Saturday, May 31, 2008

That was then, this is now--enough already

A non-teary Vera Zvonareva leaves the court after losing the Family Circle Cup championship

Yes, we all know that--a long time ago--Vera Zvonareva used to cry on court during her matches. She has not done that in years, but the fact that Zvonareva is a different player now, emotionally and behaviorally speaking, does not phase tennis commentators at all. Every time Zvonareva steps onto a court, we have to hear about her "emotional problems." Vera moved on a long time ago, but out-of-touch sports commentators never move on.

So who is Petra Kvitova?

Why, the tall Czech left-hander who's in the round of 16 at the French Open--that's who. Serious tennis fans have been watching Kvitova for a while. She had already beaten Ai Sugiyama, Anabel Medina Garrigues and Venus Williams before she arrived at Roland Garros. In Paris, she defeated Akiko Morigami and Sam Stosur to get to the third round, and today, she defeated number 12 seed Agnes Szavay, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2.

Kvitova's round of 16 oppoent will be Kaia Kanepi, who upset Anabel Medina Garrigues earlier today in a thriller of a three-hour match.

Morigami asked to throw match

Akiko Morigami of Japan says that a national team coach asked her to throw a match in order to help Aiko Nakamura qualify for Japan's Olympic team.

"That a coach would say that to me before a match was a shock," Morigama commented.

Medina Garrigues upset by Kanepi

The hard-fighting Anabel Medina Garrigues ground it out for three hours today in the third round of the French Open, but--despite displaying moments of brilliance--she finally fell to the dangerous Kaia Kanepi, whose huge forehand found the line again and again at key moments in the match. The match was exciting to watch, as both women hit impressive groundstrokes, and Medina Garrigues showed her prowess at the net. Kanepi ended the match with twice as many unforced errors (61) as her 29th-seeded opponent, but edged her a bit in first serve wins and winners hit.

The 2001 Junior French Open winner will have to cut down on the unforced errors if she expects to continue advancing.

Srebotnik/Sugiyama upset in Paris

The number 2 seeds, Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama, were taken out of competition in the second round in Paris today by Ashley Harkleroad and Galina Voskoboeva, 6-4, 4-6 6-2. Srebotnik and Sugiyama have won three titles, all at Tier I tournaments.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Update on Schnyder injury

Patty Schnyder has been in a lot pain because of an ankle injury, and she actually took a flight out of Paris to see her physio, then returned to play Emilie Loit, whom she defeated. Her ankle was still hurting her, but, she said, not nearly as badly as it had been. Here's hoping for a complete--and very fast--recovery.

Venus exits with Serena

Clay specialist Flavia Pennetta stays in Paris; Venus Williams goes home

"She played well, and I think that was the main problem." Such was the succinct summation given by Venus Williams on her loss to Flavia Pennetta in the third round of the French Open today.

"If I played fast like she does I wouldn't get anywhere, so I tried mixing it up more, not hitting the same thing twice," Pennetta said. That was a good clay strategy against Williams, and it worked. The two played right into the beginning of darkness, and the result was that Venus, like her sister, left Roland Garros after the third round.

Cornet says "au revoir"

Alize Cornet and Agnieszka Radwanska played the kind of third round French Open match that makes clay court tennis so much fun to watch. There was break after break, and both women played excellent tennis. Radwanska came from 1-4 down in the first set to take that set. When she served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, Cornet broke her. Cornet, however, physically wilted--maybe from the heat, maybe from the pressure...probably from both.

The French are no doubt crushed to see their last hope go out, but there is no doubt in my mind that Cornet is going to make France very proud. I don't yet have a feel for how she does on other surfaces, but she is an instinctive clay player and has nowhere to go but up.

Why, I wonder...

Would Edina Gallovits and Olga Govortsova not play doubles together at Roland Garros? The impromptu team made it to the finals in Charleston and they were a joy to watch. Govortsova, playing with Ekaterina Dzehalevich, has already been eliminated.

Srebotnik in, Williams out

Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia took Serena Williams out of the French Open today

For fans of Katarina Srebotnik, it is not a shock that today, she triumphed over the woman many thought would win this year's French Open. Srebotnik is one of those players who has multiple skills, but usually not quite enough of them to get to the elite section of a major draw. A crack doubles player, Srebotnik can volley with the best of them, and generally gives top opponents a hard time. In Charleston, she lost to Serena Williams in three tight sets, and one got the impression that if she could get her game up just a notch, she could turn that scoreline around.

She did that today. According to Williams, Srebotnik played like a "top two" player in Paris. Srebotnik will now play the winner of the Emilie Loit-Patty Schnyder match. That sitation has bcome complicated, however, by Schnyder's foot pain, and there is talk that Schnyder may withdraw from the tournament (which would make some of us perfectly miserable).

Friday cat blogging--French Open edition

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Inimitable Amelie

From Mauresmo's press conference:

I saw you play for the first time in 1995 against Nathalie Baudone, and I followed your results here in Paris. My question is: What's wrong in Paris as compared to other tournaments for you?

Clay. (laughter.) That's the first point.

I had noticed.

There is also the Eiffel Tower.

A little French Open history: the Queen of Clay

Tennis fans know that Chris Evert holds the greatest clay court record of all time--among women and men. Evert won 125 consecutive matches on clay, and she did it using a wooden racquet. Not everyone knows who broke her incredible streak, though. It was Tracy Austin, who defeated her 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 in the semifinals of the Italian Open in 1979. Evert did not lose another match on clay until the 1981 French Open, which means that during a 7-year period, she was 197-1 on clay courts.

Evert--who did not even play at Roland Garros in 1976, 1977 and 1978--won seven French Open titles, and there is no doubt she would have won at least one more had she played every year. I think three more is a more accurate guess, since she remained undefeated on clay and was number one in the world during that period.

All hail the Queen!

Chakvetadze and Mauresmo both upset in 2nd round

I was sad, but not surprised, to see my very favorite player, Amelie Mauresmo, make a second round exit today at the French Open.

I was also not surprised to see Anna Chakvetadze suffer defeat in the second round. Inconsistent at her best times, not really a clay player, and now just plain not right since the trauma she suffered in December, the talented Chakvetadze is having trouble finding her way back.

Other seeds defeated today were fomer top-ten player Ai Sugiyama and Maria Kirilenko.

Suarez Navarro def. Amelie Mauresmo (seeded no. 22), 6-3, 6-4
Kaia Kanepi def. Anna Chakvetadze (seeded no. 6) , 6-4, 7-6
Olga Govortsova def. Ai Sugiyama (seeded no. 31), 6-0, 7-5
Zheng Jie def. Maria Kirilenko (seeded no. 21), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2

What's wrong with Cirstea?

Last week in Istambul, Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Sorana Cirstea, 6-0, 6-0. Today in Paris, Victoria Azarenka defeated her 6-0, 6-0. Cirstea is a decent player with some good wins to her credit. In April, she removed Anna Chakvetadze from the Family Circle Cup and played a good match against Alize Cornet. She has done rather well in lower-tiered events.

Is there an injury? An illness? A personal trauma? A propensity to fall apart mentally? Something is going on. Here's hoping it gets resolved soon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Upsets of the day

Casey Dellacqua def. Marion Bartoli (9...probably still injured)
Aleksandra Wozniak def. Sybille Bammer (20)
Sam Stosur def. Shahar Peer (17)

In other news:

Top seed Maria Sharapova had quite a time of it before squeaking by Evgeniya Rodina in a sudden death playoff.

The American wild card, Madison Brengle, was eliminated by countrywoman Bethanie Mattek.

Michaella Krajicek made yet another first round exit. She has yet to win a match this year.

