Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!
First quarter: For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha. Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other. In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago. Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian. Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd. Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way. Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.
The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson. In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine. The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki. Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching. Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February. On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress. She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.
Second quarter: Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert. Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round. For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality. Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne. Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far. Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it. If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.
Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber. A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before. Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats. At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw. The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round. Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency. Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods. Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.
Third quarter: Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders. Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea. Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either. In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title. Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011. Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?
Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova. Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven. Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there. The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros. Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round. Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova. Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.
Fourth quarter: Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013? Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro. Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards. The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur. Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her. But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.
Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later). Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival. Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08. If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year. By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco. Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.
Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!
While eight of the top ten men are active in the week before Indian Wells, only two of the top ten women have chosen live matches over practice sessions. Two clay tournaments in the Western Hemisphere accompany an Asian hard-court tournament as the last chance to reverse or extend momentum before the March mini-majors.
Acapulco: One of those two top-ten women playing this week, Errani hopes to begin repeating last year’s success on red clay while extending her success from reaching the Dubai final. Little about her section suggests that she should not, although she stumbled unexpectedly on clay against Lepchenko in Fed Cup. Considering that mishap, she might find Arantxa Rus a worthy test in the quarterfinals. Rus once upset Clijsters at Roland Garros and owns a lefty forehand smothered with topspin that cause damage on this surface. She might struggle to survive an all-Dutch encounter in the opening round against Kiki Bertens, though, who broke through to win her first career title at a clay tournament in Morocoo last year.
Gone early in Bogota, where she held the second seed, Alize Cornet will hope for a more productive week in a draw where she holds the third seed. The Frenchwoman lacks weapons to overpower her opponents but will find few in this section who can overpower her. The most notable name here (probably more notable than Cornet) belongs to the returning Flavia Pennetta, who got through one three-setter in Bogota before fading in a second. Tiny Lourdes Dominguez Lino hopes that this first-round opponent still needs to shake off more rust.
An odd sight it is to see an American, a Croat, and a Swede all playing on clay during a week with a hard-court tournament, and yet all of them occupy the same section in Acapulco. Perhaps more notable than Glatch or Larsson is Ajla Tomljanovic, a heavy hitter from a nation of heavy hitters who once looked like a sure rising star before recent setbacks. Facing this Croatian wildcard in the first round, fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu knows better how to play on clay, as 2011 finals in Marbella and Budapest showed. Begu won her first career title last fall in Tashkent, which places her a notch above the other seed in this quarter. Spending most of her career at the ITF level, Romina Oprandi recorded a strong result in Beijing last fall.
Handed a wildcard to accompany her sixth seed, Schiavone searches for relevance after a long stretch in which she has struggled to string together victories. The sporadically intriguing Sesil Karatantcheva should pose a test less stern than second seed Suarez Navarro, who shares Schiavone’s affinity for the surface. Humiliated twice in one week at Dubai, where she lost resoundingly in both the singles and the doubles draws, the small Spaniard owns one of the loveliest one-handed backhands in the WTA since Henin’s retirement. Schiavone owns another, which should make their quarterfinal pleasant viewing for tennis purists.
Final: Errani vs. Begu
Florianopolis: In the first year of a new tournament, the presence of a marquee player always helps to establish its legitimacy. The outdoor hard courts at this Brazilian resort will welcome seven-time major champion and former #1 Venus Williams as the top seed, and her draw looks accommodating in its early stages. While young Spaniard Garbine Muguruza showed potential at the Australian Open, the American’s sternest challenge may come from a much older woman. Extending Venus deep into a third set at Wimbledon in 2011, Kimiko Date-Krumm could unsettle her fellow veteran with her clever angles and crisp net play, although her serve should fall prey to her opponent’s returning power.
In the quarter below lies Kirsten Flipkens, who lost early as the top seed in Memphis after reaching the second week of the Australian Open. Also a potential semifinal opponent for Venus, Caroline Garcia possesses much more potential than her current ranking of #165 would suggest. Unlike most of the counterpunchers in Florianopolis, she will not flinch from trading baseline missiles with the top seed should she earn the opportunity. Another young star in the eighth-seeded Annika Beck might produce an intriguing quarterfinal with Garcia.
