Saturday, February 28, 2015

Look who's wearing the sombrero!

Friends Caroline Garcia and Timea Bacsinszky played each other for the first time today, in the Acapulco final, and Bacsinszky emerged the champion with a decisive win of 6-3, 6-0 over Garcia. The Swiss player, whose career has been significantly hampered by injury over the last several years, will be ranked number 31 in the world when the rankings are published tomorrow.

This is Bacsinszky's second WTA singles title.

The doubles final was an upset, even though a number 2-seeded team beating a number 1-seeded team doesn't sound like much of an upset. But the top seeds were Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka. They were defeated 7-6, 5-7, 13-11 by Lara Arruabarrena and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

Lucie in the sky with sparkles

At the conclusion of today's Doha final, there was a fireworks display that occurred as part of the trophy ceremony. The smiling face of Lucie Safarova, surrounded by shimmering streaks of fireworks, stood out against the sky. Safarova was not the lefty Czech who was top-seeded; rather, she was the lefty Czech who was unseeded.

In the course of her Doha run, Safarova defeated Sam Stosur, Ekaterina Makarova, Andrea Petkovic, Carla Suarez Navarro, and finally, Victoria Azarenka (6-4, 6-3). Makarova, Petkovic and Suarez Navarro were seeded 5th, 6th and 9th, respectively. The Doha win marks Safarova's first premier-level title, but the run was no surprise, given the improvement she has made in the mental part of her game. Wild card Azarenka was dealing with a leg injury, which didn't help her cause, but nothing should really be taken from Safarova and her amazing Doha win.

When the rankings are published tomorrow, Lucie Safarova will be number 11 in the world.

Top seed Petra Kvitova was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Suarez Navarro, and defending champion Simona Halep withdrew before the tournament began.

Top doubles seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Sania Mirza lost the doubles final to 4th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears, who defeated them 6-4, 6-4.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Halepmania reigned in Dubai this past week, as crowds of spectators loudly and frequently screamed the Romanian player's name throughout her matches. Halep, the top seed in Dubai, won the title--her tenth--when she defeated a red-hot Karolina Pliskova in the final yesterday. The win didn't come easily for Halep, who had to serve for the match three times, while holding match points in her first two attempts. All credit to Pliskova, who hung in nicely, but it was Halep's own shaky mentality that almost did her in.

Halep's 6-4, 7-6 victory puts her back in the number 3 position in the rankings. Pliskova, meanwhile, served notice to the tour that she's a true threat. Her win over Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals was notable, and the "rising star" match was a good one. But perhaps no match in Dubai could top the quarterfinal that Halep played against Ekaterina Makarova. The match-up itself was entertaining, and both players gave spectators a little bit of everything.

Kristina Babos and Kiki Mladenovic won the doubles title. The team of "Mladenovic and Anybody" is capable of winning--and has won--many titles, but this was the first time that Mladenovic won a title with her (more or less) regular partner. It took the Frenchwoman a long time to settle on a partner, and in Babos, she chose a life-long friend. Babos and Mladenovic defeated Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro in the Dubai final.

Meanwhile, in Rio, Sara Errani got something she really needed--another title. Errani, the top seed, beat Anna Schmiedlova in today's final. Schmiedlova had never before been to a WTA final. Errani had a somewhat thrilling ride to the final: She saved three match points against wild card Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarterfinals.

Top seeds Irina-Camelia Begu and Maria Irigoyen had to retire during the doubles title, which went to their opponents, Ysaline Bonaventure and Rebecca Peterson.

Halep, who is the defending champion in Doha, has withdrawn from the tournament because of rib and ankle injuries she says were troubling her in Dubai.

Top Doha qualifying seeds Belinda Bencic and Mona Barthel both went out in the first round of qualifying. The main draw top seed is Petra Kvitova.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Petkovic wins Diamond Games

Yesterday, I tweeted that I wished the Petko vs. BZS match in Antwerp were the final. Well, that's exactly what it turned out to be. Andrea Petkovic won the Diamond Games today when her opponent in the final, Carla Suarez Navarro, withdrew because of neck pain.

