Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wimbledon--what they said

She's way hotter than he is, so more people will watch Maria.
Serena Williams, referring to Giles Simon

I didn't arrive here with confidence because I lost my first match at Eastbourne and played so bad, but every round I have played here, things have got better.
Petra Kvitova

Today I laid a golden egg.
Yaroslava Shvedova

I want to go out with a bang, you know how I do it. I'm just fighting everything, she's playing unbelievable on grass, so I'm just doing the best that I can.
Serena Williams

So for me is an honor to be here every year, have a possibility to play here, to enjoy the grass, because you don't find another grass like here.
Francesca Schiavone

I can do it. You can put me in all three, I' m coming out with one or two medals.
Serena Williams, referring to the Olympic Games

Serena Williams wins 3rd round Wimbledon thriller

Serema Williams hit 23 aces in her third round Wimbledon match against Zheng Jie today, and it's a good thing she did, because the former Wimbledon champion needed every point she could find to fend off the grass-loving Zheng. Williams had to serve three times to stay in the match, and each time, she was up to the occasion. Zheng, of course, is a wonderful mover, and she made only 17 unforced errors in three sets of full-out, exciting play.

The match lasted two hours and 28 minutes, with the third set taking an hour and ten minutes to complete. Williams was taken to deuce in the final game, so the thrills never really let up. The 6th seed won the match 6-7, 6-2, 9-7, and was never broken. The service stats from this match are worth noting: Williams had first and second serve win percentages of 80 and 84; Zheng's were 75 and 50.

Williams' next task is to play Yaroslava "Solid Gold" Shvedova.

Serena Williams and her sister, Venus, are also still engaged in a second round doubles match that had to be suspended because of approaching darkness. 4th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova took the first set, and the Williams sisters took the second.

Defending champion Petra Kvitova beat Varvara Lepchenko in just 53 minutes; Lepchenko won one game. Victoria Azarenka beat qualifier Jana Cepelova, and Ana Ivanovic beat Julia Goerges. 24th seed Francesca Schiavone brought out a really good second serve at defeated Klara Zakopalova 6-0, 6-4.

And then there was the Queen of Thrills, Tamira Paszek. Paszek beat Yanina Wickmayer 2-6, 7-6, 7-5. The match lasted two hours and 40 minutes (of course), and included 17 breaks of serve (including Wickmayer's for-the-match serve). How long can the Austrian keep this up? Her next opponent is Roberta Vinci, who defeated Mirjana Lucic 7-6, 7-6.

Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka won their second round doubles match by defeating Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova. Hsieh Su-Wei and Sabine Lisicki defeated Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu, and the Radwanska sisters defeated (however it is they do it) Irina Falconi and Chanelle Scheepers. 

Defending champions Iveta Benesova and Jergen Melzer are out of mixed doubles competition. They were defeated 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 by Dominic Inglot and Laura Robson. Also upset in mixed doubles were French Open champions Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati.

Tomorrow is middle Sunday, when no tennis is played at Wimbledon. This arrangement makes sense because, of course, there are never any rain interrruptions in London.

Solid gold

Today at Wimbledon, Yaroslava Shvedova played a "golden set": Playing in the third round against French Open finalist Sara Errani, Shvedova won the first set without dropping a point. She is the first woman to ever do so, the first player to ever do so at Wimbledon, and--in fact--that first player to ever do so in a major.

Shvedova, a wild card, hit 14 winners and four aces in her 24 straight points. She won the first set in just 15 minutes, then Errani won the first point of the second set. Shvedova advanced to the round of 16 with a 6-0, 6-4 victory.

The only other tennis pro in the Open Era to play a golden set was Bill Scanlon, who did so in Delray Beach in 1985. But one woman did come close in 2006: Shvedova won 23 straight points off of Amy Frasier in the opening set in Memphis, but then went on to lose the match.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Wimbledon--what they said

When she's winning, she tends to be passive and she backs up on her shots.
Chris Evert, describing Christina McHale

What super tennis--flowing and nerveless.
Jo Durie describing Camila Giorgi

What is it like to coach against four-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams on center court at the championships? Well, it’s like experiencing a beautiful dream and a horrifying nightmare all at the same time.
Craig O'Shannessy

I have a lot of confidence right now, and I'm very pleased that I am in the second week.
Angelique Kerber

[She] took the scenic route, but she played good tennis when she needed to.
Commentator describing Sabine Lisicki

The conditions were hard, it was very windy, but I adjusted well, I think, and just calmed down and went for my shots and made them.
Sabine Lisicki

When I'm not moving and not active physically, it's better. Moving and running is just impossible right now; it's impossible to play at this level. But I hope I will get better soon.
Vera Zvonareva

...the guy played incredible. I'm curious to see how he's going to play [against Philipp Kohlschreiber] because a lot of times he looked a little bit arrogant out there. So I wonder how he'll react in his next match, if he can stay grounded, keep his feet on the ground, and try to keep that result going. Nobody cares too much. You can beat Nadal, but if you lose the next round ... I'm going a definitely watch him tomorrow and see how he will play.
Kim Clijsters, on Lukas Rosol's upset of Rafael Nadal

I think everyone wants a certain amount of respect regardless of what you've achieved. It's about having self respect and people respecting who you are as human being and everyone getting equal from the same organization. I don't think that I did get equal treatment, but I said what I said and I don't want to keep harping on it during Wimbledon, which is very important to me.
Sania Mirza

She's number 3 in the world for a reason. She didn't miss. I think I tried to do too much and then I tried to do too little. I just wasn't getting it right today.
Heather Watson, on going up against The Radwanska

Meet the latest fighting Italian

Up a set but down 1-5 in the second set, Camila Giorgi decided to just get on with things. In a display of stylish, hard-hitting, confident tennis, the smooth-moving world number 145 from Italy went about the business of getting a straight-set victory over 20th seed Nadia Petrova. And though this is certainly yet another occasion to say "Oh, Nadia," the fact is that the match was one of high quality; Giorgi just happened to be on fire. She defeated Petrova (who is no slouch as a hitter, herself) 6-3, 7-6, and that included an 8-6 win in the tiebreak.

It was quite a thrilling afternoon, and viewing was difficult. I was also trying to keep up with the match between Maria Kirilenko and Sorana Cirstea--and I was watching Roger Federer fight off what looked like an upset. Just watching was exhausting.

But back to Giorgi. I was quite impressed with the young Italian when I saw her play in Charleston. She had to qualify to get into the Wimbledon main draw, so this was her sixth match of the tournament. In the qualifying rounds, she beat Emily Webley-Smith, Olivia Rogowska and Alexa Glatch. She then took out 16th seed Flavia Pennetta in the first round of the main draw, and followed that with a win over Anna Tatishvili. Now, with her victory over Petrova, Giorgi is into the round of 16.

Who is Camila Giorgi? The 20-year-old was born in Italy and plays for Italy, but lives in France. She's only five feet, six inches tall, and is right-handed. Giorgi says she likes hard courts the best, but her experience this week may change her preference.

Giorgi didn't look tired at all today, but you have to think that she is--at least a bit. She'll need all the mental strength she can muster for the next round, in which she plays 3rd seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

Radwanska made short work of Heather Watson today, defeating her 6-0, 6-2 in just under an hour. In three rounds, Radwanska has made only 22 unforced errors. World number 1 Maria Sharapova beat Hsieh Su-Wei, 2011 semifinalist Sabine Lisicki beat Sloane Stephens (though it took her three sets to do it), and  8th seed Angelique Kerber put away Christina McHale pretty easily. Peng Shuai ended Arantxa Rus's run, and Maria Kirilenko defeated Sorana Cirstea. In a second round match that stretched over two days, qualifier Jana Cepelova upset 26th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Kim Clijsters advanced today, too, when her opponent, 12th seed Vera Zvonareva, retired in the second set because of a respiratory illness. Zvonareva did hang in for her mixed doubles match, which she and partner Marcelo Melo won.

Defending doubles champions Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik were upset today by Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, who beat them 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Also upset were 8th seeds Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who lost to Olga Govortsova and Mandy Minella. 9th seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez were beaten by Andreja Klepac and Anastasia Rodionova.

