Saturday, July 24, 2010

WORLD TEAM TENNIS: PHILADELPHIA FREEDOMS BEAT THE NY BUZZ

(I was assigned to cover this Philadelphia Freedoms Team Tennis event by Richard Pagliaro, editor of TennisNow.com; thus, as contributing writer, I didn't have to pay to get in. You can see another version of this article on website: http://www.tennisnow.com/News/Featured-News/The-Buzz-Is-About-Philadelphia-Freedoms.aspx)
Philadelphia is often viewed as a step sister to New York, but its Philadelphia Freedoms had no trouble prevailing over the New York Buzz, 24-17, in their recent World Team Tennis encounter (July 21)at suburban Villanova University.

Martina Hingis was the Marquee player, and while her game may have had some bubbles on Monday against the New York Sportimes, by Wednesday this champagne champ came out somewhat flat and looked more like vin ordinaire.

The player with the fizz was the 19 year old Thai player Noppawan “Nok” Lertcheewakarn, who in women’s singles defeated Hingis 5-3. Hingis did win her mixed doubles match with Scoville Jenkins, 5-4, against the Freedoms team of Courtney Nagle and Prakash Amritraj. But in women’s doubles, she and partner Sarah Borwell lost 5-2 to the Freedoms team of Nok and Courtney Nagle. But Hingis is Hingis, so even with a defeat by a player ranked only 294, there is no need to Thai won on!


The crowd, which filled only about half the indoor stadium, the Pavilion, was there to see Hingis, (always this writer’s favorite player )who is still great, but didn’t look the Hingis of old.

Not on this particular night. Her game clearly had some rough edges and still lacks a sparkling serve, which averaged about 80 mph, but was bookended by 2 serves of 103 and 101mph. None of this should be surprising since she is not on the tour playing top players, and because she turns 30 next month--one of the reasons she cited on Wednesday for not returning to WTA tour tennis.

On the other hand, she said “It was great to be back at Wimbledon,” where she played an invitational doubles match with Anna Kournikova.(above) She acknowledged that continued doubles at the tour-level is not out of the question, “But I still have to get a partner.” She does have some exhibitions ahead of her. The unanswered question is whether she would want to play during the indoor season. Even so, she is glad to be on the Buzz team. While her passion for horses is well known, they are apparently in the stable for now. About returning to tennis, she had this to say: “Sports keep you fresh.” Here’s the comment I found most interesting:

“In the past few months I’ve played as much tennis as in the last three years.”

In reference to the current state of women’s tennis, now dominated by strong, tall women (see just how tall in Roseann Williams article, The Vertically Challenged Player, in the April archive), she responded this way to the question of whether she has to develop new strategies since she is a smaller player:

 “There are still some smaller players- Schiavone ( with the trophy)is small (nearly 5'6")and Stosur (outstretched) is not tall (nearly 5'7") Who would have thought 10 years ago that schiavone would win the French Open? On the slower playing surfaces the smaller players still have a chance. And on the faster surfaces, the smaller players can still do it.”
So let’s talk more about short. At just 5’ 6” and 132 lbs., (Hingis is taller by an inch) Noppawan (at left), who plays two handed on both sides, is a rock-solid fireplug whose game as is as solid as her muscular compact build. And it was a lot of fun to watch her hurl so much energy and precision at her opponents.

 Hingis sometimes had a tough time returning many of her shots, not because they were hit that hard, but because they came back fast and well placed. The slow pace of the Hingis serves was also an advantage for Lertcheewakarn, who with Courtney Nagle again defeated Hingis and partner Sarah Borwell 5-2 in women’s doubles.

Doubtless, however, it's a struggle to pronounce her name;  thankfully, she has the nickname Nok. But with her good game and strong confidence, Lertcheewakarn, currently ranked 294, could be a player to watch and a name we may get to know better. And, if someday she starts “Nok”ing ‘em dead, her tongue twister name will be a lot less troublesome.

She has an impressive record as a junior, and her junior highlights include one Grand Slam singles title (2009 Wimbledon) and three Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as the #1 ITF juniors ranking in 2008..She clearly is beginning to show some promise. When asked whether she is playing on the main tour, she is quick to let you know that as a wild card in the 2010 Malaysian Open, she achieved a first-round, straight sets victory over Ksenia Pervak-- her first-ever WTA main draw win. She is happy with the way her career is going, “but I need to improve a lot,” said this charming young player from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

But back to Hingis: When asked about her "pick” for the U.S. Open (August 30-September 12), she was coy, and exclaimed diplomatically, “I have no idea!”

