Archives for October 2013

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

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Survival of the Serena

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Serena’s ‘Antics’ Annoy Jankovic

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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

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Russia’s officially names Fed Cup team vs Italy

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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.

The wrong road to the title: Azarenka struggles with Motivation

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Vika has hit bump in the road mentally.


ISTANBUL – It is only the second day of the year-end Championships and we are already hearing about players experiencing burnout and looking forward to vacation next week. The season is a grind, whether it’s been shortened or not, but that kind of talk should be left until the final weekend, not the second day of the fifth most important event of the year when eight of the world’s best players are on site.

Victoria Azarenka, who went down rather quietly to Jelena Jankovic in straight sets, kicked the discussion off. She said much the same last year after her loss to Maria Sharapova in the 2012 semis, with complaints that  she was nicked up. But now she feels fried, even though she has only played 51 matches this year, the least of anyone in the field. Yes, she has been injured at times as well as sick, but she should be able to get her head right for one week before she can take two months off.

But it doesn’t seem like she’ll be able to.

“I think it’s pretty obvious,” she said of how she is struggling to get motivated. “It’s just the bad road, and I have to go through that, because it didn’t happen to me in a long, long time. It’s been a long year.  It’s been a tough year.  It’s been tough two years, so that consistency I have been playing with, it’s sometimes difficult to keep all the time. Everybody goes through tough moments in his or her career, and the important thing is how you come out of it. I just need to battle right now as much as I can.”

Yes she does and given how much mental progress she’s made over the past two years, she should be able to find a way to suit up in her armor and give it a real go against Li Na, who is more than capable of knocking her out of the Championships on Friday. But the Belarussian seems to be having a lot of issues.

Her struggles with injury and illness this year weren’t massive, but the knee and hip injuries she sustained at Wimbledon did set her back some and then the virus she caught in Tokyo seems to have affected her mood, which isn’t uncommon for anyone, but she’s well enough now and needs to make a rapid attitude readjustment. That is, if she cares to.

If anyone has noticed, as well as she played during the US Open Series (except for the third set in in the US Open final against Serena), she is having tremendous trouble holding her serve since Wimbledon. She’s lost pace, accuracy and her kicker isn’t hopping very high. Her camp says she’s having technical issues and that her  injuries have not affected her serve, so then clearly she’s lacking confidence.

Win or lose or lose against Li, Azarenka needs to show the world just why she has been called a great champion. She needs to pull out a brand new shovel, spike into the ground and begin a big dig.

“Definitely it’s tough, in the end of the year to play against the best players, because every match you have to go and dig deep, and sometimes your motivation is not there enough to know the capacity, how deep can you dig,” she said.  “It’s tough for everybody I’m not going to sit here and say that I feel perfectly, but you play back‑to‑back matches.  It’s a little bit tiring, and all the things put together, it makes your body tired. Just mentally tough right now, tough to get things started a little bit.”

Serena Williams says that she can empathize with Azarenka, but she’s 2-0 after her straight set win over Aga Radwanska. She said that she didn’t travel to Istanbul to mail it in. “You’ve just got to decide if you want to or not,” she said.

Serena will face Petra Kvitova in the last match on Thursday night. Kvitova is the 2011 champ and super confident indoors, but defending titlist Williams will be the sternest test she’s faced with a roof over her head in a long time.

Li Na will face Jankovic in the opening match. Here’s my recap of her win over Sara Errani

Radwanska, who is 0-2, will play the second match against Angie Kerber. After the Championships she is going to go on vacation to the beach with her younger sister Urszula. Aga Radwanska and Kerber played a  marathon last year in Istanbul. If  the elder  Radwanska wants to survive another one, she cannot afford to be thinking about which style of bikini she’ll be wearing when she heads south next week.

Federer makes a move in Basel

Any win is a good win for Roger Federer these days, but that’s not the same thing as a good performance. Reaching the quarterfinals of his local event in Basel with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 48 Denis Istomin, he gave the hometown crowds a first-hand look at why their man has had so many problems this season.

Each Federer match in the last few months has been closely watched for signs of either imminent turnaround or permanent stagnation, and this latest contest did little to settle the speculation. His error-prone play early on contrasted with his fight and improved form by the end of the up-and-down contest, leaving only uncertainty about what the next round will bring.