Friday cat blogging--lazy morning edition

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wimbledon--what they said

If she played on grass 365 days a year, she'd be top 5.
Maria Sharapova, speaking of Tsvetana Pironkova

I'm always wanting to be so perfect that sometimes I want to do too much; it's something I'm working on.
Serena Williams

I have a stiff back, but I think it will be all right tomorrow.
Petra Kvitova

I managed to just kind of hit myself off the court, I guess.
Anne Keothavong

It's like watching her drive a Ferrari without using the top three gears.
Thomas Johansson, describing Caroline Wozniacki's lack of aggression

She's a very, very classy player.
Elena Baltacha, describing Petra Kvitova

I started with no motor whatsoever, I was just on pause, feet.
Maria Sharapova

Good luck with that.
Victoria Azarenka, referring to upcoming grunt-o-meter times

Sharapova through to Wimbledon third round

Play resumed today in the interrupted second round Wimbledon match between world number 1 Maria Sharapova and the Wimbledon zone of danger otherwise known as Tsvetana Pironkova. Pironkova was down 1-3 in the second set when they began playing again, but she broke Sharapova, and that set, too, went to a tiebreak. Sharapova's serve went to pieces and Pironkova won the tiebreak and the second set.

I wondered whether to settle back for a long thrill-ride third set, but Sharapova had other plans. In a stunning example of "putting it behind her," the 2004 champion proceeded to wipe Pironkova right off of the grass, which is no small feat. It didn't hurt that Pironkova's rather wicked serve had decreased in effectiveness as the match went on. Sharapova won the final set 6-0 in 29 minutes.

Pironkova wasn't the only grass expert to go today. 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli was taken out in straight sets by Mirjana Lucic, who was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1999. Lucic hit 33 winners and made only 11 unforced errors. Her defeeat of Bartoli is Lucic's first top-10 win in 13 years (she was off the tour for several years).

Defending champion Petra Kvitova won her first set against Elena Baltacha 6-0, but, of course, she had to have a little "off" time in the second set--which she won 6-4. Serena Williams beat Melinda Czink, Victoria Azarenka beat Romina Oprandi, and Alize Cornet took only three games off of Tamira Paszek. Christina McHale is still around, as is Francesca Schiavone. Angelique Kerber took out grass court threat Ekaterina Makarova, and Varvara Lepchenko beat 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Kim Clijsters' next opponent will be 2010 finalist Vera Zvonareva. No one is talking about Zvonareva because she's having a dreadful season, but now, here she is in the third round of Wimbledon, playing against someone really good who is also unpredictable. This is a match to keep an eye on, for sure.

Sloane Stephens takes on 2011 semifinalist Sabine Lisicki, Heather Watson has to face Agnieszka Radwanska, and--in what could be one of the better matches of the day--Christina McHale plays Angelique Kerber.

In doubles, defending champions Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik advanced to the second round, as did top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. Also winning were 2nd seeds and French Open champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, and Serena and Venus Williams. Grass court players Marina Erakovic and Tammy Tanasugarn defeated Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie, and Irina Falconi and Chanelle Scheepers defeated Gisela Dulko and Paola Suarez.

Next up for the Williams sisters are 4th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wimbledon--what they said

This year I hated grass a little bit less than the previous years.
Sam Stosur

Tomorrow, no one will remember how great a match it was, they'll remember who won.
Caroline Wozniacki

I need to be more aggressive and not make life so hard for myself.
Heather Watson

She's more dangerous when she's down.
Chris Evert, describing Tamira Paszek

I really don't get as upset when I lose points now. I'm not that emotional anymore.
Sloane Stephens

Cover girl Wozniacki airbrushed out of Wimbledon
Chicago Tribune headline

She really tries to lull you into a false sense of security.
Mary Joe Fernandez, describing Tsvetana Pironkova

And finally, this comment could come only from Hannah Storm: 
A lot of head-scratching going on there Down Under.

Stosur and Li both upset on 3rd day of Wimbledon

Someone was going to take Sam Stosur out of Wimbledon; we knew that. The "someone" turned out to be Arantxa Rus, who is remembered for having removed Kim Clijsters from the French Open in the second round last year. Rus did the same for 5th seed Stosur today, defeating her 6-2, 0-6, 6-4, and yes, that's a strange scoreline. (But, somehow, not for Stosur.)

11th seed Li Na also said goodbye today, as she met a straight-set defeat at the hands of sometime giant-killer Sorana Cirstea.

Not likely to be talked about, but also a bit of a surprise, was the second round exit of Petra Cetkovska, who had such a great run at last year's tournament. Cetkovska went out 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 to Sloane Stephens.

Still in the mix are Kim Clijsters, Heather Watson, Vera Zvonareva, Sabine Lisicki, and Maria Kirilenko.

Then there is the matter of Maria Sharapova and Tsvetana Pironkova. Their match was suspended because of darkness during the second set, though the players appeared to have wanted the suspension to come sooner. The first set was simply crazy, with the (as always) casual-appearing Pironkova serving extremely well and in a kind of tricky way, and going up 3-0, then 4-1. It was at that point that Sharapova started to figure out the grass-loving Bulgarian--a little bit, anyway.

Sharapova saved a set point when she served at 2-5, the broke when Pironkova served for the set at 5-3. At 4-5, Sharapova was serving at 40-0, but suddenly, it was deuce, and just as suddenly, Pironkova had another set point, but she hit a backhand down the line just a little long. The game returned to deuce, after which the French Open champion hit an ace, then held with an overhead.

Serving at 5-6, 0-40, Sharapova had to contend with another three set points for her opponent. This is when it got really good because Sharapova saved all three of them. Pironkova saved a game point, and one got the sense that this could go on and on, but it didn't; Sharapova won on her next game point. She then won the tiebreak 7-3, as Pironkova fell to the ground attempting to return her opponent's last tiebreak shot.

Play was suspended with Sharapova up 3-1 in the second set, and Pironkova has to sleep with the knowledge that she saw five set points disappear.

Hold your head up, movin' on!

At the end of the drama-filled masterpiece that was the first-round Wimbledon match between Eastbourne champion Tamira Paszek and former world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki, ESPN showed a montage of moments from the match and played The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams." Wozniacki's dreams may not be of the sweet variety, however. Despite playing extremely well, she was bested 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 by a fiery, confident and frightenly free-swinging Paszek.

The match, which began yesterday and was suspended at 2-all in the opening set, really should have been a final. It had everything--expert shot-making, exceptionally hard hitting, huge momentum swings, and heart-stopping comebacks. Paszek served at 5-3 for the first set, and held four set points, which she saw gobbled up by Wozniacki, who went on to break her and win the set. The former world number 1 went up a quick break in the second set. Given her improved aggression and what might have been a significant letdown for Paszek (who not only saw four set points disappear, but who also just played a long week of tennis in Eastourne), it wasn't hard to believe that Wozniacki was about to take care of first-round business.

But wait--this was Tamira Paszek, who plays best when she's in trouble. Serving at 6-5, Wozniacki held two match points, but then Paszek unleashed two massive backhand winners and wiped them out. The set went to a tiebreak, which Paszek won.

Paszek went down a break in the final set, just as she had in the second, but she never showed signs of giving up. In fact, the the more grueling and risky the match became, the more the Eastbourne champion looked like she believed she could win it. She did serve for the match at 5-3, but became a bit shaky and was broken. Paszek's failure to win the match on her serve made things look better and better for the always-patient Wozniacki, but when the Dane served at 4-5, Paszek finally put an end to things. She hit a forehand down the line to deliver match point, and after three hours and twelve minutes, Wozniacki experienced her first-ever Wimbledon first-round loss. The 7th seed reached the round of 16 in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Paszek's groundstrokes are stunning, and she can change direction quickly. There is also a calm  on-court poise about her, even when things aren't going so well. It would benefit her to add more variety to her game as she advances in this tournament, but--for now--she's doing well enough to take out the 7th seed. Paszek's next opponent will be Alize Cornet.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wimbledon--looking ahead (just a little bit)

So far, and not surprisingly, it's Maria Sharapova who has come out looking fresh, confident and ready for trophy-holding at the All England Club. Defending champion Petra Kvitova was a bundle of nerves in her first round, Serena Williams carried obvious tension, and Victoria Azarenka muttered, sputtered and double-faulted her way to a straight-set win. None of it means much, though. First rounds are hard, and even great champions are anxious about them.

Sharapova's next opponent will Tsvetana Pironkova, who doesn't have Venus Williams to kick around this year. Pironkova had a back injury in Eastbourne, and at this point, I don't know the status of her pain or mobility. The injury looked like it might be more than a small one. But, assuming she's healthy for her second round, it's likely that she'll try to mess with Sharapova in her nonchalant, "Oh I'm just here because it relaxes me," grass court trickster way. Pironkova thrives on low bounces and sometimes plays an attacking game that seems to come out of nowhere. She'll have her work cut out for her, though; Sharapova might just stay loose in the way that someone who just won a career Slam might be very content and loose. Oh, and she's been playing really, really well.

Kvitova, who--after she failed to convert a match point--came back today from a rain delay as The Rock, will next play Elena Baltacha. Baltacha, though no slouch, should pose no serious threat to Kvitova, who, one hopes, will relax a bit and rely on some happy memories to get her through the first week of the tournament.

