AIG JAPAN OPEN (Tokyo, Japan; hard; WTA Tier III)
On-court - Tatiana Golovin and Nicole Vaidišová:
Search Getty Images
(select "Tokyo [Japan Open]")
+ TATIANA GOLOVIN  d. Abigail Spears, 6-4 6-2
: "I lost to her early this year at the Australian Open, so I knew it was going to be a tough match. She doesn't make too many mistakes and doesn't let you step in too much, so you can't get your rhythm. But I'm excited to win my first match because last year, I lost early.
"I served very well today; got a lot of first serves in. My serve is becoming a big part of my game now, and I hope it continues that way."
+ TATIANA GOLOVIN  d. Saori Obata [WC], 6-1 6-4
Tatiana before the match: "I don't know how she plays. She seemed to have an easy first-round win, so I expect a tough match."
Obata is a left-handed player who just stands behind the baseline and hits moonballs all day, feeding off her opponent's unforced errors. In my 13 years of following professional tennis, I've never seen a more boring player than Obata, so it's only right that Tatiana should dismiss her with ease.
+ TATIANA GOLOVIN  d. AI SUGIYAMA , 3-6 6-2 6-2
: "She put me under pressure right away in the first set. She was playing very aggressively. I was a little distracted also; that was a match that I would have lost last year, but now I was more focused, so I'm proud of myself that I was able to win.
"She's such a fighter. With her, you know it's not over until the last point. She moves very well, and it's hard to get the ball past her. My serve was the key again."
: "I started well in the first set, taking the ball on the rise and keeping a fast pace, but at the end of the first set, she started to catch up. I tried to stay aggressive, but in the third set I couldn't get my rhythm and wasn't able to be aggressive, which is my game."
Tatiana now has a 6-0 record in quarter-finals for 2005, but was 0-5 in semi-finals prior to this tournament [Gold Coast, Paris, Charleston, Birmingham, Seoul].
+ TATIANA GOLOVIN  d. SANIA MIRZA , 6-2 6-4
Tatiana before the match: "I haven't really seen her play. I watched a little of her match today when I was waiting to go on. I know she hits a lot of winners and really goes for her shots, so she's going to be tough.
"She beat Zvonarëva so she must be in shape and motivated. It will be important for me to be aggressive and keep playing the way I've been playing - stay focused and keep fighting."
Vera Zvonarëva is a member of my eternal fanship, so it's cool to see that Tatiana still considers Vera a significant obstacle despite Vera's slump this year (due to a viral infection; Vera's also just coming back from a seven-week layoff with a left-ankle sprain).
The match itself
Tatiana coped with windy conditions better than Sania, and sealed the first set with a "stunning drive from outside the right tramlines".
Tatiana could easily have won 6-2 6-0, as she had two match-points with Sania serving at 0-5 15/40. But "Mirza stepped up her game and began to paint the lines with her trademark blazing winners, especially on the forehand.
"Golovin was having increasing trouble reading Mirza's game when rain stopped play as the retractable roof over centre court was closed and the court was dried. When play resumed, Mirza picked up where she left off and won two more games to be back on serve at 4-5.
"But Mirza slumped to 15/40 in her next service game, and Golovin only needed one of those two match-points to reach the final as Mirza hit a loose forehand that sailed over the baseline."
"It was definitely tense. I had my chances at 5-0, but she played great to get those games. I just stayed in it and fought back and am happy to have gotten through.
"You never know what's going to happen against a player like her. She hits her forehand so hard, so I tried to mix it up and not give her much pace, step in when I had to and put pressure on her. She eventually broke down and starting making more unforced errors.
"The wind affected both of us, but I think I dealt with it a little better.
"It's always exciting to play in front of fans who really get into the match, even if it wasn't for me. And it kind of helps because when they were screaming 'Sania, Sania,' I was thinking 'Tania, Tania'!"
"I'm really happy... it's going to be really exciting tomorrow."
"She was retrieving the balls so well. I started well, but then it got windy, and I think she adjusted to the conditions better than me. She was hitting winners and played a solid match.
"I don't think I played badly. When I had two match-points against me, I played like I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to get a game, and then I saw an opening. At 5-4, it could have gone either way, but then I made a couple of loose shots.
