Shifting down the Persian Gulf, eight of the top ten women move from Doha to Dubai for the only Premier tournament this week. In North and South America are two International tournaments on dramatically different surfaces. Here is the weekly look at what to expect in the WTA.
Dubai: Still the top seed despite her dethroning last week, Azarenka can collect valuable rankings points at a tournament from which she withdrew in 2012. She looked far sharper in Doha than she did for most of her title run in Melbourne, and once again she eyes a potential quarterfinal with Sara Errani. Although the Italian has rebounded well from a disastrous start to the season, she lacks any weapons with which to threaten Azarenka. Between them stands last year’s runner-up Julia Goerges, an enigma who seems destined to remain so despite her first-strike potential. If Sloane Stephens can upset Errani in the second round, meanwhile, a rematch of the Australian Open semifinal could loom in the quarterfinals. The top seed might expect a test from Cibulkova in the second round, since she lost to her at Roland Garros last year and needed a miraculous comeback to escape her in Miami. But Cibulkova injured her leg in Fed Cup a week ago and has faltered since reaching the Sydney final.
Having won just one match until Doha, Stosur bounced back somewhat by recording consecutive wins in that Premier Five field. The Aussie may face three straight lefties in Makarova, Lepchenko, and Kerber, the last of whom has the greatest reputation but the least momentum. While Makarova reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Lepchenko displayed her newfound confidence in upsetting both Errani and Vinci on clay in Fed Cup—a rare feat for an American. Vinci herself also stands in this section, from which someone unexpected could emerge. Azarenka need fear little from either Kerber or Stosur, both of whom she has defeated routinely in most of their previous meetings, so a semifinal anticlimax might beckon. Not that Doha didn’t produce a semifinal anticlimax from much more prestigious names.
Atop the third quarter stands the greatest enigma of all in Petra Kvitova, who won four straight matches between Fed Cup and Doha before nearly halting Serena’s bid for the #1 ranking. Considering how far she had sunk over the previous several months, unable to string together consecutive victories, that accomplishment marked an immense step forward. Kvitova can capitalize immediately on a similar surface in the section occupied by defending champion Radwanska. In contrast to last week, the Czech can outhit anyone whom she could face before the semifinals, so she will determine her own fate. If she implodes, however, Ivanovic could repeat her upset when they met in last year’s Fed Cup final before colliding with Radwanska for the third time this year. Also of note in this section is the all-wildcard meeting between rising stars Putintseva and Robson.
Breaking with her usual routine, Serena has committed to the Middle East hard courts without reserve by entering both Doha and Dubai. Whether she plays the latter event in a physical condition that looks less than promising may remain open to question until she takes the court. So strong is the draw that Serena could open against world #11 Bartoli, who owns a Wimbledon victory against her from 2011 but has not sustained that success. The eighth-seeded Wozniacki proved a small thorn in her side last year by defeating her in Miami and threatening her in Rome, so a quarterfinal could intrigue if the Dane can survive Safarova to get there and if Serena arrives at less than full strength.
Final: Azarenka vs. Kvitova
Memphis: Overshadowed a little by the accompanying ATP 500 tournament, this event has lacked star power for the last few years. Rather than Venus, Sharapova, or Davenport, the top seed in 2013 goes to Kirsten Flipkens, a player largely unknown in the United States. This disciple of Clijsters may deserve more attention than she has received, however, rallying to reach the second week of the Australian Open in January after surviving blood clots last spring. Former finalist Shahar Peer and 2011 champion Magdalena Rybarikova attempt to resurrect their careers by returning to the scene of past triumphs, but lefty Ksenia Pervak may offer the most credible challenge to Flipkens in this quarter.
Of greater note is the hard-serving German who holds the third seed and should thrive on a fast indoor court. Although Lisicki has struggled to find her form away from grass, she showed flickers of life by charging within a tiebreak of the Pattaya City title earlier this month. Kristina Mladenovic, a potential quarterfinal opponent, delivered a key statement in the same week at the Paris Indoors, where she upset Kvitova en route to the semifinals. Before then, though, this French teenager had displayed little hint of such promise, so one feels inclined to attribute that result more to the Czech’s frailty for now.
Part of an elite doubles team with compatriot Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka has excelled on surfaces where her powerful serve can shine. Like Lisicki, she should enjoy her week in Memphis amid a section of opponents who cannot outhit her from the baseline. Among them is the largely irrelevant Melanie Oudin, who surfaced last year to win her first career title before receding into anonymity again. Neither Oudin nor the fourth-seeded Heather Watson possesses significant first-strike power, so their counterpunching will leave them at a disadvantage on the indoor hard court. But Watson has improved her offense (together with her ranking) over the last few months and should relish the chance to take advantage of a friendly draw. Interestingly, Hradecka’s doubles partner Hlavackova could meet her in the quarterfinals if she can upset Watson.
