Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sweeping the court

Simona Halep is now number 7 in the world. Let's hope the ankle problem gets much better soon.

Li Na, Jelena Jankovic, Flavia Pennetta, Genie Bouchard, and Klara Zakopalova all have birthdays this week.

Jovana Jaksic saved 14 match points against Tamira Paszek in the 25k event in Surprise, Arizona. Jaksic defeated Paszek 4-6, 7-6, 7-5. Now let's say, for the sake of fun and argument, that I had said that Jaksic had saved 14 match points against __________, and the final score was 4-6, 7-6, 7-5. Yes, you would have guessed Paszek, wouldn't you? Because if there's a long, drawn-out, just-won't-end match, it's a pretty safe bet that Tamira Paszek is on one side of the net.

Tornado Alicia Black made her WTA debut this week, in Acapulco. She went out in the first round to Bojana Jovanovski, who beat her 6-4, 7-5.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Comcast Corp.'s decision to offer Tennis Channel as premium programming. The Supreme Court let stand a ruling made by a federal appeals court. Tennis Channel is seeking the same Comcast programming tier as NBC Sports Network and the Golf Channel, both of which are more accessible to customers.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Karumi Nara wins in Rio

Karumi Nara won her first WTA title today when she defeated top seed Klara Zakopalova 6-1, 4-6. 6-1 in the final of the Rio Open, a clay court event. It should be mentioned that Zakopalova experienced respiratory problems throughout the match. Unfortunately, today's loss gives her a 2-12 record in tour finals.

The doubles title was won by Irina-Camelia Begu and Maria Irigoyen. They defeated Johanna Larsson and Chenelle Scheepers 6-2, 6-0.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Triumphant Venus wins Dubai

Was anyone not smiling along with Venus Williams when she won the Dubai title today? Now a three-time champion at the event, Williams beat Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-0 to win the final. The match was better than the scoreline indicates, and would have been even better if Cornet had taken better control of her emotions (some things just don't change).

This is the first premier tournament that Williams has won since 2010, and is therefore a milestone in her career, which was all but taken away from her by Sjogren's syndrome (and by the multiple doctors who were apparently too ignorant to make the diagnosis). Since returning from time off to learn how to manage the disorder, the five-time Wimbledon and two-time U.S. Open champion has had to deal with fatigue, a major symptom of the syndrome, and with playing her way back into the upper level of the game. "Stepping into the unknown," she called the process.

And in a week of surprises, perhaps the most under-stated one is that the Dubai doubles champions are Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova. The Russia/born-Russian team beat Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 6-2, 5-7, 10-8 in today's final. Both teams were unseeded. Earlier in the tournament, the champions upset 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, and they also beat Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova.

Rodionova is a good doubles player who has played with various partners, including Kudryavtseva, over the last several years. This is her eighth WTA doubles title. She is currently ranked number 23 in the world in doubles. Kudryavtseva is ranked number 24. The Russian player has now won seven doubles titles.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sweeping the court

Li Na is way, way cool.

Sabine Lisicki is engaging in a trial coaching relationship with Martina Hingis.

Thanks to Courtney Nguyen for finding this gem. My only problem with it is that I wish I'd written it!

Nick Bollettieri has published an autobiography.

How to pack like 'Pova.

"Party in my head," Venus Williams said when asked if she was as calm on the inside as she appears to be on the outside.

Qualifier Nastassja Burnett has reached the semifinals in Rio. Top seed Klara Zakopalova also advanced to the semifinals.

I'm not sure why this is funny

It just is.

Alize Cornet and Venus Williams to meet in Dubai final

Venus Williams defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-2 in Dubai this evening, rather easily advancing to the 2014 final. Williams, a two-time champion in Dubai, is now 5-0 against Wozniacki in career competition.

It was assumed by many that Venus's victory in the semifinal was the first step toward what would have been the 25th meeting of the Williams sisters, but a Frenchwoman got in the way. That pesky Frenchwoman is Alize Cornet, who beat Serena Williams 6-4, 6-4 to advance to her seventh WTA final.

When Cornet was a 17-year-old, fresh on the scene, she showed quite a bit of promise. But her head got in the way of her tennis (there's a lot of that going around), and for the next several years, she was streaky at her best times. But in the past year, the emotionally-driven 24-year-old Frenchwoman has pulled her game together more, and perhaps more important--she has tamed her emotional reactions. She's still streaky, but she's definitely a more mature player.

