Jarmila Gajdosova

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Fill Their Cups: Fed Cup World Group Quarterfinal Preview

Just three months after they celebrated, the Czechs must prepare to defend.

One week after the 2013 Davis Cup began, Fed Cup starts with four ties hosted by European nations.  We look ahead to what viewers can expect from the women’s national team competition.  Having gone 7-1 in Davis Cup predictions, will our hot streak continue?

Czech Republic vs. Australia:  The first of the ties features the only two members of the top ten playing a Fed Cup World Group tie this weekend.  But they also are the two most abjectly slumping women in that elite group, having slumped to equally deflating second-round exits at the Australian Open after imploding at tournaments earlier in January.  The defending champions hold a key trump card if the match reaches a decisive fifth rubber, where their experienced doubles duo of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova should stifle whatever pair the Australians can compile.  An ideally balanced team with two top-20 singles threats and a top-5 doubles team, the Czechs thus need earn only a split in singles, while the Aussies must get a victory from Dellacqua, Gajdosova, or Barty.  Even in that scenario, they would need Stosur to sweep her singles rubbers, not as plausible a feat as it sounds considering her habit of embarrassing herself with national pride on the line.  The boisterous Czech crowd might lift Kvitova’s spirits, similar to last year’s final when she eked out a victory as Safarova donned the heroine’s garb.  But she too has struggled early this year, leaving the stage set for a rollercoaster weekend.

Pick:  Czech Republic

Italy vs. USA:   To paraphrase the producers who initially turned down the musical Oklahoma:  no Williams, no Stephens, no chance.  Like that show, which became a smash hit on Broadway, this American Fed Cup team has exceeded expectations in recent years when understaffed.  Singles #1 Varvara Lepchenko enjoyed her breakthrough season in 2012, edging within range of the top 20, and Jamie Hampton announced herself with a three-set tussle against eventual champion Azarenka at the Australian Open.  Hampered by a back injury in Melbourne, Hampton likely will trump the inconsistent Melanie Oudin after she showed how much her groundstrokes and point construction skills had improved.  That said, Oudin has compiled plenty of Fed Cup experience, and her feisty attitude that so often thrives in this setting.  Doubles specialist Liezel Huber, although past her prime, should provide a plausible counterweight to the top-ranked doubles squad of Errani and Vinci.  The bad news for an American team, however, is the clay surface and the fact that their opposition also has proved themselves greater than the sum of their parts.  Both inside the top 20 in singles as well, Errani and Vinci look set to take over from Schiavone and Pennetta as women who rise to the occasion in Fed Cup.  Home-court advantage (and the choice of surface that accompanies it) should prove decisive.

Pick:  Italy

Russia vs. Japan:  Surprised at home by Serbia in last year’s semifinals, the Russians had become accustomed to playing final after final in Fed Cup during their decade of dominance.  Even without the nuclear weapon of Maria Sharapova, the ageless Shamil Tarpischev has assembled troops much superior in quality to the female samurai invading from Japan.  All of the Russians rank higher than any of the visitors, while Maria Kirilenko, Ekaterina Makarova, and Elena Vesnina all reached the second week at the Australian Open (Makarova reaching the quarterfinals).  And world #31 Pavlyuchenkova reached the final in Brisbane when the new season started, although her production has plummeted since then.  At any rate, Tarpischev has many more options for both singles and doubles than does his counterpart Takeshi Murakami, who may lean heavily on the 42-year-old legend Kimiko Date-Krumm.  Older fans may recall Date-Krumm’s victory over Steffi Graf in Fed Cup, which came in the friendly confines of Ariake Colosseum rather than Moscow’s sterile Olympic Stadium.  Kimiko likely will need a contribution of Ayumi Morita, who just defeated her in Pattaya City last week and has claimed the position of Japanese #1.  One could see Date-Krumm or Morita swiping a rubber from Kirilenko or Makarova, neither of whom overpowers opponents.  But it’s hard to see them accomplishing more.

