced some more. And in 2012, she won the French Open.

Can she do it again? Sharapova's major "repeat" record stands at 0. She's won each of the big ones once, but the French may be more in her reach as a repeat because it's a relatively new milestone in her career and doesn't involve years of frustration. She just won Stuttgart (for the third year in a row) and Madrid. She's a contender.

Serena Williams

After making a first round exit in 2012, Williams wasted no time getting the help she thought she needed to make her more competitive on clay. She had won at Roland Garros, but that was a decade before, and the title just kept eluding her after that. No worries. Williams won her second French Open championship in 2013.

Things didn't look too good for the world number 1 at the start of the 2014 clay season. The defending champion, she went out in the first round in Charleston, then told the media that she felt very tired and needed to take some time off. She had to withdraw from Madrid because of injury, and there was speculation that she would withdraw from the Italian Open. She didn't. Instead, she won it.

Well, what can you say other than "That's Serena." No one can manage Serena Williams' career better than Serena Williams, and I expect her to be healthy and in good form when the French Open begins on Sunday.

There isn't another player that I can call a true contender, but in the tradition of naming the "dark horse," I have to bring up the subject of that pesky (I mean this in a good way) Sara Errani. After Errani had the run of a lifetime at the 2012 French Open (taking out two former French Open champions, a French Open finalist and Angelique Kerber), she lost the final to Sharapova. The Italian also went into a real funk for a while, and was quite candid in talking about how hard it was to climb to the top part of the rankings, only to realize that everyone was going for her, trying to knock her down again.

But Errani is back. Her run at the Italian Open was inspired, and included victories over both Li Na and an in-form Jelena Jankovic. The Italian was stopped, of course, by Serena Williams, but also by a nasty left hip injury that took away her movement and which also led to an early retirement in the doubles final. Will Errani's hip be healed by next week? If it is, and it stays that way, she can do some damage in Paris. She's even improved her serve, which was a badly needed move on her part, and which will help her if she's willing to commit to the new form.

Errani is my true "dark horse," but she certainly isn't the only one who can spoil the party for big-time contenders. Ana Ivanovic, on a given day, can wipe out almost anyone on clay. On a given day. Jelena Jankovic is also dangerous on a clay court. And, as we saw in the first two rounds of the Italian Open, so is Francesca Schiavone--still.

And then there's Caroline Garcia, who has the potential to make a really good run at Roland Garros. The Frenchwoman has gained mental strength, and I suspect she's ready to handle the pressure of appearing at the French Open. Her countrywoman Alize Cornet--maybe not so much. But if Cornet can get her head together, she, too, can be a threat.

Carla Suarez Navarro, Lucie Safarova and 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova are all capable of pulling off upsets on clay, as is the hopelessly unpredictable Sorana Cirstea.

Since Justine Henin retired, the French Open has pretty much been up for grabs. Is someone about to win a second or third French Open title, or will we see another "first"?

Sweeping the court

Elena Baltacha's funeral was held on Monday. The event was a private ceremony at St. John's Church in Ipswich.

In an announcement yesterday that was no surprise, Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the French Open because of her left foot injury. The world number 5 has not played since round of of Indian Wells, where she lost to Lauren Davis.

In another announcement that was no surprise (well, I hope it wasn't), Rory McIlroy announced that his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki is off. You'll recall this is the man who was very publicly praising the support of his long-time girlfriend Molly Sweeney while he was starting a relationship with Wozniacki. McIlroy had "proposed to" (I still don't get the woman sitting around waiting to be asked by a man to marry her "tradition") the former world number 1 by giving her a huge diamond ring. There was a great deal of public carrying on. McIlroy says he is not ready for marriage.

The UCLA women's team won the NCAA title yesterday by beating North Carolina.

John Inverdale now says he made a horrible sexist remark about Marion Bartoli because he had hay fever. Of course--why didn't I think of that? I have hay fever right now, so watch out.

The three top seeds in Strasbourg have gone out in the first round. Julia Goerges defeated top seed Sloane Stephens in straight sets; Camila Giorgi upset second seed Alize Cornet, and Zarina Diyas upset 3rd seed Kirsten Flipkens.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Williams defends Rome title

It certainly coudn't have been the way Serena Williams wanted to win the Rome championship, or--for that matter--the way Sara Errani "wanted" to lose it. Though she was hardly favored to win the final today, Sara Errani carried the hopes and adoration of Italy all the way to the last match, only to sustain a left hip injury during the first set.

