Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bartoli out of Portugal Open in first round

Top seed Marion Bartoli was taken out of the Portugal Open today in the first round. Peng Shuai defeated Bartoli 6-0, 1-6, 6-4.

Also in the opening round, Francesca Schiavone--who beat Lourdes Dominguez Lino a few days ago in the Marrakech final--beat her again today.

Of note: Wild card Julia Goerges was defeated by lucky loser Monica Puig.

And--speaking of Frenchwomen--Aravane Rezai made it through qualifying but lost to Estrella Cabeza Candela in the first round.

Unusual career records

Every once in a while, a player holds a record that causes us to ask "How did that happen?" These records are oddities, and only serve to increase the mystery that is professional tennis. Below are the three recent records that fascinate me the most.

Francesca Schiavone: The inimitable Italian was the runner-up in eight events before she finally won a tournament, at age 27. Schiavone, now age 32, has won just six WTA singles titles, but one of them was the 2010 French Open.

The Bondarenko sisters: Alona and Kateryna Bondarenko had never won a doubles title together when--almost out of the blue--they won the Australian Open in 2008. They would go on to win only two more titles.

Samantha Stosur: Stosur was the number 1 doubles player in the world, and though she played singles, her results in doubles were much better. Stosur then decided to focus on singles; she was 26 years old at the time. In 2011, she won the U.S. Open, beating Serena Williams in straight sets in the final. However, to date, the Australian star has won only two other WTA tournaments.

So-called "one Slam wonders" abound (not to imply that either Schiavone or Stosur will bear that nickname, though Schiavone, because of her age, could retire soon). Conchita Martinez, Gabriela Sabatini, Jana Novotna, and Anastasia Myskina come to mind. However, one-Slam wonders generally have won several titles in addition to their one major title. 1997 French Open winner Iva Majoli won a total of only eight singles titles in her career, which almost places her in the "oddity" category, but not quite.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley has a bit of an odd record in that she was the U.S. Open runner-up for four consecutive years. The great Australian player never did win in New York.

And finally, Maria Sharapova has been the runner-up in Miami four times, but has never won the tournament.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sharapova defends title in Stuttgart

I was especially interested in today's final in Stuttgart because I think that Maria Sharapova and Li Na are the two women most likely to win the French Open. Going into the final, Sharapova played three consecutive three-set matches, and she made a lot of unforced errors. Li advanced much more gracefully to the final, but the Sharapova she faced today was the lethal one, not the one who makes errors and whose serve sometimes goes to pieces.

Both women were playing their first clay court tournament of 2013, and Sharapova was the defending champion. The Russian served extremely well in the final and handily took control of the match. Li was pushed back a lot by Sharapova, and on several occasions, she wasn't willing to take the chances that might have changed the match's momentum. Instead, she remained on the defense much of the time, which just doesn't work against a peak Sharapova.

The defending champion won 6-4, 6-3 and drove her beautiful new blue Porsche onto the stadium. The Stuttgart title is her 29th, and she has now won 16 consecutive clay court matches.

Germany got some good news in the doubles competition. German wild cards Mona Barthel and Sabine Lisicki won the title when they defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza 6-4, 7-5.

Also this weekend, Francesca Schiavone won her sixth WTA title when she defeated Lourdes Dominguez Lino 6-1, 6-3 in the Marrakech final. Schiavone did not drop a set throughout the tournament.

Timea Babos and Mandy Minella won the doubles final, defeating Petra Martic and Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 6-1.

The Madrid Open begins May 4. Serena Williams is the defending singles champion, and Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci are the defending doubles champions. There will be no blue clay this year; that was a failed experiment. Madrid is a premier mandatory WTA event.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Li and Sharapova to meet in Stuttgart final

A big-serving Li Na will face defending champion Maria Sharapova in tomorrow's Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, and that won't be a good time for Sharapova to repeat today's performance and make 44 unforced errors. Sharapova also hit 42 winner in her semifinal match against Angeique Kerber today, but she was inconsistent and--in the second set--unable to generate much of anything. The defending champion's 6-3 2-6, 7-5 victory marked her third consecutive three-set match. Today's third set was tense, with Kerber breaking Sharapova the first time she served for the match.

Qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who beat both Sara Errani and Sabine Lisicki in her run to the semifinals, lost in straight sets to Li, whose serving was as good as it has ever been.

Sharapova is seeded 1st in the tournament, and Li is seeded 2nd. The two have met 13 times, and Sharapova has won 8 of those matches. Sharapova is 2-1 against Li on clay.

In doubles, the German team of Mona Barthel and Sabine Lisicki will play in the final against Mattek-Sands and Sania Mirza. Mattek-Sands and Mirza eliminated the other German team (Kerber and Andrea Petkovic) in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, in Marrakech, the finalists are Lourdes Dominguez Lino and 6th seed Francesca Schiavone.

At the Portugal Open, Annika Beck--who took Petra Kvitova to three sets in Stuttgart--lost in qualifying to Vania King.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mattek-Sands a surprise semifinalist in Stuttgart

It wasn't enough for Bethanie Mattek-Sands to take Sara Errani out of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix; today, she did away with Sabine Lisicki, too. That means that Angelique Kerber is the only German standing. Kerber defeated Yaroslava Shvedova in the quarterfinals. And it took three sets, but defending champion Maria Sharapova to put Ana Ivanovic out of the competition.

If ever there were two top players who were a mess, it would be Petra Kvitova and Li Na. Both are very talented, and both are apt to "go off" without warning. Today, it was Kvitova who really went off; Li defeated her 6-3, 7-5. But Li took a difficult path to victory. She had to serve for the match three times, and the third set score went from 5-2 to 5-all, once Kvitova got going. It wasn't enough, though, and Li will now play Mattek-Sands in the semifinals.

Both Mattek-Sands and Kerber have their work cut out for them. As good a defender as Kerber is, her serve will really have to be on for her to beat Sharapova.

Question: Does Kvitova lack a "warrior instinct"? Discuss.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Annika Beck takes Kvitova to three sets in Stuttgart

We should be used to it by now--Petra Kvitova struggles to do what she should do with relative ease, drops a set, and then (sometimes) finds a way to win. Today in Stuttgart, she dropped a tiebreak 0-7 against Annika Beck, and probably had to deal with more than she was expecting from the 19-year-old German. Kvitova had to work for the first set, which she won 7-5, and Beck won the second set 7-6. Early in the third set, Beck failed to convert a couple of break points, and that gave Kvitova just the bit of momentum she needed to get back on track.

