US Open: One Week In

7 09 2009

The US Open is now entering the second week and there’s been plenty of entertainment from the women, some matches good, some matches exciting and a fair share of big names sent packing.

Perhaps the most enticing story so far has been that of Kim Clijsters, continuing her return from retirement as an unseeded player in New York. She passed her first round test as expected with a 61, 60 win over Kutuzova to set up a rematch with Marion Bartoli; the Frenchwoman took the first 75 but Clijster flicked the switch and took the next two sets at the expense of just three games. In the third round she comfortably saw off compatriot and friend Kirsten “Flipper” Flipkens to set up a fourth round match against No. 3 seed Venus Williams. Her opponent has spent this tournament again playing with wrapped knees and had seen off Dushevina, Mattek-Sands and Rybarikova to reach this round, and although she  is clearly having problems with her knee, it isn’t stopping her from competing in doubles with her sister. The match was turned on it’s head in the first two sets as each player bagelled the other, first Clijsters and then Venus, and a tight third set saw just one break in favour of the Belgian, enabling her to send Venus crashing with a 64 victory. Next she faces Li Na in the quarter-final before potentially facing Serena Williams in the semis.

The American crowds are all excited about 17 year old Melanie Oudin who has had great success so far, coming from a set down to beat Elena Dementieva in the second round, before doing exactly the same thing in the next round to Maria Sharapova. After beating Shvedova, who herself pulled off an upset with the beating of Jelena Jankovic, Oudin faces another Russian today in the form of Nadia Petrova for a place in the QF, and the top half of the draw has really opened up following Oudin’s dismissal of two top players, added to the exit of Dinara Safina who lost to Petra Kvitova after scraping her way through the first two rounds. Victoria Azarenka is also out at the hands of Francesca Schiavone and the two main seeds left in that half are Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova – who face each other today in a fourth round match. Kvitova faces Yanina Wickmayer and the winner will meet either Gisela Dulko or Kateryna Bondarenko in the QF. Either Wozniacki or Kuznetsova will face the winner of Oudin-Petrova.

In the bottom half it’s a much tougher affair. Tournament favourite Serena Williams will face Flavia Pennetta in the QF after the Italian saved six match points to see off Vera Zvonareva, and the winner of that will probably face Clijsters. It’s heavily expected that the winner of the US Open will be whoever makes the final from the bottom half, although I’m sure Wozniacki and Kuznetsova – and others – will have an opinion on that.

With all the relentless talk about the number one ranking this year, it would be very interesting if Svetlana Kuznetsova were to win the US Open. I think we’re all sick to death of hearing how Safina is the number one even though she hasn’t won a Slam, and Serena holds three Slams but is number two… well, ff Kuznetsova comes out on top here, she and Serena will each hold two Slams; Serena the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Svetlana the French and US Open. But then Kuznetsova holds a Tour title and Serena holds none, so will the debate open up into fierce arguments of how Kuznetsova should be the number one ranked player? I doubt it, but it would be interesting.

Anyway, for what it’s worth I chose Clijsters at the start of the tournament and I’m sticking with my choice as we go into the second week. Go Kim!


Flavia On Fire; Clijsters Returns

13 08 2009

As the US Open series picks up speed, Italian Flavia Pennetta is keeping up pace with a 13 match winning streak that has seen her pick up back-to-back trophies in Palermo and Los Angeles. Along the way she’s picked up Top Ten wins against Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova, beaten an in-form Sam Stosur and taken care of a certain Ms Sharapova, and tonight she has her sights on world number 3 Venus Williams. Pennetta will herself enter the top ten if she beats Venus in Cincinatti this evening – an accomplishment which will be a first for womens tennis in Italy. This week she has beaten Morita and Szavay with no real problems and perhaps the only question mark is over her stamina as she plays her 9th match in 11 days.

Venus on the other hand should be rested, having taken a week off following her Stanford final defeat to Marion Bartoli. This week she beat Olga Govortsova in straight sets but will face a tougher challenge in Pennetta and the real question mark over Venus is how much she is willing to put in this close to the US Open. On paper though, you’d expect Venus to be fully determined as we still have over two weeks before that Slam so really that shouldn’t be an issue.

The other big story in Cincinatti this week has been the return to the Tour of Kim Clijsters. Having been training and preparing for six months now, her first match back was against Bartoli, who was playing her first match since beating Venus in Stanford, and the hard work paid off for the Belgian as she tasted victory for the first time in 28 months, courtesy of a 64 63 win. Clijsters followed that up with a 62 75 win over Patty Schnyder and must now be in territory that is beyond what she was hoping for. Her fitness and physical shape seem to be great and she doesn’t seem as rusty on court as you may have expected following such a long absence from the game. As she enters her third match back it’s a question of how far she can go before the physical demands of being back in competition take their toll; tonight she faces French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Russian playing her first tournament since Wimbledon in June. Kuznetsova scraped through her first match against Lucie Safarova and Clijsters DOES have a 6-1 head-to-head record against Sveta, but the last time they met was almost three years ago.

