Monday, July 29, 2013

Sweeping the court

Shelby Rogers has been awarded a wild card into the main draw of the U.S. Open. Rogers, who also earned a wild card into the main draw of the French Open, earned the most WTA tour ranking points at two of three USTA Pro Circuit hard court tournaments.

The acclaimed PBS series, American Masters, will feature a sports figure for the first time in its history on September 10 when Billie Jean King will be profiled.

Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Rogers Cup because of the hip injury she sustained at Wimbledon.
For the third year in a row, the Washington Kastles have won the WTT Billie Jean King Cup. The Kastles won all five sets in the WTT final. The winning team, which beat the Springfield Lasers in the final, included Martina Hingis.

Ken Thomas, of, described the Carlsbad qualifying draw as "deep and strong." "The Carlsbad qualies...are brutal. Nowhere to hide." Main draw play begins today, with Victoria Azarenka as the top seed. Defending champion Dominika Cibulkova just won her third title in Stanford.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Cibulkova wins Stanford

The spectators who attended today's Bank of the West Classic final got their money's worth, and then some. As for top seed Agnieszka Radwanska: At least part of the time, she must have thought she was gazing into a mirror. Dominika Cibulkova used the drop shot and some extreme angles against Radwanska in ways that were, well, oh so Radwanskan. Cibulkova also brought a fierce forehand and a deft swinging volley, and threw the whole combo at the Polish star, beating her 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

I really enjoyed this match, which lived up to my expectations. Cibulkova had never beaten Radwanska before. In fact, the last time they had played, in Sydney, Radwanska won 6-0, 6-0--one of the freakier scorelines of recent times. I had little doubt that today, win or lose, Cibulkova was going to play at a very high level.

Cibulkova had three break opportunities in the opening set, but was unable to convert them. Radwanska, throughout most of the match, saved break points by hitting really good first serves. In the second set, Cibulkova went up a break point and held onto that lead to force a final set.

In that final set, Cibulkova was twice down a break. When Radwanska went up 4-2, 40-15, there was every indication that she would go up 5-2 and be within reaching distance of the championship, but one of the things that makes tennis so great to watch is that players can make comebacks at the last moment. Cibulkova fought like crazy, broke her opponent, and then won the next three games.

But it wasn't as easy as that last sentence might have made it sound. When the 3rd seed served for the match, she saw four match points disappear. The game, which lasted almost eleven minutes, was an event in itself. Under extreme pressure from Radwanska, Cibulkova made forehand errors on the first three match points, and on her fourth, she was treated to a classic Radwanska drop volley that put the game back at deuce. Radwanska had one break point during the game, but Cibulkova saved it.

Finally, on the fifth match point, the opponents engaged in one of their many tough baseline rallies, and the match ended when Cibulkova hit a screaming backhand winner into the corner of the ad court.

The Stanford title is Cibulkova's third.

Mention should be made of the semifinal match that was played between Radwanska and Jamie Hampton. Hampton was unable to handle the guessing game Radwanska set up for her, and she was done in by the top seed's cleverness. But Hampton had a really good tournament and she's looking especially fit. Hopefully, her fitness regime will help her chronic back problem.

There was a memorable moment in that semifinal when Radwanska (who managed to throw in a squat drop shot during the match) had to run so far after an angled shot hit by Hampton, she struggled not to run right into the stands. But--in typical Radwanska fashion--while she was getting herself on balance, she also managed to hit a crazy angled drop volley winner.

Cibulkova wasn't the only winner, of course. Top seeds Abigail Spears and Raquel Kops-Jones won the doubles title. Spears and Kops-Jones defeated 2nd seeds Julia Goerges and Darija Jurak 6-2, 7-6 in the final.

While they were watching Radwanska, the ESPN commentators did something that's refreshingly new (and which also originated with ESPN commentators): They went through ATP history to sort out which men played the most like Radwanska.

Sexism is so deeply ingrained in all cultures that most people don't even realize how offensive it is to always compare a woman's game with a man's (or to insist that a woman is "copying" a male player), and not the other way around. People have--on a conscious or subconscious level--bought into the lie that sports played by males are "better" than sports played by females. A completely sexist value, this belief makes it acceptable to "compliment" a WTA player by comparing her with an ATP player. Good for ESPN for realizing that it goes both ways.

In Baku, Elina Svitolina won her first WTA title, defeating Shahar Peer 6-4, 6-4. This was Peer's first final in two years. Svitolina, who is 18, is the first teen to win a WTA tournament this year. To get to the final, she took out both the 2nd and 4th seeds. The doubles title went to 2nd seeds Irina Buryachok and Oksana Kalashnikova. They beat Eleni Daniilidou and Aleksandra Krunic 4-6, 7-6, 10-4 in the final. Buryachok won the doubles title last year, too, with partner Valeria Solovyeva.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Passing shots

Today, in a telephone interview with Tennis Channel, recently enshrined Hall of Fame member Martina Hingis said there was no foundation to the rumor that she will return to singles play on the tour next year. She took time to express admiration for Kimiko Date-Krumm, but said that playing singles was "for the young people."

Hingis, by the way, was just awarded the Most Valuable Female Player designation in World Team Tennis. The WTT final will take place tomorrow. Defending champions, the Washington Kastles (Hingis's team), will play the Springfield Lasers. The Kastles are the two-time defending champions.

Former British number 1 Anne Keothavong has retired from professional tennis. Keothavong was the only British player to reach any WTA semifinals (she played in seven of them) between 1992 and 2012. The twelve-year WTA veteran is going into broadcasting, and will cover 21 WTA events for BT Sport.

Marion Bartoli and Tsvetana Pironkova now have Tennis Channel promo spots.

You can get to know Nicole Gibbs.

The New York City City Council has approved a $500 million expansion to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Shahar Peer and 7th seed Elina Svitolina will play in the Baku final tomorrow.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Both Radwanskas reach Stanford quarterfinals

A-Rad and U-Rad have both entered the Bank of the West quarterfinal draw. Agnieszka, as the top seed, had a bye in the first round, and defeated Francesca Schiavone in the second. Urszula beat Christina McHale in the first set, then yesterday, she defeated Daniela Hantuchova in straight tiebreak sets in the second round.

Olga Govortsova, who upset Sam Stosur in the second round, is also into the quarterfinals. And Vera Dushevina, who hadn't won a main draw match the entire year, won both of her qualifying rounds, then easily beat Marina Erakovic in the opening round. Yesterday the "other Russian" deftly handled Madison Keys in straight sets.

Dominika Cibulkova squeaked by Stefanie Voegele 7-5, 7-6 in the second round. Voegele hit ten aces--it's nice to see her playing consistently well these days.

Nicole Gibbs, making her pro debut with a wild card, took the second set off of Jamie Hampton, but did not survive the second round against her countrywoman.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Agnieszka Radwanska (1) vs. Varvara Lepchenko (6)
Jamie Hampton (4) vs. Vera Dushevina (Q)
Urszula Radwanska (7) vs. Dominika Cibulkova (3)
Sorana Cirstrea (5) vs. Olga Govortsova

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Passing shots

Tennis Score Tracker, an app for your iPhone, keeps track of the score for you, but it also keeps track of your match stats. With game mode, point mode and advanced mode, the app provides a lot of easily retrievable information.

Get to know new Bad Gastein champion Yvonne Meusburger.

Garbine Muguruza expects to be out for the rest of the season.

Take that, Catholic youth group.

The Bank of the West Classic starts tomorrow in Stanford. The top seed is Agnieszka Radwanska.

Victoria Azarenka, who injured her knee at Wimbledon, plans to make her return to the courts in Carlsbad.

