2014/10/21

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Azarenka

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.

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

 

Victoria-Azarenka-600x399

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.

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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.

AEGON CLASSIC
Birmingham, England
June 10-16, 2013
$235,000/International
Grass/Outdoors

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

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Serena Williams Thinks Her Way Into Madrid Final

 

Serena Day 2 Press Conference

By Tumaini Carayol

(May 11, 2013) When Serena Williams opened with an effortless forehand winner before a statement opening service hold, one could be forgiven for assuming this was an indication that she intended to put right what had gone so terribly wrong in the previous match. That all the factors that contributed to her being on the receiving end of a bagel and a 2-4 third set deficit to Anabel Medina Garrigues were to be eradicated from living memory with a performance worthy of the world No. 1.

One was wrong.

The following games would showcase the younger Williams’ game in a rapid descent back to the pits of hell as she impatiently expected the match to fall into place without an ounce of effort. Rather than working with the clay, the world No. 1 essentially attempted to play against the basic nature of the surface, taking large and unnecessary cuts at the ball and directing the majority of shots with no margin, width or imagination. For a seasoned claycourter like Sara Errani, it was all too easy. When Williams wasn’t committing a myriad of errors, missing laughable smashes and generally gifting the majority of points to her opponent, Errani had no problem with exploiting Williams’ painfully linear play, simply redirecting her shots crosscourt and exploiting her sketchy movement on the red dirt.

One of the more maddening aspects of Serena on clay is that she is more than capable of embracing the surface and using it to compliment some of her own strengths. When discussing her sole Roland Garros triumph in 2002, people often tell of a player who was so supremely greater than the other thousands of professional female players that surface was irrelevant. While this is true, it ignores the fact that her final in Berlin and triumphs in Rome and Roland Garros that year were not the product of her playing some ballistic and otherworldly attacking tennis on clay. She prospered by obeying the surface’s core rules. She moved better than her opposition on clay, constructed points with angles and width, and understood that, to be a consistent success, it was often necessary to outmaneuver opponents rather than outhit them. Sure, there was power – lots of it – but it was tempered and she attacked with discretion. The result was that her clay court duels with Jennifer Capriati were some of the most physical ever seen. Eleven years later, though aspects of her game have notably deteriorated – her movement on clay, for example – many of those qualities remain hidden under the surface of her game, waiting to be utilized once again.

As the bleeding began again and the world number one found herself down 1-3, similar thoughts appeared to well up in the mind of Serena. From the large and unnecessary swipes at the ball came a sense of calmness as Williams finally began to think and endeavored to collaborate with the conditions rather than play against them. Out of nowhere, she began to almost exclusively attack cross-court, alternating between hitting with great depth and using the width of the court. Though errors still littered her game and left the first set in the balance, the results were immediate. She was able to gradually drag the defending French Open finalist off the court and defeated her through combinations of shots rather than single booming blows. Fittingly, after three missed set points, the 7-5 set was closed out with a perfectly-measured acute angled forehand.

It wasn’t until that first set was safely tucked away that the shackles were unleashed and Williams was truly able to play. The riskier tennis returned, but the world number one was able to strike a comfortable balance between constructing points and attacking as Errani simply played into Williams’ hands. In contrast to the hour-long first set in which 36 of Errani’s points came courtesy of Williams’ 28 unforced errors, the second set was a far more routine affair as Williams cruised to victory.

Though far from Williams’ most impressive victory, it showcased Serena at her thoughtful best – a vital quality that will aid her in her pursuit of the improbable-yet-possible feat that is her replicating her grand clay triumph of 11 years ago.

But, for now, both of her eyes will be on Maria Sharapova as the world No. 1 and French Open champion battle for the Madrid title and top spot on Sunday.

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.

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Quotable Quotes: Serena, Sharapova, Nadal and Berdych March On

Bank of the West semifinals (20 of 1)

By Tumaini Carayol

(May 10, 2013) Madrid – First to book her place in the final four was Serena Williams, but it wasn’t in the manner expected. The tournament and majority of onlookers had firmly resigned themselves to a routine straight-setter to the expense of their home favorite. Early on, it appeared Williams was well on her way to a routine victory as she secured the first set 6-3. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the American could be found struggling to serve over 90 mph and direct the ball between the white lines as all chances of a routine victory were killed spectacularly.

