Aces and Faults: Petkovic wins title; Federer lifts Swiss into Davis Cup semis
Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Last week, Andrea Petkovic and Ana Ivanovic won WTA titles, while the Davis Cup World Group narrowed its field to four.
Andrea Petkovic: The German won the Family Circle Cup for her first title in three years, battling past Lucie Safarova and Eugenie Bouchard in three sets and saving set point in the first set of her 7-5, 6-2 victory against Jana Cepelova in the final. That's quite a rebound from a few weeks ago, when she was inconsolable after losing in the first round at the BNP Paribas Open. But that's how quickly fortunes can change in tennis, with each week offering a clean slate and a new opportunity.
Petkovic's title run was as much about overcoming her own demons and doubts as it was about forehands and backhands. The women's game is better when the amiable Petkovic is relevant. Simply read the outpouring of support from other players -- current and former, men and women -- to understand why this was the feel-good story of the week. Welcome back, Petko.
You can watch highlights of the final here.
Ana Ivanovic: How's this for a stat: Ivanovic is now tied with No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 2 Li Na for the most titles this season (two) after winning the Monterrey Open. In the first WTA final between two Serbians, Ivanovic routed 20-year-old Jovana Jaksic 6-2, 6-1. It's the first time since 2008 that Ivanovic has won more than one title in full-field tournaments in a season. On top of her two titles, she also defeated Williams at the Australian Open to make the quarterfinals. The former No. 1 is quietly having a great start to the season.
Team Switzerland: It pays to have Roger Federer as your No. 2 singles player. Federer helped bail out Stanislas Wawrinka, who lost the opening singles rubber to Kazakhstan's Andrey Golubev in the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup. Federer responded by beating Mikhail Kukushkin, but his doubles loss with Wawrinka forced a must-win situation for both men in Sunday's reverse singles. Wawrinka rebounded to defeat Kukushkin, and Federer sealed the tie with a straight-set win over Golubev. The Swiss advanced to the semifinals for the first time in 11 years. They will play host to Italy in September.
“I was hoping so much I was going to get a chance to play and not just watch Stan play,” Federer said. “I got the opportunity and I’m happy I lived up to the hype and the expectations, and I was able to get the boys through, so very happy for them.
“I was confident, not silly confident, but respectful confident toward the opponent [that we could do it]. I knew Stan was going to play better than Friday and I thought as well that he was going to do a better job with rhythm and he’d find a way. That’s what happened."
Team France: The host French came back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat a depleted but motivated German team 3-2 to advance to the semifinals. (Germany was missing its top-four players.) Michael Llodra and Julien Bennteau won the doubles point to keep France alive, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils clinched on Sunday with straight-set singles victories. The French, who are seeking their first Davis Cup title in 13 years, will meet the visiting Czech Republic.
Team Italy: Two words: Fabio Fognini. Italy needed two singles points against Great Britain on Sunday, including a victory from Fognini against Andy Murray. The Italian No. 1 delivered in Naples, showing off his clay-court prowess to dispatch Murray 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Andreas Seppi closed it out, beating James Ward 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 to put Italy in the semifinals for the first time since 1998.
Team Czech Republic: Japan (Kei Nishikori) and the Czech Republic (Tomas Berdych) were both missing their top players, but the Czechs displayed their depth in rolling 5-0 behind Radek Stepanek and Lukas Rosol.
Jana Cepelova: After watching her reach her first WTA final, at the Family Circle Cup, I can't say enough about the 20-year-old's poise and talent. Cepelova says she never believed she could beat Williams, yet when the opportunity arose, she looked undaunted. She was all alone in Charleston -- her coach went home after the Sony Open in Miami -- and relied on the tournament to provide local hitting partners for warmups. Her preparation and tactics came from Skype calls with her coach.
With no one in her player's box, she resorted to fist-pumping into the camera to signal to her family and friends that she was fighting. Heck, she doesn't even have a clothing sponsor, which explains her Nike dress and Fila hat. But her game, which balances variety, defense and smart point construction, was a revelation. She's up 27 spots, to No. 51, and there's no reason to think she can't make the top 30 if she stays healthy.
Eugenie Bouchard: The Canadian beat Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic to make the Charleston semifinals and was up a break in the third set on Petkovic before she got passive. But the 20-year-old Bouchard proved again that she's the best competitor of her generation, and her amped-up game is forcing the game's best to take notice. Now ranked 19th, I'd be surprised if she's not in the top 10 by the end of the season. A spot at the WTA Championships isn't out of the question either.
Belinda Bencic: The 17-year-old Swiss qualified for the Family Circle Cup and knocked out three top-35 players in Maria Kirilenko, Elina Svitolina and Sara Errani to advance to her first WTA semifinal. The strong run moved her from No. 140 to a career-high No. 91, the youngest player in the top 100.
Jovana Jaksic: Ranked No. 137, Jaksic took advantage of a busted draw to make her first WTA final, in Monterrey; her highest-ranked opponent before the final was No. 50 Karin Knapp. If you want to play "Six Degrees of Andrea Petkovic," Jaksic's cousin is Petar Popovic, Petkovic's former coach.
