Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bouchard leads field in Charleston


 
Photo by Daniel Ward

World number 7 Eugenie Bouchard leads the field in 2015 Family Circle Cup competition, which begins on Saturday, April 4, when qualifying starts. The Canadian wild card was a semifinalist last year, and a quarterfinalist in 2013.

Seeded second is Ekaterina Makarova, who has not played in Charleston in five years. Defending champion Andrea Petkovic is seeded third, and Sara Errani is seeded fourth.

The bad news is that Lucie Safarova (who would have been seeded third) withdrew today because of a back injury. Safarova was the runner-up in 2012 and won the doubles twice with two different partners.

The Family Circle Cup, the world's largest women's-only tennis tournament, is also the only tournament played on green clay. Historically, green clay was considered a surface that provides faster play than red clay. Last year, however, Jelena Jankovic--discussing the playing speeds of several venues--said she thought that some of the European red clay courts now play faster than the Charleston court.

One of my favorite things about Charleston is the crowd. They love women's tennis.  These are the fans who stood in the heat for two hours to watch Belinda Bencic and Elina Svitolina fight it out for a spot in last year's third round. These are fans who will stand in the heat for any length of time to watch a doubles match. And these the fans who went crazy cheering when Vera Zvonareva  brought forth the greatest racket destruction moment in the history of women's tennis in 2010.



This is also the crowd that gave rock star status to Patty Schnyder for many years. Schnyder never won the tournament, but was the runner-up twice. The first time, in 2002, the unseeded German mowed down all of the important players--Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Serena Williams, and top seed Jennifer Capriati--but then lost to Iva Majoli in the final. In 2006, Schnyder took out defending champion Justine Henin in the semifinals, but lost to Nadia Petrova in the final.

It was a sad moment when Schnyder played her last Family Circle Cup match in 2011 and said goodbye in an emotional farewell ceremony. The beloved German had played in Charleston for 15 consecutive years, and it was in Charleston that she ruled.

The 2015 draw will be held on Saturday, April 4 on the Grand Lawn. Four former champions will be competing: Andrea Petkovic (2014), Sam Stosur (2010), Sabine Lisicki (2009), and Jelena Jankovic (2007).

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bouchard gets wild card into Charleston

World number 7 Eugenie Bouchard has accepted a wild card into the main draw of the Family Circle Cup, to be played April 4-12 in Charleston. Bouchard was a semifinalist last year, when she lost to eventual champion Andrea Petkovic. The Canadian star has gone as far as the semifinals at both the Australian Open and the French Open, and she was the Wimbledon runner-up last year.

Bouchard is now the top seed, followed by Ekaterina Makarova, defending champion Andrea Petkovic, and Lucie Safarova. Safarova was twice the doubles champion in Charleston, and was a finalist in singles in 2012.

The Family Circle Cup is the largest women’s only tennis tournament in the world, and Family Circle is the longest running title sponsor of a sporting event in the United States, as well as in all of professional tennis, worldwide. The Family Circle Cup receives four days of live broadcast domestically on ESPN2, and is viewed internationally in more than 143 countries, featuring more than 200 hours of live and delayed global broadcast time, reaching 9+ million viewers worldwide.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Makarova, Petkovic and Safarova to headline 2015 Family Circle Cup

Ekaterina Makarova, playing in Charleston for the first time in five years, leads this year's field at the Family Circle Cup, which will be held April 4-12. Makarova, who is number 9 in the world, will be joined by defending champion and world number 10 Andrea Petkovic. The 56-player field is made up of 43 direct entries, 8 qualifiers and 5 wild cards. Qualifying takes place April 4-5, and the wild cards will be announced at a later date.

Makarova, a consistent threat at majors, made it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2014. Her number 9 ranking is a career-high for her.

Petkovic made a major comeback from injury last season, with her Charleston win serving as a high point in the long comeback process. The German player, who was seeded 14th, defeated former Charleston champion Sabine Lisicki, former finalist Lucie Safarova and 6th seed Genie Bouchard in her 2014 Family Circle Cup run. Petkovic recently won the Diamond Games in Antwerp.

Safarova, ranked number 11 in the world, has made a strong showing in Charleston for some time, and in the last year or so, has become more and more of a threat on the tour, as well as in Fed Cup competition. The Czech star was the singles runner-up in 2012, and she won the doubles title in both 2012 (with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) and 2013 (with Kiki Mladenovic). Safarova, who won Doha earlier this season, will be playing in Charleston for the fifth time in her career.

Also contending for the title are world number 14 Sara Errani, world number 15 Angelique Kerber, and the recently rejuvenated Jelena Jankovic, who was the runner-up this past weekend in Indian Wells. Jankovic won the Charleston title in 2007 and was the runner-up in 2013. Last year, she and Andrea Petkovic provided unparalleled entertainment when they teamed as doubles partners.

