Everybody hurts, sometimes

It is August now, which is wonderful, because in the United States, it can be very sunny and warm. Almost everyone loves the summer. Who wouldn’t?

However, the players have played on court for six months. They have played on the hard courts, on clay, on grass. It’s taking a toll on some of the marquee players, who are resting their legs, arms, stomach, back and eyes. If you are very tired, then why not stop for a month? Many players, men and women, will continue to practice almost every day. For the entire year. That is very risky. 

The top men are pretty darn hurt. Stan Wawrinka announced he would not play Montreal, Cincinnati and defend his US Open title, due to a knee injury. The former No. 1 Novak Djokovic is done for the year. Andy Murray withdrew from the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The same goes with Marin Cilic. Only Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal will play Montreal, which is great, because they are the best two players ever. But, can they be healthy when the US Open begins in a month?

At Stanford, Maria Sharapova won a match, but the next day, her left arm was super sore, so she had to leave. She won’t play at Toronto, or maybe not in Cincy. She returned in April, and she really wanted to play again. On court, she looks pretty good. But immediately, her body froze and she couldn’t play on grass.

Her arm has to be 100 percent to play, or she will get hurt again and she won’t be able to win another Grand Slam. She is a great player, but Sharapova has figure out what is wrong with her health.

The two-time Slam champ Garbine Muguruza says she can be consistent and super powerful this summer on the hard courts. At this point, she’s the favorite at the USO. 

In Washington, Nick Kyrgios retired with a shoulder injury. He retires all the time. He is great to watch — when he is on — but he doesn’t take advice.

Milos Raonic versus Jack Sock should be a terrific contest. … Kevin Anderson is playing extremely well as he upset Dominic Thiem 7-6(7) in the 3rd. … Some pretty decent players are in Los Cabos, with Tomas Berdych and Sam Querrey.

CoCo Vandeweghe once reached the final in Stanford. Can she do it again? As long as she concentrates … We would assume that Petra Kvitova can win the tournament, but it will take a few weeks until she locks in again. 

Another double bagel for Radwanska over Cibulkova in BOW final?

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By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD, DAY 6 – Partly due to necessity, players sometimes rewrite their own personal histories in order to be able to move ahead with their careers after devastating defeats. After she bested Sorana Cirstea 6-4 6-0 in the semifinals of Stanford and discussed a possible meeting in the final with  Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova reflected back on the 2013 Sydney final, when the Pole blistered her 6‑0, 6‑0 to win the title.

At Stanford, Cibulkova commented that if one had seen the first set, you could see it was closer than the score indicated and to some degree that was true, but I sat courtside that warm night in Sydney and it wasn’t that close. In fact, Radwanska played incredibly well and Cibulkova imploded to the point of no return and had a mental collapse that belies her immense talent and at times, an enormous amount of self belief against other members of her generation. Here is what I wrote then:

“Lots of things are going to have to change for Dominica Cibulkova in the next few days after Aga Radwanska blistered her 6‑0, 6‑0 to win the [Sydney] title. The Slovakian was ridiculously erratic early and then she became scared and then she couldn’t keep a ball in the court of any  kind. You could tell that the super steady Radwanska – who seemed to read where she was going all night long – felt a little bad for her, but as Radwanska said later, this is tennis and in tennis things happen and you never ever take your foot off the pedal, even when you can sense your foe’s meltdown and all you have to is get the ball back in the court.

 “In the beginning I think she wanted too much,” Radwanska said. “Then I think in the beginning also a little bit nervous.  This is a final, so it’s always a little bit different than the ones before.  I think in the second set she really didn’t know what to do.  I think I was just playing at same level whole match, and that’s it. It’s always a little bit different because in your head it’s just like, I just lost set 6-0 and I have to win the game.  It’s always tough to play with this feeling.  I think she also had those thoughts in her head and it’s always a little bit harder…Too many mistakes from her.”’

