NHO: The Wild Week That Was

by Nicholas McCarvel

Image

From a mystery mascot to Simona Halep‘s shocking run to the title, it’s been a wild and memorable week at the New Haven Open at Yale. We’ve tracked and chronicled much of it on the blog. Here, a look back at the week that was.

Ice Tennis, Anyone?
She wasn’t the New Haven champion this year (though she’s won here four times in the past), but Wozniacki was made an honorary Yale Bulldog Friday night by NCAA championship hockey team (courtesy of captain Andrew Miller), who presented her with a No. 1 jersey complete with her name on the back. How good is your puck work Caro? Maybe we’ll test that out next year.

Image

Martina Makes a Comeback
It was short-lived, but oh how awesome it was to see Martina Hingis back on the doubles court in New Haven. She and partner Daniela Hantuchova were taken out by doubles specialists Vania King and Cara Black in the first round, but not before Hingis thrilled the crowd with some of her throwback craft.

5 Minutes With…
Simona Halep. And Petra Kvitova. And Alison Riske. And Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Over the week’s time, we sat down with a healthy collection of the stars of the New Haven Open for quirky one-on-one interviews mostly about things other than tennis.

Picture 4

What celebrity would Halep spend a day with? What’s Liezel Huber‘s funniest on-court moment in her career? Riske goes shopping where, exactly? And Nastia is really good at… chess? That and more in this funny and revealing series.

Who Ya, Boola?
Long before the players arrived for this year’s tournament, the Yale mascot Boola was hitting the practice court – and that dog can play some good tennis. So who invaded Boola’s body? Check out this video to find out:


Around the Grounds We Go
From the food court to courtside to rain delays, art auctions and table tennis, we did our best to bring you the flavor of the New Haven Open in blog-sized bits. Perhaps one of the fun moments of the week? Watching top seed Sara Errani play some top-notch ball … on the ping pong table.

The Ladies of ESPN
ESPN and Tennis Channel were on site covering the tennis for parts of the week, but there were also a couple of special ESPN guests in Sage Steele (of SportsCenter fame) and Prim Siripipat (an ESPN anchor) at the Connecticut Tennis Center. Steele spoke at a New Haven Chamber of Commerce event and Siripipat hosted an aetna panel on healthy living for young girls. We chatted with both of them, doing a video Q&A with Sage and learning all about Siripipat’s past (and nicknames for Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, high school classmates of hers).

‘Most Likely To’ … The Top Stars Version
Who’s the funniest of our top four seeds? What about the most likely to be an actress? We asked those questions and more from Sara ErraniAngelique KerberPetra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki. What’d they have to say in response? Watch and see:


Oh Right, and Tennis!

There was plenty of tennis that happened throughout the week in New Haven, too. Simona Halep continued her fine form with a 6-2, 6-2 master performance over Petra Kvitova in the final. It was an almost-did week for four-time champion Caroline Wozniacki, who produced one of the tournament’s matches to remember in a blockbuster quarterfinal against Sloane Stephens. Sloane, along with fellow American Alison Riske, represented the red, white and blue well, winning a combined three matches (and Riske pushing Kvitova to a deciding set).

It was upset city for the tournament’s top two seeds, Sara Errani and Angelique Kerber, both who lost their opening matches after receiving opening-round byes. Those upsets were caused by two Russians – Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina – who along with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova became represented their country the best here since 2010, when four Russians made the final eight.

Last, Not Least
Doubles winner Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie, who won just the fourth tournament they played in together.

IMG_4194HP

5 Minutes With… Sania Mirza

by Nicholas McCarvel

IMG_2018 copy

Sania Mirza is one of the most famous tennis players in the world. She’s not a top-10 player, in fact, she doesn’t even play singles. But the 26-year-old is a megastar in her home country of India, having reaching a career high of No. 27 in 2007 and winning one career title in 2005. What’s most impressive is her doubles resume, which includes 16 titles – including the 2007 New Haven Open at Yale. She’ll go for a second NHO title Saturday. We caught up with her before she headed out on court.

