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).

Monday, April 7, 2014

Some final thoughts on Charleston

Photo by Daniel Ward
The Family Circle Cup has long been known as a "star-maker" and "breakout" tournament, and it seems only natural that Andrea Petkovic would firmly emphasize her comeback by winning it. The event also showcased the considerable talent of Genie Bouchard, as well as some lesser known, but exciting, young players who have lots of potential. I thought it was a real treat that Jana Cepelova, Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic were all there, and they all did quite well.

Photo by Daniel Ward
Cepelova won our hearts with her "all by myself" independent spirit. Her box was empty, she had no coach for most of the tournament, and she had no other staff or family or friends there. Some of us wanted to "adopt" her, or at least take her out for a good meal. I'm not sure Jana understood what the fuss was about; she was just there to play tennis! I imagined her sending a text message home: Tired & starving, FCC staff bringing me plate of food 4 dinner, beat Serena W 2day, need 2 get some rest

The Charleston event features a relaxed atmosphere, and the players always get really special treatment from the staff and volunteers (Charleston volunteers are great!). They also enjoy dining out in the city and frequently mention that the food in Charleston is one of their favorite things about the tournament. This year, the weather was superb--it was unbelievable that the rain completely missed the stadium on the final Sunday.

Photo by Daniel Ward

This year, I left Daniel Island with some lasting images (many of which, yes, do involve JJ) of the event, which I'll share here:

Petko publicly telling her team, regarding her behavior: "I'm sorry for everything."
Question: "...did you know that Fila calls that color 'Diva Pink'?"
Jelena Jankovic: "Yeah, of course, because I'm a diva. What else do you expect?"

Sara Errani, standing with her face mashed against the glass outside the media building, wondering if she was supposed to come in and do a press conference after her opponent retired in the second set

Gladys Knight catching an autographed ball hit into the stands by Venus Williams

Errani with her hand over her face, shaking her head over and over as she was driven from the stadium in the golf cart after being upset by Belinda Bencic

Jankovic climbing the steps of the umpire's chair (while Eva Asderaki was in it) to stretch her calves

Both finalists saying they didn't want or need
on-court coaching

Sitting with other press directly behind JJ and Petko at their second doubles match, when Jankovic turned around and said to us, "What's wrong with her? Do something to pump her up!"
The Petko superfan who yelled loudly, "Hit it, AP!" or just "AP!" throughout Andrea's semifinal and during the final. At one point in the final, she yelled "What's wrong with you, girl?!"

Belinda Bencic getting an obscenity warning from the chair umpire a day after she talked about how calm she was on the court

Abba's "Dancing Queen" blaring throughout the stadium right after Petkovic hit match point in her quarterfinal

Anastasia Rodionova retiring after getting hit in the head by a ball that came off of Chan Hao-Ching's racket--after Rodionova had repeatedly aimed balls right at Chan and hit her in the chest (Liezel Huber was out of the tournament--got to hit someone)
Petkovic, taking Asderaki's hand in both of hers instead of shaking it when she won the final

Pam Shriver doing the Petko Chair Dance on ESPN (WTA Backspin has the video with instruction from You-Know-Who, about halfway down the page, on how to do the Petkorazzi Dance)

Photo by Daniel Ward
Jankovic explaining her new au naturel look: "Here I want to look like a beast. I just want to look as scary as possible. I don't want to look pretty and all nice and dolled up. For what? I'm going to get dirty and sweaty. The only thing, my hair has to be slick. That's the only thing."

Ivanovic wins Monterrey title

In the WTA's first-ever all-Serbian final yesterday, 2nd seed Ana Ivanvic defeated the unseeded Jovana Jaksic 6-2, 6-1. The Monterrey title is the 13th of Ivanovic's career. Her victory moves her to number 8 in the Road to Singapore rankings.

Ivanovic defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals. Jaksic defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm, who took out top seed Flavia Pemetta in the first round.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Petkovic dances her way to Charleston title

Photo by Daniel Ward

Andrea Petkovic, who--after sustaining two serious injuries in succession--doubted she'd ever play in another big WTA final, won the premier-level Family Circle Cup today in Charleston. The intelligent, good-humored, dancing German defeated upstart Jana Cepelova in straight sets, 7-6, 6-2, to take the biggest title of her career. She then performed the Petko dance to wild applause, hit some autographed balls to the crowd, and delivered a very charming and entertaining acceptance speech at the trophy ceremony.

Petkovic spoke throughout the week about the highs and lows of being a professional tennis player, and she described herself as a "doubter." Petkovic said she was devastated after losing in the first round in Indian Wells, and she hopes that she can keep her Charleston victory in her mind the next time she feels doubt. "I just hope I can remind myself of this moment and sort of what I've said now in the press conference, and maybe I can read back the transcript."

