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Wild Card Kruger Prevails on Wild Thursday
by Prip
True to the trend, the first two matches of the day were ones I had wanted to catch. Olga Barabanschikova would take on Kristina Brandi and Anastasia Myskina/Sarah Pitkowski would take on the giant-killers Julie Scott/Wendy Fix. I decided that Olga would need the support more, and I would join the doubles match later.

I found myself sitting next to the Japanese girl again. Behind us sat Kristinaís coach. Iíd seen him around, but he looked local, so I thought he was just one of the guys who hit with her. So I turned and asked if he was Kristinaís coach. He said yes, and looked a little pleased. I asked him how Kristina was, as she had been injured earlier in the year, and he said that she was fine. A few seconds later, he asked how I knew she was injured, and I couldnít recall. I said something about playing in the Bol tournament in Croatia, and he nodded. "That was last year, no?".

Anyway, I was once again talking to the Japanese girl, and her English was really basic, so I couldnít get her to understand even with elaborate hand gestures. He very nicely translated what I was saying (a Japanese speaking French!), and I felt a little guilty about cheering against his player. But I wasnít going to desert Olga again. Nope, not this time.

So the match started, and me and the Japanese girl were cheering and clapping for Olga, and the coach was encouraging Kristina. Olga finally had a good start (I later heard from her coach that Kristina always starts slow), and took the first set very convincingly, 6-1. Thinking that a first set was insurance enough and seeing that Anastasia and Sarah were in a bit of trouble, I headed to the other court.

It was nice to see professionalism for a change after all the yelling and screaming that had been going on during certain playersí matches. Sarah and Ana had absolutely no bad blood between them (Iíve never heard of doubles partners having an argument after a singles match anyway), but these players were talking and laughing between points, consoling the other after a missed shot, or congratulating her after a good one.

As is the trend, Sarah and Ana started out slow, and the Americans who had absolutely demolished the top seeds immediately took advantage of it. However, Sarah and Ana somehow managed to hold on and took it to 5-all. The Americans were too tough, however, and took the first set 7-5.

Things started looking a little bleak for AM/SP. JS/WF took a 2-0 lead in the second set, and looked like they were going to run away with the match, just as they did in the previous round. However, AM/SP picked up their game at the last possible moment again, and reeled off 4 games in a row in the process of taking the second set 6-3. They now played absolutely flawlessly and took the last set 6-0. It should be noted that Anastasiaís coach (her father, actually. She doesnít have a proper coach as is the fashion nowadays, and her father plays the role) and Sarahís coach would clap in encouragement throughout the match.

On the other side, Olga started to get in trouble. Kristina had picked up her game, and the Belarussian looked like she was about to die from the heat. They have some stand-up fans beside each chair, and Olga turned hers to face directly at her during changeovers. It wasnít actually really hot -- in fact, it was a relatively cool day, but Kristina was running her around, and the young Belarussian was running for all she was worth. I also think that she isnít used to the hotter climate, as I hadnít seen her on the practice courts at all. With all the cheering from the Japanese girl and me, she put up a brave fight, but lost the last two sets 6-3 6-4.

Actually, I couldnít help but notice that Olga had the same Sergio Tachinni shirt with cut-off sleeves and pleated skirt that she had on for her earlier match. Also, during the break between the second and third sets, they both went off for the break, and while all the other players had changed their clothes for fresher ones, Olga came back in the same blouse and skirt. She either forgot to bring a change with her or sheís having sponsor problems. I certainly hope itís not the latter, with talent like hers. Sheís got the stuff, but IMO, needs to work a little harder on honing her racquet skills.

Expecting Asa Carlsson to demolish the Indonesian girl Wynne Prakusya, I went to the little room where hard Rock Café was catering for the tournament organisers, player service staff, umpires, and a few other people involved in the tournament for lunch. I had been going there for lunch since being invited by the tournament directorís wife, and it was nice to have decent meals at a convenient time/location. I was right, and I hadnít even finished lunch when Asa finished her match, a 6-3 6-0 demolition. I finished up my food and went to catch Laurence Courtois and Amelie Cocheteux. I had missed Laurenceís match the day before, and was still upset over Amelieís win over Jelena Kostanic, so this was the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Laurence started out a little slow, and Amelie took command of the match, going to a 4-1 lead. However, here, Laurence started playing better tennis and took three games in a row, breaking Amelie back twice in a row to bring it to 4-all. Amelie finally held serve, and Laurence had to serve to stay in the match. She not only held serve, but held it at love. By this time, Amelie was really steaming. She had been tossing her racquet around and slamming balls since 4-2. Laurence broke again to go up 6-5, and would serve for the set. However, errors started creeping in for her, and Amelie got a 40-love lead. She took the next point to bring it to a tie-break. There Laurenceís unforced errors kept coming, and Amelie got a 4-1 lead. Laurence brought it to 5-3, but Amelie took the next 2 points to take the first set 7-6 (3).

