johanna larsson

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Bastad and Bad Gastein Previews

Simona Halep brings a remarkable winning streak in pursuit of a fourth straight International title.  This week, a bit more competition might await her than at the three others.

Bastad:

Top half:  The second-ranked Maria Sharapova spent a brief holiday in Sweden this month, but world No. 1 Serena Williams will mix at least some business with pleasure.  One would not have expected to see Serena at an International event on clay rather than her usual US Open Series stop at Stanford.  But her undefeated clay record this year will go on the line against an overmatched group of opponents—on paper, at least.  Sure to collect a huge appearance fee in Bastad, Serena may or may not play with her usual intensity at a tournament that means nothing to her legacy.  The top-ranked junior in the world, Belinda Bencic, stands a win away from facing the top-ranked woman in the world shortly after earning the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon.  Serena’s own disappointment on those lawns may motivate her to bring more imposing form to Bastad than she would otherwise.

The player who came closest to defeating Serena on clay this year, Anabel Medina Garrigues, might await in the quarterfinals.  On the other hand, Medina Garrigues won just two games from projected second-round opponent Dinah Pfizenmaier in Palermo last week.  Also suffering an early exit there was Lara Arruabarrena, a Spaniard who shone briefly this spring.  Arruabarrena joins Lesia Tsurenko among the women vying with third seed Klara Zakopalova for the right to face Serena in the semifinals.  At a similar level of tournament in 2009, Zakopalova outlasted a diffident Serena on the clay of Marbella.

Bottom half:  Grass specialist Tsvetana Pironkova holds the fourth seed in a quarter free from any dirt devils.  Almost anyone could emerge from this section, perhaps even one of Sweden’s top two women.  Johanna Larsson will meet Sofia Arvidsson in the first round, an unhappy twist of fate for home fans.  The lower-ranked of the two, Arvidsson has accumulated the stronger career record overall.

Riding a 15-match winning streak at non-majors, Simona Halep seeks her fourth title of the summer.  She went the distance in consecutive weeks just before Wimbledon, on two different surfaces no less, so an International double on clay would come as no great surprise.  One aging threat and one rising threat jump out of her quarter as possible obstacles.  After reaching the second week of Wimbledon, Flavia Pennetta may have gained the confidence needed to ignite her stagnating comeback.  Assigned an opening test against clay specialist Alexandra Dulgheru, young French sensation Caroline Garcia looks to unlock more of her potential.  And Serena’s notorious assassin, Virginie Razzano, cannot be discounted entirely.

Final:  Serena vs. Halep

Bad Gastein:

Top half:  To be frank, this tournament boasts one of the least impressive fields on the WTA calendar (if “boasts” is the proper word).  On the bright side, Bad Gastein should feature some competitive, unpredictable matches from the first round to the last.  The only top-50 woman in the draw, Mona Barthel will seek her third final of 2013 but her first on clay.  Barthel wields more than enough power to hit through the slow surface, but her patience can be ruffled in adversity.  Her most notable pre-semifinal challenge might come from Kiki Bertens, who won a small title on clay last year.  Barthel has dominated their history, though, including a victory this year.

As she builds on an encouraging Wimbledon, Andrea Petkovic holds the fourth seed in a tournament near home.  Her family traveled with her from Germany before the draw ceremony, images of which appear elsewhere on this site.  A finalist on clay in Nurnberg last month, Petkovic drew one of the tournament’s most notable unseeded players in her opener, Petra Martic.  Just as injuries have undermined Petkovic for many months, mononucleosis has hampered Martic’s progress.  But her balanced game and keen feel for the ball still emerges, making her a greater threat than other players in the section.  Palermo semifinalist Chanelle Scheepers, who solved Martic there, might test Petkovic’s consistency.  Nor should one ignore elite junior Elina Svitolina in the draw’s most compelling section.

Bottom half:  Romanians enjoyed strong results last week, highlighted by Halep’s extended winning streak and semifinals from Alexandra Cadantu and Victor Hanescu.  This week, third seed Irina-Camelia Begu seeks to echo the success of her compatriots as she rebounds from a first-round loss in Palermo.  While her only career title came on a hard court, Begu reached two clay finals in 2011, her best season so far.  Near her stands home hope Yvonne Meusburger, who surprised by reaching the Budapest final.  The star-crossed Arantxa Rus simply hopes to halt the longest losing streak in WTA history, although she has drawn a seeded opponent in Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

Yet another rising German, second seed Annika Beck has reached the quarterfinals or better at three International tournaments on clay this year.  Beck can look forward to a second-round meeting with doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka with resurgent Italian Karin Knapp awaiting the winner.  Knapp returned to the top 100 when she exploited an imploding section of the Wimbledon draw to reach the second week.  Her skills suit clay less smoothly than some of the women around her, such as Palermo semifinalist Cadantu.

