The WTA Tour: Bank of the West

The women do Stanford in this Tier II event, but the field is strong with some compelling match-ups

Okay, so Anna Chakvetadze won Cincinnati last week, and according to betting form she therefore won’t win the Bank of the West this week. Inevitably she will have a falling off in attitude; the psyche’s natural desire for relaxation after a taxing week of getting to a WTA final.

Anna became the top seed here in Stanford after the pull-outs of Serena Williams (still the thumb problem post Wimbledon) and Ana Ivanovic, who is ranked a few places higher then “Chaky,” as she is nicknamed.

So one of the mini dramas already under way here at the Bank of the West Classic is whether or not Chaky can win two in a row. We wouldn’t recommend you bet against her though. She’s been to five finals so far in her young career, and she’s won all five of them. No need for stops in the Nerve Dept. to get herself refitted for combat, she gotta da nerve already.

Speaking of Ivanovic in fact, we wonder if this Anna, spelled with two “n’s” mind you, would have endured the same sort of nerves the Serbian beauty did in the final of Roland Garros. Ana Ivanovic suffered from major nerves, big time, and it lost her the final nearly from the get-go against Justine Henin. A painful thing no doubt, but often the young need to go through that. Or so we tell ourselves.

Chaky seems to have latched onto the keys to successful tennis from the start. She plays a good game under pressure and isn’t that the key for all the young players coming up? Their games at this level are pretty much all comparable. It comes down to the nerves, and how well they hold it together. If her nerve holds, there is no reason why she could not at least get to the final. But whether Chakvetadze wins a potential final or not depends in good part on how well the opposition plays, and in this event her Number 2 rival is surprise Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli.

The other mini-drama under way this week is whether Bartoli can transfer her fantastic early season run into the hard court season. I don’t see why not. And I’m not really sure why I feel that way. Bartoli still seems like an unknown ingredient. That’s what makes her fun to watch, she is strange, we haven’t seen this before. I had to make myself watch her at first, she was that jolting to the eye. Her style, and then her weight. But she moves well on the court. And she did pretty well earlier on clay, and then her success on grass. So why not hard courts?

I was not a Bartoli fan at the start. When I first saw her this spring, I could not believe my eyes. How could this overweight girl play tennis? Especially given her strokes. Those strokes. My God. Two hands off both sides. And that serving motion that looks like the loop in my bent silver earring.

What is with the French? On the one hand they produce atrocious styles such as Bartoli’s and Fabrice Santoro‘s. God knows we all love you Fabrice, but I would never teach your style to my child. If I had a child. On the other hand they give us players with a beautiful, classic style based around the strength of their one-handed backhands, like Richard Gasquet and Nicholas Mahut. Only in France, we suppose.

I would think losing to Santoro would be one of the more exquisitely horrible experiences in one’s tennis life. Akin to undergoing death by Chinese water torture. He’ll just dink you to death on the court. I’d probably succumb to my own frustration first. Vince Spadea is the souped up American version of Fabrice. And if he doesn’t get you on court, then he’ll rap you to death. Choose your poison.

But to return to Bartoli. I have become a fan, mostly because of the way she played her final against Williams at Wimbledon. Williams at Wimbledon, that has a peculiarly dynastic ring, doesn’t it? Bartoli was a heavy underdog, but she showed some fire and heat as the match went along, even though by then we all knew the outcome. But can she seriously hope to keep winning with her style of game and her weight issues. I would suppose that getting to the final of something like Wimbledon changes your life, like, a little at least. You may start doing things differently to accommodate just in the course of things. Maybe the weight will take care of itself. Her game may be set though.

It’s nice to catch a new face on the rise, especially after the enchanting run she enjoyed at Wimbledon. The quaintness of her upbringing is compelling, and reassures me that individuality is alive and thriving at least in one corner of the world. Unfortunately it’s not ours. Sad will be the day when the French surpass us, not only in wines, but tennis players. Her father led her through a strange and imaginative tennis upbringing, encouraging her early tendencies to hit the ball with two hands off both sides, and training her with methods that truly give new meaning to the term “home-grown.” I look at him and Salvador Dali pops into my mind; maybe he had an imaginary daughter like Marion. Both of them seem like creatures from a Dali painting in their fantastical strangeness, for want of a better word.

The camera showed him in the stands at Wimbledon, in the ludicrously named “Friends’ Box,” which is something like putting a handful of cats into a box, sealing it and hoping for the best. Rival families sit together. It’s great. Whoever gets the honor of creating that deserves to go into the Tennis Hall of Fame. We really need to know this guy’s name. As Rafa would say, we need more humor of the blackness, no?

At Wimbledon Richard Williams sat in front of Pere Bartoli, a long-faced, bespectacled man with thinning hair. A doctor. Of what I know not. Let’s hope it’s not gynecology or something equally strange. At the end, after Williams had seen his daughter handle Bartoli’s kid pretty good, he turned to the Frenchman and said something that caused him to wipe tears away. I always wondered what Williams said to him. For once the Friends’ Box caught a glimmer of its name.

Well, let’s see how our week unfolds here at Stanford. This may be a smaller women’s event in that it is a Tier II instead of a I. But I like the field. Daniela Hantuchova is the Number 3 seed and having an excellent year; Patty Schnyder and Tatiana Golovin are in the draw along with Sania Mirza who is likely to get much support from the Indian community in the area. Also Shahar Peer from Israel, and Sybille Bammer, our Mom of Moms. Good competition is shaping up here. Stay tuned!