Andrea Lubinsky

Andrea Lubinsky is an avid tennis fan who has followed the sport for many years. Currently residing in New York, she has covered several ATP and WTA events around the United States and has attended numerous tennis events around the world. In an effort to share her experiences and opinions with other tennis fans, Andrea writes a blog called A Change of Ends in addition to her contributions to Tennis Grandstand. She can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @achangeofends.

US ladies score a perfect 10 in Paris

By Andrea Lubinsky

American women went undefeated, winning all ten of their matches in the first two days of the French Open. This statistic is impressive on its own. Any country would be thrilled to have ten players in the second round. However, considering that most Americans don’t favor the clay, and add in some pretty big wins from young up and comers, this was a rather surprising turn of events.

 

Perhaps the biggest upset of the day on the women’s side came in the form of Bethanie Mattek-Sands straight sets victory over 12th seed, Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki has never been the picture of consistency due to various injuries, but either way, this was an excellent win for Mattek-Sands to set up a second round 19 year-old Sloane Stephens, who also had a very impressive performance, beating Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets. Teenager Lauren Davis served up two breadstick sets (6-1, 6-1) against the 30th seed, Mona Barthel, which sets up another American vs American second round as she will face off against Christina McHale. This guarantees the Americans at least two women in the third round, but possibly several more.

Other notable wins came from Melanie Oudin who has been struggling, Vavara Lepchenko, who was down match points against Ksenia Pervak, and Christina McHale who toughed out Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands in three sets. Vania King, Irina Falconi, Alexa Glatch, and Venus Williams rounded out the two day domination, all winning their first round encounters. Interestingly, based on the first set, it looked like Williams could have been the first to falter. Down 6-4 to Paula Ormaechea of Argentina, it looked like Venus may have been half way out the door, but being the veteran that she is, Williams cruised in the second set, winning 6-1, before comfortably closing out the match 6-3 in the third.

Looking ahead, the US ladies won’t have much time to celebrate as several of them will face off against very difficult opponents in the second round. Perhaps one of the most anticipated matches when the draw was released, Venus Williams will compete against No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska for a spot in the third round. Irina Falconi also faces an uphill battle as she will play 2010 finalist and reigning US Open champion, Samantha Stosur in the second round. Unfortunately for the Americans, Oudin, Glatch, Lepchenko, and King will all also face seeded opponents in round two.

If the ladies are aiming to make it a truly perfect first round, Serena Williams and Jamie Hampton will also have to score wins in their matches on Tuesday.

Top 5 items in the Roland Garros shop

We’re just one week away from the French Open. Cue the excitement! Don’t worry, if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, you can still get the Roland Garros experience (or at least pretend you did) by visiting their shop online.

For the Fashionista

 

If you’re looking for a little more than your average souvenir t-shirt, you may want to check out this great Lacoste blazer, emblazoned with the company’s signature croc and the words “Roland Garros” underneath. Fashion doesn’t come cheap though, this lovely jacket will set you back a 168 euros, or the equivalent of $215, plus shipping…

For the T-Shirt Collector

 

There are plenty of people, me being one of them, who like to bring back a t-shirt from each tournament they visit. Personally, I would usually go with the Roland Garros poster shirt of the year, but the 2012 design just doesn’t do it for me. This shirt, on the other hand, has a cool vintage feel, and even though it’s billed as a men’s shirt, athletic t-shirts can really go either way.

For the Hardcore Fan

Can’t make it to Paris? Bring a little bit of Paris to you with this jar of red clay. What? You think a $20 bottle of dirt is a little much? That’s why it’s for hardcore fans only.

For the Timepiece Enthusiast 

Are swatches still popular? I’m not really sure, but I would definitely sport this special Roland Garros edition. It even comes in a novelty tennis ball case! Plus, the numbers on the dial glow in the dark, so you will always know when to wake up for those early morning matches.

For the Bargain Hunter

Every good shop has a sale section, and that includes RG. You’ll find your pick of last year’s designs as well as this lovely Lacoste number, which doesn’t include a year so it’ll never go out of style. The best part? It’s marked down to more than half off the original price and it’s available in three colors.