Final: Petkovic vs. Beck

What to Watch in the WTA This Week: Palermo and Budapest Draw Previews

 

The sunny island of Sicily hosts the more notable of the two small women’s tournaments in the week after Wimbledon.  Palermo will host both of the leading Italian stars, who eye one more chance to capitalize on their best surface.

Palermo:

Top half:  Bounced from Wimbledon in the first round, Sara Errani returns gratefully to clay after a one-match grass season.  The world No. 6 took a wildcard into one of her home tournaments, where she has won two titles.  In search of her second 2013 title defense, Errani can look ahead to a second-round meeting with fiery Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.  Two other clay specialists join her in a section filled with hyphenated names.  Mariana Duque-Marino impressed with her shot-making during a tight loss to Marion Bartoli at Roland Garros, while Silvia Soler-Espinosa has become a fixture of Spain’s Fed Cup team.

Neither of the most intriguing players in the second quarter has a seed next to her name.  Two of the Italians in this section emerged from irrelevance at Wimbledon and will hope to dazzle their compatriots.  Both Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp reached the second week on grass, their least effective surface, despite rankings outside the top 100.  The evergreen Anabel Medina Garrigues, who bageled Serena Williams in Madrid, could meet Pennetta or Knapp in the quarterfinals.  Much less intriguing are the two Czech seeds, Klara Zakopalova and Karolina Pliskova.  Still, Zakopalova reached the second week at Roland Garros last year, for the slow conditions suited her counterpunching style.

Bottom half:  Unfortunate to draw Maria Sharapova in her Wimbledon opener, Kristina Mladenovic gained some consolation by winning the mixed doubles title with Daniel Nestor.  Almost overnight, she travels to Palermo as the third seed.  Mladenovic will have some breathing room as she adjusts from one surface to another, situated in an especially forgiving section.  Young French star Caroline Garcia might face Irina-Camelia Begu in a second-round contrast of styles.  A quarterfinal between Garcia and Mladenovic could offer some insight onto the future of women’s tennis in France after Bartoli.

Second seed Roberta Vinci joined Pennetta and Knapp in the second week of Wimbledon but struggled in the first week and fell heavily to Li Na.  All the same, Vinci remains within striking distance of the top 10 at the age of 31 while continuing to shine in doubles with Errani.  This Italian veteran could meet Wimbledon surprise Eva Birnerova, who almost reached the second week as well.  The canny Lourdes Dominguez Lino then would confront Vinci in a battle of traditional clay specialists.

Final:  Errani vs. Vinci

Budapest:

Top half:  The Hungarian Grand Prix does not look particularly grand this year with not a single entrant from the top 25.  Leading the pack is Lucie Safarova, whose 2013 campaign has lurched from signs of hope to unmitigated disasters.  Safarova has defeated Samantha Stosur twice this year and reached a clay semifinal in Nurnberg, but she won one total match at three more important clay events in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Paris.  Ripe for an upset, she might fall victim to the promising Petra Martic.  Despite a horrific start to 2013, Martic recaptured some of her form at the challenger level and reached the third round of Wimbledon, where she won a set from Tsvetana Pironkova.  South African No. 1 Chanelle Scheepers holds the other seed in this section.

Doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka will look to bomb her way through a section that includes young German star Annika Beck.  The fourth seed in Budapest, Beck reached a quarterfinal and a semifinal at International events on clay earlier this year.  Perhaps she will have gained inspiration from her compatriot Lisicki’s breakthrough at Wimbledon.  Lara Arruabarrena won a challenger earlier this year and gained attention for reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells, where she upset Vinci.  The 80th-ranked Spaniard will hope to outlast erratic fifth seed Johanna Larsson with her consistency.

Bottom half:  Probably the favorite for the title, third seed Simona Halep seeks to extend a ten-match winning streak at non-majors.  Even before that romp through Nurnberg and s’Hertogenbosch, Halep reached the semifinals at the Premier Five event in Rome.  That quality passage of play should have primed her for a deep run in Budapest, although the heavy serve of home hope Timea Babos could pose an intriguing threat.  Seventh seed Maria Teresa Torro-Flor would meet Babos before Halep, hoping to build on clay victories over Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova this spring.

Finishing the clay season in style, Alize Cornet won a title in Strasbourg and took a set from Victoria Azarenka in Paris.  She will look to rebound from a massive collapse against Pennetta at Wimbledon against Hradecka’s doubles partner, Andrea Hlavackova.  The faded Shahar Peer joins an alumnus of the Chris Evert Tennis Academy, Anna Tatishvili, elsewhere in the section.