Errani kept playing, but her movement was seriously restricted, and she lost 3-6, 0-6 to the defending champion. It was an odd run for Williams. She didn't face a top 10 player in her draw, and then her opponent in the final was rendered harmless by injury. But such is pro tennis, and this Rome win--Williams' third--gives her 60 WTA singles titles. Also, it's kind of nice to win the Italian Open as one's final preparation for Roland Garros competition.

Errani, sadly, had to retire during the first set of the doubles final, when Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik were leading 4-0.  The victory for Peschke and Srebotnik is their tenth.

Serena Williams is the only player on the tour to have won three titles in 2014. She is the defending champion at the French Open, which begins on May 25. Williams is 53-2 on clay since the beginning of the 2012 clay season. She lost to Virginie Randazzo in the first round of the 2012 French Open, and she lost to Jana Cepelova in her opening round (second round of play) at this year's Charleston event.

Errani defeated both Li Na and Jelena Jankovic to get to the Italian open final. Both Jankovic and countrywoman Ana Ivanovic went out in the semifinals.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sweeping the Court

Here are the main draw wild cards for the French Open: Fiona Ferro, Claire Feuerstein, Amandine Hesse, Mathilde Johansson, Alizé Lim, Pauline Parmentier, Taylor Townsend, Ashleigh Barty.

And speaking of the French Open, all hail The Czarina!

Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy are to be married this summer. The rumor is that the wedding is set for August, but the couple has not publicly confirmed a date. Wozniacki recently told the media that she's interested in being a young mother, but I have no idea what that means because "young" is a subjective term.

Marion Bartoli has been sucked into John Inverdale's P.R. vortex and will work as a co-commentator with him at the French Open. (You know it's bad when I'd actually rather think about Wozilroy.)

As of now, there have been only three injury withdrawals from the French Open: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (hip), Jamie Hampton (hip) and Galina Voskoboeva. I don't want to speculate beyond that, though there are a couple of players who could give us some bad news. 

Is there magic dust in that Italian clay?

Li Na beat Sam Stosur for the first time in her career, Ana Ivanovic beat Maria Sharapova for the first time in seven years, and today, in the quarterfinals, Jelena Jankovic beat Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4, 6-4,  for the first time in six years. What's going on in Rome?!

I was supposed to be somewhere else late this morning but I was ill and had to stay home. The upside is that I got to watch the Jankovic-Radwanska match. That was a lot of fun, and JJ was just on fire. The only other time she beat A-Rad, it was also on clay. Rome is, of course, Jankovic's "blessed" city, and it's really nice to see her reach another semifinal. She won the event twice, in 2007 and 2008, and it appeared she would win it a third time, in 2010, when she took out both Williams sisters. However, in that final, she was spun, dropped and tricked into submission by an outrageously creative Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Sara Errani is still the last Italian standing. She beat Li Na 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

There is a backstory to Li's error-filled performance. She's having some type of allergic reaction to something at the tournament, and she vomited right before the match. Of course, the Chinese star has been known to produce a lot of errors on several occasions, but today, she was apparently feeling pretty ill. This was, by the way, Errani's first win over a top-3 player.

It took her three sets, but Ana Ivanovic defeated Carla Suarez Navarro. Finally, Serena Williams beat Zhang Shuai 6-1, 6-3.

Jankovic will play Errani in the semifinals, and Williams will play Ivanovic. If Jankovic winds up in the final against Williams, we can all hope that those two put the antics aside (I was in Charleston, courtside, in 2013, and believe me when I tell you that--although JJ should have let it go--the chair umpire flagrantly and repeatedly ignored the rules regarding the serving player's time priority). If Jankovic winds up in the final against Ivanovic, you can be sure that the commentators will have a field day strirring up old issues that both women put aside long ago.

Of course, the final could feature Errani and either Williams or Ivanovic. Probably less drama in that case.

Errani will do double duty tomorrow because she will also compete in the doubles semifinals. She and partner Roberta Vinci will play Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld. In the other semifinal, Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova will play Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sara Errani: Last Italian woman standing in Rome

Ana Ivanovic beat Maria Sharapova for the first time in seven years today in Rome. And in straight sets. The 2007 French Open champion beat the 2012 Rome champion in 6-1, 6-4. Meanwhile, two-time Rome champion Jelena Jankovic eliminated Flavia Pennetta from the tournament by beating her in straight sets, and Aga Radwanska defeated Francesca Schiavone. That means that Sara Errani is the last Italian woman left in the draw. Errani beat qualifier Petra Cetkovska 6-4, 7-6.

