By Dave Gertler
(January 12, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Tsvetana Pironkova‘s endearing and heroic run of 12 straight wins at the Apia International in Sydney might finally be cut short on Tuesday by the big game of the USA’s Madison Keys. The Bulgarian defending champion yesterday won an unlikely battle against Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta to advance to the second round of the main draw. Then again, her win over Pennetta is merely one of four top-12 wins the now-ranked No. 67 Pironkova has enjoyed in Sydney the last two years.
“I think I played a great match today,” said Pironkova of her 6-3, 7-6 win over the Italian, “I felt very good on court. I think we both did. It was a very entertaining match for the spectators. Definitely hard. I’m glad I could finish it only in two sets.” Pennetta was starting to find her range in the second set, battling from a break down to force the tie-break, at which point Pironkova’s air of Sydney invincibility took over again.
“Well, I obviously love it,” said Pironkova, 27, whose first and only career WTA title is last year’s Apia International. “I have very nice memories from last year. I like the surface very much. I like the people around here. I like the city, which I think it’s important for every player to enjoy the whole experience. So I am, and I feel very, very good here.”
Due to her 2014 Apia International championship points being stripped at the beginning of this week, Pironkova ranking has dropped a staggering 30 spots to No.67, yet she has still managed to spin into a positive the fact that as defending champ she was declined a wildcard into the main draw this year. Pironkova said, “That was past. You know, once I came to the tournament, I had a different mindset. I was like, OK, you’re playing quallies. Just go out on the court and forget about what’s happening. Obviously you’re not getting a wildcard. Get over it and try your best. And that’s what I’m doing.”
While tactics, craftiness and overall tennis smarts are how Pironkova separates herself from most opponents, she will have to find a new level to beat her next opponent Madison Keys. Keys was demonstrative in her first-round win over Svetlana Kuznetsova on the main court, Ken Rosewall Arena on Sunday and will be well-rested after a day off to face an opponent who has played four matches in as many days here in Sydney.
Finding out for the first time in the media conference who her next opponent was, Pironkova said, “I didn’t know I play against her. Very strong opponent. I think she’s very good right now, in good form, and one of the players to look out for. So, you know, I’m just going to go out there and do my best, and hopefully I’m going to win.”
The two wildcards in the women’s draw were given to Australian local hopes Jarmila Gajdosova and Daria Gavrilova, who both – like Pironkova – scored upset wins in their first-round matches. Journey-woman Gajdosova’s win over world No.12 Andrea Petkovic was her highest-ranked win since 2011. In an all-Slovak battle today of sorts – Gajdosova was born and spent her formative years in Slovakia – she will take on world No.11 Dominika Cibulkova on Grandstand Court, one of many standout matches scheduled for today at Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Gavrilova’s win over Swiss Belinda Bencic was also standout, her first win over a top 20 player since 2012.
The Apia International’s Tuesday order of play is full of drawcards, and reads almost like a grand slam middle Saturday, perhaps minus the top-10 men’s players. Headlining action on Ken Rosewall Arena will be Juan Martin Del Potro. In his first match back from injury since February 2014, the Argentine US Open champ will face Sergiy Stakhovsky to begin his campaign to defend his 2014 Apia International title.
Sam Stosur, who finally managed to turn the tables against Lucie Safarova on Monday, will face her second Czech opponent in two days. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova made it into the second round when her opponent Caroline Wozniacki withdrew from their match citing wrist problems.
Also in action on KRA on Tuesday – Bernard Tomic, Sam Stosur, and Petra Kvitova, Nick Kyrgios and Jerzy Janowicz, while Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Vasek Pospisil and Sam Groth take on their opponents on Grandstand and the outer courts.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .
By Dave Gertler
(August 12, 2014) MASON, OHIO – Maria Sharapova, seeded 5th at the Western & Southern Open, has survived a second-set resurgence from home-grown up and coming star Madison Keys, to win in three sets in just under two hours. Sharapova is now the first women’s player into the third round.
The first set was a one-sided affair, Sharapova racing to a 5-0 lead and taking the set 6-1. “After a bad first set I could have gone away,” said Keys post-match, drawing positives from the loss, “But I kind of figured it out and started playing better. It’s definitely an improvement.”
