Monthly Archives: July 2008

Pennetta and Mattek Battle the Heat in Carson

Bethanie Mattek and Flavia Pennetta ran around in 90 degree heat in Carson and battled through a one hour third set before Pennetta finally moved onto the final.

Bethanie Mattek was wearing one of her costumes but, true to her current desire to emphasize her tennis rather than her attire, what looked like a red and black brocade bodice with a frilly black skirt, actually turned out to be just a loud fuchsia and black stretch top and a black skort once I sat courtside and got a closer look at it.

Mattek was playing Flavia Pennetta in the semifinals here at Carson and this two hour and 40 minute match had everything: three tennis outfits, two visits from a trainer, temperatures high enough to invoke the heat rule, and a third set that was over an hour long.

Mattek got off to a good start by winning the first set 6-3, but she quickly went down 4-1 in the second set. She was down 4-0 in the second set of her quarterfinal match against Yuan Meng before coming back to win that match in straight sets so she might not have been worried, but there was a worrisome stat developing: she failed to win a point on her second serve in the first set and won only three in the second set – which she ended up losing 6-2.

Mattek would go on to retire from a doubles match later in the day because of a sore lower back. She said it had been bothering her for a few days and that brings up the following question: How long does it take a player to realize that they’re pretty good? In other words, why didn’t she withdraw from the doubles event and focus on her singles?

I wanted to try. I hate pulling out of events. What little I can do I’ll go out and play. Even if I can’t move that well I can cover half the court.

Most top singles players would pull out of doubles and focus on their singles if they were heading towards the semifinals, but Mattek – who will probably reach the top forty next week for the first time – doesn’t have that mentality yet and it cost her during her match with Pennetta.

At the end of the second set, the on court temperature was high enough to invoke the heat rule and the players had a ten minute timeout. Pennetta called for the trainer a second time to treat a blister on her foot and Mattek changed her outfit. To each her own.

When the set started, Mattek tried to irritate Pennetta’s blister by making her run after drop shots. With Pennetta serving at 4-4, Mattek had three opportunities to break then serve for the match but she couldn’t do it and she was having more trouble with her serve. Her sore back was hurting her during the landing on and she couldn’t get full extension. With Mattek serving for the set at 5-6, Pennetta hit three returns of serve for winners – one of them on match point. If Mattek had withdrawn from doubles and rested her back, she might have gotten through this match.

Meanwhile, Pennetta was into her first Tier II final with a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory.

One other thing happened in that last game: Pennetta got a warning for courtside coaching and it was rather humorous when Pennetta got mad at the chair umpire. She was mad because, yes, of course her coach had been talking to her from the stands during the match, but in that particular instance, her coach hadn’t said anything so how dare the chair umpire warn her? And that is why Pennetta will not be voting for on court coaching when it comes up at the end of the year: if there is on court coaching, chair umpires will be more zealous about silencing coaches from the stands during the match and who wants that? Players get a lot more coaching with the current illegal system than they would if it were legalized so, by all means, let’s keep it illegal.

ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks for Cincinnati

It’s time for the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out our Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

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This week’s submission deadline is Monday, July 28th, 10am (EST) in the U.S./4pm (CET) in Europe.

This week we have our second consecutive Masters Series event, this time in Cincinnati, and the same players are here because it’s a required event. We need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists.

Cincinnati draw (hard court, first prize: $420,000)

Notice, again, that the prize money is about $130,000 less than the remaining Masters events in Europe.

I thought I had Roger Federer’s section covered last week in Toronto because Fernando Gonzalez had a career 7-1 record over Jose Acasuso, but Acasuso went out and won that match. Acasuso and Mario Ancic are in Federer’s section this week, but Ancic has never been past the third round in Canada or Cincinnati, and Acasuso is 0-3 against Federer – including a straight set loss in Miami this year. I didn’t use Federer last week and that was a good decision because he lost his first match, but should I still save him or will he bounce back and take the title in Cincinnati? Andy Murray beat Federer two years ago here and he beat him in Dubai this year, so Federer might not make it to the final. I’m going to save him and see if he can make more money at the U.S. Open and Madrid. So who should I pick in this section?