Final:  Unseeded player vs. Halep

 

Serena Williams: Nothing Left To Prove

As I watched Serena Williams take on Johanna Larsson during last weekend’s USA/Sweden Fed Cup tie, I will admit I was surprised by the level of her intensity. Given where she was, playing a relegation rubber in front of a rain-affected crowd,  it seemed – how does one put this? – out of character.

Surely, I jest. Anyone who has watched even a smattering of tennis in the last decade can attest to the intensity this living legend possesses. Such intensity almost single-handedly took her to the pinnacle of the sport and helped her through the darker days, both on and off the court. It never mattered her shape, scoreline, or  state of mind. It mattered even less who was across the net, be she rival or sister, Venus. In a game where many have been lambasted for their lack of mental toughness,  Serena was the WTA’s rock, who relied on her relentless intensity and competitive fire to finish off many a tough match.

How has she been able to do these incredible things for so long? It could be said that what has kept her at the top of the sport for nearly 15 years has been what could be deemed an “economy of intensity.” Williams has made a career out of bringing her best when it matters the most. Arguably our sport’s biggest star (at least in North America), she shapes her seasons around the Slams, peaking at the right time during those all-important two week stretches.

This extreme prioritizing has all but cemented her place in history, but often created a few problems for her in the present. Those who tuned in solely during the Grand Slams (or even those with a more comprehensive view of the sport) would see the most dominant player in the game ranked outside the top 3 and wonder “why?” A cursory glance at her results outside of the Slams would reveal a fair share of no-shows (she essentially took herself out of the race for year-end No. 1 when she withdrew from the Fall Asian swing) and shocking losses (Austrian journeywoman Sybille Bammer retired in 2011 undefeated against her).

A desire to explain this vast incongruity shifted the blame from her comparative lack of focus on a smaller stage to a lack of commitment to be a full-time tennis player. This truism dates back to 2006, when Chris Evert took to Tennis Magazine to write an open letter to Williams questioning her desire. At that point, she had won seven major singles titles, yet at the time, the tennis world felt gypped, and that Serena still had something to prove.

For all she has accomplished since then, it has been difficult for Serena to shake that stick.

Yet, for any of us to fall back on this notion is to ignore this latest incarnation of Serena Williams. The veteran of 30 who fought off a toe injury that led to a pulmonary embolism only to find herself back at No. 1 two years later. The woman who shed tears after her first Wimbledon match after that lay-off, and again when she was told of her return to the top of the rankings in Doha.

What more does she need to do to prove how much she wants to be here?

Against Larsson, she celebrated her good play, admonished herself for her errors, and was jubilant in a victory that tied the US with Sweden at one match apiece. We have been so conditioned to expect a flat, even blasé Serena show up on a smaller stage that this “new” Serena continues to shock us. But should we really be so surprised? When we remember who she is, what she’s been through, her love for the game is suddenly apparent. And after 15 years, the sport should be grateful that that love is stronger than ever.

WTA Bad Gastein gallery – Wickmayer, Cornet, Minella through to quarterfinals

After several days of rain in Bad Gastein, the sun finally arrived on the courts of the Nurnberger Gastein Ladies tournament in Austria, and the quarterfinals have been set. Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm has been in Bad Gastein all week, including today’s on-court action. Check out his full gallery below!

Results – Thursday, June 14, 2012
Singles – Second Round
(2/WC) Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) d. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) 76(4) 63
(3) Ksenia Pervak (KAZ) d. Sarah Gronert (GER) 62 63
Mandy Minella (LUX) d. (4) Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP) 62 36 63
(Q) Chichi Scholl (USA) d. (6) Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) 63 64
(7) Alizé Cornet (FRA) d. Sacha Jones (AUS) 63 62
(8) Johanna Larsson (SWE) d. Jill Craybas (USA) 62 63
Yvonne Meusburger (AUT) d. (Q) Dia Evtimova (BUL) 62 63
Estrella Cabeza Candela (ESP) d. (Q) Richel Hogenkamp (NED) 64 63

Doubles – First Round
(1) Groenefeld/Martic (GER/CRO) d. Cabeza Candela/Duque-Mariño (ESP/COL) 36 64 103 (Match TB)
(4) Craybas/Goerges (USA/GER) d. (WC) Neuwirth/Rottmann (AUT/AUT) 62 62
Birnerova/Hogenkamp (CZE/NED) d. (WC) Haas/Toljan (AUT/AUT) 64 61
Jugic-Salkic/Klemenschits (BIH/AUT) d. Abramovic/Tomljanovic (CRO/CRO) 76(5) 61

