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First-Time Champions Crowned on Sunday
by Prip
Well, today was the day. The day that made all the work throughout the week worth it. The 6 survivors would battle it out, and only 3 would emerge the victors. Asa Carlsson would play Erika de Lone for the singles title, and the team of 18-year-olds Jelena Kostanic and Tina Pisnik would try to take on the formidable Japanese duo of Rika Hiraki and Yuka Yoshida, in the their first WTA doubles final.

If you had read my report on the previous day, I had ended the day talking to Jelena’s coach. I was interested in getting some more pictures of Jelena, so I asked when they would have their practice session the next day, and if it would distract Jelena if I took some pictures. He said not at all, and told me that they’d probably be there around noon. So I got to the stadium at 12, and ironically, the bus pulled in at exactly the same time. I parked my car, and saw Jelena and her coach, Velimir Zovko, get down from the bus. I got my stuff, and headed to the lunchroom to get a few bottles of water, as I had forgotten my usual large mineral water bottle. I ended up taking a few slices of watermelon to eat while walking to the practice courts.

When I got there, Jelena was done with her stretching, and was hitting forehands. I got my camera and stuff, and Velimir smiled when he saw me while picking up balls. I motioned to the courts, and he nodded. So I headed down to the courts and got some nice shots of Jelena’s forehand, her backhand, her serve, her overhead, and her volleys. :) While she was practising her volleys, I was standing about 5 feet from the net post, against the fence, taking some shots. She tried to catch a low ball with her racquet, but caught it on her frame, and it bounced slowly towards me. I was using my zoom lens for a close shot, and was adjusting my zoom lens, closer and closer until I realised that it was as short as it would get. Jelena was only a few feet away, and called "watch out", and laughed. She caught the ball, and went back to hitting volleys.

Some lady came by the outside of the court and had something to tell Jelena’s coach. He was talking to her for a minute or two, and this was the second time in 10 minutes that she had come to tell him something. Jelena turned to me and said, "I’m practising and he’s talking to his friend. Incredible.", smiling. "Well, it’s only the finals," I replied. Anyway, she had a good workout, was satisfied, and Velimir kept it light. I don’t know if he did this so I could get some nice shots, but he talked to Jelena in Croatian, and they started kicking the ball around a bit. Just enough for me to get some nice shots.

I had asked him earlier if I could get a picture of them together after practice, and he said of course. I didn’t think he’d remember, though. At that moment, my long camera lens got jammed for some odd reason, and I was fiddling around with it. Jelena was already sitting in the shade, and as he walked by, he asked if I wanted the picture of them. I said yes, got my short lens while he and Jelena patiently waited, and they posed very nicely for the shot. Jelena went off to rest, and it started "spitting", as Martina Hingis puts it. Velimir took out a jump rope, and started skipping. I didn’t want to disrupt him by talking to him while he was skipping (you know how annoying it is to talk while panting), but he was very nice, and we kept talking anyway.

Anyway, it started to rain a little heavier, and I went to get my bag while he went off to the players’ lounge to relax. It was already 1.50, and the singles match was scheduled to start at 2pm. The Queen was supposed to be in attendance, and the red carpets were out and ready for her arrival. I went to the lunchroom again to get my last free Hard Rock Café meal. Who would be there but a former Miss Malaysia and popular deejay among other things, Yasmin Yusoff. She was going over some things with a guy who was involved in the tournament somehow (I always saw him in the tournament office). When she was done, she stood up to go, and I had a few words with her as I had gone to her mother’s house every weekend when I was very small.

Anyway, I had lunch and went to the stadium. I got a seat at court level on the side, and noticed the Swedish supporters in the stands. They had the flag out draped over the steps, and were pretty visible in yellow shirts. Erika won the toss, and elected to receive. She chose the side with the Swedish supporters. I think the tactic was to avoid Asa being motivated by the Swedish flag, as only one game is played before the first change of ends.

Both players held serve convincingly, and I noticed that Asa was serving very well. Asa got her service game at love in the third game, and gave Erika a bit of trouble on her service game. Asa went on to win her next service game at love also, thanks to her strong serving.

Erika agin had a tough service game, trailing one point behind all the way. Asa came up with a spectacular passing shot on the run to get 2 break points, and capitalised on the second one despite Erika taking control of the points early. This is what had amazed me about Asa all week. She was perfectly capable of coming up with nearly impossible shots on the run. You’d think that the point was over, but she’d get there somehow, and not only flip it back, but hit it with purpose and placement. That was exactly what got her through the Myskina match, and that was what made her the person to stop Joanette Kruger’s run.

Erika played tentatively better in the next game to try to get the break, and Asa’s service game went to deuce. Erika held one break point, but blew an easy overhead that went wide. Asa took the game gladly.

