If you were a tennis racket in your next life, whose would you rather be?
Or Benoit Paire’s?
The tennis world was first introduced to Olivia Rogowska when she pushed then-World No. 1 Dinara Safina to the limit in the first round at the 2009 US Open. An 18-year old, Rogowska played with the reckless abandon one would expect from a teenager in her first professional season. Safina recovered from an 0-3, 15-40 deficit in the third set and escaped with a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 win.
At the 2009 US Open, Rogowska was a wild card – a position she has since become quite familiar with in her five professional seasons. However, with a career-high ranking of No. 111, current ranking of No. 172 and career earnings of just $486,920, she’s received little career benefit from those handouts. With a 6-3, 7-5 loss to Kimiko Date-Krumm in the first round of the Brisbane International this afternoon, Rogowska’s WTA record as a wild card in Australia falls to 1-12.
2014: R1 – l. to Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 7-5
2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Monica Puig 6-2, 6-3
2012: R1 – l. to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-2, 4-6, 6-4
2011: R1 – l. to (Q) Tamira Paszek 6-1, 6-3
2010: R1 – l. to (2) Shahar Peer 6-3, 6-2
2009: R1 – l. to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-1
2013: R1 – l to Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 6-2
2013: R1 – l. to (Q) Vesna Dolonc 5-7, 7-5, 8-6
2012: R1 – d. Sofia Arvidsson 6-3, 6-1 | R2 – l. to (5) Li Na 6-2, 6-2
2011: R1 – l. to Evgeniya Rodina 6-3, 6-1
2010: R1 – l. to Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 2-6, 6-2
2009: R1 – l. to (31) Alona Bondarenko 5-7, 6-3, 6-2
In addition, Rogowska has received the reciprocal Australian wild card at the other three slams three times. As a wild card at Roland Garros and the US Open, she has recorded an overall record of 1-3.
While this is not necessarily an indictment on Rogowska herself, her situation represents one that has become all too common. Players from the four Grand Slam nations have long been the beneficiary of nearly-unlimited wild cards when the opportunity arises, regardless of deciding factors including age, ability level and recent results. Rogowska played out of her skin for a set and a half against a crumbling Safina nearly five years ago, and has ridden that result (of a match she lost) even since. Often, she’s continually placed in draws where she’s out of her depth and has failed more often than she has succeeded. As a result, she’s achieved little momentum in her professional career.
One Australian player who didn’t receive a main draw wild card into the Brisbane International is Ashleigh Barty. She received a wild card to the qualifying draw instead. Barty, the 17-year old wunderkind who reached three Grand Slam doubles finals last year with Casey Dellacqua, has struggled to make inroads in singles on the women’s tour. After battling past Cagla Buyukakcay 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the opening round, she defeated sixth-seeded Julia Glushko 6-3, 6-2 to move into the final round of qualifying. In the final round, Barty saved five match points in defeating Kiki Bertens, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Two fairly young players (Barty, 17 & Rogowska, 22), two different situations. Even if Barty also loses her first match in the main draw, she would leave Brisbane with a lot more confidence and momentum than Rogowska.
With this not a unique situation, it becomes a question of whether or not the wild card system itself is flawed. Does a concept meant to give players an opportunity that they might not get otherwise end up doing more harm than good?
When Jelena Dokic arrived in Melbourne Park in January of 2009, all she had left was her story.
More than a decade removed from her professional debut, Dokic had been languishing around in proverbial limbo since dropping out of the top 100 in 2004. She fell off the WTA rankings following a 2007 season where she played just one match, a 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to Giulia Gatto-Monticone in an ITF $10,000 event in Rome, and earned $98. After cutting off all ties with her controversial father, Damir, and pleading Tennis Australia for help, Dokic recommitted herself and made a full-time return to competitive tennis in 2008. She won three titles on the ITF Circuit (including a 25K in Germany where she defeated Michelle Gerards 6-0, 6-0 in the final), and decided she was ready to test the waters at Grand Slam level once again.
