Posts Tagged ‘Daniela Hantuchova’

PostHeaderIcon Ten Final Thoughts on My Insider Week at the Bank of the West

I usually reserve these “Ten Final Thoughts” columns for the big events.  However, after spending a week on the ground at Stanford, eating and breathing the sights/sounds of tennis, I think I can muster up some decent observations from this year’s Bank of the West Classic. Let’s start with “buzz”, or lack thereof…

  1. This year’s tournament attendance suffered from a distinct lack of WTA star power. I love Aga Radwanska and Dominika Cibulkova, but it’s not the same as having Serena, Maria, and Vika at an event. Even Marion Bartoli would have made a difference because she won Wimbledon. And let’s face facts: “Slamholders fill seats”.
  2. With a solid weekend of line calling under my belt, I have a much greater appreciation for what goes into being a good line umpire. It’s not easy, and those guys do a great job.  For all of you who think you could do better, ask your buddies if you can call lines for them sometime. You’ll change your tune pretty quickly.
  3. Cibulkova-Stanford-13-PB-MALT4580Dominika played a great match in the final to avenge an earlier double-bagel loss to Aga in Sydney. She put fate into her own hands and bravely went for her shots throughout the 2.5 hour match. Many sailed way past the lines.  But more often than not, they found their mark as untouchable winners. That’s saying a lot against a brilliant defensive player like Aga.  She hopes to carry this high level of consistency through to the US Open.  That makes two of us.
  4. agaEven with her loss in the final, Aga is one of the best and most unique players on tour. She isn’t tall or muscular, but manages to stay in rallies with taller and stronger opponents using excellent anticipation, defense, and a thinking game that you need to see to appreciate. Dominika rarely saw the same shot twice in the final because Aga used every trick in the book to keep her from teeing off on the ball. (Roger Federer often utilizes the same strategy.) It might not work against Serena, but it can against both Maria and Vika. And how about those mind-boggling deep knee bends on her backhand?
  5. Jamie Hampton had a great week at Stanford, but clearly wasn’t up to the task in the semifinals.  The gap between her and those at the top of the game was laid bare against Aga: consistency on her serve toss plus variety of serve, footwork, consistency on her shots to name a few. BUT… the upside is tremendous! She hits like she means it, goes for her shots, and isn’t afraid to come to the net.  The current buzz is with Madison and Sloane, but you can put my vote in the Jamie column. (Note: To be honest, I like them all for different reasons.)
  6. I’m not quite sure what to say about Madison Keys. Her loss to Vera Dushevina was unsettling because she looked mentally lost on court. I realize that she’s young and has a ways to go in terms of growing into her game, but the hype machine is already working overtime in pushing her to a status she might not be able to live up to. There are, however, a lot of positives with her game. She’s got a great serve, and her big forehand is a huge weapon when it’s consistent. Her serve effectiveness will improve when she can better move it around the box, and her forehand will become more assured when her footwork improves.  Here’s hoping that the hype machine leaves her alone this summer.
  7. Daniela Hantuchova played doubles and singles at Stanford.  A tour veteran for many years, she’s well-known for her model-esque looks. By that, I mean she’s known to (and popular with) many heterosexual men who could usually care less about women’s tennis. Anyway, I was talking to a friend by the upper walkway stadium entrance When Daniela came in to see someone in the player’s lounge. The security guy, bless his heart, said: “Excuse me miss, so you have a credential?” My jaw hit the ground. What do you think: security faux pas or not? 😉
  8. The early part of the US Open Series is problematic!  Top players are reluctant to put effort into the early events (prior to Rogers Cup) because there’s no payoff… other than (maybe) appearance fees.  Others are reluctant to play the early events because it means a longer financial burden for them in terms of travel and coaching fees through the US Open. Additionally, other players opt out of the initial Series events because of the increasing amount of tournaments played closer to home (and on clay) in Europe and S. America. Without all of these players, most of whom are marquee, the tournaments can’t bring in the crowds. And we saw what happened with the SAP Open, right?
  9. Speaking of Hantuchova, she played doubles with Lisa Raymond. Talk about opposites! On another note, Coco Vandeweghe, last year’s finalist, made it through qualies into the main draw. This is noteworthy because it gave me a chance to see her coach, Jan- Michael Gambill, up close and (not) personal. I swear to God he looks no different now than when he was playing on the ATP tour. I wonder where he keeps his aging portrait?
  10. When I start using Dorian Gray references, it’s time to wrap things up. I had a great time at this year’s event, and would like to give particular thanks to Karen P. at Tennis Panorama; not just for the credential, but her support as well. I’d also like to thank the folks at the USTA who allowed me to do line umpire duties the first weekend, and for trusting that I know the separation of my duties as an official and as a member of the media. To be honest though, I certainly hope that my next visit to the Bank of the West will be as a linesman for the entire week.

