Wimbledon Week 1 Review

29 06 2009

So here we are on the second Monday of Wimbledon and I thought I’d note down some points about the tournament so far:

Biggest surprise: Maria Sharapova crashing out in three sets to Gisela Dulko in the 2nd Round. Everyone knows that Maria has been out injured for a long time and this is only her fourth tournament on the road back to full fitness, but she should still have been capable of winning this match. Personally I thought her downfall would come against Victoria Azarenka today.

Biggest not-a-surprise: Jelena Jankovic losing to Melanie Oudin. Jankovic has had a torrid year so far and has herself said so and claimed she needs to go back to square one and start again. Her warm-up for Eastbourne was a 1st Round loss to headcase Anna Chakvetadze and you get the feeling with Jelena that she would happily just come off the tour for the season right now and start again next year. She was bound to go out of this tournament early, the only surprise is that she lasted until the 3rd Round.

Also listed here is Sabine Lisicki beating Svetlana Kuznetsova. After her opening round defeat on grass last week to Aleksandra Wozniak, Kuznetsova said that after playing so much tennis on clay she was still in that mindset and hadn’t adjusted her game at all for grass. Coming up against Lisicki, who’s only young but announced herself when she won the Family Circle cup in April – beating Venus Williams, Marion Bartoli and Caroline Wozniacki to do so – this wasn’t the terrific shock it’s been made out to be.

Waiting for a challenge: Venus and Serena Williams, plus Dinara Safina are yet to face anybody who should give them a troublesome match. Today should change that as Venus plays Ana Ivanovic, who seems to be slowly finding a bit of form again, Serena plays Daniela Hantuchova who also seems to have found some of her old form here, and Safina faces former Wimbledon winner Amelie Mauresmo. Should be interesting.

Young gun: Vika Azarenka is cruising along too. Azarenka is the 3rd favourite, after both Williams sisters, and has been pretty much on fire so far. She has a tough match today against Nadia Petrova and will face Serena Williams in the QF’s if they both win. They’ve met twice this year but both matches have been inconclusive – Azarenka was forced to retire at the Australian Open due to her throwing up everywhere, having won the first set (trailing 4-2 in the second I think) and when Vika beat Serena in the final at Miami, Serena came out sporting a bandage on her leg and seemed to be carrying a slight injury. So it would be interesting to see a match between two fit players and discover whether a changing of the guard is on its way.

Biggest disappointment: For me anyway, was Marion Bartoli going out 7-6, 6-0 to Francesca Schiavone.

Television coverage: As a UK resident I can’t really knock the BBC too much for their broadcasting of matches, as there’s usually been a WTA match to watch. One slight gripe would concern them twice cutting off broadcast during a match to make way for the Glastonbury festival coverage, as they were currently showing three mens matches and one womens. So yes, get rid of the one womens match you’re showing.

My bigger gripe with them is that there has been several exciting matches so far and yet all the focus has instead been on the noise made by one or two players, falling to very low levels with ‘Gruntwatch’. Apparently the Schiavone-Larcher De Brito match was actually pretty good but what did we get to see of it? A report on Larcher De Brito’s shrieking. Pretty pathetic stuff.

4th Round: If I could only watch one match today, I’d choose Venus Williams vs Ana Ivanovic, which should be very good and has the potential at least for a surprise result. Maybe.


WTA AEGON International, Eastbourne; Wozniacki shines on grass

29 06 2009
Caroline Wozniacki lifts the trophy at Eastbourne

Caroline Wozniacki lifts the trophy at Eastbourne

I enjoyed the AEGON Classic at Birmingham, definitely; but the AEGON International at Eastbourne the following week was even better. Proudly proclaiming to include seven of the world’s top ten female tennis players plus a host of other top names, I set off excited about six days at this tournament. The seven top ten players were Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova – though not in that order. Other names included Ana Ivanovic, Marion Bartoli, Jie Zheng, Agnes Radwanska and Amelie Mauresmo. Prior to this year it had been a WTA-only event but was now including men’s tennis as part of the ATP tour, but as this was an ATP 250 tournament, it wasn’t a particularly attractive line-up, especially if you’re not as interested in the ATP anyway.

