November 28, 2015

Madison Keys Claims First WTA Title with Win at Eastbourne


(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.”








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Madison Keys – Ruling the Court and the Interview Room at Eastbourne


Madison Keys – Ruling the Court and the Interview Room at Eastbourne

Madison presser


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.


Wozniacki Earns a Hard Fought Victory Over Giorgi

Caroline Wozniacki

By Tumaini Carayol

(June 19, 2014) EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND – Tiebreak. Set point to Camila Giorgi. One serve to seal it all off. A slick, defense-splitting backhand crosscourt from Caroline Wozniacki‘s racquet followed, bouncing squarely on the line and sending the Italian speeding off as a canyon of a gap was left fit for a bus to power through. But just before the Dane made contact with the second blow, a stutter of a “corr-” blazed through the mic.


Mayhem. Chaos. The abruptness of the pause, the word “correction” sliced into one syllable of unspeakable horror, had the dramatic effect of the umpire slapping a hand to her mouth in brazen shock. This mistake from the usually spotless Alison Hughes was the equal of all fifty-odd Giorgi unforced errors, and everyone knew it. As Wozniacki marched up to the helpless umpire to let her have it, a shout from one of the few younger people populating the crowd: “Give her beef, Caroline!”


Well, in this match there was beef and there was chicken and there was pork and an assortment of salads, too. All dramatic and nothing bland. In the very next set, with the score on serve and Giorgi up 4-3, a man collapsed in the fairly average British heat. It happens surprisingly often – spectators taken ill in the midst of a battle. But this was different. As the man lay there in plain view of it all before eventually being transported out of the arena, play was suspended as both women marched off court before eventually returning a period later and warming up all over again.

I could hear ‑‑ there was some noises to start off with, and I could see them carrying him to the stairs,” Wozniacki said afterwards. “Then I just saw him lying there for maybe 10 minutes. […] “(We stopped because) he was still lying ‑‑ we could see him still, and I think there was going to be a lot of things happening. Obviously a life is more important than the tennis.”


There was some good tennis, though. Giorgi, with her unflinchingly aggressive game, pounded out backhand winners and stormed the net with an urgency of a madwoman chasing the last bus. Wozniacki was stifled as usual, but she served exemplary throughout and came up with a couple of wonderful shots. There too was plenty of poor, substandardness. Wozniacki’s usual passivity and poor, depthless forehands were omnipresent as usual. Meanwhile, Giorgi also pounded out forehand and backhand errors alike. Worst of all, though, was her single-minded unrepentant aggression that hit its peak on return. Despite her struggling to time every last return and the bounded off her racket exclusively late, she continued to stand acres inside the baseline and was offered hoards of free gifts on return to Wozniacki as if it was her birthday.

Back at 6-5 in the first set tiebreak, the madness continued. The point was eventually replayed and a spot of justice peeked from the clouds of injustice. The Italian had been laughing at fate all match, all career, powering down laughably reckless serves over 105 miles-per-hour and more. On the replayed set point, fate had the last laugh as a double fault reeled off Giorgi’s strings. Well long. Wozniacki responded with a fist pump, Giorgi responded by demolishing a ball straight into the crowd and she may or may not have hit a spectator in the face. A warning flew her way, but she eventually won the set before the final two sets fell the Dane’s way. The win for Wozniacki set up a semi-final with Angelique Kerber, an easy victor over Ekaterina Makarova. On the other side, Heather Watson benefitted from Petra Kvitova’s withdrawal to become the first British Eastbourne semi-finalist in 32 years.

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.


An Upbeat Azarenka and a Grumpy Jankovic Fall in Eastbourne

Jankovic shocked

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.


Victoria Azarenka, Back in Action but with Questions to be Answered



By Tumaini Carayol

(June 16, 2014) EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND – The sun rose on a new day, but before long a familiar noise was relentlessly piercing the morning atmosphere. At last, Victoria Azarenka was back. But there was no homely welcome mat to usher the fallen warrior back into the routine of the tour. Her first practice came on the courts adjacent to the media centre, and mere seconds were needed for the first complaints to ring out ironically louder than the apparent irritant. One person, voice dripping with abject disgust, simply couldn’t deal with it. Another rolled their eyes and wordlessly slammed the window shut. So, welcome back then, Victoria. Normal service already seamlessly back into motion before she even stepped onto the match court.


