Coco Vandeweghe

Coco Vandeweghe Breaks Out Into First Major Semifinal

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

CoCo Vandeweghe set up an all-American semifinal at the Australian Open on Tuesday as she easily dispatched the 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in straight sets, 6-4, 6-0.

The other American she will face in the semifinal is seven-time major champion Venus Williams, who also won in straight sets over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4, 7-6(3).

“It’s a dream to play someone you grew up watching. To play an unbelievable player, future hall of famer, to be on the court with her, I’ve only experienced it one time before,” said Vandeweghe, who lost that matchup on clay in Rome. “But to do it at this stage of a Grand Slam is kind of crazy.”

Vandeweghe has been playing the best tennis of her life this fortnight in Melbourne as she knocked out the No. 1 player in the world Angelique Kerber in the fourth round before following that up with a demolishing of the No. 7 seed Muguruza.

In the first set, the American had a look at seven break points before she could finally convert the break on her eighth attempt for a 4-3 lead. In her first four service games of the match, Vandeweghe only lost five points on serve, but when she went to serve out the set a few nerves may have crept into her mind. She fell to 30-40 as Muguruza had a chance to get back on serve, but the big hitting American fought off that break point before winning two more points to take the set.

That was the last change Muguruza would have in the match as Vandeweghe steamrolled through the second set, winning it 6-0. The Spaniard only won four points on serve in her three service games while the American only faced one break point and saved it, earning her a spot in the semifinals.

“It feels really good. It’s amazing to be in a semifinal, but not satisfying. I want to keep going,” Vandeweghe said. “There’s more things to do out on a tennis court that I’m hoping to achieve.”

The 36-year old Williams had a battle on her hands against Pavlyuchenkova, and had to battle back from a break down two separate times in the first set before she broke at love in the final game to steal it from the Russian.

In the second set, Williams once again battle back from a break down twice, but was unable to grab a third break this time, so the set went to a tiebreak. There, Williams fell behind 3-1, but was able to rattle off five points in a row to create three set points. She only needed one as she took the tiebreak 7-3, earning her spot in the semifinals.

“Today was such a hard fought match and she never let up,” Williams said.

“I’m sure she’s going to want to be in her first final,” Williams said about Vandeweghe. “I’m going to want to be in only my second final here. So it’s going to be a well-contested match.”

That semifinal matchup will take place on Thursday in Melbourne, with the winner heading to the Australian Open final.

Future Stars Earning Their Stripes: Rising Americans in Stanford and Atlanta

Among the annual narratives of the US Open Series are the glimpses of rising American talents on both Tours.  The first week of the 2013 Series shone a spotlight on a dozen of these players in Atlanta and Stanford, small events without draws too daunting.  Some took advantage of the breathing room this week, while others allowed opportunities to escape them.

Atlanta:

Ryan Harrison:  He had not reached an ATP quarterfinal since early January, compiling barely more wins in 2013 than one could count on the figures of one hand.  But Harrison ended that drought and bolstered his sagging ranking by weathering a pair of rollercoasters against higher-ranked opponents.  He outlasted Marinko Matosevic and the fourth-seeded Igor Sijsling more from superior determination than superior tennis.  Under the Friday night lights, Harrison will face Santiago Giraldo in a rematch of an Australian Open meeting that he won comfortably.  A first career final is not inconceivable.

Christian Harrison:  Every player must remember the moment of their first victory in the main draw an ATP tournament.  For Ryan’s 19-year-old brother, that moment came in the first round of Atlanta.  While Alejandro Falla entered that match drained from last week’s Bogota finals run, Christian still showed impressive grit by battling through three tight sets to upset an opponent ranked 210 places higher.  The grit resurfaced a round later, when he fell to the top-seeded Isner by the narrowest of margins.  Christian battled a far more powerful, far more experienced opponent deep into the third set, nearly scoring a massive upset.

Jack Sock:  A quarterfinalist at Atlanta last year, Sock could not recapture his success despite his clear advantage in power over Santiago Giraldo.  This Colombian clay specialist even out-aced Sock on a hard court.  Since reaching the quarterfinals in Memphis, Sock has not advanced past the second round of any ATP tournament.  Accumulated frustration from those struggles may have contributed to his outbursts of temper in Atlanta.  Fans should remember that Sock remains a raw, unfinished talent still a few years away from fulfilling his potential.

Rhyne Williams:  Raining aces aplenty on both of his opponents, this prospect established himself as an intimidating server in the mold of many American men before him.  Williams powered past compatriot higher-ranked compatriot Denis Kudla in the first round without dropping his serve.  He threatened to spring an upset on the seventh-seeded, much more experienced Lleyton Hewitt behind another barrage of aces.  But his inexperience showed in the first-set tiebreak, which Williams lost after holding four consecutive set points and donating a costly double fault.