Elsewhere, the favourites remain in the hunt this week; Serena Williams, Safina, Dementieva, Azarenka, Wozniacki, Zvonareva and Jankovic are all still in the mix as we head to the sharp end of the draw, and it should make for an exciting climax to the week. Tonight though the focus is on Pennetta and Clijsters, and whether they can continue their good runs in the build up to the final Slam of 2009.

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.

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!

Wimbledon – Serena Stands Tallest as the Circus Goes Home

6 07 2009

Serena Williams lifted the trophy at Wimbledon for the third time in her career, denying sister Venus of a record-equalling sixth title in London with a 7-6(7-3), 6-2 win.

After Serena’s thrilling victory over Elena Dementieva in the previous round, the final had a high benchmark to try and match it, and unsurprisingly was unable to do so. The opening set was dominated by some serious serving by both players and went to a tie-break where an opening was finally made, first with a Serena forehand, and clinched with a gorgeous backhand lob worthy of taking any set.

The second set followed the same pattern for the first five games before Venus’ serve started to falter and she threw in a rare double fault as she was broken and Serena took a 4-2 lead. Two games later it was all over as Venus netted a forehand to hand Serena the title on her fourth match point. It wasn’t an entirely unsuccessful day for Venus though as the sisters would later take the Doubles title in straight sets against Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs.

So for the women, another year at Wimbledon was over and it was time to move on; twenty four hours later, following an exciting mens final – featuring the longest ever fifth set in a mens singles final at 95 minutes, eventually settled 16-14 in favour of Federer – it was time for the circus that is the British media to wrap things up too. As good as Wimbledon is, it’s a relief to wake up on a Monday morning knowing that there are WTA tournaments this week in Bastad and Budapest and that the press don’t care at all. Even leaving aside the continual hype surrounding Andy Murray, which despite his semi final exit was almost justified for once, we’ve had the usual blah-blah-blah surrounding equal prize money and the obvious bashing of the current world number one. Throw in the complete slating of every British player bar Murray, the shameful goading of Anne Keothavong after her 1st round exit, the ridiculous Gruntwatch, the coverage of whether the womens matches on Centre Court are placed there based on the attractiveness of the players involved, the somewhat shortlived proclamation that Gisela Dulko is ‘the new darling of SW19’, a headline that we wouldn’t have seen had a ‘plain’ looking player beaten Maria Sharapova, and ended with the somewhat predictable and to be fair, creditable wonderment that Serena stays ranked number two despite holding three Slam titles. But for anyone living in Britain, all of that is now over for another year and we can return to tennis – Andy Murray exempt – flying so low under the radar that you’d think the WTA were on their annual eleven month break before the 2010 Wimbledon tournament starts.  Thankfully that isn’t the case and although the next few weeks will be fairly quiet as we return to clay courts before taking to the hardcourts of America, there’s still plenty of action to enjoy in 2009.

Wimbledon – Serena and Dementieva Deliver

3 07 2009

In the first of yesterday’s semi-finals, Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva served up a match worthy of it’s place in Wimbledon history.

Heavily tipped to progress to the final, Serena Williams found herself in a real battle against her Russian opponent who broke the American in the first game, only to be broken straight back in the next. From there both players were so close you needed a diamond tipped screwdriver to split them, and the first set inevitably went to a tie-break, with Dementieva taking it 7-4. From this point Serena had one of the toughest challenges of her career ahead of her, needing to win two sets against an opponent having arguably the best game of her career, and one whose tremendous physical condition meant three sets would be no problem for her to endure.

The second set was almost as tight as the first and was finally settled with a superb passing shot by the American to take it 7-5 and level the match out. The final set continued in the same vein and Dementieva had a match point at 5-4 but Serena’s volley at the net returned the ball into the court far away from her, and at 6-6 the match continued with no tie-break in the final set. Williams broke to move 7-6 ahead and took the match when Dementieva was pushed wide and her return went out. It was a grapple that broke the record for the longest womens match in Wimbledon history and featured a massive 72 winners. A pulsating contest with some excellent exchanges and exciting net-play moments had to come to an end although it was a shame someone had to lose this intense battle.

For Serena, her fighting qualities came to the fore and she was more than once helped out by her superb serving whilst Dementieva showed just how much her own serve has improved over the last year or two to enable her to push a player of Williams’ stature to the limits. Dementieva even scored an ace with a second serve, surprising everyone and particularly Williams who was certainly not expecting the Russian to go for it.

So, one of the Williams sisters ensured her place in the final and Dementieva, whilst undoubtedly disappointed to have lost, can take a lot of pride and confidence away from that game and I’m sure the Olympic gold medallist will have another chance at a Slam final.

