Posts Tagged ‘Steffi Graf’

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams Wins A Record Seventh Miami Title

Serena Williams with trophy (photo courtesy of sonyopentennis.com)

Serena Williams with trophy
(photo courtesy of sonyopentennis.com)

Serena Williams won her seventh Miami title over Li Na in straight sets, 7-5 6-1.

With this win, Williams becomes the winningest player in tournament history. Competing in her ninth final, Williams’ seven titles now eclipses the six won by Andre Agassi. She has the most main draw match wins in tournament history (67), and joins Evert, Graf and Navratilova as the fourth player in the Open Era to win the same tournament seven or more times.

None of this would have come to pass, however, if Serena hadn’t willed herself into yet another brilliant comeback after an error-filled start to the women’s final. In her semi against Sharapova, Williams found herself in a deep hole, down 1-4. In her final against Li Na, the reigning Australian Open champion, she once again found herself behind the eight ball.

The statistics tell the story of Williams struggles, with a first-serve percentage at 42%, 3 double faults, and 21 unforced errors against only 15 winners. While it’s true that Li Na got off to a great start with her own game, Williams was her own worst enemy. And then, two breaks down and fighting to stay in the set at 2-5, Williams rediscovered her championship mettle.

Forehands that had previously found the bottom of the net were hitting their mark deep in the corners or on the back of the baseline, her “down the line” backhand became untouchable, and her serve became the weapon that we’ve all come to expect from World No. 1.

The rest is history. Williams went on to win 11 of the next 12 games, fighting off one set point at 4-5 before winning a closely-fought first set, and rolling through the second. It was a vintage performance from a player who seems to play her best when facing defeat.

When asked about this particular trend in her post-match press conference, Williams was quick to say, “I definitely don’t do it on purpose.”

“I think for the most part, I try to do the best I can, and sometimes, you know, things I’m doing don’t work out, but they are the right things and eventually they start to work.”

Li Na had her chances to close out the set, but was broken twice in the process. The second of those breaks, lasting 6 deuces, handed the first set to Williams. After relinquishing such a big lead, one might expect a certain amount of frustration or disappointment. But Li Na, who’s gained a newfound sense of calm since beginning her work with coach Carlos Rodriguez, was pragmatic about the lead that slipped away.

“I don’t have to see how was the score, because even the match didn’t finish yet.  Still everyone has a chance.” She went on to add, “I think this is tennis, because if I was play more aggressive, for sure she will going back a little bit.  If she play a little bit forward, I have to going back a little bit. So this is tennis.”

In spite of the loss, Li was happy with her game. “I mean, really nothing to say.  I don’t think today I was doing like a wrong game plan or I was play totally wrong. I think it was pretty good match.”

The second set was a cleaner affair for Williams. Though her first serve percentage remained low at 43%, she managed to win 90% of first serve points and 61% of second serve points. More importantly, she didn’t allow her serving woes to bring down the rest of her game as it has in past matches.

“I think now if my serve isn’t great, it’s okay because I have a great forehand, I have a great backhand, I have great speed.”

“You know, I have so many things that I want to have a backup plan, because today I only served at 40%.  I still have to figure out a way to win doing that.” Her backup plan was clearly more than enough to overcome on this day.

With 59 titles under her belt, and a slew WTA records, Williams could justifiably retire tomorrow as one of the all-time greats. I was curious to know just how this future Hall of Famer continues to challenge herself when there’s so little left to prove.

“I think I love the challenge, and I feel like if I feel like I can be the best right now, then why not continue to be the best and do the best that I can?”

Spoken like a true champion!

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 1: SAP Open & Sony Open

kevin-sony-pressroom

At my workstation in the Sony Open press room

It’s that time of year where I look back at my tournament travels, and pluck out some of the jewels from my time in the press room to share with you all. I was on the ground at four events this year: SAP Open, Sony Open, Bank of the West Classic, and the Western and Southern Open. For easier reading, I’ll start with the first two tournaments I attended earlier in the year, then finish in Part 2 with the summer tournaments.
So without further ado, here’s my 2013 “backstage tour”.

