Saturday, April 30, 2011

Passing shots

It's official: Vera Zvonareva has hired Karen Krotov to be her coach, at least for the U.S. hard court season; sources differ as to whether Krotov will work with Zvonareva in that capacity during clay season. Krotov did coach Zvonareva during the Fed Cup semifinals. The world number 2 parted with coach Sergei Demekhin because, she said, he didn't want to work with a team. Says Demekhin: "I have experience and I know girls' psychology, so let's wait for offers."

You can get to know Nadia Lalami.

"Neither as muscular nor as deep-voiced as she appears on television, she was strikingly normal, if that makes any sense." Yeah, Malcolm, we get it.

Rebecca Marino has begun taking Pilates classes.

James LaRosa has a fantasy about the WTA and on-court coaching.

Quote of the week

"There was more variety, players with different games, stronger minds, more character. I played with three generations and they evolved. I had to adapt."
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, on playing in the 90s

Medina Garrigues and Vinci win titles

Anabel Medina Garrigues won her tenth WTA title today in Estoril. Medina Garrigues defeated Kristina Barrois 6-1, 6-2 in the final. Nine of the Spaniard's titles have come on clay. Medina Garrigues recently overcame a losing streak comprised of ten consecutive first round losses.

Alisa Kleybanova and Galina Voskoboeva won the Estoril doubles championship. They defeated Elena Daniilidou and Michaela Krajicek 6-4, 6-2 in the final.

Roberta Vinci won her fourth title today when she defeated Lucie Hradecka 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Vinci was the champion in 2009, and the runner-up in 2010.

The doubles title went to the top seeds, Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. They defeated Natalie Grandin and Vladirimira Uhlirova 5-7, 6-4, 11-9. Benesova and Zahlavova Strycova have won eleven titles together. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Vinci and Hradecka to meet in Barcelona final

Roberta Vinci and Lucie Hradecka have made it to the final of the Barcelona Open. Vinci, the 6th seed, defeated Laura Pous-Tio 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the semifinals. Hradecka defeated 5th seed Sara Errani 6-1, 7-5.

Top seeds Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova will meet Natalie Grandin and Vladamira Uhlirova in the doubles final.

At the Estoril Open, Kristina Barroi and Anabel Medina Garrigues will compete in the final. In the doubles final, Alisa Kleybanova and Galina Voskoboeva will compete against Eleni Daniilidou and Michaela Krajicek.

Friday cat blogging--friendship edition

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kleybanova out of Estoril in quarterfinals

Top seed Alisa Kleybanova was upset today in Estroril by Kristina Barrois, who defeated Kleybanova 6-4, 6-2. 2nd seed Jarmila Gajdosova was defeated by 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 by Monica Niculescu, and 3rd seed Klara Zakopalova was defeated 6-3, 7-5 by Anabel Medina Garrigues. Also advancing to the semifinals was Johanna Larsson, who defeated Alla Kudryavtseva 6-2, 7-5.

In the meantime, Kleybanova and her doubles partner, Galina Voskoboeva, have reached the final of the doubles competition.They defeated the 2nd seeds, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.

In Barcelona, Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani and Lucie Hradecka all made it to the semifinals today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bartoli upset in 1st round in Barcelona

Marion Bartoli, who took a wild card into the Barcelona Ladies Open and became the top seed, was upset today in the opening round of the tournament. Memphis champion Magdalena Rybarikova defeated Bartoli 6-4, 6-1.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Passing shots

Andrea Petkovic has hired Heinz Gunhardt on a part-time basis. Petar Popovic will continue to be her regular coach.

According to Matt Cronin, Caroline Wozniacki plans to hire Martina Navratilova as a consultant.

Hannah Wilks writes about Heather Watson.

Marion Bartoli has accepted a wild card into the Barcelona tournament, and is the top seed.

Victoria Azarenka, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury since before Fed Cup, reports that she hopes to be back on the court in Madrid.

Brianti wins Fes title

Alberta Brianti won the championship in Fes today. Unseeded, Brianti defeated 7th seed Simona Halep 6-4, 6-3 in a fnal that was interrupted by rain. Halep was also the runner-up last year.

The doubles title went to top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Renata Voracova, who defeated Nina Bratchikova and Sandra Klemenschits 6-3, 6-4.

Brianti received a walkover in the semifinals when her opponent, Dinara Safina, had to withdraw because of illness. The Italian player is currently ranked number 94 in the world. This is her first WTA title.

Goerges wins Stuttgart championship

The German fans in Stuttgart got to see two of their countrywomen pick up trophies and bouquets today at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. German wild card Sabine Lisicki and her partner, Sam Stosur, won the doubles championsip when they defeated the all-German team of Kristina Barrois and Jasmin Woehr 6-1, 7-6.

Julia Goerges got more than a trophy and flowers. She not only won her first premier WTA event, but she did it by defeating the world number 1. She was given a shiny silveer Porsche, too, which she drove across the court after her 7-5, 6-3 victory.

Goerges has played great tennis all week. She took out Lisicki in the quarterfinals, and 5th seed Stosur in the semifinals. (She was also the recipient of a second round retirement from the ever-fragile Victoria Azarenka.) The match against Stosur was an especially good one, and Goerges had to push herself both mentally and physically to overcome the 5th seed. Today, playing in the biggest match of her career, she kept a cool head, served extremely well, and forced errors from Caroline Wozniacki by repeatedly throwing the Dane off of her rhythm and targeting the Wozniacki forehand.

The unseeded German won 72% of her first serve points, and 65% of her second serve points (she also won 72% of her first serve points against Stosur, and 68% against Lisicki); she hit 38 winners to 29 unforced errors. Strong on both sides, Goerges was aggressive throughout both sets, and wasn't afraid to go to the net to finish points.

The Stuttgart tournament is played indoors, so we will all be watching Goerges to see if she can maintain her progress outdoors on red clay. In Charleston, the clay surface is faster than it is in Europe, and Goerges ran hot and cold on it. Her forehand was in top form at the Family Circle Cup, but she also experienced what appeared to be mental lapses during some of her games. On the other hand, Charleston is the first tournament of the clay season, and it isn't unusual to see players struggle to make the adjustment from hard courts.

Goerges won the Bad Gastein title in 2009, and she is now 2-1 in finals. Wozniacki has yet to win a title on red clay. The world number 1, however, owns 16 titles, including the 2011 green clay event in Charleston. Goerges is the the second German to win in Stuttgart. Anke Huber won the tournament on an indoor hard court in 1991 and 1994.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Goerges and Wozniacki to meet in Stuttgart final

The home crowd in Stuttgart has something big to cheer for this year: Julia Goerges, who is unseeded, upset 5th seed Sam Stosur today in the semifinals. Goerges defeated Stosur 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in a very well-played contest between two forehand-favoring players. The Goerges forehand, with its elaborate preparation, works well on clay, and Goerges moved expertly throughout the match.

Goerges will have plenty to do in the final. Her opponent is world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated her friend Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals. Radwanska's serve was the best I have ever seen it, and I thought the match was going to three sets. Radwanska saved six match points, which added some excitement to the latter part of the match.

Stosur, by the way, is still in the doubles competition. She and Sabine Lisicki won their semifinal match against Vitalia Diatchenka and Mariya Koryttseva. In the final, they will play Kristina Barrois and Jasmin Woehr, who defeated Kathrin Woerle and Katalin Marosi. Lisicki and Stosur are wild cards; Barrois and Woehr are unseeded.

Passing shots

Dinara Safina is ill, and had to withdraw from the semifinals in Fes. Alberta Brianti received a walkover, and will play last year's runner-up, Simona Halep, in the final. Safina had not reached a semifinal since August of 2009.

