Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wozniacki and Barthel win tournaments

Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who took a wild card into the Istanbul Cup, won the event today when she defeated 2nd seed Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-1. This is Wozniacki's 22nd WTA singles title, and her first of the 2014 season. The doubles title was won by Misaki Doi and Elena Svitolina. Doi and Svitolina defeated Oksana Kalashnikova and Paula Kania 6-4, 6-0. Both teams were unseeded.

Mona Barthel won her third WTA title in Bastad, also today, when she defeated Chanelle Scheepers 6-3, 7-6 in the final. None of the seeded players made it to the quarterfinals, something that had not happened on the tour for five years. It seems somehow "right" that the mercurial Barthel should win under these circumstances.

Andreja Klepac and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor won the Bastad doubles title, defeating Jocelyn Rae and Anna Smith 6-1, 6-1.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sweeping the court

"Normal Petra" thanks everyone for our support, and talks about her sleep problems and her celebrations.

Coach Patrick Mouratoglou says that Serena Williams is in "a difficult phase."

Five of the top ten favorite female athletes in a Harris survey (I'm assuming this means in the U.S.) are tennis players. The number 1 favorite is Serena Williams.

Maria Sharapova has won the 2014 ESPY award for Best Female Tennis Player. This is the fifth time that Sharapova has won the award.

Here is Serena's 2014 U.S. Open dress from Nike.

Doesn't this remind you of some sisters from Ukraine?

Wozniacki reaches quarterfinals in Istanbul

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki reached the quarterfinals in Istanbul yesterday when she defeated Karin Knapp in the second round. Perhaps of more interest, however, was Wozniacki's first round match against Beleinda Bencic, which she won 6-0, 6-0. Sometimes, being a teen phenom is difficult, but if you happen to be one and you're looking for perspective, then you might get what you need.

Sometimes, if you're the top seed, you can get a surprise, too. Alize Cornet, seeded 1st in Bastad, went out in straight sets in the first round to qualifier Anett Kontaveit. Cornet was given a wild card into the event, but everything was over quickly for her.

2nd seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova went out in the first round, too--to Grace Min, who beat her 6-0, 6-4. 3rd seed Camila Giorgi followed the other two out in the opening round, losing to qualifier Gabriela Dabrowski. Oh, and the 4th and 5th seeds--Yaroslava Shvedova and Anna Schmiedlova--lost in the first round, too.

But--Jana Cepelova is still in the tournament! Cepelova, until this week, had not been able to string two wins together since her run to the final in Charleston, which included the defeats of Serena Williams and Belinda Bencic (in the best match of the tournament). But Cepelova has reached the quarterfinals, which has to be a relief.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sweeping the court

Police have arrested a man who made threats toward Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Apparently, he was angry about Kvitova and others who move out of the country (Kvitova lives in Monaco) in order to avoid Czech Republic taxes.

Lindsay Davenport has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Davenport, who won three majors (the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) has long been considered one of the best ball-strikers in the history of women's tennis. The former world number 1 (in singles and doubles) was also the winner of an Olympic gold medal. Davenport won 55 singles titles and 38 doubles titles, and was a member of the U.S. Fed Cup team for several years. She has a career singles record of 753-194. Davenport now works as a commentator for Tennis Channel.

The winners of the WTA Finals, which will now feature eight doubles teams--at long last--will receive the newly named Martina Navratilova Doubles Trophy.

If you play tennis, it's nice to be Czech.

Actor Ellen Page has puchased Venus Williams' house in Hollywood Hills.

Redfoo talks, sadly, about life without Vika.

Halep and Petkovic win Bucharest and Bad Gastein

Top seed Simona Halep won the inaugural Bucharest Open today when she defeated Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-3. This is Halep's second title for the year; she also won in Doha. The Romanian star is now just eleven points behind leader Maria Sharapova on the Road To Singapore.

Wild cards Elena Bogdan and Alexandra Cadantu won the doubles title. The Romanian pair won the final by defeating Cagla Bayukakcay and Andreja Klepac.

