Saturday, August 31, 2013

Halep into U.S. Open sweet 16

"Goodnight world" was the last thing U.S. Open 14th seed Maria Kirilenko tweeted yesterday before she went to sleep. She wasn't kidding. I thought her match today against Simona Halep was going to be a must-see affair, proving yet again: What do I know? Kirilenko was barely even there. Halep, fueled by all her recent success and further fueled by her opponent's lack of focus and abundance of unforced errors, ran over Kirilenko, 6-1, 6-0. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. In just 51 minutes, it was over.

The New Haven champion's next task, as she advances to her first-ever major round of 16, will be to play Flavia Pennetta, who has found her old U.S. Open groove. Pennetta defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova for the first time in her career today, and advanced to the round of 16.

(Mike Crispino and Mark Woodforde were the commentators for that match, and what a pair they made. Woodforde gave us shades of Dick Enberg with his insistence on giving us his opinion about Pennetta's appearance, and his comments on grunting were close to hostile. Note to Crispino: The last time I checked, Sara Errani was still a woman.)

Someone had to do it, I guess, and Alison Riske performed the deed. She beat 7th seed Petra Kvitova 6-3 6-0. Ouch. Kvitova, suffering with a viral fever, was seen by a trainer and a physician toward the very end of the match, and at this point, I'm declaring her frail. She has not been able, either physically or mentally (and really, those two cannot be separated) to stand up to the pressure of competition for a while now.

Riske will play Daniela Hantuchova in the next round. Hantuchova had to put up quite a fight to get rid of qualifier Julia Glushko, who gave the Slovakian veteran all kinds of problems, including the opportunity to save four match points in the second set. This mach was kind of fun to watch, and Glushko--though she got careless at the end--showed some real fighting spirit throughout. Hantuchova won, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6. The players were on the court for 2 hours and 46 minutes, and Hantuchova got away with making 58 unforced errors.

Christina McHale served for the match against Ana Ivanovic, but it wasn't to be. Ivanovic wound up defeating her 4-6, 7-5 6-4.

(At her press conference, in reply to a question, Ivanovic mentioned that it's important to have a protein shake after a tough match. The last research, however, indicates, that--for women--ingesting protein after vigorous exercise is contra-indicated and should be avoided.)

2nd seed Victoria Azarenka had a real fight on her hands, too. Alize Cornet, the player who brings what Mary Carillo calls "French flair" to her matches, is now looking like she did several years ago, which is good news for France. The commentators were shocked that Azarenka didn't win easily, when really, Cornet is exactly the kind of player who can give someone like Azarenka trouble. (Do the commentators even watch tennis?).

Quick of foot and armed with a considerable shot repertoire, the Frenchwoman got creative instead of just standing there and hoping to outlast the 2nd seed in long baseline rallies. However, her serve--which helped her take the first set off of Azarenka--then became inconsistent. Cornet hit nine aces and double-faulted ten times, which kind of tells the story.

In the night match, Camila Giorgi of Italy defeated Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Giorgi, whose aggressive game had Wozniacki on the wrong foot more than once, lived on the edge: She hit 46 winners and made 45 unforced errors. She wasn't afraid to go for the big points, she recovered quickly from disappointment, and her forehand crosscourt was repeatedly successful. Wozniacki, on the other hand, had trouble with her second serve, made errors that she wouldn't have made a couple of years ago, and just wasn't moving the way she used to.

There are three Italian women in the round of 16, and they're all in the bottom half of the draw. Top-ranked Italian player, Sara Errani, of course, is not one of them. Flavia Pennetta defeated Errani in the second round. 10th seed Roberta Vinci defeated countrywoman Karin Knapp today, and in the next round,Vinci plays Giorgi. Why are all the Italians playing each other?!

The Williams sisters advanced to the third round of doubles competition with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears. Next for Serena and Venus are 11th seeds Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova.

Speaking of doubles, the Mladenovic watch is on: The Frenchwoman and partner Galina Voskoboeva have advanced to the third round, in which they will play 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik. In mixed doubles, Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor, the Wimbledon champions, have advanced to the quarterfinals.

U.S. Open--what they said

Who did you hit the ball to? Who was the ball girl? You were in celebration.
Oh, who did I hit the ball to? I was trying to get it to a specific group of people, and I actually didn't get it there. I heard them throughout the whole match. I thought it was so nice they were cheering for me. I don't know who they were, but they were awesome. I didn't hug a ball girl, so I'm not really sure who that was.
Alison Riske

Is it the same kind of sickness you had in Wimbledon?

I think it's the same, because I had a blood test to see if it was bacteria (or) virus and it was virus. I mean, I didn't have any sore throat or anything like that. I had just a very high fever.
Petra Kvitova

Speaking of Cincinnati, you beat Marion Bartoli in Cincinnati. It was the last match for her.
Yes, I was impressed that she retired after the match with me. It was her decision and we have to respect it.  We wish her all the best. She was a special player on tour. Was good for me, that tournament, because I played really good there. Against Stosur I played good and I won that match.  Against Serena, it was more difficult. I just took the pleasure there.
Simona Halep

I like pressure. I think pressure is something that if you want to be on top, you have to deal with. That's what makes you better. You know, you need that to be on top, to be motivated.  If you don't have any pressure, if you don't feel, you know, like you have to achieve something, it's not fun. For me, I need that.
Victoria Azarenka

Can you talk about the frustrations in Grand Slams this year?
Yeah, that's a life.  It's not only in the tennis.
Petra Kvitova
How does it feel to be in the bigger interview rooms?
Oh, it's really cool. It's really neat. It's nice that there are more than two people
Alison Riske

What was the last match you won that you would describe as a big win?
Well, it's hard to remember.  That's a scary thought.
Ana Ivanovic

Friday, August 30, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

Are you going to have a bit of a rest because of the wrist, or are you going to be able to carry on training?
Um, I would say a rest just so it settles down completely, and I will see my doctor when I get back. I have to get my wisdom teeth taken out, as well.
That will be fun.
Well, all the other girls in the locker room are telling me their horror stories. Oh, yeah I pulled my gauze out and it was just blood. So that's not too nice.
Laura Robson

Do you notice a difference in Sloane, the way she's been playing, going more for her shots?
I actually thought at Wimbledon she played a lot more aggressive. Today I thought she was hitting the ball very short, and I was too far behind the baseline to hurt somebody that moves that fast. I didn't want to come forward until late in the second set and start hitting out on my shots. I was definitely tentative. At Wimbledon, I thought she played a lot more aggressive.
Jamie Hampton

If you could do one thing different during the year between January and now, what would that be?
Wouldn't do anything differently?
Sloane Stephens

Of  all the companies that sponsor you, Nike and Mercedes and Rolex, do you have any favorite free gear that you (has) been given to you by those companies?
 I like all sponsor.
Li Na

Big Sister Na brings it at U.S. Open

So they met again in the third round of the U.S. Open--Li Na and Laura Robson. But, try as she might, this year, the Brit couldn't do major damage to the 5th seed. Li had first and second serve win percentages of 78 and 50, she had a net win percentage of 100 (9 of 9), and she hit 23 winners, with 21 unforced errors. Oh, and she also hit 11 aces.

Well, that's about as good as it gets, and what it got her was a 6-2,7-5 third round victory. Being consistent and avoiding brain freezes on the court are the major problems the Chinese star always faces; perhaps under the tutelage of Carlos Rodriguez, those problems are decreasing? Time will tell. Li's next opponent will be Jelena Jankovic, who isn't looking too shabby, either. JJ has yet to drop a set in New York. Today, she beat Karumi Nara.

