2015/07/05

ESPN Tennis Conference Call with Chris Evert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver

(March 16, 2015) ESPN tennis analysts Chrissie Evert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver spoke with media on Monday. Currently, ESPN3 is providing live all-day coverage from the three main stadiums at the BNP Paribas Open, with ESPN television joining on Thursday, March 19, through Sunday’s women’s and men’s championships.

Soundbites:

How good is Madison Keys?

· “I saw her at age 12. I think that everybody that saw her at that point thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s so much raw power, that if she could just control it and harness it, she’s going to be a great player.’ Very much like a Serena, she has the second best serve out there, which she’s going to win a lot of free points holding her serve…But she’s got it all. She has natural ease and power in her shots.” – Evert

· “The first time I really came out of a match with my jaw sort of dropping was a couple years ago at the Australian Open when she beat Paszek, beat her routinely. She beat her with two weapons: the serve and the forehand. In my mind, in women’s tennis especially, when you can come through with those two big weapons, it can set you apart….I can tell you from my courtside position a couple years ago, I came out feeling fantastic that the U.S. had a true prospect to get to the top spot.” – Shriver

The strong state of women’s tennis:

· “The women’s game is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, to have Serena obviously doing what she’s doing. You’re finally I think seeing some young players that got some gumption, that got some real attitude that they can compete with the best in Bouchard and Keys, Svitolina and others. I think Coco Vandeweghe deserves to be in that conversation, as well.” – McEnroe

· “The bottom half of the women’s draw — Bouchard, Keys, Jankovic, Bencic, Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Garcia, Lisicki, Errani, Azarenka, Sharapova. That’s the kind of quality draw that in the last six, seven years we haven’t been fortunate enough to have. The recession of women’s tennis that started with Justine Henin retiring is well and truly over.” – Shriver

Q. Madison Keys, she’s really at this point obviously a big-time player, top 20. I know how familiar all of you are with her. Can you tell me why of all of the young up-and-coming players you think she is the one?

CHRIS EVERT: I mean, for those of us who saw her at a young age, I saw her at age 12. I think that everybody that saw her at that point thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, there’s so much raw power, that if she could just control it and harness it, she’s going to be a great player.’ Very much like a Serena, she has the second best serve out there, which she’s going to win a lot of free points holding her serve. She has so much power, more so than any of the other top players, aside from Serena and Venus, her whole game, not counting Maria Sharapova obviously on the groundstrokes. But she’s got it all. She has natural ease and power in her shots. I feel like I think Lindsay and her husband are a great fit for her right now. At the same time, I think we all felt she would achieve greatness sooner or later when she was ready, when she was emotionally ready. I think the emotional and mental part came along a little bit later than the physical part.

PAM SHRIVER: Well, I think for me, I’m not as familiar as Patrick and Chrissie in the development part, I’m just familiar with Madison as I’ve observed her the last few years for my ESPN position. The first time I really came out of a match with my jaw sort of dropping was a couple years ago at the Australian Open when she beat Paszek, beat her routinely. She beat her with two weapons: the serve and the forehand. In my mind, in women’s tennis especially, when you can come through with those two big weapons, it can set you apart. Over two years ago she was really, really young in her professional career. Now I think we see the pathway a little more clearly with a great team around her, what she did at the Australian Open. No big surprises. I can tell you from my courtside position a couple years ago, I came out feeling fantastic that the U.S. had a true prospect to get to the top spot.

PATRICK McENROE: Not to pat all of us on the back, but I think it’s been a wonderful progression for Madison. I think the first people that deserve a pat on the back are her parents. She’s a great girl, a great person. She’s got a great head on her shoulders. And her first coaches. Then Chrissie and her brother John, through her formative years when she was 12 up until she was I guess 15 or 16.

Then I have to give a pat on the back to my team at the USTA for doing a great job with her and taking her as a very talented teenager and turning her into a top-40 player. As Chrissie said, I think this is a logical progression for her to get the great insight of a great champion like Lindsay, someone who really studies the game and understands the game well. Obviously they got along great when they did their trial period out at the USTA training center in Southern Cal, so well that along with her husband Jon, it turned into a full-time thing. To me, as the head of player development for the last seven years, this has been an ideal progression for a talented player coming through, and the USTA helping along the way, Chrissie and her team doing a great job, arguably the most important years of developing her technique and strokes. Now obviously passing her off to a great player and great champion, someone who I think can take her all the way to the next level. The next level is winning majors.

Whether she can do that this year is up in the air. But I certainly think within the next 24 months, two and a half to three years, absolutely she can win a major.

Q. Today at the tournament is Azarenka versus Sharapova, then Roger playing Seppi, then Serena Williams and Stephens. Can you comment on some those matches.

PAM SHRIVER: First off, I think the quality of both draws is phenomenal. I think we saw great balance at the Australian Open. I feel like we’re in for just a great year of tennis at all the majors and all the Masters Series and Premiere WTAs. The draws are loaded. We’re getting fantastic early-round matchups.

Stephens-Williams has a lot of history based on the quarterfinal upset a couple of Australian Opens ago, but it also tells a different story of two different pathways, where Serena has been a dominant player since that loss, but Sloane Stephens has gone the other way, but is showing signs. If Sloane Stephens can feel a little more relaxed with Madison Keys picking up a lot of attention from her generation, other American women playing really well, maybe this is Sloane’s true comeback year. I would expect Serena to win that match. Chrissie, you want to take Azarenka-Sharapova?

CHRIS EVERT: No. You take it.

