A quick look at what turned out to be a surprising weekend on the tennis tour:
The repeat victor in Portugal this weekend wasn’t 2008 Estoril Open titlist Roger Federer. It was defending champ Albert Montanes of Spain, who took out hometown hopeful Frederico Gil, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5, just a day after beating Roger in straights. Montane’s opponent had reason to be proud, even if he couldn’t eke out the victory – Gil was the first ever Portuguese player to make it to an ATP singles final in the Open Era. Some highlights:
Rome’s Federer-killer, Ernests Gulbis, isn’t the only Latvian making a name in the tennis world. His countrywoman 20-year-old Anastasija Sevastova (ranked 74 in the world), won her first career title in the women’s final in Estoril, taking out Arantxa Parra Santonja 6-2, 7-5. A Latvian history lesson from the WTA tour:
Sevastova is the first player from Latvia to win a singles title on the Tour since Larisa Neiland won in Schenectady, New York in 1993. In fact, Neiland reaching the 1984 final at the same tournament was the last time a Latvian woman even reached a singles final – 16 years ago.
The big title on the WTA tour this weekend was up for grabs in Rome. Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez snapped it up, beating Jelena Jankovic 7-6(5), 7-5. The Spanish player proved that guile and soft hands still have their places on the women’s tour – coupled with Jankovic’s defensive skills and competitive streak, it was a highly entertaining and unusual looking final. While it’s a disappointment for J.J. not to be holding the Rome trophy for the third time in her career, beating the Williams sisters back-to-back is about as good a Roland Garros warm up as she could hope for (now if only she could have beaten Justine in Germany, she’d be on my short list in Paris.)
Estoril received most of the ATP promotion this past week because of Roger’s willingness to babysit Lisbon’s children, but there were two other 250-level tournaments going on. Novak Djokovic’s quarterfinal retirement due to breathing problems/allergies was probably the biggest story coming out of the Serbia Open. He has also pulled out of the Madrid Masters. But the tournament was all good for the Americans, with John Isner and Sam Querrey facing off in the final. Querrey survived a match point to beat his good buddy: 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4. Keep this up, fellas, and bloggers won’t be able to complain about the American disdain for clay. But before I give up that line completely, I await to see how they do in Madrid.
At the BMW Open in Munich, a.k.a. the tournament I completely missed, Mikhail Youzhny took out Marin Cilic 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
But wait, there’s more! The Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open has just started and we already have some big losers to report. Justine Henin’s performances continue to fluctuate – last weekend she was sitting pretty in her prize Porsche in Stuttgart, this weekend she’s bageled by Aravane Rezai. The Frenchwoman took out Henin: 4-6, 7-5, 6-0 on Sunday. Henin explains the result:
“I wasn’t feeling my best - I was ill after Stuttgart. I didn’t have the energy I needed,” Henin said. “Aravane was playing at a very good level though. It wasn’t an easy day for me. I really wanted to win this tournament. I hope I’ll get better in a few days and get ready for the French.”
Maria Sharapova, playing her first tournament since Indian Wells, was also booted out of Madrid on Sunday. She lost to Lucie Safarova: 4-6, 3-6. It’s a disappointing result for Masha fans, but not exactly surprising. That’s a killer first round, even if you’re at the top of your game. Which Maria definitely isn’t:
“I started slowly. I got myself back in it and had the window, but just didn’t take it,” Sharapova said. “I can’t look back and think of losing though, I can only learn from it and move forward. I need matches to get my instincts back. It was only a few points here and there today that could have turned things around. She was just more solid than I was.”
Player quotes via WTA website.
After suffering her own shock loss a few days ago – Venus Williams’s 0-6, 1-6 defeat to Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals of Rome was the worst in her pro career – the eldest Williams sister beat qualifier Stefanie Voegele in her first match in Madrid.
Just wondering – is anyone else finding this spring to be a pretty confounding time on the tour? Besides Rafa’s consistent clay performances, the top men and women have been all over the place.