Ok people, this is my first ever WTAWorld tournament report, coming to you live from Birmingham on Wednesday the 8th of June. Well what can I say? I had a great time - sitting in the sun all day and watching fit and scantily-clad young women play high-quality grass court tennis, it doesn't get much better than that does it? A good time was had by all. Well that's it, thanks for reading, see you next year. Just kidding - here come the juicy bits.
Well despite Birmingham city's best efforts to confuse my sense of direction, I managed to navigate my way from the station to the Priory Club on foot, arriving at about 11:30 just as play was getting under way. The first thing I saw upon entering the grounds was Virginie Razzano
, all 6-foot-something of her, live and in the flesh, right in front of me on the practise court. This was quite a shock to the system as (a) I had not seen a real live tennis player in a couple of years and (b) Virginie is a more striking figure in real life than in photos.
Having survived my initial Razzanization, I wandered into the grounds to see what tennis was on. Before the day I had felt disappointed by today's OOP; it seemed like the interesting players had either lost earlier (Schaul, Kremer, Groenefeld, Jidkova) or were being rested (Sharapova, Jankovic) leaving only boring mid-tournament filler. In fact the only players I was looking forward to seeing were Asagoe, Hantuchova, Kirilenko and Vaidisova. Well. I ended up getting much more than I had hoped for. First of all I sat down to watch Asagoe-Tu. As expected, Asagoe looked the better grass player and won the first set easily as Tu dumped a string of awful-looking backhands into the net using a variety of ugly techniques. In the second, Tu came out swinging much more aggressively, got an early break and held on to it for a close 6-4. But her momentum faded in the third and Shinobu wrapped it up (6-1 4-6 6-1), although I didn't really see this as I had moved over to see Kirilenko-Jackson (although I could still hear the screams of rage coming from Tu). When Asagoe-Tu finished they got swamped by like 30 nasty little schoolkids wanting autographs.
I expected Maria to dominate here, but it was not the case. Jackson was on fire and blasting the hell out of the ball with deep penetrating groundies. Maria was mis-hitting a lot or not really finding her timing. She kept trying but was not able to put up much resistance, however credit must be given for her cool head and professional attitude on court - even though she was losing, she took it like a pro and accepted the poor result (6-2 6-3). She showed no anger, but departed quickly at the end of the match, ignoring the lone autograph hunter.
While watching this I really should have tried to see more of the Stephanie Foretz match going on next door. I've always liked her and was pleased to see the result go her way, even though I only saw a couple of points. Have to make an effort to see her at Wimbledon. Soon after that, Els Callens waltzed in looking very sporty and athletic, and sporting even shorter hair than usual which made her look a bit like a lesbian.
Then to my surprise, along came cute little Marion Bartoli (cute in a schoolgirl way) with her Dad, in a very colourful costume (her, not her Dad) featuring lots of bright pink, orange, green, and orange shoes that looked like a 10-year-old's
. I was star-struck again to see Marion sitting right in the midst of the sunburnt British punters. They watched the matches closely, then her Dad left and Marion brought her tennis bag over and started putting on these compression sock things between her socks and her shoes. I have never seen these before. For the next half hour she kept coming and going with her stuff, as if she didn't know what court she was meant to be playing on. She came back later wearing a different pair of shoes for her match, so I guess the bright orange ones were either uncomfortable or banned by the tournament director
By this time I was concentrating on Vaidisova-Daniilidou. From what I had heard I was expecting Nicole to win this but Eleni's grass prowess eventually shone through. Nicole was definitely the better mover and was trying to mix it up a bit to get Eleni off balance, but in the process was mis-hitting a fair few balls. Eleni, on the other hand, was just keeping it simple and whacking one powerful, penetrating groundstroke after another. She has a lovely backhand. In the end it was her consistent power advantage that gave her the edge over Vaidisova (6-4 6-2), who was getting visibly annoyed with herself and seemed to give up towards the end. Eleni was receiving strong vocal support from a black girl, could've been Jamea Jackson from earlier but I may be wrong, and an attractive and very blonde Spanish-speaking girl who I assumed was a trainer (does Eleni train in Spain, mainly on the plain?
). Maria Sanchez Lorenzo was there watching too, and another girl I didn't recognise, although come to think of it she could actually have been Arantxa Parra (which would make sense).
From time to time my attention was drawn to the Stosur-Dominikovic match nearby, which I was trying to avoid because I can't stand either of them. It turned out to be a really weird match - Dominikovic started off stinking the whole place up with an awful warm-up and continued until she was 0-5 down... it looked like Stosur would blow her off the court in half an hour but the whole match turned on its head and Stosur went 0-4 down in the second. Then in the final set it turned into some really intense, high-quality tennis from both women, with huge rallies going all over the court, up until 6-6, and then Stosur won the TB which I didn't really see. Crazy stuff (6-1 1-6 7-6). Meanwhile Mr Bean, who I had spotted earlier eating a plate of fish and stinking the whole place up like the Aussies' tennis skills, was overheard trying to pronounce Dominikovic's name. He started undressing as well, not really surprising as he was wearing a thick coat in boiling sunshine! Later on I heard him mention with disappointment that he had only taken 6 photos of Tatiana Golovin.
After some spectators left their seats, an Italian boy and girl came to sit right in front of me and watch Daniilidou. I suspected she was a player but I didn't know who (I now believe it was Roberta Vinci). They were soon joined by a perky young blonde and their coaches, and started chatting. Soon I guessed that the blonde was none other than... Maria Elena Camerin! I have always liked Camerin despite never having seen a photo of her, so it was quite a shock to see how different she was in person to how I imagined her. Let's put it this way: she is a sexy little minx!
And vivacious too - I had always imagined her as a quiet girl. Soon another Italian arrived, again one I couldn't place but I suspected it could be one of the Serra-Zanettis. I was right: Google Image Search confirms it was Adriana. Anyway this tightly-knit bunch were having a good old gossip together about the Pratt-Sugiyama match... Roberta was pretty quiet but Maria Elena was chirpy and Adriana was talkative in a more mature way. I don't speak much Italian so I didn't understand all of what they were saying, but I'm sure I heard something along the lines of "Pratt"..."vestiti"..."sbaglio"... whatever that means... They were also having a good guffaw when Stosur plonked an overhead straight into the net.
By this time I was feeling like a bit of a babe-magnet as all of the fit women had seemingly gravitated towards me: Camerin (especially), Bartoli, Jackson and her friend, this really hot tournament organiser woman (the blonde one), the red-headed photographer woman and even a couple of hippy-chic styled English girls.
During all this, a girl in black lycra came and sat down next to me. I couldn't recognize her at all, she looked very young with gingerish hair and a lot of freckles. My best guess is Natalie Grandin, who was beaten earlier on centre court, but this girl did not look 24. Anyway she was speaking to her French coach in a mixture of French and English with a strange accent and a dopey manner as if she had just been hit on the head by a Serena Williams drive volley. The coach was trying to get her to come to the gym but she had just eaten (I think her exact words were "J'ai mangé une potato")
Anybody know if this could be Grandin or are there any other young, possibly American-sounding girls with French connections playing here?
After that I went back to the practise courts and saw Carly Gullickson practising with (I think) Anna Chakvetadze and a coach. Carly was hitting some serves and seemed to be playing pretty badly (more on her later).