Sunday, July 14, 2024

My Wimbledon top 10

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

10. Put the whole thing under a roof: We expect it to rain in London in the summer (or any time), but this year's tournament was cursed by almost constant rain, making scheduling very difficult.

9. It doesn't get worse than this: I cringe every time I have to listen to Tennis Channel commentators. I try to avoid them; the world feed commentators can't pronounce the players' names, either, but at least they do a good job with everything else. I was grateful to have the world feed for most of the tournament, and during the semifinals, I was lucky--Wimbledon Radio was in perfect sync with my television, so I just slipped my iPad under my set. But I was forced to listen to ESPN for several of the late-week matches, and it was painful. And much of the nonsense was directed at Barbora Krejcikova, whom commentators treated as though she had just popped up out of the grass and no one had ever heard of her. 

"She isn't familiar with this (Centre) court," said one, though Krejcikova had won two Wimbledon doubles titles. A little while later, the other commentator said, "She isn't familiar with this court," and I thought that my head might snap off. Even after Krejcikova won the singles title, Chris Evert and Chris Fowler treated the accomplishment as though it were a big novelty. Hello! Krejcikova won the French Open a few years ago and she was number 2 in the world in singles. She hasn't done that well this year, but she was ill, and also out for two months with a back injury. 

Also, between Evert and Chris McKendry, Jasmine Paolini's name was mispronounced in so many ways, I almost needed a chart to track them. Toss is the expected sexism from Cliff Drysdale, and it was the usual major embarrassment.

8. The grass is greener on the red clay side: It's always tempting to believe that world number 1 Iga Swiatek is ready to compete seriously at Wimbledon, but--so far--she hasn't figured the grass out. This year, people were awaiting a round of 16 clash between Swiatek and her main nemesis, Alona Ostapenko, but that didn't happen. Instead, Yulia Putintseva upset Swiatek in the third round, which wasn't really a surprise; big hitters can get the best of Swiatek on fast courts, or--as Ostapenko once explained it--"I don't give her any time."

7. It was joyful, it was painful: Donna Vekic is a hard-working veteran who has had injury (and surgery) issues that have plagued her for some time, and have kept her from meeting her potential. She recently came close to retiring from the tour. However, at this Wimbledon, Vekic finally got the attention that she deserved, getting all the way to the semifinals. She lost to Jasmine Paolini in a thrill ride of a match that lasted almost three hours, and it must have broken her heart. But she has so much to be proud of, and it was a pleasure to see her shine in London.

6. Remember her name: And what a lovely name it is. Lulu Sun, who had to win three qualifying rounds before main draw play began, was the breakout star at this year's Wimbledon tournament. She made quite a splash when she upset Zheng Qinwen in the first round. She went on to also defeat Emma Raducanu, and she made it all the way to the quarterfinals, in which she was finally stopped by Donna Vekic. Sun's game was impressive, as was her calm and steady court demeanor. Stay tuned.

5. Diede the Great rolls on: Top seed Diede de Groot, who has won 23 major singles titles, won her 15th consecutive singles title in London when she defeated Aniek Van Koot 6-4, 6-4 in the final, giving her a total of six Wimbledon titles. de Groot and her partner, Jiske Griffioen lost the doubles final to top seeds Yui Kamiji and Kgothatso Montjane. de Groot won both titles at the Australian Open and the French Open.

4. Why do it once when you can do it twice?: Hsieh Su-wei and Jan Zielinkski won the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open. Seeded 7th at Wimbledon, they won that title, too, defeating Giuliana Olmos and Santiago Gonzales 6-4, 6-2 in the final. In addition to winning these two mixed doubles titles, Hsieh has also won seven major women's doubles titles, and she won three of those after taking a year and a half off. The 38-year-old, known to fans as the Casual Queen, turned pro 23 years ago, and--whether wearing a dragon head or hitting an overhead--she never fails to entertain.

3. How to win in doubles: Back in the day, some of us used to say that Mladenovic and Anybody comprised a winning doubles team. These days, it's Siniakova and Anybody; the Czech star won the French Open with Coco Gauff, and she just won Wimbledon with Taylor Townsend (both of whom are, of course, Somebodies). Siniakova and Townsend, who had already taken out the top seeds, Hsieh Su-wei and Elise Mertens, defeated 2023 U.S. Open champions Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1).

During the match, one of the commentators was concerned about Siniakova's body language. Had she never watched Siniakova play?! During the course of a big match, the Czech player goes into nervous wreck mode on a regular basis, and it doesn't effect the score. It wasn't that long ago that Barbora Krejcikova, after she and Siniakova had won a major title, turned to her partner and said, "Thank you for playing with me for so long. It's very stressful, but I enjoy it."

Siniakova and Krejcikova won nine doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal (and will be playing together at the 2024 Olympics). Siniakova has already marked her place as one of the great doubles players, and I'm sure that there are more big trophies to come.

2. Italian delicacy: Fighting Italians progress in different ways. Jasmine Paolini, at the age of 28, decided to just go for it, and in 2024, she has the distinction of being the finalist at both the French Open and Wimbledon. The five-foot, four-inch high-spirited Paolini is a joy to watch as she speeds around the court and makes shots that sometimes seem impossible to execute. She was stopped by Barbora Krejcikova in the Wimbledon final, but expect to see more of her beautiful tennis in a big match soon.

1. A Czech pattern is always in style: Last year, it was Marketa Vondrousova. In 2011 and 2014, it was Petra Kvitova. In years past, it was Jana Novotna and Martina Navratilova (who was a Czech citizen for part of her career). Czechs like grass--even Czechs who appear to prefer other surfaces. I've always thought of Barbora Krejcikova as more of a hard court player, but then she went and won the French Open. And now she has demonstrated that what she really is is an all-surface champion.

Krejcikova was out for two months with a back injury and was also ill for a while. She hadn't been doing much of anything on the court, and she wasn't exactly on anyone's radar (well, she's always on mine). But, from the moment she stepped onto the Wimbledon grass, it was clear that Barbora was back in a big way. Krejcikova took out Danielle Collins, a red-hot Alona Ostapenko, and Wimbledon favorite (and 2022 champion) Elena Rybakina. She then held her nerve and defeated Jasmine Paolini in an entertaining final

When Krejcikova won the French Open, she was overcome with emotion while talking about her history with the late Jana Novotna, her mentor and coach, who remains her inspiration. Winning Wimbledon--the title that eluded Novotna for five years--had to be the most emotionally charged accomplishment imaginable. Early on, Novotna told the young Krejcikova to win a major--and to make enough money to fly business class. I'd say that the Czech star has met those goals, and then some.

A former world number 2 in singles, Krejcikova has beaten Iga Swiatek in two finals, and is, of course, a huge star in doubles. Despite her success, the new champion continues to fly under the radar (see number 9), but she's probably okay with that. Her racket, as they say, does the talking, and it delivers even better speeches than Barbora herself.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

We have more winnners!

For years now, we've become accustomed to saying that Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova have just won another major. It's true today, too, but not in the way that it used to be. Krejcikova, of course, won the Wimbledon singles title today, and Siniakova--playing with Taylor Townsend--won the doubles title.  They defeated 2023 U.S. Open champions and 2nd seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Erin Routliffe 7-6, 7-6 in the final.

Siniakova and Townsend, seeded 4th, had already upset the top seeds, Hsieh Su-wei and Elise Mertens, in the semifinals. This is Siniakova's ninth major women's doubles title--she won seven of them with Krejcikova--and she also won a gold medal (with Krejcikova) at the 2021 Olympics. This is Townsend's first major title of any kind.

