July 30, 2015

Taste of Tennis “Week” Returns

 

tasteoftennisny

NEW YORK, NY (July 27, 2015) – AYS, the creators and producers of the Taste of Tennis, announced the lineup of events leading up to this year’s US Open. From Top Chefs battling it out on the Tennis Court, to pro tennis players “serving” incredible cuisine, these exciting events offer something for all tastes! Events include the Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge on August 26th, the 16th Annual Taste of Tennis Gala on August 27th and Party with The Pros on August 29th.

 

“Taste of Tennis is among the most recognizable brands in the culinary and tennis communities. Each year, our flagship event sells out. To satisfy demand, we have added the Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge and Party with the Pros. Additionally, in 2016, we are excited to announce that we will launch Taste of Tennis Series in key tennis and culinary markets nationwide. It’s an extremely exciting time for us,” explains Penny Lerner, CEO of AYS.

 

Tickets for Taste of Tennis events are currently on sale and can be purchased online at www.tasteoftennisnyc.com.  The complete Taste of Tennis Week schedule of events includes:

 

  • Wednesday, August 26th – Celebrity Chef Tennis Challenge, 10AM-2PM (City View Racquet Club, 43-34 32nd Place, Long Island City, NY): Hosted by Top Chef Masters Finalist Kerry Heffernan and SNY anchor Michelle Yu. At this exciting event, professional chefs will serve up something a little out of the ordinary as they compete in a round-robin doubles tournament to determine who is the King (or Queen) of the court! Guests will witness action packed matches featuring Marc Murphy (LandMarc), Alfred Portale (Gotham Bar and Grill), Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto) and many other renowned chefs. Guests will also enjoy interactive sponsor activities, and will join the chefs for a delicious post tournament cookout sponsored by Master Purveyors.

 

  • Thursday, August 27th – Taste of Tennis Gala, 7PM-10PM (W New York- 541 Lexington Ave.): The party that started it all! To celebrate the US Open, AYS created the Taste of Tennis, a one of a kind event featuring fine food prepared by 25 of NYC’s top culinary minds, signature cocktails, interactive sponsor experiences, live music and appearances by the world’s greatest tennis players. Hosting this year’s gala will be former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman, headlining Chef Marc Murphy and professional tennis stars The Bryan Brothers. Major sponsors for the 16th Taste of Tennis include Citi, Rado, Jamaica Tourist Board, Lifeway Kefir, Zepp, Master Purveyors, Inc., Mouton Cadet and Franciscan Estate Napa Valley, among others.  A portion of proceeds from this event will benefit Chef Eli Kulp, beloved chef of Philadelphia’s High Street Market who was in the process of opening a new restaurant in New York City when he was critically injured in the recent Amtrak train derailment.

 

  • Saturday, August 29th Party with the Pros, 7PM-9PM (Measure Lounge at Langham Place New York, Fifth Avenue): Guests at the Party with the Pros will enjoy an evening of incredible hors d’oeuvres prepared by Chef David Vandenabeele and signature cocktails while rubbing elbows with some of the top names in professional tennis. This exclusive event takes place at Measure Lounge in the luxurious Langham Place New York, Fifth Avenue. Availability is extremely limited, so get your tickets now! Confirmed players include Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and John Isner.

 

Special 10% discount for Tennis Panorama News readers for Taste of Tennis and the Celebrity Chef Challenge http://www.eventbrite.com/e/2015-taste-of-tennis-tickets-14888080650?aff=erellivorg  – use the code TennisPanorama for the discount.

 

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Serena Williams, Sharapova, Radwanska and Muguruza Reach Wimbledon Semis

 

(July 7, 2015) Serena Williams kept her hopes for a fourth straight major alive on Tuesday, rallying to defeat Victoria Azarenka, taking 10 out of the last 13 game to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and reach the Wimbledon semifinals. Williams blasted 17 aces and 46 winners en route to her 26th straight Grand Slam match win.

“It’s been up and down, up and down, but somehow I’m still alive. I don’t know how,” said Williams. “So we’ll see what happens, but I’m just happy to still be here.”

“I can’t lie and say I’m not disappointed, because that’s a normal reaction,” Azarenka said. “But it is what it is. It was a high quality match. I can’t say I went out there and didn’t play well – we just saw why Serena is No.1. I haven’t seen her play like this, honestly, even the last matches before that.”