Li Na, as previously noted, had her first-ever victory over Sam Stosur, and Charleston champions Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova upset top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai in doubles. Tomorrow, Cara Black and Sania Mirza will play Errani and partner Roberta Vinci.

Also tomorrow, Jankovic and Radwanska will vie for a spot in the semifinals.

Sweeping the court

Li Na is once again on the cover of TIME. "The Passion of Li Na" is the May 26 cover story. Li was previously on the cover of the magazine last year as one of the world's 100 most influential people. The Chinese star is also on this month's cover of GQ in China.

The USTA is building a state-of-the-art tennis complex at Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida. The complex will include more than a hundred tennis courts. The planned completion date is the end of 2016.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum has announced a $16 million expansion.

You can get to know Maryna Zanevska.

Li Na beat Sam Stosur for the first time today in Rome. Prior to her 6-3, 6-1 victory in today's match, Li was 0-6 against the Australian.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Halep withdraws from Italian Open

Dubai, Miami, now Rome. Simona Halep withdrew from the Italian Open today because of an abdominal injury. Her withdrawal gives Carla Suarez Navarro a walkover in the third round. The Romanian star defeated Madison Keys 5-7, 6-0, 6-1 in the second round. Halep's injuries are now spiraling into the "concern" zone.

Flavia Pennetta kept Italian hopes alive with a three-set win over Belinda Bencic in a very entertaining match. Francesca Schiavone beat Garbine Muguruza and Sara Errani beat Ekaterina Makarova. Camila Giorgi, however, was defeated by qualifier Christina McHale.

Svetlana Kuznetsova retired in the second set of her match against Jelena Jankovic, Varvara Lepchenko beat countrywoman Sloane Stephens, and top seed Serena Williams--whose participation was in question--defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-2. Maria Sharapova had to work for it, but she defeated qualifier Monica Puig in straight sets.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kerber upset in Rome

Every season, at least once, I ask the question, "Why isn't Petra Cetkovska ranked higher?" Then I remember that she has had multiple injury issues for a long time. And while we usually expect her to be at her best on grass, today, the "other" Petra took 7th seed Angelique Kerber out of the Italian Open in the second round of play.

It was quite a match, and--while qualifier Cetkovska got a whole lot of help from a very errant Kerber (her back injury is now a chronic issue)--she nevertheless played an entertaining, if frustrating, match. It was hardly her best moment, but it was enough. And in case you forgot how much Cetkovska uses the backhand slice, your got your memory prompted today. Over and over.

At 3-all in the second set, there was game that seemingly would never end. Finally, after 16 deuces, the Czech player prevailed, breaking Kerber and then going on to (easily) win the set 6-3. What was amusing was Cetkovska's attitude. After a while, when she failed to convert one of many break points in that seventh game, she would crack up. I enjoyed it. After all, what could she do but laugh at herself?

Cetkovska went on to win the third set 6-4. There was almost a rain delay in the match (there actually was one, but it lasted less than a minute), and one wonders whether the Cetkovska momentum would have been hurt by a rain break. It's hard to know because the whole thing was so error-filled, anyway. Cetkovska had 24 break opportunities against Kerber, and converted nine of them. In turn, Kerber broke her opponent seven times. It's clay season!

On to the Italians. Wild card Camila Giorgi defeated 9th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 7-6, and Sara Errani prevailed over Chanelle Scheepers. Roberta Vinci, however, fell in straight sets to Ekaterina Makarova.

Qualifier Belinda Bencic defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is generally not too shabby on clay. Up next for Bencic is Flavia Pennetta, who will have huge crowd support.

Oh, and 5th seed Petra Kvitova is out, upset by Zhang Shuai. What's to be done?

Several notable doubles teams have gone out in the first round: Kops-Jones and Spears, Chan and Chan, Kuznetsova and Stosur, Hingis and Lisicki.

Monday, May 12, 2014

When in Rome....

Do as the Romans do.

In your dreams.

