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Tenaciously Tennis


Safina’s Talk of Retirement: A Thing of the Past?

So, apparently, Russia’s Dinara Safina contemplated retiring after the embarrassing 6-0, 6-0 loss to Kim Clijsters at this year’s Australian Open. Big deal, right? I mean, these days, the ladies are either injured — think the Williams sisters — or they’re, well, finished — think Elena Dementieva and Justine Henin.

She recently told reporters that “After Australia there was a moment I came to Moscow for the Fed Cup. I said to my mom [Rausa], ‘I’m retiring. I said, ‘I don’t want any more of this.” Apparently, momma Safina helped talk her daughter out of the decision, although the two don’t usually talk tennis.

Safina continued, “That moment I felt like [mom] was the person who knows me. That I could really speak it out what I have deep inside, and that was the thing with her. I knew it would also hurt her, but I cannot keep it anymore inside.  So I went to her. She was the closest one for me.”

After that, the Cinderella story happens, and Safina finds herself in the third round of these year’s Indian Well tournament. She’s had modest success on the hard courts of Cali, making it to the quarters both in ’06 and ’09. Now, her play here is pretty impressive for a woman who hasn’t put together two consecutive wins since September.

With Sam Stosur up next, the 108th player in the world will face a tough test. After being on the brink of retirement and with nothing to lose, however, an upset might just be in store.

For more on Safina’s win over Daniela Hantuchova, click here.

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Petra Kvitova: The WTA’s Next Big Star?

With her recent straight sets win over the newest world number one Kim Clijsters in the Paris final, Petra Kvitova looks sharp. Her game is big, her form is on, and the 20-year old has the results to prove the hype.

Currently ranked a career-high 18th (and on an upward trend with the win in Paris), Kvitova made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open this year, reaffirming her semifinal showing at the 2010 Wimbledon as something more than a fluke. She took out Sam Stosur in the Sunny Slam, before falling to Vera Zvonareva a couple rounds later as the tournament’s 25th seed. She also started the year with a bang, winning the Brisbane title over Andrea Petkovic. A title in Hobart in 2009 rounds off the successes of her young career.

In a WTA that’s had some recent problems with intensity, spurred on by Serena Williams’ foot injury, the retirements of Elena Dementieva and Justine Henin, a slew of world number ones that went without a major, and more, this year’s Australian Open proved a welcome contrast. With Na Li representing China in the event’s final and strong play from up-and-comers, like Kvitova, the tour looks poised for a bright present, and a brighter future.

Kvitova seems to symbolize that future.

For a sampling of her play, check out this clip from the Aussie Open third round below.

Serena Williams to Play Exhibition: Why Tennis Needs Her Now

Serena Williams needs to get better, quickly. Skipping out of the last couple majors with a foot injury sustained after her win at Wimbledon in July, it’s been long enough.

And not only for the purposes of her own career — Serena recently dropped out of the top ten for the first time in about four years –, but also to resuscitate the current state of American tennis. Andy Roddick didn’t do too hot at the Aussie Open, neither did Sam Querrey or John Isner on the men’s side. For the women, there’s sister Venus, who retired in the third round and is currently sidelined with injury after hurting her hip during her second round match against Sandra Zahlavova. US Open sensation Melanie Oudin continues to disappoint, too, with a first round loss at the Australian Open.

It’d be nice to get the WTA-dominating force that is Serena back on the big stages. Kim Clijsters pretty much owns that role now in unchallenged fashion. Remember, she dropped just one set at the Sunny Slam and that came in the final against Li. Justine Henin’s retirement also leaves more room for the Belgian to keep conquering competition.

But, apparently, things are starting to look up for the younger Williams sister as she’ll be (potentially) playing in March at a Nike exhibition with other big names Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal. United States Fed Cup captain Mary Jo Fernandez also said Serena would be available to playing in a possible April tie. Given her track record, I wouldn’t count on it, although she’d needs to be around for two to play in the 2012 Olympics.

The real thing is: We need Serena at majors again. Sure, this year’s Australian Open was a feel-good story featuring the lovable mom Aussie Kim triumphing over Chinese sensation Li Na in a high-stakes, historic match. The whole tournament, however, wasn’t the same without Serena. Plus, who wants to keep a Grand Slam singles title count at an unlucky number 13?

