Ana Ivanovic

At The US Open, Ana Ivanovic Loses Fifth Match In Row, Third Since Marriage To Bastian Schweinsteiger

by Kevin Craig



Former world No. 1 and 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic was upset in her first round match at this year’s US Open, losing to Denisa Allertova in straight sets, 7-6(4), 6-1.

“It’s an amazing feeling right now,” said Allertova of the Czech Republic.

The No. 89th ranked player in the world didn’t get to the start she envisioned as Ivanovic was able to break in the opening game of the match. After fighting off multiple break points to hold for 3-1, it looked like the Serb had withstood the fight she would receive from Allertova in the match. Ivanovic’s service games became much easier, that is, until she attempted to serve out the first set.

Serving at 5-4, Ivanovic quickly fell behind 15-40 and lost out on her opportunity to gain a set advantage. She would have another crack at it, though, as she broke Allertova right back. Once again, however, Allertova refused to go away and broke in a lengthy 12th game, saving a set point along the way, to force a tiebreak. It was there that Allertova was able to steal the first set, as well as all of the momentum in the match, taking the tiebreak 7-4.

“I put myself in a position to close out the set…and then I don’t. This is what’s been really frustrating so this is something I really have to re-assess and work on,” said Ivanovic in post-match press conference of her recent struggles.

There was no looking back for the Czech as she broke in the opening game of the second set to essentially finish off the match. Allertova dealt with almost no pressure on her serve in the set, losing just five points in three games with no break points to face. The No. 89 player in the world would break in Ivanovic’s last two service games of the match to seal the deal, taking home the straight set victory.

“I’m so happy. It was a tough match. She’s a great player. But I just focused on every point and tried to play my best,” said Allertova, who improved to 7-1 in first round matches at majors.

Ivanovic, who also lost in the first round at Wimbledon this year and has now lost in the first round of the US Open two years in a row, is currently ranked as low as she has been since October of 2010. She is also in danger of finishing the year with a below .500 record for the first time in her career, as her current record in 2016 sits at 14 wins and 15 losses. Her loss Tuesday was her fifth in a row and the third in a row since her July 12 marriage to German soccer star Bastian Schweinsteiger.

“It is very disappointing. Obviously you want to try to do your best at the biggest events and I really felt like I did everything I could,” said Ivanovic. “It’s really disappointing…so I really have to try and stay a little bit positive even if it’s very hard.”

Milos Raonic Serving Woes Leads To One-Sided Loss To Novak Djokovic – Passing Shots with Kevin Craig

by Kevin Craig



  • Ana Ivanovic was given the 2nd quickest loss of her career as Karolina Pliskova beat her 6-2, 6-0 in the third round of Indian Wells in 49 minutes.
  • In the men’s singles final in Indian Wells, Milos Raonic managed to win only three of 30 points on his second serve, leading to a 6-2, 6-0 defeat.
  • Andy Murray was beaten by a left-handed player other than Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2011 as Federico Delbonis beat him in the third round in Indian Wells.
  • At one point in the John Isner-Kei Nishikori fourth round match at Indian Wells, Nishikori’s average first serve speed was 108 miles per hour, while Isner’s average second serve speed was 115 miles per hour.
  • On a negative note for Isner, each of his last three losses have been decided by third set tiebreaks. In each match, Isner held match point and did not face a break point.
  • Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Nenad Zimonjic were able to saved eight match points in the semifinal win over the Bryan brothers in Indian Wells.
  • 16-year old Denis Shapovalov of Canada became the first player born in 1999 to win a match on the challenger level. This comes after Felix Auger Aliassime, also of Canada, became the first player born in 2000 to win a match on the challenger level last year. Shapovalov would also go on to become the first 16-year old to make a challenger semifinal since Stefan Kozlov made the semifinals at the Sacramento Challenger in 2014 as a 16-year old.

Ana Ivanovic’s Coach Collapses Mid-Match, Madison Keys Posts Three-Set Win

by Kevin Craig


Madison Keys fought her way into the fourth round at the Australian Open amidst difficult circumstances. In the only women’s match that went three sets on Saturday, the American defeated the No. 20 seed Ana Ivanovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, but not before the match had to be delayed for an hour as Ivanovic’s coach collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital.