Her backhand down the line left Serena just "standing there" several times tonight. Cornet hung in the long rallies against Williams with a ferocity that was to be admired. For her part, Williams just had trouble getting into a rhythm after she was broken in the first set. In the second set, there were several moments of "this is what happens to you when you make Serena mad," and common wisdom would have given the world number 1 the second set, and maybe a blowout in the third.

But Cornet just kept coming at her, defending with a frenzy, spinning balls at Williams, moving her around, and then--it was over. After the match, Serena--in true Serena fashion--said she thought maybe she had been influenced by a cute turtle at her hotel that she looks at every day.

In doubles, Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova, after taking out 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in the quarterfinals, did the same with Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova in the semifinals. And with the same scoreline--6-4, 6-4. In the other semifinal, Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears defeated Flavia Pennetta and Sam Stosur 6-3, 6-2. Kops-Jones and Spears upset top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the quarterfinals.

This tournament has taught us, yet again, not to have too many expectations. The world number 1 is out, a long-struggling Venus Williams is in yet another big final, and the two top doubles teams are out. 2nd seed Agnieszka Radwanska went out courtesy of Flavia Pennetta (who then lost to Venus).

Not so surprising, though unfortunate, was Doha champion Simona Halep's first round retirement because of an Achilles tendon problem that's been troubling her for a while. And not so surprising--though beyond unfortunate--was the second round upset of defending champion Petra Kvitova.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Family Circle Cup field very strong

Five former Family Circle Cup champions--Serena Williams, Samantha Stosur, Sabine Lisicki, Jelena Jankovic, and Venus Williams--will compete in the 2014 Cup in Charleston, which begins March 29. Serena Williams is the defending champion. Also in the main draw are Sara Errani, Eugenie Bouchard, Sloane Stephens, Andrea Petkovic, Madison Keys, Maria Kirilenko, and Elina Svitolina.

Svetlana Kuznetsova will also return to Charleston, after a long absence. Elena Vesnina (a singles finalist and doubles champion), Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Alize Cornet, and Peng Shuai will also be part of the field.

What a great list--and there are many more, including Lauren Davis, Stefanie Voegele and Casey Dellacqua. I'm eager to find out who accepts a wild card (Simona, are you listening?!).

This will be my 10th year to attend the Family Circle Cup, and I can attest that there just isn't a better place to be in April. The facility is beautiful, the staff is very helpful and very proficient, and Charleston is a great place to eat or to just hang out. The players get really special treatment in Charleston, too, and that's why they keep coming back.

Oh Petra, and other Dubai happenings

If you're keeping up with events in Dubai, you may feel that you've fallen down the rabbit hole. This is one twisty tournament. For example, today, defending champion Petra Kvitova went out in the second round (her first round of play) after having multiple opportunities to win her match against Carla Suarez Navarro. It seemed to take forever for Kvitova to close the first set; in tennis terms, it did take forever--she did it on the ninth set point. And after winning that set 6-1, Kvitova went up 4-2 in the second set, which Suarez Navarro won, 6-4. Kvitova served for the match in the third set but was broken. She went up a mini-break in the tiebreak, but lost that, also.

All credit, by the way, to Suarez Navarro, who never gave up, even though things looked bad for her. But let's be honest: Kvitova is no longer a player to be feared. Suarez Navarro knew that if she hung around long enough, her chances would improve.

But that was just part of the story. No one can re-invent herself quite like Flavia Pennetta, and today, she played as though she were in the middle of a Fed Cup final, taking out 2nd seed (and 2013 finalist) Aga Radwanska 6-4, 6-1. Then there was the Revenge of the Russians, as Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, defeated in singles by Serena and Venus Williams, respectively, beat the Williams sisters 6-4, 4-6, 10-4. Don't mess with the Russians!

Sorana Cirstea gets a big mention here, for taking out both Roberta Vinci (when is she going to get past a first round?) and Sara Errani in her first and second round matches. We all know that Cirstea can do it, but she is as streaky as they come.

In doubles, Pennetta and Sam Stosur, playing as wild cards, defeated 3rd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik. Stosur, however, was already out of singles competition; she lost in the opening round to Annika Beck (who was beaten today by Caroline Wozniacki).

Sadly, Doha champion Simona Halep had to retire yesterday in the first round. It isn't that surprising, though; Halep has been dealing with Achilles tendon problems.