Also, Serena’s absence is making mother Oracene antsy. She recently went Twitter-crazy, writing, “Will some one tweet me who is in the final on the women’s side?” and after getting the answer, “Thank you I hope Na is not to nervous to kick some butt,” among many other comments. Poor Oracene, she wouldn’t have to stoop to that level. If only she should could just enjoy her daughters’ success at majors.

Well, the drought continues, but let’s hope for not much longer. When March rolls around, let’s see an in-shape Serena on court, who’s back to stay.

A Letter to Henin After Her Shocking Retirement

Posted in Justine Henin by Ben on January 26, 2011

I recently contributed to the blog Tennis Served Fresh.  Here’s an except of my work about Justine Henin’s retirement.

Dear Justine,
What happened? You’re retiring, again? After everything you’ve been through, you’re letting an elbow injury prevent you from playing for good? Fine. It’s not like any other big name players are sidelined right now. Oh, wait. Sorry, Serena and Venus….

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

Australian Open Predictions 2011: WTA Tour, Week Two

With the final four women set, it’s time to revise predictions for the 2011 Australian Open tournament’s future path on WTA tour. Here’s a look at the last women standing.

Previously predictingHenin to face Venus and Clijsters against Zvonareva in the final four,” it’s been injury making this reality far from possible. While Henin suffered what she recently announced as a career-ending elbow injury (more on that to come) in the third round against Svetlana Kuznetsova, Williams retired versus Andrea Petkovic, who defeated Maria Sharapova in straight sets, in the third round, too. Of course, the competitors to advance in lieu of this two champions couldn’t be more talented. The world number one Caroline Wozniacki and last year’s semifinalist Na Li have been dominant so far in their respective runs to the final four.

For the semifinals, here are my picks.

Wozniacki versus Li:

Both players have hit their way to the semifinals in fine form. Wozniack dropped just one set — against Francesca Schiavone in the quarterfinals — and Li hasn’t lost one yet. Their overall career head-to-head (counting exhibitions matches) leaves them at 2-2 with Wozniacki winning the last meeting in a Hong Kong exhibition earlier this year. In a major, however, Li won their only meeting in straight sets at last year’s Australian Open in the fourth round. That should give her some confidence going in this match. Plus,  she hasn’t lost a match this year, and I see her powering through the world number one to make her first major singles final.

Bottom Line: Li defeats Wozniacki in straight sets to advance.

Zvonareva versus Clijsters:

In the bottom half, which I predicted correctly, the world number two and world number three will face in a rematch of the 2010 US Open final. There, Clijsters’ experience paid off. She won 6-2, 6-1. With a head-to-head also in Clijsters’ favor at 6-3, they have played a number of three set matches together. Although not at their highest level throughout this tournament, Clijsters hasn’t dropped a set and Zvonareva lost only one in her match versus an up-and-coming Bojana Jovanovski. They’ll both bring their big games to the semifinals where Clijsters will find the form that has won her three US Open titles.

Bottom Line: Clijsters beats Zvonareva in straight sets.

In the Finals:

Clijsters and Li have a competitive history in their past, which should show in the Australian Open final. Li beat the Belgian in their last meeting earlier this year in the Sydney final although it initially seemed that Clijsters was in control. It will, however, be her first Grand Slam final.

Hisense’s Dead Spot and Wozniacki’s Wacky Personality

It’s been an intense  few days at the Australian Open with chaos and comedy abound. Agnieszka Radwanska’s racket snaps (see below), Kim Clijsters jokes about pregnancy with Tom Woodbridge, last year’s finalist Justine Henin bows out to Svetlana Kuznetsova in a straight sets upset, and much more.

To begin, a dead spot was found on Hisense Arena as Maria Sharapova and Julia Goerges got ready to start play. With tournament staff in a frenzy, the players retreated back to the locker room, awaiting a fix to the curious on-court dilemma. It all came across pretty comical as none of the ESPN commentators could quite figure out what to make of the ball, which — when dropped — died completely. In the end, however, workers drilled small holes, trapped air was released from the court, balls bounced once more, and play resumed.

See below for a clip of the ball being dropped, and not bouncing at all.

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Australian Open 2011 Predictions: WTA Tour

Note: Please see my most recent predictions for the WTA tour’s 2011 Australian Open here.

