Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Five things we can learn from Petra Kvitova

1. So much of life is out of our control.
Developing healthy habits, making sensible plans, and developing a fine balance between wise caution and wise risk are strategies that go a long way in allowing us to prevent a lot of trouble in our lives. But even the healthiest and wisest among us are powerless to stop some illnesses and injuries, acts of nature, and random acts of violence and cruelty. When we least expect it, a crazy person can enter our private space and try to slit our throats.

2. You have to try.
Your left hand is how you make your living (and find your joy), and it's been damaged almost to the point of no return. You're fortunate, though--a highly skilled doctor has repaired it. But you can't feel your fingers the way you used to, and it may be quite a while before you can. You can't even make a fist. But you show up several weeks before the doctors predicted you would, and you win a match in a very big event. Then, still with limited feel and strength, you win a tournament. Just like that.

3. Don't look back.
It would be so easy (especially if you already have a tendency to be inconsistent) to come down off the Birmingham cloud and fall into complacency. After all, you've undergone a life-changing trauma. And you already had significant problems with illness, even before the tragedy occurred. Or maybe you could just keep going forward and see what happens. And then--look at you--you win two tournaments (including a premier 5) in a row and return to Fed Cup glory.

4. Let it out.
Cry. Bark "pojd!" louder than you ever did, in that way that only you possess. Tingle with gratitude. Smile. Make everyone laugh, just as you always did. Be okay with the fact that, for a while, in Doha, you were "crazy a little bit in my mind."

5. Treat others with kindness and respect--you have no idea how much it will come back to you.
When you are respected and beloved (just like your dear friend, Li Na), all kinds of people--players, media, umpires, fans--feel your pain and send wholehearted hopes and prayers your way. And you need that in order to heal, both physically and emotionally. What you have given suddenly comes back to you, and you find the extra strength you need to go on, and to come back stronger than ever.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Defending champion Team USA advances to Fed Cup semifinals

The USA, Fed Cup defending champion, advanced to the World Group semifinals today with a 3-0 victory over Netherlands. Venus Williams won two singles rubbers and CoCo Vandewegh won the other. Of note was the fight that Richel Hogenkamp put up against the defending champions. Hogenkamp has done this sort of thing in Fed Cup before, so it wasn't a surprise. She dragged Vandeweghe to three sets, and played a very tight first set against Williams.

It could get a bit more difficult for team USA in the semifinals, when they will go to France to play Team France, or--judging by today--to play Kiki Mladenovic. Just in case there was any doubt that Mladenovic is out of her slump (and there shouldn't be), the Frenchwoman made it very clear this weekend. In fact, in the on-court interview after France clinched the win, Mladenovic was asked if she was "back," and her reply was: "Do I have to say it?"

Pauline Parmentier lost both of her singles rubbers, so Mladenovic had to carry most of the load for Team France. She defeated both Kirsten Flipkens and the dangerous Elise Mertens (in straight sets, which surprised me). In the deciding doubles rubber, Amandine Hesse became the second part of the almost unbeatable team of Mladenovic and Anybody. But Hesse wasn't just "anybody." She performed very well in the doubles rubber, and her poise on the court belied how stressed out she was: this was her very first Fed Cup match, and the fate of her country's team was half on her shoulders.

No problem. Mladenovic and Hesse defeated Belgium in three sets. Afterwards, Hesse and Mladenovic revealed that it wasn't their first time to play together--the won the under-14 European Championships a long time ago.

A deciding doubles rubber was also needed by Germany. Antonia Lottner, ranked number 153 in the world, rose to the occasion by defeating both Belarusian Fed Cup notable Alaiksandra Sasnovich.  A very close doubles match ensued, with Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Tatjana Maria emerging the victors--6-7, 7-5, 6-4. Sabalenka, unfortunately, was on the losing side of that contest, also.

Germany's semifinal opponent will be former (and, I believe, future) Fed Cup giant Czech Republic. A team bliss was the story, as Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova showed up to get the Czech team back where it belongs, and Switzerland was the victim. Kvitova beat both Victorja Golubic (in three sets--Golubic lights up during Fed Cup play) and Belinda Bencic, then Strycova defeated Bencic, and that was that.

There were a few players missing who--if they show up for the semifinals--could make things even more exciting. Neither Angie Kerber nor Julia Goerges played for Germany this weekend. And--while there's no sign that she intends to return to the French team (and who can blame her?)--Caroline Garcia's presence at the semifinals could make the event electrifying.