Counterpunchers dominate the third quarter, bookended by Medina Garrigues and Chanelle Scheepers. When the two met at the Hopman Cup this year, endless rallies and endless service games characterized a match filled with breaks. The heavy serve of Timea Babos might intercept Scheepers in the second round, while Medina Garrigues could encounter some early resistance from the quirky Niculescu or Shahar Peer. With her best years well behind her, the Israeli continues to show her familiar grittiness in attempting to reclaim her relevance.
Midway through 2012, the second-seeded Shvedova climbed back into singles prominence by reaching the second week at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Starting with her three-set loss to Serena at the latter major, she has suffered a series of demoralizing setbacks in early rounds since then, often in tightly contested matches that hinged on a handful of points. Shvedova once led the WTA’s rankings for overall pace of shot, though, and her power might overwhelm those around her. Aligned to meet her in the quarterfinals is Kristina Mladenovic, the surprise semifinalist at the Paris Indoors who delivered the first signature win of her career there over Kvitova.
Final: Williams vs. Mladenovic
Kuala Lumpur: With a direct-entry cutoff even lower than Florianopolis, this tournament features only eight players in the top 100. Headlining the list, however, is a former #1 who still occupies the fringes of the top 10. After she produced solid results in the Middle East, reaching a quarterfinal in Doha and a semifinal in Dubai, Wozniacki should feel confident in her ability to secure a first title of 2013. Few of the names in her quarter will strike chords with most fans, although some might remember lefty Misaki Doi as the woman who upset Petra Martic in Melbourne before eating a Sharapova double bagel. Aussie lefty Casey Dellacqua sometimes can challenge higher-ranked foes but has struggled with injury too often to maintain consistency.
Doi’s highest-ranked compatriot, the double-fister Ayumi Morita holds the fourth seed in Kuala Lumpur. Like Wozniacki, she could face an Aussie in the quarterfinals, and, like Wozniacki, she should not find the test too severe. Although she has won the Australian Open wildcard playoff twice, Olivia Rogowska has stagnated over the past few years since winning a set from then -#1 Safina at the US Open. Evergreen veteran Eleni Daniilidou rounds out this section with one of the WTA’s more powerful one-handed backhands—and not much else.
Surely pleased to recruit another player of international familiarity beyond Wozniacki, Kuala Lumpur welcomes Pavlyuchenkova as a third-seeded wildcard entrant. The Russian often has excelled at this time of year, reaching the Indian Wells semifinals before and winning consecutive titles at the Monterrey tournament that has shifted after Miami. This year, Pavlyuchenkova has shown a little of her promising 2011 form by reaching the final in Brisbane to start the season and much more of her dismal 2012 form by dropping three straight matches thereafter. She could end her four-match losing streak here in a section filled with qualifiers. But yet another Aussie in Ashleigh Barty hopes to continue what so far has become an encouraging season for WTA future stars.
When not conversing on Twitter with our colleague David Kane, 16-year-old phenom Donna Vekic has compiled some notable results. Seeded at a WTA tournament for the first time, she will look to build upon her final in Tashkent last year, a win over Hlavackova at the Australian Open, and a solid week in Fed Cup zonal play. Vekic does face a challenging first-round test in the powerful serve of American wildcard Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but no match in her section looks unwinnable. While second seed and potential quarterfinal opponent Hsieh Su-wei won her first two titles last year, the late-blossoming star from Chinese Taipei still does not intimidate despite her presence in the top 25.
Final: Wozniacki vs. Pavlyuchenkova
(Actually, can we just combine these last two draws and have Venus play a super-final against Caro?)
Our esteemed tennis photographer is currently at Melbourne Park and will be providing daily tennis galleries from the 2013 Australian Open. Make sure to check back each day for a new gallery and don’t miss the fun from down under!
January 15, 2013 — Our Tennis Grandstand photographer has today’s featured gallery which includes a unique doubles set, featuring Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka, Ashleigh Barty, Casey Dellacqua, Sania Mirza, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Francesca Schiavone, Christina McHale and many more! Enjoy!
By Romi Cvitkovic
Venus Williams looked be the player of old many Americans had grown to love in her defeat of fellow countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday.
It was one year ago this tournament that Venus Williams revealed to the world her battle with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune diseases she has learned to tame. After taking six months off the WTA Tour to adjust her lifestyle, she returned in March to the Sony Ericsson Open. Since then, she has played a lighter schedule that paid off in her wining the women’s doubles gold again at the London Olympics.