New Haven Open blog: So congratulations on reaching your 25th doubles final. That’s awesome! How does it feel?
Sania Mirza: I actually didn’t know that until I won yesterday. It’s been good – it’s been a long almost ten years on tour. I’m excited because I’ve won this tournament once before so I’m excited to be back in the final again.

NHO: Is there one final in particular that sticks out in your mind? One that is extra special for some reason?
Mirza: No. Every final is special on its own. I always say when you lose a final you feel like the biggest loser in the world on that day. You might feel a little better two days later, but on that day you feel really bad because you can’t just walk off the court, you have to stay there and see the other players celebrating, it’s hard. There are some finals you play good and others not so much, but I remember the one final I’ve played here was really good.

NHO: Do you remember your first final? You won in Hyderabad in Indian with Liezel Huber.
Mirza: I do, yes, 2004. I was so young and with Liezel having so much experience really helped me through it. Playing a final is not just about playing it, it’s also about playing through the nerves because you’re playing for a championship. I remember that final well. I was 17 and Liezel really, really helped me.

NHO: Give us an update on the Sania Mirza Academy. It’s something you’ve been working on for a long time and have just started up this year, correct?
Mirza: We opened it three months ago and already have 45-50 kids which is great. The whole idea of the academy is to give back to the sport the best way possible and to me this is the best way that I know to give back my knowledge and experience. I don’t want tennis to go back to where it was ten years ago in India because it’s come far with the help of sport has famous personalities. The cricketers always take center stage, but tennis has become more popular too. I’m trying to help the kids and keep the tennis legacy going and move forward and not backward.

NHO: So we know that you do a lot of photo shoots, but which is harder: a day in front of the camera or a day on the tennis court?
Mirza: They are both very different, I have to say. When I’ve done photo shoots, initially, I thought they were sort of boring because I was so used to being active all day. Photo shoots take a really long time – up to seven or eight hours for each one. I enjoy it though; I enjoy being in front of the camera. When I was younger I loved getting dressed up and having my hair and make up done. But which is harder? Hitting tennis balls for sure. But they’re both fun [laughing].

NHO: We noticed on your Twitter feed that you send out a lot of inspirational quotes. What meaning do they have to you? Do you have a favorite?
Mirza: I like quotes; I’m a pretty emotional person even if I don’t show it. I have a lot of thoughts going on in my head. The quotes that I put out don’t necessarily mean what I’m feeling, but more what I’m thinking about and I like whatever quote that I put out day. It depends on the day and how I feel. It’s a tough tour out here; we’re traveling 30 weeks a year mostly by ourselves, so it can be lonely. You get a lot of time to yourself and to think.

NHO: In the middle of last year you completely stopped playing singles after several knee surgeries. Do you have any plan to going back to singles? Or is it just doubles for the foreseeable future? 
Mirza: It’s one of the hardest decisions I had to make when I stopped playing singles. I pushed my body as much as I could for so many years. Staying top 100 and top 50 for six or seven years really took a toll on my body with singles and doubles. I pushed it to the absolute limit and after my third surgery my body gave in; I was sort of forced to stop playing singles. It was a choice that I had to make to play doubles or play singles for up to a year and worry about getting hurt again. I love tennis too much to go through another surgery and have another hiccup. I’d rather play and set different goals for the next few years in doubles.

NHO: It was hard for you to pick a specific final, but what about one tennis memory in general that sticks out, is there one?
Mirza: A very special memory to me is the junior girls Wimbledon final when I won it with Alisa Kleybanova. We were the last team to get in the draw and we beat the top seeds in the first round and we thought, ‘Oh wow, we actually have a shot at this.’ The next thing we knew we were in the final. To win it on your first shot I think shows pretty good nerves and that’s how we played.

