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Old Feb 5th, 2010, 11:11 PM   #1
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Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

The structure of this tie and its scoring are positively retarded, and that goes a way towards explaining the random results.

It's played in an ugly ass barn with makeshift air conditioning, but I was expecting worse in terms of accomodation. Segregated boxes and posh bar for the suits, slimy kegger on a trailer for the hoi polloi as usual - o ténis assim nasceu e assim há de morrer ("this was how tennis was born and it will die the same").

Overall experience: meh. I get tired of watching tennis from a lateral stand after a while. You get only a very approximate idea of shot placement and point construction. There's a reason for TV cameras to be placed where they are in televised events. Very nice day, quite sunny and warm for early February. Best part of the day was visiting the (almost entirely empty) Estoril Open venue during lunch break, and having lunch in the stands of Centralito. Maybe it's all the fond memories of the past 4 years, but I doubt I would enjoy the Estoril Open as much if it was held elsewhere. The venue really is cosy and simply delightful.

Halep d. Koehler

Got there late because I chose the scenic route. First played I bumped into was Bammer, The Conqueror of Serena Williams.

I think it was 3*-2 Halep or something like that when I got in.

Not the ideal match to draw conclusions about Halep's game. I mean, I could say "Haha she couldn't even hit through slowpoke Koehler", but she had no need to do so. Similarly, her serve on this match was nearly always a well placed slider to both the ad and the deuce court, but maybe she was just trying to take advantage of what she perceived to be Koehler's inferior BH ROS. She did surprise Koehler on a couple of occasions with a flat serve down the T to the deuce court.

Anyway, whether this is how Halep usually plays or just her game plan for today considering the weaknesses of her opponent (an inconsistent shotmaker), it went thusly: Halep played from deep behind the baseline, and hits with a lot of topspin (of the loopy, girly variety, not the vicious kind ATPers and say Kuznetsova use) off both sides; her deep topspin CC FH is perhaps her best shot, but she has no real weapons and doesn't go for winners. She leans into her BH well to take it early at times, but still fails to generate much pace. Her ROS was sometimes a block/chip, but she stepped inside the court to have a go at Koehler's 2nd serves (which was just about the only time she was aggressive throughout the match).

Koehler is my favourite Portuguese player - which isn't saying much BTW. She's a well built lefty shotmaker with a good serve and commendable aggressive instincts (steps inside the court to dictate, can use her serve to set up quick 1-2 points). She's both more reliable and resourceful from her FH side; her BH DTL is a risky shot, but it's often the one that allows her to take over the rallies. But she has little control over her BH overall; she avoids hitting it whenever possible. Her footwork remains incipient, and above all she lost many games in which she had GP or (less often) BP; she becomes erratic as soon as she finds herself with a lead, no matter how insignificant.

After this was over, I went to Court 1, which also has some makeshift stands of the kind built in the outside courts of the Estoril Open, to watch a couple of games of Klepac vs a Bulgarian with reddish hair named Pavlova Dimitrova. Lots of junk, both players rushing the net. Fun, but more like a pratice session than a match.

Dulgheru d. Micaela Carolina

Dulgheru does absolutely nothing on the court, so the flow of any match she plays depends entirely on her opponents' performance level. And since Micaela Carolina ranged from dismal to dazzling, we got this rollercoaster score.

Micaela Carolina's problems remain the same: having no serve (no service motion to speak off, all arm, just gets it in - when it does go in - without spin or placement) might not have been a problem in say 1993, but nowadays it's a massive liability. She plays in autopilot and thus takes no advantage of her opponent's weaknesses (in Dulgheru's case, deep shots to her FH side); she doesn't have overwhelming firepower, so she can only win points by both taking risks with shot placement and by cranking up the pace of the rally, gradually hitting harder and harder until her opponent can't keep up with her, which is both risky and draining. And a player of below average size such as her simply has to learn how to play at least a modicum of defense.

Her BH was completely off during the 1st set and she struggled to win any point at all. In the 2nd, she finally found the range on her shots and began forcing Dulgheru to move from side to side like a windshield wiper; Dulgheru took to stalling to try to break Micaela Carolina's momentum (of which I loudly complained to the chair ump, to the apparent astonishment of everybody else in the crowd), but still ended up losing the set. Won the 3rd mostly by moonballing (!). Small wonder she has been struggling so much at the WTA MD level.