Finishing runner-up to Sharapova here in 2010, Sofia Arvidsson holds the second seed in this yaer’s tournament as she eyes a potential quarterfinal against one of two Americans. While Chanelle Scheepers anchors the other side of the section, Jamie Hampton could build upon her impressive effort against Azarenka at the Australian Open to shine on home soil. Nor should one discount the massive serve of Coco Vandeweghe, which could compensate for her one-dimensionality here.
Final: Lisicki vs. Hradecka
Bogota: Like the ATP South American tournaments in February, this event offers clay specialists an opportunity to compile ranking points in a relatively unintimidating setting. Top seed and former #1 Jankovic fits that category, having reached multiple semifinals at Roland Garros during her peak years. She has not won a title in nearly three years, but a breakthrough could happen here. In her section stand Pauline Parmentier and Mariana Duque Marino, the latter of whom stunned Bogota audiences by winning the 2010 title here over Kerber. As her wildcard hints, she never quite vaulted from that triumph to anything more significant. Serious opposition to Jankovic might not arise until the semifinals, when she faces the aging Pennetta. Once a key part of her nation’s Fed Cup achievements, the Italian veteran won their most recent clay meeting and looks likely to ensure a rematch with nobody more notable than the tiny Dominguez Lino blocking her.
The lower half of the draw features a former Roland Garros champion in Schiavone and a French prodigy who nearly broke through several years ago before stagnating in Cornet. Testing the latter in a potential quarterfinal is Timea Babos, who won her first career title around this time last year with a promising serve. For Schiavone, the greatest resistance could come from lanky Dutch lefty Arantxa Rus. Known most for her success on clay, Rus won a match there from Clijsters and a set from Sharapova, exploiting the extra time that the surface allows for her sluggish footwork. Also of note in this half is Paula Ormaechea, a rising Argentine who probably ranks as the most notable women’s star expected from South America in the next generation. Can she step into Dulko’s shoes?
Final: Jankovic vs. Schiavone
Check back shortly for the companion preview on the three ATP tournaments this week in Marseille, Memphis, and Buenos Aires!
One week after the 2013 Davis Cup began, Fed Cup starts with four ties hosted by European nations. We look ahead to what viewers can expect from the women’s national team competition. Having gone 7-1 in Davis Cup predictions, will our hot streak continue?
Czech Republic vs. Australia: The first of the ties features the only two members of the top ten playing a Fed Cup World Group tie this weekend. But they also are the two most abjectly slumping women in that elite group, having slumped to equally deflating second-round exits at the Australian Open after imploding at tournaments earlier in January. The defending champions hold a key trump card if the match reaches a decisive fifth rubber, where their experienced doubles duo of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova should stifle whatever pair the Australians can compile. An ideally balanced team with two top-20 singles threats and a top-5 doubles team, the Czechs thus need earn only a split in singles, while the Aussies must get a victory from Dellacqua, Gajdosova, or Barty. Even in that scenario, they would need Stosur to sweep her singles rubbers, not as plausible a feat as it sounds considering her habit of embarrassing herself with national pride on the line. The boisterous Czech crowd might lift Kvitova’s spirits, similar to last year’s final when she eked out a victory as Safarova donned the heroine’s garb. But she too has struggled early this year, leaving the stage set for a rollercoaster weekend.
Pick: Czech Republic
Italy vs. USA: To paraphrase the producers who initially turned down the musical Oklahoma: no Williams, no Stephens, no chance. Like that show, which became a smash hit on Broadway, this American Fed Cup team has exceeded expectations in recent years when understaffed. Singles #1 Varvara Lepchenko enjoyed her breakthrough season in 2012, edging within range of the top 20, and Jamie Hampton announced herself with a three-set tussle against eventual champion Azarenka at the Australian Open. Hampered by a back injury in Melbourne, Hampton likely will trump the inconsistent Melanie Oudin after she showed how much her groundstrokes and point construction skills had improved. That said, Oudin has compiled plenty of Fed Cup experience, and her feisty attitude that so often thrives in this setting. Doubles specialist Liezel Huber, although past her prime, should provide a plausible counterweight to the top-ranked doubles squad of Errani and Vinci. The bad news for an American team, however, is the clay surface and the fact that their opposition also has proved themselves greater than the sum of their parts. Both inside the top 20 in singles as well, Errani and Vinci look set to take over from Schiavone and Pennetta as women who rise to the occasion in Fed Cup. Home-court advantage (and the choice of surface that accompanies it) should prove decisive.
