Rogers Cup - Report - DAY 4 (FIRST/SECOND ROUND)
If Tuesday's tennis was the french fries of life, I'd be a fat ass. Mmmm... delicious!
There is one big difference between the men's event and the women's event. The ladies (ironically excluding Dinara) do not practise very much. For example the gates opened at 10:00, I was down at the practise courts for 10:04, walked around, and by the time I reached Court 4 and noticed Myskina on court practising, I was told by my volunteer friends, Serena had just left. They mentioned she practised no more than 35 minutes. Guess when the next time I saw her? The night match. Roughly 10 hrs, since she last struck a tennis ball.
Myskina was hilarious to watch on court. SHe was struggling quite a bit. Her backhand looked amazing though, hit with a very clean swipe, always over the net sometimes just clipping the baseline. Then she went to hit some swinging backhand volleys, and it reminded me of watching Sprem. It was a whole lot of net. Again. And again. And then it hit a higher part of the net, but fell down again. Her forehand made me nervous because it was quite consistently hit outside the court by a few inches. She was generating angles on the court, hitting the ball deep (though frequently a little unsafely deep), and it was encouraging considering she only recently arrived. Her serve was... inconsistent. Some not bad, some painfully bad, some made me wonder what ever happened to "serving coaches", but the court is quite slow so she won't be nearly as punished as if at another tournament. It was funny when she went up to volley, because it was painful. She needs a serve and volley coach, badly. Her coach went so far to say "How do you expect to get it over if you don't move your legs?" She gave him the dirty look he's familiar with from their matches, and after a talking with Dinara's mom she signed autographs and left.
Here's a tip for autograph hounds. Know something about the player that they did recently, that's not beyond obvious. When they begin walking towards your area, make the statement. With Myskina I said "How was Stockholm?" She replied saying she enjoyed it and had a since smile. Then, she recognized my face, so gave me the 2 autographs I wanted from her. Becareful not to sound stalkerish, or like you looked through the media book earlier that day. And especially don't give hard questions. "How was your backhand against Srebotnik?" or "How did it feel not defending any Roland Garros points" are difficult to answer, and make you a Grade "A" Bitch Ass.
Vesnina and Voskoboeva were practising... as usual. As were Jie and Li. Craybas and a man. Groenefeld and her mean coach. Obata and Fujiwara. It's the same everyday usually if you're with a man practising it's highly competitive. With another player, often there are more smiles, and outbursts of frustration or laughter.
I began watching Salerni and Zheng. Jie, I find is one of the best ball strikers, that is not in the top 30. She's got such great control from hitting with top spin to a rapid strike. It began with her often having a good rally with Maria-Emilia and then suddenly she’d hit either a short crosscourt angle or go for the down-the-line winner as if to say “I’m tired of rallying”. Salerni also was making errors when she really couldn’t afford to, but then to my surprise, Zheng’s game began to weaken as her unforced error count piled. There were very even points in the match, but it was Jie’s phenomenal shot making skills that pushed her passed a very much outclassed Salerni. Salerni’s coach was yelling slurs to her in Spanish, and fortunate for him no one understood it… until a linesmen changeover. Guarding the line closest to him was a darker man, who after the first time he heard the coach say something, told him to “Silence”. The next few times he did so, he just gave him a look until he finally reported this to the chair. The chair didn’t overrule some very questionable calls for Maria-Emilia so I guess it was all even.
I like Ana’s game, I just don’t adore it. Yes, one day she should be in the top 10, and unlike the other youngsters she doesn’t frequently have these error spouts. But of what I watched from her (second set choking away the lead), I saw a very different Ivanovic. She was spraying shots well into the net, but she does not have heaps of difficulty hitting wide (she has superior accuracy). Tax was simply overwhelmed. She was not hitting a ridiculous number of errors; she just was not getting the winners she needed to pull ahead. I really adore that backhand of hers and the amount of spin she can generate from it. All in all, Ivanovic is friendly and talented, and the pearls are effing hot.
Linetskaya and Diaz-Oliva were heading for their first round match up on Court 3, while I was walking around. Less than 20 minutes later, I saw them drive back. Inside was Linetskaya crying on her mother’s shoulder, while she brushed her hair with her hand. And in the back seat was Diaz-Oliva just looking around kind of awkward, like when you’re a kid and someone gets hurt, and you’re seen with him. And all you can think is… “I didn’t do it”. I went on to see Evgeniya later that day walking with her mom coach. She was on her cell phone with a reddish tone around her eyes. She had been crying.
