Fed Cup R1: World Group

Russia vs. Spain - on hard courts, indoors (Russia leads 2-0):

  • Sharapova vs. Soler-Espinosa (Sharapova won, 6-2 6-1)
  • Kuznetsova vs. Suarez Navarro (Kuzzie won, 6-3 6-1)
  • Sharapova vs. Suarez Navarro
  • Kuznetsova vs. Soler-Espinosa
  • Makarova / Petrova vs. Llagostera Vives / Parra-Santonja

With Russia already up 2-0 by handing out two beat-down wins, I don’t see this going any way but to Sharapova & Co. Not that spain’s fielded a bad team, it’s just that Russia is such a juggernaut.

Belgium vs. Serbia on hard courts, indoors (Tied 1-1)

  • Flipkens vs. Jankovic (Jankovic wins, 7-5 7-5)
  • Wickmayer vs. Jovanovski (Wickmayer wins, 6-4 6-4)
  • Wickmayer vs. Jankovic
  • Flipkens vs. Jovanovski
  • Hendler / Van Uttvanck vs Jankovic / Krunic

The combination of well-known tour name and a young or journeyman player on each side makes this a potentially interesting tie. How well would Jovanovski play against someone like Wickmayer? To a degree this is irrelevant; JJ can do most of the work in getting the win for Serbia – and we all know she can, since she’s done it before. But will she?  I scoreline of 7-5, 7-5 against Kirsten Flipkens doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Will we hear about Ivanovic’s electing not to play and leaving her country(women) in the lurch again? And what about Belgium playing without Kim? Can she play in later rounds if she’s missed this tie?

Italy vs. Ukraine – on Clay, indoors (Tied 1-1):

  • Errani vs. K. Bondarenko (Errani wins, 6-2 6-3)
  • Schiavone vs. Tsurenko (Tsurenko wins, 6-1 6-2)
  • Schiavone vs. K. Bondarenko
  • Errani vs. Tsurenko
  • Errani / Vinci vs. Beygelzimer / Savchuk

Wow! Schiavone! Disastrous. Injured? I personally have my doubts about Errani’s ability to win this tie, but she did make the QFs down under, so maybe she can. Flavia Pennetta is listed on the roster for Italy, but she isn’t slotted to play. Might she take over for Fran? Will Fran play a better match against Bondarenko? (you have to think so – it’s Fran we’re talking about here). Hope the homecourt advantage holds up and Italy pulls it out. It’ll be a major upset if they don’t

Germany vs. Czech Republic on hard courts, indoors (Czech republic leads 2-0)

  • Lisicki vs. Benesova (Benesova wins, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2)
  • Goerges vs. Kvitova (Kvitova wins, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8)
  • Lisicki vs. Kvitova
  • Goerges vs. Benesova
  • Groenefeld / Kerber vs. Hradecka / Zahlavova Strycova

Given the match-ups here, looked like this could be the best tie in the round. While it has produced 3-setters, it also seems unlikely that both Lisicki and Goerges will win their next match. But you never know – Fed Cup produces  some mighty heroics and unexpected results. Too bad Petkovic is out against Germany – her presence would change the nature of this tie. At this point, an upset by Germany looks impossible.

Oz wrap-up: refueling

The men’s matches on AO final weekend were just exhausting. After so much tennis, Djokovic’s grind-outs of Murray and Nadal were too much for me to take in. Let’s be honest – who does this guy think he is? Robocop? Terminator? Some kind of perverse energizer bunny?

Clearly someone started thinking like this last year already. Even though I can’t understand a word that’s said, the imaging carries the point, doesn’t it :)

I was thrilled for Murray – finally a 5-setter at a slam against one of the top guys! Finally a really competitive match against the men against him when it counted! (not quite fair – he took Nadal a long, three-setter at the WTF in London one year. But this is definitely bigger). Most exciting, if you’re a MuzzKAD, is that he produced this result after working with Lendl for only a month. What’ll his mentality be like come Wimbledon? Exciting stuff. On the downside…he’s got a long way to go. Djokovic just doesn’t seem beatable these days, does he?

As for Nadal – what to say? Many of the press pundits claimed Nadal was less negative in defeat than he had been previously, and rightly so, since really the match could have gone either way. Not sure I buy that. Nadal was still quite down after this match. (Listen to snippets of the post-match presser here index.html#ooid=NjZWRlMzpHw3DVXYgyW1ItJQnq06xcub)

And, given that he didn’t ‘collapse’ mentally, that he had a real shot and still lost, isn’t that worse in some ways? But then, Rafa is the consummate fighter. I think.

I used to think that about Sharapova too, though. Then –  she looked like anything but a fighter as Vika dismantled her for the title. The women’s final looked, for about 3 games (from 2-all to 4-3), like it was going to be a high-drama, high-competition match with many twists and turns. Instead it fell flat. Sharapova looks positively shell-shocked at Vika’s ability to match her pace, movement, positioning, shot-making, you name it. The better Vika played, the worse Maria played. She just couldn’t manage all the tactics and options coming at her at once. Why not? There are strong, creative, competitive women on the tour (not many, perhaps, and not many who can sustain that mentality the way Vika did). And Sharapova can beat them. So why did Vika surprise her so much?

