Vera Zvonareva

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Challenge Accepted: My Workout with Vera Zvonareva

FIla and former World No. 2 Vera Zvonareva hosted a killer workout for the athlete looking for a leg up on the court.

The morning after Wimbledon’s now-infamous “Black Wednesday” was a hazy time for most; fans and pundits were trying to come out from beneath the rubble left by the shocking number of upsets.

It is often said that exercise can help clear the mind and aid in decision-making. However, burning calories (as well as one’s own sense of dignity) with former World No. 2 and two-time Grand Slam finalist Vera Zvonareva did little to restore normalcy to an already-crazy week.

In a partnership with Fila, Zvonareva hosted a racquet sports oriented fitness class with Miami-based trainer Greg Corso in Manhattan, at the Upper East Side’s Sports Club LA. For the former Olympic Bronze medalist (and the group of reporters participating), the forty-five minute class was only a taste of the Russian’s off-court conditioning routine as she works towards a comeback from a shoulder injury.

“During the off-season, we train…probably four hours on the tennis court and at least two-three hours off the court,” Zvonareva remarked in a Q&A session following the class.

The course, held on the Sport Club’s roof, emphasized the importance of the full-body workout required by a professional athlete throughout the year. While most of the exercises were aerobic in nature, Corso and Zvonareva also made use of resistance bands and free-weights as heavy as ten pounds that morphed the burn into a small fire felt by the admittedly unprepared press core.

“To prevent [injuries], we do a full-body workout, but with lighter weights, with [exercise] bands just to keep ourselves conditioned.”

The workout was conceived with the help of videos taken during Zvonareva’s actual workouts with her coach, which adds a stamp of authenticity most fitness classes cannot boast.

“My job was to figure out how to adapt [those sessions] into a group exercise setting, with a big crowd and a limited space,” said Corso, who looked to the resistance bands (strapped to the ankles) as the key to making the class work for racquet-sport athletes who require practice with lateral movement.

Zvonareva agreed. “Using the bands helps a lot, because then you can do two steps, right/left, and you’re getting that movement that you want…you don’t need to run across the whole tennis court!”

The class required constant movement under the Manhattan sun, an essential feature for the athlete who will need to draw on that stamina over the course of a long tennis match.

“The thing about tennis is that you always have to give 100% every point, and it is very difficult because even if you’re tired, you still have to play the point at the professional level…you lose a couple of points, you lose your serve, you lose the game, it can cost you the whole match…[During this class], you have that hour but you have to keep pushing yourself.”

For the exhausted students, Zvonareva reminded us that it wasn’t always as effortless as she made the workout appear. On the exercise called the “Burpee,” she recalled, “I remember when I was 12 years old, my coach would do something like this and we were all dying…as soon as he turns away we’re like ‘stop it!’ It’s a very difficult one, but it helps a lot.”

The former Russian No. 1 has been off the court for nearly a year, last playing at the London Olympics. After getting surgery on her shoulder in February, she returned to school, and received a degree in International Economic Relations. She flew into New York the next day to conduct the class. Though looking in phenomenal shape, she admitted it was difficult to balance fitness with studying.

“I was studying so much that I had no energy to do fitness, it was so difficult for me…I was doing some, but not every day because once you start reading you keep going and going and it’s midnight already…when I’m playing tennis five hours a day, I still have energy to go and do fitness, but studying…it was so difficult!”

Keeping up with the Tour has been difficult for the college graduate, but she tries to keep in touch with friends like Elena Vesnina. For those wondering about that comeback, Zvonareva left the media in no suspense.

“I’m heading to Arizona, that’s where I will start my training. I’m meeting with my physiotherapist there and hopefully he will give me a green light to start training. I don’t know how long it will take but maybe three-four months before I can start playing at 100%.”

Zvonareva was a gracious host and encouraging teacher to her tired and, later, very sore students. The experience was a tremendous insight into the mind and work ethic of one of most disciplined and well-conditioned players on the WTA Tour, illustrating the key difference between “player” and “professional.”

“Bark or Bite?”: A Defense of Bojana Jovanovski

Whether or not you like the way she grunts, Bojana Jovanovski made plenty of noise in Melbourne.

Yesterday, the up-and-coming Sloane Stephens fought off a mid-match surge from a game opponent to reach her debut Grand Slam quarterfinal. After taking the deciding set 7-5, the bubbly American was pleased to have put on a show for the crowd, and promised another one when she played her mentor and idol, Serena Williams.

Leave it to the media to turn a show into a circus.

As the match unfolded, Stephens seemed to establish an unassailable advantage over her equally inexperienced opponent, Bojana Jovanovski. A heavy hitting but inconsistent player from Serbia, Jovanovski was deemed a beatable foe, one who would easily bend to the will of the quickly rising American teenager.

As the second set reached a critical juncture, however, Stephens began to retreat and revert to a safer, more defensive style. Jovanovski had been missing badly up to that point, so waiting for the error was not a completely ill conceived strategy. Yet, in doing so, she made an almost fatal mistake: giving Bojana Jovanovski a short ball is like feeding live bait to a shark.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKNzdqJaED8&w=560&h=315

The No. 3 Serb hits groundstrokes like missiles, and is an exciting player to watch when she is striking the ball well. Most comfortable playing in Australia, she had her breakthrough tournament in Sydney two years ago where, as a qualifier, she reached her first Premier semifinal. A week later, she pushed then-world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva to three tight sets at this very tournament. Since then, she won her first WTA title last summer in Baku and is also a player on the rise, give or take a few hiccups and patches of poor form.

Despite her obvious talent, she is still better known for the quirkier aspects of her life and bio. For one, not a televised match of Jovanovski’s goes by without a retelling of the embarrassing story where the Serb traveled to the famed WTA event in San Diego via Carlsbad only to wind up in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Quirkier still is her unusual grunt. Oft-described as a sound similar to a sneeze (“ha-choo!”), it is definitely one of the stranger sounds one hears during a tennis match, but is not nearly as off-putting as many seem to think. Having watched the majority of her US Open singles campaign, I can say that it was hardly as noticeable in person as it is when amplified by the on-court microphones.

But as Jovanovski began to take control of a match she seemed well and truly out of last night, the focus centered not on her screaming winners, but on the alleged screaming itself. Stephens lost the plot and allowed her fiery opponent back into the match. Instead of giving praise to Jovanovski for not giving up and playing some inspiring offense, she was castigated, mocked and name-called for her grunting.

A lot of people take issue over noises that aren’t perceived to imply exertion. “How does shrieking assist a person in hitting a ball?” asks a public often corralled by visibly disgusted commentators (for more on grunting and the hindrance rule, I refer you to unseededandlooming’s comprehensive take on the matter). But as bizarre as Jovanovski’s grunt sounds, it is still a grunt at its very core.

And if you stopped to watch the Serbian bombshell scurry about the baseline, you would see a shockingly high level of exertion, mixed with some extreme torque and intensity.

What makes Jovanovski so electrifying on the court is the reckless abandon with which she hits every ball. The notion that “a tennis ball is there to be hit” is taken to delirious extremes during her matches, much to the delight of those who enjoy “Big Babe Tennis.” In fact, it was her tentative serve, the one shot in her repertoire that lacks her almost hysterical punch, that did her in late in the third set against the American, who eventually regrouped to serve out the match herself.

In her first Slam fourth round appearance, Bojana Jovanovski did herself proud. She recovered from a lackluster beginning and found her range in impressive fashion, only to fall just short of the finish line. In all, the week that the Serbian star had was a tremendous effort, and definitely as much noise with her tennis as she did with her grunting.

You may not like Bojana’s grunt from an aesthetic point of view, but it is hard to argue that her bite doesn’t match her bark.

A Blogger’s Christmas Carol: The Past, Present and Uncertain Future of Russian Women’s Tennis

Maria Sharapova

By David Kane

Two tweets from former World No. 2s, Vera Zvonareva’s announcement that she would be missing the upcoming Australian Open, and Svetlana Kuznetsova’s suspense-filled declaration that she indeed loved life, seemed to sum up the status quo for Russian women’s tennis these days. It feels like a lifetime ago that to be a Russian on the WTA Tour usually signified a player with a high ranking who made deep runs in major tournaments and, if nothing else, was a fierce competitor, a member of a contingent strong in numbers. As recently as 2009, there were four Russian women in the top 10, two in the top 4. As the 2013 season approaches, only Maria Sharapova remains among that elite group, with three others floating around the top twenty.