"It's always good to have a crowd behind you. It certainly pumps you up. I'm sorry if I let them down, but I'll be back and hope to do better."
I wish Tokyo were in Birmingham. Then perhaps I could have gone to see the flairsomely-talented Tatiana Golovin and Nicole Vaidišová - arguably the two leading candidates for possible induction into my eternal fanship - play each other in a mouthwatering final, rather than just following it on the Internet.
But the outcome was a desperately sad one:
+ NICOLE VAIDIŠOVÁ  d. TATIANA GOLOVIN ,
7-6 (7/4) *3-2 (30/15) retired (left-Achilles tendonitis)
This is the worst news I've ever heard about Tatiana. She's been struggling with a right-ankle sprain since May, but that was hardly a career-threatening injury. However, to hear that she's having problems with her Achilles tendon (on her other foot) means living in constant fear of a partial rupture - the injury that ended Karina Habšudová's career so abruptly in 2002. I can only pray that this won't happen to Tatiana while she's still so tragically young.
It was Nicole and Tatiana's second head-to-head - the first was at this very tournament last year, when Nicole upset Tatiana 6-4 3-6 6-4 in the first round (much to my disappointment at the time).
: "Last year, I lost to Nicole, but I think people would say that Nicole and I are not playing the same tennis that we played last year. We're more mature and confident. It was my first year on the WTA Tour, and I think I'm much more different now.
"Tomorrow's match will definitely be different than last year's. People will see how much we improved. It will be a new match between two totally different players."
"I'm feeling good going into the final. I know it's going to be tough. Nicole is kind of on a roll and has a lot of confidence, so I will have to play great tennis."
: "I'm definitely excited to be in the final tomorrow, and I'll give it my best. She's a good player, so it's going to be a tough match."
It was the second final of Tatiana's career - after Birmingham 2004 (against Maria Sharapova), which I had the very great pleasure of attending in person.
The match itself
The match started at 11:10 Japanese time. I followed live scores on the Internet; here are my comments as I wrote them at the time:
GOLOVIN _*__@* * * * 6(4)
VAIDIŠO * *@__* * *_ 7(7)
Nicole serving 0-0: held to love.
Nicole has a huge serve (and forehand), so if she can hold serve reliably, Tatiana will be under immense pressure to hold hers.
Tatiana serving 0-1: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, held.
A very quick start to the match (4m).
Nicole serving 1-1: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, held.
Tatiana serving 1-2: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad T, Deuce #2, ad N (BP), broken.
Oh dear. That could be a very big blow against Tatiana - psychologically too, as she was a point ahead four times in that game.
It can't be easy for Tatiana to be playing a 16-year-old (Nicole is 15 months younger than Tatiana) who already has three WTA singles titles to her name, while Tatiana is still seeking her first.
Nicole serving 3-1: 0/30, 15/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad T (BP), broken.
A champion's response from Tatiana - breaking back immediately (and how I would love to see Tatiana become a champion, as Nicole is already).
Tatiana serving 2-3: 0/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), 30/40, 40/40, ad T, held.
Now it's Nicole struggling to take her opportunities - losing two games that she had game-points in.
Nicole serving 3-3: 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs) -> 40/40, ad N, held.
An important hold for Nicole to steady the ship. Two breaks in a row would have turned the momentum firmly in Tatiana's favour.
Tatiana serving 3-4: 40/0, 40/15, held.
We certainly seem to have a match worthy of the girls who are arguably the two leading candidates for the next place in my eternal fanship.
Nicole serving 4-4: 15/15, 40/15 -> 40/40, ad N, held.
Now we're at the business-end of the first set, this is where the advantage of serving first comes into its own - no room for Tatiana to have another bad service-game.
Tatiana serving to stay in the first set at 4-5: 0/15, 30/15, 30/30, 30/40 (SP), 40/40, ad T, held.
It feels like Nicole has the edge while Tatiana is hanging on to this set for dear life. I get the feeling that a victory for Nicole is almost inevitable, but Tatiana can be proud of the way she's competed so far.
Nicole serving 5-5: 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs) -> 40/40, ad N, held.
Neither girl is a mental giant, so it will be fascinating to see who reacts better to their missed opportunities. Nicole has the advantage of titles under her belt, while Tati loves to choke.
