2014/10/21

Sorana Cirstea: Focused on Improvement and Full of Belief

Cirstea Press

By Brodie Elgin

(August 8, 2013) TORONTO – When people refer to the “power game” in women’s tennis today, they often base it off of their experience with women’s tennis in the 1990s or the serve and volley days of the 1980s and prior. Not only are the racquet technologies of today different, but players are more fit and strong, and most women play their games from the baseline. It has been a gradual upward correlation between big hitting and big success.

 

While some of the top players in the game, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, and Maria Sharapova hit the ball with incredible pace, ripping the cover off the ball isn’t an exclusively top 5 trait. Sorana Cirstea is known for her big ground strokes. Her blistering forehand is even more impressive courtside, so much so that it often leaves fans unfamiliar with her oohing and aahing at the sight of her first few big shots.

 

Back on her beloved hard courts for the first time since Miami, Cirstea made an impressive run to the Stanford semifinals and then lost in her quarterfinal match in Washington before heading to Toronto. Her impressive form from Stanford has continued in Toronto as she won two of the biggest matches of her season, defeating two former world number ones Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic in under 24 hours to reach the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank.

 

After saving two match points against Wozniacki, Cirstea reeled off 15 straight points, including the second set tiebreak to love. “I kind of started to take charge, you know, and be in control of the points.” She looked primed to control the third set with chances to hold and consolidate a break to take a 1-4 lead. However, she was eventually broken and quickly found herself locked at 3-3. Instead of letting frustrations boil over, she took a walk to the backboard, put her hands on her hips and gave herself a talking to. It worked, and holding twice she eventually broke Wozniacki to love as the Dane served at 4-5, and Cirstea took the match 5-7, 7-6(0), 6-4. “I’m proud of the fact that from the first moment until the last moment that I had the belief in me.  I feel I earned that victory.  I fought very hard for it.”

Sorana Cirstea

Eventually getting back to the hotel early Thursday morning at 1:30am, Cirstea was faced with the difficult task of taking on Jelena Jankovic, a short 16 hours later. She frustrated Jankovic by going for big winners when the time arrived, and the Serbian failed to effectively counterpunch Cirstea’s overwhelming power. Jankovic became particularly frustrated in the second set, and Cirstea moved on into the quarterfinals, winning 6-3, 6-4. “I think I made a huge step forward today by backing up the win from yesterday, because I think this was one of the issues in the past.  I would have a good win but then couldn’t really back it up.”

After Wimbledon, Cirstea spent two weeks in Las Vegas with the Adidas Player Development Program including Steffi Graf and her husband Andre Agassi, as well as his long time fitness coach Gil Reyes. The fitness training appears to have helped.” I actually woke up, and I was very surprised nothing was hurting, nothing was sore,” Cirstea said about the morning after her Wednesday night marathon match, “so I was like, “oh, this is a new feeling.” The fact that after playing three hours yesterday, today I was actually fine, and I knew Jelena is a tough player and she’s going to make me run a lot.  I was like, Okay, I have no problem.  That’s why I’m here, no?”

 

Sorana Cirstea and Ana Ivanovic at 2012 BNP Paribas Open Players Party

Sorana Cirstea and Ana Ivanovic at 2012 BNP Paribas Open Players Party

The opportunity to hit with Steffi Graf was not just a fun opportunity, but somewhat of a daunting one as well. “I started tennis because of Steffi Graf, so of course the first time I met her I couldn’t even talk that’s how nervous I was. Even now, every time she comes I’m so nervous,” Sorana laughed. “Every time Steffi comes in, the rhythm that she plays [with], so 45 minutes with her feels like an hour and a half. She’s so professional, still so fit, even now. She’s my idol, and my biggest example. I think I’m quite lucky to interact with them and learn.”

 

While hitting big has never been a problem for the Romanian, Cirstea is hoping to take her game to the next level through improved fitness and mental maturity on court. This is already the ninth time she has won this year after dropping the first set. “Everyone knows that I start a little bit slow. This year I’ve been trying to change a little bit of things, and for me to actually start better from the beginning, and try to get ahead. But right now, I never lose my belief. If you’re better than me, you have to beat me.” The Romanian has looked particularly composed on court this week, with few outbursts towards her coaches, and often catching herself to walk to the back board and tap her racquet on it as a mental reminder to stay focused.

