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Posts Tagged ‘Bank of the West’

PostHeaderIcon Bank of the West Round-Up for Wednesday (7/24)

Aga-slides-to-a-ball

Radwanska Wins the “Battle of Crafty” Against Schiavone at Stanford

In an entertaining match that lived up to its’ billing as a battle between two of the craftiest players on the WTA tour, Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 6-3 in the featured night match at the Bank of the West Classic.

Francesca came into the match with a slight 4-3 lead in their career head-to-head, but Aga was the one coming into the match with the momentum, having won their last three meetings. After tonight’s straight-set win, make that four!

The conditions on the stadium court were perfect. As the match began, both players took their time in the first few rallies to find the range on their shots while also probing for any signs of weakness in their opponent. Aga struck pay dirt first: with excellent defense, solid net play, and aggressive hitting on her serve and forehand.

It was a different story on the other side of the net for Francesca. Against Mallory Burdette, she’d managed to quickly find the depth on her strokes to keep her Mallory pinned back on the baseline. On this night against Aga, Francesca struggled to keep the ball on the court.

Aga-presser

With unforced errors flying from both wings of Francesca’s racquet, Aga jumped out to a 5-1 lead in a “battle” that was starting to look more like a rout! But with her back up against the wall (and Aga serving for the set at 40-15), Francesca finally found her range and began hitting out with a vengeance. She fought back to break Aga’s serve in that game, and secured a second break to bring the match back on serve at 4-5.

Unfortunately for Francesca, her comeback ended with a double fault on set point. To her credit, she continued to battle hard in the second set, but was unable to maintain the high level of play that had helped her mount a comeback in the first.

The second set offered more of the same, with Aga clearly up to the task on Francesca’s sliced shots. And in a welcome contrast to the first set, Aga successfully served out the second to book her spot in Friday’s quarterfinals.

This match may not have gone the distance, as many had hoped, but it did feature some fine shot-making from both women: including deft drop shots, beautifully-placed lobs, and a reflex backhand crosscourt slice drop shot from Aga that was reminiscent of a similar reflex shot that she hit in Miami.

When asked about the shot afterward, even Aga admitted thinking, “Oh my God, it’s in again!” Now that she’s gotten the first match under her belt and is more familiar with the conditions at Taube, Aga’s going to be very tough to beat for the Stanford title.

Varvara Lepchenko

Day Session Match Results

In the earlier matches on the stadium court, Varvara Lepchenko defeated Tamira Paszek 6-4 6-4; and Sorana Cirstea defeated Coco Vandeweghe 6-3 6-3.

Lepchenko versus Paszek, the first featured match, was a battle of players who’ve both struggled to make their mark in 2013. This was Paszek’s third appearance in a second round match this season, and the lack of confidence in her ground game was apparent.

Varvara’s had her own struggles as well (including coaching issues with the USTA), but still managed to close out this match on her fifth match point. Next up for Varvara is a quarterfinal date with Radwanska.

Coco, last year’s losing finalist to Serena Williams, never got her game going in her match against Sorana Cirstea. With a game that’s based heavily around her big serve and ground strokes, her performance against Sorana was inadequate, with 8 double faults and a 47% first serve percentage. She struggled to hold serve and was broken four times. Coco’s groundstrokes also let her down as she sprayed shots all over the court.

For her part, Sorana played solid tennis for the win. This will be her second trip to the Bank of the West quarterfinals. Her opponent will be Olga Govortsova.

PostHeaderIcon Bank of the West Preview/Picks for Wednesday 7/24/13

Aga Radwanska

Tamira Paszek v Varvara Lepchenko [6]

H2H: Tied at 2-All

The most relevant matches in their head-to-head are the last two matches played on carpet (’11) and outdoor hard (’12). Tamira won the first in a 3-set match that lasted 3 hours. Varvara won the second in a 3-set match that last nearly 3 hours. If the pattern holds true, get set for another long one!

2013’s been a tough year for both players. Varvara’s struggled to maintain the level she achieved in ’12, while Tamira’s struggled to even get past the first round at any tournament through most of ’13. The lack of confidence might show in the quality of shot-making, but their prior history should provide for a fairly competitive match. I’ll stick my neck out on this one for Varvara in three sets.

