Thursday, April 30, 2009

Top seed Medina Garrigues squeaks by in Fes

Lourdes Dominguez Lino took Anabel Medina Garrigues to the edge today in Fes, but the top seed was victorious, 7-6, 7-6.

Melinda Czink defeated Lucie Hradecka, 6th seed Ekaterina Makarova defeated Marta Domachowska, and 2nd seed Alisa Kleybanova defeated Polona Hercog.

Jankovic wins thriller in Stuttgart

I was not able to tune into this match until it was 5-all in the first set, and I had to stop watching it at 3-all in the third (work keeps getting in the way of my tennis viewing). Needless to say, I was very disappointed to have to leave the screen, for this match was as exciting as I had expected it to be. Both players took advantage of every break point afforded them; Jelena Jankovic broke five times, and wild card Sabine Lisicki broke four. It was thrilling, at times, to see the angles created by both players, and it was impressive to see how far Jankovic has come since the beginning of the season. She won this match--7-5, 5-7, 6-3--with the crowd solidly behind her opponent, and her opponent has plenty of which to be proud.

Top seed Dinara Safina defeated Daniela Hantuchova, 6-4, 6-2. Hantuchova had won their last three contests, though Safina had won the only other time they played on clay. Second seed Elena Dementieva defeated Agnes Szavay 7-6, 6-1, Agnieszka Radwanska defeated qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova 6-3, 6-3, and Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

There were also two upsets. Flavia Pennetta, who is obviously turning her season around, upset 6th seed Nadia Petrova 6-2, 6-2, and Marion Bartoli upset 7th seed Caroline Wozniacki, 7-6, 6-4. This means, of course, that Wozniacki and Dementieva will not meet in Stuttgart. Wozniacki defeated Dementieva in both Miami and Charleston.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three upsets today in Fes

Melinda Czink, moving forward with her best season to date, defeated 3rd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, today in Fes. Polona Hercog upset 7th seed and Barcelona champion Roberta Vinci, and Lucie Hradecka upset 8th seed Shahar Peer.

Also, Marta Domachowska defeated lucky loser Eva Fernandez-Brugues, and advanced to the third round. And Klara Zakopalova took top seed Anabel Medina Garrigues to three sets, but Medina Garrigues prevailed.

Dulko takes Azarenka out of Porsche Tennis Grand Prix

No player on the tour runs more hot and cold than Gisela Dulko. When she's hot (meaning, when she brings her good serve) and playing on clay, she can cause major problems for higher-ranked players. Victoria Azarenka found that out today in Stuttgart, where Dulko, putting a great deal of spin on almost every ball she struck, broke the 2nd seed six times to win their second round match 6-4, 6-3.

Dulko hits the ball much harder than her small frame would indicate, and she knows her way around a clay court. She is another player who, in my opinion, should be ranked higher than she is, but her inconsistency keeps her hovering in the 30s and 40s. She is currently ranked number 34 in the world.

Patty Schnyder, a player who has not been bringing her best serve to her matches lately, did much better in that department today, and played a good match against Sabine Lisicki; however, Lisicki defeated her, 6-4, 6-3.

Meanwhile, Jelena Jankovic pretty much ran over Dominika Cibulkova, breaking her five times, and never giving Cibulkova a break opportunity. Cibulkova's thigh was heavily strapped, and she took a medical time-out during the match, which Jankovic won, 6-1, 6-1.

Both Flavia Pennetta and Daniela Hantuchova repeated their Fed Cup wins over Anna Chakvetadze and Alize Cornet, and repeated them with similar scorelines.

All of the above matches were first round contests except for the Dulko-Azarenka match, which took place in the second round.

The other big upset today was in doubles. 2nd seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama were defeated, 4-6, 6-2, 10-7, by Abigail Spears and Sun Tiantian.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

U.S. French Open wild card competition draw

Thanks to Zoo Tennis, I found the first round draw for the U.S. French Open wild card competition in Florida:

Kristie Ahn (1)--Bye
Stacey Tan vs. Beatrice Capra
Coco Vandewegh--Bye
Madison Keys vs. Lauren Embree
Sloane Stephens--Bye
Gail Brodsky--Bye
Nicole Gibbs vs. Asia Muhammad
Christina McHale--Bye

Sharapova withdraws from Rome and Madrid

No surprise, but not much to like, either.

Groenefeld and Schnyder upset in Stuttgart

There was only one upset today in Stuttgart, and it was in doubles. The unseeded team of Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova defeated 4th seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Patty Schnyder, 6-0, 6-4. Earlier in the day, Benesova lost a close match to 7th seed Caroline Wozniacki in singles, and Groenefeld lost a three-setter to Elena Dementieva.

Top seed Dinara Safina introduced herself by allowing her opponent, Sara Errani, to win only one game.

Monday, April 27, 2009

11 players to compete for French Open wild card

Eleven U.S. players will compete in a knock-out tournament in Boca Raton, April 29-May 2, the winner of which will receive a wild card to the main draw of the French Open. The entrants are:

Kristie Ahn
Gale Brodsky
Beatrice Capra
Lauren Embree
Nicole Gibbs
Madison Keys
Christina McHale
Asia Muhammad
Sloane Stephens
Stacey Tan
Coco Vandewegh

McHale won the wild card tournment for the Australian Open wild card.

Kirilenko upset first day in Fes

4th seed Maria Kirilenko was defeated in the first round in Fes today by Marta Domachowska. Domachowska, as readers of this blog know, is a player I consider to be a major under-achiever on the tour. She is capable of playing some very solid tennis, but has trouble stringing together victories. Her next opponent will be either Petra Cetkovska or Eva Fernandez-Brugues.

Retro fashion

I didn't have time to post these from the Family Circle Cup, but here are Liga Dekmeijere and Elena Vesnina wearing retro tennis clothes I like. How often do we see a tennis sweater these days?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some final notes on Fed Cup

Yanina Wickmayer has shown before that she is one of those playes who rises to the occasion when the occason is Fed Cup. She did it again this weekend, defeating both Aleksandra Wozniak and Stephanie Dubois. Wickmayer also teamed with Kirsten Flipkens to defeat Canada in doubles and give Belgium a World Group II play-off win.

Stefanie Voegele, who played for Switzerland's Fed Cup team this weekend, is coached by Melanie Molitor. Voegele lost both of her matches--no surprise--to Jelena Dokic and Samantha Stosur. Australia won the play-off, 3-1.

Estonia won its play-off against Israel, and Poland won against Japan.

Fed Cup had some real stars this weekend, the chief among them being Francesca Schiavone, of course. And though little has been said of it, Amelie Mauresmo saved France from dropping out of the World Group. Then there was Alexa Glatch, who--making her Fed Cup debut--won both of her singles matches easily.

USA Captain Mary Joe Fenandez is still hopeful that at least one of the Williams sisters will join her team for the World Group final against Italy. The USA is currently coping fairly well without a Williams sister, though it would be nice to have one. The final will be held November 7 and 8 in Italy.

Mauresmo takes France to Fed Cup play-off win

France defeated the Slovak Republic in their Fed Cup play-off this weekend, with a lot of help from Amelie Mauresmo, who won both her singles matches and her doubles match. Mauresmo defeated Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova in singles, then teamed with doubles expert Nathalie Dechy to defeat Cibulkova and Hantuchova in the deciding rubber. Because of this win, France stays in the World Group.

Spain, a Fed Cup anchor, lost 0-4 to Serbia this weekend. The score might have been slightly less dismal, but the doubles match was suspended after a set (won by Spain) and one game. The rubber was labeled "Played and abandoned," a phrase I've neve seen before with regard to a tennis match, but which brings forth all manner of images that have nothing to do with tennis.

Germany defeated China 3-2, in one of the more closely contested World Group contests. Li Na had to withdraw from Fed Cup, but China still had two excellent singles players is Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai, and three good doubles players in Zheng, Peng and Sun Tiantian. Charleston champion Sabine Lisicki defeated Zheng, and Zheng defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld. Groenefeld, in turn, defeated Peng, and Peng then won her match against Tajana Malek. The German team of Groenefeld and Lisicki won the doubles rubber against Zheng and Peng.