Williams probably got all the tension out of her in the first round, but these days, she's a little hard to predict. Her next opponent is Melinda Czink, and she should be able to handle the Hungarian without much trouble. After that, she gets either Aleksandra Wozniak or Zheng Jie, and things get a little more difficult.

As for Azarenka, she'll play Romina Oprandi in the next round, but with the world number 2, who is on the other side of the net doesn't really seem to be an issue. Azarenka goes from unsure and cranky to confident and explosive without warning. Winning a major really takes its toll on some of these players, apparently. There is, of course, a tremendous amount of pressure, but--on the other hand--they don't seem to make them like Chris Evert anymore.

If things go according to plan, Kvitova and Williams will meet in the quarterfinals, and that will be the match everyone will talk about, as well they should. In 2010, Kvitova played "The Serena" in the semifinals, and clearly (she even said so) had little hope of winning. But losing to The Serena seemed to light just the right fire under the Czech star, who went on to take the year 2011 by storm, winning six titles, including Wimbledon and the WTA Championships, and leading her team to the Fed Cup championship. 2012 has been a letdown, but sometimes a walk on the grass is just what one needs to feel good again.

Wimbledon--what they said

At the beginning I think I was sort of nervous.
Petra Kvitova

As well, I was very, very emotional at the end, especially with Judy. She told me that I got the wild card for the Olympics. I just really want to say thanks a lot to the ITF and the committee for giving me a place.
Elena Baltacha

I stayed in Paris and I trained there, every day.
Serena Williams

As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as a bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis.

Whatever fate has got in store, it's got in store for you.
Elena Baltacha

I think she played really good, particularly in the first set, but I couldn't find the timing to return on her serve. Then I found it, and I feel much more confidence and then a little bit of experience and a little bit of personality and maybe some good shot from me.
Francesca Schiavone

I just tried to go for a little bit too much. Really, I should have just stuck with how I was playing before.
Laura Robson

Of course I would like to make everyone happy, but it's not that easy.
Petra Kvitova

Robson out, Schiavone in

Young British star Laura Robson hit 12 aces in her first-round Wimbledon match against Francesca Schiavone. In three sets, however, Schiavone made only 13 unforced errors, and so you can do the math. Other Brits did better: Elena Baltacha defeated Karin Knapp, giving her a bagel in the third set, and Anne Keothavong defeated Laura Pous-Tio.

Kiki Bertens took out 19th seed Lucie Safarova, and Yanina Wickmayer beat 32nd seed (how strange does that sound?) Svetlana Kuznetsova. Christina McHale, in a match that was carried over from yesterday, sqeaked past Brit wild card Johanna Konta 6-7, 6-2, 10-8. McHale had to serve for the match three times. The third set lasted an hour and 35 minutes.

Serena Williams had a rather nervous start, but defeated Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in straight sets. Defending champion Kvitova--surprise!--had a nervous start, too, but won her opening round against Akgul Amanmuradova in straight sets. When she served for the match, Kvitova hit three consecutive aces.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What should we call it?

Stacey Allaster is refusing to call the to-be-designed grunt-o-meter a grunt-o-meter, so please, let's think of things to call it and send our suggestions to the WTA. But remember--if we call it a shriek-o-meter, we're allowing players who actually grunt to go on grunting. If we call it a shriek/grunt-o-meter, Yanina "Woopee!" Wickmayer and Caroline "Oom-pah!" Wozniacki will slip through. Meanwhile, all the grunters on the ATP are safe, of course.

I think perhaps we should call it the Allasterator, but Snake-Ear would be good, too.

Wimbledon--what they said

I don't have time to be  negative; it's not fun.
Venus Williams

I’m a little bit older and I understand the emotions better, I think, than many years ago. So I think in that way it's easier, but also probably a little bit more emotional.
Kim Clijsters

Today I was watching videos of my opponent playing, so I was going in confident. I'd been practicing well. I'd mentally prepared myself, as well.
Heather Watson

The career Slam is the best gift I could have received at this time in my career. It wasn’t a Cinderella story--I worked really hard, a lot of tough days. I couldn’t compete at a high level without a lot of pain.
Maria Sharapova

A lot of people wouldn't even have the opportunity to even come back, so I'm grateful for this opportunity. With each day that passes, that means I have another chance. If the sun comes up, I have a chance.
Venus Williams

Yesterday a Wimbledon official  said: "There are no rules regarding tattoos for players," adding wryly: "There might be if they had a huge advertising slogan tattooed across a part of their anatomy... but otherwise not."
The Daily Mail

"I don't have time to be negative; it's not fun"

Illness cannot overtake the heart of five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, but it can assault her body. It doesn't help that she's 32 years old, of course. And it doesn't help that her first-round opponent today was someone who is capable of playing extremely well--and who did so. Elena Vesnina brought her best game to Wimbledon's Court 2 today, which was a stark contrast to Williams' obvious struggle to maintain. Vesnina defeated Williams 6-1, 6-3. It was the first time in 15 years that Williams had made a first-round exit at the All England Club.

The former champion's slow walk off of the court was hard to watch. In her press conference, she apologized for her laughter. The dissonance between her affect and what one presumes was her emotion was poignant.

When she was in Charleston, Williams--who has Sjogren's syndrome--said that "...I always feel like I'm stepping into the unknown." Well, if anything felt like "the unknown" to Williams, it might have been going out in straight sets in the first round of the tournament that made her a legend. She isn't entirely out of Wimbledon, though; she and her sister are entered in doubles competition.

Though Venus Williams' exit was the news of the day, there were other exits worth  mentioning. 18th seed Jelena Jankovic went out in straight sets to the unseeded Kim Clijsters. Melanie Oudin lost to Timea Babos. Jamie Hampton beat Daniela Hantuchova, and countrywoman Camila Giorgi upset 16th seed Flavia Pennetta.

Maria Sharapova, Sam Stosur, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Li Na all advanced, as did Maria Kirilenko, Sloane Stephens and Heather Watson.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Passing shots

Serena Williams said yesterday at a pre-Wimbledon press conference that she and her sister "have no intention of stopping" their tennis careers any time soon.

"I didn't feel like I needed a huge celebration," Maria Sharapova said of her French Open win. "I was walking around for three days with the biggest smile." 

Defending champion Petra Kvitova's parents will be in the royal box when she plays her first round at Wimbledon.

Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters have been hitting together on the Wimbledon courts.

Here's a look at the WTA pre-Wimbledon party:

Wimbledon champion predictions

Peter Bodo--Maria Sharapova
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Ed McGrogan--Maria Sharapova
Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Darren Cahill--Maria Sharapova
Richard Pagliario--Serena Williams
Steve Tignor--Serena Williams
Ravi Ubha--Serena Williams
Brad Gilbert--Maria Sharapova
Courtney Nyugen--Maria Sharapova
Matt Wilansky--Petra Kvitova
Todd Spiker--Victoria Azarenka*
Jon Wertheim--Maria Sharapova
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Mary Joe Fernandez--Maria Sharapova
Patrick McEnroe--Serena Williams
Greg Garber--Maria Sharapova
Kamakshi Tandon--Serena Williams 

*CaRL piCK2--Marion Bartoli

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Some players to watch at Wimbledon

There is little (next to none) chance that any of these players will win the 2012 Wimbledon tournament, but each of them, in her own way, can cause problems for her higher-ranked peers:

Melanie Oudin
Oudin made it to the round of 16 in 2009, right before her huge run at the U.S. Open. She took a very big tumble in the next couple of years, and many counted her completely out, but--hello!--she just won in Birmingham. Oudin likes the grass. She is likely to meet UNICEF Open champion Nadia Petrova in the second round.

Ekaterina Makarova
Makarova likes the grass, too, and is a former Eastbourne champion. She is likely, however, to face Angelique Kerber in the second round.

Dominika Cibulkova
Cibulkova is (quietly) seeded number 13 and little is said about her. And while it's true that we can expect more of her on clay and hard courts, she is never to be under-estimated. She can be streaky, though, and her first opponent is Klara Zakopalova--not a dream first-round draw for anyone.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
Because sometimes, she actually remembers Who She Is.

Francesca Schiavone
The Queen of Thrills--who recently saved seven match points and won a tiebreak in Den Bosch after being down 0-6--seems to always have at least one more thrill left in her. Schiavone opens against young Brit not-yet-star Laura Robson. The Italian, known as a clay player (she won the French Open in 2010) has gotten as far as the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

Sloane Stephens
Just because.

Kim Clijsters
Remember Kim Clijsters? She's back again--sort of. She withdrew from the semifinals at the UNICEF Open, however, giving her opponent a walkover.