Now Erika would have to serve to stay in the set. Asa played some remarkable service returns to give up only one more point in the process of taking the first set 6-2. The Swede certainly deserved it by that scoreline from the way she played.

Erika got the wake up call, and raised her game a little to bring Asa’s service game to deuce, and went on the take the advantage. A double-fault by Asa gave Erika the break to open the set. Asa’s game started to slow down, while Erika’s started to pick up. She consolidated the break after a struggle to go up 2-0.

Asa’s service game went to deuce again, but a questionable line call gave Asa the advantage. Erika had a few words with the umpire, but I couldn’t see the line clearly where I was sitting to make a judgement. The line calls had been considerably better than the previous matches, and for once, a lot of close calls were accurate. Anyway, Asa got a strong serve in to take the game. She also had a break opportunity in the next game, but made 2 unforced errors to give Erika the game.

At 15-all, 3-2, Asa serving, the lights suddenly went out. There was a sudden power failure, and tournament organisers scrambled to see what they could do. It was only for a moment, but the overhead lights would take 10 minutes to warm up, and the players took a breather. I saw Tina Pisnik sitting nearby, and I had a few words with her. She was in a considerably better mood today than after her doubles match the previous day, and had hit with Asa in the morning. I said, "good thing this happened during this match and not yours", and she laughed and agreed.

Anyway, the lights soon came fully on, and after a 3-minute warmup, play resumed. Erika constructed a few points very well, but messed up the final shot on two, one forehand and one backhand, and gave Asa the break back.

At 4-3 40-30, Erika’s strings broke, but she did well to keep the point going. Asa made a nice overhead to consolidate the break back, and the set was on serve. Some solid playing from Asa and an error from Erika gave Asa 3 break points, and she immediately cashed one in. Asa served for the set.

She opened with a strong ace, but double-faulted on the next point. The next few points were tension-filled, and Asa held championship point at 40-30. She lost it on a very tentative forehand, Deuce. Asa got the advantage again, but choked on an easy finishing shot. Deuce #2. Erika got the advantage, but made a silly mistake to bring it to deuce #3. Both players decided that this was it, and picked up their games, but Asa still played a little tentatively and Erika got the break back.

Not wanting to let this one slip away, Asa played tremendous tennis to go up 40-15 on Erika’s serve. An incredible rally in which Asa finally made a winner down-the-line gave her game, set, match, and title! Asa threw her arms up in the air, and the crowd went wild. Both players shook hands very nicely, and the trophy presentation took place. Erika got her plate, flowers and check, and gave a short speech. Then it was Asa’s turn to get her plate, flowers and check, and gave a speech as well as a television interview. The silver plates were very nice, and must have cost a lot. They were presented to both players by the Queen herself.

Anyway, after all the brouhaha and all, I congratulated Asa (I was on court taking pictures and all, of course), she went off, and some spectators left while others came in. Tina and Jelena came on court, and I headed to the stands to get a seat on the end of the courts instead of at the side of it. I got a seat, and settled down for a match whose outcome to me was more important than the one that had just taken place.

The Japanese duo won the toss and elected to serve. Rika, who had the weaker serve, served first. They had a long struggle, with each team holding one game point before Jelena and Tina got the break. I sighed in relief, as they had started slow in all their previous matches. As it turns out, I counted my chickens a little too soon.

Jelena faced break point on her service game, but saved it with an ace out wide. She went for the passing shot on the next point, but it landed just long. Tina crossed at the net on the next point, but Yuka saw her and hit the shot down the line on the next point to give the Japanese girls the break back.

Yuka had a little trouble on her serve, but the Japanese girls got the game anyway, Jelena getting hit at the net on the last point. Tina served well to go up 30-love on her service game, but started volleying very sloppily to give the Japanese duo the break.

The youngsters started playing well, and broke Rika’s service game at love to even the set up. Jelena had 40-30 on her serve, and all four players played beautifully in a rally that lasted more than 20 shots, until Jelena hit a volley long. The next point didn’t go very well for her, as she blew an easy overhead, and yelled at herself. The crowd went "oooooh!", and I’m guessing that that didn’t help either. The made a sloppy shot on the next point to give up her service game. Yuka held serve at love to bring he team up to 5-2.

Tina played well to go up 40-love on her serve, and the youngsters needed all three chances to stay in the set. Rika served to take the first set. She went down love-30, but played hard to even it up. She got the point, but blew the next one on a long backhand. Tina made service return error that went into the net, and Jelena went for a service return winner down the line, but it landed out just by an inch, to give the Asian girls the first set 6-3.

