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.”
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.
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 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.”
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.”
By Curt Janka
(August 7, 2015) STANFORD, California – Elina 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.”
By Curt Janka
(August 6, 2015) STANFORD, California – Varvara 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.
(March 22, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – It might not have been the final that people wanted, in amongst the hoopla surrounding Serena Williams’ return and subsequent withdrawal in the semi-final, but with 16 minutes gone and only two games on the board, there was no doubt the crowd were going to get their money’s worth, between former champion Jelena Jankovic and World No. 3 Simona Halep.
It was always going to be important for Jankovic to be able to move, and having struggle with injury ahead of the match, she kept the press core in stitches with her lack of preparation, but ultimately bringing in attacking play as well as defence would be the key.
There were early signs of nerves by Halep who struggled for eight minutes as Jankovic put in a pleasing display of aggressive drive volleys and her trademark backhand down the line to take the first game, but failed to consolidate as Halep settled back down quite quickly, as the first passage of play resolved on serve as Halep got the first hold of the day.
Jankovic took the initiative once more, this time managing to consolidate on a break of serve, nudging her into a commanding position at 4-2. With Halep venting her frustration on her racquet, it was clear to see that Jankovic’s aggression was perhaps throwing Halep off her game plan a little, as the Serbian broke again to come out and serve for the match.
With Halep receiving a medical timeout for her toe before the second set, it was important that she came out to hold her first service game, but her relief was short lived, as Jankovic kept the pressure on, in fact if anything starting to get a little frustrated at herself, which may have spurred her on to put the hammer down on the Romanian.
A loose game by the Serbian to get broken to love put Halep back in the driver’s seat and the second set back on serve at 3-3, and for the briefest moment it looked like we could be in for the three-setter that we wanted but the Romanian handed the break straight back and with it, her hopes for her biggest title in her career.
Halep had to dig out a further break, aided and abetted by some typical Jankovic drama which included three double faults, a time violation warning, and Jankovic trying to serve while a ball-kid was still scrambling off the court. It was an emotional rollercoaster for Halep, who once more found herself rapidly facing break points succumbing to the fourth straight break of serve this match, but more dangerously giving Jankovic serving for the title.
Admitting to her coach Chip Brooks that she was nervous she reverted to the defence we often see in her game, just giving Halep the opportunities to dig out winners, breaking her with the fifth consecutive time this set. With finally a hold to stop the run of breaks, Halep suddenly seemed the aggressor as Jankovic tightened up as the match went into a decider.
Again the initial advantage went to the volatile Serbian, but Halep was never far away from breaking back, as the pair treated the crowd to some great rallies, not to mention more drama as the chair umpire seemed to forget about the nuances of second serves.
With both struggling to keep hold of their serve in the final set, Jankovic called her coach back once more but her serve and resolve seemed to desert her once and for all as Halep broke for a 5-3 lead to serve for the title, but handed back the advantage straight away.
It took yet another break to love to seal the deal for the Romanian 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 after what started out as a difficult week for her, after a personal bereavement. It had been a great run for Jankovic who struggled to deal with the nerves of closing out, having won her last title in 2013.
After the match, Jankovic admitted that she had let her opportunities pass her by.
She said: “I let those nerves take the best out of me. That shouldn’t happen. I was full of emotions. I was just overwhelmed and excited that I’m in the final and I put myself into a position to win.
“So it’s been an amazing two weeks. Yes, of course I’m disappointed that I lost this final, because I really had a chance to win and hold that trophy. But I’m still proud of myself and my team how far I came into this tournament and what I have achieved.”
Halep admitted she knew she was being rushed into mistakes, especially in the first set, and finally the key had been to make her run over the three sets.
Talking to the press with the giant glass trophy at her side, she said: “She knew how to play me today to make more mistakes. It was difficult for me to take that balls very high and without power, so I did many mistakes with my forehand.
“My coach came on court and he said that I’m rushing at that balls. So I said, Okay, I understand, and I go now to play not very strong those balls.
“I just try to stay cool, to make her run a lot. I know that she’s running well, but still my backhand down the line was good today. Forehand so so. Everything went well, and, you know, I have no comments now. I have like, in my mind, it’s like ‑‑ I have another title, my biggest title now, so it’s amazing. I feel great.”
After attempting to lift it, she confirmed she intends to play Miami, as does Jankovic.
Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.
(March 20, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Just as the tournament spun in the early days with the expectation of Serena Williams’ return, so it would end in an almost eerie echo of 14 years ago.
Social media had already buzzed about the news during the previous semi-final, and when she took to the court mostly to cheers, a few boos could be clearly heard from the Press balcony, coming from above, but the announcement was cleverly stage managed to celebrate 40 years of the tournament, and the momentousness of Williams come-back just a week ago.
Williams spoke to the press immediately afterwards and confirmed: “I was just on the practice court two days ago, day and a half ago, yesterday, and everything was going good. Literally last two couple minutes of practice I went for a serve and I just felt a super sharp pain in my knee.
“It was like, Okay, and I served again. I felt it again. I just came off, and it hasn’t been the same since. I have done everything. Like I have just pretty much done everything from taping to research and I even did an injection. I have never done an injection before.
“I think if this was any other event I probably wouldn’t have considered it. I wanted to give 200%. It just wasn’t meant to be this year.”
She has stated she intends to return to Indian Wells next year.
Meanwhile – we had the ATP quarter-finals to conclude, and that too was a tale of two halves.