Pick:  Russia

Serbia vs. Slovakia:  This tie in Nis looked nice a few days ago, slated to feature two gorgeous women—and only slightly less gorgeous games—in Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova.  Adding a bit of zest was another former #1 Jelena Jankovic, who always has represented Serbia with pride and determination.  When both of the Serbian stars withdrew from the weekend, then, the visitors suddenly shifted from slight underdogs to overwhelming favorites.  Granted, the hosts still can rely on the services of Bojana Jovanovski, who fell just short of the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in a breakthrough fortnight.  Beyond the 15th-ranked Cibulkova, Slovakia brings no woman in the top 50 to Nis.  A more dangerous talent than her current position of #58 suggests, though, Hantuchova should fancy her chances on an indoor hard court against whomever Serbian captain Dejan Vranes nominates for singles between Vesna Dolonc and Alessandra Krunic.  She has shone in Fed Cup while compiling a 27-12 singles record there, whereas even Jovanovski has played just seven singles rubbers.  Hand a slight edge to Slovakia in the doubles rubber as well because of Hantuchova’s experience in that format, where she has partnered with Magdalena Rybarikova (also here) to defeat the Serbs before.

Pick:  Slovakia

Come back on Monday for previews of the ATP and WTA tournaments next week, following the format of last week’s ATP preview.

Make This Place Your Home: Jarmila Gajdosova

Jarmila-Gajdosova

By Victoria Chiesa

“Settle down, it’ll all be clear; don’t pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down; if you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna make this place your home.” -“Home”, Philip Phillips

Twelve months ago, Jarmila Gajdosova opened her 2012 season at the Hopman Cup in Perth, partnering Lleyton Hewitt and representing Australia. The Australian sporting fans were slow to embrace her in that event, but rallied her and pulled her through a tough opening win against Anabel Medina Garrigues. In Australia’s second team tie against France however, Gajdosova was double-bageled by Marion Bartoli in 50 minutes, and was reduced to tears after the loss. Following that loss to Bartoli, Gajdosova was the victim of obscene and ongoing abuse on Twitter in regards to both her on-court performance and her, well, Australian-ness. She was called “gutless,” “a joke” and others referred to her as “a refugee.”

Gajdosova was born in Bratislava, Slovakia and her WTA bio states that she “fell in love with Australia in her first trip to the Australian Open as 14-year-old”; she became an Australian citizen on November 23rd, 2009. She was married to ATP Tour journeyman Australian Sam Groth, and went by the name Jarmila Groth from February 2009 until late 2011. Following their divorce, Gajdosova was again subjected to abuse on Twitter and the ongoing harassment led to her absence from the social media site for a period of time.

On the court, she has had decidedly mixed success in her adopted homeland. In 2010, ranked outside the top 100, she fell in qualifying in both Brisbane and Sydney. Gajdosova started off 2011 again in Brisbane, where she knocked off top-seeded Sam Stosur in straight sets for her first win over a top 10 ranked opponent. She would go on to win her second career title in Hobart the next week, as she posted wins over Johanna Larsson, Tamira Paszek, Roberta Vinci, Klara Zakopalova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Despite these results in the lead-up events, Gajdosova has never won a match at the Australian Open in her career, posting a 0-7 record.

Gajdosova’s best career results in Grand Slams came in 2010, where she reached the fourth round of the both French Open and Wimbledon. She reached a career high ranking of No. 25 in May of 2011 but her high-risk, high-reward style of play always leaves her vulnerable to extended dips of poor form. Her 2012 season was the imperfect storm, as her tennis and personal life went into a tailspin. Her last match win of the 2012 season came in May at Roland Garros, where she benefitted from a retirement from Magdalena Rybarikova. She ended the season on a nine-match losing streak, and plummeted from No. 45 to her current ranking of No. 183. Gajdosova’s mother passed away in late September and she could not grieve with her family, as she was competing at the WTA event in Guangzhou.

