Sunday, September 12, 2021

My U.S. Open Top 10

Here are my top 10 U.S. Open happenings, in ascending order:

10. Always striving to be worse: I’m no fan of Tennis Channel—not by a long shot—but ESPN is something else again. This time, we were treated to commentators shaming Emma Raducanu because of the incident at Wimbledon. One (I forget who) said that she “admitted” to it, and Chris Fowler said that she “owned up” to it. This is also ironic in light of the supposed “mental health” meme that’s being circulated. Then there was Cliff Drysdale, who talked about the current players from--wait for it-- Czechoslovakia. But none could top Kat Adams, who explained to us that when Iga Swiatek won the French Open, “people didn’t even know how to pronounce her name.” She said this as she was calling her “ShwEYEtek.”

9. It’s not just nature that abhors a vaccum: Serena and Venus weren’t there. Sofia Kenin wasn’t there. Jen Brady had to withdraw. No worries—it was still the most exciting U.S. Open that anyone could have imagined, what with the teens, and some big-time thrillers that were played throughout the event.

8. “__________” is in the eye of the beholder: The aftermath of the match featuring French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova and former U.S. Open champion Garbine Muguruza had a kind of Rashomon quality to it, in that the people who saw it came away with such significantly different accounts of what happened. This isn’t unusual, of course, but the disparity seemed more pronounced to me this time.

One camp insisted that Krejcikova faked the MTO and therefore Muguruza was angry. Another camp said, no, the MTO was legitimate, but Krejcikova created long delays (getting towels) before Muguruza’s serves, and that made Muguruza angry. A third group claimed that it was both a fake MTO and the towel delays that upset the Spaniard. And yet another group claimed that Muguruza played badly and needed to blame someone other than herself.

Well, Muguruza did play poorly—until she didn’t. And adrenaline is a powerful painkiller; it seemed plausible to me that Krejcikova knew that she had to get the job done in straight sets or retire, so she went for it. As for the towel delay issue—it was made worse by the fact that ballkids cannot fetch towels for players during the pandemic. Was it legitimately annoying? I say yes. But none of us will ever know exactly what either player was feeling. All in all, it was an unfortunate affair.

7. And this was just the second round
: When 4th seed Karolina Pliskova played Amanda Anisimova, it looked like a final. The quality of play was so high from both of them, and it was nice to see Anisimova back in form. Pliskova—who hit 24 aces—prevailed, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6.

6. The match that had everything: 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu and Maria Sakkari put on a show of Schiavone-Kuznetsova proportions in the round of 16. Sakkari’s serving was spectacular, and Andreescu was right back to making shots that appeared impossible to make, but that she can somehow summon from her vast repertoire of impossible shots. They were at each other for three and a half hours. Andreescu fell several times, and the last fall—in the third set—produced an injury. But of course—this is Bianca Andreescu we’re talking about. The Canadian star could still hit some wicked shots after that, but she could no longer push off to serve, and fell to Sakkari, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.

5. Better with a friend
: The team of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, seeded 11th, created a stir when they knocked out the top seeds, Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens, in the quarterfinals. "McCoco" made it all the way to the final (with a little help when their Canadian opponents had to retire in the semifinals), but they couldn't get past good pals and 14th seeds Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai. The pair also won the Australian Open in 2019. This is Stosur’s second U.S. Open doubles title—she and Lisa Raymond won the championship in 2005.

4. One shy of a Grand Slam: U.S. commentators love to talk about U.S. players, yet they forget that accomplished doubles specialists Desirae Krawczyk and Nicole Melichar exist. It’s definitely time to remember Krawczyk: She just won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title (with partner Joe Salisbury), after also winning the French Open and Wimbledon titles. If someone comes that close to achieving the Grand Slam, it’s time to say her name.

3. Pure gold: She did it! Diede De Groot, known by fans as Diede the Great, has achieved the Golden Slam, winning all four majors and a Paralympic gold medal. And in addition to winning the wheelchair singles title, De Groot and her partner, Aniek Van Koot, also won the doubles title. This is De Groot’s fourth U.S. Open singes title, and her fourth U.S. Open doubles title. She is the first wheelchair player to win the Golden Slam. De Groot was discovered and mentored by the great Esther Vergeer, who, today, must be very proud.

2. The force that is Leylah: Some of us have been watching Canadian teen Leylah Fernandez for a while, and expecting great things from her. She didn’t disappoint us during this U.S. Open. In fact, her performances were sometimes jaw-dropping in their scope. Fernandez, who turned 19 during the tournament, was unseeded, yet she upset 3rd seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka, former champion (and extremely in-form) Angie Kerber, 5th seed Elina Svitolina, and 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka.

How did she do it? Fernandez moved extremely well, showed excellent court judgment, and hit her shots with stunning precision. She also kept her cool throughout each match, trusting her sharp problem-solving brain to help her figure out her opponents. She didn’t wind up with the trophy, but this is one case of a runner-up deserving every word of praise that can be thrust upon her.

1. No teen angst here!: Emma Raducanu had her tour debut just recently, in Nottingham, where she was given a wild card, but failed to get past the first round. She got our attention soon after, though, at Wimbledon, where she reached the round of 16. Unfortunately, she had to retire because of what appeared to be a panic attack. But the 18-year-old Brit swatted that issue away, just like she swatted away her opponents in Flushing Meadows.

Raducanu had to go through qualifying, so she played three more matches than her opponent in the final, Leylah Fernandez. In an odd twist, though, Fernandez wound up spending more time on court because so many of her matches went to three sets. Not Raducanu---she didn’t drop a set the entire tournament. The first qualifier to win a major, Raducanu was ranked number 150 in the world when she entered the qualifying tournament.

The young Brit got my attention when she allowed Sara Sorribes Tormo one game in their third round match. It was hard for me to imagine anyone having that much dominance over the intrepid Spaniard, but Raducanu did. In fact, she easily dominated every opponent she played, though—before reaching the quarterfinals, in which she played 11th seed Belinda Bencic—Raducanu had never played a top 40 player.

The new champion didn’t have as tough a draw as Fernandez had, to be sure (with the exception of Sorribes Tormo, who—though not an elite player—can be a nightmare to play), but at the business end of the  tournament, she did have to face the likes of Olympic gold medal winner Bencic and an on-fire Maria Sakkari. She beat them 6-3, 6-4 and 6-1, 6-4, respectively.

Raducanu was the first qualifier to reach the final in the Open Era. In that final, she faced the toughest opponent she could have faced—the unseeded teenager, Fernandez (this was the first major final to feature two unseeded players). Though it was against all odds that it could happen, it nevertheless—in another way—felt like it was meant to be.

Was Fernandez a bit tired after her three-set ordeals? Probably. But she played extremely well. But Raducanu, who is as quick on the court as Fernandez, just continued to play her aggressive game, serving well, taking second serves from inside the baseline, and hitting laser-like forehands and backhands down the line. It was a champion’s display of tennis, and Emma Raducanu is a champion who made history over and over at the 2021 U.S. Open.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

If she can make it there, she'll make it anywhere: Emma Raducanu is the 2021 U.S. Open champion!

She's 18 years old.

She made her tour debut this year, when she was given a wild card into Nottingham, where she lost in the first round.


Hardly anyone had heard of her until she reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon, then had to retire because of breathing difficulties. 

She had never won a tour-level tournament.

She was ranked number 150 in the world. 


She had to play three qualifying rounds to get into the U.S. Open main draw.

She didn't drop a set throughout the tournament.

She was the first person to ever reach a major final as a qualifier.

And today, the unseeded Emma Raducano of Great Britain became the 2021 U.S. Open champion. 

As if that weren't all amazing enough, there's the equally amazing fact that her opponent was also unseeded. Having two unseeded players in a major final is a first in professional tennis.

Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who turned 19 a few days ago, did a lot of heavy lifting at this year's event, taking out 3rd seed and defending  champion Naomi Osaka, former champion (and very much in form) Angie Kerber, 5th seed Elina Svitolina, and 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka. Several of her matches went to three sets, and she wound up spending more time on court than Raducanu, despite Raducanu's having played three extra matches.

