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Scouting Report: Saint Paul Challenger Main Draw Day 4


This will likely be my last report (filed after the Friday session). There are no more players to profile. Plus, I don't have the tolerance for embarrassment that a good journalist should have; my strenuous attempts to be invisible were a failure -- let's just say that the best way to be conspicuous is to try extremely hard to be as invisible and unobtrusive as possible.

The truly unobtrusive people, of course, are the tournament organizers, who throughout the week did a wonderful job. At least from the fans' standpoint, and from what I saw in the lobby, the players seemed happy too. That's a lot of volunteers working hard, and they deserve more praise than I can give, since I don't know their names and don't really know all the things they did. But chances are that your local Challenger (and you may well have one, for men or women) features equally efficient, equally unpaid, equally industrious volunteers who care for and lodge the players, keep the doors open, and let the rest of us enjoy the show. That's a lot of people doing a lot of work that most of us never see, and they are the ones who make pro tennis possible.

It was quarterfinal day in both singles and doubles. The first match up was Bea Bielik versus Shenay Perry. I've already profiled Perry. Bielik you may have seen at the U. S. Open: She came out of nowhere to beat Tamarine Tanasugarn and reach the third round. She's a big right-hander with a one-handed backhand. Bielik's edge in power was instantly obvious in this match; she served bigger, hit bigger, just did things bigger.

But something else was obvious, too, and that was that she wasn't moving well. She looked mopey between points, and moved only when she had to. She was rather obviously wild, too. The result, in the first three games, tended to be short points -- and, unless Bielik took charge quickly, Perry would win the point by outlasting Bielik. Perry broke with difficulty, held, then broke rather more easily. At the first changeover, we found out why: Bielik called the trainer, who seemed to be working on her right shoulder. I don't know what the problem was -- I can only report that Bielik looked a bit teary-eyed. Whatever it was, the trainer spent the full medical time manipulating Bielik's shoulder. When she came back out, she still looked like she was in pain, and wasn't getting much on her returns. Perry held again, broke again, and it was 5-0 with the trainer again working on Bielik's shoulder. Perry held at love for 6-0.

Bielik managed to start the second set a little better, holding to win her first game of the match. And Perry perhaps wasn't reacting properly to Bielik's problems; she double faulted in her first service game. But she did hold for 1-1. It was odd to watch, in a way; the two have overall quite similar mechanics, though Perry's forehand is a bit loopier on the takeback. But Bielik is about three sizes bigger; it almost seemed as if Perry were imitating Bielik's game and trying for a little too much. Still, both held repeatedly to bring it to 5-5. Bielik was a little more lively in this set, both in her game and in her behavior; she pounded her racquet at one point and complained about several calls. She also served and volleyed more, often with good effect, especially when she got the ball to Perry's backhand. But she still didn't seem to be moving her feet. And in the eleventh game, she ran out of luck; at 30-30, Bielik hit an approach that clipped the net, letting Perry hit a winning lob. Bielik came in again on the next point, and got lobbed again. 6-5 Perry, and serving for the match. A nice net attack gave her 15-0, and two service winners made it 40-0, with Bielik not even moving her feet on the second one. An ace, and Perry was in the semifinal 6-0 7-5.

The second match on center court featured Cory Ann Avants versus Teryn Ashley. I hadn't seen Ashley yet, but she was the last player still active in both singles and doubles. She is right-handed, with a two-handed backhand, but she seems to prefer her forehand, and it gave the impression of having a lot more juice. She seemed pretty steady -- no special weapon, but not many errors and she moved reasonably well. She spent most of her time at the baseline. Not much in the way of distinguishing characteristics. Avants, you will recall is you've been reading the earlier columns in this series, is two-handed on both sides.

The first set was one of those fairly common sorts of matches in which returns were the driving force and the struggle was to hold serve. Ashley managed to hold twice, in games three and seven; Avants never held at all.

The second set was much more interesting. Ashley started with a hold at love, but Avants answered with a hold of her own -- her first. Ashley held for 2-1, broke for 3-1 after Avants blew a 40-0 lead -- but suddenly things started to get interesting. Avants, who had had a few things to say to herself up to that point ("Can you make a shot?" "How many times are you going to make the same mistake?" "Wake up!") actually did wake up; she got herself all hot and bothered and started marching around the court -- and it seemed to work. She broke for 3-2, held for 3-3, broke for 4-3, held for 5-3, and after an Ashley hold, held again for a 6-4 set.

At which point another possible explanation for the change in the tenor of the match appeared: Ashley called the trainer to work on her back. (How can someone that young have back problems?) And, in the first game of the third set, Avants -- who wasn't marching any more but now had started bouncing up and down; Little Miss Mannerisms, that girl -- broke for 1-0. But Ashley broke back helped by Avants's inability to execute at net and by the drop-deadest net cord I've ever seen -- the ball hit the top of the net, waited, thought about it, thought some more, and fell straight down on Avants's side. Ashley then held for 2-1 in a game Avants should have won. And then the trainer came again, this time for Avants. Initially Avants seemed to be pointing to her right thigh (maybe she should top hitting herself there with her racquet), and though the trainer was working on her back as well as her legs in the timeout, Avants kept shaking that leg in the next few games. Ashley took the opportunity to leave the court (she seems to do that a lot; she would do it in the doubles as well). It was turning into a long set. Avants held for 2-2, but yet another muffed midcourt ball let Ashley hold at love. (Hint to opponents: If you want to beat Avants, pull her halfway between the service and baselines, and give her something at chest height to put away. She hit about six of those into the net.) Ashley held, then broke on a disputed call for 4-2. Avants had chances in the next game, but Ashley held for 5-2. And Avants couldn't buy a first serve as she served to stay in the match. 0-15 on a big Ashley return. 0-30 as Ashley came in on a return (she did that a lot late in the match, perhaps trying to shorten the points). Avants managed to win the third point by pulling Ashley wide, but game it back with a double fault, then on match point hit a groundstroke wide and Ashley was in the semifinal, 6-2 4-6 6-2.