Gajdosova returned to Brisbane in 2013 for the fourth straight year as the beneficiary of a main draw wild card; a new year offered her a new start. With new coach Antonio Van Grichen in tow, she faced off against Roberta Vinci in the opening round. She was greeted with a warm reception and after dropping the opening set, the crowd was a huge factor in propelling her on to victory. After Gajdosova ripped her final backhand past Vinci at the net, handing her a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory, she again walked off an Australian court in tears. These tears were different from 12 months ago. These were tears of relief, tears of triumph. Gajdosova later recognized how much she had finally been embraced by the Australian crowd.

https://twitter.com/Jarka_Tennis/status/285285737304301568

As the last Australian standing in Brisbane, Gajdosova fell in the next round to lucky loser Lesia Tsurenko, who replaced Maria Sharapova in the draw. Despite getting off to a good start in the match, Gajdosova could not contain her unforced errors and eventually fell, 6-1, 1-6, 4-6. As Gajdosova tried to fight back late in the third set, chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” could be heard throughout the stadium.

Gajdosova will continue her long road back up the rankings next week in Hobart, the site of her last tournament triumph. Her goal is to return to the main draw of the Australian Open, via either qualifying or a main draw wild card. One thing is certain; Australians are famous for the passion they show for their athletes, and they’ll finally be cheering Gajdosova on in her own backyard. After all she’s been through in the past twleve months, Gajdosova deserves nothing less.

It’s all “Ova” – Day 1 musings from the grounds of the US Open

Anastasia Rodionova at Day 1 of the US Open

By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand

At Wimbledon several years ago, Serena Williams mused that there were so many “-ovas” in the draw that she herself had adopted the Slavic suffix. Indeed, there may not have been a “Williamsova” on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, but three years later, Serena’s words ring true; it is difficult to navigate between the outer courts without stumbling upon an “ova” or seven. Not just from Russia, though. In fact, the “ovas” quest for world domination has transcended the sport, with players representing countries across the globe. In my rain-interrupted Day One of the US Open, I watched three “ovas” who represented three different countries and stations in the tennis hierarchy (the veteran, the journeywoman, and the champion). For all of their differences, the women did share one thing in common yesterday: victory.

I began my day on Court 7 to watch 19th seeded Russian Nadia Petrova take on Jarmila Gajdosova, who had taken Australian citizenship during her two-year marriage to ATP player Samuel Groth. See what I mean about that world domination? Both had flirted with the upper echelons of the women’s game to various degrees of success; Petrova has been high as #3 with two Roland Garros semifinals, but has become more remembered for her mental fragility and heinous Ellesse dresses in recent years, while Gajdosova rocketed into the top 30 last year only to be derailed by inconsistency and her divorce from Groth. With an “ova,” it is so often their story, and not their baseline game, that makes them so compelling.

Gajdosova, or “Jarka” as she is known to friends and fans alike, has had a rough 2012, losing twice as many matches as she’s won, but had to feel optimistic at the prospects of playing Petrova, who went 0-2 during the US Open Series, punctuated with a second-set retirement only two weeks before. Unfortunately for the Aussie, Petrova’s serve, her signature shot, was on in a way I haven’t seen it in many years. Hitting 15 aces, Nadia held serve with ease and only faced one break point in the first game of the match (which she predictably saved with a big serve). However, things are rarely straightforward for the Russian whom the New York Times once described as “tall, prim and sturdy;” the serve was “on,” but the return and backhand were decidedly “off,” which made for a tense two-set match that culminated in a tiebreaker in the second set upon returning from the two and half hour rain delay. It was in the ‘breaker that Petrova ran away with it as convincingly as she could, and booked a place in the second round.

It was during this match that I took time to analyze the so-called “vocal frustration” and perceived “brattiness” of “ovas” like Nadia. Not a warm player on the court, she didn’t so much celebrate winners so much as she would appear miffed that it had taken her *that* long to get it right. Tennis can be a beautiful game, with swings, according to Mary Carillo, “that defy the imagination.” But ultimately, tennis is a sport, with a winner and a loser. More and more for Petrova and “ovas” like her, success is not winning, but being perfect, and with that kind of pressure, no wonder we’ve seen such disastrous meltdowns from her and her compatriots.