NHO: You also have two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles to your name.
Mirza: The first final I ever played in a Grand Slam was the Australian Open in 2008 and I was completely hurt, but we came back the next year and won it. I had torn my abductor very badly in the match before and Mahesh [Bhupathi] said to me, ‘Let’s not go on the court,’ and I said, ‘It’s my first final, I have to get on the court.’ And he knew me so well that hey knew I wasn’t not going to play and I was going to finish the match. There are so many thoughts that go through your mind at that point, like, ‘Is this the only final I’m ever going to play?’ But we came back and won it the next year. [They won again at the French Open in 2012.]

NHO: Pick one place in the world that you just love playing tennis in.
Mirza: Well, I love playing at Wimbledon, but I also love Indian Wells, too. It’s very quiet and there are the mountains and the desert. We’re there for almost two weeks so it feels very relaxed. I’ve done well there, too. My aunt lives in San Diego, so she’ll drive up and we get to spend time together. I love being with family.

NHO: Well thanks Sania. And good luck to you moving forward!

NHO Cheat Sheet: Wozniacki Gone, But Gets a Jersey

by Nicholas McCarvel

IMG_3828

So Long, Caroline
We’ll see you next year, right? Caroline Wozniacki lost her first full match in six years at the New Haven Open at Yale Friday night (she retired midway through her semifinal match a year ago) in a 6-2, 7-5 defeat at the hands of Simona Halep, who is one of hottest players on tour over the last four months, going 28-5 in 33 matches.

Let’s Just Be Friends
Petra Kvitova led Klara Zakopalova 6-0, 5-0 before relenting a single game against her friend and Czech compatriot. But Zakopalova – to the thrill of the crowd – would win a game to get on the board, going down 6-0, 6-1. “We are good friends,” Kvitova said after the win, though saying she never thought of giving Zakopalova the game. “She could beat anyone the way she was playing,” Zakopalova said after the loss.

Doubles Trouble
Facing a point to go down a set and 5-4, No. 2 doubles duo Anabel Medina Garrigues and Katarina Srebotnik won a long back-and-forth against Liezel Huber and Nuria Llagostera Vives, eventually winning the second set 7-5 and the match in a match tiebreak. That earned them the right to play in Saturday’s final against No. 3 seeds Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie, who secured their championship spot on Thursday night.

A Jersey for Caro
The Yale hockey team, who won the NCAA title last season, presented Wozniacki an honorary jersey after her loss.

IMG_3868 copy

Sarcasm from Petra
After winning three three-set matches in her opening rounds, Kvitova wasted no time in a 6-0, 6-1 effort on Friday. And then tweeted about it, with a smile:

Picture 1

5 Minutes With… Simona Halep

by Nicholas McCarvel

IMG_2795 copy

It’s been an epic few months for 21-year-old Simona Halep, a Romanian who was barely inside the top 70 heading into Rome in May and entered the New Haven Open at Yale as the world No. 23, just outside of a seeding for the event. Halep has continued her hot play this week, beating Daniela Hantuchova, Carla Suarez Navarro and Ekaterina Makarova to make her way into the semifinals. We caught up with Simona to chat about her dream city, a super power she’d love to have and more.

New Haven Open blog: You played handball growing up, is that right?
Simona Halep: I played in school. When I was in fifth through eighth grade, I played on a school team. We were competitive, but it was just at my school. I was playing tennis and it was the first priority for me. It was just for fun. When I’m home, I go to handball matches there to watch – it’s very popular in my hometown.

NHO: If you had to pick one city from all those that you travel to throughout the year to live in, which would it be?
Halep: Rome. I like the food there and the people – they are very relaxed; they talk a lot and they laugh a lot. I love mozzarella with tomato and olive oil. And pasta and pizza… they are all very good!

NHO: Does your great run there this year factor into your love for the city, too?
Halep: I don’t have a special place in my heart for it because I did well there, but I just love the place. I don’t have a special place [to play]… I want to do well everywhere.

