Saturday, June 30, 2007
Thanks to Mauresmo, the people who bought Centre Court tickets to see her play got a full refund. The rules state that if you see under an hour of tennis, you get your money back, and Mauresmo dispensed with Santangelo in 57 minutes.
Mauresmo drove her mountain bike into the stadium today, as she does every day, and was stopped by a guard and told she could proceed no farther. New rules? The guard didn't know the rules? The other guards didn't know the rules? Or perhaps today's guard had no clue who was on the bike. A couple of years ago, 2004 U.S. Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova was denied access to the court by a security guard, and she wound up having to point to a giant cut-out of herself to get him to understand that she was a Grand Slam champion, and it was okay for her to enter the court, thank you very much.
All of my picks to win and half of my dark horses are still around. The Graveyard of Champions, Court 2, consumed Martina Hingis yesterday, when she was defeated in straight sets by Laura Granville. But that was really no surprise--Hingis has been out for a long time with a chronic hip injury, and she was just able to start hitting again a few days before Wimbledon began. Some of hoped she could overcome this lack of preparation, but it was, indeed, very hard to overcome. I was sad when I saw her walk off the court. Granville added a touch of class by barely celebrating her win, and by making sure that she left the court first, a reversal of tennis protocol.
My other dark horse to exit was Anna Chakvetadze, who lost yesterday to Michaella Krajicek.
Some fashion notes:
I did not get to see Tatiana Golovin's controversial red undershorts. Her warm-up capri pants, paired with what looked to be a long, (single-breasted or double-breasted?--I had to watch on a computer screen), blazer, however, were simply chic beyond description. Golovin has to be Lacoste's best player representative ever.
Serena Williams looks very good in her new Wimbledon outfit. Sister Venus is wearing shorts, an unusual choice for her, but she reports that her dresses are all too big for her (Reebok couldn't have tossed in a new one?).
The All England Club allows players to have a bit of trim on their white outfits, and my favorite bit of trim I've seen so far was on Kataryna Bondarenko's dress--a large magenta flower emblem on the bottom left-hand side of the skirt. "Large magenta flower" sounds gawdy, but the image was subtle, like a Victorian flower sketch.
Player of the day: Amelie Mauresmo, who served 11 aces, including one on match point.
Friday, June 29, 2007
1. Serena Williams
2. Danica Patrick
3. Venus Williams
4. Mia Hamm
5. Maria Sharapova
6. Annika Sorenstam
7. Layla Ali
8. Michelle Wie
9. Anna Kournikova
10. Michelle Kwan
Williams was the top choice among both men and women, and she was the top choice among Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and African Americans.
Taking the excitement out of doubles in order to market it is totally backasswards. There is no tennis without an ad point, and the super-tiebreak is a terrible idea.
You couldn't have asked for more thrills than we had on the women's side today. I watched as much as I could, and at one point, I had three different matches on at the same time--there lies madness. All three were worth watching though: Jelena Jankovic's dramatic battle against Lucie Safarova, Patty Schnyder's come-from-behind-yet-again moment against Alona Bondarenko, and Michaella Krajicek's dazzling defeat of Anna Chakvetadze.
Schnyder is generally ignored when she plays on grass, which is clearly her weakest surface. But she has really come alive at this Wimbledon tournament, twice coming back from 1-4 in the 3rd set. Alona Bondarenko continues to get better and better, though she was unable to go the distance today. Jankovic and Safarova must both be exhausted. They had a 25-minute rain break, or they might have nearly collapsed.
Player of the day: Michaella Krajicek, who fought for nearly three hours, began the 2nd set with three consecutive aces, and became the first player to take out a top-10 seed.
Player of the Day: Tamira Pascek
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Player of the day: Kateryna Bondarenko, who came dangerously close to taking out number 13 seed Dinara Safina. Ever since her sister, Alona, made a breakthrough last year in Luxembourg, Bondarenko's game has improved considerably. She was the 2004 junior Wimbledon champion, so grass is a comfortable environment for her. Look for both Bondarenkos to rise in the rankings.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Today was "Close Call Day" at Wimbledon, when two important players teetered at the edge of upset. The first was Venus Williams, who faced Russian upstart Alla Kudryavtseva in the Graveyard Court of Champions, and almost left with a Round 1 burial. Kudryavtseva was up and down, and given to a lot of court emotion (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but when she was up, she was deadly. Kudryavtseva had several episodes of free-swinging success, and she was also able to take advantage of the errant Williams forehand and the fact that the ball coming off of the Williams racquet was often flying all over the place.