Azarenka’s practice continued in earnest, and in it there was much to take in. Ocular positives were on show as there came the distinct sense that she really was hitting the ball well. As rallies with her nameless hitting partner raged on, she rapidly fell into a rhythm of punctuating every winner that seared past her opponent’s face with a typically over exaggerated exclamation of “yeah”! Such was the frequency of the shout, her throat was probably raw and dry by the end.


But for all the clean ballstriking, there too are palpable issues. Her fitness remains the clearest, most obvious obstacle. Throughout the session she remained largely in one spot, hopping but rarely braving anything close to the full limits of her movement. After she struggled to recover her prime shape of 2012 post-injury in early 2013, the Belarusian is further away than ever. This is only natural, however, and it is perhaps true that an increase in her program.


The endless serve problems stand high up the list too. In the fall of 2013, Azarenka decided to completely demolish her old rapid abbreviated stroke and build in its place a full-blooded, lengthy motion. The problem is that it is disjointed, hitchy and lacking any rhythm among many others. She struggled immensely with it towards the end of 2013 and the beginning of the new year, and even in the nerveless confines of practice lack of match or general fitness is also palpable, throughout this session and the ones held last week during the men’s Queen’s event.


Soon, she was finished and it was time to greet the press. Three months had passed but again little had changed with the exchanges still testy and awkward as ever.


“Why not? Like, why not,” she croaked to queries of her decision to descend upon Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park. “I mean, what’s more exciting than Wimbledon? I just felt that, you know, I started feeling really good on the court, you know, playing with no pain. I just want to play. I couldn’t wait to play.”


“Once I felt that I’m healthy, I started practicing and I just wanted to play. So I’m here in Eastbourne to try to test myself in competition, you know. I have been tested in practice, but competition is a completely different thing.”


She also discussed her activities that took up her time away from the tour. Unlike Jelena Jankovic, who croacked about her passion of beach volleyball.


“Rehabbing, you know, staying at home, just walking with my dog and just living a normal, everyday life, which is very unnormal actually, still (smiling).”


“But I had a great time. I obviously missed tennis, I missed being able to travel, to compete. I think compete is the most what I was missing.”


Soon enough, it was time to go but the message projected was clear. Victoria Azarenka is back and even if she initially fails, beware.


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.


Heather Watson and Laura Robson Bite the Bullet in Birmingham


By Tumaini Carayol

(June 12, 2013) BIRMINGHAM, UK – Kicking off the day’s play on Wednesday at the AEGON Classic was the pride and joy of Britain, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, back to back.

Considering the later slots are usually reserved for the feature players, the tournament’s decision to place the pair first and second on was certainly an interesting one. it perhaps told of their certainly that both women would advance to the next round, allowing them the home-court advantage of optimum recovery time and the greatest chance of completing their matches should the rains have opened up and swallowed them whole.

Their faith was not rewarded.

First came Watson, who happily triumphed on Tuesday, recording her first victory since Memphis in February after a well-publicized bout of mononucleosis left her debilitated and eventually forced her from the tennis
courts and into her bed.

She could not repeat the trick, however, falling 6-4 6-3 to Alla Kudryavtseva in an eerily identical score to her first ever victory.

She was understandably disappointed afterwards.

“I definitely didn’t play well today,” she said. “I made a lot of unforced errors and my serve was really awful but she was a much tougher opponent today.”

“She was good off the baseline and she returned well. At the end of the day, you’ve got to go and win it and she did but, me, I wasn’t pleased with my game today.”

“It was frustrating because I played well in my first match and I thought it was going to get even better today but it was the total opposite. I felt fine today. I just think I was a bit slow to the ball and slow thinking, which comes from not playing. I just need to get used to that. I thought today was a good opportunity and I feel like I’ve let it go. If I want to get back then I need to find a way even when I’m not playing so well.”