“I feel like Victoria and I always have really wonderful matches. She’s always able to push it to three sets, we always have some great three set matches,” Williams said to media.

“Whenever I see her name I get excited, because I feel like there’s going to be an opportunity to see how well I’m doing. We play each other pretty much every tournament. I’m getting used to that.”

“I’ve been really proud of her and her comeback,” Williams said when asked about her post-match hug at the net. “I told her in Madrid, ‘Man, you’ve gone through a lot. I really support that. I really support you coming back.’ And we really get along off the court. She’s so sweet – we always text each other when we’re doing well.

“She’s a really nice girl. I really admire her because she’s so intense on the court, but the second she comes off the court, she’s just so different. It’s really interesting to see. It’s super respectful.”

“I have a lot of respect for Serena,” said Azarenka.  “We have a great friendship off the court.  You know, once the match is over, we put it out a long time ago.  We’re going to put it out all on the court.  She played a great match and I respect that.”

Williams, who is now 37-1 on the year is looking to complete a second “Serena” Slam with a Wimbledon trophy, which would mean she would be holding the last four major trophies. She did this in 2002-03.

Winning Wimbledon would also give her the third leg of the calendar-year Grand Slam.

Next for the world No. 1 and 20-time major winner, will be the fourth seed Maria Sharapova who bested unseeded American youngster CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-2.

“I’ve played five matches already, I’ve faced different challenges, matches, opponents, circumstances – the first four matches I was playing quite well and got the job done in two sets,” Sharapova said.

Sharapova led 6-3, 5-3 when Vandeweghe made a comeback.

“Today, serving for the second set, I could have made it easier,” Sharapova said. “It went to a third, but I still got the job done. I have to be pleased with that, that I’m in the semifinals again here after so many years.”

“I thought I relished it pretty well,” said the young American about her fortnight.  “I enjoyed my experience.  I enjoyed the crowd out there.

“I didn’t enjoy the result too much.  But I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be feeling even less happy about this, at least body‑wise.

“It’s been a long two weeks, playing singles and doubles here.  So I’m happy with my progress through the tournament, and I’m happy with the whole experience of it.”

Williams owns a 17-2 record against Sharapova, including a winning streak against her at 16 in a row.

“Definitely no secrets between each other’s games,” Sharapova said.

“But, I mean, look, I haven’t played Serena here in 11 years.  That would be an incredible moment for me to step out on Centre Court against her again.”

“I love playing Maria,” Williams said.  “I think she brings out the best in me.  I think I bring out the best in her.  I thought we had a wonderful final in Australia.  It was very entertaining.  She played really well.

“For me, I don’t feel like I have any pressure going into this match.  We both actually lost early last year.  We both are kind of enjoying this moment and one of us will be in the final.”

The other semifinal will pit No. 13 seed and 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska against No. 20 Garbine Muguruza.

Radwanska beat No. 21 Madison Keys 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3. Muguruza defeated No. 15 Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-3 to reach her first major semifinal.

“I couldn’t feel any better, I’m just so happy I managed to stay in that match. It was very tight and I just tried to play it point by point, game by game,” Radwanska said. “That’s how you have to play it and in the third set one break was the difference.”

“I’ve seen a few of her matches this tournament and she’s playing great tennis,” Radwanska said. “She’s actually playing very similar to Keys so I think it could be a similar match.

“It’s the semifinals so, of course, there’s nothing to lose. All the players are playing great tennis. I’m just going to fight for each point and try to play my best. One day’s rest and I’ll be ready to go.”

“It’s amazing, I’m so happy. It was a very tough match,” said Muguruza, the first Spaniard to reach the Wimbledon semifinals since Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in 1997. “The last game was a very intense one, so there was so much relief after that.”

“It’s very hard to achieve this, so I’m very proud and happy for Spain also! All this experience helps you a lot and makes you believe that you can do it. So I’m going to be confident and ready for the match.”

Novak Djokovic completed a five-set match held over from Monday, due to darkness with a win over to reach the Gentlemen’s quarterfinals 6-7(6), 6-7(6), 6-1, 6-4, 7-5.

The world No. 1 will play Marin Cilic on Wednesday. The other men’s quarterfinal match-ups include: Roger Federer vs. Gilles Simon, Andy Murray vs. Vasek Pospisil, and Stan Wawrinka vs. Richard Gasquet.