Fernandez may have been a little tired. She was out-served by Raducanu in the final, plus she had to deal with an opponent who takes the ball more rapidly than most.


The first couple of games were long and complicated, leaving us with the impression that the match could drag out for a long time. Fernandez was broken on Raducanu's seventh break point, putting Raducanu up 2-0. After the first few games, the players eased into a rhythm, and--after being broken--Fernandez, serving to stay in the set--saved three break points before falling 4-6 to her opponent.

Raducanu began the second set by serving an ace. Fernandez broke for 2-1, but was broken right back, and then Raducanu brought the set to 5-2. Fernandez, who had fought like mad throughout the tournament, again produced her best fight-back tennis, saving two championship points and breaking Raducanu. Fernandez then held, and had a break point on Raducanu's serve when Raducanu slid across the court and scraped her knee. Her leg was bleeding, so there was a mandatory medical timeout.

Raducanu returned to the court and saved the break point, and then she saved another one. On her third championship point, Raducanu hit an ace out wide to win the title, 6-4, 6-3. Afterwards, she told ESPN that she'd been trying to hit that particular ace throughout the match and had failed to do so, then thought, "If ever there’s a time to make it, this is the one."

The match may not have gone to three sets, but the quality was very high. Both players were, hands down, the two most impressive players at this year's U.S. Open
: Leylah's fighting spirit and problem-solving skills were nothing short of amazing, and Emma's anticipation and ability to read the court and make fast adjustments were sometimes mind-boggling. Both move very well and are good shot-makers.




I often say that I hate it for either player to lose, and this time, I think I had a lot of company. Both Emma and Leylah (whom serious fans have been keeping an eye on for a while) gave us the greatest show we could have asked for, and that show went on for two weeks. The circumstances surrounding this final may never appear again; two teenage girls made tennis history today, and their contribution to the sport was stunning.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Leylah the Giant-Killer vs. No-Nonsense Emma in the Battle of the Teenage Upstarts

One Day Only!

Young Blood Will Be (Metaphorically) Spilled!

Not For the Weak of Heart!

(smelling salts available, bring your own fan)

So it began with a wry smile and a shrug (or an eye roll) and "Watch it be the two teens!" which turned into "Hey, you know, it could be the two teens." That turned into "I think it might be the two teens." And now, ladies and gentlemen, we have--the two teens. 

Their backstories are different, but equally appealing. Leylah Fernandez took out two former U.S. Open champions (Osaka and Kerber), and three of the top five seeds (Osaka, Sabalenka, Svitolina), on her way to the final. Emma Raducanu played nine matches--she had to go through qualifying--to get to the final, and she has yet to drop a set. And though one would think that the young Brit (she's eighteen, and Fernandez just turned nineteen four days ago) would have spent much more time on court than her Canadian opponent, there wasn't much difference because Fernandez had to play several three-set matches.

There's an argument to be made that Fernandez, because she had a more difficult draw, is more match-tough than Raducanu--she had to handle the likes of Naomi Osaka, Angie Kerber,  Elina Svitolina, and Aryna Sabalenka. If you turn that idea on its head, there's the argument that Fernandez could suffer both mental and physical fatigue because of her difficult draw.

There's also the fact that--while she certainly didn't have to get past the queue of tough customers that her opponent had to handle--Raducanu's draw wasn't a walk in the park. Though several days have past, I still can't get over the fact the Raducanu allowed Sara Sorribes Tormo one game in their match. The Spaniard isn't an elite player, but she's one of the toughest players on the tour, and she'll happily drag you to three grueling sets, many of which she wins--yet the British upstart made very short work of her. 

Raducanu also had to face 2021 Olympic gold medal winner and 11th seed Belinda Bencic, whom some had talked about as a possible winner of this year's Open. And then, in the semifinals, she had to face off against Maria Sakkari. No problem.

One thing in particular, however, is missing from Raducanu's draw: She didn't have to play against one left-hander, but she will have to do so in the final. One assumes that, as I write this, she's hitting with at least one left-handed person.

Raducanu is the only qualifier, man or woman, to ever reach the final of a major. She has smiled through the routine swatting away of all of her opponents, including the formidable Sakkari, whose newly improved (and deadly) serve failed her when she needed it most. 

For her part, Fernandez was given a series of problems, all of which she solved. The toughest of those problems, in my opinion, was fellow lefty Angie Kerber, whom I (though I may have stood alone) thought had a good shot at winning the tournament. By the time Fernandez got to Sabalenka--even though she had to play three sets--her court life became a bit easier as she got into the 2nd seed's head and watched her slowly implode. 

It's highly doubtful that the young Canadian star will be permitted to get anywhere near Raducanu's head, and it's equally doubtful that Raducanu will be able to swat Fernandez away. What we have is the perfect combination of two brilliant young players who now have to deal with each other. Will one of them be frozen by the occasion? Don't count on it. These are tough young women who have undoubtedly learned a lot about themselves in the past few weeks, and I suspect that they liked what they learned. 

And as if this match weren't historic enough, it's also the first time that two unseeded women have competed in a major final.

This is the final of the year--brace yourselves.

Paths to the final:

EMMA RADUCANU (Q)
round 1–def. Stefanie Voegle
round 2–def. Zhang  Shuai
round 3–def. Sara Sorribes Tormo
round of 16–def. Shelby Rogers
quarterfinals—def. Belinda Bencic (11)
semifinals—def. Maria Sakkari (17)

LEYLAH FERNANDEZ

round 1–def. Ana Konjuh
round 2–def. Kaia Kanepi
round 3–def. Naomi Osaka (3)
round of 16–def. Angie Kerber (16)
quarterfinals—def. Elina Svitolina (5)
semifinals—def. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Two seeds, two upstarts--who will be the last two standing at the U.S. Open?

So far, Leylah Fernandez and Emma Raducanu have defied all the conventional wisdom about inexperience, nerves and very big stages. The pair of 18-year-olds (Fernandez is now 19) have blazed through the U.S. Open draw like it was something they do every day between visits to the coffee shop (where I am now, so that I can have Wi-Fi). Raducanu has done it without dropping a set, and Fernandez has done it while taking out two top 5 players, plus former champion and currently very in-form Angie Kerber. 

For her part, Radacanu, who had an easier draw, did prevail over 11th seed Belinda Bencic. She also played three more matches than Fernandez, since she had to qualify to get into the main draw. She is the first qualifier in history to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open.

In the meantime, 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka didn't have much trouble defeating the undoubtedly tired (mentally and physically) French Open champion, Barbora Krejcikova. And Maria Sakkari, who played that wild, intense, extremely long thriller that ended with yet another Andreescu injury, defeated 4th seed Karolina Pliskova, a favorite to the win the tournament. The Greek star has improved a lot about her game, and one of those tweaks is her serve, which made it a lot easier for her to go head to head with Pliskova. In fact, Sakkari's first and second serve win percentages were 92 and 74, which are numbers we just don't see, as a rule.

If Sakkari continues to serve at this level, it could spell trouble for her next opponent, Emma Raducanu. It would, in fact, spell trouble for just about anyone. Fernandez will face Sabalenka, whose power and doubles skills have taken her this far.

In the meantime, Diede De Groot is trying to achieve the Golden Slam, and her chances are very, very good.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

And what a round of 16 it was!

So it turms out that I’m no longer on the hospital grid, so I can’t go home. I also can’t use my MacBook Pro because my duck head adapter disappeared into a black hole. Apple wouldn’t sell me one online, so I had to order the whole unit, which was to be shipped overnight. But because of the storms, it couldn’t be. To make matters worse, it was shipped via UPS, which doesn’t deliver on Sundays and holidays.

So here I am with just an iPad and no ability to embed Tweets. Oh, and I’m also exhausted from having no power, not being able to live in my house, and all the usual hurricane stuff—limited food, canceled appointments, refrigerator disasters, unreliable cellular service and Wifi, downed trees, and on and on.

