Shavapova out of US Open, shoulder trouble again

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Bartoli’s stunning retirement, Sharapova and Connors split, & Federer’s racquet

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What will happen to Bartoli when the attention dies down?

 

It has been an entirely unpredictable week in tennis, beginning with Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli’s shocking announcement of her retirement on Tuesday, Roger Federer’s decision around the same time that he ditched his prototype racquet and gone back to his old Wilson Pro Staff, the USTA’s grand announcement of a roof to be built over Arthur Ashe Stadium, and on Friday the revelation that Maria Sharapova had parted with coach Jimmy Connors after just one month (and only one match).

Bartoli said that she knew she was done after her opening round loss to Simona Halep in Cincinnati. She has put her body through the ringer over the past 13 years and just could not face another day of having to spend a half hour just getting herself to walk regularly. Here is a news story I wrote on her comments to a small group on us on Thursday morning.

The Frenchwoman says that there will be no comeback as she approaches everything in her life full on, and she isn’t washy washy about her decision. I, like many others who have covered her over the years, was very surprised at the decision, because I spoke to her on three occasions during the Rogers Cup in Toronto and she gave absolutely no indication that she was ready to retire. She did admit that she was exhausted, but she spoke with bright eyes and enthusiasm about an assault on this year’s US Open and given that she has been a very good hard court player, it was not out of the realm of possibility that she could make a charge to the semis, or even the final, or even win it if her draw broke right again.

But that doesn’t matter as she had lost her motivation and will to compete. She is only 28 years old, and she joins an all-star list of women players who has retired prematurely over the past decade: Anna Kournikova, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva. All of them had different reasons for doing so. Most cited injuries, other mentioned a bit of burnout. Three came back while the three Russians have stayed on the sidelines.

As Bartoli said, every player path is different and hers has been radically so. What will likely be forgotten post her wonderful Wimbledon run is what chaotic year she has leading up to London: her split with her father, hiring and firing coaches, reuniting with him, splitting again. She had some very tough moments this season, but those all seemingly were washed away when she was finally able to raise the big trophy at her cherished locale. But maybe she could not imagine continuing on the tennis treadmill without her dad around anymore? Do not dismiss that possibility as she had some very difficult and at times lonely periods without him this season.

But what did Bartoli see the future hold for her after that? She isn’t sure other than attending tournaments to watch her new set of friends (other French players on the Fed Cup team), going to some art galleries and maybe taking up ballet again.  She has been the center of attention since she won Wimbledon. Even today she was exchanging tweets with other players. She will head to New York for the US Open and is sure to get some more attention there.

But what then after the lights go down, people stop calling her as much, the thrill of competition is no longer there and she has no tangible goals? That’s when the full weight of her decision will fall on her. The tennis world is hoping she makes an easy transition, but the thought here is that it won’t be anything close to that.

 

The Sharapova-Connors split

No one who has spent a fair amount of time around Sharapova and Connors were surprised that they split after just a month.  In fact, folks close to both were surprised that they were going to try out a full time coaching pupil relationships to begin with. Neither is easy going, they are both Type-A personalities with a lot to say about everything and have very definitive ways of seeing how the sport should be played. The only tangible thing that Connors could have given to Sharapova was enough self-belief to really know she has enough game to beat Serena. He couldn’t help her with two areas of her game where she really needs help – her second serve and her volley.  She thought that he could teach her his wise ways, but she is not that trusting of a person, or that patient, so the impression he made in the first couple of weeks of their partnership could not have been a good one.

The last time they worked together, for to weeks back in 2007, she had a couple of buffers around her in her traveling coach Michael Joyce and her dad Yuri.  This time around it was one on one and I cannot imagine how she took to some of his very direct comments when – and this is very important to realize – he has rarely followed her career closely or women’s tennis at all so she probably didn’t think he was offering anything of real value in the context of her (not his) career.

So Sharapova pulled the rip cord quickly and now will head to the US Open without a full time coach, but likely with someone in tow, possibly one of her hitting partners, maybe even her dad or possibly one of her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov’s Swedish coaches. For more info, here is the news story I wrote on it this morning.