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Birmingham Day 3 – Seeds Blow in the Breeze

By Ros Satar

(June 17, 2015) BIRMINGHAM, England – After the sunshine of the second day, the clouds, the rain and the drizzle brought a little bit of havoc to the draw on Wednesday.

 

After her battling win on Tuesday, Victoria Azarenka had to withdraw with a left foot injury, handing Zarina Diyas a walkover into the third round. It completed a pretty dismal day for the organisers as defending champion Ana Ivanovic was edged out in a deciding set tie-breaker against Michelle Larcher de Brito, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6), despite serving for the match in the decider, and saving two match points.

 

Ivanovic said, after her match: “It’s tough playing someone who already had few matches on the grass. Today I started really bad until I found my rhythm and so on. Her ball was staying very, very low, so I struggled with it a little bit at times.

 

“I was really disappointed I couldn’t hold my serve in the third set. I think getting a win and moving on to the next one, it would be different game next match. But it’s always tough, that change.”

 

Swiftly following her out of the tournament was Victoria Azarenka, before she had even taken to the court, withdrawing from the final planned match of the day with a foot injury.

 

She said, in a statement: “It’s very disappointing for me to make this decision but I tried to practice and it just doesn’t feel 10-0 percent. I don’t think it’s the best time for me to take a risk right now, especially right before Wimbledon, and I need to make sure I have the best preparation possible.”

 

Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard

Eugenie Bouchard continued her troubling lack of form, despite a spirited attack after a rain delay, which helped her cause somewhat when it came to the second set, where she leveled the match. However, that relief was short-lived, after Kristina Mladenovic steamed through the final set without letting up a game 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.

 

“I think I played okay,” said the despondent Canadian. “A little bit up and down. I was trying to be more aggressive than I’ve been in the past, so I felt I did that okay in the first and second set. Then I don’t know what happened in the third.”

 

When asked how she would describe her mood overall: “Every negative adjective you could think of, I would use that. Just very, very frustrated.”

 

It was not all doom and gloom on a day disrupted with drizzles over day. 2007 champion Jelena Jankovic was not following Ivanovic on the train down to London, as she advanced to the third round, where she will meet Angelique Kerber.

 

We caught up with the German after her victory over Tsvetana Pironkova, as she assessed her performance so far this year after collecting titles in Charleston and Stuttgart.

 

Kerber said: “After Stuttgart and Charleston, and the clay season, I think I’m playing good again, I’m really comfortable, and I’m looking forward now to playing the grass season.

 

“Of course I was a little bit disappointed after my third round loss in Paris, but clay was never my favourite surface, so in the end I think played a good clay season, and so overall I was happy.”

 

Kerber has a decent track record on the grass, and feels ready for the new season, saying: “I play very well the last few years. I reached the semis of Wimbledon, twice Eastbourne the finals, so it’s always nice to play on grass some tournaments, but of course the first matches on grass is always a little bit tricky but that’s why I’m here, to have a lot of matches before Wimbledon.”

 

Home hopes lay with British No. 2 Johanna Konta, as she carried on her strong momentum from reaching the Nottingham quarter-finals with another Top 100 win in the opening round against Jarmila Gajdosova, before starting well against sixth seed Karolina Pliskova. With the rain causing havoc to the schedule, it suited the Czech a little more, as she leveled the match, before the players came off once more.

 

As the clouds darkened, they came out once more in an attempt to finish, with Pliskova taking an early lead, but the heavens opened one more time with the Czech serving at 4-3 15/30.

 

Play will resume at 11am BST on Thursday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

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First Timers shine in the Birmingham sun

Victoria Azarekna

Victoria Azarekna

By Ros Satar

(June 16, 2015) The Birmingham field this year has been boosted by a couple of debutantes who certainly shone on a rare sunny day in the Midlands. First up was a pumped looking Victoria Azarenka, and if her exertions while waiting to walk out onto court were anything to go by, the former World No. 1 was more than up for this challenge.

Except her opponent Varvara Lepchenko had other ideas, racing out to a 4-0 lead, as Azarenka perhaps was over-pushing in her eagerness to make her mark, before Azarenka finally started to find the court, to put it bluntly.

From 4-0 up to coming out on the wrong side of a momentum-switching tie-break must have been galling to the American, as Azarenka powered on, and although she was pegged back by Lepchenko after she surged out to a 3-0 lead of her own, it was not enough to stop Azarenka making a winning start 7-6, 6-4.

The Belarusian can always be counted upon to give a full and frank assessment of her time out on court.