Next came seventh-seeded Laura Robson, who also coincidentally found herself against one of her first grasscourt foes in Daniela Hantuchova. The pair had faced each other at Wimbledon in 2009 – the year after a 14-year old Robson triumphed in the junior event.

Despite the tricky draw, Robson was certainly favored against her aging opponent. In fact, given the Brit’s rising reputation for peaking against the best and finding herself below top form against the rest, in many ways it could be considered a helpful draw beforehand.

Helpful it was not, however. Two lethargic starts to both sets was enough to send her packing as she lost her serve in her first service game each time and failed to retrieve them.

“I definitely could’ve moved up to the ball a bit more,” she said afterwards. “It is definitely something I could work on a bit more, but I thought Daniela played very well today.

“I just have to keep practicing and stay confident and keep focusing.”

And with that, the two home favorites bit the dust. Luckily for the Birmingham faithful, however, they still have one home favorite left after Donna Vekic‘s scintillating exhibition of attacking tennis yesterday was only bettered by the post-match revelation that she resides in England and converses in a mostly-English accent. Expect the 16 year-old Croatian Londoner to continually pick up the slack left by the real Brits both this week and in years to come.

Tumaini Carayol covering the AEGON Classic in Birmingham for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault. Follow his tournament updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.

Birmingham, England
June 10-16, 2013

Results Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Singles – Second Round
(1) Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) d. (Q) Ajla Tomljanovic (CRO) 46 64 75
Marina Erakovic (NZL) d. (2) Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) 76(6) 36 60
(3) Sorana Cirstea (ROU) d. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 64 64
(5) Sabine Lisicki (GER) d. Kristyna Pliskova (CZE) 64 62
Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) d. (7) Laura Robson (GBR) 63 64
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO) d. (9) Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) 64 60
(12) Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) d. (WC) Johanna Konta (GBR) 64 61
(13) Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) d. Andrea Hlavackova (CZE) 46 61 64
(Q) Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS) d. (14) Heather Watson (GBR) 64 63
(15) Francesca Schiavone (ITA) d. (Q) Nadiya Kichenok (UKR) 76(4) 62
(16) Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) d. Mathilde Johansson (FRA) 75 67(4) 64
(Q) Maria Sanchez (USA) d. (Q) Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) 76(3) 63

Order Of Play – Thursday, June 13, 2013
Ann Jones Centre Court (from 11.00hrs)
1. Daniela Hantuchova vs. Kristina Mladenovic
2. Sorana Cirstea vs. Bojana Jovanovski
3. Francesca Schiavone vs. Marina Erakovic
4. Sabine Lisicki vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
5. Black/Erakovic vs. Chan/Huber

Court 1 (from 11.00hrs)
1. Madison Keys vs. Mona Barthel
2. Maria Sanchez vs. Donna Vekic
3. Kirsten Flipkens vs. Magdalena Rybarikova
4. Alla Kudryavtseva vs. Alison Riske

Court 3 (from 11.00hrs)
1. Date-Krumm/Parra Santonja vs. Aoyama/Moulton-Levy
2. Kops-Jones/Spears vs. Castaño/Daniilidou
3. Barthel/Mladenovic vs. Dushevina/Watson
4. Jurak/Tanasugarn vs. Hantuchova/Hsieh


Serena Williams Responds to Sloane Stephens’ Quotes: Stephens Takes Blame on Twitter


By Tumaini Carayol

(May 7, 2013) MADRID – As the traveling tennis circus rolled into Madrid, the tennis world was immediately consumed by shocking off-court happenings that left the actual tennis firmly in the shadows. The first alarm bells rang as a suspiciously scribbled magazine scan was uploaded into a small pocket of the internet during the dead of night. Slowly but surely, awareness of this mysterious magazine spread until, by morning, it had exploded into the mainstream of the tennis world and threatened to consume it whole.