Anastasia Rodionova is a player who doesn’t just desire perfection; she demands it, from herself, the linesmen, and those who come to watch her play. Although only ranked as high as 62 in her career, this attitude has made the Russian-born, Australian naturalized Rodionova infamous among fans. I’ve been watching her play matches at the US Open for a decade, and the reputation isn’t totally unwarranted; on the court, she has two emotions: indignation, and amusement born out of said indignation. On one hand, it’s admirable that Rodionova expects so much from her petite, 5’5” frame. On the other hand, her flat, hard-hitting game is as high risk as I’ve ever seen; when it’s “on,” it’s that poetry in motion Carillo described, but when it’s not (even for a minute), god help us all.

However, “The Rodionova Show” has been much more consistent than controversial since she arrived in Flushing. Fresh off a stint with the Washington Kastles, Rodionova is determined to turn around a disappointing year, even adopting the undefeated Kastle’s motto “Refuse to Lose,” into her tweets. This mentality has translated beyond matches in general; in three qualifying matches, the only player to win more than three games in a set was Caroline Garcia, the young Frenchwoman who nearly beat Maria Sharapova at last year’s French Open. Taking to Court 10 against American Julia Cohen didn’t seem like a tall order on paper, but don’t forget that “Nastya” requires perfect match conditions. Between the fireworks of the US Open Opening Ceremonies and the ghastly shrieks of one inebriated Cohen fan, the first few games looked dicey as the Aussie fell behind an early break.

One would think that a player like Rodionova would balk the notion of rowdy fans cheering her errors. But I was reminded last week of an odd piece of trivia: Anastasia Rodionova is the 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, and beat Sania Mirza in front of the most partisan crowd I’ve ever seen. Rodionova herself seemed to remember her love of playing the villain as well, and steadied herself back into playing the laser-like baseline game that had taken her through qualies, and romped into the second round winning 11 of the final 12 games. It seems foolish to crave for perfection in a sport where one is automatically given at least two tries at a serve, but if perfection is athletic nirvana, Rodionova has come dangerously close to achieving it this week.

Speaking of perfection, I would be remiss in leaving out Petra Kvitova. The 2011 Wimbledon champion made a strong case for being remembered as the player of the year when she won her maiden Slam and ended the season undefeated indoors. But she is another player who has, in the past, been felled by her desire for perfection. Until this summer, the word on Petra was that she couldn’t play on the hard courts of North America. Why? She was allergic. It’s an uncharacteristically “diva” excuse for a most unpretentious young woman, but with a 2-3 record in North America last year, it was hard to argue with the facts. Thankfully, with titles in Montreal and New Haven, the Czech star has concluded that she is not a Lenglen-esque one-continent wonder, and can indeed dominate in the land of the free.

Not without some struggles, though. All those match wins may have been great for Kvitova’s confidence, but they’ve done little to leave her fresh for the last Slam tournament of the year. Against the tattooed Slovak Polona Hercog, Kvitova was often undone by what appeared to be her own exhaustion. She was a step slow, so her perfectly timed groundstrokes were off and she danced on the faultline of losing the first set. For a woman who had only won New Haven two days earlier, disaster (and another early round US Open loss) seemed imminent. But yesterday, the Hard Court Education of Petra Kvitova was on full display. On the shaded Grandstand court, Petra appeared to realize during the tiebreaker that she would not be perfect. That didn’t mean she wasn’t good enough to win the match.

And win, she did. She rediscovered the striking mental fortitude that took her within 70 points of the number one ranking last year, took the tiebreaker, and dominated the second set 6-1. I left the match feeling optimistic about the Czech’s chances this fortnight. Petra wasn’t perfect, true, but how often does one win a Slam because they played perfect tennis? The moment when they hear their name and get to hold the tophy aloft and realize that tournament is “ova” is perfect enough.

David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.

Sam Stosur slams through to fourth round of Roland Garros without dropping a set

sam stosur

By Melinda Samson, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Given that 27th seed Nadia Petrova holds a 5-2 winning record over 6th seed Sam Stosur, and both players have reached the semi finals or further at Roland Garros in past years, their third round match had potential to be tough, long and tense.

