By Curt Janka
(July 23, 2016) STANFORD, California – Johanna Konta lost just six points on her serve as she toppled Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-2 in the first semifinal of the Bank of the West Classic. The win earns Konta her first WTA final and it’s the first time a British player has played for the trophy here since Virginia Wade in 1981.
The third seed Konta served a total of nine games and held at love for six of them. Cibulkova, the second seed and 2013 champion, is arguably one of the better returners on tour, so what made Konta’s serve so tough today? “She was placing the serve so well and it was hard for me to do something with it,” the Slovak Cibulkova answered. “She was changing the directions of the serve, so that was the main thing. Today she was just serving too well.“
The 25-year-old British woman, currently ranked No. 18, backed up her serve with solid ground strokes and returns, breaking her higher-seeded opponent three times. After the match, she was pleased with her performance. “I’m really happy to have come through that and to be into my first final,” Konta said. “I thought I served well and did a good job in the end of staying in the present. She [Cibulkova] is an incredible competitor, so I knew going into the match that I was going to have to be there for every single point. I achieved that, so I’m feeling very grateful and looking forward to my next match tomorrow.”
Konta was also playing in the doubles semifinal with her partner, Maria Sanchez, against Darija Jurak and Anastasia Rodionova. Konta will play Venus Williams in the final. The two-time Stanford winner beat Alison Riske in the night session.
“I’m really happy to have come through that and to be into my first final,” Konta said after her win.
By Curt Janka
(July 22, 2016) STANFORD, California – A relaxed Venus Williams played composed tennis as she breezed to a 6-4, 6-1 win over 17-year-old wildcard Catherine Bellis at the Bank of the West Classic on Friday night. While it may have taken three sets for Williams to get by her previous opponent, there was no sign of tension in her play on Friday night. Experience may have been the key against her younger opponent.
When asked why she looked so at ease on the court she said, “I just felt like I had a lot of experience and as a young person she has to go for a lot more than I ever have to go for because I understand the game more. So I felt just comfortable that I could control the match.”
“After Wimbledon I was really pumped,” the 36-year-old Williams said. “I was like, ‘I can’t wait to play.’ That felt good. It felt good to be eager.”
When asked what else she is looking forward to this summer, the two-time Stanford winner replied, “There’s so much to look forward to! The semifinals tomorrow is like my main focus. The Olympics I’ve been waiting for four years. As soon as the last one was over I was ready to go again. It’s getting closer and it feels surreal but when I get there it’s gonna be real. And after that you just turn right back around and play the Open.”
Despite a quick second set, Bellis did make the first set very competitive. “I learned a lot,” she said. “I think mainly I just have to focus on the key points. There are a couple points in the first set that I think if I played a little bit more aggressive I could have won them. But, you know, she’s obviously the number one seed here, so it’s unbelievable to be on the court with someone like her.“
Asked about her short-term goals, Bellis smiled and said, “Yesterday, actually, I committed to Stanford. I’m just going to see how the next year goes in my pro career.” She explained that after another year on tour, she would start her college career at Stanford.
Top seed Williams will face Alison Riske in the semifinals on Saturday. Riske advanced when her quarterfinal opponent fourth seed Coco Vandeweghe suffered an ankle injury and had to retire.
In the bottom half of the draw, second seed Dominika Cibulkova came back from two early breaks to win 7-5, 6-0 over Misaki Doi. Cibulkova will next face third seed Johanna Konta, who beat her quarterfinal opponent, Zheng Saiai 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
(June 15, 2016) New York, NY – Venus Williams held a media conference call on Wednesday to discuss summer plans and her participation in the Bank of the West Classic tournament, part of the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series. Also on the call were Vickie Gunnarsson, Tournament Director, Bank of the West Classic and J. Wayne Richmond, General Manager, Emirates Airline US Open Series.
BRENDAN McINTYRE: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us today on the call. A special thank you to Venus Williams, who is joining us today after recently committing to play in the 2016 Bank of the West Classic, marking her 13th appearance in Stanford, which includes an impressive seven appearances in the singles final, capturing two titles.
The Bank of the West Classic, a WTA Tour event, will launch the Emirates Airline US Open Series again this year, beginning on July 18th.
I’d also like to welcome to the call Bank of the West Classic tournament director, Vickie Gunnarsson; and Emirates Airline US Open Series manager, J. Wayne Richmond.
