Would You Like a Ball, Ana?

On the Baseline Tennis News
March 14, 2009

Desirae Krawczyk

INDIAN WELLS, California—Greetings from the desert. It’s Friday the 13th. (Sorry, I had to bring it up.)

For better or for worse, second round action is heating up the courts today, and no one is more lucky to be on stadium court than Desirae Krawczyk. No, she’s not Amelie Mauresmo’s opponent, although she wishes she were.

Desirae is a player-in-training–otherwise known as a ball girl. She is one of six pint-sized players lucky enough to be on stadium court today at the BNP Paribas Open. Lucky, given that she was chosen from 200 other ball kids to work on the big stage. She must have quick feet.

Desirae, a high school freshman from Rancho Mirage, California is a veteran ball girl, who got her start at the BNP Paribas Open five years ago. Let’s just say, she’s learned a few things from being so close to the top 10 players in the world.

Desirae has been able to hone her tennis skills to become a top-level junior player. She is currently ranked No. 10 in California in the 16s and No. 29 nationally in the 16s.
Desirae got an early start in tennis, picking up her first racquet at the age of two. By age seven, she was playing competitively.

I caught up with Desirae at the tournament after a long day on the courts.

How often do you play tennis?
“I play tennis every day, and I play tournaments every week. To watch these pros is just really fun.”

Do you see yourself out there one day on stadium court as a pro?
“I have a lot of family and friends saying that it’s my turn to be here next year. I have the potential, and they believe in me, and I believe in myself.”

Do you think you will go onto college or are you still thinking about turning pro before you turn 18?
“I’m debating. I want to go pro, but want to go to college too.”

Do you ever get a chance to hit with the pros at all?
“Not really. On court you really can’t talk to them. Although just recently, there was a Desert Smash tournament. I had to hit one ball. Bob or Mike Bryan (not sure which—I can’t tell them apart!) gave me his racquet and asked if I wanted to play.”

Who’s your favorite female player?
“Definitely Ana Ivanovic. She started young. Watching her has inspired me to play more and get better.”

Desirae Krawczyk
What about your favorite male player?
“Novak Djokovic”, she says with a giggle. “He’s just really cute. His sense of humor makes him the best.”

What about autographs? You must have quite a collection.
“I have pictures and autographs of everyone in the top 10.”

Any advice on proper techniques for rolling a ball on court?
“Get low on your knees, and roll it like a bowling ball. You can’t chuck the ball. It could end up anywhere.”

What position do you play on court?
“I usually play any position as a ball girl. I’m pretty good at NET.”
FYI - ball kid positions are either “NETS” or “BACKS”. The NET position retrieves all balls that land in or around the net. The BACK position feeds balls to the player when he/she is ready to serve.

Has any player ever thrown a sweaty towel at you?
“Yes! David Nalbandian…last year. It was drenched in sweat. It was pretty gross. One really nice player I’ve seen is James Blake. He is always saying thank you. I got to meet his Mom and tell her ‘Your son is so nice. He’s so polite."

What have you learned from your experience as a ball girl?
“Being a ball kid is definitely good way to chase your dream of becoming a pro. You can see the techniques that they (the pros) have that you need to have to become pro. When I’m on the court, I just want to play for them, especially when they’re down on themselves.”
It won’t be too long before you see Desirae Krawczyk on stadium court at the BNP Paribas Open, swinging a racquet instead of rolling balls. If it happens, she promised to grant me an interview.

I guess we’re both pretty lucky.

Dispatches from the Desert: Week One at Indian Wells

On the Baseline Tennis News
March 16, 2009

INDIAN WELLS, California—Hello again from the hot, rain-deprived desert. It’s been an exciting first week at the BNP Paribas Open. Some surprising upsets have sent the likes of Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, and Amelie Mauresmo packing.

Could the dry desert air be the culprit? Maybe something in the water? Whatever the case, it seems to be giving the edge to players outside of the top 10. Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) from Friday through Monday (afternoon).

