What Makes a Great Backhand? Good Hair

On the Baseline Tennis News

Julien Farel and Jelena Jankovic
We’ve all had them: bad hair days. You’ve battled with the blow dryer, globbed on the styling cream, and spritzed hair spray, only to put it all up in a ponytail, throw on your sunglasses, and head out the door.

I had a few of those days myself during this year’s US Open. What made my bad hair days seem even worse was not being able to spot any WTA players who had less than perfect coifs, even after sweating for hours under the blazing sun. What was the secret to taming their tresses?

I had heard a rumor about a hair salon located somewhere in Arthur Ashe Stadium. But with all of the matches, player press conferences, and deadlines, I couldn’t find the time to explore the stadium as much as I would have liked. During the occasional bathroom breaks, I would catch a glimpse of my reflection, and I could see the controlled chaos that I sometimes refer to as my hair.

I then realized that I couldn’t leave the US Open without finding this hair salon. So, during the final weekend of the tournament, I spent an hour wandering around the hallowed halls of Arthur Ashe Stadium. I walked up to the entrance of the players lounge, up one flight of stairs, and found the ultra-chic Julien Farel Salon, located just to the left of the 3rd floor gym. I was quite impressed.

As the official on-site hair salon for the US Open, the Julien Farel Salon has been making players match-ready and camera-ready for the past three years. Owner and lead stylist, Julien Farel and his team of beauty experts offer the players haircuts, hair styling, and skin care, as well as manicures and pedicures, and even eye brow shaping. The Salon also extends its services to coaches, family members, VIPs and celebrity clients. During the two weeks of the US Open, over 450 people were coiffed, polished, and shaped at the Julien Farel Salon in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

I asked Julien about what makes the hair salon so popular with the players. “We’re located in the players’ area, so they usually see the salon and come in,” he said. “It’s a great place for them to take some time-out and relax.”
Julien Farel and Jelena JankovicOver the years, Jelena Jankovic has been one of the most frequent visitors during the US Open. Before one of her matches this year, Jelena requested the HairThread technique (hair tied into place without the need for clips or pins.) Jelena wanted red and white thread in her ponytail to match her outfit for that day.
Other top WTA players who stopped by include Daniela Hantuchova, Nadia Petrova, Na Li, and former players Billie Jean King, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Hana Mandlikova. ESPN commentator Hannah Storm even had her hair coiffed at the Salon.

What impressed me the most about the Salon is their focus on sun protection for both skin and hair. “Most of the female players get everything done because the products we use protect them from the sun,” says Julien. “We use Natura Bissé oil-free SPF 30 for sun protection, Yves Saint Laurent Poudre Sur Mesure [semi-loose powder], YSL waterproof mascara, and YSL Gloss Volupte with SPF. Most importantly, we use PhytoLaque Soie [hairspray] from PHYTO Hair Care. It has a firm hold, is made from plant extracts, and it protects the hair from sun damage.”

Given the long hours of play during the US Open, the Julien Farel Salon honored some late-night requests, and even some walk-ins. “We are happy to style the players when they need it,” says Julien. “We will always accommodate players. It does not matter what time. That is why we are there.”

Now you know how the players manage to avoid bad hair days, whether it’s day or night, on or off the court.

They leave it to the pros. Smart move.

A Star Studded Evening At the Legends Ball

On the Baseline Tennis News

Legend's Ball
FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—There are many fancy parties and events during the two weeks of the US Open, but on Friday night, the Legends Ball was the hottest ticket in town.
The invitation read: Festive Attire/Black-Tie Optional. Which means, anything goes–as long as it’s fancy. I arrived early at Cipriani, wearing my fancy black dress and painful high heels, waiting patiently for the biggest names in tennis to walk through the door.
Just about an hour before The Legends Ball began, the US Open announced that it had to postpone all tennis matches for the day, due to rain. But the news didn’t put a damper on the Legends Ball festivities—cocktail hour, dinner, a live auction, and dancing.

Who Was There
The event honored the Tennis Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009 – Donald L. Dell, Andres Gimeno, the late Dr. Robert Johnson, and nine-time Grand Slam Champion Monica Seles. Other honorees were Arthur Ashe & Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, recipients of The Eugene L. Scott Award. The Tennis Channel was also honored with this year’s Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Award.
Robin Roberts at the Legends BallGood Morning America’s Robin Roberts was the Master of Ceremonies for the event. I was surprised to hear Robin say that she was awarded a tennis scholarship in college, even though she became a well-known college basketball star. “I’m a tennis nut at heart,” she says. I had a chance to chat with Robin on the red carpet about newcomer Melanie Oudin, and her run to the quarterfinals at the US Open. “I loved her innocence,” says Robin. “She just ran out of gas. You can tell she’s not satisfied.”
When I probed her to give predictions for the women’s final, she said that whoever won the Kim Clijsters/Serena Williams semifinal would win the tournament. While no one could have ever predicted the way in which that semifinal ended, it looks like Robin’s method of predicting the US Open champion was on the nose.

