Closing Shop In U. S. and Off to European Red Clay
By Jane Voigt
April 8, 2014 -- When the U. S. Clay Court Championships come to a close this weekend in Houston, the men will bid adieu to America. The women left the country early this week after Family Circle Cup, or before. We won't see them this side of the Atlantic until the second bout of hard court tennis leads them to the final Grand Slam of the year, the U. S. Open.
So where does that leave tennis?
We know Novak Djokovic is on a tear, having won Indian Wells and Miami. He wouldn't commit to a prediction about a repeat of his 2011 performance, but stands at the front of the pack. He is confident and poised to perhaps thrill us with another record-breaking season.
Serena Williams won an unprecedented 7th Sony Open title, but couldn't quite pull off another back-to-back triumph in Charleston. Too tired to come through one round, she bowed out to the eventual runner-up, Jana Cepelova, and thus swung the draw door wide open.
Although Indian Wells and Miami are combined events, and more important in the pecking order of ranking points, Charleston was the breath of fresh air. You can't visit another tournament and hear women players praise with such sincerity the volunteers, food, and atmosphere. They keep coming back because it's a break from the bigness of Miami and the celebrity of Indian Wells' California groove.
Yaroslava Shvedova came to life when she talked about the family she stayed with on Isle of Palms, a community about 15 minutes from the Daniel Island site. She told of family dinners and the beach right out in front of the house. You could sense her fondness and passion. "It's really Family Circle Cup," she said. Shvedova and Anabel Medina Garrigues won the doubles title.
Wildcards Andrea Petkovic and Jelena Jankovic packed Court 3, a small side court, as they challenged veterans Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber in an evening match that ended close to midnight. Fans didn't want it to end, as Petkovic and Jankovic laughed their way to victory. Fun on court is possible!
Petkovic's title in women's singles represented a crowning point. Thirteen months prior she had been ranked outside the top 175; she is now No. 28. She recalled her second-round loss in qualifications at the French Open last year, calling it the lowest point of her career. She wanted to quick. She wanted to quick again after her loss to Camila Giorgi early at Indian Wells, too.
"But I kept wanting it," she said, showing off her Petko shuffle to fans. (Photo credit tennisclix.com) "I didn't believe it at all, but wanted it. That's why I kept working. I'm very thankful that it paid off in the end."
Family Circle Cup turned the tables on predictions. After Serena lost, Jankovic and Sara Errani went out, too, the second and third seeds. As the draw narrowed new young women poked their noses out, the way spring flowers bloom. A entire new field of possible champions presented themselves as if veterans.
Belinda Bencic, at 17, lost the first set against Errani because it was their first meeting she said. But once she caught on to Errani's spin, Bencic ran away with the match. The simplicity of her awareness and execution of her strategy belied her years.
Cepelova, the runner up and 'Serena Killer,' amazed everyone. Her tennis was well-rounded. However, her humility and fortitude left people speechless. Alone and away from her home in Slovakia she pushed on, ordering room service and wearing mismatched brands of clothes. "I have a contract with Babolat," she said. "But nothing else." Not yet. She moved from No. 78 to No. 51 in the world.
Spotlights and limousines and a packed public relations schedule can exhaust players. Don't worry they were called to the front by the press and fulfilled sponsor demands in Charleston; however, the city's pace along with heaps of charming southern hospitality gave players an optimistic perspectives and cheerful attitudes to tackle their on-court jobs.
Red clay is upon us. But let's not forget the comfy Charleston stop that broke attendance records set in 2008. Plop down on your favorite couch, like the players relaxed into on Billie Jean King stadium last week. Close your eyes. Hear the tennis balls?