Sunday, May 16, 2010

Relentless Rezai wins Madrid title

Today in Madrid, Aravane Rezai became the second consecutive unseeded woman to win a premier tournament. Rezai upset 4th seed Venus Williams, 6-2, 7-5, in the final, adding a surprise (to some) ending to the dramatic story she has unfolded all week in Spain.

Rezai began her Madrid effort by defeating Justine Henin in the first round, and adding a 6-0 final set as a flourish. That was just the beginning.

All I could do was shake my head when Tennis Channel commentator Brian Webber said that Rezai "cruised" through the rest of the tournament. What tournament was he watching? Rezai defeated Klara Zakopalova in the second round, then--in the third round--the Frenchwoman had to contend with a very tough Andrea Petkovic in what was probably the thriller of the tournament. She had to work  hard again in the quarterfinals, especially in the grueling first set, to defeat Jelena Jankovic. Rezai got a break in the semifinals when opponent Lucie Safarova retired after the first set, but there were a lot of tense moments in other matches.

Being unseeded and upsetting Henin, Jankovic and Williams is big. As big as Rezai's hitting. Her personality is big, too. In the past, she has made public statements about her distaste for Jankovic, and she didn't hesitate to expand that rhetoric in Madrid. (Those who wondered why Jankovic was distant during the handshake might take this history into consideration; I'm not judging or justifying anyone--just pointing out that, right or wrong, it may not be that easy to behave warmly toward someone who publicly denounces you.) She also had some less than flattering things to say to the media about Henin. For better or worse, Rezai clearly has no inner editor.

Rezai's on-court presence became increasingly fiery throughout the week, too. The harder and deeper she hit the ball, the larger her persona seemed to be.  And then there was the black and gold lame outfit. A friend designs Rezai's tennis outfits, and I will now refrain from making obvious observations about that.

In her first set against Williams, Rezai was dominant on serve, and also she broke Williams twice, quickly attacking Williams' second serves. Rezai held at love in her last service game, and appeared fully in charge of the match. In fact, she was so dominant that her first serve win percentage for the set was 100.

That type of momentum can be hard to maintain, especially against a top player, and--sure enough--Rezai was broken right away in the second set. Her serve went to pieces, and Williams took full advantage, breaking Rezai again, and taking a 5-2 lead. But just when a third set seemed inevitable, Rezai started to scratch her way back. She held for 3-5, then broke Williams. Rezai then held again, and--once again in a psychological comfort zone--she broke Williams to go up 6-5. By this time, she had saved six set points, and just like that--she found herself with three match points. She needed only one to take the biggest win of her career.

Rezai is not that good of a mover and doesn't appear to be comfortable at all at the net, but her in-the-zone, laser-like ball-striking can be overpowering. It certainly was this week. And it should be noted that being down 2-5 in a final and refusing to let a third set occur reflects the mindset of a winner.

For me, the Madrid tournament leaves much to be desired. I've long complained about having female models be "ballgirls," and this year's concession to the women--having male models be "ballboys"--I find only a tiny improvement. The heterosexist tone of the arrangement aside--there are children and adolescents who are being robbed of the opportunity of to be real ballgirls and ballboys.

Then there is the Madrid website, which is almost useless.

And finally, poor Rezai will have to tell her friends and family, "I won the Madrid Open, and all I got was this tacky plate."

For many reasons, I'm already nostalgic for the good old days in Rome.

But I digress. Rezai's win confirms why she's been on my "watch" list for a while. She's been working for four months with a new coach, and has been steadily improving. One hopes that, in the future, she'll add more dimensions to her game. In the meantime, she moves into the top 20, and Venus Williams--who is having a fine clay season--moves into the number 2 spot in the rankings.


Tim OBrien said...

I have been anxiously awaiting your final report on Madrid. I know that you expected big things from Aravane. You hit a winner with "...being down 2-5 in a final and refusing to let a third set occur reflects the mindset of a winner."
I really enjoy your comments. Can't wait to see the French draw!

Overhead Spin said...

While I was first of all very upset that Venus lost, I was again filled with pride that the WTA which has been taking a beating about lack of depth and there being no one to take the mantle of the Henins and Williams of the WTA, we have had 2 unseeded players win 2 premier tournaments in back to back weeks. Meanwhile on the depth filled ATP, we have had the same result in the clay season that we have been having for the last 50 years, Nadal winning everything on clay. Rezai played well and it is a testament to how Venus Williams is that even though every Venus fan that was watching that match hated Rezai for beating Venus instantly fell in love with her when she reportedly turned to Venus and told her "I like you and I respect your game". There can be no greater accolade to a champion than having the respect and admiration of your peers. It will be very interesting to see what the French media will have to say about her during the upcoming weeks.

Quick question Diane: was Rezai the player who was playing against deBrito last year and started screaming like her?

Overhead Spin said...

As to the commentary, Brian Webber is a bonehead so do not pay him much mind.

Diane said...

Thank you so much, Tim. I, too, can't wait to see it!

Karen, I certainly see these wins as evidence of depth, but people who trash the WTA will always spin it as "top players playing poorly."

And yes, Webber is probably the worst tennis commentator around.

I can't remember who started screaming along with Larcher De Brito, though I do recall the incident. Rezai is a good guess, for sure. Readers: Anyone recall who it was?

Jen said...

Karen, I think you may be remembering the Schiavone -Larcher de Brito match at Wimbledon last year. Francesca won while engaging Michelle in an epic grunting contest. You may also be recalling that at Roland Garros last year, Rezai complained bitterly to the chair umpire and the tournament director, I believe, about LDB's ear-splitting shrieks. I don't believe she tried to out-do her though.

