May 24, 2016

Kerber Straight A’s in Finals, Wins Bank of the West Classic

Kerber winning 2-001

 

By Curt Janka

(August 9, 2015) STANFORD, California – There are no easy finals in Stanford and this one was no exception. Angelique Kerber was pushed hard to beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Kerber is now a perfect 4-0 in championship matches this year.

 

There were patches of both sloppy and brilliant play from the players. The first set went back and forth as Kerber won the opening two games, dropped the next three, then closed the set on a 4 game streak. In the hot, breezy conditions, Pliskova struggled to keep her attacking shots inside the court. She got her first break in a game where she mostly hit her returns deep and at Kerber’s feet. But Kerber adjusted and forced Pliskova to go for more corners instead.

 

Pliskova, whose biggest weapon all week had been her serve, struggled to hold.

“It was definitely off, my serve,” she said. “I didn’t feel it at all. Not the first serve, not even the second serve. That’s probably for me the worst thing. It wasn’t working. I think that’s why I lost today.”

 

Holding was difficult for both players as the second set featured nine breaks of serve and only three holds. Kerber started to mix a few more drop shots into her shots and while Pliskova was able to get to them, she may have hurt her ankle to do so. She called for the trainer just before serving at 6-5 to have her ankle wrapped.

 

Asked about the injury she said, “Yes, I did some bad step with the right ankle. And then it was getting a little bit worse because I was running quite a lot today. It was much better after [it was wrapped].”

 

Pliskova gave credit to Kerber’s defensive abilities. “It was maybe harder than in the last matches for me because you always have to play one more ball than with the normal girls. So that’s why I made maybe more mistakes and that’s why also I was pushing the serve a little bit too much.”

 

Kerber has worked hard on her fitness, but she believes her commitment to being more aggressive is paying off. “I’m happy that I was going for it and not just pushing the ball back and hoping for the mistakes. I think that was the key in the end for me.

 

Kerber may be undefeated in finals this year, but that was not the case in 2014. When asked what’s different this year she smiled and said, “It’s coming back. Last year I was like 0-4 and now it’s 4-0. I think right now I have a lot of experience from last year, from all my finals. I’m just trying to go out there and enjoy the final. Every time I reach the final I know, okay I’ve had a great week already, just go out there, try your best and just take it.”

Curt Janka and David Sweet  were covering the Bank of the West Classic.

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Kerber Cruises Past Svitolina to Reach Stanford Final

By Curt Janka

(August 8, 2015) STANFORD, California – Despite going down an early break, Angelique Kerber raced to a lopsided semifinal win over Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 at the Bank of the West Classic. Svitolina started out well, but was quickly flustered by Kerber’s defense and variety. Kerber showed all the patience of a veteran and none of the wear expected from her grueling quarterfinal. In contrast, Svitolina showed her youth and frustration at her inability to regain any control of the match.

 

After being broken in the third game, Kerber got a determined look in her eye, broke right back and never let her opponent regain any momentum. Asked about how she turned the match around, she offered “Actually the first few games were very close. I was trying to be aggressive like I talked before the match with my coach and trying to think about my game plan. At the end it worked very well. And maybe it [getting broken] was a little bit of a wake up call, yeah.”

 

It wasn’t as high-level as her quarterfinal, but Kerber still managed to hit 18 winners with only 14 unforced errors. Svitolina had more trouble keeping the ball in the court, hitting only 12 winners while racking up 20 unforced errors.

 

Kerber now faces Karolina Pliskova in the final, a rematch of their final in Birmingham earlier this year. Kerber needed a tiebreaker in the third to win that match and knows she will have another tough match in this final. “I’m looking forward to it,” she said with a smile. “The final in Birmingham was very close. Against Karolina, I know she has a big serve so I must try to return very well tomorrow. And, like I was playing the whole week here, be aggressive, playing my game. But for sure it will be a tough final against Karolina. But I will try to enjoy it.”