The formerly proud and prolific Russian horde even found themselves the butts of a light joke from Tennis Australia, who boasted that their best player, Samantha Stosur, could beat anyone with an “-ova” surname. That Stosur has failed to beat a player inside the top 50 Down Under since 2006 (and has a paltry head-to-head record against most Russians in general) illustrates how far things have fallen for what used to be the game’s most indomitable force.

With Christmas only hours away, imagine if you will, jaded tennis fans, several midnight visits from three of the most knowledgeable spirits: the Ghosts of Tennis Past, Present and the always ominous Ghost of Tennis Future. Allow these spirits to remind you of what has already been, and perhaps warn you of that which is soon to be.

It was a little over a decade ago that “Anna’s Army,” led by the glamorously talented Anna Kournikova, burst onto the women’s tour. While their leader failed to win a singles title, those who followed in her footsteps took full advantage of the road she paved. In 2004, thirty years after Soviet Olga Morozova reached the finals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the first three Russian women won Grand Slam titles at major tournaments that featured two all-Russian finals. While Sharapova has won most often on the sport’s biggest stages, compatriots like Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva have more than made names for themselves with multiple Slam titles (Kuznetsova), 26 weeks atop the world rankings (Safina) and multiple Slam finals and semifinals (Dementieva).

The year 2009 represented a second crest on the wave of Russian dominance: Kuznetsova won the third all-Russian final of the Open Era, Safina was ranked No. 1 for most of the year, and Dementieva came within one backhand passing shot of upsetting Serena Williams for a place in the Wimbledon final. As the decade came to a close and talented youngsters like Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Maria Kirilenko began to post impressive results, the Russian horde looked as strong as ever.

Barely two years on, the Ghost of Tennis Present presents a wholly grimmer reality. Vera Zvonareva may have been the breakout player of 2010, reaching two Slam finals and peaking just behind the top spot in the rankings, but since then, “Anna’s Army” has done an almost complete about face. What could explain such a dramatic reversal of fortune? Ostensibly, injuries and early retirements are to blame. Dementieva retired at the end of 2010. Safina is indefinitely absent with a broken back. Kuznetsova and Zvonareva are rehabbing injuries in the hopes of reviving their stalled careers.

Truthfully, however, most of the Russian contingent could be diagnosed with problems that are as mental as they are physical. Over the years, it has become increasingly uncomfortable to watch these talented women fail to get out of their own way time and time again in important situations. Matches that look to be straightforward from the outset end up having more twists and turns than a Tolstoy novel, complete with double-digit double-faults and screaming into hands. Where most of the top men could have their names etched in to the final rounds of major tournaments in pen, even the faintest pencil tracing could derail what should be unassailable progress.

In fact, Maria Sharapova has been so successful at deviating from this tragic formula that, despite bearing the Russian flag at the London Olympics, American journalists and commentators hardly believe her to be of the same ilk, and frequently attempt to claim her as their own. This is wrong. Not only is Sharapova as Russian as her compatriots, but she has also suffered her own heart-wrenching losses to prove it.

The average Russian tennis player can be accused of many things, but rarely can it be said that she does not want success badly enough. In the last decade and a half, this diverse group of women has taken passion in this sport to a level where every point is a battle, every match a war. Painful as it can be to watch, the inherent entertainment value cannot be denied. More often than not, when a Russian takes the court, she takes on two adversaries: her opponent, and herself. When she wins, then, the victories are twice as sweet, for her and those who were swept up in her almost spiritual fervor and feel as if they helped will her over the finish line.