"Is a mix. It's like Capricciosa pizza. I don't give you Margherita, I give you Capricciosa, different kind of ingredient," Francesca Schiavone said of herself several years ago. Today, the 2010 French Open champion threw everything but the brick oven at Eugenie Bouchard in their first round match in Rome. Bouchard didn't find it too tasty, either.

The young Canadian star was flummoxed right from the start as Schiavone went on a slice and dice, angle, lob, and drop tear as only she can. There was also a running forehand down the line that brought the crowd to a state of great excitement, and with good reason. This was Schiavone at her very best, and she won 6-4, 6-2. That was some pizza.

And speaking of Italians, that drop shot Pennetta hit to win the first set was straight out of the Radwanska playbook. If you have Tennis TV, you can watch it as today's Hot Shot. Pennetta defeated Yvonne Meusburger 6-3, 6-2.

Italian Karin Knapp didn't fare as well; she went out to Ana Ivanovic in straight sets. Tomorrow, Camila Giorgi will get her turn, when she plays Dominika Cibulkova. Sara Errani will play Chanelle Scheepers, and Roberta Vinci will play Ekaterina Makarova.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sharapova wins Madrid Open

Down 1-4 in the third set of the Madrid Open final, Simona Halep broke Maria Sharapova at love, then held, creating the possibility that the set was still quite competitive. But that would be the last game that Halep would win. Sharapova defeated her 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 to win her 31st tour title. With wins in both Stuttgart and Madrid, Sharapova has solidified herself as the woman to beat on clay (that still sounds so odd). At the same time, Halep remains a major threat to anyone who competes against her on clay (or on any surface).

Halep ran over Sharapova in the first set, attacking her from all angles and serving beautifully. It seemed obvious that the Romanian was in the Russian's head, but it was no surprise when the tables turned in the second set. I thought that Halep became too passive, and it wasn't until her situation appeared almost hopeless in the third set that she turned the aggression on "high" again. But it wasn't enough, and one hopes that Halep can use her loss today as a lesson in what happens if one backs off of offensive play too much--especially against the likes of Sharapova.

Sharapova converted 83% of break points; Halep converted only 40%. That's the most accurate match summary I can provide.

Before the trophy ceremony took place, there was a tribute to Dinara Safina, who retired this week. I was under the impression that Safina was going to present the winner's trophy, but that didn't happen. I think it would have been really nice if it had happened. Safina delivered her speech in Spanish, and I was able to follow very little of it. (Anyone who is fluent in Spanish, please feel free to provide comments.) 'Pova was a bit emotional in wishing Dinara well, thanking her for being a strong woman. She was also full of praise for her opponent.

I liked it that these two were in the final. I would like to have seen Halep win it, but I'm always glad to see Sharapova lift a trophy, so, for me, it was all good.

Tennis writers, commentators and editors/producers are driving me crazy (what else is new?). Please stop showing those "old" photos of Simona Halep. They pop up on tennis blogs, tennis sites and on television, and it isn't because there aren't plenty of more current ones to show. The WTA should have put a stop to this the moment it started occurring.

Also--tennis writers and commentators, here's a news flash: The USSR stopped existing in 1991. That was 23 years ago. Do you think you could stop referring to Ukraine as a Soviet province? It's inappropriate under any circumstance, but especially right now.

On to Rome. Ula Radwanska has fallen to Belinda Bencic in the second round of qualifying. No surprise there. Julia Goerges and Kristina Mladenovic were also both defeated in the second round of qualifying. There are some really interesting first round match-ups in the draw:

Dominika Cibulkova vs. Camila Girogi
Belinda Bencic vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Eugenie Bouchard vs. Francesca Schiavone
Sabine Lisicki vs. Samantha Stosur

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Errani and Vinci win their 19th title

The dream run of Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro ended today when the Spanish wild cards lost the Madrid final to Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Muguruza and Suarez Navarro led 4-2 in the first set and 3-0 in the second, but the Italians made their signature comebacks both times, posting a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

This is the Italian team's 19th title, and they'll be going for their 20th next week in their home tournament, in Rome.

Sharapova and Halep advance to Madrid final

I had trouble sleeping last night, so finally, I just got up and turned on Tennis Channel. The Madrid semifinal featuring Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova was already in progress, and it was about as close as I expected it to be. But after Kvitova won the first set in a tiebreak, Halep used a two-prong tactic--being as aggressive as possible, or, when the occasion called for it, waiting for Kvitova to make an error. Kvitova obliged her over and over.

