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?)
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.
American Vania King may seem like a veteran on the WTA Tour but at only 23-years-old, she is one of the more experienced younger players in women’s tennis. Currently sitting at a steady world number 54, she will soon best her career-high of #50 from back in 2006. I had a chance to chat with Vania after her first-round win about her Wimbledon title, her education, and the players she would most want to party with.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
Winning Wimbledon with my doubles partner [Yaroslava Shvedova]. I think I screamed for like twenty minutes straight — I couldn’t believe it. It took me like two weeks for it to settle in, so that was pretty incredible.
If you weren’t a tennis palyer, what would you be?
I think I would be like a guidance counselor for kids; that’s something that I want to pursue. I haven’t declared my major yet, but I’m studying it online right now. I would like to work in elementary education or psychology.
How long have you been studying?
For about half a year.
Do you have any superstitions on court?
I try not to. I know girls that don’t like to step on the line. Sometimes I make it a point to step on the line to make sure that I don’t have a superstition. Some players want to stay on one side if they keep winning. But eventually, you’re going to lose on any side you’re on and eventually you’re going to lose if you didn’t step on the line. So I think superstitions shouldn’t affect you. The only thing they can do is harm you.
If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite?
(Laughs) Obviously, everyone wants to see Rafa [Nadal]. And then one of my good friends is Anna-Lena Groenefeld and we’ve gone out and partied before and she’s really fun. And the third one, I would say one of my best friends is my doubles partner, Yaroslava Shvedova. I would have to invite her or she would be really mad at me! (Laughs)
What is your biggest indulgence?
I try not to let tennis consume me, so I try to be good with food. But sometimes I’m not good with food — I just figure that I’m really hungry and I want to east what I want to eat. (Laughs)
Is there a sweet that you tend to go for?
Cupcakes and French macaroons.
What are two things you can’t live without?
Music and books.
Any type of music in particular that you like?
It varies on the mood. I can’t pick just one because when I’m in an upbeat mood or if I need to have some energy, then I’ll listen to some club music. If I need to calm down, I’ll listen to classical or cinematic music.
At an age where many of her contemporaries have long since retired, Julie Ditty is producing the best results of her career.
In front of a standing room only crowd on Court 5, Ditty won a round in a Grand Slam for the first time in her career. Teaming with fellow American Carly Gullickson, the wild card pair beat the team of Tamarine Tanasugarn and Yaroslava Shvedova 7-5, 6-1.
“It feels awesome,” said Ditty. “We were one out from getting directly into the main draw, so I’m glad we were able to take advantage of being wild carded in.”
Displaying more tactical doubles skills than their opponents, who were pinned at the baseline throughout the match, Ditty and Gullickson regularly put away winning volleys as they attacked the net throughout the contest.
After breaking Shvedova’s serve to take a 2-0 lead in the second set, they broke her serve once again to consolidate their lead. A service winner by Gullickson on their first match point at 5-1 sent them into the next round, where they will take on the team of Tathiana Garbin and Tamira Paszek.
Although this is the first time that Ditty and Gullickson have paired up in doubles, Ditty said they’ve known each other for more than a decade.
“I’ve known her since she was 13,” Ditty said. “When I was on the team at Vanderbilt, she would come to hit with us because she was based out of Nashville. She’s a great girl and we have a lot of fun together out on the court.”
After years of toiling away on the challenger circuit, Ditty has produced the best results of her career in the last 12 months. She cracked the top 100 for the first time, reached the semifinals at a WTA event in Quebec City, and competed in the singles main draw at three Grand Slam events in 2008.
Despite her rapid progression, Ditty said that her first full year on the WTA Tour has shown her just how much she needs to improve.
“It’s been a real eye opener,” Ditty said. “I’m still kind of feeling my way through it. Everybody is so much stronger physically at this level and they have the belief that they belong here, which is something I struggle with at times. I’ve really had to improve my level of play and my fitness considerably just to be able to contend.”
Part of Ditty’s late blooming status on the tour is due to the fact that she didn’t turn professional until the age of 22, opting to gain a degree in early childhood education from Vanderbilt University while remaining of the top NCAA in the country. Fellow Americans Venus Williams and Jill Craybas are the only other players in the top 100 with college degrees.
Many of the American teenagers competing at the US Open, including Melanie Oudin and Asia Muhammad, have already turned professional, therefore foregoing their opportunity to play college tennis. While both Oudin and Muhammad spoke of the need to face stronger competition and utilize their talent tennis, Ditty said she has no regrets about finishing her education.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would in a second,” Ditty said. “I loved the experience of being able to compete on a team and have your friends around. Once you get on the tour, you’re by yourself all year and don’t have anybody cheering you on.”
In addition to gaining the college experience, Ditty said her years at Vanderbilt have allowed her time on tour to be less stressful.