But that was not to be. They have never played on clay before and Stosur was in control from the start, seeming determined that this wouldn’t be a repeat of their three hour and 16 minute record-breaking match at last year’s US Open.

Stosur broke Petrova’s first and second service games for a fast 4-0 lead. Petrova broke back in the next game but Stosur was able to hold one break and serve out the set at 6-3.

In the second set, Petrova double faulted away her second service game, to give Stosur a break which she held, despite Petrova having three opportunities to get the break back. Stosur then clinched the match on Petrova’s serve, winning the second set 6-3 to impressively take victory in 1 hour and 8 minutes.

Stosur, looking strong and confident, has now improved on last year’s third round exit from Roland Garros, and will play Sloane Stephens in the fourth round.

Stosur is the only remaining Australian player in the singles draw, after Bernard Tomic and Jarmila Gajdosova lost their second round matches in straight sets, Tomic to Giraldo Santiago and Gajdosova to Caroline Wozniacki.

Follow Tennis Grandstand for updates on all the Australian players’ progress throughout the main draw of the French Open.

Melinda Samson is attending Roland Garros and will be writing updates on Australian players through their trek of the tennis world’s second slam. She also manages the website Grand Slam Gal and is attempting to do the fan version of a tennis grand slam in 2012. Follow her on Twitter for further live updates @GrandSlamGal.

Stosur powers past Falconi into the third round of Roland Garros

Sam Stosur (REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

By Melinda Samson, Special for Tennis Grandstand

Number six seed Sam Stosur powered past Irina Falconi in straight sets to set up a third round match against Nadia Petrova.

Stosur broke Falconi’s first and second service games to comfortably win the first set 6-1 in 25 minutes. During the second set, both players held serve until Stosur broke in the fifth game, a break that she held to win the set 6-4 in 38 minutes. Although she double faulted on the first match point, and Falconi was able to get a few break point opportunities during the match, Stosur looked powerful and in control.

Update on Aussie action from Round 1: Tomic and Gajdosova through to 2nd Round

It was perfect weather for tennis on the opening Sunday of Roland Garros as Stosur kicked off the first match on Court Philippe Chatrier, serving up a strong performance to beat British No.1 Elena Baltacha 6-4, 6-0.

After taking only an hour to complete the match, Stosur left the court smiling and looking relaxed.

Stosur and her supporters will be hoping the stunning weather continues, which it has so far.

“If it’s not sunny, it plays dead. If it’s sunny, it’s great for Sam,” commented Stosur’s coach David Taylor.

Casey Dellacqua won the first set against 21st seed Italian Sara Errani before losing in three sets. Likewise Anastasia Rodinova lost to French player Mathilde Johannson in a tough three set match.

Despite his will to win and the support of the crowd, Lleyton Hewitt lost in four sets to Slovenian qualifier Blaz Kavcic. Hewitt plays next on grass as a wildcard recipient at Queens.

Matthew Ebden lost his first ever match at Roland Garros in four sets, to German 24th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.

After the match Ebden took a positive approach on his Facebook page:

“Played a good match today and improved lots of things but couldnt quite get there Phillip served and played very well. Quite disappointed of course but excited with all the improvements I have to make.”

Bernard Tomic had more success, achieving his first ever win at Roland Garros by defeating Austrian qualifier Andreas Haider-Maurer in three sets. Tomic plays Santiago Giraldo in the 2nd round.

Although wild card recipient Ashleigh Barty was beaten by Wimbldeon champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets in less than an hour, the sixteen year old gained a lot from the experience, tweeting:

“Tough day yesterday. Was a great experience to play Petra on such a big occasion! I’ve learnt a lot and can’t wait to play again next here (hopefully :)

Jarmila Gajdosova progressed through the draw after Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova retired in the second set due to a spine injury. Gajdosova plays number nine seed Caroline Wozniaki in the 3rd round.

Follow Tennis Grandstand for updates on all the Australian players’ progress throughout the main draw of the French Open.

Melinda Samson is attending Roland Garros and will be writing updates on Australian players through their trek of the tennis world’s second slam. She also manages the website Grand Slam Gal and is attempting to do the fan version of a tennis grand slam in 2012. Follow her on Twitter for further live updates @GrandSlamGal.