Denis Kudla:  The world No. 93 showed promise in North American challengers this spring and by reaching the quarterfinals at Queen’s Club.  Kudla’s modest serve left him at a critical disadvantage against a torrid Williams, so Atlanta fans could not fully appreciate his skills in other areas.  He will hope for more advantageous draws as the US Open Series continues.

Tim Smyczek:  Just behind Williams in the rankings, Smyczek earned attention at the Australian Open when he upset Ivo Karlovic and won a set from David Ferrer.  Since that promising statement, Smyczek has won just three main-draw matches at ATP tournaments.  Curiously, two of those have come against notable opponents in Fernando Verdasco and Sam Querrey.  Smyczek needs to exploit opportunities in winnable matches better than in his loss to James Blake.  At 5-5 in the third set, he could not convert break points that might have sealed the match.

Stanford:

Jamie Hampton:  Like Smyczek, Hampton emerged on the radar of observant fans in Melbourne, where she won a set from eventual champion Victoria Azarenka.  A clay upset of Petra Kvitova signaled a second peak in June, marked by a stirring run to the Eastbourne final as a qualifier.  The 23-year-old Hampton holds a seed for the first time this week.  She carried that burden with mixed results in her opener, striking over 50 winners while spraying plenty of careless errors.  A semifinal looms against Agnieszka Radwanska, whom she defeated in Eastbourne.  She must clean up her game by then.

Madison Keys:  In a tale of two matches, Keys dominated eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova and then fell quietly to qualifier Vera Dushevina.  Eagerness to find a successor to the Williams sisters, which Keys could become, should not blind onlookers to the inconsistency in her results this year.  She often plays to the level of her competition, a trait common among young, raw talents, and more growing pains will lie ahead before we can rely on her as a late-week threat.  Stanford brought a dose of optimism and a dash of realism, a healthy recipe for both Keys and her fans to consume.

Christina McHale:  A once-promising talent veered off the rails when McHale fell victim last year to mononucleosis, often a death sentence for tennis careers.  The New Jersey native has time to regroup, though, for she just turned 21 in May.  McHale has advanced past the second round at only one tournament (Doha) in the last 11 months, but she has troubled top-15 opponents such as Li Na, Sara Errani, and Maria Kirilenko this year.  Still searching for confidence, she won just four games from Urszula Radwanska in the first round of Stanford.

Coco Vandeweghe:  Reaching last year’s Stanford final as a lucky loser, she qualified for the main draw this time and routed her first opponent.  The somewhat less inconsistent Sorana Cirstea then ended Vandeweghe’s bid for another breakthrough.  Back inside the top 200, the Southern California slugger wields a huge serve—and not much else.  She accomplished about as much as one could expect in the context of her year overall.

Mallory Burdette:  Unfortunate to draw Marion Bartoli in the first round last year, Burdette enjoyed only slightly better fortune by facing Francesca Schiavone in this year’s opener.  The Italian has feasted on inexperienced players like the Stanford alum, who became a full-time pro last fall.  Despite her dwindling form, Schiavone pulled away in straight sets to hand Burdette her fourth straight loss.  She will hope for less thorny draws as the US Open Series progresses.

Nicole Gibbs:  The best player in NCAA women’s tennis again received a wildcard to the tournament at her university.  Gibbs produced a result similar on paper to her Stanford appearance in 2012, when she won one match before losing the second.  But her three-set dogfight with the fourth-seeded Hampton revealed the toughness behind her gentle demeanor.  Gibbs easily could have grown disheartened after failing to serve out the second set, or after falling behind 0-4 in the third.  Her resilience in both of those situations suggested that she has the heart to succeed in the WTA, if perhaps not the weapons.

Roland Garros Rewind: Memorable Moments from a Rainy Day 3

Welcome back for the overview of a rainy Tuesday in Paris, where a shortened order of play unfolded.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The first two days had featured plenty of five-setters but no matches that reached 6-6 in the fifth set.  On a non-televised court, journeymen Ivan Dodig and Guido Pella finally produced the first overtime of the tournament.  Dodig deserves the lion’s share of the credit, for he trailed by two sets to one, trailed by a break early in the fifth set, and saved a break point at 5-5.  Pella then escaped a situation when he stood two points from defeat and eventually earned the decisive break at 10-10.

Comeback of the day:  Nobody rallied from two sets down to win, so this award goes to Mikhail Youzhny for winning three relatively routine sets after dropping the first frame to Pablo Andujar.  Consecutive semifinals in Madrid and Nice had ranked the Spaniard among the tournament’s dark horses, whereas Youzhny usually struggles on clay.

Surprise of the day:  Bookended by two 9-7 tiebreaks was Dmitry Tursunov’s straight-sets upset of Alexandr Dolgopolov.  Tursunov had stunned David Ferrer on Barcelona clay last month to continue an encouraging early 2013, but he had lost a two-tiebreak match to Dolgopolov in Munich.  The mercurial Ukrainian fell in the first round for the second straight major.

