2014/07/24

Wimbledon Champion Kvitova, Wimbledon Finalist Bouchard Head Connecticut Open Field

Petra Kvitova3

 

NEW HAVEN, Conn., July 8, 2014 – 2014 Wimbledon Champion and World No. 4 Petra Kvitova, 2014 Wimbledon Finalist and World No. 7 Genie Bouchard, and Defending Champion and World No. 3 Simona Halep headline the field, which has collectively won 14 Grand Slam and 188 WTA singles and doubles titles, for the 2014 Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies, it was announced today by Tournament Director Anne Worcester. The WTA event, which is part of the Emirates Airline US Open Series, will be held August 15-23, 2014 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale,
Kvitova, the 2012 Connecticut Open Champion, marched through the Wimbledon fortnight the past two weeks to grab her second career Grand Slam title in four years, becoming just the third two-time winner in women’s singles since 1996. The Czech star defeated Bouchard in the final, the first Grand Slam final of the young star’s career. The 20-year-old has rapidly ascended the rankings to become the highest-ranked Canadian player in history, thanks to semifinals appearances at both the Australian and French Opens, along with capturing her first WTA title at Nurnberg. This will be her first appearance at the Connecticut Open.
Halep is having a career season highlighted by a finals appearance at the French Open, reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon, and winning the title in Doha, all of which have catapulted her to a career-high ranking of No. 3 in the world. She returns to defend her 2013 Connecticut Open title, where she defeated Kvitova to win the trophy.
Aside from Halep, Kvitova and Bouchard, five other players in this year’s Connecticut Open field are ranked in the WTA top 20 including No. 15 and four-time Connecticut Open Champion Caroline Wozniacki, who will be chasing a record fifth title in New Haven (currently tied with Venus Williams with four Connecticut Open titles). In addition to Wozniacki, No. 13 Flavia Pennetta, who won in Indian Wells earlier this year; No. 14 and 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani; No. 16 Carla Suarez-Navarro, who will be making her fourth Connecticut Open appearance; and No. 19 Ekaterina Makarova, a Grand Slam doubles champion, who advanced to the quarterfinals at New Haven last year, will compete for the title.
Joining the top-20 stars in this year’s field are American Coco Vandeweghe, a former US Open Junior Champion who also triumphed at s’-Hertogenbosh to capture her first WTA title;  Garbine Muguruza, who advanced to this year’s French Open quarterfinals and defeated World No. 1 Serena Williams along the way; Roberta Vinci, who teamed with Errani to complete the doubles Grand Slam at this year’s Wimbledon; Shuai Zhang, who advanced to the semifinals at Birmingham, Kuala Lumpur and Acapulco this year; Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, who advanced to the Wimbledon quarterfinals and made a finals appearance in Birmingham, England; Klara Koukalova, a victor in Florianopolis and finals attendee in Rio de Janeiro and Hobart; Elina Svitolina, who advanced to the semifinals in Nurnberg; and Casey Dellacqua, a Birmingham semifinalist.
Rounding out the field are Magdalena Rybarikova, a four-time WTA tournament winner and semifinalist at s’-Hertogenbosch; Kurumi Nara, winner in Rio de Janeiro; Camila Giorgi, who advanced to the finals in Katowice; and Bojana Jovanovski.
“The 2014 Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies player field is loaded with talent – Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova and Wimbledon Finalist Genie Bouchard; Defending Connecticut Open Champion Simona Halep and four-time Connecticut Open Champion Caroline Wozniacki; and rising stars such as Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and American Coco Vandeweghe,” said Worcester. “All told, we have three of the top 10 players in the world, eight of the top 20, and with the men’s event featuring James Blake, Andy Roddick and Jim Courier, the tournament promises to be exceptionally entertaining this year.”
On Wednesday, August 20, Fairfield native James Blake, a two-time Connecticut Open Champion and former top-five ranked player, will matchup against Jim Courier, a four-time Grand Slam Champion and former World No. 1. On Thursday, August 21, Blake will face-off against Andy Roddick, another former World No. 1 and Grand Slam Champion. Both matches will be played following the 7:00 p.m. WTA feature match on their respective nights, and they will be best of three sets, with a super tie-break played for the third set. In addition, fans interested in participating in a Pro-Am with these American stars before the matches, or who want to capitalize on a party complete with dinner and a “meet and greet,” should visit www.ctopen.org for more information.
The field will be completed in the coming weeks with the addition of four wildcards, which the tournament will award, and the addition of six players who will advance through the 48 player qualifying draw. The first two seeds at the tournament will receive a bye.
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Coco Vandeweghe Vanquishes Serena Williams’ Conqueror at French Open at Wimbledon