Federer and his racquet

Roger Federer is scheduled to play Rafael Nadal on Friday night in Cincinnati in a match where he will be a serious underdog in. Even getting a set in that match given how shaky he’s been over the past few months and how good Nadal has been in the past week and a half will give him a psychological boost. But his decision to test a prototype racket for more than a month and then bail on it in Cincy is not a good sign. Sure, his smaller head Wilson Pro Staff worked well for him for much of his career, but it hasn’t this year. However, if he was feeling uncomfortable with the prototype, he really had no choice if he was going to be comfortable in matches but to chuck it back into his racquet bag for the time being. But that does little more than put him back at square one. A win over Nadal would put him in US Open final four contention. A quick loss would mean he’s in danger of a first week exit.

The USTA has received a lot of flack (especially from some overseas reporters) about the lack of a roof on Arthur Ashe stadium. But on Thursday the organization announced plans for not only a roof on Ashe, but one of the new Armstrong stadium, and a new Grandstand court, and for an entire redesign of the site. It looks very impressive to me (see the Picture of the day on the home page) and eventually will put the USO ahead of the rest of the majors facility wise. Well done. Read here.

Whacked Wednesday at Wimbledon

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Sergiy Stakhovsky ended Federer;s reign at Wimbledon

 

WIMBLEDON – Somewhere close to noon on Wednesday, one of the my housemates, Tennis.com’s Steve Tignor, told me that John Isner had suffered a knee injury in the first set of his match against Adrian Mannarino. I immediately thought back to Sydney, when big John came into the pressroom after his loss to Ryan Harrison and essentially said his knee was wrecked and that he had little chance of playing the Aussie Open.  A couple of days later, he pulled out.

A few minutes later in London, Tignor told me that Isner had actually retired  and thus began the craziest day I have ever covered at a major since I began reporting on the sport back in 1992.

About a half hour later, now on site, I was told that Victoria Azarenka was going to pull out of her contest against Flavia Pennetta and she did. Then Rafa Nadal’s conqueror Steve Darcis withdrew a shoulder injury, then Radek Stepanek retired with a thigh injury. On Centre Court, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired down two sets to one against Ernest Gulbis with a knee injury,

A little over an hour after Stepanek’s pullout, Caroline Wozniacki slipped and badly twisted her ankle in the fourth game of her match against Petra Cetkovska. She couldn’t run after that and was plastered 6-2, 6-2.

Sometime later, No. 10 Marin Cilic pulled out with a knee injury too. Bernard Tomic, who is still in the singles draw, retired in doubles with a hamstring problem. The Yaroslava Shvedova pulled out against Petra Kvitova.

Wimbledon had set an Open Era record with retirements/walkovers with seven, and all the talk was about whether the slippery courts were to blame. But there was something in the air that wasn’t related to seed germination. Perhaps someone has opened up a catacomb at the London Dungeon and unleashed some foul magic, which is why Cilic later called it a “very black day.”  Whacked Wednesday at Wimbledon was on, and it wouldn’t stop there.

Azarenka is suffering from a bone bruise and was very upset that her chance of winning her first Wimbledon title  had gone away before she could dig herself into the tournament.

“The court was not in a very good condition that day,” said Azarenka. “My opponent fell twice; I fell badly; there were some other people who fell after. So I don’t know if it’s the court or the weather. I can’t figure it out it.  Would be great if the club or somebody who takes care of the court just would examine or try to find an issue so that wouldn’t happen. There is nothing I’ve done wrong that cost me to just withdraw from Wimbledon… I don’t see anything positive as of today because I’m disappointed extremely.”

Maria Sharapova, who has been so very consistent at the major over the past two years, went out onto the Graveyard Court 2 against former phenom Michelle Larcher De Brito and fell down a remarkable down three times. She eventually received a medical timeout for what appears to be minor hip injury, and although she tried to fight, she seemed distracted, was way off her game on the big points, and landed with thud in in her 6-3 6-4 loss. She gave her foe credit for the win, but at one point in the second set she called the conditions dangerous.

“Well, after I buckled my knee three times, that’s obviously my first reaction,” Sharapova said. “And because I’ve just never fallen that many times in a match before.  Those are the conditions that are there for my opponent, as well. Just took a lot more falls than she did today.”

Wozniacki looked like she cried a great deal after her defeat. After all, she needed a redemptive Slam and didn’t come close to having one. It’s one thing to take another harrowing loss, but with no chance to move quickly and try and impose her game. Cetkovska drop shotted the speedster to death.

“She played some very smart tennis, I have to say.  She was serving well.  She knew what to do out there for me to struggle. Obviously, you know, I didn’t feel 100% out there after I slipped.,” she said. “It’s just not really fun to be out there when you feel like you can’t really push off on your foot.”