Meusburger wins first WTA title

Yvonne Meusburger won her first WTA title today, defeating Andrea Hlavackova 7-5, 6-2 in the final in Bad Gastein. The Austrian player reached the final of the event in 2007. Hlavackova, one of the world's top doubles players, had never gone beyond the quarterfinals in singles before this week.

Sandra Klemenschits and Andreja Klepac won the doubles title. They defeated Kristina Barrois and Eleni Daniilidou 6-1, 6-4 in today's final. This was the first doubles title for both Klemenschits and Klepac.

Anika Beck, by the way, wrote her first WTA blog in Bad Gastein. Beck, not surprisingly, has entered the top 50.

In Bastad, Serena Williams won her 53rd title today. She defeated Johanna Larsson 6-4, 6-1 in the final. In the doubles final, top seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Klara Zakopalova defeated Alexandra Dulgheru and Flavia Pennetta 6-1, 6-4.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Passing shots

Simona Halep retired today in the second round of the Swedish Open. Halep, seeded 2nd, had to stop playing because of a back injury. Is this one of those "blessing in disguise" things? She's been playing a lot of tennis.

Another retirement occurred in Bad Gastein yesterday, also in the second round, when top seed Mona Barthel  had to stop playing because of a shoulder injury.

Here's 'Pova at the ESPY Awards. And here's Vika.

Serena Williams won two ESPYs--Best Female Tennis Player and Best Female Athlete. I was disappointed that Williams wasn't nominated for Best Record-Breaking Performance.

Martina Hingis will step out of her retirement to play doubles in Carlsbad. The lucky partner? Daniela Hantuchova--what a great pairing!

Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Bank of the West Classic because of a hip injury she sustained at Wimbledon.

Caroline Wozniacki is the new Yoko Ono--because someone has to be. Because we women have all that, you know, power.

A Catholic youth group in Poland has severed its relationship with Agnieszka Radwanska because of her inclusion in the ESPN Body Issue.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Halep does it again

Simona Halep just can't stop winning. Right before Wimbledon, Halep won back-to-back tournaments on two different surfaces. I'll give her a pass on her Wimbledon second round exit because her opponent was Li Na (and she did take a set off of the Chinese star). Today, Halep won the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, defeating Yvonne Meusburger 6-3, 6-7, 6-1.

Top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka won the double title. They defeated Nina Bratchikova and Anna Tatishvili 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

Roberta Vinci lives in Palermo, and her best friend and doubles partner, Sara Errani, stayed with her during the Palermo tournament. Errani, in fact, was the defending champion (she also won the event in 2008) and top seed (Vinci was seeded 2nd), and she hadn't dropped a set against Vinci in their last five matches.

This was the tenth year that hometown star Vinci had a go at the title, and her tenth attempt was the best. She beat Errani 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted two hours and 11 minutes. Vinci now has a 9-1 record in WTA finals.

As announced yesterday, the doubles title was won by Kristina Mladenovic and Katarzyna Piter.

I don't understand Italian, so I'm sure I missed the best parts of the trophy ceremony, but the parts I did understand cracked me up. It took a long time for Errani to be called up to collect her runner-up check and trophy because a stream of men associated with the tournament were called up one by one. I kept waiting for Errani, and another man would come forward. And when those introductions were finally over, Errani still couldn't get her trophy because, you know, the cheerleaders had to perform!

Both the Budapest and Palermo tournaments were played on clay.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Errani and Vinci to play in Palermo final

Best friends and doubles partners Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci are also seeded 1 and 2 at the Italiacom Open in Palermo, and they will play each other in the final. Errani defeated 4th seed Klara Zakopalova 6-4, 6-4 today in the semifinals, and Vinci defeated Estrella Cabeza Candela 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.

In doubles news, Kristina Mladenovic has won yet another title. The Wimbledon mixed doubles champion and Katarzyna Piter, the top seeds in Palermo, beat Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova 6-1, 5-7, 10-8 in the final. Mladenovic has now won six WTA doubles finals. She and partner Daniel Nestor, with whom she won the Wimbledon title, were runners-up in mixed doubles at the French Open.

Meanwhile, in Budapest, Simona Halep has once again made it to a final. She will play Yvonne Meusburger for the title.

Passing shots

Maria Sharapova has parted ways with coach Thomas Hogstedt and has hired Jimmy Connors. Sharapova and Connors worked together briefly before the 2008 Australian Open, which Sharapova won.

Ana Ivanovic has also split from her coach, Nigel Sears. 

Vera Zvonareva has earned a master's degree in international economic relations from the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. It took Zvonareva six years to earn the degree because she was playing on the tour. However, she was able to focus on the last part of her work because of an absence from tennis. The Russian star missed the last five months of the 2012 season because of illness, and this past February, she had shoulder surgery, which has kept her off of the courts. She plans to return to the tour, and also to study international constitutional law.

Here's a photo gallery of the best moments of Martina Hingis.

This photo of the Radwanska sisters is--well, you just have to see it.

And here's 'Pova promoting Porsche.

Martina Hingis inducted into Hall of Fame

"You gave me life, you gave me love, you gave me tennis," Martina Hingis said of her mother and coach, Melanie Mollitor, today when the Swiss player was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Hingis said that her mother "tore open the Iron Curtain" for her by naming her after Martina Navratilova and introducing her to tennis.

Hingis's remarks were brief, and she emphasized her gratitude toward her mother. I wish Anna Kournikova had been there.

Martina Hingis, who was born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, is the holder of five major singles titles and ten major doubles titles. She began playing tennis at the age of two, entered her first tournament at age four, and at age 12, she won the junior French Open title. At age 15, she and Helena Sukova won the Wimbledon doubles title, which made Hingis the youngest player ever to win a major doubles title. At age 16, she won the Australian Open, thereby also becoming the youngest player to ever win a major singles title.

Hingis achieved a career Grand Slam in doubles, but not in singles; the French Open title eluded her, though she was the runner-up in 1997. Hingis was also a finalist in six other majors. She was ranked number 1 in both singles and doubles, and she held the rankings simultaneously (one of only five players to ever do so). The Swiss star won a total of 43 single titles and 37 doubles titles.

Martina Hingis is perhaps best known for her anticipation and her ability to read the court. A superb tactician, the Swiss champion was simply too clever for most of her opponents. Her backhand could be deadly, and her volleying helped her become one of the best doubles players ever.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Passing shots

The 2014 Fed Cup draw was made today, and in the first round, the USA will play Italy, just like the first round of 2013. Italy won the 2013 tie, 3-2. Today's draw was conducted by Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli.

In other Fed Cup news, the 2013 final between Italy and Russia will be held in Cagliari, Sardinia on an outdoor clay court. The final will be played November 2 and 3.

In other Bartoli news, this New York Times piece by Geoff MacDonald is most insightful.

Here the grass court Backspin Awards.

Aga Radwanska has received the Cross of Merit from the  Republic of Poland.

Top seed Lucie Safarova lost to Valeria Solovyeva in the first round in Budapest. Solovyeva defeated Safarova 6-1, 6-0.

Monday, July 8, 2013

In praise of mentors

Sometimes, a coach is enough. But sometimes, a player needs an extra boost from someone who is not a coach, but a mentor. Marion Bartoli, who just won Wimbledon, is an example. She engaged 2006 Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo to advise her, and what Mauresmo did--to put it in simple terms--was to tell Bartoli to lighten up and chill out. So instead of doing drills before the final, 2013 Wimbledon champion was singing and dancing in the locker room. It may have been exactly what she needed.

