At least it’s not as bad as the Mercedes Benz Cup last week. Only three seeds were left after the first round. Here at the Acura Classic we’re in the third round and we still have half of the top ten seeds playing. The number one seed, Lindsay Davenport, is injured and didn’t show up. Serena Williams and Davenport have both dropped out of next week’s JP Morgan Chase Open. I applaud the U.S. Open Series, the set of ten events leading up to the U.S. Open, but we shouldn’t be surprised that players drop out. It’s too much tennis in brutally hot weather. Maybe they should hold a few tournaments in Alaska, it is part of the United States you know. Or at least hang out in the Bay Area for a few more weeks. It’s freezing when the fog rolls in.
There are four players from France here and two of them are playing this evening. Mary Pierce is positively resurgent. She was the tear-filled runner up at the French Open and made it to the quarters at Wimbledon. She’s come a long way from the fourteen-year-old who turned pro, surely too early, then suffered through a split with her domineering father and a series of injuries that derailed her career for a few years. She is now a thirty-year-old with two majors and an almost regal bearing who seems very happy with her life and thrilled to be playing well on the tour.
That is when she’s not pissed off. Her opponent is Nathalie Dechy. On the first point of the match, Dechy hits a beautiful forehand return that lands on the sideline. Pierce is beside herself. She is sure the ball was out. I’ve had to create a new shorthand notation on my tennis chart, PPO, Pierce pissed off, because we will see it often this evening.
Dechy has great athleticism and solid strokes but Pierce has rocket-propelled shots, particularly her forehand. She gets so low to hit her groundstrokes that she looks like a Sumo wrestler stepping into the ring, minus a few hundred pounds. She also has a hard first serve. Dechy’s serve is serviceable. By comparing the two players, you can see one of the reasons that Dechy’s serve is weaker: she barely bends her knees. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, some of us more of the weaknesses, but I don’t understand how someone could practice so hard for so many years and still not figure out how to bend their knees. It’s like Vic Braden says, “Whaddya mean you can’t bend your knees, how do you manage to sit down for dinner every night?”
Dechy hasn’t beaten Pierce in three tries. If she wants to win tonight, she must avoid errors and pressure Pierce with strong service returns else Pierce’s power will dictate the match. Dechy’s plan works in the first game, she hits three good returns and breaks Pierce. Unfortunately she gives it right back with groundstroke errors.
After two more PPO’s and two more overrules by the chair umpire, both, interestingly, in Pierce’s favor, the players are even at 5-5. At one point the umpire shakes her head at a call. Hey, if the umpire has no confidence in the linespeople, the players certainly don’t.
Twice Dechy sets herself up for a winner and hits a swinging volley into the net giving rise to a huge collective groan from the crowd. The second volley would have given her a break point. Instead, Pierce is up 6-5 and Dechy has to serve to stay in the set. When Pierce is facing a break point, she serves hard and hits harder. Dechy doesn’t have a power serve and she doesn’t have a killer shot. At the very least she needs to move the serve around and play error free. In this game she can’t do either. She double faults, looks tentative on her other serves and loses the game at love to give Pierce the first set, 7-5.
She gets so low to hit her groundstrokes that she looks like a Sumo wrestler stepping into the ring, minus a few hundred pounds.
Dechy goes toe to toe with Pierce hitting the ball hard and running down most of Pierce’s arsenal. At one point Pierce approaches the net and Dechy hits a passing shot that Pierce barely gets over the net and onto the sideline. Dechy comes all the way from the opposite corner to hit a backhand down the line and past Pierce. But she keeps making critical errors. She gets broken at love to go down 1-3 after yet another errant overhead.
Dechy never gets the break back and the match ends the same way it started, with Pierce pissed off. She was halfway to the net to exchange pleasantries after hitting a match-ending ace when the serve was called out. Instead, Pierce pushes Dechy into a position where all she can do is hit an awkward lob over Pierce’s head. Pierce responds with a lob of her own that looks like it could jump over the Empire State Building. Dechy, again, dumps it into the net. Pierce wins 7-5, 6-3.
This is a Tier I event with $3.1 million in prize money. That’s a lot of money and there are fifty-six players here from twenty-six countries including Madagascar trying to get a piece of it. Eleven players, six of them seeded, are from Russia, but not one of them will make is as far as the semifinals. Instead, two of the four Japanese players and the one player from China will battle each other and Mary Pierce to get to the final.