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.

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