Irina Falconi has won the USTA French Open wild card playoffs. Falconi defeated Julia Boserup 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in the final, which was held in Boca Raton, Florida. The other competing players were Beatrice Capra, Lauren Davis, Madison Keys, and Grace Min.

Vikings player Bryant McKinnie, who is trying to drop 20 pounds before returning to the football field, has opted to take tennis lessons from Venus Williams. "She tires you out," the offensive tackle said of his teacher.

Chris Evert expects Caroline Woznaicki to win the 2011 French Open.

Kim Clijsters has been named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People for 2011. Time's staff apparently discovered that Clijsters had a baby and returned to work. She "juggles" a  career and a family. (Roger Federer is not known to "juggle" his career and family, which makes him, I suppose, a not very extraordinary woman.)

Steve Tignor has begun a series on books about tennis.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Flipkens ends Lalami's run in Fes

Nadia Lalami, who upset top seed Aravane Rezai in Fes, went out today in the quarterfinals. She was defeated 6-0, 6-1 by Kirsten Flipkens.

4th seed Greta Arn went out in straight sets to 7th seed Simona Halep, and Alberta Brianti defeated Melanie Oudin 7-5, 5-7, 6-0. Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pivovarvova had to endure rain delays in Fes. Safina emerged the winner when she defeated Pivovarova 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Birthday in the Bahamas

Maria Sharapova turned 24 a few days ago. She celebrated her birthday in the Bahamas with a triple-tiered pink cake, and, on April 16, she also played an exhibition match with Gisela Dulko. The All-Star Tennis Weekend, hosted by Atlantis, took place on Paradise Island, and included a clinic for kids.

You can see a lot of Paul Hage-Chahine's photos of Maria at the kids' clinic at, and you can also see his photos of Maria on the court during the exhibition match, which she won, 6-3, 6-1. While you're there, check out the other galleries and enjoy!

Friday cat blogging--totebag/briefcase takeover edition

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quote of the day

" should dance, but when you do, dance carefully."
Martina Navratilova, referring to Kim Clijsters

Stosur goes to first semifinal of the season in Stuttgart

The phrases "Vera Zvonareva" and "broken racquet" go together in the lexicon of women's professional tennis, but today in Stuttgart, it was a case of Vera Zvonareva and broken strings. The 2nd seed's strings broke repeatedly, sometimes more than once during a game. At one point, she had to use her coach's racquet. And for the sixth time in a row, Stosur beat her. The 5th seed--who is again showing signs that clay is the surface on which she is most comfortable--won 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, and will play Julia Goerges in the semifinals.

Goerges, who is the last German standing, broke countrywoman Sabine Lisicki at 4-all in both the first and second set, and walked away with a 6-4, 6-4 win. She and Andrea Petkovic lost in the doubles quarterfinals, however. They were defeated in straight sets by wild cards Stosur and Licsicki.

A lot of people probably expected Andrea Petkovic to be the last German standing. On paper, she should be. The "old Petkovic" used to choke away leads, and--just when we thought she had been banished--she showed up today in Stuttgart. Petkovic was up 4-1, 40-0 in the first set, and somehow managed to lose it 4-6. After that, top seed Caroline Wozniacki simply took over; Petkovic won one game in the second set.

Wozniacki's opponent in the semifinals will be Agnieszka Radwanska. I really wanted to watch Radwanska's match against Kristina Barrois because I so enjoy both of their games. In the middle of the first set, though, I had to leave. Radwanska won, 7-5, 6-3.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Top seed Rezai upset in Fes

The home players have dazzled in Germany, but today in Morocco, there was also a big triumph for a countrywoman. Wild card Nadia Lalami, ranked number 497 number in the world, defeated top seed (and wild card) Aravane Rezai 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the second round of the Fes event. The 20-year-old Lalami is from Morocco.

Lalami's next opponent will be Kirsten Flipkens.

4 German players in Stuttgart quarterfinals

Four players from Germany have reached the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Today, in second round play, wild card Kristina Barrois upset 8th seed Marion Bartoli, defeating her 6-4, 6-2. Another wild card, Sabine Lisicki, upset 6th seed Li Na, and Andrea Petkovic defeated 7th seed (and former Stuttgart champion) Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. Petkovic needed five match points to make it to the quarterfinals, but she hung in and prevailed.

Also today, 4th seed Victoria Azarenka retired against Julia Goerges. Azarenka won the first set 6-4, then had to stop playing because of a right shoulder injury.

Kristina Barrois was not content to advance just in singles She and partner Jasmin Woehr took out top seeds Liezel Huber and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in straight sets in the doubles quarterfinals.

Barrois's next opponent will be Agnieszka Radwanska, who defeated 3rd seed Francesca Schiavone. Lisicki and Goerges will play one another, and Petkovic will face top seed Caroline Wozniacki. The other quarterfinal will be played between 5th seed Sam Stosur and 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva.

Players talk about Stuttgart

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Passing shots

The WTA site has a feature story on Patty Schnyder's emotional farewell in Charleston.

Francesca Schiavone has withdrawn from Stuttgart because of exhaustion. Yanina Wickmayer has also withdrawn, in order to give her knee some rest.

"I’m a younger player with not as much experience and I played some stupid things," Bojana Jovanovski said of her Fed Cup loss to Dominika Cibulkova.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands reports that competitive shooting is her latest interest.

You know about her skills with a soccer ball, but here, you can learn even more about Sara Errani.

Russia and Czech Republic go to Fed Cup final

The Russian Fed Cup team cruised into another final today, defeating defending champion Italy 5-0. The Italian team has been dismantled, with both Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta not playing, and championship doubles players Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci taking over in singles. (Errani lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in two tie-break sets; Vinci and Pavlyuchenkova will meet  in the first round in Stuttgart next week.)

It wasn't such an easy task for Russia's upcoming opponent in the final, however. The Czech Republic had to go to a deciding doubles rubber before defeating Belgium 3-2.

The two teams went into today's competition tied at 1-1. Petra Kvitova defeated Yanina Wickmayer 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, but Czech team member Barbora Zahlavova Strycova lost to Kirsten Flipkens. Flipkens (rocking some colorful Belgian flag sunglasses) played quite well, but she got some help from her opponent, who   generally looked uncomfortable throughout the match.

With her 6-2, 6-3 victory over Zahlavova Strycova, Flipkens teamed with Wickmayer to play Zahlavova Strycova and Benesova. The highly-ranked Czech team had the advantage, since Wickmayer and Flipkens had never before played together. Also, Wickmayer looked lost at the net most of the time. The Czech team took the first set 6-4, then, in the second set, there were a series of breaks which left the Czech team serving for the match at 5-4. Holding at love, Benesova and Zahlavova Strycova took their team to the 2011 Fed Cup final.

The World Group play-off between the Slovak Republic and Serbia took a strange turn when Ana Ivanovic had to retire against Dominika Cibulkova because of an abdominal injury (she had this injury earlier in the season). Cibulkova won the first set 6-4, and Ivanovic retired at 3-3 in the second set. Jelena Jankovic then defeated Daniela Hantuchova 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, and the tie went to a deciding doubles rubber. Once again, there was a twist. The team of Hantuchova and Magdalena Rybarikova won the first set 6-2, and appeared to be on their way to a relatively easy straight-set win. However, Jelena Jankovic and Aleksandra Krunic staged a comeback, taking the second set 7-5. The Serbian team went on to win the third set 9-7, and Serbia now returns to the World Group.

In the World Group play-offs, Ukraine (without the Bondarenko sisters) defeatd Australia. Sam Stosur did not play for Australia, but Jarmila Groth did. Groth won both of her singles rubbers, Anastasia Rodionova lost both of her singles rubbers, and--in yet another surprise ending--Groth and Rodionova lost the doubles rubber to Olga Savchuk and Lesia Tsurenko.

