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Monday, May 30, 2011

French Open: Vika Leads Pack into Week 2

We've seen it all in Paris this year: celebratory dancing, stretcher exits, crowd-igniting comebacks and even a world no. 1 wiped in the third round—but through it all, tenacious Victoria Azarenka has been chewing her way through opponents and leads the elite eight into week two at Roland Garros.

The hard hitting 21-year-old is the only woman left in the field who has not dropped a set, but she'll have to keep the wheels turning full blast if she wants to claim her first grand slam. She faces Li Na in the quarterfinals and either Sharapova or Petkovic after that, assuming she survives Na. But the Chinese world no. 7 and Australian Open runner-up won't be an easy match, especially considering her stunning win over Petra Kvitova in the round of 16. When Na finds her range, it's her whipping short forehand and cross court backhand that deliver lethal damage, but Azarenka's raw athleticism and big-babe shotmaking will surely match up.

Sharapova is still in the hunt for her first French Open title, a milestone that would finalize her Career Slam. But in order to realize that dream, Maria has to take down Andrea Petkovic, the erratic, though entertaining, German who toppled Maria at the Australian Open. Sharapova has had a few dodgy moments in her latest matches (were all those errors necessary against Radwanska, Miss Sharapova?) but she has proved to us again and again that in big moments, she can still win clutch points. If anything, we're guaranteed some good screaming and a nice moonwalk if Petkovic finds her way through.

Perhaps the most interesting match will come from young-gun Pavyluchenkova and last year's champion, Schiavone. I'm not lying when I say I expected an early exit from good ol' Francesca. Yes, she played beautiful tennis last year and had her moment in the spotlight, but I did not see her repeating that journey again. So far, I've been proven wrong. Her last match, against slowly improving though continuously losing Jelena Jankovic, was her best performance yet and showed moments of clay court brilliance, but she'll need to do even better to stifle the heat coming from the on-point Pavs. Pavlyuchenkova is coming off an impressive victory over no. 3 Zvonareva and is playing quite impressively herself. It's going to be a battle between the youngest and oldest players left in the draw, and while my money is on youth, Schiavone has done well to beat my expectations.

The last quarterfinal is between two-handed home crowd favorite, Marion Bartoli, and former French Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova. Bartoli overwhelmed hotshot Julia Goerges in the third round and had Dulko retire in the round of 16. Meanwhile, Kuznetsova had the task of beating Hantuchova, the woman who crushed world no. 1 Wozniacki one match before. Though Bartoli played some tremendous tennis in her final set against Goerges, I haven't seen anything that tells me she can beat Kuznetsova. But then, the Russian has a reputation for choking... It's really a toss-up of who comes to play.

For full fourth round results, check Day 8 and Day 9.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Saturday, May 28, 2011

French Open: Setting the Sweet Sixteen

Every big tournament has its most interesting matches, but there is little that exceeds the excitement of the round of sixteen. No, these women aren't in the spotlight of the championship (yet), but it's in the fourth round where many of the tour's greatest players begin colliding with their fellow highly ranked rivals. With the third round over and done with, the stage has been set. So let's take a look at how some of these women got here.

We've already covered the woes of Wozniacki, but the third round had some other great highlights as well—the biggest in the eyes of the French crowd being Bartoli's win over Julia Goerges. Now, the French two-hander is ranked higher than Goerges, but the young German has come off a hot-streak, defeating the world no. 1 in consecutive meetings, and appeared to have the edge in this third round match. Leading 4-0 in the first set, Goerges was playing at full tilt. Bartoli could do little but sigh and roll her eyes between points, unable to get a feel for her own game. But that's only how it began. Bartoli started putting pressure on Goerges' shots and the German began to waver, hitting a few consecutive errors on her stronger forehand side. Despite the momentary lapse of concentration, Goerges won the first set at 6-3, but you could tell that Marion had only just begun and the second set would be much more competitive.

And competitive it was. Bartoli found her range and began to strike deep, but the true story of the second set was Julia's inability to find the court. With clay particles bothering her right eye, it was clear Goerges' head was not completely in the match and soon she found herself flubbing the set 6-2. The eye problems seemed to disappear in the final set, but this is where the story changed again: Bartoli began to deserve her win. The frenchwoman finally started hitting winners and the crowd was on her side. Before Julia could really dig into the set she was down 5-2, and although she answered back to 5-4, Bartoli prevailed in her final service game.

