Sunday, May 31, 2009

French Open miscellany

Caroline Wozniacki's injury is apparently rather serious--two displaced discs. I'll post more information as I get it.

Most people were comfortably predicting a fifth straight French Open championship for Raphael Nadal, but Elena Dementieva got it right.

Doesn't Tennis Channel know that people want to see archived matches after they've seen live matches? When the live streams are done, the archived match function is disabled, also.

Then there's the matter of NBC, which had the rights to several big matches, and which denied U.S. tennis fans from seeing them live. That means that we were not able to see Maria Sharapova's match, nor could we see one of the biggest upsets in recent French Open history (pardon the foray into ATP tennis, but this is big) until after the fact. Of course, where I live, we couldn't have seen them anyway; the French Open was precluded by the Children's Miracle Network telethon.

As sad and frustrating as it was to see Jelena Dokic retire in her French Open match against Elena Dementieva, there is some good news: Doctors say there is no long-term damage--she just needs to heal.

Defending champion out, top seed very much in

Dinara Safina has now dropped only five games en route to the quarterfinals of the French Open. Today, she defeated Aravane Rezai 6-1, 6-0.

The defending champion, Ana Ivanovic, was handily defeated by Victoria Azarenka, who--a couple of weeks ago--looked very awkward on red clay, and who suddenly looks as though she were born in Spain or Italy. Azarenka made only seven unforced errors in her 6-2, 6-3 victory over Ivanovic, though Ivanovic hit several more winners than Azarenka.

Ivanovic said that during the first point of the fourth game, she began to feel dizzy, and that the dizziness continued every time she looked up. Obviously, this had an effect on the outcome of the match. At this time, I have no idea what caused the dizziness, however.

I didn't get to see the match between Agnes Szavay and Dominika Cibulkova, but I did see highlights. It appeared that Cibulkova easily dictated play to produce her 6-2, 6-4 victory.

I also didn't get to see Maria Sharapova play Li Na, but I understand, from checking around, that I didn't miss much. Sharapova won, 6-4, 0-6, 6-4.

French Open wild card out of junior competition in first round

Lauren Embree, who won the U.S. wild card competition, lost to Nadia Petrova in the first round of the French Open. Today, she lost in the first round of the junior competition, to the unseeded Nastja Kolar. Embree was seeded 7th.

The Australian wild card, Olivia Rogowska, had better fortune. Seeded 12th, she defeated the unseeded Zsofia Susanyi.

French Open--what they said

"...I was really, really prepared for this match. I was not going on the court like, you know, it will be easy and I was not going on the court like it will be tough...."
Dominika Cibulkova

"It was always going on the court not to lose a match, and of course it's always difficult to play when you step on the court and you're afraid of losing. Then you don't play even your game."
Dinara Safina, discussing her change in attitude

"It did upset her sometimes, but I made so many mistakes that I never really gave her a chance to make mistakes. I was trying to take risks, but I missed very often. I made many unforced errors."
Aravane Rezai, on her loss to Dinara Safina

"Overall, I'm trying to dominate, because there is no other chance for me. I'm not a roadrunner player, otherwise it's going to be long match."
Dinara Safina

"...I started really well, and I felt really good in the beginning. Then after the third game, actually after first point in the fourth game, I just suddenly started feeling so dizzy, and I completely lost my balance. Ever since then it was really hard. I struggled with like looking up. I started feeling very dizzy, and I was struggling a little bit to find my balance."
Ana Ivanovic, on her match against Victoria Azarenka

"I've learned a lot. I've learned to feel happier on the court, to be more mature, calmer, to have more fun. This is what I've learned."
Aravane Rezai

"My coach is very important in my career, especially my tennis coach. He's been with me for a very long time. Without him, I wouldn't be here."
Victoria Azarenka

"Her career has included an improbable comeback, major injuries, blown calls that sparked the introduction of electronic line calling, her family’s boycott of a marquee tournament in Indian Wells, California, and enough costume changes and mood swings to populate a season at La Scala."
Christopher Clarey of the New York Times, writing about Serena Williams

"...last time I went for dinner when he was here, he told me, like, So who earned the most money last two weeks please pay for dinner."
Dinara Safina, talking about her brother, Marat

French Open doubles--all upsets, all day

The 2nd, 4th and 5th women's doubles seeds all made exits today in the third round of the French Open. Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond were defeated in straight sets by Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska, and Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs were defeated by Yan Zi and Zheng Jie in close straight sets, 6-4, 7-5. And while on paper that is a big upset--Yan and Zheng are seeded 16th--in reality, it isn't. Yan and Zheng are making their way back after injury interruptions.

The upset everyone will probably talk about however, is that of Serena and Venus Williams, who--though seeded number 5--are generally considered favorites to win any tournament they enter. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova defeated the sisters 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, and the theme of this match might have been "If you can't hold your serve, at least hold your nerve." The momentum swings were overwhelming, with the three-set match producing 15 breaks of serve and a dazzling 148 winners. Service errors were often quickly followed by shots that broke opponents' serves, and the whole affair lasted three hours and nine minutes. Though not as thrilling as the Australian Open quarterfinal upset of Black and Huber, the match was nevertheless very exciting, and well worth watching.

Mattek-Sands and Petrova will play number 1 seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the quarterfinals.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cara Black upset in mixed doubles

The 2nd-seeded team of Cara Black and Leander Paes was upset in the first round of the French Open today by Sybille Bammer and Lukas Kubot, 6-0, 1-6, 10-6.

It seems strange that neither Mirza/Bhupati or Dechy/Ram is a seeded team at the Open. At any rate, Nathalie Dechy and Andy Ram defeated Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati 6-1, 7-5.

In women's doubles, there were a couple of upsets in the third round. 9th-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai defeated 7th seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 7-5, and number 11 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Patty Schnyder defeated number 8 seeds Maria Kirilenko and Flavia Pennetta 7-6, 6-4.

Dementieva and Wozniacki upset in Paris

Elena Dementieva was down a set when she played Jelena Dokic in the third round of the French Open, but Dokic had to retire. We'll never know how that match would have otherwise ended, but for Dementieva, the relief was short-lived. The 4th seed lost today in the round of 16 to Samantha Stosur, who defeated her 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Dementieva, known for her fitness, said in her press conference that she did not feel fit enough to play in Paris, and that she had problems with all the spin that Stosur put on the balls.

Caroline Wozniacki was done in by a shoulder injury, a back injury, and her best friend. The 9th seed entered the tournament with a vulnerable shoulder, and--not surprisingly--she hurt her back during her round of 16 match against her best friend, Sorana Cirstea. Cirstea prevailed, 7-6, 7-5, and those who saw the match said her forehand was impressive.

Winning one of the best match points I think I've ever seen, Virginie Razzano defeated Tathiana Garbin 7-5, 7-5 in a match that was every bit as entertaining as I expected it to be. Both players are to be commended for giving the crowd some big tennis. Razzano was up 5-0 in the first set, in fact, but Garbin made things a lot more interesting at 0-5. Razzano said she thought part of the problem was that she was rattled by a tour employee's asking her to remove her shirt.

Serena Williams, who seems to have some kind of curse on her at major tournaments, had to deal today with an incident which may go down as "the arm," a companion disaster to "the hand" of 2003. Williams hit a backhand very hard to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who was at the net at the time. The ball bounced off of Martinez Sanchez's racquet, but it also appeared to have bounced off of her arm. It is entirely possible that Martinez Sanchez had her racquet raised in protection as much as anything else, but it doesn't matter: If a ball touches your body, you lose the point.

Replay showed that the ball did indeed hit Martinez Sanchez's arm. However, the umpire awarded the point to her, and an angry Williams later accused her opponent of cheating, which the Spanish player called "stupid." Martinez Sanchez maintains she doesn't know if the ball hit her arm, and Williams says she hit the ball so hard that "She knew that ball hit her."

Williams went on to win the match, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

French Open miscellany

Yesterday, the Tennis Channel online live streaming went out. Today, it went out again, then the entire site went down. The result was that I could not watch the Williams-Martinez Sanchez match. I was able to find a live stream of the Federer match, and occasionally, Williams-Martinez Sanchez highlights were shown. As we move into the second week, I certainly hope that the Tennis Channel website gets it act together.

I was informed by an eyewitness that when the Sharapova-Petrova match began, a spectator was asked to leave the stadium, and that during Sharapova's press conference, her manager showed photos of the spectator to security personnel. The word is that the man was banned from Roland Garros but found his way in, and that Sharapova's manager has requested additional bodyguards for her.

Li Na is the first Chinese player to reach the round of 16 at the French Open.

Referee Stefan Fransson says that there will be an official chat with Michelle Larcher de Brito prior to Wimbledon about her shouting on the court. Aravane Rezai complained to the both the umpire and Fransson about Larcher de Brito, who responded by noting that Rezai didn't complain until Larcher de Brito started winning games.