 A few other notes about this event:

• I was sitting at the media table, which is practically on the court. I was behind a lines person so I was able to see her line calls. One of them was dead wrong. The ball was clearly out and she didn’t call it. No wonder John McEnroe got so furious with calls and made a spectacle of himself. In retrospect, that may not have been such a bad thing. In part, it was his tirades ultimately led to the use of video replay challenges. A really awful call against Serena Williams  cost her the quarter final match at the 2004 U.S. Open . I saw it on TV; the ball was about 2 feet inside the court, but was called out by an overrule from the umpire. This was the last straw and pushed professional tennis even further toward instant video replay.


• It can be dangerous for people to sit close to the court. Many “foul balls” are hit hard out of the court and into the stands and could bop a spectator in the head or chest.


• Hingis was interviewed by a WTT official at on open area in a section of the floor roped off for a private party. She could hardly be heard, which was disappointing.


• A ball boy about 7 years old was behind Hingis on her side of the court. She was very polite and sweet to him when she motioned to him to give her a ball for her serve. She was more businesslike when an adult was behind her.

• They just couldn’t get the crowd excited and to cheer on the Freedoms. Cheering and lively music are supposed to be a part of World Team Tennis matches. Maybe over time Freedoms fans will become less inhibited.


The new venue (at left; all WTT courts are multi-colored)  is something unusual for the Freedoms this year. They are now playing at an indoor facility that has air conditioning.

 It was a good time of the year to make the switch since area temperatures have climbed into the 90s for 27 days in 2010. For the past two seasons, Freedoms matches were played in a parking lot at the King of Prussia Mall, a highly congested and inhospitable location. Before that, the team’s home was at Cabrini College, an upscale Main Line location in Radnor, Pa. The Freedoms apparently grew out of Cabrini, which could no longer accommodate a growing fan base, went shopping and ended up at the mall.


As for the Villanova location, some were skeptical about whether indoor tennis during the outdoor season would draw spectators and attendance and it has been uneven. Not unexpectedly, the July 15 match with Andy Roddick was sold out, but the July 9 event with Ashley Harkleroad was sparsely attended. This is in stark contrast to matches in New York, which seem to field more marquee players. A case in point was the July 19 Sportimes-Buzz match, which included John McEnroe, Kim Clijsters, and Martina Hingis.

 

However, given the comfort and size of the Pavilion (which does hosts some exhibition matches during the winter) it appears that the switch was a very smart decision, at least for this year. How many people would have come out in 90 degree heat? Billie Jean King, who owns the Freedoms, has said that WTT intends to stick with the Pavilion, which should be heartening to all those who attend WTT matches there.

That crowd needs to grow. And from the players’ standpoint fans need to be less subdued, which, in contrast to New York, is the nature of a Philadelphia crowd. The low-key atmosphere prompted Freedoms the relatively reserved Prakash Amritraj to address the Freedoms fans on his side of the court:

“Let’s get a little noise in here! The most noise he got was the noise of victory when he defeated the towering 6’7” Alex Domijan, 5-3 in singles, and with his partner Ramon Delgado, in his 5-4 win over the Buzz duo of Alex Domijan\Scoville Jenkins.

Villanova is just a few miles from the City of Brotherly love, but the N.Y.Buzz, which are in last place and one behind the Freedoms in the WTT standings, got no love from their stepsister city. The results:


PHILADELPHIA FREEDOMS def. New York Buzz 24-17
• Men’s Singles – Prakash Amritraj (Freedoms) def. Alex Domijan (Buzz) 5-3


• Women’s Singles – Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Freedoms) def. Martina Hingis (Buzz) 5-3


• Mixed Doubles – Martina Hingis\Scoville Jenkins (Buzz) def. Courtney Nagle\Prakash Amritraj (Freedoms) 5-4


• Women’s Doubles – Noppawan Lertcheewakarn\Courtney Nagle (Freedoms) def. Sarah Borwell\Martina Hingis (Buzz) 5-2


• Men’s Doubles – Prakash Amritraj\Ramon Delgado (Freedoms) def. Alex Domijan\Scoville Jenkins (Buzz) 5-4



Monday, July 5, 2010

DONNING YOUR WHITES AT WIMBLEDON

♫♫ Da dum da dum ♫…All Dressed in White

(note- some of you have seen this in a separate message. Sorry for the repeat.)
The women can turn just about any tennis court into a fashion runway. Despite the restrictive whites-only dress code, the green carpet of Wimbledon is no exception.




