Thursday, April 15, 2021

Osorio Serrano and Fruhvirtova continue their success in Charleston

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

The round of 16 continued today in Charleston at the MUSC Women's Health Open, and two young players who have garnered a lot of attention got even more when they both advanced to the quarterfinals. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Linda Fruhvritova won their matches against Christina McHale and Emma Navrro, respectively.

Osorio Serrano, a former number 1 ranked junior, recently won her first WTA title at the 2021 Copa Colsanitas, which she entered as a wild card. Today, the 19-year-old Colombian player defeated Christina McHale 2-6, 7-6, 7-6, after being down a set and a break in the second set. 

Discussing her ability to come back and turn the match around, Osorio Serrano said: “I don’t know—I don't feel that I’m thinking that much. I don’t feel like I’m gonna lose…I just feel that I have to play every point.”

She gave credit to coach Ricardo Sanchez for helping her with a lot of things that she didn't realized she needed to improve. Osorio Serrano said that, despite what she may think or want to do, she always listens to Sanchez.

Linda Fruhvirtova (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

 Fruhvirtova, following her win over 4th seed Alize Cornet (who retired in the third set) in the second round, continued her campaign today with a straight sets win over Emma Navarro. The young Czech player said that she realized that her serve wasn't going to be good today, so she focused on other things. "Every match is different," she remarked, "every day you feel different." Fruhvirtova is now into her first WTA quarterfinal.

Top seed Ons Jabeur also advanced with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Alycia Parks. Jabeur said that it was difficult for her to adapt to Parks' serve because the ball was so high. She also talked about her comfort level in Charleston, and how nice it was to stay in the same location for two tournaments. "Everything is amazing here--the food, the sites, the hotel, nothing to complain about...."

The other winner today was Astra Sharma, who defeated Christina McHale 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, in a hard-fought match that contained a number of momentum swings.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Ons Jabeur (1) vs. Nao Hibino
Shelby Rogers (3) vs. Danka Kovinic
Astra Sharma vs Linda Fruhvirtova
Clara Tauson vs. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Rogers advances at MUSC Women's Health Open, Tauson upsets Tomljanovic

Shelby Rogers (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Third seed Shelby Rogers advanced to the quarterfinals of the MUSC Open today when she defeated Clare Liu 6-2, 6-2. Asked in her press conference how it felt to have a straight-forward, no drama win, Rogers said, “Well,  think I was due for maybe a couple of tame matches; I’ve had quite a lot of mental battles over the past couple of months....” Most recently, she had a drama-filled match against Amanda Anisimova at theVolvo Car Open.

The third seed will next face Volvo Car Open semifinalist Danka Kovinic. Kovinic upset seventh seed Lauren Davis today in three sets.

Also winning today were Nao Hibino, who defeated Francesco Di Lorenzo, and Clara Tauson, who upset sixth seed Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-4. 

After the match, Tauson talked about her tennis mentality, and said that competing on clay involved her mindset: "“I’m trying to play a little bit higher over the net and play with less risk....I think it’s more mentally for me, staying in the rally and just hitting with the girls.”

Clara Tauson (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Tauson said that she has learned to look at higher-ranked players and think that she is just as good as they are. This tactic is helping her a lot right now, she said. She went on to talk about the mental shifts that she has undergone. “When I was younger, I was very explosive and had a lot of outbursts," she explained, but now she talks with her mental coach every day and is able to remain calm.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Top seed advances in Charleston, and a 15-year-old makes a very grown-up statement

Linda Fruhvirtova (photo courtesy of Chris Smith)

Top seed Ons Jabeur won her first match tournament in Charleston today, at the MUSC Health Women's Open, defeating Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-1. Jabeur reached the semifinals at the Volvo Car Open, also in Charleston, last week. Her next opponent will be Alycia Parks, who defeated Grace Min, 6-1, 6-4.

“Obviously, I’m not playing the game that I want to play, but, I mean, it is what it is; I’m getting used to every player, every condition with the player….," Jabeur said after the match.

“My ambition right now is to get my serve better,” she added.

Also today, Emma Navarro won her second WTA match when her opponent, Tereza Martincova, retired in the second round. Her first came last week at the Volvo Car Open when, playing as a wild card, she defeated Renata Zarazua. Volvo Car Open finalist Danka Kovinic also advanced today, with a win over Viktoriya Tomova.

The tournament saved the best for last, though in one major way, it wasn't good at all. 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova engaged in a two hour and forty-three-minute knock-down-drag-out with one of the queens of knock-down-drag-out fighting--Alize Cornet. Cornet has been showing her tenacious form lately, and that always makes for a good show. Unfortunately, tonight, she was forced to retire in the third set.