Diane said...

Ah, yes, Jen...I remember Rezai's complaining about Michelle. And Michelle said that no one complains about Maria, etc. Why so many women scream instead of grunting, I don't know, but Michelle is hardly a rarity.

Anonymous said...

I knew this final would be a toss-up. The first set was all Rezai, she outplayed my girl. The second set Venus should have won, she choked big time. Congrats to Rezai, she played like Venus did ten years ago power and attitude in a good way, let's she if she can hold it up or fall to the wayside like so many of the newbies who hav e come to the wta.

Unknown said...

Hi Diane---

You're right.

I used a poor choice of words when I said Rezai "cruised" during our Road To The Finals graphic and failed to capture the essence of what those scores were meant to reflect.

I mentioned the details of the arduous 3rd Round second set tiebreaker a few times during our coverage of the Rezai-Jankovic QF on Fri. But in my haste to get back to the next point in the Singles Final today, I failed to give the proper details on the Rezai Tournament Summary graphic today. In retrospect, something like "after the Henin win, Rezai did not lose a set...." would have made more sense.

I enjoy your blog and appreciate your passion for tennis. Keep the feedback coming.

Brian Webber

Overhead Spin said...

OMG, is that really Brian Webber or someone pretending to be Brian Webber. If you are indeed Brian Webber, as a fan of this blog, may I just ask what was the reason behind TC's decision not to broadcast the women's doubles finals from Madrid? Fans are really upset that TC took this decision and while you may not have the answer, I especially would love if you could enquire and let us know. We had to resort to scoreboard watching and imagining the plays out there. Thanks for your response.

Diane said...

Karen, I really do think the ATP Masters contract may preclude Tennis Channel's live broadcast of women's tennis in Madrid.

There are several other questions I'm sure we could ask Tennis Channel, too!

And Brian, I do appreciate your comments, and your stopping by.

Overhead Spin said...

Diane I do understand the rights issue, however, this is the first time that I can ever recall where the women's doubles final at a premier event was not broadcast and I am a bit perturbed by this. In addition, why is that the men's game seems to get much more favourable consideration over that of the women. Not only does most networks seem to go after the men's events in a joint premier tournament such as Madrid, but it happened in almost every single joint premier event that happened this year. We saw it in IW and in Miami and now Madrid. If you are going to have a joint tournament then it stands to reason that the men and the women should get equal court coverage time. I just find this abominable as the more they relegate women's tennis to the outer courts is the more women's tennis will be defined as not worthy of sponsorship and broadcasting. This does not sit well with me at all.

Diane said...

This is how it works in all women's sports, Karen: The sports media refuses to promote women's sports and female athletes (other than as hot babes), then says they cannot show women's sports because the public doesn't care about them. It never seems to cross their minds that the public might care if they--the media--promoted women's sports the way they do men's sports.

Of course, there will always be part of the public that won't care, no matter what, because the culture insists on comparing the two, rather than seeing them as separate entities. No one on the WTA is going to hit a 147 mph serve (and if she did, she would immediately be gender-tested, of course).

I watch both ATP and WTA, and find that there are other differences, as you yourself have pointed out. For example, why will men do anything to avoid hitting down the line, when women use down-the-line as a major strategy? It's only through watching both tours play that one can appreciate the more subtle differences in the games.

Sexism is a cherished institution in the U.S. All the things my generation fought to abolish are back again, stronger than ever. The last couple of years in the U.S., in fact, have created an even more powerful culture of sexism and misogyny, with punishment doled out to women who object. Until that changes (and I'm afraid I don't think it ever will), women's sports will be considered second-class.

The WTA and the LPGA, instead of standing up to the sexism (as well as the inevitable ethnic bigotry and racism), have bought into it. Hence, people are much more likely to know who Caroline Wozniacki and Paula Creamer are than they are to have even heard of Sam Stosur or Yani Tseng.

Overhead Spin said...

Oh Diane we are singing from the same hymn book dear and what really aggravates me is that at the top of women's tennis you have stalwarts who have an idea of what it took to get where they were but their collective voices seems to have been silenced by corporate America. Perhaps when the day comes when Paula Creamer and others who have been courted by the media and corporate sponsors are old and decrepit and have lost their good looks then they will know what the Stosurs of the worldl have had to endure. To hear female commentators joining in on the chorus in denigrating women's tennis just really gets to me sometimes and I wish sometimes there was a ready medium that we could use to give our feedback on the comments of the day. Until that day comes I will join you in continuing to blog and let our voices be heard.

Unknown said...

My email address should have appeared when I left my comment, so feel free to touch base if you ever have a question about a specific broadcast. Hope everyone enjoys the French Open.


Overhead Spin said...

Brian if you are still out there, your email address did not appear. If you are so minded perhaps you can provide it to us again as we do have quite a bit of questions that we would like to address with Tennis Channel especially as it concerns women's tennis. Thanks again for contributing to this forum.

Unknown said...

I'm always happy to chat with anyone who invests the time to watch a broadcast.

I'm not qualified to weigh in on programming decisions or broadcast strategies for any of the networks I'm lucky enough to work for (Fox, CBS College Sports, TC) Those choices are up to the executives. If you'd like to talk Tennis, I'd like to hear your from you:

Overhead Spin said...

Thanks very much Brian. I will be writing to you separately to hear your thoughts on tennis. I promise not to bring up anything to do with broadcasts but perhaps if you can you can let the powers that be know what fans are talking about in terms of programming as it relates to women's tennis.