All of this is why what the Ghost of Tennis Future has to say is so important. Because they are so rarely the champions at the end of the fortnight, they may appear inconsequential to the many storylines in the canonical WTA soap opera. However, the drama that the Russian contingent brought and continues to bring (although on a muted level) kept viewers interested. They emit a passion for the game that could convert any causal fan (Bah Humbug!) into a diehard (Merry Christmas!).

Once, it was said that the Russians were coming. For a few brief-shining moments, they had arrived. Now, there are more than a few ghostly moans in the night, calling for their return.

Can Kim Clijsters add an Olympic medal to her list of career achievements?

Kim Clijsters will be hoping to continue her run at the Olympics. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Kim Clijsters has enjoyed an illustrious career in tennis – dampened by injuries, but nonetheless, she has enjoyed many successes on the court. She is a firm fan favourite, always enthusiastically supported wherever she competes and is popular with her fellow players. Could an Olympic victory tempt her to decide not to halt her career just yet, or could it be the perfect way for the former world No.1 to bow out of competitive tennis for the second time?

Kim Clijsters is a four-time Grand Slam champion, who made her final Wimbledon appearance in July after 14 years of competing as a junior and a senior at the event. This week she is back on the grass courts of the Olympics, representing Belgium and hoping to add an Olympic medal to her list of achievements and victories.
Clijsters admitted earlier this year that she is retiring for the second time due to her age and not for family reasons:

“I have no regrets. I’m too old to play the game that I want to play physically. It’s not for family reasons; it’s down to the physical side. I’ve put my body through enough strain and everything.”

It has been a tough 2012 for the 29-year-old, who missed the French Open due to a hip injury and battled to recover from an abdominal injury in time for Wimbledon, but this week she is proving that she is beginning to find her feet at the All England Lawn Tennis Club and would love to build on her semi-final appearances in 2003 and 2006.
Many would love to see her win an Olympic medal – a fitting way to remember her final year on Tour, to add her to many wonderful achievements during her career – and here are a few of those many moments she will undoubtedly cherish:

Winning her first Grand Slam title in 2005: Kim Clijsters won her first Grand Slam title in 2005 on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows in New York against Mary Pierce. This was the first time she had won a Grand Slam and it was her first appearance in a Grand Slam final since missing out on the trophy in 2004 in Australia. Clijsters had a difficult year in 2004 and was happy to have recovered so well after her operation to remove a cyst from left wrist, which saw her miss Wimbledon and the US Open the previous year.

Back-to-back US Open titles in 2009 and 2010: Clijsters has always felt very comfortable on the hard courts and in New York she found her feet and showed her best tennis during a year which proved to be a sensational comeback season for the Belgian. Clijsters won the US Open in New York in extraordinary fashion – she had only played three previous hard court events before entering the Grand Slam and participated as an unranked wildcard defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

In 2010 Clijsters battled against a left and right foot injury, which forced her to withdraw from Roland Garros, but in August whilst fighting off her injury demons, the former world No.1 lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows for the third time after defeating Vera Zvonareva in the final.

‘Aussie Kim’ happy to be crowned champion at the Australian Open: Kim Clijsters has always been fondly welcomed at the Australian Open and many of the Aussies accepted her as one of their own after her long relationship with Australian tennis player Lleyton Hewitt. She reached the finals in 2004 but was unable to lift the trophy, but after returning to competitive tennis once again, she finally got the Grand Slam win she so desperately seeked in Melbourne and ‘Aussie Kim’ was happily crowned champion.

After this year when Kim Clijsters eventually retires, it will be a sad day for her supporters, team and fellow players as her kind and sporting nature on and off the court will be missed. Right now though for Kim Clijsters, she will not be thinking about putting down her racquet for the last time, she will be completely focused on picking it up again tomorrow to continue her assault on the Olympics and the impending, final hard court season ahead.

Spotlight: Flavia Pennetta on her 2009 U.S. Open Run, Monica Seles and Angelina Jolie

Flavia Pennetta at the Sony Ericsson Open (Neal Trousdale)

Flavia Pennetta has been a force on the WTA Tour for over ten years, but she only broke through the top echelons of women’s tennis back in 2009 when she became Italy’s first top 10 singles player in history. I had a chance to chat with the bubbly, pleasant, and smiling Flavia during the Sony Ericsson Open as she shared insights about her unforgettable 2009 U.S. Open match against Vera Zvonareva, dancing, beach volleyball, Monica Seles and Angelina Jolie.

