Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

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Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Azarenka, Serena Cruise, Monfils Leads French Parade on Day Four

Azarenka made her Roland Garros 2013 debut today after a four-day wait.

Profiting from more cooperative weather, Roland Garros produced a Day 4 replete with action.  Here’s the review of how it all went down.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Ah, the French in Paris.  Sometimes they dazzle, sometimes they implode, sometimes they puzzle, and sometimes they do all three.  Julien Benneteau achieved the trifecta in a five-set victory over Tobias Kamke, completing his first pair of consecutive victories since February.  En route to the third round, Benneteau a) won a 20-point tiebreak b) blew a two-set lead c) ate a bagel in the fourth set and d) won anyway.  Richard Gasquet, it’s your move.

Worth the wait:  After a 14-game fifth set, the epic between Horacio Zeballos and Vasek Pospisil finally ended a day and two sets after Zeballos could have ended it in a third-set tiebreak.  A young Canadian talent, Pospisil showed grit by rallying from the brink of a straight-sets loss to the brink of a five-set victory.  But Zeballos, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win a South American clay title this spring, relied on his greater experience to get the last word.

Comeback of the day:  Dutch heavy hitter Igor Sijsling looked ready to knock off the lowest men’s seed when he swept two tight sets.  Continuing a surprisingly solid clay campaign, Tommy Robredo surged through the next three sets for the loss of five total games.  The pattern of the scores recalled Roger Federer’s comeback over Juan Martin Del Potro here last year.

Surprise of the day:  Surely elated by his upset over Berdych in a first-round epic, Gael Monfils might have fallen victim to a hangover against the dangerous Ernests Gulbis.  Although he dropped the first set for the second straight match, Monfils outlasted his fellow erratic shot-maker for another quality win that jangled the nerves of his compatriots a bit less.  Up next is a more compelling test of his consistency against Robredo.  Check out the more detailed recap of Gael’s win on this site by colleague Yeshayahu Ginsburg.

Gold star:  A few of the less notable home hopes fell today, but all of the leading French men prevailed.  Like Monfils, Benoit Paire completed a comeback from losing the first set to win in four.  Gilles Simon hurled three consecutive breadsticks at clay specialist Pablo Cuevas after he too spotted his opponent a one-set lead.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga roared through in straight sets for the second consecutive match, as did Jeremy Chardy.  And don’t forget the wacky win by Benneteau explored above.  Plenty of reason remains for French patriots to return as the third round unfolds.

Silver star:  Struggling to win matches this year, Janko Tipsarevic and Viktor Troicki both survived potentially tricky encounters.  Tipsarevic cruised past local hero Nicolas Mahut, perhaps helped by the schedule shift away from Court Philippe Chatrier after the rain.  Troicki weathered five taxing sets and two tiebreaks against clay specialist Daniel Gimeno-Traver, who had upset 17th seed Juan Monaco.

Marathon man:  For the second straight round, Andreas Seppi prevailed in five sets.  Halfway to defending his fourth-round points from last year, Seppi seemed to have a stranglehold when he bageled Blaz Kavcic in the first set.  He later would allow a two-set lead to escape before regrouping when the match hung in the balance.

Stat of the day:  All 15 men’s seeds in action today advanced, eight in straight sets.

American in Paris:  After winning just one match in his first six Roland Garros appearances, top-ranked man Sam Querrey has won two in his seventh trip here without losing a set.

Question of the day:  Second seed Roger Federer entered this tournament as a distant third favorite for the title after Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  Looking at least as sharp as either of them, Federer now has lost just 12 games in two matches, albeit against weak competition from two qualifiers.  Should we start taking his title hopes more seriously?

WTA:

Match of the day:  After Victoria Azarenka outlasted her in a long match at the Australian Open, Jamie Hampton secured a happier ending to another three-setter at a major.  Hampton stunned 25th seed Lucie Safarova after winning the first set in a tiebreak, withstanding Safarova’s second-set surge, and closing out a 9-7 final set.  That 16-game affair was the longest set of the women’s tournament so far.

Worth the wait:  Delayed by rain, world No. 3 Azarenka did not start her Roland Garros campaign until Wednesday.  Needing to issue a strong statement, as all of her rivals had, Azarenka delivered with a resounding victory over former doubles partner Elena Vesnina.  None of the top four women has lost more than five games in a match so far.

Comeback of the day:  For the second straight tournament, Svetlana Kuznetsova ate a first-set breadstick from an unseeded opponent.  Whereas the Rome breadstick from Simona Halep preceded another breadstick, the Roland Garros breadstick from Magdalena Rybarikova spurred the 2009 champion into action.  Kuznetsova dropped just four games over the next two sets, responding much more forcefully to adversity.

Surprise of the day:  Surviving a first-round flirtation with disaster boded well for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s chances here.  She almost always has ventured deep into draws this year when passing her first test.  This time, though, Pavlyuchenkova fell short in the second round to Petra Cetkovska in another tight three-setter.  The victim of painful losses here as well, coach Martina Hingis can empathize.

Unsurprising surprise of the day:  Unseeded 2012 quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi continued her momentum from winning a Premier title in Brussels last week.  Kanepi dispatched 23rd seed Klara Zakopalova in straight sets on a difficult day for Czechs.

Gold star:  Famous forever after what happened last year, Virginie Razzano technically surpassed that performance this year.  Razzano more than justified her wildcard by reaching the third round, perhaps bolstered by the memories of her landmark victory over Serena Williams.

Silver star:  In the first match of her career at Roland Garros, promising Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty made her presence felt.  Barty stunned last week’s Strasbourg runner-up Lucie Hradecka in three sets, overcoming dramatic disparities in power, experience, and clay expertise.

Marathon woman:  Eight of Petra Kvitova’s last nine matches have reached a third set, the latest against the fossilized Aravane Rezai today.  That recent capsule from clay reflects a trend typical for Kvitova overall, for she has played 18 three-setters this year and a staggering 39 in 2012-13.  Whether caused by slow starts or mid-match hiccups, those rollercoasters illustrate her unreliability.

