Love The One You're With
April 13, 2010 -- A week, or so, before this year's Family Circle Cup launched its thirty-seventh tournament, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Sabine Lisicki -- the 2009 singles champion -- pulled out. Serena was injured. Maria was injured. Sabine was injured.
Their exits cleansed the draw of potential star power the long-running tournament used to promote itself and could have used further until, obviously, these three women sent their polite condolences.
Yesterday, the local Charleston Fox affiliate played on this turn of events. It showed viewers clips, on evening news, from interviews taped at the all-media hour held outside the stadium. Nadia Petrova was asked about the draw and its seemingly lackluster player list, all the while Caroline Wozniacki -- #2 in the WTA Sony Ericsson Rankings and the #1 seed this week -- took questions within earshot. Petrova reassured viewers they would see good tennis, no doubt about it. She was right.
Six of the fifteen singles matches today went three sets, including the nail-biter between #2 seed Jelena Jankovic and Edina Gallovits, which the Serb won 26 64 63.
"I started playing more aggressively and cut down on my errors," Jankovic began. "I started moving in more, and I started serving better, which was very important. Probably she got tired at the end. It's the clay courts. It's a lot tougher because points can be a little longer."
Total attendance for the first four days of the tournament is up over 2009 by 7%. And, tonight's marquee match featured Melanie Oudin - locally grown sweetheart favorite and U. S. Open surprise quarterfinalist of 2009 -- and American Jill Craybas, the tour's oldest player here this week. She is 35. Melanie is 19.
Last year, Oudin came up through qualifications. This year she is the #13 seed.
"I am seeded here, but I'm not a high seed," Oudin said. "I just go into the tournament and each match the same way. I think that I'm going to do the best I can and play the best I can."
Oudin defeated her friend Craybas 63 61. Up a break in the first set, Oudin fought off three break chances for Craybas in the eighth game to keep her edge in the set. It was an important game for Oudin.
"Lately I've been up a little and then letting my opponent get back in the match," Oudin began. "So being able to close out that game and then play a good second set really really helped me a lot."
If Melanie Oudin isn't star power, then the women's game, in the United States anyway, is sorry out of luck. Last year Oudin busted through at Daniel Island, to the thrill of thousands. She squealed with delight, after beating the number-nine seed Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak.
Adrenalin pumped through her at light speed while she answered questions on court immediately following her victory. She told fans, "I played awesome." She was sure she could beat the big girls. She was so happy, she practically giggled her words. The crowd fell in love right then and there.
Melanie was knocked out in the next round by Marion Bartoli and the news about her impact spread, keeping international news wires humming for weeks after the U. S. Open. Oudin was good for American tennis. She was also a dynamite force worldwide. Currently ranked #36, Oudin is now the third highest ranked American player, following Serena and Venus Williams at #4.
"It's pretty exciting to be the crowd favorite," Oudin began. "I don't like to think of myself as the next hot American, or whatever, coming up because that adds pressure. I'm hoping that the few Americans that are in the tournament can go far in it."
With due respect to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki, we will miss you this week. And, who knows what would have transpired had you shown up. That's a tournament for the fifth dimension of tennis analysis, for projections based on supposed scenarios, and the blog-o-sphere. Enough said. Let's focus on who is here, rather than who we would want to have here. It's the Zen manner of Family Circle Tennis.
Wildly talented American Shenay Perry set off the morning alarm on center court with superb athleticism, a remarkable one-handed backhand, and a serve clocked up to 117 MPH. The girl's got game. On the down side though, Perry was erratic. Fans watched her travel through fits and starts over the course of her three set loss 36 62 61 to Shuai Peng. They wavered between joy and embarrassment for their obvious favorite Perry.
However, in the third set and already down a break Perry got a bum call from the chair. She protested. And continued to protest.
She dragged the matter to the next game and tanked it. Fans cheered encouragements. But, Perry was way back where the incident lived in her mind. She hung onto the handshake with chair, pursuing her point.
Perry was the one of two lower-ranked Americans ousted today in singles, along with Jill Craybas. Vania King went through in straight sets 75 60, though, defeating Anastasia Rodionova of Austria. Of the eleven Americans entered, either through qualifications or direct entry, only three remain.
At least Melanie Oudin's wish for more Americans to go far in the draw is alive and well.