Sunday, April 20, 2014

Vekic upsets Cibulkova to win Malaysian Open

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vekic reaches her third WTA final

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova is the defending champion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quote of the day

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

Sweeping the court

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

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

Here are Sara Errani's game day foods.

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

There was a recent Vika sighting in Sydney.

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

Lepchenko out of Fed Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mladenovic withdraws from Fed Cup play

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

Here's a bit of the press conference transcript:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Garcia wins everything in Bogota, France rules weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jankovic advances to quarterfinals in Bogota

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

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

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Some final thoughts on Charleston

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

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

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

Photo by Daniel Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivanovic wins Monterrey title

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

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