Meanwhile, in Bad Gastein, 4th seed Andrea Petkovic also picked up her second title of the year, defeating qualifier Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-3. The doubles title was taken by 2nd seeds Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova, who defeated 5th seeds Andre Jaklepac and Maria-Teresa Torre-Flor 4-6, 6-3, 10-6.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sweeping the court

Petra Kvitova can help you develop a better serve.

But she can't help you become a celebrity.

The U.S. Open is increasing its prize money by $4 million since 2013.

Maria Sharapova leads the rest of the tour on the Road To Singapore.

Steve Tignor suggests that some Wimbledon traditions be broken.

Ana Ivanovic and  Nemanja Kontic have parted ways. Ivanovic is expected to name a new coach for the upcoming hard court season.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Some thoughts on "mental coaching"

Getting a "mental coach" appears to have helped 2014 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova regain her mojo in a big way. Francesca Schiavone, who lost in final after final, sought the services of a mental coach and won the French Open.

"Mental coaching" is apparently the relatively new euphemism for "sports psychology." There are some players (Aga Radwanska jumps immediately to mind) who are too--what?--misinformed, insecure, out of touch--whatever--to see a sports psychologist, though it would do them a world of good (and why aren't their coaches insisting on it?). Perhaps calling sports mental health experts "coaches" makes it easier for players to accept the help. I don't know.

What I do know--because I pay attention--is that regular coaches sometimes are not up to the task of dealing with their charges' fragile psyches. My educated guess is that they try to help, but perhaps don't know enough to offer the kind of help that players need. That's not a criticism--a tennis coach is supposed to understand mental and emotional goings-on, but only up to a point.

I have never met a sports psychologist or "mental coach" so I don't know exactly what it is that they do. As a very experienced psychotherapist, I know what I would do, and I wish I had the opportunity to treat--oops, coach--athletes. Here are some things I would bear in mind:

Some athletes, though their ability indicates that they should have belief, don't believe in themselves because of the way they were treated as children. Not everyone with talent can be a Steffi Graf or a Mary Pierce and overcome the sins of their parents.

Becoming a famous or fairly famous athlete means that people are going to say all kinds of things about you, most of which are untrue and some of which are very cruel. You have to be taught how to handle that, just as you have to be taught how to handle the "good" celebrity attention.
The more accomplished a woman is in sport, the more sexist and misogynistic the attacks against her become. The past few generations (at least in my country) have pretty much ignored bigotry toward women, so a certain degree of gender self-esteem may have to be learned.

Left-handed athletes are known to have an advantage in many sports, including tennis, but left-handed people have some disadvantages, too. Leftys are more prone to have fearful feelings and to worry and obsess about negative thoughts. When we see a player like Kvitova, an extreme talent who is also known as a "head case," we are probably looking at a brain hemisphere issue. If I were Kvitova's "mental coach," she'd be doing Tai Chi and/or Qi Gong every day to balance her left and right brain hemispheres. It can make a big difference.

Athletes have other mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders and depression, and those need to be addressed.

Hypnotherapy is very useful in changing a player's belief about everything from her serve to her ability to close matches. It would seem to me that hypnotherapy would be a standard intervention in sports psychology.

Sweeping the court

Here they are, the 2014 Wimbledon champions!

And here's the 2013 champion.

Miguel Morales' excellent article in Forbes on the marketing of WTA players is definitely worth reading. I was especially gratified to see his take on the "Strong Is Beautiful" campaign, which I've always found offensive.

Petra Kvitova is the new world number 4; Genie Bouchard is the new world number 7. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci share the number 1 spot in doubles again. Kvitova is now number 5 on the Road To Singapore.

You can now get to know Tereza Smitkova.

Irina Falconi is blogging from Bad Gastein.