The first set was very straightforward as both players were able to handle their serves well. At 3-3, Keys was the first to create an opportunity on return as she saw two break chances in a game that lasted 14 points. Ivanovic, who only lost three points in her four other service games in the first set, was able to fight through the adversity of that game to hold and then create three break chances of her own at 5-4. Ivanovic only needed the first opportunity though, as she broke at love to close out the first set winning eight straight points.

It was early in the second set when Ivanovic’s coach, Nigel Sears, collapsed inside Rod Laver Arena. Sears, who is also the father-in-law of Andy Murray, had not been feeling well throughout the match and attempted to leave the stadium, but on his way up the stairs, Sears reportedly collapsed and required immediate medical attention. It was reported by Ben Rothenburg, before play had even resumed, that Sears was “alert and responding.”

Once the delay had ended and the players returned to the court, Ivanovic fought off the distraction to go up a break at 2-0 on her fourth break point of the game. Keys quickly fought back to get back on serve at 2-1, though, before each player went on to hold at love. With Ivanovic up 3-2 on serve, she was able to once again break the American but was unable to consolidate as Keys broke straight back. At 4-4, Keys broke for the third time in the set to go up 5-4 and was able to hold her serve after a very difficult fight from Ivanovic that saw six break points and 18 points total.

The momentum did not completely shift to Keys’ side of the net despite levelling the match at one set apiece, as Ivanovic broke in Keys’ first service game of the third set to go up 2-0, just like in the second set. The Serb was able to hold onto the lead until her 3-1 service game that saw her save four break points before Keys broke on the fifth to get back on serve. Keys then held a tough deuce game before breaking Ivanovic again to go up a break. It was no looking back from there for the No. 15 seed as she closed out the match with an impressive hold.

Keys, who made the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2015, is now only two wins away from repeating that result as she will face Zhang Shuai in the fourth round and either Johanna Konta or Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals, should she get there. Keys showed her fighting spirit on Saturday as she was able to come back from a break down three times and overcame hitting more than double the unforced errors compared to her opponent, and will hope that her momentum carries into the next rounds.

US Open Seeds Bite The Dust In Serena’s Half of the Draw

by Kevin Craig



The US Open has only been going on for a day and many top players have already packed their bags.

Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Jelena Jankovic, Sloane Stephens, and Svetlana Kuznetsova all bit the dust on Day 1 in New York, massively opening up the top half of the draw for Serena Williams, who now will not have to face a Top 10 player if she reached the final.

Ivanovic was coming off a good summer in which she made the quarterfinals in Toronto and Cincinnati, each time losing to the player that would go on to win the championship. After only a second round showing at last year’s US Open, she surely was disappointed to get one of the toughest draws of the tournament, Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist, took the first set, but Ivanovic fought back and forced a deciding third set. The fight was not enough for the Serb, however, as Cibulkova held on and took the match 6-3 in the final set.

Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic also had a good summer, winning the US Open Series with a finals appearance in Stanford and a quarterfinal in New Haven. She would’ve been hoping to back up her third round appearance at last year’s US Open and prove her No. 8 seed this year, but she was completely outplayed by American qualifier Anna Tatishvili, who easily won 6-2 6-1. Pliskova’s 57% first serve percentage and only winning 40% of all her service points led to her bowing out in the first round.

The No. 10 seed Carla Suarez Navarro may be viewed as less of an upset as she had been on a six-match losing streak and had not won a match on a hard court since her run to the final in Miami, however she should’ve been favored over Denisa Allertova, ranked No. 76 in the world, who hadn’t played a match on a hard court since April. It appeared as though Allertova was the high-ranked veteran, as she was able to break serve four times and hold Suarez Navarro to only 40% points won on second serve, allowing her to garner the 6-1, 7-6(5) win.

Jelena Jankovic joined her fellow Serbian Ivanovic in exiting the US Open after only one match, losing to French wild card Oceane Dodin, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. What looked like a comfortable victory quickly changed in the second set, as Dodin, 18 years old, broke late in the set and carried that momentum into the third. Dodin has been in good form, making the final of an ITF event only a couple weeks ago, but Jankovic will be massively disappointed with the result.