SAP Open

DSCN0633

Lindsay Davenport and Steffi Graf

The SAP Open ended its’ run with a Milos Raonic three-peat, and way too many empty seats. A notable bright spot was the mixed doubles exhibition match featuring Steffi Graf, Lindsay Davenport, Andy Roddick, and Justin Gimelstob. The best moment for me came when I was sitting in the press room afterward lobbing questions at Lindsay and Steffi. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about their ’99 Wimbledon final; their only meeting in a Slam final. They, however, had a different take on past matches. Listen to their press conference, and try not to laugh at their answer to the first question from yours truly.


justin-andy-sap13

Justin Gimelstob and Andy Roddick

Longtime friends Andy Roddick and Justin Gimelstob put on a command performance in their post-match press conference. What hopefully wasn’t lost on those in attendance was a serious discussion of the problematic business model for the modern-day tennis tournaments. The SAP Open struggled with attendance issues, but so do many others. So while players are demanding a bigger share of the revenue, tournament directors are struggling to fill sufficient seats for said revenue and sponsorship monies. Moving tournaments to new markets (other countries) may seem like a good short-term solution, but they’ll probably face the same attendance issues as here in the states. I just hope we don’t lose anymore.


I love pumping veteran journalists for info whenever possible. I ran into Vern Glenn, a prominent Bay Area sportscaster, while he was trying to get his Wi-Fi working on his laptop. He gave me this nugget in reference to working in (and getting paid in) this business: “Always make sure they keep you on scholarship!” I’m trying Vern, I’m trying.


sap-tennis-ball-cookies-editGoodbye SAP Open! I will miss your lemon-flavored tennis ball cookies! There were NEVER enough to truly satisfy my desires, but I enjoyed the few I got. 😉

(BTW, I have absolutely no idea who’s hand that is across from mine. I know I just turned 50, but is my memory getting THAT bad already???)

Sony Open

maria-sony-320

Maria Sharapova listens to a question

My personal feeling has always been that you get better answers from a player when you’re clear about what you’re asking, and aren’t antagonistic in doing so. This is especially true when that player is named Maria Sharapova. This was a small part of Maria’s answers to one particular journalist who didn’t get that memo:

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Why are you asking me if you saw it? Why are you asking me if you heard it yourself? I mean, I can’t remember exactly what he said. I mean, there’s a tape. Maybe I can get you a copy.

You can read the full exchange here, and also listen to the full press conference audio.


Goran is in blue warmup on my left

Goran is in blue warmup on my left

Some of the best moments at tournaments happen when you least expect it…like the conversation I had with Jelena Jankovic’s hitting partner, Goran Tosic, in the shuttle back to the hotel one night. Though I certainly could have tried, I didn’t pump him for info on Jelena’s condition after her late-night victory over Roberta Vinci. But I did get a nice insight into the hustling that a lower level player must do in order to make ends meet as a pro tennis player. Nice guy too. I wish him well in 2014.


mary-kevin

Mary Carillo and I in Miami

Mary Carillo is one of the main reasons I make the yearly trek to Miami. I ran into Mary within my first 10 minutes on my first trip, and got a great picture with her that meant the world to me. Fast forward 5 years and I’m sitting with Mary in a post-match presser for Maria after her quarterfinal win over Sara Errani. I re-introduce myself, tell her the “Mary story”, give her my card, and was ready to savor the moment just as it was. The following day, Mary grabbed my arm as she walked by me and said, “Hey Kevin. I went to your site this morning. You kept me very entertained.” Those words continue to mean more to me than almost any other compliment I’ve received.


lendl-smile

The elusive and rare Ivan Lendl smile

Before heading to the airport, I made one last trip out to the Crandon Park to get some photos before the men’s final. And while watching Andy Murray warm up prior to his match with David Ferrer, I caught a rare glimpse of a tennis unicorn: an Ivan Lendl smile. Who knew? And not only was he smiling, he was also joking around with a couple of young Murray fans who were watching practice. I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things… 😉


