By Maud Watson
Victoria Azarenka managed to find a way to come back from the brink of defeat in her fourth round match against Dominika Cibulkova (thanks in large part to a choke job by the Slovak), but she couldn’t pull off the feat twice. The Belarusian crumbled under the relentless pressure of the penetrating groundstrokes coming off the racquet of Marion Bartoli to suffer her first defeat of 2012. There’s no shame in the loss. Bartoli has collected several big wins and is ranked number seven, but it was evident by the way Azarenka handled herself at the end that this was one of the toughest losses of her career. Still, I like Azarenka’s chances of making a quick mental recovery and continuing to be the player to beat throughout the course of the season. She’s matured and improved her game too much not to, and in the long run, the fact that the pressure of extending the unbeaten streak is over should only help her cause heading into the French.
Finding a Balance
So it was a just quarterfinal match at a premiere event, and she did fall to Sharapova in the semis. But the win Wozniacki posted over Serena Williams earlier this week in Miami was just what the doctor ordered to get her back on track and infuse her and her fans with the belief that she may have what it takes to win a major. And contrary to Serena’s assessment of herself, she didn’t play poorly. She posted typical Serena numbers with 36 unforced errors that were nearly completely offset by her 34 winners. And while Wozniacki’s consistency played a large part in allowing her to weather the barrage of Williams, it was refreshing to see her adding a little more “oomph” to her groundies and serve. If she has in fact reconciled herself to the fact that she needs to beef up her game and take a few more risks, she could be well on her way to moving back towards the top and capturing that elusive major singles title.
Less than 24 hours after he had completed a huge breakthrough win by claiming just his third victory over Roger Federer, Andy Roddick found himself out of Miami in straight sets – including a second set bagel – to Juan Monaco. No offense to Monaco, who continues to enjoy a good run this week, but this was a bad loss for Roddick. It’s understandable that he’d be mentally and physically drained after the Federer match, especially since his injuries have hampered his ability to stay in shape. But what made the loss to Monaco so maddening was the way he lost it. Against Federer, it appeared Roddick had turned back the clock and finally returned to the brand of tennis that took him to the top. He was going after his shots, aggressively attacking the ball and taking it to Federer. Against Monaco, he reverted to playing it safer and hanging out well behind the baseline, even though his lack of fitness should have encouraged him to be even more aggressive in an attempt to shorten the points. For his sake and his fans’ sake, he needs to employ the tactics he did against Federer. Otherwise, that win against the Swiss will turn into a fluke instead of the turning it could be for the twilight of his career.
Where’s Petko when you need her? Following in the (two left) footsteps of Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova became the first competitor to be booted off of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars this past Tuesday night. Navratilova found herself at the bottom of the pack for two straight weeks, so it wasn’t unexpected. But in many ways, it was still sad to see her go. Clearly out of her comfort zone and at times struggling to remember the routine, you could see glimpses where she was enjoying herself and the challenge of trying something she’d never done before. It is a shame her journey had to come to such an early end, but no doubt she has been an inspiration to others to get out and try something they never thought they could.
Hobbling to the Finish
At this point, it would virtually be a more shocking news story if Kim Clijsters were healthy. It seems every week we’re hearing about a new injury for the Belgian No. 1, and this week was no exception. Clearly hampered in her loss to Wickmayer, it was later revealed that she has a tear in her hip muscle and will be out four weeks. Following the loss, rumors abounded that she was considering early retirement, and though she herself has put a stop to the rumors, I’m still not wholly convinced. With each injury setback, the desire to work at regaining her top form has to dwindle, and the fear factor she once had in the locker room is going to be all but non-existent come Roland Garros. Kim’s a great competitor and an even better person, but it will be a bigger surprise if she manages to nab just one of the three prizes that enticed her to return to the game than if she calls it a career before season’s end.
Flavia Pennetta has been a force on the WTA Tour for over ten years, but she only broke through the top echelons of women’s tennis back in 2009 when she became Italy’s first top 10 singles player in history. I had a chance to chat with the bubbly, pleasant, and smiling Flavia during the Sony Ericsson Open as she shared insights about her unforgettable 2009 U.S. Open match against Vera Zvonareva, dancing, beach volleyball, Monica Seles and Angelina Jolie.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
U.S. Open against Vera Zvonareva in 2009. Was a really nice match. I won 6-0 in the third set with 7, or 6, match points.
Is that the one in which Vera was ripping the tape off her knees?
How was that experience in the moment?
It was intense. It was good for me because I won, but not for her. (Laughs)
What is the best part of being a tennis player?
To have the chance to travel and see different places and meet different people, so that when you stop playing, you have friends everywhere. (Laughs)
If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?
I always like different sports. Maybe I would play volleyball or horse (be an equestrian).
Do you like to cross-train with volleyball?
I love to play beach volleyball when I’m at the beach. (Laughs)
If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?
(Long pause) Maybe … I never played against Monica Seles. I met her because I was at the tour during the last two years she was playing. She was my idol when I was young, and I never played against her, so maybe against her.
She did that show, like “Dancing with the Stars.”
I didn’t see her! But they told me she was really good.
Would you ever want to do that?
Ooof! (Laughs) Maybe one single time, I can do that. But if it’s every Saturday like it is in Italy, would be tough. But one time? Would be fun.
If you are hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
My friends. Gisela [Dulko] for sure! (Thinking) Gisela … Gisela …….. Gisela! Doubles partners are the best. Of course, Francesca. I like to spend time with different people, but most of the time I like to be with my friends because it would be the most beautiful party.
Do you have any superstitions on court?
No. Well, on court? (Pause) No. I’m not …. No. (Laughs)
If you could have dinner with any three people, who would it be and why?
Brad Pitt. And also Angelina [Jolie]. She’s nice, really nice. I like her a lot.
Did you meet her ever?
No, but I have one friend who is a friend of Angelina’s and she told me Angelina is a really nice person. I really like her when I watch her on TV because I think she is a really good actress, but I’ve never met her. So maybe when you meet someone … they maybe will disappoint. Most of the time it’s like this, because when you feel so much respect for someone, you just think ‘They are going to be perfect’ and then when you meet them, it’s not like this. So you get disappointed.
I think I would also like to eat with Valentino Rossi because he is one of my best friends. So, I love to spend with him. And another one? Wait, I said three.
Well, and my mom. (Laughs)