Things continued going wrong for Laurence, and a lot of errant shots gave Amelie a break at 1-all to go up 2-1. Errors from Amelie gave Laurence the break back at love. There came that Christmas spirit again. Amelie then squandered a 30-love lead to give Laurence game point, and she got the game.

Laurence got into trouble again on her service game, but both players kept it even in the third set. At 4-3, Laurence took a toilet break to change her shirt which was soaked, and Amelie had to keep moving to keep from getting cold. She started to serve a few times, but the umpire asked her to stop, as she was using match balls. She got a little annoyed, and walked around briskly instead.

Laurence got back soon enough, and looked a little refreshed. She played like it too, and broke Amelieís serve, losing only one point. The Frenchwoman then started playing more aggressively to do the same, and served to stay in the set. She got it, and it went to 5-all. It looked like Laurence was determined to take it to three sets, she held her serve at love, but Amelie wasnít about to let all her hard work go to waste, and she also held serve at love. Tie break in the second set as well.

Amelie immediately got two mini-breaks, to go up 4-1, but gave them back. Amelie got another break, and held it to take the match 7-6(3) 7-6(4). I went out to get my inflatable ball from my car before the Kruger/Talaja match, as I had missed catching Silvija after her earlier match in cheering for Anastasia against Sarah Pitkowski, and didnít want to miss my second chance. On the way back to the courts, Laurence was sitting with a player friend on the sidewalk, waiting for the bus to take them back to the hotel. I stopped to have a few words, and she told me that she had a doubles match later. The schedule for the day was pretty long, with 6 matches on one court and 5 on the other, and the organisers hadnít counted on nearly all of them turning out to be titanic struggles.

Anyway, when I got back, Silvija Talaja had taken to the court with Joanette, and they were in the process of tossing the coin. Both players proceeded to warm up, and it was nice to see both of them start well, the first match for the day. Both players did well to hold their serves, until 2-1, when two bad calls gave Joanette the first break. Silvija started having trouble keeping her shots in, and squandered 2 break points to bring Krugerís service game to deuce. Silvija took the next 2 points and games went back on serve.

Joanette had needed the wildcard because injury had hampered her performance during the year, and she probably would have been seeded here otherwise. She and Silvija ran each other all over the court, and both had some remarkable gets and shots on the run. In terms of quality of play, this had to be one of the best so far. At three all, Silvija got one break point and converted it, consolidating it easily as well. Joanette then suddenly picked up her game but it was too late, and Silvija took the first set 7-5.

Both players held serve to open the second set, and Joanette was still carrying her spectacular form from the first set. Silvija looked like she was doing all she could to keep up with her. At 3-2, Joanette really started painting the lines with her shots. She got the break and went to a 5-2 lead. Silvija held serve, but failed to break, and Joanette evened it at 1 set all.

Silvija served to open the third set, but couldnít hold serve. She looked worn out and tired. She was one of the hardest workers so far, I saw her on the practice courts twice a day, and that was just when I went around. Joanette was more relaxed, and apart from her mother, I didnít see her hit with anyone else. And how much good can hitting with her mother do her? Anyway, she played out of this world, as she is perfectly capable of, and Silvija looked to me like she had given up hope, even though she did try to keep up. Whatís more, Jelena Kostanic and Tina Pisnik had left her camp to go for their doubles match on the other court. I went to watch the doubles match, and I was right -- Joanette took the third set 6-0. Sheís certainly justified her wildcard here, and sheís my pick to take the title. A little coaching on the sidelines never hurt, either.

