Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tennis Live Radio returns

On the Baseline reminds us that Tennis Live Radio is back, and now there is also a web-cam stream. Enjoy!

Medina Garrigues stops Karatantcheva in Fes

Could it be that Sesil Karatantcheva is on her way back? Maybe. Today, she gave number 1 seed and clay specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues a hard time in the second round in Fes, Morocco. Karatantcheva served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, and again at 5-4, and was broken both times. The set went to a tiebreak, which Medina Garrigues won, and the Spaniard then cruised through the third set to win the match.

Medina Garrigues needed this win. She suffered a big loss in the first round two weeks ago in Charleston when she had a kind of meltdown against an in-formTatiana Perebynis.

Medina Garrigues def. Karatantcheva, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1

Thanks, but I'll wait for the movie

Just when I thought the creepy Henin family babbling was over, Henin's father publishes a book about his daughter, Justine, ma fille, ma championne. And I thought this level of tackiness occurred only in the U.S.

Sharapova withdraws from Berlin

Citing an unidentified injury, Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Qatar Telecom German Open. Daniela Hantuchova is out of the tournament, of course, because of a heel injury. There is a possibility she will not play in Rome, either.

Myskina has a baby boy

Anastasia Myskina has given birth to a baby boy, Zhenya. Myskina has been off of the tour for about a year because of a foot injury. She won the French Open in 2004, and holds ten singles titles and five doubles titles.

Myskina has not said whether she plans to return to the tour.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

USTA French Open wild card playoffs this week

The Boca West Country Club in Boca Ratan hosts a special tournament this week. The winners--one man and one woman--will receive wild cards into the main draw of the French Open. There are eight women competing, and they will compete in two round robin groups. Asia Muhammed withdrew today because of injury, and was replaced by Julia Boserup. The other competitors are: Lauren Albanese, Madison Brengle, Alexa Glatch, Jamea Jackson, Melanie Oudin, Ahsha Rolle, and Coco Vandewegh.

Krajicek out in first round--again

Once again, Michaella Krajicek has crashed out in the first round of a tournament, this one a Tier IV. She hired a new coach recently, so perhaps something will change for her, but it doesn't look good. Krajicek is undeniably talented, but she is rather badly stuck, in terms of her career. Today, she was defeated 6-4, 6-4 in Prague by Akgul Amanmuradova.

Last week, Krajicek went out in the first round in Charleston, but I'll cut her some slack because her opponent, Alize Cornet, was to the Family Circle Cup this year what Krajicek herself was to it in 2007--the most exciting player there. When Cornet was finished with Krajicek, she took care of Sara Errani, Sorana Cirstea and Agnes Szavay, and was finally stopped by Serena Williams.

But I digress...this year, Krajicek lost in the first round of Auckland to Errani, and in the first round of the Australian Open to Akiko Morigami. She then dropped out for a while because of a wrist injury, and when she returned, she lost in the second round (she had a first round bye) at Indian Wells to qualifier Galina Voskoboeva, and in the second round in Miami (again, with a first round bye) to wild card Marina Erakovic. After that, she went to Amelia Island, where she lost in the first round to Cornet.

Something needs to change, and soon.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Justine plays in the square

A week ago, Justine Henin surprised some citizens by playing tennis at Grand Place de Bruxelles, the city's beautiful square. A court was constructed that morning, and Henin arrived that afternoon and picked indidviduals from the crowd to be her opponents. You can read about it on Henin's website.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Unconfirmed: ESPN to get U.S. Open broadcast rights

According to Tennis Week, ESPN and the USTA have completed an agreement that will give ESPN U.S. Open cable rights as of 2009.

Spain and Russia go to Fed Cup final

Nuria Llagostera Vives won both of her singles rubbers and her doubles rubber, to take Spain into the Fed Cup final

Nuria Llagostera Vives--all 5 feet 1 1/2 inches of her--beat Peng Shuai today to make their rubber the deciding one in the Fed Cup semifinal contest between Spain and China. China was favored to win, but the sharp-serving Spaniard with the great backhand down the line was too dominant.

The U.S. team managed to win two rubbers, which is probably two rubbers more than expected. Ahsha Rolle beat Elena Vesnina in straight sets, and the team of Liezel Huber and Vania King defeated Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Russia, however--having won three of the singles rubbers--is through to the final.

Other Fed Cup results:

France def. Japan, 4-1
Argentina def. Germany, 3-2
Czech Republic def. Israel, 3-2
Belgium def. Colombia, 5-0
Switzerland def. Austria, 3-2
Slovak Republic def. Uzbekistan, 3-0
Serbia def. Croatia, 3-2

Saturday, April 26, 2008

At least he mentioned the fathers

I wish Lindsay Davenport--hell, I wish all women--would stop giving interviews about how women balance parenthood and career. No one ever asks men how they do that because the presumption is that they do not have to. The latest is ESPN's Greg Garber's "Davenport finding perfect balance between motherhood and competition." Same old thing. But at least Garber thinks to refer to the ATP fathers' attitudes about competing and having children; that's more than most journalists do.

Russia leads U.S. 2-0 in Fed Cup

To no one's surprise, Russia has a 2-0 lead in the Fed Cup semifinal round between Russia and the U.S. More interesting is Spain's 2-0 lead over China, and the results of some of the other play-offs:

Italy and Ukraine are tied at 1-1. Francesca Schiavone defeated Mariya Koryttseva in a very tight contest, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5. And Alona Bondarenko defeated Karin Knapp, 6-3, 6-3. Flavia Pennetta had to withdraw from Fed Cup because of a groin injury.

The most interesting scores, however, come from the Israel-Czech Republic play-off: Petra Kvitova defeated Shahar Peer, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0. Then Tzipi Obziler beat Lucie Safaova, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4.

Other current World Group scores: Argentina is tied 1-1 with Germany, France leads Japan, 2-0.

World Group II scores: Belgium leads Colombia, 2-0, Switzerland and Austria are tied 1-1 (Patty Schnyder defeated Austrian rising star Tamira Paszek, 6-7, 6-2, 6-1), the Slovak Republic leads Uzbekistan, 2-0, Serbia leads Croatia, 2-0.

Spain takes it to China in Fed Cup competition

On paper, with Spain's top players not participating, it looked as though China would have an easy time of it in its Fed Cup semifinal, even without Li Na on the team. But Fed Cup is an unpredictable event that gives lesser-ranked players an opportunity to shine, and they often take advantage of that opportunity.

Today, Carla Suarez-Navarro, ranked 132 in the world, kept her cool, and repeatedly took advantage of a shaky Peng Shuai, resulting in a 6-3, 7-6 win for Spain. Suarez-Navarro played cleverly and hit the lines well. In the second rubber, veteran Nuria Llagostera Vives never one to be discounted--defeated Zheng Jie, 6-3, 6-4. Llagostera Vives double-faulted a lot, which helped drag the fifth game of the second set to eight deuces (she won it), and she also lost her second set 4-1 lead. But she played the last two games expertly, and even broke Zheng at love in the final game.

There have been only four instances of a team losing the first two rubbers and going on to win the Fed Cup round.

Patty Schnyder talks about the clay court season

Right here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A good Paszek read

Fans of Tamira Paszek will want to read Bonnie D. Ford's feature at ESPN.

Ukraine's loss is Spain's gain

The talented, but injury-plagued Julia Vakulenko has become a Spanish citizen. Vakulenko has lived in Spain for a long time, so this move was probably not a surprise to her countrywomen. As a fan of Ukraine tennis, I hate to see Ukraine lose one of its top players. But she will certainly be an asset to her new Spanish colleagues.

Friday cat blogging--Arbor Day edition

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Clarisa Fernandez retires

Clarisa Fernandez, the grass court aficionado who reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2002, has announced her retirement. Fernandez was born with problematic knees, and in 2003, they started giving her trouble. After multiple surgeries, Fernandez has decided to call it quits.

During her 2002 Roland Garros run, Fernandez defeated Kim Clijsters (with a bagel), Paola Suarez and Elena Dementieva. She reached a career-high ranking of 26 in 2003. The lefty from Argentina says that she plans to finish her high school requirements, then attend the University of Business Administration in Córdoba. After that, she plans to pursue some type of tennis career.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

U.S. Fed Cup line-up

For this weekend's Fed Cup semifinal matches, captain Zina Garrison has decided--I'm sure to no one's surprise--that Liezel Huber and Vania King will play doubles, and King and Ahsha Rolle will play singles. If someone becomes injured, ill or out of sorts, Madison Brengle will be sent in as a replacement.

Assuming the U.S. team will lose to Russia, then Russia will play the final against either China or Spain. And considering that neither Anabel Medina Garrigues nor Virginia Ruano Pascual is playing for Spain, we can reasonably expect a final between Russia and China.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rodionova to be Russian for a while longer

No more Oi! Oi! Oi! until further notice

Anastasia Rodionova's quest to play tennis for Australia has failed--at least for now. Rodionova must live in Australia for two years before she can obtain citizenship.