Russia vs. Japan: Surprised at home by Serbia in last year’s semifinals, the Russians had become accustomed to playing final after final in Fed Cup during their decade of dominance. Even without the nuclear weapon of Maria Sharapova, the ageless Shamil Tarpischev has assembled troops much superior in quality to the female samurai invading from Japan. All of the Russians rank higher than any of the visitors, while Maria Kirilenko, Ekaterina Makarova, and Elena Vesnina all reached the second week at the Australian Open (Makarova reaching the quarterfinals). And world #31 Pavlyuchenkova reached the final in Brisbane when the new season started, although her production has plummeted since then. At any rate, Tarpischev has many more options for both singles and doubles than does his counterpart Takeshi Murakami, who may lean heavily on the 42-year-old legend Kimiko Date-Krumm. Older fans may recall Date-Krumm’s victory over Steffi Graf in Fed Cup, which came in the friendly confines of Ariake Colosseum rather than Moscow’s sterile Olympic Stadium. Kimiko likely will need a contribution of Ayumi Morita, who just defeated her in Pattaya City last week and has claimed the position of Japanese #1. One could see Date-Krumm or Morita swiping a rubber from Kirilenko or Makarova, neither of whom overpowers opponents. But it’s hard to see them accomplishing more.
Serbia vs. Slovakia: This tie in Nis looked nice a few days ago, slated to feature two gorgeous women—and only slightly less gorgeous games—in Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova. Adding a bit of zest was another former #1 Jelena Jankovic, who always has represented Serbia with pride and determination. When both of the Serbian stars withdrew from the weekend, then, the visitors suddenly shifted from slight underdogs to overwhelming favorites. Granted, the hosts still can rely on the services of Bojana Jovanovski, who fell just short of the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in a breakthrough fortnight. Beyond the 15th-ranked Cibulkova, Slovakia brings no woman in the top 50 to Nis. A more dangerous talent than her current position of #58 suggests, though, Hantuchova should fancy her chances on an indoor hard court against whomever Serbian captain Dejan Vranes nominates for singles between Vesna Dolonc and Alessandra Krunic. She has shone in Fed Cup while compiling a 27-12 singles record there, whereas even Jovanovski has played just seven singles rubbers. Hand a slight edge to Slovakia in the doubles rubber as well because of Hantuchova’s experience in that format, where she has partnered with Magdalena Rybarikova (also here) to defeat the Serbs before.
Come back on Monday for previews of the ATP and WTA tournaments next week, following the format of last week’s ATP preview.
Our daily preview series continues with six matches from each Tour.
Haase vs. Murray (Rod Laver Arena): When they met at the 2011 US Open, the underdog nearly stunned the Scot by building a two-set lead. Haase then won just six games over the last three sets as he continued a bizarre career trend of disappearing in matches that he started with a lead. This match marks Murray’s first as a major champion, and one wonders whether the tension that he so often has displayed on these stages will abate in proportion to the pressure. Although he won Brisbane, he looked imperfect in doing so and alluded to some emotional turmoil hovering around him.
Tomic vs. Mayer (RLA): Shortly after he reached the Brisbane final, Grigor Dimitrov experience a rude awakening when he became the first man to crash out of the Australian Open. Sydney champion Tomic must guard against the concern of having peaked too soon after winning his first career title, amidst chatter about his upcoming clash with Federer. But Leonardo Mayer should lack the consistency to pose any sustained challenge, while Tomic has excelled on home soil and reached the second week here last year with victories over much superior opponents.
Tsonga vs. Llodra (Hisense): A battle of two flamboyant Frenchmen rarely fails to entertain, no matter the scoreline. Formerly a finalist and semifinalist here, Tsonga embarks on his first season with coach Roger Rasheed, attempting to rebound from a paradoxical 2012 season in which he stayed in the top eight without conquering anyone in it. Across the net stands a compatriot who shares his fondness for hurtling towards the net and finishing points with sharply slashed volleys. Expect plenty of explosive, staccato tennis from a rollicking match filled with ebbs and flows.
Matosevic vs. Cilic (Margaret Court Arena): Like Haase and Murray, their meeting follows in the wake of some notable US Open history. Extending the Croat to a fifth set there last year, Matosevic built upon the best year of his career that saw him reach the top 50 and become the top Aussie man until Tomic surpassed him in Sydney (both on the court and in the rankings). Cilic has stabilized at a mezzanine level of the ATP since his initial breakthrough in 2008-09, when he looked likely to emulate Del Potro’s accomplishments. Of a similar stature and playing style to the former US Open champion, he appears to lack the competitive will necessary to take the next step forward.