Argentina lost 0-5 to Ukraine. Gisela Dulko, Argentina's only really good player, decided not to play in this Fed Cup play-off, and the country's next-best player, Betina Jozami, had to withdraw because of injury. Led by Alona Bondarenko, the Ukraine team--which also included Mariya Koryttseva and Olga Savchuk (Kateryna Bondarenko had to withdraw because of injury)--is now part of the World Group.

USA pulls thrilling comeback to defeat Czech Republic in Fed Cup semifinal

With two singles wins apiece, the USA and the Czech Republic played a deciding doubles rubber today in their Fed Cup semifinal, and for the first two-thirds of the match, it looked as though the Czech Republic was going to run away with the victory. Iveta Benesova's expert serving and Kveta Peschke's mighty forehand and great net play gave the Czech Republic an easy first-set win of 6-2. The second set went just as well for them until they had a match point on the USA's serve, at 2-5. Peschke missed an easy second serve return, and this error was essentially the end of her run. She was nothing but a mass of errors after that, and her demise did nothing to help the always-fragile Benesova.

About the time Peschke melted down, Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the USA appeared to come out of a sleep, and to play the kind of aggressive doubles tennis of which she is capable. This sparked Liezel Huber, who also began to look more like herself. The USA, after holding at 3-5, then broke the Czech team when they served for the match. They were then able to take the set to a tiebreak, which they won. The third set was all USA, with Peschke and Benesova reduced to shadows of the players they were earlier in the match. With a 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 win, the team took the USA to the Fed Cup final for the first time since 2003.

Emerging as the star of this Fed Cup semifinal, however, was Alexa Glatch, whom captain Mary Joe Fernandez chose because of her expertise on fast courts. Glatch--who had never before played in Fed Cup competition--won both of her singles matches, and won them quite easily, allowing both of her opponents, combined, to win a total of only six games.

Italy goes to Fed Cup final with 4-1 win over Russia

Not long before the Fed Cup semifinals began, there was talk of an easy win by Russia and of weak and non-competitive Italian players. I found that amusing, given that Flavia Pennetta--despite having a poor season, so far--is a top player on clay and hard courts, and that Francesca Schiavone is possibly the best Fed Cup competitor in the world. My amusement has now expanded, for it is Italy, not defending champion Russia, who goes to the 2009 Fed Cup final.

Certainly, it is always a reasonable prediction that Russia will reach the final; the phenomenal Russian team has reached the final--and won it--so many times. But it is not reasonable to think that anyone will run over Italy.

Going into today with a 2-0 lead, Italy dropped a rubber when Svetlana Kuznetsova handily defeated Pennetta, 6-0, 6-3. But then Schiavone defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6, 4-6, 6-2. Her win sealed Italy's place in the November final.

In the doubles rubber, Italy defeated Russia 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. The winning team members were Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci; Pavlyuchenkova and Nadia Petrova played for Russia.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

USA and Czech Republic tie on first day of Fed Cup

Petra Kvitova won today's first Fed Cup rubber for the Czech Republic, 6-3, 7-6, against Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the USA. The USA evened the score, however, when Alexa Glatch all but ran over Iveta Benesova, 6-1, 6-2. Glatch's serve allowed her to dictate play from the moment the match began.

In the other semifinal, Italy went 2-0 against Russia today. Here are the other major scores, as of today:

Spain--0, Serbia--2
Germany--2, China--0
France--1, Slovak Republic--1
Argentina--0, Ukraine--2

See the Fed Cup website for additional scores.

Italy 2-0 against defending champion in Fed Cup

My two favorite Fed Cup teams are Italy and Spain because they put everything they have into the competition. Today, after her three-set win over Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti said of Francesca Schiavone, "Francesca is a player made for this competition."

Schiavone--possibly the most exciting player in all Fed Cup competition--defeated Kuznetsova 1-6, 6-2, 6-3. Earlier in the day, Flavia Pennetta picked up a surprisingly poor season by defeating Anna Chakvtadze 6-4, 6-0.

Pennetta is now scheduled to play Kuznetsova, and Schiavone is scheduled to play Chakvetadze, but don't be surprised if Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev substitutes another player for Chakvetadze. He has both Nadia Petrova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova available. The two of them, in fact, are scheduled to play doubles against Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has replaced the injured Vera Zvonareva on Russia's Fed Cup team.

Liezel Huber finds it amusing and "clever" that her father pretended to be physically handicapped in order to skip the long voting line in his South African voting district.

TennisInfoBlog has added some new childhood photos of Dinara Safina.

On Tennis Channel's website, you can read an excerpt from Monica Seles' new book, Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self.

Tennis Live Radio is still not back on the air. "Several factors" are referred to as causing the delay.

Friday cat blogging--relaxing with literature edition

Tarzan rarely gets on the chaise, but here he is, snuggled up with my Algonquin Hotel Round Table throw and some books and literary journals

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fed Cup news

Fed Cup semifinals and play-offs take place all over the world this weekend. In the semifinals, Italy will play defending champion Russia, and the USA will play the Czech Republic. Vera Zvonareva, however, is no longer on the Russian team because of the injury she sustained in Charleston last week.

The Chinese team has lost Li Na, who is continuing to have problems with her knee. She has been replaced by Peng Shuai in China's play-off against Germany.

Making her first Fed Cup appearance this weekend is Michelle Larcher de Brito. Bethanie Mattek-Sands will also be making her first appearance for the USA.

Italy will have both the home court and the clay court advantage in the semifinal against Russia. The Czech Republic vs. USA semifinal will take place in the Czech Republic on an indoor hard court.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Lisicki watch has begun

Sabine Lisicki's Family Circle Cup win has a lot of people in the tennis world buzzing. It wasn't just what she did--winning as the 16th seed--but how she did it. Never dropping a set and rarely having her own serve broken, Lisicki made it look so easy.

I've had my eye on her for a while, as readers of this blog know. Even as late as the end of last season, I was frustrated by Lisicki's poor strategy-to-hitting talent ratio. I observed more than once that if she ever began to use her head as well as her hands and feet, she could be a threat. What I saw in Charleston was a revelation--Lisicki had figured out the delicate moves as well as the aggressive ones, and she had figured out how to take control of matches.

On her way to Charleston, the 19-year-old remarked to her mother that she hoped the draw was such that she would play Venus Williams because she thought she could beat her. She was right about that. Lisicki came from behind in both sets to overtake Williams in the third round.

I regret that I saw only a small portion of Lisicki's first round match against Marie-Eve Pelletier. I was busy trying to watch several matches at once, so I let that one go after half a set. Pelletier lost with a very respectable scoreline--7-5, 6-4. I did watch Lisicki's second round match against Lenka Wienerova, one of three players who impressed me very much at this year's Family Circle Cup (the others being Lisicki and Melanie Oudin). Wienerova gave Lisicki a lot of trouble, but Lisicki prevailed, 6-4, 6-3, in a very well-played match. Wienerova was quite dejected after the match, but she may have eventually come to feel a bit better, given the outcome of the tournament.

Lisicki's next opponent, of course, was Williams, and even when the 16th seed was behind, I had the feeling she was going to get herself out of trouble--there was just something so dominating about her play. After defeating Williams, Lisicki had to face the very tough Elena Vesnina. But Vesnina's level of play came down significantly during the quarterfinals, while Lisicki's went up. That level continued to go up when she played Marion Bartoli, and the German's momentum all but exploded in the final against Caroline Wozniacki.

Much is made of Lisicki's speedy serves, but many of her serves are not speedy at all--they are just tricky. She makes very good use of the drop shot, and her returns are Jankovic-like in that they frequently allow her to come from a defensive position and take control of a rally. According to Toby Keel, both Virginia Wade and Stan Smith have picked her to be a star, and Simon Reed is calling her "the real deal."