 More than too many mistakes as Cibulkova, who had played so brilliantly in taking out Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani and Angie Kerber, fell into a black hole of erratic and nervous play which she might not get out in Melbourne. She had no defense and her money shot, her forehand, disappeared. How bad was it? Listen to her:

 “When I lost that 1‑0 again in the second set, I just completely kind of break down and stop thinking about what I have to do and how to play well.  I was just thinking, Oh, my God, what is happening? I was not choking, but I was starting to think about the score,.  Until then I had some strategy that I want to do.  And then after 6‑0, 1‑0, 2‑0, I was like, Oh, my God, what is happening?  Now it’s like the score that didn’t want to be in.  After I stopped thinking and I was just thinking about the score all the time.  After I just wanted to stay in a rally with her, but it’s just not something I’m used to d.  I’m just start to play with less power, and that’s not where I feel comfortable. Then I just didn’t want to do the mistakes and then I was doing even more mistakes.  It was just like this, going round [in a spiral]. I knew that she would not give my one easy ball, and it was making my frustration even bigger.

How often does a world No. 15 lose to a world No. 4 6-0, 6-0 in a final. Hardly ever. How often does the notable player who was double bageled, come back at a Slam a few days later and go on a major run? Has it ever happened?

While Cibulkova chances of reaching the second week of Melbourne may have totally disappeared, Radwanska, who went off into the Sydney night in search of  big piece of cheesecake, is feeling very good about herself.

Radwanska did not end of having a great Aussie Open [Li Na, whom she had beaten in the Sydney semis,  punched her out in the quarters], and true to the projection Cibulkova had a disastrous Aussie Open, falling to [who?] qualifier Valeria Savinykh in the second round. Sometime after that she watched the first set of her loss to Radwanska so she could learn form her mistakes. That’s a great idea as it shows she’s not hiding from what has occurred. But I am by no means convinced she can turn things around on Sunday in Palo Alto as on Saturday I could hear her voice quiver a bit – not because she thinks that Radwanska can wipe her off the court if she herself plays well,  but because she fears playing so badly and nervously again. Hopefully for fans both will bring their best because it could be a cracker of a final. After Radwanska’s clinical 6-3 6-2
win over  Jamie Hampton in the semis, the Pole is looking confident again, so she will enter the final a substantial favorite and should she win the title, perhaps she will be able to forget her emotionally devastating loss to Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon semis, a   Grand Slam she admits was on her racket.


Cibulkova playing a “little bit smarter”


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Domi is hoping to someday match the feats of jr. rivals Azarenka and Wozniacki

By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD – Dominica Cibulkova will likely face this question every year for the rest of her career: why have two women whom she faced off against in the juniors, Victoria Azarenka, and Caroline Wozniacki, been able to reach No.1, and she hasn’t? The Slovak was born in 1989, the same year that Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sabine Lisicki and Yanina Wickmayer were. Right behind them 1990 babies Wozniacki and Sorana Cirstea, whom she also saw plenty of in the juniors and will play in Bank of the West semis.

Given how hard she hits the ball, it would be ridiculous to say that because Cibulkova is short that she is always facing an uphill battle power- wise. She can crack groundies with anyone and is pretty fast. Clearly, at 5-foot-3, her serve will never be a big weapon, but her first serve is very decent. Radwanska faces the same challenge and her overall results have been better than Cibulkova’s. Even Lisicki just reached a Slam final. So perhaps “Domi’s” lack of a big title is in her head.

“Tennis at this level is 80 percent mental so when you are well prepared mentally, you handle it better on court,” Cibulkova said. “Sometimes my emotions go through me and then I don’t play the same tennis, or when it’d starting to get tight I start to think more, so maybe I go for too much because I want to go against the emotions. What I need to get into the top 10 is to play the same level.”

Cibulkova pulled off a fine 7-5, 6-3 win over Urszula Radwanska in the quarters, who pulled muscle in her right ankle in the third game of the second set. The younger Radwanska is a tougher out than she used to be, and is more than just a  counterpuncher, but she prefers longer points while Cibulkova likes to slug it out – for the most part. She can play more patiently at times and with the help of her coach Matej Liptak, made a strategic shift to go down the line more rather than constantly going crosscourt.

“She’s really good at reading the game and what I did good was changing, so she couldn’t read it and didn’t know what to do anymore.”

