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Tenaciously Tennis


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.

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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.

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.

Federer, Ivanovic, and Oudin Win; Italy Takes Second Straight Fed Cup Title

It’s the end of the season, but a lot is still happening on the tennis circuit on both the ATP and WTA tours. For the men, Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic in three sets to take his fourth title in Basel. He won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the Swiss Indoors final against the Serb in the rematch of last year. In 2009, Djokovic defeated Federer, which made the victory that much better for the hometown player.

“It’s great to have won it after losing last year. It reminded me of last year’s match, but [this time] I got off to a great start in the third set,” said Federer. Added to that, the win allowed Federer to exact revenge over Djokovic after a painful loss in the semifinals of this year’s US Open during which the Serb overcame two match points against the struggling Federer. “The 29-year-old Swiss improved to 12-6 lifetime against Djokovic, and 3-1 this year,” writes an Associated Press article.

Moreover, “Federer is 4-4 in finals this year after winning titles at the Australian Open, Cincinnati Masters and the Stockholm Open,” continues the article regarding his season statistics.

Federer looks to be in strong form going into the Paris Masters tournament. There, he will be the top-seeded player as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the event due to a shoulder injury.

For the WTA tour, Ana Ivanovic defeated Alisa Kleybanova of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the finals of the Tournament of Champions. The win means Ivanovic finished the season inside the Top 20. According to an Associated Press article, “The 23-year-old Serb captured her second title in three weeks to move back into the Top 20 for the first time in more than a year, having dropped to a low of 65 in July.” This sends a strong message to the rest of the field as the tour winds down and thoughts go toward the 2011-2012 season.

Can Ivanovic continue her fine form and become a real threat during the big tournaments once again? I’ll say that her upward trajectory continues through to the beginning of the year nicely, and she’ll hover around the Top Fifteen in the world for the first few months.

And speaking of a resurgence, the United States’ Melanie Oudin kept the Fed Cup team alive with a surprise victory over Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, this year’s French Open champion and the seventh-ranked player in the world. Oudin, ranked 67th, shocked the tricky, veteran Italian 6-3, 6-1 to give the United States a point in the tie, which was held in San Diego. It was her first win over a Top Ten player this season.

While the win shows that Oudin cannot be written off to perform under pressure and also makes her look good for next season, the United States lost to Italy in the Fed Cup final after Flavia Pennetta ousted the young CoCo Vandeweghe 6-1, 6-2.

Without Serena and Venus Williams, the United States team faced especially tough competition. Oudin looked great in her match, but it shows that Italy played the bigger points better in their second Fed Cup title over the Americans in that many years. It’s an improvement for the US team to win a point, they lost 4-0 last year. They did well to make it this far, and next year will prove to be their time to shine (with a little help from the Williams sisters?).

Harrison and Capra Win, Roddick and Oudin Fall in Second Round

American Teen Ryan Harrison secured the biggest win of his young career during one of, if not the, biggest tournaments. Harrison routed 15th-seeded Ivan Ljubicic 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the US Open. Another young American talent to look out for is the 18-year-old wild card Beatrice Capra, ranked 371 in the world. A changing of the guard, however, welcomes these two Americans into the equation as veteran Andy Roddick lost to Janko Tipsarevic in four disheartening sets, while Melanie Oudin, last year’s breakout American star, lost to Alona Bondarenko  6-2, 7-5.

Harrison next draws a strong player in Sergiy Stakhovsky, who won his fourth title at the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament in New Haven last week. Stakhovsky, currently ranked a career-high of 36, won’t have the crowd’s support, but he does have the form needed to get to the third round and end a good run by the youngest man left in the draw. Then again, Stakhovsky could be fatigued after winning the title. Plus, he escaped an intense first round match against Peter Luczak. Stakhovsky needed four sets, 6-7 (8), 7-5, 6-4, 6-2, to advance.

As much as I like Harrison, and what he means for American tennis, I’m going with the Ukrainian to reach his career-best major showing. Harrison, on the other hand, has a bright future. We’ll see what kind of tennis he produces tomorrow, and if he can handle the pressure associated with scoring a big upset in the previous round.

The Maryland-native Capra, who trained at College Park’s Junior Champions Tennis Center before heading to Chris Evert’s tennis academy, defeated the 18th seed Aravane Rezai 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Her next opponent: Maria Sharapova. Can Capra channel Oudin, who had success over the Russian champion last year, to get to the fourth round? I’m guessing not. Sharapova’s on a mission: her strong US Open Series and dominating performance in the first two matches of the US Open show she means business.  I don’t see Capra overcoming Sharapova anymore than I expected Oudin’s run. But, of course, Cinderella stories do happen in tennis, and they’ve happened quite frequently in the majors this year, especially on the WTA tour.