PAM SHRIVER: One of the reasons women’s tennis is looking better this year is because of players like Azarenka being healthy again. She looked for a while like the best hard court player in women’s tennis when she was winning two Australian Opens, almost beating Serena in two US Open finals. She was pretty much a non-entity last year.

The way she played at the Australian, the way she’s playing here, playing the quality of tennis she played a couple years ago, are great for women’s tennis.

What isn’t great is for people who like a quiet match (laughter). But we’ll have to deal with it. It will only last a couple hours.

CHRIS EVERT: I just think that Sharapova-Azarenka is going to be really telling to see how far Azarenka has come along as far as taking time off. She seems to have had a resurgence and she seems to have reset her career and her inspiration, seems like 100%. I always think that taking breaks for players is such a good deal, such a good decision. It just refreshes you. You just get so flat and burned out playing year after year after year and not taking a good chunk of really four or five months off. I think she’s been better as a result. These two players could end up 2 and 3 at the end of the year. That’s how tough this third round is.

On the other hand, Sloane, I love the way she has played this tournament. I’m very happy that she’s with Nick Saviano. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach, seeing what he did with Genie Bouchard. If anybody can help her attitude and mental outlook on her tennis, it’s going to be Nick with Sloane. So good signs, showing good attitude out there, good body language. These are just two great showcase matches for women’s tennis.

PATRICK McENROE: Maybe one you forgot about, we haven’t mentioned her yet, is Coco Vandeweghe. She’s done a terrific job. She’s seeded, what, about 30 or 31 out there. She’s sort of quietly playing the best tennis of her career. Similar to Madison, we’ve known about her since she was a teenager from Southern Cal. Being a huge hitter of the ball and a good athlete. It’s taken her a little while, but she’s figured out how to get herself in really good condition. I love the way she’s playing. She’s still a little bit up and down. She played some great tennis in Australia, then didn’t play so well when she lost. Taking on Bouchard, who Chrissie and Pam talked about already, that’s the first match out there on the stadium court today. That’s a good one. Bouchard obviously with a new coach, as well. She’s got a lot to prove this year, a lot of pressure on her after an unbelievable year last year.

The women’s game is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, to have Serena obviously doing what she’s doing. You’re finally I think seeing some young players that got some gumption, that got some real attitude that they can compete with the best in Bouchard and Keys, Svitolina and others. I think Coco Vandeweghe deserves to be in that conversation, as well.

Obviously we’re certainly looking forward to seeing Roger take on Seppi. While we would all pencil this in as a routine Roger win based on overall his record against Seppi, losing for the first time at the Australian to him, which was a shocker obviously, I wouldn’t be quite that quick. Seppi is a really good player. He’s had an excellent last year and a half on the tour. I expect him to play well again. Obviously Roger’s antenna will be way up for this. Coming off a win in Dubai over Djokovic got him back on track with his confidence that he can have another great year. Just like the women’s draw, the men’s draw is loaded. It’s a nice early test for Roger to see where he’s at.

CHRIS EVERT: Is Bencic playing Wozniacki?

THE MODERATOR: That’s second on.

CHRIS EVERT: That’s another one to watch, 18-year-old Bencic. Patrick was talking about the young ones. She’s 18 years old, had a slow start, but had a great year last year.

PAM SHRIVER: The bottom half of the women’s draw, Bouchard, Keys, Jankovic, Bencic, Wozniacki, Ivanovic, Garcia, Lisicki, Errani, Azarenka, Sharapova. That’s the kind of quality draw that in the last six, seven years we haven’t been fortunate enough to have. The recession of women’s tennis that started with Justine Henin retiring is well and truly over.

CHRIS EVERT: Good point.

Q. I wanted to talk about the event you’re at. Obviously players want to win at every event. This has the aura of a fifth major. Do you see players and advertisers, media, putting this on a higher shelf than other events on the tour?

PAM SHRIVER: From a Southern California standpoint, to think this is the only professional tournament in one of the great tennis hotbeds in the history of the game is kind of a shame. But it also makes it, for this region, because living here, hearing the buildup the last month, you can feel this is a big-time Southern Cal event.

CHRIS EVERT: You look at next week, Miami, this week Indian Wells. You talked about hotbeds. California and Florida are the two biggest tennis dates, I feel, in the country, and have really come up with some great players, play all year round. There are a lot of tennis enthusiasts. It’s only apropos that these two big tournaments are held in these two states. You could say the fifth. I would like to say the Road to Singapore, the WTA Finals, in the players’ mind is the fifth one. But then you have this one and Miami right there with it. It’s probably the most popular with the players. What’s not to be great to come out here in this weather, in this atmosphere, this facility, this venue. I think it’s definitely one of the players’ favorites.

PATRICK McENROE: There’s no doubt that these Masters events in general have been elevated to another level. You might get the same argument from a Cincinnati or even some of the European clay court events, which are tremendous as well. The nice thing about these two events, obviously Indian Wells, the facilities are phenomenal with Larry Ellison, what he’s been able to do to take it to a whole other level by building a new stadium. The grounds are tremendous. I was out there this past weekend. The buzz around the grounds, it’s electric to be out there.

The weather doesn’t hurt out there, as well. I think the time of year. There’s really no major that it conflicts with. You get towards the end of the major clay court tune-up, people are thinking about the French. In the summer, people don’t want to tire themselves out too much leading into the US Open. These two are just great events. This one, where it’s located, what Larry Ellison has been able to do. Ray Moore and Charlie Pasarell starting out had an amazing vision of what this event could be. I think it’s turned into that and a lot more.

Q. Patrick, what do you think of this picture floating around of your brother sitting between Bill Gates and Larry Ellison?

