Friday Blogging From Amelia Island
by Richard Vach | April 7th, 2006, 8:22 pm
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Holy Cow, you couldn’t pay me to come to this tourna…wait, I guess Tennis-X did.

Sitting courtside at the “featured” night match between virtual unknown No. 15 seed Lucie Safarova and American journeywoman Jill Craybas, you have to ask — why?

Was No. 1 seed Nadia Petrova not feature-match material earlier in the day? How about former US Open winner and recent Miami winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, who earlier upset No. 2 seed Patty Schnyder? Night fans would have enjoyed that.

Tournament organizers must have thought it enough for a University of Florida grad in Craybas to take the spotlight, with fans occasionally shouting “Let’s go Gator!”

Safarova is up a set and 2-0. It is a crushing baseline display, and the rare instance when either venture anywhere near the net is a recipe for unskilled disaster.

A crying baby in the stands just gave Safarova pause while she was serving — I feel ya kid, as these famous Florida “no-see-um” bugs are eating me alive, I feel like crying too.

Safarova is all legs and arms, with a nasty left-handed forehand — the point-ender — coming off the “Roger Federer racquet,” as Pete Sampras is so fond of calling it, the Wilson nCode. Her second serve is also nasty, as in nasty-bad — something you’d see a club player spin in the box, registering in the 70s on the radar gun.

The 1996 Florida grad Craybas is all rock-hard abs and all-powerful Babolat racquet that occasionally launches a ball that almost hits the fence. Craybas nonetheless works her major weapon, scrappiness, in making Safarova hit an extra ball per point, but it’s not fazing the Czech who is a service game away from a bagel in the second set.

In one of the uber-large trees that protrude in all four corners of the stadium court, as dusk decends a Mockingbird mocks the silence of Safarova bouncing the ball before her serve. The Czech teen, not one for distractions, promptly drops her serve to give Craybas the saving-face game before eventually closing the set and match out 6-2, 6-2 in under an hour. Nice feature match.

Amelia Island is a quaint little club setting that at times, walking through the site, resembles more a nature preserve than world-class tennis event — but that’s how organizers like it, and that’s how players like it as well — at least the players that show.

The event took a hit this year when the WTA designated Miami, the week before Amelia, as a mandatory tournament, convincing many player to take this week off before taking to the grind of claycourt events leading to the French Open.

After Safarova’s romp the on-court announcer basically begs fans to stay for the doubles, which they do.

Amelia regularly pulls in big names, but this year the late withdrawals of Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce left the event virtually starless, with not-Maria-Sharapova Russians Nadia Petrova and Svetlana Kuznetsova left to carry the load. The Williams sisters are perpetually injured or involved in non-tennis affairs, Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters who’ve had their share of injuries are taking the week off after poor showings in Miami, and Sharapova is off after her Miami runner-up effort.

Would it have hurt the WTA to throw a chunk of money at Martina Hingis, Amelie Mauresmo or the Belgians to come save the Amelia event? Or did they, and they didn’t have the media acumen to publicize it?

Amelia Island organizers also need to receive some heat for continuing to promote Davenport and Pierce as the headliners this week in commercials and on billboards to save ticket sales, days after the two announced they wouldn’t be showing.

In the end Amelia Island v.2006 is a testament to the injury troubles that seem to guarantee more than not in this modern age of tennis that your favorite star won’t be there come the Monday kick-off of the event.

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