Gold star:  Playing with the initials of two deceased friends on his shoes, the 20-year-old Jack Sock won the first Roland Garros match of his career.  Sock knocked off veteran Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets despite his relative inexperience on clay.

Silver star:  Another Spanish dark horse in the same section as Andujar, Fernando Verdasco cruised through an uncharacteristically uneventful victory over local hope Marc Gicquel.  A path to the second week or even the quarterfinals could lie open for Verdasco if he maintains this form (always a big “if”).

Last stand of the day:  Trailing two sets to love against much superior clay talents, Thiemo De Bakker and Vasek Pospisil won third-set tiebreaks to extend their matches.  De Bakker would lose a tight fourth set just before darkness, while Pospisil parlayed the momentum into an early fourth-set lead that he will carry into Wednesday’s completion.  We’re curious to see if he can come all the way back.

Americans in Paris:  Counterbalancing Sock’s breakthrough was the disappointment suffered by the recipient of the Roland Garros reciprocal wildcard, Alex Kuznetsov.  After he had toiled through three April challengers to earn this main-draw entry, Kuznetsov lost to unheralded Frenchman Lucas Pouille.  Still, he should feel proud of earning the wildcard for its own sake rather than as a means to an end.

Question of the day:  Four men retired from first-round matches in singles on Tuesday, a high number for a single day.  Did the increase of prize money for first-round losers dissuade players from withdrawing who knew that they were unfit to compete?

WTA:

Match of the day:  A former semifinalist at Roland Garros, Marion Bartoli survived 12 double faults (not a shocking quantity for her these days) in a three-hour drama on Court Philippe Chatrier.  Having propelled Monfils to victory the day before, the Paris crowd redoubled its energies to help the top-ranked Frenchwoman edge Olga Govortsova.  Bartoli struck fewer winners and more unforced errors than her opponent, won fewer total points, and failed to achieve all three of the supposed “keys” that the IBM Slamtracker identified for her.  Tennis is a strange sport sometimes.

Comeback of the day:  None.  The woman who won the first set won every match, and only two of ten completed matches reached a third set.

Oddity of the day:  After rain postponed the majority of the women’s singles schedule, top-eight seeds Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova will not make their Roland Garros 2013 debuts until Wednesday, the fourth day of the tournament.  Azarenka opens play on Chatrier at 11 AM after organizers had scheduled her to end play on Chatrier today.

Gold star:  Les bleus may have struggled today, but les bleues more than compensated.  While Guillaume Rufin and Florent Serra fell, and Benoit Paire dropped his first set in an incomplete match, Strasbourg champion Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic followed Bartoli into the second round.

Silver star:  Three times a Roland Garros semifinalist, Jelena Jankovic started her 2013 campaign in promising fashion by winning a tight two-setter from Daniela Hantuchova.  Jankovic saved set points in the second set when another of her tortuous three-setters loomed.  Her ability to close bodes well for her future here in a year when she has shone sporadically on clay.

Statement of the day:  Kimiko Date-Krumm stood little chance from the outset against the weaponry of Samantha Stosur, who bludgeoned everyone’s favorite old lady in 64 minutes.  Stosur needed just 21 of those minutes to serve a first-set bagel, extending her streak of consecutive matches with at least one bagel or breadstick to four.

Americans in Paris:  After the undefeated record to which they soared on Monday, Tuesday brought everyone back to earth with a salutary if unwanted dose of reality.  Coco Vandeweghe and Lauren Davis each ate first-set bagels en route to losses, although Vandeweghe did swipe a set from 2012 quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova.  On the other hand, neither Vandeweghe nor Davis ranks among the front ranks of American prospects.

Question of the day:  Could Bartoli’s victory become the moment that turns her season around?

 

Owning It: Vandeweghe Versus Putintseva

During many a Real Housewives reunion special, a middle-aged, mildly affluent woman sits in a tight, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress (I’ve watched a couple in my day), and tells another similarly dressed woman to take responsibility for her actions. In other words, “own it.”

With this sort of cartoonishly glamorous set up unfortunately missing from the tennis world, it can be difficult to keep track of the daily drama, on both a macro (the game’s elite) and micro level (everyone else). Like those sage Bravo producers, we can often bow to clips conclusively showing Juan Martin del Potro dissing Andy Murray’s mother, or Jelena Jankovic imitating compatriot Ana Ivanovic’s signature fist pump.

But just like those bastions of reality television, it is almost always what happens “off-camera” that stirs up the most controversy. As a New Jersey housewife would probably say, “the fewer witnesses, the better.”

In tennis, nothing breeds isolation quite like a rain delay. With troubling forecasts predicting rain through early next week in Europe, qualifying matches in last minute warm-up tournaments like Brussels were driven indoors to ensure the event reaches completion. One such match was ripe for drama, rain or shine.

In one corner was 21-year-old CoCo Vandeweghe. A former US Open girls’ champion, the young American made a dream run to the Stanford finals last summer. Since then, however, she has struggled to reign in her high-octane game, and coming into Brussels had yet to win back-to-back matches this year. Granddaughter to a former Miss America, Vandeweghe’s senior career has been largely played under the radar, but she has had a “princess” moment or two, as evidenced by her twitter account.

