Friday, May 27, 2016

Ninjapalooza, the Bulgarian Woman Of Mystery, peak Alize, and Oh P3tra!--and it's still week 1

Paris is a city of art, style and beauty, which makes it the perfect setting for the year's most important clay court tournament. But with all that emotional expression and red earth, there's bound to be drama. And while we can no longer be uplifted by Bartoli Theatre, the not-quite-finished first week of the French Open has given us an abundance of dramatic twists and turns (some of them literal).

There were a couple of out-and-out thrillers. When the tournament is over, the third round match played by Julia Goerges and Monica Puig will still stand as one of the high-quality segments of this French Open. Puig advanced with a 7-5, 6-7, 7-5 (which says it all) victory in a match that was beautifully played by both women.

The other drawn-out exciting contest featured Irina-Camelia Begu and CoCo Vandeweghe, who faced off in the second round. Begu got off to a slow start against the big-hitting Vandeweghe, but then worked her way back into the match, which went to three sets. After the second set, the players took bathroom breaks, and--while Begu wasn't exactly in a hurry to return to the court--her opponent appeared to have gone to the 6th arrondissement to freshen up. A lot of time went by.

Begu stayed active on the court, and upon Vandeweghe's return, the two resumed play in a very long and close set. Begu won the match 6-7, 7-6, 10-8. The "other" Romanian has had to play three sets in each of her matches. She defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round, and in the third round, she defeated Annika Beck, who got the crowd on her side when Begu did yet another long bathroom break routine.

But all this bathroom break controversy pales compared with the circus that was the second round match played between Alize Cornet and Tatjana Maria. I'll skip the (many) details, and get right to the crux of the matter. Cornet was cramping in one leg and sustained a hip injury in the other. There were a number of treatments and medical time-outs, all of which appear to have been legal, but they annoyed the hell out of Maria.

Here's where other factors come into play. The French crowd, of course, was solidly behind Cornet, cheering her on throughout the ordeal. And Cornet being Cornet did not help the situation at all. She zombie-walked across the court, wincing in pain, then suddenly moved with apparent ease during big points. A study in adrenalin, or a study in French opera?

Maria obviously went with the second option, and scolded Cornet at the net in lieu of shaking her hand. The best moment (from a purely theatrical standpoint) occurred next: Cornet shrugged it off and continued to play to the crowd, while wildly celebrating her victory. Only Alize Cornet could pull off this type of performance. And only in the WTA.

Maria is not amused, and has consulted an attorney about filing suit against the tournament, the ITF and/or the WTA, for what she believes was a blatant disregard of the rules. Victoria Chiesa provides a thorough narrative of everything that occurred:

A lot more happened! Venus Williams has reached the third round of the French Open for the first time in six years. She'll face Cornet in her next match.

Australian Open champion (and Stuttgart champion) Angie Kerber went out in the first round, as did her countrywoman Laura Siegemund, whose 2016 clay court experience has been revelatory. Kerber lost to Fed Cup beast (and Nurnberg champion) Kiki Bertens, and Siegemund went out to Genie Bouchard.

Sam Stosur beat Lucie Safarova (the 2015 runner-up), against whom she has a significant losing record. An injured Vika Azarenka retired, and world number 1 and defending champion Serena Williams easily played into the third round, in which she'll face crowd favorite (and crowd-stoker) Kiki Mladenovic. Also cruising is Garbine Muguruza, who will play 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the round of 16. This could be an outstanding match, that is, if Kuznetsova mentally shows up for it.

Simona Halep has already reached the round of 16, having defeated Nao Hibino, Zarina Diyas and Naomi Osaka. Next for Halep is 2010 runner-up Stosur.

Also of note: Defending champions Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova were upset in the first round of doubles by Kiki Bertens (there she is again) and Johanna Larsson.

The Bulgarian Woman Of Mystery, Tsvetana Pironkova--known for messing with the Wimbledon draw--is now creating havoc in Paris. Pironkova began her campaign by upsetting 16th seed (and 2012 runner-up) clay court veteran Sara Errani, and followed that with a win over Johanna Larsson. Today, in the third round, she effortlessly destroyed 19th seed and Charleston champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1.

Pironkova is in a class all her own, and is a kind of a cult treasure in the WTA. Her career runs a bizarre and crooked line, and--in all the years I've followed her--I don't think I've ever seen either her facial expression or body language change on the court. With her slice forehand, ambling walk, and sometimes devastating serve, the BWOM is part of what makes the tour so wonderful.

And then there was Petra.

We've all come to expect the unusual--and sometimes the worst--from the two-time Wimbledon champion, but she may have outdone herself today. Daniel Island native Shelby Rogers defeated Petra Kvitova 6-0, 6-7, 6-0 in the third round. Even while watching it, I couldn't quite believe it. Kvitova's first round match against Danka Kovinic was harrowing enough, and led to this, my favorite Tweet of the week (Kvitova's Tweets are outstanding any time of the year), and probably of the tournament:

Rogers is on quite a tear. Ranked 108 in the world, she first took out 17th seed Karolina Pliskova (because someone had to), then eliminated Charleston runner-up Elena Vesnina. That would have been impressive enough, but now she has beaten Kvitova. Rogers' next opponent will be Begu.

Finally, there was this absolutely glorious moment, which, I hope, will be shown over and over for many years to come. The Ninja looks in the mirror and sees--The Ninja.


Todd.Spiker said...

Maria really is taking "sore loser" to new heights (or depths, depending on how you look at it), isn't she?

I mean, I understand she's upset... but, really, know when to say when.

Diane said...

I think Alize's high drama tendency must be contagious! It's as if Maria has to keep competing with her, even after the match. I also think that those around her may have nudged her in this direction.

This could have a good outcome, though, in that an in-depth look will (maybe) be taken at everything that transpired. Perhaps that could lead to a greater understanding of the rules. I do think, though, that if it had been a more "neutral" player (and someone not French), that Maria would probably have been upset, but would have let it go. Cornet milked it for all it was worth, and I suspect her theatrics ultimately pushed a big button in Maria.

Personally, I find Cornet entertaining maybe in a "guilty pleasure" way. I mean, it's not like she's Liezel Huber....

Todd.Spiker said...

"It's as if Maria has to keep competing with her, even after the match."

...ha! Great take on it!

Here's a wild thought: If Maria hadn't won her 1st Round match vs. JJ, it could have been HER in that match vs. Cornet. Time to pause the universe while we contemplate just how that would have all played out. :)

Diane said...


Hmm--I wonder whether Cornet's antics would have been that extreme in front of the High Empress herself. There would have been a lot more talking! Maybe a hail storm thrown in, for good measure :D