 

While big hitting players can often gain a lot of hype as potential top 10 players, Cirstea insisted she’s more focused on improving the parts of her game that she wants to work on than focusing on a specific ranking number goal. “I’m enjoying more, and I’m learning more things about myself.  I think I grew up and matured along the way.  I have been through great times, tough times, and I’m happy that I had all those, because they helped me be stronger and just be a better person and also athlete.”

Brodie Elgin is the writer of mindtheracket.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MindTheRacket. He is covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto for Tennis Panorama News, follow @TennisNewsTPN for updates.

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Raonic Looks To Make History At This Year’s Final SAP Open

 

Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic

By Kevin Ware

(February 12, 2013) SAN JOSE, California -This is a bittersweet moment as I prepare my preview for this year’s SAP Open.  The SAP Open, the second-oldest tournament in the US, is ending its’ illustrious run with this final week at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA.  Many great and legendary players have hoisted the trophy through its’ various names and incarnations.  But whether it was the Siebel Open, the Sybase Open, or whatever, it didn’t matter to those of us in the Bay Area who were grateful for a chance to see world-class tennis. This tournament will be greatly missed!

This year’s edition promises one final hurrah with a great field and the addition of a mixed doubles exhibition match on Saturday, featuring longtime SAP Open stalwart Andy Roddick, 3-time Slam champion Lindsay Davenport, and 22-time Slam champion Stephanie “Steffi” Graf.  Defending champion Milos Raonic is also back to try for an historic SAP Open hat trick.  So even though this is the final SAP Open, it definitely promises to go out on a high.

Main draw action started Monday night with Xavier Malisse and Jesse Levine winning first-round matches. With qualifying rounds completed, the action starts in earnest on Tuesday with main draw matches for both singles and doubles.

Here is my breakdown of the quarters as I look for Raonic to make history for the tournament with his third straight title.

 

Milos Raonic [1]

The top quarter features top seeded Milos Raonic, who has a chance to pull off a rare “hat trick” win at this year’s SAP Open after title runs in 2011 and 2012.  How rare is it? No player has won three straight SAP Open titles since Tony Trabert accomplished the feat with wins in ’53, ’54, and ’55.  This includes greats like Ashe, McEnroe, Sampras, Agassi, and Roddick. a win in this final SAP Open would certainly put Milos at par with this very select group of players.

Milos likes the conditions in San Jose, and has played some of his best tennis on this center court over the past couple of years.  His serve has been off the charts, both in terms of pace and placement, and his ground game has been damaging off both his forehand and backhand wings. There isn’t much that’s likely to stop his march to the semifinals; not even a potential quarterfinal rematch against his 2012 finalist, Denis Istomin.

Sam Querrey [3]

The second quarter features Davis Cup hero, Sam Querrey.  It would be easy to peg Querrey as the favorite to make his way through to the semifinals, but he will have his hands full with his most likely second-round challenger, former champion Lleyton Hewitt.  While Hewitt has a first-round encounter with Blaz Kavcic to help him settle into the tournament and get used to the conditions, Sam has a first-round bye.

Most players will tell you that there’s nothing trickier than playing an opponent who’s “into” the tournament when you’re still trying to get used to the conditions. And even if they haven’t played since 2009, Hewitt’s 2-0 head-to-head over Querrey doesn’t help matters much either.  But if Sam settles into the match quickly, he should be okay for the win. On the other hand, Hewitt’s success at this year’s Kooyong exhibition showed that he’s a legitimate contender in best two out of three matches with significant wins over Raonic, Tomas Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro.

After Hewitt, seventh seed Marinko Matosevic of AUS will likely be Querrey’s last hurdle for a spot in the semifinals.

