Wednesday, May 25, 2011

RG.4- "Philosophical Fragments" *

Sweet and salty. Potato chips and ketchup. Peanuts and candy corn. Sometimes combinations of very different things produce something great. Could we be about to see a version of such experimentation in tennis?

Caroline Wozniacki defeated Aleksandra Wozniacki 6-3/7-6 on Day 4 today to advance to the 3rd Round. By winning while essentially outlasting the Canadian in the 2nd set, Wozniacki showed once again that she can usually employ such defensive tactics and still walk away with victories against the bulk of the field in women's tennis. Things will soon get more interesting, though, as the Dane will next face Daniela Hantuchova, with possibly Svetlana Kuznetsva and Samantha Stosur or Julia Goerges after that. During the match coverage on Tennis Channel, I found myself agreeing with Lindsay Davenport (I should have, since I said the same thing a few weeks ago) when she noted how when Wozniacki plays a winnable match like this she should take advantage of it and take the opportunity to try out a more aggressive approach under gametime conditions rather than simply stick with her reliable counter-punching gameplan and move on with what is usually a routine victory.

Still, as usual, it's difficult to know how much to balance such legitmate thoughts with what Wozniacki knows about her own game. With all my mentions of her long-gone Danish countryman this week, it should be noted that Wozniacki has for a while now appeared to seemingly be one of the players on tour who is most in touch with "self," on and maybe off-court, as well (who can really tell, though, with a 20-year old?). As the top-ranked player, it's hard to argue against the notion that she might realize that, at the moment, she's not ready to fully commit to a more "wild-and-crazy" game since her current one has her atop the rankings, and possible damage could be done to her continued development if she were to try to take too many shortcuts now rather than let then be blended into her game gradually over the next season or two.

But, slowly but surely, things might be changing. Last summer on the hard courts in North America, Wozniacki DID employ a somewhat more aggressive style. She's pulled back a bit when it comes to moving forward on the court this spring, but her sit-down with Mary Carillo and Martina Navratilova on the TC set after today's match served to shine a light on her openness to change. At least a little... or at least the possibility of it.

It's been reported previously that Piotr Wozniacki was looking to get Navratilova to work a little with his daughter. It was already an enticing idea, but the pair's quick on-camera conversation today surely made the possibly of such a working relationship a very enticing possibility, as it was quite enlightening to listen to Wozniacki take in and respond to some of the things that Navratilova politely mentioned that she had some disagreements with when it came to the Dane's approach.

The two touched on a few topics, one of which was Wozniacki's penchant for playing so many tournaments (three in a row heading into Paris) right before the start of a slam. Navratilova noted how she liked to take a week off before a slam, just to give herself a mental break and become refreshed. Wozniacki countered with how successful she's been heading into a major (winning in New Haven before the U.S. Open, and Brussels last week), and that she's been able to reach the semis and a final in slams while stacking her schedule with matches. Navratilova didn't ask if her goal was to reach the semis or to win the title, so I'll just throw that in for good measure. But the heart of the conversation came down between Wozniacki's desire to stay in tune with match play weighed against her wish to have more rest (she said she'd prefer a two weeks of play, then two weeks off, pattern) balanced against the tournament commitments that the WTA insists top players follow through on versus her desire to play certain events, such as those close to home in Copenhagen and in Sweden, simply because it's something she wants to do. It's a complicated mix of variables, for sure, and Wozniacki noted that a top player's schedule is pretty much "90% set" before the season starts because of the things the WTA desires its stars do to support the tour.

Navratilova understood, but said that it's all right to sometimes accept a penalty (players can be fined for skipping big events, as the Williams Sisters sometimes are), or even to just "bag" a 1st Round match if she positively HAS to, even though it'd be better to avoid such a thing (though as some top Premier events see big name players drop like flies in the early rounds on occasion, it's always been apparent that the practice goes on more often than the WTA would ever acknowledge). I wholeheartedly agree with Navratilova on this. As much as Wozniacki might detest displeasing or disappointing the powers-that-be by not "playing by the rules," it's not so bad to ruffle a feather or two once in awhile if it's for her own good. Having Stacey Allaster's support, which the WTA head has publicly thrown C-Woz's way often in the last year, is nice, but sometimes a player HAS to look out for #1... and, at the moment, Wozniacki IS #1. Now is the time when she'd be "forgiven" for doing what's best for her career goals.

