This match was the first match up on the Grandstand Court. The Grandstand is a very intimate setting for tennis. At times, you almost feel like you can reach out and grab the ball in mid-air. The sounds about the court are also unique ranging from unique bird calls to housekeeping's vacuum cleaners in the nearby rooms.
A media tag around one's neck always draws some attention with eager fans. At times, I feel as if I am on game show with the number of questions I am asked about the players. But I am always happy to oblige. Of course, in qualifying rounds the questions mostly encompass the likes of "Who are these players?" When questioned about who the lanky blond taking the court was, I answered "Bacheva." "What's her first name?" followed. I responded "Lubomira." "Oh, that is an interesting name" to which I responded, "Just the girl next door…as long as you live in Bulgaria." I decided to stay out of an increasingly heated discussion between a husband and wife of which Far Eastern country Meilen Tu hailed from -- though I would have gladly offered that she was an American.
The match started off with Bacheva dominating Tu. Bacheva served first on the very sunny side of the court and held easily. The players switched sides (no changeover break after the first game these days) and Tu struggled with her serve throwing in a couple of double faults and hitting short balls that Bacheva easily put away. Bacheva pulled out to a 3-0, one break lead. Early on it became evident that Bacheva's strength was her forehand that she most likely tries to model after her one of her idols, Steffi Graf.
In the fourth game (and back on the shadier side of the court), Tu finally started connecting with her serve and ground strokes. The diminutive Tu (only 5'4") started getting a little more aggressive with her shots often moving into the court with each successive stroke. Tu ended the game with an ace that Bacheva immediately questioned and continued to talk with the umpire upon sitting down on the changeover. On her first serve of the next game, Bacheva once again questioned the line call. Clearly rattled, Bacheva dropped her serve and Tu got the set even at 3-3.
With each player taking turns at streaky tennis, Bacheva and Tu settled down and played some solid tennis for the remainder of the set. Not surprisingly, the set would be decided by a tiebreak. Both players dug in and were suddenly grunting with each stroke. With another qualifying round still to go to get into the main draw, the first set would be crucial for conserving some entry for their next match. The players were knotted at 4-4 in the tiebreak when Bacheva committed some costly unforced errors to bring Tu to set point. Bacheva's second serve allowed Tu to hit an angled backhand into the short court and give Tu the first set after nearly an hour on the court.
At 6', Bacheva's serve is a potent one and the Bulgarian started to show it off in the second set. However, it would be Tu's serve that would continue to give the American some problems once again in the second set. At 3-2, Tu would toss in two double faults and give Bacheva the first break of the second set. In disgust, Tu banged her racquet against the court. The break seemed to inspire Bacheva and she quickly one the first two points on her next service game. During this game, Tu would have to replace her racquet though she was never given a code violation. Down 5-2 but only one break, Tu's serve continued to abandon her. Bacheva took the second set in fairly easy fashion at 6-2.
Tu's fragile mental state continued into the start of the final set. Not unlike the first set, Bacheva cruised to a 3-0, one break lead. The match appeared to be heading to a speedy conclusion as more and more of Tu's shots were hitting the net are floating past the baseline. It was not if Tu was not trying, but she was clearly not playing the game that won her the first set and kept her in the early stages of the second set. She lost her next service game at love. With Bacheva serving for the match at 5-0 in the final set, Tu's game suddenly resurfaced.
won her next service game at love to get on the board in the final set. Then,
the tennis phenomena of the inability to "serve out a match" and "playing
better when you are behind" both surfaced in the seventh game. Tu quickly
moved out to a 0-30 lead on Bacheva's serve before the Bulgarian fought back
to 30-30. A backhand volley at deuce that clipped the net and dribbled over
to Bacheva's side would give Tu the opportunity for game point. That lucky shot
made the crowd wonder if Tu could come back for the win. Tu would win the game
to get on the board at 5-2. Tu's momentum would continue as she got to 40-0
on her next service game. She would squelch the lead allowing Bacheva to get
back to deuce before taking the next two points for 5-3. Bacheva served for
the match for a second time. An overhead smash and a mishit short ball that
Tu could not get to gave Bacheva a 30-0 lead. Tu won the next point and then,
once again, the "tennis gods" appeared to be on Tu's side as an overhead
smash hit the tape and bounced over the net for 30-30. Bacheva however would
not be denied and won the next two points giving her a 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-3 victory.