Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2014 BSA's: The Power of More than One

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Umm, and vice versa.

Hmmm, what to make of the 2014 WTA season? And, even more so, how to sift through the odd happenings to determine the true "Ms. Backspin" honoree for Player of the Year? It's been quite a game of musical chairs... or is it hot potato?

Rarely has a WTA campaign been so difficult to get a firm handle on. In January, Li Na won the Australian Open and '14 seemed as if it might finally become the grand coronation to her career that had always eluded her. Ultimately, the coronation came... but so did her retirement at the end of the summer. Maria Sharapova dominated the clay court season again, but failed to end her decade-long drought against Serena Williams and couldn't end her season on a high note by re-claiming the #1 ranking. Petra Kvitova won another Wimbledon title, but battled her inconsistencies throughout the year before rising to the occasion once more in the Fed Cup final. Meanwhile, Serena was still looking for her first '14 Round of 16 result in a major this season when she arrived in New York. She won there, "saving" her season, but not totally erasing the bad taste of "B"-level (or worse) Serena that had ruled the day in Melbourne, Paris and London.

In the end, it seems perfectly fitting that not only did four different women lift major title trophies this season, but eight reached the finals at the four grand slams, something which had only happened once in the Open era, in 1977. Throw in the fact that the most consistent grand slam performers -- Simona Halep and Genie Bouchard -- failed to actually win their first major crowns, while Ana Ivanovic led (or placed second to Serena) the tour in a handful of categories, but is still looking for her first slam semifinal result since 2008, and you have a season where what would normally be the "usual suspects" in the POY debate all have a few too many legitimate arguments against them to truly seem to have "earned" the designation.

It made for an exciting, unpredictable season. But who was truly worthy of Player of the Year? And, really, was anyone? Or was 2014 one of those sort of indefinable seasons that beg for a shared "Ms. Backspin" award that honored something more substantial, though less tangible, than simple, old fashioned individual accomplishment?


Here are the final "Ms. Backspin" rankings for 2014:

1. Czech Fed Cup Team
...in the end, the Czech Republic's third Fed Cup championship in the last four years was elementary. Petra Kvitova's three-hour triumph over Angelique Kerber in Match #3 clinched a singles sweep in Prague for the Maidens, and the celebration was on. Oh, but it all came so close to not happening at all.

It's easy to forget now, but the Czechs' run to the the '14 title nearly short-circuited barely after it'd kicked off. In February, with team leader Kvitova out with a respiratory illness, the Czechs faced off with the Spaniards in a 1st Round tie on the road in Seville. Not only was Kvitova out, but Czech #2 Lucie Safarova was also limited due to illness, being scheduled to only possibly be able to play doubles (if necessary) on the weekend. But Mother Nature intervened. Rain marred both days of action over the weekend, as it took six hours to complete a 52- minute match (won by Spain's Carla Suarez-Navarro over replacement -for- a- replacement Barbora Zahlavova -Strycova) on Saturday. With just one match in the books for Day 1, Day 2 didn't even achieve that less -than- lofty goal, and only a set and two games were completed in Match #2 before things were called off and the tie was extended to a third day.

On Monday, after Klara Koukalova finished off Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (but not until after dropping six straight games from the jump to allow the Spaniard to erase her 6 -3/2- 0 lead and send things to a 3rd set) to level the score at 1-1, CSN again gave the Spaniards the lead with a victory over Koukalova, as the Czech was forced to play back-to-back matches. With the extra time to recuperate once again making her available to Captain Petr Pala on the singles bench, Safarova was called into action to save the day. As was the case in the '12 final when a recently-bedridden Kvitova couldn't gather the energy to pull off her customary two-victory performance, Safarova rose to the occasion, downing Silvia Soler-Espinosa in three sets to send things to the deciding doubles match. In Match #5, with Czechs' Andrea Hlavackova & BZS trailing CSN & SSE 6-5 in the 1st set tie-break, Hlavackova shanked an easy volley, seemingly putting the Czechs down once again in the tie, only to be surprised to see her shot catch a line on Spain's side of the net and knot the score at 6-6, saving a second set point.

