April 17, 2010

No Way to Win -- or Lose

The first semifinal at the Family Circle Cup ended abruptly on Saturday when top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki was forced to retire from her match against Vera Zvonareva with what looked like a very painful ankle injury.

Last week's winner in Ponte Vedra hadn't dropped a set in Charleston, looking in top form against Patty Schnyder in the third round and battling through a feisty Nadia Petrova last night. She had gotten herself down a break to start the match, but we've seen in the past how capable she is of coming back. I wasn't worried.

But with Zvonareva serving at 40-30 in the sixth game of the match, we watched one of the best points of the tournament. The nineteen-year-old was able to get to one drop shot, but couldn't put away a volley to end the point. Instead both ladies got back to the baseline and traded a few strong forehands. Vera tried another short ball, but this time Caroline couldn't quite reach it, and when she tried to stop short she twisted her ankle and fell to the ground as a collective gasp rose from the watching crowds.

Wozniacki was carried off court, where she sat a few minutes icing her foot and trying to tape it in place. I have to admit I was surprised when she tried to come back and play. When I asked her about it in her press conference later, she said:

"I wanted to see if it was possible, and I was surprised that I could stand on my leg, which was very positive actually. But as soon as I was moving to the sides, it was impossible, so I couldn't play."

She retired while trailing the Russian 2-5. But as she pointed out, she was able to walk off the court -- hopefully a good sign for a speedy recovery.

Vera couldn't have felt good about the sequence off events -- it was, after all, just last year when she tore two ligaments in her own ankle when chasing down a ball at this very tournament. That injury caused her to pull out of the French Open and forced her to miss almost two months of play. In her press conference she said that watching Caroline gave her flashbacks and made her think she was having pain in her ankle again.

But Vera will have to push that out of her mind tomorrow when she plays the winner of the Sam Stosur/Daniela Hanutchova match that's going on now -- as she said, "It's great to be in the finals, but it's not great to be in the finals this way...I'll try to just come back on the court tomorrow and do my best."

And hopefully for Caroline, the runner-up here last year, recovery will be quick. She'll be getting an MRI tomorrow and then reassess the rest of the clay court season and her prospects for the French Open. I know fans will want to see her back soon.

As for her opponent, who made the final whether by default or not, she had some nice things to say.

"She's definitely a good player. She's been playing well this week, and Vera's going to be a tough opponent to beat tomorrow. "

Having watched those first few gamed, I'd have to agree.

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