Top Players Rest Up for Back to Back Masters, Leaves Room for Others to Shine

The only member of the Top 10 in action this week is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is playing the BMW Open in Munich. There are three European clay court tournaments in the week leading up to Madrid and Rome, all ATP 250 events that are often overlooked by the top players. This is a good decision for everyone involved, except maybe the tournaments and sponsors, who depend on the big names to bring in revenue. For top players, the shot at winning a Masters like Madrid or Rome, or the a Grand Slam like the French Open is far more important that gaining a few points at a smaller event. The clay season is a grueling stretch. Madrid, Rome, and the French Open all occur within a five week period, leaving little room for rest or recovery. On the flip side, smaller tournaments are a great chance for some of the lower ranked players to pick up much needed points, or a good chance for higher ranked players to get back their form.

Estoril Open

Located in the scenic seaside town of Cascais, Portugal, this tournament always manages to grab one or two big names to headline its draw. In ’08 and ’10, they even managed  to snag Roger Federer. This year the main attraction is the defending champion, Juan Martin del Potro. So far, del Potro is yet to play a clay event this season, so the decision to play Estoril could be considered a smart one. He won here last year, and considering the field only contains one other player in the Top 20, this is a great chance for him to get some much needed match play on the red dirt. Speaking of the No. 2 seed, Richard Gasquet could also use some match play. The Frenchman was forced to pull out of Monte Carlo after injuring his ankle playing soccer. It’s tough to see anyone taking the title away from del Potro this year, but look for two time champion Albert Montanes to trouble him. Gasquet will likely have to contend with Casablanca finalist, Albert Ramos.

BMW Open

It’s unclear why Tsonga felt he needed to sneak in another tournament the week before two important events, but he is the clear favorite to win this title. He made it to the quarters in Monte Carlo before losing to countryman Gilles Simon, but elected not to play last week, so perhaps he’s looking for a bit more clay practice before heading to Madrid. Tsonga has landed himself in a distinctly German quarter. In fact, the only other non-German in the quarter is Marcos Baghdatis. However, that bunch includes three wildcards and a qualifier, none of whom should trouble the Frenchman. There are some tough opponents in his half though, including last year’s champion, Nikolay Davydenko, Marin Cilic, and Mikhail Youzhny.

Serbia Open

They should really just go ahead and rename this the Djokovic Open based on the Djokovic family’s connection with the event; however, this year, it would be missing its namesake. Novak Djokovic, as well as fellow Serbs Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki, have all elected to skip the event this year. Don’t worry, the Serbia Open will not be completely without a Djokovic, as Marco Djokovic was awarded a wildcard. Unfortunately, he lost to Fillippo Volandri on Monday. Again, do not fear, you can get your Djokovic fill at the merchandise shop where you can still pick up shirts, hats, and pillows with Novak’s face on them, even though he’s not playing at the event… Anyway, the Serbia Open features the weakest draw of this week’s events. The No. 1 seed is Pablo Andujar, who recently won Casablanca and has actually been having quite a good year. Another title win here could do him some serious good. The only other really notable name in the draw is David Nalbandian, who has an excellent opportunity to pick up some more points. Look for those two to make the finals.

If none of these events interest you, I suggest you take a cue from the pros and rest up for the big events. For those of you in the US, there are a lot of early mornings coming in the next few weeks.

Williams Wins 40th Title at 40th Family Circle Cup

It was only fitting that Serena Williams walked away with her 40th career today on Sunday at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. Playing her best tennis in quite some time, perhaps some of her best tennis ever, Williams steamrolled her opponents this week. She lost just fifteen games in five matches, and played the likes of Sabine Lisicki and Samantha Stosur before facing off against Lucie Safarova in the final.

With Billie Jean King in attendance, celebrating the 40th year since the Original 9 helped to found the WTA as well as the 40th anniversary of the first Family Circle Cup, Serena Williams raced to a 6-0 6-1 victory over Lucie Safarova of the Czech Repbulic. After losing to Williams in the semifinals, Samantha Stosur was asked whether anyone could stop Williams the way she was playing this week, to which Stosur responded, “I think if Serena plays her very best tennis, I think anyone would find it pretty hard to stop her.” Stosur may have been right, the final seemed like a forgone conclusion after Serena opened the match with a quick love hold and Safarova opened her first service game with a double fault. Things started to look up a little when Safarova had a break point on Williams’ serve in the third game of the match, which would have put the two back on serve. But Williams would have none of it. She evened things up to deuce and won the next two points.

