Age restrictions on the WTA Tour have wrested dominance from the prepubescent prodigies of old. Week-to-week, players of all ages continue making their mark, all products of their generation. The young guns are fiery, full of determination. Those in their mid-twenties are methodical, but looking for a breakthrough or an escape after nearly a decade at the proverbial grind.
Then there is Kimiko Date-Krumm.
The more we see of the ageless wonder, the surer we are of how she spent those 12 years away from the game. She didn’t spend it marrying German racecar driver Michael Krumm. She wasn’t staying in peak physical condition and running marathons. She certainly couldn’t have been playing tennis, save for an aborted comeback attempt in 2002.
No, it is all clear now. Kimiko spent that decade (or longer) in a time capsule.
After all, how else did she leave the game in the mid-90s only to reemerge in 2008 looking younger than her new crop of rivals, many of whom had yet to be born when the Japanesewoman turned pro (in 1989)? How else did she retain her throwback game, those mercilessly flat groundstrokes and all-court efficiency? How else could she, at (allegedly) 42, be improving at a rate outpacing teenaged players young enough to call Kimiko “Mom?”
Whatever the conspiracy, Date-Krumm should bottle it, sell it, and make millions off of it.
(Then she could buy an island, relax on the beach while maintaining her flawless tan.)
There is plenty of hyperbole here, but only because Kimiko is, in her own subtle way, the most hyperbolic player on the Tour. We as fans and writers enjoy entertaining debates of whether bygone generations could compete in today’s game, yet we fail to sufficiently take notice of this fascinating athletic experiment, one that takes place every time Date-Krumm takes the court.
Coming from an ostensibly extinct era where mental fortitude trumped brute strength, Date-Krumm appears to lack the height and technique of shot to bother the modern player. Yet, most matches involving the Japanesewoman begin and end on her own terms. With bulging biceps, her relentless shots spring from her Yonex racquet like a catapult for screaming winners or unfortunate errors.
With that game plan, Kimiko pummels the ball as well as anyone, and has the resumé to prove it. During the last five years of her incredible second career, she has beaten players like Slam champions like Maria Sharapova, former No. 1s like Dinara Safina and participated in classic matches, none more memorable than her titanic effort against Venus Williams at Wimbledon:
For all she has achieved by simply being on the court, Kimiko continues to come back for more, even after an injury ruined her dream of representing her country at the London Olympics. Riding a wave of confidence and good form at the end of last year, she came to Australia ready to reclaim her giant-killing reputation.
Drawing Nadia Petrova, the No. 12 seed, it looked like an inauspicious start for the Japanesewoman. As well as she had ended 2012, Petrova had hit even higher peaks, and looked primed for a big run at a Slam. Tall and powerful, the Russian is a perfect example of the modern game. But Kimiko proved that her 90s sensibilities were still effective in 2013; she was positively ruthless in a thrilling upset and only allowed the in-form Russian two games.
As other big names were falling around her, Date-Krumm sensed opportunity knocking during her second round encounter with Israeli Shahar Pe’er. Once a formidable opponent, Pe’er alludes to those aforementioned twentysomethings who look as eager for a way out as Date-Krumm is for a way back in. Cruising past the former top 20 player with a set and two breaks, Kimiko looked poised for another effortless victory.
In the oppressive heat and against a reinvigorated Pe’er, however, Date-Krumm would not have the remainder of the match all her own way. But unlike those young enough to be her daughters, for whom “the moment” can crush, the Japanesewoman held her nerve and served out the second round on the second time of asking. Nearly five years after mounting this improbable comeback, Kimiko is in the third round of a Grand Slam event for the first time since 1996.
But then, we should have expected this from a woman who only recently awoke from cryogenic sleep. In fact, check her hotel room for the fountain of youth, lest we be forced to deal with the fact that yes, we can get better with age.
The first day of the second round looks rather sparse in general, but we picked out a few potential diamonds in the rough. Let’s start with the ladies for a change.
Zheng vs. Stosur (Rod Laver Arena): When they met a week ago in Sydney, the Aussie suffered from a slow start, rallied to reach a final set, and then let a late lead slip away in a match of unpredictable twists and turns. Although Stosur improved on last year’s performance here by escaping the first round, her first victory of 2013 did not come without a series of wobbles such as donating an early break and failing to serve out the first set. She won fewer free points from her serve than she usually does, which could spell trouble against Zheng again. Despite her limitations on return, due to her short wingspan, the Chinese doubles specialist competes ferociously and should outlast Stosur from the baseline with her more balanced weapons. But she struggled even more to survive her opener and had stumbled through a string of losses before that upset of the Aussie in Sydney.
