2014/11/01

McEnroe Wins Nashville PowerShares and Clinches the Season Title

By Brad Hunter

(March 13, 2014) NASHVILLE – It makes cosmic sense John McEnroe clinched the PowerShares title in “Music City,” on Wednesday night. He loves his guitar playing and is married to rocker goddess Patty Smyth.  He’s also in amazing shape, and glides around the court like a current ATP Tour professional.  McEnroe defeated Pat Cash in the final set 6-3 after beating Jimmy Connors 6-4 in the semi-final. It was the first time in the last 12 years that McEnroe had played against Connors.  This event also gave the former greats of the game a chance to advocate tennis in an area where there is no professional tennis.  When asked about the current state of tennis in America before the matches, McEnroe said “…it’s a game that takes a long time to learn and it’s expensive. We’ve got to give more kids an opportunity… get into schools more, high schools, grammar schools…”

The evening started with Ivan Lendl facing off against Pat Cash.  From the get-go, Cash displayed a showman’s affection towards the crowd: tapping balls (and double-tapping after fans threw them back) into the crowd for fans to keep, giving a kid sitting courtside one of his checkered bandanas, taking his shirt off after a lady yelled “take your shirt off!” He also moved around the baseline and up to his favorite area of the court, the net, with agility reminiscent of his days on tour.  Lendl threw up numerous high lobs, and Cash hit most of them for winners with jumping, acrobatic overhead smashes.  Lendl, in fine form, also had fun with the crowd, but in his own way… confrontation with a smirk.  One man in the crowd was heckling him early on the set, and he stopped play to ask the man if he was drunk, and then asked him which lady he was sitting with was his date. (One of them looked like his wife, and the other looked like his daughter)… After the man replied something saucy, Lendl asked him to come down to the court.  The man wouldn’t oblige so Lendl said “I can’t help it if he has no balls!” The crowd seemed to enjoy the exchange and laughed… the heckler made no more comments to Lendl. The men stayed on serve until 5-all, when Lendl played an error filled game and double faulted to give Cash the break.  Cash had been dominant on his serve until he served for the set, and he proceeded to drop serve and send them into a tiebreaker.  Lendl had one match point which Cash saved with a high kicker service winner to Lendl’s backhand, and then Cash won the set 9-7 in the tiebreaker.

The second semi-final set pitted John McEnroe against longtime rival on and off the court, Jimmy Connors.  While McEnroe moved around the court like the old days, Connors kept his movement more controlled.  Connors has had 3 hip surgeries, but his footwork looked amazing and his feet kept moving during points.  This was Connors’ first match stop in the PowerShares Series tour and he said before the match “time to come back and hit a few, this is my first public appearance in about 3 years or so.”  McEnroe and Connors had quite a few long rallies, John seemingly happy rallying with Nadal-like topspin from the back court, and Jimmy comically huffing and puffing between points.  Connors also played in long pants “like Bill Tilden” which became a running gag during the match.  At one point someone shouted “I don’t need no shorts!” to Connors, which made him crack up laughing and prompted McEnroe to roll his own shorts up like they were daisy dukes.  Connors responded by putting two tennis balls up to eyes as if he were horrified by the sight of McEnroe’s exposed thighs.  Towards the end of the set, McEnroe increased the pressure on Connors and his own forays to the net and won the set at 6-4.

The final featured the two resident serve and volleyers, Cash and McEnroe.  McEnroe, while clearly having fun, also had his serious game face on and broke Cash early for a 2-0 lead. Cash was able to earn some break points down 2-3 in the set, but McEnroe saved them and served out the match to win 6-3.  There were a few calls in the set that McEnroe playfully objected to, but he did not display any of his true trademark tantrums.  “I played some good tennis most of the time and I’ve played some really tough competition” he told Jimmy Arias after the final.

Brad Hunter was in Nashville covering the Powershares Series Tennis. Follow his personal Twitter @BradHunter.

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Jimmy Connors Ready for PowerShares Series Stops in Nashville and Charlotte

JimmyConnors
By Brad Hunter

NASHVILLE – Jimmy Connors will be making his 2014 debut in the PowerShares Series in Nashville, TN on Wednesday, March 12th.  Connors last played the PowerShares Series in 2012.  For the stop in Nashville, Connors will be joined by Pat Cash, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.  To get ready for the event, PowerShares held a conference call with Connors and the media on Friday, March 7th.  Connors did play some of his junior tennis in the Nashville and Memphis area, but he has never played a professional or exhibition match in Nashville.