Serena Williams is out of her second consecutive major, and that means only one thing: the draw opens up substantially. Who can rise to the occasion with the favorite out of the mix? Will it be Kim Clijsters, who comes fresh off wins at the US Open and the year-ending championships, and has done well so far in 2011? There’s also Caroline Wozniaki trying to prove her number one ranking by her maiden Grand Slam title. Last year’s finalist Justine Henin must be mentioned, while Venus Williams plays after a knee injury kept her off tour. The Australian Open this year is bound for some surprises. Here’s a breakdown of the brackets.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section:

The top seed should make it to the fourth round with Wozniacki’s toughest competition being Dominika Cibulkova. The 29th-seed recently scored a straight sets win over the Dane in Sydney. In the bottom of that portion of the draw, Yanina Wickmayer could very well defeat Marion Bartoli with confidence inspired by her finals showing in Auckland. Bartoli, however, does enjoy a 2-0 head-to-head record over Wickmayer.

In the bottom half, last year’s finalist Henin looms as the 15th-seed with Svetlana Kuznetsova as a potential third round match. The reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone also looks promising to advance. Henin, however, has won seven of eight matches against the Italian.

Ones-to-Watch: Australian Jarmila Groth recently won the Hobart tournament and may pose trouble for Wickmayer in the first round. The two met only once in 2009 with Wickmayer pulling through in three sets. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Wimbledon semifinalist, who has been struggling since the result, also appear in Wozniacki’s bracket.

Bottom Line: Wozniacki has some tough tests, but I believe she’ll advance to the quarterfinals over Wickmayer. Henin shouldn’t have a problem against Schiavone.

Venus Williams’ Section:

Here’s home to the fourth-seed, Venus, who faces a couple tests before the fourth round. In the third round, Andrea Petkovic could push her. The two have never met, and Petkovic looks confident with a recent string of wins in Brisbane. In the fourth round, however, Venus potentially meets Maria Sharapova. The head-to-head makes the Russian’s  possible success slim as Venus leads 5-3 in their head-to-head. She’s also won the last three matches in straight sets.

It’ll be a toss-up between 2010 semifinalist Na Li and the ever spirited Victoria Azarenka in their probable fourth round match.

Ones-to-Watch: The other seeded players, Kaia Kanepi (no. 20), Aravane Rezai (no. 17) and Daniela Hantuchova (no. 28) also appear here.

Bottom Line: Venus will likely defeat Sharapova, while Li can take out Azarenka in a battle.

Kim Clijsters’ Section:

Possibly the most open part of the draw belongs to Clijsters, where she’ll no doubt benefit. Competition comes in the form of Nadia Petrova and Ana Ivanovic. Clijsters, however, should get through to the quarterfinals unless Ivanovic can out-perform her in the fourth round. It’ll be an interesting match between Clijsters and Dinara Safina in the first round.

With a struggling Jelena Jankovic as the seventh-seed (she’s lost eight of her last matches, including six straight) at the top, the section looks perfect for an up-and-comer to make a move. Agnieszka Radwanska (no. 12), although she’s battling some injury, might do well. Jankovic can also squeak through the bracket as she has before. One never knows with the former world number one.

Ones-to-Watch: Personal favorite Patty Schnyder could meet Ivanovic in the second round. Greta Arn, the surprise winner of Auckland, also appears in this section, facing the 26th-seed, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, in the first round.

Bottom Line: Jankovic looks like a big question mark, while Clijsters should sail through to the second week.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section:

One of the strongest sections of the 2011 Australian Open on the WTA tour, this bracket is home to the second-seeded Zvonareva and home-favorite Sam Stosur (no. 5). These two names stand above the rest, although there are some, such as Petra Kvitova (no. 25), Shahar Peer (no. 10), and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (no. 16), who serve as fierce competition.

In a potential fourth round match, Kvitova, who won Brisbane — but lost in a walkover at Sydney — would face Stosur. The Australian hasn’t been quite up to form as she lost to Kuznetsova in Sydney’s second round.  Israel’s Peer would probably face the victor. Zvonareva lost to Flavia Pennetta — also of this bracket — early in Sydney. Zvonareva should, however, shake off the loss to make a run to the quarterfinals.

Ones-to-Watch: American Melanie Oudin might make a move in her section of the draw, where she’d face Zvonareva in a potential third round match. There’s also Maria Kirilenko (no. 22) and Anna Chakvetadze.

Bottom Line: It looks like Zvonareva and Stosur get through to the quarterfinals, but not without some strong tests from a number of good competition.

In the Quarterfinals: With the above predictions, the quarterfinals will showcase Wozniacki against Henin; Venus against Li; (potentially) Jankovic against Clijsters; and Stosur versus Zvonareva.