Kimiko Date-Krumm: The 43-year-old was just a few games away from reaching her first WTA final since 2010, losing to Jaksic in a dramatic semifinal. But she began her week by knocking out the top seed, Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta, and pulling out back-to-back three-setters. The woman does not cease to amaze.
Serena Williams: Her heavy schedule over the last two years finally seemed to catch up to her in Charleston, where she was stunned by Cepelova in her worst loss since the 2012 French Open. The question now is whether we'll see Williams at the WTA's next mandatory tournament, the Madrid Open, in May. Williams deserves as much time as she needs to get rejuvenated, but she also has a French Open title to defend.
Sloane Stephens: Another non-Slam tournament, another early defeat for Stephens, who lost to Svitolina in the second round. She continues to preach patience but has yet to show noticeable improvement over the last year.
0: Top 100 players Cepelova had defeated in her last four tournaments before Charleston, where she eliminated three of them.
4: Consecutive losses by the doubles team of Federer-Wawrinka at Davis Cup.
0: Americans in the quarterfinals at Charleston, the first time since 2009.
2008: The last time, before Charleston, that three 20-and-under players made the semifinals of a Premier-level tournament.
121: Rankings spots Bencic has jumped in the first three months of the season, the biggest rise on tour.
Photo of the Week
What a way to celebrate. The #FCC2014 champion @andreapetkovic enjoys a little post match bubbly pic.twitter.com/SVrh4TMb5c
— dannykendall (@dannykendall) April 6, 2014
In case you missed it ...
• Want to see a victory and concession speech done perfectly? Take it away, Cepelova and Petkovic:
• The Charleston doubles semifinal between Anastasia Rodionova/Alla Kudryavtseva and Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan got heated after Rodionova smacked a forehand return right into Hao-Ching's chest and Hao-Ching retaliated a few points later by hitting Rodionova in the head. In between the two incidents there were plenty more attempts to land body shots. Rodionova retired after being hit in the head and waved off any attempt by the Chan sisters to shake hands or talk. I also hear Rodionova went to the tournament supervisor demanding that the two be fined.
My take: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Just as in other retaliation-type sports such as baseball and hockey, if you break the seal and go for the body -- which is a completely legal and smart play most of the time -- you can't be surprised if a ball comes flying at your throat. That's the game.
• Jaksic has a grunt that is going to get people talking. The prolonged dance after beating a revered veteran in Date-Krumm was over the top too. Based on the tweets and emails I received from fans watching the match, neither went down very well. I'm willing to give the 20-year-old a pass, though, given that it was the biggest week of her career and the Mexican fans seemed to love her energy. But I get the sense that I'm being kinder than most.
Listen for her yelp and watch her victory dance here:
• Pam Shriver did this.
• I'm pretty sure Cepelova's 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7) win over Bencic in the Charleston semifinals will make my list of this year's best matches. It was a dramatic battle between the two youngsters and the tennis was good quality. Bencic was throwing her racket, Cepelova was slapping herself in the face and drawing numbers into the clay, and the shot-making and defense left the crowd entertained. You can watch the whole match here.
• Class act: Murray and Colin Fleming dedicated their Davis Cup doubles win to former British No. 1 Elena Baltacha, who was diagnosed with liver cancer last month.
• Even though she lost, Madison Keys' near-miss comeback from 6-1, 5-1 down to Peng Shuai in the second round in Charleston was a performance to remember. I'm not used to seeing Keys snap herself out of a funk that dramatically. Her competitive energy and positivity were great to see.
• Petkovic is a great storyteller. Here is one tale about her father playing tennis at the University of South Carolina. It has a great, witty punchline.
"He said when he came here was it 80s, late 70s or 80s maybe, and everybody was wearing cowboy boots, and he said he had never seen that in his life, and blue jeans. And so the first thing when he had some money he bought blue jeans and cowboy boots and he was so happy. And I don't know, do you know my dad? He's so vain. He thinks he's the most beautiful guy in the world.
And so the only thing that he was looking forward to was coming back to Yugoslavia and rocking his blue jeans and his cowboy boots. So he was in a train. I don't know where he landed, but he was in a train and he forgot both, the blue jeans and the cowboy boots, so he came back and he had nothing. And this is why vanity is one of the seven deadly sins. [Laughs]."
• Can we get Cepelova a clothing contract so she can afford to have her coach attend tournaments, please? Not having someone from her team to high-five or hug after such a huge week was a bummer.
• Why are coaches given so much credit with a player does well, but receive little to no criticism when they don't? It's an egregious pattern in tennis commentary and even more problematic in women's tennis, where it seems the "Man Saves Woman" narrative is too easily sold.
• How long until Bencic's sponsors crack down on her childish on-court tantrums?
• Stephens says she's not too concerned about a spate of bad losses because she has 10 more years to play and if things don't happen now for her, she's confident they eventually will. Bouchard, on the other hand, said she wants her success now: "I want to have 10 successful years and not five slow ones and five good ones." Which one of these philosophies will win out in the end?