Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: in Cloud Cuckoo Land
Women’s qualifying wrapped up today in sunny, hot desert conditions. This year’s “qualies” afforded us a glimpse of some of the number one juniors of the last few years, such as Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Barbora Strycova and Eva Birnerova. Now attempting to make their mark in the pros, these young women are discovering that unless you are among the chosen few who can be considered prodigies, the transition from junior tennis is not necessarily easy.
Anna-Lena Groenefeld (9th seed) def. Renata Voracova, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4
Our match of the day was a gripping contest between two players who were standouts in the junior ranks. Anna-Lena Groenefeld (pictured at right), now 18 years old, is the better known of the two. The blonde German won the junior French Open last year, and is making strides in her first full year as a pro. The tall Czech Renata Voracova is also a former top junior, but she has found the going slow in the pro ranks and is still looking to crack into the top 100 at age 20.
Groenefeld came out playing a high-risk style of play, going for winners early in the points with often-dubious shot selection. The more patient Voracova was content to control points with her forehand and run the German from side to side. Voracova drew enough errors from her impatient opponent’s racquet to earn a 4-1 first set lead. Playing almost error-free tennis, Voracova never trailed in this set, which she won 6-4.
Groenefeld reacted well in the second set, showing greater accuracy and jumping all over Voracova’s very weak second serves with blazing returns. Anna-Lena, blasting impressive serves as well (including 3 aces when serving at 3-1) raced to a 4-1 lead. At this point the Czech requested a trainer to tape her sore left thigh, a problem that never seemed to hinder her movement during the match. Groenefeld lost her break advantage with a sloppy game at 4-2, but broke Voracova at 15 to take the second set 7-5. The set point was a bit controversial -- a Groenefeld forehand that appeared long was called good, and Voracova only half-tried on her reply, which she sent out. As she changed ends she compained to the umpire, holding her hands two feet apart, “You didn’t see the ball like this out?” An exaggeration, maybe, but we thought Renata had a point.
Voracova started the deciding set strong and, helped by a flood of Groenefeld errors, took a 3-1 advantage. But Groenfeld broke back at love to tie the set at 4-4, once again ripping two-handed backhand winners off weak Voracova serves. Groenefeld then held serve in the 9th game with difficulty, fighting off two break points with strong forehand winners. Then it was Groenfeld’s turn to worry Voracova’s serve as the Czech served to stay in the match. Anna-Lena failed to cash in on a first match point when she sent a looping forehand long. But she made good on the second chance in impressive fashion, coming to net and nailing a forehand volley to claim a spot in the main draw.
We were impressed with what we saw of Groenefeld, who is clearly a talented, if raw prospect. She has the fundamentals to succeed -- a strong serve (11 aces today), excellent and aggressive returns, and variety. We were pleased to note that she does not shy away from approaching the net behind her big groundstrokes. Groenefeld also competes well, and often accompanies fist pumps with cries of “Come on!“
If the young German learns how to construct points better and play a bit smarter, keeping her often wild errors down, we could be seeing Groenefeld winning much more important matches in months and years to come. And maybe days to come? Her first round opponent in the main draw here will be Virginia Ruano Pascual.
Sybille Bammer def. Eva Birnerova, 6-2, 6-3
We paid a visit to this match primarily to see another of the former junior number ones on display, Eva Birnerova of the Czech Republic. The former European junior champion is now 19 years old and seeded 5th in qualifying here.
We were not impressed. While Birnerova obviously can hit a hard ball and appears to have good hands, she seemed completely disinterested in the proceedings throughout her apathetic loss to unseeded Austrian Sybille Bammer. To be fair to Eva, she had won a tough three set battle with Janet Lee yesterday, and might have been fatigued.
We were more impressed by Birnerova’s linguistic prowess than her tennis. At one point Bammer thought the umpire called the wrong score, cheating her out of a point. Birnerova stepped in to back up the umpire’s version, explaining to Bammer in Sybille’s native German how each point went. The Austrian was satisfied with the point-by-point replay given by her opponent.