This, of course, isn't how anyone wanted it to be--not the fans, not the WTA, not the tournament staff, not Petkovic, and certainly not Suarez Navarro. Petko had to play her heart out in the semifinals against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, whose defense was sometimes breathtaking. Petkovic beat BZS 7-6, 7-6. For her part, Suarez Navarro made easy work of defeating Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals.

The crowd who showed up for the final saw a brief exhibition match between Petkovic and tournament director Kim Clijsters; Clijsters won.

Petkovic will re-enter the Top 10 this week. In early April, she she'll be in Charleston to defend her 2014 title.

Top seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santoja won the Antwerp doubles title, defeating wild cards An-Sophie Mestach and Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 3-6, 10-5 in the final. Van Uytvanck also had a wild card in singles and took champion Petkovic to three sets in the second round. The match lasted three hours and 19 minutes, and Petkovic had to save eight match points.

Meanwhile, Daniela Hantuchova won the title in Pattaya City for the third time. Hantuchova had to knock off Marina Erakovic and Ajla Tomljanovic in the semifinals and the final, respectively. Hantuchova saved two match points against Erakovic.

Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Jung-Jan won the doubles title, beating Shuko Aoyama and Tamerine Tanasugarn.

Things got off to a thrilling start in Dubai. Flavia Pennetta saved four match points to defeat Julia Goerges. This was Pennetta's first win of the 2015 season. "...I've been trying to find my good tennis," the Italian said, "but it's not coming. But I have to play with what I have now."

And--surprise!--Alize Cornet needed three hours and eleven minutes to defeat Kirsten Flipkens in a match that had my head spinning. Cornet was in full French opera mode, cracking her racket, screaming, and moaning over the fact that she had no challenges remaining when she really needed them. I'd have moaned, too. All of the non-contested points would have gone the Frenchwoman's way. I'm with Mary Carillo--players should be able to challenge as many times as they want to. Turning line call accuracy into a game doesn't appeal to me, especially when the line judges have a mediocre success rate (which is always being bragged about--talk about lower your expectations).

At any rate, After taking the first set 6-0, Cornet went on to lose the second set in a tiebreak, as Flipkens finally got into the match. The third set was all drama all the time, and a lot of fun; Cornet won it 6-3. Afterwards, she said "I was tired, I was sweating, I was dead...."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Amelie Mauresmo, Fed Cup genius

Last April, France had to play a better-than average USA team in the Fed Cup semifnals, but things didn't go as planned for the French. Kiki Mladenovic, the team's doubles wonder, had to pull out of the competition because of an arm injury. And on the first day of competition, France's top-ranked player, Alize Cornet, sustained a leg injury and had to be replaced by Virginie Razzano.

The two teams went into the second day tied at 1-1 Sloane Stephens had lost to Caroline Garcia, and Madison Keys had beaten Cornet. On day 2, Stephens beat Razzano, then Garcia, who was playing in her first Fed Cup tie, defeated Keys. Just like that. At 2-2, the teams went into the deciding doubles rubber minus Mladenovic. Garcia teamed with Razzano, and beat Keys and Stephens in straight sets.

Problem solved.

This weekend, Mauresmo and her team had an even bigger problem to solve. At the end of the first day of World Group play, France found itself down 0-2 to Italy. In the history of Fed Cup, France had never come back from an 0-2 deficit to win the tie. Sara Errani had beaten Garcia in a very close match, and Camila Giorgi had beaten Cornet. Facing France on the second day were the very tough world number 13 Errani, the Pennetta-like Giorigi, and the world's number 1 doubles team.

What do you do when faced with an overwhelming problem like that? Pick the brain of Amelie Mauresmo, who went about re-arranging the board pieces and putting her faith in that often-killer doubles team known as Mladenovic and Anybody.

In the first order of the day, Mladenovic--substituted for Cornet--took care of Errani in straight sets. After that, Garcia defeated Giorgi (because someone has to win, even when two mental roller coaster players like these play) 4-6, 6-0, 6-2.

On to doubles, and in this case, the "Anybody" part of the Mladenovic team was Garcia, and did she ever rise to the occasion. The French pair proceeded to run over Errani and Vinci 6-1, 6-2. They got a bit nervous toward the end, but then they got the job done.

There is a sad footnote to this tie: Going into it, Roberta Vinci had a perfect Fed Cup doubles record. I always thought she would retire with that perfect record, but as of now, she's 18-1.