Many of us have been "telling" Simona to do something about her serve, and she has recently done something about it. It's been solid throughout the Madrid Open, and today, it was superb. The world number 5 beat the 2011 Madrid champion 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, and hit 55 winners in the process. She made 42 unforced errors, but obviously, the ratio is a good one. Halep has been so impressive in Spain, and falling behind doesn't seem to affect her mentally; she was down 0-2, and then 1-3, in the second set of this match.

Once again, Kvitova looked tired in the second half. When she gets tired, she makes more errors.

In the other semifinal, Maria Sharapova once again defeated Aga Radwanska. The score this time was 6-1, 6-4.

Though she lost her quarterfinal match to Radwanska, qualifier Caroline Garcia continued, this week, to demonstrate that she is the riser on clay. This was the Frenchwoman's first premier level quarterfinal, and she played really well against Radwanska, taking the 3rd seed to three sets (and hitting 11 aces in the process). It was Garcia's sixth match of the tournament, but she looked like she could have gone on and on. I don't know who or what got Garcia to give up her tendency to choke, but once that tendency is relinquished, some very good things can happen (as we learned some years ago from another Frenchwoman with considerable clay court skills and court presence to spare).

Yesterday, in doubles, wild cards Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro continued their amazing run with a 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 victory over top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai. In the final, the Spaniards will play 2nd seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Errani and Vinci defeated Charleston champions Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova in the semifinals.

In Rome, top-seeded Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor has gone out in straight sets in the first round of qualifying to the mercurial Mona Barthel. 2nd seed Jana Cepelova is also out in the first round (talk about a post-final slump), courtesy of Petra Cetkovska. Zheng Jie is out, too, and Ula Radwanska won a match! She's now into the second round of qualifying.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sweeping the court

Players gathered on the court in Madrid on Monday to hold a moment of silence in memory of Elena Baltacha, who died of liver cancer on Sunday. Chris Oddo writes about Baltacha and how her death has affected the tennis world.

French Open wild card recipient Taylor Townsend told the media this week that her two coaches, Zina Garrison and Kamau Murray, have concentrated mostly on her development of the mental part of the game. "It was more me getting an understanding for how to play the game," Townsend explained."The mental training has just been really key."
Former tour player Neha Uberoi demonstrates shoulder and rotator cuff exercises for tennis players.

Simona Halep is all decked out in Addidas at the Madrid Open. I think Addidas could have done a lot better by her. And while I'm talking about tennis outfits--I like the idea behind Li Na's old school Nike kit, but not so much the reality. And as for Svetlana Kuznetsova: Say what you want about the outfit, but you know you'd wear those shoes!

Halep, by the way, is blogging from Madrid.

Garcia advances to Madrid quarterfinals

Caroline Garcia continued her excellent clay court season today by upsetting Sara Errani and advancing to the quarterfinals in Madrid. Garcia had some luck in the second round when Maria Kirilenko gave her a walkover. Still, her 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win over Errani was impressive. Also advancing to the quarterfinals today were Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Aga Radwanska, and Simona Halep.

Radwanska had an easy win over Roberta Vinci, but her second round match was another story. She beat a surprisingly resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. Naturally (I've had this kind of luck lately), I had to leave right as the third set began.

Halep's match was just a little too "typical." She lost the first set to an aggressive Sabine Lisicki, but then took control of the match. Halep has to start winning some of these matches in straight sets, or she's just going to wear herself out.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Serena Williams vs. Petra Kvitova
Maria Sharapova vs. Li Na
Simona Halep vs. Ana Ivanovic
Caroline Garcia vs. Agnieszka Radwanska

In doubles, wild cards Carla Suarez Navarro and Garbine Muguruza have advanced to the semifinals. Today, they upset 6th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears; in the 2nd round, they upset 5th seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik. In the first round, they upset Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. Quite a run.

The Thrill (Ride) is gone

Former world number 1 Dinara Safina, who hasn't played on the tour since 2011, has finally officially retired. Hopeful that her back would heal, the Russia player planned a comeback, but this week in Madrid, she made it clear that the end had come.

The brother of Marat Safin, Dinara shared the Safin family's often dark sense of humor, as well as the tendency to vividly express frustration on the court. The tall Russian was a steady riser in the rankings, and after spending three years in the top 20, in 2008, she broke through in a big way, going all the way to number 3 in the world. She would eventually become the world number 1, a spot she held for 26 consecutive weeks in 2009 (and then held for one more week later that year).