Stat of the day:  Bojana Jovanovski has won three matches since January, two of which have come against Caroline Wozniacki.  The Dane predictably became the first top-ten woman to lose at Roland Garros as Jovanovski accomplished what the more talented Laura Robson could not.

Americans in Paris:  Blasting past Caroline Garcia today, Serena Williams has lost just four games in two matches and 18 games in seven matches since Rome started.  While the top seed continues to look every inch the title favorite, several other American women acquitted themselves well.  Varvara Lepchenko notched a second straight routine victory, while women’s wildcard Shelby Rogers swiped a set from 20th seed Carla Suarez Navarro despite the gap between their relative credentials.  On the other hand, Madison Keys dropped a winnable match to Monica Puig, and Mallory Burdette could not find any answers to Agnieszka Radwanska.

Question of the day:  All of the top four women have roared through their early matches, confirming their elite status.  Outside that group, who has impressed you the most so far?

Roland Garros Rewind: Federer, Serena Shine on Day 1; Venus Falls

Roger Federer's outfit was dull, but his play was scintillating on Day 1.

Today marks the first in the series of brief daily recaps that will keep you updated on several of the key storylines at Roland Garros.  Roland Garros Rewind will be followed by Roland Garros Fast Forward each day, a preview of the next day’s notable matches.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Defending fourth-round points in Paris, Andreas Seppi brought little momentum here after staggering through a miserable clay season.  His opening match against unheralded Argentine Leonardo Mayer showed plenty of the reasons for his 2013 woes, but the Italian finished strong to win in five after several momentum shifts.

Comeback of the day:  Gilles Simon never had rallied to win a match after losing the first two sets, so things looked grim after he won just four games in two sets against Lleyton Hewitt.  On the other hand, he had not lost in the first round of a major since this tournament five years ago.  That statistic endured as the other disappeared when Simon eked out a 7-5 fifth set after blowing a 5-0 lead.

Surprise of the day:  None.  All of the men’s seeds won their matches, most much more comfortably than Simon.  Marcel Granollers did end the day in a spot of bother against compatriot Feliciano Lopez, suspended for darkness before starting the fifth set.

Gold star:  Pablo Carreno-Busta had sparked plenty of chatter among tennis fans for his success earlier this clay season and long winning streak at ITF events.  Roger Federer showed him no mercy in conceding just seven games on Court Philippe Chatrier, the first Grand Slam match of the qualifier’s career.  The combination of opponent and setting proved too much for the youngster to overcome.

Silver star:  David Ferrer took care of business efficiently too, meeting little resistance from Marinko Matosevic.  Ferrer has a very promising draw this tournament as he seeks his fourth semifinal in the last five majors.

American in Paris:  Aided by a severely slumping Lukas Lacko, Sam Querrey won just the second match of his Roland Garros career and did so handily.  In other words, the USA avoided the ignominy of its top-ranked man losing in the first round of a major.

Question of the day:  Three tall men won today:  Milos Raonic, Kevin Anderson, and Querrey.  Who will go the furthest this year?

WTA:

Match of the day:  In over three hours filled with tension, Urszula Radwanska upset Venus Williams for arguably the most impressive victory of her career.  Urszula easily could have faded when Venus slipped away with the second set in a tiebreak, but her youth may have helped her outlast a fading veteran troubled by back injuries this spring.  An all-Radwanska match could end the first week.

Surprise of the day:  The Puerto Rican phenom Monica Puig knocked off 11th seed and former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Petrova.  Granted, Petrova has not accomplished much this year, building her ranking upon two hard-court titles last fall.  Puig still deserves a tip of the hat for rallying from a one-set deficit despite her lack of experience.

Comeback of the day:  The first step often has proved the last for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova this year, as it had in Madrid and Rome.  Déjà vu lurked just around the corner when Andrea Hlavackova served for the match against her in the second set and came within two points of the upset in the ensuing tiebreak.  Pavlyuchenkova not only held firm at that tense moment but managed to hold serve throughout a tight third set, a good omen for her future here.

Gold star:  What a difference a year makes.  Gone in the first round last year to Virginie Razzano, Serena Williams sent home Anna Tatishvili with a gift basket of a bagel and a breadstick.  The world No. 1 looked every bit as intimidating as she had in her dominant Rome run.

Silver star:  The last woman to lose at Roland Garros last year was the first woman to win at Roland Garros this year.  Now the fifth seed rather than an unknown dirt devil, Sara Errani responded well to the target on her back by conceding just three games to Arantxa Rus.

American in Paris:  In her first main-draw match at Roland Garros, Mallory Burdette started her career here 1-0 with an impressively convincing victory over teenage talent Donna Vekic.  Nerves surfaced when Burdette squandered triple match point as she served for the match, but she saved two break points before closing it out.

Question of the day:  Ana Ivanovic started proceedings on Chatrier with a bizarre three-setter that she could have won much more easily than she did.  Should we chalk up her uneven performance to first-round nerves on the big stage, or is it a sign of (bad) things to come?

See you shortly with Day 2 previews.

 

Roland Garros Fast Forward: Federer, Serena, Venus, Headline Day 1

What difference will a year make for Serena?

Today features the first edition of a daily Roland Garros preview series that offers a few notes on the next day’s most interesting matches.  After each day ends, moreover, a recap of similar length will guide you through the key headlines.

ATP:

Pablo Carreno-Busta vs. Roger Federer:  This qualifier reeled off a long winning streak at lower-level events over the last year and reached the Portugal semifinals, also as a qualifier, with victories over Julien Benneteau and Fabio Fognini. Carreno-Busta also upset defending champion Pablo Andujar in Casablanca, shortly before the latter stormed to the Madrid semifinals, and won a set from Stanislas Wawrinka in Portugal.  Paris is not Portugal or Casablanca, though, nor is it even Bordeaux, where Carreno-Busta lost in the first round of a challenger.

