Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Azarenka rolls into the semifinals in Miami

Victoria Azarenka is a name one enjoys saying, and that's a good thing, because there is every reason to believe that we will be saying it a lot in the future. She could do nothing wrong tonight in her quarterfinal match against Samantha Stosur. Stosur, for her part, could do very little right. Her greatest strength--her serve--let her down again and again. Stosur has one of the better second serves on the tour, but it was nowhere to be found tonight. Her shot selection was off, and she even had trouble setting up her volleys. This particular study in contrasts was not very enjoyable to watch, as both players worked to defeat Stosur, who did not hold her serve one time. Azarenka's 6-1, 6-0 win took her under an hour to accomplish.

Azarenka will play Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semifinals.

Kuznetsova first into Miami semifinals

Fans of Svetlana Kuznetsova must have been wringing their hands during the second set of her Sony Ericsson Open match against Caroline Wozniacki. Having taken the first set 6-4, Kuznetsova served for the match twice, and was broken both times. She looked tired and frustrated, and the momentum moved to her opponent, who won the second set in a tiebreak.

A tennis match, however, can be a tricky gestalt, not defined by the discrete properties of a set. So it was (after I had to stop watching this match--work keeps interfering with my tennis-watching) with this match. Kuznetsova apparently found her way, Wozniacki lost hers, and the Russian took the final set 6-1. Kuznetsova will play either Victoria Azarenka or Sam Stosur in the semifinals.

Robson moves into number 1 junior spot

2008 junior Wimbledon champion Laura Robson is now the number 1 junior in the world. Robson has moved past Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, who is now number 2. Melanie Oudin has moved to number 7.

There are 156.25 points separating Robson and Lertcheewakarn.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Miami quarterfinals set

The Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals have been decided:

Serena Williams vs. Li Na: They have met only twice, both times on hard courts, both times the matches went to three sets, and they have each claimed a victory. Both players had a rough time of it in the fourth round in Miami today. If each brings her game up a level, a really good match could come out of it. If neither brings her game up a level, it could result in a real mess. Williams is going for six Miami wins, so we can expect her to be on a mission when she plays Li.

Iveta Benesova vs. Venus Williams: Benesova has inserted herself into the scene again, and it's nice to have her back. She has done very well to reach the quarterfinals of the Sony Ericsson Open, but it's hard to imagine anything but a Williams victory.

Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Caroline Wozniacki: This would be a great opportunity for Kuznetsova to assert herself again and compete for a big title. She has the game to do it, but a long slump has taken the shine off of Kuzzy's game. Wozniacki has the momentum, but you never know when the 2004 U.S. Open champion might make a comeback.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Samantha Stosur: This is an interesting matchup--the screaming, hard-hitting, hot-headed Azarenka against the mellow Australian with the knock-out serve. They've met twice, and Azarenka won both times. Both have momentum going into this match, albeit Azarenka is the clear favorite. If both players perform at a high level, and Stosur continues to control her nerves, this match could be quite entertaining.

Dementieva falls in Miami 4th round

Sony Ericsson Open 4th seed, Elena Dementieva, joined seeds 2, 3 and 5 today; she was upset by 13th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, 7-5, 6-4. Top seed Serena Williams was taken to three tough sets by Zheng Jie, but she survived, and--in doing so--won her fiftieth Sony Ericsson Open match.

The day's other upsets were performed by Samantha Stosur, and by Iveta Benesova, who defeated Anabel Medina Garrigues.

Other 4th round winners were Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka, and Li Na. Williams defeated Agnieszka Radwanska. What little I saw of this match was quite enjoyable, but Radwanska was clearly affected by nerves toward the end.

I saw all of the match between Li and Ekaterina Makarova, which was an inconsistent affair from the beginning. Li should have swept the first set, but she made so many unforced errors that she wound up in a tiebreak, which Makarova won easily. Makarova then took a medical break to deal with a thigh problem. She was never the same after that. Whether her thigh was giving her a bit of trouble or whether she just wasn't up to being in the 4th round in Miami, I don't know. (Her service game decreased in quality, which may have been a result of the thigh pull.) But it was all Li after the first set, and she won 6-7, 6-2. 6-2.

It's time for my annual language rant

I might have just skipped it this year, but then the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour site made it inevitable: One of the headlines on the site earlier today was that a player "Steps Up to the Plate."

I am so weary of hearing sports metaphors used for descriptions of everything from war to political campaigns to school success. I am especially tired of hearing sports metaphors used to describe sports--in fact, using a phrase to describe something in a subset to compare it with something in that set is just about not using a metaphor at all.

Worst of all is the use of other sports "metaphors" to describe tennis, which is already the sports stepchild of many nations. When we say that a tennis player "steps up to the plate," we are comparing tennis with baseball. Again, that is barely using a metaphor at all--kind of a really lazy writer's idea of a metaphor. But we hear that sort of thing all the time with regard to tennis: "right off the bat," "teeing off," "right out the gate," "almost to the finish line." I have even heard tennis compared with auto racing.

Figurative language is supposed to expand the senses. Comparing any two sports within a metaphor is hardly figurative. In the case of tennis, there is more at stake than bad writing: The campaign to gain more respect for tennis is hampered every time it is compared with "real" sports.

Black and Huber out in 2nd round again

The world number 1 team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber went out in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open last week, and they went out in the second round of the Sony Ericsson Open today. Black and Huber were defeated, 6-4, 4-6, 10-4, by the wild card team of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Amelie Mauresmo.

It wasn't the only upset: The 8th-seeded team of Maria Kirilenko and Flavia Pennetta were defeated by Chuang Chia-Jung and Sania Mirza, 4-6, 7-6, 10-4.


This morning, Tennis Channel showed the 1996 Fed Cup final between Spain and the U.S., contested by Conchita Martinez and Monica Seles. I didn't get to see all of it, but what I saw was dazzling. I'm sure Tennis Channel will show it again, probably several times, and it is well worth a look. I hope I get to see all of it because there was some great shot-making going on.

Speaking of Tennis Channel, Steve Flink says that Kim Clijsters' return to the tour is a very good thing, and that she will move upward quickly. He also says that she was never a "dynamic competitor," so I guess I saw things he didn't see. Another person who says Clijsters can rise quickly is former rival Justine Henin.

And speaking of Clijsters--those in charge of the tournament in Sydney are campaigning to get Aussie Kim as a 2010 entrant.

Steve Tignor compliments Alexa Glatch on her lovely shot-making. "Glatch's game is more than just utilitarian; it has personality, and it was a breath of fresh air to watch."

There was a really nice 25k tournament less than half an hour from my house this past week, and I missed it. I always manage to miss it; this year, I wasn't even aware it was taking place. Anyway, Kristie Ahn, whom I enjoyed watching at the 2008 U.S. Open, received a wild card into the tournament and won it. The tournament had a good field, including Kimiko Date-Krumm, who lost in the quarterfinals to Lindsay Lee-Waters.

Stosur leaves trail of upsets behind her--can she do it again?

Sam Stosur has always had a sweet serve and a shaky psyche. When she misses her often ace-producing first serve, she has one of the best kick serves around. That serve, along with her considerable volleying skills, should make her a dangerous opponent. But Stosur has a tendency to choke at big moments, and she has managed to lose several contests she should have won.

This season--after having missed so much time because of serious illness--the affable Australian is concentrating on singles, and it shows. She has already pulled off three upsets at the Sony Ericsson Open (though her first one, against Sybille Bammer, was helped along by Bammer's shoulder injury). Her first-round opponent retired, then she defeated Bammer and number 2 seed Dinara Safina; today she also defeated 20th seed Amelie Mauresmo.

Next in line for Stosur is Victoria Azarenka, arguably her toughest opponent so far, given Mauresmo's struggle to return to form, and Safina's fall from form. Azarenka may well end Stosur's Miami run; she has beaten Stosur both times they have played one another. At any rate, this has the makings of a good match.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More on Scott's departure

Larry Scott told Tennis.com's Tom Perrotta that he left his post at the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for two reasons: the intense travel was keeping him away from his family, and he met too much resistance in trying to merge the WTA with the ATP. He said he was approached about taking the ATP head position, but was not interested.

Safina, Zvonareva and Ivanovic upset in Miami

It took Slammin' Sam Stosur only and hour and nineteen minutes to dispense with number 2 seed Dinara Safina in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open today. For the first two-thirds of the match, the service stats were notable: Stoser wasn't getting in too many first serves, but those she got in tended to be successful, as was her second serve. Safina, on the other hand, was getting almost all of her first serves in, but winning with hardly any of them. Also, her second serve stats were dismal. All of that ironed itself out in the last third of the match, but it was too late for Safina--Stosur beat her, 6-1, 6-4.

