Tamira Paszek

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Wimbledon Rewind: Favorites and Fifth Sets (Mostly) Dominate on Day 2

Yes, British tennis does extend beyond Andy Murray.

The first round concluded at Wimbledon today without any seismic shock similar to Day 1 but with many more tightly contested matches than yesterday.  Check out the intriguing events below.

ATP:

Match of the day:  The top-ranked American squared off against the top-ranked Australian in a five-set rollercoaster of two giants.  After Bernard Tomic eked out the first two sets in tiebreaks, he characteristically lost the plot and allowed Sam Querrey to win two routine sets.  But Tomic got the last word, repeating his 2012 Australian Open victory over the American by zoning back into the action for the final set.  When he catches fire, he can ignite a draw.

Comeback of the day:  An Eastbourne semifinalist last week, Ivan Dodig fell behind 16th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber two sets to none and came within a tiebreak of losing in straights.  Dominating that tiebreak, Dodig carried that momentum through the fourth set and reaped the reward of his perseverance when Kohlschreiber retired early in the fifth.

Trend of the day:  The first day featured only one five-setter, but the second day brought fans no fewer than nine.  Five Americans played fifth sets.  In four of those nine matches, one player won the first two sets before letting the opponent back into the match.  None of the nine extended past 6-6 in the final set, however, and two ended in fifth-set retirements, a strange anticlimax.

Symmetry of the day:  On the same day that Tomic defeated Querrey, a different American defeated a different Aussie in the same manner.  Denis Kudla won the first two sets, lost the next two, and then recovered to win the fifth from James Duckworth.  Taken together, those results accurately reflect the superior promise of Australian tennis at the top and the superior depth of American tennis overall.

Gold star:  A three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a champion at Eastbourne, Feliciano Lopez plays his best tennis on grass.  He extended his winning streak to the All England Club by knocking off the tenacious Gilles Simon in straight sets.  The upset recalled Lleyton Hewitt’s victory over Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday, in which an unseeded grass specialist also defeated a seeded counterpuncher.

Silver star:  The volatile game of Florian Mayer does not make the easiest way to settle into a major, especially for a man who had not played a match on grass this year.  In his first match since the epic Roland Garros loss to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic stood tall as the Wimbledon top seed in dispatching Mayer uneventfully.

Americans in London:  Beyond the previously noted Querrey and Kudla, the stars and stripes produced mixed results on Tuesday.  Ryan Harrison unsurprisingly fell to Jeremy Chardy, although he did win a set, while James Blake unexpectedly dominated Thiemo de Bakker for the loss of just six games.  Bobby Reynolds cannibalized Steve Johnson, who now has lost a five-setter in the first round of every major this year.  Court 9 saw the little-lamented departures of Wayne Odesnik and Michael Russell to a pair of fellow journeymen.

Question of the day:  While rivals Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Juan Martin Del Potro all advanced in straight sets, David Ferrer struggled through a four-setter against an unheralded South American.  He also lost his opener last week at the Dutch Open.  Do these struggles suggest an early exit for the other Spanish finalist at Roland Garros, or will Ferrer find his grass groove with time?

WTA:

Match of the day:  Former Wimbledon quarterfinalist Kaia Kanepi sought to continue building her momentum in a comeback from a long injury absence.  Home hope Tara Moore sought to justify her wildcard and earn her first main-draw victory at Wimbledon.  The two waged a relentless 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 duel in the confines of Court 17, which ended in hope for Kanepi and familiar heartbreak for Moore.

Comeback of the day:  The pugnacious Barbara Zahlavova Strycova refused to fade after dropping a tight first set to Magdalena Rybarikova.  Over the next two sets, the Czech yielded one total game to the Slovak who had reached the Birmingham semifinals (and won that tournament before).  Compatriot and Birmingham champion Daniela Hantuchova also fell to a Czech opponent in Klara Zakopalova as the western half of the former Czechoslovakia held their neighboring rivals in check.

Upset of the day:  Not the highest-ranked player to lose today, Nadia Petrova suffered the most surprising loss in falling to Katerina Pliskova in two tepid sets.  Petrova owes her top-15 status to a series of strong results last fall, but she could not consolidate them this year and now has little margin for error in the second half.

Gold star:  Thorny draws often have awaited Laura Robson at Wimbledon, and this year proved no exception with world No. 10 Maria Kirilenko awaiting her on Court 1.  The leading British women’s hope delighted her compatriots with her second victory over a top-ten opponent at a major this year.  Robson now eyes a relatively open draw after that initial upset, although she cannot relax her guard.

Silver star:  Both of last year’s finalists advanced with ease, Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska losing six games between them.  But perhaps even more impressive was the double breadstick that Li Na served to Michaella Krajicek, a player whose massive weapons could threaten on grass.  Li has struggled for most of the spring, and she has not shone on grass since 2010, so this victory might raise her spirits for the challenging road ahead.

Wooden spoon:  A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last year, Tamira Paszek fell in the first round this year to the anonymous Alexandra Cadantu.  She has dropped nearly 1,000 points in two weeks, combining Eastbourne with Wimbledon, and will plummet from the top 30 in May to outside the top 100 in July.

Americans in London:  Outside Serena, most of the main American threats are (or were) in the other half of the draw.  Two youngsters suffered contrasting fates on Tuesday, Madison Keys dismissing British talent Heather Watson and Mallory Burdette falling short in a tight three-setter to Urszula Radwanska.  The only other American woman in action, Birmingham semifinalist Allison Riske, earned an upset of sorts over clay specialist Romina Oprandi when the latter retired in the third set.

Question of the day:  It’s grass season, which means that it’s Tsvetana Pironkova season.  The willow Bulgarian, twice a quarterfinalist or better at Wimbledon, routed top-25 opponent Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the loss of just one game.  How far can Pironkova’s grass magic carry her?

