Monday, April 10, 2023

Some final thoughts on Charleston

photo by Daniel Ward

Tennis is nothing if not filled with surprises, and that reality was on display over and over this year at the Credit One Charleston Open. Historically, the tournament has dodged most of the big storms (except for a few big ones at night, one of which included hail) in the area, but this year, its luck ran out. Constant rain delayed play on semifinal day, and only one semifinal was completed. On finals day, therefore, the schedule had to be adjusted.

None of this appeared to bother the crowd, but--as I've written many times--the Charleston crowd is special. They are sophisticated, knowledgeable (including about doubles) and possess empathic good humor. Players who might get booed at other tournaments get encouraged or applauded in Charleston. In other words, the crowd knows the difference between bad sportswomanship and the quirky behaviors of a wide span of personalities. 

Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)
"I'm happy to be part of the champions here in Charleston. It was nice when they show, you know, the names. I always wanted to have my name there. Definitely the crowd, they're amazing, and just amazing because they're not just following me from this tournament, but all over the other tournaments, and they told me that they watch also the Netflix show. So that's really amazing to hear that I have support and not just for one tournament, but the whole season."
--Ons Jabeur

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)

"It's really like a different vibe. I feel like more attached to this tournament than maybe I feel to other tournaments....I think it's no secret that everybody really loves this tournament. After Indian Wells and
Miami, you are very tired, you just want to go home, but for me, like this has always been a very nice stop, even like this--like tired like this, I mean. And, yeah, it just has different vibe really. Like it's not just a tournament for me."
--Belinda Bencic

Danielle Collins & Desirae Krawczyk (photo by Daniel Ward)

"The atmosphere was amazing, and I think all of our matches we've had a great crowd, and for everyone to come out, it's so cold today, and everyone came out and supported, and it really gave you some motivation, you know, being both Americans and playing at home, you know, on home soil. So it was so much fun, and I really appreciate that, because as a doubles player who plays week to week, you don't get those crowds and you really want to relish it and really appreciate that. So it means a lot."
--Danielle Collins

The rain delay was the least of the special things that occurred during the event. For the first time in 23 years, the top four seeds played in the semifinals. And for the first time ever, the same two women competed in the final in consecutive years. Last year, it was Belinda Bencic who received the champion's trophy; this year, it was Ons Jabeur. Or, as Ons said to her friend, Belinda--"We both have one big trophy and one small trophy."

Eleanor Adams (photo by Daniel Ward)
And while it wasn't a total surprise, Tournament Manager Eleanor Adams' announcement of her retirement elicited a very emotional reaction (also not a surprise) among staff, volunteers, members of the media, and--perhaps most of all--players. Adams, working alongside Tournament Director Bob Moran, has long been the force behind the event's extreme popularity on the tour. Her attention to detail, and her ability to anticipate the players' needs--and to fulfill them--is well known on the tour. Bob and Eleanor know how to run a tournament, and they do it with thoroughness and kindness. Eleanor Adams has worked for the Charleston Open for 23 years, and she has left a mark on the event that can never be erased.

It was a busy week, filled with great tennis, as well as other enjoyable fan activities. Players will tell you--there's no tennis experience quite like Charleston.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Call her Ons, Call her the Minister of Happiness, call her Charleston champion!

Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)

Ons Jabeur became the 2023 Credit One Charleston Open singles champion today when she defeated Belinda Bencic 7-6, 6-4 in the final. Jabeur's path to the championship was a winding, and somewhat unusual, one. Last year, she left Charleston as the runner-up when Bencic defeated her 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 in the final. This was the first time in the tournament's history that the same two players competed in consecutive finals. 
photo by Daniel Ward

But that wasn't the only unusual occurrence at this event. For the first time in 23 years, the top four seeds played in the semifinals; it was also the first time in eleven years that the top four seeds had played in any WTA semifinals. And as if all that weren't enough, the finalists weren't even decided until today, shortly before the final took place.

There was a lot of rain in the Charleston area this week, and Saturday's semifinals were interrupted more than once. Jabeur was able to complete her match against Daria Kasstkina, but Bencic and top seed Jessica Pegula had to stop for the day during the second set tiebreak. Bencic won that tiebreak, despite being down 2-4 when the rain came, and 2-5 when play resumed. Not long after, she and Jabeur competed in the final.