Order Of Play – Friday, June 15, 2012
Centre Court (from 11.00hrs)
1. Ksenia Pervak vs. Chichi Scholl
2. Yvonne Meusburger vs. Yanina Wickmayer (NB 13.00hrs)
3. Johanna Larsson vs. Mandy Minella
4. Estrella Cabeza Candela vs. Alizé Cornet
5. Jugic-Salkic/Klemenschits vs. Begu/Minella

Court 1 (from 11.00hrs)
1. Jurak/Marosi vs. Birnerova/Hogenkamp
2. Groenefeld/Martic vs. Lee-Waters/Moulton-Levy
3. Costas-Moreira/Ferrer Suárez vs. Craybas/Goerges

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Early Roland Garros casualties, Wozniacki wins in Brussels and Almagro triumphs in Nice

Berdych First Major FO Casualty:

Czech star Tomas Berdych became the first major casualty of the 2011 French Open when he fell to French qualifier Stephane Robert in the first round. He led the 32-year-old qualifier by two sets to love but let it slip to crash out in five. He was a semi-finalist here on route to the Wimbledon final in 2010 so his early exit here is a big shock. “I gave it all today,” said an ecstatic Robert, the world No.140 who had never previously won at Roland Garros. “I fought for my life. In the third set, he started to give me some points. Winning that set gave me confidence and I became more aggressive on the return.” The giant Croat Marin Cilic was also a first round casualty as he bowed out on day one to Spain’s Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 6-7(5), 4-6, 4-6. Nicolas Almagro was also another early-round casualty. The Spaniard had recently been on an excellent run that saw him climb in to the world’s Top 10, but despite leading by two sets to love on his favoured surface he, like Berdych, let it slip. The Polish world No.122 Lukas Kubot was the beneficiary, profiting to win 3-6, 2-6, 7-3(3), 7-6(5), 6-4. In the women’s draw, former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic struggled with recent injuries as she fell to the Swedish No.1 Johanna Larsson 6-7(3), 6-0, 2-6 amid fits of tears. The 22-year-old Larsson’s only previous Grand Slam win came here a year ago, which makes her victory over the Serbian star doubly impressive.

 

Wozniacki Lifts Brussels Open:

World number one Caroline Wozniacki lifted her fourth title of the year on the eve of the French Open when she overcame Peng Shuai 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the final of the Brussels Open. Shuai started the stronger on the clay-court surface Wozniacki usually finds difficult to play on and it wasn’t long before she took the first set. But the Dane rallied to take her WTA finals record to 16-10. “It’s my fourth title of the season. I was pleased with the way I played and fought today,” Wozniacki said afterwards. “I’m happy to be the first winner of this [inaugral] tournament. It’s a beautiful city and the crowd has been great all week. Now I’m looking forward to Roland Garros.” Despite the result Shuai was happy with her week’s performance. “I’m really happy to have reached the final here and to play so many good matches on the clay,” Peng said. “I played really well in the first set today but then Caroline fought and came back. I’m really looking forward to Paris.”

Almagro Secures Nice Title:

Nicolas Almagro’s early French Open exit was a surprise given his recent good form in the sport, including lifting the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur last weekend with a 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3 win over Romania’s Victor Hanescu. It was his third clay-court title of the season and cemented his place among tennis’ top tier in 2011. He was made to work hard during the win but showed good poise to overcome his industrious opponent. “I feel good. I’m very happy with the victory today,” said Almagro. “I think I didn’t play my best tennis at the beginning of the match, but in the second set I started to play better, hitting my forehand with more confidence, and finally I was able to win the match.”

Petkovic Triumphs in Strasbourg:

It’s not the way any player wants to win, but Germany’s Andrea Petkovic lifted her second WTA title via an opponent’s retirement as France’s Marion Bartoli limped out of the final of the Internationaux de Strasbourg. Petkovic led 6-4, 1-0 when a thigh strain meant that Bartoli could no longer continue. “It’s always a strange feeling when someone retires because you feel happy and sad at the same time,” Petkovic said. “I’m happy to win the title and the points – we’re all in a rush for points during the year! But I was sad to end there because I was playing really well. I also feel sad for Marion – I really like her; she’s a really nice girl. I had a bad injury in 2008 so I know how it feels.”

Germany Claim Record Fifth Team Cup:

Germany claimed its record fifth Power Horse World Team Cup in Dusseldorf on the weekend following a 2-1 win over Argentina in the final. World No.19 Florian Mayer got them off to a great start with a 7-6(4), 6-0 victory over Juan Monaco in the first singles rubber but Juan Ignacio Chela tied proceedings with a 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Philipp Kohlschreiber. So it fell to the doubles rubber, where Kohlschreiber and Philipp Petzschner teamed up to overcome Chela and Maximo Gonzalez 6-3, 7-6(5) to secure the title. “Every title is important, but a team title is something very special in tennis,” said Kohlschreiber afterwards. “We have a great team, it’s real fun. I lost my singles match, but I came out strongly for the doubles and it’s great to have a happy ending. We’ve been looking forward to this event because we knew we had a great team spirit and this success is a really great honour for everybody.”