PATRICK McENROE: I thought I was the one in the McEnroe family with a low net worth (laughter). A little reality check for him there, you know.

CHRIS EVERT: Patrick, he was a little intimidated.

PATRICK McENROE: Who wouldn’t be, I’ll tell you.

Q. I have this theory that they made McEnroe pick up the check that night.

PATRICK McENROE: That would be okay. He could afford it (laughter).

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Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens Win to Set Up Fourth Round Clash at Indian Wells

315Serenain press-001

Serena Williams

 

(March 15, 2015) Since Sloane Stephens beat Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open, there has not been much love between the world No. 1, 19-time major champion and the woman turning 22 on Friday, who is No. 42 in the world. The two women will face off for the first time since the 2013 US Open for a spot in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.

 

Both women had completely different matches on Sunday to reach the fourth round of Indian Wells.

 

Williams, returning to play Indian Wells for the first time since 2001, dominated first-time Indian Wells participant Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 6-2, 6-0 in just 53 minutes.

 

For Williams, she’s on a 13-match win streak since claiming the Australian Open.

 

Stephens survived a topsyturvy contest against two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-4. Stephens had a 4-0 lead in the final set.

 

Williams on her potential match up against Stephens: “I have had some tough matches with Sloane. She’s had an interesting year, but I have noticed that she’s been really playing well. She moves well and she tries to do her best for everything. That would be an interesting, good matchup for me.”

 

 

Asked about what she expects in her match against Williams, Stephens said: “The same thing I do every day: just go out and play my game. Stay focused and fight hard and just get out there and compete.”

 

“She’s the No. 1 player in the world and I expect her to play really well.”

 

“I felt like every match I played against her I have played well. I mean, it’s always an honor to play No. 1 player in the world. Obviously someone of her stature who has won so many titles and the great player she is, I just have to just go out there and play my game and do all I can and just compete.”

 

Asked about her relationship with Williams, which was damaged when Stephens did a revealing interview with ESPN The Magazine, Stephens said: “She’s the No. 1 player in the world and she’s a competitor, and that’s it.

 

Asked if she had “mended fences with Williams,” – “No. She’s a competitor; she’s the No. 1 player in the world. She’s ‑‑ what do you call it? She’s a ‑‑you know, when you work with someone?

 

“A colleague. There you go. She’s a colleague.”

 

SloaneStephens

In an exchange with a reporter in the post-match news conference, Stephens discussed the hate she received on twitter from Serena Williams fans:

Every time I have mentioned you on Twitter, which I know you think is a lot…

SLOANE STEPHENS: It is a lot.

Anyway, any time I’ve mentioned you I have all these Serena fans immediately criticizing you out of nowhere.

SLOANE STEPHENS: Oh, they hate me.

Why do you think that is?

SLOANE STEPHENS: I don’t know, but they are the first people to get blocked on my Twitter. I am the queen of blocking. Okay? You say one bad thing, block. I ‑‑ block.

No. There is no room for negativity. I understand that they are die‑hard fans and I appreciate that. I’m sure she does, too. But some of the comments and some of the things are know so unnecessary.

It comes to the point where you’re on Twitter saying mean things about someone else. Like what do you actually doing with your life? Like is this your day job or how does that work? I’m just like ‑‑ I don’t understand it. But die‑hard fans are die‑hard fans, so…

Just taking some getting used to. It’s jarring. You get it more and more directly.

SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah. I mean, some of the things are crazy and outrageous. Like I said, I have gotten really friendly with the block button. One bad thing, block. Block, block, block. So…

If you were to estimate, how many people have you blocked?

SLOANE STEPHENS: Oh, God, it’s not even funny. It’s too many.

More than a thousand?

SLOANE STEPHENS: Oh, I don’t know. But I just don’t like negativity. And I think if you have something negative to say, think it. You don’t have to, you know, express it to me, at me, whatever you want to call it. It is what it is. Like I said, a die‑hard fan is a die‑hard fan.

Are you more protective of yourself on Twitter? You obviously, early on on Twitter, were much more expressive, and now it’s maybe a little more stringent.

SLOANE STEPHENS: I think Twitter has changed like since I started tweeting and it was fun. It’s definitely become ‑‑ it’s become a source for people to attack other people, and I am ‑‑ I’m not really into that. Like if I was a nobody, I wouldn’t attack a celebrity and say, Hey, you suck or whatever.

That’s not just me. I feel like a lot of that ‑‑ there is a lot of abuse like that, and I try to stay away from it. I only tweet positive things and retweet positive things and that’s all I can do from my end.

Any idea how this happens? Seems like you get the brunt of it worse than a lot of people?

SLOANE STEPHENS: I don’t know. I don’t really care. I don’t live my life for Twitter. I have a lot of other things going on. It’s okay that people don’t like me on Twitter. I will live.

Did you ever get to the point where you would just get off Twitter? What keeps you coming back when there is all this ‑‑ and I haven’t seen them. I’m just learning about them.

SLOANE STEPHENS: It’s fun. It’s something you can just express yourself and not really have to worry about what other people are saying. I think it’s a good tool. I mean, I love Twitter. I have always loved Twitter.

I’m not going to let people who say bad things or negative things about me scare me away from doing what I like to do. At the end of the day, people are saying something bad about me and negative, and they are not people I care about, they’re not in my life, they’re not people I love, so it doesn’t really matter to me.

 

In their career head-to-head record, Williams leads 2-1.

