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Victoria Azarenka got personal with Mariana Alves in her 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Ekaterina Makarova in Madrid. After Azarenka missed a return to open the seventh game, she smashed her racket to the ground and broke it. Alves proceeded to give her both a code violation and give her point penalty, as she had already issued Azarenka a code violation earlier in the match for allegedly swearing at the crowd.
The confrontation peaked with Azarenka taking a swipe at Alves’ history of questionable officiating decisions.
“After all you’ve done, how are you still in the game?”
Oof. The dagger.
The oft-maligned Alves didn’t deserve to be the target of Azarenka’s ire in this match, and I wrote about the broader implications of the Belarusian’s outburst at Tennis Grandstand:
This isn’t your typical argument with an umpire; whether she intended to or not, Azarenka took a cheap shot at the umpire from Portugal. Anyone with a sense of tennis history knows Alves’ track record of questionable officiating decisions, highlighted by the infamous match between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati at the US Open in 2004. Nonetheless, her previously poor decisions have no bearing in a match where she made an entirely correct decision, and handled Azarenka impeccably. However, by saying what she said to Alves’ face, Azarenka is making her aware that the entire locker room knows of this previous history; she’s undermining Alves’ authority right in front of her for not only that match, but for future matches.
Taking out her frustrations on Alves didn’t do Azarenka much good, as the Russian won five consecutive games to close out the match.
One of Wimbledon’s many glorious traditions is the annual WTA players’ party, which takes place on the Thursday before the tournament begins. There is no tennis to tear apart until Sunday, so we can slam the outfits instead! Presenting: Your Obligatory WTA Fashion Police Blog Post!
The defending champion continues to shine when given the chance. After being thrust into the public eye following her Wimbledon win in 2011, the soft-spoken Czech has embraced her outer sparkle off the court.
As we know, the only reason why Jelena even bothers to play tennis these days is for extra spending money, clothes and parties. She can’t even do that right anymore.
Venus and Serena Williams
Venus and Serena’s fashion choices over the past decade have sometimes wowed us, and other times, have left us scratching our heads. Both opted for classic options, but the jury’s still out on the hair.
Maria Sharapova doing what Maria Sharapova does with commanding presence as always. She wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood red carpet. Bonus points for the shoes.
— kutzna irawan (@tkuzna) June 22, 2012
Azarenka, who also opts for casual looks at these events more often than not
(yes, that debacle at Indian Wells excluded), sports a new layered hairdo to go with her trusty black leggings.
If you’re experiencing deja vu, don’t fret! I am too. Wozniacki sported a similar off the shoulder black dress and up-do at last year’s players’ party. Stella, get the girl another look, stat.
Take me to your leader. China’s first Grand Slam champion rocks the makeup and hair as always, but I do wonder if the dress picks up radio signals. Or at one time sustained alien life.
Ivanovic, unlike her compatriot Jankovic, never fails to disappoint. Although this picture does. The only negative of this dress was the fringed monstrosity on the bottom that I’ve spared you from seeing. Thank me later.
Radwanska rocking a simple, black floor length gown. Although, if I were her, I’d lose the number of Kuznetsova’s hair dresser.
The Russian knocks it out of the park, and the dress really brings out her eyes. My winner for sure.
“Imagine all the people, living life in peace….” When Caroline Wozniacki was World #1, the WTA was a world straight out of a Beatles song. The Dane, dubbed “Sunshine” by the press, brought that image out to the media and the rest of the WTA seemed to follow. The prevailing theme was peace and love, and everyone got along.
“She’s a nice girl, a really good friend of mine…”
She’s tough to play because she’s “a great champion” even if she barely won something relevant six years ago.
Everyone’s a really good player and forces you to play your best even though she’s ranked 324.
In January, the utopia was threatened. Queen Karolina’s reign over the WTA was slipping. And then it began. The claws, retracted for a grueling 67 weeks, began to come out.
It all began with Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska who, after her quarterfinal loss to Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open, was asked about the “grunting issue” in women’s tennis:
Q. There’s been a lot made of the noise of some of the female players. What are your thoughts on that?
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: To be honest, I’m kind of used to it, you know, especially with Vika. We know each other for many years. About Maria, I mean, what can I say? For sure that is pretty annoying and it’s just too loud. Yeah.
Sharapova, who has always had a tendency to be blunt in press, had this to say in response:
Q. A bunch of players this week have made comments talking about how they think the noise that you and Azarenka in particular make is excessive.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Who?
Q. Radwanska was one player that said she thinks the noise you and Azarenka make is excessive and she’d like to see the WTA change the rules to prohibit that.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Isn’t she back in Poland already?
