Friday, April 30, 2010

Baltacha out in 1st round of Rome qualifying

Top Rome qualifying seed Elena Baltacha lost to Greta Arn today in the first round of qualifying. Arn defeated her 2-6, 6-3, 7-6. 2nd and 3rd seeds Ayumi Morita and Pauline Parmentier advanced to the next round.

Wild cards announced for Madrid

Five wild cards have been awarded for the main draw of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open. Receiving wild cards are Ana Ivanovic, Sybille Bammer, Virginia Ruano Pascual, and Arantxa Parra Santonja. A fifth wild card, determined by fan vote on Marca, goes to Peng Shuai.

So who is Anna Lapushchenkova?

Many of us had heard the name "Lapushchenkova," but had never seen the player until today, when she reached the semifinals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Anna Lapushchenkova is a 23-year-old Russian who plays right-handed, with a (serious) two-handed backhand. Lapushchenova began playing in ITF tournaments in 2002, but did not play regularly until 2005.

The new semifinalist has won ten ITF events, six of which were played on clay. She played in her first Sony Ericsson WTA tour main draw in 2007, and has continued to play in ITF tournaments. Lapushchenkova is ranked number 138 in the world; at the end of 2009, she was ranked number 172. Her career-high ranking was 95, which she attained in the summer of 2008.

In Stuttgart, Lapushchenkova has now defeated Olga Govorstova, 6th seed Victoria Azarenka and Lucie Safarova. She has also double-faulted 52 times--25 in her three qualifying matches, and 27 in her three main draw rounds.


Laura Robson has entered the top 300; she now has a ranking of 269.

Here are some FAQs about drug-testing and doping. (Some of us have questions that aren't on that list, however.)

Svetlana Kuznetsova says she's tired of people making negative comments about her tennis.

Shahar Peer has hit 13 aces in three rounds in Stuttgart.

World number 3 Dinara Safina celebrated her 24th birthday on Tuesday.

Serena Williams is in Time Magazine's 2010 "Time 100" list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Simona Halep goes to her first tour final

Today in Fes, Simona Halep, who upset Patty Schnyder in the quarterfinals, advanced to the final by defeating Renata Voracova 7-5, 6-4. Her opponent in the final will be 7th seed Iveta Benesova, who defeated Alize Cornet 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in the semifinals.

In the doubles semifinals, Benesova and partner Anabel Medina Garrigues--the top seeds--defeated French Fed Cup stars Julie Coin and Alize Cornet 6-4, 7-5. Their opponents in the final will be 2nd seeds Lucie Hradecka and Renata Voracova. Hradecka and Voracova defeated Vesna Manasieva and Klara Zakopalova 7-5, 6-1.

Henin--10, Jankovic, 0

I was able to watch only parts of 4th seed Jelena Jankovic's Stuttgart quarterfinal match today against wild card Justine Henin, but what I saw was really good. Many of us have been waiting for these two to meet again, since Jankovic had never defeated Henin in Henin's first WTA career. Jankovic won the first set today, but Henin won the second in a tiebreak, then eventually won the match. Both players received very appreciative applause from the crowd, but that probably didn't do too much for Jankovic, who is now 0-10 against the Belgian. Henin's 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory puts her into the semifinals against Shahar Peer.

Peer upset 2nd seed Dinara Safina 6-3, 6-2. This upset isn't too surprising, given that Safina has been away for quite a while, and Peer can be very tough.

7th seed and wild card Sam Stosur defeated Li Na 6-3, 6-3. Stosur once again walked away with excellent service stats, though Li's weren't too shabby, either. Stosur will play the surprise semifinalist, Anna Lapushchenkova.

Lapushchenkova, a qualifier who has now played six matches, defeated Lucie Safarova 7-6 (1), 1-6, 6-1. Lapushchenkova double-faulted 13 times, often because she tried to go for too much on her second serve. On the other hand (literally), she smacked a number of stunning backhand winners. Lapushchenkova hit the ball really flat, posting 28 winners to 36 unforced errors. When she won, she displayed almost no affect, even after the handshake. During her interview (with one of my favorite interviewers, though his name escapes me), she was sheepish and anxious. This is new territory for her, obviously. Her coach, however, was elated, and even gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Lapushchenkova had chances to win the first set much sooner, but she did not do so, probably because of lack of experience. She even dropped a set point, but she didn't let that stop her from totally dominating Safarova in the tiebreak.

In the doubles quarterfinals, 2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik (I really like that they're playing together) defeated Sarah Borwell and Raquel Kops-Jones, and 3rd seeds Cara Black and Shahar Peer defeated Alexandra Dulgheru and Agnes Szavay.

Friday cat blogging--spin edition

Thursday, April 29, 2010

McHale gets wild card into French Open

Christina McHale came back from being a set and a break down to defeat Beatrice Capra 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 today and win a wild card into the French Open main draw. The playoffs to determine who gets the wild card were held this week in Boca Raton, Florida. McHale, the number 1 seed, beat Julia Boserup and Asia Muhammad to get to the final.

McHale said that at the beginning of the match that she was thinking too much about the French Open, and it took her a while to relax. The top seed said of her opponent, "She wasn't missing at all the first set and a half. She made a couple of mistakes and got startled and I was able to find my rhythm."

Safina wins first match in Stuttgart

Dinara Safina made her official return to the tour today and won her first match in Stuttart. The 2nd seed defeated Agnes Szavay 7-6, 3-6, 6-0.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki was upset in straight sets by Lucie Safarova, and 6th seed Victoria Azarenka was also defeated in straight sets, by Anna Lapuschenkova. Both Wozniacki and Azarenka have recently sustained injuries.

8th seed Yanina Wickmayer also went out, 6-3, 7-5, at the hands of wild card and countrywoman Justine Henin.

The top doubles seeds, Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta, won their quarterfinal match, defeating Liezel Huber and Jelena Jankovic.

In Fes, 2nd seed Patty Schnyder was defeated 6-2, 7-6 by Simona Halep. Schnyder was two points from winning the second set when Halep broke her. Also upset was 5th seed Angelique Kerber, who lost to Renata Voracova.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quote of the day

"I did this because I was a little bit overweight by the end of the year, but it was the most stupid idea that I could ever come up with."
Dinara Safina, on agreeing to give up chocolate for six months

USTA to give U.S. Open qualifying wild card to winner of U.S. Open National Playoffs

For the first time ever, the USTA is awarding a wild card into U.S. Open qualifying to just about anyone who is good enough to earn it. The U.S. Open National Playoffs involves a series of tournaments in the nation's 16 USTA sections. The winners of the women's and men's sectional qualifying tournaments will advance to the National Playoffs. The men's playoffs will be held in Atlanta, and the women's will be held in Stanford.

The tournament is open to both professional and amateur players. You needn't be a U.S. citizen to enter, but you have to be at least 14 years old. Players have to be USTA members in order to participate. There is a $125 fee to enter a sectional tournament. The sectional tournaments began this month.

Kuznetsova and Radwanska both upset in Stuttgart 2nd round

Svetlana Kuznetsova, seeded 3rd in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, was defeated 6-3, 7-5 today in the second round by Li Na. 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska also went out in the second round. She was defeated 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 by Shahar Peer.

Flavia Pennetta, Marion Bartoli, Francesca Schiavone, and Gisela Dulko were all defeated in the first round.

Meanwhile, in Fes, top seed Carla Suarez Navarro retired in her second round match against Anne Keothavong. Suarez Navarro sprained her right ankle. 2nd seed Patty Schnyder won her match against Ioana Raluca Olaru, and will play Simona Halep in the next round.

Defending champion Anabel Medina Garrigues, who was seeded 3rd, was upset in the second round by Laura Pous Tio.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Snezana Jankovic shows her angry side

Everyone is entitled to a good rant now and then, and Snezana Jankovic had one today, letting loose on Ana Ivanovic, Serbian tennis officals and the Serbian government.
Jelena missed only one match for Serbia in the last ten years. This time she flew 48 hours across half the world to play here, despite a serious wrist injury. At the same time, somebody else had coffee somewhere while my child played hurting for her country.
I think the organization failed this time and marketing flopped....Why were our political elite and tennis officials absent? Those in charge should think: Does anybody care about women's tennis? Do we need a Fed Cup team at all?
I give Jankovic's mother full credit for complaining about the Serbian government and the Serbian tennis officials. There were 18,000 empty seats in a stadium that seats 20,000 people, and the VIP section, generally filled with government officials, was empty. This lack of support for the Serbian Fed Cup team is shameful.