What is your most memorable moment on court?

U.S. Open against Vera Zvonareva in 2009. Was a really nice match. I won 6-0 in the third set with 7, or 6, match points.

Is that the one in which Vera was ripping the tape off her knees?

Yes.

How was that experience in the moment?

It was intense. It was good for me because I won, but not for her. (Laughs)

What is the best part of being a tennis player?

To have the chance to travel and see different places and meet different people, so that when you stop playing, you have friends everywhere. (Laughs)

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

I always like different sports. Maybe I would play volleyball or horse (be an equestrian).

Do you like to cross-train with volleyball?

I love to play beach volleyball when I’m at the beach. (Laughs)

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

(Long pause) Maybe … I never played against Monica Seles. I met her because I was at the tour during the last two years she was playing. She was my idol when I was young, and I never played against her, so maybe against her.

She did that show, like “Dancing with the Stars.”

I didn’t see her! But they told me she was really good.

Would you ever want to do that?

Ooof! (Laughs) Maybe one single time, I can do that. But if it’s every Saturday like it is in Italy, would be tough. But one time? Would be fun.

If you are hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?

My friends. Gisela [Dulko] for sure! (Thinking) Gisela … Gisela …….. Gisela! Doubles partners are the best. Of course, Francesca. I like to spend time with different people, but most of the time I like to be with my friends because it would be the most beautiful party.

Do you have any superstitions on court?

No. Well, on court? (Pause) No. I’m not …. No. (Laughs)

If you could have dinner with any three people, who would it be and why?

Brad Pitt. And also Angelina [Jolie]. She’s nice, really nice. I like her a lot.

Did you meet her ever?

No, but I have one friend who is a friend of Angelina’s and she told me Angelina is a really nice person. I really like her when I watch her on TV because I think she is a really good actress, but I’ve never met her. So maybe when you meet someone … they maybe will disappoint. Most of the time it’s like this, because when you feel so much respect for someone, you just think ‘They are going to be perfect’ and then when you meet them, it’s not like this. So you get disappointed.

I think I would also like to eat with Valentino Rossi because he is one of my best friends. So, I love to spend with him. And another one? Wait, I said three.

Well, and my mom. (Laughs)

The Way the Body Works: Players Recovering from Stomach Bug Expected to Play Better at the Sony Ericsson Open

Petra Kvitova succumbs to the stomach bug in last week's BNP Paribas Open (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The top tennis players in the world converge this week for the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open in pristine Key Biscayne, Florida. As the world’s premier tournament outside of the four grand slams, these next two weeks are sure to bring many storylines and possibly some surprise winners on both the ATP and WTA tours.

Last week during the BNP Paribas Open, the tournament saw several high-profile players pull out due to a sweeping 48-hour long stomach bug that effected players, coaches and fans alike. One theory not yet tested in tennis is just how successful these same players will be in the week after their bodies and immune systems have had to fight off a vicious virus. That being said, will the players affected by last week’s stomach bug perform better or worse than their healthier counterparts this week in Key Biscayne? The answer: much better, and here’s why.

When the body is forced to fight an infection or virus, the immune system is initially compromised. But because of immunological memory, the body becomes more alert and “remembers” the pathogen it previously killed. You may have experienced this added alertness after recovering from a cold – you are less likely to contract another cold or virus directly after your initial cold because your immune system is more alert to foreign pathogens.

As tennis players’ immune systems are no different than our own, it’s very likely that they will respond in the same manner: the players who pulled out last week from the BNP Paribas Open are less likely to contract any new virus this week, and thus more likely to have extra energy as their bodies should be fully recovered and their immune systems more alert.

The list of pull-outs is no short list, and includes Petra Kvitova, Francesca Schiavone, Gael Monfils, Vera Zvonareva, Vania King, Jurgen Melzer, Mike Bryan, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Andreas Seppi, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Magdalena Rybarikova. Meanwhile, even Roger Federer stated he felt “under the weather” at the beginning of the tournament.