At 2-1 in the second set, there was an exchange of breaks before Keys broke again, holding her serve for a 5-2 lead before serving out the set 6-3, the Lindner Tennis Center crowd well and truly behind her.
At that point, Sharapova left the court for a few minutes, saying afterwards that a change of clothes was required because of the humidity. “I guess maybe that’s just what dry clothes does to you,” said the 27-year-old, “It gets you a bit calmer.” Sharapova broke Keys in the second game of the third set, the 19-year-old adding to her unforced-error tally at key moments.
Playing a high-stakes game to compete with her grand slam-winning opponent, the world No. 28 Keys served 7 double faults to 5 aces throughout the match. In the decider, said Keys of Sharapova, “She definitely stepped up her game. I also think, you know, in big points I got a little tentative. I mean, that showed, you know. I mean, after I got broken at the very beginning it was really hard to try to break back.”
Final score for Sharapova 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
“I’m very happy with what I have been able to achieve this year,” said Sharapova, who has reached two finals here, winning one in 2011, “Because last year it was tough to miss the end of the season, you know, finding yourself in a position where you’re hurt again. I’m very happy with what I have been able to achieve this year.”
There’s a chance Sharapova might face fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who faces Italian Karin Knapp in the third round, while Keys heads back to Boca Raton to finish preparations for the US Open.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament on @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .
(July 28, 2014) Now in its fourth year, the WTA Citi Open event in Washington is hosting one of its most impressive fields to date, even with the withdrawal of tournament favorite Eugenie Bouchard. Now seeded at No.1, Lucie Safarova leads an exciting field of 32 women including some top European hard-courters as well as American up-and-comers.
For the last two years running, it has been Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova who has capitalized on a line-up that has been improving from scratch since Washington began hosting the WTA International event in 2011. The world No. 37 is undefeated across ten straight matches at the tournament, and has defeated the top seed both years – Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2012, and Angelique Kerber in 2013. Russian Pavlyuchenkova was ranked 28 at the time, while this year all eight top seeds are within the WTA’s top 29. Rybarikova did not play the Citi Open’s inaugural tournament in 2011, when world No.24 at the time, Shahar Peer, reached the final as No.1 seed, losing to second-seeded Nadia Petrova.
While Rybarikova is back in 2014 to attempt to prolong her dynasty at the Citi Open, Bouchard, Peer, Petrova, Kerber and her opponent in the 2013 final, Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, are prominent names missing from this year’s player field. The impact of their absences on the tournament, however, will be heavily reduced by the fact of the players that ARE attending.
Sloane Stephens leads the camp of exciting ‘new-wave’ of WTA players that will be in attendance this year. The world No. 22 – known for being much more solid at majors than she is across the WTA Premier and International calendar year – first entered the Citi Open in 2011, when she was 18 years old and ranked outside the top 120, losing in the first round. The following year, ranked just inside the top 50, she would reach the Washington semi-finals, losing to the eventual champ Rybarikova. In 2013, as a top 20 player, she would lose in the first round once again. It would seem apparent, therefore, that she’s due for another enduring showing at the Citi Open this year.
Although Bouchard has withdrawn from the 2014 tournament as the top seed, citing a knee injury, her results have been mixed since the Citi Open initiated their relationship with the Canadian in 2011 when they offered her a wildcard into her first main draw of a WTA event. In 2012 she lost a quarterfinal to Stephens, while last year – ranked No.62 in the world – she lost in the first round. Having reached at least the semi-finals of all three grand slams since then, Bouchard’s ranking has shot up to No.7 at the start of the Emirates Airlines US Open Series.
While the tournament has secured the first-time attendance of its high-profile Czech top seed Lucie Safarova, this only serves to augment the returned appearance of Romanian Sorana Cirstea, France’s Alize Cornet and American Madison Keys.
Cornet last year reached semi-finals on her first appearance at Citi Open. While the third seed will be vying for her fifth career WTA title, many Washingtonian tennis enthusiasts will have their eye on rising American talent, Madison Keys, who will be taking her career-high No.27 ranking into the Citi Open draw for her second appearance there. Despite retiring injured from her most recent match, a third-rounder at Wimbledon, Keys has been one of the big movers since clay season ended, going 8-2 on grass, and taking her first WTA title at Eastbourne along the way. Keys’ big serving game is a force to be reckoned with on hard courts, and has already ushered her to two WTA Tour semi-final appearances over the past year.
While unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova has managed to upset the field for the past two years straight, this year she faces a much tougher task if she’s to three-peat, considering the elevated level of play that will be coming off the racquets of top seeds with whom the Citi Open has been developing strong relationships over the past few years.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney covering Citi Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his Twitter updates from the tournament @TennisNewsTPN, follow him on his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .
(June 30, 2014) WIMBLEDON -Top seed Novak Djokovic and third seed Andy Murray are getting closer to a semifinal clash as both men reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals on Monday at the All England Club.
Defending champion Murray reached his seventh straight Wimbledon quarterfinal after beating Kevin Anderson of South Africa 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) under a closed roof on Centre Court, after a rain delay in the second set forced the roof to be shut.
For the Scot Murray it’s his 17 straight match win at the All England club dating back to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The Serb Djokovic beat France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the 11th consecutive time with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (5) win.
“I was just happy that I won the match,” Murray said. “I was a bit disappointed with how I started under the roof. The beginning, like I said, I was a little bit tentative. Apart from that, that sort of three or four games when we came back out, I played well.
“I created many chances, gave him a few opportunities. That’s what you need to do on grass court tennis. You don’t always break. But if you keep putting them under enough pressure, you’re going to get through in the end.”
“I knew I was going to get tested, you know, at some stage,” the Scot added. “And, yeah, today I was pushed, especially in the middle part of that second set, then obviously later on in the third there were some tight moments.
“But I handled them fairly well. It was a good match.”
“I think he was moving great,” Anderson said of Murray’s play. “That’s a big part of his game. I think especially on the grass I think that’s a big contributor to why he’s had so much success on this surface.”
Murray will face No. 11. Grigor Dimitrov in his quarterfinal. Dimitrov defeated Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 7-6 (6), 6-2.
“It’s a step up because it’s one round further, and the guys that are in the quarterfinals are going to be playing top tennis,” Murray said about his encounter with the Bulgarian. “He obviously won Queen’s a couple weeks ago. He likes the grass courts.
“Yeah, it’s a big opportunity for him, as well, playing on the Centre Court, the courts at Wimbledon for the first time.
“Yeah, it’s a great opportunity for him. Hopefully we can play a good match.”
“I’m happy that I’m in the quarterfinal match,” Dimitrov said. “Just going to give credit to myself for that. But my job isn’t over yet.
“So I’m excited to get on the court tomorrow. Just go through my regular routines, through all the gears, you know, come on Wednesday.”
“I’m just going to play my game,” Dimitrov added. “I’m not going to step back. I just want to come out with my big game and play my aggressive tennis.”
“I was aware of his qualities, especially on this surface,” Djokvic said of his match with Tsonga. “He looked, before the match, very determined to play his best and very focused.
“I think I did really well from the start to the end, especially in the third set where I thought he elevated his level of game and he started serving very high percentage first serve, very strong, all angles.
“It was difficult to get the return back in play, but managed to save a couple break points, crucial ones, get myself in the tiebreak and wait for the opportunity to be presented.
“We both served very well in the tiebreak, and the only opportunity I had was on second serve on 6-5, and I used it. I went for the shot.
“Yeah, I’m just glad that I didn’t allow him to go into the fourth set, because he started to use obviously the crowd support. And, you know, I knew that he’s going to do that because he’s the kind of player that feeds off the energy, so it was very important for me to get this done in straight sets.”
Djokovic will play Marin Cilic for a place in the semifinals.
“I will try to stick to the kind of a game plan that I had against Marin in the previous occasions,” Djokovic said.
“I am aware of the fact, as well, that since he started working with Goran Ivanesevic that he has improved, especially in his service department, where for his height I thought that he didn’t use his full potential up to now work with Goran, where it’s evident that it works well for him.
“Especially on the grass it serves as a great weapon. He won here in straight sets against Chardy and Berdych and some very good players.
“So it says enough about his quality play in this tournament.”