Her opponent likely needs no introduction: the “delightfully offensive” Yulia Putintseva. After pushing Serena Williams to a tiebreak in Madrid, the teenaged Kazakh suffered a potentially soul-crushing loss in Rome, failing to convert a 5-1 final set lead to Madrid quarterfinalist Anabel Medina Garrigues. But whether you’re throwing drinks on someone at a party or playing a tennis match, it helps to be a little bit delusional. Shrugging off her fourth three-set loss (three of them from a set up) of the year, Putintseva crushed her first two opponents, including an equally offensive (though arguably less delightful) Michelle Larcher de Brito.

Playing on a surface that mitigates her weapons and exposes her suspicious movement, Vandeweghe had been surprisingly comfortable in Brussels, and took a tight first set from Putintseva with only one break separating the two. From there, Putintseva went on a tear, winning 12 of the next 14 games, and broke the big-serving American five times for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory.

But it was after the match where the drama (allegedly) reignited.

With no one reporting more than the score of “Brussels QR3 Vandeweghe/Putintseva,” Vandeweghe took to Twitter to enlighten the public to that which many already consider to be obvious:

https://twitter.com/CoCoVandey/status/336491458251091968

From there, CoCo outlined an exchange following the match’s conclusion where the victorious Putintseva allegedly told her, “You are a terrible player only serve. I win all the rallies.” The American went on to accuse Putintseva’s father/coach, Anton, of not only condoning, but also “clapping” as his daughter made these biting observations.

Hours later, Putintseva popped up on Twitter herself, at first to nonchalantly express her satisfaction at qualifying for the main draw, then to give us a “No comment,” re: CoCo. Elaborating for a fan, she said,

https://twitter.com/Yulka1995P/status/336576876623577088

which appears to imply whatever occurred was a two-way street. But why many flocked to Putintseva’s support in the immediate aftermath of this bizarre incident was the same reason why reality TV fans love Nene Leakes and Caroline Manzo: Putintseva appeared to take ownership of what many would consider a gauche act of gamesmanship. In its own way, that was breath of fresh air in a sporting world that can often feel stilted and devoid of cadence. It keeps us from our own delusion that everyone on the Tours is there to make friends. Because they’re not, they’re here to win.

And thus would have ended this episode of The Real Tennis Players of Brussels, until Putintseva took to Twitter again early this morning. After tacitly accepting Vandeweghe’s version of events, she made a complete about face when asked about the incident directly:

https://twitter.com/Yulka1995P/status/336721573585223682

In barely 140 characters, the teenager took her ownership, and sold it back to the American, who has already rallied support from the American media.

Is Putintseva a cult hero for telling it like it is, or a spoiled brat deflecting blame? Is Vandeweghe a victim of needless trash talk, or a bully for inciting an angry mob on an 18-year-old? For a Tour that peaked in the late 90s because of exchanges like these, it might behoove us all not to ask too many questions, sit back, and “watch what happens.”

Charlottesville Gallery: CoCo, Falconi and Rising Stars Pegula, Rogers, Abaza

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (April 27, 2013) — The Boar’s Head club in Charlottesville, VA is host to this week’s USTA Pro Circuit event, where the draws were filled with veterans, former college players, and several teenage up-and-comers. Here’s your chance to not only enjoy some great tennis photography from the week, but also get familiar with the next generation of women’s tennis players.

Galleries by Christopher Levy include CoCo Vandeweghe, Irina Falconi, Maria Sanchez within the current crop of top 200 players, and rising starts like Shelby Rogers, Jessica Pegula, Jan Abaza, Louisa Chirico and Ilona Kremen to name a few. Individual player galleries below!

CoCo Vandeweghe, 21, USA
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Irina Falconi, 22, USA (blue top) Maria Sanchez, 23, USA (white/grey top)
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Jessica Pegula, 19, USA
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Shelby Rogers, 20, USA
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Jan Abaza, 18, USA
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Madison Brengle, 23, USA
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Julia Cohen, 24, USA
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Elena Baltacha, 29, Great Britain
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Allie Will, 22, USA
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Louisa Chirico, 16, USA
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Ilona Kremen, 19, Belarus (white top) and Katerina Kramperova, 24, Czech Republic (pink top)
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Natalie Pluskota, 23, USA (pink top) and Alexandra Mueller, 25, USA (white top)
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What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Previews of Dubai, Memphis, and Bogota

Shifting down the Persian Gulf, eight of the top ten women move from Doha to Dubai for the only Premier tournament this week.  In North and South America are two International tournaments on dramatically different surfaces.  Here is the weekly look at what to expect in the WTA.

