Inside Cincy – Round 2 Highlights

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As you know, this week we’re having Karen Helf on the spot at the Western & Southern Open. After her yesterday’s account from her first day at the tournament, today she’s giving us her detailed report from matchup of Serena Williams and Tsvetana Pironkova, as well as Victoria Azarenka vs. Caroline Wozniacki, and mentions of several other encounters. Moreover, Karen is giving us her account from a press conference with Belinda Bencic. Wednesday’s photo gallery from Cincinnati you can see here.

Serena Williams - W&S Tennis 2015 Wednesday-15
Serena Williams

Day Session Action

Second-round Wednesday kicked off with everyone’s worst opponent, rain. While disruptions were short-lived, ominous clouds lingered all day. Rain delayed the start of the men’s match on Center Court, a dramatic three-setter. This left Serena Williams and her opponent Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria waiting with an uncertain start. The ladies eventually took Center Court about 2PM.

Coming out of the Rogers Cup, Serena reported that she sprained her fingers while playing Roberta Vinci in the quarterfinals. I wondered if there would be lingering effects.

The match began with a 1-1 hold. During Serena’s second service game, Pironkova threatened to break at deuce, but Serena pulled through the game. Serena was not in the zone and her service speeds were notably slower than normal.

They traded service holds in the first set and Pironkova handled the occasion well enough. With Pironkova serving at best around 90MPH, Serena sometimes blocked serves back, just putting them in play. Her returns lacked power. The score progressed to 2-2 and I wondered about the fingers.

Serena’s began to raise her game in her third service game. She cracked an ace registering at 115MPH and drew a huge crowd response. Another ace at 97MPH and she held. Pironkova’s third service game looked easy at 40-0, but changed direction going to deuce. Eventually, a Serena backhand sailed long and Pironkova held at 3-3.

Serena’s continued to build momentum with serves hitting 116, then finished off with 118 MPH to hold 4-3. In Pironkova’s next service game Serena found her rhythm with Pironkova serving in the 80’s & 90’s. The score hit 40-30, but Tsvetana still found the lines to hold.

Serena double faulted early in her fifth service game, but then delivered back-to-back aces, 114 & 113MPH, respectively. Pironkova hit a drop shot return catching Serena off guard to 30-30. Another Serena ace to 40-30 was followed by double and back to deuce. Fighting back Serena charged the net producing a winner and finished with an unreturnable 101MPH serve. The service duel continued.

Tsvetana Pironkova - W&S Tennis 2015 Wednesday-16
Tsvetana Pironkova

Pironkova took her fifth service game to 40-15 and an easily held with Serena struggling to keep her shots in play. Back on serve, Serena had another 118MPH ace, but also delivered errors and another double. Pironkova eventually folded with an error giving Serena the hold.

The pressure was on Pironkova to hold and force a tiebreak. Serena was hitting visibly stronger winners. When the score hit 0-40 during Pironkova’s serve there was an audible celebration from Serena. She broke Tsvetana and finished on serve grabbing the set, 7-5.

After closing out the first set, Serena approached the second set in a higher gear. She won long rallies and produced aces down the tee and out wide. She used boxer-like steps between points, keeping her feet moving.

She racked up aces, three in a row to hold at one point. She hit her stride with 120 & 121MPH serves, driving returns and vocalized her signature “come on” mantra staying fired up to finish.

Dark clouds threatened play during Serena’s fifth service game. Her instinct to finish quickly was there. Serena continued audible celebrations adding fist pumps. She went for her shots putting her body into her returns eventually breaking Pironkova twice.

With a jittery final service game, Serena finished with perfect timing. At 40-30 she delivered match point a 118MPH ace, for the 7-5, 6-3 win. Leaving Center Court, Tsvetana received a warm embrace from the crowd showing their appreciation. On queue the skies opened at the close of Serena’s on-court interview.

Adidas twins - Simona Halep & Kristina Mladenovic
Adidas twins – Simona Halep & Kristina Mladenovic

With so many great second round match-ups I had difficulty choosing my daily match plan. Note, you should always have a plan during early rounds. The tennis is abundant and there are not enough hours in the day. When I arrived, the monitors showed Simona Halep with a commanding lead over Kristina Mladenovic having captured the first set and ahead in the second.