Take care all!

PostHeaderIcon The AO Women’s Draw: Serena’s Sixth or Aga’s First?

Brisbane International - Day 7

Though my feelings on the eventual finalists are evident from my title, let there be no doubt that there’s a ton of tennis to be played before we get to the final! Unlike the predictability of the men’s draw in Australia, the women’s title has often been up for grabs; even in years when Serena Williams was the prohibitive favorite.

This year is no exception. Serena is again the prohibitive favorite as she looks to continue her torrid pace from the 2012 season in pursuit of her sixth AO title. But the World No. 1 and defending champion, Victoria Azarenka, might have something to say about that. So too might Maria Sharapova, last year’s French Open champion and the newest addition to the career Grand Slam club. As if those three weren’t enough for sufficient drama, Agnieszka Radwanska has won two titles in 2013 (Auckland and Sydney) without dropping a set. What a phenomenal collection of favorites!

There are also enough dark horses and spoilers sprinkled throughout the draw to make this one of the most interesting Opens in years. So without further ado, let’s dive in and take a deeper look at the Australian Open women’s draw.

Top Quarter: Vika Takes the Top Quarter

Top Seeds: Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] and Sara Errani (ITA) [7]

Victoria Azarenka, the defending champion and recipient of a bad pedicure in Thailand, should have no issues getting through the top section of this quarter. Her only likely challenger looks to be Urszula Radwanska, Aga’s younger sister. An upset isn’t likely, but you never know. Stranger things have happened Down Under. However, once Vika gets through this match, she should be okay to get through to the semifinals.

The bottom section, on the other hand, appears to be a much trickier proposition for Sara Errani. By my count, there are at least three women who could take her presumed spot in the quarterfinals. Luckily for her, one of them will be gone after the first round between Caroline Wozniacki [10] and Sabine Lisicki. Sabine might have struggled somewhat in 2012, but one can never underestimate a former Slam semifinalist’s abilities. The same holds true for Caroline. And let’s not forget Svetlana Kuznetsova. After six months away from the tour due to a knee injury, she played some amazing tennis in Sydney. Was it too much tennis for her to make an impact in Melbourne? Probably, but the upset potential is still high.

First round matches of interest: Wozniacki/Lisicki, Hampton/Radwanska

Second Quarter: Serena’s Tournament To Lose

Top Seeds: Serena Williams (USA) [3] and Petra Kvitova (CZE) [8]

There’s nobody, I repeat NO ONE, in Serena’s section of this quarter who can or will stop her inevitable march to the quarterfinals. I say that even after last year’s "Makarova incident" where Serena got knocked out early by the lesser-ranked Ekaterina Makarova. At the time, Serena was recovering from a slight ankle injury and off-season rust. This year, she’s riding high from the WTA year-end title, a focused off-season, and her first title of the year in Brisbane (which she won without dropping a set). Last year showed that almost anything can happen under the right circumstances. But barring the extraordinary, this tournament is Serena’s for the taking!

As with Vika’s quarter, the bottom section of this quarter promises more interest and drama than the top. Petra Kvitova could have her hands full with Francesca Schiavone in the first round. Neither is playing with much confidence these days, but both are Grand Slam champions, which should count for something. Sloane Stephens could find herself in a battle with Simona Halep after her unfocused finish in Hobart. And for those in the crowd who like things "Retro", the first round match between Nadia Petrova and Kimiko Date-Krumm should suffice nicely.

Note: Nice to see Melanie Oudin in the main draw, but tough match against the surging Brit Laura Robson.

First round matches of interest: Petrova/Date-Krumm, Stephens/Halep,
Oudin/Robson, Schiavone/Kvitova


Third Quarter: Aga’s Moment to Shine

Top Seeds: Li Na (CHN) [6] and Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4]

There’s no one in this quarter with the game to derail a repeat of the Sydney International semifinal between Li Na and Aga Radwanska. No, I take that back. There are 3 women, specifically Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic, and Daniela Hantuchova, who have the game but currently lack the ability to bring it when needed. If Stosur could pull it together and play well at home, she’d at least have a shot at derailing Aga’s title chances. But unlike Lleyton Hewitt, she can’t overcome the nerves of being the hometown favorite.