 

Regardless of tomorrow’s result, Kerber will leave Stanford with the kind of confidence that could result in a deep run at The U.S. Open.

 

Curt Janka and David Sweet are covering the Bank of the West Classic. Follow their updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN

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Pliskova Powers Past Lepchenko at Bank of the West Classic

 

Pliskova in press

By Curt Janka

(August 8, 2015) STANFORD, California – Karolina Pliskova swung freely into her fifth final of the year, beating Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 7-5. Most of the match boiled down to serves and return of serves. Pliskova continued her week of good serving with 72% of her first serves landing in while Lepchenko only managed 57%. Pliskova returned better as well, landing 72% of her returns in compared to the 56% Lepchenko struggled to get back in play.

 

Asked about what she did well today, Pliskova said “I think I served a little bit better. I don’t mean with the aces, but with the percentage of the first serve. She was really struggling with the return.”

 

The win puts Pliskova in her fifth final of the year, the most of any player on tour. Bigger still, she will advance to the Top 10 in the rankings for the first time on Monday. What does she think about being there? “I don’t really feel like I’m in the top 10,” she laughed. Mathematically, she was going to be there regardless of how she did at this event. She continued, “I know I belong there now, especially when I make the finals. I’m really happy to be in the Top 10, but I’m not going to think about it because it’s not my last goal. It was for a few years, but I don’t want to be satisfied with that. I want to be ready for the US Open and get a good result there.” She is also in the running to qualify for the year-end event in Singapore and hopes to be there.

Pliskova fistpump

Pliskova awaits the winner of the semifinal between Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina. Pliskova has won both of her previous encounters with Svitolina, but trails Kerber 2-3 head-to-head. Regardless of her opponent and the result, she has had a good week and will carry confidence to the US Open. “I’m feeling great now after I won three matches here and didn’t lose a set yet. Couldn’t be a better start to the hard court season.”

Curt Janka and David Sweet are covering the Bank of the West Classic. Follow their updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN

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Kerber Edges Radwanska in Thriller at Bank of the West Classic

Kerber

By Curt Janka

(August 7, 2015) STANFORD, California – All the cats. All the mice. Angelique Kerber needed every shot in her arsenal to overcome the craft and guile of Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. Up an early break in the first set, Radwanska appeared to have all the answers. Frustration read across Kerber’s face, but she played each point more determined than the last. The result was a display of variety and quality shot making from both players.

 

Both players utilized drop shots, lobs, angles and deep groundstrokes to move each other around the court and beyond.

 

I think we covered every part of the court,” Radwanska said. “So much angles from both sides… I don’t remember when I was ever running that much.”

 

Overall, Radwanska seemed happy with her play but regretted not taking advantage of the chances she had. “I think it was a great match. I think what I didn’t do is just finish the games well. I was 30-Love up a few times. She was just better today.”

 

Early on, Kerber was not sure she was the better player. “There were so many points where she was hitting the ball unbelievably and made the shots. I don’t even know how she played the balls. I was just standing there like, ‘Okay, we’re done, Aga.’ I couldn’t do anything. And then I said to myself, ‘Just forget that ball, focus on the next one, stay in the moment and try to keep fighting.’ And I’m happy I won the match. At the end I think we should both win.”

 

The players were both rewarded with loud applause from the fans.

 

Kerber advances to the semifinals. She will play Elina Svitolina who has won their last two encounters. Kerber admitted it will be another tough match. “Tomorrow is a new day and a new opponent, so I have to be ready for her, too.”

 

Curt Janka is covering the Bank of the West Classic this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

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Svitolina Rallies to Beat Riske at Bank of the West Classic

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By Curt Janka

(August 7, 2015) STANFORD, CaliforniaElina Svitolina waited until late in the second set to elevate her play to defeat Alison Riske 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. There were many breaks of serve and the two were quite even up until Riske was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. That’s when Svitolina seemed to find a new gear and went on to win 9 of the final 10 games.