In the Semifinals: Watch for Henin to face Venus and Clijsters against Zvonareva in the final four.

Clijsters and Henin Shed Light on Future Plans

Posted in Justine Henin,Kim Clijsters,Maria Sharapova,Serena Williams by Ben on January 6, 2011

For the Belgian champions Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, more tennis lies in their futures after successful comebacks in the last couple seasons. While Clijsters plans to keep playing for the next four years, Henin hopes to add an eighth major title to her collection.

Winning the last two US Open, Clijsters has made it clear that her family comes first. She recently told reporters, “So as long as it’s all going well and [our daughter] Jada’s not obligated to go to school we’ll try to keep it going. But if the family is not happy living this lifestyle then it’s an easy choice for me to hang them up.”

Photo: Didier Mossiat; Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters pose after the 2004 Australian Open final.

Married to the retired basketball player Brian Lynch, Clijsters continued, “I think in any girl’s life [motherhood] makes a big difference and it has the same in mine. I really feel I have a good balance and I feel that is the most important thing.”

Compatriot Henin also has clear goals for the future. With a surprise retirement at the top of the WTA tour in 2008, Henin returned in 2010, citing Clijsters’ success as a major inspiration. She quickly made a splash on tour by advancing to the finals of the Australian Open, losing to Serena Williams in three sets.

Henin told reporters — as Maria Sharapova did recently — that winning another major title would essentially be her best. She pulled out of the remainder of the season after sustaining an elbow injury at Wimbledon. Henin said, “With everything I know now that I didn’t know two years ago, and after fighting against this injury, it would be a bigger achievement than what I did in the past. That’s going to be my motivation and my challenge now and my fuel. After everything I passed through and my break of two years, I came back, my injury, I changed a lot of things in my team, also, physical coach, physio, everything…Physically, I’ve been working pretty good in the last few months, so that gives confidence, and I’m sure it’s going to be more mental than anything else.”

As the season kicks off, both seem poised for continued success. Ranked number three, Clijsters could soon return to number one in the world, while collecting numerous titles. With three US Open’s, however, it’d be nice to see her broaden her major titles. For Henin at number 12, she’s made it clear that a win at Wimbledon would be a dream come true. If Henin can fully recover from her nagging injury, anything’s possible. With the Sunny Slam just around the corner and past play that suggests the sky is the limit, both have futures that seem to shine pretty bright.

Henin Still Hurting as 2011 Season Starts

Posted in Justine Henin,Serena Williams by Ben on December 29, 2010

Justine Henin recently said that she’s not feeling “100 percent” going into the 2011 season, joining a struggling Serena Williams, among others.

The news comes as Henin has been off the tour after sustaining an elbow injury during the summer. Like Serena, Justine hasn’t played a WTA tour event since Wimbledon.

An ESPN article captures the following thoughts by Henin: “It is six months since the injury and I can’t say I am 100 percent. I am working very hard on it and I spend two hours every day on my rehabilitation. When we heard about the serious injury there were concerns about the future of my career as it was pretty serious. Now step by step I can improve, but it will probably take a few more weeks and maybe months before I can be 100 percent.”

Henin is taking a supposedly “realistic” view of her chances at this year’s Australian Open, an event she reached the final of last year. There, she lost to Serena in three sets. Henin said it “has been a difficult year.” She continued, “I started the season pretty well, but then physically it has been pretty difficult.”

She’s looking ahead to the future, although that might not be necessary.With Serena out and Venus also struggling, there’s definitely room for some surprises at the Aussie Open, which never fails to shake things up to start the year. Plus, it’s the former world number one Belgian (no, not Kim Clijster) we’re talking about, and she’s always a factor in any event she enters.

I see Henin getting into the second week of the Sunny Slam, whether she’s “100 percent” or not.

Click here for more about Henin’s recent comments.

Also, watch the video below for highlights of Henin’s match against Serena in the 2010 Australian Open final.

US Open Predictions – WTA Tour

The action at the US Open has begun. Without Serena Williams and Justine Henin, the year’s final major looks open for the taking. Here are my thoughts on the tournament.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Quarter:

Wozniacki looks sharp as the number one seed. She’s won three US Open Series titles in a row, capturing the Pilot Pen Tournament just a few days ago. She won the Series and could very well dominate the competition on her way to a major title. But before we look that far ahead, Maria Sharapova looms in her future as a potential fourth round match.