Consider Kirsten Flipkens. Her career was almost ruined by injury and illness, and--she says--almost everyone gave up on her. But not longtime friend Kim Clijsters. After Flipkens suffered a blood clot scare, Clijsters took it upon herself to become a mentor and advisor. Flipkens' career turned around almost instantly, and she made it to the Wimbledon semifinals.

In 2010, Francesca Schiavone asked Italian Fed Cup coach Carrado Barazzutti to accompany her as her coach at the French Open. And while I'm sure his coaching was sound, and then some, there's also reason to believe that Schiavone was clever in attracting a Fed Cup atmosphere to her French Open effort. (More than one of us used to say that at every big event, someone should hit Fed Cup Queen Flavia Pennetta on the head, and when she wakes up, tell her she's at Fed Cup.)  Barazzutti's presence represented a spirit which had led Italy to Fed Cup victory, and from which Schiavone no doubt benefited in Paris.

Martina Navratilova was asked by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario--who "discovered" Svetlana Kuznetsova--to take a look at the talented young Russian. Navritalova made Kuznetsova her doubles partner, and she told her: "I won the U.S. Open, and you can, too!" And she did.

Sometimes a coach is enough. Sometimes, a "mental coach" (the term used by Schiavone for a sports psychologist) is needed. And sometimes, a mentor who comes along at the right time is exactly who a player needs in order to break through to another level.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Wimbledon champion

Attends the Champions' Dinner at the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel in London.

My Wimbledon top 10

Photo by Petr Kratochvil
My top 10 Wimbledon occurrences, in ascending order:

10. Not this year: Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the world's top doubles team, needed to win Wimbledon in order to achieve a Career Slam. They didn't. Errani and Vinci were upset in the third round by 16th seeds Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

9. Here we go again: There were several injuries, major and minor, that occurred at Wimbledon this year, but wouldn't you know it?--one of them was the early slip-and-fall of Victoria Azarenka, who has a history of falling down in various ways at big events. Azarenka slipped on the grass (more on that later) in the first round and hurt her knee. She then had to give her second round opponent, Flavia Pennetta, a walkover.

8. Worth watching a second time: Marion Bartoli's post-final interview with Tennis Channel was so candid and touching--just when you thought her performance couldn't get better.

7. Get your French on!: Kristina Mladenovic, along with Daniel Nestor, won the mixed doubles championship, and she did it with real style. The up-and-coming doubles star and Marion Bartoli are Fed Cup team members and friends, and were there to support each other.

6. Hit me with your best shot: The talk about Michelle Larcher De Brito stopped some time ago, after the alleged phenom failed to make much of a mark on the tour. But up she popped again last week, when she played Maria Sharapova in the second round. De Brito--doing everything Sharapova does--only better, took the 2004 champion out in straight sets. It was a stunning performance, but De Brito would go out to Karin Knapp in the next round.

5. I'll be there for you: Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai have been friends since they were in early adolescence. All grown up, they decided to play doubles together, and after winning five titles, they added another this week: Hsieh and Peng are the new Wimbledon doubles champions.

4. The day the turf stood still: They called it Black Wednesday. On just the third day of the tournament, seven players withdrew or retired because of injury--two of them were WTA players Victoria Azarenka and Yaroslava Shvedova. More interesting, on the women's side, was that on that same day, five former world number 1 players made an exit. One, of course, was Azarenka, but Black Wednesday was also the end for Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, and Caroline Wozniacki. Players continually slipped on the grass; some slipped several times. However, Wimbledon officials said there was nothing different about the grass this year.

3. It's unanimous--and it's incorrect: Sports journalists and commentators--at least the ones we know about--unanimously picked defending champion Serena Williams to win the tournament. Coming off of her triumph at the French Open, Williams looked unstoppable. But no one is unstoppable, and Sabine Lisicki had something to say about it. She upset Williams 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in the round of 16.

2. So close: 23rd seed Sabine Lisicki kind of went crazy on everybody at this Wimbledon. She took out 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. She took out Sam Stosur. She took out defending champion Serena Williams, and then she took out 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska. But then the 23-year-old German had to come to terms with an on-fire Marion Bartoli, and that was the end of her excellent and dramatic run.

1. I see England! I see France!: In 2007, Marion Bartoli had a Lisicki-like run, taking naps during rain delays and then doing away with the likes of Jelena Jankovic and Justine Henin. But when it came to the final, the Frenchwoman had to deal with fatigue, nerves, and--most of all--Venus Williams, one of the all-time great grass court competitors.

Bartoli is really good on grass, but the final kept eluding her after her magic year. But in 2013, the planets practically seemed to align in her favor: She finally got a consistently good serve, her forward movement improved significantly, she had 2006 champion Amelie Mauresmo teaching her how to handle her intensity, she had a day off before the final, and she had both the carnage of Black Wednesday and the upset of Serena Williams on her side.

The only remaining obstacle? Sabine Lisicki. No problem. With experience behind her, and one of the best fighting spirits in women's tennis, the maverick Frenchwoman took care of matters in straight sets. And in doing so, she became what she had dreamed of becoming for 22 years--the Wimbledon Ladies Champion.


Wimbledon--what they said

She's going to be one of the top singles players eventually. Right now I'm catching her while she's maybe not winning four or five matches in singles. She's winning two or three, so hopefully that will change for her. Right now, you know, she's focusing on doubles and mixed. I think that will change one day. I caught her at the right time.
Daniel Nestor, referring to Kristina Mladenovic

I try to do my job, and he's helping me a lot at the net. I think we play good at important moment.  Many matches we manage to get through tough ones. You know, it's just great. It's going really well.
Kristina Mladenovic

Mladenovic and Nestor save 2 match points, win Wimbledon mixed doubles title

Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor, French Open runners-up and the 8th seeds at Wimbledon, won the mixed doubles title today when they defeated top seeds Lisa Raymond and Bruno Soares 5-7, 6-2, 8-6 in the final. Mladenovic (who, for most of the match, had singles champion Marion Bartoli enthusiastically cheering for her from the stands) put on a show that confirms why she might soon be the most sought-after doubles partner on the tour.

Mladenovic served superbly and cleverly, hit some big passing shots, and played the net very well. She held her nerve at a very big moment, too. Serving at 4-5 in the third set to stay in the match, Mladenovic and Nestor faced two break points--match points for Raymond and Soares. Mladenovic faulted on her first serve, which she had attempted to place up the middle. She then hit as big a serve out wide as you could imagine, and saved the second championship point.

When Nestor served for the match, the team went up 40-0, and Mladenovic had a chance to hit a sweet angled volley for championship point. She failed to get the ball over the net, however, but she and Nestor won the tournament on their second championship point.

And so France has two Wimbledon champions this year.

The top-seeded Czech team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won the junior girls doubles title at Wimbledon today. Krejcikova and Siniakova defeated Anhelina Kalinina and Iryna Shymanovich 6-3, 6-1 in the final. Kalinina and Shymanovich were seeded 8th.

Krejcikova and Siniakova, who didn't drop a set at Wimbledon, won the French Open junior title earlier this season.

Jiske Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot, the 2nd seeds, won the women's wheelchair doubles championship. They defeated Sabine Ellerbrock and Sharon Walraven 7-5, 7-6. Ellerbrock won the French Open singles title; there is no singles wheelchair competition at Wimbledon.

Back to the mixed doubles match for a moment. This is what poor Kristina was called by the commentators:


And Virginia Wade's masterpiece--"Malaneninov," which came out of Wade's mouth only once, but it's too good to not repeat.

