Thursday, January 31, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships is a Tier II tournament.
When Italy won the Fed Cup title in 2006, it was largely through the marvelous efforts of Francesca Schiavone, whose fighting spirit overcame serious opposition from the Spanish team. Last year, Italy was in the finals, but lost to Russia. The 2008 Italian team has lost Robera Vinci and doubles specialist Mara Santangelo, but it still looks like a team to beat:
Francesca Schiavone is still the Italian player to watch at Fed Cup. Schiavone shines at this event, and can be counted on to perform well--and sometimes, brilliantly.
Flavia Pennetta, who was out with an injury for a long time, is now back and in form, having won the 2007 Bangkok Open, and beating both Shahar Peer and Venus Williams on the way to the final. Pennetta is also a successful doubles competitor.
Tathiana Garbin has had more success with doubles than with singles, but is one of those players whom higher-ranked players are not probably not keen on seeing on the other side of the net. Garbin and Schiavone, by the way, both have one-handed backhands.
Sara Errani made her first top 100 finish last season. People noticed her at this year's Australian Open because she took Lindsay Davenport to three sets (she had a 4-2 lead in the third set) in the first round.
Italy will play Spain in the upcoming Fed Cup round. The Spanish team consists of Anabel Medina Garrigues, Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, Virginia Ruano Pascual, and Nuria Llagostera Vives. Medina Garrigues is a talented but inconsistent player, who can be as tenacious as Schiavone. Ruano Pascual is a former doubles world number 1, and she and Medina Garrigues are currently ranked 22 and 21, respectively, in doubles.
Italy has a 3-2 head-to-head lead against Spain in Fed Cup.
Monday, January 28, 2008
You have a new tattoo. Is it a sign of a new beginning?
After they banned me from the court, I needed only two days to make up my mind about the tattoo. I wanted something that was both beautiful and unique. My tattoo represents a fairy. I still believe in miracles.
Not before long you told journalists that you had a German boyfriend. How do you sustain your relationship?
God bless the mobile phones! I think that all these writings about my personal life are more than enough.
And finally, this gem...
What's the sharp lesson that you learnt from this ban?
I learnt I should always use condoms.
Nadia Petrova, the 2006 Family Circle Cup champion, has entered the 2008 Charleston tournament. Petrova did not attempt to defend her title last year, but is returning now. In 2006, when she defeated Patty Schnyder to win the tournament, she was in the middle of a very hot clay streak, and was a favorite to win the French Open. She injured herself during her Roland Garros warmup, however, and went out in the first round. She has not really been the same since, and has been candid about her occasional lack of motivation.
Petrova went out in the first round at Gold Coast, and then accepted a wild card to the Medibank International tournament in Sydney, where she also went out in the first round. She made it to the round of 16 of the Australian Open, but was defeated by Agnieszka Radwanska.
First, Ivanovic is not a girl; she is a young woman. More important, however, is the title's reference to a siren-like quality that makes grown men become fools and even criminals. This attribution of sexual "power" to women and girls (a man recently told me that "women have all the power," and he was shocked that I did not agree) in order to prevent females from having real power is the same trick that has been used for hundreds of years. And it still works.
For her part, Ivanovic posed for at least one Lolita-type (the interviewer's context, not mine--I actually know something about Lolita) photo for the story. And her very first interview answer is sure to set off some "cat fight" glee among readers:
Your future seems certain. You’re pretty, sought after by sponsors. People are talking about you as the new Sharapova…
It’s strange, Sharapova doesn’t say a word to anyone, whereas I talk, smile, laugh!
Perhaps Sharapova isn't talking so much because she is busy winning Grand Slam tournaments (to his credit, the editor implies such in his next question).
The interview on the Ivanovic site was done in English, translated into Italian, and then translated back into English, so a few nuances may have been lost, but we get the message: Ivanovic is the next big sex product of the Sony Ericsson WTA tour. She will make a ton of money, her photographs will become a kind of "acceptable" pornography, men will post on forums what they would like to do to her body, and little girls will be assured that--if they just stay away from French fries and wear the right skirts--they, too, can have this kind of "success."
A few years ago, someone asked Sharapova whether the tour was selling sex. "I don't care what they're selling," she answered. (I like to think she may have cared a few months later, when a Japanese company began selling a large pillow with a likeness of her breasts on it.) Now that girls are once again being told that it is their sex appeal that they must and should promote, sports organizations, managers and parents are complicit in the international marketing of young sportswomen with long legs, and with faces so unformed that anything one wishes can be projected onto them.
Ana Ivanovic is a talented tennis player, but that ultimately will not matter to anyone who does not closely follow women's professional tennis. She will instead go the way of Kournikova and Sharapova and become an icon of sex, and a most unfortunate teacher of little girls--and little boys. Sharapova, with her wit and intelligence, appears ready to transcend the world of cheap sex thrills, but there is always another "girl" waiting to take a big swig of the patriarchal Kool-Aid.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Maybe not. Acquaintances who know I am into women's pro tennis asked me last week who was likely to win the Australian Open or who had won the Australian Open. When I said Maria Sharapova, it was alarming how many times the response was "Oh, is she still married to Enrique Iglesias?"
It's all one tall Russian blonde to them.
10. She's...back!: Marta Domachowska, whose career had slid practically out of sight, started this season in good fashion, and punctuated that start with an impressive round of 16 appearance in Melbourne, giving Venus Williams all kinds of trouble before being defeated 6-4, 6-4.