In the first set, Bencic again found herself in a tiebreak. At 5-6, she proceeded to save five set points, and the excitement in the stadium was palpable. Jabeur took the set on her sixth set point, and then went up a double break for 4-1. But just as it looked as though the Tunisian star might run away with the match, Bencic began to apply the kind of pressure that we have come to expect from her. She broke Jabeur, then also created three break points when Jabeur served for the match at 5-4. It was an estimable effort, but it wasn't enough. The 2nd seed saved all three break points, saved the only game point that Bencic had, and won the match on her second match point.

photo by Daniel Ward

At the trophy ceremony, Bencic said to her friend, "I'm glad you're back. It's amazing when you're playing. It's a pain to play against you."

Later, in press, Bencic said: "I mean, it's a very difficult--I mean, I just woke up. I was just focusing on the Pegula match, and then you win and like fifteen minutes later you're playing a final. I mean, I know Ons, but it's still different when you are sleeping and when you're preparing mentally for the final. And for me it was a bit trickier today, but this is normal for us players. We always have to adapt."

That rang true. Bencic played well, but it did seem that the quick transition from semifinal to final did put her off her game a bit. Bencic went on to say: "I mean, it's tough to beat her, just, anyhow. I think she's really a high quality player, and she really has all the tools in her box. And, of course, you know, when I'm playing my best, I can try to press her and push her. But I think today she just also moved very good, and she was really counter-attacking very well."

For her part, Jabeur confirmed her statement that her friend Bencic doesn't play like anyone else. "she doesn't give you time. She goes for a lot of winners, and she has like certain--takes the step open to hit the backhand or the forehand. Doesn't give you a lot of time, which is not great for most of the players and also not great when you're moving on clay, because you never know where the ball is coming. And mentally she's someone that doesn't give up. Like she's always there, making you hit one more shot...."

Jabeur explained: "...I know I had to be patient and just run, like Daria yesterday, and get every ball....But you know, hanging in there and not getting angry was part of it. And I'm really glad that I maintained calm and just stick to the plan and continue to do what I am supposed to do during this match."

This is Jabeur's fourth WTA title. She has three titles on clay, and one on grass.

all photos by Daniel Ward

And we have Charleston finalists!

Ons Jabeur & Belinda Bencic (photos by Daniel Ward)

When top seed Jessica Pegula and 4th seed and defending champion Belinda Bencic had to stop play at the Credit One Charleston Open last night because of rain, Pegula was up 4-2 in the second set tiebreak. When they resumed a while ago, Bencic--who had won the first set 7-5--won the tiebreak 7-5 (after going down 2-5) and advanced to the final. Bencic will play 2nd seed Ons Jabeur for the title, and if that sounds familiar, it's because they competed for the title last year. This is, in fact, the first time in the history of the tournament that the same two finalists will appear on the court for two consecutive years.

Paths to the final:

round 1--bye
round 2--def. Katherine Sebov
round of 16--def. Shelby Rogers
quarterfinals--def. Ekaterina Alexandrova (7)
semifinals-def. Jessica Pegula (1)

round 1--bye
round 2--def. Lesia Tsurenko
round of 16--def. Caroline Dolehide
quarterfinals--def. Anna Kalinskaya (ret.)
semifinals--def. Daria Kasatkina (3)

Collins and Krawczyk win 2023 Charleston Open doubles championship

Danielle Collins & Desirae Krawczyk (photo by Daniel Ward)

The USA team of Danielle Collins and Desirae Krawczyk have won the 2023 Credit One Charleston Open doubles championship. The unseeded pair upset top seeds Giuliana Olmos and Ema Shibahara 0-6, 6-4, 14-12 on a very cold and damp day on Daniel Island. The champions won each of their matches in a tiebreak. This is Collins's first doubles title, and Krawczyk's eighth (she also has four mixed doubles titles--two Wimbledon, one French Open, and one U.S. Open).
Ema Shibahara & Giuliana Olmos (photo by Daniel Ward)

Krawczyk & Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

The ones who kept winning--and the ones who didn't quite get there

Patty Schnyder (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)
There are several players who have won the Charleston Open (formerly the Family Circle Cup and the Volvo Car Open) twice, and Serena Williams won it three times (two of those victories were consecutive), but there are also a few players who won the event multiple times. 