In complete contrast to this match, the second semi final was a let-down as Venus Williams turned in a brilliant performance to haul Dinara Safina out of the tournament 6-1 6-0. It can be said that Venus is the best player on grasscourts, which is Safina’s least favourite surface, but the manner and scoreline with which the young Russian was sent packing will sting and sends a poor message to the casual fan who would expect more from the current world number one. Safina has had a tremendous year, winning major titles outside of the slams and progressing well in the Slams themselves, on all surfaces, but has failed to win any of her three final appearances and this result won’t do her any favours as she continues to come under fire for being a Slamless number one. She’ll have other opportunities to quiten her critics in the future, but yesterday was, as Safina herself admitted, a lesson on grass from Venus.

So we have another all-Williams final and Venus will go in as the slight favourite, as she has been all tournament, perhaps more so as she played for less than an hour compared to Serena’s tussle of 2hrs 48 minutes. Both sisters play today in the Doubles semi-final also but will need to adjust to being on opposite sides come Saturday. Hopefully it will be another great match and another great advertisement for the WTA Tour.

Wimbledon – Top Four Make Final Four

2 07 2009

Good to see isn’t it? The top four womens seeds at Wimbledon have all made it to the Semi Final stage. After all the complaining about how the women players are too inconsistent and that the top players fall too easily, it’s refreshing to have a situation for once where the media can’t complain. Except, of course, they’ll no doubt say that there’s no strength in depth in the WTA.

Anyway, even though we have the top four seeds there are heavy favourites in each Semi Final match, as Serena Williams and Venus Williams are expected to overcome Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina respectively. Moving backwards to earlier in the week to see how they all got here; Serena beat Daniela Hantuchova, a former top five player who has been losing her way as of late. Hantuchova used her experience to overcome Wimbledon debutant Laura Robson in the first round before beating top 20 player Jie Zheng and then Ai Sugiyama. Serena Williams was a step too far though and even though Hantuchova was the most challenging of her matches to that point, she was dispatched 6-3 6-1. This then set up a rematch against her conquerer in Miami and half-conquerer in Australia, teenager Victoria Azarenka. What could have been a competitive match was blown out of the water as Williams turned up on fire and put in an almost faultless performance in the first set, taking it 6-2. Azarenka broke Williams to go 3-2 up in the second but was broke back immediately and Serena wrapped up the final three games to win 6-3 and send an unmistakably frightening message to the three other Semi Finalists.

Her sister Venus had an impressive couple of games too, beating Ana Ivanovic 6-1 in the first set before Ivanovic was forced to retire one game into the second set in tears with a groin injury. It’s a crying shame for Ivanovic who had been showing signs of form once more but hopefully the injury won’t keep her out of action for too long. Venus meanwhile went on to face Polish youngster Agnes Radwanska and had no problems at all, advancing in straight sets, 6-1 6-2.

Dinara Safina, the current world Number One, won both her matches in three sets, fighting back from a set down in each. First she was up against former number one and ex-Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo, losing the first set 4-6 before taking the second 6-3. Rain interrupted the third set and the Centre Court match made history as the new roof was brought into action for the first time so the match could be completed. Safina completed her comeback 6-4 and needed all her battling qualities again in the Quarter Final against German teenager Sabine Lisicki, who had already beaten two top ten players in Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caroline Wozniacki. Lisicki held her nerve to win the first set on a tie-break but Safina’s experience and much-improved fitness came into play as she took the second set and then comfortably claimed the third 6-1. The ever-smiling Lisicki had a great tournement considering she hadn’t won a match on grass before this year and as she continues to improve her game and gain more experience she should be one to watch in the future.

Finally, fourth seed Elena Dementieva booked her match against Serena by beating two players not considered major threats to the title. First Virginie Razzano, fresh from her Eastbourne final run, during which she beat Dementieva, was knocked out 6-2 7-6, and then surprise Quarter Finalist Francesca Schiavone was comfortably overcome, 6-2 6-2.

So for todays matches? Dementieva’s semi final against Serena Williams will be by far the toughest opponent she’s had to face in the tournament. Their head-to-head record makes interesting reading. Serena won their first four meetings, all in 2003/04, but they’ve met four times in the last two years and Dementieva has won three of those matches, including beating Serena at the Quarter Final stage when she won her Olympic gold medal in 2008. Serena came out on top when they met at the Semi Final stage of the Australian Open earlier this year and is expected to win today with her grass-court history and performance so far in the last two weeks, but it could be an interesting match, especially if it goes to a third set in the heat as Dementieva is in great shape and has won both of their previous matches which have gone to three sets. You have to fancy Serena but an upset can’t be ruled out.

In the other match, 5-time Wimbledon winner and defending champion Venus Williams is expected to beat Safina, despite her number one ranking. With Venus’ record on grass it’s hard to go against her, but Safina hasn’t reached the top ranking for no reason and on her day is very hard to beat. She’s also a tremendous battler as she’s already demonstrated here but there are question marks about her mental strength in big matches, having made three Slam finals and finished runner up on each occasion, including this years Australian and French Opens. They’ve only met three times, twice at the end of last year when Venus won, and in May this year in Rome when Safina took a three set match on her way to claiming that title. In both matches it’s hard to write off a Williams but a surprise is possible, if not expected, from both Dementieva and Safina. Hopefully we’ll get two good matches to take us into the Final on Saturday.