Sunday, April 15, 2018

Schmiedlova plays winning tennis and teaches a worthwhile lesson

Schmiedy.

She of the beautiful backhand and the slumping career gave us a big exhale Sunday when she won the Claro Open Colsanitas in Bogota. But the final, in which Anna Karolina Schmiedlova played against 2012 champion and 5th seed Laura Arruabarrena, also featured some of the Schmiedlova roller coaster play we've seen all too much of in the last few years.

Leading 6-2, 5-2, Schmiedlova served for the match and was broken. Arruabarrena then held serve for the first time in the match. The Slovak served for the match again, and was broken again. However, she was then able to break Arruabarena to win the match 6-2, 6-4.

At the trophy ceremony, speaking of her coach, Schmiedy said: "He was with me in the bad times, now he's with me in the better times." Obviously, it was a very emotional moment for both of them.




In 2015, Schmiedlova played in three finals--all against Italians--and won two of them. She lost to Sara Errani in Rio de janeiro, and defeated Errani in the Bucharest final. She also won in Katowice, defeating Camila Giorgi in the final. Schmiedlova entered the top 30 that year, becoming number 26 in the world. Her competency on clay, as well as her amazing backhand, looked like a combination that could take her far.

But when the slump came, it was a huge one. In 2016, she lost 16 consecutive WTA matches, and her ranking dropped to 227. The next year, it rose to 133. That was a big improvement, but it wasn't a ranking that reflected Schmiedlova's talent.

But she kept at it, looking better--sometimes only a little bit better--each month, grinding her way through challengers and winning them, and this past week, she proved that--on some level--she never lost belief in herself. Tennis is a very mental affair (as are all sports, but tennis is an especially cerebral--and isolating--game), and belief has to exist. Sometimes--as in all of life--someone else has to hold the belief for us for a while, but eventually, we have to hold it ourselves, or everything falls apart.

It didn't all fall apart for Schmiedy. None of us can know what she went through, but it had to have been very difficult to go from being one of the most promising players on the tour to not being able to win a match. But this weekend, in Bogota, she found her way again. That's something that can inspire us all.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Some final thoughts on Charleston

2018 champion Kiki Bertens (photo by Daniel Ward)
When I arrived at the Volvo Car Open on Daniel Island on Monday, April 2, I picked Julia Goerges to win the tournament. I predicted she would defeat Naomi Osaka in straight sets, which she did. I predicted that she would defeat defending champion Daria Kasatkina; she did. I also predicted that Kiki Bertens would defeat Madison Keys; that happened, too. And I predicted that Anastasija Sevastova would be in the final four; she was.

I was on a real roll--until the final. It wasn't shocking that Bertens won, though I thought she would be the runner-up, but there were some factors that were truly surprising: Bertens prevailed, despite carrying a hip injury, and despite having played, on the same day, a tense and grueling three-set semifinal. And most surprising of all--Goerges, who had been brilliant most of the week, came out flat for the final and was never able to do much of anything.

Julia Goerges (photo by Daniel Ward)

So for me, the results were quite predictable--until they weren't. And that's one of the reasons we watch tennis--anything can happen.

Bertens' win in Charleston created a genuine feel-good moment. This is the biggest victory of her career, and she achieved it under very difficult circumstances. She indicated, after the final, that once she got through her difficult semifinal, she used her desire to win to give her the energy she needed to go on. That match point she saved against Keys probably also gave her some energy.

Goerges, for her part, handled her loss with wisdom and perspective. She was mentally drained after her semifinal, and just couldn't do what she intended to do. In her press conference, she was able to place her runner-up status within the context of her recent success, rather than seeing it as a failure.

Much has been made of Naomi Osaka's tears, and her comments about waking up feeling depressed the day before her loss to Goerges. But this turn of events really isn't an unexpected thing. Osaka is not only young, but also sometimes seems even a bit younger than she actually is. Suddenly, she's famous in the tennis world, and she doesn't yet have the skills to deal with all the changes that take place when that happens. I assume there will be people who can help Osaka manage this change in her career.

Two players made their post-injury returns to the tour at the Volvo Car Open. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, beloved in Charleston, went out in the first round in singles and made it to the second round in doubles. Her fans were very happy to see her.