She emerged from the round robin stage of the Australian Open wildcard playoffs with a 2-1 record and defeated Monika Wejnert in the final match to earn a spot in the main draw of the 2009 Australian Open.
Ranked No. 187, Dokic’s 2009 Australian Open campaign began on Hisense Arena against Tamira Paszek. Paszek was fighting her own demons, as just one year earlier, she participated in possibly one of the most dramatic matches in the history of the tournament on that very same court. In a battle of two-handed backhands, it was Dokic who prevailed over an opponent ranked 107 places higher than her in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
It was Dokic’s first win in a Grand Slam since 2003 and at the event itself in 10 years. To put it in context, Dokic was 15 when she had last won a match at the Australian Open. She had not yet defected back to her family’s native Yugoslavia, nor had yet she returned to her adopted homeland proclaiming herself truly Australian. Despite her rocky relationship history with her adopted homeland, as the match against Paszek went on, the Australians began to pull their support behind Dokic more and more.
Dokic returned to Rod Laver Arena for the first time in eight years two nights later, when she faced off against No. 17 (and equally tragic tennis heroine) Anna Chakvetadze. In her player’s box sat only her boyfriend Tim Bikic and his brother and her new coach, Borna Bikic. That didn’t seem to matter for Dokic, because for the first time, she also had nearly 15,000 strong in her corner as well.
After serving for the match at 6-4 5-3, Dokic proceeded to lose the second set in a tiebreak before rebounding to take the match 6-4, 6-7, 6-3. An emotional Dokic broke down in her post-match interview, recognizing just how much the crowd support meant to her.
To quote Maria Sharapova, Rod Laver Arena became Dokic’s home for the rest of the tournament as she battled her way through two more three-setters against No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 29 Alisa Kleybanova (two-part highlights here and here) to reach the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since Roland Garros in 2002, when she played for Yugoslavia. It was her first final eight showing as an Australian since Wimbledon in 2000. Far from her peak fitness, Dokic consistently remarked how much the crowd played a part in pulling her through.
After rolling her ankle late in the third set against Kleybanova, Dokic’s fairytale run came to an end at the hands of Dinara Safina in the quarterfinals, 6-4 4-6 6-4.
In the five years since her magical showing Down Under, Dokic’s still been riding the roller coaster that’s defined her career. After finishing 2009 at No. 57, her highest ranking since 2003, she shot down the rankings just as quickly in 2010. She returned to the top 100 in 2011, won her first WTA title in nearly nine years in Kuala Lumpur and also reached the final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch before losing to Roberta Vinci. However, it was in 2011 that things began to unravel for Dokic. She struggled that season with mononucleosis, a hamstring injury and a right shoulder injury. It was a wrist injury that proved to be her undoing in 2012, one that required surgery.
Now unranked once again, Dokic will play her first competitive tennis match in 18 months today, again at the annual Australian Open wildcard playoff hosted by Tennis Australia. Her opponent in the first round? Jarmila Gajdosova, who’s looking to script a comeback of her own after being sidelined with mononucleosis herself for much of 2013.
“I think it’s always the same – the love for the game,” Dokic told The Australian. “I don’t think that ever changes…I don’t really care as much whether I win, whether I lose and how I play, I just want to be out there and have that feeling again of competing and being nervous and adrenaline and everything.”
Although all of Australia might not be watching when Dokic takes the court Tuesday in the shadow of Rod Laver Arena, whatever happens next is just another chapter in her story.
‘Merica (and Pam) met Yulia Putintseva in week one. It did not go well.
If two pushers play a 71-shot rally in the middle of the night, and no one is around to shed tears of pain, is it still offensive?
“I wanna have good communication with the fans.”
Trick shots FTW. Well, except when you don’t.
This post originally appeared at Tennis Grandstand.
