Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We didn't even get a chance to count the dots

4th seed Aga Radwanska and her lovely black and white polka dot dress have parted Flushing Meadows. Radwanska is an outstanding hard court player who just cannot--for some reason, she says it's a mystery--negotiate the courts of the U.S. Open. Radwanska lost today in the second round to Peng Shuai, the woman who took her out in the second round in 2010. Peng defeated the Polish star in straight sets today.

That was the big news, but it wasn't the only news. Sloane Stephens was also upset in the second round, by Johanna Larsson. Larsson lost the first set but then went on a campaign that combined her athleticism with determination, and which resulted in yet another "what's wrong with Sloane?" ongoing media discussion.

Known for having a mediocre (that may be too kind) record in "regular" tournaments but a very good record in the majors, Stephens' 2014 season has, to some degree, tarnished that odd reputation; she went out in the first round at Wimbledon.

Kurumi Nara was the 31st seed--not a major player at the Open--but a potentially very dangerous one. That danger was removed today by Belinda Bencic, who defeated Nara in three sets. In the thriller of the day, Andrea Petkovic barely survived Monica Puig, and Simona Halep, Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, and Maria Sharapova all advanced.

In the first round of doubles, 6th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears were upset, as were 10th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. The Pliskova sisters lost to Cara Black and Sania Mirza, and received a second set bagel. Tomorrow--and what a first round match this is--the Williams sisters play Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic.

U.S. Open--what they said

And if you could have changed one thing in your progression, which of course has been very even, but if you could change one thing in your early career...
No, I don't want to change anything. It was perfect. I'm happy how I am now. Everythings are going how they have to be, so I'm happy with the way I did in the past. Now in the future for sure I will do also great job.
Simona Halep

When the stakes get higher, I hit harder; I can't help it.
Venus Williams

For me, this is very perplexing.
Tracy Austin, on Sloane Stephens' lack of progress

He's (Groenefeld) quite energetic in the box. Do you like that?
I don't think he was like that before. I think I just make everybody energetic.
Maria Sharapova

...how were you playing differently then when you were making deeper runs in Grand Slams as opposed to right now?
That's something normally you guys write about because you guys critique it. I mean, there's not much really I can do. It's a game. The girl I played played a good match today. She played really solid. There is a lot of things I could say that's different, have changed, better or worse. That's just a matter of, I don't know, just things. I don't know.
Sloane Stephens

Do you prefer to practice in private, though? 
No. I like just to practice everywhere.
Simona Halep

How disappointing is this for you?
I mean, it always is, especially in the Grand Slam your first week. But, well, I think here is not really the new thing for me. Unfortunately.
Aga Radwanska

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Day 2 of U.S. Open brings significant upsets

Your average 15-year-old doesn't wipe out a Tornado, then turn around and diffuse a Pocket Rocket, but CiCi Bellis does not appear to be your average 15-year-old. The teenager from California, who upset 12th seed Dominika Cibulkova today, is the youngest player to win a main draw match at a major since Anna Kournikova did it 18 years ago at the Australian Open.

Bellis earned a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw when she beat Tornado Alicia Black in the final of the USTA Girls' 18s National Championship. Appearing nerveless in her opening match in Flushing Meadows, Bellis went all aggressive with Cibulkova's second serve and beat her 6-1, 4-6, 6-4. Her next opponent will be another aggressive player, Zarina Diyas.

20th seed (and 2004 champion) Svetlana Kuznetsova went out in the first round today, too. The Russian lost a third set tiebreak to Marina Erakovic. The Kuznetsova Curse remains a very reliable reality.

Donna Vekic seemed to go to pieces after her successful first set against Coco Vandeweghe, and Kiki Mladnovic won one game against 3rd seed Petra Kvitova.

Other than Elina Svitolina's loss to Polona Hercog, everything else went pretty much as it was expected to go. Genie Bouchard, Sam Stosur, Vika Azarenka, and Flavia Pennetta all advanced, as did Ekaterina Makarova. Top seed Serena Williams, looking like her "real self" in a leopard print and hot pink, advanced to the second round when she defeated Taylor Townsend 6-3, 6-1.