So I will be brief in discussing the U.S. Open round of 16 (some of which I’ve already done on Twitter):

Elina Svitolina (5) def. Simona Halep (12) 6-3, 6-3: Halep isn’t “back” yet, and Svitolina played an exceptional match.

Leylah Fernandez def. Angie Kerber (16) 4-6, 7-6, 6-2: This was an exceptional match for both players, but—toward the end—Fernandez wore down the mighty Kerber. I didn’t expect this to happen. Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal run spoke volumes about her status on the tour, but she didn’t have quite enough to hold off the (then) 18-year-old.

Aryna Sabalenka (2) def. Elise Mertens (15) 6-4, 6-1: I expected this to be a bit closer, but I wasn’t surprised by the result. Sabalenka is on a mission, and her former doubles partner—who is now a factor in singles—was destined to become a victim in the 2nd seed’s quest to win a major.

Barbora Krejcikova (8) def. Garbine Muguruza (9) 6-3, 7-6: I said quite a bit about this match on Twitter, so I don’t want to rehash too much of that. Muguruza, who I recently said was “back,” wasn’t back for this match. It was easy for Krejcikova to overcome a sluggish Muguruza in the first set, and when the French Open champion went up 3-0 in the second set, the whole thing appeared to be almost over. 

But two things happened: The sleeping Spanish giant awoke and suddenly began to look like—well, like Garbine Muguruza, using her efficient yet fluid style to catch up on the scoreboard. And Krejcikova appeared physically impaired. She was holding her diaphragm, and was quite obviously in respiratory distress. Things really went downhill after that. Krejcikova called for a trainer, and was taken off the court by the trainer and a doctor. 

When the Czech player returned, she didn’t look restored. She breathed heavily and staggered around the court. She also hit a series of deadly winners into the corners. I saw it for what I’ m pretty sure it was: She had to win the match in straight sets because attempting to play a third set would have meant certain retirement. I didn’t see the MTO as fake, as some did. I saw it as Krejcikova’s gathering  just enough relief to launch her incredible will to win the match.

But then there was the towel issue. Because of Covid, ballgirls and -boys aren’t there to hand towels to players; players have to fetch the towels themselves. And Krejcikova went for a towel after every point. This, quite understandably, annoyed the hell out of Muguruza. It annoyed me, too, and it made an already strange and unsatisfying match even more unsatisfying.

And while it appeared to go right by commentators and those I observed on Twitter, it was Muguruza who made the final, “Muguest” statement: She delayed going to the net for the handshake so that she could grab a towel. It was the only time I smiled.

Belinda Bencic (11) def. Iga Swiatek(7) 7-6, 6-3: Swiatek just hasn’t been the same since she won the French Open. And while this is a common phenomenon for young players who win majors, I thought that Swiatek would escape it. She rises to the occasion at times during a match, but she is no longer consistent, nor is she fluid. Bencic, for her part, appears bent on fulfilling all that long talked about potential.

Emma Raducanu (Q) def. Shelby Rogers 6-2, 6-1: Raducano, not unexpectedly, began the match in a state we would expect from a very young player who suddenly finds herself on a grand stage at a major. She was nervous, she was tight. But that didn’t last long. The young Brit who allowed Sara Sorribes Tormo only one game adjusted to the occasion, and then it was Rogers who looked out of sorts for the remainder of the match. 

Karolina Pliskova (4) def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (14) 7-5, 6-4: Pavlyuchenkova has been on a roll lately (and high time), but she couldn’t quite get past an especially sharp Pliskova. Both women served well, though Pliskova’s second serve stats were better. Surprisingly, the Czech star really shone at the net, and she was able to break her opponent four times.

Maria Sakkari (17) def. Bianca Andreescu (6) 6-7, 7-6, 6-3: If you thought that there couldn’t possibly be more drama at the U.S. Open, then you didn’t think it through. These two put on quite a show in Miami, but that was nothing compared with last night’s three and a half-hour extravaganza of blistering groundstrokes, Radwanska-like magic, jaw-dropping shot-making, and the strength of two very strong wills. It was pretty colorful off the court, too, with gaudy costuming, dancing that I can’t unsee, and at least one drunken version of “O Canada.” 

Andreescu took the first set in a dramatic (of course!) tiebreak, and she was within two points of winning the match in the second set. Sakkari won that tiebreak, though, and then—after the fifth game of the third set—it happened: All Together Now—Andreescu sustained an injury. She had already fallen on the court several times while making lunges for the ball, but this final fall appeared painful. She called for the trainer, and returned with her thigh wrapped. But she could no longer push off well to serve, and the writing was on the wall. She did continue to come up with some great shots, but with limited movement and an impaired serve, there was nothing she could do to stop Sakkari.

The Andreescu injury cycle needs to be seriously addressed because—whatever her team is currently doing obviously isn’t working. The 2019 champion is an outstanding and unique talent, and last night, she proved why some of us can’t get enough of her. She also proved why we have to hold our breath and hope that nothing bad happens every times she walks onto the court.

As for Sakkari—she has nowhere to go but up.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Emma Raducanu (Q) vs. Belinda Bencic (11)

Karolina Pliskova (4) vs. Maria Sakkari (17)

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Leylah Fernandez

Barbora Krejcikova (8) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Notes from Women Who Serve post-hurricane headquarters

As a rule, I would be blogging regularly during the U.S. Open. As a rule, I wouldn’t be forced out of my house by a hurricane, and I wouldn’t have lost my MacBook Pro adapter. And as a rule, the overnight shipment of a new one wouldn’t have been interrupted by the aftermath of the storm. Who knows when I’ll get it? In the meantime, the women’s draw has also been  a storm of sorts, blowing across Flushing Meadows with high tension and surprises, and knocking down predictions and expectations.

The second round match between 4th seed Karolina Pliskova and Amanda Anisimova was startling in its quality and suspense. It clearly marked the return to form of Anisimova, and served as a reminder that the Tall Cool One (who hit 24 aces) has a lot of game, especially on a hard court. But we’d hardly recovered from that when we were given a thrilling contest between 16th seed (and 2016 champion) Angie Kerber and 2017 champion Sloane Stephens. Kerber, who came back from the missing to contest the semifinals at Wimbledon, prevailed in that third round match, which many observers (not this one) thought was a sure thing for Stephens.

But there was more! Not at all surprisingly, Elena Rybakina took Simona Halep to the edge before losing in an exciting three-setter, Garbine Muguruza overcame Vike Azarenka, and 18-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez upset defending champion and 3rd seed Naomi Osaka, also in the third round. In the on-court interview, Fernandez made it clear that the point at which she believed that she could beat Osaka was before the match even started.

With the defending champion out, all eyes were on world number 1, Wimbledon champion Ash Barty. Barty’s third round opponent was a big stage player, Shelby Rogers, who rather easily took the first set off of Barty, 6-2. The world number 1 looked out of sorts, and quite uncharacteristically made a number of unforced errors. But by the second set, Barty pulled herself together, cleaned up the errors, and won the set 6-1. 

Seasoned fans know that the third set of this type of match is likely to be a carnival of thrills, and even more likely to end in a tiebreak, and this one fit the description. Both players raised their levels, with Rogers matching Barty slice for slice, and also delivering some stunning lobs. The last few games were “edge of your seat” in intensity, as the momentum swung back and forth. In the end, it was Rogers who walked away with the 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 victory.

Finally, there was the matter of 18-year-old qualifier Emma Raducanu, the Brit who—playing in her first major—advanced to the round of 16 at Wimbledon this year. Raducanu had to retire from that match because of dizziness and respiratory problems. Amd now, here she is, in the second major she’s ever contested, six matches strong and into the round of 16 once again. That’s quite a story, but it isn’t the whole story: In the third round, Raducanu upset the formidible Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 6-1. I saw it and I still don’t quite believe it.

