Monday, May 23, 2011

RG.2- Two Discourses on a Possible Saturday Communion *

Two players who could conceivably meet in the Roland Garros final played their 1st Round matches today, with similar results. If they were to get together to share their "thoughts and feelings" on the final Saturday in Paris, though, their routes to such a communion won't likely cross paths very often.

"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!" - Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. 1, "Diapsalmata" (1843)

World #1 Caroline Wozniacki allowed just two games to veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm in her 6-2/6-0 win late in the day on Monday, while earlier in the afternoon, #9 Petra Kvitova allowed only three in her meeting with another vet, Greta Arn. The Dane and the Czech have yet to meet in 2011, but when and if they do (they faced off four times in '10), it should be a fine study in contrasts. Although they both have the same goal, their springtime in Paris would seem to be assured of being very different no matter when either's comes to a close.

Kvitova's prospective line between now and the final is of the "shortest distance between two points" variety, and her straightforward approach to the game can often be as jarring as it was today against Arn. Watching the last few games, this match surely didn't look like a Top 10 player against someone anywhere near her equal. Arn is no world-beater, but she's notched wins over the likes of Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Julia Goerges this year and has climbed to a career-high ranking at age 32. But the 21-year old was routinely blowing her off the court on Day 2. Kvitova's early-strike tactics made for short points, and her thunderous power groundstrokes were as clean as they were flat. During Tennis Channel's coverage with Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport, Navratilova's embrace of her fellow-Czech born athlete was obvious (she favorably compared her on-court demeanor to that of Sharapova), and Davenport noted how easy it was to realize how well Kvitova was hitting the ball just by listening to the crisp sound the ball made as it came off her racket (I might add here, as I did a few weeks ago, how similar that particular situation is to Davenport's own pulverizing groundstrokes when she'd simply wear out an opponent with the weight of her shots, and the echoing sound of her winners moving through the court gave an instant thumbnail sketch about how the match was going).

The victory gives Kvitova nine consecutive WTA/Fed Cup match wins, and a 13-1 mark in her last fourteen on all levels. If Kvitova can maintain this level of play, especially with the new Babolat balls seemingly giving her an extra nudge (Navratilova and Davenport said it made the terre battue play similarly to the surface of the tournament in Madird, which the Czech won), she'll be in good stead against the particularly-heady competition -- including Li Na, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters or Sharapova -- she's in line to possibly face later in the tournament. If she's playing HER game, even those players will have a hard time matching her. But it's a risky game, capable of producing many errors (like the three straight she hit after going up 40/love in the final game against Arn). Kvitova can reach the final, but her straightforward approach also means that a bad day could result in an unexpected loss.

That's not likely the case with Wozniacki. It's hard to imagine her not reaching the second week, and probably at least the Round of 16 before facing a real test (though Daniela Hantuchova could prove troublesome in the 3rd Round... well, that is, until the Slovak would ultimately beat herself and trudge to the net to shake hands). Wozniacki, who took to the court with the thigh she injured in Brussels taped, got off to a quick start against Date-Krumm and never looked back, closing out the win in an hour. The Dane's consistency against players such as Date-Krumm -- i.e. those who don't rely on power and aggressive play -- often spins these sort of scorelines. In a battle against another defensive-oriented player, Wozniacki is not going to beat herself, and very few women are going to outlast her on the court in a long, drawn-out match. It's later in this event where she'll be tested.

As long as the weather holds and the new balls tip the scales somewhat in favor of all the players who don't play the brand of game that Wozniacki has employed this spring on the clay, where she's nevertheless gone 18-3 and won her first red clay title, the Dane is going to face at least one moment where her back in against the wall. And it's then that she'll have to find the answers that she couldn't against aggressive players like Sharapova and Goerges in recent weeks if she's to finally add a grand slam title to her resume. After seemingly being more than willing to show her aggressive side last summer on the North American hard courts, and heading into New York playing the best tennis of her life, Wozniacki has often been on the receiving end of such tactics in Europe this spring. Her and her father's gameplan has proven to be generally sound in the past, so it's never wise to come to any sort of conclusion about Wozniacki's slam chances based on the last couple of months. She's never backed away from the notion that her blueprint is a long-term one, but one wonders if a shortcut might prove to be too difficult to resist next week if the opportunity to seize a slam title is there, and she's facing another in-form player who will seek to power her off the court. Her only recourse might be to attempt to beat her opponent to that punch, no matter how uncomfortable she might feel playing such a risky brand of tennis.