Photo by Daniel Ward
The former world number 9 was off the tour for a long time after injuring her ankle, and then her back (and most recently, her knee). What she learned from that, she explained, is that she cannot rely on her fitness the way she used to, so she has had to become a more tactical player.

The champion had high praise for her opponent, Jana Cepelova, who spent most of the week without a coach or anyone else to help her or even provide companionship for her, and who defeated top seed Serena Williams and 2011 runner-up Elena Vesnina. Cepelova's most impressive performance, however, occurred during the two and a half hour semifinal thriller she won against teenager Belinda Bencic.

Photo by Daniel Ward
"If you had said something before," Petkovic deadpanned to Cepelova at the trophy ceremony, "I could have coached you."

Petkovic broke Cepelova to start the match, then broke her again to go up 3-0. But Cepelova fought back, and had two set points on Petkovic's serve. The German player saved them, producing the first deuce of the set at 4-5. She held, and then served again for the set at 6-5, closing on her second set point.

After that close first set, Petkovic broke away. Hitting her groundstrokes with more consistent depth than she had in the first set, she quickly took control of the set. Petkovic also made quick work of
many of Cepelova's serves, especially her second serves. Up 5-0, Petkovic served for the match and had to save a break point. But then Cepelova hit a backhand passing shot and broke her opponent. The young Slovak held very easily for 2-5, and the question, "Is this a turning point?" arose.

But it wasn't. Petkovic served a love game to win the second set and become the 2014 champion of the Family Circle Cup.

In her other matches, Cepelova's movement was very impressive, but in this one, she was slower and less instinctive. Fatigue had set in, and Cepelova couldn't get control of the action. There was a bit of wind today, too, and Cepelova went through patches in which she repeatedly hit the ball long. I should note, however, that there was no indication that the 20-year-old let the occasion get to her mentally; she was just tired, and she was up against that very tricky opponent--experience.

Photo by Daniel Ward
It was quite a week, nevertheless, for the up-and-coming Slovakian player. Asked to describe herself in one word, she immediately replied, "Fighter." Her work in Charleston will result in her breaking the top 50 for the first time.

After the final, Petkovic said that she was preparing to return to Germany. "I'm going to have champagne and I don't even drink champagne, but I'm just going to have it for the heck of it in the airplane," she told the press. "I'm going to get drunk. I never get drunk on the airplane. That's what I'm going to do, and I'm going to walk around and dance with the cabin attendants…. And I'm going to let them touch my trophy…. I will drink champagne from my trophy. That's going to be fantastic. I won't be able to come to Fed Cup. I'm sorry."

Medina Garrigues and Shvedova win Charleston doubles title

Photo by Daniel Ward
The unseeded team of Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova won the doubles championship at the Family Circle Cup today. Medina Garrigues and Shvedova defeated the sister team of Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan 7-6, 6-2 in the final. Chan and Chan were also unseeded.

Rain was expected today, but play went on as scheduled. However, the doubles trophy ceremony was postponed until after the singles trophy ceremony in order to move play along.

When they won, Medina Garrigues and Shvedova did a little Flamenco move with their hands. In the press conference, they were asked whether they speak English to one another on the court. Shvedova said that they do, and her partner added, "I clapping her in the Spanish...." "Sometimes, if I get mad," Shvedova added, "I speak Russian, and she's asking 'what did you say?!'"

Medina Garrigues had to catch a flight, so she missed the trophy ceremony. But, she said, "I'm going to celebrate. In Spain I will celebrate, and it's a good place to celebrate."

Sweeping the court

I haven't had a chance to mention this OK magazine photo of Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova wearing 1920s era tennis outfits, but I think it's wonderful. Makarova is looking kind of retro Cate Blanchett there.

What's next for Serena?

Novak, Richard and Andy ask 'Pova some questions.

Kamakshi Tandon takes a look at what's going on with ITF drug testing.

There'll be an all-Serbian final in Monterrey today, as Jovana Jaksic faces off with Ana Ivanovic. In the semifinals, Jaksic defeated Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 and 2nd seed Ivanovic defeated 3rd seed Caroline Wozniacki 7-6, 6-4.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

And now a few words from Professor Petkovic

All photos by Daniel Ward

"When I was in school and I was in fifth grade and 13-graders....The 13-graders were walking past me. I was in awe. Wow, the big ones, the teenagers smoking, being all cool with their backpacks and their pants down to their knees. I thought they were the coolest in the world, and when they were walking past me, I was like, please don't see me, please don't see me, please don't see me.

