San Diego 2006: Andrew's tournament-review -
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San Diego 2006: Andrew's tournament-review

ACURA CLASSIC 2006 (San Diego, California, USA; outdoor hard; WTA Tier I)

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I am touched by the photo of Bepa putting ice on Peng,Shuai's head. I've never seen such compassion in a tennis-player before.

First round (Tuesday 1st August)

+ Vera Zvonarëva d. SUGIYAMA,AI [13], 6-1 7-5

This is no surprise, given Bepa's recent red-hot form and Sugiyama's heavy loss to Tatiana Golovin at Stanford.

I followed live scores casually until Bepa served for the match at 6-1 5-4 (after leading 5-3*). She was broken to 15, but broke Sugiyama at 5-5.

Bepa serving for the match at 6-5: 30/0 -> 30/30, 40/30 (MP #1), 40/40, ad Bepa (MP #2), GSM Bepa.
Sugiyama, who lost in the final to Mary Pierce in last year's Acura Classic, held serve as she hit a 98mph service winner at ad-in to make the score 5-4 in the Russian's favour.

Serving for the match, Zvonareva fell behind 0-30 and lost her serve as her backhand down the line went long at 30-40.

At 5-5, the veteran Sugiyama, a tennis professional since 1992, opened her service game with a double fault and then committed three straight unforced errors to drop serve at love.

Zvonareva once again served for the match. With the crowd cheering, she served at 6-5 and quickly went up 30-0. Sugiyama tied the game at 30-30 as she hit a forehand volley winner. On the next point, Sugiyama's defensive lob landed just past the baseline to give Zvonareva her first match point of the afternoon.

After a brief rally, Zvonareva approached the net for an easy put away volley, but to her dismay, punched her shot long, as the crowd let out a loud groan. Two points later at the second deuce of the game, Sugiyama hit what appeared to be a volley winner, but Zvonareva tracked it down and returned it for a crosscourt forehand winner to earn her second match point.

This time, Zvonareva was successful as Sugiyama's crosscourt forehand service return landed wide.

I find it ironic that Bepa won a few seconds after Anna Chakvetadze, who had been several games away from victory when Bepa was *5-4, but needed only one take at serving out a 6-4 6-3 win over Jelena Kostanic.

Second round (Wednesday 2nd August)

+ Vera Zvonarëva d. Peng,Shuai, 3-6 7-6 (7/5) retired

Shuai is my favourite Chinese player: a hard-hitting Selesian who upset Kim Clijsters 6-4 6-4 at this very tournament last year - Clijsters' first loss on a hard court in 2005!

Bepa looked in dire straits for most of the second set: when I first checked the scoreboard she was down a set and a break at 3-6 1-2*, wasting a break-point before Shuai made it 1-3.

Shuai broke again for 4-1, then Bepa broke back twice to make it 4-4, and held for 5-4.

Shuai serving to stay in the second set at 4-5: 0/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad Shuai, held.
Bepa serving 5-5: held to 15.
Shuai serving to stay in the second set at 5-6: 40/0, 40/15, held.

6-6 tiebreak: Bepa 0/2* -> 3/2*; Shuai 4/3*... there was a delay of about ten minutes, presumably a medical time-out... 5/3*, 5/4*, 5/5*; Bepa *6/5 (SP #1), Bepa won the second set 7-6 (7/5)!

Then Shuai retired with heat-exhaustion, and had to be carried off court on a stretcher. I have to feel sorry for her, after being so close to winning the match. But I badly wanted Bepa to win through to her fifth meeting - and first since 2004 - with Maria Sharapova!

Bepa: "I could see she was having problems with the heat. I felt fine, and wasn't thinking about the weather. I couldn't tell any difference in her game, since she goes for all of her shots and plays aggressive on every ball."

Third round (Thursday 3rd August)

Two very nice players:
+ MARIA SHARAPOVA [2] d. Vera Zvonarëva, 6-4 6-4

This was the fifth Maria v Bepa match (or as I like to call it, the RadZvone series) - the first four took place in 2004, and with this win, Maria moves 3-2 ahead in their head-to-head. Maria v Bepa is always a mouthwatering match, as their styles of play complement each other wonderfully.

But this was their most one-sided match so far - possibly because Bepa has been bothered by a left-wrist injury since Cincinnati, with which she pulled out of the doubles after losing to Maria.

Judging by the photos, Maria also won the beauty-contest, which was a surprise to me because Bepa has looked extremely hot in recent weeks - and I'm not just talking about her tennis!

The match was second on Center [sic], and started at 15:14 PDT. I followed live scores on the Internet; here are my notes as I wrote them at the time:

Although my love for Bepa has really grown this year, my loyalty is with Maria this time because I feel that she needs to win this match more than Bepa.