Ivo Karlovic hasn’t gone past the third round of a hard court event all year. Acasuso reached the third round in Toronto last week and he reached the quarterfinals here three years ago so Acasuso it is.

Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Andy Roddick at the Australian Open this year but he’s 1-4 on hard court since then. Robin Soderling beat Roddick in Memphis for Roddick’s only loss indoors this year. In Soderling’s last three hard court events, he’s gone out to Richard Gasquet, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic, and that ain’t bad. I have a sneaky feeling that Roddick might redeem himself this week, but I want to save him for the US Open and Paris – where he reached the semifinals last year – so I’m going with Soderling.

I’d like to pick Nikolay Davydenko in his section but he’s reached the semifinals at the US Open for the past two years and won Moscow two out of the last three years, so I’m saving him. Janko Tipsarevic has never done much in the summer hard court season. Igor Andreev has good results on hard court this year while Radek Stepanek hasn’t beaten anyone on that surface. If you’ve got any more picks left for Andreev, take him.

Murray got his knee taped up in his semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal today. Check the injury reports tomorrow before you pick him. Richard Gasquet is in this section along with Dmitry Tursunov and Tursunov has beaten Gasquet two of the three times they’ve met on hard court this year. However, neither player has been past the second round here. Sam Querrey is here too and he reached the quarterfinals last year and he beat Tursunov at the Australian Open. Since then, though, he hasn’t been past the second round in a big hard court event. I’ve only got one more Gasquet pick left and I’m not sure Murray’s going to be here so I’m going with Tursunov.

James Blake was disappointed about going out in the quarterfinals in Toronto, but he did win $51,000 and he’d have to take the title at Washington or New Haven to make more than that. The problem is that he’ll face either Nicolas Kiefer or Gilles Simon in his first match. Kiefer beat him in Toronto and reached the final, Simon beat Federer and reached the semifinals, and Ernests Gulbis and Stanislaw Wawrinka are here too. Oy! That’s a tough section.

Wawrinka has done well on hard court but he hasn’t beaten anyone strong and he’s never been past the second round here. Gulbis might break out this week but I’m not counting on it. You know what, I’m going with Blake again because I don’t know who’s going to win the Simon-Kiefer first round match and I don’t expect either player to do well in two straight Masters events. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them dropped out. And Blake reached the final here last year.

I used my fourth Novak Djokovic pick last week so I’m saving my last pick for the US Open. That’s too bad really because he’s got an easy section. Feliciano Lopez has gone out in the first round here the past three years and he’s only made it past the third round of a hard court tournament once this year. Fernando Gonzalez is 3-0 over Berdych and 1-0 over Andreas Seppi, so I’m going with Gonzalez.

Last week I chose Richard Gasquet over David Ferrer despite the fact that Ferrer had beaten him in their last two matches because Ferrer doesn’t have a good record in Canada. But Ferrer reached the quarterfinals in Cincinnati the past two years and he can certainly beat Fernando Verdasco on hard court, but can he beat Marin Cilic? Cilic beat Andy Roddick to get to the quarterfinals last week but I think Ferrer can outsteady him. Still, I’m saving Ferrer for the US Open and Paris where he can make more money because he’s in Nadal’s quarter so he’s unlikely to get to the semifinals unless Nadal develops a good case of the blisters. Cilic it is.

I’ve used Nadal four times already so I’m saving him for the US Open. That means I have to choose between Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny and that’s tough because they play in the first round. Haas reached the quarterfinals at Indianapolis and both players went out in the second round in Toronto. I think Haas can beat Youzhny if he’s healthy so I’m picking Haas.

My picks

Here are my picks: Acasuso, Soderling, Andreev, Tursunov, Blake, Gonzalez, Cilic, Haas.

Happy fantasies!

Bethanie Mattek Lets it Rip in Carson

I had some technical difficulties today so I’m just getting around to posting. The interview material below is from yesterday but I’ve included some results from today. I’ll be back tomorrow with ATP Fantasy Picks and the semifinals in Carson.