And the match I was most looking forward to--Gisela Dulko v. Alize Cornet--was suspended in the middle of the third round and will resume tomorrow. Of course, I was not able to see any of because ESPN would never show a really interesting contest with no Americans or in it or with no Maria Sharapova in it.

Schnyder fan alert

Be sure to watch Patty's video about her French Open experiences. You can find it at the upper right-hand corner of the tour website.

A shout-out to Mathilde Johansson

She could have faded away after that first set against Serena Williams, but she came back fighting, showed a lot of spirit, and gave her countrywomen and -men something to be proud of. Not bad for a wild card.

Language still matters

Last October, I wrote about how frequently tennis commentators use other sports as metaphors to describe tennis, and how this habit contributes to the general cultural lack of respect for tennis. As I wrote then, football, baseball and soccer commentators do not use tennis metaphors--or even other major sport metaphors--to describe the action in their sports. They feel no need to use a "more important" sport as a reference point.

Since I wrote that post, I have heard "like batting practice," "right off the bat," "counter-puncher," "home run hit," and several similar metaphors over and over from the mouths of tennis commentators. Today, Dick Enberg hit a new low (if that is even possible) by describing Justine Henin's top-of-her-game retirement as "Think of a champion boxer retiring." No! Think of it for what it is, please: A champion tennis player retires while she is number one in the world. That is quite grand enough, thank you.

Reference points in language are clues to how we value certain entities. Just as women will never be respected as long as they permit themselves to be called guys, dudes and sportsmen, tennis will not be respected as long as it is always linguistically compared with other sports.

Language matters.

Women Who Serve--1 year old today

Today is the first anniversary of the publication of Women Who Serve. Thanks to all my readers and commenters for your loyalty. Thanks also to fellow bloggers Aaress, Marija, Todd, and ken, and to Tennis X and TennisGrandstand for continual support. All of you helped make my transition from social activism/political blogging to tennis blogging easier than I thought it would be (not that one can ever really get away from social and political issues, and not that this particular one would ever want to). I look forward to doing continued commentary, reporting and--of course--cat blogging.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A little Kuzy humor

Interviewer: There are three players from Serbia here, you know. Can you see any of them as a winner of Roland Garros?

Kuznetsova: Yes, definitely. Ivanovic or Jankovic going to win. We are losers.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"Thank you, Justine"

There is a nice video tribute to Justine Henin on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site. Check the top right-hand corner of the page.

Another seed gone

There was not a lot of play today in Paris because of the rain (and--trust me--because I have the day off), but another seed did get eliminated. Alona Bondarenko, 23rd seed and a good clay player, had all kinds of trouble with her serve, according to the stats. She was defeated, 6-3, 6-0 by Petra Cetkovska.

In other news, the match that had to be postponed yesterday featured Gisela Dulko down 1-4 in the third set this morning, but then Dulko won three games in a row and went on to win the match. She will play Alize Cornet next, and if you like clay court tennis, watch it if you can--it should be a good one.

Gisela Dulko def. Sara Errani, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dear ESPN...

Please--fire Dick Enberg. Now.

It enraged me that he got away with making a sexual remark to Kim Clijsters right after she won the 2005 U.S. Open (I wouldn't have lost any sleep if Clijsters had slapped him). Since then, he has repeatedly made remarks about female players' bodies, and not in a tennis-oriented way. Today, his expression of interest in Serena Williams' backside was the end-all.

The repeated public expression of lust is not only inappropriate, but also demeaning to the tour's women (well, maybe not Nicole Vaidisova or Ashley Harkleroad), who already have so much trouble getting people to watch them for their athletic ability.

Nicole Vaidisova: Here today,

I wasn't suprised to see Iveta Benesova take Nicole Vaidisova out in the first round of the French Open--I kind of expected her to. Back in the day, Benesova could play some decent tennis. Her career took a bad tumble, but this season, she has worked her way back to a better place. The 15th-seeded Vaidisova, on the other hand, has become more fragile as the days go by. Always a high-risk player, Vaidisova's game can get messy and her mentality can go awry rather easily.

Vaidisova was the first seed to leave, and--sadly--she was followed by Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano. Razzano had a wonderful season last year, and is having a poor one this year. The 24th seed was defeated by Klara Zakopalova, who--like Benesova--is from the Czech Republic.

Benesova def. Vaidisova, 7-6, 6-1
Zakopalova def. Razzano, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2

Hantuchova in Paris--sort of

Photographer Paul Hage-Chahine is currently showing an exhibtion of photographs of Daniela Hantuchova at the Slovak Embassy in Paris. Hantuchova had to withdraw from the French Open, but at least visitors can see photographs of her.

Here are some of Hage-Chahine's other tennis photos. Check out Alona Bondarenko's hair!

Mats Wilander on Henin's retirement

I mean, it is sad because we're losing a PLAYER. Justine is the original one in terms of style, along with Amelie Mauresmo. She could play any shots, with fluidity that is only seen on the men's tour now. We need another player to compete with the style of game that Maria Sharapova and the Williams' sisters incorporate.

He says a lot more...

Confidential to editors...

Jelena Jankovic is not a "dark horse"contender to win the French Open.

Talk about changing your mind

When Ashley Harkleroad returned to the tour, she made a point of saying she was opposed to the marketing of sex on the tour, and she wanted to avoid doing fashion shoots and getting involved in showing her body.

Today, I heard that she has posed for Playboy.

Experts' picks updated

Right here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Preview of La Sharapova's dress

I like it.

Medina Garrigues wins in Strasbourg

Anabel Medina Garrigues won the Internationaux de Strasbourg for the third time today, defeating Katerina Srebotnik, 4-6, 7-6, 6-0. The match was interrrupted by rain, and resumed in the early part of the second set.

Henin's French Open wish

If you are not French, don't rely on Google's translation capabilities--they aren't too good. But, in a word (or two), Justine Henin would like to see Svetlana Kuznetsova win the French Open.

Here is another translation, from “I think Kuznetsova can make it, and that’s someone I like and appreciate a lot. So, I probably wish that it would be her in two weeks.”

Bartoli's wrist injury may be serious

The often-injured Bartoli has never hurt her wrist before. She told L'Equipe she thought her wrist may be jammed because she could not move her fingers.

Henin pays a visit

To Roland Garros.

What's ahead for Alize Cornet?

Yesterday, I talked about the tough draw Victoria Azarenka has in the early rounds of the French Open. But what about France's new clay star, Alize Cornet?

Cornet's draw is tricky, too. In the first round, she faces Julia Vakulenko. Under normal circumstances, that would be a test--perhaps a tough test--for Cornet, but Vakulenko has been dealing with a wrist injury for months, and has not played much. She is bound to be playing below her usual level.

So on to the second round, in which Cornet will play either Gisela Dulko or Sara Errani (my pick for most interesting first round match). Cornet struggled against the relentless Errani in Charleston, in a match that went on for a long time, was plagued by bad line-calling, and which gave me the impression that the opponents were eager to get away from each other. Errani recently defeated Agnes Szavay in Rome, handing her a bagel in the first set.

If Cornet winds up playing Dulko, she will also have her hands full. Dulko is an very fine clay player, who--like Patty Schnyder--has good serve days and bad serve days. Cornet had better hope she gets Dulko on a bad serve day. Dulko has a lot of court skills, hits much harder than her size would suggest, and lately, has demonstrated some terrific serving. On a good day, she will be a real threat to the young Frenchwoman.

Let's say that Cornet gets past Errani or Dulko. Her next round would most likely be against Agnieszka Radwanska, who just won the Istambul Cup. The two have never played each other, and a contest between them would be one worth watching. I cannot say who would win. However, should Cornet emerge victorious, her round of 16 match would be played against Jelena Jankovic (unless the talened Dominika Cibulkova pulls off a major third round upset).