Dubai:  Still the top seed despite her dethroning last week, Azarenka can collect valuable rankings points at a tournament from which she withdrew in 2012.  She looked far sharper in Doha than she did for most of her title run in Melbourne, and once again she eyes a potential quarterfinal with Sara Errani.  Although the Italian has rebounded well from a disastrous start to the season, she lacks any weapons with which to threaten Azarenka.  Between them stands last year’s runner-up Julia Goerges, an enigma who seems destined to remain so despite her first-strike potential.   If Sloane Stephens can upset Errani in the second round, meanwhile, a rematch of the Australian Open semifinal could loom in the quarterfinals.  The top seed might expect a test from Cibulkova in the second round, since she lost to her at Roland Garros last year and needed a miraculous comeback to escape her in Miami.  But Cibulkova injured her leg in Fed Cup a week ago and has faltered since reaching the Sydney final.

Having won just one match until Doha, Stosur bounced back somewhat by recording consecutive wins in that Premier Five field.  The Aussie may face three straight lefties in Makarova, Lepchenko, and Kerber, the last of whom has the greatest reputation but the least momentum.  While Makarova reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, Lepchenko displayed her newfound confidence in upsetting both Errani and Vinci on clay in Fed Cup—a rare feat for an American.  Vinci herself also stands in this section, from which someone unexpected could emerge.  Azarenka need fear little from either Kerber or Stosur, both of whom she has defeated routinely in most of their previous meetings, so a semifinal anticlimax might beckon.  Not that Doha didn’t produce a semifinal anticlimax from much more prestigious names.

Atop the third quarter stands the greatest enigma of all in Petra Kvitova, who won four straight matches between Fed Cup and Doha before nearly halting Serena’s bid for the #1 ranking.  Considering how far she had sunk over the previous several months, unable to string together consecutive victories, that accomplishment marked an immense step forward.  Kvitova can capitalize immediately on a similar surface in the section occupied by defending champion Radwanska.  In contrast to last week, the Czech can outhit anyone whom she could face before the semifinals, so she will determine her own fate.  If she implodes, however, Ivanovic could repeat her upset when they met in last year’s Fed Cup final before colliding with Radwanska for the third time this year.  Also of note in this section is the all-wildcard meeting between rising stars Putintseva and Robson.

Breaking with her usual routine, Serena has committed to the Middle East hard courts without reserve by entering both Doha and Dubai.  Whether she plays the latter event in a physical condition that looks less than promising may remain open to question until she takes the court.  So strong is the draw that Serena could open against world #11 Bartoli, who owns a Wimbledon victory against her from 2011 but has not sustained that success.  The eighth-seeded Wozniacki proved a small thorn in her side last year by defeating her in Miami and threatening her in Rome, so a quarterfinal could intrigue if the Dane can survive Safarova to get there and if Serena arrives at less than full strength.

Final:  Azarenka vs. Kvitova

Memphis:  Overshadowed a little by the accompanying ATP 500 tournament, this event has lacked star power for the last few years.  Rather than Venus, Sharapova, or Davenport, the top seed in 2013 goes to Kirsten Flipkens, a player largely unknown in the United States.  This disciple of Clijsters may deserve more attention than she has received, however, rallying to reach the second week of the Australian Open in January after surviving blood clots last spring.  Former finalist Shahar Peer and 2011 champion Magdalena Rybarikova attempt to resurrect their careers by returning to the scene of past triumphs, but lefty Ksenia Pervak may offer the most credible challenge to Flipkens in this quarter.

Of greater note is the hard-serving German who holds the third seed and should thrive on a fast indoor court.  Although Lisicki has struggled to find her form away from grass, she showed flickers of life by charging within a tiebreak of the Pattaya City title earlier this month.  Kristina Mladenovic, a potential quarterfinal opponent, delivered a key statement in the same week at the Paris Indoors, where she upset Kvitova en route to the semifinals.  Before then, though, this French teenager had displayed little hint of such promise, so one feels inclined to attribute that result more to the Czech’s frailty for now.

Part of an elite doubles team with compatriot Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka has excelled on surfaces where her powerful serve can shine.  Like Lisicki, she should enjoy her week in Memphis amid a section of opponents who cannot outhit her from the baseline.  Among them is the largely irrelevant Melanie Oudin, who surfaced last year to win her first career title before receding into anonymity again.  Neither Oudin nor the fourth-seeded Heather Watson possesses significant first-strike power, so their counterpunching will leave them at a disadvantage on the indoor hard court.  But Watson has improved her offense (together with her ranking) over the last few months and should relish the chance to take advantage of a friendly draw.  Interestingly, Hradecka’s doubles partner Hlavackova could meet her in the quarterfinals if she can upset Watson.

Finishing runner-up to Sharapova here in 2010, Sofia Arvidsson holds the second seed in this yaer’s tournament as she eyes a potential quarterfinal against one of two Americans.  While Chanelle Scheepers anchors the other side of the section, Jamie Hampton could build upon her impressive effort against Azarenka at the Australian Open to shine on home soil.  Nor should one discount the massive serve of Coco Vandeweghe, which could compensate for her one-dimensionality here.