Also today, Diede de Groot won her 15th consecutive singles title when she defeated Aniek Van Koot 6-4, 6-4. Diede the Great and her partner, Jiske Griffioen, seeded 2nd, will contest for the doubles title tomorrow they play top seeds Yui Kamiji and Kgothatso Montjane. de Groot holds 23 major singles titles and 19 major doubles titles, as well as multiple Masters titles and two Olympic gold medals.

A resurgent Krejcikova adds the Venus Rosewater Dish to her considerable collection of hardware

After her semifinal victory over 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, Barbora Krejcikova commented that--after finally breaking Rybakina--"I got into a zone, and I didn't want to leave that zone." In the first set of today's final, the Czech star was definitely in that zone, making opponent Jasmine Paolini uncomfortable with almost every stroke of her racket. (It couldn't have been easy for Krejcikova, who--according to ESPN's commentators and personalities--had to battle multiple opponents on the other side of the net: Paolina, PaOHlini, Pollina, and occasionally, Paolini. It takes effort to do a worse job than Tennis Channel does, but ESPN always manages to pull it off.)

Krejcikova won that set 6-2, but the second set was a different story. Of course, anyone who watches professional tennis expected it to be a different story. Paolini is too good a player and too good a competitor to fold in a major final. She became more aggressive in the second set, and Krejcikova--though she should have been prepared for this--looked rather flummoxed as Paolini displayed the kind of fearless tennis that got her into the final. The Italian star's court speed and shot invention was, at times, stunning, and she took the second set 6-2.

The third set was a a chapter we might call "Whack You, Whack Me, Now What?" Each player held serve easily for several games, which introduced the match's first really dramatic tension. At this point of a championship match, it's almost all about nerve: Who can hold her nerve better? Who has the nerve to take risks? At 4-all, Krejcikova broke Paolini, but in a moment so crucial, there's still some mystery about who will prevail.

The usually calm Czech went up 30-0 as she served for the championship. But then (just as a commentator said how "calm" she looked), Krejcikova appeared to be about to break into a sweat. Eventually, she was at deuce, then Paolini saved two championship points and attained a game point, which Krejcikova saved. Krejcikova then served an ace, and the calm returned to her face. After Paolini hit a return out, the 2021 French Open champion won Wimbledon on her third championship point, taking the match 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.

Krejcikova hit 28 winners, including six aces. She had first and second serve win percentages of 73 and 57, and that's a stat that says a lot on its own. 

The new champion hasn't had an easy time of it in the past several months. She was out for two months with a back injury, and she also has had to deal with an illness, as well as the break-up of her extremely long doubles partnership (they began playing doubles together whent they were 12) with Katerina Siniakova. She and Siniakova have won seven majors, including two Wimbledon titles. Krejcikova also holds three Australian Open mixed doubles titles. 

The Czech star, formerly number 2 in the world in singles, now holds a total of twelve major titles in three disciplines, and she has lost only one major final--Krejcikova and Siniakova were defeated by Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka in the 2021 Australian Open. Krejcikova would go on a few months later to win the French Open singles championship. She also won a gold medal (with Siniakova) at the 2021 Olympics.

Of course, one cannot discuss Krejcikova's success without mentioning the late Jana Novotna, who served as Krejcikova's coach and mentor when Krejcikova was young. Most serious tennis fans have heard the story of how Krejcikova's mother drove her to Novotna's house (they lived in the same city), and the young Krejcikova knocked on the door and asked Novotna if she would help her. The 1998 Wimbledon champion replied with the Czech version of "Show me what you got, kid," and history was then in the making. 

When Krejcikova won the French Open, she delivered an emotional tirbute to Novotna, and said that "It was amazing that I had a chance to meet her and that she was such an inspiration for me." And as emotional as that occasion was, the emotion had to be even more intense at Wimbledon, the tournament that Novotna came so close to winning in 1993, then finally won five years later. I can't fully imagine what Krejcikova is feeling now when she thinks of her mentor and inspiration, who left us almost seven years ago. The two stars will forever be linked, and especially in Wimbledon lore.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Czechs and Fighting Italians are (always) coming for you

Today, we were privileged to see two very entertaining semifinals at Wimbledon. The first one, which lasted almost three hours, featured a third set thrill ride that had some of us on the edge of our seats. During that match, unseeded Donna Vekic--for whom it had to be a dream come true to reach this level of her favorite major--battled against French Open runner-up Jasmine Paolini, and I don't use the word "battled" lightly.

Both players are 28-year-old tour veterans. Vekic's potential has been on display for a long time; she has had a good career and has won four singles titles. She has also been a finalist nine times, which perhaps reveals something about her court mentality. It hasn't helped that Vekic has also experienced chronic knee and foot injuries, and was out for some time because of knee surgery. It wasn't that long ago that she considered retiring from the tour. 

Vekic's joy in reaching the semifinals was palpable, and anyone who has followed her career had to have been touched by the sight of her after she defeated qualifier Lulu Sun, the breakout star of this year's tournament. 

Paolini, for her part, won the Portoroz title in 2021, but it was this year, when she won Dubai, a 1000-level tournament, that she commanded our attention. The 5-foot, 4-inch Italian with the fast legs and cheerful attitude laid down a calling card in Dubai that we probably didn't read closely enough. She would go on to reach the final of the French Open, in which even her speed and guile couldn't do much to stop Iga Swiatek. And now she has reached the final at Wimbledon, too.

Vekic and Paolini played for almost three hours. On the face of it, it was a case of the hard hitter vs. the speedy, clever opponent. But the Croation player is more than just a hard hitter; she can play with aggression, and she can use some touch when she needs to. She dominated her opponent in the first set, but in the middle of the second set, Paolini gained momentum. Vekic, at times, looked distraught, but--just when it looked like she might cave--she would come up with shots that left Paolini helpless. Vekic made Paolini work to the very end, saving two match points, but finally--after two hours and 51 minutes--the Italian prevailed, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8).

In the second semifinal, 2022 champion Elena Rybankina, a favorite to win the title--and the favorite as the tournament progressed--faced the clever, strategy-oriented Barbora Krejcikova, who won the French Open in 2021. Both women have gone through hard times lately. Rybakina was chronically ill for about three months, and Krejcikova, in the past several months, has gone through illness, injury, and the demise (at least for now) of her very long-term doubles partnership--a partnership that resulted in seven major titles and an Olympic gold medal.

Krejcikova has a good serve, and anyone who plays Rybakina needs to have a good serve, for Rybakina has ones of the best (if not the best) serve on the tour, and she's also a powerful returner. And maybe if Rybakina had had more time to recover from illness, she would have walked away as the winner; on the other hand, she was facing the woman who has defeated Iga Swiatek in two finals. When Krejcikova is in form, she's hard to beat.

Before today, Rybakina had a 19-2 record at Wimbledon. She also had an 0-2 record against Krejcikova, who, each time she has played the world number 4, has lost the first set. Today, Rybakina won the first set 6-3 (following a 4-0 lead), and there were probably a lot of people who expected her to win the second set. But Krejcikova, after struggling to break Rybakina's serve, finally broke her, and then pivoted into an entirely different rhythm, eventually breaking her opponent four times, and winning the match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Czech star hit 25 winners and made 26 unforced errors.