Who can win the French Open?

Obviously, Justine Henin, despite her current slump, is a major--if not the major--contender to win the 2008 French Open. After watching Serena Williams play in Charleston, I now believe that she, too, is a serious contender for the title.

Who else could win? Former finalists Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva or Ana Ivanovic? Jelena Jankovic with her improved serve? The resurgent Vera Zvonareva?

Anyone else?

Who else needs to improve her serve?

As I have written so many times, Jelena Jankovic's game would be close to perfect if she could serve. Well, after watching three of her matches in Charleston, I am happy to say that she can. Oh, the second serve needs to be improved quite a bit, but the first serve looks pretty good now. I was really impressed with the obvious work she has done--finally--to make her serve less vulnerable.

Marion Bartoli, as I noted in my Charleston report, has also significantly improved her serve. That unorthodox service motion is a thing of the past, and the result is a harder, cleaner first serve.

Gisela Dulko did some amazing serving--first and second serves--in her first round in Charleston, but she lost her touch when she played Serena Williams. In fact, had she maintained her serve from the first round, Williams would have been in some trouble, since the rest of Dulko's game against her was excellent. Obviously, though, Dulko has been working on her serve.

Even Elena Dementieva served well in Charleston for one or two matches.

Then there are players like Patty Schynder, who has an excellent first and second serve, but who cannot always call it up when she needs it. Put Vera Zvonareva in a similar category (though I think Schnyder's serve is better). That is, of course, a mental issue, but on paper, it still amounts to a problem with serving.

Who else could improve her ranking if she could improve her serve?

Sharapova to play in Rome, Mauresmo to play in Berlin

Maria Sharapova will prepare for Roland Garros by competing in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, and Amelie Mauresmo will compete in the Qatar Telecom Berlin Open. Both are Tier I tournaments. Sharapova reached the Rome semifinals in 2005; Mauresmo won Berlin in 2004, and she won Rome in 2004 and 2005.

Last year, Jelena Jankovic won Rome, and Ana Ivanovic won Berlin.

Good news for Stosur fans

Sam Stosur is scheduled to play in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia and in Roland Garros.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

My Charleston top 10

This year's Family Circle Cup, as usual, was an exciting and beautifully organized event. There were no tornadoes or other storms, and the staff--as always--was very helpful and hospitable. A few things could be improved:

The line calling was terrible. At one point in the Schnyder-Dementieva match, Patty Schnyder walked to the umpire's chair to ask the umpire how the linespeople could possibly do their jobs when their chairs were not even in the right places. What Schnyder may not have known was that--at that point in the match--some of the linespeople had actually stopped calling lines altogether, and were leaving the job to the umpire.

The chair umpires, at the very least, could learn to pronounce the players' names. This is not a Charleston problem, of course, but a tour problem. It's bad enough that television commentators cannot pronounce the players' names. (Credit to the match announcer, however; this year, he got most of the names right.)

The food selection is narrowing. Last year, the falafel disappeared, and this year, the veggie gyros were gone.

My top two favorites, Patty Schnyder and Jelena Jankovic, both made quarterfinal exits, destroying a lot of my pleasure and interest, and my third favorite, Vera Zvonareva, lost in the final.

There are a couple of mysteries I would like to solve:

Why wasn't Richard Williams in the stands during Serena's matches?

What happened to the huge Nadia Petrova banner outside the stadium? Justine Henin and Jelena Jankovic were still there, but Petrova had vanished.

What happened to Jennifer Capriati, Mary Pierce and Iva Majoli? They were all scheduled to make an appearance.

Here, in ascending order, is my Charleston top 10:

10. The blessed absence of both loud-mouthed Murphy Jensen and the obnoxious, offensive lawn bar master of ceremonies of 2006 and 2007.

9. The delightful and always-interesting presence of host, interviewer and legend Bud Collins, for the 35th anniversary celebration

8. The exciting, drawn-out quarterfinal match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova that ended with a big dose of Serena momentum

7. The surprise run of Edina Gallovits and Olga Govortsova, who had never before played doubles together, and who entered the tournament ten minutes before the entry deadline. They knocked out the number 3 seeds, then the number 1 seeds, but were stopped in the final by the number 2 seeds. They were feisty and clever, and made up somewhat for the absence of the entertaining Bondarenko sisters.

6. Serena Williams' championship victory over Vera Zvonareva, who--until an unfortunate choke at the end--made the match intensely competitive

5. Patty Schnyder's stunning clay court magic trick that knocked Agnieszka Radwanska out of the tournament in the round of 16

4. The amazing run of Vera Zvonareva, who beat five opponents, including Marion Bartoli, defending champion Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva. Zvonareva was stopped in the final by Serena Williams and her own mental fragility

3. The magical presence of former champions Rosie Casals, Chris Evert, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Martina Navratilova, and Conchita Martinez for the 35th anniversary celebration

2. The emergence of Alize Cornet as a clay court (at the least) threat. Cornet was graceful, aggressive and high-spirited, and added a lot to the tournament

1. The first round match between Polish countrywomen Agnieszka Radwanska and Marta Domachowska. To quote Mary Poppins, it was "practically perfect in every way." The match had everything, and the quality was exceedingly high every moment of the three-set thriller. I don't know if I will see a better match this year.

Hantuchova out for at least 3 weeks

Daniela Hantuchova is being treated for a painful injury to her right heel, is walking on crutches, and will be out for at least three weeks. Hantuchova just cannot seem to shake off this heel problem, which is most unfortunate. Here's hoping the treatments work.

2008 Family Circle Cup: What they said

Some of the best quotes from this year's Family Circle Cup:

"She has a really good style of play. She gets a lot of balls back, and those kind of players are usually around for a good 20 years."
Serena Williams on rising star Alize Cornet

"It's not easy, working with a Russian...but he's doing a good job...for a Frenchman."
Vera Zvonareva, acknowledging her coach

"We all used to play scrabble, and Martina used to make up words."
Chris Evert, on Martina Navratilova

"...I'm going to Germany for a show called Beat the Stars and it's sort of an athletic and brainy competition with an athlete and a normal person..."
Martina Navratilova

"...if you don't take your chances in tennis, you can get outa here really fast, so you know, it's fine. I can at least celebrate my birthday like a normal human."
Maria Sharapova, defeated a day before her 21st birthday

"No, my parents wanted me!"
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, on being told she was an "accident" (on the tour)

"Every year they invite both of us, and it's like no, no and no."
Chris Evert, speaking of herself and Navratilova and Dancing With the Stars

"Her father is her coach, but Michael Joyce does all the work and her father does the screaming. She does some screaming, too."
Bud Collins on Maria Sharapova

"Because she just stopped [making] mistakes and started to push the ball back, and I just couldn't put three balls on the court. That's it."
Anna Chakvetadze on how the match momentum shifted to her opponent

"I see number ones in the world in girls in 12 and unders. You know, I think it's going to be probably another five or six years before we see any. And I hope nobody from the USTA heard me say that."
Chris Evert

It's Serena!

The Family Circle Cup championship match between Serena Williams and Vera Zvonareva was all a fan could hope for until Zvonareva pulled one of the biggest chokes in recent history, double-faulting at 3-4 in the third set. Over and over, Zvonareva had come from behind. Though she occasionally controlled the rallies, she was usually defending against Williams' powerful serves and equally powerful returns of serve. And she was doing a hell of a job of it, too, using her backhand slice to force errors from Williams, and playing chicken with Williams right on top of the lines. Williams also had some trouble returning many of Zvonareva's second serves. Zvonareva, for her part, played much better when she was under pressure, at deuce points.

Things started falling apart for Zvonareva in the fourth game of the final set, when she controlled most of the rallies but still lost the game. In the next game, Williams lifted her entire game a notch, as she is known to do at crucial moments. It was in the eighth game that Zvonareva committed the two double-faults (of a total of eight), essentially taking herself out of competition.

Williams def. Zvonareva, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3

Srebotnik and Sugiyama win Family Circle Cup

Edina Gallovits and Olga Govortsova had never before played doubles together, and--ten minutes before the entry deadline expired-they decided, on a whim, to enter the Family Circle Cup. During the course of the tournament, they took out both the number 3 seeds, Peschke and Stubbs, and the number 1 seeds, Black and Huber. The number 2 seeds, Katerina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama, proved too much for them, however.

One hopes that the team of Gallovits and Govortsova is here to stay. Gallovits is good at the net, as is Govortsova, if she has time to set up. Govortsova has an impressive forehand down the line, and Gallovits thrills with her lobs. Against Srebotnik and Sugiyama, though, they were neither quick nor clever enough. It was a good final, whose scoreline does not reflect its quality; Gallovits and Govortsova, should they choose to stay together (and why wouldn't they?) have nowhere to go but up.