Cornet entered the court with her right thigh wrapped, and she had it re-wrapped between the second and third sets. However, the longer the match went on, the harder it was for the Frenchwoman to move; she was in obvious pain, but kept on playing. Her opponent also took a medical timeout to have her ankle wrapped. There were 18 breaks of serve in the match, and the young Czech player held a match point in the second set. It was also highly entertaining, other than the part about watching Cornet limp around the court.

It was 4-all in the third set when Cornet retired, so we'll never know what may have happened. But we do know that Fruhvitova fought as hard as the veteran Frenchwoman, and she showed considerable mental strength--especially for someone her age. After the match, when asked about her mental strength, Fruhvitova said that it comes naturally to her. She then added that “The matches I lost the past years helped me a lot in my mental strength so that I could perform the game that I did today.”

The teenager talked about “the way we both fought for every point, it just amazing. I’m satisfied with the way I played—it was just so tough mentally and physically….”

Fruhvirtova said that tonight's match would be memorable because it was her first WTA win, but it would also be memorable because it was this particular match that was her first. "I admire Alize, how can she fight, and she just never give up, if she’s injured or not injured.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Kudermetova leaves Charleston with new belief, a big trophy, a check--and a Volvo

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith

Veronika Kudermetova said that when she arrived in Charleston, she didn't believe that she could win the title because she didn't have good preparation before Miami, and "...I had, I think, a lot of troubles in my head." But the 23-year-old Russian wound up "pulling a Swiatek" and winning the tournament without dropping a set. Kudermetova's Volvo Car Open victory represents her first WTA title, and starting with a 500-level event is an impressive way to make the tennis world take notice.

In today's final, Kudermetova, seeded 15th, defeated Montenegro's Danka Kovinic 6-4, 6-2. Kovinic had done a lot of heavy lifting at the tournament, upsetting the third, eleventh and twelfth seeds. But--while, on paper--Kudermetova's draw wasn't as difficult as Kovinic's--she had her work cut out for her in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals, in which she defeated 2016 champion Sloane Stephens and a red-hot Paula Badosa, respectively. 

Kudermetova has a very good serve (as of now, she's the WTA ace queen, with 130 aces hit in 2021), but it failed her several times throughout the tournament, so she repeatedly used her second serve to get out of trouble. She also did some excellent defending, and was a rather calm and cool presence on court at almost all times.

Despite her doubts when she began her Charleston campaign, the new champion said that once she started to play matches, she just focused on her work, and "...match by match, I started to play really well." Several times during the week, Kudermetova talked about her focus on "the work," explaining that the most important thing that she does is practice.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Christ Smith

Kudermetova said that--of all her experiences on the courts in Charleston--the one that she will take with her is "I think most important, the belief in myself, trust in myself." Now that she has that belief, and now that she has a big title (and a new Volvo)!, "...the pressure come off from the shoulder." Indeed.

As for Kovinic, she had a splendid run this week, knocking out the likes of young star Leylah Fernandez, Petra Kvitova, Yulia Putintseva, and Ons Jabeur. Of the final, Kovinic said, “She was more constant from the baseline than I was today.”

Kovinic, like Kudermetova, is taking away more than her runner-up dish: “I stayed composed and calm during most of the match. I think that is the one thing I discovered about myself—that I can be really calm in some crucial moments, and just to make good decision when it’s very important."

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith

The unseeded Kovinic also said: “…of course I feel a little bit sad because I didn’t lift that trophy, but that is only if I’m looking only at this day, but if I’m looking overall at this week and the process before this tournament, I’m really happy…”

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith

The day began with a third title (and two Volvos) for the top seeds in doubles, Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs. In the final, they defeated Marie Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecka 6-2, 6-4. 

"To transition from the hard to the clay and win right away the first week, I think that’s incredible….” Melichar said. This is the U.S. player's tenth title, and she has also finally cracked the top 10, a convergence that she said was possibly "meant to be."








Saturday, April 10, 2021

Danka or Veronika--who will rule on green clay?

All photos courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith
 
Who would have thought that the final four women in the 2021 Volvo Car Open would be players who have never won a title? I think it's quite interesting, and it's also a kind of extended statement on the history of the Charleston tournament, which is known as a star-maker event. We need only go back to 2017 to note the last time that this phenomenon occurred: Dasha Kasatkina won the event, and it was her first title. Kasatkina would go on to win three more titles, and even to spend some time in the top 10. (The finalist that year, Alona Ostapenko, traveled to Europe after leaving Charleston, and--while she was there--won the French Open.)

Today's semifinal matches featured two seeded players and two unseeded players. In the first match, Danka Kovinic (the tennis face of Tunisia) faced off against 12th seed Ons Jabeur (the tennis face of Montenegro). Jabeur, who has an impressive variety of shots from which to choose, sometimes didn't appear quite prepared for the steadiness of Kovinic's game. Kovinic out-served Jabeur in both first and second serves, and she broke her four times. Her 6-3, 6-2 victory puts her into the final against 15th seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.

