Tenaciously Tennis


Indian Wells 2012: A Fearsome Flu and Fresh Faces

It’s been a weird few days at Indian Wells with a ferocious flu taking down scores of players, trainers, and even journalists, while new American talent has been breaking through to the final few days of action in the California heat. The stomach viruses’ victim count so far is estimated at approximately 30, including stars Vera Zvonareva and Gael Monfils.

The flu’s latest casualty? American wild card Jamie Hampton, 22, who couldn’t deal with the cramps and fatigue. She retired during the third set versus World No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska. It’s too bad; Hampton seemed to find her game despite trailing 3-0 in the final set. She enjoyed the momentum by taking the second set 6-4. Ultimately, illness proved too much. Hampton should leave feeling proud. Ranked No. 99, she’s making a serious breakthrough into the big leagues and the third-round is a quality advance. Hampton took out former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in round one and Jarmila Gajdosova in the second.

Said Hampton: “At the end of the second [against Radwanska] it hit me and I knew it was coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.” And this type of thing has happened in the past for the up-and-comer; she’s suffered from cramps five times already in her young career, forcing her to quit the match. Yet she says she “hydrates and eats the right way, according to a Ticker post on Tennis.com. A visit to a specialist  is in her future, which is a good call for a player who can definitely do major damage if she keeps the fuel going for further upward trajectory.

Bowing out in another close match was the No. 32 seed and New Jersey-native Christina McHale. The giant killer — think Cincinnati 2011 and my shameless self-promotion here — added Petra Kvitova to her list, taking out the World No. 3 in round two. The 18th-seeded Angelique Kerber, the surprise 2011 US Open semifinalist, however, proved to be a little too much to handle, edging past the 19-year old 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4). McHale, although not quite as new a face as Hampton, summons the fresh and hopeful feelings of where American women’s tennis is going in a time of crisis. The Williams sisters aren’t getting any younger, and their typical absence at Indian Wells this week always makes it even more pronounced. Regardless, expect a top 20 ranking for McHale by the year’s end (if not by the time Roland Garros rolls around).

In other WTA news, Ana Ivanovic has pushed past the stomach bug and her own insecurities, downing former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets with her huge forehand. The No. 15-seeded Serb might finally be ready to go on a roll and reclaim her rightful place in the Top 10 after confidence issues sapped her game post-Roland Garros victory 2008.

On the men’s side, American Ryan Harrison, 19,  has advanced to the final 16. He’s had huge success at Indian Wells in the past, advancing to the fourth round last year after securing a solid win over Canadian Milos Raonic (before losing to Roger Federer in straights). This year, it’s been more of the same. He took out Guillermo Garcia-Lopez just like in 2011, while also claiming solid wins over Viktor Troicki and Flavio Cipolla. Up next: the No. 13 seed Gilles Simon, who’s entirely beatable if Harrison can keep calm and not let the Frenchman’s tricky counter-punching style unsettle his power.

My First ‘Short Balls’ Post for Tennis Served Fresh

After writing for the popular tennis blog Tennis Served Fresh during the Australian Open, I was asked to contribute on a more regular basis. As such, I am now responsible for writing Short Balls, a weekly reflection of the goings-on in the tennis world. Read below for an excerpt of my first post.

Well, it looks like we’re back to some shaky form for the top women — and, man, you girls were all looking so sharp in Australia, according to Tennis.com’s Tom Perrotta. Check out how world no. 3 Vera Zvonareva allowed a line call and a swearing violation get the best of her big game. She lost it versus Daniela Hantuchova in the Pattaya Open semis, prompting this charged statement: “There is a big difference between being mentally tough and being emotional. It’s a huge difference. I will always be emotional. As long as I use those emotions to my advantage, that’s only a plus to me. If I need to break the racquet to pump myself up, then I will break the racquet. I don’t care.” | Watch the drama

To read this post in its entirety, 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.

Despite Loss, Jovanovski Poised for Future Success

Bojana Jovanovski has proven that she’s one to watch in the coming months.  Ranked 58th, she recently gave world number two Vera Zvonareva a fight in the Australian Open’s second round. With powerful strokes on both sides and a strong fighting spirit, Jovanovski handled herself like a future top ten player. She lost to the Wimbledon and US Open finalist in three sets, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

As the youngest player in the top 100 at age 19, Jovanovski came into the Aussie Open with some solid wins  to begin 2011. She advanced to the semifinals at Sydney, beating Kaia Kanepi, Aravane Rezai, and Flavia Pennetta (all ranked inside the top 30) in straight sets. Jovanovski lost to the eventual champion Na Li of China.

If she can improve her fitness and get more experience as the season progress, the third-ranked Serb — after Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic — will be an even greater threat.

Watch below for a fun interview of Jovanovski from Brisbane earlier this year.

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.