 

“I was trying to push myself to stick to the baseline,” Svitolina explained. “It didn’t work against her so for me it was important to try to react fast and try to open the angles. Just pushing the ball you can’t win at this level. That’s why when I was 4-5 down, I said to myself ‘Come on and just hit the ball, wait for your chance and open the court.’ And that’s what brought me success today.”

 

The top players won’t often let an opponent back in a match like she experienced today. So what can she work on to get better? Svitolina offered, “I need to practice more on my serve. I need to find the confidence. Sometimes it can be really good and dangerous for my opponent. I need to work more on my serve to have it for every match, not just a few games.”

With the win, Svitolina advances to the semifinals of The Bank of the West Classic. She awaits the winner of the quarterfinal between Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska. Svitolina said she will watch some of the encounter. “I’m sure it will be a good match because they are both trying very hard for each ball. They are really tough opponents and I think it will be a really interesting match.”

 

Curt Janka is covering the Bank of the West Classic this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

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“Nobody beats me 5 times,” Lepchenko Upsets Wozniacki at Stanford

Varvara Lepchenko

Varvara Lepchenko

By Curt Janka

(August 6, 2015) STANFORD, CaliforniaVarvara Lepchenko played steady to beat top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki at the Bank of the West Classic 6-4, 6-2 despite a number of brief rain delays. Neither player exhibited much emotion on court, as Wozniacki appeared slowed by a leg taped heavily from the knee down. The win is Lepchenko’s third over a Top 5 player, but only her first over Wozniacki who held a 4-0 record over the qualifier.

 

“Nobody beats me 5 times,” Lepchenko finally cracked a smile in her on-court interview.

 

Asked if her leg was her main problem tonight, Wozniacki said “Physically, I wasn’t feeling 100 percent. It wasn’t pretty out there, that’s for sure. At the end of the day she played better. Hats off to her.” The injury did not seem to worry her too much, however, as she explained “Hopefully, a few days and I’ll be okay.”

 

Lepchenko, who battled illness early in the season, has worked hard to get back in good condition. “The very first day after Wimbledon I started my physical conditioning,” she said. “I worked pretty hard to get myself to this point. I think I’m in better condition now than at the beginning of the season.”

 

Both players remarked on how quick the court is playing here, but Wozniacki thought that might help her for her next event. “Now, hopefully everything will feel slow in Toronto.” At least she found a silver lining amidst tonight’s scattered showers.

 

Curt Janka is covering the Bank of the West Classic this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

 

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Varvara Lepchenko

Varvara Lepchenko

 

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Teams On The Edge

Courier and Bryans

By Vito Ellison, Special to Tennis Panorama News

(February 1, 2014) SAN DIEGO – With the Southern California sun finally making an appearance and a partisan crowd finally making their presence both seen and heard, it was clearly a new day in this US vs. Great Britain Davis Cup World Group tie.  Nonetheless, the American team was still haunted by yesterday’s failures at Petco Park in San Diego.

 

For a doubles pairing that had just kept the American side alive in this Davis Cup, the Bryan Brothers were in no mood for celebrating—or even smiling—about their win today, neither was US Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier.  The Bryans raised their record as a team to 21-4 in the competition on the back of a decisive 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Dominic Inglot and Colin Fleming. Yet, it was clear from the beginning of their press conference that the twins had other things on their minds.

 

“Always feels bad to let the team down,” Bob said.  He was responding to the first question raised.  While the query was about winning this match following two uncharacteristic, five-set Davis Cup losses a season ago, Bryan’s allusion wasn’t lost on anyone.  Bob was as much referencing the still-stinging memories of their 2013 Davis Cup campaign as he was yesterday’s upset loss by Sam Querrey at the hands of James Ward.

 

The Bryans had little mercy on their opponents today, avenging their teammate’s defeat by drawing 45 forced errors from the British pair in a match that didn’t reach the two-hour mark.  Their only hiccup, a loose game on Bob’s serve in the third set, that cost the USA a straight sets triumph. “I think they just take it to you every time,” said Inglot about his opponents. “They always ask a question of you and they’re never going to give you any free points.” “The match can rush away from you,” Fleming added.  “When we got behind in sets, it can become a blur against them.”