I can’t recall the first week of a major that was this exciting, and I didn’t even get to watch the first couple of days of play because I had no power and no Internet, thanks to Hurricane Ida.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Shelby Rogers vs. Emma Raducanu 

Belinda Bencic (11) vs. Iga Swiatek (7)

Karolina Pliskova (4) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 14)

Maria Sakkari 17) bs. Bianca Andreescu (6)

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Simona Halep (12)

Angie Kerber (16) vs. Leylah Fernandez

Barbora Krejcikova (8)  s. Garbine Muguruza (9)

Elise Mertens (15) bs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Hurricanes and the U.S. Open

In 2005, we (I was married at the time) evacuated from the Northshore (my community is north of Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans) because of Hurricane Katrina. We went with our two cats to a historic hotel in central Louisiana. We had a really bad television, but I was able to watch the U.S. Open. Between that and blogging for my social/political issues blog and blogging for Mother Jones (whose staff interviewed me about hurricane evacuation), I kept busy. (I wrote song parodies about the horror of how the government was dealing--or not dealing--with Katrina, and a man in New England sang them in a coffeehouse.)

It was a scary time. The things that were going on in New Orleans were sickening (I won't go into them here), and they still make me feel sick, sixteeen years later. I typed so much that I developed an RSI. Somewhere on the Internet, I found a message from relatives in the U.K., asking if anyone knew our whereabouts. I was surprised to see my name on a list of "missing Louisiana poets."

Velma learns about Katrina
 

That was the year that the "Can Andy find his Mojo?" promotion was used. It was kind of funny--until he lost in the first round. Later, after Maria Sharapova had a really good win, an interviewer asked her how she did it, and she said "I found Andy's mojo."

It was a while before we could go home, and when we got there, our front gutters were crushed,  there was a tree on our roof,  and a giant oak had fallen, leaving what looked like a moon crater in the back yard. In other words, we were lucky.

I really wanted to watch the U.S. Open final, but of course, we had no power. There was a chain restaurant near my house with both power and televisions, and the manager kindly offered to let me watch the Open from there. But he was unable to get the channel on which the event was showing, so I had to go home and look at the scores on my phone app. 

Tarzan gets into Birmingham hotel life
 

In 2012, we evacuated during Hurricane Isaac. This time, we took four cats with us to Birmingham, Alabama, and stayed in a hotel with considerably more space than we had in 2005. We also had a better hotel, and again, I watched the U.S. Open (on a much better television). That turned out to be a false alarm for us; we returned to an intact house and yard. But the trip back took such a long time (you can imagine) that again, I missed the U.S. Open final.

And here we go again. Tomorrow evening, the power will go out. How long it stays out depends on how many trees go down, and there are a lot of trees in my community. Fortunately, we have a hard-working, very efficient power company. Also, through some fluke, my house is on the hospital grid, so I get my power back before my neighbors do. But I'll miss the early part of the U.S. Open, an event that I've come to associate with hurricanes.

Friday, August 27, 2021

From Giorgi to Barty, the U.S. Open warmup season produces more questions than answers

Camila Giorgi's win in Montreal may wind up being--for me--one of major tennis stories of the year. For a decade and a half, fans and commentators--and I'm sure many others--watched the Italian player in frustration because she refused to use any but the "hit the ball hard' gear. I imagine that most of us had given up on her, but then, out of nowhere, Giorgi decided that adding some strategy--changing pace, using spin, paying attention to the court--would be a good idea. 

It was. She won the Montreal tournament, a WTA 1000 event, defeating Karolina Pliskova in the final, and knocking off the likes of Elise Mertens, Petra Kvitova, Coco Gauff, an Jessica Pegula along the way.

 

The next week, world number 1 Ash Barty won the prestigious Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. So far, Barty has won majors on clay and grass, but not on hard courts. She has won hard court tournaments, though, including Miami in 2019, so she definitely goes into the 2021 U.S. Open as a favorite. 

I think that Barty has a strong chance to take home the title in New York. It goes without saying that one of the players most likely to turn that script upside down is two-time champion Naomi Osaka, who loves hard courts. Some are saying that Karolina Pliskova could win the title. The Tall Cool One was the runner-up in 2016, and she's more or less always a contender, but it has to get tougher for her each year, not winning a major. Assuming that it does, how will she deal with her mindset?

World number 2 Aryna Sabalenka is also mentioned a lot as a contender, and she certainly is, though have to wonder if she's really ready to claim that big a prize. Then there's Elina Svitolina, who--like Piskova--has yet to win a major, but this could be her time. 

Simona Halep is back--maybe. Halep has never won the U.S. Open, so here's hoping she's healthy enough to compete at the highest level. Iga Swiatek, Jennifery Brady, Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic, and Barbora Krejcikova can all be tossed in, as well---any of them could win it. Throw in Danielle Collins and Maria Sakkari if you like. (I wish that I could say that about 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu, but right now, I can't.)

And then there's Angie Kerber. Kerber is back. Her appearance in the Wimbledon semifinals was a huge announcement. She's won the U.S. Open before, and she looks ready to do it again. The German star is in the third quarter of the draw, which also contains Svitolina, Elena Rybakina, Halep, and Osaka. 

First rounds of interest:

Karolina Muchova (22) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo
Victorija Golubic vs. Bianca Andreescu (6)
Tsvetana Pironkova vs. Daria Kasatkina (25)
Camila Giorgi vs. Simona Halep (12)
Madison Keys vs. Sloane Stephens
Donna Vekic vs. Garbine Muguruza (9)
Alize Cornet vs. Ons Jabeur (20)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Rain, injuries, a huge pay gap--and some great tennis

Photo by Diane Elayne Dees
 
It feels a bit strange not to be in Cincinnati this year, but then, "a bit strange" has become the norm in the last year and a half. Humidity and rain define much of the Cincinnati summer (very much like where I live), and there has been plenty of rain at this tournament, causing several delays in play.

There have also been several injuries and retirements.Simona Halep, back after a long injury (calf tear) layoff that caused her to miss Wimbledon, where she was the defending champion, had to withdraw after the first round because of an adductor tear. In doing so, she gave a walkover to Jessica Pegula. And in the round of 16, Karolina Muchova retired in her match against Belinda Bencic because of an abdominal injury.

Sadly, two of the four quarterfinal matches were decided by injury. Petra Kvitova, suffering with an abdominal illness, retired in her match against Angie Kerber. And Paula Badosa, arguably the hottest contender at the event, retired against Karolina Pliskova because of a shoulder injury. 

Then there's the matter of the prize money gap, which--this year--is greater than in the past. For example, a first-round WTA winner gets $12,385, while a first-round ATP winner gets $23,650. In the quarterfinals, the respective prizes are $47,820 and $116,655. The WTA champion gets $255,220, and the ATP champion gets $654,815. (Perhaps it's time to have Sinona Halep explain to us again how there's no sexism in professional tennis.)

Two elite players who are "back" did well--or not that well--depending on your glass half empty/full point of view. 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza, who has made a slow climb back to form, fell in three sets in the round of 16 to the now-dangerous French Open champion, Barbora Krejcikova. And Angie Kerber lost in straight sets to world number 1 Ash Barty in today's semifinals.

The break-out star of the event is wild card Jil Teichmann of Switzerland, a very talented player who has had some injury struggles in recent times. Teichmann took out 2nd seed Naomi Osaka in the round of 16. This was the biggest win of her career, and some wondered whether the emotional toll of that achievement might be too much for her. It wasn't. She went on to defeat Olympic gold medal winner Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals. Then, in the semifinals, she upset 5th seed and 2016 champion Karolina Pliskova.

There have been several outstanding matches. In the opening round, Paula Badosa and Petra Martic (both very interesting to watch!) went after each other in a two and a half-hour event which Badosa won 11-9 in a third set tiebreak (after saving five match points). That was the Spaniard's warmup: She next faced 3rd seed Aryna Sabalenka, favored by many to win the championship, and defeated her, too, also in a third set tiebreak. 

In the round of 16, Angie Kerber defeated Alona Ostapenko in what really could appropriately be called a "battle." The two of them threw everything they had at each other, with Ostapenko breaking Kerber the first time she served for the match. In the end, it was Kerber who prevailed in what was a really thrilling contest.

