Tag Archive | "Golovin"

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Maria Sharapova Conquers The Clay In Florida

After bypassing the Sony Ericsson Open due to injury, Maria Sharapova bounced back by winning the first clay court tournament of her career at the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, Florida, a tier II event. Sharapova defeated Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova 7-6, 6-3.

The one-week affair commenced on April 7. The main singles’ draw showcased 64 players, 8 from the top 20 along with other prominent names such as Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo. Regrettably, last year’s champion, Tatiana Golovin was unable to attend after undergoing surgery in March to extract a cyst from her hip as well as an appendectomy. In addition, past winners Venus Williams and Elena Dementieva withdrew due to health reasons.

As a first time participant at this event, Sharapova utilized this as a preparatory step to Roland Garros, as she begins her quest to win her first French Open. Unlike a ballerina, Sharapova is heavy footed on clay. For the world’s number 5, movement was clearly an issue in her matches, as Sharapova needed three sets in the third round and the quarterfinals to advance against Annabel Medina Garrigues of Spain and Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine respectively. This is keeping in mind that the highest ranked player Sharapova faced was Bondaranko at 22. Maria received a walkover in the semifinals when past tournament champion, Davenport, was unable to play due to a viral illness. On Sunday, Sharapova took on Cibulkova who turned out to be a problematic opponent despite being ranked 34 in the world. This eighteen year old has been steadily climbing in the ranking. This week proved quite a confidence booster with Cibulkova having wins over Anna Chakvetadze ranked 7 in the world and former world number one, Amelie Mauresmo.

In the finals, even though Sharapova obtained the lead early on in the first set, she was broken and a tiebreak was required to determine the set’s owner. In the tiebreak, the Slovakian had chances to put away the set. Cibulkova even got a freebee when Sharapova’s foot touched the net as she hit a winning volley, that mistake cost Maria the point. But unforced errors by Cibulkova put the Russian back on top and gave her the set. In the second set, Cibulkova broke Sharapova in the initial games, but subsequently renounced the lead. In the match, a significant tipping point was Cibulkova’s weak first serve; she only won 58% of the points despite serving at 65%. On the other hand, Sharapova had more than twice as many winners (38 to 14) and won 70% of her first serve points. With only two other top ten players in the draw, it is hard to judge how well Sharapova will do versus more natural clay court players such as Justine Henin. Yet, having added this trophy to her case will surely enhance Sharapova’s belief that she can conquer the “terre battue”.

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2007 WTA Year End Review

Sadly tennis enthusiasts, the time has come to bid adieu to the 2007 season, but fear not, the hiatus will be brief. Soon enough, the courts will be ablaze with the shrilling grunts of Maria Sharapova, the artistry of Roger Federer and the mercurial ever-flamboyant fashions of Serena and Venus Williams. Prior to foretelling what 2008 may unwrap, let’s take a moment to reflect on the marquee events which shaped tennis this past year.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams started 2007 in grand fashion by winning the calendar’s first major. Serena, who had been sidelined for most of 2006 by a myriad of injuries, was unseated when the 2007 Australian Open started; consequently, she was the dark horse of the tournament. Serena not only reached the finals, but also comprehensively beat a befuddled Sharapova. Who can forget Oracene Williams’s advice to her daughter “ get out of Melbourne”, referring to the painted sign on the court where Serena had been camping out, pushing her too far off the baseline. Well, Serena followed her mother’s pointer and got out of Melbourne, but not before snatching the coveted Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. At another prestigious venue, the Ericsson Open, Serena again demonstrated her tenacity coming back from a bagel lost in the first set and fought off two championship points by her opponent to win the tournament against a relentless foe in Justine Henin. Although the year started out with a sizzle, it would end with a fizzle with Serena losing consecutive quarterfinal matches against Henin at each subsequent major tournament. Once more, Serena’s last few months on tour were racked by injuries leading to her withdraw from the season ending tournament in Spain.

After a tumultuous start to her year, with the turmoil in her personal life (the dissolution her marriage) and being forced to skip the Australian Open where she had been a finalist in 2006, Justine Henin had undisputedly her best season on tour. Henin won 10 of 11 finals including her third straight French Open while participating in only 14 events. The sign that Henin is human came at Wimbledon where she lost to a French player in the semifinals, not Amelie Mauresmo, but relatively unknown, Marion Bartoli, whom Venus Williams summarily defeated in the next round to claim the Venus Rosewater dish. Therefore, as Rafa Nadal seems to be Federer’s handicap on the clay in Paris, in 2008, it will be interesting to see if the All England grass and the French women continue to be Henin’s kryptonite.

