Bank of the West Classic Blog: Qualifying Day 2

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Updated: July 26, 2010

STANFORD, California—Well, you’re going to have to forgive me: Ana Ivanovic just walked into the press room and I offered to help her with her service toss and wouldn’t you know it – she slapped me!

Just kidding all (she did walk in, but after that I blacked out)! It’s day 2 of the Bank of the West qualifiers, and amidst all the media to-do’s and superstar practice sessions there are actually some pretty excellent matches going on. Today I’ve got my eyes on a young player named Alison Riske. Riske is an interesting story, as many of you may know. She made the biggest decision of her life last year when she decided to forego a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University to pursue life on the WTA Tour.

After a lot of banging around far outside the top-200 (say, 350 – otherwise known as involuntarily obscurity) Riske had a major breakthrough in July when she qualified for the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, then proceeded to score shocking victories against Aleksandra Wozniak, Yanina Wickmayer, and Anna Chakvetadze. Now ranked at No. 154 in the world, Riske spent the first part of her week in Lexington, Kentucky (where she made the QF’s of the Lexington Challenger) before flying out to beautiful sunny California to take a shot at qualifying here at the Bank of the West Classic.

Talk about dedication, courage, and fortitude! Riske is just one of so many young women on tour who will gladly trade you their heart and soul and anything else that they have left in the tank for a shot at the upper echelons of today’s insanely competitive tour. For Riske, and others (like Beatrice Capra who also flew in from Lexington after the challenger) it’s never been a question of how bad they want it. It’s more of a question of how many other girls out there want it as well, and who can come up with the goods for a long enough period of time to become successful in the pro game.

Now that I’ve gotten myself all worked up I think I’ll head out to catch the end of the Kai-chen Chang-Michelle Larcher de Brito match.

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Side note: Larcher de Brito is not that loud. Oh, and she lost a tough three-setter and will have to pack her bags for the next stop on the Tour.

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Before I get to into the details of the WTA’s All Access media hour (which featured the top four seeds in the draw), I’ll take a moment to share some of the brilliance I saw again today out on the practice courts.

Maria Sharapova- Maria Sharapova hitting backhand after crosscourt backhand, each one whizzing about 3 inches above the net. Awestruck is the word that comes to mind, and each time she made contact the pop of the racquet made the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Note to self: Never ever convince yourself into thinking you could last on the court with a professional tennis player, not even for one single rally.

- When Kai-chen Chang finished her match (the victory over Michelle Larcher de Brito) her coach had her jogging barefoot on the grass. I asked him why she was barefoot, thinking there was some brilliant scientific research that proved the body could recover better when the epidermis was in direct contact with the grass. Nope, turns out it was “just a cool-down.” Hey, whatever works.

– As I turned my head, there was mighty Mel Oudin getting loosened up by her physio. What a difference a year makes – she had to come through qualies last year.

– Had a nice chat with Alisa Kleybanova. Topics discussed: Her love of the Olympics, why Russian food is not so good in the States, and her recent birthday party in Perugia, Italy.

- One quick observation about the quality and quantity of practice time: Don’t think for a second that these women are joking around out there. Some serious work is being done, and the intensity of pretty much every practice session I have seen has taught me a lot about what it takes to be a player at this level. First, you hit every ball like it’s the last ball you’re ever going to hit, and second, when you’re pretty much ready to collapse in a pool of your own sweat, you hit more balls, and you hit them with purpose, i.e. in such a way that causes an opponent the maximum of grief. As much as we think of our WTA heroes as fashion plates who love to party and smash racquets, there is an undercurrent of discipline and athleticism that runs through the whole Tour and that discipline – the will to work and the desire to compete – is what makes the tennis mind-blowing when it is witnessed up close.

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Samantha Stosur - All Access HourOkay, now a brief word about the All Access media hour. Please don’t take this the wrong way, because Matt Cronin and Doug Robson are two of the finest journalists covering the sport of tennis (and it was an honor to share a table with them yesterday), but I absolutely dare you – no, make that a double dog dare – to try to get in a question when seated at a table with them and a WTA player. You may think you’re tough. Sure. You may have just spent a year in the Himalayas with nothing but a backpack and a Swiss Army knife. Sure. You may be off wrestling alligators in the Florida Everglades or walking on broken glass through a five alarm fire, but you ain’t seen tough until you tried to get a question through to someone like Sam Stosur while seated at a table with Matt Cronin and Doug Robson.

That being said, I must be pretty tough because I got a few in!

That’s it for today, folks, be back tomorrow with some official Day 1 Action!

Chris Oddo is a freelance tennis writer and blogger who is based in San Francisco, California. He is a regular commenter at OTB under the moniker The Fan Child. You can follow his blog at http://thefanchild.blogspot.com.

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3 Legacy Comments

  1. Aaress Lawless

    July 26, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Fascinating read, Chris! Thanks!

    Question for you about Sharapova—did you happen to get a good read on her serve? During the recent majors, it looked like she had rediscovered her service game, so I’m curious to know if that was just temporary, or is she really serving like her old self?

  2. JulieR.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Wow. Great read! Sounds like fun and work (good work) to cover an event like this. The joke about Ana Ivanovic slapping you was really funny. I’m sure it was a tough decision for Alison Riske to forgoe that scholarship to attend college. Either way, she made a good decision and I wish her well. God bless. It really seems like Maria Sharapova is improving since returning to the Tour from her injury. Is her backhand really that good? And what about her serve?

  3. The Fan Child

    July 27, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    Aaress,

    I was studying her serve the other night. It’s gorgeous to watch because she really moves her hops forward and bends her knees so well. I think it has been one of the things that has come along slowly for her, but she appears to be more and more comfortable with it. She really takes time to warm it up, serving slowly for a while, then finally getting up to full speed.

    I think the has one of the top 5 serves in the game at the moment. But I don’t know if she’ll ever serve with the reckless abandon of her pre-surgery years.

    Julie: The backhand is great – unbelievable – when her coach is feeding her balls. It is a more difficult scenario in match play when she’s forced to move more, but yes, Maria is pretty amazing from the baseline, either side. If she is not forced to run a lot she can just dominate. It’s amazing to watch her. And while she is exceedingly tall, she really is quite thin. But so much power!