Sunday, May 24, 2015

RG.1- Personal Recollections of Simona of Constanta *

Enter The Woman in Black. On the terre battue.

Pay no mind to how much of the red dirt her outfit might collect over the next two weeks. If things work out, it'll just be a badge of dusty honor.

As the 2014 Roland Garros runner-up, Simona Halep once again enters the arena. Of expectations. Of pressure and nerves. Of the fear of not living up to the former, as well as the notion of allowing either of the latter to get the best of her. Again.

In her last grand slam appearance back in January in Melbourne, the Romanian was run out of the draw -- and she surely helped, too -- by Ekaterina Makarova. Halep was uncharacteristically frustrated, her feet often seemed frozen in place and she seemed to want to be anywhere but where she was. So she got out of the match as quickly as possible. It didn't look good. Rather than pass off her (lack of) performance or sneer at the rather obvious questions posed about it, The Pride of Romania has addressed her failings on that day head-on at various times over the past few months. Not only has she admitted that she let the pressure get to her, but she's called upon the memory as an example of a version of herself that she vows to never present on a court again.

So far, while she's often felt similar pressure since and wasn't at her best on the clay (posting a 5-3 tune-up record), she's held to her promise. Against Evgeniya Rodina in her 1st Round match of Day 1 of this slam, she again was presented with an opponent who was pressuring her into a corner, seeing if she'd crack once again.

Halep did nothing of the kind.

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear."
- Mark Twain

Halep took a 4-1 1st set lead over Rodina today, only to see the Hordette surge back to tie things at 5-5. Serving at 30/30 to stay on serve, Rodina missed an elementary low forehand volley, pushing it just wide to give Halep a break chance. A double-fault handed the Swarmette a 6-5 lead. Seizing the opportunity presented to her, Halep held at love, putting away the 7-5 set with an ace. In the 2nd, she went up a break only to immediately give the advantage back to the Russian, who pulled even at 4-4. But Halep didn't blink. Instead, she figured things out and held firm to win a tight 7-5/6-4 decision and advance to the 2nd Round.

The next opponent for the current-and-still reigning "next first-time slam champ" (see, the pressure never ends... so she knows she needs to get used to it)? Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, the same person who shockingly sent Halep out of the last year's U.S. Open in the 3rd Round, her worst result in her last six slams since the current world #3 climbed into the Top 30 in the rankings two summers ago.

"She (Lucic) played really well that day," Halep said. "I don't really have good memories from that match. But I feel I have my chance this time. It's another match, another day, so I will train and speak with my team about this match and see how I have to play this time. Maybe I'll even watch the match again."

A rolling Swarmette gathers no moss. But the Woman in Black will get as dirty as necessary.

...needless to say, it wasn't a good day for the Pastries. In all, they went 0-3 and were involved (on the wrong end) of both of Day 1's hallmark moments -- the First Win/Loss and The First Seed Out -- as well as being part of possibly the biggest squandered lead of the opening afternoon in Paris.

Wild card Fiona Ferro isn't the youngest of the eight teenagers in the women's draw (Ana Konjuh is), but the 18-year old was the first to pack her bags in Paris. As half of one of the four "first-up" women's matches at the start of play on Sunday (on Court 7 vs. qualifier Teliana Pereira), Ferro was already staring at the possibility of being the "First Loser" in the MD of this Roland Garros. But it was when Evgeniya Rodina began to put up a fight against Simona Halep on Chatrier Court that she could figuratively see the writing on the wall. Or even written in the footprints and ball marks on the terre battue.

The Brazilian, with just one career slam win in her career (at last year's RG), only slightly stumbled in the closing moments of the match. Pereira served at 6-3/5-1, only to be broken, opening the door for Halep to possibly bail out Ferro a few courts away. But it didn't happen. Pereira broke the Pastry in the next game, closing out the win in around an hour and five minutes.

Halep finally downed Rodina a short time later to become the second winner of the day. But Ferro's fate could not be altered.