Monfils vs. Dolgopolov (MCA): The first week of a major offers an ideal opportunity to check out unusual shot-makers who usually fall before the tournament’s marquee rounds. Recognizing this potential, the Melbourne schedulers have featured on a show court this fascinating pas de deux between two men who can produce—or at least attempt—any shot in the book. Their match should remind viewers of the imaginative quality to tennis, often lost in this era of fitness and raw power. Both men focus more on the journey than the destination, and style than substance: not a recipe for major titles but certainly a recipe for entertainment.
Haas vs. Nieminen (Court 3): Most had abandoned hope in the German when he started last year outside the top 200. Bursting back into relevance over the spring and summer, the 34-year-old Haas should inspire other men near the twilight of their careers. Among them is Nieminen, a veteran Finnish lefty without much polish but perhaps with enough wrinkles in his game to frustrate the easily ruffled Haas.
Wozniacki vs. Lisicki (Hisense): The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki has plummeted to the edge of the top 10 while losing four of her last six matches at majors. Despite a hopeful fall, the Danish counterpuncher started this year in deflating fashion with early losses at Brisbane and Sydney, still mired in doubt and anxiety. Lisicki has won two of their three previous meetings behind a booming serve that allowed her to seize and retain control of the points before Wozniacki could settle into neutral mode. Outside the grass season, she struggled even more than her opponent did last year, and a surface that seems very slow may dilute her greatest weapon. In theory, though, her huge game could unnerve Wozniacki again by denying her the rhythm that she prefers.
Suarez Navarro vs. Errani (MCA): A pair of clay specialists meet on a slow, high-bouncing hard court that should not feel too foreign to them. Suarez Navarro has become a credible dark horse in Melbourne, defeating Venus in the second round a few years ago and extending the then-formidable Kvitova to a third set in the same round last year. Meanwhile, Errani reached the quarterfinals at last year’s Australian Open, the first significant result that signaled her breakthrough and thus the first key bundle of points that she must defend.
Schiavone vs. Kvitova (MCA): This match could get gruesome quickly if both of them play as they did earlier in January. At the Hopman Cup, the aging Schiavone struggled to find the service box or her groundstroke timing, while Kvitova struggled to find any part of the court in Brisbane and Sydney. Those efforts prolonged a span in which the former Wimbledon champion has lost seven of her last ten matches, suggesting that she will bring little of the confidence necessary to execute her high-risk game. Schiavone nearly ended Kvitova’s title defense at the All England Club last year, suggesting that this match may contain as much upset potential as Wozniacki-Lisicki.
Oudin vs. Robson (Court 3): Phenoms past and present collide in this meeting of careers headed in opposite directions. While Oudin did resurface last summer with her first career title, she has extracted little from her counterpunching game since the US Open quarterfinal that vaulted her to fame perhaps too early. A highly awaited presence as soon as she won junior Wimbledon, Robson progressed significantly last season in both power and consistency, ultimately reaching the second week of the US Open. Will both of their trends continue, or will Oudin blunt the British lefty’s attack?
Petrova vs. Date-Krumm (Court 6): Surely not much longer on display, the age-defying Date-Krumm merits a trip to the outer courts for her sharply angled groundstrokes and the joy with which she competes. As if one needed any further reason to watch this match, Petrova produces ample entertainment with her percussive serves and crisp volleys, not to mention her bursts of classically Russian angst.
Putintseva vs. McHale (Court 7): As she recovers from the mono that sidelined her last year, the young American might have preferred a less intense opponent than the yowling, perpetually emoting bundle of energy that is Putintseva. The junior exudes with talent as well as aggression, so the quiet McHale cannot take her opponent in this stark clash of personalities too lightly.
After the mega-preview of the Australian Open men’s draw appeared yesterday, we take the same type of look at the women’s draw.
First quarter: Like fellow defending champion Djokovic, Azarenka cruised through the first week of last year’s tournament. Also like Djokovic, she should do so again this year against an early slate of opponents that features nobody more remarkable than Radwanska’s younger sister. Urszula Radwanska recently lost to Wozniacki, which should tell you all that you need to know about her current form, and her sister can offer her little advice on how to solve Azarenka’s ruthless baseline attack. The world #1 has taken the sensible position that this year’s tournament is a new opportunity for triumph rather than a chunk of territory to defend, an attitude that should help her advance deep into the draw. While the quirky game of Roberta Vinci might bemuse her temporarily, Azarenka probably has less to fear from any opponent in her quarter than from the Australian summer heat, which has proved an Achilles heel for her before.