I would have liked the rant much better, however, if Snezana Jankovic had left out the attack on Ivanovic. It just wasn't necessary. And no one forced Jelena to play with a bad wrist; she chose to do so. As a Jankovic fan, I wish she had gone home and rested.

Jankovic went on to say that she "will not let my child play injured again, especially if people who want to see her play cannot get into the empty arena because they cannot afford the tickets." I appreciate the sentiment, but Jelena is not a "child," and such a statement only adds to the sexist attitude so many people have about the tour and its "girls" who need to be protected by their parents and coaches.

Safina returns to the tour, but there is still a long injury list

Dinara Safina has finally returned to the tour. Struggling for months with a back injury, Safina is playing in Stuttgart this week, as is Svetlana Kuznetsova, who has been out with an injured shoulder. Caroline Wozniacki, who turned her ankle in Charleston, is also playing in Stuttgart, and Victoria Azarenka--who had to retire in Charleston because of a hip strain--is playing in the Porsche Grand Prix, too.

There remain plenty of injuries to go around, however, among top and near-top players. Both Venus and Serena Williams have knee problems, Kim Clijsters tore a foot muscle in one version, and--in another version--broke some bones in her foot. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova withdrew from Charleston because of a left foot injury, and withdrew from Stuttgart because of a right foot injury. Justine Henin broke the little finger on her left hand, which--if one is right-handed with a one-handed backhand--is not the disaster it might be for someone else.

Jelena Jankovic has been playing with an injured wrist, Sabine Lisicki's ankle is still injured, Dominika Cibulkova has a hip strain, and Alisa Kleybanova is out with plantar fasciitis. And then there's Maria Sharapova, who is dealing with a bone bruise in her right elbow.

What with the injuries, the rehabs and the recovery times, the prospect of having healthy and/or prepared players at the French Open isn't looking too good. Of course, that could change. Some players have already resumed playing, and others may resume next week in Rome; Serena Williams has already announced that she will play in Italy.

The French Open is my favorite major, so I hope that most of the top players--and top clay players--will be there. But, as we witnessed in Fed Cup this past weekend, something can go in just one moment. It is probably too much to ask that Clijsters can make it to Paris, but I hope that the others can.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Black & Huber end their partnership

 Photo courtesy of After Atalanta

Putting an end to the rumors, Liezel Huber has confirmed that she and partner Cara Black have parted ways as doubles partners. Huber called it a "mutal break" (whatever that is), and said that "We might get back together and we might not."

The team of Black and Huber was no longer dominant last year, with both the teams of Llagostera Vives/Martinez Sanchez and Williams/Williams getting in on the big victories. Huber said that she and Black may still play together in the future, but not exclusively.

Black and Huber have been a team since 2005, though Black played for an extended time with Rennae Stubbs when Huber had to have surgery, followed by a period of recuperation, and Black was not certain that her partner would return to the tour.

Huber says that she will be playing with different partners this season. She will team with Nadia Petrova, with whom she won this year's Family Circle Cup, in Rome. Petrova is now Sam Stosur's regular doubles partner, but Stosur has made it clear that she is going to limit the number of doubles events that she enters. When Stosur does not play doubles in a tournament, Petrova is free to play with Huber, or with whomever she would like.

Black also said that she may play with Melanie Oudin during the U.S. hard court season.

In Stuttgart, Black is playing doubles with Shahar Peer, and Huber is playing with Jelena Jankovic.

Quote of the day

"Some people jump out of planes, some go skiing or drive a car real fast, others change their partners and take drugs to live in extremes. I take the rollercoaster of feelings every time I go out on the court and I am extremely fortunate to be able to make a living out this way"
Andrea Petkovic

Update on Fed Cup World Group II playoffs

Sweden has defeated China 3-2 in the Fed Cup World Group II playoffs. Notable--perhaps the most notable of the weekend--was Peng Shuai's 6-7, 6-1, 8-6 defeat of Sophia Arvidsson. Arvidsson served for the match twice, and held eight match points.

Final thoughts on Fed Cup in Birmingham

First, thanks to the BJCC staff in Birmingham for making the event exciting, and for being so nice to all the visitors. The seats are quite comfortable in the arena, and we had a great view of the court. I attended the Davis Cup event there last year, and was impressed then with how smoothly everything ran.

Some of the matches could have been better, but in Fed Cup, one should expect surprises of all kinds. Both Elena Dementieva and Bethanie Mattek-Sands added some excitement by coming back after losing the second set, and Liezel Huber put on an entertaining show in the final rubber. I don't mean to take anything away from Mattek-Sands, whose doubles play was excellent; it's just that Huber made a few truly memorable shots, and she is, after all, somewhat of a show-woman.

Speaking of Huber, when handed the microphone at the end, she told a wildly cheering crowd that she almost cried when she saw the American flag, etc., but there was no more talk of "I'm more patriotic than you are," and "I came from a Third World country with just my suitcase and a dream." In other words, she toned it down--for Huber.

The banners of Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin standing against the backdrop of the Birmingham skyline were a nice touch, as was the sign painted on the stairs at the entrance to the arena.

The deejay was very good, the face-painting was done well, and Ace the eagle mascot was a fan (including this fan) favorite.

Team USA's standout player was Mattek-Sands, who played two live rubbers on the same day. The first one was a 2-hour and 34-minute match against Ekaterina Makarova, and the second was the deciding doubles rubber. Mattek Sands is the third member of the USA team to win consecutive live matches and gain victory for the USA. Lindsay Davenport did it in the semifinals in 1995, and Mary Joe Fernandez did it in the quarterfinals in 1996.

Day 2 of Fed Cup in Birmingham

Fed Cup wasn't the only big event in Birmingham this past weekend. The ONB Magic City Art Connection--a juried show featuring art from all over the country--was scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but had to be canceled on Saturday because of rain. I spent part of this morning at the show, which was held in Linn Park, and I wish I could have spent more time there. There was some enticing art, as well as plenty of food and music.

Then it was on to the second day of the Fed Cup semifinal. We were entertained by a drummer from a local school, and Ace the American eagle was back, dancing with ballboys and people in the stands, and giving away Fed Cup T-shirts. There were also drawings to win Wilson racquets autographed by Roger Federer and Melanie Oudin.

During the second singles rubber, there was at least one exceptionally bad line call that went against the USA, and one about which I wasn't certain. To hear several of the USA fans, though, you'd have thought that every single call against the USA, all day long, was wrong by a yard. Once these fans got started, they didn't stop. All the carrying on led the deejay to break out "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Italy and USA to meet again in Fed Cup final

Defending champion Italy defeated the Czech Republic 5-0 in Fed Cup play this weekend, which means that Italy will once again play in the final, which will be held in the USA in November.

Alize Cornet of France can finally claim a Fed Cup win. She and partner Julie Coin won the deciding rubber against Germany, 6-3, 6-1 against Andrea Petkovic Kristina Barrois.

Also winning a deciding rubber was the Slovak Republic, whose defeat of Serbia places it back in the World Group for the first time in six years.

The semifinal between the USA and Russia also had to go the whole distance, with the USA's Liezel Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands winning the doubles rubber against Elena Dementieva and Alla Kudryattseva. The USA returns to the final to play Italy in November.

Here are all of the results:

Italy def. Czech Republic 5-0
USA def. Russia 3-2

Belgium def. Estonia 3-2
Australia def. Ukraine 5-0
France def. Germany 3-2
Slovak Republic def. Serbia 3-2

Spain def. Poland 4-1
Canada def. Argentina 5-0
Slovenia def. Japan 4-1

The Sweden vs. China tie is still in progress, with Sweden up 2-0.

USA goes to Fed Cup final

It took all five rubbers to get the job done, but the USA won its second consecutive Fed Cup semifinal today in Birmingham. Guided by captain Mary Joe Fernandez and led by Melanie Oudin, the USA defeated Russia 3-2, earning a second final contest with defending champion Italy. Earlier today, Italy defeated the Czech Republic 5-0 in the other semifinal.

The first rubber featured Oudin against Elena Dementieva, and it wasn't a pretty sight. At 3-all in the first set, neither player had held serve. Oudin then went up 40-15, but got tight and was broken again. Dementieva then went down 0-40, and Oudin broke her on her second break point. Dementieva broke her back, and Oudin instinctively threw her hand over her mouth in what I suppose is now known as an "oops, I did it again" gesture.

Naturally, when Dementieva served for the set, she was broken at love. In the eleventh game, Oudin held, and then Dementieva held, which led to a tiebreak. Dementieva prevailed 7-4, winning the last four points in a row.