Chris Evert holds the record, winning in Charleston eight times during a nine-year span. Martina Navratilova won it four times, and Steffi Graf also won it four times. In the 1986 final, she defeated Evert, who had reached her ninth Charleston final.

Kerry Reid was twice a finalist (in consecutive years), but never won the event. Natasha Zvereva was also twice a finalist, but never a champion, as were Vera Zvonareva, Elena Vesnina and Patty Schnyder. Schnyder's story is of particular interest. In 2002, the unseeded German player took out 6th seed Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, 3rd seed Serena Williams, and top seed Jennifer Capriati. Yet after all that heavy lifting, she was stopped in the final by the unseeded Iva Majoli, who defeated her 7-6, 6-4. 

In 2006, 3rd seed Schnyder upset top seed Justine Henin, but lost to 2nd seed Nadia Petrova in the final. Patty Schnyder was an absolute rock star at the Family Circle Cup, and it always seemed such a shame that she never won it.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Charleston final scheduled for tomorrow, but we still need two finalists

Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)

It rained almost all day today in the Charleston area, and Daniel Island was no exception. Play started late, and there was a long rain delay in the first semifinal, which was played between Ons Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina. Jabeur won the first set 7-5, then play ended and the players had to wait three hours before they could resume the match. Ons played cards and a board game with Belinda Bencic, and I heard that Dasha took a nap.

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

The second set was pretty exciting, with each trickster putting on her best show. But it was Jabeur, repeating the first set scoreline, who emerged the victor.

After the match, Jabeur told the press that "...just getting more titles was very important for me. Not just coming with one title, you know, coming with three. And I'm just going to learn from the other finals that I played, and definitely will give it all. And I think I have more experience."

photo by Daniel Ward

For her part, Kasatkina said that it wasn't the court condition that made it difficult for her--she was surprised by what good condition the court was in; rather, it was "...all the things, the stopping and first of all, we start later. Then we were just not sure if we're going to play the match or not with the on and offs, and just, yeah, it's not easy."

Following that match, top seed Jessica Pegula faced off against defending champion Belinda Bencic. Bencic won the first set 7-5 (the scoreline of the evening, one could say), but play had to be suspended during the second set tiebreak because it began to rain again. At the time of suspension, Pegula was up 4-2 in the tiebreak. She and Bencic will complete the match tomorrow afternoon, then--after suitable rest--the final will be played. Should Bencic win, the finalists will be the same two women as last year.

The doubles final is set. Top seeds Guliana Olmos and Ena Shibhara will play Danielle Collins and Desirae Krawczyk.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Two former champions still in the mix in Charleston

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)

Both 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina and 2022 champion Belinda Bencic advanced to the semifinals of the Credit One Charleston Open today. In addition, 2022 finalist Ons Jabeur advanced, as well as top seed Jessica Pegula.

The first quarterfinal of the day featured 2nd seed Jabeur and Anna Kalinskaya. Unfortunately, Kalinskaya was ill and had to retire in the second set (6-0, 4-1). In the next match, 4th seed Bencic defeated 7th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 6-3. 3rd seed Kasatkina defeated 9th seed and 2019 champion Madison Keys 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, and in the night match, Pegula defeataed 12th seed Paula Badosa 6-3, 7-6 (6). 

Ons Jabeur and Anna Kalinskaya (photo by Daniel Ward)
Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)

The Pegula-Badosa match was routine enough in the first set, but the second set was a thrill ride. Shortly after the set began, the wind began blowing, and paper debris started to fly through the air. It became quite chilly, and the wind came and went throughout the set. Play intensified, as the momentum swung back and forth, and many games went to deuce. Pegula went up 5-3, but Badosa--known for her fighting quality--would have none of it. Eventually, there was a tiebreak, and Pegula emerged the victor. For spectators, it was a great set of tennis.