Also returning to the tour after almost a year off was Laura Siegemund (who would have been my choice to win the tournament under different circumstances). The German--the most entertaining clay court player around--made it to the second round, but lost to Naomi Osaka. Last year, Siegemund made it to the semifinals and lost to eventual champion Daria Kasatkina. She then went to Stuttgart and won the championship.

A day didn't go by when one of us didn't mournfully say "I miss JJ." Jelena Jankovic, Charleston's post-Patty Schnyder era rock star, was conspicuous by her absence. Her comedy partner, the also-very popular Andrea Petkovic, arrived as a wild card, but went out in the first round. Jankovic won the tournament in 2007, and Petkovic won it in 2014.

Also absent was 2017 runner-up Alona Ostapenko, who I hope will return soon.

Of course, I didn't get to see all of the matches--no one can do that. But of the ones I saw, there were some I especially enjoyed:

2nd round--Julia Goerges def. Kristie Ahn: Ahn took Goerges to the edge in this match, dragging her to three tough sets (2-6, 6-4, 7-6) and giving the 5th seed quite a scare.

3rd round--Alize Cornet def. Caroline Garcia: Cornet is a very gifted player who is as inconsistent as they come. But when she's switched on, she's a joy to watch. She used both guile and stunning athleticism to take out the top seed in straight sets; Garcia didn't have a chance.

Alize Cornet (photo by Daniel Ward)
quarterfinals--Madison Keys def. Bernarda Pera: Pera made a splash at the Australian Open when she upset Johanna Konta, and she made another splash last week when she made it to the third round, when she took out 2014 finalist Jana Cepelova and Sara Errani, then took Madison Keys through three tough sets. Pera's serve gave her a lot of trouble; had it been in better shape, the match (6-2, 6-7, 7-5) might have ended differently.

semifinals--Kiki Bertens def. Madison keys: This was a total thriller, with no one having any idea who would win until the last moment. Bertens held two match points in the second set; Keys held one in the third set, and then Bertens won the match 6-4, 6-7, 7-6.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Kiki Bertens plays five sets in one day and wins Volvo Car Open

photo by Leslie Billman
It was a crazy tennis day on Daniel Island. Yesterday's rain-out caused both doubles semifinals to be played today, all of one singles semifinal, and most of another one.

The first singles semifinal played today featured 12th seed Kiki Bertens and Madison Keys, and it was a wild ride indeed. Bertens won the first set, then held two match points in the second. On her second match point, she had what appeared to be an easy passing shot to take the title, but she didn't pass, and Keys was able to win the point easily. Keys went on to win that set.

To add to the drama, Bertens' hip--which she injured on Thursday--was bothering her throughout the  match. And the match went on and on--for over two hours and and forty-two mintues. In the third set, Keys held a match point. Bertens saved it, and went on to win a tiebreak, putting her into the final.

Meanwhile, the match between Julia Goerges and Anastasija Sevastova was stopped at 4-all in the first set on Friday. They resumed play late this afternoon, and Goerges won the match in straight sets.

Goerges had a wobble in her second round match against Kristie Ahn, but after that, she pretty much cruised through the draw, using her killer serve and her estimable forehand. So this evening, she had to play someone who had labored under duress for close to three hours today, and who was carrying an injury. It didn't take a lot of imagination to believe that the German would most likely hold the trophy.

But that's not what happened. Goerges came out flat, and was unable to find her game at all. Bertens, on the other hand, appeared as fresh as can be, and made quick work of her opponent, defeating her 6-2, 6-1 in under an hour. Bertens is a very fine clay court player, but this was nevertheless a stunning turn of events.

Later, in a press conference, Goerges said that her semifinal had drained her of mental energy, and that her performance "obviously wasn't the way I was planning to play and the way it should have been happening." She also said that Bertens made few mistakes and made her work for every point. "...she's a hell of a player, and for me it's great--if I have to lose to someone, I want to lose to her today."

Bertens said that the day of rest helped her hip, but then it was tight when she woke up this morning. But, she said, the more she played, the warmer her hip became, and she was able to cope.

During the trophy ceremony, three Volvos were driven onto the court. The winner of the Volvo Car Open gets a Volvo to drive for two years. While Bertens was still holding her trophy, she was invited to use the Volvo app to design her car, which she did.

Bertens is the first player from Netherlands to win in Charleston.

