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Tenaciously Tennis


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?

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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.

Roland Garros Wrap-Up with No Rhyme or Reason

The French Open finished Sunday with a sixth title for Rafael Nadal, beating none other Roger Federer (or as the commentators repeatedly called him during his semifinal match against Novak Djokovic: grandpa) in the process. Meanwhile, Na Li triumphed over Francesca Schiavone to become the first Chinese player to win a major title. How’s that for some pretty nifty results at a tournament that this year featured an interesting parallel: the four top-seeded men advanced to the semifinals, while their female counterparts couldn’t quite cut it to even deep in the second week.

The tournament also brought the farewell of personal favorite Patty Schnyder, whose style of game will be missed. Meanwhile, one game got back on track as Maria Sharapova, the self-proclaimed “cow on ice” didn’t get tipped until the wind seemingly knocked her knowledge of serving against Li in the semis. Too bad for Maria, but she’ll manage fine at Wimbledon, I’m sure.

Even with a draw unknown, look for Sharapova to get to the semifinals, provided the weather stays on course. I mean, really? Double-faulting on match point? That’s not the Sharapova of 2008. But glimpses of brilliance were there. Think the match against Andrea Petkovic, for example. A little revenge for that loss at the Australian Open, no doubt.

Djokovic’s streak got snapped, and he looked mighty dejected for most of the match. Wozniacki succumbed to pressure and poor play, as did 2010 finalist Sam Stosur. Will Wimbledon raise their games back to levels of success and dominance, or will they wilt under the weight of even more expectations? How about the Williams sisters? When will they be back?

Time will tell, and, thankfully for the fans, that time is rapidly approaching. Let’s leave behind the drama of Roland Garros and experience the tradition of Wimbledon.

2011 French Open Predictions: WTA Tour

With the first matches of the 2011 French Open underway, here are some last minute predictions on who will hoist the title with a number of key players, including Serena and Venus Williams, out with injury. Maria Sharapova looks confident as ever, breaking back into the top ten. Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki’s consistency might just prove enough to win her a title in the weakened field. Last year’s winner Francesca Schiavone also has a chance, although she faces a tough first round against the American sweetheart, Melanie Oudin.

Caroline Wozniacki’s Section: This tough first section features a lot of talented players, many of whom have seen a recent drop in the rankings. As typical of her game, Wozniacki has proven tremendously solid in her last few clay tournaments, winning in Brussels and Charleston. She’ll take that same consistency to Roland Garros, and hopefully make that next leap by getting to her second Grand Slam final. At least, it seems highly likely that she can break past last year’s finalist Sam Stosur this year, for a spot beyond the quarters. Quite notably, Stosur had a strong clay season, making it to the finals against Sharapova in Rome before falling to the Russian in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4.

Ones to Watch: Again, this top section is laden with a multitude of talent, including Daniela Hantuchova, Shahar Peer, Aravane Rezai, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Julia Goerges, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Marion Bartoli. I’ll go with Kuznetsova to make a strong showing from these players.

Bottom Line: This is Wozniacki’s tournament to win on the women’s side. She’s proven she has the capability, it’s just a matter of translation to the Grand Slams at this point, especially when the field is relatively wide open. The bottom section of the draw, however, is very heavy, trying to prevent her from hoisting that maiden title.

Vera Zvonareva’s Section: Here’s another heavy section of the draw, featuring last year’s surprise champion, Schiavone. After a strong stretch on clay, however, the no. 3 seed Zvonareva hasn’t been looking as sharp on the clay court circuit thus far. It looks like Schiavone might have the chance to put together some of last year’s confidence to produce the magical, fairytale story that won her a first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. In the end, however, I’m going against her from winning again.

Ones to Watch: Another heavy part of the draw, this section holds players, including Sabine Lisicki, Nadia Petrova, Alize Cornet, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Jelena Jankovic, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Flavia Pennetta, Peng Shuai, and Melanie Oudin (who gets Schiavone first). Of these names, Jankovic, who made the semifinals last year before falling to Stosur 6-1, 6-2, stands out most. Look for her to make the upset against Schiavone in the fourth round.

Bottom Line: Zvonareva battles through her section and the tough Pavlyuchenkova. There she’ll meet Jankovic in the quarterfinals (the winner over 2010 champion Schiavone).

Victoria Azarenka’s Section: The number four player in the world looks poised to go deep at this year’s French Open, having dropped her first round match against Gisela Dulko last year. Her biggest competition comes with Australian Open finalist Na Li and Serbia’s resurgent Ana Ivanovic.

