Yesterday, the up-and-coming Sloane Stephens fought off a mid-match surge from a game opponent to reach her debut Grand Slam quarterfinal. After taking the deciding set 7-5, the bubbly American was pleased to have put on a show for the crowd, and promised another one when she played her mentor and idol, Serena Williams.
Leave it to the media to turn a show into a circus.
As the match unfolded, Stephens seemed to establish an unassailable advantage over her equally inexperienced opponent, Bojana Jovanovski. A heavy hitting but inconsistent player from Serbia, Jovanovski was deemed a beatable foe, one who would easily bend to the will of the quickly rising American teenager.
As the second set reached a critical juncture, however, Stephens began to retreat and revert to a safer, more defensive style. Jovanovski had been missing badly up to that point, so waiting for the error was not a completely ill conceived strategy. Yet, in doing so, she made an almost fatal mistake: giving Bojana Jovanovski a short ball is like feeding live bait to a shark.
The No. 3 Serb hits groundstrokes like missiles, and is an exciting player to watch when she is striking the ball well. Most comfortable playing in Australia, she had her breakthrough tournament in Sydney two years ago where, as a qualifier, she reached her first Premier semifinal. A week later, she pushed then-world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva to three tight sets at this very tournament. Since then, she won her first WTA title last summer in Baku and is also a player on the rise, give or take a few hiccups and patches of poor form.
Despite her obvious talent, she is still better known for the quirkier aspects of her life and bio. For one, not a televised match of Jovanovski’s goes by without a retelling of the embarrassing story where the Serb traveled to the famed WTA event in San Diego via Carlsbad only to wind up in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Quirkier still is her unusual grunt. Oft-described as a sound similar to a sneeze (“ha-choo!”), it is definitely one of the stranger sounds one hears during a tennis match, but is not nearly as off-putting as many seem to think. Having watched the majority of her US Open singles campaign, I can say that it was hardly as noticeable in person as it is when amplified by the on-court microphones.
But as Jovanovski began to take control of a match she seemed well and truly out of last night, the focus centered not on her screaming winners, but on the alleged screaming itself. Stephens lost the plot and allowed her fiery opponent back into the match. Instead of giving praise to Jovanovski for not giving up and playing some inspiring offense, she was castigated, mocked and name-called for her grunting.
A lot of people take issue over noises that aren’t perceived to imply exertion. “How does shrieking assist a person in hitting a ball?” asks a public often corralled by visibly disgusted commentators (for more on grunting and the hindrance rule, I refer you to unseededandlooming’s comprehensive take on the matter). But as bizarre as Jovanovski’s grunt sounds, it is still a grunt at its very core.
And if you stopped to watch the Serbian bombshell scurry about the baseline, you would see a shockingly high level of exertion, mixed with some extreme torque and intensity.
What makes Jovanovski so electrifying on the court is the reckless abandon with which she hits every ball. The notion that “a tennis ball is there to be hit” is taken to delirious extremes during her matches, much to the delight of those who enjoy “Big Babe Tennis.” In fact, it was her tentative serve, the one shot in her repertoire that lacks her almost hysterical punch, that did her in late in the third set against the American, who eventually regrouped to serve out the match herself.
In her first Slam fourth round appearance, Bojana Jovanovski did herself proud. She recovered from a lackluster beginning and found her range in impressive fashion, only to fall just short of the finish line. In all, the week that the Serbian star had was a tremendous effort, and definitely as much noise with her tennis as she did with her grunting.
You may not like Bojana’s grunt from an aesthetic point of view, but it is hard to argue that her bite doesn’t match her bark.
On Monday, the rest of the quarterfinals take form in both the men’s and women’s draws. The action shrinks to Rod Laver and Hisense, by which we divide the previews.
Rod Laver Arena:
Wozniacki vs. Kuznetsova: Fans may remember their pair of US Open three-setters, both of which Wozniacki won when her retrieving skills and superior fitness outlasted Kuznetsova’s fiery shot-making and athleticism. Those victories formed part of a four-match streak for the Dane against the Russian that halted abruptly last week in Sydney, where the latter astonished the former in a three-setter played under sweltering conditions. All but irrelevant last year, Kuznetsova appeared to have regained her motivation during the offseason before charging back into contention with one of her best results to date here. For her part, Wozniacki recovered from a dismal first-round effort to play cleaner tennis through her next two matches, albeit less impressive than what she produced as world #1. Long rallies and service breaks should await as both players focus on what they do best in this strength-on-strength matchup: offense for Sveta, defense for Caro.