When Safarova finally managed to get just one hold in the second set, the crowd went wild and Safarova broke into a huge smile. Even though the crowd was pro-Williams, it was clear that the Czech had won a lot of fans in Charleston this week, and it was easy to see why, the way she handled herself in defeat. When it was all said and done, Safarova came to net, still all smiles, and graciously shook Serena’s hand. In her runner-up speech, she very convincingly congratulated Williams and thanks the fans and the sponsors for such a great tournament, saying that the Family Circle Cup was true to its name, making her feel like family. Sunday wasn’t a complete loss for the Lucie. She’ll move up to 23 in the world on Monday, just one spot away from her career high ranking, and she won the doubles final with partner Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Safarova considers clay her favorite surface and with early exits last year in Rome and at the French Open, there is ample room to pick up points this Spring. She will also continue to play doubles with Pavlyuchenkova after their success in Miami and Charleston.

What’s next for Serena Williams? Even though she’s feeling good, she will continue to play a selective schedule, not playing another tournament until Madrid. It’s really too early to start making predictions about the French Open, but it’s high up on Williams’ list of goals. Having only won the tournament once, Serena said, “that’s my goal every year is to win the French Open, so hopefully this will be another goal, another year. If not, believe me, I’ll be there the next year and the year after, so I’m going to keep trying and fighting and doing the best I can do.”

Serena Williams and Lucie Safarova Roll into the Family Circle Cup Final

A former champion at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, Samantha Stosur is usually pretty comfortable on the tournament’s green clay. She was in fine form on Friday, winning two three set singles matches to set up an exciting semifinal against Serena Williams. Adamant that physical fatigue did not play a role in Saturday’s match, the 2011 US Open champion won just two games against the American, who won the match 6-1 6-1.

Serena Williams seemed to do no wrong in this match. Every serve, every shot just seemed perfect, far too good for Stosur to overcome. Clearly in the zone, Williams seemed emotionless for the better part of the match, just going through the motions, winning point after point. When she won the first set 6-1, there was no fist pump, just a determined walk back to her chair. When she broke early in the second set, she did a sort of spin, but that was more a force of momentum rather than an actual celebration. Asked about Serena’s level of play in post match press, Stosur said, “it didn’t really seem to matter what I did. She came out with the goods every time.” Even Williams was a little shocked at how well she’s been playing this week, given that she only practiced for one day on the clay prior to the beginning of the tournament. In fact, she considered Saturday’s match, “probably the best match I’ve played in my career either in a long time or it’s up there in the Top 5.”

This version of Serena is basically unstoppable. Stosur is an excellent clay court player, a Grand Slam Champion, and in the Top 5 in the world. Williams made her look like an amateur, happy just to have gotten those two games.

Polona Hercog would have likely been equally as happy to win two games in her semifinal against Lucie Safarova. The Czech has been having an excellent week in Charleston, beating Vera Zvonareva in the quarterfinals before dropping a double bagel on Hercog in the semis. Hercog is no Stosur, and Safarova is no Williams, but it was a pretty impressive beat down nonetheless. Coming back a little over an hour later, Safarova teamed up with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to beat Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber and land a spot in the doubles final. Safarova described the feeling of being in both finals as, “just the dream of the player to be.” Reluctant to call this the best week of her career quite yet, she did put it up there with making the finals in Paris and the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Safarova is aware Sunday’s final will be difficult, having played Williams four times, all of which she lost. Their most recent encounter was last year in Toronto. Asked about the challenge, Safarova responded, “I’m really looking forward to it, and we had some tough matches in the past, so I never beat her so far, but as I said, I played good here. I feel good, and I’ll try to win tomorrow.” There’s nothing like a 6-0 6-0 victory to boost a player’s confidence, so Lucie Safarova should be going into the final in the best position she could. In all honesty, the key to the match for Safarova will be capitalizing in the event that Serena has an off day or lets her guard down. If Williams plays the way she did against Stosur, there will be little Safarova can do to combat her.

Family Circle Cup: Bad Luck for Lisicki, Two Wins for Stosur, and More

Lisicki Goes Down Once Again

The first quarterfinal match of the day was unfortunately cut short when Sabine Lisicki was forced to retire in the fifth game of her match against Serena Williams. It looked like a tight match after a very long second game, where Lisicki finally managed to hold serve. In a twist we’ve seen far too many times from Sabine, she ended up wrong footed on the green clay and tumbled over on her left ankle. At first, things didn’t look so grim. Lisicki called the trainer and had her foot retaped. She took the court again a little shaken but with no sign of a limp, and then suddenly it was over. The sight of a tearful Sabine shaking her opponents hand is becoming all too common. In a true show of sportsmanship, Williams walked over to comfort the young German. Asked what she told Sabine, Serena responded, “I just told her it would be alright. I’m really in an emotional time in my life, so I told her don’t cry because you’re going to make me cry and I was like my eyes are getting watery.