World number 1 Ash Barty has blazed through this event without dropping a set, not even to Barbora Krejcikova and Angie Kerber, both of whom I thought would give Barty a hard time. Barty also delivered a bagel to Victoria Azarenka, so that gives you an idea of how she's playing.

The final will be played tomorrow. Here are the players' paths to the final:

ASH BARTY (1)
round 1--bye
round 2--def. Heather Watson
round of 16--def. Victoria Azarenka (14)
quarterfinals--def. Barbora Krejcikova (9)
semifinals--def. Angeique Kerber

JIL TEICHMANN (WC)
round 1--def. Sorana Cirstea
round 2--def. Bernarda Pera
round of 16--def. Naomi Osaka (2)
quarterfinals--def. Belinda Bencic (10)
semifinals--def. Karolina Pliskova (5)

In doubles, the breakout stars are 6th-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani. The pair upset 2nd seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in the semifinals, and will face Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai in the final.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

A dozen medals later, Olympic tennis concludes

I've read, on Twitter, that many tennis fans didn't watch much (or any) of the tennis matches at the Olympics. Some fans opted to watch sports that they don't otherwise get to see, or at least, see very often. And some just weren't interested, given the absence of some major players, and the early exit of others. My problem involved time zones--I just couldn't wake up in the middle of the night or the very early morning to watch matches.

I did get to see some live matches, however, and I watched a few replays. There were a few standouts in singles, and two of them had something in common: Elina Svitolina played in them. Her round of 16 match against Maria Sakkari was thrilling and of very high quality, as was her bronze medal match against Elena Rybakina (who continues to impress). The other memorable match was the final (which is always a nice thing), in which Belinda Bencic defeated Marketa Vondrousova.

Svitolina, incidentally, is the first tennis player from Ukraine to win an Olympic medal.

As always, some of the subtexts and backstories were as interesting as the tennis. Bencic has long been known as a talent to watch, yet she has never reached the heights to which many thought she would climb. Now, she has Olympic gold and silver. Then there's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose backstory is about the same as Bencic's. When the Russian player reached the final of the French Open, it felt like it was such a long time coming. At that time, Pavlyuchenkva said, "I want to believe that the best is yet to come," and now, she has a gold medal for mixed doubles.

Pavlyuchenkova's countrywoman, Elena Vesnina, took 32 months off for maternity leave. Upon her return, she reached the third round of the French Open in singles, and the final in mixed doubles (with Aslan Karatsev). At Wimbledon, she and Veronika Kudermetova knocked out the defending champions (and top seeds), and finished as the runners-up. 

Quite a comeback. Vesnina and Karatsev made it all the way to the final at the Olympics, too, and held a match point in the process. The Russian came away with a silver medal (she also played for a bronze in doubles), but we will also remember her for acing (and defeating) Novak Djokovic.

Here are the winners:

Singles
gold--Belinda Bencic (Switzerland)
silver--Marketa Vondrousova (Czech Republic)
bronze--Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)

Doubles
gold--Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic)
silver--Belina Bencic/Viktoija Golubic (Switzerland)
bronze--Laura Pigossi/Luisa Stefani (Brazil)

Mixed Doubles
gold--Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Andrey Rublev (Russian Olympic Committee)
silver--Elena Vesnina/Aslan Karatsev (Russian Olympic Committee)
bronze--Ash Barty/John Peers (Australia)

Friday, July 30, 2021

It's hard to say goodbye, and even harder to say it three times

Kiki Bertens (photo by Daniel Ward)


It's always tough for fans when a talented, popular player retires. These are hard times, for not one, but three talented and popular players are leaving the tour. Kiki Bertens, Carla Suarez Navarro and Barbora Strycova have all announced their retirement. Each woman added something special to the WTA, and each will be remembered for her contributions, not only to the game, but to the unique culture that is women's professional tennis.

Kiki Bertens, who was ranked as high as number 4 in singles, was known as a clay court specialist for years, but then she showed the tennis world that she could be just as deadly on a hard court. In 2018, she won both Charleston and Cincinnati, securing her place as a two (at least)-surface threat. 

Several years ago, I had a strong feeling that Bertens could win the French Open. In 2019, I was no longer alone--the Dutchwoman was a top favorite--the favorite for some--to win in Paris. She had won Madrid without dropping a set, and her chances to win a major looked really good.

Sadly, Bertens had to retire in the second round when she became ill, and we'll never know what might have been. Nevertheless, she retires with a wonderful career record. Bertens won ten singles titles, the most notable of them, of course, in Charleston, Cincinnati and Madrid. She also won ten doubles titles, was on the Dutch Olympic team in 2016, and played Fed Cup for The Netherlands for eight years.

Bertens won a lot of points with her heavy topspin forehand, but she employed enough variety in her shot-making to get the better of a variety of opponents. The 29-year-old Bertens was also known for her high level of fitness. A nagging Achilles injury, however, contributed to her decision to retire from professional tennis. She also acknowledged that her pandemic-related time away from the tour allowed her to look at other options for her life.

"...Covid came and everything changed, of course," Bertens said when she announced her retirement. "I gave my body total rest because I felt like I needed it. With the unknown, it was tough to go out there and practice every day. So I thought I would give my body a total rest, and I quite liked it, to be honest."

The 29-year-old Dutch star acknowledged that she might have played for another two or three years if the pandemic hadn't come along and given her that rest. But, she added, there were days when it was hard for her to walk, so she doesn't really know how much longer she could have played. She played her final match at the 2021 Olympics, losing in the opening round to Marketa Vondrousova.

Bertens was both a crowd favorite and a peer favorite--always candid, always trying to improve, always available for a good laugh. She will be missed.

Also playing her final match at the Olympics was Carla Suarez Navarro, whose retirement story was especially poignant because the 32-year-old Spanish player had spent eight months undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation for Hodgkin's lymphoma. Suarez Navarro said that she knew that 2020 would be her last year on the tour, but then she changed her mind because she didn't want people to remember her as someone ill with cancer. "I didn't want to go through the back door...."

Suarez Navarro played at both the French Open and Wimbledon, then competed at the Olympics, where she defeated the talented Ons Jabeur in the first round. She and her friend, Garbine Muguruza, teamed for doubles competition, and made it to the second round.

Known for her beautiful one-handed backhand, Suarez Navarro won two singles titles (including Doha, in 2016, and three doubles titles (all with Muguruza). She played on Spain's Fed Cup team for eleven years, and she was a three-time member of the Spanish Olympic team.

Also announcing her retirement was Barbora Strycova, a very talented doubles player who could also be a tough singles opponent (she reached the 2019 Wimbledon semifinals). Strycova won two singles titles and 31 doubles titles, including the 2020 Wimbledon title (with Hsieh Su-wei). She was the world number 1 doubles player in 2019. Strycova played on the Czech Fed Cup team for twelve years, and she was twice a member of the Czech Olympic team.

The 35-year-old Czech player, who is pregnant with her first child, is a podcaster and a figure skater, and has long had somewhat of a cult following among serious WTA fans. She has been called "The Professor," a fact to which Elina Svitolina can attest:

 

One of my favorite of Strycova's professorial moments occurred when she showed Aga Radwanska how to "Radwanska" at the 2016 French Open:

The Czech star, in announcing her retirement, said that she hopes to play one final WTA event in 2022. We can only hope. One thing for sure--there will never be another like her. Perhaps world number 1 Ash Barty said it best when she described Strycova as a "hell of a chick."

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Credit One Bank new title sponsor in Charleston

Charleston Tennis, LLC, announced yesterday that Credit One Bank is the new title sponsor of the long-running Charleston 500 tournament formerly known as the Volvo Car Open. The event, a player favorite, is the largest women's-only tennis tournament in North America. The tournament will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022 in the newly renovated and modernized Credit One Stadium. The event's new name will be revealed at a later date.