Safina's rise had a lot to do with her considerable clay court skills, as well as an improved serve. She was an excellent doubles player, which helped her quite a bit in singles. Her nickname on this blog has always been Thrill Ride because of her tendency to wait until she was losing the third set (down 2-5 in the third seemed to be her favorite crisis), and then make a dramatic comeback and win the match. During one of these thrillers--which must have caused near heart attacks for those in her box--when she was down and almost out in the third set, commentator Mary Carillo was prompted to say of Dinara's opponent, "Safina has her right where she wants her!"

The Russian's consistent habit of pulling off these difficult comebacks once led New York Times writer Lynn Zinser to report "Safina closed it out and pumped her fist, living to battle herself another day."

For three years, Safina experienced what may have been the worst player-coach relationship in tour history. Zheljko Krajan, a man known for his intense negativity, coached the woman most in need of someone to help her remove her own negative beliefs. "Why am I such a chicken?!" she once yelled to him from the court, and it was a cry for help which was never answered. At big moments, Safina knew how to make dramatic comebacks, but at really big moments, she froze, making it easy for an opponent to simply toss her aside.

Three times (twice at the French Open, and once at the Australian Open), Safina reached the final of a major tournament, only to freeze in fear and be run over by an opponent. I had hopes that someone would come along and help her abolish this particular demon, but then her back--long an issue for her--went out and she was unable to compete, though she tried to over and over.

Safina won 12 WTA singles titles. One of her greatest victories was in Berlin in 2008; she took out Elena Dementieva, Justine Henin and Serena Williams. She also won Rome, Madrid, Portoroz, Los Angeles, Montreal, Tokyo, Gold Coast, Paris indoors, Palermo, and Sopot. Safina won nine doubles titles, including the U.S. Open (with Natalie Dechy). In 2007, with partner Katarina Srebotnik, Safina was the U.S. Open doubles runner-up.

In 2008, Safina won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing. She was also a member of the Russian Fed Cup team for several years. She and Marat are the only brother-sister team to ever both hold the number 1 ranking.

I miss Thrill Ride. It's sad that her career had to end before she could figure out the last--and very important--piece of the champion puzzle. One wonders whether, with the right coach or with additional help, she might have conquered her fear and taken home a major trophy. We'll never know. I could go on and on about her, but instead, I'm going to let Dinara do the talking. Here are some of the strange and wonderful things she said at press conferences over the years:

"...I'm not a roadrunner player."

Do you have explanation why you could not stay mentally tough?
"If I would know explanation, then of course I would do it on the court."

"Come to the court and completely like just shadow is playing. Like, you know, Dinara is there, but just not me."

"I telling myself, 'Hit the ball,' and arm just doesn't go because my mind is just stupid."

Would you and Marat play mixed doubles?
"We did at Hopman Cup. That was enough."

"But to lose 6-0, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0. It's really to scratch the head and to think what the hell I'm doing."

"Definitely it hurts. But what can I do? First to find the reason what's going on, what are the mistakes, and then to work on them. Not to go blindly on the court and killing your ass for like five hours. Sometimes it makes no sense."

Do you respond more to a negative approach or a positive?
"We'll skip this answer."

Do you have any advice from your brother inside your head?
"No. Sometimes it's not easy to understand him."

"Every day is a happy day. Why it has to be? Doesn't matter. When you wake up it's already happy."

And on whether she looks at the draw:
"The more you know, the worse you sleep."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Upstarts swept off the clay in Madrid

Belinda Bencic, Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Alize Cornet, Genie Bouchard....If you didn't see them yesterday or today, you'll have to wait. Every one of them has gone out in the first round in Madrid.

Not all the "upstarts" are gone, though. Getting through the first round were Garbine Muguruza, Caroline Garcia (def. 7th seed Angelique Kerber, who once again had to retire with a back issue) and Sloane Stephens.

But look what else has been going on. Dominika Cibulkova went out in the first round, and failed to win a game in the second set of her two-set loss to Sam Stosur. Lucie Safarova beat Flavia Pennetta, Petra Kvitova scraped and scrapped past Sorana Cirstea, and Francesca Schiavone defeated Elena Vesnina. Wild card Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor lost in the opening round to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Of interest in the next round is a match to be played between countrywomen Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Elena Baltacha dies of liver cancer

Elena Baltacha, who was the number 1 British player for 132 weeks, died today of liver cancer at the age of 30. Diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis when she was 19, Baltacha spent her years on the tour taking medication to combat the fatigue brought on by her condition. Sclerosing cholangitis is rarely a precursor to liver cancer, though it is known to lead to liver failure. Baltacha  received a diagnosis of cancer in January of this year.

