Friday at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati was all about the WTA quarterfinal action and our reporter from the spot Karen Helf is giving us a close look at what it was like to watch the matches live. Our photographer Omar Boraby was also there, so don’t skip to check out his gallery of the best eight women in the field fighting to make the final four.
Thursday the weather continued to make amends for rainy Wednesday. Fans were treated to sunny blue skies, cool temperatures and low humidity, atypical for Cincy.
With the player field narrowed, there were three active show courts today: Center Court, Grandstand and Stadium 3.
My affection grows for the event each day. A big part of that is due to the dedicated volunteers and friendly locals. Residents consistently greet me with “Welcome to Cincinnati.” It is clear that they are very proud of their home. Next year I may add a few days to explore The Queen City.
Today I caught up with Mike Liechman, a volunteer of 12 years. He helps run the Media Center. This role means he is likely the first in and the last out most nights. Despite that challenge, he expressed joy being part of the team and loves the family atmosphere.
That volunteer family is about 1400 strong! Mike said each year feels like a reunion. He loves seeing the other volunteers, tournament staff and media that he has grown to know well over the years.
Match Play Highlights
Top billing went to Serena Williams versus Ana Ivanovic on Center Court. They took the court right on time for a 1PM start. The stadium was not at capacity, but that would change later when the crowd got wind of a third set.
Early in the match, Ana was on top largely due to Serena errors. As Serena struggled with a low first serve percentage and weak second serves, an upset seemed possible.
Set one began with Ana on serve. Serena smashed the return taking the first point. That was one of her best shots of the set. While neither player brought their A game, Ana was more aggressive and kept her balls in play at first.
My first set notes included accounts of missed shots wide & long, net balls, second serves and double faults. One double came at 3-1 with Ana on serve. The crowd chanted come on Serena. Ana still held service eventually taking the set 3-6.
Fast forward to the second set. Serena began holding serve. Ana then gave away an early break with two double faults and a baseline shot that sailed long. She seemed to be losing composure knowing she could not give Serena that kind of opportunity.
Points won throughout the rest of the set continued to be more about not making mistakes than shot making. The rallies were longer. Excitement arrived with Serena producing back-to-back aces and 122MPH serve holding to go up 3-0. In spite of Serena gifting a break of serve to Ana, she later took the set 6-4.
Serena began the third set with a double-fault, then followed up with two aces, but was still broken. Ana held her next service game also producing an ace to 2-0. Next Serena held with a combination of a double and an ace to 2-1.
Ana’s next service game did not go well. She netted balls, double faulted and Serena founds the lines. A long rally left Ana lying on the ground on her back. Serena found the lines to break to 2-2.
Serena clearly more aggressive held her next service game to 2-3. Ana produced an error and doubled to be broken again to 2-4.
After the play, Ana bent over as if to catch her breath. Serena closed out her next service game with what appeared to be a 126MPH serve advancing to 2-5. At that moment, the score board was obscured.
With the pressure on, the final game outcome was largely Ana’s doing. Missing shots she was quickly down 0-30. She doubled to 0-40. Although the game extended, Ana doubled on match point. Not the finish anyone wanted. Final score 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 Williams.
The remaining matches were more competitive and interesting than the headliner. I watched hard-hitting Elina Svitolina take out Lucie Safarova. This one went the distance, 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 with long rallies and suspenseful moments. Svitolina has an acrobatic quality to her movement that is unique.
She stated post match she was extra focused when Lucie came to net aware of her skills. Svitolina will have Serena as her semifinal opponent. In her press conference she was upbeat about the opportunity to play her best tennis and see what happens.
Later I caught the end of Jelena Jankovic versus Anna Karolina Schmiedlova. Jelena appeared to have a slight limp in the second set. I wondered if she would have held if it went to three.
She effectively mixed up her shots giving herself time and Anna Karolina a different look at the ball. Her strategy worked and she prevailed, 6-4, 6-2. She appeared ecstatic in her post match interview.
The final match, Simona Halep versus Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, was my favorite. The first set was evenly matched with long rallies, effective serving and shot making. It went to a tiebreak with Halep taking the set, 7-6.
Simona dominated the second set despite admitting at press that she was tired and her leg was hurting. She did not let on during play other than what appeared to be treatment on her foot. She closed down the night session and advanced 7-6, 6-2. Next up, she plays Jelena Jankovic for a spot in the final.
Attending Simona’s post match press conference she impressed me and other colleagues as a woman in charge. I mean this in a very positive way. Over all other press conferences that I attended with the WTA, Simona stands out as confident, decisive and willing to take on any question honestly with strong belief in herself. In that respect she is consistent on and off court.
Saturday night at the Western & Southern Open belongs to the ladies with match play starting at 7PM. First up Williams-Svitolina followed by Halep-Jankovic. Only two match days left. I know I will miss Cincy.
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