I was completely caught off guard when Real Housewives of New York cast members, Jill Zarin and Ramona Singer walked through the door. But then again, tennis has been warming up to reality TV lately. Former tennis stars such as Jennifer Capriati, Martina Hingis, Justine Henin, and Hall of Fame Inductee, Monica Seles have all jumped onto the reality TV bandwagon.

Another surprise guest at the Ball was Miss USA, Kristen Dalton. I would say she looks a little bit like Maria Sharapova, only about 40 pounds lighter, and no where near as tall.
Stacey Allaster, the Chairman and CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, was also in attendance. At first I didn’t recognize her, since I’ve only seen her in a photo. My immediate impression of her was how small in stature she is, as she stood next to Monica Seles for a photo. Yet, Allaster has become a big presence on the WTA Tour, since taking over for Larry Scott, former CEO of the WTA Tour.
Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Monica SelesFormer tennis stars and US Open commentators Mary Joe Fernandez, Tracy Austin Martina Navratilova, and Pam Shriver were also at the event. Liezel Huber was the only current WTA player at the Ball, who took advantage of a break in the US Open doubles competition to support the Tennis Hall of Fame.

What Were They Wearing?
There were outfits of every variety on both men and women, but there was no lack of glamour. And, no, I didn’t see anyone who broke the “No White After Labor Day” rule.
In fact, black seemed to be the color of choice for most guests at the event. Tracy Austin was one of the few who resisted the temptation to wear black, showing up in a full length, light blue gown. Monica Seles wore a classic two-piece black suit, with gorgeous earrings, and fancy black patent leather pumps.

We’ll Start the Bidding At…
One of the most fun parts of the evening was the live auction, which benefited the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum. The auction featured dozens of unique items and experiences, and the competition to win the best auction items was fierce.
Some of the items that sold:

1) Wimbledon 2010. Two Centre Court tickets for the ladies’ final and the men’s final.
Sold: $15,000

2) Australian Open 2010. Two tickets to the men’s and women’s semifinals and finals in the President’s Lounge. Four nights accommodations at the Hilton on the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, including transportation to and from the hotel.
Sold: $9,000

3) Roland Garros 2010. Two Centre Court tickets in Chatrier Stadium for the men’s and women’s finals.
Sold: $14,000

4) Monica Seles Hit Session (one hour). Learn to improve your game with Monica Seles, near her home in Florida. Monica will also give lessons on “grunting”.
Sold: $18,000

Top 10 Comments Overheard About Melanie Oudin at the US Open

On the Baseline Tennis News
Just another practice session for Melanie Oudin. on Twitpic

Melanie Oudin has been the talk of the town in New York City over the past week, but not everyone’s quite certain about the facts behind the seventeen year-old overnight celebrity.
On the Baseline’s Paula Vergara has compiled a humorous top 10 list of the comments most overheard at the US Open about Oudin. 

10. She’s French, right?
9. Twin sister? You mean there are two of them?
8. Her boyfriend is cuter than she is.
7. Is that Reese Witherspoon?
6. I say Justine Henin is taller.
5. It’s so weird. She looks American.
4. I heard she writes on her shoes.
3. Who’s that “giant killer?”
2. Oudin speaks English really well.
1. At least she doesn’t grunt.

Samantha Stosur: Putting Australian Tennis Back on the Map

On the Baseline Tennis News

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—Greetings from the US Open. It has been an amazing first week — record crowds, dramatic upsets, and incredible comebacks. And then there’s that pint-sized, 17-year-old American girl, who can beat just about anyone, simply by believing that she can.

Samantha StosurThere’s no doubt that American tennis is on the rise. But a few days ago, I found myself sitting over on the Grandstand, watching Australia’s No. 1 player, Samantha Stosur compete against American Vania King. When I saw (and heard) the rowdy Aussie fans, I was reminded of a time when Aussie fans were regulars at tennis tournaments, cheering on the likes of Patrick Rafter, Mark Philippoussis, and Pat Cash.

In recent years, Lleyton Hewitt has been the one to give Aussie fans something to cheer about. But since Evonne Goolagong dominated in the 70’s and 80’s, very few Australian women have been able to climb to the top of the tennis ranks. Until Samantha Stosur. I had the chance to catch up with Samantha on Sunday, just after she won her 3rd round US Open match with doubles partner Rennae Stubbs.

Samantha Stosur (who goes by her nickname Sam) is experiencing one of the best years of her career, getting to her first Grand Slam singles semifinal at the French Open, and the final of Los Angeles. She’s currently ranked No. 15 in singles, and No. 4 in doubles, and is possibly on her way to winning her second US Open doubles title.

Outside of competition here at the US Open, Sam says she’s really enjoying her time in New York, spending time with her parents and brothers, who are in town to watch her play. Samantha has been staying in more often than not, enjoying her mother’s homemade cooking. Sam and I had a chance to talk a little bit about her off-court hobbies (surfing and mountain biking), but our conversation quickly turned to her view on the state of Australian women’s tennis.

Sam admits that Australian tennis simply isn’t where it ought to be, or even where it could be. “For the last few years, we’ve struggled a little bit and haven’t had too many players in the top 100,” said Sam. “The men were always pretty strong, and now we’ve actually overtaken them. But on the whole, during the last 3-4 years, the women’s side has been pretty unlucky with injuries and illnesses.”

Alicia Molik, who retired in 2008 due to injuries, has recently made a comeback on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, playing doubles in New Haven as a wildcard. “It’s unfortunate the last couple of weeks,” said Sam. “Alicia didn’t get through the match in the doubles, but it’s one of those things that might take a while for her to find her feet again.” Casey Dellacqua, a former top-10 doubles player, needed to have left shoulder surgery in February 2009, and is taking time off to recover. Even though she has not set a date for her comeback, she could return to the Tour sometime after the U.S. Open. Jelena Dokic was diagnosed with mononucleosis just after Wimbledon this year, and just recently made her comeback at the US Open.

Sam herself was sidelined in 2007 with Lyme disease, just after the French Open. She was forced to take the rest of the year off to recover. “We’ve all had something that’s kept us out for quite a long time,” Sam said. “If it wasn’t for those few things, we could have had a really strong group of girls up there for quite a long time. But, that’s the way things go. I’m back now, and Casey is trying to get back as soon as she can. So hopefully, in the next six months, it will be where it could have been a little while ago.”

Sam also gives credit to Aussie players who came before her and set the standard for excellence. In particular, Evonne Goolagong Cawley. “Evonne was our Fed Cup captain about three years ago. I was lucky to play under her,” said Sam. “She’s an unbelievably genuine, nice person, and always tried to help wherever she could. Obviously, she’s a great role model for all the Australian girls, whether they’re playing tennis or not playing tennis. She’s a huge icon in Australia.”

I also had a chance to pick Sam’s brain about the serve and volley playing style. Is it too late for a comeback, I asked? “I don’t know if it will ever return the way it was,” said Sam. “Nowadays, returns in general are a lot stronger than what they were. With the technology, the racquets, and the balls, it’s pretty hard to come in off your serve. I don’t know if it will ever return to what it was back in the day.”

Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs will be playing their quarterfinal doubles match on Tuesday against Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova. I fully expect to see (and hear) the Aussie fans having something to cheer about.

Top 10 T-shirts You Might See On Serena Williams

On the Baseline Tennis News

Serena Williams
FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—Last week, Serena Williams made headlines for more than just her match wins. She showed up to one of her post-match press conferences wearing a t-shirt with the message, “You can’t spell dynasty without nasty.”
On the Baseline has come up with a top 10 list of possible messages that you might see on a Serena Williams t-shirt sometime soon.

10. I don’t just look good, I am good.
9. Diamonds are a diva’s best friend.
8. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you win a Grand Slam.
7. Instead of reading my t-shirt, read my book.
6. Daddy’s girl
5. Luck has nothing to do with it.
4. You’ve got to have the bling.
3. Tennis player, fashion designer, actress, global icon.
2. Even millionaires need a backup plan.
1. Serena is the real No. 1.

Kim Clijsters Takes On New York

On the Baseline Tennis News

September 4, 2009

Kim ClijstersFLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—Start spreading the news. Kim Clijsters isn’t leaving today…or tomorrow, for that matter. In fact, it is safe to say that the 2005 US Open champion might be staying here in New York for a while.
Kim Clijsters returned to the WTA Tour just a few weeks ago, after retiring in May, 2007 to start a family.

Even though Kim Clijsters hasn’t played in the US Open since 2006, it seems as though she hasn’t missed a step. The 26-year-old received a wildcard into this year’s US Open, and breezed through her first round match on Monday, beating world No. 79 Viktoriya Kutuzova, 6-1, 6-1.

But her first true test came in Wednesday’s second round, when she faced a three-set battle with 14th seed Marion Bartoli on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Clijsters dropped the first set, 5-7. “She [Bartoli] was really dominating all the points,” said Clijsters. “She was stepping in and taking the risks early on. “It was working. She was serving well.”