Yesterday, the drama was provided by Germany's Andrea Petkovic, and while everything else was overshadowed by France's stunning comeback, much of today's drama was delivered by Petko. Yesterday, she went three hours and 16 minutes to beat Sam Stosur 6-4, 3-6, 12-10. Today, she went an hour and 57 minutes to defeat Jarmila Gajdosova 6-3, 3-6, 8-6. And all this coming from a woman who looked like she couldn't even win a bingo game in 2015.

Germany won the dead doubles rubber 6-7, 7-6, 10-6, so--using the ridiculous ITF Fed Cup scoring system--they were 4-1 against Australia (in the world of reality, they were 3-1).

Russia went 4-0 against Poland, and the Czech Republic went 3-0 against Canada, with both Karolina Pliskova and Tereza Smitkova winning their rubbers in straight sets.

In World Group II, The Netherlands defeated the Slovak Republic 4-1, Switzerland defeated Sweden 3-1, and the USA defeated Argentina 4-1.

The most interesting of this group was Romania's 3-2 victory over Spain. Simona Halep dropped her rubber against Garbine Muguruza, and with Irina-Camelia Begu's loss to Muguruza the day before, Romania was down 1-2 when play began today. Begu went on to beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa, and then Begu and Monica Niculescu defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues and Muguruza in the deciding doubles rubber. Who saw that coming?

When World Group play resumes in April, the Czech Republic will play France, and Russia will play Germany. In the World Group II semifinals, The Netherlands will face Romania, and Switzerland will compete against the USA. If everyone stays healthy, one assumes that the Swiss team will again feature Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic.

If the semifinals are as thrilling as the first tie was, get ready!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Germany and Australia tied at 1-1, and what a tie

Germany is one of the home teams in this weekend's Fed Cup World Group competition; much was expected, no doubt, of Angelique Kerber, who played Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova in today's tie in Stuttgart. But you know how Fed Cup is--things happen that cause expectations to be tossed out the window. Gajdosova defeated Kerber 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, which left matters up to Andrea Petkovic.

Petkovic hasn't had a good season so far, but she showed last year that she just may be one of those players who has a special Fed Cup spark. She won her first set against Sam Stosur, but Stosur took the second set and held a match point in the third when Petko served at 4-5. They were just settling in. The match lasted three hours and 16 minutes, and Petkovic won it 6-4, 3-6, 12-10.

The third set--the second-longest in Fed Cup history--lasted an hour and 49 minutes, and was a true thriller.

The Russian team is now 2-0 over Poland, with both Radwanskas defeated in the opening rubbers. You-know-who, however, had the Fed Cup shot of the day. Tomorrow, Aga Radwanska will play Maria Sharapova. She lost today to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Italy is 2-0 against France. Sara Errani got past Caroline Garcia 7-6, 7-5, and Camila Giorgi defeated Alize Cornet 6-4, 6-2. Giorgi, the spiritual daughter of Flavia Pennetta, is made for Fed Cup. Her performance was stunning--it isn't easy to make the Frenchwoman go away in two sets.

The remaining World Group tie, between Canada and defending champion, the Czech Republic, has the Czechs in the lead 2-0. The B team, despite Karolina Pliskova's nervous tension over being the  team's lead player, nevertheless prevailed. Pliskova defeated Francoise Abanda, and Tereza Smitkova defeated Gabriela Dabrowski. Both were straight-set wins.

Missing from the Canadian team, of course, is Genie Bouchard. I never make any judgments about whether players decide to participate in Fed Cup competition. I will note, however, that Bouchard's absence doesn't help her campaign to not be compared with Maria Sharapova!

Here are the current World Group II scores:

The Netherlands-1, Slovak Republic-1
Romania-1, Spain-1
Sweden-0, Switzerland-2
Argentina-0, USA-2

A good match to pay attention to tomorrow is one that will be played between Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza.

Also, expect more drama between Australia and Germany, as Jarmila Gajdosova plays Andrea Petkovic and Sam Stosur faces off against Angelique Kerber. Both Petkovic and Stosur are going to be pretty tired, at least mentally.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Czech Republic B team vs. Canada B team in Fed Cup competition

Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova won't be in Quebec City this weekend for the World Group Fed Cup tie, but neither will Genie Bouchard or Aleks Wozniak. The defending champions' team isn't exactly, lame, however. It consists of Karolina Pliskova, Lucie Hradecka, Tereza Smitkova and Denisa Allertova. Francoise Abanda, Gabriela Dobrowski and Sharon Fichman will play for the Canadian team.