“That feeling was amazing,” Williams beamed during her on-court interview. “That was my whole dream, of coming back from being ill, to play in the olympics and to … bring home gold.”
The victories have continued for the unseeded Williams, as she hit 22 winners and won 83% of first serves. After the initial hiccup of dropping her first service game, Williams took rein of the match, moving well, crushing forehands and forcing her opponent to the corners.
With all the health struggles she has had, she admits to physically and mentally “feeling great” and happy about being in the second round.
But what would it mean to get through to the second week and put herself in contention for third US Open?
“That’s what I’m here for!” she joked. “All the hours on the court, all these years. To bring home the Slam and have an American in the winning circle again would be great, so I’m going to try.”
As good as she looked today and try as she might to win it all, there are still doubts about how her body will hold up when the matches start going three sets. Her time playing for the Kastles in the Washington, D.C. humidity this summer revealed how quickly her energy level can diminish and tighten her legs up.
Up next for Williams will be No. 6 Angelique Kerber, the German who was a surprise semifinalist here last year. Kerber is 19-for-21 in three-set matches for the year, so Williams will have to summon everything in her to win it in straight sets.
By Andrea Lubinsky
American women went undefeated, winning all ten of their matches in the first two days of the French Open. This statistic is impressive on its own. Any country would be thrilled to have ten players in the second round. However, considering that most Americans don’t favor the clay, and add in some pretty big wins from young up and comers, this was a rather surprising turn of events.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the day on the women’s side came in the form of Bethanie Mattek-Sands straight sets victory over 12th seed, Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki has never been the picture of consistency due to various injuries, but either way, this was an excellent win for Mattek-Sands to set up a second round 19 year-old Sloane Stephens, who also had a very impressive performance, beating Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets. Teenager Lauren Davis served up two breadstick sets (6-1, 6-1) against the 30th seed, Mona Barthel, which sets up another American vs American second round as she will face off against Christina McHale. This guarantees the Americans at least two women in the third round, but possibly several more.
Other notable wins came from Melanie Oudin who has been struggling, Vavara Lepchenko, who was down match points against Ksenia Pervak, and Christina McHale who toughed out Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in three sets. Vania King, Irina Falconi, Alexa Glatch, and Venus Williams rounded out the two day domination, all winning their first round encounters. Interestingly, based on the first set, it looked like Williams could have been the first to falter. Down 6-4 to Paula Ormaechea of Argentina, it looked like Venus may have been half way out the door, but being the veteran that she is, Williams cruised in the second set, winning 6-1, before comfortably closing out the match 6-3 in the third.
Looking ahead, the US ladies won’t have much time to celebrate as several of them will face off against very difficult opponents in the second round. Perhaps one of the most anticipated matches when the draw was released, Venus Williams will compete against No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska for a spot in the third round. Irina Falconi also faces an uphill battle as she will play 2010 finalist and reigning US Open champion, Samantha Stosur in the second round. Unfortunately for the Americans, Oudin, Glatch, Lepchenko, and King will all also face seeded opponents in round two.
If the ladies are aiming to make it a truly perfect first round, Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton will also have to score wins in their matches on Tuesday.
Call it the Vania King generation.
With the Williams sisters seemingly nearing the end of their careers and the focus of American tennis turning to young rising stars such as Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens, King remains one of the standout players who fits neither group – the other being 26-year-old Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a former American No. 1.
The oft-overlooked King has reached success mostly as a doubles player – winning the 2010 Wimbledon and U.S. Open women’s doubles titles with partner Yaroslava Shevdova – but has enjoyed a consistently strong singles career as well.
The 23-year-old southern California native turned pro at the age of 17 in July 2006. She would go on to reach a career high of No. 50 in the world a few months later. Since then, King has never finished a season ranked lower than No. 129. She is now the third ranked American behind Serena Williams and McHale at world No. 54.
And she is just getting started.
“I think my game has evolved a lot,” King told Tennis Grandstand. “Most importantly, my motivation and my confidence have been good. I’ve been happy with playing. Obviously, I feel like my tennis has improved. I feel like I have a lot to improve still. It’s always a good thing to know that you can be better – I’ll have something to look forward to.”