Sorana Cirstea v [Q] Coco Vandeweghe

H2H: Tied at 1-All

Coco won the first time they played in ’11 in a 3-set match lasting almost 2.5 hours. Their next meeting at this year’s Australian Open was pretty much a whitewash for Sorana in straight sets. Given the status of both in their respective seasons, it’s unclear whether this match will look like either of those previous two.

Sorana’s had a tough year, making it past the R16 at only one hard court tournament. Though she always has potential to be dangerous, her 19-17 record coming into Stanford can’t provide her with an excess of confidence.

Coco’s status as a qualifier pretty much says it all, since she’s spent much of the season qualifying for main draws in WTA events. But even though she’s a qualifier, she’s also one of last year’s finalists: which probably helped immensely in coming through the qualifying rounds. She’s on comfortable ground, and on a roll in terms of match wins.

I’ll give the edge to Coco in this one. If her shots are landing cleanly, it goes two sets. If she’s making a ton of unforced errors, it goes three.

Francesca Schiavone

Agnieszka Radwanska [1] v Francesca Schiavone (Featured Match)

H2H: Francesca leads 4-3

This match, which could easily be titled “I Can Be Craftier than You”, features two of the best thinkers/strategists on the pro tour, and has the potential to be one of the most entertaining of the week.

Aga doesn’t have the power of Serena or Maria, but reads the ball well and defends with the best of them. She has an uncanny ability to use her opponent’s power to her own advantage, which helped her to overcome Maria in the ’12 Sony Open final, and take Serena to three sets in the ’12 Wimbledon final.

I’m not sure that skill will help Aga against Francesca, a player who specializes in spin over power. She can hit with an extreme amount of spin from both her forehand and single-handed backhand wings. And her slice is one of the most formidable on tour. It’s no surprise that Francesca’s biggest title came on clay at the ’10 French Open.

Francesca needs a fair amount of racquet prep for her shots, especially her forehand.  This can get her into trouble on faster hard courts with the big hitters.  Aga’s shots don’t have the same pace, so Francesca’s 4-1 record on hard courts show’s that she’s not nearly as troubled by Aga’s game on this surface.

The problem for Francesca in this match-up is that she’s on the backside of her career, while Aga is on the upside of hers.  Aga’s game has improved, and dramatically so since ’10. Francesca’s game has plateaued and declined since her peak moments in Paris. It’s no coincidence that Aga has won their last three matches: one each on hard court, clay, and grass.

Though it’s been two years since they last played, I don’t see Francesca overcoming this new and improved Aga; and I’m not talking about the blonde hair. Aga has pushed herself to be more aggressive to win points outright instead of waiting for errors. Francesca will throw the kitchen sink at her, but it won’t be enough to stop Aga from winning in two sets.

PostHeaderIcon Young Americans Day at the Bank of the West

Madison Keys

The Bank of the West Classic has long been known as a showcase for young American talent. Monday’s lineup continued that tradition with a featured match by up-and-coming star, Madison Keys, making her Bank of the West debut against Magdalena Rybarikova. Unfortunately for Madison, it was pretty a rocky one.

Serving to start the match, she dropped that game at love with the help of three unforced errors. But once she managed to settle down, she played solid (if not spectacular) tennis to defeat Rybarikova 6-2, 6-2 in just over an hour.

When asked about her slow start, Madison attributed it to nerves and court conditions. “I think it was a little bit of nerves. And then the court was really fast. So just trying to get used to everything.”

“I mean, first tournament, hard court, I think you’re always a little bit nervous especially at the beginning of a tournament. Just trying to work your way into it.”

And that’s exactly what the teen from the Quad Cities had to do on a night where the match stats weren’t great for either player.  Both served in the mid-50’s range with respect to their first serve percentages: not great by any measure.

Madison, however, won the battle in terms of first-serve points won (70% to 57%). She also won a greater percentage of her second serve points (48% to 26%). And though Madison double-faulted three times to offset her four aces, she still managed better than her Slovakian opponent, who hit only two aces against three double faults.