Present at the announcement were: 
Bob Moran, President, Charleston Tennis, LLC
John Coombe, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Credit One Bank
Steve Simon, CEO, WTA
Madison Keys, 2019 Charleston champion

Madison Keys

Credit One first partnered with Charleston Tennis, LLC in June of 2020 for the Credit One Bank Invitational, which was part of Tennis Channel’s Re(Open) Tour and the first large-scale tennis event to be held after the sport shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament featured sixteeen players, received more than 40 hours of live coverage on Tennis Channel, and helped raise funds for the Medical University of South Carolina’s front-line healthcare workers. Following the success of the event, Credit One and Charleston Tennis, LLC began exploring additional partnership opportunities through sponsorship of the Daniel Island stadium and activation around the tennis tournament and throughout the region.

Charleston Tennis, LLC will continue to own and operate the facilities and event programming at the Credit One Stadium and LTP Daniel Island tennis center, including the WTA 500 tennis tournament, concerts, tennis programs, and more. Volvo Cars USA will continue to support the event as the official vehicle. 

Credit One Stadium will expand from 7,500 seats to 11,000 seats and feature sixteen fully air-conditioned permanent suites, all new concessions, additional bathrooms, and a 75,000-square-foot Stage House with a partial roof. The Stage House will transform the stadium experience for tennis players, entertainers, media, and special guests, offering locker rooms, a gym, training facilities, production and media space, catering amenities, and a VIP rooftop restaurant and outdoor bar. The roof of the Stage House will also provide partial shade for attendees at the tennis tournament and act as a support structure for concerts and special events.

Bob Moran

 
“The future of live tennis is a bright spot for us, building and planning for what the future will look like for the new Credit One Stadium. After nearly eighteen months of navigating postponements and cancelations, we look forward to bringing world-class tennis back to Charleston each April and broadening our reach to bigger and better concerts and special events throughout the year,” Moran said when making the announcement.

 

The 2022 tournament will be held April 2-10. Veronika Kudermetova is the defending singles champion, and Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs are the defending doubles champions.

 

Madison Keys, John Coombe, Steve Simon

Sunday, July 11, 2021

My Wimbledon top 10

 Here are my top 10 Wimbledon happenings and phenomena, in ascending order:

10. You can call it tradition, or you can call it ridiculous: 2021 marked the final blank middle Sunday at Wimbledon, and it's about time. At a tournament where it often rains--the first three days of this year's event, it rained so much that there were massive delays--it makes no sense to have no play on the middle Sunday. But that isn't the only problem. Tournament administrators promote Manic Monday as "the greatest day in tennis" (but of course, they also claim to have the greatest tournament), but for fans, it's a nightmare. Then there's the matter of not having the quarterfinals played consecutively, which is even more of a nightmare for fans. Perhaps in another 50 years, those in charge will make changes to the round of 16 and quarterfinal schedules, too--but let's not raise our expectations.

9. The harder they fall: Defending champion Simona Halep tore her calf during the French Open, and--shortly before the Wimbledon draw was made--she announced that she would not be able to play in London. This sad news was followed by the equally sad news that Serena Williams had to retire during her first round match; the seven-time champion slipped on the court and injured her leg. After having to wait two years to play at the event, they were again denied the opportunity. And for fans, the agony continued when two-time champion Petra Kvitova was upset in the first round by Sloane Stephens.

8. Diede De Great adds a third Wimbledon title: Top seed Diede De Groot added a third Wimbledon title to her very impressive resume today, when she defeated Kgothatso Montjane 6-2, 6-2 in the wheelchair singles final. De Groot wasn't in the doubles final, which is very unusual; she and partner Aniek Van Koot were upset in the semifinals. Second seeds Yui Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley won the doubles title, defeating Montjane and Lucy Shuker 6-0, 7-6 in the final.

7. Goal accomplished: Talking to the press the day before the MUSC Women's Health Open final in Charleston, Ons Jabeur said, "I want to show them what Ons can do." She was stopped by Astra Sharma in that final, but then Jabeur went to Paris and made it to the round of 16. She followed that by winning Birmingham (her first WTA title), then reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. And what a run it was: Jabeur took out three major champions, two of them Wimbledon champions--Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Iga Swiatek--on her way.

Jabeur had reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, and--at that time--she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a major. Now she's the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, and we can conclude that she has indeed shown us what Ons can do.

6. May I have another, please?: Desirae Krawczyk and her partner, Joe Salisbury, unseeded, won the French Open mixed doubles title this year. Now Krawczyk, this time playing with Neal Skupski, has also won the Wimbledon title. Krawczyk is ranked number 17 in the world in doubles. She and Alexa Guarachi were the women's doubles runners-up at the 2020 French Open.

5. No title, but certainly a victory: In 2016, Angie Kerber won the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, was a runner-up at Wimbledon, and won a silver medal at the Olympic Games. In 2018, she won Wimbledon again. Since that time, the former number 1 dropped out of the top 20, but she came to life in a big way during the 2021 grass season. Right before Wimbledon began, Kerber won the Bad Homburg event, her first title in three years. Her Wimbledon second round match was arguably the greatest singles match of the tournament, and she made it as far as the semifinals. Kerber (who looked a bit passive in the match) lost to eventual champion Ash Barty, but it was a great run. And more important--Angie's back.

4. You need a shot of vitamin V: Charleston champion Veronika Kudermetova and her partner, veteran Elena Vesnina, had already taken out the top seeds, French Open champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, in the quarterfinals (and saving two match points in the process). In their semifinal match, they had to contend with the on-fire team of Caroline Dolehide and Storm Sanders, and what ensued was as thrilling a match as anyone would want to see. 

Down 2-5 in the third set, the younger half of the Russian team appeared to be deflated beyond repair. Kudermetova's resigned agony was palpable, but experienced champion Vesnina did everything but breathe fire into her (and she may have found a way to do that), bringing her back to life. The Russians saved three match points, and went on to win the match, 7-6, 3-6, 7-5. It was two and a half hours of very high quality tennis and non-stop excitement.

3. The mirror doesn't lie: When we think of the fiery, determined Sara Sorribes Tormo, we tend to think of a clay court, but it turns out that the Spaniard is just as maddening an opponent on grass. Ask Angie Kerber, who had to deal with Sorribes Tormo in the Wimbledon second round. Kerber, with her strong legs and her ability to hit impossible angles, is one of the greatest defensive players on the tour, and perhaps one of the greatest ever. But when the German star looked across the net in the second round, she saw the tireless retriever from Spain, running and hitting and looking every bit as fierce as Kerber. It was exhausting just to watch them. For three hours and 19 minutes, they were at each other, providing continuing thrills for spectators. Kerber won, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.

2. London's finest drama: I don't like the custom of naming doubles teams (though I make an exception for The Spice Girls, because that name was inspired), but if Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina had to have a name, Drama Drama Drama would do as well as any. During their run at Winbledon, drama followed them wherever they went. There was that thrilling match against the top seeds, Krejcikova and Siniakova, and that crazy-exciting match against Dolehide and Storm. So it was no surprise when the final, which they played against Hsieh Sui-wei and Elise Mertens, was also filled with high drama. It was a tense and thrilling affair, beautifully played by all, and as good a final as one could hope to see. Hsieh and Mertens emerged the winners, 3-6, 7-5, 9-7, and Mertens has now returned to her number 1 ranking.

1. Four decades was long enough: In 1971, Evonne Goolagong lifted her first of two Venus Rosewater dishes. She won the title again in 1980. That no other Australian woman came along and won the title until 41 years had passed is rather strange. But now one has. World number 1 Ash Barty, whose childhood dream was to win Wimbledon, saw that dream come true when she defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in the final.

Though their premier championship wins are half a century apart, Barty and Goolagong Cawley are friends, and Barty has named Goolagong Cawley as a mentor. They also share indigenous heritage: Goolagong Cawley's family is Wiradjuri, and Barty's father is of Ngarigo heritage. Throughout the tournament, Barty wore a dress with a scalloped hem, in tribute to the dress that her mentor had worn 50 years before. 

Barty is known for her variety in shot-making, and especially for her slice, but she has now made her serve even better, which makes her a major threat. In the final, she played the woman known for her serve, and her ability to hit aces--Karolina Pliskova. After a weak start, the Czech player came to life in the second set, and, via a tiebreak, forced the match to a third set. Barty prevailed, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, and then went on to show us a great number of emotions as it became to real to her that she was holding the Venus Rosewater Dish. 