“I felt that I didn’t really start well. I wasn’t really there. I was missing too much,” Azarenka said. “Of course she played well and forced me to do a lot of things but I just didn’t feel that I put in enough energy or concentration. Something wasn’t quite working.”

She continued: “I just tried to stay positive as much as possible and try and fight through it. I think that was one thing that I did really well today. I made something happen in the important moments and tried to change the flow of the match in my favour.

Azarenka has been marching back up the rankings but there are still signs of rustiness, in closing out matches for example.

“I think I still have to sharpen my game, and as a perfectionist I’m always looking to improve.”

Meanwhile Simona Halep needed to sharpen up her own game after a clay court season she would have reasonably expected to sail through, Instead though, save for her run to the semi-final of Stuttgart, it was nowhere near a par with her run to the Madrid and Roland Garros finals. She was bounced out of Madrid, yet dealt with the loss maturely. She did better in Rome, but her French Open points were lost in the red clay as she fell in the second round.

She was up against British wildcard Naomi Broady, hoping to lift the crowd’s spirits after British No. 1 Heather Watson was ousted in two tight sets by Aleksandra Krunic, whose match sharpness coming through qualifiers proved to be too much for Watson on her comeback from injury at Roland Garros.

Give Broady her credit, she hung tough with Halep, making the top seed work hard for the break, but once she did, the Romanian went on a sprint through the next six games in a row. It was too much for the Brit to come back from, although she managed to at least get back on the board in the second set.

“I had a really tough opponent today. She played really well and her first serve is very big – it’s not easy to return her serve,” Halep said. “The first set was really tough, and I can say I was a little bit lucky to get the break in the end, but overall I’m happy how I did and that I could win this match today.

“It’s the first tournament of the year for me on grass, and it’s not easy to adapt my game on grass, but last year I had good results on it and I come here with confidence. I believe I have my chances.”

Play continues in Edgbaston from 11am BST.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist covering tennis, and can also be found at Britwatch Sports.

 

 

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Serena Williams Survives Victoria Azarenka Challenge to Reach French Open Fourth Round

(May 30, 2015) Serena Williams fell behind Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 4-2 before the 19-time major champ won 10 out of the next 12 games to move into the French Open round of 16 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

With Azarenka up 4-2 in the second, the pendulum of momentum began to swing Williams’ way.

On a key point of the match, which was replayed due to the chair umpire’s decision, Williams and Azarenka traded gestures, word and angry looks. It was the last point of the second set – an Azarenka ball called long at the baseline and Williams hit into the net as “out” was called.”

Chair umpire Kader Nouni decided the point should be replayed, and Azarenka disagreed.

As for the chair umpire’s decision to replay the point, the two-time Australian Open winner was not pleased.

“I think, my honest opinion, that call was bullsh*t, and everybody knows it,” the 27 the seed said to media. “But it’s part of the game. Sometimes it happens this way. But I think it wasn’t a fair call.”
“The ball was touching the net and he says it’s not a late call. So for me, there definitely has to be a review on that. We have a Hawk-Eye, so might as well just have that. Because it’s not easy for an umpire, but it’s definitely not easy on the player when you get screwed like that.”
“As I’m saying, I’ll always give a benefit of a doubt. But in such situation I think it was pretty clear. So I think the review, a little TV screen? I don’t know what they have, and just look it over.”

Williams agreed: I think that would be really cool, because sometimes you may or may not foot fault, and that instant replay on that foot fault. So, yeah. And obviously other things, as well. I think it could definitely not only be fun for the fans, but as well be helpful for the players to have that kind of instant replay thing. I think that’s a really great idea.”

( Vine courtesy of https://twitter.com/DamJef)

“He did a late call, he called it out, he didn’t put his arm out until like five minutes later,” Williams said. “But yeah, I mean, this is tennis. This happens all the time. You know, I — I even said, no, don’t worry, the ball is in, we’ll just replay the point. So for me, it was like, this happens all the time, every day in tennis.”

“Vika and I are really close, we really get along. We have this great relationship. So I was like, you know, she knows me. You know me, like I’m — you don’t win Grand Slams by being unethical. I’m a really ethical player. So I was just like, eh…”

“I think the level of the match was pretty high quality from both players, and she really stepped it up,” Azarenka said of her opponent’s comeback. “She went for a lot of shots that landed, you know, right on the line and really stayed aggressive. I think looking back at it, you know, I’ve got to learn from that and maybe stay a little bit more aggressive and go a little bit more for my shots. But there wasn’t much wrong that I have done, I think. She just really played a good match and I have to give her credit for that, for sure.”