Hello! Aren't all of you making a lot of money to sit there and say words? Could you even try to pronounce a Wimbledon champion's name correctly? It isn't really hard to pronounce; it sounds the way it's spelled.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

I was trying to remind myself, "Just look at the ball and hit it, look at the ball and hit it."
Marion Bartoli

I'm stressed in here, watching these two.
Chris Evert

I’ve played my best tennis here. I took out the champion and runner-up from last year. That’s pretty big. This tournament definitely made me a better player. It was hard today but the experience will help me in the future. I still believe I can be champion one day.
Sabine Lisicki

As of today, the world, or at least the tennis world, must accept and respect one more of your kind. From now on, no one can watch Marion Bartoli do a knee bend or shuffle step or practice cut or fist-pump and ask, “Why?” No one can look at her two-handed ground strokes and volleys, or her flatter-than-flat shots, or her second serve that’s just like a first serve, or her returns hit from a foot inside the baseline and say, “That’ll never work.” More precisely, no one can watch her and think, “She'll never win Wimbledon doing that.”
Steve Tignor

And there's the fist-pumping we'e grown to love.
Chris Evert

You cannot put into any words what I felt in that moment. I couldn't believe I just won Wimbledon.
Marion Bartoli

Marion didn’t have to take out any huge player. Matches are different against top players. They’re heavier. They’re longer. You have more draining rallies. Mentally and physically I wasn’t at a hundred per cent. I took out three Grand Slam champions and went 9-7 in the third against Radwanska two days ago. Marion was fresher. I was a bit sad I couldn’t perform the way I can.
Sabine Lisicki

Do whatever you want now, Marion.
Chris Fowler, as Bartoli jumped up and down toward the end of the match

I think I was just overwhelmed by this whole situation.
Sabine Lisicki

…it's always been a part of my personality to be different. Being just like the other ones is kind of boring, I think. I really embrace being a bit different and doing something not everyone is doing.
Marion Bartoli

I think first start we both really nervous, and then they play well.  And then we get like lot of pressure. So just try to like hold it and fight and then play and try like our best, because never know.
Peng Shuai

I got choked up when she won.
Chris Evert

In tennis, anything can happen; I'm a perfect example of it.
Marion Bartoli

Hsieh and Peng win Wimbledon doubles title

Hesieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, seeded 8th in doubles at Wimbledon, won the title today when they defeated 12th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 7-6, 6-1.

It's no great surprise that Hsieh and Peng have won their first major; the team has been playing really well for a while now. They have good friends for a long time--their friendship precedes their partnership--and they both hit double-handed on both sides. Add singles champion Marion Bartoli, and you have the first double-handed singles/doubles sweep in Wimbledon history. But of course!--this tournament has been nothing if not unusual.

The Wimbledon victory gives the team six titles. Hsieh's win makes her the first player from Chinese Taipei to win a major of any kind.

Bencic wins junior Wimbledon title

Top seed Belinda Bencic won the junior girls Wimbledon championship today when she defeated 5th seed Taylor Townsend 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Bencic was the doubles runner-up last year, and she recently won the French Open junior championship.

Bencic hit six aces and won 19 of 24 net points. She hit 32 winners and made 21 unforced errors. Today marked the third time this season that the Swiss player has beaten Townsend.

Bencic has a long-time coaching relationship with Melanie Molitor, coach and mother of Martina Hingis.

Bencic also played in the junior doubles semifinals today, but she and her partner--the 2nd seeds--lost.

Ah oui!--Bartoli wins Wimbledon

For those of us who never stopped believing that Marion Bartoli would win Wimbledon, today was a day of excitement and sweet validation. Just as Francesca Schiavone set out to win the French Open in 2010, Bartoli--ignoring all other stumbles in her 2013 season--set out to win Wimbledon. She calmed her erratic serve, she sharpened her-already excellent volley, and--perhaps most important--she added much more anticipation and speed to her forward movement.

And while the sports media still doesn't get it--Bartoli had a pretty good match-up in Sabine Lisicki. The German player, for all her considerable talent, has trouble keeping her nerves in check. Consider that this was the first time she was in a major final, which is unnerving for anyone, now that they don't make them like Evert and Hingis anymore. Consider that she has a huge serve, but it isn't under the kind of control that we see from Serena Williams or that we used to see from Lindsay Davenport.

I thought of that 2010 French Open final more than once today. Sam Stosur, like Lisicki, had taken out the really big names to reach the final. It was hers to lose, according to most, and she lost it. Lisicki also performed wonderfully by taking out both Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska. The Wimbledon title appeared to be hers to lose. In some ways, it was, but part of that impression arose because no one was paying any attention to Bartoli.

It's true that Bartoli had a much easier draw than Lisicki had, and Lisicki deserved every bit of praise that she received for her work in the last two weeks. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that the German star made it all the way to the final; I expected her to lose to Radwanska.

I saw Lisicki win Charleston in 2009, and she mowed through the field with such confidence and abandon that it was easy, even in the early rounds, to predict that she would go all the way. But that was the last time I saw Lisicki look that free. A series of injuries stopped her momentum, and I think she may have also been suddenly struck with the notion of her potential. Developing consciousness like that can be problematic to anyone, and especially someone with the obviously emotional nature Lisicki possesses.

Today's championship match was mostly about Bartoli, whose fighting spirit is one of her great advantages. Bartoli had been to the Wimbledon final before. She had lost the Wimbledon final before. She already knew her opponent would be the crowd favorite. She had the 2006 Wimbledon champion--the great Amelie Mauresmo--advising her, and she had a long time to get her ducks in a row.

The final began in a bit of an irregular way, as Lisicki had to re-tie her shoe before stepping onto the court for the coin toss. After getting her shoe tied, she put her digital music player away while Bartoli, the coin toss guest and chair umpire Eva Asderaki waited. Bartoli won the toss and chose to serve.

The Frenchwoman saved two break points in the first game, but then she double-faulted twice to get broken. Lisicki then went down 15-40 on her serve, then she hit an ace, after which she double-faulted, so the breaks were exchanged.

Given the nerves involved, it isn't at all unusual to see an exchange of breaks at the beginning of a big match. Then we just wait to see who settles down first. In this case, it was Bartoli, who held her next serve, then broke Lisicki to go up 3-1. By this time, Bartoli was already playing cat and mouse with the German, and was sharply returning Lisicki's second serve.

In the next game, Bartoli gave us a little Radwanska squat shot (who knew?) to make a winning return, and held for 4-1. She had a break point on Lisicki in the next game, but Lisicki saved it with an ace. Bartoli got a second break point when she successfully returned a drop shot from the German player. She then gave a drop shot to Lisicki, who dropped her right back to get to game point. But then Lisicki double-faulted again, and was soon broken.

That game was a microcosm of the entire problem Sabine Lisicki had during the championship match, and which she tends to have at big moments. Her talent and her untamed nerves go back and forth with a speed that rivals some of the volleying contests we see in doubles. The tennis skills and the strategic skills are there, but the mind does not always settle (kind of like Petra Kvitova, though Kvitova is now in a class of her own).

Up 5-1, Bartoli held to take the first set.

Lisicki left the court between sets, and came back looking more like the player who took out Williams and Radwanska. And really, who didn't believe that a different Sabine was going to show up for the second set? She had a strong hold in the first game. When Bartoli served, the game went to deuce. The Frenchwoman hit an ace that was called out, but she didn't challenge (it was good--just barely), and she wound up with a double fault.

That gave Lisicki a break point, but Bartoli saved it. Bartoli proceeded to double-fault again, but then she saved another break point. There was a third break point, but once again, Bartoli saved it--this time with a very good angled serve followed by a backhand volley. Yet another break opportunity arose when Bartoli--obviously making an effort not to double-fault again--hit a very soft second serve. But Bartoli saved that one, too, with a deep cross-court backhand. Then, finally, she hit a great first serve, got a game point and went on to win the game for 1-all.