"And then when I was in the 13th grade, the fifth graders, they were running around, hitting our backpacks, throwing at us balls and stuff. They didn't respect us at all.

"But that's good, you know. For tennis it's good. For me as a 13-grader, I wanted to be the cool one, but I wasn't. So you know, I feel like in tennis it's the same. The new generation doesn't care about the names anymore. They're just very confident, and they believe in themselves a lot, which is great for tennis, but I was just never that type of person. I needed a lot of experience. And so yeah, but it's good for them, I guess."

Two unseeded teams to compete for Charleston doubles title

Anabel Medina Garrigues and Yaroslava Shvedova advanced to the Family Circle Cup doubles final tonight when they upset 3rd seeds Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears 7-5, 6-7, 10-8. The two-hour match included a medical timeout taken by Medina Garrigues for treatment of her leg.

That was a pretty routine medical timeout; then there was the medical timeout taken by Anastasia Rodionova in the other semifinal. To the best of my memory, it's been a while since the Russian-turned-Australian has been involved in on-court drama (it used to be constant), but she was involved in a lot of it tonight. She and partner Alla Kudryavtseva played Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan, and Rodionova was hitting forehands right at Chan Hao Ching's body. She got her in the chest, and shortly after that, a ball came back and hit Rodionova in the head. Rodionova had some things to say.

Then Rodionova began hitting moonballs, and then there was a medical timeout with a pulse check, and finally, Rodionova retired. Chan and Chan won the match 6-2, 3-1.

Photo by Daniel Ward

Cepelova wins Charleston thriller and advances to final

Photo by Daniel Ward

I was so looking forward to the Charleston semifinal between Belinda Bencic and Jana Cepelova (I had referred to the Bouchard-Petkovic semifinal as the "appetizer"), that right before the match began, I had to remind myself about what happens when you build something up too much in your head. I also reminded myself that one player (Bencic) had already played six matches, and that the other one had sustained a leg injury during the tournament, and had complained of a sore shoulder. Was I expecting too much?

Well, it turns out I wasn't. The 17-year-old Swiss player and the 20-year-old Slovak brought everything they had onto the Billie Jean King Stadium Court this afternoon, and for over 2 hours and 33 minutes, fans were treated to just about everything they could ask for in a semifinal, and a little more. The drama ended with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 victory for Cepelova, and the scoreline alone should give you an idea of what a drama this match was.

Bencic and Cepelova--though undoubtedly weary both mentally and physically--went after each other with a fierceness that made me wonder whether I had been transported to a second-day Fed Cup match. And while not everyone in the crowd may have entered the stadium knowing just who the players were, it didn't take them long to get caught up in the drama of this clay court thriller. "Go Belinda!" somone would yell. "Come on, Jana!" someone else would call out. "Pome!" screamed Cepelova. And then Bencic would channel Maria Sharapova and scream "Pome!" right back at her.

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)
Bencic was able to rely on her serve to get her out of trouble at big moments. She hit seven aces, and two of them were hit in the last game of the second set, which she won. This was after she had served for the set three times, so the aces were especially impressive, considering the pressure she was under. Also, at 3-4, deuce, in the third set, Bencic hit two big serves to even the set at 4-all. And--most dramatic of all--serving at 4-5, 30-40 in the final set--she saved a match point, then hit an ace to hold.

The match featured momentum swings that occurred suddenly, and then disappeared just as suddenly. There was an excessive amount of running, sliding and bending, and Cepelova took another spill, this time scraping her knee, for which she needed a brief medical timeout. Cepelova is nothing if not scrappy, and is therefore a very physical player. Bencic is more cerebral, and this tension created some of the innate drama in the match. Both players had repeated emotional outbursts, but these outbursts seemed like natural releases of energy; both Cepelova and Bencic seem to know just when to "let it out."

It seemed inevitable that a third set tiebreak would happen, and it did. And, as so often occurs in the third set tiebreak of a long, tense match, one of the players goes flat. It was Cepelova, who let Bencic run up to a 4-1 lead. But--given the dynamics of the match, and given the fighting spirit of Cepelova--no easy path could be predicted for the Swiss woman. Momentum change--Bencic began making errors, including a double fault. Then, after she won a long, exciting rally to go up 5-all, Bencic double-faulted again. She thought she had hit an ace on her first serve, and then appeared somewhat rattled to find out that she hadn't.

Cepelova had a second match point at 5-6 in the tiebreak, but she landed the ball in the net. When Bencic hit a backhand out, Cepelova had a third match point, but tossed that ball into the net, too. That put them at 7-all. At 8-7, Cepelova had her fourth match point, which she converted when Bencic--aiming for the far ad corner--hit another ball out.