 

As uncharitable as the Bryans were on-court, Courier matched in the pressroom.  When asked about Querrey’s chances of springing an upset of 2-time major champion Andy Murray tomorrow, Courier fired with little hesitation, “He’s going to have to play significantly better than he did yesterday to stand a chance.” The British squad, while realistic, wasn’t taking anything for granted.  When asked about Andy Murray’s chances against a player who had just suffered a disappointing loss, another thinly veiled reference to Querrey, British captain Leon Smith stifled the rumor of a smile breaking out on his face and replied “Very good.  Yeah, very good.”

Vito Ellison is in San Diego, California covering the Davis Cup tie between the USA and Great Britain for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his updates on the site’s twitter @TennisNewsTPN, on his personal twitter @vblacklabel. and visit his site Blacklabeltennis.com.

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Expectations, Or The Lack Thereof; Ward Upsets Querrey

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Expectations, Or The Lack Thereof; Ward Upsets Querrey

James Ward

James Ward

By Vito Ellison, Special to Tennis Panorama News

(January 31, 2014) SAN DIEGO – “Yeah, from London, Arsenal fan, see myself as a pretty normal bloke,” that’s how James Ward described himself to the assembled press following what was a rather abnormal moment in his career.  On a temporary red clay court constructed in the outfield of a baseball field, 175th ranked James Ward stunned No. 49 Sam Querrey 1-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in 3 hours and 10 minutes at Petco Park in San Diego.

 

Querrey opened the match in ominous form.  Although he only served 52% in the frame, he stormed to a 6-1 lead in 26 minutes.  This US Davis Cup team’s alpha male was doing the expected versus a presumably outmatched opponent and without much help from his most vaunted weapon.  Asked about moving on from that first set in his post match presser, Ward deadpanned “I thought I couldn’t play much worse than I did in the first set anyway.”

 

With Ward unable to inflict much scoreboard pressure early, he waited for his chances, fully knowing that the situation should ultimately reward him with a few. “They’re one rubber down,” Ward noted. “He’s expected to beat me on paper.  He’s not in an easy position.” After splitting the first six games of the second set though, it looked as if Querrey were about to re-establish his authority on the match. Ward engineered an unlikely comeback from 0-40 down on his serve to hold for 4-3 on serve.  The set went to a tiebreak and it was in that pressure cooker that the big-serving Californian first lost his grip on the match.

 

Sam Querrey

Sam Querrey

It was a topsy turvy affair for the next two sets, Querrey opening the 3rd set strongly, riding newfound momentum to a 6-3 win, backed up by a 4-2 lead in the 4th.  From there, with the expectations shifted back to Querrey, the American, up two sets to one, with a break in the fourth, would only win one more game.  “You know, I think he started to gain some momentum and get some reads on my serve,” Querrey said reflecting on the match.  “You know, kudos to him for making some big shots in the latter part of the match.”

 

The crowd, which had largely been out of the matches all afternoon, in part thanks to Andy Murray’s suffocating victory over Donald Young in the first rubber, began desperately cheering for Querrey to right the ship, but to no avail.  The American No. 1 found himself in a fifth set, a place where he had a 2-7 record; in Davis Cup where he had a 4-6 record.  He wouldn’t improve any of those numbers tonight and his loss leaves the Americans with yet another stat line to try to reverse, 0-2.  The Americans are down 0-2 to Great Britain and will begin trying to take the long road back, starting with the Bryan Brothers tomorrow.  With Murray up next for Querrey, it’ll be the American’s turn to play with no expectations.

 

Vito Ellison is in San Diego, California covering the Davis Cup tie between the USA and Great Britain for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his updates on the site’s twitter @TennisNewsTPN, on his personal twitter @vblacklabel. and visit his site Blacklabeltennis.com.