Following the match, Krejcikova acknowledged her ongoing inspiration--the late Jana Novota, who won Wimbledon in 1998 and was the young Krejcikova's mentor. Several years ago, I wrote about WTA players who inspire us, and today, I realized that the four semifinalists are all quite inspiring. Rybakina, who has been sick for several months, nevertheless made it all the way to the semifinals. Krejcikova, in the last several months, has had to deal with illness, injury, the breakup of her very successful doubles team, and what most of us would call a slump. Paolini has slogged along for years, and--at the "old" tennis age of 28, has become a star. And Vekic, as I mentioned earlier, was close to just throwing it all in, she had been through so much.

I admire all four of them. They are made of the stuff that propels us to look for relatable metaphors in sports so that we can apply them to our own lives.

Paths to the final:

BARBORA KREJCIKOVA (31)

round 1--def. Veronika Kudermetova
round 2--def. Katie Volynets (Q)
round 3--def. Jessica Bouzas Maneiro
round of 16--def. Danielle Collins (11)
quarterfinals--def. Alona Ostapenko (13)
semifinals--def. Elena Rybakina (4)

JASMINE PAOLINI (7)

round 1--def. Sara Sorribes Tormo
round 2--def. Greet Minnen
round 3--def. Bianca Andreescu
round of 16--def. Madison Keys (12)
quarterfinals--def. Emma Navarro (19)
semifinals--def. Donna Vewkic

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A Wimbledon champion, a tough veteran, a Fighting Italian, and--of course!--a Czech survive the field

I can't remember the last time that I called all four quarterfinals of a major correctly, but I got it right this time. There was a lot of talk about how "open" the draw was, but was it really? Had Aryna Sabalenka played, yes, that would have made a difference. But Iga Swiatek still isn't ready to win Wimbledon, Karolina Muchova is still finding her way back (and getting injured again), and Ons Jabeur's game was just more vulnerable than it was in 2023.

The big question, for me, was "Is Elena Rybakina healthy?" The 2022 champion has suffered from some type of chronic illness for a few months, and none of us knew whether she had recovered when she entered the Wimbledon event. It appears that she has, which is great news, and today, she defeated Elina Svitolina in straight sets (6-3, 6-2).

Also today, Barbora Krejcikova, who hasn't had an easy time of it lately, defeated Alona Ostapenko 6-4, 7-6. The Czech star has looked like "herself" since arriving in London--using every shot imaginable in the most strategic ways, moving deftly, and serving well. Ostapenko didn't make it easy for Krejcikova--she broke when Krejcikova served for the match at 5-4 in the second set. But the 2021 French Open champion held steady and won the tiebreak.

The "surprise" quarterfinal result was Jasmine Paolini's 6-2, 6-1 victory over Emma Navarro. I expected Paolini to win, based on her previous performances on the Wimbledon courts, but I, too, was surprised at how easily she dominated Navarro. Perhaps the most interesting fact is how we suddenly have such high expectations of Navarro--she has made such impressive progress.

Finally, as great as qualifier Lulu Sun's out-of-nowhere run was, only a truly uncharitable person could fail to be happy for Donna Vekic, the talented veteran who has been through so much, all the while showing us so much potential. Vekic loves grass, and her 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sun places her in the semifinals of her favorite event, and it's just a wonderful thing to see. Sun was impressive, and my instinct is that that this won't be the last time that we see her having a really good run.

Here is the women's singles semifinal draw:

Barbora Krejcikova (31) vs. Elena Rybakina (4)
Donna Vekic vs. Jasmine Paolini (7)

Krejcikova is 2-0 against Rybankina. They have not played one another on grass before. Paolini is 2-1 against Vekic, and they have not played each other on grass before.

Monday, July 8, 2024

8 women left standing at Wimbledon

Round of 16 play has concluded at Wimbledon, and now eight women, representing eight different countries, will compete in the quarterfinals. The highest seed left is number 4, and there's also a qualifier in the quarterfinal draw. 

Today, there was another sad occasion when Anna Kalinskaya had to retire in her round of 16 match against 4th seed Elena Rybakina. The Russian player, who has looked so good in London, sustained a wrist injury during the match.

Also today, Elina Svitolina handily defeated Wang Xinyu 6-2, 6-1, and Alona Ostapenko defeated Yulia Putintseva 6-2, 6-3. Ostapenko hit 29 winners and broke Putintseva five times. This was the Latvian player at her best, but--as we all know--another version of Ostapenko could show up in the next match.

Finally, Barbora Krejcikova--looking like Barbora Krejcikova--defeated Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-3. Krejcikova had first and second serve win percentages of 80 and 50, which says a lot about how this match went. Also, as the match went on, Collins became more and more prone to error. 

Here is the quarterfinal singles draw:

Alona Ostapenko (13) vs. Barbora Krejcikova (31)
Elena Rybankina (4) vs. Elina Svitolina (21)
Lulu Sun (Q) vs. Donna Vekic
Jasmine Paolini (7) vs. Emma Navarro (19)

Ostapenko is 5-2 against Krejcikova, and 1-0 against her on grass (this year, in Birmingham). 

Rybakina and Svitolina are 2-2, with Rybakina winning their only match on grass. 

Navarro has won all three of her matches against Paolini; they have never played each other on grass.

Sun and Vekic have never played each other.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

The drama continues during Wimbledon round of 16 play

It rained today at Wimbledon. Then it rained some more. It seemed, in fact, as though Paula Badosa and Donna Vekic would never get to finish their match, but after multiple delays, they did. Vekic defeated Badosa 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, and--in doing so--reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the first time in her career. We've all watched Vekic for so long, and we've seen what she's capable of; it's a pleasure to see her reach this milestone.

The painting next to the TV is Robert Hoover's "The Day of the Sun"

Meanwhile, qualifier Lulu Sun, who upset 8th seed Zheng Qinwen in the first round, stopped Emma Raducanu's run by hitting 50 winners and defeating her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. Raducanu had a good run, however, which included the defeat of both of both Elise Mertens and 9th seed Maria Sakkari.

Emma Navarro, who just keeps improving, upset 2nd seed Coco Gauff in straight sets. Navarro appears to be comfortable on all surfaces, and her court poise is very impressive.

The match of the day, unfortunately, came to a sad end. Jasmine Paolini and Madison Keys threw everything they had at each other, and they were a joy to watch. But Keys injured her leg in the final set and had to retire before that set ended. The result was that Paolini (who's also looking good on all surfaces) won the match, 6-3, 6-7, 5-5.

The highest seed left in the draw is 4th seed and 2022 champion Elena Rybakina, who has been chronically ill since spring, but who appears ((fingers crossed) to be in good health now. 

Round of 16 play will continue tomorrow. And while I don't consider popcorn to be breakfast food, it would certainly be appropriate for when I watch Yulia Putintseva play Alona Ostapenko.

So much drama, and that was just he FIRST week of Wimbledon

Where to start? Defending champion Marketa Vondrousova, entered this year's Wimbledon with both a leg injury (she fell in Berlin and had to retire) and a vulnerable back, so it wasn't exactly a shock that she went out in the first round. The only other defending champion to lose in the first round was Steffi Graf, so at least Vondrousova is in good company. And those who are trashing the Czech star for losing (while playing with two injuries)--the same ones who also trashed her when she won the tournament last year--are the kinds of "fans" that tennis does not need.