Urszula Radwanska
Clijsters' lucky UNICEF Open opponent, is looking like someone to watch on grass. She gets Marina Erakovic in the first round, though, and Erakovic tends to show her best tennis on grass courts.

Tamira Paszek
Paszek just won Eastbourne, though prior to taking that trip to England, she had won only two matches the entire season. She's having some problems with one of her ankles, which could be helpful to first-round opponent Caroline Woznaicki. Or not. Unless Paszek caves from injury and/or exhaustion (and this is quite possible) this could be a must-see match.

Christina McHale
McHale seems to thrive on pulling off upsets, and she may have to pull off a big one if she expects to stick around.

Petra Cetkovska
The "other Petra." She made a big run last year and is worth taking a look at.

Tsvetana Pironkova
Pironkova has been dealing with a back injury, so she  may not be in good shape to take on her customary Wimbledon giant-killing tasks. And even if she's completely healthy, she faces a very, very tough task in the second round (if all goes as planned)--she gets world number 1 Maria Sharapova.

Maria Kirilenko
She's streaky, but she can do damage.

Sabine Lisicki: Last year, she took a wild card all the way to the semifinals. I wouldn't expect that kind of run this year, but with Lisicki, you just never know.

Here are some first-round matches worth following, though you probably won't get to watch many of them:

Kim Clijsters vs. Jelena Jankovic: How could it happen?! Clijsters is unseeded, that's how. And though I'm reluctant to quote someone whose absence from the airwaves I consider good news.....if Dick Enberg were around, I know he would say "Oh, my."

Lucie Hradecka vs. Angelique Kerber: Hradecka is a big server. If Kerber's serve goes off the way it did in the Eastbourne final, she could have a bit of a challenge.

Tamarine Tanasugarn vs. Anna Tatishvili: This may not sound too interesting, but this could be (or not) Tanasugarn's last Wimbledon. Back in the day, she made some really good runs at the All England Club.

Dominika Cibulkova vs. Klara Zakopalova: Zakopalova, who always seems to have more potential, has been doing rather well lately. She made it to the semifinals in Eastbourne this past week.

Laura Robson vs. Francesca Schiavone: The crowd will be cheering Robson on like crazy, but can she use her big lefty serve to out-maneuver one of the tour's greatest fighters? 

Caroline Wozniacki vs. Tamira Paszek: See above.

Ana Ivanovic vs. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez: Might be fun to watch.

Too much grass can mess you up

That seems to be what the powers in the WTA and ATP believe, for "grass season" is almost a joke, it's so short. And even though the grass at Wimbledon doesn't play nearly as fast as it used to, it's still grass, and players are just getting off of the slowest surface of all, red clay, right before they compete at the All England Club.

A few players--Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova--can play very well on all surfaces without having too much preparation, but even they need a productive transition from clay to grass. Even as a fan, I'm always a bit disoriented by the sudden appearance of  play at Wimbledon, so soon after the completion of the French Open. Of course, my great affinity for the French Open probably has something to do with this, but I also think that the "transition" just happens really quickly.

Nevertheless, we have arrived at the weekend before the beginning of the only major played on grass. Wimbledon doesn't thrill me the way it thrills some, though last year, I found myself extremely thrilled by Petra Kvitova's championship run.

And that gives me a good, if not happy, starting place for previewing the tournament. Defending champion Kvitova, who ruled the tour last year, has quite obviously misplaced her crown. Kvitova, even in her greatest moments, can be a bit edgy on court, but in 2012, we've seen a kind of all-out-head-case version of the Czech star. The Rock has crumbled. Still, grass is Kvitova's second-best surface, so there's still hope that when she steps onto it, her remarkable game will find her.

Assuming that all goes as expected for her, Kvitova should meet Serena Williams (assuming all goes as expected for her) in the quarterfinals. Potential trouble-makers in that quarter include Zheng Jie and Klara Zakopalova.

But I'm ahead of myself, since that's the third quarter. The first quarter is where world number 1 and 2004 champion Maria Sharapova resides, and--on paper--she's on a collision course with Angelique Kerber. If the Bulgarian's back injury doesn't prove to be her downfall, Tsvetana Pironkova should play Sharapova in the second round. If Pironkova is healthy (unknown at this time), that should be a match of interest, since Wimbledon is the tournament where the easy-going Pironkova likes to show off her tennis. Last year, she made it to the semifinals, then lost to eventual champion Kvitova.

Petra Cetkovska lurks in that quarter, as does Vera Zvonareva, who was a finalist in 2010. 2011 semifinalist Sabine Lisicki and Christina McHale are in that quarter, too, and--as if the layout weren't already strange enough--so are Kim Clijsters and Jelena Jankovic. In fact, Clijsters and Jankovic play each other in the first round: Dangerous Floater meets Dangerous Creator of Cosmic Chaos.

For all practical purposes, it's Sharapova who has the draw from hell, so we should all keep an eye on that quarter.

The second quarter is anchored by Agnieszka Radwanska (who went out to Cetkovska in the second round last year) and Samantha Stosur, either of whom could make a great run or crash out early. In the case of Stosur, crashing out early is even more expected. Radwanska should get Venus Williams, whom she took out of the French Open, in the second round. Williams is much more at home on grass than clay, however. There is some thought that a deep run at Wimbledon might create just enough stress for the five-time champion to kick in the worst of her illness, given that it's an autoimmune disease. This is, unfortunately, a fair assessment

Nadia Petrova and Li Na are in that quarter, as is Melanie Oudin, who made it to the round of 16 a few years ago, and who recently won in Birmingham. Petrova and Oudin will most likely meet in the second round, so one of them will be making too quick of an exit from the tournament. Flavia Pennetta and Maria Kirilenko are in that quarter, too, and either of them is capable of stirring things up a bit.

In the last quarter are Caroline Wozniacki and world number 2 Victoria Azarenka. Wozniacki's first job will be to get rid of that pesky Tamira Paszek. The Austrian player is having some ankle issues, so Wozniacki may be able to take advantage of that. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Roberta Vinci and Ana Ivanovic are in that section of the draw, too, and on a good day, any of them could do damage. And then there's 2007 finalist Marion Bartoli, who tends to find her mojo when she's standing on grass.

If Wozniacki gets past the Eastbourne champion, she'll probably have to face Kuznetsova in the third round, and that could be the end of her Wimbledon run.

Azarenka, I should add, is 8-3 against Bartoli, but they are 1-1 on grass, having each beaten the other in Eastbourne.

Who, realistically, can win Wimbledon this year? Not many, in my opinion. Former champions Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams make the best cases. Sharapova just completed her career slam, and comes in on a cloud of confidence. Williams needs to make a very big comeback statement (not that her other comeback statements have been small), and the place she's the most likely to do it is on Centre Court at Wimbledon. This is the woman who hit 89 aces to win the championship in 2010, and who gave us all a little Sinatra "Fly Me To the Moon" dance after she put the trophy down.

Each woman makes a strong case, yes, but each is vulnerable, to serving problems, wind, tricksters, the luck of the draw.

What about the defending champion? Kvitova's performance last year was brilliant. This year, she has hit a wall every time she's gone for a title. Kvitova certainly can defend her Wimbledon title; her grass game is superb. But something will have to happen in the mental department for that to occur. (Petra, please don't forget to eat a pineapple again every night of the tournament.)

Someone from Balarus may not like all this talk about Maria and Serena and Petra. Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka made a mess of things at Roland Garros, but she just had her braid cut off (this has to be symbolic)--nice haircut, too--and may be almost itching to get going at the season's third major. Azarenka has had a taste of dominance, and it suited her. She can't be counted out.

Finally, permanent "dark horse" Marion Bartoli is the only other player I can even remotely imagine (sorry, players from Poland and Australia) crashing one of tennis's biggest parties. She came close in 2007, but that was a long time ago, and the Frenchwoman isn't having that great a season. She perked up in Eastburne, though, and looked more like the grass-loving Bartoli of old. It will help if she doesn't have to engage in any epic three-hour, nausea-inducing, parent-spanking matches.

So away we go. I know, there's the dreary talk about what I understand are mediocre strawberries, the boasting about mythical greatness, plenty of rain, and the assault to the ears (if you live in the USA) that is Hannah Storm. But there should also be some thrilling tennis.

Paszek saves 5 championship points, wins Eastbourne

Who saw it coming? Tamira Paszek took out Marina Erakovic in the first round of the AEGON International, then 8th seed Daniela Hantuchova in the second. Her next accomplishment was to beat grass court trickster Tsvetana Pironkova, though she got some help from Pironkova's aching back. In the semifinals, the Austrian player beat world number 9 and former Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli. Today, she saved five match points and defeated world number 8 Angelique Kerber, who appeared to be on her way to taking her third title of the year. In doing so, Paszek also broke Kerber's streak of 15 3-set victories.