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USTA NorCal Honors Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe

(L-R) Golden State Warriors legend Alvin Attles, USTA NorCal President Michael Cooke, Beyond the Baseline Icon Award recipient Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, and D.A. Abrams, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

(L-R) Golden State Warriors legend Alvin Attles, USTA NorCal President Michael Cooke, Beyond the Baseline Icon Award recipient Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, and D.A. Abrams, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

By Kevin Ware

(November 12, 2013) SAN FRANCISCO – Rarely has the word ‘legacy’ seemed so inadequate when used to describe the life of a legend like tennis great Arthur Ashe. But such was the case last week at the USTA Northern California’s “Beyond the Baseline: USTA Honors the Legacy of Arthur Ashe and Community Tennis” event in San Francisco.

The word legacy often implies a lingering and often benign effect from past actions. If last week was any indication, however, Arthur’s legacy is alive and well with an active impact on youths in communities across the country.

Most know of Arthur’s notable on-court achievements; like the fact that he was the first African-American US Open champion in the Open Era, or that he was also the first (and as of yet, only) African-American gentlemen’s champion at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

What many may not realize is that Arthur was also a visionary who believed in bringing change to the world through sports and education. Through programs like National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL), Arthur used tennis as a means to teach kids about sport and much more.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Arthur’s widow, put it best: “The purpose of the NJTL wasn’t in teaching kids how to play tennis. It was about getting them to come out and play sports. And then after you got them playing sports you could teach them about life, and life lessons. That was the important lesson of NJTL.”

Since Arthur’s death in 1993, Jeanne has expanded upon the work begun by her late husband with the Arthur Ashe Learning Center (AALC). As stated on their website, the AALC focuses on education, health and wellness, citizenship and self-reliance. By doing so, the AALC attempts to foster “empowerment and leadership in the individual and the community, elevating their sense of purpose and quality of life.”

For her tireless efforts in pursuit of Arthur’s vision, Jeanne was presented the “Beyond the Baseline Icon Award”.  Jeanne graciously made it a point to take pictures with all of the honorees as well as the many young people and fans in attendance. It’s clear to anyone who sees her in action that she finds great purpose in the AALC’s work, and does whatever she can to spread Arthur’s philosophy of sports, education, and empowerment.

When asked how it felt to see the positive effects of Arthur’s work on so many lives over the years, including myself, she stated, “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.” Truer words were never spoken on an evening where many of the local honorees spoke of their beginnings in the NJTL, with some going on to run programs. For a program that was started in 1969, the impact of Ashe many within the tennis community is far-reaching.

Likewise, Jeanne was quick to remind us that Arthur was just a man, not a deity, and that his message of personal empowerment through sports was one that could be spread by all of us. She also reminded us that even though Arthur was the first African-American man to achieve Slam success, the most important aspect of his wins was the fact that he was, first and foremost, an American.

“It wasn’t an Australian that won (the US Open), nor a Spaniard, or German, or Englishman. It was an American. Arthur was an American.”  Though his presence understandably inspired many African-Americans, Arthur’s legacy goes well beyond race. His aim was global, and his intent was to help as many as possible.

Thankfully for us all, Jeanne is here to make sure that we all continue to do our part in carrying that message forward.

In addition to Moutoussamy-Ashe’s Icon Award, USTA NorCal presented awards to ten Bay Area “Beyond the Baseline” Honorees. The local recipients included Michael Applegate, David Van Brunt, Cassandra Borjon, Henry and Connie Chang, Christine Costamagna, Don Johnson, Barbara Lewis, Michael London, and Susan Pretel.

All were honored for their efforts and commitment on behalf of tennis in their own communities. The evening was hosted by Ted Robinson, “The Voice of the 49ers” and frequent tennis announcer.

Kevin Ware is a blogger, writer, and tennis-loving USTA official living in San Francisco.  You can visit his website at www.sftennisfreak.com, and follow him on twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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