Here is the semifinal draw:

Jessica Pegula (1) vs. Belinda Bencic (4)
Daria Kasatkina (3) vs. Ons Jabeur (20

And here is what they said about it:

"Belinda is really tough. She's a really tough match-up for me. I haven't played her in a while. I think I've improved a lot since the last time I played her. But we play kind of similar, hit kind of low flat, take it early. And she tends to kind of feed off my pace and like how I play. So it's always match-up for me, but I think maybe the first time on clay, so it'll be interesting to see that, but  she's obviously very confident right now, defending champ, and it’s going to be really tough."
--Jessica Pegula

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)

"I feel Jess is very consistent, and she just --I feel like she does anything with the ball. She redirects very well, and you always feel like she's not even moving, but still she makes it very like, effortless. It looks very effortless when she plays."
--Belinda Bencic

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

"…it's going to be another nice match. We're good friends, and it's always nice to share these moments like this, like playing big stages against each other and just I hope we're both going to enjoy it."
--Daria Kasatkina

"Dasha, we had a lot of three-setters together. It's going to be definitely a physical match. She's someone that loves clay. She's someone that, her game suits clay a lot. I think the key tomorrow probably will be patience."
--Ons Jabeur

It's quarterfinal Friday in Charleston!

Singles quarterfinals will be played today at the Credit One Charleston Open, while doubles quarterfinals have already been determined. Here are the results:

Olmas/Shibahara (1) def. Sizikova/Sutjiadi
Dolehide/Hunter (3) def. Fernandez/Townsend
Siegemund/Zvonareva def. Melichar-Martinez/Parks
Collins/Krawczyk def. Mladenovic/Zhang (2)

We're expecting showers this evening (they were originally forecast for early in the week). Historically, the tournament has--for the most part--dodged excessive rain (though we've experienced both a tornado and a hail storm), so we're all hoping that historic good luck continues.

There's a lot going on on the Charleston Open grounds besides tennis. Ted Dimond is here, creating paintings of the players and the grounds. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alison Riske-Amritraj do a daily "Behind the Baseline" show every day at noon at the Match Point Bar & Grill. The two WTA players talk with fellow players and other guests.

2014 champion Andrea Petkovic does a daily "Happy Hour" show at 5 p.m., also at the Match Point Bar & Grill, in which she has conversations with WTA players

The tournament also offers free tennis clinics, as well as a variety of ways to test one's tennis skills. And, of course, there is always live music throughout the grounds.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Top seed Pegula goes down 0-4 in the third set, wins match

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)

Watching top seed Jessica Pegula and Irina-Camelia Begu play their round of 16 match this afternoon in Charleston caused me to flash on that third round match that Petra Kvitova and Alona Ostapenko played in Indian Wells--the one with the crazy 0-6, 6-0, 6-4 scoreline. The scoreline for today's match wasn't like that, but the momentum dynamics were similar--and much riskier. 

15th seed Begu, who has played some very good matches in Charleston over the years. was down a set and 0-4, then won ten games in a row. This meant that top seed Pegula found herself down 0-4 in the third set. She then proceeded to win the set--and the match. The final score was 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, which looks way more "normal" than what it took to arrive at it. 

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)

When asked what was going through her mind in the last set, Pegula replied:

"Like dead serious, like what was going through my mind is 'I can't believe I've lost six games in a row, seven games in a row, eight, nine, ten.' And then I was just, like, communicating that to my coach, like, 'oh, it's eight now, it'll probably be nine.' Like it wasn't very positive, to be honest. Also, like that really hasn't happened to me in like, a long time. Like I can't remember the last time I've been up like that and consecutively lost like, that many games as well.

"So I was just frustrated," Pegula explained, "but was able to kind of relax and played a pretty good game at 4-0. I knew if I could just get one game, like kind of stop the bleeding, that I think I had a chance to get back into it. But, yeah, it didn't come until that 4-0 game. And then the next game, I played like, a good game, and then she played a bad game at 2-4, and then it just like, switched really quickly. But, yeah, my thoughts weren't very positive for a few games there."

Next for Pegula will be 12th seed Paula Badosa.

In the meantime, hometown favorite Shelby Rogers fell to 4th seed and defending champion Belinda Bencic, who defeated her 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. It was a bit strange, having the crowd cheer for the defending champion's opponent, but it was just the luck of the draw. 

