Memphis Notebook: WTA

Saturday, February 25, 2012 /by

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by Bobby Chintapalli 

MEMPHIS–The day kicks off with men’s singles and doubles semifinals and wraps up with the women’s singles and doubles finals. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write about the ATP. Today I wrote about a few things I saw, heard, thought or learned as I watched the WTA semifinalists – Sofia Arvidsson and Marina Erakovic, who made it to the final, and Vera Dushevina and Alberta Brianti, who didn’t.

How Vera Dushevina caught Elena Dementieva’s bouquet

It was an up-and-down day for Vera Dushevina. She lost the first set of her semifinal against Marina Erakovic and was down 0-3 in the second only to come back and win that set before losing the third. A little later, around the time Sam Querrey lost a first set tiebreak to Radek Stepanek, she looked more up than down. As she sat in the media overflow room, a converted racquetball court, Dushevina looked like she was feeling pretty good. Maybe it’s because she won her first main draw matches of the year this week and made it to the semis for the first time since 2010 Moscow. Maybe it’s because she’s still in the tournament – she and Olga Govortsova, the second seeds, play top seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the doubles final Saturday night.

In any case we were talking about other things when Elena Dementieva came up. I confirmed it’s true that she caught the bouquet at Dementieva’s wedding. Assured it was, I continued: “What was the secret, with all those other athletes there?” Turns out it was all about the basics. Said Dushevina, “I moved forward, like in tennis!”

The surprising one-handed backhand

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It was 3-3 in the second set, and Italy’s Alberta Brianti had lost the first set 6-3, but she was delighting a middle-aged man sitting a few rows behind the baseline. He sat close enough for her to hear him, yet he couldn’t help himself – in the middle of one point, he let out a “Nice!”. Her one-handed backhand just did it for him. Brianti could slice it or drive it, and the fact that you couldn’t hear the effort – like Sam Stosur or Jelena Jankovic, she makes no noise when she plays – made it that much lovelier.

When someone waxes poetic about this shot I usually start thinking about dinner or the last episode of ‘Revenge’. But after watching hours of tennis then seeing Brianti’s backhand again, I paid attention. Against the backdrop of so many two-handed backhands and power that starts to feel normal after a while, the one-handed backhand felt different and surprising.

“Yeah, we are few who use it… it’s unusual,” said Brianti in the interview room about an hour after her loss. “It can be helpful sometimes. But sometimes with these ladies that play very strong, it’s tough.”

Still the element of surprise is also one reason opposing players take notice of the one-handed backhand. Her opponent today, repeat finalist Sofia Arvidsson, talked about the one-handed backhand, and Brianti’s in particular: “Yeah, it’s very special. She has a great slice. It’s tough because she’s taking the tempo down with the slice and then she hits the forehand. And sometimes she even hits the backhand, so you don’t know really what to expect.”

“I wish it was a little simpler”

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Marina Erakovic, the only seed to make the semifinals and the only semifinalist seeking her first WTA singles title, was up a set and 3-0 when things got messy against Vera Dushevina in the semifinals. “I was feeling really good – I was even telling myself to stay focused and keep on the gas pedal,” she said. “That’s sometimes how tennis is. Sometimes nerves get the better of you. But it’s not the first time that’s happened to me, so I just try and stay calm... Obviously I wish it was a little simpler.” Erakovic cleaned up her act eventually and won her match 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

Erakovic, who lost in the Quebec City final in 2011, will get a second chance to win her first title. She’ll play Sofia Arvidsson. Erakovic beat Arvidsson the one time they played, last year in Stanford. (At that tournament Erakovic also beat Victoria Azarenka, with whom she won the 2005 Australian Open junior doubles title.) Said Erakovic, “Sofia’s actually similar to Vera [Dushevina]. She’s very solid, hits a clean ball and obviously won this tournament before so a very good player.”

How to get a good parking spot

What is it about Memphis and Sofia Arvidsson? She won her sole singles title here; her WTA bio says that her “best memory to date was winning first WTA title at Memphis in 2006.” In the walkway between the players’ area and the stadium, a big photo of her hangs alongside those of Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and others. She’s 19-6 in Memphis, and Friday she’ll play her third final here in eight years.

Arvidsson attributes her Memphis success to indoor hard courts and some less tangible things too: “I just like the atmosphere here. [It feels] like home and… I’m just having fun on court. That’s normally when I play good.”

Whatever the reason Arvidsson has been good in Memphis, and Memphis has been good to Arvidsson, who has the reserved parking spot to prove it. It’s right there, outside the front entrance of The Racquet Club of Memphis and next to spots reserved for other past winners Brad Gilbert and Sam Querrey.

I asked Arvidsson if she gets excited when she sees her parking spot, and pat came the reply. “I do, I do – I’m like VIP,” she laughed. Which she also did as she recounted her conversation with police who stopped her as she drove in to the club earlier this week: “I was like, ‘I’m a tennis player, and I’m going to park.’ And she was like, ‘You can park over there.’ I’m like, ‘I actually have my own parking spot over there.’ It was pretty funny.”

And that’s how the pros do it, or at least this pro in this city.

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