WTA Finals Singapore ready to rock

Ivanovic going deep would help ticket sales

Ivanovic steps it up in 2014.

By Matt Cronin

Singapore – The BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore will begin on Monday. Here are the eight players, some of which are are on fire and others who are struggling. On Sunday, all the players spoke to what is head. Tennisreporters discusses the field, with TR also asks for players as well as journalists who discuss the field.

Matt Cronin returns
to writing for TR

This is Matt Cronin’s first article for TennisReporters.net since his brain surgery last spring.

Matt has written for Tennis.com and USOpen.org.

Matt: Great to have you back as you return to the work you love and the work the tennis world loves you for!

— Ron Cioffi

Serena Williams: The US No. 1 has not been as dominate as she was in 2013, but Serena found herself believing her game by winning the US Open and snagging her only Slam in 2014 when she needed the most. Now she has the chance to walk away with the WTA 8 final again if she is cracking the ball once again.
Last year in the WTA final in Turkey Serena served and hit her corners when necessary — even when she was hurting — but came through the victory. This year Serena will be careful as she pulled out of Beijing with a knee injury. Williams will play Ana Ivanovic Monday night.
Q.  How important is the year‑end No. 1 ranking to you?  And if you had already had it locked up, do you think you would be here?
WILLIAMS:  I definitely would be here if I already had it locked up.  It’s obviously super important for me.  I love being No. 1; I love being the best.
     But at this at the same time, I’m really glad that I was able to get a slam this year, which was really annoying for me that I wasn’t able to capture one.
     That was something that was super, super, super important, especially for the goals that I was trying to reach.
Simona Halep: The Romanian began to step up last summer and this year she finally showed her self-believe, walking quickly and jumping on the courts. Halep came very close to knocking off  Sharapova in the Roland Garros final, but the Russian turned on the afterburners and nailed his second Slam. However, Halep has been rising quickly and could eventual grab No. 1 – if she can win the WTA 8 and a Slam next year.
 Q.  Do you think that actually, say, in the next year you will become No. 1?
HALEP:  “I cannot say about this because I am very far to No. 1.  So I just want to take the pressure out of me, out of my body, of my mind, and just to be relaxed and to, like I said, to be focused every match.”
Genie Bouchard: The Canadian had become relevant early on and hasn’t stopped, grabbing the semis of Australian and Roland Garros, and playing very close at the lines where she earned the runner-up at Wimbledon. She is contending with a left leg injury but is ready to go.
Q.  When you were here in January, was it possible to look as far ahead as October, and did you think to yourself: I’d like to make it; I want to make it; I’m going to make it here?  What were your thoughts about the year‑end finals in January?
Bouchard: “It’s the craziest thing, because I was with Chrissy [Evert] in this exact room at this table in January launching the WTA Finals and the Road to Singapore.
     So I don’t know who believed that I would be here in October, but being here in January motivated me so much.  It was an amazing city, and seeing the glamorous side of what the finals are inspired me so much to try and make it here.
 Big day for Southern at USTA national Junior Team Tennis Championships. Madison, MS (advanced) and Woodstock, GA play for national titles.
Ana Ivanovic: The Serbian has matured a great deal, becoming much more consistent and winning four titles. She is more aggressive than she has been and is more effective charging the net cords
Q.  Does 2009 [when she won her first and only Slam at Roland Garros] seem like a long time ago?
Ivanovic:   It feels like the other life.  Yeah, definitely does. I think in a way we are very fortunate because we travel so much.  We compete week in, week out.  I feel like there is so many experiences that we have weekly.
     You know, even Auckland seems like two years ago, because so many things happen in the meantime on and off the court.  Also you change a lot.  You change your views on things.
     This is what I feel happens.  So I feel like I’m different person comparing to 2008 or 2009.  I experienced lots of good and bad.  You learn so you much about yourself, too.
     In that sense as well it feels like long time ago.
Maria Sharapova: The world No. 2 recalls back in 2004, in LA and besting Williams in the final, the last time she took down the great Serena. She has played the year pretty well, winning the French Open and two other big wins in Madrid and Beijing. If Serena falters, Sharapova could snare from the top spot to end the year.
Q.  Just talk about 2004, WTA against Serena, just your memory, your thought.
Sharapova:  Well, first I couldn’t believe that I was part of a field at that point in my career.  Yeah, I was in Los Angeles where I had been training with Robert [Lansdorp] for so many years.  It felt like a home tournament in a way for me.  I remember the players.  It was, of course, a very tough field, as always.  Just going through the draw there and the way that I felt and the way I played. I’ve seen some clips as well, very inspiring.  Certainly hope I can do that here again.
Petra Kvitova: The Czech has been much more consistent by being free from injury and rarely backing down. She grabbed the 2014 Wimbledon by striking the ball so   hard that she was untouchable. The lefty recently won Wuhan earlier this month and has a chance to reach the yearend No.1. But she is going to play nearly perfectly to win the crown. She will face Ana Ivanovic on Monday night.
Q.  It seems like your nerves, we don’t see them as much anymore.  Why did that happen this year?
Kvitova: “I’m more relaxed on the court.  I have a little bit more confidence probably.  From the Wimbledon I showed maybe that I can play great tennis again, and that’s really what I missed for the three years. So from that time I think it’s much better.  I can enjoy the tennis, I can really play, and I know that I love to play tennis.  So that’s very important, to know it.
     Yeah, I feel good.  I know that sometimes my game, it’s too risky, but that’s part of the game.  I can live with that, so that’s okay.”
Agnieszka Radwanska: The Pole has been very consistent over the past five years or so but has not been fantastic this season. She did win Montreal and reached the final of Indian Wells, but falling to Dominika Cibulkova in the semis of Australia has really hurt her overall. She needs to step up big time and end the year at a high note.
Q.  What would make you really happy at the end of this year and then all of next year?  What would make you super happy?
RADWANSKA: Well, of course, I think winning Grand Slam as well.  I think this is the tournament that we all waiting for to get a title.  I didn’t do it yet; I was close few times but still didn’t get it.
     So, I think winning Grand Slam, that will make me really, really happy.
Caroline Wozniacki: Even though she is rising again, Wozniacki is only reached the top 8 when Li Na retired. However the former No. 1 has played better than in years, reaching the US Open and stepping inside the court at hard courts. Wozniacki, from Denmark, may not have figured out to upset Williams, but she is confidence to trouble anyone else at the WTA.
Q.  As you were sort of slipping down and then making your way back up, did it feel like it was a long way to go, or did it feel like you were pretty close to where you had been?
Wozniacki: No, didn’t feel like a long way to go.  I never really looked at the rankings, but I definitely totally stopped when I went down to 18.  I’m like: This is depressing.  I don’t want to be down here.
     At the end of day, I just told myself, “Doesn’t matter if you’re No. 1 or No. 18.  At the end of the day, you have to compete with the same players.”  A lot of girls play so well now so it’s never easy.  I just thought if I play well, the ranking will come back up soon.
     I started playing well. I started finding my form, and then the ranking just came up really quickly.