There is little love lost between Sharapova and Radwanska, as their head to head history would suggest. Radwanska, as a teenager, stunned defending champion Sharapova in the third round of the 2007 US Open. Since then, Sharapova had not lost to Radwanska until the final of the Sony Ericsson Open in March.
Radwanska wasn’t done yet. In the semifinals in Doha, Azarenka was treated for an ankle injury while leading comfortably in the match. Azarenka continued the match, and handily defeated Radwanska in straight sets. After the match, Radwanska hit out at her former close friend:
“Well, to be honest, I don’t think this is worth a comment. But I think after this match….just lost a lot of respect. That’s it…I was angry because I don’t think this is the great image for the women’s tennis, what was going on there.”
Radwanska has suffered six defeats to Azarenka this year, and prior to a defeat at the hands of Petra Cetkovska in Rome, had not lost to another player this year. Following a 60 62 drubbing of Radwanska in Indian Wells, a match where Azarenka clearly intended to send a message, the Belarusian had this to say:
“I just had very good motivation because I knew she’s a very good player. I have to play a very good match and show excellent tennis to beat her, so that’s what I was mainly focused on. I hope I was a good example of women’s tennis.”
As the WTA shifts to the European red clay, the drama hasn’t shown signs of slowing down like the surface.
Following four consecutive losses to Azarenka in WTA finals, Maria Sharapova finally had her revenge in Stuttgart, defeating Azarenka 6-1, 6-4 for the title. The tone was set early, as the women bumped shoulders on a changeover early in the match; the dreaded bump has long been considered the cardinal sin of tennis.
Azarenka, who was erratic for a large portion of the match, was also treated for a right wrist injury and appeared to play better after receiving treatment. Sharapova made no secret of her skepticism during her on-court post match interview:
“…It’s so unfortunate Vika was extremely injured today, and just couldn’t really perform her game…”
Sharapova has also had notable conflicts with Jelena Jankovic, when she was relevant, in the past regarding the Serb’s alleged “tactical” medical timeouts. When Azarenka took her second medical timeout of a second round match in Beijing in 2009, Sharapova famously uttered to the chair umpire:
This week, both the ATP and the WTA are in Rome for the final big tournament on the road to Roland Garros, with first ball scheduled to be hit in nine days. Azarenka, after routing Shahar Peer in her opening round, withdrew from the tournament citing a shoulder injury. The shoulder had allegedly bothered her the previous week in Madrid, where she reached the final (l. to Serena Williams). Azarenka refused to discuss any shoulder issue in Madrid, and attempted to clarify her withdrawal via Twitter on Thursday.
Azarenka is not the first player to criticize the Roadmap, the WTA scheduling system implemented in 2008 to try and prevent injuries and get the players to commit to more WTA events. One of the main selling points of the Roadmap is the mandatory system; WTA events are categorized into Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, Premier and International events. The Roadmap requires top 10 players to fulfill certain commitments during the year: the four Grand Slams, four Premier Mandatory tournaments (Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Beijing), four Premier 5 tournaments (Doha, Rome, Montreal, Cincinnati or Tokyo), two Premier tournaments of their choice, and the WTA Championships if they qualify. If a player withdraws from one of the events she is committed to, she will receive a “0” on her ranking which remains there for 52 weeks. The biggest events are scheduled back-to-back, with the two-week events in Indian Wells and Miami held in March; Madrid and Rome held in May, and Tokyo and Beijing held in September.
Sharapova again took this opportunity to pounce, and when asked about Azarenka after her quarterfinal win over Venus Williams, she had this to say:
“She’s been injured more than anyone and still stayed number one…Last year I think she had more injuries than anyone else. Sometimes she’ll withdraw and then you’ll see her practicing two days later…For me, if I’m injured, then it doesn’t matter how much the fine is, I am not going to play…My body and my health are the most important things and if you lose points or have a fine, I don’t care about that.” (Reuters)
The WTA issued a statement in support of the Roadmap, stating that player injuries and withdrawals are down 33% and top player participation at the biggest events is up 28%. However, the Montreal Gazette, which tracks WTA main-draw injury retirements, walkovers and withdrawals in both singles and doubles, says the total number in 2012 stands at 97, 40 more than last year’s total at the same time.
The open disdain between the top players on the WTA takes us back to a simpler time. Let’s enjoy the nostalgia, shall we? The WTA’s snarky 90’s-00’s heyday provided us with classic quotes that have been remembered over the decades. Martina Hingis could write a book on her own. Let’s take a look back at some of their best gems.
“What rivalry? I win all the matches?” - Hingis in regards to her singles rivalry domination of doubles partner Anna Kournikova
“Steffi has had some results in the past, but it’s a faster, more athletic game now than when she played. She is old now. Her time has passed.” - Hingis in regards to Steffi Graf in 1998.