Gilles Simon vs. Lleyton Hewitt:  This tournament might mark Hewitt’s final appearance at Roland Garros.  If it does, a match on a show court against a fellow grinder, likely with a strong crowd, seems a fitting way to go.  Simon has flown under the radar for most of the year, stringing together some victories at small events and upsetting two top-ten opponents.  He reached the second week at the Australian Open despite largely unimpressive form, so he should muddle through here too.

Andreas Seppi vs. Leonardo Mayer:  The Italian must defend fourth-round points at Roland Garros, where he won two sets from Novak Djokovic last year.  Seppi’s 14-14 record this year does not bode well, and he has survived his first match at only one of six clay tournaments.  Fortunately for him, Mayer lost his only clay match this year.

Marcel Granollers vs. Feliciano Lopez:  A quarterfinalist in Rome, Granollers owes Andy Murray twice over in recent weeks.  First, the world No. 2 retired from their match there, allowing the Spaniard to gobble extra ranking points.  Then, Murray’s withdrawal nudged Granollers into a seeded position at Roland Garros.  He should take advantage of it against the fading serve-volley specialist Feliciano Lopez, although matches between two Spaniards often get trickier than expected.

WTA:

Serena Williams vs. Anna Tatishvili:  Everyone remembers what happened to Serena in the first round here last year.  Nobody remembers it more clearly than Serena does.  Expect her to put this match away early, exorcising Razzano’s ghosts.

Urszula Radwanska vs. Venus Williams:  Both of these women must cope with being the second-best women’s tennis player in their respective families.  Hampered by a back injury, Venus has played just one match on red clay this year, losing routinely to Laura Robson.  Urszula is not quite Robson at this stage, but she recorded clay wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Ana Ivanovic this year.  Venus should pull through in the end after some edgy moments.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. Andrea Hlavackova:  When Pavlyuchenkova gets through her first match, she has reached the semifinals at four of five tournaments this year, winning two.  The problem is that she has lost her first match no fewer than seven times against opponents of varying quality. (Azarenka and Ivanovic are understandable, Lesya Tsurenko and Johanna Larsson less so.)  Since reaching the second week of the US Open, Hlavackova has won one main-draw singles match,  over the hapless Melanie Oudin. Surely Pavlyuchenkova won’t double that total?

Kiki Bertens vs. Sorana Cirstea:  Their big weapons and questionable movement would seem better designed for fast-court tennis.  But both of them have found their greatest success on clay, Cirstea reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals four years ago and Bertens winning her only WTA title so far at Fes last year.  This match looks among the most evenly contested of the day with plenty of heavy groundstrokes to go around.

Mallory Burdette vs. Donna Vekic:  One of the top American collegiate prospects, Burdette left Stanford last fall to turn pro and has reaped some solid results.  Her victims so far include Lucie Hradecka, Ksenia Pervak, and Sabine Lisicki as well as fellow American rising star Madison Keys.  Burdette will train her vicious backhand on Croatian rising star Donna Vekic, who reached her first WTA final last year as a qualifier.  Vekic has not accomplished much above the challenger level since then, losing her only clay match this year to Chanelle Scheepers in Madrid.

Ayumi Morita vs. Yulia Putintseva:  Is Paris ready for Putintseva?  The volatile French crowd pounced on fellow pocket rocket Michelle Larcher de Brito, but the distant venue of Court 7 should take some of the scrutiny off the strong-lunged youngster.  Putintseva took Serena to a first-set tiebreak in Madrid but will have her work cut out with Morita’s double-fisted strokes.  Unlike Coco Vandeweghe, the Japanese star will win points with more than her serve.

The Dirty Dozen: Roland Garros Dark Horses Preview

Madrid runner-up Stanislas Wawrinka might make his presence felt in Paris

While attention focuses annually on a small group of contenders, Roland Garros would be much less intriguing without the upset threats that populate each year’s draw.  A look at the contenders lies ahead next week, but the spotlight this weekend shines on the dark horses.  None of these men or women can win the title in Paris, almost certainly, so their triumphs will consist of stopping those who could.

ATP:

Stanislas Wawrinka:  Almost ranked too high to fit in this category, he cracked the top ten after reaching the final in Madrid.  There, Wawrinka recorded consecutive victories over top-eight opponents Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, rallying from multiple deficits in the latter match.  Well before then, the Swiss No. 2 had established himself as a formidable underdog by taking Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to final sets at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, respectively.  When the battlefield shifted to clay, he routed Andy Murray in Monte Carlo and David Ferrer to win the Portugal Open title.  Wawrinka’s resilient fitness and physical baseline style prepare him well for best-of-five on clay, although he never has reached the quarterfinals in Paris.  Nor has he ever won a set from Rafael Nadal.

Nicolas Almagro:  The third-ranked Spanish man struggled at the Masters 1000 clay tournaments, continuing a trend of futility at that level.  Almagro deserves inclusion here because of his three Roland Garros quarterfinal runs, all ended by losses to Nadal, and his finals appearance at the Barcelona 500 tournament.  During the overlooked clay season in North and South America, moreover, he reached the semifinals or better at three of four tournaments, holding set points against Nadal in Acapulco.  Almagro often has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, for he let a substantial early lead escape him when he faced Rafa in Barcelona.  That flaw emerged in equal proportion to his potential at the Australian Open, where he raced to within two points of the semifinal before surrendering an even larger lead.

Tommy Haas:  Thirty-five years young, the evergreen German soared to another title on home soil in Munich, losing only one set all week.  Haas brought that momentum to Madrid the next week, where he recorded impressively convincing victories over clay specialists Tommy Robredo and Andreas Seppi.  Able to win a set from Ferrer, whom he never has defeated, he arrived in Rome a bit weary and promptly exited to Mikhail Youzhny.  His decision to play another home tournament in Dusseldorf next week makes sense for the top-ranked German but will permit him no respite before Roland Garros.  Haas has won his most recent meetings against both Novak Djokovic and Federer, however, while he came closer than anyone to stopping the Swiss short of the career Grand Slam.