A French player played a part in the second recordable moment of Day 1, as well, as #31 seed Caroline Garcia continued to come up short in grand slams. For all the promise she's shown in WTA and Fed Cup action the last few years, Garcia has still never advanced beyond the 3rd Round in her thirteen MD appearances in majors. Today she was sent out by teenager Donna Vekic, who's been enduring a pretty dreadful run since winning her first career title in Kuala Lumpur early in 2014, losing in three sets, 3-6/6-3/6-2.

In this 1st Round match-up, it was the Croat who rose to the occasion, converting five of eight break points attempts in the match compared to Garcia's 3-for-12 numbers. Three of Vekic's breaks came in the 3rd set, where she surged ahead of the 21-year old Frenchwoman. Vekic, who had 13 aces on the day, won 72% of her 1st serve points in the match, but was even better than that in the final set, winning 82%. She converted three of her four BP chances, and even won 14 of 22 points on the receiving end of Garcia's serve in the deciding stanza. As Garcia was broken for the final time in the match, the contest ended with the Pastry committing five straight errors before Vekic ended things with an ace on match point.

Vekic's first career RG victory matches her best result in any major (she's now won a match at all four).

Garcia has learned a great deal from French Fed Cup Captain Amelie Mauresmo the last few years. But while it's a good thing to emulate Mauresmo in most instances, adopting her disappointing career trait of coming up disappointingly short in Paris is probably a characteristic that she should try to avoid. I'm just sayin'.

Meanwhile, the other Pastry to play on Sunday, wild card Oceane Dodin, may have squandered the biggest lead of the day. The 18-year old led Kurumi Nara 6-3/3-1, but won just three of the final fifteen games as the Japanese player won 3-6/7-5/6-1.

...hmmm, has Garbine Muguruza simply been playing possum? Or maybe opossum?

After consistently underperforming most of the year, the #21-seeded Spaniard arrived in Paris as an under-the-radar threat one year after handing Serena Williams her worst-ever career slam loss there. She dominated qualifier Petra Martic today, winning 6-2/7-5, losing just five points on serve all day.

So, after picking her to do good to great things all year (including reaching a slam semi Down Under), is Muguruza now going to finally string something together in the first slam of the year in which I didn't pick her to pull off such things? Now that I think about it, it's not that unlikely a scenario.

BACKSPIN QUIZ: Serena Williams is the #1 seed at a slam for the seventeenth time in her career. Who was the last woman seeded #1 at a major who wasn't Serena? (Hint: This is the ninth consecutive slam in which Williams has been the top seed.)


DAY 1 WILD CARD WINS: None (0-3)

DAY 1 PASTRY WINS: None (0-3)

...probably the biggest winner from Day 1 was #7 Ana Ivanovic. Not only did she get a 1st Round match-up with one of the worst "closers" in the business -- Yaroslava Shvedova -- but the HUGE obstacle that loomed ahead of her in the draw is no longer there.

The '08 RG champ has been dealing with a toe injury and all "the usual" that we've seen from her for years (disappointing losses and coaching changes) through the opening months of 2015, and things didn't look good for her chances in Paris, either. She faced off with Shvedova, a Kazakh with far more ability than actual results (and that's COUNTING her pair of QF results at RG), on Day 1. Not surprisingly, Shvedova got out of the gates quickly, taking the 1st set 6-4. But that was the end of her threat. She won two games the rest of the match. TWO. Yes, AnaIvo's lethal forehand had something to do with that... but these sort of things -- actually, usually with even more drama -- tend to happen to Shvedova.

Even better for AnaIvo, Garcia -- the Pastry is 3-0 vs. Ivanovic this season -- is no longer a potential 3rd Round stumbling block ahead of her later this week. Ana might just get to that Round of 16 match-up with Halep yet.

And me suggesting that probably assures that that will now not happen. Not because I said it, but because the Serb probably sees that "clearer path" now, as well... and that's never good where she's concerned.

...Lucie Safarova put in a lot of work against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. And she didn't even have to play a 3rd set. The #13-seeded Czech needed four set points to win a tie-break 1st set, then had to play another TB in the 2nd after failing to put away any of four match points. In the breaker, Pavlyuchenkova held three set points, but Safarova saved them all and finally won on her seventh MP.