In other big news, world number 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek lost in the third round to Yulia Putintseva, who is exactly the kind of player who is deadly on grass to the likes of Swiatek. The world number 1 was headed toward a round of 16 clash with Alona Ostapenko, against whom she has an 0-4 record. The upshot of all this is that Putintseva and Ostapenko will face of in the fourth round, and that may be the ultimate popcorn event of any tournament. 

Swiatek, for all her very considerable talent, hasn't been able to figure out grass. Ostapenko is a huge hitter, which has helped her to dominate Swiatek on both hard and grass courts--she once explained that the key to her success against the world number 1 is that she doesn't give her any time to set up her shots--but big hitting isn't a necessary requirement when playing Swiatek on grass. The same woman who looks almost magical on a clay court can be flummoxed on grass by a clever opponent.

Karolina Muchova, back from a 10-month surgery and recovery period--and back from a recent injury to the wrist for which she had the surgery--lost in the first round to Paula Badosa. This isn't exactly "news," given that Badosa is a very good player, but--until the recent re-injury, Muchova had looked very good on grass.

Also in the third round, 2022 champion Elena Rybakina defeated wild card Caroline Wozniacki 6-0, 6-1, and the scoreline speaks for itself. Rybakina has been chronically ill since the spring, so here's hoping that she has fully recovered.

Ons Jabeur, who was the runner-up in both 2022 and 2023, lost in the third round to Elina Svitolina, who dramatically reached the semifinals last year after returning from a long haitus. Svitolina is a better player now than she was before she took time off from the tour, and she is adept at grass competition. It was never going to be easy for Jabeur, who not had to face Svitolina, but who, I'm guessing, was under a certain amount of pressure from herself. Jabeur's goal last year was to win the tournament and then retire from professional tennis; it was also her goal this year. Jabeur was the 2022 runner-up at the U.S. Open, too, so she may still have a realistic goal to propel her.

Emma Raducanu defeated Maria Sakkari in straight sets in the third round, and is anyone really surprised? Sakkari, a top-10 player (she's currently number 9 in the world) just can't seem to get it together at the majors.

There has been quite a bit of drama around the British players. The British number 1, Katie Boulter, lost to countrywoman Harriet Dart, and Emma Raducanu is being roasted for withdrawing from mixed doubles. She and Andy Murray decided, at the last minute, to become a team. However, Raducanu's vulnerable wrist began hurting her, so she wisely withdrew. Those suggesting that she should have compromised her singles potential in order to play a mixed doubles match (and it probably would have been one match) with an injured Murray have added just one more twist to the never-ending saga of sexism in the pro tennis world.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

My French Open top 10

Here are my top 10 French Open occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Gone too soon: We lost some notable players in the first round of the tournament. 6th seed (and 2020 finalist) Maria Sakkari was defeated by Varvara Gracheva. The 13th seed, the indefatigable Beatriz Haddad Maia, lost to Elisabetta Cocciaretta. And 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova lost to Victorija Golubic.

9. Back in the mix: In 2016, Laura Siegemund won the U.S. Open mixed doubles title with Mate Pavic. Eight years later, she is again a major champion. Siegemund and Edouard Roger-Vasselin won the French Open mixed doubles title. Seeded 2nd, Siegemund and Roger-Vasselin defeated Desirae Krawczyk and Neal Skupski in the final.

8. Ajde!: Every major has an under-the-radar star, and at this year's French Open, it was Olga Danilovic. The Serbian player, ranked 125 in the world, had to play three qualifying rounds before she even got to the main draw, but once she got there, she earned everyone's attention. In the opening round, she easily defeated Martina Trevisan, who can be a really tough opponent. In the second round, she upset 11th seed Danielle Collins, arguably the hottest player on the tour right now who isn't named Swiatek. Then, in the third round, Danilovic beat Donna Vekic, despite getting bageled in the first set. She was finally stopped by 5th seed Marketa Vondrousova, in the round of 16, but it was an unforgettable run.

7. You haven't seen Hot Wheels like these: She did it again. Top seed and three-time defending champion Diede de Groot won her fifth French Open singles championship, defeating Zhenzhen Zhu in the final. She and partner Aniek Van Koot, seeded 2nd, also won their sixth French Open doubles title. (Tennis Channel Plus didn't show wheelchair matches this year, and that is unacceptable.)

6. A fitting farewell: The 2024 French Open was the last-ever tournament for French star Alize Cornet, who appeared in 69 consecutive major main draws (a record), and reached a ranking high of 11 in singles. Cornet announced her retirement last month, personified what commentator Mary Carillo once called "French flair." On a good day, she could beat anyone. Indeed, it was Cornet who broke Iga Swiatek's 37-match win streak in 2022. The 34-year-old Frenchwoman, who brought so much joy to so many fans for so long, has already published a memoir and a novel, and is also interested in playing some kind of role in French tennis in the future.

5. Illness 2, tennis stars 0: Elena Rybankina has been dealing with health problems for a while now. She withdrew from both Indian Wells and Rome, which would have been bad enough, but--to make it much worse--she was the defending champion at both tournaments. I don't know what the ailment is that's affecting the world number 's career, but in addition to it, she also struggles with allergies. And it was announced this past week that she has also developed sleep problems, which may be the most difficult condition of all. In her quarterfinal match against Jasmine Paolini, she appeared listless, though she rallied to win the second set. Fans, of course, have taken this opportunity to criticize her relentlessly. My wish is that she get the medical care that she needs sooner than later.

Also during the quarterfinals, 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka developed a stomach illness, which clearly hampered her, and she lost to Mirra Andreeva.

4. Mamma Mia! I picked Jasmine Paolini as my dark horse for this tournament, and it turned out to be a pretty good pick--she made it all the way to the final. The new generation Fighting Italian, in addition to defeating Rybakina, also defeated the likes of Bianca Andreescu, the in-form Varvara Gracheva, and teen star Mirra Andreeva. 

3. Living dangerously: No one would be surprised to see Naomi Osaka play a very impressive comeback match, but a lot of people would be surprised to see her do it on clay. But that's exactly what the former world number 1 did in the second round. Osaka took top seed Iga Swiatek to the very edge, and I'm still not totally sure how Swiatek survived the ordeal. The match lasted almost three hours, and Swiatek went down 0-3 in the third set. She then found herself down 2-5 and facing a match point. It was at this point that the top seed's mental strength was on magnificent display, and she emerged the winner, 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5. It was the match of the tournament.

2. How do you do? Could you help me lift this trophy?: Coco Gauff's doubles partner, Jess Pegula, is still recovering from injury and didn't play in this year's French Open. Katerina Siniakova's doubles partner, Storm Hunter, is out with injury, as is her Rome partner, Taylor Townsend. So, at the last minute, Gauff and Siniakova decided to form a team in Paris. The pair, seeded 5th, dropped only one set the entire tournament, and won the title when they defeated the team of Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini (there she is again!) 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the final. This is Gauff's first major doubles title. It is Siniakova's eighth major doubles title and her third French Open doubles title. Siniakova won all of her other major titles with former long-time partner Barbora Krejcikova.

1. She loves Paris every moment: The French Open image that will probably stay with most of us is that of Iga Swiatek sobbing with relief and release after just barely escaping a loss to Naomi Osaka in the second round. She had not only escaped an early round loss, she had proven to herself what she can do with her nerves of steel. Osaka threw everything at her, but she survived. And after that, it was a pretty easy ride for the world number 1, culminating with her win over Paolini in the final.