Cibulkova, who understands Polish, heard Radwanska complaining about the court (“it’s to fast,” it’s too fast”) and knew she had a mental edge. She can hit flat and through the court. But in order to close out the match, she had to mix it up. However, she does not think she’s peaked intellectually as a player.

“I wouldn’t say a much smarter player,” she said.

Cibulkova needs to be though if she going to realize her top-10 dreams. She has had an up and down season, mostly due to injury, but she has cracked the top 15 before and is chock full of ambition. She is still often caught in between being a first strike demon and being more of a  conservative player. Working the points more would benefit her, but when she gets on a  roll she can’t resist going for the corners. Sometimes, like for abut half of her win over Radwanska, her balls kiss them.

Cibulkova does admit that she still does compare herself to her peer group from the juniors, but not in negative way where she gets depressed because she hasn’t had their success, but in a more a positive way where she treats them just like she did when they traded strokes as kids—as equals. She will surely do the same when she plays another slugger in Cirstea on Saturday afternoon.

“Of course that why when I am going to play against Caroline or Azarenka and they were No. 1, I’m not playing against No.1, but someone I’ve known since juniors,” she said.



Lepchenko no longer living in bubble & not counting points

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Lepchenko’s year got off to an ominous start when her father collapsed in Brisbane.


By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD, DAY 2 – 2013 started off the wrong way for Varvara Lepchenko and it hasn’t gotten much better since, although she is hopeful she has turned the corner.

How emotionally trying was her start to the year? Consider this: just before her first round match at the season’s first event in Brisbane, she was walking out to transport with her father and sometimes coach Peter. He told her wasn’t feeling very well and all of the sudden he collapsed to the ground, and had to be rushed to the hospital where doctors discovered he had a multiple ulcers which were sapping his blood supply to the tune of 60 percent of his total. A strong and driven man who Varvara says tends to stress out too much, Peter did recover, but she was out of sorts to the point where her focus was nowhere to be found in her 6-2 6-1 loss to Serena in a match she was looking forward to.

Usually, like many players, she finds the court to be a refuge where she can put her off court problems behind her. But not on that day as reality slammed her harder than a Williams’ bullet forehand into the chest.

“It’s different when someone is in a very critical state and it can make a big difference in your life,” she told TennisReporters.net at Stanford. “It was very hard to concentrate.  I am very close to him. It gave me a totally different perspective on life. I was just living in my bubble. There are so many other things in life more important than just tennis.”

Lepchenko had come into 2013 with a career high year-end ranking of No. 21, She had the best season of her life in 2012, where she reached the fourth round of Roland Garros, the semis of Seoul and the quarterfinals three times including when she qualified for Madrid.

But she wasn’t thrilled with her movement coming into 2013 and couple that with having to switch roles from being cared for to caretaker for her dad during the month of January and her Australian season went down the drain.

But then cast into a major role in a Fed Cup tie against Italy away on clay, she responded brilliantly in singles. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez knew that the lefthander was perhaps the only player outside of Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens (both of whom were absent) who could take down the might Italians on red dirt and she rose to challenge, battling past Roberta Vinci on day one and then smoking 2012 Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani on day 2.

A native of Uzbekistan who didn’t become a US citizen until the fall of 2011, Lepchenko has been dying to picked for Fed Cup. She loved being one of the team leaders and the go-to player, but she had caught a virus that weekend and after her match against Errani she was spent. However, Fernandez had to pick her for doubles to partner with Liezel Huber because rookie Jaime Hampton was way off her game and last minute substitute Melanie Oudin was having back issues. Lepchenko says that she wished she didn’t have to play the doubles, but understood why Fernandez took the risk of going with her because she has actually become a very competent doubles player and was on a roll. She was the captain’s only realistic option, but she was too tired to have a positive effect on the match and Errani and Vinci stopped she and Huber in what would have been an incredible upset abroad.

“I had nothing left,” Lepchenko said.

The she experienced about the same thing that Slovakia’s Dominica Cibulkova did during the next few weeks. Another top-25 player, Cibulkova had given it all in her nation’s 3-2 win over Serbia in Fed Cup, collapsing with body cramps on day two in marathon match. Like Cibulkova, Lepchenko still felt obligated to try and play Doha, which a Premier 5 level event that players who sign up for it must at least attend and if they don’t try and compete the face ranking (and possibly financial) penalties. So even though she had a fever, Lepchenko tried to complete her match against Klara Zakopalova, but couldn’t and finally retired down 7-6 (8) 3-0.