Complete results for Fed Cup semifinals, World Group and World Group II play-offs:

Russia def. Italy, 5-0
Czech Republic def. Belgium, 3-2

World Group play-offs
Germany def. USA, 5-0
Spain def. France, 4-1
Serbia def. Slovak Republic, 3-2
Ukraine def. Australia, 3-2

World Group II play-offs
Belarus def. Estonia, 5-0
Slovenia def. Canada, 3-2
Switzerland def. Sweden, 4-1
Japan vs. Argentina postponed until July

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Fed Cup miscellany

In order to determine the order of play against Ukraine in the Fed Cup World Cup play-offs, the Australian and Ukrainian teams enlisted the help of the Banks Rowing Club. Boats bearing the names of Ukrainian team members on their bows raced on the Yarra River in Melbourne. Olga Savchuk's boat won the race; hence, she played Jarmila Groth in the first rubber.

Erasmus Pelli, the vice-mayor of Lugano, hit some balls with Patty Schnyder during a "kidstennis" event held last week in observance of the Fed Cup play-offs.

Maria Sharapova has expressed interest in joining the Basketballers' Wives Club. The club was founded by Australian Fed Cup coach Nicole Bradtke, who actually said: "We're reasonably tall girls, so we need men with extra height. We can wear our high heels." Sorry, all you men who are under six feet tall--you're out of luck.

And, while we're on the subject of sexism, the Slovak Republic's Fed Cup team members were told by the master of ceremonies at the official dinner that they appeared to be part of a beauty contest as much as a tennis contest. The team members were then invited to parade in cat-walk fashion in front of all the guests. They declined.

As promised, Andrea Petkovic did not dance after she won her rubber against Christina McHale. The Petko Dance is really done.

Team USA has won the most Fed Cup titles--17--in history. However, if Melanie Oudin loses the first rubber on Sunday, the USA will be relegated to World Group II.

Belgium and Czech Republic tied 1-1 in Fed Cup play

When Barbora Zahlavova Strycova served at 4-5 in the second set in her semifinal Fed Cup rubber against Yanina Wickmayer, what emerged what arguably one of the best games of the season. It was a very long game, in which the Czech player held numerous game points, but was not able to convert them. To keep herself (and her country) in the match, she pulled out every shot imaginable. The highlights included a successful serve-and-volley play, a slide-forward down the line volley, and a drop shot. It took Wickmayer a long time to get a break point, and she won the game, thereby winning the match 6-4, 6-4.

These two had never played each other before, and I was really looking forward to seeing them in their first-ever match. They didn't disappoint me. The second semifinal rubber of the day was a high quality, sometimes thrilling, affair. Earlier in the day, the Czech Republic won the first rubber when Petra Kvitova defeated Kirsten Flipkens 6-2, 7-6. Tomorrow's highlight will be the rubber featuring Wickmayer and Kvitova.

In the other semifinal, Russia leads 2-0. Vera Zvonareva defeated Sara Errani 6-0, 6-2, and Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-7, 6-1. And while it can no longer be said that Vinci has never lost a Fed Cup match--this is an unusual situation, in which Vinci has been called on to play singles instead of doubles. Indeed, the Italian has never lost a Fed Cup doubles match.

Here are other day 1 results:

World Group play-offs

Germany--2, USA--0
Spain--1, France--1
Slovak Republic--1, Serbia--1
Australia--1, Ukraine--1

World Group II play-offs
Belarus--2, Estonia--0
Slovenia--1, Canada--1
Switzerland--2, Sweden--0
Japan vs. Argentina--postponed until July

The contest between France and Spain is also of interest. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez defeated Virginie Razzano 6-2, 6-4. The next rubber was a lively one, with Anabel Madina Garrigues playing Aravane Rezai. Medina Garrigues is in the midst of a comeback, of sorts, and Rezai needs to be in the midst of one. The Frenchwoman certainly made a good start, with a 7-5, 6-7, 6-2 win.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mattek-Sands withdraws from Fed Cup

Bethanie Mattek-Sands has withdrawn from the USA team that play in this weekend's Fed Cup World Group Play-Offs. Mattek-Sands has a hip and back injury. Vania King has been named by captain Mary Joe Fernandez as the new team member. She will be joined by Melanie Oudin, Christina McHale and Liezel Huber.

The USA plays German in Stuttgart on an indoor red clay court. The German team consists of Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki, and Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Friday cat blogging--tabby in a box edition

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fed Cup semifinals to be played this weekend

Lucie Safarova has withdrawn from the Fed Cup semifinals because of a thigh injury. Replacing her on the Czech Republic team is Lucie Hradecka, who will join teammates Petra Kvitova, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Iveta Benesova. The Czech Republic plays Belgium, represented by Yanina Wickmayer, Kirsten Flipkens, An-Sophie Mestach, and Alison Van Uytvanck. The semifinal will be played on an indoor hard court in Charteroi, Belgium.

Russia plays Italy on an indoor hard court in Moscow in the other semifinal. The withdrawal of both Flavia Pennetta (aka Queen of Fed Cup) and Francesca Schiavone makes Russia a clear favorite. Italy's championship doubles teamm Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, will have to rely on Alberta Brianti and Maria-Elena Camerin to help subdue a strong Russian team comprised of Vera Zvonareva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Ekaterina Makarova.

Jelena Jankovic says it's a nice feeling to play on a team, and to play for her country. The Serbian team will play the Slovak Republic this weekend in the Fed Cup World Group play-offs. Joining Jankovic will be Ana Ivanovic, Bojana Jovanovski, and Aleksandra Krunic. The opposing team will be comprised of Dominika Cibulkova, Daniela Hantuchova, Magdelena Rybarikova, and Jana Cepelova. The matches will take place on an indoor clay court in Bratislava.

Other World Group play-offs include:

Germany vs. USA
Spain vs. France
Australia vs. Ukraine

World Group II play-offs:

Belarus vs. Estonia
Japan vs. Argentina
Slovenia vs. Canada
Switzerland vs. Sweden

Fed Cup play takes place April 16-18. Italy is the defending champion.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Passing shots

Kim Clijsters, already off of the tour for a month because of shoulder and wrist injuries, now has an ankle injury, too. Clijsters hurt her ankle while attending her cousin's wedding. She is walking on crutches, and her French Open participation is now in question. Clijsters had already withdrawn from the Belgian Fed Cup team.

Withdrawing from the Australian Fed Cup team is Jelena Dokic, who cites exhaustion as the reason. Sam Stosur, Australia's lead player, had already announced that she would not play in the upcoming Fed Cup tie.

Irina-Camelia Begu was the runner-up in Marbella  this past week, so you may want to know more about her.

"I dream of being as consistent as Caroline Wozniacki for the whole season, not just clay courts or whatever," Svetlana Kuznetsova told Guy McCrae in Marbella.

Some good news: Dinara Safina's back problem in Marbella was strictly nerve-related, and not serious. Her stress fracture continues to heal nicely.

Francesca Schiavone won an exhibition set 6-4 against Caroline Wozniacki in Monte Carlo.

Venus and Serena Williams are opening a clothing store called "Courture" in Miami.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Charleston miscellany

A journalist for the Charleston newspaper wrote that--now that Patty Schnyder has played her final Charleston tournament--Caroline Wozniacki is the new Charleston "favorite." I've been attending this tournament for a long time, and I have doubts about whether anyone will ever be embraced the way Schnyder was. Also, unless I'm having auditory hallucinations, a major portion of the crowd was going crazy for JJ during her semifinal match against Wozniacki.