By now it was roughly midway through the second set (I believe 4-1) for Conchita v. Groenefeld. Anna-Lena in the majority of practices was hitting balls right at the service line dropped by her coach as to emulate one of Conchi’s short slices. It paid off well, because rallies were quite long, both players wanting to move to the next round, with a difficult yet winnable match against Safina. Martinez was hitting deep heavy shots, with both pace and spins moving Anna-Lena side to side. Groenefeld’s forehand looked awkward, but thanks to her practice session, was coming accustomed to hitting these low balls with her extreme grip. She hit them well going for the great angles, and mixed up her shots very well with drop shots that Conchi wouldn’t bother running for her. Groenefeld started the match with a ridiculous number of errors, and after Martinez choked in the tiebreak the third set was a very tight affair. Half way through, Groenefeld was up 5-4 30-30 and it looked like Martinez was toast, and revenge was had from the Pattaya City final. But despite the errors, and Groenfeld’s increasing quality of play (I like her backhand which is extremely flat, much more than the forehand), Conchita just pulled it through. After the match, Conchi gave me her towel, and Groenefeld, disappointed with herself left court. Unlike other players, Anna-Lena comes into net at the wrong times, only to be passed, or be hit at by her opponents. Navratilova and Groenefeld both watched the matches cheering for their respective apprentices. I guess Groenefeld is “Fired”.
Pennetta is an amazing player. She’s definitely not only a dirt baller, but she manages to still lob the ball inches from the baseline. She has a so-so net game that she uses to mix it up, and a powerful serve (by far the best of the Italians). I’m surprised she is yet to pass Schiavone and Farina-Elia, but she will one day. And on the Harcourt, she completely flattened out her strokes with no more than the kick from a semi-western forehand. She could very penetrating groundstrokes to the corners, but occasionally it was like Karolina Sprem came out to play for her. Balls just sat into the net, but she’s extremely friendly, and when a man in the upper stands was screaming words in Italian to her, she kept nodding her head in disapproval and “shh”ing him. If she can clean up those errors, boy will she be a good Top 20, 15 player. Her serves are very good to, her second with a phenomenal kick (reminded me of Safarova, whose spins curved the ball wherever she liked like a magician).
Hantuchova came to play, and with her was every fan in the world, plus some people would wanted to become her fans. Right from the start when they introduced the players, Hantuchova received screams, Jidkova received the odd clap. The first couple games, it was realized that Alina has some game. No she’s not ever (or should be) a Top 40 player, but there’s no reason why she can’t be in the 50s. She changes direction quite well, but in the match, as if she scouted Dani very much, she was defending waiting for the error. It worked well; they were even at 4-4, due to Hantuchova’s superior service helping her, and her ridiculously poor return of service assisting Jidkova. Suddenly Hantuchova’s errors just piled up (like each game), but this game she wasn’t cleaning up the game to win it. With a very tight break, and relatively easy hold Jidkova was a set up. To my surprise, she called the trainer looking to be exhaustion, as she had put a powder in her Powerade and ice, wrapped in towels all along her back. It was weird because it was not that hot, especially not nearly as hot as Los Angeles or San Diego. I saw the first 2 changeovers before I left, thinking that Hantuchova was just going to slaughter Alina up 4-1 or 3-2. She obviously didn’t. On a positive note, her serve continues to improve. Great placement, even the second reminds me of a Top 10 player. But nothing else was going for her today.
Once that match finished and brief checking of the grounds to see if anyone else was playing (of course no practicing except… Safina), I returned to the match court excited to see a thrilling Chakvetadze v. Vaidisova match. When all of a sudden a black player came onto court. I though-since when is Chakvetadze black. Anna pulled out. Shenay in her place. The fear that we would become L.A. north (with the massive number of LL) scared me, but then I realized what do we have that no other hardcourt tournament before the US Open has- Ivanovic, Vaidisova, Serena Williams, Justine Henin, quite a bit that the other tournaments are missing. Shenay has a good game very big, very inconsistent, with some funny form on her forehand. Nicole is deep, often flat when on the aggressive, and HARD. One thing her and Ana lack is finesse. Watching the two hit slices, made me cringe because not only would it sit up or clip the tape and fall (of course on their side), that some players can break down this complete power tennis thrashing. Vaidisova made way too many errors, and made me nervous to think she might have had to play Chakvetadze. Her serve was very good, as was Shenay’s. Just as Granville, Jackson, and Carly watched on Nicole made quick work. She reminds me of Myskina in that when she yells she does it all at her father/coach. Screaming words in Russian or Czech or something foreign, and got frustrated to easy. If she is to beat Dechy, she will have to up the level of consistency. After the match I was speaking to her and in a sad, sincere face she told me she would not be defending Tashkent.
I love Serena. Do I think that she’s hated by the WTA Tour, and disrespected, God no. I just think she’s so entertaining, an amazing player, and completely rewarding if a tournament can get a deal with her. Toronto is lucky that she loves it here and evidently so. I started from the second at her down 0-2, and she was just hitting the ball as hard as she absolutely could towards the corners. Cohen-Aloro was often slicing or moon balling the shot back, keeping the ferocious line tame in her cage of lines. I was cheering from the lower bowl, in face people looked at me, but had Toronto lost her, the tournament would absolutely drop. It’s hard to explain how much the Williams sisters bring to a tournament and the game. But they do, trust me, and hopefully she can clean up her act and go on to win this damn thing.