My Wimbledon top 10

Here, in ascending order, are my top 10 Wimbledon occurrences:

10. Mix thoroughly: Sam Stosur and Nenad Zimonjic sound like a winning pair for mixed doubles, and indeed they are. The 15th seeds won the title, defeating Chan Hao-Ching and Max Mirnyi in the final. Chan and Mirnyi were seeded 14th. The victory gave Zimonjic a mixed doubles Career Slam. Stosur won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title once before, in 2008, with partner Bob Bryan. 

9.  Gone viral: Serena Williams says it was a virus that caused her to become very weak and to develop hand-eye, left-right coordination problems when she and sister Venus attempted to play their second round of doubles. Of course, the incident brought out the worst in the thousands of people who live to smear the name of the Williams sisters, with one British "media outlet" even launching an attack on Venus. Then Martina Navratilova stated how unlike a viral infection these symptoms were (true, that), and she was attacked by Williams fans who immediately, and ridiculously, assumed she was launching an accusation (somehow, Pam Shriver--who said the same thing--escaped without being verbally abused). Williams says she's fine to play in Sweden; let's hope so. The incident was scary.

8. Czech this out: It turned out not to be a repeat of 2011, when Czech players swept the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, but the Czech Republic's showing at this Wimbledon was certainly worth noting. Petra Kvitova, of course, won the singles championship, beating three of her countrywomen along the way.

Then there was Lucie Safarova, who made it to her first major semifinal, and there was also Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who stylishly took out 2nd seed Li Na, and also defeated Elena Vesnina and Caroline Wozniacki. She reached the quarterfinals, and while stopped by Kvitova, Zahlavova Strycova performed well against the eventual champion.

Also getting noticed was qualifier Tereza Smitkova, who took out the likes of Coco Vandeweghe and Bojana Jovanovski. Smitkova made it all the way to the round of 16, then fell to Safarova.

7. Pack enough for a week:
Top seed Serena Willams, the hands-down favorite to win the tournament among members of the tennis press, went out in the third round to Alize Cornet. Preceding her to the door was 2nd seed Li Na, who lost to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the second round.

6: You say "shedule," I say nonsense: There is a lot of rain at Wimbledon. Always. There is also no play on the middle Sunday. Changing that tradition is out of the question; after all, it makes too much sense. And then, when big matches needed to be played in "catch up" mode, of course, it was the WTA stars who had to play their matches at the same time. There was at least one incident when a match could have easily been moved and not postponed, but it wasn't.

The ultimate victim of this chaos was Angelique Kerber, who went for over two and a half hours against Maria Sharapova in a very physically and mentally taxing match, then had to show up at noon the next day to play in the quarterfinals. And yes, in sports, things happen, and players have to accept change. But some, if not most, of this dysfunction could have been avoided.

5. Touched by an Angelique: Angelique Kerber defeated 2004 champion Maria Sharapova 7-6, 4-6, 6-4 in the round of 16 in one of the highlights of this Wimbledon event. Kerber's win was gutsy, athletic, exciting, and inspired. It showed a mental toughness we don't always see in the German. Unfortunately, she would be too exhausted to adequately compete in the next round, but it was still a great win.

4. Genie in a bottle rocket: Genie Bouchard has reached the semifinals of the last three majors. At Wimbledon, she went one better and reached the final. She did have some good fortune in that two of her competitors (Kerber and Halep) were compromised in their movement, but she had nothing to prove, given her record for 2014. Besides, many a young player has lost to a  more experienced, though compromised, opponent. Bouchard is one tough cookie, an all-surface prodigy whose attacking game seems to be especially cut out for grass.

The tennis press got carried away with Bouchard at this tournament, with many of them declaring her the champion before she faced the totally in-form and deadly Petra Kvitova. That was irrational (and typical), and--for better or worse--served to feed the Genie frenzy that has swept the tour this year. It's useful to remember, though, that there is real talent and real determination behind the hype. I wish that Bouchard could ascend more organically, and--with that in mind--I think that her beat-down in the final may turn out to be one of the better things that happens to her this season. Reality is one of the best friends a champion can have.