The crowd couldn't have asked for more. Kerber took the first set 7-5, and Paszek won the second, 6-3. The third set was an exciting, well-played, drama-filled exhibition in which Kerber held five championship points, only to watch them all obliterated, primarily by Paszek's lethal backhand. Paszek had to have her ankle treated; there was a late, iffy call that did not bode well for Kerber; Kerber saved two championship points. But in the end, the toughness of the Austrian seemed to overcome Kerber mentally, and Paszek won the final set 7-5. This is her first premier-level victory.

Paszek gets world number 7 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round at Wimbledon. Stay tuned.

The reunited team of Nuria Llogostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, seeded 4th, won the doubles championship when top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond retired after the first set (won 6-4 by the Spaniards). The retirement was brought about by an injury to Huber's right thigh.

Meanwhile, over in Den Bosch, at the UNICEF Open, Nadia Petrova won the championship by defeating Urszula Radwanska 6-4, 6-3. And Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci did it again--the season's hottest doubles team won the tournament by defeating Petrova and Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 3-6, 11-9. Errani and Vinci were the top seeds; Kirilenko and Petrova were seeded 2nd.

This marks the Italian team's 23rd straight match win, and also their seventh title of the season--and this one was on grass, their "poor" surface. Errani and Vinci are seeded 2nd at Wimbledon, and they play their first round against the Czech team of Eva Birnerova and Petra Cetkovska.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Kerber seeks third title in Eastbourne

World number 8 Angelique Kerber reached the final of the AEGON International today when she defeated Klara Zakopalova 6-0, 6-3 in the semifinals. In Kerber's way is Tamira Paszek, who defeated 4th seed Marion Bartoli 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. Paszek had to beat Tsvetana Pironkova to get to the semifinals, but Pironkova's back injury undoubtedly helped her. In taking out Bartoli, however, the Austrian player made more of a statement.

Kerber won championships in Paris and Copenhagen earlier this year.

Top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond will play in the doubles final against 4th seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. Huber and Raymond defeated Zakopalova and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the semifinals. Llagostera Vives and Martinez Sanchez defeated 2nd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik.

At the UNICEF Open, 8th seed Nadia Petrova defeated Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets. Her opponent in the final will be Urszula Radwanska, who advanced when her semifinal opponent, Kim Clijsters, gave her a walkover. There are rumors of an abdominal injury.

In doubles, top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the French Open champions, advanced to the final, as did 2nd seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova. Kirilenko and Petrova received a walkover from Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone; Schiavone has a thigh injury.

Friday cat blogging--waiting for Wimbledon edition

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Passing shots

Victoria Azarenka has a new look.

The Wimbledon draw will be published tomorrow (both Kim Clijsters and five-time champion Venus Williams are unseeded).

 Both Pliskova sisters made it through the Wimbledon qualifying draw.

Nick Bollettieri is recovering nicely from double pneumonia. Apparently, Bollettieri had to be tricked into entering the hospital.

Here is an interview with Varvara Lepchenko.

Thank you, New York Times (via After Atalanta).

Kerber gets 39th match win of the season

Angelique Kerber, seeded 5th in Eastbourne, defeated former Eastbourne champion Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-4 today in the quarterfinals. This victory marked the German player's 39th match win of the 2012 season; Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska each have 38 wins.

Kerber's opponent in the semifinals will be Klara Zakopalova, who defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 7-5, after being down 2-5 in the second set.

4th seed Marion Bartoli defeated 7th seed Lucie Safarova in straight sets, and Tamira Paszek defeated Tsvetana Pironkova--who sustained a lower back injury during the match--6-0, 6-4. Hopefully, Pironkova will be okay for Wimbledon, since that is the tournament where she shines.

At the UNICEF Open, 8th seed Nadia Petrova defeated 3rd seed Dominika Cibulkova, qualifier Urszula Radwanska defeated Sofia Arvidsson, and Kim Clijsters defeated Francesca Schiavone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Here comes Tsvetana--it must be grass season

We don't hear much from Tsvetana Pironkova during the other seasons, but when it's time to play on grass, she can do some impressive things--like take Venus Williams out of Wimbledon two years in a row with exactly the same straight-set scoreline. The Bulgarian player, who has a lovely game, excels on grass courts. Today, in Eastbourne, in the first round, she demonstrated her skills to 2008 Eastbourne champion Agnieszka Radwanska, the tournament's top seed. Pironkova defeated Radwanska 6-2, 6-4. (Perhaps The Radwanska, Aga's darker and potentially very powerful side, is already in London, mysteriously supervising the lawn preparation?)

Radwanska had plenty of company. 2nd seed Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, was upset in the opening round, too. Kvitova went out to Ekaterina Makarova, who won the tournament in 2010. Makarova beat the Czech star 7-5, 6-4. And, for good measure, Christina McHale beat 3rd seed Caroline Wozniacki (also in the first round) 6-1, 6-7, 6-4.

Wild card Heather Watson won (def. qualifier Greta Arn), as did qualifier Laura Robson (def. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez).

Marion Bartoli, seeded 4th, is the highest seed left in the draw. Bartoli's next opponent will be Aleksandra Wozniak.

Meanwhile, at the UNICEF Open, Kim Clijsters advanced to the third round, and Urszula Radwanska upset 4th seed Flavia Pennetta, also in the second round. In the first round, Sofia Arvidsson defeated Birmingham finalist Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

And we thought clay season was crazy......

Monday, June 18, 2012

Top seed Stosur upset in first round at UNICEF Open

Sam Stosur, the number 1 seed at the UNICEF Open in 's-Hertogenbosch, was upset today in the opening round by Kirsten Flipkens. Flipkens defeated Stosur 7-6, 6-3. 2nd seed Sara Errani also went out, to Kateryna Bondarenko. And Francesca Schiavone defeated 5th seed Maria Kirilenko. Schiavone was down 3-5 in the third set, and had to save a match point.

In Eastbourne, the doubles team of Laura Robson and Heather Watson defeated Charleston champions Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova in the first round of play.

Oudin wins Birmingham--believe it!

This is not the time to go into Oudinology--everyone already knows it, anyway. But it is time to announce that the winner of the 2012 AEGON Classic is Melanie Oudin. In a final that was delayed because of inclement weather in Birmingham, Oudin defeated 5th seed Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 6-2 today, to win her first WTA singles title.

To get within reach of the trophy, Oudin took out 10th seed Sorana Cirstea, Michelle Larcher De Brito, Elena Vesnina, Irina Falconi, and 8th seed Ekaterina Makarova. Before entering the main draw, the 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist had to qualify. In the qualifying rounds (in which she was not seeded), she defeated Bibiane Schoofs and Gail Brodsky.

Oudin, who reached the Wimbledon round of 16 in 2009, is currently ranked number 208 in the world, though she has been ranked as high as 31. Next week, she will be ranked number 122.

The 20-year-old from Marietta, Georgia has a wild card into the main draw at Wimbledon. Things are looking up.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Passing shots

       People tell you up is better than down
       But they never tell you which is up and which is down

Yoko Ono said that, of course, but so did Todd Spiker--in a way. "...sometimes 'up' might seem like 'down' on this countdown, and vice versa," he writes by way of explaining The Backspin MVP List, a look back at ten years of WTA Backspin's coverage of and musings on WTA players (and perhaps other "phenomena") whose wholes have--for better or worse--far exceeded the sum of their parts. Part 1 includes numbers 21 through 25 of the top 25 on the list, as well as an Honorable Mention.

Kaia Kanepi has withdrawn from Wimbledon because of a heel injury.

Melanie Oudin has been given a wild card into the Wimbledon main draw.

Arthur Ashe Stadium is getting a costly makeover, but no roof.

Ana Ivanovic has withdrawn from the AEGON International in Eastbourne. Ivanovic has a right hip injury.

Birmingham final delayed until Monday

It rained this weekend in Birmingham--and then it rained some more. As a result, there was a lot of catch-up play, and the final won't take place until tomorrow. Jelena Jankovic will play Melanie Oudin for the 2012 title. Oudin, of Russian-stomping fame, defeated 8th seed Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the semifinals. Jankovic defeated qualifier Zheng Jie 6-7, 7-5, 6-1. Both Makarova and Zheng tend to do well on grass courts.

Today, a doubles quarterfinal had to be played, as well as a semifinal. Then the final was played, and the title was won by Timea Babos and Hsieh Su-Wei. They defeated top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond 7-5, 6-7, 10-8 (Huber and Raymond had to play two matches).