Navratilova and Wozniacki are two very different players on many levels, but I'd surely be keen on seeing the results of even a brief, part-time teaming of the two. Earlier in the day's coverage, Martina had talked of her past mentoring efforts. She said she'd met with "some" success, such as her work with Hantuchova, but she noted how her efforts had often been stymied by players who'd rather just do things their and their team's way. Surely, the notion of the classic serve-and-volleyer who rushed the net and attempted to continually impose herself on the match working with the defense-oriented, less risky and consistent type of player that Wozniacki is wouldn't produce a wholesale philosophical change in the Dane's game. That probably wouldn't be a good thing, anyway. But Wozniacki, as her on-court coaching sessions have shown in the past, is a smart, pliable player who knows how to accept direction and isn't necessarily too stubborn to try new things under the right circumstances.

"What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act." - Søren Kierkegaard

During the discussion, Navratilova DID get Wozniacki to admit that during the easy 1st set against Wozniak she'd played closer to the baseline and took balls earlier. In the 2nd, though, she took a half-step back and things got tougher as she had to fight through a tie-break to avoid a 3rd set. Wozniacki said she didn't want to be out there for another hour, and agreed that maybe it'd have been better to stick closer to the baseline and makes things "easier on (her)self." When Navratilova asked her why she took that half-step back, Wozniacki laughed and said she wasn't really sure. Bingo! I suspect that it's simply because she's more comfortable behind the baseline because that's how she's always done it, and it's worked out "pretty well" so far... so why risk changing things? Again, that's a legit argument, but even Wozniacki broke down and agreed that maybe its' not the best thing to do at grand slam.

"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself." - Kierkegaard

Navratilova didn't become an all-time great because she always did as she was told, or was content with her current station in the game. She always wanted to get better, to find new and better ways to become a champion. Even in her prime, she took heat for the way she gathered a large team around her, from coaches to confidants, and trained differently from other players. Actually, though, she was breaking new ground that many other players have sought to copy for decades ever since. Wozniacki's sense of self should allow her to do what is necessary to improve, as well... even if she has to take a few risks to do it.

Yep, it seems like it'd be a good thing for Wozniacki to infuse a few fragments of Martina into her world and tennis view. Maybe it's just what she needs to go from #1 to grand slam champ. It could be that by the end of this tournament that it'll become apparent that she might HAVE to do something new and exciting to make that leap, too.

* - Thanks again, Søren.

=DAY 4 NOTES= more day, two more (bigger) "Zombie Queen" contenders in a pair of matches that featured Germans.

For a while, it looked as if one potential future Wozniacki-in-the-final blockade might be removed from the Roland Garros long-range battle plan. Julia Goerges trailed Lucie Safarova 6-2/4-2, and in the middle of the 2nd set was carrying a sub-30% 1st serve percentage. But while the streaky Czech Safarova can sometimes play REALLY well, she can also perplexingly NOT come with the goods at others. Goerges got to see both versions of Lucie today. Goerges' play picked up considerably, but Safarova surely left the door open for her to turn around the match. The German won 2-6/7-5/6-2.

As I've said before, the romantic relationship between Safarova and Tomas Berdych surely DOES seem like a perfect pairing, at least on the tennis court. Both have had similar consistency problems in their careers. Berdych, a semifinalist at last year's Roland Garros, lost his 1st Round match the other day, meaning the #6-seeded Czech is the biggest name to fall in either the men's or women's competition as we're nearly through the 2nd Round. But at least Safarova won HER 1st Round match... so I guess she's got bragging rights this time.

Then, late in the day, the drama was deeper and, ultimately, sadder. Sabine Lisicki seemed a safe bet to advance to the 3rd Round over #3 seed Vera Zvonareva, but the hard-hitting German was once again let down by her body just as she seemed ready to cause a major ruckus. She led the Russian, on serve at 6-4/5-4, and got to within two points of the match on Zvonareva's serve in the 2nd set's tenth game. Zvonareva held, though, got a break to go up 6-5 and then held to take the set and send things to a 3rd.

Many young players might have faded after coming so close, but the 21-year old Lisicki did no such thing.

In fact, the German led 5-2 in the 3rd, as well. But she was noticably tiring, while Zvonareva held her emotions in check in the face of such a huge exit. Zvonareva saved a match point at 5-3, but found herself once again two points from defeat one game later. Lisicki's serve was broken, though, then she called for a trainer for what was later learned to be cramping, a condition which had not been a problem for her before. After an eight-minute delay, Lisicki returned to the court, but she didn't have much left. With the German having to try to end rallies quickly, Zvonareva immediately won seven straight points and never really looked back. Lisicki DID manage to put up a bit of a fight when Zvonareva served for the match at 6-5, but it wasn't enough. Final score: Zvonareva 4-6/7-5/7-5.

