Zvonareva Simply Not Boring
Liu Engaged to Chang; Mirza Struggles; White Mile Hits a Road Block
By Matthew Cronin, ********************
Vera zones 3 times a year.
FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC – Before Anna Chakvetadze set off the great floods of 2007- 2008, shedding on court tears from Paris to New York, there were high-watermarks from another Russian, Vera Zvonareva, a talented, rapid-stroking, inside-the-baseliner whose pale, Northern face was frequently splotched with red marks from mid-match bouts of crying.
Like A-Chak, Vera Z. didn't even know she was crying half the time and like A-Chak, during some important matches, her tear ducts would spill over even while she was ahead.
It seems like ages ago that Zvonareva lost perhaps the best match in the history of the now defunct San Diego tournament, when Anastasia Myskina fought off nine match points and pulled off a remarkable 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (15) victory over the charged up Zvonareva in the semis.
The match was a bubbling emotional cauldron all the way through, with angst-ridden Myskina constantly castigating her good-natured coach, Jens Gerlach, and Zvonareva cracking her racket and launching balls over the La Costa club house in anger.
Just after the match and before she went out to play doubles, Zvonareva said she wasn't upset even while wiping tears off her face. She was in full denial.
Now fast forward to 2008 where she’s more soft-spoken and seems to be much more comfortable with herself. A few years of injuries and time off will do that for a player. She hasn't dismissed her goals, but she doesn't seem to see herself as a world beater, either.
"When you first come on tour you don't think much and everything is perfect," said Zvonareva, the Bank of the West Classic third seed who will face Samantha Stosur in her opening match. "Then you come through different times and everyone wants to beat you and they know how you play. You always have to prove yourself and defend. If you have a bad day, you have to go out and fight and try to win the match. It's difficult because the competition is getting tougher and tougher. You have to improve and work."
Zvonareva is only 23, but she's in her sixth full year on tour. She broke out in 2002 when she finished in the top 50. In 2004 and 2005, she held the No. 9 ranking. She's won six career singles titles, but none at a Tier II level or higher.
She's rock solid off the ground, moves fairly well, but her game is lacking in color. In some ways she's the proto-typical, post fall of the Berlin Wall Russian women's player -- an aggressive baseliner who was so competent at putting away players in the juniors by consistently aiming for the corners, that she didn't begin to develop variety in her game until she reached the pros. Put simply, she'll hammer the ball crosscourt until she gets an opportunity to go down the line. If she makes the shot, fine. If not, she'll either win a war of attrition or lose in sloppy fashion.
There's a big difference between zoning and being zoned on in the grinding life of a tour player.
"There are some days tennis feels like a job and you have to do it, and there are other days where you want to do nothing else but grab your racket. It gets difficult at times. There are only two or three tournaments where you really enjoy your game and really love it and the rest of the year you just have to go out there and fight. But that's what makes it interesting. If everything was so simple, it would be boring."
It's not simple when a player cannot avoid injury, and Zvonareva has had a slew of them -- ankle, wrist, shoulder and thigh.
Unlike Chakvetadze, who is shy but says she craves the spotlight, Zvonareva appears to be better suited for a comfy back seat at the theater. On a great day, she still flashes top 10 stuff, but seems destined to be no more than a one-time semifinalist at a major, and she hasn't even reached that far yet.
But the potential is there, even this year after a slow and injury-riddled start. She was the runner-up at Charleston, upending Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva before falling to Serena Williams in three sets in the final. She won Tier III Prague over the talented Victoria Azarenka. But then she walked into the majors, where's she always had trouble, reaching only one career quarterfinal, 2003 Roland Garros.
In Paris, Dementieva pounded her in the third set of their duel and then Tamarine Tanasugarn upset her early at Wimbledon.
Zvonareva is currently ranked No. 11 and is on the cusp of achieving her best ranking ever, but if she doesn't snare a decent sized crown, who will notice if she reaches No. 8?