Alize Cornet, Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic all advanced to the quarterfinals. Venus defeated Ana Ivanovic, and will face Pennetta in the  next round.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

All Access Hour in Rio

Includes an interview with the great Maria Bueno:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fireworks a fitting ending for Halep's week in Doha

The trophy ceremony in Doha tonight was lovely in its simplicity. At the end, the champion and runner-up stood with two escorts as a fireworks display went off. Then, one by one, a woman moved out of the scene until all that was left was champion Simona Halep, the trophy and the blazing colored lights in the sky.

It was satisfying to see both Halep and finalist Angelique Kerber fight for the title. It wasn't that long ago that Kerber gave us her first "I'm not a fluke" season, and now, Halep is delivering "You think you're not a fluke?" right back to her. Playing with both heels bandaged, the Romanian player, who will be number 9 in the world when the new rankings are published, defeated Kerber 6-2, 6-3. In doing so, Halep knocked off her sixth top 10 player in a row.

The Doha title is the biggest one that Halep has won. Setting the scene for what would be yet another confidence-filled battle, Halep elected to receive and then broke Kerber at love in the first game. She went on to break her opponent three more times. Kerber saw only four break opportunities but failed to capitalize on any of them. Halep's serve improved during her week in Doha, which made her even more of a threat than usual, also. Against Kerber, she took some risks with her serve, and--it should be noted--Kerber's return of serve was excellent.

But it was Halep who handled the big points better and who kept the errors in check. It was a very fluid performance, and one which capped off a run which included defeats of both world number 7 Sara Errani and world number 4 Aga Radwanska. This is Halep's seventh WTA title (six of them were earned in 2013), and her third premier level title.

Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai won the doubles title, defeating Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik 6-4, 6-0.

Meanwhile, in Dubai, Eugenie Bouchard, Camile Giorgi, Flavia Pennetta, Annika Beck, and Karolina Pliskova are among those who are still surviving in qualifying. Among those who are not: Tsvetana Pironkova, Andrea Petkovic, Karin Knapp, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kerber and Halep to meet in Doha final

It was no surprise that Angelique Kerber made it out of the Doha semifinals today; she has fought unusually hard this week to get to the last round. Against Jelena Jankovic, Kerber was her most athletic self, engaging in long rallies that involved fast and sometimes complex movement. I expected a good match from these two, and--for some of the time--I got it. Kerber's 6-1 victory in the first set doesn't really reflect the quality of the set, but then, neither does her 7-6 victory in the second set. That's because, in the latter half of the second set, Jankovic lost her focus and became more interested in fighting with her coach than in beating Kerber. Or so it seemed. And so it seems on so many occasions.

Luck is part of any sport, and Kerber had some rather dramatic luck to end the match. At match point, in a rally she looked likely to lose, the German star struck a ball that hit the netcord and bounced softly over.

I expected great tennis from the second semifinal, and I wasn't disappointed. Down 2-5 in the first set, Simona Halep came to life when her opponent, Agnieszka Radwanska, suddenly lost her way at 30-all. The moment of the match turned at that moment. Halep won the first set 7-5 and the second set 6-2. Both players hit some stunning shots, but it was Halep who was consistently aggressive and more consistently accurate.

This was a stressful week for me as a fan, watching my favorites play against each other. First it was JJ and Kvitova, then it was Radwanska and Halep. The final promises to be one worth watching. Halep likes to move her opponents around the court, and this week, Kerber has shown herself to be capable of tracking balls in all sorts of places.

In doubles, top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were defeated in the semifinals by 3rd seeds Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik. Peschke and Srebotnik will play 2nd seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai. Hsieh and Peng defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Nadia Petrova in the semifinals.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sweeping the court

Venus Williams has entered the 2014 Family Circle Cup, which will take place in Charleston March 29-April 6. This will be Williams' seventh time to play in the tournament, which she won in 2004. The Family Circle Cup, a premier WTA event, is the only tournament played on green clay. Tickets are available here.

Eight-time Family Circle Cup champion Chris Evert talks about her career and her finances in Forbes.

Serena Williams has been granted a wild card to play next week in Dubai.

Marta Domachowska has joined Caroline Wozniacki's team as a hitting partner for the Danish player.

Victoria Azarenka's first charity event will be held March 1 at the Malibou Racquet Club. Serena Williams will participate.