Liver cancer is a rare diagnosis in someone as young as Baltacha. The woman known as "Bally" by her friends and by peers and fans, also had to deal with a number of serious injuries during her career. She retired from the tour last year. Only two months after retiring, and two weeks before receiving her diagnosis, Baltacha had married her former coach, Nino Severino.

Elena Baltacha reached a career-high ranking of 49 in 2010. She established a tennis academy and was already training young players at the time of her diagnosis. The Elena Baltacha Academy was established so that children from disadvantaged backgrounds could learn to play tennis.

Here is a tribute to Elena on the LTA website. A very well-liked player, Baltacha had a game that was quite enjoyable to watch. Considering the serious of her illness, her fatigue, her compromised immune system, and the injuries she sustained, it is a statement of her extraordinary mental toughness that she was able to play at a top-50 level.

Baltacha was a member of the British Fed Cup team for eight years, and was also on Great Britain's 2012 Olympic team.

"We are heartbroken beyond words at the loss of our beautiful, talented and determined Bally," Baltacha's husband said today. "She was an amazing person and she touched so many people with her inspirational spirit, her warmth and her kindness."

It's hard to believe that Elena Baltacha is gone. Her death is a loss not only to those who were close to her, but to the tennis world in general, and to sport. Part of her legacy will be the children at her academy who--though confronted with obstacles--will nevertheless be able to learn the value of physical fitness and playing a sport. There is no better role model for them than Baltacha herself.

Sweeping the court

Taylor Townsend has earned a wild card into the main draw of the French Open. Townsend received the needed points when she saved two match points against Anett Kontaviet and advanced to the final of the USTA 50k event in Harbour Beach, Florida today. This will be Townsend's first time to play at the French Open.

The word is that Dinara Safina will retire from professional tennis next week, but that has been "the word" before, so we'll wait and see. The former world number 1 will present the trophy in Madrid. Oh, how I miss Thrill Ride.

Aga Radwanska has changed her hair color again.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands underwent hip surgery (again) last week; a full recovery is expected.

Czech media are reporting that Petra Kvitova and Radek Stepanek have ended their romantic relationship. (A full recovery is hoped for.)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Suarez Navarro finally wins a WTA title

It took her six tries, but Carla Suarez Navarro has finally joined the ranks of women who have won at least one WTA title. The Spaniard defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 today in the final of the Portugal Open. And she did it from being down 1-4 in the third set. Like Elena Vesnina before her (it took the Russian seven tries, but she has now won two titles), Suarez Navarro had trouble closing big matches. And like Vesnina's 2013 breakthrough, this one is long overdue.

Top seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza won the doubles title. They defeated Eva Hrdinova and Valerie Solovyeva 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

While the finals were being contested in Oeiras, qualifying play has been taking place in Madrid, and there's a lot of news to come out of that. Ula Radwanska, who probably couldn't win a bingo game right now, went out in the first round, to wild card Laura Pous-Tio (yes, she's still around). Yaroslava Shvedova and Alisa Kleybanova also went out in the first round of quaifying, and Kristina Mladenovic beat countrywoman Virginie Razzano.

In the second round, Monica Niculescu ran over Jana Cepelova 6-0, 6-1 in just 53 minutes. Belinda Bencic beat 3rd seed Camila Giorgi, and Mladenovic defeated Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-0.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vesnina reaches semifinals of Portugal Open

Elena Vesnina, seeded 8th at the Portugal Open, defeated Roberta Vinci 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 today. This victory puts the Russian into the semifinals, in which she'll face countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova defeated Genie Bouchard in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

A Russian vs. Russian match is generally uncomfortable for both players. This is a match I really wish I could watch, but I cannot.

Also advancing to the semifinals was Carla Suarez Navarro, who defeated Polona Hercog in straight sets. In the second round, Suarez Navarro got into the bagel trend and beat Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-0, 6-0! She will play qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu, who defeated qualifier Timea Bacsinszky.

Suarez Navarro has yet to win a WTA title.