It’s been a tough week here in Carson just south of Los Angeles. Ana Ivanovic evidently didn’t want to fly to the west coast to defend her title then fly back east to Toronto next week. I don’t know why Maria Sharapova isn’t here. Svetlana Kuznetsova is hobbled and Serena Williams’ knee is inflamed.

The shakeup has affected attendance. Local favorite Lindsey Davenport committed then pulled out with a bum knee and that hasn’t helped. Luckily for the organizers, there is still a U.S. player in the draw and her identity is not surprising given her recent results: Bethanie Mattek. And she is my new favorite WTA player.

She’s been adding game to her adventurous sense of fashion and it took her to the semifinals at Birmingham, the fourth round at Wimbledon – where she beat defending finalist Marion Bartoli, and now she’s in the semifinals here in Carson after beating Yuan Meng, 6-2, 7-5.

Mattek said she’s been toning down her wardrobe and focusing on her tennis more but, not to worry, you can expect something special at the U.S. Open:

I’ve kind of toned it down the last few months. I’ve gotten a lot of questions. What’s happening? What’s wrong? For the U.S. Open I’ll definitely pull something out.

Be sure to catch the singles, not the doubles, if you want to see what she pulls out, because if she plays doubles with Sania Mirza as she has here, Mirza has made her promise not to wear one of her outrageous outfits. Apparently playing doubles with Shahar Peer – Peer is an Israeli Jew while Mirza is a Muslim – will get Mirza in less trouble than taking to the court with a scantily dressed doubles partner.

Prior to Mattek’s recent run, she hadn’t been past the second round of a WTA event in more than a year and therein likes a story because the biggest improvement in her game is her conditioning, and yet she no longer does aerobics in her off-court workouts.

I’ve long thought that sports medicine gets it wrong and Mirza may be a case in point. Mirza injured her wrist and had surgery in April and came back two months later. But when I watched her second round match here, her serve looked terrible. It had very little wrist snap. Mirza has an extreme takeback on her ferocious forehand and at the time of her surgery, I wondered if she shouldn’t focus on rehabilitative work for her wrist such as changing her swing instead of getting the quick fix of surgery.

Mattek appears to have taken a different approach and it’s interesting to note that she did it out of sheer desperation because she was so frequently injured:

I changed my fitness. I’ve got a new trainer and he has different ways of working out and getting people in shape. It’s more injury prevention. I’ve worked hard before and I’d get in shape but I’d get injured a lot.

What is she doing then? It’s called isometrics and you might remember those old Charles Atlas ads in comic books where a man gets sand kicked in his face in front of his girlfriend by a muscle-bound beach bully. The poor guy signs up for Atlas’ Dynamic-Tension muscle building program and redeems himself.

Instead of doing dynamic weight work, Mattek gets into positions such as a lunge or a squat and stays there for five minutes. If you think that’s not hard, try getting into a squat and staying there for a while and see how long you can ignore those screaming thigh muscles. She hasn’t been on a treadmill in the last year and she doesn’t do those two hour practices anymore. So what does she do for cardio:

I run in my tennis matches.

And that’s it. Sometimes she’ll do footwork with her racket in hand but the people at her training facility, Ultrafit in Phoenix, focus on her form so that she can move efficiently and avoid injury. Moving efficiently will help conditioning because your body is working less, and isometrics will help conditioning because hitting a forehand on court is a breeze after sinking down into a lunge for 5 minutes at a time. As to whether they eliminate the need for off court cardio work, though, that’s seems unlikely.

Back to the subject of being scantily dressed. Mattek won a junior Fed Cup title with Ashley Harkleroad so, inevitably, the question of Harkleroad’s spread in this month’s Playboy came up. What does Mattek think of it:

You know what, I actually saw some of the pictures and good for her! The pictures look great and I think it’s cool. I know not a lot of girls would do that but I think if you’ve got the balls to do it I think it’s great.

I like this woman! Let it rip Bethanie. Tell it like it is.

Amanmuradova Tweaks Our Expectations and Yuan Meng Goes It Alone

Akgul Amanmuradova and Yuan Meng surprised all expectations at the WTA event in Carson today.

I’d planned to look at the Chinese players today in wake of the Olympics which start in Beijing the week after next. But first, let’s take a quick detour through Uzbekistan.