Photo by Daniel Ward
Cepelova, as I mentioned earlier, is here alone--no coach, no physio, no family, no anybody. Last night, she had dinner on site, and said that she would do room service tonight, and that the tour will make a physio available to her. Cepelova said she wishes she had someone close to her to talk to, but that she was communicating with home by fist-pumping toward the cameras. She knows how to motivate herself; when she was three points from victory, she wrote a "3" into the clay.

Resurgent Petkovic ends Bouchard's run in Charleston

Photo by Daniel Ward

This week in Charleston, 6th seed Eugenie Bouchard has made a specialty out of winning three-set matches, but today, she found herself on the wrong end of the third set. The young Canadian--who has created quite a buzz this week at the Family Circle Cup--was defeated 1-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the semifinals by former top 10 player Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic, whose career was put on hold because of serious injuries she sustained to her ankle and her back, is seeded 14th in Charleston.

Photo by Daniel Ward
A little over a year ago, Petkovic's ranking had dropped to number 177 in the world, but she had brought it back up to number 40 (but only after having to take more time off to rehab a knee injury) by the time she entered the Charleston tournament this year. Because she dropped off the radar for a time, the popular German player hasn't been the focus of a lot of attention lately, and that may have worked in her favor this week. After going three sets with Lesia Tsurenko, Petkovic went 6-0, 6-0 against Lourdes Dominguez Lino. She then lost only one game against 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki. In the quarterfinals, Petkovic defeated 9th seed Lucie Safarova.

In today's match, Petkovic (whose father played tennis for the University of South Carolina) said that the first set didn't really feel like 6-1 to her. "It was kind of each game I had my chances, and I just didn't take them, and Genie was there. Every time I gave her something, she took it...yeah, very decisively." Bouchard has beaten players--including number 2 seed Jelena Janovic--all week by taking the ball very early and keeping it low. Her shot-making has thrilled the crowd and overcome her opponents.

Photo by Daniel Ward
And it looked like she was headed to the final after she went up 4-2 in the third set. But then her level slipped a bit, and Petkovic stole the momentum from her. It was an error here and an error there, with Petko fighting for every point. After she won, Petkovic cried a bit. She later said that she was "so relieved and I was proud that I came back from all these injuries, and I never thought that I would play finals in the big tournaments again...."

The German player, known for her keen wit and post-match dancing, also confirmed that she has given up on-court coaching. "...I don't want to do it anymore, to be honest," she told the press. "because I feel like I'm 26 years old now, and I'm very experienced. I'm a big girl. I can handle myself."

Charleston semifinal notes

One of the participants in today's Family Circle Cup semifinals is The Unknown. 6th seed Eugenie Bouchard and 13th seed Andrea Petkovic have never played each other before. Also, the unseeded Jana Cepelova and qualifier Belinda Bencic have never played each other.

17-year-old Bencic, because she had to go through qualifying, has now played six matches, while her opponent has played four. But Cepelova has had to deal with issues with both her shoulder and her leg, and has acknowledged exhaustion, so the young pair may be fairly matched in terms of fatigue.

The lowest seed ever to win in Charleston was 2009 champion Sabine Lisicki, who was seeded 16th. Justin Henin was unseeded when she won in 2005 because she had just returned from a long layoff because of illness. In 2002, the unseeded Iva Majloi won the tournament. Her opponent in the final was the unseeded Patty Schnyder. That was the year that Schnyder took out Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Serena Williams, and top seed Jennifer Capriati.

Charleston quarterfinal gallery

All photos by Daniel Ward

Sara Errani
Genie Bouchard

Daniela Hantuchova

Jana Cepelova

Belinda Bencic

Lucie Safarova

Andrea Petkovic

Jelena Jankovic

The kids are alright

While the veterans--Serena Williams, Li Na, Flavia Pennetta, etc.--have taken over the tour lately, in Charleston, the upstarts are alive and well, thank you very much. Friday's quarterfinal action brought about the exits of Jelena Jankovic, Sara Errani and Daniela Hantuchova. They were shown the door by Genie Bouchard, Belinda Bencic and Jana Cepelova, respectively. Bouchard and Cepelova are 20; Bencic turned 17 last month.

Eugenie Bouchard (photo by Daniel Ward)

What's going on here? One thing that's going on is that some pretty talented young players (including Elina Svitolina, who lost to Bencic in the third round) showed up for the action. Also, the Family Circle Cup has a history of "star-making": Players do tend to break out during this hard court-to-clay court transition. It's a tradition.