Among the most plausible first-round upsets in the women’s draw is Lisicki over the reeling, tenth-ranked Wozniacki. The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki continued her 2012 slide by losing two of her first three matches in 2013, while she has failed to solve the German’s mighty serve in two of their three meetings. Lisicki usually lacks the steadiness to string together several victories in a marquee draw away from grass, but Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova might build upon her upward trend if she escapes Lisicki in the third round. Although the seventh-seeded Errani reached the quarterfinals here last year, she fell to Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane and might exit even before she meets the young Russian to the veteran Kuznetsova. The most intriguing unseeded player in this section, the two-time major champion showed flashes of vintage form in Sydney and eyes an accommodating pre-quarterfinal draw. She could battle Pavlyuchenkova for the honor of facing Azarenka, who would feel intimidated by neither Russian.
Player to watch: Pick your ova between Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova
Second quarter: In a sense, all that you need to know about this section is that it contains Serena. Case closed, or is it? Conventional wisdom would say that a player of Serena’s age cannot possibly sustain the brilliance that she displayed in the second half of 2012 much longer, but she has built a reputation upon defying conventional wisdom. An intriguing third-round rematch with Shvedova beckons just two majors after the Kazakh nearly upset her at Wimbledon, the tournament that turned around Serena’s comeback. Mounting an inspired comeback herself last year, Shvedova has stalled a bit lately while suffering some dispiriting three-set losses. Serena can outserve, outhit, and generally out-compete players like Kirilenko and Wickmayer with their limited range of talents. Last year, though, Makarova delivered the shock of the Australian Open by ambushing her in the fourth round, reminding us that underdogs sometimes can jolt Serena before she settles into a tournament.
By the quarterfinals, the American usually has accumulated a formidable tide of momentum that compensates for the spiking quality of competition. Considering the eighth-seeded Kvitova’s recent struggles, the quality may not spike so dramatically. But Kvitova, who has lost seven of her last ten matches, may not reach that stage and may have her work cut out against Schiavone in the first round or ambitious American teen Sloane Stephens in the third round. Stephens broke through at majors last year by reaching the second week of Roland Garros, just as British teen Laura Robson did by reaching the second week at the US Open. An early upset of Kvitova, perhaps even by Robson in the second round, would result in an intriguing battle between these two rising stars with a berth in the second week at stake. There, they could meet the evergreen veteran Petrova, who becomes dangerous just when one discounts her. Kvitova’s compatriot Safarova also lurks in this area but blows too hot and cold to produce a deep run.
Player to watch: Stephens
Third quarter: The ultra-steady Radwanska finds herself surrounded by an array of stunning talents with a penchant for getting in their own way. Leading the pack is the sixth-seeded Li Na, who has reached the semifinals or better twice at the Australian Open. Although she won a home title in Shenzhen, Li played generally shaky tennis during her week in Sydney before an error-strewn loss to Radwanska that ended her 2012 momentum against the Pole. Close behind Li in ranking and self-destructive potential is Stosur, who already has imploded twice on Australian soil this year. The ninth seed probably deserves some forgiveness for those losses in view of her recent ankle surgery, but the fact remains that she has lost six of her last seven matches at home in an illustration of her frailty under pressure. Stosur narrowly avoided an early date with Cirstea, her nemesis in the first round last year, and may meet Zheng Jie in the second round a week after she lost to her in Sydney. For her part, Li must hope to reverse her loss to Cirstea at Wimbledon last year if that third-round meeting materializes.
Nearer to Radwanska lies another opponent of the same model as fellow one-time major champions Li and Stosur: the charming and charmingly fragile Ivanovic. Five years after her trip to the Melbourne final, she has not reached the quarterfinals there since. The former #1 might face the other former #1 from her own country in the third round, resuming her sometimes bitter rivalry with Jankovic. Although both Serbs accumulated success against Radwanska earlier in their careers, neither has conquered her as they have declined. The fourth seed thus will feel confident of extending her nine-match winning streak from titles in Auckland and Sydney deep into Melbourne. Perhaps she can follow in the footsteps of Sydney champion Azarenka last year, or in those of Sydney champion Li the year before.
Player to watch: Li
Fourth quarter: When Sharapova entered the Melbourne field without any match practice last year, she showed no signs of rust in sweeping to the final. In the same situation, she will aim to produce the same result on a surface where the high bounce suits her playing style. Sharapova could face Venus Williams near the end of the first week, assuming that the American survives the heat and her spells of uneven play to that point. Away from grass, she has accumulated a far better record against the elder than the younger Williams, and one would favor her in that matchup considering the relative conditions of each career. Either of these tall women would hold a significant advantage in power and serve over Dominika Cibulkova, the Sydney finalist who devoured three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel in the final. Rarely at her best in Melbourne, she faces an intriguing opener against local prodigy Ashleigh Barty but otherwise looks likely to enter the second week.