At the airport, my Miami trip ended on a very odd “Twilight Zone” moment. For those familiar with the situation of Kevin Ware the college basketball player, you must surely understand how words can’t express what it was like to check my twitter feed one last time on the plane home only to read about “Kevin Ware’s horrific injury” when your name is Kevin Ware and you aren’t horrifically injured…
(On the advice of one of my twitter followers, I avoided watching the video of his injury — and still haven’t seen it to this day. Thanks Alice!)

*** Next up is The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 2: Bank of the West Classic and the Western and Southern Open

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 2: Bank of the West & Western and Southern Open

goodbye-cincy

One final picture at the Western and Southern Open

I started my “backstage tour” with the SAP Open and the Sony Open. Now it’s on to the Bank of the West Classic and the Western and Southern Open, my two summer tournaments.

Bank of the West Classic

botw-facetache

I needed a moustache like this at the Bank of the West Classic

I pulled double duty at this year’s BOTW, starting my week at Stanford first as a line umpire during the qualifying rounds, and then moving into the press room for the start of main draw matches. It was a great experience, and not one player threatened to shove a tennis ball down my throat. But a part of me really wanted to put on a fake moustache or something during my line umpire stint so that players wouldn’t recognize me once I made the switch to media.


This year’s tournament got off to a rough start with the non-participation of defending champion Serena Williams, and the late withdrawals of Marion Bartoli, Sabine Lisicki, Kirsten Flipkens, and Maria Sharapova after Wimbledon. I hate to think the worst, but this wasn’t a good sign for a tournament that’s been struggling to re-discover the deep fields it once saw. I’d hate to see it fall by the wayside like the now-defunct SAP Open, the ATP LA event, and the WTA Carson event.

Western and Southern Open

vika-cincy

Vika Azarenka, relaxed and chatty in Cincy

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. While looking back at my WTA All Access hour notes from Cincinnati, it’s easy to see in hindsight every clue for how the tournament would ultimately unfold. Serena came into the event healthy and focused, but a little tired. Vika Azarenka came in feeling no pressure. Marion Bartoli came in as glib as ever, but not particularly motivated. And Maria Sharapova came in with her cap pulled down low and tight-lipped about her work with Jimmy Connors. (For the record, Serena lost in the final, Vika won in the final, Marion retired, and Maria canned Connors after an opening loss to Sloane Stephens.)


Speaking of Maria and Jimmy… I was given a chance to chat with Milos Raonic in the Player’s Lounge with another journalist. While waiting for (a very late) Milos, Jimmy comes over to chat with the other journalist. The only thing I here is “So, what did you think about that?” referring to Maria’s loss. I would have given almost anything to follow up with him on that one!


BTW, the Milos Raonic mini-interview was okay too, but can we talk about the lack of proper and timely apology to Juan Martin Del Potro for your “touching the net” malfeasance at the Rogers Cup?


(Click the arrow to play Milos’ pre-tourney presser audio. He addresses the Rogers Cup incident after the 6:00 mark.)


jack-kevin-ciny

Jack and I grabbing food before Rafa v Roger

Covering a tournament can be a solitary experience, which is why it’s great when you can have positive interactions with the other folks in the press room. But more than the interaction, these moments also give one a chance to share ideas and expand your knowledge: something I love to do. I had a few of these in Cincinnati, but one stands out above the others. After one particular post-match press conference, I found myself watching a WTA stadium match with Courtney Nguyen on one of the main interview room monitors. I don’t know how it happened, but the on-court action led to a fascinating discussion of the issues and miscues facing the WTA as it tries to broaden its’ appeal. So here’s a shout out to Courtney for helping my expansion. Honorable mention goes to my press room neighbor, Jack Adam, for sharing a great evening quarterfinal between Nadal and Federer.


rafa-cincypresser

Rafa Nadal in the press room

Rafa played amazing tennis to win the Cincy title, but the wear and tear of his phenomenal season was starting to show on his battered body. As the week progressed, Rafa would sometimes take the stairs one at a time to get to the interview table at his press conferences.Not a good sight! So when asked to write about Rafa’s chances at winning the US Open, I had serious doubts that he could withstand the two week hard court pounding. He proved me wrong, of course. But as the folks at RafaelNadalFans.com reminded me, that’s not a bad thing to be wrong about.