NHO: Last year you had the chance to go to the Olympics. What was the most memorable part of that experience?
Halep: It was very cold! [Laughing.] It was fantastic. It was such a good memory. I had such a great experience playing tennis there and representing my country.

NHO: Name one super power you’d love to have if you could.
Halep: To fly, maybe? Actually, when I came here from Cincinnati I flew through Philadelphia and my flight from Cincinnati to Philadelphia was very bumpy and I changed my mind when we landed. So I rented a car instead. I wanted to drive from Philadelphia. Sometimes you just don’t want to go on the plane again. So we drove five hours. It was OK.

NHO: If you could spend the day with any celebrity, who would it be?
Halep: Gerard Butler! We would have pizza in Rome [laughing].

NHO: We noticed on Facebook that you’re especially good at taking selfies. What’s your method?
Halep: [Laughing.] OK… first, my hair. And then my nose. I tilt my head certain ways and make sure it all looks good. If not, I try again [laughing].

NHO: Brilliant. We’ll try those! Thanks Simona, good luck.

Lunching at the NHO: Taste, Tennis and Tasty Tennis

by Nicholas McCarvel

photo-5

Lunching in summer is one of my favorite things in life. Instead of packing a PB&J for media-center dining, I’ve made my way out to the food court at the New Haven Open at Yale these past few days, dining on picnic tables under the shade of sun umbrellas. There are a few tables that if you sit yourself in exactly the right place, you can see into the practice courts where the stars are warming up. In other words, tennis heaven.

I started the week at the Svedka Lounge (no, not for vodka… ) for their California sushi roll. Normally, I’m not a big sushi guy, but the rolls here – dabbed with ginger and soy sauce – hit the spot for a light bite, which feels especially right on hotter days.

On Wednesday it’s Joe Brandi’s, which has grilled chicken sandwiches and caesar salads and my personal favorite, a black bean veggie burger. I add American cheese to mine, just to make sure I get my daily dairy fill.

Local radio personality Bruce Barber does a “Lunch with Bruce” bit on the Connecticut stage, so I sit and listen as he muses about this and that. At one point, Sara Errani, the tournament’s top seed, walks by, en route to do an autograph signing. Up close she’s smaller than you might think, but if you study her physique you can see the Italian is all muscle – a total athlete.

photo-7

Thursday I didn’t just want dairy as part of my meal, I wanted it essentially for all of my meal, making my way to the Caseus Cheese Truck on the side of the food court. I went with the classic grilled cheese, throwing some arugula, tomato and spicy mustard to go along with it.

I walked over a stone’s throw from the food court to Grandstand, where a sizable crowd was taking in Ekaterina Makarova and Simona Halep doing battle. Good food and great tennis? You can’t get much better than that, as cheesy as it sounds (pun intended, of course…).

Plans for tonight? They might include the Svedka Lounge or the Ooh La La wine bar, I’ll just have to get the green light from my editor on that one…

photo-6

5 Minutes With… Petra Kvitova

Petra Kvitová at All Access Hour

Defending champion Petra Kvitova is back in the semifinals at the New Haven Open at Yale having won three straight three-set matches to get into the final four. We caught up with the 2011 Wimbledon champion to hear about her post-match routine, shopping habits and more.

New Haven Open blog: Another match, another three-set win. Tell us how you cool down after these matches.
Petra Kvitova: It’s good to have a massage and maybe an ice bath. The most important thing for me is sleep. I have to do press and then I go for a massage and have dinner and just relax. The thing I love to do is just go back to the hotel and lie in bed and Skype with family or friends or watch a movie. This week we have been to Basta [for Italian food] and a few other places. I don’t know where we are going tonight.

NHO: What about your coaching situation, it’s different this week right?
Kvitova: My coach is at home with his girlfriend who is expecting a baby in the next week. So for this week Petr Pala, the Czech Republic Fed Cup captain is here with me.