3. Tested and found worthy: Venus Williams, the five-time queen of Wimbledon, showed up in a big way this year to fight for another Wimbledon title. She took it to Petra Kvitova in the third round, and the two-and-a-half hour match was amazing. There were only three break points in the entire match, which Kvitova won, 5-7, 7-6, 7-5. It would be a turning point for the Czech star, who obviously used her victory to settle her mind and to visualize herself as a Wimbledon champion.

2. A lesson in Italian history: Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci lost in the third round last year. Fighting Italians don't accept that kind of thing, especially when they're going after a Career Slam. They changed their style of play to accommodate the speed of a grass court, and they won the title. With the title came the Career Slam. Fighting Italians--they're priceless.

1. The Rock rocks the tennis world: Admit it--you just about gave up on her, didn't you? I'll admit it. But then she came alive this season, and I began believing in her again. By the time she arrived at Wimbledon, there was a lot to believe in. Petra Kvitova moved through this tournament like the great grass court player that she is--surviving an out-and-out battle against Venus Williams, and putting the hurt on just about everyone she played. But she also got tested--by Williams, and by two of her countrywomen--which only served to strengthen her.

Kvitova's biggest opponent was probably the tennis press, which was quick to predict her demise. Only she didn't fall. And even after she had put together stats that would put fear into anyone who was actually paying attention, the tennis press declared her a loser. What did she have to do, anyway, win Wimbledon?

No problem. Kvitova came at her favored opponent, Genie Bouchard, with such force, it was as if Bouchard had been told there was a bit of a breeze, and then opened the door, only to be knocked down and slammed into the next county by a tornado. It was clinical. It was efficient. It was awesome. In one of the most glorious performances ever put on in a Wimbledon final, Kvitova blew the estimable Bouchard off the court, 6-3, 6-0.

The Rock rules.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Wimbledon--what they said

In the first set I was a bit nervous. My opponent, she started the match really well and she was playing really good. I was doing some unforced errors. Then I just tried to come back in the second set and focus on every point to get back my game. It helped and I won.
Jelena Ostapenko

First time I've seen Sam was in the Australian Open when I lost to her in mixed. I said, "I have to ask her. I have to play with her. She's going to be a great partner."
Nenad Zimonjic

I feel like I kind of played three different tournaments. It’s always nice to leave a tournament winning. Leaving Wimbledon 2014, I'll think of it as, yeah, a great memory, and leaving with a trophy at the end is fantastic.
Sam Stosur

We spoke about reducing stupid errors and to create pressure, look for the space and hit the space because that’s what they were doing. We got off to a good start and from then on we were on it.
Jordanne Whiley

Stosur and Zimonjic win Wimbledon mixed doubles title

15th seeds Sam Stosur and Nenad Zimonjic won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title today when they defeated 14th seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Max Mirnyi in the final. Stosur won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title once before, in 2008, with partner Bob Bryan. Today's victory completed Zimonjic's mixed doubles Career Slam.

The wheelchair doubles final was a repeat of last year's, only the outcome was different. Jordanne Whiley and Yui Kamiji defeated Jiske Griffioen and Aniek Van Koot 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. Whiley and Kamiji also won the Australian Open and the French Open earlier this year.

The new junior champion is Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. The unseeded Ostapenko defeated 8th seed Kristina Schmiedlova 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 in the final. Ostapeno hit a total of 40 winners, which is around 39 more than we usually get from a junior competitor. The 17-year-old is currently ranked number 484 in the world.