Wozniacki, by the way, has taken confidence to a new level. After the final, she dashed in to a press conference, and then almost immediately dashed right out. The champion had to catch a flight to the ATP tournament in Monaco, where she's playing tomorrow in an exhibition match against Francesca Schiavone. So I'm left with a couple of questions: What if the second set in Charleston had gone to a tiebreak? What if it had gone to three sets? Considering the level at which Elena Vesnina played this week, either of those things could easily have happened. For that matter, either of those things could have happened against anyone.

Virginia Wade was interviewed on the Grand Lawn this morning, but, unfortunately, I missed the occasion.

Charleston fans are quirky in a good way. They absolutely cherish Patty Schnyder, they cheered wildly during Vera Zonareva's 2010 epic racquet destruction, and they come out in big numbers for doubles matches.

For the past seven years, a Russian has appeared in every final in Charleston except for the 2009 championship match in which Sabine Lisicki defeated Caroline Wozniacki. The only Russian to win the tournament, however, was Nadia Petrova, who defeated Patty Schnyder in the 2006 final.

The only retirement (no one retired against Wozniacki!)  in Charleston this year occurred when Vania King had to stop playing doubles because of a foot blister.

Elena Vesnina has never won a WTA singles title. She's played in five finals, two of which she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. She has, however, now won five doubles titles, and she was a runner-up in doubles at both the French Open and Wimbledon. Vesnina had a really great week in Charleston this year, and probably gained some new fans. Singles and doubles combined, the unseeded Russian played a total of ten matches. After today's doubles final, Vesnina said that she isn't going to touch a tennis racquet for a week.

I've said it before, but it bears saying again: The Family Circle Cup staff is wonderful, and the facility is beautifully maintained. The players really enjoy the tournament, too. They get a lot of personal assistance and attention (including the delivery of homemade cookies), and they enjoy the atmosphere in and around Charleston.

Mirza & Vesnina win Charleston doubles title

"Hello again," Elena Vesnina said to the crowd when she made a speech at the Family Circle Cup for the second time in one day. This speech, however, represented an even nicer occasion for the unseeded singles runner-up. She and partner Sania Mirza defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4, 6-4 to win the doubles championship.  Mirza and Vesnina, also unseeded, broke the 4th seeds five times.

The winning team served for the first set at 5-3, but were broken. Shaughnessy then served two consecutive aces, and she and Mattek-Sands held at love, but they were unable to break Mirza and Vesnina when they served a second time for the set.

Mirza and Vesnina went up 2-0 in the second set, and a big forehand from Mirza set the team up to get a second break. They went up 3-0 when, suddenly, a ballboy collapsed. Play was suspended while a trainer came out to treat the ballboy, who was then carried off of the court (he recovered quite nicely, and returned to the match). Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy held for 1-4, then broke Mirza and Vesnina on their second break point. They then held for 3-4.

The next game went to deuce, and Mirza and Vesnina were broken when Mirza double-faulted on the deciding point. Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy were broken in the next game, however, and Vesnina--serving for the match--hit a forehand down the line for match point.

After the match, Mirza said that she and Vesnina get along so well off the court that it helps them stay calm on the court. Vesnina added that she thought Mirza had the best forehand on the tour. It's a really formidable forehand, and I should add  that Vesnina is now very strong on both sides.

Both Mirza and Vesnina were models of fitness during the tournament. Mirza had to qualify for singles, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals, and Vesnina played in both finals. Both players have had issues in the past with wrist injuries, and Vesnina has had problems with her left thigh. This week, Mirza played with a slight groin/thigh injury, but persevered. She and Vesnina, having won Indian Wells, now have another impressive doubles title.

Sania Mirza's smoking forehand had a devastating effect

Wozniacki wins Family Circle Cup

All this week in Charleston, Elena Vesnina used her big serve to get out of trouble in matches. Today, however, the unseeded Russian's game-saving serve just wasn't there, and she was defeated 6-2, 6-3 by world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki. "My serve didn't help me today like it was helping me in the previous matches," Vesnina said after the final. "I was trying to go for the big serves, but it didn't go. It didn't fly that fast like it was flying before."
Wozniacki, on the other hand, won 75% of the time on her first serves, and hit six aces. She also broke Vesnina three times, but was never broken, though Vesnina saw four break opportunities. 

At the start of the match, each player held serve, then Wozniacki had to go through five deuces--with no break points--to win her next service game. The top seed then broke Vesnina. The seventh game was very close, and Vesnina appeared to be entering a zone for creating break opportunities, but she committed unforced errors at crucial times, and Wozniacki held for 5-2. Wozniacki then broke Vesnina and won the first set.

Vesnina became more aggressive in the second set, and continued her tournament-long pattern of using a lot of touch to win points. Her drop shots and lobs were well-placed, and when she served at 2-3 and went down a break point, she used a forehand slice to get back into the game and even the score. At this point, the fans broke into huge applause. 

Wozniacki then went down 0-30, but Vesnina missed a forehand that would have given her break point. She did get a break opportunity on the next point when she hit a forehand deep into the deuce court, but Wozniacki was able to save not only that break point, but also the next one. She used a relatively slow, high, serve to get to game point, then held. At 3-4, Vesnina saved one break point, but was broken on the next one. Wozniacki then had an easy hold to win the championship.

Vesnina said of her opponent: "...sometimes you feel that she's everywhere on the court, you know. Like she's covering the court, and she's changing a little bit of pace, and she's making you think and play, and that's why, I mean, she's tough."

Wozniacki now has a total of 15 titles. Today's victory was her third of the season.

Azarenka wins Marbella championship

Miami champion Victoria Azarenka, seeded number 1 at the Andalucia Tennis Experience in Marbella, won the championship today by defeating surprise finalist Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-2. Begu was a qualifier who upset the 6th and 2nd seeds on her way to the final.

Azarenka will enter the top 5 next week.

The doubles title was won by 3rd seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Arantxa Parra Santonja. They defeated top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wozniacki and Vesnina--paths to the final

Tomorrow, top seed Caroline Wozniacki, the number 1 player in the world, will play Elena Vesnina in the final of the Family Circle Cup. Here is how each woman made it to the final:

round 1--bye
round 2--def. Irina Falconi, 6-1, 6-1
round 3--def. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (15), 7-6, 7-6
quarterfinals--def. Yanina Wickmayer (6), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
semifinals--def. Jelena Jankovic (3), 6-4, 6-4

round 1--def. Rebecca Marino, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3
round 2--def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands (14), 6-4, 7-6
round 3--def. Sam Stosur (2, def. champ.), 6-4, 6-1
quarterfinals--def. Julia Goerges (12), 2-6, 6-2, 6-2
semifinals--def. Peng Shuai (11), 7-6, 6-3

Caroline Wozniacki has played four matches, whereas Elena Vesnina has played eight. Vesnina, who is unseeded, did not have a bye in the first round, and she has also played three doubles matches. The Russian player, who is ranked number 56 in the world, had not planned to play in Charleston this year because of a wrist injury. However, two-time Charleston runner-up Vera Zvonareva--who injured her wrist in Charleston a few years ago--advised Vesnina on getting treatment, which Vesnina said helped her a lot.

Also, Vesnina's coach (who is also her father) noticed that she had changed her technique, and that the change brought on the injury. "...if I'm going with the wrong movement again," Vesnina said, "mechanical, you know, shot, it starts hurting again. So I feel it only if I'm doing the wrong shot."

"...I'm just enjoying my time on the court," Vesnina said, "so I don't feel that I'm tired, or I'm trying to think that I'm not tired, and that's why everything is going my way."