There’s a New Brunette in Town
Dinara Safina (No. 1 seed)
She changed her hair color from blonde to brunette at the beginning of the year, and her luck changed along with it. Safina advanced to the fourth round here at IW, after defeating Tsvetana Pironkova on Friday, and Shuai Peng on Sunday.

On a side note, Safina has been seen wearing a bracelet with the No. 13 on it. Normally an unlucky number, Safina sees it a different way. “It’s funny,” she says. “When I started playing in Berlin, I was 13th seeded, and since then it started. At the French, I was seeded 13th too. Flying to Beijing, my gate was 13. And then suddenly, I was like, ok. 13 is my lucky number. In the plane I was flying in row 13. And I’m playing here on Friday the 13th.”

Less is More
Jelena Jankovic (No 2 seed)
The player infamous for cracking jokes when speaking to the media, Jankovic was teary-eyed at the end of her press conference on Saturday, after losing her opening match to a 17-year-old Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It’s clear that Jankovic is not satisfied with her game. And it’s no wonder. She’s carrying around 10 extra pounds. During the past few months, Jankovic decided to experiment with more endurance training, and it didn’t help her game. “I had problems moving,” she said. “My body responded in a bad way. I lost my speed on the court, and I lost my reaction. That was a first-time experience for me, especially with my returns.” She also says she lost her greatest weapon—her legs, and is slowly trying to get that back.

While playing her match against Pavlyuchenkova, she said “I felt like I had 100 kilos on top of my body. It’s very difficult to be out there feeling like that.” On the plus side, Jankovic had a chance to show off her new tennis attire, which she designed with her new clothing sponsor, ANTA. The company is shelling out a hefty $30 million dollars to promote Jelena’s new clothing line. Nice to know that at least one company is doing well in this recession.

Too Much, Too Fast
Elena Dementieva (No. 3 seed)
She was just plain tired when she lost her first round match to Petra Cetkovska. “I just feel like I probably shouldn’t come here because I played a lot of the matches in the beginning of the year and I just needed — you know, just to take some time off and get ready and recovery, ” she says. Let’s hope she gets some rest before Miami.

The Russian Revolution Continues
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Yes, a 17-year-old Russian (who still wears braces), managed to crush Jelena Jankovic on Saturday. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this was pure luck. The young Russian, ranked No. 42, has won multiple junior Grand Slam tournaments (AO and US Open), and will most likely step up her game on the WTA Tour. Now if someone can just figure out how to pronounce her name…

How Do You Play Doubles?
Maria Sharapova
The tennis world’s “it girl” was back in the spotlight at Indian Wells, after eight months of rehab on her right shoulder. Expectations for Sharapova’s much-anticipated comeback were high, but from Sharapova’s perspective, it wasn’t about winning. She played doubles with her compatriot, Elena Vesnina, which seemed to be more of a practice match than serious competition. She even admitted that she didn’t know all the rules for playing doubles before going into the match. I guess we’ll have to wait to see Sharapova make her “real” comeback in singles.

The French Are Sent Packing
Amelie Mauresmo – A veteran of the game, beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld in her opening match, but fell to Na Li on Sunday.

Marion Bartoli – Was upset early by Shahar Peer

Still In the Race

Ana Ivanovic – (No. 5 seed) - Last year’s winner advances on Monday afternoon. Maybe her inspiration comes from the book she’s reading: The Art of Happiness, by the Dalai Lama.

Daniela Hantuchova – Three times could be a charm for Hantuchova, a two-time winner of Indian Wells (2002, 2007).

Caroline Wozniaki – The great Dane proves to be a potential powerhouse as she cruises past Patty Schnyder, Kanepi, and Bacsinszky

Vera Zvonareva – (4th seed) - She beat Chan and Kvitova to advance to the fourth round.