Number 6 seed Vera Zvonareva, who won in Indian Wells last week, was upset by Li Na. Number 7 seed Ana Ivanovic fell victim to the not-slumping Agnes Szavay, who appears to have joined us again. Szavay defeated Ivanovic 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

Bagels are a very popular snack in Miami--unless you're Alize Cornet. The 14th seed was upset by 17th seed Zheng Jie, 6-4, 6-0. 9th seed Nadia Petrova was upset by countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova, and 15th seed Flavia Pennetta was upset by 20th seed Amelie Mauresmo.

And then there was the matter of Anabel Medina Garrigues and Dominika Cibulkova. No one ever talks about Medina Garrigues' fitness, but it has to be among the best, and my guess is that she has spent proportionally more time on the court in her career than anyone else on the tour. Medina Garrigues is there--really there--to the bitter end, in every (long) match, and it paid off tonight. She took the first set, 6-4, and lost the second, 1-6. She served for the match at 5-3 in the third set, and was broken. Cibulkova then held, and at 5-all, she was cramping so badly, she had to retire. That is most unfortunate for Cibulkova, to have come so far, fought off defeat, and then--after three hours and sixteen minutes--to have to retire.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dulko upsets Jankovic at Sony Ericsson Open

Always a formidable opponent, Gisela Dulko upset number 3 seed Jelena Jankovic in Miami tonight, 6-4, 7-5. There were nine breaks of serve, and for the first two-thirds of the match, Dulko's second serve wins in both directions marked the only real difference between the players, statistics-wise (I was not able to see the match). Dulko has a solid game and is a hard hitter, but she has a very inconsistent serve, which keeps her from pulling off more upsets.

Also upset today were 23rd seed Ai Sugiyama, who was defeated by Ekaterina Makarova; 29th seed Aleksandra Wozniak, defeated by Li Na; and 30th seed Sara Errani, defeated by Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Qualifier Michaella Krajicek took Nadia Petrova to three sets, but lost to her. And Kaia Kanepi performed a comeback just in the nick of time, to defeat Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, in what looked--from the scoreboard--to be the thriller of the day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bartoli upset by Yakimova in Miami

Qualifier Anastasiya Yakimova, number 84 in the world, broke 12th seed Marion Bartoli six times today in Miami, and advanced to the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open. Yakimova, playing as a qualifier, made it to the second round of the BNP Paribas Open this month. She was defeated by Ana Ivanovic. Yakimova's 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Bartoli sets her up to play Alisa Kleybanova in the third round.

Also upset today was 27th (still injured) seed Sybille Bammer, who fell to Samantha Stosur in straight sets, and 28th seed Alona Bondarenko, who lost in straight sets to Nicole Vaidisova. Bondarenko won one game.

Friday cat blogging--lap time edition

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sony Ericsson WTA Tour player awards annnounced

Serena Williams was honored as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Player of the Year today in Miami, and Cara Black and Liezel Huber were honored as Doubles Team of the Year. Other awards given were:

Most Improved Player--Dinara Safina
Comeback Player of the Year--Zheng Jie
Newcomer of the Year--Caroline Wozniacki
Humanitarian of the Year--Ana Ivanovic
Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award--Elena Dementieva
Player Service Award--Liezel Huber
Favorite Premier Tournament--Tennis Grand Prix (Stuttgart)
Favorite International Tournament--Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic (Bali)

Razzano out of Miami

Virginie Razzano, this years finalist in Dubai, is out in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open. Razzano was defeated in three close sets by qualifier Julia Goerges.

Also out are Nathalie Dechy, Urszula Radwanska and Petra Kvitova. The other winning qualifier was Michaella Krajicek, who beat qualifier Ayumi Morita, and wild card Alexa Glatch defeated Timea Bacsinzky.

Hantuchova and Sugiyama upset in first round in Miami

The team of Petra Martic and Coco Vandewegh upset number 5 doubles seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open today. Martic and Vandewegh won the match with a score of 2-6, 7-5, 10-5.

Martin on Scott

In an editorial on the resignation of Larry Scott, James Martin concedes that Scott brought barrels of money to the tour, but that he did so at the expense of principles. What Martin does not mention is that putting not only money--but anything--over women's rights is merely reflective of the world's major governments, and is not unique to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Once in a while, a major power will take action against certain forms of discrimination (recall the U.S. boycott during South African apartheid), but never discrimination against women and girls. So it is no surprise that the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour pours its money into countries that are especially brutal to women.

Writes Martin: "And when the WTA’s head honcho has the gall to then suggest that this strategy will help bring about social change, does anyone else just want to wretch?" Absolutely. But in the U.S., we have wretched for years when our own government says that.

Martin also dares us to come up with one major women-only tournament on U.S. television that
"isn’t on some low-rent cable channel at a ridiculously inconvenient time." The Family Circle Cup comes to mind right away, and--depending what is defined as "major," there are others, too.

Clijsters makes it official

Kim Clijsters held a press conference today to make official what everyone knew: She will play in Cincinnati, Toronto and the U.S. Open this year, as well as in some exhibitions. Clijsters retired in 2007 because of injuries and because of her desire to have children. She says that preparing for the Wimbledon exhibition event motivated her to return to the tour. She calls this return a second career, rather than a comeback.

Clijsters, a crack athlete who was known for doing splits on almost all surfaces, was immensely popular with fans. The holder of only one major title--the 2005 U.S. Open--she was repeatedly bested by her greatest rival, countrywoman Justine Henin, in major finals. Clijsters is an all-surface, all-court player, whose speed and agility brings drama to almost every tournament.

More than ever, the tour site needs a proofreader

Because I don't think this is exactly what happened to Kim Clijsters:

'Now, after time to heal from the many injuries that plagued her throughout her first decade on the Tour, plus her own family made up of husband and pro basketball player Brian Lynch and daughter Jada Ellie, born on February 27, 2008, she is ready to embark on the second phase of her Tour career."

And she looks like such a nice baby...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

2 wild cards win on first day of Sony Ericsson Open

Wild cards Jelena Dokic and Anastasia Pivovarova both won their first round matches today in Miami. Dockic defeated Edina Gallovits, and Pivovarova defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who is just returning to the tour.

Three qualifiers also won their first rounds. Tamira Paszek defeated Monica Niculescu, Anastasia Yakimova defeated Olga Govortsova, and Mariya Koryttseva claimed victory over Sorana Cirstea.

There were some close ones. Francesca Schiavone had to fight to overcome the always-dangerous Tsvetana Pironkova, and Magdalena Rybarikova had to battle Arantxa Rus. Perhaps most dramatic was Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's saving of three match points against Aravane Rezai.

Sofia Arvidsson retired against Samantha Stosur. Arvidsson is suffering from a viral illness.

And the oddity of the day was the 6-4, 0-6, 6-4 scoreline that Maria Kirilenko posted against Kataryna Bondarenko.

"You almost wonder if she was too good, too young..."

Here is a profile of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Just how strange is this season going to be?

First, Jelena Dokic had a spectacular run at the Australian Open. She's had a slump since then, but there is still reason to believe she will make a difference this year.

We learned that Maria Sharapova does not know when she can return to the tour, and we saw Jelena Jankovic enter the season with an awkward, bulked-up body, a lost expression on her face, and a game that is devoid of JJ brilliance. Amelie Mauresmo, written off for good by many, won the championship in Paris.

Vera Zvonareva has finally won a big tournament, Larry Scott has resigned, and Kim Clijsters is about to announce her own return to the tour, at least part-time.

That's a lot of news, and it's only March!

Back in the day, Dokic and Clijsters were two of the players I most enjoyed watching, and it feels strange (in a good way) that they will both play this year. I have reservations about Clijsters' health, but time will tell whether she can sustain tour play. Meanwhile, I miss Sharapova, and--for all practical purposes--I miss Jankovic, too.

There is a lot of unpredictability on the tour right now. Dinara Safina has lost her way, Victoria Azarenka is slowly finding her way, and a Williams sister has already won one of the four majors. The French Open will be upon us before we know it, and there are a few women who could take it. Berlin is now Warsaw, so to speak, and the clay court season (my favorite) has almost arrived. Players who should shine on clay courts are Serena Williams, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva, Amelie Mauresmo, Flavia Pennetta, Elena Dementieva, and Alize Cornet. But will they?

I can't even imagine what the next big news is, but this already has the feel of being a very odd season.

Doubles teams--who can keep up with them?

