Archives for 2013

To Italy, with Inexperience

Teenager Khromacheva will have to play the match of her life to upset Errani on clay


FROM THE 2013 FED CUP BY BNP PARIBAS FINAL IN CAGLIARI, SARDINIA — It’s been almost 10 years now since Russia broke out as a dominant women’s tennis nation: it was the summer of 2004 and in just a three- month period three different women swept to Slam titles starting with Anastasia Myskina at Roland Garros, then Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon, and then Svetlana Kuznetsova at the US Open. The Williams sister take over of the tour was briefly forgotten, as was the rise of the Belgians. The post-Kournikova Russians were all the rage.

A decade or so later, Russia is still a very deep nation, but it is certainly not a dominant one. Since 2004, no new Russian face has broke out in a smile since after winning a Slam. Sharapova has won three more, and Kuznetsova one. Dinara Safina became No .1, but was Slam-less.

Even though she is Serena Williams age, Myskina has long since retired and she has become a notable coach of the Russia Fed Cup squad, as well as her federation’s vice president.  In fact, it seems that she is doing the lion’s share of coaching during practice and it would not be a surprise if and when Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev retires that she takes the helm. Myskina’s foe from the juniors, Elena Dementieva (whom both she and Kuznetsova bested for Slams titles in 2004) has also retired but is scheduled to also come to Cagliari as a TV broadcaster.

As most fans now know, none of Russia’s top 11 players are in Cagliari. Every one of them has a different reason for not showing up, but at this point it is not relevant to retread through old ground other than to repeat what Myskina told me yesterday: when she was an active player, Fed Cup always came first. There was no Tournament of Champions in Sofia back in her day, so she was not forced to choose between Fed Cup and Sofia like three other Russians did this week, but the WTA wasn’t dismissing the significance of the most important team event in the world outside of the Olympics back then either.

For those who don’t buy that contention consider this: the Fed Cu final, which takes place on an island that is not cheap to get to, has sold out its 5000 seat stadium for both days. There are WTA Premier events such as Stanford that don’t do that well, so at the very least, Fed Cup can be said to be at least just as valuable as a much ballyhooed WTA event.

Fed Cup is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which means it predates the founding of the WTA by a decade. It helped raise the profile of women’s tennis before Gladys Heldman, Billie Jean King and company helped found the WTA. Everyone is today games should know that and realize that without Fed Cup, the WTA may have taken longer to get off the ground. It had value then and still does today and the tour should make sure to support it in the future, even at the expense of some tournament fees.

Next year the Sofia versus Fed Cup final issue won’t matter, as Fed Cup will move back into an open week as the ATP Paris Bercy Masters and Sofia will stay where they are and the ATP World Finals moves back a week. W

It is getting plenty of attention in Italy and Russia this week and next year it should get the attention that it truly deserves throughout the world.

Now on to this weekend’s upcoming tie, which on paper is pretty intriguing if the possibility of an upset is allowed. Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev decided once again to do something unorthodox and has selected 18-year-old Irina Khromacheva to play Italian backboard Sara Errani in the second match on Saturday. Khromacheva has had very good junior results and very decent ones on the ITF circuit but to have go up against an experienced player such as Errani in a hostile environment will be a very difficult task. Khromacheva’s 2013 results do not lend themselves to any rational prediction of an upset.

Maybe Tarpischev should have chosen former top-15 player Alisa Kleybanova to face Errani, as she’s the only player on the team with a strong enough resume that would lead one to believe she has a chance to best Errani if she gets red hot. But Kleybanova has not been playing that well in practice, plus the cancer survivor isn’t sure how her body will hold up on red clay as it will be first time competing on the surface in two and half years. So  Tarpischev instead decided to ask Khromacheva to make her debut, who at 18, isn’t exactly at the level than say Myskina was at the same age.

“It’s the final of Fed Cup so everything is possible,” Khromacheva said. “I have one more day to go, but I’m not nervous at all.”

That we shall see when she gets on court in front of 5000 enthusiastic Italian fans.

The one thing that could play in Khromacheva’s favor is that none of the Italians have seen her play before. But Errani isn’t the type of player who will hit herself out of the match (although she is prone to nerves) so it’s highly unlikely that the Italian will go down. If she does, it will be one of the biggest upsets in Fed Cup history.