Venus vs. Cornet (RLA): At the 2009 Australian Open, Cornet stood within a point of the quarterfinals and a signature victory over then-#1 Safina. Match point upon match point slipped away, confidence evaporated, shoulder trouble sidelined her soon afterwards, and the petite Frenchwoman remained too mentally and physically dubious to fulfill her promise as a junior. The relatively slow court might suit her game more than the volatile, inconsistent style of Venus, but the American raised her level dramatically from the Hopman Cup while dropping just one game in the first round. By contrast, the Frenchwoman struggled to hold throughout that match, especially under pressure, so only an implosion by Venus could repeat the Suarez Navarro upset from the same Australian Open in which Cornet faced Safina.
Sharapova vs. Doi (Hisense Arena): On a late afternoon without many marquee matches, the Sharapova Show offers a decent way to end the day session. The 2008 champion has blitzed almost all first-week opponents at majors since the start of 2012, but the caliber of those opponents often has prevented one from accurately judging her form. Doi, who defeated Schiavone last year, may surpass expectations after defeating the more familiar Petra Martic in the first round. In general, though, the value of this match comes from juxtaposing Maria’s form here against what Venus shows in the night session, two days ahead of their highly anticipated third-round collision.
Pervak vs. Watson (Court 8): While Murray and Robson attract most of the attention currently circulating around British tennis, and justly so, Heather Watson may develop into a meaningful talent in her own right. The Bolletieri-trained baseliner twice has taken sets from Sharapova and defeated fellow rising star Sloane Stephens last year before finishing her season with a title in Osaka. Not lacking for durability, she won one of the season’s longest finals there and will attempt to grind down Pervak with a combination of depth and court coverage. Teenagers have excelled in the women’s draw so far, eleven reaching the second round, so this youth movement might bode well for the 20-year-old Watson.
Djokovic vs. Harrison (RLA): The Serb has won all five of their sets and looked his usual imposing self in the first round against Paul-Henri Mathieu, showing off his elastic movement and transition game at the major that most rewards it. For Harrison, who avenged his Olympics loss to Giraldo in four sets, an upset bid will require greater focus and competitive stamina than he has shown so far in his career. Typical of his stop-and-start results was a week in Brisbane when he defeated Isner and lost meekly to Benneteau in the next round. Harrison will need to take more chances earlier in the rallies than he did against Giraldo, especially on his forehand, to take Djokovic outside his comfort zone against an opponent who does nothing better than he does. As with his match against Murray last year, this meeting offers a useful measuring stick to test Harrison’s progress.
Malisse vs. Verdasco (MCA): Even in the twilight of his career, the Belgian defeated the Spaniard on the latter’s weakest surface at Wimbledon last summer. Malisse still can unleash blistering backhands when he times his short swings effectively, and Verdasco looked thoroughly human in a five-set rollercoaster against David Goffin. Both men have shown a tendency to alternate the sublime with the ridiculous, often finding the latter at the least opportune moments, but a comedy of errors could provide its own form of entertainment.
Lacko vs. Tipsarevic (Court 2): The eighth seed played his best tennis in months when he battled past Hewitt in a straight-setter closer than it looked. Ripping winner after winner down the sidelines, Tipsarevic looked every inch the elite player that he has become and could charge deep into a draw where he inhabits the least formidable quarter. He has struggled for much of his career with sustaining a high performance level from match to match, though, which makes a letdown a plausible possibility. If he does, Lacko might have just enough talent to punish him for it.
Lopez vs. Stepanek (Court 3): Aligned opposite each other are two net-rushers from opposite sides, the Spaniard from the left and the Czech from the right. As a result, the tennis might trigger memories of decades past before baseline tennis established its stranglehold over the ATP. Stepanek rallied from a two-set deficit in the first round to ambush Troicki, but a comeback would prove more difficult against a server like Lopez, who has won sets from Federer before. While the Czech has dominated most of their rivalry, the Spaniard did win their last meeting on a similar speed of court in Montreal.