Urszula Radwanska – Along with her older sister Agnieszka Radwanska, she advanced to the fourth round. Venus and Serena aren’t the only sisters who’ve got game.

Jill Craybas – Currently ranked at No 65, Craybas is the “underdog” carrying the American torch.

Victoria Azarenka – Beat Vesnina and Shvedova to advance to the fourth round.

Shahar Peer – Wouldn’t it be nice if Peer won this tournament? Who needs Dubai, anyway.

On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal was singing as he walked into his press conference on Sunday, after an easy win against Michael Berrer of Germany. Federer won easily against Marc Gicquel of France. Mardy Fish, another American hopeful who made it to the finals here last year, was ousted by Jeremy Chardy of France. Novak Djokovic advanced after beating Martin Vassallo-Arguello of Argentina. Andy Murray advanced on Monday, beating Paul-Henri Mathieu of France. James Blake fell to Fernando Gonzalez on Monday afternoon.

Venus and Serena Williams: Opponents On-Court, United Off-Court

On the Baseline Tennis News

INDIAN WELLS, California—Greetings from sunny, Indian Wells, California.

It’s one day before the BNP Paribas (Par-ee-ba), Open kicks off, and I’ve got tennis on the brain. I’m itching to watch the Williams sisters slam their opponents into the…oh, wait. They’re not here.

Disappointed? Definitely. The BNP Paribas Open (formerly the Pacific Life Open) has brought out the world’s top male and female players for over 30 years, and every year, fans fill up all 16,100 seats. So when the No. 1 female player in the world misses this tournament without citing an injury, it raises a few eyebrows. When her No. 5-ranked sister follows suit, everyone takes notice. Granted, this is nothing new –- the Williams sisters have skipped this tournament for the past eight years now.

Since 2001, the details surrounding Venus and Serena’s choice to not play Indian Wells have been a bit sketchy. Reports have alleged that they, along with their father Richard, were victims of racial discrimination from hecklers in the crowd, after Venus pulled out of her semi-final match against Serena, just prior to stepping onto the court.

Heckling and general bad-mouthing from the crowd continued when Serena accepted the winner’s trophy. Eight years later, the sisters are still united in their stance to not play Indian Wells ever again. Whether you agree or disagree with their decision, you can’t help but respect their unwavering commitment to their values.

Nevertheless, the WTA has put new regulations in place for the 2009 Roadmap, which could potentially pose a problem for the Williams sisters. The new rule states that a top-10 player who misses a Premier/mandatory tournament will not receive any rankings points and could face a potential fine and a suspension for two subsequent tournaments. Unless of course, a top-10 player decides to skip a mandatory tournament anyway.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Call it a caveat (or a loophole) in the WTA’s rule book: If a top-10 player fails to compete in a Premier/mandatory tournament, they can avoid any penalties by making a promotional appearance to fulfill their tournament obligation. This will allow the Williams sisters to skip the BNP Paribas Open without skipping a step, and maintain their eligibility for the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

There are two options for Venus and Serena if they want to avoid any penalty:

Option 1: Attend the BNP Paribas Open and make a promotional appearance on a specific date chosen by the WTA. Total time commitment: 3 hours or 4 activities. They would not be required to perform promotional activities for more than a single day.

Option 2
: Make a promotional appearance on one of three dates outside of the tournament, within 125 miles of the BNP Paribas Open. The dates are chosen by the tour in consultation with the tournament, and at least one of the dates will be during the week before the BNP Paribas Open—next year.

According to Andrew Walker, spokesperson for the WTA, “Venus and Serena have indicated to the tour that they intend to fulfill the requirements under our rules in order to avoid suspension.” No word yet on the exact date/location of their promotional appearances.

The Williams sisters’ absence here at Indian Wells is good news for players like Dinara Safina, who was denied the 2009 Australian Open title, losing in the final to Serena Williams. Other thankful players might include Maria Sharapova, who could have faced the Williams sisters in a heated doubles match.