Here is how World Group II play went:
Slovakia def. Russia, 4-1
Australia def. Ukraine, 3-2
Romania def. Canada, 3-1
Spain def. Italy, 3-2

Sara Errani, a member of Four Fighting Italians who were Fed Cup legends, won both of her singles rubbers, one of them against Spain's formidable Carla Suarez Navarro. That wasn't the only problem Suarez Navarro had: she also lost to world number 179 Deborah Chiesa in Chiesa's second-ever Fed Cup match (her first, she lost in Saturday's opening rubber). It was Chiesa's 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7) victory over Lara Arruabarrena that clinched the tie for Italy.

I didn't get to see it, but Slovakia's doubles team was the hard-luck pairing of Jana Cepelova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who won in straight sets. Cepelova has been hampered by various injuries for a long time, and Schmiedlova is just coming out (I think) of a major slump.

Daria Gavrilova of Australia lost both of her singles rubbers, which had to be a big disappointment for all involved, but especially Gavrilova.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Czech super-team on track for Fed Cup

Former Fed Cup champion Czech Republic has put together its A team for this weekend's tie. Of course, when it comes to Czech Republic, the B team can dominate, too and the C team isn't anything to be dismissed. This weekend, playing on an indoor court in Prague, the Czech team will face World Group opponent Switzerland.

Playing for the Czechs will be Petra Kvitova, the queen of indoor courts, who is fresh off of her championship performance in St. Petersburg, and Karolina Pliskova, Lucie Safarova, and Barbora Strycova. It doesn't get much better than that. Playing for Switzerland will be Timea Bacsinzky--just back from an injury and rehab absence--Belinda Bencic, Victorija Golubic, and Jill Teichmann. Bacsinszky and Bencic add danger to this team, and Golubic has been known to ruin the Fed Cup hopes of some big stars.

World Group defending champion Team USA also has a very strong team. Venus and Serena Williams are on it, as well as CoCo Vandewegh and Australian Open stand-out Lauren Davis. The USA will play Netherlands, whose team does not include its country's most notable player, Kiki Bertens. It does include Richel Hogenkamp, who--like Golubic--has been known to rise to the occasion in Fed Cup play. Also playing for Netherlands are Arantxa Rus, Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs. The tie will take place on an indoor court in Asheville, North Carolina.

Belarus and Germany will play on an indoor court in Minsk. There's no Vika Azarenka on the Belarus team, but there are two dangerous Fed Cup upstarts: Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka, who will be joined by Vera Lapko and Lidziya Marozava. The Germans don't have Angie Kerber, nor do they have Fed Cup star Andrea Petkovic or Julia Goerges. It's definitely not an A team. Playing for Germany will be Tatjana Maria, Antonia Lottner, Anna-Lena Friedsam, and doubles specialist Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Finally, in World Cup play, France and Belgium will play on an indoor hard court in La Roche--sur-Yon, France. The resurgent Kiki Mladenovic will lead the French team, whose members include Pauline Parmentier and Armandine Hesse (perhaps a fourth will be added later). Belgium's team is made up of the clearly dangerous Australian Open star Elise Mertens, Kirsten Flipkens, Alison Van Uytvanck, and Ysaline Bonaventure. 

Here is the World Group II draw:

Slovakia vs. Russia (in Slovakia)
Romania vs. Canada (in Romania)
Australia vs. Ukraine (in Australia)
Italy vs. Spain (in Italy)

Magda Rybarikova will lead the Slovak team, and--of note--Viktoria Kuzmova will join her. Also of note--the "who knows what may happen?" pair of Jana Cepelova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova will also play for Slovakia. And of further note--young Anastasia Potapova will be on the Russian team.

Romania's team is strong--world number 2 Simona Halep will be joined by Irina-Camelia Begu, Sorana Cirstea, and Raluca Olaru. Canada has doubles strength in Gabriela Dabrowski.

Australia's team includes Ash Barty, Dasha Gavrilova and Casey Dellacqua, and Ukraine's team does not include Elina Svitolina and Lesia Tsurenko.

Fighting Italian (there are still a few of them around) Sara Errani will lead Italy's team, and Spain's team will be led by Carla Suarez Navarro. Also playing for Spain (seems like old times) will be Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, who has notable doubles skills. Absent from the team is Garbine Muguruza.