15 love: 15 thoughts on the WTA, from the winning Russians, to Bouchard, to Cibulkova


APavs (right) won her first Premier title at the Paris Indoors


Given Maria Sharapova’s physical struggles over the past eight months now, it could be argued that  Ekaterina Makarova has been the most impressive of the Russians over the same period. The lefthander has a lot of game and showed that once again by winning her second WTA title at the PTT Pattaya Open by besting surprise finalist , Karolina Pliskova. In singles (not doubles where she is very solid with Elena Vesnina) she has been more of an upset maker than a dependable top 10-player, but she is headed in the right direction.

Is she better than Anastasia  Pavlyuchenkova, who is her typical fashion had a sterling week that raised eye brows to her overall potential when she won possibly the last edition of the Paris Indoors?  She bested Carla Suarez, Angie Kerber,  Sharapova and then  Sara  Errani 3-6 6-2 6-3 in the final. It was the first time that she was able to overcome three Top 10 players in the same tournament and it was her first Premier-level title and sixth overall. So now what for the hard hitter, who has been through a slew of coaches, has found herself out of shape at times, and has lacked variety. When she is on, like she was this week, her potential is very clear: top 5. The 22 year old has a great base off the ground, a very good serve, is powerful and can be resourceful. Perhaps she is finally ready to make a sustained push, but let’s see her compete at that level for the next three months before we make any serious projection that is sustainable.