Sloane Stephens had an easy straight-set victory over Jamie Hampton, and--as well as Stephens played--it needs to be pointed out that Hampton seemed to not even be there for much of the match.

Ekaterina Makarova advanced to the round of 16 for the first time with a win over Sabine Lisicki, Angelique Kerber beat Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 6-4, Agnieszka Radwanska took out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Carla Suarez Navarro beat Zheng Jie.

Defending champions and top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci advanced to the second round with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Daniela Hantuchova and Martina Hingis. Here's hoping that some doubles success will boost Errani's failing morale.

In the all-USA doubles match, Melanie Oudin and Alison Riske beat Lauren Davis and Grace Min, and 8th seeds Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua advanced to the third round.

Will someone please tell Brad Gilbert that the word is "frustrated"? During every major, hearing him mispronounce it makes me so--well, you know. That's alls I can say.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

Did you hear the marriage proposal?
No, I didn't.
Does it surprise you around here?
Some of the fans say some crazy things.
Christina McHale

Did you arrive at this tournament feeling good about yourself or were you having some doubts when you got here?
No, I think is some weeks that I'm feeling too much pressure. I don't know why, but I'm not enjoying going on the courts, and that is the worst thing a player can have. Because if you go there and you fight and you lose, not my problem. I always try to. But the problem is if you go there and you are not fighting, that is my best thing that I always had as my good thing. And I have to find a way. I hope to find it.
Sara Errani

Do people recognize you in the checkout line at Whole Foods?
Yeah, sometimes. Yesterday I had a big 'fro. When I took out my braids, it was like that. I don't think anybody would. I couldn't recognize myself.
Victoria Azarenka

Pam Shriver: It makes everyone at home feel better--the best player in the world (making a big mishit)--
Let's put it this way--it makes Suarez Navarro feel better that she didn't get her head knocked off.
Chris Evert

WTA 40 LOV# Story, Episode 1

Errani upset by Pennetta at U.S. Open

Little was said about the all-Italian match held today in Flushing Meadows, but nevertheless, the 4th seed, Sara Errani, was taken out of the event by countrywoman Flavia Pennetta, who defeated her 6-3, 6-1. Errani has been trailing off lately, and is experiencing a kind of burnout, while Pennetta has struggled to come back from various injuries. The Pennetta of old showed up today, however, and displayed the kind of tennis that has made her so wonderful to watch for so long.

Eugenie Bouchard took a set off of Angelique Kerber, but Kerber prevailed in what was a pretty entertaining match. Christina McHale won a three-setter against Elina Svitolina (who upset Dominika Cibulkova in the opening round). McHale won 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, and it took her two hours and 47 minutes. There was a lot of drama. Between them, the players hit 61 winners and made 104 unforced errors.

Vicky Duval was expertly defeated by Daniela Hantuchova before the press and the public had a chance to Oudin her into a life of talk shows and ridiculous expectations. Serena Williams and Victoria Azareanka won in straight sets, though the 2nd seed had a bit of a fight on her hands from Aleksandria Wozniak in the first set. Kurumi Nari won her first-ever match in the main draw of a major, and she did it in style: She took out 19th seed Sorana Cirstea.

2004 champion Svetalana Kuznetsova advanced to the third round, as did Jelena Jankovic and Petra Kvitova. And Simona Halep is still around, too. Her next opponent is Maria Kirilenko, and that's a must-see match for me. (Of course--don't you know?--my ISP's connection with the Watch ESPN app broke this evening, but I'm told the company is working on the problem as I write this.)

Serena and Venus Williams won their opening doubles match. They beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-7, 6-0, 6-3. It's an odd scoreline, I know. The match was pretty interesting, especially with Soler-Espinosa lurking at the net almost breathing down the Williams sisters' necks. The Spaniards had the right idea, but they couldn't quite pull it off.

Tomorrow, Li Na plays Laura Robson (third round, just like last year). Unfortunately, I won't be able to watch much of that one, but I hope to catch a replay. Also tomorrow, Sloane Stephens plays Jamie Hampton. And top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci (Vinci is still alive singles) start their U.S. Open title defense with a match against Daniela Hantuchova and Martina Hingis.

Sloane Stephens advances to third round of U.S. Open

After hours of rain delays, Sloane Stephens and Urszula Radwanska took to the court at the U.S. Open last night. It was close to midnight, and Stephens was facing the player who had beaten her in straight sets earlier in the year. No worries. In a masterful display of the kind of tennis that is "expected" from her, Stephens blew Radwanska off the court, defeating her 6-1, 6-1 in 58 minutes. Stephens' serving was spot-on, and she was great at the net.

But one has to wonder: Is this the Sloane Stephens who will show up for the third round, or will the brooding, error-prone Sloane Stephens show up to when she faces dangerous countrywoman Jamie Hampton? Also, will Stephens learn how to bring her "best" tennis to events that are not filled with high stakes and fanfare?

Sloane Stephens is filled with potential, and she seems to be edging closer to fulfilling it. But there really are two Sloanes, and they are still in conflict with one another.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

U.S. Open--what they said

If I knew why, I would change it. But I have no idea. I tried my best, and I didn’t win again.
Klara Zakopalova, commenting on her tenth consecutive U.S. Open first round loss

I think she made a lot of mistakes in the first set, which helped quite a lot.
Laura Robson, on her 2012 victory over Li Na

Seems the shoulder is bothering you on and on. Is it something you can get rid of at some point?
Actually it's much better. Of course sometimes it's worse when I play a lot of matches and sometimes really heavy balls, but so far it's good. So we just have couple of tournaments left, so the shoulder is doing really good.
Agnieszka Radwanska

I was feeling coach for me not only is about tennis coaching. He teach me a lot like off of the court, as well. So, yeah, is not only about what I should do on the court. You know, he tell me a lot experience about especially in press conference....
Li Na

Venus Williams out of U.S. Open

Zheng Jie, the WTA's answer to the Energizer Bunny, advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open tonight when she defeated two-time U.S. Open champion Venus Williams 6-3, 2-6, 7-6. The match lasted just a bit over three hours; the third set lasted an hour and a half. The first set was a showcase of Zheng's game, and the second belonged to Williams. The final set, however, was an all-out battle, with both women utilizing their strengths in long, sometimes breathtaking, rallies. In the end, though, Williams' 44 unforced errors did her in.

There was a lot of rain today, and some of it--in sprinkle form--fell during the Williams-Zheng match. Serena Williams' night match had to be postponed until tomorrow.

Also advancing today were Li Na, Agnieszka Radwanska, Carla Suarez Navarro, Laura Robson, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. An especially interesting result of today's play is that Li and Robson will meet in the third round. Last year, they played in the third round, and Robson upset Li 6-4, 6-7, 6-2. This occurred, of course, after Robson knocked Kim Clijsters out in the second round.

Klara Zakopalova, the 31st seed, lost in straight sets to Hsieh Su-Wei. It was Zakopalova's tenth consecutive loss in the first round of the U.S. Open.

Also today, Tennis Channel viewers were treated to an in-depth interview with the great Monica Seles. Doubles play began, and 3rd seeds Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik advanced to the second round.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sweeping the court

The USTA has extended its Green Initiative at the U.S. Open. 

Casey Dellacqua is a new mom. Her baby, Blake Benjamin, is three weeks old.

Clever headlines are everywhere, I know, but ESPN's headline about Vicky Duval, Victoria No Longer A Secret, did make me smile.
When Tennis Channel began live streaming last year through its app, all you had to do was log in with your Tennis Channel info and you could watch, but now you have to go through your ISP. Unfortunately, my ISP has not joined this online partnership. The same thing happened a few years ago with ESPN3, but when that change was made (from using an ESPN login to using an ISP login), I had better luck; my ISP had signed on. Tennis Channel is working on getting more of its ISPs to participate.