Obviously not the way either player wanted the match to end, Williams nonetheless moves into the semifinals at the Family Circle Cup for the third time. In a rematch of the 2011 US Open final, Williams will play Samantha Stosur, who defeated Serena’s sister Venus later in the day.

Stosur Wins a Double Header and Prevents an All Williams Semifinal

After rain forced the tournament to stop play during the Thursday night session, Samantha Stosur was first up on Friday morning to finish her match against Galina Voskoboeva, which ended going another two sets, basically a full match. Scheduled to play again in the third match of the day, there was little rest for the weary as Stosur had to go one again to play Venus Williams just after Sabine Lisicki retired in the second match of the day. Looking fresh, Stosur captured the first set against Venus. The next two sets weren’t quite as easily, but the US Open champion eventually managed to pull out her second victory of the day. Ever amiable, the Aussie seemed unfazed by the scheduling, “nobody can pick or choose or predict when the rain is going to come. So unfortunately for me I probably got the rough end of it, but that’s the way it goes.” Playing both matches so early in the day could have been a blessing in disguise. Considering she’s due to play Serena Williams at 1pm on Saturday, she will need as much rest as possible, and she had the better part of Friday to prepare.

Stosur’s victory denied fans the anticipated opportunity to see the Williams sisters face off for the 24th time, but something that hasn’t happened since 2009. Easily the biggest draw at the tournament, fans seemed excited by the prospect of watching Venus and Serena play each other. However, if it couldn’t be an all Williams semifinal, this US Open final rematch is a great consolation prize and should be an excellent match, provided Stosur recovers from her busy day.

Safarova Overcomes Zvonareva While Petrova Falters Against Hercog

The top half of the draw has yielded two quasi-surprise semifinalists, Lucie Safarova and Polona Hercog. Safarova easily conquered the No. 4 seed, Vera Zvonareva, 6-3 6-3. At No. 26 in the world, Safarova is just four spots away from her career high. This is her first semifinal of the year, and an excellent opportunity for her to pick up some extra points. She will face Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the semifinals, who easily defeated the 13th seed Nadia Petrova 6-1 6-2. Overall, Safarova has had a good start to the 2012 season, but she has had some bad losses as well, as recently as Miami. Hercog won her first title last season in Bastad and has been on the rise ever since. While Stosur/Williams will obviously be the more anticipated matchup for Saturday’s semifinals, Safarova/Hercog has the potential to be a very interesting match as well.

Rising Star Sloane Stephens Impresses On and Off the Court

At just 19, things definitely seem to be falling into place for Sloane Stephens. This week, she broke into the WTA Top 75 for the first time in her career after a run through qualifying to the third round in Miami. She’s smart, funny, and has a smile that could blind a room full of people. To sum it up, she’s a marketing dream, and as she climbs the rungs of the WTA ladder, we will most definitely be seeing more of her. Under contract with Lagardere Unlimited, Stephens already has endorsements from Under Armour, Head, and Johnson and Johnson. Making a pit stop between Miami and Charleston, Stephens stopped in New York last week to promote the launch of BENGAY® Zero Degrees™, a cooling pain relief gel, and I was graciously afforded the chance to sit down and chat with the up and coming star in the Sky Apartment the London Hotel.

Having just come back from an excursion to find some real New York pizza, I asked Sloane how she was enjoying the city. In town for just a day or two, it seemed like pizza was the best she was going to get on this particular trip, but she did enjoy the view of Central Park from the Sky Apartment. When I asked her if she’d ever gotten a chance to explore the park on previous trips, she explained, “Not really. I mean, I’ve seen Central Park, when I’ve been here, but I’ve never actually walked through it. I’m too scared, cause I keep seeing on like, you know, Law and Order how everyone always dies in Central Park.” That served to break the ice as the teenager grabbed her racket and a seat on the floor, rather than the couch.

Over the next half hour, we had the chance to talk about her love of clay, crazy fans, her off court fashion choices, and, of course, Twitter.