9. Caroline Wozniacki--danger waiting to happen: The under-the-radar phenom from Denmark showed the world what her game--and her court personality--is all about in her quarterfinal match against Ana Ivanovic. There were moments when I wondered whether Ivanovic would survive.
8. Oi oi oi!: Casey Dellacqua got fit, got ready, and got a chance to make an entire continent proud of her. She went out in the round of 16, but she had a great run, taking out unprepared former Australian Open champion Amelie Mauresmo along the way.
7. Hey, you two--this isn't the French Open!: Jelena Jankovic and Tamira Paszek saw to it that the most exciting match of the tournament would take place in the first round, and broke each other again and again, leading to a three-set thriller, in which Paszek served for the match five times, had three match points, and was finally extinguished by the tour's best defensive player.
6. We tried to tell her: Jelena Jankovic came to Melbourne with an injured thigh, made worse by her repeated attempts to play in the Hopman Cup, and her now chronic back injury finally did her in. Too much match play in 2007 broke down her body and greatly diminished her Australian Open chances.
5. Serena Williams goes "crazy": That is her word, and it will do as well as any.
4. When sports psychology is not enough: Long known as the biggest choker on the tour, Daniela Hantuchova--who has worked so hard to get her ranking back--got destroyed last summer in the U.S. Open by a significantly injured Serena Williams. This time, she lost it at 6-0, 2-0, and allowed Ana Ivanovic to go to the final. While it is evident that Hantuchova is no longer the neurotic perfectionist she once was, she still does not know how to accept the idea of winning.
3. Maria Sharapova cruises: The champion runs through the entire tournament without dropping a set.
2. The Bondarenko sisters decide it's time to win a tournament: In 38 tries, they had never done it, so they figured a good first tournament to win was a Grand Slam.
And number 1...
The full-throttle dismantling of Justine Henin in the quarterfinals: Maria Sharapova sends a message, with a side order of cream cheese.
This is Sun's first Grand Slam title. She is the holder of 11 women's doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Kristina Brandi of Puerto Rico, who was once ranked as high as number 27 in the world, has announced her retirement. Brandi was a three-time member of the Puerto Rico Fed Cup team, and a member of the 2004 Olympic team. She has recently been featured in an ad for Rums of Puerto Rico.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Maria Sharapova lost her way for a short while in the middle of the first set of the Australian Open women's final, losing control of both her serve and her forehand, but that turned out to be a brief detour on her otherwise smooth road to championship victory. Continuing the pattern she has held throughout most of this tournament, Sharapova achieved a remarkable 89% on first serve wins, and an equally impressive 70% on second serve wins. She also won 80% of her net approaches, and was--in short--stunning.
In the second set, Sharapova lost only two points on her serve, and won three service games in a row at love. She almost won the fourth, but after a let call was successfully challenged by opponent Ana Ivanovic, Sharapova failed to win the point on her second serve. She did, however, hold at 15.
Ivanovic, for her part, was much more poised and mentally prepared than she was for her French Open final, when she was practically frozen with fear. Ivanovic had some shining moments and served well, but made twice as many unforced errors as Sharapova, and--in general--was out-hit in every part of the court by an aggressive opponent. She had only two break chances against Sharapova the entire match, and converted only one of them.
The crowd support went overwhelmingly to Ivanovic, who appears to have replaced Aussie Kim as the favorite Australian adopted daughter. Sharapova won the title without dropping a set, giving her mother, Yelena, a fantastic birthday present.
Q. How many years have you been together?
Q. What does this win mean to you both?
Alona: We don't know yet.
Kateryna: Yeah, probably not really know yet that we won a Grand Slam. I mean, we know, but--
Alona: ‑‑we don't understand it.
Q. Also when you reached the final, you said now it's time for beer. Will there be a champagne celebration tonight?
Kateryna: We already start.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Azarenka and Peer were seeded number 12 in the tournament; the Bondarenkos were unseeded. The sometimes cranky Ukrainian sisters had never before made it past the second round of a Grand Slam tournament, and indeed, had never before won any of the thirty-eight previous tournaments they had entered.
Final score: Bondarenko/Bondarenko def. Azarenka/Peer, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4
It gets worse: Goven also picked Amelie Mauresmo for the upcoming match, and she does not want to play because she thinks she should concentrate on getting her game back after all of the illness and injury that she has endured. Who can blame her?
Refusing to play in Fed Cup when one is asked to means that a player cannot be considered for participation in the Olympics. According to Goven, that is fine with Bartoli, but there is no word about how silver medal winner Mauresmo feels about it.
If you do interesting things outside of tennis like Sharapova or the Williams sisters, then you are not focused enough on your tennis. If you focus on your tennis to the exclusion of having a boyfriend, then you are obviously failing as a female.
Other players need to follow the example of the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova and cut these reporters off at the knees.
May I ask you, when you talk in Serbian, do you always talk like that, the way you talk in English, all breathless? Especially when you talk to your boyfriend, do you talk like that?
We can all put down money that the reporter will not be reprimanded in any way. It is unfortunate that Ivanovic did not put him in his place.
