And We Begin, Again
January 18, 2010 -- Maria Sharapova wore and pretty new dress by Nike, but it didn't matter. She showed off her 'new' serve, which was a revival of the 'old' serve. But that didn't matter, either, because she eventually succumbed to the relentless barrage of baseline bashing from friend and compatriot Maria Kirilenko in a match that lasted close to four hours, and the first of The 2010 Australian Open to grace Rod Laver Arena.
Sharapova took a determined position, in her press conference, letting the world know, "I'll be back here on a Saturday of the second week, so you watch."
Good for Maria. Good for tennis.
Sharapova was guaranteed - well almost - to win the match had she converted any one of three break points she held against Kirilenko in the second set at 4/2. Had she done that, she would have served for the match. Maria doesn’t normally let a chance like that float away, but she did today much to her disappointment and to the tournament's disappointment.
Sharapova was the only woman seed to lose on opening day. Maria Kirilenko won the match 76(4) 36 64. At least we'll have another Maria to cheer on.
On the men's side, Croat Ivo Karlovic took revenge against Radek Stepanek, seeded #13, of the Czech Republic. The six-foot-ten Karlovic lost to Stepanek at the semifinals of Davis Cup last fall, 16-14 in the fifth set. The win sent the Croatian team to the finals, which they lost to Spain. Nevertheless, Karlovic wasn't about to suffer another defeat here at the first major, and he didn't. He defeated the clever Czech in another marathon five setter. Seems that when these two face off, they can't conceive of winning in three.
And winning is the reason these players come here, and the draw is their personal map for the two weeks ahead.
As fans peruse the draw a few players spark emotions, as well as wishful thoughts of positive outcomes. These favorites awaken a certain something in viewers. Maybe they set themselves apart from the thousands of touring pros we've watched over the years by saying something noteworthy in a press conference. Maybe they strike a melodious note with us because of awesome shot-making skills or exemplary sportsmanship or an awesome career match record. Or, maybe they have struggled because of injuries and setbacks, yet they won't give up their dreams. Whatever it is, we put them on a pedestal and hope they do well at The Australian Open.
A few first-round matches at Melbourne Park are like that for these players that arouse our empathy.
American Shenay Perry has one such tough test in the first round: Ana Ivanovic. She is seeded #20. Last year, she was seeded #5. Her slide in the rankings is well documented, as is her break with coaches and life as she had known it as the world's number one player back in June, 2008. Nonetheless, American Perry ranked #112 in the world isn't favored. She worked her way through three rounds of qualification to hit her stride in the main draw and bam! Looks like a wall.
You feel for Shenay coming out against a woman millions of fans love and expect good things from, especially since last year was filled with tears and early-round losses for Ivanovic -- the pretty, six-foot-two Serb. However, Shenay Perry knows, like all the women entrants know: Ivanovic is vulnerable. It will be up to Perry to use her serve as the weapon it can be and apply pressure if Ivanovic's serve goes off, as it did so often last year.
Playing a phenom first shot out of the box is the fate of most qualifiers, but not all. If you're lucky you might pull another qualifier, as did Yanina Wickmayer. She played Romania Alexandra Dulgheru.
The idea that Wickmayer had to qualify should raise a couple eyebrows, since she's ranked #16 in the world. However, this Belgian up-and-coming tennis star, who reached the semifinals of the U. S. Open last year, ran smack into The Flemish Doping Tribunal last fall. It handed her a one-year ban because on three occasions she failed to let the agency know her whereabouts, a rule under the World Anti-Doping Agency for all top fifty players. In mid December, a civil court in Belgium lifted the one-year ban, but the litigation is not been settled. Therefore, she had to qualify.
"I'm 16 in the world, so I think I should be [in the] main draw," Wickmayer said today after her match. "I knew I was going to have to play quallies. I knew a couple weeks before, so I could prepare myself, which was, in a way, positive."
Her preparation was key today, too. She didn't play her best tennis, but overcame a one-set deficit to win 16 75 10-8.
"I know it wasn't my best day today," Wickmayer said. "The only thing I could get through the match was to fight for every point, just be ready for a long fight, just try to improve every point and be more aggressive. She made me play really well."
One emotional and big-fan favorite on the men's side is Ernests Gulbis of Latvia. A man of many tennis talents, his draw squares him against Juan Monaco of Argentina, the #30 seed, in the first round. Gulbis, who is currently ranked #82, can crack a forehand some top-ten men have trouble with.
His first career splash came at Wimbledon 2008 when he took the first set from Rafael Nadal, in the second round. Gulbis was the only player to push the Spaniard, and the eventual champion, beyond three sets throughout the fortnight, with the exception of Roger Federer in the final. Gulbis made a run to the quarterfinals of the French Open in 2008, too, when his friend Novak Djokovic sent the Latvian home on the family's jet. Since then, Gulbis has disappointed fans.
However, the 21-year-old has bulked up and hired a new coach. He made it to the quarterfinals in Doha, Qatar, earlier this month where he ran into Roger Federer. It was their first encounter on tour. It went three sets and tested Federer, who mentioned in his press conference later that he believes Gulbis could be the next big player. Federer took nothing for granted in that match.
After suffering first and second round match losses all last year, you have to hope that Shenay Perry and Ernests Gulbis can present the best side of their talents over the next two weeks. As for Yanina Wickmayer, her determination and perseverance should help her through the draw.
Australian Open kicks off with impromptu benefit for Haiti
by Liza Horan
This article was originally published in the TennisWire.org email newsletter and is republished here with permission from the author. TennisWire.org provides "industry news straight from the sources" through a searchable database of press releases and original editorial content.
While the tennis worlds' eyes are on Melbourne, the rest of the world is still tuned to Haiti. The mass devastation there by the earthquake is staggering and hundreds of millions of dollars have been pledged worldwide to help the victims. Prayers go out to all of those affected, especially our colleagues with the Haiti Tennis Federation and friends and family of former pro and native Ronald Agenor, who has said he is dedicated to rebuilding the tennis scene there.
A good deal of the funds raised for the relief efforts are donations by "regular people." The American Red Cross' text message campaign--which provides a $10 donation by texting "HAITI" to 90999 generated $200,000 an hour, and has surpassed $5 million. It shows the power each individual possesses alone and with others.
Roger Federer and other pros recognize such power. Fed's idea for an impromptu exhibition on the eve of the Australian Open came together in less than 24 hours. The "Hit for Haiti" put Jim Courier in the umpire chair and put microphone headsets on Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Sam Stosur as they raised about $185,000.
Separately, Maria Sharapova, who is a global ambassador for the U.N. Development Programme, donated $10,000. And tournament winners--Marcos Baghdatis, John Isner plus Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic--donated portions of this past week's prize money to aid efforts.
When the event was announced, Federer said in an interview: "It's something as a tennis family we're very happy to do. I know it's on the eve of the first Grand Slam of the season, so it's--for some--not so easy maybe mentally to separate...but I think it's a great initiative."
Now we can watch two weeks of these players fighting ferociously on court, knowing that they can put it all aside when no dollars or sponsors are involved.