“Very funny. Perhaps in the next year Michael Jackson [can get] a gold exempt and Donald Duck a special silver exempt.” – Patty Schnyder, in regards to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Amanda Coetzer receiving gold and silver exemptions in 2003.
”Being black only helps them. Many times they get sponsors because they are black. And they have had a lot of advantages because they can always say, ‘It’s racism.’ They can always come back and say, ‘Because we are this color, things happen.’” - Hingis regarding Venus and Serena Williams.
”She’s always been the type of person that … says things, just speaks her mind. I guess it has a little bit to do with not having a formal education. But you just have to somehow think more; you have to use your brain a little more in the tennis world.” – Serena Williams in response to the above.
“She can say whatever she wants, point is I’m in the semis and she’s at the hotel packing.” – Lindsay Davenport after defeating Anna Kournikova.
“She choked in the 1993 final against Graf, lets see if she chokes again.” – Arantxa Sanchez Vicario on Jana Novotna’s chances in the final after being defeated in the 1997 Wimbledon semifinals.
We thought the current crop of WTA players had a long way to go to match the previous generation. It turns out, however, they may be similar in more ways than we imagined.
The Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open is one of the biggest clay court warm-up events for both the ATP and WTA on the road to Roland Garros. This week, however, the discussion hasn’t been about which players are looking like the favorites to lift the title in Paris, or even about play in general, but about the clay. The color of the clay. The blue color of the clay.
Even before the color change, the clay of Madrid has always played differently than the terre battue of Roland Garros. The main stadium, the Caja Magica, or The Magic Box, is situated at a significant distance above seas level. As a result, the clay usually plays quicker and tends to be more slippery than other clay courts. Both ATP and WTA players have been critical of the courts since the tournament’s inception.
So why the blue clay?
Tournament owner Ion Tiriac first proposed the idea of blue clay in 2009; he argued that it would be better visually, especially for viewers on television. Critics suggested that the blue color is in homage to the sponsor of the tournament, the insurance giant Mutua Madrileña. Former player Manuel Santana, the current tournament director, had assured that aside from the color, the courts would have the same properties as the traditional red clay.
The clay is made of the same crushed brick as red clay but treated to remove the iron oxide that provides the typical orange color. The brick is then dyed blue, and as a result, the balls take on a different spin and bounce. When the courts were laid, the top layer of clay has little traction against the layers underneath it, providing less than solid footing for the players.
Reception to the clay has been decidedly negative. Caroline Wozniacki, who sustained an ankle injury in her first round match against Ksenia Pervak, said:
“It’s definitely more slippery, but then I also completely stopped at one point – you could say it wouldn’t happen on red clay, but then you never really know, it could be the same. It’s definitely different, but blue is one of my favorite colors, so I do like the look.” (WTA)
Novak Djokovic slammed the courts, specifically Court Manolo Santana, after his first round win:
“To me that’s not tennis. Either I come out with football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me how to play on this court. Center court is impossible to move on…” (BBC)
Djokovic later took to Twitter to continue his complaints.
First match on blue clay? Ouch. Next time I better bring my skates with me. So slippery out there.
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) May 8, 2012
ATP World #2 Rafael Nadal has been extremely critical of the decision since it was announced.
“I think it’s a mistake — not by the organization but by the ATP…Madrid is one of the best tournaments in the world and does not need this. It is played at altitude. That makes it different already. I appreciate the idea but it should have never been allowed.” (Saudi Gazette)
No matter their ranking, players are irate. Ivo Karlovic likened it to “something a Smurf would play on.” Maria Sharapova believes the tournament might not be thinking about the players.
“I’d like to see more consistency. I think [the blue clay] is a little more for spectators, TV and more for buzz than anything else. I think it’s more for show than for the players,” the Russian said, as reported by Matt Cronin of tennis.com.
Other players have been quoted as saying the courts do not play any differently than when they were red – but that is exactly the problem. Gilles Simon called the courts “dangerous” and Stanislas Wawrinka said they are “the worst clay courts” he’s ever played on.
As the media firestorm continues into the middle of the week, World #1 Victoria Azarenka just wants to talk about something else.
“The court is different; it’s obvious, let’s drop it.” (Cronin, tennis.com)
The blue clay has not be the only controversy of the tournament. Attendance has not been close to what was expected, and few matches are actually being broadcast on international television. For example, only two WTA matches were broadcast on the first Monday and Tuesday of the event from Manolo Santana Court. There were four times the amount of ATP matches broadcast from the three main show courts.
Steve Tignor of tennis.com perhaps summed up the reasons for the controversy best:
…Red clay signifies the Old World, and an alternative, century-old Continental tennis tradition. Blue clay, on the other hand, signifies the power of Ion Tiriac’s bank account.
The ATP has released a statement saying that the blue clay had been only approved for this year, and will be evaluated at the end of the tournament to see if it will continue.