At this time I’m going to turn it over to J. Wayne for a few remarks.
J. WAYNE RICHMOND: I’ll make this very brief.
As we kick off year 13, I wanted to thank the Bank of the West and the WTA Tour for doing this call with us, but more importantly Venus, to you, for taking the time to do this call. We know you have a lot on your schedule getting ready for Wimbledon.
It hit me this morning looking at this that, Venus, you were the very first final we ever broadcast in 2004 on the series from Stanford. It’s kind of a perfect fit to have you on this call. Thank you for being part of it.
I’ll turn it over to Vickie Gunnarsson from Bank of the West.
VICKIE GUNNARSSON: Hello, everybody. Great to have everyone on the call. We appreciate your support. Thanks to the media for attending. A special thank you to Venus for taking the time to participate.
We are excited to once again be the starting event of the Emirates Airline US Open Series. We have a great player field at the Bank of the West Classic this year, highlighted by Venus, of course, and Aga Radwanska. But overall 13 out of 20 players on our acceptance list have won at least one career WTA title, and many will represent their countries at the Olympics. We expect this year’s tournament to be highly competitive.
This is the 46th year of the tournament. But more importantly, this is Bank of the West’s 25th year as our title sponsor. They are an amazing partner and a great supporter of women’s tennis.
So thank you to everyone for participating on the call. Hopefully we’ll see you in Stanford.
BRENDAN McINTYRE: At this time we’ll open up the call for questions.
Q. Venus, I’m wondering if there’s any sort of additional challenge when it comes to figuring out the right way to schedule your summer during an Olympic year.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Additional challenges? Absolutely because the Olympics is such a highlight, but at the same time it’s important to play tournaments so you can continue with success on the tour.
Also for me it’s making sure I have a little bit of a break. This year I’ve been very successful. I will be starting out with Stanford, Bank of the West, then playing one more event, then heading off to Rio is my plan.
Q. Venus, I would like your comment on the young American players who are coming up, possibly their chances at Wimbledon. You and Serena are going to be clearly leading the American charge, but we have CoCo Vandeweghe who played some very good tennis lately, and Madison Keys. Are you encouraged by the fact there might be some young players, Sloane Stephens in the mix, too, to follow in your steps as a great Wimbledon player?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, absolutely. The surface at Wimbledon has changed a lot since I first started. It’s a lot more forgiving, so it gives a lot of players more opportunity to be able to adjust quicker to the grass. Hopefully we’ll be able to see that with the young Americans.
But they’ve been playing really well, especially this year. That’s great news for obviously the Olympic team and Fed Cup and all of the above. It’s pretty exciting prospects.
Q. Venus, you’ve gone through different ways of prepping for the Olympics. Back in 2004 you played some tournaments before. The last couple you’ve kind of gone in straight from Wimbledon. Talk about what it meant to play tournaments leading into the Olympics, and then did you feel like it has any effect not playing events before the last couple Olympics?
VENUS WILLIAMS: You know, it’s kind of hard to remember because it happens every four years. So I don’t really remember how I felt or what tournaments I played four years ago.
But I do know that, no matter what, at the Olympics you got to figure out a way to play your best, no matter what the circumstances, because it only happens every four years.
Thankfully for me, I have a lot of experience. That will help me out in the long run.
Q. Venus, since your diagnosis several years back, you’ve played a lot of tennis, and recently some very good tennis. Has it gotten a lot easier for you to manage it? Have you found some new ways to manage it? Is there a way that you can keep yourself healthy more easily than you were at first?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean, of course the first couple years are really tough because there’s no road map. There’s no one who says, This is how you do it, this is how you manage it. It’s challenging.
But I’ve always wanted to rise to the challenge and the occasion. That’s not how I see it, as a disadvantage, but a challenge I’ve had to overcome.
I’m always looking for different ways that I can be at my best, whether it’s eating, resting, different training regimens, whatever it may be.
It’s definitely a constant search. I never give up.
Q. Venus, this part of the season, playing on the North American hard courts, what is your favorite thing about it? Also, as a player, what does it mean to have a series of tournaments like this package for you to play?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, it’s great to play at home in front of the home crowd. That’s the highlight. Being at home, being able to just play in the U.S., and there’s not as many opportunities as there was when I first started to play in the U.S., so it’s become really special at this point. It really becomes the last opportunity to do so until March. I really cherish that.
