A Look Back at the 1999 Wismilak Open
Well, what I expected was very different from what I got from the
Wismilak Open. As is becoming more and more the norm, the actual draws were
almost alien to the commitment lists that were released. Among those whom I
was planning to watch but ended up either in Philadelphia or not playing
that week were Barbara Schwartz, Kim Clijsters, Anna Smashnova, Ines
Gorrochategui, Elena Dementieva, Jana Nejedly, Amanda Hopmans, Kvetoslava
Hrdlickova, Anca Barna and Marlene Weingartner.
Instead, Joanette Kruger and Magdalena Maleeva, among others, stepped up to
the plate. A lot of qualifying draw entrants were moved up to the main draw,
and the ones who benefited the most were Asa Carlsson and Erika de Lone.
I’d certainly seen enough of the higher-ranked players, and this event gave
me a chance to get a preview of some of the less-publicised youngsters. The
many Henins and Clijsters of the tennis world have already been touted by
hundreds as future Top Tenners, but I’d heard relatively less about two
players that I came away rather impressed with - Anastasia Myskina and
Jelena Kostanic. The most I’d seen of either before this was the last 3
games of Myskina’s match against Mary Joe Fernandez in the second round of
the U.S Open.
Both girls are 18 years old this year, and were born within a month of each
other. Both have taken their time turning professional, Kostanic to graduate
from high school before deciding that she’d give pro tennis a go. Which, to
me, is a very healthy thing in women’s tennis nowadays, where we see mere
babes wielding racquets and blasting fuzzy yellow balls 10 hours a day.
Anastasia Myskina. She has no single obvious weapon at the moment, but has a
game that comes together rather well. Her double-handed backhand has a funny
under-/side-spin, and half the time, it looks like it’s headed straight into
the net, but pulls up just in time and skims over the tape. Her forehand is
flatter, but is the less dependable wing. She has good placement with both
groundstrokes, and ample power. A definite advantage is her footspeed.
Anastasia is a tall girl, and can probably run around the court all day. She
shows good determination, and despite her lack of experience, handles clutch
situations rather well.
Something that can do with some improvement is her service. Despite her
height, her serve in her first few matches had nothing on it, no spin, no
pace. There was some improvement in her last two matches, when her serve
started popping and she got a few aces down the middle. She can definitely
add a strong weapon to her arsenal by working a little more on it. Her net
game is pretty much non-existent in singles, although she will come in to
put the ball away. Her volleys in doubles is efficient. She’s got good
things going for her -- all she needs is a "proper" coach to teach her
strategy, how to construct points better, and to work on her serve. In other
words, she needs an experienced coach to make up for her own lack of
experience. Nevertheless, she’s gotten through the first couple of steps,
including taking the title at Palermo earlier this year.
Personality-wise, Nastya is one of the nice and friendly players on the
tour. Her first language is obviously Russian, but she is very fluent in
English, and is comfortable with more than "yes" or "no" answers. While her
demeanour on court may make her appear a little intimidating or
fan-unfriendly, I got a very nice impression of her and the way she handles
attention from fans. If anyone sees her, let her know that Prip from Kuala
Lumpur says hi. You can’t miss her - she’s tall, thin, has straight long
dark hair, and amazingly striking eyes.
Jelena Kostanic. She has steady groundstrokes on both sides, using a
double-handed backhand. She can keep in a hard-hitting rally if she chooses
to, but I think her placement is more of a weapon than her power. Her serve
is good considering her average height, but her net game definitely needs
work. Footspeed, determination and intensity are a few strengths. As can be
expected, inexperience is the biggest problem, but that is better
compensated by her coach, with whom she seems to get along with well.
Jelena has already chalked up wins against two of her top three compatriots,
Silvija Talaja and Iva Majoli; Katarina Srebotnik and Sylvia Plischke. She
is most comfortable on clay, and in the pro tour, she has had the most
success so far on home ground. Her junior career was capped off with the
Australian Open title in 1998. Short of a top player deciding that a few
easy points are the order of the week, she’s my pick to take the title at
Bol next year. The biggest problem I can see is that Jelena seems to have a
bit of trouble maintaining her concentration during matches. Other than
that, we’ve got a lot of potential coming into the tour next year in this
Jelena is also fluent in English, but seems to me to be a little shy and
quiet. Which is why I was surprised when she told me that she likes rock and
dance music, but listens to a lot of other stuff. Less surprising is that
her favourite colour is blue - all her match outfits throughout the
tournament was blue. Even the clothes she wore for practice was blue. Jelena
has plenty of young compatriots climbing up the rankings, so the support
system will definitely be there for her.
Two other players whom I would have loved to see more of are Magdalena
Maleeva and Tathiana Garbin. Both had poor showings at the Wismilak Open,
but should be picking up their performances in the beginning of the 2000
season. Magdalena Maleeva has a beautiful all-court game very unlike her
sisters’, and, touted to be the most talented of the three, is unfortunately
also the most injury-prone. Her many fans will definitely be watching her
every move with baited breath to see if she can get back to the Top 25 by
the end of the year. She herself has set more realistic goals, and will see
how the next few months go before setting any goals for the year. Tathiana
Garbin is still very much more active in the ITF events than in the WTA Tour
events, as are players outside the Top 100, but I’ll expect her to move on
to the next step soon enough.
Not so new to the tour but young and talented nonetheless is Olga
Barabanschikova. She has steadily climbed up the rankings over the years,
except for a slight hiccup last year. Olga has a captivating game amidst the
power and strength displayed by so many players nowadays. Preferring touch
shots as beautiful as her growing fan base finds Olga herself, she can keep
up in a baseline battle. The problem keeping her from her first WTA title
seems to be purely mental. Unfortunately, Olga seems to follow in the
footsteps of her notorious Belarussian counterpart, Natasha Zvereva, and has
trouble maintaining her concentration long enough to make the most of her
talent. Too many careless shots keep the Belarussian bombshell on the brink
of the Top 50.
Teenagers showing flashes of brilliance is nothing new to the WTA Tour, and
we will all have one or two whom we think will come through and realise
their talent. With recent success stories such as Martina Hingis and the
Williams sisters, the race to predict the next teen sensation is a hot one.
However, if it’s one lesson we’ve learned from the past, it is that even the
most talented of tennis players may be pushed too far in the gruelling grind
of the tour.