five Russians, three Americans, one Frenchwoman and no Capriati

I went to the first night of the WTA Tour Championships in Los Angeles at Staples Center last night (I remember walking into an Office Depot in New York that had a large plastic sculpture of staple removers on the entrance wall). Vera Zvonareva is in the tournament – only the top eight players are invited – because she played six matches in six countries in two months to get enough points to qualify. Jennifer Capriati took the time to go to one tournament in Philadelphia and is not here. Zvonareva may have overdone it. She lost to Svetlana Kutznetsova, 6-2, 6-4, in front of mostly empty seats. A small group of very rowdy people who must have mistakenly thought they’d bought tickets for a Lakers’ game tried to make up for the small crowd by being loud and boisterous even during the points. People kept pointing at them and the umpire kept asking for quiet until they finally figured it out.

Serena Williams has been having some problems the last year or two and this past week must have been particularly difficult, the murder trials for both men accused in the shooting of her half sister Yetunde ended in mistrial. Serena was born and raised in Los Angeles and the crowd had clearly come to see her play. Her opponent, Anastasia Myskina, won the first set 6-4, and was rolling along until 3-0 in the second set when she started to make unforced errors. I was disappointed there for a bit because I’ve seen Myskina play on television. When she is unhappy with her game, she gets mad and verbally abuses her coach who compliantly sits in the players’ box. “Hey, it works for her,” I remember the television announcer saying. Sure enough, as soon the unforced errors started, she pointed at the players’ box and unloaded. I think Serena must have brought her minister. A man sitting in the front row rubbed his hands, spread his fingers and held his hands out as if he was laying on hands. He kept his hands out there until the point was over and then he’d rub his hands and put them out again for the next point. It must have worked. Serena won the second set 6-3. At 3-2 in the third set, Myskina couldn’t convert a break point, Serena broke at 3-4 and went onto to win 6-4.

Lindsay Davenport played Elena Dementieva in the final match of the evening. It was tough going for the observers. Dementieva couldn’t win a game, someone in the expensive seats slept through the first set and the only excitement was the uproar when a man tripped over his seat and poured beer all over his girlfriend. Dementieva finally won a game at 4-0 in the second set and even then her winning shot appeared to be out. Our eyes had begun to stick together when all of a sudden it got interesting. In the next game, Davenport and Dementieva went back and forth for 18 deuces. There were a lot of good points and Dementieva had plenty of break opportunities but Davenport won that game too and the next to end the match.

A lot of the tennis consisted of sitting on the baseline and blasting the ball as hard as possible. Kuznetsova served and volleyed a few times and I do remember a drop shot or two, but overall it wasn’t an evening of breathtaking shotmaking as much as a contest to see who could hit the hardest.