As if the first set weren't strange enough--in the second set, Oudin played much better and delivered a 6-0 score. I wondered out loud what fans following the match via electronic scoreboard must have been thinking. The third set was obviously up for grabs, and Dementieva raised her level of play just enough to take it, 6-3.

The second match today featured Bethanie Matek-Sands and Ekaterina Makarova, who was substituted for Alla Kudryattseva. This was not only the best match of the day, but the best match of the semifinal, and featured some fine rallies and good shot-making by both players. Mattek-Sands skillfully took the first set 6-4, but was dominated by Makarova in the second. Winning the second set 6-2, Makarova then faded in the third, which Mattek-Sands won 6-3. Mattek-Sands was successful almost every time she went to the net, which was often, and she hit some pretty impressive winners on the run.

The doubles rubber was really the Liezel and Bethanie Show. Dementieva has not played doubles in a long time, and it showed. She and partner Alla Kudryattseva were not exactly helpless against the USA team, but they offered little resistance. Huber served really well, and she and Mattek-Sands are skillful on all parts of the court. Despite the one-sided nature of this match, it was nevertheless entertaining, largely because of Huber's animated shot-making. She and Mattek-Sands work quite well together as a doubles team. The USA won, 6-3, 6-1.


Can the Williams sisters deliver their top performances when they are playing on red clay?

Here is another piece on Andrea Petkovic, who won both of her Fed Cup rubbers this weekend.

And here is an especially lively interview with Martina Navratilova, who talks about cancer, advocacy, sexism, and homophobia in sports.

Caroline Wozniacki's name still appears on the draw in Stuttgart.

Neha Uberoi is off the tour and back in school. Uberoi left Princeton to play professional  tennis, and has now returned to Princeton to get her degree.

Further update on Clijsters

That bruised foot that Kim Clijsters has turns out to be injured sesamoid bones in her left big toe. She is out of action for six weeks, and is now uncertain whether she will be able to play in the French Open.

Clijsters injured her foot while playing Estonia's Maret Ani in Fed Cup competition.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Update on Clijsters

Kim Clijsters, it turns out, is not seriously injured. Her left foot is bruised, and she may be able to play in tomorrow's Fed Cup competitition. Today, she defeated Maret Ani of Estonia, but had to go to the hospital when she injured her foot.

Day 1 of Fed Cup in Birmingham

The BJCC arena is an especially good venue for a tennis tournament, and the first day of the USA vs. Russia Fed Cup semifinal was an enjoyable experience. The opening ceremony was nice, and included fireworks when team USA was introduced. The ballkids wore some of the best ballkid outfits I've seen, and Ace the American eagle mascot danced his tail feathers off, even spending some time in the booth with the New York deejay.

Unfortunately, attendance was below what we expected. The lower level of the arena was about 60% full, and there was no one in the upper level. It rained a lot in Birmingham today, so perhaps tomorrow's clearer skies will bring in more fans. There is a big art show near where we are staying, and it was rained out today, but we plan to attend tomorrow morning.

A lot of USA fans had vision problems when it came to line calls, and especially line calls made during the second rubber. The linespeople were instructed to wake up and put on their glasses, but the reality was that they did a very good job, as did the chair umpires. A woman sitting behind me, however, should be thankful that I am a fundamentally peaceful person because I had some things I wanted to tell her.

I heard some people make various comments and express surprise over Bethanie Mattek-Sands' tube socks; obviously, they are not really very familiar with the tour. Mattek-Sands has been wearing tube socks--and an assortment of other original accessories--for a long time.

USA and Russia tied 1-1 in Fed Cup semifinal

Melanie Oudin and Alla Kudryattseva ran onto the court as "Single Ladies" thumped out of the loudspeaker. It was the first rubber of the USA vs. Russia Fed Cup semifinal at the BJCC in Birmingham, Alabama, and both players were very obviously anxious, causing them to make several unforced errors. Being down 0-40 or up 40-0 meant virtually nothing. However, Oudin, down 1-3 in the first set, proceeded to right herself and win consecutive games, including the sixth, when she held after going down 0-30.

Oudin took the first set 6-3, but was immediately broken by Kudryattseva in the second set. After that, it was all Oudin, as the Russian continued to make make errors, most of which involved hitting the ball long to end rallies. Oudin took that set 6-3, also.

The second rubber was another story. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, wearing red, white and blue tube socks, faced world number 6 Elena Dementieva. The pair exchanged breaks to start the match, which was a somewhat entertaining affair in which Mattek-Sands saved two set points in the first set, raising the hopes of USA fans. But Dementieva would go on to win it, 6-4.

The first game of the second set was distinctive in that Mattek-Sands hit four defenstive lobs in a row before losing the point. There was a crucial moment when Dementieva served at 3-2 and saved three break points. She would go on to win the second set 6-3.

Between them, Mattek-Sands and Dementieva hit 44 winners (Mattek-Sands, 23, and Dementieva, 21), only four of which were on the backhand. Mattek-Sands made 43 unforced errors to Dementieva's service winning percentages were 49 and 71.

Tomorrow, Oudin will play Dementieva. Oudin defeated the Russian in the second round of the U.S. Open, but lost to her in the semifinals in Paris this year. Both matches went three sets. Mattek-Sands will play Kudryattseva. They have played each other twice, both times on hard courts, and have each won a match.

Defending champion Italy off to a great start

In Fed Cup World Group semifinal play, defending champion Italy now leads the Czech Republic 2-0. Flavia Pennetta defeated Lucie Hradecka 6-4, 7-5, and Francesca Schiavone defeated Lucie Safarova 6-0, 6-2. It has been raining in Rome, the site of the Italy-Czeck Republic semifinal, which is makes the red clay even slower than usual--something the Italians don't mind at all.

2nd Belgian injured in Fed Cup

Yesterday, Justine Henin broke her left little finger while practicing for the Fed Cup World Group playoffs, and today, Kim Clijsters said she heard a crack while playing Maret Ani in Belgium's first match against Estonia. She has gone to the hospital to get an x-ray of her left foot. Clijsters won her match, 6-4, 6-2, against Ani, and Yanina Wickmayer defeated Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, so Belgium is already up 2-0.

Australia won both of its Saturday matches against Ukraine. New team member Anastasia Rodionova defeated Alona Bondarenko 0-6, 6-3, 7-5, and Sam Stosur defeated Mariya Koryttseva 6-3, 6-0.

Germany and France are tied at 1-1. Andrea Petkovic defeated Pauline Parmentier 6-3, 6-2, and Aravane Rezai defeated Tatjana Malek 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Serbia and the Slovak Republic are also tied 1-1. Jelena Jankovic, playing with a cold and a bad wrist, defeated Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6, 6-3, and Daniela Hantuchova defeated Bojana Jovanovski 6-2, 6-2.

In the World Group II playoffs, Poland and Spain are tied 1-1. Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-1, and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez defeated Marta Domachowska 7-6, 6-2.

Sloane Stephens named to USA Fed Cup team

Captain Mary Joe Fernandez has selected Sloane Stephens as the fourth member of the USA Fed Cup team. However, as of now, she is not scheduled to play any matches. Julia Boserup is also in attendance in Birmingham.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fed Cup miscellany

Jelena Jankovic's journey to Belgrade during the volcanic ash episode was enough to wear out anyone. She took a flight from Tampa to Atlanta, waited seven hours, then got a flight to Tel Aviv. She then flew to Cypress, and finally, she flew to Belgrade. The worst part is that, because of her wrist injury, she isn't even certain that she'll play. The Serbian Fed Cup team is waiting for the doctors to examine Jankovic and make a report.

Alona Bondarenko's dog, Emily, attended the draw ceremony for Ukraine and Australia.

Clive White points out that the rain in Rome gives Italy even more of an advantage over the Czech Republic.

Tennis Channel will show the USA vs. Russia semifinal live both days.

Justine Henin broke her left little finger in training on Wednesday. She is now scheduled to play with partner Kirsten Flipkens in Belgium's Fed Cup doubles match against Estonia. Kim Clijsters and Yanina Wickmayer will play singles.

Friday cat blogging--laundry day edition

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Clijsters withdraws from Stuttgart

Kim Clijsters has withdrawn from the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, which begins Monday. Venus Williams has withdrawn, also.

Quote of the day

"They got their color-coded tournaments. They come out and they give you headwrap. They give you big hoop earring. They give you big jewelry. They play with all that and they work it!" 

Sandra Bernhard on the Williams sisters

Can we please just talk about tennis?