Jerzy Janowicz:  His game would seem more suited to fast courts like those at the Paris indoors, where he achieved his breakthrough last fall.  But Janowicz fitted his explosive weapons to the slow clay of Rome with impressive results, scoring top-ten upsets over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet.  Against Federer, far more proficient on clay, he imposed his mixture of bullet forehands and delicate drop shots well enough to nearly steal a set.  Janowicz sometimes reminds of Ernests Gulbis, who reached a Roland Garros quarterfinal before with a similar combination of power and finesse.  Until Rome, however, he had accomplished little on the surface with first-round losses in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.  And the restless Paris crowd may fray his raw emotions.

Fabio Fognini:  Like Almagro, this Italian opened his clay season in South America and soon struck a rich vein of form by reaching the Acapulco semifinals.  Taking a set from Ferrer there, Fognini also defeated Wawrinka in a result that presaged his Monte Carlo surge.  At the first of the clay Masters 1000 tournaments, this man who never had reached a quarterfinal at this level reached his first semifinal there.  Fognini did it the hard way, upsetting Berdych and Richard Gasquet in stunningly routine fashion.  Since then, the bloom of those successes has faded a bit with early exits over the next three weeks.  Fognini came close to reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals two years ago, and he has played a series of memorable five-setters in Paris.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Sharapova’s leading man usually spurs parallels to Federer, particularly his serve and backhand.  Not yet worthy of the comparison, Dimitrov achieved the greatest feat of his career so far when he upset Djokovic in an epic, contentious three-setter of exceptional quality.  That Madrid breakthrough concluded a series of matches against top-five opponents that he gradually grew closer to winning.  Winning a set from Nadal in Monte Carlo, Dimitrov handled Rafa’s topspin much more effectively than the man on whom he modeled his game.  Outside nerve-induced cramps, his fitness and movement have improved dramatically over the last year.  Dimitrov has struggled to follow one impressive result with another, so an early Rome loss may bode well for Paris.  Never has he passed the second round of a major.

WTA:

Roberta Vinci:  Italians have built a recent tradition of exceeding expectations at Roland Garros, so this veteran aims to follow in the footsteps of Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani.  A doubles titlist there with Errani, Vinci won the first edition of the Katowice clay event over Petra Kvitova and repeated that result while spearheading Italy’s Fed Cup victory a week later.  Benefited by a comfortable Rome draw, she reached the quarterfinals there despite a shaky start.  Even before the clay season, she had accumulated impressive results by reaching a Dubai semifinal and Miami quarterfinal.  Vinci’s veering backhand slice becomes especially lethal on clay, although she has suffered a series of first-round losses at Roland Garros and will want to stay away from Varvara Lepchenko, who has defeated her twice on clay recently.

Ana Ivanovic:  The 2008 Roland Garros champion already has accumulated more clay victories this year than in any other season since she won Paris and ascended to No. 1.  Ivanovic followed two Fed Cup victories and a quarterfinal in Stuttgart with a semifinal in Madrid, her best result at an event of that magnitude in over four years.  Defeating Angelique Kerber twice this clay season, she also won a set from Sharapova.  These achievements surprised in view of her meager results through February and March, but Ivanovic always has produced the unexpected.  In the wake of her Madrid run, she suffered an inexplicable opening loss in Rome to Urszula Radwanska, and that Madrid run itself might not have happened if not for the woeful serving of Laura Robson, whom she edged past in a third-set tiebreak.

Jelena Jankovic:  Echoing the exploits of her countrywoman, the elder Serb reached the quarterfinals in Rome with an upset over 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na.  Jankovic also won her first 10 matches this year on clay as she swept past overmatched competition in Bogota and Charleston.  At the latter tournament, on green clay rather than the conventional terre battue, she even won a set from Serena Williams.  JJ fans will remind you that she often delivers the least when most is expected, while she lost early at the other two key WTA clay events in Stuttgart and Madrid.  Roland Garros has witnessed her most consistent results of any major, however, including three semifinals between 2007 and 2010.  Well past her peak now, can she turn back the clock?

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova:  Either very good or very bad this year, the Russian is the only woman outside the top four to win multiple titles.  The second of those came on the clay of Portugal, where she weathered two three-setters and early adversity in the final.  Pavlyuchenkova largely has kept in check a serve that can veer out of control, and she held three set points in each set of her loss to Azarenka in Madrid.  The guidance of new coach Martina Hingis could offer this former Roland Garros quarterfinalist the boost that she needs to score that type of upset, although this major notoriously eluded Hingis during her playing days.  If she gets past her first opponent in Paris, Pavlyuchenkova should keep building momentum from there.

Carla Suarez Navarro:   Armed with a backhand that recalls Justine Henin’s flamboyant stroke, she has risen to a career-high ranking this year with finals in Acapulco and Portugal.  Suarez Navarro also upset Samantha Stosur on European clay before advancing to the quarterfinals in Rome.  An underrated competitor, she excels in long matches and rallied to defeat Petrova there after saving two match points.  Suarez Navarro’s serve leaves her vulnerable to the massive returners at the top of the women’s game, but a similar flaw did not prevent Sara Errani from reaching the Roland Garros final last year.  Gone in the first week of her last three trips to Paris, she reached the quarterfinals as a qualifier in her first appearance there, winning as many matches as the eventual champion.

Kaia Kanepi:  Sidelined until April with injury, this two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist found her form surprisingly soon .  Kanepi has not played on any surface but clay this year, which leaves her both well-adjusted and relatively fresh.  Three straight-sets victories carried her to the Portugal semifinals, while her most impressive achievement may have consisted of reaching the Madrid quarterfinals.  Among her victims there was Suarez Navarro, against whom she avenged a Portugal loss.  Kanepi did not play Rome but will return to action in Brussels next week.  Her playing style succeeds there for the same reasons that Sharapova won the title last year:  heavy ball-striking that penetrates even the slowest surfaces, combined with extra time to line up her targets.