Clay

Ask most American players about their favorite surface and you will almost always hear hard courts, or occasionally grass, never clay. Sloane lit up at the mention of the upcoming clay season, putting Paris up there as her favorite tournament next to Miami and Indian Wells. Growing up in Fresno, she explained, there was only one clay court in town and it was “so trendy” to play on it. Always reserved, Stephens would only get the chance to play on the trendy court once a month or so, dramatically exclaiming, “that was like devastating.” Her move to Florida only served to enhance her love of the dirt, “we played on clay everyday because they only have clay. Like when I was at Evert, they only have clay. It was like the best thing ever. I like it so much cause we could never play on it, it was so cool.” I would guess the fact that most clay tournaments take place in the warm weather doesn’t hurt, as Stephens found the 50-degree New York weather downright frigid.

Crazy Fans

You won’t find Sloane Stephens wandering the grounds seeking attention. In fact, you may not notice her at all, and she likes it that way. “I go low key. I go with the hoodie on, with the headphones in, with like no, not even wearing my badge, with my badge in my pocket, so I don’t even look like I belong there. “ It’s going to get tougher for her to blend in with the fans. The young American is already starting to get recognized in tennis circles.

She had a couple of interesting stories to offer up. “Oh my god, like this guy yesterday. His daughter was playing and they had gotten out of the car and we got out of the car at the same time and he walked up and he was like, ‘you look so much bigger on TV.’ I was like ‘thank you? Do I look little now, or what?’ He was like, I think he said, ‘you look like a little gazelle or something.’ I was like, ‘wait, so what do I look like on court again?’ He was like, ‘you look HUGE on court on TV.’ I was like, ‘well, ok, thanks…’”

This wasn’t the only strange experience. Some fans treat Stephens like a longtime friend. I can understand the mistake, since she is easy to talk to, but she draws the line at fans that dole out advice. “Like on my birthday, this guy came up to me, ‘you know if you want to hit your slice more crosscourt, you’ve got to do this, this and this.’ And I was like ‘do I know you?’”

She does love the support she gets on US soil though, and was touched when the fans in Miami sang her Happy Birthday after her match. She particularly likes the outside courts at the US Open where people pack in even on the tiniest court to cheer her on.

Fashion & Twitter

While most 19 year old girls would have nightmares about fitting their life into a suitcase and travelling for weeks at a time, Sloane has no problems packing light, since she rarely has to dress up, the only exception being mandatory player parties. When she does get dressed up, she still likes it hot. “I like when you go outside and you start sweating, like in your nice dress clothes and you just start, your pits just start flowing. That’s more my thing.” Joking around, she explained, “I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t have a boyfriend. I mean, I have no one to impress.” Whether she likes it or not, she’s already making an impression on the tennis world, and if she’s looking, it’s doubtful that single status will last long.

Aside from her tennis goals this year, Sloane has set herself a Twitter target, 30,000 followers by the year’s end. She admits this might be a bit lofty as she currently has a little over 5,000, and thinks 15,000 would be a great accomplishment. As candid as she is in interviews, Sloane is a must follow on Twitter. You can find her at @sloanetweets.

Friday’s Action at the BNP Paribas Open

Federer Eases Past Del Potro 

Federer and del Potro had already met three times this season, prior to yesterday’s encounter, with Federer winning all of these meetings. Their last match, in Dubai, was an incredibly close one, ending 7-6, 7-6. Today in his press conference, Juan Martin said he would, “take my match in Dubai, not this one, because I played worse than Dubai and Roger played always in the same level.” That was certainly true, del Potro showed none of the powerful game, which won him the US Open in ’09. Things were looking up when the opening game, on Federer’s serve, lasted over ten minutes. However, disaster struck when an errant serve by Federer was called in and hawkeye was unavailable to make the challenge. The internet servers had gone down and the video could not be transmitted. In this case, the rule states that the original call stands. While the original call was in, it seemed like all the parties involved saw the ball out, including Federer. In the end, del Potro lost the point, and the game, and went on to lose the next game as well, on his own serve. It was clear from the get go that the call had distracted del Potro. He wasn’t playing well at all and that game seemed to stick with him throughout the entire match. He went, as far as to admit, “I can’t be focused during all the match I don’t feel comfortable playing the match,” after the call was made.” He made sure to give plenty of credit to Federer, who played some phenomenal tennis despite still not feeling 100%, and was happy to consider the fact that he may still have lost the match even if he had won that game.

