By David Kane
Whether you remember her as one half of “Dulketta,” the headband-wearing giant-killer whose name made you shudder if it was too close to your favorite’s during a Slam, or as simply the best South American player of the last decade, nearly every WTA fan has memories of Gisela Dulko, something made clear as the Twitterverse reacted to her sad, yet unsurprising retirement announcement posted on her blog yesterday.
The injury-filled 2012 leading to her retirement does not seem to do the Argentine veteran justice. Although 27, traditionally an age when players begin a decline, Dulko was one of this generation’s late bloomers who had spent the last few years claiming the scalps of some of the sport’s biggest names, from Maria Sharapova to Victoria Azarenka to Samantha Stosur. What makes these results startling was where they took place, on the sport’s biggest stages. What made Gisela Dulko notable was that this kind of result was her specialty.
Despite never breaking into the top 20 in singles, “Gise” consistently played well above her ranking during the Grand Slams, making up for a petite 5’7” frame with loosely tightened strings that allowed her forehand to penetrate the court with a force akin to a cannonball. She wasn’t the kind of streaky player who played lights-out tennis to shut out top players at random times. Most of her biggest victories occurred over grueling three-set matches which illuminated her mental strength for fans and commentators alike.
In fact, her first foray into the spotlight was against current Tennis Channel commentator, Martina Navratilova. At consecutive major tournaments in 2004, the ageless Navratilova attempted a singles comeback that Dulko halted each time, most surprisingly in three sets on the American’s beloved Wimbledon grass. Five years later, she took out the champion of the ’04 event, Maria Sharapova, and her comeback from shoulder surgery.
While she rarely followed up these wins with deeper tournament runs (her best Slam results were a trio of 4th round appearances, two at Roland Garros and one at the US Open), these ostensibly unconnected upsets became less the exception and more the rule when it came to Dulko. As the 2010 French Open draw was announced, you could hear the sound of fans everywhere penciling the Argentine into the second round, heartily anticipating her upsetting the at-the-time struggling Azarenka. At the dawn of Day 1, Dulko delivered and mercilessly sent the No. 10 seed out of the tournament with the loss of only three games.
Her most heart-warming victory would come a year later in the third round of that same event. Coachless and taking on defending finalist Stosur, Dulko grinded out a three-set win and ran to her bag to wave a flag welcoming her coach’s newborns – her nephew and niece – into the world.
What makes the giant-killers, the Gisela Dulkos, Tsvetana Pironkovas and Tamira Paszeks of the world, so effective against the game’s best, but relatively ineffective against their peers? Logically, it takes the best to be the best, yet Dulko seemed to carve a very successful career out of sharing the headline with the big names she conquered, only to spend the majority of her career decidedly out of the limelight.
It seems appropriate, then, that she reached her biggest heights in doubles, where she was once again required to share the spotlight. With the affable Flavia Pennetta as her co-star, Dulko did so delightedly, even sharing a Twitter account (@FlaviGise) as the two dominated a 2010 season which culminated in a shared ascension to the #1 ranking and an Australian Open title to start 2011. At least in doubles, Dulko was comfortable playing the “favorite” and has the results to prove it.
So Gisela Dulko retires from the sport without many of the accolades expected of a player as well-known as herself. But in this instance, consistency, at least in its customary context, would not have made Dulko memorable. Instead, she was consistently shocking, which made her unforgettable.
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)
Caroline Wozniacki ousted by Dani Hantuchova, Stosur falls to Dulko – More top seeds fall at Roland Garros
Following on from Kim Clijsters’ lead yesterday, some more of the much-fancied women’s stars fell today in cold, blustery conditions on the Roland Garros clay.
Whereas the number two seed fell yesterday, the top seed followed suit this afternoon as Caroline Wozniacki was trumped by Slovakian 28th seed Daniela Hantuchova.
Visibly struggling with her movement and service in front of a partisan crowd in her opponent’s favour, Wozniacki had dropped the first set 1-6 before she had even become accustomed to the conditions.
Again Hantuchova punished her sloppy play, and distinct lack of winners, as she raced in to a 4-0 lead in the second. But the Slovakian is well known for failing to close out such situations due to nerves and the 20-year-old Dane pulled it back to 4-3.
But if there is one thing you cannot question the world No.29 on it is her fight and she saw out the match to set up a fourth-round clash with former French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“She played very, very well today, better than me for sure,” admitted the Dane. “She knew what she was going out there to do. She was just too good.”
But she refused to put the loss down to pressure continually heaped on her to win a maiden Grand Slam: “I don’t feel the pressure. The only one I feel pressure from is myself to go and give my all for every match and obviously I’m a competitor – I love winning. I don’t like losing.”
A tearful Hantuchova said: “I was very confident before the match because the last few weeks I think I was playing great tennis, and I was a little bit unlucky in a few matches.