And, to make it a baker’s dozen, let’s add…

Simona Halep:  Strong on clay in 2012, she reached the quarterfinals or better at three tournaments and finished runner-up in Brussels.  Halep had sunk to the status of an aspiring qualifier for key tournaments by the time that she arrived in Rome, where she enjoyed the strongest week of a WTA quaifier in recent memory.  Notching six straight victories to reach the quarterfinals, Halep demolished former Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, rallied past world No. 4 Radwanska, dominated Vinci, and mounted another comeback to edge past Jankovic after saving a match point.  That string of victories over players with far superior credentials popped plenty of eyes and will cause her ranking to soar, although probably not high enough for a Roland Garros seed.

 

“Mama Martina:” Hingis Embraces New Role as Coach

Martina Hingis, long in the role of pupil, finds herself on the coaching end of a tennis relationship. How is she making the transition?

In a heated debate between parent and child, many a tiger mother has resorted to an ominous prediction in her rhetoric: “Wait until you have children; then you will understand.” It is a common adage heard in American households, but it feels strangely applicable as former champion Martina Hingis begins the European clay court swing, not as a player, but as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s new coach.

Ostensibly an odd pairing, there has been little in the young Russian’s career to make one draw comparisons to the “Swiss Miss.” Where Hingis arguably peaked before age 20, Pavlyuchenkova’s career has been defined by fits and starts; her 2013 resumé  alone boasts two titles, one final and a whopping seven opening round losses. From the age of two, the five-time Slam champion was coached almost exclusively by her mother, Melanie Molitor, a former player from the Czech Republic who had named her daughter after national hero, Martina Navratilova.

By contrast, Pavlyuchenkova has gone through a bevy of coaching situations in the constant effort to tweak her game to be more reliable. In the last year, she finally returned to the Mouratoglou Academy (home to Serena Williams, Jeremy Chardy, and Yulia Putintseva), and cemented her partnership with Academy coach Hingis last week during the International event in Oeiras.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QpLU5EIIqk

Even on a fundamental level, Pavlyuchenkova represents much of what drove Hingis from the top of the sport in the early 2000s. The Swiss superstar relied on guile and cunning to beat bigger, stronger opponents on a weekly basis, but even that was often not enough to compensate for her underpowered game. Pavlyuchenkova? She has enough stored-up power to keep the lights on at any stadium she plays. She may as well consider “tactics” a four letter word, as all of her biggest victories were moments when she bashed down the door with relentless efficiency. Ten years ago, that might have been enough to take the Russian to several Slam titles already.

But today, the most successful players combine brains and brawn, and those who rely too heavily on one or the other find themselves flattened by more complete players.

On some level, Hingis must feel relieved that, to a certain degree, that which Pavlyuchenkova lacks can be taught. As she herself learned the hard way, height and strength is not something one can glean from a couple of days on the practice court. But the two do appear to share a certain stubbornness that might make this arrangement more trouble than it’s worth.

From a pundit’s perspective, it looked like there was plenty Hingis could have done to compete with the changing Tour, from developing a faster serve, to ending her mother/coach relationship and improving her perceived lack of superhuman fitness. But as Hingis infamously said, she was a “player, not a worker.” She was content to make the best of her natural gifts and use them to hide her weaknesses for as long as she could.

Pavlyuchenkova, too, has sometimes bristled at the idea of improving. Despite lacking much of Hingis’s immediate Tour success, the Russian seemed in no rush to build on her emphatic run to the 2009 Indian Wells semifinals, and while she has made two Slam quarterfinals since then, her ranking has stalled outside the top 10, and both her fitness and consistency have left much to be desired.

Though she may blanch at the notion, Martina has become her mother. Once a player, she is now forced as coach to watch from the stands and hope that her charge is employing the techniques they discussed in practice. But after playing nearly two decades one way, how quickly will Pavlyuchenkova be able to find the balance between “brainless ballbasher” and “technical tactician?” How many matches is she willing to lose playing the right way instead of winning playing the wrong way? At least neither have to deal with the all-too-complex parent/child dynamic.

After all, Pavlyuchenkova’s coach isn’t “mom,” she’s “Martina Hingis.”

Opening the Magic Box: WTA Madrid Draw Preview

Serena didn't feel blue on the blue last year.  Will she see red on the red?

Rare is the non-major that features every woman in the WTA top 10, but Madrid can lay claim to that honor this year.  In another rare quirk, all of the top three women arrive there on winning streaks.  Only one of those streaks can survive Madrid.  Whose will it be?  Or none of the above?  We take a look at each quarter of the draw.

First quarter:  Clearly the best women’s player of the last decade, Serena Williams won this title on blue clay last year but has not reached a final on red clay since she completed the career Grand Slam in 2002.  With her world No. 1 ranking somewhat at stake, Serena has landed in the more challenging half of the draw.  Her first two rounds should allow her to find some rhythm on the surface, for the green clay of Charleston offers only partial preparation for the European terre battue.  Seeking her third straight title, Serena could meet Maria Kirilenko in the third round, or perhaps Klara Zakopalova.  Both of those counterpunchers have troubled her on clay before, each extending her to three sets at Roland Garros.  Stiffer competition will arrive in the quarterfinals, though, where the draw has projected her to meet Stuttgart finalist and 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na.

The fifth seed must overcome a few notable obstacles of her own to reach that stage, such as a second-round match with Serena’s sister.  Not at her best on clay, Venus Williams still should have plenty of energy at that stage, but she has lost all three of her career meetings with Li.  Surrounding world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki are heavy hitters Yaroslava Shvedova and Mona Barthel.  If neither of those knocks off the Dane, who lost her Stuttgart opener, she could attempt to build on her victory over Li last fall.   While Serena has dominated her head-to-head meetings with both Wozniacki and Li overall, she often has found them foes worthy of her steel.  On red clay, Li’s counterpunching talents and ability to transition from defense to offense could prove especially dangerous.