Williams' sister, Serena, was yelling encouragement at her, and Williams said that was what got her through. It didn't hurt that the young Russion was so inconsistent. With a bit of maturity, though, she could become dangerous. Final score: 2-6, 6-3, 7-5
Number 5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova had her own problems in an injured Julia Vakulenko, who took the first set and looked poised to take the second until things turned around with a break at 4-all. Vakulenko's service game--both first and second serve--was outstanding, and she often stood in the middle of the court and pulled Kuznetsova back and forth repeatedly as though she were on a string. In the end, though, she caved, presumably from nerves, and Kuznetsova used her athleticism and experience to take the match. This was a clean, exciting, very well-played match--they should all be this good. Final score: 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Player of the day: Julia Vakulenko, who should have stood her ground and taken Kuznetsova out, but who nevertheless put on yet another display of wonderful tennis.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Brad Gilbert picks Serena Williams
Steve Tignor doesn't choose a winner, but says the final will be between Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova
Richard Williams picks Venus Williams
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Tennis Magazine picks Serena Williams.
Nick Bolletieri picks Serena Williams.
Lisa Raymond picks Justine Henin.
Jon Wertheim picks Serena Williams.
I'll update as more predictions are made.
Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that men are physically stronger than women. Can we get everyone to agree that--most of the time--this is a fact? Then it follows that three sets for women is indeed equal to five sets for men, and the equal pay "issue" does not exist.
Now let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that women athletes are stronger than average women and better trained physically, and can indeed play five sets. They used to play five sets at the Year-End Championships, as a matter of fact. Now add to that a Grand Slam tournament like Wimbledon, where WTA players have asked to please be allowed to play five sets...and they were told "no."
You cannot have it both ways. Either the less physically strong gender should rationally play fewer sets, or--if it is determined that they can play five sets, a tournament such as Wimbledon has to allow them to.
Fitzgerald is correct, however, that there has been a decline in quality in the women's tour. The new WTA structure, with more time off, is supposed to take care of the chronic injury problem, but there are other problems, as cited by Fitzgerald, that need to be addressed.
Personally, I would like to see everyone--men and women--play three sets at all tournaments, Grand Slams included. That would leave more time to spare in the likely event of bad weather, and it would take away all existing "reasons" to remove the ad point from doubles and force doubles players to play that ridiculous super-tiebreak.
Of all the injury withdrawals, the two I find most disappointing are this one and the withdrawal of Vera Zvonareva. Both players had the potential to go very far at this year's tournament.
In the past few weeks, I have introduced the sisters, Roxie and Velma, and their new friend, Ziggy Stardust. Here is Tarzan, who was rescued from the same feral colony as Ziggy, who is his best friend. Tarzan, as you can see, enjoys relaxing. When he isn't in a state of deep relaxation, he's playing chase with Ziggy, hiding the cat toys, or trying to escape the wrath of Roxie.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
In a refreshingly candid (would we expect anything else of her?) interview on iafrica.com, Russian star Nadia Petrova reveals that she is unsure about what her future holds. "I'm trying to find some answers, but I'm not sure what I'm looking for," she says.
Petrova was once thought by many to be the most talented of the Russian players, and it was assumed that she would be the first to break through. But she didn't even win a tournament until late 2005, and it helped a lot that her opponent, Patty Schnyder, had an injury in the middle of the match and was playing with one hand. The win gave Petrova confidence, though, and the following spring, she won three clay court tournaments in a row, and was considered a primary contender to win the French Open.
But during practice before the tournament began, Petrova was injured, and was therefore easily taken out in the first round. She has never regained her standing, and--playing with an injured back--went out in the first round of this year's French Open, too.
The articulate and intelligent Petrova, known for getting angry with herself on the court, says she is searching for motivation. She has lost her drive, and thinks that perhaps by developing some outside interests, she can feel more balanced and regain her interest in tennis. But she has not ruled out retiring and attending university.