Azarenka vs. Vesnina: On the surface, this match would seem like a rout in the making, and it might well turn out that way in reality. But Vesnina has played some of her best tennis in recent memory this month, starting an eight-match winning streak with her first career singles title last week. Meanwhile, Azarenka has looked vulnerable in two of three matches and staggered through an unexpected three-setter against Jamie Hampton, who likely would not have trouble the Vika who swaggered to last year’s title. Unable to hold serve consistently, the defending champion has relied on her return to break opponents regularly, possibly a more difficult task against Vesnina than the three before her. Still, Azarenka has won all six of their previous sets.
Tsonga vs. Gasquet: If the passivity of Simon and Monfils bored you, rest assured that this pair of Frenchman will not produce the same lethargy. Outstanding shot-makers each, they shine most in different areas. Whereas Tsonga unleashes titanic serves and forehands, often rumbling to the net behind them, Gasquet favors one of the ATP’s most delicious one-handed backhands. He ventures to the forecourt often as well, displaying a fine touch that has contributed to his success in their rivalry. Gasquet has won four of their seven meetings, but Tsonga looked the sharper player during the first week. Not dropping a set in three matches, he has maintained the focus and discipline lacking from his disappointing 2012, so he will fancy his chances of halting Gasquet’s eight-match winning streak.
Serena vs. Kirilenko: Apparently recovered from her ankle scare, Serena remains the favorite to win a third straight major title here. Outside an odd three-game span in the second set of her last match, she has ravaged a series of overmatched opponents while reaffirming the dominance of her serve. The competition does elevate in quality with the 14th-seeded Kirilenko, much improved in singles over the last year or two. Serena has won all five of their previous meetings, though, and the weight of her shot should leave the Russian struggling to match her hold for hold. Only on an especially erratic day for the 14-time major champion would Kirilenko’s balanced all-court game and high-percentage brand of tennis threaten her.
Raonic vs. Federer: Perhaps useful in preparing him for the titanic serve across the net was Federer’s previous match against Tomic, who regularly found huge deliveries when it mattered most. As brilliant as the Swiss looked in other aspects of his game, he struggled to convert break points and nearly lost the second set as a result. Nevertheless, Federer did not lose his serve in the first week or even encounter significant pressure on his service games. That trend should continue against the unreliable return of Raonic, while the veteran’s struggles to break should as well. Combining those two threads, one can expect some tiebreaks to settle sets that should hinge upon just a handful of points. All three of their previous meetings, on three different surfaces, reached final sets—and two a final-set tiebreak, illustrating Raonic’s ability to trouble Federer. The younger man’s belief fell slightly short last year, but he has looked more assured in his status as a legitimate threat by brushing aside his first-week opponents here.
Chardy vs. Seppi: A match of survivors pits the man who defeated Del Potro in five sets against the man who defeated Cilic in five sets. Spectators who expected to see two baseline behemoths dueling today may feel surprised to see one of the ATP’s most asymmetrical games square off against a baseline grinder. Striking nearly 80 winners to topple the Tower of Tandil, Chardy produced nearly all of his offense from his forehand and at the net, where he will want to travel frequently again. A clay-courter who has enjoyed his best result here to date, Seppi wore down Cilic by staying deep behind the baseline, absorbing pace, and extending the rallies. That positioning leaves him vulnerable to someone as adept moving forward as Chardy, but the main theme of this match may revolve around who can recover more effectively, mentally and physically, from their notable but exhausting victories in the last round.
Jovanovski vs. Stephens: Somewhat surprisingly, Stephens enters her first fourth-round match here as a clear favorite. Probably the most unexpected member of the last sixteen, Jovanovski upset Safarova and weathered the distinctive game of Kimiko Date-Krumm to record a potential breakthrough. She plays an orthodox power baseline style, more raw than the game honed by Stephens, and she has struggled at times to contain her emotions. That said, one wonders how the young American will respond to the pressure of the favorite’s status at a stage where she has little more familiarity than her opponent. This match marks the first meeting of what could become an intriguing rivalry.
Simon vs. Murray: After his epic battle with countryman Monfils, which nearly reached five hours, Simon should have little energy left for the Scot. He tellingly said that he would appear for the match but estimated his probability of winning it as slim. Despite the issues with holding serve that Murray has experienced here, and his troubles with timing in the third round, he probably needs to play no better than his average level—or even below it—to advance. Even a rested Simon would have few weapons to harm an opponent who has defeated him nine straight times, much less this battered version.
Our colleague James Crabtree will tell you everything that you want to know about the looming Federer-Tomic collision in a separate article, while we preview the other matches of note as the first week ends.
Berankis vs. Murray (Rod Laver Arena): Recording his best performance to date here, Berankis cruised through his first two matches in straight sets and yielded just six games to the 25th seed, Florian Mayer. The bad news for him is that Murray has looked equally impressive in demolishing his early opponents, and his counterpunching style suits these courts better than the Lithuanian’s high-risk attack. Shorter than the average player, Berankis can pound first serves of formidable pace and crack fine backhands down the line. So far in his career, though, he has not done either with the consistency necessary to overcome an opponent of Murray’s versatility in a best-of-five format.