(Tournament director Robin Reynolds had no excuse for not knowing how to pronounce Govortsova's name, and she also should have known that Srebotnik is from Slovenia, not Slovakia.)

Srebotnik/Sugiyama def. Gallovits/Govortsova, 6-2, 6-2

Past champions honored in Charleston

On Saturday, between matches, a parade of former champions appeared on Stadium Court. Rosie Casals, Conchita Martinez, Jelena Jankovic, Martina Navratilova, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario all walked out and greeted the crowd, and then came the clay court queen of all time--Chris Evert, who won the tournament eight times.

Casals was the first Family Circle Cup winner, in 1973. Unseeded, she was down 1-5 in the third against clay specialist Nancy Richey, and she then used an array of clay court shots--especially drop shots--to go up 5-3. She was broken, however, but won the match--and the tournament--in the tiebreak.

Casals said a few words (she spoke at length that morning at the breakfast event), then Sanchez Vicario spoke on behalf of all the former champions, thanking Family Circle for thirty-five years of sponsorship. This is the longest continuous sponsorship in professional tennis. The first purse, $30,000 was--at the time--the most prize money ever paid to a tennis player, man or woman, at any tournament, including the majors.

Evert and Casals then shared their memories of Lee Jackson, who died recently. Jackson was an umpire and mother figure for the women who competed in the early stages of the tour. She sometimes took her shoes off while she was in the umpire's chair, and Evert said that she and Navratilova used to steal them and put them on the court far away from Jackson's chair. She also talked about the dinners Jackson prepared for the women, and how they all called her "Mama Lee." Tournament director Robin Reynolds then presented a plaque in memory of Jackson, and that plaque was placed on the back of the umpire's chair, where it will remain.

Instead of presenting the Meredith Award, established in 2006, the Meredith Corporation presented gifts to each of the returning champions. And commemorative plates signed by the top eight seeds were presented to Casals and Jack Jones, one of the co-founders of the Family Circle Cup.

As the former champions left the court, Navratilova took a slow walk, repeatedly turning to the crowd and waving. A wonderful, and very funny, press conference with her and Evert is transcribed here.

Kirilenko wins Estoril

Number 2 seed Maria Kirilenko has defeated Iveta Benesova, 6-4, 6-2 at the Estoril Open. The doubles title also went to Kirilenko and number 1 singles seed Flavia Pennetta, who defeated Mervana Jugic-Salkic and Ipek Senoglu, 6-4, 6-4.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Family Circle Cup day 6--semifinals and champions

The day began in an exciting way--Breakfast with Bud. This event was supposed to have featured Bud Collins, plus a number of former champions: Rosie Casals, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Iva Majoli, Mary Pierce, Conchita Martinez, and Jennifer Capriati. Capriati, Pierce and Majoli did not even make it to the tournaments, and Evert and Navratilova skipped the breakfast.

Joining Collins was Pam Shriver, who first had Rosie Casals come up and answer fan questions. After that, Sanchez Vicario came on, and she did not disappoint. Collins roamed the audience on the Grand Lawn so that people could ask questions, and suddenly, I realized he was standing right next to me. He had taken a position directly to my left, and he stayed there for the remainder of the interview. He and I both cracked up listening to Sanchez Vicario. When Collins said, referring to her place in the tour, "you were an accident," Sanchez Vicario said "No, my parents wanted me!" She then went on to tell a story about how her mother rode on a roller coaster, which "did something to her metabolism," and she wound up pregnant with Arantxa.

I got Sanchez Vicario's autograph right before she went up on the stage, and I also got lots of great photos of her.

Conchita Martinez was next, but I missed her. I thought that the breakfast event was over, so I left to get in the Chris Evert autograph line. I got Evert's autograph, and I got many nice photos, too. Chris Evert is my favorite tennis player of all time, and it meant a lot to me to see her eye to eye. (My enthusiam for Evert is restricted to the tennis court and to what she did for women's tennis, but it is strong and everlasting.)

Later in the morning, I stopped by a broadcast booth ESPN had set up in front of the stadium and got some photos of Mary Joe Fernandez and Cliff Drysdale.

The first match of the day was a doubles contest that ended with top seeds Black and Huber getting taken out by Govortsova and Gallovits. Having seen Govortsova and Gallovits play, we were not really surprised that they were able to do this. Match point was a thing to behold: Gallovits had just hit an impressive lob into the deuce court that moved her team toward a final victory. Then, right after that, she hit a second lob right over the heads of both Black and Huber and spot onto the baseline. Govortsova/Gallovits def. Black/Huber, 6-4, 4-6, 10-7

The match between Serena Williams and Alize Cornet was very entertaining, and Cornet received wild applause when she left the court.

Then came the other singles semifinal, featuring Vera Zvonareva and Elena Dementieva. Zvonareva took the first set handily, then both her serve and her backhand failed her, and Dementieva took the second by running over her opponent in a tiebreak. Down 0-3 in the third, Zvonareva suddenly made a strong comeback to take the set and the match, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

We saw most of the Srebotnik/Sugiyama v. Azarenka/Vesnina match, which Srebotnik/Sugiyama won, 6-1, 6-1.

Tennis outfit of the day: Elena Vesnina, in a turquoise and white dress with a balloon skirt.

Cornet gone, but hardly French toast

Alize Cornet was up 4-1 in the first set of her Family Circle Cup semifinal, and we knew that scoreline wouldn't be on the board much longer, but it was nevertheless fun to see the spirited young Frenchwoman come out charging the way she did. Cornet moves beautifully, a la Henin, around the court, and she put some impressive topspin on her shots in the contest against Serena Williams. Cornet lagged toward the end of the first set, and was breathing heavily, then regained her spirit and her accuracy, and gave Williams a run in the second set. Cornet is very strong on both sides; her forehand, however, is really special. She broke Williams three times; Williams broke her five times. I don't know about other surfaces, but on clay, Cornet is someone to watch.

Williams def. Cornet, 7-5, 6-3

Saturday cat blogging--wasted edition

Tarzan blogs a day late--too many hours at the Family Circle Cup Lawn Bar

Family Circle Cup day 5--not my best day

So I had a bad day. But of course, there were other things going on besides my horror at seeing both Schnyder and Jankovic taken out, one right after the other. But it is very late and I am very tired, so I will just give very quick highlights instead of reports:

If you want to see the glass as half empty, then you can say that Serena Williams beat Sharapova yet again. But if you want to see it as half full, you can say that Sharapova got more games off of Williams this time than she has in a while--and on clay, to boot. I like the half full version. Williams def. Sharapova, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1

Jelena Jankovic is finally serving well, a fact that takes some of the sting out of her loss.

Former champion Rosie Casals and Jack Jones, co-founder of the Family Circle Cup, were honored on Stadium Court today. Casals said that when she won the first Cup title, she took her $30,000 in prize money (at the time, the largest purse ever given to a man or woman in any tournament, including the majors) and bought a Mercedes Benz for $20,000. "It's still running," she said, "and so am I."

Olga Govortsova (who can play some kick-ass doubles) and Edina Gallovits took advantage of an error-prone Rennae Stubbs this morning, and took Peschke and Stubbs out of the tournament. Azarenka and Vesnina did likewise for Chan and Chuang, and Srebotnik and Sugiyama were victorious over Raymond and Likhovtseva. Black and Huber, meanwhile, got a walkover from Szavay and Safina, presumably because Szavay had to play a singles quarterfinal match.

It didn't help. Szavay was defeated, 7-5, 6-4, by the feisty and talented Alize Cornet. Cornet is very strong on both sides, and has an especially effective forehand. She's in the semifinals of a clay tournament for the second week in a row. The bad news, however, is that her opponent in this one will be Serena Williams.

Tennis outfit of the day: Maria Sharapova, in a powder blue pleated skirt and ruffled-placket top.

My personal Charleston soundtrack

There I was, sitting in the gloom of a balmy night on Daniel Island, listening to "Bad Day," and thinking--"Even the music selection staff wants to rub it in." Because I had a bad day. First, I saw my tournament favorite, Patty Schnyder--who performed so brilliantly last night--lose her way in a close quarterfinal match against Elena Dementieva. First, the shocker: Dementieva was hitting aces. In case you think I've been visiting the Lawn Bar too often, please note that I'm not kidding. Dementieva hit three aces, had a first serve percentage of 59, and a first serve win percentage of 67. She also had a second serve percentage of 59.

Schnyder did a better job of serving this evening than she did last night, but she gave up too many critical points to Dementieva, and was unable to hit enough winners to give her an edge. Dementieva def. Schnyder, 6-4, 6-4

I was terribly disappointed to see Patty go out, but I was able to cheer up a little bit as my second tournament favorite--last year's champion, Jelena Jankovic--came onto the court immediately following the Schynder-Dementieva match. But that hope was dashed, too, when Vera Zvonareva took control of the match, lost it, then took it back.