Madison’s ground game, normally a strong suit, wasn’t up to her usual standards. But it was more than up to the task on this night. Unforced errors on her forehand wing were offset by brilliant backhands down the line that seemed to wrong-foot Rybarikova time and again. And when needed, the forehand still mostly found its’ mark.

The most important statistic of the night was the 2/4 break points that Madison saved versus the 6/12 that Rybarikova battled. It’s tough to win matches when you’re fighting that hard to hold serve. And on this night, Madison had the upper hand.

Still, she’ll need to clean up her unforced errors and find a way to settle into her matches a lot quicker if she wants to go far in the same half of the draw that includes Jamie Hampton and Aga Radwanska. She lost to Radwanska in the third round of Wimbledon, but learned much from the experience.

“She’s obviously Top Five for a reason. I think it’s the big points. She played them well and I think I made a couple of dumb mistakes. And I think that was kind of the match.”

With her big serve, big forehand and aggressive play the future looks bright for Madison. But she still keeps her immediate goals very simple. When asked if she has any goals that what she wants to accomplish during the summer hard court season, she said, “I want to be happy with how I’m playing. And come off the court, win or lose, and know I did my best.”

Being on the Stanford campus around other students her age wasn’t lost on the 18 year-old Madison, who could easily be in college herself if she weren’t playing tennis on the pro tour. “As nice as (the thought of college) is, I’m pretty happy where I’m at.”

The quote of the night came when she was asked what her hypothetical major would be if she were in college. After a moment of thought, the answer was an unequivocal, “Anything without math!”

Other Match Notes

It was a mixed bill for the two Stanford alums on today’s schedule.  Mallory Burdette lost in straight sets to Francesca Schiavone while two-time NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs bested Kiki Bertens, also in similar straight sets.

After a breakthrough performance last year, Mallory came into this year’s tournament with a solid year as a pro under her belt. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to the task of Schiavone. Though not playing her best tennis these days, Francesca is a seasoned veteran who knows how to win matches with speed, spin, and guile. All of those things contributed to Mallory’s undoing.

When asked about her biggest takeaway from the match, Mallory replied “You don’t really see things in a match until after you get off the court and look back at it. So I’m looking forward to looking back to the match to see where those couple of points were where I got tight or she stepped it up and took it away from me.”

Nicole Gibbs won in the late match on stadium court. The quick second set followed a titanic struggle in the first set that saw Gibbs down a break at 3-4. After winning three straight games to take the first set, Bertens had no answers in the second set. Gibbs win puts her on a collision course with fellow American Jamie Hampton in the second round.

PostHeaderIcon Great Expectations: Sloane’s Indian Wells Takeaway

Photo courtesy of Mal Taam

Photo courtesy of Mal Taam

It’s not easy winning the matches that everyone expects you to win, especially when the expectation is that you WILL always win!

That’s the simple fact for Sloane after her loss to Urszula Radwanska in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open. Sloane went into the match as the new No. 17 (versus 37 for Radwanska) with many expecting her to easily get through to the next round.  It didn’t quite happen that way, as Sloane lost to the younger Radwanska in straight sets, 6-3 6-4.

The same was true for Sloane in both the Doha and Dubai tournaments after her semifinal run at the Australian Open.  Sloane lost in Doha to the lower-ranked Klara Zakopalova in three sets, and then lost in Dubai to the lower-ranked Sorana Cirstea, also in three sets.

Those of us who play tennis already know that a player’s ranking isn’t the best indicator of winning a tennis match.  To the general public, however, a higher rank gives the impression that you’re the better player, so wins are expected. That’s the dilemma right now for Sloane.  She’s worked hard in her fledgling career to reach this new-found position as a Top 20 player. But having achieved this goal, she’s now expected to win and keep improving so that she can, inevitably, step into Serena’s Hall of Fame-sized shoes as the top American woman.

That’s a tall order!

Sloane may not realize it, but she’s partially to blame for the burden of expectations that’s been placed on her shoulders. Her ability to do well at the Slams i.e. an ability to do well in high-pressure and high-profile matches, has created a narrative that she can play just as well in all other events; and that’s not the case when you look at her many of her results outside of the Slams.