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)

After the match, Bencic reflected on her history in Charleston. In 2014, when she was only 17 years old, she wound up in semifinal thriller against Jana Cepelova. "It was like the toughest match of my career," Bencic said. "I thought, 'I'm never going to have a chance to be in the final again.' It was like all these emotions that you just have as a 17-year-old that you don't reach the first time something. And it's just so nice like, to see how far I've come in these years."

Far indeed. Eight years after playing that semifinal, the Swiss star won the tournament, defeating Ons Jabeur in the final. 

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

Another former champion who advanced today was 2017 Charleston winner Daria Kasatkina. Kasatkina, who is seeded third, defeated Bernarda Pera 6-3, 7-6. The Russian star will play yet another former champion in the quarterfinals--2019 champion (and 9th seed) Madison Keys. Keys defeated 8th seed Magda Linette 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Jessica Pegula (1) vs. Paula Badosa (1)
Belinda Bencic (4) vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova (7)
Madison Keys (9) vs. Daria Kasatkina (3)
Anna Kalinskaya vs. Ons Jabeur (2)

Some words from the Minister

photo by Daniel Ward

Ons Jabeur, aka Credit One Charleston Open second seed, aka the Minister of Happiness (in Tunisia), came to press this afternoon after she won her round of 16 match against Caroline Dolehide. Jabeur talked about confidence and related issues. What she had to say deserves repeating, so here are some excerpts:

"I mean, definitely the experience from playing a lot of matches, and some matches were tougher than others, losing maybe very close, and you learn from it. I work a lot on my mental health with my mental coach. And, you know, confidence, it's a tricky thing, you know. Seems like maybe big players like Serena, Djokovic, Nadal, they do lose confidence, and people probably they know they see them how they play and say, 'oh, they're pretty confident all the time.' No, really. It's very tricky. And I think you should always still believe in yourself, give yourself time when it's going wrong, because again, tennis it could be like a few points, a few games.

"And for me through the years I'm learning to know myself better, to be able to just enjoy and give myself time. And very important to be surrounded by an amazing team because they always support me. And if I'm feeling down, they're going to bring me up. If they're feeling sometimes down, I'm like there to encourage them. So it's a teamwork, you know. And that's how I'm building my confidence through the years.

"…accepting also that players are playing good. That's part of it. I feel like also there is something that's very important, which is self-love. That's very connected to confidence, because as soon as you love yourself and give yourself a chance, then you're going to step up, and I think everything is really connected to each other. And as soon as you allow yourself to play good and  give yourself a chance, you become more confident, calm; courage is there. There's a lot of things that are really connected. And, yeah, with Melanie we work on a lot of those things, accepting that it’s—I'm injured, you know, and this is how it is. It is also very important sometimes to let go of things. Also it is very, very important."

Jabeur moves on in Charleston

Ons Jabeur (photo by Daniel Ward)

2022 finalist Ons Jabeur had to come from a break down in both of her sets against Caroline Dolehide, but she defeated Dolehide 6-3, 7-5 to advance to the Credit One Charleston Open quarterfinals. The 2nd seed will next face Anna Kalinskaya, who upset 6th seed Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 7-6.

Also winning was 7th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, who defeated Julia Grabher 6-4, 6-2.

Anna Kalinskaya (photo by Daniel Ward)

In the meantime, 12th seed Paula Badosa continued her winning ways, defeating the talent upstart Diana Shnaider, 6-1, 6-3. Badosa, who hit five aces, had a first serve win percentage of 83. At one point in the second set, the players engaged in a 27-shot rally, which ended when Badosa executed a perfect drop shot.

Paula Badosa (photo by Daniel Ward)
What a way to end a 27-shot rally 🥵@paulabadosa goes on to defeat Shnaider 6-1, 6-3 to reach the #CharlestonOpen quarterfinals!