Former Family Circle Cup champions Sam Stosur (2010) and Sabine Lisicki (2009) will be competing, as will Jana Cepelova, who made a surprise run to the final last year, defeating Serena Williams along the way. Other players of interest include Belinda Bencic, Mona Barthel, Sloane Stephens, Heather Watson, Lesia Tsurenko, and Taylor Townsend. Tsurenko recently made a very strong showing in Indian Wells, defeating Andrea Petkovic, Alize Cornet and Genie Bouchard.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Move over, Nicole Kidman




Simona Halep is the new Queen of the Desert. Her coronation, however, was a shaky, exhausting affair. Halep won the 2015 BNP Paribas Open title by defeating Jelena Jankovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4. It's the 3rd seed's biggest title ever, but she won it by playing some of her most uninspiring tennis. Her victory, however, puts her in the number 1 spot on the Road To Singapore.

Halep looked sluggish and flummoxed by Jankovic in the first set, when the 18th seed was forcing her to go for shots that resulted in repeated errors. Jankovic took that set with ease, all the time hitting a barrage of beautiful overheads that gained her point after point. In the second set, Jankovic was up a break on three different occasions, and served for the match at 5-4.

But Halep wouldn't let go, and won the set 7-5. By this time, Jankovic had resorted to the version of herself that mutters and complains and nitpicks at whatever is handy. The final set began with steady play from both opponents, but then turned into a series of service breaks. Halep finally held for 5-3, but was broken--not at all surprisingly--when she served for the match. But she broke back for the victory when Jankovic collapsed, double-faulting on match point.

It was a final and JJ was in it, so of course, there was so much more going on. Chip Brooks was the Serb's coach for the match, and their conversations were something to cringe over. Halep had to take a medical timeout because of a problem with her foot. The chair umpire got mixed up and called a double fault after a first serve. Halep's coach refused to go through with his interview with Pam Shriver when he discovered that--oh my goodness!--there was a microphone involved.

Not many things went right, as Jankovician chaos reigned over the proceedings. However, I should also point out that Jankovician cheer reigned over the trophy ceremony, as JJ explained that she and Simona were "running like dogs," and that she was grateful to the physios for doing her hair.

Of course, the twists and turns started before the match even began, with world number 1 Serena Williams having to withdraw from her semifinal against Halep. Williams, who had not played in Indian Wells in 14 years, was forced to withdraw because of a right knee injury. The top seed herself made the announcement to the crowd at the conclusion of the Jankovic-Lisicki semifinal.

Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza, playing together for the first time, won the doubles title. Hingis and the Forehand of Fire upset 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-4. The champions didn't drop a set throughout their stay in Indian Wells. The pairing of Hingis and Mirza had the look of success before they even took to the court, and with a start like this, one can only imagine what's next for them.

The news about Serena dominated, but there was other big news: Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci announced that they have split. We should probably never be shocked by the dissolution of any doubles team, but it was hard not to be stunned by this announcement. Errani and Vinci comprise the number 1 doubles team in the world, and they've ended the past three years with that ranking. In their official statement, the Italians--who are also best friends--had this to say: 

"We invested lots of energy, both mental and physical, to achieve our goals, which we are very proud of, therefore we now feel the need to rest and catch our breath.

"It's our common purpose to start new individual career paths and set brand new goals to try to reach, also for you to enjoy and take pride in."

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mixed expectations in the desert

"A desert is a place without expectation."
Nadine Gordimer

Yesterday, when world number 1 Serena Williams defeated a red-hot Timea Bacsinszky in straight sets at the BNP Paribas Open, she said repeatedly that she hadn't expected to get this far in the tournament. In fact, this "I didn't think I would get this far" phrase has been one of Williams' favorites for the past year or so. 

I, for one, don't believe a word of it. Serena Williams' return to Indian Wells, while it may represent a turning point in her sorrow and anger over an incident that occurred many years ago, also represents an opportunity for her to win a huge event she hasn't been available to win in a long time. The top seed is there grab a big trophy, as well she should be.

But while Williams' stated expectations don't really jive with reality, other expectations really have been turned over in the desert in the past several days:

2nd seed Maria Sharapova was taken out in the 4th round by a clearly emotional Flavia Pennetta, the tournament's defending champion. A sometimes-crying Pennetta lost the first set, but then--in true Fighting Italian style--got herself together and dismantled Sharapova.

British number 1 Heather Watson upset 2014 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round. Watson, however, then went out to Carla Suarez Navarro in the next  round.

Elina Svitolina eliminated Ekaterina Makarova, Belinda Bencic beat comeback player Caroline Wozniacki, and the tour's other comeback player, Ana Ivanovic, was defeated by Caroline Garcia. 