Dementieva Retires: Reflections on a Champion’s Career

Elena Dementieva’s impressive career came to a tearful and emotional close after her lose to Francesca Schiavone, this year’s French Open champion, at the end-of-the-year tournament in Doha recently. Dementieva, 29, lost 6-4, 6-2.

Having won two titles this year, Dementieva also did well at the majors in 2010. She reached the semifinals at the French Open and the fourth round of the US Open. Injury marred her season, however, causing her to pull out of Wimbledon. Dementieva’s retired as the ninth-ranked player in the world.

Regardless of this year’s results, Dementieva’s enjoyed a fantastic career. Most notably, she won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. To take home the revered gold, she fought her way through a tough field, including Serena Williams, Vera Zvonareva, and Dinara Safina.

Although unable to win a major title, she had her chances, especially in 2004. Then, she  had a breakout season and made it to the finals at the French Open (she lost to Anastasia Myskina in the first all-Russian major final) and at the US Open (she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova, another Russian).

Here are some other statistics about her career, according to a recent Associated Press article: “After turning pro in 1998, Dementieva won 16 titles, including Sydney in January with a win over Williams, and the Paris Indoors in February. She was in two more finals in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo. Dementieva played 18 ties in Fed Cup, spearheading Russia to the 2005 title with all three points in the final. She has been ranked in the top 20 since April 2003, reaching a career-high of No. 3 last year. She was also a top-five doubles player. She finishes her career with a 576-273 win-loss record, and a place in the year-end top 10 for the seventh time in eight years.”

To be clear, I’m not holding her losses in Grand Slam finals against her. Yes, she deserved to win at least one in her career. However, given her streaky serving, it’s amazing that she was able to reach these later rounds at all. It just shows how mentally strong Dementieva has been throughout her career and speaks highly of her athletic ability. She’s been a true fighter until the end of her career during a time of talent and power on the WTA tour.

I grew up watching her, and it’s sad to see her leave. With focus and a desire that’s rare and a style of game that excites and impresses, Dementieva will be greatly missed.

Zvonareva Ranked Second, Can Surpass Wozniacki in Doha

Vera Zvonareva, this year’s finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open, replaced the ailing Serena Williams in her rise to the number two world ranking today. This distinction, however, may not be the final one of the year for Zvonareva in her best season on tour to date. In fact, she has the chance to overtake Caroline Wozniacki’s relatively new top ranking at the year-ending tournament in Doha.

Here’s Zvonareva’s reaction via Facebook: “Just heard I have reached #2 in the world rankings! I have worked really hard this year so it is nice to see the results pay off. Also had a good time here in Doha at the player party and draw ceremony yesterday. Playing my first round robin match tomorrow.”

For her to nab the top spot, explains an Associated Press article, Zvonareva “must win all three matches in the group stage and then make it to the final, while all Wozniacki has to do is win two of her round robin matches to retain her ranking.” It continues, “If Zvonareva loses a match in the round robin, Wozniacki would then only need to win one of hers.”

Therefore, many things need to happen for Zvonareva to take hold of this opportunity — being the world’s best at the year’s end.

The idea that she may become the world number one is frankly a little mystifying, despite her excellent showing in majors this year. Maybe it’s the fact that the media simply doesn’t hype her the way it does Serena, Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, and others. Or, it could be the fact that her on-court temperament still lacks that of a true champion. Whatever the case, Zvonareva has proven she’s here to stay atop the highest tier of the WTA tour for a long time coming.

In Bobby Chintapalli’s recent post, “Small Babe, Big Results,” we get a strong sense of Zvonareva’s ability to overwhelm her opponents with tricky shot selection and the ability to change up pace and spin. Writes Chintapalli, “You’re not immediately sure what Zvonareva did, but you know she did something right. It’s fitting, because that’s how she can make her opponents feel when she plays well.” This refreshing quality makes Zvonareva an interesting candidate for the top position — just like Wozniacki a few weeks ago and Jelena Jankovic before

Now, it’s a matter of the media taking her under its wing, too. If she wins her first-round match against the struggling Jankovic in Doha tomorrow, she’ll be well on her way.

Wozniacki Claims World Number One Spot from Serena

With a string of wins taking her to the finals in Beijing, Caroline Wozniacki has surpassed Serena Williams in the rankings to helm the WTA tour. To get the world number one ranking, Wozniacki needed to advance beyond the third round in Beijing. She did after winning 6-3, 6-3 over Petra Kvitova, the player who knocked her out in the fourth round of Wimbledon earlier this year.

Although Serena has been dominant this year in terms of Grand Slam wins — she won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles — a foot injury has kept her out of play since the third major. Comparatively, Wozniacki advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open and made the semifinals at the US Open. Wozniacki also has 11 career titles to her name, including five titles this year. Additionally, she won the US Open Series, the event leading up to the year’s final major. This consistency shows she has what it takes to eventually take home a major title and that she wholly deserves this latest distinction to an already impressive list of accomplishments at such an early age.