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Shelby Rogers, one game from losing, turns it around

Shelby Rogers (photo by Daniel Ward)

Local favorite Shelby Rogers thrilled her fans tonight when she staged a comeback against countrywoman Caty McNally, defeating her 6-7, 7-5, 6-1 in a match that lasted almost two hours. Rogers was down a set and 5-3 when she turned the match around. Afterwards, she said:

"She was serving really, really well, and I wasn't getting into enough points on her service game. So I had  to come up with something there to stay in the match. Thankfully, it worked. Sometimes just little adjustments like that can really change your momentum. And you just kind of not only physically work your way back into the match, but mentally, too. And I thought the more momentum I got, she got a little down on herself, too. Sometimes it only takes one point in a tennis match, and I've been on both ends of it. So you just never give up. You never know what's going to happen."

Caty McNally (photo by Daniel Ward)

Also winning today was defending champion Belinda Bencic, who defeated Katherine Sebov 6-0, 6-3.

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)
The match I most wanted to watch today lasted two hours and fifty-six minutes, which didn't surprise me at all, considering who the competitors were. 8th seed Magda Linette defeated Varvara Gracheva 6-7, 7-5, 6-4. The bad part was that--due to various unfortunate circumstances --I wasn't able to watch it. Linette, who performed really well in Charleston last year, will next face 9th seed (and 2019 champion) Madison Keys, who defeated Hailey Baptiste 6-1, 6-2.
Magda Linette (photo by Daniel Ward)

Varvara Gracheva (photo by Daniel Ward)

Petkovic and Mladenovic in conversation: fascinating and revealing

Every evening, former WTA player (and 2014 Charleston Open champion) Andrea Petkovic does a "Happy Hour" program on the Charleston Open grounds, in which she interviews players about both their on- and off-court lives. Petkovic is a very good interviewer (no surprise there), and this evening's first interview was especially insightful and quite interesting. Petko interviewed Kiki Mladenovic, who--while also a very good singles player--is known for her outstanding doubles career.

I don't have any photos, and I wasn't able to record the interview, but I believe that it's worthwhile sharing some of the high points of the interview. Mladenovic--whose parents are both athletes (her mom was in the audience)--said that she was a bit surprised that she wound up a a tennis player because her parents were involved in team sports, and she has always gravitated toward team sports. This is, she thinks, why she has always especially enjoyed events like Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) and Hopman Cup. Petkovic pointed out, too, that Mladenovic isn't afraid to accept responsibility, so she is a natural leader in team events.

In 2017, Mladenovic had a singles career breakthrough, but while playing a match at Wimbledon, she took a fall. She was examined and tested, and there was no injury, but--as Petkovic pointed out--things weren't quite the same after that. It turned out that Mladenovic's knee wasn't right. She didn't have an official "injury," but she had pain. Looking back, she said, it was a mistake for her to carry on--she should have taken a break, but she was doing so well, and didn't want to stop.

As it turned out, even with the knee problem, the French star was able to break through into the top 10 in singles that year. And while I don't know what it's like to be a professional athlete, I do know, only too well, what it's like to just not be able to determine which direction to take when a problem appears and it's hard to know whether it's better to stop or go on. I think that most of us know what that feels like.

Petkovic pointed out that, when playing opponents who are in the top 20 (or 30), a player can be even two percent off, but that two percent can make all the difference in the outcome.

By the way, Mladenovic added that--even though continuing to play was probably a mistake--she has no regrets.

The pair also discussed what it feels like to lose and how to manage a loss. "I cry every time," Mladenovic said, but she said that she's working on not doing that "or I'd cry every week."

Both women talked about the highs that come from playing sports, and they agreed that all of the injuries and travel and other stressors are worth it.

Kiki Mladenovic has won nine major doubles titles and three major mixed doubles titles. She has twice won the WTA Finals in doubles, and she has 20 tour doubles titles. She reached a career high doubles ranking of number 1 in the world in 2019.

I used to say that a winning WTA doubles team was Mladenovic and Anybody. In 2012, Lucie Safarova won the Charleston doubles title with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The next year, Safarova's Charleston partner had to withdraw, and so she had to find a partner at the last minute. She found Mladenovic, who also didn't have a partner. 

During press before the tournament began, Safarova said that not only had she and Mladenovic never played doubles together, they hadn't even practiced together. I asked her how she thought it would go, and she gave me an eye roll, and shot me a "what do you think?" look. Then they won the tournament, upsetting the top seeds in the final.