The crowd was decidedly for the Japanese girls, and there were a lot of Japanese in the audience. Nevertheless, there were a handful of us Kostanic/Pisnik supporters (literally. I think there were 5 of us including Jelena’s coach. I didn’t see Tina’s coach until the last game of the match).

Jelena served to open the second set, serving with new balls. She got her service game, and her team proceeded to break Yuka’s service game. Tina also managed to hold serve convincingly, to give the pair a 3-0 lead. Rika double-faulted twice, and Jelena and Tina really picked up their game to go up 4-0. Jelena only gave up one point on her service game to take it to 5-0. This was all too familiar for me. It still amazes me how these kids do this.

Jelena and Tina got set point on Yuka’s service game, but Jelena hit a service return long to bring it to deuce. By now, the crowd was rather vocally cheering for the Japanese girls, and they picked up their games tremendously to baffle the youngsters. They finally got a game, and took the next one as well when Jelena mishit another volley. Jelena dropped her racquet in front of her and stomped on it. That got some laughter from the crowd.

While Jelena was the one who always started the matches pumped up and playing well, she would start to commit errors by the middle, and Tina would be serving and playing better by then, and pumping the team up. It was always the same, and this was no exception. They went to sit down during the changeover, and took to the court more positive-looking than before. Their shots got their sting back, and they went up 40-love on Rika’s service game. Yuka saved one by jamming Jelena with a shot into her body, but Tina got the next one on a low return. The match was even at 3-6 6-2, Jelena to serve.

Jelena made two silly errors and double-faulted to go down 30-40. I think Tina got a little annoyed, but they picked up their game to secure the first game of the final set. Yuka now had trouble on her serve and went down 15-40. 2-0, JK/TP. Tina held serve comfortably to go up 3-0.

Now it was Rika’s turn to serve. She had been having trouble all match long, but this time she made no mistakes and went up 40-love. TP/JK played remarkably to even it at deuce, but lost it anyway. 3-1. Jelena double-faulted at 30-40 to bring it to 2-3, Yoshida serving. Yuka made three errors to go down 0-40, but an array of unforced errors from Jelena brought it to 3-all. The Japanese girls were gaining momentum, and the cheers from the crowd were getting louder and louder.

Tina did well to hold serve. Rika double-faulted again at 15-all, and Jelena got the advantage. A long service return from let the Japanese girls off the hook, but she forced an error from Rika to get the advantage again. A beautiful lob over the Japanese girls’ heads gave the youngsters a 5-3 lead, and Jelena would serve for the title!

An error from her made it 0-15. Another error made it 0-30, but Jelena made up for it with a winner on the next point. 15-30. Another fantastic rally with a volley winner made it 15-40. A clean overhead gave the Japanese girls the break back at 5-4. Yuka Yoshida would serve to keep her team in the running.

Spectacular play ensued, and Jelena forced a volley error to go up 0-15. An unforced error gave JK/TP 0-30, and another fine shot forced an error to get 3 championship points! Tina and Jelena played a great point and co-ordinated perfectly to take match, and the two girls jumped for joy, hugging each other before shaking their opponents’ hands. The crowd clapped politely, although they were sad to see the Asian girls lose.

The trophy presentation went on, and I got some nice photos of the teams. Jelena and Tina’s coaches came down to take photos as well, and we had a nice time talking and laughing. After most of the photos were taken and all, I spread my hands in the girls’ direction, and shrugged my shoulders, shaking my head. I told Velimir, "These girls are trying to kill me. They have to play all their matches to three sets." He smiled, and said, "well, it’s good mental training", to which I replied, "not for me".

Tina and Jelena posed with Velimir for me, and he passed me their cameras to take their photos again. A few people had their kids take photos with them, while I hung around and talked with Velimir a little. After that, he grabbed my camera, and pushed me lightly to take a photo with the girls. I talked with both Tina and Jelena (Tina was very nice, and she handled the little kids extremely well! She was coaxing a shy little girl to take a photo with her, and gave another young boy the plate to hold in a picture), and they asked for some photos, which I said I’d send them. Both were extremely happy, and I managed to talk to them for the last time before next year. Velimir said he’s catch me in Australia, and I warned him not to forget me then. I didn’t want to take up too much of their time to celebrate before heading to Pattaya, so I said my goodbyes and all, and headed to my car.

Jelena only could play doubles in Pattaya, as she had to stick around Kuala Lumpur for the doubles finals and had missed the singles qualifying rounds. Thank God she got the title, or it would have really been a waste. Speaking of God, I asked Velimir if he had found his church, and he said no, as they had gotten back pretty late the day before, so I said that *my* prayers must have worked, and his God had gotten the message.

I’ll be writing a tournament wrapup piece later this week, perhaps with some stuff about some players, so check back to catch that one -- it’ll definitely be a shame to miss it.

Singles Final Doubles Semifinals