This is Swiatek's third consecutive French Open title, and her fourth French Open title overall; she also won Rome and Madrid. During her two weeks in Paris, Swiatek treated us not only to some spectacular tennis, but also some peak (and charming) nerdiness. When she couldn't recall the name of the place she had visited, she bent down and drew a map in the clay so that the interviewer could identify her destination. A couple of days later, she explained, with gestures, the wind current patterns to the people in the stands. (After all, this is the woman who, once, during a changeover, read Wuthering Heights.) She is an extraordinary athlete. She knows about a lot of different things. She is the Queen of Paris.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Paris's other Iron Lady lifts fourth Coup Suzanne Lenglen

In Paris, La Tour Eiffel is sometimes called La dame de fer, but the famous tower may now have to share its nickname with one Iga Swiatek of Poland, aka four-time French Open champion. Today, the world number 1, who came to Paris as the two-time defending champion, defeated Italy's Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-1 to claim her fourth French Open title.

It wasn't an entirely smooth run for Swiatek, who was taken to the very edge by Naomi Osaka in the second round. Swiatek went down 0-3, then 2-5, in the third set, and had to save a match point. But, aside from that very close call, the world number 1 had a pretty easy time of it. Paolini, who has finally come into her own as a true Fighting Italian, was no match for Swiatek, though--at the start of the match--she showed much of the talent that got her to the final.

Martina Navratilova was asked to present the trophies, but since it was the 50th anniversary of Chris Evert's first victory at Roland Garros, Navratilova asked her dear friend to do the presentation with her. Surely both Swiatek and Paolini felt the power of their presence--I did, just watching the ceremony on television.


Paolini's work isn't done--tomorrow, she and partner Sara Errani (the 2012 singles runner-up) compete for the doubles title.

photo by Diane Elayne Dees

Swiatek's first French Open title (her first WTA title of any kind) came in 2020, when the event was moved to the fall because of Covid issues. That year, 20-year-old Swiatek defeated 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the final. The next year, the Polish star lost to Maria Sakkari in the quarterfinals. Barbora Krejcikova--the only non-big hitter on the tour (though she has a very good serve) who has been able to beat Swiatek in big matches--defeated Sakkari in the semifinals and went on to win the tournament.

In 2022, Swiatek defeated Coco Gauff in the final, and in 2023, she defeated Karolina Muchova. Muchova, who was unable to compete this year, is the only player to take a set off of Swiatek in a French Open final.

In other French Open news, wheelchair top seed and three-time defending champion Diede de Groot won her fifth French Open singles title today when she defeated Zhenzhen Zhu 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the final. de Groot and partner Aniek Van Koot, the 2nd seeds, won the doubles title when they defeated top seeds Yui Kamiji and Kgothatso Montjane 6-7, 7-6, 10-4. This is the team's sixth French Open title.

Friday, June 7, 2024

The Queen of Paris vs. the Fighting Italian (2024 edition)

No one is surprised that world number 1, three-time French Open champion and two-time defending champion Iga Swiatek is once again in the final in Paris. On the other hand, a lot of people are surprised that Italy's Jasmine Paolini will be her opponent. Before the tournament, I chose Paolini as my dark horse, so I'm not one of those people. 

As for the players who were highly likely to wind up in the final--two of them, Elena and Rybakina and Aryna Sabalenka--are dealing with physical ailments. Rybakina is dealing with three physical problems, in fact, though that hasn't stopped tennis fans from bashing her mercilessly. Sabalenka had the misfortune to develop a stomach illness during her quarterfinal match.

Paolini defeated a listless Rybakina in the quarterfinals, and Sabalenka fell to teen star Mirra Andreeva. Of course--as I wrote two days ago--we'll never know how those matches would have turned out had the higher-ranked players been healthy.

Swiatek and Paolini have played each other only twice. Swiatek won both of those matches, which were played on hard courts.

Paths to the final:

IGA SWIATEK (1)

round 1--def. Leolia Jeanjean (Q)
round 2--def. Naomi Osaka
round 3--def. Marie Bouzkova
round of 16--def. Anastasia Potapova
quarterfinals--def. Marketa Vondrousova (5)
semifinals--def. Coco Gauff (3)

JASMINE PAOLINI (12)

round 1--def. Daria Saville
round 2--def. Hailey Baptiste
round 3--def. Bianxa Andreescu
round of 16--def. Elina Avanesyan
quarterfinals--def. Elena Rybakina (4)
semifinals--def. MIrra Andreeva

In the meantime, we have some champions. Laura Siegemund and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, the 4th seeds, won the mixed doubles title when they defeated 2nd seeds Desirae Krawczyk and Neal Shupski 6-4, 7-5 in the final. Krawczyk was going for her second French Open title, and her third major title with Shupski. Krawczyk holds four major mixed doubles titles.

Krawczyk, by the way, played her women's doubles semifinal match today, with partner Caroline Dolehide; however they lost to Coco Gauff and Katerina Siniakova. The 5th seeds will play 11th seeds Sara Errani and--a little drum roll here--Jasmine Paolini for the title.

There was also a major upset in wheelchair play. 2nd seed Yui Kamiji was upset by Momoko Ohtani. Defending champion Diede de Groot, who is usually in a final with Kamiji, will face Zhu Zhenzhen for the title. Kamiji, however, will be facing de Groot in the doubles final. She and partner Kgothatso Montjane, the top seeds, will play 2nd seeds de Groot and Aniek Van Koot for the title. Kamiji and Kgothatso are the defending champions.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Fighting Italian and Russian teen win their quarterfinals in Paris

Today, both Jasmine Paolini and 17-year-old Mirra Andreeva did what they "weren't supposed to do"--they upset the 4th and 2nd seeds respectively, to reach the semifinals of the French Open.

Paolini won a brilliant first set against Elena Rybakina, easily defeating her 6-2. In the second set, Paolini's level dropped, and she began to make unforced errors (she made only one in the first set). At the same time--not surprisingly--Rybakina raised her level and won the set, 6-4. The final set was tense, but it was the 4th seed who blinked--during the last few games, she made several unforced errors, while Paolini held her nerve, winning the set 6-4.

In the other quarterfinal, Andreeva held tough against Aryna Sabalenka, forcing a tiebreak set, which Sabalenka won. History informs us that a fairly inexperienced player who loses a very tight first set is likely to collapse. But not Andreeva. She held firm, and tightened her game gradually, taking the second set 6-4, and the third set 6-4. There were fourteen breaks of serve in the match.

Andreeva is the youngest woman to reach the semifinals of a major since Martina Hingis (of course!) did it in 1997. Hingis reached the semifinals of both the French Open and the U.S. Open that year. She was 16.

There is important context to consider about both of today's quarterfinal matches. Rybankina has been ill a lot this season, withdrawing from both Indian Wells and Rome--she was the defending champion at both events. In addition to whatever illness she has, the world number 4 also suffers with allergies, and--according to Tennis Channel's Andrea Petkovic--she's having trouble sleeping (a sleep disorder alone is enough to derail any athlete). 

Sabalenka, for her part, played her quarterfinal while experiencing stomach problems. 

If Rybakina had been healthy, would she have won? We'll never know, especially Paolini is on a real roll. If Sabalenka had been well, would she have won? Probably, but Andreeva is impressive, and upsets do happen, even when no one is sick or injured. Paolini and Andreeva have played each other only once, in Madrid this year; Andreeva won the match.