The rest, as they say, is history. From that point forward, the Czechs dominated Fed Cup for the remainder of 2014.

Hlavackova & BZS won the tie-break 9-7, then took the 2nd set 6-3 to clinch a 3-2 road win over Spain and send the Maidens to a sixth straight FC semifinal. In the spring, with Kvitova and Safarova back in full force, the Czech Republic destroyed the defending champion Italian squad on a home indoor hard court in Ostrava, winning in a 4-0 sweep. It was the fourth meeting between the two nations in the last five years, and in each of the previous meetings the winner would ultimately be crowned Fed Cup champs for the season. The trend continued in '14.

By the time Kvitova defeated Kerber to secure the title with a 3-0 advantage in the final tie against Germany, since CSN had given Spain a 2-1 advantage in the 1st Round nine months earlier, the Czechs had won nine straight matches (7-0 in singles, 2-0 in doubles). The string only ended when Germany won a "dead rubber" doubles match to officially make the score 3-1 in the final. As the Maidens danced around the court, once again, in celebration of a Fed Cup final triumph, the memory of what almost happened back in February couldn't help but linger, along with the notion of the teamwork and never-give-up attitude it took for the Czechs to get there. In all, five different women had a hand in notching match wins in three 2014 FC ties, including all four team members in the multiple comebacks it took to prevail over Spain in the first outing of the season.

In a season when up sometimes seemed like down, and down was often shoulder-to-shoulder with up, the Czechs proved that the true strength of 2014 came in numbers. And their names were Petra, Lucie, Klara, Barbora and Andrea. All for one, and one for all... and that's good enough for me to bestow this year's "Ms. Backspin" upon each and every contributing member of the Czech Fed Cup team.

In the end, after so many questions, it just feels like the right thing to do.

2. Serena Williams, USA
...it'd only be speculation at this moment, but at some point down the road we'll know if 2014 revealed the first true signs of vulnerability in the dominance of Williams, now 33 and breaking her own record as the oldest WTA #1 ever with each passing day, or whether it was just a slight dip in results (by HER standards... and that is a very BIG distinction) that will soon be followed by a total reassertion of her end of the "Greatest of All Time" conversation during the upcoming season and, at least for a little while longer, beyond.

The fact is, though, while Serena's '14 campaign was less sturdy and awe-aspiring from pillar to post than her previous 18-month run of perfect "Serenativity," even part of its whole would qualify as an out-of-this-world, never-dreamed-it-possible career year for 99% of the players on tour over the last few decades, save for a few named Martina, Chris, Steffi and such. Serena went 52-8, winning seven titles to lead the tour for a third straight season (she's won 25 titles from 2012-14). Over the first half of the year, Williams won in Brisbane, taking her fourth straight event to run her match-winning streak dating back to last season to 22 matches (it would grow to 25 in a row), claimed her record seventh Miami crown and won in Rome. She was still #1 in the world, but the most prevalent aspect of Serena's season was what she had NOT done. Namely, put up a good result in a major. She'd been bounced in the Round of 16 in the Australian Open by Ana Ivanovic, then suffered her worst career slam loss against Garbine Muguruza (winning just four games) in the 2nd Round at Roland Garros. She'd also been surprisingly beaten in Dubai and Wimbledon by Alize Cornet, and by Jana Cepelova in Charleston. Then, her puzzling, dazed and confused retirement from her SW19 doubles match with sister Venus -- Serena had difficulty keeping her balance, and even bouncing and catching a tennis ball -- left the world wondering just what was wrong with Williams. She blamed the incident on a viral illness, squirreled herself away for a bit, then came out and "saved" her season.