Sloane Stephens’ loss to Coco Vandeweghe is not much of an upset as both young Americans look to have bright careers ahead of them. While Stephens had been in good form, going 17-6 in her last 23 matches, she came up against the huge serve of Vandeweghe, who fired her way into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 win. Though Vandeweghe didn’t face a single break point in this match, expect more great battles from these two in the years to come.

Young Kristina Mladenovic, more known for her doubles prowess, upended the two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 7-5 on the opening day. The No. 30 seed had her powerful game stunted by the Frenchwoman, as she was broken five times.

While these six seeded women going out in the first round is a delight to see for Serena Williams, the draw may still be just as tough as it was to begin with. Though Serena won’t have to face any Top 10 players until the final, players like Madison Keys, Aga Radwanska, sister Venus Williams, and Belinda Bencic are still alive in the top half, while Vandeweghe may also be able to pose a threat to Serena and her shot at the calendar slam. Vandeweghe’s big serve and powerful groundstrokes could be dangerous for Serena if they meet in the third round.

Tennis Musings From New Zealand

This gallery contains 1 photo.

By Thaddeus McCarthy

Dear Fans,

                     The NZ Festival of Tennis came to an end with John Isner prevailing in the Heineken Open final, 7-6, 7-6, over first time ATP finalist Yen-Hsun Lu. The first week of course finished with Ana Ivanovic overcoming Venus Williams. The Festival is my personal favourite of the NZ Summer of Sporting events. The weather certainly turned up for the 2 weeks, although I can remember one afternoon early on with the ASB Classic which wasn’t that great. Nevertheless the play was uninterrupted and the tournament enjoyed sell-out crowds. This posting will review the second week’s tournament and give a line-up and some predictions for the big one, the Aussie Open.

David Ferrer, the widely expected winner, bowed out in the semi-final to Yen-Hsun Yu. He said after that match that it was perhaps one of the worst performances of his career. You’ve got to think about comments in pressers like this that if they aren’t just a bit derogatory of the other player. Federer has been criticised in the past as coming off as a bit arrogant in his pressers. In Ferrer’s case at this time his error rate was very high, so this comment was probably justified. My golden boy from the last posting, Benoit Paire, bowed out in the second round. Arguably the match of the tournament was the Quarterfinal between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Isner, which had three tiebreaks and featured no breaks of serve. I have to say that Kohlschreiber was unlucky not to win that one, as his rallying was superior to Isner.

Going back to the Heineken final, once again Isner’s serve was on fire. At 2.06m tall he is known as having one of the best, if not the best serve on tour. Isner called the final match perhaps his best of the week (his serve was not broken once). First time finalist Yu played well, his one-handed backhand passing shot at the end of the second set (to save the second match point) was testament to that. He just played against a man in Isner who was really hitting his shots on the day. Isner did say after his semi-final, that without his serve he would not be ranked inside the top 500. His serve is just an example that to be ranked highly in this sport you do often need a big weapon. As mentioned in my last post, the winner of this fortnight’s Australian Open will be a player who has a weapon, one which will turn an over wise even match in their favour.

In my first ever posting on here, I predicted that we would see a Del Potro/Nadal final. I will not stick with this, as they have been slated to meet in the Quarter-finals. I will have to go instead with a Del Potro/Djokovic final. Juan Martin Del Potro has just downed Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the Sydney International final, and appears to be in top form. He will not doubt be one dangerous hombre in the Open. Djokovic has been handed perhaps the easiest draw of anyone in the competition. His first real test will come in the Quarterfinals, where he is expected to face-off against Stanislas Wawrinka, who took him too 12-10 in the fifth set (fourth-round) last year. He should come out of this Wawrinka match to take down Ferrer in the semi-final. The Del Potro/Nadal Quarter-final will be a match to watch at the start of the second week. That is assuming Nadal can get past a dangerous Bernard Tomic in the first round. Tomic is a player I have mentioned before as being someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam one day. I just don’t see it happening this year. Nadal I believe, will be too strong for him in the opening round.