Fashion? What fashion? Everyone wears white at Wimbledon. Well, most brides wear white at weddings, too, but their dresses don’t all look alike. Just flip through the brides magazines to see the endless variety of white dresses and gowns (Stay with me here, fellas; I’ll get to you.) At Wimbledon, the distinctions are creatively subtle. Of necessity, they would have to be when everyone is wearing white. Is that such a bad thing?
Okay, so Venus, since you brought up the conversation about of fashion at the French Open, where you wore your red and black retro Moulin Rouge can-can number –eeuuww la la!-- with the faux nude pants underneath. Although you were kicked off the runway kind of early this year, we’ll start with you and your Wimbledon whites. As that Oscars red-carpet fashion commentator Joan Rivers might say: “Venus, my dear, where did you get that simply faaabulous white dress?! And all that fringe. Uh- I love it.”
I know I’m on thin ice here, but I liked it, too, undulating fringe and all.
The dress was all white, of course, with – count ‘em-- five layers of fringe! Now that’s not just unusual, its creative. Even my sister, who doesn’t watch tennis, brought up that dress when I mentioned to her that I was watching Wimbledon. “I love her dress. Who was it, Serena?” (A dead a give away that she doesn’t follow tennis.) How did you she happen to see it? Online in a New York Times photo, she explained. If they are even three pounds overweight, most women couldn’t get away with that fringe because it would accentuate any and every bulge. The relatively slender Venus, however, carried it off beautifully. I don’t think her muscular sister Serena could have gotten away with it, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered to her. You want the fringe? So wear the fringe.



On the other hand, Serena wore a little white number that is both tasteful and flattering, which as you know is not always the case with this defending champ. (Think black catsuit at the 2002 U.S.Open.) At Wimbledon it’s a form fitting dress, trimmed with red piping under the chest, with a slightly flared panel at the hem, trimmed in red. Her bright, pinkish-red undershorts coordinate with a red Nike swoosh on her shoes, which also sport a graphic that apparently is a symbol of her commitment to Africa, where she has opened two schools in Kenya, and where her goal is to open one school each year. Were you as surprised as I was that her red pants got by the Wimbledon fashion police? Not as egregious as her sister’s faux nude, I guess.

Elegance, thy name is Maria Sharapova. On the green carpet she wore Nike’s Lawn Rose dress, smooth fitting across the torso, draped softly with 5 layers of fabric, each layer trimmed alternately with white and cream satin bands. Although Serena knocked her off the runway in the fourth round, her dress was a winner. Not so with Ana Ivanovic (one of my favorite players), who left the runway in a first-round loss to Shahar Peer. Given the weeds that have grown around her game, for the time being the best that’s left for Ana is her fashion. She took the 6-3, 6-4 defeat in a tailored white dress.

On the other hand, tailored doesn’t describe the redesign of her web site, which is now very “girlie”, with bouquets of pastel-pedaled flowers on the masthead. In fact, she says on her website that after the French Open she went to visit family in Belgrade, where “I went to the premiere of Sex and the City 2 and also took part in an event for my sponsor Verano: a shopping party at the Zira mall.” There is also a “magazine covers” link where you can see the lovely Ana modeling some terrific tennis (and other) fashions – not necessarily white.

Wimbledon’s tennis runway also included Caroline Wozniacki, who wears Stella McCartney. I wish she wouldn’t. Those dull celadon and clay dresses are very unflattering and I can’t imagine any recreational player buying any of those Adidas dresses just the lovely young Wozniacki wears. (See my previous article, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, for my take on this.)

Better you should wear white, Caroline. Wimbledon is good for you.


Some other fashion notes:
• Nadia Petrova in several tiers of something -- can you believe it?


• Victoria Azaranka- layers of ruffles


• Jelena Jankovic- layers of ruffles


• Stefanie Voegele and Maria Kirilenko kicked it up in mini- mini dresses


• Li Na, and Vera Zvonereva, Petra Kvitova—pleats!



 • Kim Clijsters- appropriate, but nothing specialWas it just a coincidence that so many women have been wearing layers this year? It’s as if they called or texted each other after the French open to find out what they intended to wear at Wimbledon, and they all settled on something with layers.
But wait! There was a hold out. Ruffles, fringe, layers, and pleats?