Some players on the tour play with several different doubles partners throughout the season. Some are locked-in pairs, but those seem to change more often than I can keep track of them. Here are some notable doubles pairings, for one reason or the other:

Stosur and Stubbs--When Sam Stosur split with Lisa Raymond, she said she was going to concentrate mostly on singles this year. Raymond paired with Kveta Peschke, who had been Rennae Stubbs' partner. Stosur and Stubbs then paired for what Stosur said would be a temporary arrangement just for the Australian season. Obvious, that plan has changed, for they have played together regulary outside of the Australian tournaments.

Chan and Chuang--When I first saw them playing with other partners, I wondered what was going on. Now it seems pretty obvious: They have split up as a team. Too bad.

The Bethanie Mattek mystery partner--While Mattek was recovering from an injury, she told reporters she wanted a regular doubles partner and was talking to several women about pairing with them. She is playing with Nadia Petrova in Miami. However, I think Petrova is taken as a regular partner.*

Hantuchova and Sugiyama--They used to play together, then Sugiyama began to play with Katarina Srebotnik. They had a lot of success, but now Sugiyama is back with Hantuchova. I don't know why. Srebotnik is still out with an injury, but the rumor is that she is going to partner with *Nadia Petrova.

Gallovits and Govortsova--They played together for the first time in Charleston last year, signing up at the very last minute, and went all the way to the final. They were fantastic, and complemented each other quite well. Since then, I think they have played together only once, and I wish I knew what that was about.

Dechy and Zvonareva--They made a really good team, but do not play together anymore, either.

Scott resigns from Sony Ericsson WTA Tour

Larry Scott, chairman and CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for the past six years, has resigned his position to accept a job as commissioner of the NCAA's Pac-10 conference. Under Scott's leadership, there has been an advancement in the fight for equal prize money, and a generous increase in sponsorships of the tour.

Some of the more controversial innovations that occurred under Scott's leadership are the new tour calendar, the advent of on-court coaching with microphone-laden coaches, and what many of us consider the near-destruction of doubles via the elimination of the ad point and the substition of the super-tiebreak for the third set.

Kim Clijsters certainly fooled me

I guess "my entire body is wrecked" and "never never never" don't have the same meanings I thought they did. When Kim Clijsters retired, she said her body was badly banged up and it took a long time for her to get going in the morning, she had to do so many exercises to do to get it to work properly and to be relatively pain-free. She also said she absolutely would not change her mind about retiring.

However, Clijsters appears to be on the verge of formally requesting a wild card for the 2009 U.S. Open. She is also expected to request wild cards for Cincinnati and Toronto.

Qualifiers set for Miami

The following women have qualified to play in the main draw of the Sony Ericsson Open:

Michaella Krajicek
Mariya Koryttseva
Tamira Paszek
Aravane Rezai
Jill Craybas
Urszula Radwanska
Anastasia Yakimova
Patricia Mayr
Karolina Sprem
Ayumi Morita
Mariana Duque Marino
Julia Goerges

Monday, March 23, 2009

President of Sony Ericsson resigns

Najmi Jarwala, president of Sony Ericsson USA and head of the company's American region, is leaving the company at the end of this month. Two days ago, Sony Ericsson announced a first-quarter loss that was lower than expected. Sales of Sony Ericsson phones continue to decrease, and the introduction of a smart phone has not helped sales.

Sony Ericsson is the major sponsor of the WTA tour.

Number 1 qualifying seed upset in Miami

Elena Vesnina has had a really good season so far--her first good season, in fact. She was seeded number 1 among qualifiers, but lost today in the first round to wild card Michaella Krajicek. When she is at her best, Krajicek is very good, but she just hasn't had any momentum for a while. Today, however, she moved to the second round of qualifying with a score of 7-6, 6-4. Her next opponent will be Camille Pin.

Also losing in the first round were Michelle Larcher de Brito, Julie Coin (in a very close one) and Sesil Karatantcheva.

Wild cards announced for Miami

The following women have received wild cards for the main draw of the Sony Ericsson Open:

Sania Mirza
Jelena Dokic
Coco Vandeweghe
Anastasia Pivavorova
Tamaryn Hendler
Arantxa Rus
Melanie Oudin
Alexa Glatch

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Zvonareva shows her true colors and wins Indian Wells

Because my Fox Sports Network affiliate chose not to show the final (thanks again, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour), and because Tennis TV had a breakdown and stopped broadcasting today (thanks, Tennis TV), I was not able to watch defending champion Ana Ivanovic and Vera Zvonareva play for the BNP Paribas Open championship. I will, however, be able to watch it later, which isn't much fun, but it's better than nothing.

I was at least able to keep up via the scoreboard, though, and to follow Zvonareva's strange and ever-changing service stats. It was obvious that her second serve saved her, though her first became better later in the match. The obvious reason for many of the service problems of both players was the strong wind that was blowing throughout the match. In the end, Zvonareva appeared to have handled the conditions better.

For some of us who have believed in Zvonareva for a very long time, this is a day we knew would arrive. She had a very tough opponent and tough conditions, but she prevailed. She prevailed twice, in fact, having won the doubles championship yesterday with partner Victoria Azarenka.

Zvonareva def. Ivanovic, 7-6, 6-2


Anna Kournikova and Tracy Austin will join John McEnroe and Jim Courier for an exhibition event at the Turning Stone Event Center in Verona, New York. The event will take place May 2.

Now that Victoria Azarenka has entered the top 10, the Family Circle Cup already has more top 10 players entered than there were in Indian Wells. So far, Charleston entries include Serena Williams, Elena Dementieva, Venus Williams, Vera Zvonareva, Nadia Petrova, and Azarenka.

Anna Chakvetadze says we won't see her on green clay this year, but maybe she'll play the American clay court tournaments again in the future.

Monica Seles is taking your questions.

Sam Stosur says things are going well with her and new coach Rene Moller, and he will be with her in Miami.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Azarenka and Zvonareva win Indian Wells

The unseeded team of Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva have won the 2009 BNP Paribas Open doubles championship. Azarenka and Zvonareva, who played each other in singles in the semifinals, defeated the also-unseeded team of Gisela Dulko and Shahar Peer, 6-4, 3-6, 10-5.

Dementieva enters Family Circle Cup

Elena Dementieva has entered the 2009 Family Circle Cup in Charleston. The world number 4 was a finalist in 2005, losing to Justine Henin, and in 2008, she reached the semifinals, but lost to Vera Zvonareva.

Henin busy with television projects

From Off the Baseline (via Women's Tennis Blog) comes news that former world number 1 Justine Henin will be making a number of television appearances. And when I say "a number," I mean a big number. Among other things, she is going to model, cook, sing, and appear as herself in a soap opera. Henin showed her daredevil side when she took up skydiving, so I suppose we shouldn't be too suprised that she is off on more adventures.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ivanovic goes to Indian Wells final

Defending champion Ana Ivanovic meant business tonight when she played Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the BNP Paribas seminfinals. On the other side of the net, it seemed as though the young Russian didn't know what hit her. She couldn't handle Ivanovic's serve, she made a lot of errors, and she always seemed a step behind the defending champion. Pavlyuchenkova has a nice backhand and a good swinging volley, but she has some trouble with top players. Still, there is much potential.

Ivanovic--looking more an more like herself--will play Vera Zvonareva in the final, and there is every reason to expect a very good match.

Quote of the week

"...I think five times or few times is enough already to learn how to play against her. Well, if you're not very stupid, I think should be enough."
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, on her first win over Agnieszka Radwanska

Zvonareva goes to Indian Wells final

A few days ago, when asked, I said I thought Vera Zvonareva had an edge over Victoria Azarenka should they meet in the semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open. Then I saw Zvonareva play against Caroline Wozniacki, and Azarenka play against Dinara Safina, and I gave the edge to Azarenka.

They fooled me today. Zvonareva did not in any way resemble the player who defeated Wozniacki in that mess of a quarterfinal match, and Azarenka did not in any way resemble the player who took out the number 1 seed. It was all Zvonareva from the first ball that was struck. She could have served a bit better, but it didn't matter: She played a smart, relatively clean game, and dispensed of Azarenka in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. Azarenka had numerous opportunities to break Zvonareva, but instead, she behaved like the head case she sometimes is.

When Azarenka finally won a final, after mentally wilting in several previous ones, I thought she would become mentally tougher, and she did. But perhaps the occasion got to her today. She had taken out the top seed, she was playing as an about-to-be member of the top 10, and--perhaps most important--she was playing someone she had never defeated.

I think Azarenka will mature and continue to overcome her mental fragility. In the meantime, Zvonareva has become one of the most impressive players on the tour. For those of us who always knew she had it in her, it is a real pleasure to see her become such a threat.