Beck and Kvitova were on the court for almost two and a half hours, and Beck--though she lost--delivered a real challenge to the Czech star, breaking her five times, and running over her in the second set tiebreak.

Prior to that match, Mona Barthel lost in straight sets to Lucie Safarova. The German crowd had plenty to cheer for in Beck, but they could really cheer for Julia Goerges, who--though she beat Kirsten Flipkens via retirement (stomach illness)--nevertheless showed excellent form.

Jelena Jankovic continued her fine serving form with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sam Stosur, and Carla Suarez Navarro defeated Caroline Wozniacki 7-6, 6-1. Fed Cup stand-outs Roberta Vinci and Ekaterina Makarova both lost their first round matches, but I'm going to give them both a pass because I believe they were both probably depleted of both mental and physical energy after their wonderful performances over the weekend. (Makarova, by the way, played for over two and a half hours against countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Passing shots

Maria Sharapova has signed a three-year deal to be Porsche's first brand ambassador. Sharapova is currently in Stuttgart for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, in which she is the defending champion.
Sugarpova will soon be introduced in Russia.

The ever-inconsistent Sorana Cirstea, seeded 2nd in Marrakech, was defeated by Chenelle Scheepers in the first round.

Blogging from Marrakech is Kristina Mladenovic.

Prize money is being increased at Wimbledon, and also at the French Open.

All Access Hour--Stuttgart

Monday, April 22, 2013

Italy joins Russia in Fed Cup final

In a Fed Cup semifinal rubber delayed until this morning because of darkness, Roberta Vinci defeated Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-7, 6-3. Safarova led by 2-0 in the final set, but couldn't hold onto the break. With a 3-1 score against defending champion Czech Repubic, Italy advanced to the final for the fifth time in eight years.

Italy's opponent will be Russia, who came back from 0-2 down to defeat the Slovak Republic. Italy has won Fed Cup three times, and Russia has taken the championship four times.

In a delayed World Group Play-Off, Australia defeated Switzerland 3-1 today. All four singles rubbers were played today because the entire weekend was rained out. Sam Stosur won both of her rubbers, and Ashleigh Barty won her only rubber. Jarmila Gajdosova lost to Romina Oprandi. Stosur defeated both Oprandi and Stefanie Voegele, and Barty defeated Voegele.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Germany defeats Serbia in Fed Cup tie

Ana Ivanovic did her part. She beat both Mona Barthel and Angelique Kerber in the Fed Cup World Group Play-Offs. Bojana Jovanovski, however, lost to both Barthel and Kerber. Everything depended on the doubles rubber, but even Aleksandra "Magic Charm" Krunic--perhaps because she had to JJ as a partner--couldn't save Serbia. Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Sabine Lisicki beat Krunic and Vesna Dolonc 6-2, 6-4, thus saving Germany's Fed Cup status.

Spain beat Japan 4-0, and the USA beat Sweden 3-2, though part of the "2" was a dead rubber that Sweden won in a walkover. Not surprisingly, Sloane Stephens did not play today. Her substitute was Venus Williams, who appeared to be having trouble with her back again. Williams needed eight match points to defeat Johann Larsson in straight sets.

Switzerland and Australia have yet to play. The entire weekend was rained out. When play finally begins, Australia's Samantha Stosur will play Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele.

In World Group II Play-Offs, Poland beat Belgium 4-1, France beat Kazakhstan 4-1, Argentina defeated Great Britain 3-1, and Canada defeated Ukraine 3-2.

So far, this Fed Cup weekend has lived up to my expectations, and more. Unfortunately, Italy and the Czech Republic are my two favorite Fed Cup teams, so it wasn't like I could enthusiastically cheer for one of them. On the other hand, I'll be glad for whoever goes to the final.

Russian team makes Fed Cup history

Today in Moscow, the Russian team became the only team in Fed Cup history to win a semifinal after being down 0-2. The commentators I listened to were surprised that Ekaterina Makarova was put in as a substitute for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; I would have been surprised if she hadn't been. Makarova played Daniela Hantuchova of the Slovak Republic for two and a half hours, and the match was riveting. It was, in fact, one of my favorite matches of the season.

Makarova--a player who knows how to rise to an occasion--won the first set 6-3, and was a point away from going up 5-3 in the second set. Hantuchova would have none of that, however, and she took the second set 6-4.

Throughout all three sets, there were some tense, and highly entertaining, rallies. The only problem was that one of them had to lose. That turned out to be Hantuchova, who had led by a break in the third set. But there was drama, even at the match's conclusion, as Hantuchova served at 4-5. On her first match point, Makarova broke a racket string. On her second, she made an unforced error. On her third match point, the Russian thought she had won the rubber with an impossible-to-return shot, and the Russian crowd began to scream.....but for Hantuchova, nothing seemed impossible; she practically willed herself to return the ball. On the fourth match point, Hantuchova hit an excellent serve, but then backed off of the approach shot just enough for Makarova to conclude the match.

Makarova's victory allowed Russia to catch up with the Slovak Republic. Earlier in the day, Maria Kirilenko had beaten Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets. It all went to the doubles rubber, and once again, Makarova rose to the occasion, as did her partner, Elena Vesnina. The Slovak team of Hantuchova and Cibulkova won the first set 6-4. The Russian won the second set 6-3, and--as it seemed fated--a final set was needed to determine who would go to the 2013 Fed Cup final.

It was at that point that Hantuchova lost her way. A series of missed volleys by the highly accomplished doubles veteran made it pretty easy to the Russian team to close, and Makarova and Vesnina won the set 6-1.

She won one singles rubber and lost one, and she lost a crucial doubles rubber, but I still really enjoyed watching Hantuchova at this Fed Cup event. A clean ball-striker and good court thinker, Hantuchova has had to battle nerves throughout her career. This weekend, however, she did show how exciting her game can be.

The Russian team does not know who will be the opponent in the final. Rain delayed play in Palermo for most of the day, and after only one match was played, darkness delayed further play. Actually, the rain began in the third set of the completed match, and was coming down hard enough toward the end that I wondered whether play would be suspended. But the falling raindrops were nothing compared to the cascade of winners coming off of Petra Kvitova's racket.