So, I arrived at Eastbourne train station at 1.15pm and made my way to the B&B where I was to spend the first two nights, before heading to Devonshire Park where the tournament was being held. This proved to be about a twenty minute walk along the seafront which was very pleasant, especially as the whole week was sunny and the sea breeze was very welcome. I was equipped again, with sun cream already on, sunglasses giving me an ultra-cool look (prescription sunglasses rule) and my new Wilson cap – as in ‘Wilson!’ from the film Cast Away.

My first stop was Centre Court to catch Ivanovic vs. Petrova; Ana was thumped 6-1 in the first set before fighting back to take the second, only for Petrova to win 6-4 in the third. I’d been hoping to see Ivanovic a couple of times so it was a disappointing first match for me, but I was happy to next see Jie Zheng on one of the smaller outside courts, beating Carla Suarez Navarro comfortably. The outside courts are great as there’s no fixed seating and you can watch the match and be only ten feet away from the players whilst the match is on, plus you can wander from court to court easily. I don’t know what the players feel about playing on them but as a spectator I think it’s excellent that you can get such a close view and have an intimate glimpse into the match like that, better than the bigger Centre Courts where you aren’t as close to the players and there’s a visible divide between you. It’s more fun when the players have to walk out amongst the common people to get back to the dressing room.

First up on Tuesday was the player I wanted to see most, Marion Bartoli, and I was delighted to find she was also playing on an outside court, against Argentine Gisela Dulko. A week later Dulko would beat Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon and be the subject of tabloid headlines like ‘The New Darling of SW19’. On this day though she was no match at all for Marion who swept her aside 6-3, 6-1. Bartoli looked to be in great shape and was obviously fully focused and determined to win, keeping herself in constant motion even between serves.

Marion Bartoli in action against Gisela Dulko

Marion Bartoli in action against Gisela Dulko

After the match she returned to looking like a genuinely sweet girl and I went to Court One to catch the last set of Jankovic vs. Chakvetadze. Having won the first set on a tiebreak, Jankovic had lost the second set and seemed to be in full meltdown when I arrived, trudging around the court and making her frustration clear to everyone as she went out 6-2 and became the second top player to fall in the First Round. A few hours later I was having a smoke by the entrance when Jankovic walked out with a couple of guys, tracksuit top wrapped around her shoulders, looking miserable and sounding very irritated.

Next I saw Vera Zvonareva’s first mach back after a spell out with an ankle injury. Sporting a mechanical looking ankle brace, she too went out at the first attempt, losing in three sets to former Number 1 Amelie Mauresmo. I rounded the day with a bit of Brit-watching, but unfortunately British No. 1 Anne Keothavong went out too, losing in straight sets to Sybille Bammer.

On Wednesday it was back to the outside courts to see Bartoli take on Anna Chakvetadze. Having conquered Jankovic in the first round I was interested to see how she’d do against Marion but needn’t have worried; the Frenchwoman took the first 7-5 and then Chakvetadze showed how a real meltdown looks, visibly upset in the rest between sets and requesting her despite having already seen him during the set.  After a couple of games of the second set she started crying on-court and screaming a number of times after long shots. In desperation she interrupted as Bartoli was about to serve to ask the umpire what the score was – I presume the scoreboard at each end of the court went un-noticed, as did the umpire’s calling of the score after the last point. Leading 3-2 in the second set, Bartoli took a medical timeout to have her right foot checked and rebandaged, before continuing play and easing out the set 6-3. Chakvetadze’s final act of grace was to refuse to shake hands at the net and slink off back to the locker room instead.

Cheered by Marion’s win I made my way to Centre Court to see another of my favourite players, Caroline Wozniacki. I’d only caught the last couple of games of her First Round win over Kleybanova and this match appealed as she was playing Australian Sam Stosur, another player I particularly like. Wozniacki took the first set 6-1 before Stosur got her game together and took the second set 7-5, only for the deciding set to be controlled by the promising young Dane.

