I’ve made it over to the Charleston tournament for a few days, and I’m already in tennis heaven. The weather is perfect, the WTA players are being treated like rock stars, there is candy in the media center, and, oh, did I mention the palm trees?
I drove down from Greensboro this morning, so I didn’t arrive on site until around 2:30. I was sure that I had already missed Venus, and after seeing that she had been bageled in the second set, I hadn’t quite gotten up the nerve to check the score of the third set. I was pleasantly surprised when I checked the scores as I walked up and saw that Venus was serving for the match at 5-4 in the third.
I arrived at the stadium just as she had match point. Of course, with Venus, things are never simple. She blew four match points and got broken, before subsequently breaking BZS and serving it out a second time. I like to think that she was just waiting for me to get there before she finished, because obviously I’m the most important person in her universe.
Venus rushed right to press afterwards. She sounded and looked awful, and confirmed during the press conference that she had been dealing with a bug lately. It clearly was affecting her, but she still managed to be patient, thoughtful and upbeat in the press conference. This was her answer when she was asked about the difference between this year and last year:
I mean this time last year, I was definitely not anywhere in control. I was trying to figure out how I can be better, and sometimes that’s tough because you’re not doing anything wrong; you’ve always done things right your whole career and you’re kind of facing something that you can’t control. I made it to the semis last year. I don’t know how. (Laughs).
But I’m always fighting, and I’m a lot better than last year. Night and day.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again–it’s amazing that at this point in her career, with so much stacked against her, that Venus is still out there fighting. I think that she clearly fights because she knows she has good tennis left in her, and she wants to still be out there when she’s healthy enough for it to come out. She wants to be able to navigate through the end of her career on her on terms. It’s about control, it’s about pride, and it’s about a love for the competition and the game. It’s pretty special to watch.
After Venus’ press conference, I wandered aimlessly around the grounds, and I stumbled upon a couple of other players in the twilight of their careers. First, I found Nadia Petrova, who was locked in a tight battle with Marina Erakovic (she eventually lost in three sets).
(Look at that crowd! Like I told you. Rock stars.)
Petrova is currently 31 years old, ranked No. 234 in the world, and has just recently returned to tour after the tragic death of her mother last December. She won this tournament back in 2006–a year that she won five titles in total and finished ranked No. 6. But, despite all of that, she’s still finding the motivation to keep going. Awesome.
This was my first time seeing Petrova play live, and while she was clearly rusty, her power and competitiveness were engaging. She was constantly yelling at herself in Russian or English, complaining to the umpire about the balls or calls, and hitting awe-inspiring forehand winners or head-scratching errors. She was volatile, and yet somehow still endearing. She was, to sum it up, very Russian.
In the end, Erakovic’s steadiness persevered, but if Petrova keeps fighting the way she was today, I say she will be back in the top 50 by the end of the year. Book it.
Next, I ran into 30-year-old Daniela Hantuchova on the practice courts. Dani had beaten Shelby Rogers 7-5, 7-5 earlier in the day, but she was still out there hitting practicing with her new coach, Peter Lundgren.
It’s amazing. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this opportunity. I wanted to work with him for years, but obviously he’s been on the men’s side coaching some pretty good names in the business. So I understood that.
But it’s been on my mind for quite a few years, and having the opportunity now at this stage of my career, it’s very motivating. It gives me a new kind of energy, and it’s not easy the stuff he’s trying to get me to do, but I’m prepared to do the work; and I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but it’s all great stuff, and I’m really delighted to have him by my side.
It was fun watching Dani and Lundgren on the practice court together. They seem like an odd couple for sure, but together they were focused yet playful. It’s clear that she’s really listening to him, and he seems very patient with her. I’m very interested to see if this will give Dani a late-career push to fulfill some of her latent potential. At the very least, it’s great to see her willing to try something new after all of these years on tour. For her, it’s a new voice that’s keeping her going.
Of course, as you all know, the day ended with the best tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, falling in straight sets to 20-year-old Jana Cepelova. This was a shocking result to say the least, but it clearly wasn’t ringing alarm bells of panic for Serena.
The World No. 1 was upbeat and charming in press, giving all the credit to Cepelova and her counterpunching, but also not hesitating to admit that she was just plain worn out. She just needs a short break to recharge though, and she’ll be back. At 32 years old, she shows no signs of slowing down.
In disbelief, a soft-spoken but charming Cepelova said that she didn’t go onto court thinking she could beat Serena–in fact, she laughed at the notion. But after she got up 5-0 in the first set, then she started to believe.
I guess that’s why these 30-somethings keep trying new things and digging down deep late in their careers–if they don’t, there’s always some wide-eyed 20-year-old ready to steal the spotlight, and they’re not quite ready to give it up yet.
Plus, as we learned once again today, anything can happen in tennis on any given day. This truly is the best sport. I can’t wait for tomorrow.
Here’s the OOP for Thursday, let me know what you want me to be on the lookout for!