Magnifique: Marion Earns Top Honours at Stanford

8 08 2009

An entertaining week of tennis was capped off with Marion Bartoli defeating Venus Williams in three sets to claim the biggest win of her career to date.

As the Final approached it was Venus who was heavily tipped to win her third hardcourt title of 2009; she had steamrolled Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva in the previous two rounds, dropping just five games in both matches combined. Bartoli on the other hand had played three sets against Sam Stosur in the Semi Final and the night before had fought back from a set down to beat Jelena Jankovic. That match had it’s own little mini-drama as Marion had claimed she prefers to be playing Jankovic rather than the Serbs’ beaten opponent, Sabine Lisicki, because “I always beat her”. Jankovic responded by saying that Marion isn’t exactly Serena Williams and can’t bring it to the big names, ending her interview by smiling and declaring that “Bartoli is going to get it tomorrow”. It looked as though Jankovic would be proved right when she was 6-3 3-1 in the lead but didn’t count on the French woman fighting back to take the second set 76 and then seal success with a 63 win in the third set. Someone had to eat humble pie and it turned out to be Jankovic.

On that same night Australian Stosur produced a surprise by downing Serena Williams. The American showed just why she isn’t the world number one by once again failing to produce her best game outside of a Slam and Stosur took advantage to roll her over 62 36 62 and claim herself a big scalp.

Back to the Final and Bartoli won more games in the first set than Sharapova and Dementieva had managed between them against Venus, taking it 62 to shake Venus up as she was unable to continue her great form in the tournament, partly through her own UE rate but also through her FORCED error rate, which was shown at one point in the second set as being at 17, but I’ve been unable to find final stats for this – if anyone can point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated. Marion’s aggressive game gave Venus very little time for her shots and proved to be the right gameplan in the opening set. In the second set Venus upped her game a little and earned herself a 75 win, despite Bartoli serving for the match at 54.

At this point all advantage seemed to be with Venus and it was generally voiced by commentators and bookmakers alike that there was only one winner, that Marion had missed her chance and would now fade away. That was not to be however and Venus was stunned to find herself 03 down before she knew it, and Bartoli showed energy and fight to continue her aggressive game and dismiss Venus 64 to earn the biggest title of her career thus far. Personally, it was a glorious moment to see Marion celebrate on court, the climax of a lot of hard work by the Frenchwoman and her coach/father, Walter. During the week she had dismissed myths and proved a lot of people wrong about a number of things, chiefly that she can’t fight back against a good player – see the set down comeback against Jankovic; that her head goes down and stays down if she loses the second set, having won the first – see the victory over Sam Stosur; that she doesn’t have the fight to beat a big name player in a tough tussle – watch the final against Venus Williams. Talk of her retiring at any opportunity was also put to one side as she played most of the week with both knees wrapped and had problems with her calf from the Quarter Final match with Jankovic onwards. In the final she was clearly struggling to stay loose but fought through this and was repeatedly seen stretching her body between games as she pushed against the court walls. The spirit and determination shown proved to be too much for her famous opponent and her victory here was greatly deserved.

It was a great week for Marion Bartoli, our WTA Stanford Champion 2009.

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WTA Invades America

27 07 2009

It seems like an age has passed since Wimbledon finished but it’s only been three weeks and now we’re on the verge of the US hardcourt season. In the intervening period most of the top players rested but there has been clay court action to enjoy (if we can find matches online anyway) but really, those three weeks after Wimbledon aren’t the same, it’s as if most players are just putting their feet up and breathing deeply, preparing for the big push to the final Slam of the year. Word of note to Andrea Petkovic though, who won her first WTA Tour title yesterday in Bad Gastein, Austria. The world number one, Dinara Safina, also lifted a trophy as she won a hardcourt tournament in Portaroz, Slovenia.

Today, a large number of the top players are in Stanford, USA; the line-up includes both Williams sisters, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Agnes Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and Nadia Petrova. If we go by the bookmakers then Serena Williams is the easy favourite for this tournament and if she plays well, rightly so – but we all know that Serena doesn’t seem to turn up and give everything she has outside of the slams, evidenced by the fact that she hasn’t won a Tour title in over 15 months now. She has a tricky first round match against Li Na and whilst she should win, I don’t think it would be an earth-shattering shock if she lost that one, although it should be noted that Na is carrying a knee injury. Other potential finalists from that half of the draw include Jankovic, Bartoli and Lisicki and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the winner of Sam Stosur vs Dominika Cibulkova go far.

In the bottom half of the draw, Venus Williams is the favourite to reach the final and with hardcourt titles under her belt already this year, why not? Well, again it will come down to how she approaches the tournament and Venus isn’t adverse to an early defeat to a player she should be beating. She looks safe to win her first two matches but could then find herself up against Maria Sharapova, who is getting ever fitter and would no doubt love to start winning tournaments again as she approaches something resembling her old self, and after that it’s more than likely that Dementieva would be waiting. I think both of those players have more desire than Venus to win this tournament and I would expect one of them to cut off her challenge.

Personally speaking, I’d love to see Marion Bartoli do well here. She’s in potentially the ‘easier’ half of the draw although that description goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that Serena won’t be giving it her all and that Jankovic just isn’t on her game at all right now (or this year).  The young Frenchwoman is more than capable of taking advantage of any shortcomings in her rivals games, so I’ll have my fingers crossed for her. I’d also quite like to see Stosur, Lisicki and Sharapova do well here, but my prediction to win the tournament is Elena Dementieva. She’s won hardcourt titles earlier this year in Auckland and Sydney, reached the Semi Final of the Australian Open (lost to Serena Williams), made the final in Paris (lost to Mauresmo) and of course the last time we saw her was at Wimbledon where she came so close to beating Serena and making the final. Dementieva’s first task is, unfortunately for us Brits, to get past British number one Anne Keothavong.

Elsewhere this week, Nathalie Dechy announced her retirement from tennis, and also her pregnancy, at the age of 30 – best wishes for her future life as a mother! Nicole Vaidisova lost in Stanford qualifying 6-2 6-1 to Stacey Tan, ranked 584 in the world. I’ve no idea what’s going on with Vaidisova and her still-hurtling fall from the upper reaches of the rankings, but it’s looking like she desperately needs to address something in her life and game. It’s really sad to see. And finally, Tamira Paszek told at a press conference how she’d been receiving treatment for a back problem by having her own blood injected into her body, only to have the legality of this questioned. It seems that this type of treatment, known as autologous injections, is against anti-doping rules. Paszek then immediately contacted the Austrian anti-doping agency to find out more about this. Apparently this kind of ‘blood doping’ is against the rules but there’s also an exemption certificate which can be gained to have the treatment administered, though whether this can be acquired after the treatment has occurred, I don’t know. Looking at the massive difference in the Richard Gasquet and Martina Hingis cases, Paszek can expect anything from a wry smile and a slap on the wrist to a hundred year ban from even looking at a tennis court.

For now we have an exciting week of tennis ahead as we lead up to the US Open, so bring it on!