Other seeds fell too before the catastrophe for Roger Federer and his fan base really set in. Canadian teen Eugenie Bouchard played brilliantly in upending No 12 Ana Ivanovic  6-3 6-3; Karin Knapp upset No. 27Lucie Safarova 4-6 6-4 6-4; young Serbian Vesna Dolonc beat older Serb and No. 16 Jelena Jankovic 7-5 6-2; and Camila Giorgi of Italy took down No. 22 Sorana Cirstea 7-6(7) 7-6(6). On the men’s side, Dustin Brown overran former champ Lleyton Hewitt in four sets.

But nothing else on court compared  to Sergiy Stakhovsky shocking defending champion Federer 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5), which was the Swiss’ earliest defeat at Wimbledon since losing in the  first  round in 2003. The Ukrainian put together  a brilliant, old school serve-and-volley attack, never allowing the Federer to get his rhythm and suffocating him at the net. The Eastern European journeyman matched Western European journeyman Darcis’ level on court in the Belgian’s stunner over Nadal, and perhaps even more so: the result ended Federer’s run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances dating back to 2004 Wimbledon.

“Well, you can’t really keep up with Roger on grass on baseline rallies,” Stakhovsky said. “It’s just impossible, I would say, especially here.  He’s playing very well.  He feels the grass.  He feels the slice.  He can do whatever he wants with the ball. The only tactics I have is press as hard as I can on my serve and come in as much as I can.  The shorter it is, the less rhythm he got.  I think today I was successful enough that he didn’t get into the returning rhythm, only somewhere in the middle of the fourth set he find it.  So I was lucky to pull it out in the fourth and finish it.”

It wasn’t just luck, he can up huge on the big points while Federer faltered. The Swiss said later on that he thinks there have been periods where he’s been playing great at the majors, but the 31-year-old is certainly not playing as well as he did in his heyday, which is why he now has gone a year without reaching a Slam final and has only won two tournaments during that stretch.

He then chided the press for saying that he and Nadal would automatically meet in the quarterfinals.

“You guys hyped it up so much, me playing Rafa, and we’re both out,” Federer said. “So there’s a letdown clearly. Maybe it’s also somewhat a bit disrespectful to the other opponents who are in the draw still.  I think it sends a message to [the media] as well that maybe you shouldn’t do that so often next time around.”

Perhaps there is lesson learned in there, but given that the “Big 4” has combined to win 36 of the last 39 Slams and that Federer and Nadal rarely lose early, especially at the same tournament, it was only logical to think that they would meet again.

Even if they were not going to win Wimbledon, no one would have picked two veteran guys like Darcis and Stakhovsky, who haven’t never been relevant in the majors, to pull off stunners such as those.

But then again, would anyone have put money down on trifecta picks of Larcher De Brito, Bouchard and Dolonc over three former No.1’s, or seven retirements/pullouts in one day, or the fact that in both bottom halves of the draw there are only 15 combined seeds out of 32 headed into the third round. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

So when the dust settled after a very exciting and hard to gage day here is what then tournament has on the bottom halves: on the women’s side there certainly is an attractive group of young women left lead by Sloane Stephens, Bouchard and Monica Puig (read here) with former finalist Marion Bartoli and 2011 titlist Kvitova kicking around, but given that none of them have been playing consistent standout ball, chaos could still reign there. On the men’s side, Andy Murray still stands and is a substantial favorite to reach the final again, but there are only three “younger” men with character and game left in Gulbis, Jerzy Janowicz and Benoit Paire.  Nicolas Almagro, who has never been a fan of grass, is also in the mix. Imagine if he reached the semis out of Federer and Nadal’s half.

That would be as whacked as what occurred on Wednesday at Wimbledon, but after such a bizarre day, anything goes for the rest of the fortnight.

 

 

 

 

This time sorry not hardest word: Behind the Serena-Sharapova spat

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Serena: ‘I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry ‘

Williams said she apologized to Maria, but that was 2 days before Sharapova criticized her

By Matt Cronin

WIMBLEDON – What if players existed in a tennis world like many journalists do, where you publish what you mean to say and stand by it through thick and thin. That is not the pro athlete world though, and certainly not all of the tennis world, when statements that are termed “controversial” somehow get turned into eye-popping words that must apologized for.

