Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Family Circle Cup 2012: A Weekend in Pictures

This is my first ever pictures only thread. I thought of coming up with a bunch of clever captions but decided against it because I wasn't feeling particularly clever or witty when I decided to do this thread. I was coming off my disappointment with the tennis fan experience juxtaposed with the impressiveness of the tennis itself at the Family Circle Cup 2012. Of course I will be back next year. I like supporting women's tennis. It is a unique experience. And I have to admit that, apart from Venus, I did not have to deal with too much screaming, which was a blessing. I am all for the WTA belatedly deciding to regulate the banshees. They keep waking up my cat, and you don't want to wake up my cat if you can help it. But there was a moment against Safarova when Serena hit a great shot and clearly wanted to scream in celebration. But she stifled it. She quashed it. She pushed it back down. And the Asian lines-woman wasn't even there! I am all for self-containment. The screaming women have gotten out of control. Someone needs to step up and start applying some penalties. It IS possible to play Big Babe tennis without screaming. Indeed, in Charleston, there were moments when you could hear a pin drop. I am all for that.

The pictures I did not take in Charleston

I did not do much sightseeing over the past weekend in Charleston, and when I did go round and about, I forgot to take the camera. My focus all weekend was on tennis.

As a result, I have no photos to show of you of the amazing Ravenel bridge that crosses the Cooper river and connects downtown Charleston to the Mt. Pleasant area where our hotel was located. The hotels on Daniel Island were completely sold out so I had to settle for this commute. A word to the wise -- check the status of road construction before booking your hotel next year. It can make all the difference between an easy commute and a slight nightmare.

I also don't have photos of the trendy shopping and hipster vibe of downtown Charlotte, with fit young men riding pedicabs, a modern day version of the old hansom cab except that you can substitute gorgeous young men for stallions. Or maybe you can just call them stallions. As long as you tip well I suspect they won't mind what you call them. I strongly recommend eating at the Mellow Mushroom. Great pizza and such a laid-back vibe. I loved it.

I also don't have photos of the boats laid out one next to the other in the beautiful bay of the Isle of Palms. There is a distinct Caribbean feel to this part of Charleston. I could really imagine myself living there.

Back at the Family Circle Cup, I went looking to take a picture of the plaque or picture of Althea Gibson to whom the secondary court is dedicated. I could find neither. I asked an attendant and she had no idea where it was. But never mind, I find it comforting that there is a court dedicated to the memory of a great African-American player.

I thought of her as I sat behind a group of white American women during the Serena vs. Sam Stosur match. It was almost funny the way they tried to wrap their beer-soaked tongues around the phrase "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi". Of course people have the right to support whomever they want. But there is an unspeakable sadness about the fact that so many Americans do not see Venus and Serena as simply American. They see them first and foremost as Black. That alone explained why so much of the crowd seemed to be rooting for Sam. Against Safarova they seemed to accept that there was no hope so they just mainly stayed silent.

We have come so far and we have yet so far to go. So ironic that on the same weekend we were celebrating the group of women who got the WTA tour started. Virginia Slims was the first sponsor. “We've come a long way baby” was the slogan. Oh really?

At her interview Sam was asked about playing against Serena. She had nothing but praise for her opponent. If there was some hidden negative aspect to her body language, well then I completely missed it. All I saw was an athlete offering a genuine appraisal of her game and that of her opponent's. I wish her fans could learn from her example and start seeing beyond color.

But back to the pictures that I did not take over the weekend. I thought of taking pictures of some of Venus' outfits at the re-launching of her EleVen line. But none of the pieces inspired me. I felt that the collection lacked cohesion. There seemed to be more of a commitment to a color scheme than to a design esthetic. There were blacks and whites, a lot of pinks, and grays. There was watercolor, animal-like prints, and scribbles that bordered on graffiti. But there was no coherence to the collection. I did however like the black and white animal-print like capri leggings that Venus herself wore on court. Perhaps these had sold out because none of them were hanging in the shop.

In the end, the only photos I took were of tennis. In my next thread I will post a selection. It will be my first purely pictures thread. Feel free to add your own captions. And do remember to please ask my permission before using.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Liveblogging the Family Circle Cup 2012 Finals: Serena vs. Lucie

It was a terrific long weekend of tennis at the Family Circle Cup. I hope you enjoyed my commentary as much as I enjoyed writing it. Next up, a picture thread with a lot of the action I saw. Thanks for reading. And as ever, Serena showed them how it's done. Congrats Serena!