Kvitova defeated Sara Errani (who has never beaten the Czech player) 2-6, 6-2, 6-0. Naturally, Kvitova had to spend the first set making unforced errors and looking lost; she was down 0-5 for a while. But "the switch" was turned on for the second set, and for the rest of the match, Kvitova would pretty much go crazy on the Italian, displaying the serves, groundstrokes and volleys that made her such a star in 2011. With both her form and her spirit working at exceptionally high levels, Kvitova made everything look so easy. She won eleven games in a row, hit a total of 26 winners, and looked--at least for a while--like the major talent that she is. And this on her "worst" surface.

Kvitova's defeat of Errani meant that the defending champions were still in the mix. Now, Lucie Safarova has to play Roberta Vinci, which should be a tall order for Safarova. Should she beat Vinci, however, the semifinal would go to a deciding, fifth (doubles) rubber. Veteran Fed Cup stars Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone are scheduled to play doubles for Italy, but it seems more likely that Errani and Vinci would be substituted for the scheduled pair. In that case, at least Errani would have had some rest.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Germany and Serbia tied at 1-1 in World Group Play-Offs

Ana Ivanovic beat Mona Barthel in straight sets (no surprise, given Barthel's return to the Spring Slump) in today's Fed Cup World Group Play-Offs, and will play Angelique Kerber tomorrow. Kerber defeated Bojana Jovanovski. This is the World Group tie that could go anywhere. To predict that Barthel will defeat Jovanovski is to not take the German player's current problems into consideration. But--going on the assumption that Barthel will pull herself together and win her second rubber--it will all come down to how Kerber handles Ivanovic. If the play-off should go to a fifth rubber, just about anything could happen.

If Sloane Stephens needed more pressure, she got it by being assigned to her first Fed Cup play-off as a singles competitor. She lost to Sofia Arvidsson, and is anyone surprised? Either Venus Williams or Varvara Lepchenko would have been a better choice for the task, but with the Williams sisters around, captain Mary Joe Fernandez could afford to be flexible in her assignments. At least the Swedish team won't go home with a zero next to its name.

The Switzerland vs. Australia play-off was rained out today, so there's likely to be some doubling up tomorrow, if the weather is okay.

Other play-off scores can be seen here.

Italy and Slovak Republic sweep first day of Fed Cup semifinals

The first day of the Fed Cup semifinals is over, and Italy has yet to drop a set. Sara Errani got her country off to a good start by defeating Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-2. Then, for the second time in a row, Roberta Vinci proved to be too clever for Petra Kvitova, defeating her 6-4, 6-1. Vinci got quite a bit of help from Kvitova, it should be noted. Usually totally "on" during Fed Cup, the Czech star looked a beat behind as she struggled to move forward to retrieve sliced balls and drop shots, and she made repeated unforced errors.

Vinci became increasingly aggressive, giving Kvitova little opportunity to create her own sometimes lethal aggression. And while both players had trouble holding serve in the first set, Vinci hung in, and more or less cruised through the second. Kvitova failed to hold her serve one time during the entire match.

It was strange to see Flavia Pennetta sitting in the stands. I wondered whether she felt she ought to be tied down to the seat, so customary is it for her to be on the court, moving Italy forward or saving it from a crisis. But there she was, along with Francesca Schiavone, watching the current premier pair of Fighting Italians, Errani and Vinci.

Meanwhile, the Slovak Republic went up 2-0 against Russia. Dominika Cibulkova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, and an absolutely inspired Daniela Hantuchova defeated Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-4. Hantuchova is unfortunately known for not being able to close well, but she won the last several points of this rubber in great style.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Errani and Kvitova to play first rubber in Fed Cup semifinal

Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova will get things started tomorrow in the Italy vs. Czech Republic Fed Cup semifinal in Palermo. Errani has never beaten Kvitova, despite four tries. All of their matches have been played on hard courts, and Kvitova has won them in straight sets. Errani is a very good hard court player, but should feel even more comfortable on red clay.

Kvitova's second opponent, by the way, will be Roberta Vinci, who recently defeated her in the Katowice final. 

Getting things started in the Russia vs. Slovak Republic semifinal will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Dominika Cibulkova.

Yesterday, I wrote about the World Group Play-Offs. Here is the draw for the World Group II Play-Offs:

Belgium vs. Poland: This is more like Belgium meets Nation of Radwanska.

France vs. Kazakhstan: Marion Bartoli will be making her long-awaited return to Fed Cup play.

Argentina vs. Great Britain: Johanna Konta, who impressed at last year's U.S. Open, is on Great Britain's team.

Ukraine vs. Canada: Eugenie Bouchard, number 93 in the world, is the highest-ranked player in the competition.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Can Italy stop the Czech Republic?

If ever there were a don't-miss Fed Cup semifinal, it's the upcoming one between two-time defending champion Czech Republic and preceding two-time defending champion Italy. The event, which takes place April 20 and 21, will be held in Palermo on red clay, so there are certain advantages to playing for Italy. The "classic" Italian Fed Cup team is lined up: Francesca Schiavone, Flavia Pennetta (the Queen of Fed Cup), Sara Errani, and Roberta Vinci.

In the past, Pennetta--a very good player by any standard--would just go crazy on opponents during Fed Cup matches. Some of the greatest moments of her career have taken place during Fed Cup competition. Pennetta has been injured quite a bit in the past several months, however, so there's some question as to how well she can perform. On the other hand, this is Fed Cup, and this is Flavia Pennetta.

Schiavone, surely close to the end of her wonderful career, has been really up and down for a while, but Fed Cup tends to bring out the best in the Fighting Italians, so the entire Italian theme is always a threat. Errani and Vinci are total threats. Vinci is just coming off of her win of the debut Katowice clay tournament, and is now number 12 in the world. Errani is always a tough customer on clay.

And then you put them together. Errani and Vinci, the number 1 doubles team in the world, do as well in Fed Cup as they do in every other event. Vinci, in fact, has never lost a Fed Cup doubles rubber. She's 18-0 in doubles, and she and Errani together are 6-0. Should the semifinal go to a fifth rubber, history--not to mention everything else--is definitely on Italy's side.

But Italy has its work cut out because the Czech Republic shines in Fed Cup play, also. Petra Kvitova, for all her frustrating tour history, comes to life during Fed Cup, not unlike Pennetta. Sure, clay isn't her best surface, but she's capable of doing very well on it. Kvitova has won 13 of her last 14 Fed Cup rubbers, and the Czech Republic also has Lucie Safarova, who has proved to be able to rise to the occasion, also.

Also playing for the Czechs are Klara Zakopalova, another strong team member, and doubles expert Lucie Hradecka.