Badosa moves on in Charleston, Kudermetova falls to Shnaider

Paula Badosa (photo by Daniel Ward)
Stadium play got off to a roaring start today when 12th seed Paula Badosa faced off against Leylah Fernandez. The Canadian player was in fine form, hitting winners left and right and executing volleys that left Badosa with no answers. 

"We always have battles," said Badosa said after the match." She plays so fast, she doesn't give me time." And that statement, indeed, summed up most of the first set. Fernandez quickly went up a break, and her momentum continued until she began to have some trouble with her forehand. Badosa was able to take the set, 7-5.

The second set was tight, too, but the 12th seed took it--and the match--in a tiebreak. Fernandez hit twice s many winners as Badosa, but she also hit twice as many unforced errors; in the end, it was the Spaniard's lower-risk play that paid off. 

This was the first time since January that Badosa had won two consecutive matches. After going through the struggles of an injury and trying to work her way back to form, her take on her first two rounds in Charleston is: "I hope it's the start of the Paula that I want to feel again."

2021 champion Veronika Kudermetova wasn't so lucky. Kudermetova played the creative (and, I'm sure commentators would say "feisty") Diana Shnaider, whose game is a fun-to-watch combination of tricky shots and raw athleticism. Shnaider, who is a biology major at the University of South Carolina, got our   attention when she qualified for her first WTA main draw at the Australian Open and took 6th seed Maria Sakkari to three sets in the second round. 

In today's match, the 19-year-old came from a break down in both sets to defeat her countrywoman 6-4, 6-3.

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

Though Kudermetova and Anna Blinkova lost (the latter to top seed Jessica Pegula), other Russian players did well today. 2017 champion and 3rd seed Daria Kasatkina defeated Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-1, and 7th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova defeated Yulia Putintseva 6-1, 6-3

Azarenka returns to Charleston in style

Victoria Azarenka (photo by Daniel Ward)

Victoria Azarenka had not played in Charleston since 2010, but she got into the green clay groove nicely last night by defeating 2016 champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Credit One Stadium. The match featured a lot of good shot-making from both players, and the crowd was appreciative of the display. 

2nd seed Ons Jabeur also got off to a good start last night, defeating Lesia Tsurenko 6-3, 6-3. And top seed Jessica Pegula, who was unable to make it to Media Day on Monday because she was busy packing her Miami Open doubles championship trophy, met with the press yesterday evening. Pegula said that yesterday was the first time this year that she has practiced on clay.

Asked about her level of fatigue after competing in Miami and going all the way to the final in doubles, the top seed said: "Definitely, I'm a little tired, but then at the same time, I think I'm still kind of in competition mode, which I think helps as well. It's one thing to have a quick turnaround, but I feel pretty good. Obviously singles I played a lot, doubles I played a lot, but I had a day off Saturday, just played the doubles final Sunday. I traveled here yesterday, and had another day off. So I don't feel super tired, drained. I think physically I still feel good. Like nothing is bothering me."

Pegula also reported some good news--her mother's rehab is going well, and her mother's condition has improved significantly. She also said that, fortunately, she has always been able to focus on whatever job she has at hand, and actually faces each task as a kind of stress relief. It helps a lot, however, that "we have a lot of people that are really great at home and that we trust and we know are going to take care of her, so I think that helps make my job much easier."

Two matches of particular interest (at least, to me) today are Paula Badosa (12) vs. Leylah Fernandez and Magda Linette (8) vs. Varvara Gracheva.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Badosa begins her Charleston campaign

Paula Badosa (photo by Daniel Ward)
12th seed Paula Badosa got off to a good start in Charleston today by defeating Mayar Sherif 6-3, 6-1 in the first Credit One Stadium match of the day. The first set was very competitive and featured some exciting rallies. The Spaniard, however, pretty much ran away with the second set, putting pressure on Serif, who rushed a lot of her returns.
Paula Badosa (photo by Daniel Ward)

Paula Badosa (photo by Daniel Ward)
Also winning today was 2019 champion Madison Keys, who defeated Emma Navarro 6-4, 6-3. Keys talked about her ability to "shut things out" when she's on a big stadium court (except for a Lady Gaga song that was stuck in her head during the match against Navarro). She also said that having had repeated success in Charleston is a big motivating factor for her when she plays here.
Madison Keys (photo by Daniel Ward)