Bepa has been on fire in recent weeks, winning Birmingham, Wimbledon Mixed Doubles and Cincinnati, and losing only to Kim Clijsters in singles (three times).

Maria has been hampered by injuries over the last year; Indian Wells is her only title since Birmingham 2005. She should be winning Grand Slam singles-titles at this stage of her career, so losing in the third round of San Diego is not what we would want to see when she's preparing for the US Open!

First Set:
SHARAPOVA _* *@__*@* 6
ZVONARËVA * *__@*___ 4

Bepa serving 0-0: 0/15, 15/15, 40/15, 40/30, held.
Maria serving 0-1: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15, held.
Bepa serving 1-1: 0/15, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad Bepa, held.

We really have two of the greatest fighters of women's tennis out there today, Bepa doing well to come through that service-game.

Maria serving 1-2: held to love with an ace on the second point.

So far, Maria is holding serve much more easily than Bepa. But it should be a much tougher match than Nicole Vaidišová's rather straightforward 6-4 6-2 win over Daniela Hantuchová earlier today (all four players are members of my Eternal Fanship).

Bepa serving 2-2: 15/0, 15/15, 40/15 -> 40/40, ad Bepa, Deuce #2, ad Maria (BP), Deuce #3, ad Maria (BP #2), broken.

That's the difficulty of playing Maria Sharapova: she keeps pegging you back in a game, and then she strikes!

But this is by no means a decisive lead for Maria in this set. Bepa is such a fighter, and Maria hasn't been all that reliable at closing out leads in recent months - she lost sets from 5-1 up against Tatiana Golovin at Miami, and Dinara Safina at the French Open!

Maria serving 3-2: 0/30, 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), broken.
Bepa serving 3-3: 30/0, 30/15, 40/15, held.

Tremendous fightback by Bepa - this match certainly isn't for the faint-hearted Maria-fan!

Maria serving 3-4: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, held.

A very important hold for Maria. At 15/30 I sensed a break which would have left Bepa serving for the set, and I don't think Bepa is in the mood to blow a *5-3 lead on the form of recent weeks!

Bepa serving 4-4: 0/40 (3 BPs), long delay... broken.

A set full of twists and turns. Just when it felt like Bepa had the momentum and was about to take a decisive lead, it's Maria who does just that!

Maria serving for the first set at 5-4: 0/15, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30 (SP #1). Double fault. 40/40, ad Maria (SP #2), Deuce #2, ad Bepa (BP), Deuce #3, ad Maria (SP #3), Deuce #4, ad Maria (SP #4), Deuce #5, ad Maria (SP #5), Maria won the first set 6-4 at 16:01 (47m).

Awesome resistance from Bepa! In my heart of hearts I wanted Maria to win that game and get the first set in the bag, but I could not have asked for a more thrilling ending, save perhaps a tiebreak.

I might not be able to watch this match, but I can imagine Maria saying a lot of "c'mon"s in that last game!

Second Set
SHARAPOVA @*@* *___* 6
ZVONARËVA ____* *@*_ 4

My loyalty switches to Bepa in this set, because RadZvone V deserves nothing less than to be a three-set thriller. For me it really is the apotheosis of tennis when these two play each other!

Bepa serving 0-0: 15/0, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken. (The points Bepa won were aces!)

But Maria, of course, has other ideas - like all great champions, going for the jugular.

But Bepa has already broken the great Maria's serve once this match, so even at a set and a break up, Maria's victory is not guaranteed yet. I do hope Bepa won't just fade to a 4-6 2-6 loss as Daniela did against Nicole earlier.

Maria serving 0-1: 0/15, 40/15, 40/30, held.

No immediate break-back for Bepa this time, and not much room for her to play any more bad games either...

Bepa serving 0-2: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken.

It's getting late early! Maria has converted break-points with deadly efficiency in this match: 4/5 (Bepa 1/2).

I watched Bepa recover from a set and two breaks down against Meilen Tu in the Birmingham 2006 semi-finals, but to do so against Maria is an entirely different proposition.

Maria serving 3-0: held to love.

Now Bepa needs to take a leaf out of Jamea Jackson's book: Bepa led Jackson 7-6 4-0 in the Birmingham final, but an amazing turnaround saw Bepa have to serve to stay in the second set at 4-5! And Jennifer Capriati won the Australian Open 2002 final from 4-6 0-4 down!

Bepa serving 0-4: 40/0, 40/15, held.
Maria serving 4-1: held to love.

