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Patronising BBC relegates Date-Krumm talent

Date-Krumm,  y.caradec flickr

The BBC did women’s tennis no good at all on Saturday night after match commentators Barry Davies and Sam Smith patronised 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm repeatedly during her third-round clash with Serena Williams.

Date-Krumm was never realistically going to win the clash and fell to a predictable 6-2 6-0 defeat but that didn’t stop the BBC mooning over her with sickening adoration as though surprised she’d made it this far without breaking a hip.

Their main focus was less on her tennis but instead how a professional sportswoman could compete with the might of Serena. There are apparently two types of tennis in the women’s game: one you play against the rest of the field and the other you play against the American – the latter impossible to uphold over three sets. Yet tell that to Victoria Azarenka and Sloane Stephens who have both scalped Serena this year.

Even before the players had entered Centre Court the denigrating parade was marching in full voice and splendour, with a little montage from the BBC about how this ‘veteran’ had seen it all in the women’s game but just refused to give up on her dream.

Steffi Graf was mentioned five or six times because Date-Krumm had once – presumably when television was in black and white – faced the 22-Slam champ in a Wimbledon semi and almost beaten her.

There was never going to be any sort of competition against Serena but for the BBC to so openly admit that by instead focussing on her age, the erroneous fact she once ran a marathon and speculating whether she has a teapot in her kit bag is just appalling – is there anything this woman cannot do?

A delightful tale about how she met her husband and fell romantically in love – getting married at St Mary’s Church in Tokyo, if you’re interested – filled a space between the change of ends. How sweet and charming and absolutely irrelevant to the scenes on court.

After a particularly inspiring rally where the Japanese player earned a point off the world number one, Smith confirmed “it’s not normal to play like this at 42.” Well, clearly it is normal if you’re a professional athlete who has already come through two rounds of a Grand Slam to play tennis to a half respectable level.

Let’s talk about bagels

Yet the worst was saved until last as the BBC commentators picked up on the term ‘bagel’. A bagel is when a player loses without winning a single game, something Date-Krumm avoided. So why did the commentators go on about it? If Petr Cech concedes a goal you don’t mention the possibility of a clean sheet, nor do you express hope of a hat trick when James Anderson takes a wicket.

If the bagel reference wasn’t bad enough then the discussion over whether or not this match would last even an hour was. I assume a 42-year-old cannot play past 60 minutes the way the commentators pointed to the clock and the BBC did itself more damage by focussing in on the scoreboard when the match ticked past an hour – how impressive such a poor woman managed to survive this long!

The TV director will have given that order to show the clock, meaning it wasn’t just the commentators who steered the patronising parade.

You forgot about the first round!

Through all the mock humour over Date-Krumm’s age and fitness, her inability to match the world number one and how great it is just to see her smiling on court, the BBC forgot to mention she’d actually won her first-round match 6-0 6-2 against qualifier Carina Witthoft in 44 minutes.

Clearly Date-Krumm isn’t such a no-hoper after all but let’s forget about that… oh, look at her smile! She’s so happy just to be at Wimbledon for a 12th time in her career… aww.

Lack of analysis

The most frustrating thing of all is that neither commentator particularly discussed Date-Krumm’s tennis and instead just goggled at her when a point was won and consoled her when Serena got the upper hand. Compare this to Laura Robson’s performance earlier in the day where the BBC’s commentators discussed how she must up her game to beat Marina Erakovic, get her feet working at the back of the court and come forward more on serves.

Where was the advice during this match? It was nowhere, for there’s surely nothing a 42-year-old could do to beat Serena.

Social network response

Twitter had its fair share of disappointed viewers too. Granted, many tweets expressed admiration that Date-Krumm is still playing at this age and, indeed, it is impressive. But appraisal should only go that far and not descend into denigrating the player purely because she’s older than her competitors. Smith took the brunt of the criticism on the social networking site but Davies didn’t escape blame either.

Serena deserved her victory Photo:  left-hand, flickr

Serena deserved her victory
Photo: left-hand, flickr

So what does this say about tennis, and women’s tennis in particular? We know Serena – a player we’ll never see the likes of again – skewers the WTA because of her sheer brilliance on court but that doesn’t mean the rest of the field is second-rate.

It’s bad for the game if a national broadcaster so timidly accepts a televised match is a foregone conclusion and even worse if they then focus on the loser’s other qualities, like being able to stand up and showing she can still enjoy herself after all those years.

At the end there was a standing ovation but for what? Date-Krumm was rubbish and lucky enough to earn those two games during the first set. If you’re good enough to compete then it doesn’t matter how old you are and Date-Krumm lost not because of creaky joints or a lack of green tea (thanks Barry) but because she wasn’t as good as her opponent.

Date-Krumm made the quarters at Wimbledon in 1995 and the semis a year later, retiring from the sport for over a decade. Upon her return at 37 she was a different player yet won the Seoul title in 2009 and was 2010 runner-up in Osaka.

