Friday, April 8, 2011

"Sunshine mixed with clouds"

That was the weather forecast I heard on the radio on the way to the Family Circle Cup today. The "clouds," it turned out, came in the form of 6th seed Yanina Wickmayer, who pushed world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki to three tough quarterfinal sets in Charleston. Taking the ball quickly and hitting forehand winners up the line and crosscourt, Wickmayer won the first set 6-4.

The Belgian player then went up a break in the second set, but lost her serve at 3-2 when she made an ill-timed decision to hit a drop volley. Wickmayer remained very competitive, but she missed a number of volleys after setting them up as potential winners. At 4-5, Wickmayer was broken at love. She went up a break in the third set, and hit a crowd-thrilling stab volley when she attempted to take a second break over Wozniacki.

That break of serve did not happen. Wickmayer's net game improved somewhat in the third set, but Wozniacki became more aggressive. Wickmayer served at 4-5, and then--just like that--she appeared lost. Her service game declined, and she attempted one last drop shot with little commitment, giving Wozniacki a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Throughout the match, Wickmayer hit solidly when she was being instinctual, but when she had a moment to think, things didn't go as well. She said, afterwards, that she had made a decision to add more dimensions to her game, and that she feels good about adding them. Clearly, she isn't comfortable with her new game yet, but she sounded positive about continuing to do more than "hitting, hitting." Wickmayer is working on a trial basis with  Vladimir Platenik, who is helping her expand her game. A former top 20 player, the Belgian would have had to reach the final in Charleston to return to the top 20.

I spoke with Wickmayer a few days ago about her physical health (a wall fell on her last year). She said that her leg is better, but that she is still having problems with the nerve, and she has been told by her doctors that it could take up to a year for the nerve damage to heal. (She also said that she enjoys skiing, but she can no longer ski because it's too risky: "I want to go too fast.")

Wozniacki has now been seriously challenged in two consecutive matches, but has prevailed in the usual Wozniacki way--by getting almost every ball back, waiting for her opponent to make errors, and turning to aggression when she believes it's necessary. Her next opponent is Jelena Jankovic, who ended the exciting run of Christina McHale with a 6-2, 6-0 win. Wozniacki is 1-4 against Jankovic. The two have never before faced each other on clay.

The match between Wozniacki and Wickmayer was a really noisy affair. Near me, there was action going on with some type of tournament equipment, a walkie-talkie-type communication somehow got amplified, and there was loud talking and laughing from some fans (something you usually hear at night matches). And of course, there was the repeated "Om-pah," "Whoopee!" exchange from the players.