TORONTO (November 17, 2012) — Agnieszka Radwanska, Milos Raonic, Andy Roddick and Serena Williams didn’t disappoint the fans who went through the turnstiles on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to watch the second edition of the Sportchek Face-Off.
The exhibition event began with a fun celebrity doubles match pitting Team Canada – Raonic and Radwanska – against Team USA’s Roddick and Williams. The superstar quartet were joined on court by Canadian TV personality George Stroumboulopoulos, Bachelor Canada’s Brad Smith, CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon, and Adrian Grenier of Entourage fame. The recently retired Roddick joked about finally getting the chance to play alongside his compatriot after many years of campaigning.
“I couldn’t convince Serena (Williams) to play with me when I was actually good, but now that I suck she’s all about it,” Roddick said.
Next up was a rematch of this year’s Wimbledon women’s final between Radwanska and Williams. The Pole, who referred to Williams as a “grass tennis killer”, was able to impose her crafty game on the Canadian indoor hard court, en route to a 6-4, 6-4 win. This was a rare defeat for Williams, who has lost just one Tour match since falling in the opening round at Roland-Garros this spring. Despite winning Wimbledon, an Olympic gold medal, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships in Istanbul, the 31-year-old is focused on looking forward instead of back.
“I’m not a big reflector,” said Williams. “I always feel like I want to do more, I want to improve. Once you start reflecting … you can become really satisfied. For me, I’m always trying to do a bit better. I’ll have more time to reflect after my career.”
The evening concluded with the main event, a confrontation between two of the game’s biggest servers in Raonic and Roddick, who was making his first visit north of the border since 2009. The former World No. 1 put his trademark humor and candor on full display in his return to Canada. He gave the crowd fits of laughter in the second set with his imitations of Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and John McEnroe. In addition to his talents as an entertainer, Roddick, who played his last professional match at the U.S. Open, showed that his tennis skills are still very much in tact defeating Raonic 6-4, 4-6, 10-7. The two players met once on the ATP World Tour, in the final at Memphis in 2011 which Roddick won in three tough sets. The American was full of praise for Canada’s highest-ranked singles player of all time.
“I like his (Raonic) game and I equally like the way he goes about his business,” complimented Roddick. “He’s very diligent and he has the hunger to get better and not be satisfied, which will serve him well.”
For Raonic, being able to host tennis royalty in his hometown for an event like the Face-off is an opportunity to grow tennis in Canada.
“There’s a lot of support, a lot of appreciation and interest in Canadian players, especially during Davis Cup,” Raonic said. “I think the kind of support we’re getting there is really amazing. It’s something we want to keep building up.”
In the first edition of the Face-Off held last November in Toronto, Raonic took on his tennis hero Pete Sampras.
By David Kane
Weeks like the one the WTA Tour had at its Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria are a blatant mockery to the act of making predictions before they even begin.
First of all, who predicted that Caroline Wozniacki, who started 2012 at No. 1, would find herself at a Year-End Championships for the Tour’s B-squad? The Dane, who now has more singles than Slam titles (a charity song “Oxygen” and a campy music video to go with it) has endured a fall from grace that felt oddly symmetrical as she played her semifinal against hometown favorite Tsvetana Pironkova. After all, Wozniacki played the Bulgarian floater at the first tournament of the year, the usually star-studded Hopman Cup in Perth. Ten months that feel like an eternity later, Wozniacki is the one looking decidedly out of place.
Subtext aside, it would have then appeared easy to predict a rebound victory for the Dane. Playing a tournament comprised of players that the former No. 1 had beat handily during her rise to the game’s elite, “Karolina” could not have felt too intimidated to take on names like Su-Wei Hsieh or Roberta Vinci. Furthermore, she had recently won tournaments in Seoul and Moscow, taking out tough opponents like Kaia Kanepi and Sam Stosur en route. The Dane was not a celebrity wildcard; she had earned her place into this event with her first titles since August of last year.
Who, then, would have predicted that No. 2 seed Nadia Petrova would turn the tables on Wozniacki and decisively beat her in a 6-2, 6-1 final?