Last year, Italy lost to the Czech Republic in the semifinals. The Czech team hasn't lost a Fed Cup competition since 2010, when they were beaten by Italy. You see? This is probably as good as it gets.

But let's not forget the other semifinal. Four-time Fed Cup champion Team Russia hosts the Slovak Republic in Moscow on indoor red clay. The two teams have not met since 2001. It's interesting to note that all four Russian team players--Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenko, Ekaterina Makarova, and Elena Vesnina--are very good doubles doubles players. Kirilenko and Vesnina are exceptional in doubles competition.

Pavlyuchenkova, who's been in quite a slump lately, just one her third title in Monterrey, so she's undoubtedly coming into this semifinal with some confidence. She'll get a little help, too, from coach Martina Hingis. 

The strength of the Slovak Republic's team lies in the person of Dominika Cibulkova, and perhaps in Daniela Hantuchova, whose ranking has gone way down, but who may still have enough resources to do some damage in Moscow. Hantuchova has an outstanding history with regard to doubles. Other members of the Slovak Republic team are Magdalena Rybarikova and Jana Cepelova.

In the World Group Play-Offs, Germany and Serbia will meet for the first time. Germany's team, frankly, looks better on paper than it really is. Angelique Kerber, Mona Barthel and Sabine Lisicki have all been pretty much of a mess lately, though world number 6 Kerber is dangerous in any circumstance. Fed Cup may also give Barthel an opportunity to get back on track. The other member of Germany's team is doubles specialist Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Not playing for Serbia is Jelena Jankovic, which puts Serbia at a great disadvantage. The good news is that Ana Ivanovic is on the team, and it doesn't hurt that Bojana Jovanovski is on it. Vesna Dolonc is the third member, and rounding out the Serbian group is the amazing Aleksandra Krunic, whose Fed Cup heroics in doubles make her scary. She won't have Jankovic as a partner this time around, though, so if the play-off should go to a fifth rubber, Krunic will have to "groom" someone else to take Serbia to the victory.

Switzerland and Australia will compete in the Play-Offs in Switzerland, with Stefanie Voegele just coming off an outstanding performance in Charleston. Sam Stosur isn't playing in Australia, which bodes well for her. Australia also has a good doubles team in Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty.

Spain will host Japan in the third play-off. I was hoping to see Garbine Muguruza on the Spanish team, but she's not a member. Carla Suarez Navarro is, however, and she'll doubtless be going head-to-head with Japan's Ayumi Morita, who just keeps improving.

The last play-off features the USA against Sweden, and the USA's team includes both Williams sisters. New Fed Cup star Varvara Lepchenko is on the team, too, and after her performance against Italy, she definitely adds value to the USA's roster. The event will be played in Delray Beach, practically around the corner from Venus and Serena, and on a hard court. Really, what's not to like for the USA?

Passing shots

Competition has begun for the USA's French Open wild card. The events in Charlottesville and Indian Harbour will be streamed live.

You can get to know Mallory Burdette and Daria Gavrilova.

Guess who's on the cover of Time?

Lynn Welch has officially retired.

Is this not the perfect head shot of Marion Bartoli? France has a pretty good Fed Cup team--Bartoli, Cornet, Mladenovic, and Garcia.

Martina Hingis will coach Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during the European clay court season.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Vinci the champion in Katowice

Roberta Vinci, seeded second at the very first BNP Paribas Katowice Open, is also the tournament's first champion. Vinci defeated top seed Petra Kvitova 7-6, 6-1 in the final of the red clay event. I wasn't able to watch the final, but my understanding is that some good tennis was played, but that--ultimately--Kvitova got sliced off of the court by Vinci. Vinci is a clever player by any standard, but she really shines on clay.

Expectations are never that high (slump notwithstanding) for Kvitova on clay, but it's worth noting that in 2011, she won Madrid. To reach the final she took out Vera Zvonareva, Dominika Cibulkova and Li Na, and she defeated Victoria Azarenka in the final.

Lara Arruabarrena and Lourdes Dominguez Lino won the Katowice doubles title, defeating Raluca Olaru and Valeria Solovyeva 6-4, 7-5 in the final. Olaru and Solovyeva were up a break in both sets.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Only two seeds in Katowice quarterfinals

Top seed Petra Kvitova and 2nd seed Roberta Vinci are the only two seeded players to get through to the quarterfinals in Katowice. 3rd seed Klara Zakopalova went out in the 2nd round to Maria Elena Camerin, and 6th seed Kaia Kanepi--making a comeback from injury--lost to Kristyna Pliskova.

5th seed Alize Cornet, 7th seed Sabine Lisicki and 8th seed Laura Robson went out in the first round. Two of them were defeated by qualifiers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Some final thoughts on Charleston

Having both Williams sisters double up in match play and then win all four of their matches in Charleston was probably a unique event. But also of note is that both defending champions--Serena Williams and Lucie Safarova (playing with a new partner)--won the tournament. Safarova's win is especially interesting because she and Kristina Mladenovic had never played together before. Also of interest--the Family Circle Cup is the only tournament Safarova has ever won as a doubles player.

Getting to the final and taking a set off of Serena was yet another sign that Jelena Jankovic has turned some type of comeback corner. She seems like a different player than she was last year, and that's good news.

Meanwhile, Sloane Stephens was given a beat-down by Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and this after Mattek-Sands had played a 3-hour and 42-minute match (which I unfortunately missed) the day before. Stephens seemed barely "there" for the match. Mattek-Sands' career has been constantly hampered by injury, but when she's healthy, she's dangerous. Stephens didn't seem to know what to do against her.

The unseeded player who impressed me the most overall was Mallory Burdette. Burdette is intelligent and very articulate, and she has a wonderful attitude. She fearlessly played Serena Williams, and for most of one set, she kept up with the world number 1. Burdette beat Kristina Mladenovic in the first round, and upset 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki in the second round. The last set was a real thriller, with Burdette hanging in to win on her sixth match point.

Melanie Oudin played what she said was her best match of the year, pushing Jankovic to three sets. Mona Barthel was an error-prone mess, looking about the same way she did this time last year. Venus Williams looked good, but obviously didn't have the energy left to seriously compete against her sister in the semifinals.

Ashleigh Barty once again impressed in doubles play, and she and Anastasia Rodionova made it to the semifinals. Laura Robson went out too early for those of who can't wait to go to her press conferences. Thankfully, we were treated to plenty of JJ!