U.S. Open--what they said

She raises her hand like she’s in school.
Chris Evert, describing Taylor Townsend’s challenge gesture

This is such a different atmosphere here in New York. Some people love it here. How do you respond to this kind of tournament? 
I'm not really this person, really love it. But that's the Grand Slam, it's important one. Yeah, I mean, if I'm comparing with Wimbledon, it's really big difference. It's more crowd, it's more big show, something like that. So it's not really my person....
Petra Kvitova

Do you think it's feasible to display a clock so that the players, the fans, and a chair ump could see the time tick off? 
Yeah. We actually had a meeting about that couple weeks ago. Yeah, I don't think that would be a bad idea. You know where you stand. Yep, that's it. That's what we've gotta do.
Sam Stosur

You're actually trending on Twitter now. If you had a hashtag to sum up this afternoon, what would it be?
I know some of my friends were doing hashtag like, take down Cibulkova, something like that. I know three of my friends did that, I guess.
CiCi Bellis

You're probably too young to know much about Carling Bassett, but I'm wondering what kind of Canadian tennis influence you have had, if any?
I never had any Canadian tennis influences. I looked up to the best: Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova. I remember watching Monica Seles playing. Any great champions I looked up to.
Genie Bouchard

Monday, August 25, 2014

U.S. Open day 1

There is never a "normal" opening day for a major, is there? Some of today's highlights:

Venus Williams and Kimiko Date-Krumm, who have a combined age of 77, did what they like to do--drive each other crazy on a tennis court. Date-Krumm made things hard for Williams, but Williams won in three sets. What appeared to be a bee attacked Date-Krumm, and then it went about messing with Williams' serve. These two and their matches.....

Both Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber looked shaky in their first rounds, but both won. By the time she got to her press conference, Halep was talking confidence and "nothing to lose" (really?!), but when she stepped off the court, she sounded more candidly anxious. Her opponent, Danielle Rose Collins, had a great debut.

Camila Giorgi is already out of the tournament, defeated by Anastasia Rodionova. Overall threat and huge hitter Garbine Muguruza, the 25th seed, is out, too. The Spaniard lost to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Also making an exit was Kirsten Flipkens, who lost to Sara Errani. New Haven finalist Magda Rybarikova retired in her third set against Caroline Wozniacki. (Is Woz back to her old tricks and zapping opponents with the retirement curse?).

Aga Radwanska and Venus Williams are wearing beautiful tennis dresses. Radwanska's polka dots really suit her.

Chris Evert revealed that she has Petra Kvitova on her list of possible U.S. Open champions, and also had her marked as a top seed who could go out early. I think that says it all.

U.S. Open--what they said

Honestly, I have won slams where I didn't feel like I was playing my best. I have won when I felt like
I wasn't prepared. I felt like I lost when I thought I was playing amazing.
Venus Williams

She kind of plays all over the place...It was very difficult for me.
Andrea Petkovic, referring to Ons Jabeur

Have you been to the Bronx or what is the idea behind the shirt?
It's an Under Armour shirt. Every day I'm going to wear a different New York shirt just because I'm cool like that.
Sloane Stephens

She wins the points she's supposed to win, and then she wins some she's not supposed to win.
Martina Navratilova, referring to Simona Halep

What was it like to have the stadium behind you?
Oh, it was awesome. I have never played at that level and I have never played in a stadium like that. It was amazing. I mean, I could get used to that.
 
Do you ever feel old out there?
Not yet.
Venus Williams

I want to enjoy this, but it's not easy.
Simona Halep

Sunday, August 24, 2014

U.S. Open champion predictions

Jon Wertheim--Serena Williams
Peter Bodo--Serena Williams
Courtney Nguyen--Serena Williams
Greg Garber--Serena Williams
Richard Pagliaro--Serena Williams
Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Brad Gilbert--Simona Halep
Ed McGrogan--Serena Williams
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Richard Deitsch--Serena Williams
Kamakshi Tandon--Maria Sharapova
Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Melissa Isaacson--Serena Williams
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Todd Spiker--Svetlana Kuznetsova
Mary Joe Fernandez--Serena Williams
Matt Wilansky--Serena Williams
Howard Bryant--Serena Williams

Friday, August 22, 2014

I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way

2006 U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova faces countrywoman Maria Kirilenko in the first round of the U.S. Open. And while neither Russian Maria has been quite the same lately for various (and maybe, in one case, unknown) reasons, a Kirilenko who is "on" is a dangerous opponent on a hard court. Sharapova has won most of their matches, though Kirilenko pulled a big upset in 2010 when she took Sharapova out of the Australian Open in the first round.