As for Ana and Daniela, I don’t think that either could stop Aga even if they were on top of their games. Aga is playing excellent counterpunch tennis, with just the right amount of aggression. She is the female counterpart to Andy Murray pre-2012, which is not a knock by any means. At a time when many players in the women’s game only have one strategy i.e. hit winners, she puts them under immense pressure to execute to perfection or pay the penalty. Dominika Cibulkova found that out the hard way, suffering a 6-0, 6-0 loss in the Sydney International final. Her game is tidy, her unforced error count is low, and she’s feeling very confident about her ability to face down anyone on the court. I’m feeling confident that she won’t let me down as my pick for finalist opposite Serena.

First round match of interest: Vandeweghe/Cirstea

Bottom Quarter: Kerber Emerges From the Bottom Quarter

Top Seeds: Angelique Kerber (GER) [5] and Maria Sharapova (RUS) [2]

Maria will play her first matches of 2013 at the Australian Open because of a collarbone injury she suffered while training. I know that she’s experienced enough to know what she needs for tournament preparation, but there’s no substitute for match play. And in a dangerous quarter like this one, she’s no clear favorite to move through with so little prep. A resurgent Venus Williams looms as a potential third round opponent, and "giant killer" Cibulkova looms in the fourth round.

The top section offers its’ own dangers. Angelique Kerber and Marion Bartoli are both looking for quarterfinal berths, and have the game to back it up. By my count, five women have a real shot to make it out of this quarter. Will it be Maria? I don’t think so. Venus? Though I’d "never say never", I think the heat and physical stress will take their toll on her tennis as the tournament progresses. Marion also needs matches to get her game going. Since she’s only played 3 on the year, I can’t go with her. I think that the winner of this quarter will come from an Angelique/Dominika quarterfinal. Though Angie lost to Dominika in Sydney, I’m going with her for Grand Slam experience.
As the POTUS would say, let me be clear: Angelique through to the semifinals.

First round matches of interest: Dellacqua/Keys, Medina Garriges/Bartoli, V. Williams/Voskoboeva

My Tournament Picks (admittedly, some are iffy)

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1] def. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [10]
Serena Williams (USA) [3] def. Sloane Stephens (USA) [29]
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4] def. Li Na (CHN) [6]
Angelique Kerber (GER) [5] def. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) [15]

Serena Williams (USA) [3] def. Victoria Azarenka (BLR) [1]
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4] def. Angelique Kerber (GER) [5]

Serena Williams (USA) [3] def. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) [4]

PostHeaderIcon Miami or Bust: Heading To The Sony Ericsson Open In A Few Weeks

Session tickets have arrived, my flight is booked, and my hotel is all set for a return to the Sony Ericsson Open on March 26th. Though I won’t be covering the event as official media, you can still expect a ton of posts/pictures, as I will be in attendance for 4 straight days. Tennis-palooza is what my partner calls it. He knows I’m lost to him for this entire time. But he also knows that it’s for a worthy cause!

I’m not sure why I have embraced this tournament in the way I have… Miami is an okay city, but it’s not like I’m hitting the town every night after tennis. In fact, the only thing I hit after tennis watching is the bed in the hotel (so I can get up the next day and repeat the cycle).

The first year I stayed in South Beach. Though the beach access was great, tournament access was a pain in the ass! BUT… I ran into Mary Carillo on my very first day there within the very first hour. That made any travel hassles more than bearable!

The following year I stayed at the InterContinental…and ran into Tommy Robredo in the elevator immediately after check-in. In fact, I ran into Tommy pretty much all over the joint at the hotel and at the tournament. I hoped he wouldn’t think I was a stalker. His buddy took me into the hotel gym for this picture.

Last year, the Conrad provided great access to the tournament shuttle AND an opportunity for a breakfast picture with Daniela Hantuchova. My pleasant chat with Daniela more than made up for slipping in the shower on the second day and kind of hurting my arm and already injured ankle.