Jankovic has fans feeling confident again after a 6-2 6-2 victory over surging American, Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It was wonderful to see the Serbian sliding across the clay like she did in her most confident days, redirecting Mattek's power into unreachable spaces of the court. With her newly improved serve, Jankovic finally has the final piece to add to what was once a near-unbeatable game. A win over Schiavone next might just return this Serb to grandeur.

Reclaiming greatness is something we won't be seeing from 2010 French Open finalist, Sam Stosur after a surprising loss to Argentina's Gisela Dulko. The Australian will lose more than ranking points after this match, having leveled the match with a 6-1 second set. It appeared Stosur would dictate the final set, but Dulko had her own agenda, halting Stosur at 6-3.

Other players who advanced include Zvonareva, Kuznetsova, Sharapova and more. The biggest threat for the crown appears to be Victoria Azarenka, whose ferocious play style has been overwhelming her opponents. For full 3rd round results check Day 6 and Day 7.


Hantuchova v. Kuznetsova
Bartoli v. Dulko
Zvonareva v. Pavlyuchenkova
Jankovic v. Schiavone
Na v. Kvitova
Makarova v. Azarenka
Sharapova v. Radwanska
Petkovic v. Kirilenko.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Friday, May 27, 2011

French Open: Wozniacki Says Au Revoir to Paris Dreams

There have been a lot of expectations for Caroline Wozniacki since her sky rocket journey to world no. 1, but never have those expectations been so large as at this year's French Open. The young Dane dominates many of her matches with devastating placement and mind-boggling defense, and with this slam's draw so wide open, many tennis analysts said this was her best chance to validate her ranking. But after her match against Daniela Hantuchova, it looks like we'll have to keep waiting...

Caroline was at her usual game, running down shots and playing with great consistency. In the entire match she only had 14 unforced errors to 8 winners, but maybe that's not saying much considering the scoreline: 6-1 6-3 in favor of her opponent. The difference today was her depth and missed offensive attacks. Her shots were dropping short enough for Hantuchova to find her range, moving in and sweeping a total of 26 clean winners.

Daniela is a former top 5 player, so there's no denying her ability to pull off big wins, but not many fans expected this. It was clear between games just how serious the Slovakian was about stunning the world'd best, practicing swings and staying on her toes to keep motivated. On cross overs she would look to her box, eyes narrowed and fists clenched. Her body language wasn't the only thing serious about Hantuchova's presence on court today either—she hammered forehands at will and baffled Wozniacki with backhands aimed perfectly up the line.

It looked as though Wozniacki might have the biggest comeback of the tournament when she rallied from 4-0 to 4-3 in the second set, but Hantuchova was not to be subdued. Her two aces in the match came back to back when she faced break point, and although she was eventually broken, she took the confidence of those crucial shots into her the final games of the match. When Wozniacki's final shot soared long, Hantuchova pumped both fists into the air, victoriously and much deserved.

This year's French Open won't complete the Clijster's slam, won't reaffirm Stosur's clay court performance from last year, and now it won't be the breakthrough tournament for Wozniacki.  If we thought Roland Garros was wide open before, the gap just got a little bit wider.

For complete match updates from today, click HERE.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Thursday, May 26, 2011

French Open: Day 5 Recap

Clijsters dropped 11 of the final 12 games.
The fifth day of this year's French Open was a roller coaster of wins and losses for the tournament's greatest champions. Before Sharapova struck down the surging French 17-year-old, Caroline Garcia, it was Kim Clijsters who struggled to maintain her composure against a rising star. But unlike Sharapova, who went from a double-break deficit to a 11 game winning streak, Clijsters crumbled from match point to melt down.

Leading 5-2 in the second set after winning the first 6-3, Kim had a match point on Rus's serve but missed her chance. She found another match point at 5-4, but once again could not convert. From there, the Dutch youngster took control, punishing an out-of-form Clijsters who leaked 60+ unforced errors in the match. At the end of the day, it was Arantxa Rus who prevailed in a surprising 3-6 7-5 6-1 turnaround, stopping Clijsters in her pursuit to finally claim French Open glory.

Victoria Azarenka handled her match today in the complete opposite manner. The slam-hungry Belarusian took a chokehold on the match early, taking the first set without dropping a game. The second set was nearly identical as Azarenka continued to dominate play, dropping one game on her way toa  6-0 6-1 victory. Her French opponent, Parrmentier, was favored by the Parisian crowd, but their cheers did little to help her overcome Victoria's on-spot striking.