When asked about his current form heading into the event, Connors said, “The first thing I try to do is keep it inside the lines, keep the ball in play, try to have the same strokes and the same work ethic that I always did, even though it’s not quite as long as the old days. I still get the same pleasure going out and working for whatever I do, 45 minutes or an hour, getting a good sweat, putting forth that kind of effort as I did 30, 40 years ago.”

Connors said PowerShares gives the fans a chance to revisit the glory days of their tennis fandom and shows the club player a brand of tennis that is attainable for their own games. “To watch a Nastase, a McEnroe, Borg, even leading up to the Sampras, Courier, and Andy now, to see guys like that play, the kind of tennis they play, they feel they still can muster up that kind of energy to hit a shot like that once in a while, go back and say, Geez, I saw Borg or whoever hit that shot one time, and look at me, I can do that.”

Connors also fielded a question about the current intense rivalries of yesteryear compared to the cordial nature of the current men’s game.  “It would be very hard to believe that if Mack ever beat me in the finals of a major event that he’d come over and give me a hug.  I just don’t see that happening.”

Last year, Connors was let go of his coaching duties with Maria Sharapova after 1 match. He also worked with Andy Roddick in the past.  When asked if he would ever consider coaching again he responded with a humorous “no” and then explained “I say that laughingly.  I shouldn’t say that so quickly.  I would prefer to get a young kid that’s eager and willing to listen, has had no success.  That would be the ultimate, I guess.  As much as I enjoyed being with Andy, traveling around, he was a major champion.  When you hit that height ‑ Maria also ‑ things change, things are different, attitudes are different.  As much as you want it, it’s still a different way of thinking.  So for me to say it, I would rather find somebody young that’s moldable would probably be the best way to say it.”

Connors concluded the call with some thoughts about Nashville native and oft-sidelined ATP pro player Brian Baker, “But to stick to it like he did, to want to go through all that, still want to go out and play, man, oh, man, I’d like to find a 14‑year‑old about like that, that’s willing to do all that, and also listens.  Boy, oh, boy, that would be something. I hope he finds nothing but success in anything he does.  He’s not going to walk away from any fight, no matter what.  That’s pretty special there.”

Brad Hunter will be in Nashville covering the Powershares Series Tennis event for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his updates on @TennisNewsTPN. Follow his personal Twitter @BradHunter.

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Kei Nishikori Repeats as Memphis Champion

 

nishikori memphis

(February 16, 2014) Kei Nishikori repeated as the champion at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships in Memphis, stopping Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-4, 7-6 (0) on Sunday. For the No. 16 ranked player, this was his first career title defense. He is the first repeat winner since Tommy Haas won in 2006 and 2007.

“It’s amazing to defend a title for the first time, especially here,” Nishikori said. “I had a great memory from last year and I’m playing great.”

“I get a lot of confidence from keeping my ranking in the Top 20. It’s going to take some time to get to Top 10, Top 5, but I think I’m getting close.”

“He’s really fast,” Karlovic said. “He hits winners from any position on the court. That’s his game. He returned really well.”

“It was a good week for me. I’m really happy with the way I played. I hope I will continue like this and by the end of the year get into the Top 40.”

Nishikori was given a wild-card into this tournament, which this year was downgraded to 250 event, it was a 500 point event a year ago when he won.

This is Nishikori’s sixth ATP title.

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Memphis Odds and Ends

By Brad Hunter

Jurgen Melzer photo courtesy of Memphis Tennis Facebook page

The Regions Morgan Keegan Championships

WTA  Report

“Hi Honey” and “yes ma’am”… The ladies (and men) who work in the Racquet Club were all so sweet, and mostly southern thus making this visit extra enjoyable

Like Monica… Lucie Hradecka hits huge and double-handed from both sides off the ground, but her most impressive shot was her accurate and offensive return of service which she used to good effect in winning the doubles with partner Hlavackova, for their seconddoubles title of the year

Home away from home… Repeat singles winner Sofia Arvidsson has her own Parking spot, and looks completely relaxed and at home playing in Memphis

Doubles surprise… Melanie Oudin fell early in singles, but when she teamed with Jamie Hampton in the doubles, the Grandstand court was packed

Getting some Momentum in Memphis… Vera Dushevina put together her 1st back-to-back main draw wins of 2012 in singles by reaching the semi-finals, and she and doubles partner Govortsova reached the final

ATP

Crazy forehands… Jack Sock’s forehand is really interesting and wristy and twisty—a windshield wiper forward motion which rivals Ryan Harrison’s forehand in the wristy and twisty department.