Simon vs. Monfils (Hisense Arena): Odd things can happen when two Frenchmen play each other, and odd usually equals entertaining in the first week of a major. Monfils should feel lucky to have reached this stage after tossing nearly 40 double faults in a bizarre start to his tournament, where the nine sets that he has played may hamper him against an opponent as fit and durable as Simon. His compatriot has looked fallible as well, meanwhile, dropping first sets to third-tier challengers Volandri and Levine. Against the quirky arsenal of shots that Monfils deploys stands Simon’s monochrome steadiness, which can look unglamorous but has proved superior in three of their four meetings.
Seppi vs. Cilic (Court 2): A second-week appearance at a hard-court major would mark a fine start to 2013 for Seppi in the wake of his breakthrough 2012, accomplished mostly on his favored clay. For Cilic, the achievement would come as less of a surprise considering his semifinal here three years ago and the ease with which his elongated groundstroke swings suit this surface. Near the middle of last season, he too signaled a revival by winning two small titles and reaching the second week at Wimbledon. Cilic has looked more likely than Seppi this week to build on last season, winning all six of his sets as the Italian narrowly escaped his second round in five.
Raonic vs. Kohlschreiber (Court 3): Seeking his second fourth-round appearance at Melbourne, Raonic passed the ominous test of Lukas Rosol with flying colors. That effort improved greatly upon his uneven effort in the first round, allowing him to conserve energy for his meeting with a flamboyant German. Defying national stereotypes, Kohlschreiber loves to throw caution to the wind by unleashing his cross-court backhand and inside-out forehand at the earliest opportunity, which will test Raonic’s vulnerable two-hander. In this first meeting, he may find the rising star’s serve too great a frustration to keep his composure as he battles to match hold for hold.
Vesnina vs. Vinci (Margaret Court Arena): Fresh from her first career title in Hobart, Vesnina has brought that confidence to the brink of the second week. Solid in most areas but outstanding in none, she faces a crafty Italian who coaxes errors from the unwary with unusual shots like a biting backhand slice. Vinci has become the best women’s doubles player in the world by virtue of an all-court game that compensates in variety for what it lacks in power. Her experience also should earn her a mental edge over the notoriously fragile Vesnina if the match stays close.
Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro (Court 2): This match lies very much on Kuznetsova’s racket, for better or for worse. Armed with one of the WTA’s more picturesque backhands, Suarez Navarro upset top-eight foe Errani and then outlasted a feisty assault from newcomer Yulia Putintseva. But Kuznetsova has cruised through her first two matches with the same brand of controlled aggression that fueled her strong week in Sydney. She lost to the Spaniard on a particularly feckless day at Indian Wells, showing her tendency to cross the line from bold to reckless too easily. Showing that Suarez Navarro has no answers for her best form are the routs that she recorded in their other encounters.
Stephens vs. Robson (Court 2): An encore of a match that Stephens won in Hobart, this battle offers Robson a chance to build upon her epic victory over Kvitova—provided that she can recover in time for another draining match. The Brit showed remarkable resilience despite her youth in that 20-game final set against a Wimbledon champion, although her level fluctuated throughout in a way that Stephens rarely does. Steadily climbing up the rankings, the American also has shown self-belief against even the most elite contenders, so a clash of wills awaits when the serves and forehands of the volatile lefty shot-maker meet the smooth, balanced groundstrokes of the counterpuncher.
Date-Krumm vs. Jovanovski (Court 2): The oldest woman remaining in the draw faces the potential next face of Serbian women’s tennis, young enough to be her daughter. A straightforward power baseliner in the traditional WTA mold, Jovanovski once lost a challenger final to Date-Krumm as she probably struggled to solve the sharp angles of the evergreen Japanese star. Many thought that Date-Krumm would have ended her second career by now, but she has proved them wrong this week with two decisive victories that place her within range of a truly remarkable feat: reaching the second week of a major as a 42-year-old. With much to gain and little to lose, each woman should rise to the occasion in a match of high quality.
By Victoria Chiesa
There has been much discussion in recent years regarding the rising median age on the WTA Tour. Players such as Martina Hingis, Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati all proved that they were capable of becoming world-beaters at a young age; however, as the physicality of women’s tennis has increased over the past decade, the 15 and 16 year-old prodigies fans were accustomed to seeing in the ’90s and early ’00s have been replaced by veterans breaking through in their mid-to-late 20s.
In 2012, there were six teenagers in the year-end top 100. Annika Beck, born February 16th, 1994, is currently the youngest player in the top 100 and ranked 71, while Sloane Stephens is the highest ranked teenager and is seeded No. 29 at the Australian Open.