When speaking of her current status in the game, King turned philosophical.
“I’m trying not to worry too much about the ranking; I’m trying to focus on each match and my game itself,” she said. “I feel like if you’re playing well, the results will come. It’s not a reflection of the number that you have, it’s more of a reflection of the work you’ve done before.
Although her only WTA title came in 2006 at the now defunct PTT Bangkok Open, King has experienced a recent surge in success at the big stages. A run into the third rounds at last year’s French Open and U.S. Open was followed by a third round finish at the 2012 Australian Open – her best results at the majors.
At the BNP Paribas Open last week, King came down with the stomach virus that affected many other players and was forced to withdraw after posting two strong victories over higher ranked opponents. Still not feeling 100 percent, she defeated Laura Pous-Tio to open her Sony Ericsson Open campaign in Miami. She takes on 15th seed Ana Ivanovic, who defeated her earlier this year in Melbourne, in the second round.
Even with the success on court, King has never been one to let tennis consume her life. The youngest of four children of Taiwanese immigrants – her brother Phillip was also a professional tennis player – King has found passions in other outlets. A very talented singer, she has performed at baseball stadiums and night sessions at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Additionally, King has been taking online classes for the past half year.
“I think I’d be something like a guidance counselor for kids, that’s something that I want to pursue,” she said, when asked what career she would have chosen aside from tennis. “I haven’t declared my major yet, but I’m studying online right now. I’d like to work in something like elementary education or psychology.”
King may not be the headline American player at tournaments or have experienced a notable break out match that some of the younger players have, but she has been a stalwart of the U.S. contingent ever since turning pro.
If it feels like Vania King has been around the pro tennis circuits for a long time, it is because she has. And she is not going anywhere, anytime soon.
(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images North America)
There’s always a point of no return.
For Brad, it was seeing Steffi Graf’s ponytail fly up and hit her in the face when she hit her forehand in a 1990 match against Jennifer Capriati. For Chris, it was watching a teenage Andy Murray at the 2005 Wimbledon stand up to then 14th seed Radek Stepanek by mocking his lucky net-cord kiss. For Kelly Padgett, it was stumbling upon one of Andrea Petkovic’s infamous videos on youtube, and laughing as Petkovic pretended to pay Novak Djokovic for an interview.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the psyche of tennis fans lately. What is about this sport and the people that play it that makes us rearrange our schedules, worry for days on end, and get up at all hours of the night to watch a fuzzy yellow ball be hit back and forth from one side of the court to the other? Why do we care so much? Why does it matter?
To try and make sense of it all, I asked for volunteers to answer some questions for me about their experience being a tennis fan. Overall, I received thirty-one completed “fandom surveys” from fans of twenty-one different players. I laughed and cried as I scoured through them for days, re-reading the candid stories and over-analyzing the similarities and differences between them. I was overwhelmed by the honesty and poignancy. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I solved any great mysteries, but I did come away with a deeper understanding of the power of our sport.
Melissa has been a Xavier Malisse fan since 1998- fourteen long years of ups and downs. “I just started following him, and never stopped,” she said. “Once I start following a player, I support him through good and bad times, even if that is sometimes hard. I don’t abandon a player because of negative results.”
Ruby, a Marcel Granollers fan, feels the same way. “Pathetically enough,” she told me, “I almost see it as my ‘job’ to stick by him.”
Melissa and Ruby are far from the only loyal tennis fans out there. Thirty of the fans I surveyed said that there was nothing they could imagine (besides a flippant mention of manslaughter) that would make them stop being a fan of their favorite player. Y. Jones, a Kei Nishikori fan, was the lone exception. She told me that she’d have to re-think her commitment to Nishikori if he ever got his ear pierced. “I just cannot stand a male figure wearing (an earring) in general,” she confessed.
Of course, a loyal tennis fan usually endures more lows than highs. Linda started following Flavia Pennetta in 2006, and became a die-hard fan when she saw an injured Pennetta enthusiastically cheering on her teammates in the Fed Cup Final that year. She couldn’t have picked a worst time to start being a fan. Between “the wrist injury, the struggle to come back, the breakup with Carlos Moya, and the struggle to recover from that,” Linda describes the events of 2006-2007 as “twelve months of horror” for Pennetta. But Linda stuck by the fiery Italian, and her loyalty paid off. She got to experience the joys of Pennetta’s two wins over Venus Williams, and her incredible run in the summer of 2009 when Pennetta won Palmero and L.A. back to back and became the first Italian woman to enter the Top-10. Linda describes the entire summer as “magical”.