Del Potro Back in LA:

2008 Farmers Classic winner Juan Martin del Potro will return to the event this summer. The 2009 US Open winner is returning to top form after missing most of 2010 with a wrist injury and organisers are delighted that the Argentine star is returning to the site of his first hard court title when he overcame Andy Roddick in the final three years ago. He is the only man other than Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to have won a Grand Slam title since the 2005 French Open. “I really look forward to returning to the Farmers Classic and Los Angeles this summer where I won my first major American event,” del Potro said. “My tremendous early success and victory over Andy Roddick really helped me launch my run to the world’s Top 10. I have many great memories of the Farmers Classic fans, UCLA Tennis Center, and the beautiful city of Los Angeles.”

Querrey in for Newport:

Sam Querrey has signed up to play at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, RI, this summer. The world No.28 was a finalist there in 2009 and joins a field already including Ivo Karlovic as well as young Americans Ryan Harrison and Ryan Sweeting. The tournament week also includes the 2011 induction ceremony where this year Andre Agassi takes his seat among the sport’s greats.

Federer Bemoans Ball Choice:

Roger Federer, head of the ATP Players Council, says that there are too many types of ball in use around the tour, and that players are struggling to come to terms with the continual changes. The comments come after many players, including Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer, criticised the new Babolat balls used in the 2011 French Open for being harder and faster than many of their contemporaries. “I guess the disappointing part here in this whole story, because I’m hearing a lot of conversations about the balls, it’s just that they’re not the same from what we’ve just played for the last month,” said Federer. “And that for us is the most frustrating part, is that the tournaments all changed to the Roland Garros ball after last year; Roland Garros has changed their balls again. Now we’re stuck with a different deal for all the different ATP Tour events. That is the frustrating part that we need to adjust before the French, different balls.”

Battling Razzano Falls:

Brave French star Virginie Razzano has spoken about playing her first round French Open match just days after losing her fiancé and former coach Stephane Vidal due to a brain tumor, aged just 32. “I can’t explain this strength. It took me a lot of courage to get on the Philippe Chatrier court today,” Razzano told reporters after she fell 3-6, 1-6 to Jarmila Gajdosova. “I had lots of emotions and sighs because it’s difficult for me to be here today. It’s painful. It’s hard. If I did it, it’s for Stephane. But also for me, because [he] wanted me to play. He wanted me to continue to go on with my life, even if in these very painful circumstances, very difficult circumstances. He had faith in me. He knows I have this strength that he also had, and this is also why we worked so well together. We had courage. We fought together day after day. And if I played today, it was as if it was something written. I grabbed all my courage. I don’t have much. I’m very fragile. I feel lonely, and even though there are many people around me supporting me, but I still have the strength in me that keeps me standing up and moving on step by step. I’m mourning right now, and it’s difficult.”

Myskina Jets In for Russian Mission:

Two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova has confirmed that former French Open Champion Anastasia Myskina is jetting in to Paris to coach her through the tournament. The 2004 winner has flown in to help the 2009 champ who has recently been through a flurry of coaches due to her continued slump in form. Young American Ryan Harrison also told a small group of reporters that he has hired coach Scott McCain through to the end of the US Open. McCain will split his time between Harrison and Indian star Somdev Devvarman.

Vaidisova still Happily Married:

A representative for Nicole Vaidisova has denied that her and husband Radek Stepanek have split. The two, who married last summer, are at RG together this week.

Ferrer Improves Clay Record:

David Ferrer’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 second-round win over Julien Benneteau at Roland Garros was the Spaniard’s 200th win on clay during his career. Rafael Nadal’s five-set thriller against John Isner in round one was the first time the Spaniard has ever had to go the distance at the French Open. Last week at the Power Horse World Team Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany, Swedish star Robin Soderling notched the 300th win of his career when he beat Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-7(4), 7-6(7), 6-3.

