Sunday, September 30, 2007

Larcher de Brito makes her tour rankings debut

14-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito has entered the Sony Ericsson WTA tour rankings as number 364 in the world. This year, the Lisbon native became the youngest player to win a main-draw match (at the Sony Ericsson Open) since the age-eligibilty rule was put into place in 1995.

If you have The Tennis Channel, you can watch de Brito as she plays World Team Tennis for the Sacramento Capitals.

Razzano wins her first title

Hard-working, entertaining Virginie Razzano, who is a dangerous floater in most tournaments she enters, won her first career title today, defeating Tzipora Obziler, 6-1, 6-2 in the Jinjiannan Guangzhou International Women's Open. The unseeded 34-year-old Obziler, who had to take out Peng Shuai to get to the semifinals, had never before been in a final, and it would have been equally satisfying to see her win in Guangzhou.

Williams wins Hansol Korea Open

Venus Williams defeated Maria Kirilenko, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, today to win the Hansol Korea Open in Seoul. Williams obviously entered the Tier IV affair to get needed points in the final run to the Sony Ericsson WTA Championships. For some time now, I have wondered why the tour does not do something to prevent top players from entering Tier IV tournaments to grab quick points. Yes, an argument can be made that having a Venus Williams in the tournament raises everyone's level of play, but it also spoils the competitive nature of the event. As a fan, I would not be happy to buy a ticket to a Tier IV event and know beforehand who was almost certainly going to win the title.

Williams was decked out in full Korean costume for the trophy presentation, and appeared to enjoy the experience.

Ivanovic wins in Luxembourg

Ana "I'm so happy to be here" Ivanovic didn't look too happy to be in Luxembourg today until she was a set and a half into her final against Daniela Hantuchova in the FORTIS Championships. Trailing a set and down 0-3, Ivanovic suddenly found her game, and with it, her aggression. During the first set and a half, she was sloppy and sluggish, and was easy pickings for a sharp Hantuchova. Ivanovic was missing a lot of first serves, and winning only 25% of her second serves, as Hantuchova demonstrated an impressive variety of shots and some very clever strategy.

When Ivanovic got back in, though, Hantuchova's play became shaky and error-prone. We have seen this from Hantuchova before, of course. Many times. In fairness to Hantuchova, when Ivanovic finally got into the match, she got in with a vengeance. Still, Hantuchova's level of play was so high that she should have been able to close, if not in straight sets, at least in three.

I was very impressed with Hantuchova's mental toughness against Patty Schnyder in their quarterfinal match. Schnyder saved three match points in the second set, and another three in the third set. As a rule, that kind of toughness causes Hantuchova to cave, but she hung in and won the match. Yesterday, she was stunning against Marion Bartoli in their semifinal. But once again, placed in the position of winning a tournament, she faded away when she most needed to come on strong.

Final score: Ivanovic def. Hantuchova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ivanovic qualifies for Sony Ericsson Championships

Today, Ana Ivanovic became the fourth player to qualify for the year-end championships when she won her quarterfinal match in Luxembourg. Ivanovic soundly defeated Tatiana Golovin, 6-1, 6-2. She joins Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. There are four more slots to be filled. As of now, the next four in line are Anna Chakvetadze, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams. The season, however, is hardly over.

Chakvetadze out of Luxembourg; Schnyder has a bad day

Number one seed Anna Chakvetadze was taken out of the FORTIS Championships today by Marion Bartoli, who defeated her, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. It was the first time they had ever played each other, and I wish I could have seen it. For several weeks, Bartoli has told the press that her post-Wimbledon stress issues are behind her, but she did nothing to prove that until she got to Luxembourg. Having beaten Both Sybille Bammer and Chakvetadze in succession, she now goes to the semifinals, in which she will face Daniela Hantuchova.

Hantuchova played Patty Schnyder today. Schnyder saved three match points in the second set, and three in the third, but Hantuchova prevailed, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5. Apparently, Schnyder had some problems with the umpiring, and things got a bit out of hand. I'm told she broke her racquet, gave Hantuchova a less-than-cordial handshake, and that her coach/husband, Rainer Hoffman, kicked some of Hantuchova's water bottles over after the match.

Schnyder has an undeserved reputation for poor sportswomanship. The fact is that her peers generally cite her as being a very good sport, and she is one of the few players I know who, as a rule, is very warm toward her opponents during the handshake, no matter how bad a loss she has suffered, and very gracious when she wins. But because of an incident involving Conchita Martinez several years ago at the Family Circle Cup, Schnyder has developed a reputation among some fans as being "rude."

Martinez, as many will recall, had a habit of insisting on using the same balls over and and over if she had won points with them (Henin has now developed this habit to some extent). During this particular match, she apparently slowed things down considerably because of her superstition, and Schnyder became very annoyed. When the match was over, Schnyder pulled her hand away as the handshake was about to take place. She later said, in an interview, that she pulled her hand away so that she could get Martinez's attention and say something to her. No one but Schnyder and Martinez knows what she said.

For her part, Hantuchova, though a charming and intelligent person, has also been known to annoy several opponents because of the way she stalls. Some think that tour umpires have been too kind to her. Schnyder, who is all business on the court, probably had her fill of the stall tactics, too.

My purpose here is not to defend Schnyder regarding today's activities; I'm sure she should have given Hantuchova a regular handshake. My purpose, rather, is to present facts in place of mythology. Yes, Schnyder possibly acted out of line; no, it is not usual behavior for her.

As for Hoffman, he is the latest of several coaches who misbehave; one never knows what to expect of him.

