By Matt Cronin
FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AND THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA OPEN (Day 1) – It’s been about 27 hours since Dominica Cibulkova took out Aga Radwanska in a terrific three setter to win the Stanford and I am still amazed how she managed to mentally turn things around post her double bagel devastation at the hands of the Pole in Sydney. Some players have short memories when it comes to losses, and others have very long ones.
The best thing that Cibulkova did was watch a replay of that first set in Australia, and in her mind she was convinced that it was close and some games could have gone either way. I wasn’t that convinced, but I was sitting on the sidelines that evening and didn’t have a racket in my hands so there is no way I can really known how close she felt to winning certain points had she swung her racket a bit differently, moved her feet into another position, or changed her game plan.
Once she won the first game of the Stanford final, she let out a sigh of relief and looked at her coach and said ‘Here we go, I am here and it’s going to be good today.’
But she still had to win the match and after dropping the first set due to some sloppy play, it sure didn’t look like she was going to establish the proper rhythm to pull off the upset. But she did and not only did she smack her groundies and returns with force, but she mixed up her attack very well, especially employing a deft drop shot and charge maneuver time and time again. She varied her angles off the ground and went to a 3/4 first serve so that Radwanska wouldn’t easily get in front of points.
All that mattered a great deal, but somehow Radwanska got off to a 4-2 lead in the third set. She was not playing all that well – in fact later on she said she had virtually no rhythm the entire week and had plenty of problems in her game – but she did push Cibulkova very hard to close it out and actually could have won the match if the Slovakian failed to convert one of the five matches points. But Cibulkova did after a long rally and a bullet backhand crosscourt winner.
A hearty 3-6 6-4 6-4 victory was hers and now, once again, the 24 year old has shown that on a great day she can play with likes of Radwanska, Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki. Can she stay with Serena or Maria Sharapova at a Slam? Sure she can if she maintains focus and plays the right way, which hasn’t been able to do often enough because she loses her temper, as well as her nerve and begins spraying he ball. But she feels older and wiser and will have a stern test in the first round of the Southern California Open in Carlsbad when she faces seventh seed Ana Ivanovic. She feels up to the challenge, but going deep and back to back tournaments is a challenge for any player.
Once again I drove from Stanford to Carlsbad on Sunday night and Monday morning, arriving at 4:30 AM after a weaving through a sneaky Caltrans detour off the 405 in Seal Beach. This is more than likely the last time that I will have to do that drive, as it by all accounts it appears that the tournament will move out of La Costa Resort, even though Omni Resorts bought La Costa last month and is said to be pro professional tennis. The word off court is that Octagon wants to get rid of the tournament, that a group in Japan really wants it and unless some group in the US can match that bid it will leave US shores.
Like Ana Ivanovic, who spent sometime at the beach on Monday, I am very much of a beach person and La Costa is just a few miles east from some gorgeous coastline. For myself and others who have made the trek over the years, there is nothing quite like body surfing (or some other water activity) in the morning, having a meal while inhaling the Pacific breezes and then heading out to the tennis. That’s how the event always should have been marketed: ‘Surf and Serve,’ but it was not and is currently being treated like a mere commodity. There isn’t enough tennis community involvement and in some senses when it returned from exile in 2010, it would have been better off played at the Barnes Center, a beehive of activity that will host the Girls 16s and 18s Nationals next week. Now, when I walk around La Costa Resort & Spa, it feels like to me that a ticket to see some of the finest women’s players in the world bang it out is treated just the same as any other product on the grounds: would you like a massage and a pedicure, or a massage and ticket to a late afternoon WTA doubles match? As Gertrude Stain might say, ‘There is no tennis there there.”
Nonetheless, the Carlsbad draw is stronger than Stanford’s and has a lot of flavor to it: Azarenka returns from her knee and hip injuries and seems to be itching to get back on hard courts and strut her stuff once again. Here’s an interview I did with her today where she talks about raising the bar for herself, among other things.
Radwanska is the second seed and will play the winner of Daniela Hantuchova and Tamira Paszek, and Kvitova is the third seed and when I spoke with her today, she still seems unsure about how she will faire on North America hard courts given her allergy troubles in humid climates, but she did have a strong US Open Series last year until Marion Bartoli stopped her at the US Open, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she makes another solid run. But despite her immense talent, it’s so hard to predict where she will end up. She defines puzzling. Here are a few of her thoughts on her loss to Kirsten Flipkens at Wimbledon.
Some other names we didn’t see last week outside of Ivanovic are Jelena Jankovic, who out-lasted Mallory Burdette in three sets; Virginie Razzano, who took down Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets; Carla Suarez Navarro, Roberta Vinci and Laura Robson, whom if she bests Ayumi Morita could play Kvitova in an Aussie Open rematch.
I heard Robson saying today that when she introduces herself in the US so few people hear the name Laura and call her all sorts of different names. While it could be the lack of exposure by many Americans to a British accent, it could also be that the cultured English can be hard to understand at times: when asked by the WTA LIVE host what her second favorite sport was, Robson answered darts, and Cibulkova, who was co-hosting asked, ‘Dancing? You dance well?’ They all had a good laugh and then Cibulkova said that she finds it harder to understand the Brits more than she does the Americans, which is no insult to the UK as many people there have a richer way of speaking and some Americans speak with a flat accent, or almost none at all.
It should be noted that CoCo Vandeweghe qualified for a tournament for the second straight week, besting Olga Savchuk. Francesca Schiavone overcame her Fed Cup teammate Flavia Pennetta 7-6(4),6-7(8),6-4 in three hours. Pennetta lost 11 of the last 13 points. In that stretch, Schiavone only had to paste one winner. It’s going to be a long road back for Flavia from injury and it’s possible that she will never see the top 10 again in singles. She’s playing doubles this week with Sania Mirza as Bethanie Mattek-Sands won’t play doubles the rest of the summer in order to save wear and tear on her body.