Semifinalist:  Li

Second quarter:   Returning from yet another of her injury absences, Victoria Azarenka barely has played since winning the Doha title from Serena in a memorable three-set final.  That February achievement preceded a shaky effort at Indian Wells curtailed by a sore ankle, so Vika enters Madrid with less match play than most other contenders.  Her bid for a third straight final here will take her through the teeth of some formidable early tests, including Portugal Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opener.  The Russian took sets from Azarenka in two of their three previous meetings, while second-round opponent Lucie Safarova took her the distance here two years ago and impressed in a three-hour loss to Sharapova at Stuttgart.  Twice a finalist and once a champion at Roland Garros, Francesca Schiavone should pose less resistance to the third seed as her consistency has dwindled.  Nevertheless, an unexpected title in Marrakech might carry Schiavone to their projected clash in the fourth round, for the higher-ranked Marion Bartoli tends to struggle on clay.

Relatively open is the lower area of this quarter, where Sara Errani looks to rebound from an early Stuttgart exit.  Last year’s Roland Garros finalist will appreciate the absence of a powerful shot-maker in her vicinity, allowing her to slowly grind down opponents vulnerable to erratic stretches.  Rising stars Urszula Radwanska and Sorana Cirstea fit in that category, as does enigmatic German Julia Goerges.  Eranni has faced doubles partner Roberta Vinci in two key matches over the past several months, a US Open quarterfinal and a Dubai semifinal, emerging victories both times on those hard courts.  Clay could prove a different story, especially with Vinci’s recent fine form.  But Errani’s veteran compatriot will meet last year’s Madrid quarterfinalist Varvara Lepchenko in the first round a few months after losing to her in Fed Cup.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Third quarter:  In the section without any of the WTA’s three leading ladies, the eye pauses on two unseeded figures who could produce deep runs.  One of them, 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, submitted indifferent results in Portugal last week and has played little since a strong start to the year.  This Russian has collected many of her best victories on clay, including Roland Garros upsets of Serena and Radwanska, building on the affinity of her athletic, forehand-centered game for the surface.  Less impressive is Kuznetsova’s focus, which undermined her in a fourth-round match in Paris against Errani last year and could cost her in a third-round meeting with Angelique Kerber.  While the indoor clay of Stuttgart differs significantly from outdoor clay conditions, the world No. 6 still may have gained confidence from nearly reaching a final on her worst surface.  The eleventh-seeded Nadia Petrova has generated few headlines of late, and slow-court specialist Alize Cornet rarely makes a statement in a draw of this magnitude.

The other unseeded player of note here, former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, burst back into prominence when she reached the Miami semifinals this spring and backed it up with a finals appearance in Charleston.  Jankovic defeated no opponent of note there or in her Bogota title run a month before, but she did win a set from Serena and generally looked at ease on her favorite surface.  Looming for her is yet another clash with her compatriot and fellow former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, who also showed encouraging recent form by defeating Kerber in Fed Cup and testing Sharapova in a Stuttgart quarterfinal.  The Serbs have split their two meetings on red clay, both of which lasted three sets, but Ivanovic prevailed comfortably in their only encounter from the past two years.  Scant reward awaits the winner, aligned to face fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in a matchup that has befuddled both of them through long losing streaks to the Pole.  Like Kerber, Radwanska would consider clay her worst surface, so a quarterfinal between them could tilt either way.

Semifinalist:  Radwanska

Fourth quarter:  The majors, Premier Mandatory tournaments, Premier Five tournaments, and year-end championships form a group of fourteen elite events that overshadow the WTA calendar.  Accustomed to (literally) overshadowing her opponents, Maria Sharapova has reached the final at thirteen of those—all but Madrid.  This year’s draw offers the world No. 2 some assistance in correcting that omission, for only one player who has defeated her in the last twelve months appears in her half.  And that player, grass specialist Sabine Lisicki, hardly poses a formidable threat on clay.  By contrast, potential third-round opponent Dominika Cibulkova has defeated Sharapova on this surface before and seems a more plausible candidate to end her red-clay streak.  Injuries have troubled Cibulkova during her most productive time of the year, however, whereas Sharapova has evolved into a far more dangerous clay threat since that 2009 loss.

One of two one-time major champions stands poised to meet Sharapova in the quarterfinals, but their uneven form this year opens this section for one of its several unseeded talents.  A champion here two years, eighth seed Petra Kvitova could meet ninth seed and 2010 Roland Garros finalist Samantha Stosur in the third round.  Troubled by a leg injury in recent weeks, though, the latter faces a difficult opening assignment in rising Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.  This clay specialist with an Henin-esque one-handed backhand will bring momentum from reaching the Portugal Open final, while Stosur fell to Jankovic in her Stuttgart opener.  Mounting a comeback from injury is 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi, who also produced solid results last week.  Flavia Pennetta’s comeback has progressed less promisingly, but she too has plenty of clay skills.  Meanwhile, can Sloane Stephens rediscover some of the form that took her to the second week in Paris last year?  Many questions arise from this section that only matches can answer.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Final:  Li vs. Sharapova

Champion:  Li Na

Check back tomorrow for a preview of the ATP draw in Madrid.

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Portugal Open Preview

Will Kuz cruz or luz?  That's one of the biggest questions in Portugal.

Sandwiched between busy weeks in Stuttgart and Madrid is a lovely smaller event between Lisbon and the ocean.  Formerly known as the Estoril tournament, the Portugal Open has moved to nearby Oeiras and a location more convenient for those traveling from the capital.  It lacks top-ten entrants or other names familiar to the casual fan, but the tennis aficionado will appreciate the mixture of clay specialists and rising stars on display.