Clijsters changed her strategy in the second and third sets by mixing up her game, and hitting some high balls. She managed to throw off Bartoli’s rhythm, making 39 winners, compared to Bartoli’s 13. Clijsters went on to win the match 5-7, 6-1, 6-2. “ I stayed focused, I stayed aggressive, and really worked out a game plan that beat her today,” said Clijsters.

This evening, Clijsters played her third round match against fellow Belgian, Kirsten Flipkens. The first set was all Clijsters, who served up a bagel to Flipkens, 6-0. The second set proved to be more challenging. Clijsters had two double faults at the beginning of the set, giving Flipkens an early lead. Clijsters then came back at 2-1. She broke Flipkens’ serve 3 times, and went on to win the match in straight sets, 6-0, 6-2.

Clijsters is only one of five WTA players to have been ranked World No. 1 in both singles and doubles simultaneously. In 2003, she not only became the first Belgian—male or female—to be ranked world No. 1, but like Dinara Safina, she did so without winning a Grand Slam tournament. In her second round post match press conference, Clijsters weighed in on some of the pressures that Dinara Safina is now facing as the No. 1 player.

“The wind blows harder when you’re at the top,” Clijsters said. “I really hope she doesn’t let it influence her and just keeps working the way she has been for the last year or so. It’s obviously working. She’s No. 1. She’s won some big tournaments.”

The years have turned Clijsters into a wiser tennis player, who feels more in tune with match focus. “Because I’m older now, I can read that better. I can really pick up when I feel that my concentration is lacking a little bit. I can really adjust, and kind of get back into that groove. That’s a good feeling to have.”

Clijsters has noticed one major change since she’s been back on the WTA Tour. “A lot of Russian is being spoken in the locker room,” she said with a laugh. She credits her contemporaries, like Elena Dementieva, Nadia Petrova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova for helping to pave the way for the up-and-coming Russian players on the Tour.

Some other major changes for Clijsters include carrying around 18-month-old daughter, Jada, although she draws the line at carrying diapers in her tennis bag.
Clijsters will play her fourth round match against Venus Williams.

Jelena Dokic Determined to Make a Comeback

On the Baseline Tennis News
September 2, 2009

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—After being sidelined for two months, Jelena Dokic came to the US Open ready to prove to the world (and herself) that she was back and ready to win.
Jelena Dokic
Unfortunately, her first round match didn’t go her way. Dokic’s illness, combined with the lack of play and training, took its toll. The 26-year-old Australian and former top-10 player lost to Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 6-3, 6-4.
“I didn’t feel great on court today,” said Dokic. “My power is not there. But hopefully that’s not a side effect of mono, and hopefully just a lack of practice.”

Dokic started the year off well, making it to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. By the time she reached Miami, she had started feeling very fatigued. She played the French Open, only to retire from a back injury in the second round. Jelena missed the warm-up tournaments before Wimbledon as a result of her back injury.

Shortly after playing Wimbledon, she was diagnosed with mononucleosis. “It’s just so unlucky, says Dokic. “Some people just have it that way and get injured all the time, whereas some people get sick. I think it counts how many times you get up, not how many times you fall down, so hopefully I can try to do it one more time, and hopefully I won’t have to do it again.”

Looking back, Dokic realized that she had been playing with mono for quite a while, and didn’t even know she had it. The illness crept up slowly, until she just couldn’t play anymore. “It’s been a very tough couple of months,” said Dokic.

Too Much, Too Soon?
Once Dokic started feeling better, she became anxious to make her comeback on the WTA Tour as soon as possible. She even wanted to play the Bronx before the US Open, but she just hadn’t trained for it. Did she make the right choice to play the US Open, not knowing if she was ready? “It’s always hard to make that decision because it’s a Grand Slam,” says Dokic. When you’re directly into the main draw, you think that I’ll at least get a match, and I’ll practice. It’s hard to come out and play a Grand Slam straight away because everyone is so ready and there’s a lot at stake, and a lot of points.”

The Road to Recovery
Dokic expects to have a full recovery from her illness, but the question is when. “Mono is a hard thing,” says Dokic. “You have to go a couple of weeks at a time and see how you feel. But it’s tough to come out and play a competitive match. These girls have been playing week-in and week-out. I think I’m really behind as far as that goes. I have to just grind it out now, and hopefully I can still have a couple matches this year, and be healthy the whole next year.”

For now, Dokic’s goals are to stay positive, work hard, and play as many matches as physically possible. Starting next week, Dokic will be playing a few smaller events on clay.