A few days into the Family Circle Cup, I had a brief chat with Lisicki, who--for me, at least--was ubiquitous on the grounds. I commented on how much she had added to her game in such a short time. "Really?" she glowed. "Do you think so?" She continued to glow for the remainder of the tournament, and--after she won it--asked to have her photo taken in front of the banner depicting former Charleston champion Jennifer Capriati. Next year, Lisicki's own likeness will be on a giant banner outside the stadium. By then, I think a lot more people will know who she is.

Update on Vera Zvonareva

The good (I guess) news: She has been signed by IMG.

The other news: Her doctors have declared that she will be out from two to twelve weeks with the ankle injury. The precision of this estimate leaves a lot to be desired, but it's all we have.

2009 clay court season action hard to predict

Last year's clay court season saw the continued rise of Jelena Jankovic, the major breakthrough of Ana Ivanovic, and the stunning run of Dinara Safina, whom I nicknamed "Thrill Ride" for her repeated ability to come from behind at the last moments of a match. Those three were clearly the leaders on clay, surpassing talented clay veterans like Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva.

One would think that, this year, we would be wondering who of those three is going to win the most clay titles, and who among them is going to win the French Open. But things have changed. All three women are still top clay contenders, to be sure, but not in the way they were last year--at least not at this moment. Ivanovic continues to struggle with her serve and her consistency, Jankovic is trying to reverse an off-season training disaster, and Safina has returned to head case status.

Of course, at any moment, one (or more) of these three players could repair what is wrong in her game and once again set herself on a serious clay court title track:

Jankovic recently won a small red clay tournament in Spain, which should give her some badly needed confidence. Her newly bulked-up body has betrayed her, prohibiting her movement--and movement is one of Jankovic's finest qualities. Getting that superior movement back is the key to Jankovic's success on clay (and every other surface) this year.

But restoring her superior court movement will not solve all of Jankovic's problems. Almost exactly a year ago, Jankovic began to serve better--sometimes a lot better. Her second serve was still weak, but her first serve was much better. But as the months have passed, the improved serve has often gone away, leaving her, once again, with a service game that is dramatically lower in quality than the rest of her tennis. Jankovic has won some big titles, but her athletic and intelligent game--so far--has been a fine-tune or two below what it needs to be to win a major.

No such problem for Ivanovic--she has won a major. The 2008 French Open champion--and the finalist in 2007--has prevailed under pressure, though she has won only two clay surface titles. Ivanovic, like other top players, has seen her anxiety leak into her serve. Ball toss problems have plagued her for a while now, and she will have to steady her nerves in order to be a big winner this clay court season.

The last thing Safina needed was more pressure, but here she is, number 1 in the world, and all most of us can think about is her dismal performance in the final of the Australian Open. It's safe to say that she, too, thinks about it, and she will need to do some serious head work to put it--and her 2009 season, so far--behind her. Can she do it? Safina is a very fine clay player who--despite her talent--can double-fault her way to a loss.

Jankovic, Ivanovic and Safina are not the only players who entered this year's clay court season as possible big winners. We are only a few tournaments into the season, and the twists and turns have already begun:

For Vera Zvonareva, the twist and turn was literal. Shortly after she began the first set of her third round match in Charleston last week, Zvonareva reached to make a return, got her foot caught in the clay, then fell and twisted her ankle. She now has two torn ligaments, and her clay season is most likely destroyed. This occurrence is extremely unfortunate. I and many others picked Zvonareva to be a big winner on clay this year--I thought she would win Charleston, in fact--and now she is walking on crutches.

Victoria Azarenka won Miami. The Sony Ericsson Open isn't a clay tournament, but the win was a whopping breakthrough for Azarenka, who also happens to play well on clay.

Amelie Mauresmo, now that she has won a 2009 title, could make a nice run in Europe, where she has had much past success.

Caroline Wozniacki just missed winning the U.S. green clay tournaments back-to-back. She won Ponte Vedra Beach, and was the finalist in Charleston.

Sabine Lisicki made a spirited and efficient run through Charleston, never dropping a set, and won the title.

And then there is Serena Williams. Williams has a leg injury, so it is hard to predict how she will do in the coming weeks. The defending champion withdrew from Charleston, and is not scheduled to play in Stuttgart next week. If her injury heals, she is always a threat.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Dinara Safina is now number 1 in the world.

Speaking of rankings, Anabel Medina Garrigues now holds a career-high ranking of number 18 in the world.

Though it is hardly a surprise, Jelena Dokic has withdrawn from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams have been nominated for 2009 Laureus World Sports Awards. Ivanovic is nominated in the Breakthrough of the Year category, and Williams is nominated for Sportswoman of the Year.

Peter Bodo has some nice things to say about new Charleston champion Sabine Lisicki.

We missed Sam Stosur in Charleston this (and last) year. According to her website, she is relaxing at home, practicing in Brisbane, and even made an appearance Friday night on Titans TV.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Vinci wins in Barcelona

Unseeded Roberta Vinci allowed her opponent, Maria Kirilenko, to win only four games in the final at the Barcelona Ladies Open today. She defeated the sixth seed 6-0, 6-4 to take the championship.

Vinci began her path to the championship with a close win (6-4, 7-6) over Pauline Parmentier in the first round, then ran over second seed Flavia Pennetta in the second round. She then beat Anastasiya Yakimova in straight sets in the quarterfinals. In her semifinal match, Vinci lost the first set 0-6 to countrywoman Francesca Schiavone, then took the remaining sets, 7-6, 6-4.

This is Vinci's second Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title.

In the doubles semifinal, Vinci played with Schiavone, but they were easily defeated by top seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 6-1, 6-1. Llagostera Vives and Martinez Sanchez went on to win the championship, defeating Sorana Cirstea and Andreja Klepac, 3-6, 6-2, 10-8.

Sabine Lisicki finally breaks through

Sabine Lisicki, the 19-year-old German whose first and second names were routinely mispronounced by almost everyone who spoke them throughout the Family Circle Cup tournament, is not a stranger to some of us. Known as the player who beat Lindsay Davenport in a Fed Cup match, Dinara Safina at the 2008 Australian Open, and Anna Chakvetadze last year in Miami--Lisicki has matured considerably as a player in the last several months.

Only three months ago, I wrote that Lisicki needed to learn how to think and hit the ball at the same time. She had ball-bashing down, but needed touch and strategy. She has them now. And she has confidence, something she apparently lacked before, when she would lose every match that followed a big win.

The affable German, who is coached by her father, put on a serving clinic during this year's Family Circle Cup, hitting a total of 36 aces during her six-match championship run. Some were speedy, some were soft and tricky. Her serve was broken only eleven times during her week in Charleston. With tour players having so much trouble with their serves these days, someone like Lisicki is in a good position to move up nicely in the rankings.

But there is more to Lisicki than her serve. Her forehand and backhand down the line are excellent, and her movement is deceptively good. It is rare for a player to win her first tournament at a big affair like the Family Circle Cup, but about halfway through the week, we would see Lisicki walk by and one of us would say "She's going to the final." She was that good, and she was that confident. She made a lot of fans this week, and will probably make a lot more this season.

Lisicki serves Danish for Sunday brunch in Charleston

In the most remarkable run to the championship in recent Family Circle Cup history, 16th-seeded Sabine Lisicki claimed the title today without dropping a set the entire tournament. The German serving machine hit nine aces in the championship match--one as fast as 125 mph. and one as slow as 71 mph.

In the very first point of the match, Lisicki and her opponent--Caroline Wozniacki--traded drop shots. Lisicki broke, then hit an ace immediately in her first service game. It wasn't long before she hit a forehand down the line to claim the first set, 6-2.

Wozniacki lifted her level in the next set, holding at love right away. She then went down 2-4, however, but Lisicki hit two failed drop shots, after having success with drop shots throughout most of the tournament. Wozniacki struggled to stay in the match at 3-5, but elevated her service game to go up 4-5.

In her final service game, the occasion finally got to Lisicki, who had cruised through the tournament with confidence to spare. It took her six match points to win the championship, and the last game was the most thrilling of the entire match. Lisicki wound up with a first serve win percentage of 86, a second serve win percentage of 46, and 25 groundstroke winners. She was never broken by Wozniacki. Lisicki is the lowest seed ever to win in Charleston, though unseeded players have won the tournament twice.