Portugal:

Top half:  Least comfortable on clay among all surfaces, the top-seeded Marion Bartoli seems ripe for an upset in view of her recent struggles.  Bartoli fell in her first match at each of her last two tournaments and has lost five of her last six matches on clay.  Opening against fellow double-fister Peng Shuai, she could face a compelling in the quarterfinals against the winner of an intriguing first-round encounter.  Varvara Lepchenko, the sixth seed, achieved her breakthrough on clay last year with a Madrid quarterfinal and an upset over Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros.  Continuing that trend for her in an otherwise poor 2013 were victories in Fed Cup over both Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, two of the WTA’s leading clay specialists.  But Lepchenko faces the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw to start the week in 2009 Roland Garros champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Although she has cooled over her last few events, Kuznetsova signaled a resurgence with an outstanding start to the season that included an Australian Open quarterfinal.  She also reached the second week of Roland Garros in her last tournament on the terre battue.

Less intriguing is a second quarter stacked with three qualifiers, grass-court specialist Tamira Paszek, and two inconsistent Russian seeds.  A champion in Monterrey and a finalist in Brisbane, the third-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has wobbled through five first-round losses as well.  This former Roland Garros quarterfinalist has lost two of three on clay this year.  Perhaps buoyed by Russia’s Fed Cup comeback, to which Pavlyuchenkova did not contribute, compatriot and fellow seed Elena Vesnina looks to exploit this soft section.  Vesnina raced to a 10-1 start this year, including her first career title, but she won just four games in her first-round Stuttgart loss and has struggled overall since that initial spurt.  Also winning her first career title this year, Romanian junkballer Monica Niculescu rounds out this section.

Semifinal:  Kuznetsova vs. Pavlyuchenkova

Bottom half:  Scoring a mini-upset over Caroline Wozniacki in Stuttgart, Carla Suarez Navarro started her favorite span of the year with modest success.  With a ranking near its career high, the fourth seed will showcase her elegant one-handed backhand and agile defense against a group of heavier hitters.  Foremost among them is Julia Goerges, who has proved that she can win on clay with a Stuttgart title two years ago.  Those two years feel like an eternity ago sometimes, but Goerges did stir to life with a strong effort at that tournament against Petra Kvitova.  She faces a challenging second-round match against one of the two Marrakech finalists.  Having faced each other on Sunday, Francesca Schiavone and Lourdes Dominguez Lino will meet again on Tuesday or Wednesday.  The 2010 Roland Garros champion and 2011 finalist, Schiavone seemed to hover near the verge of retirement when she struggled to win a match earlier this year.  One wonders whether her week in Marrakech will have boosted her confidence a bit.

Initially projected as the top seed in that Moroccan event, Dominika Cibulkova withdrew from it in the wake of Slovakia’s Fed Cup catastrophe.  Her team became the first in Fed Cup history to lose a World Group semifinal after leading 2-0, a collapse that began with her loss to Maria Kirilenko.  Cibulkova owns the best clay skills of anyone in her immediate vicinity, for she upset Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros last year en route to the quarterfinals and also reached the semifinals there four years ago.  A pair of young players, Urszula Radwanska and Laura Robson, hope to gain traction at a small event without any notable names.  Robson in particular could use an injection of morale after dropping six three-setters since the Australian Open, having won the first set in three.  Elsewhere in this section, another 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalist in Kaia Kanepi aims to accelerate a comeback in its third tournament.  She might face the fifth-seeded Sorana Cirstea in the second round, or ageless Spanish clay specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues.  Cirstea has trended upward recently and benefits from the extra time on the surface to prepare her savage forehand.

Semifinal:  Suarez Navarro vs. Cirstea

Final:  Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro

Since Madrid starts on Saturday, May 4, my Friday article will preview the two draws rather than offering a viewpoint on a current issue.  I might write that type of article for the following Monday, depending on whether something arises.  Apologies for any confusion caused by the scheduling switch.

 

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Previews of Charleston and Monterrey

Will Serena make it two trophies in two weeks?

In a quiet week for the ATP outside Davis Cup, the WTA features a Premier tournament on the unique green clay and the only Mexican hard-court tournament on the calendar.  An old event and a new event, Charleston and Monterrey feature fields surprisingly strong in view of the two marquee tournaments that filled last month.

Charleston:

Top half:  A moment of silence, please, for Mandy Minella and Camila Giorgi.  These two women, who have struggled in recent moments, battle for the honor of sharing a court with world No. 1 Serena Williams.  Fresh from her Miami triumph, the defending champion in Charleston might face her first meaningful test in 2009 Charleston champion Sabine Lisicki.  The German has struggled to gain traction outside the grass season, though, as her unreliable groundstrokes undo the contributions of her explosive serve.  A rematch of last year’s Charleston final could await against Lucie Safarova in the quarterfinals, although Sorana Cirstea will aim to build upon her fourth-round appearance in Miami, where she upset world No. 6 Angelique Kerber.

The fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens has struggled to profit from the favorable draws that she has received with a ranking inflated by her Australian Open semifinal appearance.  Although she won a set from Agnieszka Radwanska in Miami, she has not won more than one match at any tournament since that Melbourne breakthrough.  In her vicinity stand two compatriots at opposite ends of their careers, the veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands and the teenage star Madison Keys.  The formidable serves of either or both women could threaten Stephens more than Tamira Paszek, a grass-court specialist mired in yet another slump.  Three more Americans will vie to become her quarterfinal opponent, including the first-round winner of a contest between Varvara Lepchenko and Christina McHale.  Both Lepchenko and McHale could use a strong result to boost their confidence, but the real name to note here is Venus Williams.  A finalist in Charleston four years ago, Venus needs to conserve her energy with comfortable wins in the early rounds.