Somewhat more uncertain is the identity of this section’s other quarterfinalist, for Kerber looked only moderately convincing in Brisbane and Sydney. A heavy hitter can outslug the German or frustrate her, a role that second-round opponent Lucia Hradecka could fill with her thunderous serve. Principally a threat on grass, Tamira Paszek remains unpredictable from one week to the next and could meet Sydney sensation Madison Keys in a second round. A 17-year-old with precocious poise, Keys may vie with Stephens for the brightest star in the future of American women’s tennis. The eleventh-seeded Bartoli opens against Medina Garrigues, who played inspired tennis at the Hopman Cup, and will hope to break away from a series of unremarkable efforts in Melbourne. While Kerber defeated Sharapova early last year, the world #2 squashed her in their other three meetings, nor has any of the other players in this section often threatened her.
Player to watch: Venus
Final: Serena vs. Radwanska
Champion: Serena Williams
Excited for the start of the 2013 Australian Open? I will run a live chat during many of the matches at newyorkobservertennis.com. Check it out if you want to chat with me, some of my colleagues, and fellow fans while you watch the action in Melbourne.
By Romi Cvitkovic
Day One of the US Open by the numbers:
51 – The number of minutes it took Sam Stosur to defeat Petra Martic, 6-1, 6-1 en route winning the first 19 points. That’s almost five straight games!
16 – The age of the youngest competitor, Victoria Duval, who lost to Kim Clijsters, 6-3, 6-1, but introduced her bubbly personality to the world.
0 – The number of second serve points (out of eight) that Alex Bogomolov, Jr. won in the first set against Andy Murray. He eventually lost 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
2 – The number of games most people thought Donald Young would win against Roger Federer after only recently breaking his 17-match losing streak.
9 – The number of games Young actually won. Not bad.
22 – The number of US Open night matches Federer has won.
0 – The number of US Open night matches Federer has lost.
3 – The surprising number of match points it took Federer to defeat Young.
9.63 – The number, on a scale of 1 to 10, of how good Jack Sock thought his second serve was in his win over Florian Mayer.
1 – The number of break points (out of six) that Petra Kvitova converted in the first set in her win over Polona Hercog, 7-6(6), 6-1.
92 – The percentage of first serves won in her defeat of Melinda Czink, 6-2, 6-2.
-22 – The winners-to-unforced errors differential for both Melanie Oudin in her loss to Lucie Safarova, 6-4, 6-0, and Sabine Lisicki in her loss to Sorana Cirstea, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
12 – The number of aces Mardy Fish hit in his three-set battle over Go Soeda, winning 7-6(3), 7-6(2), 6-3.
6 – The number of match points it took newly-minted American Varvara Lepchenko to finally close out the match over Mathilde Johansson, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.
1 – The number of games Victoria Azarenka allowed her opponent Alexandra Panova to win in her whipping of her, 6-0, 6-1.
87 – The percentage of first serve won by Fernando Verdasco in the second set during his win over Rui Machado, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
48 – The first serve percentage of Laura Robson in her win over Samantha Crawford, 6-3, 7-6(6).
60 – The length of the first set in the match that eventually saw Kristyna Pliskova upset Julia Goerges, 7-6(4), 6-1.
292 – The total number of points played in the 3-and-a-half-hour match where Tim Smyczek prevailed over fellow American Bobby Reynolds, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – To some tennis fans, American Melanie Oudin may be an old story after her quarterfinal run at the 2009 U.S. Open and subsequent decline due to pressure. But after winning her first title in Birmingham recently and with her stellar results this summer, she is re-energized, radiant, and open about her journey in regaining confidence in her game.
Given that Oudin is currently ranked No. 109 in the world and only 20 years old, it’s easy to mistake her for a rising junior. And you wouldn’t be that far off. After attaining world No. 2 on the junior circuit in 2008, she ventured her hand into the professional circuit and had her breakthrough at the 2009 U.S. Open. But due to problems at home and the pressures to live up to her Cinderella U.S. Open run, Oudin struggled to solidify herself on the Tour as a threat.
It wasn’t until the end of last year – when she made a coaching change – that her game and confidence slowly started to take form.
“The USTA Training Center in Boca Raton was the first place I really tried – new place, new coaches – but nothing really clicked at first, and the results weren’t there either,” Oudin admitted. “It was just about finding the right coach for me. One that helped me, believed in me, gave me confidence, helped me get my game back again. And I feel like in New York [at the USTA National Center], they’ve definitely helped me. I started with them in March and since then — the way I’ve played and my results — everything has been so much better. I definitely give them credit. [When I made the coaching change,] I was ranked 300, and now I think I am at 109 after two months.”
Oudin’s demeanor during the press conference was optimistic, light, and much removed from the intense frowns and tears from last year.
“I’m a lot more confident than last year. Even with the losses I’ve had recently, I think I am just playing so much better than I did last year… I’m in much better shape now. Everything in my game is moving forward. Everything is just coming together.”
