Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Passing shots in Paris

I've really enjoyed the French Open site's "Road to Roland Garros" videos. My favorites among the women are Daniela Hantuchova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, both of whom manage to put on little shows during the brief ride. If you haven't seen them, take the time to do so. Hantuchova does a scene from "Gladiator," and Pavlyuchenkova sings--oh, you have to hear it yourself.

Another piece of video I like is Mary Carillo's "artist" piece on Francesca Schiavone.

Vania King talks about  how playing on clay has changed for her.

Katarina Srebotnik, Nadia Petrova, Jarmila Gajdosova, and Casey Dellacqua have all made it to the French Open mixed doubles semifinals.

What happens to players a year after they win the French Open?

French Open--what they said

Intensity is a skill.
Martina Navratilova

I never felt that excited after a match, to be honest. It was just so many feelings at the same time....
Marion Bartoli

If looks could kill, there might be two dead players on the court.
Elise Bergen

She started to put more balls in, so, at that moment--I wasn't used to playing rallies with her at the beginning, so this was tough.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

I couldn't play spin inside the court; the truth is, I couldn't play inside the court, inside the line.
Francesca Schiavone

That was a gunslinger shot right there; she definitely pulled it out of her hip.
Martina Navratilova

So 4-1, I played really good two games, then she went a little bit down, and when I catch her on 4-all, and I say "keep going." I am here. If I have to lose, I have to lose in the right way....
Francesca Schiavone

She had the courage, you know, and it was tough to stop her.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Unbelievable!--maybe perhaps a little believable when you see the technique.
Elise Bergen

In the past years, I really felt the pressure here, but in a bad way.
Marion Bartoli

Arrivederci, 'Ova

Russian players have done quite well at the 2011 French Open; six of them made it to the round of 16. Only one, Maria Sharapova, is left, however, as two more went out today at the hands of the defending champion and the French number 1.

It's quite difficult to adequately describe what went on the quarterfinal match between defending champion Francesca Schiavone and Russian "teen queen" Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It's more of a "you had to be there" (so to speak) thing. During the first set, 5th seed Schiavone played the way she has played for much of this season--making continual errors, even when she has set up winners. Pavlyuchenkova gets credit, also--she really took it to Schiavone in that set, and won it, 6-1. But only a casual observer would have made the  mistake of thinking the match was over at the conclusion of that first set. The best really was yet to come.

The wind swept the court as Schiavone held at love in the first game of the second set. Was this a "message"? Absolutely. The defending champion had come out of her metaphorical stupor--more or less. But Pavlyuchenkova went up 3-1, and when she served for 4-1, she went up 40-0. Schiavone saved two game points, but the Russian held. 4-1, as I have written before, is often a deceptively good scoreline, and this set proved my point. Schiavone held her serve, then broke Pavlyuchenkova.

Schiavone held again, then Pavlyuchenkova went down 0-40, and was broken at 30. Schiavone then served for the set, and won it, 6-4. Schiavone went up 3-1 in the final set, and before you could say "Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova," the Italian was serving for the match at 5-2.

And this is when the momentum swung again. Pavlyuchenkova broke her opponent, and held. Schiavone served for the match a second time, but had to deal with two break points. She saved one with an ace, but was broken on the second one.

By this time, with a distinct chill in the air and red dust continuing to blow around Court Philippe Chatrier, the tension was as thick as stromboli. Pavlyuchenkova, who--just a moment before--looked invincible, went down 0-30. She hung in for a while, but was eventually broken when Schiavone hit a wicked crosscourt forehand that landed right on the line.

Schiavone, who is nothing if not patient, served for the match a third time. She went up 30-0 right away, then Pavlyuchenkova made a point, then--as if there weren't already enough drama--the defending champion had a string break on her racquet. She got a new racquet, then she got a match point. Pavlyuchenkova saved that, and even managed to get a break point, but didn't convert. Schiavone got a second match point, which her opponent saved with a beautiful forehand down the line.

But enough was enough. Schiavone hit a perfect drop shot to get her third match point, and she won the match 1-6, 7-5, 7-5 when she picked up a volley and drove it past Pavlyuchenkova.

The second quarterfinal of the day wasn't as dramatic, but it was very good, and featured some quality shot-making by both Svetlana Kuznetsova and Marion Bartoli, seeded 13 and 11, respectively. The wind was blowing on Court Suzanne Lenglen, too, and Bartoli (who can be very mentally tough, but is often physically fragile) brought some of her best tennis to defeat 2009 champion Kuznetsova (who is physically tough, but often mentally fragile).

The crowd cheered strongly for Bartoli, who has bolstered this entire tournament by the belief and enthusiasm of her countrywomen and -men. The rallies were intense, and when Bartoli broke Kuznetsova at 4-3, the crowd went wild as she served for the first set. But while the crowd was for her, the wind was not, and Bartoli was broken. The set went to a tiebreak, which Bartoli won.

The Frenchwoman went up a quick  break in the second set. At 2-4, Kuznetsova saved a break point, but was eventually broken, anyway. The crowd, in the meantime, was an entity in itself, and there were plenty of waves and impromptu cheers. But once again, when Bartoli served--this time, for the match--she was broken. Kuznetsova then went up 40-15. Bartoli saved two game points, but the Russian answered with two un-returnable serves. At 5-4, Bartoli served for the match a second time (sound familiar?), and this time, Kuznetsova obliged her with some big errors.

Bartoli will play Schiavone in the semifinals, which--from a French point of view--is an unfortunate draw (I'm not too happy with it, either, given how I don't want either to lose). French spectators will watch their defending champion play against their home favorite, and one of those two women will be in the final.

In the meantime, there were two doubles quarterfinals played, also. 3rd seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova defeated 9th seeds Nadia Petrova and Anastasia Rodionova 7-5. 3-6, 6-2, and 4th seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond defeated 5th seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko 6-4. 4-6, 6-4. Petrova and partner Jamie Murray also reached the semifinals in mixed doubles.

Finally, though she is most surely disappointed, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova should be commended for not only reaching her first major quarterfinal, but also for helping to make that quarterfinal thrilling. Things are looking up for the teen queen.

Dulko gives it a try, but top seeds are out in Paris

I thought there might be a walkover in yesterday's doubles quarterfinal between top seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta and opponents Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina. Dulko had to retire from her singles round of 16 match the day before because of a thigh injury. But the number 1 team showed up, and an odd match it was.

Dulko, because of her injury, had trouble pushing off for her serve, and she had trouble moving, in general. Pennetta did a good job of taking up the slack, but the top seeds failed to win a single game in the first set. However, on the other side of the net, Sania Mirza's game was declining rapidly; Dulko and Pennetta hit every ball they could to her.

By the middle of the second set, Dulko--obviously under the influence of that great substance, adrenalin, began to move better. During one rally, Pennetta--not realizing that her partner suddenly had legs--back up quickly to the baseline to get a ball, not realizing that Dulko had done the same thing. They almost collided, and neither of them was able to hit the ball.

Throughout the entire match, during changeovers and between sets, a man made up cheers for Vesnina and yelled them repeatedly, which somehow added to the unusual nature of the proceedings. It was hard not to think about the final of the Australian Open, and to expect Dulko and Pennetta to find a way to win the second set and dominate in the third. But this time, there was an injury involved. There was also Elena Vesnina involved, and she served beautifully and maintained a high level of play throughout the match. With a 6-0, 7-5 win, Mirza and Vesnina, the 7th seeds, advanced to the semifinals

Monday, May 30, 2011

French Open--what they said

I've been tested in the past four matches and today was the toughest of them all. I had two or three games where I really lost control of my mental structure, my mental toughness. I'm really happy I gained it back and was able to strike back and lift my game to another level to hit the ball again.
Andrea Petkovic

There’s been a lot to follow: top-tier upsets, second-tier moonwalking, and stretcher-assisted exits on the women’s side....
Steve Tignor

My husband left and I won six games in a row.
Li Na

I have a lot of respect for her. I really admire her not only as a player, but as an athlete and how she handles herself. She does a great job and I've always thought she represents women's tennis really well. I feel honored to be in the quarterfinals at all, and even more playing such a champion.
Andrea Petkovic, speaking of Maria Sharapova

I was feeling like an elephant in a porcelain shop.
Marion Bartoli, on her past clay court experiences

She's very strong--you can never see emotions from her.
Victoria Azarenka, referring to Li Na

I don't know, I think it just wasn't my best day.
Ekaterina Makarova

 You know, we have three years, every day, like 24 hours together, so of course, I was tired.
Li Na, on her former husband-as-coach arrangement

We won't be able to show you all of this--unless Azarenka retires again.
Mary Carillo, announcing the transition to ESPN coverage

Azarenka highest seed left in Paris

Of the four round-of-16 winners at the French Open today, 4th seed Victoria Azarenka had the least complicated path to victory. Her opponent, Ekaterina Makarova, can put up a good fight but Azarenka managed this match with minimum stress and defeated the Russian player 6-2, 6-3.