After the match, Kovinic told the press:  “I was feeling very calm today, but, to be honest, I didn’t expect this result in two sets, like 6-3, 6-2. I was feeling a bit tired, but somehow, I didn’t show that on the court.

“I didn’t even think about winning or even playing finals….to be honest, I didn’t feel a hundred percent confident in my first round, and even in my second round again Leylah. And then, match by match, my game improved, and my confidence raised a little, and then everything come together, and I’m in the final right now!”

In the second semifinal, Paula Badosa, who has played some really thrilling tennis all week, was stopped by Kudermetova, who had an answer for just about everything Badosa threw at her. Badosa made fewer unforced errors (22 to 26) than Kudermetova, but Kudermetova hit twice as many winners as Badosa, and she broke Badosa four times. 

The Spaniard raised her level in the second set, and there was a very tense game at 2-all, in which Badosa held two break points. After twelve minutes and half a dozen deuces, Kudermetova held, and that would turn out to be the last stop on the speeding Kudermetova train, bound for the final. The 15th seed defeated Badosa 6-3, 6-3. She still has not dropped a set.

“I have a lot of mistakes with my first serve and I played just with the second serve," Kudermetova said after the match, "but I’m really happy that I can find the way that I can win with the second serve against Paula because she’s aggressive player….”

Kudermetova also said that she felt that, at the Volvo Car Open, she has played smarter than she has in the past.

Here are the players' paths to the final:

Danka Kovinic
round 1—def. Gabriela Talaba
round 2—def. Leylah Fernandez
round 3—def. Petra Kvitova (3)
quarterfinals—def. Yulia Putintseva (11)
semifinals—def. Ons Jabeur (12)

Veronika Kudermetova (15)
round 1—def. Desirae Krawczyk (Q)
round 2—def. Emma Navarro (WC)
round 3—def. Karumi Nara
quarterfinals—def. Sloane Stephens
semifinals—def. Paula Badosa

In doubles play, top seeds Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs defeated Gaby Dabrowski and Asia Muhammad, 7-5, 6-1, in the semifinals. In the final, they will face Maria Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecka, who upset fourth seeds Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk, 6-3, 0-6, 1-0.

And finally, this gem from Danka Kovinic:

Question: “What are Montenegins known for?”
Kovinic: “We’re known to be lazy.”

Friday, April 9, 2021

Badosa and Kovinic--women on a mission

Paula Badosa (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)

Yesterday, Paula Badosa told the press at the Volvo Car Open that she wanted to play Ash Barty because she wanted to know what it feels like to play against the number 1 player in the world. This evening, Badosa got her wish, and she made the most of it. The Spanish player served up a storm and kept her cool throughout the quarterfinal match, upsetting Barty 6-4, 6-3. The Spanish player got her first top 20 win earlier in the week when she upset fifth seed Belinda Bencic in a thriller of a match. She then defeated Caty McNally, before taking Barty out of the event.

Badosa said that she went into the match with a game plan, but had to change it a bit. " At the beginning, I didn’t know what was happening. I like rhythm, and she wasn’t giving me any rhythm.” Badosa said she wasn't prepared for Barty's slices, volleys and very fast forehand. “I think," she said, "when you play a player like that, the energy on court is different.”

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)

Badosa isn't the only player who has chosen the green clay of Charleston to make a big statement. Danka Kovinic upset 11th seed Yulia Putintseva in three sets (6-7, 7-5, 6-1) today to advance to the semifinals. Kovinic had already defeated the up-and-coming Canadian player, Leylah Fernandez, and--in the round of 16--she upset third seed Petra Kvitova. 

Talking about today's match against Putintseva, the Montenegrin said that “Sometimes I was also surprised by myself, by how composed I was....I kept thinking, if I show more emotions, she’s gonna get more pumped….

It was tough at the beginning, just to switch from yesterday’s match—it was really hitting good from the baseline, and today it was completely different—a lot of topspin, a lot of running. I knew, actually, how she’s gonna play, and I think I was well prepared.”

Kovinic talked about her struggles on the tour. When she had her highest ranking, she stopped working with her coach of eleven years, and everything went wrong. “Every week, I was losing….Sometimes you just doubt yourself….that was the first time in my career that I felt like, nothing is going well, physically and emotionally.”

It took about a year and half for her to get back on track, Kovinc said. Asked whether there was some particular advice that helped her, she replied: "I wanted to do it my way, and I think maybe it was longer, but at the end, I”m happy I did it this way because I get to know myself better, you know, and to know what I want to do in my tennis career, in life, what is good for me, what is not, and then I think, it just takes time.”