As an Andy Murray fan, Hannah has been on a roller-coaster ride, but it’s how Murray has reacted during the low points that has secured her as a fan for life. She started following him during the 2010 Hopman Cup, but after his 2010 Australian Open Final loss to Roger Federer, there was no looking back. It wasn’t necessarily his play on-the-court that she admired, but rather his heartfelt display on the podium afterwards that made an impression. “Oh that speech.”
Similarly, Hannah was deeply impacted by how Murray acted after withdrawing from the World Tour Finals in London last November. “I was waiting for him (after his press conference announcing his withdrawal), just wanting to wish him luck for the next season and a fast recovery from that groin injury. As he walked out the venue, he was clearly very disappointed with not being able to play. However, he was still kind enough to give fans his autographs and thank everyone there for waiting and cheering him on.”
“His decentness as a guy is just admirable,” she concludes.
Curtis, an Ana Ivanovic fan, can relate. He recalls being “on cloud nine for an entire month” after (Ivanovic’s) 2008 French Open win, and has stuck by her through all the tough times since. “I have always considered myself a bigger fan of Ana Ivanovic the person, than Ana Ivanovic the tennis player,” he said. “While her results on court have changed over the years, she hasn’t changed as a person, which I really admire. She never let her fame or her struggles change the person who she was. That’s not easy to do. That’s why I keep coming back.”
In order to “keep coming back”, even in the rough times, most tennis fans maintain a delicate balance between their hopes and expectations. Charlotte, an Andy Roddick fan since 2003, realistically expects him to just win a few more minor tournaments, but deep down lets herself hope that he will “win many slams and beat Roger Federer as many times as he damn well likes.” Linda says that she’s learned the hard way to “never really have high expectations for (her) favorite players. The lower your expectations, the smaller you chance is of being disappointed!”
There are rare occasions when hopes and expectations merge together. For fans of players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, this happens more often then not.
Freelance sportswriter Matt Zemek became a Federer fan in 2004. “(Federer) played a brand of tennis that was more eye-pleasing and stylish than anything I had seen before.” He vividly recalled the first breakthrough moment he witnessed as a fan, Federer’s 2004 U.S. Open Quarterfinal against Andre Agassi. “When Agassi forced a fifth set in very windy conditions on that Thursday afternoon – the second day of the match – the American had the advantage. Federer somehow found a way to turn the tide in the fifth set and play particularly focused tennis. When he won, he let out a particularly primal roar and tore at his shirt. (He’s not Djokovic, so he didn’t succeed in tearing the shirt!) Federer seemed to know right then that he had conquered New York and all of its distractions. Sure enough, he didn’t lose another U.S. Open match until 2009.”
After such an immediate and long-term payoff, it’s no surprise that Zemek calls becoming a fan of Federer, “the most rewarding fan investment of (his) life.”
Zemek’s experience is unique. Most of the time becoming a fan, even of the greatest players, isn’t instantly rewarding. Aleksa became a fan of Novak Djokovic in 2005. “I first saw him play Marat Safin that year in the first round of the Australian Open,” she remembered. “He was crushed, of course. He was just a baby with porcupine hair. Six years and six months later he won Wimbledon.”
Anna became a Novak Djokovic fan a little later- in 2010 to be exact. She hoped that he would win another Grand Slam or two, but she never saw the 2011 season coming. “I felt constant surprise, joy, and elation. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d pull off all of that,” she said. While Anna admits that she does “hope that (Djokovic) wins all the Grand Slams from now on”, she realizes that is unrealistic. She is going to have to start managing her expectations again, keeping her hopes in check. Angela, a Rafael Nadal fan, is having a hard time doing just that. “Though (Nadal) has accomplished so much already, I would like him to have even greater successes,” she admitted. Angela does, however, realize that he may never reach the same heights he did in 2010, and says she will “deal with it as it comes.”