Tommy Haas [4]

Speaking of best two out of three set matches, the combination of the format and the quicker indoor court gives the number four seed a decent shot at making the quarterfinals. Once he gets there, however, he’ll have a tough battle to get by Fernando Verdasco [5] for the third semifinal spot.

Tommy has a 2-1 head-to-head edge over Fernando on tour, but they haven’t played since 2009.  In many ways, it’s either player’s match to win or lose.  If Tommy’s body and game hold up, it could happen for him.  Fernando is no slouch, though.  He’s one of three former champions in the field (along with Raonic and Hewitt), and knows what it takes to win in San Jose.

Also, I’m sure Fernando would like a chance at redemption for the title he felt that he wrongly lost in the 2011 final after a fan’s yell on match point distracted him while returning Raonic’s serve.

John Isner [2]

In spite of recent knee issues that kept him from performing his best in Australia, Big John looks to be moving decently and serving at close to his best level.  He lost a five set heartbreaker to Thomaz Bellucci in Davis Cup, but should be okay in San Jose even though he hasn’t played there since 2009.

With a 2-2 head-to-head record, veteran player Xavier Malisse might cause Isner some issues in their probable quarterfinal match-up.  But I’d be hard-pressed to see him not make it through to Saturday’s semifinals.

Semifinal Picks

Milos Raonic [1] versus Sam Querrey [3]

Head-to-head: Querrey leads 2-0

Querrey might have the advantage in the head-to-head numbers, but Milos has owned this court for the past two years.  In a battle of evenly-matched big guys with big serves and big groundstrokes, I have to give the edge to the guy who has won back-to-back titles in the past two years.

Raonic in straight sets.

Tommy Haas [4] versus John Isner [2]

Head-to-head: Isner leads 3-1

Make that 4-1 after this semifinal battle.  Isner has way too much firepower for Haas.  He will make the big guy work for it with smart shot-making, but it won’t be enough to counter Isner’s untouchable serve unless Tommy has a great returning day.

Isner in straight sets.

Final Picks

Milos Raonic [1] versus John Isner [2]

Head-to-head: Isner leads 1-0

They’ve played only once before on a Canadian hard court in last year’s Rogers Cup, with Isner winning a close 7-6(9), 6-4 match.  Serve dominated the stats, as one would expect.  But while Raonic served more aces than Isner, Isner won 91% of his first serves as compared to 78% for Raonic.  In a close match that can make all the difference.

I expect this match to go the distance, with the winner being determined by the same factors i.e. winning serve percentages.  If John keeps his percentages high, he’s got a good shot at thwarting the Raonic three-peat.  If not, Raonic has a “slightly” better ground game on which to fall back than Isner.

For all practical purposes, it’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top.  For history’s sake at this last SAP Open, I’ll go with Raonic for the three-peat.

Raonic in three sets.

Kevin Ware is in San Jose covering the SAP Open as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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Oz and Ends – Day One at the 2013 Australian Open

Melbourne park grounds

Oz and ends  and bits of news from the Australian Open for January 14, 2013

 

Bagels and breadsticks

Maria Sharapova won her first match of the Australian Open 6-0, 6-0 in 55 minutes over fellow Russian Olga Puchkova. It was her third career “double bagel” in a major tournament. She only needs a double bagel at Wimbledon to complete a “double bagel slam.”

Three women have completed the “double bagel slam” – they are Hall of Famers Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.

Venus Williams added to the bagel set count with a 6-1, 6-0 demolishing of Kazakhstan’s Galina Voskoboeva.

 

Win streak continues

Agnieszka Radwanska has extended her 2013 win streak to 10 by defeating Australian wild card entry Bojana Bobusic of 7-5, 6-0 on Monday.
Twitter News

Maria Sharapova has officially joined twitterverse. Follow her at @MariaSharapova

[tweet https://twitter.com/MariaSharapova/status/290778598774829058]

 

Tweets of the day

 

 

Lucky Loser is a winner
Tim Smyczek is lucky loser was a winner on Monday with a 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 victory over Ivo Karlovic. The American it into the draw thanks to housemate John Isner who pulled out of the tournament with a right knee injury.

