WTA Championships: Can Anyone Here Play The Game?

Join us for the WTA Championships final! We’ll be blogging live this Sunday, November 11th, 2:00pm Los Angeles/5pm New York.

Performance enhancing drugs, match fixing, and now poisoning (I’ll get to those in my next post). There’s too much going on in tennis so I’m a day late in catching up with the WTA Championships. I hope to get back on track tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s look at the second evening of round robin matches.

I was looking forward to some good tennis as I settled in to watch the evening’s fare at the WTA Championships in Madrid. The top eight women in the world are here – minus Venus Williams – so it seemed like a safe bet.

It wasn’t. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or just plain nervousness but I had to wait until the very end of the last match before anything exciting happened.

Justine Henin started the evening off by swatting Jelena Jankovic, 6-2, 6-2. Jelena was completely out of rhythm. Here forehand went long, her backhand went into the net, and her return of serve was all over the place. Except for the serve and volley – which weren’t working so well either – that’s pretty much all there is to the game of tennis.

Jelena is 0-8 against Henin. Part of the problem is psychological and that’s fixable. Part of the problem is firepower and that may not be fixable. Jelena is a wonderful defensive player and a very smart strategist but she doesn’t have any big weapons short of her quicksilver feet. It worked for Lleyton Hewitt round about the turn of the millennium but it doesn’t work today.

Here’s an example. Jelena lost the first set 6-2 and was down 0-1 in the second set when Henin served her way through an interminable nine deuce game. Out of those nine deuces, Jankovic had only three break points. Jelena can hang with Henin but she can’t apply enough pressure to beat her.

After the match, Henin understandably said “I was feeling tired on my serve” in the game and yet Jelena still couldn’t take advantage of it.

Jankovic is the number three player in the world. Her fellow Serbian Ana Ivanovic is right behind her at number four, and Ana has two big weapons: serve and forehand. Jelena should stay around the top ten for some time if she wants to, but I can’t see her getting to number one. Given her quirky self, that might be enough reason for her to ride off into the sunset sooner than another player might because she has a life outside of tennis.

Serena Williams is actually in Shanghai and I was really excited about that. I figured she’d dust off Ana Chakvetadze in her first match and then I hoped she’d exact revenge on Henin for beating her at the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open this year. No doubt Serena is pissed off by that.

Serena has eight slams, one WTA Championship and an Olympic gold medal in doubles. Henin has seven slams, one WTA Championship, and an Olympic gold medal in singles. I’m sure Serena does not care to fall behind in that race. Watch this youtube video to gauge Serena’s true feelings about the matter.

When Serena’s match with Chakvetadze started, she looked pretty bad too. First of all Serena came out with athletic tape that wandered down her thighs then circled both knees. She looked like she had on a skeleton suit and was on her way to the nearest Halloween party. What was all that tape for? “Prevention,” she said, “just prevention.”

Yeah right. Serena had trouble getting her serve into the court and she was spraying the ball. She asked for new rackets because the tension wasn’t right. To be fair, Madrid is at altitude and the ball carries further in thinner air.

By the time Serena was down 3-5 in the first set, she looked like she was going to cry. The trainer came out and Serena told her, “I can’t move. I’m really in a lot of pain.” The pain was in her left knee. Her surgically repaired left knee.

The professional tennis injury charade continues. Two and a half weeks ago Serena retired from her first round match with Patty Schyder in Zurich. Schnyder was ahead at the time, 6-0, 3-0. Players never divulge the extent or nature of their injuries until they can’t hide it anymore.

Clearly Serena wanted to play in Shanghai but the tape job gave the game away. No doubt the double leg tape job was designed to confuse the issue. She gets so much crap for not playing enough tournaments that it’s hard to give her crap about trying to play. But now that she’s withdrawn, her substitute, Marion Bartoli, is in a very tough position because she only gets to play Serena’s two remaining matches and that’ll make it very difficult for her to advance to the semifinals.

And I’m bummed because now I have to wait until the Australian Open to see Serena go at Henin. Actually, I think I should stop looking forward to anything and just prepare myself for a Serenaless Australian.

I was lying when I said I had to wait until the end of the third match to see some tennis. Daniela Hantuchova pulled herself together after losing the first set to Ana Ivanovic, 6-2, and played an excellent second set. It was the second set tiebreaker, though, that redeemed the evening.

Hantuchova twice challenged calls and got both points replayed. Ivanovic hit a killer serve to get her first set point at 6-5 then Hantuchova fought off an excellent return of serve to save the set point. Ivanovic hit a superb running passing shot that clanked off Hantuchova’s racket to get to 8-7 and it went on like this.

Ivanovic kept getting set points and Hantuchova kept saving them then getting her own set point. Every single time. In fact, when Hantuchova finally hit an approach shot into the net to lose the tiebreaker 11-9, it was the first time in the entire tiebreaker that the server lost a point.

How often do you see that happen?

Someone here really can play this game.

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