Not an easy draw.

Radwanska wins in Istambul

Agnieszka Radwanska has defeated Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 6-2, to win the Istambul Cup. Radwanska was the number 2 seed, and Dementieva was the number 1.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Azarenka's French Open draw--ouch

Victoria Azarenka has her work cut out for her at Roland Garros. She plays Edina Gallovits in the first round. Gallovits is ranked number 61 in the world, but her clay skills are nothing to sneeze at. In Charleston, she was very impressive. But assuming Azarenka gets past a tough Gallovits, her next probable opponent would be Sorana Cirstea. Cirstea is not having a good week--Agnieszka Radwanska defeated her 6-0, 6-0 in the second round in Istambul--but she is a solid player who can do well on clay (she took Anna Chakvetadze out of the Family Circle Cup in the second round).

Assuming Azarenka gets to the third round, her most likely opponent would be Francesca Schiavone, the Italian clay court veteran who can cause trouble for the best of them. And if Schiavone's tenacity, backhands and lobs don't do Azarenka in, standing across the net in the round of 16 will be none other than Svetlana Kuznetsova, provided there has not been a big upset (that would have to be pulled by Alisa Kleybanova because Nadia Petrova isn't going to do it).

Azarenka, by the way, is completely capable of beating all of these players. It's just that a seeded player does not usually have to work so hard in the early part of a major draw.

French Open experts' picks

The experts are cautious this year, with several refusing to pick a winner, but--instead--picking a couple of possible winners:

Chris Evert: Serena Williams or Jelena Jankovic
Corina Morariu: Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova (picks Jankovic as a third)
Jon Wertheim: Jelena Jankovic
Matt Cronin: Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic
Steve Tignor: Serena Williams
Ravi Ubha: Serena Williams
Steve Flink: Serena Williams
Peter Bodo: Jelena Jankovic
Patrick McEnroe: Jelena Jankovic
Bud Collins: Serena Williams

French Open first round--where danger lurks

A glance at the French Open draw shows me that a few seeded players could have some trouble in the first round.

Nadia Petrova, for example--who we once thought might win the French Open--plays Aravane Rezai. I expect Petrova, seeded 25, to win, but the big-hitting Rezai, if she is having a good day, could cause her some trouble. Likewise, number 16 seed Victoria Azarenka plays Edina Gallovits, who played extremely well in Charleston, giving Agnieszka Radwanska a real run. Gallovits also has some fine doubles skills that will come in handy. And finally, there is the vulnerable sixth seed, Anna Chakvetadze, who will face Nuria Llagostera Vives. Llagostera Vives is small, but she knows her way around a clay court.

Of all the first round matches, however, the one I think may prove to be the most competitive does not include any seeded players. Sara Errani will play Gisela Dulko, and I predict a fine match. Errani is a grinder and can hang out at the baseline for hours, getting balls back. Dulko has clay court finesse, and a lot more power than people perceive. In Charleston, she served superbly to win her first round, but lost her serve in her second round. If she had retained it, there is a fair chance that her opponent--the eventual champion, Serena Williams--would have made an early exit from the tournament. Service game aside, Dulko made things quite difficult for Williams.

Friday cat blogging--surfer-cat edition

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's official

Daniela Hantuchova has withdrawn from Roland Garros.

Get well soon, Daniela.

Which way to victory in Paris?

The French Open begins Sunday, and for the first time in years, "Can anyone beat Henin?" is not the main question. The question now is simply "Who will win at Roland Garros?" Here is a look at some of the players:


Serena Williams: Williams is on many lists as the top contender this year. She has won the French Open before (2002), she recently won on green clay in Charleston, she is fit, and her confidence is high. Williams is good on all surfaces, and is probably the only non-slider in history who can win at Roland Garros.

Jelena Jankovic: Jankovic (called JJ Express by the players because she does everything so fast) has it all--extraordinary athleticism, good court sense, good clay skills, and the best defensive game on the tour. Until recently, the one thing she didn't have was a serve. That situation has changed, however. You still won't see Jankovic serving like Serena Williams, and the second serve is probably still shaky (I haven't seen it much lately), but the first serve has definitely improved. Enough for her to win? I think so.

Ana Ivanovic: Ivanovic was the finalist at last year's French Open, and she froze during the final, practically handing the victory to Justine Henin. That was a learning experience for the Serbian woman with the huge forehand, and I doubt it will ever happen again. Ivanovic can be streaky, though, and her inconsistency could be a problem.

Svetlana Kuznetsova: Why hasn't Kuznetsova, one of the best clay court players around, won the French Open? I believe it's a mental thing. Kuznetsova has the serve, the movement, the speed, the finesse. Will this be the year she puts it all together?

Elena Dementieva: On the one hand, it appears that Dementieva's service problems will prevent her from ever winning a major. On the other, she has already been a finalist at the French Open (2004), and her service problems are not as bad these days as they used to be. Dementieva is a huge talent. She has superb movement and anticipation, and is mentally very tough. And she likes to play on clay.

Dinara Safina: I never thought I'd be putting Safina on this list, but after her performance in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, I have to. Safina, who has always been good on clay, plowed through Williams, Henin and Dementieva to take the German title, and she did it with superb serving (first and second), beautiful groundstrokes, great net play, and a very cool head. If Safina plays in Paris the way she played in Berlin, she is clearly a contender.


Maria Sharapova
: There are several people who believe Sharapova can win the French Open. I am not one of them; however, I think she will play well and may get far into the draw, as she did last year. The hard-working Russian has certainly improved her clay game, but she is still awkward on the surface, compared with some other top players.

Amelie Mauresmo: The mighty Frenchwoman has never lived up to her potential in Paris--too much pressure. Now there are no expectations of her all, but that probably won't help. Mauresmo missed most of last year because of illness, surgery, and surgery-related injury. This year, she has suffered with injury, illness and--understandably--lack of confidence. Mauresmo is just not herself. Nevertheless, there is no more beautiful game in women's tennis, and--despite her protests that she is a grass player--Mauresmo is very, very good on clay.

Vera Zvonareva--Zvonareva's comeback has been slow, steady, and complicated by injuries. This year, however--despite being hampered by more injuries--she has been most impressive on clay, winning in Prague, and getting to the final in Charleston. (She has also performed quite well on other surfaces in 2008.) No one is going to want to see her on the other side of the net in Paris, and of all the players to watch, she is the one I think is most likely to perform a major upset.

Patty Schnyder: When her serve is on, Schnyder is brilliant on clay. When her serve is not working for her, she is nevertheless highly entertaining. Unfortunately, she tends to consistently get into Tier I and II finals and not win them, which is beyond frustrating for her fans. Schnyder reached the round of 16 at Roland Garros for the past three years, losing to Mary Pierce, Venus Williams (whom she has never beaten) and Maria Sharapova, in a match that ended in a sudden-death thriller, and just about put my hair on end.

Alize Cornet: The young Frenchwoman is pretty hot stuff on clay. She got to the semifinals this year in Amelia Island and Charleston, and played in last week's Rome final, losing to Jankovic. By the time Cornet reached that final in Rome, she had played three qualifying rounds and five main draw rounds, and she was exhausted. Growing physically and extending her training will eventually take care of that problem, but--in the meantime--Cornet is still a tough opponent and a lot of fun to watch.

Dominka Cibulkova: I first noticed Cibulkova last year in Charleston. She has fine clay court skills, and made it to the Amelia Island final this year (beating Cornet in the semifinals), but sustained an injury during that match, which Sharapova won.

Francesca Schiavone: No discussion of clay court tennis is complete without mentioning the tenacious Italian with the lovely, one-handed backhand. Schiavone can fight like nobody's business, and--most of the time--makes her opponent work very hard for every point.