Some, such as Stephens and Laura Robson had deep runs in Grand Slams in 2012, knocking off quality players along the way; Stephens reached the fourth round at Roland Garros, while Robson sent Kim Clijsters into retirement and defeated Li Na on the road to the fourth round at the US Open. Others, including Donna Vekic, Ashleigh Barty and Elina Svitolina finished just outside the world’s elite 100. Two of the members of this teenaged contingent were in action at Melbourne Park on day one, as Barty and Svitolina both took on seeded players in the form of Dominika Cibulkova and Angelique Kerber.
Svitolina, 18, was the Roland Garros junior champion and the world’s No. 1 junior in 2010, while Barty, 16, was the Wimbledon junior champion in 2011. Barty owns four titles on the ITF senior circuit while Svitolina has five, including a victory at the WTA 125k event in Pune, India last fall.
For two girls in relatively close in age, I took notice of their contrasting on-court demeanors when it was brought up on Twitter:
Svitolina, who I first became acquainted with a few seasons ago as a result of this video, delivered as expected; her shrieks of ‘C’mon!’ after every point won in the early going were paired with disappointed shrugs and racket tosses after every point lost. A capable ball-striker off of both wings, Svitolina was cracking winners from the baseline and was able to hanging with the German through the first four games.
Barty, two years Svitolina’s junior, had a completely different attitude. Praised for her cool head and calm demeanor, Barty has the game to match; capable of doing everything on the court, Barty threw in a solid mix of baseline strikes and net approaches to keep Cibulkova off-balance. Her emotional level rarely changed throughout the match, as she stayed remarkably even-keeled in front of her home crowd. When a Cibulkova backhand found the net to give Barty a *53 lead in the opening set, there were no histrionics from the Australian; rather, a casual, muted fist pump was her only celebration.
Nonetheless, the experience of their opponents would overwhelm them. Kerber would win six of the last seven games, absorbing and redirecting the Ukrainian’s pace as only she can, to come away with a 62 64 win. Cibulkova would put together a run of nine straight games to take command against Barty, who grew increasingly erratic as the match wore on; the Slovak would take a 36 60 61 win in just under two hours.
While a learning experience for both, the first day in Melbourne showed that although the teenaged contingent has made great strides, improvements in consistency and mental fortitude are the keys that will bring them closer to beating the best.
After the mega-preview of the Australian Open men’s draw appeared yesterday, we take the same type of look at the women’s draw.
First quarter: Like fellow defending champion Djokovic, Azarenka cruised through the first week of last year’s tournament. Also like Djokovic, she should do so again this year against an early slate of opponents that features nobody more remarkable than Radwanska’s younger sister. Urszula Radwanska recently lost to Wozniacki, which should tell you all that you need to know about her current form, and her sister can offer her little advice on how to solve Azarenka’s ruthless baseline attack. The world #1 has taken the sensible position that this year’s tournament is a new opportunity for triumph rather than a chunk of territory to defend, an attitude that should help her advance deep into the draw. While the quirky game of Roberta Vinci might bemuse her temporarily, Azarenka probably has less to fear from any opponent in her quarter than from the Australian summer heat, which has proved an Achilles heel for her before.
Among the most plausible first-round upsets in the women’s draw is Lisicki over the reeling, tenth-ranked Wozniacki. The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki continued her 2012 slide by losing two of her first three matches in 2013, while she has failed to solve the German’s mighty serve in two of their three meetings. Lisicki usually lacks the steadiness to string together several victories in a marquee draw away from grass, but Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova might build upon her upward trend if she escapes Lisicki in the third round. Although the seventh-seeded Errani reached the quarterfinals here last year, she fell to Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane and might exit even before she meets the young Russian to the veteran Kuznetsova. The most intriguing unseeded player in this section, the two-time major champion showed flashes of vintage form in Sydney and eyes an accommodating pre-quarterfinal draw. She could battle Pavlyuchenkova for the honor of facing Azarenka, who would feel intimidated by neither Russian.
Player to watch: Pick your ova between Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova
Second quarter: In a sense, all that you need to know about this section is that it contains Serena. Case closed, or is it? Conventional wisdom would say that a player of Serena’s age cannot possibly sustain the brilliance that she displayed in the second half of 2012 much longer, but she has built a reputation upon defying conventional wisdom. An intriguing third-round rematch with Shvedova beckons just two majors after the Kazakh nearly upset her at Wimbledon, the tournament that turned around Serena’s comeback. Mounting an inspired comeback herself last year, Shvedova has stalled a bit lately while suffering some dispiriting three-set losses. Serena can outserve, outhit, and generally out-compete players like Kirilenko and Wickmayer with their limited range of talents. Last year, though, Makarova delivered the shock of the Australian Open by ambushing her in the fourth round, reminding us that underdogs sometimes can jolt Serena before she settles into a tournament.