Meanwhile, Alla Kudryavtseva and Katarina Srebotnik won the doubles title, defeating Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-3, 6-3 in the final. Srebotnik last won the doubles championship in Charleston ten years ago, when she and Ai Sugiyama defeated Edina Gallovits-Hall and Olga Govortsova.

Kiki or Julia? Volvo Car Open final is coming up


A bit later today, 12th seed Kiki Bertens of Netherlands will compete against 5th seed Julia Goerges of Germany for the singles championship of the 2018 Volvo Car Open.

It's a tough day for both competitors. Bertens' hip locked on her during her match on Thursday. Fortunately, a good pull from the trainer put her back on the court in pretty good shape. Yesterday, she and Goerges were at 4-all in the first set of their semifinal when the bad weather came; eventually, all play was canceled for the day. This may have worked in Bertens' favor because it gave her another day to work on injury recovery.

The Dutchwoman was on the schedule first today, and she defeated 7th seed Madison Keys in a real seesaw match in which Bertens held two match points in the second set. But she was unable to convert them. Keys held two match points in the third set, but also failed to convert them. The two-hour and 42-minute match was a toss-up right until the last moment, when Bertens won the third set tiebreak. Her 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 victory put her into the biggest final of her career.

It should be noted, however, that the 12th seed was somewhat bothered by her hip during this match.

Goerges, for her part, defeated 8th seed Anastasija Sevastova 7-6, 6-3 in today's delayed semifinal. Aside from struggling in her second round match against Kristie Ahn, the German has been spot-on throughout her campaign in Charleston. Goerges is attempting to become the fifth German to win the tournament; past winners were Steffi Graf, Sabine Lisicki, Andrea Petkovic, and Angie Kerber. 

This is the first time since Lisicki's victory in 2009 that two western Europeans have vied for the championship.

Rained out at 4-all, Goerges and Sevastova resume semifinal play today

It isn't easy, for players or spectators, to have a match stop two-thirds into the first set, but it does happen, and it happened today in Charleston when the rain came during the Volvo Car Open's first singles semifinal match.

Julia Goerges and Anastasija Sevastova were locked at 4-all after Goerges caught up from a slow start to the match. All play for the day was eventually suspended, so the match will resume this afternoon.

This is the first time that either player has reached the semifinals of the event.

The other semifinal, which will be played this morning, features Madison Keys and Kiki Bertens. Bertens sustained a hip injury in her Friday night quarterfinal, so the delay in play could be helpful to her. Keys was a finalist in 2015, when Angie Kerber won the tournament.

Madison Keys (original photo by Daniel Ward)
Kiki Bertens (original photo by Daniel Ward)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Volvo Car Open quarterfinal gallery

Clockwise, from top left: Daria Kasatkina, Julia Georges, Madison Keys, Kristyna Pliskova, Anastasija Sevastova, Kiki Bertens, Bernarda Pera, Alize Cornet (all photos by Daniel Ward)

Julia Goerges defeats defending champion in Volvo Car Open quarterfinals

Julia Goerges (photo by Daniel Ward)
A somewhat flat and off-beat Daria Kasatkina showed up for the first quarterfinal of the day at the Volvo Car Open, only to face an in-form and aggressive Julia Goerges. Kasatkina, seeded 3rd at the tournament, was the defending champion. Goerges, the 5th seed, used her excellent serve and her forehand, especially her forehand passing shot, to get by Kasatkina, 6-4, 6-3. The two women are very good friends. Kasatkina also lost to Goerges in the final of last year's Kremlin Cup.

In tomorrow's semifinals, Goerges will face off against 8th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who defeated Kristyna Pliskova, 6-4, 6-0.

The other semifinal will feature 12th seed Kiki Bertens and 7th seed Madison Keys. Bertens defeated 14th seed Alize Cornet 6-2, 7-5 in the night match. In last night's feature match, Cornet upset top seed Caroline Garcia. Bertens sustained a hip injury during tonight's match. Her hip got locked, she said, but it was obviously much improved after a trainer gave her leg a good pull.


Kiki Bertens (photo by Daniel Ward)

Keys had to do some work in her quarterfinal against Bernarda Pera, but defeated her 6-2, 6-7, 7-5.