Well, if I needed a Destroyer to shoot flames, I'd choose Serena. Even without the gun.

Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Alexander Peya are the top seeds in mixed doubles competition at the U.S. Open. Sloane Stephens is playing mixed with Jack Sock, Melanie Oudin's former partner (they won the Open in 2011).

U.S. Open--what they said

I like the Wimbledon, which is very calm, and here it's like more crowd and had big show.  I like big matches on the big stadium, too, but, I mean, the people, it's too much crowdy for myself, I think.
Petra Kvitova
I know she didn't play her best today, and I played the best I've played in my career.
Victoria Duval

There are things you can do better, always, but I felt like I gave everything.
Victoria Azarenka, on her 2012 U.S. Open loss to Serena Williams

You know, I feel like credit to her. I'm not going to be a sore loser and say she didn't do anything. But, you know, I think I certainly helped her out there today, that's for sure.
Sam Stosur

First of all, you can call me "Vika." "Victoria Azarenka" sounds so professional....
You can call me Pamela Howard Shriver.

Let the bleeding begin

I thought that today's top U.S. Open story was going to be the upset of Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova by Elina Svitolina. Cibulkova, the 17th seed, lost in straight sets. And while "17th seed" may not sound like such a very big deal, Cibulkova is an especially fine hard court competitor, as evidenced by the Stanford victory.

Victoria Duval (photo by Daniel Ward)
But what do I know? The real news was to come later, when that silly ball of energy otherwise known as Vicky Duval sent 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur out of the tournament. What was interesting about this match wasn't that Stosur lost her confidence--that happens more than it should--but that Duval hung in after serving for the first set and losing it 4-6. These days, a 17-year-old who gets that kind of chance and doesn't take advantage of it is usually a teenager who is lucky to win one game in the second set.

Not Duval. She won the second set 7-5, and won the third set 6-4 after failing to convert a few match points. She just hung in there. We saw some lovely volleys from the 17-year-old, who looked considerably fitter than she did this time last year. She played very smart tennis tonight, and followed through with her knowledge that the 11th seed was vulnerable. Next up for qualifier Duval is Daniela Hantuchova.

Stosur is currently without a coach, though Alicia Molik was helping her out in New York. I suspect it may be a while before the Australian star chooses a coach; she's not the type to make an impulsive decision.

Olivia Rogowska turned out to be not such a lucky loser, after all. She was unable to take one game off of Sara Errani. And 2nd seed Victoria Azarenka decided to go Serena Williams one better; she won a 6-0, 6-0 match against Dinah Pfizenmaier.

Petra Kvitova needed (the standard) three sets to beat Misaki Doi. Varvara Lepchenko and Alexandra Dulgheru battled for almost three hours, with Dulgheru emerging the victor, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6. Annika Beck won only two games against Elena Vesnina, Oh-Nadia Petrova lost to qualifier Julia Glushko, and New Haven champion Simona Halep prevailed over Heather Watson.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Williams and Williams have great starts in New York

The Williams sisters, looking ready for New York, both advanced in the opening day of the U.S. Open. Venus, whose hair--yet again--was fabulous, beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-2. Serena went her one better, defeating Francesca Schiavone 6-0, 6-1. Following that night match, the younger Williams sister appeared (in a sharp Nike blazer) on the set of ESPN and chatted for quite a long while with commentators.

There were no surprises today, and that includes the fact that Sloane Stephens had to fight like crazy to pull out a three-set win over Mandy Minella, who has become somewhat more threatening lately. Stephens might think twice before permanently adopting this Thrill Ride (and I do miss her, by the way) style of tennis (also makes me think of Kvitova), in which she grabs the victory at the last moment. But she did advance to the second round, beating an obviously crushed Minella (who was up a mini-break in the third set tiebreak) 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. Stephens' next opponent will be Urszula Radwanska.

Besides the Williams sisters and Stephens, other USA players who won their first round matches were Jamie Hampton, Coco Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Ayumi Morita withdrew from the tournament because of a back injury, and Olivia Rogowska became the lucky loser.

Alyssa Kleybanova had her first win at a major since the 2011 Australian Open. The Russian player, who had to leave the tour for a while because of illness, defeated Monica Puig.

The U.S. Postal Service has issued an Althea Gibson commemorative stamp, which became available to postal customers on Friday. Gibson won the U.S. Championships (the precursor to the U.S. Open) twice.

U.S. Open--what they said

Did your grandfather have any influence on your tennis or anything?
Yes, he used to play tennis, as well. He was a hockey player and a hockey coach. He was really a sports guy. He was working in sports school until he was 79, so pretty, pretty late. He was very fit and skiing as well, playing tennis, everything. So, yeah.
Agnieszka Radwanska

Is it fair to say that puts extra pressure?  You're in a profession that is a lot of pressure, you know, aside from that, but you have added pressure as a result, do you think?
I think before two or three years ago I cannot hung in there because I was feeling maybe I was crash because of the pressure. But now if you student of life, I have to learn every day. So this couple years I think I was stronger a little bit. Not too much. But still learn every day to, how do you say, like the pressure, like the way. I was feeling pressure can push me go forward.
Li Na

How is the wrist feeling?
It's fine.
Any pain at all?  Anything during the match?
I don't want to say because you're going to run with that. Yeah, I'm happy
with how it is.
Laura Robson

I wake up every morning pain-free.
Serena Williams
Where do you see the state of your game right now?  How are you feeling?
Um, I try not to think about the state. I try to think about how I'm going to execute each point on the court. There can be times you play amazing in practice or in the round before and not play well the next round. I try more than anything to get the best out of myself in that game and that point. That's kind of what I'm looking at, and of course trying to get better each round.  But, you know, that's it.
Venus Williams

I'm surprised she didn't give him the racket.
Chris Evert, after Francesca Schiavone, down 0-6, 0-2, hugged a ballboy

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is another Williams-Azarenka final on the New York horizon?

Two buildings tower at the edge of Central Park
The chances of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka meeting again in the U.S. Open final are very, very good. In last year's excellent final, Williams came back from being a break down in the third set to beat Azarenka, who served for the match, but could not close it. Since then, Azarenka has prevailed over Williams in three sets in both Doha and Cincinnati. Also, the world number 2's ordeal in Melbourne pretty much showed the tennis world what a truly tough character she can be when everything is falling apart around her.

An argument can be made, in fact, that Azarenka's tribulations at the Australian Open were somewhat of a blessing in disguise. In the words of another fiery woman with a big voice:

Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter

Azarenka's challenge in such a New York final, of course, would be that the very personification of "fighter," Serena Williams, would be on the other side of the net. For tennis fans, however, seeing Williams and Azarenka in another big final would be quite an exciting event.

Of course, it's entirely possible, in the world of WTA upsets, that both players (or neither of them, for that matter) will reach the final. Having seeds 1 and 2 face off in the end is the way it "should" come out, but we all know that anything can happen. The known impediments to a "perfect" ending are 1. Williams' tendency to get caught up in unfortunate drama at the U.S. Open, 2. Azarenka's tendency to fall down and have to exit a tournament, and 3. a straight-up defeat by an opponent earlier in the draw.

Williams couldn't have asked for a better draw. Her sister is in her quarter, but Venus's health has, sadly, made her a tired singles competitor who will have enough to do to contend with in her first round match against Kirsten Flipkens. There are a couple of big hitters--Yaroslava Shvedova and Lucie Hradecka--in that quarter, but they certainly don't appear to pose a real threat to the top seed. Angelique Kerber is in Williams' quarter, too, but these days, Kerber struggles in almost every match.