(June 23, 2014) WIMBLEDON – Fourth time was the charm for American Coco Vandeweghe at Wimbledon on Monday. In her fourth singles appearance at The Championships, she needed 13 match points get her first win in London. The 22-year-old beat the woman who upset Serena Williams in the second round of the French Open last month, Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, the 27th seed 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

Vandeweghe who is now on an eighth-match winning streak on grass courts, won her first WTA tournament two days ago at the Top Shelf Open in the Netherlands as a qualifier and beat the 20-year-old Spaniard on the way to the title.

“It was a tough match and it was crazy at the end,” said Vandeweghe. “The toughest part for me was that I played her the week before. I knew she would come out even more fired up because of the recent memory of her loss.”

“There was too many (match points) too count,” said Vandeweghe, whose ranking has risen to No. 51 as of Monday – a career high

The Californian will play Tereza Smithkova of the Czech Republic in the second round.

Karen Pestaina at Wimbledon

THE CHAMPIONSHIPS – WIMBLEDON, GREAT BRITAIN
$ 18,575,979
JUNE 23-JULY 5, 2014

RESULTS – JUNE 23, 2014
Women’s
Singles – First Round
(2) Li Na (CHN) d. (Q) Paula Kania (POL) 75 62
(6) Petra Kvitova (CZE) d. Andrea Hlavackova (CZE) 63 60
(8) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO) 63 75
(10) Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) d. (Q) Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) 61 62
(12) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) d. Jana Cepelova (SVK) 62 63
Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. (17) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 63 64
Maria Kirilenko (RUS) d. (18) Sloane Stephens (USA) 62 76(6)
(22) Ekaterina Makarova  (RUS) d. Kimiko Date-Krumm  (JPN) 36 64 75
(23) Lucie Safarova (CZE) d. Julia Goerges (GER) 76(3) 76(3)
CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) d. (27) Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP) 63 36 75
(30) Venus Williams (USA) d. María-Teresa Torró-Flor (ESP) 64 46 62
(32) Elena Vesnina (RUS) d. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) 60 64
Casey Dellacqua (AUS) d. (Q) Anett Kontaveit (EST) 36 76(4) 63
Yvonne Meusburger (AUT) d. Vania King (USA) 75 63
Kurumi Nara (JPN) d. Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER) 64 64
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE) d. (Q) Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS) 62 62
Bojana Jovanovski (SRB) d. Johanna Larsson (SWE) 76(2) 60
Lauren Davis (USA) d. Alisa Kleybanova (RUS) 61 62
Mona Barthel  (GER) d. Romina Oprandi (SUI) 75 60
Peng Shuai  (CHN) d. Johanna Konta (GBR) 64 36 64
Polona Hercog (SLO) d. Paula Ormaechea (ARG) 64 64
Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) d. Monica Niculescu (ROU) 75 63
Misaki Doi (JPN) d. Elina Svitolina (UKR) 64 61
(Q) Tereza Smitkova (CZE) d. Hsieh Su-Wei (TPE) 63 63
(Q) Ana Konjuh (CRO) d. Marina Erakovic (NZL) 63 46 60
(WC) Naomi Broady (GBR) d. Timea Babos (HUN) 26 76(7) 60
(WC) Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) d. Stefanie Voegele (SUI) 63 76(6)