Aside from Clijsters (and Dulgheru who lost 6-2 7-5 to Cirstea) all other seeded players won their matches today. For full results, click HERE.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

French Open: Sharapova Snaps Back

There were times today when Sharapova stood on court that I could not help but think back to when she was 17 years old and in the Wimbledon championship. She was an electric teenager with enormous shots and an attitude to match, but it wasn't Maria's game today which made me reminisce, but rather her opponent's. Sharapova faced a youngster who many dubbed a French version of the gangly Russian we watched stun Serena Williams six years ago, and at a set and two breaks down, it seemed Maria would be the second big name to go home today (following Clijsters). Tweets, blogs and articles were buzzing around the internet about how this young girl, Caroline Garcia, was on her way to victory—how she was the next big thing—that we were witnessing the birth of a new tennis legend...

But in an all too familiar fashion, Sharapova found a way.

It's true that Garcia's game was excellent and downright beautiful at times in her match today. Despite her small frame, she finds a way to pound the ball for winners, but it's her tactical skill that truly gave her the edge. She absorbed Sharapova's power and redirected it into corners, seeming the likely victor as she moved ahead 4-1 in the second set. She has a certain whip on the ball that generates superb spin and deadly angles. With that in her arsenal, Garcia was able to take Sharapova's shots very early, hitting down the line and crosscourt as she pleased. It was her match to win, but anyone who knows Sharapova knows that the match is not over until the final point is won.

And that's where Garcia dropped the ball. With a double-break advantage, Garcia had room for error, but when the next game began it looked as though she finally recognized the face on the other side of the court. She was on center stage at the French Open, playing against grand slam champion, Maria Sharapova. Reality set in and she hit the deck hard, literally. During one point at the end of the second set, Maria sent a backhand roaring cross-court and Garcia lost her footing and fell to the ground. Dismayed as she stood, Garcia finally looked her age, staring into her box with wide eyes, disappointed and understandably angry that she let her lead slip away.

Losing a lead to Sharapova is one problem, but allowing her to dictate play is a deadly mistake. Garcia began missing the shots she had been crushing for winners, double faults began to creep into her service game, and Sharapova found her stroke. In a stunning display, Maria won 11 consecutive games to win the final two sets 6-4 6-0, beaming with joy as she converted her first match point. It was a great showing by Garcia and the whole tennis world will be excited to see her in the future, but it's too early to call her a future world no. 1.

Why? The press loves a new facem but that doesn't mean we have substantial evidence of greatness soon to come. Let's look at Oudin, Rus (the Clijster's slayer) and Jovanovski. I really enjoy all three of these girls' fearless efforts, but we're still waiting for them to flourish. Oudin was the big, bad Russian-slayer of the 2009 US Open, but she hasn't done much since. Rus and Jovanovski have both received similar praise as rising stars, but it'll take a few more deep journeys into grand slams for us to really know if any of these players are "world's best" material, and the same goes for Caroline Garcia.

When thinking about Garcia's (or any youngster's) future, I think Maria said it best in her post-match interview today: "There will be a lot of wins and lot of losses. It’ll be a long road." Maria is living proof that  17-year-old can stun the tennis world and give us something to cheer about, but we haven't seen that for awhile and we surely didn't see that from Garcia today. Instead, we had a refreshing glimpse of Sharapova at her best. The mental toughness. The mind-boggling strength. The signature scream. 

Today it was Maria's day, and even though she has had a lot of wins in the past, she treats each one like it's a championship.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

French Open: Days 3 and 4 Catchup

The last day of first round matches gave us a sneak peak into what players like Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters were bringing to Roland Garros. Both players easily toppled their opponents and moved into the second round. For other stars, like former French Open champion, Ana Ivanovic, the day didn't end so happily. The 20th-seed Serbian rebounded from a first set tiebreaker loss to claim the second set at 6-0. It appeared as though she would ride that wave of momentum into the third set, but unfortunately for her, that wave broke a little too early. Ivanovic struggled to maintain her high level of play and as fatigue set in, so did the tears. Ana wound up losing the final set 6-2.

Out on court 1 all eyes were on another Serbian: young Bojana Jovanovski. She faced 15-seed Petkovic in what I predicted to be a first round match worth watching... and I was right. Both players are very young and swing at balls as though there are no limits. Petkovic won the first set 6-4, but Bojana held strong in the second, taking the match into a tiebreak after failing to convert a set point. The fiery Serb seemed likely to earn another set point, but Petkovic proved her ranking and kept the set alive. After a few convincing strikes, Petkovic found match point, winning the tiebreak 7-3.