On the women’s side I can just not go past Serena Williams this year. Her form with age just appears to be getting better and better and there seems to be no stopping her. She is not a particularly liked player by the tennis public, but you just cannot help but admire the power game she has brought to women’s’ tennis. The two players who I think could create some difficulty for Serena could be Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. Azarenka was dispatched in straight sets in Brisbane last week, and lost in three tight sets to Serena at US Open 2013. But she can cause the upset on the day. With Sharapova, although she has a terrible record against Serena, on her day an upset could happen. We just have to think back to the 2004 Wimbledon for an example of that. Azarenka and Sharapova are expected to meet in the semi-final, and I would hope that it is not a slug fest, which will leave the winner exhausted for meeting a fit and hungry Serena in the final.

All us sports fans have pet wishes which we hope will happen, but sort of know that they never will. Well, my pet wish for this Open is that Lleyton Hewitt will finally come through to win his home countries slam. Australia has not had a winner on the men’s side since Mark Edmondson won it in 1976; surprisingly with a world ranking of 212 (the lowest seed to ever win a Slam). Hewitt got close in 2005, when he reached the final, but other than that has not gone past the fourth round. The 05 Aussie had an incredible excitement about it, mainly thanks to Hewitt’s run on one side, and the Marat Safin machine on the other. It is in fact my all-time favourite slam, and featured one of my all-time favourite matches, the Safin/Federer semi-final. Hewitt’s win in last week’s Brisbane final against Federer definitely gave some hope that another dream run may again be possible. For the women, Samantha Stousur is my pet wish to be the winner. The women similiary to the men have not have had a winner since Chris O’ Neil in 1978. It would really generate some interest in the Open if we were having a couple of great local runs.

So there you have it. My predictions for the Aussie Open are for a men’s final of Djokovic/Del Potro, and a women’s final of Serena/ Azarenka. Although what I would like to happen is for a Hewitt/Del Potro final for the men and a Stosur/Williams final for the women. Having a surprising local run on one side, and a dangerous power player on the other would make this Open hugely memorable. Whatever happens though, this is a tournament I thoroughly look forward too every year, and it never disappoints in providing us with gripping moments. Watch this space.


Comings and Goings from Auckland, New Zealand

By Thaddeus McCarthy

Dear Fans,

As I have just returned home from covering the ASB Classic, and the Heineken Open is already underway, I thought that now would be a good time to give you a summary of the Classic and an intro to the Open.

The ASB Classic was a fantastic six day event played at the ASB Tennis Centre, Auckland. It was (pleasantly) sunny, even though the forecast had predicted rain. The play did not disappoint, and from a personal perspective, as it was my first time covering a tournament, it was brilliant, and the experience certainly lived up to expectations. It was also the dream final, the one everyone had wanted from the start, Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic. Now sometimes these sort of the matches can be disappointments; like many of the long awaited finals in our sport e.g. any number of the Federer/Nadal French Open finals. But this was different; it was tight and the tennis was electrifying. In the first set, Ivanovic cruised to win 6-2. Venus saved a match point at 5-4 in the second set, and went on to win it 7-5. In the final set though Ivanovic’s younger legs proved to be springier. She caught a break at the early stages of the set, and did not let go from there, eventually prevailing 6-4, and taking the title.

Both Venus and Ivanovic said in the post-match interviews, that this tournament was the perfect preparation for the Australian Open. I think after watching both players, I would expect at least one of them to go into the second week there. They are both on comeback trails right now, but I think that Ana is the more likely one to do so. She has the younger legs, still only being 26. And has a number of weapons on disposal, such as a blistering ground strokes and strong service game. Whereas with Venus you have to say that age is catching up with her. The other player that most impressed me from the tournament was American Jamie Hampton. I was at the press conference where she announced that she was pulling out of her semi-final with Venus, due to a hip injury. Something about her struck me. She seemed in a way similar to the Mighty Fed, in that she spoke almost in third person. She seemed very sure of herself, and I am certain that if she gets over her injury in time, by the Australian Open she will do well. In her quarterfinal against Lauren Davis, I was impressed by the all-round strength of her game.