I guess Vika surprised us all. Throughout the tournament she indicated her desire and will to reach that #1 spot. She made it clear – with her tennis, her finger-wag, her attitude – that she meant business. She followed through. And she did so in thrilling fashion, first in her match against Kim, and then glaringly in her final against Maria. And she demonstrated her articulate, sincere side at times, too:

As for all those who took issue with her shorts – Please. “Informal”? Tell you what. If wearing shorts could make all the women play with the heart and fire that Azarenka showed, then let’s forget about skirts entirely. The WTA needs the steely, never-say-die, competitive heart and the powerful, creative shot-making Azarenka displayed. Who cares what that package comes wrapped in? And never forget, Billie Jean King was once not even allowed to join a group photo of junior players because she was wearing shorts. So let’s cut the crap. Play tennis.

Steel on Steel: Sharapova takes on Azarenka

Battle of the Nike blondes … Battle of the shriekers…

Call it what you will, Saturday’s women’s final is shaping up to be a blockbuster.  And it should be: there’s a ton on the line.  Not ‘only’ are the two women playing for the title and the number 1 ranking, both are trying to take a huge step forward with their respective careers.  For Maria, winning another grand slam title would seal her ‘comeback’ from injury.  She has said before that winning another grand slam would be the biggest achievement of her career, that it would vindicate all the hard yards she’s put in.  For Azarenka, winning a slam would mean she’s stepping into her full potential; she has the game to be a champion and would finally demonstrate the mentality to go with it.

Making the final is huge step in itself for Azarenka.  She played an incredible match yesterday, staring down the defending champion and getting through the yips in her own game to pull out the win. She played with skill and fight in the first set and deservedly won it. Even though she lost her way in the second – she was hugely dominated by Clijsters there – she didn’t fixate on that.  She held for her last service game of the 2nd set and took that momentum into the third, where her fight and her intensity were on full display again. I knew she had a big game, but she really started to make the most of it, hitting carefully when necessary and unleashing when she could.  She can play the angles well, and I’ve seen her hit a pretty good slice which pins her opponents back in the court (not that this was on display too much yesterday, but it’s there).  Given her ‘never say die’ attitude and her efforts to win every point, I’ve found her a compelling player to watch throughout this tournament. I hope she wins.

As for Sharapova – I can’t remember her ever hitting with so much power and accuracy. Which is scary, because her fierce competitiveness can win matches on its own.  Combine the two and I’m a tad scared for Azarenka. Sharapova’s serve had a few low points yesterday (not many) and she also lost her way in the second set a bit.  But her movement was incredible.  She took a little while to warm up, but once she got going she ran down just about everything. She’s got a stronger game than Azarenka in that department. I think she’ll win.

While I wish both Clijsters and Kvitova could have played cleaner final games, I was really impressed with the overall level of tennis in the Semis. Really strong showing from the women’s game.  Hope the final does justice to the tournament both Vika and Maria have played.  In other words, I hope they both show up and do battle with everything they’ve got.  If their past few rounds are any indication: they will.

Pick: Sharapova in 3.

Discovery Channel

The Cameramen down under are remarkable.  Not only do we get endless & accurate footage of athletes crushing little yellow balls, but we also get “the human element” : endless closeups of Kvitova’s necklace (you know the one – the tennis ball pendant with the shape of Australia embossed on it), or wierd zoom-ins on the Umpire’s mouths as they announce the score (waaaay to creepy). Most impressive of all: we get audition reels for the discovery channel.  Lots of them. There have been birds circling, crickets and cockroaches on court, many a moth flying, you name it. Sometimes we get everything in one, like here (we don’t get a closeup of the bugger but the ball girl’s face says it all):

Luckily the Australian Open team noticed, and they made up a little commemorative video (sadly I think it’s missing some of the best footage, particularly that closeup slo-mo of the moth in flight.  The one where is looked like a little stingray-of-the-air?).

It does, however, include that entirely unecessary and totally delicious footage of Daveed Ferrer with a puppy. Heart-tugging stuff, that.

The best photo? Check it out. Pretty wild.

WTA love

Awww, Vika.  You won yourself some Aussie fans yesterday!

So charming. It’s a shame you don’t show this side of yourself more often.

The WTA wouldn’t be the WTA without what everyone calls “chokes”. Here’s the latest example:

Not quite a Li Na, but still a bit of a letdown. Not the way I’d choose to write the ending for an otherwise solid match.

Favorite tweet from yesterday?:

She’s definitely got the choke of the tournament, that Li. But now everytime I think of her that song leaps into my mind. Thanks, Jon.

Kimpossible

Math might not be her strong suit, but Kim’s one incredible woman.

Rebounding from an(other) ankle injury, Kim out-willed Li Na and out-manoeuvered Wozniacki to find herself, once again, in the Aus Open semis.  Womanly grit on a whole new level: Kimmie, you my hero.

The return of Fedal…

T-Berd and the Berdych Army make their exit for this year, stealing a set from Rafa along the way.  *tiny tear.* While Nadal’s win didn’t have the ease of Federer’s match against Delpo, both players look on excellent form. Roger especially – I haven’t seen him playing with such effortless ease in years, it seems.  All the same – Nadal’s in Fed’s head.  I give the edge to Rafa.  Regardless of who wins, though, it should be a cracker of a match :)  Saddle up!