Little Pre-Slam Change in Rankings Watch:

Germany’s Florian Mayer entered the Top 20 of the South African Airways ATP World Rankings at No.19 following last week’s play. Romania’s Victor Hanescu climbs nine to No.60 while Igor Kunitsyn jumps 11 to No.75. The Israeli Dudi Sela’s 17-slot climb sees him enter the Top 100 at No.91 while Germany’s Rainer Schuettler climbs three to No.98. Andrea Petkovic’s victory in Strasbourg saw her rise to a career-high No.12 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings while Brussels finalist Peng Shuai is a career-high No.25 after her title defeat to Caroline Wozniacki. Sam Stosur climbs back above Maria Sharapova and Li Na to No.6 in the world. Bojana Jovanovski makes her Top 50 debut while Ayumi Morita joins her there at No.47. Mirjana Lucic returns to the Top 100 at No.96, her highest slot since 2000.

GOAT Race Update:

Both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have earned themselves 20 extra points in the 2011 GOAT race for entering the French Open, Nadal edging himself over 1,000 points. All points are doubled for Grand Slam events.

Roger: 685 Rafa: 1010

Ana Ivanovic loses in first round of Roland Garros. Question rises: Where is that champion we used to know?

And sometimes smokes gets in your eyes. Your vision is troubled and you want the player you put your money on (No, I don’t mean live betting) to succeed no matter what.  And that goes for Ana Ivanovic as well. I want her to succeed but I am bummed that she lost to Johanna Larsson from Sweden in three sets 7-6, 0-6, 6-2.  So I am faced with the harsh reality that Ana just isn’t the player she was back in 2008 when she was winning and winning. It’s really too bad and I seriously wonder how it is possible for a player who has the potential to win more than one major in her career can just not get back to her winning ways.

I do think that her struggles with injuries since the beginning of this year has played a big part. First of all her fitness isn’t what it is supposed to be and she never really got back into her groove. The one that won her the Bali tournament in 2010 and we all thought that she was getting back and ready to show some of the top 10 players how tennis played.

Perhaps Ana should take some time off from tennis, like Dinara Safina, and heal up rather than going from injury to injury every month.  Injuries need good time to heal and as much as I love watching Ana on the courts, it’s no fun if you have to watch her struggle. First round exits are becoming all too common and humiliating for a player who can be of great stature.

I still have hopes that some day Ana will be on top of her game and win another major. She has proved that she can play on hardcourt, clay and grass. She has reached deep into the Australian Open, US Open, Wimbledon and has won French Open. There is no reason to think that she can’t do it again. All it takes is a little belief.

Enjoy the photos of Ana practicing at the French Open 2011 and try to forget that it’s the last time we will see her practice for the 2011 edition of Roland Garros.

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Estoril Open: A ladies semifinals report

By Luís Santos

Johanna Larsson and Kristina Barrois had an early morning start out on centre court. Larsson was quicker out of the blocks, jumping to a 2-0 lead. Barrois, however, broke  back immediately  and leveled proceedings at 2-2. After a lengthy sixth game, Larsson finally edged out to break for 4-2. The Swede fell to 15-40 on serve the following game and Barrois broke at the first opportunity. The remainder of the first set went with serve and culminated on a tiebreak. In the tiebreak Larsson’s groundstrokes went wild and Barrois won 7-6(2) with some clever dropshots.

The second set saw a fine start from Larsson as she broke the German’s serve right from the start. But like in the first set, Larsson couldn’t take the momentum to her side and dropped serve too. Barrois then stepped it up and raced to 5-2, holding double match point on the Swede’s serve. Larsson, however, brought some gritty tennis to claim the next four points and get the score at 5-3. Barrois couldn’t hold her own serve and all of a sudden Larsson was 4-5 and 40-0 up, just a point from 5-5. A netcord, a backhand volley winner and a smash error saw the game go to deuce. A double-fault from Larsson handed Barrois her third match point but a wide serve to the advantage court saw the game back on deuce. Barrois, however, stepped up one last time to take the set on her fourth match point with a smash winner.

On her on-court interview Barrois admitted: “It was a pretty tough match. I know Johanna very well, she’s a good player. I was happy to win in two sets. I kept fighting after every point after 5-2.” When asked about her tournament experience she pointed: “Yeah I’ve been here for four or five years in a row now, so I really like it here”.

At the press conference, Barrois was happy to be in her second career final: “Every match like this is special. I lost last year (To Sharapova in Strasbourg) but I’ll try to play my best tomorrow and hopefully win.”

On her goals for the coming months: “Next goal is top 50. It’s the goal for this year; I have some points to defend in upcoming weeks so maybe I’ll make it in a few months”.

When asked about her late blooming career-wise: “I mean, I started very late on tour. I was twenty-five? Because I did other way compared to other players. So I’m young like this. I’m playing my sixth year on tour so it’s not so much, so. I feel good at the moment, not injured or something like this so it’s good.”

Contesting the final with Kristina Barrois will be Spanish claycourter Anabel Medina Garrigues who dispatched Monica Niculescu 6-1 6-3. Barrois and Medina Garrigues have played once before back in Strasbourg 2009. Barrois won the first set 6-4 before the Spanish retired.