Photo by Daniel Ward
In the case of Jankovic, who many thought would win the tournament again (she won it seven years ago and was the runner-up last year), it was a combination of a "bad day" and a tough opponent. Jankovic came out flat and lost the first set, as Bouchard kept pushing her back. In the second set, the Serbian star had to work awfully hard for the points, but she was able to break Bouchard--who had a bit of a lull--twice and win the set.

The third set was up for grabs, and Bouchard grabbed it. After Bouchard broke JJ to go up 3-2, she went up 30-15 and blurted out a very loud "Come on!" It felt like a turning point, and it probably was. The two then began pulling each other around the court in a very entertaining rally, which ended when Jankovic hit a forehand up the line, which Bouchard put into the net. But then, when JJ hit what looked like a perfect lob, it turned out that the ball went just over the line. Bouchard won on her second game point.

Jankovic then held, and then Bouchard held with a 106 mph ace. Jankovic was broken in her next game, which meant that Bouchard had won the match, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Later, Jankovic said she thought it was her movement that betrayed her. "...a lot of things had to depend on me," she said. "That's my fault that I did not move my feet or I did not turn to hit the ball clean. I was kind of flat and waiting for the ball to kind of come to myself, not that I move up and do the right thing."

That was a pretty good assessment of what happened. The 2nd seed went on to say that Bouchard's strength is that she stays low, takes the ball early "and just picks them up so easily and kind of directs them, and that's her biggest strength, that she can absorb someone's ball and just use it."

Later in the afternoon, Errani and Bencic came to the court, and qualifier Belinda Bencic--after she got settled down--put on a show that left the Italian star literally shaking her head in disbelief. An argument can be made that Errani wasn't herself; she came to the net less than one would expect, and she hit fewer drop shots than usual. But an argument can also be made that she wasn't herself because the Swiss teenager messed with her head.

Belinda Bencic (photo by Daniel Ward)
Bencic understands tactics, and one tactic she used throughout the match was to change the pace of her ball, sometimes in surprising ways, which included hitting a few soft, high shots down the line. Errani would get into a groove, then Bencic would destroy her rhythm. This is, of course, the Swiss Way. Bencic was also quite aggressive when she needed to be, and she took Errani out 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in what was turned out to be an intriguing performance.

When she left the tunnel, Errani hopped into the cart to be driven to
the players' lounge. I happened to step outside at that moment, and I watched the cart move across the grounds while the Italian--one hand covering her face--shook her head repeatedly.

Not to be outdone, Jana Cepelova made pretty easy work of Daniela Hantuchova (6-2, 6-1) in the night match.

Cepelova may be having the most interesting experience of any player at the tournament. First, she got some instant fame by beating Serena Willams. But then she had to deal with shoulder pain. Her next job was to defeat 2011 finalist Elena Vesnina, but during that match, she had to contend with a calf injury. Friday morning, she said, she woke up "and I was, 'whew, I am physically dead'."

Jana Cepelova (photo by Daniel Ward)
There's more. Cepelova is alone at the tournament--no coach, no physio, no family members, no companions. Her coach went home after the Miami tournament, so Janette Husarova signed on to be her Charleston coach, but then Husarova went home. Cepelova is in touch with her coach via Skype and messaging, but she's on her own when it comes to dealing with her aches and pains and with the reality that she has reached the semifinals of a premier event. Asked if she would name anyone else to be her on-court coach, Cepelova replied, "I don't need it."

For someone who's exhausted and dealing with some physical tweaks, the young Slovak is moving awfully well and showing some great form. She took what looked like a nasty spill in tonight's match, falling backwards onto the court, but she rose immediately and signaled to the crowd that she was fine.

Photo by Daniel Ward
There was also a quarterfinal that didn't feature teenagers and almost-teenagers. Andrea Petkovic defeated 2012 runner-up Lucie Safarova 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. And while it pains many of us that we can no longer be entertained by Jankovic, Petko has done a rather nice job of stepping in to fill the void. After her quarterfinal match, the German player regaled the press with stories about her father's vanity and her bad poetry.

On a more serious note, Petkovic said that--since returning to the tour after having sustained some serious injuries--she has changed her training schedule to give herself more rest. Another major change, she noted, is that she now pays attention when she has pain, rather than toughing it out and not telling anyone or doing anything to treat it.

The last doubles quarterfinal was played tonight. Alla Kudryavtseva and Anastasia Rodionova defeated 4th seeds Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-1, 6-4.

A final word about youth: In Friday's Monterrey quarterfinals, being young got you a trip to the airport. 43-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm defeated 20-year-old Monica Puig 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.