(Note: the hotel tried to make amends for the fall by sending someone out immediately for a shower mat, and delivering a “please-don’t-sue-us tray of cheese and fruit the next day. I think that a discount on my bill would have been a better option…just sayin’.)

What will 2012 trip to Miami and Key Biscayne bring? We’ll find out soon enough. All I know is that this year I’m taking my own shower mat. 🙂

PostHeaderIcon 15 Australian Open Post-Match Thoughts, Day One

Before I hit the hay I want to jot down a few thoughts from Day One action. Some great tennis with good wins, a few surprises, some drama here and there… It couldn’t have gone any better for the organizers. 😉

1. Tomic wins over Verdasco from 2 sets down! This kid is the real deal. He hung in there on a very hot day and kept his head in the match even when all looked lost. Fernando couldn’t find any way to get on top of this kid, and grew more and more frustrated. His ugly outfit from Addidas couldn’t have helped either.

2. Aga Radwanska won a thriller over Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Bethanie started off so well, but just couldn’t keep it up in the third. And you know that Aga will stay out there all day long retrieving balls if she needs to…

3. Christina McHale over Lucie Safarova. Who saw that coming? Not me. Take a look at my women’s round of 16 thoughts…

4. Rafa’s match is only in the second set against Kuznetsov (he won the first), but I’m not sure if the heavier racquet is achieving it’s goal of more pace and depth. Kuznetsov is a qualifier though. We’ll see what happens when Rafa starts to really get tested.

5. Heather Watson couldn’t pull off the upset, so we have to listen to more “hoot owl” noises for at least another round from Vika.

6. Adrian Mannarino almost had had the match of his life until JMDP remembered who he was and got through a tricky first round match. My only advice to Adrian is that it might help his game if he combed his hair… just sayin’…

7. “The Dog” came through a tough 5 setter, sore thigh and all. We’ll see if it can hold up after a few more tough rounds.

8. Hantuchova looked “one and done” until she pulled it together over Lepchenko and won in 3. She could do well at this tournament so I hope she sticks around.

9. Olivier Rochus took out some of Auckland finals loss frustration on poor Phau from Germany. The diminutive Belgian (love saying that) won in straights 6-1 6-4 6-0. Nice first round. Let’s see how long he can keep this level.

10. Tommy Haas had a great first round win over Denis Kudla of the US 7-6(5) 3-6 6-0 7-5. Good to see him back and playing well after so many injuries.

11. No first round drama for Kimiko Date-Krumm who lost to another old-timer Eleni Daniilidou. I hope her final year on the tour ends better than this.

12. Flavia Pennetta lost in the first round in 3 sets… clearly not completely fit from her injury of a couple weeks back. I’ll miss the “other” Italian (btw, Frankie won in straights).

13. Karlovic is through and on potential path to Roger, who can’t be happy with that prospect. If Ivo has a good serving day Roger’s life gets very complicated for that match.

14. Young through in 5, which is good for him. He used to lose matches like this only a year ago or so. Nice to see the maturity.

15. Fognini is out in the first round. Now who are we going to watch for over-done eyebrow waxing and bad court attitude?

PostHeaderIcon A Tale Of Two Petras: Her Perplexing Semifinal Loss Against Li Na

Petra Kvitova’s preparations for the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 16, took a big hit on Thursday in the semifinals of the 2012 Sydney International.  A complete meltdown by the reigning Wimbledon and WTA Tour champion allowed Li Na to recover from 1-6, 1-3 down to win their semifinal match 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 in just over two hours.

Petra arrived for her match against Li Na brimming with confidence.  Having just won the Hopman Cup team competition in Perth on January 7 (representing the Czech Republic with Tomas Berdych), she easily dispatched Daniela Hantuchova (6-0, 6-4) in their quarterfinal match the day before, and seemed to be on an  unstoppable path to the finals and, potentially, the number one ranking.

As the semifinal match began, she was quickly up 3-0 against her Chinese opponent within the first 10 minutes, hitting  winners at will from both her forehand and backhand wings.  The pace and depth of her shots was overwhelming for Li Na.  Petra was allowing her absolutely no way to get into the match.  The only thing she could do was watch as the barrage of winners flew by. Forehand, backhand, serve.  Every part of Petra’s game was firing on all cylinders.  I’m sure everyone thought the match would be done in under an hour at most.  And then, the wheels fell off.