Alize Cornet, of all people, won the championship in Bad Gastein. The 7th-seeded Frenchwoman defeated 2nd seed Yanina Wickmayer 7-5, 7-6 in the final. Cornet didn't drop a set all week. This is her second WTA singles title.

4th seeds Jill Craybas and Julia Goerges won the doubles title, defeating top seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Petra Martic 6-7, 6-4, 11-9 in today's final.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Passing shots

Julia Goerges is blogging from Bad Gastein. And playing doubes. The German, who was the top seed, was upset in the first round by qualifier Richel Hogenkamp of The Netherlands. Goerges is a former Bad Gastein champion; Hogenkamp is ranked number 211 in the world.

Birmingham top seed Francesca Schiavone went out in the second round. Schiavone, who had a wild card into the tournament, lost to Misaki Doi. In the first round, qualifier Melanie Oudin defeated 10th seed Sorana Cirstea, and Mona Barthel went out yet again. 2nd seed Sabine Lisicki was defeated in the second round by Urszula Radwanska, and 3rd seed Daniela Hantuchova was upset by Melinda Czink.

Don't miss Marija's lovely tribute to French Open champion Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova will carry the Russian flag at the 2012 Olympic Games. (USA television commentators--eat your hearts out.)

Andrea Petkovic has withdrawn from Wimbledon because of her right ankle injury. Petko also had to miss the Australian Open and the French Open.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My French Open top 10

Sculpture at Centre George Pompidou

My top 10 French Open occurrences, in ascending order:

10: Back in the mix: Sania Mirza, with partner Mahesh Bhupati, on the French Open mixed doubles title. This is the pair's second major title; they won the Australian Open in 2009.

9. Gone so soon: Agnieszka Radwanska, who recently rose to the ranking of number 3 in the world, continued her tendency to under-perform at the biggest events. Radwanska, after beating Venus Williams in the second round, was bundled out of the tournament, 6-1, 6-2, by 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The former champion, who played extremely well, would, herself, go out to Sara Errani in the next round.

8. You want a jeroboam with that pizza?: Even that probably wouldn't help erase Sam Stosur's "Italian problem." In 2010, after knocking out Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic, the Austrlian star was out-classed by Francesca Schiavone in the final. This year, Stosur reached the quarterfinals and again appeared in excellent form, but there was no getting past Sara Errani.

7. The agony of victory: In recent times, few have fought harder to lose a match than Kaia Kanepi did in the third round of this year's French Open. Kanepi choked away 5-1 leads in both the second and third sets of her match against Caroline Wozniacki. As she gave away match point after match point, Kanepi appeared to be closer and closer to giving away the entire match, but in the end--after three hours--she emerged the victor of a memorable 6-1, 6-7, 6-3 contest.

6. Don't slip on the grass: Defending champion Li Na and 4th seed Petra Kvitova need to make a fresh start (yet again) at Wimbledon. Li was beaten (and got a third set bagel as a souvenir) in the round of 16 by qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova. Kvitova played eventual champion Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, and--Sharapova's excellent play aside--the 2011 Wimbledon champion made it pretty easy for the Russian to overtake her. Kvitova is just not the same player she was last season, a fact that some of us hope is remedied very soon.

5. You expect me to win in this outfit?: She had no music, she had no hoodie, she had no shorts, and she almost had no time to unpack her suitcase and put her things away. Victoria Azarenka, looking not herself from the first moment she walked through the tunnel at Roland Garros, went down a set and break points for 0-5 in her first round, against Alberta Brianti. Somehow, the top seed got herself out of trouble, and won the match 6-7, 6-4, 6-2. She would fall to Dominika Cibulkova in the round of 16, but at least she spared herself from a massive crash-out.

4. A plus tard!:  Last year, frenchwoman Virginie Razzano played at Roland Garros just a week after the death of her fiance, and--not surprisingly--she went out in the first round. This year, Razzano made it to the second round--in style: She took out Serena Williams, who many thought would win the tournament. Williams arrived at Roland Garros on the wind of a 17-match clay streak, having won both Charleston and Madrid. But she unraveled in the opening round, and Razzano--who has always been longer on talent than luck--took advantage. The Frenchwoman beat her 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, and there was quite a bit of drama involved, as Razzano cramped pretty badly, and chair umpire Eva Asderaki displayed a preoccupation with the hindrance rule. This occasion marked the first time that Williams has ever made a first-round exit in a major.

3. A match made in clay heaven: Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci swept the clay season, winning in Acapulco, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome. The Italian team then put a big exclamation point on that statement by winning the French Open. 

2. Brava Sara!: Sara Errani has been called "feisty" and "tough" by writers and commentators, but I prefer to just call her "Italian." Errani is part of the great Italian Fed Cup team, led by the stalwart Flavia Pennetta, that has beaten all manner of other teams, including one called Russia. No one could have predicted that Errani would make it all the way to the final, especially considering what she had to do to get there. Errani, who surprised the tennis world with her quarterfinal run at the Australian Open, took out two French Open champions, a French Open finalist and 10th seed (and on-fire 2012 player) Angelique Kerber. She was stopped by Maria Sharapova in the final, but she left the tournament as the winner of the doubles title and the runner-up in singles play. 

1. Ave Maria!: It seemed impossible not to share Maria Sharapova's joy when she won the French Open title. This is the player who most thought would never win at Roland Garros, even when she was healthy. Then, after being misdiagnosed, she played with a torn rotator cuff, and went through rehab, surgery, then rehab again. When she came back to the tour, she had all kinds of problem with her serve, which had been her signature shot. She lost confidence. Then she made it to two major finals--Wimbledon and the Australian Open--but lost them. And then finally, she got to hold another big trophy, the Coup Suzanne Lenglen. Sharapova completed her career Slam, and in doing so, she taught the rest of us a thing or two about what it means to never give up.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Annika Beck wins French Open junior title

18-year-old Annika Beck of Germany played her last junior tournament ever at Roland Garros, and it was one that should give her a pretty sweet memory of her junior career. Beck won the championship today, taking out Anna Schmiedlova 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. There were 13 breaks of serve in the 2-hour-and-14-minute match, and the champion hit one winner. Beck was seeded 2nd at the tournament.

The doubles title was won by 2nd seeds Daria Gavrilova and Irina Khromacheva. They defeated Montserrat Gonzalez and Beatriz Maia 4-6, 6-4, 10-8.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

French Open--what they said

I have a lot more in me to achieve. I believe in my game. I think that's one of the reasons that that's why I'm sitting here with my fourth one and winning Roland Garros, is because I always believed I could be better, I could be a better player, whether it was on clay, whether it was on grass, whether it was on cement, anything, I always strive to be better.
Maria Sharapova

You realize now, that your life is going to change?
I hope it doesn't change. I like this life.
Sara Errani

...Maria thanks the crowd--in French! They love her even more now! She mentions her whole team, with thanks for them in English, Spanish and Russian.
Drew Lilley

What was your most embarrassing moment on court?
Oh, that’s easy! It was during the finals here at Roland Garros when I went back out on the court crying with my mom for the trophy ceremony. Embarrassing, wouldn’t you say? Otherwise, I always find it a bit awkward to see photos where you can see up my skirt.
Martina Hingis

When I was young, I always wanted to compete against you, and I did, and I lost--really bad.
Maria Sharapova, to Monica Seles

You speak a lot about Maria's service. Is it something you that you can improve now to go further?
Yes, I'm trying to improve it always.  I know it's not my best shot, so with this player in the top, of course is a bad thing for me. I try always. All the day I try to improve it, but it is not easy for me. I know it. I just to keep work on it, but know that I will never maybe serve it like Maria or like other players in the top. So I have to live with that, try to improve it the best that I can, but knowing that it's not my best shot.
Sara Errani

She's the only commentator who could still win this.
John McEnroe, referring to Justine Henin

I had so many outs in my career. I could have said, I don't need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams. But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it's freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn't there from the outside world, and you seem so small. But you can achieve great things when you don't listen to all those things.
Maria Sharapova

Like champagne, Sharapova's second fermentation bubbles over at French Open

For champagne, the quintessential French beverage, to attain its true character--full of depth, sparkle and cheer--it has to undergo a second fermentation. And with champagne, that second fermentation happens within the bottle, after the wine has already been formed; that is what we call methode champenoise. It is after this final fermentation that the beverage attains its unique, bubbly character.

Soon-to-be world number 1 Maria Sharapova underwent her own personal "second fermentation" in Paris during the last two weeks, and as a result, she won the French Open, also attaining a rare career Slam. She is now bubbling over with transcendent cheer, and with good reason--she has earned it.

In 2007, after Sharapova had already won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, her right shoulder began to trouble her, and she dropped out of the top 5. The Russian star would go on to win the Australian Open in 2008, and she also regained her top ranking, but later that year, Sharapova discovered she had been playing with a misdiagnosed rotator cuff tear. She missed the Olympic Games, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships.