Wozniacki and Kvitova have met four times, with the Dane winning three times. But Kvitova's victory came in their only slam meeting, a dominating straight sets win last year at Wimbledon. The Czech is 5-1 against the Top 10 this year, with wins over #2 Clijsters, #3 Vera Zvonareva and #4 Azarenka. Wozniacki is 5-2, but 1-1 (with the win via an Azarenka retirement) in matches against that same trio (1-2, if you count that early near-double bagel exhibition loss to Zvonareva in Hong Kong).

They're both blond, but they're a study in contrasting playing styles on the court. That's often what makes for great, strategic match-ups. The Roland Garros final could do worse than having these two attempt to figure out which path to a championship was the most correct.

* - Thanks again, Søren.

...after American Bethanie Mattek-Sands came back from being down a set and 4-4 to defeat Arantxa Parra-Santonja yesterday, the surge of the new world #34 (her career-best) didn't exactly carry over to many of her young Bannerette countrywomen on Day 2. Melanie Oudin being blasted out of the tournament, 6-2/6-0, by defending champ Francesca Schiavone didn't exactly set a good tone from the outset. But, actually, things got worse after that.

Christina McHale led Sara Errani 5-0 in the 3rd set, but then the player who was once felled by her own body in Australian (remember, "Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!") was left disappointed for another reason on Monday as she slowly, but surely, let the match slip away. She held a match point, but soon saw her lead turn into a 6-5 deficit against the Italian. She saved an Errani MP and pushed the match deeper, but ended up losing 6-7/6-2/9-7. I'm tempted to say that McHale "pulled a Novotna" with the loss, but she really didn't simply because she admitted what had happened to her after the match. She talked openly about how she felt, and how difficult it was to close out the win, evening using the "p-word"... as in "panic." She seems to have learned from her previous misfortune in Melbourne, and recognizing her error here should serve to help her avoid repeating it in the future, too. Novotna would never admit to "choking" in matches early in her career, and I always felt that if she would have done just that it might not have taken her so long to get over her tendency to blow leads as it ultimately did.

Later, McHale's fellow American, Coco Vandeweghe raced to an early lead against #25 Maria Kirilenko, serving for the 1st set at 5-3. She failed to put it away, though, and the Russian pushed things to a tie-break. Vandeweghe led 5-3 there, as well, but lost the breaker 7-5... with set point going against her when the chair umpire called her for a double-hit volley on what the American thought was a winner. As Kirilenko quietly slipped into her courtside chair, Vandeweghe got into a rather heated, but futile, argument with the chair umpire (for the record, he was right -- replays showed she did double-hit the shot). It ended with Vandeweghe chucking her racket across the court. She got pretty good distance, as it landed all the way back at the baseline. So, at least she had that... because the match was over. Remembering how Vandeweghe had collapsed in Fed Cup play last year, I figured Kirilenko would win the 2nd set at love. She didn't, but the final score WAS 7-6/6-1.

...speaking of the aforementioned Mattek-Sands, the sarcastically self-described "shy" American, chatted with Mary Carillo on the Tennis Channel set today. After showing off the unfinished (she said she still has seven hours of work left) flower tattoo on her arm, along with a few others, she laughed with Carillo about her use of eye black during her match yesterday. She said she got the idea from her football-playing husband, and that the stuff DOES cut down on glare on the court. It's the little bombshell she dropped after that, though, that gives me the opportunity to name her as the first official nominee of the latest, RG-only, Backspin slam award. The "Joie de Vivre Award" will honor the women's player who most displays a lust for and love of life during this slam... and hopefully will fill in the vaccuum that I realized existed last year when I had a hard time figuring what honor to bestow upon Schiavone, who would have been a natural for this new imaginary trinket.

Anyway, what Mattek-Sands announced was that, at the Wimbledon players' party, she'll debut an outfit that is the end result of what has surely been a collaboration of epic proportions of two fashion-conscious minds, Mattek-Sands and designer Franc Fernandez, the guy who came up with Lady Gaga's infamous "meat dress."

Oh, no. What's next? Mattek-Sands being rolled onto court in a gigantic egg? Thing is, if her play continues to improve the way it has so far in 2011, it'd be hard to begrudge her the attempt to grab a little bit of the spotlight for something other than her tennis again, just so people give a little more attention to all the work she's done, rather than simply mention her at the end of a discussion about the higher-ranked Americans who aren't playing at particular events.