Yes, the Russian is a dangerous opponent, and with a title in Tokyo that saw her claim the scalps of top ten stalwarts Sara Errani, Stosur and Agnieszka Radwanska, she has obviously played well of late. But for a player for whom much must be perfect, a tournament full of tricky opponents a mere days after winning the Istanbul Championships doubles title sounded like a big ask. Indeed, she played the role of the tired veteran, trudging through three tight matches on her way to the final. Combine that with Petrova’s pitiful 1-4 head-to-head against Wozniacki (one win coming when the Dane retired in 2008), who wasn’t predicting victory for the woman who had clinched a year-end top 10 ranking just by reaching the final?
Seemingly out of nowhere, Petrova recalled the game plan that saw her take out Radwanska in Tokyo, but unlike that three-set final, there was no lapse from the Russian. For about 90 minutes, Wozniacki had no answer to Petrova’s laser-like groundstrokes, flawless serving and inspiring net prowess, and was forced into her fair share of uncharacteristic errors as a result.
During the Russian’s extended slump, her formerly reliable serve was often the cause of her worse losses; her first serve percentage would drop, and she would get broken too often for a perennial Tour ace leader. That she didn’t lose serve in either match played this weekend speaks volumes to explain her recent success, and spells bad news for future rivals should she maintain this form. When her serve is working, the rest of her game loosens up, and even the most expert retrievers and returners are driven to fits under the pressure of the Russian’s powerful game.
Beyond that, not enough can be said about her newfound positivity on the court. After being fired by Wozniacki herself, Ricardo Sanchez began working with Petrova and has been a great influence on her on-court demeanor, striking an encouraging figure from the stands. There will be no Serena-esque shrieks or Sharapova-style fist pumps from Petrova, but quietly celebrating a well-struck ball illustrates her marked emotional growth.
Petrova mentioned that the promise of a rapidly approaching off-season got her through these tough matches, so the question remains as to whether she will be able to dig as deep when the 2013 season begins, and she will have to figuratively start over again.
At the risk of making any wild predictions, it might be best to end this article sooner rather than later.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
Barely a day has gone by since the doors of SW19 closed and the 2012 Olympic dream for many was over. It was a wonderful week on the grass that brought smiles, laughter, tears, Boris Becker-inspired dives and even a little victory dance that we shall never forget. Here is a look at some of the many surprises, shocks, disappointments and special moments from a very special week in tennis:
A Golden Moment: Andy Murray had walked off Centre Court four weeks earlier in floods of tears, sorrow in his heart and with all of his Grand Slam victory hopes crushed at the hands of Roger Federer, fast-forward four weeks and the results had completely reversed. Andy Murray defeated the 7-time Wimbledon champion in straight sets to win the Olympic gold medal and he looked as though the weight of the world had fallen off his shoulders as he clambered up to his box to celebrate with his team and family – a moment that he, his fans and Great Britain will never forget! As a special tribute to his victory, the Royal Mail have announced that a special first class postage stamp shall be made in honour of his unforgettable achievement at the Games.
A Bitter-Sweet Result: For Roger Federer the only title missing from his illustrious list of achievements is the Olympic gold medal and many had tipped the world No.1 for Olympic success at the tournament in Wimbledon. But alas, it was not meant to be for the Swiss maestro, however, he did not leave empty handed, he walked away with a silver medal and at least now he can say he has won an Olympic medal in the singles event as well as the doubles (he won the gold medal with compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka in Beijing).
Serena Sees Double: There is no doubt in anybody’s mind right now that Serena Williams is once again on top of her game. After being hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening blood clot, she fought against the odds, her body and her critics to claw her way back to the top of her game, in fact all the way to the top of the podium at the Olympics – not once, but twice. Serena enjoyed a phenomenal run through the Olympic tournament to win her first Olympic gold medal and achieve her Career Golden Slam in the singles and then went on to win the gold medal in the doubles with her big sister, Venus. A remarkable achievement for the American. Congratulations Queen Serena!
Disappointment for Djokovic: Novak Djokovic had a dream 2011 and after reaching the top of his game, achieving the world No.1 spot, many expected him to repeat his phenomenal year in 2012. Were they asking too much of Djokovic? Was he asking too much of himself? Who knows? Djokovic has admitted he is feeling tired and at the Olympics he could not find his A-game to win a medal. He won the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but could not repeat this success in 2012. Djokovic will look for a good run at the Masters Series events before the US Open starts where he will defend his title.