I went over the outside courts here in Carson to look at Chinese player Peng Shuai take on Dinara Safina. The box lunches in the media room were disappointing so I was standing in line with twenty other people at a food tent when I looked over to one of the courts and saw Nadia Petrova practicing with what looked like a guy. Then I saw the linespeople on the court and realized I was looking at a match. Petrova’s opponent was very tall and wore an orange and black short sleeved shirt, long black shorts, black tennis shoes with white socks, and a bandanna around her tennis cap – typical attire for an ATP challenger or main draw event but not the usual for a WTA event.

I went over to the court and sat down on the grass with the spectators. After a few points I turned to the guy next to me and asked him, “How tall do you think she is?” He pursed his lips and stayed quiet for a minute then said, disapprovingly, “She looks like a man.” Evidently he wasn’t as entranced by Petrova’s opponent as I was.

Her name is Akgul Amanmuradova and she’s from Uzbekistan. She’s the tallest player on tour at 6′ 3″(1.90 m) and probably the biggest, weighing in at 163 lbs.(74 kg). I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that she turned down an opportunity to play basketball for her country to focus on tennis. She’s number 79 in the rankings but she was up to number 50 a few months ago. She’s reached two semifinals and a quarterfinal and she beat Petrova in Istanbul earlier this year in three sets.

Today she lost to Petrova in three sets and she left the grounds before I could speak to her, but I plan to check up on her periodically because I like someone who tweaks our gender expectations.

Back to that match between Peng Shuai and Dinara Safina. Shuai is the third ranked Chinese player at number 49 and one of two Chinese players in the draw. Shuai hits with a two hander off both sides and covers the court pretty well but she can’t handle Safina’s power. Zhen Jie is the top ranked Chinese player and she did knock off Ana Ivanovic on her way to the semifinals at Wimbledon this year, but China is more likely to win a medal in doubles than singles at the Olympics. Zheng and Yan Zi won two of the four slams in 2006 and Zheng has been ranked as high as number three in doubles.

The other Chinese player in the draw is Yuan Meng and she fared better against Sania Mirza despite the fact that Yuan is ranked number 122 and Mirza is number 35. Mirza had wrist surgery in March and missed almost three months of the tour. By the look of her serve – which had very little snap to it – the wrist is not 100% yet and she lost the match in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.

I was the only English speaking writer to interview Yuan and I was all ready with a ton of questions about her childhood because I figured she was like most athletes in China. In other words, she’d been scooped up by the Chinese government’s sports program at an early age, sent to a national training center and sequestered there with infrequent visits to her one-child-only family until she learned the game of tennis professionally. At that point she was allowed to travel the world and play professional tennis accompanied by a tight coterie of Chinese tennis association officials who also took 65% or so of her tennis winnings – a situation reminiscent of Russian tennis players during Russia’s communist era. What I encountered was something closer to the Williams family story.

Yuan never went to a national training center and she is not part of the Chinese Tennis Federation. And her coach, Yu Fung Ming, had never played tennis before becoming a tennis coach! So that’s what I mean by the Williams sisters. Richard Williams loaded up a pirated shopping cart with tennis balls and took his daughters Venus and Serena out to the courts in Compton just south of Los Angeles to learn the game of tennis. And he steered his daughters on their own unique path to the tour, skipping junior events and generally going their own way.

Yuan is the only Chinese professional tennis player who does not work with the Chinese Tennis Federation and that’s pretty incredible if you think about it because the country has a huge and comprehensive network of training centers for every Olympic sport. As you can also imagine, it makes life much harder for her. She doesn’t have to deal with the racism the Williams sisters faced, she has to deal with being a tennis player among thousands of other tennis players without a tennis community. For instance, since every other tennis player works with the Federation, it’s hard for her to find hitting partners when she is home in China. It’s also hard on her coach:

My coach’s job is very tough because she has to do everything. She is my trainer and my coach and she doesn’t have any help from the government or the Federation.

Yuan is ranked number 122 at the moment and that makes her the fifth ranked player in China, so she misses getting on the Chinese Olympic team by one position since only four women can go. If she does make it onto the team for the next Olympics, that will be all the more impressive for the road she took to get there.