Liezel Huber uses every opportunity to remind people that she is an American citizen. "I chose to play for the U.S. I think, in a way, I'm a prouder American than some people because I haven't always had the U.S.," Huber told The Birmingham News. I understand that sentiment, I suppose, but Huber really knows how to lay it on:

Coming to this land of opportunity, I'm so grateful. Coming with a suitcase and a dream and here I am today. This country has offered me so much that you will see during this week that I am the proudest American that you will meet. It gives me goose bumps every time to be representing my country and be on a team.

Perhaps Huber's rhetoric wouldn't grate on me so much if it didn't have (for me) some other contexts. In Charleston, she said she once felt she didn't belong because she was from a third world country. That's true, technically, but I wish she hadn't said it. Now, in Birmingham, her comments come at the same time that one of her teammates, Melanie Oudin, had to say about team membership, "It really shows who really cares about their country and who wants to play for more than themselves." 

It is entirely possible that these comments were made in isolation and that no reference was consciously made to players who are not on the team. But the results, PR-wise, are unfortunate. I should also add--for the sake of clarity--that while I certainly wish the USA team well, and will be in the stands in Birmingham, I am disturbed when national pride crosses over into chauvinism, as it seems to do more and more.

I have written, on several occasions, that I think the USA Fed Cup team needs to let go of its fixation on the Williams sisters, and move on. Mary Joe Fernandez has done a really good job with Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Huber and other team members. I also appreciate how exciting it must be for those team members to have played in the final last year, and to be in a semifinal in 2010. I just wish everyone would keep the conversation focused on tennis.

Pavlyuchenkova withdraws from Fed Cup semifinal

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has withdrawn from Russia's Fed Cup team, which plays the USA team in the semifinals this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama. Pavlyuchenkova, ranked number 29 in the world, remains injured, after withdrawing from Charleston. Also too hurt to play in Fed Cup are Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alisa Kleybanova. Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova turned down invitations to play in Birmingham. As of now, the Russian Fed Cup team will have only three members--Elena Dementieva, Ekaterina Makaorova and Alla Kudryattseva.

Dominika Cibulkova, also injured, has withdrawn from the Slovak Republic's Fed Cup World Group playoff competition against Serbia. Jelena Jankovic has an injured wrist, but will attempt to play for Serbia.

Leaving tomorrow for Birmingham

I'm off to Birmingham tomorrow and will attend the USA vs. Russia Fed Cup semifinal matches over the weekend. I'll post reports, maybe as early as tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

USA Fed Cup update

Venus Williams has decided she will not play in the Fed Cup semifinal this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama. Williams says she was advised by her medical team that she needs more recovery time to take care of her knee injury.

Team captain Mary Joe Fernandez will select either Sloane Stephens or Julia Boserup as the fourth member of her team. The other members are Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber.

The USA team has already hosted a tennis clinic for children in Birmingham. Joining the U.S. players were Elena Dementieva and Ekaterina Makarova, who are playing for the Russian Fed Cup team.

Still no fourth member of USA Fed Cup team, but a decision should come soon

Sloane Stephens practiced in Birmingham's BJCC, the site of this weekend's Fed Cup semifinal, on Monday. Christina McHale, another possible USA team member, was at home catching up on school assignments; McHale made it to the third round in Charleston last week. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez says that she hopes McHale can come to Birmingham soon so she can observe her. She also indicated that there is at least one other player whom she wants to observe in the BJCC arena.

In terms of being able to handle the pressure of Fed Cup, I think McHale is the better choice of the two mentioned; I don't know who the other players are.

Venus Williams, after a hitting session on Sunday, told Fernandez that she felt "so-so."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

(A little) More news on the Black & Huber situation

Several people have asked whether Cara Black and Liezel Huber have split up. Huber and Nadia Petrova won the doubles championship in Charleston; however, both Petrova and Sam Stosur made it clear that they will be a team this year, though Stosur will limit her doubles play. Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier (via Bobby Chintapalli) quotes Huber as saying her status is "up in the air," but that she will most likely continue to play with Black.

The politics of tennis fashion

"When you’re looking good on court, you play better."
Caroline Wozniacki

Wozniacki, whose outfits are designed by Stella McCartney, may indeed play better when she believes she is looking good. 

But--Wozniacki's statement aside--what is "looking good"? The unrecognizable, air-brushed clones on the tour site? The women whose faces and bodies (and skin color) conform to the culture's definition of "feminine beauty"?

The world number 2 now uses the "f" word in just about every interview she gives. Practically the first words out of her mouth when she arrived in Charleston were "I like to look feminine." Fashion does play a (minor) role in tennis, and players like Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova, who have outfits designed for them (in Sharapova's case, she's part of the design team) definitely add interest to the entertainment side of the sport. Who of us doesn't have memories of some of the outfits worn by players like Sharapova, Rosie Casals and Serena Williams? Fashion plays a role in the ATP, too, thought perhaps not as big a role. Seeing what the players are wearing adds to the fun of being a spectator.

I remember, a few years ago, Daniela Hantuchova ackowledged that she liked to do fashion shoots, but that she didn't want her clothing to be an issue when she was on the court because she didn't think people should be distracted from the tennis by looking at the players' outfits.

Of course, there are many points of view to be taken about fashion and tennis. Top players often enjoy selecting their outfits for tournaments. Venus Williams designs her own outfits. A top 20 player does have a public image, and it seems reasonable to assume that she would enjoy dressing for tennis. (Players ranked lower than that might enjoy dressing for tennis, too; top 20 is an arbitrary number.) There are fans who care about what players wear, and fans who do not. On-court outfits can reflect players' personal styles and provide fans with insights into the players' different personalities.

Fashion is an important part of life for many people in the world. Looking one's best or expressing one's creativity through clothing and accessories is certainly an option for professional sportswomen, and one that many fans enjoy. But the need to be considered "feminine" is a particular issue for women in sports. Wozniacki is not the only player to emphasize that she "likes" being "feminine." The U.S. press made Chris Evert the un-Navratilova every chance it got. Evert was (to sportswriters) "girly," and Navratilova was a muscle-bound female who was also that dreaded entity--a lesbian. Nothing has changed. (A couple of years ago, in the U.K., a program was developed to encourage girls to play tennis because of the sport's "glamour" side.)

Just today, on a Web forum, I saw a comment in which someone referred to a tour player--as "masculine." This obsession with feminine and not-feminine puts additional pressure on young players who may not yet have strong self-identities, and it reifies the notion that only certain characteristics pass as "feminine"--not to mention, the notion that those characteristics are desirable, and other characteristics are undesirable.

You don't hear messages from the players or the press that ATP stars look "masculine." Players on the women's tour should also be able to enjoy expressing themselves--or not--through fashion, without being concerned about the concept of culturally defined femininity. In both pro tennis and pro golf, the constant assurances we hear that the women are feminine creates a standard for dress and behavior that isolates players who do not possess the "right" look. And it also puts pressure on those who do possess "the look" to be ambassadors for an arbitrary societal standard.


Exactly one week ago, it was reported that Venus Williams would not play in the Fed Cup semifinals. As of today, according to the AP, she is still trying to make up her mind. I can't keep up.

Jelena Jankovic and Daniela Hantuchova are both stranded in Florida, unable to travel to Europe because of the volcanic ash problem. Serbia plays its Fed Cup match against the Slovak Republic this weekend. The Russian team's doctors, coaches and captain are likewise stranded, with Shamil Tarpischev already going through problems with his visa--again.

 Vera Zvonareva was delayed in New York for twelve hours, but made it back to Moscow from Charleston.

Poor Victoria Azarenka had trouble getting out of the U.S. After a failed flight opportunity, she went back to the airport, hoping to get a different flight. ("If not I don't care anymore, I will just live in Chicago.") She was then able to fly to Rome, but could not get out of Rome and into Paris. The flights were cancelled, of course, there were no remaining seats on the trains, and--according to Azarenka--the taxis are not safe. She finally found a car service, but then--on the next leg of the trip--she had problems with her train ticket. She did finally make it to Paris.

Yesterday was Maria Sharapova's 23rd birthday.

According to Peter Bodo, "...none of the very top players was in Charleston...," so perhaps, to some, the number 2 ranking has also taken on a negative meaning.

Some final notes on Charleston

After last year's "surprise" (I put it that way because, if you were there, you couldn't help but notice that the German had "winner" written all over her early in the tournament; we picked her after the third round) win by 16th seed Sabine Lisicki, I wondered if this year's Family Circle Cup could have any drama that would top a win by the lowest seed in tournament history.

Indeed, Sam Stosur's brilliant display of offensive tennis in the final added another episode of memorable Charleston play, though a 52-minute final is always a letdown. Vera Zvonareva's all-out attack on her racquet kept things interesting, and not in a bad way. Anyone can get angry and break a racquet, but it takes someone like Zvonareva to do it with such emphatic style, and to get the crowd behind her.