I miss players like Chris Evert, who dominated with shot-making and without noise. The steely look on Evert's face spoke louder than any scream. With today's power play, it is understandable that a number of players are going to grunt, but I still do not understand how screaming (which many commentators insist on calling grunting, for some reason)--a la Sharapova, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka--came to be part of tennis. During the 2005 Sharapova-Williams Wimbledon semifinal, I had to turn off the sound for a while, so intense was the screaming from both players.
Hantuchova was the first player to complain to the umpire about Ivanovic's squeaky shoes, but her complaint fell on deaf ears. Ivanovic does a lot of footwork while her opponent is serving. There is nothing wrong with that--it is natural--but with those shoes, the result is that there are grating squeaks occurring right around the time of the ball toss. I have never heard Ivanovic's shoes squeak before (which doesn't mean they did not squeak--it just means that I do not recall that they did); it appears she is wearing a different type of shoe, or that her type of shoe has some unfortunate friction on the new Melbourne surface.
At any rate, you have been warned: The women's final is going to be loud, and not in a good way. The screaming cannot possibly be good for the Sharapova vocal cords, but she says it is the natural thing for her to do. I have gotten used to it, but I know I will never get used to the shoe-squeaking--here's hoping Ivanovic goes shoe-shopping some time soon.
She broke Ivanovic in the first game of the second set, then held. Then Ivanovic held, and in the fourth game, the evil twin came out and started messing with Hantuchova's forehand. For the rest of the match, Hantuchova would hit a series of forehand volleys that sometimes looked as though they were headed for another court. The momentum changed, and Ivanovic took the second set.
The third set was one that featured, for the most part, high quality tennis from both players. Hantuchova sometimes constructed her points carefully, and other times, she would play like the Hantuchova of old--going for broke when it was not at all prudent. But even though her game was fading, she still had great moments, and Ivanovic--by this time the mentally tougher of the two--gave Hantuchova plenty of chances to change the momentum again. It did not happen, though. In the sixth game, there were seven deuces and only one break point, and when Ivanovic won, there was a strong sense of destiny for her.
There were numerous arguments over line calls, with both players not getting what they wanted from the chair umpire. At one point, when a linesperson called a shot in that was out, Ivanovic asked the chair umpire to overrule, but she did not. Ivanovic had one challenge left after making some truly silly ones (as did Hantuchova) and apparently, she did not want to use it then.
Hantuchova should have won this match, but when a very tough opponent teams up with your evil twin, things go wrong.
Final score: Ivanovic def. Hantuchova, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4
Sharapova will need to serve better in the final than she did against Jankovic. Jankovic's injury kept her from taking advantage of Sharapova's suddenly weakened serve, or we might be seeing two Serbs in the final.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
And Hantuchova does not say that she does not enjoy the fashion part of her life; she says that she enjoys it very much. So please stop with the "Hantuchova says one thing and does another" routine. (Unfortunately, Hantuchova is enjoying fashion in a way that is certainly disappointing to me--there is a new tour photo of her standing in a Versace store wearing a fur-trimmed coat.)
In the meantime, Sharapova was serving poorly, in Sharapova terms, which was one of the keys for Jankovic to win the match. Sharapova had a 55 first serve percentage and a 50 second serve percentage--quite low for her. She did serve eight aces, however, and had little trouble fending off an injured opponent.
Jankovic's mother says that no one has been able to successfully treat Jankovic's back, but Jankovic intends to seek other specialists. The good news, according to her mother, is that Jankovic is going to get a service coach, something she needs if she is going to compete at the top level of women's tennis. She has the best defensive game on the tour, but without a better serve, she will continue to struggle against top players. This was the same problem Martina Hingis had during her comeback, and one hopes that Jankovic will follow through, and therefore lift the level of her game.
Final score: Sharapova def. Jankovic, 6-3, 6-1
It is of interest that Marion Bartoli is listed as a member of the French Fed Cup team. She and the captain must have come to some type of undertstanding regarding the presence of Baroli's father/coach, which had heretofore been prohibited.
What about Ivanovic and Hantuchova? Ivanovic is the clear favorite here, but after seeing Hantuchova's steady nerves and shot selection in her quarterfinal, I think this could turn into an actual contest. Hantuchova will have to be careful not to let her opponent's grunting and squeaking get to her, and she will have to be aggressive from the get-go to show Ivanovic that she means business. Ivanovic, of course, will have to be careful not to let Hantuchova's very mannered service habits not get to her, and she will have to serve at a high level.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
If someone had told me that Venus Williams would play a Grand Slam quarterfinal without hitting any backhand winners, I would have laughed, but that is exactly what happened. For the second day in a row, a Williams sister mystifies.
Final score: Ivanovic def. Williams, 7-6, 6-4
Final score: Hantuchova def. Radwanska, 6-2, 6-2
Henin was having some trouble with her knee, but it seems that she was having even more trouble with Sharapova's power and precision. When Sharapova is on, she is very hard to beat, and it appears she was on in a big way. Her second serve is indeed back, and her net win percentage was 82%.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko received a walkover from Lindsay Davenport and Daniela Hantuchova in the third round of the Australian Open, then pulled off a remarkable upset by defeating top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the quarterfinals.
The top three seeds--Black & Huber, Srebotnik & Sugiyama, and Chan & Chuang--have all been eliminated.
Final score: Bondarenko/Bondarenko def. Black/Huber, 6-3, 6-2
In the second set, Williams seemed to find her spirit, lifting her serve and forcing a lot more issues. But she continued to make more errors than Jankovic, and Jankovic continued to play the kind of relentless defense that is the hallmark of her game. She also did a very good job of returning the Williams serve. Williams broke Jankovic the first time she served for the match, held, and then brought the tenth game of the second set to deuce, only to double-fault on her serve. Jankovic then won the match on her first match point when Williams hit a return wide.