I watched the match on the Fox Sports Network, and was tempted to turn the sound off. The commentators were chronically inaccurate in reporting various items, and the inaccurate commentary was riddled with sexism. The payoff at the end, however, was a nice interview with the charming Zvonareva.

Zvonareva, the 4th seed, will meet either defending champion Ana Ivanovic or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final. Zvonareva has never played Pavlyuchenkova, and she is 3-4 against Ivanovic overall, and 2-3 against her on hard courts. Last year, Ivanovic defeated Zvonareva in straight sets in the Indian Wells quarterfinals.

Venus and Serena fined for missing Indian Wells

Fox Sports makes it clear where its editorial staff stands with regard to the Williams sisters' skipping the BNP Paribas Open. Referring to the "stubborn sisters," an article on the Fox website reports that Serena will lose $438,000 from the year-end bonus pool, and Venus will lose $219,000.

The sisters maintain that anger toward Venus Williams took a racist tone when they played in Indian Wells in 2000. There has been nothing but controversy ever since--about whether there really was a racism problem, and--if there was--about whether the sisters should put it behind them.

There will be controversy about the fine, too. Some will think it is not harsh enough, and some will think there should be no fine. The new tour rules state that if a player does not have a legitimate reason for skipping mandatory event, she must do promotional work instead. It appears that Venus and Serena opted out of that alternative.

More upsets in doubles in Indian Wells

Yesterday, the unseeded team of Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva defeated 7th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Flavia Pennetta, 7-6, 6-1 in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals. Today, Azarenka and Zvonareva will be opponents in the singles semifinals.

And today, in the other doubles semifinal, the unseeded team of Gisela Dulko and Shahar Peer defeated number 6 seeds Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 6-3, 6-3.

The myth continues

This article in the Desert Sun, like so many other articles and commentaries, goes to great length to promote the myth that focusing on the perceived physical beauty of some tour players "promotes" women's tennis. The article even goes so far as to say that the obsession with Anna Kournikova's looks "elevated" women's tennis. What the obsession with Kournikova's looks elevated was her bank account, and the bank accounts of many publishers. To this day, when I talk with non-fans about women's tennis, they do not know the difference between Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, they have not bought tickets to matches because of Sports Illustrated swimsuit spreads, and they do not have an increased appreciation for how hard the women on the tour work. And while it is true that Kournikova's presence did inspire many young Russian girls to play tennis, we should remember that Kournikova's talent--despite her problems--probably had a lot to do with that inspiration.

Promoting female players' legs, breasts and long hair at the expense of promoting their athleticism is sexism, pure and simple. Of course, it is natural for people to find some players--men and women--more physically attractive than others. But promoting female athletes (and really, that would be certain types of Caucasian female athletes) as sex symbols promotes and sustains the treatment of women we have been trying so desparately to stop for so long. Promoting male athletes as sex symbols is not my cup of tea, but it does not harm the men because their athleticism and achievement are automatically noted and praised--that is a given. But that is not so with women, and therefore, once again, we trade talent and achievement for sex. Why people do not understand this basic tenet of feminism is a puzzlement to me.

Larry Scott and Steve Simon's calling the tour women "girls" is shameful sexism, but I doubt if anyone will call them on it.

Finally, you have to love Rosebud's comment about nude posing.

Best news I've heard all week...

Jelena Jankovic has fired her fitness coach. Only last night, I said to someone "I hope JJ fires her fitness coach."

The bad news is that Snezana is ill.

Friday cat blogging--casual Friday edition

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pavlyuchenkova and Ivanovic go to the semifinals

Who hits thirty-three winners in a two-set match? Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova does. The match between the young Russian and Agnieszka Radwanska left much to be desired, but it was hard not to appreciate Pavlyuchenkova's free-swinging success. She had to serve for the first set a second time, after an unforced error caused her to lose her first chance to close. Radwanska made it easier for her, however, by losing her characteristic precision, and Pavlyuchenkova took the match, 7-6, 6-4. "She looks like she doesn't want to be there," a commentator said, but commentators have said that before about Radwanska; she has almost no affect, even at the best of times, a la Evert.

There was one amusing interlude during a second set changeover, when the chair umpire told Pavlyuchenkova she wasn't sure what word Pavlyuchenkova had said on court, but she was pretty sure it was one of the forbidden ones. She told Pavlyuchenkova not to say it--whatever it was--again.

Pavlyuchenkova will play defending champion Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals. Ivanovic got a walkover when her quarterfinal opponent, Sybille Bammer, withdrew because of a shoulder injury. Bammer has done some fancy serving this week, and it may have just been too much for her.

Azarenka sends top seed out of Indian Wells

If the Ivanovic-Pennetta fourth round contest was a bizarre and unsatisfying see-saw of a match, the Safina-Azarenka quarterfinal was an exciting see-saw. There was hard hitting, screaming, chronic double-faulting by Safina, frayed nerves, some wonderful shot-making, and at least one disgusted coach.

Something about being among the elite seems to make Safina uncomfortable. I called the tall Russian the most exciting player of 2008, and now it looks like the pressure has gotten to her. That is too bad; Safina has worked so hard, and brings so much to women's tennis. Here's hoping she pulls herself together. As a Safina fan, I felt bad when, responding to a question about the match this morning, I found myself predicting an Azarenka win.

And win Azarenka did. In fact, I think Azarenka has "winner" written all over her. She still has to learn to tame her emotions, but she is capable of playing very solid and excitng tennis, and she has doubles skills galore. The number 8 seed now moves to the BNP Paribas Open semifinals, after defeating Safina 6-7, 6-1, 6-3. And no matter what happens in her next match, Azarenka enters the world's top 10 next week.

Earlier in the day, 4th seed Vera Zvonareva defeated 9th seed Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets. I didn't get to see much of the match, which--judging from the part I did see--is nothing I should regret. Zvonareva double-faulted twelve times, and Woznniacki was able to convert only one of nine break opportunities. Zvonareva won, 6-4, 6-2.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sharapova withdraws from Miami

No surprise. There is no telling, at this point, when she will be back. Right now, she says she cannot play more than four or five consecutive matches.

Mashona Washingon arrested in California

Mashona Washington, who--with partner Bethanie Mattek--lost in doubles today in Indian Wells, was arrested Monday on suspicion of felony vandalism in Riverside County, California. The charge involves damage estimated at $5,000 or more. Washington was arrested at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, and will be arraigned in May.

I do not have any more details about the alleged crime, but will report more on this when the details are revealed.

Perhaps I need to change the name of my blog

"Women Who Can't Serve" seems more appropriate. Watching Flavia Pennetta and Ana Ivanovic last night, and seeing the service stats for Daniela Hantuchova (not to mention watching her serve the day before) made me wonder, yet again: Why isn't learning to serve well a priority for tour players? Lindsay Davenport, one of the tour's great servers, speaking from the Indian Wells commentary booth, remarked last night that very few women on the tour could comfortably hold their serve.

There are two types of service problems on the tour. There are women who have never learned to serve well, and there are women who can serve well, but whose serve goes to pieces way too often--Dinara Safina is a perfect example. So is Patty Schnyder, who has a very good first and second serve, but--like Safina and Ivanovic--her serve is way too inconsistent.

Then there is Jelena Jankovic, who had a terrible first and second serve, improved her first serve significantly, then lost the improvement. Elena Dementieva, long the poster child for poor serving, appeared to get over her service problems, but they have reappeared.

These are all top players, and it is inconceivable to me that their coaches do not drop everything and either focus mainly on serving, or get them temporary serving coaches. A lot of the problem is mental, of course--probably most of it. So if service drills or service coaching do not work for your player, then get her to a good hypnotherapist. Or do all of the above.

Women's tennis is really suffering, in my opinion, from the weak serves of top players.

Defending champion moves on, former champion goes home

It wasn't much fun to watch Ana Ivanovic and Flavia Pennetta play their fourth round match in Indian Wells last night. No matter whom you wanted to win, you were bound to feel frustrated. Ivanovic was again having trouble with her serve, and making errors right and left. Pennetta was not her usual aggressive self, for some reason, and she, too, had chronic service problems.

Nor was it all bad. Ivanovic use her forehand masterfully to destroy Pennetta's weak second serves, and Pennetta used drop shots, lobs and passing shots to befuddle Ivanovic. The momentum shifts were extreme. Ivanovic went up 4-0 in the first set, only to have Pennetta win three games in a row. The service breaks--a total of fifteen--continued throughout the match, and each set began with a break (Pennetta went up 3-0 right away in the second). In the third set, Pennetta saved two match points on her own serve, but then tossed a sure-thing passing shot into the net, giving Ivanovic a third match point, which was the magic one for the defending champion.