As the players range anywhere from number 1 on the ATP rankings to number 86 on the WTA rankings, it will be interesting to see the players’ progression through the draw. As some will undoubtedly fizzle out due to other factors, it’s no certain science, but I would bet that at least a few of these players will have better than expected results during the next two weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Schiavone or Melzer bust through with excellent runs, and now you would know why. It’s all thanks to their immune system.

Ivanovic Cruises to Victory Over Wozniacki

Ana Ivanovic forehand

The battle of two former world No. 1s turned out to be a one-sided affair.

Ana Ivanovic, playing some of her best tennis in recent memory, overwhelmed defending champion Caroline Wozniacki in a convincing 6-3, 6-2 victory at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. It was her first top-10 win since October 2011, when she defeated No. 3 Vera Zvonareva in Beijing.

The pair had split their encounters coming into the fourth round match, with two victories each, but there was no stopping Ivanovic on this night.

The 24-year-old Serb, currently ranked No. 16 in the world, blasted forehands and backhands past Wozniacki, the No. 4 seed, and dictated points from the beginning of the match. Ivanovic finished with 24 winners and 28 unforced errors, while the error-prone Wozniacki had only four winners and 17 unforced errors. Normally a shaky server, Ivanovic turned in three aces for good measure.

“I was really looking for opportunities, and, you know, trying to come in, as well, whenever I had chance, and trying to step in from both sides and trying to stay calm in my serve and execute the way I was executing in practice,” said Ivanovic in her post match press conference. “I really managed to do that well today.”

And she not only played with power, but with precision and poise.

Up 4-2 in the second set and holding a break point, a long rally ensued. Wozniacki started to hit with conviction but a well timed and perfectly placed drop shot by Ivanovic left the 21-year-old Dane flat-footed. Ivanovic, whose right thigh was taped throughout the match, had broken Wozniacki for the fifth time.

“She just played better than me today,” said a dejected Wozniacki. “I just need to get back and practice on a few things and hopefully get back strong for Miami.”

The victory improves Ivanovic’s 2012 record to 10 wins and 5 losses. She takes on No. 7 seed Marion Bartoli next in the quarterfinals. Wozniacki’s 2012 record drops to 9 wins and 5 losses, and questions on whether she can regain her top spot or win a Grand Slam will persist.

Both players have been world No. 1, but on this night it was the confident Ivanovic who looked as if she could dominate on the WTA Tour.

Tennis From All Angles: Roundup of Stories and Links from the ATP and WTA Tours

© OnTheGoTennis


Tennis From All Angles is a semi-weekly roundup of tennis happenings from the ATP and WTA pro tours, highlighting the most entertaining on-court and off-court news and gossip.

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  • On a similar note, this year’s Hollywood themed Players’ Party posed the following question to tennis players: Who is your favorite actor and actress? Novak Djokovic keeps his allegiance to Robert De Niro, Ana Ivanovic goes with one of my personal favorites, Rafael Nadal sticks with the Spaniards, and Andy Murray picks a comedian. And guess which player answers “Sean Connery” as the actor who would play them in a movie. Doh! (Side note: Josh Hartnett still acts??)
  • The BNP Paribas tournament website spotlights Novak Djokovic as he begins his title defense from last year. “I’m not really trying to position myself as a defending champion, because then defending is not really something that I want to have. I always try to get that aggressive approach… I still have the same daily routine, same approach to my career, to the life that I’m having. I don’t consider myself being in the top of the world, being untouchable or unbeatable. That’s out of the question.”
  • After the recent retirement announcement from Fernando Gonzalez that he will hang up the racquet after the Sony Ericsson Open later this month, Croat Ivan Ljubicic is following suit. With 10 titles and a career-high world number 3 ranking, Ljubicic is expected to play his last pro tournament at April’s Monte Carlo Masters. Tennis will miss you, Ivan!
  • Haven’t had a chance to check out the top 8 ladies on the WTA engage in a little “Fun Facts Challenge” about each other? Watch as they (sometimes unsuccessfully!) answer questions on IQs, Nickelback, and Sam Stosur’s dog. I won’t deny some of these moments are embarrassing to watch!