Tami Grende and Ye Qiu Yu won the doubles championship. They defeated Marie Bouzkova and Dalma Galfi 6-2, 7-6 in the final. Both teams were unseeded.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Wimbledon--what they said

You always dream as a player to play your best tennis on the biggest stage and that was a thing of beauty. You can't even blame Bouchard because she didn't play badly, but she just didn't get the chance to play because Kvitova didn't allow her to. I don't think anyone would have been able to play her today.
Lindsay Davenport

Yes Genie Bouchard is the next Maria that she's being overwhelmed by Petra Kvitova in a Wimbledon final.
Ben Rothenberg

It’s my second title, so I hope that now it's going to be a little easier for me.
Petra Kvitova

I think we play perfect. They were serving so strong. It was not easy, but she played unbelievable returning, serving, volleys, everything. We were like very aggressive all the time. That was the important thing for us, that we try to do it all the two weeks. Was perfect.
Sara Errani

...I sat down. Put my jacket on. Just reflected. I was in the engraver's room, so I was watching them work, wishing one day, dreaming, that he'll write my name somewhere.
Genie Bouchard

On her game, Kvitova makes life absolutely miserable for you because she makes you feel like you cannot do anything.
John McEnroe

Those washing powder advertisements are right about egg. It really is very difficult to remove, particularly when it’s all over your face.
Kate Battersby

I'm all for competitive finals, but sometimes you just have to applaud a player seizing the opportunity to perform at the very highest level. An extraordinary display.
Laura Williamson

A few shots were incredible, and I couldn’t believe I made it, actually.
Petra Kvitova

One of the best performances in Wimbledon history that, Petra Kvitova absolutely demolishes the helpless Eugenie Bouchard, winning 6-3, 6-0. You've got to hand it to her, that was superb.
Matthew Morlidge

She played unbelievable and didn't give me many opportunities to stay in the rally or do what I do.
Genie Bouchard

How good was Kvitova today? Bouchard hit just four unforced errors in the entire match. Kvitova was given nothing and she still ran away with it.
Courney Nguyen

I knew that if I'm gonna get nervous again--which I did--I can still do it.
Petra Kvitova

Aside from everything else, Petra Kvitova is also the first player in WTA history to successfully recover from Radek Stepanek.
Ben Rothenberg

They did it! Errani and Vinci earn Career Slam at Wimbledon

It took Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci only 49 minutes to win their first Wimbledon title today. In defeating Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-3, they also achieved a Career Slam: They have won all four majors, and, in fact, claim two victories at the Australian Open.

The fighting Italians learned a lesson at last year's Wimbledon tournament, when they lost in the third round to Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. They learned that their game was not aggressive enough for them to triumph on a grass court, so they went about making some changes. Those changes paid off today as Errani and Vinci, playing their 258th match as a team, seemed to be on every inch of the court, fighting off Babos and the doubles talent that is Mladenovic. It didn't help that Babos, playing in her first major final, appeared to be a bit overwhelmed by the occasion.

The mixed doubles final is set. 15th seeds Sam Stosur and Nenad Zimonjic will play 14th seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Max Mirnyi. Stosur and Zimonjic defeated 16th seeds Vera Dushevina and Aisam Qureshi in the semifinals, and Chan and Mirnyi upset 5th seeds Kristina Mladenovic and Daniel Nestor. Mladenovic and Nestor, the defending champions, were defeated 7-6, 7-5.

The junior final has also been decided. 8th seed Kristina Schmiedlova will compete against Jelena Ostapenko. In junior doubles, the team of Bouzkova and Galfi will play against the team of Grende and Ye.

Stand aside, Princess, and behold The Queen

Last night, I set my alarm to make sure I would be up with all my morning tasks done and my breakfast ready so that I wouldn't miss a moment of today's Wimbledon singles final. I didn't want to miss a moment, especially because I was expecting a straight-sets win. With all respect for Bouchard as a very strong up-and-coming player, I felt that she had reached the final on a wave of good luck--that a recovered Angelique Kerber would have very likely beaten her, and that an injury-free Simona Halep would certainly have.

There were multiple predictions that Petra Kivota would "go off" and open the door for the Canadian to win her first major. But Kvitova had lived through the Venus Williams match, and had been put through her paces by the Zahlavova Strycova match and the Lucie Safarova first set. And she had "that look"--the one she had in 2011.

Before I went to sleep, I wondered idly how many games Bouchard would win and whether there might be some long, drawn-out, multiple-deuce games that would bring some tension to the championship match.