Jankovic has played the entire tournament with a bad hip. Williams was treated earlier in the day for a thigh issue, and both players received treatment (Williams for a foot blister) during the second set. Those who watched Williams practice said she was feeling out of sorts then, also.
Final score: Jankovic def. Williams, 6-3, 6-4
Also in doubles, Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer have upset Sania Mirza and Alicia Molik, 7-5, 6-3.
Sure enough, this morning, someone on a tennis board pointed out Kirilenko's interview after her victory over her friend, Anna Chakvetadze. It is filled not only with some charming turns of English phrase, but also some refreshingly candid, artless remarks.
Says Burns, "Seems like a hollow victory for the girls. How can we ever be taken seriously this way?" Thank you, Andrea, but if I need a feminist advocate, I prefer to look elsewhere.
Here it is, mid-way into the Australian Open, and Jelena Jankovic has already played every week of the season, in addition to trying to play--twice--while injured during the Hopman Cup. She does not look like herself--how could she?--and she does not appear to have worked much on her serve, the one real weakness in her game.
There probably isn't a bigger Jankovic fan than I, and I feel she has let us, her fans, down. But that is not important. What is important is what she has done to herself by this brutalizing of her body and mind through constant play. Jankovic is very fit, yes, but fitness goes only so far. She says that she played so many matches last year because she prefers tournament play to practice. That is all well and good, but playing in tournaments takes away her ability to control her own schedule, and produces mental stress.
Jankovic's ranking is going to go down one way or the other, and it is better for it to go down by her player fewer tournaments than for it to go down because she can no longer compete at the level at which she competed last year. I love watching her play, and I want the best for her. She is so close to doing something really great, yet--at the same time--she is close to burning all of her opportunities. Here's hoping she makes the right decisions.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
The number 2 seeds, Srebotnik and Sugiyama, made an exit in the first round when they were defeated by Venus and Serena Williams.
Szavay's performance was most likely disappointing to her fans: She was defeated in the first round by Ekaterina Makarova, who made it to the third round and lost to Nadia Petrova. Paszek went out in the first round, too, but in a blaze of glory, as she lost a three-hour, break-filled extravaganza to Jelena Jankovic.
Azarenka stuck around until the third round, then fell to Serena Williams. Wozniacki made it to the round of 16, and was quite impressive in terms of whom she had to get past to make it there: Gisela Dulko, Alona Bondarenko and Sabine Lisicki, the young player who defeated Dinara Safina. Wozniacki finally folded when she played Ana Ivanovic. She was hardly present for the first set, but in the second, she was on fire, and came close to pushing the match to a third set; the longer she played, the better she got.
Then there is Radwanska, who--not content just to take out world number 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova--knocked off Nadia Petrova in the round of 16, and gave her a third set bagel for good measure. Radwanska is now into the quarterfinals, in which she will play Daniela Hantuchova.
Amen to all that, but it is especially ironic--and not in a good way--if, when one is talking about feminist issues, one calls Venus Williams a "statesman" and a "spokesman."
Bud Collins had never heard of her, which surprised me.
Karatantcheva, in 2005, at age 15, was the youngest female player ever to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open, a feat she accomplished by beating Venus Williams in the round of 16.
In Surprise, Karatancheva had to play three qualifying rounds before she could enter the tournament. She defeated Angela Haynes in the final.
The sooner we see the talented Bulgarian back on the tour, the better.
Jelena Jankovic--The lines of her pink dress are exquisite, and the slim headband is an elegant accessory.
Maria Kirilenko--She always looks great in her latest Stella McCartney, and this one is no exception.
Elena Dementieva--The scalloped skirt and gathered bodice would not look good on too many players, but on Dementieva, they look just right.
Maria Sharapova-I liked the khaki version much better, but the dress is nevertheless quite nice.
Venus Williams--She looks like old-time tennis with a twist in her own design, and the effect is quite smart.
Ana Ivanovic--Ivanovic is elegant in clear blue and a ruffled skirt.
Anna Chakvetadze--Something about this unusual tennis dress appeals to me, and when I think about it, I like most of Chakvetadze's outfits.
Now that he has a television audience, however, Gimelstob is able to do more damage. Over the weekend, he made personal comments about Maria Kirilenko's body to Maria Kirilenko, and he made several comments about both her body and Daniela Hantuchova's body. On one occasion, his fellow commentator jokingly gave him a "time-out," but we know from our experience with Dick Engerg that no real time-out will ever be given.
Meanwhile, in women's doubles, the Bondarenko sisters, Alona and Kateryna, squeaked past number 8 seeds Peng Shuai and Sun Tiantian.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Friday, January 18, 2008
Shortly after that, number 6 seed Anna Chakvetadze fell to Maria Kirilenko in three sets. Chakvetadze--who has been suffering with an injured hand--went away in the second set, but came back strong in the third. A pivotal moment occurred toward the end when she mysteriously failed to question an incorrect overrule from the (less than reliable) chair umpire. (It brought back memories of Linday Davenport's failing to challenge a bad call on a match point a couple of years ago.) The mistake caused her to go down 2-4, and that was pretty much it. Despite the second set slump, there were some very fine moments in this match, with the players frequently delivering thrilling rallies. Chakvetadze and Kirilenko are two players I very much enjoy watching. Final score: Kirilenko def. Chakvetadze, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2.