I was not able to watch the match between former champion Daniela Hantuchova and Sybille Bammer, but a quick look at the stats told me everything I needed to know: Bammer's service game was outstanding, and Hantuchova's was horrible.

In other fourth round matches: Li Na saved four match points, but still lost to Vera Zvonareva, Urszula Radwanska was almost overcome by the heat, not to mention very questionable line calls; she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. Nuria Llagostera Vives retired with a hip strain, giving the match to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Top seed Dinara Safina won a spirited contest between her and Jill Craybas, Victoria Azarenka won a close match against Shahar Peer, and Agnieszka Radwanska won a three-setter (6-0 in the first) against Agnes Szavay.

The quarterfinals:

Safina vs. Azarenka
Zvonareva vs. Wozniacki
Ivanovic vs. Bammer
Radwanska vs. Pavlyuchenkova

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Stosur and Stubbs out of Indian Wells

The upsets in Indian Wells have been as notable in doubles as in singles, and the latest seed to go--number 4--is the team of Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs. They were defeated by Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva, 6-2, 3-6, 10-7.

What happened to Stosur's and Stubbs' plan to play together only during the Australian season?

Russia-Italy Fed Cup semifinal to be played on clay

A clay court in Castellaneta Marina in southern Italy will be the venue for Italy's Fed Cup semifinal against Russia in July. This gives Italy not only the advantage of the home court, but the advantage of most Italian players' favorite surface. Italy will need these advantages, since it has a 0-4 record against Russia.

Tennis TV is on my nerves

Let me begin by saying I am very glad that Tennis TV exists. I now get to see matches I would not otherwise get to see, and I get to see matches when I am in places where there is no television. For example, today I had to see my doctor, and she was fitting me in where she could, so I knew there would be a long wait. I took my netbook, used earplugs in the waiting room, then moved into the exam room, where I got to see quite a bit of the Haynes-Pennetta match. When my doctor came in, she got to see some of it, too. I was able to watch a recent final while I was in the lobby of my office, waiting to have furniture delivered. In that regard, I really like Tennis TV.

But I don't like everything about it. I don't like that the technical staff was not able to fix my problem with choppy video (it was fixed, but not by Tennis TV, who should have had more suggestions for me). I don't like that the techical staff never responded to my second email requesting help. I don't like that you have to go through a veritable maze every time you try to log on. You have to log on at least twice to see anything.

And I don't like the newest Tennis TV development--the appearance of very intrusive ads that pop up, of all places, on top of the logon screen, making it even harder than usual to log on. And as soon as you get rid of one and think you can log on (for the first time), another one pops up. Such intrusion is inappropriate on a free site, much less a site that charges a fee.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pennetta and Hantuchova survive challenges in Indian Wells

Flavia Pennetta started her BNP Paribas Open third round match against Angela Haynes by going up 3-0, but soon, she was down 3-5. Pennetta lost that set, 4-6, and it wasn't until a little way into the second set that she looked like herself, cutting way down on the errors and hitting crisp, accurate groundstrokes. She took that set 6-4, and by the third set, Haynes--who had looked good for two sets--faded away, and made enough errors of all kinds for Pennetta to take the set 6-1.

Daniela Hantuchova and Petra Cetkovska each wasted so many game and break points in their third round match, it looked as though each was trying to lose. Hantuchova's game was often a mix of bad serves and failed dropshots, and Cetkovska would gain momentum, only to neutralize it with unforced errors. It was a frustrating match to watch. In the end, Hantuchova's experience and Cetkovska's inexperience combined for Hantuchova to eek out a 7-5, 7-5 victory. The two-time winner in Indian Wells is going to have to come up with something better, however, if she is to survive much longer. As for Cetkovska, it was nevertheless a pleasure to watch her; she has a lot of potential.

There was one upset today. Nuria Llagostera Vives defeated 21st seed Alisa Kleybanova. I didn't get to see the match, but to some extent, it had to have been a clinic on how to beat a player much taller than oneself.

Here is how the 4th round looks:

Dinara Safina vs. Jill Craybas
Shahar Peer vs. Victoria Azarenka
Vera Zvonareva vs. Li Na
Caroline Wozniacki vs. Urszula Radwanska
Ana Ivanovic vs. Flavia Pennetta
Sybile Bammer vs. Daniela Hantuchova
Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Agnes Szavay
Nuria Llagostera Vives vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Even with Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova absent, there are three Russians in the final sixteen. The biggest surprise is probably Jill Craybas, though--these days--it is surprising (a pleasant surprise, too) to see Agnes Szavay in the group. And in the next round, she will be playing one of her phenom peers, Agnieszka Radwanska.

Dokic says she is mentally exhausted

Jelena Dokic, who stunned the crowds with her quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open, says that made a mistake in her scheduling, going from Melbourne to Fed Cup and then to Indian Wells, without much of a break. She is considering going home before the Miami tournament.

Black and Huber out of Indian Wells

At the beginning of play in Indian Wells, the tour promoted Cara Black and Liezel Huber as "the ones to beat." Alisa Kleybanova and Monica Niculescu took that seriously, defeating the top seeds 7-5, 7-6 yesterday in the second round.

Also of interest was the defeat of the unseeded, but formerly highly ranked, team of Yan Zi and Zheng Jie. The winners of their second match were 7th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Flavia Pennetta (6-7, 6-4, 10-6).

Craybas goes to 4th round of BNP Paribas Open

Jill Craybas, the American veteran who is ranked number 102 in the world, defeated Nicole Vaidisova today in Indian Wells. Granted, Vaidisova is ranked number 79, but there is more to her story than her current ranking. But even that wouldn't be such a big deal in itself; it is the bigger picture that is impressive. Before taking out Vaidisova, Craybas dismissed both Jelena Dokic and 16th seeded Anabel Medina Garrigues. Craybas gets top seed Dinara Safina next, and it is likely that her most impressive run will end, but it even if it does, it will be a memorable story from this year's BNP Paribas Open.

Craybas's victory was n0t the only upset. Shahar Peer upset number 19 seed (how crazy is that?) Anna Chakvetadze, and Li Na upset number 17 seed Amelie Mauresmo.

I was quite interested in the match between Caroline Wozniacki and Kaia Kanepi; it appears that Kanepi couldn't handle the pressure, and we can only hope that she does something about this problem soon, or she is going to lose a lot of matches she shouldn't lose. The other match of interest to me was the one between wild cards Alexa Glatch and Urszula Radwanska. It appeared that Glatch put up quite a fight, but the match went to her opponent.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Mathilde Johansson has created a website, as has Bethanie Mattek. Both sites are kind of campy, but in different ways.

Speaking of websites, who on Earth is the player in the illustration on the title bar of Dinara Safina's website? Sorry, but that is not in any way, shape or form, Dinara Safina.

I have removed Patty Schnyder's official site from my list of Good Reads. It has been down for so long, I have concluded that it no longer exists.

Colavita USA has renewed its sponsorship of Flavia Pennetta. This is a sponsorship I can really get into.

In a Family Circle Cup poll, 57 people said that Chris Evert is the greatest FCC champion of all time, and 137 said that Serena Williams is. Let's see...Evert won the cup eight times--more than any other player--and Williams won it once.

After a very lengthy layoff, Laura Granville is playing tennis again.

In a recent interview, Vera Zvonareva said the celebrity with whom she most like to have a beer is Kid Rock. She probably won't have to wait in line for that.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The latest chapter in the strange career of Jelena Jankovic

Not that many years ago, Jelena Jankovic was considered a tennis star in the making. Then something went wrong in 2006, and she wound up with a 1-10 match record after playing eleven tournaments. Jankovic considered ending her career at that time, but had a major turnaround in Rome, where she reached the quarterfinals. At the end of that season, she made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Open, but allowed a controversial line call to distract her from her lead against Justine Henin, and lost the match. Nevertheless, the semifinal appearance was a big breakthrough.

The next year, Jankovic won four singles titles and finished third in the world. The best-moving woman on the tour (along with Serena Williams, of course), Jankovic looked poised to do great things--if she could improve her serve and stay healthy. Riddled with injury and illness, Jankovic complained of chronic back problems, serious respiratory problems, foot injuries, and various colds and episodes of flu and viruses.

She had surgery to correct her respiratory ailments, and she did something to improve her back, for we have heard significantly fewer complaints about it. That's the good news. The other good news, or so it seemed, was that--in the spring of 2008--Jankovic finally got a decent first serve, though her second serve continued to be weak. She made it to the finals of the U.S. Open, and gave Serena Williams some very spirited competition.

Healthier body, better serve, experience in a major final...It looked, for all the world, like Jankovic was finally entering the elite group of true tennis greats. Her speed, her uncanny anticipation, her superior court thinking, and her crack backhand down the line made her--for many of us--more fun to watch than just about anyone on the tour. Her wacky personality only added to our enjoyment.