A woman next to me commented that she thought that Safarova made a better effort to beat Serena in the finals than Stosur did in the semis. I disagree. I think that Safarova seemed to accept that Serena was completely in the zone and that her efforts were better placed trying to win the doubles finals. In which case, the match against Serena served as an effective warm up. She and her partner needed three sets but Safarova did indeed win the doubles event. Congrats to her for getting two pay-checks in one week!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Live-blogging the Family Circle Cup - Serena vs. Sam

12:15pm. We're early so we're catching the end of the doubles match. Thank goodness the sun is out.
Match over. Somebody (one of the losers) threw a racket against the net in disgust.

Song being played: The Talking Heads "Letting the days go by..."
The crowd files out. 30 something minutes to go before Serena vs Sam. A match-up that is sure to get our juices flowing. Can't wait!

12:39pm. The clay court is being watered by hand. There is something so charming about this. I'm used to the automatic sprinklers.
12:59. Ball teens on the court. A significant number of them are African-American. Serena about to enter.

What an athlete!
Serena's entry song: "Boom Boom Pow!"

1:13pm. Serena in electric blue top, black skirt, lime-green accessories.  And the opening break at love.
1:16. Serena holds at love. 2-0.
The crowd is rooting for Sam. They want a match.
Brilliant passing shot by Serena.
Equally brilliant serving by Sam to finally get on the board. 2-1 Serena.

1:28pm. Two lethal forehands later, Serena has another break. 4-1.
Now Michael Jackson is asking us if we wanna be starting something.  He's kinda late. Something has already started.

1:37pm. Unnerving game. Serena got tested but held. 5-1.
1:42pm. Serena breaks again! Set 1 is over in less than 30 minutes!Baby girl is robably aiming to close this out under 60 minutes.

No bathroom break for me. I learn my lesson from yesterday.

1:46pm. Second set. Serena holds, hitting I swear the exact same spot for three shots in a row. Sam challenged the first time and lost.  So Serena hit it again. And then again.  Lol!
Serena breaks and stifles a yelp. She probably remembers the high price she paid for that.
2:00pm. Sam double faults to give Serena yet another break.  4-0 Serena. Somebody in the crowd yells "Bring it Serena!"

6-0 5-0 Serena. Sam seems subdued. Where is that Asian line lady when she's most needed?
Song choice: Bad Mama Jammer. Lol!
Sam holds. The crowd goes nuts. Serena serving for the match at 6-1 5-1.

2:12pm. Match over. 6-1 6-1 Serena.

Sam's interview : She is refusing to make excuses for spending more time out on court. She thought that Serena was simply unbeatable today. Sam has the prettiest blue eyes.

2:30pm. Waiting for Serena. ESPN got her first. Us plebs have to wait.
2:31pm. I spoke too soon. She's here.

Very charming interview. She agrees that she was in the zone and then cracks herself up that she could have beaten Andy today. She can't contain her laughter. The crowd is charmed. Serena looks like someone with whom you would enjoy hanging out.

Next up:  Live-blogging the finals. Tune back in tomorrow for my comments on Serena vs. Lucie Safarova. They both dispatched their opponents in under an hour today. Lucie won 6-0 6-0, Serena 6-1 6-1. Serena leads their head to head 4-0, but it took her four sets to close out the lefty the last time they met in Toronto 2011. It's gonna be a good finals.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Live blogging the Family Circle Cup: Venus vs. Sam Stosur

First of all it is damn cold. As in brrrrrrr...
I dunno how Sam Stosur could possibly be in a short skirt. Venus' outfit is cute and practical.
Sam held easily but Venus is being made to work.
The crowd seems a tad subdued. Maybe Serena's win exhausted them.
Damn it's cold.
Nice tricky slice by Sam. Venus did not know how to lift it back.
If Venus keeps facing deuce games, I'm afraid the outcome is predictable.
We're on serve. 23 minutes in. Pretty sized crowd.
But lots of empty spaces folks. Come on down!
So how predictable was that break point? Sam is up 4-2.
Sam painted that line. She holds easily 5-2.
Game Sam. But she did have to work for it.
End of first set.
3:23pm. Now the second set begins. Oops my bad that I forgot to time-stamp the above entries. I'm a Luddite trying to get used to this technology crap.
Venus got broken. She has the energy of my grandma. That is not a diss. Just an observation. But she is fighting.
3:29pm. Vee got the break back. I did not see that coming.
3:32 Just spilled my coffee. It's too cold here to waste coffee.
Sam breaks again. Must be a WTA match.
3:43pm. Sam has faced several break points. Both women want this. Venus gets the break. The crowd is finally into it. Back on serve.
Venus holds. 3-2 Venus.
Sam seems to be falling off a bit. Break point Venus.
3:54pm. Venus has caught a second wind. Folks we have a match! Venus leads 5-2 in the second set.
Now Sam is the one moving like my grandma. What gives?
Venus needs to volley better if she is coming to net.
Both women slicing sweetly and effectively.
4:10pm. Not clear if the crowd wants Venus to win or just want a third set.
Venus wants this break so bad she can taste it!
4:16pm. Venus gets the break! On to a third set.