Some time during the night, when I was in a restless, impaired state of sleep--and get ready because now it gets strange--I dreamed I saw a scoreboard on a lawn. On it was written 6-3, 6-0. I woke up with a vague memory of this symbol, and went about feeding the cats and making coffee. When Kvitova won the first set 6-3, I felt a bit giddy. Could this really be happening? Not the victory, but the score.

The answer was a resounding "yes."

On Thursday, Chris Evert, doing commentary on ESPN, said she thought Bouchard would win the title. A day later, she backed up a bit, stating that Bouchard's inexperience might be a factor, in spite of what many were expecting from her. By this morning, at the "Breakfast at Wimbledon" broadcast, Evert (perhaps having chatted with Pam Shriver) was pointing out that it was Kvitova's tournament stats that were outstanding, not Bouchard's.

Standing in the tunnel with her bouquet of flowers, Kvitova looked serene. Her expression never changed during the next 55 minutes, during which she played a championship match that exceeded perhaps even my expectations. The Czech had only two significantly "off" moments. One came in the fifth game of the first set, when she had multiple opportunities to break Bouchard for a second time, but wasted all of them with sloppy shots. The second came when Kvitova failed to win the first set when she served for it the first time, at 5-2.

Shaky Petra can spiral down after missing big opportunities like that, but Champion Petra doesn't let it bother her. She held her serve, and then broke Bouchard for the second time. Kvitova was broken back when Bouchard took advantage of the only break point she would see in the entire match. But then the Czech broke again on her third break point, and won the first set.

Kvitova began the second set by holding at love and then breaking Bouchard. The script had been written, and Kvitova would not divert from it again. She blasted her way through the second set, winning with 90% of her first serves and 67% of her second serves. As I wrote yesterday,  when she's in form, Kivtova's second serve isn't terribly vulnerable; but for this match, she won with her first serve 82% of the time.

Kvitova hit 28 winners and made only twelve unforced errors. Her average first serve speed was 106 mph. Her ability to find the most wicked of angles reached its peak. She was merciless when attacking her opponent's second serves.

There were a few exciting rallies. In the fourth game of the first set, with Kvitova serving, there were two deuces. Kvitova got the ad point with an ace (one of four she hit in the championship match), and what followed was a thrilling, defense-heavy rally, which Kvitova won with a ridiculous backhand cross-court volley.

Again, in the fourth game of the second set, there was another long rally which thrilled the crowd and which was won by Kvitova, bringing the game to deuce. Two points later, Kvitova was up 4-0. After that game, the 2011 champion held at love, then broke Bouchard on her first break point.

It was over. Kvitova fell backwards onto the court, covered her face, then rose for the handshake and her run into the stands to greet her team. The roof was closed because of fear that the oncoming showers would dampen the trophy ceremony. There had been some talk about closing the roof earlier, but it didn't happen.

In 2011, when Kvitova tried to make her way down the halls and through the mob of All England Lawn Club members (and ultimately, to the balcony to show the crowds her trophy), she was stopped by Wimbledon staff and told she could not enter. Someone actually had to tell the staff members to let her through--that she had just won Wimbledon.

This year, no one tried to stop her. The crowds were waiting in the rain, somewhat encumbered by having to hold both umbrellas and cameras, and the 2014 Wimbledon champion stood on the balcony with the Venus Rosewater dish while the rain fell on her and the fans screamed their appreciation.

Genie Bouchard is a stand-out member of the new generation of WTA players. She has made it to the semifinals of the last three majors and is the first Canadian to ever play in a major final. She and all of her siblings were named after royalty, and she has a nickname of "Princess." But for all her admirable aggression, talent and mental toughness, today, Bouchard was blown off the court by a woman who--when she frees her mind--can rule almost any court.

It's been 22 years since a Wimbledon finalist won only three games (Monica Seles, of all people, who lost in straight sets to Steffi Graf). Kvitova's masterful performance today silenced the majority of the tennis press, who--during the past week--had turned into a non-singing version of the Genie Army.

It's good to be Queen.