#28 Flavia Pennetta nearly blew it, but she didn't. The Italian vet served up 6-3/5-3 against Poland's Magda Linette, but failed to secure the win and dropped the final four games of the set. Forced to a 3rd, the proverbial cream rose to the top there, as Pennetta won out 6-1.

#24 Peng Shuai, who's done nothing but see most of her standing slip away (in both singles and doubles) since her U.S. Open semifinal run last summer, slipped even farther down the rabbit hole today in Paris. The second seed to exit failed to win a game against Polona Hercog before finally retiring down 6-0/2-0. She's 6-7 on the season. and that's counting the three wins she had in Melbourne. Not only that, but former doubles #1 Peng (now #9) also won the RG doubles a year ago with Hsieh Su-Wei, but the pair ended their partnership at the end of '14 and she's put up a 0-4 doubles record so far in '15.

Ugh. Maybe Li Na has taken Chinese tennis with her.

...elsewhere, to finish off the Week 20 ITF recaps from yesterday:

* - Hordette Anastasiya Komardina, in a rematch of last week, once again defeated Lina Gjorcheska in a $10K final in Bol to win her second straight title.

* - Bulgaria's Julia Terziyska won her fourth '15 circuit title, defeating Brit Naomi Cavaday in the $10K Sharm El Sheikh final.

* - Romania's Madalina Gojnea, in her first event back after a two-year retirement, lost the $10K Sibiu final to Anna Bondar.

* - Bolivian Maria Fernanda Alvarez-Teran defeated Brit Anna Brogan in the $10K Antalya final to win her first ITF crown since 2012.

Meanwhile, 15-year old Czech Maiden Marketa Vondrousova completed her sweep of the titles at the Grade A junior event in Milan, ending 16-year old Canadian Charlotte Robillard-Millette's 15-match winning streak with a 6-2/6-2 victory in the final.

...the NCAA's Division I women's singles semifinals were played today. #7 Jamie Loeb (North Carolina) defeated #9-16 Stephanie Wagner (Miami), while #2 Carol Zhao (Stanford) defeated #9-16 Josie Kuhlman (Florida) in the other match. They'll meet tomorrow in the Memorial Day final.

The NCAA champ usually gets a wild card berth into the U.S. Open main draw, and that may very well happen again if Loeb wins. A New York native, she attended John McEnroe Academy, for Mac's sake. Zhao, though, being Canadian, may have to play her way in if she becomes the fifteenth woman from Stanford to win the women's title. No woman from UNC has ever won the title. Last year, Loeb's fellow ACC player Danielle Collins became the first player from the University of Virginia to take the crown.

And, remember, she played a very good 1st set vs. Simona Halep in the opening round of the Open.

And, thus, we end where this post began. With Si-mo-na.

...DISLIKE FROM DAY 1: Leave it to the French to make things difficult.

...SO-DOES-A-TRAGEDY-HAVE-TO-HAPPEN-AROUND-HERE-BEFORE-THEY-GET-THE-MESSAGE? FROM DAY 1: Ask Monica Seles. And this coming from "security" in the same city as Charlie Hedbo?

Too little, (almost) too late...

...ALL SORTS OF CREEPY FROM DAY 1: Really, I don't even know where to start.


Really, there's no better day of the year than the four days AFTER the end of a slam, is there? As good as the two weeks can be, that following Monday is sweet.

BACKSPIN QUIZ ANSWER: Victoria Azarenka at the 2013 Australian Open. (Factoid: While this is Serena's ninth consecutive #1-seeded slam, before her current streak the previous TEN slam draws were headed by women other than Williams. Players other than Serena were seeded #1 at twenty-one straight slams from 2004-09.)

...and, finally, the Tennis Gods have returned a level of balance to the tennis universe.

Louisa Chirico "won" the USTA's wild card into the RG main draw despite putting up lesser results compared to Katerina Stewart's in the three-event "playoff" leading into Paris. While Stewart put up RU-RU-W results compared to Chirico's W-1st-RU output over the three-events, and going 2-1 vs. Chirico, the latter Bannerette was awarded the WC based on a "tie" in the standings because of her higher ranking since only the best two of three events were counted toward the race. Never mind the fact that Stewart actually led the "playoff race" heading into the final event, defeated both players tied for second (Allie Kiick and Chirico) AND won the event... meaning that there was no more a "tie" in the race as it was actually something that could be dubbed a true "playoff."