Mihaela Buzarnescu and Heather Watson defeated Raquel Atawo and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the daytime doubles quarterfinal. In the night session, Kateryna Bondarenko and Alex Krunic defeated Nadia Kichenok and Anastasia Rodionova 6-3, 6-3.

Madison Keys (photo by Daniel Ward)   



Anastasija Sevastova (photo by Daniel Ward)

What they said this week at the Volvo Car Open

“I hate losing. That’s why I don’t play board games.”

Alex Krunic

“…I was joking, like, 'hey, want to be my coach?' And she was like, 'yeah, sure!' And I was 'really, really?' Like, that’s actually how it went.”
Kristie Ahn, on how Shenay Perry came to be her coach

“It’s tough training for two weeks, playing a match, playing and training for two weeks, playing a match, losing, and it’s a tough cycle to be in because you feel more nervous and extra pressure for that match, especially you’re on center court and it’s a big tournament, or maybe you get a wild card.”
Genie Bouchard

“There are many things that you can do in your life. So you start to think about that, and sometimes it’s worse to think abou that. But it’s coming. So you have to be ready to combine, and even when you will stop, what you will do. So the day comes."
Sara Errani, on looking ahead

So can you just talk through that second set, how you were able to stay composed and what do you think the secret was to getting it done it straight sets.
“I feel like you’re making fun of me.”
Naomi Osaka

“And she’s a lefty and I am lefty. I play always bad against lefties. The serve is different, and I’m not used to it.”
Kristyna Pliskova

“…I mean, when you’re ranked 900, it’s not their pride of like, ‘yes my daughter is playing professional tennis, but she’s ranked 900.”
Kristie Ahn

“I love downtown, those little restaurants, those are really cute. It’s more European, I feel like.”
Fanny Stollar

“And it’s not a goal to like everyone, but I think it’s nice if you can deal with everyone.”
Julia Goerges

“It was already 10 p.m., so I just went home. Yeah, I had dinner and I went to sleep. That’s it. I was not able to go to the nightclub and celebrate my win.”
Daria Kasatkina

“The first set, the court seemed so small because, I mean, I’ve never played on a stadium this big.”
Bernarda Pera

On your Instagram account, I saw you were hitting the soccer ball around. Is that in your future, a soccer career for you?


“Did you watch the video?”

Madison Keys

“But the match starts with yourself, and that’s what I can control.”

Julia Goerges

“It’s very nice, but at the same time, it’s, yeah, put a little bit of pressure on you because everybody is asking you if I saw this big picture on the stadium. Like, I think everybody saw it in the city.”
Daria Kasatkina

“Every week we’re on the clay is a week we’re closer to grass.”
Ash Barty

“So it’s not easy, but I think it’s just sport and it’s just coach, so he can do whatever he wants. And he gets better offer, then he can go. It’s like, not marriage.”
Kristyna Pliskova

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Top seed Caroline Garcia upset by Alize Cornet at Volvo Car Open

photo by Daniel Ward
Top seed Caroline Garcia was taken out of the Volvo Car Open in the third round tonight in Charleston when an inspired Alize Cornet used all of the guile, athleticism and fight that she possesses, but that we don't always get to see, given her challenges in the mental toughness department. When Cornet does get into that zone, she becomes a one-woman tennis extravaganza, and she was in full flight tonight against her friend and countrywoman.

Midway through the first set, Cornet took control, and it appeared she was headed toward taking it, but Garcia grabbed control back and won the set 7-5. I'm sure many fans thought that the top seed would then wrap things up, but Cornet (whom a colleague referred to as "a human headache") was just getting started. When she got to 5-0 in the second set, it was clear that her momentum was still with her.

She won that set 6-1, then broke Garcia to begin the third set. 
Garcia broke back, and--the way this script usually goes is that "things get put right." Cornet would have none of it, and broke Garcia right back. Finally, she wore the top seed down, and even though Garcia managed to hold at 3-5, Cornet didn't waver in winning the set 6-4 and advancing to the quarterfinals.

Cornet's forehand was on fire tonight, and for a good part of the match, Garcia couldn't seem to stay away from it. Garcia also did herself no favors by making repeated errors throughout the match.

Caroline Garcia (photo by Daniel Ward)

Ten years ago, when Cornet was only 18, she came to Charleston to what was then the Family Circle Cup, and impressed fans with her athleticism and fighting spirit. She leapt and finessed her way to the semifinals, in which she lost a very respectable match to eventual champion Serena Williams.