Querrey vs. Baker (Court 6): The man who mounted a long-term comeback meets a man who mounted a more ordinary comeback that culminated last year when he rejoined the top 30. Querrey typically has struggled at majors other than the US Open, however, and he lost a set to an anonymous, underpowered Spaniard in his opener. If he can bomb a high percentage of first serves, Baker may not match him hold for hold. On the other hand, a sloppy effort from Querrey would open the door for his compatriot to expose his meager backhand, one-dimensional tactics, and unsteady footwork.
By David Kane
When marketing tennis, it’s rarely about how well the game is played. To appeal to an audience broader than diehards, the question of “who’s playing” can be equally if not more important. Notorious for its shocking upsets and unheralded finalists, the WTA has struggled to corral its biggest names onto the back ends of its best tournaments. With the tour’s stars going through injuries and inconsistency (even unretirements), tournaments instead began relying on “matches worthy of a final” that in reality occurred days, sometimes weeks before the championship match.
Venus/Clijsters. Henin/Sharapova. Azarenka/Serena. All are marquee match-ups that took place before a Slam’s prestigious second week.
Of late, the women’s side has formed its own “Big Four,” but those cracking early match-ups still exist thanks to a most uncommon denominator in Venus Williams, who could play No. 2 seed (and kindred spirit) Maria Sharapova should both reach the third round.
The American has inspired many in how she has balanced a pro career with the energy-sapping Sjogren’s Syndrome. Battling through the ups and downs of a chronic illness, she achieved her goal of making the Olympic team and won another gold medal with her sister. Finishing 2012 with a title in Luxembourg, the veteran started the new season undefeated in Hopman Cup.
Sharapova has faced tough times as well; taken out of the game with a shoulder injury, the Russian spent years struggling to regain the form that took her to multiple major championships. Her Roland Garros victory was not only a fulfillment of the Career Grand Slam, but also an emphatic triumph over adversity.
However, triumph over adversity is not necessarily “elimination of.”
Venus has worked hard to mitigate the effects of Sjogren’s, including a change in diet and selective scheduling. But the very nature of the disease is its unpredictability; for as many days as Venus may feel great, there have been (and will be) days where she pulls up lame, as she did in the first round of Wimbledon.
Drawing Galina Voskoboeva in the first round looked to be a bad omen for the American. The tall Kazakh mixes raw power with quirky finesse not unlike Tsvetana Pironkova, a player who has owned Venus, particularly at Slams. How would she hold up under Voskoboeva’s undoubtedly relentless assault of slices and dropshots?
While her ranking no longer shows it, Sharapova too has dealt with the residual effects of shoulder surgery. Though ostensibly healed, the constant tweaking with her service motion left her with a perennially shaky delivery that can produce a string of double faults out of nowhere. An ugly serving day can lead to some ugly losses, as her big game can crumble when the confidence in her serve disappears.
The collarbone injury that took Sharapova out of Brisbane was worrisome only in the notion that the Russian would come to Melbourne rusty, which could trigger one of those “no good, very bad days” on serve and on the court. Who was to say that, despite facing a less intimidating foe in Olga Puchkova, Sharapova wouldn’t hit herself off the court?
Taking the court in one of her EleVen creations, Venus silenced those buzzing around Hisense Arena predicting an upset with startling efficiency, dropping only one game to her talented opponent. Looking more like a young upstart with streaks of blue hair rather than a hobbled veteran, the American was always the aggressor and never allowed Voskoboeva to wrest control. By the end, Venus was twirling her way into the second round, erasing many doubts in the process.
As Venus was making mincemeat of one opponent, Sharapova was grounding out another. After struggling through two long games to begin the match, the No. 2 seed clicked into form in a manner that should put fear into her opposition. Exposing Puchkova’s poor movement and poorer forehand, Sharapova double-bageled her compatriot, romping through a second set where she hit only three unforced errors. Three-quarters of the way to a Career Slam Double Bagel (Sharapova has pitched no hitters at the French and US Open), the Russian looked equally dominant to start her Australian campaign.
Chaos may no longer reign in women’s tennis, but depth is here to stay. With intriguing matches to be found throughout the fortnight, the WTA may have found the best of both worlds with a meatier and – dare I say it? – more marketable product.
