Hello Changeover readers! Goodness does it feel good to start a post like that. I have missed you guys so much.
I’m coming to you live from Charleston at the Family Circle Cup for the third straight year. This year I’m only here until Wednesday, but I’ll do my best to make the most of it, for all of us.
I’m not sure that any tournament does quallies as well as Charleston does, at least not any tournament below the top tier. The crowds are excellent, and given that it’s Easter weekend, they are particularly well dressed. Especially the children.
Easter is a holy day for many, and so for me, it just felt right to spend it at the tennis.
I’ve written about this before, I’m sure, but there’s something about watching live tennis that just centers me. I cover a lot of sports these days, and I am beyond blessed to be able to do so, but tennis is home base. And there’s nothing like sitting amongst a captive audience who loves tennis as much (or close, at least) as I do. For those moments, we’re all joined together by something so simple and so universal. Sport. But unlike so many sports where the exciting moments are soundtracked by noise, tennis is served up in silence. It’s punctuated by sounds, of course: the ball hitting the strings, linesman calls, crowd cheers and player exclamations. But it’s the quiet that links it all. It’s very soothing.
It’s also a sport about new beginnings, which makes it suitable for this holiday. The clock doesn’t expire in tennis. Every point, every game, every set is a chance for a player to begin anew and build a new future.
No surface illustrates that better than clay, where after each set the traces of the previous one are literally brushed away and the lines re-painted. The slate is actually wiped cleaned. Sins are forgiven, it’s just up to the player to forget and move on.
Tennis, it really is a religion.
Anyways, in between all of this super deep thinking I’ve clearly been doing, Ilso watched some great tennis. And really, that’s what this trip is all about.
Saturday I left Greensboro around 8:00 in the morning and arrived in Charleston around 1:00 in the afternoon. (The drive was lovely, thanks for asking.) I really only had one goal on Saturday, which was to talk to Kimiko Date-Krumm. I had been wanting to interview her for a while, and this was my chance.
I arrived in time to watch most of her win over Julia Boserup, and was lucky enough to get a one-on-one with her afterwards. She was absolutely fantastic to talk with. I won’t transcribe that for you guys now, because my article on her will possibly be up elsewhere next week, but she did say that she was on the comeback from injury and was finally starting to feel better after shoulder and elbow problems had disrupted her spring.
She also still really, really loves this sport and has no date for a goodbye in mind.
— TennisAtlantic (@TennisAtlantic) April 4, 2015
How is she 44? It just doesn’t make sense. LIFE IS NOT FAIR, WHY DON’T I LOOK LIKE THAT, asks the person who sits around all day staring at a computer and doesn’t exercise enough or eat particularly healthy or sleep a lot.
Funnily enough, at the same time Kimiko was playing, 15-year-old CiCi Bellis was playing a quallies match as well, which she eventually lost to Kateryna Bondarenko.
If you’re counting, which I was, there is a 29-year age difference between Kimiko and CiCi. I turn 29 in a couple of months. They are separated in age by my entire existence. THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A MINUTE.
What a world.
Anyways, there wasn’t much time for other things on Saturday, but I did get to attend the draw party, which was in a tent on site and was jam packed with people watching Shelby Rogers, Andrea Petkovic and a lucky fan set up this mess. (The most intriguing first-round matches are, IMO, Stephens/BMS and Watson/Vekic.)
Sunday was the day that I got to just walk around and actually enjoy my time on the grounds and watch some players that I’ve never seen in person before. You see, I love interviewing players when I get a chance, so I spend a lot of time during tournaments in the media room so I can get said interviews. But that cuts into my wandering-around-the-site time. So I decided that Sunday would be interview free, and so I was able to enjoy the sunshine and the light breeze and the Southern hospitality and the serenity of Easter Sunday and OHMYGOD THEN CHAOS BROKE OUT.
— Nicole Gibbs (@Gibbsyyyy) April 5, 2015
Context: Pretty much every year the Family Circle Cup occurs on or around Easter time, and so there’s always an Easter-egg hunt on quallies Sunday for the kids. I know, it’s a pretty cute idea, although it’s worth noting that it’s not so much a “hunt” considering the eggs aren’t really hidden but are instead scattered in a field in plain sight, but kids of all ages love it anyways because, well, I don’t know, kids are kind-of dumb.