So, I choose to check out Keys-Jankovic on Court 9. This was a rematch of their 2015 Indian Wells battle. They concluded before I could get settled. Veteran Jelena won again 7-6, 6-4. Jankovic garnered 5 additional points over Keys today, 87-82.

So, I watched the Halep-Mladenovic match on monitors. Kristina took the second set, 7-5 and was fighting in the third with Halep up a break at 4-3. Halep quickly grabbed the match wining 6-4 in the third. This result was impressive given Simona’s physical state and eventual withdrawal from the Rogers Cup final just 4 days prior.

I admit when the third set began, I wondered how much gas Simona had in the tank and whether momentum would shift in Kristina’s favor. I regretted missing the earlier games. I was also reminded that is quintessential tennis.

Matches are never over until the score is in the books. This is why I love tennis. Dynamics and momentum can shift with the wind. A single point can fire up or demoralize a player.

Checking the monitors also I found Coco Vandeweghe out with of the draw downed by dominant Lucie Safarova. This was not surprising result given Lucie’s 2015 success in both singles & doubles.

Belinda Bencic
Belinda Bencic

Up-close with Belinda Bencic

With match play suspended I was at the right place at the right time. I attended a post match presser with rising Swiss star, Belinda Bencic. Fresh out of her win over Italy’s Flavia Pennetta, Bencic was composed, insightful, gracious and funny. When asked about her win against Serena in Canada, she laughed stating she still can’t believe it and she will never forget it.

She remarked, some day she will tell her kids she beat Serena Williams! On her #12 ranking she seemed unfazed by recent success. She was humble appreciating the moments but keeping it in perspective. She joked about being bad at challenges.

Another insight about Bencic was her response concerning Vicky Duval not receiving a main draw wild card to the US Open. She was direct in stating she felt it was wrong. Her belief is that Vicky deserved the opportunity over other players. She also remarked on Vicky’s friendship and how happy she was to have her back on tour. It does my heart good to see players supporting each other.

In response to questions about pressure she replied, pressure comes with success it happens. I believe anyone can beat anyone on the tour today.

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki

Night Session Highlights

Right on time for the night session, the skies dumped rain clearing the courts and lightening struck. So session play kicked off about 9PM with my pick Caroline Wozniacki versus Victoria Azarenka. Both players sported heavy tape, Caroline for a calf issues and Victoria on her thigh.

At first glance it was no contest. Victoria ruled the first set 6-0. She dictated points and ran Caroline down. Caroline’s returns lacked power and nothing seemed to be working for her. Not the match I was expecting.

Enter the second set. Victoria lost focus, unforced errors crept in and suddenly Caroline was up 3-0. A third set seemed imminent. To give credit Caroline was now packing a punch with her returns and committing to her shots. There were several long rallies and good shot-making. But Victoria found her zone and returned the favor breaking Caroline’s serve and regained ground to 3-3.

The pivotal point arrived with Caroline up 4-3. In Victoria’s service game, Caroline had a break opportunity at 30-40. The two flirted with a series deuce exchanges, but Victoria would not yield.

This appeared to take the wind out of Caroline’s sails. With Caroline on serve at 4-4, Victoria pressed to 15-40. Once again she ran Caroline testing her and earned the break. Now up 4-5 she held serve with match point at 40-30.

The point ended with subdued celebration as Caroline challenged the call, but lost the match and Victoria advanced.

Thursday Preview-Fan strength continues to soar with Center Court tickets sold out and only grounds passes available. Serena will return to Center Court along with Belinda Bencic facing Lucie Safarova. Jelena and Victoria are also back in action. Doubles is heating up with Italian favorites Errani & Vinci and an all-US field scheduled for Court 4, so stay tuned.


  1. Sabey, I’m glad that Karen’s work has been received well. This is our first cooperation, but I’m sure this is just the start.

  2. Thank you, Sabey. I’m glad everything turned out great in my coordination of Karen’s work and Omar as a photographer.


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