This magazine in question was ‘ESPN: The Mag’, the scan was an interview in which young American hope Sloane Stephens candidly trash-talked Serena Williams and – though opinions on its contents were varied – the angry scribbles that graced the three featured pictures of Stephens presented a window into the widespread fury that greeted Stephens’ controversial comments.

Stephens’ quotes have long since been dissected and discussed. Here was someone who, for the best part of a year, could be seen constantly heaping praise on her countrywoman. The 20 year-old referred to Williams as a friend – her only friend on the WTA. Ahead of their Australian Open clash, Stephens even charmingly discussed a conversation they had exchanged prior, in which Williams jokingly suggested that she grunt. Though the narrative was blown out of proportion by a media that painted the Williams-Stephens relationship as a mentorship rather than simply two kindred spirits, both women stirred the pot with their own comments.

Then, with that fateful interview during Miami, Stephens drove a 50-ton lorry straight through her previous comments.

It is far from the first time Williams has been involved in the exchange of harsh comments. During the dawn of her career, verbal sparring with fellow players was almost her second job. The nadir, or perhaps peak of this off-court drama came at the 1999 US Open when Martina Hingis described Serena and her sister as having “big mouths.” Williams responded immediately, irreverently offering up one of the enduring quotes of a generation:

“She’s always been the type of person that just says things and she just speaks her mind,” she offered quietly. “I guess that has a little bit to do with not having a formal education

It seemed only natural that Williams would respond in a similar manner after Stephens’ comments became known. However, Williams’ experience has evidently taught her to choose her battles wisely. Rather than engaging her 20 year-old opponent in yet another war of words and finding herself the center of yet more drama, Williams offered a considerably more decisive retort. With a wide smile and comically innocent expression, the 15 time-Grand Slam champion replied:

“I don’t really know. I don’t have many thoughts. I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been. I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world. I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her.

“So I really just always wish her ‑ and anyone, really, especially from America the best. We don’t have that many American players, so it’s always exciting to see so many young players doing so well.”


By the end of the day, Stephens had taken to twitter to apologize to Williams, referring to the world number one as “the GOAT” and disclosing that the pair had spoken via phone and cleared the air. Serena the peacemaker: a strange but fitting title.

Tumaini Carayol is in Madrid covering the Madrid Open for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault. Follow his tournament updates on @TennisNewsTPN and his personal twitter @TumCarayol.


Related stories:

Sharapova Reacts to Stephens’ Comments About Serena Williams

Sloane Stephens Criticizes Serena Williams in ESPN The Magazine Interview


Sharapova Defends Stuttgart Title with Victory Over Li Na

Sharapova Porsche

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 28, 2013) STUTTGART – Maria Sharapova arrived in Stuttgart as merely the defeNding champion. One Porsche mega-deal later, the Russian had almost assumed home-crowd support as fans and staff alike cheered the Russian on passionately throughout the week.


After her perilous struggles in the rounds before, Sharapova saved her most impressive victory for last, showcasing a performance of the highest quality to refuse Li Na her title 6-4, 6-3. The Russian struck the ball cleanly and with precision, while her movement improved dramatically overnight as she closed out the match in two impressive sets.


“I definitely thought it would be the toughest match of the tournament because, you know, she’s the second seed and someone I lost to last time I played against her,” she said.


“Probably because I knew she’d be the freshest of both of us. I tried to do the right things from the beginning and not have a let-down like I did in the other matches. I’m extremely happy that I pulled through.”


Sharapova’s afternoon was most succinctly summed up by a break point in set two. Chasing from side to side, the Russian found herself on the back foot as Li attempted to dominate. Eventually she stretched for a last-ditch left-handed forehand which barely trickled over, but as the Chinese number one attempted to put away the weak reply, Sharapova had already begun sprinting back to her forehand side, into the open court. A stunning on-the-run forehand down the line passing shot followed as she wrestled the break from her opponent’s grasp and hammered the final nail into the coffin that held Li Na’s title hopes.


“I think the main thing (in the earlier rounds) is the way that I fought,” said Sharapova later. “The way I came back from being down from, you know winning the first set.