A stop was made to watch some of a doubles match on an outside court featuring Ana Ivanovic and Sabine Lisicki taking on the Number 1 pairing of Cara Black and Lizel Huber, the favourites winning fairly comfortably before taking in the first set of Virginie Razzano vs. Elena Dementieva, which surprisingly was won 6-0 by Razzano. I then left as I had to meet my Dad, but Razzano took the second set by a much closer 7-6 scoreline.

I then had a change of accommodation as I was due to spend the next four nights in a camper van with my Dad, an arrangement brought about by a whopping energy bill and a drunken breaking of antique glass having a serious impact on the money I’d put aside for the trip. This arrangement worked out really well as it was nice to spend time with him and the campsite was lovely, very good facilities and surroundings and shared by an awful lot of rabbits, plus squirrels, birds and even a sighting of a badger. Our particular part of the site was called ‘Bunny Plain’ which was an apt name for it.

So, Thursday was Quarter Finals day and first up was Wozniacki taking on fellow youngster Ekaterina Makarova, who had dumped out Amelie Mauresmo in the previous round. She had no such victory this time though as Wozniacki took the game in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2 with another impressive performance from the Dane.

Another Bartoli match followed, this time against Anabel Medina Garrigues, a match which Bartoli was expected to win on grass and did so, taking the first set 6-1 before AMG found her feet in the second set, losing to a more respectable 6-4 scoreline. During this match Vera Dushevina appeared from the dressing rooms and watched part of the action from the tunnel, and she was next up against Aleksandra Wozniak, who had already beaten Jie Zheng and French Open champions Svetlana Kuznetsova. I expected a close match but Dushevina had a nightmare and lost to the Canadian 6-1, 6-0. I think she was struggling with the strong breeze but unfortunately for her Wozniak was having no such problems and the match turned into a rout. The Quarter Final I didn’t see, due to a schedule clash, saw Virginie Razzano beat last year’s tournament winner, Agnes Radwanska.

So, Semi Finals – both on Centre Court and first was the all-French clash between Razzano and Bartoli. There’s a bit of history between Bartoli and the other French players, due largely to Fed Cup issues, and it showed at the end of the match. Razzano took a close opening set 6-4 and Bartoli called for the trainer during the break, complaining of a thigh strain and having the area wrapped. Marion went out to try playing the second set but after the first game indicated that she couldn’t continue as her movement was severely limited. It turned out to be a thigh strain which thankfully didn’t make Marion miss Wimbledon, starting two days later, undoubtedly due to her retiring rather than continuing to play and put herself out of action for a while. As Bartoli returned to her bench her opponent walked over to her to shake hands but was shunned instead. It turned out that Razzano had been interview in a French newspaper the previous day and had claimed that Bartoli would often exaggerate injuries to try and get a mental advantage over her opponents, and would do anything to win. The refusal to shake hands was down to this latest development amongst the French tennis players. The good news is that the decision to retire seemed to be the correct one as Marion was able to play her match at Wimbledon a few days later.

The second Semi saw Wozniacki take on near-namesake Wozniak, a tie that was always going to confuse some of the new dynamic amongst the crowd, as more and more people arrived in their best dress and sales of Pimms escalated. Overheard from the people around me were the following:

“Which player’s which?”

“Wozniacki should win, she has nicer hair.”

“Why is she talking to her coach? You’re not allowed to talk to your coach during a match!”

“Women’s tennis is about the same level as amateur men’s tennis.” (uttered pre-match)

The comment about on-court coaching possibly irked me the most as it’s only been used in every tournament this season – 28 by my reckoning. The couple next to me arrived after just a couple of games though, having left after 5 games of the Razzano-Bartoli match to buy strawberries. I can’t see the point of paying £26 for a ticket if you’re not going to watch the matches or don’t follow the game at all during the rest of the year, but each to their own I suppose. Anyway, today Wozniacki didn’t seem quite as on top of her game as she had done in her other matches but she got it together in the third set to reach the final, where she would play the relatively rested Razzano.