Ons Jabeur (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)
Also advancing today was 12th seed Ons Jabeur, who defeated 14th seed Coco Gauff 6-3, 6-3. It was Jabeur's first victory over Gauff, which prompted her to say that "Maybe this year is a revenge year for me.” Jabeur said that her serve hasn't really been working for her the way she wants it to, so "Maybe the miracle happens tomorrow.”

We often hear commentators say that the problem with having a wide array of shots from which to choose is that a player with this advantage sometimes doesn't know which shot to choose. Jabeur said exactly that during her press conference--that knowing how to hit so many different shots is an advantage, but sometimes it isn't.

It should be noted that Gauff injured her hip during the match, so she and partner Caty McNally have withdrawn from doubles competition.

Veronika Kudermetova (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)
In the final match of the day, Veronika Kudermetova defeated 2016 champion Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-4. Kudermetova, seeded 15th, broke Stephens four times. The Russian player said that she felt confident tonight. “When I start to win more matches, I feel confident. But I think first it comes from the practice. In the practice, you do the same thing—you try to do like, every day, the same, same, and I think—for me—it’s very important when I do the same thing every day in the practice, and I start to feel confident.”

Here is the semifinal draw:

Danka Kovinic vs. Ons Jabeur (12)
Paula Badosa vs. Veronika Kudermetova (15)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Quarterfinals set in Charleston

Though we should always know to expect anything from a tennis match (and after last night, we should really know), I imagine that most of us were not prepared to see Garbine Muguruza retire in the second set of her round of 16 match this morning. The sixth seed, who has looked so good during this tournament, sustained a left leg injury. She had the trainer treat her, and, she said, "I definitely wanted to give it a chance…but it just got worse..." Muguruza also said that the transition from hard courts to clay courts was problematic for her.

Muguruza's retirement means that her opponent, Yulia Putintseva--who lost the first round 0-6 (it was 2-all in the second when Muguruza retired)--has advanced to the quarterfinals. The 11th seed told Tennis Channel, "I don't believe, at the moment, that I deserve to go through, because she was playing really good tennis." But go through she did, and she plays the unseeded Danka Kovinic in the quarterfinals.

Danka Kovinic (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)
 
Today was hotter and more humid than any other day so far, and sure enough, we saw the demise of third seed Petra Kvitova. To be fair, her opponent, Danka Kovinic played quite well, defeating Kvitova 6-4, 6-1. But one can't help but think that the intense humidity was also Kvitova's undoing, as it has been so many times in the past.

Coco Gauff (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)

2016 champion Sloane Stephens, continuing her excellent form, defeated Ajla Tomlhanovic in straight sets, 15th seed Veronika Kudermetova defeated Karumi Nara, and 12th seed Ons Jabeur ended Alize Cornet's run in an entertaining (it goes without saying) three-set match. And 14th seed Coco Gauff defeated countrywoman Lauren Davis 6-2, 7-6; there were seven breaks of serve.


Paula Badosa (photo courtesy of Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith)
 
Paula Badosa, who won that thriller contest against Belinda Bencic, won again today, this time defeating Caty McNally. Looking back on the Bencic match--which she served for twice, and won on her fifth match point--Badosa said:

“I recently learned to fight like that….My problem was that I wasn’t accepting the bad moments….But since some months ago, last year, I made a big change mentally, I started to work a lot on that, to fight, like every  point, no matter what.”

The Spanish player said that she didn't like green clay when she played in ITF tournaments, but that now, she likes playing on them. 

Recalling the 2020 French Open, she she upset both a French Open finalist and a French Open champion, Badosa said that the occasion was a turning point for her

“Totally, totally. Because I was having rough times. I had good matches, but not at that level because I never was believing on myself, but that two matches, and doing it in a Grand Slam, at Roland Garros, was very special to me. It helped me with self-confidence, and believing on myself, and to work the pre-season very hard, and believing that this season was going to be better than the last one.”

Badosa will play either home favorite Shelby Rogers or world number 1 Ash Barty in the next round. She was very complimentary of Rogers' game, and then added, "Ash Barty--I don't have words to describe that."

She then added: "Okay, I’m gonna be honest, I would like to play Ash Barty because I never played against a world number 1, and I would like to see what it is to play a world number 1."

In tonight's match, world number 1 Ash Barty had to go three sets to defeat Shelby Rogers. Barty had a lot of trouble with her serve (though she did hit nine aces), and it took her two hours and 23 minutes to overcome Rogers. 

After the match, Barty said that it was difficult for her to play at night on the Charleston court. "It’s quite dry and the ball travels through the air a little bit longer than it did in Miami….I felt like I wasn’t quite seeing the ball and angling the ball as well as I have been, but that’s all part and parcel of adjusting to a new surface and to different conditions.”

Here is the quarterfinal singles draw:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Paula Badosa
Veronika Kudermetova (15) vs. Sloane Stephens
Yulia Putintseva (11) vs. Danka Kovinic
Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Coco Gauff (14)