(Why not have the tie-breaker be head-to-head record or a player's points average at the three events rather than ranking, which has nothing to do with the actual playoff? Because the USTA is running things, of course.)

Well, Stewart was given a consolation WC into qualifying, where she lost her first match... while Chirico made her slam debut today. It didn't last long, though, as #9 Ekaterina Makarova (a semifinalist at the last two slams, though never quite as effective on clay) defeated her 6-4/6-2. Chirico put up a fight, forcing the Russian to use eight set points to win the 1st (five on Chirico's serve, then the final three on Makarova's).

Of course, you wouldn't really know any of the details of this situation if you were listening to USTA employees Patrick McEnroe and Mary Joe Fernandez call the Chirico match on ESPN2 on Sunday. Holding to form, they doled out the bare minimum of information on the awarding of the wild card. McEnroe at first said that Chirico had the most points in the playoff (wrong), then corrected himself and said that she won the tie-break because of a points "tie" (again, not REALLY... and surely worthy of more explanation.). Only MJF even mentioned Stewart's name... though I'm sure she'll forget it once she's a possible FC team roster member. Fernandez talked about Chirico saying that clay court is her favorite surface, though. Again, that'll surely be forgotten by Captain Obvious in short order, as well.

Of course, McEnroe and MJF are hardly the people to turn to if you want to hear anything about the flaws in the USTA system. The fact that they're in the positions they are sort of reveals a great deal about the USTA to begin with... and they're surely not going to bite THAT very generous hand.

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
- Mark Twain

The day has nearly arrived.

Good morning #RG2015 #paris ??????

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

This Daria-related tweet was retweeted by... Daria!

2009 Li Na/CHN (def. Domachowska/POL) & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS (def. Olaru/ROU)
2010 Dominika Cibulkova/SVK (def. Ivanova/RUS)
2011 Simona Halep/ROU (def. Kudryavtseva/RUS)
2012 Samantha Stosur/AUS (def. Baltacha/GBR)
2013 Sara Errani/ITA (def. Rus/NED)
2014 Agnieszka Radwanska/POL (def. Sh.Zhang/CHN)
2015 Teliana Pereira/BRA (def. Ferro/FRA)

2005 #25 Dinara Safina/RUS (lost to Razzano/FRA)
2006 #18 Elena Likhovtseva/RUS (lost to Sprem/CRO)
2007 #31 Severine Bremond/FRA (lost to Krajicek/NED)
2008 #15 Nicole Vaidisova/CZE (lost to Benesova/CZE)
2009 #19 Kaia Kanepi/EST (lost to Shvedova/KAZ)
2010 #10 Victoria Azarenka/BLR (lost to Dulko/ARG)
2011 #19 Shahar Peer/ISR (lost to Martinez-Sanchez/ESP)
2012 #30 Mona Barthel/GER (lost to Davis/USA)
2013 #11 Nadia Petrova/RUS (lost to Puig/PUR)
2014 #25 Kaia Kanepi/EST (lost to Niculescu/ROU)
2015 #31 Caroline Garcia/FRA (lost to Vekic/CRO)

TOP QUALIFIER: Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR
TOP EARLY-ROUND (1r-2r): xx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q1: Wang Yafan/CHN d. #15 Richel Hogenkamp/NED 2-6/7-6(7)/8-6 (saved 4 MP)
TOP EARLY-RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xx
FIRST VICTORY: (Q) Teliana Pereira/BRA (def. WC Ferro/FRA)
FIRST SEED OUT: #31 Caroline Garcia/FRA (lost 1st Rd. to Vekic/CRO)
NATION OF POOR SOULS: Early Nominee: France
LAST PASTRY STANDING: Day 1 wins: none
IT "??": xx

* - a nod to Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)

...born Samuel Langhorne Clemens (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910). American author, lecturer and humorist. Writer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). Twain's writing and large personality made him a public figure and, ultimately, an American icon. A renowned traveler, Twain entertained fans around the world with his opinionated wit.

All for Day 1. More tomorrow.


Post a Comment

<< Home