With Saturday’s win, Williams now has 50 match wins at Roland Garros and becomes the first woman in the Open Era to record 50+ match wins at all four Grand Slams. Only three others have 50+ at three of the four majors -Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

Williams will play another woman from the U.S., Sloane Stephens for a place in the quarterfinals.

Stephens defeated Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 6-4, 6-1.

“I played pretty solid,” Stephens said. “Obviously she’s a tough player, so I knew I had to come out and play some good tennis. I was able to just make a lot of shots and stay in it, so I was happy with that.”
Stephens defeated Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open.

The rest of line-up for the round of 16 for the top half of the draw: No. 4 Petra Kvitova vs No. 23 Timea Bacsinszky, No. 17 Sara Errani vs. Julia Goerges, and No. 93 Alison Van Uytvanck vs. No. 100 Andreea Mitu.

The bottom half of the draw: No. 7 Ana Ivanovic vs No 9 Ekaterina Makarova, No. 19 Svitolina vs No. 29 Alize Cornet, No. 28 Flavia Pennetta vs No. 21 Garbine Muguruza, No. 13 Lucie Safarova vs No 2 Maria Sharapova.

 

 

ROLAND GARROS – PARIS, FRANCE
GRAND SLAM – €26,287,000
May 24 – JUNE 7, 2015

RESULTS – MAY 30, 2015
Singles – Third Round

[4] Petra Kvitova (CZE) def. [30] Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) 6-3 6-2

[1] Serena Williams (USA) def. [27] Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 3-6 6-4 6-2

Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) def. Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) 6-4 6-1

Sloane Stephens (USA) def. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 6-4 6-1

[17] Sara Errani (ITA) def. [10] Andrea Petkovic (GER) 6-3 6-3

Andreea Mitu (ROU) def. Francesca Schiavone (ITA) 7-5 6-4

[23] Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) [23] def. [16] Madison Keys (USA) 6-4 6-2

Julia Goerges (GER) def. Irina Falconi (USA) 6-4 6-1

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Rain Washes Out Some Matches in Miami – Halep, Azarenka and Stephens Advance

Simona Halep

Simona Halep

(March 27, 2015) Rain saw the cancellation of some late afternoon matches and the evening session at the Miami Open on Friday including Serena Williams’ opening match. Saturday’s new schedule will be announced.

Miami Open – Official Statement from Tournament Director Office Regarding Tickets

Third seed Simona Halep who took home the BNP Paribas Open title, just last Sunday, won 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 against wild card Nicole Vaidisova. Vaidisova a former two-time Grand Slam semifinalist and once No. 7 in the world, is back on the tour since retiring and coming back from multiple shoulder surgeries.

 

Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens

In the all-American battle on Stadium court in the late afternoon, No. 45 Soane Stephens defeated No. 17 Madison Keys 6-4, 6-2.

In the first meeting between both women, Stephens broke Keys’ serve five times during the match. Keys had 36 unforced errors during the match to only 14 winners.

“One of those days where didn’t quite have the feeling; couldn’t really find it,” Keys said.

 

“Sloane played really well. I thought in the first set I kind of had a chance to come back and maybe get into the match a little bit more, but a couple of bad points here and there and it kind of just got away from me.”

 

“It was windy,” Stephens said. “The conditions weren’t that great.

 

“Because I know going out there I had to play my game and stay focused and really focus on myself. I tried to do that the best I could. Obviously the conditions were tough, so I was just happy to get out with the win.”

 

“It’s always really good to see Sloane playing well,” Keys commented on her past Fed Cup teammate. “I thought ‑ I knew ‑ it was going to be a tough match.

 

“You know, she just played better than me today. You know, wishing her all the best and hoping she goes deep now.”

 

“I just go out and play my game and stay focused,” Stephens said. “Obviously she’s a great player. I knew I had to go out there and execute.

 

“That’s what I did out there with the tough conditions. I was pleased with myself.”

 

“I know Maddy is going to have a great career,” Stephens said.

 

“I am going to see her for like the next 10 years of my life consistently. I’m looking forward to seeing her get better and keep playing and doing what she’s doing now.”