Final:  Lisicki vs. Hradecka

Bogota:  Like the ATP South American tournaments in February, this event offers clay specialists an opportunity to compile ranking points in a relatively unintimidating setting.  Top seed and former #1 Jankovic fits that category, having reached multiple semifinals at Roland Garros during her peak years.  She has not won a title in nearly three years, but a breakthrough could happen here.  In her section stand Pauline Parmentier and Mariana Duque Marino, the latter of whom stunned Bogota audiences by winning the 2010 title here over Kerber.  As her wildcard hints, she never quite vaulted from that triumph to anything more significant.  Serious opposition to Jankovic might not arise until the semifinals, when she faces the aging Pennetta.  Once a key part of her nation’s Fed Cup achievements, the Italian veteran won their most recent clay meeting and looks likely to ensure a rematch with nobody more notable than the tiny Dominguez Lino blocking her.

The lower half of the draw features a former Roland Garros champion in Schiavone and a French prodigy who nearly broke through several years ago before stagnating in Cornet.  Testing the latter in a potential quarterfinal is Timea Babos, who won her first career title around this time last year with a promising serve.  For Schiavone, the greatest resistance could come from lanky Dutch lefty Arantxa Rus.  Known most for her success on clay, Rus won a match there from Clijsters and a set from Sharapova, exploiting the extra time that the surface allows for her sluggish footwork.  Also of note in this half is Paula Ormaechea, a rising Argentine who probably ranks as the most notable women’s star expected from South America in the next generation.  Can she step into Dulko’s shoes?

Final:  Jankovic vs. Schiavone

Check back shortly for the companion preview on the three ATP tournaments this week in Marseille, Memphis, and Buenos Aires!

 

Quotable quotes from the Citi Open: Haas, Fish, Stephens, Blake

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Citi Open tournament this week is full of opinionated and versatile players with the press conferences producing some memorable moments.

Check out some of the intriguing, honest and fun quotes from players Mardy Fish, James Blake, Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe, Tommy Haas and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova as they talk about the Olympics, Twitter, trends in men’s tennis, heat exhaustion, and even “revenge matches” for one of the players.

Mardy Fish

“I think it speaks to the physicality of the game nowadays. It takes guys longer to develop. [The ATP Tour] is much more physical, much more mental. You just have to be mature in both areas to succeed at a high level. You just can’t come out of the blue anymore. You just don’t anymore see guys 21-years-old roll through and make the quarterfinals [of Grand Slams]. I think it just speaks to the physicality of the game now. And there are a lot of 30-years-old and older guys that are playing well. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, I think it’s the physical side of it.”
Mardy Fish on the trend of older players doing well on the ATP Tour

“I feel 100 percent physically and structurally. The most important thing is getting my confidence back. Everyone knows the mind can play tricks on you. You can convince yourself of things. When you’re out there playing, you can convince yourself that you’re not feeling well. When I don’t feel 100 percent, because my confidence isn’t all the way back, my mind can go to bad places. But everything is fine [with my heart]. It’s all behind me. The [doctors] say it won’t happen again. I stay away from everything that can cause it.”
Mardy Fish on his health after troubles with his heart earlier in the year

James Blake

“As my knee is starting to feel better, my shoulder is feeling better, everything is feeling better … I don’t feel like I am a player that someone in the top 20 is looking at as an easy draw just because I am ranked outside of the top 100. I know I have been top 10 in the world before. So I am not scared of any of the top guys, I’m not feeling like I walk onto the court and I have already lost.”
– James Blake on his confidence against the top players even though he is outside of the top 100

Sloane Stephens

“The WTA tournament is a lower tier tournament than the men. It’s the women coming into the men’s territory. This has been their tournament for a really long time. We’re kind of bombarding them. I think it’s fine that we play on the outside court. All in all, it’s all the same, and I don’t think any of the girls are disappointed about not being on the stadium.”
– Sloane Stephens on whether it was a diss to the women to not get to play on stadium court until the quarterfinals

“I don’t tweet sometimes for a while, but I love Twitter. I love reading what people have to say. That’s where I find all my gossip!”
– Sloane Stephens on how she has taken to being active on Twitter

“I boycotted the Olympics! I don’t like to watch it anymore because I see the results all on Twitter and Facebook. You already know what happens way before it happens. Now, I can’t go home and watch it and be excited because I know who won… You want to see Michael Phelps win live!”
– Sloane Stephens on whether she has been watching the Olympics

Tommy Haas

“We get along quite well off the court. I’m sure we’ll spend some time after our careers together, and it’s important for me to say to him at least that I’ve gotten him in the later years, which is huge.
– Tommy Haas on beating Roger Federer to win the Halle title this year

“When I was watching the Olympics, I am surprised I do not see myself playing. The German Olympics committee did not nominate me this year, which I think was a big mistake in my eyes. I am happy to be able to play tennis while the Olympic are going on and not sitting at home.”
– Tommy Haas on not playing in the Olympics

