Monday, January 31, 2011

Passing shots

For the first time, the tour's top ten players are from ten different countries. Kim Clijsters has moved to number 2 in the world, Francesca Schiavone to number 4, and Li Na to number 7.

Tom Perrotta says the women were the stars of the 2011 Australian Open.

Dinara Safina has parted ways with her coach, and hints that she'll soon hire a former ATP player to be her new coach.

Women's Tennis Blog offers a summary of Australian Open fashion.

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will participate in the Nike "Clash of Champions," to be held March 8 in Eugene, Oregon. Williams recently announced that she expects to return to the tour in April.

Sam Stosur arrived in Tasmania today, and helped open the new regional tennis center in Launceton. She will play on Australia's Fed Cup team this weekend, when Australia takes on defending champion Italy in Hobart.

Casey Dellacqua is returning to the court after a long layoff from foot surgery and rehab.

Garbin should be remembered for stylish play

Tathiana Garbin has ended her singles career. When she announced that the Australian Open would be her last tournament, she also indicated that she would play a short list of doubles tournaments in the future, so we probably should not expect to see much of her. This is undoubtedly bad news for Timea Bacsinszky, who has won three doubles titles with Garbin, and who--in a recent interview--made a plea to Garbin to stay active with her in doubles competition. Garbin and Bacsinszky have not been together that long, yet they have also have another accomplishment worth mentioning: They are 3-0 against the formidable Czech team of Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Garbin, who is 33 years old, won eleven doubles titles and one singles title, and she advanced to the finals of multiple tournaments. None of her wins was in a premier tournament, but Garbin was a consistently good doubles player throughout her career. The affable Italian player, know as "Tax" to  friends, was ranked as high as number 22 (2007) in the world  in singles, and number 25 (2001) in doubles. In 2007, she made it to the fourth round of the French Open in singles, but was defeated by Nicole Vaidisova. Garbin's most dramatic singles win was her defeat of  defending champion Justine Henin in the second round of the 2004 French Open. (It must also be noted that Henin was suffering with the cytomegalovirus at the time, and was soon off the tour for several months.)

Garbin played in eleven Fed Cup ties. Throughout her singles career, she also posted wins against Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Elena Dementieva, and Chanda Rubin, and she had one other win over Henin, in Miami, 2001.

I have always enjoyed watching Garbin play, and especially on clay, her favorite surface. Her 2009 French Open third round match against Virginie Razzano stands out as one of my favorite Garbin matches. The wind was swirling around the court, making it hard for both players to make shots, and Garbin threw ever kind of shot imaginable at Razzano, who eventually prevailed, 7-5, 7-5. For me, that was probably the most entertaining match of the entire tournament, and it was a thrilling show for people watching in the stands and at home. (To my delight, one of the many dazzling shots in that match made it to Tennis Channel's top 10 "Hot Shots" list for 2009.)

In addition to being a stylish shot-maker, Garbin could also be quite humorous on the court, and almost always gave the crowd a good laugh--or at least a smile. Here's hoping we see her at least now and then on the doubles court.

Some final (really) thoughts on Henin's retirement

I reported on January 26 that seven-time major champion Justine Henin had retired from professional tennis. This was Henin's second time to leave the sport; she also retired suddenly in 2008. At that time, I wrote this and this about her retirement. Now, with my own post-Australian Open fatigue, I will not go on and on about Henin. However, her exit from the sport is big news; for me, however, it was not news to be discussed while we were enjoying the peak of the action in Melbourne.

Justine Henin had one of the most beautiful--and deadly--tennis games I have ever seen. Even though one generally knew what she as going to do, it was still always exciting to watch her do it. Henin also displayed an athleticism that was all the more amazing because of her relatively small size. Her return to the tour, which appeared to be motivated--at least in part--by a desire to win Wimbledon and achieve a career Slam, did not go the way she expected it to go. When she reached the final of the 2010 Australian Open, she generated a lot of talk, of course. But she was beset by injuries and a decrease in mental toughness, and in the end, the pain from her injured elbow forced her off the tour.

I admired Henin in a rather detached way because I had trouble tolerating her high sense of drama about herself and her (seemingly always urgent) feelings, I saw her push the sporting envelope too far too many times, and I couldn't get past her 2006 Australian Open retirement against Amelie Mauresmo. Henin was apparently an acquired taste--and one I did not acquire. But I very much liked watching her play, and I'm always sorry to see someone have to leave the game because of injury. I consider her a great tennis player, and her dominance at the French Open is of historical importance within the sport. Perhaps the saddest thing, from a fan standpoint, is that there is not likely to be anyone else who plays the way she did.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Australian Open top 10

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 Australian Open happenings:

10. "...I should have surgery before every Grand Slam": That's what Agnieszka Radwanska said in reponse to a comment that she got to the quarterfinals without having practiced. Radwanska played with a stress fracture in her foot through part of the 2010 season. When she finally stopped, she had to have surgery, and was told she would not be able to return to the tour until March. She recovered more rapidly than expected, and--at the last minute--entered the tournament. And despite Radwanska's service issues that generally stop her from seriously contending for a major, a run to the quarterfinals, under the circumstances, was quite an accomplishment.

9. I'll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places: Petra Kivitova isn't quite there yet, but she's getting closer and closer to becoming a force on the women's tour. She's still streaky, and she still has a tendency to get tight and make errors. Kvitova, though, is an all-out kind of player, and will probably always make a lot of errors. She has learned to protect herself somewhat, however, by not always hitting the ball so flat. She has a way to go, but her hitting is so impressive, one can't help but believe she will continue to improve and mature.

8. No retirement benefits: Venus Williams, who just can't seem to catch a break lately, had to retire in a major for the first time in her career. Williams sustained a groin injury during the first set tiebreak of her second round match. Her opponent, an in-form Sandra Zahlavova, won that set, but Williams went on to win the match. She was really hurt, though, and the retirement that was expected in the second round occurred in the third. Williams attempted to return Andrea Petkovic's serve in the second game, let out a cry of pain, and that was that. Some people in the crowd booed, literally adding insult to injury.

7. No strings attached: This is unforgettable.

6. Glazed Danish: An obviously anxious Li Na was down a set and a break against top seed Caroline Wozniacki during the semifinals. When the second set reached 5-all, however, Li regained her confidence and  never looked back. Li defeated Wozniacki 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, and Wozniacki walked away with ten winners, none of which was hit during the final set. Wozniacki went out in the semifinals in the 2010 U.S. Open, and in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. And while she claims she feels no pressure as the top-ranked player in the world, her clever, accurate, but non-aggressive game may need to be revised again.

5. The little motore that (almost) could: You could say that Francesca Schiavone wasn't exactly fresh for her quarterfinal match against top seed Caroline Wozniacki. She had played an almost five-hour, very physical (and very mental) round of 16 match, and was expected to have very little left to give. The joke was on observers: Schiavone took the first set off Wozniacki, and went up a break in the second. She finally showed her fatigue by making multiple unforced errors, and Wozniacki defeated her 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. But the Italian showed, once again, that she is tougher than tough, and that she gives away nothing.

4. What do you mean, the match is almost over?: Gisela Dulko seemed to realize that very thing, right after she and partner Flavia Pennetta went down a set, 1-4 and a point from 1-5 in the doubles championship match. Dulko, who had been the weaker player of the team throughout the first and second sets--just on the brink of defeat--suddenly turned on some inner switch and went on a volleying frenzy that turned the match around. From that point on, it was all about the top seeds, who won their first major (against Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko) 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.

3. Big Sister Na in charge: Li Na was seeded 9th at the Australian Open, but that didn't stop her from making a run all the way to the final. Her press conferences and on-court interviews were (much like Schiavone's) more of a gulp, than a breath, of fresh air. The straight-talking, consistently hilarious "Golden Flower" of China showed fans some of the best hitting in the tournament. Despite taking out the top seed, she lost in the final, but in many ways, she was the star of this Open.

2. She's Aussie Kim now: Kim Clijsters' second career, it turns out, isn't about just the U.S Open. Clijsters didn't drop a set until she reached the final, when she lost the first set to Li Na. She then used her athleticism and shot variety--and took advantage of a mentally collapsing opponent--to win her fourth major, and her first Australian Open. If Clijsters stays healthy, she can make this second career quite memorable.

1. Schiavone def. Kuznetsova, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14: "Thank goodness the second set was 6-1," Pam Shriver remarked after it took Francesca Schiavone and Svetalana Kuznetsova four hours and 44 minutes to play their fourth round match. I've covered the match in detail here, so I'll just say that the quality, the drama, the athleticism, and the all-out effort by both women makes this match a classic for all time. Those who saw it will never forget it.

Nestor & Srebotnik--what they said

Nenad has her locked up forever. He was supposed to play with Ivanovic here in preparation for the Olympics, so that opened the door for us playing together. Maybe if he plays with her again some time in the future we can play again.
Yeah, definitely. U.S. Open was the one he was still questioning. So, for sure, you're the first in line, absolutely. But since we already made an agreement, I like to keep the word, you know. If I say, that's it.
I have no problems with her stabbing Nenad in the back at all.

Srebotnik & Nestor win Australian Open mixed doubles title

Katarina Srebotnik and Daniel Nestor, seeded 2nd at the Australian Open, have won the 2011 mixed doubles championship. They defeated Chan Yung-Jan and Paul Hanley 6-3, 3-6, 10-7. Srebotnik's usual partner is Nenad Zomonjic, but she stepped aside for this major to allow Zimonjic to get in some practice with Ana Ivanovic, with whom he plans to play at the Olympic Games. That didn't work out because Ivanovic withdrew from mixed doubles. Daniela Nestor, up until recently, was Zimonjic's partner in men's doubles, and they spent time ranked as the number 1 team in the world. (Sometimes you need a chart to get through the labyrinthine makeup of doubles teams.)