Snakes in the Grass: Previewing the Wimbledon 2013 Dark Horses

Sabine Lisicki has defeated five top-ten women in her last three Wimbledon appearances.

With the Wimbledon draw just a week ahead, the time has arrived to scan the ATP and WTA rankings in search of dark horses who could grab some unexpected attention.  This survey features only players outside the top 20 at the start of the grass season, likely to meet an opponent of greater note in the first week.  On any given day, these snakes in the grass could strike for an upset or two.

ATP:

John Isner:  Forever famous for his Wimbledon epic against Nicolas Mahut, Isner never has fared as well there as top-ranked compatriot Sam Querrey.  His lack of impact surprises, considering a playing style that should flourish on grass with a nearly impenetrable serve and a preference for short points.  Isner has languished in a slump for most of 2013, but he nearly reached the second week at Roland Garros with another valiant run.  The American would benefit from exchanging his pattern of endless epics for some more efficient first-week victories, conserving his energy early in the fortnight.

Grigor Dimitrov:  Reaching the third round of a major for the first time at Roland Garros, the Bulgarian rising star tends to perform better at non-majors than majors.  But Dimitrov took Tsonga to the brink of a final set at Wimbledon two years ago, and he has threatened every member of the Big Four this year except Roger Federer, whom he has not faced.  His combination of an explosive first serve with dexterity around the net could shine on the grass.  Less impressive is his movement and his ability to convincingly take care of business against overmatched opposition.

Julien Benneteau:  He came closer than anyone last year to knocking off eventual champion Roger Federer at Wimbledon, snatching the first two sets before the match slipped away.  Benneteau has struggled to win any matches at all in singles since March, not long after he upset Federer in Rotterdam.  His doubles expertise could help on a court that rewards net-rushers, and he reached the second week in 2010.  Formidable early draws have stunted his progress in most Wimbledon appearances, but Benneteau has lost to only one opponent outside the top eight there since 2005.

Lukas Rosol:  His presence on this list should need little explanation.  Had Rosol won no matches at all after defeating Rafael Nadal in the second round last year, he still would merit a mention.  As it stands, he built upon that upset to rise from the edge of the top 100 to well inside the top 50.  Rosol faces the pressure of defending something meaningful for the first time, and he will need to insulate himself from the inevitable media scrutiny.  He often brings out his best tennis against the best while growing careless or unfocused against the journeymen of the Tour.

Ernests Gulbis:  Slinging ferocious forehands and controversial comments indiscriminately, the Latvian shot-maker once again has become someone intriguing to watch.  Gulbis upset Tomas Berdych in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and he twice has won sets from Nadal this year.  More distant achievements include victories over Federer and Novak Djokovic, showing that no elite opponent can feel safe when Gulbis finds his groove.  He may struggle to stay in that groove in the best-of-five format, perhaps a reason why his greatest headlines have come at Masters 1000 events.  Still, grass usually rewards the Jekyll-and-Hyde mixture of overwhelming power and deft finesse that Gulbis can wield.

Feliciano Lopez:  The Spaniard’s best tennis lies well behind him, and he accumulated a losing record this season through the end of Roland Garros.  Lopez has reached three Wimbledon quarterfinals behind his lefty serve-volley style, though, the rarity of which can unsettle younger opponents.  His notable victims there include Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, as well as Tim Henman in his last match on home soil.  Keep an eye on Lopez if he draws a relatively passive baseliner or grinder such as David Ferrer, who long has struggled against him on fast surfaces.

Daniel Brands:  Like Rosol, Brands typically plays to the level of the competition.  He lost resoundingly to Jan Hajek one week before he thrust Nadal to the brink of a two-set deficit at Roland Garros.  Wimbledon marks the scene of his greatest accomplishment, a second-week appearance in 2010, although he lost in the first round of qualifying each of the two subsequent years.  Beware of getting into a fifth set against Brands, who shares Isner’s asymmetry between a massive serve and a woeful return.  That stark contrast leaves him vulnerable against anyone and dangerous to everyone.

WTA:

Ekaterina Makarova:  Only one woman has defeated both Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in 2012-13:  not Maria Sharapova, not Li Na, not Petra Kvitova, but Ekaterina Makarova.  This fiery Russian also won Eastbourne on grass as a qualifier in 2010, her only title to date.  Her lefty serve swings wide in the ad court effectively on this surface, a valuable asset on break points.  Makarova’s doubles expertise has honed her net talents to a higher level than most of the women ranked near her, and she has proved that she can excel at majors by reaching two Australian Open quarterfinals.

Sabine Lisicki:  Four or five years ago, Lisicki looked like a future Wimbledon champion.  She honed the best serve in the women’s game outside the Williams sisters, even outdueling Venus to win a Charleston title.  In three Wimbledon appearances from 2009-12, Lisicki reached the quarterfinals or better every time and even notched her first major semifinal there in 2011.  An impressive list of marquee upsets in those appearances includes Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Caroline Wozniacki, and Marion Bartoli.  Somewhat like Gulbis in her ability to combine first-strike power with the finesse of delicate drop shots, Lisicki has struggled to stay healthy long enough to develop momentum and consistency.

Tamira Paszek:  A hideous 1-12 this season, Paszek has won barely any matches since last August but still held a seed at Roland Garros.  She defends the majority of her total rankings points during the short grass season, when she won Eastbourne and reached a second straight Wimbledon quarterfinal last year.  The good news is that Paszek rebounded from a similar sequence of futility at this time in 2012 to record those excellent results.  The bad news is that the pressure will lie heavily on her with the penalty so great for a misstep at either event.

Venus Williams:  Once a champion, always a champion, and never more so than at the greatest bastion of tennis tradition.  Venus will appear in this type of article before every Wimbledon that she plays, no matter her current form.  To be sure, that current form is far from impressive with losses this spring to Olga Puckhova, Laura Robson, and Urszula Radwanska.  Venus wins many fewer matches than she once did on her poise and experience alone, and she probably cannot ration her energy efficiently enough to survive deep into the fortnight.  But nobody wants to face that serve or that wingspan on grass, for one never knows when an aging champion will catch fire.