Related Articles:

Serena Williams Beats Sloane Stephens to Gain Quarterfinal Berth at US Open

Sloane Stephens Criticizes Serena Williams in ESPN The Magazine Interview

Serena Williams Responds to Sloane Stephens’ Quotes: Stephens Takes Blame on Twitter

Sharapova Reacts to Stephens’ Comments About Serena Williams

Serena Williams Beaten by Rising Star Stephens in Australian Open Quarterfinals

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A Game of Inches and Miles

By Curt Janka

(March 15, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, California – The intrigue of tennis often relies on how well the opponents match up. When talent is comparable, the space between winning and losing can be a couple ticks on a ruler. So was the first-ever meeting between Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios. Looking at the stats alone, it would be difficult to tell who was the victor. Dimitrov won 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-6(4), but a mini break here or an inch there could have easily tipped the match in Kyrgios’ favor.

With no breaks of serve in the first set and nearly identical stat sheets, the whole match came down to Dimitrov playing more levelheaded tiebreakers. The lively court and sometimes-tricky breeze may have made it tougher for either player to break serve. “I thought it was really bouncy today,” said Kyrgios. “I found it incredibly tough to return, and he obviously wasn’t comfortable at all returning my serve. It was just tough conditions. A bit windy at times.”

Dimitrov did, in fact, struggle to crack his opponent’s serve. “I think he’s tough to read, and especially when the court is very lively, like today,” Dimitrov explained. “, I think it was just a matter of a few points, and definitely my mental side was better I think in the end.”

Ultimately, an ankle roll immediately before Kyrgios served for the win in the third set may have decided the match. When asked if the unlucky injury contributed to his loss, Kyrgios said, “It obviously played a big part in me not serving out the match because I had not really been broken before that.”

In stark contrast, Serena Williams and Roger Federer outdistanced their overmatched opponents by huge margins. Williams appeared listless for most of the match, but did not expend much effort to brush off Zarina Diyas 6-2, 6-0.

“It definitely felt back to normal out there,” Williams said. “Just trying to feel the rhythm and trying to focus on the ball more than anything else.”

Federer also appeared a bit off rhythm at times, but still coasted to a 6-4, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman.

“I’m moving well, which is key on this surface because the easy shots and easy points are not going to happen so easily here like they maybe do in Dubai or Australia or the indoor season,” Federer said.

Curt Janka is covering the BNP Paribas Open this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN. Follow his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

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A Sense of Normality in the Desert

Photos by Curt Janka

 

(March 14, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Not that we want to gloss over the important or emotional resonance of the return of Serena Williams, but in the 24 hours that followed that match, there was a sense that we were almost back in business.

For the whole week the anticipation leading up to the match everything had been focused on Friday night, but now it felt like we were all back to normal. There were some entertaining tussles – the battle of the fist-pumpers as an older and wiser Ana Ivanovic took on a feisty Yulia Putintseva.

There was the predictable sweep through of defending champion Novak Djokovic as he started his campaign against former Top 10 player Marcos Baghdatis, who seemed to enjoy the kiss-cam antics of TV screen director at the change of ends.

But one match hat stood out was Victoria Azarenka’s albeit straight-forward result and the mouth-watering prospect of a third round clash with Maria Sharapova. Her come-back has been much anticipated and few can forget the almost pitiful site of her struggling to even stand much less run about and swing at a ball this time last year at Indian Wells.

But it’s more than that. Asking her about her earlier come-back during last year’s grass court season, it as clear that she has been so completely frustrated by not being out on court and she admitted that her return had been too early.

She said: “When I came back to Eastbourne I don’t think I was fit enough to play at all. But I wanted to play. It’s been such a long time. It was one of the lessons that I had to learn, that I didn’t prepare well. Preparation is the key to really go out and play and be confident and actually be happy on the court.”

 

The Azarenka we see now seems to be very much happier with the world, after admitting she had gone through some dark times personally in her time off the court.

 

She elaborated: “If you know that you put in work, you feel good, you can enjoy it. Tennis is really my passion. You go in life through some tough moments on and off the court, but in the end of the day you just really need to figure out what you want to do in life and what you enjoy.”

 

When she faces Sharapova in the third round, she will be up against another fighter who had a long haul back from potentially career threatening injuries. In Stuttgart last year she explained how coming back and playing after possibly contemplating the end of her career made every achievement special. There is a sense that Azarenka has reached that same stage of thinking compared to the drive “must work harder” mentality that seemed to weigh her down more last summer.

 

Right now the Belarusian is the one person players must dread in the draw as she continues her climb back up the rankings, and pretty soon she will be back in the upper echelons but she has a sense of gratitude that for now, she has to get there the hard way.

“Every day is beautiful. Every day I think is a blessing, so I just try to approach it that way. Tennis has given me so much to be grateful for that I cannot be, you know, sad that I’m on the court in front of a great crowd in this the big tournament. I cannot be ungrateful.”

 

On Sunday the last of the ATP second round matches will be done, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will have their own campaigns underway, and it feels now as though the tournament is really getting started.

 

The only upset, if we could call it that, was the departure of Marin Cilic. The US Open champion played his first match in 2015, losing to Juan Monaco, but his loss opened up the thorny question of his participation in the IPTL exhibition league last year.

 

He maintained, however, it had not been an issue for him, saying: “I played there six, seven matches and didn’t hurt me that much. Then later it took pretty long time to get back and to reheal it. And even if I would know this I would probably skip playing Masters end of the year, Tour Finals. But at that time I didn’t know it’s going to take really that long.”

 

A quarter of his year has been lost, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has yet to make his return, having been injured during the Davis Cup final, only to show up on the IPTL for the duration of the tour. Even Ana Ivanovic admitted during the pre-tournament press obligations that the winter had been a long haul, although she really seemed to flourish under the format.