The Aussie lineup for Roland Garros

Aussie tennis players Bernard Tomic (L) and Lleyton Hewitt

By Melinda Samson, Special for Tennis Grandstand

With three men and five women hailing from Australia in the main draw of the 2012 French Open, here’s a full recap of their form from Roland Garros in 2011 and the Australian Open in January.

Sam Stosur

Having made it to the French Open final in 2010, Sam will be aiming to better last year’s third round loss. Coming in to the Australian Open in January off her US Open victory, Sam made an early exit in the first round.

Stosur plays Baltacha in the first round and potentially faces in Petrova in the third round.

Read more about Sam’s highs and lows since the USO.

Lleyton Hewitt

Having recovered from his February foot surgery former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt received a wildcard entry into the French Open, which he missed in 2011 due to injury.

Hewitt made it through to round 4 of the Australian Open, eventually losing to Djokovic, who he potentially faces in Round 2 at Roland Garros.

Hewitt plays Kavcic in round 1.

Bernard Tomic

Tomic has played at Roland Garros twice, losing in the first round both times.

He showed great form at the Australian Open, beating Verdasco in an epic first round five set match and following up the win by beating Sam Querry and Alexandr Dolgopolov before losing to Roger Federer in the fourth round.

Tomic plays Haider-Maurer in round 1.

Jarmila Gajdosova

This will be Gajdosova’s seventh appearance at Roland Garros. Her best result was making it through to the fourth round in 2010. Gajdosova lost in the first round of this year’s Australian Open.

Gajdosova plays Rybarikova in round 1.

Casey Dellacqua

Dellacqua is well loved since her run to the fourth round of the 2008 Australian Open, beating Patty Schnyder and Amelie Mauresmo along the way. This January she lost in the second round to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka.

2012 will be Dellacqua’s fourth appearance at Roland Garros, where she lost in the first round last year.

Dellacqua plays Errani in round 1.

Anastasia Rodionova

2012 is the sixth time that Rodionova will play at Roland Garros, having made it to the third round in 2010 and 2011. She lost in the first round of this year’s Australian Open.

Rodionova plays Johannson in round 1.

Ashleigh Barty

Wimbledon junior champion Barty received a wildcard entry into the Roland Garros main draw, to follow up her first grand slam appearance at the Australian Open in January, when she lost in the first round.

Barty faces a tough first round match against Kvitova.

Matt Edben

This is the first time Edben has played at Roland Garros.

During the Australian Open he won two sets off Kei Nishikori before eventually losing the second round match in five sets.

Ebden plays Kohlschreiber in round 1.

Several Australians played in the qualifying rounds, including Marinko Matosevic and Greg Jones but none were successful in making it through to the main draw.

Follow Tennis Grandstand for updates on all the Australian players’ progress throughout the main draw of the French Open.

Melinda Samson is attending Roland Garros and will be writing updates on Australian players through their trek of the tennis world’s second slam. She also manages the website Grand Slam Gal and is attempting to do the fan version of a tennis grand slam in 2012. Follow her on Twitter for further live updates @GrandSlamGal.

Paris Photos: Sharapova, McHale, Wickmayer Advance at Open GDF Suez

McHale r32_4

Follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers the Open GDF SUEZ WTA Tour event in Paris this week. The gallery below includes singles action from day four of the tournament, including Maria Sharapova, Alize Cornet, Christina McHale, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Yanina Wickmayer, Klara Zakopalova and Varvara Lepchenko among others. For full singles results, go here, and for full doubles results, go here.

Check out Rick’s previous Paris photo galleries: Day 1Day 2Day 3, and stay tuned as he covers the ATP Rotterdam tournament next week! Make sure to also check out his in-depth feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

Estoril Open: Alisa Kleybanova has a hard day at the office

Alisa Kleybanova

By Luís Santos

Another scorching day in Lisbon as second round action took place.

Top seed Alisa Kleybanova was first up on centre court but had a hard day the office by French Mathilde Johansson.