7th seed Madison Keys also advanced to the quarterfinals of the Volvo Car Open today when she defeated Camila Giorgi 6-4, 6-3 this afternoon. Keys was a finalist at the event in 2015.

Also winning this afternoon was 12th seed Kiki Bertens, who defeated an injured Fanny Stollar in straight sets. And Kristyna Pliskova, who upset 2nd seed Petra Kvitova yesterday, defeated two-time finalist Elena Vesnina 6-3, 1-6, 6-2.

l. to r.: Kristyna Pliskova, Madison Keys, Kiki Bertens--all photos by Daniel Ward

The first match tomorrow will feature close friends Julia Goerges, seeded 5th, and defending champion and 3rd seed Daria Kasatkina. In her press conference today, Goerges described the young Russian as one of her best friends on the tour. Goerges defeated Kasatkina last year in the Kremlin Cup final.

Here is the quarterfinal singles draw:

Alize Cornet (14) vs. Kiki Bertens (12)
Bernarda Pera vs. Madison Keys (7)
Julia Goerges (5) vs. Daria Kasatkina (3)
Anastaija Sevastova (8) vs. Kristyna Pliskova

The frustrated faces of Charleston

all photos by Daniel Ward




clockwise from top left: Anastasija Sevastova, Julia Goerges, Daria Kasatkina, Julia Goerges, Sara Errani, Ash Barty, Alize Cornet (center)

Goerges knocks out Osaka and advances to Charleston quarterfinals

Julia Goerges (photo by Daniel Ward)
Volvo Car Open 5th seed Julia Goerges of Germany strengthened her Charleston campaign this morning with a straight set win over 10th seed Naomi Osaka. The first set was hard-fought by both opponents, and Goerges finished it with a 7-4 tiebreak. Goerges, one of the best servers on the tour, hit eight aces, and finished with first- and second serve win percentages of 71 and 58, respectively. Georges, who used both her serve and her game's signature variety to out
Naomi Osaka (photo by Daniel Ward)
wit Osaka, hit 27 winners and made 20 unforced errors.

After the match, Osaka revealed that yesterday morning, she woke up feeling "very depressed, but I don't know why." Osaka said "it comes in waves." One can assume that the stress of having won Indian Wells and achieving tennis stardom may have the young Japanese player somewhat overwhelmed, and also, that she may be quite mentally tired.

Meanwhile, 8th seed Anastaija Sevastova made a second consecutive quarterfinal run by defeating 9th seed Ash Barty 6-3, 6-4, and defending champion and 3rd seed Daria Kasatkina defeated 13th seed Irina-Camelia Begu 6-2, 6-1.

Speaking with the press after her match, Kasatkina--who had a difficult time in her opening match--talked about her mixed feelings regarding being the defending champion. "Nobody told me it's so difficult to come and defend a title," she said. Asked what it feels like to look at the stadium and see her face on it, she replied: "It's awkward....It's very nice, but at the same time, it's, yeah, put a little bit of pressure on you because everybody is asking you if I saw this big picture on the stadium. Like I think everybody saw it in the city...."

7th seed Madison Keys, who was the runner-up in 2015, defeated Camila Giorgi in straight sets, and Bernarda Pera defeated wild card Sara Errani 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. The left-handed, Croatian-born Pera, who plays for the USA, is ranked number 101 in the world. Pera was a lucky loser at the 2018 Australian Open, where she upset 9th-seeded Johanna Konta in the second round.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

16 women left in Charleston

qualifier Fanny Stollar (photo by Daniel Ward)
Of the sixteen remaining singles players in Charleston, eleven are seeded. There are also three unseeded players, one wild card, and one qualifier in the mix.

There are two players from the USA, two from France, and two from Russia.

