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Coaches and Controversy on Quarterfinal Friday
by Prip
Today, only one court would see any play, and removable bleachers were installed on either side of the centre court. The Russian girl Anastasia Myskina would play the first and last matches of the day. First up, she’d take on Asa Carlsson. Anastasia had started out cold in all her previous matches, but today she immediately started loose, doing well to keep up with Asa, who always looked like she was ready to play. Asa is obviously the much more experienced of the two, and it showed in the way she jerked Ana all over the court. However, the youngster still had a lot of spunk in her, and got to most of the balls. She also had the advantage of serving first. Both players played well from the start to hold serve, and the first set went into a tie-break. Asa started looking a little tired or frustrated, and made a few mental errors to give Ana a 4-1 lead. She held on to her mini-breaks to go up 6-2 and took the first set in 2 points. Amelie Cocheteux and Emilie Loit came in to watch their compatriot’s conqueror and doubles partner.

Asa came out stronger in the second set, and jumped to a 30-0 lead on Ana’s serve, but Ana took 3 points in a row to save her service game, scoring 2 aces in the process. It went to deuce, and Ana got the advantage, but double-faulted to bring it back to deuce again. She had another game point, but lost it and Asa got the break to take the first game of the second set.

At this point, a few Asa supporters came, no doubt part of her entourage or something. They cheered for her in her language, and had a huge Swedish flag spread out over the seats. This really perked Asa up, and she started playing very well, making some amazing shots. Half the time, Ana could only stand there and watch the ball whiz by and land in the corner.

Anastasia got a 40-love lead on Asa’s serve in the second game, but squandered them all by going for a little too much too soon. An error from Asa gave Ana break point again, but she lost it and Asa held serve. What happened next was absolutely unbelievable. Ana played well, but Asa was on a roll, and she took the second set 6-1. To Ana’s credit, there were a lot of bad calls against her, and only one or two against Asa. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of blatantly bad calls that went against the youngster, but she didn’t seem to get as upset as she had earlier in the week. Ana carefully iced the back of her neck during the long break between the second and third sets, and thanks to all the running she was doing, was drenched in sweat and looked tired.

The ice must have helped, as she opened the third set by holing serve at love, adding another ace to her stats. Asa had a more difficult time on her serve, but held nonetheless. The new group of linesmen were no better. There were some horribly bad calls against Ana, and the umpire didn’t do anything about any of them. At 3-1, Ana got another bad call, and looked dejected. She motioned to the umpire to let him know she was just getting the towel. She wiped her face and neck, but I also noticed that she was wiping her eyes and nose. The line calls had gotten to her, and she felt her fairytale run coming to and end. I felt so sorry for the girl. It was silly to think that she could have run away with the title, but I felt that it was terribly wrong for her to lose it this way. She picked herself up and looked more composed to start the point, but Asa went up 5-1. Ana played bravely and saved several match points, but finally made an error to go out of the singles draw. She shook Asa’s hand and congratulated her, and sat down to take a drink of water.

She went about packing her things, glanced up at her father, and walked off the court. Her father was still sitting there, so I walked up to him. I shrugged my shoulders sympathetically, and said that I was sorry for their loss. He said thanks, and reached out to shake my hand. I then asked him if he was her father as well as her coach, and he said yes. I then asked if Anastasia had a nickname, as the youngster had improved tremendously from the last time I saw her earlier this year (admittedly, I thought that she didn’t have anything at all at the time, but after watching her this week, with a proper coach to develop her serve more and teach her better strategy, this kid’s got it. She was already serving better as the tournament went on, and could really smack the ball at times), and I wanted to keep track of her. He doesn’t speak much English, and had a little trouble understanding. So I tried saying "Anastasia...", and then "Ana? Tasha?", but he still couldn’t understand. I tried again, and he looked more confused than ever. So I put my hands a distance apart, and said Anastasia. Then I brought them closer, and said "Ana?". Then he understood, and said "Nastya". I asked him if he could write it, as I wasn’t sure if it was with an "i" or a "y", and he asked "in Russian?". Not wanting to trouble him any more, I said yes, and he wrote it down in my notebook. I don’t think anyone’s browser is Russian character enabled, so I won’t type it out. I then told him a few areas that I thought could do with some help, and he understood (he understands tennis terms, of course) and nodded, agreeing with me. So Mr. Stoic is actually Mr. Mysk (I hope I got that right. I need to improve my knowledge on Russian names. Please e-mail me if I’m wrong), and he’s a very nice man. He asked if I was staying for her doubles match, and I said yes, to which he smiled and nodded.