Coco Vandeweghe

“I’m disappointed that I’m not competing in the Olympics. That’s a dream of mine to compete and win a medal. It’s almost more of a goal for me than to win a Grand Slam just because my mom was in the Olympics. The Olympics were on TV before tennis was on TV in my home.”
– Coco Vandeweghe on not playing in the Olympics

“I took that first match in Stanford against [Melinda] Czink, and it was a little bit of a ‘revenge’ match for me because she beat me in Charleston earlier in the year. I actually had a couple of ‘revenge’ matches in that tournament where I wanted to beat each girl because they have beaten me before.”
– Coco Vandeweghe on her mentality during her Stanford finals run

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

“I was suffering from the first game versus Vania. It was ridiculously hot out there. I don’t know, seriously, how people live here! I think they should consider changing the date of the tournament or just do night sessions. I’ve played in Australia for six years, and I know what is hot and that it’s the same for everyone. But the heat just hit me today.”
– Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on calling the doctor due to heat exhaustion during her semifinal match versus Vania King (as a note, it reached 95°F today with very high humidity)

Coco Vandeweghe on her pre-match rituals, her U.S. Open debut, and wanting to party with Novak Djokovic

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American Coco Vandeweghe, who shot up 50 spots in the the WTA Tour rankings after reaching the Stanford final three weeks ago, is in action this week at the Citi Open. After receiving the tournament’s last wildcard and her highest career seeding, Vandeweghe finds herself in the quarterfinals with fellow American Vania King as her next opponent.

I had a chance to chat with the rising star and she cheerfully reminisced about her greatest on-court moment, admitted she would want to party with Novak Djokovic, and disclosed some funny pre-match rituals she has.

What is your most memorable moment in your career?

Playing on opening night in Arthur Ashe stadium against Jelena Jankovic when she was no. 1 in the world, and I was 16 years old.

What would you do if you weren’t a tennis player?

I would be in college – playing basketball, probably.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

I’d want to play against a couple: Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport, and Martina Navratilova because they’re all great players. I’ve looked up to Lindsay for a long time and she’s been a great friend, and so has Chris Evert.

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?

I would invite my coach who is an ex-tennis play, Jan-Michael Gambill, Irina Falconi who is a great friend of mine on the WTA Tour, and Novak Djokovic because he’s seems like a lot of fun. [Laughs]

What are two things you couldn’t live without?

Music and probably my family.

What do you to get ready in the day before a match?

I enjoy my sleep. [Smiles] And then I have my own little rituals and different tedious things that I do, like tying my left shoe before my right shoe.

If you could invite any three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?

I would invite my grandmother who died two years ago – pretty much just family members, my grandfather, my mom, my family.

No famous people?

No, probably not. [Laughs]

If you were given a camera crew and unlimited access to the WTA Tour, what would you want to show the public about pro tennis?

Just how fun the women’s tour is. We have great personalities, but we do dumb stuff sometimes. Even myself – dumb little fights like with the airline attendant, and me trying to sneak my tennis bag onto the airplane without trying to check it because it’s a pain in the butt! There’s a lot of fun stuff on Tour, and I would want to capture that.

Australian Open Wildcard Playoffs: A Glimpse Into the Future

The banner boldly proclaims: “See the future of American tennis.” And on Dec. 16-18, tennis fans looking to see upcoming American stars and top pros during the “offseason” are in luck. Sixteen American men and women are set to faceoff at the 3rd annual USTA-sponsored Australian Open Wild Card Playoffs in Norcross, GA, vying for a chance to play in the main draw at Melbourne in January.

The playoffs, hosted by the Racquet Club of the South, gives fans a chance to watch future top tennis talents in a setting far more intimate than most tennis events. The two winners, one male and one female, will earn a wildcard into the 2012 Australian Open main draw.

The eight men are former U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri, NCAA champion Steve Johnson, U.S. Open wildcard playoffs champion Bobby Reynolds, U.S. Open Mixed Doubles winner Jack Sock, Daniel Kosakowski, Denis Kudla, Jesse Levine and Rhyne Williams.

 

The women featured are former U.S. Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin, this year’s U.S. Open juniors champion Grace Min, U.S. Open wildcard playoffs winner Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, Gail Brodsky, Jamie Hampton and Alison Riske.

Last year’s winners were 19-year-old Ryan Harrison and 18-year-old Lauren Davis. Long touted as the future of American tennis, Harrison has seen his stock rise in 2011 and finished the season ranked No. 79 in the world. Davis, an accomplished junior player, made two Grand Slam main draw appearances this year and is currently ranked No. 320.

At No. 127 in the world, Bobby Reynolds is the highest ranked player in the men’s draw. The 29-year-old also has home-court advantage, hailing from nearby Acworth, GA. Reynolds was once ranked as high as No. 63 in 2009 but suffered a severe wrist injury that sidelined him for nearly a year. Reynolds looks to ride the momentum he built this summer with the WTT champions Washington Kastles and the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs victory to another Grand Slam main draw berth in Australia.

