WOMEN SHOW PAIN, POWER
The Times Union
Sunday, August 30, 1992
Two matches, too quick, too bad. That's how the women's semifinals unraveled at the fast-forward OTB Open tennis tournament Saturday.
A pain in the neck ended the first one while a dominating serve controlled the second. Consequently, it will now be Barbara Rittner's turn to try to wrestle the title away from defending champion Brenda Schultz. The two meet in today's final at noon.
"You want to win because you're better. You don't want to win because your opponent is hurt," said third-seeded Rittner after her opponent, Marianne Werdel, was forced to retire after the first set.
"I must have slept on it (neck) the wrong way," Werdel said. "I don't really know what caused it. But I couldn't stretch wide at all."
Werdel made a gutsy effort to participate anyway, hoping to play her way out of the pain. It didn't happen.
"It got stiffer as the match went on," Werdel said. "It was inhibiting my motion."
Rittner sailed through the first set in 24 minutes, winning 6-1 without breaking a sweat.
"From the first practice ball, I could see she wasn't hitting the ball that hard," Rittner said about Werdel. "And she didn't serve well at all."
Werdel, the Californian who has reached the final twice and semifinal once in three previous appearances here, plays almost exclusively a power game. When that was nullified by the stiff neck, she was a sitting duck.
"It's not a good feeling," Werdel said. "But things like that happen. I have had back problems my whole career."
Werdel tried hot packs and stretching earlier Saturday morning in hopes of loosening the muscles in her lower neck and upper back. But the cool, windy conditions on Stadium Court proved to be a factor as much as Rittner.
"It's not as frustrating when you play and lose as when you have to retire with an injury," said Werdel, who has come close but come up short in four consecutive years here.
Rittner, the world's 27th-ranked player from Germany, was aware of Werdel's popularity among the fans and even suggested a linesman's unfavorable call was to help the American.
"I think they thought, 'Well, she really cannot play,' so they wanted to help her a little," Rittner said.
Realistically, line calls played no part in the brief match as Rittner pounced for the quick kill.
"I could see it was worse if she hit a backhand," Rittner said. "So I started to serve kick serves to her backhand side."
In no time, Werdel was cooked. When Rittner served out the lopsided set, Werdel walked to the sidelines and slipped on a jacket, signaling the conclusion of play and already thinking of next year.
So was Schultz on the neighboring Grandstand Court. Although her opponent, Florencia Labat of Argentina, was not injured, she too was feeling pain. This came about because Schultz was crushing the air out of balls with blistering serves and volleys.
"My mind is totally power, power, power," said Schultz, fastest female server in the world. "Ever since I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a big server. I practiced it all the time."
Labat knows it. She tried to return it only to pop up little yellow balloons over the net. Schultz plucked them off like juicy plums on a branch. All was going Schultz's way until halfway through the second set, when Labat began to dial in her timing a little better.
"I stopped waiting until the ball was behind me before trying to hit it," said Labat. "I tried hitting it in front more."
The result was some clean-cut winners that startled Schultz.
"It's hard when you're winning your serve so easily, when there's no pressure, and suddenly it changes," Schultz said. "I got a little tight."
Serving to make it 5-1 in the second set, Schultz lost 10 straight points and found herself in a struggle. That's also about the time when the men's quarterfinal match between Wayne Ferreira and Richard Fromberg on Stadium Court ended.
"Lots of people suddenly came," Schultz said. "I knew I could not be broken again."
She cranked up the master blaster again and won the final game decidedly and fittingly by slamming a volley into the atmosphere.
"I think I finished it up on time," said Schultz, who will now meet Rittner for the second time this year. Rittner beat Schultz at the Australian Open , 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.