As always, it was a pleasure to watch Schiavone play Justine Henin. One of the few players who gives Henin a real battle, she nevertheless cannot defeat her.
(And while you're at it, Tennis Channel, Youzhny' s first name is not Michael.)
Maria Sharapova on her father's new hoodie: "Nike gave it to him, unfortunately. He looks like an assassin."
Jelena Jankovic was fined for coaching when her mother cheered her on. Jankovic's mother is not her coach, but because she yelled out in Serbian and because those in charge could not understand what she was saying, the charge stuck. On the one hand, it sounds silly; on the other, if officials and the opponent cannot understand you, questions arise.
Serena Williams conducted a clinic for Evonne Goolagong's kids' camp.
Don't forget to listen to Australian Open Radio--the hosts are very silly and a lot of fun.
If anyone has a clue what happened to Shahar Peer in the third round (I did not see the match), please let me know.
And finally, because nothing could follow it...According to the BBC, Justine Henin is taking hip-hop dance lessons.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
"It's a shame," responded Huber, "because I would have been the proudest American there."
Not being chosen for the Fed Cup team does not eliminate Huber from participation in the Olympics because a player must be available for Fed Cup, not necessarily chosen, to qualify for Olympic play. The only player Garrison has selected for this year's team is Lindsay Davenport. It is speculated that she will also tap Davenport's friend, Lisa Raymond, and that she will do what she can to persuade both Williams sisters to play.
Hsieh, who won a gold medal in the 2006 Asian Games, has reached the third round by defeating qualifier Klara Zakopalova (formerly Kukalova) and the talented and seeded Sybille Bammer. Lisicki, who is ranked number 194 in the world, defeated Dinara Safina, of all people, and then defeated Mariya Koryttseva.
Most surprising is the veteran Marta Domachowska, who has been on a long slide down the rankings for some time. Domachowska has never before gotten beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament, and she has seen her ranking slip from number 36 (in the spring of 2006) to number 146. In order to get out of the qualifying rounds, she had to beat talented young Ayumi Morita, and when she reached the main draw, she defeated Mathilde Johansson and Sofia Arvidssson, who had taken out Marion Bartoli.
What's next for these qualifiers? Hsieh faces Aravane Rezai, who has been on somewhat of a roll lately, and who eliminated Tatiana Golovin from the Australian Open just the other day. Lisicki gets talented Caroline Wozniacki, who made it through the second round by defeating Alona Bondarenko. And Domachowska gets the toughest challenge of all: She plays Li Na, whose return to pro tennis after a very long lay-off was punctuated by her winning at Gold Coast.
Meanwhile, the lowest seed standing is Sania Mirza, who next faces Venus Williams.
The seeded players who have already been elimnated are: Marion Bartoli, Tatiana Golovin, Patty Schnyder, Dinara Safina, Sybille Bammer, Agnes Szavay, Alona Bondarenko, Lucie Safarova, and Julia Vakulenko.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Though not seeded, it is nevertheless news that Lindsay Davenport was handily taken out of the Australian Open in the second round by a blazing Maria Sharapova. I did not get to see the match, but my understanding is that Sharapova made Davenport move a lot, and movement has always been Davenport's downfall. Final score: Sharapova def. Davenport, 6-1, 6-3.
The 13th seed, Tatiana Golovin, was taken out of competition by her countrywoman, the hard-hitting Aravane Rezai, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Rezai has had her share of troubles the last couple of years, but so far, is having a very nice 2008 season. Golovin--who became fitter and much more skillful under the tutelage of Mats Wilander--was certainly expected to advance much farther than the second round.
Meanwhile, Sybille Bammer, the 19th seed, fell hard to qualifier Hsieh Su-wei, winner of the gold medal at the 2006 Asian Games. Final score: 6-2, 6-0
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Oh my God, I've had a few uncomfortable experiences but I'm so allergic to that. I just can't... even now when I see my friends and they just want to kiss the cheek. I prefer men.
I have nothing else to say.
The entertaining Pratt has one career singles titles and nine doubles titles. She was a long-time member of the Australian Fed Cup team, and was twice an Olympian.
Rasheed is free to admire any part of Venus Williams' body that he wishes to admire, but for him to make a public comment about it, and for the network to show the shot it showed is offensive not only to Williams, but to women's tennis, women's sports, female fans, and all our daughters.
Fortunately, a number of people phoned in to complain about the incident.
But don't get too happy--it is stunning how many fans--male and female--are totally baffled that anyone would find anything wrong with what Rasheed and the network did. Can you say "consciousness raising"?
This is not the first time Rasheed has caused a stir at the 2008 Australian Open: The other day, he accused both Jankovic and Paszek of faking their injuries.
Sixteenth seed Dinara Safina was also eliminated during the first round, by Sabine Lisicki of Germany, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2. Lisicki is ranked number 194 in the world.
And finally, the ever-baffling Marion Bartoli, seeded number 10, lost to Sofia Arvidsson, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3. Arvidsson, who has struggled a lot in the past couple of years, has been doing rather well in 2008.