The Family Circle Cup is known as the tournament that launches stars. Could this have meaning for Stosur? A member of the press pointed out last week that Stosur's rise from doubles stardom to singles stardom may be a first.

Then there were the injuries and illnesses, both before and during the tournament, the series of which climaxed when 1st seed Caroline Wozniacki turned her ankle and had to retire in the semifinals. The irony was that she was playing Zvonareva, who had to retire last year in the third round when she turned her ankle.

The weather could not have been better. There was no rain, no excessive heat, and--though the wind appeared from time to time--it was nothing like the post-tornado wind that sometimes blows through Daniel Island during the tournament.

This year's SMASH Junior Cup winner, Shelby Rogers, lost in the first round, but did take a set. She played in a singles exhibition match, and--when Peng Shuai and Elena Vesnina gave their opponents a walkover--she teamed with Patty Schnyder to play in a doubles exhibition match. Rogers, by the way, was impressive.

This year, fans were also treated to an exhibition featuring Monica Seles, Anna Kournikova, John McEnroe, and Jim Courier. I didn't attend, but the word was that Kournikova played quite well, while Seles had trouble moving.

Other random observations:

Cara Black's absence caused even more people to ask: Are Black and Huber splitting up? I have no idea, but I can confirm that Huber's playing with Nadia Petrova was a last-minute, ad hoc event. Petrova and Stosur are a team, though Stosur will not play as much doubles this year as she has in the past.

Overheard at the All-Access Hour: "Is this tournament more feminine than the others?"

A player who really impressed me was Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan. She lost in the second qualifying round to Heather Watson, but her aggression was duly noted, and I'm keeping an eye on her. As always, it was a pleasure to observe Watson and to spend some time with her affable and funny mom in the stands.

The volunteer staff at the Family Circle Cup is a group that has been together for a long time, and its members are consistently helpful, often going out of their way to be of assistance. It is a very fan-friendly event.

As we were leaving Charleston, we saw Sam Sumyk at the airport, about to depart for Philadelphia. Ekaterina Makarova, on her way to Birmingham, was on our flight. In fact, we bumped into each other during one of those commuter plane aisle traffic jams.

Lisicki withdraws from Fed Cup and Stuttgart

Sabine Lisicki's ankle injury lingers on, so she is out of both Fed Cup and Stuttgart.

Germany plays France this weekend in the World Group Playoffs. The other players on the German team are Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges and Tatjana Malek. Kristina Barrois has replaced Lisicki.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bethanie Mattek-Sands ready for Fed Cup fight against Russia

Bethanie Mattek-Sands was in Charleston last week, playing both singles and doubles. Last year, she and Nadia Petrova won the doubles championship, saving three match points along the way. This year, Mattek-Sands and partner Yan Zi were seeded third, but lost in the quarterfinals to Nathalie Grandin and Abigail Spears. Mattek-Sands won her first round singles match against Julia Goerges, but lost a tough second round contest (6-4, 5-7, 5-7) to 9th seed Alona Bondarenko. Toward the end of the match, Mattek-Sands was cramping in both thighs, a condition she thinks may have been brought on by playing several successive matches the week before in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The solid-serving American  has won seven Sony Ericsson WTA Tour doubles titles. Last year, she and Petrova upset the Williams sisters, and reached the quarterfinals of the French Open. Mattek-Sands is ranked number 14 in the world in doubles, and 129 in singles. She reached a career-high ranking of 37 last year, and is now working her way back up the rankings.

Mattek-Sands is currently preparing for a Fed Cup semifinal competition between the USA and Russia in Birmingham, Alabama April 24 and 25. In the USA's quarterfinal match against France, she won both of her matches, defeating Alize Cornet in singles, and--with partner Liezel Huber-- beating Cornet and Stephanie Cohen-Aloro in the doubles rubber.

This will be the first time that the 25-year-old Mattek-Sands has played Fed Cup matches before a home crowd. In February of last year, the USA played host to Argentina in the Fed Cup quarterfinals in Surprise, Arizona, not far from Mattek-Sands' home in Phoenix. Unfortunately, though, Mattek-Sands was recovering from a hip injury and had to sit in the stands and cheer for her team instead of playing matches. The injury put her out of action for a couple of months.

One of the players Mattek-Sands will face in Birmingham is the young Russian star, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, to whom she recently lost in three sets in Ponte Vedra Beach. "In the set I won, I was aggressive, and I'll have to be that way again," Mattek-Sands said. Pavlyuchenkova is not known for her court movement, but, Mattek-Sands points out, "She sees the ball really fast, so you can't really criticize her for not getting to the ball."

The American player sounded enthusiastic when she talked about the USA Fed Cup team. She will be joined in Birmingham by Liezel Huber, Melanie Oudin and a fourth player who has yet to be named by captain Mary Joe Fernandez. The members of the USA team get along well and encourage one another, Mattek-Sands told me, and there is a genuine sense of teamwork among them.

During the off-season, Mattek Sands usually does agility training, including yoga. But, she said, "This off-season, believe it or not, I did nothing. I didn't think I'd be back as soon as I did, but it's amazing how much a couple of months off can do."

Of course, no discussion of Mattek-Sands is complete without a few words about on-court fashion. She was wearing her signature tube socks in Charleston, and said that she'll be wearing them at least through the Europrean season. When she first arrived at Wimbledon in white tube socks, the British press heaped criticism on her, but by the end of the week, London's department stores had sold out of tube socks as British woman rushed to buy them. Mattek-Sands said that she is accustomed to reading criticism of her highly individual tennis outfits, but then, "fans always come up to me and say that they love them."

"I didn't want to be known as just 'the girl with the tube socks,'" she said, laughing at the image, but she also didn't want to give up her personal, sometimes eccentric, style.

Socks, it turns out, are more than a fashion statement for Mattek-Sands. "My socks sponsor has been great," she said of Drymax, the socks she wears in order to prevent blisters. And--no surprise--Mattek-Sands will be sporting red, white and blue tube socks during her Fed Cup matches. "I'm building on my tatoo for Fed Cup," she added, so take a close look when you watch the Birmingham action on television.

And don't forget to take a look at Mattek-Sands' serving. "When I was a kid," she explained, "my dad taught me to throw a ball." Consequently, Mattek-Sands doesn't have the ball toss problem that has become all too common on the tour. And while you're watching, you'll also see the American put her doubles skills to good use in her singles play.

A team, like an individual, has a personality, the sum being greater than its parts. Team USA has recently become known for its underdog determination, a characteristic often attributed to Captain Fernandez and young Melanie Oudin. For more of that determination, plus some wit and an appreciated touch of whimsy, look to the maverick Mattek-Sands.

A strong dedication to teamwork is essential in Fed Cup competition. When it comes to team USA, most people are aware that Melanie wears the shoes; it's Bethanie, however, who wears the socks. Don't miss them--and don't miss her.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stosur wins Charleston in a stunning display of dominating tennis

No one on the tour can break a racquet quite like Vera Zvonareva, and when she cracked her Prince today during the second set of the Charleston final, it seemed as though everyone in the stands was experiencing a catharsis along with her. Zvonareva, who was the finalist in 2008, acknowledged earlier this week that she is still not as fit as she was before she tore two ligaments in her ankle last year (also in Charleston), but it looked as though no degree of fitness could have helped her today.

Sam Stosur, the tournament's 4th seed, walked onto the court and immediately began serving a series of unreturnable balls. And when Zvonareva did return them, Stosur found the lines over and over, completely dominating Zvonareva, and taking the first set 6-0, dropping only five points.

Stosur, not even breaking a sweat, quickly went up 3-0 in the second set. After Zvonareva double-faulted, she smacked her racquet on the court three times and headed toward the Charleston-style sofa provided by the tournament for each player. She received a racquet abuse violation warning from chair umpire Lynn Welch, then smashed the racquet again on the court near her seat. Zvonareva looked at the crumpled racquet, and then gave it few solid kicks for good measure. She returned to the court to loud cheers of encouragement from the crowd, and held serve for the first time.

Zvonareva then broke Stosur, and it wasn't unreasonable to think there would be a momentum change in the match. But for Stosur, that was just a brief interim in a performance of almost total domination. She got the break back, and went on to win the second set 6-3, holding at love in her final service game. The 52-minute match was the shortest in Family Circle Cup history.

Stosur served only three aces, but her first and second serve win percentages were a whopping 86 and 69, and her first and second return percentages were 63 and 73. This was only her second tour singles title, but there is every reason to believe there will be more.

