Tenaciously Tennis

Indian Wells 2012: A Fearsome Flu and Fresh Faces

It’s been a weird few days at Indian Wells with a ferocious flu taking down scores of players, trainers, and even journalists, while new American talent has been breaking through to the final few days of action in the California heat. The stomach viruses’ victim count so far is estimated at approximately 30, including stars Vera Zvonareva and Gael Monfils.

The flu’s latest casualty? American wild card Jamie Hampton, 22, who couldn’t deal with the cramps and fatigue. She retired during the third set versus World No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska. It’s too bad; Hampton seemed to find her game despite trailing 3-0 in the final set. She enjoyed the momentum by taking the second set 6-4. Ultimately, illness proved too much. Hampton should leave feeling proud. Ranked No. 99, she’s making a serious breakthrough into the big leagues and the third-round is a quality advance. Hampton took out former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in round one and Jarmila Gajdosova in the second.

Said Hampton: “At the end of the second [against Radwanska] it hit me and I knew it was coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.” And this type of thing has happened in the past for the up-and-comer; she’s suffered from cramps five times already in her young career, forcing her to quit the match. Yet she says she “hydrates and eats the right way, according to a Ticker post on Tennis.com. A visit to a specialist  is in her future, which is a good call for a player who can definitely do major damage if she keeps the fuel going for further upward trajectory.

Bowing out in another close match was the No. 32 seed and New Jersey-native Christina McHale. The giant killer — think Cincinnati 2011 and my shameless self-promotion here — added Petra Kvitova to her list, taking out the World No. 3 in round two. The 18th-seeded Angelique Kerber, the surprise 2011 US Open semifinalist, however, proved to be a little too much to handle, edging past the 19-year old 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4). McHale, although not quite as new a face as Hampton, summons the fresh and hopeful feelings of where American women’s tennis is going in a time of crisis. The Williams sisters aren’t getting any younger, and their typical absence at Indian Wells this week always makes it even more pronounced. Regardless, expect a top 20 ranking for McHale by the year’s end (if not by the time Roland Garros rolls around).

In other WTA news, Ana Ivanovic has pushed past the stomach bug and her own insecurities, downing former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets with her huge forehand. The No. 15-seeded Serb might finally be ready to go on a roll and reclaim her rightful place in the Top 10 after confidence issues sapped her game post-Roland Garros victory 2008.

On the men’s side, American Ryan Harrison, 19,  has advanced to the final 16. He’s had huge success at Indian Wells in the past, advancing to the fourth round last year after securing a solid win over Canadian Milos Raonic (before losing to Roger Federer in straights). This year, it’s been more of the same. He took out Guillermo Garcia-Lopez just like in 2011, while also claiming solid wins over Viktor Troicki and Flavio Cipolla. Up next: the No. 13 seed Gilles Simon, who’s entirely beatable if Harrison can keep calm and not let the Frenchman’s tricky counter-punching style unsettle his power.

VIDEO: Sharapova and Federer – When They Were Young

The following is simply a collection of YouTube videos featuring two of the biggest names in tennis today: Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer — when they were young and things were a little more, well, carefree. Enjoy!

Here’s a look at Federer’s first Grand Slam match.

Pardon the title, but this is a Hopman Cup match featuring Federer and compatriot Martina Hingis.

Sharapova’s giving a taste of her interview skills at just 13 here.

Here’s a hilarious (and prescient) interview of Sharapova at 16 as the World No. 32.

What Azarenka Can Learn from Djokovic

Posted in Uncategorized by Ben on January 30, 2012
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Victoria Azarenka recently pulled off a big win over Maria Sharapova to claim her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic edged Rafael Nadal in the longest major final of the Open Era.