Suspended due to darkness
(4) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) leads (Q) Andreea Mitu  (ROU) 42
(14) Sara Errani (ITA) is tied with Caroline Garcia (FRA) 62 67(3)
(16) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) leads Shahar Peer (ISR) 63 20
(Q) Michelle Larcher de Brito (POR) leads (28) Svetlana Kuznetsova  (RUS) 21
Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) leads Varvara Lepchenko (USA) 76(6) 02

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related article:

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

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Coco Vandeweghe wins First WTA Title

Coco Vandeweghe

Coco Vandeweghe

(June 21, 2014) Qualifier CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States beat China’s Zheng Jie 6-2, 6-4 Saturday in the final of the grass-court Topshelf Open for her first WTA title.

In the men’s tournament, third-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain beat Germany’s Benjamin Becker, 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

“I usually take tournaments one match at a time, so early in the week I was just focused on being prepared for my first match in the qualification,” said the 22-year-old American. “Once I took care of that first match I just went from there, and I got more and more comfortable on the courts. I played a ton of points and games, and a lot of long matches and three-setters as well. I was trying not to think about it being a final today. I got the first set and I thought to myself, ‘One set to the good, one more to go, try and get the early break now and keep the pressure on her.’ I was really just thinking about it step by step, just like how I would play in any match.”

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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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Birmingham – Ivanovic dominates on the grass, and the weather can’t halt the Rally for Bally

Ana Ivanovic photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Ana Ivanovic photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Chalkdust Chronicles – Ivanovic dominates on the grass, and the weather can’t halt the Rally for Bally

 

(June 15, 2014) BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – After a few days of sunshine the good citizens of the City of Birmingham had been lulled into a false sense of security, but it was another overcast day when top seed Ana Ivanovic took to the court for the final of the Aegon Classic.

 

It was another slow start too as she was broken immediately by Barbora Zahlavova Strycova as both ladies vied for their first grass title. But we have seen a very steely-eyed Ivanovic in play this week, standing inside the baseline to punish second serves, coming in to the net to volley, and pretty soon she was back to bossing the points.

 

The poor weather had seen a late night doubles match continue into the rain, and the preceding doubles before the final had the eventual champions using their badges to scrape the mud out of the little grass-court studs on their tennis shoes.

 

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova was having to do the same thing, angrily smacking her shoes at one stage as Ivanovic maintained her foothold in the match after breaking back, and surging ahead. The momentum stayed with the Serbian as she closed out a straight sets victory 6-3, 6-2 to pick up her first grass court title.

 

After some barren years following her time in the limelight as French Open champion and World No. 1 in 2008, it has taken Ivanovic a long time to find herself – and with a new Serbia team in place, she has looked more and more like the goofy teenager who hit the tennis heights all those years ago.

 

She said: “For me personally it really helps me because I’m more relaxed and I just see a big picture. I don’t only see, okay, this point or this match, it’s going to be disaster, it’s going to be great. It’s just about seeing the big picture. “

 

Zahlavova Strycova thinks that big picture for Ivanovic could mean a good run at Wimbledon.

 

She said: “Ana is playing great. She takes the ball very early, and it’s really tough to get the rhythm with her. She has some good chances to play great [at Wimbledon].”

 

Rally for Bally

 

The women’s final stopped just as the rain began to fall, which was unfortunate as the Rally for Bally was scheduled afterwards. The exhibition match to honour Elena Baltacha, the former British No. 1 who sadly lost her brief battle with cancer this year started once the dripping clouds had relented, and we caught a glimpse of just how competitive Martina Navratilova is, just how much Tim Henman wished he was on a golf course as he mock-struggled with his back, and the fun between Ward (a late replacement for Queen’s doubles finalist Jamie Murray) and Ann Keothavong as the lanky British No. 3 kept lobbing the TV pundit over and over!

 

In between their many impromptu breaks, Master of Ceremonies Dan Lobb tried to whip up support for the charity, but here Koethavong came into her own. A peer of Baltacha, the pair grew up together, played together and shared a special relationship and times, when they paired up to play doubles at the London 2012 Olympics.