That game was instructive, too, because it demonstrated the fight that Bartoli brings to every match. And that game appeared to increase Bartoli's confidence even more, as she fired shots on the run in the next game, and then broke Lisicki with an emphatic volley. Bartoli then held for 3-1.

Lisicki found herself at deuce in the next game, following a double fault. At this point, Bartoli--who had been uncharacteristically restrained throughout the match--began to jump up and down, preparing herself for what was to come. Lisicki responded by bringing out her huge forehand  and hitting down the line. But then she double-faulted again. And then her already-tired expression turned to one of obvious concern.

Lisicki then hit a soft second serve, which Bartoli tried to smash back, but the ball wound up going into the net. Lisicki got a game point, but then the game returned to deuce, and then--before you could say "C'est presque fini," Marion Bartoli held for 5-1. She had two match points on Lisicki's serve, both of which Lisicki saved by bringing out her very best serves. A third match point went away when Bartoli dumped a return into the net. Lisicki held for 2-5.

It wasn't quite over, though, and you could sense it. Bartoli could probably sense it, too. Suddenly, her opponent looked different, and a bit dangerous.

And this, too, was to be expected.

When Bartoli served for the match, she double-faulted at 15-all. At 30-all, Lisicki gave her a ball that just skimmed the net. The Frenchwoman got low to return it, but she couldn't get it over, and Lisicki had a break point. Bartoli then engaged Lisicki in an extended rally during which Bartoli repeatedly pounded the ball into the deep ad court corner. One of those shots went long, however, and Bartoli was broken.

Serving at 3-5, Lisicki used her well-known forehand to get a solid hold at 15. Bartoli then had to serve for the match again, only this time, the score was 5-4, not 5-1, and the opponent was looking much more like the player who fought so hard to get to the final. Many a big match has turned around at a moment like this, and lost opportunity has gone on to haunt some players for who knows how long.

But not Marion Bartoli. She wasn't going to let the Venus Rosewater Dish slip out of her hands. She won the first point of the game with a nice, low-angled forehand. In no time, she was at 40-0, and then she hit an ace out wide--and then she was the 2013 Wimbledon champion.

Bartoli won Wimbledon without dropping a set. She was efficient in the final, hitting 15 winners and making 14 unforced errors. She was successful nine of eleven times at the net. She got her first serve in 67% of the time, and she won the  point on her first serve 79% of the time. She was broken twice, and she broke her opponent five times.

For most of her career, Bartoli has been coached by her father, Walter. His very unorthodox coaching methods--which include having Bartoli do drills right before a match--have been analyzed and discussed a lot, and he is sometimes known as the "mad scientist" of tennis. If you've ever seen any of the drills Walter Bartoli has given Marion, then you know that they range from clever to bizarrre.

One of the things Walter Bartoli had Marion do at an early age was to play on a small court that was set up so that if she went very far back, she would hit the wall. Young Marion learned to stand on or inside the baseline to receive serve, and it made her a deadly returner.

This year, for the first time, Bartoli decided to be coached by someone other than her father. She chose Jana Novotna (a hint that she was going after the Wimbledon title), but that relationship lasted all of two weeks. The Novotna choice was a surprise, since indications were that Bartoli was going to have Amelie Mauresmo coach her. In the end, Bartoli chose to have a hitting partner and an adviser, and that mentor is Mauresmo, who won Wimbledon in 2006.

Then, of course, there's Marion's on-court self-encouragement techniques, which include serious fist-pumping, wild-eyed and deadly glares, aggressive shadow-swinging, jumping up and down, and a fair amount of yelling. It makes for great theatre (well, some of us think so), but it was almost non-existent today. There were plenty of fist pumps, but they were toned down (for Bartoli), and the shadow-swinging and jumping were kept at a minimum. Had the match gone to a third set, however, I think the Bartoli Show might have gone to main stage proportions.

Known as a loner who marches to her own mysterious drummer, the new Wimbledon champion is nevertheless an engaging, intelligent and witty woman who paints landscapes when she isn't doing drills or playing matches. Her "loner" days may be over, though. She had a team in her box today that incuded father Walter, Mauresmo, and friend Kristina Mladenovic, who got a bit of a shout-out in Bartoli's post-match speech.

Bartoli expressed concern about a big blister she has on her little toe, and the fact that she has to wear very high heels tomorrow night at the champions' dinner. Something tells me that when she enters the room to applause tomorrow night, she won't feel any pain.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

...nobody gets to a Wimbledon final by accident. Bartoli might look all wrong, but so far the outcome couldn’t be more right.
Kate Battersby

I never go into a tournament thinking I can't win it.
Taylor Townsend

She's the favorite for me. She's playing the best tennis of her life.
Virginia Wade, commenting on Marion Bartoli

Radwanska plays with such intelligence that they ought to scrub out the tennis court markings and paint the lawn with 64 black and white squares.
Simon Barnes

Well, I don’t think I will have the whole crowd against me. At the end of the day, she’s not British, as far as I know.
Marion Bartoli, referring to crowd favorite Sabine Lisicki

I would rather play badly and win the match than lose after that one.
Agnieszka Radwanska

She was my biggest hero, but now I think I know her well. We see each other at the Grand Slams. I’m really honored that she sometimes comes to my matches and she tells me what I can do better.
Belinda Bencic, referring to Martina Hingis

Imagine, for a second, the reaction of either if they win. I doubt we’ll forget it anytime soon. Lisicki may dissolve into one big tear--if she can lift herself off the grass, that is. Bartoli will...God knows what Bartoli will do, but I’d love to see it.
Steve Tignor

Boom Boom, Bam!

One smiles, the other glares.

One comes from a heritage of giant forehands, the other likes to use both hands at once.

One cries with emotion, the other violently pumps her fist and yells at her box.

It's easy to say that there's a big contrast between Sabine Lisicki and Marion Bartoli because there's a big contrast between anyone and Marion Bartoli. The Frenchwoman is stubborn, maverick, driven, and totally unorthodox. Both players have had more than their share of injuries, and Lisicki has been known to make some rather dramatic exits from the court.

Both are big hitters. Lisicki (when her serve is "on") is one of the best servers on the tour, and many think that Bartoli, who has yet to drop a set at Wimbledon, is the best returner of serve. Both women have had problems with their serves--Lisicki is prone to double-faulting, and Bartoli's serve can go from hot to cold, according to which set it is. Bartoli has been working on her serve lately, however, and Lisicki has served her way to the Wimbledon final.

One of Bartoli's many signatures is how far in she stands to receive serve. Where she'll stand to receive Lisicki's  booming first serve is one thing, but we can count on her moving in to receive the second. When the German player is relaxed, her second serve is quite good, and she's able to vary both service placement and speed on both serves. Bartoli takes the ball very fast, and controls play with her booming returns.

Lisicki reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2011; Bartoli reached the final in 2007. There was a lot of rain that week, and Bartoli (who slept through all the rain delays) said she just wasn't ready to go out and play the final after having been on the court the day before. (The fact that she played Venus Williams in the final was somewhat of an impediment, also.)

There should be no shortage of drama when these representatives of France and Germany face off tomorrow to determine who will be the 2013 Wimbledon champion. Whoever wins will be not only a first-time holder of the Wimbledon title, but also a first-time champion at a major. Nerves, as always, will be a factor.

