Play was supposed to start at 10am, and I got there at 10.10 while my original plan was to get there by 9.30 (okay, so I slept in a little. Sleep is somewhat of a luxury nowadays). The players were still warming up, and I headed straight to the courts without stopping by the tournament office to get the schedule of the day, so that I wouldn't miss the start of the matches. To my dismay, the two featured matches of my day were the first matches on their respective courts. Raluca Sandu would take on the third seed in qualifying, Ludmila Cervanova, and Magdalena Maleeva would be playing against the Indian girl, Nirupama Vaidyanathan. My only consolation was that the two matches would be played side-by-side: they were scheduled on adjacent courts.
I figured that Raluca needed the support more, since everyone was on the other side of the bleachers to watch the Indian in action. The first few games went without event, but at 2-all, Cervanova got the first break of the match to go up 3-2. Raluca sensed trouble and took the next game quickly to break back and even the set. She had trouble on her own service game, though, so Ludmila broke again, in what looked like a contest to hold serve. It wasnít the server that was making the mistakes, though, but rather the receiver who was playing more aggressively.
Things werenít going so well with Magdalena Maleeva either. She was down 1-3 in the first set when I looked over, and Nirupama was gaining confidence with each point. Magdalena was up to serve, and Nirupama set up another break point with a service return winner to go up 4-1, but Magdalena saved it and managed to hold serve to keep within distance at 2-3. Looking over to the other court, it looked like both players were still having trouble holding serve as Raluca had broken back again to bring it to 4-all. Magdalena managed to barely break serve on a few errors from the Indian, and found herself back in the set again, 3-all.
Back on the other court, I heard the umpire call "Game, Sandu", so that meant that Raluca had finally managed to hold serve. The set was still on serve, with Cervanova serving, and Raluca took to the court with purpose. She hit scorching backhand returns, and was firing on all cylinders, and before I could blink, she was up 40-love. There was excitement on the other court as well, as Magdalena had a break point at 40-30. Raluca got hers on the first try with another backhand service return winner, but Magdalena had to work a little harder, as Nirupama saved the first break point. She took the next two points to finally get her break, and the score was 4-3.
With a first set insurance for Raluca, I headed back to the Maleeva match. The score was 4-all, with Maleeva serving. On one point, Magdalena served a fault, but the umpire practically whispered it to himself. I barely heard him, and the players obviously didnít as they kept on playing the point. About 4 shots into the point, the umpire asked them to stop and replay the point. Magdalena went back to the baseline to serve, and went for a first serve, which landed in the net. She motioned for another ball, when the umpire called "15-all!". She turned around in surprise as Nirupama walked to the deuce side, and had a few words with the umpire. The umpire insisted that he hadnít called a first serve, and Magdalena shouldnít have assumed that she had been given one, so after standing there for a few moments in silent protest, Magdalena walked to the baseline very annoyed. I have to confess that when the umpire called the score, I shouted "Come on!" at him, as IMO she clearly should have been given a first serve. The people sitting around me were a little confused at first, and my protest didnít help much either, so they were all looking at me rather perplexed. Magdalena let her experience show, and shook off the disappointment to hold serve.
Over on the other court, Raluca looked like she was ready to go home at 2-1, and broke Ludmilaís serve very convincingly. Ludmila grew increasingly impatient and frustrated with herself, and had quite a few choice words for herself (not that I understood any of it).
Now Nirupama was serving to stay in the set, and found herself in a critical position at 30-all. I was hoping that Magdalena would get the break so that I could catch the conclusion of the Sandu-Cervanova match. My wish came through after Nirupama saved 3 set points, but Magdalena played the last service return aggressively and finally got the set.
Raluca had lost her serve, so Ludmila Cervanova was down 2-3 and serving. A few short rallies and 2 double-faults later, Raluca returned the favour and broke back. Again. One the first point of her service game, Raluca tried to drop-shot her opponent, but missed it wide by inches. She threw her hands up in mock exasperation but had a smile on her face. It didnít seem to affect her concentration, though, as she served her way to a 5-2 lead. I think Ludmilaís coach was little annoyed with me at that point because we were the only 2 watching the match in the stands, and while we both applauded the good shots or exciting rallies, he applauded on Cervanovaís points while I applauded for Sanduís. Not the unforced errors, of course.
The next game went without incidence, and Ludmila managed to hold serve, with Raluca showing maybe a bit of nerve as her shots started going wild. Her next service game was error-filled by both parties, but Cervanova managed to keep her percentage a little better than Sandu, and got a break of serve back. The score was now 4-5 with Cervanova serving. Very aware that the set was slipping away from her, Raluca Sandu started concentrating better, and played beautifully to break serve and take the match 6-4 6-4. As Raluca came off the court, I caught up with her and she recognised me from the day before. Once again, I congratulated her and wished her luck in her next match. She said thanks and contributed the second autograph on my giant inflatable tennis ball. The final one I wanted to get was from Jelena Kosstanic, and her match was next. It was all very convenient for me as I didnít plan in carrying the ball around for the rest of the day, and the sooner I could leave it in my car, the better. Cervanova was first seed of the day to fall, and her disappointment was very evident as she was sitting next to her coach looking dejected when I got back up in the stands.
Magdalena Maleeva and Nirupama Vaidyanathan were even at 2-all in the second set. Nearly all the games were going to deuce, and both players were clearly bothered by the heat. Vaidyanathan called for a bathroom break, and both players headed off the court for the duration of the break. Finally, they got back on, Vaidyanathan looking a little fresher than Maleeva. She came out playing aggressively, and suddenly, all her shots were landing exactly where she wanted them to. She was running Maggie all over the court, and as doing some running of her own as well, but nothing seemed to go wrong for her. Maggie made a ton of unforced errors, most of them going long because she was trying as hard as possible to keep her shots deep. Anything that landed just a little short were being blasted by Vaidyanathan. She got the break of serve, and took the second set 6-4. The umpire gave everyone a break, and while Nirupama headed to the building area next to the court and sat on the floor cooling off, Maleeva made a beeline to the air-conditioned playersí lounge.