In 2011, Sloane made it through qualifying rounds into the first round of the French Open.  She followed that with a run to the third round of the US Open. She was ranked 143 and 106, respectively, and only 18 years old. One year later, she bested herself by making the second round of the Australian Open, the fourth round of the French Open, the third round of Wimbledon, and a repeat third-round performance at the US Open.  Big wins with big rankings points that helped her rise dramatically in the rankings. In combination with her looks, smile, and bubbly persona, they also put her squarely in the public eye as the next great hope for American tennis.

Photo courtesy of Mal Taam

Photo courtesy of Mal Taam

That label has hampered several young US talents, most notably Melanie Oudin. After a “Cinderella run” to the US Open quarterfinals, she labored under the burden of expectation with a game that was ill-equipped for it. After falling on hard times the past few years, she’s slowly finding her way back to respectability with the public, but it hasn’t been easy.

One could say that the expectations laid on Melanie were, perhaps, unfairly placed. With her smaller stature and incomplete game (at that time), she was ill-equipped to become the next great American.  Sloane’s in a slightly better position than Melanie because she has a bigger game and more weapons.  But she’s still young and only just beginning to find her way in terms of the most effective use of her tools.

Many, including John McEnroe, have encouraged the hype by claiming great things for Sloane. “She’ll be in the top ten for sure. I think she’s pretty close already.”  Martina Navratilova, however, put it best. When commenting on Sloane’s game after one of her losses, she correctly pointed out that Sloane sometimes loses focus during matches, and doesn’t seem to have a clear idea about her shot selection.

After witnessing Sloane’s loss to Heather Watson in the 2012 Bank of the West, I would agree. Sloane came out hitting the ball well, but then completely lost her focus.  Watson realized quickly that all she needed to do was keep getting balls back and Sloane would eventually make the error. It was hard to watch, because the match was completely on Sloane’s errant racquet. And I’d much rather watch a match where a player “wins the match” as opposed to one where a player “loses the match”.

The ever-thoughtful Tracy Austin interviewed Sloane at Indian Wells and had this honest assessment. “Sloane has said here that she has been overwhelmed with the expectations since getting into the semis of the Australian but maybe she is just going to take a little bit more time.”

“She certainly has huge weapons. But we are used to champions in the United States. We want champions. We don’t want someone who is top 20, we want someone who is winning grand slams and those are big shoes to fill. When Serena retires, it’s going to be a very sad day.”

One of the many good things about Sloane, and I reiterate that there are many, is her ability to face the music head-on with respect to her performance shortcomings. After defeating Serena in Australia, the 19 year-old Sloane said, “I was like, I’m in the semis of a Grand Slam.  I was like, Whoa.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought.”

After her loss to Radwanska at Indian Wells, her reaction was understandably more subdued and reflective. “I mean, I would have definitely been used to playing first on at 11:00 on Court Timbuktu back there.  But, I mean, definitely, it’s tough like being, you know, night match on a Saturday.  All your friends want to come and this and that. It’s definitely tough, but I guess that’s just what happens when you’re slightly good.”

Sloane begins her Sony Open campaign in the second round against No. 64 Olga Govortsova or a qualifier. She’s in the same quarter as Aga Radwanska, and the same section of the quarter as Venus Williams.  It’s clear that the glare of the spotlight isn’t going to dim anytime soon.  Hopefully, Sloane’s aware that this is the next step in her development, particularly if she wants to live up to the label of “next great American”.

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2012 from the Press Room, Part 2: The 1-on-1’s

Stan Smith
Dr. Allen Fox
Fergus Murphy
pete-sampras
Andre Agassi


ryan-harrison
justin-gimelstob-me
lahyani-kevin
paul-henri-mathieu-me

Part 2 showcases my favorite 1-on-1 media moments of 2012. Through a combination of persistence, timing, and luck, I had the opportunity to chat with some great tennis personalities, past and present. All were definitely “Pinch me” moments!

Hall of Famer, Stan Smith

Chatting with Stan Smith at the Bank of the West was a surreal (but awesome) moment for a guy who’d grown up using a Stan Smith racquet on public courts in Cleveland. He was very accommodating, and quick to joke about how his wood racquet had two purposes: playing tennis and starting fires.