Venus Williams: It may not be her best surface, but Williams is no slouch on clay. She was a finalist in 2002, and is always a worthy opponent.

Other clay court players who are worth watching include Flavia Pennetta, Agnes Szavay, Anabel Medina Garrigues, Gisela Dulko, and the once-great Nadia Petrova.

2nd seed upset in Strasbourg

Number 2 seed Alona Bondarenko was upset today in Strasbourg by Timea Bacsinszky, 7-6, 6-2. Bondarenko had a much higher first serve percentage, but Bacsinszky was winning much more on her first serve. Bondarenko was broken five times.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More French Open withdrawals

Meilen Tu and Meghann Shaughnessy have withdrawn from the French Open because of injuries. I did not include these before because I did not know about Tu and I forgot about Shaughnessy.

Bartoli injured again

Top seed Marion Bartoli had to retire today in her match against Peng Shuai in Strasbourg. What what I can gather, she sustained a wrist injury. Here's hoping it is a minor one.

Shock score of the week

Istambul: Agnieszka Radwanska def. Sorana Cirstea, 6-0, 6-0

I have no idea what that was about. Cirstea is a gifted player. In fact, the only other time she and Radwanska played, Cirstea won. It isn't the surface--Cirstea does fairly well on clay. Wow.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

Davenport withdraws from French Open

Lindsay Davenport has withdrawn her name from the entry list of the 2008 French Open. I do not know the reason she gave, but the move itself is hardly a surprise. Clay is Davenport's weakest surface, and--considering her short-term return to the tour--there is no reason for her to play in Paris.

Sania Mirza has also withdrawn. She has not recovered from her wrist surgery. Tatiana Golovin, Li Na and Eleni Daniilidou had already withdrawn because of injuries and surgeries, and Daniela Hantuchova is expected to withdraw.

All of these withdrawals are sad, but the most meaningful one, in my opinion, is that of Golovin, for she is the clay specialist among the group.

Cornet consoled

During the break between sets in the Rome final, young Alize Cornet burst into tears. She was frustrated, she said, because she was so physically exhausted, her body would not permit her to play at a level at which she could really compete. And when the match was over, the young Frenchwoman was clearly distraught. But before the awards ceremony began--while Cornet toweled off her tears--she received a visitor. Winner Jelena Jankovic went to Cornet's chair, reminded her about the major players she had defeated in Rome, and what a bright future she had.

Quote of the day

"If I was 25 and I had won so many grand slams, I'd quit too."
Maria Sharapova on Justine Henin

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dokic wins another challenger

Jelena Dokic has won her second $25 challenger in a row. She won the Caserta title in a straight-set match.

Dokic also has a wild card for the Internationaux de Strasbourg this week.

Jankovic rules in Rome!

Defending champion Jelena Jankovic retained her title in Rome today by defeating Alize Cornet, 6-2, 6-2 in the final. Cornet had a lot of trouble with her serve. That is not usually the case with Cornet--in her first Tier I final, however, it appeared that nerves took over. Cornet had a 49 first serve percentage, a 48 first serve won percentage and a 13 second serve won percentage. She was broken seven times.

During the match, Cornet was obviously emotionally distraught. After the match, she said the problem was that--after going through qualifying and getting to the final--she was simply exhausted, and unable to play at her usual level. I thought Cornet played considerably below her potential in the semifinal, also, though certainly better than she played in the final. Nevertheless, she is a very talented young player, and we will be seeing a lot more of her.

Lisicki stops Karatantcheva in Strasbourg qualifying

Sesil Karatantcheva failed to make it to the main draw in Strasbourg today when she was defeated by up-and-coming German player Sabine Lisicki, 7-6, 7-5.

Chan and Chuang win in Rome

Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung have taken the title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. They defeated Iveta Benesova and Janette Husarova, 7-6, 6-3.

Chan and Chuang have now won eight career titles. They were also the finalists in both the 2007 Australian Open and the 2007 U.S. Open. The Rome win is their first Tier I title.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ooh la la!

Alize Cornet, playing far from her best tennis, nevertheless earned a spot in tomorrow's Rome final by defeating Anna Chakvetadze, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 today. Chakvetadze, who tended to be inconsistent (think Goolagong's occasional "walkabouts") even before she suffered a trauma at the end of 2007, has now become even more so. I happen to think the Russian is very talented, and I especially enjoy watching her work the court. However, she has a tendency to fade away during matches, and she faded just enough today for Cornet to win.

In the third set, Cornet received such a bad line call that I wanted to scream "Hawkeye for clay courts now!" but no one would have heard me. The chair umpire confirmed the bad line call, and Cornet, who is a bit of a hot-head to begin with, became quite upset. She had trouble letting go of the incident, but she eventually pulled herself together.

Cornet appeared sluggish today, and her forehand was shaky. The Frenchwoman will have to strengthen it and play her usual explosive game if she is to have a chance against her final opponent, defending champion Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic received a walkover from semifinal opponent Maria Sharapova, who sustained a calf strain while practicing. It probably didn't help that she did all that stretching--as opposed to sliding--in her quarterfinal match against Patty Schnyder (those two have great matches!).

Cornet, who will now enter the top twenty, made it to the semifinals in both Amelia Island and Charleston this year. This is her first Tier I final.

It was a nice run, but it's over

Klaudia Jans and Mervana Jugic-Salkic, a last-minute substitute team at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, were defeated today by the also-unseeded team of Iveta Benesova and Janette Husarova, 5-7, 6-3, 10-2. Jans and Jugic-Salkic defeated the teams of Chakvetadze and Vaidisova, number 2 seeds Srebotnik and Sugiyama, and Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual.

Benesova and Husarova will play Chan and Chuang in the final. Benesova has also revived her singles game of late.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Doubles upsets in Rome

Unseeded Peng and Sun upset top seeds Black and Huber in Rome today, 4-6, 7-5, 10-6. But that was not the only upset. Fifth-seeded Chan and Chuang upset third-seeded Peschke and Stubbs, and Jans/Jugic-Salkic continued their out-of-nowhere run (reminiscent of Govortsova and Gallovits in Charleston) by defeating Medina Garrigues and Ruano Pascual. Jans and Jugic-Salkic are alternates who were put into the draw at the last minute, and they have made the most of it. In the semifinals, they play Benesova and Husarova.

The top four doubles seeds have now been eliminated.

Chan/Chuang def. Peschke/Stubbs, 7-5, 6-2
Jans/Jugic-Salkic def. Medina Garrigues/Ruano Pascual, 6-7, 6-3, 11-9

Rome semifinals set

Will Jelena Jankovic defend her title?

Alize Cornet got an unexpectedly easy passage into the Internazionali BNL d'Italia semifinals when her opponent, Serena Williams, sustained a back injury during practice and gave the Frenchwoman a walkover. Anna Chakvetadze defeated a fatigue-ridden Tsvetana Pironkova, defending champion Jelena Jankovic took out Venus Williams, and Maria Sharapova turned up the volume in the third set and defeated Patty Schnyder.

I was disappointed to see Schnyder lose to Sharapova again, but the good part is that I don't have to endure two of my very favorites, Schnyder and Jankovic, competing against each other. I really hope Jankovic can defend her title, but I like all four players in the semis, and I will be pleased for anyone who wins. Of course, should Sharapova win, the French Open map changes a little.

In tomorrow's semifinals, Cornet will play Chakvetadze, and Sharapova will play Jankovic.

Cornet def. Williams, w/o
Chakvetadze def. Pironkova, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1
Jankovic def. Williams, 5-7, 6-2, 6-3
Sharapova def. Schnyder, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2

Hantuchova expected to miss Roland Garros

Daniela Hantuchova's foot injury is taking a long time to heal. She is still in pain and cannot even walk far, let alone practice, so it looks like the French Open is out for her. What a shame.

