Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Defending champion squeaks by in opening Stuttgart round

Two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova had her hands full yesterday with Lucie Safarova on the red clay in Stuttgart. I didn't get to watch it all because of work, but I have an idea that those who did watch it may have felt exhausted by the end. It took Sharapova over 3 hours and 23 minutes to defeat Safarova 7-6, 6-7, 7-6. The Russian led 5-1 in the third set and held three match points, but was forced to go to yet another tiebreak. I wish I could have watched the whole thing.

Last year, Sharapova had to tangle with Safarova, too, in the second round, and that also went three sets, with Sharapova winning 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. And last month, in Miami, the two of them went at it for almost three hours, with Sharapova emerging the winner.

But the drama wasn't confined to Maria and Lucie. Jelena Jankovic had to fight like crazy against Mona Barthel and wound up saving four match points to win 2-6, 7-6, 6-3. It's good to see Barthel doing so well; she tends to go into lengthy slumps (can you call it a "slump" when it lasts that long?).

Incidentally, Roberta Vinci has advanced to the second round, and Sara Errani has advanced to the quarterfinals, giving the Italians a bit more clay court "normalcy" than they've had lately.

For court-side coverage of the Porsche Tennis Open, check Marija's reporting at Women's Tennis Blog.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Czech Republic and Germany advance to Fed Cup final

For Italy and Australia, today was just more of yesterday in the Fed Cup semifinals. Petra Kvitova defeated Roberta Vinci (subbing for Sara Errani) in straight sets, clinching her country's spot in the 2014 Fed Cup final. The fourth rubber was skipped and the doubles rubber was played, and the Czech Republic won that, too, with Andrea Hlavackova and Klara Koukalova beating Camila Giorgi and Karin Knapp 6-2, 5-7, 11-9.

In Brisbane, Angelique Kerber won the deciding match, defeating Sam Stosur 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the third rubber. The doubles rubber was played in that tie, too, and Australia won it, so they went down 1-3. Taken out of the semifinals by both Germans, Stosur can't be feeling too good right now. Australia's top player just cannot perform on home turf.

Who would have guessed that Sorana Cirstea would be Romania's Fed Cup star this weekend? The talented but wildly inconsistent Cirstea followed up her victory over friend Ana Ivanovic with a 6-3, 6-6, 6-3 victory over Bojana Jovanovski, putting Romania into the World Group. And what a match it was. It took Cirstea six match points to get the job done, and there were many moments when Jovanovski looked like she was going to take control of the match. She took the long road, but the shaky Romanian won. There was an attempt to play the doubles rubber, but the Serbian team retired in the second game of the first set.

I have to hand it to Cirstea. A player who seems to practically walk onto the court mentally conflicted, she nevertheless found a way to beat her best friend, and to equalize Simona Halep's 1-1 record for the weekend.

Also in World Group II Play-Offs, Sweden defeated Thailand 4-0, and Switzerland defeated Brazil 4-1 (Timea Bacsinszky was the star). The Netherlands beat Japan 3-2. Team Bertens and Rus actually clinched the tie at 3-1 but the doubles rubber was played, and Japan won it.

The USA and France had to go to a deciding fifth rubber in doubles. Sloane Stephens defeated Virginie Razzano, who substituted for an ailing Alize Cornet (causing commentator Rennae Stubbs to "sort of" apologize for her not-so-veiled speculation that Cornet's leg pain was less than significant). Stephens had a pretty easy time of it, but then Caroline Garcia took to the court again and beat Madison Keys in straight sets.

For the doubles rubber, both nations tossed out their originally announced teams and went with today's singles players, i.e., Keys/Stephens vs. Garcia/Razzano. Stephens had an excellent junior record as a doubles player, making her the only one of the four with any kind of doubles record of which to speak. The irony is that the USA has a real wealth of great doubles players--the Williams sisters, of course, but also Vania King, Lisa Raymond, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Raquel Kops-Jones, and Abigail Spears. King and Mattek-Sands are also good singles players. Mattek-Sands, when she isn't injured (as she is right now) and can create some momentum, is an especially fine singles player.

But I digress. The Frenchwomen won the first set pretty easily and it looked as though they would cruise through the second, but Keys and Stephens, down a double break, were able to get those breaks back. That was as far as it went, though, as France pulled off the win at 6-2, 7-5. France's 3-2 victory over the USA puts the spotlight on Caroline Garcia, who put the "3" into 3-2. Garcia's amazing Fed Cup weekend (her first one ever) comes only a week after she won both the singles and doubles titles in Bogota. Some of that spotlight needs to shine on captain Amelie Mauresmo, too. (And I have to believe that Marion Bartoli's fighting spirit also hovered over that French team.)