Shock Losses and Early Exits: There were some shock losses at the Olympics, which raised a few eyebrows early on at the start of the tournament. Tomas Berdych and Agnieszka Radwanska delivered two of the biggest surprises as they were knocked out in the opening round of the tournament. Berdych was a Wimbledon finalist in 2010 and after he lost in the opening round of Wimbledon this year, many expected more from him at the Olympics. Radwanska was a finalist at Wimbledon this year and she was surprisingly ousted in the opening round.
We have not had much chance for tennis withdrawals as thankfully this week the players are back in action at the Masters Series events in Toronto and Montreal, Canada.
By Maud Watson
Impossible Made Possible
From the outset, Wimbledon wasn’t supposed to be about Federer. Many tagged Djokovic to retain the top ranking by repeating as champion, and many predicted yet another Djokovic/Nadal final. The only man thought capable of potentially derailing such a final was Federer, and conventional wisdom said odds were he couldn’t with the title if he had to go through both the Serb and Spaniard. But as the tournament got underway, it seemed fortune favored Federer. Unknown Lukas Rosol impressively bounced Nadal out in the second round. Now, at worst, Federer was guaranteed to only have to go through one of the two guys ranked ahead of him. After surviving mid-tournament scares, he reached the semis where Djokovic awaited. Fate was with Federer again, as that match was played under the roof. The Swiss has the better grass court and indoor records, and it showed, as he fought his way to a four-set victory. At the last hurdle, he weathered the storm from an inspired performance by local hero Andy Murray to take his seventeenth Grand Slam title. History will better remember the Grand Slam victories, but in many ways, his reclaiming of the No. 1 ranking was more impressive. It represented the culmination of a ten-month journey that will now see him break Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No. 1. All in all, not a bad fortnight for the Maestro.
Like a Phoenix
What’s the best way to rise from the ashes of a devastating first-round loss at Roland Garros? Go win Wimbledon, of course! That’s exactly what Serena Williams did as she fought tooth-and-nail to grab her fourteenth Grand Slam singles title. She showed more than a few nerves in some of her earlier matches against spirited opponents, but the American found a way to cross the finish line. She upped the ante against both Kvitova and Azarenka, defeating both in straight sets. As for the final, that may have been one of the better matches she’s played in recent memory. Maybe it stemmed from knowing Aga Radwanska was not going to hit her off the court, but that was one of the most all-around consistent performances she’s put together in months. The biggest nod, however, has to go to her serving, which was stellar all tournament. In the third set of the final, she achieved the rare feat of hitting four consecutive aces. From that point forward, Serena never looked back, as she cruised to victory to tie her sister Venus with five Wimbledon singles crowns. It’s a performance like that, which reminds us that Serena could have officially been the greatest of all time if she’d been both healthier and more dedicated to the sport. Still, in both the singles and doubles, she was the WTA’s best that fortnight at Wimbledon, and 14 singles majors aren’t too shabby either.
Only the hardest of hearts wouldn’t have felt something for Andy Murray as the tears flowed following his defeat to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. He won a lot of fans that day and probably earned more believers regarding his chances of winning a slam. To be fair, Murray has had some rotten luck in finals. He’s had to play Federer in three out of the four and Djokovic in the other. Contrast that with the three guys Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic had to play in order to win their first majors (Philippoussis, Puerta, and Tsonga respectively), and it’s safe to say that Murray has been asked to pass a tougher test to get the Grand Slam monkey off his back. But this past Sunday, he appeared to inch closer to clearing that final hurdle. For the first time, he mentally showed up. For nearly two sets, he was the better player, and he was in the thick of it in sets three and four. Yes, he ultimately fell short, but his performance inspires hope that he may now be ready to take that last step. If he puts in some good performances this summer, he could be primed to give Great Britain its first male champion in decades.
Finding her Niche
In the Wimbledon final, Agnieszka Radwanska proved that there’s still a place for the finesse player on the WTA. After getting blown out in the first set and down an early break in the second, most players would have folded against the more decorated champion in Serena Williams. But Radwanska refused to do so. Instead, she continued to probe for solutions, tried new things, got Serena out of her comfort zone, and made a match of it. In many ways, it further legitimized her place in the rankings for the skeptics who wondered how a player of her stature could have already achieved such great heights. She’s an absolute joy to watch, and a player who’s only likely to continue to improve and create new shots to give her more physically-gifted opponents fits. If she does, there’s no reason she can’t go one better and become the first Pole to win a major singles title.