Not bad but bounced anyway… Andy Roddick is a great competitor so he probably did not pencil in a “W” before he stepped on court with Xavier Malisse, even though he had won their only/previous 9 meetings… and Andy played some aggressive, solid tennis… but Malisse returned like a doubles specialist and came up with the magic shots when it mattered—thus bouncing the biggest crowd draw of the tournament in the 1st round

Doubles out, singles in… 2011 US Open doubles champions Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschener were glares, missed shots and self-criticizing yelps in their 1st round loss in Memphis to Benneteau/Rochus but Jurgen played like it was Roland Garros 2010 in winning his 1st title in Memphis

A sensible argyle… Radek Stepanek wore a not crazy shirt… and no one talked about his wardrobe… until now

Gulbis gives good interview… Amanda Le May caught  up with Ernie before his Raonic match

Brad and Sam, Sam and John… Sam Querrey and his backhand (Brad’s influence already?) looked pretty good winning his first back-to-back singles matches of 2012 and reaching the doubles semis with Isner.

 

Brad Hunter was in Memphis last week covering the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Memphis International as media for Tennis Panorama  Follow his personal twitter account @BradHunter.

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Americans Isner, Querrey and Harrison Advance in Memphis

Americans Sweeting, Querrey, Isner and Harrison Advance in Singles; Benneteau/Rochus Take Out 2011 US Open Champs Petzschner/Melzer

By Brad Hunter

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (February 21, 2012) – On Court 1 at The Regions Morgan Keegan Championships on Tuesday, Frenchman, 30-year old Julien Benneteau teamed with (his fourth different doubles partner in four tournaments played in 2012) Belgian 31-year old Olivier Rochus (himself teaming with his fifth different doubles partner in 5 tournaments) to beat 2011 US Open champions and #2 seeds 27-year old German Philipp Petzschner and 30-year old Austrian Jurgen Melzer  6-1, 3-6, 10-5.  The atmosphere for the intimate Court 1 was intense, and the crowd was animated throughout.  Both teams traded steely glances towards each other, exasperation for missing shots, and some interesting bits of questioning line calls and the chair umpire.  Late in the 1st set, Melzer asked the chair how the lineswoman could possibly make lines calls “because she is wearing sunglasses inside!”  The close quarters on Court 1 heightened the fun of the experience, and there was a palpable buzz running through the crowd most of the match.

Later on Center Court, 24-year old American Ryan Sweeting defeated veteran American, 32-year old James Blake 6-0, 6-2.  Six-foot-five Sweeting, ranked 78, moved well throughout the match, and his crisp hitting and defense forced Blake, ranked 61, into many errors.  Blake, playing in his first tournament of 2012, looked deflated for a good portion of the match, perhaps partly because of some rust in his own game.  Sweeting played an impressive mix of defense and high percentage tennis, and capitalized on most short ball and mid-court opportunities he found during the baseline rallies.

Next up on Center Court, was 24-year old American Sam Querrey against 28-year old Colombian, Alejandro Falla.  Querrey, ranked 99, recently hired Brad Gilbert as his coach, and Gilbert was in Memphis watching his new charge tough out a 3-set win over the scrappy Falla.  Falla, ranked 60, consistently attacked Querrey’s backhand throughout the match and built himself a solid lead by taking the first set 6-2.  It took Querrey some time before he got his forehand clicking but he recovered to take the final 2 sets 6-3 and 6-4.  This was a good win for Sam, who has struggled at the start the year and has not won 2 matches in row in 2012- he plays the winner of Robbie Ginepri and Kevin Anderson in his next match.

 

Behind "THE BASELINE"

The first night match pitted 26-year old American and top seed John Isner versus the dangerous 28-year old Gilles Muller from Luxembourg.  From the beginning, the crowd was vocally behind the 13th ranked Isner and he made things even more interesting for spectators sitting behind the baseline to the left of the chair because several of his balls went flying renegade into the crowd.  It happened at least 7 or 8 times, and a man sitting behind “THE baseline” center service line responded by waving a white towel.  Isner even walked up to the behind THE baseline crowd after a changeover to apologize and laugh with them.   Muller, ranked 69, also sent a few balls into the crowd.  Both men, known for their fierce serves, played themselves into 2 tiebreakers.  Isner, who hit 26 aces, ran away with the first tiebreak 7-1 by playing aggressive tennis and attacking short balls and moving forward to the net.  Muller fought well in the second set, saving 5 of 5 break points, but eventually fell in the tiebreak 4-7.  Isner, who combined with his doubles match has won 4 straight tiebreak sets in Memphis, got a loud reception from the crowd for winning the match and next plays Donald Young.