After a rehab failure, Sharapova underwent surgery to repair her shoulder. She then entered another lengthy rehab, and returned to the court in March of 2009. However, her signature shot--her first and second serves--eluded her. In many ways, Sharapova slowly returned to form, but the serve--once one of the finest in the history of the tour--became a liability. As she struggled with her ball toss, experimenting with different service styles, Sharapova quite visibly lost her confidence.

Eventually, tennis observers concluded that the Russian was still a very fine player, but that she would most likely never achieve the level she had once occupied; in short, that she would never win another major. In 2011, though, it became apparent that Sharapova had never given up, though others had given up on her. With new coach Thomas Hogstedt, she reached the semifinals of the French Open for the first time in her caereer. She then reached the final of Wimbldeon, the home of her first great triumph, but she was stopped by an almost-perfect Petra Kvitova. At the beginning of 2012, she was beaten decisively by Victoria Azarenka in the Australian Open final.

It's important to note that--even when Sharapova was riding the wave of tennis superstardom, with three majors to her name--it was widely believed that she would never win at Roland Garros. Her movement was too awkward, her training had not given her enough comfort with shot variety. These were reasonable criticisms; many a great player has not been able to figure out the red clay of the French Open. But the second fermentation was taking place, and it was fulfilled today when Sharapova defeated Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2 to claim the Coup Suzanne Lenglen. In doing so, the 2nd seed became the tenth woman to achieve a career Slam, and the sixth woman to do so in the Open Era.

Like Francesca Schiavone before her, Errani--who had to achieve almost the impossible to get to the final-- showed up in today's match as the knowing clay court Italian fighter. Only five feet four and a half inches tall, Errani had to face, in Sharapova, what must surely have seemed like a giant. Errani, however, does not have the ability to take control of a match via the net the way Schiavone did. Instead, she had to rely on her accuracy and her comfort in moving on red clay. It was crucial that she move Sharapova up and down, and that she hit the ball as deep to the lines as possible.

Some of the time, Errani did just that, but in the end, she was no match for her opponent. They played in the wind, which might have caused a problem with Sharapova's ball toss, but--for the most part--it didn't. It was the same old WTA story, in fact: If Errani had a decent serve, things might have gone differently.

Errani, who began by making nervous errors, was broken right away, and Sharapova quickly went up 3-0. In the next game, Errani fought from 15-40 to deuce, but was broken again. Finally, in the fifth game of the first set, Errani broke Sharapova, and also hit her first winner. Errani relaxed a bit then, and started mixing some finesse with her groundstrokes, but Sharapova--who did fail to return a drop shot--held for 5-2. The Russian had two set points on Errani's next serve, but the "fighting Italian" part of Errani came out in full force, and she saved them both, holding for 3-5.

When Sharapova served for the set, the fight was on again, with Errani forcing a 30-all scoreline after an 18-shot rally in which she successfully moved Sharapova around and finally wore her down. But Sharapova held, and she began the second set by breaking her opponent. Errani, who had used slice with some success in the first set, discovered that Sharapova was now responding better to low balls.

Sharapova had to work hard in her first service game, when Errani controlled a long crosscourt rally. Another long baseline rally ensued, and this time, Sharapova was unable to get the Errani slice over the net. By this time, the Russian was screaming loudly in a way that sounded pressured. But when all was said, done and screamed, she still held for a 2-0 leave.

Errani didn't give up. She got to 40-0 on her serve by hitting a great lob, followed by two overheads (Errani, of doubles fame, does not miss overheads). She also hit her first double fault, but held. In the next game, Sharapova got what appeared to be a bad line call, giving Errani a break point. Errani then hit a drop shot, which Sharapova scrambled for, and then quickly flicked her wrist to hit a net winner.

There were five deuces in the next game, and Errani hit a beautifully angled skimming volley that appeared to be an instant winner. Sharapova, however, once again got to the net and once again returned successfully. The disappointment on Errani's face said it all. Sharapova then held, and then she broke Errani to reach 5-2. And as if she hadn't put on enough of a show already, the Russian hit a stunning foreland winner to get to championship point. She hit long, though, and then Errani delivered a perfect drop shot that was dying by the time it passed over the net. This time, Sharapova couldn't get the ball back. At deuce, the Russian hit a high forehand to the ad court, and created a another championship point.

But Errani had one more good drop shot in her, and the game went back to deuce. Sharapova then hit an ace, and then won the French Open on her third match point, when Errani hit a return into the net.

Sharapova dropped to her knees, her hands covering her face, but then she lifted her head and reached her hands palms-up to the sky. She looked like the transformed pilgrim that she is. But this was Paris, so Sharapova the pilgrim was wearing a little black dress at her moment of triumph. When she got up, she jumped up and down, and though Ted Robinson on NBC said she was "fighting back emotion," he must have been looking at another match. Sharapova was crying, Sharapova was smiling, Sharapova was the embodiment of emotion; when she climbed into the stands, she even lifted a baby into the air.

The Russian's story wasn't the only great one today, however. Sara Errani, who (with Roberta Vinci) had already won the French Open doubles title, had the most stunning run of anyone in Paris. She took out two former French Open champions, a former French Open finalist, and 10th seed Angelique Kerber, one of the hottest players on the tour. In 2008, Errani won her first WTA tournaments, in Palermo and Potoroz. When she received the Potoroz trophy, she announced: "I want to dedicate this victory to all the Italians who never believed in me as a tennis player, and always said I would never go anywhere." Next week, Errani will enter the top 10 for the first time.

Fighting Italians--you have to love them.

The trophy presentation was charming. Sharapova was introduced as the runner-up, and both she and Errani looked as if they thought they must not have heard it right. Then they both cracked up, and this bit of silliness provided Errani with at least a moment's relief from what was undoubtedly a feeling of immense disappointment. The great Monica Seles then presented  the players the (correct) trophies, and Maria Sharapova lifted the symbol of her victory. That victory spilled over Roland Garros, as the total joy of Sharapova was uncorked. The second fermentation was complete.

Friday, June 8, 2012

French Open--what they said

It was not hard. I just woke up today and have been thinking only about the doubles. Tomorrow I will think about the singles. I don't want to think about tomorrow now--it's not a good idea. I prefer to relax.
Sara Errani

Now Sara is happy, confident and strong. We will see what will happen tomorrow, but she really has nothing to lose in the final.
Roberta Vinci

Clay isn't my best surface, but I've never felt better on it than today.
Esther Vergeer

Good technique, great technique.
Martina Navratilova, discussing Sara Errani

Sharapova has rarely overlooked an opponent and given that she has had trouble with scramblers in the past, there's no way that she will go into the final thinking it's a lock. But she is serving with much more accuracy and force than she did at this time last year, has been quite accurate off the ground and has been devastating in her return of serve games.
Martina Navratilova

On average, Sharapova's second serve is 15k faster than Errani's first serve.
Jason Goodall

Errani and Vinci win French Open

Vinci and Errani
Sometimes, even at the majors--even at the French Open--things turn out they way they "should." Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci have been the team to beat throughout this clay season, and--so far--no one has beaten them. They won Acapulco, Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, and they have now won 27 straight matches on clay (that streak began in 2011).

Today, the Italian pair topped off their winning clay season by claiming the Simone Mathieu Cup, the prize for winning the doubles championship at Roland Garros. Errani and Vinci, seeded 4th, defeated 7th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Errani and Vinci were the runners-up at the Australian Open, where they lost the final to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva. Errani and Vinci have been a force in Fed Cup play for some time. The 2012 French Open is the first major they have ever won, though they have won ten other titles as a team, with five of those wins coming this season.

For Sara Errani, it's one down and one to go. The last woman to play in both finals at the French Open was Kim Clijsters, who did it in 2003. The last woman to win both finals was Mary Pierce, in 2000.

Esther Vergeer has done it again. Vergeer won the wheelchair singles championship today by defeating Aniek Van Koot 6-0, 6-0. Vergeer and partner Marjolein Buis won the doubles championship by defeating the top-seeded team of Sabine Ellerbrock and Yui Kamiji 6-0, 6-1.

On the junior side of things, Anna Schmiedlova and Annika Beck won their semifinal matches and will compete for the junior title. German player Beck is seeded 2nd; Schmiedlova, who is from the Slovak Republic, is unseeded.

In junior doubles, top seeds Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend were defeated today by Montserrat (I really like this name) Gonzalez and Beatriz Haddad Maia. The other team advancing to the final is the 2nd-seeded pair, Daria Gavrilova and Irina Khromacheva.