All credit to Zvonareva, who played some of her best tennis, but something was wrong on the Jankovic side of the court. JJ's trademark smile was absent, her movement was slow (for her), her brilliant backhand missed the mark too many times, and her forehand was all over the place. All Zvonareva really had to do was keep the ball in the court and wait for Jankovic to make errors. Zvonareva def. Jankovic, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2

With my two favorites knocked out one right after the other, I felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach. But there is one piece of very good news in all this: Jankovic served well. It was the first time I have ever seen her serve well for an entire match, and if she keeps it up, she will have overcome her most serious deficit.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Larcher de Brito to focus on Sony Ericsson WTA matches

In her Estoril blog, Michelle Larcher de Brito, who lost in the first round of her first clay tournament, says that she has no more ITF matches and few, if any, junior matches planned for the rest of the year.

Family Circle Cup day 4--round of 16 excitement

I expected the match between Marion Bartoli and Vera Zvonareva to be good, and it was. Zvonareva took the first set, Bartoli took the second, and I settled in for what I thought would be a thrilling third set. But Bartoli was visibly tired, and this lack of fitness caused her to fade away in the third. It was a shame, because we saw moments of brilliance from the Wimbledon finalist, but she clearly did not have the physical stamina to go the distance. Zvonareva, for her part, had some problems serving, but other than that, was in good form, as the two players showed off their blistering backhands over and over. Zvonareva def. Bartoli, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1

I saw the first part of the match between Victoria Azarenka and Elena Dementieva, and I saw the last half. Both players hit fast, hard groundstrokes from the moment they stepped onto the court. Dementieva def. Azarenka, 6-4, 7-5.

I also saw the last half of the Katerina Srebotnik-Serena Williams match. Srebotnik played a really tough match, and Williams prevailed out of sheer champion's determination. She also sprained her ankle; here's hoping that wasn't too serious.

Tatiana Perebynis had played Maria Sharapova only once before today. That match was also on a clay court, and Sharapova won it, 6-4, 7-5. Today's match was not as close--Perebiynis faded in the second set--but the first set included a set point for Perebiynis on Sharapova's serve. Sharapova saved it, and things went downhill for Perebiynis after that. Still, Perebiynis played a good match, especially in the first set, when she served well and held her nerve. Sharapova def. Perebiynis, 7-5, 6-2.

I really wanted to see the Cornet-Cirstea match, but I did not get to. Cornet won it, 6-1, 7-5. I did see the Likhovtseva/Raymond-Molik/Stewart match, which Likhovtseva and Raymond won. I also saw Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, whom Bud Collins interviewed this afternoon. That was exciting.

Poor Anastasia Rodionova probably never wants to look at another bagel. She received one today from Jelena Jankovic, who beat her 6-0, 6-2, and two more for her defeat (with partner Tatiana Poutchek) by Chan and Chuang in doubles. I saw some of her match against Jankovic, and Jankovic signed a photo I took of her as she was leaving the court after winning the Cup last year.

Bethanie Mattek and Vladimira Uhlirova--Amelia Island champions--were knocked out today by number 2 seeds Ai Sugiyama and Katerina Srebotnik.

Tennis outfit of the day: Elena Dementieva, looking lovely in her shimmering peach dress with white trim.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Schnyder vaults Pole out of Charleston

A skillful Patty Schnyder took Agnieszka Radwanska out of the Family Circle Cup tonight

Agnieszka Radwanska, searching for an answer--any answer--to the puzzle created for her by Patty Schnyder, threw so many defensive lobs in her round of 16 match in Charleston tonight, I grew tired of looking up. They were good defensive lobs, but all they did was buy the young Polish star some time. Looping backhands, sneaky approach shots, tricky drop volleys, constant change-ups--Schnyder opened a whole can of clay court whoopass on Radwanska, and left her just a beat behind for most of the match.

Schnyder had a lot of trouble getting her first serve in, but when she got it in, it was almost always successful. The Schnyder second serve is generally reliable, and tonight was no exception. Radwanska has been very impressive in Charleston, beating an extremely in-form Marta Domachowska and an aggressive Edina Gallovits. But Schnyder would not let her have any kind of rhythm, thus keeping her from winning points with the deadly groundstrokes she has delivered all week.

Schnyder was broken once in the first set, and she broke Radwanska twice. Radwanska began the second set with a 2-0 lead, but after that, it was all Schnyder, who won six games in a row. Schnyder def. Radwanska, 6-3, 6-2

Are you being served?

We have seen some impressive serving since we arrived at the Family Circle Cup. Marion Bartoli served extremely well against Vera Zvonareva, Katarina Srebotnik served very well against Serena Williams, Gisela Dulko--whose serve was disappointing against Williams--practically put on a service clinic when she played Alicia Molik, and we also saw some very good serving from Tatiana Perebynis.

Bartoli watch: The service motion has changed significantly

Gone is Marion Bartoli's very strange service motion. She has gotten rid of the funny wrist motion, and she now has her racquet angled toward the baseline. Not only does the serve now look less awkward, but it is more accurate and reliable. Despite losing, Bartoli served extremely well against Vera Zvonareva in her round of 16 match in Charleston this morning.

Update on Cibulkova injury

It turns out that Dominika Cibulkova did not retire from Charleston singles competition because of her leg, but rather, because of her back. However, she believes the two injuries are related. She and her partner, Janette Husarova, went on to play doubles, but were defeated in the first round by Anastasia Rodionova and Tatiana Poutchek.

Fed Cup teams announced

Liezel Huber, Vania King, Madison Brengle, and Ahsha Rolle are playing for the U.S. in the April 26-27 Fed Cup semifinal against Russia. The Russian team will consist of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anna Chakvetadze, Dinara Safina, and Elena Vesnina.

For the China vs. Spain semifinal, the teams are:

China: Peng Shuai, Zheng Jie, Yan Zi, and Sun Tiantian
Spain: Nuria Llagostera Vives, Carla Suarez-Navarro, and Arantxa Parra-Santonja

Pennetta knocked out of Estoril

I am interrupting my coverage of the Family Circle Cup long enough to report that top seed Flavia Pennetta, who traditionally plays in Charleston this time of year, has been defeated in Estoril by Iveta Benesova. Benesova won their second round match 6-2, 6-2.

Agnieszka Radwanska--living on the edge

Last week, in Amelia Island, Agnieszka Radwanska barely escaped a third-round loss to Gisela Dulko. On Monday, in Charleston, she barely escaped a loss to countrywoman Marta Domachowska in what was an unusually impressive match. Today, Radwanska came within a breath of being taken out by Edina Gallovits. These three-set thrillers could be taking a toll on Radwanska, at least mentally. Or perhaps she thrives on them. At any rate, they are very entertaining.

Shake a hand, make a friend

There was an uncomfortable feeling throughout the match between Alize Cornet and Sara Errani. The two women had to deal with some bad line calls, and Cornet became incensed when a let was called in the middle of a volley (some trash had floated onto the court). At one point, one of Cornet's shots was called out, the umpire overruled the linesperson, and Errani successfully challenged the umpire. Cornet became more frustrated as the match wore on, and even when she won it, she seemed strangely out of sorts. She and Errani walked to the net, and--standing on either side of it--strolled to the umpire's chair to shake the umpire's hand. It was only when they were about to do so that the seemed to realize they had not shaken each other's hands. There was a very quick handshake with almost no eye contact involved.

Later, after Agnieszka Radwanska won their tough, drawn-out match, Edina Gallovits walked to the net to shake her opponent's hand, but--on the way--threw her racquet in anger. It landed on the tip of the handle and bounced a couple of times. Needless to say, the look on Radwanska's face during the handshake was less than calm. I was surprised and disappointed.

Family Circle Cup day 3--all kinds of heat

Patty Schnyder is through to the round of 16

One of the Charleston-style sofas used for players during matches

It was so hot today, at least for me, that my heat allergy kicked in and I was miserable part of the time. I was so miserable, in fact, that I had to get a cool pack to put on my eyes. The tennis was great, however, starting with a match between Patty Schnyder and Olga Govortsova. Schnyder was out of sorts, not getting her serve in, and making too many errors. At one point in the match, she became frustrated, and looked over at us with a "What the hell am I doing?" look. A bit later, she looked over and let out a few words we didn't understand, but we got the message. It turned out fine, though, with Schnyder winning, 7-6, 6-0. Obviously, she found her game in the second set. We are used to seeing Patty play in the main stadium, and this was the first time we have ever hung our Patty banner on the fence in the Althea Gibson Club Court.

When Schnyder was practicing Monday, I saw her point out something about her hip and lower back to her physio. Today, I noticed she was not using her very effective kick serve, and I am now suspicious that something may be going on physically.