What makes a successful doubles pairing?
Of course there are the obvious things, like a dominant serve, a quality volley or solid groundstrokes. However, sometimes the most important thing in crucial situations is not the technical tennis, but the chemistry of the team. The most successful teams trust each other’s judgement completely, which allows them to act on both individual and team instincts on the biggest points. However, this bond doesn’t come overnight. Two of the greatest doubles teams of all time, Bob and Mike Bryan and Venus and Serena Williams, have spent a lifetime developing this chemistry; the American sibling pairs have amassed a staggering 25 Grand Slams titles between them.
Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, while not related by blood, have perhaps the next best thing.
For what they lack in size, as they stand at just 5’5” and 5’4” respectively, they make up for it in guile, passion and craftiness. While each made great strides individually in singles in 2012, the Italians also ruled the doubles court; their history-making year began with a run to the Australian Open finals at the #11 seeds, where they lost to the unseeded pairing of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva.
Errani and Vinci’s exploits in 2012 were reminiscent to those that the fellow-BFF tandem of Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta put together in 2010. Dulko and Pennetta won seven titles that year, including the WTA Championships in Doha; they ended the year as No. 1 and finally got their slam at the 2011 Australian Open.
Following the loss Down Under, Errani and Vinci went on a tear, winning WTA events in Acapulco, Monterrey, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In addition, they came out on top of Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko in three sets to triumph at Roland Garros, and dominated Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in two to win the US Open. They ascended to the No. 1 ranking in September and finished the year in the top spot.
When Errani and Vinci returned to Australia in 2013, with one less “1” next to their seeding, the pair came full circle.
Much of the Australian Open doubles tournament’s narrative focused on the Williams sisters, the “de facto best team in the world regardless of the rankings.” There were calls, perhaps unfair ones, for the Williams sisters to be bumped to the top seeding. The duo only played two of the four slams in 2012, in addition to the Olympics. Facing off against the 12th-seeded Americans in the quarterfinals, Errani and Vinci appeared determined to prove their worth. The Americans served for the match twice in the second set and led 3-0 in the third, but the Italians would rally for a 3-6, 7-6(1), 7-5 win. Although the Williams sisters won Wimbledon in 2012 and took home Olympic gold, the Italians did just as much winning on the biggest stages last year. Once a team learns how to win together, it’s a hard habit to break.
The tandem defeated the Cinderella story of the tournament, wildcard Australians Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to win their third major championship. ”Our strength is that we always play together,” Vinci said, after winning the title. “We went out there today with lots of grit, we really wanted to win.”
In the last four slams, the Italians have amassed a 20-1 record, the only loss coming in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon to Hlavackova and Hradecka. They now hold 14 doubles titles total, including their three majors. Prior to this stretch, the pair had never won a title greater than an International-level WTA event.
Sometimes, continued success can bring about ego trips and adversely affect a team’s chemistry. For example, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova, who won three grand slam doubles titles together, had a notorious falling out at an exhibition match in Chile in 2000; when Kournikova agreed with a lines judge about a disputed call, Hingis retorted, “Do you think you are the queen? Because I am the queen.” A screaming match featuring the throwing of flowers, vases and trophies reportedly followed afterwards in the locker room.
Conversely, all of their success has appeared to make Errani and Vinci’s friendship stronger than ever; as far as we know, the biggest off-court spat the Italians have ever had was spurred on by the question: “Who can keep it up for longer?”
I always tell myself that I’m never going to get involved with the two most ridiculous debates in tennis, grunting and equal prize money, but just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
Let me preface this by saying this is not going to be a rant about the aesthetics of grunting. Some find it annoying, while others, such as myself, aren’t bothered by it at all. That’s completely acceptable; I’m not here to force my opinion on others, nor would I appreciate others forcing their opinion on me. However, I am here to address facts.