The ESPY Awards (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) was created by the American cable network ESPN to recognize athletic achievements in both individual and team sports. The 2012 staging of the ESPYs occurred this past Wednesday, and at least as far as the tennis was concerned, it produced a couple of head scratchers. The ESPYs are to be based on performances from the previous calendar year. Djokovic rightfully took top honors for Best Male Tennis Player, but Sharapova doing the same on the women’s side was nothing short of a joke. She didn’t even win a major in 2011, and one of her fellow nominees, Kvitova, thumped her in the Wimbledon final and won the WTA Year-End Championships. Then there was the Best Male Athlete category that included Djokovic, LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, and Justin Verlander. Again, if this is all based off of 2011, a very strong argument for Djokovic taking the cake could easily be made (the award went to James, whose Miami Heat team lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals last year). Granted, these athletes don’t care. We all know it’s a popularity contest, and at the end of the day, unlike television and the movies, sports has rankings and trophies to award to leave no doubt as to who is the cream of the crop in any given year. Still, if you’re not going to truly recognize the best of the best, what’s the point?
Two More Top-10 Players Join No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 7 Caroline Wozniacki
and Rising American Christina McHale; Four of WTA Top 10 in New Haven Open Field
NEW HAVEN, Conn., June 11, 2012 – French Open finalist and world No. 10 Sara Errani and world No. 8 Marion Bartoli have committed to play the 2012 New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara, a WTA event that is part of the Emirates Airline US Open Series to be held August 17-25, 2012 at the Connecticut Tennis Center, it was announced today by Tournament Director Anne Worcester.
Errani has had a spectacular start to 2012, winning three WTA titles, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and defeating three Grand Slam titlists in her run to the French Open final just last week. The Italian also picked up her first Grand Slam title in the French Open women’s doubles event with partner Roberta Vinci. After starting 2012 ranked outside the top 40, Errani’s spectacular play has catapulted her to her career-high ranking of No. 10 in the world. Due to her success in doubles as well, she is currently the only WTA player to be ranked in the top 10 in both singles and doubles.
Another Grand Slam finalist joining Errani in the New Haven Open field is Bartoli. Bartoli, who beat then-world No. 1 Justine Henin to reach the Wimbledon final in 2007, is fresh off another big win over then-world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in Miami, handing the Belarusian her first loss of 2012. The 27-year-old from France reached a career-high ranking of No. 7 in January and has since been a top-eight mainstay.
“We are delighted to add two more top-10 players to the New Haven Open field for a total of four of the top 10 players, especially this far in advance of the entry deadline,” said Worcester. “Fresh off the French Open final, Sara has had a terrific 2012 and Marion is always a fierce competitor, so we are excited to see what they will do in New Haven in August.”
With the addition of Errani and Bartoli, the New Haven Open currently has four top-10 players in its field, joining four-time defending champion and world No. 7 Caroline Wozniacki and world No. 3 Agniesza Radwanska. Also announced is American rising star Christina McHale, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 29 after her third round appearance at Roland Garros.
Daily tickets are now on sale for the 2012 New Haven Open. For a limited time, fans will have access to an exclusive “buy-one-get-one” offer. Buy one (1) box ring or middle tier seat and get a second one at no additional cost. Bring a friend, family member or tennis doubles partner for free to see top WTA players the rising stars of tomorrow in action on stadium court.
To receive this limited time offer, enter promotion code BOGO when purchasing online or contact the New Haven Open box office. Don’t miss your chance to experience world class women’s tennis along with a host of off-court, fan-friendly activities. Limit four (4) total tickets per order. Free ticket will be for the same session.
Log on to www.newhavenopen.com or call 1-855-464-8366 for more information. Also, make sure to join New Haven Open on Facebook & Twitter for tournament updates, contests and more.
About New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara
New Haven Open at Yale presented by First Niagara has always been much more than a tennis tournament; it is a leading example of leveraging a large-scale international sporting event to generate $26 million in regional economic impact and to build community pride, spirit and engagement, especially among youth. The 2011 tournament featured World No. 1 and now four-time defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, and three Grand Slam champions Li Na, Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The women’s-only WTA event is part of the Olympus US Open Series and will be held August 17-25, 2012 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale. The New Haven Open is prominently featured domestically on ESPN2 and also broadcast around the world. For more information about the tournament and tickets, visit www.newhavenopen.com or call 1-855-464-8366.
