WERDEL RIGHT AT HOME IN SCHENECTADY
The Times Union
Saturday, August 29, 1992
If it's Saturday, this must be Schenectady.
And if it's Saturday in Schenectady, in late August, it must be time for the semifinals of the OTB Open tennis tournament, which means Marianne Werdel must be in town.
"Yup," Werdel said with a broad smile yesterday at Central Park. "Made it again."
If you've spent any time here in recent years (and if you haven't, well, that's your loss), you've come to expect a few things. You expect great tennis without having to pay a penny to watch it. You expect not-so-great food that will cost you as much as you should have paid to watch the tennis. You expect to park a mile away. You expect it to rain. You expect everyone, players included, to comment on what a "nice" little tournament this is.
You also expect Marianne Werdel to cruise through the first three rounds and into the semifinals. No logical explanation for it, really. It just happens. Summer after summer. In a tournament that has never seen a female champion repeat - a tournament whose field changes dramatically each year - Werdel is a constant.
It doesn't matter what sort of year she's had, or what sort of year she will have after she leaves. While in Schenectady, she wins. Not all of her matches, mind you, but most of them. It's been that way since 1989, when she first came to the OTB Open. Werdel was 21 then, barely ranked in the top 100, and yet she reached the finals. The next year she returned. Again she reached the finals, and again she lost. In 1991 she made it to the semis before
And now, once again, here is Marianne Werdel. Friday afternoon, despite playing a flawed match on Stadium Court, she defeated Stephanie Rottier, 6-4, 6-4, to reach the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Why this has happened is anyone's guess. By her own assessment, Werdel has had an inconsistent year. She did not come into Schenectady on any kind of a roll - in fact, her computer ranking had slipped to 70, well below what it was at
the end of 1991. She has had good weeks and bad weeks, but no great weeks, nothing to indicate she might be on the verge of winning her first tour title. Except, of course, that this is Schenectady, and for some reason Marianne Werdel, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed native of Los Angeles and resident of Palo Alto - in sum, a Californian through to the bone - is rather fond of this little corner of the Northeast.
"I think a lot of it is that this is my favorite surface, and I'm gearing up for (next week's U.S.) Open," Werdel said. "Also, this is the only time of the year that my coach from home can come with me. That really helps." When told of that compliment, the coach seemed genuinely flattered. His name is John Hubbell and he is also the men's coach at San Jose State. Typically, he works with Werdel only when she is home, but in August and September he travels to New York for the U.S. Open and a few other tournaments. On the road, he said, it isn't so much a matter of coaching as lending a sympathetic ear.
"Sometimes a player just needs to hear they're doing something right," Hubbell said.
What Werdel is doing most effectively this week is what she always does: hitting the ball hard. Very hard. As hard as she possibly can. This is a woman who does not believe in volleys or drop shots or artistry. This is a woman who appears to be legitimately angry at the ball.
"Every shot," Rottier said after their match, shaking her head in disbelief. "She hits the ball so hard every shot."
With such baseline battering comes the occasional, even frequent, mistake. Werdel nearly blew a 5-2 second-set lead Friday, but ultimately regained her composure to take her customary spot in the semis.
"It feels good when you haven't played your best but you still manage to find a way to win," Werdel said.
No doubt, because if she does play her best these last two days, she may finally leave Central Park with a championship.