NHO: Are you in charge of planning a party for the new baby when it arrives?
Kvitova: I’ll be at the US Open when the baby is born, so I will be busy [laughing]. Should I bring back something? OK I will buy something in New York then.

NHO: What about some trophies from the New Haven and US Opens?
Kvitova: OK, I will bring back the trophies. It could be a nice picture, right?

NHO: You could reward yourself with a little shopping, too?
Kvitova: Well, I’m not the kind of a person to always buy something. I like to go and look around and if I really want something, I’ll get it. But I’m not shopping for things like I have to have them.

NHO: What are you doing to relax off the court when you’re on site here? Sometimes there are long breaks between practice and your match.
Kvitova: I love to be reading right now. That’s how I relax during the lulls. Right now I’m reading this murder mystery in Czech. I love it.

NHO: Do you ever happen to think about the book on court? Does your mind wander?
Kvitova: I never think about it on the court, no. Sometimes on court I’m not thinking about tennis the whole time, but that only happens when things aren’t going my way [smiling]. I have to tell myself to re-focus when that happens.

NHO: Yesterday because of a rain delay you were warming up on court and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was hitting with her partner adjacent to you on the same court. Was that strange for you?
Kvitova: In front of the fans it probably seems quite weird. But it’s normal for us – we are around each other in the locker room and know each other’s games. We are always saying hi, me and Nastia.

NHO: Last year we did a video with you where you explained the meaning of the middle name of our tournament director, Anne Worcester, because it is a Czech word.
Kvitova: Kaspar! Yes, I remember! Anne’s such a great, friendly person with me. I have seen her a few times and she’s always smiling and is such a great director for the tournament. She is good to everyone – the sponsors, the players, the physios – that’s not easy. That’s a big thank you to her.

NHO Auction: Tennis and Art Come Together for a Cause

by Nicholas McCarvel

IMG_2778 copy

Golf star – and boyfriend to New Haven Open regular Caroline WozniackiRory McIlroy didn’t make it in person to the Connecticut Tennis Center this year, but his swing did, immortalized in a dynamic and eye-catching piece of art just outside of Stadium Court.

The painting, along with one of four-time champion Wozniacki, are part of a silent auction being held through this weekend to benefit the Breast Cancer Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

“As an artist, it’s a no-brainer to plug in with these athletes,” said the painter, Brendan Murphy. His company, Solfire, is also the tournament’s official clothing sponsor, providing an added tie-in to the cause.

“We love to be a part communities that our brand is connected with, and this felt right.”

The paintings are doused in color and include quotes and phrases pertaining to each of the athletes. Murphy has done similar projects for the likes of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

“I actually know Caroline and Rory,” Murphy explained. “The paintings themselves are representative of my other sports series. It’s not photo-realism, but there are representative bits in the process. I try to use a lot of color to get some level of movement and provide more depth and dimension.”

The dimensions of the paintings themselves are almost life size, with the McIlroy painting standing five feet tall and nearly four feet wide.

Murphy’s art and paintings are often used as inspiration for Solfire gear, like some of the apparel found in the tournament’s pro shop.

As for the Wozniacki and McIlroy works, Murphy said he hopes bidders in New Haven will see the value not only in the paintings, but in what they’re going to help.

“Who knows. This could be our golf shirt logo at some point down the road,” he said. “But I hope it helps some people out first. That’s our point here.”

WANT TO BID? Head to the Ooh La La wine bar, just shy of Stadium Court. The silent auction closes Saturday, at the tournament’s conclusion.

NHO Cheat Sheet: Caro Chases 5th, Petra’s Lucky 29

by Nicholas McCarvel


Petra’s Stunning Stat

She’s one of tennis’ biggest hitters, but who knew that she was its marathon woman, too? Petra Kvitova won 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Thursday, marking the third straight three-setter she’s played at the New Haven Open at Yale this year. But the defending champ has an even more unique stat to her name: she’s played 29 three-setters this season, the most of any top 100 player. The defending champion’s victory over the Russian moved her record to 18-11 in those matches. Might she need a couple more to repeat in New Haven? Maybe. Meanwhile, watch her relax – and crack herself up – in a hilarious ‘Would you rather?’ video above.