Petrova, in my opinion, is a gem, and it would be a real loss to the tour if she left. Life can be difficult for late bloomers, especially in a field in which youth is considered everything, but Petrova is very talented, so here's hoping she finds a way to keep competing.
Monday, June 18, 2007
The Championships at Wimbledon begin June 25, and this year, the women's lineup looks quite competitive.
JUSTINE HENIN--Wimbledon is the only Slam tournament Henin has not won, though she was a finalist last year. Grass is obviously her weakest surface, but there is nothing weak about Henin's game. She is playing extremely well, serving well (for now), and going to the net quite a bit. There is no reason to exclude her from the list of women who are likely to win this year.
AMELIE MAURESMO--The defending champion (who beat Henin last year) and my favorite WTA player is not having a good season. She missed much of the clay season because of surgery for appendicitis, and then a long recovery period. Then she injured her leg and was out for several more days. She has simply not been herself since the medical leave. But grass is Mauresmo's best surface (she is no slouch on clay, I might add), and anything can happen in a Grand Slam tournament. Mauresmo believes she can win Wimbledon again, and perhaps her belief will help her make it two in a row.
SERENA WILLIAMS--Some of the excitement about Williams has faded a little since her loss at the French Open, but she is nevertheless a contender. Williams has won the tournament twice, and if she can get into the same gear she was in for the Australian Open, she can win a third time.
MARIA SHARAPOVA--Sharapova stunned the tennis world in 2004 when she beat Serena Williams and won Wimbledon. She has had her ups and downs since then, winning the 2006 U.S. Open and then getting run over by Williams in this year's Australian final. She has also suffered with a chronic shoulder injury, which has been the cause of much of her poor service game in 2007. One can safely assume that the injury-induced problem has also lowered her confidence. She just made it to the Birmingham final, but was defeated by Jelena Jankovic. Sharapova shines on grass, and she shines at big moments. If she can serve, she can win it.
JELENA JANKOVIC--It pleases me to be able to put Jankovic on this list because I have believed in her for a long time. I have no doubt that Jankovic is headed toward a major win, and she has two more tries this year. She just won a Wimbledon warmup tournament in Birmingham. The tour's Energizer Bunny, Jankovic apparently prefers match play to practice, and cannot stop entering tournaments. I still think that her body, her psyche, or both will be hurt by this excessive match play; I believe that fatigue (and, of course, her opponent's spectacular performance) was more of a factor than nerves in her easy loss to Justine Henin at the French Open. Henin is Jankovic's nemesis: Despite the fact that Jankovic appears to have solved the Henin puzzle, she still loses their matches. And though the threat is not quite as serious, the extremely talented Jankovic also has a nemesis in her compatriot...
ANA IVANOVIC--Ivanovic went to pieces in her French Open final against Henin, but she is not likely to go to pieces again at such a big moment. Her big, smooth game is great for the grass courts, she can out-serve just about everyone but Williams on a good day, and she has finally learned how to move on the court. Ivanovic may still not be ready to win a big one, but then again, perhaps she is.
NICOLE VAIDISOVA--Vaidisova also seems destined to win a big one. Though I do not think this will be the one, she still has to be seen as major competition.
The Dark Horses:
VENUS WILLIAMS--It feels funny to list Williams as a dark horse. The last time people counted her out--2005--she won the tournament. But Williams just does not have it together now like she used to, and she cannot be considered a major contender. But anyone who has won Wimbledon three times deserves to be seen as at least a dark horse.
MARTINA HINGIS--Hingis's hip has been giving her all kinds of trouble, and forced her to withdraw from the French Open, the tournament we know she most wants to win (she has never won it). A lack of match play, an injury, and the peaking of her ability--for now--on the tour make Hingis an unlikely winner in London. But if she comes in totally healed with the good Hingis serve, who knows?
SVETLANA KUZNETSOVA--There isn't a better athlete on the tour, and Kuznetsova possesses a variety of skills, but she has never gotten past the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. She is also having trouble winning tournaments this year: She has been a finalist four times, and has lost four times. Still, a player of Kuznetsova's stature has to be included as a possibility.