When she received her runner-up trophy, Zvonareva, recovered and good-humored enough to deliver a one-liner, said, "I would like to thank my team...for supporting me this week, even though I think they did a terrible job today." Later, when told that she didn't seem to have an answer for Stosur's power, a more serious Zvonareva said "No, I think there were answers. I think I just didn't make the right decisions at the right time...."

Zvonareva also gets credit for the best line of the tournament: " got to try to change something up, you know, maybe just change even like emotionally, try to maybe relax more and, you know, just relax and enjoy the game, just maybe break a racquet, forget about what was happening for the past half an hour and start all over again."

Championship match analysis--short version

Okay...Sam's going to thrash the rubber right off the ball, you're going to destroy your new EXO3 Black 100, and then we're out of here. Got it?

Huber & Petrova win 2010 Family Circle Cup doubles championship

For the second year in a row, Nadia Petrova held a trophy after the championship doubles match in Charleston. Last year, Petrova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands saved three match points and won the championship. Today's match was not thrilling like that one was, but it still a good final. Petrova and Liezel Huber--who had never before played together--defeated Vania King and Michaella Krajicek 6-3, 6-4.

Petrova had not planned to play doubles at the tournament, since her partner, Sam Stosur, decided to play singles only. But Tony Huber, Liezel Huber's coach and husband, asked Petrova if she would be Huber's partner. "How could I say 'no'?" Petrova said, and I'm sure she's glad she didn't.

Since Petrova won the Charleston singles title in 2006, and the doubles title two years running, she was asked what was left for her to do at the Family Circle Cup, and she quickly suggested adding a mixed doubles competition.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Charleston miscellany

2010 marks the tenth year that the Family Circle Cup has been held in Charleston. Before that, it was held in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The tournament has a very rich history, and is an important part of the foundation of women's pro tennis.

Family Circle Cup 7th seed Vera Zvonareva, who is playing in the final tomorrow, is using a new Prince EXO3 black 100 racquet. Prince announced on Wednesday that it has added Zvonareva as one of the company's sponsored athletes.

Players who appear in the finals tomorrow will receive Tiffany necklaces as gifts from the Family Circle Cup tournament.

Who knew that Michaella Krajicek was going to be here...and make the doubles final? It's nice to have her in Charleston again. On the other side of the story--I miss regulars Elena Dementieva and Katarina Srebotnik.

Sam Stosur and Vera Zvonareva have played each other six times, and Stosur leads 4-2. Stosur won their last four matches. Tomorrow's final will mark the first time the two have ever played each other on clay.

Note to readers

There is a bug in Blogger that appears every once in a great while, and it made an appearance today. On some posts, the comment count is not changing, despite comments being added. So--for now--the comment count figure is not reliable.

Charleston injury/illness summary

This morning, I was making a list of Family Circle Cup players who had injuries and illnesses. After I made the list, I left a blank space at the end. I can't explain it, but I just had a feeling that someone else was going to get injured. Not very long after I made the list, Caroline Wozniacki fell, and retired against Vera Zvonareva. It was a bit eerie.

Of course, there were several tournament withdrawals because of injuries, which is the norm. Dominika Cibulkova made it to Charleston, but withdrew during qualifying because of a hip problem. Once play began in the main draw, the following players suffered injuries or illnesses:

Olga Govortsova--retired with knee tendonitis
Ayumi Morita--retired with adductor muscle strain
Victoria Azarenka--retired with hamstring injury
Marion Bartoli--retired with dizziness
Elena Vesnina--declared doubles walkover because of adductor muscle strain
Bethanie Mattek-Sands--experienced cramping in both thighs
Jelena Jankovic--played with left wrist injury
Caroline Wozniacki--retired with twisted ankle
(Alina Jidkova--experienced cramping in both legs during qualifying)

Schiavone wins Barcelona...Italians keep rolling

Two weeks ago, an Italian won the singles title in Marbella, and a pair of Italians won the doubles title. Today, Francesca Schiavone won the championship in Barcelona, defeating defending defending champion (and Italian) Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-1. Sara Errani and Vinci, who won the doubles title in Marbella, also won the championship in Barcelona. They defeated Timea Bacsinszky and Tathiana Garbin 6-1, 3-6, 10-2.

The Barcelona title is Schiavone's third on the tour.

Huber & Petrova to play King & Krajicek in Charleston final

The ad hoc team of Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova totally dominated Ekaterina Makarova and Marie-Eve Pelletier in today's semifinals in Charleston. Huber and Petrova, seeded number 1, defeated Makarova and Pelletier 6-2, 6-2.

In the other semifinal, Vania King and Michaella Krajicek defeated Nathalie Grandin and Abigail Spears 6-4, 7-6. This was the first match of the day, and was well-played and entertaining. King and Krajicek won the tiebreak 7-4.

Stosur defeats Hantuchova and advances to Family Circle Cup final

Daniela Hantuchova lost the first set of her semifinal in Charleston today. Her opponent, 4th seed Sam Stosur, out-served her and took the set 6-3. Hantuchova, struggling with her own second serve, was dominated not only by her opponent's serve, but also by her savvy net play. But--just like in the quarterfinals--the 8th seed staged a comeback, finding the lines again with her winning backhand, and taking advantage of Stosur's errors. She played so well, in fact, that she went up 5-2, and it certainly looked as though there would be a third set.

When Stosur served at 2-5, the game went to deuce, but she held. Hantuchova then served for the set, but was broken. Stosur saved two set points on her own serve at 4-5, and finished the game with an ace. Down 5-6 and 0-30, she hit an ace at 112 mph., and then another one, at 117 mph. She then followed the pair of aces with a forehand winner.

Stosur went up a mini-break right away in the tiebreak, and dominated Hantuchova, who won only two points. Stosur's 6-3, 7-6 win put her into the final, where she will meet 2008 finalist and 7th seed Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva won her semifinal match when her opponent, Caroline Wozniacki, retired because of an ankle injury.

Wozniacki twists ankle in Charleston and retires against Zvonareva

Last year, at the beginning of her third round match in Charleston, Vera Zvonareva fell on the green clay, twisted her ankle, and wound up with two torn ligaments. The injury required surgery, and Zvonareva was out for months. This morning, Zvonareva was on the court again, playing in her semifinal match against 1st seed Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki was down 2-4, and when Zvonareva hit her second drop shot of the eighth game, the top seed tried to slide into the ball, but she got stuck. Wozniacki rolled her right ankle and went down, in obvious pain.

The trainer came out, and after a while, Woznaicki returned to the court, but had to retire at 2-5. She said later that she was surprised that she could stand on her leg, "but as soon as I was moving to the sides, it was impossible, so I couldn't play."

No one knows better than Zvonareva what it felt like for Wozniacki when she went down: "When I saw Caroline twisted her ankle," she said "I was like I have these flashbacks in my mind, and I even feel like I have pain in my ankle right now...." Zvonareva also said that she was available if Wozniacki wanted to talk and get some advice about caring for an injured ankle.

Unlike Zvonareva, who had to leave the stadium on crutches, Wozniacki is able to walk, and thinks that her injury is not serious. She is getting an MRI, and will know more about her condition after she gets the results.

In the meantime, Zvonareva has not dropped a set on the way to the final, in which she will play Sam Stosur, who defeated Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 7-6.

When Melanie Mania goes wrong

The crowd in Charleston loves Melanie Oudin, and who could--or should--expect otherwise? But last night, that crowd showed its ugly side.

Booing the umpire and linespeople when they made calls that went against Oudin was not exactly mature, but it also is just one of those things that happens when sports fans get excited. However, booing Oudin's opponent, Vera Zvonareva, when she asked the chair umpire to ask  people not to clap during points, is another matter entirely.

Does the crowd really believe that Oudin wants them to clap during points? Both politeness and common sense dictate that the players require as little distraction as possible when they are serving and when they are involved in rallies.

Earlier in the week, Julia Goerges--who happened to be playing American Bethanie Mattek-Sands--questioned a line call on the Althea Gibson Club Court, and--after a bit of discussion--a man in the stands yelled at her "Stop whining and play!" But she wasn't "whining." She was making a case, and in the course of doing so, she was trying to make a living. Pro tennis is a recreational activity for the fans, but for the players, it's a job. They should be allowed to do it without interference from spectators.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wozniacki advances to semifinals in Charleston

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki defeated 6th seed Nadia Petrova 6-3, 6-4 Friday in Charleston, and is now into the semifinals. Her opponent will be 7th seed Vera Zvonareva, who defeated 13th seed Melanie Oudin, 7-5, 6-2. Oudin had a difficult time holding her serve, and Zvonareva was not serving at the level at which she is capable. She will certainly have to serve better against Wozniacki, if she expects to be truly competitive against the first seed.