Roger Federer almost bullied his way to the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. From the outset he had Tomas Berdych on the back foot, at one stage throwing up three double faults in one game before Federer finally broke through the door he had been battering down. A single break was a respectable margin for the first set, but it was not enough as Federer stepped up a gear, and Berdych crumbled once more in a key match 6-4, 6-0.
The confidence he had at the start of the year with regards to changing the team around him, once more could not manifest itself when it came to the crunch, as Berdych tried to explain.
In his post-match news conference he said: “When you feel that he’s in control right from the beginning, then of course you have to come up with your best game from the beginning of the match. I mean, you just want to play well. You just want to play your best. There is a very thin line in between that and overdoing it. It’s not so easy, really, to control it every single time that you go play with a player like this, even if he’s playing in such a good shape.
“Today I stepped a little bit over it, so hope the next time, next day, it’s just going to stay on the line.”
With the very real prospect of the World Top 4 contesting the Indian Wells semi-finals, Federer cast his eye over another match up with Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard started aggressively against Milos Raonic, breaking him before the first change of ends in the first set.
Federer said: “Matches against him are always tough, I think. You know, he’s going to play the percentages high. He’s not going to miss many shots. He’s got a great forehand, one of the best ever. Then physically and mentally he’s always going to be there. That what makes him so good and so tough over all these years. “
It looked for all the world like we would be in for a quick afternoon, but somehow Raonic clung on to set, needing five set points in total (three in the tie-break) to take only his second set off the Spaniard.
Going toe-to-toe with him in the decider had everyone ready for a decisive tie-break but for a loose game by Nadal to give Raonic a 6-5 lead. For once it was right to come down to that serve as Raonic held his nerve to close out a 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-5 win, his first over Nadal and it sets up an intriguing rematch now against Federer after their encounter in the season opener in Brisbane.
Raonic believes he can be ready for Saturday’s semi-final after such a momentous win.
He said: “I think I have a good understanding of what I need to do against Roger. Obviously that’s the easiest part, understanding it, rather than doing it. But I think the last three times we have played I have sort of been able to change course a little bit, especially when it was important to me in Paris. Even the other two I didn’t play well at the start of the matches, in London and in Brisbane, but I was able to find a way to fight myself back into those matches and give myself some opportunities.
“I’ve just got to keep calm, keep collected, and just try to figure out solutions and adjustments as they come.”
The ATP semi-finals will be played on Saturday.
Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.
(March 19, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – We could be heading for a Serena Williams / Jelena Jankovic final after the Serbian continued her strong run of form at the tournament she won back in 2010. Always reliable for a chuckle in press, she walked in with a heavy sigh as if she had lost, before joking about how she and Williams had been high-fiving each other at their achievements this week.
In a week where the WTA Rising Stars rose up for a fraction of a time to dispatch top seeds, the old guard have reasserted themselves, and we were almost entertaining three players over the age of 30 in the semi-finals.
Jankovic’s passage into the final was quick, as Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko sadly struggled throughout their quarter-final with an ankle injury she picked up in the previous round, and retired to hand Jankovic a 6-1, 4-1 win.
“It’s never nice to end a match in that way. I think Lesia has had such a great tournament and she has beaten so many great players throughout the draw. I knew it was going to be a tough match today. In the first set I think we played well. I didn’t see some problems. I was feeling pretty good out there. I was playing my game and waiting for my chances to execute. I was solid.”
She continued: “In the second set she started limping and I saw that she had some problem. You know, that’s the time as well I lost a little bit of my focus. I was kind of looking at what she was doing. It was crucial for me to win that game at 2‑1, because who knows what would happen if it was 2‑All.”
Defending champion Flavia Pennetta was not so lucky though, starting slowly against Sabine Lisicki before finally starting to play a bit better. After her overwhelming emotions at beating World No. 2 Maria Sharapova, she had to battle once more from a set down to keep her defence alive, even saving a match point on the way to leveling the match.
The tides turned in the decider, as Pennetta had her chances to close out the match, but Lisicki, who had never won in Indian Wells, edged her for a place in the semi-final 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4) . The crowds gathering for the night match were treated to a spectacle, and the semi-finals ought to live up to that as Serena Williams will face gritty Simona Halep in the final night match on Friday, with Jankovic and Lisicki opening up the show.
Meanwhile the men’s quarter-finals got underway with Andy Murray thwarting Feliciano Lopez. The Spaniard could not get a break (quite literally) as Murray quietly and efficiently dismantled his serve and rendered his coming forward moot winning 6-3, 6-4.
He explained: “I don’t have as much trouble with the lefties just because I grew up playing with one, and that’s obviously one of his biggest advantages. I thought I played a good match. Every time he came to net I made it very difficult for him. I passed very well, and that was important, because it meant that he spent more time at the back of the court.
“When we were in the baseline rallies, I felt like I was able to dictate a lot of those points. Passing shots were important today.”
With the disappointing news that Bernard Tomic had withdrawn officially with a back injury, but also troubled with a wisdom tooth, defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic gets a walkover into the semi-final, but after struggling against him last year, Murray believes he has a chance to redress the balance.
He said: “He’s played extremely well here in the past. You know, he will be totally fresh as well and ready for the semis, so it will be a tough one for me. But I feel like I played well this week, and, you know, if I can keep that level up and for a sustained period on Saturday, I’ll have a chance.”
The men’s quarter-finals conclude on Friday.