During the off-season, Jankovic did some serious endurance training. Though any player can use more endurance training, I wondered why her coach was making this a priority. The improved serve had already slipped by the end of 2008, and the second serve had never improved at all. When Jankovic returned for the 2009 season, she looked completely different. She was all bulked up the way Henin had bulked up several years before. But the improved serve was--if not gone--still fading away, and even worse, Jankovic's trademark skill--her movement--was compromised. When I saw her play, I was shocked. What I saw was a sluggish, not quite on-beat player who did not at all resemble the Jankovic I loved to watch.

I have no idea what the Jankovic camp was thinking when its members bulked her up and slowed her down. She herself has acknowledged the problem with her movement. Not surprisingly, she says she feels awkward and heavy in her new body, and has lost her footwork. With this loss goes a loss of confidence, as well. As a Jankovic fan, I feel really disappointed, and hope that she make some drastic changes soon. Clay court season is around the corner, and she should be able to triumph on clay courts, but only if she regains her speed and her sharpness.

I think I join many fans in asking: Will the real Jelena Jankovic please come back? But please, JJ--come back with a real serve.

An upsetting day in Indian Wells

Today was a continuation of the trend of upsets in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. The biggest upset was the defeat of 2nd seed Jelena Jankovic in straight sets by talented young Anastasia Pavlyuenchenkova. Then there was the defeat of 3rd seed Elena Dementieva by qualifier Petra Cetkovska. As one might expect, Dementieva's service game was weak. Also going out was 11th seed Alize Cornet, defeated by qualifier Kristina Barrois, and 14th seed Dominika Cibulkova, defeated by Nuria Llagostera Vives. Vera Dushevina defeated 15th seed Zheng Jie, Qualifier Angela Haynes defeated 20th seed Ai Sugiyama, and 27th seed Sara Errani retired with a thigh strain in her match against countrywoman Karin Knapp.

Of special interest were two matches that were very close. Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Samantha Stosur 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. And in a match that was filled with tension--even if you were just "watching" it on the electronic scoreboard, as I was--Daniela Hantuchova saved two match points and defeated Yanina Wickmayer 5-7, 6-3, 7-6. Whatever choking Hantuchova may be prone to do, she did not appear to do it in this match.

In doubles, the Bondarenko sisters were sent home by the Russian team of Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova. And wild cards Svetlana Kuznetsova and Amelie Mauresmo were defeated by wild cards Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Mashona Washington.

Plenty of upsets in BNP Paribas Open 2nd round

Marion Bartoli was not the only seed to go out in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open yesterday, nor was she the highest seed defeated. Number 6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova fell to wild card Urszula Radwanska, 13th seed Patty Schnyder lost to Li Na, and 16th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues lost to Jill Craybas.

But they weren't the only ones. Nicole Vaidisova took out number 24 seed Alona Bondarenko, Petra Kvitova defeated number 26 seed Iveta Benesova, wild card Alexa Glatch defeated 29th seed Carla Suarez Navarro, and Elena Vesnina defeated number 32 seed Sorana Cirstea.

There was also one retirement: Virginie Razzano retired with a back injury, giving a win to her opponent, Kaia Kanepi. Also, Urszula Radwanska twisted her ankle in her last game against Kuznetsova, and has expressed some concern about how badly she may have hurt it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jankovic states the obvious

Women's Tennis Blog gives us this statement from world number 3 Jelena Jankovic:

I did a lot of things for my endurance and I had some problems moving. I lost my speed on the court and I lost my reaction. I lost my biggest weapon. Until now, I was having trouble reacting and moving, especially with my returns and getting that first step. I just lost that and I have been trying to get that back. I hope to get my game together and start playing on a high level again. That is my goal for this moment.

The newly bulked-up Jankovic does not look like herself at all this season, in more ways than one. When speed is your strongest suit and you can no longer move well, you are in some big trouble. I appreciate the fact that she worked so much on her endurance, but something went very wrong. I want the real Jelena back, and as soon as possible.

Bartoli falls to her nemesis in Indian Wells

In seven tries, Marion Bartoli has defeated Shahar Peer only once. That was at Wimbledon in 2007, in the third round--their only match on grass. Bartoli was on a mission then, too, and whacked the likes of Jelena Jankovic and Jutine Henin to go all the way to the final.

Today, in Indian Wells, however, it was a return to the previous order, as Peer defeated the 10th seed 1-6, 6-4, 7-5. A quick look at the stats is not helpful; if anything, they favor Bartoli. But tennis victory is determined by sets, not by games, and Bartoli's fans will have to wait a little while to see her again.

Clijsters to play World Team Tennis

Kim Clijsters has signed with the the St. Louis Aces, and will play two World Team Tennis matches this summer. She will make her debut in St. Louis on July 21, and will play again in Philadelphia on July 22. Clijsters will play both singles and doubles.

I don't watch much World Team Tennis; it's not my cup of tea. I like the fact that lesser known players can make some extra money and get some extra match play, though. And watching World Team Tennis is a way to see Anna Kournikova and Michelle Larcher de Brito.

People are speculating that Clijsters will return to the tour, but when she retired, she said her body was seriously banged up beyond repair. Clijsters' style of play was very hard on her physically, and I remember her writing about all the machinations she has to go through when she gets up in the morning, just to minimize pain. World Team Tennis provides her a nice, stress-free way to play tennis.

Yeah, I hit like a girl

Ads promoting women's professional tennis tend to be either lame or sexist, so it is a breath of fresh air to see the Family Circle Cup's new ad campaign, featuring 2008 champion Serena Williams. If you subscribe to or buy any USTA-related magazines, then you have seen the "Yeah, I hit like a girl" full-page ads. You can see the extended version in a video ad, featuring several players, on the Family Circle Cup website.

For Zvonareva fans

Bonnie D. Ford has written a good profile of Vera Zvonareva.

Not the news we wanted to hear

"Right now, I can play maybe three or four [days] in a row, and then I have to take it easy on the fifth. I'm done setting timetables for myself.''
Maria Sharapova

Friday cat blogging--foot comfort edition

As already noted, our cats like to stick their feet on each other. Here, Roxie rests a foot on Velma's head while Velma rests her cheek on Roxie's other foot.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Doubles seeds going out fast in Indian Wells

Yesterday it was number 3 seeds Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond who went out in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open. They were defeated by Hsieh Su-wei and Peng Shuai, 2-6, 7-6, 13-11.

Going out today, also in the first round, were number 2 seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual, defeated by wild cards Svetlana Kuznetsova and Amelie Mauresmo. Also defeated were 5th seeds Daniela Hantuchova and Ai Sugiyama, who lost to Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova.

The unseeded team of Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Patty Schnyder also lost in the first round. I expected them to do better, but they had a tough draw, and were taken out by 7th seeds Maria Kirilenko and Flavia Pennetta.

And that other doubles player--wild card Maria Sharapova--playing with Elena Vesnina, also lost in the first round. Sharapova and Vesnina were defeated, 6-1, 4-6, 10-7, by Ekaterina Makarova and Tatiana Poutchek.

Why isn't she ranked higher?

We have probably all asked that question about certain gifted players who appear to be stuck in the rankings, usually because of inconsistency. And inconsistency can be caused by several things, but I think it is usually caused by a lack of mental strength, chronic injury, or--in some cases--both, because having injuries causes players to lose confidence.

The players on my own list include Gisela Dulko, Michaella Krajicek and Marta Domachowska. Other players who probably pop up on such lists are Carla Suarez Navarro and Kirsten Flipkens.

Who is on your list?

Still looking for a hero

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour has just finished producing the second phase print ad portion of its multi-media "Looking for a Hero?" ad campaign. The campaign is the largest of its kind in tour history.

As readers of this blog know, I have mixed feelings about the campaign. First, I object to sports achievers being called "heroes." Eve Ensler and Wangari Muta Maathai and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem are heroes. Being "brave" on a tennis court does not require the kind of courage that involves taking personal risk for the good of the world.

I also didn't care for the voice-0ver on the television spots, and found the spots themselves good enough, but not that creative. What I do like is that the tour is heavily promoting women's tennis. And while I think it is fine to promote the players as having lives off the court, I do hope that it is life on the court that is emphasized, and that life off the court is not sexualized. Good luck with that, I'm sure.

Of course, the whole concept of players being actual "heroes" off the court is still ironically tainted by the Dubai affair.


Li Na is blogging from Indian Wells.

I was going to write something about Women's History Month, but nothing I write could express my sentiments more accurately than this post in After Atalanta.

