The best thing about the year ending championships is the format – from the very first day you have the best players playing against each other and the promise of seeing them again soon, win or lose.
The first match was an interesting one. YEC rookie, Victoria Azarenka, trounced former world number one Jelena Jankovic in straights: 6-2, 6-3. J.J. had to play last week’s Kremlin Cup to earn her spot in Doha, and she looked to be burnt out and grouchy from the effort. Azarenka, on the other hand, went on court with eyes as big as saucers, ready to eat up her first-ever YEC match like a kid with a hot fudge sundae. She’s also well rested, taking last week off to prepare. This will give her the advantage tomorrow, when she plays her good buddy Caroline Wozniacki, who is reportedly still struggling with the hamstring injury that took her out in Luxembourg last week.
And check out this reporter-facilitated exchange between Vika and J.J. after the match – it sounds there was some telephone being played in the press room (via Monsters&Critics):
‘I basically gave her (Azarenka) everything,’ said Jankovic. ‘I beat myself. I was just a shadow of myself. Sometimes you want to play your best, but it just doesn’t happen. I just hope I can play better tomorrow, and I’ll keep trying my best in this whole competition.’
Azarenka was having none of the head games: ‘I’m glad she wasn’t in the mood. It worked out fine for me. I haven’t played in a tournament for a while,’ said the second-round loser a fortnight ago in Beijing. ‘I felt pretty good out there.’
Venus vs. Dementieva was more dramatic on the court – there was even a surprise ending. At first, it looked to be the the same old story: Venus was up a set and a break against the Russian, who hadn’t beaten her since 2004. But somewhere during the second set tiebreak Venus’s game drove off a cliff. She lost the third set 2-6 and finished the match with 52 unforced errors. Great news for Dementieva, but not the way Venus wanted to go into tomorrow’s match against her sister.
Tom Perrotta at ESPN.com has an interesting take on Venus’s extended slump:
More and more, Williams looks like a player who needs a change, whether it’s a new voice on her coaching team, a new strategy (volley more?), or a new approach to training. As James Blake recently discovered, change for the sake of change can be positive, even if it reveals that you ought to stick with what you were doing in the first place (at least then you can continue down the same path with confidence). Williams has the athleticism to play top-level tennis into her 30s and accomplish a lot more (on the short list: win her first Australian Open and her first U.S. Open since 2001). She doesn’t have much time, though, to figure out how she’s going to do it.
Assuming she doesn’t defend the title in Doha, Venus may be disappointed enough in her season to make some changes. Or maybe she’ll continue to be a grass court specialist and hope that Justine Henin takes out Serena before the Wimby final next year.
Serena Williams beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in a tight two setter: 7-6(6), 7-5. The round robin format is an interesting one for Serena, because it doesn’t allow her the luxury of easing into a tournament like she’s wont to do. But she looked ready to go today, not only sending a message to her friend Sveta but to the rest of the field: Serena’s in it to win it.
I have to mention Serena’s bizarre pre-match interview with Tracy Austin. These interviews are usually duds, but this one was downright testy. When Austin asked Serena if she was playing to be World Number One this week, Serena let out a sarcastic chuckle and said: “Yeah, in doubles.” (She and Venus are playing in the doubles in Doha, too.) Serena then walked away, leaving Austin to say, with the perfect degree of faux sweetness: “Good luck, Serena.” Serena ignored her. Awkward! I look forward to seeing how Serena’s attitude plays out this week. I sense she’s a little on edge – which could be a good thing. It’s worth noting that the one time she won the YEC in 2001 (yep, only once!), she also finished the year at No. 1. (UPDATE – Actually, I’m wrong. Serena won the YEC in 2001 but didn’t end the year at No. 1 until 2002.)
By the way – Serena Williams will join Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber and Alexa Glatch in next week’s Fed Cup final vs. Italy. Yay! I hope all the taping I saw today on her ankles, wrist, and upper leg is just preventative.
Wednesday’s line up in Doha:
Azarenka vs. Wozniacki
Safina vs. Jankovic
Serena vs. Venus