Dulgheru always plays the same. Her scooped up FH and block BH with no follow through à la Cornet are awful to look at. She sometimes gets a bit creative with her junk, but not often enough to make her retriever-ish game watchable.

Silva/Koehler d. Olaru/Begu

Watched most of the 2nd; the Portuguese saved SPs, IIRC; I wasn't paying much attention to the score (I thought it was a 3rd set rather than a 2nd up until I got home and checked the scores). Silva played awful, and her bunted BH is useless. Feisty Koehler willed the team to the win. Begu, who I had never seen before, not even in photos (to the extent that I even doubted her existence), is tall and has a good serve.

I then went back to Court 1 to see with my own eyes that legend of the game Yvonne Meusburger and her mighty shots. She was whomping a Bosnian player named Husaric.

Grage d. Marcinkevica

First set only; I had to leave at 18:00 GMT at the latest. I expected this to be dire, but after the first couple of games it wasn't so bad. Lots of CC FH exchanges; the best shot of both players I assume. Funny returning stance from Marcinkevica. Grage is stick thin. She quickly noticed that Marcinkevica was completely off and began keeping the ball in play more.

A kid asked Malou for an autograph - mistaking her for Wozniacki?

Wozniacki was in the stands with her father. I think she may be slightly taller than her official height. Very pretty from up close too (we walked past each other as I was leaving).
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Old Feb 5th, 2010, 11:19 PM   #2
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

Nice. Thanks.
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Old Feb 6th, 2010, 05:38 AM   #3
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

You leaving and me arriving. Got there late as hell, but still in time to watch Wozniacki - Sevastova. Sevastova had some great shots but failed emotionally, assuming she'd be beaten by the danish as soon as Caro got the first break. Always very cool, Sevastova just played her game but never got it going. Wozniacki was in a hurry, maybe not to get worse on her condition because after the big plays she'd always has for time just to regain composure. Was picky as hell, always complaining to the ref about the shots that went out. As in the first day, i was shocked with the quantity of cameras in the stands.
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Old Feb 6th, 2010, 12:48 PM   #4
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

The Halep FH wasn't Cornet loopy was it? When I watched her it seemed to be a massive shot that really went through the court very effectively.
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Old Feb 6th, 2010, 10:01 PM   #5
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

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Estoril Open venue [...] really is cosy and simply delightful.
Except for Court Central, which stripped of its stands looks quite bleak - just an isolated empty court in the middle of a parking lot lined with puddles.

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The Halep FH wasn't Cornet loopy was it? When I watched her it seemed to be a massive shot that really went through the court very effectively.
Halep wasn't aggressive and didn't go for her shots, but then again she didn't need to. But "massive" shot? It looked like CSN's, but with even less pace. Lack of bewb power?

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Old Feb 6th, 2010, 10:10 PM   #6
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

I took more notes today than yesterday, even though I found it even harder to keep track of scores (too much noise, scoreboards the size of postage stamps). I'll try to post a digest of them tomorrow.

For now:

Keothavong played top 10 (yes, top 10 - not that it means much in these dark days) tennis for 3-4 games in the 2nd set.

Rus - flat out retriever; it has to be seen to be believed.

O'Brien - tries her darnedest to be a ballbasher, but the only ballbasher trait she succeeds in replicating is the stratospheric UE count.

Meusburger is a bit of a goofball.

Klemenschits has the most beautiful eyes.

Mayr has the most generic, ordinary game imaginable.