In that set-up, I take Wozniacki’s consistency over Sharapova’s experience, drive, and power. Plus, Sharapova needed three sets in her first round win to advance. I say Wozniacki wins in three sets.

Other notables: Aravane Rezai, the 18th seed, is one to watch, possibly meeting Sharapova in the third round.

Na Li’s Quarter:

The highest seed in this section of the draw got knocked out early on. Therefore, the stage is set for Svetlana Kuznetsova to get to the quarterfinals. Maria Kirilenko, however, recently got the the semifinals at the Pilot Pen Tournament. Can she make another big move at a major, like this year’s Australian Open?

Other notables: Kateryna Bondarenko beat Li. Will her form continue against a tough Dominika Cibulkova in the next round? If so, a fourth round result might just be in the cards for her.

Jelena Jankovic’s Quarter:

Jankovic isn’t a threat for the title in my opinion. She’s coming off of injury and needed three sets to get to the second round. If the seeding stays true to form, she could very well lose to Yanina Wickmayer, the 15th seed, in the fourth round.

Other notables: Kaia Kanepi, the Wimbledon quarterfinalist, might make some noise against Jankovic in a possible third round match. Personal favorite and veteran Patty Schnyder gets a shout-out for her dominating 6-1, 6-3 win over Kirsten Flipkins in the first round.

Vera Zvonareva’s Quarter:

This is a tough section with Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska heading the field. Zvonareva, this year’s Wimbledon finalist, should get to the fourth round without a problem. I see her playing against Radwanska to decide the quarterfinal spot.

Radwanska wins that match in three, using finesse, tactics, and superb counter-punching consistency to get inside Zvonareva’s head.

Other notables: Nadia Petrova, the Pilot Pen Tennis finalist, already lost to Andrea Petkovic, while Bethanie Mattek-Sands should find strong support at her home major.

Francesca Schiavone’s Quarter:

In what I view as the hardest section of the field, the French Open winner won’t live up to expectations. Instead, I’m rooting for Melanie Oudin, last year’s fairytale story, to get to the fourth round. Against her could be either Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sania Mirza, or Victoria Azarenka. The seeding says Azarenka, but I’ve been seeing great things from Pavlyuchenkova lately. Then again, Mirza’s back in action, and looked sharp in her qualifying matches and especially against Michelle Larcher de Brito in the first round.

Other notables: Can Alona Bondarenko find some surprise honeymoon success?

Venus Williams’ Section:

Okay, so the draw doesn’t get much easier in this section. Shahar Peer, Flavia Pennetta, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Venus are all contenders. I’ll take Venus to exact revenge over Pironkova, who beat her in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in straight sets during potential third round action.

The winner of that match could face Pennetta, although I’m a fan of Peer’s game.

Other notables: Can Pironkova bring the same amount of trickery against Venis this time around? Probably not.

Sam Stosur’s Quarter:

Elena Dementieva immediately comes to mind as the winner for this part of the draw. Stosur did well to get to the French Open final, but her form has suffered since then. Dementieva lost in a close match against Wozniacki and will bring that same drive and intensity in search of her first major title. She wants it badly. I’ll predict she advances in straight sets to the quarterfinals.

Other notables: I’m curious to see if Vania King can beat Daniela Hantuchova, who defeated an ailing Dinara Safina, in the second round. I hope King gets a lot of love from the New York City crowd.

Kim Clijsters’ Quarter:

Clijsters is likely to dominate this field. While Petra Kvitova plays a big, athletic game that got her all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals, she doesn’t have the experience to beat last year’s champion. Clijsters’ opponent for a spot in the quarters, however, is by no means locked. Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, and Jie Zheng are all big threats. Regardless, I’m not overly worried.

Other notables: Ivanovic versus Zheng should be an interesting match. Is the Serb ready for the top tier once more? I hope so. She looked promising in Cincinnati before withdrawing from injury against Clijsters in the semifinals.

The Quarters and Semis:

In the top half, Wozniacki beats Kuznetsova in two sets to make the semis. She’ll face the winner of Radwanska and Wickmayer. I like the chances of Wozniacki versus Radwanska. who takes out Zvonareva, in this semifinal section.

In the other matches, Azarenka loses to Venus, while Clijsters and Dementieva battle it out. Clijsters prevails in three sets.

The final four: Wozniacki against Radwanska, and Venus versus Clijsters.

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