Another exciting first round win came for America's Vania King. She stepped onto court against the ever-unpredictable Dominika Cibulkova, a player many thought might meet (and upset) the heavy handed Petra Kvitova. That won't be the case, however, as King found a steady rhythm on the clay. She dropped the first set to Cibulkova in a tight 12-10 tiebreak, but upped her level in the next two sets to win 6-3 6-2.

Day 4 saw the first group of second round matches, and a handful of seeded players continued their victorious stride. Schiavone, Jankovic, Stosur and Wozniacki all won in straight sets, though the Dane had to fend off a set point to win a second set tiebreaker 8-6.

Though there were no bracket-busting upsets, no. 3 seed Vera Zvonareva narrowly escaped defeat. She had the unfortunate draw of facing Sabine Lisicki, a former top-notch player who had to qualify for this year's Roland Garros after taking time off for injuries. Lisicki won the first set 6-4 and had match point in the third, but Vera still managed to scrounge up a victory. Perhaps the missed return by Lisicki on match point (mind you it was a second serve...) was a little telling in that the German is not ready to reclaim her spot in the top ten, but there is no way to deny credit for Zvonareva's unyielding efforts. She won the final two sets 7-5 7-5 through gritted teeth and for that, she deserves a round of appluase, but by the end of the match, Lisicki's cramping was so severe that she had to be taken off the court on a stretcher. It seems Vera dodged a very, very deadly bullet.

Click HERE for Day 3 results.
Click HERE for Day 4 results.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Monday, May 23, 2011

French Open: Day 2 Recap

Another day of first round matches has ended at Roland Garros, but not without a little drama. The women's draw was full of ups and downs on a fine Parisian day, and some stunning nailbiters kept the crowds wanting more.

One of the biggest dogfights of the day came not from center stage, but from outside on court 14. Young American Christina McHale pushed Italy's Sara Errani to the limit, up 5-2 in the third set after winning her first set in a tiebreaker. Errani was not to be quieted, however, rattling back against the nervous 19-year-old to win the final set 9-7. The loss may have dire effects on McHale's confidence in future matches. If she can't learn to close out the match (which she has been able to do in the past) she won't be able to take her game to the next level.

Another American felt the pain early today as well. It was Melanie Oudin's shot to beat 2010 French Champion Schiavone twice in two meetings, but today wasn't her day. The Georgia native was unable to find any rhtyhm on the red clay and Schiavone easily picked her game apart. The final score was a disappointing 6-2 6-0.

Most of the seeded players prevailed in their matches today, including Zvonareva, Wozniacki, Kvitova, Radwanska and others. Bartoli was the only winning seed to go three sets, but she faired better than both Petrova and Zakaplaova, both of whom suffered first round losses.

For a full list of a result, click HERE!

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Sunday, May 22, 2011

French Open: Day 1 Recap

The first day of Roland Garros has come and gone, and while high winds may have been kicking up loose clay, it was the players who were really stirring things up. A few upsets, a few easy wins—all pure WTA entertainment.

As I expected, Peer was the first seeded player to say goodbye to the Paris crowd. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez was quick to attack Peer's inconsistency and withering confidence, upsetting the Israeli 7-6 (4) 6-1. Pennetta followed Peer's lead a bit later, falling to Lepchenko in three sets, 6-3 2-6 6-3.

On the flip side, players like Stosur, Kuznetsova and Jankovic were able to make quick work of their first round opponents. All three seeds completed their matches in straight sets, dropping no more than five games each (note that JJ only lost four).

The biggest buzz, however, came from centre court when Julia Goerges stepped on court to face France's Johansson. Would the German take the first step in proving her title as a "rising star," or would she falter and say an early goodbye to Paris? The first set was all Goerges. She took command of each point with blistering shots and moved well. Johansson could do little in reply and was forced to accept a half-hour drubbing.

The second set, however, the crowd got behind their countrywoman and the match became competitive. Johansson moved ahead 3-1 as Goerges began spewing errors left and right. Goerges answered in impressive fashion, rattling off five of the next six games and shutting the door on Johansson's surge, winning the match 6-1 6-4 and looking strong for the coming rounds.


