Tennis Continues to Support Japan’s Relief Efforts

On the Baseline Tennis News
March 26, 2011

On Friday evening, the appropriately dubbed “Tennis for Japan” fundraising event on Stadium court brought together many of the top tennis players competing at the Sony Ericsson Open, including Kim Clijsters, Vera Zvonareva, and Japan’s own Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ayumi Morita, to support relief efforts in Japan. Players involved in the event wore brightly colored t-shirts displaying Japan’s flag on the front. They established a unique way to raise money for the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami by walking through the crowd to collect donations from fans. In total, the event raised over $10,000. The money raised will be combined with donations from the WTA, ATP, Grand Slams, Sony Ericsson, ITF, IMG, SAP, Itaú, FILA, Adidas, and Lagardère (totaling $300,000) and will be given to the Red Cross and other organizations to support Japan’s disaster relief efforts.

During the event, World No. 2 and Sony Ericsson Open defending champ, Kim Clijsters wore a custom-designed, black FILA shirt with “Japan” on the front, in support of Japan’s relief efforts.  Proceeds from the sales of the shirt will be donated to Japan’s earthquake relief funds, and is available for purchase at the tournament.

WTA players, including Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, and Ana Ivanovic have also put together video messages to show their ongoing support for Japan, which will be shown during the Sony Ericsson Open.

In addition, an online auction has been established to raise funds for Japan’s relief efforts. Many of the top tennis stars (both past and present), have already made donations of signed memorabilia to be auctioned, including Maria Sharapova’s match-used, signed right-shoe from the 2007 Australian Open, Jennifer Capriati’s match-used, signed racquet from 2002, Vera Zvonareva’s signed K-Swiss top, and many more.

For more information or to participate in the auction:

BNP Paribas Open Final Preview

On the Baseline Tennis News
March 19, 2011

Indian Wells, CA —The so-called “Fifth Slam” at Indian Wells has lived up to its reputation once again. You just can’t beat the serenity of snow-capped mountains and palm trees as a backdrop for one of the best tournaments of the year. And the tennis didn’t disappoint either. Caroline Wozniacki is now a 2-time finalist here at the BNP Paribas Open, and is favored to win the title over Marion Bartoli. This would be Wozniacki’s second title of 2011 and her 14th career title. The last player to reach back-to-back finals at Indian Wells was Ana Ivanovic in 2008 (won the title), and 2009 (runner-up).

Wozniacki leads the head to head series against Marion Bartoli 4-2, but has never faced her in a final. Bartoli also got a bit of a lucky break when Kim Clijsters (who was favored to go deep here in IW) retired in their fourth round match (in the second set) due to a shoulder injury. Had Clijsters been healthy, there is a good chance Bartoli would have taken an early flight to Miami.

For those of you keeping tabs on Caroline’s No. 1 status, here’s the deal: By reaching semifinals at Indian Wells, she will hold onto the No.1 ranking through the Sony Ericsson Open, extending her time at the top to 25 weeks. Wozniacki has a 15-5 W-L record as No. 1.

Wozniacki’s results for 2011 have been impressive. She has now reached the final in the last three tournaments (winner, Dubai, Runner-up, Doha). If you look back to Wozniacki’s last 11 tournaments, she has reached eight finals, and won five titles. In a word: Consistent.

Not only does Wozniacki know how to win, she knows exactly what it takes for her opponents to force her into the loser’s circle.

“If a player has to beat me, either she has to overpower me, or she needs to stand there for hours and hours,” said Wozniacki in a recent press conference. Bartoli has been serving very well (as seen by her 10 aces in her semifinal against Wickmayer), and has the ability to dig deep, and stay focused.

“Marion is a player who is also trying to play aggressively, taking the ball early,” said Wozniacki. She’s not going to give me a lot of free points.”

Wozniacki’s Road to the Final at Indian Wells:
R128: bye
R64: def. [WC] Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-2
R32: def. No. 29 Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-1 6-3
R16: def. No. 24 Alisa Kleybanova 2-6 6-3 6-1
QF: def. No. 9 Victoria Azarenka 3-0 ret
SF: def. No. 18 Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2
Total games: 60
W/L: 41-19

Currently ranked at No, 17, Marion Bartoli is playing in her first final at Indian Wells. After battling flu-like symptoms in her match against Ana Ivanovic, she was still feeling a bit weak. After her semifinal win over Yanina Wickmayer, Bartoli admitted that she still didn’t feel 100% and felt like she would be the underdog going into the final against Wozniacki. But she doesn’t have a problem with it. “I will have absolutely nothing to lose.” Despite her illness, Bartoli is simply playing inspired tennis right now.

Bartoli’s strategy on getting past Wozniacki on Sunday: Maintaining a high percentage of first serves.

Bartoli’s Road to the Final at Indian Wells:
R128: bye
R64: def. Q/No. 65 Monica Niculescu 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
R32: def. No. 23 Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 6-2
R16: def. No. 2 Kim Clijsters 3-6, 3-1 ret.
QF: def. No. 21Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 7-6(4)
SF: def. No. 25 Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 6-3
Total games: 79
Won/lost: 45-34

Prediction: Wozniacki d. Bartoli 6-4, 6-3

Yanina Wickmayer Advances to the Semis at the BNP Paribas Open

On the Baseline Tennis News
March 17, 2011

Indian Wells, CA —The second match of the women’s quarterfinals took place last night under the lights of the BNP Paribas Open, in a not-so-packed Stadium 2.

