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.

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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.

Djokovic, Sharapova Take Italian Open Titles Before French Open

Novak Djokovic has cemented his dominance over the ATP tour, including world number one Rafael Nadal, by beating the Spaniard in straight sets to claim the Rome title. The 6-4, 6-4 win earned Djokovic a 37-0 streak, making him the only man to defeat Nadal on clay twice in a year, including a win in the Madrid Openfinal. He’s defeated Nadal four times in finals this year, too.

For Djokovic, the victory couldn’t come at a better time, positioning him as an even heavier favorite as Roland Garros begins next week. He’ll likely take this confidence with him and make it deep in the tournament, if not win it entirely. Of course, while defeating Nadal on clay in a best-of-three match setting is extremely impressive, it’ll a whole new test attempting to take out the king of clay in best-of-five sets. There’s also the possibility of Djokovic taking the top spot in the world at the French Open.

He’s incredibly focused, too, saying, “I definitely am amazed with my playing. But there’s no time to enjoy it—I’ve got to get ready for Roland Garros.” Now, that’s pretty Terminator-style, isn’t it? Djokovic isn’t messing around in the least these days. (Think back to all those happy-go-lucky impressions, right? More on that below.)

Sharapova’s 6-2, 6-4 win over Stosur shows that the Russian might prove strong enough to advance deep at (or win) the Roland Garros tournament, the only Grand Slam title escaping her.

At the trophy presentation, Sharapova said, “This is just the beginning of many things to come. This is just the start of everything,” Sharapova said during the trophy presentation.” That’s the Maria we’ve all come to know and love. She’s back in the top ten and, like, Djokovic, she’s all business.

Check out this recent Tennis.com article for more.

Also, for a look at the days of Djokovic poking fun at his fellow players, and the (in)famous impressions of Nadal and Sharapova from the US Open, see below.

Sharapova Advances to Rome Final, Beats Angry Azarenka in Quarterfinals

Maria Sharapova faced a tough test against Caroline Wozniacki before advancing to the Rome final. If she can beat Sam Stosur, Sharapova will claim her first title since her 2010 Strausborg title.

With the win over Wozniacki, Sharapova has solidified her head-to-head over the world number one to 3-2. She beat her 7-5, 6-3.

A dramatic display of contained power, the Russian even fell on the red clay before eventually taking over the set and the match. As Tennis.com’s Bobby Chintapelli put it, “Sharapova, a self-described ‘cow on ice,’ perhaps turning too quickly or stepping incorrectly, fell hard and fast and completely. She lay there for a few seconds, all 6’2” of her sprawled out on the red clay. Then she got up and went on to win—and did both without as much fuss as you’d expect.”

And the drama didn’t even begin there for the 24-year old Sharapova. Her match against Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals proved just as nail-biting.

Apparently, the Belarussian said “f—ing bitch”  during her 4-6, 3-0 loss as she retired due to an elbow injury. It was unclear, however, whether the words were meant for Sharapova. Azarenka’s remarks prompted a posting of the following statement on her twitter account: “Very sad and tough day for me. Very hard to retire like this. Said some things to myself on the match that I’m not proud of. But it was just being mad at myself. Will never refer anything to my opponent. I play with respect to every single player. I apologize if there was a misunderstanding of that situation.”

This was the 10th time that Azarenka has retired in a match since the beginning of the 2010 season, according to a report from Tennis.com.

For a video of Azarenka’s outburst, watch below.

Excerpt of ‘March Madness’ from Tennis Served Fresh

Check out another post I wrote for the blog Tennis Served Fresh about Esquire’s battle of beauty, Maria Sharapova’s new website and Indian Wells action.

Maria got an eight seed and Caro a nine. Serena? Nowhere to be found. (Screengrab via Esquire.com)

Is tennis (and the world) suddenly in the palm of Maria Sharapova’s hand again? Esquire‘s battle of beauty and search for the sexiest woman alive has the web abuzz during the month of madness. In the brackets, seeded 8th, her first competition is none other than Caroline Wozniacki, the 9th seed. Step aside world no. 1 because against Masha you’re better as Miss Congeniality. Plus, it looks like Esquire’s made up its mind on which blonde to root for: “On the tennis court, we’d probably pick Wozniacki, but on whatever kind of court this competition occurs on, our hearts will always be with Sharapova.” Yeah, cuz she sells ads, y’all! Click here for Esquire’s entire bracket brilliance.

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

Excerpt of ‘Goodbye, Counselor’ from Tennis Served Fresh

Here’s another contribution to the blog Tennis Served Fresh about what’s going on in the tennis world.

Forget becoming an esthetician, Serena Williams is taking on a new career as a lineswoman. The sidelined former no. 1 won’t be playing in a much-anticipated return at the Nike exhibition on March 8. Instead, she’ll be a referee. That’s tough luck for the 12,000 fans expecting to see the 13-time major champion’s form alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova. Citing the foot injury that’s been kept her out since after Wimbledon, Serena released the following statement: “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to play … as I had anticipated. I’m thrilled, however, to still be able to participate … in the exhibition as a referee during the mixed doubles.”

To read this story in its entirety, see here.

Serena Williams Won’t Play Nike Exhibition: Now a Referee?

Serena Williams, scheduled to play a Nike exhibition in Oregon on March 8, withdrew, citing the foot injury that has kept her off tour since July.

In a statement, she said, “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to play at the NIKE Clash of the Champions as I had anticipated. I’m thrilled, however, to still be able to participate in the Family Tennis Festival and in the exhibition as a referee during the mixed doubles.”

Going along with that nugget, she also wrote the following on her twitter yesterday:

While it probably doesn’t refer to her foot, it sure should given all the chaos its caused the WTA tour, the tennis community, and Serena’s own career.

On her website, no such statement has been posted. The last tennis-related one? Her withdrawal from the Hopman Cup and the Australian Open, which she announced on November 24, 2010.

So, now what: Serena’s not playing, but she’s refereeing? Tell that to the 12,000 fans who bought tickets in hopes of seeing the younger Williams sister alongside other champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova — on court. Not beside it.

Apparently, tickets for the stadium sold out almost completely within 11 minutes.

A recent post by AOL Fanhouse columnist Greg Crouch, however, analyzed Nike’s language announcing the exhibition even before Serena pulled out. The statement suggests that some dishonesty may have been involved in selling the tickets. He writes, “But this one was weird. The press release announcing the field spelled it out prominently, right in the second paragraph: ‘Under certain circumstances, it is possible that one or more of the advertised athletes will not be able to participate in the NIKE Clash of Champions.’ I called it The Serena Clause. It was as if they knew something.” He might be on to something with this theory. Of course, nothing much can be done about it now.

Stepping in for Serena is Victoria Azarenka, who although a fine player and a good fighter, simply doesn’t have the record or the draw of the 13-time American major champion. Then again, no one does these days.

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 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.

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