Srebotnik, who is now a doubles-only player, claims this title as her first Australian Open mixed doubles title. She has won the French Open title three times, and the U.S. Open title once, and she has been the runner-up five times--twice at the French Open, twice at the U.S. Open, and once at Wimbledon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Some drama built in to upcoming Fed Cup matches

One thing that's nice about this time of year, tennis-wise, is that before you can suffer a post-Australian Open letdown, Fed Cup has arrived. The season's first Fed Cup matches will be played next weekend, and there are already some scenarios that have potential drama.

For one thing, defending champion Italy has some tough World Group quarterfinal competition: The winning combination of Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani, and Roberta Vinci face Australia, in Hobart. Representing Australia will be Sam Stosur, Jarmila Groth, Anastasia Rodionova, and Rennae Stubbs. And I know people say "I'll believe it when I see it," but I do believe that this Fed Cup quarterfinal will be Stubbs' last appearance as a professional tennis player (more on that at a later date). That in itself is dramatic enough. (There was a nice tribute paid to her in Melbourne.) Both she and Rodionova are very good doubles players, so--if it comes down to doubles--there may be some excitement.

Then there is the matter of the Belgian team, which just lost one of its key members when Justine Henin retired from tennis. Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters is scheduled to play, but one couldn't blame her if she were a bit tired. Joining her will be Yanina Wickmayer, Kirsten Flipkens and Australian Open junior girls champion An-Sophie Mestach. The Belgians' opponent will be team USA, which is comprised of Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin, Vania King, and Liezel Huber. Mattek-Sands, King and Huber excel in doubles, and Mattek-Sands has served the USA team well as a Fed Cup singles player.

The Serbian team, which is competing in the World Group II first round, will play without two of its strongest players, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. Bojana Jovanovski will be on hand, however, to compete against Canada, and fans can look forward to the probability that Jovanovski will play Rebecca Marino.

A World Group quarterfinal I'd like to see (but won't be able to) is the one that will be played between the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic. Daniela Hantuchova, Dominika Cibulkova, Petra Kvitova, and Lucie Safarova will all be in Bratislova, and Kveta Peschke and Barbora Zahlavova and Kveta Peschke will doubtless make a formidable doubles team.

The Russian team, which is part of World Group I (and will play France), consists of Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Dinara Safina. I would say that some some drama is definite built into that lineup.

What they said

After the match, back to the locker room, I make joke, tennis should only play one set.
Li Na

Any nerves out there on Rod Laver today?
I think at the end I was a little nervous. Also in the beginning, first game I was a little nervous, shaking a little. But I had to speak after my match, and I think that was the most difficult part of today....
An-Sophie Mestach

What went through your mind when they presented you with the trophy?

Little bit big....If I take the trophy, maybe they couldn't see my face.
Li Na

...she did everything better than me in that first set. I mean, obviously her groundstrokes were heavier, deeper. She served better. She returned better. So I think, you know, she was playing really, really well probably the best that I've ever played against her, or that she played against me.
Kim Clijsters, commenting on her opponent, Li Na

Do you feel like this is your home Grand Slam? Do you feel more at home in Melbourne than maybe Wimbledon or New York or Paris?
I was feeling today I was playing in Belgium because all the fans was applaud for the Kim.
Li Na

You can call her her Aussie can call her 2011 Australian Open women's champion!

For the first set of her 2011 Australian Open championship match again 9th seed Li Na, Kim Clijsters made the mistake of getting into a hitting contest with China's Big Sister Na. Li likes those contests--they're her bread and butter--and she tends to win them. And even though Li looked very tight in the first couple of games and was broken right away, she soon dictated a hitting rhythm after she gained control of her forehand. Serving at 2-3, Li broke the 3rd seed, then held, though Clijsters did see a break point in Li's service game. Now up 5-3, Li took advantage of a second break point by hitting what can be referred to only as a ridiculously good forehand winner.

After the second set got rolling, it became obvious that Clijsters had learned her lesson with regard to giving Li long baseline rallies that the Chinese player could use to keep dictating play. Clijsters broke right away when Li double-faulted, and the next game featured what was probably the best rally of the match. Li won it, and got a break point as a reward, but Clijsters saved it when Li put the ball into the net. She did convert on her next break point, however. Li was then broken, and--on her third break point--she broke Clijsters with a stunning crosscourt forehand shot.

Everything still looked pretty even at this point, but then Clijsters dialed up her defense, hitting several backhand slices in a row, and throwing Li off her rhythm. She held two break points, in fact, but Li saved them. Clijsters then held and broke Li.

If I were the kind of person who used the expression "This is when the wheels fell off," I'd certainly describe flying wheels. At this point in the second set, Li looked tired--not so much physically, though it was very hot, but mentally. Some of the Chinese crowd were yelling during points, and Li asked the chair umpire to get them to stop; she would do this several times in the course of the match (why do chair umpires have to be asked to scold an inappropriate crowd?). She was distracted and frustrated, then she was broken again, and Clijsters took the second set 6-3.

Clijsters held at love to begin the third set. Li then went down 0-40, but saved two break points with her signature crosscourt forehand, and then with an ace. She set up a great save of the third break point, too, but mis-hit a volley, sending the ball beyond the baseline. Clijsters then double-faulted twice, and Li broke back, but she wasn't hitting with nearly the same accuracy and precision she had executed in the first set.

Perhaps boosted by Clijsters' service problems, Li suddenly began to serve well again. But then she, too, double-faulted, and was broken back. Clijsters then held for a 4-1 lead, and it was Li's level of play, not the score itself, that hinted that Chinese player was not going to make one of her famous comebacks. Li did hold in the next game, but it was not a strong hold, and Clijsters held, too. Li was able to hold easily when Clisters made back-to-back errors, and there was the slightest hint that the match might go on, but the 3rd seed held easily for a 6-3 set win, which gave her the 2011 championship.

Given the 9th seed's propensity for coming back in tough matches, it was entirely reasonable to suspect that she would gather herself together and figure out the third set. But that didn't happen. Instead, she continued to make a number of unforced errors and nervous shots, while Clijsters (who said, on her return to the tour, that she just had to stop doing splits on hard courts!) was doing splits right and left to retrieve balls and often turn her defensive shots into winners. In the first half of the match, Li had frequently trapped Clijsters in the ad corner, but by the third set, she was having difficulty doing even that.

As is often the case in a big match, one player's level went up and the other player's level went down. In the second half of the match, Clijsters gave Li more variety than she could handle, and Li was not up to the mental task of becoming the first Chinese player to win a major.

Nevertheless, it was a good match, and Li's run to the final was one of the great stories of the tournament. As for Clijsters, she showed, once again, that on a hard court, she can now think like a champion and do what she has to do to win. She burst into tears when the match was over, then gave an amusing acceptance speech, in which she told fans that it's finally alright to call her "Aussie Kim." Indeed.

Kim Clijsters, volume 2, is as athletic and clever on court as the first version, and--despite continuing tendencies to lose her way from time to time--this Kim Clijsters has learned to be in charge when it counts. I think health is the key for her; if she can remain relatively uninjured this season, she has a chance to give some more speeches about chipped teeth, ugly lucky pants, and anything else that strikes her fancy.

One final note: Throughout her run in Melbourne, Clijsters wore a green dress that was designed as a tribute to the great Evonne Goolagong Cawley. This was a nice touch, especially from my viewpoint, since Goolagong Cawley is one of my favorite players of all time.

Vergeer wins both Australian Open titles

Esther Vergeer won the Australian Open women's wheelchair singles championship today by defeating 2nd seed Daniela Di Toro 6-0, 6-0. Vergeer, the top seed, has now won the Open eight times. She took a break last year and did not enter, but she was the champion in 2009.

Vergeer and her partner, Sharon Walraven, the top doubles seeds, won the doubles championship by defeating 2nd seeds Aniek Van Koot and Jiske Griffioen 6-0, 6-2. Vergeer has won the Australian Open women's doubles wheelchair title seven times.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mestach wins two Australian Open juniors girls titles

16-year-old An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium won both the junior girls singles and doubles titles today at the Australian Open. In singles, 2nd seed Mestach, who is ranked 5th in the world in juniors, defeated 5th seed Monica Puig 6-4, 6-4.

In the doubles championship match, Mestach and her partner, Demi Schuurs, defeated Eri Hozumi and Miyu Kato 6-2, 6-3. The champions were seeded 6th at the tournament. Mestach and Silvia Njric reached the final of the U.S. Open junior girls doubles competition last year, but had to give their opponents a walkover.

Passing shots

According to the Marion Bartoli Fan Blog (I know updating is inevitable, but I really miss "Looking For a Cult Hero?"!), Bartoli's calf tear, which she sustained in Melbourne, is pretty serious. There is a lot of interesting information on this page, about Bartoli's injury, the nature of calf tears, and some history and other miscellaneous information--all worth reading.

Beatrice Capra has signed a letter of intent to play for Duke University's tennis team.

Andrea Petkovic and Kevin Rolland--separated at birth?

Elena Dementieva recently participated in an exhibition in Moscow for the benefit of children's homes and orphanages. Former tour player Elena Likhovtseva participated, also.

I just realized something: Katarina Srebotnik, Nenad Zimonjic's usual mixed doubles partner, stepped aside at the Australian Open so that Zimonjic and Ana Ivanovic could play together in preparation for the Olympic Games. Srebotnik played instead with Daniel Nestor (who, until recently, was Zimonjic's men's doubles partner), but Zimonjic wound up playing mixed with Maria Kirilenko. Does anyone know what transpired?