Stan Wawrinka was finally able to complete his third round match on Monday. Rain on Saturday delayed his chance to play.
The No. 1 Swiss will face 19th seed Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round. Lopez dismissed the last American man in the singles draw, Ninth seed John Isner, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), 7-5, despite the American hitting 52 aces.
“Tough match to play,” Lopez said.
“As I said before, I knew it’s going to be like this. I knew we going to play a lot of tiebreaks, so this is the match I was excepting to play.
“Luckily I made it. I’m very happy to went through. It was a very difficult one for me today.”
With Isner beaten and Madison Keys withdrawing from the tournament with an injury, it’s the first time since 1911 that no Americans have reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
Asked about this fact, Isner said, “Didn’t know that. Don’t really care either.”
Keys was forced to pull out of the tournament with a left adductor injury.
On the women’s side of the draw, the conqueror of Serena Williams has been knocked out of Wimbledon.
Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, the 13th seed defeated Alize Cornet 7-6 (5), 7-5 to reach the quarterfinals.
“I think we played some good tennis today, “Bouchard said. “You know, we had some tough points. She has good wheels. So I had to really try and finish off the point.
“You know, I think it made for some really tough, physical points. So that’s definitely the most physical match I’ve played I think this tournament.
“But I’m proud that I really, really fought till the end. She’s a good fighter, too. We were really just battling.”
“This is what I’ve worked so hard for, to be in the quarters at Wimbledon,” Bouchard said. “But I want to go another step. I want to keep going.”
Bouchard will play the winner of the fourth round match between Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber.
Bouchard spoke briefly about playing both of these women:
“I think she’s a great player,” Bouchard said of Sharapova. “She, you know, tries to be aggressive like I try to be aggressive as well. So I think, you know, I’m going to go in and try to battle and go for my shots. We had a tough match recently at the French Open. But that’s the past. So it’s a new match. If I were to play her, I would just be very excited and really try to go for it.”
“Kerber I played at the French as well. I played both opponents recently. Of course with her she’s a lefty so you keep that in mind with tactics. I played well last time against her because I was really trying to go for it. Whenever I had an opening, I would really go for it. I would keep my basic game against both players.”
Three players from the Cazech Republic are among the women’s quarterfinalists – 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova and unseeded Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
Zahlavova Strycova, who beat No. 2 Li Na, defeated No. 16 Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Back in April 2013, she completed serving a a six-month doping ban after testing positive for the stimulant sibutramine.
“I can’t believe it for right now,” Zahlavova Strycova sid about the win and reaching the quarterfinals. “It’s great. I mean, it was a tough match obviously, and I had to make a fifth match point.
“I’m really, really happy that I could win today.”
She spoke about the six month ban to press: “First of all, I didn’t wanted to play again because I felt like it’s a little bit unfair. Everything was kind of against.
“So first two months I didn’t want to come back. Then I missed it. I missed the feeling of working out, the feeling of winning matches, and being on tour.
“It was tough, but on the other hand, it also brings me some positive things. Like I say, I am seeing the sport a little bit different now.
“And here I am.”
Last year’s finalist Sabine Lisicki ousted 11th seed Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the fourth round in a match carried over from Saturday.
(June 24, 2014) WIMBLEDON – No. 114 Victoria Duval came through Wimbledon qualifying with a back injury last week. This week she’s taken out 29th seed Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round of Wimbledon. Born in Miami, the 18-year-old of Haitian heritage, playing Wimbledon for the first time, joined a group of young American women making their All England Club debut including Madison Keys and Alison Riske advancing to second round.
Duval had reached the the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Juniors back in 2011.
She announced herself last year when she took out 2011 U.S. Open Champion Sam Stosur in the first round of the U.S. Open. ” That was one of my best playing days that I can remember,” said Duval.
“I have my expectations of myself,” Duval said. “I’m not thinking about following up a win. I’m just thinking about winning all the time.”
She said it was “pretty crazy” to think she was actually playing at Wimbledon and that it did not sink in until during the third set.
Duval had reached the the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Juniors back in 2011.
Madison Keys, 19, who won her first WTA title three days ago in Eastbourne, finally got in the win column against Monica Puig, defeating the woman from Puerto Rico 6-3, 6-3.