French Open--what they said

Who's your best friend on the tour?
"My mother."
Elena Dementieva

Can you say something about her strengths and her weaknesses--Radwanska's tennis?
"She moves well. She reads the game well. It's her strength. Weaknesses, I will keep it to myself."
Svetlana Kuznetsova

"Then the whole crowd decided to stand up and put their hands together for me for this match point. It was something I deserved, really. We deserved because we fought till the very end, and to end with such a match point, this is like a dream."
Virginie Razzano

"In the past, I've been--I always look too far ahead. You know, I already saw myself in the final, and, you know, all these kind of things and put a lot of pressure on myself, but now I'm not doing that at all. Whatever happens, happens."
Jelena Jankovic
"She better not come to the net again."
Serena Williams, exasperated after losing a point that should have gone to her when a ball hit her opponent's body at the net

Is it one of your bigger disappointments here in Paris?
"I had so many."
Elena Dementieva

"...I just felt good, and never kind of doubted or anything. Each day is different, but I think if I can keep playing the way I have been, anything is possible."
Samantha Stosur, on her upset of Elena Dementieva

"It's my mistake, I know. I knew I couldn't place it exactly here. It had to be placed on the side, on the shoulder, almost. She said, 'Well, you have to use another T‑shirt, otherwise you might be fined.' I said, 'Please try and find me a T‑shirt because I said I have no other T‑shirt. Either it's bare chested or naked or this way, and never mind the fine.'"
Virginie Razzano, on being asked, during the match, by a tour representative to change her shirt because of an incorrectly placed patch

Venus out of French Open in 3rd round--again

For the third year in a row, Venus Williams has been defeated in the third round of the French Open. Yesterday, she was taken out by a resurgent Agnes Szavay, who--despite playing quite well--had some help from the 3rd seed. Williams looked lost and could not find any rhythm throughout the match. She served poorly and her movement suffered. Szavay, for her part, hit only thirteen winners, which was all she needed to take the match, 6-0, 6-4.

Top seed Dinara Safina continued her destruction of opponents, defeating the talented Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-0. So far, Safina's opponents--combined--have won a total of four games.

The defending champion, Ana Ivanovic, also prevailed, winning her match against Iveta Benesova. And Maria Sharapova, playing a spirited and determined Yaroslava Shvedova, advanced to the round of 16 with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Both players seemed tired (perhaps more mentally than physically) by the third set, but the fatigue was more harmful to Shvedova.

Friday, May 29, 2009

French Open--what they said

"...I said it's a little bit hard for me to continue playing like this. But, you know, it's hard to play against a player screaming like that. She's very good player, but very hard character. I hope she's going to be better, but she's young. She have to learn many things."
Aravane Rezai, on Michelle Larcher de Brito's shouting

"I don’t think I’ve heard anything longer."
Referee Stefan Fransson, on the length of Larcher de Brito' shouts

"We've been working a lot on my game overall, and I think I improved a lot of areas of my game. I added some things, and I feel more comfortable coming forward, obviously. But, no, I think working with Craig is really good. I feel also since I start working with him I got my game back and committing more to my shots and moving forward. That's something that was lacking months before that."
Ana Ivanovic, on being coached by Craig Kardon

"You know, I'm used to beating people 6-0. I'm not used to my shot not going in and losing a set 6-0. So it was completely foreign ground for me."
Venus Williams, on losing her first set against Agnes Szavay

"Venus's technique broke down. She needed to understand what she was doing, and she didn't."
Richard Williams


Sania Mirza plans to marry Indian businessman Sohrab Mirza, who is described as a long-time friend. Mirza's engagement is set to take place on July 10.

Justine Henin has been hanging out at the French Open.

Martina Hingis says she is looking forward to October, when her two-year suspension will be over. "I'll be free to move, return to riding or tennis tournaments like Roland Garros and Wimbledon. My dignity will be restored."

Damir Dokic is currently on trial for allegedly threatening to kill the Australian ambassador and for possessing illegal weapons. He could get up to eight years in prison.

Lindsay Lee-Waters (remember Lindsay Lee-Waters?), the top seed at the Carson City 50k challenger, has been defeated in the first round by Nicole Gibbs.

Friday cat blogging---French Open edition

"Who do you think will be upset next?"
"I'm upset by all this screaming"

Thursday, May 28, 2009

French Open--what they said

(Marion Bartoli's and Alize Cornet's remarks are translated.)

You said her attitude was a bit strange. What do you mean by this?

"Well, it's her clan. When I made unforced errors, her team would shout. It's not sportslike. They're Italians."
Marion Bartoli, on her loss to Tathiana Garbin

"You need to enjoy. You need to enjoy the battle. You need to enjoy the challenges. You need to enjoy everything. You need to go to the courts with a smile on your face."
Jelena Jankovic

"I didn't know what to do, if I had to get in the court, to wait from the baseline, be active or passive. And I did a bit of everything, which means a bit of nothing."
Alize Cornet, on her loss to Sorana Cirstea

"It was so cold, freezing out there. The balls were stuck on the strings of the racquet, so that's why there were many break points, and the ball was too slow. It was not to my benefit. It was never something I could do well, you know, to hit the ball and to have many moon balls."
Marion Bartoli

"I just usually congratulate myself on doing something good and correct the bad and not dwell. Dwelling can kill you on the court."
Venus Williams

Would you rather play just a little bit out of the spotlight rather than being in it like you started the year, the number 1, the person everyone is expecting to win the Grand Slam?
"I want to get back to that spotlight."
Jelena Jankovic

"I was so stressed before I started, it probably used some of my energy. When I walk on the court, I'm a bit stressed, and, you know, you waste a lot of energy before the match."
Alize Cornet

Today I saw that you didn't enjoy anything on court. Do you think that one day you'll enjoy playing on clay?
"Now that's a question."
Marion Bartoli

Venus and Serena busy on day 5 of the French Open

For the third day in a row, Venus and Serena Williams had to engage in their first round doubles match against Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. The Williams sisters won, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Venus Williams also had to play the second day of her second round singles match against Lucie Safarova, which she won, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5.

There were three upsets in singles, and one retirement. There was also a first round upset in mixed doubles, as 7th seeds Yan Zi and Nenad Zimonjic were defeated by the unseeded team of Alisa Kleybanova and Bruno Soares.

2 more Frenchwomen say au revoir

Marion Bartoli--seeded 13th at the French Open--and Alize Cornet, seeded 21st, went out today in the second round. Bartoli was defeated by the unseeded Tathiana Garbin, 6-3, 7-5. Bearing in mind that some of the text is undoubtedly tainted by translation, it is nevertheless worth reading the transcript of Bartoli's press conference.

Cornet fell to the unseeded Sorana Cirstea, 6-3, 6-2. Cornet summed up her loss as a combination of feeling too much stress and not having adequate physical conditioning. That sounds accurate to me.

That leaves two Frenchwomen in the draw--Aravane Rezai and Virginie Razzano. Today, Razzano upset 18th seed and clay court specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Dokic retires in 2nd round French Open match

After winning the first set 6-2, Jelena Dokic retired at 3-4 in the second today in Paris because of a back injury. Her opponent, Elena Dementieva advanced to the third round.

Dokic has been diagnosed with sports fatigue syndrome, which--among many other things--causes muscles to atrophy. She has possibly not fully recovered. What a misfortune.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

French Open--what they said

(Alize Cornet's remarks are translated.)

What did Pierre tell you?
"Well, Pierre talked and talked and talked to me. He drowned me in words."
Alize Cornet

Doyou feel that she's (Ana Ivanovic) capable of winning this tournament?
"For what I am here?"
Dinara Safina

Did you have pleasure playing on the central court with all these people who supported you over these two days?
"I'm not going to lie to you. I'm not going to tell you, wow, that was great, I made the most of each moment. To be honest, I played the first part of my match in the night, so it was a bit difficult. Then this morning I walked. I was very much under pressure. I didn't want to play three sets, so yes, there was pleasure. People are supporting me playing on the big court, and I practiced all year round to experience that feeling. But I didn't experience the extreme feeling--the feeling of extreme joy you have, I had, sometimes last year."
Alize Cornet

"'s great to have someone who can take care about practices so I don't have to even think about it. I can just relax and switch off."
Ana Ivanovic, on having a full-time coach

"...the doctors said I will not be able to play until summer, and I recovered pretty good, pretty fast. I tried to play the Australian. Probably even though I don't feel much of a difference, but neurologically, I'm still a little behind."
Nadia Petrova

"So I really wanted to take a week off to ask myself the appropriate questions and ask myself why I want to do that, why I want to play tennis, why I love that so much, why I don't seem to love it so much anymore. And in one week, well, I realized that tennis is in my bloodstream, it's in my system, and this is what I want to do, and this is what I love doing. I think if I had not taken that break, I would not have realized it. So, of course, now I arrive here, and arriving here, I'm much more clear about what I want to do than when I went to Rome or Madrid. In Rome and Madrid, I played becauseI had to. Here, I play because I want to."
Alize Cornet

Did you already have a chat with your coach? Was he happy?
"If one day he's going to be happy, I think I'll finish my career. He's never happy. Even today, he's not happy."
Dinara Safina

French Open--day 4

Alize Cornet won her holdover first round match today, which means that four Frenchwomen are still in the Roland Garros draw--Cornet, Marion Bartoli, Aravane Rezai, and Virginie Razzano. One Frenchwoman, Julie Coin, went out today in the second round.

There were two upsets in doubles today. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Francesca Schiavone defeated number 6 seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. 15th seeds Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo were upset by Vera Dushevina and Anastasia Rodionova, 6-1, 6-1.