“It takes the pressure off me a little bit because in the worst case scenario, I have a degree to fall back on. For a lot of these girls out here, this is their one shot. They can always go back to college afterwards, but they won’t be able to college tennis and probably won’t be able to receive a scholarship.”
Having already achieved a career milestone in winning her first main draw match at a Grand Slam, Ditty will look to beat her own personal best result when she plays her second round match on Friday.
At the end of last year, Alexandra Stevenson proclaimed that she still has the game to crack the top 5 and, most importantly, win a Grand Slam tournament.
She’ll have to wait until next season to get that chance again.
Hampered by a low-service percentage throughout the match, and a shoulder injury late in the third set, Stevenson fell to 0-9 at the US Open as she lost to Chin-Wei Chan, of Chinese Taipei, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in the first round of the 2008 US Open qualifying tournament.
Despite possessing ample strength from the baseline, Stevenson, 27, found herself playing defensive tennis against the diminutive Chan, often seeming to be overpowered by someone who lacked power on their ground strokes. Despite not possessing a weapon, Chan’s impressive tactical play and sound volleys gave her an early break in the first set.
After trading service holds for the rest of the set, Stevenson began to take control of the long baseline rallies and move Chan around the court. She broke Chan while trailing 4-5 and then broke her to clinch the first set.
As the second set progressed, Stevenson’s first serve percentage dropped as her serves became increasingly softer. Chan took advantage of a clearly ailing Stevenson by punishing her weak serves and frequently moving forward to the net. Chan won six straight games in taking the second set 6-3, and storming to a 3-0 lead in the third set.
After taking a medical timeout for treatment on her right shoulder, Stevenson changed up her approach and began giving herself extra margin on her shots by hitting the ball down the middle of the court. Chan began to get tight in the later stages of the third set, failing to serve out the match as Stevenson leveled the final set at 5-5.
With the match nearing three hours, fitness became the deciding factor in the match as Stevenson was unable to maintain her foot speed in the New York summer heat. After failing to capitalize on two break point opportunities to serve out the match, a dejected Stevenson was broken at love, sending Chan into a second round qualifying match against No. 11 seed Yaroslava Shvedova, of Kazhakstan.
Stevenson burst onto the scene in 1999, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon as a qualifier. She achieved a career-high ranking of No. 18 in 2002. Shoulder problems and surgery have slowed her progress since 2005.
Juan Martin Del Porto beat Andy Roddick 6-1 7-6 (2) to win the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles, California
Sergiy Stakhovsky won the Open Castilla y Leon in Segovia, Spain, defeating Rhiago Alves 7-5 7-6 (4)
Jim Courier beat John McEnroe 7-5 7-6 (3) to win the Countrywide Classic Legends title in Los Angeles, California
Marcelo Rios won the Vale do Lobo Grand Champions CGD in Algarve, Portugal, when Goran Ivanisevic retired after losing the first set 6-4
Yaroslava Shvedova beat Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4 6-1 to win an ITF women’s event in Monterrey, Mexico
“I feel good considering the calendar this year, which was terrorizing. It’s been a good year, but a difficult one.” – Rafael Nadal, who replaces Roger Federer as the world’s top player on August 18.
“If maybe I am a player who doesn’t have any Grand Slams, maybe a Grand Slam would still do more for my own career. But because I have 12 already, for me an Olympic gold ranks high.” – Roger Federer.
“Honestly, my Olympic gold, even though it was in doubles, is my favorite trophy I have.” – Serena Williams.
“It has been beyond my dreams to play the Olympics. It takes awhile to set in. A few years after you win you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, this is my gold. Oh, my gosh, yes.'” – Venus Williams.
“I’ve obviously experienced a lot in my 16-year career and I have to say (Friday) night was probably the greatest night I’ve had professionally in my whole career.” – Lindsay Davenport, commenting on the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics.
“Talk about being in the right place at the right time. It was like – wow!” -Devin Mullings of the Bahamas, who was in Beijing to play doubles and got called up as a last-minute replacement in the singles competition.
“It’s great to play in a final against Goran, but it’s unfortunate it had to end on an injury. It’s better for him to take care of his knee.” – Marcelo Rios, after winning the Vale do Lobo Grand Champions CGD senior tournament for the second time in three years.
“I always get injured at the wrong time. I’m getting older, so I have to be careful now.” – Goran Ivanisevic, after retiring with a knee injury in the final at Algarve, Portugal.
“We had one intent, and that is to build the event.” – Paul Floury, tournament chairman, on the U.S. Tennis Association becoming the major owner of the men’s tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“If I continue in this way, I have a chance to be in the top 10. I don’t know when – if I am still beating (Andy) Roddick and top-10 players, for sure I will be, but you never know what may happen.” – Juan Martin Del Potro, who beat Roddick in the final of the Countrywide Classic.
