Tennis: Tournament ending matches weather

By Dylan Cleaver

Cina's Zheng Jie. Photo / Natalie Slade
Cina's Zheng Jie. Photo / Natalie Slade

It was an appropriately wet ending to a waterlogged weekend.

Fourth-seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta yielded to an injury early in the third set after watching the unfancied Zheng Jie fight her way back into the ASB Classic final.

It was a disappointing end to a day that looked grim from the moment the curtains parted to reveal yet more drizzle. Organisers and the WTA, the governing body of women's tennis, had hoped yesterday's holdover would allow the singles final to be played outdoors, but persistent rain made that the impossible dream.

Instead, tennis centre staff were sweeping the indoor court in preparation for the final. These types of situations always come with recriminations - from players who want to play outdoors, to spectators who want all their money back, to concession-holders looking at industrial-sized bags of frozen chips once destined for the deep fryer - but what can you do? It's an outdoor tournament taking place in the midst of the most miserable summer in living memory. The only people happy about current meteorological affairs are North Island dairy farmers and sun-bed salon owners.

Still, you could not deny that it was a bizarre scene. Corporate box-holders were shoe-horned into one end of the hangar while ticket-holders were left with the option of watching the match in the stands on the tenuously titled "big screen", or decamping to their lounge rooms.

The 11 people who stayed to watch from the stands were presumably those who had driven too far to get back home in time or don't subscribe to Sky TV. The decision to keep ticket-holders out of the hangar was made for safety reasons, but fairness had to come into it as well. There was no capacity to get everyone inside and you couldn't allow some in while denying access to others.

Those clinking cutlery in the makeshift boxes were treated to a match played in a slightly surreal atmosphere. You needed consistent reminders that this was, in fact, a bona fide WTA final played between two top-50 players. Every sound, from the dull "thwunk" of each shot to the whirring click of cameras, reverberated around the hangar.

The tennis was mildly interesting rather than enthralling. Pennetta started as Ayumi Morita and Svetlana Kuznetsova had previously done against Zheng - in control and by taking the first set - but everything changed at 4-2 in the first set. "I was starting to go down with my leg to be ready for the return and suddenly the pain would come," Pennetta said. "I looked at the trainer and told her to come in because it was getting worse and worse and worse." The Italian will have an MRI scan and has pulled out of the singles in Sydney, though will wait until tomorrow to make a decision on doubles.

Regarded as one of the hardest-working players on tour, there is no suggestion Pennetta tanked when the ball didn't start bouncing her way.

"Tennis is like this, it can happen. We try to be healthy all the time, to play singles, doubles, mixed, whatever, but sometimes you cannot do that because your body needs a few days of rest or something. I hope it is not a big injury."

Initially the lower back pain didn't seem to affect her game. The losing singles and doubles finalist reeled off the next three games and looked on course for victory and to make her 6.40pm flight to Sydney in plenty of time. Zheng is no respecter of airline timetables, however, and continued to fight. "She was unbelievable, like playing a PlayStation," Pennetta graciously said of her opponent's ability to retrieve balls.

Zheng, the world No 48 before this week, and her husband-coach Chang Yu will not care a jot about the way victory was achieved. Her goal is to break back into the world top 30 and her fourth WTA title will go a long way towards that.

"The first set was a bit tough for me, there were many games that went to deuce and I lost three games from deuce," she said. "My husband came to the court and told me I still have a chance, it was just a few points I lost. He told me to keep fighting, just like before. I always want to fight on the court."

The game

Zheng Jie (China) bt Flavia Penetta 2-6, 6-3, 2-0 (retired hurt).

- NZ Herald

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