Kim Stars in Fairytale of New York

21 09 2009

Fate, destiny, written in the stars; some of the descriptions I’ve heard since Kim Clijsters capped a remarkable return to tennis by winning the US Open. Featuring in just her third tournament since her comeback, she took a wildcard into the final Slam of the year as an unseeded entrant, and left with all the spoils. It’s the heart and soul of dreams.

She began with an expected win over Viktoriya Kutuzova before leaping her first hurdle, in the shape of Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, in three sets and then took out compatriot and friend Kirsten Flipkens. Next she faced the biggest test of her comeback thus far in Venus Williams and took a remarkable match 60 06 64 to progress to the Quarter Finals. Here she disposed of Li Na to set up a Semi Final match against world number 2 Serena Williams. Unless you’ve been in hiding for the last couple of weeks then you know what happened in THAT match as Clijsters progressed to the US Open Final in straight sets, 64 75. The final obstacle between the Belgian and an unbelievable victory was Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki, who had overcome her own personal millstone in Sorana Corstea before knocking out French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, American wonderkid Melanie Oudin and another Belgian in Yanina Wickmayer. Wozniacki, who capped a superb year by quailifying for the year end championships with this run, couldn’t halt the irrestible force and succumbed to Clijsters 75 63. Our champion was then joined on court by her young daughter Jada, much to the photographers delight.

So what next for Clijsters? Well she’s scheduled to play in Luxembourg next month, a tournament she’s won five times previously, and has announced her entry into Brisbane at the start of next season. Until then she’s going to relish the last couple of months and let it all sink in, I think – as well as enjoy looking after her daughter at home again. Clijsters has been a revelation since her return and has looked every inch the mature player, composed and patient, something she could perhaps teach some of her younger counterparts on the WTA Tour.

It was a grand way to complete the 2009 Slams and a better story couldn’t have been scripted; alongside the dream run of Oudin, the fall of big name players, Serena’s meltdown and a first-time Slam finalist, it was a tournament full of excitement and freshness. Well done Kim.





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.





The Week That Was: July 6-12

13 07 2009

In the calm that follows Wimbledon a lot of players are taking a few weeks off to rest and prepare for the hardcourt season, but there were two tournaments to enjoy this week. Both were on clay courts and took place in Båstad, Sweden and Budapest, Hungary.

In Bastad we had an upset in the final as Caroline Wozniacki, hoping to celebrate her 19th birthday with a trophy, was beaten in straight sets by Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez as the Spaniard claimed her second title of the year. Her first was in Bogota in February but no doubt this one will mean more as she took out three top 50 players en route to the final before she met world number 9 Wozniacki. Sanchez, who stressed that she is not related at all to Lawrie (okay, she didn’t) promised to buy Caro something for her birthday instead, before holding up her trophy with a charming smile.

The tournament in Budapest was won by the native Agnes Szavay, claiming her first Tour title since 2007. She beat Patty Schnyder in a three-set final, having dropped the first set to the Swiss. Schnyder had played the best part of two matches the day before to reach the final, her Quarter Final match against Alisa Kleybanova being delayed due to rain, but her efforts would prove to be ultimately fruitless.

This week we have two more tournaments taking place, again both on clay, in Prague and Palermo.

Other WTA news… Monica Seles was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame at the weekend, and deservedly so of course. News of that and the other 2009 inductees can be read here: http://www.tennisfame.com/tennisfame.aspx?pgID=889&newsID=143&exCompID=56

Jelena Dokic, who has been pulling out of tournament after tournament recently, has been diagnosed with mono and told to rest, so hopefully that will be treated and when she returns she’ll be healthy and ready to give her comeback another try.

Indian star Sania Mirza was engaged late this week but not before two obsessed fans – both engineers apparently, and both on seperate days – had gone to her home and insisted that Sania marry them, one of them threatening to kill himself unless she did so. Both men were arrested and Mirza’s engagement went ahead as planned.

Switching sides to the mens tour briefly we had three stories of interest. The first is a positive one as Rajeev Ram won ATP Newport as a Lucky Loser, fighting from a set down to beat fellow American Sam Querry and claim his first ATP title. Ram, who had played in four matches the previous day, winning them all, also took the double title. Secondly Brydan Klein was given a six month ban and ordered to attend a ‘racial sensitivity course’ – no, really – after making racist comments towards a South African opponent at Eastbourne last month. And finally the tragic news that Mathieu Montcourt was found dead on Monday. Montcourt, who reached the 2nd round of the French Open this year, suffered a heart attack in his apartment block in Paris. Toxicology reports have come back negative and the Frenchman died of natural causes, aged just 24. As always this kind of news surpasses sport and thoughts go out to his family and friends. RIP Mathieu.





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.