Stosur def. Benesova 6-2 6-3
Goerges def. Johansson 6-1 6-4
Cornet def. Voracova 6-4 6-2
Jankovic def. A Bondarenko 6-3 6-1
Kuznetsova def. Rybarikova 6-2 6-3
Lepchenko def. Pennetta 6-3 2-6 6-3
Sanchez def. Peer 7-6 (4) 6-1
Dushevina def. Dokic 4-6 6-3 6-2
Dulko def. Falcon 6-3 6-4
Safarova def. Flipkens 6-1 6-1
Pironkova def. Dellacqua 7-5 6-3
Barthel def. Bammer 6-1 7-5
Mattek-Sands def Santonja 2-6 7-6 (5) 6-3
Hercog def. Sanches 6-0 6-1
Marino def. K Bondarenko 6-3 6-3
Halep def. Kudryavtseva 6-2 6-1
Pavlyuchenkova def. Shvedova 7-5 6-3

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pre-French Open: Championship Preview

You've heard it before: "This year's French Open is more wide open than ever on the women's side." To be honest, it's true. Without Serena, Venus and Henin (and with the questionable health of big names like Clijsters and Azarenka) there's a good chance for a new slam champion. You'd think this would give the best chance to hard hitters like Sharapova or high ranked players like Zvonareva and Wozniacki, but inconsistency and nerves have plagued the WTA. Can Vera make a final and put up a fight? Can Caroline win and back up her no. 1 ranking? Or will a in-form and on-fire low seed make the most of a messy draw?

Here's the ITB picks for Roland Garros 2011.

First Quarter:
The top half of the bracket is by far the most difficult to predict. Wozniacki sits at the top with a not-so-simple draw pitting her against Date Krumm and a likely 3rd round fight with Hantuchova. Her fourth round could see former champion (and current fail) Kuznetsova, Peer, or even clay-loving Martinez Sanchez. Keep in mind Wozniacki just won Brussels and had 2 and half hour struggle with China's Peng.

This quarter also features Marion Bartoli, Sam Stosur and the fire-cracking Julia Goerges, the German who seems to have Wozniacki pegged. Though Bartoli made (and retired from) the final at Strasbourg, clay has never been her most successful surface, and Stosur has a lot to prove after last year's final flop. The Australian will be hungry for a second chance, but she has a record for crumbling under pressure.

Quarterfinalists: Wozniacki v. Goerges.

Possible Bracket Busters: Hantuchova and Martinez Sanchez.

Second Quarter:
Talk about messy. The second quarter features players that, though highly ranked, you feel awkward advancing too far in the tournament. Zvonareva is seeded to be your best pick, but a loss to Peng in the Brussels semifinal is an awkward exit to give you too much trust. Still, she's earned a reputation for picking up the pace in grand slams and will probably do so again. She's due for a run in with Petrova in the third round but the most interesting match up will be against a confident and title-hungry Pavlyuchenkova.

We also have the growingly inconsistent Jankovic, an out of form Pennetta, a tired Peng and last year's surprise champion, Schiavone. What to do? Though I have special place in my heart for the Serb, she has done little to give me hope, and even with a fantastic record at Roland Garros I don't expect much from her this year. She will probably fall to Schiavone, though I'd love to be proved wrong.

Quarterfinalists: Zvonareva v. Schiavone

Possible Bracket Busters: Pavyluchenkova and Mattek-Sands (kudos to Steve Tignor)

Third Quarter:
Australian Open finalist, Li Na, is going to want to show she's still got punch since tapering off this Spring. Her draw will likely cross paths with Dulgheru in the 3rd round, but keep in mind players like Cirstea and Schnyder will want a say (though I don't see them saying much at all...) More interestingly though is the 3rd round collision between Madrid champion Kvitova and the always feisty Cibulkova. The last time these ladies faced off, Petra narrowly won in a 7-5 third set. Look out for some serious clay court combat between these two.

The highest seed in this quarter is Vicoria Azarenka, "The Brave One" who, in healthy condition, has a tremendous chance at taking the French title. She has what I would consider a cupcake draw, meeting her first challenge (?) in the 4th round. Her contest there is likely to be Kaia Kanepi if Ana Ivanovic is actually as injured as she seems to suggest. Let's just hope Victoria's elbow is feeling better since retiring in Rome.

Quarterfinalists: Kvitova and Azarenka.