Why are the lines always so damn long for the women's room? I'm missing the start of the third set.

1:48pm. Sweet passing shot by Sam.
Venus' ball kid/assistant changed into long pants. Can't say I blame her. It is fricking cold.
Song being played: "Here comes the sun". Someone has a sense of humor.
4:46pm. Sam being made to fight. Advantage Williams.
4:50pm. Sam held. But she got pushed. Good match.
4:53 Easier hold for Venus.
5:00pm. Sam played a sweet drop shot. Will she break for the match? She does.

5:10pm. Waiting for Sam's interview.
Sam says she's happy for her first win against Venus.
Next up she faces Serena in the semis. Her coach just had a baby so Sam is flying solo.

I tried going back to watch Vera vs Lucie but it's just too cold. I leave as Vera is up 4-2 in the first set. Off to the hotel. I will be live-blogging again tomorrow. I hear it will be warmer.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

When emancipation works, and when it doesn't

Of course I don't mean emancipation in the strict legal sense of a minor who persuades a court that living independently as an adult is better for them than remaining under the care and control of toxic parents. I am referring more to the psychological separation between parent tennis coach and adult child. Sometimes emancipation works for a player. Sometimes it doesn't. It has clearly worked for Aggy Radwanska.

Radwanska fired her father Robert as her coach in July 2011. There seemed to be no negativity in the decision. Their father-daughter relationship seems fine. And one imagines that Robert is tremendously proud of the fact that she has won some four tournaments ever since she emancipated herself and hired Polish Fed Cup captain Tomasz Wiktorowski full time. Her father remains a sometimes hitting partner when she is in Poland. But coach Wiktorowski is coolly in charge. Long time WTA veteran coach, Borna Bikic, was recently added to the team. And their results have been phenomenal.

Few parents who have spent a lifetime hovering over their children's careers can let go as gracefully as Mr. Radwanska has. He came to Miami, his daughter said, but as a tourist. And really the years of sacrificing for his children's achievement must have meant that Mr. Radwanska would have missed out on the pleasures of sight-seeing despite having traveled the globe. This time he elected not to change his ticket for a Friday departure even though he knew that his daughter was playing in the finals the next day. I truly admired that.

The typical tennis helicopter parent – yes Mr. Wozniacki, I am watching you – would never have gotten on that plane. Mr. Radwanka expressed to his daughter his confidence in her ability to win the match, and got on the plane. His departure was a statement of respect for and confidence in her. And it was clear that those were the messages that Agnieska received and internalized.

Her confidence never wobbled against Sharapova. And really it was Sharapova who should have been the more confident of the two. After all, she has a decidedly winning record against Aggy. And she has the bigger game. But Sharapova got broken in the last game of each set, making 45 errors in total. In the end Radwanska won because she had the higher first serve percent (never mind their lack of fire power), she committed far few errors, and she forced Sharapova to generate her own power – a strategy that almost guarantees that Sharapova will hit many balls long. And she did.

Sharapova also emancipated herself from her father. In her case I think that this has neither helped nor hurt her. And really it was never clear if it was Sharapova who told her father to back off or if Yuri came to the conclusion that his daughter didn't need his input anymore. Either way, his absence has made no difference to her tennis success.

This is because Sharapova is a stubborn competitor. She has one knob on her dial – full-blast. When it works her tennis can be scintillating. When she starts making errors, yet continues to go for broke with zero adjustments, it can be shocking. Really her father's presence or absence would make little difference to such an inflexible mentality.

Up 4-1 in the first set in the semi-final match against Wozniacki, with a point to go up 5-1, Sharapova smacked a backhand hard into the net. This was followed quickly by two massive forehand errors. Next thing you know it was deuce and you could tell that Caro was going to seize the chance.

In fact it was in that match that I finally hit on the word that I think best describes Wozniacki's game. Wozniacki is opportunistic. She has a keen nose for sensing those micro-moments when an opportunity to wedge herself into a match has presented itself. And off she goes, determined to exploit it. It took three sets for Sharapova to finally throttle her.

Wozniacki's weakness is her frank inability to create or set up such moments. She doesn't seem to have the strategic intelligence to figure out exactly how to beat her opponents. She can sense their lapses but she cannot create them. All she knows how to do is scamper and defend, defend and scamper. And this may why she remains a good tennis player but will never be a great one.

I had hoped that the temporary emancipation from her father would have made a difference to Wozniacki's psychological growth. The truth is that it really has not. Or maybe it did not even really get a chance to because it didn't last long enough. Because Mr. Wozniacki is solidly back, on his knees court-side, urging her on, drilling into her psyche, dominating her will to win with his own. Emancipation? She probably can't even spell it in Danish.