In what will probably be the most interesting tie, Italy will compete against France on red clay in Genoa. There is definitely a "home team" feel there. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci will be joined by Camila Giorgi and Karin Knapp. Playing for France are Alize Cornet, Caroline Garcia, Kiki Mladenovic, and Pauline Permentier. Should there be a deciding doubles rubber, the idea of Errani and Vinci playing Mladenovic and Somebody promises likely excitement.

In Krakow, Poland will face Russia. Both Radwanskas will play. Aga, of course, is a practically a one-woman (winning) Fed Cup team, but things are going to be tough this time around. Playing for Russia are Maria Sharapova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenova, and Vitalia Diatchenko. In charge is captain Anastasia Myskina, who once declared she would not play on her country's team if Sharapova were on it. That was a long time ago, but it gives us a little extra drama.

Finally, 2014 runner-up Germany will play Australia in Stuttgart. Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic may be a bit much for the Australian team to handle.

In World Group II, The Netherlands plays the Slovak Republic, Romania plays Spain, Sweden vies against Switzerland, and Argentina faces the USA, whose team includes both Williams sisters. Anna Schmiedlova has replaced Dominika Cibulkova on the Slovak Republic's team.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My Australian Open top 10

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 Australian Open occurrences:

10. Talk about the luck of the draw: This year's draw ceremony was presided over by 2014 champion Li Na, which meant that the draw and accompanying analysis were hilarious. As far as I'm concerned, Li can preside at every major draw from now on.

9. When I say "hit it!" come out of nowhere: Madison Brengle has been around for a long time, but unless you follow U.S. tennis closely, you may not have heard of her. The Delaware native never made much of an impact until this year in Hobart, when she reached the final. Brengle had to go through qualifying, and then beat the likes of Mona Barthel, Karin Knapp and Kurumi Nara before falling to Heather Watson.

Would she keep her form when faced with playing at the Australian Open? Yes! Brengle started her Melbourne campaign by upsetting 13th seed Andrea Petkovic, then defeated countrywomen Irina Falconi and Coco Vandeweghe. A third countrywoman, Madison Keys, stopped her run, but it was an amazing one.

8. "The words, the gesture, the tone of voice, everything else is the same, but not the feeling": In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, people are turned into pods, and what emerges from each pod looks like the person, sounds like the person, walks and talks like the person--but everyone can tell that the actual person just isn't there. Simona Halep, what did they do with you?

The world number 3 had a horrible draw, and her first potential horror arrived in the quarterfinals in the form of ever-dangerous Ekaterina Makarova. There is, of couse, no shame to losing to Makarova at a major, but this was more than a loss: Halep seemed to just not be present, especially in the second set, in which she failed to win a game. She talked about stress in her press conference, denying the existence of pressure, yet the stress to which she referred really sounded like the same thing.

7. I'll have whatever you're serving: Martina Hingis, holder of three Australian Open singles titles, four doubles titles and a 2006 mixed doubles title, added one more this week. She and Leander Paes won the mixed doubles competition, defeating defending champions Kiki Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor. Watching Hingis return serve on the doubles court was a reminder of how great she is--as if we needed to be reminded.

6. Retire this: For once, Venus Williams didn't find herself bombarded with questions about her "upcoming" retirement from the sport. It's just not something you ask of an Australian Open quarterfinalist. Obviously feeling stronger, Williams took out such quality opponents as Camila Giorgi and Aga Radwanska before losing to countrywoman Madison Keys. We now await what the five-time Wimbledon champion has in store for us in June.

5. It's all about the Madisons: Madison Brengle's run may have been a surprise, but Madison Keys' wasn't. Many years ago, Keys' mentor, Chris Evert, told us to be patient--that Keys was going to be a force. Coached by Lindsay Davenport, Keys fulfilled Evert's prediction at this Australian Open. In the third round, she upset Wimbledon champion and 4th seed Petra Kvitova, whom many (including Women Who Serve) considered the most likely woman to lift the trophy. In the round of 16, Keys won the bizarre "Battle of the Madisons."