It wasn't quite as easy for 7th seed Maria Sharapova, who had to deal with Agnieszka Radwanska's relentless defensive game for two hours. The 12th seed can move around on clay better than Sharapova can, and she made a point of moving her opponent around as much as possible. In the second set, Radwanska had two set points on Sharapova's serve, and three on her own, but she saw them all disappear, and the 7th seed left the court with a 7-6, 7-5 victory. Sharapova has beaten Radwanska almost every time they've played each other, but some of their matches--like today's--are fun to watch. (The stats say it a lot: Radwanska hit 13 winners and made 12 unforced errors, compared with Sharapova's 47 and 44.)

Also moving to the quarterfinals is Li Na, whose new-found comfort on clay proved to be the undoing of Petra Kvitova. In the first set, Kvitova served especially well, but Li's serve improved as the match went on, and--as the length of the rallies increased--the Great Wall of China became a problem for the 9th seed. Kvitova has been dealing with a shoulder injury of late, which may (or may not) have had some impact on her service issues. The Czech player did go up 3-0 in the third set, but Li--who is one of those players who is often steadier if she is not ahead in a set--staged a strong comeback.

Li went into a major slump after her run to the Australian Open final, though she did reach the semifinals in Madrid, where she was beaten handily by Kvitova. Li picked up her game in Paris--perhaps the last place anyone expected her to perform well. Seeded 6th, Li is the first Chinese woman to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open.

A match I enjoyed very much was the contest between Andrea Petkovic and Maria Kirilenko. It featured a bit of everything (though ESPN almost totally ignored it). Petkovic easily won the first set, but Kirilenko, who knows her way around the net and has a lovely all-court game, found her groove in the second set. Petkovic went up 4-2 in the third set, after which Kirilenko held at love, then broke her opponent. She was broken back, however, and Petkovic held serve to win the match 6-2, 2-6. 6-4. The 15th seed is now headed for her second major quarterfinal of the year.

Two quarterfinal matches will be played tomorrow. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will play defending champion Francesca Schiavone. It will be Pavlyuchenkova's first major quarterfinal, and she will have her hands full. The defending champion is a much better mover than the Russian, and she has a kind of slow cook going, in terms of momentum.

Also playing tomorrow are 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and Marion Bartoli. They have played each other only three time (that's a surprise), and Kuznetsova won two of those matches. All three were played on hard courts. Theoretically, Kuznetsova has the edge, given her talent on clay courts, and Bartoli's general dislike of them. Bartoli has the crowd on her side, however. Each has fragility issues--Kuznetsova can go off mentally, and Bartoli has frequently experienced physical issues that have caused her to either retire or significantly reduce her level of play.

Should Schiavone and Kuznetsova both win, their semifinal match will be of particular interest, given that they played one of the greatest WTA matches ever in the round of 16 at this year's Australian Open.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

French Open--what they said

Do you want to play?
Francesca Schiavone, to a spectator who spoke to her during the match

I should be satisfied; the whole tournament, I wasn't playing my best tennis....
Vera Zvonareva

I think I never had the results my game deserved because, most of the time, in the Round of 16 or quarterfinals, I had to face the Williams sisters. I never doubted my tennis, or I would have stopped playing.
Daniela Hantuchova

I wanted to win so badly, so I think of everything to do.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

If I did not want Aravane be free, I would give her a scarf and religious books.
Arsalan Rezai

Great talent, with lefty--was not easy for me to play against her.
Francesca Schiavone, on Patty Schnyder

I don't really want to comment on this because it's none of my business.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, on the state of women's tennis

Schiavone advances to French Open quarterfinals

On the one hand, it was a great match to watch--filled with tension, swinging momentum and wonderful shot-making. On the other, it was a tough one for me to watch because I couldn't bear to see either Jelena Jankovic or defending champion Francesca Schiavone lose. One of them had to, however, and 10th seed Jankovic lost more than the match: She will now go out of the top 10 for the first time in over four years.

Schiavone, seeded 5th, defeated Jankovic 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. There was a time when you could all but guarantee that Jankovic would win any match that went to three sets; these days, the opposite seems to be the case. The stylish Italian struggled with some things during the match, but she kept her serve strong, and she brought the emotional energy that she's kept bottled up for a long time. The match lasted two hours and 38 minutes, and it would have made a great final. Schiavone and Jankovic going at each other is somewhat different than the drama of Schiavone and Kuznetsova going at each other (and we may get to see that again), but quite entertaining, nonetheless.

Some of us thought Jankovic would one day win the French Open, but--well, that's a discussion for another day.

Kuznetsova, a former French Open champion, also advanced to the quarterfinals. She defeated Daniela Hantuchova 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, and will play Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals. Bartoli's opponent, Gisela Dulko, retired shortly after the second set began. Dulko took a medical timeout at 3-4 in the first set, had her thigh worked on and wrapped, and returned to holdthen and break for 5-all. Bartoli broke and won the set 7-5, and after only one game was played in the second set, she had to stop. Almost any player benefits from a retirement at this point in a big tournament, but Bartoli--who has a history of physical fragility--may be especially fortunate.

In the other round of 16 match played today, 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached her first major quarterfinal by upsetting 3rd seed and countrywoman Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva just hasn't looked too comfortable in Paris, so her upset isn't altogether a surprise. Pavlyuchenkova defeated her 7-6, 2-6, 6-2. The young Russian will play Schiavone in the next round.

Two-time French Open doubles champion Anabel Medina Garrigues and her partner, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, seeded 11th, were defeated today in the third round by 7th seeds Elena Vesnina and Sania Mirza.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

French Open--what they said

I learned my lesson in Miami, when I lost to her in two sets.
Daniela Hantuchova, referring to Caroline Wozniacki

She can have an off day, and still win comfortably in straight sets.
Martina Navratilova, referring to Petra Kvitova

The only thing you can do is smile....Tennis is a game and you can have fun.
Jelena Jankovic

Patience is one of the main keys.
Victoria Azarenka, on clay court play

Middle of the match--I think I retired once, ever.
Martina Navratilova

In the thid set, I was happy that I composed myself and waited for my chances to come, and they eventually came and I took them....
Andrea Petkovic

It's been more about the mental scene, which I think I'm improving a lot.
Daniela Hantuchova

I really like to play drums, play guitar. I would love to be a rock star, but I can't sing.
Victoria Azarenka

French Open 3rd round play completed in Paris today

It was a "quieter" day today at the French Open, in that all but one of the higher-seeded won their matches, and won them without any high drama. If fact, only one seeded play, Andrea Petkovic (who declared she would no longer dance upon victory,  but instead, changed from doing the Petko boogie to moon-walking), needed three sets to win. 15th seed Petkovic defeated 24th seed Jarmila Gajdosova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. The one upset was of 16th seed Kaia Kenepi, who was defeated by Ekaterina Makarova.

Arantxa Rus, who took Kim Clijsters out of the Open, won only two games against Maria Kirilenko, who is seeded 25th. 

Despite talk that the Russian players no longer dominate, there are six of them in the round of 16. At least one will fall in that round, however, because 3rd seed Vera Zvonareva will play 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. That match will take place tomorrow on Court Philippe Chatrier. 11th seed Marion Bartoli, the last Frenchwoman standing, will also play on Philippe Chatrier tomorrow. Her opponent will be Gisela Dulko, who upset Sam Stosur in the third round.

10th seed Jelena Jankovic will play defending champion (and 5th seed) Francesca Schaivone on Court Suzanne Lenglen, and--at least on paper--that match has the potential to be quite exciting (and if you're like me, you can't stand the thought of either of these players losing). Finally, also on Suzanne Lenglen, 28th seed Daniela Hantukova will compete against 13th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova, of course, is the 2009 French Open champion, and Hantuchova is the player who upset Caroline Wozniacki.

It's worth noting that the top doubles seeds also advanced today: Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta defeated 15th seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-2.

Patty Schnyder retires

Many years ago, I was in a hotel room--I don't recall where--watching one of the majors. I think it was the U.S. Open. Suddenly, on the television screen, I saw a curly-haired young woman with a looping, lefty forehand. She put a lot of spin on the ball, and her body itself moved in a somewhat looping fashion. She was different from any other tennis player I'd ever seen, and I must have become an instant fan.

Later I would learn about the Schnyder drop shot, and I would watch the unconventionally athletic Swiss player slide vertically on clay from the baseline to the net. When she was good, she was confoundingly good, and when she was off, it was generally because of what was going on inside her head.