 

And yet inevitably we return to Williams. It is almost a relief to see she has been scheduled in the afternoon on Sunday and not just the night matches every time. The conditions are hit and humid and during the day those balls zip about like fluffy day-glo missiles, but in the evening when it is a little cooler, the conditions change. She may have said she feels she has won already just by being here, but she is a born competitor, who needs to get the ‘W’ on the scoresheet come what may. Roll on Sunday.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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Emotional return and a win for Serena Williams

(March 13, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – It was always going to be emotional, and watching Serena Williams’ sisters with tears streaming at the welcoming roar from the crowd, and Williams barely struggling to keep her own emotions in check, we knew this night had the potential to be special.

 

We also expected nerves, and there were plenty with Williams giving up her first service game, giving Romania’s Monica Niculescu an easy start to the proceedings. She came to play too, holding her serve forcing Williams into a battle royal in just the third game to hold her serve and get on the board.

 

It was a short respite though as Niculescu broke, forcing Williams on the back foot once more with all manner of frying-pan type defensive swipes to get out of trouble, holding for a 5-3 lead. As tends to be the way, Williams found her serve, and her trademark roar to keep herself in contention, for a chance for us to see what Niculescu was made of. Williams broke to level at 5-5 and on to take the advantage for a 6-5 lead. As Williams pocketed the first set perhaps there was a suspicion that she would romp home from there.

 

Give Niculescu her credit, she walked out there with a big beaming smile, and was ready to play and she threw over cut, sliced and diced forehand, every loopy spin she could at Williams and more often than not had her on the back-foot, or rushed her into errors.

 

But you do not amass 55 titles from that fateful day in 2001, including 18 Grand Slams without learning how to dig yourself out of a hole. Time and again, Williams found a first serve when she had to, drove home a winner when she could, to make up for some howling errors along the way.

 

After the emotional entrance, it was almost a quite moment of contemplation for the two-tome champion as Niculescu dumped the ball into the net after saving three match points. She was rightly disappointed – this had been a match that could have turned on a dime.

 

Williams had great control of her emotions at the end, and the crowd thankfully showed their appreciation for a 19-time Grand Slam champion, an enduring World No. 1 and possibly on the way to being the greatest female tennis player of all time.

 

Williams said in her on court interview that it was all about creating new memories – and she now has the small matter of the rest of the tournament to go.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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Mardy Fish Returns to Tennis, Falls in Three-set Battle to Ryan Harrison in First Round of BNP Paribas Open

(March 12, 2015) Former world No. 7 Mardy Fish returned to the court under a protected ranking, for the first time in over 18 months on Thursday in Indian Wells, California. Fish was off the tour due to heart problems which have bothered him since 2012.

The 33-year-old Fish put up a good fight for 2 hours and 36 minutes and even had two match points in falling to fellow American, 22-year-old Ryan Harrison, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open. The pair of match points came at 15-40 in the 10th game of the third set.

“I worked really hard in the past three-and-a-half months to get in physical shape, to go from golf to tennis shape,” Fish said.

“It was nice to play Ryan, sort of a good friend. Someone you’re familiar with. So that part was nice to not have to play someone you don’t really know.

“It’s hard. It’s never easy. It still stings a little bit,” Fish said of the loss.

“I would have liked to play a little better, “he noted. “I would have like to have won – it is what it is.”

“Being on the court for so long. It felt great to be out there. Those are situations you work hard to put yourself into.”

“It’s such a great event,” he said. “I’ve got great memories from 2008 here.

“It felt fantastic to be out there.”

Asked about how he’s had to control his ailment he said: “I learn from every situation, every episode, every sort of scenario that I put myself in in the last couple of years, and I learn from this today.

“I didn’t really have many expectations, as far as how long I could play tournament-wise. How many tournaments I could play – Indian Wells and Miami was kind of in the background.

“This is a new different challenge for me.”

Fish said that he has to come on to the court and “be sort of even keel.”

“Something that I have to work on with my sports Psychologist – what sort of frame of mind do you need out there, (be)cause this is unchartered territory for me in the past couple of years.”

“Golf was such a savior for me because I able to jump into something that I really liked to do, that I was good at, and I could see myself getting better and I really enjoy playing in the tournaments, improving, things like that.” Golf was a coping mechanism for him – “to take my mind off the tennis, what other guys were doing.”

To prepare for his comeback, the American said that he played five or six days a week for the past 20 weeks – “it felt pretty close to tennis.”

Doesn’t have interest in going to the “minor leagues and working my way back up.”

Fish said that he has 3 tournaments where he can use a protected ranking. “It will run out at the US Open. Will have some decisions to make.”

The win for Harrison moves him into the second round where he’ll face No. 5 in the world Kei Nishikori.

 

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Serena and the Right Opportunity to Return

(March 12, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Before the big show on Friday the 13th, when she’ll be making her return to Indian Wells, there was one more hurdle for Serena Williams to negotiate as she held her pre-tournament news conference ahead of her opening round against Monica Niculescu.

 

Her focus was not about the events of 2001 anymore, but about how she felt that it was the right moment for her to come back to the event.

 

She said: “It was just a really good opportunity for me. It was more or less timing. I just felt like everything was a right time for me to just come back and try to do the best that I could here again.”

 

She credited Nelson Mandela’s biography, The Long Walk to Freedom, with having helped her make peace with herself in terms of learning to forgive and move on.

 

“So I read the book [and] that hit me hard, because I met Mr. Mandela a couple of times, and we had some interesting conversations.”

Although Serena is back, Venus (whose withdrawal from the semi-final was the catalyst for the whole issue) is not, and has no plans to return, although has been very supportive of her younger sibling.