“She’s a great player and we’ve played a couple of times,” Keys said. “She’s beaten me a couple of times.
“But I was really just trying to go in and just stick to my game plan, not really worry about who is on the other side of the net.”
Alison Riske joined the USA party by upsetting 26th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 5-7, 6-1.
Missing out on the winning experience was wild card Taylor Townsend who fell to 31st seed Klara Koukalova 7-5, 6-2
“Definitely it was a great experience,” Townsend said despite the loss. “I’m really glad that I was able to get the wildcard and be here, first and foremost.
“I definitely am not pleased about my match, but it’s just a learning experience really. I’m just going to take what I’ve learned over the past two slams. I’m going to go back home. I’m going to work extremely hard and get ready for the US Open Series.
“I have tons of tournaments to look forward to and a lot of great things are ahead, but it’s time to just put my head down and work again.”
“There are a lot of things I still need to work on in my game,” said Duval. Improving mentally, physically and getting stronger.”
Duval will face an opponent younger than herself in Belinda Bencic.
“I’m looking forward to it, it should be very exciting,” said an enthusiastic Duval.
“My goal is to win a couple of more rounds,” she said. “You come into a tournament hoping to win it.”
“My goal was top 100,” which she has reached by virtue of her win on Tuesday. “Keep improving keep winning.”
Karen Pestaina at Wimbledon
296th Ranked Qualifier Victoria Duval Upends 2011 US . Open Winner Sam Stosur
(June 21, 2014) Nineteen-year-old American Madison Keys won her first WTA tour title on Saturday defeating third seed Angelique Kerber 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 to win the Aegon International event at Eastbourne on Saturday,
Keys is the first American to win the event since Chanda Rubin won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003, and she is also the youngest American to win a singles title since Vania King (17 yrs, 254 days). With Coco Vandeweghe winning the Toppshelf Open, it’s the first time that two American women have won titles in the same week since 2002.
Keys was dominant on serve with 17 aces. She hit 60 winners and won 16 of 19 points at net.
“I’m just so incredibly happy,” Keys said. “It’s one of those things where when you’re training and you don’t want to be there, you’re tired or everything hurts, you think of this moment, and it really helps push you through all of the hard times. I’m just incredibly happy right now. I’m so incredibly honored to be another name on this trophy. To know that Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Navratilova have all won this, it’s just an incredible honor.”
“It’s not easy when somebody is serving like she did the whole match, but I was trying, and I think I had some good returns, but it was tough to battle,” Kerber said. “Like I said before the match, she is really dangerous. She’s young and she has a great talent, so for sure she’ll be dangerous in the future.”
By Tumaini Carayol
(June 19, 2014) EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND – As the typical English rain clouds gathered gracelessly, Wimbledon’s imminent arrival seemingly magnetically dragging them towards the final dress rehearsal, Madison Keys was suddenly fighting two opponents as she rushed to complete her work for the day before the heavens opened.
In the end, she won every battle. She conceded three games. She served out the second set breadstick to love. She concluded with a perfect, slick ace straight down the middle. Barely a minute after she had vacated the stadium and safely tucked herself away in the players’ area, out flew a barrage of heavy, abhorrent rain. There was no denial from about the rainclouds stealing her attention in the closing moments as she attempted to finish it all off.
“I lost that return game, and I could see the clouds coming,” She chuckled afterwards. “I was like, Okay, focus, get this game done. Yeah, just really happy I was able to get it done before the rain.”
She was a winner on the court and it was yet another great performance. The serve that has been tipped so unrelentingly, and for good reason. This time around it scaled the 120mph mark and her opponent, countrywoman Lauren Davis, was left chasing the shadows of the balls as they flew straight past her. The groundstrokes, so compact and hitch-less, were the surprise. At times since her arrival it has been difficult to properly conclude whether or not they are bonafide, formidable weapons trustworthy at most important moments, or just strokes capable of generating a lot of pace. But now it all seems to be coming together for her now.
For all her on-court prowess and the fierce form she finds herself in, one of the most interesting developments has been the ground she is slowly marking out for herself behind the curtain in the press room.