With the upcoming U.S. Open less than one month away in New York, it could have been daunting to return to the site of her biggest glories and biggest letdowns. But not Oudin.
Last year, when entered into the mixed doubles tournament as a wildcard with friend and junior player Jack Sock, the duo went on to win the whole event. And perhaps this is where all the good vibes for Oudin started.
Looking forward, she anticipates the calling to perform well at the U.S. Open with hunger.
“It’s going to be interesting this year because I have been training on-site. Last year, I was so nervous playing there. Ever since I did well in 2009, I have been so nervous when I go play there. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m really hoping that this year’s US Open will be different since I’ve been playing and practicing there every day when I’m in New York.”
She went on: “I’m not going to look at it as “I really want to get to the fourth round.” I want to go match by match like I did at the ’09 US Open. I wasn’t even thinking ahead, but just one point at a time and hoping to do well… I know that I can do it again.”
And when asked if she would partner up with Sock again this summer, she emphatically answered, “Yes, Jack and I are going to play mixed doubles again. We have to defend the title!”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the Olympics in London this week, all eyes are focused on the overseas action. But tennis fans in the U.S. have a home-grown tournament right in their nation’s capital, the Citi Open run by Lagardere Unlimited which runs all week.
In view of tough competition from the Olympics for tennis, I spoke with long-time Citi open Tournament Director Jeff Newman about the impact of having a top-tier tournament during the same week as the Olympics and whether there was a choice to move the tournament.
“Traditionally, we are positioned in one of the best weeks of the ATP and now WTA calendars,” Newman stated. “We are right before the 1000 Master events in Cincinnati and Canada. So, every four years, in order to have that date, sure, we are up against the Olympics. But we always try to focus on who is here and not on who is not. And we feel that we have great fields this year.”
With speculation that world No. 13 and top seed Mardy Fish might pull out of the Citi Open due to an ankle injury sustained in Atlanta two weeks ago, the men’s typically American-heavy draw could have been hardest hit. Luckily, Fish was seen on the courts today playing an intense practice set with Tommy Haas, a former semifinalist here in 2008. Fish, although ranked high enough to make the U.S. Men’s Olympic team, elected to skip the Olympics this year.
Newman goes on to solidify his statement about the strength of both the men’s and women’s field. “We have Mardy Fish, who clearly is a great story; Brian Baker, the comeback kid of the year; Sam Querrey who is in the L.A. finals today; Tommy Haas, who was a former world No. 2, and James Blake. And on our women’s side with Sloane Stephens, making the great run she did at the French Open; Melanie Oudin, who won her first tournament recently.”
The women’s field also includes world No. 28 and top seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and South African Chanelle Scheepers who also bypassed the Olympics for a spot in D.C.
With the ticket prices not altering from last year, attending the Citi Open gives fans even “more value for your money than any previous years,” admits Newman.
“Sure, are there stars overseas for the Olympics? Of course. But at the same time, we have a very entertaining field in store for fans.”
The Citi Open runs through Sunday, August 5 with the women’s doubles final scheduled for Friday, August 3, the women’s singles final on Saturday, Aug 4, and the men’s doubles and singles final on Sunday, August 5. The television schedule is as follows on ESPN2 and The Tennis Channel.
Fri, Aug 3, 5-9pm
Sat, Aug 4, 3-5pm
Sun, Aug 5, 4-6pm
Thurs, Aug 2, 4-8pm
Fri, Aug 3, 2-4pm & 9-11pm
Sat, Aug 4, 7-9pm
For live updates from the Citi Open, follow me on twitter @TennisRomi!
The youth movement has stalled temporarily.
Among the American women, the 2012 Family Circle Cup in Charleston, SC has belonged to the tour veterans. The tournament began with 10 main draw players from the United States but only four remain: 5th seed Serena Williams, 30, wildcard Venus Williams, 31, qualifier Jill Craybas, 37, and Varvara Lepchenko, 25, an Uzbek-American who turned pro back in 2001.
The younger Americans have not fared well. Aside from fast-rising Jamie Hampton’s win over compatriot Sloane Stephens, 19, in the first round, none of the other players aged 23 or younger made it into the second round. The 22-year-old Hampton, who is ranked No. 92 in the world, would go on to lose in the following round to second seed Sam Stosur.
Eleventh-seed Christina McHale, 19, faded down the stretch in a three-set loss to Aleksandra Wozniak – marking the first time this year she has lost to a player ranked below her. Twenty-three-year-old Vania King, the 3rd ranked American behind the younger Williams and McHale, exited in straight sets to 12th seed Yanina Wickmayer.
Wildcard Irina Falconi, 21, has hit a slump after exceeding expectations last year. Currently ranked No. 99 in the world, Falconi will have to find her game quickly in order to reach her goal of qualifying for the Olympic team.