A long break later, both players returned to the court, the umpire took his seat, and a new set of line judges and ball-kids came out. The trend was more or less the same as the second set, and after some very long games, Maggie found herself down a break at 3-5, and serving to stay in the match. She did with a bit of a struggle, saving a few match points, and now Vaidyanathan was serving for the match. Maggie hit her first return aggressively, which set up the point nicely, and she got the point. Her next service return went long, though, and Nirupama took the next two points to take the game, set and match.
The applause was rather generous, as they had played a long hard match, and the Vaidyanathan supporters were ecstatic that their player had taken out the top seed in the qualifying draw, the second seed to fall. My heart sank, as I thought how Magdalena Maleeva must feel losing in the second round of qualifying in a Tier III event. I caught the end of what started as a demolition of Julie Scott by Jelena Kostanic (Iíd been keeping track of the match on the adjacent court), and Jelena had gotten a 3-0 lead in the second set after taking the first one 6-2, but let her opponent back in the match. I think that she has a great game, although her net approaches could do with a little work. She was running all over the place, even when Julie had taken control of the point and was jerking her from one end of the court to the other. Her conditioning is fantastic, and sheís very quick around the court. Impressed I am. I was packing my camera equipment when she came out of the court and walked in my direction to go to the playersí lounge (where she wanted to get a player to hit with. Thatís how energetic she is). I didnít waste the opportunity, did the usual congratulations and good luck routine, and got her autograph. It was a little funny, because she was carrying her bag, a towel, and was drinking from her water bottle, so when I offered her my marker, she fumbled with her stuff to get it all in her other hand. I was about to apologise for the trouble, but before I could say anything, she actually apologised for making me wait. I was carrying all my stuff in my other hand, so I held the cover of the marker, and offered her the other end. The cap was a little tight, so it didnít come off when she tugged it. I said, "Pull", and she did, and the cover still didnít come off. So I went "pull, pull..." and she was pulling on the marker, and finally got it of with a small grunt. We were both kind of laughing about it, and she slowly signed the ball. Just then, a ball girl came up and asked for her autograph as well, which she obliged. Very nice girl, Jelena Kostanic. Hope to see her climb up in the rankings soon.
I didnít feel like watching any of the other 2nd qualifying round matches, and the doubles qualies would start in another 1 ½ hours, so I drove out for lunch (the food provided for staff and such didnít look appetising, and I wasnít about to munch on a greasy burger). On the way to my car, I saw Magdalena come out of the shower room, and she looked so disappointed in herself. I swear my heart broke.
When I got back, I found a lot of main draw players walking around, looking busy or heading to the practice courts. I passed by Joanette Kruger, and sheís extremely easy to recognise. I was wondering what she was doing in a more "serious" tennis outfit compared to the shorts and t-shirt or sports bra that a lot of the other players were practising in. After waiting for a while, I finally got the doubles draws, and I found out why - she was in the qualifying draw. I checked out a practice session between three players and a guy, and after that, Katalin Marosi (if Iím not mistaken) was playing a little game with her practice partner and good friend Tathiana Garbin, where Katalin was trying to "tag" Tathiana while they ran around within one half of the court. It was very amusing, watching them running and smiling and giggling like little kids. Tathiana was too quick for her, and after a while, Katalin gave up trying to tag the dodging target, and they changed to another game where they would try to step on the otherís foot. The guy (who had partnered Andrea Vanc) and Andrea were sitting at the side of the court watching and laughing. After a while, Katalin called her coach who had suddenly appeared a few rows behind me. He moved to the seat next to mine to talk to her, and they were discussing which side to play in doubles with her new partner, when Tathiana quietly sneaked up behind her. I saw her coming from quite a distance away, and she caught my eye and put her finger to her lips to signal me to not give her away. She came right behind Katalin, and emptied the contents of her water bottle on her head before grabbing her bag and running off into the shower rooms.
I headed to the courts, as the doubles qualies should have been about to start. All eight teams were hitting on the four outer courts. Raluca Sandu was teamed up with Iroda Tulyaganova, and they were the second seeds. The top seed went to Cho Yoon-Jenog and Monika Mastalirova. I found a chair to watch the Sandu-Tulyaganova match (if you havenít realised yet, Raluca Sandu was my best friend by now). Before I knew it, the second seeds had lost 8-1 to Evelyn Fauth and Miroslava Vavrinec. I then watched Joanette Kruger and Anne Kremer teach Chen Yu-An and Weng Tzu-Ting a doubles lesson, taking the match 8-3.
The new pairing of Indonesian girl Wukirasih Sawondari and Daphne Van de Zande stretched the top seeds Cho and Mastalirova to the max, with the top seeds taking the match 9-8. This just wasnít Van de Zandeís tournament. She had been drawn against the top seed in both the singles and doubles qualy draws.
The top seeds then played against the Indonesian/Thai pairing of Wynne Prakusya and Benjamas Sangaram. They had little trouble there, taking the match 8-2. Joanette Kruger and Anne Kremer didnít fare so well in their match, and blew a small lead to lose 9-7 to the team that beat the second seeds, Fauth and Vavrinec.
That signalled the end of the day, and I headed to the tournament office to get the main singles and doubles draws. After I scanned the draws, I drove home, thinking of all the players that Iíll be looking for the next day.
Singles Qualifying Round 2
Doubles Qualifying Round 1
Doubles Qualifying Round 2