 

Tough day for Aussies

Matthew Ebden, Ashleigh Barty, Olivia Rogowska, Sasha Jones,  John Millman, Lleyton, Hewitt and Casey Dellacqua all exited on day one of Australian Open. Sam Stosur was the only victorious Australian on Monday.

 

Two seeds falls

The 11th seed Juan Monaco was the only seeded played not to win on Monday. The Argentine who withdrew from last week’s Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament with a hand injury was clearly stuggling clearly struggling on the court in his straight set loss to Alex Kuznentsov, was applauded by spectators for not retiring from the match.

Monaco told Reuters: “My leg tightened up at the start of the second set and it was very tough for me,” pointing to his right leg.

On the women’s side Ksenia Pervak  stopped 32nd seed Mona Barthel 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

Federer out of Davis Cup

Roger Federer will not participate in Switzerland’s first round Davis Cup tie versus the reigning champions, the Czech Republic

 

Five set marathons

[22] Fernando Verdasco def. David Goffin 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
[10] Nicolas Almagro def Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2
Edouard Rogers-Vasselin def. Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 6-7, 2-6, 7-5, 11-9
Daniel Gimeno-Traver def. Lukasz Kubot 6-7, 6-4, 6-0, 4-6, 6-4
[23] Mikhail Youzhny def. Matt Ebden 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3
[28] Marcos Baghdatis def. Albert Ramos 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Roberto Bautista Agut def. Fabio Fognini 6-0, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1
[31] Radek Stepanek def. Viktor Troicki 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5;
Brian Baker def. Alex Bogomolov 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2.

 

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

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Anna Kournikova and NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris Celebrity Coaches for WTT Smash Hits

Pittsburgh, Pa. (October 15, 2012) — NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris and two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Anna Kournikova are lending their support to Mylan WTT Smash Hits presented by GEICO, the annual charity event co-hosted by Sir Elton John and Billie Jean King.

 

Harris and Kournikova will kick off the October 16 event in Pittsburgh by serving as celebrity coaches in the opening pro-celebrity set featuring Elton John teaming with Martina Navratilova to take on Andre Agassi and his wife Stefanie Graf. Kournikova is a co-captain of Team Elton and will be the coach for John and Navratilova. Harris, who is co-captain for Team Billie Jean, will be the coach for Agassi and Graf in the opening set. Action begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

 

During a pre-match reception, Harris will also help auction off a Super Bowl package that includes tickets to the big game along with an autographed commemorative football celebrating the 40th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception”.

 

After the pro-celebrity set, some of tennis’ biggest names will form two teams and play five sets of World TeamTennis (WTT) – one set each of men’s and women’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles – on teams captained by King and John.

 

Playing for Team Billie Jean are Hall of Famers Graf and Agassi, along with former world No. 1 in doubles Mark Knowles; world No. 30 Christina McHale and the 2012 US Open junior girls singles champion Samantha Crawford.

Team Elton includes former US Open champion Andy Roddick; Martina Navratilova, a 59-time Grand Slam champion in singles, doubles and mixed doubles; No. 1 ranked junior Taylor Townsend, and former top 15 player, WTT veteran Jan-Michael Gambill.

 

This year’s event marks the 20th anniversary of Smash Hits, which has raised more than $10.5 million for the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and various local AIDS charities since 1993. Mylan WTT Smash Hits will benefit EJAF and the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, and will also include a pre-match VIP Reception and Auction hosted by Allegheny Sports Medicine.

John, King and all players will participate in the pre-match live auction, which will include an Elton John signed piano bench and King’s Wimbledon tickets among other items.

 

Official event sponsors include Mylan, GEICO, Highmark, Allegheny Sports Medicine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mercedes-Benz of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh, Horizon Properties, Wells Fargo, Buck Consultants, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Cravath, Skadden, Alston+Bird LLP, Kelley Drye, Wiley Rein LLP, Frommer Lawrence & Haug LLP, Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti LLP, Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP, Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, The Norton Agency, GA Communication Group, Generic Pharmaceutical Association, Re/Max, Heeter Direct, Mansions on Fifth, 94.5 3WS, KDKA, and Pittsburgh Magazine.