Mattek-Sands and Petrova win Family Circle Cup

In the first half of the first set of the doubles final in Charleston today, a lot of errors were made by both teams, but both teams managed to hold serve. Even serving at 3-4, 0-40, Nadia Petrova managed to hold serve. At that point, the quality of serving increased significantly among all four players, and the set went to a tiebreak, which Liga Dekmeijere and Patty Schnyder won on their first set point with a volley from Schnyder.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Petrova went up an early break in the second set, then held for 3-0. Down 0-3 and at deuce, Schnyder got her team on the board with a quality serve, then used a touch volley to get her team to 2-4. Mattek-Sands and Petrova were controlling most of the rallies, though, and they took the second set 6-2.

The super tiebreak appeared to be all about Dekmeijere and Schnyder, who went up 5-1 right away. But at 9-6, with the championship on their racquets, they watched Mattek-Sands and Petrova save three match points, then win the tiebreak 11-9.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wozniacki wins 3-hour thriller in Charleston

Up until today, the 2009 Family Circle Cup had produced only one true thriller--a tension-filled second round match between Patty Schnyder and Elena Vesnina. For a set and a half today, it certainly didn't look as though the semifinal between Elena Dementieva and Caroline Wozniacki was going to become the second one. But that's exactly what happened when Wozniacki tried twice to close the match, and failed both times.

The first six games of the first set went to deuce, with Wozniacki serving badly. Dementieva was so lackluster, however, and her backhand so disabled, that Wozniacki managed to go up 5-2. When she served for the set, she was broken. When Dementieva served at 3-5, 15-0, Wozniacki slid out to get a ball and fell, in just about the same spot where Vera Zvonareva took her terrible fall and where Venus Williams fell twice. She got up, wiped the clay off her body, and returned to the court, where she went up 5-4 and held at love to take the set.

In the second set, Wozniacki again went up 5-2, but when she served for the match, she was broken at love. Dementieva--suddenly showing signs of life--then saved three match points on her own serve, and held. Wozniacki then served for the match again, and was broken again, this time committing two double faults in one game. She then threw her racquet down in disgust, and wound up getting broken at love at 5-6, which gave the second set to Dementieva.

By this time, it was obvious that Wozniacki had become unraveled, and that Dementieva had turned on the winning switch we have all seen her turn on from time to time. But after having won five straight games and seeing her opponent demoralized, Dementieva did not have such an easy time of it in the next set. At 3-all, she was broken, but then broke Wozniacki back at love. At 5-all, 0-30, Dementieva returned a lob with what looked to be a stunning over-the-shoulder volley, but it went wide, and she was then broken at love, and knocked out of the semifinals.

It is difficult to fathom how Dementieva, who made such a stunning comeback in the second set, could lose so much ground in the third, especially when she had so much momentum. Credit has to go to Wozniacki, who--although she was a mental mess in the second set--put it behind her and went on to dig out a win.

Lisicki goes to Family Circle Cup final

Just like when she played Melinda Czink in the quarterfinals, Marion Bartoli had little trouble getting her first serve in in today's Charleston semifinal match against Sabine Lisicki. But today's first serve was not yesterday's. It lacked both the crack and the precision, and presented little trouble for Lisicki, who spent the next hour serving aces, smacking winners down the line, hitting drop shots and drop volleys, and generally frustrating Bartoli at every turn. Lisicki won, 6-3, 6-1, and will play Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

Charleston doubles finals set

Top seeds Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond were knocked out of the Family Circle Cup today by the 4th seeds, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova. Mattek-Sands and Petrova served for the first set at 5-3 and were broken. They regained their momentum, but then Petrova's serve left her, so they had to go to 7-5 to win the set. In the next set, Pesschke and Raymond served very well. At 3-1, however, they were down 0-30, yet managed to regroup and go up 4-1. Mattek-Sands and Petrova managed to save a couple of break points in the next game, but the break occurred, anyway, during the deciding point, when Mattek-Sands hit a return wide. Peschke and Raymond took the second set 6-1. The momentum switched again in the super tiebreak, however, which Mattek-Sands and Petrova won, 10-6.

One might even say that the shot of the day took place in this match. Petrova, needing to get a ball coming over the net back to a ballkid, volleyed it across the court with the tip of her visor.

If Patty Schnyder had served against Elena Vesnina the way she served against 3rd seeds Peng Shuai and Yan Zi, she would have had a shot at Sabine Lisicki in the third round. In the first set of Peng's and Yan's doubles semifinal against the unseeded Schnyder and Liga Dekmeijere, Dekmeijere and Schnyder went to a 2-0 lead right away, but were quickly overtaken by the Chinese players, largely because Dekmeijere virtually disapppeared from play in any meaningful way.

But in the second round, Dekmeijere made a significant comeback both in volleying and in playing the rear of the court, while Schnyder served up a storm (as she is always capable of doing), and sent some Schnyder razzle-dazzle over the net--lobbing and spinning and dropping the ball to the delight of the crowd. At one point, she hit a spinning drop volley so close over the net, she looked over her shoulder and down in mock concern--just checking. She and Dekmeijere did what players have to do to win over Peng and Yan (or any of their collective partners)--they kept them away from the net as much as possible.

Dekmeijere and Schnyder won, 2-6, 6-3, 10-8. They went up 5-1 in the super tiebreak, but Peng and Yan caught up, and it was thrillingly close right to the end.

Quote of the day

"I really don't care about strategy right now!"
Sabine Lisicki, when asked--right after her semifinal victory--what her strategy would be against Caroline Wozniacki in the final

Family Circle Cup, day 6--in and around the grounds

The younger players who won titles in the SMASH Junior Cup were given their awards this afternoon in the stadium, and Murphy Jensen should get some kind of special sexism award. As each of the boys received his award, Jensen shouted "New tradition! Take a victory lap!" and each boy ran around the stadium. When he got to the female winner, he said "Only guys take victory laps--you can curtsey, like at Wimbledon." I wanted so badly for the little girl to take off on a run around the stadium, but she did what she was told.

Mary Joe Fernandez and Cliff Drysdale once again set up a broadcasting booth outside the stadium, and did some serious tennis player name mispronouncing for ESPN. I don't think they got one name right. The Family Circle Cup tournament announcer got most of the names right last year, but didn't do as well this year. Still, he did better than most.

Tennis fans and tennis writers everywhere are talking about the many injuries that have plagued this year's Cup--Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka both withdrew right before the tournament began. Tamira Paszek hurt her hand, Vera Zvonareva fell and tore two ligaments in her ankle, Chuang Chia-Jung hurt her shoulder and retired from a doubles match, and Dominika Cibulkova retired in her quarterfinal match because of a back injury.

But it wasn't just the players who got injured. When we arrived at the tournament this morning, there was an ambulance ahead of us, ready to pick up someone from a court. At first, I thought that a practicing player was injured, but I think it was a local player who was using the court. And in the middle of the semifinal between Elena Dementieva and Caroline Wozniacki, play had to be stopped because a fan in the stands was injured and had to be taken out on a stretcher.

"...only so many questions...Pam Shriver could ask about injuries and marsh views"

The Post and Courier's Brian Hicks writes about the many withdrawals and retirements in Charleston this week. The gist of his comments? Something I already predicted we'd be saying for a long time: "Thanks, Larry Scott."

Confirmed: Zvonareva has two torn ligaments

Coach Sam Sumyk watches Vera Zvonareva hit in the Family Circle Cup stadium

We had picked Zvonareva to win the tournament; she was able to play only one match

Vera Zvonareva, walking on crutches, checked out of the hotel this morning. Her coach, Sam Sumyk, confirmed that her ankle injury involves two torn ligaments--one a full tear, and the other a partial tear. He also said that she was in a lot of pain.

Zvonareva was picked to compete on Russia's Fed Cup team in the upcoming tie against Italy, so someone will be named soon to take her place.