Click here for interview

Mental Tennis Guru, Dr. Allen Fox

After my interview with Dr. Fox, I was left wishing that I’d met him back when I first started to get serious about the game. Maybe I could have saved myself some of the mental anguish that we all needlessly go through on court during a match. His clarity on the mental game is astounding.

Click here for column on how his teachings apply to Rafa’s Wimbledon loss

ATP Chair Umpire, Fergus Murphy

Now that I’ve begun training to become a USTA official, my ten minute chat with Fergus seems all the more amazing to me. Officials aren’t supposed to talk to the media without prior approval, but Fergus gave me ample time to find out more about his life and the world of tennis officiating for the ATP and ITF.

Click here for column

Hall of Famer, Pete Sampras

When Pete hurt his calf at the tail end of his exo against Michael Chang at this year’s Bank of the West, the last thing I expected was to be led into the locker room with a handful of other writers so that we could hover over Pistol Pete and talk as he iced his injury. But there I was! It was an unbelievable experience.

Click here for interview from Bank of the West

Hall of Famer, Andre Agassi

The PowerShares event in San Jose gave me a chance to meet one of my biggest tennis idols. In stark contrast to the few words I barely eked out when I spoke to him at his signing for “Open”, I think I managed some fairly coherent questions for the 8-time Slam champion and humanitarian.

Click here for column

WTA #5, Angelique Kerber

A sponsor tie-in with TennisFlex gave me a foot in the door for my first major WTA interview, and Angie didn’t disappoint. This surprisingly shy German with piercing blue eyes was a real pleasure in a 20-minute sit-down that covered everything from her thoughts on her 2012 success to her favorite foods.

Click here for column

2011 US Open Champion, Sam Stosur

I sat down with the plain-spoken Australian during media hour at the Western & Southern Open. After breaking the spell her biceps had cast over me, I really admired her honesty and friendliness. In the midst of a disappointing year, she was candid and ever-hopeful about the remainder of the season.

Click here for interview audio

US #5, Ryan Harrison

Short and sweet, my quiet moment with Ryan consisted of this exchange in an empty interview room after his semifinal loss to Milos Raonic at the SAP Open:

Me: Rough match, huh?

Ryan: Yeah, you could say that.

Click here for column on Ryan

Retired Pro and Commentator, Justin Gimelstob

Though Justin rankled many with questionable comments early in his broadcast career, he’s worked hard to get better, and I wanted to show him that appreciation. In spite of an inappropriate remark made by the person who took our picture when he put his arm around me, it didn’t ruin the moment. Justin even says “Hi” when he sees me at other tournaments. Nice.

Chair Umpire, Mohamed Lahyani

Mohamed had just finished chairing a match at the Western & Southern Open when I took my opportunity to approach him and get a picture. He was just as friendly in person as he appears while in the chair. Maybe one day I can officiate a match that he’s chairing.

Tour Veteran, Paul-Henri Mathieu

After some great wins in qualifications at the Western & Southern Open, Mathieu ran out of gas in the main draw. To my surprise, I found myself in line with him at Starbucks in the Cincy airport. This was my one total breach of “media” protocol, and well worth it in order to let him know that he had many fans who were glad to see him back on tour.

Other Media Personnel

My experience at tournaments has been greatly enhanced when I’ve gotten to know other writers/photogs covering the event. This is a list of media types I got to know while covering events in 2012. I’ve included their Twitter handles and/or website URLs for easy reference.

Kimberly Bennett – @DoubleFaultDiva

Matthew Laird – @MatchPointAce

Michael Roberson – @mr_ice

Matt Cronin – @TennisReporters

Lindsay Gibbs – @linzsports

Ben Snyder – @WriterSnyder

Pete Ziebron – www.tennisacumen.com

Bobby Chintapalli – @bobbychin

David Sweet – @davidsweetphoto

I had a great time in the pressroom this year, and look forward to more of the same in 2013.

Stay tuned for Part 3, the last piece of my year-end wrap, when the talk turns to the best (and worst) of the ATP and WTA.