Rarely does Madison Keys’ name rise up when talk of the most entertaining players begins, but there is no doubting it. It’s partly because she hasn’t yet won enough, but the bare transcripts often released so desperately fail in conveying the colorful personality that bursts out at every opportunity. But it exists. Her humor is dryer than the Sahara. She is the undisputed world number one in the sarcasm and self-deprication stakes. She doesn’t take herself seriously and it shows as she batted back countless questions with all the authority of one of her nuclear serves.
When discussing the perils of facing a home player and competing with crowds cheering against her, Keys casually narrated her route from her stadium, every comic cue filled with rolled eyes and piercing sarcasm.
“I mean, you’re used to it. Obviously you have been in situations where the crowd is against you. Even when I was walking back from here today, someone goes, “Hey, good job! I hope you lose tomorrow!” I was like, “Thank you!”
The grass has been a fierce discussion point, with many believing that her booming serve should make her a force on the surface. Even after last year’s strong performance against Radwanska or her early performances this week, she only ever appeared cautiously confident. Not today, as she so literally demonstrated when asked to rank grass amongst her favourite surface. “It’s like way up here,” she said, stretching an arm high above her head in a practical demonstration. “Everything else is like down here.”
“Even hard court?”
“Even hard court.”
She was asked to discuss her inconsistency; the question inquiring about the degree of control she possesses over such a colossal game capable of thundering winners and missing in equal amounts. With laughing eyes, she interrupted the question with a perfect deadpan “I suck? Is that what you’re trying to say?” Laughter rained down but it didn’t stop her from a simultaneously amusing and honest answer upon the completion of the question.
“There are definitely days where I feel like it’s just the entire universe is against me and doesn’t want me to win.” More chuckles and more rolled eyes. “But I’m getting better, and there is not really as many matches where I walk off the court and think, I have no idea what just happened. There is definitely still days where I go out and I feel like I can’t hit the ball in the stadium. Hopefully that’s not tomorrow”
The end soon came, and after Wozniacki’s battles with the umpire, she was asked about her own temper, to which the best exchange of the day followed.
“Wozniacki was a bit angry about some calls today. Can you remember the angriest you’ve ever been on court?”
“I can remember. I don’t think I want to tell you what happened, though (laughter).”
“Have you ever broken a racquet?”
“On court? “Accidentally” on court.”
“Accidently? And what about off court?
“Maybe… Oh, look at the time! It’s time to go!”
Shortly after, Keys was dismissed and she stepped off her chair and walked out of her press conference. A winner on and off the court.
Tumaini Carayol is covering the Aegon International for Tennis Panorama News. He is a freelance tennis writer for various publications, and also writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.
By Tumaini Carayol
(June 17, 2014) EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND – Whatever mood Jelena Jankovic was in, it was not a good mood. For one, she was standing on, in her view, the worst surface known to mankind. Her hatred for the grass is no secret and, as transparently pointed questions flew her way; essentially asking her exactly how much she detested tennis on grass and hated whoever first dreamed it up, it was showcased yet more as her diplomatic response was belied by the festival of pained facial expressions and rolled eyes that accompanied it.
Serving two games from defeat against the relatively harmless Madison Keys, she finally had enough. Her breaking point was broke. Out came a stream of her typically baritone and croaky-voiced yells to no one in particular, all in her native Serbian. One of the trillions of older people lined up around the court sensed a moment of humor, responded with a loudly-voiced mock agreement “Yeah, for sure!” As a smattering of laughter erupted from those within earshot of it all, Jankovic turned on her heel and, while leering in the vague direction of the offending fan she roared back with at full capacity of her lungs. “Yeah, for sure…what?”
The testiness was only beginning. As Jankovic departed from the court, stomping flat all that encountered the soles of her feet as she crossed Eastbourne’s blissfully vast grounds, fans and practising players alike turned as she yelled blue murder in more, furiously deep and croaky Serbian to her brother. Sensing their opportunity to bag one of those autographs, two girls would follow in a single-minded pursuit of her. The first, after chasing for a while and demandingly staring at the back of her head in hope that the star would pivot and sign, eventually had the sense to rapidly move away and duck for. The second, however, wasn’t so wise. After fighting for the Serb’s attention and failing misery, she turned and sobbed herself dry.