Joel Drucker has compiled this record of events in Indian Wells that relate to the Williams sisters.

Here is an innovative new treatment for tennis elbow.

Vera Zvonareva talks a bit about her experience as a student at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dokic and Larcher de Brito both out of Indian Wells

Jelena Dokic told us, after the Australian Open, that she thought she would have a letdown. Somehow, I don't think most of us thought it would occur in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open, but it did. Jill Craybas defeated wild card Dokic 6-4, 6-2. Dokic double-faulted eight times, which didn't help.

Michelle Larcher de Brito saved two match points in her contest with Urszula Radwanska, only to have Radwanska win the match on de Brito's serve. Once again, de Brito got herself through qualifying, only to lose in the first round.

Another losing wild card was Michaella Krajicek, who was defeated by Nicole Vaidisova. Vaidisova will face Alona Bondarenko in the second round.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interesting BNP Paribas Open 1st rounds

Here are a few first rounds of interest in Indian Wells:

Nicole Vaidisova vs. Michaella Krajicek: With the way Vaidisova has been playing, it's hard to imagine her getting past Krajicek, despite all of Krajicek's problems.

Kateryna Bondarenko vs. Shahar Peer: Bondarenko, like her sister, is unpredictable.

Sabine Lisicki vs. Elena Vesnina: Lisicki has had some good results for the past year, and suddenly--this year--so has Vesnina. This could be a very good match.

Samantha Stosur vs. Francesca Schiavone: This one is bound to be entertaining, what with all the varied skills these two possess.

Marta Domachowska vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Given Domachowska's recent illness and her career-long inconsistency, this should probably be Pavlyuchenkova's match, perhaps in straight sets. But on the off chance that the other Domachowska shows up--the one who can stun--it could turn into quite a battle.

Larcher de Brito watch--into Indian Wells main draw

Michelle Larcher de Brito has made it through qualifying in Indian Wells, defeating Galina Voskoboeva and Alberta Brianti.

Joining Larcher de Brito as qualifiers are:

Varvara Lepchenko
Petra Cetkovska
Stephanie Dubois
Angela Haynes
Kristina Barrois
Evgeniya Rodina
Stephanie Foretz
Anastasiya Yakimova
Yaroslava Shvedova
Petra Martic
Virginia Ruano Pascual

Top qualifying seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was defeated in the first round of qualifying by Masa Zec Peskiric. 2nd seed Mathilde Johansson was defeated in the final round. 3rd seed Julie Coin retired toward the end of the second set of her final qualifying round, giving the win to Virginia Ruano Pascual.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Davis Cup--final day

In today's feature Davis Cup match in Birmingham, Andy Roddick was so on fire, Stan Wawrinka just didn't have much of a chance. Wawrinka was unable to break Roddick's serve even once, and Roddick pulled himself out of the few 0-30 holes he found himself in. Following the match--which made the U.S. the official tie winner, with a 3-1 lead--a best-of-two sets match was played between James Blake and Marco Chiudnelli. Blake won that in straight sets. It should be noted, however, that Chiudnelli performed well against both Blake and Roddick, and is someone to be watched.

The attendance in Birmingham was the largest in history for a Davis Cup match held in the United States.

When the tournament was over, we stopped by the 5 Points Grill, then visited the Highland Hotel. That used to be "our" hotel in Birmingham, before it was given an art deco restoration and entered the higher level of "boutique." We were impressed with the lobby and bar, and a staff member kindly showed us a suite and a room.

Last night, we ate at the famous Superior Grill, a huge Mexican restaurant with a closed-in patio and live music, and what looked like hundreds of customers. The food was pretty good. There are so many great restaurants in Birmingham, it can be a difficult choice, but we couldn't help ourselves--we returned to Chez Lulu tonight. When you are in Chez Lulu, you have to keep reminding yourself you're not in Europe. Tonight, there was an accordion player in the house, which made the atmosphere even better.

I'm really glad I got to see this Davis Cup tie, even if Federer was not there. I don't especially get into the country vs. country spirit, but I enjoy the competition in my own way. Seeing Andy Roddick and Stan Wawrinka and the Bryan brothers was a real treat.

Bartoli wins in Monterrey

Taking advantage of Li Na's problems with her second serve, 2nd seed Marion Bartoli won the Monterrey Open in straight sets today. Breaking Li six times, Bartoli took the match, 6-4, 6-3.

In doubles, the victorious team was that of number 4 seeds Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo, who defeated Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-3, 6-4.

Wild cards announced for Indian Wells

Receiving wild cards to play in the BNP Paribas Open are Jelena Dokic, Sania Mirza, Michaella Krajicek, Urszula Radwanska, Alja Tomljanovic, Vania King, Alexa Glatch, and Melanie Oudin.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bartoli and Li to meet in Monterrey final

Number 2 seed Marion Bartoli defeated number 4 seed Zheng Jie today in Monterrey, 7-5, 6-3, setting up a final between her and Li Na. Li defeated Iveta Benesova, 6-3, 6-3.

Bartoli and Li have never before played one another.

In doubles, Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova will play number 4 seeds Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo. Dechy and Santangelo upset 2nd seeds Vania King and Zheng Jie.

Davis Cup--day 2

The second day of the USA-Switzerland tie brought more doubles action than some fans may have expected. It took Yves Allegro a while to get his nerves in check, but when he did, he became an excellent defensive player, and a bit later, even tightened up his serve. It is never easy playing the Bryan brothers, no matter who you are, but the Swiss team made the match competitive, and we were treated to four sets, including a tiebreak in the fourth. The brothers won, which means the USA now has a 2-1 lead over Switzerland.

Yesterday, the national anthem was sung by two ballgirls with very sweet voices. They did a straight-forward rendition, which was a breath of fresh air. "The Star-Spangled Banner" is hardly my favorite song, but I can listen to it with a lost more enthusiasm when someone isn't trying to Whitney Houston it to death. No such luck today, though. The anthem was butchered--to wild cheering and applause--by "American Idol" finalist Diana DeGarmo, who also presented a "mini concert" after the match. We didn't stay for that; it was bad enough we had to see Justin Gimelstob a second day.

The pre-match performance today was done by a group of hip hop dancers. Yesterday, we heard from a gospel group. During all the changeovers, a team of young acrobats performs, and these kids are very good. It's especially nice to see boys and girls performing together in an athletic event. There is also a little jazz ensemble that performs in the main hall of the arena.

Yesterday, we walked into the stadium without undergoing any type of security check. Today, I was subjected to a random "check," which meant that I opened my bag. The security officer did not take out anything or unfasten any of the compartments. Some security check.

After the match, we took a stroll through lovely Linn Park, and stopped by for a look at the refurbished historic Tutwiler Hotel, where several Swiss fans had hung a flag and were having a picnic.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Monterrey semifinals set

Li Na will face Iveta Benesova in the semifinals of the Monterrey Open. Li defeated Lucie Safarova 6-3, 76, and number 6 seed Benesova defeated Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 7-5, 6-4.

The other two semifinalists are number 4 seed Zheng Jie and 2nd seed Marion Bartoli, who defeated number 7 seed Gisela Dulko (6-3, 6-2), and Vania King (2-6, 6-2, 6-30), respectively.

Greetings from Birmingham

The rallies were short and the serves were shaky in the first two sets of the Davis Cup match between James Blake and Stan Wawrinka. But by the third set, Wawrinka had found his groove, and he went about finessing his way to a four-set win over Blake. Wawrinka--whose lovely backhand was all over the place in the first half of the match--got himself under control in the last half, and served twenty aces, just for good measure. Later, his countryman--the spirited Marco Chiuddnelli--did his best against Andy Roddick, but it wasn't enough. The rallies in this match, however, were more entertaining than the rallies in the previous match, and Roddick's dive volley at 4-all in the third was the shot of the day.

We had a great time at this first day of Davis Cup play, and when it was over, we dined at Chez Lulu, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere. Birmingham is lovely at night, with the Vulcan on Red Mountain glowing, and with hundreds of white lights twinkling on trees in and around Five Points.

Sharapova withdraws from BNP Paribas Open

I do not have official confirmation of this news, but the word is that Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. News should be on her website soon.

She is scheduled to play doubles at the event, however, with Elena Vesnina.

Pennetta out of Monterrey

3rd seed Flavia Pennetta was defeated yesterday in Monterrey in the second round by Barbaro Zahavova Strycova. Zahavova Strycova and Pennetta played for almost two and half hours, with the Czech player emerging the winner, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4.