Friday cat blogging--hideway edition

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mirza and Bhupati win French Open mixed doubles title

Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati won the French Open mixed doubles title today by defeating Klaudi Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gonzalez 7-6, 6-1. Mirza and Bhupati also won the 2009 Australian Open mixed doubles title.

The defending champions in women's doubles went out today, as they completed a match that was begun yesterday. Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka were defeated 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 by Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova. Kirilenko and Petrova will play Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the final.

In wheelchair play, Esther Vergeer beat Sharon Walraven 6-0, 6-0 in today's seminfal match. Walraven and partner Annick Sevenans, who were the top seeds, were defeated in their doubles semifinal by Sabine Ellerbrock and Yui Kamiji.

French Open--what they said

For the match I think all was very difficult.  Also the first round maybe was the most difficult.
Sara Errani

She's the Rubik's Cube of the women's game at the moment.
Darren Cahill, on Sara Errani

It was too up and down; it wasn't continuous enough.
Sam Stosur

...I think she can win this tournament.
Chris Evert, referring to Maria Sharapova

Stosur is either hot or cold, and not much in between.
Martina Navratilova

It was tough to play a great match because of the conditions....I think patience was very important today....
Maria Sharapova

Congratulations, man!
Brad Gilbert, to Sara Errani

The start of the match was delayed by rain. What do you do to maintain your focus when you're not quite sure what time you're going to come on court? How quickly can you get ready?
Well, I was sleeping a bit.  It's not easy because you have to think, just listen music, try to don't think about the match.  Because also you don't know when you're going to play, so you have just to--you lose energy if you think too much about the match. You are nervous or you just have to think about other things. Just try to relax.
Sara Errani

Maria played very well today. She has improved a lot, not just on clay.
Petra Kvitova

I guess, in some ways, that's the beauty of tennis. You can have a, you know, really crap day, and then there's another tournament the next week, and you get a chance to kind of redeem yourself the next week.
Sam Stosur

Don't cry too much--you still have two finals to play.
Martina Navratilova, as Errani burst into tears after her win

It's the Italian and The Maria!

Once again, at the French Open, the boot that is Italy has kicked Sam Stosur in the outback.

In 2010, it was fighting Francesca Schiavone who stunned (a word I don't use much) Stosur in the final; today, it was Sara Errani, who just wouldn't go away, and who read Stosur's anxiety like a book of cautionary tales she might have been given in school in Bologna. Stosur didn't let Errani overtake her the way she had let Schiavone, but the Australian star just couldn't stop making unforced errors; she made a total of 48, in fact. Stosur also hit 46 winners, and that sounds like a decent--if not great--ratio, but her opponent was steady and careful, and retrieved tirelessly.

Each player hit to the opponent's backhand as much as possible, and each showed strength with her forehand. The first set was closely contested, with Errani coming through for a 7-5 win. In the second set, though, the Italian player was barely able to get a foot in, with Stosur making the most of a deadly second serve. Stosur won that set 6-1, and--according to the usual WTA storyline--Errani was supposed to fade away, while Stosur dominated in the third set.

But it didn't happen like that. Instead, Errani quickly went up 3-0 in the final set. The set went to 4-all, but then Errani--in a show of strength that will probably haunt Stosur for a while--won 12 of the last 15 points, took the set 6-3, and advanced to the final of the French Open.

But there's more. Errani, with partner Roberta Vinci, is also in the doubles final. And, with her win over Stosur, she has also entered the WTA's top 10. Wow. Errani has already won three clay tournaments this season--in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest, making her the biggest winner on red clay in 2012. But even before her clay streak began, Errani showed the world how tough she is when she reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Errani's opponent in the final will be Maria Sharapova, or The Maria, as I'm sure Petra Kvitova (who has told us all about "The Serena" and "The Pink") would call her. The Maria was on her game today, and Kvitova--once again--was way off hers. The Wimbledon champion, in fact, sometimes looked as though she didn't even realize she was in a major semifinal. She was uncertain, sluggish and lacking in both style and aggression. And so we continue to ask: "What's wrong with Petra?"

Sharapova's victory marks a huge turning point for her. She is now number 1 in the world, a position she hasn't occupied in a while. She is in her third final in four consecutive majors, after many said she could no longer be competitive at the top level. After a misdiagnosis, major shoulder surgery and the re-do of rehab, Sharapova had all kinds of problems with her serve and with her confidence. She made it to the 2011 Wimbledon final, but was beaten by Kvitova. She made it to the 2012 Australian Open final, and was beaten by Victoria Azarenka. Now she enters the final of the major that many said she could never win, even before she had her shoulder injury.

Sara Errani did some heavy lifting to get to the last round. Here are the finalists' paths to the championship round:

round 1--def. Casey Dellacqua
round 2--def. Melanie Oudin
round 3--def. Ana Ivanovic (2008 French Open champion)
round of 16--def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009 French Open champion)
quarterfinals--def. Angelique Kerber (10th seed)
semifinals--def. Samantha Stosur (2010 French Open finalist)

round 1--def. Alexandra Cadantu
round 2--def. Ayumi Morita
round 3--def. Peng Shuai
round of 16--def. Klara Zakopalova
quarterfinals--def. Kaia Kanepi
semifinals--def. Petra Kvitova (world number 4)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

French Open---what they said

...I was just very nervous in the beginning....It was tough to get any rhythm today because the balls were flying so hard from her side....
Kaia Kanepi

I expected her to come out and play really well because she's capable of. I think I was just ready for it.
Maria Sharapova

Pundits talk about the transition from defense to offense—Sharapova specializes in the transition from offense to more offense.

Pete Bodo
I think she's in very good form right now.
Kaia Kanepi, referring to Sharapova

Obviously you're known for your groundies, but what of all the shots in your arsenal or the different exchanges you have, what gives you the most pleasure, the most joy yourself?
The shot? Probably the swing volley because I don't have to bend my knees. I can just kind of jump up and hit it.
Maria Sharapova

Kvitova was so far off that, when she tried to knock the clay out of her shoes with her racquet, she swung and missed.
Steve Tignor

Errani and Vinci reach French Open final

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won their 18th straight match today (their 26th in a row on clay) to reach the final of the French Open. Errani and Vinci defeated Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-4, 6-2, but they do not yet know who their opponent in the final will be. In the other semifinal, defending champions Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka took the first set 7-5; Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova took the second, 6-4, and then the match was suspended.

In mixed doubles, Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gonzalez reached the final by defeating Elena Vesnina and Leander Paes 7-6, 6-3. Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati defeated Galina Voskoboeva and Daniele Bracciali 6-4, 6-2.

Esther Vergeer, not surprisingly, won her opening round in wheelchair singles. Vergeer defeated Yui Kamiji 6-3, 6-0. Vergeer and Marjolein Buis won their opening match in wheelchair doubles. Buis and Vergeer are seeded 2nd.

Australian Open junior champion Taylor Townsend lost today in the third round of play in Paris. She was defeated by Anna Schmiedlova.

Passing shots

Mary Joe Fernandez has been named captain of the USA's women's Olympic tennis team.

It's always about Serena's weight.

Here are some photos of the ITF World Champions Dinner, held last night in Paris.

Writing in USA Today, Bobby Chintapalli asks: "Why aren't there more female oaches in WTA?"

The Radwanska sweeps through Rome (surely, it hasn't gone unnoticed by some how It uses a scope to check out sights "of interest").

Sharapova and Kvitova to meet in French Open semifinals

Whatever threat Kaia Kanepi might have posed to Maria Sharapova on a good day, she didn't bring it to her quarterfinal match against the 2nd seed. Sharapova's return of serve was excellent, and she did some good work at the net, too. Kanepi pulled herself together a bit in the second set, and was more tactically efficient, but she couldn't do enough to hurt Sharapova, who posted a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

It wasn't as easy (surprise, surprise!) for Petra Kvitova. Kvitova lost the first set to a smooth-moving and aggressive Yaroslava Shvedova. In fact, qualifier Shvedova went up 3-0 quickly in that set because Kvitova simply could not keep the ball inside the court. In the second set, however, the Czech star displayed the very best version of herself, freely hitting winners and serving really well--but only after she was broken at the start of the set.

With her Safina-like penchant for taking herself right to the edge of the precipice, Kvitova made her own life difficult again in the third set. After going up 2-0, she found herself down 2-4, and then--just when it appeared that Shvedova was about to pull off a very unexpected feat--Kvitova won four straight games in highly efficient style. Her 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory sets her up for a semifinal meeting with Sharapova, whom she allowed to sneak in and beat her in the final moments of their Australian Open semifinal match. Sharapova also beat Kvitova in the Stuttgart semifinals.

Prior to today, Kvitova had never gotten beyond the round of 16 at the French Open.