Sony Ericsson Year-End Championships Take Off
November 4, 2008 -- While millions of Americans went to the polls in what was expected to be a monstrous turnout for this year's presidential election, the eight women who dominated the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tennis scene this year began their year-end round-robin championships at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex in Doha, Qatar. You might suspect that Venus and Serena Williams had cast absentee ballots before jetting off to this tiny desert Persian Gulf country. However, Jehovah Witnesses are forbidden from voting, which leaves one to wonder if they could vote which way would they lean. We may never know; however, we do know that the Williams' sisters are definitely here to get a portion of the purse -- $4.5 million -- with the winner collecting $1,340,000. And after eleven months of international globe trotting, with tournament stops in far flung locations such as western Australia, Columbia, France, Toronto, Beijing and New York City, fans should understand that these eight talented women are here to entertain as much as anticipate the day when they can head home for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.
First up today on "Central Court," the show stadium of this new tennis facility of upwards of twenty five courts, a Media Center, Public Villages and Public Parking, plus a separate VIP Village and VIP Parking, was Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova of the White Group. With gusty winds a factor and outdoor conditions still somewhat foreign from weeks of indoor tournaments, both players' finesse and timing were less than stellar. Although they served close to 60% for the match, Zvonareva won more points on her first and second serves. She also fended off 67% of break points while her countrywoman only saved one of six break points against her serve. When Kuznetsova missed her first serve Zvonareva jumped all over the second, winning 68% of those points. It's a fact... get your first serve in or suffer the consequences. Zvonareva won the match in straight sets 62 63.
Seeded #1 here and the #1 player in the world Jelena Jankovic competed against her Serbian rival Ana Ivanovic next. Although Ivanovic had held a winning record over Jankovic -- 6 and 1 -- it was apparent after the first couple games that the new world leader was anything but intimidated.
Jankovic served better overall -- 71% -- and saved 50% of break points, although Jankovic served no aces and Ivanovic served six aces. Points were long and extended, which is the norm when Jankovic's on court. She defends and can run all day, whereas Ivanovic anticipates quicker points through clean winners. However, the slower court surface naturally favored Jankovic. Balls kept coming at Ivanovic. The evening humidity and relatively high temperatures got to Ivanovic, too. In the middle of the second set, during one game, Ana came to a complete stop before the point ended. Fans gawked, as she bent over her racquet from no apparent wiggle of an ankle or missed call by a linesman. A second later, she was on the bench, the medical examiner was running toward her, and Tennis Channel cut to commercials.
Although she did not retire from the match, Ana lost to Jelena 63 64. News reports later said that the French Open champion had suffered from dehydration and dizziness. She is expected to return to competition tomorrow when she will face Vera Zvonareva in the first match of the day.
"I didn't feel any pressure out there today," Jankovic told Tracy Austin immediately following the match. "I like being number one. I took my opportunities where I could."
The third and final match of the day was an up and down battle in the Maroon Group between Dinara Safina and five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams. Safina surged to a 5/2 lead in the first set, setting a dominant tone. However, the Russian didn't win another game in the set. Her serve fell off faster than the sands shift in the surrounding deserts, and Williams saved six of seven break points to close the set 7/5. Dinara's service nightmare continued in the second set, too. It's one thing to go off on your serve for a couple points and quite another to let the problem persist, especially when Venus Williams is your opponent. Williams took advantage of the momentum, closing out the second set and match at 6/3.
Venus Williams told stadium fans minutes after her win that she turned the match around after a quick mental assessment of her predicament when down in the first set. "I don't lose sets 6/2," Venus told Tracy Austin while standing on court. "I might lose 6/4 or 7/5, but not 6/2." The honest self-talk plus the unfortunate performance of Safina's serve set the stage for Venus's inevitable victory.
Elena Dementieva and Serena Williams were the only players off court today. Tomorrow Dementieva will face Venus Williams and Serena will take on Dinara Safina.
Two players certainly missed at this year's event are Justin Henin and Maria Sharapova. Henin stunned the tennis world with her announcement in May of an early retirement. Sharapova's shoulder injury has taken more time and therapy than predicted, after starting the year with a dominant win at the Australian Open. These two women put on one of the best shows in women's tennis last year in the final in Madrid where Henin ousted Sharapova in three hard-fought sets 57 75 63. Their competitive spirit and athleticism will be missed in Doha. Their absence also leaves a wide-open sense of who will walk away with the 750 ranking points and top prize money. Only times will tell.