Bartoli goes to Charleston semifinals with win over Czink

Winning with 82% of her first serves in the day's last quarterfinal in Charleston, Marion Bartoli made it tough for Melinda Czink to make an impact. In the first set, which Bartoli took, 6-4, the Frenchwoman demonstrated a very effective first serve, which neutralized the problems she was having with her second serve. In the second set, she was highly successful with both serves. She also stayed busy exploiting Czink's unstable backhand, which produced error after error for the woman who--just the day before--had taken out 4th seed Nadia Petrova.

Czink had forehand issues, too, often making late impact with the ball. There were, however, some good exchanges between the two, and the crowd--desperate for a three-set match--gave Czink a lot of encouragement. But there was little she could do, as the ever-aggressive Bartoli broke her five times and emerged the victor with a 6-4, 6-1 scoreline.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lisicki halts Vesnina's Charleston run

Since arriving in Charleston, Sabine Lisicki has tended bar, played the piano, signed autographs, taken out Venus Williams, and made it to the semifinals. What's next for the tall German with the big serve?

This afternoon, she played in a quarterfinal match I thought might be the best of the day, but the match took a twist I wasn't expecting. Elena Vesnina, who is having her best season to date, has been nothing but impressive in Charleston. She emerged the victor in the tournament's only real thriller--her second round contest against Patty Schnyder--and she came from 1-5 down to take a set off of Victoriya Kutuzova. The prospect of seeing her perform against Lisicki had me excited.

The first set had promise, especially toward the end. Lisicki served for it at 5-3, and was broken. This was not a surprise since--at this point of the match---Lisicki's serve was quite inconsistent. At 4-5, Vesnina found herself facing two set points on her own serve. She saved one with a drop shot. She then hit an especially good serve, but the wind came up about then, the ball got a bit out of control, and Lisicki broke her to take the set.

Lisicki began the second set as she had begun the first--with an ace. She lifted her service game to the point that even her service weaknesses had little impact on her momentum. At one point, she served an ace, a double fault, and then another ace. In the meantime, Vesnina was having difficulty with her own serve, and making many errors. She simply did not resemble the player who had been so stunning throughout the week. Lisicki--who had a 70 win percentage with her first serve and a 45 win percentage with her second--took control of the rallies, and effectively knocked Vesnina out of the running, defeating her 6-4, 6-0.

Cibulkova retires in Charleston

I was so looking forward to the Family Circle Cup quarterfinal match between number 1 seed Elena Dementieva and her opponent, Dominika Cibulkova. The first set began impressively, but then Cibulkova began to lose momentum. At the end of that set, which Dementieva won, 6-4, Cibulkova received treatment for a left adductor strain. Then, after playing only one game in the second set, Cibulkova retired. This was a real disappointment, not only because the match would most likely have been a very good one, but also because it came on top of Vera Zvonareva's retirement last night.

Following the set of tennis played by Dementieva and Cibulkova was the match featuring Caroline Wozniacki and Virginie Razzano, who became a quarterfinalist when Zvonareva was injured. I sometimes wonder why Razzano is not ranked higher than she is, but her performance today kind of answered that question. Razzano--who can be a feisty and clever opponent--was but a shell of her fighting self in this match. She had trouble serving and returning, and had success with an approach shot only once the entire match. Wozniacki defeated her, 6-2, 6-0.

Two doubles quarterfinals played today in Charleston

Top seeds Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond didn't exactly run away with the match, but they did defeat Olga Govortsova and Chan Chin-Wei 6-4, 6-3 today, to get to the semifinals of the Family Circle Cup. Govortsova was one of last year's finalists. She was scheduled, no doubt, to play again with last year's partner, Edina Gallovits, but Gallotvits withdrew from the tournament. In 2008, the pair--who had never before played together--entered ten minutes before entry deadline.

The other winning team today was that of Peng Shuai and Yan Zi, who easily won their first set against wild cards Alexa Glatch and Shanay Perry, but who struggled in the second set. In that set, Glatch and Perry went from lackluster to very competitive, and made quite a match of it. They were finally overtaken, however, 6-2, 7-5.

In the semifinals, Peschke and Raymond will play Mattek-Sands and Petrova, and Peng and Yan will play Dekmeijere and Schnyder.

Quote of the day

"Nobody wanted to play me, so I thought I'd get better, and beat my family first."
Caroline Wozniacki, on her motivation to improve her childhood tennis game

Family Circle Cup, day 5--in and around the grounds

The Family Circle Cup had some special musical guests today. The Charleston International Festival of Choirs is in progress, so a couple of the choirs came over to sing the national anthem. The morning anthem was performed by the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, and the evening anthem was sung by the Cherokee High School Girls Traveling Choir from New Jersey. They both sounded great; it was a pleasure to hear choral music.

I was walking around the grounds today and saw a familiar figure in front of me. It was Lenka Wienerova, with her gear bag slung over her shoulder and a pair of shoes in her hand. She walked across the lawn and out of sight, and I assume that she is doing some Fed Cup training on Daniel Island.

Murphy Jensen interviewed Caroline Wozniacki on the lawn during Happy Hour today. I heard some of the interivew, which was very long. Wozniacki talked about her first pro tournament (she lost to Patty Schnyder in the first round), her childhood tennis habits, her unusual backhand slice (two hands), and her tennis idols (Hingis and Graf).

Tennis outfit of the day: Elena Dementieva, who looked stunning in orange.

More on the Zvonareva Family Circle Cup injury incident

When I got to my seat in the stadium this morning, I chatted with a woman who was there when Vera Zvonareva was injured last night. She said that when Zvonareva fell, she was in obvious intense pain, and her coach came over to her with an ice pack, but he was barred by tournament officials from tending her. She also said that Zvonareva's opponent, Virginie Razzano, also tried to check on Vera, but that she, too, was barred from getting to her. A ballboy had an icepack at the ready, but was never given the go-ahead to apply it to Zvonareva's ankle.

According to the witness, Zvonareva lay on the court for some time, unattended, while the umpire (the same one who permitted all the terrible line calls to stand in the Williams-Mirza match) sat in her chair and did nothing. Finally, after Vera got up, she was helped into a golf cart and taken away by medics, and her coach was able to give her an ice pack. The woman who told me this was shocked and upset by the proceedings, and I wasn't very happy to hear what she had to say.

Zvonareva had not checked out of the hotel as of this morning.

Friday cat blogging--dreamy dreams edition

Ziggy Stardust (right) has had a crush on Roxie since the day he moved into our house. Once in a great while, he gets to snuggle with her, as he is doing here (but Roxie insists that we don't read too much into it).

Mattek-Sands joins U.S. Fed Cup team

Bethanie Mattek-Sands was supposed to have played for the U.S. Fed Cup team in February when the U.S. played Argentina. In fact, she lives just half an hour from Surprise, Arizona, where the tie was held. But Mattek-Sands sustained a hip injury and had to withdraw. She is now set to play in the semifinal between the U.S. and the Czech Republic April 25-26 in Brno, on an indoor hard court.

Joining Mattek-Sands will be Melanie Oudin, Alexa Glatch and Liezel Huber.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Family Circle Cup, day 4--Petrova upset by Czink, Zvonareva upset by surface

Top seed Elena Dementieva cruised through her match against Varvara Lepchenko

Melinda Czink took out former Cup champion Nadia Petrova in three sets

By the time I got to the Nadia Petrova-Melinda Czink match in the stadium (I'd been watching the match between Elena Vesnina and Victoriya Kutuzova), Petrova, the 4th seed, had taken the first set 6-3, and it was 4-all in the second. Czink won that set, and after that, she steadied herself and waited for Petrova to make errors.

She didn't have to wait long. Petrova--who hit thirteen aces in the match (Czink hit ten)--began to struggle with her second serve, and before long, she began to struggle with just about everything. She served for the match at 5-4, and was broken at love. About that time, the wind picked up, making things even more complicated. Petrova saved a match point when she served at 5-6, 15-40, but Czink took the final set 7-5, and the 2006 Family Circle Cup champion walked off the court without even been acknowledged by match announcer Murphy Jensen.