Laura Robson:  Combined with a junior Wimbledon title, two compelling efforts against Maria Sharapova on home soil suggest that the top British women’s talent could rise to the occasion.  Robson has proved twice in the last twelve months that she can shine at majors, upsetting Kim Clijsters to reach the second week of the US Open and outlasting Petra Kvitova in a nail-biting if ugly epic in Melbourne.  Since the serve plays a heightened role on grass, she must limit the double faults that have grown too frequent this year.  Robson never lacks for courage or belief, often aggressive to the point of reckless.

Zheng Jie:  If she had finished off Serena Williams in the first week of Wimbledon last year, the trajectory of women’s tennis since then would have followed a completely different course.  As it was, Zheng took Serena to 8-6 in the final set, displaying how well her compact swings and crisp footwork suit the low, variable bounces of the grass.  This less intuitive model for surface success than heavy serves and first strikes carried her to the Wimbledon semifinals in 2008.  Like Benneteau, Zheng has found herself saddled with some extremely challenging draws and has lost to few sub-elite opponents there.

Tsvetana Pironkova:  Two years ago, it seemed that Pironkova existed solely to prevent Venus Williams from winning another Wimbledon title.  The willowy Bulgarian defeated Venus in consecutive Wimbledons by identical scores, and she even came within a set of the final in 2010.  Proving that success no anomaly, Pironkova extended Sharapova to a final set last year.  A glance at her game reveals no clear reason why she enjoys grass so much.  Pironkova owns a vulnerable serve and little baseline firepower, earning her living with court coverage and touch.  Her Wimbledon feats show that counterpunchers can find ways to thrive on an offensively oriented surface.

Roland Garros Rewind: Monfils Stuns, Nadal Survives, Sharapova and Radwanska Cruise

Of the Frenchmen who shone on Day 2, Gael Monfils shone most of all.

Welcome back to your daily review of the studs and duds at Roland Garros 2013.

ATP:

Match of the day:  Five sets and four hours.  Three tiebreaks and a 7-5 final set.  A two-set lead squandered by the man who eventually won—after saving triple break point midway through the fifth.  A home underdog firing 26 aces and 66 winners on his nation’s biggest stage to upset a top-eight seed who hit 72 winners of his own.  Rarely is the match that looks like the best of the day in the first round actually the best of the day, but Gael Monfils and Tomas Berdych put on perhaps the best show of any men’s match that we will see all week.  The section has opened a bit for Monfils if he can defuse the equally dangerous dark horse Ernests Gulbis in the second round.  That match looks like the highlight of Thursday, although it has a hard act to follow.

Comeback of the day:  Last week’s Dusseldorf champion Juan Monaco looked well on his way to a routine victory when he won the first two sets by single-break margins and reached a tiebreak in the third.  Perhaps aided by his opponent’s fatigue, Daniel Gimeno-Traver thrust himself back into the match by snatching that tiebreak and stormed all the way back to an upset over the seventeenth seed.

Surprise of the day:  It was not an upset in the end,  but Daniel Brands surely turned more heads than anyone when he came within a tiebreak of leading Rafael Nadal by two sets to love.  The master of Roland Garros had not lost the first set in a first-week match there since 2006, although he once  survived a five-setter against John Isner.  Brands channeled his inner Soderling in explosive serving and bullet forehands that thrust Nadal on his heels for far longer than anyone could have expected.

Gold star:  Australian youngster Nick Kyrgios gave his nation something to cheer amid the latest Bernard Tomic controversy.  Kyrgios defeated veteran Radek Stepanek in three tiebreaks, saving several set points in each of the last two.  The 53 total tiebreak points played might survive as a tournament record.

Silver star:  Allez les bleus.  While Nadal battled with Brands on Philippe Chatrier, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rolled through in straight sets on Suzanne Lenglen.  Later in the day, second-ranked Frenchman Richard Gasquet did the same, and even Julien Benneteau won a match on clay for just the second time this year.  Combined with the Monfils upset, these victories added up to an excellent day for the hosts.

Wooden spoon:  When Andy Murray withdrew, Marcel Granollers moved up from unseeded to seeded position.  That promotion served him no benefit as he lost his first match to countryman Feliciano Lopez in five sets and two days.  By contrast, Tommy Robredo profited from the seed that he received with Juan Martin Del Potro’s withdrawal by advancing further into the section vacated by Berdych.

Americans in Paris:  John Isner and Ryan Harrison, both of whom have struggled for most of the year, each notched comfortable straight-sets victories.  Assigned Nice champion Albert Montanes, Steve Johnson battled gallantly into a fifth set as he had against Nicolas Almagro at the Australian Open.  American men have no reason to feel shame so far at historically their worst major.

Question of the day:  Who comes out of Berdych’s section of the draw to reach the quarterfinals?

Question of the day, II:  Does Nadal’s first-round frailty reduce your confidence in him as a title threat?

WTA:

Match of the day:  None could compete with Berdych-Monfils or with Urszula-Venus the day before.  This award goes to a battle between two clay-courters who have produced outstanding recent results.  Rome semifinalist Simona Halep won the first set from world No. 20 Carla Suarez Navarro, but the Spaniard rallied with the form that brought her to two clay finals this year.  A pity that the draw forced them to meet in the first round, and a pity that the match was not scheduled on a televised court.

Comeback of the day:  Channeling a little of her inner Monfils, Garbine Muguruza scorched 46 winners and dropped serve just twice in three sets to ambush fellow power-hitter Karolina Pliskova.  The Venezuelan-born citizen of Spain recorded her first career win at Roland Garros barely a year after her first appearance in a WTA main draw.

Statements of the day:  Although they fell a bit short of Serena’s suffocating brilliance, top-four seeds Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska started the tournament in emphatic style.  Defending champion Sharapova conceded just three games to top-50 opponent Hsieh Su-wei, while Radwanska yielded just two games to former top-15 player Shahar Peer.  The latter result came as a mild surprise because of the newly blonde Pole’s struggles on clay this year.

Gold star:  Everyone thought that Laura Robson would knock off world No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki in the first round, and everyone thought very wrong.  Wozniacki ended a five-match losing streak by dominating the British teenager from start to finish.  Perhaps a movie night with Rory McIlroy the day before (they saw Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained) allowed her to forget her recent futility.

Silver star:  The most unsurprising surprise of the day came when the 2009 Roland Garros champion dispatched compatriot Ekaterina Makarova.  In Serena’s quarter, Kuznetsova could meet Wozniacki in a rematch of their Australian Open three-set thriller.  Sveta bounced back impressively from one of the worst losses of her career in Rome.

Wooden spoon:  Outstanding performances on grass last year meant that Tamira Paszek received a seed at Roland Garros despite winning only one match in 2013.  When the slightly less moribund Melanie Oudin dispatched her with ease, Paszek will head to the grass season with the vast majority of points at stake.  Early losses at Eastbourne and Wimbledon will push her ranking down an elevator shaft.

Americans in Paris:  In addition to the aforementioned Oudin, several other women from the United States fared well on Day 2.  Bethanie Mattek-Sands set up a second-round meeting with Li Na, while newer talents Varvara Lepchenko and Madison Keys cruised.  Vania King also advanced in straight sets to complete a perfect record today for the USA.

Question of the day:  Which American woman of those who won day will go furthest?

Question of the day, II:  Should we feel more impressed by Wozniacki or more disappointed by Robson?

The End of the Red Brick Road: WTA Brussels and Strasbourg Previews

Success on clay has remained a bit beyond Caroline Wozniacki's reach so far.

One Premier tournament and one International tournament complete the Road to Roland Garros within striking distance of Paris.  None of the women involved are in serious contention for the clay season’s ultimate prize, but the absence of those elite names could lead to some tightly contested matches in playing fields without clear favorites.  I forwent predictions this time because your guess is as good as mine.  (Feel free to opine in the comments, as always.)

Brussels:

Top half:  Seven of the Brussels seeds will receive seeds in Paris next week, a strong statement considering the tournament’s placement on the eve of Roland Garros.  In need of a strong statement herself is top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who took a wildcard into the tournament following opening-round losses in Madrid and Rome.  Wozniacki has struggled on clay for most of her career but should aim to halt her skid before dropping outside the top ten.  Unfortunately for her, recurrent nemesis Julia Goerges lurks in the quarterfinals.  This German notably defeated Wozniacki to win the Stuttgart clay title two years ago, and she has added two more victories over the Dane since then.  Since she has impressed hardly more than Wozniacki has recently, though, one can’t entirely discount Swiss clay specialist Romina Oprandi or the qualifiers who litter this section.

None of the women in the second quarter has distinguished herself consistently on clay, although Arantxa Rus does own a Roland Garros victory over Kim Clijsters.  Having reached the second week of Roland Garros last year, the fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens looks to build upon her modestly encouraging effort in Rome.  There, Stephens won consecutive matches for the first time since defeating Serena Williams at the Australian Open.  Her depleted confidence resurfaced in a lopsided loss to Maria Sharapova, but a small tournament like Brussels offers a useful venue to rebuild that strength.  With fast-court specialists like Tsvetana Pironkova and Magdalena Rybarikova around her, Stephens might face her stiffest resistance from Peng Shuai.  The Chinese double-fister won their only previous meeting, also on clay, but Stephens has improved markedly in the two years since then.

Bottom half:  By far the most intriguing first-round match of the draw pits third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova against Kaia Kanepi.  This battle of 2012 Roland Garros quarterfinalists will feature a contrast of styles between the compact, agile Slovak and the robust, heavy-hitting Estonian.  Never have they met on clay, while Kanepi has won two of three matches overall.  Of some lesser note is a potential second-round clash between Varvara Lepchenko and Stefanie Voegele.  The American upset Schiavone at Roland Garros last year and has continued the clay success atypical among her compatriots this year with two victories over Roberta Vinci.  For her part, Voegele reached the semifinals of Charleston on green clay, although she has won only one match on red clay.   Kanepi defeated Lepchenko last fall before the injuries that sidelined her for several months, so an upset of Cibulkova could open her draw.

Probably disappointing many Belgian fans, their two leading women would meet as early as the second round in their home tournament.  Both have achieved more success on grass and hard courts than on clay, and both open against rising American stars.  Having upset Li Na in Madrid as a lucky loser, Madison Keys will aim to snuff out home hope Kirsten Flipkens in a match of baseline first strikes against all-court craft.  Belgian No. 2 Yanina Wickmayer faces a somewhat easier assignment in the form of Jamie Hampton, who has not won a match in a clay main draw this year.  Awaiting one of the Belgians in the quarterfinals is second-seeded Roberta Vinci, an artisan of traditional clay-court tennis.  Vinci has not found her best form for much of the spring but did win a small event in Katowice, Poland.

Strasbourg:

Top half:  Atop the draw is French No. 1 Marion Bartoli, who has emitted the occasional burst of inspiration on home soil.  The eccentric double-fister reached the Roland Garros semifinals two years ago, although clay usually hampers her style of staccato points and quick strikes.  Two rising stars could challenge her in this section, compatriot Caroline Garcia and Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard.  The former just won a clay challenger at Cagnes-sur-Mer, while the latter notched a significant victory over Laura Robson on the green clay of Charleston.  First-time champions in 2013, Memphis titlist Marina Erakovic and Florianopolis titlist Monica Niculescu will seek to end spring losing streaks when they meet in the first round.  Neither can match Bartoli’s talent, but either could befuddle one of the youngsters.