Anyway, next up was lunch. There was some time before the next match started, and after grabbing more Hard Rock Café food, I headed to the practice courts where Laurence Courtois and Alicia Molik were practicing. They were taking a break for water, so I asked them if they would mind me taking some pictures on court, and they said not at all. I got some nice ones, and headed over to the other end after wishing them good luck in their next match to catch Kristina Brandi practising. Her coach noticed me going up on the stands, and waved. I waved back and smiled, and took some pictures. I then headed back to the stadium to post my entry for the Match-It competition, and went into the stadium. After a while, Kristina and Joanette took the court, and Kristina’s coach was sitting on the opposite side of the court from me. I went down to take a pre-match picture of the two, but they were standing rather far apart and I didn’t want to waste film on a shot that I thought wouldn’t turn out well. I packed my camera, and Kristina’s coach waved me over.

Like I said before, Kristina’s coach is a very nice man. He is a very dark, thin-looking Frenchman, with long wild dark brown hair tied into a bun most of the time. I sat next to him, and throughout the match, he would make very pleasant conversation. He was a very supportive coach, and would encourage Kristina all the time. He asked if I had any pictures of him and Kristina, and I said no, but would be glad to take some after her match if he’d like. "If she wins," he quipped. I smiled and said, "of course".

Kristina started well, and her coach was a little surprised as he was complaining that she always started out cold. He’s a very nervous man when she plays, and before important points, he would take a deep breath. Kristina took the first set 7-5 after a brief struggle, and Joanette started to get frustrated. He sighed in relief, and praised Kristina on her good play. Throughout the match, he made little notes in his notebook, as well as little mental calculations. The players took a total of 2 toilet breaks during the match, and he ran to the bathroom every time. I wonder why. Well, Joanette’s mom did too, so I guess whatever they did evened out. The players came back, and when he came back, he told me, "you see now, her mother, is she coaching her?", and I looked up, and her mom was definitely telling her to hit deeper or something. Also, he asked my opinion on certain points of the match, and when I told him that she needed to hit deeper, or take her time, he made little notes in his book.

Joanette played fantastically once again, and by now had taken control of the match. When she took the second set 6-4, he said to me, "Maybe now we have no picture." Kristina was playing well, but Joanette was playing great, and Kristina’s coach said, "She’s good. She’s playing out of this world, no?" A few minutes later, he said, "the girl yesterday, she was good too, no?". He told me that the day before had been her birthday, and I asked if he had celebrated after the tough win. He said that I was the first person he told, and I agreed that it would have been better that he let Kristina concentrate on the tournament. Joanette took the match 5-7 6-4 6-1, and before he left, he shook my hand, saying "see you in Australia, ya!"

I was standing around outside getting an ice-cream when I saw Silvija wearing some stylish khaki slacks and a cute pink top. She had come to collect something, and was walking back to the bus with her coach. I had missed getting her autograph the first match, and she had lost her second, so I was still missing her mark on my collection. I debated on whether to ask her for her autograph, and when an official and Mag got on the bus, the bus driver started the engine. I thought, what the heck. I walked over to my car, and took the ball out, keeping my eye on the bus in case it started pulling away. I stood next to the window where Silvija was sitting, but unfortunately, she was facing the inside of the bus. I stood there for about 15 secs, thinking of what I could do to get her attention, and turned to make sure that there were no cars coming along to mow me down (I was standing in the middle of the road). When I looked back up, Silvija had seen me, and I pointed at the ball with my marker, a questioning look on my face. Then I made a vertically swirly gesture with the pen, asking if she’d rather I ask her the next day. She nodded, but pointed at me. I made a horizontally swirly gesture with my pen, meaning if I should get on the bus, and she nodded and smiled. I raised my eyebrows, and she that got a small laugh from her. I went around and got on the bus. Mag looked at me, and I smiled, and headed to Silvija’s seat. I explained that I had missed her after her first match, and she nodded understandingly. I had a few words, and she was very nice, speaking excellent English. She recognised me from when I went around the practice courts taking her picture, and I wished her good luck. She said, "see you in Australia".