Watching Sharapova double fault her way to a loss to Pavlyuchenkova, it’s evident that her right shoulder is not completely healed yet. She will need at least another month if not more, before she is at full strength.

Kerber has had a so-so year and now another notable lefty, Petra Kvitova, has pulled out of Fed Cup with breathing problems. The Czech has not been fully healthy in a good three years. Will she ever be?

Yes,  Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard  is attractive and very good player with clear top-10 potential, but before we anoint her the next marketing dynamo, let’s see her sign some major new deals, OK? She hasn’t penned a big, non-tennis one to date, the market is tough for female athletes to begin with and non-No. 1s or non- Grand Slam winners do not make the big bucks. Sharapova is the only one to make over $20 million off court annually, Serena Williams and Li Na are the only players to make over $12 million off  court, Caroline Wozniacki makes over  $11 million,  Victoria Azarenka makes over $9, and Ana Ivanovic makes over $6. Aga Radwanska makes over $2 million, but she has been a Slam finalist and consistent top-5 player. Bouchard is from a wealthier country than Poland is, but at best this season, unless she wins a major, perhaps she pulls in $1 million off court, not a number to sneeze at, but not a head turning number that would match the business press she is receiving.

Michael Mortensen, who once coached Li, is now coaching Caroline Wozniacki  on a two-month trial basis. That she hasn’t signed him for the rest of the year shows that she doesn’t trust that it will work out. Sympathy with the Dane though, as the word off court is that it was Thomas Hogstedt who decided to stay in South Africa to coach two juniors rather than join her in Dubai. Apparently he has a good reason for doing so, but a busted contract is just that – a broken one.

Readers of this space know that I love Fed and Davis Cups, so I am  disappointed to see Serena and Sloane Stephens not playing for the US unless they are still truly hurt, but if both show up in Doha the week after next we know that is not the case. Azarenka should also be playing for Belarus, but she’s not.

I will give Italy’s top four a pass this time around because they have been so committed to their team for the past five years.

The top 13 Russians who are not hurt and were asked to play should be embarrassed for not competing against Australia. A tradition of greatness, which they have, matters to a country, not just money, especially when the smart and caring Anastasia Myskina is the head coach for that tie.

You have to wonder where Azarenka is headed after failing to defending her Ausralian Open title. Doing it three times in a row is big ask for any player, but she ripped herself for playing stupid in her loss to Radwanska and can get emotionally down on her self. Her play during the next two months on hard courts will be a good indication of whether she can make a serious push at Roland Garros.

Radwanska should not have been loudly complaining about having to play two straight days after her loss to Cibulkova, but had that been a night match and she been given another few hours to rest, the result might have been different.

Regardless, I still see Li Na winning the title, she was playing that well.

Don’t think that Ivanovic was pleased in the least by her performance in her loss to Bouchard. She saw that as a winnable contest.

Simona Halep has clearly improved a lot over the past seven months and has cracked the top 10 for the first time, but she was dreadful in her quarterfinal loss to Cibulkova in the quarters of the Aussie Open. Halep is still lacking super elite confidence.

Now ranked No. 13 Cibulkova only has 280 points to defend through Miami. The Aussie Open finalist doesn’t want to discuss why she hasn’t cracked the top 10 yet, but she does has an opening to reach her goal in the next two months. She is about 700 points behind No. 10 Halep, so she does have work to do, but she has the game and now apparently the calm head to pull it off.

Djokovic vs.Nadal stranglehold broken, but Rafa & bloody hand survive another day

rafa hand ao


MELBOURNE – Given that they essentially dominated the tour in 2013, the odds of Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic meeting in another Grand Slam final were quite high entering the 2014 Australian Open. But tennis times always change, even if they do so at glacial pace.

Djokovic has not lost a match since the 2013 US Open final to Nadal entering the event, and had taken care of his matches handily. But finally, a player with flair and courage ended his win streak when Stan Wawrinka took him out 2‑6, 6‑4, 6‑2, 3‑6, 9‑7 in a five-set classic. The Swiss was overdue for a win over the Serbian, especially after he had lost two five-setters to him at the 2013 Aussie Open and US Open. But he still had to earn it, or at least keep pushing Djokovic until he made a couple of critical and unthinkable errors, which he did in the last two points of the match.

“I had to find solution,” said Wawrinka who at times thought that he might never reach the finish line. “I had to fight within myself to fight against him and try to keep my line during the match.”

