Monday, April 9, 2018

Some final thoughts on Charleston

2018 champion Kiki Bertens (photo by Daniel Ward)
When I arrived at the Volvo Car Open on Daniel Island on Monday, April 2, I picked Julia Goerges to win the tournament. I predicted she would defeat Naomi Osaka in straight sets, which she did. I predicted that she would defeat defending champion Daria Kasatkina; she did. I also predicted that Kiki Bertens would defeat Madison Keys; that happened, too. And I predicted that Anastasija Sevastova would be in the final four; she was.

I was on a real roll--until the final. It wasn't shocking that Bertens won, though I thought she would be the runner-up, but there were some factors that were truly surprising: Bertens prevailed, despite carrying a hip injury, and despite having played, on the same day, a tense and grueling three-set semifinal. And most surprising of all--Goerges, who had been brilliant most of the week, came out flat for the final and was never able to do much of anything.

Julia Goerges (photo by Daniel Ward)

So for me, the results were quite predictable--until they weren't. And that's one of the reasons we watch tennis--anything can happen.

Bertens' win in Charleston created a genuine feel-good moment. This is the biggest victory of her career, and she achieved it under very difficult circumstances. She indicated, after the final, that once she got through her difficult semifinal, she used her desire to win to give her the energy she needed to go on. That match point she saved against Keys probably also gave her some energy.

Goerges, for her part, handled her loss with wisdom and perspective. She was mentally drained after her semifinal, and just couldn't do what she intended to do. In her press conference, she was able to place her runner-up status within the context of her recent success, rather than seeing it as a failure.

Much has been made of Naomi Osaka's tears, and her comments about waking up feeling depressed the day before her loss to Goerges. But this turn of events really isn't an unexpected thing. Osaka is not only young, but also sometimes seems even a bit younger than she actually is. Suddenly, she's famous in the tennis world, and she doesn't yet have the skills to deal with all the changes that take place when that happens. I assume there will be people who can help Osaka manage this change in her career.

Two players made their post-injury returns to the tour at the Volvo Car Open. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, beloved in Charleston, went out in the first round in singles and made it to the second round in doubles. Her fans were very happy to see her.

Also returning to the tour after almost a year off was Laura Siegemund (who would have been my choice to win the tournament under different circumstances). The German--the most entertaining clay court player around--made it to the second round, but lost to Naomi Osaka. Last year, Siegemund made it to the semifinals and lost to eventual champion Daria Kasatkina. She then went to Stuttgart and won the championship.

A day didn't go by when one of us didn't mournfully say "I miss JJ." Jelena Jankovic, Charleston's post-Patty Schnyder era rock star, was conspicuous by her absence. Her comedy partner, the also-very popular Andrea Petkovic, arrived as a wild card, but went out in the first round. Jankovic won the tournament in 2007, and Petkovic won it in 2014.

Also absent was 2017 runner-up Alona Ostapenko, who I hope will return soon.

Of course, I didn't get to see all of the matches--no one can do that. But of the ones I saw, there were some I especially enjoyed:

2nd round--Julia Goerges def. Kristie Ahn: Ahn took Goerges to the edge in this match, dragging her to three tough sets (2-6, 6-4, 7-6) and giving the 5th seed quite a scare.

3rd round--Alize Cornet def. Caroline Garcia: Cornet is a very gifted player who is as inconsistent as they come. But when she's switched on, she's a joy to watch. She used both guile and stunning athleticism to take out the top seed in straight sets; Garcia didn't have a chance.

Alize Cornet (photo by Daniel Ward)
quarterfinals--Madison Keys def. Bernarda Pera: Pera made a splash at the Australian Open when she upset Johanna Konta, and she made another splash last week when she made it to the third round, when she took out 2014 finalist Jana Cepelova and Sara Errani, then took Madison Keys through three tough sets. Pera's serve gave her a lot of trouble; had it been in better shape, the match (6-2, 6-7, 7-5) might have ended differently.

semifinals--Kiki Bertens def. Madison keys: This was a total thriller, with no one having any idea who would win until the last moment. Bertens held two match points in the second set; Keys held one in the third set, and then Bertens won the match 6-4, 6-7, 7-6.


sunnynine said...

nice summary. i got to enjoy many of the matches this year on wtatv. goerges looked almost flawless in the SF. all parts of her game, the power and the touch, were spot on(especially the 2nd day). i did wonder if it took something out of her mentally. at times her play looked too controlled. i also wondered if the joy of the 2:43 hr SF would invigorate bertens. much to my amazement this is what happened. i enjoyed the tournament, taking time to watch players that i normally don't see that often. sevastova put up a great fight but seemed a little resigned due to goerges' play in the 2nd set. keys, at times, committed to her shots but then pulled back.

a note on jankovic. stephanie myles at said j.j. would be having a presser before rome (which she won in '07 and '08). such a thing sounds like a possible retirement announcement. not a new thought but it will be difficult if it is made official.

Diane said...

I think your observations are right on target, Sunny. And yes, I did read that JJ is making an announcement, and one assumes it's about her retirement (though, with JJ, it could be anything!). I figured she would retire this year. End of an era.

Fred84 said...

You mentioning Patty Schnyder reminded me of that infamous match she played against Conchita Martinez in Charleston. That spat at the net was one for the ages!

Diane said...

Really. And I can’t say I blamed Patty, either. Conchita was being ridiculous!