It is because of this that I felt the need to write this, against my better judgement; despite the fact that this non-issue has already been beaten to hell and back, the commentary on it points towards another, even more glaring issue in tennis.
If Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils play a 71-shot rally in the dead of night, did it really happen?
Yes, Virginia. Unfortunately, it did.
This post originally appeared on Tennis Grandstand.
Since Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova announced Russia’s arrival in women’s tennis in 2004 with their Grand Slam triumphs, the nation took a stranglehold on the WTA rankings. Serena Williams once joked that she should just be called “Williamsova” at the 2009 Wimbledon Championships, where the main draw contained 24 -ovas and seven -evas. ”I just know the standard: everyone is from Russia,” she quipped following her first round win. “Sometimes I think I’m from Russia, too. With all these new -ovas, I don’t know anyone, I don’t really recognize anyone.”
At one point during 2008, Russians made up 50% of the world’s top 10, with Kuznetsova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva and Anna Chakvetadze all occupying places in the elite. That came in the period when Sharapova was sidelined with a shoulder injury. They swept the podium at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with Dementieva winning gold, Safina taking silver and Zvonareva winning bronze. However, in the 2012 year-end rankings, there were only four in the top 20, or 20%.
That led to the question: where have all the Russians gone? Dementieva’s retirement, coupled with injuries to Safina, Chakvetadze and Zvonareva, made many feel as though the days of Russian dominance on the WTA were over. Their mantle of churning out multiple quality WTA players all at once had now been taken up by nations such as Germany and the Czech Republic, and the longstanding tennis powerhouses of the United States and Great Britain have multiple young stars with bright futures.
The answer is: the Russians never really left, they were just taking a vacation.
With Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Maria Kirilenko, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina all making the second week Down Under, it marks the first time that Russia has had more than two players reach the second week of a major event since the 2011 US Open.
Little needs to be said about Sharapova and Kuznetsova, arguably the two greatest Russians in terms of career accomplishments, who have six Grand Slam titles between them and 40 overall titles. Kuznetsova’s reascension has been particularly notable, as she missed almost half of 2012 due to a knee injury.
Kirilenko, perhaps one of the hardest workers on the WTA, makes the most of what she has. In addition to being a standout doubles player, Kirilenko reached her career-high ranking in singles in 2012. She and countrywoman Nadia Petrova, who’s had a late-career renaissance in her own right, won the bronze medal in doubles at the Olympics; she finished fourth in singles, losing to Victoria Azarenka in the bronze medal match. Kirilenko’s had success Down Under before, as she reached the quarterfinals in 2010 after upsetting Sharapova in the first round; she’ll have an extremely tough test against Serena Williams.
Makarova has had her greatest successes in places called ‘bourne. The lefty stormed to the title at the WTA Premier event in Eastbourne as a qualifier in 2010, beating Flavia Pennetta, Nadia Petrova, Kuznetsova, Samantha Stosur and Azarenka in the final. She’s perhaps best known for her upset over Serena Williams at the Australian Open last year en route to the quarterfinals, and matched the feat this year by taking out Angelique Kerber. Her 11-5 record Down Under is her best mark out of all the majors. If the US Open was held in Bourne, Massachusetts, she’d probably win it.
Vesnina, who reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in her Grand Slam debut in 2006, matched the feat this year. In her seventh career final to open the year in Hobart, she dethroned defending champion Mona Barthel to finally win a WTA title. She’s taken out two seeds this week, No. 21 Varvara Lepchenko and No. 16 Roberta Vinci.
In addition, Valeria Savinykh scored an upset win over Dominika Cibulkova in the second round and junior standout Daria Gavrilova qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw and had a second round showing.
As the old cliché goes, it’s always about “quality, not quantity.” As the Russians on the WTA have proved over the past decade, you can have both.
This post originally appeared at Tennis Grandstand.