Of note, however, are two of Williams' countrywomen, who are also in her part of the draw. Both 23rd seed Jamie Hampton and 15th seed Sloane Stephens can cause trouble. Stephens is so erratic--and given their history--I don't see her getting past Serena, should the occasion arise. Hampton, however, who could meet Stephens in the third round, is a new WTA danger, provided her chronic back injury doesn't give her problems.

In the first round, Williams will face 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.

Azarenka's quarter is spicier, and includes Petra Kvitova, Nadia Petrova, 2011 U.S. Open champion (and Carlsbad champion) Sam Stosur, 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic, Varvara Lepchenko, and Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova. Daniela Hantuchova is in that quarter, too, and--while her singles career seems to be winding down--there's always that "good day" scare when it comes to the smooth-striking Slovak. The same can be said for Nadia Petrova--she is never to be taken for granted.

As for Kvitova--last year's U.S. Open Series winner failed to defend either of her Series titles this year, though she had moments of "real Petra" glory. She was going for her asthma inhaler during the final in New Haven, and her respiratory system and North American humidity clearly do not get along. Beyond that issue, however, is the issue of Kvitova's apparent crumbling as a top player, and it pains me to write about it. But--out of respect for Petra, and also bearing in mind that a breakthrough could always occur--I have to include her on the list of dangerous players in Azarenka's quarter.

Stosur has split with her long-time coach, David Taylor, but I'm not sure that's going to be a problem for her. The Australian star is respectful and thoughtful, but her comments about the split made it clear that the break needed to occur, even at a "bad" time. Stosur's biggest problem is always herself (not unlike Kvitova), but she has won the U.S. Open before--and not that long ago--and that's a rather large factor in her favor.

Azarenka's first round opponent is Dinah Pfizenmaier.

Detail--Jekyll and Hyde Club, New York City

Then there's the Radwanska quarter, which is pretty much the Quarter from Hell. Radwanska hasn't had such a great time of it in this hard court season, and to make matters worse, she has to contend with the likes of Jelena Jankovic, Laura Robson and Li Na. Jankovic is kind of looking like herself lately, and my gut feeling is that she can go pretty deep into this tournament. Li, of course, is Li. She could be upset early in the event (Robson took her out last year, and they could meet in the third round this year), or she could win the U.S. Open. I don't think that the latter alternative is that likely to happen, but if the Chinese star can get her head on straight, she can win just about anything short of Wimbledon.

There are some other pesky opponents in this quarter, too. Ekaterina Makarova, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Sabine Lisicki, Monica Puig, Madison Keys, and Sorana Cirstea are all there. 

Radwanska's first opponent will be Silvia Soler-Espinosa.

Finally, there's the Errani quarter. 4th seed Sara Errani comes into the U.S. Open in the midst of a disappointing season. She was on fire for a long time, but the flames have been repeatedly put out by opponents. Still, the Italian likes a hard court, and she's a big fighter.

Errani's quarter includes Caroline Wozniacki, Klara Zakopalova, Elena Vesnina, Roberta Vinci, Maria Kirilenko, New Haven champion Simona Halep, 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, and Flavia Pennetta. Pennetta has been so up and down recently because of injury, but if she's healthy, she's a fine hard court competitor. It's Halep, however, who can cause a lot of damage--if her long New Haven run doesn't tweak her recent back injury, and let's hope it doesn't. These days, a healthy Halep who is serving well is a Simona to be feared.

In the meantime, Wozniacki--who once reached the final of the U. S. Open--is showing a bit more flare than she has in a while, and both Vinci and Kirilenko can be deadly on hard courts.

In Errani's first match, she will play Ayumi Morita.

The U.S. Open begins tomorrow. Three women from the USA--Grace Min, Victoria Duval and Coco Vandeweghe--made it through qualifying.

First round matches of interest:

Karolina Pliskova vs. Eugenie Bouchard: Two rising stars face each other right away.

Virginie Razzano vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: On paper, this is the Russian's match, but it seems that the Russian doesn't always look at the paper.

Vera Dushevina vs. Sabine Lisicki: Lisicki will have to be at her sharpest.

Jelena Jankovic vs. Madison Keys: The young star in the making will try to serve JJ off of the court.

Elena Vesnina vs. Anika Beck: This isn't the easiest way for Vesnina to start her U.S. Open campaign.

Heather Watson vs. Simona Halep: What did Watson ever do to the tennis gods to give her the first round from hell at almost every major tournament?

Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Mallory Burdette: Burdette could cause problems for the former champion.

Julia Goerges vs. Christina McHale: Either will be lucky to get to the second round. Fortunately, one of them has to do so.

Elina Svitolina vs. Dominika Cibulkova: Cibulkova will have to bring her Stanford self to her first-round match.

U.S. Open champion predictions

Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Peter Bodo--Serena Williams
Steve Tignor--Victoria Azarenka
Brad Gilbert--Serena Williams
Patrick McEnroe--Serena Williams
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Ed McGrogan--Serena Williams
*Todd Spiker--Victoria Azarenka
Greg Garber--Serena Williams
Howard Bryant--Victoria Azarenka
Mary Joe Fernandez--Serena Williams
Matt Wilansky--Serena Williams
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Kamakshi Tandon--Victoria Azarenka
Richard Pagliaro--Serena Williams

*caRL piCk2--Serena Williams
see other cave family selections here

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Simon(a) says: Put your hands up high!

It was only a matter of time before Simona Halep won a premier WTA event. The Romanians are a talented lot, but it's Halep who has learned how to see the big picture and make the adjustments necessary to prevail. Today, she beat defending champion Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-2 to win the New Haven Open, her fourth title of the season.

Today's final illustrated a sharp contrast: One player showed up to win, the other looked lost. And though Kvitova looked like "herself" at the beginning of the match, the unforced errors began to creep in, and Halep was quick to sense the vulnerability of her opponent. Known for her superb baseline game, Halep also is a good reader of the court, a clever defensive player, and--on a day like today--a very good server. In fact, she had crazy first/second serve percentages of 78 and 81.

Keeping her cool throughout most of the tournament (and recovering it quickly when she lost it), the unseeded Halep took out Daniela Hantuchova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Ekaterina Makarova, and Caroline Wozniacki on her way to the New Haven final. Next week, the Romanian player will be number 19 in the world. Halep had to withdraw from a couple of events because of a back injury, but she appears to be okay now. During the latter part of the week, she declared that everything--her body, her racket, the tennis balls--felt good.

3rd seeds Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie won the doubles title. Mirza and Zheng defeated 2nd seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Katarina Srebotnik 6-3, 6-4 in the final.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A must-read about Li Na

Brook Larmer, writing for The New York Times Magazine, has put together a thorough, very insightful and highly entertaining portrait of Li Na. Needless to say, much of it is hilarious because Li is constantly quoted. But there's a lot more. Of special interest is the understanding that coach Carlos Rodriguez has of how Li's self-esteem was affected many years ago by the Chinese government, and how her experiences in the government-controlled system still hold sway over her.

Petra vs. Simona--how can this not be a good final?

New Haven defending champion Petra Kvitova swatted away her semifinal opponent, Klara Zakapalova, in just over 50 minutes today; Zakapalova won only one game. Kakapalova, by the way, is a good player, and capable of doing many things. But Kvitova was, shall we say, "herself" in this match, and--as a reader has pointed out--once again, during such a fine display of the Czech number 1's game, Kvitova's coach is absent. That's when she does best, it seems--when he isn't around.