 

For more information on WTT Smash Hits, visit www.wttsmashhits.com.

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New Haven Open Preview: Wozniacki’s Drive for Five is Alive

By Jack Cunniff

NEW HAVEN – For the fifteenth straight year, several of the top Women’s Tennis Association professionals will be at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven the week prior to the U.S. Open.  And defending New Haven Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark, hopes to be holding the winner’s trophy for the fifth straight time.  As always, the path to the title has a lot of obstacles, with eight of the Top Twenty ranked women entered in the draw.

When Wozniacki defended her title last year, she was holding seven other tournament titles and ranked No. 1 in the world.  Her form has dropped off in the last 12 months; she’s been unable to win a title since the 2011 New Haven Open.  As a result, her ranking has dropped to No. 8, and she’s seeded third.  But Wozniacki still has to be considered a title contender.  She holds a perfect 17-0 record at the event, and nine of those wins have come against opponents ranked in the Top Twenty.  Is that enough to snap a streak of twenty straight events that Wozniacki has lost? She will make history if she can win her fifth title; only three other women in tour history have won an event in five consecutive years, Chris Evert (Charleston), Steffi Graf (Hamburg), and Martina Navratilova (Wimbledon, Eastbourne, and Chicago).

The top seed at the 2012 New Haven Open is Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.  Radwanska had her best career result just a few weeks ago, reaching the finals of Wimbledon before losing to Serena Williams in three sets.  She’s improved her world ranking to No. 3 on the strength of five titles in the last 12 months, including three Premiere events (Miami, Tokyo, and Beijing).

The hottest player coming into this year’s event is Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.  She is the only woman who has reached the quarterfinals at each of the 2012 Grand Slam events.  More recently, she won the Canadian Open in Montreal last week, and reached the semifinals in Cincinnati this week.  But on the downside, that’s a lot of tennis for Kvitova, and she could be feeling the effects here.

Rounding out the Top Four seeds in New Haven is the Italian who made a surprise run to the French Open final a few months ago, Sara Errani.  Since moving off of clay courts, Errani has found things more difficult, winning only four matches on grass courts or hard courts since June.  She has been able to show winning form on hard courts earlier this year, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

In looking at title contenders, recent history in New Haven shows that you must look past the seeded players.  While the first nine New Haven finals did not feature an unseeded player, there has been an unseeded surprise finalist in four of the last five years.  Some names who could continue that trend in 2012 include Andrea Petkovic, Sloane Stephens, and Laura Robson.  Petkovic, the entertaining German player, reached No. 9 in the world last year, but has played only a few events this year because of injury.  New Haven marks her return to the tour after a four month absence.  Stephens, from the United States, has made her breakthrough this year reaching the fourth round of the French Open.  She is also the youngest player ranked in the Top 50, at age 19. Robson is even younger, at 18, and is coming off a silver medal win in the London 2012 Summer Olympics, where she partnered with Andy Murray in Mixed Doubles.

It’s a difficult field to handicap, but one thing is for sure: whoever is holding the trophy next Saturday will have a great chance of making a run at the U.S. Open title as well.  In the last fourteen years, the New Haven champion has reached at least the semifinals on ten occasions.

Around the Grounds – Saturday August 18th: Nicole Gibbs, the Stanford sophomore who swept the NCAA singles and doubles title this year, defeated her first Top 100 opponent Saturday, dispatching No. 77 Lourdes Dominguez-Lino of Spain in the second round of qualifying… Melanie Oudin, the surprise 2009 U.S. pen quarterfinalist, continued her comeback by ousting Silvia Soler-Espinosa in three sets.  After her win, Oudin confirmed that she and Jack Sock would be attempting to defend their 2011 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title… Andrea Petkovic isn’t the only player on the comeback trail at New Haven; 2007 runner-up Agnes Szavay of Hungary is playing in her first WTA main draw of 2012. Szavay also played in The London Summer Olympics this month as she returns from a career-threatening back injury.

Jack Cunniff is covering the New Haven Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN. His personal twitter is @JRCunniff.

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