Sharapova is in the Simona Halep quarter of the draw, but before she even gets to Halep, she has other potential obstacles in her way, including Andrea Petkovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams, and Garbine Muguruza. Maybe even Sabine Lisicki, though I really don't see 'Pova losing that one. Of course, Halep has those obstacles, too. The fourth quarter is filled with dangerous players, including New Haven finalist (and who knows?--maybe champion) Magdalena Rybarikova, Camila Giorgi, Sara Errani, and Kirsten Flipkens.

But let me put myself back into some kind of reasonable order. The first quarter is the Serena Williams quarter, and Williams has to hit the ground running by playing Taylor Townsend in the opening round. Townsend may or may not give Williams a good warmup. 2011 champion Sam Stosur is in that quarter, and it's likely the two will meet. Coco Vandeweghe, who starts against Donna Vekic (maybe not an easy start) is also is in the Williams quarter, as is Flavia Pennetta, and--perhaps most important--Ana Ivanovic. Both Stosur (even though she got slapped out of New Haven tonight by Kvitova) and Ivanovic have revived their careers in recent weeks, and both like hard courts.

Kvitova leads the third quarter, and has a potentially challenging first round against Kiki Mladenovic. 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vika Azarenka, Dominika Cibulkova, and Ekaterina Makarova are all in that quarter, as are upstart Elina Svitolina and career-reviving Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Upset specialist Sorana Cirstea lurks there, also, and--oh, yes, Genie Bouchard. What a quarter!

Finally, there's the third quarter, which features Aga Radwanska and Angelique Kerber as the anchors. Jelena Jankovic, Lucie Safarova and Alize Cornet are in that quarter, too, as is Sloane Stephens (Stephens starts against Annika Beck). Potentially dangerous floater Kurumi Nara is also in the Radwanska quarter.

In a "normal" season, we'd be looking at Azarenka to challenge Serena Williams as the winner, but not this year. Williams, seeking her 18th major, comes in as the favorite by virtue of being the top seed, the U.S. Open Series winner, and well, Serena Williams. Williams has yet to win a major this year, which seems to make it even more likely that she will play at her top level and be unbeatable in this, her last chance to win a big one in 2014.

There are arguments, however, to made for the likes of Stosur, Ivanovic, Kvitova (who has never gotten past the round of 16), and Halep. Radwanska and Wozniacki cannot be totally ruled out, nor can Kerber. The U.S. Open tends to be either really great or really strange (in a "not great" way) for Williams. She is the two-time defending champion, so the last two years have been of the "really great" variety for her.

The top seed is headed for a potential ("potential" being the key word here) contest with either Kvitova or Bouchard in the semifinals. On paper, that looks like a good draw for Serena, and--if Bouchard gets to the semifinals--I think it's still a good draw. Should Kvitova get that far--and the humidity hasn't put her asthma into full tilt--it could be a bit tricky.

No woman has won the U.S. Open more than twice consecutively since Chris Evert won it four times in a row from 1975 through 1978. Several women have won the Open twice in a row but could go no farther. Will Serena Williams break that pattern?

As for Sharapova, one doesn't like to say that she cannot win the U.S. Open. At least, this "one" doesn't. To win it, the Russian would have a tough job, but she thrives on tough jobs, and who knows?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Serena Williams wins her first Cincinnati title

Top seed Serena Williams got off to a slow start in today's Cincinnati final against Ana Ivanovic. but then she did what she needed to do early in the first set, which she won 6-4. After that, it appeared that the Serbian star was all but sleep-walking through the match. Williams won the second set 6-1.

Despite losing the final, Ivanovic had a good tournament. Her 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 semifinal victory over Maria Sharapova was definitely the highlight of the event, for the drama, if nothing else. Ivanovic led a set and 4-0 when Sharapova made her almost last-minute comeback. A questionable line call upset Ivanovic, and (in a style more reminiscent of Jankovic), she went to pieces, letting Sharapova in. Sharapova, of course, lives for these moments, when she can wipe out an opponent's momentum and take over the match.

But this turned out to be no ordinary match. At the start of the third set, Ivanovic took a medical timeout. She said later that she felt nauseous and had stomach pain. A blood pressure check was done on her, and that action would lead to an "instant classic" 'Pova moment later in the match. Sharapova, after double-faulting and getting broken to put the score at 4-all, tapped her arm with her racket and said to the umpire, "Check her blood pressure."