From the earlier matches, it was obvious that Jelena has the stronger service game, and she started serving for her team. I had caught her on the practice courts earlier and she had hardly begun to groove on her shots when the light drizzle turned into a light rain, and she wisely asked to stop practice in case she slipped and hurt herself. Considering that she hadnít practised before her match, Jelena started well. Both teams held serve, Jelena having the easiest service game of all. Interestingly, Silvia Plischke was the second seed in the singles draw, and had lost in the first round to her doubles partner Rita Grande. So the two top seeds were done in by their partners.

Jelena was pumping her team up between each point, looking very bouncy on her feet and pumping her fist, trying to motivate both her and her partner. She was the sole Croatian survivor, and her team represented the only two active players in her camp.

At 4-all, however, Jelenaís service game went to deuce, and a good first serve got a blocked return high in the air. Jelena called to take it, but slammed the ball into the net 3 feet away. The Austrian/Italian team got the first break to go up 5-4.

The youngsters actually dug themselves out of a big hole and evened the set at 5-all, despite a slight communication problem and Jelena nearly getting killed when Rita Grande smacked a hard overhead right at her. Good thing Jelena managed to get two steps backwards and turned around. The ball landed right between her feet.

Relief was short-lived, however, as RG/SP broke Tinaís serve and Silvia served for the set. JK/TP got a 40-love lead, and needed all three points to bring it to a tie-breaker. Jelena served first and got her point. Rita served and lost both points. Tina served and got both points. 5-0, JK/TP! They nearly made it 6-0, but Tinaís volley landed an inch wide. Jelena served a nice wide serve at 6-1 to force the errors from Silvia Plischke, and they youngsters took the first set 7-6(1).

Down 15-40 on her serve, Rita Grande got desperate, and for the second time, hit another blazing overhead right at Jelena. It nearly took her head off, and I thought Jelena looked a little dazed after that. I didnít see any apology from Rita both times, either. Nevertheles, Jelena shook it off and her team constructed a point beautifully to take the next point and the break.

Tina started to really serve well, and was the more active half of her team by now. Some amazing rallies gave RG/SP break point, but they failed to convert it. They immediately got another break point, but Tina hit a half-volley that just dribbled over the net to save it. She turned around to high-five Jelena (as they did on every point), and looked up to the sky (well, the canvas roof, actually) as if to thank God.

After a long point at 2-all, Tina had to run all the way to the back of the court from the net to retrieve a lob, and couldnít make it. Amusingly, she lightly kicked the divider once with each foot, while her partner kicked the ball over the net. Silvia Plischke and Rita Grande broke to go up 4-2, but JK/TP took two games in a row at love to even it up at 4-all.

Then something nice happened. A rather large bug had landed on court, and Silvia Plischke tried to get it to fly away by lightly nudging it with her racquet. Since it rained two days earlier, there had been a sudden appearance of bugs, and I had seen several players stomping them rather violently (no names here). When the bug refused to budge, Silvia picked it up with her racquet and gently set it out of harmís way. How nice is that?

The young team then got a break on Ritaís serve, and took the match 7-6(1) 6-4. They joined Anastasia Myskina and Sarah Pitkowski, and Rika Hiraki and Yuka Yoshida in the doubles semifinals.

Next up was Magdalena Grzybowska and Tamarine Tanasugarn vs. Laurence Courtois and Alicia Molik. Mag was playing terribly, and Tammy was very supportive. Before long, the pair lost the first set 6-2 to a very motivated looking Laurence and fresh Alicia. I was starting to get the impression that Laurence and Alicia were mild choke cases when they blew a lead in the second set (as did the both of them in their singles matches), and Mag started playing phenomenally to save her team. They stretched it to a tie-breaker, taking it 7-6(2). It was 11pm by now, and a lot of people had had enough. Half of whatever crowd had stayed to watch walked out of the stadium.

Alicia had run around the court several times, and one time, she ran to the corner part of the backdrop that opened into the playerís locker room corridor. She ran through the swinging door, and disappeared for a few moments before coming back on court. Of course, this got a bit of applause. She later ran into backdrops or dividers several times, perhaps to motivate her team a little with the applause. Mag and Tammy looked tired, and after the last titanic struggle of the day, lost 6-3 in the third set. That signaled the end of the tourney for Mag.
 

Singles Round 2 Doubles Quarterfinals