The 22-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov could have done much the same against Nadal, going deep inside himself in order to convince himself that he could actually win the match but he does not have the 28-year-old Wawrinka’s experience. So, even when he was out playing the Spaniard and Nadal’s blistered and bloody left hand look ready to fall off, he could not come up with sustained brilliance when it mattered most. The young shotmaker played poorly in the second and third-set tiebreaks and fell 3-6 7-6 (3) 7-6 (7) 6-2.

He missed two critical and easy forehands in the third-set breaker, one on his own set point and another on Nadal’s. After the Spaniard had missed an easy inside out forehand – a shot he struggled with most of the day – Dimitrov had the whole court open at 6-5 after hitting an excellent serve and he yanked an easy forehand wide. Dimitrov then put away a sweet backhand volley to 7-6, but Nadal responded with smart net rush of his own and grabbed the point with a nifty forehand volley. With Nadal holding a set point at 8-7, Dimitrov looked at a sitter forehand in the middle of the court, leaped up in the air and again yanked it wide. The set was gone and so were his chances at a win as Nadal out muscled him the rest of the way.

“I’m a bit shattered,” Dimitrov said. “It’s tough losing that match, my first quarterfinal. I came out expecting nothing less than to win. … Of course I’m deeply disappointed. I’m not going to lie. All the credit to Rafa. I think he played a great match. He’s not one of the best, I think he’s the best player right now. Of course I shed a few tears, but it should hurt. It should hurt. And it does hurt, so …  I can take a lot of things, but at the moment I’m just a bit all over the place.”

Nadal’s left hand contains a huge blister the size of an Australian 50 cent coin. He can’t serve hard because he’s afraid that his racquet is going to fall out of his hand. He is hoping that in two days – when he takes on Roger Federer – that his hand will feel a little better and he can serve with more force, but he suffered quite a bit on Wednesday.  Not as much as Djokovic did, who has already headed back to Serbia, but enough to wear a grimace on his face all day long.

But Nadal does not  seem to mind as his desire burns deep. Next up for him will be one of his greatest rivals, Federer, who wore down Andy Murray in four sets, and who has been on fire at the tournament. However, Federer hasn’t beaten Nadal at a major since 2007 Wimbledon. Even if Nadal is dripping blood, he will fight like crazy to each the final.

“The emotion to keep playing, the motivation to win the match makes you resist little bit more and little bit more, and you always want little bit more,” Nadal said.  “You are ready mentally, you can always resist little bit more.”

Radwanska finally gets over on Azarenka again

Agnieszka Radwanska was not in the same position as Wawrinka or Dimitrov was entering their matches,  but she had been in a bad way the past two years against fellow 24-year-old Victoria Azarenka. On Wednesday she played more freely against then than she has at any time in recent memory and pulled off a 6-1 5-7 6-0 upset. Azarenka complimented Radwanska on playing amazingly well, but also said that she was too predictable and wasn’t thinking hard enough. But for Radwanska – who blew a huge chance at Wimbledon last year to win a maiden Slam–  it was a standout performance, especially from the mental side. Her creative side and quickness is always there but her confidence is elusive against the elite.

The little magician has admitted that it took her a while get over her loss to Sabine Lisicki in the semifinals of 2013 Wimbledon when she was the highest remaining seed left in he draw, but she found a way to look at the future.

“Of course, losing matches like at Wimbledon, it’s always disappointing. It’s kind of painful, as well, especially that it was the semifinal of a Grand Slam,” she said. “But I think you’re playing so many tournaments, so many very important matches, that it takes really not much time to forget. I think every Grand Slam is a different story. I’m trying not to really think about other matches, especially tough matches that I lost.”

Radwanska will face Dominika Cibulkova in the semis on Thursday, whom she says she has known since they were facing off as 8- or 9-year-olds in Eastern Europe. She will be favored in that match and will be seen as an equal to Li Na should they meet in the final, assuming Li finds away to put down Canadian teen Genie Bouchard. Then another golden opportunity will be presented to her.

“I think this is the level everybody playing great tennis,” Radwanska said. “Well, it’s a bit more pressure.  This is the semifinal of a Grand Slam.  Especially here, first time for me.  Hopefully I will play the same tennis as today.”