I love hard courts. A lot of people think my favorite surface is grass, but actually I grew up on hard courts, so I prefer that. I feel right at home on it.
Q. Venus, can you talk about how important it is for you to have the series as a preparation for the US Open.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, absolutely. Coming in, of course, you want to come in strong, playing a lot of matches, hopefully winning titles. It gives you confidence going into such a big event as the US Open.
But even if you don’t win, you’re able to hone your game, work through mistakes or chinks in your armor.
Unfortunately, as much as you train, there’s always something to work on. It gives you the opportunity to figure out, What do I need to perfect at this moment in time?
Q. We saw your dress that you’re going to be wearing in Rio. I wanted to ask a little bit about that in terms of the inspiration. Aside from needing the red, white and blue, what else inspired you? Also, what tips do you have for the newbies going into the Olympics about trading pins?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Well, the dress, my dress at the Olympics is always inspired by Wonder Woman. Each and every Olympics it’s Wonder Woman as the inspiration. It never changes.
Second, trading pins, you know, it’s definitely about trading pins, but once you start trading pins, you find out it’s about meeting people. That experience of meeting somebody you’ll maybe never see again, but the connection you have with them, the joy you have from meeting them, that is the best part of it all. It’s an interesting byproduct that you don’t expect. Then you have your pins for memories when you look back to remember those times at the Olympics. That’s awesome as well.
Q. With the Wonder Woman inspiration, are you going to have gold wristbands or is that too much?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I should. I’ll probably do a special Olympic hair, though. Maybe I’ll come back with colored hair. I haven’t done that in a while.
BRENDAN McINTYRE: Thanks, everyone, again for getting on the call. A special thank you to Venus. We look forward to the start of the Emirates Airline US Open Series at the Bank of the West Classic starting on July 18th.
By Herman Wood
ATLANTA, Georgia – At Atlanta’s BB&T Open, players are on a plane far above the recreational, league player or even teaching professional. Yesterday, Jack Sock recorded a 141 mph service ace while playing Alexander Bogomolov. Bogomolov had a few thunder claps of his own (or was that the usual Atlanta summer thunder storm that interrupted the match?). I know they’re bigger, stronger, and certainly better conditioned, but how is it possible to hit a ball 40 mph faster than the average Joe USTA? The racquets are the same, right? They’re using the same string, aren’t they?
I spoke to Adam Queen, stringer from Your Serve Tennis, the official stringer for the tournament to find out. “All the players are particular. They know what works best for them for different courts, balls, and conditions.” Conditions? “Most go up on tension with heat & humidity because the ball tends to fly.” Unlike you or I, professionals don’t need the stringers’ advice. They’ve experimented with different strings, tensions, number of knots and everything else you can imagine. Queen’s job is to meet those specs, unlike in one of his stores, where he’ll talk to a customer to find out what they need. Just like you and I, the pros want quality and consistency, but they want it to a high level. As an example, most players want their racquets done as close to match time as possible. Mardy Fish wants the second racquet he’ll use delivered ten minutes after the match starts! How would that make a difference?
It turns out that strings lose tension with time, not just use. Polyester string can lose thirty percent overnight! Alright, I could get my racquet strung just before my match if I could hit a 140 mph serve!
“That could be kind of tough on your arm if you use the same string the pros do and you’d have to restring for every match.” I asked Queen why it was tough on the arm. “Almost every pro uses polyester. Polyester string loses tension relatively quickly and becomes dead. Professionals’ shoulder, wrist, and elbow are better able to handle the demands of daily play and demanding equipment.” So that’s why my shoulder hurts when I hit with that year old polyester string! “They restring every time out.” That sounds expensive! So what else do they do differently? “Jack Sock strings at 40 pounds. James Blake uses 63 pounds. Both use polyester.” I guess that means I can play like Sock if I string at 40 and like Blake if at 63? Oh, I forgot- I don’t practice for hours on end every day and do physical conditioning for hours on end. What can I do?
“Be willing to experiment. Talk to your stringer. Give polyester a try, but be willing to cut it out after a few weeks even if it doesn’t break.” You think maybe I can hit that 140 mph serve, just once?