Monday, April 11, 2011

Family Circle 2011 Doubles Wrap-Up

Early Saturday evening, I strolled over in the direction of Murphy Jensen’s straining voice. He seemed to be working really hard to entertain the audience, part of the extra-curricular buzz that surrounds most tennis tournaments. By the time I got there, a teenager was in the middle of performing what she called a Justin Bieber parody. Since I didn’t know the original song, I had no idea if the parody was witty or lame. But the kids in the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves well enough. She seemed really into singing. I wondered if she also played tennis.

I left before she finished because I noticed some movement towards the smaller secondary tennis court named after Althea Gibson. I meant to look to see if there was something representing Althea in this space but I totally forgot in my haste to secure a decent seat from which I could take pictures. We did not have to wait long. Peng Shuai and her partner Zheng Jie soon walked onto the court, followed closely by Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina.

One of the ironies of this match is that it would have been better for the scheduling if the Chinese women had won. Had Peng and Zheng managed to pull out a win, they would have faced Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy in the finals the following day. A win by Vesnina and Mirza would mean that Vesnina would have to play in both the singles and doubles finals. In the end, this is exactly what transpired. And it made a slight mess of the schedule as doubles was then played after the singles’ finals, instead of before it as is tradition. (Since the timing of the singles finals was not affected in any way, and since she won the match in straights, I did not really understand why Wozniacki was unable to do a proper post-match interview. Getting big for our shoes are we?)

But back to the doubles where I had seen Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy defeat Peschke and Srebotnik earlier that morning. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in their play. Mattek-Sands is a flashy player in every sense of the word. Between the orange socks, under eye black stripes, and non-tennis sneakers, girlfriend is clearly no introvert. Her tennis can be erratic at times as she goes for big shots even sometimes when she is not in a position to pull them off. But she does seem to have a solid understanding of doubles play.

I was surprised however to discover that Shaughnessy’s main strategy seemed to be to go down the line hard. Because between them Shaughnessy is the far more experienced doubles player, I expected more of her performance at the net. And I’m not saying that she did not contribute anything to this win – to be fair, she slapped some returns so hard you had to wonder how someone so frail-looking could produce such zing. But if she played anything effectively at the net, I must have missed it.

But back to Saturday evening, where I discovered that Zheng Jie may also have been having an off-day. With 12 WTA doubles titles under her belt, Zheng Jie knows how to play doubles tennis. But on Saturday evening, the only thing she seemed to be good at was jumping around like a crab at the net, making fake moves as if she is going for the poach when the truth was that she was exerting a lot of energy but accomplishing nothing. In the meantime poor Peng who had played a thrilling three-setter against Mirza just that morning, had to turn around and do the yeoman’s work of trying to defeat the combination of Vesnina and Mirza. It was not to be.

I don’t know how much energy Vesnina really exerted in trying to beat Wozniacki in singles on Sunday morning. When you play an opponent like Wozniacki whose principal strategy is to keep the ball in play, you have to end up hitting a crapload of balls in order to win a single point. Caroline wins matches not because she is blasting anyone off the court a la Serena, but because no matter what you play her, she will get the ball back.

I can remember only two moments in the match against Vesnina when Caroline gave up the point and elected not to chase down a ball. The excellent points that Vesnina constructed clearly came from her doubles experience. But to keep up that strategy would have meant losing the element of surprise after a while. Yes, Wozniacki is that competitive and persistent.

The doubles finals against Mattek-Sands and Shaughnessy was a strange match. In both sets, Vesnina and Mirza took a strong lead, only to see it erased by the Americans performing in front of a partisan crowd. But fresh off their victory at Indian Wells a few weeks ago, Mirza and Vesnina never lost confidence. Between Mirza’s powerful forehand, Vesnina’s spicy backhand, and both of their courage at net, the eventual win was inevitable. I commented to a woman next to me that the crowd seemed far more vocal and excited than they had been during the preceding singles match. Frankly, it was nice to see doubles actually ruling the day.

Althea Gibson Club Court, photo courtesy Charlie Cowins

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