About First Niagara
First Niagara, through its wholly owned subsidiary, First Niagara Bank, N.A., is a multi-state community-oriented bank that currently has approximately $33 billion in assets, $19 billion in deposits, more than 330 branches and 5,000 employees providing financial services to individuals, families and businesses across Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. For more information, visit www.fnfg.com.
When First Niagara completes its acquisition of the HSBC branches, expected to occur in the second quarter of 2012, the regional bank will have an enhanced leadership position in the Northeast, with nearly 430 locations, $30 billion in total deposits, $38 billion in assets and more than 6,000 employees serving consumers, businesses and communities across New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The transaction will also provide First Niagara with number-one retail market share across Upstate New York, virtually doubling its number of branches in New York State to more than 200, stretching from Buffalo to Albany and down through the Hudson Valley.
About Emirates Airline US Open Series
Now in its ninth season, the Emirates Airline US Open Series continues to serve as a true regular season of hard court tennis, linking 10 summer tournaments to the US Open. Fans
follow the action throughout the summer during national broadcast coverage while players battle for $40 million, including a chance for bonus prize money at the US Open. The Series collectively reached a U.S. television audience of 39 million and drew more than 800,000 on-site fans in 2011. In 2012, Emirates Airline became the title sponsor of the Series, as well as the official airline of the US Open. The Emirates Airline US Open Series is also supported by sponsors American Express, Chase, Citizen Watch Company, Esurance, evian and Gatorade.
Americans Mardy Fish and Serena Williams swept the 2011 Emirates Airline US Open Series men’s and women’s titles. In 2007, Roger Federer collected the biggest paycheck in tennis history – $2.4 million – for winning the US Open and the Emirates Airline US Open Series. In 2005, Kim Clijsters also captured both the US Open and the Series, winning $2.2 million – the largest purse in women’s sports history – and equaled that amount in 2010, winning the US Open and finishing the Emirates Airline US Open Series in second place.
By Maud Watson
For the first time in 14 attempts, Fernando Verdasco defeated his compatriot Rafael Nadal, handing Nadal one of his earliest defeats in a clay court tournament. Some credit has to be given to Verdasco. He played some good ball, especially in the opening set, and unlike in their previous encounters, he didn’t throw in the towel when it appeared nearly all hope was lost. But this match was mostly about Nadal, and this was one of his ugliest losses. The fact that Nadal appeared out of sorts and off his game wasn’t surprising. He was one of the most vocal critics of the change to blue clay, even before the tournament got underway, so the fact that he at times appeared unsure should not have come as a shock. He should be more self-assured next week in Rome when the familiar red dirt is under the soles of his shoes. But the fact that he blew a double break lead in the third – against a guy that he owned – is troubling, no matter what the surface. With the exception of Monte Carlo and Barcelona, he’s developed a habit of struggling to close out matches in recent memory, and this time he paid for it. As superstitious as he is, a loss like this is apt to creep into his mind down the road. The way Nadal handled himself after the match also left something be desired. It’s understandable if he wants to boycott the event next year, and he’s not the only one to suggest he’d do so, with Djokovic also hinting at such an action (though it would be nice if both guys would give organizers a chance to fix the slippery court problem). But Nadal’s arguments for boycotting lacked tact and came off as sour grapes. He’ll need a good run in Rome to feel confident for Paris, or else what he did in Monte Carlo and Barcelona will be for naught.
We’re more than well under way in Madrid, but the talk about the blue courts has hardly decreased. Players’ and fan’s reactions continue to be all over the map, with some liking it, some indifferent, and others making it well known that it doesn’t have their seal of approval. Personally, I’m loving the blue. From a spectator’s point of view, the ball is easier to see, and the blue clay hasn’t denied fans the opportunity to watch some highly competitive battles. The only general complaint – a complaint that Tiriac thankfully recognized as legit – is that the courts are too slippery. How much of this problem stems from the dye used, the structure under the clay, and the courts not yet fully settled remains to be seen, but it is a problem that organizers and tournament officials, including former No. 1 Carlos Moya, claim can be fixed and arguably should not impact Madrid being contested on blue clay in 2013. Besides, we saw some pretty nasty injuries on Monte Carlo’s main show court, proving that no clay court is perfect. In short, Madrid’s choice to go blue is not a failed experiment, and organizers should be given the opportunity to correct issues before any final court color decisions are made for the future.