Friday cat blogging--travel edition

It's important to make sure everything is properly packed

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The rivalry no one talks about

Patty Schnyder faces her rival, Daniela Hantuchova, in the Luxembourg quarterfinals on Friday

If there is a true rivalry on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, it is one no one ever discusses. Patty Schnyder and Daniela Hantuchova have played each other fifteen times, and Hantuchova has stated that she would rather face anyone but Schnyder across the net. Schnyder has won eight of their contests, and Hantuchova has won seven. Hantuchova won the last two, in fact, which were played in 2006.

Tomorrow, they will meet again in Luxembourg, in the quarterfinals of the FORTIS Championships.

In other Luxembourg news, Marion Bartoli passed a tough test today by defeating Sybille Bammer 6-2, 7-5. Her next test will be even tougher--she faces Anna Chakvetadze in the quarterfinals.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

LTA suspends top British junior player

Naomi Broady, Great Britain's national under-18 champion, has been suspended by the Lawn Tennis Association for violation of her contract. The specific reasons given for the suspension were "unprofessional behavior" and "lack of discipline." The LTA took this action after discovering Broady's photos and personal writings on a social networking site. Also suspended was the second-highest ranked junior male player, David Rice.

The LTA took away Broady's funding and her coach because of what is described by the BBC as "a lifestyle of partying, drinking and eating junk food." On her Bebo page, Broady wrote that she hates "hangovers after a good night owt" (doesn't do much for your spelling, either). Broady's Bebo pages (and Rice's) were unlocked, so anyone could view them.

Top British ATP player Andy Murray commented: "Being professional is the main thing that you need to get right. If you don't have that then you're never going to make it."

Defending champion Bondarenko out of Luxembourg in first round

Kateryna Bondarenko watches her sister, Alona, play. After Alona raised the level of her game, Kateryna soon showed a new level of talent, also, as did the Bondarenkos' countrywoman, Yuliana Fedak. But since then, all three have had problems with consistency, as has the other notable Ukrainian player, Julia Vakulenko.

Poor Alona Bondarenko. After having a really good 2006, she's had a lot of ups and downs this year. It has been a mixed year for Ukrainian tennis, in fact. Yuliana Fedak raised her game to a much higher level, and now has taken a step backwards. And Bondarenko's sister, Kateryna, also raised her game, but not with enough consistency.

Today, Alona Bondarenko, FORTIS Championships defending champion, was taken out in the first round by Marion Bartoli, 6-3, 6-2. This match-up was no fun for me--I'm a fan of both players and hated to see either of them make an early exit. It says a lot about Bondarenko's year, however, that she was not seeded high enough to get a first round bye.

In other Luxembourg first round play, phenom Tamira Paszek was removed from the tournament hastily by her countrywoman, Sybille Bammer. And Ukraine's other talented player, Julia Vakulenko, was defeated by Meilen Tu, one of the women no one likes to see across the net in an early round. Bammer, by the way, will play Bartoli in the second round, which should be a really good one.

To make things worse, both Ukrainian doubles also lost in the first round.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Azarenka wins phenom showdown

Victoria Azarenka defeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round of the FORTIS Championships in Luxembourg today. The only other time the two young stars met was on grass in 2006, when Radwanska won a straight-sets match in the first round at Wimbledon.

Perhaps the most tightly contested of first-round matches also took place today, between Shahar Peer and Lucie Safarova. Safarova is an extremely talented player who sometimes suffers from inconsistency, a problem I hope she resolves in the near future. Peer took the match, 6-3, 6-3.

Wild card and veteran Anne Kremer, whose glory days are long over but who is playing in her home country, took out talented but streaky Michaella Krajicek, 6-3, 7-6, with a decisive 7-3 score in the tiebreak.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Kirilenko wins in Kolkata; Golovin wins in Portoroz

Maria Kirilenko won the Sunfeast Open in Kolkata today, defeating Mariya Koryttseva, 6-0, 6-2. This is Kirilenko's second career title.

Meanwhile, Tatiana Golovin defeated the hometown player, Katarina Srebotnik, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, to win the Slovenia Open in Portoroz. This is Golovin's second career title, also.

Szavay wins China Open

Agnes Szavay (all together now, sports media--it's pronounced SHAH-veye) won the China Open today, defeating Jelena Jankovic 6-7, 7-5, 6-2. Szavay, who was down 0-5 in the second set, saved a match point (with a second serve ace) at 1-5. Szavay was also up 5-0 in the first set tiebreak, but Jankovic saved three match points to win the set. The match lasted three hours and appears to have been one of the year's real thrillers. Szavay now enters the top 20.

I was thinking that Tamira Paszek was going to be the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Newcomer of the Year, but it all points to Szavay now, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jankovic named UNICEF ambassador

Following quickly in the footsteps of her countrywoman, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic has been named a Serbian National Ambassador for UNICEF. While Ivanovic's focus will be on education, Jankovic will concentrate on children's rights.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Dulko getting back in form

Gisela Dulko, who--like so many other players--has had injury problems that have caused her ranking to go down, has been making a pretty good showing lately. Not the most mentally tough player on tour, Dulko nevertheless has talent, and her game is especially impressive because she is so small (as professional tennis players go). Today, she defeated Slovenia Open number 2 seed Sybille Bammer, 7-6, 1-6, 6-1, in Portoroz. Bammer is one tough player, and this is a good win for Dulko. Last month, Dulko won her second career singles title at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Classic in Forest Hills, reaching her third final of the year.

This past April, Dulko came within a hair of taking out Ana Ivanovic in the second round of the Family Circle Cup, but appeared to lose her nerve toward the end of the third set.