The NZ Festival of Tennis continues this week, with the Heineken Open. David Ferrer is the defending champion here, and has come back (now as the World No. 3) to defend his title. The other headline acts will be Tommy Haas and John Isner. Gael Monfils, the flamboyant Frenchman unfortunately pulled out this week citing fatigue. Being the first month of the year this is pretty doubtful, but understandable that if he is not feeling totally right, he doesn’t want to ruin himself for the coming Slam. The tournament organisers were in talks with Andy Murray’s manager about potentially getting him in on a wild card, after his early exit from the Qatar Open. Unfortunately though, this was not to be the case. In reality it was too much of a rush for Murray to suddenly come down here to play a tournament after his Qatar loss. Tournament Director Karl Budge insisted after the Murray and Monfils announcements that the tournament does still have some exciting talent, such as young American Jack Sock, not to mention Marcos Baghdadis, Benoit Paire and Phillip Kohlschreiber. Ferrer’s path to the title, will no doubt still be a difficult one, even without a Murray in his way.

As the Classic proved for the ladies, the Heineken Open will serve as a good preparation for the Australian Open, as that Slam begins on the 15th.  If I were to predict a player from this tournament who has the potential to win it though, it would not be David Ferrer. Although he has a very high likelihood of winning the Heineken again, I just don’t think that he has enough firepower to win a Slam. Yes, he did reach the French final last year (where he was dually shellacked in straight sets by Nadal), but Slam winners traditionally need to have a weapon arsenal at their disposal. It is very uncommon for journeyman (such as Ferrer) to win Slams. One-Slam-Wonder Journeyman who immediately come to mind include Andrei Gomez (1990 French) and Thomas Johanseen (2002 Aussie). Now in both these cases they were lucky; in Gomez’s case, Agassi was more worried about his hair piece falling out than winning the final. In Johanseen’s case, he had a very favourable draw that year, and played the volatile and unstable Marat Safin in the final.

My pick for the surprise run of the tournament is Benoit Paire. He is a tall man, with surprising balance, and of course has a booming serve. Although he has not yet gone beyond the third round of a Slam, the Australian as we all know is notorious for unexpected runs. Marcos Baghdadis, 2006 anyone? Or how about Fernando Gonzalez, 2007, or Tsonga, 2008. All of those players had weapon arsenals; the Gonzalez forehand was, is still is legendary. Whatever the case though, surprise run or not, for all of the players involved in this lead-up tournament, the Heineken will be great preparation for the Aussie Open.

You will hear from me again at the completion of the tournament. So for now, keep well.

Running Commentary In A Moment In Time At The ASB Classic In Auckland

By Thaddeus McCarthy

By Dear Fans,

As I am sitting right now in the media box at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, I thought that now would be a good time to do some running commentary. Now obviously this article will come out after these matches have been completed, so this is out-of-date technically. But I feel that right at this moment this is a useful conversation to have.

As I write this, the match-up between Ana Ivanovic and Kurumi Nara, the world no. 16 vs no. 81, has just ended. Ana Ivanovic has taken the match 6-2, 6-3. The crowd seated, of which there is about 1,300, got to enjoy some wonderful rallies at the end of the match. A favourite of mine was one where Nara finished the point with a backhand drop volley. The match currently under way is between Lauren Davis and Jamie Hampton. Hampton would have to be the favoured one of these two, as she is about 40 ranks above her. Hampton has just broken Davis’s serve for the 2nd time, and the match stands at 5-1. The next match coming up is Garbine Muguruza vs. Venus Williams. No doubt who the crowd favourite will be in this one.

I think it is the common consensus with fans is that they do want to see a Williams/Ivanovic final, as these are the tournaments two biggest drawcards. There are many players who will be doing their best to stop that happening, Muguruza will be no exception. The top seed, Roberta Vinci was knocked out in the opening round by a largely unheard of player, Ana Konjuh. Seeing the form that Ana displayed in the last match I would highly expect her to reach the final stage. In the Hampton match currently into the second set, and with Hampton the superior player at this stage, I will assume that she comes out on top here. She will move on from this to face Venus in the semi-finals. Venus will find it tough going against Hampton, and I think we can look forward to a very good match tomorrow. In the other semi-final we will see Ivanovic face off against Kirsten Flipkens. My expectation for this match is that Ivanovic will come out ahead, watching the Flipkens quarter-final I noticed that she does not have a top spin backhand shot. I would think that this weakness could leave her open. Time will tell.