Medina Garrigues played solid tennis and the high-percentage game proved to be effective as Niculescu kept mishitting, losing the first set 6-1.

Despite jumping to a 2-0 lead in the second set, the Romanian seemed to be struggling with her strokes and quickly saw herself 4-2 down. At 5-3 on Niculescu’s serve, Medina Garrigues made the most of her opponents’ mistakes and concluded the win 6-1 6-3.

In the on-court interview, Garrigues, a doubles´ titlist at the Estoril last year, was happy to be in the singles’ final: “I’m happy. Last year wasn’t a very happy year for me so”. When asked about her choice of Estoril over home tournament Barcelona, the Spanish was quick to answer: “The truth is that I enjoyed myself a lot here last year. Also, the conditions here are very similar to Madrid and Roland Garros so this is better preparation than Barcelona. Barcelona is very rainy and the conditions become different”.

Asked if she was troubled by Niculescu’s game: “She does have a bothering game, she changes the ball height a lot. But it’s the same sort of game played in Spain and I’ve been playing against Spanish girls for years. It was bothering but I kept calm.”

This will be Medina’s sixteenth final, compared to Barrois’ second. Medina Garrigues has claimed nine titles in her career, seven of them being on red clay. She’s second for most clay titles, behind former number one and seven time grandslam champion Venus Williams.

On playing the final against Barrois: “It’s going to be difficult. Barrois is very talented; she has a good serve and a good backhand. If she’s in the final it’s because she’s playing well. She’s dangerous and it’s going to be a hard match.”

 

Estoril Open: Women’s top three seeds ousted, Portuguese hopes dashed!

By Luís Santos

It was yet another hot day at the Estoril Open 2011, but heat wasn’t the only thing that was getting to top seed Alisa Kleybanova. The powerful Russian may have escaped an upset in the previous round but she couldn’t handle the in-form Kristina Barrois.

Just like in the second round against Johansson, consistency wasn’t on the menu for Kleybanova today. Despite securing an early 4-1 lead, she lost nine consecutive games as Barrois kept the error count low. Down 4-6 0-4 it was a mere formality until Barrois claimed the upset 6-4 6-2.

Barrois will now meet Johanna Larsson for a place in Saturday’s final. Larsson was quick to claim the first set from Alla Kudryavtseva but had to rally in the second as the going got tighter eventually prevailing 6-2 7-5.
Said Larsson of her win: “In the beginning of the match I was playing really short in the court, but Alla was making some unforced errors during the game so I was able to get away with it. But then in the second she slowed down a little bit and I had to play more balls, so it was more difficult.”

Of her good form on clay lately, she said : “I always really love to play on clay, but my best results have been on hard court,” said Larsson. “Now it’s changing a little bit! I guess it doesn’t really matter on which surface the results are coming, as long as they are coming!”

And finally, when asked about her recent work with former top player Joachim Johansson she concluded (link to article no1): “The coach that I had (Mattias Arvidsson), his wife has just had a baby, so now I have to find another solution. Pim Pim Johansson was also ending his career at the same time and said he maybe wanted to help me, so we met up before I went here and we practiced for two days, and we’ll also practice when I come back home from this week. We’ll see what happens and take it from there.”

Larsson also talked about her welcoming at the Estoril saying : “It’s my first time here but I played Fed Cup indoors just next door. At that time I really liked it here and this week it’s the same. It’s a really nice tournament – the courts, the organization. The only thing is the security; they don’t let you in everywhere!”

Elsewhere in the draw, Monica Niculescu upset hard-hitting and number two seed Jarmila Gajdosova of Australia. Niculescu staged a comeback of her own rallying from a loss in the first to win 5-7 6-4 6-2. She will now meet Spanish claycourter Anabel Medina Garrigues who ended a dark day for seeds defeating number three seed Klara Zakopalova 6-3 7-5.

Over on the men’s draw, all Portuguese hopes vanquished as both João Sousa and Frederico Gil lost to their respective opponents.

Sousa may have had patches of play that were beyond his ranking but number 5 seed Milos Raonic wasn’t fazed. Despite getting broken while serving for the match and allowing a hold from Sousa, Raonic brought his best strokes to close 6-3 6-3.

As for Frederico Gil, there was nothing he could do in the first set as he got steamrolled by the powerful Fernando Verdasco, losing 6-1.

Verdasco never lost steam as he powered into a 5-1 lead in the second set. Gil, however, wasn’t done. The Portuguese staged a comeback as Verdasco squandered a match point up 5-3 on Gil’s serve. The Portuguese would go up 6-5 but once the Spanish went into the tiebreak he never looked back and sealed the victory 6-1 7-6(5).