Some statements like Serena’s Williams ill-advised comments about the Steubenville rape case do immediate demand explanations, but did Serena really have to come out and apologize to Maria Sharapova for telling (at least partly) Rolling Stone that a top-five player now allegedly in love “begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

Perhaps, but perhaps not.  Clearly, she and Sharapova are far from friends, even if they respect each other on court. So that Serena said those statements to Venus on the phone and the Rolling Stone writer decided to publish them is only a big deal because it got out in public. Highly opinionated players have opinions about lots of things, including other players, it’s just that many of those opinions do not reach the public’s ears.

Is this about Dimitrov, tennis or something else?

Serena is super competitive with other high-profile women players, be it Sharapova, or Victoria Azarenka, or now Sloane Stephens. That’s how she is. Even at 31, she’s still to some degree the baby sister of her family and does not like to get upstaged. Serena and Sharapova have a young man in common now, the charming Grigor Dimitrov, whom Sharapova is now dating and Serena once had a some kind of relationship with, whether it was just a friendship, or something more involved. When Serena was hanging around with Dimitrov, he was still being coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, who is now Serena’s coach and by all indications, her boyfriend.

Right around the time that Dimitrov left Mouratoglou and hired Magus Norman’s Swedish team, he began dating Sharapova. Is that why Serena’s allegedly tagged him as having a black heart, because he’s now dating her rival, or is it because something else occurred in their relationship prior to that? That’s unclear for now but if Serena wants to call her [or possibly Azarenka] boring, or say that they both have bad taste in men, so what? Serena has chided herself about having bad taste in men. People everywhere say that type of thing everyday, so why such a hullabaloo? I’ll tell you why: because they are the two highest profile women athletes in the world and when they mix it up, it’s news. It’s Connors vs. McEnroe all over again, but this time in skirts.

“At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court,” Sharapova said. “I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy. If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids,” Sharapova said.  “Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about.”

Sharapova clearly thinks at least a couple of those comments were directed at her, but sources also say that Azarenka thinks one or two of them might have been directed at her, which would make sense given that the “she’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties” comment doesn’t seem to fit with Sharapova, who does get invited to cool parties, but more to Azarenka, who has been dating the pop star Redfoo but still is not yet as famous as Serena or Sharapova, so getting invited to A-List parties still might be a challenge for her, whether she cares to go or not.

But is that comment really scandalous or over the top? Not so much, but what it does do is add spice to their rivalries and there is nothing wrong with competitors having digs at each other, as long as they aren’t mean-spirited. Serena’s comment about the woman wanting to be with a guy with a black heart and Sharapova’s about being with a man with kids getting divorced both qualify as below the belt, so perhaps apologies are in order for both. Serena approached  Sharapova at the Wimbledon player party on Thursday.

Serena’s apology

“I feel like Maria, unfortunately, was inadvertently brought into a situation she should have never been brought into,” said Serena. “I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation.”

In that discussion, Serena was said to have told Sharapova that she didn’t remember which player she was talking about during the interview. So while she apologized for the article having drawn Sharapova into the discussion, she allegedly did not cop to saying it about Sharapova to Sharapova’s face at the party, which is why Sharapova had little trouble publicly going at Serena two days later in her press conference.

But Serena said that she is taking full responsibility for what she said and is willing to admit a wrong, even though there have been occasions in her career (i.e. her two US Open meltdowns) where she refused to say that she was sorry.

“I’m the first person to apologize,” said Williams, who also apologized for making Steubenville comments without having her facts lined up.  “I’m the first person to reach out to individuals and people if I feel that something may have hurt them or something may have been misconstrued. That’s another reason why, being a woman, I wanted to reach out to [Sharapova] and say, ‘Look, this is this, this is this, sorry…. Well, we always have great conversations, so I believe that she definitely did accept [my apology].”

It appears that Sharapova did not on Saturday, but maybe when she reads  Williams’ comments on Monday before or after her match, she will.

Taking big shots

One of the key things to understand about Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka is that regardless as how much certain people want to handle them and soften their image, if they feel strongly about something, eventually they  are just going to say it and damn the consequences. They don’t want to be filtered. They are not afraid to go for big shots on court or off. I like that quality in all of them, even if on occasion they put their feet in their mouths. People do that all the time, even tennis journalists.