The length of that match forced a schedule change, leaving an hour and a half between main court matches. That sent everyone off to the side court, leading to the amazing sight of a standing room only crowd for doubles. (Of course, there were seats for only about fifty people on the court.) I came in as Jennifer Hopkins and Petra Rampre were facing Bianka Lamade and Liga Dekmeijere. It was quickly clear what were the key elements in this match. It was power, especially Lamade's, versus hands, especially Rampre's. Hands won the first set; Hopkins/Rampre were up 5-2 as I opened my notebook, and won the first set 6-3.

But then the European Power Brokers started to take over. They broke Hopkins in the fourth game, though Hopkins/Rampre broke back on Dekmeijere (the name is Latvian, if it helps. And no, I didn't think it would). Then, in the story of the day, Dekmeijere called the trainer. Hopkins held, with difficulty, for 4-4, then Hopkins/Rampre broke Lamade at love (never thought I'd see that, given Lamade's serve). Rampre served for the match, and was broken. Dekmeijere held, and Hopkins, who had been having trouble serving all set, was broken. Tied, and time to get back to center court. Perhaps just as well; all those missed volleys were affecting my sanity. I learned later that Dekmeijere and Lamade won in a third set tiebreak, 9-7.

The singles match on the outside court ended the hopes of #1 seed Meilen Tu; she fell 6-3 7-5 to Renata Voracova.

I'm glad to report that neither Bielik nor Ashley was too badly affected by whatever injuries they suffered in singles; they both came out to play doubles later in the day -- Bielik with Kirsten Schlukebir, against Ashley and Abigail Spears, the latter being the #1 seeds. Bielik still looked to be in pain, but she was playing -- though Bielik/Schlukebir were down a set and a break when I left.

That brought us to the day's highlight match, the first one in the tournament to feature actual ballkids. A full six, in fact, something I don't recall happening very often in the previous two years. The match was between Maria Vento-Kabchi, who hit the top forty about five years ago but has been struggling since, and Maria Goloviznina, whom I seem to keep encountering. Goloviznina still has her left wrist taped; I wondered -- given how few big backhands she was hitting -- if that might not be affecting her a little.

Goloviznina won the toss and chose to serve. It wasn't a smart choice; although Vento-Kabchi is shorter and not as quick, she hits flatter and has more experience, being 28 and a former Top 50 player. She's also a good doubles player, and she showed some of those skills early on, coming in on Goloviznina's third service point and going on to break. She would hold twice and break a second time before Goloviznina won her first game.

In terms of style, Vento-Kabchi is fairly standard: right-handed, with a two-handed backhand. She doesn't have any particular weapon, but -- as befits a Venezuelan -- she is fairly steady. It didn't take her long to get Goloviznina talking to herself -- or rather, shouting to herself. But after holding in game five, Goloviznina took advantage of some uncharacteristic Vento-Kabchi errors to break back for 4-2. Only to have a Goloviznina error on a not-too-hard running forehand made it 5-2 Vento-Kabchi. Vento-Kabchi then served out the set.

The second proved much more interesting. At last, the good Goloviznina showed up. It's hard to tell them apart, but one of them succeeds and the other doesn't. The good one held for 1-0. There followed a game with, I think, six deuces, and nearly every point spectacular. And Goloviznina finally broke for 2-0. Goloviznina found herself in some trouble in game three, though, including getting called for a foot fault, and Vento-Kabchi broke back on a double-fault. And while Goloviznina had chances in game four, her errors let the Venezuelan hold for 2-2. And at that point Good Goloviznina left the building. For good. Vento-Kabchi won the last four games straight. The final score was 6-2 6-2. The second set was closer than it sounds -- most of the games were long -- but they don't pay off on long points and deuces.

A semifinal at a $50,000 Challenger such as this one is worth 15.5 WTA round points plus whatever quality points the players earned for beating particular opponents. For Voracova, who came in ranked #139, that means 23.5 points, which should raise her to about #130. Perry picks up 21.5 points, and should rise from #241 to about #225. Ashley, #186, gains 19.5 points, which should take her to around #170. And Vento-Kabchi, #162, picks up 21.5 points and should make it above #150. Plus one of these four women will gain about 23 more points for winning the event, which should translate into an even bigger move.

The past two years I've covered this tournament, I've come away with a favorite player each time. In 2001, it was Laurence Courtois and her excellent hands (though, sadly, she's retired). In 2002, it was Shinobu Asagoe -- and look who just beat Elena Dementieva at Acapulco. This year, I didn't really find someone like that. Of all the players I saw (other than Bielik, whom I didn't see at her best), the one I thought had the best tools was Goloviznina. But I wouldn't bet much on her head.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Boy, all the injury timeouts.

I hope all is well.

Bea, hope you recover from your injury. I want you to do well, but health is more important.

I wonder if IW will give her a WC.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
:wavey:

Well, it isn't mine, in case people didn't know.:eek:

I got it from www.tennisnews.com ;)
 
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