It’s Serena all the way

K. GOPINATHAN

After a lay-off following the Australian Open, and a gum-surgery, Serena Williams made a comeback of sorts by winning the singles title in Bangalore. K. C. Vijaya Kumar reports.

“There is nothing serene about the Bangalore Open,” screamed a hoarding on a road leading to the KSLTA Courts. Next to the teaser-line was a picture of Serena Williams playing one of her big booming shots. It was as though the ad copy-writer had peered into the crystal ball, for when the Canara Bank Bangalore Open concluded on the night of March 9, it was Serena who sported the winners’ smile, winked at the shutterbugs and blew a few kisses to her fans.

Serena, seeded No. 3, defeated fourth-seeded Patty Schnyder of Switzerland 7-5, 6-3 in the final. The American picked up US$95,500 for the win, while Schnyder took home US$51,000.

The final pitted Serena’s muscular approach, with which she bludgeons most players into submission, against Schnyder’s game built on deft angles, a whiplash forehand and the ability to hang in. In fact, prior to the start of the week-long tournament, India’s tennis legend Vijay Amritraj said, “Watch out for Schnyder, she has got a solid game.”

Serena won the hard-fought first set which was replete with rallies. She fired in deep serves and then followed up with her cross-court winners, while the left-handed Schnyder often whipped in swerving forehands and also came up with a few drop shots. The second set, however, proved to be an anti-climax as Schnyder slipped from a 3-1 lead.

“I guess my intensity and concentration went to Switzerland,” Schnyder said later.

Serena won the next five games to wrap up the match. The victory was some sort of a comeback for Serena after a lay-off following the Australian Open and a gum-surgery. “After the pain I had undergone in the last two and a half weeks I am glad to be here and winning,” she said.

Earlier, the semifinal clash between Serena and her sister Venus did not exactly drip sibling rivalry. Serena upset her fancied elder sister, who was seeded No. 2, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4).

The premature clash between Serena and Venus was because of the draw that placed the sisters in the same half. “It would have been nice if we had met in the finals,” said Venus and Serena in unison. But it was not to be.

Doubles winners, Shuai Peng and Tiantian Sun of China.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Schnyder cut short

Uzbekistan’s Akgul Amanmuradova, meanwhile, acquired the reputation of a giant-killer, as she ousted defending champion Yaroslava Shvedova and fifth-seeded Agnes Szavay before losing to Schnyder in the quarterfinals. While Amanmuradova buzzed briefly, Bangalore’s ‘altitude-factor’ played a big part in the tournament as the players had to cope with the variable bounce and ball speed and adjust their game plan accordingly.

After Jankovic’s exit from the singles, it was the turn of the top-seeded Taipei pair, Yung Jan Chan and Chuang Chia Jung, to succumb in the doubles. The duo did well to reach the final but came up against a Chinese wall literally as Shuai Peng and Tiantian Sun won 6-4, 5-7, 10-8.

The Indian challenge, weakened by Sania Mirza’s absence, fizzled out as Isha Lakhani and Shikha Uberoi crashed out in the first round itself. And in these controversial times of Indian tennis, Sunitha Rao precipitated matters by pointing an accusing finger at the organisers, the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA), for making her play the qualifiers while the lesser-ranked Lakhani and Uberoi were given wild cards.

The Open was a test of Bangalore’s eligibility to continue as the host of the Tier II tournament. Larry Scott, the WTA CEO, said that the minimum standards for hosting such an event had been met by Bangalore, but added a rider — “an awful lot still needs to be done.”

The tournament director and KSLTA secretary Sunder Raju said that efforts are on to fine tune the facilities and to ensure that the Tier II status stays with the Bangalore Open.

After a lukewarm response during the week days, the crowds came in large numbers on the weekend and the late-comers were greeted by ‘tickets sold-out’ sign. “On the Tour, there are not many tournaments where we get people on the first few days. I thought that the crowd support was good, especially in the weekend,” Schnyder said.

As the dust settled down on the KSLTA courts, all that lingered were the halo of the Williams sisters and the hope that the Bangalore Open will continue to enjoy the Tier II status next year even as the WTA is whittling down the number of Tier I and II tournaments to give the players more breathing space.

The results

Singles final: 3-Serena Williams (US) bt 4-Patty Schnyder (Switzerland) 7-5, 6-3.

Semifinals: Serena Williams bt 2-Venus Williams 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4); Patty Schnyder bt Zi Yan (China) 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles final: 3-Shuai Peng & Tiantian Sun (China) bt 1-Yung Jan Chan & Chuang Chia Jung (Taipei) 6-4, 5-7, 10-8.

Semifinals: Shuai Peng & Tiantian Sun bt Chunmei Ji & Shengnan Sun (China) 6-3, 6-2; Yung Jan Chan & Chuang Chia Jung bt Dzehalevich (Belarus) & M. Niculescu (Romania) 6-1, 7-5.