There is only one former champion (Daria Kasatkina, 2017) left, and there's also a two-time runner-up (Elena Vesnina, 2011 and 2016).

wild card Sara Errani (photo by Daniel Ward)
Here is the third round draw:

Caroline Garcia (1) vs. Alize Cornet (14)
Kiki Bertens (12) vs. Fanny Stollar (Q)
Bernarda Pera vs. Sara Errani (WC)
Camila Giorgi vs. Madison Keys (7)
Julia Goerges (5) vs. Naomi Osaka (10)
Irina-Camelia Begu (13) vs. Daria Kasatkina (3)
Anastasija Sevastova (8) vs. Ashleigh Barty (9)
Elena Vesnina (16) vs. Kristyna Pliskova

Upsets abound on the third day of the Volvo Car Open

clockwise: Julia Goerges, Camila Giorgi, Kristyna Pkiskova, Kiki Bertens
(all photos by Daniel Ward)

Today, in Charleston, in 2nd round play, 2nd seed Petra Kvitova--making her first appearance at the Volvo Car Open--was defeated 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 by countrywoman Kristyna Pliskova, and 6th seed Johanna Konta was upset in straight sets by qualifier Fanny Stollar. Also going out was 11th seed Daria Gavrilova, who was sent home by always-dangerous Camila Giorgi.

A few seeded players had to fight hard for their victories. Kristie Ahn took 5th seed Julia Goerges to three sets, and Goerges won the match in a third set tiebreak (7-1). 8th seed Anastasija Sevastova also had to go to three sets, but defeated Caroline Dolehide 7-5, 6-7, 6-1. And Tatjana Maria took 9th seed Ash Barty to three sets.

Laura Siegemund, whose performances at the Volvo Car Open have been nothing short of stunning the past two years, chose Charleston to make her return to the tour after having to take almost a year off following a serious knee injury. Siegemund won her first round, but lost her second round to Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka. Osaka defeated Siegemund 6-3, 7-6, and the second set tiebreak (10-8) was a thrilling one.

12th seed Kiki Bertens defeated an injured Alex Krunic in straight sets, and two-time finalist Elena Vesnina, who is seeded 16th, defeated Taylor Townsend 6-4, 6-1.

Of interest tomorrow: Two Frenchwomen--top seed Caroline Garcia and 14th seed Alize Cornet--compete against one another in the featured night match. And first on the Volvo Car Stadium's Billie Jean King Court is a match I'm expecting to be exceptional: 5th seed Julia Goerges vs. 10th seed Naomi Osaka. Also, defending champion and 3rd seed Daria Kasatkina will face 13th seed Irina-Caelia Begu.

Pliskova ends Kvitova's Czech streak

photo by Daniel Ward
Kristyna Pliskova did something today that no Czech woman has done since 2012--she defeated Petra Kvitova and broke Kvitova's 24-match win streak against her countrywomen. Playing in the late afternoon in the second round of the Volvo Car Open, the big-serving Czech and the two-time Wimbledon champion engaged in a topsy-turvy contest in which Kvitova took the first set 6-1, and Pliskova took the second set 6-1.

Pliskova, like some other big servers on the tour, sometimes can't get into a service groove, and that's exactly what happened to her in the first set. But she corrected that problem in the second set, then proceeded to go up 5-1 in the third. Kvitova, who was sweating heavily throughout the match (in relatively cool conditions), and who looked kind of tired, got some kind of second wind, and suddenly, it was 5-3. And while she had chances to make it 5-4, Pliskova prevailed, knocking the 2nd seed out of the tournament.

Later, talking with the press, Pliskova, who is left-handed, said that it's very difficult for her to play left-handers, but once she found her serve, she felt more confident. Next for Pliskova is two-time runner-up Elena Vesnina.


photos by Daniel Ward

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Defending champion Kasatkina does it the hard way in Charleston

photo by Daniel Ward

It was the first night match of the 2018 Volvo Car Open, and defending champion Daria Kasatkina had to try out her clay court legs for the first time this season on the event's main court (specifically, the Billie Jean King court), with the crowd cheering enthusiastically for her opponent. That opponent, USA player Christina McHale, came close to sending Kasatkina home.

The Russian's game is generally one of craft and strategy, and includes her signature drop shot. But not tonight. Almost until the end, the opponents stayed on the baseline and traded groundstrokes--sometimes a lot of groundstrokes--and Kasatkina's errors made her increasingly vulnerable as the two hour and sixteen-minute match wore on. Kasatkina also had problems with her second serve, and--quite obviously to anyone who paid attention to her body language--her mentality.