Serena mentioned that because she is largely covered by the tennis media and has a good relationships with many of them, and that she didn’t anticipate that some of the things she said around the Rolling Stone reporter would be used. She should know better and admitted as much. But let’s hope that in a sport that some officials seek to sterilize to the point of boring fans to tears, that she stays the real and uncut Serena Williams. The same with Sharapova, Azarenka and every other  player who isn’t afraid to tell the world what they think and stand by it.

“I’ve been spoiled dealing with professionalism here in the tennis world,” Serena said.  “I’m used to dealing with professional reporters. I have people come to my home.  I have great conversations. I’m used to dealing with these people not writing or commenting on a private conversation that I may have or kind of listening in or eavesdropping and then reporting on it.  You guys have completely spoiled me.  With that being said, I’ve been in the business for a little over 200 years, so I should definitely, definitely know better.”

Wimbledon Women: Drawn and Quartered

 

Serena is going for title No. 6

Serena has only lost five matches in 2012

Exactly who is prepared to take down five-time champion Serena Williams now that the one woman did on a couple of occasions on grass, her five-time champion sister Venus, is out of the draw? Perhaps No. 3 Maria Sharapova as at least she played her tough in the Roland Garros final? Maybe No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who bested her the last time they faced off on a fast surface? The 2011 champ Petra Kvitova, if she can shake herself out of her slump? By all indications Serena will waltz to her sixth title, but for the sake of the fans, it would be nice to have at least a little on court drama and a few thrillers to boot.

WOMEN, TOP HALF, FIRST QUARTER

Serena’s draw is actually not that simple; she should crush Mandy Minella in the first round, but then could face former semifinalist Zheng Jie in the second round, who nearly took her down at the AELTC last year. She should waltz past Tamira Paszek should the Austrian get to R3. But in the fourth round, she could face trouble from the service bombing Sabine Lisicki, who upset Sharapova last year, Elena Vesnina, who won in Eastbourne final, and Samantha Stosur, who has never taken to the grass but has beaten Williams with her heavy kick serve. Williams’ quarterfinal fore could be tricky too as lefty Angie Kerber has scored a win over her, but that’s provided that Kerber can find away past Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the first round, who is powerful and on a roll. Maria Kirilenko and Laura Robson, who meet in the first round, have quarterfinal shots, too.

SEMIFINAL PICK: Williams

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Robson vs. Kirilenko. If the very smart Russian schools the British teen here,  it could throw off the rest of the 19-year-old’s season.

WOMEN, TOP HALF, 3rd QUARTER

Aga Radwanska, the 2012 finalist , has to be pleased with her negotiable draw. She’s been a bit up and down this year, but has gone more or less where she was expected to at the previous two Slams. Her third round could be troublesome as big hitters Mona Barthel and Madison Keys could be there, but she has too much experience for both. Nadia Petrova could take her down on a great serving day in R4, but it’s hard to see Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova doing so, even if the Russian gets past grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round. We all saw how Li Na handled Radwanska in Australia, but the Chinese is going to have to play excellent ball to get there. She opens against Michaela Krajicek, who has done well on the lawns before, could play the red-hot Simona Halep, possibly Birmingham champ Daniela Hantuchova and. in R4, may to get past the nuclear striking Domi Cibulkova or Italian Roberta Vinci, who loves to carve foes up on the turf.

SEMIFINAL PICK: Radwanska

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Keys vs. Britain’s Heather Watson, pitting Britain’s future against America’s.

WOMEN, BOTTOM HALF, 3rd QUARTER

Sharapova opens against the tall and improving Kristina Mladenovic of France, but she has too much experience for the young Frenchwoman. She might face faces a small roadblock in Melanie Oudin in the second round and could be troubled by either Lucie Safarova or Lucie Hradecka in the third round. But with the way that Marion Bartoli has been playing, Sharapova has to be pleased that the Frenchwoman could be her seeded R4 foe.

Whomever comes out of the other segment to face Sharapova in the quarters will have earned it as a host of talented players are there: Sara Errani, Caro Wozniacki, Varvara Lepchenko, 16-year-old Donna Vekic, as well as Sloane Stephens and Jaime Hampton, two US players with second-week potential who will meet in the first round. If its one of the youngsters who goes up against Sharapova, they have to be very wary because she loves to munch on the kids.

SEMIFINAL PICK: Sharapova

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Stephens vs. Hampton in an intense match-up that has already likely occurred on back court during USTA Player Development training sessions.