But for Azarenka, it might be just a little more tricky to hold on to that euphoric feeling that comes after a huge win. That is, if the past year’s female champions prove to be an example. While Kim Clijsters, the Aussie Open’s 2010 titlist, made good with a semifinal loss to Azarenka, Li Na, Petra Kvitova, and (especially) Sam Stosur all failed to make much of a dent in the major tournaments after their victories. Vika needs to put the blinders on and push forward. She needs to follow the example of Djokovic, whose win she watched the next day.

Winning the three Grand Slams in a row could be in Azarenka’s future. A lot of things need to happen in her favor, including the continued poor form of Serena Williams. It’s still unclear whether Kvitova, who might prove Azarenka’s biggest rival, will get back the game that claimed her a Wimbledon crown, along with the WTA year-end championships. If so, the storyline might just develop into a Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova type deal, which would be extremely helpful to the WTA.

With the Williams sisters already on a downward spiral, or at least their typical roller coaster ride, they’re in danger of becoming quickly irrelevant. Meanwhile, Sharapova’s proven she’s back, having made the Wimbledon and Aussie Open finals. Yet does she have that extra fight to take her game one step further? Her loses in those championship matches were pretty huge. But if her serve continues to show staying power, she should find herself in the second weeks of many more majors to come.

Back to Azarenka. She needs to be composed as the newest World No. 1. Everyone may be thinking to the case of Ana Ivanovic, whose win at Roland Garros also propelled her to the highest height in the ranking. Of course, it also sent her game to low levels and a loss of confidence. Azarenka seems to have the fight in her, and it does appear similar to Djokovic’s own slightly abrasive personality.

As long as she keeps it going and doesn’t lose herself in the process, the upcoming hard court season is hers for the taking.

Late Night Reflections on the 2012 Australian Open’s Start

It’s that time of the year again for the first Grand Slam in the sunny land of Australia to kick off. Injuries prevail among both tours as was the case last year — and why shouldn’t they with such a short off-season? A little tennis has been watched and a lot of guilt has been felt for not writing sooner. That aside, let’s get down to talking some tennis.

I caught a few matches last night, failing to fall asleep before 5am because, sure, Roger Federer’s match against …who? (Goes to look it up)

Oh, yes, Federer’s match against World No. 176, or something, Alexandre Kudryavtsev (apparently no relation to Alla Kudryavtseva) was just that interesting. Okay, so maybe not, but the later played decently enough, striking some booming backhands that pierced angles of the court in a very, well, Federer-esque way. Regardless of the spots of brilliance from his opponent, Federer prevailed easily, winning 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

In other matches broadcast to my liking were Aussie heir apparent Bernard Tomic against Fernando Verdasco as well as last year’s champion and Down Under’s adopted daughter Kim Clijsters versus another nobody (will check name).

Tomic looked sharp in all his cat-like glory, moving the ball around beautifully against the No. 22 seed, while hitting perfectly timed slices over and over again to take the pace, put it in a blender, and then proceed to cut Verdasco’s confidence to pieces. In short, Tomic came back from two sets down for the win. Verdasco completely choked at the end, allowing the teen to advance to the second round 5-6, 6(3)-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.

For Aussie Kim, the win looked a little uneasy at the start. She let her opponent control play too much, but ultimately dominated by the end. She took out Maria Joao Koehler 7-5, 6-1. Should the Belgian’s body hold up, and she doesn’t do one of those surprising disappearing acts for which she’s known, we’ll get a rematch of last year’s final against Li Na in the Round of 16.

How’s that for strange?

Of Margaritas, Money and Mayhem at the WTA Championships

Put down the margarita next time, Maria. It seemed like your time to shine and reclaim the World No. 1 ranking at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, which began on October 25. That, however, was not to be with Petra Kvitova claiming the title over Victoria Azarenka. After dropping her first two matches in round robin play, the Russian withdrew from the event citing a left ankle injury she sustained in Japan weeks before.

As current World No. 2 Maria Sharapova, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, recently told reporters before the retirement: “I think I’m just fortunate enough to say that I’m here and I’m going to be competing. That, to me, is a big accomplishment by itself. The last couple of years at this time I was sipping a margarita on the beach and now I have another tournament.”