Federer is notorious for his dislike of the hawkeye system. Asked about the incident, he brought up a similar incident for him in the 2008 Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal, “when I played Rafa in Wimbledon, at 6‑All in the fifth Hawk‑Eye wasn’t available anymore because of the light. That was great for us to know, you know, for the players.  It wasn’t such an important match.  Who cares?” His response was met with laughter from the media, many of who consider that the greatest match of all time. While hawkeye has its limitations, overall, it has likely been an improvement to the game. When line judges are dealing with balls that land just millimeters on or off the line, there’s such a huge opportunity for human error. In fact, Indian Wells just instituted the challenge system on all its courts this year, but they must still be working out the kinks.

In the end, del Potro could not overcome his frustration, never really finding his focus in the match, and losing 6-3, 6-2.

Nadal Tested by Nalbandian

Most people considered the first match up on Stadium 1 to be the most competitive of the day when the schedule was released. Federer and del Potro have had several close encounters so it was only natural to believe this would be the same. On the other hand, few people, myself included, gave David Nalbandian any chance against Rafael Nadal. The Argentine needed a wildcard to get into the tournament after his ranking dropped due to injuries. The 2002 Wimbledon finalist was once ranked as high as No. 3 in the world, but it has been a long time since he was a threat in the later stages of large tournaments like Indian Wells.

Interestingly, it seemed like vintage Nalbanian came out to play in the early stages of the match. He kept pace with Nadal and even had looks at several of his early service games. To everyone’s surprise Nalbandian managed his first break at 4-all in the first set, giving him the chance to serve for the set, which he did. There was a notable flurry of panic amongst the crowd when David won the first set. However, they didn’t need to work. Nadal roared back to win the second set 7-5 to even the match. At this point it pretty much seemed over. How could Nalbandian possibly keep fighting? When he went down two breaks in the third set, it was nearly certain that the match would be over in a matter of moments. Just when everyone thought it was over, Nalbandian managed to once again break Nadal’s serve, but he was still down one break, which gave Nadal the chance to serve for the match. Shockingly, Nalbandian carved out another break points on Rafa’s serve, which would have evened up the match. But, it was not in the cards. An ill-fated drop shot cost Nalbandian the set and the match.

Most people were surprised that Nadal had such a hard time defeating the Argentine, but Nalbandian has always been an opponent that troubled Rafa. Who said, “that probably make me feel a little bit not safe before the match.  That’s why probably I had more mistakes than usual.” Nadal can’t afford to make these kind of mistakes in his next match because Roger Federer will not beat himself. Fortunately for Nadal, he has played Federer 27 times before and has won 18 of those matches.

Ivanovic’s Run to the Semifinals Ends in Tears

Ana Ivanovic has had a bit of a fairytale run to the semifinals here in Indian Wells, her first at a tournament of this scale in a long time. She beat last year’s champion, Caroline Wozniacki, as well as last year’s runner-up, Marion Bartoli en route to her meeting with Maria Sharapova, who she last played in the 2008 Australian Open final. For the first several games, it was a close match, but Sharapova managed to get the first break of the match and it looked like things would be all over. When Sharapova was leading 5-4, Ivanovic left the court for a lengthy medical time out and it seemed things could only go downhill from there. It was not immediately apparent what was wrong with the Serbian, but she obviously wasn’t feeling well.

After losing the set, Ivanovic called her coach, Nigel Sears to come to the court. He told her that only she knew how bad it was and that if she couldn’t play good tennis, she shouldn’t keep playing. Regardless of Nigel’s warning, Ana tried to take the court again, but it was just too much. After the first game of the second set, she walked over to the chair umpire and said she couldn’t keep going. The trainer came out to examine Invanovic, and a couple minutes later she walked over to shake Maria Sharapova’s hand and concede the match.

According to Ivanovic it is some kind of glute strain, something that, “gradually got worse and worse.” She will get an MRI tomorrow to check the extent of the injury. Putting the injury aside, Ana called this an “amazing two weeks,” saying, “I really felt like I have been playing the best tennis probably played in a very, very long time. It wasn’t only one match. It was very consistently. “ Consistency is something that has plagued the Ivanovic since winning the French Open in 2008.

