Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My Favorite Memories of Martina from the U.S. Open

I posted this on my message board - which is private and only open to Martina fans - and did not get much of a response. And I only spent about an hour putting the whole thing together! Lol. Anyway, here it is again. As most of you know, I only became a fan of Martina's in 1989 so I missed the heyday years at the Open. My memories date from 1989 onwards and here are my top 3:

1. Martina's run to the finals in 1991

I don't think I will ever forget Martina's incredible run to the finals that year, where she went one round better than Jimmy! For starters, she was only the #6 seed, with Mary Joe Fernandez slipping past her as the #1 American player the week before the Open. And then there was the mess with Judy hanging in the air. Martina had not played since the Wimbledon defeat to Jennifer and no one was sure what to expect. Perhaps these lowered expectations may have been a blessing in disguise. Certainly, her path to the finals was not an easy one. Save for the first two matches, from the third round onwards, it was one tough match after the other. First, Pam Shriver gave her a tough first set coming back from 1-5 down, before finally capitulating 7-5 6-1. That win sent Martina into the fourth round - a rematch against Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere who had beaten her at the same stage the year before. Martina was down an early break in the first set, but recovered to take the set in a tie-break. Manuela routed her in the second set, but Martina came back to close out the match 7-6 1-6 6-2. Next the quarterfinals against Arantxa - after losing the first set in a tie-break, Martina was just a game away from defeat but pulled to 5-5, then served for the set at 6-5, but was broken. She barely scraped through winning the tie-break 7-5 but then had a more comfortable third set, eventually taking the match 6-7 7-6 6-2. I'll never forget how happy Martina was after this victory. She jumped up and down, punching her racket in the air as she twirled around the court on her way to meet Arantxa at the net. The win set up the much anticipated semifinal against Steffi Graf, whom she hadn't played in almost two years. Martina and Steffi played some of their best matches at the Open and this one was no exception. With her service immaculate, a sharp Martina took the first set tie-break and then positioned herself well to serve out the match at 5-3 in the second. However, just when you thought it was over, the unthinkable happened - Martina choked the lead away, and Graf was back in the match, eventually going on to win that set in a tie-break 8-6 - Martina had been just two points away from the match at one point. But this would not be a case of 1989 redux - Martina broke Steffi immediately to begin the third set and stormed to a two-break 4-1 lead, but then Graf rallied. She broke Martina in the sixth game and closed to 4-3. Games then went on serve until Martina found herself serving for the match at 5-4 0-30. Perhaps in an earlier incarnation, Martina might have folded, but not this time. She regained her composure, serving beautifully and finished off the match with a service winner 7-6 6-7 6-4 - her first win over Steffi since 1987 and the #6 seed was in the finals again! Well, what happened afterwards is not much fun to remember (the entire match is available on Youtube, btw). Martina played a good first set, but then ran out of gas in the second. Monica was simply too tough. And she was bound to have had a letdown after that thrilling win over Steffi just the day before. Many a time I have wished Jennifer had been able to defeat Monica in their semifinal - she was so close, just two points away at one point and served for it twice. If Martina had been facing Jennifer in the finals, I think she would have been especially pumped up for revenge after Wimbledon. Winning U.S. Open #5 at the age of 34 would have been so sweet. But oh well, it was what it was but looking back, I can definitely say that 1991 remains my best memory of Martina at the Open.