Six for Six and a Fifth for Caro?
Want to make Caroline Wozniacki feel old? Just bring up her accomplishments here in New Haven. The Dane is into her sixth semifinal in six appearances at the Connecticut Tennis Center. But can she win a fifth trophy? “I’ve got two more tough matches to do it,” she said Thursday night.

Knocking on the Door
Two semifinalists – Petra and Caroline – might be household names for many fans, but their opponents Friday probably are not. Yet Simona Halep and Klara Zakopalova are respected in tennis circles, Halep having gone on quite the run this season with three WTA titles to her name and a whopping 27-5 record since early May. Zakopalova, a journeywoman of sorts, is ranked No. 33 in the world and is perhaps best known for her three-set scare against eventual champion Maria Sharapova at the French Open last year – the only player to take a set off Maria that tournament.

Smiles from Caro
23-1? Not bad, Caro. She’s all smiles with a wave to the crowd (in stadium and at home) and into her sixth straight New Haven semifinal.

Caro wave

Oh, the Rain Delay

by Nicholas McCarvel

Image

Tennis is an outdoor sport. Well, at least at the New Haven Open at Yale – and at a majority of pro events – it is. That means factors like weather can come into play when it comes to play, stopping or starting it with the change of the winds.

MORE: Draws and Schedule of Play | Thursday’s Cheat Sheet | NHO Up Close

This tournament has withstood plenty from Mother Nature: the earthquake in 2011 followed by Hurricane Irene blowing in jump to mind. This year, there has been minor rain here and there, delaying things at the start of Monday night and then again today, first downpouring in the morning and then coming in fits and starts for much of the afternoon.

Throughout the grounds, however, the tournament continues just as it should: people go and eat in the food court, music blasts over the loud speakers in Stadium Court as the brave camp out under umbrellas, patiently awaiting tennis.

Court crews come out when the precipitation subsides, bringing blowers known as Little Wonders to blast the surface with air for quicker drying.

In the depths of the stadium the WTA officials team works furiously at re-arranging the schedule while they keep one eye on the weather radar. Today, two matches had to be moved to Grandstand because of the ensuing bad weather. Upstairs, in the ESPN booth, Rennae Stubbs and Cliff Drysdale have a snack break and thumb through Twitter as there’s no live tennis to be called.

There are plenty of calls for tournament director Anne Worcester to make as she buzzes from one tent to the next, stopping at the Ooh La La wine bar for a few hellos as the radio in her ear hums with plans for what’s next.

What is next is tennis to come. Players are soon announced back on court and fans stream back into Stadium Court. The biggest question is this: Who can use the break to their advantage? The delay – just like an off forehand or bad movement – plays a part in every tennis match it affects.

Lori Riley Awarded Dave Solomon Media Award

New Haven Open media manager Matt Van Tuinen pens a post on the annual award handed out to an outstanding member of the press.

Image

Matt Van Tuinen, tournament director Anne Worcester and Lori Riley. Photo by Richard Messina.

Tuesday evening the New Haven Open at Yale recognized Hartford Courant journalist Lori Riley with the Dave Solomon Media Award, which was created two years ago to memorialize the New Haven Register columnist, who lost his life in a car accident.

The award was designed to recognize the qualities that defined him as a journalist – exceptional talent and integrity, and someone who has been vital in covering, promoting and supporting the New Haven Open over the years.

Lori has been covering tennis in New Haven since the Volvo International days (back in the early ’90s!), and her writing about the tournament has ranged from in-depth player features to off-court angles to more personal profiles about people working at the tournament.

She is a consummate professional, and someone I truly enjoy working with. Congrats to her on this special award!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.