She also made the third round of the Australian Open this year and, to my knowledge, does not own the Zimmer frame Sam Smith could be mistaken for suggesting she does.

Photo:  y.caradec, flickr

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Roland Garros: Saturday morning round-up

Roland Garros 2013

Now the second rounds and half the third have been completed at Roland Garros, it’s time to look back at who’s impressed so far and who has the potential to make the finals stages late next week.

Both Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova look strong – as they should do – but the latter’s 6-2 6-4 win over Eugenie Bouchard rose a few questions. While Sharapova won 80% of her first service points, on the second serve she was down at a 53% conversion rate. Effectively, she has no insurance on that second serve and that could cost her at important moments later in the tournament.

As for Serena, the world number one has powered through to round four having dropped just six games so far. There’s a reason she’s favourite to win this tournament and Serena’s only challenge before the final will be Sara Errani.

Williams against Caroline Garica. Photo: y.caradec, flickr

Williams against Caroline Garica
Photo: y.caradec, flickr

It’s pleasing to see the top five in the WTA have all made it through but Li Na’s exit on Wednesday was a surprise. The Chinese world number six crashed in three sets to Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who took her opportunity as Li faltered.

Caroline Wozniacki, too, fell in the second but this is of no astonishment. The Dane has struggled on clay ever since that quarters appearance in Charleston and she’s now exited the last five tournaments before the third round. Her only victory since 1 April was over an unconvincing one over Laura Robson here in Paris, and it was no surprise she lasted little time against Mattek-Sands.

If you’re looking to back an outsider in this race then Sara Errani is your girl. The Italian world number five has been in impervious form so far, dropping just nine games from six sets. Although she was pushed to a 6-0 6-4 win the second set by Sabine Lisicki, that extra game time may come in handy if and when she meets Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters.

Errani looks good for a semis berth Photo: Frédéric de Villamil, flickr

Errani looks good for a semis berth
Photo: Frédéric de Villamil, flickr

As for forgotten world number three Victoria Azarenka, few can see her surpassing Sharapova in the semis but the Belarusian should at least make it to the last four because of Li’s exit in her side of the draw.

The French Open looks likely to be hotly contested heading into next week and this weekend should provide a couple of upsets. The big one of Saturday may be Angelique Kerber’s demise, for the German has struggled to combat opponents so far and faces the in-form Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Head photo: y.caradec, flickr

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Williams nears number one spot

Williams at Roland Garros 21012Photo: y.caradec, flickr

Williams at Roland Garros 2012
Photo: y.caradec, flickr

Serena Williams is now just two matches away from reclaiming the world number one spot after beginning her challenge for the 2013 Qatar Total Open in style with a 6-2 6-1 win over Russian qualifier Daria Gavrilova.

Williams, 31, only needs to make the semis in Doha to leapfrog current world number one Victoria Azarenka to the top of the WTA and considering her potential route this week should have no problem with that task.

Having clinically dispatched Gavrilova without much trouble, Williams will most likely face Urszula Radwanska in the third round before an eagerly anticipated tie with either seventh seed Petra Kvitova or Nadia Petrova.

Whoever she faces the second seed will feel she has enough in the tank to make the final four, although there is one slight concern regarding her fitness.

Williams twisted her ankle pretty badly at the Australian Open last month and is wearing heavy strapping around it. Luckily her power was enough to see her through the Gavrilova clash, for Williams only hit 52% of her first serves and with two more matches to play before the semis she may start to feel the pain.

Match Stats: Serena v Gavrilova Image: MatchStat

Match Stats: Serena v Gavrilova
Image: MatchStat

“I have it heavily taped,” Williams told reporters after the match. “As long as the tape doesn’t get loose, it feels really good.

“Physically feeling better is so good, and hopefully I can stay on that level.”

Indeed, Williams is aiming to reach the level once met almost 11 years ago, when she was world number one in 2002. Although she briefly picked it up again in 2009, she has taken the smart decision throughout her career to play less tournaments, meaning that despite winning a staggering 15 Grand Slams, she has never held that number one rank for too long.

Williams in Doha 2008 Photo: Jet Magbanua, flickr

Williams in Doha 2008
Photo: Jet Magbanua, flickr

Now is the time for Williams to rise again and confirm her status as the best in the world. She may not have won in Australia but those two Grand Slams last summer and an Olympic gold medal proved to us fans she is far better than her ranking suggests.

Also in Doha, third-seed Maria Sharapova swept through to the third round with a 6-3 6-2 win over French qualifier Caroline Garcia and is in line to meet Williams in the semis.

In the top half of the draw, Azarenka dispatched Romina Oprandi of Switzerland 6-2 6-3 and could face Sara Errani in the quarters before a first-v-fourth clash with Agnieszka Radwanska.

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Azarenka crumples to Williams pressure

Serena Williams recovered from yesterday’s erratic performance to beat world number one Victoria Azarenka 6-4 6-4 in their second match of the WTA Championships.

