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Pitkowski and Myskina Stage a Wednesday Thriller
by Prip
As usual, two matches that I really wanted to catch would be scheduled simultaneously, as Kostanic vs Cocheteux and Barabanschikova vs. Wartusch were the first two matches of the day. Thinking I’d start off sitting at the Barabanschikova match then move on to the Kostanic match, I sat, in my usual seat, and a Japanese girl whom I’d seen around with a camera and tripod sat next to me. We talked a bit about her camera equipment, in English since her English was pretty okay and my Japanese is about as good as my Croatian. She was faithfully cheering for Olga throughout the match (more on that later), and I asked her if she knew Hideaki Nakano, a Japanese guy who does a page dedicated to Olga, and she was surprised, she did know him! She told me that she ran the NZ (Natasha Zvereva for all you uninformed people) site at xoom, and I told her that I ran (any advertising is good advertising). She was familiar with it, and was very surprised again. It was quite a nice moment, with all the "recognition" and all, and I didn’t notice Evelyn Fauth sit two rows behind me.

The match started, and Olga continued the poor form she’d shown in her doubles match yesterday. Her shots were just not finding their mark. She looked like she was suffering from the heat a little more than the others (I had talked to a number of players, and they all said that the heat was killing them. I think it’s more the humidity), and the Japanese girl faithfully clapped for her on every point she won, unforced errors or not. I’d noticed Evelyn when she was cheering and encouraging her compatriot Patricia Wartusch, and smiled. She had two other players sitting around her, one in front (at the back of me and the other two seats away reading a book). They were talking in German and having a pretty good time, and I asked Evelyn a few questions. It was more light conversation here and there during changeovers. I think she was puzzled that I’d have questions to ask her and all, and she threw a quizzical smile at her friend sitting behind me. At that point, I got myself in a bit of a jam, as I had come to cheer for Olga, but thought it would be odd to cheer against the person *they* were cheering for and then talk with them. So I kept really quiet during the match. I still didn’t have my long range lens with me, so I was stuck with my short range lens which wouldn’t do any good at all. I had one shot left on the roll of film, and wanted to finish it off, so during a changeover, I asked Evelyn and her friend (the other one had gone off to practice) for moment to snap one. They both obliged. I had been talking to them in English, and I do understand the German language, but they didn’t know that. Evelyn was amused and told her friend that this was the second time I’d taken her photo in the stands (the first time being yesterday with Miroslava Vavrinec before her doubles match). Her friend replied that she must be my "favourite", and they both smiled. Just then, my camera started rewinding the film, and I guess they realised that the reason for me taking that shot was partly to finish the roll of film.

Back to the match. Olga was playing terribly, and lost the first set 4-6, which was rather good considering the way she was playing, actually. She soon started to loosen up, and, spurred by the Japanese girl’s solo effort of applauding, dramatically turned the match around and took the second set 6-3. I couldn’t take anymore, and seeing that Jelena was in a bit of trouble, said bye to the Japanese girl and Evelyn, and went to the other side to support Jelena who had lost the first set 6-4 to Amelie Cocheteux.

Jelena was now playing superbly, and took the second set 6-1! The Frenchwoman stepped up her game, and the match got a lot closer. Both players played hard for the match, but Jelena started making mistakes in trying to go for too much. At one point, Jelena had 3 break points, but squandered them all, and Amelie held her serve. The poor Croatian girl was doing well to keep up with Amelie in the rallies, but her impatience cost her as she made some errors going for the winner. Amelie took the third set 6-3, and a dejected Jelena walked off the court a first-round loser after working hard (okay, not hard. She had an easy time) in the qualies. I would catch up with her later in the early evening to have a few words while she was on the way to the bus (the players all stay at the same hotel and there’s a bus to shuttle them to and fro every hour), and she was very nice in answering the questions and all. She’s definitely got a fan in me. I was surprised though to learn that she hadn’t played (as in practiced or anything else) against compatriot Mirjana Lucic since they were like 10. Anyway, I wished her good luck (thinking she’d be off to Pattaya and forgetting that she had a doubles match the next day).

On the other court, Olga took the match, 4-6 6-3 6-2. I was glad for her, she’s got a very nice game to watch, utilising touch shots and placement rather than power.

Next to come on court were Magdalena Grzybowska vs. Nicole Pratt and Tina Pisnik vs. Rita Grande. I sat at the Magda match, and kept an eye on the Pisnik match. Both Magdalena and Tina Pisnik started the match very strong. Magda was playing very well, and her shots were just clearing the net at a very fast pace, landing near the lines. Soon her shots started to spray, and Nicole caught up with her. The first set went into a tie-breaker, but I found myself losing concentration, and couldn’t watch the match. Rita Grande had no answers to Tina’s playing on the other court and Tina took the first set 6-1. I left the stadium and went outside to grab my first meal of the day.