Patty Schnyder retired from professional tennis today. For some time now, I've wondered what it would feel like to write that sentence: It feels terrible.  Certainly, it was time for her to leave the tour; her results have not been that good for a while, despite an occasional return to form in this or that tournament. But from the standpoint of a fan, no time is a good time for a favorite player to leave the sport.

When I think of Patty, I think not only of her unusual and clever (the sports media wore out the word "crafty" in describing her) game, but also of her long history of serving as a representative of the WTA at draw ceremonies, hospital visits, children's clinics, and multiple meet-and-greet sessions. Schnyder clearly enjoyed every aspect of being on the tour, and she spent a lot of time with her fans.

She could be amusing. During a doubles match, I once saw her run to the net post and prop herself against it, arms crossed, waiting for a moonball to land. In that same match, she dragged Corina Morariu by the shirt collar, all the way to the baseline, to prevent her from engaging in a futile argument with the umpire. My funniest memory of Patty, though, was the time she was having difficulty in a match, her coach was nowhere to be seen, so--for an entire set--she yelled at me instead (she won, too).

The name Patty Schnyder will forever be linked to Charleston, where she had rock star status. Charleston fans were so enthusiastic about Schnyder that, in 2010, when Caroline Wozniacki defeated her in the third round, the famous Danish player was greeted by brief, lukewarm applause, only to hear the crowd go wild when Schnyder left the court.

In 2002 at the Family Circle Cup, an unseeded Schnyder defeated Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Serena Williams, and top seed Jennifer Capriati in what remains her most remarkable run in a tournament. Unfortunately, she lost to Iva Majoli (also unseeded) in the final. In 2006, Schnyder had another great run in Charleston, defeating top seed Justine Henin in the semifinals. Once again, though, she lost in the final, this time to Nadia Petrova.

Schnyder, a 17-year veteran of the tour, played in Charleston for 15 consecutive years. This year was her last, and a farewell ceremony took place during the tournament. The Swiss player, obviously moved by the crowd's feelings for her, said that she has never been one to use phrases like "nothing is impossible," but sometimes, in Charleston, that was the way it felt for her.

On many occasions, when discussing her career, Schnyder stated that she simply didn't have the power to compete against some of the top players. And I have always taken the liberty of disagreeing somewhat with that statement. Though she may have been blown off the court from time to time, Schnyder's problem in so many big matches--including finals and matches she played in majors--was in her head. She did acknowledge having trouble dealing with her emotions on the court, and often--just when she was close to a win--she would make unforced errors.

No discussion of Patty Schnyder's career would be complete without mentioning Daniela Hantuchova. Schnyder and Hantuchova participated in the richest rivalry of the last several years, though tennis writers and commentators routinely ignored it. Hantuchova once said that she would rather play anyone than Schnyder. They played each other 19 times, and Schnyder won nine of those matches.

This year's French Open marked Patty Schnyder's 59th appearance in a major tournament. She reached the semifinals of the 2004 Australian Open, and was a six-time quarterfinalist in majors. Schnyder won eleven WTA singles titles and five doubles titles. A long-time  member of the WTA Players' Council, the Swiss player rose to a career-high ranking of number 7 in the world, and she was in the top 10 for 94 weeks. She also represented Switzerland in the Olympic Games on three occasions, and played in 37 Fed Cup ties. This year, her last to participate in Fed Cup, the Swiss star won both of her matches.

"It's overwhelming feelings, and I'm going to need some time," the 32-year-old Schnyder said of her decision to leave pro tennis, which she called "a very emotional" one. Schnyder said she was "...thankful and proud of all the moments I have been able to share on and off the court with fans from all over the world and with the champions and legends from many decades."

There are so many things I'll miss about Patty--her inimitable tennis style, her intellect, her humor, and her sense of realism about both herself and the game. There will never be another like her.

Friday, May 27, 2011

French Open--what they said

It's definitely not the surface I like the most, but you know, I was still hoping that it was going to be better than this....
Caroline Wozniacki

Physically, I feel really good. I feel fit, I'm ready, and I'm fitter than ever.
Marion Bartoli

She seemed to...be the one dictating the points, which, for me, I'm Usually the one able to do that, but pretty much right from the first game, she kind of set that tone and it was difficult for me  to turn it around.
Sam Stosur, referring to Gisela Dulko

A single glance at any point in this match would have been enough to tell you who the superior shot-maker and pure tennis player is: Hantuchova. Her shots penetrated more easily, and with less obvious effort, than her much-higher-ranked opponent’s. As we unfortunately know, there’s a lot more to tennis than ball-striking....
Steve Tignor

I have to say today was probably one of my best matches.
Daniela Hantuchova

I've been totally in tune with the crowd. When I play there are times I struggle, but then I can turn the match around--I think the people love that. They see I'll never give up.
Marion Bartoli

The only one I feel pressure from is myself....
Caroline Wozniacki

Doubles update

There was another doubles upset today at the French Open. Julia Goerges and Andrea Petkovic defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy 6-1, 1-6, 7-6.

On Saturday, Flavia Pennetta will play her Fed Cup team members as the top-seeded team of Gisela Dulko and Pennetta take on the Italian team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Errani and Vinci are the 15th seeds.

In mixed doubles, tops seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Nenad Zimonjic advanced to the second round with a win over Kaia Kanepi and Robert Linstedt.

Speaking of mixed doubles--Amelie Mauresmo had planned to compete with Michael Llodra this year, but the French Tennis Federation forbade her to play because she is no longer part of the anti-doping system. 

Hantuchova sends Wozniacki out of Paris

There are a couple of things that have given Daniela Hantuchova trouble throughout her career--playing on clay, and keeping her head together when she's winning. Lately, her clay performance has improved so much that I believed she would be competitive in Paris. The other part, however, I wasn't too sure about. But when keeping her head together meant a whole lot today, she carried off the task beautifully, and--in doing so--dismissed top seed Caroline Wozniacki from the French Open.

It wasn't a difficult match for Hantuchova; she allowed the world number 1 to win only four games. Hantuchova had first and second serve percentages of 76 and 61, she won at the net in seven of nine approaches, and she hit more than three times as many winners as Wozniacki. In an hour and 13 minutes, it was over, and Hantuchova--the very essence of sangfroid--had won, 6-1, 6-3.

Hantuchova performed at this level on clay (albeit green clay) last year when she took Jelena Jankovic out of the quarterfinals in Charleston. When she hits her groundstrokes consistently, she hits up and down both lines, and she's hard to beat, especially given her skills at the net. Hantuchova can hit hard and soft, and we saw both today, as she prevented Wozniacki from developing any kind of consistent rhythm.

Wozniacki does require a consistent rhythm, and when she doesn't get it, she can lose her way. Expectations that she would win the French Open were held by some; yet if Wozniacki lacked aggression in Paris, what will she do at Wimbledon, playing on faster courts? She insists there is "no pressure," but the fact of the matter is that she does not perform at the same level in majors as she does in some other events. In some form or other, that has to be a partly mental phenomenon.

Wozniacki, we heard a few weeks ago, is supposed to start working a bit with Martina Navratilova. Not that anyone has asked for my advice--but I think the player who could most benefit from working with Navratilova is Sam Stosur. Stosur has a lot going for her, but needs to overcome her discomfort with moving forward. (Piotr Wozniacki, by the way, made a point of saying that he and Caroline would have to pay for Navratilova's consultation "out of our own pockets" and that Navratilova's services were not inexpensive--sorry, I'm just not feeling the indignation.)

There were some notable "firsts" today. Hantuchova beat a number 1 player for the first time in her career (that is so hard to believe), and for the first time in the Open Era, the two top seeds (Kim Clijsters went out yesterday) made an exit from a major before the round of 16.

We're down to 24, and there are still a half dozen Russians in the draw, by the way. The chances are fairly good that--after tomorrow--there will still be a half dozen Russians in the draw. The way this tournament is going, however, nothing seems too certain. On the other hand, observers shouldn't really be surprised to see Wozniacki and Clijsters upset on clay,

Still hanging around, I should mention, is 6th seed Li Na, who has never before done especially well on clay courts. And 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is always unpredictable, is also still going strong in Paris.

Stosur upset by Dulko in 3rd round of French Open

Before the French Open began, I mentioned that three dangerous floaters--Lucie Safarova, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Gisela Dulko--were all placed in the same quarter of the draw. Safarova and Martinez Sanchez are now out, but Dulko--playing the game she "should be" capable of playing all the time (but she lacks consistency, especially with her serve) proved today to be as dangerous as they come. Dulko upset 8th seed and 2010 runner-up Sam Stosur 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

Stosur saved seven set points in the first set. In the second, she advanced to a quick 3-0 lead, and proceeded to serve her way to a set victory in just 31 minutes. In the third set, Dulko wisely attacked Stosur's backhand over and over. Dulko broke at 2-all, got her own service game on track, and then controlled the rest of the match, holding at love for a 5-2 lead, then winning on her last service game.