WOMEN, BOTTOM HALF, 4th QUARTER

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see Azarenka face off against Kvitova again, since the two rivals haven’t faced off since 2011, one of those victories coming for Kvitova in three sets in the Wimbledon semis? Azarenka should have little trouble getting to the fourth round, as while Alize Cornet played her tough in Paris, should they meet in the third round on grass, the Belarusian has too much firepower for her. Azarenka’s fourth round could be interesting though with the net loving Kirsten Flipkens, a candidate to be there, as well as the tried-and-true veteran Jelena Jankovic.

Kvitova opens again the big-serving Coco Vandeweghe, and could severely tested in the third round by Ekaterina Makarova, should the Russian keep her head in the match. Carla Suarez, Ana Ivanovic or even 2012 Wimbledon Girls champ Genie Bouchard could be the Czech’s fourth round foe, but in all likelihood, if she doesn’t become distracted, Kvitova will face off against Azarenka in a delicious quarterfinal.

SEMIFINAL PICK: Azarenka

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Flipkens against the sometimes overly enthusiastic Yulia Putintseva.

NOTE: TENNISREPORTERS.NET’S MATT CRONIN WILL BE LIVE FROM WIMBLEDON BEGINNING ON SUNDAY

Roland Garros Women: Drawn & Quartered

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1st Quarter

No. 1 Serena Williams continues her now decade-old quest to win her second French titles and her draw could be much worse, but with that said, it isn’t that simple. She opens against Anna Tatshvili, could get Caroline Garcia in R2 and Sorana Cirstea in R3, all which should be routine wins. But the she could Roberta Vinci or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in R4, which could be dicey if she doesn’t play at the top level. Depending how Angie Kerber pulls up physically, she could be Serena’s quarterfinal foe and she did best Williams last summer in Cincy, so another upset is possible. But there is plenty of talent in Kerber’s section beginning with Mona Barthel, Varvara Lepchenko and Ekaterina Makarova.

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Caroline Wozniacki vs. Laura Robson: Wozniacki has lost five straight matches and, although Robson isn’t that comfortable on clay, she likes big matches and this is  a chance for her to blow the struggling Caro’s doors off.

 2nd Quarter

Here is Ana Ivanovic’s chance to reach her first Slam semifinal since she won the title in Paris five years ago. No. 4 Aga Radwanska leads the quarter and she’s struggling with an injury, and while No. 5 Sara Errani  has proven to be quite good on the surface she can be hit through. Ivanovic has been playing quite well (although not always against Maria Sharapova). She opens vs. Petra Martic, should be able to hit around her and then have little trouble reaching the fourth round as Julia Goerges is hurt. Then it’s either Radwanska, who may not even get there, or possibly Venus Williams, but she’s been hurt, too. So then the Serb will face Errani in the quarters, unless the Italian gets tripped up by the likes of Carla Suarez or Nadia Petrova. I’m not sure Ivanovic has had a better opportunity while in good form to reach a Slam semi since she left RG as champion.

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Venus Williams vs. Ula Radwanska

The American has been struggling with a back injury and her autoimmune disease. While Ula has her off days mentally, when she’s on she is more than capable of winning a baseline battle on red dirt. This is an obvious so-called upset pick.

3rd Quarter

Going by bookends Vika Azarenka and Li Na, this is the toughest quarter. It’s depth is enigmatic, but it does have two players who are capable of beating Serena and Sharapova on great days. Li had a troublesome Rome and opens against Anabel Medina-Garrigues who has slowed down but is very capable on clay. Then she might have to face Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who’s been on fire, and possibly Yaroslava Shvedova who shocked her here last year. Then even if she makes it through there she could play Kaia Kanepi, Klara Zakopalova or Maria Kirilenko. She and coach Carlos Rodriquez have there work cut out for them in the first eights days.

Azarenka opens against the up-and-down Elena Vesnina, who is so unpredictable but dangerous. Alize Cornet has revived and could give her a little trouble in round 3 and then there is the possibility of playing the slumping, yet super dangerous Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli in round 4.

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Kirsten Flipkens vs. Flavia Pennetta. Has the former Italian top 10er finally recovered from wrist trouble? If she has, then she will give the equally crafty Flipkens fits.

