Actually, it’s my Maria Sharapova bobblehead doll that has a broken neck. It doesn’t bobble, it just lists to one side. Sharapova does have an inflamed pectoral muscle, though, and that’s why we’ll see Elena Dementieva play Tatiana Garbin instead of the quarterfinal match between Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova.
On top of that, Peng Shuai injured herself in practice and has defaulted this evening’s doubles match so will see an exhibition by two players who would have been in the doubles match if there had been one. Welcome to Maria Sharapova bobblehead night at the JP Morgan Chase Open.
The WTA and ATP summer schedule is brutal. Two weeks of long tedious matches on the red clay at Roland Garros followed two weeks later by a fortnight of hard hitting on the quick green grass at Wimbledon. Follwed by ten tournaments in the US Open Series. Followed by the Open itself.
The year end championships are in November with only five weeks off before the Australian Open tuneups usher in a new season.
It’s not like basketball, football and baseball. At least there you have teammates and a four-month off-season. The NBA has 82 regular season games. A top ranked tennis player can play over 80 matches a year on many different continents. And that doesn’t include doubles. Tennis players are now bigger and stronger and they have more powerful rackets. It’s not men in long white pants hitting slices back and forth anymore. It’s a barrage of very hard hit ground strokes coming at you from all parts of the court. The spate of injuries in the men’s and women’s game in the last few weeks is not surprising.
Every single time an interviewer asks a tennis player, “What would you do if you were commissioner for a day?” they respond, “I’d make the season shorter.” You could argue that no one is forcing players to enter all of these tournaments but you could hardly blame Sharapova for playing this week. If she’d actually played in the semifinals, she could have claimed the number one ranking. It turns out that she will still get the number one ranking, the first Russian to do so, but a week later because Davenport is not playing in Toronto.
At the Mercedes Benz Cup tournament a few weeks ago, your parking fee was refunded if you owned a Mercedes Benz. Tonight it’s a Land Rover. Nobody could ever accuse tennis of being a working class spectator sport.
Tonight we are at The Home Depot Center and the field of the adjacent soccer stadium is tricked out like a dirt bike track. Instead of dirt bikes speeding around the track, Land Rovers slowly turn sideways and tip upwards as they crawl over the dirt hills. It looks like an ant farm in slow motion.
Elena Dementieva is playing Tatiana Garbin in this last quarterfinals match. Garbin is a quick and that’s a good thing because Dementieva is one of the hardest hitters on the tour. Garbin manages to hold serve in the first game but she spends a lot of time running down Dementieva’s shots.
Dementieva is overpowering as she breaks Garbin on her next three service games and wins the first set 6-1. You can see Dementieva’s shots get harder and deeper as her confidence grows and Garbin’s returns get shorter as her confidence drains away. One of Dementieva’s shots is so hard and flat it looks like it was shot out of a cannon.
Dementieva has a double fault in each of her first two service games. She has well-documented problems with her serve. In a loss at the finals of the 2004 French Open, she had ten double faults. Her serve is much improved, she’ll only suffer through four double faults this evening, but it’s still an adventure. She’s like a crafty baseball pitcher who tosses pitches at different speeds and different angles, you never quite know what’s coming. Garbin gets four break points in the third game of the second set but she’s unable to convert them and when Dementieva finally gets a game point, she lobs a 68 mph second serve that throws Garbin off – she returns it over the baseline and out.
Dementieva breaks Garbin twice in the second set and wins the match in fifty-five minutes, 6-1, 6-1.
Instead of the quarterfinals doubles match, we see an exhibition set between Bethany Mattek and Angela Haynes, two young Americans who have made it to the doubles semifinals. A courtside announcer reveals the contents of each player’s tennis bag as Mattek and Haynes joke around on the court.
All in all it’s pretty disappointing except for a fascinating conversation with the woman sitting next to me. Her name is Terri Ford and she is the Director of Advocacy for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). She is off to South Africa for the tenth time to visit AHF’s hospital. They treat AIDS patients with antiretrovirals. She shows me images that will soon be in a gallery show. They are portraits of patients in South Africa and Uganda – where AHF has another hospital – who are surviving with the Foundation’s help. One portrait shows a mother who has lost six children to AIDS. Another shows a mother with one surviving child who hopes to live long enough to raise him. There is a happy, smiling family of two parents and a child. The entire family is being treated for AIDS.
It’s a sad but hopeful intrusion into the world of make believe at a tennis tournament where Land Rovers play at climbing over rough terrain. In Africa it’s the real thing.