I saw Czink play here in 2007, and she was unimpressive. She has obviously been working very hard; she is having quite a nice season.

The first set of that Vesnina-Kutuzova match, by the way, was worth seeing. Kutusova easily went up 5-1 in the first set, then Vesnina--out of nowhere--leveled the match at 5-all. Kutozova went on to hold a set point, but Vesnina saved it, and won the set in a tiebreak. I left after that, and when I went outside the stadium to check the scores, Vesnina was up 4-2 in the second set. She then went up 5-2, and Kutuzova won three games in a row, to put it at 5-all. She was broken again, however, and Vesnina won the match 7-6, 7-5.

Kutusova has a formidable forehand, and her backhand is nothing to sneeze at, either. But in this match, Vesnina was the stronger, cleaner hitter, and she was able to control more of the rallies.

5th seed Caroline Wozniacki, who has been playing under the radar in Charleston, quietly put away 10th seed Peng Shuai, 6-3, 6-4, while top seed Elena Dementieva had an easy time of it with Varvara Lepchenko, defeating her 6-1, 6-1 in just over an hour.

Not having as easy a time was 7th seed Dominika Cibulkova, who was challenged by the new and improved Anastasia Rodionova. I saw only a little of this match, which Cibulkova won, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3.

The most unfortunate event of the day was an untimely slip on the clay by 3rd seed Vera Zvonareva, who many of us thought was poised to win the tournament. Zvonareva was playing Virginie Razzano, and the score was 1-all in the first set when the Russian fell. She was unable to get up, and was in a lot of pain from twisting her ankle. She was helped off of the court and taken away by the medics, sending Razzano to the quarterfinals.

In 2006, Zvonareva hurt her wrist in Charleston and was out for months, though she did avoid surgery. Last year, she was the finalist--and now this. Today, I was still sad from Patty Schnyder's second round loss, and Zvonareva's retirement really did me in. I just hope that she does not miss the entire clay court season. She is staying in our hotel, and I wonder whether we will see her hobbling around in the morning. Wherever she is--I wish her a very fast recovery.

There was another retirement this evening: The 2nd-seeded doubles team of Chuang Chia-Jung and Elena Vesnina retired after they lost the first set (1-6) of their quarterfinal match against Liga Dekmeijere and Patty Schnyder. The retirement was the result of a shoulder injury sustained by Chuang.

In the other doubles quarterfinal played today, the number 4 seeds--Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova--defeated Mariya Koryttseva and Galina Voskoboeva, 6-0, 6-4. Petrova had her moments, but it was Mattek-Sands who did the real work--whizzing groundstrokes past her opponents over and over.

Bartoli knocks remaining qualifier out of Family Circle Cup

I was eager to see the third round match between 6th seed Marion Bartoli and qualifier Melanie Oudin. Oudin has impressed every time she has played in this tournament. With her mature court sense, clean shot-making and fiery personality, she has demonstrated how to make the transition from top junior to tour player. Today, though, she came up against more than she could handle.

The match began with four breaks of serve. In the fifth game, Baroli missed an easy smash, which sent Oudin to 40-15, and Oudin then achieved the first hold of serve. Oudin's defensive play was excellent; she was hitting spins, lobs and dropshots like a clay court veteran. Because of her smart shot choices, Bartoli didn't hold her serve until the eighth game of the set.

As everyone knows, return of serve is Bartoli's bread and butter, and as fast as she was taking the ball, Oudin was always ready. Finally, though, at 5-4, Bartoli broke. The final rally of the first set was a thriller, with each player getting back balls that looked impossible to retrieve. The set could not have ended more dramatically, as Bartoli saved two break points before winning the last game.

The second set was a different story. For Oudin, errors crept in, doubt crept in, and--most important of all--Bartoli crept in. The Frenchwoman began to settle herself significantly inside the baseline to return Oudin's first serve, something we have seen her do before when her confidence is up. Bartoli's aggression did the trick. At 1-3, Oudin was broken by a netcord ball from Bartoli, which only increased her misery, then Bartoli held at love for 5-1. She went on to win the set, 6-1.

Bartoli fans should take note: Out of the blue today, Marion returned to her former, quite unorthodox, serve. She hasn't used it in a long time, but--for some reason--she felt like using it today.

Bartoli's next opponent will be Melinda Czink, who upset Nadia Petrova.

Quote of the day

"She's just a great champion. I still can't really believe I won."
Sabine Lisicki, after upsetting Venus Williams in the 3rd round of the Family Circle Cup

Venus out of Charleston in third round

Though 2nd seed Venus Williams held the lead in both sets in her third round match against Sabine Lisicki, the young German never seemed especially bothered by being behind--not even when her serve failed her repeatedly in the second set. She merely picked up her service level again, and hung on, stinging the second serves that came off the Williams racquet.

Lisicki is not the player she was even last year. The relentless and hard ball-striking is still there, but it is now tempered by more thoughtful point construction and more shot variety.

Lisicki's next opponent will be Elena Vesnina, who is having a breakthrough season.

Family Circle Cup, day 4--in and around the grounds

We do a bit of marketing of our own

The Pet Helpers Thursday dog

Sabine Lisicki watches Elena Vesnina from the players' lounge

There was a lot going on at the Cup today. Dominka Cibulkova's postponed autograph session was held, and there was also an autograph session with Sabine Lisicki. A group of Special Olympics kids provided an exhibition, and--as always--Pet Helpers had a very cute canine available for adoption.

There have been a few new musical selections added to the stadium playlist this year. One of them is "Before He Cheats," but no one thought to play it for Mashona Washington.

I'm not that pleased with the food. Two years ago, the falafel disappeared. Last year, the veggie gyros disappeared, though you can still get one if you're willing to pay for the meat you didn't buy. And worst of all--this year, the vegetarian hot dogs disappeared.

Chauvinism is alive and well. Because I was cheering for Marion Bartoli in her match against Melanie Oudin, the people behind me in the stands wanted to know which Bartoli family member I was.

I got to watch part of the Petrova-Czink match from the media table. Apparently, the media didn't care enough about Nadia and Melinda to show up, so I spent some time with one of the tournament nurses in one of the best seats in the house. We were both cheering for Nadia, however, so the outcome of the match took some of the fun out of the experience.

Tennis outfit of the day: Venus Williams' hot pink, blue and aqua ELEVEN dress.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Family circle cup, day 3

Sania Mirza shakes hands with Venus Williams, who defeated her today in Charleston

Elena Vesnina upset 8th seed Patty Schnyder in the second round of the Family Circle Cup

I began the day by watching Slovakian upstart, Lenka Wienerova, lose her match to Sabine Lisicki. I was glad for Lisicki, but I wanted to see Wienerova keep going. So did much of the crowd: There were yells of "Lenka! Lenka!" whenever she served. Lisicki--who has refined some of her hard hitting--won the first close set, 6-4. In the eighth game of the second set, Wienerova had some chances to break, but Lisicki got herself out of trouble twice by hitting two aces, and even stretched out wide to hit a one-handed backhand. Wienerova saved two match points, but Lisicki won--6-4, 6-3--on the third.

After the match, Wienerova sat alone, looking pretty disappointed. I had taken a photo of her I wanted her to sign, so I went down to have a chat with her. I reminded her that this was her first time to get to the second round of a main draw, and told her I expected to see more of her. I do--she is pretty impressive, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her play.

While that match was going on, Alona Bondarenko's countrywoman, Victoriya Kutusova, was using a spot-on forehand to make life miserable for the 11th-seeded Bondarenko. Kutusova won, 6-4, 7-5, accomplishing one of four upsets on day 3.

When that match was over, I saw some of the match between Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Anastasia Rodionova. From the beginning, Rodionova looked sharp, and Mattek-Sands was a step behind. Rodionova took out the 12th seed in straight sets--6-2, 6-4.