Defending champion Ana Ivanovic won her second round match handily, defeating Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-2. Likewise, the number 1 seed, Dinara Safina, defeated Vitalia Diatchenko 6-1, 6-1.

Victoria Azarenka, seeded 9th, survived Kristina Barrois, but just barely. She defeated Barrois 7-6, 7-5.

There were two upsets in singles.

Zheng and Petrova both upset at French Open

I was beyond surprised when I learned that Michelle Larcher de Brito had upset Zheng Jie in the second round of the French Open today. Though de Brito has shown promise for some time, she frequently emerges from matches with zeroes in her score. There's that, and there's also the fact that the 15th-seeded Zheng has begun to play much better on clay. But upset she was, 6-4, 6-3.

Nadia Petrova, once a superb clay court player and still not so shabby these days, was upset by an unseeded player from Russia named Maria Sharapova. Sharapova, in fact, dominated the first set, winning it 6-2. The second set was a complete reversal; Petrova took it, 6-1. The third set was something Thrill Ride herself would have loved, with the momentum swinging like a traffic light in a hurricane. Down 2-4 and 15-40, Sharapova found a way to win the game, then broke Petrova. At 4-all, Sharapova served at 40-0, then suddenly had a break point against her, but again, she held. At 6-7, Petrova double-faulted, then hit a ball wide, and that was that.

Sharapova served fairly conservatively, except when she needed to do otherwise. She hit seven aces.

Cecil wins NCAA title

Mallory Cecil of Duke University has won the 2009 NCAA singles title. Cecil, who is in her first year at Duke, defeated the University of Miami's Laura Vallverdu, 7-5, 6-4. She was also part of the Duke team that won the NCAA title last week.

Cecil received a wild card into the main draw of the 2009 Family Circle Cup. She was defeated, 6-1, 6-2, in the first round by the 13th seed, Virginie Razzano.

Thanks also to Zoo Tennis for the news that Sloane Stephens has won the Italian Open Bonfiglio championship. Stephens defeated Aleksandra Krunic 6-4, 6-2 in the final.

Thank you, Martina

Though it is not uncommon for fans and the sports media to talk about how ridiculously hard the French crowd can be on players, that isn't the whole story. Today, on Tennis Channel, Martina Navratilova got it right: The French crowd can be tough, but French spectators save their real nastiness for women who become angry on the court. I agree with Navratilova that the crowd's viciousness toward Marina Hingis in 1999 was "disgraceful." And I agree that--consciously or not--the French are rigid about what kind of emotions women are permitted to have.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

French Open--what they said

(Razzano's remarks are translated.)

"She would fight; I would fight. She would hit; I would hit. Nice points, interesting, pleasant."
Virginie Razzano, on her match against Daniela Hantuchova

"It's always a good idea to have a roof, so then we can continue the match so that we don't have to stop and wait around, you know, for an hour or more and then come back on court, because it's not so easy, you know, to stop the match and then--especially being in the areas over there when you have to eat lunch."
Jelena Jankovic, commenting on the rain delay

"We have more or less the same game, the same style. We love that. It was not kicks and it was not like the Spaniards, you know."
Virginie Razzano, on her match against Daniela Hantuchova

"I think Serena will be playing better and better each round, so it was the best chance to at least play with her or beat her. She’s Serena."
Klara Zakopalova

"Marion complimented me in the cloak rooms. It was from the bottom of her heart. I found it so cute from her, so nice. She said, 'You don't like Hantuchova at all, do you?'"
Virginie Razzano

Which Serena is in Paris?

It was hard to tell, from her first round match, which Serena Williams is playing in the 2009 French Open. Is it the Serena who struggles mightily in the first round, then gets better and better and wins the title? Or is it the Serena who shows up at a major, and--in her words--"goes crazy"? Williams needed a record nine match points to defeat Klara Zakopalova in a three-set first round match that clearly had the number 2 seed and 2002 French Open champion very frustrated. Zakopalova defeated Williams in the first round in Marbella, and it seemed unlikely that Williams would let that happen again, but Zakopalova made that outcome as tough as possible.

Playing in windy conditions, Williams held five match points in the second set, but could not convert them because Zakopalova just wouldn't go away. Finally, after two hours and twenty-five minutes, Williams prevailed, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. Stay tuned...

As if we haven't had enough old favorites exit in the first round, out went Daniela Hantuchova today, also, a victim of Virginie Razzano's forehand and her own second serve.

In a match that was held over from last night, Caroline Wozniack defeated Vera Dushevina, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. Dushevina had the match on her racquet at a set and 3-0, but a bad return kept her from going up 4-0. Then, at match point--when it was obvious she wasn't positive that Wozniacki's ball had gone out--she stopped play. The ball was in, which gave Wozniacki set point. Dushevina's behavior went into the "What the hell were you thinking?" category, and today, it was all Wozniacki.

31st seed Peng Shuai was upset in the first round today by clay specialist Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Three more Frenchwomen--Claire Feuerstein, Nathalie Dechy (yet another favorite veteran) and Kristina Mladenovic--went out today in the first round, and, of course, Razzano advanced to the second round. Alize Cornet won her first set, but her match against Maret Ani had to be postponed because of darkness. The players will resume tomorrow at 4-all in the second set.

French Open miscellany

Tennis Channel did a slow motion display of Jelena Jankovic's service motion today. Martina Navratilova commented on the over-rotation of both her shoulder and her hip. One of Jankovic's goals in putting herself through a strenuous off-season training was to be strong enough to put more behind her serve. Navratilova's assessment is that her new-found strength won't help her if she doesn't stop rotating her shoulders and hips so much. That makes sense, but why didn't her coach help her with this problem? And if he did, why didn't she listen?

I'm still undecided about Venus Williams' dress. I haven't seen enough of it to know whether I like it. I know I don't like Sharapova's. Li Na and Lucie Safarova, however, look very nice in the Nike outfit (it's the same one for both) they selected. And I like the new Jankovic dress. I haven't really paid enough attention to clothing to comment on any other outfits.

JJ is in danger of losing her crown.'s headline for Serena Williams' first round win is "Drama Queen."

Marion Bartoli would like for Marion Cotillard to play Marion Bartoli in a theoretical biopic (the translation of this interview does leave something to be desired, I should warn you).

Three-time French Open champion Arantza Sanchez Vicario has some ideas about Andy Murray's chances in Paris.

Peter Bodo reminds us that Svetlana Kuznetsova is the only woman in the Open Era to hold match points against two eventual French Open champions (Anastasia Myskina and Justine Henin).

Monday, May 25, 2009

French Open--what they said

(Bartoli's remarks are translated.)

"Well, the thing is the first set, I guess I played the worst first set in my whole life. I couldn't feel anything. First of all, the warmup, I couldn't put two balls on the other side of the court. I was so stressed. I couldn't feel my grips. I didn't know how to grip the racquet anymore."
Marion Bartoli

"After shoulder surgery I'm not going to come out and hit Mach 50 and try and hit aces left and right. "
Maria Sharapova

"I feel right now that Safina should be number 1."
Serena Williams

" coach always says 'it can be easy, 6‑1, 6‑1, and can be tough. I only can put this difference. If you start to play your game, it's tough to handle you.' I was playing good and it was tough for her. That was the result how he says."
Dinara Safina

"When you are very stressed you can't breathe, and my impression was that my legs were weighing 100 kilos each. I was late on each ball. I couldn't see the ball properly. It was a nightmare."
Marion Bartoli

I read that you're staying with Serena and you got the bigger bedroom. How did that work out?
"I don't know. Every time I go, she comes in my room and opens the closet and says, 'look at all this closet space.' She's silly,though. I'm just happy that she lets me stay for free."
Venus Williams

You're known as a fighter. It's practically attached to your name. How difficult was it to encounter a situation where really fighting did not help?
"To be honest, it really did. I think if I was--if I was a mentally weak person or individual, I think I wouldn't be here today. I'd be on some island. I mean, sounds good to me, probably sounds good to everyone in this room. You know, with a nice cold pina colada and a nice cold towel they hand around at the pools."
Maria Sharapova

You said you have experience, but you were stressed. Is there a particular reason?
"There's a little reason. First, we are in France. Second, we are in the French Open. Third, we have--my results in the French Open haven't been great. Then I also played against a French player, and also, it's clay. So all of this sums it up."
Marion Bartoli

No croissants today

Anne Keothavong played an early match against world number 1 Dinara Safina, and her reward was to get two bagels. It took Safina just over an hour to defeat Keothavong.

Later in the day, Maria Sharapova lost her first set to Anastasiya Yakimova, but went on to win the match.

Melanie South won three more games than her opponent, but lost the match. Michelle Larcher de Brito defeated her 0-6, 7-6, 7-5.

I'm not sure I've ever seen Pauline Parmentier play before. She lost to Marion Bartoli, but she played well.

Six more Frenchwomen went out in the first round today--Parmentier, Stephanie Cohen-Aloro, Camille Pin, Kinnie Laisne, Stephanie Foretz, and Irena Pavlovic. Advancing to the second round are Marion Bartoli and Julie Coin. Alize Cornet, Nathalie Dechy, Claire Feuerstein, Kristina Mladenovic, and Virginie Razzano have yet to play their first round matches.