On Monday, Peng Shuai will become world number 1 in doubles.

Semifinals set in Doha

Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams gave us a real thriller in the second round of the Qatar Total Open, which Kvitova won in three sets. The 3rd seed then went on to beat countrywoman Lucie Safarova 7-6, 5-7, 6-2 in the third round, but today, a tired-looking Czech was sent home in straight sets by a very in-form Jelena Jankovic. The tournament's top seed, Li Na, was upset by Petra Cetkovska in the third round; today, Cetkovska won one game against Angelique Kerber.

Kerber will play Jankovic in the semifinals, and Simona Halep will play Agnieszka Radwanska. Halep practically ran over Sara Errani in the quarterfinals. Kerber and Jankovic have played each other only twice (that seems odd), both times on hard courts, and they are 1-1. Radwanska has a 3-1 record against Halep. Jankovic has dropped only nine games in three matches (she had a bye in the first round).

Top-seeded Errani and partner Roberta Vinci have advanced to the semifinals in doubles.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Gone so soon

Eugenie Bouchard, Sloane Stephens, Andrea Petkovic, Alize Cornet--all out in the first round of the Qatar Total Open. Also, two players retired during the first round--Daniela Hantuchova with a leg injury and Dominika Cibulkova with a gastrointestinal illness.

The news is especially bad for Roberta Vinci, who is having a terrible 2014 season. It isn't too good for Sloane Stephens, either. Stephens skipped Fed Cup (so did Vinci, for that matter, but her entire "A" Italian team skipped) because of injury, but was bested in straight sets by Petra Cetkovska in Doha. Vinci went out courtesy of Tsvetana Pironkova.

Hard-working Fed Cup players Klara Zakopalova and Lucie Safarova kept going, however. Traveling straight from a held-over, rain-delayed tie in Spain, the Czech players defeated Elina Svitolina and Kirsten Flipkens, respectively. Their countrywoman, Cetkovska, as noted, is into the second round, as is Petra Kvitova, who had a bye in the first.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Czech Republic beats Spain 3-2 in Fed Cup tie

All the rain in Seville undoubtedly worked in the Czech Republic's favor in the conclusion of the first Fed Cup tie of 2014. A sick Lucie Safarova recovered sufficiently to play the fourth rubber--a singles match against Silvia Soler-Espinosa. Safarova was also awarded that opportunity when her teammate, Klara Zakopalova, won the first singles rubber of the day. Zakopalova defeated Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 .

Carla Suarez Navarro won the third rubber. She defeated Zakopalova 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. The deciding doubles rubber went to the Czechs: Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Andrea Hlavackova, both accomplished doubles players, defeated Suarez Navarro and Soler-Espinosa 7-6, 6-3.

The Czech Republic, one of the most successful Fed Cup teams of recent times, will face defending champion Italy in the semifinals, while Australia will compete against Germany.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sweeping the court

Women Who Serve offers condolences to Billie Jean King, whose mother, Betty, died on Friday. BJK was appointed to represent the USA at the winter Olympic Games, but was unable to do so because of her mother's death.

Mary Carillo did a great feature on Siberia during tonight's NBC Olympic coverage, and--aside from being just really interesting--it gave me more of a feel for Maria Sharapova's heritage.

Here's a great photo of Elena Vesnina with the Olympic torch.

Serena Williams, suffering from a back injury, has withdrawn from Doha, and has also taken her name off of the Indian Wells entry list. Victoria Azarenka has also withdrawn from Doha.

Presenting: the Domi line.

Oh, here she is again!

Fed Cup "weekend" to continue tomorrow

There was even more rain today for Spain and the Czech Republic, who have still played just one rubber of the weekend Fed Cup tie. Play will resume tomorrow.

In the meantime, Angelique Kerber won her second rubber--this time against Dominika Cibulkova--and sealed Germany's victory over the Slovak Republic. As expected, Cibulkova put up quite a fight, taking the second set to a tiebreak after Kerber was only two points away from giving Germany the win. In the end, though, Kerber came through with a 6-3, 7-6 score. In the World Group, the Slovak Republic-Germany tie probably offered fans the most thrilling tennis of the weekend.

Somewhat surprisingly--and adding to the flavor, even though it was a dead rubber--the Slovaks won the doubles match. Jana Cepelova and Magdalena Rybarikova beat Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 4-6, 6-3, 10-7.