Peachy Kellmeyer honored as Hall of Fame inductee

At last, Fern Lee "Peachy" Kellmeyer is an inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Srebotnik and Chan to vie for mixed doubles title in Australia

2nd seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Daniel Nestor and will play Chan Yung-Jan and Paul Hanley in the Australian Open mixed doubles championship match. Srebotnik and Nestor defeated 3rd seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nenad Zimonjic 6-4, 7-5 in the semifnals. Chan and Hanley defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau 2-6, 6-3, 11-9 (mixed doubles is played with a tiebreak set).

What they said

After the first round, I said to Vika, "I have a feeling we can be in the final." She said "I know we can be in the final." Next time, I have to say "I know we can win the final."
Maria Kirilenko

...the funny thing is I was playing Sydney. I know the same time Queensland have some tough time. So my physio, Alex, say, "Okay, also was rain in Melbourne." So he say, "Okay, best that we stay here." So I will play final. And then in Melbourne, he say, "Oh, January so cold. That's why we stay here." So I play final again, so I just make the joke for him, "Next time I play tournament, you should say the same to me...."
Li Na

Well, we were like in shock. I think a set and 4-1 down, in the changeover, we were like looking each other and saying, "C'mon, we play less than an hour. We cannot finish the match playing less than an hour in the final."
Gisela Dulko

It's really strange. Didn't she just come back?
Ana Ivanovic, commenting on Justine Henin's retirement

Flavia Pennetta, trying to walk with the trophy

To be honest, thinking back on the match, there's not much I remember. I think I must have been just, I don't know, somewhere. Very overwhelmed by all the emotions and very hard to describe. Just being able to focus on the tennis side of it, that was very hard, I remember.
Kim Clijsters, reflecting on her very first major final in 2001

We are all the time together. Here, we are staying in an apartment, and we are cooking for each other. One night Flavia cooks for everybody, the next night I cook for everybody.
Gisela Dulko

If you need, you just ask the Federation. They can do everything they can....yesterday I got a text message from the Federation boss. She say, "Oh, well done. You come back, I pay the dinner." I say, "What, only the dinner?"
Li Na

Dulko & Pennetta win Australian Open doubles championship

When Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta left the court after their semifinal victory, right before they went into the tunnel, they did one final "keep the faith" high-five. On Friday, as they came out of the tunnel and walked onto the court to play the final, they turned and looked at each other for just a moment. It was subtle, but it was an unmistakable "this is it" exchange, maybe with a touch of "let's kick some ass" thrown in. The top seeds served so well and played so well in the semifinal against Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova, it was easy to believe they had the confidence to win their first major.

But it didn't play that way--not for a while, anyway. Dulko, in particular, looked like a shadow of herself, and had a hard time serving. Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko, on the other hand, played very aggressively. Azarenka hit the ball really hard, and made a number of flashy volleys. In no time, the 12th seeds had won the first set 6-2.

The pattern continued, with Dulko and Pennetta occasionally showing their number 1 style, but they just didn't have enough going for them to resist the speed and precision of Azarenka, and it didn't seem to occur to them to launch an attack on Kirilenko, who was not playing quite up to her partner's level. Azarenka and Kirilenko went up 4-1, and were a point from going up 5-1, when--perhaps inspired by Li Na--Dulko woke up, so to speak, and went all crazy on them at the net. For the next few games, Dulko was unstoppable.

Azarenka and Kirilenko weren't the same after that, and neither were Dulko and Pennetta. The signature Dulko lobs and Pennetta steady groundstrokes and penetrating volleys began to appear in great numbers, as Azarenka increasingly missed her volleys and hit balls outside the lines. The top seeds won the second set 7-5, and they cruised throught the third, winning it 6-1.

I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone as happy lifting a trophy as Dulko and Pennetta were, especially Pennetta, who is the first Italian player to win a championship at the Australian Open. The two have been very close friends for many years, and they have always played doubles together when they felt like it. Last year, however, they made a commitment to be a regular doubles team, and they shot up to the number 1 spot in the world. This is their first major championship, however, and they won it in a very dramatic way.

Friday cat blogging--sister snuggle edition

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paths to the final

3rd seed Kim Clijsters and 9th seed Li Na will soon play for the Australian Open championship. Here is how they got to the final:

round 1--def. Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-0
round 2--def. Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-1, 6-3
round 3--def. Alize Cornet, 7-6, 6-3
round 4--def. Ekaterina Makarova, 7-6, 6-2
quarterfinals--def. Agnieszka Radwanska (12), 6-3, 7-6
semifinals--def. Vera Zvonareva (2), 6-3, 6-3

round 1--def. Sofia Arvidsson, 6-1, 7-5
round 2--def. Evgeniya Rodina, 6-3, 6-2
round 3--def. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, 6-2, 6-1
round 4--def. Victoria Azarenka (8), 6-3, 6-3
quarterfinals--def. Andrea Petkovic (30), 6-2, 6-4
semifinals--def. Caroline Wozniacki (1), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3

Observations about the Australian Open

Martina Navratilova is a great commentator. Her ability to see detail and the big picture at the same time is  impressive.

Note to Chris McKendry: There were lots of countrywomen in the stands, too. What century are you living in? (Also, as much as I like him as a commentator, why is it so hard for Darren Cahill to say the "w" word?)

Francesca Schiavone is a tennis god.

Fireworks, cannons and buzzing planes are distractions, not entertainment.

The chair umpires appear to be taking a closer look at coaching from the stands.

Australian fans really know how to do it with the costumes, makeup and body painting!

Can we please keep the "all Chinese men are short and all Chinese people are quiet" interviewer out of press conferences?

The performances of both Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki do not bode well. Time will tell.

Passing shots

"Stuff just happens," Chanda Rubin said her recent house fire. Reporters asked Rubin which professional tennis player she would have picked to be on the fire rescue team. She immediately answered "Arantxa," a reference to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Good choice.

Serena Williams says she plans to play on the USA Fed Cup team in April. First, however, the USA has to beat Belgiam in the quarterfinals.

Maria Sharopova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Dinara Safina are scheduled to play for Russia in the 2011 Fed Cup World Group quarterfinals. Russia will play France in Olympic Stadium in Moscow.

Aravane Rezai has withdrawn from both Fed Cup and the indoor Paris tournament. She withdrew from doubles competition at the Australian Open, following media reports that a member of her family would most likely be banned from tournaments. Rezai's father has a history of inappropriate behavior at tournaments, and--though one report mentions that a female is under investigation--it has now been widely reported that the French player's father threatened her romantic partner. Rezai says that the reports are inaccurate and exaggerated, but--considering her father's history--it isn't that hard to believe them. One thing is certain: Rezai's withdrawal from Fed Cup and the Open GDF Suez is very unfortunate.

Fern Lee "Peachy" Kellmeyer, the WTA's first director (and first employee) has been elected for induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. This honor has been a long time coming.

Kirilenko a star in Australian Open doubles

Maria Kirilenko, seeded 12th with partner Victoria Azarenka, has reached the final of the Australian Open. Azarenka and Kirilenko will compete against top seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta in the final. In mixed doubles, Kirilenko and partner Nenad Zimonjic--seeded number 3--have reached the semifinals. In that round, they will play Katarina Zrebotnik and Zimonjic's former doubles partner, Daniel Nestor. Srebotnik and Nestor received a quarterfinal walkover from Anastasia Rodionova and Mahesh Bhupati.

The other mixed doubles semefinal will feature Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau playing against Chan Yung-Jan and Paul Hanley.

In women's wheelchair singles, top seed Esther Vergeer will play 2nd seed Daniela Di Toro in the final. And in women's wheelchair doubles, top seeds Vergeer and Sharon Walraven will compete in the final against 2nd seeds Aniek Van Koot and Jiske Griffioen. Van Koot and Griffioen won their semifinal match 7-6, 7-6.

What they said

I didn't have a good evening last night. My husband sleep like this (snores), you know. I always wake up every hour.
Li Na

It's nice to be in another Grand Slam final here. You know, obviously when you're close and having played a few semifinals and one final, I think you kind of just tease with that feeling, you know, of maybe going the whole way.
Kim Clijsters

I think this Grand Slam, I was, you know, doing everything possible to recover and prepare myself the best I can. And I think I did well. So I really improved. So that experience helped me....I still didn't win the match today, but overall I'm feeling good. So there is nothing. I just have to think about what can I do next time if I meet a player like this, like Kim, who's playing her game perfectly. What can I do to hurt them? What can I improve in my game to come up with something better next time?
Vera Zvonareva

What got you throught the second set, even though you didn't have a good night's sleep last night?
Prize money.
Li Na

Did you feel like you needed to play more aggressive in the third set? You had so many more winners in the first and second set. In the third you had zero and she had 15. Probably not going to get it done for you.