Kvitova's opponent in the final will be Simona Halep, which means tomorrow's match could be a shotmaker's dream come true. Halep has finally come into her own. This is her fourth final of the season; she won the other three. Both players are a joy to watch when they're playing well, so tomorrow's contest should be a very good one.

Halep beat four-time New Haven champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5 in tonight's semifinal. The Romanian player had some problems with negativity toward herself during the second set, but she overcame them, and was just too good for Wozniacki.

2nd seeds Anabel Medina Garrigues and Katarina Srebotnik reached the doubles final tonight when they defeated 4th seeds Liezel Huber and Nuria Llagostera Vives 4-6, 7-5, 10-1. Yesterday, 3rd seeds Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie reached the final when they defeated Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-3. Mirza, in my opinion, has the fiercest forehand on the tour, and indeed, one of the mightiest forehands I've ever seen in women's tennis. But executing that forehand did so much damage to her wrist that she has had to stick with doubles only.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Quote of the day

"...My life is some comfortable at home and you have that comfort zone. Why would you want to suffer and put yourself into pain even in those moments when you think this is great?”
Martina Hingis, after losing her first round doubles match in New Haven

Wozniacki shines in New Haven

Four-time New Haven champion Caroline Wozniacki showed her winning ways tonight when she defeated Sloane Stephens 7-6. 6-2 in the quarterfinals. Wozniacki played aggressively against Stephens, and the first set was close and quite entertaining. Then the Dane pulled away and dominated her opponent with first-rate serving. Stephens has a tendency to fade in and out quickly, and doing so cost her against the 4th seed.

Wozniacki's opponent in the semifinals will be Simona Halep, who just keeps popping up everywhere at the business end of draws. Halep defeated Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 7-6. The other semifinal will be an all-Czech affair--Petra Kvitova vs. Klara Zakapalova. Kvitova, the defending champion, needed--all together now!--three sets to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Zakapalova lost her first set to Elena Vesnina, who then proceeded to win no games at all in the second set and to go down 2-5 in the third. The Russian broke, and was just shy of taking the set to 5-all, but Zakapalova walked away with a 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 victory.

My favorite commentator remark about the match: "Piotr Wozniacki--always composed."

While the quarterfinalists were fighting it out in New Haven, a trio composed of Stacey Allaster, Billie Jean King and Victoria Azarenka went to the top of the Empire State Building to throw the switch on a pink and purpose light that shines over New York City and commemorates the 40th anniversary of the founding of the WTA.

Earlier today, Allaster accompanied Bethanie Mattek-Sands to the New York Stock Exchange, where Mattek-Sands rang the opening bell.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sharapova withdraws from U.S. Open

Within the span of just a few days, we learned (though I still don't believe this) that Maria Sharapova had considered temporarily changing her name to "Sugarpova" for the U.S. Open, and--now--that she has withdrawn from the event because of shoulder bursitis.

Sharapova hasn't had an easy time of it lately. She injured her hip during Wimbledon, and has played only one match (she lost it, then fired brand new coach Jimmy Connors) since then. Now this.

Agnieszka Radwanska is now the U.S. Open 3rd seed, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is now seed number 32.

Quote of the day

"Every year the Open keeps pushing the limits as an innovated and player-friendly tournament. Exhibit A: I got a massage in my player car last year. Beat that, Brookstone."
Irina Falconi

(Note to U.S. viewers: The CBS Sports Network is doing all-day broadcasting of U.S. Open qualifying play (thanks to Todd for letting me know this), so there's a good chance you can watch Falconi. Top qualifying seed Shahar Peer is already out, as is Melanie Oudin.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sweeping the court

Mayo Hibi won the women's U.S. Open National Playoffs, and has been awarded a wild card into U.S. Open qualifying. 17-year-old Hibi, who represents Japan, lives in Irvine, California. She is ranked number 262 in the world. is covering the U.S. Open qualifying rounds. You can listen here.

There have already been several retirements in New Haven. Virginia Razzano, Monica Niculescu, Heather Watson, Polona Herzog, Flavia Pennetta, Sofia Arvidsson, and Yaroslava Shvedova all retired during qualifying. Peng Shuai, Sorana Cirstea and Ayumi Morita retired during the first round.

Coco Vandeweghe and Christina McHale are changing their coaching situations. Recently, television commentators were talking about Vandeweghe and said that she wanted to play basketball but that her mother rather strongly persuaded her to choose tennis because it is "a better sport for women." Chris Evert then remarked that perhaps Vandeweghe should play some WTT tennis since she likes team sports. Maybe. But I'm thinking--perhaps she should just play basketball?

Ah, and it wasn't that long ago that Maria Sharapova told Novak Djokovic, "I don't stick my ass out anymore."

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Do we finally have a rivalry?

Unlike most fans, I don't need a big rivalry to enjoy tennis. I'm not sure why--I certainly enjoyed the Evert-Navratilova rivalry--but after that, rivalries ceased to matter to me. But for most fans, I think they do matter, and maybe--just maybe--a real one is finally brewing between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka beat Williams 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 today to win the Cincinnati final, and the match was a total crowd-pleaser.

Azarenka was broken toward the end of the final set, but broke back when Williams served for the match; not many players can pull that off. There were a few "deciding moments" in the third set tiebreak: An inexplicabe unforced error from Williams, a double fault from Williams, and a "she didn't just do that!" volley from Azarenka. Azarenka is to be credited for her mental strength in this contest, and she looks really good going into the U.S. Open.

As for Serena, she won the U.S. Open Series when she defeated Li Na in the semifinals, which makes her the first WTA player to win the series twice. The world number 1 also won it in 2011.

The semifinal matches weren't pretty. None of the four players could serve very well, but Williams gets a pass for playing through some type of abdominal injury, and therefore not being able to serve "Serena style." Li's problem was, shall we say, not abdominal. In the other semifinal, Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic broke each other 23 times.

Wimbledon champions Hshieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai won the Cincinnati doubles title. They defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke 2-6, 6-3, 12-10. Hsieh and Peng were seeded 3rd.

The less-than-elegant semifinals had the ESPN commentators talking even more than usual. At one point, Pam Shriver mentioned Justine Henin, and described Henin as being high-strung, but "she hid it well." Yes--if you were wearing a blindfold and earplugs for a about a decade. Sometimes I just have to shake my head and wonder.

Qualifying in New Haven was under way this weekend, and first round main draw play began today. Sabine Lisicki defeated Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-1.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sweeping the Court

Agnieszka Radwanska withdrew from the Cincinnati quarterfinals today so that she could attend her grandfather's funeral. Li Na received a walkover.

Here's what top WTA and ATP players had to say about Marion Bartoli's retirement.

Maria Sharapova has fired new coach Jimmy Connors. Who is surprised?

More significant, Sam Stosur and David Taylor have called it quits. Many thought that the two friends would remain in their coach-player relationship for the extent of Stosur's career. The Australian star says she will start looking for a new coach after the U.S. Open.

Sharapova has decided against taking a wild card into the New Haven tournament.

Marion Bartoli makes a final visit to the gym as only she could.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vinci beats Errani in Cincinnati

It's never fun for best friends and doubles partners Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci to play one another. They did so today in Cincinnati, and Vinci beat Errani.

Also in today's third round, Jelena Jankovic defeated Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki defeated Petra Kvitova, and the unseeded Simona Halep (who, yesterday, beat Marion Bartoli in her last match as a professional tennis player) upset Sam Stosur.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Serena Williams (1) vs. Simona Halep
Agnieszka Radwanska (4) vs. Li Na (5)
Roberta Vinci (12) vs. Jelena Jankovic (14)
Caroline Wozniacki (10) vs. Victoria Azarenka (2)

In their quarterfinal match against Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, top seeds Errani and Vinci led 5-1 in the super-tiebreak. The next time I checked the score, however, Goerges and Zahlavova Strycova had a match point, and they converted it, winning the tiebreak 11-9.

