Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday cat blogging--Oregon coast edition

One of the resident cats at the famous Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And yet another coaching change...

Tamira Paszek and her coach, Larri Passos, have ended their two-year partnership. Passos, who is best known for coaching three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten, feels he has done all can do for Paszek and is going to devote his time to coaching at his academy, the Instituto Larri Passos, in Brazil. 16-year-old Paszek moved up 330 ranking points after her 2007 Wimbledon run, and is considered one of the most promising young players on the tour.

Passos says he is open to the possibility of coaching another player.

Jankovic resolves her breathing problems

Jelena Jankovic has complained all during the latter part of the season about having trouble breathing while she is on the court, and the problem appeared to get worse as the season wore one. Now there is news that, a few days ago, she underwent surgery to correct her respiratory condition, and she now expects to be able to play at a higher level.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In brief...

Elena Dementieva is really getting around these days, publicity-wise. The latest is Peace Magazine.

Am I the only one who liked the Tennis Week site better before the webmasters "improved" it?

EleVen's prices really are low.

And Venus Williams is injured again.

James Martin has a little fun with the so-called Roadmap.

Maria Sharapova reports that when she returned to her new car a few nights ago, two men--a father and son---were oogling it, so she said "Nice car, huh?" and opened the door, at which point they asked her what she was doing. She told them it was her car. "The father looked at me like how the heck is a 20-year-old blonde chick driving this!" Indeed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Some 2008 Fed Cup opening round details set

2008 Fed Cup first round venues were announced this month, though not all details have been set.

Here is a glance at what we know so far.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An interview with Sania Mirza

This interview with Sania Mirza, despite the interviewer's annoying lack of knowledge--maybe because of it--is worth reading. Mirza's humor continually shines through, as in this exchange:

You are currently on an injury break?

No, it’s off season now.

We have been reading that you were recovering from an injury.

Yes, but I am fine now.

So, you okay then.

Yes, it doesn’t hurt me when I am talking.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Updates on sick and injured players

Amelie Mauresmo has been training for two weeks, and is doing well, other than experiencing sore legs at night.

Sam Stosur has been back in Australia for a week now, after her lengthy medical timeout in the U.S. Her condition is described as "not 100%" but she is due to begin light training soon.

Zheng Jie has been practicing, and--according to one of the tennis authorities in China--has made a complete recovery from the ankle injury that has kept her out of play since the French Open. She is, according to the official, working on regaining confidence, and will play in the Australian Open.

Li Na, out since she sustained a rib inflammation during the summer, has been recovering in Germany and is also scheduled to play in Melbourne.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday cat blogging--profile edition

Roxie rests her chin on the back of a chaise

Yet another coaching change

Following the rumor about Shahar Peer and the news about Tatiana Golovin is the announcement by Michael Chang that he will no longer coach Peng Shuai. Chang says that he does not have time to travel with Peng to all of the tour events, which was what the Chinese Tennis Association wanted him to do.

There is also obvious friction between Chang and the CTA over his rejected attempts to help Chinese tennis players prepare for the Olympics.

Peng, who plays Monica Seles-style two-handed tennis, is a gifted player who has, in my opinion, never played up to her potential. Here's hoping she gets the guidance she needs to improve her game and develop some consistency.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Golovin changes coaches again

Tatiana Golovin, who has been working with Mats Wilander (of "Roger Federer has no balls" infamy), has changed coaches again. She will now be coached by Glen Schaap, who has worked with both Nadia Petrova and Dinara Safina. The word is that Wilander did not want to do a lot of traveling. Golovin's game improved seriously under his tutelage; one hopes she will stay on track now that he is gone.

Coaches and potential coaches who do not wish to travel much naturally do not stay with a player long. Gigi Fernandez did not stay that long with Sam Stosur because she did not wish to travel, but she did improve Stosur's game.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An excellent overview of the tour's top players

Kamakshi Tandon, assisted by Robert Waltz, and writing for, gives us a useful and interesting analysis of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's top players. "Taking Stock: Bottom line for the top women" is both a statistical and descriptive look at the top eight players, plus a few more--how they stand compared with how they stood in 2006, and where they are headed. I was pleased to see that Tandon commented on Tamira Pazsek, who is currently number 44 in the world, but who has no place to go but up.

This is a an article that you will read more than once, save as a reference for later.

Billie Jean King stands by Hingis

Tennis great Billie Jean King joins Roger Federer in coming to the defense of Martina Hingis.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chakvetadze receives tennis award in Russia

World number 6 Anna Chakvetadze was named Female Tennis Player of 2007 Saturday at the National Tennis Awards ceremony in Russia.

Let's hope this award is a confidence boost for Chakvetadze, who has the game, but not the head, to play high-echelon tennis. In all fairness, her mental strength has increased, but it is not yet at the level it needs to be. She has been working with Robert Lansdorp, which is a good thing. Also, it takes some players longer than others to develop mental toughnes: How easily fans forget that, for many years, one of the most mentally weak players on the tour was a Belgian woman named Henin.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Will the media please just stop it about Henin's family?