Then she had to face Serena Williams. The first set of their quarterfinal match was very close, with Williams taking it in a tiebreak. The world number 1 then turned on her switch and had an easier time of it in the second set until--just because she could--Keys saved eight match points. The drama she created was one of the highlights of the Open, and though she lost (did I mention she was playing Serena?), her big serving and court poise emphasized her arrival as a potentially elite player.

4. USA!: Seven women from the USA made it to the third round, there were four in the round of 16,  three in the quarterfinals, and two in the semifinals. Of course, the singles champion is from the U.S., and so is half of the championship doubles team. There is no other word to describe the USA's performance in this major but "dominant."

3. Why are you so upset?: What do Jelena Jankovic, Andrea Petkovic, Flavia Pennetta, Belinda Bencic, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sabine Lisicki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Carla Suarez Navarro, and Angelique Kerber have in common? They all went out in the first round. They were all seeded players, and their expulsion--taken as a group--was shocking.

But there's more: Both Caroline Wozniacki and Sam Stosur went out in the second round. Wozniacki gets a pass because she played Official Dangerous Floater and two-time Australian Open champion Vika Azarenka. As for Stosur--well, she was playing in Australia. Maria Sharapova survived the second round, but had to save two match points against Alexandra Panova. The third round, of course, featured the demise of Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska.

2. No practice, no worries: The pairing of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova actually sounds like a dream team, and it was. Both women are huge talents in the world of doubles, and--without practicing together--they did a last-minute entry into the Australian Open. Unseeded and unprepared, Mattek-Sands and Safarova won the whole thing, taking out 3rd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina along the way.

1.  So, how big is that trophy case?: On Saturday, world number 1 Serena Williams won her sixth Australian Open title, defeating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 7-6 in the final. It wouldn't be accurate to say that Williams did it with her serve because her entire game is outstanding. But there's no doubt that when she turns her serve on, her chances become better, and she turned her serve on big-time.

I refuse to call the Williams-Sharapova tennis relationship a rivalry; Sharapova would have to win some of the matches for me to do that. But the relationship is more than just an occasional meeting of two great players. They tend to bring out the best in each other, and Sharapova's decade-long quest to defeat Williams (the last time she did it was in 2004) is one for the books. It was a pleasure to watch them both in this final.

Williams has now won 19 major singles titles. Last year, she didn't win one until the last minute, but in 2015, she has already taken one, so--as she herself acknowledged--she can relax and enjoy for the rest of the season. Sounds dangerous to me.

Martina Hingis still a force in Melbourne

Yesterday, Martina Hingis and Leander Paes won the Australian Open mixed doubles championship, defeating defending champions Kiki Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor 6-4, 6-3. This was the second time that Hingis had won the mixed doubles title; she also won it in 2006, with partner Mahesh Bhupathi.

Hingis won the singles championship in 1997, 1998 and 1999. She won the doubles title in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2002. She played with Natasha Zvereva in 1997, Mirjana Lucic in 1998, and Anna Kournikova in 1999 and 2002.

Leander Paes, who is also Hingis's World Team Tennis partner, holds seven major mixed doubles title, two of which he won with Martina Navratilova, after whom Hingis was named.

Hingis's return of serve in yesterday's final was so instinctive and sharp, it seemed as though no time had passed at all, though it's been 18 years since she won her first title in Melbourne.

Australian Open--what they said

We're undefeated in World Team Tennis, won the championships a few times now. So far we're
undefeated in Grand Slam tennis. Not trying to put the pressure on, but we haven't lost a set yet. It's the first Grand Slam I've ever won out of my 15 that I've never lost a set and that's thanks to this young lady here. The smarts, the intelligence is what stands out.
Leander Paes, referring to Martina Hingis

 It was not as physical maybe, but it was more of a mental match today.
Martina Hingis

At this stage in your career, both of you are so experienced, do you have any targets remaining for your career? Lee, I believe you're trying to complete a career Grand Slam. Are these targets for you in the future?
My target is to get Martina her career Grand Slam. That's my goal. If it takes me two years, so be it. That's my goal.
Leander Paes

I’m really sleepy and very tired. My legs are dead. I feel worn out, but I also feel very happy.
Serena Williams