2. Martina's return to the Open with Arantxa in 2000

Ok, some of you are probably going, what? What's the significance of 2000? She didn't do that well - lost the third round in the doubles and second round of the mixed. But the match that is seared in my memory is the first round doubles match against Sabine Appelmans and Linda Harvey-Wild on the Grandstand court. We got to see the final set tie-break on tv and I just couldn't believe the crowds - they were so totally behind Martina, it was incredible! Up to that point, Martina had probably never had a crowd like that before. They were going crazy every time Martina and Arantxa won a point, it was enough to bring one to tears. This had not been an easy match, Appelmans and Harvey-Wild were ahead in the third set, they even served for the match at 6-5, but buoyed by the crowds, Martina and Arantxa somehow found a way to come back. What I remember the most from the tie-break is Arantxa serving up two crucial aces and Martina making an amazing forehand volley at the net, which had commentator Tracy Austin screaming, "That's incredible!" in admiration - the crowds were so loud, it even appeared Martina & Arantxa had to yell at each other to communicate, simply to get themselves heard. After the final point of the tie-break which capped off a 5-7 6-2 7-6 win, the entire stadium went ballistic with their cheers for Martina, it was truly the most amazing crowd reaction I have ever seen. This set the stage for the next 6 years, the crowds at the Open were always the best - and Martina fed off that support incredibly well most of the time.

3. Martina's & Sveta's run to the finals in 2003

I remember what it was like before the tournament began. News of Leander's illness and then Martina announced she was not going to play the mixed without Leander. Martina and Sveta had had a good summer, after unexpected losses in San Diego and Carson, they returned to triumph in Toronto and went into the Open as one of the favorites, helped by a #4 seeding following Davenport's withdrawal from the doubles. Martina & Sveta coasted through to the quarterfinals where they faced Liezel Huber and Magdalena Maleeva, their conquerors earlier in the year in Miami. But they got their revenge and how! In straight sets, 6-3 6-3. With Clijsters pulling out of the doubles, the first quarter of the draw had really opened up and just when it looked like the dreaded Vento-Kabchi and Widjaja would come through for another slug fest in the semis, they were shockingly upset by the unheralded pair of Marion Bartoli and Myriam Casanova. Clearly, Martina and Sveta were now the favorites to reach the finals which might have been a difficult adjustment for them and it showed - but in the end, they came through 6-4 7-6. I remember how hopeful I was - could they pull of a repeat of their amazing win in Miami against the second seeded Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez a.k.a. Suano? Up to that point, Martina had a relatively good record against them and it was natural to expect our team to cap off an amazing year with a Grand Slam title. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. Martina & Sveta were never really in the match and despite a late rally, they were brushed aside in straight sets 6-2 6-3. Still, when the dust settled, it was clear that it had been a remarkable accomplishment for the ladies which did much to help them qualify for the season-ending Championships. In retrospect, in many ways, this was their last hurrah - they would win one more tournament in Leipzig a few weeks later, but by then, we knew that this partnership was soon to end. Martina was going to be playing with Lisa Raymond in 2004 in the hopes of qualifying for the Olympics. Reportedly, Sveta was upset at Martina's decision and didn't want to play doubles anymore but conveniently, Elena Likhovtseva had also split with her long-time partner, Cara Black, and convinced Sveta to play with her for a similar shot at Olympic glory. In the end, it was all moot - neither Martina nor Sveta left Athens with a medal and I've often wondered how different a year 2004 would have been had Martina & Sveta continued on... but oh well, hindsight is always 20/20, as they say. None of this should detract from the 2003 U.S. Open and what would be Martina's only final appearance in a Grand Slam womens doubles final during her comeback.

Special mentions

The last U.S. Open mixed doubles win in 2006 with Bob Bryan; the last Grand Slam womens doubles title with Gigi in 1990; and her appearance at the Open in doubles in 1995 - the tournament didn't end well for her, but for one match at least, it was great to see her back on the court with Gabriela.

P.S. Read an old article about the 2000 U.S. Open first round match here.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bank of the West Classic - Part II

So I said I would try to dig up a few pics and I came up with two. Here's one I scanned a few years ago from Ted Tinling's book "Love and Faults". It's Martina with the trophy after winning the Virginia Slims Championships for the first time in Oakland in 1978. At that time, the French & Australian Opens did not hold the same prestige as the other two Grand Slams, so the Virginia Slims/Avon Championships and the year-ending Colgate/Toyota Championships were their de facto replacements on the "Big 4" stage. Of course, everyone forgets about that now, but it was a huge win for Martina back in 1978.