Another Frenchwoman holds the highest seed in the second quarter, and world No. 30 Alize Cornet’s game suits clay more effectively than Bartoli’s style.  The mixture of qualifiers and fellow Frenchwomen surrounding her will turn few heads, while Chanelle Scheepers will not overpower Cornet.  The latter two women bring similar patterns of results to Strasbourg.  Before she fell to Melanie Oudin in Rome qualifying, though, Scheepers did reach a clay semifinal in Marrakech and upset Jelena Jankovic on the surface in Madrid.  Last year’s runner-up here, Cornet reached a somewhat more significant clay semifinal in Acapulco this February but suffered a loss to an Italian wildcard in Rome.

Bottom half:  Following a mid-career surge, Hsieh Su-Wei has embedded herself within the top 50 and holds the fourth seed here.  An opening match against promising German talent Annika Beck intrigues, as does a possible quarterfinal meeting with the elegant Daniela Hantuchova.  Handed a wildcard into Madrid, Hantuchova made the most of the opportunity by upsetting Petra Kvitova en route to the final 16.  Also in this section is Karolina Pliskova, a heavy server who nearly won her first title this year at Kuala Lumpur and defeated Kanepi on the clay of Portugal.

Perhaps worth more attention than the seeds in the lowest quarter, some of the unseeded entrants could score an upset or two.  For the rest of her career, Virginie Razzano will struggle to trump the achievement of defeating Serena Williams at Roland Garros, which probably resulted in her wildcard here.  Aligned against Czech doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka in a first-round match to watch, Garbine Muguruza aims to notch her first clay main-draw win in a season when she has reached the fourth round at both Indian Wells and Miami.  In the shadow of compatriots like Stephens and Keys, sixth-seeded Christina McHale continues to seek traction in her comeback from mononucleosis.  Second-seeded Tamira Paszek has lost 11 of her last 12 matches and seems unlikely to increase that total suddenly here.

***

Capsules on the Roland Garros contenders will follow this week before the draws appear on Friday.

 

Sony Open in Photos: S. Williams, Petkovic thru, Goerges bows out

Serena Williams Sony Open_600

MIAMI, FL (March 22, 2013) — Thursday at the Sony Open saw several seeded players bow out, found gripping battles on the outer courts, and plenty of sunshine for fans to enjoy all the happenings on the Key Biscayne grounds.

Below are Tennis Grandstand’s “Best Shots of the Day” by our photographer Christopher Levy.

Their Just Deserts: The Mega WTA Indian Wells Draw Preview

Will Vika hang on to her hardware here as well as she did in Melbourne?

Read about what to expect from the first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2013 as we break down each quarter of the WTA Indian Wells draw in detail!

First quarter:  For the second straight year, Azarenka arrives in the desert with a perfect season record that includes titles at the Australian Open and the Premier Five tournament in Doha.  Able to defend those achievements, she eyes another prestigious defense at Indian Wells on a surface that suits her balanced hybrid of offense and defense as well as any other.  In her opener, she could face the only woman in the draw who has won multiple titles here, Daniela Hantuchova, although the more recent of her pair came six long years ago.  Since reaching the second week of the Australian Open, Kirsten Flipkens staggered to disappointing results in February, so Azarenka need not expect too stern a test from the Belgian.  Of perhaps greater concern is a rematch of her controversial Melbourne semifinal against Sloane Stephens, who aims to bounce back from an injury-hampered span with the encouragement of her home crowd.  Heavy fan support for the opponent can fluster Azarenka, or it can bring out her most ferocious tennis, which makes that match one to watch either way.  Of some local interest is the first-round match between Jamie Hampton, who won a set from Vika in Melbourne, and Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mattek-Sands.

The most intriguing first-round match in the lower section of this quarter pits Laura Robson against the blistering backhands of Sofia Arvidsson.  In fact, plenty of imposing two-handers highlight that neighborhood with those of Julia Goerges and the tenth-seeded Petrova also set to shine.  The slow courts of Indian Wells might not suit games so high on risk and low on consistency, possibly lightening the burden on former champion Wozniacki.  Just two years ago, the Dane won this title as the world #1, and she reached the final in 2010 with her characteristic counterpunching.  Downed relatively early in her title defense last year, she has shown recent signs of regrouping with strong performances at the Persian Gulf tournaments in February.  On the other hand, a quick loss as the top seed in Kuala Lumpur reminded viewers that her revival remains a work in progress.  She has not faced Azarenka since the latter’s breakthrough in mid-2011, so a quarterfinal between them would offer fascinating evidence as to whether Caro can preserve her mental edge over her friend.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Second quarter:  Unremarkable so far this year, Kerber has fallen short of the form that carried her to a 2012 semifinal here and brings a three-match losing streak to the desert.  Even with that recent history, she should survive early tests from opponents like Heather Watson and the flaky Wickmayer before one of two fellow lefties poses an intriguing challenge in the fourth round.  For the second straight year, Makarova reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and her most significant victory there came against Kerber in a tightly contested match of high quality.  Dogged by erratic results, this Russian may find this surface too slow for her patience despite the improved defense and more balanced weapons that she showed in Melbourne.  Another woman who reached the second week there, Bojana Jovanovski, hopes to prove that accomplishment more than just a quirk of fate, which it seems so far.  Also in this section is the enigmatic Safarova, a woman of prodigious talent but few results to show for it.  If she meets Makarova in the third round, an unpredictable clash could ensue, after which the winner would need to break down Kerber’s counterpunching.