 

 

Stephens will match up against Sweden’s Larsson, Johanna, who defeated 10th seed Lucie Safarova.

 

Victoria Azarekna

Victoria Azarekna

Former Miami champion Victoria Azarenka is into the third round of Miami by beating world No. 20 Jelena Jankovic 6-1, 6-1.

The former No. 1 Jankovic was 0-13 on break point chances.

“I just really tried to stay focused and tried to find a way to stay in the game,” Azarenka said. I had to save a couple of break points right away, and then there was, you know, this battle.

 

“I know that Jelena is a fighter. Doesn’t matter what score it is, she will not give up. Some of those rallies she just went for it, and I felt like I wasn’t that aggressive on some points.

 

“So I just had to stay focused and stay tough and try to find a way to finish the match. You know, in those moments that’s what I really look for right now, to be able to step up my game when it’s needed.”

 

Azarenka, a former No 1 who has been plagued with injuries over the last two years, is currently ranked No. 36 in the world and trying to regain her form.

 

More to follow

 

Related article:
“This one I think I played a lot smarter” – Cici Bellis Defeats Zarina Diyas in Miami for some U. S. Open Revenge
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Victoria Azarenka is Looking Forward to Building Momentum in Miami

316Azarenkalowfh-001

MIAMI, FL. (March 25, 2015) Playing for the first time since 2012, two-time Miami Open champion Victoria Azarenka moved into the the second round Wednesday, besting Silvia Soler-Espinosa 6-1, 6-3.

The Belarusian missed playing the last two years with ankle and foot injuries. The injuries over the years have seen the two-time Australian Open champion’s ranking fall. She ended the 2014 season ranked No. 32.

“It’s been unfortunate the last couple of years for me, but I love this tournament,” said the currently ranked world No. 36. “I think, you know, the field is very strong all the time for me.

“I’m just happy to play anywhere I can,” she said smiling. “Obviously coming back to a place where I have a lot of great memories, it’s always nice.

“So I’m just looking forward to build my momentum here again and try to play as many matches as possible, but really to improve my level.”

As for evaluating her match on Wednesday, she said: “I think it was a pretty good first set. You know, second set there was a little bit too many mistakes in the beginning. I felt like I lost my momentum, and she led the way a little bit.

“But I’m glad I could turn it around and play well when I needed to. But I just would like to see a little bit more consistency from my game.”

Nick Bollettieri  and Victoria Azarenka at Miami Open Kids Day

Nick Bollettieri and Victoria Azarenka at Miami Open Kids Day

“I remember when I came here and I won my first two matches how excited I was. It was like, Oh, my God, I made it to third round in Miami and I played Anastasia Myskina.

“For me, it felt like I won a Grand Slam. I was that happy. But obviously being here at 25, it feels a little bit different. Definitely I think you evolve. Every year I came here, now it feels so much different than when I was here at 19.”

Next up for Azarenka will be 20th seed Jelena Jankovic, just coming off her finalist appearance at Indian Wells this past Sunday.

“It’s tough match,” Azarenka noted. “Being an unseeded player, I’m going to have really difficult, you know, first couple of rounds.

“I’m looking forward to that. I just need to, you know, keep working on my game and trying to do my best every match.

“But, yeah, Jelena had such a great week in the past, so she’s playing with a lot of confidence. She’s always a dangerous player, so I just need to focus on myself and try to play my best.”

Azarenka leads in the head-to-head record against Jankovic 6-4.

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For the Good of the Sport

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

(March 18, 2015) The women’s side of the draw flipped on its head once more as the young up and coming pack started to fall away after some famous wins this week. Gone was Caroline Garcia, who felled Ana Ivanovic, while Jelena Jankovic hit one more for the oldies when she dispatched Belinda Bencic to book her place in the quarter-final.

 

But perhaps the biggest surprise was Lesia Tsurenko defeating Genie Bouchard, whose come-back had been going quite swimmingly until that point. And she’s going to be one to watch as she faces the 2010 champion Jankovic next. The Serbian is playing some really solid tennis at the moment, perhaps buoyed by a great win over the very hard-hitting Madison Keys, but she can also come undone fairly spectacularly when she’s up against a player she has not played before. We could expect all kinds of potential tantrums on court, but it still will have been her best result for quite some time.

 

Serena Williams finally ended the great run of Acapulco and Monterrey champion Timea Bacsinszky, and while she admitted she could almost see the trophy in her hands (the first American to win it since her victory in 2001) she acknowledged that she had still a way to go.