Here's what Martina said after that match against Evonne: "I just want to scream and jump and do crazy things. I feel a lot of pressure has been taken off me - forever." Evonne, herself, was impressed with Martina's new form: "I can't believe the difference in Martina over the last year. Now that she has won a major, she will know she can do it again. That should make it interesting at Wimbledon, this year."

Indeed, they would go on to play a memorable semifinal that summer, at Wimbledon , though it ended on an unfortunate note and Martina went on to win her first Grand Slam title beating Chris in the final.

Here's the other photo from Oakland. It's Martina after her shocking 7-6 3-6 6-4 loss to Hana in the 1984 final. Always gracious in defeat, she said: "I came down fighting. She (Hana) won the match; I didn't lose it... I gave it my best shot, she just blew me away."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bank of the West Classic

The Bank of the West Classic, currently held on the campus of Stanford University in Stanford, California, is taking place this week. It bills itself as the longest-running women-only tennis tournament on tour, dating back to 1971.

Today, the most prestigious Californian tournament on the WTA Tour calendar, in terms of categorization and ranking points, would probably be the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, a Premier Tournament (a new category introduced this year for what were formerly Tier I and II events). But in terms of history and tradition, the Bank of the West Classic is in a league of its own along with its Southern Californian cousin, the LA Women's Tennis Championships, currently held in Carson.

It began on the Virginia Slims Tour in 1971 as the British Motor Cars Invitation, an indoor event played at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. In 1974, with the merger of the Virginia Slims and USLTA tours, it was renamed the Virginia Slims of California. In 1978, the event was not played as the season-ending Virginia Slims Championships were held at the Coliseum Arena in Oakland, across the bay. The Oakland Coliseum Arena became the permanent home for the event beginning in 1979. For a brief period from 1979 to 1982, it was called the Avon Championships of California, a time which coincided with Avon's sponsorship of the women's tour. The name reverted to the Virginia Slims of California in 1983 and lasted until 1992, when Bank of the West took over.

The event was always played at the beginning of the year, sometime between January and March but in 1990, it moved to November. 1996 was the last year it was held indoors and - for that year alone - at the Henry J Kaiser Arena. 1997 saw its most drastic change yet - it moved to Stanford, changed dates to July and changed surfaces to outdoor hardcourts. These changes have remained in effect to this date.

Martina didn't always have the best of success at this event, which is why I was surprised when I found out from Wikipedia that her five titles there remains a tournament record for most wins. For good measure, she also won the Virginia Slims Championships when it was played in Oakland in 1978. In doubles, she was the champion twice. Here's a look at her 8 wins in Oakland (all singles, unless otherwise noted):

1978: Virginia Slims Championships
def. Evonne Goolagong-Cawley 7-6 6-4

1979: Avon Championships of California
def. Chris Evert 7-5 7-5

1980: Avon Championships of California
def. Goolagong-Cawley 6-1 7-6

1984: Virginia Slims of California (doubles, with Pam Shriver)
def. Rosie Casals & Alycia Moulton 6-2 6-3

1988: Virginia Slims of California (doubles, with Casals)
def. Hana Mandlikova & Jana Novotna 6-4 6-4

1988: Virginia Slims of California
def. Larisa Savchenko 6-1 6-2

1993: Bank of the West Classic
def. Zina Garrison-Jackson 6-2 7-6

Despite the wins, this tournament is probably better known as the venue for a number of Martina's more spectacular "losses". At least that's how I always remember it. Some of those famous defeats in Oakland include - her loss to Hana Mandlikova in the 1984 final, which stopped her 54-straight match-winning streak, just one victory shy of Chris Evert's then record of 55; the only time Kathy Jordan ever beat her in singles was here in 1986, which was one of only 3 matches she lost all year; and then the heartbreaking loss to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the 1994 final, after being up 6-1 4-1 and serving for the match twice. There were other shocking upsets over the years - Terry Holladay in 1976, 17-year-old Claudia Kohde in 1981, Savchenko in 1989 - these are the ones that stick out in my mind.

I think I will have more to say this weekend. I might even try to dig up a few photos...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'm back?

