Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Noisy Azarenka ready for breakthrough
By Ravi Ubha
WIMBLEDON, England -- Victoria Azarenka entered the French Open as one of the favorites, based on the numbers. The Arizona-based Belarusian had won 18 of her previous 19 completed matches.
But after Azarenka lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Li Na, her coach, Sam Sumyk, said Azarenka shouldn't have been dubbed a serious contender. There were other players in form, and they had more experience, he argued.
Now, Azarenka finds herself in a maiden Grand Slam semifinal with more big-time matches under her belt than her next opponent, Petra Kvitova, even though the Czech appeared in the Wimbledon semifinals a year ago.
And Azarenka, according to Sumyk, is more than ready to go a step further.
"She believes in her chances, and her chances are real," Sumyk said after practice Wednesday. "I'm surprised that she's taken everything really well so far. Every single experience, she's handled it very well. She's pretty good facing adversity at the moment."
Azarenka has mellowed in recent months, far from the combustible sort who frequently imploded. When Sumyk speaks of coping with adversity, he no doubt refers to Azarenka keeping it together in rain delays, changes of courts and brief lulls in matches this fortnight.
The focus must be there against Kvitova, a towering lefty who has beaten Azarenka in their past two head-to-heads. Kvitova fed Azarenka a bagel last year at Wimbledon.
"You can't erase it from your memory, but you don't want to think too much about it," Sumyk said. "It's a new match, and, on any given day, anyone can beat anybody. I think that's more or less the approach you need to have: Play with determination and believe it can be your time."
Retirements and grunts
Azarenka has been critiqued for two things -- retirements and grunts.
Since March, the 21-year-old has called it quits in matches four times, a hefty figure. This while, for instance, Roger Federer has never done it in his career.
She's working on it, Sumyk said.
"It's not a good thing, but believe me, it's killing her inside," he said. "It really bothers her. We're trying to figure out what's happening. So far, I will say she's made the right decision and was wise every time. That's the main thing right now. She's young and her best sponsor is her body, and she has to take care of that."
Next to the grunts.
Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Club, said earlier in June that shrieks were offputting to fellow players and viewers; Azarenka's level was measured at 95 decibels, according to the Daily Telegraph, only a tad less than Maria Sharapova's 105-decibel yelp in 2009.
Those two could meet in the final, as was the case in Rome and Miami this year.
"I will be very happy if that does happen," Sumyk said. "They've played in the past, and it was very musical. I never really pay attention. If people want to keep talking about it, if they have nothing better to see when those girls are playing, nothing better to say, what can I do? It's just silly.
"People took time to measure how loud the grunts were. It's a waste of time and waste of money. There are things more important than that."
Etienne de Villiers and Adam Helfant are complete opposites in at least one way: Although de Villiers was an extrovert not averse to the spotlight in his time in charge of the ATP, Helfant prefers to do his business quietly.
But they have one thing in common -- both lasted one term.
De Villiers was essentially pushed out in 2008, and Helfant is stepping down at the end of 2011. The official word from Helfant was that he wanted to "look to the future" and "consider other opportunities," although rumors abound that he sought more cash.
So, who's next?
"I haven't heard anything," U.S. doubles specialist Eric Butorac, who's on the ATP player council, said after a hit with his mixed-doubles partner, Olga Govortsova. "I don't know if it's someone within tennis or someone from an outside organization. What would be nice is if we could get some continuity for the future and someone who would look at a long-term deal."
Interestingly, Butorac said those in charge should consider Justin Gimelstob, a player representative on the board of directors, former pro and analyst with the Tennis Channel.
Gimelstob drew the ire of Feliciano Lopez last week when he said the suave Spaniard loved to look in the mirror -- not the first time Gimelstob has been involved in off-court controversy. Gimelstob later apologized on Twitter.
"It would be hard because I think he's negotiating against the tournaments all the time, and it would be harder for them to want to support him, but I know from a player's perspective, he's made an unbelievable transformation from his playing days to representing us," Butorac said. "He's done an unbelievable job."
As for Gimelstob's often unpredictable tongue?
"I know that wasn't his best comment, but that's Justin," Butorac said. "Justin is on 24 hours a day, and everyone is looking for every comment to get him."
Always a bundle of energy, Andrea Petkovic is still hanging around the All England Club. Upset by Ksenia Pervak in the third round in singles, "Petkorazzi" prepped for her mixed-doubles match Wednesday afternoon. She's partnering Lopez, a men's quarterfinalist.
Petkovic vowed to put things right in singles in the U.S. Open Series.
"I'm going to practice so hard and come back like a machine," she said in a conversation with a friend.
A few minutes later, Azarenka spotted Petkovic on court and waltzed over, leaning on a railing.
"Well done yesterday," Petkovic said, looking up. "You kicked some ass."
A soccer fan, Petkovic plans to attend the final of the Women's World Cup in her native Germany.
Tennis can be dangerous
As anyone who plays doubles knows, it can be dangerous. Zheng Jie's husband and coach, Chang Yu, discovered that at practice.
At the net and partnering Zheng, he was caught in ye olde family jewels by a crunching backhand from Peng Shuai.
Peng offered up a quick apology and smiled, then tried to conceal her laughter by covering her mouth with her hand.
He was OK. We think.
Peng and Zheng won their doubles encounter on Court 14.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.