Kasatkina won the first set 6-3, though she had trailed during much of it. She had little momentum going into the second, which McHale took 6-3.  Finally, though, she took control of a match that had often been dictated by her opponent. The change in Kasatkina's attitude and confidence was as dramatic in its rehabilitation as it had been in its collapse. She won the final set 6-2, breaking McHale at love in the last game.

photos by Daniel Ward

It was, at times, painful to watch the Russian star as she wilted, then became angry with herself. But in the end, she did what the truly superior players do: She found a way to win.

Next for Kasatkina will be qualifier Claire Liu.

Also today, 2010 champion Sam Stosur was defeated by Kristie Ahn in straight sets, and top seed Caroline Garcia defeated Varvara Lepchenko in straight sets. Garcia will face either Polona Hercog or Alize Cornet in the second round.

Alex Krunic: slight of build, fleet of foot, and born to compete

photos by Daniel Ward
Aleksandra Krunic is into the second round of the Volvo Car Open. The 25-year-old Moscow-born Serbian player defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 6-2 yesterday, and will face 12th seed Kiki Bertens in the second round. The hard-hitting, fast-moving Krunic has drawn the attention of fans in the last few years, partly because of her Fed Cup exploits. On more than one occasion, she was called in to play clutch doubles in final rubbers, and she played a major role in gaining victories for her country.

Now, fans are noticing Krunic on WTA courts. Last year, she won a thrilling match against Alona Ostapenko in Cincinnati, and there’s already a little buzz about her in Charleston. Krunic is quite small for a contemporary tennis player; she’s five feet, four inches tall and of slight build, but she competes quite well because of her speed, her hard hitting, and her very fierce competitive spirit.

I spent a little time with her today because I wanted to learn more about her and about her tennis.

The young Serbian began her tennis career when she was around three years old and her father gave her a racket with a sponge ball. Apparently, it was love at first sight. Krunic told me that it was hard to find a place to learn tennis in Moscow, but she was lucky—there was an older man giving tennis lessons at a court next door her house. At age four, she picked up a real racket and hasn’t put it down since.

“I played everything when I was a kid,” Krunic said. “I was an outdoor kid. I think I was the last generation of outdoor kids.”

Krunic was especially fond of soccer when she was a child. At age seven, she entered the Spartak Tennis Club. She also likes playing basketball, and her fitness coach is an ex-basketball pro.

Asked about her notable competitiveness, Krunic chalked it up to being Serbian. “I was always competing in everything. I think it’s more of my genes. I hate losing—that’s why I don’t play board games.”

The player who most influenced Krunic was former Australian- and French Open champion Mary Pierce, whom Krunic describes as “always a lady on court—but she was a hard hitter.”

Krunic describes herself as “fast but not strong.” She’s currently working more on balance. “I’ve worked on it a few weeks now, and I think it’s already better….Sometimes I get to the ball and I get satisfied that I’m just on the ball, and I forget that I can do much more with it.”

The Serbian has also added Sarah Stone to her team. Stone has effected some changes, and now, Krunic says, “I’m practicing more, but I’m a player who doesn’t practice much. I like to be intense, to keep my intensity. I prefer to be intense for one, one and a half hours, then spend three hours on the court.”

Aside from twisting her ankles a few times (‘because of the way I move”), Krunic has sustained no injuries in her professional career. She likes to slide on grass, so she tapes her ankles during grass court season.

I asked Krunic to talk about the obviously emotional moment when she defeated Kimiko Date in the Japanese star’s last-ever tennis match. Krunic defeated Date 6-0, 6-0 in the first round in Tokyo last year. She said she received some negative comments from non-athletes who were upset that she didn’t “give” Date a game. “I think the biggest respect I could show was just to be at my top,” Krunic explained. She talked with Date about this, and—not surprisingly—Date was in total agreement with her.

Talking about Kimiko Date prompted Krunic to discuss her feelings about what might happen after she retires from professional tennis. “This is all we know, pretty much. I’m trying to be very open, and I do my things on court, I leave, and I read an learn. But this tennis bubble is all we ever knew. You never get this adrenaline feeling ever the same….All of a sudden, you’re in the normal world, you have a lot of time to think….you know what the feeling was and you can’t get it back.”

When Krunic isn’t on the court or in the gym, she likes to drive her car, spend time with her godsons, and read about psychology: “I like to find things out about myself.”

I think that fans will be glad to find things out about her, too, as they keep an eye on her already-interesting career.