 Here is the singles semifinal draw:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Coco Guff (3)
Jasmine Paolini (12) vs. Mirra Andreeva

Swiatek is 10-1 against Gauff. They have played four times on clay, and Swiatek won all of those matches. One of those matches, in fact, was the 2022 French Open final.

Paolini also went on, with partner Sara Errani (one of the original Fighting Italians) to defeat the team of Emma Navarro and Diana Shnaider in the doubles quarterfinals. Navarro and Shnaider upset the top seeds, Hsieh and Mertens, in the second round.

And yesterday, Diede de Groot had to face a recent nemesis--Li Xiaohui, who snapped de Groot's 145-match win streak recently in World Team Cup play. Diede the Great prevailed, 6-3, 6-4.

Monday, June 3, 2024

New generaration Fighting Italian reaches her first major quarterfinal

After Jasmine Paolini reached her first major round of 16 at this French Open, she followed up that feat by reaching her first major quarterfinal. The 12th seeded Italian player defeated Elina Avanesyan to make it to the final eight, and she is now set to face 4th seed Elena Rybakina.That is, of course, a huge task, but whatever happens, the 2024 Dubai champion has shown herself to be worthy of her heritage

For her part, Rybakina defeated 15th seed Elina Svitolina. Also, 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka defeated 22nd seed Emma Navarro, and 17-year-old Mirra Andreeva defeated Varvara Gracheva.

There was a very big upset yesterday that received hardly any attention. Top doubles seeds Hsieh Su-wei and Elise Mertens were upset in the second round by the unseeded team of Emma Navarro and Diana Shnaider, two former U.S. university competitors.

Here is the singles quarterfinal draw:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (5)
Coco Gauff (3) vs. Ons Jabeur (8)
Jasmine Paolina (12) vs. Elena Rybakina (4)
Mirra Andreva vs Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Both Vondrousova (2019) and Gauff (2022 have reached the French Open final before. Swiatek, of course, has won the event three times, and is the two-time defending champion. 

Swiatek is 3-0 against Vondrousova, and 1-0 against her on clay--that win was at the 2020 French Open. Gauff is 4-2 against Jabeur, and 2-1 against her on clay. Paolini is 2-2 against Rybakina; they have never competed on a clay court. Sabalenka is 2-0 against Andreeva. Both of their matches were played on clay, and both were played in Madrid.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Upstarts make their way into the round of 16

Six unseeded women and one determined qualifier join some of the tour's most distinguished players in the 2024 French Open round of 16 draw. 

There were three upsets (on paper) in the third round. Elisabetta Cocciaretto defeated Liudmila Samsonova (17), and Emma Navarro (22) defeated Madison Keys (7). Keys was impressive on clay this week, and--not to take anything away from Navarro, but--the 7th seed sustained a hip injury during her third round match, which obviously hampered her somewhat. And then there was Elina Avanesyan, who upset Zheng Qinwen in a thrilling three-set match.

The exciting player of the week, however, was qualifier Olga Davilovic. Davilovic--who has had to deal with some significant injury issues--won three qualifying rounds, then proceeded to take out Martina Trevisan, who can be a pretty tough opponent. She then upset 11th seed Danielle Collins, arguably the hottest player of the season. And in the third round, she defeated Donna Vekic, who had upset 18th seed Marta Kostyuk. 

Here is the round of 16 singles draw:

Iga Swiatek (1) vs. Anastasia Potapova
Olga Danilovic (Q) vs. Marketa Vondrousova (5)
Coco Gauff (3) vs. Elisabetta Cocciaretto
Clara Tauson vs. Ons Jabeur (8)
Elina Avanesyan vs. Jasmine Paolini (12)
Elina Svitolina (15) vs. Elena Rybakina (4)
Varvara Gracheva vs. Mirra Andreeva
Emma Navarro (22) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (2)

Iga Swiatek is, of course, the defending champion, and she has won the French Open three times. She also won Rome and Madrid this year, and is therefore going for two triples. Swiatek was put to a mighty test by Naomi Osaka in the second round, and she somehow passed it. Two of her nemeses, Alona Ostapenko (4-0 against Swiatek) and Barbora Krejcikova (2-5 against Swiatek), are out of the tournament, but there are two other players--Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina--who have beaten her. 

Swiatek is 8-3 against Sabalenka, but she is 4-1 against her on clay. The defending champion is 2-4 against Rybakina, and 0-2 against her on clay (however, one of those losses was a retirement). 

Both Gauff (2022) and Vondrousova (2021) have made it to the final at Roland Garros.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Already gone

Upsets at majors are common. And upsets in the first round are sometimes not really unexpected, yet those are often part of a bigger, sadder, story. And some "upsets" are really about seeding--they are just results that are somewhat surprising.

Here are the first round upsets at Roland Garros:

Marie Bouzkova d. Veronika Kudermetova (29)--No one runs more hot and cold than Kudermetova, only lately, the cold tap has been dominant. Kudermetova is good on clay; however, when Bouzkova is on, she can be a handful.

Victorija Golubic d. Barbora Krejcikova (24)--The 2021 French Open champion hasn't had a great couple of years. Plagued by both illness and injury (elbow, wrist, ankle, and back), she has also had to deal with the breakup of one of the WTA's longest-running (and highly successful) doubles partnerships. Despite these significant setbacks, the Czech star won both Dubai and San Diego last year. To see her go out in the opening round of the French is worrisome.

Victoriya Tomova d. Ekaterina Alexandrova (16)--Alexandrova has worked hard to join the top 20, but clay courts are not her favorite.

Elisabetta Cocciaretto d. Beatriz Haddad Maia ((13)--Haddad Maia, known for playing three-set matches, likes to say that the clock is her friend, but the French clock let her down. Her opponent defeated her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Varvara Gracheva d. Maria Sakkari (6)--Gracheva, who now plays for France, is a talented player, and it shouldn't surprise anyone that she would pull a big upset. The story here, however, is about Sakkari. The Greek star went into a slump last year, but then won Guadalajara, which appeared to increase her confidence. She also parted ways with long-time coach Tom Hill, signaling a desire to try something new. But Sakkari's issue is larger than just the disappointment of being in a slump: She has played in ten WTA singles finals, and has won only two of them. It will be interesting to see if her new partnership with David Witt will produce a new mental approach to playing big matches.

There were also a few surprises (for me) among unseeded players. Anhelina Kalinina lost to Camila Osorio. That wasn't a shocking result, but a bit of a surprise, given how ood Kalinina has been on clay lately. Sara Sorribes Tormo lost to Bianca Andreescu, and yes--when she's healthy, Andreescu is fearsome--but she hasn't played much lately, and it's Sorribes Tormo who loves the clay courts. And finally, Angie Kerber lost to Arantxa Rus. The former world number 1 has showed several flashes of her old self lately, and I expected her to win some matches in Paris this year.

In Poland, they do it with mirrors

Aside from their shared homeland, Iga Swiatek and Aga Radwanska may seem to have little in common, tennis-wise. Radwanska was known as The Magician (and sometimes, The Ninja), but after yesterday's escape from what appeared to be certain defeat, it appears that Swiatek may have out-tricked The Magician herself. 

I had a late morning appointment, and expected to watch Swiatek's match against Naomi Osaka earlier in the morning. But the rain in Paris delayed the match and ruined my viewing plans; I saw a little of the first set, and then I had to leave. When my appointment was over, I checked my phone, and the defending champion was down 0-3 in the third set. Naturally, traffic was backed up like crazy, and it took me a while to get home. I tuned in just as Osaka had a match point. 