 

Williams said: “I feel if she didn’t support me, I wouldn’t be here. If she said ‘Serena I don’t think this is good, I don’t think you should go’ then there is no chance I would be here right now.

 

“She 100% supports me and is very happy that I’m here and even encouraged me to come.”

 

Interestingly Williams admitted she was quite nervous when she told her parents, choosing to spend a lot of time with father Richard Williams before coming to Indian Wells.

 

She explained: “I told my mom, and I was a little nervous about what she would say. She just listened to my whole story. This was in the very beginning long before anyone else knew.

 

“She said ‘I’ll be there for you. Whatever you need I’m going to be there to support you.”

 

Williams continued: “I was a little shocked, I don’t know why because she’s always been really supportive.”

 

The nerves did not dissipate for the 19-time Grand Slam champion when she told her father. In her article for Time magazine she mentioned some of the experiences he went through as a young man.

 

Williams continued: “When I was done telling him – it was a really emotional time for me when I was talking to him. I was like ‘I think I should go back, but I’m not going to go back if you don’t want me to.”

 

As colourful as she might be in some of her more vehement court encounters, as dominant as she is currently at the head of the women’s game, suffice to say it should fall to Williams to have the last word on her return.

 

“If you are in a position where you can stand up and speak and be a role model, then why not do it. I feel this is a perfect opportunity and a perfect session for me to do that.”

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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Serena Williams’ return to Indian Wells praised by peers

 

 

(March 11, 2015) INDIAN WELLS – It is a measure of respect that the top players have for Serena Williams that they were happy to talk about her impending return to Indian Wells, as well as their own chances at the tournament – well at least for all but one of them.

 

As some of the best players in the WTA met members of the press ahead of starting their own campaigns at the BNP Paribas Open, the big news was and of course still is Williams.

 

For 14 years, Indian Wells has been without either of the sisters who have made such a huge impact on the sport. Even after battling with potentially career threatening injuries and illnesses both Venus and Serena are still very much at the top of their games, especially when you take into account Venus’ recent resurgence.

 

As Serena racked up her 19th Grand Slam, the time was right (ironically in a piece written for Time magazine) for Serena to at least forgive and move on. Accepting a wildcard, she would return to the Premier mandatory event for the first time since her win, marred by controversy in 2001.

 

Speaking to one of the players that knows her best, we were given a brief insight into how precious enduing friendships are in the sport. Caroline Wozniacki explained how Williams had stepped in to help her over the very public break-up of her impending nuptials to Irish golfer Rory McIlroy. She described how the World No. 1 had been almost like a “big sister” to her as the pair hit the beach in the summer ahead of some of Wozniacki’s best tennis in her career.

 

It was Williams that was waiting at the New York finish line as Wozniacki completed her first marathon, with the tennis season still in full swing.

 

The Dane said: “She’s special. She’s a great person. She’s there when you need her. We just click.”

 

She continued: “It’s great for her, it’s great for the tournament and it’s great for tennis. It’s a big step for her and I’m sure she will handle it great.”

Last year’s finalist Agnieszka Radwanska said: “There’s so many other top players, but of course she is in the draw as well so it’s going to be even more tough. It’s good that she’s back here, always another challenge for us playing her here.”

 

The players facing Serena would barely have even started their careers when she lifted her second Indian Wells trophy, but no-one has missed the controversy, but it is time to move on.

 

Canada’s Genie Bouchard said: “The past is the past. The players are excited she’s here. She’s the best player in the world, and this is a major tournament. She should be here.”

 

Even Roger Federer, who is still chasing his 18th Grand Slam title believed that Friday’s come-back match was going to be something special at the Tennis Gardens.

 

“It’s wonderful for American fans who have attended this event for so many years and haven’t seen her play here, so I think it’s great for them. I think it’s great for women’s tennis and I think it’s nice that we get to see her here again.”

 

And here she will be, although without her long-term hitting partner Sascha Bajin who has been at her side for the last eight years, but joins Victoria Azarenka’s new coaching set up.

 

Having struggled with a virus at the start of the year, that limited her Fed Cup duty following her sixth Australian Open win and a 19th Grand Slam, Williams will talk to the press on Thursday ahead of starting her campaign against Monica Niculescu in Friday’s night match.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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Charting a New Future by Remembering the Past

Serena Williams

By Andreen Soley

(March 7, 2015) I have been fairly deliberate in my decision to not write about Serena Williams returning to Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open in March. After a 14-year boycott of the tournament, which cost her ranking points and prize monies, Serena Williams announced her return in a statement via Time magazine.

After much reflection, I waded into Serena’s return by focusing on the most intriguing aspect, her decision to highlight the work of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. With the Omaze campaign, Serena Williams will allow one lucky contest winner to be seated as a VIP in her box during her opening match at the BNP Paribas Open and the money raised through the contest entries (donations less campaign expenses and platform fees) will then be delivered to EJI.

Curious to understand why Serena Williams reached out to EJI, I spoke with its founder and executive director, Bryan Stevenson. Mr. Stevenson has won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system. Since graduating from Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, he has assisted in securing relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, advocated for poor people and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice. He also is on the law faculty at New York University School of Law.

