Girls Just Wanna Have Fun... After They Win
April 14, 2009 -- You have to give the girl kudos for guts. While most women, and men, players have made the baseline their homes on any and all surfaces, American qualifier Shenay Perry served and volleyed her way to victory -- 75 60 -- this morning on the Althea Gibson court on day two of The Family Circle Cup (FCC).
She didn't do it as a matter of course, like an initial strategy she and her coach had agreed upon this morning. She did it because her opponent, #15 seed Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, was hammering her on forceful returns of serve.
"At first she was killing me over the returns," Shenay admitted. "They were really low. I really wasn't serving and volleying well then. But then when I got my serve up a little better I was able to close the net and take the volleys a little higher."
The fans went nuts with excitement once the athletic Perry got her groove on and proved point after point that she was the dominant player.
As the first set approached a foreseeable tiebreak, Shenay moved the Czech out wide, dragging her from one side of the court to the other in order to set up put-away volleys and force errors, like lofted balls which she could then smash off as winners. Perry drilled tactical down-the-line one-handed backhands that were about as sweet as the kettle korn vendors serve here at the FCC.
At 15/40, Perry had her first set point. With Barbora visibly flustered -- she earned a racquet abuse warning -- Shenay drilled a forehand down the middle of the court, which the Czech returned and followed to the net. It landed at Shenay's feet who, in a split second, spun a perfect topspin lob up and over Barbora's head to close the set 75. Chilly patrons rose to their feet, happy to see the American tuck the first set under her belt.
As the second set progressed, anyone watching knew Barbora was on a downward spiral. Her screams of frustration switched from her native language to English, when she dropped the eff bomb. "Did she say what I thought she said?" one fan asked her friend. "You bet," they said in unison.
As Perry lead her opponent in a soon-to-be-obvious death dance, fans remained mesmerized by Shenay's groundstrokes, especially her underspin cross-court backhands. Two women nearby chanted "look at that..." "Look at that..." time after time in rhythm to Shenay's shots.
"I'm definitely happy with how I played," Shenay said. "She's definitely a great player. I'm happy to get through today, too."
Perry admitted that her greatest strength on court is her serve, which she demonstrated to all eyes today.
"When I'm serving well, I have more confidence from the baseline. When it's working I have greater confidence."
What's her fastest serve? "I think I may have hit about 122," she said. That's not too far off from Venus's record of 129.
Shenay Perry started to play tennis when she was four. "I think I modeled my game after Pete Sampras." She also admires Venus and Serena, especially since they are, like her, African American women who have risen to the top of their games in a sport that lacks a predominance of black athletes.
Perry will face America Varvara Lepchenko in the next round.
"I do know her," Shenay said, quickly. "I played her three times last fall and never beat her. But I have nothing to lose, at this point as long as I remain healthy."
Another American qualifier Angela Haynes played her first-round match in the main draw today against Russian Alla Kudryavtseva, which is much easier to write than speak as are many of the women's names here this week. Her coach rolled the name off his tongue as if he were pronouncing a simple American sir name such as "Reynolds" or "Stevenson."
"Just call her Alla," he said. "Alla is great. She'll appreciate hearing that."
Several viewers took his suggestion to heart -- "come on Alla" they cheered -- as the first set continued to go her way. Alla's low stance, anticipation and balance at contact point contributed to her aggressive baseline game. Her extreme western grip added extra rotation to topspin balls, too, which caught Haynes off guard and late on returns. Coupled with the America's propensity to hit off her back foot in an open stance forehand left her flatfooted. She went down a break early and couldn't recover, losing the set 4/6.
At 5/2 in the second set Alla stepped up to the baseline to serve for the match. Every tennis fan knows that this moment was crucial. You can play like a number-one-ranked player up to this time, but if you can't close then all bets are off, and Alla couldn't close.
This was due in part to Angela; she played her best tennis and broke. Her confidence bolstered, she continued the pressure. At 3/5, she saved one match point with an ace and held to 4/5. Eventually, she evened the set and then the match 7/5. However, as many matches go she couldn't extend the energy through the third set, losing in three 6/4 7/5 6/0.
Now, only two of the five American qualifiers remain in the main draw: Shenay Perry and Melanie Oudin. She will play #9 seed Aleksandra Wozniak tomorrow on Stadium court at 10 AM.
It's hard to watch petite Dominika Cibulkova scramble around the court and then remember she's a high school student in her native Slovakia. However, it's a tribute to her tennis skills and athleticism that she has penetrated the top ranks of the WTA tour at such a young age. Dominika is committed and dedicated. And, today she once again proved her seeding when she defeated Austrian Tamira Paszek 6/4 6/0. It was their first head-to-head match.
The five-foot-three powerhouse Cibulkova, who will turn 20 early next month, compensates for less-than-ideal stature with rocket-quick foot speed, pinpoint anticipation, and top physical form. She works more off court, than on court and it shows. In 2005, Dominika was ranked 555. As of Monday, she was ranked 19.
Tamira Paszek was a smooth baseliner, who seemed to penetrate her groundstrokes with little effort. It could have been her compact strokes -- she kept her upper arm tight to her upper body -- which eliminated the energy necessary for long, loopy groundies. But after she lost the first set 6/4, she never regained any ground against #7 seed Cibulkova, who advanced to the third round.
Alexandra Stevenson made a stir here at the FCC today, not because she lost of tough first-round match to Akgul Amanmuradova 6/2 6/4, but because her father, Dr. Julius Irving was in the house watching his daughter for the first time in her career.
"I actually didn't even see him until the second set," she said, laughing. "So I think he was sitting up at the top." The former top-20 wildcard wasn't nervous about being watched by her dad. "I mean lots of people are watching, so it was a nice crowd out there."
Julius Irving played with the New York Nets and later the Philadelphia 76ers, where he earned the nickname Dr. J. His tennis-playing daughter Alexandra did not know he was her father, until his relationship to her was revealed many years ago at Wimbledon in a news conference.
"Well, we were never in a bad place," Alexandra said about her relationship with her father. "I just didn't know him. I mean obviously it's still odd, but it's nice that I know him; and, he is supporting me out here. He can see how hard tennis is. It's not like basketball where you have a whole team of support."
Alexandra doesn't currently have an agent and lives in Los Angeles. She wants to get back in the top 100, by playing as many tournaments as she can enter. "I'm going to go to Europe and play the clay. It's the first time I've done that in five years, I think."
Stevenson still travels with her mother. She practiced and worked out this week with Steven Dean, but doesn't have a full-time coach. "As you know probably, tennis is an expensive sport. So I have to get a sponsor and then things change."
Oh Those Names
In case you haven't noticed, tennis players' names are out of control. How in the world are we to articulate them, let alone remember them? Take for example the girl who defeated Alexandra Stevenson -- Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan! Misplace a vowel or a consonant and it's all over. No spellcheck will save you, either.
And what about Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova who went down to Shenay Perry? The people of the Czech Republic get it, but this woman is married and she has hyphenated her name in an attempt to honor both her lives -- before and after marriage. Maybe it's better that's she's out of the draw.
Then there's Sesil Karatantcheva of Kazakhstan. Fortunately, again, for we poor journalists she's on her way to the next tournament.
But someone has to come up with some form of identification that will ease our writing pain. Some encrypted methodology is needed that's understandable and easily translated to the chatty narrative readers appreciate. Otherwise, spell-checks better get their acts together and go international.