She continued: “It’s tough to talk about [No. 1] coming off the [ankle] injury in Tokyo and not even knowing if I’d be able to compete for the rest of the year.

At Istanbul, Sharapova had the chance to snatch the title from current top player Caroline Wozniacki. But by pulling out, the Dane, who’s been dating US Open golf champion Rory McIlroy, enjoys the achievement for the second year in a row.

And while the Russian chatted about drinking booze on beaches, Wozniacki offered more sober remarks about the top spot: “Of course when you’ve been No. 1 the whole year, you’d like to finish the last week as number one as well. That would mean a lot to me since not a lot of people have finished the year two times in a row as No. 1.” Congratulations, Wozniacki, for doing just that.

But this year’s WTA Championships, which saw the absence of this year’s Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters and 16-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, wasn’t only about Wozniacki and, previously, Sharapova. The competition was fierce and the predictions wonky as a cast of talented, but by no means dominating, women took to the courts.

Along with Wozniacki, reigning Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka, who’s claimed three titles this year, 2011 French Open champion Li Na, two-time Grand Slam runner-up Vera Zvonareva, US Open titlist Samantha Stosur and Agnieszka Radwanska, who’s won three tournaments since August and Marion Bartoli, after Sharapova’s exit, all vied for a chance at the year’s final trophy.

Azarenka looked to have the most solid chance of taking the title out of the above cast of women with a win in Luxembourg without dropping a set.

Plus, she made some noise off-court, too. She told reporters before the event kicked off: “[Money is] a good motivation and I’d be lying if I said that we just play for the love of the game and the points. You know when you’re down you think that it could be a bit more money and it might pump you up a bit.”

Well, it’s no margarita, but that kind of cash could be enough reason for the Belarusian to notch the biggest win of her young (and loud) career one day. This just wasn’t quite her year.

Congratulations to Kvitova on a huge win after a wonderful Wimbledon. Let’s see how the current World No. 2 fares in 2012.

That Time I Tried Out for the Oxford Blues

Posted in Uncategorized by Ben on October 13, 2011
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Look at that wicked forehand and those Murray-esque features! Photo: Daniel Csete.

It’s not any tennis fan who can say that he’s traveled from working the site of the greatest tournament in North America, the US Open, to the courts used by the Oxford University Blues within the span of, oh, about a month. Needless to say, I can. (Hooray, me, right?) Okay, so maybe it isn’t  the most ground-breaking of accomplishments in one’s life, but I’m certainly going to get as much out of the experience. That is, of course, why I’m selecting to write about it when I probably should be reading “Reinventing Film Studies,” or even “The Merchant of Venice” for an upcoming tutorial. Relax, I have a week until my next!

And, yes, this little anecdote is certainly noteworthy enough for me to feel inspired to stop analyzing a Woody Allen film — yes, they let you take that kind of course at Oxford (if you can work the system to your advantage, or simply be a visiting student and an American Studies and Communications double major who can only take a Woody Allen film course to fulfill needed requirements) — for a little bit. Lord knows I’ve already cooped myself up for a day doing that. And, no, it wasn’t pretty. It’s actually kind of ironic that I was obsessing over writing an essay about obsession in Annie Hall. Woody Allen will do that to you.

Anyway, that’s a story for another time. Phew, it’s actually nice to write about tennis for the first time in over a month!

Ah, yes. Where was I? Yes, I was recounting that time in every man’s life when he decides to swallow his pride and, despite knowing he probably won’t cut it, dons his tennis gear and grabs his dust-covered Babolat rackets for a hit. He puts away his tissues, needed for the cold that comes with the UK’s wacky weather changes and from the remnants of jet lag, and gets ready to play. Mind you, this was my first time actually engaging in the sport in about two weeks, not to mention one in only a handful of times throughout the summer. I’ve decided to remember this summer, filled with internships and awesome opportunities at some of the finest institutions in the tennis media industry, as one in which I watched a lot of tennis, but played excruciatingly little.