By the quarterfinals, the American usually has accumulated a formidable tide of momentum that compensates for the spiking quality of competition. Considering the eighth-seeded Kvitova’s recent struggles, the quality may not spike so dramatically. But Kvitova, who has lost seven of her last ten matches, may not reach that stage and may have her work cut out against Schiavone in the first round or ambitious American teen Sloane Stephens in the third round. Stephens broke through at majors last year by reaching the second week of Roland Garros, just as British teen Laura Robson did by reaching the second week at the US Open. An early upset of Kvitova, perhaps even by Robson in the second round, would result in an intriguing battle between these two rising stars with a berth in the second week at stake. There, they could meet the evergreen veteran Petrova, who becomes dangerous just when one discounts her. Kvitova’s compatriot Safarova also lurks in this area but blows too hot and cold to produce a deep run.
Player to watch: Stephens
Third quarter: The ultra-steady Radwanska finds herself surrounded by an array of stunning talents with a penchant for getting in their own way. Leading the pack is the sixth-seeded Li Na, who has reached the semifinals or better twice at the Australian Open. Although she won a home title in Shenzhen, Li played generally shaky tennis during her week in Sydney before an error-strewn loss to Radwanska that ended her 2012 momentum against the Pole. Close behind Li in ranking and self-destructive potential is Stosur, who already has imploded twice on Australian soil this year. The ninth seed probably deserves some forgiveness for those losses in view of her recent ankle surgery, but the fact remains that she has lost six of her last seven matches at home in an illustration of her frailty under pressure. Stosur narrowly avoided an early date with Cirstea, her nemesis in the first round last year, and may meet Zheng Jie in the second round a week after she lost to her in Sydney. For her part, Li must hope to reverse her loss to Cirstea at Wimbledon last year if that third-round meeting materializes.
Nearer to Radwanska lies another opponent of the same model as fellow one-time major champions Li and Stosur: the charming and charmingly fragile Ivanovic. Five years after her trip to the Melbourne final, she has not reached the quarterfinals there since. The former #1 might face the other former #1 from her own country in the third round, resuming her sometimes bitter rivalry with Jankovic. Although both Serbs accumulated success against Radwanska earlier in their careers, neither has conquered her as they have declined. The fourth seed thus will feel confident of extending her nine-match winning streak from titles in Auckland and Sydney deep into Melbourne. Perhaps she can follow in the footsteps of Sydney champion Azarenka last year, or in those of Sydney champion Li the year before.
Player to watch: Li
Fourth quarter: When Sharapova entered the Melbourne field without any match practice last year, she showed no signs of rust in sweeping to the final. In the same situation, she will aim to produce the same result on a surface where the high bounce suits her playing style. Sharapova could face Venus Williams near the end of the first week, assuming that the American survives the heat and her spells of uneven play to that point. Away from grass, she has accumulated a far better record against the elder than the younger Williams, and one would favor her in that matchup considering the relative conditions of each career. Either of these tall women would hold a significant advantage in power and serve over Dominika Cibulkova, the Sydney finalist who devoured three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel in the final. Rarely at her best in Melbourne, she faces an intriguing opener against local prodigy Ashleigh Barty but otherwise looks likely to enter the second week.
Somewhat more uncertain is the identity of this section’s other quarterfinalist, for Kerber looked only moderately convincing in Brisbane and Sydney. A heavy hitter can outslug the German or frustrate her, a role that second-round opponent Lucia Hradecka could fill with her thunderous serve. Principally a threat on grass, Tamira Paszek remains unpredictable from one week to the next and could meet Sydney sensation Madison Keys in a second round. A 17-year-old with precocious poise, Keys may vie with Stephens for the brightest star in the future of American women’s tennis. The eleventh-seeded Bartoli opens against Medina Garrigues, who played inspired tennis at the Hopman Cup, and will hope to break away from a series of unremarkable efforts in Melbourne. While Kerber defeated Sharapova early last year, the world #2 squashed her in their other three meetings, nor has any of the other players in this section often threatened her.
Player to watch: Venus
Final: Serena vs. Radwanska
Champion: Serena Williams
Excited for the start of the 2013 Australian Open? I will run a live chat during many of the matches at newyorkobservertennis.com. Check it out if you want to chat with me, some of my colleagues, and fellow fans while you watch the action in Melbourne.
By Romi Cvitkovic
In her first hardcourt match back after a foot injury, 12th seed Ana Ivanovic focused her nerves and handily defeated relative unknown Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 6-2.
Ivanovic hit her opponent off the court with 26 winners, but while her second serve has found consistency, her first serve is still hovering in the mid-30s — something that she has been struggling with for years it seems.