After losing the first game handily, Johansson regrouped and as Kleybanova struggled to find her serve and strokes, the French went up 3-1 with 40-15 on serve. The Russian held her own, however, and the expected happened as Johansson imploded quickly to get the score back on serve.

Players remained on serve up until 5-6 on Kleybanova’s serve. The Russian misfired repeatedly and Johansson took the first set on her first set point after yet another backhand error from Kleybanova.

As the second rolled on Johansson failed to hold serve as Kleybanova found a stranglehold on the french’s second serve winning 78% of the points. Despite being broken twice through the second set, the Russian still closed out comfortably 6-3 to level up the match.

Third set saw Kleybanova opening up a 3-0 lead despite struggling to find her range on the backhand wing. Johansson pounded that side with her flat forehand but failed to be consistent enough to stay competitive. At 5-1 up Kleybanova served for the match but the backhand errors creeped in once again and she dropped serve to 30.

Johansson dutifully lost her serve – and consequently the match – after the Russian set up match point with an unorthodox two-handed backhand. Final score: 5-7 6-3 6-2. Kleybanova now meets Kristina Barrois. The German stopped beautiful Elena Vesnina in straight sets 6-4 6-3.

Elsewhere on court 2, the battle of aussies saw the higher ranked Jarmila Gajdosova defeat comeback kid Casey Dellacqua in straight 6-2 6-4. The second seed has booked her place in the quarterfinals, the fourth this season, after Brisbance, Hobart and Kuala Lumpur.

Gajdosova now meets Monica Niculescu of Romania who sliced her way through American young hope Sloane Stephens 6-4 6-4.

Dropshot queen Romina Oprandi was up against Alla Kudryavtseva today on amazing Centralito. Kudryavtseva’s pace, however, did enough damage on Oprandi’s game to allow a narrow straight sets win as the Russian prevailed 6-4 7-6(3). Kudryavtseva will meet Swede’s Johanna Larsson, who overcame Urszula Radwanska despite hitting nine double-faults.

To the dismay of the Portuguese fans – and press – Portuguese conqueror Greta Arn retired today from her match against Anabel Medina Garrigues. Arn strained the muscles on her left tigh early in the second set. Medina Garrigues was leading the 2007 champion 6-2 1-0.

 

Estoril Open: Alisa Kleybanova breezes to the next, Portuguese mix up ends in win for Joao Sousa

Alisa Kleybanova

By Luís Santos
After a dreadful weekend where the rain and wind delayed the qualifying draws it was all sunny  in Lisbon at the Estoril Open, as qualifiers made their way into the main draw and first rounds got underway.

The women of the Estoril Open

On the women’s side, Alisa Kleybanova, top seed at the 2011 Estoril Open women’s event, jumped off to a great start breezing past Olga Govortsova 6-2 6-2 in just 67 minutes.

The Russian was tied 2-2 in the head-to-head record against the Belrussian. But today her superior hitting and serving was too much to handle even for big-hitting Govortsova. Govortsova only managed to win 12 points on Kleybanova’s serve. The top seed now plays french Mathilde Johansson who beat Ksenia Pervak 6-4 6-3.

For 2006 champion Jie Zheng things didn’t go as smoothly, as she ran into Romina Oprandi of Italy. Oprandi is famous for her dropshots and has had good results on clay. The Chinese ended up losing in straight sets by the score of 6-4 6-2. Oprandi now plays Alla Kudryavtseva, who edged Anastasia Rodionova in three sets.

The Chinese contingent was out of luck as Shuai Zhang also went out at the hands of comeback girl Casey Dellacqua. Dellacqua is playing only her first WTA tournament since Wimbledon 2010.

Elsewhere, fifth seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands fell short today at the hands of Romanian Monica Niculescu. Mattek-Sands never let go, however, as she pushed Niculescu into a three-hour and six minute marathon before losing.

Tomorrow, 2007 winner Greta Arn will open her campaign against gutsy Portuguese hope Maria João Koehler. Arn knows how to win in Estoril but will MJK prove too determined for the Hungarian?
Also taking the court tomorrow are Melanie Oudin, recent Fes finalist Simona Halep, fourth seed and defending champion Anastasija Sevastova who opens the tournament against Urszula Radwanska. Klara Zakopalova and Australian Jarmila Gajdosova will also be in action.