Well, I don't know. I don't really think about that. I was just trying to keep on going. I was trying to take one ball at a time, and that's it. That wasn't enough today, so, you know, it's just bad luck.
Caroline Wozniacki

I ask her many times "Please come with me." She say "No, I have my life, I don't want to come with you."
Li Na, referring to her mother

I think that's something that at some point you have to realize, how far do I want to go? Do I want to protect the muscle or just be irritated by the tape? I don't like that feeling. I don't enjoy playing with tape. I don't like prevent my ankles with tape or anything. I think it's just something that's annoying.
Kim Clijsters

If you are focus on the court, you don't need to think about too much. Just focus. I mean, of course like between the point, only 20 second. What you can think? It's so short the time.
Li Na

Do you have some special memories of playing with Justine?
Memories, I played her so many times and I never beat her, so that's probably the biggest memory that I have. You know, she's a great player. That's all I can say. I was never able to beat her.
Vera Zvonareva

Is it true that you're not a typical Chinese in the sense that you're more extrovert? You like to have fun, make jokes? You're not shy? I mean, many Chinese don't talk this much.
Oh, yeah, maybe they couldn't speak English so they didn't know how to talk. Yeah, if you guys can't speak Chinese, of course they can make a lot of joke.
Li Na

Clijsters defeats Zvonareva for a spot in the Australian Open final

Vera Zvonareva didn't get the Kim Clijsters Agnieszka Radwanska got in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. That Kim Clijsters was hitting errors right and left, and if Radwanska had a better serve, she might have had a chance to go to the semifinals. Clijsters said later that she felt a bit tired, and just wasn't up to a higher level of competition. But she showed up for the semifinals looking fresher. Having lost to 2nd seed Zvonareva the last three times they had played, the 3rd seed knew she had to be prepared.

The players exchanged breaks at the beginning of the match, but this quick mutual defensive play was not to represent any kind of pattern. Clijsters hit the ball hard and with depth and precision, while Zvonareva had  problems with her serve. The Belgian took the first set 6-3 in 33 minutes.

Zvonareva continued to have problems with her second serve, but she elevated her level of play in the second set. Some of the rallies were long, with both players hitting powerful groundstrokes. Down a break, Zvonareva  held at love for 3-4. In the next game, she had 3 break points against Clijsters, and it looked like a turning point in the match had finally come. But even after winning those seven straight points, Zvonareva had to contend with a hold of serve from Clijsters.

That was Zvonareva's last opportunity to change the dynamics of the match. Clijsters, looking as solid as she has ever looked, won the second set 6-3. She will play 9th seed Li Na in the final. Clijsters and Li also contended earlier this month for the Sydney title, which Li won. Clijsters has a 4-2 career record against Li.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Li upsets top seed and advances to final at Australian Open

Under stress, you regress. That's what we sometimes say in my profession. You can describe the first half of the Australian Open semifinal between Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na in different ways, I suppose, but the gist of it is: Li went to pieces mentally for a set and a half. This is not to take anything away from the top seed, but Li (the 9th seed) was just a bundle of nerves (a trait from her past) from the moment she stepped onto the court in Rod Laver Arena. She couldn't make her racquet do what her head told her to do, and her usually-dangerous forehand broke down early in the match.

Down a set (6-3) and a break, Li broke Wozniacki at 3-4, which could have been a turning point, but she immediately double-faulted, made a few unfathomable shots, and was broken back. But she saved a match point by getting her forehand to work once more, then broke Wozniacki--again using the forehand--to bring the second set to 5-all. Li then turned into a different player (actually, the one we've been watching throughout the tournament), held her serve, and a tense game followed, with Wozniacki serving at 5-6. Finally, Li broke (on her second set point) via a double fault from Wozniacki.

Wozniacki broke early in the third, and went up 2-1, but then was broken back at love. By this time, Li was cooking her forehand and went up 40-0 on her own serve, then hit a backhand into the net, but held at 15. Wozniacki then netted a volley and double-faulted, after going up 30-0. Li hit a forehand winner to get a break point, but didn't convert until she had her second chance on an ad point. By this time, Li looked fresher and more confident than Wozniacki, but--against the Dane--even confidence and a break doesn't mean an opponent can relax; Wozniacki proved that by breaking Li to put the players back on serve.

Li broke Wozniacki to go up 5-3, then immediately went up 30-0 on her own serve. Wozniacki stopped the bleeding for a moment, then Li hit one barely out, and it was 30-all. Li, however, was able to win the match on her first match point when Wozniacki hit a forehand long.

Li did this the hard way. She overcame her problems with her nerves and, subsequently, her forehand, but struggled with her overheads and volleys right to the end. She also made 51unforced errors, though the majority of those occurred in the first half of the match. Nevertheless, Li's comeback was very impressive, and her on-court interview with Sam Smith was quite funny.

Li is the first Chinese player to make it to the final of a major tournament.

Henin retires from professional tennis

World number 13 Justine Henin has retired from professional tennis. Henin's elbow injury has caused her a lot of pain, and her doctors have advised her to stop playing. This is Henin's second, and presumably final, retirement from the sport. She is 28 years old.

What they said

I think the planes kind of took me up higher.
Kim Clijsters, referring to the Australia Day air show

You know, I think I started looking at things a bit differently. I started thinking, Okay, you can get injured any moment. Your career can be over. You got to try your best every day. Since that, I think that tournament turned things around a lot for me. Something changed. I'm just trying to take the best out of each day, out of each match. I think by that time I already got a bit more experience. And overall all of those things, they helped a lot.
Vera Zvonareva, referring to Hobart and her injury there

Was it nervous start for you today? Were you nervous when you went out there?

Well, I don't think so it was nervous. But I was little tired. Yeah, it's ten match in the way, so it was tough.
Petra Kvitova

It took a lot more effort than it should, and it took a lot more out of me.
Kim Clijsters, commenting on her quarterfinal match

He's an awesome tennis player so he's able to hit the ball well, but then if he needed to push or go from left to right, he had some problems.But it took me 20 years to get at this level, so it was good.
Esther Vergeer, commenting on her hitting session with Rohan Bopanna (Bopanna was in a wheelchair)

... [what] would make bigger history in the media, from your point of view, a final victory of Vera Zvonareva who never won a slam or a victory of a Chinese player who never won a slam?

Well, that's a quite deep thoughts. I'm not really following it, so I don't think there is reasons to answer this question at the moment....
Vera Zvonareva

She used to really have moments where she could really be out of it sometimes, and do a lot of things that, you know, a lot of us players really enjoyed watching her sometimes go a little crazy out there.
Kim Clijsters, referring to Vera Zvonareva

Vergeer makes great start in Australian Open

Esther Vergeer made a statement in her opening Australian Open match on Wednesday: The top seed defeated Sharon Walraven 6-0, 6-0. 2nd seed Daniela Di Toro also won her quarterfinal match, allowing her opponent to win only three games. Vergeer is on a 405-match winning streak, and she has a 610-25 career record.

Players and former players like to hit with Vergeer during majors. During the U.S. Open, Martina Navratilova hit with her. In Melbourne, Rohan Bopanna hit with Vergeer, and he did it while sitting in a wheelchair.

Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, seeded second in women's doubles, were upset in straight sets in the semifinals by 12th seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko. Their opponents in the final will be Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta, who served really well--and played really well--against 3rd seeds Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova. The top seeds defeated Huber and Petrova 6-4, 7-5, and are now a match away from winning their first major.

The Australia Day crowd was quite noisy and spirited. As Pennetta attempted to serve for the first set, fans broke into song. When she tried to serve again, other fans broke into laughter because of the song. Later, a loud quacking sound could be heard in the stands. There was also a lot of very enthusiastic cheering; if you didn't know better, you would have thought it was a Fed Cup match.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Clijsters and Zvonareva advance to Australian Open semifinals

Vera Zvonareva, the Australian Open number 2 seed, played her fourth left-handed opponent (and her third left-handed Czech opponent) today in the quarterfinals. Zvonareva expertly defeated an unsteady Petra Kvitova (seeded 25th) 6-2, 6-4. The match wasn't without its drama. Australia Day cannons were firing, and a fan apparently fell and hurt herself on some steps in the stands. Sometimes I think Australian Open and U.S. Open officials compete to see who can distract the most players. Zvonareva was obviously bothered by all the goings-on, and she slipped and let Kvitova in in the second set. Kvitova took the opportunity, but she made too many careless errors to make much of an impact. Zvonareva made only twelve unforced errors in the match; Kvitova made 28. The young Czech player has big hitting talent, but she showed tonight that she isn't ready for a really big stage. She's definitely one to keep an eye on, though. A calmer, more cerebral Kvitova could be a force in the future; the good news is that she has already made refinements in her game in the past year.

3rd seed Kim Clijsters won the other semifinal. Clijsters defeated 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3, 7-6. The Belgian went off her game in the second set, and Radwanska used her court savvy to throw Clijsters off  her rhythm. But Radwanska's serve, which drags behind the rest of her game, holds her back from defeating someone like Clijsters, who is not only athletic and powerful, but can also pull out several different shots when she needs to.

Radwanska served for the second set at 5-4, 30-0, but was broken. She also made unforced in situations in which she had carefully set up winners. All the same, it was an entertaining second set--though not so much when the Australian Day planes buzzed over the court repeatedly. And Radwanska, having just returned from foot surgery, is to be commended for making it to the quarterfinals.

The percentages for Clijsters are worth examining. She hit 41 winners and made 37 unforced errors. That is officially a "good" statistic, but Clijsters has been making a very high number of unforced errors throughout the tournament.

Wednesday, as previously mentioned, was Australia Day, which means that the ESPN crew eats Vegemite and invites a player to do likewise. Vera Zvonareva tried the Australian staple (Kim Clijsters didn't), though she recalled that she didn't like it when she sampled it five years ago. It turns out that she still doesn't like it, but she made an effort. Meanwhile, the sight of Brad Gilbert chewing with his mouth open was revolting. The good news is that, as soon as the Australian zoo creatures were brought onto the set, Gilbert made an exit.

Among the missing

Sometimes players are injured and go missing, and sometimes they just plain go missing. If anyone has information on any of these players, please comment:

Vasilisa Bardina: Whatever happened to her?

Julia Vakulenko: She has always disappeared and come back, but this time, she seems to have just disappeared.