Stefanie Voegele was the breakout player, defeating Caroline Wozniacki and playing really aggressive tennis. She looked pretty anxious in her semifinal, which was no surprise. Still, fans were impressed with her game.

I wasn't able to get out much, but I did eat at Five Loaves Cafe, a downtown Charleston favorite. Both the food and the service were great.

As always, the Family Circle Cup was a great experience. The weather was mild this year, if you don't count the wind that whips through the stadium from time to time. The players are especially fond of the tournament because they are given really special treatment by the staff, and it's easier for them to relax in Charleston than it is in some other venues. Charleston fans are very enthusiastic and enjoy watching a variety of players, not just the stars.

On my way home, I saw Kadir Nouni board the plane I took from Charleston to Atlanta. I was absorbed in a book during the flight, and didn't even bother to look around until we were about three-quarters of the way to Atlanta. When I did look up, I realized that Venus Williams was sitting across the aisle from me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Today's action in Charleston

(all photos by Daniel Ward)

Serena Williams wins third Charleston title

(photo by Daniel Ward)
Today, in Charleston, Jelena Jankovic did what few have done in recent times: She took a set off of Serena Williams. Playing in the Family Circle Cup final, Jankovic got 79% of her first serves in during the first set. Jankovic served so well, she was able to dictate play much of the time. The rallies tended to be long, but it was the Serbian player who picked the right moment to either hit a winner or draw an error.

(photo by Daniel Ward)
Jankovic broke Williams at love in the fifth game. In the seventh game, the crowd was treated to a "JJ moment": Jankovic fell down, and when she got up--after wiping the clay off of her hands and arms--she placed the towel behind her and did a bit of a shimmy as she feigned drying her lower back. After holding serve, Jankovic converted her first break point--a set point--in the ninth game, and won the first set 6-3.

Jankovic did not serve at that level again. She a few good moments, but her big serve left her. She did serve at 40-0 in the first game of the second set, but was broken, anyway. That wasn't a good sign for the 9th seed, who would fail to win a game the entire set. Jankovic did have a break point in the fourth game, but Williams wiped it out quickly.

By this time, the world number 1 was almost unable to miss a shot. And while many games went to deuce, just as they had in the opening set, Williams prevailed, hitting stunning winners down both lines. She double-faulted her first match point, and Jankovic saved the second. But with her third match point, the defending champion was able to finish the third set off at 6-2.

(photo by Daniel Ward)
Williams also won the Family Circle Cup in 2008 and 2012. Jankovic won it in 2007. Six former champions entered the tournament this year, and it was no surprise that two of them made it through to the final.

After the match, Williams told Jankovic, "I smiled on the court for the first time in forever, so thank you for making it fun."

Serena Williams has now won 49 singles matches in her career.

Pavlyuchenkova wins third Monterrey title

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was up 5-0 in the third set of her final against top seed Angelique Kerber today. Then the Russian was up 5-2, and when she served for the match, she was broken. Kerber held for 4-5, but then Pavlyuchenkova put an end to the 4-2, 6-2, 6-4 match.

Pavlyuchenkova has now won 15 straight matches in Monterrey. She won the championship in 2010 and 2011.

Timea Babos won the singles title in 2012, and while she wasn't able to repeat, she did get the doubles trophy today. Babos and Kimiko Date-Krumm, the top seeds, defeated 3rd seeds Eva Birnerova and Tamarine Tanasugarn 6-1, 6-4 in the final.

Safarova repeats in Charleston

(photo by Daniel Ward)

Lucie Safarova (photo by Daniel Ward)

Kristina Mladenovic (photo by Daniel Ward)

Lucie Safarova has earned only two doubles titles in her career. One was at the 2012 Family Circle Cup, and the other--also at the Family Circle Cup--she won today. Prior to coming to Charleston, Safarova and Kristina Mladenovic had never been doubles partners, but that didn't matter. The champions defeated top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Liezel Huber 6-3, 7-6.

Safarova and Mladenovic lagged behind through much of the second set, and the crowd was probably expecting a super-tiebreak. But the first-time team caught up and forced a second set tiebreak, which they won, 8-6.

It was as entertaining a match as fans could have hoped for. Safarova and Huber are both very skilled doubles players, able to score from all parts of the court. Of note today were Hlavackova's down-the-line winners, and Mladenovic's very soft, unreachable volleys.

(photo by Daniel Ward)

Two-time champion advances to Monterrey final

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who won the Monterrey Open in 2010 and 2011, has once again advanced to the final of that event. Pavlyuchenkova defeated Monica Niculescu 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 in yesterday's semifinals. Pavlyuchenkova's opponent in the final will be top seed Angelique Kerber, who defeated Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in the semifinals.

In doubles, top seeds Timea Babos and Kimiko Date-Krumm will compete against Asia Muhammed and Allie Will in the final. Babos was the singles champion in 2012. She lost to Niculescu in the quarterfinals this year.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The wisdom of JJ

Do you remember what she (Serena, in Rome) said to you at the net? You exchanged some words about something.
"I don't remember. I really don't remember. I have no idea. You know, I don't know what I was saying just now."

"You can't glitter during the day. It doesn't shine."

"A lot of times, you know, my mind just keeps running, and sometimes it makes sense, what I say, and sometimes it doesn't."

"...my hair is like concrete."

"I kind of feel like I'm a ballerina. I keep going from side to side."

"I have these bangs, you know. So they can't fit in the ponytail, so I gotta glue it in. Imagine if I get frustrated with my hair--what would that look like?!"

(all photos by Daniel Ward)

Safarova reaches Family Circle Cup doubles final

Lucie Safarova (photo by Daniel Ward)
Lucie Safarova, half of last year's championship team in Charleston, reached the final again today when she and partner Kristina Mladenovic defeated Ashleigh Barty and Anastasia Rodionova 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals. Their opponents will be top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Liezel Huber. Hlavackovic and Huber defeated Megan Moulton-Levy and Zhang Shuai 6-0, 6-2.

Last year, Safarova won the tournament with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She had never teamed with Mladenovic prior to this year's Charleston event.

Two former champions to compete for Charleston title

Defending champion Serena Williams and 2007 champion Jelena Jankovic will play tomorrow for the 2013 Family Circle Cup championship. Williams, who defeated her sister, Venus, in today's semifinals, also won the title in 2008.

Jankovic has a 4-5 record against Williams. They have played each other on clay only once--in Rome in 2010--and Jankovic won that match. However, they have never played each other on green clay.