The final match of the evening featured 2 wildcard American teenagers: 19-year old Ryan Harrison and 19-year old Jack Sock.  Both men appeared nervous to start, but it was the more experienced Harrison who saved all 3 of his break points during the 1st set.  Harrison, ranked 73 and off a semifinal run in San Jose last week, played a steadier more high percentage style of baseline tennis to take the 1st set 6-3.  Sock, ranked 306, began the match hitting more flat and powerfully than Harrison and with more errors, but adjusted his game in the 2nd set.  Harrison also appeared to go on a mental walkabout, losing 2 service games and the set 2-6.  The 3rd set brought out the best tennis of the match.  Sock, attacking short balls and utilizing his crisp volleying skills, looked like the stronger player early in the 3rd.  But Harrison played some good defense, and turned the match in his favor by doing what I’ve been seeing a lot of this week: he played some solid defense and prolonged points against the more go-for-broke style of tennis Sock was playing.  The low margins eventually were Sock’s undoing, and he lost the break and the set 4-6 to Harrison.  Both men are the same age, but Harrison’s got a bit more experience playing tour matches, and he used this confidence to good effect in winning this match.

Brad Hunter is covering the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Memphis International as media for Tennis Panorama News this week. Follow his reports here and live updates on our twitter account @TennisNewsTPN. Follow his personal twitter account @BradHunter.

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Dushevina beats Qualifier Hampton, Hampton teams up with Oudin for Doubles Win in Memphis

Vera Dushevina beats Qualifier Jamie Hampton.  Hampton later teams with Melanie Oudin for a Doubles Win in Memphis

By Brad Hunter

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (February 21, 2012) – Twenty-two year old American qualifier Jamie Hampton, who defeated defending 2011 Memphis champion Magdalena Rybarikova in the first round Sunday evening, lost her second round match on Tuesday on the Grandstand court at The Regions Morgan Keegan Championships.

Hampton, ranked 104, started strongly against 25-year old Russian Vera Dushevina by hitting powerful, aggressive groundstrokes and building herself a 4-2 first set lead.  At this point in the match Dushevina, ranked 89, used her defense and higher percentage topspin shots to force the Hampton power game to start missing.  Many rallies saw Hampton gain the court positioning advantage and then miss her put-away shots.

When Hampton started missing she became audibly and visibly agitated and Dushevina’s ability to prolong points ultimately proved too much for Hampton.  She was able to push back against Vera when she was down 1-5 in the second set, but Dushevina closed the win out at 6-4, 6-3.  The last point of the match saw a Dushevina passing shot angle bounce near the line – surely a call Hampton would’ve asked for a shot spot on had that been available.  Hampton angry, laughed and let out an exasperated plea to the chair, to no avail, as the chair was already saying “Game, Set, Match, Dushevina”.  Even with the loss, Hampton showed a powerful and aggressive baseline game which should carry her far in the WTA .

Dushevina showed impressive mental fortitude, getting agitated herself many times during the match but reeling it back in, and looks to be a strong threat for a title in Memphis (she’s also in the doubles draw with Olga Govortsova).  Later in the afternoon, Hampton teamed with Melanie Oudin (who lost today to spectacled Stephanie Foretz Gacon) for a 6-1, 6-0 doubles win against the team of Stefanie Mikesz and Mariya Slupska.

Brad Hunter is covering the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Memphis International as media for Tennis Panorama News this week. Follow his reports here and live on our twitter account @TennisNewsTPN. Follow his personal twitter account @BradHunter.

