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August 18, 2009

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2009 Rogers Cup (Women)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada - August 18, 2009
Editorial by Jane Voigt.

Photography by John Meaney.

 

Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

State of The Women's Game - As Venus Exits
 
August 18, 2009 -- Martina Navratilova believes that comparing the men's and women's games isn't necessary.

"When Chris [Evert] and I were dominating people [said], oh, yeah, it's always Chris and Martina in the finals," Navratilova said. "It's like we always knew who's going to be there. Whereas with men, they had so much depth; you never knew who was going to win."

Fast-forward to today's tennis scene and the tables have turned. "Now you have Nadal and Federer winning everything for five years," Navratilova continued. "And the women have been going back and forth, with different No. 1s."

Navratilova's point -- "You can't have it both ways. I find this double standard really annoying." From the tennis legend's perspective there is the men's game, and there is the women's game. Why compare?

Without a comparison Navratilova assumption that women's tennis is in great shape makes sense. The intrigue and anticipation of match outcomes draws spectators and brings out the best in players' competitive natures. Couple that with her belief that the game is impossible to master, and the mix is complete.

"Billie Jean King said she's never seen the ball come over the net the same way twice," Navratilova said. "I'm still learning and I'm enjoying watching the women and the men battle it out."

Stacey Allaster, the newly appointed Chairman and CEO of the WTA, agreed with Martina Navratilova -- the women's game is in good shape. However, she spoke prominently today at the all-media press conference about the combined tournaments in Cincinnati and Canada that are scheduled to debut in 2010.

"The [tennis] business really thrives when men and women are combined," Allaster said. "It's a winning situation for Tennis Canada, too. You guys [the media] are going to virtually combine the events in the same week."

Having, let's say, the men at the Uniprix Stadium in Montreal and the women at the Rexall Centre in Toronto does sound as if women's tennis is doing well. However, another perspective could easily say that the combination of tours is a telltale sign that women's tennis isn't faring well, even if ticket sails are up at recent WTA events.

Last week during the semifinal match of the Western   Southern Financial Group Open in Cincinnati, the stands were almost empty as Dinara Safina flattened Flavia Pennetta in a lopsided win of 6/2 6/0. The match was rife with errors and breaks of serve. It was bad tennis. The fans were quiet, obviously hot from high temperatures and perhaps stunned at the weakness of the tennis they witnessed.

During the same time frame, the men at Rogers Cup Montreal rocked the fans. Stands were full. People were on their feet, cheering as if it was a Davis Cup tie. And temperatures were just as hot and steamy as ones in America's mid-west.

The visual contrast between the two tournaments was jaw dropping.

"Certainly empty seats is not what we want to be showcasing," Allaster said. "Cincinnati had a record ticket sales last week last. One of the challenges that we have in tennis is that we've sold all of our lower bowl seats to the corporate. So that is an issue that we have that some of our prime television seats are sitting empty sometimes because the corporates are either there and they're in the suites or it's daytime and they're not there."

But selling more tickets doesn't necessarily mean people sit in those seats. They weren't in Cincinnati. And if the corporations have the lower seats locked up and the suites full of friends and family, then maybe they should donate tickets to and fill the seats with people less fortunate.

With the return of Kim Clijsters and Maria Sharapova, the women's game adds again to its intrigue. Both are Grand Slam champions; and, Clijsters won the Rogers Cup in 2005. Both are hungry to make an impression and get in top shape for the U. S. Open.

"I think it's wonderful to have Kim back," Monica Seles said last night before her exhibition match. "I think it's great always when you have past Grand Slam champions come back to the game She's still very young, and I think we're all rooting for her to make some great results."

Sharapova took one more positive step on her climb up the rankings last night as she began her comeback campaign at Rogers Cup. She defeated Nadia Petrova 63 64. It was Sharapova's third victory over Petrova this year. Since her shoulder surgery and rehabilitation, Maria has struggled to groove the most important stroke of the game -- her serve. Tonight, though, she served 69% on first serves. Said another way -- she won close to seven out of ten points when her first serve went in.

But if the women's game is in such great shape, then the WTA and Venus Williams have a lot of explaining to do because the 29-year-old Williams stunned fans today in her first match of Roger's Cup, losing to qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko 16 74 64. She is the highest seeded player -- #3 -- to crash out of the tournament.

She played in Toronto last when she was seventeen years old -- in 1997. However, she has never won a match here either, having played tournaments in 1995, 1997, and 2009.

Williams played a fierce first set, but as Bondarenko continued to keep balls in play Williams's shots started to spray. Bondarenko successfully closed the match when served at 5/4.