Dulko will play 11th seed Marion Bartoli in the round of 16. Bartoli defeated Julia Goerges in three sets. The Frenchwoman's physical stamina is always in question, but so far, she has come through, and she says she feels great.

Also winning today were 10th seed Jelena Jankovic (def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands), 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkov (who had to go three sets against Nuria Llagostera Vives), 13th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova (def. Rebecca Marino), 3rd seed Vera Zvonareva (def. Anastasia Rodionova), and defending champion and 5th seed Francesca Schiavone, who won when her opponent, Peng Shuai, retired because of illness. Schiavone was up 6-3, 1-2  at the time.

Friday cat blogging--spring snooze edition

Thursday, May 26, 2011

French Open--what they said

We've seen some great talent, haven't we? And we've seen some major head cases.
Mary Carillo

I think I was way too concerned about the conditions, and moving my feet...I just felt flat-footed.
Maria Sharapova

...It's tough because opponent, I never saw her before; also, I ask many players about information, and was come back zero.
Li Na, speaking of Silvia Soler-Espinosa

I felt that I was moving her around well from side to side, then I started doubting a litle bit....
Kim Clijsters

That stomping noise you hear is the sound of a champion marching her way back into a match.
Drew Lilley (or perhaps Charlotte James?), when Sharapova turned the match around

Sometimes you have to be friends with the wind....
Li Na

Sharapova thwarts upset-minded Garcia

During the first set and half of the second, 17-year-old Caroline Garcia gave the crowd what they wanted today in Paris in the second round of the French Open. The little-known French player stepped onto the court a picture of confidence, and took it to Maria Sharapova. Garcia hit laser-like forehands and backhands, and ran the 7th seed all over the court; she was in charge of the proceedings--until she held a set point in the first set. That was when we saw the first drop in confidence, though the French player pulled herself together rather easily and won the first set 6-4.

Garcia started the second set the same way she started the first, and I couldn't help but wonder: When is the choke coming? Sharapova was surely wondering this, too, and at 4-1--that perennially deceitful scoreline--it happened. On some level, Garcia realized she was about to defeat Maria Sharapova at the French Open, and that was pretty much the end of her. As soon as the crack opened, Sharapova was ready. She cleaned up her game and reeled off eleven straight games, leaving Garcia in the red dust. The Russian, like Vera Zvonareva before her, survived to play another round.

Garcia, at age 17, wasn't able to do what Sharapova did when she was 17, but she was nevertheless very impressive, and her set and a half will be remembered as an interesting highlight of this tournament.

Aside from Kim Clijsters, the only seed who lost today was Alexandra Dulgheru, who was defeated by countrywoman Sorana Cirstea. Jarmila Gajdosova won a close (7-6, 6-4) match against Anabel Medina Garrigues, and Victoria Azarenka, Li Na and Petra Kvitova advanced in straight sets.

Dulgheru, though she lost in singles, was part of an upset in doubles. She and partner Magdalena Rybarikova defeated 10th seeds Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie.

Clijsters out of French Open

One of the reasons I like the French Open so much is that red clay tends to be a neutralizer. There are a lot of service breaks, and there are upsets. And when it gets cold and windy, odd things can happen. There was a big upset today: Arantxa Rus took out number 2 seed Kim Clijsters in the second round. Clijsters, who is returning after suffering multiple injuries, was leading, 6-3, 5-2 and held a match point. She held another match point at 5-4, but did not convert that one, either. Then Rus just took over. Clijsters wound up making 65 unforced errors, and Rus walked away with a huge 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory.

Clijsters has been a finalist at the French Open on two occasions, but has never won it. She was considered a favorite to win it this year. Rus, a former star on the junior tour, will play Maria Kirilenko in the third round.

Zvonareva survives in Paris

I watched the 2nd round French Open match between 3rd seed Vera Zvonareva and Sabine Lisicki with a growing sense of dread because it seemed as though nothing too good could come of it. Zvonareva looked flustered and too defensive against Lisicki, but I was feeling something more than frustration over the 3rd seed's performance. Because I knew that Lisicki might choke away her opportunities, and I was right. It wasn't that I wanted an upset--it was just that watching one player under-perform and the other one lose her nerve was like watching some type of accident from which I wanted to turn away my sight.

Lisicki was two points away from winning the match in the second set, but she was simply not mentally up to the task. At that point, it was easy to believe that the German would just get discouraged and Zvonareva would take charge. But I still had that sinking feeling, which proved to be reliable. Lisicki led 5-2 in the third, and had a match point on Zvonareva's serve, but she didn't convert it. When Lisicki served for the match at 5-3, she was broken.

By this time, it was apparent that Lisicki wasn't feeling too good. She wound up seeing both a trainer and a doctor and getting ice packs and a lot of water; she was cramping. She was easily broken at 5-6, but then two of Zvonareva's match points faded away--one because of a massive, "last gasp" forehand from Lisicki, and one because Zvonareva made an error. Zvonareva finally won, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, and Lisicki managed to do the handshake, then collapsed into a heap of pain and was hauled away on a stretcher.

That was a lot of drama. The drama earlier in the day was more fun, however. 11th seed Marion Bartoli, fully pumped up and carried by the crowd, won a three-hour match against Olga Govortsova, who hit 46 winners. Bartoli defeated Govortsova 6-4, 6-7, 6-2. Bartoli outlasted her opponent, but one wonders what effect the length and intensity of the match will have on the ever-fragile Frenchwoman.

Meanwhile, the world number 1 advanced, as did the defending champion and the 2009 runner-up. Julia Goerges got the tough match from Lucie Safarova I expected her to get, and came from behind to win, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez went out, defeated by Rebecca Marino (I didn't see that coming), and Bethanie Mattek-Sands defeated countrywoman Varvara Lepchenko.

There was a significant upset in doubles. The Czech team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka defeated the Czech team (and 8th seeds) of Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Benesova, by the way, is playing mixed doubles with Leander Paes (the injured Cara Black is his regular partner).

In other mixed doubles news, 2nd seeds Vania King and Daniel Nestor were defeated by Chan Yung-Jan and Eric Butorac.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

French Open--what they said

I fought like mad as usual, but this wasn't enough today....
Alize Cornet

I don't think I'm a player who can win here. I haven't reached past the third round here. I don't count myself.
Julia Goerges

I stopped being superstitious after the French Open in 2009. Before then, I always wanted to wear the same thing after I won. It meant I had to wash my clothes every day, because I didn't want to put on new ones. Then I got tired of it.
Sam Stosur

The rally at the beginning of the third set was so tough that she suffered physically....She couldn't stand three sets.
Marion Bartoli, referring to Olga Govortsova

Do you have concerns for the rest of your career? Do you reckon you can be back to the level you had when you were in the top 20?
Concerns? I'm 20. If I declare myself dead at the age of 20, that would be bad.
Alize Cornet

Passing shots in Paris

From WTA Backspin, we learn that the country with the second-highest number of players who made it to the top 64 (Russia had the most) is Romania. Join Todd Spiker and a commentator extraordinaire from the "past"--none other than Soren Kierkegaard--for a day-to-day existential deconstruction of events in Paris.

2004 French Open champion Anastasia Myskina is on her way to Paris to help coach 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Because it takes a village.

Here is a Eurosport interview with Kuznetsova.

Sam Stosur told Benjamin Adler of the French Open website that either Julia Roberts or Drew Barrymore would be her choices to play her in a movie.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has made it to the third round of the French Open, will probably be the number 2-ranked player from the USA in two weeks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

King upsets Cibulkova at French Open

Though tennis commentators often seem to forget it, Dominika Cibulkova was a French Open semifinalist in 2009. She is a really fine clay court (and hard court) competitor who was seeded 22nd at this year's Open. She lost today in the first round, however, to Vania King. Cibulkova made twice as many unforced errors at King, who defeated her 6-7(10), 6-3, 6-2. The first set lasted an hour and 18 minutes.

Also going out in the first round was 2008 champion Ana Ivanovic, who has been suffering from wrist tendonitis. Ivanovic, the 20th seed, was defeated 7-6, 0-6, 6-2 by Johanna Larsson. Both ESPN commentators said they had never before seen Larsson play.

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova dragged 8th seed Li Na to three sets, but it was Li who advanced to the second round. Andrea Petkovic won a very competitive match (6-4, 7-6) against Bojana Jovanovski, and Charleston runner-up Elena Vesnina lost in three sets to Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Vesnina hit 53 winners to Soler-Espinosa's 35, but the Spaniard made only seven unforced errors in the match.