Bammer, a stern-looking blonde Austrian lefty, would appear to have a great tennis name, along the lines of Anna Smashnova. Note, however, that her surname is pronounced like “Bomber“… Which is still pretty good! Bammer will challenge fellow qualifier Angelika Roesch in the first round of the main draw.
Samantha Stosur (24th seed) def. Iveta Benesova, 6-3, 6-4
Just two days ago, 20-year-old Czech Iveta Benesova was happily holding up the winner’s trophy in Acapulco, after winning the Mexican Open title as a qualifier. But the left-hander from the Bohemian city of Most had little time to savour her triumph. Two days later it was back to the grind, and Iveta had the arduous task of winning two matches today to qualify for the main draw.
Benesova passed the first test, cruising past an overmatched Ivana Abramovic, 6-4, 6-2. After a rest of about three hours, Benesova’s second match -- her 10th in 12 days -- began. Iveta’s opponent was a tougher one this time, the fourth qualifying seed out of Australia, Samantha Stosur. The hard-serving, 18-year-old Aussie had drawn notice earlier this year, when she reached the semifinals of the Gold Coast tournament in her home country, upsetting seeded favourites Meghann Shaughnessy and Magui Serna en route.
Benesova appeared a bit weary in this second encounter, arriving late to the ball an many occasions and making tired-looking errors. As well as Stosur was taking care of her own serve (her second serve, with plenty of pace and kick, is as impressive a weapon as her first-serve blasts), Benesova’s lost service games were fatal.
Stosur’s big game, which in addition to that powerful serve also features a potent forehand, can worry anyone when it is clicking. Samantha’s challenge in the main draw will be Sandra Kleinova. As for the weary Benesova, she can rest up for Miami, which starts in two weeks. Unless… cancel that flight, Iveta! Because of Chanda Rubin’s late withdrawal (left knee inflammation), Benesova is in the main draw despite today‘s loss, as a “lucky loser“. Her first round opponent will be Emmanuelle Gagliardi, a semifinalist here two years ago. Unfortunately for Benesova she will not have a day to rest, as the match is scheduled for tomorrow at high noon.
Rubin was one of three big names to announce that they would be unable to compete in Indian Wells. The others were David Nalbandian (ankle) and Goran Ivanisevic (back).
And the other happy qualifiers are…
Barbora Strycova (15th seed) (def. Conchita Martinez Granados, 6-3, 6-2) -- will play wild card Angela Haynes
Strycova is another one of those former top juniors. We were surprised to see the powerful build she has developed -- her legs are like tree trunks. Conchita Martinez Granados, whose major role today seemed to be to confuse spectators who thought the similarly-named 1994 Wimbledon champion was playing qualies, was no match for the 2003 Australian Open girls’ champion.
Shenay Perry (13th seed) (def. Julie Ditty, 6-3, 6-1) -- will play Julia Vakulenko
Angelika Roesch (def. Stéphanie Foretz, 6-2, 6-3) -- will play fellow qualifier Sybille Bammer
Marissa Irvin (def. Christina Fusano, 6-3, 6-4) -- will play wild card Jamea Jackson
Marta Marrero (10th seed) (def. Anne Yelsey, 6-0, 6-0) -- will play fellow Spaniard Arantxa Parra
Alina Jidkova (7th seed) (def. Yulia Beygelzimer, 6-2, 6-2) -- will play Milagros Sequera
Gisela Dulko (1st seed) (def. Severine Beltrame, 7-6(3), 6-4) -- will play Klara Koukalova
Antonella Serra-Zanetti (12th seed) (def. Lilia Osterloh, 7-6(5), 6-4) -- will play fellow Italian Rita Grande
Silvija Talaja (3rd seed) (def. Julia Schruff, 6-3, 6-4) -- will play Anne Kremer
Tomorrow women’s main draw play begins, as does men’s qualifying. Another featured event is a media scrum with the top eight women’s seeds, an initiative the WTA calls “All-Access Hour”. If we survive the elbowing and jostling of our fellow scribes, On the Line will be on the spot throughout the coming fortnight for daily reports from the California desert.