Andreen Soley: Thank you for agreeing to talk with me:

Bryan Stevenson: I was happy to get your inquiry. I am really happy to talk about what Serena is doing because I’m really, really energized by her decision to do this. It’s just so remarkable because she reached out to us. She has been incredibly enthusiastic about educating people about the work that we do and drawing attention to the context of what happened to her. There is a narrative behind these incidents that we don’t talk about in this country. We tend to think it’s one person here or one person there. But the truth is we have a history of racial inequality and racial bias that manifests itself all the time in our society. If we don’t start talking about that history and the narrative of racial difference that continues to haunt all of us, we are not going to make the progress that we want to make. You can be the best tennis player the world has ever seen, or the greatest golfer or the greatest basketball player, but you are not going to overcome that narrative of racial difference until you create some space to talk honestly about these issues that too many people try to ignore. I’m super proud of her and thrilled that she made a choice to try to do that by partnering with us on this project.

AS: What do you see as the natural link between what happened to Serena Williams and what you do every day at EJI?

BS: We have this history of racial inequality that began with slavery in this country. The true evil of slavery wasn’t involuntary servitude, it was this ideology of white supremacy. This idea that Black people are different, that they are not as smart, that they are not as hard working, that they have these character deficits. In many ways, the 13th amendment didn’t deal with the true evil which was that narrative. In my opinion, slavery didn’t end in 1865, it evolved. It turned into this era where people were constantly trying to legitimate racial hierarchy. They use terror and violence and menace and segregation and Jim Crow laws to maintain this lie.

Whenever an athlete would do something exceptional to complicate that narrative, people would get confused. So, when Joe Johnson or Joe Louis began to have success as fighters and Jesse Owens had his success, it really complicated the narrative for a lot of people. There was always this ambivalence about how much you can applaud them. We were grateful that Owens won gold medals in Berlin because the Nazis were emerging as the bigger threat than African-Americans in this country. Yet, there was not uniform enthusiasm for his success. You see that throughout the 50s and when Jackie Robinson breaks the color line, we celebrate his courage. But the truth is people still held on to this narrative of racial differences even as these athletes were showing that they were every bit as talented and capable of succeeding as white athletes. That narrative of racial differences still haunts us and that’s one of the reasons why we have a criminal justice system that presumes too many young people of color are dangerous and guilty. It’s how too many people are wrongly convicted.

Our work [at EJI] is really trying to confront the consequences of a presumption of dangerousness and guilt that is a feature of our failure to talk more honestly about our history. I think what Serena encountered at Indian Wells was precisely that same presumption of guilt. People could not accept that anything she said or did about her play was honest or legitimate because this presumption that she is not like everybody else was all out there. People have gotten comfortable in this country, giving voice to that, unfairly in words that are racially biased and loaded and hurtful. In many ways tolerating the kind of racial bigotry that she experienced is unacceptable. But it is equally unacceptable in our criminal justice system where it is often tolerated because there is a presumption that the person committed the crime and therefore, we don’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against on the basis of race. There is probably no part of American society where race matters more than in the criminal justice system.

Ultimately, as a tennis player, you can, if you have got the right character, courage and heart, which Serena has, you can overcome, you can win and then people will have to eventually shift. That’s not true [in other places]. When someone has won and they choose to shed light on the people who are in situations and structures where they don’t have the opportunity to keep playing and win, I think that speaks powerfully about the importance of this issue. The Bureau of Justice reports that 1 in 3 Black male babies born in the US is expected to go to prison in his lifetime. That was not true in the 20th or the 19th century. That became true in the 21st century.

We have so many Black athletes in this society who have succeeded, who have accomplished extraordinary things and as result of that have platforms from which they can speak to a whole range of issues. It’s often disheartening that so few give voice to these larger societal issues. I know many of them are painfully aware that but for their exceptional athletic ability, they’d be confronting these realities in the ways that many of my clients do.

I do think it’s incredibly inspiring that an athlete stands up and says, I was the victim of unfair racial bias and bigotry and prejudice. I’ve overcome. I’m going back here to play, but I want us to talk about this continuing problem of racial bias and bigotry. Even if it doesn’t directly keep me from doing what I have to, it’s burdening too many people in our society. I think that’s a really important story to tell.

AS: For the individual tennis fan who comes to your work because they watch Serena Williams and have seen the campaign on Omaze, what do you hope will happen for that individual?

BS: I hope that they will go to our website and get our calendar on racial history which is a tool to help them each day of each week of each month learn more about how and why Serena found herself in the situation she was in the last time she was at Indian Wells. If they understand that more, then they will understand what it takes to overcome that, to confront that. Confronting racial bias and racial inequality requires some proximity, it requires us getting closer to these issues; it requires us to understand this history, it requires us to be hopeful about what we can do. Sometimes it requires us to do something that is uncomfortable, which is to speak to these issues when we see them and too few people said anything when these taunts and slurs were being directed at Serena. It was the Indian Wells community that should have intervened on her behalf in a way that was unmistakably clear that that kind of behavior was not only unacceptable but was something that could never ever be tolerated. That didn’t happen in the way I think it could have or should have. We’d like to hope that it will happen moving forward. It got attention because it was a professional tennis tournament in a setting that is highly scrutinized. It happens too often in athletic venues all across this country, in police departments, on college campuses. It happens in a lot of spaces where people who follow tennis and who admire Serena need to be prepared to stand up and to confront that kind of bias. I hope that the tennis fans who enjoy watching Serena will also engage on these issues and educate themselves and be part of this movement to confront bias and bigotry and racial prejudice whenever and wherever they encounter it.

AS: What often happens and I think it happened in Indian Wells is a kind of blaming of the individual or making it a wholly an individual issue or a personality issue. In your mind, what is the community’s role? You say that the Indian Wells community had a role to play, what do you envision for Indian Wells and other places in America?