Peng continues her great run in Beijing

Peng Shuai of China, who took Martina Hingis out of the China Open on Wednesday, advanced to the semifinals today by defeating Amelie Mauresmo, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. The defeat does not come as a shock--Mauresmo is just returning to the tour after a long illness and injury layoff, and Peng can be dangerous on any given day.

Friday cat blogging--surfer girl edition

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Israeli tennis player competing with Richard Krajicek for making most offensive comment ever about women's tennis

Noam Okun, an Israeli ATP player ranked number 186 in the world, had this to say about Shahar Peer's success on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour:

There is too much noise about women's tennis being made here. It is clear that we have a top-15 women's player. I am sure that if there were a top-15 men's player, they would not even be discussing Shahar.

If Dudi [Sela] was No. 50 in the world, they would be discussing him more and writing more about him than Peer. I don't have any desire to talk about women's tennis, because men's tennis is more attractive. It is easy to be successful in the women's, and you can't even compare the two. It is like soccer and women's soccer--there isn't even such a thing as women's soccer. They just invented a sport that didn't even exist.

Though Okun's comments are offensive any which way you look at them, it seems especially offensive to make Peer a target. No one on the tour works harder than Peer; she is a sports professional through and through, and has put in a lot of hours and weeks and months to attain her ranking. And who, I want to know, put Okun in charge of determining whose tennis is "more attractive"?

Perhaps the most offensive comment of all, though, is the one about women's soccer, a "sport that didn't even exist." What Okun is saying is that only men may play soccer, that once a woman goes onto the soccer field, she has transformed soccer into something else that does not even qualify as a sport. Funny...if you watch women play soccer, it looks for all the world that they are

This is some deep-rooted misogyny. Only a real woman-hater would be so threatened by Shahar Peer that he would attack all womankind on her account.

It's official--Morariu retires

Photo courtesy of After Atalanta

Corina Morariu has indeed retired. Here's more.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Peng takes Hingis out of the China Open

Number 5 seed Martina Hingis faced the often-dangerous Peng Shuai in Beijing today, and was defeated, 7-5, 6-1. Peng moves to the quarterfinals, in which she will play Amelie Mauresmo, who has just returned to the tour after a long illness and injury time out.

Adriana Serra Zanetti retires

Italian player Adriana Serra Zanetti, plagued by a foot injury since 2005, is retiring from professional tennis. Best remembered for having reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2002, Serra Zanetti retires with three career Sony Ericsson WTA Tour doubles titles. She was a four-time member of the Italian Fed Cup team, and played on the Italian Olympic team in 1996.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Number one seed Bartoli upset in Kolkata

Vania King defeated Marion Bartoli, 6-1, 7-5 in the second round of the Sunfeast Open in Kolkata, India today. King has not had a very good season, but she made a good showing today. For those of us who were expecting Bartoli to win the tournament, this is rather disheartening news. Bartoli's post-Wimbledon stress seems to have gotten the best of her, despite the fact that she says she is now back on track.

Two other seeds, Alla Kudryavtseva and Yaroslava Shvedova, were also upset.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, at the China Open, Anabel Medina Garrigues was upset, 6-4, 6-4, by Aiko Morigami.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Davenport wins in Bali

Linday Davenport, playing singles in her first tournament since she left the tour to have a baby, won the Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic in Bali today, defeating Daniela Hantuchova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2. As world number 234, Davenport is the fourth lowest-ranked woman to ever win a tour tournament.

Russia wins Fed Cup

Going into the second day with a 2-0 lead, Russia had to win only one more rubber to re-claim the Fed Cup. Svetlana Kuznetsova accomplished that, with her 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory over Italy's Francesca Schiavone. The Kuznetsova-Schiavone match was as topsy-turvy as the Chakvetadze-Schiavone match had been, and almost as sloppy. And in the end, Schiavone just let it get away from her.

Following that match, Elena Vesnina defeated Mara Santangelo in straight sets, giving Russia a 4-0 lead. The doubles match was then cancelled, and Russia officially became the winner of the 2007 Fed Cup. Russia also won the Fed Cup in 2004 and 2005.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fed Cup Final, Day 1: Russia--2, Italy--0

I was eager to see the match between Francesca Schiavone and Anna Chakvetadze, thinking their styles would make for an interesting contest. I was right. Schiavone--whose career took a slide this year until she almost single-handedly won the Fed Cup semifinals--had problems with both her serve and her forehand. Chakvetadze had problems of her own, committing the types of unforced errors that characterized her dreadful U.S. Open semifinal match. The momentun swung back and forth in the first Fed Cup final match today, as did the quality. You could look for a few moments and see some brilliant tennis, but then--in the next few moments--you could see some really sloppy stuff.

Chakvetadze took the first set, 6-4, and Schiavone rallied to take the second, 6-4 (though she served for the set at 5-2). Schiavone then went up 3-0 in the third, but an Italian victory was not to be. Chakvetadze got her break back, and in the fifth game, something unusual happened: Schiavone hit a ball down the line, and Chakvetadze somehow got her racquet on it and somehow flipped it just over the net. Schiavone, fearful of touching the net with her racquet, gingerly tried to make her shot, but hit the ball into the net. The press is going on and on about what a disaster this was, but the fact is--the shot was probably harder to make than it looked. At any rate, Chakvetadze took the final set, 6-4.

Chakvetadze looked pretty fragile throughout this match, berating herself for "errors" she did not make (sometimes she just got outplayed by a very creative Schiavone), and even whacking her racquet into the net. She said later that the crowd support helped her, and that what helped her most was encouragement from Maria Sharavpova.

The second match was a straight set win by Svetlana Kuznetsova over Mara Santangelo, 6-1, 6-2.

Russia needs only one more win to re-claim the Fed Cup from Italy, the defending champion.