Okay, so it isn't as good as "Allez up your f___ing ass!" and certainly not as good as "Isn't she back in Poland already?" (one of my all-time favorite tennis quotes), but it still made me laugh. Apparently, it angered some people, and I understand and respect that, but then again, I burst out laughing when I heard "...and you're unattractive inside," so my spontaneous laughter mode apparently overrides every other mode I possess.

Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears won the doubles title when their opponents, Timea Babos and Kiki Mladenovic, retired early in the second set of the final. They retired because Mladenovic sustained a back injury

Anyway, systolically and diastolically speaking, the WTA tour is vibrant and healthy. Both Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki (who lost to Sharapova in the semifinals) look really good. Aga Radwanska has picked her game up considerably, and even Sam Stosur looks like she's ready for serious action.

And then there's Serena, who hasn't won a major this year, but she gets a final shot in Flushing Meadows in just a little while. She's the winner of the 2014 U.S. Open Series, so she'll also be going for a $1 million bonus at the U.S. Open. It's rare for the world number 1 to play three events in a row, but she did, and she won two of them.

Iveta Melzer retires from professional tennis

Iveta Melzer, whom we knew mostly as Iveta Benesova (name changes always baffle me), has retired from professional tennis. It's sad to see a lefty Czech player go, but we haven't seen much of Melzer lately, so this announcement isn't a surprise.

In singles, the talented Melzer was often frustrating for fans. She had an unusually good serve, and could certainly use it to her advantage, but she also had an especially fragile temperament and was often her own worst enemy on the court.

It was in doubles that she really showed her gifts, even though she was most often paired with a player with an equally fragile temperament--Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Together, though, they could make trouble for the best of doubles teams.

Melzer won two WTA singles titles, 14 doubles titles (10 of them with Zahlavova Strycova), and--with not-yet-her-husband Juergen Melzer--she won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 2011, the year that Czech players swept all the Wimbledon titles. Melzer reached a career-high ranking in singles of number 25 in the world, and a career-high ranking of 17 in doubles. She was a member of the Czech Fed Cup team and the Czech Olympic team.

In 2012, Melzer sustained a shoulder injury that kept her off of the tour for a year and a half. In announcing her retirement, the 31-year-old Czech player said that being out for a year and a half contributed to her decision to stop playing professional tennis.

"I would have never believed that time would fly so fast," Melzer said. "I still remember like it was yesterday when my father brought me to the court when I was seven and I started to hit my first tennis balls, or later, when I decided to put in all of my devotion and try to become professional.

"I remember the first points on tour and the goals I was trying to reach; the hard times I was giving my coaches, because there were certain situations i was difficult, but also the fun we had along the way; all of the great and successful moments and also the bad ones. I would have done a few things differently, but I have absolutely no regrets.

"I am grateful for every single experience and I believe it was part of the process to learn, become stronger and a better person. Today I can say I enjoyed my career with all the ups and downs."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Radwanska wins Rogers Cup

Isn't it just like Aga Radwanska to sneak a big win in just when fans are talking about her 2014 slump? That sneak attack is so very Radwanskian, to borrow a term from WTA Backspin. In today's Rogers Cup final, the world number 5 defeated Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2 to win her 14th title. It was a great week for both players, with Venus beating Serena for the first time in five years, and with the Polish star taking out Sabine Lisicki, Victoria Azarenka and Ekaterina Makarova.

It wasn't such a great week for the "all Bouchard all the time" trend network. The Canadian player went out in the second round with a bagel sandwich delivered to her by Shelby Rogers. That seems like a long time ago, doesn't it? Rogers herself would win only one game in the next round, when she became the victim of Caroline Wozniacki.

Top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. who are so "back," won the doubles title, defeating 4th seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza, 7-6, 6-3 in today's final.

And now on to Cincinnati, where Serena Williams is the top seed. Williams has a bye in the first round, and will play--well, will maybe play--Sam Stosur in the second round. Stosur plays a qualifier in the first round, and we all know how that might turn out. Andrea Petkovic and Sloane Stephens play each other in the opening round, as do Alize Cornet and Madison Keys. Another first round match to keep an eye on--Lucie Safarova vs. Montreal finalist Venus Williams.