By the time I got to the stadium Venus Williams had taken the first set off of Sania Mirza, 6-1, and the second set was in progress. Mirza was obviously a different player in that set, and was cracking returns left and right, eventually taking the set, 6-3, on her fourth set point. The third set was less than pleasant to watch. Mirza was the victim of a number of blatantly bad line calls, and eventually fell by the wayside. Williams fell, too--she twice landed on her rear just outside the deuce court while trying to return Mirza's serves. Williams, the 2nd seed and 2004 champion, won the match, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.

Then came the thriller. Elena Vesnina's career has finally taken off, and it is painfully obvious this season that Patty Schnyder's is winding down. Still, Charleston is Schnyder's "home" tournament, and many of us had hopes for her.

The scoreboard stats indicate that the match lasted under two and a half hours, but for Schnyder fans, it felt like an eternity. Both players served inconsistently. Well, that's an understatement. Both players served brilliantly and terribly, sometimes within the same game. Patty won only two games in the first set, but came into the second set with a hold at love, and another hold at love at 4-all. Vesnina was smacking incredible backhand returns, but was missing a lot of approach shots. The set went to 6-all, and Schnyder won it with a tiebreak victory.

Vesnina was out of sorts in the third set, shrugging and muttering and smacking her racquet head on the ground. She began to make more unforced errors. At the same time, Patty dug herself out of 0-30 hole after 0-30 hole, and for some of us, things were looking up. At 4-5, Schndyer saved a match point, and the crowd went wild. At 5-6, she saved another one, and again--the overwhelmingly pro-Patty crowd went crazy. She needed to save one more to get to deuce, but it didn't happen. She hit a ball long, and Vesnina became the victor, with a score of 6-2, 6-7, 7-5. I don't expect to get over my disappointment for a while.

The last match I saw was the one between Caroline Wozniacki and Alla Kudryavtseva. No one held serve until the fifth game, which Wozniacki won. She got the momentum after that, and took the first set, 6-3. She also took the second set 6-3. Kudryavtseva had major problems getting decent serves in, but she should be credited for doing some very clean hitting throughout the match.

The other upset today was of 8th seed Aleksandra Wozniak, who was defeated by qualifier Melanie Oudin, 7-5, 6-0. Oudin is enjoying a real breakout in Charleston.

Other scores are available on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site.

A proposal for Charleston: Line callers who are not visually impaired

In today's match between Venus Williams and Sania Mirza, the line calling was beyond questionable. In the third set, there was muttering (and more) in the stands when linespeople made obviously bad calls at least four--and maybe five--times in a row, none of which was corrected by the chair umpire. In every case, the call was incorrectly made against Sania Mirza (or in favor of Venus Williams, depending on your point of view). Once is expected, twice is unprofessional. But this series of calls effectively took away Mirza's chance of taking the third set to a more competitive edge.

Quote of the day

"One more question--for you, Murphy: Do you know a guy named Ivan Dragomir in the crowd?"
Varvara Lepchenko, at the conclusion of her interview with Murphy Jensen

Family Circle Cup, day 3--in and around the grounds

Alexa Glatch and Varvara Lepchenko are interviewed on the great lawn

A staff member uses an olgasavchuk to prepare the clay court

Richard Williams and his fiance spent some time at the night match, watching Caroline Wozniacki. During his daughter's second round match, however, Williams paced the area right outside the stadium, smoking one cigarette after the other, despite the fact that smoking is prohibited.

Murphy Jensen interviewed Alexa Glatch and Varvara Lepchenko during Happy Hour. I asked Glatch if she had seen the great column Steve Tignor had written about her, and she didn't even know he had writtten it.

Tennis outfit of the day: Victoriya Kutuzova, in the perfect Wimbledon dress, though it looked pretty good in Charleston, too. The slant-shouldered white dress had a fitted bodice with sheered sides, and a three-tiered ruffled skirt. This may sound over the top, but on Kutuzova, it looked just right.

Number 2 seed out in Barcelona

Those tennis gods are busier than I thought. Flavia Pennetta, whom we would have loved to have had back in Charleston, went to Barcelona as the second seed, and now--like top seed Alize Cornet--she has fallen. Countrywoman Roberta Vinci defeated her 6-1, 6-2.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Family Circle Cup, day 2

Patty Schnyder and Liga Dekmeijere won their doubles match in straight sets

Top seed Elena Dementieva was in very fine form in the stadium Tuesday night

I saw parts of several matches today, and a couple of matches in their entirety. An early one I didn't want to miss was a 2nd round contest between Dominika Cibulkova and Tamira Paszek. The first set was close, with Cibulkova taking it 6-4 (there were three breaks in the set). Near the beginning of the second set, Paszek fell and hurt her hand. She received some treatment, then proceed to hit just fine. But she was never the same. Paszek's decline seems to have been merely coincidental in that it occurred after the fall. She became unsure of herself, lost her rhythm, and was dominated by a smooth-moving, accurately hitting Cibulkova, whose backhand was on fire. Paszek failed to win a game in the second set.

I also saw the first round match between Sesil Karatantcheva and Sania Mirza, two players who have been surrounded by controversy in the last couple of years. I had not seen Karatantcheva in so long, and her appearance has changed a lot; she is now a young woman, and taller and stronger. She wasn't quite strong enough to beat Mirza, however, mostly because of a lackluster serve. Mirza took the match, 6-4, 6-4.

I saw a lot of the 1st round match between Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Mariana Duque Marino. I had never before seen Duque Marino play, and was impressed by her clay court skills, especially her movement. She stayed close to Mattek-Sands throughout the first set, but was dominated in the tiebreak. After that, things got interesting. The first game of the second set contained so many deuces, I lost count--but it was perhaps the most I have ever encountered in one game; the second game contained a great number of deuces, also. We left after that game because we wanted to watch something else. Mattek-Sands won--7-6, 7-5.

At some point in the afternoon, we entered the stadium to see if we could get a glimpse of Nadia Petrova at the end of her 2nd round match. Instead, we got a glimpse of a 6-1, 2-6 scoreboard; Petrova had lost the second set to Patricia Mayr, an Austrian player I had never before seen. I don't know what happened to Petrova to make her lose her way, but Mayr looked like a woman on a mission, and was fighting hard for every point. Petrova was broken three times in the second set when her serve went to hell, but she managed to get that serve back, and won the final set 6-2.

I saw bits and pieces of a few other singles matches, and I saw the entire match between top seed Elena Dementieva and Julie Ditty. Ditty won two games. In the interview, however, Dementieva said that Ditty was injured. Following that match, I watched the doubles match between the team of Chan/Govortsova and Haynes/Osterloh. I wish that Olga Govortsova (who is looking quite fit and trim this year) had been able to play doubles with Edina Gallovits, but Gallovits is injured. However, she did well enough playing with Chan Chin-Wei. They defeated Angela Haynes and Lilia Osterloh in straight sets.

The most entertaining match I saw today was a doubles match between the teams of Dekmeijere/Schnyder and Czink/Zahlavova Strycova. Schnyder has been playing doubles with Anna-Lena Groenefeld, but Groenefeld did not come to Charleston, so Liga Dekmeijere was recruited, and she was as fine a substitute as Patty could have asked for. Dekmeijere was very aggressive throughout the match, and volleyed winner after winner for the team. Schnyder, for her part, tended to stay back and hit zinging passing shots. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova was also a very successful volleyer, and Melinda Czink--though she got off to a slow start and sometimes wobbled--served well, and made some memorable shots. Dekmeijere and Schnyder won the match, 7-5, 6-4.

There was one upset today. 15th-seeded Zahlavova Strycova lost in singles to qualifier Shenay Perry, 7-5, 6-1. With the exception of Petrova, the top seeds had an easy time of it, except for Venus Williams, who has yet to play her second round. You can find all the scores here and here.

Quote of the day

"Don't make faces!"
Melinda Czink, to her coach, sitting in the stands during her doubles match

Family Circle Cup, day 2--in and around the grounds

Sania Mirza's mother watches her match

Dominika Cibulkova signs autographs

Today was cool with just a few sprinkles of rain, kind of like yesterday. We spoke briefly with Dominika Cibulkova, who signed a photo for us, and we also had a photo signed by Patty Schnyder, who was in a good mood and ready to chat.