Wozniacki prepares to receive

Wozniacki prepares to receive

This match was first up on Centre Court on Saturday, prior to the god-awful men’s final which followed. This match ended up being much closer than it appeared at first, as Razzano went 5-2 in the first set before starting to play as she can, storming back to level and take it to a tie-break. There, Razzano again fell behind, 6-1, only to make another great fight of it before succumbing 7-5 to a relieved Wozniacki. The second set was also a tight affair but the Dane closed it out 7-5 to seal her second WTA title of the year and her first ever on grass. Caroline fully deserved this title having played some great tennis throughout the week and was charming and professional during her speech afterwards, a true superstar in the making who is going to be fun to follow over the coming years.

So my week came to an end unfortunately, but it was well worth the trip and I had a great time in Eastbourne. Particularly pleased to have been able to watch some of my favourite players in action and delighted that Caro lifted the trophy at the end of it. I also got to briefly meet Marion Bartoli, Virginie Razzano, Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs which was great. Next call for these players is Wimbledon, and I’ll be back at Eastbourne next year for another excellent week!  Photos from the week can be found at http://s578.photobucket.com/albums/ss226/Inktrailer/ and the album folders should be on the left hand side.

WTA AEGON Classic, Birmingham; Rybarikova Takes Over

27 06 2009

These past few days I’ve been to see live tennis in Birmingham and it’s been pretty enjoyable, even though I’m a known despiser of all things sunny and warm. Having equipped myself with sunglasses, baseball cap and suncream lotion, I’ve made the two hour journey from house to courts on each of the last four days, and been rewarded with eight matches.

On the first day I saw Anastasia Pavyluchenkova beat Britain’s Elena Baltacha in three sets, the only match interrupted by rain in my time there. Number one seed Jie Zheng beat another Brit next, Melanie South, and Maria Sharapova rounded the day off by beating feisty Italian Francesca Schiavone.

On Friday it was quarter finals and I took in Sania Mirza defeating Melinda Czink before seeing Sharapova vs Yanina Wickmayer, the former number one progressing in three sets.

Saturday was Semi Finals day and the first match saw Sharapova exit the tournament at the hands of Li Na, before Magdalena Rybarikova booked her place in the final with a win over Mirza.

Sunday was the final, and Li Na was favourite to win the tournament with the bookmakers but got bagelled in the first set, playing some god-awful tennis; her hit-and-hope style didn’t pay off and just ended up being a little embarrassing at times. She improved in the second set but Rybarikova took the tie break 7-2 to win her first WTA title, a win that her own performance deserved. Even though this isn’t a big tournament, her victory is still a surprise; Jie Zheng was the number one seed and Rybarikova beat her; Maria Sharapova was the biggest name here although this was only her third tournament back from a long lay-off with a shoulder injury, so to go out in the semi-final is okay and I’m sure she’s just glad to be getting back playing again. With those two gone Li Na became the favourite, and Rybarikova dispatched her too, so she has to take full credit for her first title. Whether she will build on it remains to be seen, I’ve already heard mutterings of how she’ll be a dangerous outsider at Wimbledon but I don’t think she’ll go too far there.

So tomorrow I set off for my second tournament, a combined WTA/ATP event in Eastbourne. I’ll arrive early afternoon and will be there for the rest of the tournament so will hopefully have a very pleasant week ahead of me. There is a much stronger field here but for me the highlight will be seeing my favourite player, Marion Bartoli of France. Although seeing as I probably won’t arrive until about 3pm, knowing my luck she’ll have played and lost by then, hope not! I’ll have my fingers crossed that she goes far and she has a good history on grass so hopefully everything will come together for her in Eastbourne and put her in good stead for Wimbledon. It’ll be nice to see her in action though as I admire her as a player and as a person. Go Marion!

Photos from Birmingham – http://s578.photobucket.com/albums/ss226/Inktrailer/WTA%20Birmingham/