Korie Homan: After sustaining a wrist injury, the only player who has come close to taking out Esther Vergeer has been out for a very long time. Homan was also Vergeer's doubles partner, and was ranked just below her. Her website has no updates, which concerns me.

Melinda Czink: Any news?

Vania King replaces Williams on U.S. Fed Cup team

Venus Williams was supposed to participate in Fed Cup play next month, but her Australian Open injury has precluded that. USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez announced today that Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles champion Vania King would be added to the team. King will join Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber. This means that team USA has three highly accomplished doubles players available for the first 2011 competition, in which the USA will play Belgium.

The World Group quarterfinal will take place February 5 and 6 on a hard court in Antwerp. The winner will play either the Slovak Republic or the Czech Republic in the semifinals. Defending champion Italy will play Australia. The Australian team will consist of Sam Stosur, Jarmila Groth, Anastasia Rodionova, and Rennae Stubbs. Stubbs is expected to retire from professional tennis at the conclusion of the quarterfinal.

Huber beats Black in doubles

Long-time partners (and bitterly-split ex-partners) Cara Black and Liezel Huber competed against each other in doubles at the Australian Open quarterfinals on Tuesday, with Huber and Nadia Petrova defeating Black and Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 6-4. Top seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta also advanced, with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova.

2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik won in straight sets over 9th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaugnessy, and 12th seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko defeated Chuang Chia-Jung and Hsieh Su-Wei.

I assume that the Azarenka-Kirilennko pairing is a temporary one. Agnieszka Radwanska, Kirilenko's usual partner, was not expected to play, and was not able to make a firm decision about playing until the last minute.

What they said

We don't know your opponent in the semifinal yet. If it should be Caroline, how would you describe her? Can you take any confidence beating her last year?
Yeah, I beat her last year, but doesn't mean anything for this year. Also she have to win today first.
Li Na

She has this sneaky aggressive play, I would call it. It's not like a big hitter like Maria Sharapova where you say, "Okay, now she's going to smack the ball." It's more like sneaky aggressive. Yeah, my coach called her the Davydenko of women's tennis....
Andrea Petkovic, commenting on Li Na

Do you look at stats? You had three times more winners than Caroline, but you had three times more unforced errors than her. Do you look at the stats after a match?
Si, si. I look at the statistics. I'm interesting after I go to check. But we are different player. She's more consist and she play much more in defense and keep going to do the same things. If I do like this, I can't win one match. So I have to push to play a different play. It's normal that I risk more and she risk less. Two type of player, different. So you can compare a little bit, but not too much.
Francesca Schiavone

It's as if she's on center stage at La Scala, singing an aria....
Dick Enberg, commenting on Francesca Schiavone

You're on the player council now of the WTA. Are you personally in favor the on court coaching or not?
I like it. I like it. I think it's a good thing. It makes it more interesting. I think that the crowd likes it more also that they hear it at home, what we talk about.
Caroline Wozniacki

You're thinking now you're a better player than the one who won the French? I think so, but I want to hear your opinion.
If you think so, I can say yes.
Francesca Schiavone

I believe your mother has never watched you play. What would it take to make her come watch you to play? Maybe if you make the final?
I win the match already, and my family talk to her, "She win already." Then she can start video. If I play the same time, she's never watch. Even you couldn't say, Li Na, she's playing now. After, she say, "I need air," she was so nervous.
Li Na

World number 1 fights her way into Australian Open semifinals

It was obvious that Caroline Wozniacki got a lot more than she bargained for in her Melbourne quarterfinal match against 6th seed Francesca Schiavone. Schiavone wasn't expected to have any physical or mental energy left, but she came out blazing, and--using all of her beautiful signature slices and volleys--took the first set from a lackluster Wozniacki. Wozniacki, in fact, looked like she had an appointment somewhere else and needed to get away.

At the end of the first set, Wozniacki called for the trainer and came back with her thigh wrapped; later, between points, she would tear off all the tape. Schiavone, constantly moving forward and taking risks that usually paid off, went up 3-1, and then we knew that Wozniacki had to change something or she would be out of there in straight sets. She did. She became unusually aggressive, and began hitting winners with the precision for which she is known.

She had some help from her opponent, too. Serving at 4-3, Schiavone made all the right moves and did all the right things. She expertly set up four more winners, but instead, she produced four errors, and was broken at love. From that time on, Schiavone's ability to hit the lines was greatly reduced, as both her round of 16 match and a switched-on Wozniacki overtook her. Wozniacki won the second set, and broke Schiavone in the first game of the third set. The final set revealed a tired (no matter what she says) Schiavone who tried to end many of the points too soon, and got errors as a result.

Wozniacki served for the match at 5-2, but Schiavone went all out--just as she did against Svetlana Kuznetsova--and put on a performance that, for me, comprised the most memorable game in the match. She saved three match points and broke Wozniacki in a flurry of dazzling shot-making. It seemed too much to think that the Italian could go on much longer, though, and she couldn't: Wozniacki broke her in the next game, and claimed the match at 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 on her fourth match point.

It was a great set and a half for Schiavone, and a great set and a half for Wozniacki. Wozniacki really has to be pushed to play aggressively, but in this case, she was really up to the task.

The other quarterfinal was less dramatic. Andrea Petkovic went up 2-0 on Li Na, and then Li spun off six consecutive games. Petkovic, seeded number 30, broke early in the second match, too, but she ultimately could not stop the steady and accurate rhythm of Li's hitting; the 9th seed was just too good. Li defended her status as a semifinalist in 2010, and she made it look easy.

Li's semifinal opponent will be Wozniacki.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What they said

...she can't watch I'm play tennis. I will ask her many times, Please, travel with me. She say, "No, I want to stay because I don't want to watch." Yeah, I mean, this is tough.
Li Na, talking about her mother

It's just been a topsy-turvy match, and you wonder if it doesn't have one more topsy in it.
Pam Shriver

Maybe next time you go into a Grand Slam, you should have no practice and no matches.
Yeah, I think I should have surgery before every Grand Slam, definitely.
Agnieszka Radwanska

She's consistent, with her consistency.
Brad Gilbert, referring to Vera Zvonareva

The tennis is like this. Like sometimes you down, you win. Sometimes you up, you lose.
Peng Shuai

You won the first set, then what happened after that?
She won the second and the third.
Flavia Pennetta

I don't trust Kvitova at all; she could pull off an upset.
Pam Shriver

Clijsters advances to Australian Open quarterfinals

She had to get through a tiebreak to do it, but 3rd seed Kim Clijsters defeated Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets Monday in the Australian Open round of 16. Clijsters' 7-6, 6-2 win over Makarova now puts her in contention with 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. If she defeats Radwanska (and, with Radwanska's weak serve, she probably will), she will play either Petra Kvitova or 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva in the semifinals.

Speaking of Radwanska (who has made an amazing comeback from surgery and rehab): Why does such a brilliant tennis player not drop everything until she has learned to hit a reasonably good second serve? Her first serve is better than it used to be, but even that failed her toward the end of her round of 16 match; her second serve is a disaster. Radwanska can outplay just about anyone on the tour, but she has this major flaw in her game, and I don't understand why someone doesn't do something about it.

Radwanska and Peng--together again as you always wanted to see them

Agnieszka Radwanska and Peng Shuai are incapable of stepping onto a tennis court together and quickly getting off. Every time they play one another, it's a knock-down, drag-out affair, with no shortage of entertainment for spectators. Old habits die hard: You can expect Peng to work extra hard to overcome her lack of a strong serve, you can expect Radwanska to have a very poor second serve, and you can look for Peng to most likely let match points slip by.

That was the case in the Australian Open round of 16 match which Radwanska won 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, but only after two hours and 44 minutes of tough, and often frustrating, competition. Radwanska, who became error-prone and passive in the second set, went up 3-1, 40-0 in the third. There was a questionable line call, and maybe that threw her off her rhythm, or maybe it was just inevitable that she and Peng drag the set out as long as possible. At any rate, Radwanska was broken in that game. Peng served for the match at 5-4, and Radwanska saved two match points. Finally, Radwanska won, on her second match point.

Radwanska wasn't even supposed to be in Melbourne. After having surgery in October for a stress fracture in her foot, she was told she could return to the tour in March, and that there was a one per cent chance she could play in the Australian Open. The straight-faced player from Poland provided the biggest laugh of the first week (and probably of the tournament) in an earlier round, when her racquet head flew off in the middle of a rally. After her fourth round match against Peng, Radwanska can probably be declared an official safety hazard: During the match, she hit a return which smacked a ballboy right in the head. Radwanska stopped play, checked on the ballboy, and shook his hand. Apparently, there was no real harm done.

Other round of 16 matches weren't as eventful, but they were certainly worth watching. 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva gradually worked her way into her match against Iveta Benesova, and eventually built up enough momentum to completely dominate the Czech player. Benesova, who had taken out two other Russian seeds, lost control of her serve, most likely because she was done in by the occasion. Zvonareva defeated her 6-4, 6-1.

And then there was Petra Kvitova, who defeated Flavia Pennetta 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Pennetta served extremely well in the first set, and looked as though she might make short work of the rising Czech player. But in the second set, Pennetta did not serve as well, and Kvitova's confidence shot up. The longer they played, the more deadly Kvitova's shot-making became, and she wore Pennetta down. Kvitova made 43 unforced errors, compared with Pennetta's 33. However, she also hit 46 winners, compared with Pennetta's 16. (You might call her the anti-Woz.)