4th seed Sam Stosur defeated Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-1. Peng, whose thigh was wrapped, appeared to have some trouble with her movement in the second set. Stosur, who had outstanding service percentages of 82 and 76, served for the match in style: She hit three consecutive aces, followed by a serve that was impossible to return.

In the doubles quarterfinal that was played Friday, first seeds Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova defeated Melinda Czink and Sharon Fichman 7-5, 6-1.

Family Circle Cup--what's happening around the grounds

Murphy Jensen interviewed Liezel Huber on the lawn stage this evening. Huber talked about how one match can turn a player's career and give that player the confidence of knowing that she belongs at the top. Earlier in the week, Jensen and Huber were guests at a luncheon for doubles enthusiasts.

For the last couple of days, there have been flying exhibitions over Daniel Island.

Chip Brooks and Snezana Jankovic found a quiet spot outside to have a chat after Jelena Jankovic was upset by Daniela Hantuchova.

The food court vendors at the tournament are using biodegradable utensils and plates made of recycled materials. That's the good news. However, with the 2008 disappearance of the falofel stand, and the 2009 disappearance of veggie dogs in the hot dog selection, there is very little left for vegetarian and/or vegan diners.
Patty Schnyder and Shelby Rogers won the exhibition match that was held in the stadium tonight. They defeated Ekaterina Makarova and Marie-Eve Pelletier. While I was watching the match, I realized that this could well be the last time I ever see Patty play, other than--perhaps--on television. This was a sad thought; I have been a big fan for many years.

Hantuchova stops Jankovic in Charleston

Daniela Hantuchova was tired this morning, after playing for two and three-quarter hours on a hot court late yesterday afternoon at the Family Circle Cup. Nevertheless, her match was scheduled first, and it appeared that she might well fade away when 2nd seed Jelena Jankovic broke her four times to take the first set 6-1.

The crowd was in for a surprise, though. Hantuchova, the 8th seed, broke seed Jankovic straight away in the second set. Jankovic broke back in the third game, and the fourth game was a mini-thriller all to itself, featuring a series of deuce points, and exchanges of both forehand and backhand down-the-line shots. Hantuchova also hit two aces in that game, and eventually held. If ever there were a turning point, that was it. The 8th seed, steadily gaining momentum and confidence, won the second set 6-3, setting up a tense final set which began with a break by Jankovic.

But Hantuchova would not go away. Though both players hit a number of backhand winners, Hantuchova hit them flat and right on the lines during big moments, taking away Jankovic's opportunities to engage her in really long rallies. Hantuchova served for the match at 5-3, and faced a break point at 30-40. That break point was saved when Jankovic hit a forehand out. Hantuchova then earned a match point, and converted it with a forehand winner.

Hantuchova, of course, is not known for mental toughness, but her comeback in this match was impressive, and it clearly got into Jankovic's head. Hantuchova hit a total of 39 winners, and was successful at the net. She went for more than her opponent did, and she was rewarded with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. Her opponent in the semifinals will be 4th seed Sam Stosur.

Schiavone and Vinci to play in Barcelona final

It isn't often that the top seed and the defending champion compete in a final, but that will be the case in Barcelona tomorrow when Francesca Schiavone, the number 1 seed, takes on defending champion and countrywoman Roberta Vinci.

Schiavone defeated Yaroslava Shvedova 6-1, 6-2 in the semifinals, and Vinci defeated Alexandra Dulgheru 6-7, 6-1, 6-2.

In doubles, the 4th-seeded team of Sara Errani and Vinci defeated number 1 seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the semifinals. They will play Timea Bacsinszky and Tathania Garbin. Bacsinszky and Garbin defeated Tatjana Malek and Andrea Petkovic.

Schnyder and Rogers team for exhibition doubles match

Ekaterina Makarova and Marie-Eve Pelletier may have received a walkover when Peng Shuai and Elena Vesnina withdrew from competition at the Family Circle Cup, but they are still going to play tonight. Makarova and Pelletier will play in an exhibition match against Patty Schnyder and Shelby Rogers.

Rogers was this year's SMASH Junior Cup winner, and she received a wild card into Charleston qualifying. She lost to Christina McHale in the first round, though she did take one set. Rogers also played in a Monday night exhibition match against Malou Ejdesgaard.

And speaking of exhibition matches, there was a Run/Roll wheelchair exhibition match in Charleston on Wednesday. Competitors included two-time Italian Cup national champion Allesandro Cianfoni, and Diane Fishburne, current women's 45s world number 1.

Friday cat blogging--surfing edition

Semifinals set in Barcelona

Top seed Francesca Schiavone, who defeated 7th seed Carla Suarez Navarro Thursday at the Barcelona Ladies Open, will play Yaroslava Shvedova in the semifinals. Shvedova defeated Iveta Benesova in the quarterfinals. The other semifinal will feature Alexandra Dulgheru and defending champion Roberta Vinci. In the quarterfinals, Dulgheru defeated Arantxa Parra Santonja, and Vinci defeated Timea Bacsinszky.

Charleston quarterfinal draw is set

Here is the singles draw for the Family Circle Cup quarterfinals:

Caroline Wozniacki (1) vs. Nadia Petrova (6)
Melanie Oudin (13) vs. Vera Zvonareva (7)
Peng Shuai vs. Samantha Stosur (4)
Daniela Hantuchova (8) vs. Jelena Jankovic (2)

Petrova won the tournament in 2006, and Jankovic won it in 2007. Wozniacki was the finalist in 2009, and Zvonareva was the finalist in 2008.

2nd, 3rd and 4th seeds out of Charleston doubles draw

The doubles draw has gone topsy-turvy in Charleston. The team of Vania King and Michaella Krajicek upset the 2nd seeds, Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs, today in the quarterfinals. Raymond and Stubbs barely escaped a loss in yesterday's match, and things didn't go well at all for them today. With first and second serve percentages of 39 and 37, Raymond and a contrary Stubbs were defeated 6-4, 6-1.

4th seeds Peng Shuai and Elena Vesnina withdrew from the tournament, and 3rd seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Yan Zi were upset 6-3, 4-6, 10-5 by Nathalie Grandin and Abigail Spears. In the first set, Yan repeatedly threw volleys into the net, and she and Mattek-Sands allowed Grandin and Spears to dictate play. The 3rd seeds slowly gained momentum in the second set, breaking their opponents three times. In the second half of that set, Mattek-Sands began to serve with more authority, and to find more opportunities to volley. But in the super-tiebreak, Grandin and Spears regained control of the match, with Spears attacking practically everything that didn't reach the baseline.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Oudin into Family Circle Cup quarterfinals

Melanie Oudin possesses an air of all business when she's one the court, even if she's just walking from one end to the other. Like the young Chris Evert, Oudin seems older than she actually is, because of her intensity. But whereas Evert's intensity was internal, Oudin's is on display most of the time. She looks wound--but not too tightly.

Oudin got a bit of a workout today in her first set against Christina McHale, who found herself in the third round when Victoria Azarenka retired against her. McHale gave Oudin all she could handle for a while, but then the 13th seed took control, and defeated McHale 6-4, 6-0. It was a good tournament for the qualifier, who drew quite a bit of crowd support while she was in Charleston.

Vera Zvonareva, seeded 7th, defeated 9th seed Alona Bondarenko 6-2, 6-1. Sam Sumyk, who used to be Zvonareva's coach and is now Azarenka's coach, was on hand to advise her. Zvonareva doesn't have a coach right now, and--since Azarenka retired with an injury--Sumyk stayed in town to help Zvonareva. The Russian star says that she is more interested in fitness right now, and wants to return to her former level before she thinks about getting a coach. She told me that she has a number of Russian hitting partners, and that she may wind up choosing one of them as her coach.

Marion Bartoli was spotted in the stands today, watching Daniela Hantuchova, who went at it for over two hours and 44 minutes against Angelique Kerber on the Althea Gibson Club Court. Hantuchova won 6-7, 7-5, 6-3, and was none too pleased to learn that she is scheduled to play first tomorrow.

2nd seed Jelena Jankovic and 6th seed Nadia Petrova had straight set wins over Evgeniya Rodina and 12th seed Aleksandra Wozniack, respectively. It wasn't quite as easy for 4th seed Sam Stosur, however. Stosur won her first set 6-1 against Vera Dushevina, but Dushevina, seeded 14th, took control of the second set and an error-prone Stosur, and won the second set 6-3. It didn't take long for Stosur to regain control, though, and she posted another 6-1 win in the third set.