On the flip side, it’s sad to report that both Roddick and Oudin failed to meet expectations. While Roddick was outplayed by a sharp Tipsarevic, Oudin looked lost in the first set against Bondarenko, before putting up a fight in the second. She looked shaky thoughout, not holding serve effectively, while committing a staggering 38 unforced errors to only nine winners. She has the game, she’s proven that. Now, it’s all about coming to terms with the pressure success brings. It’ll happen one day. Look for Oudin to reemerge in 2011 with the same belief and courage that got her to the 2009 Wimbledon fourth round and the quarters at the US Open.

In other news:

  • Robin Soderling defeated Taylor Dent 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
  • The 19th-seeded Mardy Fish advanced against Pablo Cuevas 7-5, 6-0, 6-2.
  • Wild card James Blake fended off Peter Polansky 6-7 (1), 6-3 6-2, 6-4.

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.

US Open Qualifying: Day Three

The skies opened up, and a beautiful day of tennis ensued at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. On my second visit to the home of the year’s final major, I made my way through throngs of fans to find some of the most promising American talent.

After arriving in the early afternoon — missing Jesse Levine’s heartbreaking loss to Brazil’s Caio Zampieri due to retirement — I arrived at Court 7. The match featured the 21st seed Maria Elena Camerin of Italy against the 15-year old Madison Keys of Florida. Keys began her Grand Slam debut firing away to capture an early break against Camerin. Nerves, however, set in with the players trading breaks until Keys pulled away to take the first set 6-3.

The young American, who trains at the Chris Evert Academy in Boca Raton, hit crisp backhands, while sporting a powerful serve and a strong mental game. Errors started to creep in Keys’ game as Camerin found her form — although never her serve. While the young American lost in the next two sets, bowing out against her 28-year old opponent3-6, 6-3, 6-4, expect success from her in the future once she finds increased consistency.

Also noteworthy about the match and the US Open atmosphere in general: after the first couple games finished, I looked up to see Keys’ mother enter the stands. Another arrival: Tom Gullikson, the brother of Tim Gullikson, who was Pete Sampras’ former coach. I suspect Tom works with Keys in Florida, the state in which he resides. Sightings like this happened for most of the day, once again highlighting the wonderful atmosphere for which the qualifying tournament shines.

With that match over, I went to Louis Armstrong stadium, catching Gael Monfils hitting. In the nearby court, the Australian Open finalist and world number four Andy Murray was practicing with the 25th-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain. Talk about a fan-friendly experience — for free!

On the way to see the men practicing, I ran into Melanie Oudin — my second sighting of the Georgia teenager at the qualifying event. In fact, over the course of the day, I saw Oudin a number of times, supporting her compatriot Sloane Stephens and other Americans, among others.

I caught most of the 17-year old Stephens’ match, and I can safely say that she’s another one to watch. Currently ranked inside the top 300 in the world, Stephens enjoyed a good run at the BNP Paribas Open during which she advanced to the second round after qualifying. Although she fell  in the second round the US Open Qualifying for the second straight year — this time to veteran Zuzana Ondraskova 6-3, 7-5 — Stephens hits hard and with passion. She’s still streaky, especially on the forehand side, but with Venus and Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters as self-proclaimed idols, a good volleying technique and a powerful backhand, the Florida-native looks poised to one day get into the top 100.

Once finished, I went to Court Four, which is notable for its easy-viewing access to the practice courts. There, I yet again saw Oudin along with Wimbledon semifinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, Donald Young, and personal favorite Patty Schnyder.

I next scanned the courts for another match to view, making it in time to see Serbia’s Ilija Bozoljac close out the first set against Guillermo Alcaide. Bozoljac, known for taking a set from Roger Federer in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon, is an exciting player to watch. He hits a big serve, rips backhand winners, and surprises with his tricky slice and two-handed forehand. After winning 6-3 6-2, a person in the audience — presumably a friend — mentioned his match against Federer to which he replied, “One set and one point.” Meaning: he only needed to win one more set and one more point against the greatest of all time to win the match and move on to the third round. Bozoljac will remember that fact for the rest of his life.

I ended the day by watching parts of Sania Mirza’s match against Elena Bovina. The former top 30 Mirza looked sharp, hitting winners and powerful groundstrokes to win 6-3, 6-3. I also caught Wimbledon junior winner Kristyna Pliskova — identical sister to this year’s Australian Open junior winner Karolina Pliskova and — beat the 18th seed Aranxta Rus. Are the Pliskova sisters the next Williams sisters? It’s too soon to say, but it will be interesting to see how the sisters’ games develop in the coming years.

My second trip to the qualifying tournament ended by viewing Ryan Harrison versus 10th-seeded Rui Machado. The young American advanced in a riveting 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 match filled with heavy support from the home crowd under the blazing lights of the US Open.

News and Predictions from New Haven’s WTA Event

Along with the US Open Qualifying, that’s trucking along despite inclement weather issues, New Haven’s Pilot Pen Tournament is well underway with many big names pushing for that last bit of practice before the final major tournament of the year. The dual WTA and ATP tournament brings the best of both tours together, painting a good picture of who’s in form at the conclusion of the US Open Series.