Stirring to life in Doha and Dubai, where she reached the quarterfinals at both, Stosur has played much further below her ranking this year than has Kerber.  A disastrous Australian season and Fed Cup weekend have started to fade a bit, however, for a woman who has reached the Indian Wells semifinals before.  Stosur will welcome the extra time that the court gives her to hit as many forehands as possible, but she may not welcome a draw riddled with early threats.  At the outset, the US Open champion could face American phenom Madison Keys, who raised eyebrows when she charged within a tiebreak of the semifinals in a strong Sydney draw.  The feisty Peng, a quarterfinalist here in 2011, also does not flinch when facing higher-ranked opponents, so Stosur may breathe a sigh of relief if she reaches the fourth round.  Either of her likely opponents there shares her strengths of powerful serves and forehands as well as her limitations in mobility and consistency.  Losing her only previous meeting with Mona Barthel, on the Stuttgart indoor clay, Ivanovic will seek to reverse that result at a tournament where she usually has found her most convincing tennis even in her less productive periods.  Minor injuries have nagged her lately, while Barthel has reached two finals already in 2013 (winning one), so this match could prove compelling if both silence other powerful servers around them, like Lucie Hradecka.

Semifinalist:  Ivanovic

Third quarter:  Another woman who has reached two finals this year (winning both), the third-seeded Radwanska eyes perhaps the easiest route of the elite contenders.  Barring her path to the fourth round are only a handful of qualifiers, an anonymous American wildcard, an aging clay specialist who has not won a match all year, and the perenially underachieving Sorana Cirstea.  Radwanska excels at causing raw, error-prone sluggers like Cirstea to implode, and she will face nobody with the sustained power and accuracy to overcome her in the next round either.  In that section, Christina McHale attempts to continue a comeback from mono that left her without a victory for several months until a recent breakthrough, and Maria Kirilenko marks her return from injury that sidelined her after winning the Pattaya City title.  Although she took Radwanska deep into the final set of a Wimbledon quarterfinal last year, and defeated her at a US Open, the Russian should struggle if rusty against the more confident Aga who has emerged since late 2011.  Can two grass specialists, Pironkova and Paszek, cause a stir in this quiet section?

Not much more intimidating is the route that lies before the section’s second highest-ranked seed, newly minted Dubai champion Kvitova.  Although she never has left a mark on either Indian Wells or Miami, Kvitova suggested that she had ended her habitual struggles in North America by winning the US Open Series last summer with titles in Montreal and New Haven.  Able to enter and stay in torrid mode like the flip of a switch, she aims to build on her momentum from consecutive victories over three top-ten opponents there.  The nearest seeded opponent to Kvitova, Yaroslava Shvedova, has struggled to string together victories since her near-upset of Serena at Wimbledon, although she nearly toppled Kvitova in their most recent meeting at Roland Garros.  Almost upsetting Azarenka near this time a year ago, Cibulkova looks to repeat her upset over the Czech in Sydney when they meet in the fourth round.  Just reaching that stage would mark a step forward for her, though, considering her failure to build upon her runner-up appearance there and the presence of ultra-steady Zakopalova.  Having dominated Radwanska so thoroughly in Dubai, Kvitova should feel confident about that test.

Semifinalist:  Kvitova

Fourth quarter:  Semifinalist in 2011, finalist in 2012, champion in 2013?  Before she can think so far ahead, the second-seeded Sharapova must maneuver past a string of veteran Italians and other clay specialists like Suarez Navarro.  Aligned to meet in the first round are the former Fed Cup teammates Pennetta and Schiavone in one of Wednesday’s most compelling matches, but the winner vanishes directly into Sharapova’s jaws just afterwards.  The faltering Varvara Lepchenko could meet the surging Roberta Vinci, who just reached the semifinals in Dubai with victories over Kuznetsova, Kerber, and Stosur.  Like Kvitova, then, she brings plenty of positive energy to a weak section of the draw, where her subtlety could carry her past the erratic or fading players around her.  But Sharapova crushed Vinci at this time last year, and she never has found even a flicker of self-belief against the Russian.

Once notorious for the catfights that flared between them, Jankovic and Bartoli could extend their bitter rivalry in the third round at a tournament where both have reached the final (Jankovic winning in 2010, Bartoli falling to Wozniacki a year later).  Between them stands perhaps a more convincing dark horse candidate in Kuznetsova, not far removed from an Australian Open quarterfinal appearance that signaled her revival.  Suddenly striking the ball with confidence and even—gasp—a modicum of thoughtfulness, she could draw strength from the memories of her consecutive Indian Wells finals in 2007-08.  If Kuznetsova remains young enough to recapture some of her former prowess, her compatriot Pavlyuchenkova also has plenty of time to rebuild a career that has lain in ruins for over a year.  By playing close to her potential, she could threaten Errani despite the sixth seed’s recent clay title defense in Acapulco.  Not in a long time has anyone in this area challenged Sharapova, though.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Come back tomorrow before the start of play in the men’s draw to read a similar breakdown!

Quarters for Our Thoughts (II): Australian Open Women’s Draw Preview

Who gets to kiss Daphne this year/

After the mega-preview of the Australian Open men’s draw appeared yesterday, we take the same type of look at the women’s draw.

First quarter:  Like fellow defending champion Djokovic, Azarenka cruised through the first week of last year’s tournament.  Also like Djokovic, she should do so again this year against an early slate of opponents that features nobody more remarkable than Radwanska’s younger sister.  Urszula Radwanska recently lost to Wozniacki, which should tell you all that you need to know about her current form, and her sister can offer her little advice on how to solve Azarenka’s ruthless baseline attack.  The world #1 has taken the sensible position that this year’s tournament is a new opportunity for triumph rather than a chunk of territory to defend, an attitude that should help her advance deep into the draw.  While the quirky game of Roberta Vinci might bemuse her temporarily, Azarenka probably has less to fear from any opponent in her quarter than from the Australian summer heat, which has proved an Achilles heel for her before.