Memorable 1-on-1, #1: Grigor Dimitrov finally started to realize the potential in his game this year, but still lost a heartbreaker to Rafa Nadal 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. After the loss, I asked for and received a 1-on-1with Grigor outside of the men’s locker room. Yep, these are the moments that make the work worthwhile! Click arrow to listen to the audio.


(click the arrow to play Grigor’s interview audio)


novak-cincy-press

Novak Djokovic in the press room

Memorable 1-on-1, #2: Novak Djokovic completely destroyed David Goffin in the R16. Roger Federer, on the other hand, was pushed to the wall against Tommy Haas in a gripping 3-setter. Because it was my first chance for press with Novak, I went to the main press room when his time was announced. Everyone else in the press room stayed to watch Roger’s match. So when Novak arrived in press, he was greeted by yours truly and the transcribers, and no one else. Though he wasn’t happy with the situation (understatement), he sat down and answered a handful of questions. And that’s how I got my first 1-on-1 interview with a world #1. Click here to read the transcript.


*** That’s all for the tournaments I covered. I could write more, but you get the picture. Have a great Holiday Season, and a safe New Years! And a very special Thank You to Karen P./Tennis Panorama for my media credentials in 2013. See you at Indian Wells in 2014.

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams: Best Ever? Only If She Can Reach Graf’s 22!

serena-greatest

To say that 2013 was one of the best years of Serena Williams’ storied career would be an understatement of epic proportions! Here are some high-level stats from her impressive year:

  • Serena finished 2013 with a 78-4 record that included a 34-match winning streak, the longest of her career
  • She won 11 titles on the year, including 2 Grand Slams (French and US Open)
  • She’s won a total of 17 major titles, behind only Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22), Chris Evert (18), and Martina Navratilova (18)
  • She was the year-end #1 for third time in her career, the oldest #1 in WTA history, and 6th on the list for # of weeks at #1
  • She earned a record-breaking $12,385,572 for the season

serena-trophyThat’s just the high-level stuff. I could go on for days listing her stat achievements, especially with respect to her legendary serve. She served the fastest ball on tour this year at the Australian Open (128.6 mph/207 kph). Only her sister, Venus, has ever hit a faster serve on tour. It’s clear, however, that there’s more involved than “serve speed” when you look at the other women at the top of that list (Lisicki, Vandeweghe, Keys, Stephens, V. Williams, Gajdosova, Paszek, Hradecka, and Stosur).

I encountered this “serve” gem while perusing Courtney Nguyen’s Twitter timeline. The original stats were in a graphic that I’ve converted to text.

Service Games Won
2008: Serena Williams:  79.4%
2009: Serena Williams:  77.6%
2010: Serena Williams:  81.4%
2011: Serena Williams:  85.4%
2012: Serena Williams:  87.5%
2013: Serena Williams:  84.1%
Note: Williams led the category for the sixth straight year.

Serena’s winning pursuits tend to begin with her amazing serve, but I could probably find similar stats to support almost every part of her game. The point is that she is, without a doubt, the dominant player of her generation, and one of the most dominant players ever to play the game.

On the heels of her successful title defense at the WTA Championships, is it a fair question to ask if Serena is the best ever to play the game?

Though she shows no signs of retirement, it’s definitely a fair question. But is she really the best ever? Not even close. And I say that at risk of further stirring the pot I got going after posting my plans for this piece. There were passionate feelings on both sides (“Definitely yes!” and “Are you kidding? No way!”), but only a relative few that took into account the last bit of work needed by Serena to have a legitimate claim to that title.