Lost in all the chatter about the blue clay was the fact that Aga Radwanska has quietly moved up a spot in the rankings to the number three player in the world. And don’t be deceived by the apparently large gap between the Pole and the two rivals ahead of her. Radwanska has little to defend and much to gain in the coming weeks, which cannot be said for Azarenka or Sharapova. If she continues her run of fine form, she’ll be knocking at the door for number two, and perhaps even number one. There’s still work to be done for Aga, but in many ways, her potential continued ascendency up the rankings could be great for the women’s game. Sharapova has done well to fight back to form and up the rankings, and the improvements Azarenka has made to become a Grand Slam champion and reach No. 1 are both remarkable achievements. But it would be refreshing to have a crafty player at the top – and as an added bonus, one who’s quiet!
When last Tsonga was making tennis headlines, it was due to his comments of what he perceived to be biased officiating in his three-set loss to Nadal in the Miami quarterfinals. Many jumped on him for that, but he’s quickly turned around any damage to his reputation with the sportsmanship he exhibited in his straight-set win over Ryan Harrison this week in Madrid. In the second set tiebreak, Tsonga chased after a drop shot that the chair umpire thought he had reached in once bounce in order to the win the point. But Tsonga knew the ball had bounced twice, and despite the fact that it might have eventually led to losing the tiebreak and a third set, he admitted to the double bounce and gave the point to Harrison. Such an act, especially in a tiebreak, is a rarity, and it’s great to see this kind of sportsmanship.
Ms. King Goes to Washington
Billie Jean King continues to be a crusader, this time going to the marble halls of Washington DC in order to ask the government to assist the USTA in its efforts to reach more communities. The USTA has done good work, refurbishing over 25,000 courts in public parks and schools over the last seven years, and anything that will help grow the sport should be encouraged. How much help the government may prove to be is a complete unknown, however. After all, as the old joke goes, “If ‘pro’ is the opposite of ‘con,’ then isn’t the opposite of progress Congress?”
Following a tumultuous two seasons that were mired by injuries and coaching uncertainty, former world no.21 Aleksandra Wozniak has shown Top 25 form this season and is making her way back up the rankings with a renewed passion for her sport.
Wozniak became the first Canadian in 20 years to win a WTA singles title when she was crowned champion at Stanford in 2008 and appeared to destined to contend for titles for many years to come. Now 24 years old and with her hardships a thing of the past, the Wozniak hitting the court is definitely the 2.0 version. After finishing the 2011 season ranked outside the Top 100, she came into the off-season 100 percent healthy for the first time in a while. Wozniak took up boxing to improve her strength and agility. Her hard work is paying dividends so far in 2012.
Wozniak has also brought her father, Antoni back in the fold as her full-time coach. He introduced her to tennis when she was three years old and is the master technician behind her smooth strokes. Wozniak appreciates having her recently retired Dad around every day to work on the little things.
“ I am able to take my Dad on the road with me which is tremendous and makes a big difference because he can always keep improving my game,” Wozniak said. “He sees things right away and those little details make a big difference in my game. I think I’m pretty close to where I was, but I think I am coming back differently and stronger than before.”
Wozniak has improved her ranking by more than 50 places since the start of the season and finds herself ranked firmly inside the Top 60 again. Perhaps most impressive though is the kind of matches she is winning, the long, exhausting type. Matches she would have never been able to win earlier in her career. Wozniak has also played the top players very tough, losing 7-5 in the third to Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai and dropping a third set tiebreak to Venus Williams in Miami after holding a match point.
She is battling and fighting harder than ever with one lifelong dream motivating her every move, representing Canada at this summer’s Olympic Games in London. At no. 56 on the world rankings and with few points to defend until Roland-Garros, Wozniak has put herself in a good position to earn an Olympic berth.
“As an athlete, to know you made it to the Olympics, I can’t even describe it,” Wozniak added. “For me it’s very important to represent my country the best that I can. It’s a big privilege to represent Canada at the greatest sporting event in the world. For any athlete it is very special and it would be really exciting.”