That’s the thing about reaching the top of the tennis world, whether as a player or as a fan- eventually, there will be a decline.
Siva, a Federer fan since 2001, is trying to come to terms with this. “Decline is the one constant in the game. I am fairly certain that Federer is declining. I am not sure I am prepared to deal with it.” Zemek disagrees. “Watching Federer handle tennis mortality is something to relish, not cringe at (for now),” he says.
Lawrence, another Federer fan, sides more with Zemek. “If (Federer) doesn’t become number 1 in his professional career again the Earth will still twirl around the Sun. Yes. It doesn’t matter.”
Aisha has been an Ana Ivanovic fan since 2005 when she was a ball-girl during her match against Nicole Vaidasova in Miami. Throughout the match Aisha recalls that Ivanovic “was an absolute sweetheart.” Aisha has stuck by the Serbian through the thick and the thin past seven years, but sometimes the losses are hard to take. When Ivanovic lost to Petra Cetkovska at Wimbledon last year, Aisha momentarily lost control and smashed her iPhone to bits. (Luckily she works at Best Buy and was able to get a replacement one quickly.)
Romi Castagnino promised herself that if her favorite player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, ever won a Major that she would go sky-diving. Mattek-Sands won the Australian Open Mixed Doubles Championship with Horacia Tecau last month. Castagnino is rapidly trying to overcome her fear of heights.
Though the above examples are extreme, it was clear after reading through the surveys just how strong of an affect tennis players have on their fans. I was expecting to read about the loss of sleep, the occasional (or not-so-occasional) skipped class, and the general emotional highs and lows of fandom, but it became apparent that the influence runs deeper than that.
Many fans have drawn messages of hope and fortitude through their relationships with their favorite players. Maureen has learned about toughness by watching Maria Sharapova battle through matches and injuries. “I’ve learned not to give up easily,” she reflected. Christy has taken similar lessons from David Ferrer. “He has shown me that perseverance can overcome almost anything,” she told me. “Just because you’re ‘too short’ or whatever, doesn’t mean you can’t reach (your goals).” Karen Williams added, “Becoming a fan of Venus (Williams) has made me realize personally that through times of adversity you can accomplish much.” Suman has tried to adopt Roddick’s “never-say-no attitude”.
For Hannah, being a Murray fan has made her a much more independent person. She has traveled, often alone, all around the United Kingdom (and beyond) to see him play. For Lawrence, the impact Fed has had on his life is simple. “Be yourself. Stay cool.”
For some, the connection runs even deeper than that. Besides being pushed to face her fear of heights, Castagino has been inspired by Bethanie Mattek-Sands comeback from injury. “This was extra inspirational for me because around the same time she had her injury I broke my psoas muscles and it was pretty serious thing. I am still in rehab but seeing Bethanie come through her injury gives me extra motivation to push harder and keep my mind positive.” Similarly, a Rafael Nadal fan (who chose to remain anonymous), also found inspiration in Nadal’s transition from knee problems in 2009 to three-time Grand Slam Champion in 2010 . While struggling with personal matters during the time of his Wimbledon and U.S. Open triumphs she reflects that, “it was Rafa who got me through the bad days, the ones where I felt there was no hope.”
Most of the time in sports, you become a fan by default. You root for a team because you were born in a certain state, or went to a certain school, or were brought up a certain way. Being a tennis fan is different. It’s a relationship. It’s personal. It’s intimate. We don’t become fans of groups of people, states, or organizations- we become fans of human beings.
Sometimes we choose the players we are going to be fans of. Other times, the players choose us. Whether there’s something about them that we relate to, or something about them that we aspire to become, once the connection is made it’s virtually unbreakable. It’s why we get worked up when our favorite player is insulted. It’s why we get anxious for the matches, sad for the defeats, and exuberant over the victories. It’s why we do care. It’s why it does matter.
If I’ve learned nothing else from reading the stories of thirty-one passionate tennis fans, it’s that our favorite players aren’t just an extension of us, they’re an integral part of us. Most of the time, that’s a good thing.