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 James Crabtree
A drive down the infamous and maddening Punt road, a quick turn onto Swan Street and you are smack bang in the middle of a sports nut holy land.
Indeed you could have gone the other way on Swan Street, had a great coffee and watched a gig at the famed Corner Hotel. But head in the direction of the city on tram or by foot and you are at The Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Precinct. This particular area consists of Olympic Park, Yarra Park and Melbourne Park which is home to not only the tennis but also soccer, rugby, AFL, basketball, cricket and every major concert in town. Even the Grand Prix and horse racing’s Melbourne Cup are not too far away.
This is one hell of a town and a place born to breathe sport.
Unlike Wimbledon and Roland Garros, tickets for the Australian Open can be purchased easily and almost anybody you speak to will attend for at least one day. This is not tennis snobbery but tennis for all and the flamboyant crowds are certainly testament to this.
The tournament arrives too quickly and leaves too soon for most Melburnians. During roughly three weeks of January (including qualifying and pre-week warm-up) the Kia tournament cars buzz around the city leaving you to wonder, while trying to peer through the tinted glass, whom might be getting ferried around. Early on before the tournament has begun players like Novak Djokovic and Sam Stosur are getting acclimatised to the courts and weather, whilst speakers at conferences such as Judy Murray, Scott Draper or Ivan Lendl will be giving talks.
An interesting tale from a couple of Open’s past is the story that Roger Federer, on his occasional days off , liked to clip on a walkie talkie and drive a tournament car to taxi players around the city. Imagine having just lost a match and hauling your luggage into the back of an official car, only to be greeted by good ol’ Fed looking back at you from the rear view mirror. There are no further reports to the quality of his driving although Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear has claimed that Switzerland is a car hating place. It is also well known that Federer prefers to drive himself to and from matches at Melbourne Park rather than be chauffeured, and he is known to work on crossword puzzles during waiting times, asking tournament officials and staff for the odd bit of help.
Novak Djokovic on the other hand likes to walk. He is known to stay in the South Yarra area and visit the nearby botanical gardens to perhaps capture a sense of Zen. His team are known to spend a good amount of time at the European style cafes close to their hotel. It’s important to remember Melbourne prides itself on its café culture and exceptional coffee.
The Williams sisters also enjoy staying within the Chapel street precinct (South Yarra), along with others such as Andy Murray and Lleyton Hewitt. Serena Williams is known to rent out eight rooms for her entourage that includes a personal assistant, trainer, hitting partner, agent, and a whole heap of family and friends whilst staying in this famed area. And, big sister Venus includes a chef amongst her personal support team.
Whereas players at Wimbledon rent houses in or near the village, most players at the Aussie Open stay at some of the bigger hotels within the CBD. With Melbourne Park is only a 5 minute drive, the city is an ideal place to call home throughout the two week tournament. Players are often seen frequenting the inner city restaurants and shopping precincts, two of Melbourne’s most talked about attributes. The parent of a notable Russian player was known to attempt to purchase a large quantity of clothing from one store, with the promise that they would be back (insert Russian accent now) ‘probably tomorrow I hope’ (some will try anything and please end Russian accent). Jo- Wilfred Tsonga was also seen on the ‘Paris end’ of Collins Street adding to his wardrobe in Armani.
Of course Melbourne is not exempt from the associated pre-tournament marketing exploits of brands such as Adidas, Lacoste, Nike, Rolex, Kia, Jacob’s Creek and ANZ. Adidas has been known to host a pre-hitting event on a court on top of an iconic Melbourne building and Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have been known to open new jewelery and fashion stores within the city.
Speak to many of the locals and the first month of the year is often their favourite time in the city. With holidays, heat and hard hitting, the Australian Open is certainly an event that is well organised, attended and looked forward to for much of the year. Melbourne Park suitably plays host to this reputable Asia Pacific Grand Slam and with its latest list of renovations will no doubt impress both players and visitors. If you plan a visit to Australia be sure to include a visit to Melbourne during the Australian Open, it would be criminal to miss.
By Lisa-Marie Burrows
Today is the 31st birthday of tennis star, Serena Williams and to celebrate her birthday, it seemed fitting to share some of her inspirational quotes, which have become infamous for shaping her professional and personal life over the years and during a flourishing career. Like a fine wine, she has continued to get better with age and her fantastic 2012 season proves just that.