In Beijing, Wozniacki looked particularly strong with wins over Ana Ivanovic and Shahar Peer most recently. Next, she faces Vera Zvonareva, who’s been having a sensational season of her own, including making two major finals at Wimbledon and the US Open this year.

I predict that nothing’s going to stop Wozniacki in the final against Zvonareva. She’s on a mission to not only hold on to her ranking, but also to prove that she’s number one for a reason. I’d say watch out to the rest of the field: Wozniacki’s success on tour has only just begun.

Predictions for Wozniacki Versus Dementieva

While I haven’t been following too much of the tennis post-US Open, the Pacific Pan Open has had a lot of great tennis and compelling stories in the past few days.

There’s Maria Sharapova’s early exit, the strong showing by the now 40-year old Kimiko Date Krumm, Coco Vandeweghe’s trip to the quarters, and more. It’s nice to see the mix of familiar faces and newcomers making a push towards success as the season comes to a close.

At the end of the day, however, two of the top women have advanced to the finals: Caroline Wozniacki, the world number two, who is poised to take the number one ranking from Serena Williams, and Elena Dementieva, the seventh seed.

Both overcame tough opponents in the semifinals to grab their spots in the final. For Wozniacki, it was a real test from Victoria Azarenka. She needed three sets to advance, eventually closing out the feisty Belorussian 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-4. At the same time, I could see the fight being a real positive for Wozniacki, who only played five games in her win over Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska retired with a left foot injury after trailing in that first set.

For Dementieva, US Open and Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva and French Open champion Francesca Schiavone stood in her way. Like the veteran and champion that she is in her own right, Dementieva won both matches with poise, experience, and the brand of shot-making that seems so capable of winning her a major title. Regardless of her disappointing inability to win  a major, she advanced in both rounds in straight sets, defeating Zvonareva 7-5, 6-2, and Schiavone 6-4 7-5.

Given the last two rounds, their results so far this year, and their match history, this is a truly compelling final. Both have played a somewhat even amount of tennis in the quarters and semis. Fitness won’t really be a factor, although Dementieva’s arguable playing stronger tennis given her easy advances.

On the other hand, pressure could very well be a factor: Wozniacki needs to win this event and reach the quarters in Beijing next week to secure the world’s top ranking. She would also walk home from the event with her sixth title of the year.

The head-to-head record of Wozniacki and Dementieva is also noteworthy: It’s currently locked at 3-all. In this regard, I give Wozniacki the edge as she won the last meeting, during a high-energy and high-drama semifinal match at New Haven. In the final tournament of the US Open Series, Wozniacki prevailed in three sets, winning 1-6 6-3 7-6 (5).

I’m going with Dementieva to pull-off the upset and win the tournament. She’s on a roll, the pressure’s on Wozniacki, and I don’t think there will be much to stop the Russian from exacting revenge after a disappointing loss in New Haven.

Clijsters Wins Second Straight US Open Title

For the second time in two years and her third time overall, Kim Clijsters of Belgium won on tennis’ biggest stage: the US Open. She beat Vera Zvonareva handily in a 6-2-, 6-1 drubbing. In fact, the match didn’t even last an hour. Clijsters closed out the shaky Zvonareva in only 59 minutes.

Along with her $1.7 million in prize money for notching the victory, Clijsters took home an additional $500,000 for taking second place in the US Open Series, a tune-up for the year’s final major. During the series of tournaments, Clijsters defeated Maria Sharapova in Cincinnati.

On Clijsters’ way to the win, she breezed through a tough section of the draw, including defeating strong players as Wimbledon semifinalist Petra Kvitova and a resurgent Ana Ivanovic in straight sets. In the quarters, she faced a tougher challenge in the French Open finalist Sam Stosur, who she beat in three sets: 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. In the semifinals, she faced Venus Williams, also needing three close sets to advance: 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Clijsters is a joy to watch with her powerful shot-making, her counter-punching defensive skills, which she switches so quickly in between points, her finesse, and famous splits. Plus, off-court, her manner shines just as brightly. Clijsters is a true champion, and it’s impressive how successful she’s been this past year.

Regarding Zvonareva, does anyone get the feeling that a comparison between her and the three-time Grand Slam finalist Dinara Safina might be in order? She’s done well to make to two consecutive finals, but if her mental game doesn’t raise another notch, she might find herself in the same position as her currently suffering compatriot.

Granted, she’s faced Serena Williams and Clijsters in her two final showings, but in both she was easily hit off the court. After beating the top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the semis 6-4, 6-3, it looked like the final would be more dramatic play-wise. Zvonareva, however, mentally checked out mid-match — she chucked her racket, got down on herself angry, and double-faulted away the final — in an ugly kind of drama.

And so, congratulations once again to Clijsters for an excellent tournament. It’ll be interesting to see how the world number three finishes the season, especially at the year-ending championships in Doha at the end of October.

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