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Francesca Schiavone
round 2--def. Elena Vesnina
round 3--def. Samantha Stosur (14)
round of 16--def. Serena Williams (1)
quarterfinals--def. Kaia Kanepi
semifinals--def. Agnieszka Radwanska (4)

round 1--def. Elina Svitolina
round 2--def. Christina McHale
round 3--def. Camila Giorgi
round of 16--def. Karin Knapp
quarterfinals--def. Sloane Stephens (17)
semifinals--def. Kirsten Flipkens (20)

Let's not forget about the doubles final. 8th seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai will compete against 12th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua. In today's semifinals, Hsieh and Peng beat Shuko Aoyama and Chanelle Scheepers. Barty and Dellacqua defeated 7th seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke. The Australian pair was the runner-up team in Melbourne.

In mixed doubles, top seeds Lisa Raymond and Bruno Soares will play 8th seeds Kristina Mladenovic (there she is again!) and Daniel Nestor in the final. Today, Mladenovic and Nestor upset 3rd seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Nenad Zimonjic 6-2, 6-7, 11-9. Raymond and partner Mike Bryan won the championship last year.

The junior girls final will feature top seed Belinda Bencic and 5th seed Taylor Townsend. Townsend upset 2nd seed Ana Konjuh in the semifinals. Bencic and her partner, Petra Uberalova, have also advanced to the junior doubles semifinals.

Top seeds Jiske Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot reached the women's wheelchair doubles final today. Their opponents in the final will be Yui Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley. Whiley represents Great Britain.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

I'm just doing everything better, honestly.
Marion Bartoli

The fact that she plays exceptional tennis for her age is secondary to the way she's been brought up and the type of person she's blossomed into.
Darren Cahill, commenting on Ashleigh Barty

I think the semis was the maximum I could go to this year. I mean, I had to play, I don't know, 500 per cent, I think, to beat Marion today. She was just too good.
Kirsten Flipkens

...She deserved a lot of respect.
Marion Bartoli, commenting on Flipkens

Her game sometimes is a like a faulty box of fireworks.
Sam Smith, referring to Sabine Lisicki

I go out there to win. I fight for every single point, and I still enjoy the game, so I think those are the main parts why I won today.
Sabine Lisicki

Unflappable--that's what I call Radwanska...
Chris Evert
Lisicki is flappable.
Chris Fowler

Should I just be there and dance? What could I do?
Agnieszka Radwanska, discussing her rapid exit from the court

I was going to make a sexist comment, but I'll keep it well buttoned up.
Simon Reed
(can you imagine someone in a broadcast booth saying "I was going to make a racist comment...? or "I was going to make an anti-gay comment"?)

I don't know, but I think Germany's pretty happy right now.
Sabine Lisicki

Will you find it easy to sleep before the final?
I did sleep before the semifinal.
Marion Bartoli

Lisicki and Bartoli hit their way to the Wimbledon final

Sabine Lisicki
When you're down 0-3 in the final set against Serena Williams and you find a way to come back and win the match, you create a memory that's stored in your brain, just in case you need it. Sabine Lisicki needed that memory today, when she found herself down 0-3 in the final set against 2012 runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska.  The German player acknowledged, in fact, that when she went down 0-3, her thought was "Okay, you did that against Serena, you can do it now as well." And she did it, winning the match 6-4, 2-6, 9-7.

It was an entertaining match by any standard. Lisicki hit 60 winners and made 46 unforced errors; Radwanska's comparative stats were 21 and 10. Each broke the other six times, they each won an equal number of games, and in the end, four points separated them. Lisicki double-faulte
d seven times, but she also hit nine aces.

It took Radwanska a while to get used to Lisicki's pace, but once she did, the 4th seed went on a slicing mission that flummoxed her opponent repeatedly, breaking her rhythm and causing her to land balls into the net. Radwanska went on such a roll, in fact, that it looked as though the third set would go by very quickly. Lisicki can be murcurial, and today looked like one of those days in which she just lost her momentum and couldn't get it back.

But after breaking Radwanska to go 2-3, things started to change. Lisicki became more self-assured about her serve again, and she found ways to give Radwanska fewer opportunities to take her out of her hitting zone. The German player served for the match at 5-4, but Radwanska, after failing to convert three break points, did the job on her fourth to even the set at 5-all.

But the usually cool Polish player lost her way and became error-prone in the 14th game of the set, and was easily broken. This time, when Lisicki served for the  match, she was successful, though Radwanska saved one match point.

There was a moment in the last set when Radwanska had to go to practically another county to retrieve an "unretrievable" ball, and she was successful, only to see Lisicki appear out of nowhere and softly toss the ball back over the net. Radwanska looked stunned, and threw her racket into the air in an apparent "I can't believe that just happened" moment.

This was a very exciting match, with lots of show-offy (and I mean that in the very best way) shots made by both players.  And as fast as Radwanska is on the court, she showed at the end of today's semifinal that she can be pretty speedy getting off of the court, too. She was gone in a flash. In a recent interview, Radwanska said that she doesn't cry when she's sad or disappointed, but she's been known to cry tears of rage. One can only imagine the bucketful she produced today after coming so close to returning to the Wimbledon final.

Marion Bartoli
Lisicki, who is seeded 23rd, will meet 15th seed (and 2007 runner-up) Marion Bartoli in the final. Bartoli all but ran over Kirsten Flipkens, 6-1, 6-2, in what turned out to be a hitting clinic put on by the Frenchwoman. Flipkens' knee may have been bothering her a bit more today, too, which didn't help. Bartoli's service game tends to be either excellent or up-and-down. Today, it was excellent and then some, and that--combined with her stellar return game--eased her into the final in just over an hour.

ESPN was forced to deal with the fact that Bartoli even exists, and thank goodness Chris Evert was around. Yesterday, the network told us that Flipkens was "the headliner" in today's match. Well, of course she was, given that no one at ESPN had said a word about Bartoli up to today. Not to take anything away from Flipkens' amazing and inspiring run, but for Bartoli to turn up six years after she was the runner-up and vie for the final again is a pretty big deal.

Bartoli has 2006 champion Amelie Mauresmo advising her, and at Wimbledon (or anywhere), one could do a lot worse. There will be some big-time hitting in the final; both women strike the ball hard and deep, and both can be adept at the net (Bartoli went 11 for 11 today, and Lisicki successfully hit 32 of 44).

Anyone who's still complaining about the draw hasn't been watching. The matches and the storylines just keep getting better.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

Fear and loathing is supposed to be what women’s tennis is mostly about.
James Lawton, writing for The Independent

She's just there for me always, through good times and bad times, whenever I need her.
Kirsten Flipkens, referring to Kim Clijsters

Even her second serve is cut with such venom that it’s up around the receiver’s ears and still climbing by the time it reaches them.
Giles Smith, writing for The Times about Sabine Lisicki

He has always been my strength, encouraging me to focus mentally and stay strong no matter what is happening.
Marion Bartoli, commenting on her father, Walter
It's like a fairytale coming true.
Kirsten Flipkens

Back in Germany, the tennis fans are getting over-excited. When Lisicki had to play Sharapova in the semifinals two years ago, her adoring public knew she was up against a serial grand slam champion. It was a chance to reach the final, but not much of a chance. But most of the casual tennis watchers in Germany have no clue who Agnieszka Radwanska is (they seem to overlooked the little "No. 4" sitting beside her name on the draw sheet, the numeral that indicates her place in the world pecking order). They think Sabine has one foot in the final already.
Alix Ramsay

Barty and Dellacqua advance to Wimbledon semifinals

The Australian team of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua, seeded 12th at Wimbledon, upset 2nd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 today. This is not a big surprise, given the surface. And if you haven't seen Barty play doubles, you've missed something.