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Tough Day in Memphis for Young Americans Sloane Stephens, Lauren Davis, Madison Keys and Alexa Glatch

By Brad Hunter

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (February 20, 2012) – The first match I sat down to watch at The Regions Morgan Keegan Championships was the Court 1, first round WTA match between 17-year old American Lauren Davis and 25-year old American Varvara  Lepchenko.  Davis was awarded a wildcard into the event, and Lepchenko was fresh off a Round of 16 run in Doha where she beat Alexandra Wozniak and Julia Goerges before falling to Agnieska Radwanska.  Lepchenko, ranked 90, started quickly by powering her way to a 2-0 lead, blasting groundstroke winners and mixing in touch angle volleys and paralyzing Davis’ game.  Lefty Varvara , who plays a bit like Petra Kvitova , can seemingly hit clean groundstroke winners from all over the court, off both sides and from many court positions.  She was a bit agitated from the start though, taking looks at the line judges for calling two foot faults on her early and quickly getting angry at herself for making errors.  Davis, ranked 221, began hitting her topspin forehand deeper into the court, and using her flatter backhand to pounce on short balls.   Davis, who trains at the Evert Academy, is a good competitor, and showed this by sneaking in to knock off volleys on important points and building herself a 5-2 1st set lead.  A frustrated Lepchenko took the opportunity to call her coach out for a quick chat and it helped her calm herself and win the last 5 games of the set to take it 7-5.  Lepchenko kept her edge the rest of the match, taking the 2nd set and the match 6-3.  Her play was patchy at times, possibly due to some fatigue from making the trip from Doha but her more powerful ground strokes and ability to consistently end points from midcourt and the net was too solid for quick, sparky Davis.

Before the end on the Davis/Lepchenko match on Court 1, 25-year old Russian Vera Dushevina and 17-year old American Madison Keys started their match on the adjacent Grandstand court.  Keys, ranked 256 and a wildcard entrant who also trains at Evert Academy, is one of the most talked about young Americans after her splashy US Open performance last year.  Dushevina, ranked 89, who famously gave Venus a 1st round 3-set scare in US Open in 2009, used her experience to take the match 6-2, 7-5.

Another American wildcard entrant into this event, 18-year old American Sloane Stephens, started strongly on the Grandstand court against 23-year old New Zealander Marina Erakovic, winning the 1st set 6-4 by hitting an array of backhand winners.  Sloane, ranked 86, and known for her powerful forehand and run to the 3rd round of the US Open last year never looked settled.  She lost 12 of the last 13 games and the match to 54th ranked Erakovic.

Taking the Grandstand court in the next match, was 22-year old American qualifier Alexa Glatch and 22-year old Ukranian Lesia Tsurenko.  Glatch, ranked 186, looked like the clear favorite to win, using her qualifying momentum, heavy forehand and versatile backhand slice to build a 6-2, 5-3 lead.  Many times, between points, Lesia was breathing heavy and loudly and grabbing her midsection.  Whatever her ailment was, Lesia, ranked 125, found a better level to her game and began playing an aggressive all-court game to overwhelm Glatch and steal the match.  Lesia even fought off a match point on the 2nd set tiebreak.

Although a tough day for Stephens, Keys, Glatch and Davis, all four ladies are still around in the Memphis tourney and will be back on the court playing doubles tomorrow.  Keys and Davis team up to play Erakoviv and Pervak and Stephens and Glatch team up to play fellow Americans Jamie Hampton (who took out defending champion Rybarikova yesterday in the first round) and Melanie Oudin (who plays Foretz Gacon in the first round on Tuesday).  Also seen scouting the American gals, Lead National Coach of Women’s Tennis, Tom Gullikson.

Brad Hunter is in Memphis covering the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Memphis International as media for Tennis Panorama News.

Upset of the day on the men’s side – Croatia’s Ivan Dodig ousted No. 8 seed Bernard Tomic of Australia 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (8) on Monday. Dodig saved two match points on the way to victory.

“I was really happy after the match because I’ve been losing tight, tight matches,” Dodig said. “This is going to give me more confidence.”

RESULTS – MONDAY, 20 FEBRUARY, 2012

Women’s Singles – First Round
(Q) Camila Giorgi (ITA) d. (1) Nadia Petrova (RUS) 64 62
(3) Lucie Hradecka (CZE) d. Anna Tatishvili (GEO) 63 61
(4) Marina Erakovic (NZL) d. Sloane Stephens (USA) 46 60 61
Michaella Krajicek (NED) d. (6) Elena Baltacha (GBR) 62 61
Sofia Arvidsson (SWE) d. Heather Watson (GBR) 62 63
Vera Dushevina (RUS) d. (WC) Madison Keys (USA) 62 75
Varvara Lepchenko (USA) d. (WC) Lauren Davis (USA) 75 63
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) d. (Q) Alexa Glatch (USA) 26 76(5) 62 (saved 2mp)