“I knew it was just a matter of time. I have to say today was probably one of my best matches.”
Earlier in the day, the 2010 finalist Sam Stosur also crashed out as she went down to Argentina’s Gisela Dulko.
The Aussie star also seemed to struggle with her movement and the bounce of the much-lamented new balls as she went down 4-6, 6-1, 3-6 to the world No.51.
A flurry of unforced errors blighted her attempts to overpower Dulko who refused to baulk.
Stosur broke to go ahead in the third and many expected her to see the match out, but again she fell apart and allowed the Argentine to steal victory from under her nose.
Rampant German Julia Goerges also came unstuck today as she went down to local favourite Marion Bartoli. Bartoli has a reputation as a bit of a scrapper and it showed in her 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 comeback win.
Two seeds who did stick to the script, though, were defending Champion Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic.
Watching her rivals fall Schiavone may fancy a second-straight crown as Peng Shuai retired with breathing difficulties in their match, the Italian leading 6-3, 1-2 at the time.
Jankovic made easy work of the American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-2. Vera Zvonereva had similar luck, beating Anastasia Rodionova 6-2, 6-3 in just 87 minutes.
In the men’s draw, third seed Roger Federer sent out a timely reminder of what he is capable of with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-3 dismantling of Janko Tipsarevic.
The first set lasted just 19 minutes and the 16-time Slam winner never looked back, taking the second in 39 minutes before cruising to a comfortable win.
“I’m very happy, really,” he said. “I thought that it would have been a lot more difficult. The first set was the key. That gave me confidence and it made him doubt his game plan.”
He will now play his countryman and friend Stanislas Wawrinka who completed a fantastic turnaround from two sets down to beat French favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five.
David Ferrer also cruised through in straights, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 against Sergiy Stakhovsky. He now faces Gael Monfils, who didn’t take too long either in beating the Belgian Steve Darcis 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
So like any good tennis fan I like to keep up with their offcourt activities as well. And when I found this video on YouTube, it just made my heart pound a little harder. Why, u ask? Well it means that the tennis season 2011 is really underway and that we have our first Grand Slam tournament right around the corner.
The WTA description says it all:
We talked to our players to find out what their resolutions are for 2011, both on and off the court.
Players in the video: Victoria Azarenka, Vera Zvonareva, Flavia Pennetta, Gisela Dulko, Jelena Jankovic, Sam Stosur, Caroline Wozniacki, Kveta Peschke, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Vania King, Shahar Peer, Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka, Li Na & Daniela Hantuchova.
Anyone ever noticed the similarities between tennis and Samurai sword fighting? It both takes a lot of skill to begin with. With powerful swings and skill and elegance you try to find a way to tear down your opponents defense while at the same time you give nothing away.
That’s what I was thinking of when I saw the pics of the ladies at the Toray Pan Pacific tournament.
Gisela Dulko, Jelena Jankovic both participated.
The Toray Pan Pacific always has a strong field and this year isn’t any different. US Open runner up Vera Zvonareva, US Open semifinalist Caroline Wozniacki as well as former winners Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina and Kimiko Date-Krumm will also play in Tokyo.
Serena Williams retracted from the Toray Pan Pacific tournament due to the slow recovery process of her right foot that forced her out of the US Open as well as other events.
We wish her the best.
Extra bonus pics of Maria Sharapova practicing in Tokyo:
And please take a vote in our poll:
So this article will be short today. I am in a foul mood. I always had a thing for Victoria Azarenka ever since I watched her play at the Australian Open 2009. Watching YouTube videos and reading Fastscript interviews followed quickly after that to feed my infatuation. Every interview I could find of her, I read. And every tournament she played, I would check the draw to see if she’s got a half decent chance of winning it.
I am not asking for much but a win, much like the one she recorded at Stanford a few weeks ago, every now and then would be great. Especially with a victory over fellow Russian countrywoman Maria Sharapova.
With the Stanford win in her pocket, a good run at the US Open 2010 seemed very very possible. I secretly even dreamed of her winning the 2010 edition of the final major of the year.
Alas, this afternoon while I was surfing the net and keeping scores in my browser I received the notification that Azarenka had collapsed and was wheelchaired off the court during her match versus Argentinan Gisela Dulko. Azarenka trailed 5-1 in the first set.
Of course, major panic struck on the court. Her trainer and tournament officials came rushing to check if Vika was still breathing.
“I was scared,” Dulko said. “She went to the floor. I was worried for her. I went to see her, brought some ice, did whatever I could do to help.”
The weather has been incredibly hot at the US Open since the start. With temparatures during the day rising to mid 90s. But tournament officials did not activate the Extreme Weather Policy which allows for icebags and a request for a 10-minute break amongst other things during changeovers.