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2012 from the Press Room, Part 1






It would be tempting (and easy) to do a “Best of 2012” piece with the usual cast of characters in their usual roles. But after some thought, I figured it might be better to do a “Best of” piece from my new perspective and experiences as a journalist. By doing this, I can maybe highlight and help people appreciate the things that you don’t see “behind the scenes” when all you have available is crappy network TV coverage. 😉

So without further ado, here’s Part 1 of my “Best” moments for 2012, in no particular order.
(Note: This will be a multi-part series so that it doesn’t end up being the size of ‘War and Peace’)

Best Post-Match Press Conference under Adversity (WTA): Yanina Wickmayer, Bank of the West
Yanina had just lost a hard-fought (and very winnable) 3-set semifinal match against Coco Vandeweghe in the midday sun, and was pretty disconsolate. One could see that she’d cried after this one by her red eyes. With her previous back injury as an excuse, or with the heavy strapping on her thigh, she could easily have begged off for post-match treatment. But she didn’t. She came to the press conference, red eyes and all, sat down, and answered questions on her loss while making no excuses her performance. I came away from that press conference with immense respect for this young lady. Her game my escape her on court, but she’s sure got a lot of heart.

Best Post-Match Press Conference under Adversity (ATP): Andy Roddick, SAP Open
After yet one more injury (and another injury-related loss) to start his 2012 season, Andy came into the pressroom at the SAP Open in an understandably foul mood, trademark cap pulled down tightly on his head. It was one of those moments when you knew that if he thought there would be no fine, he would already have left the arena. The drumbeat for his retirement had been growing louder over the past year, and he himself could not deny that it was getting tougher and tougher to weather the injuries. Yet there he was, doing his best to not just walk away from it all… at least not yet. The timing wasn’t right. Fast forward to the US Open, and the rest is history as he was finally able to walk away from the game on his terms.

Mr. Personality (ATP): Novak Djokovic, Western and Southern Open
The big tournaments typically use the services of a transcriber to record all player interviews. The transcriptions are then emailed almost immediately to all journalists on the official lists. When Novak sat down at the table for his pre-tournament media Q & A, he got there before the transcriber had a chance to get situated at her machine. This is what happened at that moment, as she tried desperately to jump over media to get to her machine and start typing:

This is Novak at his best. He’s toned it down after criticism of his antics from other players a few years back. But Novak is what Novak will always be: a fun-loving guy who will find any opportunity to make a joke, even if he’s dog-tired and just arrived on-site after winning another tournament only days beforehand. The presser started and ended with laughter, a rarity in the very serious world of pro tennis. When you see this first-hand, it’s easy to understand why he is so well-liked wherever he goes.

Ms. Personality (WTA): Serena Williams, ANY TOURNAMENT
Whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Serena is one of the more interesting players on tour. At a time when we are treated to the same WTA talking points in interview after interview, Serena will (more often than not) toss the script on its’ ear and talk about everything from her favorite TV shows to dating to fashion. Of course this is presuming that she’s just won her match before she comes into the interview room…which she usually does. Some of my favorite pressroom quotables from the Bank of the West are listed here. By the time she got to the Western and Southern Open she was a little tired, so the quotables weren’t as “tasty”. But it doesn’t matter. I’d still try to make a Serena presser over a Caroline or Aga presser (just as examples) any day.

Most Impressive College Duo (WTA): Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette – Stanford University, Bank of the West
These two young players were both given wildcards into the Bank of the West draw based on their performance at the NCAA tourney, and both made good use of their opportunity by making it to the second round. Even though Nicole lost to Serena Williams and Mallory lost to Marion Bartoli, both young ladies comported themselves well and did Stanford proud. In the pressroom, both were intelligent, articulate, engaging. They’re impressive young ladies, and I’ve become a huge fan for each. Nicole also gets a second mention in my “Best of” list…

Most Surprising Press Conference Moment (WTA): Nicole Gibbs, Bank of the West
Nicole garners a second mention in my list because of her connections with the Cleveland area. After mentioning that high school friends had told me I went to high school with her uncle, she came up to me afterward and said, “Well you must know my dad too” and motioned to him at the back of the pressroom. Sure enough, I did. It was a very odd, but great, “small world” moment in the world of professional tennis.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

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