There were four upsets today. In addition to 14th seed Flavia Pennetta and 17th seed Patty Schnyder, 23rd seed Alisa Kleybanova and 26th seed Anna Chakvetadze were also defeated.

I really like black and white photography, but this is ridiculous

There are already three black and white photos on my French Open favorites panel on the French Open website. Amelie Mauresmo, of course, went out in the first round yesterday, and today, Patty Schnyder and Flavia Pennetta were defeated.

Schnyder played another player I like, Kateryna Bondarenko. I enjoyed this match because of the shot-making, which was often superb. And while it seemed as though Schnyder was making more unforced errors than her opponent, she actually wasn't--she was just failing to hit enough winners. She also failed to be as aggressive as she needed to be. Bondarenko, for her part, was impressive from the baseline, demonstrating some very deft movement when she needed it.

For her part, Pennetta must have visited the same planet she inhabited when she played Venus Williams in the Acapulco final, because she just wasn't there. Her opponent, Alexa Glatch, wasted no time in exploiting Pennetta's error-prone play. I should add that Pennetta had her left thigh taped, and perhaps it was bothering her. One way or the other, Glatch played the way she did in her Fed Cup matches, and was completely dominating.

My disappointments didn't end there, though. Because of her recent health issues, I didn't expect Sabine Lisicki to be able to do much of anything at Roland Garros, but I was nevertheless sad to see her have as much trouble as she did when she lost today to Lucie Safarova. With little match play behind her, Lisicki had a lot of trouble with her serve, which is one of her strongest assests.

Of course, it could have just been Lisicki's evil twin I saw on the court: The commentator referred to her as "Liszinsky" the entire match.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Embree says she isn't good enough to turn pro

Thanks to On the Baseline for this New York Times story on French Open wild card Lauren Embree. Embree lost her first round match against Nadia Petrova, 6-1, 6-2. Petrova said of Embree: "She fought from beginning to end, she kept a lot of balls in play. And she had a lot of variety in her shots."

Embree said she was honored to lose and that she has a lot to learn. She plans to attend the University of Florida and play tennis there. She said she would turn professional if she were a top player, but "I'm just okay."

French Open--what they said

"I stepped on Philippe Chatrier and we played and it was just like a perfect bounce. There’s nothing to complain about. It’s such a good feeling."
Dinara Safina, on her first practice hit at Roland Garros

"I'm adjusting better each day."
Amelie Mauresmo, speaking of the very slow Roland Garros clay

"I’m more confident than I was a couple of weeks ago. I think that’s a step in the right direction."
Serena Williams

What was the problem with your ball toss today?
"The problem? I thought it was pretty good."
Ana Ivanovic

Farewell, Emelie

Emelie Loit announced her retirement today, effective the moment she leaves the doubles court at Roland Garros. The 29-year-old (she'll be 30 June 9) French left-hander is known as a clay court specialist. Loit, whose highest ranking was number 27 (2004), is currently ranked number 117 in the world. Her highest doubles ranking was number 15 (2003), and she is currently ranked number 199.

Loit, who turned pro in 1994, won three Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles titles and sixteen doubles titles. She played for four seasons on the French Fed Cup team.

Loit was defeated today in the first round of the French Open by Timea Bacsinszky. She is playing doubles at the tournament with Kristina Mladenovic. Their first round will be played against 7th seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama.

I always enjoyed watching Loit, with her deft touch, and I know I join many in saying I will miss her.

(The Google translator, by the way, tells me that Loit will soon be permanently storing her snowshoes.)

French Open--notes on first day commentary

I watched quite a bit of the French Open on Tennis Channel's website today. The commentary was done by several different people, all of whom did a fine job of calling the matches, but none of whom knew anything at all about the players or the tour. The service is a very good one, but it would be nice if the commentators were familiar with the players' careers.

On television, Tennis Channel is promoting its "French Open Tonight" feature by promising to introduce its new commentary team member, Tatiana Golovin. The promotional photo of Golovin looks more like a marketing ploy for Playboy than for tennis media. I'm nor surprised, though; after all, this is the company that failed to fire Justin Gimelstob, or to even issue an apology in a way that didn't require a pickax and a miner's lamp to find it.

Note to all commentators: Stop referring to screaming as grunting. Get a dictionary.

Mauresmo out of French Open in first round

We can all relax now, and stop wondering how far Amelie will go at Roland Garros. It's over. The 16th seed was upset by Anna-Lena Groenefeld, 6-4, 6-3, in an hour and seventeen minutes. Though they both had the same number of unforced errors, Groenefeld hit 32 winners to Mauresmo's 13, and her service stats were better. I expected Mauresmo to stick around longer, and I certainly wish she had.

Hers was not the only upset today. Kaia Kanepi, seeded 19th, lost to Yaroslava Shvedova, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2. I didn't see that coming, either.

Unfortunately, Julia Goerges had to retire against Iveta Benesova because of heat illness.

Though Frenchwomen Mauresmo, Mathilde Johansson, Olivia Sanchez, Emilie Loit, and Severine Bremond Beltrame went out today, the home crowd did get one victory: Julie Coin defeated clay specialist Nuria Llagostera Vives, 7-5, 6-2.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

French Open experts' picks

Here are the choices of various tennis writers:

Jon Wertheim--Serena Williams

Greg Garber--Dinara Safina

Bonnie D. Ford--Jelena Jankovic

Steve Tignor--Dinara Safina

Kamakshi Tandon--Dinara Safina

Ravi Ubha--Jelena Jankovic

Quote of the day

"I didn't expect to win. I don't know what happened that I was playing so well."
Alexandra Dulgheru, on winning the Warsaw final

Zvonareva officially out of French Open

Vera Zvonareva did today what seemed inevitable--she withdrew from the French Open. As a rule, the withdrawal of a seeded player from a major would require quite a bit shuffling of matches, but apparently--since the withdrawal occurred after the initial order of play had been established--there will be no shuffling at all. Katie O'Brien steps into Zvonareva's place, giving Olga Govortsova a break.

My guess is that Zvonareva hoped, up until the last moment, that she could enter. It certainly won't be the same without her--I thought she had a good chance to take home the trophy. Her inability to compete is sad. Here's hoping she will soon fully recover.

Welcome to Paris!

The French Open is my favorite of the four majors. I enjoy them all, but for me, nothing compares with watching the clay masters slide, spin, lob, and maneuver. There are people, I know, who do not enjoy watching clay court tennis--I'm just glad I'm not one of them!

The greatest clay court player of all time, most people agree, is Chris Evert. Evert won 125 consecutive matches on clay, and she won the French Open seven times. However, this record has to be looked at in the context of the times. Evert skipped three French Opens during her prime in order to play World Team Tennis. At that time, players were not frantically counting their major titles the way players do now. (Evert and other players often skipped the Australian Open because it occurred during Christmas; Evonne Goolagong sometimes skipped majors simply because she had other things to do.) There is no doubt in my mind that Evert would have won at least one (and probably more) of the titles in those years she skipped, given that she was number 1 in the world and undefeated on clay during those years. We have a very different tennis culture now--one geared more to statistics and major tournament victories.

At Roland Garros, the court is made of a layer of crushed brick, under which lies a layer of slag. The courts must be manually sprinkled in order to assure that there is neither too little nor too much moisture. Each spring, the courts are re-layed because of annual frost damage.

1925 was the first year that the French Open included non-French players. From 1925 on, seven women representing France have won the title. Mary Pierce was the last to win, in 2000, but the last actual Frenchwoman to win was Francoise Durr, in 1967. The great Suzanne Lenglen won the tournament six times; however, four of those wins took place when only Frenchwomen competed. One of the major courts at Roland Garros is named for Lenglen.

Remembering Suzanne Lenglen

Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen, who lost only one match between 1919 and 1926, was considered quite a character. She wore "shocking" designer tennis clothes (which helped her movement), she cried on the court, and she drank brandy from an "emergency kit" between sets.

Lenglen was trained to hit groundstokes by her father, who moved a handkerchief all around the court and instructed his charge to hit the handkerchief target. Lenglen also swam, ran sprints, and jumped rope as part of her training. She startled spectators with her accuracy, grace and anticipation. Lenglen's combination of athleticism, skill, grace, and court histrionics helped make tennis an international sport of prestige. To this day, many still consider her the greatest female tennis player of all time. Rene Lacoste said of her: "It was only after several games that I understood what harmony was concealed by her simplicity, what wonderful mental and physical balance was hidden by the facility of her play...."

Here is part of the only match La Divine ever played against Helen Wills. The match took place in Cannes in 1926. Lenglen won the match, 6-3, 8-6.

Dulgheru sure knows how to make an entrance

Alexsandra Dulgheru had never before played in a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour event when she entered the Warsaw Open. She must have liked the experience, because she hung around to the very end, and today, she won the title.

Though it pains me to say it, the unseeded Dulgheru had a bit of luck, in that her opponent in the final--number 8 seed Alona Bondarenko, also the 2007 finalist--is given to fits and starts, and can easily plummet from the sublime to the ridiculous in the course of a match. Reading what spectators said--and seeing the scoreline--I can say with assurance that Bondarenko chose today to have one of her meltdowns.