After Wimbledon, Serena won nineteen of her next twenty matches, losing only to Venus, as she took titles in Stanford and Cincinnati (one of the few big events she'd yet to win in her career), claimed her second straight U.S. Open Series and put away her 18th career singles slam (tying Navratilova and Evert on the Open era list) in Flushing Meadows, becoming the first woman to three-peat as the U.S. Open champ since Evert won four in a row from 1975-78. Even with her fifth career Open title in hand, Williams still had to sweat out the year-end #1 ranking. After another loss (via retirement) to Cornet in Wuhan, making the Pastry the first player to best Serena three times in a season since Justine Henin in '07, and a walkover exit in Beijing, Serena arrived at the WTA Finals in Singapore engaged in a three-player battle with Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova for year-end #1. The Russian and Czech both went 1-2 and failed to get out of round robin play, while Serena went 2-1 but suffered the worst loss of her career, a 6-0/6-2 drubbing at the hands of Simona Halep. Ironically, it was the Romanian's unwillingness to "play the system" that allowed Williams to slip into the semifinals, as Halep grabbed one set in her final RR outing against Ana Ivanovic and handed Serena the tie-break advantage over the Serb to advance her through. After winning an 8-6 3rd set tie-break over Caroline Wozniacki in the SF, Williams found her conqueror/savior Halep waiting for her in the final. It wasn't a contest, as the Swarmette uncharacteristically bent to Serena's will as Williams won 6-3/6-0 to take her fifth career year-ending event title, and her third consecutive.

Serena's fourth season-ending #1 ranking is her first back-to-back claiming of the honor. She'll enter 2015 with 221 weeks in the top position, good for fourth on the all-time WTA list behind Graf (377), Navratilova (331) and Evert (260). And thus ended Serena's sometimes-fabulous, more often restless, 2014 season. A somewhat salty follow up to the sweet, affirming success she'd attained the previous two seasons. It could be that the pressure of maintaining her level of success frayed Williams' nerves a bit this past season, as even she can't be expected to be in top form always and forever.

Hmmm, then again, when it comes to Serena, well... who knows?

3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
...the Russian is the most dependable player on tour. You can be rest assured that she'll never "mail in" a performance, nor ever not give it her all. It's an on-court template and temperament that should be as readily aspired to by young players as is Sharapova's off-court plan for success.

In 2014, returning to action for the first time since August '13 after recovering from a recurrence of her shoulder issues last season, Sharapova seamlessly rebounded to add layers to her Hall of Fame career in the tenth anniversary season of her breakout, Wimbledon-winning campaign of 2004 at age 17. In all, she gathered four singles titles, her largest haul since 2006, including high-level Premier events in Madrid and Beijing (only Serena, with three Premier wins, had more), as well as a second title at Roland Garros two years after she'd completed a Career Slam in Paris in '12. Once more, she dominated the clay season, going 19-1, winning her third straight title in Stuttgart, defeating a pair of Top 5 players in Madrid, and coming back from a set down to win three matches at RG, then winning a fourth straight three-setter by taking the "instant classic," three-hour final against Simona Halep. The Russian has now won twenty consecutive three-set matches on clay.

While Sharapova failed to notch a second QF-or-better slam result this season, she was consistent, reaching the Round of 16 in Melbourne, London and New York. Actually, her consistency runs far deeper than that. She sports the longest active Top 10 streak, which will hit 196 weeks as the 2015 season begins, and trails only Serena (8) on tour with five straight seasons with multiple titles. Sharapova tops the active list for consecutive years with at least one title, with her wins this season extending her run to twelve years. Only WTA players named Navratilova, Evert and Graf have put together longer streaks in their careers.

One thing that Sharapova, nor any Russian woman, has never accomplished is to finish a season at #1. Heading into the WTA Finals in Singapore, though, Sharapova had a chance to do it this year after having had no points to defend in the second half of the season due to her late '13 absence. But she failed to grab the opportunity, with her lingering difficulty with ill-timed double-faults going a long way toward cementing her disappointing 1-2 mark in round robin play, though she did manage to split a pair of matches that were in contention for Match of the Tournament, losing to Caroline Wozniacki, but defeating Aga Radwanska in a pair of three-setters.