Also notable today, hometown favorite Shelby Rogers defeated 13th seed Danielle Collins 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, and in a contest between two up and coming players, Diana Shnaider defeated Alycia Parks 6-4, 6-3.
Shelby Rogers (photo by Daniel Ward)

Monday, April 3, 2023

Charleston, day 1

Yulia Putintseva (photo by Daniel Ward)

Former world number number 3 Elina Svitolina returned to the tour today and played a tough first round match against Yulia Putinseva. Svitolina had been off of the tour for a little over a year, but she and Putinseva proceeded to battle it out in a three-set contest, just the way they used to. Putintseva won, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, but it took her two hours and 46 minutes to get the job done. 

Putintseva's next opponent won't be familiar at all. For the first time in her career, she'll face off against 7th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Elena Svitolina (photo by Daniel Ward)

Also winning today was the young Czech Linda Fruhvirtova, who defeated Jil Teichmann, also in three sets. And 2016 champion Sloane Stephens needed three sets to defeat Louisa Chirico. Stephens' next opponent will be Victoria Azarenka.

Tomorrow, many eyes will be on Shelby Rogers and 13th seed Danielle Collins. Also, making their first appearances will be 12th seed Paula Badosa, 9th seed Madison Keys, 2nd seed Ons Jabeur, and 16th seed Marie Bouzkova.

Media Day in Charleston

clockwise, from top left: Shelby Rogers, Paula Badosa, Belinda Bencic, Madison Keys, Ons Jabeur (all photos by Daniel Ward)

Five of the top players in the Credit One Charleston Open draw met with the media today, and they talked about fitness, their love for the tournament, and several other subjects, including the transition to clay courts from hard, promoting tennis in their communities, interior design, and their upcoming nuptials.

Defending champion Belinda Bencic said that winning in Charleston last year has really helped her clay game in terms of the mental aspect. “I’m no longer analyzing, ‘Should I slide here? Should I move here?’” Bencic talked about how special it feels to see her face on a billboard, to see photos of herself with the trophy, and to see her racket hanging in the players' area.

She also told us about last year's victory celebration, which--apparently--her team commenced right away. Bencic had some champagne before the she met with the press, then realized that she hadn't eaten anything, and said that she felt a bit woozy. By the time she got to the hotel, her team had consumed a lot more champagne, and “I had to pack all the bags because the others weren’t able to." 

Paula Badosa, who has had a tough year, dealing with injuries, told us that she feels that she has matured, and in doing so, has "learned to just accept things." Badosa said that her favorite Charleston moment was when she defeated world number 1 Ash Barty in the 2021 quarterfinals. “Nobody know me, I think she didn’t know me.”

A couple of the players discussed the depth of today's WTA field. Shelby Rogers said that “Right now, I feel like everybody is so good, and it’s a battle.” She added that it's hard to take one's past experiences with an opponent and apply them to a current match. And Madison Keys added that "everyone is so good now that each player can do well on every surface."

all photos by Daniel Ward
Both Keys and Rogers are planning weddings, and Keys is buying a new house. The house that she lives in now was featured in various media because Keys had decorated it herself (and had done a really good job). She said that she plans to decorate the new one, also. I asked her if she's given any thought to perhaps pursuing interior decorating--or even interior design--at some point. Keys said that her interest in interiors is significant, and she hasn't ruled out pursuing a career in the decorating or design field.

The players also talked about their reactions to devices like WHOOP, and the answers were varied, though all agreed that collecting fitness and health data can be useful. They also all agreed that only a player can fully "know" her body, so intuitive information needs to be combined with/weighed against data. Ons Jabeur doesn't use any of the devices, and Bencic likes for her physio to use them, but she doesn't want to receive the data. Also, Jabeur has recently gone on a gluten-free diet (though she thinks that it will be very difficult to remain on it when she's in Tunisia).

It was Jabeur who delivered the most surprising comment during the session. “Tennis," she said, "is part of my life. It's not a big part of my life--I’m probably going to go on a few more years.”