Also advancing today were 8th seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, who defeated Jelena Jankovic and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Shuko Aoyama and Chanelle Scheepers defeated Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova; Goerges and Zahlavova Strycova took out top seeds Errani and Vinci in the third round.

3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik were also shown the exit today. They fell to 7th seeds Anna-Lena Groeneveld and Kveta Peschke.

In mixed doubles, top seeds Lisa Raymond and Bruno Soares advanced to the quarterfinals. In junior play, top seed Belinda Bencic also advanced to the quarterfinals.

Passing shots

Sabine Lisicki is allergic to grass.

What's Wimbledon worth?

Could ESPN possibly have less respect for Marion Bartoli?

Coach Sam Sumyk says that Victoria Azarenka has fluid and strain in both her knee and her hip, but that ten days of complete rest should do the trick.

Thank you, Steve Tignor, and--well, another message to Bill Simmons, who maybe should apply for U.K. citizenship.

And finally--way off-topic, but I'm doing it, anyway--congratulations to Inbee Park for her remarkable, and historic, performance this past weekend.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Great Britain, where the contempt for women's tennis never lets up

How many Brits can tell me who these men are?

Lukasz Kubot
Jerzy Janowicz
Fernando Verdasco
Tomas Berdych

David Ferrer?

Well, you know that they've heard of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Juan Martin Del Potro--maybe.

Is The Times talking about what a drag the men's quarterfinals are going to be because of the no-name Poles, the whos-that Czech guy and the who-are-those Spanish fellows? No, it is not.

Instead, The Times chose to describe the women's quarterfinals as played by "the women you've never heard of." Excuse me, but two years ago, Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon. In 2007, Marion Bartoli had an amazing run and was the Wimbledon runner-up. Last year, Agnieszka Radwanska was the Wimbledon runner-up. In 2011, Li Na, one of the world's most famous athletes, won the French Open. Sloane Stephens is already a star of sorts.

Will it even matter to the British press which of the remaining four women wins the tournament?

Here's a clue, British Press: I happen to especially enjoy Laura Robson and I have a lot of regard for her, but The Princess is number 38 in the world and not a household name. Tough living on an island, isn't it?

Wimbledon--what they said

Attitude is a choice.
Martina Navratilova

She was playing wonderful tennis.
Agnieszka Radwanska, referring to Li Na

Last year, I didn't even get into the qualifying for Wimbledon....
Kirsten Flipkens

Radwanska, she'll think of just about anything.
Pam Shriver

You don't think about the pain or anything else....
Agnieszka Radwanska

She has the touch, the finesse--but she also has the power when she needs it.
Chris Evert, referring to Radwanska

I think maybe today I came to the net much more than my whole life. It’s not bad really. I mean, first time I was feeling,  "Oh, I really can come to the net." Before I was thinking, "No, no, this not my style. I have to stay on the baseline."
Li Na

I think this time I'm more ready. I feel much fresher, fitter, better than two years ago. I'm hitting the ball well, moving well, and just more ready. 
Sabine Lisicki
I think this time I'm more ready. I feel much fresher, fitter, better than two years ago - I'm hitting the ball well, moving well and just more ready. - See more at: people still believing in me I can only count on one hand.

The people still believing in me I can only count on one hand.
Kirsten Flipkens

...I felt my body was cracking up all over the place. My ankle was still hurting at the French Open. I wasn't ready for Birmingham, and I got a bad virus at Eastbourne. But in the back of my mind I still thought I could do well here....
Marion Bartoli

Radwanska wins thriller at Wimbledon

It was a day of really, really good tennis. And at no time was it better than when 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agniesza Radwanska played Li Na. These two never fail to bring out the best in each other, and today's match--which Radwanska won 7-6, 4-6, 6-2--was a pleasure to watch. It wasn't without drama, either.

Li broke Radwanska for 5-4 in the opening set, and she had several set points. On one of them, she hit an ace. The problem was that the ball was called out by the line official. Li looked as though she were about to take issue with the call, but she didn't challenge it. Why, toward the close of a set when you believe you've been given a bad call and a correction would result in your winning the set (and especially in a Wimbledon quarterfinal), would you not challenge?!

Because you're Li Na.

The Chinese star, fall all her talent and cleverness, has a history of using poor judgment at crucial times. Today, it cost her a lot. The set went to a tiebreak, which  Li led 5-3, but then Radwanska won the next four points, giving her the set.

Not surprisingly, Li took the second set, after which Radwanska called for a trainer and had her hip taped some more. The Polish star then went up 2-0 in the final set, and didn't really have much trouble after that. There was a brief rain delay. The real drama began, however, when Radwanska tried to close the match. She had two match points on Li's serve, Li save them. She served for the match at 5-1, and went down 15-40. That was when the Radwanska squat shot took the 4th seed all the way down to the grass, where she sat ever so briefly.

Radwanska double-faulted on her third match point, but got the ad point with a stinging backhand down the line. The match point was saved by a volley from Li, who came to the net 71 times in the course of the match. Li got a third break point but couldn't convert it. She went on to save match points 5 and 6 when Radwanska hit soft second serves. Radwanska hit a volley that gave her a 7th match point, but that one didn't work, either. Finally, on her eighth match point, Radwanska had victory.

Radwanska looked exhausted, too, after the 2-hour and 43-minute ordeal. She actually looked exhausted before the end of the match, but she just kept going.

Radwanska's opponent in the semifinals will be Sabine Lisicki, who got the "flat" version of Kaia Kanepi today. The German player won 6-3, 6-3 in the only match played today that wasn't really very interesting.

On to Marion Bartoli. The 2007 runner-up beat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 7-5 in today's quarterfinal, and Stephens learned a lesson many have learned, and especially at Wimbledon: Do not play Bartoli after a rain delay. In 2007, the Frenchwoman took naps during rain delays (she still be doing that, for all I know). Someone would then wake her up, and she would go back to the court and bring an end to her opponent's run.

Today, Bartoli called for play to stop when Stephens was serving at 5-6, deuce, in the first set. It was raining, and Bartoli was insistent. Stephens didn't look too happy about it, but the delay was called. Considering all the slipping and falling that has gone on at this tournament, there's a good argument for having stopped play. At any rate, it rained a lot more, and the players were gone for a long time. When they returned to the court, after the warmup, Bartoli won the first set.

The second set featured eight consecutive breaks of serve. Stephens, serving at 5-6, was then broken at love, and that was that.

Finally, a very "on" Kirsten Flipkens upset a sick (again) Petra Kvitova.

There was another big upset today. In doubles play, Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova took down top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the third round. Errani and Vinci need a Wimbledon title in order to achieve a Career Slam, but that isn't happening this year.

Too cool (def.--see "Flipkens, Kirsten")

A few years ago, Mary Carillo remarked that if Kirsten Flipkens had gotten the right coach when she was young, she could have had a very good career. Whether she ever got that coach, I don't know, but she did get Kim Clijsters as a mentor, and it doesn't get much better than that. Flipkens is the latest of an impressive list of players who have overcome great odds to not just stay in the game, but to show their best tennis at a later age.

I've always enjoyed watching the Belgian play, but--as readers of this blog already know--I'm a Flipkens, Radwanska, Vinci, Schiavone kind of fan at heart (though I make great exceptions, e.a., Kvitova, Bartoli).

Last year, after suffering repeated injuries (including a so-called career-ending back injury), Flipkens had to deal with blood clots. Her ranking fell to number 262. With Clijsters behind her, giving her a lot of support, the "other" Belgian rebuilt her career, only this time, she had more confidence and was better able to show off some of the skills that make her so much fun to watch.