While Reynolds is a tour veteran, the majority of the playoffs feature fresh faces of the game. At this year’s U.S. Open, Jack Sock, 19, made headlines with a first round victory and by winning the mixed doubles title with partner and fellow playoff participant Melanie Oudin. Sock was last year’s runner-up and is poised to take it one step further. Former college standouts Daniel Kosakowski (UCLA), 19, who reached the finals of the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs, and USC’s Steve Johnson, 20, also have a great chance to start the 2012 season strong with a win here.

Coco Vandeweghe, who has spent time training this off-season by boxing, leads the women’s draw at No. 122 in the world. The imposing 20-year-old stands at 6’1’’ and has a game to match her size. Vandeweghe played in the main draw at all four Grand Slams this year and reached the second round at the U.S. Open.

Other notable young players include 16-year-old Madison Keys, the winner of the U.S. Open wildcard playoffs and 2011 U.S. Open juniors champion Grace Min. Keys went on to win her first ever Grand Slam main draw match in Flushing Meadows, upsetting Jill Craybas in the first round and taking a set off top-30 player, Lucie Safarova in the second. Seventeen-year-old Min won the juniors tournament without dropping a set, toppling No. 1 seed Caroline Garcia in the finals.

A win at these playoffs could create momentum going into the new season for the players and fans will have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of future stars to watch out for in Australia and years to come.

Serena Williams takes on tennis and the First Family in a Kastles’ win

In her first U.S. match in nearly two years, Serena Williams joined the Washington Kastles as they defeated the Boston Lobsters 25-10 in a thrilling evening overlooking the waterfront in Washington, D.C. Not only was there entertaining tennis, but the First Family was in attendance with Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia.

The evening began early, but “fashionably late” as Williams arrived late but took the court for a Kids’ Clinic for local youth organizations. As she was mobbed with photographers, the thing that stood out to me was her willingness to forget about the cameras and interact with the kids 1-on-1. Even though her time on-court was limited, it was not short on energy and optimism as she coached the kids to perfect their slice backhands and encouraged them to try missed shots again. The smiles on the kids’ faces told the whole story: they were excited to meet and hit with their idol.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

As the Kastles’ players warmed up prior to the press conference, Coach Murphy Jensen also did not disappoint. During his serving drill, he was as audible as the capital letters in his twitter posts would have you believe. Williams also brought along her current coach, Sascha Bajin, who rallied with the players and acted as their temporary ball boy.

As the sun began to set over the Potomac River, the atmosphere was unique as first lady Michelle Obama, along with daughters Sasha and Malia, attended the second home match of the Kastles. Sasha grooved to the changeover music, holding up “Refuse to Lose” signs while her sister and mother politely cheered and clapped points.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

The women’s doubles tandem of Serena Williams and Rennae Stubbs took the court for the first match of the evening against Mashona Washington and Coco Vandeweghe. Even though Serena did not look like the former #1 and 13-time Grand Slam champion that she is, the Kastles’ ladies still came out victorious 5-2.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

The men’s doubles featured Kastles’ players Leander Paes and Bobby Reynolds versus Eric Butorac and Jan-Michael Gambill. The home team was in good form, quickly going up 4-0 before taking it to 5-1, bringing the score to 10-3.

With the men’s singles match occurring next, I expected only the men to take the court to warmup, but Serena jumped to her feet and warmed up Reynolds, while Butorac and Gambill warmed up on the opposite end. As much fun as it would have been to watch Serena take on Jan-Michael Gambill in the men’s singles match, it was Reynolds who did so and outplayed Gambill, 5-2.

At halftime, it looked like the First Family was leaving, but I quickly found out that they had met with the Kastles’ players and then returned to cheer on the mixed doubles team of Serena Williams and Leander Paes. For the first time in the evening, Williams seemed relaxed and chatty, taking on her old form pre-injury swiping anything that came her way and running down wide balls. From her press conference earlier in the evening, she addressed her foot fault fiasco as being “ages ago” and “so 2009.” Her renewed love for the sport was evident in Wimbledon as she broke down in tears on-court after her first round win and it was present here tonight as she smiled and danced her way to a win.

Courtesy of: Kelyn Soong

The women’s singles match concluded the evening and held the closest score all day, with Vandeweghe giving Williams good competition before going down 5-4 to take the final score to 25-10 for a Kastles’ win. Although Williams’ shot-making hasn’t faltered and her movement is deceptively quick, it’s her consistency that still needs improvement after being away from the game for almost one year. But if her renewed spirit is any indication, we will be seeing a lot more of Serena Williams this summer as she is set to play Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, and the U.S. Open next.

All photos provided by Kelyn Soong who is a freelance reporter and photographer. Follow his website here: http://kelynsoong.blogspot.com/ You can also follow Kelyn @Soongy12.