Women’s Semifinal Previews at the BNP Paribas Open

After an exciting day of tennis on Thursday, the women’s semifinal matches have been set and will be played during the evening session on Friday. Only two of the top four seeds remain in action, leaving two unexpected semifinalists, one on either side of the draw. In the quarterfinals, top seed Victoria Azarenka demolished Agnieszka Radwanksa, while No. 2 seed Maria Sharapova took was seriously tested by her Russian compatriot, Maria Kirilenko, winning a very long three set encounter. US Open surprise semifinalist, Angelique Kerber, caused another upset, taking out Li Na on Wednesday night. To round out the last four, Ana Ivanovic continued her stellar run here by defeating last year’s runner up, Marion Bartoli.

Victoria Azarenka vs. Angelique Kerber

Not before 6pm, the world No. 1 and Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka will take on the German, Angelique Kerber. It’s absurd to think that just a few months ago, no one had ever heard of Kerber. She somehow quietly made her way into the US Open semifinals, testing eventual champion Samantha Stosur. However, she wasn’t just a one hit wonder. Since September, she had posted fairly consistent results, winning her first tournament last month in Paris by defeating Marion Bartoli. By reaching this stage of the tournament, she will enter the WTA Top 15. Asked to talk about her impending match against Azarenka, she said, “Yeah, I have nothing to lose in the next match, so I will go out there, try to play really my tennis and focus on me like today, enjoy it, and, yeah, try to beat her, of course.” It’s true that Kerber will have nothing to lose, not having often made it to this stage of tournaments in the past. This has already been a stunning week for her, but a victory would only add to that feeling.

Kerber will have her work cut out for her as she faces the undefeated world No. 1 tonight. Azarenka has started the season very similarly to Novak Djokovic last year, quickly running to a 21-0 record. As impressive as that record is, Azarenka is not allowing her self to get complacent. With regards to working on continuing to improve her game, she said, “if I relax my butt a little bit, somebody’s gonna come and kick it.” Early on this week, she struggled in her opening match, but since then has cruised through to the semifinals in fine form. She did not have much to say when asked about potentially playing Kerber, who at the time had not yet won her quarterfinal. According to Azarenka, they have not played since juniors, but, “there are no easy matches in semifinals.”

While Azarenka thinks there are no easy matches in the semifinals, and Kerber has proven capable of causing all kinds of upsets, it is unlikely that Azarenka’s record will be challenged. She absolutely rolled against Agnieszka Radwanksa, a player who often gives her trouble, and has gotten progressively better with each match she has played this week. It will be a tall task for Angelique Kerber to topple the world No. 1 this time around.

Ana Ivanovic vs. Maria Sharapova

Following the Azarenka/Kerber semifinal, two Grand Slam champions will take the stage to battle for a spot in the finals. Early Thursday, Ivanovic scored her second major victory of the week, defeating Marion Bartoli in two sets, backing up her victory over defending champion Caroline Wozniacki. Ivanovic has yet to reach the level she was at in 2008, when she won the French Open at 21 years old. Since her post Slam slump, she has been gradually working her way back into contention for major titles, only recently finding stronger form. This has debatably been her best week in the last couple of years. Undoubtedly gleeful after yesterday’s win, Ivanovic could barely contain her smile during her post match press conference. Reminded of the last time she played Sharapova, in the 2008 Australian Open final, she laughed, admitting that the ill fated drop shot from that match still haunts her, “it still hurts me so much.  Silly dropshot forehand.  I know.  I was like, Why?  Seriously, why?” Any Ana Ivanovic fan will tell you that they too still remember that drop shot. Luckily, she claims to have learned from her mistakes and is looking forward to the challenge of taking on Maria Sharapova again four years later, a much different situation for both players. Ivanovic’s new coach, Nigel Sears, has seemed to be a steadying force for the volatile Serbian, helping to dramatically improve her forehand, and more importantly, her mental game.

Coming in as the No. 2 seed, Maria Sharapova was generally expected to make it through to this stage of the tournament. Knocked out in the semifinals last year, Sharapova’s game has become considerably more consistent than it used to be and she is certainly deserving of the No. 2 spot. However, Sharapova was in real trouble yesterday against fellow Russian, Maria Kirilenko, when she went down a set and a break. Things looked just about over, before Sharapova magically pulled out the second set 7-5, possibly with a little help from a hindrance call against Kirilenko. After securing the second set, Sharapova had very little trouble overpowering her opponent, quickly rushing to a 4-0 lead. Even after being broken, she was able to close out the set at 6-2. Sharapova won her last encounter against Ana Ivanovic four years ago, but those results are almost negligible, as both women are completely different players today. Asked about what she thought of the impending match, she said, “I think we’re in both very different stages in our careers.  She’s been playing really well this week.  It’s good to see. I mean, we have had tough matches in the past; I’m sure that this one tomorrow will be tough, as well.” It will be tough, as Sharapova played a significantly more grueling match than Ivanovic. Since they’re on last, recovery shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it still has the potential to play a role. Based on their form this week, either player has the capacity to win this match and it will likely be much more of a mental battle than a physical one. If Ivanovic can keep her nerves in check, there’s a real possibility she could cause the upset.