Possible Bracket Buster: Cibulkova

Fourth Quarter:
The lowest quarter of the draw packs a serious punch. Lucky for lightweights like Wozniacki, Schiavone and Jankovic, all the WTA's cannon launchers fall in the lower half, and the 4th quarter holds the majority of them. Maria Sharapova will be looking to carry her win streak from Rome into Roland Garros, eyes locked on a possible, though unlikely, career slam. The "cow on ice" seems to have found a game for clay and will likely face Radwanska in the round of 16. If she can man handle Aggie's superb defense the way she did Caroline's in Rome, she could have a breakthrough into the quarters.

The big question mark of the tournament is Kim Clijsters. The four-time slam champion has been to the French finals twice before, but she hasn't played a match on clay in years. With her recent injuries (yes the ankle, but don't forget that shoulder) she may not be in top form. If Petkovic can find her feet on the Paris dirt, she could meet Kim in the fourth round. And if that happens, I don't see the Belgian's body coping with Andrea's heavy shots—that is assuming she keeps them in.

Quarterfinalists: Sharapova v. Petkovic

Possible Bracket Buster: Medina Garriguez

Quarterfinal 1: Goerges d. Wozniacki
Wozniacki is going to want to change up her push-game and attack Goerges, seeking revenge on her two last defeats. Julia, however, will enter the match confident. If she stays in form and keeps her head, she'll earn the threepeat.

Quarterfinal 2: Zvonareva d. Schiavone
If Zvonareva settles into her rhythm in her first few matches, I don't see Schiavone having much of a chance. The defending champ has a lot on the line and hasn't been as finely tuned in the warmups as she might have liked.

Quarterfinal 3: Azarenka d. Kvitova
Looking for revenge, Azarenka will come into this match with all gears in full motion. Kvitova played the best match of her life in Madrid and at times it seemed as though she couldn't miss. If she's not as precise, Azarenka will find a way.

Quarterfinal 4: Sharapova d. Petkovic
Petkovic will be lucky to overcome Clijsters in the round of 16 and a second miracle against Sharapova doesn't look to be in the cards. If Maria has truly found her range on clay, there will be few that can match her.

Semifinal 1: Zvonareva d. Goerges
The rookie might not be ready to take her first step into the grand slam spotlight. Someone has to make it, and Zvonareva looks to be in the right place at the right time.

Semifinal 2: Azarenka d. Sharapova
The screaming will be top notch in this basher battle. The only thing scarier than the sounds coming from the court will be the pace of the winners flying off it. If Azarenka's body holds up, she has the advantage as the better mover. But beware, Sharapova is hard to beat when a title is in sight.

Championship: Azarenka d. Zvonareva

Unless Vera can prove us wrong, Azarenka will finally win her much deserved first grand slam. Zvonareva hasn't brought much to her other grand slam final appearances and it's not unlikely that she'll do the same here. Azarenka will need to keep good depth, not that she doesn't always. If she wins the tight points too Zvonareva will revert to her classic head-case flailing. Who knows, though. The Russian has the game—the question is whether or not she'll bring it. Good luck, Victoria.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pre-French Open: First Round Frenzies

So it begins. The French Open draws have been announced and fans everywhere can finally sink their teeth into the dramatic journeys their favorite players will face on the dirt of Roland Garros. As always, some big names have easier draws than others, but this year (more than ever) the field is open and lesser known novices as well as fallen veterans will be looking to sneak their way through the bracket.

While the first round should be warm up for the seeded stars, the randomized draw has given us some exciting match ups. Will there be a few early exits? Here are some first rounds to watch:

Wozniacki v. Date-Krumm 
Don't laugh. Now the odds of good old Kimiko winning this match are very, very low, but you can never count her out. A former top 5 players, Date Krumm has seasoned court sense and power to match. Wozniacki should be able to dull her sting with long rallies and world class defense, but you never know what can happen if the Dane's forehand crumbles and Date Krumm hits her marks. Still, Wozniacki has youth and momentum on her side.
Prediction: Wozniacki in 2.

Peer v. Martinez Sanchez
As the no. 19 seed, Peer should be able to overcome her first round with ease. Should. But the Israeli has hit a bit of bad luck with the draw this year, matching up against last year's Rome champion, Martinez Sanchez. Peer was clubbed by Wickmayer at Indian Wells and has failed to find her footing since, dropping out in the first round of Madrid to Kleybanova and in the round of 16 to eventual Rome champion, Maria Sharapova. I would be hesitant to expect a straight set win from her against any decent clay courter, but against Sanchez, I expect even less.
Prediction: Martinez Sanchez in 3.