Serena Williams has experienced many highs and some painful lows, but throughout these roller coaster times, she has never held back on sharing her thoughts and occasionally they have been somewhat controversial. Either way, as she has said: “I am not a robot. I have a heart and I bleed.” Here are some of the heartfelt quotes she has shared with the world during her acceleration towards tennis superstardom:
Her love for tennis
Despite having the world at her feet and the opportunity to explore many different things in life, Serena has always stayed faithful to her one true passion – tennis:
‘I definitely have found a balance. I’ve had so many offers in the past to do different movies or different things and I always choose tournaments over it.’
A fighting champion
Being on the tennis court has not always been plane sailing for Serena Williams, as over the years she has been embroiled in some tough battles against great competitors and her inability to give up has put her in good stead to stare defeat in the eyes and refuse to back down. The final against Victoria Azarenka in 2012 is a perfect example of her resilience and winning attitude where she delivered this inspirational quote:
“I believe that a champion is defined as such for their achievements but also for the times when they have fallen and were able to get back up again. I’ve fallen several times and every time I have got up. I’m stronger than before.”
A battle against her health
Like every athlete, Serena Williams has become accustomed to dealing with sporting injuries that can plague a sportsperson during their career, but she has dealt with preventing injuries well and always ensured her physicality is a top priority in her training sessions, however, there are some things which you cannot prepare for, which she has had to bravely overcome, including the deadly blood clot which prevented her from playing on the circuit:
“I was so tired at that point. I had a tube in my stomach and it was draining constantly. Gosh, I mean, right before that I had the blood clot. I had lung problems. I had two foot surgeries. It was a lot. It was a lot. I felt like I didn’t do anything to bring that on. I just felt down, it was just the lowest of lows.”
On her physique
Many have talked about Serena’s incredible physique and the power and intensity she brings to the game. There is no doubt she is a great physical specimen, but for her, she prefers a different part:
“My smile is my favorite part of my body. I think a smile can make your whole body.”
Family and friends
Throughout her career, Serena Williams has always credited her family and friends for her success and confessed that without them, many of her achievements would not have been possible:
“Tennis is just a game, family is forever.’
Of course, we cannot get forget her beloved sister Venus who has shared so many of the triumphs with her little sister:
“I don’t know what I would have done if Venus didn’t exist. I don’t even know if I would own a Grand Slam title or if I would be playing tennis, because we do everything together. Growing up I copied Venus. She was a really big influence for me. So when she started winning, I wanted it so bad. When she became No.1, I had to be No.1. I had to work harder. I had to do everything in my power to get there. I have no idea what would have happened if she weren’t around.”
Serena is enjoying a fantastic 2012 season and still has much more to look forward to. Happy birthday Serena Williams!
By David Kane
Sometimes on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tennis Tour, fans find that their favorite rising stars really grow up fast. One minute, they’re teenagers struggling to qualify for major tournaments; the next, they’re making tour finals in countries like Uzbekistan and you’re left wondering where the time went.
Such is the case for the young 16-year-old Croatian, Donna Vekic. If you have never heard of her, fear not. Although she has competed on the junior circuit, the descriptors “prodigy” or “junior champion” are withheld because, to be fair, her junior results have been quite middling in a division where success and failure is simply foreshadowing.
Before this summer, I had only known of Vekic in passing as the player against whom controversial fireball Yulia Putintseva had audibly and turbulently fought back at during the 2011 Junior Wimbledon.
Despite Vekic’s relative anonymity, when I posited to my twitter followers which players I should be on the lookout for during the US Open qualies, many were quick to point me towards the promising talent.
When I got to Court 6, I could see why; the tall blonde in the flowing Nike dress cut an impressive figure for a 16-year-old. While most of the top junior girls look like girls, Vekic already looked the part of a woman looking to break through on the woman’s tour. More importantly, she played like a woman; with a big serve and equally ferocious groundstrokes, this ready-for-primetime player looked decidedly out of place on such a small outer court.
Unseeded in qualifying, the Croat had a good week in Flushing before her age and inexperience reared at a most unfortunate time; two games from the US Open main draw, Vekic wilted in the New York heat and veteran Edina Gallovits-Hall took care of the rest, winning the last 10 games and making the youngster look out of place all over again.
