Sponsored by IMG Academy

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

First Impressions of the Dow Corning Tennis Classic

©Colette Lewis 2007--

Midland MI--

It's my first visit to the USTA Women's Pro Circuit event in Midland and the 19 years they've spent perfecting their formula is evident.

The matches that I attended during the day session were free and for tennis fans with the day off, there was a chance to see both the No. 1 seed, Jill Craybas and the No. 2 seed, Laura Granville--if they didn't blink. Craybas, No. 67 in the current WTA rankings, took barely an hour to dispose of Anda Perianu of Romania, 6-2, 6-0 and Granville, 73 on the WTA computer, finished just as quickly, defeating Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Repbulic 6-1, 6-1.

After Roger Federer's blowout of Andy Roddick and Serena Williams' annihilation of Maria Sharapova in Australia, many fans debated whether they would classify those routs as enjoyable. I like close contests, but I also appreciate beautiful tennis, and there was absolutely no question that Laura Granville played near-perfect tennis today. I watched every game, and the pace and depth with which she struck the ball were astounding. Hradecka could also hit ferocious winners, but she couldn't do it as consistently as Granville, and her serve wasn't nearly as effective. A Granville fan standing behind me said it best--"she gives the ball a big fat smack, doesn't she?"

Hradecka probably erred in repeatedly giving Granville so much pace, but it was difficult to envision anyone outside of the top ten beating Granville as well as she played today. I didn't see the Craybas match--they were played simultaneously in different areas of the facility--but I suspect she played just as impressively.

I also had a chance to see some of wild card Lauren Albanese's 6-1, 6-4 win over Seiko Okamoto of Japan. After a lengthy first game, Albanese dominated the rest of the set, but the second set was anyone's when Albanese served at 4-4. Another marathon game transpired, but the 17-year-old from Florida finally held, and Okamoto couldn't handle the pressure of the 4-5 game, double faulting to give Albanese the win.

Albanese, by the way, was one of three players (Audra Cohen and Michelle Larcher de Brito were the other two) who admitted to me they had never experienced cold like the sub-zero readings that have settled into Michigan in the past week. I assured them that many Michiganders as young as they are have never felt it this cold either; it's been decades since temperatures have dropped and stayed this low here.

But even the bone-chilling weather didn't deter an impressive number of fans from the first night session of the tournament. This is where the tournament really shines--giving the night matches the feel of a top professional event. The valet parking, patron reception, VIP seating, free ice cream, ball runners, T-shirt tossing, deejays and master of ceremonies all contributed to the feeling that tournament director Erin Mazurek and her staff have created a special tennis festival for the city of Midland.

The feature evening match was much closer than those of the top two seeds, with unseeded Angela Haynes eliminating No. 8 seed Maria-Jose Argeri of Argentina 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. The tennis wasn't particularly distinguished, but it did have numerous changes in momentum, leaving the outcome unpredictable until Haynes went up 4-0 in the final set.

I left before the second match, which was a doubles first rounder, but on Wednesday I'll be there until very late. The first evening match is Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada against Brenda Schultz of the Netherlands; the second features Puerto Rico's Kristina Brandi and 14-year-old wild card Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal.

For complete draws and schedule, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.