Australia defeated Russia 4-0, which was a predictable scoreline, and team Italy defeated the USA 3-1. Madison Keys and Lauren Davis--playing in her hometown of Cleveland--won the dead doubles rubber against two very inexperienced Italian players.

To get the tie victory, however, it was Karin Knapp who won her second singles rubber when she defeated Alison Riske 6-3, 7-5. Knapp was so anxious, she had to serve for the match three times. But with all those opportunities, Riske was never aggressive enough to move the match to three sets.

Speaking of the USA-Italy tie, here's some wisdom from USA television commentators:

"Karin Knapp--Madison Keys is going to put her under some pressure."

"What a surprise; they pulled Madison Keys."

You get the picture.

In World Group II, Canada prevailed 3-1 over Serbia, Poland beat Sweden3-2, and Argentina defeated Japan 3-1. And in what turned out to be the most interesting World Group II tie, France was victorious, 3-2, over Switzerland. Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic (of course!) won the deciding doubles rubber, defeating Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic 7-5, 6-4.

This was just about as close as a Fed Cup tie could get, and the main thing we can get out of it--other than captain Amelie Mauresmo's wise use of Mladenovic--is that Bencic won both of her singles rubbers. She beat Cornet and she ran over Razzano. Keep watching Bencic.

In the World Group semifinals, Germany will play Australia, and Italy will play the winner of the Czech Republic vs. Spain tie.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Defending champion Italy takes lead against USA in Fed Cup play

The USA brought its B team, Italy brought it's B team. But an Italian B team is still Italian, and both Karin Knapp and Camila Giorgi thrived on the pressure of playing to keep their country in the top position as day1 of Fed Cup play ended with the Italians leading 2-0.

It took Knapp three sets to get past Christina McHale, but McHale's tendency to make unforced errors led to the Italian getting a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win. The second rubber was another matter entirely. Big-serving Madison Keys wound up flummoxed by the clever-serving and inventive Giorgi, who beat her 6-2, 6-1. Keys looked lost throughout the match, and again and again, she saw her second serve get clobbered by her opponent. Giorgi is an excellent defensive player who can also serve well, and today, Keys looked as though she had no idea how to handle that combination.

Playing the most entertaining tennis in the World Group were the teams from Germany and the Slovak Republic. Andrea Petkovic, a woman on a mission, beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-7, 2-6 after Cibulkova held a match point. Petkovic's serve was huge today, and some of her defensive play was so athletic and clever, she made me think of Agnieszka Radwanska. She almost couldn't do anything wrong for much of the match.

The second rubber was entertaining, too, at least for the first set. Angelique Kerber and Daniela Hantuchova went at it until one of them--and it was Kerber--won a tiebreak 11-9. Pretty thrilling stuff. But then Hantuchova faded, and Kerber won the second set 6-1.

Most of the Czech Republic vs. Spain action today was canceled because of rain, though the competitors managed to get one rubber in. Carla Suarez Navarro defeated Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-1, 6-4.

In the other World Group tie, Australia is leading Russia 2-0, as expected.

Here is the status of World Group II play after the first day:

Canada vs. Serbia, 2-0
Sweden vs. Poland, 1-1
France vs. Switzerland, 1-1
Argentina vs. Japan, 2-0

It's worth mentioning that Switzerland's victory came when Belinda Bencic beat Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-4.

And, as of 6 p.m. CST, the WTA website has finally decided to acknowledge that Fed Cup is being played this weekend.

Fed Cup--a figment of my imagination?

Sharapova and the Olympic Torch, Sharapova & Her First Court, Road To Singapore: 14 Cities, 14 Facts, Doha Fast Becoming Sports Oasis.

Those were some of the headlines I saw on the WTA site when I looked at it this morning. There were also front page stories about players' favorite Olympic sports, the Olympic opening ceremony, and January's shot of the month poll.

Hey, WTA--it's Fed Cup weekend. 90 nations are broadcasting Fed Cup action, but if you went to the official site of women's pro tennis this morning, you wouldn't have known it. As I write this, Australia has gone up 2-0 against Russia, Germany has gone up 2-0 against the Slovak Republic, there are a lot of other scores, there have been some very good matches--but the site is still all about the Olympics and Doha.