The packed stadium was quickly quieted as Federer began the match moving sluggishly and struggling his wayward forehand, allowing an emboldened Istomin to take the first set. But the 17-time Grand Slam champ did slowly find some rhythm, producing two statement winners — a Rafa-like curving forehand and topspin backhand down the line — to go up 4-2 in the second and announce to the roaring crowd that he had finally arrived.

The defining battle took place early in the third, with Federer missing chances to break in the first game and then finding himself down 0-40 on his own serve before Istomin produced four straight unforced errors to hand back the initiative. Federer also obliged with a few shocking errors, including a missed smash and lurching put-away forehand at net, but managed to hang on to what would be the longest and most significant game of the match.

From that point on, Federer’s shoulders opened up and his opponent’s slumped. Istomin, with one day’s less rest between matches, appeared to be tiring and won only one more game — even though Federer served at only 44 percent during the set.

It may not have been pretty but the win did leave Federer looking a lot better in the Race to London. With his nearest rivals Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet both out in the first round and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic not playing, Federer is now in 7th place in the year-to-date standings. Winning a couple more matches this week would give him a big boost in his attempt to qualify for the year-end event. But he’ll have to play better — or least more consistently — to do it. A 3rd round match against Baby Fed, Grigor Dimitrov, could be in the cards. – Kamakshi Tandon



The Favorites lead off with a Bang

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Serena appears to be nearly unstoppable.


ISTANBUL — The first day of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships at the Sinan Erdem dome started with a whale of a first set between Victoria Azarenka and Sara Errani, with the smaller but quicker Italian throwing up one eye-popping lob winner after another to gain an early lead. But two-time Aussie Open champion Azarenka was clearly rusty and even though she fell behind 5-2, she stuck with her game plan of being patient until she had ball she could wallop.  What was lacking for a while was execution, but then her groundstrokes inched loser to the lines, she began to read the Italian when she was attempting to draw her in with soft drop shots, and she hit her spots with her serve more accurately.

Azarenka wiped off the rust cleanly,  played a headier tiebreaker and then raced way as Errani unusually began to cramp.A 7-6 (7) 6-2 victory for the Belarussian was in her pocket and the favorite in the White Group was feeling a whole lot better about herself than she did when she landed in Istanbul. Recall that after the US Open, she traveled to Asia, caught a virus and did nothing in Tokyo and Beijing. That was on her.

“I felt I didn’t have enough rest,” Azarenka told me. “Really, it took so much out of me that summer with the rehab and playing Cincinnati and playing so well at the US Open.  I just needed that break physically, and I felt so guilty not practicing, and I kept practicing and practicing and practicing, so it really didn’t do me well.”

Next up was the heavy favorite of the tournament, Serena Williams, who absolutely wiped the court with Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-1. Kerber said that she had no chance in the match as Serena served and returned “unbelievably.” Peter Bodo of thought the German tanked the second set. Petra Kvitova and Aga Radwanska ended the session, which was fairly full attendance-wise.You can read my reaction to Kvitova’s win here , but it’s also important to note that Radwanska showed up in her press conference looking like she had cried in the locker room. She has to face Serena on Wednesday night , whom she is 0-7 against and doesn’t feel like she has a much of chance to upset the American. She recently joked that maybe she should try playing Williams left-handed. Maybe she should attempt to tie Serena’s left arm and left foot together and see if she can beat her while she’s falling over.

The other Wednesday matches are Errani versus Li Na (Red Group) and Azarenka versus Jelena Jankovic (White Group) Here is Jankovic discussing her long road back to the top 10.

 Here is why Errani won’t defend her Acapulco title.

Here is my update on the Russian Fed Cup drama, where captain Shamil Tarpischev can’t seem to find one top 100 player to compete with him. Three of his top players will compete in Sofia instead. I will head to Sardinia for the fed Cup final next week. Stan Wawrinka took a big loss in Basel but can still qualify for the ATP World Finals. Tom Berdych also lost, but he should make it to London anyway. The Masters event in Paris/Bercy will be huge this year. Roger Federer did score a win and passed  his buddy Stan in the points race. Azarenka says that she would rather see the men reduce to two out of three sets at the Slams than the women play three out of five.

Prince and Babolat have both introduced new racquet collections.