ANNA CHAKVETADZE--Nicknamed "Little Hingis" because she uses her head to make up for her size, Chakvetadze has yet to make it past the third round at Wimbledon, or past the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam tournament. A few years ago, she had runaway emotions on the court that cost her several wins. And at the French Open, when she was required to play a match a day after playing in one of that tournament's two marathon matches, she was so exhausted, it was all she could do to stand on the court. If Chakvetadze has a fitness problem, she cannot win Wimbledon. But sometimes, after playing such a draining match as she played at the French, any player can wilt. If Chakvetadze can maintain her fitness level, she can go far.
Players to watch:
SAM STOSUR--The doubles star is especially good on grass, and if she is having a good day, can entertain. Her serves are almost consistently excellent, too.
MARA SANTANGELO--Santangelo's serve-and-volley game is made for grass, and she could be a dangerous floater at Wimbledon.
ELENI DANIILIDOU--One of the biggest under-achievers on the tour, Daniilidou does best on grass. It is frustrating to follow the career of this talented player who cannot seem to move forward.
MICHAELLA KRAJICEK--Another under-achiever of note, Kracijek has trouble stringing victories together. Grass is her best surface, however, and if her game is on, it is outstanding.
BETHANIE MATTEK--for her tennis outfits! Mattek created a stir last year, and caused a run on women's soccer socks at London department stores. (Mattek, by the way, has totally re-structured her game, and she is serving extremely well.)
Sunday, June 17, 2007
The dfs Classic is a Tier III tournament, but it attracts Tier I competitors because it is one of the few grass court tournaments in existence, and the players want to get used to grass before Wimbledon begins. Next is a Tier II tournament, the International Women's Open in Eastbourne, where qualifying is going on now.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Friday, June 15, 2007
So she, of all tennis players, knows what it is like to have her body judged at every turn by sportswriters, fans and the entertainment media. Brian Viner points out, in the interview, that Hantuchova does have a penchant for fashion, and is often seen in eye-catching outfits in various venues. Might she not be trying to have her cake and eat it, too? he asks.
This is a fair question because Hantuchova has appeared in numerous fashion shoots, sometimes for the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and sometimes for magazines. Her response:
But why shouldn't I wear nice things? I know what you mean and I guess I can't have it both ways. But it's not just me. Jennifer worked so hard in the gym yet there was still so much pressure on her, saying she was heavy. Serena gets it too. It's really not fair.
Hantuchova is right in that she should be permitted to wear any clothing she wants to. There is a difference, however, between wearing fashionable clothing and appearing in fashion shoots. One indicates personal preference, the other is a public invitation to look at her body. I am not arguing that WTA players should not do fashion shoots: This is a complex issue, and we know that if Hantuchova were to never do another shoot, sportswriters and certain fans would continue to talk about whether she is too thin, not thin enough, how long her legs are, and things that I cannot print in this blog.
Last week, I introduced Roxie, and the week before, her sister, Velma. Roxie and Velma are almost four years old. During the past year, they have had to make an adjustment: Two kittens entered our household, both rescued from a feral colony (the sisters were rescues, too--from a yard in another city).
Pictured above is Ziggy Stardust, who was in love with the sisters from the day he arrived. It has taken him a while to win them over, but he is nothing if not relentless. Ziggy wants to play almost all the time, and he has an appetite like an oil rig worker's.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
A fatwa was issued against Mirza in 2005 because of her "indecent" clothes and "corrupting influence." She also got into trouble for promoting safe sex.
Mattek, by the way, has done a complete overhaul of her game, and she said earlier this year that it would take about a year for the results to have any effect. I saw her play in Charleston in April, and I can testify that one overhaul has already taken effect: Her first serve was excellent.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Former French Open winner Anastasia Myskina has withdrawn from Wimbledon. No surprise--she tried to play in the French Open, and her bad foot gave her a lot of trouble.
Also, doubles star (and she's no slouch in singles) Zheng Jie's ankle injury is bad enough that she will not play at Wimbledon, either. Also withdrawing is Romina Oprandi of Italy. The replacement players are Catalina Castano, Melinda Czink and Anna Smashnova (this will be Smashnova's last Wimbledon).
No word yet on whether Martina Hingis will be able to play in London; her hip has been bothering her a lot.