It's a shame about Bondarenko, but--like Daniela Hantuchova and some other gifted tour players--she has not learned to control her emotions, and she often appears to lack belief. After she played her first round in Charleston, I spoke with her for a bit, and--as I left, I said to her, "Keep it up!" She looked at me knowingly, grinned, said "Yeah" and did a little "you know me" shrug. Sure enough, she lost her next round. In fairness, I should add that she lost to a very in-form Victoriya Kutuzova, but it was still a match Bondarenko should probably have won.

One of my readers informs me that Dulgheru had some more luck in this tournament: She missed her flight to Warsaw and assumed she would not be able to play in the qualifying rounds. Fortunately for her, it rained, and qualifying was postponed for a day.

In her journey to the final, Dulgheru defeated both Sara Errani and Hantuchova. Dulgheru entered the Warsaw Open as number 201 in the world, but on Monday, she will be ranked number 83. She will be 20 years old next Saturday.

Doubles results

I never thought I would see a 6-1, 6-1 scoreline against Yan Zi and Zheng Jie, but the former top five players have had their work cut out for them, getting match-tough again after injury problems. The 2nd seeds were defeated today in the final of the Warsaw Open by 3rd seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

In Strasbourg, 2nd seeds Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo took the title, defeating Claire Feuerstein and Stephanie Foretz, 6-0, 6-1.

Rezai wins her first title

Aravane Rezai defeated Lucie Hradecka 7-6, 6-1 today to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg, her first tour title. Rezai has been a finalist on two occasions. To get to the final, Rezai defeated 2nd seed Sybille Bammer, Anastasiya Yakomova, Monica Niculescu, and Victoriya Kutuzova.

Friday, May 22, 2009

French Open miscellany

Here's a peek at part of the 1989 women's final, in which Arantxa Sanchez defeated Steffi Graf.

Jelena Jankovic, lucky woman, has been enjoying the Cannes Film Festival this week, en route to Paris. Jankovic was there to represent the Foundation for AIDS Research.

Speaking of Jankovic, here is a look at her French Open dress.

"You just have to enjoy every moment," is Marat Safin's advice to his sister as she begins her Roland Garros competition.

Amelie Mauresmo is hopeful about Wimbledon, but not so much about the French Open.

Ana Ivanovic, on the other hand, reports that the inflammation in her knee has disappeared, and she is feeling good about her chances.

Qualifiers set for French Open

The following women have qualified for the main draw of the French Open:

Yaroslava Shvedova
Zuzana Ondraskova
Anastasija Sevastova
Polona Hercoq
Chanelle Scheepers
Vitalia Diatchenko
Michelle Larcher de Brito
Arantxa Rus
Corinna Dentoni
Yvonne Meusburger
Petra Martic
Carly Gullickson

Mariana Duque Marino is the lucky loser (it appears that Petra Kvitova has withdrawn) and is also into the main draw. For those not familiar with the revised system--lucky losers are now chosen at random, and not based on qualifying seeding.

More complicated is the expected withdrawal of Vera Zvonareva. Should she withdraw--and most of us expect her to do so--the draw will be turned topsy-turvy by substitutions.

Hradecka and Rezai go to Strasbourg final

Lucie Hradecka won her Strasbourg semifinal match 6-0, 1-0 today when her opponent, Ayumi Morita, retired with a left thigh strain. In the final, Hradecka will play Aravane Rezai, who defeated Victoriya Kutuzova, 6-4, 6-2. None of the semifinalists was seeded.

Bondarenko and Dulgheru to meet in Warsaw final

Alexandra Dulgheru chose the Warsaw Open as her first tour tournament, and it was a good choice. Today, the Romanian newcomer, ranked number 201 in the world, defeated 6th seed Daniela Hantuchova in the semifinals, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1. Her opponent will be 8th-seeded Alona Bondarenko, who defeated Anne Keothavong, 6-2, 7-5.

French Open draw: Some tasty first round matches await

When I looked at the French Open draw this morning, I noticed more potentially interesting first round matches than I have seen in a while. Here are some I plan to watch, or at least follow:

Victoria Azarenka vs. Roberta Vinci: The 9th seed--on paper--should cruise through this match, but Azarenka has been struggling on clay courts, and Vinci is more than comfortable on them. This has also been an unusually good clay season for Vinci.

Sara Errani vs. Ana Ivanovic: The term "grinder" suits Errani completely. She is relentless from the baseline, and is willing to hang there for hours. Her tennis is no match for the 8th seed, but she can frustrate her.

Lucie Safarova vs. Sabine Lisicki: Safarova is a very talented player who just doesn't know how to string victories together. Her inconsistency could do her in, but there is another factor at work in this round. Safarova's talented opponent has experienced a shoulder injury and a serious illness, and has had no match play since Charleston. I don't know whether Lisicki is in any condition to compete in a major.

Dominika Cibulkova vs. Alona Bondarenko: These are two players who frustrate fans--Cibulkova because she is injured so often, and Bondarenko because she is so inconsistent. If they both show up in form, it could be a great match.

Tamira Paszek vs. Gisela Dulko: The fading phenom plays the under-achiever. Paszek has had her share of the problems lately, though she is still capable of causing some trouble from the baseline. Dulko is an excellent clay court player who doesn't always come through, usually because of service problems. It's Dulko's match to lose.

Li Na vs. Marta Domachowska: Clay isn't Li's surface, so--if Domachowska should happen to have one of her rare good days--the 25th seed could find herself in some trouble.

Virginie Razzano vs. Daniela Hantuchova: Razzano was simply terrible in Charleston, and clay is not her favorite surface. But it isn't Hantuchova's preferred surface, either. If Razzano brings her fighting spirit and Hantuchova can stay away from errors, this could be quite an entertaining match.

Samantha Stosur vs. Francesca Schiavone: Stosur is 2-1 against Schiavone, and, surprisingly, was the victor the one time they played each other on clay. Stosur is one of the few players to have a good first and second serve, but it has sometimes let her down since she returned to the tour. Schiavone is obviously winding down, but perhaps someone can convince her she is playing a Fed Cup match, and then Stosur will have her hands full.

Klara Zakopalova vs. Serena Williams: This match is of interest because Zakopalova defeated Williams in the first round of the Adalucia Tennis Experience. Williams was injured at the time. Right now, it is kind of difficult to discern the state of the 2nd seed's health, but it doesn't take much discernment to assume she will get to the second round.

Bad luck for Anne Keothavong, who drew number 1 seed Dinara Safina in the first round. Better luck, though, for Olga Govortsova, who is scheduled to play Vera Zvonareva; the Russian is expected to withdraw any moment.

Friday cat blogging--now we are 3!

Tarzan and Ziggy Stardust turn three some time this month--we don't know the exact date. There is probably going to be a big party with a lot of loud, trashy music; expect a lot of nip to be smoked.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Watching the classics

After seeing the 1986 French Open final again this week on Tennis Channel, I believe that--first set excluded--it was even better than the 1985 final. I say excluding the first set because Chris Evert, who rarely double-faulted her entire career, somehow double-faulted the entire first set away. But after that, the shot-making by both her and Martina Navratilova was spectacular. These are two of my favorite matches of all time, partly because they were comeback matches for Evert, but also because they show the two champions in such wonderful form.

Tennis Channel also showed the infamous 1999 final, which I just about cannot bear to watch. Though I am well aware that Martina Hingis brought much of her pain on herself in that match, I still think the French crowd was too harsh on her. And--as great as it was to see the almost-30-year-old Steffi Graf win her 22nd major--it still pains me to watch Hingis let it slip away the way she did.

More painful, though, is to listen to Graf tell her opponent, "don't worry," because she would have other chances and she was sure to win her own French Open title. Shortly before Graf comforted Hingis, Chris Evert proclaimed, from the broadcast booth, that "She's going to be around for a long time, and she's sure to win the French Open." Of course, she not only failed to win the French Open--she never won another major. It still makes me sad.

Another thing that makes me sad is that Evert is no longer a French Open commentator. Several years ago, she asked to be relieved of her duties because she wanted to spend more time with her adolescent sons. I assumed that, once they got a bit older, she would come back, but she never did. The French Open just isn't the same without Evert.

French Open qualifying continues

Playing on an injured leg, Lenka Wienerova lost her second round French Open qualifying match today to Lauren Albanese. I was disappointed, and I hope she is healthy soon.

Michelle Larcher de Brito advanced to the third round of qualifying, with a win over Yuliana Fedak.

Bondarenko sends Sharapova out of Strasbourg

Even if Sharapova were not just coming back from a lengthy injury layoff--assuming Alona Bondarenko was having a switched-on day (so many of her days are not)--she would be favored to defeat the former world number 1 on red clay. That is what she did today, 6-2, 6-2, in Warsaw. However, Alona and her sister Kateryna did not fare as well in their doubles semifinal. The 4th seeds were defeated by 2nd seeds Yan Zi and Zheng Jie, 7-6, 6-3.

Also through to the singles semifinals are Anne Keothavong, Alexandra Dulgheru and Daniela Hantuchova.