After the disastrous second set, Williams spent only a quarter of the allotted time in her chair, instead deciding to rise from her chair early in in order to do squats and stretches net to her chair. It’s not something Williams has ever done before, but it worked as, with a renewed intercity – and grunt – she eventually toughed out a tight victory.

“I felt just kind of ‑‑ I don’t know. I wasn’t really there. I wasn’t really in it. My feet weren’t moving. I don’t know what happened,” she said afterwards.

To turn it around I got up earlier on the changeover and started doing high knees and just stretching and doing anything to try to get my intensity back up where it needed to be.”

Sharapova 2

In stark contrast to the world No. 1, Maria Sharapova’s 6-2 6-4 victory over Kaia Kanepi was memorable for only two reasons. Firstly because the Russian extended her red clay winning streak to a monumental 24 wins. Secondly, thanks to the mischievous message the Russian left when signing the camera after her victory. In reference to paparazzi capturing her with her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, early in the week, the 26 year-old wrote “how did you catch us???”

During her news conference afterwards, there was much laughter during the Russian’s exchanges with Tennis Panorama.

 

Tennis Panorama News: So, the writing on the camera, I wonder what that was about?

Maria Sharapova: (with head in hands) I don’t know. You tell me. (Laughter.)

[..]

TPN: Ok, serious question. (Laughter.) I’m sure you’re sick of answering questions about how you’re good on clay, but when you were younger…

MS: I never thought that day would come. (Laughter.) Where’s my trophy?

TPN: When you were younger you came on the tour and played well on grass and were really good on grass and not as good on clay. Now it’s kind of switched around: You’re great on clay and your grass results haven’t been as great recently, aside from reaching…silver medal.

MS: Aside from the final a couple years ago and the silver medal last year. No biggie. For some people that’s a pretty good achievement.

TPN: OK, OK! (laughter.)

MS: (laughing.) Obviously it’s funny when people talk to me it’s like, ah, that’s not really a great result. I’m like, I don’t know. Thinking about that on surgery table, I’ll take that any time of the day. You have to be pretty realistic and fortunate. And yes, I lost in the fourth round, and two weeks later I came back at Wimbledon and got to the finals. So that was a great, great week for me.

Yeah, I definitely have improved my game on clay and improved myself physically. I also think the grass has changed over the years tremendously. The clay has pretty much stayed the same. But it’s not like I woke up one day and said, Yeah, I’m just going to get better and tomorrow I’m going to be better on clay. Instead it took many years and many matches and many practices. And mentally as well just to get myself prepared for long matches and battles and get through them.”

More notably, Sharapova had much to say about the recent prize money issues and the five-hout meeting that took place during the Istanbul WTA Championshps last year. There is a misconception that only the male players contributed to the monumental prize money changes that have occurred in all Grand Slams this year, but the champion rebuffed the notion with some interesting information.

 

“I remember sitting ‑‑ we had like a five‑hour meeting the day before the first round of Istanbul last year, the Championships. I don’t think one player in that meeting was really happy about the timing.”

“I will say that every tournament director and a couple of their staff made their way. Craig Tiley flew all the way from Australia just for that meeting. We sat there and they presented kind of their future prize money ideas.”

DavidFerrerbyAbigailHintoShanghaiTennisPanorama

 

The men were next. After an embarrassing performance in the Acapulco final which saw the world No. 4 capture only two games against a returning Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer brushed off the embarrassment and played calm, aggressive tennis to establish a lead over the King of Clay. An early 4-1 lead in the first set fast became a set lead, and before long the set lead was complimented with a second set break.

Still, at a set and 4-2 many still expected the champion to triumph and as Nadal charged back to steal three games in a row and serve for the set, not many were surprised. The pendulum swung again, however, with Ferrer showing an abundance of typical resilience to capitalize on a few thoughtless unforced errors. By the time the pair next sat down, Ferrer was a game away from the big win.

Three points later, it happened. With the score at 6-4 6-5* 15-30 to the underdog, Ferrer contested seemingly the perfect point, dragging the champion from tramline to tramline and exposing his hampered movement. After having his way with Nadal for a series of shots, the elder Spaniard was finally presented with an open court forehand to catapult him to double match point. Instead, he opted to hit the ball straight to Nadal, who pulled out a spectacular defensive lob to win the point. From that tragically missed opportunity, Ferrer failed to win a single game for the remainder of the match.

After the defeat, Ferrer had some interesting things to say about his mentality and outlook, which perhaps explains why he so seldom emerges victorious over the four players above him.

Q. Rafa said that you deserved to be in the semis. Do you think that is a smaller gap with the top 4, or do you think they’re too good and when you reach the moment of truth they have got a little extra?

David Ferrer: Sincerely, I don’t care. I think they’re really good. I’ve always said that. They’re the four best players of the world. They make the difference compared to the other players.

I always talk about the same thing. Berdych, Tsonga, Del Potro, they all come like airplanes. Now Dimitrov and Wawrinka and Almagro too are pushing really hard.

With the amount of good players we’ve got down there, I’m not thinking about getting up there with the top 4. It’s really complicated.

 

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Finally, after his impressive victory over Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych displayed some of his polarizing confidence as he amusingly tipped himself to win a Grand Slam

TPN: As you said before, your level doesn’t seem to change depending on the surface. You’re one of the few players. Even the big four have their favorite surfaces. What is your favorite surface?

Tomas Berdych: Well, it’s really tough to say. I can find good results on the grass, on the hard, and on clay as well.

So, you know, probably when I’m going to reach my first slam, then we going to see which surface is that going to be. (laughter) Then I can point this is the one that is the really on top, and then we don’t have to talk about the others.

So far, there is only the final and then the rest with some semifinals, so it’s not enough. Really, I want to do more. Then I can I tell you the one.

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.

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Sharapova Extends Clay Court Winning Streak to 23

MariaSharapova2012Madrid

By Tumaini Carayol

(May 9, 2013) Up first on Central Court, Maria Sharapova continued her undisputed reign on the red dirt with a hard-fought straight  sets victory over Sabine Lisicki 6-2, 7-5.

Despite the one-sided first set scoreline, the reigning French Open, Stuttgart and Rome champion found herself deep in battle from the beginning as Lisicki showered her with numerous booming forehand winners. Countless lengthy deuce-riddled games followed as the pair went blow for blow, but the Russian’s far superior mental strength proved the difference as she triumphed on the vast majority of important points and strolled through.

After dropping the first set, a sense of calm fell over Lisicki as she settled into the match, complimenting her booming forehand winners with well-executed touch around the court. Early in set two, a variety of deft forehand angles, dropshots and impressive net forays were enough to throw Sharapova off-balance, allowing Lisicki to secure a 3-1 break lead, a thorn into Sharapova her pursuit for the one big clay title currently missing from her resume.

Predictably, Sharapova immediately broke back as the intensity of the battle increased rose dramatically. The pair traded service holds until, with Sharapova serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Lisicki sensed the opportunity. She pounced, and quickly found herself up a double set point. The 26 year-old’s focus immediately catapulted into overdrive as she knocked aside the possibility of a looming third set before breaking after a lengthy game at 5-5. Before long, the victory was the Russian’s and her red clay streak had stretched to 23.

Afterwards, Sharapova was satisfied with her victory.

“She’s the kind of opponent that plays extremely well against top players. I think you can see that from her results. She always takes the top players quite far, and she beat me last year at Wimbledon.

“So, yeah, I was quite happy to turn around that victory going into the Olympics. This was our first meeting on clay, so that was a little bit different.

“But overall I think it’s about keeping my intensity as much as I can. Obviously if you can be on the court for over three hours, maybe you’re not going to play with intensity every single point, but the more that you do the better chances you have of winning.

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Sharapova was quickly joined in the quarterfinals by top-seeded Serena Williams who, after a sluggish start, produced her best display of the tournament as she steamrolled through 12-seeded Maria Kirilenko in an uneventful 6-3 6-1 demolition. Williams was typically understated in her review of her performance.

“I think it was okay. I haven’t had a chance to talk about it after with my team, but I will. Like you said, I am a perfectionist. I always try to look for things that I know I can do better. When we get together I will see what I can do better.”

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.

 

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Crowd Sours Atmosphere In Madrid

By Tumaini Carayol

(May 8, 2013) MADRID – Seven years ago, the differences were palpable. Both sets of hair were considerably longer, the biceps were bigger, the courts were bluer but without any controversy thanks to the hardness that complimented the color, the season was different and the crowds. Well, the crowds were one of the few constants as Tomas Berdych and Rafael Nadal took to the Manolo Santana court to compete their 2006 Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinal.

 

Quickly, this young and promising Berdych rose to the occasion. The serve first began to inflict irreversible damage and the forehand soon followed suit, releasing an array of winners that a flailing Nadal struggled to counter. As the crowd sensed their hero falling, they themselves rose to fend off the challenger, sending a chorus of boos and whistles raining down as the Czech pretender continued in his attempts to usurp the champion.

Berdych would be successful in his quest, closing off a perilously tight second-set tiebreak to move through in straight sets. As he strode confidently to the net, the then 22 year-old would produce one of the enduring images of the event’s history. He placed one finger to his lips in a “shushing” gesture towards the already booing crowd. The jeers were deafening as he finished his journey to the net, and as he attempted to shake the hand of his fallen foe, Nadal interjected. “very bad,” was the audible cry from the Spaniard to the Frenchman as they met at the net.

Though the seven years have passed assuredly by, in reality not much has changed. As Novak Djokovic, Nadal’s greatest rival in recent years, entered the metal box. The booing and jeering quickly followed as, though facing a still not-quite-known, Djokovic was seemingly treated with a distain usually reserved for criminals. Every routine query was met with a chorus of boos and, by the bitter end of the second set, even his missed first serves resulted in grand cheers. The result was an outburst from the Serb, who eventually responded to the crowd’s jeers with a variety of choice words of his own. As the world No. 1 left the court in defeat, even his final exit was met with yet more loud boos. To say he was livid afterwards would be an understatement:

“In the first set, every single close call that I went to look at the ball and the chair umpire comes to see, I got whistled.  I don’t see any reason for that.  I didn’t do anything bad.

“When I see the ball, it’s good, I clear the mark.  I give him a point.  I never did anything opposite in my life.  I’m honest.  If I see the ball in, I play the ball; if it’s close, I call the chair umpire.

“I don’t understand why they turn against me, for what reason, but it is what it is.  I’m a professional, and it’s not the first time I’m experiencing that.

One day on, Nadal made his debut on centre court. Up against the charismatic but unknown Benoit Paire, the Frenchman was simply fulfilling his job description by endeavouring to defeat his illustrious opponent. During the second set, Paire reeled off three winners in a row, a trademark dropshot punctuating the final point of the series. Rather than applauding the challenger’s gusto, the Madrid crowd decided to launch yet another array of boos. Sporadically throughout the match, the heckles raised once again. The Frenchman is perfectly capable of inciting a crowd to boo, and even his home crowds routinely boo him off the court for his tendency to give up without a fight. Against Nadal, however, he was being for the complete polar opposite – for trying. When asked about his thoughts on the crowd, Nadal angrily defended them.

“I am not agree with you,” he said.  Sorry.  The crowd today was 100% correct.  That’s my opinion.  The crowd didn’t say nothing against Paire.

“I am from Spain, and it’s normal the crowd want to support me.  It happens to me the same when I play in different countries against a local player.  That’s the good part of the show.

“In the end, this is only a game, no?  It’s nice to have the crowd involved in this show.  Nothing against the crowd.  I think the crowd here is very emotional.  That’s all.”

“”I think they respect the players always, and I repeat that I cannot have a real opinion on yesterday’s match because I didn’t see it.”

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.

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