 4th Quarter

Defending champion Sharapova as the player to beat here. She opens against the improved Su-Wei Hsieh, may face the Canadian who idolized her — Genie Bouchard — and possibly the veteran Zheng Jie before a fourth-round tussle with Sloane Stephens, whom she rekey destroyed on dirt. Her quarter could be tough though as Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova and Sam Stosur lurk. Expect the world No. 2 to get there but then have to seriously raise her level

FIRST ROUND POPCORN MATCH: Lucie Safarova vs. Jamie Hampton

Most of the young Americans have reasonable first rounds but this one could prove very tricky for the slugger against the lefthander Czech, whom has much more experience than she does. Expect a three setter, but Hampton still has to show she can pull off this type of win without suffering cramps due to  nerves.

Sharapova vs Serena again, this time in Madrid final

Mutua Madrid Open 2013

Maria will try and stop a long losing streak to Serena.

Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams will both try and reach a round number on Sunday when they face off for the 15th time, on this occasion in the final of Madrid.

Williams will be going for the 50th title, while Sharapova will go for No. 30. They have clearly been the WTA

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Pavlyuchenkova wins Estoril, Ferrer vs Stan in men’s final. Rafa won’t get seeding bump at RG

By Matt Cronin

Coach Martina Hingis (which still sounds odd ) deserves a lot of credit for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

The Wrap, week April 21-28: Sharapova, Nadal repeat in Stuttgart, Barcelona

 

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Maria Sharapova may have been the defending champion in Stuttgart, but given what a beat down Li Na had laid on her in the Aussie Open semis, she was not the favorite to win the final. Going in, it was tossup between the Roland Garros last two champs, but Sharapova more than proved her mettle when she contested one her best matches of the season in a 6-4 6-3 victory. She served very well, both with speed and placement, and did not allow Li to attack her serve at will like she did in Melbourne. She returned aggressively and accurately and this time around it was China

Perseverance pays off: Mattek-Sands belts Lisicki to reach Stuttgart semis

 

Mattek Sands IW 12 TR MALT3809

 

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Sharapova beats Ivanovic in classic; Nadal to face Raonic in Barcelona

For a large portion of 2012, Bethanie Mattek- Sands had become the forgotten woman of US tennis. Struggling with injuries and food allergies she saw her ranking drop out of the top 200. But she never gave up hope, found out which food groups were bothering her, changed her diet, let her body heal and now after knocking out Sabine Lisicki 6-4 6-2 in the semis of Stuttgart, her first Premier level semifinal in more than two years, she back in the mix again.

She was a match point down to Maryna Zanevska in the qualifying and got through. She then belted Yanina Wickmayer, stunned Sara Errani on her beloved red clay and then overwhelmed Lisicki.

She is moving very well, attacking intelligently, mixing it up, leaping on returns and owning the net. All the good work she has done in doubles this year (with Sania Mirza) and during others has paid off. The 200 points she has already earned should get her back in the top 80 by next week. She has already made the main draw of Roland Garros, which will save her from having to qualify for another Slam, but more importantly the 28-year-old now can see all the results of all of her hard work, and all the massive amount of time that she and her husband Justin have spent on the road trying to get back to respectability in singles.

In the past year, outside of Serena, the talk in the US has been about the late rise of Varvara Lepchenko and the progress of the kids: Stephens, McHale, Keys, Davis etc.

Now the mid-to-late career Mattek is worth talking about just as much and given what a terrific personality she is, that development is very good news for the game. Mattek will face Li Na, who edged Petra Kvitova in two tough sets.

Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic have contested some very good matches over the years but their quarterfinal in Stuttgart was a cracker. Sharapova took the very hard fought and well played match 7-5 4-6 6-4 but Ivanovic did have her chances and with her two quality wins in Fed Cup and two more in Stuttgart she might be considered a top 5 favorite for Roland Garros if she keeps playing this well. Her serve seems to be under control, she is moving very well, cracking her forehand as always and has much more confidence at net. With that said, –and she knows this as she apparently smashed her racket in the locker room after the match — she needs to get wins over the super elite if she is to be a major factor at the Slams again.

For her part, Sharapova won her second straight very long match, the first one coming over Lucie Safarova. The defending champ was up and down, but returned extremely well when she had to, hit some big serves and even showed off some variety, hitting a couple of fine drop volleys, which you almost never see from her. Despite her poor record against Serena Williams the reigning Stuttgart, Rome and Roland Garros champ is the player to beat on red clay until other players show that they can beat her. Sharapova will face Germany