Evtimova - pocket Dentoni.
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Old Feb 6th, 2010, 10:26 PM   #7
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

WHEN YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT THE SHITE LIVESCORING, YOU'RE HATING ON THIS POOR GIRL WHO IS JUST DOING HER BEST, YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS

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Old Feb 7th, 2010, 08:36 AM   #8
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

I sympathise with the poor girl . Is court central really in the middle of a parking lot? No permanent stands at all? I suppose no one sees it since they would be covered with stands during the tournaments, but once the stands are down that must look kind of odd.
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Old Feb 7th, 2010, 08:33 PM   #9
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

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I sympathise with the poor girl . Is court central really in the middle of a parking lot? No permanent stands at all? I suppose no one sees it since they would be covered with stands during the tournaments, but once the stands are down that must look kind of odd.
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Old Feb 7th, 2010, 11:34 PM   #10
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

Day 2. Got there more or less at the same time I did on Friday.

Keothavong d. Ewijk

Yesterday I had seen mostly the same old clay tennis that seems to be near standard issue at this level played on hardcourt, but this was much more of a fast indoor, first strike match. The first 3-4 games I saw were highly entertaining, with some good serving and big winners from both players. But the quality of the match decreased steadily as the 1st set went along.

Ewijk was up 4-1 in the 1st, but then Keothavong took the lead; served for the set twice, and twice got broken. On to a TB, with Ewijk throwing away a big lead (5-3 or maybe even 5-2), and then the set itself by DFing when SP down.

Ewijk, with a terracotta deep tan on her legs and wearing shoes that looked like they had survived many epic battles on clay challengers, seemed to have a decent serve and to be a solid hitter - more powerful than you'd expect from a Challenger level player (although a good one - I knew her ranking used to be much higher than it is now). She handled Keothavong's pace well for the most, but hit too many random errors, particularly from the BH side.

Keothavong played the biggest game by far of all the players I saw on this tie. She went for broke with her serve and flattened out her FH with good effect - remarkable from such a lightly built player; she generates pace exclusively through good timing and flat hitting. She looked rusty on ROS (particularly from the FH side), and was slow to react whenever Ewijk had a go at her serve. Some glitches in her footwork, and she seemed to "rein in" (so to speak) her BH a few times, as if she lacked confidence in it. On the 2nd game of the 2nd set, she got crossed at the chair umpire (countless howlers from the linespeople over the two days I was there) and addressed him as "buddy". So odd hearing a perfect British accent in a Tour where pidgin, mangled English is the common language.

Keothavong was threatened on serve at 2*-2, but dug herself out with some good serving, and from then on loosened up and just went for it. Ewijk never knew what hit her - Keothavong won a bunch of consecutive points with dazzling winners. The crowd was

Rus d. O'Brien

Rus came across as underpowered and passive - and this was before she began moonballing.

Rus may be tall, but she's extremely slight - as in A. Radwanska slight, if not more. She hits a reasonably deep ball without much pace (zero racquethead speed) with remarkable consistency and scrambles very well for her size, scooping the ball up when necessary and getting a lot of balls back. Her serve is unreliable, and her wristy FH is her shot of choice. It's very odd seeing a player with her build play like a flat out retriever the way she does. O'Brien bossed her around from start to finish.

Like I said above, O'Brien tries really hard to impersonate a ballbasher, but with limited success. She hits nearly every shot as hard as she can (she gets excellent racquethead speed on both sides; her compact FH is quite a slap on the ball), but she's very erratic (I lost track of how many standard rally BHs she netted), even though she doesn't seem to go for the lines/take risks with shot placement. Her serve isn't bad when it clicks, considering her size; her 2nd serve is very gutsy.

The 3rd set was a riot. Rus wasted a big lead and a bunch of MPs as she did absolutely nothing to win them. There was choking aplenty, and crazy moonballing.

Larsson d. Mayr

This was the only match held in Court 1 I watched over the two days I attended.

I watched this match right next to the (noisy) Austrian team. The crowd at Court Central was into the Netherlands/UK doubles being played at the time as if it was a Slam final, judging by the noise.

Just before the match, I saw that near the access to Court 2, a little girl approached Bulgaria's Pavlova Dimitrova and asked for an autograph. Pavlova Dimitrova signed, and as the little girl walked away the Bulgarian put on a funny smile as if thinking "Did she even know who I am?".

Mayr has an extremely ordinary, generic game, to the extent that I find it difficult to come up with a description. She's a puffballer without any weapons; her FH sorely lacks depth, and her least bad shot is probably the BH DTL.