The wrong road to the title: Azarenka struggles with Motivation

Azarenka IW 13 TR MALT6342

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

Serena BOW 12 MALT0484

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 TENNIS.com 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.

Serena & Cirstea produce in the clutch

serena wins wta champs 12

Williams ran gamely with Aga.


FROM THE ROGERS CUP IN TORONTO – Agnieszka Radwanska  came somewhat close to finally defeating Serena Williams, but she was unable to do so, not because she didn’t believe she could do it, but because the American played more accurate and courageous tennis at the end of both sets of her 7-6 (3) 6-4 victory.

Williams was not at the very top of her game, so it was perhaps the Pole’s best chance ever to defeat her,  but she could not get across the finish line because Serena either came up with some mind -boggling winners at key moments, or Radwanska made the wrong play.

The world number four played more aggressively than usual, which sometimes played in her favor and sometimes did not. She is more comfortable in longer, well constructed rallies, but she felt the only way to get into those was to get Serena off balance. She did a fair amount of times, but not enough at critical junctures.

“It was really close and I had my chances but wasn’t really taking them,” Radwanska said. “It’s always turning against me, especially when you play a top player. I was really trying to play aggressive and going forward, but she’s really playing deep and strong balls. It’s really hard to do anything.”

The  match was very fun to watch, perhaps even more entertaining than their 2012 three-set Wimbledon final because there were more lengthy rallies as the slower court at Toronto allowed both players to dig out tough balls. But when push came to shove in the tiebreaker, it was all about Serena.

Radwanska couldn’t pull off a running backhand pass and went down 4-2 and then couldn’t handle a Williams slice serve out wide to 5-2. Serena then missed a lob on the run, but then won a wild point when she misplayed a lob and was forced to short-arm an overhead and eventually took a Radwanska ball out of the air and nailed a forehand swing volley winner. In vintage Serena fashion, she then cracked a big ace down the T to win the tiebreak 7-3.

Williams called for the trainer in between sets and took a pill for what she later said was a stomach problem. She has been irritable most of the week and screamed toward her box on a number of occasions, but said she wasn’t yelling at her coach.

Radwanska broke Williams to 2-1 in the second set but she could not maintain her edge, as she was broken back to 3-3 with a two hot shots to the corners and a ear-splitting overhead.

At 4-4, Williams fought off a break point with a  forehand crosscourt winner and then she held with a forehand down the line.

Serving at 4-5, Radwanska knew her back was against the wall  and couldn’t come up with a single winner while Williams ended the contest  with an gorgeous inside out backhand winner and a  forehand crosscourt side.

“She was moving very well and running a lot of good rallies that I think we didn’t have before<’ Radwanska noted.  “I think she was really playing great match today.

Williams added that she knew what to do come crunch time.

“I really tried to be more aggressive towards the end,” she said. “Those were obviously really key times of the match. I don’t think I played my best, and I always knew that, worst‑case scenario, I could do a little better.”

Serena  will face Sorana Cirstea, whose amazing  run continued when she shocked  Li Na 6-1, 7-6 (5). Once again 23-year-old Cirstea was the better player in the clutch. She has now beaten Caroline Wozniacki, Jelena Jankovic, Petra Kvitova and Li in succession. It’s by far the best run of her career. Her first serve has become a weapon, she’s much steadier than she once was, she is more fit and constructs points more intelligently. And she does not lose her head.

One of her coaches. Darren Cahill, told her to take charge and that she did in, blowing out Li in the first set and coming back from 1-4 down in the second set to win the match. In fact she also came from 1-4 down in the tiebreak. She stayed strong while Li imploded.

“Even if I was down 4‑1, I still had the belief and still tried to focus on each point,” she said. “I think this kind of mentality is really helping me to take the pressure a bit off and to be able to be aggressive and take charge.  Because I know, for example, a player like Li Na, she’s not going to give it to me.  If I want to win this, I have to step it up.  This is one of the things that Darren said. She’s not going to give it to you.  She’s a top 5 player and that’s why she’s there, because she’s doing the right things. So if you want to win this, you have to earn it.  I had to win it on my terms.  I’m glad I finished in two.”


Happiness is no tennis at the dinner table

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‘Li Na, Li Na, do this Li Na.’