Rita Grande had a terrible start to her match against Tamarine Tanasugarn, and lost the first set 6-0. After that, she started playing phenomenally well and broke Tamarine’s spirit. All of the Thai girl’s matches had gone the distance in one way or another, and in addition to the late night after yesterday’s doubles match, she must have been tired. Rita took the second set 6-2 and held three match points at 5-2 in the third set, but Tamarine got pumped up by the cheers in the crowd for her. She saved all three to push the third set to 5-3, but Rita picked up her game and got to the semifinals with a 0-6 6-2 6-3 victory.

That brought the last match of the day, Anastasia "Nastya" Myskina and Sarah "Sarah" Pitkowski vs. Rika "Human Backboard I" Hiraki and Yuka "Human Backboard II" Yoshida. The Japanese ladies that came every evening converged, and formed cheering squads for the Japanese girls. They are extremely polite people, and clapped on good points whether or not their team won it. Nastya and Sarah came on court first, and I was on court to take a pre-match picture. Sarah didn’t notice me standing at their chairs, changing my camera lenses, and proceeded to dry her racquet grip in front of the fan, while I stood there waiting. Anastasia laughed, and had to call her several times before she realised that we were both waiting for her to take the picture.

RH/YY won the toss, and elected to serve first. Yuka served to open the match, and three errors (one tactical) gave the Japanese girls a 40-love lead. At which Yuka double-faulted. Twice. The Japanese duo have a patented "stand at the net and get everything back" tactic, but some great hitting from Ana and a touch shot from Sarah gave them the early break. Some newfound poaching ability and solid playing from Anastasia gave Sarah an easy service game. Rika managed to get her team on the scoreboard by holding serve despite a double-fault. The Japanese girls played well, and some errors from Sarah gave them the break back.

The Japanese girls’ tactics were again winning them the match. They are quick on their feet, and managed to get to a lot of attempted lobs. They also have extremely quick hands, and their reflex volleys had beautiful angles that drove Nastya and Sarah crazy. The Japanese girls took the first set 6-2, as they had for all their doubles matches so far.

Nastya and Sarah came on court laughing and joking about something, and were holding their stomachs from all the laughing, despite losing the first set. Excellent passing shots from Nastya gave her an easy service game. She carried her good net game to give Sarah her service game as well, and the score was even at 3-all.

Then it started again. Blatantly bad calls gave the Japanese duo the break. Sarah got upset and argued with the ump, but to no avail. This angered me, because during lunch, the group of umpires bar one had been sitting at one of the 4 tables, laughing and joking about some incidences the day before. Then someone said something about the ballboys, and the ump who had chaired Anastasia’s singles match said that the linesmen (I’m not being politically incorrect. They *were* all men) were becoming sloppy, and had made Ana cry. I nearly choked on my drink, and one of them who I had met earlier turned to me and asked me why I was laughing. I wasn’t, and I said that she really *had* been crying, no thanks to so many blatantly bad line calls. I hadn’t thought too much of it until then, as I suddenly realised that the ump had known that they were bad, but hadn’t overruled any of them. Might as well not have anyone chairing the matches, then. Wonder what the ITF teaches them. Or maybe Bruno Rebeuh trained them.

Anyway, the Japanese duo took the match 6-2 6-3. Sarah and Ana looked frustrated that they had no answers to the Japanese girls’ game, and sat there for a while. I stayed to finish up some notes, and headed to the tournament office for the following day’s schedule as they walked off the court. As I came out of the office, Anastasia and her father were standing near the bus area, with Sarah’s coach. Her father, in some struggling English, thanked me for the support and asked if I was going to be in Pattaya. I said no, as I have exams the next week, but maybe would travel the following year. He nodded his head, and shook my hand. He then asked me to confirm some things he had said with Anastasia, as he wasn’t sure if he had gotten it right in English. So I confirmed that her nickname is Nastya, spelled with a "y", and that she wasn’t sure where she would be playing next. She looked tired, but rather relaxed, not too disappointed that she was out of the tournament, but disappointed nonetheless. I said that I’d have to guess where she was playing to catch her the following year, and she smiled and nodded. I wished her good luck in Pattaya, and she wished me good luck for next week.

I headed off to my car, after talking to some other people who had seen me there all week. I got that a lot, people talking to me, because I was there so often, talking to the players, cheering rather audibly and carrying the big ball. Tomorrow would see three matches.

Singles Quarterfinals Doubles Semifinal