Not only is Wozniak a transformed player, but she’s also a different person. Physically, she looks better than ever and her renewed confidence is evident in the way she carries herself. Her likeable, radiant personality makes it easy to root for the talent Canadian and It will be fun to watch her rise back to the upper echelon of the women’s game. Wozniak is certainly not a name any player will want to see opposite their own in the draw, especially on Wozniak’s favourite surface during the clay court season.
With the result of the match no longer in question, tears began forming in Victoria Azarenka’s eyes. There would be no magic escape from defeat this time around.
Marion Bartoli, ranked a career-high No. 7, beat world No. 1 Azarenka 6-3, 6-3 in a convincing fashion to end the Belarussian’s 26-match win streak. The 27-year-old Frenchwoman kept Azarenka on her heels all night and won six out of 10 break points. As the match wore on, it was evident that the 22-year-old Azarenka was running out of steam. She finished the match with 16 winners to Bartoli’s 27.
“I honestly never seen her play that well,” said Azarenka, who owns an 8-3 head-to-head edge over Bartoli. “But, I mean, all the credit to her. She did an amazing job today.”
Bartoli will play fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska next in the Sony Ericsson Open semifinals. She is through to the final four in Miami for the second time (2010) and is aiming for her first final at the WTA Premier Mandatory event.
“I think the main key for me was the belief and really to step up on the court trying to win the match,” said Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up. “Not only thinking about how well she’s playing and everything, but really go on the court, having a game plan and try to go for my shots.”
Azarenka has been the dominant player on the WTA Tour this year. She has won four titles, including her first Grand Slam – the Australian Open – to become the top ranked player in the world. But in the quarterfinals against Dominika Cibulkova in Miami, Azarenka was forced to dig deep and fought back to emerge with a 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory, keeping her 2012 win streak alive. It was the longest win streak to start a year since Steffi Graf began the 1990 season with 25 wins. Five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis holds the record for the longest season opening streak at 37 wins.
“What I’ve done in the last couple of months, I have to be really proud of myself,” said Azarenka. “For sure, you know, I could have maybe played better today, that’s for sure, but I gave it all I had. Physically I was just not able to do anything today. It was just not possible. You know, I’m a human, not a super woman, and I wish I could be but I’m not (smiling).”
While Azarenka will get some time to rest, Bartoli will be getting ready for Radwanska, a player she has not defeated in six tries.
“I know the stats (smiling),” said Bartoli. “But I think a first is always to happen, so maybe it’s going to be my first tomorrow. But I know it’s not going to be easy. That’s for sure. I know I will have to run a lot, a lot more forward, because I know she’s going to make a lot of dropshots. I’m going to be ready.”
Former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki holds not only 18 WTA Tour titles but also a great sense of humor. During the Sony Ericsson Open, the 21-year-old Dane cheerfully chatted with me about her most memorable moments on court, the best part of being a tennis player, her aspirations to be an actress, her biggest fear, and the three tennis players she would most want to party with.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
I’ve had a lot. I think reaching the #1 ranking for the ranking and what happened in Beijing was definitely a big moment for me. Or lifting up my first trophy – or any trophy. Or walking into the opening ceremony of the Olympics was huge as well.
What is the best part of being a pro tennis player?
To travel the world and get to meet new people and get to experience things that others maybe never experience, which is great.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?
I would like to be an actress – I think that would be quite fun. Always, when we had plays in school, I wanted to be in there. I had the leading role quite a few times, which is cool.
How old were you when you did that?
I can’t remember. (Smiles) I think it was all from 9 to 14 years old. I remember I was Sandy in Grease as well, so I had to sing and I’m a terrible singer. I wasn’t shy I just sang. (Laughs)
If you could play against any player in history, who would it be any why?
That’s a tough one because I would Martina Hingis, but I’ve played her before. She was my role model growing up.
If you’re hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite?
I would invite Serena [Williams] – she would have to bring her Karoake. (Laughs) I would bring Agnieszka Radwanska and maybe someone like … of the guys … maybe someone like Rafa [Nadal].
Which actress would you like to play you of a movie of yourself?
Maybe Cameron Diaz or Scarlett Johansson.
They have your likeness.
I don’t know, maybe. I would like to think that. (Smiles)
What are two things you couldn’t live without?