Au revoir, Marion--the tour will never be the same

2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli retired from professional tennis yesterday, citing chronic injury as the reason. "...I can't do it anymore," the Frenchwoman said of having to play through so much physical pain. She made her totally unexpected announcement at a press conference in Cincinnati, where she had just lost her second round match to Simona Halep.

Speaking of her Wimbledon championship, Bartoli said "That was probably the last bit of something that was left inside me."

"I have pain everywhere after 45 minutes or an hour of play," she said. "I've been doing this for so long. And yeah, it's just body-wise, I can't do it anymore."

Bartoli's whole career has been plagued by injury and also by illness. Recently, she has had to contend with multiple foot injuries, as well as an injured hamstring. She said that every part of her body hurt on the courts in Cincinnati.

In a world of tall, slim, braided blonde players, Bartoli--who has dark hair and dark eyes, and whose weight has fluctuated over the years--always stood out. While other players were being judged for screaming on the court, Marion Bartoli was yelling "Bam!" every time she struck the ball. While her peers were in the gym, Bartoli was strapping cables to her wrists and ankles, or letting her father, Walter, attach tennis balls to her arches. So unusual were Walter Bartoli's training methods, he was sometimes called the Mad Scientist of Tennis.

When she was young, Bartoli's father had her play in a court surrounded by a wall. If young Marion backed up too much, she would hit that wall, so she learned to receive serve while standing inside the baseline. As a result, she was generally considered to be the best returner of serve on the tour. Bartoli was different, too, in that she hit two-handed on both sides, employing a slightly longer racquet in order to get more reach.

And while the adjective most often associated with Marion Bartoli is "eccentric," the noun most often associated with her is "fighter." Bartoli fought through everything--pain, illness, marathon matches, and a tennis culture that never quite accepted her. She refused to play on the French Fed Cup team because she was not permitted to bring Walter along as her coach. As a result, she was barred from playing in the last Olympic Games, a consequence that stung, but not enough for the Frenchwoman to back down on her demand. (When Amelie Mauresmo became the French Fed Cup captain, one of the first things she did was to end the years-long feud between France and the Bartoli camp.)

Bartoli suffered a major injury at the 2011 Australian Open, and later talked about that experience:

"I couldn't go up and down, and I have a four-level house, only stairs, and I couldn't go down the stairs. So I had to stay in one level and stay there for two weeks laying on the couch, couldn't do anything. And it was during the Australian Open, so every time I was switching on the TV, which was the Australian Open, so I was keeping switching off because I just couldn't look at the matches.

"And I remember I felt so sad, and mentally it was so tough for me that when I had the chance to step back on the court, I didn't want to leave. It makes me so much stronger, and sometimes when I go through some rough patches during the matches, I just keep remember those hard times, and it helps me to just keeping going, keeping going...."

One of Bartoli's ongoing fights was her effort to overcome the pressure of playing in the French Open, a task which had also been very difficult for Mauresmo. Bartoli tended not to do too well in Paris, but in 2011, she decided to embrace the French Crowd instead of being frightened by the pressure. As a result, she reached the semifinals. She then lost to 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, but she had banished a personal demon.

Watching Marion Bartoli play tennis was an experience in itself. Her service motion, which she changed frequently, often involved an excessive number of moving parts, making her look like a French windmill. She was never still. Bartoli jumped up and down, did knee bends and took numerous dramatic shadow swings throughout the course of a match. Her fist-pumping was in a class of intensity all by itself, and her Death Glare is something I would never want directed at me (it was usually directed at her box). She could yell with the best of them, too.

As a match intensified, so, too, would Bartoli. Her 2012 U.S. Open victory over Petra Kvitova reached such operatic proportions that tennis writer Steve Tignor suggested that Bartoli's next opponent retain the services of an exorcist. The only person who was ever able to bring down Bartoli's intensity was Amelie Mauresmo, who accompanied her countrywoman to Wimbledon this year, and taught her how to lighten up a bit.

Though many of us had followed Bartoli's career for years, Marion didn't become a "tennis household" name until 2007, when she reached the final at Wimbledon. There were numerous rain delays at the tournament, and they always seemed to occur in the middle of one of Bartoli's matches. Bartoli would take a nap, and when the rain had stopped, someone would wake her up, and she would go back onto the court and destroy her opponent.

The Frenchwoman reached her post-nap peak when she took out world number 1 Justine Henin in the semifinals. Afterwards, she remarked that, during the match, she had looked up into the stands and seen Pierce Brosnan, and that she knew she had to keep fighting--she couldn't let James Bond down.

This year at Wimbledon, there was more rain, and once again, Bartoli did some power sleeping at the tournament. By the time she reached the All England Club, she had also improved her forward movement, and she had tamed her inconsistent serve, turning it into a reliable weapon. She won the final in straight sets, beating crowd favorite Sabine Lisicki, and thereby attaining the dream she had nurtured since she was six years old. Her Tennis Channel post-match interview is candid and heartfelt.

It can't be emphasized enough how different Bartoli is off the court from the crazed warrior persona she presented on the court. Charming and intelligent, Marion really does have a twinkle in her eye most of the time, and her sense of humor is delightful. I'm not sure there is another player on the tour who has consistently exhibited so much candor with the press and the public. It just never seemed to bother Bartoli to talk about her feelings, even if they were very uncomfortable.

To relax, Bartoli paints landscapes. In her recent Cincinnati All Access Hour interview, she revealed that she also has a passion for shoes and apparently owns over a hundred (she wouldn't say how many "over") pairs. She said that she shops only after a victory, but then she turns into a serious shopper.

Bartoli, the former French number 1 player,  is retiring at the age of 28. Her professional career spanned 13 years, and she won eight WTA singles titles and three doubles titles. Her highest ranking was number 7 in the world, which she achieved in January of 2012. 

Several years ago, the WTA had a promotional campaign called "Are You Looking For a Hero?" The Marion Bartoli fansite administrators cracked me up when they launched a "Looking For a (Cult) Hero?" page for Marion. It was perfect. "…It's always been a part of my personality to be different, Bartoli said after she won Wimbledon. "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 was a strong breath of fresh air on the tour. She gave us drama, she gave us candor, she gave us a fighting spirit to rival any other. I'm really going to miss her. Her "antics" sometimes created controversy, but for me, she always represented a kind of authenticity that has become rare.

It's now time for Marion to relax, paint landscapes and create more opportunities to wear all those shoes in her closet. It will be interesting to see where her life goes now that she has stopped playing professional tennis. Whatever she does, though, she'll do it her own way, and not pay any mind to what others might think about it. And if her tennis career is any indicator of things to come, she'll also have the last laugh; the words "Wimbledon champion" will always appear next to her name.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Period of adjustment

Serena Williams struggled against qualifier Eugenie Bouchard today in the first set of her 2nd round Cinccinnati match, but she did advance to the next round. Yesterday, Maria Sharapova struggled against Sloane Stephens, and it was Stephens who advanced, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3. Mona "now you see her, now you don't" Barthel took out both Lucie Safarova and Maria Kirilenko.

Elena Vesnina has beaten both Kirsten Flipkens and Venus Williams in Cincinnati, and Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova made a first round exit courtesy of qualifier Polona Hercog. The courts are playing pretty slow, giving clay court players a bit of comfort.