In the end, Sharapova finished the season at #2, her third such finish in her career. Perhaps a win over #1 Williams might have made all the difference, but the American's decade of head-to-head dominance continued as she won both of their meetings in straight sets. Since losing to Sharapova in the Wimbledon and WTA Championships finals in '04, Serena has defeated her fifteen straight times, with the Russian having not won a set in their last eleven match-ups since 2010.

But not-uncommon issues when it comes to defeating Serena aside, 2014 was quite a year for Sharapova. On the court, she was more than solid, while off it she even cracked the door ever so slightly on her personal life, engaging in a very public romance with ATP star Grigor Dimitrov, joining (and showing her sense of humor) on Instagram and growing her business brand by traveling the world to publicize her seemingly-instantly-successful line of Sugarpova candy, as she continues to do the necessary groundwork to secure her continued worldwide presence and success in her post-tennis career. As usual, Sharapova is laying down the footsteps that many young players will attempt to walk in.

In the words of one Vika Azarenka, "Good luck with that."

4. Petra Kvitova, CZE
..."Oh, Petra." It's the mantra of the Gods. The Tennis Gods, that is... as well as everyone else gripped by the exhilarating highs and frustrating lows of Kvitova's career.

Good Petra and Bad Petra are always invited to the court when the Czech is scheduled to play, we just don't generally know which one will show up. Or if they'll clandestinely change places during the course of a match, sometimes more than once. Make no mistake, though, that when Kvitova is good, she's really good. In fact, when she's "on," especially at Wimbledon, Petra is, quite simply, the "belle of the tennis ball." No player on tour gets the sort of dizzying plaudits and spurs talk of bludgeoning dominance like Kvitova when she reaches her full potential on the lawns of the AELTC, which she did for the second time in her career this summer, destroying Eugenie Bouchard in the final to grab her second career slam win. It was the unquestioned high point of the Czech's '14 campaign, but not her only one.

In all, Kvitova took home three singles titles, adding wins in New Haven and Wuhan (where, again, she def. Bouchard) to her SW19 spoils, then wrapped up her season by going 2-0 on final weekend and leading the Czech Fed Cup team to a third championship in four years, for the first time clinching the title herself in a three-hour win over Germany's Angelique Kerber in front of a home crowd in Prague. But, being Petra, she experienced her share of lowlights. She began her slam season by being upset in the 1st Round of the Australian Open by Luksika Kumkhum, and had early 3rd Round exits at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open (the latter of which where she was Aleksandra Krunic's final upset victim). A respiratory illness kept her out of the Czech's team 1st Round FC tie with Spain, an absence which very nearly dashed the squad's title hopes before they'd even begun. Similarly, she came with two points of defeat in the Wimbledon 3rd Round against Venus Williams, only to survive and then crush what was left of the field on her way to victory.

The notion of Good vs. Bad Petra is even more clear when viewed through the differences between the hard-serving lefty's start to the season (a mediocre 11-7) and her hard-charging back-half (32-9). After going 2-4 against Top 20 players before Wimbledon, with three losses to players outside the Top 80, once Kvitova arrived in London she kicked off a stretch over which she'd go 6-5 against the Top 20 and suffer just two losses outside the Top 10 (to #145 Krunic and #39 Elina Svitolina). Kvitova arrived in Singapore for the WTA Finals on a 14-2 run and with a shot at finishing at #1 for the season, but went 1-2 in round robin play. Still, even with Bad Petra seizing control, Good Petra made an appearance in a win over Maria Sharapova that ended the Czech's five-match losing streak against the Russian (with the last coming in the Beijing final a week after Kvitova had won in Wuhan).