Very notable is qualifier Lesia Tsurenko, who--so far--has beaten 9th seed Andrea Petovic, 20th seed Alize Cornet and 6th seed Eugenie Bouchard. Now she faces Jelena Jankovic, who--out of nowhere--has returned to vintage JJ form in the desert. Tsurenko's run could very well end today, but what a stunning run it has been. (Note: Tsurenko rolled her ankle during her match against Bouchard, an accident I thought might lead to her retirement. It didn't. Bouchard was also injured, but tennis commentators seem to have forgotten that it was an injured Tsurenko who beat an injured Bouchard.)

Serena Williams herself had to put up a big fight in the first round against the ever-problematic Monica Niculescu. Since then, Williams has had it pretty easy.

And finally, the world got to see what a 2015 wonder Timea Bacsinszky is. Bacsinszky has one of the most--if not the most--troubled and difficult backgrounds (both personal and injury-related) of any player on the tour, and she is clearly thoroughly enjoying having overcome some huge problems. Just a few weeks ago, she won Acapulco, then traveled over to Monterrey and won that, too. She reached the quarterfinals in Indian Wells by taking out both Makarova and Svitolina. The obvious "Swiss Miss" was then stopped by Williams, but it would be hard for her to feel anything but great about her 15-match win streak.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Hey, it's MY turn!"...."You don't GET a turn!"




Timea Bacsinszky knows how to make a comeback. Perhaps she spent some time at the Flavia Pennetta Academy of Just Try To Keep Me Down, or perhaps she just really, really knew she could do it. The talented Swiss player, whose career was very significantly set back by injury for a long time, punctuated her return these past two weeks in Mexico by winning both the Acapulco and Monterrey titles.

But that's just the beginning of the story. Both times, Bacsinszky had to beat Caroline Garcia in the final. She handled Garcia easily in Acapulco, but the situation was different in Monterrey, where both a tougher version of the Frenchwoman and a four-hour rain delay complicated matters.

Garcia, playing the kind of tennis that first attracted the attention of fans a few years ago, took the first set 6-4. Garcia looked full of confidence, but then went down 1-3 in the second set. That's when the rain began to pour, and--as we all know--a rain delay almost always favors the mentally steadier of two players. That would be Bacsinszky, and sure enough, the Swiss player returned to the court at 11:30 p.m. and won the second set 6-2. She would go on to win the third, 6-4.

Bacsinszky's double victory marks the first time a player has won the two Mexican tournaments back-to-back since Monterrey was added to the tour in 2009.

In the doubles final, Gabriela Dabrowski and Alicja Rosolska defeated Anastasia Rodionova and Arina Rodionova 6-3, 2-6 10-3. The Monterrey title is the first for Dabrowski and Rosolska as a team.

Meanwhile, at the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, top seed Caroline Wozniacki defeated Alexandra Dulgheru 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 to win the title. Chen Liang and Wang Yafan won the doubles title, defeating Yulija Begelzimer and Olga Savchuk 4-6, 6-3, 10-4 in the final. Chen and Wang saved six match points in their quarterfinal match against Han and Namigata. They won that match 4-6, 6-1, 15-13.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Look who's wearing the sombrero!




Friends Caroline Garcia and Timea Bacsinszky played each other for the first time today, in the Acapulco final, and Bacsinszky emerged the champion with a decisive win of 6-3, 6-0 over Garcia. The Swiss player, whose career has been significantly hampered by injury over the last several years, will be ranked number 31 in the world when the rankings are published tomorrow.

This is Bacsinszky's second WTA singles title.

The doubles final was an upset, even though a number 2-seeded team beating a number 1-seeded team doesn't sound like much of an upset. But the top seeds were Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. They were defeated 7-6, 5-7, 13-11 by Lara Arruabarrena and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

Lucie in the sky with sparkles




At the conclusion of today's Doha final, there was a fireworks display that occurred as part of the trophy ceremony. The smiling face of Lucie Safarova, surrounded by shimmering streaks of fireworks, stood out against the sky. Safarova was not the lefty Czech who was top-seeded; rather, she was the lefty Czech who was unseeded.

In the course of her Doha run, Safarova defeated Sam Stosur, Ekaterina Makarova, Andrea Petkovic, Carla Suarez Navarro, and finally, Victoria Azarenka (6-4, 6-3). Makarova, Petkovic and Suarez Navarro were seeded 5th, 6th and 9th, respectively. The Doha win marks Safarova's first premier-level title, but the run was no surprise, given the improvement she has made in the mental part of her game. Wild card Azarenka was dealing with a leg injury, which didn't help her cause, but nothing should really be taken from Safarova and her amazing Doha win.

When the rankings are published tomorrow, Lucie Safarova will be number 11 in the world.

Top seed Petra Kvitova was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Suarez Navarro, and defending champion Simona Halep withdrew before the tournament began.

Top doubles seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Sania Mirza lost the doubles final to 4th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, who defeated them 6-4, 6-4.