“He certainly has the weapons; it depends on how he builds on it.” – Andy Roddick, about Juan Martin Del Potro.
STREAK TO 14
Teenager Juan Martin Del Potro hasn’t lost since the second round at Wimbledon, and his 14-match winning streak has raised the Argentine right-hander’s ranking to number 17 in the world. The 19-year-old, who won on clay in Stuttgart, Germany, and Kitzbuhel, Austria, upset top-seeded Andy Roddick in the final of the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles, California, 6-1 7-6 (2). He becomes the first teenager to win the Los Angeles tournament since Pete Sampras did it in 1991 at the age of 19. “I think I am playing very good and my confidence is very, very high,” Del Potro said. Roddick didn’t dispute the statement.
Who’s playing who was a difficult question when the Beijing Olympics tennis competition finally got underway, thanks to a slew of withdrawals at the last moment. Among the last to pull out were top-seeded Ana Ivanovic, Tatiana Golovin, Ivo Karlovic, Ivan Ljubicic and Marcos Baghdatis. Even Lindsay Davenport withdrew from the singles competition, but remained in the doubles where she is teaming with Liezel Huber. Ivanovic, the French Open champion, has failed to recover from an injured right thumb. Karlovic is out because of a stomach illness, while Ljubicic withdrew from the singles with back trouble, although he still plans to play doubles.
Although he was not happy with the way he won the tournament, Marcelo Rios was delighted with the fact that his victory moved him to the top of the South African Airways Rankings. Rios won the Vale do Lobo Grand Champions CGD title when Goran Ivanisevic was forced to retire with a left knee injury. Rios broke Ivanisevic’s serve in the tenth game of the opening set before the Croat retired. It was the second time in three years that Rios has won the Algarve, Portugal, tournament, joining John McEnroe as the only players to twice win in Algarve.
Dinara Safina has set herself up for one of the biggest paydays in tennis. By winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada, Safina clinched the 2008 Olympus US Open Series women’s title. If the Roland Garros runner-up should win the U.S. Open, she would receive not only the winner’s check of USD $2.5 million, but also a USD $1 million bonus. Great Britain’s Andy Murray and Spain’s Rafael Nadal are tied for the men’s lead with 145 points each.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is the new owner of the Western & Southern Masters tournament in Cincinnati. Paul Flory, the tournament chairman, will retain a minority interest and continue to play a major role in the event. The USTA acquired only the men’s tournament from the nonprofit Tennis for Charity, which will continue to own the women’s event played at the same venue. The deal does not include the tennis center facility, which is located near the Kings Island theme park north of Cincinnati.
The world’s top two women players – Jelena Jakovic and Ana Ivanovic – are the first to qualify for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, which will be held November 4-9 in Doha, Qatar. The women’s tournament will feature the world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams. The two Serbs are currently in first and second place in the Race to the Sony Ericsson Championships.
Mario Ancic will miss his second straight U.S. Open. Ranked number 25 in the world, Ancic withdrew from this year’s final Grand Slam tournament because of a recurrence of mononucleosis. The former Wimbledon semifinalist was slowed throughout the 2007 season with the same illness. Ancic is best known as the last player to beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon until Rafael Nadal did it this year. The native of Croatia beat Federer in the first round at Wimbledon in 2002.
SENIORS TO LOS CABOS
The senior players are moving south of the border, down Mexico way. Tos Cabos, Mexico, will be the site of an event on the Outback Champions Series calendar beginning next year. The Del Mar Development Champions Cup will be held March 18-22 at the Palmilla Tennis Club and will be the first tour stop in Central America on the Outback Champions Series, a circuit for champion players 30 years old and over. Players competing on the Outback Champions Series include Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Michael Chang and Todd Martin.
A Wilmington, Delaware, jury has decided that the ATP can restructure its calendar the way it wants. But the German tennis federation (DTB) is considering appealing the decision. The governing body of men’s tennis plans to downgrade the Masters tournament in Hamburg, Germany, and move it from May to July. The DTB went to court and argued that the ATP’s plans violated American anti-trust laws. But after nine hours of deliberation, the jurors agreed with the ATP and rejected the suit. Before the case went to the jury, United States District Court Judge Gregory Sleet dismissed several ATP officials as defendants. He also dismissed breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty claims against the ATP, but kept intact the main antitrust claims.