Oudin v. Schiavone 
Little miss "Believe" is taking on last year's French Open champion, and while the match should be a routine win for Schiavone, I'm not completely sold. The last time these two met was in the Fed Cup finals and it was Oudin who came out on top. Schiavone has a lot to live up to this year and should be a little nervous, but as a veteran player she will know how to handle the emotions. The former "Russian Slayer", on the other hand, has done little since her 2009 US Open quarterfinal run. Does she really believe she can make it to the second round at Roland Garros?
Prediction: Schiavone in 3.

Larsson v. Ivanovic
The wow factor of this first round lies less in the match up and more in the Serbian. Ivanovic is a former French Open champion and an immediate exit would put a good sized hole in her self-confidence (remember her first round loss at the US Open??) On a normal day, a match against Larsson would look to be quick and routine, but Ivanovic isn't in top form. She has been nursing a left wrist injury and has openly complained about it to the media. Do we have excuses already, Ana? Hopefully she finds her biting forehand and good movement. Hajde!
Prediction: Ivanovic in 2.

Petkovic v. Jovanovski 
Rising star, Petkovic, has a lot of people pulling for her as one of this year's dark horses. The German has played some fantastic matches since the Australian Open, including a win over world no. 1 Wozniacki in Miami. Rome and Madrid, however, were not Petko highlights as she fell out early in both. She is currently in the finals at Strasbourg and is showing some clay promise, but will that be enough to topple the expected hot-shot new Serbian? Jovanovski hasn't showed us too much this year, but she has the fire power and carefree confidence to swing big and win bigger. Possibly the future of "the Serbian trinity," I think Jovanovski could put up a fight if she comes to play.
Prediction: Petkovic in 3.

Of course, there are other matches to look out for. Will Kvitova keep up the hype and take down Arn? Yes, I think so. And how about Wickmayer v. Niculescu? Is the Belgian going to bounce back from a sudden back injury? Maybe not.  The frenzy of the early rounds clearly shows how open this tournament may (and probably will) turn out to be.

Tomorrow look out for tournament predictions, Quarterfinalists --> Champion.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Strong is Beautiful

For those of you who didn't know, the WTA has launched a full fledged campaign in honor of the women of tennis, highlighting the stories, strengths and grace of 38 current and next generation stars.

The campaign has drawn a lot of attention for its beautiful stop-motion photography and inspired slow-motion videos, but the true heart of the campaign rests in each player's words. Some have survived war. Some balance sport and motherhood. And for others still, the weight and pressure of an entire nation's dreams rests on their shoulders.

No matter the case, each player is unique. And whether you are a professional athlete standing before thousands of fans, or a beginner who has never been seen, the WTA wants everyone to remember: "Strong is Beautiful."

To see all photos and videos, click HERE.

All rights to this campaign are the WTA's.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Real Wildcard?

The days before Roland Garros are numbered, and as qualifiers and wildcards take their spots among French Open favorites, there is a true mystery in the mix: Kim Clijsters.

The four-time Grand Slam champion is by far one of the most athletic and versatile players on tour, but a recent dancing injury has left her sidelined through the early clay court season. Now, as we draw ever closer to the battle for clay supremacy, Clijsters is back. Currently second in the world, Kim is the highest ranked slam champion and her veteran status makes her a powerhouse adversary for anyone trying to take the title. In good health you could call her a favorite for the tournament, but right now, that isn't the case.

Clijsters suffered from a shoulder injury after the AO, forcing her to retire against two-handed basher Marion Bartoli at Indian Wells. That, paired with her latest ankle mishap, makes for a less-than-perfect Kim Clijsters whose body will run the gauntlet on the fine clay of Paris.

Still, the Belgian can't be counted out for the slam title. She has a record for toppling world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki (a player many think may take the French this year) and drubbed world no. 3, Vera Zvonareva, in last years US Open final. She has good records against many of the other top ranked women and, on a good day, would be a solid bet for a championship run. But with young ladies like Kvitova, Petkovic and Azarenka starting to dig their heals into the circuit, Kim could find herself in a world of trouble.

Will this lady come to play?
It's all going to come down to Clijster's draw. She will need a few easy early rounds to find her groove on the difficult surface. Clay is not a court many can walk onto and master immediately, and having missed events like Rome and Madrid, Clijsters will need time to warm up. As soon as she's through, she will want to see runners and pushers, like Wozniacki and Jankovic, out as soon as possible (or not in her path at all). It's players like those who will test Kim's flexibility and health, especially the Serbian who has much more firepower than the Dane when she's playing her best. If she must face these players, she'll want to do so somewhere in the middle of the draw before her body gets worn down by the intense match schedule.