Highlights from the WTA Tour:

  • Top seed Caroline Wozniacki, who enjoyed a first-round bye, gets the lucky loser Dominika Cibulkova in the quarterfinals. Cibulkova, who’s been ranked as high as number twelve last year due to a semifinal run at the French Open, has seen a slip in her rankings after failing to reach that same superb level of form. She lost in the third round at both Roland Garros and at Wimbledon, falling to just inside the top 50. Look for Wozniacki to make quick work of a tired Cibulkova, who needed three sets to take out Melanie Oudin.
  • The fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva also struggled to get to the quarterfinals after an inspired Kateryna Bondarenko, sister of the recently married Alona Bondarenko, put up a strong fight. The top-ranked Russian edged the younger sister 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-4. She’ll face Marion Bartoli — the winner over Alona and the qualifier Anastasia Rodionova — for a spot in the semifinals.
  • Other players of note: Dinara Safina’s putting some wins together. The former top player beat this year’s French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. She also took out Daniela Hantuchova 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2). She next faces a tough opponent in Maria Kirilenko.

My prediction: Wozniacki gets to the semifinals easily, facing Bartoli, who will surprise Dementieva in three. In the other semifinals, Safina faces Stosur, but loses in straights.

US Open Qualifying: Day One

I just got back from the first day of the US Open Qualifying tournament at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. Although rain delayed play for a few hours, the tournament eventually commenced pitting former top players hampered by injury, rising young talents, and journeymen dedicated to the sport despite rankings hovering in the 200s, and more, against one another in the windy, rainy conditions.

A dog fight ensued, to say the least, and a lot of passion filled the New York City air — both on the court and off. Here’s what happened during my first day back at my favorite tournament of the season.

With the inclement weather, not too many fans showed up to see the inaugural action for the 2010 tournament. Those that did manage to get to the free event, however, embodied the die-hard fan, among a slew of officials, players, and media people.

You could feel the excitement in the air, the crowd’s energy was palpable. Almost everyone looked happy to be there, despite the annoying drizzle that hit the courts just enough to halt action. Personally, I’m always amazed by the energy, and the intensity around the grounds — the players fighting it out on court, players, trainers, vendors, and more rushing to courts, and other obligations, fans hurrying to get see matches, and other activities that fill the time in between.

After taking in the scene — and despite the rain — it was fun just taking it all in and people watching, eating a pretty good vegetarian crepe, and waiting for the rain to subside, workers took to the courts to start the process of drying. With squeegees and other equipment, matches resumed around 2pm.

The first match I watched presented one of the United States’ future hopefuls, Ryan Harrison against Jonathan Dasnieres De Veigy of France. Harrison, currently ranked 219, looked sharp in his first round qualifying match. Despite a shaky season so far, the 18-year old played with a impressive variety from stinging slices, high topspin lobs, and wicked forehands that put the French journeymen on the defensive for most of the match.

Near the beginning of the first set, I looked to my left and saw none other than Sam Querrey, the fourth-ranked American after Andy Roddick, John Isner, and a recently resurgent Mardy Fish. The 22nd-ranked Querrey, who’s having a strong US Open Series leading up to the US Open, looked to be supporting the young American, which was refreshing to see.

Harrison, probably inspired by the New York City crowd that heavily on his side, and Querrey, closed out Dasnieres De Veigy 6-1, 6-4.

After taking in some of Katie O’Brien’s match against Lesya Tsurenko — she won in three sets — I got the chance to simultaneously view the end of Anna-Lena Groenefeld’s match against Rika Fujiwara and the start of Michelle Larcher de Brito’s versus Karolina Pliskova.

Groenefeld looked ready to close out the match easily in the second, she was up 4-0. Her serve, however, got shaky, while Fujiwara improved her play with compact swings and raw emotion. The former top 20 player Groenefeld, who’s now ranked 129 in the world, eventually regained her form with poise to close out the match 7-5, 6-3. Seeing Groenefeld brought me back a few years to watching her on television. It was the first tennis match I’d ever watched, and it was fitting I got the chance to see her again today after about six years of watching, playing, and writing about tennis.

In the other match, Larcher de Brito impressed from the start with powerful forehands and a Maria Sharapova-like intensity. After trading service breaks with Pliskova, Larcher de Brito grunted her way to a 6-4, 6-4 win. Near the end of the first set, however, I’d be remiss to forget mentioning another player-sighting — none other than crowd favorite Melanie Oudin, who wowed fans with her surprise quarterfinal run at last year’s event. I was star struck to say the least. Let’s see how Oudin handles the pressure at this year’s tournament with her less-than-stellar results at other events so far this season.

Other matches of note I caught bits and pieces of as the day of tennis continued included: American Bobby Reynolds’ win against Chris Guccione, Sloane Stephens’ victorious match over Anais Laurendon, and Kei Nishikori’s successful play after an elbow injury hampered most of the season versus Paul Capdeville.

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