Verdasco will now face Kevin Anderson who served his way into the quarterfinals by beating Victor Hanescu 6-4 6-2.

Conclusion of men’s second round matches saw Gilles Simon power past Carlos Berlocq 6-2 6-1 and book a meeting with rising star Milos Raonic.

Women’s semifinals get underway tomorrow while the men will start quarterfinal action.

Estoril Open: Juan Martin Del Potro survives first round scare

By Luís Santos

Women’s Defending Champion Out! Mixed Fortunes For Portuguese

Sun-grilled after a day at the Estoril venue, the biggest news in the women’s field was the departure of defending champion Anastasija Sevastova.

Under soaring temperatures for spring in Lisbon, Urszula Radwanska went toe-to-toe with 2010 champion Sevastova but it still wasn’t enough as the Latvian put an end to the first set 7-5. Second set was pretty much the same story with Sevastova finally gaining the edge to go up 6-5 on her serve. But it wasn’t to be as the younger Radwanska broke back and went on to claim the tiebreak 7-5. A deflated Sevastova had little in her tank to withstand the increasingly confident Polish and eventually lost 6-1.

Radwanska will now play Johanna Larsson of Sweden in the second round.

Also struggling today but managing to emerge victorious was Greta Arn.

The German was the 2007 winner and today faced off Portuguese wildcard Maria João Koehler. On paper it should have been a walk in the park but Koehler has stormed through the ITFs. The result? A three set tussle.

The German was solid during the first set as Koehler sprayed balls everywhere and eventually claimed the set 6-2.

After remaining close through the first four games, MJK finally started gearing up and went up 5-2. Arn closed the gap to 5-3 but after a highly disputed game, Koehler ended the rally with a dropshot to take the set 6-3.

As the third set rolled on, Arn stepped up as MJK lost steam. Arn went up 3-1 as the Portuguese complained of cramps to her legs and committed an array of errors. Koehler still managed to level proceedings at 3 all but from there on the Portuguese started misfiring repeatedly and Arn took her chances to win 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Next for the German will be clay court specialist Anabel Medina Garrigues who surprisingly stopped Romanian Simona Halep in two tiebreaks.

Also moving on was Jarmila Gajdosova who after a slow start, took eight games in a row to clinch a 6-4 6-0 winner over Czech Renata Voracova. Gajdosova now meets countrywoman Casey Dellacqua for a place in the quarterfinals.

Number three seed Klara Zakopalova was also among the winners on sunny Tuesday as she dispatched Beatriz Garcia Vidagany.

Other winners on day two included Kristina Barrois, Anastasia Yakimova and American Sloane Stephens. Stephens played compatriot Melanie Oudin but the latter was never in control of the match. Stephens and Oudin would methodically enroll in baseline duels with Oudin taking the initiative to go for the winner. Stephens, however, would slice, dropshot or make a blasting stroke to reset the point or gain advantage. As the match wore on Oudin was out of sorts and the less mediatic American won 6-2 6-1.

Gil advances. Pedro Sousa Out

After the departure of crowd favorite Koehler early on, all eyes were on Frederico Gil, who took the court mid-afternoon.

The Portuguese never looked unsettled during the 87 minute contest as he brushed aside Flavio Cipolla of Italy 6-3 6-2. Next up for the Portuguese will be the mighty Fernando Verdasco, the second seed this week.

Worst Luck had young prodigy Pedro Sousa. Despite battling it out with Juan Martin Del Potro for almost two hours, the Argentinian proved too good in the end. Even so, the Portuguese number 488th claimed the second set to the former US Open champion, losing a mere nine points on serve. In the end experience mattered most and Del Potro took the match 6-2 3-6 6-3.

Next up for Del Potro is Colombian Alejandro Falla who won after his opponent Pablo Andujar retired with a lower back injury. The score was 4-6 6-1 4-4.

Mixed results for the Brazilians as well. While Thomaz Bellucci defeated Frederik Nielsen 7-5 6-1 after being down 2-5, Marcos Daniel wasn’t so lucky as he went out to qualifier Eduardo Roger-Vasselin of France.

Rising star Milos Raonic was also in action today as he took on Igor Andreev on Centralito. Raonic was impeccable on serve winning 75% of the points with the first serve and saving all eight break points against him. Andreev faltered once each set to hand the Canadian a 6-4 6-4 win 1 hour and 24 minutes.

Other winners today in the men’s side included Carlos Berlocq and Pablo Cuevas. Berlocq will meet fourth seed Gilles Simon while Cuevas will take on third seed Joe-Wilfrid Tsonga on Centralito.