Vesnina's highest singles ranking was number 22 in the world, which she held in 2009. She has a 1-4 record against Wozniacki. The last time they played was in 2010 on the green clay of Ponte Vedra Beach, in the semifinals, and Wozniacki won 1-6, 7-6, 6-4.

This is Vesnina's sixth year to enter the Family Circle Cup, and Wozniacki's third. In 2009, Wozniacki lost in the final to Sabine Lisicki, and in 2010, she injured her ankle and had to retire in the semifinals.

Vesnina beats Peng twice in one day and advances to both Charleston finals

Elena Vesnina won both of her matches again
Elena Vesnina has been a very busy woman in Charleston this week. Yesterday, she won both her singles and doubles matches, and today, in the semifinals, she repeated that accomplishment. In doing so, however, she had to defeat Peng Shuai twice.

In her singles semifinal, Vesnina defeated 11th seed Peng 7-6, 6-3. Unlike the earlier semifinal between Wozniacki and Jankovic, this match featured no break opportunities until Peng had a break point when Vesnina served at 4-5 in the first set. Vesnina held, then the players exchanged breaks. After Peng was broken, however, she began to walk with a slight limp. Her knee, which was taped, was bothering her, and she was tired, she would later reveal. After breaking her opponent, Peng held a set point, but did not convert it. The set went to a tiebreak, which Vesinina won.

Peng looked as though she might fade, but she immediately broke Vesnina in the second set, and then opened her own service game with an ace. Despite getting to 40-15, however, Peng was broken back. She remained competitive in the second set, but the momentum was with Vesnina, who used her serve--as she has all week--to get herself out of trouble. The Russian saved two break points at 3-all, then converted a second break point when Peng served at 3-4. Vesnina held to win the match.

Peng Shuai
Both Vesnina and Peng handled the wind well, and both displayed primarily error-free net play. This match had a bit of everything, including sharp volleys and well-executed drop shots. It was, in every way, the better ssemifinal match of the day, and quite entertaining.

After getting some rest, Vesnina and partner Sania Mirza played a semifinal doubles match against Peng and her partner, Zheng Jie. Mirza and Vesnina took the first set 6-2, and then endured a more competitive second set, which they won 7-5.

 " is a Chinese day for me," Vesnina told the press.
Shaughnessy and Mattek-Sands consult

Earlier in the day, 4th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy defeated top seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik 6-2, 6-4.

Top seed Wozniacki advances to Charleston final

The buzz around the tournament was that 3rd seed Jelena Jankovic was all set to win her second Family Circle Cup championship, but today, top seed Caroline Wozniacki had another take on the issue. Wozniacki defeated Jankovic 6-4, 6-4 in a semifinal match that should have had everything, but that was really not very satisfying.

Wozniacki was broken at the start of the match. Jankovic began coming forward, as she has been practicing, and went up an early break, though it took her a while. Wozniacki then held, and when the wind picked up, both players were broken at love. At 4-all, Wozniacki held at love. Serving at 4-5, 30-40, Jankovic kicked in a big serve which set her up for a winning volley, but she hit the ball into the net and was broken on the next point.

Jankovic, who used to be known for her expert movement and her ability to find wicked angles--especially with her backhand down the line--has not been herself since she suffered an ankle injury. She is serving much better (though not so much in today's match), but she doesn't have the transition game she used to have. Today, she made so many errors, it was hard to believe that this was the same player who handled the wind (a lot more wind, in fact) so expertly in the 2007 final. The 3rd seed did try to mix things up, but the strategy didn't work too well for her; her drop shots, for example, only drew passing shots from Wozniacki.

There were eight breaks of serve in the match, which lasted close to an hour and 48 minutes. Jankovic said later that "...sometimes I come to the net and I construct the points and I do all the things and then I'm just about to finish it and then I either make a  mistake or she does a great passing shot." That about sums it up.

Jankovic said of Wozniacki: "She makes very few errors. She doesn't go for winners. She doesn't even make mistakes, so you really have to beat her if you're going to win the match against her."

That sums it up pretty well, too.

Kuznetsova upset in Marbella

Today in Marbella, qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu upset 2nd seed (and wild card) Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the semifinals. Begu upset 6th seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets in the quarterfinals. The Romanian 20-year-old is currently ranked number 138 in the world.

Also winning today was top seed Victoria Azarenka, who defeated 8th seed Sara Errani 6-2, 6-1.

Charleston miscellany

View of the grounds
Sania Mirza talked with Bobby Chintapalli about cricket, marriage, Twitter, and her comeback from a wrist injury.

"Family Circle Cup presented by Dove" became a reality yesterday when a dove landed on Jelena Jankovic's side of the court. A few moments later, a dove perched on top of the net. The seagulls were calling loudly during this match, too.

The women sitting in front of me yesterday looked and acted like the cast of The Real Housewives of Charleston (I hope I'm not starting something here).

Elena Vesnina reports that she received a (probably much needed) ice massage for her legs at 1 a.m.

Four women have won both the singles and doubles final in the same year--Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and Martina Hingis. Navratilova made this accomplishment an amazing four times.

Caroline Wozniacki, who wears Stella McCartney-designed court outfits, says that she has yet to meet Sir Paul McCartney, but is looking forward to an introduction.

Sculpture in Mount Pleasant

Friday, April 8, 2011

Peng and Vesnina each win--then win again--in Charleston

Peng Shuai and Elena Vesnina have confounded any attempt to create an orderly schedule at the Family Circle Cup because they both keep winning singles and doubles. Today, Peng defeated qualifier Sania Mirza 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the singles quarterfinals. She and partner Zheng Jie then defeated Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears in straight sets in doubles. Peng, who is seeded 11th, has now won more singles matches this season than anyone else on the tour.

"Honestly, I don't want to think now because just off the singles, doubles, and I'm really tired and I want to get some treatment, dinner and rest, and then this is tomorrow, so I think tomorrow," Peng said when she was asked to talk about her upcoming singles semifinal. Peng credited her coach for her 2011 breakthrough, which came after a year in which the Chinese player had a lengthy illness and was injured.

Elena Vesnina backed up her upset of defending champion Sam Stosur by upsetting 12th seed Julia Goerges in the quarterfinals. It took Vesnina a set to steady herself, but then she began serving with real conviction, and hitting winners off of both sides. Vesnina defeated Goerges 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, then--about an hour later--she and partner Sania Mirza defeated the team of Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova 3-6, 6-2, 10-8. Mirza and Vesnina were down 4-7 in the super-tiebreak, but made a comeback and won on their first match point. By the time the match was over, it was no longer Friday in Charleston.

What all this means is that both Peng and Vesnina will each play twice tomorrow, and both times, they will play against each other. Peng will play Vesnina in the singles semifinals, and she and Zheng will play Mirza and Vesnina in the doubles semifinals. This is an unusual situation, it probably goes without saying. The winner of the singles match will play either 1st seed Caroline Wozniacki or 3rd seed Jelena Jankovic in the final. Neither of those players is entered in doubles competition. Peng, by the way, has a 4-1 record against Vesnina; that record includes a defeat of the Russian last year in Charleston.

The winner of the doubles match will play either top seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik or 4th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy.

"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.