Some better news on the injury front: Vera Zvonareva's wrist injury, which she sustained in Charleston, is not as serious as previously thought. She will not have to have surgery, after all, and she could be back as early as August.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Unfortunately, Henin did not receive her gift on court, but at the press conference. However, the point was made.
The French Open is my favorite Grand Slam tournament, but the women's finals have been consistently bad now for several years. Today, first-time finalist Ana Ivanovic, after making a blockbuster start, fell victim to so much anxiety that 67% of the points made by her opponent came from Ivanovic's unforced errors. The women's ace leader throughout the tournament, Ivanovic did not serve any aces, and she had a 50% first serve success. "Deer in the headlights" would most accurately describe Ivanovic's reaction to being in her first Grand Slam final, and it was painful to watch her. Henin won, 6-1, 6-2.
But this is nothing new. In 2005, former French Open champion Mary Pierce, played brilliantly throughout the tournament--I thought her chances of winning a second title were huge--then went to pieces when she faced Henin in the final. The final score was 6-1, 6-1. Last year, Henin easily defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova in another boring final, and in 2003, she easily defeated her compatriot, Kim Clijsters. Henin was ill in 2004 and did not enter the tournament, so the task of delivering a poor-quality final went to Russians Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva.
This is Henin's fourth Roland Garros title, and her third consecutive French Open title. The only other woman in the Open era to win three in a row was Monica Seles. The most French Open titles ever won by a woman was seven, achieved by Chris Evert, who could have won more than that.
In addition to her four French Open titles, Henin has also won the U.S. Open and the Australian Open one time apiece, and she has been a finalist at the U.S. Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Since so many people are asking:
Jelena Jankovic--YELL e na YAN ko vitch
Ana Ivanovic--AH na Ee VAN oh vitch
Maria Sharapova--Muh REE a Sha RAH po vuh
(but she gave in early on and settled for Sha rah POH vuh, the Americanized pronuciation)
Patty Schnyder--SNHNEE der
Anna Chakvetadze--AH na Chuk veh TAHD zeh
Svetlana Kuznetsova--Kooz NET so vuh
Justine Henin--ZhoosTEEN EN ah
Friday, June 8, 2007
Tonight in Paris, the 17th-seeded team in women's doubles, Alicia Molik and Mara Santangelo, won the French Open by defeating Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama, 7-6, 6-4. In the semifinals, Srebotnik and Sugiyama had taken out number one seeds and defending champions Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur, and Molik and Santangelo had beaten number two seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber. Along the way, Molik and Santangelo had also taken out the hot team of Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung. The number 3 seeds--winner of two Grand Slam titles--Yan Yi and Zheng Jie, went out in the first round.
Alicia Molik was a top-10 singles player until she had to drop out of the tour because of an inner ear infection. She has not since regained her singles status.
For many years, Ai Sugiyama was half of a very successful doubles team that included now-retired Kim Clijsters. Clijsters stopped playing doubles some time ago, however, and Sugiyama paired with Daniela Hantuchova. Her pairing with Srebotnik is new.
Last week, I introduced Velma for readers who did not follow me here from The Dees Diversion. Roxie is Velma's sister, and they love to be together. Here is Roxie, a most colorful tabby, relaxing on top of her time-out unit. The fact that she has a time-out unit should tell you what Roxie is all about.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Her compatriot, Ana Ivanovic, does not appear to object to the WTA's marketing her as a player with "super-model looks," and Czech star Nicole Vaidisova told us all recently in an interview that looking hot was part of tennis. Thanks, Nicole.
But all you Italians are thinking my nails, my lip gloss, my hair, you know, it's just all these things. And all I'm trying to think is about the ball, how I am supposed to win the match.
And the skirt, and how it went, what I did. You know, I was tying my shoe on the court, and I hear (whistling). And I'm like, I have to tie my shoe.
A couple of years ago, when asked whether the WTA was selling sex, Maria Sharapova replied "I don't care what they're sellling."
It looks like Jankovic is starting to care. Good for her.
And to all those men and boys who keep trying so hard to explain to me that women have "all the power" because of our sexuality: Live as a woman for a week and see how you like it. Live as a woman for several months and then tell me how powerful you feel.
Last week, when Maria Sharapova was interviewed about her vulnerability on clay, the droll, self-deprecating two-time Grand Slam winner described herself as a "cow on ice" on the Roland Garros surface. Today, in her semifinal against Ana Ivanovic, she lived up to that description.