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the close French win is that Mauresmo's team pulled it off with two of their key players injured. Kristina Mladenovic, who is frequently half of a very successful doubles team known as Mladenovic and Anybody, had to withdraw from the competition because of an arm injury. Then France's top player, Cornet, sustained an injury during the first day of play and had to be replaced by Virginie Razzano today. Razzano lost her singles rubber, but she was an able partner for Garcia in doubles. Fed Cup--where anything can happen, and usually does!

Russia redeemed its World Group status with a 4-0 win over Argentina. Canada emerged 3-1 over the Slovak Republic (Jana Cepelova lost to both Wozniak and Bouchard) and Poland beat Spain 3-2. That was kind of interesting, with one Radwanska (Aga) winning both of her singles rubbers, and the other Radwanska losing both of hers. But then the elder Radwanska teamed with Alicja Rosolska to beat the Spaniards in straight sets in doubles. On clay, in Barcelona. Well done, A-Rad!

Vekic upsets Cibulkova to win Malaysian Open

First it was Cornet when it was "supposed" to be Radwanska, then it was Garcia when it was "supposed" to be Jankovic. And now, just a week later, top seed Dominika Cibulkova is departing from  Kuala Lumpur with the runner-up trophy. 17-year-old Donna Vekic, who has been in a finalist position twice before, won her first WTA title today, and also got her first top 10 win. In today's Malaysian Open final, Vekic defeated Cibnulkova 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 in a 2-hour and 51-minute thriller.

When Cibulkova was up 7-5, 5-4, it looked like the match would soon be over, but Vekic then won seven games in a row, which put her at 4-0 in the third. Cibulkova, not unexpectedly, fought her way back in, and at 5-2, Vekic saw three match points disappear. The set went to a tiebreak, which Vekic won. She wound up with only one point more than Cibulkova in what turned out to be a very close and exciting final.

Vekic said that "I was up 5-1 in the third set and she came back out playing insane, so I'm happy I was able to get through in the end."

Top seeds Timea Babos and Chan Hao-Ching won the doubles title. They defeated Chan's sister, Chan Yung-Jan, and Zheng Saisai in the final.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vekic reaches her third WTA final

Donna Vekic, who is 17 years old and ranked number 95 in the world, has rather quietly reached her third WTA final. She lost her other two to Irina-Camelia Begu (2012 Tashkent) and Daniela Hantuchova (2013 Birmingham). Tomorrow, she'll go up against top seed Dominika Cibulkova for the Malaysian Open title. The Croatian teenager defeated 2nd seed Zhang Shuai in the semifinals.

And speaking of the Malaysian Open, the Pliskova sisters played six rounds between them and hit a total of 59 aces. That number "should" have been higher, but Karolina slipped in her first round and hit only one ace. The sisters have the ace-hitting thing down. Cibulkova and Vekic, by the way, each had to beat a Pliskova sister to advance to the final.

Meanwhile, quaifying is taking place in Stuttgart. Tsvetana Pironkova is the top qualifying seed and has made it out of the first round.

Agnieszka Radwanska is the top seed in Stuttgart. Here are some potentially interesting first round matches:

Lucie Safarova vs. Maria Sharapova
Jelena Jankovic vs. Ana Ivanovic
Andrea Petkovic vs. Flavia Pennetta
Dominika Cibulkova vs. Sabine Lisicki
Julia Goerges vs. Sorana Cirstea

Sharapova is the defending champion.

Czech Republic and Germany each one rubber away from Fed Cup final

Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber didn't drop any sets in their Fed Cup wins over Australia today. Petkovic beat Sam Stosur 6-1, 7-6, and Kerber ran over Casey Dellacqua, 6-1, 6-0. It was like that for the Czech Republic, too. Lucie Safarova, continuing her excellent form of late, defeated Sara Errani 6-4, 6-1, then Petra Kvitova took care of Camila Girogi, 6-4, 6-2.

Russia, led by Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina, now have a 2-0 score against Argentina in the World Group Play-Offs. Spain and Poland are 1-1, with one Radwanska winning and the other (Ula) losing.

Canada is 2-0 over the Slovak Republic, though both rubbers went three sets. Aleksandra Wozniak defeated Jana Cepelova 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, and Genie Bouchard defeated Kristina Kucova 7-6, 2-6, 6-1. 

In the USA vs. France contest, Caroline Garcia expertly handled Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2. Garcia has had problems with her mental game in the past, but her double title in Bogota last week showed that she has done some off-court work. Against Stephens, she was close to meticulous.