In doubles, the team of Daniela Hantuchova and Martina Hingis lost in the second round to top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.

Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli lost her 2nd round match to Simona Halep, 2012 Cincinnati champion Li Na faces Lauren Davis tonight.

Sweeping the court

The following players have been granted wild cards into the main draw of the U.S. Open: Sachia Vickery, Nicole Gibbs, Vania King, Alison Riske, Shelby Rogers, Maria Sanchez, Ashleigh Barty, Pauline Parmentier.

You can get to know Nicole Gibbs.
The USTA has announced plans to build a retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Just in case you missed this--here's Aga.

Here's a look at some Addidas U.S. Open apparel.

'Pova is on the cover of the September issue of Shape.

Andrea Petkovic is moving out of her parents' house and will live with her sister.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Williams wins Rogers Cup

Inukshuk in CN Tower garden, Toronto
Top seed Serena Williams handily won the 2013 Rogers Cup today when she defeated Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-0 in just over an hour. This was Williams' third Rogers Cup victory. Cirstea, however, had a memorable run, taking out four seeded players--Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova, and Li Na.

Jelena Jankovic and Katarina Srebotnik won the doubles title. Jankovic and Srebotnik defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke 5-7, 6-2, 10-6. Three of those players--Srebotnik, Groenefeld and Peschke are veteran doubles specialists. Srebotnik had an excellent singles career until an injury forced her to play doubles only.

In Cincinnati, the only player from the USA to come out of qualifying is Vania King. Alison Riske lost in the second round, and the others--Melanie Oudin, Christina McHale, Nicole Gibbs, Maria Sanchez, Shelby Rogers--went out in the first round. Top qualifying seed Urszula Radwanska also went out in the first round.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Serena vs. Sorana in Rogers Cup final

Sick with a gastrointestinal disorder, top seed Serena Williams fought her way to the Rogers Cup final today by beating Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6, 6-4 in the semifinals. Williams was obviously not feeling too well, but feeling bad sometimes makes her fight even harder. In a strange way, it was even an entertaining match. The highlight occurred in the second set, when Radwanska appeared to make the shot of the match (if not the tournament), only her incredible get was then one-upped by a Williams shot, which gave Serena the point.

If you go to the trouble of taking out Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic and Petra Kvitova, you might as well go ahead and take out Li Na, too, and that's what Sorana Cirstea did today. When Li goes off, she goes way off, and even though she's known for fighting her way out of the deepest holes, she was unable to come back against Cirstea, who beat her 6-1, 7-6. Li led 5-2 in the second set, by the way.

Tomorrow's match will be Cirstea's first premier-level final, and the first final of any kind that she's reached in five years.

The run of Canadians Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman was ended today by Jelena Jankovic and Katarina Srebotnik, who beat them 7-5, 6-3 in the semifinals. In the other semifinal match, 3rd seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke defeated 2nd seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-4.

Feliciano Lopez and Bernard Tomic were paid $20,000 apiece to travel from Montreal to Toronto to play an exhibition event this week. Both Lopez and Tomic lost in the first round of the ATP Rogers Cup. Crash out in the ATP--no worries, go play at a WTA event.

And speaking of these events, it would be professionally sound if someone would edit Andy Roddick out of the Emirates U.S. Open Series promo spots.

Shahar Peer won the 125-K Suzhou event, defeating Zheng Saisai 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. Peer was seeded third. The doubles title was won by Timea Babos and Michaella Krajicek. They defeated Han Xinyun and Eri Hozumi 6-2, 6-2 in the final.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cirstea on a roll in Toronto

When a player is quite talented but just can't seem to mentally get it together to be a consistent force on the tour (e.a., a certain charming German with an unusual forehand), I sometimes say that she suffers from the Cirstea Syndrome. Sorana Cirstea is a really good tennis player who is not a very good competitor. It's frustrating. But in Toronto this week, she's getting some attention. The Romanian had already knocked Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic out of the Rogers Cup, and today, she showed defending champion Petra Kvitova the exit.

Yes, she had plenty of help from Kvitova, who lost nine games in a row and double-faulted at the worst times possible. Those of us who began to feel a bit relieved about our favorite Czech player can stop relaxing, I guess. But credit to Cirstea, who's having a great run. Next up for her is Li Na, last year's runner-up, who beat Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets in today's quarterfinals.

Also winning were top seed Serena Williams (def. Magdalena Rybarikova) and Agnieszka Radwanska (def. Sara Errani 7-6, 7-5).

In doubles, Stanford and Carlsbad champions Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears lost to Jelena Jankovic and Katarina Srebotnik. And top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were defeated 6-7, 6-2, 10-5 by unseeded Canadians Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman. Wow.

In Suzhou, Shahar Peer and Zjeng Saisai reached the final, defeating top seed Timea Babos and 2nd seed Misaki Doi, respectively.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Li advances to Rogers Cup quarterfinals

Li Na was 2-5 down in the third set against Ana Ivanovic today, but often, a situation like that makes the Chinese star especially dangerous. She won the match 3-6, 6-1, 7-6. Once Li sent the third set into a tiebreak, she raced ahead, but Ivanovic caught up to make it 5-all, suggesting perhaps another momentum swing. It wasn't to be, however, as Li won the next two points.

5th seed Sara Errani beat Alize Cornet 7-5, 7-6. Errani had a match point at 5-2, but Cornet saved it, and went on to construct a set point at 6-5. Errani squeaked by, though, in straight sets.

Agnieszka Radwanska wasn't at her best today, but defeated Sloane Stephens in straight sets. Marion Bartoli retired with an abdominal injury, sending Washington, DC champion Magdalena Rybarikova into the quarterfinals. Serena Williams beat Kirsten Flipkens, Sorana Cirstea continued her good form against Jelena Jankovic, and Petra Kvitova defeated Carlsbad champion Sam Stosur 6-3, 6-3.

Kvitova was broken when she served for the match at 5-2, double-faulting three times in one game. The 2011 Wimbledon champion got her first serve in 74% of the time, and won with 75% of those serves. She saved 10 of 11 break points.

Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova broke her long losing streak against Roberta Vinci, defeating the Italian player 6-3, 7-6 in an entertaining match.

Here is the quarterfinal draw:

Serena Williams (1) vs. Magdalena Rybarikova
Agnieszka Radwanska (3) vs. Sara Errani (5)
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Li Na (4)
Petra Kvitova (6) vs. Sorana Cirstea

In doubles, Daniela Hantuchova and Martina Hingis were defeated 6-2, 6-4 by Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Quote of the day

"You really do need to kill her off when you get the chance."
Commented about Aga Radwanska

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Davis def. Kuznetsova, and that's that

Lauren Davis had to qualify to get into the Rogers Cup main draw. In the second round of qualifying, she beat former U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, but then Kuznetsova became the lucky loser, and drew--yes, Lauren Davis--in the first round. But no worries. David beat her again, making the Russian a not-so-lucky loser, after all. Davis's next opponent will be Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli.

Yesterday, I was about to leave my house when the Cibulkova-Kerber match came on. I really wanted to see it, but I figured it would go on for hours and I'd never get anything done. Sure enough, three hours later, I took a break to check the score, and the match was just ending. Cibulkova beat Kerber 6-7 (0), 6-2, 7-5. Cibulkova had to come from 1-4 down in the third set. She's now 4-0 against the German.

Venus Williams won her first set against Kirsten Flipkens 6-0. Flipkens then won the second and third sets (6-4, 6-2) againt an obviously tired Williams. Not to take anything away from Flipkens--she's having a great season.