Kvitova ended the season at #4, her fourth straight Top 8 finish and her best since being #2 in 2011. She'll arrive on 2015's doorstep looking to finally pick up where she left off in 2012, when Kvitova seemed ready to contend for #1, additional slams and prove correct all those compliments hurled her way in London the previous summer. Turned out, she wasn't quite emotionally ready for the challenge. This time, she just might be. If so, look out world, here she comes.

Oh, Petra!

5. Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
6. Simona Halep, ROU
7. Li Na, CHN
8. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN

...the best, and most stable, doubles team in women's tennis now, without question, consists of Errani & Vinci. In 2014, they added an additional adjective: historic. The Italians opened the season by defending their Australian Open title, but that wasn't even their biggest grand slam result of the season. Picking up a fifth slam title since 2012, their win at Wimbledon made them the sixth women's duo to complete a Career Slam. While they failed to hold onto their co-#1 ranking for the full season (conceding the spot for twenty weeks from February to July), they still ultimately finished the season there for the second straight year (for Vinci, a third consecutive) after nabbing five total titles, including big Premier wins in Madrid and Montreal, and reached the Roland Garros final. Over the course of the '14 season, Errani & Vinci notched wins over nearly every other top doubles team, from Makarova/Vesnina and Black/Mirza, to Peschke/Srebotnik, Muguruza/Suarez-Navarro, Kops-Jones/Spears and Hingis/Pennetta (a combined 9-5). Only victories over Hsieh/Peng and Kudryavtseva/Rodionova (0-2) eluded them. While they failed to reach a semifinal in their final five events, the Italians more than balanced that out in '14 with a pair of eleven-match win streaks, four consecutive finals from May to June (2-2), as well as two other back-to-back final runs (3-1). As 2015 begins, Vinci will have held the doubles #1 ranking for ninety-six weeks, just fifteen behind Arantxa Sanchez Vicario for the sixth most all-time. Errani will begin next season with seventy-three total weeks in the top spot.

Speaking of history. Halep, The Pride of Romania, has firmly planted herself in any conversation about the very best players to ever come from her nation. In 2014 alone, she reached an all-time Romanian-high of #2 in the rankings, advanced to her first grand slam final (ending Romania's 34-year major final drought), won her biggest career title in Doha (defeating three Top 10 players) and, naturally, became the inaugural singles champion at this season's new Bucharest Open event. Halep had opened '14 with a then career-best slam QF in Melbourne, then followed up her Paris runner-up result with another slam semi in London, all after having not reached her first Round of 16 at a major until last year's U.S. Open. Despite being limited by injury during Romania's Fed Cup World Group II Playoff against Serbia, Halep led by example as the Swarmettes won to advance into WGII play for '15, taking yet another step toward looking to match (at least) the nation's best ever FC result (a SF in 1973) sometime in 2016-17. Actually, it's the fact of Halep's continued difficulties with injuries -- including lingering back and lower body ailments this year -- that are the only thing preventing seeing her as a "sure thing" to maintain the upward progression she's shown over the last two seasons. They held her back over the last half of '14, and played a large part in her claiming just two singles titles one season after having won six. Still, it says much about her improved performances in big events that she still managed to rise from #11 at the end of '13, topping out at #2 and settling in as the year-end #3. After recuperating a bit in the 4Q, Halep arrived in Singapore and made her first appearance in the WTA Finals a memorable one, as she put up three Top 6 wins (including handing Serena Williams the worst loss of her career in a 6-0/6-2 shocker) and became just the eighth woman to reach the final in her debut at the 42-year old event. Come '15, Halep will be adjusting to a new coach, having parted ways with Wim Fissette after working with the Belgian since February. Admittedly a "picky" player who is difficult to coach, Halep says she wants to employ a Romanian coach once again, considering herself a product of the nation's tennis system and having been coached by Romanians her entire career before this year. Is it a risk to change mid-stream after her most successful season? Hmmm, maybe. But The Pride usually finds her own way rather well, both on and off court, so the move wouldn't seem to be something to worry about (at least until proven otherwise, I suppose). In fact, as far as her wishing to keep things "in the family," one might say we'd expect nothing less from her. It's why she's "The Pride," after all. Quite possibly now the best active WTA player without a slam title, Halep should be up to producing more results to make her fellow Romanians proud for seasons to come.