Melanie Oudin, ranked No. 304 in the world, needed to win two qualifying matches for a spot in the main draw. Despite losing in three sets to 10th seed Anabel Medina Garrigues, the 20-year-old can take positives away from her experience in Charleston. Oudin showed glimpses of her confidence and fighting spirit that defined her earlier in her career with victories over Heather Watson and Petra Rampre, her first WTA Tour wins this season.
With plenty of tennis to be played, these young players have a lot to look forward to. The spotlight may belong to them in the future, but for the rest of the week in Charleston, it’s the veterans’ time to shine.
(Photo of Christina McHale by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)
All three tournament wildcards went to young Americans. Madison Keys, Lauren Davis and Melanie Oudin all received the free pass into the main draw.
The challenger circuit this week saw a mixture of new old and faces hoisting up the trophies this week. Two young players on the men’s side recorded their first tournament wins on the challenger circuit, while a former breakout star on the WTA Tour took a big step in moving back to that level by winning her first singles title since 2004.
First, to the men’s side. In Cherbourg, Frenchman Thierry Ascione delighted the home crowd by winning the $50,000 event 6-4 7-6 over Kristian Pless of Denmark. The 27 year old has been hovering just inside the world’s top 100 for several months, but the strong form he showed by only losing one set this week shows that Ascione might be ready to compete exclusively on the ATP Tour. Despite the loss in the final, Pless can still take comfort in the fact that this was his best tournament in several months. After going 13-12 on the challenger circuit last fall, Pless, who cruised to the finals without losing a set began to rediscover the form that saw him reach a career high ranking of 65 back in 2002. He’ll head to Indian Wells next, where he lost in the first round of the main draw last year.
At the $35,000 Volkswagen Challenger in Wolfsburg, Louk Sorensen became the first Irishman to win a challenger in well over a decade. He came through the qualifying rounds to prevail 7-6 4-6 6-4 in a thrilling final over Farrukh Dustov of Uzbekistan. For Sorensen, who now lives and trains in Germany, the win pushes him into the top 250 for the first time in his career and will almost guarantee a place into the qualifying draw at Roland Garros. The result of the final likely came down to match toughness; Dustov was competing in his first event of the year while Sorensen had already contested 17 matches in 2008.
The $35,000 Challenger Providencia in Santiago featured two young South American players who are both playing the best tennis of their careers. In the end, Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil came through and won 6-4 7-6 over Eduardo Schwank of Argentina. For the 20 year old Bellucci, it was the first challenger title of his young career. Having competed in over 30 events in the last 12 months, the majority of them on clay, Bellucci’s vast experience on the red dirt make him a likely candidate to begin to break through at the ATP level during the spring season. Both Belucci and Schwank are scheduled to compete at challenger events over the next two weeks in Bogota and Salinas.
On the women’s side, it hasn’t been an easy few years for Barbora Zahalova Strycova. In her rookie year on tour back in 2004, she made the transition from the juniors to the pros look effortless with results that included a 4th round finish at Indian Wells and a semifinal showing at a WTA Tour event in Guangzhou. However, Strycova quickly fell out of the top 100 and has yet to regain the level that took her to a career high of #55. However, her win this week at the $25,000 event in Fort Walton Beach is a strong statement towards her commitment to regaining that old form. The 6-3 5-7 7-6 win in the final over American teenager Melanie Oudin gave Strycova her first challenger title in four years. Despite the loss, 2008 has gotten off to a promising start for Oudin; in her only other event of the year, she reached the semifinals at the $25,000 tournament held last week in Clearwater.
On the futures circuit this week, several men were able to score back-to-back tournament victories. Jamie Baker of Great Britain won his second title in a row in Harlingen, Alexander Satschko of Germany did the same in New Delhi, and Jeremy Blandin of France made it a clean sweep of the two events in Benin City. On the women’s side, Ukrainian teenager Anastasia Kharchenko also made it a clean sweep of the two $10,000 events held in Benin City this month. Michaela Johansson of Sweden more than lived up to her billing as top seed at the $10,000 event in Wellington as she stormed through the field with the loss of just 18 games in five matches; she’ll look to do the same at the next $10,000 event in New Zealand, which will be held this week in Hamilton.
The spotlight on the challenger circuit turns over to the women this week with the $50,000 challenger event held in Las Vegas. All of the seeds at this event are ranked among the world’s top 100, while the qualifying draw features several notable players on the comeback trail including Sesil Karatantcheva, Mirjana Lucic, and Elena Bovina. On the men’s side, Martin Vassallo Arugello leads the way at the $125,000 event in Bogota, while Yen-Hsun Lu of Taipei is the top seed at the $35,000 event in Kyoto.