Fed Cup finals are this weekend

Russia v. Italy in Moscow: If you have The Tennis Channel, you can watch them live early in the morning, or you can watch a late morning/afternoon re-broadcast, and on Sunday, a night re-broadcast, also.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday cat blogging--portrait edition

Roxie strikes a pose

Move over...Lindsay's back

Lindsay Davenport, playing her first singles tournament since returning to the tour, defeated Jelena Jankovic today, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. Davenport now advances to the semifinals of the Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic in Bali, in which she will play Sara Errani, who upset 7th seed Aiko Nakamura to advance today. Errani upset Anabel Medina Garrigues yesterday.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Schnyder out of Bali

It's not pretty to be up 3-0 in the third set, have a game point to get up 4-0, and then lose the match, but Patty Schnyder did just that today against Sorana Cirstea at the Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic in Bali. Cirstea had the lead in the second set, then lost it, but managed to squeeze out a 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 victory. It was the first top-20 win for the 137th-ranked Cirstea, who has gotten herself noticed lately.

Schnyder wasn't alone in getting upset. Anabel Medina Garrigues also had a third set lead, but lost her match against Sara Errani in their 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 match, which went on for almost three hours.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Corina Morariu--unconfirmed statement on her retirement

Several days ago, I read in Jon Wertheim's column that Corina Morariu was retiring at the U.S. Open. I heard nothing about it on television and saw nothing else about it, so I wondered if Wertheim were mistaken. I still have seen nothing else about it, but if it's true, then it is shameful that she wasn't given a proper send-off at the Open.

Morariu is not only American (those are the only retirements the U.S. sports press and television commentators care about)--she is a former world number 1 doubles player. She also had to undergo chemotherapy for acute promyelocytic leukemia, and made a successful comeback to the tour. Morariu--who was once a top-30 singles player--played doubles with many partners, but her best-known partnership is probably the one with her friend Lindsay Davenport. They won Wimbledon in 1999, and Morariu was also a finalist in two other Grand Slam tournaments.

Henin withdraws from China Open

On the advice of her doctor, Justine Henin has withdrawn from the China Open in Beijing. Henin has respiratory asthma; in fact, she was having difficulty breathing during her U.S. Open semifinal.

Jelena Jankovic may accept a wild card into the tournament, which is an infuriating thought if you are a Jankovic fan. She needs to stop playing, not enter another tournament.

The good news is that Amelie Mauresmo is confirmed for Beijing.

Henin's condition may keep her out of the Stuttgart tournament, too.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A notable U.S. Open quote from 1976

"She seems to think that she'll get a nosebleed if she comes to the net, so she hangs back there like a battleship shelling a port miles away. Boom, boom, boom, over and over again, harder and harder. I wondered where the power came from."
Evonne Goolagong, on her loss in the final to Chris Evert

Goolagong was a finalist at the U.S. Open for four consecutive years. She never won it.

Dechy wins U.S. Open doubles title two years straight

Nathalie Dechy is now the holder of three Grand Slam doubles titles

7th seeded Nathalie Dechy and Dinara Safina, playing together for the first time, defeated number 5 seeds Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung, 6-4, 6-2 to win the U.S. Open. (Chan, like Maria Sharapova, has apparently given up on getting Americans to learn to pronounce her name and now says "call me Leticia," and Chuang is going by "CJ.") Last year, Dechy won the U.S. Open doubles title, playing with Vera Zvonareva. Their opponents were Katarina Srebotnik and Dinara Safina.

Dechy, with Andy Ram, also won this year's French Open mixed doubles title. She has been ranked as high as number 11 in the world in singles, but has had to deal with a lot of injuries in the last few years, and has seen her singles ranking slip. At the same time, however, she has become one of the tour's stars in doubles. Safina has won six Sony Ericsson WTA Tour doubles titles.

Chan and Chuang were also the finalists at the French Open this year.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Justine Henin stat worth mentioning

Henin has won her last three Grand Slam titles without dropping a set.

Dear Jane Brown Grimes...

Billie Jean King didn't risk everything to found the WTA so that you could be elected to your very prestigious position and be called chairman of the board. I'm sure the USTA wants to call you a man, but could you please have the good grace to object?

Ivanovic named UNICEF ambassador

Ana Ivanovic has been named a UNICEF National Ambassador for Serbia. She will specialize in the fields of education and child protection.

Kristina Kucova wins U.S. Open juniors girls title

Kristina Kucova, an unseeded 17-year-old Slovakian, defeated number 2 seed Urzula Radwanska today to win the U.S. Open junior girls title. Final score: 6-3, 1-6, 7-6

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Clearing it up for McEnroe

On Friday, John McEnroe announced that Justine Henin lost her Wimbledon semifinal match because the weather became cold. Today, he announced that she lost her Wimbledon semifinal match because she had a mental meltdown.

I don't know what match he saw, but in the one I saw, Henin lost because she was profoundly beaten down by her opponent. Henin is a great champion. In fact, she is one of the greatest tennis players I have ever seen, but on the right day, anyone, even Henin, can lose to a talented player who is having an exceptionally good run.

Unseeded Kucova gets to U.S. Open junior girls final

Having upset the defending champion in their quarterfinal match, Kristina Kucova won her semifinal match and will now face Urzula Radwanska in the U.S. Open junior girls final. Radwanska is the sister of Agnieszka Radwanska, who upset defending champion Maria Sharapova in the third round of the Open.