FROM THE ROGER’S CUP IN TORONTO – Li Na and her husband Dennis don’t talk tennis at the dinner table. Or at least away from tennis sites. That’s likely why every time she talks about him she does so with a smile on her face. “Out of the tennis court we never talk about tennis, so that’s why we can keep a long marriage.”

LI had another reason to smile on Thursday after she edged Ana Ivanovic 3-6 6-1 7-6 (5) in a match that for little while appeared to be in the Serbian’s hands, but once again she could not find a way to best a top player and went down. She was up 5-2, served for the contest at 5-3, but then Li began to deliver hammer shots with her devastating backhand crosscourt and down the line, with slice and body serves and some deep and impossible to touch forehands. Ivanovic did not choke the match, but she could not seem to bring her ‘A’ game when it mattered most. At 5-5 in the tiebreaker, Li nailed a forehand crosscourt winner. On match point with the ball into her favored forehand side, Ivanovic flew one long.

Li’s coach of one year now, Carlos Rodriguez is not with her on tis trip, but they are communicating via email. He will be in Cincinnati with her next week. Having Rodriguez around has even helped her marriage and how Dennis deals with her on court when Carlos isn’t around.

“Every time [Carlos] was like say, Relax.  I say, I already relaxed.  He say, No, you should even more.  I was like, Okay.  But it’s very tough, because my husband also is my ex‑coach.  Sometimes he also has some idea, but if he say something I didn’t want listening all the time. So now I think he got a little bit smart.  If he want to do something he talk to Carlos, and then Carlos talk to me.  I was like, Okay, I have to do that because Carlos say I have to do.  Because if like two coaches say the different thing, it was a little bit of a fight because I didn’t know which one I listen.  Now I think they do pretty good job.  They make together first and then say, Li Na, you have to do this.  Li Na, you have to do that.  Same like here, because Carlos is not here, but my husband always say, Oh, Carlos say you should… So I was like, Okay.”

Li one of the WTA’s most endearing characters. She has a terrific sense of humor and enjoys a good laugh even at her own expense. She will have another tough contest in the next round when she faces Bank of the West Classic Classic champion Dominika Cibulkova who took down  Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-3 7-6. Domi has her grove back and she will be more than pleased to play powerball with Li.

Two other women who can smack the ball moved ahead and will face off. Defending champ Petra Kvitova muscled up and took a  6-3, 6-3 victory over SoCal Open victor Sam Stosur, who looked a little fried. Kvitova knew that so she made sure to hang tough in long rallies. But she does not feel she can take that kind of risk against Sorana Cirstea who had perhaps had the best  18 hours periods of her life when she fought off two match points against Caro Wozniacki in a three hour match that ended at almost midnight and then came back on Thursday afternoon and took out Jelena Jankovic 6-3 6-4.

“I think I made a huge step forward today by backing up the win from yesterday, because I think this was one of the issues in the past,” Cirstea said. “I would have a good win but then I couldn’t really back it up.

Now I feel I’m more solid, and I’m taking every match the same and not focusing so much, ‘Oh, I just had a big win.’ I’m like, ‘Today is a new day, new match.’ I just have to do the same things I’m doing every single day. This kind of mentality, it’s helping me.”

Marion Bartoli retired down 7-6 1-0 to Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia and either has an  abdominal injury or she just exhausted from Wimbledon. Read here.

Serena Williams smoked  Kirsten Flipkens 6-0 6-3 and showed the Belgium just how hard it is to best two sisters in one event: Flipkens was the one who beat Venus Williams in round one.

Agnieszka Radwanska played the big points better than Sloane Stephens in a 6-1 7-6 win and said the young American just needs more experience.

Sara Errani is less than thrilled with Alize Cornet but beat her anyway France 7-5 7-6.   Read about their ‘Vamos v Allez’  tiff here.


Hampton still a bit understated as Keys grabs attention


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Madison’s huge potential is clear, but Hampton is developing into a big time player.

By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – The Emirates Airline US Open Series kicked off on the WTA side when Jamie Hampton strode into her first all access hour as she is seeded for the first time at an event, and is No. 4  seed at at Stanford. At WTA 700 level tournaments, all four top seeds must do pre-event press. On the same Monday, last year’s finalist CoCo Vandeweghe had to qualify for the tournament, even though she’s American and performed wonderfully last year before being stopped by Serena Williams, but tennis tends to have short memory and IMG, which owns the tournament, has its own set of priorities when it comes to handing out wild cards.