In Montreal earlier this month, Ivanovic lost 6-0, 6-0 to Italian Roberta Vinci in the second round and picked up a foot injury that amounted to be a psychological recipe for disaster for a player that struggles with confidence to begin with.
Her injury hampered her mentally, but she was quick to note that it happens to many athletes.
“It’s part of the game in sport, and I always joke because people say, ‘Sport is good for you.’ But we are always hurting. It’s hard on the heart, too… When you progress in a tournament you’re going to have aches and pains.”
A couple of days ago, fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic gave insight into why Ivanovic’s game has dropped since being at the top. She elaborated:
“Yeah, it is a lot to do with confidence,” Ivanovic stated. ” I think also since the first time I entered, the game has evolved and there is lot more girls that strike and they have nothing to lose. But [for me], it’s just not [having] the belief of beating those top players at the moment.”
She’ll have to work hard if she wants to accomplish her goal of “breaking into the fourth round and getting into the quarterfinals” here at the US Open. Not one shy about her “overthinking” mind, she said that she will “really try to focus on taking it one match at a time, because sometimes when you get overexcited, it doesn’t really work for you the way you hoped for.”
The big-hitter could have her opportunity as she could face Sloane Stephens or Francesca Schiavone in the third round, and an easier competitor in Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Citi Open tournament this week is full of opinionated and versatile players with the press conferences producing some memorable moments.
Check out some of the intriguing, honest and fun quotes from players Mardy Fish, James Blake, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe, Tommy Haas and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova as they talk about the Olympics, Twitter, trends in men’s tennis, heat exhaustion, and even “revenge matches” for one of the players.
“I think it speaks to the physicality of the game nowadays. It takes guys longer to develop. [The ATP Tour] is much more physical, much more mental. You just have to be mature in both areas to succeed at a high level. You just can’t come out of the blue anymore. You just don’t anymore see guys 21-years-old roll through and make the quarterfinals [of Grand Slams]. I think it just speaks to the physicality of the game now. And there are a lot of 30-years-old and older guys that are playing well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, I think it’s the physical side of it.”
– Mardy Fish on the trend of older players doing well on the ATP Tour
“I feel 100 percent physically and structurally. The most important thing is getting my confidence back. Everyone knows the mind can play tricks on you. You can convince yourself of things. When you’re out there playing, you can convince yourself that you’re not feeling well. When I don’t feel 100 percent, because my confidence isn’t all the way back, my mind can go to bad places. But everything is fine [with my heart]. It’s all behind me. The [doctors] say it won’t happen again. I stay away from everything that can cause it.”
– Mardy Fish on his health after troubles with his heart earlier in the year
“As my knee is starting to feel better, my shoulder is feeling better, everything is feeling better … I don’t feel like I am a player that someone in the top 20 is looking at as an easy draw just because I am ranked outside of the top 100. I know I have been top 10 in the world before. So I am not scared of any of the top guys, I’m not feeling like I walk onto the court and I have already lost.”
– James Blake on his confidence against the top players even though he is outside of the top 100
“The WTA tournament is a lower tier tournament than the men. It’s the women coming into the men’s territory. This has been their tournament for a really long time. We’re kind of bombarding them. I think it’s fine that we play on the outside court. All in all, it’s all the same, and I don’t think any of the girls are disappointed about not being on the stadium.”
– Sloane Stephens on whether it was a diss to the women to not get to play on stadium court until the quarterfinals
“I don’t tweet sometimes for a while, but I love Twitter. I love reading what people have to say. That’s where I find all my gossip!”
– Sloane Stephens on how she has taken to being active on Twitter
“I boycotted the Olympics! I don’t like to watch it anymore because I see the results all on Twitter and Facebook. You already know what happens way before it happens. Now, I can’t go home and watch it and be excited because I know who won… You want to see Michael Phelps win live!”
– Sloane Stephens on whether she has been watching the Olympics
“We get along quite well off the court. I’m sure we’ll spend some time after our careers together, and it’s important for me to say to him at least that I’ve gotten him in the later years, which is huge.
– Tommy Haas on beating Roger Federer to win the Halle title this year
“When I was watching the Olympics, I am surprised I do not see myself playing. The German Olympics committee did not nominate me this year, which I think was a big mistake in my eyes. I am happy to be able to play tennis while the Olympic are going on and not sitting at home.”
– Tommy Haas on not playing in the Olympics
“I’m disappointed that I’m not competing in the Olympics. That’s a dream of mine to compete and win a medal. It’s almost more of a goal for me than to win a Grand Slam just because my mom was in the Olympics. The Olympics were on TV before tennis was on TV in my home.”