Assuming she survives these tests, Clijsters will have to depend on her raw and unfaltering athleticism to carry her to the finish line. I won't give my final picks for the tournament until just before first rounds begin, but I don't think anyone can count Kim out. She is, after all, the real wildcard of the French Open.

Suggested ClipClijsters v. Capriati. Masters 2003.
One of the best points (young) Kim Clijsters could have ever played.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rome Reactions

With a hop, skip and a grunt, former no. 1 Maria Sharapova rocketed herself to the champion's podium at last week's Internazionali D'Italia tournament against 2010 French Open finalist, Sam Stosur. In a ruggedly dominant performance by the Russian star, Maria showed fans that she is still capable of winning big matches, and this one came on her least favorite surface. But the 6-2 6-4 win merely complimented a week of upsets, disappointments and solid play by many of the WTA's big names.

The most stunning turn of events in the Eternal City came in the semifinal when Sharapova took to the court against current top ranked woman, Caroline Wozniacki. The young Dane had trumped Sharapova in their last two meetings (most notably a 6-1 6-2 beat down at Indian Wells) and there is no doubt the memories sat vividly in both players' minds. Regardless, Sharapova went into the match swinging for lines as powerfully and confidently as ever, if not with a little more spin to boot.

After a 7-5 first set for the Russian, the match's momentum began to tilt in favor of Wozniacki. The relentless pusher seemed to have found her rhythm, finding an early break and cracking a blistering running forehand down the line for game point. The rare missile from Wozniacki left Maria flat on her face in the red clay (literally) as she slipped and all 6'2'' of her tumbled down. The self-proclaimed "cow on ice" looked bewildered as she rose to her feet, but as she toweled herself off, her face was the same stern and serious look opponents had come to fear. She had the attitude, but did she have the shots?

Sure enough the two women went to battle, but it was Sharapova who started to shine. With powerful forehands and a backhand reminiscent of her days at Wimbledon, Sharapova stopped Wozniacki in her tracks at 3-1, rattling off five straight games for a 7-5 6-3 win and a spot in the championship. Perhaps it was the the jumping forehand down the line return winner for the match, or the inspirational "come on!"s, but something about this Maria looked like a player with French potential. It's unlikely, and almost crazy, but with the WTA field so open, why not?

Wozniacki, who seems to have struggled since the start of the clay season,
will be looking to prove herself at the French Open.
Elsewhere in the bracket we saw promising runs and disappointing breakdowns that further jumble prospects for the upcoming Roland Garros. There's Jelena Jankovic who had Wozniacki on the ropes but more or less gifted away the third set. After an unexpected loss in Madrid, the Serbian came to Italy and gave the crowd some of the good stuff we used to love: beautiful slides, incredible defense and one of the best backhands down the line in all of women's tennis. But then, the big nothing.

We also have defending French Champion, Francesca Schiavone, and Australian Open runner-up Li Na, both of whom have left fans wanting recently. The Italian veteran is as fit as ever, but a knockout by American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Madrid and a lackluster Paris rematch with Stosur were not the results she was looking for. Li Na played impressive clay matches in Rome before bowing out in the semifinals and, as always, will be a toss up for expectations at the Slam.

The biggest and most catastrophic news in Rome, however, came from The Brave One. Victoria Azarenka, the Belarusian whose insane power is drowned out only by her own screeching, was forced to retire against Sharapova in the quarterfinals due to an elbow injury. Having won the first set, Azarenka looked to be in control of the match, but with a quick jolt of her arm on a defensive slice, everything unraveled. At 2-0 down, Azarenka stood at the baseline with tears in her eyes between points, clearly trying to will her body to continue. She was smart, however, and bowed out before making the matter worse. This was her third injury retirement in 2011, following her six in 2010.

Azarenka has been one of the hottest players in the WTA along with title leaders, Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova, and word on her injury is yet to be released. She was a definite contender in Rome and looks to have possibilities in Paris... but will she be healthy?

It was a solid week at Rome this year despite the absence of a few big names (Zvonareva, Clijsters, the Williams sisters...). Many expected the "wide open" field to produce a new big champion, but the crown fell on the head of a former queen no one expected. Congratulations to Sharapova.

For more, check out's coverage.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor