From Charleston with Love

Friday, April 16, 2010 /by

CW

[Bobby is on the ground in Charleston, this is the first in her series of reports. I tried to do something a little different over at ESPN today, contemplating Rafael Nadal's progress in Monte Carlo. I'll be posting Bobby's dispatches over the weekend.  Enjoy the tennis and have a good weekend - PB]

by Bobby Chintapalli, TW Contributing Editor

Maybe the Charleston sunshine got to me or maybe it was the mosquitoes that attacked me over on cosy Althea Gibson court as I watched Elena Vesnina provide commentary on her own match, loudly and often. I don’t know what it was, but by the end of the day when I looked back at the fourth-round match between Caroline Wozniacki and Patty Schnyder at the Family Circle Cup, I thought less about dropshots, spin and lefty serves than about time, love and respect. Hear me out.

16 Years = A Long Time

Top-seed Wozniacki is 19, turned pro four years ago, reached her highest ranking (Number 2) last month and is ranked that now. Bottom-seed Schnyder is 31, turned pro 16 years ago, reached her highest ranking (Number 7) five years ago and last year finished outside the Top 40 for the first in nine years. Their careers are going in different directions, but it seems to me that’s primarily a factor of time.

Asked how much longer she planned to play pro tennis Schnyder wasn't so sure: “I'm pretty much done… so many years… I really feel a bit tired.” Wozniacki, when asked if she could imagine playing in Charleston 14 years, as has Schnyder, considered that for a second then started her answer with this: “Wow, that’s a lot of years.” Schnyder can attest to that.

Patty Schnyder + Charleston = Much Love

PS

It’s hard to say whether Schnyder loves Charleston more or Charleston loves Schnyder more, but there’s no question about the love part. If fans screamed out Wozniacki’s name 10 times during the match, they screamed out Schnyder’s 100 times. At one point, after the crowd got especially loud in support of Schnyder, Wozniacki’s father yelled out loudly in Polish, compelled perhaps to encourage his daughter in the midst of that sea of Schnyder love.

Perhaps you could attribute some of Schnyder’s support to fans rooting for the underdog or for a longer match. Most of it though owes to fan familiarity with a player who thoroughly enjoys this tournament. Schnyder is one of two players who’s played every year for the 10 years since the tournament moved from Hilton Head to Charleston (Jill Craybas is the other).

Schnyder has been runner-up twice and has notched up wins over Jennifer Capriati, Amelie Mauresmo, Elena Dementieva, Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce, Justine Henin and Serena Williams at this event. Schnyder has a reason to love the place, and she shows it. One fan explained that Schnyder’s “nice to everyone” and signs lots of autographs. Schnyder said sometimes she even practices more because of the crowd support. “When I come here I just get so excited… it just makes me go and hit half an hour more.”

Caroline Wozniacki = Growing Respect

Wozniacki, for her part, was impressively composed during the match, especially for a teenager playing an opponent getting most of the crowd support. Perhaps she has practice playing crowd favorites – she did play Jelena Dokic at the Australian Open and Melanie Oudin at the US Open (In that match she went beyond staying calm, actually apologizing to the crowd for beating Oudin.) Wozniacki seems to do a good job of not getting too high or low emotionally during matches. Yes, you see her swing her racquet in disgust sometimes and, in this match, after winning a long game to go up 5-4 in the third set, she yelled a very audible “come on”. But these aren’t typical reactions for her.

What seems more typical is her response to a journalist who, at a post-match interview on Wednesday, asked if she practices “her racquet-throwing technique”. Whether because she didn’t hear it or couldn’t believe it, Wozniacki asked him to repeat the question. She didn’t seem thrilled about the question but did manage a quick but calm “no”.

My growing respect for Wozniacki owes mostly to the rest of what she does on court – play good tennis. She’s hitting harder and certainly serving faster; her first serves were consistently faster than others who played in the stadium yesterday (with the notable exception of Sam Stosur). A match isn’t “on her racquet” the way it would be if her name were Serena Williams, but these days it’s on her racquet a lot more often than I once thought it was.

While she’s made a conscious effort to play more aggressively, Wozniacki continues to do the old stuff rather nicely. She’s still moving well, still moving her opponent expertly, and still getting one more ball back. That last bit seems like a small thing, but is it really? Whether you’re a rec player at park district courts or Roger Federer at Wimbledon, you can’t win a point unless you get back one more ball than your opponent. That’s a fact of tennis that nothing – not even time – can change.

*****

For regular tweets from Charleston, you can follow me at http://twitter.com/bobbychin.

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