– Coco Vandeweghe on not playing in the Olympics
“I took that first match in Stanford against [Melinda] Czink, and it was a little bit of a ‘revenge’ match for me because she beat me in Charleston earlier in the year. I actually had a couple of ‘revenge’ matches in that tournament where I wanted to beat each girl because they have beaten me before.”
– Coco Vandeweghe on her mentality during her Stanford finals run
“I was suffering from the first game versus Vania. It was ridiculously hot out there. I don’t know, seriously, how people live here! I think they should consider changing the date of the tournament or just do night sessions. I’ve played in Australia for six years, and I know what is hot and that it’s the same for everyone. But the heat just hit me today.”
– Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on calling the doctor due to heat exhaustion during her semifinal match versus Vania King (as a note, it reached 95°F today with very high humidity)
Charismatic, witty and supremely intelligent, American Sloane Stephens can not only ‘wow’ a tennis crowd with her on-court prowess, but can talk up a storm on various subjects. This week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., I had a chance to chat with the bubbly 19-year-old about her most memorable moment, being scared of furry creatures, partying with her friends on Tour, and having dinner with Barack and Michelle Obama — well, sort of. Read on to find out the full scoop from tennis’ next star.
What is your most memorable moment?
Second round, U.S. Open last year, I played Shahar Peer. I didn’t play on Ashe stadium – it was Grandstand and it was packed! It was so much fun. I’d never played on a court like that before. I played Indian Wells, but nothing where there was so many people there and everyone is only cheering for me. That was so cool for me.
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you want to be?
An ER doctor … I love the blood.
If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?
Any player in history? [Long pause]. Martina Navratilova, she’s the coolest player ever.
Have you had a chance to meet her?
Yea, she’s really cool. She’s a beast at doubles! And she was winning slams until she was 50 years old! [Laughs] I really like her.
What are two things that scare you?
Dogs and bugs.
Yea, I’m deathly afraid of dogs.
Cats are ok?
No cats either. I don’t like any animals. Anything that is faster than me is a ‘no.’ [Smiles]
What is your biggest indulgence?
I love Indian food and I love Korean but that’s not an indulgence. Hmm. I love …. peach cobbler … with vanilla ice cream.
If you could have dinner with any three people in history, living or dead, who would they be and why?
I have to say … Barack Obama, I love him. Well, can Barack and Michelle be one?
Ok, so they’re one. And, Rick and Dick Hoyt can maybe be one too. And Eric LeGrand.
If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
Oh my goodness, ok. So, I’d invite Serena [Williams] … duh! And Vika (Victoria Azarenka) and [John] Isner.
If you were given a camera crew and unlimited access, what would you want to show the public about women’s pro tennis?
That it’s a grind, every day. That it’s non-stop. That it’s tennis, tennis, tennis. I think people should see the practice and all the sweat and everything that goes into tennis. You have to eat right, and you can’t eat chocolate cake all the time! And they don’t usually see that. They only see the cute person with the perfect hair that goes on the court. I think to see something that happens in preparation for a match, I think, that would be pretty interesting.
By Romi Cvitkovic
A quick report on the happenings and results of the Citi Open including winners, wildcards, aces and overrules of various events around the grounds.
Major Hold: We’ve all by now heard about Sam Querrey’s great comeback to catapult up the rankings to world No. 38 after being outside of the top 100 just four months ago. But today at the Citi Open versus Benjamin Becker, Querrey managed to win all, yes ALL, 24 of his first serves for the match. By no means an easy opponent, Becker stayed with Querrey exchanging four breaks of serve between the two, and only lost 6-4, 6-3. The summer season continues to favor the young American and perhaps he can repeat his stellar 2010 when he won three titles in the summer alone.
Overrule: As the first women’s match of the whole week on stadium court, Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens did not disappoint. What did, however, was the scheduling. Although the men’s tournament is at a higher level, the women should have at least been given a handful of matches on stadium court prior to today’s quarterfinal round. What is of note though is that Stephens was placed on stadium court, while fellow American Sam Querrey and his doubles partner Kevin Anderson took on the duo of Eric Butorac and Paul Hanley on Grandstand 2 in an overcapacity crowd.
Winner: After looking a bit rough around the edges in his first match in D.C., Mardy Fish slipped past wildcard and Los Angeles finalist Ricardas Berankis in an easy 6-3, 6-1 victory. Not visibly hampered by his ankle injury sustained in Atlanta, Fish is favorable to reach the semifinals where he could potentially meet another veteran of the Tour, Tommy Haas. But he’ll have to work on his baseline game a bit, as he won just 16 of 36 points from the back of the court.
Wildcards: Steve Johnson and his doubles partner Drew Courtney are living the dream in Washington, D.C. Johnson, currently No. 360 in singles and No. 171 in doubles, and Courtney, No. 827 in doubles and unranked in singles were handed some luck when their second round opponent and No. 4 seed pulled out due to injury. They were replaced by a valiant alternate team, but the American duo was already well-adjusted to the courts and they pulled out a significant win today to land a spot in the men’s doubles quarterfinals. They next face Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, who themselves pulled off an upset as they defeated the No. 2 seed of Robert Farah and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.