“It’s tough to play out there,” Dulko said. “It’s really hot, really humid. You sweat so much, sometimes it’s impossible to hold the racket.”
And Dulko is pretty much right. Playing under these circumstances is tough and for a player who has a history of not being able to cope with heat like Azarenka (retired match versus Serena Williams in the fourth round of the Australian Open 2009) it must be even tougher.
But then tweets started to appear about Azarenka bumping her head prior to the match. If that is so, then why did no one even do a quick medical examination before the match started? Just to see if she can actually play.
And John Koblin from The Observer wrote the following from the pressroom:
The early consensus in the press room seems to be that this was likely related to her fitness, and not exclusively a reflection of the heat out there. It’s just over 90 degrees now, and it was hotter at times yesterday.
Yes, hotter at times yesterday. But she didn’t play yesterday. She may have practiced but that’s different from a match.
The WTA was asked for a comment but they were quick to say that it is up to the USTA. The USTA came with the following statement:
US Open Tournament Referee Brian Earley said in a statement following the match: “Victoria Azarenka retired from her match with headache-like symptoms. She was taken to a nearby hospital for diagnostic testing. Out of respect to her privacy, we cannot give any more details. However, we can say that this does not seem to be primarily a heat-related illness.”
Azarenka wobbling from the start in high heat. WTA won’t comment. USTA gives odd statement she had a headache-like. That passes smell test? – Greg Couch
With temparatures rising up until 90 degrees, things outside decay quicker. Let’s hope that this one doesn’t and that we get a full explanation in either a press release or a press conference.
An early conclusion based on the reports I have read is that her collapse on the court could very well be a combination of two things: The heat and her bumping her head prior to the match. But then the question still remains: Why wasn’t there a medical examination before she started her match versus Dulko?
Azarenka’s official statement is as follows:
“I was warming up in the gym prior to my match against Gisela Dulko when I fell while running a sprint,” Azarenka later said in a statement. “I fell forward and hit my arm and head. I was checked by the medical team before I went on court and they were courtside for monitoring.
“I felt worse as the match went on, having a headache and feeling dizzy. I also started having trouble seeing and felt weak before I fell.
“I was taken to the hospital for some medical tests and have been diagnosed with a mild concussion.”
Check the gallery and video to see how Victoria Azarenka lays on the Grandstand court and later is wheeled off in a wheelchair.
Anyone else so annoyed with the Montreal weather last week at the Rogers Cup 2010 final? So was I. Continous interruptions made me not want to watch it all anymore. Though it’s tough to fight the forces of nature.
What I was curious about was the following: What do tennis players find of the rain delay? And thanks to the WTA Tour , I finally know.
Watch the following video as Gisela Dulko, Patty Schnyder, Jarmila Groth, Abigail Spears, Natalie Grandin, Arantxa Rus, Kateryna Bondarenko, Lucie Safarova, Aravavne Rezai and Ipek Senoglu explain you what they think of the rain delays.
Anyone else surprised by the sudden withdrawal of Serena Williams from the US Open 2010? I got over that quickly. Caroline Wozniacki is now the new number one seed at the upcoming edition of the US Open and I couldn’t have picked a better one. Yes , she is a little out of shape but the Roger Cup 2010 proved that the girl still has plenty of game left. And she’d better…I am expecting her to win at least one grand slam and to reach the number one spot on the WTA Tour. And have been expecting that since she entered the WTA Tour. She’s got the talent and the right attitude for it.
Here is what she’s got to say on the US Open 2010:
I was browsing the forums when I stumbled accross these great modeling pics of Elena Dementieva.
The photos look amazing and who am I to deny you any such pleasures? Exactly…that’s why I am posting them here.
So here we are with more photos of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, 2010. I can’t believe how fast the weeks pass by. Just last week it was the ATP tournament in Toronto and this week is the WTA Tournament in Montreal.
In less than two weeks the final Grand Slam tournament of the 2010 season kicks off but until then we can enjoy photos of the tournaments before the US Open hits off.
I got more photos than I could possibly have imagined earlier this week. Credit to Iketennis.com and J. Servat.
The list of players in the gallery is long but they include Vera Zvonareva, Caroline Wozniacki, Gisela Dulko, Maria Kirilenko, Iveta Benesova, Jelena Jankovic and many many more.
A few years ago I talked to a guy who ran the Gisela Dulko website. It was a site in plain HTML and lots of pics and in three languages. They had several editors and newsposters. Which was quite unique actually for a website at that time. It’s become more and more regular now. But that aside. It was also the time where I just fell in love with Gisela Dulko.
Last week our photographer Ralf Reinecke was in Stuttgart and I asked him to send me some extra pics of Gisela Dulko. And he came through. So here we go: Gisela Dulko pics of her solo and with doubles partner Flavia Penetta.