About few current WTA players (aside from Sharapova, and either Williams) could it be said that they will undoubtedly go down as "legends" in tennis. In a way, that's even the case with Li... but only because she's actually MORE than a simple "legend." She is, essentially, the "founding mother" of Chinese tennis, as well as the hero of and inspiration for billions of dreams that have been and will be built upon the foundation of her smile (a bigger weapon that a Serena serve), personality (humorous, and also sometimes fragile, though strong enough to carve out her own important path years ago through her Communist home nation's controlling and sometimes dehumanizing tennis system) and, last but not least, her thrilling success on the court. In the early months of 2014, Li had rarely looked in better form, so it's a shame that her career "moment" -- winning her second career slam at the Australian Open and reaching a Chinese-best ranking of #2 -- had to be limited by injuries, and then ultimately her career cut short by retirement in September, with her having not played a match since a 3rd Round exit at Wimbledon. In her first five events, she won titles in Shenzhen (her first successful title defense) and Melbourne, running off what would be a tour-best thirteen straight wins, and then carried over her success to the U.S. spring hard court circuit with a semifinal in Indian Wells and runner-up in Miami. QF results in Madrid and Rome highlighted her move to red clay, hinting at what could even possibly have been a shot at supplanting Serena in the #1 ranking by season's end. But it wasn't meant to be. Those tantalizing opening months of '14 will remain just that -- a taste of what might have been. After struggling to return to the court, Li's chronic knee issues preventing her from even being able to participate in the first WTA event in Wuhan -- her hometown -- that wouldn't even exist if not for her impact on the sport's growth in China, as well as throughout all of Asia, where the WTA is constantly looking to benefit from and influence the current tennis boom. But while the 2014 season didn't have the ending for Li that all envisioned, it WILL be remembered as the year when everyone fully embraced (with both arms) their admiration, respect of and for her career, life and the vital role her presence has and will continue to play in the future of tennis for countless generations.

Bouchard gave every indication in '14 that she's "the real deal," rising to the occasion in the season's biggest events to become the most consistent grand slam performer on tour over the course of the season. Now comes the part about expanding that consistency to the "regular season" events that make up the majority of the long WTA schedule. That said, to look upon the Canadian's rise this season as a surprise would be a mistake. Like another blonde who first became the apple of the WTA and many a marketer's eye a decade ago, we could see Bouchard coming around the corner. After all, she was a junior slam winner at Wimbledon in '12, when she became the first Canadian to ever be able to make the claim. Bouchard just reached the main stage a season (or maybe two) earlier than anyone rightly anticipated. Her surprise Australian Open semifinal run was followed up by another at Roland Garros, and then unabashedly topped at Wimbledon when she became the first player representing Canada to ever reach a slam singles final. It was only one of the many "first Canadian ever" (or "first Canadian since Carling Bassett") moments in which Bouchard starred in 2014, as she became the first from her nation to reach the Top 10 in nearly thirty years, then the first ever to be ranked in the Top 5. And she's still only appeared in seven slam main draws. At 20, Bouchard is the youngest player ranked in the Top 20, surging ahead of the pack of other up-and-coming North Americans and, while fellow AO semifinal crasher Sloane Stephens ('13) has yet to reach a tour final, the Canadian grabbed her maiden tour title in Nurnberg (and did so on clay, her worst surface, no less). But while Bouchard's toughness and competitive nature shined the brightest in '14, her vulnerabilities revealed a few cracks, as well. Her game still lacks important variety, and lingering injuries -- or was it more the pressure of expectations? (I suspect it's too soon to truly determine the leading culprit) -- served to take a little of the brilliant shine off her rise in the closing months of the season. She lost in embarrassing fashion in her hometown tournament in Montreal, and was openly frustrated and questioned her decision to even play in the WTA Finals, where she was the only player to go 0-3, failing to produce even one competitive outing. Still, even as her results waned following her Wimbledon final run (she lost five of her last six matches, and retired from another), Bouchard managed to collect herself enough to reach the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open and the Wuhan final. She was the unquestioned leader of Canada's reinvigorated Fed Cup team, as well, going 4-0 in singles (vs. the Slovaks and Serbs) while ushering the squad into 2015's World Group. While the tennis package isn't yet a perfect one, much like Sharapova before her, Bouchard is driven to not only carve out success, but expect it. She has competitive fire to burn and a mindset that expects only the best from herself. That sort of personality, especially in this sport, has the potential to wear an early hole in the career of a player ill-prepared for the fight. But it's also the sort of inner crucible from which a true champion can be born. Needless to say, the next phase of Bouchard's career will be highly anticipated, and closely watched.

9. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
10. Peng Shuai, CHN
11. Andrea Petkovic, GER

...for all intents and purposes, AnaIvo had a great year. Her best since her slam-winning season of '08. Ivanovic won four titles (second to Serena) on three surfaces (tied for the tour lead), including her first on grass, and reached six finals (again, second to Williams) and eight semis (tied for third behind Serena and Wozniacki). Her 59 match wins led the WTA, as she returned to the Top 10 for the first time since '09 and finished a season there for the first time since '08. She also opened the year with a big slam win over Serena in Melbourne, reaching her first major QF in six years. She never advanced past the 3rd Round in another slam all season, though, and that alone seems to make her inclusion on the WTA's short list for "Player of the Year" seem a slight stretch from here. A "POY" would seem to need to have at least one slam semifinal on her resume to be seriously considered, lest she take away precious votes from more deserving contenders. But, that aside, AnaIvo likely just completed the most consistent full season of her career, and will arrive Down Under as a legit threat to finally notch career slam #2.

With the retirement of Li, Peng is now the leading (active) lady of Chinese tennis. She reached her first career slam singles semifinal at the U.S. Open, but left the court in a wheelchair after collapsing while cramping in the intense heat, and then making the poor decision to try to play on. It's that sort of snake-bit moment that has dogged Peng's entire career. At #21, she's the highest-ranked player without a tour singles crown (it's the second time in four seasons she's ended a year with the designation), and sports the worst mark (0-6) in WTA finals of any active player. This year, Peng reached the Shenzhen final, losing to Li, but DID manage to get closer to her maiden "official" tour title when she won a WTA $125K Challenger Series crown in Nanjing (though she didn't have to defeat anyone ranked above #132 to do it). Things went much better for Peng in doubles, though even there she ends '14 with important questions. Peng won five titles and became the first-ever Chinese player to reach #1, but she and regular partner Hsieh Su-Wei ended their partnership, and a would-be pairing with Andrea Hlavackova (they won Beijing) went awry when the Czech announced her re-teaming with former partner Lucie Hradecka in '15.

Finally, something went right for Petkovic in '14, as she avoided a long injury layoff for the first time in three years. And that was enough for her to put together the best season of her career. She won a career-high three singles titles, taking events on three different surfaces in Charleston (green clay), Bad Gastein (red clay) and at the Tournament of Champions (indoor hard court), and reaching her first career slam semifinal at Roland Garros after injuries and absences prevented her from putting up a Round of 16 result at a major since she produced three QF results in her last healthy season in 2011. Petko finished '14 in the Top 20 for the first time since her Top 10 finish three seasons ago, and was a tone-setting Day 1 beast for the German Fed Cup team in both the 1st Round and semifinals as the squad had its best year in over two decades, reaching the final for the first time since 1992. Amazingly, though, all this wasn't enough for Petkovic to get a nomination in the six-entry field for Comeback Player of the year from the WTA. Oh, well... so Petkorazzi's dancing, for once, will just have to take place in the relative "shadows" heading into '15. Maybe that'll continue to keep those old demons at bay. (Shhh... and cross all available fingers and toes.)