Doubles – First Round
(1) Hlavackova/Hradecka (CZE/CZE) d. Pavlovic/Rodina (FRA/RUS) 60 63
(2) Dushevina/Govortsova (RUS/BLR) d. Dolonts/Foretz Gacon (RUS/FRA) 46 62 108 (Match TB)
(4) Krajicek/Tatishvili (NED/GEO) d. Kondratieva/Lefèvre (RUS/FRA) 62 60
Watson/Woehr (GBR/GER) d. Brianti/Parmentier (ITA/FRA) 63 61
Lee-Waters/Moulton-Levy (USA/USA) d. (WC) Hibberd/Welcher (AUS/USA) 60 60
Men’s Singles – First Round
I Dodig (CRO) d [8] B Tomic (AUS) 57 64 76(8) – saved 2 M.P.
D Young (USA) d G Dimitrov (BUL) 76(4) 46 76(6)

Doubles – First Round
J Isner (USA) / S Querrey (USA) d [4] S Gonzalez (MEX) / C Kas (GER) 76(1) 76(2)
SCHEDULE – TUESDAY, 21 FEBRUARY, 2012

STADIUM start 10:00 am
[WC] M Oudin (USA) vs S Foretz Gacon (FRA) – WTA
R Marino (CAN) vs [2] K Pervak (KAZ) – WTA
J Blake (USA) vs R Sweeting (USA) – ATP
[WC] S Querrey (USA) vs A Falla (COL) – ATP
Not Before 7:00 PM
[1] J Isner (USA) vs G Muller (LUX) – ATP
[WC] R Harrison (USA) vs [WC] J Sock (USA) – ATP

GRANDSTAND start 10:00 am
[Q] R Kendrick (USA) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR) – ATP
[7] J Larsson (SWE) vs V Lepchenko (USA) – WTA
V Dushevina (RUS) vs [Q] J Hampton (USA) – WTA
[5] P Parmentier (FRA) vs A Hlavackova (CZE) – WTA
O Govortsova (BLR) vs M Krajicek (NED) – WTA
S Arvidsson (SWE) / J Larsson (SWE) vs [3] L Dekmeijere (LAT) / N Petrova (RUS) – WTA

COURT 1 start 10:00 am
[4] M Erakovic (NZL) vs E Rodina (RUS) – WTA
J Benneteau (FRA) / O Rochus (BEL) vs [2] J Melzer (AUT) / P Petzschner (GER) – ATP
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) / L Kubot (POL) vs S Lipsky (USA) / R Ram (USA) – ATP
T Huey (PHI) / X Malisse (BEL) vs [3] F Cermak (CZE) / F Polasek (SVK) – ATP
M Erakovic (NZL) / K Pervak (KAZ) vs [WC] L Davis (USA) / M Keys (USA) – WTA
A Glatch (USA) / S Stephens (USA) vs J Hampton (USA) / M Oudin (USA) – WTA

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“All About Serena”

By Brad Hunter

MASON, Ohio – The tournament was in full swing on Tuesday: many of the top players had their first matches, the crowd at the Lindner Family Tennis Center was large and bustling, the yearly heat and humidity returned after the past 2 days of cloud cover and moderate temperatures, and Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams showed up for their first visits to the tournament site.  I arrived this morning and went straight to the media center to avail myself to numerous handouts with statistics, match and day preview info and schedules that are available and then I checked for what piece of information I had been anticipating since yesterday… when is Serena getting here/when is she scheduled to practice?  The answer: on court 5 at 12:30pm.  I wanted to see her for a variety of reasons and also because Williams is not a player that plays a whole bunch of tournaments so any opportunity to see her should be taken.

Would she really show up in Cincy? I walked towards court 5 around Noon and then dawdled around the area.  Richard Williams and his wife arrived arm in arm, several minutes before Serena did.  The couple entered the practice court, surveyed the layout, grabbed some cold drinks and chit-chatted a bit with the coach of the ladies still hitting on Court 5.  Serena and hitting partner Sasha Bajin arrived just a few minutes after 12:30pm, being driven out to court 5 on the back of a golf cart, thru a back entrance pathway not open to the public. She was nibbling what appeared to be a granola bar and her hair was untamed and voluminous.  She looked tired because she was moving slowly, and she made her way straight to the court.  She hugged her family, and then put her hair pack in a ponytail under a hat and began her practice session with Sasha and another Rafa-type ball striker.  Her hitting was steady and powerful as expected, but I noticed something I never would have seen had I not been 15 feet away from her.  She holds her head and gaze still in her forehand stroke follow thru as if she’s looking at something off to the side of the court—very much like Roger Federer.  It’s dramatic and methodical, and I figure that it’s part of the focus that makes her forehand the weapon of a shot that it is.