“Losing the second could have been tough and easy to let the third set go but I kept fighting to give myself a chance to get into the next round. And then I played my best tennis today. So no matter how difficult those matches were, no matter how tired I was.”


On the question of pressure after recording a breathtaking 20th straight victory on red clay, Sharapova showcased a relaxed outlook to her outstanding previous 12 months on the red dirt.


“It’s more exciting. I really feel like I deserve to be in that position where I’m considered one of favorites because I needed to work to be in this position for many years. I’ve worked on getting stronger. I’ve worked on getting patient. I’ve worked on getting my game to adapt a little more on clay. There’s a reason why I’ve got myself there. It didn’t take a day, it didn’t take months, it took many years.


It remains difficult to name the players who will figure as the top favorites for Roland Garros as the second Grand Slam draws ever-nearer, but if one thing is for sure, it’s that Sharapova will top them all.


Sharapova Survives Another Three-Set Match to Move into Stuttgart Final

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 27, 2013) STUTTGART – In a world where the phrase “counterpuncher” has become maimed and warped beyond reason and measure, Angelique Kerber epitomizes the word in its simplest form. The difference between Kerber and the numerous defensive retrievers the phrase is tossed indiscriminately at is clear; while the German too attempts to initiate points with consistency and high margin, Kerber’s ultimate aim isn’t simply to await errors and grind her opponents into submission. In stark contrast, she surrenders the initiative to her opponent in the hope they they will arm her with pace to allow her to attack.

It’s a strange and unique approach to tennis, and made even more bizarre by the manner in which she achieves it. For one, she isn’t even a particularly consistent player. Her faulty technique often leads to both forehand and backhand easily breaking down under pressure, particularly when static. However, her speed deceitfully creates an environment in which her opponents feel it imperative to take risks, inadvertently tossing the advantage straight to German. Conversely, against players who offer her zero pace, the German almost always struggles.

Moreover, conventional wisdom states that players whose strength is to redirect the opponent’s pace are usually armed with pin-point footwork and smooth, seamless technique in order to properly deal with the qualities thrown at them. Kerber, meanwhile, can be found contorting her body into unimaginable positions and taking large and awkward steps that put her only roughly in the direction of the ball. Despite that, over the past eighteen months, the German has proven herself the most spectacular in the world when on the run, with her ability to change directions and create spectacular angles and shotmaking on the run the driving force behind her ascension to the top five.

During the early stages of her battle against Maria Sharapova in Stuttgart, however, such spectacle was far from view. After two lackluster matches which far more readily showcased her mental strength clearly than anything resembling her best tennis, the Russian arrived with much to prove. From the very first game, she attacked with brutal depth, precision and weight of shot. As is often the case with Sharapova, it’s that precision and weight of shot that sets her apart from the crowd rather than her often overrated power, and during the early exchanges, she simply overwhelmed her opponent and left the German incapable of countering or punching in any capacity.

But there was something strange about Sharapova’s start. It was almost as if, after defeating Ana Ivanovic a round earlier, she had absorbed the Serb’s game as her serve and forehand dominated proceedings. It’s no secret that both strokes are so often the undoing of the Russian, so when the forehand did begin to unravel, nobody bothered to feign surprise. Meanwhile, Sharapova’s famously majestic backhand was nowhere to be seen as she alternated between spraying errors and avoiding her backhand-down-the-line at-all-costs, which only created yet more problems. With her trademark weapon missing in action and the rest of her game following in its wake, shortly after securing the first set 6-3 Sharapova was suddenly struggling to win games.

Much of the blame rested on Kerber’s shoulders, however. As Sharapova’s length slowly declined in the second half of the first set and offered the home favorite breathing space, the German snatched her opportunity and began to weave her web, transforming the match from what resembled a one-sided boxing match into a track meet. As is often the case in her matches, the match began to closer resemble a training drill as Kerber expertly used the the angles of the course to force Sharapova on the run, the Russian having no choice but to reply with desperate down-the-line shots. A couple of spectacular Sharapova shots followed, but there’ is usually only ever one victor of such drills, and it isn’t the slow player covering more ground and taking greater risks. As Kerber eased through the second set 6-2 and established a 2-0 third-set lead with seven straight games, it was clear the scoreboard agreed.