Commentator Rennae Stubbs was all over captain Mary Joe Fernandez and the USA team for not actively cheering Stephens on and even getting in her face a bit. Maybe Stephens' teammates are tired of all the hype followed by the failure to deliver and the "I'm in no hurry" speech? Just wondering. Garcia had never before played a Fed Cup match, and she looked like she was there to win every moment. No so much Sloane Stephens.

Ah, but the drama was to come. Alize Cornet was on next, so of course! Cornet (who generally runs about a 7.5 on the Lisicki/Tipsarevic scale) was her usual self, expressing all over the place, getting down on herself, jumping around (in a good way), and causing captain Amelie Mauresmo's brow to furrow just a bit. She played Madison Keys, who broke her when she served for the first set at 5-3. The set went to a tiebreak, which Cornet won.

Cornet became preoccupied with her left thigh, which was apparently strained--or she had a cramp--and had trouble pushing off for her serve. Considering that her second serve was already in the Errani category, it didn't look good for the Frenchwoman. She took a medical timeout and returned, only to get broken again when she served for the set at 5-4. But this time, when the set went to a tiebreak, it was Keys who won it.

Keys went up two breaks in the third set, but then Cornet broke back for 2-4. But by this time, Cornet--struggling with her leg and her serve--was kind of a mess, and Keys got another break, then served for the match and went down three break points. She saved two, but then double-faulted. Then she had a match point on Cornet's serve, which Cornet saved. Then, with her 14th and 15th double faults, Cornet was beaten, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.

The match lasted a few minutes short of three hours (a typical Cornet outing), and it wasn't very pretty to watch, but credit to Keys for hanging in and keeping her team comfortably in the mix. It was a big win for her. As for Cornet, she's probably exhausted. She played three consecutive three-set matches on her way to the title in Katowice last week.

In the World Group II Play-Offs, Romania leads Serbia 1-0. Sorana Cirstea defeated best friend Ana Ivanovic 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. And if anyone on the WTA tour is less predictable than Cirstea, it would be Ivanovic. The second rubber, in which Simona Halep was up a break over Bojana Jovanovski, was rained out and will be played tomorrow.

Also in the World Group II Play-Offs, the Netherlands and Japan are 1-1, Sweden is 2-0 over Thailand, and Brazil is 0-2 against Switzerland.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Quote of the day

"Who says the City of Light can't be the City of the Light and the Joy?"
Ben Rothenberg, in his "why not?" prediction that JJ will win the French Open

Sweeping the court

The Pliskova effect: Karolina Pliskova has gotten into the habit of hitting a whole lot of aces in almost every match, but, for some reason, that hasn't happened as much in Kuala Lumpur (well, except for the 9 aces she hit in her quarterfinal). But her sister, Kristyna, seems to have gotten the hang of it, hitting 27 aces in two rounds. Impressive.

"Speedy" is the latest Sugarpova flavor. The "sweet ride" is a gummy replica of the Porsche 911.

Here are Sara Errani's game day foods.

Here are some photos of the Malaysian Open player party. Kimiko shows them how to do it off-court, too.

There was a recent Vika sighting in Sydney.

Laura Robson, still out with a wrist injury, has announced that she will miss both the French Open and Wimbledon. Robson is having wrist surgery at the Mayo Clinic.

Lepchenko out of Fed Cup

On paper, Varvara Lepchenko's withdrawal from this weekend's Fed Cup World Group USA vs. France Play-Offs looks like a minor thing; after all, she isn't scheduled to play the singles rubbers. But let's examine reality: The steady, non-chokey Lepchenko is whom you put in when your "A list" players don't perform well under pressure (or just flat-out don't perform well). Lepchenko is injured, and has been replaced on the USA team by Lauren Davis. That's not a bad thing, but having Lepchenko (or the also-injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands) would be a better thing.

The opening rubber will feature Sloane Stephens against Bogota champion Caroline Garcia, and that will be followed by Madison Keys vs. Katowice champion Alize Cornet. The USA is 11-1 against France in Fed Cup play. Again, it looks good on paper.

But on to more important events. Italy will meet the Czech Republic in the semfinals, and Sara Errani and Lucie Safarova will begin the fight, followed by a rubber featuring Camila Giorgi and Petra Kvitova. The two countries are the huge Fed Cup stars of recent time--one of them has won the championship every year in the last five year--but one of them has to go this weekend. They're playing on an indoor surface in Ostrava, and that favors Kvitova in a big way. After the reverse singles are played--should the tie go to a deciding doubles rubber--the Italian doubles team of Karin Knapp and Roberta Vinci could be replaced by Errani and Vinci.