Something told me that the match wasn't really over--it just looked like it was. And sure enough, Iga the Illusionist went from being down 0-3 to being down 2-5 to saving a match point, breaking Osaka, holding for 5-all, breaking Osaka again, and successfully serving for the match.

Later, I watched the entire match, and Osaka was so impressive--and on her least favorite surface. Throughout most of the three-hour match, she went about flummoxing the world number 1 in great style. We know that it can be done--Sabalenka can do it, Rybakina can do it, Krejcikova can do it, and Ostapenko can really do it. But we don't expect anyone to do it so forcefully on clay, especially when that someone isn't too fond of clay courts.

My main takeaway from this match is that Swiatek's mental strength is a thing to behold. (Radwanska once said that hiring a mental coach was a sign of weakness. Well, Swiatek not only hired sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz, Abramowicz travels all over the world with her--seems like a sign of strength to me.)

Now that I've discussed the illusionist skills of the world number 1, here's some old-school Polish magic from ten years ago:

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Au revoir, Alize--you will be missed

 

photo by Daniel Ward


The first time I saw Alize Cornet play, many years ago in Charleston, I was taken with her energy, her playing style, and her skillful shot-making. I was also taken with her graceful leaping, as she brought the athletic spirit of Suzanne Lenglen onto the court. I have followed her career ever since, and--while I don't think that there's any such thing as an over-achiever--I believe that Cornet has to be one of the most interesting under-achievers on the tour.

photo by Diane Elayne Dees

The Frenchwoman, known for her dramatics on court, has a wealth of talent, and--on a given day--could beat just about anyone (she ended Iga Swiatek's 37-match win streak in 2022). But, as tennis fans know all too well, that kind of talent doesn't always translate into an elite career. In Cornet's case, however, it did translate into a very impressive and deeply satisfying career.

The 34-year-old Frenchwoman won six singles titles and three doubles titles (she won both singles and doubles titles in Strasbourg), was a member of the Billie Jean King Cup French team from 2008-2017, an in 2019, and was a member of the French Olympic team in 2008, 2012 and 2016. She also had 25 top 10 wins in her career, and reached a career high of number 11 in the world in singles. Cornet, who played her debut match at a major when she was a 15-year-old wild card, has appeared in 69 consecutive major main draws, an all-time record.

In 2021, Cornet wrote a diary/memoir, Transcendence: Diary of a Tennis Addict (original French title, Sans Compromis). The book is touching, colorful, filled with inside information, and--at times--very funny. I highly recommend it. Cornet then wrote a novel, La Valse des Jours, which has not been translated into English. Inspired by her mother's childhood, La Valse des Jours is based in sixties and seventies France. This year, she published a second novel, Ce qui manque a l'amour, also available in French only.

When I spoke with Cornet in 2022, she said that she plans to continue writing, and that she would like to be France's Billie Jean King Cup captain. 

Talking about her retirement, Cornet said:

"I'd like to be remembered as a genuine player who shared all her emotions with everyone all throughout her career with a fighting spirit. Someone who is a passionate tennis player, who likes to fight and who could die for it. 

"I think I showed it several times, that it was actually my type of character. People may love me or not for that type of personality, actually, but this is what brought me here."

Her message to her younger self, she said, would be:  "I would just say stay as you are and be yourself. Don't fight to be perfect, because you will never be perfect, and you will waste a lot of energy doing so. Be genuine. Be loyal and truthful, and people will accept you as you are or not."

Cornet lost her 2024 French Open first round match to up-and-coming player Zheng Qinwen. She was then presented a retirement gift by tournament director Amelie Mauresmo, for whom she had once been a ballgirl, and to whom she lost in the second round in her French Open debut. Highlights of Cornet's caeer were shown on a big screen, and Cornet then gave a moving speech to the many fans who had come to watch her play.

I fully expect Cornet to continue her writing career (here's hoping for more English translations), and to also participate, in some way, in the tennis world. There will never be another like her. As she said in her farewell speech on Court Philippe-Chatrier, she gave her all. And her all was more than enough.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Here we go again....

In 2022, Hailey Baptiste, in an interview in Charleston, told Pam Shriver that every shot in tennis was executed better by ATP players. (She also revealed that he'd named her pet after one of the ATP's kings of sexism--a man who was given a pass throughout his career for that sexism.) No one noticed. Well, I did, and I reported on it, but Baptiste was/is hardly a tennis household name.

Now world number 2 Aryna Sabalenka has revealed that she prefers to watch men' tennis; she stated that there was more strategy in the men' game and that she finds it more interesting to watch. Now three (so far) camps have formed on X: those who think that Sabalenka has betrayed the WTA, those who think that' it's ridiculous to ever watch women's tennis, and those who think that women' tennis is fine, but that it's more exciting to watch players who are faster and stronger.

The second camp has always been with us and always will be. But, as I said to someone in the third camp (and yes, it was a total waste of my time to say it), the belief that stronger and faster, i.e., male attributes, are "better" is a a product of socialization. What if we were taught that crafty and flexible were "better"? Or that the greatest skill lies in playing while sitting down and rolling on wheels? 

The second camp (and perhaps some in the third) rely on the "a man could beat Serena Williams" argument. Well, duh. Men are physically stronger--haven't they heard? The reason that I hated the Battle of the Sexes and wish that Billie Jean King had never participated in it is that it promoted the idea that tennis is tennis, when actually, men's and women's tennis are very different from one another. King shouldn't have had to defeat a man to prove that she was an elite athlete. Yet the same people who like to remind us that men and women are different seem to forget that when it comes to sport.

I wish that Sabalenka hadn't said what she said, but she's never had much of an editor, so it wasn't a surprise. I've never believed that stronger and faster is "better;" my favorite player of all time to watch was Aga Radwanska. I appreciate and enjoy (most of the time) hard hitting, but I don't consider it to be superior hitting. 

I used to watch a lot of ATP matches, but I don't now--not because of the tennis--which I enjoy--but because so many of the players are so sexist, and I don't enjoy watching people who consider me inferior.

The Sabalenka comment will be a thing for a while, and then fans and so-called fans will move on to something else. But the belief that male attributes are always superior to female attributes will, I'm afraid, not fade away.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Elegant Assassin leaves the game

Two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza has retired from professional tennis. This wasn't a surprise; the Spanish star has been on an extended leave from the game, and has strongly hinted that she might retire soon. Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. She won a total of ten singles titles, including the 2021 WTA Finals, and reached a singles ranking of number 1. Muguruza also won five doubles titles, and reached a doubles high ranking of number 10. She was on the Spanish Fed Cup team from 2015 to 2019, and was on the Spanish Olympic team in 2016.

Muguruza, who was born in Venezuela and moved to Spain when she was six, could be a bit of an enigma in terms of her persona. She sometimes appeared rather sullen on court, but then we would see her bringing her spirited (and in-form) dance moves to TikTok. She was, in my opinion, also a WTA fashion icon. In the 2020 off-season, Muguruza followed in the (metaphorical) footsteps of Amelie Mauresmo, and climbed a mountain.

Muguruza sustained an injury early in her career that set that career back a bit, but she came back strong and fulfilled the promise evident in her game. The Spaniard's combination of power and fluidity was special. She could take control of a match against any player, and she could make it look so easy, as though she were one with the court on which she stood. 

In addition to winning the French Open and Wimbledon, the Spanish star was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2015 (lost to Serena Williams), and she was an Australian Open finalist in 2020 (lost to Sofia Kenin).