A notable upset occurred in the junior girls' competition on Monday. Kanami Tsuji of Japan defeated top seed Daria Gavrilova 6-4, 6-3. Gavrilova won the U.S. Open in juniors, and also won a gold medal at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What they said

Do you remember other matches of yours where you had six match points and you lost?
Actually I'm happy my memory is not that good. I don't remember. My memory is pretty bad. Few times I just in few days I will just forget. Well, this match I won't forget for pretty long.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

Did you feel comfortable out there tonight?
Did it look like it?
Maria Sharapova

When Kuznetsova makes good decisions, it's very hard to beat her.
Elise Bergin

Were you aware at all as the clock ticked to 4 hours 44 minutes that it was becoming the longest match?
No, but I was watching the clock. I say, Brava, Francie, you are tough physically.
Francesca Schiavone

He always talk about "tennis is easy," but I tell him "nothing easy about tennis."
Li Na, commenting on having her husband as her new coach

You know, I could do many other things in my life. I have enough money; I have a great family around me. But when I was away from the sport, everything I wanted to do was to wake up in the morning and not put my ballerinas on, but to put on my Nikes and go out there and run and play.
Maria Sharapova

There was a crucial point where she could have won the point and ran into the net and you won the point. Were you confident after that? That seemed to give you a bit of a roll.
Which point are you talking about? At some stage I was like, what's the score? Who's serving? I was like, what's going on anyway here? I had no clue sometimes. It was so hard to count. I was like, who is up? She? Me? It's really hard to say which point you're talking about right now.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

Evert and Navratilova to play in Charleston exhibition

Rivals and long-time close friends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert will participate with John McEnroe and Todd Martin in the Family Circle Cup's Game, Set, Rock! exhibition on Saturday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. Both singles and mixed doubles will be played. Tickets for the event--which also includes live music--will be available as a stand-alone session, are available through Ticketmaster and will also be sold (after the public sale) at the Family Circle Tennis Center ticket office.

Last year's Game, Set, Rock! featured Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova.

Evert and Navratilova appeared together in Charleston in 2008 for the Family Circle Cup's 35th anniversary celebration, during which they gave a lengthy and amusing joint interview to the sports press. Evert won the Family Circle Cup eight times, and Navratilova won it four time.

Schiavone and Kuznetsova give new meaning to the term "thriller"

During the French Open, Francesca Schiavone compared herself with Capricciosa pizza. "I don't give you margherita," she said. "I give you Capricciosa, different kind of ingredient." Schiavone needed all the spicy ingredients she could locate in her round of 16 match against seed 23rd Svetlana Kuznetsova. The match lasted four hours and 44 minutes, which makes it the longest women's match in the Open Era, and the second-longest women's match of all time. It also produced desperate, beautiful, edge-of-the-seat tennis, even toward the end, when both players took turns looking punch-drunk as they struggled mightily in the Australian heat.

The match was acutally a "you had to be there" experience--hard to describe in a brief report. Schiavone won the first set 6-4. She served for it at 5-3, was broken, but broke back to win.  But the 6th seed's level of play dropped in the second set, as Kuznetsova's rose. Kuznetsova became more aggressive, and took the second set 6-1. At this point, an hour and 44 minutes had gone by, and no one could have guessed what was about to transpire. Both players had physical issues: Earlier in the month, Schiavone injured her groin and had to retire from Hopman Cup play, and Kuznetsova's feet were covered in blisters. At the end of the second set, Kuznetsova had her blisters treated and her feet re-wrapped, while Schiavone took a break to change into some dry clothes.

Throughout the third set, Schiavone experienced obvious groin pain. As the hours passed, Kuznetsova's eyes glazed over; she later said she had trouble keeping up with the score and with whose turn it was to serve. The 23rd seed remained the aggressor, however, and--to make it even harder for her opponent--she served first, so Schiavone was always in the position of trying to keep up. There were some ridiculously good rallies, with perhaps the most memorable occurring at 4-all. Kuznetsova continued to put the pressure on Schiavone, but Schiavone continued to find an answer.

And so it went. At 7-8, Schiavone was down 0-40, and that looked like it would be the end of it, but she saved three straight match points. She then hit what appeared to be a winning volley, but she lost her balance (not hard to understand) and her body touched the net before the ball had bounced a second time, so she did not get the point. She did hold, however, for 8-all. Kuznetsova then held for 9-8, and Schiavone then went down 15-40. She saved another two match points, and then--a moment later--she saved a sixth match point. But when she served for the match, the Italian was broken.

Schiavone also had an opportunity to serve for the match at 11-10, but instead of serving, she called for the trainer. She was cramping, and the trainer called for the doctor, just in case. (By this time, there was probably an ambulance parked at the gate.) A few moments later, Kuznetsova called for a trainer, too. Schiavone had some treatment and some liquids, and was even smiling and carrying on with the medical staff. She then served for the match--and was broken again.

Later, serving a 13-14, Schiavone held at love. By this time, Kuznetsova was hitting only two kinds of shots--brilliant winners and sloppy errors. I was exhausted, just watching the two of them. At 14-all, Schiavone broke her opponent, and served for the match a third time. She went down 0-30, and it was natural to think "here we go again," but she made two more points, then had her first match point at 40-30. Kuznetsova saved that match point. The Russian would go on to save a second match point, but when she reached her third match point, Schiavone put an end to what is likely to be the stand-out match of the year.

The third set lasted exactly three hours. The pair wound up hitting a total of 128 winners and 135 unforced errors, and there were seventeen breaks of serve. The quality of tennis remained very high, even when both players were practically depleted in every way. It was a contest of epic proportions, and a credit to the athleticism and mental strength of both players.

Curiously, up until this match was played, the longest women's match in the Open Era was played only last year, also at the Australian Open. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova defeated Regina Kulikova 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the first round in a four hour and 19-minute match. The longest women's match in history lasted six hours and 31 minutes, and included a 643-shot ralley.

Li hits her way into Australian Open quarterfinals

9th seed Li Na, one of last year's Australian Open semifinalists, demonstrated on Sunday why she is one of the players to beat for the Melbourne championship. Hitting with steady authority on both sides, and taking thoughtful care in her shot selection, Sydney champion Li managed 8th seed Victoria Azarenka in straight sets. The 6-3, 6-3 win was one of the most impressive on the women's side, so far. Li has become more aggressive than she used to be, but she's also leaving more margin for error than she used to. That's a nice combination.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki also won her round of 16 match in straight sets. Wozniacki defeated Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-4. As always, the Great Dane let her opponent hit more winners--and make many more errors.

And now we come to Maria Sharapova, who looked like she was in comeback mode in her excellent match against Julia Goerges. But the 14th seed hardly looked that way against Andrea Petkovic. In fact, Petkovic served for the match at 6-2, 5-1, but was broken. Sharapova held, and there was reason to believe that she about to fight her way back into the match. After all, Petkovic has been known to melt away at a big moment. The 30th seed, however, was able to close the set at 6-4 and advance to the quarterfinals. Sharapova made thirty unforced errors to Petkovic's nine, and--though she kept her double faults down to five--simply did not look like she was on a comeback path.

Passing shots

A member of Aravane Rezai's family (one can reasonably assume that this is her father, since he has caused so much trouble throughout her career) has been banned from WTA events. The tour reports that its investigation is of a "serious safety matter" that affects the French player's "health and well being."

Thanks to Jon Wertheim, I came across this slide show, which provides an entertaining look (but not the look you might expect) at women's tennis fashions through the years.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands reports that the courts are so hot at the Australian Open, she had "a second degree burn on my thumb from crouching down in an 'I' formation in doubles!"
Here are 10 Burning Questions for Agniesza Radwanska.

Yaroslava Shvedova is back on the court, and reports that she is feeling good.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What they said

Honestly, I don't really read about myself. I look at the pictures sometimes. Sometimes I'm looking at them and I'm thinking, They could choose some better ones.
Caroline Wozniacki

She would be better if she didn't waste so much energy on histrionics.
Elise Bergin, commenting on Barbora Zahlavova Strycova

Her analysis of Henin-Kuznetsova should be preserved and sent to all colleagues. Real insight. Some candid opinions. Anecdotes. And when the tennis got good, she shuts up. She also realizes that anyone watching tennis at this hour is a FAN and thus doesn't need to be told that "It's 5-3, just a game from the set." Such a pleasure.
Jon Wertheim on Martina Navratilova

Serena's a regular Houdini at the Australian Open.
Martina Navratilova

Can you tell us a few words about Kim Clijsters.
Yeah, but why Kim?
Just in general, what can you tell us about her comeback?

You know who is Kim. I think I don't have to tell you who is.
Francesca Schiavone

Then the nerves game. Then started to do a little bit of show time, you know, it's like comedy.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

I think overall I couldn't just hit the ball into her strike zone. I think everyone saw how well she hit the ball.
Sam Stosur, commenting on Petra Kvito

Just a question on behalf of New Zealand. I know there were a few dramas earlier in the week or funny things. I just wanted you to confirm that there was no problems in New Zealand, that you had a good time there, because it's very important for our tourism. Did you have a good time?
You couldn't even say that with a straight face....
So New Zealand was a great experience?
Does it go back to the tourism? What are we trying to prove here? Do I get a free boat ride next year if I say the right answer?
Helicopter maybe.
I don't know. That's a little shady.
Maria Sharapova

Top seeds show vulnerability in Melbourne

Kim Clijsters remains the favorite to win the Australian Open, but she has already had one of the troublesome matches which haunt her from time to time. She struggled against Alize Cornet, and--though the outcome of the match was hardly in doubt--it wasn't a good day for the third seed. Does Clijsters have her stumble out of the way now, or are there more to come?