French Open--what they said

I feel like I can play longer rallies. I believe I can go point to point; it gives me confidence.
Maria Sharapova, commenting on clay court play

It feels steady and good.
Kim Clijsters, referring to her injured ankle

I grabbed all my courage. I don't have much. I'm very fragile. I feel lonely, and even though there are many people around me supporting me, but I still have the strength in me that keeps me standing up and moving on step by step. I'm mourning right now, and it's difficult.
Virginie Razzano, whose fiance recently died

...I felt like I was running out of power in the end and couldn't really adjust, you know, small steps, and dominate with my forehand and couldn't really put that extra zip on the ball.
Ana Ivanovic, discussing her wrist tendonitis

First match--easy or tough--nothing in between.
Li Na

Petkovic talks about music

Monday, May 23, 2011

Defending champion and world number 1 advance to 2nd round of French Open

Defending champion Francesca Schiavone easily advanced to the second round of the French Open today with a 6-2, 6-0 defeat of Melanie Oudin. Schiavone is seeded 5th at the tournament.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki also had an easy win, against Kimiko Date-Krumm. Wozniacki defeated Date-Krumm 6-0, 6-2.

11th seed Marion Bartoli had a bit of a scare when Anna Tatishvili took the first set from her at 6-1. But Bartoli was able to prevail, and allowed Tatishvili to win only three more games in the match.

Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai, who has had all kinds of problems lately, lost her first-round match, as did 26th seed Nadia Petrova, who was defeated by Anastasia Rodionova. Chan Jung-Jan defeated 31st seed Klara Zakopalova, and lucky loser Anastasia Pivovarova lost to Nuria Llagostera Vives.

Tomorrow, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, Li Na, and Victoria Azarenka will play their first round matches. Also playing tomorrow are Andrea Petkovic, Yanina Wickmayer and 2009 semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova.

French Open--what they said

Are you having as much fun out there as you seem to be. You seem so relaxed.
Relaxed? No.
Francesca Schiavone

As long as you're on the court and able to play, you can always play better.
Vera Zvonareva

I, for sure, know I could have played much better, but I just did what I needed to do today....
Daniel Hantuchova

Does it feel different this year, coming in as the defending champion...?
Yeah, it's different, because everybody want to beat me.
Francesca Schiavone

The beginning was appalling. Even in my worst nightmares, I wouldn't have thought of such a bad start.
Marion Bartoli

She knew I was retiring, and that threat was gone, so she came back.
Corina Morariu, wryly commenting on Kimiko Date-Krumm's absence
the whole time Morariu was on the tour

It looks a little scary sometimes.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, on her eye smudge

You know when you go home and your mom do everything for you, and you feel comfortable, yeah, I felt like this.
Francesca Schiavone, on returning to Court Phillipe Chaterier

"...at the beginning, she wouldn't miss many points, she was not making unforced errors, she was hitting the lines, she was successful with some important shots, and I was doing anything silly I could.
Marion Bartoli

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 French Open--first impressions

I've looked forward to today for a while, and--with the exception of watching Flavia Pennetta lose her way in her first match--I enjoyed the action I saw. I didn't think Shahar Peer would get past Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, so that upset wasn't a surprise.

Sam Stosur looked very relaxed and confident, Julia Goerges--not so much. But it's possible that Goerges had some anxiety to work through, and we are likely to see more consistent play from her in the next round.

I really like Svetlana Kuznetsova's "old school" Fila outfit, and I also like the pink version of JJ's dress. (Note to both Drew Lilley and Martina Navratilova: If you can't see colors well, or if you don't "get" colors, perhaps it's better to stay away from fashion critiques.)

The ESPN powers, as always, did what they could to avoid showing us live tennis.

The wind was really swirling during some of today's play. If that keeps up, especially in warm conditions, the ball is really going to fly on the courts (good news, maybe, for Vera the Wind Tamer).

There is no French Open widget on the blog because the tournament website did not make one available this year. So far, there are no interview transcriptions, either--I certainly hope that situation changes. Also, the site is promoting its iPhone app in a few places on the front page, but--if you have an Android phone--there is one for you, too; the webmasters just didn't bother to mention it. Click on Multimedia and Mobile, and you'll see it.

I enjoyed seeing Aravane Rezai and Richard Gasquet take a quiz.

And it's hard not to like this photo of Sloane Stephens.

I was happy to have a lot of match choices today. In addition to Tennis Channel and ESPN2, I could watch on ESPN3 and Tennis Channel online.

French Open--what they said

It's weird, it's very weird, playing on Sunday.
Svetlana Kuznetsova

Today, I certainly felt I could have had won that match against [someone] in the top 50.
Casey Dellacqua

If I can get to the semifinals, I can push myself those last two steps.
Jelena Jankovic

Flavia Pennetta is the bane of my life--she can never finish on time. After a 1 a.m. job in Rome, it's 3-3, deuce in the final set here....
Drew Lilley

Lepchenko upsets Pennetta in 1st round of French Open

Flavia Pennetta hasn't had such a good season. A serious shoulder injury took her out of Italy's Fed Cup semifinal, which Italy lost. She's been trying to make her way back, but her performance today at the French Open was filled with uncertainty, and--as hard as she fought--the talented Italian just made too many mistakes against an in-form Varvara Lepchenko (who's having her best season ever). During the match, I kept returning to my idea that, during times like these, someone should put Pennetta into a trance and give her the suggestion that she's actually playing in a Fed Cup match. Pennetta looked sad and puzzled during parts of the third set. She saved four match points, but on the fifth, Lepchenko took the match 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

Pennetta, the tournament's 18th seed, was not the only player to be upset in the opening round. 19th seed Shahar Peer, not surprisingly, was defeated 7-6, 6-1 by Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands fought back from a first set loss to defeat Arantxa Parra Santonja, and Stuttgart champion Julia Goerges defeated Mathilde Johansson in straight sets, though the second set was rather messy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Passing shots

23rd seed Alisa Kleybanova has withdrawn from the French Open because of illness. Lucky loser Anastasia Pivovarova has replaced Kleybanova in the draw.

Marion Bartoli hopes to be able to play her French Open first round on Monday. She had to retire in the Strasbourg final today because of a thigh injury.

The Brisbane International tournament has been upgraded to Premier status.

ESPN.com recently posted a poll so that people could vote for who they think is the greatest tennis player of all time. All of the players listed were men. So instead of asking "Who is the greatest male player of all time?" ESPN just went with the usual sexist approach of presuming that "tennis players" are male and "great" tennis players are male. Big surprise.

Babolat is the official ball of the 2011 French Open. Defending champion Francesca Schiavone will be using a customized version of the Babolat AeroPro Drive.

Jillian Michaels is leaving the cast of NBC's "The Biggest Loser," but there's "good" news: Anna Kournikova is joining the cast.

Deja vu

We have been here before, even many though tennis writers behave as though we haven't. Last year, it was very hard to predict who would win the French Open, unless you were one of the individuals who assumed Justine Henin would win it. I wasn't one of those individuals, and I was quite curious as to who would prevail; I was then delighted that it turned out to be Francesca Schiavone.

This year is no different, except that Henin is no longer in the mix. Many of those who "should" win don't exactly look like major contenders, though any of them could come through:

Francesca Schiavone--the 2010 champion has suffered from fatigue this season, and--as wonderful as her game is--she makes a lot of unforced errors and doesn't look as thought she can win seven rounds.

Svetlana Kuznetsova--She won the French Open in 2009, and she probably "should" have won it a few times, but is just not a contender in any tournament right now.

Jelena Jankovic--She "should" have won the tournament, too, but, sadly, her confidence appears to be fading away.

Sam Stosur: Stosur was last year's runner-up, but she just doesn't look like a potential champion this seaosn.

Ana Ivanovic--Ivanovic was the 2008 champion, and that accomplishment seems as though it happened so, so long ago. Ivanovic simply isn't a factor in this year's French Open.

Victoria Azarenka--Azarenka is ripe to win the French Open, but her health is so fragile that it's questionable that she can survive seven rounds without falling to illness or injury.

We are left with:

Kim Clijsters--Clijsters is a two-time finalist whose chances are very good, provided her ankle doesn't betray her. Clijsters recently injured her wrist, shoulder and ankle, but says that her wrist and shoulder are fine, and her ankle will be wrapped in Paris.

Caroline Wozniacki--The world number 1 won on the green clay in Charleston, and she just won her very first red clay event at the new tournament in Brussels. She has yet to win a major, and though her best chance would appear to involve a hard court, she has to be viewed as a contender.