Let: Just two days after defeating the No. 1 seed, James Blake and his doubles partner Tim Smyczek went out in a tiebreak blaze versus Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8. What is comforting for Blake fans though is that the loss was more due to Smyczek’s inexperienced hands than Blake’s errors. This ultimately opens up Blake to do well in the singles draw, but he’ll need to get past No. 2 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov tomorrow.
Ace: South African player Kevin Anderson, who was forced to skip the Olympics due to ITF ineligibility, redeemed his week by reaching the quarterfinals when he defeated French qualifier Florent Serra en route bombing 12 aces and winning 85% of first serves.
Deuce: Although not a clear out winner or ace, the five newly-surfaced practice courts on the southeast corner of the grounds are reminiscent of the ones at the U.S. Open, and may perhaps be even better for fans. There are no immense crowds jamming up against the barrier fence, and there is a walkway along the entire baseline of the courts as well. The players, however, stand in conflict with each other. While most of the female players have expressed their relief to have availability of courts for practice, some of the men have stated that there is not enough availability now that the women’s event has been added. As next year’s ATP level tournament is sure to boast more top players with the Olympics no longer a factor, the difference in opinions between the two tours is sure to escalate.
“Comeback Kid” Brian Baker trips up in first round of the Citi Open
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hot off his stellar fourth round appearance at this year’s Wimbledon Championships, Baker has failed to progress past the first round in his last two events in Atlanta and Los Angeles, and he can now add Washington, D.C. to this list.
Ranked outside of the top 300 just three months ago, and not having played a full ATP schedule since 2005 due to numerous injuries, the comeback kid’s dream to the top is taking a temporary detour this summer.
With such great results earlier in the year, the question arises whether it’s more of a physical or mental hurdle that is slowing him down currently.
“Fitness-wise, I was fine today. It wasn’t an issue. I definitely took some time off after Wimbledon – had some aches and pains. But it hasn’t been the physical aspect of [playing so much], it’s just been maybe more the mental aspect coming back after such a high [at Wimbledon], and then starting over… I definitely haven’t played my best tennis in all the last three weeks. I don’t think I’ve competed poorly, … I just haven’t given myself a lot of chances on the big points.”
Prior to Atlanta, Baker has had to go through qualifying matches in most of his Tour-level events and he admits that “I tend to play my best tennis if I get a couple of matches under my belt.” It seems that with every tournament, he needs to build his confidence and get familiar with his settings. But if he is to keep up his ranking at world No. 78 or better, he’ll have to get used to jumping into tournaments quickly and adjusting to the conditions. Otherwise, he’ll continue dropping in the first round of tournaments this summer.
Surprisingly, in the first set, Baker was up a double break and held easy to win 6-4. In the second set he admits to not being “very sharp the first couple return games” and Serra took lead, winning 6-3. During the third set, Baker simply couldn’t string enough points together and his served failed him, double-faulting three times. He only converted 3-of-16 break points for the match, and had 43 unforced errors. Baker commented on these gaping holes, and said that “it’s not typical of me to make so many unforced errors. All summer, I played pretty clean matches… I had three pretty good draws, I should have won all three matches. I think it’s just been more [that] I haven’t been playing great – the confidence wasn’t there.”
Whatever happens during the rest of the hard court season, there’s no doubt that Baker still has hunger for the game after being away for so many years. He’s ready to battle and says that it’s “sometimes nice to go in being the underdog … being the hunter.”
Sloane Stephens pushed by Karatantcheva, but prevails in three
American golden girl Sloane Stephens, currently ranked No. 50 in the world and seeded third here, was given a scare when six breaks of serve were exchanged with her opponent Sesil Karatantcheva in the second set that saw the two split sets. Despite some strange line calls on a court that doesn’t have the Hawkeye challenge system, Stephens luckily kicked it into high gear by straight way breaking her opponent twice at the start of the final set.
Always a personable character both on and off-the-court, Stephens is quick to sign autographs or chat with fans during her down time. But when it comes to her game on court, she has a personal motto she lives by. After losing in the first round of the last two tournaments she played in at Stanford and Carlsbad, she joked that “You just can’t ever lose three [first round matches] in a row — it’s not even an option.”
With that attitude and a steadily increasing ranking that makes her the second youngest in the top 100, Stephens is sure to make a lasting impact in American women’s tennis. Like her self-proclaimed “bestie” Serena Williams, Stephens carries a powerful forehand, immense athletic ability and has a passion for the sport of tennis that will no doubt help her break into the top 10 soon.