Among the most plausible first-round upsets in the women’s draw is Lisicki over the reeling, tenth-ranked Wozniacki.  The world #1 at this tournament last year, Wozniacki continued her 2012 slide by losing two of her first three matches in 2013, while she has failed to solve the German’s mighty serve in two of their three meetings.  Lisicki usually lacks the steadiness to string together several victories in a marquee draw away from grass, but Brisbane finalist Pavlyuchenkova might build upon her upward trend if she escapes Lisicki in the third round.  Although the seventh-seeded Errani reached the quarterfinals here last year, she fell to Pavlyuchenkova in Brisbane and might exit even before she meets the young Russian to the veteran Kuznetsova.  The most intriguing unseeded player in this section, the two-time major champion showed flashes of vintage form in Sydney and eyes an accommodating pre-quarterfinal draw.  She could battle Pavlyuchenkova for the honor of facing Azarenka, who would feel intimidated by neither Russian.

Semifinalist:  Azarenka

Player to watch:  Pick your ova between Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova

Second quarter:  In a sense, all that you need to know about this section is that it contains Serena.  Case closed, or is it?  Conventional wisdom would say that a player of Serena’s age cannot possibly sustain the brilliance that she displayed in the second half of 2012 much longer, but she has built a reputation upon defying conventional wisdom.  An intriguing third-round rematch with Shvedova beckons just two majors after the Kazakh nearly upset her at Wimbledon, the tournament that turned around Serena’s comeback.   Mounting an inspired comeback herself last year, Shvedova has stalled a bit lately while suffering some dispiriting three-set losses.  Serena can outserve, outhit, and generally out-compete players like Kirilenko and Wickmayer with their limited range of talents.  Last year, though, Makarova delivered the shock of the Australian Open by ambushing her in the fourth round, reminding us that underdogs sometimes can jolt Serena before she settles into a tournament.

By the quarterfinals, the American usually has accumulated a formidable tide of momentum that compensates for the spiking quality of competition.  Considering the eighth-seeded Kvitova’s recent struggles, the quality may not spike so dramatically.  But Kvitova, who has lost seven of her last ten matches, may not reach that stage and may have her work cut out against Schiavone in the first round or ambitious American teen Sloane Stephens in the third round.  Stephens broke through at majors last year by reaching the second week of Roland Garros, just as British teen Laura Robson did by reaching the second week at the US Open.  An early upset of Kvitova, perhaps even by Robson in the second round, would result in an intriguing battle between these two rising stars with a berth in the second week at stake.  There, they could meet the evergreen veteran Petrova, who becomes dangerous just when one discounts her.  Kvitova’s compatriot Safarova also lurks in this area but blows too hot and cold to produce a deep run.

Semifinalist:  Serena

Player to watch:  Stephens

Third quarter:  The ultra-steady Radwanska finds herself surrounded by an array of stunning talents with a penchant for getting in their own way.  Leading the pack is the sixth-seeded Li Na, who has reached the semifinals or better twice at the Australian Open.  Although she won a home title in Shenzhen, Li played generally shaky tennis during her week in Sydney before an error-strewn loss to Radwanska that ended her 2012 momentum against the Pole.  Close behind Li in ranking and self-destructive potential is Stosur, who already has imploded twice on Australian soil this year.  The ninth seed probably deserves some forgiveness for those losses in view of her recent ankle surgery, but the fact remains that she has lost six of her last seven matches at home in an illustration of her frailty under pressure.  Stosur narrowly avoided an early date with Cirstea, her nemesis in the first round last year, and may meet Zheng Jie in the second round a week after she lost to her in Sydney.  For her part, Li must hope to reverse her loss to Cirstea at Wimbledon last year if that third-round meeting materializes.

Nearer to Radwanska lies another opponent of the same model as fellow one-time major champions Li and Stosur:  the charming and charmingly fragile Ivanovic.  Five years after her trip to the Melbourne final, she has not reached the quarterfinals there since.  The former #1 might face the other former #1 from her own country in the third round, resuming her sometimes bitter rivalry with Jankovic.  Although both Serbs accumulated success against Radwanska earlier in their careers, neither has conquered her as they have declined.  The fourth seed thus will feel confident of extending her nine-match winning streak from titles in Auckland and Sydney deep into Melbourne.  Perhaps she can follow in the footsteps of Sydney champion Azarenka last year, or in those of Sydney champion Li the year before.

Semifinalist:  Radwanska

Player to watch:  Li

Fourth quarter:  When Sharapova entered the Melbourne field without any match practice last year, she showed no signs of rust in sweeping to the final.  In the same situation, she will aim to produce the same result on a surface where the high bounce suits her playing style.  Sharapova could face Venus Williams near the end of the first week, assuming that the American survives the heat and her spells of uneven play to that point.  Away from grass, she has accumulated a far better record against the elder than the younger Williams, and one would favor her in that matchup considering the relative conditions of each career.  Either of these tall women would hold a significant advantage in power and serve over Dominika Cibulkova, the Sydney finalist who devoured three top-eight opponents before eating a double bagel in the final.  Rarely at her best in Melbourne, she faces an intriguing opener against local prodigy Ashleigh Barty but otherwise looks likely to enter the second week.

Somewhat more uncertain is the identity of this section’s other quarterfinalist, for Kerber looked only moderately convincing in Brisbane and Sydney.  A heavy hitter can outslug the German or frustrate her, a role that second-round opponent Lucia Hradecka could fill with her thunderous serve.  Principally a threat on grass, Tamira Paszek remains unpredictable from one week to the next and could meet Sydney sensation Madison Keys in a second round.  A 17-year-old with precocious poise, Keys may vie with Stephens for the brightest star in the future of American women’s tennis.  The eleventh-seeded Bartoli opens against Medina Garrigues, who played inspired tennis at the Hopman Cup, and will hope to break away from a series of unremarkable efforts in Melbourne.  While Kerber defeated Sharapova early last year, the world #2 squashed her in their other three meetings, nor has any of the other players in this section often threatened her.

Semifinalist:  Sharapova

Player to watch:  Venus

Final:  Serena vs. Radwanska

Champion:  Serena Williams

Excited for the start of the 2013 Australian Open?  I will run a live chat during many of the matches at newyorkobservertennis.com.  Check it out if you want to chat with me, some of my colleagues, and fellow fans while you watch the action in Melbourne.