I saw almost all of the match between Alize Cornet and Sara Errani. The quality was good, though it was far from the most exciting match I've seen. A big issue in this match was the line calling, which was all over the place. Cornet has a bit of a temper, which was on display several times during this grueling contest. The two players were well-matched, though Cornet was the better server, and she won, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

For thrills, the match to watch was the one between Agnieszka Radwanska and Edina Gallovits. I saw the first few games, then left. When I returned, the players were in a first set tiebreak, which Gallovits won. Gallovits then became a nervous bundle of errors, easily gave up the second set, then disappeared from the court. When she returned, she was a different player, serving up a storm, hitting beautiful drop volleys, and generally making life difficult for Radwanska. In the end, though, Radwanska played the big points better and eeked out a victory, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5.

I also watched Kveta Peschke and Rennae Stubbs for a while, and had photos signed by both Stubbs and Schnyder. And I caught Bud Collins' interview with Jelena Jankovic after her victory over Alex Stevenson. This evening, we watched Maria Sharapova do some warm-up excercises, then we had dinner, and returned to watch her serve two bagels to Bethanie Mattek. Not to worry, though: Mattek returned in half and hour, and--with partner Vladimira Uhlirova--won the featured doubles match against Lourdes Dominguez Lino and Sara Errani, 6-1, 3-6, 10-3.

A breakfast with Bud Collins and some of the past champions was scheduled for Thursday, but it has been postponed until Saturday. I hope this does not mean that none of the past champions will arrive early; we were expecting some of them to come tomorrow.

Tennis outfit of the day: Though it may surprise many--Bethanie Mattek, at least for her doubles match attire. Mattek had on a black pleated skirt, black capri tights and a black top with thin straps. For her doubles match, however, she kept her warm-up top on--black, with one 3/4 length sleeve, one long sleeve with a white cuff, and some kind of silver design embossed on the upper left sleeve. The effect was striking, and she looked good.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In and around the grounds in Charleston

A view of the entry pathway to the stadium

The weather was very chilly today, with a lot of wind. Fortunately, the wind did not pick up much during the night matches, so we were comfortable with a lot of layers and a stadium blanket.

In honor, I suppose, of the 35th anniversary of the Cup, the stadium music this year consists of oldies only. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you notice a lot of people singing along to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

Dominika Cibulkova had to retire in her second round match today, presumably because of the thigh injury she sustained in Amelia Island last week. Her retirement was a real disappointment. She stuck around, however, and I imagine there is a fair chance she will still play doubles. I met her this afternoon, and she was charming and delightful. Meghann Shaughnessy also had to retire today, though I don't know why.

I also met Jill Craybas today. She and Cibulkova each signed photos I had taken of them, as did Michaella Krajicek (yesterday, Katarina Srebotnik and Yuliana Fedak signed some). I also watched Maria Sharapova practice for a while, which was fun.

If you like Angela Haynes' signature head scarf, you're out of luck. She has ditched it for a flaming orange Afro.

The 35th anniversary ceremony took place this evening. Most of the players participated, except for the ones who had to play later, and the ones who had already left the tournament. Bud Collins was the master of ceremonies, and one of the best things he did was to give the fans some lessons on how to pronounce players' names. Thank you, Bud. There was an introduction of each available player, and it was nice to see the women standing out there in regular clothes. Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, Patty Schnyder (a heavy Charleston favorite), and Maria Sharapova got a lot of applause. Rennae Stubbs gave Ai Sugiyama a hug, and everyone appeared to enjoy the moment.

When the introductions were over, the women produced tennis balls they had autographed, and then threw them into the stands. We caught Victoria Azarenka's! Then another one bounced right in front of us, so we got that one too, but I haven't yet figured out whose signature is on it. I will, though, and when I do, I'll report it.

After the last night match, there was a lovely fireworks show, then we went back to the hotel.

Family Circle Cup day 2--a very full day

This was a long day. We began it by watching Victoria Azarenka run over Chanelle Scheepers, 6-1, 6-0. We saw the last two sets of the Cirstea-Chakvetadze match, and we saw the match between Michaella Krajicek and Alize Cornet. Krajicek was up 3-1 in the third set, but fell to Cornet in spite of that. Krajicek's crosscourt forehand was as good as ever, but after two sets, she was visibly lagging--breathing hard and taking more and more time to serve. Eventually, she received a time violation for her slow serving, which now includes five (sometimes six) ball bounces, sometimes preceded by additional (as many as eight) bounces with the racquet. It seemed that the more Krajicek's energy lagged, the more Cornet's strengthened. Cornet looked just as fresh at the end of the match as she had at the beginning, and defeated Krajicek 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. It was an entertaining match, and one we were glad we saw.

We were able to see the second half of the Szavay-Sugiyama match, which Szavay won, but had to fight for, and we saw a little of the Bartoli-Dellacqua match, which Bartoli won. We also saw the last two sets of Tatiana Perebynis's upset of Anabel Medina Garrigues. In the evening, we had a good time watching Alexa Glatch and Varvara Lepchenko take a set off of Dinara Safina and Agnes Szavay. The Americans performed poorly in the first set, but in the second--Glatch's excellent serving and Lepchenko's performance at both the baseline and the net were impressive. They lost, however, when their opponents ran away with the super-tiebreak.

Finally we saw Serena Williams play Gisela Dulko in a match that did not adequately reflect the strengths of either player. They had never played each other before, and the first set was awkward and unattractive, with Williams getting broken three times, and her oppenent getting broken four times. Dulko, who--yesterday--had served practically perfectly--could not find her first serve often enough tonight, and also lost her very good second serve. Still, she was able to pick up her serve a bit in the second set, and was broken only once. Williams served five aces in that set.

The second set was fun to watch, and contained some thrilling rallies. Williams' return of serve was sharp and sometimes deadly, and Dulko used backhand topspin to her advantage, as well as her ability to hit on-the-mark drop volleys. We wanted another set, but it was over after two, with Williams winning, 6-3, 6-4.

Tennis outfit of the day: Serena Williams, in a pale lavender long-sleeve boatneck pullover and a flared white skirt with kick pleats along the bottom only.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Medina Garrigues implodes in Charleston

Tatiana Perebiynis, playing in fine form, took Anabel Medina Garrigues out of Charleston today

I have heard Anabel Medina Garrigues scream and shout during a match on several occasions, and I have seen her throw her racquet. But until today, I had never seen her cry. But in her second round match against Tatiana Perebiynis, Medina Garrigues had a meltdown as big as her feisty court personality. We arrived just after the first set was completed. Medina Garrigues took that set, 6-4, and we settled down for what we thought would be a victorious second set.

Suddenly, however, Medina Garrigues could not do anything right, and Perebynis could do little wrong. Medina Garrigues, angry and frustrated, could do very little with her first serve, and even less with her second. She was broken every time she served, and she failed to convert the one break point she had against Perebiynis. Perebiynis, meanwhile, cruised through the set with expert approach shots and winning groundstrokes. Medina Garrigues utilized her doubles partner, Virginia Ruano Pascual, as her coach, and when Ruano Pascual went onto the court to talk with her, Medina Garrigues was in tears.

The last set was much better for Medina Garrigues. She regained her serve and got a grip on herself in general. Perebynis began to make errors and was broken, and it looked like Medina Garrigues fans (of whom I am one) would have a happy outcome after all. But Perebiynis regained her footing and returned to making precision shots. Medina Garrigues had a major temper outburst, followed by more tears, and received a time violation warning from the umpire. She was broken twice in that set, and a steady, accurate Perebiynis moved on to the third round.

Perebiynis def. Medina Garrigues, 4-6, 6-0, 7-5

Charleston: Cirstea serves the match--with Russian dressing

I didn't make it to the Cirstea-Chakvetadze match until the first set had ended. Having lost that set, 3rd seed Anna Chakvetadze rather handily took the second. It appeared she had found her footing and was going to cruise, but this is Chakvetadze we're talking about, and consistency just isn't one of her strengths.

Chakvetadze's first serve--when she got it in--looked pretty good. However, as the final set moved on, she became more and more error-prone, following beautiful down-the-line backhand shots with nervous errors. Cirstea, for her part, hung in, stayed very cool-headed, and kept the ball in the court.

Chakvetadze took advantage of all six break points she had against her opponent. Cirstea had thirteen break chances, and was successful with eight of them. That is a lot of service breaks: Welcome to clay season.

Cirstea def. Chakvetadze, 6-2, 1-6, 6-2

Monday, April 14, 2008

Family Circle Cup day 1--Wow!

Gisela Dulko put on a clay court clinic in her first round match

The first match we saw today was a contest between Gisela Dulko and Alicia Molik, and Dulko was very impressive with great serving and the use of clever clay court strategy. So expertly did Dulko play that Molik was left with virtually nothing but her good serve, and today, Dulko's serve was just as good. Dulko def. Molik, 6-2, 6-3

Then we saw Yuliana Fedak take on Agnes Szavay. Fedak is a player I like to watch, both for her tennis and her court personality. "Ai-yi-yi-yi--come on, come on" is her ritualistic chant before serving, and sometimes before receiving, too. She was clueless in the first set and was bageled, but in the second, Fedak brought her game up to an entirely different level, hitting deep, accurate groundstrokes and serving quite well. Her second serve--unlike Szavay's--was very good, and she hit some impressive passing shots. But in the end, Szavay prevailed. Unfortunately, Fedak and her partner lost their doubles match, too. Szavay def. Fedak, 6-0, 7-6

Finally, we saw Agnieszka Radwanska play Marta Domachowska. I was really looking forward to this match, and it more than met my expectations. Whoever plays in the final will have to put on quite a show to top what went on this afternoon between the two Polish women on the Althea Gibson Club Court. Both women hit breathtaking groundstrokes, and both served extremely well. Domachowska was strong on both sides, and Radwanska used the defensive lob successfully over and over. There was also some good volleying. I was cheering for Domachowska and was disappointed when she lost, but it was so close--a point here and a point there made the difference. When the 2008 Family Circle Cup is over and done, I may still think that this was the best match of all. Radwanska def. Domachowska, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3

We watched Patty Schnyder and Virginia Ruano Pascual practice, and we saw Serena Williams on the grounds, going to and from her practice session. We also watched Elena Dementieva hit with Anastasia Rodionova for a while. The wind picked up now and then, making the stadium grounds very chilly, and some spectators had on jackets.

We saw a few nice tennis outfits today. Vania King was once again dressed in something really different--a pastel floral/tropical dress with orange trim. She looked nice. And the always well-dressed Yuliana Fedak was wearing a fitted hot pink T with a navy skirt with free-form hot pink diagonal stripes. However...

The tennis outfit of the day nod goes to Gisela Dulko, looking chic and classic in a pale aqua fitted polo with white trim and a pleated white skirt.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Family Circle Cup first round matches of interest

Michaella Krajicek signs autographs after her 2007 victory over Nicole Vaidisova

At least of two of the first round matches in Charleston have grabbed my interest:

Radwanska v. Domachowska: Marta Domachowska was off the tour for quite a while, and returned with a flourish during the Australian Open, when she got to the round of 16 and made things difficult for Venus Williams. However, despite being the top qualifying seed, Domachowska failed to qualify in Vina del Mar. She then made it to the second round of the Sony Ericsson Open, but was defeated there by Williams.

Domachowska will play her countrywoman, Agnieszka Radwanska, in the first round of the Family Circle Cup. And while Radwanska is clearly the favorite, Domachowska is capable of performing an upset.

The other first round of interest features last year's Charleston wild card star Michaella Krajicek and young French star Alize Cornet. Krajicek stormed through Daniel Island last year, taking out both Nicole Vaidisova and Sybille Bammer before falling to her own anxiety and an in-form Vera Zvonareva. Of all the young talented players, none is more inconsistent than Krajicek, and it is impossible to guess who will win the contest against Cornet.

Mattek and Uhlirova win Amelia Island

Bethanie Mattek and Vladmira Uhlirova have won the doubles championship in Amelia Island, defeating Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina, 6-3, 6-1.

Mattek, by the way, has a wild card into the Family Circle Cup in Charleston.

Family Circle Cup qualifiers set to enter main draw

The following women have qualified to play in the main draw in Charleston:

Aleksandra Wozniak
Chuang Chia-Jung
Barbara Zahlavova Strycova
Channelle Scheepers
Alexandra Stevenson
Sun Tiantian
Varvara Lepchenko
Alina Jidkova

Should there be a withdrawal (and that could happen, considering Cibulkova's injury), the lucky loser would be Julia Schruff.

Li withdraws from Berlin, Rome and Roland Garros

Li Na, one of the few players to leave the tour for years and make a successful comeback, was out for months in 2007 because of a rib injury. She triumphantly returned to the tour in January and won Gold Coast. Things were going well for her, and then she injured her knee. She has been out for a while now, and she will have to skip the clay court season, also. Sad news indeed.

Sharavpova wins Amelia Island

Maria Sharapova won her first clay court tournament in Amelia Island today. It helped that her opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, served poorly and developed an injury mid-match. During the first set, Cibulkova compensated for her weak service game by playing outstanding defensive tennis. In the second set, however, she developed a thigh strain, and her movement was visibly hampered. She also began making more errors. Serving at 2-5 in the second and realizing she could no longer move as well as she had before--Cibulkova willed herself to serve better, and reeled off a series of excellent serves.

It was too late, though, and Sharapova won the match on her next serve.

Sharapova def. Cibulkova, 7-6, 6-3

Family Circle Cup 2nd day of qualifying

One of the many flower boxes on the grounds of the Family Circle Cup

This morning, we had fun watching Vera Zvonareva and Katarina Srebotnik practice together in the main stadium. Zvonareva's backhand slice looked especially good. We also watched Alex Stevenson for a while; yesterday she double-bageled Kumiko IIjima. I watched Agnes Szavay practice, too, and we saw Richard Williams wandering around the grounds.

The weather was cool, sunny and windy today--unusually comfortable for Daniel Island in April.

We came back to the hotel early to see the Amelia Island final. It was interesting to see Dominika Cibulkova suddenly and drastically improve her serve shen she could no longer move freely because of her thigh. There is a definite lesson in there for her. I now think chances are good that she will withdraw from Charleston, though I certainly hope not.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Family Circle Cup first day of qualifying

Palms and palmettos line the highway from Mt. Pleasant to Daniel Island

We arrived in Mt. Pleasant yesterday evening. Our hotel has all kinds of Internet connection problems, so we are moving to another hotel tomorrow. It is a stroke of good luck that we actually found a hotel with a week-long vacancy. We attended qualifying today, but it wasn't nearly as interesting as usual, since some of the better players had been moved to the main draw. We saw a lot of the match between Sun Tintian and Vanessa Henke (Sun won), and we watched Patty Schnyder practice with her hitting partner. I saw her talk with her physio about what appears to be some sort of hip/lower back issue. I surely hope it isn't anything too serious.

There are a lot more past champion banners up on the grounds this year. Mysteriously, Nadia Petrova's banner--one of the three larges ones hanging outside the stadium--is missing. A nice touch this year is the creation of a 35th anniversary poster with an exceptionally creative design that shows former champions in picture frames that are arranged on a wall and on a dresser.

Since the qualifying rounds were not up to expectations, we left the grounds and came back to watch the Amelia Island semifinals, only to discover that one of them had been cancelled because an ill Lindsay Davenport gave Maria Sharapova a walkover.

The sun is very bright today, and it is hot. However, a front is coming in, and both Monday and Tuesday should be on the cool side. The weather here in April is totally unpredictable, so we watch the forecast, but we also know that conditions can always change dramatically and suddenly.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday cat blogging-- Charleston-bound edition

Better grab a fleece and a rain jacket, and don't forget my WTA hat!

Where's my Lacoste shirt? I want to look good when I meet Maria Sharapova

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Medina Garrigues takes Sharapova to the brink

Clay specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues took Maria Sharapova to a tight third set in Amelia Island today. Sharapova won, 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, but it was a struggle.

Medina Garrigues is a tough competitor who always hangs in until the last point. Last year in Charleston, she took out Li Na, and--had she used better judgment--she most likely would have overcome Venus Williams, also. Medina Garrigues repeatedly set up winners against Williams, but then would make bad decisions and not follow through properly.

Sharapova's next opponent is Alona Bondarenko, who defeated Dinara Safina, 7-6, 0-6, 7-5.

More Family Circle Cup withdrawals

Sybille Bammer, as I suspected, has withdrawn from Charleston; I'm sure it must be because of her back. Also withdrawing are Caroline Wozniacki, Meilen Tu (a fixture at the Cup), Nuria Llagostera Vives (another fixture), and Peng Shuai (also a regular player there).

Replacing them, respectively, are: Alicia Molik, Yuliana Fedak, Ekaterina Bychkova, Julie Ditty, and Anastasia Rodionova. Yuan Meng replaces Venus Williams, and the talented Sorana Cirstea replaces Justine Henin.

I am especially disappointed to learn that Wozniacki has withdrawn; I really wanted to see her play.

Mauresmo fights past Radwanska--a good sign

I like this scoreline: 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6). Yes, it is close, but it also indicates that Amelie Mauresmo hung tough and stayed in the fight, which helped her to overcome a challenge by Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round at Amelia Island. Coming through this match cannot help but give Mauresmo some badly needed confidence.

Each player was broken five times.

And this was Mauresmo's 500th career win!

Mirza to have wrist surgery

Sania Mirza is scheduled to have wrist surgery today in Miami. She will be out of the tour for about a month.

Vaidisova hires new coach

Nicole Vaidisova has hired David Felgate to coach her. Felgate has coached both Xavier Malisse and Tim Henman.

I'm off to Charleston tomorrow

Starting Saturday, this blog will be headquartered at the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island, just outside Charleston. I'll be there for qualifying, and for the entire tournament. As always, I'll try to provide information you won't find elsewhere, and give you as many player tidbits as I can.

If you have questions of any kind, please post them in the comments section and I'll do my best to get the answers for you.

Henin withdraws from Charleston

Citing her ailing knee, Justine Henin has withdrawn from the Family Circle Cup. Not only does that leave the tournament without the world number one, but it also means that the list of former champions to be honored at the 35th anniversary event has been shortened. Henin won the Cup in 2005. Venus Williams, who has also withdrawn, won it in 2004.

Former champions scheduled to attend are Rosie Casals, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Conchita Martinez, Mary Pierce, Iva Majoli, and Jennifer Capriati.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Black and Huber out in first round at Amelia Island

Tatiana Poutchek and Anastasia Rodionova have defeated number one seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber in the first round of the Bausch and Lomb Championships. 7-5, 6-2. Next, they will play Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina.

Hantuchova out of Amelia Island

The frequently injured Karolina Sprem defeated Daniela Hantuchova today in Amelia Island

Once upon a time, Karolina Sprem looked to have a lot of promise, but she became a magnet for injuries, and her career took a sharp turn downward. At this point, one is surprised if she shows up on a draw list. She made her presence known today, however, by taking out third seed Daniela Hantuchova in Amelia Island, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. Sprem is a big hitter, and she delivered nine aces in today's match.

Dulko and Radwanska do a 3rd set thriller

How frustrating is it to have to leave the house when someone is serving at 5-6 in the 3rd set? Pretty frustrating, but that's what happened to me today. The third set between Gisela Dulko and Radwanska was on fire, with constant breaks, break-backs and games lingering at deuce. In the end, Dulko saved three match points on her own serve, forced Radwanska to serve it out, then broke her again. It ended in a tiebreak, which Radwanska won handily, 7-1, dashing my hopes that Dulko would move on to the next round. What a fight, though!

Radwanska def. Dulko, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6

Another hot young player, CarolineWozniacki, did not fare as well: She was defeated by Alona Bondarenko, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. And, of course, Victoria Azarenka fell to Dominka Cibulkova. Meanwhile, Alize Cornet took out Sybille Bammer, who has been having some back problems lately.

Cornet def. Bammer, 6-1, 6-3

The Dominikater strikes again!

After I saw Dominika Cibulkova play in Charleston last year, I knew I was seeing someone special--at least on clay. I was right. Her latest success was to take Victoria Azarenko out of Amelia Island today in a knock-down, drag-out match that had Cibulkova playing catch-up the first two sets. She fought from a break behind to take the first set, and came within a hair of taking the second. The third opened with Azarenka's failure to convert repeated break points, and after Cibulkova finally held, she proceeded to break Azarenka. Then she held and broke again, but was broken back in the fifth game. Azarenka held, and then saved 3 game points on Cibulkova's serve, but could not break her. Cibulkova then broke Azarenka to win the match.

Date returning to the tour

I skipped over this news at first because I did not believe it, but Date really is returning to the tour. With all respect to her, it is hard for me to understand why--after twelve years--someone would come back. But best of luck to her--she was a great player.

Daniela Klemenschits has died

25-year-old Daniela Klemenschits, who--along with her twin sister, Sandra--was diagnosed last year with a rare form of abdominal cancer, has died.

The Klemenschits twins reached the finals of Istambul in 2005, and the semifinals of both Stockholm and Budapest, also in 2005. When they were on the ITF circuit, they won twenty doubles titles.

Klemenschits was also a member of the Austrian Fed Cup team in 2005. Her sister is reported to be recovering.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Players who have withdrawn from the Family Circle Cup

Tatiana Golovin
Nadia Petrova (2006 champion)
Kaia Kanepi
Pauline Parmentier
Vera Dushevina
Lucie Safarova
Yan Zi (2007 doubles champion)
Zheng Jie (2007 doubles champion)
Ashley Harkleroad
Julia Vakulenko
Eleni Daniilidou (not sure she was entered, but I think she was, and--at any rate--she is injured)

Players who are usually or sometimes there but are not coming for one reason or the other include:

Sam Stosur (still recovering)
Flavia Pennetta (plaiyng in Estoril instead)
Ana Ivanovic (mediocre results in Charleston)
Eleni Daniilidou (injured--may have entered and therefore belongs in the top list)
Nicole Vaidisova (terrible results in Charleston)
The Bondarenko sisters
Li Na (seriously injured--again)

Players who may withdraw soon:

Elena Dementieva (withdrew from Amelia Island)
Vera Zvonareva (withdrew from Amelia Island)
Sybille Bammer (back problem)

Player who is about to withdraw:

Venus Williams

Players I wish would take a wild card:

Amelie Mauresmo (out of the question because of Fed Cup)
Daniela Hantuchova
Svetlana Kuznetsova
Shahar Peer
Sania Mirza
Alona Bondarenko
Tamira Paszek...or...
8-time champion Chris Evert (she's going to be there, and I'm sure she can still kick some ass on clay)

Harkleroad out of Charleston, Fed Cup--Venus out of everything

When Ashley Harkleroad played Virginie Razzano in the second round of the Sony Ericsson Open, she experienced some pain that she thought was caused by menstrual cramps. The pain became worse, and an ultrasound revealed that she had a blood-filled cyst on her right ovary. The medical advice she received was that she could keep playing as long as she could tolerate the pain.

It was very bad advice. In the next round, the pain continued, and because it hurt her to drink, Harkleroad took in very little water and became severely dehydrated. She then went back to her hotel and vomited until she became frightenly weak. Her tongue went numb, and she was taken to a hospital in an ambulance. The cyst has burst, there was internal bleeding, her liver function was affected, and she lost a quart of blood. Harkleroad had emergency surgery to remove the ovary, and is healing quickly. She does not say whether she will take legal action against the doctor who gave her the bad advice; she does say that she thinks she ought to have paid closer attention to her symptoms.

Harkleroad will miss both the Family Circle Cup and Fed Cup.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams--who withdrew from Amelia Island because of an undisclosed medical issue, has announced that she is dropping out of the tour for an indefinite period of time. "I've just been having some issues that I need to resolve, so I'm working on that at the moment and I'm hoping to be back playing as soon as possible," she said. Williams has indicated that she wants to play in the French Open and she may also play in some other tournaments. I think it is safe to assume she will withdraw from the Family Circle Cup, which begins next week.

Talk about a super-tiebreak!

Mattek/Uhlirova def. Craybas/Krajicek, 5-7, 6-4, 21-19

Note to Oprah...

Next time you have Chris Evert on, learn how to pronounce her name before the show (learning to pronounce Navratilova's name would have been nice, too, but no one in the U.S. seems to care about that). Learning a bit about the Evert-Navratilova rivalry and friendship would have helped, too.

It was sad to hear Martina talk about being booed by crowds because she was gay; I remember that. "You lived your truth," Chris told her. That truth was a bit easier to live because of Evert's support, too.

Malek diagnosed with pulmonary embolism

During the Pacific Life Open, Tatjana Malek had a muscle pain in her calf that she thought was a routine injury. However, when the began to radiate, she went to the hospital and discovered that what she had was a dangerous blood vessel blockage that could have ultimately caused cardiac arrest.

Malek was in the hospital for a week, and will be off the tour for three months. The German player is currently ranked number 99 in the world.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Quote of the week

"She takes this placid, often grave game that thrives on nicely executed set pieces and forehand to backhand conversations and turns it into women's mud wrestling in chiffon cocktail dresses."
Peter Bodo on Jelena Jankovic

Bodo goes on to say:

The match featured 32 break points (22 for Serena, who converted just eight of them) and 13 service breaks in 21 games (not counting the tiebreaker).

That's not tennis, folks, it's anarchy, born of Jankovic's unique game: She can break anyone, anytime (even Williams), but because of her so-so serve, she can be broken by anyone. anytime (especially Williams). She turns a match into Chinese handcuffs with one player at each end.

You can read the entire piece here.

Srebotnik/Sugiyama win Miami

Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama have won the Sony Ericsson Open, defeating Cara Black and Liezel Huber, 7-5, 4-6, 10-3. This is the team's second title.

A Preview of Amelia Island

The Bausch and Lomb Championships begin tomorrow, with Maria Sharapova in the same quarter with Dinara Safina, Alona Bondarenko, Anabel Medina Garrigues, and Caroline Wozniacki. The Daniela Hantuchova quarter also includes Lindsay Davenport and Agnes Szavay. Sharing a quarter of the draw with Patty Schnyder and Marion Bartoli are Virginie Razzano, Sybille Bammer and Alize Cornet. The last--and most interesting--quarter features Agnieszka Radwanska, Anna Chakvetadze, Amelie Mauresmo, and Victoria Azarenko, in addition to some potentially dangerous young players: Dominika Cibulkova, Sara Errani and Sorana Cirstea.