Maria Sharapova--Sharapova has never been considered a favorite to win in Paris, and after struggling to come back from a serious shoulder injury, she hasn't been considered a favorite to win anything big. But she won in Rome, and suddenly--out of nowhere--she is a contender at the French Open.

The winners of the big clay tournaments last year were Stosur (Charleston),  Henin (Stuttgart), Aravane Rezai (Madrid) and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (Rome). Henin and Stosur were factors at the French Open, with Stosur going on a memorable run before losing to Schiavone. This year's winners, respectively, were Wozniacki, Julia Goerges, Petra Kvitova and Sharapova. Wozniacki also won the first-ever event in Brussels.

Goerges has a tough draw. She will probably meet Lucie Safarova in the second round, and Safarova is as dangerous a clay court floater as they come. If Goerges gets past Safarova, she could upset 11th seed Marion Bartoli, but then she has to deal with Stosur.

Kvitova is one of the most unpredictable players on the tour. Clay should be her worst surface, yet she won in Madrid. She has a tough first round against Greta Arn, then--if she wins that--she should be okay until she gets to the third round and has to deal with 2009 semifinalist Dominika Cibulkova. Should she make it past Cibulkova, it's likely that either Li Na or Elena Vesnina awaits her. And should she continue to win, she will probably have to deal with Azarenka.

At the French Open, Wozniacki is on course to meet Stosur in her quarter. Dangerous floaters Martinez Sanchez, Safarova, and Gisela Dulko are in that quarter, too, as well as the aforementioned Goerges.

The French Open is my favorite major, partly because it's so unpredictable, but mostly because I like to watch clay court experts manage the surface. It doesn't hurt that the event is played in Paris.

Wozniacki wins inaugural event in Brussels

Caroline Wozniacki won her 16th title today, at the new WTA Brussels Open. This win is special, however, since it is the world number 1's first time to win a championship on red clay.

It wasn't an easy win. A 12-deuce game early in the second set gave spectators a taste of how tough both players were. Each player experienced ups and downs in quality and energy, but in the end, it was Peng whose game became error-strewn, and Wozniacki who was able to take advantage of those errors. The world number 1 continued her new trend of playing more offensively and hitting more winners. After two hours and 35  minutes, she defeated Peng 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to become the first Brussels champion.

The doubles champions are Andrea Hlavackova and Galina Voskoboeva, who defeated 2nd seeds Klaudia Jans and Alicja Rosolska 3-6, 6-0, 10-5.

Patty Schnyder blogged during the tournament, and on Thursday, she described her visit to the Atomium. Schnyder also writes about her own tennis, and about her anticipation of the French Open.

Bartoli retires, and Petkovic wins Strasbourg

Those who follow Marion Bartoli know that, as a tournament progresses, a retirement could come. It came today, in the final of the Internationaux de Strasbourg. Top seed Bartoli had to stop playing because of a left thigh injury, and 2nd seed Andrea Petkovic won the match 6-4, 1-0. This is Petkovic's second WTA title. When the new rankings come out next week, she will be number 12 in the world.

4th seeds Akgul Amanmuradova and Chuang Chia-Jung won the doubles title by defeating 2nd seeds Natalie Grandin and Vladamira Uhlirova 6-4, 5-7, 10-2.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bartoli and Petkovic to compete for Strasbourg title

Top seed Marion Bartoli advanced to the final of the Internationaux de Strasbourg today by defeating three-time champion Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-1, 6-2. Medina Garrigues' formerly slumping career has turned around recently, but she was stopped short in France by Bartoli. Medina Garrigues was seeded 7th in this year's tournament.

Bartoli will play 2nd seed Andrea Petkovic in the final. Petkovic defeated 6th seed Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted over two hours and 42 minutes.

Doubles 2nd seeds Natalie Grandin and Vladamira Uhlirova have also reached the Strasbourg final, in which they will play 4th seeds Akgul Amanmuradova and Chuang Chia-Jung.

It's not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose

Anyone looking for a handy lesson on how to beat Caroline Wozniacki on red clay certainly could have gotten one from Francesca Schiavone today in Brussels. Only most of the tour's players don't possess Schiavone's amazing variety of shots. Oh, and Schiavone lost. As is too often the case with the Italian, her cleverness and athleticism were neutralized by her propensity to make a high volume of unforced errors.

Schiavone, the 3rd seed in Brussels, hit 44 winners in the 2-hour and 33-minute semifinal match, but she also made 53 unforced errors. Many of those errors were made right after Schiavone set up winners against her opponent. And speaking of winners--Wozniacki hit 20, which is quite a high number for the world number 1. There were nine breaks of serve in the match, which Wozniacki won 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Wozniacki's opponent in the final will be 8th seed Peng Shuai. This is the first time that Peng has reached a Premier level final, and the way she has been playing lately, such a development seemed inevitable. Peng upset 2nd seed Vera Zvonareva 6-3, 6-3 today. She played a remarkably clean match and served extremely well, giving Zvonareva few opportunities to take an offensive stance.

Peng has never won a tournament, a fact that stands out as one of the oddities of the WTA. She reached the semifinals in Charleston last month, but was hampered by fatigue and a very in-form Elena Vesnina. Now she faces the world number 1, and this could be a very good final.

In doubles, 2nd seeds Klaudia Jans and Alicja Rosolska defeated Sofia Arvidsson and Andrea Klepac 6-4, 6-4. in the semifinals today. In yesterday's semifinal match, Andrea Hlavackova and Galina Voskoboeva defeated Elena Bovina and Kaia Kanepi 7-5, 6-1.

French Open experts' picks

Mary Joe Fernandez--Maria Sharapova
Cliff Drysdale--Kim Clijsters
Ravi Ubha--Kim Clijsters
Patrick McEnroe--Caroline Wozniacki
Pam Shriver--Maria Sharapova
Greg Garber--Kim Clijsters
Steve Tignor--Kim Clijsters
Peter Bodo--Caroline Wozniacki
Jon Wertheim--Victoria Azarenka
Brad Gilbert--Caroline Wozniacki
Matt Wilansky--Petra Kvitova
Kamakshi Tandon--Kim Clijsters

Friday cat blogging--Happy 5 edition

Ziggy Stardust and Tarzan turn five some time this month. The brothers were born in a feral colony, so we have no way of knowing their exact birthdate. One of their favorite pastimes, as you can see, is occupying blankets.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Health check

The French Open begins on Sunday, but Venus and Serena Williams won't be the there because of health and injury issues. Dinara Safina won't be there, either, because of ongoing back pain, and Timea Bacsinszky will skip Paris because she is recovering from left foot surgery.

What about the players who will be there? I don't have any up-to-date news on Nadia Petrova, but she has been dealing with dizziness for several weeks. 2010 runner-up Sam Stosur had to take anti-nausea medication before she played the Rome final, and is having some medical tests run. Yanina Wickmayer had to retire in the third game of her Brussels quarterfinal today because of back pain, and Victoria Azarenka recently injured her elbow. Flavia Pennetta has recently returned from a significant shoulder rehab, but seems to be okay.

Kim Clijsters injured her wrist, shoulder and ankle, and only just decided she was healthy enough to participate in the French Open. She reports that her wrist and shoulder are fine, and she'll have her ankle taped in Paris.

Some players can play through mild-to-moderate injuries quite well; others are more fragile. In cool, damp conditions, tennis balls become heavy and more stress is put on the body, especially on red clay. World number 1 Caroline Wozniacki has embarked on a rigorous training campaign to prepare her for the French Open. Wozniacki, it should be noted, is healthy most of the time, anyway. Fitness can make a difference, especially in a major, so consistently good health is an advantage for the world number 1.

It's always troublesome to check the illness and injury list right before a major tournament begins, but illness and injury are part of the reality of professional tennis.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jankovic upset in Brussels tournament

Jelena Jankovic just can't stop the bleeding. Today, in the 2nd round of the Brussels Open, she was defeated 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 by Sofia Arvidsson. Jankovic was seeded 4th at the new WTA International event.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki was challenged by Varvara Lepchenko, but won her 2nd round match, 6-4, 7-6.

5th seed Shahar Peer was defeated by Casey Dellacqua in the first round.

In Strasbourg, both Kimiko Date-Krumm and Sania Mirza went out in the first round. Date-Krumm was defeated by top seed Marion Bartoli, who will play Lucie Hradecka in the second round.

It's official: Clijsters will play in Paris

Kim Clijsters says that her wrist and shoulder injuries have healed, and that she will compete in the French Open with her right ankle taped. Clijsters resumed training two weeks ago after suffering multiple injuries.