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in anything like that,” the reserved Ms. Henin might say in her low alto. Justine personified the Wimbledon tradition, gracing the grass in a plain, highly tailored, no- frills top and skirt, with black or blue piping around the neck. It was a tennis outfit that could best be described as crisp.
Unlike Maria, I’m no fashionista.

On the other hand, as a recreational player who spends a lot of time on a tennis court, I generally like to look nice off the court and on. And If I don’t gain 5lbs, I’m stocked for life with tennis attire, ever since I went to the most amazing sale a few years ago at a nearby swim and tennis club in Fort Washington, PA. The owner, Drew Sunderlin (who for many years was a stringer for Pete Sampras and Fed Cup), holds an annual $5 sale in order to move old inventory and make room for new stock. A couple of years ago, I made out like a shoplifter and took home $500 worth of tennis clothes for just $89. What? You read it right-- $89 for $500 retail. There is one downside to this haul. With a third of my closet now stuffed with tennis dresses, shorts and tops in all styles and colors – including white-- I can never decide what to wear.
Let’s leave PA and head back to the All England Club, where shoes have been destroying the grass.

For the most part, players wear what’s comfortable, durable, and designed for footwork, agility and movement. They just happen to be white because they have always been white. So shoes are just shoes. Or are they? What about last August in New York, at the US Open? That’s where Melanie Oudin stepped onto the court and stomped on a succession of top players to reach the quarterfinals. How could anyone forget her multi-color Adidas shoes, branded on the heel with her emblem “believe.” Those shoes were simply off the wall. And I loved them.





Unfortunately, since then Melanie hasn’t lived up to anyone’s belief in her and we haven’t seen the shoes, either. Maybe she ought to drag them out of the closet and put them on again. Melanie’s shoes were truly unique. Did you know that you can actually design your own on the Adidas website?

Always partial to Adidas shoes, I designed a pair in yellow, blue, black and green (whew!), but I didn’t complete the purchase for two reasons. If they didn’t fit, I wouldn’t be able to send them back. Also, it’s a shoe for young people and I’m now an older adult who someday will likely need those ugly orthopedic shoes. For me, damn it, necessity is winning out over fun and style. But who even needs the high fashion of Sex and the City 2 (I hope Ana enjoyed it) and Carrie Bradshaw and the rest of those silly city girls. Their stiletto heels would ruin not only the grass at Wimbledon, but also their feet. Give me “Believe.”

But hold on. The men in white aren’t coming to take you away. They’re playing at Wimbledon, too. But for the men all white means all dull. (See? I told you, guys, I’d get to you.) On the other hand, Wimbledon has succeeded in taming the baggy look (both shirts and shorts) that has been in vogue for much too long. (See The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly again for more opinion..)

There is just one name in men’s tennis where fashion is concerned: Roger Federer. And just one word to describe him: dapper. But, alas, poor Rog had to leave the party early, throw his whites in the laundry, and slip into his street clothes.


Finally, let’s change it up and cheer for color. The collar of Andy Roddick’s shirt was trimmed with pink, blue and black stripes. I thought it looked great. A lot of the other guys, as well, have taken to adding a touch of color. A yellow swoosh here, a touch of orange there, with shoes to match, a fashion statement that has been popular for several years—especially with Novak Djokovic. And that’s about all you can say for the men.

Given Wimbledon’s tradition of white tennis attire, it’s not easy to be distinctive or to make your fashion mark on the tennis court. You have to do that with your racket.
But what a refreshing change from the sometimes questionable attire the women have worn at other tournaments. Venus isn’t the only one. How about that black and gold lame number worn by Aravane Rezai, who beat Venus at the Madrid Open. Red and black, black and gold. Picture all that good taste as a doubles team. Perish the thought.



And Martina Navratilova will just die when I bring up what she wore at a 1989 Virginia Slims tournament in Philadelphia. You won’t believe it: a black dress with silver sparkles. Her opponent was Monica Seles. I have no idea what Seles wore, but I sure do remember how she played. And I don’t remember who won the match. But I’ll never forget that black and silver dress.

You may not agree, but most of the outfits this year were winners in my book. It’s a wonder that you can do so much with white. If they brides can do it, so can the athletes. I liked all the layers, the ruffles, and the pleats. What’s best is that I can’t think of anyone whose clothes were over the top. Can you?