It was Shahar Peer vs. Yanina Wickmayer.

The small crowd was a bit disappointing, but then I realized it was likely a case of unfortunate timing. When you have back-to-back matches featuring Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on Stadium 1 on the same night, it’s tough to compete for fans (or seat warmers, depending on your view).

This particular quarterfinal between Peer and Wickmayer was an intriguing match up: No top-10 star power. No predictable winner. And, their head-to-head match ups were tied at 2-2. Peer had an outfit to match the purple court, and seemed ready to do battle, while Wickmayer was ready for the chance to avenge her third round loss to Peer in Dubai.

I walked into the stadium when the first set was underway, and tied at 2-2. I knew both Peer and Wickmayer wanted this win badly. Some of the fans in the stands showed their support by displaying two large flags – one Israeli and one Belgian, which were held up on opposite sides of the court. Given the small crowd, these flags were hard to miss.

Despite the close start in the first set, Wickmayer managed to pull ahead to 5-2. Peer held her serve, giving some level of hope that the first set wasn’t a wash. Peer, who made it to the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in 2007, kept slapping her left leg, as if her leg wasn’t listening, or wasn’t interested in cooperating. In all honesty, she might have done better with a head-stand. Wickmayer took the first set 6-3 in convincing fashion.

There was an energy to Wickmayer’s game, which put her in a dominant position in this match. Maybe it was her “Wooo-meee” grunts during EVERY point. Maybe it was her footwork, or those forehand down the line shots. One fan in the stands seemed to think Wickmayer was drinking the right kind of coffee. (Wickmayer weighed in on this theory later).

At the end of the first set, Peer sought the advice of her coach. Whatever he said to her offered enough motivation for Peer to get back out onto the court 20 seconds before the umpire called “Time”.
Peer was down 0-2 in the second set, and let out a yell that could be heard in the next stadium. Frustration had set in. She called her coach onto the court at 0-3. Something clicked (albeit temporarily). Peer won the next game. Wickmayer fought back and broke Peer to take a 4-1 lead. Wickmayer was serving for the match at 5-2 in the second set, but Peer broke her at a crucial juncture, bringing it to 5-3. She saved a match point when she was down 3-5, but Wickmayer broke back to win the set and the match 6-3, 6-3.

All-in-all, it was a good run for Shahar Peer, who, at No. 12, is as close to the top 10 as she’s ever been.

When I spoke with Wickmayer after the match, she insisted “I didn’t have a coffee today! Maybe the right kind of sports drink,” she said with a laugh. “I woke up this morning and felt really good. Had a good practice this morning. I was really fit and felt my strokes were really good and powerful.”

Wickmayer reflected on her quarterfinal win against Peer, comparing it to her loss in Dubai. “I was a completely different player today. I really played a lot more aggressive today. Shahar is a tough opponent to play. In Dubai, she was just a better player…playing more aggressive. Today I came up and really put pressure on her.”

Wickmayer made it to the fourth round at Indian Wells last year, and this year is set to play Marion Bartoli in the semifinals.

“I played her two or three times and lost every single time,” said Wickmayer. “So I’m going to try to change it. She’s a tough opponent. She hits the ball very strong…very hard. She’s a big fighter, so it’s going to be another tough one for me.”

Wickmayer, currently ranked at No. 25, is set to re-enter the top-20 after her quarterfinal win.

Japan: Putting Tennis In Perspective

Indian Wells, CA — The players left in the draw at the BNP Paribas Open have their eyes on the prize, but there is an overriding concern among players for the survivors of Japan’s worst natural disaster and nuclear crisis.

The WTA’s No. 1 player, Caroline Wozniacki, who has been very vocal about her expressions of concern and sympathy for the people of Japan, took the initiative to locate a Japanese flag and place a personal message on it, as a way to show her support. Caroline said that her manager had to drive two hours away from the tournament just to find a Japanese flag. Caroline and close friend, Victoria Azarenka spent the night before their quarterfinal match trying to figure out what to write on the flag. “I wanted to do it so perfectly that my hand almost cramped when I was doing it,” she said with a smile.

Caroline and Victoria brought the Japanese flag out onto center court before the start of their quarterfinal match, and requested a moment of silence for the victims of the recent tragedy in Japan. The words on the flag read: “Our Thoughts Are With You.”

Azarenka, who retired from her quarterfinal match against Wozniacki due to a left hip injury, recently sent out a message on her Twitter feed: “And to all the people in Japan u r in prays and thoughts! I love u guys and ur country and I hope it all will be over for u very soon xxxx.”

Japanese Flag

Maria Sharapova, who’s own parents escaped the devastating nuclear accident in Chernobyl in 1986, feels a strong a connection to those affected by the nuclear crisis unfolding in Japan. “Well, it’s really devastating, and something I don’t think even words can describe.”

Sharapova, a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recently donated $100,000 to Chernobyl-related projects. In her post-match press conference on Thursday (after defeating Shuai Peng in the quarterfinal), Sharapova commented on how technology has changed the face of fundraising, making it more accessible. “Ten years ago, if something like that [Japan] happened, you wouldn’t see such quick recovery effects. You can go on any website right now and you can donate to the Japan relief,” she said.

Sharapova is hoping that the Toray Pan Pacific Open tournament, held a few weeks after the US Open, will go on, and players will be able to raise money prior to the tournament.