(Eternal thanks to all those who took the time to fill out a survey and help me with this article: Curtis @curtos07, Charlotte @crystaleyesd, @eternal_elenea, Angela @4allsurfaces, Rhian @rosso_neri, Kelly Padgett, Siva, Lawrence, Chris @scoobschris, Matt Zemek @mzemek, Kelly @mikomonstr, Jane @jb10is, Géraldine, Suman, Karen Williams, Christy @triplebagel, @thriding, Melissa, Sarah @thetennisstorm, Aisha @Isha312, Brad @bradhunter, Maureen @drewsmama, Dianne @champingthebit, Anna @anna_tennisfan, Romi Castagnino, Ruby @ficcanasa, Y. Jones, Brooke, Hannah, Linda, and Aleksa.)
Follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers the Open GDF SUEZ WTA Tour event in Paris this week. The gallery below includes singles action from day four of the tournament, including Maria Sharapova, Alize Cornet, Christina McHale, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Yanina Wickmayer, Klara Zakopalova and Varvara Lepchenko among others. For full singles results, go here, and for full doubles results, go here.
Check out Rick’s previous Paris photo galleries: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and stay tuned as he covers the ATP Rotterdam tournament next week! Make sure to also check out his in-depth feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”
Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional tennis photographer covering the ATP and WTA tours, scrambling to capture the top players, racing back to edit and post your photos and catching the best angle on tennis? Our resident photographer Rick Gleijm has been in Paris all week covering the WTA Open GDF Suez tournament featuring players such as Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Na Li. This is his personal and candid feature “Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”
Check out all of Rick’s photo galleries from Paris this week! Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.
Sunday, February 4, 2012
Yesterday really wasn’t my day. I woke up at 2 am to make my way to Paris on the icy roads, but it had already been a terrible winter’s day the day before. I arrived to the Stade de Coubertin in Paris just to find out the tournament wasn’t ready to receive press. Wrong accreditation, no press center, no internet connection and worst of all, no parking spot. Since I didn’t fancy to leave most of my belongings in my car in a very expensive, but public garage, and also didn’t like the prospect of lugging around 20 kilos of equipment (and $20,000 in value as well!) I decided to check into my hotel early and try it again in the morning. Some things are just unexpected bumps in the road!
Sunday February 5, 2012
6:30 am: Woke up this morning to a very white world! As if I didn’t have enough problems getting to Paris yesterday, I have to drive a few kilometers to the tournament site from my hotel. Usually I am happy to stay a little further away from the site, in a quieter place, but now that means I have to travel over snowy roads. Roads? Well, there were some cars driving on a white plain, so I guess I must be on the road… Luckily the circumstances meant even the French will drive carefully.
9:45 am: Arrived at the venue without any more scratches or dents. I even found a safe and guarded parking spot right across from the entrance of the Stade de Coubertin. As I approached the accreditations desk, I noticed the staff was happily waving my prepared media card, the press center was open, the Wi-Fi was working — the tournament could start for me now! First up is to take a few shots from the second-round qualification matches before I go to the draw ceremony at 11:oo am.
[singlepic id=3377 w=320 h=240 float=right]1:05 pm: Quickly went to see a couple of points of the first two qualifying matches of the day and tried to take a couple of shots on court, but discovered the lighting is horrendous. On center court, there is a strange yellow/red glow around everything, while on court one everything is green. I took some time to adjust my camera settings but totally forgot about the time and thus, the draw ceremony. I quickly made my way to the VIP-village for the draw ceremony, but got completely lost in the corridors of the Stade de Coubertin. Thanks to a very nice hostess, I managed to arrive in time, just to find out everything was delayed for 15 minutes. After the draw, it was back to court one for Lepchenko versus Domachowska. I still had trouble getting my camera settings right, so that means there will be a lot of post-processing on my part to adjust for the color shift. The next match I’ll shoot will be Mattek-Sands, so that leaves me with a bit of time to edit some work.
4:55 pm: Shot the last three matches. After a time, the ligh on Center Court becam very decent after all. I will be doing some post-processing for Tennis Grandstand first and see if I can upload the pictures, before trying to slide back to the hotel where I can make a back-up of the portfolio. I do need to find some place to eat though — noticed there is a big M nearby so perhaps I’ll try that. I have survived a tournament or two just on junk food, so that’ll be no problem — although I may then easily star in the sequel to the movie “Supersize Me”. Starting tomorrow though, the tournament will offer full hospitality, so that’s one less worry.