It was here that the most interesting moment of the match occurred Down 0-2 in the third set and staring into the abyss of defeat, Sharapova briefly departed from the previous two sets of the match. Suddenly she was rolling her serves in and opted for more topspin and height on her groundstrokes, re-establishing the depth and regaining her timing. Though this brief interlude lasted a mere game, it was enough to right Sharapova’s turbulent ship and send her powering through the following three games. Such an adjustment from the world number two would not happen on a hardcourt.

As the momentum tipped heavily back in the defending champion’s favor, the battle reached its glorious peak. Out of nowhere, both reverted back to what they do best. Sharapova’s backhand finally arrived in Stuttgart as she uncorked an assault of brutish winners from that side. Meanwhile, Kerber desperately and gallantly defended her serve, absorbing and redirecting the immense pressure Sharapova was inflicting on her, and amassing some impressive winners in the process. Against all odds, it was Kerber who emerged victorious in that lengthy game, leveling the match at three-all.

This proved only a momentary set-back for Sharapova,however, as she powered though the following two games to establish a 5-3 lead. Similarly to Ivanovic’s semi-comeback a day earlier, Kerber took her final stand and leveled back the match at 5-5, but Sharapova once again exhibited the resilience that made her a champion as she broke back immediately and finally closed the contest out.

Afterwards, when asked whether she was prepared for a potential fourth straight three-setter in the title match, three words from Sharapova summed up exactly why she has achieved such great and undeniable success over the course of her career.

“Whatever it takes,” she said. “Whatever it takes.”


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.

Sharapova and Ivanovic Turn Back the Clock in Stuttgart


Maria Sharapova

By Tumaini Carayol

(April 26, 2013) STUTTGART – Six years ago, this battle was fought in the penultimate round of the greatest clay court event on the planet. As Ana Ivanovic dispatched forehand winner after stone cold forehand winner, the victor of the duel became abundantly clear long before the final ball was struck.


An hour later, with only three games relinquished, Ivanovic had waltzed into her first ever Grand Slam final over Maria Sharapova. The one unarguable implication this demolition exposed was the clear and seemingly immovable gulf in class between the pair on red clay and the superiority it was assumed Ivanovic would hold over Sharapova for years to come.


Over the course of those six years, this infallible truth slowly but surely unraveled. Despite arriving on the WTA as one of the most comfortable, natural and eventually best female claycourters on the planet, the years that followed brought more hardships on the surface than anywhere else. Before this week, Ivanovic’s form on clay court had sunk so low that her last quarter-final finish on the surface occurred in 2010. Since then, the faster hardcourts have proved her most successful surface, the quick courts supplying her thinner frame and more timing-reliant forehand with that crucial extra pop.


Conversely, Sharapova’s found her greatest early successes as a teenager on the hallowed lawns of England whilst famously dubbing herself a “cow on ice” when addressing her annual clay woes. Since her return from shoulder surgery, however, she has amassed a stellar 43-6 record on the surface as the red dirt has unarguably become. Thus, a gulf between the pair on red clay remains, but it has transformed far beyond logic.


Despite that, all that separated the pair on the day was a mere six points as Sharapova barely escaped a resurgent third-set comeback from the Serb, gritting out the match 7-5 4-6 6-4. Meanwhile, a disappointed but satisfied Ivanovic was more than aware of her changing fortunes on clay.


“You know, when I got back to play this year. I was training and I really, really was so happy and felt so good on clay,” she said. “And I love performing and it’s my favourite surface. You know, I grew up on it. So I really am really happy I have an opportunity to compete on it again. And I really find my best tennis there.”


Though the champion ultimately triumphed, the match serves as an important reminder that, in the game of tennis, only the present matters.


Tumaini Carayol is in Stuttgart covering the Stuttgart tournament for Tennis Panorama News. He is a contributing writer at On The Baseline, and writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.