Tatiana serving to stay in the first set at 5-6: 15/15, 40/15, held.
6-6 tiebreak: Tatiana *1/0, *1/1; Nicole *2/1, *3/1, 4/1*, 4/2*, *5/2, *6/2 (4 SPs), 6/3*, 6/4*, Nicole won the first set 7-6 (7/4) at 12:05 (55m).
It feels to me like this set ran out of score before the competition really resolved itself, but I fear it will be a very tall order for Tatiana to bounce back from losing this long, tough set, on which she will have used up so much emotional energy (losing the first set on a tiebreak was always the toughest situation for me when I used to play tennis - I would always lose the second set 6-0 after that). At least she'll have the advantage of serving first in the second set.
: "In an evenly contested match, the players traded breaks in the middle of the first set to reach 6-6. Golovin was able to predict Vaidišová's shots and hit winners, but Vaidišová's big serve was key in winning the tie-break, repeatedly putting Golovin on the defensive."
GOLOVIN *___* 2 retired
VAIDIŠO _*@*_ 3
Tatiana serving 0-0: 0/30, 15/30, 40/30, held.
Nicole serving 1-0: held to love.
Tatiana serving 1-1: 15/0, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken.
A set and a break for Nicole - has this contest turned into a procession?
Nicole serving 2-1: 40/0, 40/15, held.
Something's going on here - has the scoreboard frozen, or is it a medical timeout? Tatiana took a timeout for her right foot (she's been struggling with an ankle-sprain since May, and it's still
heavily bandaged) when Maria Sharapova led 7-5 3-0 in their Birmingham 2005 semi-final.
I later found out that Tatiana's timeout was for a broken toenail on her left foot, and that her Achilles tendon stiffened up while she was sitting there.
Tatiana serving 1-3: 0/15, 30/15, held.
Nicole serving 3-2: 0/15, 15/15, 30/15, Tatiana retired at 12:34 (1h 24m).
What a desperately sad way for this mouthwatering match to end - especially with it being a final. First the Super Maria Sisters' Beijing semi-final, and now this!
"It was a good match and it could have gone either way, but I've had this problem with my Achilles tendon since the US Open. I have had treatment on it and it got better, but I wasn't able to walk, I'm limping.
"After the last few matches I've been waking up with a lot of pain. But I was still able to get through the matches as I didn't feel it that much. Today I really had no choice [but to stop].
"It didn't feel that bad this morning, and I thought that it would be okay. The last three days, I've been feeling pain, but I think the adrenaline keeps you going and you sort of forget about it.
"But after I sat down [for the medical timeout], I really felt it and just couldn't go on. I'm sad that I couldn't play. Unfortunately, if it's your Achilles, you feel it all the time; it's not a special movement.
"This is my first retirement and hopefully my last because you feel so bad, especially because you just want to keep playing.
"I was kind of ready for how she plays. I could pick up a few things about her game, and just had to take more advantage of the chances that I had, but I got tired and made some unforced errors. I tried not to give her too many angles, but she can get to every ball with her long arms and legs. I tried to hit to her body and keep it deep.
"I'm very happy with the way I played this week. I had a lot of good matches and gained a lot of confidence. I think I played a great set and half, and did the right things on court. It was nice to come back and do better after last year, so I can now take back some good memories, and hopefully I'll be back next year."
"I played a pretty good match, but I feel really sorry we couldn't finish it. I'm sad for Tatiana. The first set was really tight, but I was confident I could close it out. So I was hoping it would turn into a good match with a good finish, but it didn't turn out that way.
"She played a pretty good match, but it's a sad final - hopefully she'll get better and play her next tournament.
"I hope that I would have won anyway, and I think I could have closed it out, but those are just 'maybes.' I thought she was moving really well and got to a lot of balls. I hope that we'll meet again in a final.
"I'm definitely happy. It's great to win two titles this year and two in a row. And it's nice to upgrade [to my first Tier III].
"I think I've been playing more steadily this year. Last year, I would have a good week, then a bad one, but I think this year, I've improved my consistency. I know there is a lot to improve, but I'm happy with my progress so far."
Dr. Andrew Broad