"...his intention is that I...continue to be strong and fight"

Virginie Razzano's fiance, 32-year-old Stephane Vidal, died Monday. Vidal, who was Razzano's coach until March, died from complications of a brain tumor which was diagnosed nine years ago. Vidal had learned to walk and write again after undergoing surgery when the tumor was discovered. He took a turn for the worse early this spring, and he almost died in March. Vidal's family kept the news from Razzano, however, while she was competing in the United States.

"Four or five days ago, I asked him: 'Do you want me to go and play at Roland Garros?'" Razzano told L'Equipe. "He answered: 'Yes, you need to play.' Because his intention is that I keep on going in my life, that I play for him and that I continue to be strong and to fight."

Razzano said that Vidal helped her to overcome a "very difficult adolescence."

Razzano, who is ranked number 93 in the world, was ranked as high as 16 in 2009. She was off of the tour for several months because of an injury she said was caused by a WTA trainer. The Frenchwoman, inspired by Vidal's final request, will play in the 2011 French Open.

Women Who Serve joins the tennis community in offering condolences to Razzano.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rybarikova defeats Kvitova to win Prague 100k tournament

Madrid champion Petra Kvitova skipped Rome in order to play the 100k ITF tournament in Prague. The bad news is that, during the week, she sustained a hip injury. She also lost the final to Memphis champion Magdalena Rybarikova, who defeated her 6-3, 6-4. Rybarikova was the 4th seed; Kvitova was the 1st.

Kvitova was to have played in the new Brussels tournament that starts tomorrow, but she is no longer in the draw.

Quote of the day

"Easy to say; how to do?"
Li Na
(in Tennis Channel's pre-French Open promotion on how to make the clay court transition)

Sharapova (yes, you're reading it right) wins Rome

Back in what people consider her "great" days--when she was blowing opponents off of hard courts without dropping a set--Maria Sharapova was not expected to win red clay titles. During the past couple of seasons, after she went through botched diagnosis, rotator cuff surgery, and two rehabs--Sharapova was described as "finished," "under-confident" and "will never be the same again." She did struggle mightily, especially with her service game, but today, we got "old" Sharapova with a twist: She won a premier red clay tournament in Rome. The 7th seed and three-time major champion defeated 6th seed Stosur 6-2, 6-4 after the players waited three hours to play because of a rain delay.

To get to the final, Sharapova had to beat world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, and to get the title, she had to beat 2010 French Open runner-up Sam Stosur. She beat them both in straight sets, and will be number 7 in the world when the rankings are published tomorrow. Sharapova is now 8-0 against Stosur.

Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie won the doubles title, upsettingh 3rd seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova 6-2, 6-3.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Stosur and Sharapova to meet in Rome final

Never known for her acumen on clay courts, and considered by many to be "finished" because of injury and confidence issues--Maria Sharapova, the self-proclaimed clay court Cow on Ice--has made it to the final of the Italian Open. Sharapova defeated top seed Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals, hitting 36 winners along the way. Of course, this isn't the first time that Sharapova has "failed to meet expectations" on clay. Last year, she played a gritty third round French Open match against Justine Henin, and took Henin to three sets.

The world number 1 has never won a red clay tournament. During this year's red clay season, she has fallen to Julia Goerges twice, and now to Sharapova. Wozniacki did win this year's Family Circle Cup, which is played on green clay.

Sharapova's opponent in the final will be 2010 French Open runner-up Sam Stosur, who defeated Li Na 7-6, 6-0 in the semifinals. Stosur has looked kind of flat lately, but her game has come to life in Rome, and the final will probably be a good one.

In the doubles semifinals, 3rd seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova defeated 2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik 7-6, 62, and Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie defeated Alexandra Dulgheru and Jarmila Gadjosova 3-6, 6-4, 10-5.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Passing shots

Venus and Serena Williams have both withdrawn from the French Open. This is not unexpected, given the health problems they have experienced in the past several months.

Kim Clijsters has not yet decided whether to play in the French Open, but her participation is looking more likely than some thought.

The latest Backspin Time Capsule is all about Monica Seles. It brings back a lot of memories.

Mary Carillo will join the broadcast team for Tennis Channel for both the French Open and the U.S. Open. In Paris, Carillo will host Tennis Channel's live network desk, do interviews, provide analysis, and do some selected play-by-play commentating.

Here is a brief preview of Adidas fashion for the French Open.

Dulko and Pennetta out of Italian Open

Defending champions Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta, the number 1 seeds at the Italian Open, were upset today in the quarterfinals. The ad hoc team of Alexandra Dulgheru and Jarmila Gajdosova defeated Dulko and Pennetta 7-6, 6-4.

2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik advanced, as did 3rd seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova. Peschke and Srebotnik defeated 6th seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy; King and Shvedova defeated Nadia Petrova and Anastasia Rodionova. Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie defeated 8th seeds Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Anaabel Medina Garrigues.

Safina takes indefinite leave from tennis

A couple of days ago, I mentioned that Dinara Safina had withdrawn from the French Open. Today, she announced that she is taking an indefinite leave from professional tennis. Plagued by back problems, Safina said that "At the moment, I can't do anything tennis-wise. When I can do certain moves without feeling lots of pain, then I would consider resuming my training."

Several months ago, Safina gave some thought to retiring from the sport because of her recurring injury, but decided to stick with it. The former world number 1 (known as "Thrill Ride" on this blog because of string of breathtaking third set comebacks) was a finalist at both the French Open and the Australian Open, and she holds twelve singles titles. Safina's droll wit ("The more you know, the less you sleep") has made her one of the best press conference personalities on the tour.

"I don't know how long my time out is going to last," Safina said. "I don't want to torture myself and my body anymore."

WTA launches "Strong is Beautiful" campaign

The WTA has launched a new, "Strong is Beautiful" global ad campaign, featuring a number of the tour's players. I really like the idea, though I'd like the campaign better if the women were shown in their tennis clothes, on a tennis court, rather than in "photoshoot" style. Still, the ads are attractive and refreshingly simple. Kim Clijsters' ad also contains an unexpected feminist message, so--if we have to keep hearing about how she had a baby and came back--this is certainly a a great way to hear about it. (Of course, the WTA had to go and ruin the effect by once again delivering the sexist message that Clijsters "balances" motherhood and professional tennis.)

Here is the Sugar and Spice video, narrated by Heather Watson:

And here is Li Na's video:

Jankovic and Schiavone out of Italian Open

Blogger has been down for maintenance for a couple of days, so I haven't been able to post anything. The tournament in Rome has really captured my attention, however. It's now close to being in the semifinals, so--before we forget--there are a couple of players who made noteworthy runs, even though they've been beaten.

Polona Hercog, who went out in the first round of qualifying in Madrid, upset 15th seed Andrea Petkovic in straight sets in the second round in Rome. Hercog, who had to go through qualifying, also defeated Alexandra Dulgheru, who is known for her clay court savvy. Hercog lost to 6th seed Sam Stosur in the third round.

Greta Arn had a good run, too. Arn upset 12th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in a first round match that lasted three hours and 22 minutes. Arn then defeated wild card Alberta Brianti, and she defeated (an injured) Elena Vesnina in the third round (also, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6). Finally, Arn met her match in 4th seed Li Na.

Rome is, of course, generally where Jelena Jankovic "finds herself." She lost the final last year, but her run was nevertheless top form--she defeated both Williams sisters. Today, however, she was beaten in three sets by top seed Caroline Wozniacki. Jankovic made an abundance of unforced errors, helping Wozniacki to send her out of her beloved Rome.  The top seed will play Li in the quarterfinals.

Also making it to the semifinals was Sam Stosur, who took out home favorite and 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in straight sets. Stosur will face wither Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova next.

Friday cat blogging--green shopping edition

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Passing shots

Dinara Safina appears to have withdrawn from the French Open.

Li Na recently told an interviewer, in response to a question about her fame, that if she were a man, she would be the most famous athlete in China. She added that women will never achieve that type of equality, not just in China, but throughout the world. You said it, Big Sister.

Li, by the way, has changed coaches. Her husband, Jiang Shan will stop coaching her. Instead, Li has hired Michael Mortensen, who is captain of the Danish Fed Cup team. 

Timea Bacsinszky recently had surgery on her left foot, so she'll be out for a while.

Tom Perrotta thanks Tennis Channel for its "relentless coverage" of the clay court season. That would be "relentless coverage of the ATP clay court season."

Speaking of coverage...Tennis TV has dropped its separate WTA/ATP packages, and customers will now have to buy a package that includes both tours. This means customers will pay almost twice as much to get matches they perhaps do not want to watch. (I always bought just the WTA package, but that was only because I didn't want to tempt myself with the combined package.) The good part is that Tennis TV offers excellent customer service and way better commentary than anything we see on television in the USA.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Defending champion out of Rome in first round

Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, who brilliantly defeated Jelena Jankovic in last year's Rome final, was defeated today in the first round of the 2011 Italian Open. Ekatarina Makarova defeated Martinez Sanchez 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. Gisela Dulko and Alexandra Dulgheru went out, too, defeated by Iveta Benesova and Polona Hercog, respectively.