BS: The problem that we see in this country is that [these actions] are tolerated. We have got to be vocal. Obviously, this is not my role but a tournament that experiences that kind of problem needs to be celebrating in a very visible and active way the accomplishments of African-American tennis players as a teaching tool to people in that community. I’d distribute a little program that talks about all the extraordinary African-American women who broke the color barriers and how hard it was. If they reached out to us and said they wanted our calendar to distribute to everyone who comes to the tournament, we’d make them available. I think the challenge for sport and venues is to find ways to promote an understanding of the need to be aware of how our presumptions of dangerousness, guilt and the narrative of racial differences sometimes cause us to say and do things that are unfair and unjust.

AS: In Serena Williams’s statement she said: “I’m fortunate to be at a point in my career where I have nothing to prove. I’m still as driven as ever, but the ride is a little easier. I play for the love of the game. And it is with that love in mind, and a new understanding of the true meaning of forgiveness, that I will proudly return to Indian Wells in 2015.” I have seen similar language in the way that you talk about your work. Can you talk about forgiveness which I think is a valuable thing but not in the kind of namby-pamby way people usually talk about forgiveness?

BS: I think that we really want the society to move forward because many families of color want their children to be less burdened by this presumption of guilt than they have been. The only way we are going to do that is by talking about it. To be truthful, I see this as work that is not designed to help African-Americans but is designed to help everybody. We have a generation of people in this country that were taught by people they love that they are better than other people of their skin color. They didn’t see the kind of evidence to contradict that because they live their lives in segregated and isolated spaces. White people who were taught that, who have learned that and who have had that message reinforced have been injured by that lie. Because it is a lie! We have got to help them recover just like we need people of color to recover from the trauma and the victimization that comes from some of those lies. In order to create a healthy community and a healthier society, we need everybody to move forward on this. I think that is how you get to a different place.

Andreen Soley currently works as an education consultant/grant writer for a Los Angeles non-profit and university. She writes about tennis and solo female travel at her personal website: http://soleytennistravels.com/

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Juan Martin del Potro Leads List of Wildcards into BNP Paribas Open

 

DelPotro 5 228

INDIAN WELLS, Calif., March 4, 2015 – Former World No. 4 and Grand Slam Champion Juan Martin del Potro, Americans Tim Smyczek, Ryan Harrison, Denis Kudla, Austin Krajicek, Nicole Gibbs, Taylor Townsend, Grace Min, Louisa Chirico, Sachia Vickery and Bethanie Mattek-Sands; and teenage rising star Donna Vekic were all granted wildcards into the main draws of the BNP Paribas Open, to be held March 9-22 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, it was announced today by Tournament Director Steve Simon.

 

 

Argentina’s del Potro, who won the 2009 US Open, reached the quarterfinals of Sydney this year, and is rebounding from left wrist surgery on January 19 of this year. This will be his first tournament since Sydney, and he has played in Indian Wells five times with his best result coming in 2013 when he reached the finals.

 

 

In addition, ten Americans have been granted wildcards into the main draws including Smyczek, who battled Rafael Nadal in a four-hour long, five-set second round match at the Australian Open in January, where he was lauded for allowing Nadal to replay a serve late in the match after a disruption from the crowd; Harrison, who reached a ranking of 43 in the world in 2012 and reached the semifinals in Acapulco last week; Kudla, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 90 last summer; Krajicek, who reached his first ATP World Tour quarterfinal in Memphis in February; Gibbs, who reached the third round of the US Open and quarterfinals at Seoul last year; Townsend, who reached the third round of last year’s French Open; Min, who reached the semifinals at Bad Gastein last year, and is currently at a career-high ranking on No. 97 in the world; Chirico, who has four ITF titles, two singles and two doubles; Vickery, who reached the second round of the 2013 US Open; and Mattek-Sands, who reached the third round at this year’s Australian Open in singles and captured the doubles title with Lucie Safarova.

 

 

One other international player receiving a wildcard into the main draw is 18-year old Croatian Vekic, who won the first WTA title of her career at Kuala Lumpur last season. The last women’s wildcard was awarded earlier this year to World No. 1 and two-time BNP Paribas Open Champion Serena Williams.

 

 

“This year’s BNP Paribas Open main draw wildcards add more depth to our already talented fields with Grand Slam Champions Juan Martin del Potro and Serena Williams,” said Simon. “They also provide young American stars like Ryan Harrison, Nicole Gibbs and Taylor Townsend, the opportunity to compete at the BNP Paribas Open.”

 

 

Qualifying wildcards were given to Americans Mackenzie McDonald, Taylor Fritz, Julia Boserup, Maria Sanchez, Tornado Black, Allie Kiick, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei and Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann.

 

 

McDonald is a 19-year old at UCLA who at Cincinnati in 2013 became the first unranked teenager to qualify for an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament since Sergio Casal (1995, Miami); 17-year-old San Diego resident Taylor Fritz advanced to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open Junior Championships this January; Boserup has captured two ITF singles titles in her career; Sanchez is a former USC standout and top-ranked collegiate singles player who turned pro in 2011; sixteen-year-old Black has already won two ITF singles titles and earned her highest career ranking in 2014; Kiick made her way inside the top 150 in 2014; Hsieh reached World No. 23 in 2013, making her the highest ranked Taiwanese female singles player ever, and captured the doubles title in 2014 at the BNP Paribas Open; and Hanfmann was No. 1 in both singles and doubles during the 2013-2014 USC tennis season, and helped his team to the 2014 NCAA Championship.

 

 

In addition to the aforementioned qualifying wildcards, the men’s and women’s winners of the BNP Paribas Open Challenge, the pre-qualifying event for the tournament taking place March 2-7, will also be granted a berth into the 2015 BNP Paribas Open qualifying draw, which starts March 9 for the women, and on March 10 for the men.

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