Friday cat blogging--sister comfort edition

Charleston--what they said

It's like you have a bionic wrist now. What did they put in that?
Nothing. I just took five and a half months off. I think that really did it.
Sania Mirza

...I had first set, set point, and second, set point, and if you don't make these set points, though, it's tough to win these matches. And I played pretty good and I didn't make it, so it hurts a lot.
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, on her close loss to the top seed

I really like beating USTA girls because the USTA doesn't help me at all.
Alexandra Stevenson

...I've been going and going and going and sliding and sliding and sliding up to those drop shots in practice just to remind myself and my feet and my brain that nothing will happen. And plus, I have both of my legs taped so nothing can happen. Or nothing should happen
Caroline Wozniacki (injured last year in Charleston)

Do you think you're playing the best tennis of your career?
I don't know yet.
Peng Shuai

You know, part of the reason why I had that wrist problem is because I have such a hyper-mobile wrist, but because of that I get the power and I get the precision and stuff, but it's also a disadvantage because I get injured in my joint. But the fact is that I feel like I've made myself stronger and I've made other parts of my body stronger to kind of compensate a little bit, and not depend completely on my wrist.
Sania Mirza game was hitting, hitting until I made a mistake or a winner, and I think today was different. I could do different things, I could mix it up. I could make her run. I could do different stuff, and that's why it was such a good match today because I didn't do only one thing, and yeah, I think that's going to help me a lot in the future and going to make me win a lot of matches more than I used to lose before.
Yanina Wickmayer

Caroline played two hours and 33 minutes yesterday, and had another match today two hours and 22 minutes. That's a lot of tennis.
She's getting fit.
Jelena Jankovic

Back injury forces Safina to retire in Marbella

The lower back problem that kept Dinara Safina off the tour for a long time returned today in Marbella. The former world number 1 had to retire against Victoria Azarenka in the first set of their quarterfinal match. Safina's back injury was originally suspected to be career-threatening, and she had to leave the tour twice because of it. She has since struggled to make a comeback, and was given a wild card to play in Marbella.

Charleston quarterfinals to be played today

Here is the quarterfinal draw for the Family Circle Cup:

Caroline Wozniacki (1) vs. Yanina Wickmayer (6)
Peng Shuai vs. Sania Mirza
Jelena Jankovic (3) vs. Christina McHale
Julia Goerges vs. Elena Vesnina

Jankovic, who was the champion in Charleston in 2007, is the only previous winner still standing. Nadia Petrova (2006), Sabine Lisicki (2009) and Sam Stosur (2010) were all defeated in the third round.

Today's quarterfinal doubles matches:

Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears vs. Peng Shuai/Zheng Jie
Alla Kudryavtseva/Anastasia Rodionova vs. Sania Mirza/Elena Vesnina

Last night, 4th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy defeated Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 7-6. Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy will play top seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik in the semifinals. The match lasted two hours and included nine breaks of serve.

Charleston miscellany

Nadia Petrova was very busy during her match on Thursday. The gnats were swarming, so Petrova took her towel and set about vigorously swatting, for which she received a round of applause. Then she took it upon herself to supervise the chair umpire's repair of the net, which had become unstable. The 2006 champion is now out of both singles and doubles, so someone else will have to take over. Petrova, by the way, is still dealing, to some extent, with the dizziness and fatigue that caused her to retire in Miami.

The Ketel One Racquet Club is a new feature at the Family Circle Cup tournament. The facility allows fans to enjoy indoor seating and a bar, as well as musical entertainment. It is located not far from the Great Lawn stage, where Open Access interviews are held during Happy Hour.

Jelena Jankovic is ritualistic about her clay court shoe-tapping--right, then left, then right, every time.

I missed this, but Bobby Chintapalli caught it: When Caroline Wozniacki called for her coach, the song "Independent Woman" blared through the speakers. I did hear "Sweet Caroline" start after Jankovic won a game and sat down early in her set last night.

Overheard from a sports writer: That it would be nice if all the "pretty" players won.

Among fans and members of the tennis media, there is an ongoing discussion about whether Caroline Wozniacki is boring. Some have strong feelings about the subject:

Seeds of doubt

Elena Vesnina upsets the defending champion
The 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 10th seeds were upset in the 3rd round of the Family Circle Cup on Thursday, and 1st seed Caroline Wozniacki barely escaped when she had to win two long tiebreaks against a clever, net-rushing Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Defending champion Sam Stosur, seeded 2nd, was dominated by Elena Vesnina, who defeated her 6-4, 6-1. Stosur's backhand was unreliable, and Vesnina did not appear to be especially bothered by the Australian's forehand. After the match, Stosur said that her opponent's flat, low strokes rushed her during points. Vesnina said that winning the doubles championship (with Sania Mirza) in Indian Wells gave her increased confidence.

Jelena Jankovic goes to the quarterfinals
5th seed Shahar Peer was defeated 6-2, 6-3 by 12th seed Julia Goerges, who stunned her with forehand winners. 11th seed Peng Shuai defeated 7th seed Nadia Petrova 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, and Christina McHale upset 10th seed and 2010 semifinalist Daniela Hantuchova. McHale's 7-6, 6-1 victory puts her into the quarterfinals against 3rd seed Jelena Jankovic, who defeated Chanelle Scheepers in straight sets. 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki, who upset 4th seed Marion Bartoli in the second round, was defeated in the third round by Sania Mirza.

Wozniacki's 7-6(6), 7-6(9) victory over 15th seed Zahlavova Strycova came after the top seed was seriously tested. Zahlavova Strycova took away Wozniacki's rhythm by continually changing the pace of the rallies. Zahlavova Strycova also took over the net for much of the match, and hit a number of decisive forehand winners. Unfortunately, the Czech player's strength was also her weakness: Her forehand produced multiple errors, too.

Down 2-5 in the first set tiebreak, the 15th seed made five straight points, but then made an unforced error on set point. She also held a set point in the second set tiebreak, and she went on to save three match points. Zahlavova Strycova played with a lot of touch and savvy, and she came in with a solid game plan, but she couldn't win the big points when she needed to.

Qualifier Anna Tatishvili's run ended yesterday--respectably. 6th seed Yanina Wickmayer defeated the gutsy Tatishviili 6-4, 7-5.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"That has nothing to do with me"

A Change of Ends had the nerve to go where no one else would during All Access Hour Monday in Charleston. Here is the transcript of an interview with Nadia Petrova about her recent tennis outfits. (Only the actual quotations do it justice.)

Petrova appeared on the court in simple, attractive clothing for her chilly morning match yesterday, but arrived in an Ellesse outfit for her doubles match in the afternoon.

Pennetta out of Fed Cup

Flavia Pennetta, better known as the Queen of Fed Cup, will not be ruling over the upcoming proceedings in Moscow. Pennetta has a shoulder injury that is preventing her from playing in the 2011 semifinals. Also out is Francesca Schiavone, who has decided to use her time to prepare for the French Open. Doubles stars Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci will be on the team, but the strong likelihood of Itay's winning three consecutive Fed Cup championships is now gone. Joining Errani and Vinci will be Alberta Brianti and Maria Elena Camerin.

Italy plays Russia in the semifinals. The Russian team will be composed of Vera Zvonareva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Ekaterina Makarova. The event will take place April 16 and 17 on a hard court at Megasport Arena.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tatishvili goes to 3rd round in Charleston

Anna Tatishvili
It took her almost three hours, but qualifier Anna Tatishvili managed to take out the 9th seed at the Family Circle Cup Wednesday. Tatishvili advanced to the third round when she defeated Maria Kirilenko 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.

Defending champion Stosur serves to her opponent
Elena Vesnina pulled off upsets in both singles and doubles. She defeated 14th seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 7-6, and she and partner Sania Mirza took out 2nd seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond, 6-3, 6-4.

Julia Goerges and Nadia Petrova defeated Alisa Kleybanova and Yan Zi 2-6, 6-4, 10-3 in the first round of doubles play. Petrova won the doubles championship in both 2009 and 2010, but until yesterday, she had never played doubles with Goerges. In fact, as of Monday, Petrova and Goerges had never even practiced together, and Petrova was understandably concerned about the defense of her title. The Russian, who is also the 7th seed in singles, was troubled by an episode of vertigo in Miami, and is still undergoing treatment. She won her second round singles match easily yesterday morning.