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--bye
round 2--def. Camila Giorgi
round 3--def. Mallory Burdette
quarterfinals--def. Lucie Safarova
semifinals--def. Venus Williams

round 1--def. Melanie Oudin
round 2--def. Caroline Garcia
round 3--def. Jessica Pegula
quarterfinals--def. Eugenie Bouchard
semifinals--def. Stefanie Voegele

Jankovic to play Serena Williams in Charleston final

(photo by Daniel Ward)
2007 Family Circle Cup champion Jelena Jankovic made it to her second Charleston final in six years today when she defeated Stefanie Voegele 6-4, 6-7, 6-2 in a semifinal that lasted over two hours, and in which the wind was often a factor. Jankovic is skilled at playing in the wind; she won her 2007 title in post-tornado high winds that had debris swirling around the court.

In today's match, Jankovic was broken straightaway, but she broke back, then broke again to take the lead. Voegele saved a set point, but lost the first set, though she saved a set point. The second set featured a more animated Voegele, who appeared to have settled into the match, much as she did last night after losing the first set. The Swiss player was broken in her service game, and then had two break points against Jankovic, but failed to convert either of them.

When Jankovic served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, she was broken when Voegele attacked her second serve. Voegele then held at love in her next service game. She had a break opportunity when Jankovic served at 4-5, but Jankovic saved it with a huge serve. What followed was the best rally of the set, with both players barely skimming the net. Jankovic held when Voegele hit a forehand down the line that went long.

(photo by Daniel Ward)
During the second set, Jankovic showed some anger when a ballboy just stood in a corner instead of giving her a towel. She gave the towel an angry toss back at him, and--still muttering--walked to her seat while the crowd vocalized their disapproval of her display of temper. Crowd support--which was divided prior to the towel incident--shifted sharply to Voegele.

At 5-6, Jankovic saved another break point, this time with a sharp forehand pass. Though still handling the wind better than her opponent, she was also forced to handle
Voegele's aggression. The Swiss player was in form by this time, and was hitting her backhand down the line (long known as Jankovic's signature shot) with the same accuracy she had hit it against Caroline Wozniacki the night before. Over and over, Voegele gave Jankovic a difficult ball to return, and then moved smoothly forward to put Jankovic's shot away--just as she had done against Wozniacki.

(photo by Daniel Ward)
The set proceeded to a tiebreak, which Voegele won, 8-6. Cheers erupted from the crowd. Not only had they begun to favor Voegele, but they were also getting a third set, which was a relief after the earlier semifinal match. As for Jankovic, she slumped into her seat (wicker sofas are used on court in Charleston), threw her head back against the cushion, and proceeded to look weary.

Jankovic broke in the first game of the final set. She also managed to get in another (short) tirade about the ball crew because they weren't getting the balls to her fast enough. After complaining to chair umpire Eva Asderaki, Jankovic won her first service game with her well-known backhand down-the-line. She then elevated her serve to the point that Voegele was left behind. All was forgiven at this point, as the Serb again received a lot of crowd support. The Swiss upstart would win only one more game, while Jankovic earned a spot in the final.

After the match, Jankovic said she had been angry with herself because she had lost control of her serve in the second set.

This was a great tournament for Stefanie Voegele, whose down-the-line shots and skillful net play earned the admiration of Charleston fans. Currently number 63 in the world, Voegele will have a much better ranking next week. In her press conference last night, she talked about her injuries, and how she had lost belief in herself. She said it took a lot of work, but eventually, she regained her confidence. Her Charleston performance can only boost that confidence some more.

Serena Williams advances to Charleston final

(photo by Daniel Ward)
(photo by Daniel Ward)

Two-time Family Circle Cup champion Serena Williams advanced swiftly to the final today when she defeated her Venus Williams 6-1, 6-2 in 54 minutes. Today's match marked the 24th time the sisters have played each other, and Serena now leads their head-to-head 14-10. This was the first time Venus and Serena have ever played each other in Charleston, and the first time they have played each other in four years.

In today's match, Venus had difficulty with her serve--especially her second serve. She double-faulted eight times. Both sisters played two matches yesterday because of Thursday's rain delay, and after today's semifinal, Serena said of Venus: "...she'll never admit it, ever, but I don't think she was a hundred percent. But you will never get that out of her, and quite frankly, three matches for her is much tougher than three matches for me...."

Wozniacki upset by Voegele in Charleston quarterfinals

Stefanie Voegele (photo by Daniel Ward)

2011 Family Circle Cup champion Caroline Wozniacki, the number 2 seed this year, was defeated last night in Charleston by Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland. Both players got off to a bit of a slow start, but Wozniacki won the first set 6-4. And while it probably appeared to most fans that a quick straight-set victory was on hand for the Danish star, Voegele apparently hadn't gotten that memo. The Swiss player went on an aggressive mission against Wozniacki, forcing her to hit from awkward positions, and then nailing Wozniacki's returns right on the lines from both sides.

Stefanie Voegele (photo by Daniel Ward)
Voegele won the second set, 6-4. Wozniacki quickly went up 3-1 in the final set, but the unseeded Voegele refused to change her aggressive game plan. Several times, Wozniacki got herself out of trouble, even from 0-40 down, by staying in the point long enough to get an error from her opponent. But Voegele was playing the match of her career, and after getting the break back and holding for 3-all, she broke Wozniacki. And suddenly, the world number 63 was serving for the match at 5-3.

What we have come to expect at a moment like this is that a lesser-ranked player going against a star like Wozniacki starts to think too much when serving for the match, then gets tight, and then gets broken. The opportunity is gone, and the more experienced player gets on with the business of winning the match.

But that didn't happen in last night's quarterfinal. Voegele took a moment before she served, and stood behind the baseline on the deuce side, with her back to the net. Then she walked to the ad side and calmly served her way to 40-0. Wozniacki saved one match point, but then Voegele served one final ball that sped past her opponent, who made an attempt to hit it, whiffed it, and--just like that--the match was over.

Caroline Wozniacki (photo by Daniel Ward)
Given Wozniacki's recent performances, notwithstanding Indian Wells, the upset wasn't that surprising. Voegele had belief, and--just as important--she didn't let losing the first set cause her to back away from her aggressive style of play. She hit 41 winners and made 38 unforced errors. Both players had a positive winner-to-unforced error ratio (Wozniacki hit 32 winners and made 26 unforced errors).

