By Maud Watson
Poised to Dominate?
Last week marked an impressive run by young Czech Petra Kvitova, as she stormed to the WTA Championships title without the loss of a match. Kvitova has always had a big game, but en route to the title, the reigning Wimbledon champion also showed some great hands at the net, as well as some deft touch and feel that seems to be lacking in so many of the game’s other big hitters. Throughout the week, it appeared her biggest hurdle had nothing to do with who was on the other side of the net so much as what was going on between her ears. Her win in Istanbul also puts her just a mere 115 points behind current No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, and while no offense to Wozniacki, the WTA would probably appreciate Kvitova bypassing her to quiet the murmurs about a sport that has a No. 1 who lacks a major title. Kvitova definitely has the game to raise the bar and spark a new generation to follow her lead to create another great decade in women’s tennis. But don’t buy into her just yet. We’ve seen this kind of run from her before, and it’s always been followed by a severe dip in results. The start of 2012 may tell the tale. Hopefully she can strengthen the mental part of her game and firmly become the leader of the pack.
After some positive statements about the WTA looking into the grunting issue, WTA CEO Stacey Allaster has backpedaled to the point that it sounds like little will be done about the problem. Allaster has done well with the WTA, but she’s way off on this issue. Her argument that all of the “grunting” is a natural byproduct of how hard the players are hitting the ball is for the birds. If a player the size of Henin can slug it out with the likes of the Williams Sisters and Sharapova and hardly utter a sound, you can’t tell me the “grunting” is necessary. The argument that it’s okay that the women do it because the men do too is also lacking. While the difference in vocal registers means that grunting in the men’s game doesn’t garner has much attention as it does in women’s, it’s a problem that should be addressed on that our as well. And finally, just because the other players aren’t coming to complain to her or chair umpires about the noise level on court doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. With the game’s greatest stars and top-ranked players being the biggest culprits, it’s unlikely the quieter players will speak up. Rules never seem to apply in the same way to the stars as they do to everyone else, and the player who complains runs the risk of coming out on the shorter end of the stick. Allaster needs to open her eyes and fix the problem. There are too many other potential great things going on in the game to have something like this be one of the hottest topics dominating the sport.
Shaking off the Rust
After lengthy layoffs, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have returned to action this week in Basel. While neither has looked anywhere near their best, it’s apparent that they are starting to find the range once again. This is a special blessing for Djokovic, who earlier this week stated that he was coming back from the most serious injury of his career. The other positive for these two players is that their stiffest competition will be going into the ATP World Tour Finals fairly cold. Murray pulled out of Basel with a right gluteal muscle strain, while Nadal has pulled out of the Paris Masters in order to better focus for London. It’s going to be interesting coming down the stretch of the 2011 season.
Scrambling to London
And speaking of making it interesting down the stretch, that’s exactly what the remaining London hopefuls are doing in the final weeks of the regular season. In fact, they’re making it a little too interesting, much to the chagrin of the people in their respective camps. Fish, teetering in the eighth spot, was forced to withdraw from Basel with an injury, as did Tipsarevic. Meanwhile, Tsonga struggled to win his first round match against a Spanish teenager in Valencia before bowing out to Querrey in the following round. Simon also failed to capitalize on his opportunities this week, as did Berdych, and a handful of other London hopefuls. Injuries aside, the inability of many of these players to produce their best when the chips are down is disappointing. It may make for an exciting finish to the race, but it is also a blatant example of why the gap is so big between the top four players and the rest of the field.
One of the more absurd pieces of news this week was the story that Serena Williams locked herself in her panic room when she thought a burglar was attempting to break into her home. The alleged burglar was in reality a drug tester, who showed up at 6am for one of the required random drug tests that tennis players must submit to. Undoubtedly the ITF’s anti-doping program is too extreme, and 6am does seem a ludicrous time to request a sample. But some should also question if Serena didn’t overreact. In many of the anti-doping stories, players have frequently cited the random drug testing as an annoyance, specifically mentioning that 6am call. Given Serena’s status as a veteran of the game, it’s difficult to believe this is the first time someone has come knocking at that hour of the morning. But when you’ve had to file a restraining order against someone, perhaps locking yourself in the panic room is the logical step. Either way, we’re used to the fact that there’s no shortage of drama where Serena Williams is concerned.
After defeating #4 doubles’ seeds Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi with partner Mark Knowles at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, I was able to sit down with world #42 singles’ player Xavier Malisse and discuss his busy summer as well as plans to double up with Knowles for the U.S. Open.
Malisse had a breakthrough run here last year in the singles draw, reaching the semifinals, and followed that up with final appearances in Chennai later in the year and reaching the 4th round of Wimbledon this year. On the doubles’ tour, he’s excelled as well, winning the 2004 French Open with countryman Olivier Rochus, and just last week winning Los Angeles with Mark Knowles.
He informed me that he decided to officially pull out of Montreal, but will still play Cincinnati in two weeks and then the U.S. Open in September. Malisse retired in his singles’ match yesterday due to a sore right arm saying “it hurts a little, [with pain] going up and down,” but was back on court today in doubles. He felt “lucky that we got cancelled last night [due to weather] because I couldn’t have played. I got some treatment, tried to work it out.” He went on to say that “the muscle is just hurting” and cited nothing more severe. “I’ve been playing so much. I’ve played 7 out of 8 weeks and I’ve never done that, so I need a rest.” He commented that he feels as if he’s a “half-a-step slow on all the balls in singles.” However, he stated that “he played well today actually. It was a fun match to play.”
“Fun” is also the word he used when talking about his doubles’ partnership with Alexandr Dolgopolov, with whom he won Indian Wells with back in March. “I had a lot of fun, and we’re still good friends. But Mark [Knowles] has been asking [for me to play with him] and we’ve been trying to hook up for almost a year, I think. So we finally worked it out.”
Fellow Belgian Dick Norman, whose doubles partner recently retired, has expressed the possibility of him and Malisse teaming up as a permanent doubles tandem. Malisse mentioned that “it’s on the verge. We’ve talked about it for [this past] French Open but then we couldn’t get in. And then we had the US Open … [which] I was going to play with Dick, but now I’m playing with Knowles [since Los Angeles], so I’ll have to talk with Dick about it.”
Malisse stated that “I’ll play Cincinnati with Knowles and also the U.S. Open .”
In 2009, Xavier Malisse failed to provide three mandatory “whereabouts” within an 18-month period to the World Anti-Doping Angency, by two “filling failures” and one missed test. He appealed and his one year ban was lifted pending the appeals’ outcome. According to the Belgian news site Clint, Malisse’s court date is set for September 12, 2011. When asked about the details, he nonchalantly commented “Oh, yea” as if it were distant history. He then went on to elaborate: “Well, to be honest, I try to let the lawyers do their work. It’s gotten so complicated … I don’t know too much about it. They do their thing, I focus on tennis. Hopefully, we’ll get a good result out of it.”
When I asked him if he’s thought about how the verdict might affect his career, he responded with “Not yet. I’ll try to see how it works out … I tried filling my whereabouts and that’s all I do for that. And they do their job and I try to do my job on the court.”
Follow me on twitter as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic all week! @TennisRomi