I watched Nadia Petrova practice for a while, and I also watched Alona Bondarenko practice, as well as a few others. Between the day and night matches, I went to the lawn bar, but didn't bother to take my camera with me when I went to buy a drink. Behind the bar was Sabine Lisicki, and she even relieved the pianist for a few moments and played for us.

Julius Irving was on the grounds today, watching his daughter, Alex Stevenson, play a match against Akgul Amanmuradova, which Stevenson lost. It was the first time Irving had ever seen his daughter play.

Tennis outfit of the day: Dominika Cibulkova, in a simple orange and white Lacoste ensemble.

Clueless in Charleston...

Monday, April 13, 2009


Former tour player Mirka Vavrinec was married Saturday in Basel, Switzerland to long-time partner, Roger Federer.

Sarah Gronert has passed her gender test and has been declared eligible to play on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Big surprise--Gronert has been a female since she was a baby. The tour may have had a right to test Gronert, but it did not have a reason. Given the bigotry to which she has been exposed, it is a wonder she has chosen to go on at all. The 22-year-old German has jumped 200 places in the rankings since the end of the 2008 season.

Sloan Stephens won both the singles and doubles titles of the International Spring Championships, and she won them both on the same court.

Anabel Medina Garrigues has withdrawn from the Barcelona Ladies Open because of an abdominal strain. I was pretty upset that she didn't come to Charleston this year, but it turns out she couldn't have played, anyway. Those tennis gods are working overtime in Spain.

And speaking of withdrawals, I didn't figure out until today that Sybille Bammer had withdrawn from the Family Circle Cup. I don't know the reason.

Finally, something that has bothered me for a long time...Why do the scoreboard stats omit winners and unforced errors, two of the stats we most want to see?

Family Circle Cup, day 1

Alona Bondarenko was in good form for her first round match in Charleston today

We were able to see at least parts of several round 1 matches today in Charleston. We saw much of the Alexa Glatch-Lenka Wienerova match and the Alona Bondarenko-Anne Kremer match. Kremer played well--it is always nice to see her--but lost to Bondarenko, 6-4, 6-0. Kremer took a fall in the second set, and shrugged it off at first, but then had to have some treatment for it. She was never the same after her tumble. Bondarenko, for her part, looked good today, and displayed a lot of excellent court movement, along with a some really good reaching.

I saw part of the match between Galina Voskoboeva and Varvara Lepchenko. Voskoboeva, as usual, did a running commentary to herself--much of it negative--while Lepchenko quietly got the job done, 6-1, 6-3. I also saw a little bit of the Madison Brengle-Anastasia Rodionova match, which ended with a loss for Brengle.

Olga Savchuk had the misfortune of having her back go out on her during her match against Melanie Oudin. She had to have treatment more than once, and she carried on, coming back to life from time to time. She was in too much pain, however, to do much damage after the first set, which she lost 4-6. She failed to win any games in the second set. During that second set, Oudin looked so awkward serving that I suspected she, too, had sustained some sort of injury. It was hard to tell what was going on; she was getting her serves in, but she was putting hardly anything into them. Once again, however, her forehand was on fine display throughout the match.

Tamira Paszek defeated Julia Schruff 7-5, 6-2. She was uninspired in the first set, though she cleaned up her game in the second. Paszek had problems with her serve throughout the match, but also managed to break Schruff six times. Shruff had two opponents, in that she argued with the chair umpire a good deal of the time. Paszek, by the way, is now training at the Sanchez Academy in Spain; Angel Giminez is coaching her in Charleston.

It rained a little during the day's final match between Jill Craybas and Melinda Czink, but not quite enough to stop play. Czink ate most of Craybas's second serves and broke her four times, finally defeating her, 6-2, 6-4. It should be noted, however, that Craybas made some crack shots throughout the match, which included some high-quality play from both women. It was a better match than one might expect in somewhat windy and rainy conditions.

The tennis gods move in mysterious ways

I think I speak for many when I say how disappointed I was that Alize Cornet, last year's exciting Charleston semifinalist, decided to skip the Family Circle Cup this year and play in Barcelona. Her Spanish experience didn't last long: Cornet, the top seed, went out today in the first round to countrywoman Stephanie Cohen-Aloro. Cohen-Alora defeated Cornet 6-0, 6-3.

Look out, Slovakian tennis---here comes Wienerova!

On Saturday, I wrote about how impressed I was with Lenka Wienerova's athleticism and grace. I didn't get to see her win her second qualifying match, but I did see her play most of her first round match against Alexa Glatch, another player I enjoy watching. Wienerova took the first set 6-4, but went down 2-5 in the second. I expected a third set, but Wienerova suddenly reeled off five games in a row, and did so with such finesse that it was a sheer delight to watch her do it. Serving well, defending well, slicing the ball, and exhibiting some very nice hands along with her athletic skills--the young Slovakian put on quite a show.

One thing that made this match very unusual: I'm not sure I've ever seen as many drop shots--not to mention successful drop shots--hit in one match. And by both players. It was just drop shot after drop shot, with one or two drop volleys tossed in. Glatch herself is a player with a variety of skills, but she couldn't keep up with the spirited Wienerova.

When the match was over, Wienerova was mobbed by autograph seekers, and as she left the club court, we initiated some applause for her. It quickly spread throughout the stands, and Wienerova left Althea Gibson with a big smile on her face.

Now where did I put that olgasavchuk?

I have always liked Olga Savchuk's name. It rolls off the tongue nicely, and has elements of both music and authority. And since one tends to say it all as one word--"OlgaSavchuk," we entertained ourselves today by finding new uses for it:

"They came down the hill with their Kliment Voroshilov, but we mowed them down with our Olgasavhuk."

"He became disenchanted with Communism, and is now a loyal Olgasavchuk."

"There's ice on the highway--quick, crank up the Olgasavhuk!"

"This olgasavchuk could use a little more paprika."

Quote of the day

"Ahhh!...Enough with the ahhh, Madison! Make it, Maddie!"
Madison Brengle, after missing a crucial point in her match against Anastasia Rodionova

Family Circle Cup, day 1--in and around the grounds

We expected rain on this first day of the tournament, and we got some, but not enough to delay or interrupt any matches. There is a tornado watch right now in the Charleston area, and it just wouldn't be Family Circle Cup without a tornado, or at least a few watches or warnings.

There was a Venus sighting this morning, but not by me. I saw a lot of players, but not Venus. We did get to see Elena Dementieva do some practice hitting, and she signed a tennis ball for us.

When we got to the tournament site, we decided to watch the match between Tamira Paszek and Julia Schruff. We stood waiting for entry, and I looked next to me: There was Dominika Cibulkova, who had come to check out Paszek, her probable second round opponent. She and her coach were there, but Cibulkova did not stay too long. Paszek was not exactly impressive, so Cibulkova probably felt she had other things to do.

I spoke with Kateryna Bondarenko, who was in the stands, watching her sister, Alona. She said her wrist injury wasn't too bad, and the doctor told her she could begin practicing again in a week. Both Bondarenko sisters signed some photos for us. It is very disappointing for us that we will not get to see them play doubles together. Instead, Alona will be playing doubles with Anastasia Rodionova. One of the "fighting Bondarenkos," as I call them, once said that the best possible situation is for them to have a third person along, "so we can fight with that person!" Given her history, Rodionova is a pretty good pick.

Tennis outfit of the day: Marta Domachowska, in a bright yellow tank and a khaki/olive split-pleat skirt. Today was the only day to see it, though--the ever under-achieving Domachowska is already out of the tournament, knocked out by qualifier Anastasija Sevastova.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Charleston qualifiers

The following players have made it through Family Circle Cup qualifying:

Madison Brengle
Angela Haynes
Abigail Spears
Lenka Wienerova
Melanie Oudin
Marie-Eve Pelletier
Shanay Perry
Anastasija Sevastova

Both Pelletier and Perry were unseeded in the qualifying draw.