The other semifinal features Australia against Germany. The two countries will play on a hard court in Brisbane, and the Australians will have all they can handle in Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber.

In other World Group Play-Offs, Russia plays Argentina, Canada plays the Slovak Republic and Spain plays Poland. Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have, for some reason, re-joined Russia's Fed Cup team, which was pretty much dismantled recently because of players' anger toward the Russian Tennis Federation.

Of particular interest (at least, to me) in the World Group II Play-Offs is the Romania vs. Serbia tie.

Here's a bit of Italian attitude, as Errani and Vinci prepare for what is apparently being called The Ding-Dong.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mladenovic withdraws from Fed Cup play

Kristina Mladenovic has withdrawn from the Fed Cup World Group Play-Offs this weekend because of an injured right forearm. France's most notable doubles player will be replaced on the French team by Claire Feuerstein. Not having Mladenovic on the team is a disadvantage for France, but only if the contest against team USA should go to a fifth, deciding rubber. Singles play will be handled by Katowice champion Alize Cornet and Bogota champion Caroline Garcia, with Virginie Razzano standing by.

Here's a bit of the press conference transcript:

Have you had a chance to experience St. Louis or done anything fun around the city?
Cornet: Is there some fun? Is there some fun things to do? We're motivated to know that!
Garcia: We been to the Hard Rock Cafe yesterday, but we were the only ones.

Meanwhile, USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez said of her team's opponents: "...Their top two are coming off big wins last week, one in Poland and one in Columbia. Cornet, the top player, is a great competitor and runs a lot of balls down--great backhand. Garcia is very aggressive. I think she's 20 right now...."

And from Sloane Stephens: "...Got to just go out there and do your thing, and hopefully everything goes well."

The draw will take place on Friday at the St. Louis Public Library.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Garcia wins everything in Bogota, France rules weekend

Caroline Garcia won her first WTA title today. The Frenchwoman upset top seed and defending champion Jelena Jankovic in the Bogota final, beating her 6-3, 6-4. This was Garcia's first win over a top 10 player. Serving for the match at 15-all, Garcia hit two aces followed by a winner.

Jankovic had trouble finding her clay court legs in Charleston, and apparently has some work to do in this clay court season.

Garcia, with partner Lara Arruabarrina, also won the doubles title. The champions upset top seeds Vania King and Chanelle Scheepers 7-6, 6-4 in the final. Garcia also beat King in singles in the semifinals.

The 20-year-old Garcia, who is coached by her father, is currently ranked number 74 in the world, but her ranking will rise as of tomorrow. Garcia precedes both world number 18 Sloane Stephens and world number 19 Eugenie Bouchard in grabbing a first title.

The unseeded Giorgi had a good week, defeating 2nd seed Roberta Vinci and 3rd seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

Meanwhile, in Katowice, Alize Cornet won her fourth WTA title, and did it in expected Cornet fashion. First she upset top seed (a lot of that going on) Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. She won 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, saving a match point along the way. That is so Cornet. But the real excitement was yet to come. In the final, the 4th-seeded Frenchwoman defeated Camila Giorgi 7-6, 5-7, 7-5. The match lasted over 3 hours and 11 minutes, and contained enough drama to probably please all spectators. Part of that drama was the Italian player's fight to extend the match after going down 3-5 in the second set.

The Katowice doubles final also involved an upset of the top seeds. The unseeded team of Yuliya Beygelzimer and Olga Savchuk defeated number 1 seeds Klara Koukalova and Monica Niculescu 6-4, 5-7, 10-7.

Cornet and Garcia are both on the French Fed Cup team which will compete against the USA Fed Cup team April 19 and 20 in the World Group Play-Offs.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jankovic advances to quarterfinals in Bogota

Top seed Jelena Jankovic advanced to the quarterfinals in Bogota today when she defeated lucky loser Sofia Shapatava in the second round. Caroline Garcia also advanced to the quarterfinals.

Sloane "I'll win when I'm 30" Stephens went out in straight sets in the opening round, defeated by Mariana Duque-Marino. Stephens, it was announced yesterday, will lead the USA Fed Cup team against France later this month. Other members of team USA are Madison Keys, Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale. The French team is composed of Alize Cornet, Caroline Garcia, Virginie Razzano, and Kristina Mladenovic.

In Katawice, top seed Agnieszka Radwanska moved to the quarterfinals with a straight set win over Francesca Schiavone. 2nd seed Roberta Vinci lost to countrywoman Camila Giorgi in the second round (and that match included a third set bagel).