2nd seed Vera Zvonareva looked a bit flat against Lucie Safarova. Her next opponent is Iveta Benesova, who has already upset two Russian seeds. Benesova is a talented player who has calmed down a bit in the last couple of years, though her really good results are still in doubles. Zvonareva is the clear favorite in this match, but--if Benesova's serve is in fine tune--the 2nd seed will have to work a bit harder.

Some fans thought Justine Henin could win the tournament, but she was defeated in the third round by an in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova. Sam Stosur was a favorite, too, but she was defeated in the third round by Petra Kvitova. Top seed Caroline Wozniacki should have a fairly easy time of it in the round of 16, when she plays Anastasija Sevastova. But--assuming she advances--her quarterfinal opponent is likely to be 23rd seed Kuznetsova, who--if she plays the way she did in the third round--is likely to upset Francesca Schiavone. (But you never know.) The Russian player had some significant foot pain in her last round, it should be noted.

2010 semifinalist and 9th seed Li Na has quietly advanced to the round of 16, in which she will play 8th seed Victoria Azarenka. Neither of them is a huge favorite to win the Australian Open, but neither of them should be discounted, either. And now, suddenly, 14th seed Maria Sharapova has inserted herself into the drama, and if she defeats Andrea Petkovic, she will get either Li or Azarenka.

Any discussion of the deep end of the draw has to include Petra Kvitova, whose next opponent is Flavia Pennetta. Kvitova's pattern is to lose matches she should win, then--after suffering a losing streak--win something really big. Last year, she made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon and lost to eventual champion Serena Williams. Her defeat of Stosur has to be taken somewhat seriously, especially since Kvitova also won in Brisbane this month. If the entertaining, flat-hitting Czech gets past Pennetta, she will most likely be looking across the net at Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals.

Are the "favorites" to win still the favorites? Who is most likely to cause another upset?

Stosur out of Australian Open

Theoretically, a tall, left-handed, flat-hitting opponent with a strong forehand has what it takes to give Sam Stosur a lot of trouble. That became more than theory on the sixth day of the Australian Open: Brisbane champion Petra Kvitova upset 5th seed Stosur 7-6, 6-3. Kvitova, the tournament's 25th seed, hit hard flat balls repeatedly to Stosur's backhand, which is decidedly Stosur's weaker side. The Stosur forehand broke down, too, although Kvitova ended the match with more unforced errors than Stosur. She also ended the match with 35 winners, opposed to Stosur's eleven, all of which were hit in the first set. Most impressive were Kvitova's first and second serve win percentages of 80 and 58.

This is not the first time that Stosur has run into a player who isn't bothered by her kick serve and her heavy topspin. Players like Kvitova, who hit the ball flat and go for the lines, can dictate play and neutralize the hitting of even a talented player like the Australian. It was a bonus for Kvitova that she is also left-handed.

Stosur's upset was the biggest on the sixth day, but she had company. Iveta Benesova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova played a see-saw match that ended with a 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 victory for Benesova over the 16th seed. Each player dominated a set, and the third set was a constant struggle for domination. In the end, though, Benesova was clever, and Pavlyuchenkova was worn down. The Czech doubles star has now removed two Russian seeds (she upset Maria Kirilenko in the second round), and she gets 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva in the next round.

Zvonareva was hardly at her best in her third round match, but she got past 31st seed Lucie Safarova, 6-3, 7-6. Kim Clijsters, the third seed, was far below her best, but defeated Alize Cornet 7-6, 6-3. 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska had an easy win over Simona Halep, and Peng Shuai defeated Ayumi Morita. Peng was cramping pretty badly toward the end of the match, and was hobbling around the court. That didn't stop her from winning, of course, and let's hope that she gets sufficient rest before her next round.

13th seed Nadia Petrova is out, too. Petrova played Ekaterina Makarova, who upset 19th seed Ana Ivanovic in the first round. For all of its flaws, this match was fun to watch. Each woman took a set, and--just as with the Benesova-Pavlyuchenkova match--the third set was a drawn-out struggle for domination. Makarova served for the match twice and was broken both times. The second time, she had two match points. The Russian player stayed surprisingly calm in the face of so many lost opportunities, and hung in while Petrova's unforced errors increased. At the end of the 72-minutes third set, Makarova advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 8-6 victory.

Shahar Peer, the 10th seed, played an aggressive first set against 22nd seed Flavia Pennetta and won it 6-3. Pennetta dialed her play up a notch in the second set, and won it impressively in a tiebreak. One of the commentators made a point of reminding viewers that Pennetta is quite familiar with Peer's tendency to back away and play it safe, and that's exactly what happened. Pennetta took the third set 6-4, and advanced to the next round. Peer is a good player with a lot of tenacity, but when the tension arises, she tends to wilt, just when she should be more aggressive.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Unseeded Groenefeld and Schnyder upset Spaniards

In 2009, the Spanish team of Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez won the WTA Championships with victories over both Black and Huber and the Williams sisters. 2010 looked bright, but Martinez Sanchez sustained an injury that kept her off the courts for quite a while. When she returned, nothing was the same. And while the Spaniards were seeded 4th at the Australian Open, they were certainly more vulnerable than in the past, and they were upset in the second round. The unseeded team of Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Patty Schnyder defeated them 6-4, 6-4.

Wimbledon fnalists Elena Vesnina and Vera Zvonareva, seeded 13th, were also defeated, by the team of Chuang Chia-Jung and Hshieh Su-Wei.

Top seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta advanced to the third round, as did 3rd seeds Liezel Huber and Nadia Petrova. Meanwhile, in the first round of mixed doubles, 6th seeds Lisa Raymond and Wesley Moodie were defeated by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Horia Tecau.

Williams retires in 3rd round of Australian Open

She tried. Venus Williams came to Rod Laver Arena hoping, she said, "for some magic." "A lot of times when you play, you get that adrenalin and that blocks pain," Williams said to the press after her retirement at 0-1 in the third round in Melbourne. The 4th seed sustained a painful groin injury in the second round, but played through it. But after playing one game in which she was broken by Andrea Petkovic, Williams--while trying to return a serve--let out a cry of pain, and the match was over.

This is the first time in her long career that Williams has retired during a major. She came to the Australian Open after undergoing rehabilitation for her knee, and now--with only two matches played--she is out of competition again. Williams doesn't talk much about her injuries, but we can make a reasonable guess that this latest incident is going to require some special coping on her part.

It's also reasonable for fans to ask "How much longer?" Williams is 30, and she has always played a very physical game of tennis. She and her sister, Serena, have their eyes on the 2012 Olympic Games, which suddenly seem far away in time. Williams says she will not play again until she knows she is completely healthy. Williams is an accomplished person off of the courts, so she isn't going to slide into a state of boredom, which is a breeding ground for all kinds of bad things. I have no idea how much time will be involved in her recovery.

There were some "fans" in Melbourne who booed Williams when she retired. Jon Wertheim's reasonable guess is that these were the "party fans" who had no idea what had transpired in the second round; they didn't know that Williams was already injured. (He also points out that perhaps other players should have been given the night match.) Of course, I think the booing is inappropriate even if one didn't know about the second round occurrence. It is especially inappropriate when it is directed at a player who would rather go out bandaged from head to toe than retire from a match.

As for the rest of us--we'll just have to wait for the rehab reports. Andrea Petkovic will play Maria Sharapova in the next round. Petkovic got a walkover from Peng Shuai in the third round of the U.S. Open, but lost to eventual finalist Vera Zvonareva in the round of 16.

Friday cat blogging--sweet dreams edition

Sharapova wins thriller against Goerges

Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges were not able to play as scheduled because of a dead spot on the court in Hisense Arena. Staff members had to drill a hole in the court to let the air out of the surface where the dead spot was. About twenty minutes later, the players were able to go on. The delay certainly didn't bother Goerges, who took control of the first set. She wobbled toward the end of it, squandering two set points with forehand errors, but a double fault from the 14th seed set Goerges up for a third set point, which she converted.

Sharapova served for, and barely survived, the first game of the second set. She broke Goerges at 2-all, then Goerges had treatment for a blister on her foot. While the trainer was treating her opponent, Sharapova, who had double-faulted eight times, practiced her serve. It must have helped, because she looked much better in her next service game, and even better in her next one. It was a well-played set, and the 14th seed got into a groove of the sort we used to always expect from her. She topped it off, in fact, with an ace for set point.

Goerges was broken right away in the third set, as Sharapova remained dominant. By this time, the 2008 champion was hitting winners right and left. Goerges went down 0-4, but then put herself on the scoreboard after hitting a couple of her own impressive winners. She went on to break Sharapova, and followed the break with a hold. Goerges' momentum, as admirable as it was, was stopped when Sharapova held at love. Well, it was kind of stopped, because Goerges then played a brilliant game under pressure and held at 15.

I'm generally not the biggest fan of huge, hard hitting, over and over, but I couldn't take my eyes off of this match for a moment. Sharapova won it, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 with an ace on her first match point, but it could have gone either way. Both players performed with such intensity, the match was a total pleasure to watch. And Sharapova--despite her eleven double faults--looked, for all the world, like....Sharapova. Both she and Goerges should get confidence boosts from what they did in the third round.

Top players advance to round of 16

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the round of 16 on day 5 of the Australian Open by defeating 29th seed Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-3. Cibulkova upset Wozniacki recently in the second round of the Medibank International in Sydney. The top seed played a clean match, as usual, and made only eleven unforced errors. She looked relaxed and in control throughout the match.