Two ex Stanford players – Mallory Burdette (who lost) and Nicole Gibbs (who won) – got WCs and that’s understandable given that the Stanford community has always supported the tournament and you have to take care of your committed (and paying) fan base. Daniela Hantuchova got another, as she’s a proven decent draw, and the fourth was given to IMG client Ajla Tomljanovic, a promising up and comer from Croatia who was promptly wiped out by Stefanie Voegele.

The Bank of the West suffered two big pullouts this year and a significant no-entry: Maria Sharapova decided not to try and test her hip injury too early and also wanted to spend time with her new coach Jimmy Connors and sent her regrets; Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli decided at the last minute that she needed some rest and she withdrew from Stanford and Carlsbad; and Serena  decided not to defend her title and instead compete last week on clay in Sweden, where she easily won the title against a weak field.

So Stanford is left with a very decent, but not great field headed by the creative No. 4 Aga Radwanska, whom almost everyone loves to watch play but not as many show up see in person as they would for a Sharapova or Williams; the up and down veteran Sam Stosur, who is trying to put together her first good two-month stretch this season; the fun yet volatile Dominika Cibulkova, who has been injured way too much this year; and Hampton, whom few are talking about as a Bank of the West title contender even though she’s cracked the top 30 and her US Open doubles partner, Madison Keys, has not yet. But because of Keys’ enormous potential she is the one who is being tagged as the young American who could actually win the Stanford title. Keys, who crushed eight seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2 6-2 on Monday,  surely does have a chance to reach the quarters and possibly face, believe it or not, Hampton, her friend whom she practices with constantly and whom she will play doubles with at the US Open.

But make no mistake – Hampton is very, very good. She may not have Keys’ outright power but she has a lot of pop and she moves more fluidly. As she is becoming more comfortable in her own skin and has become a more self-aware player, her shot selection has become more intelligent and she can also rip the ball off both wings, especially with her forehand. Plus she is a real jock who loves her sport and spends many waking hours thinking about it, and she likely dreams about it, too. She has no points to defend until the US Open, so it’s entirely possible that she could grab a top 16 seed in New York if she stays healthy.

After playing eight matches at Eastbourne and reaching the final, she fell in tired fashion to Sloane Stephens in the first round of Wimbledon. Like Stephens, at this point, she is ahead of Keys’ on the learning curve. But she is 23, while Stephens is 20 and Keys only 18. Everyone knows that Madison is coming hard, but at least for this year, its possible that Hampton and Stephens—who have done better at the Slams – may be the players outside of Serena Williams to watch at the US Open.

Here’s Hampton on being seeded for the first time at Stanford – or anywhere for that matter.

“It’s nice to go into a tournament fresh and it’s really excited for me and shows how far I come,” she said.

Radwanska on the ESPN the Body Issue

In a piece I did for Reuters here,  Radwanska says she  was upset about the reaction from some of Poland’s large Catholic population over her decision to pose nude for ESPN the Body Issue. I didn’t read every comment leveled at her, but did read a few which contained the word ‘immoral.’ Anyone who saw the ‘semi-nude’ issue – which celebrates athletic bodies and is not gratuitous in the least — and thinks that it was immoral is not thinking clearly. As someone who grew up in a large Catholic family that contains priests and was an altar boy until I could get a real job (uh, that’s a joke), I can attest to a diversity of opinion amongst the Catholic community as to the what is moral and what is not. However, at the end of my interview with Radwanska, I mentioned how crazy it is for any Catholic to object to those photos given that anyone who  has  looked at the works of the great Catholic painters (does Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel ring any bells?) and not seen nudity celebrated amongst the saints and she agreed: it’s absolutely nuts to suggest that she was doing anything but showing that a healthy physical lifestyle can be beneficial to everyone. People who live a lifestyle that includes constant exercise and a pursuit of excellence are not only worth looking at, but are great examples for kids.  I am pretty sure that the man who inspired the writing of the New Testament would agree with that.

This is the first of 21 straight reports/bogs/columns that I will be doing from Stanford, Carlsbad and Toronto, so stay tuned.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


Tennisreporters Insider: What is troubling Djokovic?

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Haas is peaking well past his prime.

Taken as an isolated incident, Tommy Haas