10th seed Elena Vesnina was upset 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 by her Charleston doubles partner, Peng Shuai. Vesnina and Peng later withdrew from doubles competition because of the Russian's left adductor muscle strain. Vesnina had the same thigh wrapped last year in Charleston, and because of it, she and her partner retired after their first quarterfinal set in 2009.

Wozniacki defeats Schnyder and advances to quarterfinals in Charleston

Patty Schnyder had all the right ideas about how to beat Caroline Wozniacki in their 3rd round match in Charleston this morning, but she was unable to execute enough of them. In the first set, Schnyder made too many errors to be competitive, and won only two games. In the second, though, the predominantly Schnyder-cheering crowd saw hope for a long match. After recovering from a break at 1-2, the 16th seed was broken back, then held for 3-4. Wozniacki then went down 0-40, brought the game to deuce, but was broken when Schnyder hit a successful drop shot.

At 4-all, Schnyder saved a break point with an ace, then saved the next break point with an ace. By this time, much of the crowd was cheering Schnyder on loudly, but she was nevertheless broken in that game. When Wozniacki served for the match, the crowd--contrary to custom--was silent. It isn't that fans in Charleston don't appreciate the top seed--they do. It's just that Schnyder is the tournament's most beloved star.

After going down 15-40, Wozniacki made the next two points, but two forehands down the line and a smash later, Schnyder found herself still in the match. She went down 0-40, however, and was broken at 30. Wozniacki then held for a 6-2, 7-5 victory.

Schnyder certainly had her share of opportunities to take the match to a third set, but was unable to do so. Wozniacki, as is her way, kept the ball inside the court and over the net so precisely and consistently that she was able to control the outcome of the match. Schnyder, who was twice a finalist at the tournament, acknowledged the sustained cheers as she left the stadium.


Shahar Peer led Poland's annual March of the Living on Monday. The event pays tribute to the victims of Auschwitz. Peer was accompanied by her grandmother, an Auschwitz camp survivor.

The Amanda and Stacy Darling Tennis Center in Las Vegas has been designated a USTA regional training hub.

Sania Mirza married Pakistani cricket player Shoaib Malik on Monday, following weeks of controversy.

Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Yanina Wickmayer, and Kirsten Flipkens have been named to the Belgian Fed Cup team for the April playoff against Estonia.

Serena Williams has entered the Italian Open as a wild card.

Russia names Fed Cup team for Birmingham semifinal

In addition to the already-confirmed Elena Dementieva, the Russian Fed Cup that will play the USA in Birmingham later this month will consist of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Ekaterina Makarova and Alla Kudryattseva.

The USA team consists of Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber, plus another player who has not yet been named by captain Mary Joe Fernandez.

Russian captain Shamil Tarpishev is still trying to get a visa so he can travel with his team to Birmingham. Just as it did in 2007, the American Embassy in Moscow is delaying the granting of Tarpishev's visa--don't ask me why.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bartoli retires in 3rd set against Peng in Charleston

In tonight's feature match in the Family Circle Cup Stadium, 5th seed Marion Bartoli looked into a mirror and saw Peng Shuai. Both play with two hands on both sides, and both like nothing more than to find the angles. Bartoli has more power, Peng has more touch. Bartoli dominated Peng in the first set, which she won 6-2, but Peng came roaring back in the second, and won it in a tiebreak. The two players exchanged breaks in the first half of the third set, then Bartoli called for a trainer.

The trainer checked Bartoli's blood pressure, and she and several officials hovered around her. From my vantage point, it looked as though they were suggesting she retire, but after a while, she rose from her seat and walked to the court to serve. Already suffering from dizziness, Bartoli clutched her abdomen after she served each ball. Peng broke her--though not that easily--and she sat down. Again, the trainer and the offiicials gathered around her, and--after some obviously sympathetic words from the trainer--Bartoli retired.

I'll post any additional information I learn about this incident. It is really unfortunate that the retirement occurred because this was a high quality match, well played by both opponents. It was also a long match, with Bartoli calling for the trainer well after the two-hour mark had passed.

Schnyder advances to 3rd round in Charleston

Patty Schnyder played her second round Family Circle Cup match in the Althea Gibson Club Court this morning, and things couldn't have gone much better for her. She rushed to a 3-0 lead over Michelle Larcher de Brito, but the intense player from Portugal, whose backhand is formidable, got herself back into the match. Schnyder stayed calm and broke again, however, to take the first set 6-3.

It was in the second set that Schnyder brought out all the shots for which she is known. Her service game was outstanding (1st and 2nd serve percentages of 71 and 62), and she looped and spun the ball all around the court, staying patient while her opponent made errors. Schnyder was so dominant in the second set that Larcher de Brito won only one game.

Larcher de Brito is a good hitter, but like some of her contemporaries, she lacks patience. In this case, the veteran took advantage of that impatience. If Schnyder can continue serving at this level, she can be competitive in this tournament.

Azarenka retires in her first Charleston match

Victoria Azarenka, the 3rd seed in Charleston, won her first set against Christina McHale this morning in the Family Circle Cup Stadium. However, at 6-2, 2-2, Azarenka retired because of the hamstring injury that caused her to retire in the Marbella quarterfinals last week.

Also retiring was Ayumi Morita, who sustained a left adductor muscle strain while she was playing Daniela Hantuchova. The match ended with Hantuchova leading 6-4, 2-0. And though she finished the match, Bethanie Mattek-Sands began cramping in both thighs in her third set against 9th seed Alona Bondarenko. Bondarenko won, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the third round with a straight set win over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, and 6th seed Nadia Petrova advanced with a straight set win over Vania King.

An enthusiastic Australian crowd was on hand to deliver cries of "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi oi oi!" during Sophie Ferguson's match, but their enthusiasm wasn't enough to get Ferguson past Melanie Oudin. The 13th seed won, 6-2, 6-4, and thereby booked a date with countrywoman Christina McHale in the third round.

In doubles action, Ekaterina Dzehalevich and Olga Savchuk led 3rd seeds Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs 5-0, 40-0 in the first round. At that point, Raymond and Stubbs began to turn things around a bit, though Dzehalevich and Savchuk took the first set 6-3. Raymond and Stubbs then became much more aggressive, and took the second set 6-1. But Dzehalevich and Savchuk made the super-tiebreak a dramatic one, saving three consecutive match points at 6-9, and then saving a fourth match point before losing the tiebreak 10-12.

Mattek-Sands recovered from the cramping episode and played her first round doubles match with partner Yan Zi. The third seeds defeated Oudin and Shenay Perry 6-3, 6-4.

Barcelona is Upset City

Yesterday, it was Rezai and Dulko. Today, 3rd seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 4th seed Maria Kirilenko and 5th seed Sorana Cirstea were upset by Arantxa Parra Santonja, Yaroslava Shvedova and Iveta Benesova, respectively. Yesterday, Shvedova defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Meanwhile, top seed Francesca Schiavone advanced to the second round with a straight set win over countrywoman Alberta Brianti.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seles to play in Family Circle Cup exhibition

Monica Seles will join Anna Kournikova, Jim Courier and John McEnroe in an exhibition match to be held Saturday, April 17 at the Family Circle Cup. Saturday's event, Game, Set, Rock! Tennis. Amplified., will feature the exhibition, plus a performance by the Blue Dogs, a Charleston band. The special event celebrates the tournament's tenth year in Charleston.

Williams to skip Fed Cup semifinal

Venus Williams has decided she will not play in the USA vs. Russia Fed Cup final; Williams has been having some trouble with one of her legs. Today in Charleston, Bethanie Mattek-Sands confirmed that she will be on the USA Fed Cup team. Elena Dementieva has confirmed that she will play for Russia.

Family Circle Cup--what's happening around the grounds

We went to see Heather Watson play Elena Vesnina, the 10th seed, the first thing this morning, and were joined by Watson's mother, who also functioned as her coach for this match. Watson played quite well, but had trouble holding her serve in the second set. With experience on her side, Vesnina won, 7-6, 6-3. At one point, I asked Mama Watson, as she is known, if Heather had ever played Vesnina. "Nobody has played us," she said.

After her first round match, Patty Schnyder was presented with a heart-felt speech, a big round of applause, and a  lovely bouquet of flowers, as appreciation for her loyalty to the tournament. She has played in the Family Circle Cup for fourteen years. Schnyder had an autograph session this afternoon, then headed for the practice courts.

There is a Family Circle Cup box whose official name is "Hebrews 11:1."

Last year, toward the end of the tournament, someone in the stands passed out. This morning, someone sitting in the same part of the stadium passed out, which interrupted play for about ten minutes.