Semifinal:  Serena vs. Venus

Bottom half:  Another former Charleston champion, Sam Stosur, aims to kick off her clay campaign in style as she recovers from an Indian Wells injury.  Her closest challengers range from the aging but still elegant Daniela Hantuchova to Laura Robson, the latter of whom urgently needs some positive energy.  Robson has lost demoralizing three-setters early in each of her last three tournaments, two after winning the first set, in a test of her volatile temper.  Another woman with mercurial tendencies, Jelena Jankovic hopes to prove that her unexpected surge to the Miami semifinals  marked more than a mirage.  Jankovic excelled on clay when at her peak but has landed in a challenging section near March sensation Garbine Muguruza and the heavy-hitting German Mona Barthel.  A surface faster than its red counterpart, green clay has rewarded such power hitters before.

Arguably the weakest quarter of the draw offers Caroline Wozniacki an opportunity to recapture her former mastery of this surface.  A former champion both here and at the defunct companion event in Amelia Island / Ponte Vedra Beach, the second seed probably eyes her last chance to leave an impact until the US Open Series.  Much happier for the clay season’s arrival is Carla Suarez Navarro, well inside the top 25 now and likely hoping to rise even higher on her favorite surface.  Near her lie both the fiery young star Yulia Putintseva and the dormant Julia Goerges, who has recorded several upsets on clay with her elongated but penetrating groundstrokes.  Wozniacki may feel grateful to avoid Goerges, her nemesis more than once, but she could face an even more talented German in her second match.  Still rebuilding her confidence following a series of debilitating injuries, Andrea Petkovic hopes to justify her wildcard in this soft section and string together some victories.

Semifinal:  Jankovic vs. Wozniacki

Final:  Serena vs. Wozniacki

Monterrey:

Top half:  The only top-ten player in the field, Angelique Kerber did not waste the opportunity to collect a few more points on her favored hard courts before the clay season arrives.  Gifted uneventful early matches, she could face top-ranked Japanese woman Ayumi Morita in the quarterfinals.  This double-fister recently reached the semifinals at Kuala Lumpur and delivered a competitive effort against Serena in Miami, not long after she had upset top-seeded Ivanovic in Pattaya City.  While she has split her four previous meetings with Kerber, the German won the last two comfortably and has not lost to Morita since 2007.

Several potential future stars occupy the second quarter, such as USC women’s star Maria Sanchez.  Struggling to emerge from qualifying draws at most of the tournaments that she has played, Sanchez did register a key main-draw victory at Indian Wells.  Halted by Agnieszka Radwanska there, she faces the Pole’s less renowned sister, Urszula, in a match after which the winner might meet Donna Vekic.  Still early in the evolutionary process, this teenager won main-draw matches at the Australian Open and Miami, the latter over fellow rising star Yulia Putintseva.  The question remains whether any of these women can threaten third-seeded Maria Kirilenko, who exited Miami early after reaching an Indian Wells semifinal.  Among the best results of her career, that accomplishment built upon a Pattaya City title and second-week appearance at the Australian Open.  Curiously, Kirilenko never has faced Kerber.

Bottom half:  Accepting a wildcard at the last moment, former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic represents the tournament’s most compelling attraction for fans.  Her early draw looks tranquil, although she sometimes has failed to take care of business in these situations.  The hard-serving Hungarian Timea Babos will pose her most credible pre-quarterfinal challenge, but she has won only a handful of matches since the US Open. A more intriguing series of tests lie ahead for the sixth-seeded Yanina Wickmayer, who could meet Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second round.  The Japanese veteran with the knack for creating uncanny angles nearly stunned Venus in Miami, revealing strong form ahead of a clash with Florianopolis champion Monica Niculescu.  Either of those women could disrupt Wickmayer’s rhythm with their idiosyncratic play but would struggle to protect their serves from Ivanovic.

The woman whom Niculescu defeated in the Florianopolis final, Olga Puchkova, finds herself sandwiched between two talented but slumping seeds.  Despite starting the year by reaching the Brisbane final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has sunk back into her dismal slump since then with opening-round losses in five of six tournaments.  At a tournament where she has won two of her three carer titles, she will need to draw confidence from those memories.  The second-seeded Marion Bartoli has displayed form more encouraging but has not won more than two matches at any tournament this year as uncertainty has swirled around her coaching situation.  In addition to Puchkova, young Americans Lauren Davis and Coco Vandeweghe lurk in her vicinity, while Pavlyuchenkova may encounter top-ranked junior Daria Gavrilova in the second round.  This event provides an excellent opportunity to catch a glimpse of developing talents like Gavrilova.

Final:  Kirilenko vs. Ivanovic

Sony Open “Leftovers” with Murray, Petkovic, Tsonga, Paire and more

Sony Open Petkovic Seaquarium Murray Tennis

April 1, 2013 — The Sony Open may be over, but Tennis Grandstand’s stream of photos from the event is not. Below are all the photos we missed the first time around that are definitely worth a look.

We feature Andy Murray, Andrea Petkovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Ajla Tomljanovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Marion Bartoli, Rhyne Williams, Benoit Paire, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Feliciano Lopez and more.

Sony Open in Photos: Muguruza ousts Wozniacki; Tsonga, Li Na thru

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2013 Sony Open_600

MIAMI, FL (March 24, 2013) — Saturday at the Sony Open witnessed a few surprises as young players took center stage. Teenager Garbine Muguruza defeated world No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, while 19-year-old Ajla Tomljanovic defeated former top 10 player Andrea Petkovic after being dealt a first-set bagel. Venus Williams was also forced to retire prior to her match against Sloane Stephens for pain in her lower back, but hopes to make her next stop in Charleston.

On the men’s side, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga escaped a tough tiebreaker in the first set against Viktor Troicki, to win 7-6(6), 6-3, while Sam Querrey commanded Lukasz Kubot in three, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

In women’s doubles, the pairing of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova defeated Muguruza and Francesca Schiavone it two tight sets, 7-6(5), 7-5.

Below are Tennis Grandstand’s “Best Shots of the Day” by our photographer Christopher Levy that includes the matches above, an exclusive from Venus Williams’ press conference, and a few select shots of player practices with Andy Murray and Andrea Petkovic.

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