As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait a few weeks to see the Williams sisters smash their opponents into…well, the stratosphere.

After Five Years, Anna Kournikova Contemplates a Tennis Comeback

On the Baseline Tennis News
February 25, 2009

Anna Kournikova? Is she back? Fans were buzzing when she arrived at Boston University’s Agganis Arena on Valentine’s weekend, with her bag of racquets in tow.

She came to play for Champions Cup Boston, the first of eight tournaments on the Outback Champions tour.

In recent years, Anna’s on-court appearances have been mostly limited to charity events, until now. Anna, along with Tracy Austin, took to the courts on Saturday, February 14 with tennis legends Mikael Pernfors and Mats Wilander, for two competitive, yet entertaining mixed doubles matches. Anna was also joined by other big-name players: Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, and Jimmy Arias. The crowd loved it, and Anna was right back in her element.

I remember Anna Kournikova as a tall blonde with a long braided ponytail, bursting onto the tennis scene in 1995, at a time when Russian tennis stars were relatively unheard of.

It didn’t take long for the glamour-girl to crack the top 20, landing at No. 16 in 1998. It’s been five years since she played her final WTA tour match. At 22, her career was cut short due to chronic injuries.

At the time, Anna was clearly at the peak of her tennis career. She was ranked as high as No. 8 in singles in 2000 and ranked No. 1 in doubles in 1999. She won 16 doubles titles, including two Australian Open doubles titles with Martina Hingis in 1999 and 2002. She claimed victories over Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, and Steffi Graf.

You can’t do that by just showing up and looking good. Despite her early success, Anna was not able to overcome her injuries, or silence her critics for never winning a singles title.

Now at 27, she can’t quite seem to hang up her racquet. Does she miss playing on the WTA tour? “Absolutely,” she says. “Once you experience something like that…the adrenaline rush in playing in front of 20,000 people in a night match…it’s very difficult to duplicate that feeling, or not miss it. It’s really incredible. But you find other passions in life, and other things that you enjoy.”

Anna has found her passion in supporting children’s causes. She has been an ambassador for the Boys & Girls Club of America for the past five years. “I travel around the country with the Boys and Girls Club. We go to schools, and I speak there, and raise money for them.” She also supports YouthAIDS, a global initiative for the prevention of AIDS in children.

Most recently, she traveled to Haiti on behalf of the Five & Alive program, which provides education, products, and services to children under the age of five who are dealing with AIDS, malnutrition, and malaria. During her recent press conference in Boston, she said “I am looking forward to that trip and to see how that part of the world lives, and try to learn something and hopefully bring awareness to the cause.”

Anna has also been keeping busy with other projects–designing clothes for K-Swiss, modeling, and playing World Team Tennis during the summer. She’s now in her 7th year playing on the WTT circuit, and her 2nd year playing with the St. Louis Aces.

Anna is still in great shape, and is looking forward to being a regular on the 2009 Outback Champions Tour. “It’s just a great tour and a great idea. Just like World Team Tennis, it brings tennis to areas where there are no professional tournaments. I think we have eight tournaments scheduled for this year, and I will be doing most of them. It’s also a great opportunity to be back on the court and to be in front of fans,” says Anna.

Kournikova On the Current State of Women’s Tennis

“It’s really an interesting time. There are so many good players. It’s also different because before, it was more like the top 10, and nobody could get in there. It was all about famous names: Graf, Seles, Davenport, Sanchez, Martinez, Williams, and Hingis. Now, a lot of tennis fans don’t even know the girls’ names. There are just so many great players, but not super stars who have been there for a long time. Thankfully there are still the Williams girls. I think they help tennis so much.”

Will Anna make a comeback? She hasn’t closed the door to the possibility. “Once in a while it crosses my mind,” she says, “but I don’t want to announce anything. Until I know for sure, I wouldn’t say anything.”

We’ll leave it as a definite maybe.