1151151475_extras_albumes_0Serena is in tennis’ rarified air with four other women for the title of “Greatest Ever”: Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, and Martina Navratilova. Not surprisingly, these are also the women that Serena is chasing in terms of major titles won. All are great champions, but one stands out strongest as Serena’s toughest rival for best ever. That woman is Steffi Graf.

I respect Court’s 24 major titles (if not her off-court stances on various social issues), but she played in an era that is not wholly comparable to the Open Era game. Comparisons between eras are often fraught with bias, but one can only view her titles – mostly won on grass – as indicative of one of the best grass court players ever, not “best ever”.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are great champions. In terms of our comparison, they both played in an era that I view as more comparable to the environment in which Serena plays i.e. more varied court surfaces. Unlike Court, both of these women played AND won on a variety of surfaces, though admittedly Evert prospered on clay while Navratilova lived for the grass at Wimbledon.

Being great champions, however, is not quite the same as being the “best ever”. If Serena wins number 18 and ties their major title total, I’d automatically put her above them. I love them both, but Serena’s mastery over her game and her opponents tops both of these women by just enough to knock them out of contention.

That leaves me with Graf in the octagon for the top spot! Her achievements are beyond belief, and go well beyond just the 22 major titles. She is the only woman in the Open Era to win a calendar-year Grand Slam in 1988. With her win at the Seoul Olympics that same year, she achieved a “Golden Slam”; a feat that has yet to be matched by any other player, male or female.

She’s won each of the majors at least four times (4 Australian, 6 French, 7 Wimbledon, 5 US), and has won the WTA Championships five times. She’s married to the also-legendary Andre Agassi, whose total of 8 major titles and a career Grand Slam pales in comparison.

Many point out that her numbers might well be different if not for the attack on Monica Seles. But we can’t speculate in what might have been. We can only look at what was achieved, and those achievements are outstanding.

For Serena to be considered the “best ever”, she needs to equal Graf’s total of 22 major titles at a minimum. Given Serena’s history of physical struggles, and her status as one of the grandes dames of the WTA tour at the ripe old age of 32, those 5 titles that separate the two could be a huge undertaking for the current #1.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that she manages to reach 22. If she can do so while managing a calendar-year Grand Slam (no the Serena Slam doesn’t count), we’ve got a legitimate contender. It wouldn’t need to be a Golden Slam either, because she has a bonafide claim to Olympic greatness with 3 gold medals in doubles (with sister Venus), and a singles gold medal from her crushing defeat of Maria Sharapova at the London Olympics. Olympics aside, however, she must reach 22.

Like Serena, Graf was easily the dominant player of her generation. Yes, she had her struggles against Seles, much like Serena did with Justine Henin, but she was never truly contested at the top by anyone else. She didn’t have the flair of Serena off the court, but then again, flair isn’t required for best ever. It’s a “nice to have”, but not necessary.

If, however, Serena reaches that 22 total, flair might just be the deciding factor for me. For now, we must wait to see what 2014 will add to this discussion. Here’s to a potential #18 in Australia…

PostHeaderIcon Steffi Graf and Lindsay Davenport in the SAP Open Press Room (AUDIO)

DSCN0633Now that I’ve finally recovered from both my Hawaiian vacation and a weekend of provisional umpiring (that finished my volunteer requirement… YAY), I’m closing the book on this year’s SAP Open with an audio clip of Steffi Graf and Lindsay Davenport.

The clip was recorded during their post-match press conference after (an entertaining) mixed doubles exhibition match with Andy Roddick and Justin Gimelstob. Please accept my apologies in advance for the quality of the recording, and the incessant clicking of cameras any time that Steffi opened her mouth to speak. I was blocked from the front row by unruly photographers. You’ll have to turn up the sound at times to hear them.