Germany’s Rainer Schuettler is in the Beijing Olympics, much to the chagrin of the International Tennis Federation (ITF). Schuettler sought a spot in the men’s singles draw in Beijing by going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where he was successful. He then wrote an open letter to ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti demanding an apology over the ITF’s reaction to the successful challenge. “I find the statement shocking, harming and damaging to my reputation due to the inaccuracy of its content,” Schuettler wrote. The ITF, which originally said it deplored the CAS decision, countered with another statement, saying: “There are so many inaccuracies in Mr. Schuettler’s open letter that it would be impossible for us to respond to each of his allegations.” The German Olympic Committee supported Schuettler’s petition and failed to nominate either Denis Gremelmayr or Michael Berrer, both of whom were ranked higher than Schuettler on the June 9 deadline for entries.
Mathieu Montcourt of France has been banned from the men’s tour for two months and fined USD $12,000 for betting on tennis matches. The ATP said that while Montcourt bet on matches between June and September 2005, it found no evidence that he had tried to affect the outcomes of the matches. The Frenchman did not bet on his own matches. A winner of two Challenger titles this year, Montcourt will be able to return to the tour in October.
SPLIT FOR SHRIVER
Citing irreconcilable differences, Pam Shriver has filed for divorce from her husband of six years, actor George Lazenby. The former tennis star is seeking custody of the couple’s three children, including twins born in 2005, with supervised visits for Lazenby. The winner of 22 Grand Slam doubles titles, Shriver has served as a tennis commentator since retiring. Lazenby, who is best known for his role as James Bond in the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” said he will seek sole legal and physical custody of the children.
Los Angeles: Rohan Bopanna and Eric Butorac beat Travis Parrott and Dusan Vemic 7-6 (5) 7-6 (5)
Segovia: Ross Hutchins and Jim Thomas beat Jaroslav Levinsky and Filip Polasek 7-6 (3) 3-6 10-8 (match tiebreak)
Monterrey: Jelena Pandzic and Magdalena Rybarikova beat Monique Adamczak and Melanie South 4-6 6-4 10-8 (match tiebreak)
SITES TO SURF
New Haven: www.pilotpentennis.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
Olympics, Beijing, China, hard
$483,000 Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Washington, DC, hard
$100,000 TED Open Challenger, Istanbul, Turkey, hard
Olympics, Beijing, China, hard
$175,000 Western & Southern Financial Group Women’s Open, Cincinnati, Ohio, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$708,000 Pilot Pen Tennis, New Haven, Connecticut, hard
$600,000 Pilot Pen Tennis, New Haven, Connecticut, hard
Written by the WTT
April 1, 2008 (Miami) – World TeamTennis franchises finalized their lineups today at the WTT Roster Player Draft in Miami, Fla., completing the player selection process that began last month when marquee player protections were announced. First round roster player draft selections for the 11 teams in the WTT Pro League presented by Advanta included Lisa Raymond, Justin Gimelstob, Rennae Stubbs and American teenager Madison Brengle.
Dmitry Tursunov will be a featured roster player for the Sacramento Capitals this summer, playing one home match on July 11. Liezel Huber, the world’s top-ranked doubles player, is a roster exempt player for the Delaware Smash. Huber will play three matches for the Smash on July 8, 9, and 11.
During the WTT Player Draft, 46 roster players representing 17 countries were added to the 2008 lineup, joining previously announced marquee players including Venus Williams (Philadelphia Freedoms), Serena Williams (Washington Kastles), Anna Kournikova (St. Louis Aces), John McEnroe (New York Sportimes), Lindsay Davenport (Newport Beach Breakers), Andy Roddick (St. Louis Aces) and Mike and Bob Bryan (Kansas City Explorers) to fill out the player list for the 2008 season.
Raymond returns to the Philadelphia Freedoms while another doubles standout, Rennae Stubbs, will play in Kansas City along with her tour partner Kveta Peschke. Gimelstob makes his WTT debut this summer with the League’s newest franchise, the Washington Kastles. Brengle, a Dover, Del. native, will play in front of a friendly home crowd this summer for the Smash.
The League’s two West Coast teams are looking to their WTT veterans to lead their 2008 squads. Sacramento protected Caps stalwart Elena Likhovtseva in the first round while Newport Beach did the same for long-time fan favorite Ramon Delgado. Jasmin Woehr returns to the Aces while 2007 WTT Female MVP Tamarine Tanasugarn will be back for the Springfield Lasers.
The Boston Lobsters selected Jan-Michael Gambill with their first pick and League newcomer Yaroslava Shvedova will make her debut for the New York Buzz.
The schedule for the WTT Pro League presented by Advanta includes 77 matches in 11 markets beginning July 3 and running through July 23 with the season-ending WTT Championship Weekend, set for July 24-27, in Roseville, Calif., home of the Sacramento Capitals.
The 11-team League was co-founded by Billie Jean King in the early 1970s. Each team has two male and two female players who play singles, doubles and mixed doubles matches. For details on the complete draft results and the 2008 schedule, visit www.WTT.com.