Asked when she thought she had lost the match, Venus said, "When we shook hands at the net."

Ana Ivanovic's comeback from a sloppy first set today demonstrated the tenacious nature of this French Open champion in her difficult match today against qualifier Magdalena Rybarkova of Slovakia. But Ivanovic is far from being the player of two years ago when she briefly was the number one player in the world.

"I just was trying to play a little to safe, I think," Ivanovic said. "She's a good player, and she was playing really aggressive and dominant."

She chased her ball toss, looking like Elena Dementieva who struggled for years to put the ball in the right spot. Ivanovic's forehand -- her best shot -- missed its mark. Her volleys hit the net. And her drop shots were wide or short, which she had to use often since Rybarkova tried to catch the Serbian off guard as she waited on the baseline for a deeply returned ball.

However, one shot set Ivanovic on a smoother road when she cracked a crosscourt forehand for a winner, evening the set at 2-games all in the second set.

"Yeah, I think that was an important point, you know, to get the break back," Ivanovic said. "Since that moment, I kind of got my momentum back, and I started playing a lot better. That was exactly the kind of game I should have played from the start."

Her momentum gathered speed, as she broke in the eighth game and went on to win the second set.

She continued to improve every aspect of her game, in the final set, breaking twice early. She solidified her confidence while the young qualifier slowly unwound. It was her turn to double fault away games.

One of the strongest improvements in Ivanovic's match today was the number of points she returned on second serves. She steadily pressed, going from 33% in the first set, to 71% in the second, and an impressive 83% in the final set.

With the wind at her back Ivanovic hit an ace on her second serve in the last game of the match. She had proved to herself that what she and her coaches had practiced added to her game, once she put them in motion. Ivanovic won the match 26 63 62. Her next opponent is another qualifier Lucie Safarova. She advanced today, defeating Kaia Kanepi 64 76 (3).

Canada's last hope for a singles title at this Rogers Cup was dashed late this afternoon when Alisa Kleybanova defeated Alekansdra Wozniak 64 64. It was a topsy-turvy first set, complete with five breaks of serve. However in the second, Kleybanova hit her targets with force, which pressured Canadian Wozniak.

"I tried everything," Wozniak said. "She controlled the match. It wasn't my best today, but it was good to play at home."

Kim Clijsters drew fans in for the first evening match. Her opponent was another qualifier Elena Baltacha of Great Britain. Clijsters whizzed through the first set, using one break to her advantage. She was up another break in the second set, too, but today qualifiers have had good luck -- too bad for Kim.

Baltacha evened things with deep, penetrating groundstrokes and big returns. It was Clijsters match to win or lose.

The returning Belgium used her serve to dig out from deficits. And, her footwork hit high speeds as she rand down drop shots. With persistence and a strong desire to win her opening match at Rogers Cup, Clijsters edged ahead in the ninth game just in time to serve for the match. She won the last game at love for a 63 64 victory.
 

 
[Q] Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) d. [3] Venus Williams (USA) [yellow outfit] 16 75 64
 
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Kateryna Bondarenko
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Venus Williams
Tennis - Venus Williams

 
 
[W] Kim Clijsters (BEL) [white outfit] d. [Q] Elena Baltacha (GBR) 63 64
 
Tennis - Kim Clijsters
Tennis - Kim Clijsters
Tennis - Elena Baltacha
Tennis - Elena Baltacha
Tennis - Kim Clijsters
Tennis - Elena Baltacha
Tennis - Elena Baltacha
Tennis - Kim Clijsters
Tennis - Kim Clijsters
Tennis - Elena Baltacha
Tennis - Elena Baltacha
Tennis - Kim Clijsters

 
 
[11] Ana Ivanovic (SRB) [white visor] d. [Q] Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK) 26 63 62
 
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Magdalena Rybarikova
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Magdalena Rybarikova
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Magdalena Rybarikova
Tennis - Magdalena Rybarikova
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic
Tennis - Ana Ivanovic

 
 
Alisa Kleybanova (RUS) d. Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) [white outfit] 64 64
 
Tennis - Aleksandra Wozniak
Tennis - Aleksandra Wozniak
Tennis - Alisa Kleybanova
Tennis - Aleksandra Wozniak
Tennis - Alisa Kleybanova
Tennis - Alisa Kleybanova
Tennis - Aleksandra Wozniak
Tennis - Alisa Kleybanova
Tennis - Alisa Kleybanova
Tennis - Aleksandra Wozniak
Tennis - Aleksandra Wozniak
Tennis - Alisa Kleybanova

 
Earlier Columns from this Event:
 
August 17, 2009 Rogers Cup (Women) Coverage: Rogers Cup Kicks Off
 

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