Russia’s Alexandra Panova begin the tie against Roberta Vinci, whom she has never gone up against, but she appears to be confident, saying that she “knows how to play her.” Perhaps she has seen Vinci play plenty, but actually being across the net against someone who has so much know how, and can produce a dozen different spins and off pace balls, will be a different matter all together. It’s highly possible that Panova will quickly become confused. The 24-year-old has had some solid results on the Challenger level on clay this year, but again, playing well in the minor leagues is no indication that a competitor can play with the big girls.

However, Tarpischev really has no choice but to play the hand that he has been dealt, or helped deal himself in his many years as captain, and his only really hope is that Vinci is vulnerable. That formula would see Panova pulling off an upset and then Tarpischev being able to insert a fresh Kleybanova against Vinci on Sunday. If Kleybanova can grab that win and the tie goes down to the doubles, than the pressure on the Italians will be intense and the Russian’s will at least have a wild puncher’s chance at an upset.

But really, the chances of them pulling it off are for all intents and purposes infinitesimal. Whatever the case, as Myskina said on Friday, this could be the beginning of a new Russian squad in the coming years, with Khromacheva and Russian’s No. 4 player on this team, another teen in Margarita Gasparyan, playing a big role. Myskina says that the most important thing for her players is be able to deal with the circumstances first, and then forehands and backhands later.  She’s been stressing one critical theme to her squad, which in 2004 in Paris she did very well every match out: “just fight.”

 Of Note

The eight-player singles field for the 2013 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals is now set as Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet clinched the final two berths following Milos Raonic’s third-round loss to Tomas Berdych at the Paris/Bercy Masters. Other qualifiers are Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan martin Del Potro, David Ferrer, Roger Federer and Berdych. On Friday in Paris, Djokovic took down Wawrinka in straight sets. I will be on site in London next week.


Fed Cup Final: Russia’s Mental Challenge


It’s Williams’ World again: So now what?

TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships: Istanbul 2013 - Previews

Can anyone stop Serena in 2014? As of today, doesn’t seem so


ISTANBUL – The TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships did not end with a thud, but it sure would have been nice to see any player but Serena step up and play at an A-plus level and really challenge the great Williams for the crown. In the last two days of the Championships, Serena was there for the taking. She was exhausted, had lost some power on her serve and groundstrokes and was not moving particularly well. But she willed herself to victory, because she has such a large heart, so much skill and so much know-how.

Jelena Jankovic, who has played her so tough in the past, folded in the third set of their semifinal. Li Na, who has so much talent, completely ran out of steam in the last set and half of her 2-6, 6-3 6-0 loss to now four-time WTA Championships winner Williams in the final.  Li appears to have enough talent to play with Serena, but she does not have her keen focus or self-belief. Unlike Serena, she does not have fathomless mental reserve.

Here’s my take on the final.

The WTA Championships certainly missed the injured Maria Sharapova’s intensity level. She is not as skilled as Williams, which is clear by their head-to- head record, but she comes to play every time out. She does not complain or offer excuses and she continually pushes her self in every match, even if she has little chance of winning.

The same cannot be said of most of the rest of the tour. Victoria Azarenka is terrific player and was the only woman out there this year who showed she was capable of going toe to toe with Williams as she beat her two times – half of Serena’s four losses. But she had a forgetful fall, only winning one match, complaining of burnout while Istanbul and then showing she is still overly sensitive when it comes to criticism when she decided to play on against Li Na with a bad back when she should have retired. She didn’t want to be termed as a physically fragile player again, but she knows she still has something to prove in that department. However, in that instance, when she had nothing left to offer on court, she should have called it a night.  Anyone who would ripped her for that would have been clueless.

While Jelena Jankovic was fun to have around because she is such a terrific quote and can be very personable, she did go 1-3 at the WTA Championships, which is not exactly an indication that she will meet her goal of becoming a top 5 player again. Agnieszka Radwanska looked tired and needs to reassess her schedule. Sara Errani gave it all in every match but she’s still lacking weapons. Petra Kvitova is a talented yet up and down player who needs to be more consistent off the ground, with her return, add some more power to her serve and find a way to boost her auto-immune system so she isn’t dealing with viruses every other month.

Alternate Caroline Wozniacki recently told the London Times that she’s still a “great” player. While I do think she can still contend for Slam titles given a few substantial improvements, she certainly has not been great over the last two years by any stretch of even her Danish fans’ imagination. Great players don’t missed the cut at the WTA Championships two years in a row. Sloane Stephens, 20, was the other alternate, and clearly as the youngest player in the top 12, she had a very good year in many ways, especially by reaching the second week of every Slam. But she now appears to be very uncomfortbale in her own skin and has been fearful of talking to the media since the spring after she publicly laid into Serena. She needs to mature if she going to challenge for the top 5 in 2014.