When Cirstea lost the first set (which she had on her racquet, at one point), she faded away, as I expected her to. But then, when she was down 1-5 in the second, something clicked, and she returned to real competition. It was too little too late, though, and Ivanovic won, 7-5, 6-3. It was a highly entertaining match, all the more so because of Cirstea's personality.
Ivanovic received a bad line call toward the end of the match. Hawkeye was out of commission and the chair umpire should have easily overruled the call, but she did not. A justifiably angry Ivanovic did not shake the umpire's hand at the end of the match, but instead, gave her a kind of cursory wave. The message was clear.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Left to play another day are Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka--Caroline Wozniacki, too, if you want to count her.
So said Maria Sharapova, after she won the 2006 U.S. Open and had to contend with questions from the sports media about whether she had received illegal coaching from her father/coach, Yuri Sharapov, who signaled her to eat a banana during her final match against Justine Henin.
"I'm sitting here as a U.S. Open champion, and the last thing I think people need to worry about is a banana," Sharapova responded to reporters.
We may have thought we had heard the last about illegal bananas, but now it is Jelena Jankovic with a banana problem. Like she needed another problem. When Jankovic emerged from her flight to Melbourne and police dogs took a sniff of her bags, the police immediately zeroed in on her racquet bag, which, they said, seemed to contain an illegal edible. Jankovic denied the presence of food in the bag, but a search resulted in the discovery of a very old, black, rotten banana. Jankovic was issued a warning and went on her way.
What next? Kuznetsova caught with a banana nut muffin? Chakvetadze censored for consuming a banana Moon Pie?
Note to Bethanie Mattek: Skip the Carmen Miranda outfit...
Kirilenko/Szavay v. Davenport/Hantuchova
Chakvetadze/Li v. Peng/Sun
Peschke/Stubbs v. Cibulkova/Malek
Jankovic/Mattek v. Dechy/Safina
Nathalie Dechy, who had a successful partnership with Vera Zvonareva, has now created a successful partnership with Dinara Safina. I would like to see her play with Zvonareva again, but I don't know whether that will happen.
Mattek did not make the main draw of singles competition, but since she is playing doubles, perhaps we will get a chance to see what outfit she is wearing.
Meanwhile, Paszek, after nearly three hours of play, had to have treatment for her thigh.
And on another court, Lindsay Davenport, struggling to survive against Sara Errani, was obviously hampered by a foot injury. Then there was Vera Zvonareva, who should probably never have played the first round. She had to retire at the beginning of her second set against Ai Sugiyama; Zvonareva injured her left ankle in Hobart.
The Australian Open is already the toughest physical venue of all the Grand Slams. The new court surface should help, especially with regard to foot and ankle injury prevention, but the heat is still going to be a factor (though it may be somewhat mitigated by the surface). Consider the other players who are coming back from a long injury/illness layoff: Mauresmo, Li, Zheng, Sharapova. Now add the recently injured players: Safarova, Azarenka, Mauresmo, Li, Medina Garrigues, Dechy.
Two players could not even show up in Australia: Meghann Shaughnessy may be out as long as six months because of a recent knee injury, and Sam Stosur had not fully recovered from her long illness by the time the season opened.
Obviously, some of these injured players are probably healed from their injuries and illnesses to the point that they are no longer especially vulnerable to renewed injury at the Australian Open. But some probably are still vulnerable, and as the hot days in Melbourne go by, it looks like being healthy is as good a way to survive as any.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Could a Radwanska-type upset occur in Melbourne? Do we want it to? The excitement can be great, but we also sometimes have to watch our favorites go down in unexpected defeat. I do not expect any specific major upsets to occur, and am, in fact, horrified by the thought of a few of them. But one could happen.
Which lower-ranked player do you see pulling a big upset and having a Radwanska moment in Melbourne?
I filled out the contact form on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site. In the past, you might just as well have put a message in a bottle and stuck it in the Adriatic as send an email to the WTA--there was never an answer forthcoming. Perhaps, with their apparent interest in better customer relations, they will actually answer me this time.
Anyone else having difficulty? If you are, please fill out the contact form and let the WTA Sony Erricsson Tour site know about it.
As of Monday, Ivanovic becomes number 3 in the world, behind Justine Henin and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Friday, January 11, 2008
In Hobart, Eleni Daniilidou had an easier time of it when she won the championship via a walkover. Opponent Vera Zvonareva suffered a left ankle injury.
Qualifying is now in progress, and the tournament begins Monday. The draw is out, and there is also a brand new surface. Expect continued heat illness, but--according to tournament authorites-- a decrease in heat problems because the surface will not reflect as much heat. I am skeptical about a reduction in heat illness, but I do think the new surface--which will not melt like the Rebound Ace did--will go far to prevent ankle and knee injuries.
Justine Henin--She is the world's number one player and she is playing at the very top of her form. Anyone who can get past Henin deserves to win the Australian Open, but it will be very hard for anyone to do that. Her athleticism, confidence and court intelligence are currently unsurpassed.
Serena Williams--The defending champion came from virtually nowhere last year and mowed down the competition. Can she do it again? It depends on which Serena shows up in Melbourne. The healthy and focused Serena can reclaim her crown, but that is not always the Serena who shows up.
Maria Sharapova--Sharapova had a bad 2007 because of two injuries--one really serious--and a resulting lack of confidence. She showed, in the Sony Ericsson Championships, that she was back, however. And Sharapova is just not the type to allow two bad seasons in a row to spoil her fun. She is looking very sharp, and she will have to stay sharp to get through what is probably going to be her second round--a match against Lindsay Davenport.