As for Larsson, she was very composed throughout, won the points that mattered, and took advantage of Mayr throwing away a couple of games with errors; she gifted Mayr an early break in the 2nd, but didn't let that get to her. Her game is odd - she plays from WAY behind the baseline, but that didn't pose that many problems for her as Mayr doesn't open angles, and used dropshots no more than a couple of times. Both her strokes are unorthodox: she generates racquethead speed on the FH through a wild last minute wrist snap, and sets up her BH very early, arms fully outstretched during the takeback (yet it doesn't look stiff or ungainly, like say Rybarikova's - go figure). Since Mayr hits with so little pace, her movement and footwork weren't really tested, and she was allowed to go for her shots, which she hit with remarkable consistency. Her serve would qualify as decent/good at any level; she has an old skool motion, reminiscent of Soderling's, that allows for a very good extension. She hits the serve very well out wide to both sides, and can hit a genuine high bouncing kicker to the ad side.

As I was leaving and walking past the Swedish team, I noticed that ultrablonde Allgurin in her microshorts had just stood up and all the dudes were looking around embarrassed as if they were afraid of being caught staring at her.

Evtimova d. Silva

There was overbooking it seems, and when I tried to return to the main court spectators were only being allowed in in trickles. The 2nd set had just started when I managed to get in.

The only available seats were those the usherettes were kind enough to vacate, right behind the Portuguese team. From there I could see next to nothing. My impression was that Evtimova, a very slender player, plays much like Corinna Dentoni, including in her propensity to rush the net to try to finish off points - with a fairly low rate of success. Neuza Silva was playing horribly. Too many singles + doubles matches in too few days, I guess; she seemed mentally shot, and again her BH was useless - that slice doesn't even stay low.
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Old Feb 8th, 2010, 03:40 PM   #11
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

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Oh I see. I suppose they take that fence down when they build the stadium? I suppose they might build around it... but it does look a bit lonely like that. Nice background though, with the greenery etc.

Nice to hear that Anne Keothavong is playing better. I guess Rus is another example of why people shouldn't get so hyped up about top juniors. Often they win simply by spending so many hours on the court that they don't miss much anymore and consequently beat more talented players who have not yet mastered their games. So many top juniors really have unimpressive shots with little racquetspeed. Then again I suppose playing this kind of game is not too bad on the women's tour at the moment, since most players are not good enough to punish puffballs.

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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 09:58 AM   #12
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

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Oh I see. I suppose they take that fence down when they build the stadium? I suppose they might build around it... but it does look a bit lonely like that. Nice background though, with the greenery etc.
Yes, the fence is taken down and large (capacity 6.700) makeshift stands are built around it over that strip of gravel. The tarmac where I was standing when I took the photo stretches away to the left and is where the sponsors' tents and snack bars are set up during the tournament.

It doesn't look too bad when it's up; in fact, I remember people either here or at MTF listing the Court Central of the Estoril Open as one of the most beautiful in the world. There's even more greenery to the right (unseen), which towers above the top level of the stands, with a grove of colossal eucalyptus trees right behind where I was when I snapped the pic, and just beyond the naked tree in the middle distance there's a (clean) creek which runs throughout the year.

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I guess Rus is another example of why people shouldn't get so hyped up about top juniors. Often they win simply by spending so many hours on the court that they don't miss much anymore and consequently beat more talented players who have not yet mastered their games. So many top juniors really have unimpressive shots with little racquetspeed. Then again I suppose playing this kind of game is not too bad on the women's tour at the moment, since most players are not good enough to punish puffballs.
The current situation is odd. The set of skills required to succeed in juniors and at the elite level in the pros are now completely different, but since the kind of game that brings early success (and early endorsements) will also be more than enough to crack the top 100 (or the top 3 ) and allow to make a more than decent living, it seems everyone settles for mediocrity, with nobody thinking of the long term - and of winning big.
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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 10:51 AM   #13
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

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It doesn't look too bad when it's up; in fact, I remember people either here or at MTF listing the Court Central of the Estoril Open as one of the most beautiful in the world. There's even more greenery to the right (unseen), which towers above the top level of the stands, with a grove of colossal eucalyptus trees right behind where I was when I snapped the pic, and just beyond the naked tree in the middle distance there's a (clean) creek which runs throughout the year.
Sounds really lovely . I wonder how New Zealand scenery compares. Unfortunately even though our stadium courts are on the edge of the park, they are also on the edge of the motorway , so you kind of have to go away from the courts to appreciate it. Still quite nice though. Estoril sounds like a lovely place to visit from all accounts.