Serena Williams out of Rome due to injury

Serena Williams gave Alize Cornet a walkover today because of a back injury, presumably the same one she had in Charleston. Cornet will play Anna Chakvetadze in the semifinals.

Friday cat blogging--now we are 2!

Some time this month, Ziggy Stardust and Tarzan will have their second birthdays. The kittens, who are half-brothers, were rescued from a feral colony. Tarzan seemed hopelessly feral at first, but Ziggy did not have a feral bone in his body. Later, Tarzan became tame, and the two were inseparable. They were supposed to have been foster kittens, but you know how those things sometimes go--they wound up living with us. Roxie, our tabby, has never totally warmed to the idea, though she seems to like them more than she lets on. Her sister Velma, the patch tortoiseshell, has a lot of fun with both of them. I still feel guilty about disrupting Roxie's life.

Ziggy and Tarzan like to fight and play chase. Ziggy likes to get anything he can think of going with the sisters. Late at night, when the others are all in bed, Tarzan--who is very large--drags his toys all around the house.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Roland Garros wild cards announced

Here are the main draw wild cards for the French Open, a couple of whom have already been announced on this blog:


Olivia Sanchez
Severine Bremond
Stephanie Foretz
Mathilde Johansson
Youlia Fedossova
Violette Huck


Madison Brengle
Sam Stosur

Cornet to get another shot at Williams

Alize Cornet gave it everything she had against Serena Williams in the Charleston semifinals, but it wasn't enough. Cornet had already gone through Michaella Krajicek, Sara Errani, Sorana Cirstea, and Agnes Szavay (great match) to get to the semis, but then Williams defeated her, 7-5, 6-3.

Soon, Cornet will get another chance, on slower clay, to test her game against Williams' game. Today, she upset number 3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2, 6-4. I don't know much about Cornet's game on other surfaces, but on clay, she is explosive, and displays beautiful court movement.

Number 2 seed Maria Sharapova got past Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 7-6, and Patty Schnyder defeated Marion Bartoli in what appears to have been a real thriller--4-6, 6-4, 7-6.

The other big upset today was in doubles. The team of Jans/Jugic-Salkic defeated number 2 seeds Srebotnik/Sugiyama, 1-6, 7-5, 10-4.

What they're saying about Henin

Here are some thoughts on and tributes to Justine Henin:

Steve Flink

Peter Bodo

Kamakshi Tandon

Greg Garber

Bonnie D. Ford

Aaress Lawless

Richard Pagliaro

Jon Wertheim

Steve Tignor

Women Who Serve

And Amelie Mauresmo:

I was surprised like everyone. At no moment has she expressed any kind of fatigue. The question I ask is why she didn't take a break. It's true that with her method of [play]--lot of investment in the game, but also a lot of tension and fear--you can understand that fatigue would set in.

Dokic gets wild card for Strasbourg

Jelena Dokic, who recently won her first tournament in six years, has received a wild card to the Internationaux de Strasbourg main draw.

Hantuchova withdraws from Istambul

Her foot has not recovered, so Daniela Hantuchova has withdrawn from the Istambul Cup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stosur gets French Open wild card

Word comes from On the Baseline that Sam Stosur has been given a wild card into the main draw of the French Open. Stosur has just returned to the tour following a lengthy illness layoff.

Some thoughts on Justine Henin

Most people do not remember when Justine Henin was known only as the "talented choker" on the tour. But she was. And once she overcame her fear of winning, she climbed up the rankings to become one of the greatest players of the Open era. Peter Bodo dubbed her the "Little Backhand That Could," and that sums it up pretty well, especially considering the literary ramifications.

I always thought of Henin as the most emotional of players, not because she cried or smashed her racquet, but because there generally seemed to be a dormant volcano just below her surface--a fragility that would make her especially vulnerable if any big winds blew into her life. The early loss of her mother and the conflict that ensued within her family created the tough/vulnerable duality that made Henin who she is.

We all know that Henin went with her mother to see the 1992 French Open final, and decided she wanted to play tennis--and win at Roland Garros. Then her mother died, leaving her not only heartbroken, but left to deal with a father and siblings who treated her like Cinderella and were stunned that she actually wanted to have a life. That same father and siblings now behave publicly like the character Rose Brice in Funny Girl, when she sings "Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?"--a situation I find unnerving and suspicious.

Shortly after she lost her mother, Henin teamed up with coach Carlos Rodriguez, who obviously served as a parent figure for her in some ways. Their professional relationship has lasted twelve years so far, and they have opened tennis centers in Belgium and Florida.

In 2002, Henin married Pierre Yves Hardenne, a tennis coach, and they were divorced just over four years later. The divorce, in fact, caused Henin to stay out of the 2007 Australian Open. In 2004, Henin was taken out of the tour for several months by a debilitating Cytomegalovirus virus, though she did manage to make it to the Athens Olympic Games and win a gold medal.

When Henin returned to the tour after recovering from the virus, she cut down on her tournament commitments and changed her workout methods. Both of these decisions were wise, and undoubtedly helped her stay healthier. Her serve, however, was never quite the same after the virus layoff, a phenomenon ignored by the sports press.

Once she became a top-ten player, Henin exhibited a mental and physical toughness that was extremely impressive. I will never forget the 2003 U.S. Open semifinal. Henin was cramping terribly, but continued playing. Her opponent, Jennifer Capriati, was two points from victory on eleven occasions in the three-plus-hours epic thriller, but Henin won it. After she won, Henin said she did not know if she would be healthy enough to play the final, but she was, and she defeated countrywoman Kim Clijsters in straight sets to win her first U.S. Open title.

No discussion of Justine Henin is complete without mentioning Clijsters. Henin was her countrywoman's nightmare. Clijsters ended her career 10-12 against Henin, but those losses included the finals of the 2003 French Open, the 2003 U.S. Open, the 2004 Australian Open, and the 2006 French Open.

Henin, for all her skill and savvy, was not a stranger to controversy. On more than one occasion, her court behavior was perceived as dishonest, and--in my opinion--her defenders have had to make several twists and turns to justify some of the things she did. Her childhood companion and opponent, Clijsters--who is not given to saying negative things about anyone--once remarked that cutting some ethical corners was typical behavior for Henin.

Then there was the 2006 Australian Open final, in which she retired early in the second set against Amelie Mauresmo, thereby denying Mauresomo the joy of hearing "Game, set, match!" at the end of a major. Henin said she was suffering from a stomach problem, though earlier, she had said she was feeling better than ever. And many people could not erase the image of Henin's cramping through that 2003 U.S. Open win over Capriati.

It was at this point that Peter Bodo began calling Henin the "Little Backhand That Quit." I decided to cut Henin a bit of slack, since I knew that--post-virus--she was afraid to take any health risks. But as a die-hard Mauresmo fan, I never quite got over seeing Mauresmo sitting on a bench consoling Henin when she should have been falling to her knees and hearing the roar of the crowd.

Though I was never an emotional fan of Henin's, I was often blown away by her tennis. Her fluidity, her movement, her anticipation, her wide array of shot-making, and--of course--her backhand--are elegant, powerful and deadly accurate. She is a relatively small woman with a huge game. She can volley superbly, and she can also hold her own at the baseline.

Sadly, Jelena Jankovic, whom Henin has defeated in all nine matches they have played (though some of them were squeakers, and the most important one involved a mental meltdown from a clearly leading Jankovic), will never have a chance to beat her. I was fortunate to be in the stands the day that one of my very favorite players, Patty Schnyder, beat Henin for the first and only time, though several of their matches were also close (Henin later told the press "I always knew she could beat me"). In beating Henin, Schnyder broke a 27-match streak on clay.