At 1-3 down in the second set with her back up against the wall, Li hit upon a strategy that worked to perfection.  Corina Morariu of the Tennis Channel made note of it as she observed Li Na finally finding her range and beginning to play most of her shots down the middle of the court straight at Petra.  By doing this she was able to take away two of Petra’s greatest strengths: the angles she likes to create, and the ability to hit winners on the run.

Petra, listed at 1.82m on the official WTA site, is one of the taller women on the WTA tour, possessing long legs and a long arm span.  She prefers to hit shots on the run, and it’s a bit easier for her to do so – often to devastating consequence.  But as balls came back at her down the middle of the court, often with as much pace or more than her original shot, she was often unable to get out of the way in order to have a good play on them.

As the second set progressed, Petra’s footwork and technique began to disappear almost in their entirety.  First set winners became second and third set errors.  And the confidence she exuded at the start of the match disintegrated to frustration and tossing her racquet.  It was as complete of a meltdown as has been witnessed on the WTA Tour in quite some time by one of the top players.

For all of Petra’s strengths and championship muster, there has been talk about her mental strength in these types of tough matches.  Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated summarized it best by saying “Petra Kvitova has the tools for success, but her mental strength is unknown” (1/11/2012 Mailbag).  It’s a sound point given that she won Wimbledon 2011 with a stellar performance over Maria Sharapova, then was largely absent from the US hardcourt swing leading up to and including the US Open.

Her late season success at the WTA Tour Championships in Istanbul was noteworthy.  Two weeks later she helped the Czech Republic to their first Fed Cup victory.  Coming back from the off-season she had immediate success at the Hopman Cup to start the 2012 season on a winning note (while also poised at the cusp of the number one ranking).  But all of that hardly matters now after losing a match where she could barely hit a decent forehand or backhand without needing to say a prayer for it to land inside of the lines.

To be fair, Li Na kept her head into the match long enough to settle her strokes and claw her way back into contention.  As Petra’s groundstrokes became more erratic, Li Na began to look more and more like the player who was a finalist at the 2011 Australian Open and the champion at the 2011 French Open.  Petra may have buckled, but Li Na played with guts and optimism even after a first set drubbing.

Petra Kvitova could easily be the star of the 2012 WTA season if she plays with confidence.  If she doesn’t, it could be a long season that will look very much like her semifinal loss today in Sydney.

PostHeaderIcon Odds And Ends From The Past Week: WTA

The WTA Championships were held last week in Istanbul, but the final week of the season was still a pretty busy one for the women with the Tournament of Champions in Bali and the Fed Cup finals. Here’s a breakdown on notable events for the week:

Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Marion Bartoli (Achilles) and Sabine Lisicki (back) retired from matches in Bali, and Vera Zvonareva (shoulder) pulled out of the Fed Cup final with an injured shoulder. Even with a shortened WTA season, these ladies are “done” physically!

Ana Ivanovic wins in Bali on her birthday with a very lopsided scoreline of 6-3 6-0 over Anabel Medina-Garigues. She (and everyone else) hopes this means good things for her in 2012.

The Czech Republic wins the Fed Cup over Russia. Having watched a few of the matches, this win swung on a couple of different factors. One is the new-found confidence of Petra Kvitova, reigning Wimbledon and WTA Champion. The other is the dramatically inconsistent play of Svetlana Kuznetsova, a woman who can either beat down an opponent with her game or go AWOL and lose in 3. Day one saw the first, day two (the more important day) saw the latter.

Maria Kirilenko got the call to fill in for the injured Vera on Day One of the Fed Cup final, and was comprehensively hit off the court by Petra Kvitova 2 and 2. Maria has played pretty well this year and none of that mattered as she was destroyed on court. She was benched for the reverse singles in lieu of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, but played in the deciding doubles. She and her partner Elena Vesnina lost the match in straights 4 and 2, handing the win and the Cup to the Czechs. Wish I could give the poor thing a hug.

Serena Williams was forced into her “panic room” by a stranger at her LA home early one day this past week — as in 6AM early. Said stranger turned out to be a drug tester from an unnamed agency. I didn’t know that (1) Serena would be the type to have a panic room and (2) doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous to come drug test someone at that hour???

Filling in for the injured Sabine, Daniela Hantuchova lost a 3-setter to Nadia Petrova in the Bali consolation finals…unfortunately receiving a bagel for her efforts in the third. I’m pretty sure that this is not how she would have preferred to go into the off-season.

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