WTA Strasbourg Day 3 recap and photos: Francesca Schiavone, Sloane Stephens reach quarterfinals

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By Romana Cvitkovic

Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm is in Strasbourg, France covering the WTA Internationaux de Strasbourg tournament live all week.

The second round was underway with victories by Francesca Schiavone, Anabel Medina Garrigues, and American Sloane Stephens.

Schiavone made quick work of Croatian qualifier Mirjana Lucic with a solid 6-1, 6-2 win in just an hour. Medina Garrigues fought a tougher battle against Su-Wei Hsieh and won in two tiebreaker sets, 7-6(9), 7-6(2). Stephens beat a former juniors player foe in three rollercoaster sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and saved 10-of-14 break points.

Other winners include French players Pauline Parmentier and wildcard Alize Cornet, qualifier Alexandra Panova, Japanese player Ayumi Morita and Swede Johanna Larsson who brought number eight seed Tamira Paszek of Austria tumbling out of the tournament.

Likewise, the doubles semifinals are set:

[1] Grandin/Uhlirova (RSA/CZE) d. Chang/Chuang (TPE/TPE) 75 64
[2] Govortsova/Jans-Ignacik (BLR/POL) d. Gámiz/Hermoso (VEN/MEX) 62 75
[4] Babos/Hsieh (HUN/TPE) d. Naydenova/Pereira (BUL/BRA) 63 64
Cadantu/Keothavong (ROU/GBR) d. Adamczak/Bengson (AUS/AUS) 63 63

***

ORDER OF PLAY – THURSDAY, MAY 24, 2012
CENTRAL Start at 11:00 am
1. Ayumi Morita vs. Sloane Stephens
2. Johanna Larsson vs. Francesca Schiavone (NB 1:00 pm)
3. Anabel Medina Garrigues vs. Alizé Cornet (NB 3:00 pm)
4. Pauline Parmentier vs. Alexandra Panova

COURT 1 Start at 2:00 pm
1. Cadantu/Keothavong vs. Govortsova/Jans-Ignacik

Check back each day to catch all new action direct from the courts by our photographer Rick Gleijm! Scroll down for today’s full gallery of over 90 photos below.

Strasbourg day 1 roundup and photos

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By Romana Cvitkovic

Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm is in Strasbourg, France covering the WTA Internationaux de Strasbourg tournament live all week. Main draw action kicked off today with top seed Sabine Lisicki on court, as well as number eight seed Tamira Paszek. The last day of qualification also concluded today. Full results and photo gallery below.

Top seed Sabine Lisicki toppled in the first round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Monday, as she was defeated by French player Pauline Parmentier, 6-4, 6-4. Eight seed Tamira Paszek survived a second set bagel to come back and win in three against Alberta Brianti, 6-4, 0-6, 6-4. Converting on only 4 of 15 break points, the Austrian barely held her first serve in the second set.

Elena Baltacha also saw her time in Strasbourg cut short by another French player, Stephanie Foretz Gacon, with a score of 6-4, 6-0 for Foretz Gacon. Su-Wei Hsieh of Taipei came out victorious over Irina Camelia-Begu of Romania, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-1. Both women struggled to hold their second serve in the first set, with Begu continuing to struggle for the rest of the match, winning only 7 of her 32 second serves.

The last day of qualification also wrapped up with a few surprises. Number eight seed Mirjana Lucic of Croatia ousted the top seed Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain in a tough two-and-a-half hour battle, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. 18-year-old American Lauren Davis fought back from a set down to claim the win over Mandy Minella, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Number two seed Alexandra Panova defeated Stephanie Dubois, 6-3, 6-4, as Anastasija Sevastova ousted Lenka Jurikova, 6-0, 6-1.

Check back each day to catch all new action direct from the courts by our photographer Rick Gleijm! Scroll down for the full gallery below.

***

ORDER OF PLAY – TUESDAY, MAY 22, 2012

CENTRAL start 11:00 am
Alexandra Panova vs. Mona Barthel
Anabel Medina Garrigues vs. Anna Tatishvili (tbc; NB 12.00hrs)
Alexandra Cadantu vs. Francesca Schiavone
Sloane Stephens vs. Maria Kirilenko
Alizé Cornet vs. Olga Govortsova (NB 17.30hrs)

COURT 1 start at 11:00 am
Mandy Minella vs. Lucie Hradecka
Timea Babos vs. Anastasija Sevastova
Marina Erakovic vs. Ayumi Morita (tbc)
Virginie Razzano vs. María José Martínez Sánchez
Cadantu/Keothavong vs. Minella/Parmentier

COURT 2 start at 11:00 am
Johanna Larsson vs. Lauren Davis
Mirjana Lucic vs. Anne Keothavong
Shahar Peer vs. Aleksandra Wozniak
Brianti/Foretz Gacon vs. Gámiz/Hermoso
Babos/Hsieh vs. Perrin/Shamayko

COURT TBA Not Before 5:00 pm
Jurikova/Kucova vs. Adamczak/Bengson (NB 17.00hrs)

Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic advance in Luxembourg

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Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic both reached the second round at the Luxembourg Open.  Belrussian top seed  Azarenka disposed of her Czech opponent Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in straight sets 6-2 6-4 to reach the second round.  Serbian Ana Ivanovic followed Azarenka’s example and defeated her French opponent Virginie Razzano in straight sets as well 7-6 6-4.

Number five seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy was the biggest seed to fall after losing to Latvian Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 6-2.

German Julia Goerges was the first to earn a spot in the quarter finals when she defeated Austrian Tamira Paszek in two 6-4 6-2.  Czech Iveta Benesova was given a walk-over after Russian Maria Kirilenko was forced to withdraw from the Luxembourg tournament with an injury.

Photos ©  by Rick Gleijm.

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