What could have been a disappointing end became that crucially aforementioned foreshadowing when she arrived in Tashkent a week later, again as a qualifier. In seven matches, she only dropped one set, and claimed decisive victories against No. 4 seed Magdelena Rybarikova and No. 6 seed Bojana Jovanovski en route to her first WTA tour final. Despite losing to Caroline Wozniacki’s US Open conqueror Irina Camelia Begu at week’s end, Donna Vekic had arrived, in fairly emphatic style given the dearth of prior results pointing to said arrival. It just over one year, Vekic has risen over 700 ranking spots and hit a career-high No. 121 this past Monday.
Given how past players have made the junior to WTA transition over the last few years, Vekic’s run has many scratching their heads. Junior results aren’t a fluke; a look at the last 10 US Open girls’ singles champions reads like a “Who’s Who” of the WTA (both today and tomorrow). Her talent cannot be denied, and the main (albeit bizarre) question that seems to be at hand is how Vekic’s WTA-friendly game failed to translate in the junior ranks.
One need only look to the Williams sisters for the answer; the two had abstained entirely from junior tournaments and their father had been heavily criticized at the time for doing so. Venus turned pro the year Meilin Tu won the girls’ US Open, and Tara Snyder the next when Serena entered the pro ranks. With that perspective, suddenly an aberration looks like destiny.
Follow Donna Vekic on Facebook or Twitter for her WTA Tour updates!
By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand
If Caroline Wozniacki represents the proverbial tragedy mask, then Marion Bartoli, intentionally or otherwise, is at the US Open to provide a healthy dose of comic relief.
The early days of the year’s final Slam are filled with tension around the grounds; while the top seeds are blowing past under-ranked and overmatched opponents on Ashe, the magnitude of the moment seems that much greater on the smaller courts, which makes for some compelling drama. All players react to the resulting stress differently: Maria Sharapova puts her back to her opponents, Novak Djokovic will bounce the ball 20 or more times before a serve. Marion Baroli, already a standout with her two-fisted groundstrokes, will engage in a series of massive high jumps and a most intense game of shadow tennis before approaching the baseline to receive serve, all the while bobbing and weaving like a prize fighter.
Yes, Bartoli is taking the moment very seriously, but that doesn’t mean her unorthodox methods and physical comedy don’t provide a deflation in tension for fans that would otherwise be gripping their benches after a long day of tennis.
With a win over Romina Oprandi, Bartoli would book a spot in the third round, but more importantly, she would re-enter the top 10 at the expense of her tragic counterpart, Wozniacki. During the first set, it was apparent that the Frenchwoman was brutally aware of all the circumstances and subtext of the match. Besides wanting to get back with the game’s elite, Marion has something to prove at this tournament; she’s had mediocre Slam results in 2012 and has to be looking at the US Open, played on one of her best surfaces, as a golden opportunity.
Oprandi, a player who has struggled with injury for most of her career, arrived on the court tape-free for the first time in a while. As the match got underway, she tried to use her signature drop shot to keep Bartoli off balance, but to no avail. The Bartoli rituals were in full effect and her eyes were on stalks; as she wrapped up the first set 6-2, it was refreshing to see a player so determined and unafraid of the moment, even if the moment was taking place far from the stadium courts.
But Bartoli, for her cartoonish nature, is still very much human, who can be inspired to play unbeatable tennis during a Wimbledon semifinal just because she sees Pierce Brosnan in the stands, and one who can become distracted upon hearing shocking news. Court 11 may be metaphorically far from the stadiums, but is physically much closer, and we could all hear Kim Clijsters’ last singles match unfold with the help of the booming loud speaker. Suddenly, Bartoli was on the backfoot and Oprandi began to dominate.
Perhaps it sounds illogical, but it’s happened before, even to Clijsters herself; the Belgian wasn’t the same in a Wimbledon quarterfinal she had been dominating after the scoreboard announced Venus Williams’ shock loss to Tsvetana Pironkova. Whatever the reason, Bartoli’s unique rhythm had been severely interrupted, and things became just a little less comedic on Court 11 as Oprandi ran away with the second set 6-1.
Entering a third set always seems like a dicey proposition for someone whose unorthodox game and style translates to some questionable off-court training. But the Frenchwoman’s unshakable belief often makes up for any other shortcomings, and she was able to once again grind her way to victory, even if it took until 7-5 in the third. Match point was typical Marion, who couldn’t resist taking an exaggerated practice swing off between serves before blasting a forehand into the Oprandi backhand, provoking the error.
