Doha: Zvonareva d. Wozniacki

VzRod Laver said that if you want to understand what Roger Federer does well, forget everything else and just watch his feet. To understand what Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva do well, I like to watch their opponents' faces.

We know both have variety in their games, and I’m convinced they have more power than they are given credit for. But perhaps most importantly, both have the underrated ability to drive an opponent unequivocally nuts. The opponent’s face is where you often see that.

In today’s Doha final, which Zvonareva won 6-4, 6-4, I likely missed the most telling expression—the one on Wozniacki’s face when she lost the first set. Zvonareva saw Wozniacki, and I saw Zvonareva. Which is how I know it must have been good. Wozniacki made her way to the net only to have Zvonareva hit yet another sweet lob over her backhand side. It dropped in, but not by much. Zvonareva looked over at Wozniacki, raised her hand (in apology?), looked back down and, as she walked to her chair, seemed to make a concerted effort not to look over again.

Chances are, what she saw on Wozniacki’s face was frustration and a few more unprintable emotions. Chances are, it’s because Zvonareva did a lot of what both are known for, but did it better and more often.

Zvonareva hit terrific passing shots, threw in lovely lobs, pulled out crafty drop shots—a few times all in the same point. She played defense as well as Wozniacki but had better offense today, as evidenced by the winner counts. Zvonareva hit 30 winners to Wozniacki’s 18. Both made roughly the same number of errors—25 and 24, respectively. Zvonareva didn’t serve as well as she did yesterday against Jelena Jankovic, when she channeled her inner Serena Williams and served up nine aces. But Wozniacki, for her part, didn't play as aggressively as she did in her semi against Marion Bartoli. Still, this was a good match, with both players covering a lot of court to stay in points and using a lot of court to finish them.

It was their eight match in all, and third straight as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. They’re now tied with four wins each. This win earned Zvonareva her 11th singles title and her first, surprisingly, in more than a year.

If I were Wozniacki’s biggest fan, I might want her going into the French Open with a mild flu, or at least a cough and cold. She wasn’t feeling so hot here, figuratively. “After my Dubai win, I’ve been under the weather,” she said on her blog. “I’m feeling sick, so I just relax in my room, drinking a lot of water and trying to get better for my matches.” That may explain why she continued the aggressive tennis she played in the Dubai final last weekend. Perhaps unable or unwilling to stay in points for a Wozniacki-esque duration of time, she went for more. “I had to go for my shots,” she said after her quarterfinal win against Flavia Pennetta. Perhaps that’s how her fans and casual watchers want her to feel all the time? During her match against Bartoli, it’s certainly what led commentators to pull out adjectives like “supreme” and “unstoppable.”

Wozniacki didn’t stop with the quotable quotes either. Consider her comments on what she’d do if she had to play herself (“I would put up the white flag and say, I don’t want to play”); Egypt (“I don’t think you can compare playing a tennis match to what’s going on at the moment”); and whether she “wanted to go out and crush” Bartoli after having lost to her a few times before this tournament (“Well, I don’t even know what to answer to that one”).

If I were Zvonareva’s biggest fan, with the next Slam just a few months away, I’d like her current position: Successful enough that she’s ranked No. 3, but not so successful, or perhaps not considered newsworthy enough, that she gets as much attention as the players trading the two spots above her. Not to go all Mies van der Rohe here (I’m from Chicago, so I’m allowed), but in women’s tennis, where pre-Slam attention is concerned, less is more.


—Bobby Chintapalli