Headlines from the Round of 16

Azarenka Plows Past Radwanska for a 21-0 Record

Perhaps the most anticipated match on the WTA side of the draw, everyone was hoping for a squeaker between Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka. Going into this match, Radwanska and Azarenka had already met three times this year, with Azarenka winning all three encounters. The two used to be good friends, but after their last encounter in Dubai, Radwanska seemed to have some qualms with the world No. 1. Their three previous encounters had been incredibly close and the suspected animosity between the two only built the tension leading up to yesterday’s match. From the get go, things did not go so well for Radwanska. She immediately fell down a break, and then two, and in what seemed like no time at all had been bageled in the first set and was down 5-0 in the second. While Radwanska managed to salvage two games, there was just no way to come back from that kind of deficit. Asked about her feelings after going down 6-0 in the first set, Radwanska did not hold back, “pretty much I was pissed, yeah, in the first set especially ‑‑ you know, losing 6‑Love, you know, is not fun, right?” Clearly frustrated, she claimed there were only two options, “What you can do?  I said, Either have fun or cry.” Relatively cheerful for such a crushing loss, she obviously opted for fun, a great attitude from the Aga, who will move up to No. 4 in next week’s rankings. In the mean time, Azarenka keeps extending her winning streak, now 21-0 and this season, and feeling strangely similar to Novak Djokovic about this time last year.

Isner Becomes Last American Standing

Poised to become the highest ranked American in the next few months as Mardy Fish struggles to defend points, John Isner is now that last American man standing in the singles draw after Ryan Harrison lost a close encounter with Gilles Simon. When Isner was asked about the situation in his press conference, Harrison was still playing Simon, but, Isner described the experience of being American and playing here as “very, very special,” knowing that, “the crowd is definitely behind, you know, us Americans.” He was looking forward to a matchup with Harrison, which would have guaranteed at least one American in the semifinals, but he will play Frenchman Gilles Simon this evening.

Bryans Felled by Coachella Virus

Prior to any official tournament announcements, Bob Bryan tweeted the following yesterday morning.

“I’m sorry to announce that Mike and I are withdrawing from our quarterfinal match @BNPPARIBASOPEN. Mike has been struck with a severe stomach virus since late last night. Unfortunately, he is too weak and nauseous to get out of bed. We apologize to the tournament, staff, but more importantly, our fans. We love you, thank you for the support, and we look forward to making another run at it next year.”

The Bryans were forced to pull out of their match against Fyrstenberg/Matkowski after Mike Bryan came down with virus that has claimed so many players this week.

Federer and Djokovic Survive Scares

Both the world No. 1 and No. 3 were tested yesterday against much weaker opponents. It became clear early on that Federer was not at his best. He has been feeling a little off, but it was very unlike him to drop the first set against a clay court specialist like Thomaz Bellucci. Federer seemed to right the ship in the second set, which he won 6-3 The Brazilian managed to stay with Federer for most of the third set, before being broken. Federer admitted he was “surprised,” but that he “found a way, and you know, dug deep and came through…At the end of the day, these are the wins that sort of almost feel better.” Federer played a three set night match on Tuesday against Milos Raonic, and his fourth round match was scheduled for Wednseday afternoon, leaving little time for recovery. Next up, Federer will face Juan Martin del Potro, who has given him trouble in the past, but not since returning to the tour last year after wrist surgery.

Novak Djokovic had a much different encounter Wednesday morning. After easily winning the first set 6-0, suddenly his opponent, Pablo Andujar of Spain, seemed to find his bearings, managing to hang in through the second set, making it all the way to a tie break. More impressively, Andujar won the tiebreak, and forced the match into a third set, which he lost 2-6. Djokovic attributed the second set loss to both a drop in his game and an improvement from Andujar, saying, “For some reason I didn’t move as well as. I was holding on my service games very closely, and he was winning comfortably. So we got to the tiebreak, and I though that there is my chance. I didn’t use it when it was presented.”