The message seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Sharapova leads torch-bearers into Olympic stadium

Calling it the run of her life, a beaming Maria Sharapova led the torch-lighting ceremony at the opening ceremonies of the 2014 winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia today. Sharapova was the first of six Russian Olympians who carried the torch through Fisht Olympic Stadium before the Olympic flame was lit.

Sharapova told NBC that she was asked three months ago to participate in the opening ceremonies, but that it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that she was told what her role would be.

Also carrying the torch today, in one of the final runs before the opening ceremonies, was Elena Vesnina. Vesnina has lived in Sochi since childhood. Sharapova's family moved to Sochi when she was two years old.

Quote of the day

She had treatment for a leg problem in the second set. Were you aware of that and is that somewhat difficult, when you sense your opponent might have a little bit of a problem?

"I had no idea, and it is difficult, but actually, my leg was kind of falling off, as well...."
Heather Watson

Safarova withdraws from Fed Cup singles competition

Lucie Safarova has withdrawn from Fed Cup singles play because of illness. Klara Zakopalova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova will be playing singles, and, if Safarova is able, she'll play doubles with Andrea Hlavacova. Team leader Petra Kvitova had already withdrawn from Fed Cup because of a viral illness.

Anastasia Myskina, serving as the stand-in Fed Cup captain for Russia, has chosen Irina Khromacheva and Veronika Kudermetova to play the singles rubbers for their country's World Group tie against Australia. Khromacheva will face Casey Dellacqua in the opening rubber.

90 nations will broadcast Fed Cup action this weekend.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sweeping the court

Peng Shuai is heading toward the number 1 doubles ranking.

Nicole Vaidisova is again considering re-joining the tour, but apparently, she has fitness issues she has to take care of before that can become a reality.

Petra Kvitova, still sick with a viral illness, has withdrawn from Fed Cup competition this weekend.

Get to know Luksika Kumkhum and Katarzyna Piter.

WTT team The Sacramento Capitals is moving its franchise to Las Vega, the new team will be called The Las Vegas Neon.

Dominika Cibulkova recently appeared as a guest star on "Panelak" (thanks to The Slice for this):

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Pavlyuchenkova wins Open GDF SUEZ

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won her first premier WTA title today in Paris, and what a tournament it was to win. The entire week was full of tense and thrilling tennis, and the unseeded Russian provided us with a lot of it. Pavlyuchenkova took out three top 10 players, including top seed Maria Sharapova, to get to the trophy. Every one of her five Paris matches went three sets, and in four of them, she dropped the first set.

I suppose we can stop talking about Pavlyuchenkova's fitness problem.

Today, the Russian had to deal with the always-fast, always-tough Sara Errani, who won the first set 6-4. There was no doubt that both women were tired. One had to assume that Errani may have been the worse for wear since she was also involved in doubles until she and her partner gave their semifinal opponents a walkover yesterday. But the fact that both of them had to be exhausted somehow made the final even better, and it seemed inevitable that the last match would go three sets.

All week long, Pavlyuchenkova kind of played her way into these long matches. At times, she looked over-anxious, but she always turned her attitude around and--once she was calm--played with power and aggression. I like to watch Pavlyuchenkova because I think she does so many things well. She can hit with a lot of power, but she also possesses unusually good anticipation and more often than not, gets exactly where she needs to be in order to strike the ball to her optimal benefit. After she won the second set 6-2, she looked primed to repeat the kind of performance that led to survival on the last day.

And she did. Watching Errani struggle so hard with her serve in the second set seemed to light a fire under the Russian's own serve. In the final set, which she won 6-3, Pavlyuchenkova earned first and second serve win percentages of 75 and 70. Errani kept up the defensive fight until the very end, but she was overcome by Pavlyuchenkova's ability to dictate the points. Why, one has to wonder, does Errani not hire a service coach and spend some time improving what is a real weakness in her otherwise amazing game?

Both players were going for a first premier title. Errani was the runner-up last year, also, when she lost in the final to Mona Barthel. Pavlyuchenkova, by the way,  added to the occasion by delivering her acceptance speech in French.

3rd seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke won the doubles title. In today's title, they defeated Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic 6-7, 6-4, 10-5. 

I wasn't able to see Marion Bartoli's retirement ceremony, but I imagine it will be popping up on YouTube some time soon. If you haven't checked out Andrew Krasny's interview with Bartoli (it's part of the WTA All Access Hour in Paris), do so. All interviews with Bartoli are great, but this one is especially charming.

Of course, it's always very special to see tournament co-director Amelie Mauresmo, one of my favorite players of all time. And speaking of Frenchwomen, the week wouldn't have been nearly as thrilling and entertaining had it not been for semifinalist Alize Cornet, who played her heart out in marathon matches until she was finally taken out of competition by Errani. Cornet was definitely one to watch (she has that "French flair" Mary Carillo talks about) at the beginning of her career, then she hit some bad times. But now, with increased fitness and more emotional control, the young Frenchwoman is definitely one to watch again. 

And now a few words about Tennis Channel, which went all ESPN on us over the weekend. Tennis Channel has a new feature, "Center Court," which includes central narration from the TC studio while parts of various matches from around the world are shown. Yesterday, both Paris and Davis Cup were showcased. Tennis Channel showed the first two sets and most of the third set of the very thrilling Errani-Cornet match, and then--right before it would be determined whether there would be a third set tiebreak--poof! They began showing Davis Cup instead.

Only the Davis Cup rubber hadn't begun. Tennis Channel left the Errani-Cornet match before anyone knew whether there would be a champion or a tiebreak, and they never returned to it. They showed the Davis Cup players entering the stadium and walking onto the court. They showed the coin toss. They sat around their desk and chatted about Davis Cup.

When a match is close to ending, and especially if there's a third set tiebreak, it would be inappropriate, to say the least, to cut away from it to show the beginning of another match. But there wasn't even another match being played! I felt a mixture of disbelief and disgust when this happened, and thank the tennis gods that Tennis TV exists (and with better commentary). Tennis Channel: What the hell were you thinking?

Makarova takes Pattaya City title

4th seed Ekaterina Makarova won the Pattaya Open today when she defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-6 in the final. Makarova had to win the tiebreak 9-7. It's also worth mentioning that Pliskova hit 10 aces in the match, and 47 in the tournament. And that leads me to Julia Goerges, who went out (to Pliskova) in the semifinals, but who hit 39 aces in three rounds (she had a walkover in the second round). That number includes the 17 aces Goerges hit in her quarterfinal match.

This is Makarova's second WTA title.

4th seeds Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai won the doubles title, defeating 3rd seeds Alla Kudryatseva and Anastasia Rodionova 3-6, 7-6, 10-6.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Makarova and Karolina Pliskova to meet in Pattaya City final

4th seed Ekaterina Makarova will play Karolina Pliskova for the Pattaya City title tomorrow. Makarova defeated Andrea Hlavackova in the semifinals, and Pliskova defeated Julia Goerges. In the second round, Makarova defeated two-time champion Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 6-2. Zvonareva is making her return to the tour after a long injury rehab.

Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai will compete in the doubles final against Alla Kudryatseva and Anastasia Rodionova, who are seeded fourth and third, respectively.

Fighting Italians--a new chapter

When you honestly don't have any idea who's going to win a match until the very last second, well--that would be exactly the kind of match you'd expect if Alize Cornet played Sara Errani. And play one another they did, today in Paris, and they went at it for over three hours. This, after Cornet spent over three hours yesterday in her quarterfinal match against Andrea Petkovic. Oh, and she spent just shy of three hours winning her second round match against Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. And yes, she went over two and a half hours in her first round match, too. I's making me tired just to write about it.

Such fighters, both of them. And they put on quite a show, with their lobs and drop shots and speeding around the court. But in the end, it was a drop shot that should never have been attempted that led to Cornet's downfall, and that put Errani into the Paris final. The Fighting Italian defeated the fighting Frenchwoman 7-6, 3-6, 7-6.

Her opponent will be Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated the other Russian, Maria Sharapova, in the semifinals. Both women had trouble with their second serves, but for the first half of the match, it looked like Sharapova was going to pull off a victory. What happens with Sharapova, I think, is that when her serve goes off and she double-faults, her confidence decreases. Pavlyuchenkova really honed in on this and played a very solid match to win 4-6, 6-3 6-4. Sharapova, unfortunately, double-faulted twice consecutively to end the match.

Not surprisingly, Errani and her partner, Roberta Vinci--the top seeds--gave their semifinal opponents, Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, a walkover. 4th seeds Babos and Mladenovic will face 3rd seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke in the final.

Tomorrow, there will also be a retirement ceremony for Marion Bartoli.