Daniela Hantuchova

Top seeds Caroline Wozniacki, Sam Stosur and Jelena Jankovic all won in straight sets on Wednesday, and 10th seed Daniela Hantuchova dropped only one game in her second round match.

Lisicki upsets 4th seed Bartoli in Charleston

Wild card Sabine Lisicki, who won the championship in Charleston in 2009 when she was seeded 15th, pulled another unexpected stunt tonight when she defeated 4th seed Marion Bartoli 6-2, 6-3. Lisicki has been plagued by illness, injury and an apparent lack of confidence for so long, fans wondered if the once-heralded German would just fade away. Tonight, though, she often looked like the player who cruised through the tournament without dropping a set two years ago.

Lisicki's serve, forehand and drop shot were all there. Bartoli tried to stay away from the forehand, but Lisicki was able to defend well enough with her backhand to stay in rallies, and then strike with forehand passing shots and forehands up the line. She took control of the match right away, and never gave it up for very long.

In 2009, Bartoli lost to Lisicki in the semifinals. Currently ranked number 182 in the world, Lisicki--who could not play at the Family Circle Cup last year because of injury--has now won eight consecutive matches in Charleston.

Charleston says goodbye to Patty Schnyder

Tonight, after the featured doubles match was played at the Family Circle Cup, there was a brief ceremony to honor Patty Schnyder, a huge Charleston favorite who has played in the tournament for fifteen consecutive years. This is Schnyder's final year in Charleston, where she was twice a singles finalist and was also a doubles finalist. Schnyder is so popular in Charleston, it's hard to imagine the tournament without her. The crowds always go wild with enthusiasm for her, and her rock star status at the Family Circle Cup is one of those things that makes the tournament unique. It's certainly hard for me to accept the reality that Patty won't be here anymore, and the ceremony was quite sad for me. Schnyder received roses and a piece of customized tournament art, and she gave a touching farewell speech.

Schnyder and Daniel Island native Shelby Rogers played in the preceding doubles match, which was highly entertaining and very close. Schnyder and Rogers were defeated 6-4, 7-6, 10-6 by Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova.

Charleston--what they said was kind of almost like picking up from last year, which was a nice feeling.
Sam Stosur, after her second round match on stadium court

Do you still get asked a lot of questions, I guess about once being number 1 and didn't win...
You still want to ask that?
I'm asking, yeah.
You still want to ask that?
Wozniacki, are you?
Why not Wozniacki do you ask that?
Jelena Jankovic

You know, sometimes as tennis players we go four seasons in one day in some tournaments....
Shahar Peer

Can they be quiet, or is this social hour? Are you going to tell them, or will I?
Anastasia Rodionova, talking to the chair umpire

...I think it's pretty cool. It's a nice color for spring, and I have these flowers, so it's kind of like the spring blossom. I'm blossoming.
Jelena Jankovic, talking about her dress

What are her weaknesses, do you think, now that you've played her?
You know, I don't what her weaknesses are, so when you find out, let me know.
Irina Falconi, referring to Caroline Wozniacki

"My game is more like Kim's--it's pretty hard to match up with Justine."
Yanina Wickmayer, discussing Belgian tennis

Maybe the windier it is the better I play. Maybe we need another tornado to come.
Jelena Jankovic (referencing to her 2007 championship match)

Charleston miscellany

The weather was much calmer today. It was sunny and cool, and--for the most part--slightly breezy without the constant wind we had yesterday at the Family Circle Cup.

Althea Gibson Club Court has been changed a bit to provide stadium-type seating (without sacrificing any of the club court intimacy), and a new stage has been constructed on the Grand Lawn.

The tournament sells a lot of gear, of course, and this year's stand-out item is a T-shirt whose retro design celebrates the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Both players will be here Saturday night for the Game, Set, Rock! Tennis. Amplified. event.

Yanina Wickmayer had an autograph session today, but not many people showed up for it. The Aussie cheering section did show up for defending champion Sam Stosur, but where were they when Jelena Dokic really needed them?

A couple of days ago, we saw Nadia Petrova practicing her serve by knocking down bottles; today, Shahar Peer thrashed a number of tennis ball cans.

Melanie Oudin and Anna Tatishvili don't look so much like kids anymore. Also, Tatishvili is free of her ankle brace. Today, she upset 9th seed Maria Kirilenko.

Family Circle Cup trivia: The oldest player to ever win a singles match in Charleston was Renee Richards, who was 46years and 8 months old when she won.

Irises growing on tournament grounds

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stretching time

McHale upsets Kleybanova in Charleston

It was a big day for Christina McHale. Not only was she selected as a member of the USA Fed Cup team, but she also pulled off the first big upset of the 2011 Family Circle Cup. McHale, a qualifier, defeated 8th seed Alisa Kleybanova 6-1, 6-0 in the second round. This was Kleybanova's first match on the green clay of Charleston, and it wasn't a comfortable experience. McHale, for her part, gave her opponent only one break opportunity, and Kleybanova could not convert it. The 8th seed won only 43% of her first serves, and a dismal 9% of her second.

In the first round, qualifier Eva Birnerova won the first set against 12th seed Julia Goerges 6-1, and held five match points in the second, but was overtaken 7-5 by the German player. Unfortunately, at 0-2 in the third, Birnerova had to retire because of an ankle injury.

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova really had to work to get her victory. She defeated Andrea Hvlavackova 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(8). Zahlavova Strycova is the tournament's 15th seed.

6th seed Yanina Wickmayer looked very sharp today in her second round match against Zheng Jie, which she won 6-4, 6-0. Also getting a decisive win was 9th seed Maria Kirilenko, who defeated Varvara Lepchenko 6-4, 6-0.

Sabine Lisicki and Irina Falconi made appearances on the new stage on the Great Lawn this evening. Falconi  defeated Memphis champion Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round. In the second round, she plays world number 1 and top seed Caroline Wozniacki.

Conditions were windy today after a big storm passed through the Charleston area. Good, mostly sunny, weather is predicted for the rest of the week. Only one match--a doubles event--had to be postponed.

2009 champion Lisicki advances to 2nd round in Charleston

Sabine Lisicki serves in her 1st round match
There was a time, just a few years ago, when the names "Tamira Paszek" and "Sabine Lisicki" were synonymous with "future WTA star," then things turned kind of sour for both of them. Lisicki, the 2009 Family Circle Cup champion, needed three sets today to defeat Renata Voracova, but her 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory took her into the second round. Lisicki's opening round match was postponed for two hours because--and don't say I didn't warn you--a big storm came in, following a tornado watch. Because this is Charleston in April.

Paszek also advanced to the second round when she defeated Melanie Oudin 6-1, 7-5. I saw the second set, which was pretty high quality, with both players painting the lines, and with Oudin actually winning more points with her backhand.

While the names Lisicki and Paszek stir memories of unkept promises, another name--Jelena Dokic--stirs memories of everything from world-class hitting to heart-breaking personal crisis. Today, Dokic lost her first round to qualifier Anna Tastishvili. The former world number 4 double-faulted ten times, and appeared preoccupied with too many matters that were not really urgent. Dokic yelled in frustration, and struggled to keep from breaking her racquet. There were 17 breaks of serve in the match, which Tatishvili won, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

Passing shots

Kim Clijsters is out for four weeks because of continuing problems with her shoulder and wrist. She will return to the tour in Rome.

Aravane Rezai went out to wild card Estrella Cabeza Candela in the first round in Marbella today. The score was 6-3, 6-0.