Ones to Watch: Ivanovic, the champion in 2008, obviously has the talent to win on the biggest courts. As of late, however, she seems to have returned to a slump in play, falling early in Rome and Madrid. As the no. 20 seed, however, look for her to find some of her form to get a match against Azarenka in the fourth round. Petra Kvitova, the no. 9 seed, also looks ready to roll in this section, potentially defeating Li to do much better than last year’s disappointing first round loss. Additionally, Kvitova’s fresh off a win in Madrid against Azarenka, beating the Belarussian, 7-6(3), 6-4 and also making the final in Prague more recently. Also, props to American Sloane Stephens for battling her way through to the qualifying. A personal favorite, she meets up with Elena Baltacha first.

Bottom Line: Azarenka advances to the quarterfinals over Ivanovic, meeting Kvitova (the winner over Li).

Kim Clijsters’ Section: Since winning the Australian Open, Clijsters hasn’t played much tennis. Meanwhile, Sharapova has just the opposite experience, claiming her biggest career title since succumbing to a shoulder injury in 2008 with a title in Rome over Stosur. Look for Sharapova to defeat Clijsters, who may lose earlier due to her ankle injury, in the quarterfinals.

Ones to Watch: But before we go claiming a Sharapova victory, it’s important to note the wide range in talent that appears in this section of the draw. Players of particular note include: Yanina Wickmayer, Sania Mirza, Agnieszka Radwanska, Andrea Petkovic, Jarmila Gajdosova, Bojana Jovanovski, and Maria Kirilenko. Look for Wickmayer to give Sharapova trouble, while Petkovic has the potential to defeat the injured Clijsters.

Bottom Line: Sharapova keeps stringing the wins together on clay to defeat Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

In the Quarterfinals: Given the above predictions, we’ll see Wozniacki take on Stosur; Zvonareva against Jankovic; Kvitova versus Azarenka; and Sharapova versus Clijsters.

In the Semifinals: Look for Wozniacki to defeat Stosur; Jankovic to beat Zvonareva; Azarenka to win against Kvitova; and Sharapova to defeat Clijsters.

Excerpt of ‘Serena’s Out, 3D’s in and Mac’s Prodigy’ for Tennis Served Fresh

Check out another post I wrote for the blog Tennis Served Fresh about Serena’s ailments, 3D Wimbledon coverage, and John McEnroe’s rising star.

The WTA’s number one saga continues as Caroline Wozniacki and Kim Clijsters head to the BNP Paribas Open. But, get this: The not-so-intense rivalry between the two smile-y blondes started much earlier than people imagined, reports Matt Cronin. In fact, it was Kim’s late dad who first picked up on Caro’s “sunny disposition,” reminding him of his daughter’s own. Okay, so maybe that does not a rivalry make, and it’s more corny than anything. We can still hope for some drama between the two, can’t we? We’re ready for those pink dresses to get a little dirty.

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

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.

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.

US Fed Cup Results and Prospects: Not So Good for Mattek-Sands, Oudin

With Fed Cup well underway, the United States has faced a tough test from Belgium so far to earn a spot in the semifinals. Having made it to that round every year since 2004, the US team — finalists for the past two years — look all but defeated. They’re currently down 0-2 as recent Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters knocked out Melanie Oudin 6-0, 6-4, while Yanina Wickmayer defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 7-6 (6).

Prospects aren’t looking so hot for the American team, captained by former player and current commentator Mary Jo Fernandez, especially with the notable absence of Serena and Venus Williams.

For the next match, Clijsters takes on Mattek-Sands. In their only meeting, Clijsters won. Mattek-Sands, however, should take comfort in the loss as it was a tough three-setter with the Belgian winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 back in 2010.

Regardless of possible confidence in past play, the only time to look is now. And with Clijsters on a roll — she’s taken her last eight matches, dropping just one set –, it simply doesn’t seem like Mattek-Sands has the ability to claim the win over the world’s number two player and keep the US team alive.

Mattek-Sands sprayed a lot of balls in the loss to Wickmayer. She needs to get over any tension, play her game (with balls going inside the lines), and win the biggest match of her career if she wants to beat Clijsters.

Here’s to hoping she can pull it off.

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.

The WTA Australian Open Final’s Real Story: Battle of the Supportive Husbands

Posted in Kim Clijsters,Na Li by Ben on January 29, 2011

I contributed to the blog Tennis Served Fresh again.  Here’s an excerpt of my work about Brian Lynch and Jiang Shan, the supportive husbands behind Kim Clijsters and Li Na.

The final of this year’s Australian Open women’s event signifies more than a battle pitting Belgium’s three-time US Open champ Kim Clijsters against Chinese tennis’ greatest hope, Li Na. It’s also the story of two husbands: retired basketball player Brian Lynch and Jiang Shan, a former tennis player-turned-coach.

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

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