Monday, February 6, 2012
[singlepic id=3407 w=251 h=188 float=left]9:30 am: Matches start at 12:00 pm today, so I was able to stay in bed a little longer, but that rarely happens at tournaments. Usually the qualification tournament finishes in the morning to make way for first-round matches in the afternoon. In Paris though, today will only feature the finals of the singles qualification tournament and one main draw doubles match with Lucie Safarova and Klara Zakopalova. Anyway, made myself a cup of coffee and went on my way to the site!
11:55 am: As luck would have it, I arrived at Stade de Coubertin together with Jelena Jankovic, but regrettably had my gear in my trunk so no candid photo opportunity with the Serbian. Some parking problems again, but I was saved by the lovely girls in the press center. Thank you ladies! Dumped my gear in the press center and went for my first match, Arn versus Muguruza Blanco. Hope I have plenty of time to catch before the end of the match between Brianti and Barrois.
[singlepic id=3380 w=215 h=161 float=right]1:05 pm: Checked the score on Center Court: Barrois is having Brianti for lunch! At the first possible change-over, I left Arn-Maguruza, just to witness the last couple of points by Barrois. Unable to get a decent shot of Brianti, I decided to wait it out on center court and stay for the start of Mattek-Sands versus Craybas.
2:15 pm: Went back to the press center to start editing the first three matches, but am keeping an eye out on the scores — don’t want to miss out on the last two matches. I’m hoping Craybas can make it a three-setter, and Barthel seems to have an easy start against Lepchenko.
3:05 pm: Time to get out of the press center and shoot the last two matches of the day. Everything turned out just fine: when Barthel was finished, I left for center court and the doubles teams were just being introduced.
5:05 pm: Back in the press center now to finish the pictures for Tennis Grandstand. Funny story: as I was walking back to the press center, I went by the WTA players’ desk where I saw Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova explaining that they were really players and that they were on the entry list. “Look right here, that’s my name on the list, Julia.”…….. It was quite a site to witness.
7:00 pm: Finished for the day, time to go back to the hotel.
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
10:55 am: Today is sure to be busier. I arrived at the tournament, set up my laptop, readied my photo gear, and went to see Cetkovska versus Brianti. When the second set of Zahlavova-Strycova versus Barthel began, I moved over to center court.
12:25 pm: Back at the press center. Started post-processing pictures of first two matches, and have some time as Pironkova versus Li is not to start before 1:00 pm.
1:15 pm: The Pironkova vs. Li match has begun, but I have decided to go for the second set after Jankovic’s scheduled press conference – which should start soon. While waiting, I’m continuing work on photos.
[singlepic id=3421 w=100 h=75 float=left]2:00 pm: Jelena Jankovic arrived for her press conference to announce she was withdrawing from the tournament due to a left thigh strain she sustained in Fed Cup last week. I decided to then make my way over to the Pironkova vs. Li match. [singlepic id=3432 w=150 h=112 float=right]But, as irony would have it, at the change-over when I could finally enter the court, Na Li needed a medical timeout on her back. I took a couple of shots of Pironkova as she waited and tried to stay warm, bundled up in towels. When Li returned, I decided to stay with the Bulgarian for the game and then switch to Li. At 40-0, Li decided she couldn’t continue and had to retire from her match. So, no pictures of Li in action.
5:05 pm: With all that has happened, I almost forgot to update this! Not much currently happening though, just processing my pictures, uploading them etc., taking a few new ones along the way. Just when I nearly finished my editing, I noticed that I have to hurry if I want to take some photos at Goerges’ match. That girl is in a hurry to win!
[singlepic id=3420 w=150 h=112 float=left]5:45 pm: Got my pics. Am trying to finish them and upload them. There’ll be a post match interview which I’ll try to be present for as well. When I’m done with those I’ll call it a day.
Follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers the Open GDF SUEZ WTA Tour event in Paris this week. The gallery below includes day three qualifying matches as well as main draw doubles matches featuring Lucie Safarova, Klara Zakopalova, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Jill Craybas, Greta Arn and Varvara Lepchenko among others. For full qualification results, go here, and for full doubles results, go here.
Stay tuned all week for full coverage in Paris and catch Rick at the ATP Rotterdam tournament next week! And make sure to check out his feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”