My mobile phone and … (Shyly) maybe some chocolate once in a while. (Smiles)
What is one thing that scares you?
Spiders. And I’m a bit afraid of the dark, especially if I have to walk outside when it’s dark, I don’t like it. (Laughs)
(Three watermarked photos courtesy of Neal Trousdale. To check out more photos from the Sony Ericsson Open, check out Neal’s Flickr page.)
Azarenka Plows Past Radwanska for a 21-0 Record
Perhaps the most anticipated match on the WTA side of the draw, everyone was hoping for a squeaker between Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka. Going into this match, Radwanska and Azarenka had already met three times this year, with Azarenka winning all three encounters. The two used to be good friends, but after their last encounter in Dubai, Radwanska seemed to have some qualms with the world No. 1. Their three previous encounters had been incredibly close and the suspected animosity between the two only built the tension leading up to yesterday’s match. From the get go, things did not go so well for Radwanska. She immediately fell down a break, and then two, and in what seemed like no time at all had been bageled in the first set and was down 5-0 in the second. While Radwanska managed to salvage two games, there was just no way to come back from that kind of deficit. Asked about her feelings after going down 6-0 in the first set, Radwanska did not hold back, “pretty much I was pissed, yeah, in the first set especially ‑‑ you know, losing 6‑Love, you know, is not fun, right?” Clearly frustrated, she claimed there were only two options, “What you can do? I said, Either have fun or cry.” Relatively cheerful for such a crushing loss, she obviously opted for fun, a great attitude from the Aga, who will move up to No. 4 in next week’s rankings. In the mean time, Azarenka keeps extending her winning streak, now 21-0 and this season, and feeling strangely similar to Novak Djokovic about this time last year.
Isner Becomes Last American Standing
Poised to become the highest ranked American in the next few months as Mardy Fish struggles to defend points, John Isner is now that last American man standing in the singles draw after Ryan Harrison lost a close encounter with Gilles Simon. When Isner was asked about the situation in his press conference, Harrison was still playing Simon, but, Isner described the experience of being American and playing here as “very, very special,” knowing that, “the crowd is definitely behind, you know, us Americans.” He was looking forward to a matchup with Harrison, which would have guaranteed at least one American in the semifinals, but he will play Frenchman Gilles Simon this evening.
Bryans Felled by Coachella Virus
Prior to any official tournament announcements, Bob Bryan tweeted the following yesterday morning.
“I’m sorry to announce that Mike and I are withdrawing from our quarterfinal match @BNPPARIBASOPEN. Mike has been struck with a severe stomach virus since late last night. Unfortunately, he is too weak and nauseous to get out of bed. We apologize to the tournament, staff, but more importantly, our fans. We love you, thank you for the support, and we look forward to making another run at it next year.”
The Bryans were forced to pull out of their match against Fyrstenberg/Matkowski after Mike Bryan came down with virus that has claimed so many players this week.
Federer and Djokovic Survive Scares
Both the world No. 1 and No. 3 were tested yesterday against much weaker opponents. It became clear early on that Federer was not at his best. He has been feeling a little off, but it was very unlike him to drop the first set against a clay court specialist like Thomaz Bellucci. Federer seemed to right the ship in the second set, which he won 6-3 The Brazilian managed to stay with Federer for most of the third set, before being broken. Federer admitted he was “surprised,” but that he “found a way, and you know, dug deep and came through…At the end of the day, these are the wins that sort of almost feel better.” Federer played a three set night match on Tuesday against Milos Raonic, and his fourth round match was scheduled for Wednseday afternoon, leaving little time for recovery. Next up, Federer will face Juan Martin del Potro, who has given him trouble in the past, but not since returning to the tour last year after wrist surgery.
Novak Djokovic had a much different encounter Wednesday morning. After easily winning the first set 6-0, suddenly his opponent, Pablo Andujar of Spain, seemed to find his bearings, managing to hang in through the second set, making it all the way to a tie break. More impressively, Andujar won the tiebreak, and forced the match into a third set, which he lost 2-6. Djokovic attributed the second set loss to both a drop in his game and an improvement from Andujar, saying, “For some reason I didn’t move as well as. I was holding on my service games very closely, and he was winning comfortably. So we got to the tiebreak, and I though that there is my chance. I didn’t use it when it was presented.”