On the way out, since there was no break for changeovers, I stopped and sat on the steps so as not to distract the players during play. Who would come by then than Magdalena Maleeva. She sat on a ledge nearby, sipping a cold can of 100-Plus. Of course, I took the opportunity to have a few words with her, and when I asked about how she found the conditions here (she *is* playing in Pattaya next and the weather’s pretty much the same), she said that it was incredibly hot, and she stressed *hot*. She seemed rather happy when I inquired about her sisters, she keeps in touch with them very often, and they’re doing perfectly fine. Pretty silly questions, now that I come to think of it. I wished her good luck (great lot of good that did the last time), and went off. On the way out, I passed by Olga, and congratulated her on a good match, as well as wished her good luck in her next. I dunno if it was just me, but I’m sure she had a "so where the heck was the support?" look on her face.

I had woken up at 9 after deciding to skip my morning class altogether, and caught another hour of sleep before taking a shower and driving to the courts. I got there at about 11.15, and went around the practice courts only to catch Magdalena Maleeva and Janette Husarova practising. I got a few photos (stupidly leaving one shot left on the roll), and watched them practice for a while before heading to the stadium. So I didn’t eat breakfast and was in the stadium during lunchtime, and my stomach was complaining. I caught a quick bite with some sandwiches, and thought I’d check out the practice courts. On the way there, I bumped into Laurence Courtois (not literally), and wished her good luck for her match. She was very nice, and said thanks.

Ironically, who would be there hitting with another player but Magdalena Maleeva. I thought it would be rather odd to photograph her again, as I already did that morning and had only just spoken to her, so I went and got some shots of Silvija Talaja, and another three (just to finish up an old roll of film) of Magda and the other player (I keep forgetting her name. She was the one sitting with Evelyn Fauth).

Basically having nothing much to do, I headed back to the stadium to check out what was happening. Laurence Courtois was playing and had the match well in hand. On the other court, Tina Pisnik was even with Rita Grande at 2-all in the third set. I’d seen Jelena Kostanic on the computer in the player’s lounge, and thought I’d ask her a few questions. Just as I got there, Jelena came out of the lounge, and didn’t mind a few questions on the way to the bus. Halfway through, Tina Pisnik came by and Jelena asked her how her match went. The poor girl lost 6-1 5-7 5-7.

I had also wanted to ask Anastasia Myskina a few questions, and, just as I had finished talking with Jelena, Anastasia came by. Talk about luck. I asked her if she would mind a few questions now or maybe after her match, and smiling, she said that now would be fine. She was very eloquent in her English, and I had a very nice little "interview" with her. Extremely nice girl, Anastasia, and she recognized me from Saturday and her earlier matches. I asked about her plans for next year, and she said that she’d be skipping the first part of the season (mostly Australia), and explained that it would be the holidays for her. I must have looked surprised, I never thought that tennis players would skip that much tennis to go on a *holiday*, and she laughed. We talked for a bit, and I told her about her growing number of fans on the internet. She ended up taking my e-mail address. Well!

Anyway, I took a short break, and talked a bit with the American girl at the "Match-It" (a contest on guessing the scores of matches) counter for a while, until 5.50 pm. Two matches I was waiting for would be played one after the other on one court: Anastasia Myskina vs. Sarah Pitkowski (1) and Katarina Srebotnik (8) vs. Wynne Prakusya of Indonesia (WC). Srebotnik was one of the players that I had looked forward to watching play since the commitment list was published, and I couldn’t wait.

I had asked Anastasia earlier about her doubles partner, and Anastasia only had one thing to say: "She good!". She looked very relaxed, and was the same when she went on the court. While it had been cloudy when the youngster was out on the practice courts just before the match, it now started to pour heavily. The match would be interrupted several times by lightning and thunder, but thankfully, never during points. The Russian started out cold, and like her previous matches, would need quite a while to get grooved.

While Sarah had started slow as well previously, she came into the match ready, and in the first set, taught the Russian girl a lesson in tennis. Sarah served first, broke serve, then consolidated it to take a 3-0 lead very quickly. Anastasia’s (Ana) temper was starting to flare rather quickly. Maybe Nastasi (Nastase) would be a better nickname? It seemed to help a little, as she picked up her game slightly, and played better and smarter tennis to get on the scoreboard. Squandering two break points, Sarah out-rallied the young Russian to take the first set very convincingly, 6-2.

All the while, the young Russian would get frustrated, and look up at her coach. Her coach, aka. stone man, would just sit there unbudging, no expression on his face, a couple of times not even looking at her. I think that was in an effort to avoid her getting dependant on a coach. As usual, yours truly was sitting in the front row at the opposite end and cheering her on between points.