Henin and Serena Williams also have a long-lasting rivalry. They have played each other thirteen times, and Williams leads 7-6. Henin retires with 6-3 win record over Maria Sharapova, and an 8-5 win record over Lindsay Davenport, with the last eight wins all belonging to Henin. She also leaves with an 8-6 win record over Mauresmo (Mauresmo's wins, however, include two majors and a Sony Ericsson Championships defeat), and a 2-7 loss record against Venus Williams, though they played only one time after 2003, and Henin won that match.

Henin's record speaks for itself. She has won forty-one singles titles, including seven Grand Slam titles, two doubles titles, and an Olympic gold medal. In 2007 alone, she won ten titles, including two majors and the Sony Ericsson Championships. Henin was number 1 in the world for a total of 177 weeks (including a recent 61 straight weeks), and she has won too many awards to list. Notable among them was the 2003 Player of the Year award from the International Tennis Writers Association, the 2008 Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award, and Belgium's Great Cross of the Order of the Crown.

In retiring, Henin says that she no longer feels the emotion that has driven her all these years--that 2007 served as a complete fulfillment for her. Needless to say, some fans are not buying that explanation, but we will probably never know whether it is the whole story. Henin has sometimes taken criticism for being private and mysterious, but her protection of her privacy is one of the things I do admire about her.

I am a bit surprised at my own level of sadness over this news. I do not feel the devotion to Henin that her fans do, though I certainly understand that emotion. I feel sad on behalf of Henin's fans; I have seen more than one of my favorites retire. The suddenness of the announcement also makes it difficult for people to process the news.

My own sadness comes because I think Henin is such an incredible athlete, both mentally and physically, and I can't believe I won't see her play again. I also wanted her to have her career Slam, and never thought she would retire without winning Wimbledon. Hers is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen, and there will never be anyone else on the tour quite like her.

Quote of the day

"She was a great champion and she gave me a world of trouble, so I hope the best for her."
Serena Williams on Justine Henin

And they haven't even reached the 3rd round in Rome...

Radwanska def. Amanmuradova, 6-3, 6-0
Wozniacki def. Paszek, 6-3, 6-0
Vinci def. Kanepi, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0
Chakvetadze def. K. Bondarenko, 3-6, 7-6, 6-0
Kuznetsova def. Govortsova, 6-2, 6-0
Errani def. Szavay, 6-0, 6-3
S. Williams def. A. Bondarenko, 6-2, 6-0
Schnyder def. Ruano Pascual, 6-1, 6-0

Sharapova new world number 1

Maria Sharapova had only just slipped Ana Ivanovic and taken over the world number two spot, and now Justine Henin, via her retirement from pro tennis, has handed her the number one spot. Sharapova has been number one in the world before, in 2005, and will undoubtedly wear the ranking well.

Quitting while she's ahead: Henin says goodbye

About a week ago, I asked "What gives with Henin?" Today I am here to ask the same thing. Henin retired, effective immediately, from professional tennis today, only a couple of weeks before the start of the French Open, and without winning a career Grand Slam. She has left the tour, she said, because "I was at the end of the road," meaning it was just time for her to move on.

Only that sentiment does not really jive with what we know about Justine Henin--that she is one of the most driven people in pro tennis, maybe in all of pro sports. A likely fifth French Open title was days away, and the elusive Wimbledon title seemed to be less elusive than ever.

On the other hand, it may be her very driven nature that caused her to believe she could not go on another day. It is generally acknowledged that it was most likely over-training led to a compromised immune system that, in turn, led to Henin's contracting the terrible virus that kept her off of the tour for so long. In other words, she has paid before for over-doing it.

But then again, Henin learned from her time off. She monitored her immune system closely, and tended to her injuries wisely. She played as few tournaments as possible, and did everything she could to protect her health.

So why quit now? Henin has been a slump, despite having had a glorious 2007. Perhaps she thought--like many of us thought--that she was no longer a shoo-in at Roland Garros, and she did not want to face the possibility of experiencing a decline on red clay. Or perhaps she worked so hard for so long that she was exhausted, mentally and physically, and just wanted out. "I have been driving my career based on an emotion but I didn't feel that emotion anymore..." she said in her announcement.

When female champions retire these days, it is not without controversy or sexist babble. Henin's countrywoman, Kim Clijsters, said her body was so battered she could hardly stand up in the morning, and it took her hours to go through healing and conditioning rituals. She then became pregnant and retired a few months shy of when she had planned to retire, anyway. And she was mercilessly bashed by some who thought it somehow uppity of her to not want to compete when she was in constant pain. On the other side of the vicious coin, there have been a few articles written recently that proclaim how wonderful it is for female athletes to be able (who was stopping them?) to walk away from all that sweat and fame so they can get on with the real job of all women--starting a family.

More on Henin later in this blog. But for now--it seems fitting that she would be the first player to retire while she was still number one in the world. Justine is just not the losing type.

Ivanovic loses in Rome

Qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova, the woman who gained a certain amount of fame when she removed Venus Williams from the first round of the 2006 Australian Open, eliminated top seed Ana Ivanovic from second round competition in Rome today when she defeated her, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2. Pironkova broke Ivanovic seven times, and she herself was broken five times.

Pironkova will next play Victoria Azarenka.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Because we would never want a woman's sexuality to be too threatening...

"The 6-foot-1 Serb is a heartthrob, radiating a lucid, subdued sensuality that is preternatural and captivating without being too threatening."

Monday, May 12, 2008

She's back! Stosur wins first round in Rome

The good news is that Sam Stosur, who has been out for about eight months because of illness, won her opening round in Rome today. The bad news is that she beat Michaella Krajicek, which means that Krajicek has yet to win a match this season. Stosur defeated Krajicek 6-3, 6-2. Next, Stosur will face Venus Williams.

Who will win Rome?

Henin has withdrawn.
Safina has withdrawn.
Mauresmo, who wasn't really a top contender, but is a past champion, has withdrawn.
Petrova, who should be a contender, is not one.
Dementieva is not entered.
Sharapova on red clay...I don't see it happening.

That leaves defending champion Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Serena Williams, and Ana Ivanovic as the top contenders. Another strong contender, in my opinion, is Vera Zvonareva.

Who is most likely to win in Rome?

Sharapova accepts tour compromise

The photo shoot was changed from four hours to ninety minutes.

Safina withdraws from Rome

Berlin champion Dinara Safina has withdrawn from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, citing a back injury. She has been replaced in the draw by Sybille Bammer, who has been replaced in the draw by lucky loser Ekaterina Makarova.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Roland Garros appettizer

If you get the Tennis Channel, then you got to see the last two sets of one of the great French Open finals--Graf v. Sanchez-Vicario in 1989. Time restrictions prevented the showing of the first set, except for a few moments of the tiebreak, but the second and third sets were wonderful. Graf was going for three straight Roland Garros titles, but Sanchez-Vacario--showing her full range of clay court brilliance--spun, lobbed, dropped, pulled Graf from side to side, continually pressured her forehand, and--of course--got back a hundred balls. When Graf served for the match, she was broken at love, then broken at love again. What a final!

Sanchez-Vicario def. Graf, 7-6, 3-6, 7-5

The return of Mara Santangelo

Mara Santangelo, who has been off the tour since she injured her foot last September in the Fed Cup final, will make her return in her home country this week. Santangelo has a wild card into the main draw of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Before she was injured, Santangelo had entered the top 30. She holds one tour singles titles and six doubles titles. The doubles titles include both Rome and Roland Garros.

Black and Huber win in Berlin

Though many expected them to be defeated on Berlin clay, Cara Black and Liezel Huber defeated Spanish clay specialists Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Martinez Sanchez today to win the Berlin title.