How fit is she?  Serena looks thinner, leaner, stronger in person than I remember her looking in a long time.  She looks like she did back in 2004 and before.  She worked with her new trainer and has said that she wanted to get as fit as possible because she has never been as fit as she could possibly be.

How does her ball-striking look compared to the other ladies I have seen so far? (FYI- I have seen Maria Sharapova, Petra  Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka) Serena appears relaxed producing her power and placement.  The game looks easy for her, while often times it looks more like “work” for some of her competitors.  She more of a Djokovic than she is a Nadal, in her stroke mechanics.

How would she pkay in her match against Hradecka? Serena carried her on-fire form into the match with Hradecka, but she looked labored between points and while changing sides between games.  She had a huge double break lead in the second set, but couldn’t close Hradecka out.  Hradecka called her coach out while down 2-5, a move I thought was moderately hopeful at best because Serena had been holding serve so easily, but Hradecka proved shrewd in her thinking.  She played better tennis after that and eventually had chances to steal the second set away from Serena, but even a fatigued Serena is too much for most players to beat.

How would she handle the media room and what would be the questions that the other journalists intended to ask her? Serena was open and professional in her interview with the media.  She made a few jokes, answered her questions thoughtfully, and spoke about her love of Britney Spears with a reporter who asked her about a few different Britney songs.  Everyone seemed to have a good time. Serena has been known to be prickly with the media, but there was none of that during this session.  She says she’s more grateful for everything in her life and her tennis career, and I believe she means what she says.

Listen to Serena Williams’ news conference August 16, 2011

Brad Hunter is covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Panorama News this week. Follow his reports here and live on our twitter account @GVTennisNews. Follow his personal twitter account @BradHunter.

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WTA All-Access at the Western and Southern Open

Vera Zvonarena at Carlsbad WTA All-Access

By Brad Hunter

MASON, Ohio – Monday the media was treated to two hours of question and answer sessions with the top eight women’s seeds at the Western & Southern Open as part of WTA All-Access Hour.

Marion Bartoli appears to be a great health, looks fit and trim and has a nice summer tan.  She was dressed in a sporty, casual top and sweats.   Bartoli was open and relaxed and smiled easily which impressed me for a couple of reasons: she was sitting at a table and was surrounded by 10-12 members of the media staring at her, and she was fairly shy and introverted not that long ago.  When complimented by a reporter on her English,  Bartoli made a joke about how she listened and studied English from when she was young, and that perhaps some of the other French players who didn’t speak English well just didn’t listen to English that much (as much as her).

Victoria Azarenka showed up towards the end of Bartoli’s interview, and she slipped in quietly, sat down at another table and started signing autograph postcards.  Just before she walked over to the table to speak with the media, she applied her super shiny lip gloss.  Azarenka’s hair was swept to one side, around the front of one shoulder.  She was dressed like she might be going shopping on Melrose after, with a graphic tee, bright tennis shoes, and casual ¾ length pants.  The first questions were about her injury, which she answered carefully and like all the gals, she was relaxed thru all questions. Listen to Victoria Azarenka.

Caroline Wozniacki also entered silently and went straight to the autograph signing table after which, when she was done, she went and sat at a different table.   She was smiley and completely relaxed during the interview and even handled the potentially embarrassing Rory McIlroy questions without giving away too much info but maintaining her composure.  She answered several questions about her game and the growth that her game needs in order to win a Grand Slam, and she didn’t appear overly defensive about the topic.  She defended herself and her game but acknowledged that she would continue working.  She was dressed in her sporty casuals: a t-shirt type top, maybe a sweatshirt, and ¾ length sweatpants.  This outfit was worn by every woman except Azarenka.  Listen to Caroline Wozniaki

 

One expects Petra Kvitova to be shy, especially after seeing her being interviewed by Martina Navratilova this year during Wimbledon.  She was a bit reserved but she seemed much more at ease in this round table interview setting.   She laughed several times, and tried earnestly to answer every question– at times her honesty made the media folks crack up as well.  She says winning Wimbledon didn’t change her as a person.  Listen  to Petra Kvitova

 