Ivanovic, who began and ended the match with aces, not only brought her power game to the match; she brought a lot of confidence, and a gracefulness that defies her large frame. It took Ivanovic barely over an hour to dispense with Sharapova, 6-2, 6-1, and she left the court as fresh as she entered it. Sharapova was never even in the match, and indeed, had the same kind of bad day that Serena Williams had against Justine Henin in the quarterfinals. She never had control of the ball, her serve was off, and she repeatedly missed her signature swinging volleys.
In the second semifinal, Justine Henin played as near-perfect tennis as we are ever likely to see from anyone. Her first and second serves were excellent, her timing and movement were superb, her court sense was stunning, and the famous backhand was at its most lethal. Her opponent, Jelena Jankovic, who has given her a lot of trouble in the past (twice losing to Henin when Jankovic was up in the third set--once when she was up 4-0) had trouble getting into the first set. Jankovic was rushing things, and--as ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez pointed out--the sudden humidity made the ball very heavy, which meant that Henin's heavy topspin was even harder to return than usual. The second set was a different story. Jankovic broke Henin when Henin was serving at 3-1, but her hopes were dashed when Henin broke her right back. The games were close from that point on--until the very end--but Henin found a way to prevail.
Jankovic's serve, never anything to brag about, was especially poor today. It is the only part of her game that is weak, but it is an important part, and she needs to improve it. Jankovic's strategy could have been better, too. On the one hand, she did go to the net a lot more than usual, which is crucial when playing Henin, but she didn't show enough originality. She hit a whole string of drop shots, which Henin countered with her own drop shots, resulting in a string of points for Henin.
Henin's game is a puzzle that Jankovic has actually solved before, only to cave at the last minute, presumably because of nerves. But today, she was overwhelmed by the Belgian. Anyone would have been.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
The first two words I thought of when I read this piece were Amelie Mauresmo. A top tour player for several years now, Mauresmo is the very model of tact, good humor, graciousness, and sportswomanship. Why don't Eric and Wertheim see that? And yes, the Williams sisters don't like to give much credit to their opponents, but in every other way, they are a model of sportswomanship.
Wertheim says the ATP outclasses the WTA in this area. I guess, if you leave out Marat Safin's chronic racquet-breaking, Nicolas Keifer's out-and-out cheating at the Australian Open, Guillermo Coria's attempt to beat up an opponent, and almost everything Lleyton Hewitt has ever done, the ATP is pretty sportsmanlike.
Of course, if Jankovic were to finally defeat Henin and Ivanovic were to defeat Maria Sharapova, the two Serbians would face each other in the final. Ivanovic has won their last two matches, meaning that Jankovic is now left in a draw with a player she has never beaten and a player she has trouble beating. The two women play very different styles of tennis, and Richard Pagliaro, writing for Tennis Week, has done a nice analysis of their contrasting games.
It's still all up for grabs, though. I expect Ivanovic to beat Sharapova, but Sharapova has surprised the hell out of me so far, and you just never know. As for Jankovic, I would love to see her defeat Henin, but the semifinals of the French Open is not likely to be the place where she does it.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Henin will now face Jelena Jankovic, over whom she has a 5-0 career lead. They last played in Berlin a few weeks ago. Jankovic was up 4-0 in the third, and Henin still won the match.
Sharapova has always had problems on clay. The slow, heavy surface has not suited her quick game, and she has never mastered the art of sliding. When she beat clay expert Patty Schnyder in the round of 16, she said that she was not a clay court player, that she played very aggressively in order to squeak past Schnyder.
The interesting thing is that Ivanovic, until recently, had a reputation for not being a clay court player, either. But when she won in Berlin last month--beating Svetlana Kuznetsova with the full use of just one foot--we all had to re-assess her ability on the tricky red surface. In an interview at Roland Garros, Ivanovic said: "At the moment, I think I'm enjoying playing on the clay much more. I feel I improve my fitness a lot which helps on clay, because you have to do a lot of running. And now I feel comfortable, and, yeah, I really enjoy."