In the doubles, we are seeing a similar pattern emerging, although somewhat more pronounced. The top seeds, Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Safarova were knocked out in the quarter-finals. The only one’s of the top four seeds remaining are the fourth seeds, Mona Barthel and Megan Moulton-Levy. Again, time will tell whether the top seeds can make it through to the final and become champions. Although I think that is good to have diversity when it comes to tournament winners on the ATP and WTA, I think it is also good to have a strong bunch of players at the top. Much of the hype around the men’s game currently has been to do with having the ‘Big Four’ rivalry. The problem with the women’s game worldwide currently has been that there is not really a strong group of players at the top. Lets hope that the womens game in 2014 will see a very strong bunch of players emerging at the top.

It is my hope that the ASB Classic will set the tone for a great year of women’s tennis in 2014!

What’s In Store For ASB Classic In New Zealand

By Thaddeus McCarthy


Dear Fans,

As I will be covering the ASB Classic in New Zealand for you all , I thought that now would be a good time to give you a rundown of what’s in store.

The tournament will run from the 30th of December, and the final will be played on the 4th of January. Current world no. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska is the reigning champion, but unfortunately will not be defending her title this year. The two big names that will grace the first event of our 11 month season will be Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams, both former number 1’s and Grand Slam winners. Venus is undoubtedly the bigger name of these two. Sister of Serena, 7-time Grand Slam Winner, 44 career titles and arguably the main reason why women get equal pay today. It is for this last reason that I have requested an interview with her. If I manage to get one, I will be sure to let you all know how it goes. Ana Ivanovic won the 2008 French title, and 11 career titles. She has had many struggles since then, dropping to No. 65, but she has since gone back up to No. 16. It will be one of the main interests of the tournament will be to see if she can regain some of her No. 1 form. Ana will arguably be the most keenly watched player, particularly amongst the boys, as she is definitely one of the better looking females’ on tour.

Some other very recognizable names include young Laura Robson from Great Britain, Yanina Wickmayer, Lucie Safarova, and Julia Georges. The latter three are all former top 20 players, and are seeking to regain some of their earlier form. Laura Robson is a promising teenager, and did reach a WTA final in 2012 in China. The expectations for her, mostly as she is the top ranked British female, are very high. Personally I like her playing style, and being a similarly tall individual, I hope she does well. Julia Georges is another tall player, who’s a big hitter and uses lots of top spin. Along with Ana she is another popular player on tour.

Players who I have requested interviews with, include (obviously) Venus, Yanina, New Zealander Marina Erakovic, and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. With Venus I will talk about gender equality in tennis, and by extension, in sports in general. She was instrumental in getting equal pay for women at the French and Wimbledon, as it was her essay which eventually swayed the debate.  With Garbine I will (hopefully) discuss with her about the development of younger players in Spain, and how they are working to continue producing quality. Following on from this I will talk with Marina about the development of the game in New Zealand, and how we can start to emulate countries (such as Spain) in producing some more tennis stars. My talk with Yanina will be about how she plans to return to (near) the top of the game. If I manage to get an interview with Ana, my chat would be on the same topic.

Well, that’s the end of my discussion today; I would appreciate any suggestions you guys may have in regard to interview topics.



Sorana Cirstea Talks About Her Early Career Struggles, and Dishes on Friendship with Ana Ivanovic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – By 16, she was a top 10 junior player in the world. Only three years later, she took the WTA Tour by storm, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open en route taking out two top 10 players.

Romanian Sorana Cirstea is a seasoned tennis veteran despite being only 23-years-old. Her time in juniors combined with her quick ascension in the pro ranks primed her to succeed for years to come. But her good initial results in 2009 were clouded by injury and letdowns. It would be three more years before she found her best tennis and a ranking to go with it. Just last month, she reached her career-high ranking of world No. 22.

After her semifinal appearance in Stanford over the weekend, Cirstea had a quick turnaround into the humidity of Washington, D.C. to play in her first Citi Open tournament.

Following her first round win over Lesia Tsurenko, I chatted with the friendly, engaging Cirstea about the tough time her injury presented her with and how she bounced back, as well as her close friendship with Ana Ivanovic.

What is your most memorable moment on court?
Probably it would be when I won Orange Bowl when I was 13 because I was such a kid. Now, I’ve become a little more mature towards everything. I don’t get that excited or that down anymore. But when I was a kid, I was so excited. I felt like I could move mountains when I won the Orange Bowl. It was just pure euphoria. I think I will never experience that kind of feeling. That moment was one of the most important for me, and from there on (tennis) started to become a proper career.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be doing?
I loved school, so I was one of those kids that were really good students — like an ‘A’ student. Even when I playing tennis, I still went to school and had really good marks. I’m not sure what I would have pursued, but probably I would be really good in school in whatever subject I would choose; I was always a very disciplined student. For example, I like different areas now, but I’m not sure how my life would have turned out if I was not a tennis player. Maybe I would have been interested in politics, economics, languages, communications.

What is one thing that scares you?
Getting to the end of my life and not reaching the dreams that I have. Probably this is the thing that scares me the most.

You and Ana Ivanovic are very close. How did that friendship come about?
(Smiling) She is my best friend. We are like sisters. It’s so nice to have someone like that on tour. We actually discovered each other a little bit late. I think I was 19, she was 22 or something. So maybe like four years ago when we first started to train together because of the adidas team, and interact.

And suddenly we realized that we had the same values, same way of seeing life, same background, same kind of families, same education. Because we are so similar in everything, now a lot of times we don’t even have to speak, we know what we are feeling. It’s just so nice to have someone like her on the circuit and just be able to share this time together because we spend so much time at the tournaments. So it’s nice to have someone you can call almost family.

After a successful first season on the WTA Tour in 2009, there were some struggles for a couple of years. How did you deal with all the trials and what have you learned about yourself? 
I think I was a really good junior, so the transition to the WTA happened for me quite fast. I was quite talented. The first years on tour were very easy for me. Then players started to (know my game) a little bit. I had a very bad injury, I broke my heel, and that took me a little bit out of the game. So it was a little like a domino. It took me back and I fell in the rankings. And then it actually took me a while to get back. But I really really appreciate this time because I fell down to 100 and then I really had to work hard to get back.

Now I achieved my best ranking last month – I was 22 – so now I actually I feel that I do deserve to be here. I belong here; I worked hard to be here. I feel that I’m way more disciplined and appreciate things way more than I did when I was climbing the rankings. So I think it’s a learning process.

I’m very grateful for things good and bad that happened in my life because otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. So it’s a different way of thinking now than when I was 19. But, of course, everyone develops, gets experience and matures, and start seeing things different. But at the moment, I’m quite happy with the way things are going.

From Coast to Coast: WTA Carlsbad and Washington Previews

As the Premier Five tournament in Canada looms, four of the top ten women hone their skills at tournaments on opposite coasts.  The resort atmosphere at Carlsbad, long a player favorite, contrasts with the urban surroundings of the national capital.


Top half:  World No. 3 Victoria Azarenka has not lost a match away from clay all season.  Of course, Azarenka has played only four matches away from clay since winning the Doha title in February.  Walkovers and withdrawals ended her campaigns at Indian Wells, Miami, and Wimbledon, so attention will hover around her battered knee this week.  Azarenka’s health may attract even more attention than it would otherwise because she faces a relatively mild early slate of opponents.  An all-Italian battle between Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone tantalizes only for nostalgic reasons, and Urszula Radwanska seems little more likely than her elder sister to vanquish Vika.  Among the surprises of the spring was Jelena Jankovic, a semifinalist in Miami and quarterfinalist at Roland Garros.  Jankovic troubled Azarenka in her prime, but the momentum has shifted in that rivalry to reflect their divergent career arcs

The most compelling first-round match in Carlsbad will pit defending champion Dominika Cibulkova against former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic.  Defeating Bartoli to win last year’s title, Cibulkova exploited a much weaker draw in the week of the Olympics.  Still, she will bring plenty of confidence from her title at Stanford, whereas coaching turmoil once again enshrouds the Serb.  The route will not grow much smoother for whoever survives that early test.  Although the second round looks uneventful, Roberta Vinci could await in the quarterfinals.  This crafty Italian has domianted Cibulkova on all surfaces, winning five straight from her, and she has taken her last three outdoor matches from Ivanovic.  The relatively slow surface in San Diego should help Vinci outlast the heavy serve of Bethanie Mattek-Sands before then.