The American said after the game “I knew I could do better” after a below-par performance against Li Na, and crusied into the semi-finals with a determined, consistent and relaxed display in Istanbul.

Azarenka, who would have secured her number one spot for the start of 2013 if she had taken Thuesday’s match, looked tied after yesterday’s clash with Angelique Kerber and could not handle the serves once Williams got into her rhythm.

The first set went with serve for the first seven games, before Williams took her first break point to go 5-3 up in the first set. Azarenka broke straight back with a well-worked point at 15-40, pushing Williams wide before securing the game. Yet she could not hold her serve and Serena took the set before the Istanbul crowd had time to blink.

Azarenka looked her frustrated former self at times – much like yesterday’s game against Angelique Kerber – and had to refrain from smashing her racquet at the start of the second.

A fourth consecutive break of serve gave Azarenka a 1-0 lead in the second set and the Belarusian soon found herself 3-0 up after Williams hit long an erratic backhand.

The annoyance in Serena was evident and the American swatted home a return forehand in the next game before breaking Azarenka with an amazing drop-shot return, stooping down almost underneath the umpire’s chair to make the point. Indeed, Williams found her momentum and drew level 3-3 after poor serving from her opponent.

The set went with serve until 5-4 Williams, when Azarenka lost her nerve to double fault at 0-15. Williams won the next point with a neat backhand down the line but overcooked her first match point, finding the net.

Yet Williams had nothing to worry about as Azarenka again double faulted to hand her opponent the match and a passage into the semis.

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Williams beats Li in erratic encounter

Serena Williams survived a serving nightmare to overcome eighth seed Li Na 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 in the second match of their round-robin stage at the 2012 WTA Championships.

Williams looked far from composed in the opening throes but quickly regained her confidence to take the first set on a tie-break. Li was just as erratic – at one point holing a 4-1 lead in the first set before crumbling to the pressures of consistency.

The crushing moment came in the second at 3-1 Williams when the American served for nine minutes before finally putting away her spirited opponent.

There were eight breaks of serve in the first set before Serena found her rhythm to take the tie-break 7-2. The American had served for the set at 5-4 yet her inability to keep Li on the back foot gave her Chinese opponent the freedom to come back at her with real vigour.

Williams looked bewildered by her serving at times, hitting just 51% of her first serves and double faulting on five occasions. This led her to a 4-1 deficit before bringing the set back into contention; for Li started hard and capitalised on a slow Williams serve to break her opponent before she had time to compose herself in Istanbul.

First set statistics:

 

Yet as soon as Williams found her stride there was no stopping the Wimbledon, US and Olympic champion. Her clinical play in the tie-break proved her experience in crucial situations and despite hitting 22 unforced errors to 16 Williams took the first.

The 15-time Grand Slam champion looked far more determined in the second set: breaking Li to build a 3-1 lead and reaching her standard 195 km/h first-serve speeds. The next game, with the scores at deuce, Williams hit a great ace before screaming with relief; although Li would not die, saving five game points before finally losing out after nine minutes of Williams serves.

Li, as good as she was bad in Istanbul, double faulted at 30-30 when 5-2 down in the second set before playing some wonderful cross-court tennis to gain the advantage. Both points isolated would give completely different accounts of Li’s performance and another double fault ensued before she took the game with the help of the net.

Yet William’s eventual experience was too much for Li and the American won a gruelling and bewildering match with a love service game.

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Serena ‘better than Steffi’

 

There was a sign in the crowd this afternoon in Istanbul that simply read: ‘Serena, the best since Steffi.’

Indeed, although Serena Williams is unlikely to overcome Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams before her career is out, if she keeps up the form that saw her crowned double Grand Slam and Olympic champion this summer she will have no problem picking up the WTA Championship title this week.

The American played emphatically to beat Angelique Kerber 6-4 6-1 in her first game of the WTA Championships and has Victoria Azanreka and Li Na now firmly in her sights.

Kerber was certainly no pushover on Tuesday but was nevertheless powerless to prevent Serena take an important victory in the Red Group of the round-robin stage.

The German matched the 15-time Grand Slam champion shot for shot in the first set yet could not produce enough to overcome Serena, who took the opener 6-4.

Maybe this blow took the wind out of Kerber’s sails and although she offered tough resilience in the second, there was simply no stopping Serena – who was playing in her first tournament since lifting the New York crown almost two months ago.

Kerber had her moments, but she was too often late on the ball after heavy Serena returns and the 24-year-old struggled to reply to her opponent’s round-court brilliance.

Serena, it appears, has all the power and touch needed to canter through the early stage of these Championships and provide a real threat to whoever she meets in the semis. She saved a break point in her final game – screaming “come on!” at the top of her voice – and served out the match with an ace and a Kerber wide to cruise to victory.

Serena faces Li in Istanbul tomorrow and if she maintains her superiority into the match the Chinese world number eight will have a real tough time out there.

Photo: 

Sascha Wenninger

 

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