“That was terrible. I felt so awful,” she said of her physical state.

One of the reasons why there are still so many players dealing with multiple injuries – some small and some significant – is because they don’t stop and take time off to heal. The tennis calendar is a gerbil wheel and unless you are already an accomplished player who has won majors and has a lot of money in the bank courtesy of massive off court earnings (i.e. Serena and Maria Sharapova), it’s not easy to skip big events even if your body is telling your to do so. Lepchenko was new to the top 25 and had elite player goals, so instead of skipping one or two of Doha, Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami; she played every single one and compiled a 1-3 record. Admittedly, that was not a smart thing to do.

Armed with a dangerous left-handed forehand, slice serve and a pretty good two handed backhand, Lepchenko did have some reasonable expectations on the clay and while she didn’t play badly, unlike in 2012 when she was finding ways to gut out three setters, this time she lost a series of crucial ones to Venus Williams (Charleston), Svetlana Kuznetsova (Estoril), Kaia Kanepi (Brussels) and to Angelique Kerber in the third round of Roland Garros. There she had her chances, but she had suffered a foot injury in her second round win and wasn’t quick enough. She went down 6-4 in the final set.

Once again, she stubbornly didn’t rest long enough and lost both of her matches on grass. However, her first round defeat at Wimbledon did give her time to go home and heal, but she often drives herself too hard and her father had to tell her to take a day off before her 6-2 6-4 win over Michelle Larcher de Brito at Stanford on Monday.

“I need someone to tell me to stop,” she said, and then laughed and mentioned that her father was out on the courts practicing his own serve because he was unable to get it right. “He’s obsessed but he loves the game,” the 27 year old said.

Right around Wimbledon, she decided to change her coaching situation. She had been working with the USTA for the past three years to great success, but felt she needed more one-on-one attention. Her father is back in the mix and she’s trying out Roger Smith as an addtrional coach, who most recently oversaw Donald Young’s career and before that, Sloane Stephens’.

Lepchenko is currently ranked No. 40 and of course would like to be seeded at he US Open. She had to defend 402 points through New Haven, which isn’t a huge amount, but substantial enough to where she is going to have to have at least two pretty good results if she going to crack the top 32 by the time the US Open starts. She’s playing Stanford, Carlsbad, Toronto and Cincinnati, but won’t play New Haven. If she focuses of process rather than results – just like she did last year – she could end up in a very good place again. That is her plan.

“I’m not thinking I need to win this tournament, or get to this ranking,” said Lepchenko who will play Tamira Paszek in the second round of Stanford. “Of course it’sway in the back of my mind, but the main focus is improving little details in my game. I hear a lot of girls and some of my friends asking ‘what points do you to defend before the US Open,’ but I have to defend points every single week. If you aren’t hitting the ball well, who cares about the rankings? Everyone wants to win, but if you sit on the computer all the time counting points, it’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Also of note from Stanford

 While the talented yet streaky Olga Govortsova’s 6-2 6-4 win over Samantha Stosur wasn’t a stunner given that the Aussie has had a sub par year, Urszula Radwanska’s 6-1 6-3 win over Christina McHale was a bit of stunner score-wise. McHale continues to struggle with her confidence and is playing way below her level. Coco Vandeweghe, who reached last year’s final is loving the quick courts again and thumped Monica Niculescu 6-0 6-3. Veteran Daniela Hantuchova seems to be back on track again and she out-thought Yanina Wickmayer 6-2 4-6 6-0. The Slovak then went out and practiced right after the match. Why? “That’s me,” she said. “Why make it easy when I can make it complicated?” Here is Hantuchova talking about her upcoming doubles partnership with Martina Hingis.











Back on beloved hard courts, Sori is hoping to soar

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By Matt Cronin

FROM THE BANK OF THE WEST CLASSIC AT STANFORD, DAY 3 – Sorana Cirstea went to Las Vegas again prior to another big swing, this one the Emirate Airlines US Open Series hard court segment. The Romanian and fifth seed has not had a great year and in fact she hasn’t won three matches in a row since February in Pattaya City.