Apparently. So much so, that today, she defeated Kuznetsova again, 6-0, 3-6, 6-1.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
The only time Patty Schnyder had ever beat Maria Sharapova was on clay in Rome in 2005. With Schnyder playing extremely well lately and Sharapova still with a bad shoulder inhibiting her serve, there was every reason to think that Schnyder would prevail in their round of 16 match today at the French Open.
And prevail she did in the first set, taking easy advantage of Sharapova's vunlnerability on clay courts, and winning it 6-3. Sharavpova stepped it up in the second set, though, and took it 6-3, also.
The third set is one for the books. At all of the Grand Slams except for the U.S. Open, there is no third set tiebreak (or fifth set tiebreak, for the men)--players simply keep playing until someone wins by two games. When, after thirteen games had been played and there had been nine breaks of serve, it was hard to keep watching. On the one hand, the longer it went, the worse Sharapova would feel physically, but it was also more likely that Schnyder, a head case from way back, would start to fold.
Patty Schnyder is one of my very favorite players on the tour, but it isn't easy, being her fan. Some people say that she has not advanced more in her career because she is not a power player. And while it is true that she is not a power player, she has become very physically fit, is stronger than she looks, and is serving at between 114 and 120 mph. consistently. Some say she has not advanced farther because she does not have enough weapons. Again, I disagree. Schnyder is a lefty, which gives her an advantage, both her first and second serves are good, she has extremely good court sense (a fact Radio Roland Garros commentator Sandra Harwitt does not know, for some reason), she possesses a large variety of shots, and her forehand can be lethal. I confess to not being a tennis expert, but I have been watching tennis for a long, long time, and I do not think that Schnyder is short on weapons, despite the fact that she would, of course, be vulnerable to big power players like Serena Williams, and super-athletes like Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Schnyder's game is not very good on grass, and it is especially good on clay because of her tendency to loop, lob and slice the ball. Her backhand has always been her weakness, but most top players have weaknesses. Schnyder's problem is that she does not have a true winner's mentality. Last year in Charleston, when she was interviewed after a night match, she came right out and said "I have trouble with my feellings, my emotions."
It is a pity that a clay court player of Schynder's superiority has gotten to the quarterfinals of the French Open only once in her career, and it is a pity that--as many times as she has been a Tier I tournament finalist--she does not have a long string of Tier I wins.
Today, Schnyder served for the match three times (once at 5-4) and could not close. At the end, when she was down 7-8, she went up 40-15, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But she was quickly broken by Sharapova, and it was over.
Sharapova applauded Schnyder when she left the court, and indeed, both women played their hearts out. I take nothing away from Sharapova, who is a fighter to the last point. But really, this was Schnyder's match to lose, and lose it she did. The Swiss star is twenty-eight years old; to think of what she could have done is heartbreaking for me, and probably for all of her fans.
Mauresmo says that the injury occurred when she returned to the tour and she is has not been able to get rid of it. For a long time, Mauresmo's career was threatened by chronic back injuries, and she solved that problem by adopting a modified service motion (similar to what Justine Henin has begun executing). But lately, it has been one damned thing after another with her body. She had such a great year last year, I hate to see her plagued with all of these problems. She has to defend her Wimbledon title this summer, and things are not looking good right now.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
They call her the JJ Express because Jelena Jankovic is so fast about the business of serving the ball (it got on Venus Williams' nerves yesterday). But she's also speeding up the favorites list in Paris among those who lay odds. Jankovic is now second only to defending champion Justine Henin, and ahead of both Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Michaella Krajicek is very talented and can play some exciting tennis, but she has trouble stringing together a set of victories. In Rome, she kept up with Serena Williams quite well in the first set, then wilted in the second. Today in Paris, she not only kept up, but put on a thrilling display of ball-striking and volleying in her third round match with Williams. She wilted for two games in the second set, but then pulled herself together. It wasn't enough to beat an in-form Williams, but it was enough to show people just what kind of tennis she can play.
It was a very entertaining match, with lots of shifts of momentum; in the first set, Williams won three games, then Krajicek won three, then Williams won three. There was also a lot of mad volleying at the net, some cracking up, and a great deal of screaming from Krajicek, who likes to yell at herself. The commentators thought she was yelling in Czech, but--as Pam Shriver noted--being Dutch, Krajicek can probably yell at herself in six languages.
Here is Jankovic's interview.