All of a sudden, the Russian girl’s game came on, and she broke Pitkowski’s serve at love to open the second set! Sarah was relentless in her pursuit to break back, but Ana played absolutely beautifully, and consolidated the serve. Not only did she consolidate the serve, she got herself three break points on Sarah’s serve, and needed all three to get the second break. Knowing she was is trouble, Sarah took a bathroom break to change her shirt, and took Ana’s momentum with her. She came back refreshed, and broke back and love. Anastasia is a rookie, but she wasn’t born yesterday, and she managed to take the next three games to take the second set 6-1!

By now, the match had become absolutely thrilling, with long hard rallies and tempers flaring on both sides. Definitely the match of the tournament so far, beating the Kostanic match earlier. Saving one break point in the opening game of the third set, Ana held serve. Sarah’s coach was sitting behind me and was encouraging Sarah before and after crucial points.

Anastasia held serve for the first game of the third set, then went up 40-15 on Sarah’s serve. She only needed one break opportunity as she took a 2-0 lead in the final set. She found herself in trouble soon enough, and lost the break. More often than not, as was in the first match of Ana’s, she really had to work for her points, while Sarah got a lot of quick or easy ones. She got a 40-love lead on her service game, and held serve easily. At 4-3, she got an easy break of serve, and would now serve for the match.

She immediately jumped to a 40-15 lead, and it looked like that was that for Sarah. Sarah, being the more experienced player she is, really took her time after every point the Russian won. She would walk over to the corner where she put her towel, wipe her face, hands and racquet grip slowly, and then saunter to receive serve. That was definitely the opposite of the young Russian who always wanted to get to the next point, and I was absolutely worried that she might get frustrated over the Frenchwoman’s tactics. The tactics worked, and Sarah saved both match points. Ana slammed the ball into the backdrop when the Frenchwoman went for the towel again.

What ensued was nothing short of a thriller. Sarah got the advantage, but Ana played fearless tennis to save it, and held match point #3. The advantage shifted to and fro, every point being a heart-stopping rally (especially for me who was the only one obviously cheering for Ana). Ana held a total of 5 match points, but always lost it by going for too much too soon. The frustration was showing. After as many chances, Sarah finally got the break back, and the set was evened at 5-all.

In the next game, Sarah got a 40-15 lead, but Ana saved both game points, and went on to get the break. 6-5. She didn’t look back, and when she went up 40-30 on her service game, she didn’t let it slip away, and again played fearlessly to take the game, set, and match!

At that moment, the stadium (the crowd wasn’t very big and people were already filing out of there) gave the players adequate applause. Sarah got off the court in a hurry, while Ana took a while longer to absorb what she had done - take out the top seed of the draw! As she walked off the court, I stood up and clapped, and she looked up and smiled. A few minutes later, Katarina took to the court with the young Indonesian wildcard Wynne Prakusya.

Katarina Srebotnik is one of my absolute favourite players. I’ve seen her play several times, but never in person, and the fluidity of her movements amaze me. She was *the* player to watch at this tournament as far as I was concerned. What happened next, I won’t go through in detail, but here’s the gist of it.

Katarina Srebotnik was injured, which is why she wasn’t playing doubles. I had talked to her the day before while seeing her in the stands and asking for her autograph after Tina Krizan’s match, and asked her how come she and Tina weren’t playing doubles together. Her injury was very obviously hampering her, although I don’t think anyone noticed it. Wynne’s parents were very vocal, and I was very upset in hearing them blatantly coaching her from the stands. For some odd reason, while it was obvious to me from the start, they only realized that she was injured halfway through the second set. Katarina played (very bravely, I thought), despite her handicap, while she could have easily defaulted the match as did Anne Kremer earlier in the day.

Wynne Prakusya took the match 6-3 7-5, and the match I had been waiting for since the start of the tournament became the most disappointing one. I really felt sorry for the Slovenian, who despite having a lot of trouble on her serve had managed to hold on that long, and realised that the Srebotnik/Krizan camp had lost all their matches so far. Halfway through the match, during a changeover, I had to leave my seat to go somewhere for a minute, and on the way out, passed by in front of Anastasia and her coach sitting in the stands. I did notice out of the corner of my eye that Anastasia had noticed me walking by. I hadn’t realized that they were there until I was right in front, as I was hurrying to get out of there before the point started. On the way back to my seat, however, I stopped by to congratulate her on a fantastic match, and she was very happy about it, shaking my hand. What really surprised me, though, was her coach, Mr. Stoic himself, actually said thanks.

Anyway, I went home sorry for Katarina Srebotnik, but happy for the young Russian. Tomorrow would see her and Sarah in doubles action, as well as Jelena Kostanic and Tina Pisnik fighting to stay in the tournament after their losses today. I wasn’t sure if they were going to play, as Jelena would be playing in Pattaya and might have to leave tomorrow. Olga Barabanschikova was also going to be playing her singles match, giving me a chance to redeem my lack of support today.

Singles Round 1