Play began today with Li Na taking on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and then stopped after they had played one game. The expected showers came; today is supposed to be a pretty rainy one in Toronto. The scheduled night match features world number 1 Serena Williams against Francesca Schiavone. Williams, by the way, is the first player to qualify for the WTA Championships in Istanbul.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Williams leads field in Toronto

World number 1 Serena Williams is at the head of the draw at this year's Rogers Cup in Toronto. Also in attendance are defending champion Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, Agnieszka Radwanska, Li Na, Sara Errani, Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova, and Carlsbad champion Sam Stosur.

Stosur currently leads the U.S. Open Series in points, but all of that could change quickly. Neither Victoria Azarenka nor Maria Sharapova is playing in Toronto but there are enough top players there to make things rather interesting. Bartoli is playing with a wild card, just as Stosur did in Carlsbad, and she's in the Williams quarter of the draw.

Radwanska, who was the runner-up in Stanford and who lost to Stosur in Carlsbad (in my favorite match of the tournament) shares her quarter with Errani, as well as Maria Kirilenko and Sloane Stephens. On the other side, there's a potential semifinal between Li and Kvitova, though Stosur is also in Kvitova's quarter, and Jamie Hampton is in that part of the draw, too.

For her part, Li will have to deal with Angelique Kerber, Ana Ivanovic and Cibulkova.

It's hard court heaven for WTA fans. Tennis TV, by the way, began broadcasting today, so there's an opportunity to see more early round matches.

An unfortunate precedent

Last week, every time it was announced that Tonic by Martina Hingis was the official clothing sponsor of the Southern California Open, I felt uncomfortable. For Hingis's company to agree to sponsor Carlsbad sounds exciting, but there's a catch: Hingis was entered in the tournament. I realize that these are hard times, but having a tournament entrant sponsor the event is simply not appropriate.

I have no objection to Hingis's line being sold at the tournament,  just as Venus Williams' clothing is sometimes sold. Perhaps I should, but the money being exchanged, in that case, is between fans and the clothing company. I had no objection, in fact, when the Family Circle Cup held an after-hours event in which players and fans wore EleVen on the court. The tour can--and does--promote its players in different ways.

But being an actual tournament sponsor is another matter. I wonder, too, if--on some level--those in charge were making a statement about the relative significance of doubles competition. I really can't imagine their allowing EleVen, for example, to be the clothing sponsor. But perhaps I'm underestimating the economic crisis--or overestimating the ability of organizers to see the view outside their own world.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sweeping the court

Daniela Hantuchova threw the first pitch at the Padres-Reds game last week.

Heather Watson has parted ways with her coach of two years, Mauricio Hadad. She'll be working with Jeremy Bates until after the U.S. Open, and will hire a new coach later in the year. Watson says she plans to change her game and become more aggressive.

Svetlana Kuznetsova lost today in the second round of qualifying for the Rogers Cup. Kuznetsova was the number 1 qualifying seed.

Maria Kirilenko is blogging from Toronto.

Here's 'Pova's U.S. Open dress.

Martina Hingis is seeking a partner for the U.S. Open mixed doubles competition. I think there will be some takers.

Stosur breaks Azarenka curse, wins Carlsbad

Sam Stosur, who hadn't beaten Victoria Azarenka in eight previous attempts, defeated her in straight sets today in the final of the Southern California Open. Stosur's 6-2, 6-3 victory puts her in the lead in the U.S. Open Series rankings.

Throughout the tournament, the Australian star--who hadn't won a tournament since she took the U.S. Open title two years ago--looked like a winner. Playing with the aggression that serves her so well when she uses it, Stosur was tested mightily, but prevailed, over Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals. She was also given a tough test by Virginie Razzano in the semifinals. In the final, Stosur had to contend with a somewhat sluggish, definitely off-her-game Azarenka, but that, too, can be dangerous. Nevertheless, Stosur used her serve and her net play to take care of matters.

Knocked out of Stanford in the first round, Stosur requested a wild card into Carlsbad at the last minute. Good move, Sam.

3rd seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears won the doubles title, taking out Chan Hao-Ching and Janette Husarova 6-4, 6-1 in the final. Kops-Jones and Spears also won the title in Stanford last week.

Rybarikova defends Citi Open title

Magdalena Rybarikova did today what isn't done too often--she defended her title. She defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 7-6 to win the Citi Open in Washington, DC. Rybarikova had to serve for the match twice, but the always under-the-radar Slovakian shot-maker held her nerve and picked up another trophy.

This is Rybarikova's fourth WTA singles title. She had an outstanding week, taking out top seed Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals, and 3rd seed Ekaterina Makarova in the semifinals.

Shuko Aoyama and Vera Dushvina, the top seeds, won the doubles title. They defeated Eugenie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stosur knocks Radwanska out of Carlsbad

You really couldn't have asked for more in terms of entertainment. Of course, we expect stunning shot-making from Agnieszka Radwanska, and she didn't disappoint in yesterday's Southern California Open quarterfinals. Perhaps (it's always so hard to make this determination) Radwanska's greatest moment occurred when she reached very high to deliver a backhand volley winner, and the impact of the shot put her into the air in a 360 spin that made her look like a figure skater.

The thing is, however--Radwanska lost the match. There was another very good, though inconsistent, shot-maker on the court--Sam Stosur. Stosur has dominated Radwanska in their matches in the past, but it's always quite a contest between these two. The Australian's famous forehand was "on," and it didn't hurt that her backhand was working for her, too. She did what few can do; she made Radwanska error-prone with her constant aggression. Stosur's serve was working for her two. She hit 53 winners; she also made 60 unforced errors.

Stosur's risk-taking paid off in this match, which I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. Stosur defeated Radwanska 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, and will face Virginie Razzano in the semifinals. Razzano defeated Petra Kvitova in what was yesterday's big story at the Open. The match lasted 3 hours and 35 minutes, and Kvitova held two match points in the third-set tiebreak. Razzano won, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, on her fifth match point.

And yes, this is disappointing to Kvitova's fans, since she's suddenly playing so well again, but it wasn't a case of the "second set collapse." Things are still looking up, and credit to Razzano, who--when she's playing well--can always do some damage.

Ana Ivanovic defeated Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-7, 6-2, and Victoria Azarenka defeated Urszula Radwanska 6-1, 6-2.

Martina Hingis's doubles comeback ended yesterday when she and Daniela Hantuchova were defeated 4-6, 7-5, 10-3 by 3rd seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears. 2nd seeds Liezel Huber and Nuria Llagostera Vives were knocked out by Cara Black and Marina Erakovic.

In Washington DC, at the Citi Open, top seed Angelique Kerber was defeated in the quarterfinals by Magdalena Rybarikova. Alize Cornet defeated 5th seed Sorana Cirstea.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Kvitova impressive in Carlsbad second round

After beating Laura Robson 6-1, 6-2 in the second round of the Southern California Open, Petra Kvitova said that she had been practicing her serve a lot since Wimbledon. It showed. Her service stats were excellent, and included 11 aces. Robson, for her part, was probably tired; she didn't have that much time to recover between her three-set first-round match and the match against (the real) Kvitova.

Victoria Azarenka celebrated her birthday yesterday, and won her second round match against Francesca Schiavone. Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova went out to Ana Ivanovic in the opening round.

Martina Hingis, making her return to doubles, had a victory with partner Daniela Hantuchova in their opening round. Hantuchova and Hingis beat Julia Goerges and Darija Jurak 6-1, 6-1. The post-match comments are worth reading.

Goerges and Jurak were the runners-up in Stanford. Next up for Hantuchova and Hingis are Stanford champions Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.

In Washington, DC, 2nd seed Sloane Stephens went out in the first round. Top seed Angelique Kerber is blogging from the tournament.