I've seen a lot of tennis press conferences over the years--some of them funny, some of them sullen, some of them angry, some of them consisting of near-silence from the player. But I don't think I've ever seen anything like Wozniacki's post third-round press conference. Intentional or otherwise, it was a send-up--but not a good one---of every press conference Maria Sharapova has ever done. The affect, the mannerisms, the gestures, even the pauses--were all very broad imitations of Sharapova. I have no idea what's going on, but: Whoever took Caroline Wozniacki--please return her.

Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Justine Henin in a major for the first time in her career, and improved her overall record against Henin to 3-16. It took Kuznetsova over two hours to get her 6-4, 7-6 victory. In the second set, both players were visibly anxious and were frustrated by unforced errors. Henin, especially--despite moments of wonderful shot-making--was awash in unforced errors (41 for the match), and she double-faulted nine times.

Kuznetsova served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, and anyone who was a reasonable guesser figured she was going to get broken. She did. She then broke Henin at 5-all, but was broken back when she served for the match a second time. Henin began the tiebreak with her seventh double fault, and she double-faulted again at 4-3. She saved three match points and had a set point, which she didn't convert, and she double-faulted again at 8-all. Kuznetsova won the tiebreak 10-8. It was a really tense affair, and it was obvious that Henin's greatest post-injury deficit is a mental one.

9th seed Li Na and 8th seed Victoria Azarenka both won their third round matches in straight sets, defeating Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Chanelle Scheepers, respectively. Anastasija Sevastova advanced to the round of 16 with a win over Vesna Manasieva.

6th seed Francesca Schiavone cruised 6-0 through her first set against Monica Niculescu, but then lost her focus, as she is sometimes prone to do, and let Niculescu in. Schiavone dug back in, though, and won the second set in a tiebreak. (Note--yet again--to commentators: It isn't "copying Federer" when you've had the shot in your repertoire for your entire career)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What they said

I was like what the hell, I can't believe it.
Agnieszka Radwanska, commenting on her flying raquet head

This is a different stage in my career. This is where I'm trying to find my groove after being gone for a while, and also finding it on the court and playing matches.
Maria Sharapova

I don't understand why she's always on guard.. It sounds as if she’s attended a course on how to answer media questions.
Matt Cronin, on Caroline Wozniacki

You said in Sydney already that you had taken some time off. What did you do during your holidays? What did you do in order to make your head fresh again?
It was not quite like holiday. It's not like I took time off and I went like to Australia to see penguins.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

Okay, I faced Justine. But it was a wonderful experience to play a legend, and I gave it my all. I can't complain about my week. It's been wonderful.
Elena Baltacha

What was the injury today?
Psoas. I guess a strain of some type.
Your thigh or hip or stomach or...
What does that mean?
It's a muscle.
So you're not saying.
No, it's a psoas....
Is it in the abdomen or is it in the top of the leg? Whereabouts is that?
I don't have a medical degree.
Neither do I. It's in the area around the groin like that, you know.
Venus Williams

Melbourne miscellany

Caroline Wozniacki had a go at playing cricket.

The Heineken Beer Garden is featuring a brass band whose members are dressed in kangaroo costumes.

Todd Woodbridge will never again send a text message to Rennae Stubbs.

I really need for Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport to stop saying "disinterested" when they mean "uninterested."

Sam Stosur's blue-framed Oakleys make the best possible finishing touch to that nice Lacoste dress.

Speaking of fashion, Dannli Minogue dressed Victoria Azarenka in her new Project D line.

Alicia Molik is taking a break to get married, but will be playing at Indian Wells. (Note to the Montreal Gazette: Molik's marital status is not going to affect her volleys.)

Jankovic beaten in straight sets

The way that seeds are dropping at the Australian Open, one wouldn't be surprised to find a garden blooming--perhaps a garden featuring Golden Flowers. In the 2nd round, the Peng Shuai pulled off the biggest upset yet: She defeated 7th seed Jelena Jankovic 7-6, 6-3. Jankovic was up 5-2 in the first set, and served for the set at 5-4. Formerly the picture of consistency, she looked sluggish and off-rhythm throughout most of the match. Peng not only played well, but remained steady, and readily took advantage of Jankovic's lack of strategy. I'm a bit tired of asking "What has happened to JJ?" so I'll skip that question for now.

18th seed Maria Kirilenko fell in straight sets to Iveta Benesova, who had one of her brilliant streaks. Why can't Benesova do this in singles matches more often? She served (and she does have a really good serve) at 78 and 53%, and hit 24 winners. Her forehand was more than Kirilenko could handle. Benesova defeated Kirilenko 6-3, 6-1.

The increasingly dangerous Simona Halep took out 24th seed Alisa Kleybanova 6-4, 7-6. Kleybanova hit a lot more winners than Halep, but she also made 46 unforced errors. Halep put on quite a show, running down balls and hitting with confidence and precision.

Alize Cornet upset 26th seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, a player who has an unusually good serve--except when she doesn't. Martinez Sanchez sometimes just loses the feel of her serve and goes for too much; in the 2nd round, she double-faulted eight times and lost the point on most of her second serves. She did lead 5-3 in the first, but was broken when she served for the set. Still, she had several opportunities to get the set back, but she wasn't up to the task. Cornet then ran away with the second set, and defeated the 26th seed 7-6, 6-1.

3rd seed Kim Clijsters, 5th seed Sam Stosur, 10th seed Shahar Peer, 12th seed Agnieszka Radwanska, and 16th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova all advanced in straight sets, as did 13th seed Nadia Petrova and 22nd seed Flavia Pennetta. Brisbane champion and 25th seed Petra Kivitova quietly moved into the third round with a straight-sets defeat of Anna Chakvetadze.

2nd seed Vera Zvonareva had to really work for her 2nd round victory. Bojana Jovanovski, the young Serbian player whose down-the-line shots on both sides are already her signature, dictated play against Zvonareva, and took the first set 6-2. Zvonareva, whose movement and speed were on lengthy display, remained patient, and forced Jovanovski to hit more balls than she might have wanted to. Jovanovski is a superb hitter, but she doesn't do much of anything else, so the unforced errors eventually came, and then more of them came. One hopes that the just-turned-19 Jovanovski will learn some variety and give herself some breathing room because she is one fine hitter. The experienced 2nd seed defeated her 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, and they were both fun to watch.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bartoli out for 6 weeks

15th seed Marion Bartoli was expected to defeat Vesna Manasieva fairly easily. In fact, when she went up 5-1 in the first set, it looked as though the match might not last long. But in the course of play, Bartoli sustained a calf muscle tear. She continued to play, and Manasieva won the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-0. The Fragile One hasn't been injured lately, but this latest piece of bad fortune shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who follows Bartoli's career.

Looking a bit fragile herself, 6th seed Francesca Schiavone got into some deep trouble when she failed to convert three match points in the second set of her match against Rebecca Marino. Marino, who had looked a bit slow and awkward against the clever and athletic Schiavone, seized the moment, and won the second set. The third set lasted and hour and nine minutes, with Schiavone eventually prevailing. Her 6-3, 5-7, 9-7 victory gets her into the third round against Monica Niculesu. That's a good thing, but Schiavone can't be too pleased with how she got there.

The unfortunate exit of Bartoli did not comprise the only upset on the third day of play. 20th seed Kaia Kanepi lost (here we go again) to Julia Goerges, 21st seed Yanina Wickmayer lost to Anastasija Sevastova, and 29th seed (and perennial heartbreaker) Tsvetana Pironkova lost to Monica Niculescu. Wild card Jelena Dokic was also defeated, by Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

14th seed Maria Sharapova got past Virginie Razzano, 7-5, 6-3. Justine Henin, Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na had a fairly easy time of it, and Victoria Azarenka defeated a spirited Andrea Hlavackova 6-4, 6-4.

The match that had everything

When I say "everything," I mean piercing screams, injury, tenion, a bagel, a near-upset, and one bizarre tennis dress. Sandra Zahlavova and Venus Williams put on an Australian Open 2nd round show that, at times, was so strange, I had to just shake my head.

Williams, dressed in a different outfit than the one she wore in the first round, looked off in her first set against Zahlavova, who--by the way--looked especially "on." The set went to a tiebreak, and right before Zahlavova hit set point, Williams cringed and yelled in a way that was about  pain, not hard hitting. The 4th seed experienced a painful groin injury, and left the court to get treatment.

When Williams returned, there was expectation that she would cross over and shake hands with her opponent. Instead, she took a new racquet out of its bag. There was then expectation that she would have difficulty playing the second set. Instead, she won it 6-0. Zahlavova's level decreased in that she stopped being aggressive like she was in the first set.

As the third set began, the logical assumption was that--if she could stay relatively pain-free--Williams would cruise against a demoralized opponent. But once again, things did not go as expected. Zahlavova came roaring back, and that set produced some really exciting tennis. As the set advanced toward a conclusion, Zahlavova made a terrible shot selection that prevented her from getting break points against Williams. When Williams double-faulted on match point, there was a moment of hope for Zahlavova, but Williams closed the set 6-4.

It should be noted that even the bagel set lasted 48 minutes; Zahlavova played a great match, and used a stinging backhand to her advantage again and again. The mach lasted over three hours, and for over an hour and forty minutes, Williams was bandanged and in pain. She has never retired from a match during a major, and she wasn't going to start at age 30. Both women deserve credit for fighting through difficult circumstances. Just as Williams could have (honorably) retired, Zahlavova could have mentally caved in. Instead, they gave the spectators what they had come to see, and then some. And since Williams had full use of her experience, she found a way to walk off the court a winner.

The bad news is that the injury appears to be a bad one, and now we just have to wait and see what happens next for the 4th seed, who is scheduled to play Andrea Petkovic in the third round.