Semifinal:  Azarenka vs. Vinci

Bottom half:  Around this time last year, Petra Kvitova caught fire with a Premier Five title at the Rogers Cup and a semifinal in Cincinnati.  The somewhat slower surface in San Diego may suit her game less well than those events, and North America historically has not brought out her best tennis.   A rematch of her epic Australian Open loss to Laura Robson might await in the second round.  Both women have oscillated wildly in their results this year, suggesting another rollercoaster ahead.  A former Carlsbad champion lurks unobtrusively near eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro, enjoying her best season so far.  That former champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, has revived her career with two major quarterfinals in 2013.  An abdominal injury has sidelined Kuznetsova since Roland Garros, but she should have time to play herself into the tournament.

The fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska reached finals in each of her last two Carlsbad appearances.  Disappointed at Stanford on Sunday, Radwanska wil aim to erase that memory with her second title here.  She should outmaneuver Daniela Hantuchova, whom she has defeated here before, and may not have much to fear from Samantha Stosur unless the Aussie’s form improves dramatically.  Little in Stosur’s dismal performance at Stanford boded well for her chances of escaping a challenging opener against Varvara Lepchenko.  That 27-year-old American lefty could meet Radwanska in a quarterfinal for the second straight week.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Radwanska

Final:  Azarenka vs. Radwanska


Top half:  Overshadowed by the men’s event at the same tournament, this WTA International event did succeed in luring a top-10 player as a wildcard.  World No. 9 Angelique Kerber has fallen on hard times over the last few months, so a dip in the quality of opposition could prove just what the doctor ordered.  Some of the women who might face her in the quarterfinals exited early at Stanford.  Formerly promising American Christina McHale continues a rebuilding campaign in 2013 against Magdalena Rybarikova.  Her period of promise long behind her, Melanie Oudin hopes to stay somewhat relevant nearly four years after her illusory surge at the US Open.

Like McHale, Rybarikova, and Kiki Bertens in the top quarter, Madison Keys looks to bounce back from a disappointing Stanford loss.  Anchoring the second quarter, she might meet star junior Taylor Townsend in a second-round preview of future matches on more momentous stages.  The reeling but canny Monica Niculescu hopes to fluster Townsend with her distinctive style before then.  More young talent stands atop the section in Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and France’s Caroline Garcia.  These impressive phenoms must navigate around Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova, a lefty like Townsend.  Plenty of storylines and suspense will unfold in a very short time.

Bottom half:  Building on her momentum from Stanford, Sorana Cirstea eyes one of the draw’s softer sections.  Home hope Alison Riske looks to prove herself as a threat outside the small grass event in Birmingham, while Heather Watson traces the same trajectory as McHale on the long, slow road back from mononucleosis.  Ending her clay season on a high note, Alize Cornet won an International title in May.  But she threatens much less on hard courts and might well fall victim to the enigmatic Yanina Wickmayer at the outset.

By far the most established of the home threats, second seed Sloane Stephens faces high expectations this summer.  American fans know much more about the Australian Open semifinalist, Wimbledon quarterfinalist, and conqueror of Serena Williams than they did a year ago.  The 15th-ranked Stephens has produced much more convincing tennis at majors than at non-majors, where she barely has cracked the .500 threshold in 2013.  Her sturdiest pre-semifinal obstacle could come in the form of Andrea Petkovic, still producing results more disappointing than encouraging in her comeback from serious injuries.  A relatively minor illness may blunt Petkovic’s injuries this week, though, while compatriot Mona Barthel retired from her last tournament with a sore shoulder.

Final:  Makarova vs. Stephens