Serena Williams Arrives in Carson

Serena Williams turned up in Carson despite hurting her knee in Stanford last week and Patty Schnyder and Jelena Jankovic put in an appearance too.

Tennis Diary is on a roll. I’m at the WTA event in Carson just south of Los Angeles this week, Mike McIntyre is in Toronto, Nate Cunningham will be at the Cincinnati event next week, I will be at the ATP event in Los Angeles the week after that, and John Keeley, who writes for MVN partner site On Frozen Blog, will be at the Washington Kastles match on Wednesday night.

The Washington Kastles are a World Team Tennis franchise and that match is important because Justin Gimelstob plays for Washington and Anna Kournikova plays for their opponent that night, the St. Louis Aces. This is the same Justin Gimelstob who called Kournikova a “bitch” and “douche” and made a few other equally unpleasant comments on a radio show last month. Personally, I think Gimelstob should be Kournikova’s ballboy and he should have to retrieve balls on all fours for the entire evening.

I talked about Gimelstob with players at the media session in Carson today in light of Ashley Harkleroad’s appearance in this month’s Playboy magazine. Harkleroad appears on the cover and has an eight page celebrity spread inside. She doesn’t appear totally nude in any one image but she does show everything. Harkleroad should be able to freely express herself but I did wonder if her Playboy spread might result in further demeaning statements, such as those that came out of Gimelstob’s mouth, because she’s advertising her body, not her game. That was always the rap on Kournikova: she looked good but when was she going to win a tennis tournament.

The media had already flocked to Serena Williams’s table by the time she arrived. I was very happy to see her for a number of reasons. She retired in her semifinal match against Aleksandra Wozniak last week in Stanford when she hurt her knee and I was afraid she’d pull out this week. Her father and one of her doctors did advise her to take the week off but there is no structural damage in the knee, just inflammation, and she seems really inspired to play a lot of tournaments this year:

I’ve been doing really well all year and I’ve been playing a lot. What I want to do is play tennis and play tournaments for this year and several years. I just feel like that’s all I want to do.

One big motivation is the Olympics. More than once today she said that her Olympics doubles gold medal from the 2000 Olympics is her favorite trophy and that’s the one trophy she’ll pull out and show visitors to her house. To that end, she and her sister Venus have played doubles in three tournaments this year, including Wimbledon where Serena picked herself up after losing a tough final to Venus and went out and won the doubles title with her. By the way, keep in mind that the Olympics are in Beijing and the two doubles matches the sisters lost this year were to doubles teams made up of Chinese players.

I was also happy to see Serena because I wanted to ask her a few questions. When I asked her about Harkleroad’s Playboy appearance, she had the same answer as all three players I spoke with today: it’s Harkleroad’s decision and she should make whatever decision she’s comfortable with. Playboy has also asked Serena to pose but, and Serena collapsed into giggles as she explained this, she was somehow too “busy” just around the time they asked. And that’s another reason I was happy to see Serena: she can very gracious and engaging when dealing with the media.

We know that she wouldn’t pose for Playboy, but she’s also an actress so I asked her if she’d accept a role that required partial nudity. The answer is that it depends on the part. If it were a part in something like Monster’s BallHalle Berry does a nude scene with Billy Bob Thornton in the movie, that’s one thing, but otherwise she didn’t know.

Interestingly, while Serena is familiar with the Gimelstob incident – she knows him well and played doubles with him on the Washington Kastles the week after Wimbledon, Jelena Jankovic and Patty Schnyder didn’t know anything about it when I asked them. Not only that, but they hadn’t heard any talk about it in the locker room.

Jelena has also been asked to pose for the Serbian version of Playboy and turned them down, but fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic agreed to an interview, fully clothed. And he used the opportunity to trash the women’s game. He said that 99% of the male tennis players “can’t stand women’s tennis” and he criticized the women for not being able to think strategically on court as well as the male players.

Jelena had heard about those comments, he’s a friend of hers after all, and she called them “mean.” Unnecessary and incorrect might also be a good description. Hopefully he’ll turn up at the ATP event in Los Angeles and I can throw a few question his way too