Black and Huber have now won three titles this year. You can see them tour Berlin here.

Safina takes Berlin!

Dropping the first set, just as she did when she defeated both Justine Henin and Serena Williams, Dinara Safina won her first Tier I tournament today when she defeated Elena Dementieva, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Safina's victory in Berlin seemed almost inevitable, yet so many times, when a player performs superbly throughout a tournament, she winds down in the final against a tough opponent.

Dementieva is one of those tough opponents--one of the toughest--but Safina did the same thing with her that she did with her other opponents: She kept a cool head about her, figured out what to do to win, and then launched a successful two-set campaign.

Winning Berlin--especially the way she won it--places Safina in a whole new category of players. She is serving very well, hitting sharp, accurate groundstrokes, successfully neutralizing the deep, hard shots of powerful opponents, and using her doubles skills to be successful at the net. Most of all, though, she is playing as though she believes she is there to win. This was a most impressive victory for a most impressive champion.

Mauresmo withdraws from Rome

Still injured, Amelie Mauresmo has withdrawn from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Better for her to get well than to make the injury worse. When will it end?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Peer withdraws from Rome

Shahar Peer has withdrawn from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia because of a shoulder injury. There is also a question as to whether she will be able to compete in Strasbourg and Roland Garros.

Peer will be replaced in the draw by Francesca Schiavone, who will be replaced by a lucky loser.

Dokic wins challenger

Jelena Dokic has won a 25k challenger in Florence, defeating Lucie Hradecka, 6-1, 6-3. Whoever thought that, one day, this would be good news?

All-Russian final to be played in Berlin

Dinara Safina defeated an injured Victoria Azarenka, and Elena Dementieva defeated defending champion Ana Ivanovic in today's Qatar Telecom German Open semifinals. From what I have heard, Azarenka began cramping some time in the second set. She and partner Shahar Peer later retired during the first set of their doubles match.

Those who have been paying attention will not be surprised to see Dementieva in another final, but few were expecting to see Safina in this final. She was in the final of another Tier I tournament last year, in Charleston, but she had great difficulty playing in the high winds that followed the tornadoes that struck in the Charleston area. Her opponent, Jelena Jankovic, handled the winds expertly and won easily. Safina was also a finalist in Rome in 2006.

Dementieva has yet to lose to Ivanovic. She and Safina have played four times, but in one of those contests (Berlin, 2004), Safina had to retire. Dementieva won two of the others, but lost their only other clay match, which was played in Rome in 2006.

Spanish team upsets Peschke and Stubbs

Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Martinez Sanchez, members of Spain's successful Fed Cup team, upset number 2 seeds Kveta Peschke and Rennae Stubbs in Berlin today, 6-2, 3-6, 16-14. In the final, they will play Cara Black and Liezel Huber, who won their semifinal match when opponents Victoria Azarenka and Shahar Peer retired in the middle of the first set. Azarenka suffered from cramping earlier in the day when she lost to Dinara Safina in her singles semifinal match.

Rome: Interesting first round matches

As always, we do not yet know who the qualifiers will be or which of them will play whom. That is usually not much of an issue, but it is in this case because--assuming the top-seeded qualifier, Alize Cornet, gets through qualifying--she is a threat to just about anyone she meets in the first round.

Interesting first-round matches we do know about:

Azarenka v. Safina: Wouldn't you know it? They just met in the Berlin semifinals, and Azarenka played through what was apparently pretty bad cramping in the second set.

Petrova v. Errani: Given Petrova's streaky play these days, the tenacious Errani has a chance.

Mauresmo v. Kirilenko: Mauresmo has had nothing but trouble for months and months--appendicitis, surgery, injury resulting from surgery, illness, rib injury--you name it. She has not had much match play, and she cannot possibly have much confidence. Kirilenko is an inconsistent player, but she may be able to get past Mauresmo (I hope not).

Srebotnik v. Pennetta: This one has to be good. Both women are good clay players and fun to watch. My only problem with this match is that I don't want either of them to lose.

Vakulenko v. Razzano: Julia Vakulenko, who hopes to be a Spaniard soon, continues to have her share of travails. She is talented, however, and the match against hard-working Razzano will most likely be one worth watching.

Vaidisova v. Bammer: Neither is having a good season. Both are good on clay. Who knows?

Paszek v. Wozniacki: I don't know much about Wozniacki on clay. However, both of these young players are quite talented, and we can probably expect a spirited match.

Cibulkova v. Dulko: If I could choose one match to watch, this would probably be the one. Dominika Cibulkova is becoming a very fine clay competitor, and Dulko--always strong on clay--has recently improved her serve quite a bit. The woman from Argentina may be small, but she can hit the ball solidly. Too bad one of them has to exit after the first round.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Berlin: For me, both disappointing and thrilling

My favorite player, Amelie Mauresmo, withdrew. One of my other favorites, Patty Schnyder, was upset early. My third big favorite on the tour, Jelena Jankovic, was upset today. And Alona Bondarenko, whom I really enjoy watching, was also upset.

However, I couldn't help but be excited for Dinara Safina, who is having a huge tournament. I watched her play today, and I was very impressed with her service game and her mental toughness. And it's exciting to have Victoria Azarenka (even though she beat Bondarenko) in the semifinals, and perhaps Agnes Szavay, too (I hope).

We may have an unexpected winner. Can Safina keep it up, or will she finally wind down? Is this the right time for Elena Dementieva to take another Tier I? Will Azarenka stun everyone? Will Szavay? Or will Ana Ivanovic defend her title?

Dinara victim, please

It's a big deal to take Justine Henin out of a Tier I (or any tier) tournament, and a bigger deal to take her out of a clay tournament. It's a big deal to take a very solid Serena Williams out, too. Dinara Safina just beat them both, back to back, in Berlin. I did not get to see the Henin match, but I watched the Williams match, and the scoreline does not accurately reflect what went on.

How wonderful it must have been to have been in the stands. Both women pulled out all the stops: There was plenty of drama and screaming and fist-pumping and wonderful shot-making. In the end, though, Safina served the best I've ever seen her serve--varying and concealing her serves to the degree that she often had an early advantage over Williams.

Not to take anything away from Serena, though, who was often her brilliant self in this match, creating smooth opportunties and sneaking in shots a lesser player would not have dared to try. But in the end, Safina got back almost everything Williams threw at her, and handled her own serve so deftly, she was able to get to a third set tiebreak and win it.

Safina def. Williams, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6

Henin withdraws from Rome

Citing fatigue, top seed Justine Henin has withdrawn from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. She is being replaced by Gisela Dulko.

Friday cat blogging--attitude edition

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Move over, Maria...I've got complaints of my own

For many years, many of us have enjoyed virtual betting on tournaments, and have watched our virtual cash pile up and then fade away. But no more. The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour has decided that a very popular women's tennis forum can no longer use the term "WTA" in its name (though it has been part of that name for years), and can no longer sponsor virtual betting.

Applying logic, one would think that--whatever the objection was to virtual betting--it would be a moot point once the "WTA" word was removed, but apparently not.

I liked virtual betting, even though I did not participate that much. I would bet now and then on different players, but it was Patty Schnyder who made realize the meaning of the term "easy come, easy go." I think I won more money from her matches than I lost, though. It was fun, and now some unknown attorney has taken my fun away.

Golovin withdraws from Roland Garros

And Rome and Strasbourg, it goes without saying.

The Frenchwoman, who by now should be one of the contenders for the French Open, did not play last year, either, because of an ankle injury. This year, she has withdrawn, presumably, because of a failure to recover completely from surgery she had to remove a cyst from her hip.

What gives with Henin?