Vera Zvonareva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Ekaterina Makarova have been named to the Russian Fed Cup for the semifinal event to be held later this month in Moscow. The Italian team has not been announced. It is expected that Francesca Schiavone will not play because she is preparing her title defense at the French Open. Rumor has it that Flavia Pennetta may not play, which is a bigger issue for Italy.

Women's Tennis Blog gives us a peek at Maria Sharapova's French Open dress. Women's Tennis Blog, by the way, just celebrated its fourth birthday--cheers to Marija!

A marching band will perform in the Family Circle Cup stadium today as part of Charleston's "Best Tennis Town in America" designation. Each of the first 1,000 individuals through the gate will receive a "Best Tennis Town" memento.

Monday, April 4, 2011

King wins first round match in Charleston

Stadium court play in Charleston began today with the upset of 16th seed Vera Dushevina by Vania King. King won the first set 6-4, and the second went to a tiebreak. Dushevina went up a mini-break immediately, and was up 5-3 when King started her comeback. King made an error on her first match point, but at 8-7, she hit an ace, and advanced to the second round.

Qualifier Heather Watson was up 3-0, then 4-2 in the third set of her match against Christina McHale; she had a point to go up 5-2, but McHale broke her. That match also went to a tiebreak, and McHale's aggressive tiebreak play gave her a victory.

It took Zheng Jie over three hours to defeat qualifier Monica Puig 3-6, 7-6(10), 7-5.

Three qualifiers--Irina Falconi, Sania Mirza and Eva Birnerova--won their first-round matches.

Family Circle Cup, Subaru of Charleston & Red Cross team to raise money for Japan

The Family Circle Cup and its parent company, Meredith Corporation, have formed a partnership with Subaru of Charleston (the event's official vehicle provider) and the American Red Cross to raise money for the Red Cross Japan relief program. Throughout the duration of the tournament, fans can pay a $5 entry fee, which entitles them to guess the number of tennis balls that are inside an on-site Subaru Forrester. The person who makes the closest guess will have use of a Forrester for 90 days.

A Family Circle Cup box holder reception was held this evening, and attendees were given the opportunity to bid on a number of items, including autographed racquets. Top seed Caroline Wozniacki donated a two player box seats for one match, as well as an opportunity for the holders of those seats to spend some after-lunch time with her. Defending champion Sam Stosur donated a half-hour tennis lesson to be provided by her and her coach, David Taylor.

Meredith Corporation holds an annual charity auction with VIP guests, and this year, half of the proceeds will go to the Japan relief effort. Also, for every person who attends the finals on April 10, the tournament will donate $2 to the fund.

Through these combined events, the goal is to raise $50,000 for the relief fund.

Top seeds ready for Charleston play, but the weather may not cooperate

Daniel Island, where the Family Circle Cup is played, has unpredictable weather in April. The days can be hot, and the nights quite cold. A tornado can hit. But--most of the time--there isn't much rain during the event. A big storm is supposed to come through in the morning, however, so there is no telling how many matches can be played on the second day of the tournament.
Top seed Caroline Wozniacki

The player party was held in Charleston last night, and the top seeds were on the tournament site today. Most of them talked about the adjustments they have to make when they begin the clay court season, or, as 7th seed Alisa Kleybanova put it: "Sometimes you just have that hard court game in your head." Marion Bartoli, the tournament's 4th seed, said that she has to put more spin on the ball and change the angles she uses on the court. 

Defending champion Samantha Stosur
I asked defending champion Sam Stosur (who said she looks at the draw "a little bit") whether she would be coming forward more, since that appears to be an element often missing from her game. "It's one of those things I want to keep working on," she said, and added "It's not part of my comfort zone."

I think we'll definitely see Jelena Jankovic coming forward more. "I have to gradually get comfortable," she said about her decision to work on coming to the net. Jankovic, the 3rd seed and the 2007 champion, said that she is giving herself time to work on some new techniques. The world number 8 seemed really relaxed, and was in her usual very good humor. Jankovic said that her new coach, Andri Pavel, is like her in that they are both perfectionists.

Shahar Peer is playing her first tournament with coach Harold Solomon, whom she hired on a trial basis after her loss in Miami. Peer, who said she needs to work on being more intense on the court, just missed getting into the top 10 when she went out in the second round of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Shnyder out of Charleston in 1st round

Patty Schnyder played in her 15th consecutive Family Circle Cup today, and--to the disappointment of a very partisan crowd (Charleston loves Patty)--she went out. Chanelle Scheepers, who lost to Schnyder in the first round last year, defeated the 13th seed 6-4, 6-4. Schnyder looked a bit flat, and when she went down 1-4 in the second round, it looked like Scheepers might run away with the match. But some switch got turned on in Schnyder, who then proceeded to delight fans with her signature drop shots, lobs and spins. Her serve got better, too. I thought we were going to a third set, but Scheepers was able to close it in the second.

If you've never been to the Family Circle Cup, then it may be hard to appreciate how wild the crowd goes for Schnyder. Last year, there was quick, polite applause for Caroline Wozniacki when she beat Schnyder, then the crowd broke out in yells when Schnyder made her exit. Today was sad. Schynder is still around for doubles, but this was, she said, her last ever Charleston singles match. For Charleston, it is definitely the end of an era, and the Family Circle Cup just won't be the same without her.

Patty Schnyder was a finalist in Charleston in 2002, but lost in the final to Iva Majoli; both were unseeded. Before she reached the final, Schnyder had a remarkable run in which she defeated Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Serena Williams, and Jennifer Capriati. In 2006, after upsetting Justine Henin in the semifinals, Schnyder lost the championship match to Nadia Petrova.

Can she hit the bottles?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Main draw play starts Monday in Charleston

First round play begins in Charleston tomorrow. Two Monday matches that look especially interesting to me are Heather Watson vs. Christina McHale, and Elena Vesnina vs. Rebecca Marino. In the past, Vesnina has done well in this tournament, though she has also been bothered by problems with her thigh.

Charleston favorite Patty Schnyder will play tomorrow, as will Peng Shuai, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Zheng Jie, and Sania Mirza. Possible second round matches to watch include Maria Kirilenko vs. Jelena Dokic, and Sabine Lisicki vs. Marion Bartoli. 

Defending champion and 2nd seed Sam Stosur has a bye in the first round. Waiting for her in her quarter of the draw is 5th seed Shahar Peer. Also lurking in that quarter are Rebecca Marino and Julia Goerges. Top seed Caroline Wozniacki has 6th seed Yanina Wickmayer in her quarter, and she also has Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Maria Kirilenko and Jelena Dokic. Peng Shuai could get in the way of a Nadia Petrova--Marion Bartoli showdown, though clay is hardly Peng's favorite surface.

We've had some bad luck since we've been here. The network adapter on our speedy notebook computer burned out. I generally employ that computer (it has the best keyboard I've ever used)  in the hotel and a netbook at the tournament, so for now--and most likely, for the rest of the tournament--I'm using a notebook/flash drive/netbook scheme that is somewhat awkward and a little silly, but it works. 

That's not all: We had to pack everything we had carefully put away in our hotel room because we were in such an isolated part of the building that we couldn't get a wireless connection and were therefore forced to move. We packed in a haphazard way before we went to Daniel Island this morning, and we moved when we got back from the tournament. The original room was given to us because it was quiet, but we've opted for a little noise and some wireless.

I always think of qualifying weekend as a really relaxing time, but this weekend has been far too stressful, what with computer problems and hotel problems. Blogging comes with its own set of issues, I suppose. However, if you have to have problems, you could do worse than having them in the Charleston area--palmetto trees, views of the harbor, good restaurants, and a really beautiful tournament site with a great staff--not much to complain about.