She's humble though, a quality not often found on the tour. She'll go to Beijing for the Olympics to compete in the doubles with Elena Vesnina. She's not too prideful to turn down a doubles spot.
"I will take my chance because you never know what happens later," she said. "If I looked back at my career and said I was good, made it to top 10 and won a couple of mixed doubles in Grand Slams and never went to the Olympics, maybe I wouldn't be fulfilled."
Plus, being named to the Olympic team in medal- mad Russia means a great deal. Recall that two-time Slam champ Yevgeny Kafelnikov said that winning the gold was the greatest achievement of his life.
"It matters a lot for Russian to win the Olympics," said Zvonareva, who is coached by Samuel Sumyk, fellow WTA player Meilen Tu's husband. "There are a lot of tennis fans who will watch all the grand Slams, but there are other who will just watch the Olympics because they love sports."
Amber is happy off court with Chang but struggled on court.
Liu Engaged to Chang
The hotly rumored engagement has been confirmed, but not without a some significant teeth pulling from a joyful Amber Liu post her 6-1, 6-0 loss to Patty Schnyder in the first round.
The Stanford grad and former NCAA champ will wed 1989 French Open winner Michael Chang, who is also helping coach her. The news first came out of Newport last weekend during Change's Hall of Fame induction, but neither athlete had spoken publicly. The 24-year-old Liu was reticent to spill all the beans, but with the 36-year-old Chang watching her match intently from the middle of the stands in Palo Alto, it was clear that something had come to pass.
"I'm very happy and it's a very exciting time in my life," Lui said, confirming the engagement. "I'm looking forward to the future."
Apparently, the two began discussing a potential marriage back in March. Liu hadn't played since Indian Wells up until Stanford, four months ago, allowing her ranking to drop to No. 384.
"A lot of exciting things that were taking place at home have been taking a priority over my tennis," the SoCal resident said when asked why she took so much time off.
Liu isn't sure when her next tournament will be, nor whether she will attempt to play the US Open.
In other on-court action, Nadia Petrova was taken down 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 by the up-and-coming Slovakian teen, Dominika Cibulkova.
The new phenom, Portuguese 15-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito earned herself a match up with top seed Serena Williams by beating Gisela Dulko 7-5 7-6(1). In another upset, Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada beat Francesca Schiavone 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.Britain has to be quite pleased with the progress of Anne Keothavong, who upset last year's runner-up, Indian Sania Mirza, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
The 24-year-old Keothavong is now ranked No. 82 and has her eyes on the top 50. Wouldn’t that be a treat for England to actually have a women’s player again who is worth mentioning more than once a year. She out-steadied Mirza, who is really struggling post-wrist surgery to find the feel on her forehand.
"I knew I had to be solid because Sania can play hot and cold," she said. "The longer each point went on, the more I thought I had a chance to win it."
Mirza looked quite sad after the match, as it’s been slow going in her recovery from right wrist surgery in the spring. She feels pain on a daily basis but understands that it took the likes of Flavia Pennetta and Andy Murray months to come back from similar surgeries.
"I feel like the wrist stops whipping," Mirza said. "Maybe I'm missing power. Suddenly it stops moving. Maybe the nerves stop firing. It's very frustrating if it's your weapon."
Shahar Peer bested Melinda Czink 7-5 6-0 and will play defending champion Anna Chakvetadze.
Why not end with by closing a chapter on Schnyder and her husband, Rainer Hoffman’s book, the "White Mile." The eerie tome was supposed to come out this year, but they’ve hit a major bump in the road -- lack of time and know-how. They don’t have a firm publication date anymore.
“Its really tough to get it all together,” she said. “It’s easy to start but now we got a little stuck. We have no time and I was struggling with my tennis and we needed some holidays and my husband was busy with other stuff. It’s easy to start and write all the little stories and incidents but then to try and put it all together is tough. It’s going to be a while.”
© ******************** 2008