She will have a chance to do so on Friday at Stanford and seems refreshed and ready to go after her stint in Sin City, where she once again got to hit the greatest women’s singles player ever, Steffi Graf. The German was her idol growing up, so even though she has been visiting Las Vegas for adidas Player Development camps for the past seven years, she still gets nervous when they take the court together to hit.

“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today,” Cirstea said. “She’s amazing, so modest, so humble, so down to earth. Every time she comes it’s such a big thing for me and in the first 10 minutes while we are hitting it’s such a struggle because of the rhythm she is playing. Forty-five minutes with her is like two hours with someone else. She’s most the incredible athlete I have ever seen.”

Cirstea just fell out of the top 30 to No. 32 but she has faced plenty of elite players before and believes that the 44-year-old Graf could still contend with many of them.

“If she were healthy, she could play on tour easily,” Cirstea said. “She’s so fast. He forehead is amazing, the slice is skips and it’s tough to play against her. I’m top 30 and not that bad, but when I play against her, I don’t feel so good in the rankings.”

Fortunately for Cirstea, she does not have to go up against the 22-time Grand Slam champ week in and week out. But there are plenty of other great players around the WTA these days and if she wants to realize her goal of eventually reaching the top 10, she is going to have to improve a good deal.

The Romanian is already substantially better than she was say five years ago. She’s more patient, her big forehand is more accurate and she appears to be better balanced. She can stay strong off the backhand side and returns second serves aggressively. In her 6-3 6-3 win over CoCo Vandeweghe, she defended her own service games quite well (occasionally popping in first serves at 110 MPH), got enough of the American’s big serves back in play to get into the rallies, many of which she won as Vandeweghe was dealing with an aching back and was a bit slow to the ball and often wild.

Cirstea worked hard in Vegas in 115 degree heat with trainer Gil Reyes (he of Andre Agassi fame) so she feels her legs are stronger and consequently she can set up easier and if she uses her lower body she can add a little more power. She also worked with the savvy coach Darren Cahill and adidas hitter (and former touring pro) Sargis Sargsian, both of whom were surely working with her on point construction.

There are moments in matches when it does look like Cirstea can be a top 10 player and others where it looks like she could fall out of the top 50 again. She does have talent, but she can be erratic and at times loses confidence too quickly. She loves hard courts, but struggles on clay and on grass.

“With the way I think, I always feel I can improve and I have so many ways to get better, but I had some good periods and I was actually playing well in Miami (where she upset Angie Kerber and lost to Jelena Jankovic) and I was sad because it was my last tournament on hard court.”

She only won five matches during the clay court season and Serena Williams crushed her at Roland Garros. At Wimbledon, she let go of two tiebreakers in a second round loss to Camilla Giorgi.

“I had lots of chances in that match,” she said. “ And I was also a little bit sad about that and that’s why I had to take the 10 days off to get my mind off of it.”

She says she fresh and hungry again and excited to be back on hard courts, where she had the most success. Se reached the Stanford semis last year, falling to Serena. She has a god chance to do it again as she will face the unseeded Olga Govortsova in the semifinals. If she can combine her skill set with a Graf’s mental toughness, she has an outside at her first big title.

“I’m already starting to find my game again,” she said.



Williams, Keys Earn Shot At Aussie Open

Showing power and maturity, Rhyne Williams powered his way through Tim Smyczek to win a main draw wild card into the Australian Open.

Madison Keys repeated her 2011 victory, also earning a wild card at the USTA Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, Ga.

Williams, a former University of Tennessee standout, continued his march though the lineup of up-and-coming American men with a 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

With a stinging forehand and effective serve, the 21-year-old Williams came out with guns blazing in the first set. Williams’ power was negated as Milwaukee’s Smyczek counter-punched through a second set. No matter how much ground Smyczek covered, he couldn’t deal with the numerous winners Williams delivered.

Williams proved he is gaining a edge in maturity as he tempered his game and relied on patience and shot selection to dominate the second two sets.