As soon as the match was over, Lisicki crumpled to the court near her seat, sobbing and in obvious pain. After having previously been wheeled off the court at the U.S. Open, this time the perpetually star-crossed Lisicki was carried off on a stretcher. other Day 4 action, it was "Australia vs. Romania" day as a pair of match-ups between players from the two nations took place on the women's side of the draw. In the end, Australia went undefeated. In a meeting of the first two players to notch singles wins at this tournament, Samantha Stosur destroyed Simona Halep 6-0/6-2, and Anastasia Rodionova, bouncing back well from her Fed Cup weekend debacle, took out Edina Gallovits-Hall.

#32 Tsvetana Pironkova tied her best RG result the other day with her 1st Round victory, but she failed to "double-dip" today as she was sent packing by Gisela Dulko. So, now it's on to Wimbledon, where the Bulgarian will likely fail by a large margin in her attempt to defend her points from her surprise SW19 semifinal result. Elsewhere, one American woman was assured of reaching the 3rd Round since two were facing each other on Day 4, and that player turned out to be Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who defeated Varvara Lepchenko.

With the win, Mattek-Sands will become the second highest-ranked American woman, moving past Venus Williams after this event. It brings to mind a situation which will be interesting to watch come Wimbledon, since Serena is currently #17, while Venus is #30. If both play in London, their seeds will become an issue. Venus, who is scheduled to return in Eastbourne, likely won't even be in the Top 32 and automatically qualify for a seed. The Wimbledon tournament committee can play fast and loose with the seeds, though, so both Sisters would likely see their seeds jumped up considerably. How far up, though, will surely be a topic of discussion in a few weeks... and the ultimate outcome might lead to some VERY intriguing fairly-early round matches at SW19.

...meanwhile, at least one Frenchwoman is still alive for "Last Pastry Standing," as Marion Bartoli advanced to the 3rd Round with a win over Olga Govortsova. The one Pastry who lost today was Alize Cornet, who was taken out by Nuria Llagostera-Vives, a result which makes the Spaniard the first (and, so far, only... Lisicki would have been a second) qualifier to get a second victory in the "Last Quallifer Standing" competition.

In Doubles, the Czech team team of Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka took out a pair of countrywomen in Iveta Benesova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova. Oh, and I noticed an intriguing pairing amongst the matches today -- Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges, who won their 1st Round match.

...hmmm, I'm considering handing out the first "Joie de Vivre" honor to Virginie Razzano as a bow to her decision to push forward with her life and play this tournament (she lost in the 1st Round) after the recent death of her fiance. Many of the players are wearing small black ribbons in support and memory.

...there was talk today on Tennis Channel about rumors that Amelie Mauresmo might show up in the Mixed Doubles draw with Frenchman Michael Llodra. Crossing fingers. It's always great when something like that happens.

...the NCAA tennis team champions have been crowned in Palo Alto, California. In the Men's final, USC won its third straight title with a 4-3 victory over the previously undefeated team from Virginia. Meanwhile, the women from Florida upset the hosts from Stanford, the defending champions, by a similar 4-3 score in a rematch of last year's final.

...and, finally, during the TC on-set discussion between Mary Carillo and John McEnroe today, when talking about the three-headed men's monster of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, Carillo pretty much (as far as I can tell -- at least I'd never heard it, nor had McEnroe) coined a new term for the situation-- a "trivalry."

I like it... and I think I'll run with it, too.

42...John McEnroe, 1984
39...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 2011 (post-2nd Rd.)
31...Bjorn Borg, 1980

46...Guillermo Vilas, 1977
44...Ivan Lendl, 1981-82
42...John McEnroe, 1984
41...Bjorn Borg, 1979-80
41...Roger Federer, 2006-07
41...NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 2010-11 (post-2nd Rd.) - 26 hard,15 clay

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)
LAST QUALIFIER STANDING: 8 qualifiers in the 2nd Round; Llagostera-Vives in 3rd Round
LAST PASTRY STANDING: 5 French women in 2nd Round; Bartoli in 3rd Round

All for Day 4. More tomorrow.


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