Tenaciously Tennis

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.


As Roland Garros Play Rolls On, Schnyder Ends Distinguished Career

As the world’s top players on the WTA tour continue to battle it out on the red clay of Roland Garros, one woman who graced the tour with her tricky play will return to the Grand Slam no longer. A personal favorite, the 32-year old Patty Schnyder announced the end of her career on Saturday during a special press conference.

A perennial top-ten player in the world, Schnyder will be missed for her sheer talent and impressive results on tour. But accomplishments aside, there was something about her game that always intrigued me profoundly; I’m talking style and finesse. The spin that Schnyder used no longer exists to the same degree, especially with her left-handedness. That display of tactics made me appreciate the beauty of spin and the aesthetics of the game as Fabrice Santoro did for me on the men’s side.  As the women around her seemingly pound the ball as hard as possible, Schnyder symbolized a true diamond in the rough with a game like no other.

Adding to what personally enamored me besides her game (and similar last names aside) was one specific interaction I had wither. At the US Open a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to approach Schnyder after a doubles loss. Gathering my courage, and almost too late for she was briskly walking to the player’s lounge, I asked for an autograph. Schnyder agreed. Sure, she wasn’t in the best of moods, but she showed true poise in allowing a young fan her signature despite such recent adversity.

Giving her a yellow hat I received at the Grand Slam event the previous year, I fumbled with the marker. She took it, and there was my first signed item from a professional tennis player.

I’ll never forget that moment because I finally interacted with a player — an idol — on a personal level. No longer did these individuals remains just exceptional athletes relegated to on-screen entertainment, or even seem diminished as simply a display of talent. Instead, they became people, not Herculean celebrities. Here was a woman fighting her heart out to advance to the next round in the doubles competition, losing, and still having the decency to sign a nervous kid’s autograph.

I profusely thanked her and whispered good luck in singles. She nodded, left, and on walked away one of my all-time favorite tennis players.

Congratulations to Patty for an excellent career and good luck to her in any future endeavors.

For more on her myriad accomplishments, check out this bittersweet WTA article here.

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