She showed them off today, taking out 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Of course, the victory wasn't as simple as it looks on paper. Kvitova had to have medical treatment during the match for an illness which she said began yesterday. She was sweating bullets and everything about her game slowed down considerably after the medical timeout. Had Kvitova not been ill, would the result have been the same? It's hard to know, but here are three things we do know: 

1. Flipkens played the match of her career.
2. The Belgian, unlike many in her position, didn't let anything about the occasion destroy her cool, collected attitude.
3. Kvitova is sick way too much (a discussion for another time).

Flipkens' athleticism was on display throughout the match, as she dashed from side to side, scooped up balls she shouldn't have been able to get to, and used her signature slice to advantage. She made a total of five unforced errors and hit 23 winners. There were seven aces in there. Her first and second service win percentages were 76 and 50.

It should also be noted that Kvitova played at a very high level in the opening set. The 8th seed was expected to go to the semifinals, but instead, the unseeded 27-year-old Belgian will take her place on the court on Thursday, and either she or Marion Bartoli will go to the final.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Wimbledon--what they said

The moment never seems too big for you.
Bill Macatee, interviewing Sloane Stephens

I don't think that it's like really good to thinking about the past. I'm thinking about tomorrow, that's it.
Petra Kvitova

Here was a player unruffled and unfettered by the titles, experience and aura on the other side of the net.
Alexandra Willis, commenting on Sabine Lisicki

I probably couldn't be more disappointed. I think I may have backed off of a success. I was playing something successful. I didn't continue that path. The result didn't go the way it could have gone had I continued to play the way I did in the second set.
Serena Williams

For his job, he makes me unhappy; I think is his job. 
Li Na, referring to her coach
She has outstripped the requirements of formal identification. Robson is simply Laura.
Kevin Garside, writing for The Independent 

I don't look there anymore because she looks so depressed. She looks like she wants to be on a beach somewhere.
Sloane Stephens, referring to her mother

Kvitova, Radwanska and Bartoli all advance to Wimbledon quarterfinals

While 23rd seed Sabine Lisicki's upset of defending champion and top seed Serena Williams was the big Wimbledon news today, it wasn't the only news. Commentators carried on about "who was left," but this is what I noticed: The 2011 champion is still in the draw. The 2012 runner-up is still in the draw. Perhaps most interesting, the 2007 runner-up is still around, though not a word has been said about her.

Laura Robson isn't around anymore, though. The Brit played Kaia Kanepi, and she served for the first set. She was broken and the set went to a tiebreak. Robson led 5-2, but lost it. Kanepi won the second set 7-5. I'm all for Laura, but the British crowd really needs to find some new behaviors. The crowd's responses to Robson's opponents only served to give me an even worse attitude about all the "tradition" nonsense.

Petra Kvitova beat Carla Suarez Navarro in straight sets, Li Na pretty much ran over Roberta Vinci (a bit of a surprise), and Sloane Stephens beat a really hard-working Monica Puig. I thought Puig's chances against Stephens were pretty good, actually.

Marion Bartoli efficiently beat Karin Knapp, and Kirsten Flipkens beat Flavia Pennetta, marking the first time in her career that the Belgian has reached the quarterfinals of a major. And Agnieszka Radwanska won a (predictably) entertaining three-setter against Tsvetana Pironkova. Radwanska's
"trickster" persona wasn't too flashy today, but it was present, and it went after Pironkova's forehand weakness. Radwanska won, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, and I was sad to see it all end. I wish both of them could have somehow gone to the next round.

But sad wasn't all I was feeling. First, I got up way too early this morning, having made an error in viewing the day's schedule. Once I'm up, I'm up, though, and the payoff was that I got to see some other matches. But then, the cable repairmen showed up (for the third time) to try to finally solve my television problems. They showed up in the middle of the third set of the Williams vs. Lisicki match. Talk about timing (I did get to see a replay). I couldn't get on the Internet, either, while they were working, so I missed most of the first set between Radwanska and Pironkova. I don't usually enjoy replays, but today, they were necessary.

There was a significant upset in doubles today. The unseeded team of Jelena Jankovic and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni defeated 4th seeeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, who looked like they were on track to reach the final. Another upset occurred when 12th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua beat 5th seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.

Here is the singles quarterfinal draw:

Sabine Lisicki (23) vs. Kaia Kanepi
Agnieszka Radwanska (4) vs. Li Na (6)
Sloane Stephens (17) vs. Marion Bartoli (15)
Petra Kvitova (8) vs. Kirsten Flipkens (20)

Serena Williams latest victim of Lisicki French Open curse

Today in London, Sabine Lisicki took out her fourth consecutive French Open champion in Wimbledon play. In 2009, it was Svetlana Kuznetsova. In 2011, it was Li Na. Last year, it was Maria Sharapova. Today, it was defending champion and five-time Wimbledon winner Serena Williams. Lisicki didn't play at Wimbledon in 2010; had she done so, she would have no doubt drawn Francesca Schiavone and done away with her, too. (The Wimbledon website, by the way, declares that the German took Schiavone out in 2010, but even the ambitious Lisicki couldn't have pulled off a stunt like that from her living room in Florida.)

This is one of professional tennis's stranger records, and for anyone who made a joke about it in the past week, well--who's laughing now? And why did anyone think that this week would be less hazardous than last week was?

Lisicki won the first set 6-2, breaking Williams twice. The defending champion served better in the second set, while the German player's serve faltered. Lisicki is an all-or-nothing player when it comes to serving. Commentators talk about her fast and powerful serve, and indeed she has one, but I've also seen her use angles, placement, and the element of surprise to win games with not-so-powerful serves, including second serves. 

Williams won the second set 6-1, then went up 3-0 in the final set. A collective breath was exhaled. The defending champion then led 4-2, after which Lisicki won four straight games and advanced to the quarterfinals. Just like that.

What happened? First, Lisicki--on her good days, and she tends to have them at Wimbledon--can be lethal. Yes, she's powerful and a big server, but when her head is glued on straight, she reads the court well and can add quite a bit of finesse. Of course, that would be an accurate description of Serena Williams on just about any day. But a couple of things happened in today's round of 16 contest: Lisicki was at her very best for much of the match, and Williams--especially toward the end--lost her edge.

ESPN commentator Pam Shriver talked about watching the faces and body language of the two players in the last half of the final set. Lisicki, she said, was smiling and jumping up and down, while Williams looked somewhat crestfallen.

Every time something like this happens to Serena, commentators and writers (and perhaps some fans) act as though it's never happened before. But it has. Williams, despite her super powers, is nevertheless a human who has bad days, and she tends to have them when the stakes are very high, which means that she gets nervous.

The Big Analysis is on: The Rolling Stone interview upset Williams. Maria Sharapova's remarks upset her, Williams' parents weren't there, Venus wasn't there. Well, yes, some less than positive things (some of Williams' own making) happened right before and during the tournament. And maybe these things didn't help. But this is Serena Williams, who has endured everything from the murder of her sister to the vilest misogyny and racism imaginable to her own possibly career (and life)-ending medical emergency. And gone on to win.

After the match, Williams said that she just wasn't physically capable of holding serve in the third set. "You have to be ready and willing to hold your serve," she told the press. "I wasn't willing or able, probably didn't even want to hold my serve today."

Credit should go to Lisicki for not folding in front of Williams as so many have in the past. In today's match, it was the German who maintained her mental toughness, and the defending champion who just couldn't finish the job. Upsets happen, and at this Wimbledon, they happen a lot.