 

She said: “I think it will be really good. It’s a good surface for her. I feel like she can definitely come out here, and when we play, play really well. Hopefully I can start playing better. “

 

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

But maybe, and perhaps disappointingly, the focus at the start of the day was more on the news that Wayne Odesnik had been caught again on a doping charge, despite protesting his innocence. He was caught in two samples, and in light of his two year ban in 2010-2011 for being caught with a growth hormone and medical materials in his possession, he was banned for 15 years, and thus announced his retirement from the sport.

 

Needless to say there are not many offering to give him a handshake for his “achievements” (if a world ranking of No. 77 and no titles are to be celebrated).

 

Andy Murray tweeted “Good riddance” and called into question, quite reasonably, if one had been caught once, why would you do it again?

 

He said: “He’s been linked to a number of people that have been involved in doping presently and in the past and surrounded himself with those people, so I can’t say I’m surprised.   To have three separate issues is ridiculous. It’s good that he’s off the tour now.”

 

 

Rafael Nadal was a touch surprised to hear the news but broadly agreed, saying: “I really don’t know about him, so it’s difficult to say one or another thing. But obviously when that happens twice, you don’t deserve to be on the tour.”

 

Quarter-final action continues on Thursday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

 

 

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Upstarts and Upsets in the second week at Indian Wells

Caroline Wozniacki

Caroline Wozniacki

(March 16, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – As the women’s draw started to fill the brackets for the last of the round of 16, we saw some of the old guard fall foul to the up-and-comers.

First in (and indeed out) was Caroline Wozniacki who met her end to Belinda Bencic. The last time the pair played was in Istanbul last year. Wozniacki was at the start of a tear through the tournaments after an upsetting summer with the collapse of her impending nuptials to Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, and it was the making of the latter half of her tennis year.

However in the way was Bencic who was battered off court that day 6-0, 6-0 in just 44 minutes. In fairness the Swiss had hardly been on a roll since the start of the year, winning just one match in Dubai but she could at least gleefully poke fun at her Istanbul outing.

“The difference was that I won a game!” Bencic joked. “No, I was really happy after the first game I won, obviously, but I think I played more solid today. In Istanbul I had maybe too much respect and I was afraid, nervous. Today I really had a good game plan. I did what I had to do out there. I served well and had some easy points on my serve because of that. It was a solid match.”

Wozniacki had to acknowledge that on the day she had just come across a better player, saying: “Honestly, it was two completely different matches,” Wozniacki told reporters. “She was steady, she took the ball early and she served well, but I just didn’t put three balls in play today. But hats off to her – she took advantage of that and she played well during the important points in the match today.”

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic

There was almost another grand old lady of the tour on the ropes as Jelena Jankovic had to fight from a set down to get past the power hitting of Madison Keys 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. As always with Jankovic, humour got the better of her, and why not? She was feeling god, and quite possibly dealt a bloody nose to one of the WTA Rising Stars that felt this had been a winnable match.

Keys smacked Petra Kvitova off the court at the Australian Open, and Jankovic could certainly see why as she explained in her press conference.

“It was like bombs or bullets constantly coming at me for about two‑and‑a‑half hours. I mean, her ball is so strong. It’s such a heavy ball. I think she’s probably, I mean, maybe with Serena. Probably the hardest hitting player out there in this moment.”

At times Jankovic tried to slow the pace down by taking her time to get ready between points, and she joked: “But you would take your time too when those balls are coming at you. What else am I supposed to do?”

316Keys-001

Madison Keys

 

For Keys though, while it was a tough loss she was at least able to find some slight vein of amusement at her tactics against Jankovic who, on her day, can mix up and disrupt play with the best of them, as she assessed her failing backhand.

Ruefully smiling, she said: “Yeah, I’m that person, Oh, I didn’t make it? Let me try it again 37 times.”

She continued: “Because it’s one of those things that as soon as you hit it, That was so dumb; why did I do that? The crosscourt is completely open, yet I try to hit it an inch other the net and I missed it. Again. Let me try it again next point. It’s not smart, for sure. I really wish I could tell you, you know, it’s just because I’m stubborn and I just wanted to make one. If I ever figure it out, you’ll be the first one that I can tell.”

Another seed to fall by the wayside was Ana Ivanovic, who lost for the second time in a row, in as many weeks to Caroline Garcia 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. After a brisk start to the year, Ivanovic has had to deal with a broken toe (from slamming her foot against the shower door) and now an inflamed elbow.