On behalf of fans everywhere, Marion, never change.
David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.
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 Lisa-Marie Burrows
The US Open is the final Slam of the year and it is rapidly approaching! The atmosphere at Flushing Meadows is unique, fun and home to some of the most interesting, intriguing counters likely to be seen and draws in an audience from all over the world. There are many reasons to love this Slam whether you are there to enjoy it in person or in the comfort of your own home and here are a few top examples as to why the US Open is one of the best tournaments of the year.
New York is the home of fashion and where else would you see tennis players showcasing some of their most daring or eye-catching outfits but at the US Open? Over the years many of the players have been discussed as much for their fashion and apparel as they have for their tennis. Many have opted for traditional, summery styles for the final Slam of the year, whilst others have dared to bare their extraordinary and unique outfits and made an unforgettable fashion statement. Who can forget some of the styles of Serena Williams, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Andre Agassi over the years? Serena has a strong body, strong mind and is not afraid to make a strong fashion statement as she stepped out onto the tennis court at the US Open in 2002 wearing a snug and tightly fitted black cat suit which was arguably more daring than any other WTA player had worn before at Flushing Meadows.
Arthur Ashe Kids Day
Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is an annual tennis/children’s event that takes place in the end of August at the United States Tennis Association at Arthur Ashe Stadium. (USTA) Center in Flushing Meadows. This event also begins the U.S. Open, which officially starts one day later. This event is also televised on the following day for many to enjoy who are not there to experience it firsthand. It is a celebration of the memory of Arthur Ashe, who died of AIDS in 1993, and of his efforts to help young people through tennis. Tennis greats that have appeared annually at Arthur Ashe Kids Day include Venus and Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Anna Kournikova, who play to entertain the children and families and to raise money for charity.
The home of thrilling matches:
The Arthur Ashe stadium is known for hosting some of the most exciting, nail biting matches out of all of the Grand Slams and over the years, through history, there have been many which have taken centre stage and thrilled audiences around the world. Here are two examples of the most recent, well-documented matches that have are truly memorable and have been enjoyed by many:
The Williams sister final in 2001: The Williams sisters have both experienced plenty of success in the world of tennis and even today they have continued to push their boundaries – particularly with their health – to achieve the dizzy heights of success in tennis. In the 2001 final the two popular sisters were in an all-American battle against each other and the match was all about Venus. Serena could not trouble her older sister, who cruised to win in straight sets.
Novak Djokovic fights back from the brink of defeat in 2011: In the semi finals last year, Novak Djokovic was dangerously close to elimination in the last four against Roger Federer. The Serb survived a pair of match points en route to his nail biting defeat over Federer, before continuing with his onslaught of the Tour when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the final to be crowned champion.
The possibility of an upset:
This year has been the Olympic year and now more than ever, many of the tennis players have admitted that they are feeling fatigued both mentally and physically and there has been a sea of withdrawals at the Masters 1000 Series tournaments in Toronto/Montreal and Cincinnati this year where many have fallen at the first hurdle, much earlier than planned and those who have remained have confessed that they are feeling the pinch from a jam-packed 2012 calendar with back-to-back tournaments. Coming into the US Open, it may come as no surprise to witness some upsets on the ATP and WTA Tours as some top players have had very limited match practice coming into the Slam and others are fighting off injury. Who knows what surprises we may see in some of the early stages of the tournament?
The US Open over the years has attracted many of the top celebrities to its courts to soak up the sunshine, enjoy the buzz and watch the fantastic tennis action taking place. Many have relished the opportunity to watch live matches from singers, to actors, to reality TV stars and models. In recent years Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Kim Kardashian and Bradley Cooper are a few examples of many A-list celebrities who have attended the tournament.
It’s New York!
The US Open is held in one of the most fashionable, fun and vibrant cities in the world, where many flock to especially to watch the tennis. It is a mecca for those who enjoy shopping, city life and a spot of some fantastic tennis to boost. Who could not enjoy being in New York during the tennis fortnight? The late night matches that commence on the Arthur Ashe Stadium create an atmosphere like no other – the crowd are into the matches, they are very vocal and being situated close to the bar certainly helps the crowd to cheer on their favourites and create that infamous party atmosphere that lights up the stadium!