Nonetheless, being a Goucher Gopher — and quite proud of that fact — I was confident enough in my abilities going into the fray to at least not get hit off the court. I probably should’ve taken the hint that, upon nearing the sports complex, people could actually keep a high-level rally going for more than five shots. I chose to ignore that and powered on, sniffling from my cold the whole way.

Okay, so in the end I wasn’t quite hit off the court as much as I was, politely, asked to leave the premises to allow others to use the segment of the court my embarrassing play must have been dirtying up. I exaggerate, of course. I was definitely hit off the court. But, hey, at least they were polite about asking me to pack up my bags and get the heck away! Them Brits, eh?

And, so, while I was ultimately unsuccessful in my aims to represent American Division III tennis in the United Kingdom, or get the chance at instilling fear in the hearts of a Cambridge University athlete, I do have this story.

Maybe social tennis every Saturday won’t be too bad after all? I’m just crazy enough about the sport to check it out.

For more of that exciting work in the tennis industry I mentioned earlier, check out my online portfolio here.

An Incredible Two Weeks at the 2011 US Open

Posted in Novak Djokovic,Sam Stosur by Ben on September 13, 2011
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Australia’s Sam Stosur and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic might have claimed the US Open titles this year, but I feel as though I’m the true winner at the conclusion of 2011’s spectacular event held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens.

Working as a Production Assistant for USOpen.org’s video crew, I had the chance to put together three of my passions: tennis, writing and research, and get paid for it! With a credential around my neck and hundreds of tennis matches to watch and to jot down notes about, I knew I’d be in for a treat as soon as I made my first trip to the tennis center. Sure, it may have taken a while to realize just how to get there (the 3 / 7 from Brooklyn or the R / 7 from Queens in case you’re wondering), but I was lucky enough to have my friend Billie Weiss along for the ride (both figuratively and literally).

During my time, I met a host of incredible people, working with some I’d already know through my foray into the tennis media industry, and it was an awesome culmination of a summer filled with work in the tennis media industry.

It’s been such a reward experience working for TENNIS Magazine, World TeamTennis, the Western & Southern Open and, finally, the US Open. I’m looking forward to further cultivating relationships with the fantastic people I’ve met this summer and contributing to these groundbreaking tennis organizations in the future.

So, what’s next for me? Preparation for Oxford University and giving a little more love to this blog, Tenaciously Tennis, which has been instrumental in getting me where I am today.

For links to the articles I wrote for USOpen.org, view my online portfolio here.

Harrison Making His Mark in Atlanta

Ryan Harrison’s leap into the top 100 this week at No. 94 is to be expected. He’s long proven to hold the talent necessary to reach that level. His recent semifinal foray into the league of the big boys in Atlanta, where he set up a meeting with top ranked American Mardy Fish, sends a clear message regarding the possibilities his future holds. Of course, Harrison has a ways to go before the praise can be slathered on. His straight sets loss to Fish speaks to just that.

Having claimed his first tour doubles title earlier this year at Newport, it’s time for Harrison to step up in singles like Bernard Tomic did at Wimbledon earlier this summer at the Grand Slam level. He’s proven he can, making it to the fourth round at Indian Wells, which is widely considered the fifth major tournament in the world.

But the Grand Slams are called such and held in especially high esteem for a reason. That’s where Harrison needs to display his worth to be taken as a serious contender on the ATP level and to be appointed the United States’ next big hope — if that’s even a title a young up-and-comer wants to bear.

Regardless, if Harrison can better last year’s second round showing at the US Open, he’ll be golden given the crowd’s overwhelming support in his favor. No doubt he has the game and the belief, now it’s just a question of transferring that confidence to results on the big stages.

Excerpt of ‘My Tennis-Filled Summer in Pictures’

Posted in Uncategorized by Ben on July 22, 2011
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I recently wrote about my experiences this summer interning for two tennis organizations. Read below for an excerpt.