In Strasbourg, Lucie Hradecka, Ayumi Morita, Victoriya Kutuzova, and Aravane Rezai advanced to the semifinals. Morita upset 3rd seed Peng Shuai.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Defending champion retires in Strasbourg

Anabel Medina Garrigues, who was going for a fourth title in Strasbourg, had to retire today in her second round match against Kristina Barrois. Medina Garrigues suffered a lower back injury, which she says should heal in three or four days.

Yesterday saw four seeds--Nathalie Dechy, Elena Vesnina, Tamarine Tanasugarn, and Anna-Lena Groenefeld--taken out in the first round. The biggest surprise was the early exit of Vesnina, who was defeated by Julie Coin (and not for the first time). The hometown spirit was alive today, too, as Stephanie Cohen-Aloro defeated Gisela Dulko in the second round. Dulko hit nine aces and committed nine double faults. Cohen-Aloro also committed nine double faults. Cohen-Aloro prevailed--4-6, 7-6, 6-4--in a match that lasted two and a half hours.

Zheng and Errani upset in Warsaw

Klara Zakopalova took 3rd seed Zheng Jie out of the Warsaw Open in the second round today. Zakopalova defeated Zheng 6-0, 6-4. Also going out was 5th seed Sara Errani, who lost to qualifier Alexandra Dulgheru. Seeds 4, 7 and 9--Aleksandra Wozniak, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Tsvetana Pironkova--all went out yesterday in the first round.

Maria Sharapova is through to the quarterfinals, in which she will meet Alona Bondarenko.

French Open qualifying has begun

The first round of Roland Garros qualifying has been completed, and a few of the results are surprising--but not in a good way. The biggest shocker, at least for me, was the 6-0, 6-1 beatdown of Melanie Oudin by Zuzana Ondraskova. I was also suprised that Sophie Ferguson defeated Anastasia Rodionova--whose game has improved so much. The match went to three sets, with Ferguson winning 7-6, 4-6, 6-1.

Sadly, Elena Bovina lost her first round match. She was soundly defeated by Tatiana Malek, 6-2, 6-1. Also going out early in qualifying was Michaella Krajicek, who lost to Simona Halep (6-4, 7-5), and Kimiko Date Krumm had to retire early in the second set. Also losing was Julia Vakulenka.

Through to the second round are Michelle Larcher de Brito, Yuliana Fedak, Sesil Karatantcheva, and Lenka Wienerova.


The Wall Street Journal takes a look at match-fixing, and--specifically--an approach that was made to Ekaterina Bychkova. Almost a year ago, Akiko Morigami clearly said she was approached and asked to throw a match, and then, a few days later, insisted her comments had been "misunderstood." The speed with which the sports media abandoned the Morigami story was right up there in the Jankovic court movement realm.

Robert Radwanski is at it again, this time insisting that the organizers of the Warsaw Open did not treat his daughter fairly.

Vera Zvonareva has been named UNESCO's latest Gender Equality Ambassador.

Jelena Dokic has won one main draw match since the Australian Open. Some people--you know who they are--have mocked her for experiencing sports fatigue syndrome, but that is a nasty state of affairs that depletes just about every part of one's body.

Australian Olivia Rogowska has been added to the French Open wild card list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The 2009 French Open--a mystery waiting to unfold

Among ATP players, the Australian Open is considered the most unpredictable of the majors, but when it comes to the WTA, it is the French Open that is generally considered the one that is hardest to call, and that is especially true now that Justine Henin has retired. It is a hard year for making predictions.


Dinara Safina: The world number 1, and last year's finalist, is wonderful on red clay. She is fit, and she is a fighter. There is every reason to believe that she can win this year at Roland Garros. However, Thrill Ride has a habit of coming from far behind in matches, and thereby taxing the physical and mental energy she needs to be successful in seven rounds of play. Last year, by the time she reached the final, she was depleted--at least mentally. Safina's exciting play is great for putting fans on the edges of their seats, but she needs to bring it down a notch or two if she expects to hold the trophy. Her performance in recent matches shows that she is capable of doing this.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: Kuznetsova is as talented a clay contender as there is, yet she has never won the French Open. She recently won in Stuttgart, an achievement which appeared to turn her career around, and she was the finalist in Rome the next week. That Rome final, however, featured the Kuznetsova who folds under pressure, the one who gets into finals and does not win them. To be fair, the pressure she was under (from Safina) was relentless, but Kuznetsova was not able to respond well enough. Nevertheless, she is a contender to take the title at Roland Garros.

Serena Williams: Whether Williams is really a contender depends on her health. If her knee is stable, she can win just about anything. If not, she will not be able to compete at the top level. Good health, however, does not guarantee her the title.

Ana Ivanovic: Ivanovic is the defending champion. But that is not the same Ivanovic whom we are seeing in 2009. Still a bit uncertain and still struggling with her serve, Ivanovic just does not look like she is ready to go seven rounds in a major. There is every reason to believe that she'll turn things around, but it is unlikely that she will do so at this time. Still, a defending champion is always a contender.

Jelena Jankovic: Six months ago, I considered Jankovic one of a few players most likely to win the 2009 French Open. I no longer think her chances are as good, but--as she struggles to overcome her off-season fitness disaster and to regain her confidence--I have to place her in the contender category on the basis of her considerable clay court talent, and her indefatigable spirit.

Elena Dementieva: For a few years, many of us said, "If only Elena could develop a good serve, she would win a major." The development of that good serve is now a fait accompli, but Dementieva still seems to get stuck in the upper end of big tournaments. There was a time (back when she couldn't serve) that she was the deadliest three-set player on the tour; if you went to a third with Dementieva, you were a goner. But now she is vulnerable. (Those of us who recall when Dementeiva could serve decently--way back when, before her injury--should also recall that she frequently got stalled in those days, too.) Dementieva has the skills to win at Roland Garros, though--as of right now--she is not at the top of the contender list.

Amelie Mauresmo: Who knew that Mauresmo would emerge as a contender in 2009? But she is, despite the fact that she has always felt too much pressure to be really competitive in Paris. As good on clay as she is on grass, Mauresmo is fit again, though her confidence and focus left her in the Madrid semifinal, which makes her less of a contender than I hoped she would be. She will need to get that confidence back, and to shed some of the anxiety she has always felt about playing in front of her countrypeople, but I make her an outside contender because I have seen her turn things around so many times before.


Caroline Wozniacki: Wozniacki, in my opinion, is not likely to win the French Open, but she could knock out some top players on a good day. She is beginning to like clay courts, and she has an energy about her that is pleasant to watch. Depending on the draw, she could go far.

Venus Williams: I don't think Williams will win, either (though others do consider her a contender) but when her serve is on, she can be deadly. She is not likely to be really deadly, however, until her feet are on grass.

Flavia Pennetta: Pennetta is hard to predict; her career goes in waves. But there is no doubting her ability to confound almost any opponent, especially on clay. Pennetta can hit hard, think quickly, and produce a wide variety of stunning shots.

Patty Schnyder: Schnyder is a joy to watch when she plays on clay. She can spin, lob and drop an opponent into a frenzy, and she now has a pretty good backhand to go with that loopy--and effective--forehand. When Schnyder is serving well, she has an excellent first and second serve. When she isn't serving well, her game can go to pieces. If she can keep her service game consistent, she can do some damage in Paris.

Sabine Lisicki: The surprise Charleston champion struggled with a shoulder injury at the beginning of the European clay season. That healed, but now she is dealing with some type of abdominal disorder. If she is healthy for the French Open, she is definitely a player to watch, though--sadly--she won't be match-tough. The big server and hard hitter from Germany has added plenty of finesse and an obvious cerebral level to her now most impressive game.

Maria Sharapova: She's back! The self-proclaimed "cow on ice" (on clay courts) will be in Paris, and it will be really good to see her there.

Victoria Azarenka: Azarenka is a very hot player these days, but red clay is not her strength--she may even contend for Sharapova's bovine title. Still, given how much she has achieved, we need to keep an eye on her. She might also surprise us.

Anabel Medina Garrigues: Always a fighter, clay specialist Medina Garrigues can hang in longer than most players, and is always fun to watch.

Marion Bartoli: Bartoli is somewhat of a mystery. The 2007 Wimbledon finalist is very good on clay, and no one on the tour is a better returner of serve. Bartoli, however, is given to moments of sudden fatigue, possibly a result of her lengthy and difficult training regimen, and her body can be fragile. But when she is healthy and fresh, the two-handed Frenchwoman can blow opponents off the court.

Gisela Dulko: Dulko is one of those players who should be ranked higher than she is. Like Schnyder, she owns a really good serve, but it isn't always available. She hits the ball much harder than her small frame would indicate, and she can be quite effective on clay, where she is almost always upset material.

Dominika Cibulkova: Cibulkova has been struggling with injuries again--her back and her thigh--and may not be in the best of shape for the French Open, if she even shows up for it. But if she is reasonably healthy, she can be impressive on clay.

Elena Vesnina: No longer the "other Russian," Vesnina already has my support for the Most Improved Player award. She is smart and precise, and if you haven't watched her play lately, you're in for a surprise.

Agnieszka Radwanska: Radwanska is always worth watching. With the dead-on, all-business affect and precision of Evert and the cleverness of both Evert and Hingis, Radwanska--not unlike the pre-trauma Anna Chakvetadze--uses her brain as much as her racquet, and has an uncanny sense of ball placement. (As of now, Radwanska is entered in the tournament, but she, too, has been struggling with an injury.)