Anyways, this Easter-egg hunt was supposed to begin at 1:00. As you’ll note in the timestamp in Nicole’s tweet above, it began a bit earlier than that. That meant that the parents and children who did arrive on time were left with absolutely nothing. Instead, they showed up to the early birds having baskets full of eggs. Now, I think that’s a valuable lesson in the benefits of being early, but a lot of the parents did not see it that way and were livid. I was walking by and they saw my credential and thought I was in charge of things and I basically had to run and hide.
THIS HOLIDAY IS ABOUT FORGIVENESS, PARENTS. Sheesh.
Alright. Tennis. I swear I’m going to talk about the tennis now.
I really wanted to get an up-close look at some of the upcoming WTA prospects, so I stopped by the third set of Naomi Osaka vs. Danka Kovinic and ended up getting more than I could have ever bargained for.
If you don’t know, Osaka is a 17-year-old prospect from Japan who beat Sam Stosur last July because she has a lot of potential and also because, well, that’s just Stosur for you. Osaka is an incredibly raw talent, but she takes the ball on the rise, has good footwork and is absolutely fearless on court, which are all great signs. She’s also 5’11”, which will help.
Osaka is incredibly charismatic–she’s one of those players that you can’t take your eyes off of because she is so demonstrative about everything that you feel like you are in her mind during the match. She has no poker face. She’s going to need to work on adding variety to her game, keeping her attitude in check and not going for too much, but she’s going to be a thing, I can pretty much guarantee it.
Now, Osaka didn’t qualify, though. She lost to Kovinic, a 20-year-old from Montenegro who has had a lot of success on the ITF tour and is just beginning to translate that to the WTA Tour. Kovinic hits a flat ball and is incredibly intense on court–there were a lot of stare-downs between the two up-and-comers.
However, the most important thing to know about Kovinic, besides the fact that she’s laser-focussed and wasn’t distracted by Osaka’s antics, is that Kovinic has a very special cheerleader. Can you spot her?
THAT’S RIGHT. Glitter herself is a fan and friend of Danka Kovinic, which can only mean luck and prosperity. And actually, right when JJ arrived, Kovinic began to play better. Osaka did save five match points in impressive fashion with a barrage of winners, but eventually Kovinic did make it through by a score of 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8). Osaka promptly her racket.
After that match, I returned to a depressing sight: Kimiko Date-Krumm getting absolutely, positively pummeled. That’s right, after looking refreshed and ready to go on Saturday, KDK looked completely out of her element against a player I had never heard of before, Laura Siegemund.
Now, usually when I haven’t heard of a player ranked around the top 150 it means that they are young. Not in this case. Siegemund is a 27-year-old German journeywoman who has spent most of her career on the ITF circuit. She defeated Kimiko 6-0, 6-1.
— TennisAtlantic (@TennisAtlantic) April 5, 2015
Siegemund has an insanely frustrating game, filled with slices and dices, but also a lot of power. Her shots are choppy and there isn’t much of a change of pace–everything is pretty fast–but the angles are weird and the spin creates a junk ball. I’m not describing it well because it didn’t really make much sense to me, but I could understand how Kimiko couldn’t get any sense of rhythm. Siegemund’s game seems like the type that doesn’t work too often, and she doesn’t seem to have a Plan B, but when it’s on it can be terrifying. She’s a bit of a mix between Niculescu and Kerber. Maybe.
I also got a good look at the end of the Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. KBond match. Haddad Maia is an 18-year-old Brazillian, with KBond is…not. By the time I got there, KBond was up a set but BHM was clawing back into contention in the second set and KBond was NOT happy about it. Neither was her coach, who was being so obnoxious in the crowd that pretty much everyone in the small bleacher on Court 4 was rooting for Beatriz.
KBond ended up winning 6-3, 7-6 (10) thanks to her variety and aggression, but I came away extremely impressed with BHM. The 18-year-old is six feet tall, and once she gets into better shape, she is going to be a force. Her shots are POW.ER.FUL, and she is incredibly ferocious on court. She’s also a lefty. It might just be her height and her icy stare, but there was something Sharapova-esque about her. Yet another exciting prospect.
Anyways, I’m literally drifting off as I finish this, but I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully with an interview and maybe an observation that makes sense. Don’t dream, though.