Voegele will face 2007 champion Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals. The two have never played each other. Jankovic appears far more motivated than she did a year ago, and has skillfully played her way into the deep end of the tournament.

In Friday's other night match, the Australian team of Ashleigh Barty and Anastasia Rodionova defeated Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 6-4, 3-6, 10-6. Barty and Rodionova will play Kristina Mladenovic and Lucie Safarova in the semifinals. Safarova is the defending doubles champion (she won last year with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova). In the other semifinal, top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Liezel Huber will play Megan Moulton-Levy and Zhang Shuai.

Friday, April 5, 2013

...I don't think you ever walk out on the court and say "I'm going to beat Serena today."
Mallory Burdette

Serena Williams (photo by Daniel Ward)
Mallory Burdette, who held her nerve through six match points against Sabine Lisicki in the second round of the Family Circle Cup, held her nerve again today against Serena Williams. She was out-played, but Burdette gave it her all, and made the first set quite competitive. Of note was the seventh game of that set, which was quite long, and which Burdette finally won with an ace.

Serving at 4-5, with Williams holding a break point, Burdette hit a big serve, forcing Williams to toss the ball softly into the air with her racket. Burdette rushed forward and went for a swinging volley, but the ball wound up hitting the net. Williams would go on to win that set, 6-4.

Burdette broke Williams in the first game of the second set, but she was broken right back. At 2-all, Burdette had a break point, but once again tried for a swinging volley and couldn't get the ball over the net. Wiliams broke Burdette in the next game, and then won the remaining games for a 6-2 set win and a place in the semifinals. To no one's surprise, the defending champion served at a very high level, which helped her to get through the second set with relative ease.

Burdette sounded very positive after the match, and said that if she had to play Williams again tomorrow, the main thing she would do differently would be to change her level of belief in herself. 

"That was really, really fun," Burdette said of the match, "and it's always a great learning experience."

Williams' opponent in the semifinals will be her sister, Venus. 

Mallory Burdette (photo by Daniel Ward)

Later in the day, Williams returned to the stadium and defeated Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-1; last year, Williams defeated Safarova in the final.  Earlier, Safarova had played three sets to beat Sorana Cirstea. All the catch-up was necessary because most of yesterday's matches had to be postponed because of rain.

One too many overrules!

(all photos by Daniel Ward)

Venus wins a double in Charleston

Venus Williams (photo by Daniel Ward)
Some players had to double up at the Family Circle Cup today because of yesterday's rain. Venus Williams faced countrywoman Varvaro Lepchenko this morning and defeated her 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Later, Williams returned to the stadium and defeated countrywoman number 2, Madison Keys. Williams' 6-4, 6-4 win over Keys puts her into the semifinals.

Keys also had to play two matches today. She defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-6, 6-4, but she took the long road to get to the victory. Keys was up 5-1 in the first set when Mattek-Sands pulled out five straight games. Later, Mattek-Sands went up 4-2 in the tiebreak, but Keys was able to come back again.

Madison Keys (photo by Daniel Ward)

2007 champion Jelena Jankovic also entered the semifinals today when she defeated Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour. Jankovic's defeat of Bouchard was her 500th career win.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Stosur retires in Charleston third round

 Samantha Stosur (photo by Daniel Ward)
Sam Stosur came to Charleston while still undergoing rehab for a calf strain she sustained in Indian Wells. Her leg didn't bother her in her opening round, but tonight, she retired not long after second round play began. Stosur played Eugenie Bouchard, who was dictating most of the points, and who won the first set 6-1. The Canadian player got an early break in the second set, but the match ended when she went up 2-0.

Bouchard said she did notice that Stosur wasn't moving as well as usual, but she assumed it was because the stadium court surface was kind of slippery. Stosur did call for the trainer at the end of the first set, but it looked as though the trainer was simply re-wrapping Stosur's leg.

The match--scheduled for 6 p.m. because of an all-day rain delay--had to be
postponed until 9 p.m. because there was so much water collected on the court surface. Fortunately, the Club Court drained in time for a 6 p.m. match, so Jelena Jankovic and Jessica Pegula played there instead of in the stadium.

Jelena Jankovic (photo by Daniel Ward)
This time around, Jankovic was moving in her classic style--and she didn't fall down. She breezed through the first set, 6-0. Pegula got an early break in the second set, but Jankovic broke her back for 3-all. After losing the break advantage, Pegula began to unravel, hitting her racket against the back fence in anger. She was broken again, and--serving at 4-5 to stay in the match--she was broken at love. To make matters worse, she gave Jankovic the final point with a double fault.

Jankovic said later that she had made the adjustment from hard courts to green clay, and felt much more comfortable moving on the court than she did at the beginning of the tournament.

Stefanie Voegele (photo by Daniel Ward)
Eugenie Bouchard (photo by Daniel Ward)
Stefanie Voegele upset 10th seed Julia Goerges, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. Goerges was suffering from some type of respiratory ailment throughout the match.

In the only doubles match played today, top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Liezel Huber advanced to the semifinals with a straight set victory over Chan Hao-Ching and Olga Govortsova.

Tomorrow will be a very busy day as players endure double match play in order to catch up. The night match will feature Stefanie Voegele and number 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki.

(photo by Daniel Ward)

American players make strong showing in Charleston

Seven American players have advanced to the third round in Charleston. That's the most since 1993 when nine Americans made it to round 3. At least three Americans will make it to the quarterfinals this year (the most since 1982, when six Americans made it that far) on account of two upcoming (if it ever stops raining) USA vs. USA matches.

The seven players are: Mallory Burdette (upset 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki), Madison Keys, Varvara Lepchenko, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Jessica Pegula (upset 8th seed Mona Barthel), Serena Williams (defending champion and 2008 champion), and Venus Williams (2004 champion).

Burdette entered the top 100 for the first time this week.

As of today, Serena Williams has won her last eleven matches in Charleston. She won the event in 2008 and did not return until last year, when she won it again. She had a bye in the first round of this year's tournament, and won her second round match. 

For the past two years, the same player who ended the tournament as the singles runner-up also emerged as the doubles champion. In 2011, it was Elena Vesnina (lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the final), and in 2012, it was Lucie Safarova (lost to Serena Williams). This situation could occur a third time in a row if either Safarova or Julia Goerges makes it to both finals; they are the only remaining players who are still in both draws.