The only precedent for Bepa escaping from this scoreline against Maria is the Miami 2006 semi-final, where Maria led 6-3 5-1, and Tatiana Golovin fought back to take the second set. It would take a combination of the brilliance of which I know Bepa is capable, and Maria going off the boil.

But Maria is very alert to such possibilities now, and mentally strong enough to use that to her advantage in terms of concentration (whereas most players get very nervous when they remember blowing a similar lead in the past).

Bepa serving to stay in the match at 1-5: 30/0, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30, held.
Maria serving for the match at 5-2: broken to love!

And it's happening! There's nothing more fascinating in tennis than when one player has a huge lead, but the other player is halfway towards levelling up, and suddenly has all the momentum in her favour. Who will prevail?

Bepa serving to stay in the match at 3-5: 30/0, 30/40 (MP #1), 40/40, ad Bepa, held.

Three games in a row for Bepa as she continues her brave fightback, fighting off one match-point in the process.

Maria serving for the match at 5-4: 30/0. Maria forehand winner down the line. 40/0 (3 MPs: MP #2). Bepa netted a forehand return. Maria won 6-4 6-4 at 16:40 (1h26m).

A simple-looking scoreline, but the sequence of games certainly wasn't simple! Maria will be feeling very relieved right now.

The right girl won, but as a Bepa-fan it leaves me wanting much more. If only she hadn't lost the first four games of the second set, things could have been very different...


Bepa served 4 aces and 1 double fault, Maria 3 double faults and 1 ace.

But Maria was better in all the service-percentages: 69% of first serves in (Bepa 65%), 68% of points won on first serve (Bepa 58%) and 61% on second serve (Bepa 43%).

From the first set to the second, Maria's percentage of first serves in deteriorated from 75% to 59%, but her percentage of points won on second serve improved from 44% to 78%.

Maria broke 4 times from 6 break-points, Bepa 2 from 3.

In points, Maria won 69-55 (first set 39-32, second set 30-23). So the first set was more troublesome for Maria than the second - contrary to what the media say.

Maria quotes

"I knew she was playing good tennis again. Every time I play her, I usually expect {good tennis/a good test}, because I know how good and strong she can be.

"Coming into the match, I knew that it was going to be a tough one. I knew I needed to play solid and consistent, and be tough mentally throughout the whole match, because she had been playing some good tennis. Sometimes talk is cheap, so I wanted to make sure everything was going to go by plan.

[Re. Bepa's second-set fightback]
"I don't think I did too much wrong. Maybe I could have stepped in a little bit and came to the net on a few of those balls. She played some really good points. I was happy to be able to close it out with some good serves.

"It was about reacting to the situation, and seeing what she brought today, and what I needed to challenge her. From the beginning of the match, I felt I hung in there and was really patient. I played really solid, and I made her hit lots of balls. It was tough."

[Re. being the world's highest-earning female athlete]
"It's a cool fact. You see it and read it in a paper and say, 'Wow.' But I don't live my life by thinking of these facts. I don't live my life by seeing how many matches I won.

"When I was working my way to the top, I didn't say I wanted to be No. 2; I wanted to be No. 1 in the world.

"What tennis has brought me has been incredible. God gave me a talent, but it was also up to me to play my part in that. I don't believe you earn everything by talent. You have to work for everything you earn. The combination has definitely helped me.

"Tennis has brought a lot of opportunities to my career. I've been blessed when I was young. Playing tennis every day when I was young, I didn't know what would come with the sport, but everything has surprised me in my career, and everything has come with real excitement.

"At the end of the day, the thing that I get excited about is winning tough matches. That's what it's all about for me. As long as I have that feeling, I'm going to keep playing. When I don't have that inside of me, that's when I'll stop.

[Would you trade all your endorsements for another three Grand Slam titles?]
"Are you kidding me? Of course, because three titles would bring in a lot more than $25 million!

[Are you dating Andy Roddick?]
"I don't discuss my private life."


Vera Zvonarëva/Nathalie Dechy:
1r + Amy Frazier/Laura Granville, 6-3 6-1
2r - CARA BLACK/RENNAE STUBBS [2], walkover

Bepa withdrew with a left-wrist sprain.

Dr. Andrew Broad

My Eternal Fanship: 1. Monica Seles; 2. Мария Шарапова (‘Maria Sharapova’); 3. Daniela Hantuchová; 4. Jelena Dokić; 5. Iva Majoli; 6. Karina Habšudová; 7. Вера Звонарёва (‘Vera Zvonarëva’); 8. Nicole Vaidišová; 9. Анна Чакветадзе (‘Anna Chakvetadze’); 10. Lucie Šafářová; 11. Ирода Туляганова (‘Iroda Tulyaganova’); 12. Magdaléna Rybáriková; 13. Sabine Lisicki
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