Also defeated in the opening round was 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova lost to Greta Arn, 3-6, 7-6., 7-6. The third set tiebreak score was 11-9, and the match lasted three hours and 22 minutes. The third set, in fact, lasted an hour and 47 minutes. Arn saved four match points, and won on her fifth match point.

Charleston photos available for viewing

We took a lot of photos in Charleston this year. You can see a sample of them here.

Monday morning at Starbuck's

This morning, I was in Starbuck's and the barista noticed my T-shirt, one of the old "I'M IN TOUCH" shirts.

Barista: What's that shirt?

Me: From an old WTA campaign slogan, "Get in touch with your feminine side."

Barista: Oh, women's tennis. What's their slogan now?

Me: I'm not sure, but it ought to be "Our players are all sex objects."

Barista laughs and nods.

Me: The LPGA is actually worse.

Barista: Oh, I think it's all getting better.

Me: Really? I think it's getting much worse.

Barista: Well, women's softball is the worst.

Me: You mean, because they still call them "first basemen"?

Barista rolls eyes more or less in agreement, then laughs.

Barista: Really. But what I mean is, those players look, you know, softer these days.

Me: That's what I'm saying is worse.

Barista: Huh?

Me: What has "soft" and "pretty" got to do with aggressive athletic performance?

Barista is silent.

Me: There's pressure to look "soft" and "pretty." God forbid there might be any lesbians on the field or the court.

Barista: That shouldn't matter at all.

Me: Well, I guess it does.

(Trust me, you don't want to hear what the grocery store checkout clerk said when I accidentally hit the Food Stamps button.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kvitova wins Madrid championship

Petra Kvitova, the 16th seed at the Madrid Open, went up 3-0 in the opening set of today's championship match, and she was a point away from going up 4-0, but 4th seed Victoria Azarenka then got on the scoreboard and eventually made matters even. The set went to a tiebreak, which Kvitova won. To casual observers, this was a case of the Czech player's obtaining a second chance to do what she "should" have done earlier in the set.

Casual observers would be correct, of course, but such a progression through a set is kind of the "Kvitova way." Because she takes so many risks and plays such intense offensive tennis, the 16th seed makes a lot of errors. Yes, it would be better if she didn't. However, because of Kvitova's excellent serve and her ability to remain calm, she often finds a way to take back what she gave up. In fact, the more important the match, the more likely Kvitova is to rescue herself and take control.

In today's match, Kvitova use her wide serve to her advantage over and over, but she also varied the serve, and she hit second serves that set up winners for her. The Czech player was also careful to avoid Azarenka's backhand as much as possible. Both Kvitova and Azarenka are "first strike" players, producing the type of tennis that I don't especially enjoy watching, but that I can certainly appreciate. The rallies were short in this match, and it was Kvitova who showed more skill in setting up and executing winners. Azarenka was forced into a defensive position much of the time, and--as good as she is--she just didn't have enough answers when Kvitova went for wider and wider angles.

In the second set of today's match, Azarenka had opportunities to draw out the match. She broke Kvitova twice, but Kvitova used her big serve to come back. When she served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, the Czech player put some showy icing on the cake: She hit an ace and three winners--service, forehand and backhand, to hold at love for a 7-6, 6-4 victory.

The stats confirm that this was a "typical" Kvitova match: The champion hit 40 winners and made 34 unforced errors. She will be number 10 in the world when the new rankings are published. Azarenka, who won the doubles championship with Maria Kirilenko, will be number 4.

Kvitova, who made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon last year, is more of a fast-court player. The altitude in Madrid makes the clay surface faster than most, so Kvitova's work may be cut out for her when she arrives in Paris for the French Open, especially if weather conditions make the courts especially slow and the balls become heavy. Winning her third title this year is certainly good for Kvitova's confidence, however, and her ability to keep a cool head is most advantageous.

One final note: The "success" of having a combined tournament is a joke in Madrid. There were not that many people in the stands to watch the women's championship, so perhaps the Madrid organizers could spend less time and energy auditioning models and more time promoting the women's game. Of course, to do that, they would have to actually care.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Passing shots

Svetlana Kuznetsova has split with her coach, Carlos Cuadrado. When it comes to Kuznetsova and Ivanovic, I need to have a "________ has split with _________" template on the ready.

Petra Kvitova and Vera Zvonareva are skipping the tournament in Rome. Kvitova will play in a $100k challenger in Prague.

Lisa Raymond recently had brunch with Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss in New York City. Raymond calls King a "ball of positive energy."

Piotr Wozniacki has taken a page from the Walter Bartoli playbook, and--during the clay season--is requiring Caroline to do three-hour workouts every day, including the days she plays matches.

Here is a video peek of Maria Sharapova's Eiffel Tower-inspired French Open dress.

Azarenka and Kirilenko win Madrid doubles title

5th seeds Victoria Azarenka and Maria Kirilenko won the doubles championship in Madrid today. They defeated 2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

Azarenka isn't finished, however; she will play against Petra Kvitova in the singles championship match tomorrow. Azarenka defeated Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals, ending the German player's 10-match win streak. Goerges appeared to be in a state of mental, if not physical, fatigue throughout much of the match.

Kvitova, seeded 16th, easily defeated 6th seed Li Na 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals. Kvitova's quarterfinal victory puts her in the top 10 for the first time. When the rankings are published next week. she will be number 10 in the world. Azarenka will be number 4.

Friday, May 6, 2011

My, how things have changed

It wasn't that long ago that:
  • Serena Williams was the player to beat
  • Maria Sharapova was a very bright star on the tour
  • Kim Clijsters was headed toward a great 2011 season
  • Jelena Jankovic was "a step away" from meeting her potential
  • Sabine Lisicki appeared to be Germany's Next Big Thing
  • Julia Goerges was a good-enough German player who showed some potential
  • Ana Ivanovic looked like she was regaining her prestige
  • Sam Stosur was heralded  on clay surfaces

Things have changed. Williams, a victim of especially nasty bad health luck, has been out for months and months. Clijsters has three injuries and may not play in the French Open. Sharapova is slowly getting her groove back, but fans are nervous. Stosur hasn't been the same since she lost the 2010 French Open to Francesca Schiavone.

Ivanovic, who can't even keep a coach in her employ, is lost somewhere in the tennis cosmos, and her countrywoman, Jankovic, has sadly misplaced her confidence. Lisicki, who was either sick or injured for months, is finally making a bit of a comeback, but she is still a shadow of the player who came out of nowhere and won Charleston in 2009. In the meantime, German player Andrea Petkovic has steadily increased both her skills and confidence, and has become a threat in many tournaments.

The most interesting German story, however, is that of Julia Goerges. Goerges has shown potential for a long time, with her strong hitting on both sides, but she broke through and won Stuttgart, beating world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the final. Then she beat her again in Madrid, and will play in the semifinals tomorrow. Sometimes people forget how important confidence is, and Goerges must be feeling a lot of it right now.

Consistency has been Wozniacki's strength, though she hasn't yet won a major, and her chance to do so may not come until the U.S. hard court season arrives.

Then there's Petra Kvitova--whom some of us have been watching for a long time. She sneaked into the 2011 season with two titles, then backed off a bit (there was an injury issue), but is making a surprising run on red clay in Madrid. Kvitova has semifinal points to defend at Wimbledon, and her chances of defending them are pretty good. More focused and careful than she used to be, Kvitova is mentally strong and probably has nowhere to go but up.

What about the other Russians? Elena Dementieva has retired, and the extraordinarily gifted Svetlana Kuznetsova has trouble winning. Dinara Safina was taken out of the tour by a serious back injury, and has not found her way since her return. Nadia Petrova has some health problems, but she has run hot and cold for a few years now. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova keeps getting better, but it's Vera Zvonareva who has outshown them all. A two-time major finalist, Zvonareva has a lot to prove this year; she is now "the" Russian, and it's a bonus that she is intelligent and articulate (and can break a racquet with more panache than anyone in history). But despite Zvonareva and Pavlyuchenkova, the Russians no longer dominate.

Since we're talking about change, Ii's only natural that people would speculate about the Williams sisters' retirement. I think they will try to be around for the 2012 Olympic Games, but both of them now have health issues that make it hard for them to compete. Of course, it's the work of a fool to ever count out Serena Williams, so--like everyone else--I'm waiting to see what will happen.

Everything, by the way, could change again tomorrow--that's the nature of professional tennis. And if you doubut that, I have two words for you: Francesca Schiavone.