In the third round, Goerges gets Stefanie Voegele. Should she win that match, she would play Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals; Wozniacki received a third round walkover from Andrea Petkovic. Safarova will play 11th seed Sorana Cirstea in the third round. A win would likely have her facing Serena Williams again--this time, in the quarterfinals.

It's 4:50, Charleston time, and the sun has finally come out, after what I hope was one last big downpour. It looks like there will actually be some tennis played this evening.

Petkovic withdraws from Charleston

Andrea Petkovic, who defeated Taylor Townsend and Vania King in her first two rounds in Charleston, withdrew from the tournament this morning because of a right calf injury. Petkovic was scheduled to play 2nd seed Caroline "Walkover" Wozniacki, so now the Dane has received yet another walkover in a WTA event (is this some kind of record?).

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Madison Keys, who were originally scheduled to play on the Althea Gibson Club Court, were moved to the Billie Jean King Court in the stadium, but they have not been able to start their match because of rain. It's really coming down here, so there's no telling when Mattek-Sands and Keys will be able to go onto the court.

Here are some photos from the player party, which was held Saturday night in downtown Charleston.

A few of the players talk about how much they like staying in people's home in Charleston.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Jankovic goes another 3 sets in Charleston

Jankovic had to fight hard today (photo by Daniel Ward)
2007 champion Jelena Jankovic had to play another long match in Charleston today. She fell down on the clay again, but that was the least of her problems. Caroline Garcia took her forehand (not to mention the rest of her repertoire) to Jankovic this evening on the Althea Gibson Club Court. The Frenchwoman took the first set 7-5. Jankovic won the second set, saving two match points, with a 12-10 score in the tiebreak, and then won the third set 6-3.

Jankovic, who is a fan favorite in Charleston, will play Jessica Pegula in the next round. Pegula has already taken out up-and-coming Spanish player Garbine Muguruza and 8th seed Mona Barthel. The winner of the Jankovic vs. Pegula match will then play either Eugenie Bouchard or 2010 champion Samantha Stosur. Bouchard defeated best friend Laura Robson today.

2nd seed Caroline Wozniacki advanced today, as did Andrea Petkovic and Madison Keys.

Laura Robson was beaten by friend Eugenie Bouchard (photo by Daniel Ward)
2012 runner-up Lucie Safarova was one of today's winners (photo by Daniel Ward)

One of the winning doubles teams today was the Australian pair, Ashleigh Barty and Anastasia Rodionova. Barty continues to delight fans with her doubles skills, and both she and Rodionova put on a good show this afternoon. They defeated Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova 6-2, 6-2.

Rain is predicted for tomorrow, so there may be only a few matches--or no matches at all--played.

Lisicki upset by Mallory Burdette in Charleston

(Photo by Daniel Ward)
The USA Show continued in Charleston today as Mallory Burdette took out 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 in the second round. The match became very tense toward the end. Burdette broke Lisicki at 4-5, then found herself at 40-0 when she served for the match. All three match points were erased by errors, including a double fault. Burdette then got another match point, but was broken.

However--obviously a bit more relaxed when switched to defense--Burdette then broke Lisicki at 15, getting the break when she changed the pace and the German player returned a soft shot into the net.

Burdette then served for the match a second time at 6-5. She went down 0-30, but then brought the score to 30-all. Lisicki then hit a forehand pass that gave her break point. On the next point, Burdette waited for a ball to bounce instead of hitting what would have been a difficult overhead. On her fifth match point, the American made another error. Burdette won the next two points, however, finishing the match by putting the ball right on the line.

(photo by Daniel Ward)
After the match, Burdette said that when she saw all those match points go by, she put her full concentration into picking a target with every subsequent shot. Her next opponent will be defending champion Serena Williams.

Stephens out of Family Circle Cup in 2nd round

On Monday, Bethanie Mattek-Sands played the longest match of the year when she and Anastasia Rodionova went for 3 hours and 42 minutes in the first round in Charleston. Tuesday evening, Mattek-Sands beat 4th seed Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-0 in just under an hour. From the first moment, Mattek-Sands demonstrated her signature aggression, and Stephens had no answer. Stephens also appeared somewhat flat throughout the match. Anyone not knowing who was who would have assumed it was Stephens who had played for almost four hours the day before.

After the match, Mattek-Sands said that, following her Monday ordeal, she had taken an ice bath, then an Epsom salt bath. She slept for twelve hours, got up for a while, then took a nap. Her next opponent will be either Madison Keys or Grace Min.

Defending doubles champion Lucie Safarova, playing for the first time with Kristina Mladenovic, advanced to the second round yesterday when she and Mladenovic defeated the wild card team of Jelena Jankovic and Andrea Petkovic.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

At the Family Circle Cup

What to do?
Carry on!
Serena takes a moment (photo by Daniel Ward)
Coach Hingis watches the match (photo by Daniel Ward)

Pegula upsets Barthel in Charleston

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)
19-year-old Buffalo native Jessica Pegula, ranked number 148 in the world, upset Charleston 8th seed Mona Barthel in straight sets in the second round in Charleston today. Barthel looked distracted and made repeated unforced errors while Pegula hit the ball like it was coming out of a cannon. And she never let up, beating the world number 29 7-6, 6-1. We've seen Barthel do this kind of thing before, and one can't help but wonder if she's headed for another slump. (I hope not.)

The Goerges forehand was working well today (photo by Daniel Ward)
Barthel wasn't the only seed to make an exit. 7th seed Carla Suarez Navarro was also upset. Stefanie Voegele defeated Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-4. Also losing was 15th seed and former semifinalist Daniela Hantuchova, who was defeated in straight sets in the first round by Marina Erakovic.
Camila Giorgi (photo by Daniel Ward)

Vania King defeated friend and former doubles partner Yaroslava Shvedova, and 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki delivered a pair of bagels to Anna Tatishvili. Yulia Putintseva's coach (that would be Martina Hingis) got into a bit of trouble for overtly coaching from the stands. And Sorana Cirstea got a walkover from Anabel Medina Garrigues. The Spaniard hurt her right knee yesterday. She also withdrew from doubles, which means the tournament is also over for her partner, Daniela Hantuchova.

Julia Goerges, Laura Robson, Madison Keys, and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni all advanced to the second round. Varvara Lepchenko advanced to the third round, as did defending champion Serena Williams. Williams defeated Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3.

Best friends Laura Robson and Eugenie Bouchard play each other tomorrow. Robson is the 16th seed, and Bouchard is a qualifier.

Happy JJ (photo by Daniel Ward)