Justine Henin wins her 7th Grand Slam title in New York

This banner of Justine Henin hangs over the Family Circle Cup Stadium on Daniel Island, South Carolina

She did it while plowing through two Williams sisters, and she did it without dropping a set. Continuing to play brilliant tennis, as she has throughout the U.S. Open, Justine Henin won the women's title in New York tonight by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 6-3. Kuznetsova was obviously anxious in the first set, which seemed to pass her by before she was ready to play it. She elevated her game considerably in the second set, but continued to make errors, and--perhaps more important--made a number of poor strategic decisions. Kuznetsova has a lot more game than she brought to this final, and her failure to apply aggression at key moments cost her a chance to upset the world's number 1 player. I attribute this to nerves, because surely Kuznetsova knows that hanging back is a sure way to go down fast when playing Henin.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Note to the press: It's WOMEN'S tennis

Press conference question to Svetlana Kuznetsova:

"Do you think your game matches up with one of those guys better than the other? Do you feel more comfortable against Justine or Venus?"

Williams and Henin redeem women's tennis--Henin moves on to the final

Anything would have been a good antidote to today's first U.S. Open women's semifinal, but we didn't get just anything--we got a top-notch thriller from world number 1 Justine Henin and Venus Williams. There was no shortage of drama: The wind was blowing rather hard, Henin was having trouble breathing, and Williams suffered from dizziness. Viewers were treated to first-rate serving from Henin, plus slices, drops shots, wicked angles, superb overheads hit on the run, and one rally with 27 shots that included over a dozen volleys. Williams had trouble with her second serve, but also put on a show of steely nerves as she dug herself out of holes with what sometimes appeared to be sheer will. At 3-5, 0-40 in the second set, she managed to hold, then broke Henin when she served for the match. It looked for all the world like there was going to be another break and we were going to get a third set, but errors starting coming off of Williams' racquet at the wrong time, and Henin held for 6-4. A third set would have been wonderful, but it was not to be.

Henin is playing so well that it is hard to imagine the final as being anything but a letdown. The extremely talented Svetlana Kuznetsova not only has trouble closing big matches--she just is not playing at Henin's level right now. Henin's service game, speed, anticipation, and shot-making are currently unsurpassed on the tour.

Final score: Henin def. Williams, 7-6, 6-4

Kuznetsova and Chakvetadze lower the bar--to about ankle level

I don't know who struggled more--the two women in this match, or those of us who decided to keep watching it. Mentally fragile, uninspired and sluggish, both Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anna Chakvetadze sprayed balls over the place, missed shots they usually hit on target, destroyed their own service games, and generally caused embarrassment for the women's tour in a U.S. Open semifinal to forget. The rallies tended to be short because no one could keep the ball in the court or out of the net. It was painful to watch Chakvetadze melt down in the course of the match, especially if you are a fan of hers, as I am. And it was equally painful to watch Kuznetsova--who has a history of mental fragility at big moment--fail to get her nerves under control. When the wind picked up, it only made matters worse.

This should have been a great contest, with Kuznetsova's speed and super-forehand matched against Chakvetadze's superior ability to construct points. Instead, it was the kind of train wreck we have come to expect when two Russians play each other--only worse. Anyone not familiar with women's tennis who happened to walk in on this match would have found it astounding to learn that these two women are now numbers 2 and 5 in the world. Kuznetsova was finally able to get her nerves somewhat under control, while Chakvetadze went to pieces; hence, the final score: Kuznetsova def. Chakvetadze, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1

Defending junior girls' champion upset

Top seed and defending champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia was defeated in straight sets this morning by Kristina Kucova of Slovakia in the quarterfinals of the junior girls singles at the U.S. Open. Last year, Pavlychenkova defeated Tamira Paszek in the finals; Paszek entered the main draw this year and lost to Anna Chakvetadze in the round of 16.

A good feature story on Mary Carillo

In the St. Petersburg Times.

Li and Zheng to skip China Open

Li Na, China's top player, will miss the China Open

Li Na, China's top player, and Zheng Jie, one of China's top doubles players and partner of Yan Zi, have missed both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open because of rib and ankle injuries, respectively. Now they are going to miss the China Open in Beijing this month.

This is a real blow to Chinese tennis, and also to fans. Li (who is also Jelena Jankovic's doubles partner) was ranked number 16 in the world in January. She reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open this year, and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last year. Zheng, who is also a good singles player, has two Grand Slam doubles titles with Yan.

Friday cat blogging--blue eyes edition

Ziggy Stardust flashes them

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Kuznetsova qualifies for the Year-End Championships

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour announced today that Svetalana Kuznetsova has become the third woman to qualify for the Year-End Championships in Madrid. Kuznetsova, who will be number 2 in the world next week, follows Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic in qualifying.

Azarenka wins U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Mirnyi

Talk about momentum shift. When I left my house this afternoon, Meghann Shaughnessy and Leander Paes were up 4-0 in the second set tiebreak (I later learned they were up 6-1), and I thought they looked good to win the super tiebreak, too. Only there was no super tiebreak: Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi won the second set, 7-6, and are the 2007 champions.

Meanwhile, the women's doubles finalists are 6th-seeded Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung and 7th-seeded Nathalie Dechy and Dinara Safina. Dechy is half of the defending champion team of Dechy/Zvonareva. Vera Zvonareva is just coming back from a long injury time-out, and presumably, did not want to overdo it by playing doubles.

Williams replaces Sharapova as new media target

Serena Williams is being called "classless" and "graceless" for her post-quarterfinal press conference. She is described as "sullen," "bitter" and "snarly." I say: So what? Not every player is a Jelena Jankovic, who can smile all the way through adversity, and not every player is a Justine Henin, whose responses are so robotic I can say them in my sleep. (When Andy Roddick is "sullen" and sarcastic, he doesn't get roundly criticized.) And the sports media isn't exactly a body of individuals who command respect at all times.

Would be it better if Williams could smile through it? Of course it would. Does not doing so make her "classless?" I don't think so.

But, having said that, I should add that I do have a problem with Williams' description of Henin's "lucky shots." Get real, Serena--she blew you off the court in the second set.

For whom do the players cheer?

Scoop Malinowski, writing for Tennis Week, asked some players for whom they cheer when they are not on the court. Some of the players, it appears, didn't quite understand the question and thought it was U.S. Open-specific. Here are some of the answers:

Martina Hingis: "You don't want to see anybody but yourself holding the trophy. I'm sorry--I can't give another answer."

Yan Zi: "It really doesn't matter to me."

Peng Shuai: "I never really think of that question. I just think of why I lose, my next training and what I have to train. And just wish good luck for everyone. It's really tough to cheer for anyone--every tournament has different players."

Francesca Schiavone: "Justine. Because she's a complete player. She has every shot. She has mind. I respect her."

Svetlana Kuznetsova: "All of my good friends or I guess Justine Henin. Because I think she's one of the best at the moment. She's most professional one."

Patty Schnyder: "I think Mauresmo--she has her title. So she's not even here--I really wanted her to win one Slam. But otherwise, yeah, it's not too deep friendship that I have with somebody [smiles]."

Akiko Morigami: "I would say either Anna (Chakvetadze), because I think she has so much potential. I think she can do it. She never won in a major. So I'm really cheering for Anna. I think she has a great game as well."

U.S. Open Semifinals set

And what semifinals they are. Two of the most talked-about possible champions, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, are out of the contest, the resurgent Venus Williams is still in, and a former U.S. Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, is still standing.

Serena Williams, in her quarterfinal, got a second set trouncing from world number one Justine Henin that looked a bit like the job she herself did on Sharapova in the Australian Open final. In that set, Williams could not find her game, and Henin--who is probably better at going after opponents' weaknesses than anyone on the tour--charged full-speed ahead. A stunned Williams was near-speechless in her press conference, though she has irritated a lot of people with her remark that Henin made some "lucky shots." Final score: 7-6. 6-1

Anna Chakvetadze
raised the level of her game from the somewhat messy affair it had been in the round of 16, and took advantage of Shahar Peer's service difficulties. The first set was spirited, but as Peer struggled with her serve and seemed to lose a bit of focus, Chakvetadze took the match in straight sets. The aggression that Peer has added to her game should not be ignored, however. She has definitely lifted her level, but like so many other players, needs to do something about her serve. Final score: Chakvetadze def. Peer, 6-4, 6-1

Svetlana Kuznetsova had a fairly easy time defeating Agnes Szavay (and, for the 100th time, USA, CBS and ESPN commentators--it's pronounced SHAH-veye), though the young player pulled herself together in the second set and made the match interesting. Final score: Kuznetsova def. Szavay, 6-1, 6-4

My understanding is that some people think the Venus Williams-Jelena Jankovic quarterfinal was the best match they had seen all year. I certainly didn't feel that way, though the match was good. I have become a diehard Jankovic fan over the last year or two, and I am going through the same frustration with her that I go through with Martina Hingis: She is not going to reach the level where she belongs with that serve of hers. In Hingis's case, there is something mental going on--I've seen her go out to the court and serve beautifully. I don't know what it is with Jankovic. If Jankovic were to develop a decent second serve, she could get away with her less-than-stellar first serve. But it wouldn't hurt her to strengthen the first one, while she is at it.

Venus Williams is a great player who has it all--speed, precision, cleverness, and great athleticism. She is always going to use her powerful serve to win points. Jankovic is an exceptional defensive player with brains, speed and toughness to spare, but without a good serve, it is very hard for her to beat someone like Williams on a big occasion like a U.S. Open quarterfinal, when Williams is bound to bring her best game. I have seen Jankovic beat Williams before, and she certainly had a chance last night, but she made it too hard for herself. Final score: Williams def. Jankovic, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6

Williams will now face Henin in a semifinal match, and Kuznetsova will play Chakvetadze. Williams has been extremely dominant over Henin in the past, but they have not played each other in four and a half years.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

"She could walk into this studio right now and change the light bulb, and I wouldn't know who she was"

This said in a very cocky tone about Justine Henin by an ESPN "First Take" commentator whom I could not identify. Is this something to brag about?! I don't think so.

The panel was having an argument: Did Serena Williams lose or did Justine Henin win? I dislike this particular argument, for--as I noted in a discussion on a tennis blog recently--nothing in life, tennis included, is linear. Whenever one player's level slips, it is common for her opponent's level to rise, etc.

The other part of the argument had to do with Williams' seeming inability to think she ever does anything but beat herself in a loss. I am tired of that argument, too.

One of the commentators made a big deal about Henin's beating Williams in three Slam quarterfinals in a row, but please...can we really count the one in which Williams was playing with just one hand? Let's be fair.

And finally, a note to ESPN (and all the other networks): Henna is a plant, not a tennis player.

1, 2, 3...out

The first, second and third women's doubles seeds have been eliminated at the U.S. Open, and they were eliminated in numerical order, with number 1 seeds Black and Huber going out first, then number 2 Raymond and Stosur and now, the third seeds are out. Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama were defeated this morning by 7th seeds Nathalie Dechy and Dinara Safina.

This looks like an unusual statistic to me; I wonder if it has happened before in a Grand Slam tournament.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Capriati to undergo more surgery

According to Jon Wertheim, chatting on the USA Network, Jennifer Capriati hasn't given up, and will have her shoulder operated on again soon.

(Wertheim talked quite a bit about Liezel Huber's new American citizenship and what that might mean for the Olympics, but one thing hasn't changed: He still can't be bothered to pronounce her name correctly.)

And speaking of...

The Tennis Channel...Last night there was a run-down of the American losses at the U.S. Open yesterday, including the elimination of James Blake, the Bryan Brothers and Lisa Raymond, who--with partner Sam Stosur--lost to Bethanie Mattek and Sania Mirza. That last one is a bit suspect, though. Doesn't it come out even? As far as I know, Mattek is still an American, but there was no mention of her American upset win.

Dumbing it down for Americans

The Tennis Channel has several of the expected "I'm Big-Name Player, and you're watching The Tennis Channel" spots. Yesterday, I saw one in which Justine Henin painfully mispronounces her name--the entire thing--so that it will sound "American." We already have several highly paid commentators who are too lazy and ignorant to learn to pronounce players' names; now we have a sports venue that obviously requests mispronunciations. Because we wouldn't want Americans to have to learn anything. I'm disappointed that Henin complied with this ridiculous request.

More on Suarez's retirement

Here is a feature story on Paola Suarez's retirement from professional tennis, as well as photos of her U.S. Open retirement ceremony.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Experts' picks to win U.S. Open

Bud Collins--Venus Williams

Mary Joe Fernandez--Venus Wiliams

Peter Bodo--Venus Williams

Patrick McEnroe--Venus Williams

"I can beat you silly, and still look hot doing it"

That's what Serena Williams says about a pair of her earrings in her U.S. Open Series television spot, and guess what? She's right. But, as ken points out in After Atalanta, Bruce Jenkins considers such earrings "totally inexcusable." Jenkins writes about female tennis players' "garish dresses," "odd hairstyles" (and I agree with ken: who could he possibly be talking about except Venus Williams and her gorgeous beaded braids?) and "massive earrings." I understand his point that accessories do not add to a player's athletic performance. We all know that. And if they distract, as he suggests they do, you sure wouldn't know it by the Williams sisters and their fourteen Grand Slam singles titles.

Tennis, as ken also points out, is an individual sport, and so we see--and want to see--more expression of individual style than usual during play. I enjoy Maria Sharapova's beautifully cut dresses and Julia Vakulenko's outfits she puts together from items she buys off the rack. The best photograph of Venus Williams I have ever seen is the one of her braids flying in the air as she hits a shot. Bethanie Mattek, though her clothes turn some people off, has a lot of fun wearing unique, sometimes silly, outfits on the court.

Of course, there was no more garish dresser in tennis history than Andre Agassi in his first incarnation. One presumes Jenkins was deeply disturbed by Agassi's mullet, giant sunglasses, shorts-over-tights, and multi-colored headbands. How about James Blake's braids? Or Rafael Nadal's clamdiggers? Carlos Moya's sleeveless shirt that shows off his sizeable tattoo? And of course, Janko Tiparevic's tattoos, tinted shades and chin piercing have to be a real no-no for Jenkins. So much fashion distraction on the men's tour--what's a columnist to do?

Bottom half set for quarterfinals

Shahar Peer, always a good defensive player, is suddenly finding her aggression

Of the four phenoms in the bottom half of the U.S. Open round of 16 draw, only one, Agnes Szavay (when, oh when, will the commentators pronounce her name correctly?), who defeated Julia Vakulenko, 6-4, 7-6, remains in the draw. I expected Vakulenko to come through, and was disappointed that she did not. Kuznetsova easily took out Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 6-3, and Anna Chakvetadze defeated Tamira Paszek, 6-1, 7-5.

Agnieszka Radwanska, who achieved overnight fame by defeating defending champion Maria Sharapova, was taken out by Shahar Peer, 6-4, 6-1. The Peer I have seen the last two days is a new Peer--not just a tough-as-nails fighter and counter-puncher, but suddenly a player with some aggression, also. This new-found aggression could cause problems for Chakvetadze, who plays Peer in the quarterfinals. On the one hand, I am really looking forward to this match; on the other hand, I hate it when two players I really like play each other.

Raymond and Stosur out of the U.S. Open

Like them or not, the crowd at the U.S. Open will get to see more of Bethanie Mattek's tennis outfits. She and Sania Mirza just defeated second seeds Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur in what appeared, from the scoreboard, to be a genuine thriller. Raymond and Stosur took the first set, 6-2, and Mattek and Mirza took the second, 7-5. In the third, Mattek and Mirza broke at 4-all, but were broken right back when they served for the match. But they broke again at 5-all, and held to take the third set, 7-5.

The top seeds, Cara Black and Liezel Huber, are already gone. They were defeated by Maria Elena Camerin and Gisela Dulko.

Next up for 16th-seeded Mattek and Mirza are Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Top half set for U.S. Open quarterfinals

Sybille Bammer lost her round of 16 match to Jelena Jankovic, but gave Jankovic a high-quality match

Marion Bartoli, serving well and finding the corners when she could, was no match against a brilliantly-serving Serena Williams. Bartoli seemed a bit sluggish to me, but her interview reveals that what she felt was more resignation than anything else. Final score: Williams def. Bartoli, 6-3, 6-4

Meanwhile, Ana Ivanovic (selected as U.S. Open "Player of the Day" this week for doing nothing in particular) was totally outclassed by Venus Williams. Unable to break Williams' serve, Ivanovic seemed to fade away, and we didn't get to see much of that wonderful forehand. Final score: Williams def. Ivanovic, 6-4, 6-2

For her part, Justine Henin made short work of a very frustrated Dinara Safina, defeating her 6-0, 6-2.

The most interesting of the four matches was the one between Jelena Jankovic and Sybille Bammer. Bammer has really raised her game of late, and she turned the match into a spirited contest, grabbing a set from Jankovic, and putting on a sometimes-beautiful groundstroke display. Jankovic, for her part, looked tired, and her defense, though good (when is it not?) was not quite a sharp as usual. Jankovic's second serve remains weak. If she has to use it much against Venus Williams in their quarterfinal match, she will pay dearly. Jankovic appears to have overdone it this year, not taking enough breaks, and one wonders whether she can stay both physically and mentally strong enough to keep going. It is frustrating to see such an extremely gifted player on the verge of possible burnout. Final score: Jankovic def. Bammer, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1

Just in case you didn't hear it the first 500 times...

Sybille Bammer is a mother.

How can she stay up past ten at night?! Her "boyfriend" travels with her. There goes "mom!"

All the commentators need to shut up about Bammer's parenthood, but Tracy Austin in particular needs to find something else to talk about. Perhaps she can do some homework about Lleyton Hewitt or Max Mirnyi or Fabrice Santoro and talk nonstop about their parenthood. All those children--how do they do it?

Sharapova vultures need to pick someone else's bones

I knew it would happen the moment Maria Sharavpova lost her U.S. Open third round match against Agnieszka Radwanska--"Sharapova is finished," "Sharapova is overrated," "Sharapova will never win another Slam."

This type of bashing, though de rigeur in a culture that loves to build people up, then knock them down--is simply not fair. Though Sharapova lost largely because she fell apart mentally, it is instructive to take a look at why she did so. Sharapova has spent a terrible year nursing a serious shoulder injury that caused her to lose one of her most effective weapons--her serve. Both her first and second serves have been two of the best on the tour for a while, and with her shoulder vulnerable, she has struggled to regain them. When a person struggles with something, especially something that was once second nature, her confidence plummets.

Sharapova finally won a tournament a few weeks ago in San Diego, but then she had to withdraw from her semifinal in Los Angeles, because of a lower leg strain. In other words, she came into the U.S. Open with relatively little match play, a tweaky shoulder, a new service motion, and recent recovery from a new injury.

The same people who like to complain that there is "no depth" in women's tennis are now complaining because the U.S. Open defending champion was upset by a phenom. These fans, however, were relatively silent when Marion Bartoli demolished Justine Henin in the Wimbledon semifinals. The difference? Sharapova is a big media star, and Henin isn't. That's because our culture likes to promote long-legged blondes whose faces have not even fully formed, and then attack them when they do not live up to their superstar status.

Yes, Sharapova needs to do whatever it takes to regain her confidence. But is she finished? Hardly. In fact, anyone who was really watching her at the U.S. Open noticed that she was trying new techniques--working to make her game better.

Sharapova is not a quitter. In the words of another female superstar: "Nobody's perfect--what did you expect?"

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Phenoms gone wild

Though everyone is talking about Agnieszka Radwanska's defeat of defending champion Maria Sharapova, it should also be mentioned that three other hot young players, Tamira Paszek, Victoria Azarenka, and Agnes Szavay, also moved to the round of 16 today by defeating Patty Schnyder, Martina Hingis, and Nadia Petrova, respectively. Petrova experienced a hip strain during her match, which, of course, didn't help. Hingis won only one set, and Schnyder was in a closely contested three-setter in which she got run over in the third set tiebreak.

Ukrainian player Julia Vakulenko moves on, with a defeat of Maria Kirilenko. Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues, and Anna Chakvetadze took out one of the season's hottest players, Sania Mirza. The night match was a messy thriller between Nicole Vaidisova, who has been out since Wimbledon with a viral illness, and Shahar Peer. Peer has developed a more aggressive game, which she needed, but her serve let down over and over; it will have to improve for her to go much farther. She won the match, however, on her fourth match point. Final score: Peer def. Vaidisova, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6

Umpire tells Williams to put her notebook away

Serena Williams has a long-standing habit of bringing notes with her onto the court. She reads them during the changeovers and between sets, for they are little reminders to her about the kind of mental attitude she needs to have. The notes are strictly motivational; at the Australian Open, the "notes" amounted to one word--the name of her murdered sister.

Yesterday, chair umpire Damian Steiner told Williams to put her notes away during a break in her match against Vera Zvonareva. There is no rule against having notes on the court, as long as the player brings the notes herself. Steiner, apparently unfamiliar with the rules, eventually reversed his decision.

Said Williams: "Well, it's not like I'm Harry Potter and my dad can magically give me notes to read."

The game of mental toughness: Radwanska-1, Sharapova-0

Agnieszka Radwanska stood well inside the baseline, a la Marion Bartoli, waiting for Maria Sharapova's poorly executed second serves, then attacked repeatedly. Sharapova used to have one of the best second serves on the tour, but that was before she had shoulder problems and probably lost some confidence. Her second serve problem wouldn't have been an issue, but she missed her first serve enough times that service games became a problem.

That was the first set story. In the second set, Sharapova looked like herself again, whipping sharp groundstrokes and thrilling the crowd with some outstanding volleys. She made short work of that set, and it looked, for all the world, as though she would do the same in the third.

But something happened in that final set: Radwanska came onto the court with the same mindset she had in the first set. She was broken right away, but she endured the early break and went on to break Sharapova back, then break again...and again, the last break coming after five deuces. Standing well inside the court, she went back into attack mode, while Sharapova struggled with her serve and made continual errors.

Sharavpova's first two rounds indicated the strength of her service game, which has sometimes suffered since she hurt her shoulder. She committed twelve double faults in her match against Radwanska, and she had a second serve win total of only 23%. When the heat was on, it was the young phenom who kept her head about her. Final score: Radwanska def. Sharapova, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2