Lindsay Davenport--I almost took Davenport off of the contender list when I saw that she will most likely face Sharapova in the second round. Both history and current conditions indicate that Sharapova will win that match. But I think that some of the pressure is off of Davenport now, and she may be swinging more freely--at least metaphorically--in Melbourne. So I give her a chance to beat Sharapova, and if she does that, I give her a good chance to win the whole thing.
Venus Williams--Many analysts have Wiliams on the top contender list. I was tempted to put her there, too, but I am wary of her untamed forehand, which seems to fail her the most at big moments, Wimbledon notwithstanding. Still, it would be far from shocking if Venus Williams were to win in Melbourne.
Svetlana Kuznetsova--I was going to put Kuznetsova on my Players to Watch list until I saw her play Henin in the Sydney final. She lost, but the improvement in her game was notable. If she continues to add this much finesse and cerebral strength to what is already an athletically superior game, she is a contender.
Jelena Jankovic--As a fan, it is hard for me to say that Jankovic is not the contender in Melbourne that I thought she would be. Last year's crazy schedule took a lot out of her, as did her string of losses to Henin (or so I would imagine). But the extreme talent is still there, and if she has what it takes to rise to the occasion, she can go far.
Amelie Mauresmo--The 2006 champion missed almost an entire year last year, so she is not in line as a top contender. But she is Amelie Mauresmo, she likes the Australian Open, she is historically Henin's toughest competitor, and she says she is in top physical shape again.
Ana Ivanovic--Ivanovic is a very gifted player who, in my opinion, has improved her game more than anyone else in the past year. But she still has a tendency to melt at big moments, or to go lackluster. A lift in confidence, however--combined with that killer forehand--could get her somewhere.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Nicole Vaidisova--I'm sure others list her as a contender, but Vaidisova is still too unstable and error-prone to make one of my top lists. Nevertheless, she is one to watch in Melbourne.
Anna Chakvetadze--Which Anna will be in Melbourne? The savvy one or the mentally weak one? Things have not gone well for Chakvetadze lately: She was traumatized when her house was burglarized, and she is also recovering from a hand injury caused by an assault by the burglars. Chances are, Melbourne will not be a good venue for her, but knowing what she is capable of, I list her as one to watch.
Patty Schnyder--For me, she is always one to watch. Schnyder especially likes the Australian Open, and she was a semifinalist a few years ago. No longer in the top 10, Schnyder still puts on a good show with plenty of lefty spin, expert dropping and very well executed first and second serves.
Daniela Hantuchova--Hantuchova worked hard to get back into the top 10, and she enters Melbourne with nothing much to lose. Look for her to be a dangerous competitor.
Li Na--Since she was out for months last year, it is with some surprise that I put her on this list, but her win at Gold Coast says she is back, and we should keep an eye out for her.
Lucie Safarova--Not the most consistent of players, Safarova is nevertheless capable of playing some first-rate tennis. Her Wimbledon match against Jankovic was a stunner.
Tatiana Golovin--With much improved fitness and strategy, Golovin may finally live up to the reputation she gained when she made her first big breakthrough at age 17. Another breakthrough could occur this year.
Shahar Peer--Peer has inconsistency problems, too, but she tends to be tough, and her matches are rarely boring.
OPENING ROUNDS WORTH WATCHING
Of course, we do not know the makeup of many opening rounds because they involve qualifiers, but of the ones we do know, these are notable:
Emilie Loit v. Francesca Schiavone: This match should have entertainment value.
Kateryna Bondarenko v. Aravane Rezai: Rezai recently made it the finals of the ASB Classic, beating Katerina Srebotnik along the way. Bondarenko has been running hot and cold, but this has the makings of a good match.
Jelena Jankovic v. Tamira Paszek: This has the makings of either a dud or a thriller. The talented young Paszek could give a shaky Jankovic trouble, but more likely, a prepared Jankovic will will take care of business.
Dominika Cibulkova v. Flavia Pennetta: Pennetta is high on the comeback trail, and Cibulkova is a player I am watching closely.
Kaia Kanepi v. Alicia Molik: I think Molik is now strong enough in her comeback to get past Kanepi, but it may not be easy for her.
Caroline Wozniacki v. Gisela Dulko: I like Dulko for this, but she retired in the middle of her first round in Hobart because of a hip injury she sustained while playing in the Hopman Cup. As of three days ago, it had not healed. Wozniacki can rise to the occasion, and if Dulko is still hurting, the Danish player could take her out.
Tathiana Garbin v. Eleni Daniilidou: Daniilidou, who just emerged the winner at Hobart, is having a good season opening, and one would expect this to be a good match.
Meilen Tu v. Maria Kirilenko: This is worth watching because Tu is one of those players who, once in a while, likes to take down somebody with a decent ranking.
Nadia Petrova v. Nicole Pratt: This match is bound to be entertaining, and no one should be too shocked if Pratt, with little to lose, overcomes the troubled Petrova, though I do suspect the Russian to get to at least the second round.
As we learn which qualifiers play whom, I'll post more interesting first round matches.
In the meantime, everyone is getting ready for the second round because--unless something goes very wrong--that round will feature a match between Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport. It is a real shame for Davenport that she has to meet Sharapova in such an early round. Anything could happen.