(Photo © OnTheGoTennis)

I Love the WTA

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Maria Sharapova giggled and jumped in the snow with her Russian compatriots. Forty-one year old Kimoko Date Krumm upset Polona Hercog, ranked 42 spots above her and born 21 years after her.  Serena Williams destroyed a racket. Christina McHale served a bagel. Julia Goerges nearly upset Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, but fell just short and broke down in tears on court. The upstart and adorable British team, led by new coach Judy Murray, stormed (and tweeted) their way through their competition.  Francesca Schiavone (over)-dramatically won a match.

It was a predictably unpredictable Fed Cup weekend, what many would describe as “typical” WTA, and I loved every single minute of it.

It’s been a tumultuous few years for the most popular female sports league in the world.  In 2007 the tour seemed invincible when Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to offer the women equal pay.  However,  an unfortunate series of events have left the tour in flux ever since.  In 2008 World #1 Justine Henin abrubtly retired, leaving a vacuum at the top of the game.  With various injuries crippling The Williams Sisters and Sharapova, a group of talented young girls were thrust into the spotlight at the top of the game a bit prematurely.  The “Slamless Number One” saga overshadowed everything else, only rivaled in media coverage by the incessant shrieking debate (which often reaked of sexism).  Some of the best female athletes on the planet were constantly declared out of shape and mentally weak by the experts of the game, many of whom were former WTA stars themselves. To make matters worst, all of this turmoil transpired simultaneously with the “Golden Era” of the ATP.  The more Federer, Nadal, and recently Djokovic dominated the Slams the more it seemed to diminish whatever “product” the WTA tried to produce.

As a WTA fan it’s been a sad few years. Wait- no, I actually don’t mean that at all. It’s been a rollercoaster for sure, but it’s been a blast.

I love parity, I love unpredictability, I love my sports to come with a side of “WTF is going on here?”. I love the fact that every Grand Slam you could pick fifteen women who have a legitimate shot to hold the trophy at the end of two weeks. I love the fact that Schiavone, Li Na, and Samantha Stosur are now Grand Slam Champions. I love that Vera Zvonareva, despite a history of meltdowns that would have made her eligible for the Real Housewives of Russia, made two Grand Slam Finals and climbed to number 2 in the world.  I love that Kim Clijsters retired, had a baby, then came back to the tour and won three more Grand Slams- 3 times more than she had pre-motherhood.  I love that Sharapova has fought her back from what many feared would be a career-ending shoulder injury and now, at 24, seems poised to be a factor for years to come. I love that Serena went from hospital bed to U.S. Open Final in less than six months.  I love that Andrea Petkovic dances in victory. I love that the outspoken Agnieszka Radwanska seems to only win when she’s taped up like a mummy.  I love Petra Kvitova’s forehand, Victoria Azarenka’s backhand, Marion Bartoli’s insane serve, and yes- even Caroline Wozniacki’s moonball. (Sometimes).

I love that the best days are yet to come.  Champions and superstars Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are sill hungry and fighting for titles. Azarenka and Kvitova, twenty-two and twenty-one respectively, seem unfazed by the pressure of expectations.  Clijsters is with us for the rest of the year (and I still not-so-secretly hope for more) and will be extra motivated to win her first French Open and/or Wimbledon trophy.  Venus Williams might not ever win another Slam again, but it won’t be without trying like a true Champion to deal with her Sjogren’s Syndrome and find a way to compete on the top level again.  Wozniacki will (surely) be determined to regain her spot at the top of the rankings and earn that elusive Slam.  Li, Schiavone, and Stosur will all be eager to get rid of the “One Slam Wonder” label.  And then of course there’s Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Any given Slam.

I don’t think that dominance is the only way to measure success.  I don’t think that unpredictability is always a sign of weakness. If you disagree with the prior statements then that’s fine, but I do think that these female athletes deserve heaps more respect than they get on a regular basis.

Yes, I unabashedly love the WTA, flaws and all.