Since 2017, Muguruza has served as an ambassador with Room To Read, a global non-profit that focuses on literacy and girls’ education in historically low-income communities. In announcing her retirement, Muguruza said that she has joined the Laureus World Sports Academy as an ambassador.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Some final words from the 2024 Credit One Charleston Open champion

Danielle Collins (photos by Daniel Ward)

"...I think for women with endometriosis, what I seem to have learned--and I'm not a medical expert, but I've talked to a couple of different people in the field--is that a lot of people are under the impression that painful periods are normal. Sometimes they can be normal, but sometimes they can be something more, and I just really encourage people to talk to their medical provider and to go annually to have their annual
gynecological exam. 

"I think it's really important that you communicate with those medical professionals and every once in a while maybe get a second opinion if needed. There's never any harm in doing that. And I've been really fortunate and lucky, I think, with the ability to have access to great medical staff and people that really listened to my concerns and took me seriously. I don't think it's always like that for all women, and especially in this country, we have a lot of health inequity."

Yeah, I feel like...one of my personal strengths starting at a young age was the problem solving. I remember I used to look at my dad during matches and I'd be like, 'dad, like help me!' And my dad's like, 'you know, you're going to figure it out.' You have to learn how to problem solve and think for yourself.

And I think that's something that I use to an advantage. I've, of course, had lots of people that have helped me along the way, coaches, physios at times. And I've had a lot of great instruction over the years. There've been periods [when] I've worked with people consistently. There've been people that have been here for six months or a year and have helped me...."

Danielle, to do this, no coach, no physio. You get in the car and drive up here and win this tournament. It's an amazing thing. Are you kind osurprised at yourself that you were able to do this coming off that long week in Miami?

"Yeah. I mean, I guess I'm just a low-maintenance gal, right?"

Only one survivor remains on Danielle Island

Danielle Collins (photos by Danielle Ward)

Sixty-four women competed in the Credit One Charleston Open main draw this week on Daniel Island, but--in the end--there was only one woman standing, and--to no one's surprise--that woman was Danielle Collins. Collins, who was unseeded, drove--with neither a coach nor a physio--to Charleston from Miami where, incidentally, she had just won the Miami Open. Winning two consecutive tournaments is a feat in itself, but winning a hard court tournament and then immediately winning a clay court tournament is another thing altogether.
photo by Daniel Ward

Collins dropped only one set the entire week, and that was to defending champion and 2nd seed Ons Jabeur, in the second round. Her very aggressive play took her past Paula Badosa, Jabeur, 2016 champion Sloane Stephens, 11th seed Elise Mertens, 3rd seed Maria Sakkari, and finally, 4th seed and 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina, whom she defeated 6-2, 6-1 in the final. The new champion is now on a thirteen-match win streak.
Daria Kasatkina and Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

Quincy with Danielle and Dasha (photo by Daniel Ward)

One never likes to think that there's an inevitability about how a draw will turn out. This is tennis, and all kinds of things can happen--injuries, sudden, unexplained "flatness" on the court (e.a., Charleston in 2018), fatigue, and just plain big upsets. But as the week wore on, it did become increasingly hard to believe that anyone could stop Collins. Yesterday, before the second semifinal between Collins and Sakkari, Kasatkina was asked to give her thoughts about the upcoming match, and she said, "Collins is killing everyone, so we'll see." This morning, after the doubles final, Sloane Stephens remarked that "Danielle is smokin' everyone--she smoked me."

Collins had the highest first serve win percentage--72.73--of anyone who competed. She also won the most service games--84.21%, and she hit 21 aces in six matches (Taylor Townsend, who played only three matches, hit 29 aces). It should also be noted that on Thursday, Collins had to play two matches because of Wednesday's weather.

Sloane Stephens and Ashlyn Krueger (photo by Daniel Ward)

Collins wasn't the only winner today. Ashlyn Krueger and 2016 singles champion Sloane Stephens won the doubles title, defeating Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadia Kichenok 1-6, 6-3, 10-7. Both teams were unseeded. This was the first doubles title for the team, and the first doubles title for both players.

l to r: Lyudmyla Kichenok, Nadia Kichenok, Sloane Stephens, Ashlyn Krueger (photo by Daniel Ward)


Some final thoughts before the final match at the Credit One Charleston Open

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

"So if you want to be--if you want to compete on the good level, you have to always improve things. And I am one of the players who needs to--so if I want to compete, I have to be always on the highest level of my ability. So I have to be always in the best shape, which is tough to keep it all the time. But that's what I am trying to do all the time."
--Daria Kasatkina

 

 

 "I feel like I've been asked a lot of times, do you think because you announced your retirement, you're playing more freely? I think when that's being said, it's kind of like a vague thing or assumption to kind of make because it's easy to say, oh, well, she's retiring at the end of the year, so she must be playing so freely. But the reality is is that I've made improvements each match, and a lot of those improvements have  been technical, tactical. Athletically, there are things that I've improved, not remendously, but little by little. And I think it's important to highlight those things."
--Danielle Collins (photo by Daniel Ward)

Saturday, April 6, 2024

We have finalists in Charleston!

Daria Kasatkina (l) and Danielle Collins (photos by Daniel Ward)

Today, 4th seed and 2017 champion Daria Kasatkina and Danielle Collins advanced to the final of the Credit One Charleston Open. Kasatkina upset top seed Jessica Pegula 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) in a well-played, momentum-swinging match that lasted two hours and 47 minutes. Collins defeated 3rd seed Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-3.
Maria Sakkari (photo by Daniel Ward)

Collins is now on a twelve-match streak after winning in Miami and reaching the final in Charleston. She has show no sign of either physical or mental fatigue throughout her week in Charleston. Kasatkina has played some of her very best tennis this week, and both women have provided delightfully entertaining interviews and press conferences all week long.

Daria Kasatkina (photo by Daniel Ward)

"Danielle is, I think, playing the best tennis of her career right now," Kasatkina said of her upcoming opponent. "She's fearless. When she feels her game, she's one of the most dangerous players on tour, and she definitely feels it right now. She's in I don't know how many matches winning streak. So it doesn't matter that she was changing the surface. She doesn't care, it seems like." Earlier, at the Tennis Channel Desk, before the second semifinal, Kasatkina said that "Collins is killing everyone, so we'll see."

Jessica Pegula (photo by Daniel Ward)


Collins said of Kasatkina: "She's one of my favorite players to watch because she makes these matches so interesting. The way that she plays and her tennis IQ, how creative she is on court is phenomenal. I think against Daria I have to be very flexible. She has just about every tool in her toolbox. She can hit big. She can hit with shape. She can hit slices. She can come into the net. She does everything very, very well. She serves and returns well. She mixes up her pace. She's just solid all over. And so it's going to be a battle, and I have to be ready to play a long, tough match, if that's what's needed."

Kasatkina has a 2-1 record against Collins; they have not played each other since 2021. Here are the players' paths to the final:

Daria Kasatkina
round 1--bye
round 2--d. Ashlyn Krueger
round 3--d. Anhelina Kalinina
quarterfinals--d. Jaqueline Cristian
semifinals--d. Jessical Pegula (1)

Danielle Collins
round 1--d. Paula Badosa
round 2--d. Ons Jabeur* (2)
round 3--Sloane Stephens
quarterfinals--d. Elise Mertens (11)
semifinals--d. Maria Sakkari (3)

*defending champion