A doubles star who leaves tennis behind for two and a half years in order to sort things out and to play professional cricket, then returns to become number 1 in the world in singles--wins the French Open, then takes a year off because of the pandemic, during which time she wins a golf tournament. Then injures her hip at the French Open, but shows up at Wimbledon--and wins the title. 

Oh, that movie is too over-the-top to be made! It was, however, exactly what happened in the professional life of Ash Barty, 2021 Wimbledon singles champion, and world number 1.

 We await the sequel.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Hsieh and Mertens win Wimbledon in yet ANOTHER doubles thriller

There have been some outrageously exciting doubles matches at this year's Wimbledon tournament, and they've all had something in common: Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina played in them. One could say that the Russian pair took the scenic route to the final (and almost to the title), but it was really more like the "edge of the mountain very narrow road with no lights" route. 

Vesnina took a maternity leave from the tour in late 2018, and returned this year. Her results in both singles and doubles have been quite good; she reached the third round of the French Open in singles, and she reached the final in mixed doubles. At Wimbledon, she and countrywoman Veronika Kudermetova were unseeded, but they did a lot of damage.

In the quarterfinals, the pair took out top seeds and French Open champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, after saving three match points. And in the semifinals, they played an edge-of-the-seat thriller against Caroline Dolehide and Storm Sanders, in which they saved four match points. In that match, Kudermetova became despondent and appeared about to implode, but the veteran Vesnina (who has won three women's doubles majors) simply wouldn't let that happen, and eventually coaxed her partner back to life. 

We couldn't have asked for a better final--the talented and exciting Russian pair faced off against third seeds Hsieh Su-wei and Elise Mertens, who--between them--have doubles skills galore. Hsieh's regular partner, Barbora Strycova, announced her retirement and is pregnant, so Hsieh needed a new partner. Mertens, half of the tennis's "odd couple," was suddenly available because the other half of that couple, Aryna Sabalenka, decided to focus on her singles game. 

What with Hsieh's magician's hands and trickster moves (she's kind of the Radwanska of doubles), Vesnina's tricky serving and "been there, done that" approach to rallies, Mertens' accuracy and clutch play, and Kudermetova's fiery forehand and deft volleys, there was non-stop entertainment in this match. The Russians took the first set, 6-3. In the second set, Vesnina and Kudermetova served for the championship, and held two championship points at 40-15, but Hsieh and Mertens saved them both, then went on to win the set, 7-5.

The third set was everything spectators might have hoped for. Hsieh and Mertens served for the championship at 5-3, and were broken. The Russians served for the championship again at 7-6, but they, too, were broken. The tension was high (as was the quality of play). Hsieh and Mertens then took control of the match, winning ten of the final eleven points, taking the set at 9-7, and winning the title. 

This is Hsieh's third Wimbledon doubles title; she and Strycova won the event in 2018, and Hsieh won with Peng Shuai in 2013. Hsieh and Peng also won the French Open in 2014. It's Mertens' first Wimbledon title. She and Sabalenka won the 2021 Australian Open, and they won the U.S. Open in 2019.

By reaching the final, Mertens returned to the world number 1 doubles ranking.

Oi Oi Oi!

Already a French Open champion, world number 1 Ash Barty is now a Wimbledon champion. Her 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 victory over Karolina Pliskova in today's final marked the realization of a lifelong dream for Barty, and brought the Venus Rosewater Dish to an Australian for the first time in 50 years. 

Throughout the tournament, Barty wore a scallop-hemmed dress in tribute to Evonne Goolagong, who wore a similar dress when she won her first Wimbledon title in 1971. Their bond is especially close, in that Goolagong is both a friend and mentor to Barty, and both women are of indigenous heritage. 

Pliskova had not played in a major final since 2016, when she lost the U.S. Open title to Angie Kerber. In today's match, the Czech star showed up in the first set appearing to be what used to be known as a "nervous wreck," unable to find her signature superior serve, and unable to control anything on the court. Down 0-3 in the opening set, Pliskova got on the scoreboard, but it was relatively easy for Barty to take the set, 6-3.

Pliskova found her game (most notably, her serve) in the second set, though she continued to lag behind. Barty served for the championship at 6-5, but was broken, and the set went to a tiebreak, which Pliskova won, 7-4, as Barty's forehand repeatedly broke down. The third set held the promise of being a tight one, but Barty would have none of it. Despite having to deal with a serious challenge from a now more in-form Pliskova, the world number 1 went on to win the set 6-3, and to claim the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Barty had to retire from her second-round match at Roland Garros because of a left hip injury. That may have turned out to be one of those "good luck, bad luck, who knows?" things, in that she she had some time to rest and recover. 

The 2021 Wimbledon champion has traveled her own unusual path to the number 1 ranking. A doubles star on the tour, Barty left for two and a half years and played professional cricket. Upon her return, she decided to focus on her singles game, and the rest is history. An all-around athlete, during 2020, she took the entire year off because of the Covid-19 crisis, and--during that time--won a golf tournament.

"To be able to be successful here at Wimbledon, to achieve my biggest dream, has been absolutely incredible," Barty said of her victory. "The stars aligned for me over the past fortnight." 

I don't think that the stars are going away any time soon.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Barty and Pliskova to contest for Wimbedon title

World number 1 Ash Barty brought her number 1 game, and then some, to her Wimbedon semifinal match against 2018 champion Angie Kerber, who--during this grass season--has once again looked like the most dangerous of contenders for the 2021 title. After losing the first set, the German star was able to raise the level of her game, take a 5-2 lead, then--at 5-4--serve for the set. But Barty broke her, won her next game at love, and never looked back. Her 6-3, 7-6 victory places her in the final of a tournament she says she's always dreamed of winning.

As for Kerber--as disappointing as this loss had to be, she has definitely "returned," and in a big way, which is an exciting occurrence.

If there is a "complete" player, it has to be Barty. Her expert use of the backhand slice, and her ability to use keen strategy have always been there, but now she also has a deadly serve (she had a first serve win percentage of 88 against Kerber). And she feels at home on the grass.

Barty's opponent in the final will be eighth seed Karolina Pliskova, who defeated second seed Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals. Matches played between two "power hitters" are generally not my cup of tea, but in this match, it was interesting to watch Pliskova repeatedly do the one thing that she says has kept her from doing better on grass--getting really low to hit the ball. I remember, about five years ago, the Czech star said that her resolution for the coming year was to "bend my knees more." She's still working on that.

Pliskova, who has had some issues with her famous serve, was on fire against Sabalenka, hitting 14 aces (Sabalenka, I should note, hit 18), and coming away with very notable first and second serve win percentages of 78 and 69.

Barty is 5-2 against Pliskova, and the Australian player has won the last three matches that they played against each other.

Paths to the final:

ASH BARTY (1)
round 1--def. Carla Suarez Navarro
round 2--def. Anna Binkova
round 3--def. Katerina Siniakova
round of 16--def. Barbora Krejcikova
quarterfinals--def. Ajla Tomljanovic
semifinals--def. Angie Kerber (25)

KAROLINA PLISKOVA (8)
round 1--def. Tamara Zidansek
round 2--def. Donna Vekic
round 3--def. Tereza Martincova
round of 16--def. Liudmila Samsonova (WC)
quarterfinals--def. Viktorija Golubic
semifinals--def. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

In doubles, third seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens will play Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina in the final. Hsieh and Mertens defeated fifth seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 in the semifinals. 

In their semifinal match, Kudermetova and Vesnina defeated Caroline Dolehide and Storm Sanders 7-6, 3-6, 7-5. This very high-quality match was a series of thrills that went on for two and a half hours. Down 2-5 in the third set, the Russians eventually saved three match points and went on to break and then win the match. That's the summary, but you had to see it to fully appreciate the incredible nature of this contest, which included an almost-meltdown from Kudermetova.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Wimbledon semifinals set

Though we've seen some exciting matches throughout the Wimbledon tournament, none occurred in today's quarterfinals. 8th seed Karolina Pliskova made pretty easy work of Victorija Golubic. Pliskova's first and second serve win percentages were 83 and 56, and that kind of says it all. She also did well at the net and kept her unforced errors down, defeating Golubic 6-2, 6-2. One couldn't have asked much more from the Czech star.

2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka had more with which to contend in 21st seed Ons Jabeur, but the Tunisian player didn't bring quite her customary level of energy to this match, and she was ultimately outhit by Sabalenka, who was playing in her first major quarterfinal. 

25th seed and 2018 Wimbledon champion Angie Kerber also won her match in straight sets, defeating Karolina Muchova 6-2, 6-3. Kerber out-served Muchova, and was broken only once, though Muchova had eight break opportunities.

Finally, world number 1 Ash Barty defeated countrywoman Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-3. Tomljanovic hit only five winners (to Barty's 23), but she made 20 unforced errors.

Here is the semifinal draw:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Angie Kerber (25)
These two have played each other four times, with each of them winning twice. They have never played one another on a grass court. Barty is the 2019 French Open champion, and Kerber has won the Australian Open (2016), the U.S. Open (2026) and Wimbledon (2018).

Karolina Pliskova (8) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2
Sabalenka is 2-0 against Pliskova, and one of their matches (2018 Eastbourne) was played on grass.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Kerber, Barty and Jabeur all advance to the Wimbledon quarterfinals

Throughout her career, Angie Kerber's serve has ranged from "needs improvement" to "good enough" to "very good." Most of the time, she's in the "good enough" range. Today, in her Wimbledon round of 16 match, she was in the "better than her opponent" range. Though she's known for her big serve, and though she did serve six aces, Coco Gauff didn't deliver quite as well as Kerber in the service department. She also made more unforced errors than her opponent.

Kerber, in every way imaginable, looked like--well, like Angie Kerber. She kept the ball in play for long periods of time, she hit wicked angles, and she solved problems on the run. The 2018 Wimbledon champion defeated Gauff 6-4, 6-4, to advance to the quarterfinals.

Also looking like herself--though it took her a while to get there--world number 1 Ash Barty defeated 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 7-5, 6-3. Later in the day, Krejcikova and partner Katerina Siniakova, played doubles against Viktoria Kuzmova and Arantxa Rus. 

The Czech pair, running behind in the first set, sneaked in and won it. The teams were on serve at 2-3 in the second set when the match was suspended, and this had to feel like a gift for Krejcikova, who looked like she was one rally away from collapsing. I suspect that both physical and mental fatigue finally caught up with Krejcikova, who won a WTA 250 event (her first singles title), then went straight to Paris, where she won both the singles and doubles titles.

2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka defeated Elena Rybakina, Victorija Golubic upset Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova defeated Liudmila Samsonova, and Karolina Muchova defeated Paula Badosa (of whom we will definitely be seeing more). Sadly, the up-and-coming British player, Emma Raducanu became ill and had to retire in the middle of her second set against Ajla Tomljanovic.

And then there was Ons Jabeur, who lost her first set to 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek, but then pretty much ran over the Polish star in the next two sets, defeating her 5-7, 6-1, 6-1. Jabeur's service game was spot-on, and that description includes the nine aces that she hit. She hit 30 winners to Swiatek's 20, and she made 23 unforced errors. Good serving creates confidence, and confidence creates good serving. With every match, Jabeur steps farther into the zone.

Here is the quarterfinal singles draw:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
Karolina Muchova (19) vs. Angie Kerber (25)
Karolina Pliskova (8) vs. Viktorija Golubic
Ons Jabeur (21) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Sunday, July 4, 2021

I hate Middle Sunday, and here's the evidence

I hate Middle Sunday because 1. It doesn't make sense (there's a lot of rain at Wimbledon, and especially this year, so matches are already backed up), and 2. I want to watch tennis. People who work outside the home all day during the week would also like to watch tennis.

Over the years, Women Who Serve has provided not only rants about Middle Sunday, but also some reading and viewing activities for those who need something of a Wimbledon nature to do. Here's the collection of my Middle Sunday rants and suggestions (you'll get to see a lot of Velma, and Roxie also makes an appearance; they were avid tennis fans):

https://womenwhoserve.blogspot.com/2009/06/middle-sunday-blues.html

https://womenwhoserve.blogspot.com/2014/06/those-middle-sunday-blues.html

https://womenwhoserve.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-annual-i-hate-middle-sunday-rant.html 

https://womenwhoserve.blogspot.com/2018/07/i-hate-middle-sunday-is-back.html

https://womenwhoserve.blogspot.com/2019/07/the-almost-annual-i-hate-middle-sunday.html

Saturday, July 3, 2021

One former champion still stands as Wimbledon round of 16 approaches

Before the 2021 Wimbledon event began, there were six former champions expected to contend--five-time champion Venus Williams, seven-time champion Serena Williams, two-time champion Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, and Simona Halep. Sadly, Halep had to withdraw because of continuing problems with a calf tear.

Equally sad was the first round of exit of Petra Kvitova. The mercurial Czech champion was upset by the mercurial USA player, Sloane Stephens. Serena Williams slipped and hurt her leg during her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and had to retire. Venus Williams made it to the second round, in which she was defeated by Ons Jabeur, and Garbine Muguruza was upset by Jabeur in the third round.

That leaves Kerber, who survived the match of the tournament (so far--but it's hard to imagine that a more thrilling one will come along) against Sara Sorribes Tormo--a three-hour and 19-minute extravaganza in which there was never a let-up. That the German champion is the lone survivor may surprise many, but it doesn't surprise me. Kerber's combination of fitness, determination and a willingness to make changes in her game has always put her in line for another comeback. (And if you haven't seen her "One on One" episode with Chris Evert, you've missed something good; it was one of my favorites of the series.)

Of note is that two wild cards--Emma Raducanu of the UK and Liudmila Samsanova of Russia--have advanced to the second week of the tournament. There are also two other unseeded players in the fourth round. Finally--and not surprisingly--there are three Czech players who are still in the draw.

Here is the round of 16 draw:

Ash Barty (1) vs. Barbora Krejcikova (14)
Emma Raducanu (wc) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
Paula Badosa (30) vs. Karolina Muchova (19)
Coco Gauff (20) vs. Angie Kerber (25)
Karolina Pliskova (8) vs. Liudmila Samsanova (wc)
Madison Keys (23) vs. Viktorija Golubic
Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Ons Jabeur (21)
Elena Rybakina (18) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Wimbledon first round matches of interest

There are several interesting first rounds in the 2021 Wimbledon draw, just as there were in the French Open draw. Here are some of them:

Katarina Siniakova vs. Jo Konta (27): The Bad Homburg finalist meets the hometown star. Siniakova was most impressive in Bad Homburg.

Clara Tauson vs. Barbora Krejcikova (14): If you haven't seen Tauson play, here's your opportunity--and she gets none other than the French Open champion.

Leylah Fernandez vs. Alona Ostapenko: The young Canadian star will face off against Eastbourne champion Ostapenko, who has reached the semifinals before, and who has really cleaned up her game in the past few months (and weeks).

Alize Cornet vs. Bianca Andreescu (5): I don't think this needs any explanation.

Karolina Pliskova (5) vs. Tamara Zidensek: This is no walk in the grass for Pliskova; Zidensek has proven herself to be a very tough opponent.

Sloane Stephens vs. Petra Kvitova (10): The former U.S. Open champion faces the two-time Wimbledon champion. Stephens is 2-1 against Kvitova, but they have never played one another on grass.

Iga Swiatek (7) vs. Hsieh Su-Wei: Swiatek hasn't exactly been on fire lately, what with her Paris injury, so drawing a trickster like Hsieh probably isn't her idea of a fun first round.

Kiki Mladenovic vs. Elena Rybakina (18): Mladenovic remains inconsistent, but--on a good day-- she could turn this into a match worth watching.

Monica Niculescu (Q) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2):  These two have never played each other, so this will be Sabalenka's first time to experience the sometimes maddening effects of Niculescu's game.