Though falling to a steadily improving Dinara Safina is far from shameful, Justine Henin's defeat in Berlin today is but part of a pattern of sub-standard (for her) tennis we have seen this season. calls the situation "a growing Henigma," and perhaps it is.

Last year was the year of Henin. She won the French Open and the U.S. Open, and she won ten of the fourteen tournaments she entered. She finished the year as number one in the world, and was pretty much blowing most of her competitors off the court.

Much has been made of Henin's personal life and how it may have affected her--both positively and negatively--on the tennis court. She skipped the 2007 Australian Open because of her divorce proceedings, and she announced later in the year that she had been reconciled with her family (a matter about which I remain suspect).

More important, I believe, is Henin's sometimes-fragile physical state. She missed most of 2004 because of a debilitating virus, which many suspect was brought on by over-training. Henin then changed her training regimen and began to play fewer tournaments. These were wise decisions.

One thing that tennis writers and commentators do not seem to have noticed is that Henin's serving problems began after the long virus layoff, and she has not been able to solve them. Most of the time, she can get by if she loses her serve because she has so many other skills. But this problem may be catching up with her now that other players are getting better at figuring out her game.

Henin has also been having trouble with her right knee, and she has complained for some time of respiratory issues--both infections and asthmatic bronchitis.

Then there is the confidence issue. Henin is accustomed to dominating, not being dominated. In last year's U.S. Open, she played a 6-0 set in each match all the way through the round of 16. But in this year's Australian Open, Maria Sharapova beat her in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-0. In March, she was beaten 6-2, 6-0 by Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open. These are serious defeats in serious tournaments, delivered by very serious competitors.

Carlos Rodriguez has been Henin's coach for years, and there is no reason to believe that he should stop being her coach. But perhaps it is time to bring in an ad hoc coach--one who will stay for a brief, designated period of time, and help Henin with the parts of her game that are troubling her. Rodriguez obviously does an outstanding job, but maybe, right now, he is too close to the screen to see the picture.

Justine Henin is a superior athlete, both physically and mentally. Even those who are not particular fans of hers must admit that it is a joy to observe her fluidity of movement, her uncanny anticipation and her now-legendary backhand. If she is not physically healthy enough to play great tennis, one hopes she can find the right medical help. And if physical problems are not the main cause of her slump, then one hopes she will find the right coaching or psychological help. Something is wrong with Henin, and that something is hurting women's tennis.

Upset City, Germany

Dinara Safina defeated Justine Henin for the first time today

First it was Svetlana Kuznetsova, who lost to Alona Bondarenko. Then the really big upset came: Dinara Safina defeated Justine Henin. After that, Agnes Szavay squeaked by Marion Bartoli. Other seeds had already been upset, but not many people were expecting to see Henin and Kuznetsova go out in the third round.

Henin had a first serve percentage of 43, though she had a first serve win percentage of 66. Her second serve win percentage was 32, and she double-faulted seven times. She was broken eight times by Safina.

Alona Bondarenko is coming into her own as a clay court player. Her next challenge will be Victoria Azarenka, who defeated clay court specialist Gisela Dulko.

Bondarenko def. Kuznetsova, 1-6, 6-2, 6-2
Safina def. Henin, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1
Szavay def. Bartoli, 7-5, 7-5

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Russian Olympic team now complete

Last month, we learned that Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova had been named to the Russian Olympic team. Joining them are Elena Dementieva, Anna Chakvetadze, Vera Zvonareva, and Dinara Safina. The latter two have been named as a doubles team. Kuznetsova has been selected to play doubles with either Dementieva or Chakvetadze.

Dementieva is an Olympic silver medal holder in singles.

It's official

Daniela Hantuchova has withdrawn from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

Russians have mostly good results in Berlin today

Both Nadia Petrova and Anna Chakvetadze--neither of whom is having much of a season--were upset today at the Qatar Telecom German Open. Petrova's countrywoman, Maria Kirilenko, defeated her, 6-3, 6-3, and Victoria Azarena defeated Chakvetadze, 1-6, 7-6, 6-4.

Other Russians who got through to the third round were Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Dushevina.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"They just do whatever they want and tell us what to do and how to do it."

"...And on top of that walk around like they're the stars..."

So says Maria Sharapova of some tour executives. Sharapova continues to protest the hefty fine she will have to pay if she refuses to to the Rome photo shoot. Kamakshi Tandon explains it all.

Mauresmo hoping to play in Rome

Amelie Mauresmo, who had to withdraw from the Qatar Telecom German Open because of cough-induced rib pain, says she hopes to play in Rome next week. I hope so--this is getting very frustrating.

Pass the cream cheese

Some stats from yesterday's and today's Berlin matches:

Kanepi def. Knapp, 6-0, 6-1
Radwanska def. Kerber, 6-0, 5-3 (ret.)
Peng def. Craybas, 7-6, 5-7, 6-0
Bartoli def. Safarova, 6-0, 6-3
Kleybanova def. Govortsova, 6-0, 6-0

Schnyder and Vaidisova upset in Berlin

Number 9 seed Patty Schnyder lost her second round match to Vera Dushevina, 6-2, 6-3, today in Berlin. From the looks of the stats, Schnyder was having trouble with her serve, which can go from outstanding to dismal in the course of a few matches.

Also upset was Nicole Vaidisova, seeded number 12. Not surprisingly, Vaidisova was defeated by clay specialist Gisela Dulko, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Henin's calendar

Justine Henin says she plans to play even fewer tournaments in the future.

Date Update

Kimiko Date did not win the Kangaroo Cup Ladies Open in Gifu. She was defeated in the final by Tamerine Tunasugarn, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. But getting to the finals was quite an accomplishment for Date, who has been away from tennis for twelve years.

Date says that--at least for now--she does not wish to return to the tour, but will be playing in Japanese tournaments.

Bondarenkos send phenoms out of Berlin

The Bondarenko sisters, Alona and Kateryna, sent two of the tour's hottest young stars out of Berlin today. Alona Bondarenko defeated clay specialist Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, and Kateryna Bondarenko defeated Tamira Paszek, 6-4, 6-3.

The other hot young clay star, Alize Cornet, fared no better when she was beaten by clay veteran Francesca Schiavone, in a close, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 contest.

Two other good young players did better. Agnieszka Radwanska won her match against Angelique Kerber when Kerber retired at 6-0, 5-3, and Caroline Wozniacki upset a vulnerable Tatiana Golovin, 7-5, 6-1.

Not surprisingly, the struggling Shahar Peer was also upset--wild card Sabine Lisicki defeated her, 7-6, 6-1.

Alona Bondarenko will face either Tathiana Garbin or Anabel Medina Garrigues in the second round. Kateryna Bondarenko will play Elena Dementieva.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Brengle wins French Open wild card

Madison Brengle has won the French Open wild card playoffs in Boca Raton, Florida. She survived a round robin of eight players to reach the end of the playoffs.

Zvonareva wins Prague; Dulko wins Fes

2nd seed Gesela Dulko defeated top seed Anabel Medina Garrigues to win in Fes today

Top seed Vera Zvonareva defeated number 3 seed Victoria Azarenka in Prague today, 7-6, 6-2. This was Zvonareva's fourth final of the season, and her first win. She is now number 13 in the world, and I have a problem with her being permitted to play in a Tier IV event. For some time now, I have wanted the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour to place a restriction on higher ranked players that would keep them from playing in Tier IVs, but they do not seem to think such a restriction is necessary. While I appreciate the argument that having higher-ranked players at a lower-ranked event may bring up the overall level of play, I think that the disparity in levels renders an injustice to the lower-ranked players.

Meanwhile, Gisela Dulko won what looked to be a thriller against Anabel Medina Garrigues, 7-6, 7-6, in Fes.