For the majority of the past decade, the blue and yellow banner of Ukraine was carried by the Bondarenko sisters on the WTA Tour. Alona and Kateryna were the 2008 Australian Open champions in doubles, and each had a noteworthy career in singles in her own right. Alona peaked at No. 19 in 2008, won two career titles and recorded career wins over Jelena Jankovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova. Kateryna, the younger of the two, reached the quarterfinals at the 2009 US Open, won her only WTA title at Birmingham in 2008 and recorded wins over Venus Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na.
However, with Alona suffering multiple injuries and requiring surgeries over the past two seasons and Kateryna marrying and becoming pregnant, 2012 marked the first time in 10 years that no Ukrainian woman finished in the top 100 in the WTA rankings.
Enter Lesia Tsurenko.
The 23-year-old from Vladimirec was born in 1989, grouping her with higher-ranked players like Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova and Sabine Lisicki; however, unlike her peers, she only turned professional in 2007. Tsurenko doesn’t come from a sporting family; in fact, she comes from the polar opposite. Her father Viktor used to work in international relations for a nuclear power plant before retiring; her mother Larisa is an economist; her older sister Oxana is a lawyer. Lesia herself studied at Ukraine’s National University of Physical Education and Sports and speaks three languages.
A journey woman of sorts for the early part of her WTA career, Tsurenko began to make strides in 2012. She played in the main draw of all four Grand Slams for the first time and she reached her first career WTA quarterfinal in Memphis. Behind her great two-handed backhand, she was the #1 for Ukraine’s Fed Cup team for the first time in her career in a tie against the United States, and defeated Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani on clay. She finished the year just outside of the top 100 at No. 102.
Tsurenko travelled to Brisbane to open 2013 and lost in the final round of qualifying; however, she was granted entry into the main draw when Maria Sharapova withdrew with a collarbone injury.
It was made known afterwards that Tsurenko received the lucky loser spot because the two higher-ranked losers in qualifying did not sign in by the deadline. As the underdog in all of her Brisbane matches, Tsurenko defeated both Jarmila Gajdosova and Daniela Hantuchova on her way to the semifinals; she would take the first set from Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before the Russian would rally for the three set win. As a result of her first career WTA semifinal, Tsurenko broke back into the top 100 at No. 83 – a new career high.
As the entry deadline for the Australian Open had already passed, Tsurenko still needed to play qualifying, but would now be the top seed.
While some players might have had difficulty playing in qualifying with a ranking high enough for the main draw, Tsurenko put her nose to the grindstone and just went about business. She received perhaps the toughest opening round draw against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a former top 30 player coming back from injury. Tsurenko won the match in three sets and had little difficulty in her other two matches to make the main draw.
She was drawn in the only qualifier spot that opposed a seeded player and would face off against Pavlyuchenkova for the second time in almost as many weeks. This time, however, Tsurenko would get her revenge against the higher-ranked Russian, winning 7-5, 3-6, 7-5. In the second round, she faced off against teenaged qualifier Daria Gavrilova in the sweltering heat on Thursday; after falling behind *4-0 in the opening set, Tsurenko won seven of the next eight games to take command of the match and would pull out the 7-5, 6-3 win.
Tsurenko’s hot start to 2013 is proving that the hand you’re dealt is close to irrelevant if you don’t know how to play your cards. Whatever the result of her third round match against Caroline Wozniacki, she’ll rocket past her previous career-high when the new rankings are released. A stroke of good fortune kicked off her 2013, but hard work and dedication has allowed her to take advantage of it. If you’re not convinced, you can take her word for it.
The weather was the real story on day four at Melbourne Park; players were put to the test in brutal conditions, with temperatures reaching 106 F around midday. Fans sought cover in the shaded areas of the show courts, and many of the outer courts were devoid of spectators who sought relief from the heat. Players were shaded by umbrellas and treated with bags of ice on changeovers, and even umpires and lines people were instructed to keep themselves hydrated.
Later, many of the players spoke about the difficulties of adapting to the conditions.