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it seems everyone settles for mediocrity, with nobody thinking of the long term - and of winning big.
Very true of so many of the young players coming through these days. People seem to think that the youngsters "waiting in the wings" will take over from the current elite and start winning big after they retire, but somehow I doubt it. They don't seem to be good enough, so unless one of them improves drastically... Those waiting in the wings are almost invariably replaced by someone coming out of nowhere. After Graf, you had Seles, the Williams sisters, Hingis, Capriati, Lindsay, Justine and Kim, Sharapova. I think it's relatively uncommon for someone to wait around for a long time in the top 10 and then become the no. 1.

Normally someone somewhere rises like a skyrocket from nowhere and immediately throws down the gauntlet at the top players. The new elite are normally a pretty serious challenge to the top from the very beginning. You need someone who isn't just waiting for other players to retire, but who can actually displace them. While I don't think the Belgian duo will hang around forever, the WS seem to be going for longevity and if they are still fit they could beat these other girls until their late 30s. I'm sure Sharapova has some more slams in her. And I think until new challengers come the slams will continue to belong to those players around who have already won slams. Barring some unforeseen miracle.

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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 02:44 PM   #14
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Re: Fed Cup Group Europe/Where's Africa? eyewitness account - 5-6 February

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Originally Posted by HowardH View Post
Estoril sounds like a lovely place to visit from all accounts.
The Estoril Open venue is something like 15-20 km away from Estoril, actually. It sits in a relatively small valley, most of which was recently converted into an urban park dotted with sports facilities of every sort (rugby, football, track and field, canoeing...). Estoril is a seaside resort, perhaps the oldest in Portugal, known for its ultraposh, cosmopolitan vibe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by HowardH View Post
People seem to think that the youngsters "waiting in the wings" will take over from the current elite and start winning big after they retire, but somehow I doubt it. They don't seem to be good enough, so unless one of them improves drastically... Those waiting in the wings are almost invariably replaced by someone coming out of nowhere. After Graf, you had Seles, the Williams sisters, Hingis, Capriati, Lindsay, Justine and Kim, Sharapova. I think it's relatively uncommon for someone to wait around for a long time in the top 10 and then become the no. 1.

Normally someone somewhere rises like a skyrocket from nowhere and immediately throws down the gauntlet at the top players. The new elite are normally a pretty serious challenge to the top from the very beginning. You need someone who isn't just waiting for other players to retire, but who can actually displace them. While I don't think the Belgian duo will hang around forever, the WS seem to be going for longevity and if they are still fit they could beat these other girls until their late 30s. I'm sure Sharapova has some more slams in her. And I think until new challengers come the slams will continue to belong to those players around who have already won slams. Barring some unforeseen miracle.
Bolded part see the first post linked in my signature.

It's probably too early to spot patterns, but the AO might have been a sign of things to come. The persistent void (with the Belgians back, the top players of the Void Era mostly took to sucking badly, leaving as many open slots in the rankings and in the later stages of big events as we had in 2008-2009) isn't being filled by Generation Suck, but by seasoned #15-30 ranked players, who haven't made any significant improvement to their games to warrant their new status.

I don't think it will be as simple as the higher ranked players of Generation Suck just sliding down into the rankings slots vacated by today's actual GS contenders/winners as they retire. The latter won't be replaced - five years from now, there won't be any elite. Just a sizeable field of evenly matched upper tier journeywomen, all playing the same limited, generic game, sometimes winning big because someone will have to. Some members of Generation Suck will graduate into this "upper tier", but I suspect most of them will be players who are now in their early (or even mid) 20s. In a field in which nobody is outstandingly good, experience will often be the crucial factor. I expect the top players of the future to be even older on average than those we have today.
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