The grumpiest of all, though, wasn’t particularly grumpy this time. Victoria Azarenka was a tight 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 loser to the all-bamboozling power of Camila Giorgi. The paradox of Camila is that she is so softly-spoken, so quiet and so small yet on the court she explodes into the most aggressive being known to mankind. She doesn’t attack balls, she attempts to transfigure them into fluffy nothingness through screaming force. Her crazy father, with the now trademark gray and long locks that may or may not be uncombed and unwashed since leaving the womb, provides the final contrast.
But after the loss, Azarenka was fairly upbeat at her intensity and focus and the fact that she had pieced together some form of matchplay after so long off. Even in this unaffected state, however, she still managed to notch up some friction as a fairly standard and beige question was met with the rasping response of “that’s a very silly question”. The rest of her answer was matter-of-fact and regular, and it was almost as if she was oblivious to her typical friction-creating.
The men carry such low profiles in Eastbourne that it is sometimes easy to forget that they even exist there, but they had their moments too. Gilles Simon was so comically inept on a doubles court, crashing and burning before the public’s eyes – but not before bunting his partner, Cristopher Kas, with a return. There came also the amusingly sad sight of Andrey Kuznetsov, who lost early in the day then resurfaced later on the practice court with a crater-sized box of balls, four empty cans and abjectly alone. He placed down the four cans on the four corners of the boxes before proceeding to sorrowfully aim and fire serve after serve at them. Not a soul came to watch, coach or encourage him, and he eventually loaded the balls back into his box and walked off completely alone. It must have been a terrible serving day.
In the end, though, it was Madison Keys who stole the show after effortlessly punching out Jelena Jankovic. Her conferences stand as reaffirmation that the real value is in being there and the bare transcripts sometimes provided offer little in the way of underlining how and why something is uttered. For Madison’s part, it rarely projects in print but in press she’s serves endless charm even with the most standard of answers. Unlike other players, she doesn’t take herself seriously and allows the sarcasm and self-deprecating humor to show. There were good answers and there were great answers, but the best came as the subject turned to the, until recently, alien sport of soccer. Quickly, she summed up the thought process of the entirety of America in one, succinct answer.
“This week is the first time I have watched a full football game,” she said. “And I still am not a huge fan, but I’m getting more and more into it as the World Cup goes on. There is a couple of times where I just don’t understand what’s going on. I’m just like, Wait, why does he have a free kick? Why is the other guy rolling on the ground? No one touched him.”
Soon after, she could be seen marching out of the news conference with a newly minted spring in her step. A good day on and off the court.
Tumaini Carayol is covering the Aegon International for Tennis Panorama News. He is a freelance tennis writer for various publications, and also writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault. Follow his tournament updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.
(March 23, 2014) Li Na held off Madison Keys 7-6(3), 6-3 in a slugfest on Sunday morning at the Sony Open to reach the fourth round.
The world No. 2 and young American who are both represented by agent Max Eisenbud, each broke serve three time in the opening set. Along with hitting deep groundstrokes, both women committed tons of unforced errors.
Li saved set points, down 3-5 in first set and was forced to rebound from being a break down at 0-2 early in the second set. Keys was within a point of going up 3-0 in the second set.
“I think it was pretty tough match,” Li said. “I think she play well, big serve, big forehand, especially when she was like 3‑1 down and then come back 5‑3‑up and serve for the first set.
“During that time I didn’t think about too much. I say, Okay, try to hit the ball, try to do what you have to do, and I think the, how you say, save the set point was give me a not lot, but at least I was still on the first set.
“So I think this was maybe change the match a little bit, because after that I was feeling she’s drop a little bit.”
“She’s No. 2 in the world for a reason,” Keys said. “She just won Australian Open for a reason. She’s a great player.”
“I played well at times, and she just played the bigger points, you know, really, really well.
“So, I mean, there is a lot to be happy with, but there is also some stuff I need to work on. That’s what I’m going to go do.”
“I definitely think at times I was doing a good job at taking time away, moving forward a little bit better, and looking for my forehand,” Keys said.
My serve was a little bit up and down today. But, I mean, overall I think I did a good job of staying in the moment.
Li will play Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round.