She said: “I have to work because I haven’t been playing lots of matches and so on. I feel like I need to get back in shape. It’s getting better but I feel like there’s a lot of work to be done and then yet I have these niggles here and there that are stopping me.”

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova

With Maria Sharapova restoring some sense of order, dispatching one of the trickier names in the draw, Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3, we close out a day which more or less saw the honours split evenly between the old ladies of the tour and the chasing pack of Rising Stars.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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A Sense of Normality in the Desert

Photos by Curt Janka

 

(March 14, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Not that we want to gloss over the important or emotional resonance of the return of Serena Williams, but in the 24 hours that followed that match, there was a sense that we were almost back in business.

For the whole week the anticipation leading up to the match everything had been focused on Friday night, but now it felt like we were all back to normal. There were some entertaining tussles – the battle of the fist-pumpers as an older and wiser Ana Ivanovic took on a feisty Yulia Putintseva.

There was the predictable sweep through of defending champion Novak Djokovic as he started his campaign against former Top 10 player Marcos Baghdatis, who seemed to enjoy the kiss-cam antics of TV screen director at the change of ends.

But one match hat stood out was Victoria Azarenka’s albeit straight-forward result and the mouth-watering prospect of a third round clash with Maria Sharapova. Her come-back has been much anticipated and few can forget the almost pitiful site of her struggling to even stand much less run about and swing at a ball this time last year at Indian Wells.

But it’s more than that. Asking her about her earlier come-back during last year’s grass court season, it as clear that she has been so completely frustrated by not being out on court and she admitted that her return had been too early.

She said: “When I came back to Eastbourne I don’t think I was fit enough to play at all. But I wanted to play. It’s been such a long time. It was one of the lessons that I had to learn, that I didn’t prepare well. Preparation is the key to really go out and play and be confident and actually be happy on the court.”

 

The Azarenka we see now seems to be very much happier with the world, after admitting she had gone through some dark times personally in her time off the court.

 

She elaborated: “If you know that you put in work, you feel good, you can enjoy it. Tennis is really my passion. You go in life through some tough moments on and off the court, but in the end of the day you just really need to figure out what you want to do in life and what you enjoy.”

 

When she faces Sharapova in the third round, she will be up against another fighter who had a long haul back from potentially career threatening injuries. In Stuttgart last year she explained how coming back and playing after possibly contemplating the end of her career made every achievement special. There is a sense that Azarenka has reached that same stage of thinking compared to the drive “must work harder” mentality that seemed to weigh her down more last summer.

 

Right now the Belarusian is the one person players must dread in the draw as she continues her climb back up the rankings, and pretty soon she will be back in the upper echelons but she has a sense of gratitude that for now, she has to get there the hard way.

“Every day is beautiful. Every day I think is a blessing, so I just try to approach it that way. Tennis has given me so much to be grateful for that I cannot be, you know, sad that I’m on the court in front of a great crowd in this the big tournament. I cannot be ungrateful.”

 

On Sunday the last of the ATP second round matches will be done, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will have their own campaigns underway, and it feels now as though the tournament is really getting started.

 

The only upset, if we could call it that, was the departure of Marin Cilic. The US Open champion played his first match in 2015, losing to Juan Monaco, but his loss opened up the thorny question of his participation in the IPTL exhibition league last year.

 

He maintained, however, it had not been an issue for him, saying: “I played there six, seven matches and didn’t hurt me that much. Then later it took pretty long time to get back and to reheal it. And even if I would know this I would probably skip playing Masters end of the year, Tour Finals. But at that time I didn’t know it’s going to take really that long.”

 

A quarter of his year has been lost, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has yet to make his return, having been injured during the Davis Cup final, only to show up on the IPTL for the duration of the tour. Even Ana Ivanovic admitted during the pre-tournament press obligations that the winter had been a long haul, although she really seemed to flourish under the format.

 

And yet inevitably we return to Williams. It is almost a relief to see she has been scheduled in the afternoon on Sunday and not just the night matches every time. The conditions are hit and humid and during the day those balls zip about like fluffy day-glo missiles, but in the evening when it is a little cooler, the conditions change. She may have said she feels she has won already just by being here, but she is a born competitor, who needs to get the ‘W’ on the scoresheet come what may. Roll on Sunday.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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