Top 20 Tennis Gifs of 2011

Grigor and Gael

There have been a lot of 2011 lists made this month that perfectly sum up the tennis season, shine light on the best and worst matches and spark intellectual debate amongst tennis fans. This is not one of those lists.

Rather I have spent the past week scouring the depths of Tumblr and Tennis Forum, polling on Twitter, and racking my brain to come up with the first (that I’m aware of) all-tennis-gif list! The only rules I set for myself was that it had to be a gif from the 2011 season, and that it couldn’t contain words (an arbitrary rule I admit, but it helped narrow things down).

So sit back, close out some of your other tabs and programs (this is very image heavy- 20 gifs!) and enjoy this unique look back at the 2011 season.

20. Victorious Vika

 

 

 

 

 

 

The always understated Viktoria Azarenka came out of her shell to celebrate a victory at Wimbledon.

(via tennisgifs)

19. Best Shot Ever

Mr. Modesty Andy Roddick reacted to his infamous Championship point at Memphis in February.

(via ballinz)

18. Vegemite Vera

Vera Zvonareva’s poker face was as good as ever as she tried some vegemite at the Australian Open.

(via tennisgifs)

17. Ferrer Shrugs

No big deal, David Ferrer. You just beat Novak Djokovic 6-3 6-1 at the World Tour Finals.

(via nidssserz)

16. Bouncing Bartoli

Thirsty girl! Only Marion Bartoli (at the Australian Open) could make sitting look so exhausting and mesmerizing.

(via @CWTennis)

 15. Dancing Frenchies

The world is just a better place when Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are dancing in it. Together.

(via ballinz)

 14. The Miracle

In February’s Fed Cup tie, Russian teammates Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova shared a laugh. Then my heart exploded.

(via tennisgifs)

13. Dynamite Dani

Daniela Hantuchova upset World #1 Caroline Wozniacki at the French Open, then unleashed her inner dork.

(via tennisgifs)

12. Murray’s Shower Surprise

“Like” it or not, Andy Murray caused quite a splash in his Head Racket commercial, released earlier this year.

(via tennisgifs)

 11. Hungry Fer

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you can’t play tennis, might as well eat a burger. Isn’t that the saying? (Fernando Verdasco at the tie in Austin, Texas)

(via nidssserz)

 10. The Petko Dance (+1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Petkovic lost the China Open Final, then danced with winner Agnieszka Radwanska. She’s cooler than you are.

(via tennisgifs)

9. Jo’s Head Bop

In the Valencia final Juan Martin Del Potro did what we’ve all wanted to do for some time and knocked Tsonga in the head.

(via ballinz)

8. Sabine Celebrates

If you don’t feel warm fuzzies watching Sabine Lisicki react to her win over Li Na at Wimbledon, you officially don’t have a soul.

(via tennisgifs)

7. The Djoker Returns

Work it! Thanks to a rain delay at Wimbledon Novak Djokovic found some time for fun in the midst of all that winning.

(via tennisgifs)

6. Federer’s Finger

Roger Federer upset the world #1, ended the winning treak, and then wagged his finger. I’m not sure which was more noteworthy.

(Source)

5. Gilles and Son

He won the Hamburg title and then gave the cutest high-five ever. It was a good few minutes for Gilles Simon.

(via ballinz)

4. The Kiss That Missed

Grigor Dimitrov missed his shots on the court and (incredibly awkwardly) at the net in his loss to Gael Monfils at the U.S. Open.

(via nidssserz)

3. Slip, Slide, and Catch

Only Rafael Nadal could make falling look this cool. It’s really just ridiculous.

(via yardmansalsa)

2. Settle Down

David Ferrer gets excited, Feliciano Lopez calms him down, and the guy in the background remains creepy. A Davis Cup classic.

(via cuhrayzay)

1. The Disappearing Racket

At first it was there, and then it wasn’t.  Radwanska’s Australian Open racket mishap still can’t be beaten- it was by far the best gif moment of the year.

(via tennisgifs)

 

So, there’s my list.  What are your favorites? What did I miss? What shouldn’t be here? Sound off in the comments or send me a tweet.  And most of all tennis fans and friends, have a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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