Ok, so the last time I updated this blog was more than 3 years ago. I'm not sure if I'm going to start doing it all over again - Martina has been retired for 2 1/2 years now and news is hard to come by. But perhaps, whenever I feel like it, I could post a few things - maybe a new article or a recollection of a long-forgotten tournament. Or anything I want to talk about - even if it's not about Martina. It's a blog after all so I should feel free to say what I think, right?

We'll see how long I can keep this up...

In the meantime, how about a nice pic to celebrate my first post of the year? Martina did win the Ladies Invitation doubles title at Wimbledon earlier this month with Helena Sukova. Congrats!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

When in Rome...

Martina & Liezel are the #3 seeds at the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome this week. They have received a first round bye and their opponents in the second round will be either Marta Domachowska and Emmanuelle Gagliardi or Dinara Safina and Roberta Vinci. For the complete draw, courtesy of the WTA Tour website, click here.

Prague wrap-up

Well, as most of you know by now, Martina & Barbora lost their quarterfinal match in Prague on Thursday, 6-4 6-2 to Ashley Harkleroad and Bethanie Mattek. It is very sad that Martina's first WTA Tour event in her country of birth ended like this but perhaps she might have another chance next year.

For two English-language articles, click on the following links: Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, CTK.

There have been some great photos added to the gallery on the tournament website. Check out pages 2 and 3 especially for the recent ones. Some of them can also be found on the WTA Tour website with English captions (select Prague from the drop-down menu).

For a few Czech articles, click on the following links: Mlada Fronta Dnes, CTK, Moje Noviny.

Radio Prague has a wonderful interview with Martina on their website. You can also listen to the audio clip with Real Player. You can also listen to a Czech interview with Martina on Radio Prague's website after Thursday's loss. It is always fascinating to hear Martina speak in her native language - even though I don't understand a single word!

There's another interview with Martina on the Mlada Fronta Dnes website here.

Another early link that I had missed previously. Eurosport has a nice AFP article in French featuring a number of quotes from after Martina's first round victory here.

Click here for an article in Czech on Martina & Katerina Newmannova. From the photos on the tournament website, it looks like they had a joint autograph session together. It also appears that Martina played an exhibition match in Prague with Lucie Hradecka against up-and-coming Czech youngsters, the twins Karolina and Kristynia Pliskova per this article in Czech from Mlada Fronta Dnes. The match score, I think, was 7-6 7-5 but I'm not sure who won! Martina also got to practice with old rival, Helena Sukova (see photo on tournament website).

And you can read the transcripts of the chat with Martina on the website here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Quarterfinal in Prague

Martina & Barbora have a difficult quarterfinal match ahead of them tomorrow. They are scheduled to take on Ashley Harkleroad and Bethanie Mattek on CEZ Koloseum.

A few Czech links from Mlada Fronta Dnes. Here's one and here's another. And I think there's some sort of online chat planned with Martina sometime this week because of this link - there seems to be a list of questions submitted by fans to Martina, at least I think that's what it is. Martina was on the front page of the print edition of the newspaper and that was very nice to see. You can see a copy of the front page here (pdf file).

I found some photos of Martina on a website called Protennis. There are a few photos of Martina in that nice gallery.

And here is an English translation to an earlier Czech article by the CTK. Some nice quotes by Martina there.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

First round win in Prague

Martina & Barbora won their first round match today, defeating Olga Blahotova and Ahsha Rolle 6-2 6-3. There was a lot of media coverage of today's historic match - Martina's first ever WTA tournament win in her country of birth. No doubt, it was a day of high emotions for her. For a few English-language articles, click on the following links: Reuters, Associated Press, BBC.

For photos, check out the following links: Associated Press & Reuters photos on Yahoo! News; Getty Images, the official tournament website and Mlada Fronta Dnes.

For Czech articles, here are the links: Mlada Fronta Dnes, CTK, Lidove Noviny. I was also able to locate an additional few interviews with Martina in the Czech media: Mlada Fronta Dnes, the Czech tabloid Blesk, Hospodarske Noviny and Lidove Noviny. Again, if anyone can help with the translation, I would be most grateful. Thanks.