Sharapova is the top seed, of course, and Davenport and Mauresmo are past champions--Davenport has won the tournament three times (one of the more interesting finals of recent years was the 2005 contest between Davenport and Silvia Farina Elia, whose use of an expert clay trick bag confounded Davenport to no end, yet Davenport still found a way to win).

Withdrawn from the tournament are defending champion Tatiana Golovin, defending finalist and 2006 champion Nadia Petrova, Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva, and Vera Zvonareva.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Looking forward to Charleston--the good and not-so-good

There is a lot to be excited about regarding the upcoming Family Circle Cup. The 35th anniversary celebration going to be great, and having some of the past champions (we don't know which ones yet) hang around for a few days sounds wonderful. Also, we are expecting Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams, Anna Chakvetadze, and Charleston's favorite, Patty Schnyder. Also entered are favorites like Katerina Srebotnik and Anabel Medina Garrigues, as well as a number of hot young players.

The down side is that there is now uncertainty over whether Elena Dementieva, Venus Williams, Sybille Bammer, and Vera Zvonareva will be there. All of them have withdrawn from Amelia Island. And of course, Nadia Petrova, Tatiana Golovin and Sam Stosur cannot be there because of injury and illness; all of them have withdrawn from Amelia Island. Unfortunately, Julia Vakulenko has also withdrawn.

Another disappointment for me is that, for the second year in a row, the Bondarenko sisters will not be in Charleston. And Flavia Pennetta, generally a delightful fixture at the Cup, has decided to play in Estoril this year instead. We will miss her; Pennetta's presence adds so much.

The weather forecast for the tournament has not been very good, but today, it changed, and if the current, revised forecast stays in place, the courts should be dry most of the time. However, if you plan to come to Daniel Island, you should know that the weather is very, very unpredictable. The first year I went, the nights were unbearably cold (because none of us had the appropriate clothing). The last couple of years, it has been quite chilly, but not freezing cold.

But it does get unbearably hot during the day, and for the last two years, there have been tornadoes in the area. In 2006, a tornado hit the stadium and bounced off of the Justine Henin banner--Justine saved the tournament! Last year, tornadoes hit the day of the finals, which were almost cancelled. Power went out, trees were blown down, and court conditions on Daniel Island were next to impossible, with all the wind and moisture. So if you plan to attend, please bring several layers of clothing, and make sure you being rain wear.

The tournament is expertly run, by the way, and very fan-friendly. The food is good, the bars are good, there is a lot of player access, everything runs on time, and even when things go wrong, tournament director Robin Reynolds finds a way to turn them around, as she did by organizing last year's "exhibition" match.

Williams and Zvonareva out of Amelia Island

Both Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva have withdrawn from Amelia Island--I do not know why. Of course, this means they may also withdraw from Charleston. Charleston has already lost Sam Stosur, Tatiana Golovin and Nadia Petrova to illness and injury, and may also lose Elena Dementieva, who has also withdrawn from Amelia Island.

Serena Williams takes her 5th Miami title

No matter what your expectations were of the Sony Ericsson Open women's final, you were probably thrown off balance. The usually relentless Jelena Jankovic--troubled yet again by an upper respiratory infection--was hardly present at all for the first set, which Serena Williams took effortlessly, 6-1. I assumed Jankovic was so ill that she would perhaps retire. But in the second set, Williams began to make errors, and Jankovic's fighting spirit suddenly emerged, to the tune of a 7-5 victory. Jankovic, in fact, broke Williams at love when she served for the championship at 5-4.

Neither player took the allowed ten-minute heat break between the second and third sets, but during a third set changeover, Jankovic did see the trainer and get some medicine (which she declared "disgusting") for her infection. She then proceeded to play poorly again, while Williams once again fine-tuned her game and her movement. If you were watching and you predicted an easy close at 3-0 for Williams, however, you still didn't have it right. In fact, you had it wrong if you predicted it when Williams was at 5-1. Once again, Jankovic broke Williams when she served for the championsip, and then--out of nowhere--the great Serbian player with the mediocre serve began to serve quite well.

Jankovic's breakthrough and Williams' anxiety were enough to help Jankovic save seven championship points, but not enough to keep defending champion Williams from earning her fifth Miami title.

Williams def. Jankovic, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3

Bammer has a back problem

Ever since the Pacific Life Open, Sybille Bammer has had to have two hours of treatment a day on her back. Ouch.

Williams' opponents unable to watch her matches

Both Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova wanted to watch Serena Williams play, but they were unable to because of--you guessed it--FSN's non-coverage.

The oldest--and weakest--defense of sexist language

I recently reported that Ana Ivanovic had received the unfortunately-named "Karen Krantzcke Sportsman of the Year" award from the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Sexist language does not belong anywhere, but it is especially out of place in an organization which purports to fight for gender equality. I pointed out this mixed message to the tour, and received a reply that "'Sportswoman' is not a word."

Here is the text of the letter I sent back:

Of course it's a word...the insistence on using sexist language because the lexicon has always refused to acknowledge females is just one more way of advancing sexism. Any word with "man" in it can also be a word with "woman" in it.

Think back to the time--not that long ago--when we were told that there was no such word as "chairman." There was "no such word" because our culture could not imagine a female being in charge. Or think back to the time when we were told there was no such word as "policewoman" or "postwoman" or "repairwoman." Continuing to call a woman a man acknowledges a belief that male is the dominant gender; that is called sexism. Nothing is more important than language. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour--of all organizations--should be sensitive to the reality that the culture in general--including the sports media--treats women's sports as an afterthought. Calling women men advances that tradition. Calling Ivanovic a "sportsman" sends a very clear message that a sporting virtue is a male quality, and we all know that it is not.

And anyway, the tour does not have to do anything "innovative" to correct the problem. That is because the word "sportswoman" has been part of the official lexicon for some time. You will find it in all of the major dictionaries: Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, OE, Random House, etc. So even using a very narrow, literal definition--it is indeed a word
Sony Ericsson WTA Tour promoting gender equality--right.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dementieva out, Hantuchova in

Elena Dementieva has had to withdraw from next week's tournament in Amelia Island. She is replaced by Daniela Hantuchova.

Jankovic and Williams to meet in Miami final

They have played each other five times--all matches on hard courts--one resulted in a retirement, and they are 2-2 head-to-head. The Miami defending champion will defend her title against the tour's best defensive player on Saturday. Jankovic's weak second serve is her greatest vulnerability, especially against someone like Serena Williams. For her part, Williams--who plays high percentage tennis--will have to keep the errors down as Jankovic goes for longer and longer rallies.

Expect a good final.

Friday cat blogging--botanical edition

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sharapova enters Bausch and Lomb

Maria Sharapova has entered the Bausch and* Lomb Championships in Amelia Island. The tournament begins on Monday, and participants include former champions Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Venus Wiliams. Sharapova is now the top seed.

*Blogger still not permitting the use of an ampersand

FSN has got to go

Not only has my FSN regional network. FSN Southwest, opted to show too little of the Sony Ericsson Open, it isn't even showing what its website says it is supposed to be showing. Last night, there was tennis scheduled, but none was shown. Today, there was supposed to have been four hours of tennis, but women's gymnastics popped up instead. I had arranged my day so that I could be home to watch the women's semifinal. I used to think no network's schedule could be more unreliable than ESPN's, but FSN is much, much worse.

The FSN contract with the ATP and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is for one year, after which it is to be evaluated. It is clear that ESPN no longer wants Indian Wells and Miami for financial reasons, and negotiating them for Tennis Channel still means a lot of fans will not get to see them. But considering that a lot of tennis fans do have Tennis Channel, that option may be the best.

At any rate, it would be an outrage for FSN to get these tournaments again unless some type of agreement is made for all of the FSN outlets to show a substantial portion of tournament play. And that ATP Sony Ericsson Open contract that requires that most of the matches shown be men's matches is also very irritating, but that is another battle.

Update: FSN Southwest cut off the Roddick-Federer match after the seventh game of the third set. Just goodbye, and onto the fishing show.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Miami semifinals set

Defending champion Serena Williams will face Svetlana Kuznetsova tomorrow in the first Sony Ericsson Open semifinal of the day. Later, Jelena Jankovic will play Vera Zvonareva. Jankovic was the recipient of a second set retirement by Elena Dementieva, who sustained a back injury, and Zvonareva defeated Dinara Safina. Yesteday, Kuznetsova was victorious over Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-4.

Some thought there would be a Williams sister semifinal, but that was not to be.

Jankovic def. Dementieva, 6-1, 3-1
Zvonareva def. Safina, 7-5, 6-4