 

Keothavong stood up and challenged those enjoying the corporate seating and hospitality to dig deep and give to the Rally 4 Bally cause, with the proceeds split between the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital and the Elena Baltacha Foundation which administers the tennis academy she set up while she was still competing.

 

There was maybe an added poignancy for Navratilova who won her own battle with breast cancer, and admiration from everyone for Baltacha’s achievements – to have reaching the World Top 50 while managing a chronic liver condition, opening an academy while still competing, coming back after every injury when others would have quit.

 

People may think that the tennis world is full of drama, and perhaps even a little selfish as one of the ultimate solitary sports. But for one day, in three locations, a 30-year-old who left us too soon brought many people together to put life in perspective for all of us.

 

 

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Ana Ivanovic and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova Shine in the Rain to Reach Birmingham Final

Ana Ivanovic photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Ana Ivanovic photo by Christopher Levy @tennis_shots

Chalkdust Chronicles – Stars shine in the rain

 

(June 14, 2014) BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – Yes we know that the Brits are obsessed with the weather, and one has to wonder whether they had an inside track to the Meteorological Office as it was a surprise to see Ana Ivanovic first up at the Aegon Classic. Well let’s face it, with no Sloane Stephens in the line-up, who else was going to kick things off!?

 

It was actually a worrisome start for the Serbian as Zhang Shuai started with a bit of gusto with an immediate break but Ivanovic spun off nine games in a row and by the time poor Zhang actually got back in the match, it was pretty much all over with a 6-2, 6-2 win.

 

“After slow start I really felt I picked up my rhythm and I played really well,” she said, ever the queen of understatement, but there is a real sense of maturity to Ivanovic that really started after Wimbledon when she called time on her two year coaching arrangement with Nigel Sears.

 

She has already snapped up two titles, a couple of wins over both Williams sisters – so another title is beckoning:

 

“It would mean a lot for me to have a title on grass. It’s been ‑ not to mention my age ‑ but ten years on tour and I never have title on grass.”

 

Ivanovic has come a long way from the excitable youngster that swept to a French Open title and the World No. 1 slot perhaps long before she was ready for all that, and there is something utterly engaging about her giggling her way through a press conference (when she’s won, anyway).

 

Perhaps the most amusing thing, when we look in the context of the young up-and-coming chasing packs of the Simona Haleps and Dominika Cibulkovas, her response when asked where she puts herself amongst these new-comers: “Unfortunately old. (Laughing.)“

 

Equally engaging has been she of the unnecessarily long surname – Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. She has crept through the draw where perhaps the top tip would have been someone from Down Under to grace the final, especially after a much-improved Sam Stosur fell to compatriot Casey Dellacqua. But the Czech also had a run of points that swept the momentum her way.

 

The second semi-final was beset with the rain, twice in one set and at 1-5 down in the tie-break, Zahlavova Strycova gave herself a bit of a talking to (and her coach too) and suddenly kicked into gear, taking the tie-break and going on to close out 7-6(5), 6-1.

 

Zahlavova Strycova was refreshingly frank about a six month suspension after testing positive a banned substance (sibutramine). Although the ingestion was deemed accidental and her sentence backdated and reduced, it still was a significant absence from the tour.

 

“First two months was tough. I didn’t want to play anymore because I felt like it’s really unfair what happened and I didn’t have motivation to come back.

 

“But thinking about it, I was also doing different things. I was living normal life, and I felt like I miss it. Then I start to practice, and I missed adrenaline, I missed the feeling of playing matches.

 

“Then I decided to come back. It was a good decision, and I see the tennis right now a little bit different than before. “

 

She has felt a little overwhelmed with her run here, and laughed when reminded that she trails Ivanovic 2-0 in their head to head, but those were on hard courts, and as we know – grass sorts out the wheat from the chaff, if you will excuse the agricultural metaphor.

 

Expect this to be a close one.

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