Number 2 seed Marion Bartoli advanced, defeating Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4, 6-0. Also advancing to the quarterfinals were Iveta Benesova and Vania King. King advanced by upsetting 5th seed Agnes Szavay.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Li Na vs. Lucie Safarova
Zahlavova Strycova vs. Iveta Benesova
Gisela Dulko vs. Zheng Jie
Vania King vs. Marion Bartoli

Friday cat blogging--portrait edition

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kirilenko retires with knee injury

Marie Kirilenko retired in the second set of her second round match against Lucie Safarova today in Monterrey. Kirilenko suffered a left knee inflammation, so Safarova, with a score of 6-4, 4-1, moved on to the next round.

Also advancing to the quarterfinals were Li Na, Gisela Dulko and Zheng Jie.

Update on Lertcheewakarn

News comes from Zoo Tennis that junior world number 1 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn is currently being coached by Tom Kriese, former men's head coach at Clemson University. Lertcheewakarn is making the transition from juniors to the professional tour, but will compete in juniors in the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

I'm off to my first Davis Cup tie

I'm leaving for Birmingham tomorrow to attend the Davis Cup tie. Much of the thrill is gone, of course, because Roger Federer withdrew. But I will still get to see Davis Cup action, and I'm looking forward to seeing Andy Roddick and Stan Wawrinka.

All the fools who jeered at the choice of Birmingham as a Davis Cup site have obviously never been there. Birmingham is a very nice city with some wonderful museums, but we won't get too do too much other than visit some of its lovely restaurants.

Blogging will slow down, of course, but it will not stop, and I'll keep everyone posted on some men's tennis, for a change.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Talk about spin...

Any political campaign you can name has nothing on the Billie Jean King Cup introduction of Venus Williams, in which Williams was praised for "speaking out" on behalf of Shahar Peer.

Did I miss something? I distinctly heard Williams say that she and all players needed to consult with sponsors and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour before committing to any act regarding Peer's ban from Dubai. Yes, she said a few words about Peer when she received her trophy, and she would have been a complete fool if she hadn't. But saying those words while one is holding a huge check from the Dubai organizers is a somewhat cynical distortion of the concept of "speaking out."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Radwanska served a bagel in Monterrey

It is always dangerous to play Li Na on a hard court, even if she has not played in a long time. Tonight, Agnieszka Radwanska learned just how dangerous it can be. Li defeated the top seed 7-6, 4-6, 6-0 in the first round of the Monterrey Open.

The other upset occurred in doubles play: Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova defeated number 3 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Shahar Peer, 6-4, 7-6.

(And broadcasters, I'm sure, breathed a sigh of relief when Petra Cetkovska and Andreja Klepac defeated Mariya Koryttseva and Alla Kudryavtseva.)

Serena wins Billie Jean King Cup

Serena Williams emerged the champion in the evening's exhibition tournament in Madison Square Garden. I did not watch the entire thing--it was too much to expect me to watch Billie Jean King be honored for activism she is now claiming was not her intention, or to listen to her campaign for no-ad scoring. (Isn't it enough for King, et al, that doubles competition has been destroyed?) Add to that the presence of John McEnroe, and the event just didn't hold much appeal for me.

I did see most of the opening set, however, between Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic. For a while, Jankovic actually looked like herself, but she played a disaster of a game at 4-all, and that was pretty much that. Too bad. But at least we got to see something of the real JJ.

I saw a little of the set between Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic. From what I saw, Ivanovic failed to take advantage of some opportunities, and Williams made her pay.

The main event was the final between the Williams sisters. The first set had one game that went on for a very long time, and it finally went to Serena, who took the first set, 6-4. In the second set--or at least what I saw of it--Venus could not serve, and was making errors right and left. I think Venus must be a bit tired--at least mentally--after winning back-to-back titles in Dubai and Acapulco. Serena, however, looked great, and took the final, 6-4, 6-3.

It was also Tennis Night in America, with 750 tennis centers staying open to register children for lessons and league play.

Remember Vaidisova?

Nicole Vaidisova--yesterday's phenom, today's world number 80--has always been a head case. Of course, she has a lot of company in that department, as far as the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour goes. But it is past the time that her age can be used as the reason for her mental lapses and temper tantrums. Vaidisova, who showed great promise at age 15, did not turn out to be Chris Evert or Martina Hingis. Rather, she turned out to be streaky, temperamental, and given to meltdowns at important moments.

The 19-year-old Czech player split with coach David Felgate earlier this year, will not play in challenger tournaments, according to a Globe and Mail feature by Tom Tebbutt. Tebbutt reports that a source close to Vaidisova says of her: "She basically cannot compete. And there's a difference between that and trying. The minute things go wrong, she can't handle it. There's a complete irrationality about her when that starts to happen on court."

This is an important year for Vaidisova--the year that she either gets it together or disappears from the top 100.

Krajicek into Monterrey main draw

Michaella Krajicek has made it through qualifying and is into the main draw of the Monterrey Open. Krajicek, a wild card in the qualifying rounds, defeated Chanelle Scheepers, Rossana De Los Rios and Mara Santangelo.

Joining Krajicek as qualifiers are Lenka Wienerova, Vania King, and former junior world number 1 Arantxa Rus.

Note to Flavia: Watch the video

I was just browsing over at Women's Tennis Blog, and I saw this comment from Flavia Pennetta on her loss to Venus Williams in the Acapulco final:
What happened to me? Venus Williams is what happened to me. The number 5 player in the world is what happened to me! She was just playing so strong, serving so well, it was hard to fight against her power. I didn’t feel I played badly, she just overpowered me.

I beg to differ. Pennetta played terribly throughout much of the match, including the entire first set. As well as Williams played--and she played very well--almost any good tour player could have beaten Pennetta in that match.

Venus Williams is a very good and powerful player who is really in form these days, but--and I say this as a Pennetta fan--it doesn't work to say "she overpowered me" when you give her the match on a plate. Oddly, many fans came to the same conclusion, and I have to wonder whether they actually saw the match, or just followed it on the scoreboard.

Wickmayer defaulted in Clearwater

Yanina Wickmayer and Julie Coin reached the final of the 50k ITF tournament in Clearwater, Florida over the weekend. Wickmayer won the first set, 6-3, and at 1-all in the second set, something happened. Wickmayer hit a "linesman" (I am pretty sure, from what I've heard, that this "linesman" was actually a woman) on the shoulder with a ball during the course of play. According to Wickmayer, up until that point, there had been no official standing in that spot, and suddenly, one appeared.

I really cannot get a grasp on exactly what happened, but the result was that Wickmayer was defaulted for the match and lost all of her points and prize money for the tournament.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Interesting first rounds in Monterrey

There is still another round of qualifying that has to take place to set the main draw in the Monterrey Open, but--in the meantime--we already have some first round matches worth watching:

Agnieska Radwanska vs. Li Na--Li is still formulating her return to the tour (we say that every year, don't we?), but may nevertheless be a threat to Radwanska on a hard court.

Marina Eraovic vs. Maria Kirilenko--This could easily be a first-round elimination for the Russian.

Gisela Dulko vs. Nathalie Dechy--This has the makings of a very good match, and could easily go to three sets. Both players are streaky, both can be excellent shot-makers.

Melinda Czink vs. Alla Kudryavtseva--Czink has raised her game to another level this year, but may get some trouble from Kudryavtseva.

Urszula Radwanska vs. Zheng Jie--Radwanska recently broke through and defeated her sister, though she is likely to have a harder time defeating Zheng.

Top seed Paszek out of Monterrey qualifying

Tamira Paszek, top qualifying seed at the Monterrey Open and mystery phenom of the Sony Ericsson WTA, was defeated today in the second round of qualifying by Betina Jozami. Jozami did the job impressively, too, recording a score of 6-1, 6-1. Paszek's first serve was successful only 46% of the time, and her second serve was successful only 21% of the time. She was broken five times, and failed to convert any of the twelve break chances she had.

It has been one thing after another with Paszek--coaching changes of a dramatic nature, problems with her father (involving the coaching changes, and--one surmises--other isues, too), injuries, etc. At one time, all eyes were on her, but as she continues to struggle, she is fading from view.

Billie Jean King Cup--could the promotion be worse?

HBO is broadcasting the Billie Jean King Cup live on Monday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. EST. The photo on the HBO site looks more like a "want to be a model"? reality show ad than an ad promoting some of the world's leading athletes. God forbid we should ever promote female athletes as athletes. And the HBO promotional video itself is about as cheesy as they come. This is HBO!--ccouldn't they have done better?

But that isn't as bad as one of the other promotional videos floating about, in which Billie Jean King mispronounces Jelena Jankovic's name. (Almost all Americans mispronounce Jankovic's first name, but King mangaes to mispronounce, a la Justin Gimelstob, her last name.)