The men of the Estoril Open

Over at the men’s side of the tournament, only four main draw matches took place with seventh seed Kevin Anderson proved to be resilient by pulling off a win over flyind dutcman  Thiemo de Bakker 5-7 6-3 6-2.

In an all Portuguese first round match up between João Sousa and Gastão Elias, it was the Sousa prevailing after a tense and at times excellently played match on Centre Court. Sousa drew first blood 7-6 after being a break down with Elias serving for the first set. The Bradenton based Elias regrouped and as Sousa grew increasingly exasperated he capitalized to take the second 6-2. In the third, Sousa jumped to a 4-1 lead and Elias started showing signs of cramping. Elias held for 4-2 and players were tied at deuce on Sousa’s serve when Elias fell to the ground after spanking a forehand. Unable to continue and down on the floor due to cramps he was forced to retire but was walked off the court by Sousa.

Sousa now meets the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and Igor Andreev.

Not so lucky was countrymen Rui Machado. The twenty seven year-old Portuguese, ranked number 102, drew former top 30 player Victor Hanescu and was all out of sorts for most of his encounter with the Romanian as he went out quietly 6-3 6-3.

Over on the last round of men’s qualifying, history was made as Portuguese tennis hope Pedro Sousa qualified for an ATP main draw for the first time in his young career, and at his home tournament nonetheless.

The 488th ranked had already been in the last round of qualifications twice before this year but the third time proved to be a charm as he passed Albert Ramos’ test. Ramos was the top seed and after splitting sets, the Spaniard went up 5-2. When it appeared the more experienced ATP-level player would prevail, Sousa battled back to claim the last five games with an arsenal of scorching winners and classic dropshots. In this stretch of the match, Pedro Sousa allowed a mere five points go the way of the 116th ranked Spaniard.
The Portuguese standout will now play former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.

An Estoril Open preview: Milos Raonic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Alisa Kleybanova compete

Juan Martin Del Potro

By Luís Santos

The mens draw

The main draws for the upcoming Estoril Open have been announced. Some exciting match-ups have emerged, especially if you are Portuguese!

Top four seeds in the men’s side got byes, so Soderling, Verdasco, Tsonga and Simon are only second round sightings. Special attention to Fernando Verdasco whose second round opponent may well be Portuguese best Frederico Gil. Verdasco is the clear favorite but Gil was a finalist at the Estoril Open 2010 and is a crowd favorite.

Of his return to the Estoril  Open Gil said: I love to play this tournament so much in front of my friends and family, it is a big motivation and I always try to do my best. I grew up playing here when I was younger, so I know the conditions. I know the pressure and expectation of playing at my home tournament.”

Second man of the Portuguese armada is Rui Machado, who starts against veteran Victor Hanescu.

But for most of us Portuguese tennis fans, all eyes will be on the all-portuguese first round match between Gastão Elias and João Sousa, the hopes of the Portugal tennis scene. No matter what the result will be, we are assured of a Portuguese in the second round.

Other big names to watch at the Estoril this week will be former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and fast rising star Milos Raonic.

The womens draw

On the women’s side, the field is lead by Russian Alisa Kleybanova who will have a first round tussle with big-hitting Olga Govortsova. Jarmila Gajdosova is the number two seed and starts against Renata Voracova. Rouding out the top four seeds are Klara Zakopalova and Anastasjia Sevastova.

Two former champions grace the draw this year with Jie Zheng and Great Arn both making returns to the Portuguese venue. Arn will open against home hope Maria João Koehler, the number two for Portugal. Koehler has expressed her determination to do well on her home turf so Arn may well have her hands full with the Portuguese wildcard.

Also on the list to watch are Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Elena Vesnina, the number five and six seeds, respectively. Also making a comeback is Casey Dellacqua from Australia.

Be sure to to visit TennisGrandstand daily as Luís Santos brings you the headlines of both men’s and women’s action at the 2011 Estoril Open.

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