In a run reminiscent of 2005, Venus worked out the rust in her game to make Wimbledon the highlight of her year. Fit and focused, Venus showed the brilliance that can illuminate her game toppling three top ranked opponents to capture the cup with her namesake. Venus continued to excel the remainder of the season although she had to cede her place at the season ending championship tournament to Sharapova because of illness. The Russian diva took full advantage of the gift by making it to the finals in Madrid where she gave Henin a run for the money prior to falling in a thrilling three setter rescuing a par year plagued by a sleuth of health problems. Thus, it remains to be seen whether in 2008 the Siberian ice queen’s game will continue to heat up or will need to be rescued from the frozen tundra once more.

2007 will be remembered as the year which propelled a small nation called Serbia into the tennis spotlight and one woman in particular Ana Ivanovic. The teenage phenom heralded her arrival with her phenomenal play at the French Open culminating with an appearance in the finals prior to collapsing under the weight of the occasion by losing to Henin. With a blistering forehand, Ivanovic will definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming season; the question that will need to be answered is whether fellow countrywoman Jelena Jankovic will also be a factor.

A woman’s right to choose saw the exit of a champion and return of another for contrasting reasons. Kim Clijsters decided that after winning one major trophy, she had her fill. For Kim, it was time to move on to marriage and children. While Lindsay Davenport returned to the court after the birth of her son hoping that there is still life in her career. Moreover, the 2007 sports season will be recalled as the year marred by drugs from steroids use in baseball to the career-ending shocker whereby Martina Hingis abruptly retired disputing the outcome of positive cocaine on a drug screen at Wimbledon.

Since this is a locally slanted outlet, I would be remised if I did not mention Ahsha Rolle and her exceptional performance at the U.S. Open. After earning a spot as a wildcard, the 109 ranked Rolle became the buzz of the tournament after her opening round victory over the 17 seeded and talented star Tatiana Golovin. The bee from Miami would have the best showing of her career to date in a major making it to the third round where she was ousted by Danira Safina. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Ahsha’s matches, in my opinion, a major weakness in her game is her one-dimensional backhand; she constantly slices it back. If Rolle is to have continued success on the circuit, she will need to develop more sting and variety to her backhand.

Considering the horde of new comers who impacted the game in 2007 and with so many youngsters doing particularly well at the final major of the year defeating experienced players to make it past the fourth round, the upcoming season promises to be gripping. In my viewpoint, the newcomer to watch will be Agnes Szavay from Hungary. Szavay looked impressive on the hardcourt making it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open after being a finalist the previous week in New Haven where she was forced to retire against the #1 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova due to a back injury. With the surface change in Australia to reflect more of a hardcourt feel, I predict that she will be poised for another great run there. Overall, the young guns from the Soviet Union and the former Eastern Block look ready to make an even greater mark on the game this coming year. On the other hand, Henin appears to have taken a liking to the #1 spot; therefore, everyone will be vying to dethrone her. At times, the psychological part of her game has proven to be her weakness, thus, along with skill, mental fortitude will be the key to the opponent’s ability to dismantle her game. A player who does possess these weapons in her arsenal is Lindsay Davenport; I anticipate that with her return Henin and the Williams sisters will be breathing a little tighter.

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Unsportsmanlike Conduct—A Portrait Of Serena

There’s an old maxim which states that with age comes maturity and wisdom, but as is customary, there’s an exception to every rule. Despite her multiple major titles and twelve years on the tennis circuit, Serena Williams has yet to learn how a true champion carries herself. Winning is the easy part of sportsmanship, but the character of a class act player shines not in victory but in defeat, when he or she demonstrates that adversity can be borne with grace and honor.

When the Williams sisters first arrived on the scene, there had been a dearth of minorities succeeding in the game. Surely, one remembers players such as MaliVia Washington and Zina Garrison who encountered fame and fortune, but none of these was touted as the heir apparent to Althea Gibson or Arthur Ashe; black players who actually reached the summit of the sport by holding some of its most coveted trophies. In the prim, proper, predominately white world of tennis, these black teenagers from the inner city with beaded hairdos were different from those who had come prior, resulting in their behavior possibly being scrutinized a little more. Although tennis conventional behavior had been challenged by the likes of foul mouth Americans such as John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, their diatribe was somewhat excusable either because they were Americans or white, probably more the latter.