This summer has been pretty fantastic, especially from the point-of-view of my budding media career in journalism and, especially, tennis journalism. The best part: it’s hardly halfway over! I think the photo above captures this excitement, while showcasing a look of pure joy from tennis legend Chris Evert.

I’ve had the opportunity to write and blog for two amazing sites, http://www.TENNIS.com and WTT.com, as well as do work with content management for both. By working with a set of really talented editors and co-workers, my knowledge of the industry is drastically.

To read this post in its entirety, click here.

Wimbledon Final Live Blogging: Maria Sharapova Against Petra Kvitova

Posted in Uncategorized by Ben on July 2, 2011

Maria Sharapova takes on Petra Kvitova in the finals. Below is live blogging from the match.

10:38 AM: With an ace (her only one of the match), Petra Kvitova becomes a Wimbledon champion. She defeated Sharapova 6-3, 6-4 in a brilliant display of shot-making and steady nerves.

10:35 AM: In a routine hold, Sharapova brings the score to 4-5. It’s time for Kvitova to serve for the championship.

10: 33 AM: Kvitova comes back from being down 15-30 to take the game, 5-3. Now the pressure’s all on Sharapova to hold serve.

10:29 AM: Well, she couldn’t handle holding serve. Kvitova broke again and the finish line is in sight. It’s 4-3 now.

10:24 AM: Sharapova’s gaining some momentum back. She broke Kvitova to even the match again at 3-all. How will she handle the serve?

10: 17 AM: It’s all about Kvitova in this match; she’s completely dictating play in an echo of the way Sharapova dominated Serena Williams back in ’04, according to the NBC commentators. I completely agree. Kvitova broke the Russian to lead 3-2.

10:07 AM: Sharapova lofts a beautiful lob over Kvitova to level the second set at 2-all.

10:01 AM: Kvitova’s rolling in the second. She broke Sharapova to start after the Russian hit her fifth double fault. The Czech then held serve to make the score 2-0.

9:51 AM: With a definitive 40-0 game, Kvitova takes the opening set 6-3.

9:50 AM: Sharapova successfully held, but Kvitova’s just two points from taking the first set.

9:40 AM: Kvitova’s getting sharper as the match continues. She backed up the break of Sharapova’s serve with a strong hold. The Czech’s now leading 5-2.

9:38 AM: Sharapova hits her third double fault on match point to give Kvitova the break.

9:37 AM: Uh, oh. Sharapova strikes her second double fault, giving Kvitova the chance to break.

9:34 AM: Kvitova holds serve despite a number of errors. Wow, this isn’t going to be much of a clean match, is it?

9:30 AM: With a little luck from a net cord, Sharapova successfully defends her serve to level the match at 2-all. The 2004 champion is still looking a little too streaky.

9:24 AM: It’s now 2-1 Kvitova after the Czech answered Sharapova’s blasting returns with huge lefty forehands of her own. Can she keep the momentum going and break Sharapova’s serve for a second time to race to a 3-1 lead?

9:21 AM: Sharapova’s battled back to deuce on Kvitova’s serve.

9:17 AM: Kvitova breaks right back with the help of some Sharapova mishits.

9:15 AM: Kvitova races to a quick 40-0 lead on Sharapova’s serve after the Russian hit some errors.

9:14 AM: Maria’s choice to receive worked out well. The Russian started her bid for a second Wimbledon title by breaking Kvitova’s big lefty serve.

9:13: AM: Break point for Sharapova. Let’s see if she can convert.

9:11 AM: Already some errors creeping into the Kvitova game. Sharapova’s up 30-0 on Kvitova’s serve. Can the Czech shake off the nerves?

9:09 AM: The match is about to begin. Petra Kvitova will serve first although Sharapova won the toss. This should be a good match for the two; their games match up well. Watch out for the serve for both.

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