Katarina Srebotnik: Srebotnik upset the tennis world last year when she took Serena Williams out of the tournament in the third round. She has a lot of clay court skills, but two foot injuries have forced her to stay off the court.

Kim Clijsters: She's back, and I wish she had entered the tournament she came so close to winning on two occasions.

Vera Zvonareva: I thought Zvonareva had a really good shot at winning the tournament this year, but her unfortunate injury in Charleston is sure to put her out of the competition. The French Open hasn't even started, and I already miss her.

Monday, May 18, 2009

1986 French Open final

The 1986 French Open final between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova will be shown tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 8 p.m., and again at 11 p.m. EST on Tennis Channel. Both the 1985 and 1986 finals are classics worth seeing again and again.

Quote of the day

"After a couple of years feeling not so good, at least I will arrive feeling a little bit better 'tennistically'."
Amelie Mauresmo, on her prospects for the French Open

Update on Lisicki

Sabine Lisicki was sufferning with a shoulder injury recently, and I wondered whether she would make it to Roland Garros, or--if she did--what kind of shape she would be in. The good news is that the shoulder problem appears to be history. The bad news is that she was admitted to a hospital three days ago with such severe abdominal pains that the first suspicion was appendicitis. Appendicitis has now been ruled out, however. Of course, she withdrew from Warsaw, and--as of now--it is uncertain whether she will play in the French Open.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Injury update

Agnieszka Radwanska has withdrawn from the Warsaw Open; she is still suffering from the back injury she sustained in Madrid.

Also, Caroline Wozniacki has withdrawn because of a back problem.

Really bad news--Chan Yung-Jan will not play in the French Open because the stress fracture in her left food has not healed. I assume that Chuang Chia-Jung will continue to play with Sania Mirza while she waits for her partner to get healthy.

Dominika Cibulkova is still out with a left thigh injury, Ana Ivanovic is taking care of a knee injury, and both Katarina Srebotnik and Vera Zvonareva have ankle injuries. Srebotnik's ankle injury was preceded by an Achilles injury.

We will not see Srebotnik, Zvonareva or Chan at the French Open; we do expect to se Radwanska, Cibulkova and Ivanovic.

Quote of the day

"There are some moments when you want to break all the racquets and send everything to hell."
Dinara Safina, quoted in Tennis

Safina wins two in a row

No Thrill Ride today. Except for a bump near the end, the world number 1 cleanly and efficiently managed a straight set win over Caroline Wozniacki, and claimed the Mutua Madrelena Madrid Open championship.

Serving better than she has in a while, Safina put the kind of pressure on Wozniacki that she put on Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Rome final last week. It wasn't until the second set that Wozniacki became creative enough to respond to that pressure, but her efforts were insufficient. In the seventh game of that set, serving at 40-0, Safina suddenly found herself at deuce. There would be six more deuces, but ultimately, no turning point for Wozniacki, as Safina calmly pulled herself out of trouble and went on to win the match, 6-2, 6-4.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Black and Huber win Madrid title

Cara Black and Liezel Huber, who have looked a bit vulnerable lately, managed their top seed billing well today in Madrid by taking the title. They defeated 3rd seeds Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond 4-6, 6-3, 10-6.


Jelena Jankovic appears ready to replace coach Ricardo Sanchez after the French Open.

Here is the transcript of Monica Seles' recent ESPN chat.

The USTA has opened a regional training center in Austin.

Steve Flink talks with Craig Kardon about Ana Ivanovic.

We're way into the season and Tennis Live Radio has still not gone back on the air.

Wild card Maria Sharapova will play Tathiana Garbin in the first round of the Warsaw Open next week.

Wozniacki to meet Safina in Madrid final

I haven't gotten enough sleep lately, so I made the decision to skip the semifinals this morning. However, a marauding tabby cat woke me up at 5 a.m., and the temptation to turn on the television was too great. I wish now that I hadn't done so. I tuned in just in time to see Mauresmo--generally an outstanding tiebreak competitor--become unglued in a tiebreak. Then I learned that she had failed to convert two set points on her own serve, and two on Caroline Wozniacki's serve. Mauresmo did not pull herself together for the second set (what was that about?), which Wozniacki won, 6-2.

With bleary eyes, I watched the second semifinal between Dinara Safina and Patty Schnyder, which Safina won 6-4, 6-2, though the scoreline of the second set is somewhat deceptive. Schnyder looked down on herself in that set, and her frustration appeared to trigger many of her errors, something we have seen before.

The world number 1 may get a spirited challenge from Wozniacki, and she needs to remember that patience is her key.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Veterans' Day in Madrid

Amelie Mauresmo, written off again and again by both fans and the media, advanced to the semifinals of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open today, with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 win over Agnes Szavay. Mauresmo will next play Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated Vera Dushevina, 6-0, 6-4.

Top seed Dinara Safina defeated Alona Bondarenko in straight sets (6-3, 6-4) and will play Patty Schnyder, who knocked out Jelena Jankovic, also in straight sets (7-6, 6-3).

The Jankovic-Schnyder match featured Schnyder on her best game a good deal of the time, though there was a definite drop in her level at the beginning of the second set. However, when Jankovic began making errors, Schnyder saw the opening and again raised her level. It was the kind of match you expect on clay--many breaks of serves, and plenty of lobs, change-ups and drop shots. No one executes the drop shot as well as Schnyder, and today, she used it to great advantage against Jankovic. That isn't an easy thing to do, since Jankovic is such a good mover.

Both players missed several golden opportunities; twice, Schnyder double-faulted on break point. But in the end, it was Schnyder who played a cleaner match, and who was better able to exploit the weaknesses of her opponent. She also hit 29 winners.

Schnyder is 30 years old, and Mauresmo will be 30 in July. Sometimes experience is the key.

Friday cat blogging--tough week edition

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Madrid quarterfinals set

This is the lineup for the Madrid quarterfinals, which take place on Friday:

Car0line Wozniacki vs. Vera Dushevina
Dinara Safina vs. Alona Bondarenko
Agnes Szavay vs. Amelie Mauresmo
Jelena Jankovic vs. Patty Schnyder

Number 7 seed Victoria Azarenka was upset today by Agnes Szavay, who is making a nice comeback this year. It is only fair to say, however, that Azarenka and her partner, Elena Vesnina, retired near the beginning of their doubles quarterfinal because of a knee injury sustained by Azarenka. I think that if Azarenka had been totally healthy, she would still have lost to Szavay, but we won't know much about that until the next time the two of them meet on red clay. Szvay, for her part, appears to have returned to form after enduring a dreadful 2008 season.

Two players served bagel sets today. Dinara Safina took her first set against Lucie Safarova, 6-0, and Alona Bondarenko served a 6-0 first set to Anna Chakvetadze. Both matches went three sets.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mauresmo and Schnyder advance in Madrid

As readers of this blog know, Amelie Mauresmo and Patty Schnyder are two of my favorite players, so it was nice to see them both win their matches in Madrid today and advance to the quarterfinal round. The Schnyder match against Nadia Petrova was not televised where I live, but I did get to see Mauresmo play Elena Dementieva. After the first set, Mauresmo appeared to be in 2006 form.

Both wins were upsets. Mauresmo--unseeded--defeated the 3rd seed, and Schnyder--also unseeded--defeated the number 8 seed. (It feels strange to refer to both Mauresmo and Schnyder as unseeded.)

These were not the upsets. 6th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova was defeated in straight sets by Alona Bondarenko, and in doubles, number 2 seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual were defeated by Chuang Chia-Jung and Sania Mirza.

Some worthwhile reads

Thanks to After Atalanta for pointing out this New York Times feature on Carla Suarez Navarro. (I think what affected me most about it was being reminded that Francesca Schiavone is no longer in the top 40.)

Kamakshi Tandon takes Serena Williams to task for her constant complaining that the tour forces to play in tournaments, even though she is injured.

Todd Spiker previews the French Open.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Venus loses second round match in Madrid

Alisa Kleybanova is a bit like Tsvetana Pironkova, in that she tends to occasionally take down the mighty. Today, in Madrid, marked one of those occasions, when the Russian player--hitting hard groundstrokes, getting back a lot of balls, and waiting for her opponent to make errors--prevailed over a top player. Kleybanova defeated 5th seed Venus Williams 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. Williams was down 3-5 in the third set, but fought her way back to 5-all, only to be broken.

In one way, it was a typical clay court match--there were thirteen breaks of serve. But there wasn't much clay court razzle-dazzle from either player; it was more of a test of who could remain steadier just a bit longer.

Also upset today was 15th seed Zheng Jie, who was defeated in straight sets by Amelie Mauresmo. Despite Mauresmo's history of discomfort at the French Open, she is one of the few players who is a specialist on both clay and grass courts.

Also leaving the tournament today was Daniela Hantuchova, who was defeated by 4th seed Jelena Jankovic.

Peer out of French Open

Shahar Peer's foot injury has been diagnosed as a stress fracture, and she will not be at Roland Garros this year. Whether she will be at Wimbledon depends on how she heals.

