Sunday, November 12, 2006

The WTA Year-End Championships--a quick review

This year's WTA Year-End Championships, held in Madrid for the first time, were--with a couple of disappointments on my part--splendid.

First, the good things: Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo, though she failed to keep her title, did go all the way to the finals, and produced some of her finest tennis ever in getting there. Her round robin match against Justine Henin-Hardenne was very high quality and a pleasure to watch. Her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters was arguably her best match of the season (her coach thought so). The third set of that match was so amazing--the shots so breathtaking--that it will most likely be talked about for a long time. Both players were in top form, both let go with stunning (and markedly different) backhands, and there were several long, heart-stopping rallies. I'm not sure which was the best match of 2006--that one, or the Wimbledon final, but I think it is worth noting that Mauresmo played in both of them.

It has been a long haul for Mauresmo, a player of extreme talent who lacked mental toughness. I have been her fan for many years, and I never lost faith in her. Her turnaround at the end of 2005 and her outstanding 2006 season made this the Year of Mauresmo (though it should be noted that Justine Henin-Hardenne was in every Grand Slam final as well as the YEC final, won two of them, and ended the year as number one in the world).

And though she failed to make it to the semifinals, Martina Hingis played the best tennis of her comeback at the YEC. Her serve, a problem all year, was suddenly right on target, and her endurance has improved some. Hingis is still Hingis, and her YEC performance has me excited about her 2007 season.

Kim Clijsters was also playing in form again, and it was thrilling to watch her. Of the four semifinalists, three of them--Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo--were just coming back from significant injuries.

The not-so-good: Versus showed all of the matches live until it came time for the semifinals and finals; those were shown on tape delay. Nothing takes the fun out of watching an important match (other than having someone tell you the score) more than knowing it was finished hours before. On the other hand, thanks to Versus for letting Americans see any tennis at all.

Maria Sharapova
fell apart during her semifinal match against Justine Henin-Hardenne. I have seen Sharapova have really bad days before, but nothing like this. It wasn't just that she couldn't find her rhythm--she seemed totally defeated in her body language the entire time she was on the court. You could practically see the veins popping in her father's neck. After Maria's "I Feel Pretty" U.S. Open commercial aired, Yuri Sharapov was wearing a shirt that said "I Feel Pretty...Calm." That, of course, was pretty funny. I don't think you'll see him wearing it again. I wish he would go away.

Of course, there was the usual mispronunciation of the players' names, which irritates me to no end. It is insulting, it shows great laziness on the part of the commentators, and it infuriates me that they make a whole lot of money for talking and yet they can't say the right words.

Tracy Austin dished up some sexism. It wouldn't be a tennis tournament without some. And then there is the matter of the models/ballboys themselves.

And speaking of commentators...though they were quick to talk about the French and Belgian flags picked up by the TV cameras during the final, they were as silent as monks each time we saw the rainbow flag two women were waving for Amelie Mauresmo. Not a peep from Austin or from Tim Ryan, both of whom usually cannot stop babbling.

And for me, of course, a not-so-good thing was Mauresmo's loss in the final, but she still had a great tournament. Allez, Amelie!

Some odds and ends: The WTA player blog for the YEC was written by Rennae Stubbs and was more fun to read than all of the other player blogs of the entire season. Because she is a doubles-only player, she was free to talk about the singles competitors. And Rennae is...well, Rennae.

Maria Sharapova (whose online diary, filled with Sharapova's natural wit, is sometimes a real hoot to read) took a break from the tournament and went to a Starbuck's to get some coffee. While she was in there, some punks came in and lifted her cell phone. File that under "stupid crooks." Sharapova, though she can't move on the court like a Clijsters or a Henin-Hardenne or a Mauresmo, doesn't exactly do the hokey-pokey, either. The 6-foot, 2 1/2-inch player took off after the crooks and got her cell phone back. I don't know whether she turned them over to the police, but I hope she did.

Note to Maria--don't try that in the U.S.

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