All in all, this was Serena’s year. She won 11 titles, including Roland Garros and the US Open, and registered a 78-4 record (.951), the best winning percentage since Steffi Graf in 1989. She won a record $12.38 million in prize money.  She will not call this season her best ever as in 2002 she won three Slams, but it was top 3 in her eyes. Even at 32, she feels like she can improve and since she really has over the past two years or so, don’t put it past her to do so again in 2014. She does not think it’s possible for anyone to go undefeated, but as she said earlier in the week, she had chances to win in all her four losses to Azarenka, Sabine Lisicki and Stephens.  While Roger Federer, who is also 32, struggles to remain relevant as a super elite player, Williams is the standard bearer for the WTA.  In fact, she’s the standard bearer for the entire sport.


Look at the new issue of  Tennis Journal !

The one and only Serena, once again

TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships: Istanbul 2013 - Day Six

Rodriguez wants Li to unlock herself in final vs Serena

Li IW 12 TR MALT0574

Survival of the Serena

Serena USO 13 TR MALT3396

Serena’s ‘Antics’ Annoy Jankovic

Jankovic IW 11 Front MALT7616


Jelena Jankovic was upset with Serena Williams’ erratic behaviour as the favourite in the tennis betting struggled to beat the Serbian in the semi-finals of the WTA Championships.

Williams appeared to weep into her towel and was yelling and gesticulating before she eventually saw off Jankovic 6-4 2-6 6-4.

The American also tried to slow the game down at key moments in the encounter, leading an exasperated Jankovic to exclaim afterwards: “I never saw her do this when she’s leading.

“For some reason, every time she starts losing, she starts serving slower or not running for certain balls. That’s something that as a player you have to pay attention to.

“It’s not the first time when we played that she’s doing this. That’s her way of playing – or maybe when she plays against me. I don’t know.

“She’s the number one player in the world, and she plays so well. She deserves to be in this spot. But I think also when you play, winning or losing, you have to be up there and be a good sportsman.”

There has been previous conflict between the two players as, at Charleston in April, Williams claimed she was not ready to receive serve and made Jankovic restart her service motion, to the Serb’s annoyance.

According to, Jankovic is one of only two active players, the other is Venus Williams, to have beaten Serena on four or more occasions and she led 3-1 in the first set before the 32-year-old American hit back to win it 6-4.

A string of errors by Williams allowed Jankovic to win five games out of six in the second set as she took it 6-2 but the number one seed responded by taking a 5-1 lead in the third, eventually clinching victory on her fourth match point.

Azarenka was worried about criticism if she retired against Li

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Kvitova in a TKO over Kerber

Kvitova USO 13 TR MALT8353

Russia’s officially names Fed Cup team vs Italy

_ALT3687 kleybanova02 matt

The ITF announced the official team nominations for the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group Final between Italy and Russia in Cagliari, Sardinia on November 2-3.

The home team will be heavy favorites in the contest, as Russian captain  Shamil Tarpischev was unable to attract any of his top players to the competition for a variety of reasons.

Italian Captain Corridor Barazzutti named world No. 7 Sara Errani, No. 13 Roberta Vinci, No. 31  Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp to his squad.

Russia named 138th-ranked Alexandra Panova, No. 186 Alisa Kleybanova, No. 231  Irina Khromacheva and No. 317 Margarita Gasparyan as his team.

The 24-year-old Panova, whom reached the 2013 Bogota final on clay, is Russia’s 12th highest ranked player. Former top 20 player Kleybanova accepted the invitation, but she is reticent about playing as she is in recovery from Hodgkin’s lymphoma and says she concerned about competing on outdoor red clay at the end of the season.

The teenager  Khromacheva won the Roland Garros junior doubles title in 2012 and has had success on clay on the Futures level. Gasparyan, 19, has won four ITF singles title.

With to player Maria Sharapova out with a shoulder injury, No. 18 Maria Kirilenko would have been Russia’s top player had she chosen to play, but she told that “it was tough decision but due my injures I feel not good enough and I can’t help my team. Team is more responsibility.”

However, Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina chose to play the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, which also takes place next week. Former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova declined to play as she has had spats with the Russia tennis Federations. Ekaterina Makarova, who is scheduled to play doubles with Vesnina in Istanbul  and was the hero of Russia’s semifinal win over Japan, is contending with a right wrist injury.