It is also looking like Agnieszk Radwanska may not be at the French Open, either, because of a shoulder (one report says it's her back) injury.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Groenefeld and Schnyder upset in Madrid first round

Number 8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Patty Schnyder did not make it past the first round today at the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. They were defeated, 6-2, 7-6, by the unseeded team of Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina. The other seeds going out were Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta. The 6th seeds retired when Pennetta sustained a thigh strain. Their opponents, Hsieh Su-wei and Janette Husarova, advanced to the second round.

Serena Williams retires in Madrid

2nd seed Serena Williams retired today in Madrid after she played her first set against Francesca Schiavone. Williams continues to have problems with her knee.

Also retiring was Shahar Peer, who--so it seems--pushed it to hard in Estoril last week, and then went to Madrid and pushed it some more. Peer injured her ankle at the Estoril Open.

Flavia Pennetta retired from her doubles match today with a thigh strain. Yesterday, Kaia Kanepi retired--I no longer recall why. Kanepi is having a bad time of it. Last week in Rome, she double-faulted away a match against Victoria Azarenka in which she had Azarenka quite bewildered and frustrated.


Maria Sharapova says she will be playing in Warsaw next week. I won't be fully convinced of that until the tournament begins, but I certainly hope it turns out to be a reality.

Virginia Wade says that the order of things can and will be upset.

And, as Wade mentions, the hideous model "ball girls" are back.

Anabel Medina Garrigues has reached a career-high ranking of number 17 in the world.

Anna Ivanovic has a knee injury, Serena Williams has another knee injury, Flavia Pennetta has a thigh strain, Sabine Lisicki has a shoulder injury, Vera Zvonareva has an ankle injury, and Katarina Srebotnik is still healing from injuries to both her ankle and her Achilles. Some of the really good clay players are not in very good physical shape, and the French Open is just around the corner. Don't expect to see Srebotnik or Zvonareva, and let's all hope that Ivanovic, Williams, Pennetta, and Lisicki will be in good health.

Note to Tennis Channel commentators: Amelie Mauresmo is not the only woman on the tour with a one-handed backhand; she is just the player with the most beautiful one-handed backhand.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

5 seeds upset in first round in Madrid

10th seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 11th seed Marion Bartoli, 12th seed Flavia Pennetta, 13th seed Alize Cornet, and 14th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues have all been defeated in the first round in Madrid--by Samantha Stosur, Aleksandra Wozniak, Agnes Szavay, Elena Vesnina, and Vera Dushevina, respectively.

Medina Garrigues, a clay specialist, was upset in the first round in Rome last week by Anna Chakvetadze. The week before that, she won the championship in Fes.

It was a bad day for the Spanish today. Lourdes Dominguez Lino won her first round match against Akgul Amanmuradova, but other Spaniards were not so lucky. The highest-ranked Spanish woman, Medina Gagrrigues, went out, as previously stated, but she had some company. Carla Suarez Navarro and Nuria Llagostera Vives were also defeated. Yesterday, Silvia Soler Espinosa lost her match.

Some people may be confused about which players received byes in the Madrid tournament: The only players getting byes were the semifinalists from Rome.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hsieh and Peng win Rome doubles title

Hsieh Su-wei and Peng Shuai, who won the 2008 Bali title and the 2009 Sydney title, won the Internazionali BNL d'Italia doubles championship today. Hsieh and Peng defeated Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama 7-5, 7-6.

Wickmeyer wins the Estoril Open

Depending on how you want to look at it, it's been either a terrible or a very good two weeks for Ekaterina Makarova. Losing in the Fes final to Anabel Medina Garrigues last week, today she lost in the Estoril final, to Yanina Wickmeyer. Wickmayer claimed her first tour title by defeating Makarova 7-5, 6-2. On her way to the final, the 6th seed defeated Petra Kvitova, Olga Govortsova and Sorana Cirstea, and received a retirement from Shahar Peer.

The 2009 doubles champions are Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, who defeated Sharon Fichman and Katalin Morosi, 2-6, 6-3, 10-5. It is their first tour doubles title as a team.

Safina wins Rome, and makes it look easy

There was no Thrill Ride today. Instead, the Dinara Safina who the world number 1 claims is the real one showed up for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia final. Aggressive from the first ball she hit, Safina never let up on the pressure against her talented opponent. And the pressure did Kuznetsova in, as she lost the patience she had shown all week, and made errors as she tried to fight back.

Is this a turning point for Safina? Or just a psychological wellness day? Time will tell. It felt to me like it could be a turning point. If it is, I have to confess that I'll miss those 2-5 down in the third matches. But, as she discovered in the French Open final last year, Safina cannot keep those kind of antics going too long and still win championsips. They are too mentally exhausting, not to mention the physical toll they take.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Some thoughts about on-court coaching

Apparently, Tom Tebbutt is under the impression that non-English-speaking people do not own televisions. In his Globe and Mail editorial about on-court coaching, he says that "...WTA Tour officials have bowed to pressure from television to allow it, despite the fact that most of the conversations these days take place in Russian, Spanish or some other language that the majority of television viewers don't comprehend."

Well, Brits are generally as insular as Americans. After that remark, I had to force myself to read the rest of the editorial, and I'm glad I did. Tebbutt is especially disturbed by the sight of middle-aged men--often fathers--coming onto the court and telling young women and girls what to do (I think he has the wrong impression about Wozniacki's father, however; he is very expressive, but I don't think he "yammers"). I couldn't agree more. The on-court coaching scenario is almost always a microcosm of the real world, in which females, especially younger ones, readily submit to male authorities."

So, in order to provide some balance, where are the women coaches? We don't see too many of them, and there are various theories about why they are scarce. One of the most popular ones is that women do not want to travel because they have children, which leads us to the inevitable conclusion that men do not mind leaving their children behind. I'm not saying I agree with this theory--just that it isn't a pretty one.

It is also possible that most of the players, born during the so-called "post-feminist" (which is to say non-feminist) period, believe that men, not women, should be authority figures. There is no doubt that ATP players believe that; I have never heard of a female ATP coach. If there were one, believe me, there would be hundreds of inane and patronizing articles written about her. In the meantime, members of the sports press don't even ask why women don't have female coaches, much less why men don't.

It could be both of those reasons or there may be other reasons. At any rate, the lack of female coaches is troublesome. And I share Tebbutt's discomfort about the image portrayed by the current on-court coaching scenarios.

Gender issues aside, many people are uncomfortable with on-court coaching because they believe that tennis players are supposed to figure things out by themselves. I used to feel very strongly that way, but I have softened somewhat on that issue. What bothers me more is the attachment of the microphone to the coach so that the television viewers can hear what is being said, and the commentators can make truly ridiculous remarks about it, telling us how "interesting" or "insightful" it is that a coach says something anyone with half a brain has already observed.

Quote of the day

"There are moments like now [when] I feel they (WTA) don't care if you are headless, if you don't play a tournament you are severely punished."
Serena Williams, contemplating her loss in Rome

Paszek out in first round of Madrid qualifying

There was a time, not that long ago, when many people thought Tamira Paszek would be the next big thing. But so often, the Next Big Thing is steadily improving and quietly working her way through the rankings, unaffected by the pressure of expectation, whereas all eyes have been on Paszek.

A talented baseliner, Paszek has had her share of instability. She apparently was very attached to her coach, Larri Passos, and had to deal with interference from her father, who sent Passos away and wanted his daughter to get a different coach. My understanding is that Paszek's mother intervened, and Paszek reunited with Passos. But not for long. For whatever reason, she left him again, and is now training at the Sanchez Academy in Spain.

While she was with Passos, Paszek's ranking jumped from 365 to 35. Her current ranking is 60. Paszek won Portoroz in 2006, and made it to the round of 16 at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2007, but since then, she has been inconsistent. I saw her play Cibulkova in the second round in Charleston last month, but she hurt her hand during the match, and was unable to perform well after that.

Today, Paszek lost in the first Madrid qualifying round, to Varvara Lepchenko, who handled her easily, winning 6-1, 6-2.

Paszek is only 18, and the Sanchez Academy is a good place for her to train. I think that she will straighten out whatever is wrong and start climbing up the rankings again--I hope.

Safina and Kuznetsova to play in Rome final

Dinara Safina had a terrible time winning her semifinal match against Venus Williams. Serving for the match at 6-7, 6-3, 5-4, 30-15, Safina made the final game a microcosm of the entire match. She double-faulted--not the only time she would do that--which helped give Williams four break points. But every time she was close to being broken, Safina came up with blistering winners that gave her a chance to start all over at deuce. She blew a couple of match points, but was finally able to close.

Williams dominated the beginning of the match, though Safina was able to force a tiebreak in the first set. Williams won that set, and then went up a break in the second. Things didn't look too good for the world number 1 on paper, but we're talking about Thrill Ride here, and she was happy to turn the set--and the match--around, amid many curves, bumps and traps. That's how she operates. Not surprisingly, Williams' forehand became a deficit, and eventually, so did her backhand. In the end, Safina--despite lapses--was just too tough mentally.

The match lasted over three hours, and was one of the best matches I've seen this year--a true thriller.

Safina's opponent in the final will be Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has been playing superbly in Rome. Kuznetsova finished off a sullen, error-prone Victoria Azarenka, who never got past her (justified) displeasure over a bad line call early in the match. Kuznetsova won the match 6-2, 6-4.