The voice next to me is Bill Simons of Inside Tennis. He’s a great guy and a very knowledgeable tennis source. We made a pretty good team. If you have any questions on their responses, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to fill in the blanks.
Enjoy.


(click the arrow to play the audio)

PostHeaderIcon Australian Open Champion Victoria Azarenka and The WTA “Pandora’s Box”


Congratulations to Victoria Azarenka for administering yet another beatdown on Maria Sharapova in a grand slam final, with a 6-3 6-0 victory to take the crown. Lest anyone think I’m a complete Vika hater, I readily acknowledge that she has raised her game sufficiently to validate her place among the game’s current “elite”.

I didn’t watch the match, but there are plenty of articles available today as to how she administered an epic beatdown on one of the steeliest competitors in the game. 12 of the last 13 games? Did Maria go out to get something to eat and forget to return for the finish of the match. No. She was simply out-Sharapova’d.

Isn’t it ironic? Sharapova, who appeared in her first slam final as a fearless youngster who outslugged Serena, has been on the receiving end of consecutive performances by young ladies who have done to her that which she did to Serena. Slam final experience be damned. First Petra last year at Wimbledon and now Azarenka. Today, Vika shook off initial nerves in her first grand slam final to completely dominate her older and wiser opponent.

Job well done Vika!

What does her victory today mean for the rest of the 2012 season? Much has been written, myself included, about not just her “grunt” but about her overall brashness and bad attitude. Now that she is a grand slam event champion AND the top ranked woman, should we expect better from her? I say “Yes”, or the WTA has another major player headache if we can’t.

I say “another” because we already have one in our midst: Serena Williams. And for as much as Serena has done to become a champion and popularize women’s tennis the world over, we are still often left with a bad taste in our mouth because of her many “colorful” bad girl moments at the US Open.

The foot fault episode presented the most egregious and problematic for the WTA. How do you properly censure someone for behavior that was so beyond the pale as hers, yet still not burn the only bridge to your (clearly) best and most marketable tour commodity? And if you allow her to continue with only a slap on the wrist, what kind of precedent are you setting for the rest of the tour’s players? The answer is simple: you are setting the precedent that almost any behavior is tolerated (to a greater or lesser extent) as long as you win.

There were already problems on tour with the growing grunt problem because of today’s vanquished scream queen Maria Sharapova. When grunting first became a major post-Seles issue, it was disingenuous for the tour to attempt denunciations of “the grunting problem” on one hand while holding up Maria, the grunt Queen, as the new star of the tour with the other. You can’t have it both ways.

I think we’re at another crossroads for the WTA, with a new Slam champion and number one who unapologetically doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her behavior on or off the court, yet is poised to be a slam challenger for the remainder of 2012. IMPORTANT: it must be clearly noted that her treatment of ballkids and other personnel doesn’t come anywhere close to Serena’s threat of shoving a ball down someone’s throat. There is no absolutely no comparison, and none of her actions would qualify on that level.

But correct me if I’m wrong on this point: I don’t recall Steffi, Lindsay, Monica, Venus, or Kim ever having this kind of press associated with their rise to the top. Or Roger and Rafa for the men. And isn’t that how we want our champions to comport themselves.

Maybe we already passed that point of no return a long time ago with the antics of Jennifer Capriati and Justine Henin (along with the aforementioned younger Williams). Jennifer was one of the prickliest women on tour, and Justine… Well I’ll just mention the “French Open hand-up” episode as the best example of how low she could go. They were both multi-slam champions and great players, but not the best examples of on or off-court decorum.

There is much to like about Azarenka’s game. Prior to hearing her first outrageous “hoot” during the Sony Ericsson final when she beat Serena for the title, I was immensely impressed by this young lady who hit toe to toe with her male coach, in preparation for the match, as he played well inside of the court. Great hitting and great moxie!

It’s nice to see a bright and empowered young female athlete. She’s young with lots of growth still to come, and the year has only just begun. So here’s hoping that she will end up on the “good” list of past WTA champions.

Follow SFTennisFreak on Twitter
Blog Search