The WTA season is long and often grueling, as much for the spectators as the players. Where a player need only worry about winning or losing, those viewing and analyzing the sport are left the unenviable task of pondering what it all means. How is the Tour’s greater narrative being propelled vis-à-vis this match, this rivalry, this first serve percentage?
So one could imagine the relief one feels as the Tour rolls into stops like Katowice, International events where the fields are smaller, the stakes are lower, and one can sit back and actually enjoy the tennis. Thanks to the WTA’s Roadmap format, which allows only a smattering of its marquee names at each of these tournaments, the Tour has struck an interesting balance between big names and quality entertainment. For those moved to tune in, the motto seems to be, “Come for the best, stay for the rest.”
The promise of seeing top 10-ers like Petra Kvitova play events they seem all but assured of winning is enough for casual fans to fire up a stream and watch a familiar player in her comfort zone. For the diehards, it is a rare opportunity to see the spotlight shown on how the other half of the WTA Tour lives. Names we see perennially peppered into draws of 128 are finally matched with faces because –surprise!– they’re your Katowice quarterfinalists! Players who are sullen as they take quiet beatings from big names have the chance to be effusive in victory. The stakes may be lower for the viewer, but for those unseeded and looming, it might be the peak of their year.
Yet, much like viewing a Jacob Riis photo, your standard International match might be met with some shock. The player whose screen time is reduced to homemade YouTube clips is suddenly on Center Court, and sometimes fans don’t like what they see (or hear). Those who tuned into Katowice became intimately acquainted with Alexandra Cadantu, one of the lesser-known members of the burgeoning Romanian contingent.
Perhaps best known for her double-bagel loss to eventual champion Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros, Cadantu arrived in Poland with admirable International-level credentials, that most recently included a run to the quarterfinals of Bogota. As a qualifier, she took out the struggling Sabine Lisicki and two countrywomen to book a quarterfinal meeting with the resurgent Shahar Peer. The Israeli star, once a handful of matches from the top 10 in 2011, has tumbled from her position of promise to the point where her and Cadantu, both outside the Top 100, were essentially equals.
As equals, Cadantu and Peer played one of those backyard brawler matches that is rarely afforded a TV court. The biting, scratching and clawing done with racquet and ball was a stark reminder to viewers that we had left the serene gardens of Indian Wells and were far from the peaceful lawns of Wimbledon. In one of those matches destined to go the distance, it was clear that the two were not in the position to take losing lightly. This was a match that would not be decided by stunning winners or shot-making; it would be one fully determinant on grit and nerves.
Those nerves became more apparent when Cadantu got out to an early lead in the third. Her “Haide!” (Romanian for “Come on!”) celebrations became more vocal when a point would end in her favor. Commentators called it hindrance while fans called it classless. Whatever you call it, it was obviously irritating Peer, who attempted verbal retaliation of her own and even clawed back to level terms. But Cadantu would not be stopped. The Romanian who, against Sharapova, appeared weaponless and ineffective, was able to show off her scrappy resilience against a less powerful Peer, who appeared to fade as the match reached its conclusion.
Those offended by Cadantu’s perceived antics were likely glad to see the comeuppance the Romanian received from Petra Kvitova in the next round. But do we have the right to such moral indignation? With her run to the semifinals, Cadantu rose up to No. 95, hardly threatening the top 80, let alone top 50. Far from a more illustrious court where players like Kvitova herself engage in shockingly loud celebrations, Alexandra Cadantu was in Katowice where, for a brief moment, she gets to be the story, the star. It may have not been Parisian dirt, but for the Romanian (and those like her), these International events are, and can be, paradise.