A lot has happened since the summer of 2004. Sharapova won the Sony Ericsson Championships that November, giving her even more momentum, but then failed to win a major the next year. She capped a successful 2006, however, with a brilliant run—and win—at the U.S. Open. 2007 should have been a great year for her, but a shoulder injury kept her off the courts for a long time, and when she did return, it was with a weak shoulder and equally weakened confidence. To make matters worse, she also had to fight a recurring hamstring injury. When Agnieszka Radwanska dismissed her from the U.S. Open, people began predicting her demise.
Sharapova is not the fastest mover on the court, and she would probably like to spend her entire career away from the net. The same could be said of Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport, and they managed quite well, thank you. When Sharapova-worshipper and ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez goes on and on about the Russian player’s long list of talents, she usually includes “work ethic” as one of them. On that point, Fernandez and I agree completely. I don’t kjnow if anyone on the tour works harder than Sharapova. When she realized how relatively slow she was, she began doing constant foot drills. When she hurt her shoulder, she modified her serve. When she realized that players like Justine Henin were not going to go away, she began going to the net more, and doing it rather well. She ended the 2007 season as the loser in a glorious 3 1/2 hour match against Henin. She had barely prepared for it, and by the third set, she was almost too tired to stand up, but she stayed to the end.
That match turned heads. If Sharapova, with minimal preparation, could keep Henin on the court for 3 ½ hours, maybe she was ready to return to the highest rung of women’s tennis. It won’t be easy for her. As a result of her shoulder injury, Sharapova now has bursitis, and she has to have constant preventive treatment for it. Even with this treatment, it is bound to flare up now and then. She is still not one of the tour’s better movers, but her volleying has improved, and—with her new service motion—she is once again hitting the kinds of serves that are either aces or very hard to return successfully. Prior to being injujred, Sharapova had the best second serve on the tour, and I predict that that will come back, too.
Can she win a Slam in 2008? I think she can, and I’m pretty sure she thinks she can. And given the importance of belief in tennis, there is a good chance that Maria Sharapova may strain her bad shoulder holding up a large trophy before the year is over.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
But wait...there's more...one of Mirza's doctors has received the following threat note:
Dont treat Sania. She is getting injured because god does not want her to play as she was bringing bad name to the religion. Please don’t treat her or else you will face serious consequences. We will not hesitate to harm you. Please pay attention to the letters otherwise it should be very harmful for you.What next? The Indian star, simply by being herself, creates ongoing controversy in her country. There is really no way that all of this drama cannot affect Mirza's tennis game. This season, she has already failed to show the promise she displayed when she returned from her long injury layoff in 2007.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
It's also Jelena Dokic, who now does not have to worry about whether to stay in Hobart or go to Melbourne. She retired with an ankle sprain during the first set of her second round match against Flavia Pennetta.
Monday, January 7, 2008
2007 Family Circle Cup champion Jelena Jankovic and 2003 and 2005 champion Justine Henin have entered the 2008 event, to be held in April on Daniel Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.
The Family Circle Cup is the oldest all-women's tennis tournament in the U.S., and one of only two clay events in the country. The green clay plays a bit faster than the European red clay, but if you like clay court tennis, the Tier I Family Circle Cup offers plenty of it. This is an exceptionally well-run tournament, with lots of player access and a very lovely and comfortable environment.
The Family Circle Cup was the first U.S. tournament Justine Henin won, in 2003. She could not attend in 2004 because of her virus, and in 2005, she was taken out in the semifinals by Patty Schnyder, who is the hands-down favorite in Charleston every year (she has been a finalist twice, once after mowing down all the top seeds). Last year, Henin had to withdraw because of respiratory problems.
Jankovic did not do well at all at the Family Circle Cup until her breakthrough year last year. She beat Venus Williams in a hard-fought semifinal, then skillfully weathered a torrential storm with very high winds (the final was almost canceled) to defeat Dinara Safina and win the tournament.
The 2007 doubles champions were Yan Zi and Zheng Jie, who defeated Peng Shuai and Tiantian Sun in the final.
Last year's scheduled line-up included not only Henin and Jankovic, but Mauresmo, Hingis, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, and Serena Williams. Not only did Henin withdraw, but so did Mauresmo (appendicitis) and Sharapova (shoulder and hamstring). At the last minute, Hingis and Kuznetsova also had to withdraw because of injury, and Serena Williams retired in the first set of her first match. To make matters worse, Schnyder, facing a sudden turn in the weather, made her exit in the second round. It could have been a disaster, but there were still plenty of good players--Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Safina, Vera Zvonareva, Sybille Bammer, and a very exciting wild card in the form of Michaella Krajicek.
Zvonareva's wrist injury, which took her off the tour for a long time, occurred in Charleston, and the tournament staff--to compensate for the let-down of a couple of cancelled matches (singles and doubles)--put together a doubles "exhibition" match that was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Gisela Dulko, Flavia Pennetta, Liezel Huber, Katerina Srebotnik, and umpire Lynn Welch put on a show that made me ache, I laughed so hard for so long. My only regret is that no one at the tournament thought to videotape it.
This will be my fourth year to attend the Family Circle Cup, and I am excited about it. Someone I know called it the most fan-friendly sports event she had ever attended, and that does not surprise me.
I do not understand the logic in not giving Dokic a wild card (by that, I mean a real wild card, not this "you have to earn it" business). It seems that if anyone should be given one, it is she, but what do I know?