Li Na slipped in right after, and was fun and hilarious and sweet from the first question on.   She spoke easily and quickly joked about her new found wealth, her spike in popularity, growth of tennis in Asia, and her husband.  I also noticed her tan lines where she wears her wrist bands. She answered every question thoughtfully, and seemed to get the most questions of all the players- so much that at some point Schiavone came into the room and started answering questions at another table in a different part of the room.  About half of the interviewers exited quickly, but Li Na was not the least bit distracted and stayed focused until the last question asked of her. Listen to Li Na

 

Francesca Schiavone is fun and seems to love tennis, and people, and honesty, and passion, and everything: she’s mischievous in the “fun, slightly wild friend” sort of way and she maintains a languid look in her eyes when she speaks.  If I were going all night dancing in Milan, then Schiavone seems like the gal who’d (a) be up for it and (b) know exactly which places to go and who to see and what to do.  She is that 2010 Roland Garros final personified.  She joked about not really being very old, made comments about the roles of men and women and challenges for women, and gave her honest appraisal of Americanized Italian food and good places to visit in Italy. Listen to Francesca Schiavone

 

Maria Sharapova peeked her head in towards the end of Schiavone’s interview, waited a bit outside and then came into the room and sat in the same seat Schiavone had been sitting in.  She made a quick joke about everyone’s devices being charged.   She told some interesting anecdotes about wanting to be a rhythmic gymnast, and smoothly answered similar questions that all the gals answered about Wozniacki being No. 1 and “was it deserved?” (Yes, she deserves it), and “are you surprised Serena (Williams) is back so strongly, so quickly?”  (Not surprised, Serena is a great champion).  Sharapova speaks in well modulated manner, and being up close with her in this session revealed that she is also goofy and critical of herself. Listen to Maria Sharapova

Vera Zvonareva was the last interview.  Zvonareva is a deep thinker: she processes her motivations and emotions, assesses situations in a balanced way, and puts her energy into answering every question with thoughtfulness.  She was asked about her thoughts on the combined event and the benefits of this tournament, her favorite doubles partners, and did Wozniacki deserve the No. 1 ranking (Zvonareva says yes, she deserves it). She was the most serious/intense woman who came into the interview room and she smiled when asked about Elena Dementieva’s wedding. Listen to Vera Zvonareva

Brad Hunter is covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Panorama News this weekend. Follow his reports here and live on our twitter account @GVTennisNews. Follow his personal twitter account @BradHunter.

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Memphis Tournament Musings

By Brad Hunter

  • Following along on Twitter has benefits- during the tournament @memphistennis hid free tickets around the grounds and then tweeted the clues for followers to read/discover like @jameyyoo

 

  • The biggest weapon of a stroke I saw this past weekend?- not Milos Raonic’s serve, though it would be second… Sam Querrey’s forehand.

 

  • del Potro hit the most consistent “big ball” off the ground

 

  • Roddick’s sometimes criticized slice backhand was golden for him this past weekend as a get out of jail shot for him against Hewitt and del Potro, and a wicked approach shot against all 3 of his last opponents

 

  • TV does not show how strong these athletes are: Milos Raonic looks really tall and kind of thin on TV but In person he looks like a cross between a high jumper and triathlete

 

  • Magdalena Rybarikova’s game reminds me a bit Martina Hingis with a powerful serve and forehand- she also likes to mix-up her backhand with off pace and slice and drop shots

 

  • When asked if she felt like she had to play the power game common in the top ranks of women’s tennis, Rybarikova said yes “against the top 30 players” while mentioning the “modern, fast” games of Kvitova, Clijsters and Serena Williams

 

  • Andy Roddick is razor sharp in news conferences and interviews- he exemplifies that phrase “say what you mean”

 

  • The women’s doubles final was not 4 singles players playing doubles- it was poaching, volleying, forward movement, crowding the net and the crowd loved it  O. Govortsova/ A. Kudryavtseva def. A. Hlavackova/L. Hradecka 6-3, 4-6, 10-8

 

  • Just before the men’s singles, the men’s doubles final gave the crowd a fantastic final– Butorac/Rojer showed fighting guile and came up with some ridiculous shots but couldn’t maintain that high level and lost to rock solid Nestor/Mirnyi 6-2, 6-7(6), 10-3

 

  • After losing in the singles finals, Raonic and Marino had great perspective and humor in their on-court interviews and in the news conferences- both of them had the crowd and media laughing and smiling… like two old pros

Last weekend Brad Hunter covered the Cellular South Cup and Regions Morgan Keegan Championships in Memphis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow him on twitter @bradhunter.

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