...the Roger Federer version of the Wilson psychiatrist's couch ad is running in heavy rotation on Tennis Channel during this tournament. It's funny, with his abrupt "time's up" announcement to his "patient" to end the commercial, but I'm thinking I still prefer the original ad featuring Venus Williams. I can still hear Williams admonishing/encouraging her charge with, "You're better than him, Katie!," and it never fails to make me smile a little.

...meanwhile, on the court, with the 1st Round still to be completed on Day 3, there are already seven qualifiers and one wild card who have advanced to the 2nd Round. Today, winners included qualifiers Nuria Llagostera-Vives (def. lucky loser Anastasia Pivovarova, who replaced injured #23 Alisa Kleybanova), Chan Yung-Jan (#31 Klara Zakopalova), Olga Govortsova (Agnes Szavay), Heather Watson (Stephanie Foretz-Gacon) and Aleksandra Wozniak (Junri Namigata). Also today, wild card Iryna Bremond advanced past Evgeniya Rodina. The Pastry joins her countrywomen Marion Bartoli and Alize Cornet in the Final 64, with four more French woman still to play their opening round matches.

One of the Pastries who didn't advance today was Aravane Rezai, who lost to Irina-Camelia Begu. This is Rezai's eighteenth consecutive WTA/Fed Cup event in which she's failed to win more than one match, with the last tournament (Palermo) in which she DID now having taken place all the way back in July of last year. It just so happens, that event came exactly one week after Rezai had won the title in Bastad, the fourth tour singles crown of her career (all from 2009-10). She's now 8-20 in her last twenty-eight matches.

Vera Zvonareva, with a very quiet presence as this event begins, got off to a good start, defeating Lourdes Dominguez-Lino 6-3/6-3. My favorite part of that, though, might have been her comments on Tennis Channel after the match, as she put forth a very level-headed argument about how all the chatter about her emotional calisthenics in some matches doesn't bother her because it usually comes from people who've only seen her play a couple of matches in her career. Also, it was great to hear the very intelligent viewpoint (not surprising, considering Zvonareva's one of -- if not THE -- smartest and well-balanced on tour off the court) from her about how she prefers to look at the disappointments in her career and learn from them, rather than go the unhealthy route of holding onto them forever. If only Zvonareva's countrywoman, #26 Nadia Petrova, could be so lucky. She lost her 1st Round match to Anastasia Rodionova, and will probably not be able to get much out of one of her last remaining slam opportunities slipping through her fingers so quickly. Oh, Nadia.

Also, in a men's match, Radek Stepanek lost the 3rd and final set of his match against Richard Gasquet by a 6-0 score. I'm guessing that was meant as something of a "tribute" to Mrs. Stepanek, who came oh-so-close to reaching the RG final back in 2006 before slip-sliding out of the sport just a few short years later.

"Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown." - Kierkegaard

...and, finally, while I do believe that Wozniacki will eventually win a slam, though maybe not at this event, I DO wholeheartedly agree with what Mary Carillo said today. Calling the Wozniacki/Date-Krumm match, with a weary chuckle that alerted everyone to what she was going to say before she completed her thought, Carillo said she'd love to see Wozniacki win a slam, if for nothing else, just so we could all stop having to talk about how she's #1 but doesn't have a slam title, and whether or not she deserves her ranking, blahblahblah.

I hear ya, Mare. A little fast-tracking WOULD be nice. We all deserve the brief moment of sanity that would result.

42...John McEnroe, 1984
38...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 2011 (post-1st Rd.)
31...Bjorn Borg, 1980

46...Guillermo Vilas, 1977
44...Ivan Lendl, 1981-82
42...John McEnroe, 1984
41...Roger Federer, 2006-07
41...Bjorn Borg, 1979-80
40...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 2010-11 (post-1st Rd.) - 26 hard court + 14 clay court

232...Jimmy Connors
224...Andre Agassi
222...Ivan Lendl
214...ROGER FEDERER (post-1st Rd.)
203...Pete Sampras

4...ANDREA BENITEZ, ARG (w/ title in Week 20)
3...Marina Erakovic, NZL
3...Aleksandrina Naydenova, BUL
3...Alison van Uytvanck, BEL

TOP QUALIFIER: #21 Sloane Stephens/USA
TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Ekaterina Bychkova/RUS d. Lindsay Lee-Waters/USA 3-6/7-6/10-8
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST WINNER: Simona Halep/ROU (def. Alla Kudryavtseva/RUS)
FIRST SEED OUT: #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)

All for Day 2. More tomorrow.


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