Initially, Serena’s behavior may have been excusable, the stares across the net, the exhibition of self-confidence in order to prove to others and herself that she could indeed reach the pinnacle of her profession knowing all the hurdles that she has had to overcome. Despite her success and the adulations of fans (for the most part, Serena seems to be well supported by the public regardless of the event she participates in), Serena’s attitude has changed little over time irrespective of the lessons that she has learned on or off the court.

At the last two majors this year, Serena’s advance was halted at quarterfinals by Justine Henin, the #1 ranked player. On both occasions, rather than giving credit to her opponent for exposing the weak spots in her game by comprehensively beating her, Serena’s analysis of the matches boiled down to her counterpart making lucky shots. Moreover, at the US Open post match press conference, Serena was churlish to reporters. This type of behavior is inexcusable.

When it comes to these two individuals, there is more than just an intense rivalry; one would probably be on cue in classifying their relationship as antipathetic. The history of animosity between the two stems from an incident at the 2003 French Open whereby Henin clearly prevaricated, not acknowledging that she had placed her hand up during Serena’s serve in order to ask for time, affecting the latter’s concentration resulting in her dumping the ball into the net. To Serena’s dismay, Henin’s action also went unnoticed by the chair umpire, who subsequently refused to give her a first serve anew. The situation further deteriorated when the crowd turned against Serena for protesting despite the fact that she was in the right. After leading by a break in the latter stages of the third set, Serena’s game became unhinged costing her the match and possibly a second French Open title.

Unfortunately, bad calls come with the territory in any sport, more importantly; there are players who take gamesmanship to the extreme, as was the case with Henin at the French. Hence, although it may sound trite, the time has arrived for Serena to demonstrate that she is the classier champion by recognizing great play, irrespective of the racket from which it is being produced. Moreover, these are not insular instances with Serena, one at times get the impression that she suffers from the sore looser syndrome. There is no dishonor in confessing that one’s opponent was the better tactician that day, thereby, recognizing one’s own failings. It is only through defeat that one can learn the aspect of his or her game that needs to be improved upon.

From my viewpoint, in the last few years, there has been an epidemic of poor sportsmanship on the women’s side. In particular, two incidences come to mind, one pertaining to Maria Sharapova and the other again to Justine Henin. At the 2006 NASDAQ Open in Miami, in her semifinal match with Sharapova, Tatiana Golovin injured her ankle. At first, Golovin tried to play through her injury, but within a matter of seconds, her ankle swelled to the point one thought that it had swallowed one of the tennis balls. While being attended to by the trainer, Golovin was teary eyed and grimacing in pain. The entire time, Sharapova remained on her side of the court playing shadow tennis, oblivious or simply not caring as to what was going on the other side. Who knows, maybe Sharapova believed that this was a ploy on Golovin’s part to slow down the match, which would have been preposterous thinking on her part considering that Golovin was winning and outplaying her. In the end, Golovin had to retire from the match and was sidelined for weeks with torn ligaments in her ankle.

The next case worthy of analysis is that of the 2006 Australian Open final where Henin was being summarily beaten by Amelie Mauresmo, this was to be the latter’s first major championship. Her moment of glory was marred by Henin deciding to retire with a stomach ailment after loosing the first set and with Mauresmo ahead in the second, needing just a few games to win and claim her moment in the spotlight. Mauresmo showed first and foremost that she is a great person with the conspicuous concern she demonstrated for her opponent despite the disappointment she must have felt at the way her triumph was tainted. Surely, that day, she gained a few more supporters. In their quest to reach the top of their sport, these women have forgotten to work on the fundamentals, how just to be decent human beings. Because of their lack of empathy, the public views them as unsympathetic characters.

Coming back to the issue of Serena Williams, her behavior may be in part dominated by the example set forth by her father. Richard Williams finds it difficult to praise or give credit to his daughter’s opponents regardless of their high ranking or proven past successes against his offsprings. In his mind, by elevating the stature of the challenger that would be giving something away, ultimately affecting the outcome of the match. Therefore, it is refreshing to see Serena’s mother Oracene applauding when the opponent plays a brilliant point or makes a spectacular shot. Thus, perhaps Serena should follow her mother’s example; in my opinion, being deferential is by no means a sign of weakness or a way of giving one’s counterpart the edge. It is simply a confirmation of the old adage that mother knows best, advice that many of these women could benefit from.

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