Justine Henin's siblings and father continue to get on my nerves, as do members of the tennis press (I know--what else is new?), who have made the big Henin family reunion their sappy tennis story of the year. The fact of the matter is that Henin was treated terribly by these people when she "betrayed" her father and decided she should have her own life instead of being Cinderella. Now that they have reunited, her family members--who never went to see her play and who took no interest whatsoever in her career, despite her status as one of the best tennis players in recent history--act like they are experts on her game.

After she won Roland Garros this year, one of her siblings was on television, babbling about what Paris "means to Justine." Like he would know. And now her father--who, let me remind you--was not in Paris for the French Open--is expressing opinions on Henin's Wimbledon preparation. Sorry--I don't buy any of this. And if I'm wrong, and there really is a sincere reunion, Henin's family members still need to shut up about her game until they have watched her play for a while.

(Thanks to On the Baseline for the Daily Mail article.)

A note to Sports Illustrated

Dear Sports Illustrated editors:

Here's a news flash: Justine Henin isn't a sportsman. Neither are Paula Radcliffe, Heather O'Reilly or Lorena Ochoa. They cannot be men because they are women. How difficult is it to say "sportswoman"? What century are you publishing in?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Iva Majoli still dancing

For those who enjoyed seeing Iva Majoli doing the cha cha on Dancing With the Stars, here she is again, doing the tango.

Amelie Mauresmo--forgotten woman

In all the excitement about Justine Henin's magnificent year, Serena Williams' comeback, the advancement of the Serbian players, and Maria Sharapova's end-of-season return to form, one name has fallen off the radar: Amelie Mauresmo. Mauresmo, who was the defending champion, made it to the round of 16 at the Australian Open, then brushed herself off and prepared for a big clay season, when she generally shines.

But appendicitis and a very long period of recovery, followed by an appendicitis-related adductor strain, kept Mauresmo off the court for much of the season. The defending champion at Wimbledon, she arrived with little preparation, and was eliminated in the round of 16.

Today, on a forum, I saw someone refer to Mauresmo's "bad year," as if she had simply not played well. She had almost no year at all, and consequently, she is no longer included in discussions of rankings and Grand Slam win predictions. Amelie Mauresmo is my favorite player on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and I am here to remind everyone that she will indeed be playing in 2008, and that--assuming she has adequate off-season training--she is still one of the world's top players.

It is true that Mauresmo is given to occasional periods of feeling weary and burned out about tennis (doubtless, others are too, but Mauresmo is open about hers), but we must bear in mind that right after she had one of these down periods last year, she won Wimbledon. Having missed most of this year, for all practical purposes, Mauresmo is likely to have a confidence problem in 2008, and that could hold her back. But if she can train properly and find a way to be positive about her game again, she remains a major threat. Her rivalry with Henin is more interesting (to me) than the rivalry of Henin and Williams. Her game is absolutely beautiful to watch, and her wit and gentle personality add much to the tour.

Here's hoping Mauresmo comes back strong in 2008 on all surfaces, and that fans start adding her name to conversations about the tour's top players.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Williams sisters to play doubles in of now

Sometimes we forget what a formidable doubles team the Williams sisters make. They are, after all, one of only five women's doubles teams to win a career Grand Slam; ten of their titles include six majors. If all goes well, we will see them at the Australian Open in January, and that adds quite an ingredient to the doubles mix.

If all goes well. Given the Williams sisters' problems with injuries (and now Venus's problem with dizziness), it is hard to count on their both being healthy. Serena's knee is especially troubling, since it has been bothering her since 2003.

Friday cat blogging--whirl of color edition

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Federer comes to Hingis's defense

Long-time friend Roger Federer has come to the defense of Martina Hingis, saying that "I can't ever imagine in any way that she took drugs," and "I hope that she can prove her innocence. I support her."

Hingis's attorney says that the chain of command was significantly flawed when she was urine-tested, and Hingis has asked the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour to help her clear her name.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Can Henin win the Grand Slam in 2008?

I say yes. Never has she been in a better position to do so: Her health is good, her attitude is positive, and she is playing tennis out of her mind.

She does have competition: Maria Sharapova just showed that she is definitely back in a big way. Serena Williams, if she is healthy (a big "if") is always a threat, and I'm not ruling out Lindsay Davenport to take one of the big four in 2008. Other obvious competitors are Jelena Jankovic (if she can figure out a way to beat Henin), Ana Ivanovic, and a healthy Amelie Mauresmo, Henin's rival. Or someone else could step forward and become a threat. But conditions are such, at this time, that Henin is poised to win all four majors. She doesn't really have a "bad" surface, though grass is obviously the toughest for her. Her main competitors--Sharapova, Williams and Mauresmo--have all been set back by injury or illness. Venus Williams likes to win Wimbledon now and then, but Henin can probably handle her.

There is no doubt in my mind that--barring illness or injury--Henin will win a couple of Slams next year. And under the right conditions--or maybe not under them--she could just take the whole thing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

YEC--final words

This year's Year-End Championships were a bit strange, for sure. I thought Maria Sharapova was going to withdraw, but she didn't. Venus Williams did withdraw, and Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic had to retire because of injury and illness, respectively. Here are my final critiques:

Justine Henin (5-0, dropped one set)--Her performance further seals her position as way at the top of women's tennis. Every month, she gets better, and if she stays in good health, she will continue to be the toughest opponent on the tour.

Jelena Jankovic (0-3)--It was sad to see someone with her talent give such a lackluster performance--and finally retire--because of illness. However, it was no surprise: Jankovic has to scale back her schedule or she will flake out again before the season ends.

Serena Williams--It seemed clear from the way she was bandaged all the way to Barcelona that Williams should not have been there. It would have been nice for Marion Bartoli to have more preparation, and for her not to have to inherit a loss.

Anna Chakvetadze (2-1)--2-1 sounds good, but one win was from Williams' retirement, and the other involved defeating a sick opponent. Chakvetadze's overall performance was dismal, and marked by a mental meltdown. The mental part of the game is still Chakvetadze's weakness, and though she has improved from a year or two ago, she still has a long way to go.

Marion Bartoli (1-2)--This record is deceptive, also. One of Bartoli's losses she inherited from Serena Williams (by retirement), and her only win was against Jankovic, also by retirement. She was pulverized by Henin. But she also did not get to prepare much, and she gets a nod for maintaining her cool and her sense of humor under unusual circustances.

Svetlana Kuznetsova (0-3)--This is the worst record of the YEC because Kuznetsova had neither an injury or an illness; she just kept losing. Ivanovic, Sharapova and Hantuchova are all tough opponents, but one would expect the number 2 player in the world to come up with something better.

Ana Ivanovic (2-2)--Ivanovic, on the whole, performed well in Madrid. She got to the semifinals and had to face Henin. But unlike her meltdown in the French Open final against Henin, this time, Ivanovic held her nerve and put up a fight.

Maria Sharapova (4-1)--Sharapova has not played much tennis this year because of a bad shoulder injury and resulting bursitis. Because the shoulder made it so difficult for her to serve, she also experienced service problems when she was finally physically able to serve, undoubtedly for psychological reasons. She withdrew from the tournaments preceding the YEC, began practicing only a week before the YEC, and I expected her to withdraw from Madrid, too. Instead, she put on a show like the one she put on at the 2006 U.S. Open. A 3 1/2 hour final took too much out of her, though, and in the final set, she physically faded, and even had trouble breathing. But her performance was wonderful, and we have much to look forward to in 2008.

Daniela Hantuchova (1-2)--Hantuchova was the surprise participant in this year's YEC, and despite her 1-2 record, she is to be commended for her level of play. She came very close to taking out Ivanovic, but she choked away--as she is so prone to do--the last couple of points. Her defeat of Kuznetsova was stunning. Hantuchova has worked hard to get back into the top 10 after a long time away from it, and her YEC appearance was a good one.

Explain to me again about women being more emotional

Last year, toward the end of the season, Cara Black told Rennae Stubbs she wanted to break up their doubles team and return to playing with her long-time partner, Liezel Huber. Word has it that this news did not go over too well with Stubbs, and even if that information is incorrect, breaking up such a partnership could not have been easy. But nevertheless, they headed to the Sony Ericsson Year-End Championships in 2006, where they performed as a well-oiled team with total professionalism; they lost in the final to Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur.

During the Versus Channel's coverage of this year's tournament in Madrid, Barry McKay commented that the so-called drama of many doubles teams changes in the WTA "makes the ATP players look like angels." First of all, ATP players change teams quite a bit. Second, players change partners for many reasons that have nothing at all to do with "drama." Stosur left Bryanne Stewart because Raymond issued her an invitation that no one in her right mind would refuse, and Stewart (Stosur's best friend) let go with her blessing. Ai Sugiyama had to find another partner because--after her terrible wrist injury--Kim Clijsters no longer wanted to play both singles and doubles. Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu stopped playing together because Davenport wanted to play only a few doubles tournaments, and Morariu--a doubles specialist--has to play a lot of them.

Fast forward to today, the opening of the ATP Masters' Tournament in Shanghai. Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, the number one doubles seeds because the Bryan Brothers had to withdraw, have decided to part ways after many years of playing together. Here is how they handled the situation: They not only hardly spoke to one another on the court--they barely looked at one another. Eventually, they began to communicate and even won the match, but as round robin play continues, they are going to have to figure out a way to be, well--less emotional. Doubles partners who do not speak to each other have a hard time winning.

I did not get to see the entire match, but during the time I watched, no one on The Tennis Channel said anything about drama. But those ATP players really know how to stir it up, don't they?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Henin wins Year-End Championships in best match of the season

Both of them were 4-0 coming into the final. Henin, the defending champion, had already had a fantastic season, and Sharapova--because of a shoulder injury and resulting bursitis--had had almost no season at all, and did not start practicing until a week before the championships. Considering how little preparation she had, it was Sharapova who astounded with a dazzling performance that eventually wilted because of physical fatigue and breathing difficulty. Her service problems abolished, she hit not only powerful groundstrokes, but also some very effective volleys--not a characteristic Sharapova strength.

This is to take nothing away from Henin, whose brilliance on the court is unsurpassed. Again having problems with her serve, Henin compensated for them with court speed, clever change-ups, and her usual array of uncanny shots.

The last game of the first set lasted 20 minutes, with Sharapova winning on her 8th break point. Anyone who thought the match was going to get tamer after that was in for a surprise. Even toward the end, when Sharapova looked like she might fall down, the quality of play was high, if not quite as high as before. The match lasted 3 hours and 24 minutes, and the diminished Sharapova fought to the end. No matter whom you wanted to win, the championship match was a joy to watch.

With this victory, Justine Henin earned $5,367, 086 this year, giving her the highest income within a year of any female athlete in history.

Black and Huber win Year-End-Championships

It wasn't always pretty, but Cara Black and Liezel Huber, the number one doubles team in the world, defeated Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama, 5-7, 7-3, 10-8 in Madrid today. It was the first time that Black and Huber had won the Year-End Championships. The match, though somewhat messy, was lively, and featured some splendid shot-making, especially from Srebotnik and Black.

How's this for a rumor?

It's unconfirmed, but the word is that Wimbledon champion and former WTA great Conchita Martinez will coach Shahar Peer during the 2008 season. Peer has completed her military service for her country, and has shown improvement in her game in the last part of the 2007 season.

Corina Morariu and I certainly have different ideas about what "exciting" means

Throughout her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships coverage for The Tennis Channel, former doubles world number one Corina Morariu has praised the elimination of the ad point in doubles as "exciting." Her rationale is that once the score is a deuce, there is only one chance to win the game. I get it, but the word I would pick is "fast." Or maybe "boring." Exciting is having multiple deuces, multiple game points and multiple break points. Winning a game after saving at least one break point is thrilling, as is winning a game after saving at least one game point.

No-ad scoring and the advent of the super-tiebreak are only two of the horrors planned for dumbing down doubles. There is also a proposal to call for a tiebreak at 4-all. Martina Navratilova, of all people, has called for the end of the ad point in singles. I recently saw ATA doubles players Knowles and Nestor call for it, too. While it is true that shortening doubles matches does attact more singles specialists to play doubles at tournaments, what is the point if the doubles matches are going to be boring?

No-ad scoring in doubles makes the match go faster, but rather than being exciting, it actually sucks the excitement right out of the game.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Madrid finals set

As expected, Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova are on their way to a final match at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships in Madrid. Sharapova had an easy time of it today, as her opponent, the ever-fragile Anna Chakvetadze, melted away in an mental meltdown--she has them from time to time--and offered inadequate resistance. Final score: Sharapova def. Chakvetadze, 6-2, 6-2

In the other semifinal, Ana Ivanovic gave Justine Henin an entertaining battle, but it wasn't enough to stop the world number one. There were multiple breaks, and for a moment, it looked like we would get a third set, but it was not to be. Final score: Henin def. Ivanovic, 6-4, 6-4

In doubles action, Srebotnik and Sugiyama defeated Chan and Chuang, 6-2, 6-2, and Black and Huber defeated Peschke and Stubbs, 7-6, 4-6, 10-6.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Madrid semifinals--no surprises expected here

The Sony Ericcson WTA Tour Year-End Championships are down to four players: Justine Henin, Anna Chakvetadze, Ana Ivanovic, and Maria Sharapova. The semifinals break down like this:

Henin v. Ivanovic: They have played only twice, both times on clay, Henin's best surface. The first match, in Warsaw in 2005, was close. The second one, the final of this year's French Open, was a huge disappointment: Ivanovic, realizing the moment, simply went to pieces.

Ivanovic, who does not yet have the experience to shrug off bad times, is probably feeling somewhat demoralized by the thrashing she got from Maria Sharapova in their YEC match. All she needs now is to face Henin, but that is exactly what she gets. If she can take a set off of Henin, she will have reason to feel very proud, but I don't think that is a likely scenario.

Sharapova v. Chakvetadze: For her part, Chakvetadze has an 0-5 record against Sharapova. Three of their matches have been close and very competitive, so statistically speaking, Chakvetadze has a chance. But if Sharapova comes out with the kind of tennis she used to obliterate Ivanovic, she will have another straight-set win. Unlike some fans, I do not believe that Chakvetadze's problem is that Sharapova overpowers her; her problem is that she has mental lapses. Though she dislikes comparisons with Hingis, Chakvetadze does have the kind of court sense that made Hingis successful. But she is not consistently mentally tough, and is prone to making unforced errors when she is under pressure.

If Henin and Sharapova do win, as expected, and Sharapova's shoulder continues to behave, we should get a high quality final.

Sharapova is back...and how

In a stunning display reminiscent of her 2006 U.S. Open run, Sharapova totally dominated Ana Ivanovic in her third round robin Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships match, easily defeating her, 6-1, 6-2. Sharapova's did not appear to be hampered in the least by her problematic shoulder. Rather, it was Ivanovic who had problems, as Sharapova went on a crosscourt tear and hit winner after winner, leaving Ivanovic with no defense. Sharapova never faced a break point. (And by the way, I really like her YEC outfit.)

Sharapova's victory puts her at the top of the Red Group, which means that she will play Anna Chakvetadze in the semifinals. Ivanovic will play world number one Justine Henin, who finished at the top of the Yellow Group. Both Sharapova and Henin won all three of their round robin matches.

In other action, Jelena Jankovic, clearly on her last leg and sick with a virus, had to retire, with Marion Bartoli leading, 6-1, 1-0. It was painful to watch an obviously sick Jankovic try to tough it out, but it was no surprise--after her overwhelming and unwisely planned schedule--that her body would go to pieces at the end of the season. Jankovic says she has been ill for a couple of days, which would certainly explain her lackluster performances against both Justine Henin and Anna Chakvetadze. She received loud applause when she walked off the court, none, in fact, more enthusiastic than the applause she got from Bartoli. It was a sad ending for Jankovic in Madrid; we can only hope she has learned a lesson and will tone her schedule way down in 2008.

The final match was between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daniela Hantuchova. Hantuchova showed her new-found toughness by saving five set points in the first set, and by delivering solid first and second serves. The second set was all Hantuchova. Final score: Hantuchova def. Kuznetsova, 7-6, 6-0. Had Hantuchova not choked away the last two points of her match against Ana Ivanovic, she would be in the semifinals, and her chances would be good. Nevertheless, this has been a great year for Hantuchova, who is playing some of the best tennis of her career.

Hingis in Madrid

An unexpected guest showed up Friday at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships in Madrid. Martina Hingis was seen chatting with both Svetlana Kuznetsova and second alternate Elena Dementieva in the players' lounge, according to

Friday cat blogging--Big Mama edition

Roxie relaxes on her new favorite thing--Big Mama's Scratch-o-Rama. The Fat Cat, Inc. "Kitty Hoots" catnip-enhanced sisal mat is, in fact, all our cats' new favorite thing, but the others have to get in line behind Roxie. On the flip side of the mat is a nifty poem, "The Legend of Big Mama," with some very funny illustrations.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

3 matchs to go in Madrid before semifinals are played

The remaining singles round robin matches in Madrid involve two dead rubbers and one decider. The dead rubbers, however, do determine whether someone goes home with an 0-3 record. Jelena Jankovic (whom Bartoli also eliminated from Wimbledon competition) plays Marion Bartoli, and who knows what will happen? Jankovic, as I predicted way back when, has burned out, and Bartoli is, well...Bartoli. Whoever loses goes home 0-3. In the other dead rubber, Svetlana Kuznetsova plays Daniela Hantuchova, and whoever loses winds up 0-3.

The third match, between Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova, determines how the semifinals are set up. The loser will play Justine Henin, not something to look forward to. The winner will get Anna Chakvetadze.

YEC doubles draw announced

The draw for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships semifinals is:

Black/Huber v. Peschke Stubbs
Srebotnik/Sugiyama v. Chan/Chuang

The Tennis Channel is carrying the doubles competition live.

Chakvetadze disappears, then returns to beat Jankovic

The great Evonne Goolagong used to space out in the middle of matches, and her opponents would take advantage of what they called "one of Evonne's walkabouts." Anna Chakvetadze, not being Australian, doesn't go on a walkabout, but she goes somewhere, as she did in her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships match against Jelena Jankovic. After getting a break and taking the first set 6-4, Chakvetadze went to pieces and got bageled in the second set. From the beginning of the third set, she behaved as though the second set had never happened, and went on to play quite well, and to take advantage of her opponent's frenzy of unforced errors.

Chakvetadze is undeniably talented, but she does have these huge mid-match gaps. Had she been playing against someone who wasn't burned out, she would have gone down in the third set.

The frustrating thing about Jankovic is that, even now--when she is down on herself and a shadow of what she was earlier in the season--she can still provide some entertaining, thrilling tennis. It was a messy match between two players who alternated between brilliance and sloppiness. Final score: Chakvetadze def. Jankovic, 6-4, 0-6, 6-3

Revenge is a dish that is best served cold

And how better to serve it than with a couple of bagels? Several months after Marion Bartoli left Justine Henin with her head spinning in the Wimbledon semifinals, Henin has returned the favor in Madrid, defeating Bartoli 6-0, 6-0 in the latest Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships round robin. Bartoli, a last-minute replacement for the injured Serena Williams, apparently was not, in any way, ready for the onslaught of the world's number one player.

Someone on a popular tennis board started a thread today entitled "Justine and the 7 Dwarfs," and I had to laugh. Henin is playing at such a breaktakingly high level right now that it is hard to imagine anyone defeating her. The two players on the tour who I think can defeat her are her rival, Amelie Mauresmo, and the woman she has defeated ten times, Jelena Jankovic. That may sound strange, but Jankovic gets Henin's game as few others do. But a Jankovic victory will occur only when Jankovic has a second serve good enough that Henin can't destroy it. As for Mauresmo, she will have to get back into form after her long bout with appendicitis, recovery from surgery and her consequential abdominal injury. But she does have Henin's number, as she proved last year.

A couple of years ago, I saw Patty Schnyder beat Henin in three exciting sets in Charleston, and she did it by hitting repeatedly to the Great Backhand and making sure she kept the ball in the court. This simple formula unnerved Henin, who eventually made errors. Of course, Schnyder also threw in some of her trademark change-ups and loops, which helped. And Schnyder has a solid first serve and an especially good second serve, which made it hard for Henin to attack her. But Henin is playing at an even higher level now than she was then, and it gets harder and harder to find a way to defeat her.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Jankovic wins ACES Award

Jelena Jankovic has received the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ACES Award for 2007. The award is given annually to a player who does an outstanding job of promoting tennis within the community, the news media, and beyond.

This year, for the first time, a point system was used to select the ACES Award winner. Jankovic logged in more than a hundred hours of promotional service to the tour. The downside of this, of course, is that Jankovic showed up at enough events to log in more than a hundred hours.

YEC scores so far

Here is a breakdown of the current Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships scores:


Justine Henin--2-0 (defeated Chakvetadze and Jankovic)
Jelena Jankovic--0-1 (lost to Henin)
Marion Bartoli--0-1 (alternate: inherits Serena Williams' loss to Chakvetadze by retirement)
Anna Chakvetadze--1-1 (lost to Henin; won 2nd match by Williams' retirement)


Svetlana Kuznetsova--0-1 (lost to Ivanovic)
Ana Ivanovic--2-0 (defeated Kuznetsova and Hantuchova)
Maria Sharapova--1-0 (defeated Hantuchova)
Daniela Hantuchova--0-2 (cheated out of 2nd match 3rd set against Ivanovic by terrible line calling)

Next, Kuznetsova plays Sharapova, Henin plays Bartoli, and Jankovic plays Chakvetadze.

Henin, Chakvetadze and Ivanovic win in Madrid

In their tenth meeting, Justine Henin had a fairly easy time of it against Jelena Jankovic in today's Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships competition. Jankovic showed flashes of the brilliance that has made her number 3 in the world, but anyone who follows professional tennis knows that she is burned out, and badly in need of a better serve. Final score: Henin def. Jankovic, 6-2, 6-2.

Anna Chakvetadze looked good, but it didn't really matter. Her opponent, Serena Williams, retired with a knee injury after the first set, and has withdrawn from the tournament.

The match to watch was the one between Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova. Hantuchova seemed lackluster in the first set, but picked up her level of play in the second to the degree that she was, on occasion, absolutely brilliant. She fought her way to a tiebreak, saved three match points, and then--just when it looked like there was going to be a third set--she remembered she was Daniela Hantuchova and choked away the last two points. In fairness, though, Hantuchova should have taken the set, but she was the victim of a bad line call at a crucial time. Even that could be written off to bad luck, only Hantuchova was the victim of bad line calls throughout the entire match. It would be nice if someone with relatively good vision would call the lines. Final score: Ivanovic def. Hantuchova, 6-2, 7-6 (9).

Dear Jelena Jankovic...

You are a breath of fresh air on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Your defensive game is stunning, your backhand down the line is Evert-like, your strategic skills are unsurpassed. And you are artlessly funny and an absolute joy to watch.

But Jelena, you have got to slow down. You are burned out, perhaps more mentally than physically. And you need a service coach. With a better serve, you could have already taken a few matches off of Henin; you already know how to get into her head.

You are Grand Slam material, Jelena, but you need to play fewer tournaments, and develop--at the least--a better second serve. I think I speak for many of your fans when I say that just a bit of tweaking would put you in a different place, where women hold very big trophies and dishes, and watch their confidence build more and more.

You are number 3 in the world now. Slow down...2008 could be your year.

Serena Williams--the walking wounded

Will it ever end? Just when Serena Williams gets her game together, she endures another knee injury. Today, at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships, she came onto the court looking--at least from the waist down--like an extra from an old mummy movie. She was coy about it in the pre-match interview, preferring to mumble "preventive." I'll say. Only not preventive enough. After retiring at the end of the first set, Williams was taken to a Madrid hospital with her knee hurting her quite a bit. The match went to Anna Chakvetadze, who won the first set 6-4, and who--her opponent's injury aside--was looking pretty good.

After getting an MRI, Williams has decided to withdraw from the Madrid event, which means that first alternate Marion Bartoli will step in and play, of all people, Justine Henin, in the next match. Bartoli brilliantly defeated Henin in the Wimbledon semifinals. (Commentators, are you listening? Henin did not have a "meltdown" at Wimbledon--she got her ass kicked.) Henin and Bartoli very likely would have met in the finals of Zurich Open a few weeks ago, but Bartoli had to retire from a match against Tatiana Golovin that she was winning.

Of course, given Henin's current level of play and Bartoli's unscheduled appearance, there is little chance that Bartoli will prevail in Madrid. She will inherit Serena Williams' 0-1 record, which means that if things go as expected, she will be 0-2 after tomorrow's match. It is a pity that Bartoli was not given the chance to go to Madrid with the other players, rather than get called in after Williams' elaborate preventive bandaging failed her.

A shout-out to Tim Ryan

He may not be the most knowledgable of tennis commentators, but when he calls Sony Ericsson WTA Tour matches, Tim Ryan does something that most commentators fail to do, or at least fail to do on a consistent basis: He calls the players "women." Never "girls" or "young ladies," but "women." (And today, in the case of Jelena Jankovic, "a good, strong woman.")

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Henin, Sharapova and Ivanovic get off to a good start in Madrid

World number one and defending champion Justine Henin started her Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships title defense today by defeating Anna Chakvetadze, 6-1, 7-6. Getting to a tiebreak with Henin was probably a confidence-builder for Chakvetadze, despite her poor start. This match was the only Yellow Group match of the day.

Next, Maria Sharapova won a very tight match against Daniela Hantuchova, taking it at 6-4, 7-5. Sharapova looked to be in good form, though her second serve was not what it used to be. Nevertheless, she got past a very strong Hantuchova, and will doubtless improve as the tournament goes on.

In the other Red Group match, Ana Ivanovic, with her wicked forehand, was out in full force for about a set and a half, but then her opponent, Svetlana Kuznetsova, corrected herself and turned the match into a contest. Ivanovic took it, however, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, as Kuznetsova squandered opportunities with unforced errors.

Tomorrow, Jelena Jankovic and Justine Henin meet for the ninth time. They are wonderful opponents, and almost always give spectators two or three tight sets filled with constant thrills and terrific tennis. The only problem is that Jankovic has never won one of their matches, though she has come painfully close. Many of us think that Jankovic has over-played and burned herself out this season, and that this is not a time to be hopeful about a victory against Henin.

On the other hand, it has to happen some time. As good-humored as she is, Jankovic cannot be looking forward to a 0-10 record against Henin. But even if she beats Henin tomorrow, she still has to deal with Chakvetadze and Serena Williams. And if she gets herself into a semifinal, it will most likely be one against Henin, who looks good to finish at the top of the Yellow Group.

Another possible scenario involves a Henin win tomorrow, and a strong enough showing from Jankovic against her other opponents that she still ends up in a semifinal against Henin. One way or another, she will have to beat Henin at least once to get into the final. The wild card here, of course, is Serena Williams, who is doubtless on a track to dispense of Henin, who has become her nemesis, also. This Yellow Group is interesting!

I do not, however, wish to denigrate the Red Group. Sharapova is looking surprisingly good, considering her shoulder problems and her confidence problems. Hantuchova is looking good, too, and I imagine Kuznetsova will improve as play continues. Earlier in the year, I would have given Chakvetadze a better chance, but she has been in a slump for a while. Nevertheless, when she's playing well, Chakvetadze is a lot of fun to watch.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Henin unsure about Olympics...if only others were

Justine Henin, who has chronic respiratory problems, is giving some thought as to whether her lungs can handle the air pollution in Beijing. Organizers say the pollution problem will be under control by the time the Olympics begin.

Now, will some tennis players (and other athletes) please give some thought as to whether their sense of decency and morals can tolerate the thousands of dogs slaughtered in order to "clear the streets" and "present a good image" for the Olympics? Many, in fact, were pets (not that there is an excuse for any of the slaughter), and were bludgeoned in front of their families. Not one nation has formally protested, nor--to my knowledge--has one athlete said a word. Coca-Cola, the IOC, the nations involved, and the athletes involved (including the "pet lovers") are totally silent.

Majoli dances

Following in the (literal) footsteps of Alicia Molik, former world number four Iva Majoli has made her debut appearance on Dancing With the Stars. Unfortunately, her partner had to withdraw at the last minute, so she danced with a substitute partner. Enjoy.

The final eight in Madrid

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Year-End Championships start in Madrid tomorrow, with the eight top players of 2007 competing to win. Here is the breakdown for round-robin play:


Justine Henin--World number one and defending champion Henin has to be a huge favorite to repeat in Madrid. She is playing outstanding tennis, and--unlike many of her peers--does not play a lot of tournaments. Her health seems to be good and she is not dealing with any significant injury.

Jelena Jankovic--Henin is her nemesis: She has never beaten her, though she has come terribly close. She will have to get through Henin in order to make it to the final rounds. Jankovic, who has the talent to win the Year-Ends, may not have the stamina. She has overplayed this year, and even the fittest players eventually burn out if they do not get adequate rest. Mental burnout is probably another issue Jankovic has to face, also.

Serena Williams--Storming into the Australian Open and winning it, out of nowhere, was a grand accomplishment, as was Williams' victory in Miami. But since then, she has looked vulnerable and inconsistent, and she has had a lot of trouble with Henin. Of course, Williams could always storm in and win in Madrid, too--it's hard to tell with her these days.

Anna Chakvetadze--The talented Russian has experienced a meltdown at the end of this season, and unless she picks up her level, she may not last long in Madrid.


Svetlana Kuznetsova--Kuznetsova could easily move to a semifinal or even a final in Madrid. She has the talent, is in good health, and has a comfortable draw. She has trouble being consistent throughout a match, however, and on a good day, another member of her group could take advantage of that. Round-robin plays allows for one loss, in most cases, however, so Kuznetsova looks good to back up her world number two spot.

Ana Ivanovic--Though not as inconsistent as Chakvetadze, Ivanovic does sometimes seem to be two different players: the scary one with the killer forehand, and the other one--who melts away at big moments. How she does depends on which Ivanovic shows up in Madrid.

Maria Sharapova--I have been expecting Sharapova to withdraw from Madrid play. She has had so many problems with her shoulder and has cancelled most of the latter part of her season. Now I think she was letting her shoulder rest so that she could compete in Madrid. But even if her shoulder is okay (and I certainly hope it is), Sharapova's lack of match play does not put her in a good position to do that well in Madrid. At the same time--if her shoulder is healed--I don't count her out.

Daniela Hantuchova--After so many years of choking and losing rank and just being a competitive mess, it is a real pleasure to see Hantuchova wind up in the top eight (though I hated how she squeezed in--beating Schnyder in Linz--but that's another sad story). Hantuchova is the wild card of the final eight. No one expected her to be at the party, but here she is, anyway, with nothing to lose. She has a comfortable draw (no Henin, no Jankovic) and a recent Tier II victory. Of course, this is Daniela Hantuchova, and she could still choke away any gains she makes. But maybe not. Being in the final eight may mean more to Hantuchova than it does to any of the other players: Working your way back into the top ten after making a big (and lengthy) tumble is not easy, but she did it. Hantuchova could use Madrid to seal her return to the big time.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Davenport wins Bell Challenge

Lindsay Davenport, playing in her third tournament since returning from what we thought was retirement, defeated Julia Vakulenko, 6-4, 6-1 today to win the Bell Challenge in Quebec City. This was Vakulenko's first final of her career, and--unfortunately--she played it with an injured ankle. Vakulenko hurt her ankle during her semifinal match, and Davenport was expecting her to withdraw, but she went ahead and played.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sony Ericsson WTA Year-End Championships draw announced

The two round-robin groups have been announced for the Year-End Championships in Madrid:

Justine Henin
Jelena Jankovic
Serena Williams
Anna Chakvetadze

Svetlana Kuznetsova
Ana Ivanovic
Maria Sharapova
Daniela Hantuchova

Play begins on Tuesday, November 6.

Roland Garros to expand stadium

From women's tennis blog...

One way or the other, Hingis is a victim

Five minutes after news of Hingis’s press conference broke, I visited and was floored to see an image of Martina not only on the front page, but right at the top of the content. Ordinarily, when it comes to good news, an American would have to win Roland Garros while playing with a broken leg to see herself so prominently in a non-sport media outlet.
From On the Baseline

I couldn't have said it better myself. Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that Martina Hingis used cocaine this summer. Other players discuss their use of the recreational drug, alcohol, in their player blogs. A couple of WTA players are known for their collections of the recreational drug, alcohol. The problem is that using cocaine is illegal, and supposedly, performance-enhancing. The official argument is that use of the illegal drug, marijuana, is not a major crime because marijuana is not a stimulant, like cocaine. But does any reasonable person really think that doing cocaine is going to help a tennis player do anything other than maybe feel happier about playing her match? And does anyone actually think that Hingis or any other player would use cocaine right before a match? No matter what anyone says, cocaine is not really a performance-enhancing drug; it is a recreational drug (even the head U.S. Open physician says cocaine is a performance-enhancing drug only "theoretically").

I worked for many years in drug treatment programs, and I have learned to hear all "explanations" of how drugs crept their way into someone's urine as lies. However--considering the record of those who do drug-testing for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour--I am prepared, in this case, to consider the possibility that Hingis is telling the truth.

Consider the terrible assault on Svetlana Kuznetsova, who violated no rules, but was nevertheless harrassed by the drug-testers. In 2005, Kuznetsova was accused of having ephedrine in her blood. Well, she did have ephedrine in her blood, and it was perfectly legal. Kuznetsova, who took a cold remedy, was playing in an exhibition match in Belgium, and the rules state clearly that such substances as ephedrine are perfectly okay to use in exhibition events. Kuznetsova was devastated by the accusation and resulting publicity, and the idiot Belgian official who ordered the testing refused to apologize to her.

Then there is the case of Sesil Karatantcheva, who received the longest doping suspension--two years--ever given to a female tennis player. Karatantcheva also lost all of her ranking points and had to give back $129,000 of winnings because she twice tested positive for nandrolone. Karatantcheva claimed her nandrolone level was high because she was (unknowingly) pregnant. She was right, and faced with a positive pregnancy test, the drug-testing establishment refused to budge.

Last year, during the U.S. Open Series, drug-testing procedures became increasingly Draconian. Martina Hingis, who was scheduled to play later in the day, was roused out of bed at dawn to perform a drug test. Kim Clijsters was walking down the street when two people literally dragged her away to do a drug test. Serena Williams says that she has always been subjected to unusually frequent drug tests.

Events such as the ones desribed above give me no confidence at all in either the intent or the results of WTA drug-testing procedures. Kuznetsova, Hingis and Clijsters--and possibly Karatantcheva--were the victims of abuse and harrassment, and the WTA, as far as I can tell, has done nothing to protect its players from such outlandish behaviors on the part of drug-testing administrators. At the very least, Hingis is a victim of social hypocrisy and questionable definition, and she may even be a victim of the drug-testing goon squad.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


"At her best, Hingis played with the fearless feel of a blind pickpocket."
Richard Pagliaro

See the rest of Pagliaro's story here.

Martina Hingis's official statement

I present it here with no comment other than that I am very sad.