12. German Fed Cup Team
13. Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
14. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
15. Washington Kastles

...the Germans began their resurgent 2014 Fed Cup season by having both Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber put together singles comebacks in match wins against a choking Slovak squad in February, then swept the Aussies in the semifinals to reach their first FC final since 1992. As for the final against the Czechs... well, what happened there is better left unspoken.

Hsieh & Peng, the best doubles team of 2013 (whether the Italians claimed the WTA's award last season or not), put together another great campaign this year, as they won titles in Doha and Indian Wells and rose to #1, with both becoming the the first players from their nation to top the rankings. But their late summer decision to put an end to their partnership put a damper on their entire season. They reunited to attempt to defend their WTA Finals championship, but saw their successful pairing end with an anticlimactic blowout loss in the final to Black/Mirza.

When it comes to tangible accomplishments, Wozniacki only picked up a small singles title in Istanbul this year (extending her active streak of seasons with a title to seven, behind only Sharapova and Serena), but her '14 campaign was about so much more. After shedding a slew of coaches (Sanchez, Johansson, Hogstedt & Mortensen) over the last two seasons, then seeing her upcoming wedding called off by her fiance, the Dane focused on the good and emerged on the other end of her public trials as a seemingly refreshed version of herself. Father Piotr was back as coach and her off-court friendship with Serena Williams deepened, while her on-court confidence blossomed as her always-great fitness was made a lethal accessory to a game that employed more aggression and an improved serve. Heck, as part of her successful on-the-fly makeover of her life, Caro even ran the New York City marathon! Wozniacki's path was unconventional, but her career rebirth was impossible to ignore. She had her best year-end ranking (#8) in three years, and reached her first slam final (US) in five. After losing her first four matches against Top 10 players in '14, including seven in a row and dropping eight of ten extending back to 2013, she won six of eleven in the closing months of '14 (going 6-2 against non-Serena foes), and pushed Williams in an 8-6 3rd set tie-break in the semifinals of the WTA Finals. Gusto-grabbing Caro 2.0, after talking a few years ago about "having time" to improve, may just have found a way to bend the ticking clock in her favor and give herself a (finally) legit chance to win her first slam crown in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Washington Kastles, led by Hall of Famer Martina Hingis (and, sometimes, Venus Williams, too), won a fourth straight World Team Tennis championship, and fifth in six seasons.

16. Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS - the all-Hordette pair won the U.S. Open, their second slam in two years. With the other top duos in flux, and with Errani/Vinci having many big titles to defend, might Makarova/Vesnina be potential contenders for #1 in '15? The only other Russian doubles #1? Anna Kournikova.
17. Cara Black & Sania Mirza, ZIM/IND - picked up three titles, including big 4Q wins in Tokyo and at the WTA Finals, in what could very well be Black's career swan song. Mirza also claimed her third Mixed slam crown, as well as an Asian Games Gold Medal in Mixed.
18. Karolina Pliskova, CZE - she reached five finals, winning two, and was on the bench (a secondary role that is surely only temporary) for the Czechs' Fed Cup final victory. Only Serena had more aces this season than Pliskova.
19. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS - matched the feat of Mary Pierce (1998) to become just the second woman to win indoor titles in both Paris and Moscow in the same season
20. Alize Cornet, FRA & Caroline Garcia, FRA - in the wake of Marion Bartoli's retirement, Cornet & Garcia (both w/ titles, Fed Cup heroics, and Top 20 and 40 rankings, too, in '14) showed that Pastry tennis has some remaining joie de vivre running through its collective veins, after all.
HM- Dominika Cibulkova, SVK & Ekaterina Makarova, RUS - after both put up career-first appearances in, respectively, a slam final (AO) and semifinal (US), Cibulkova and Makarova -- ranked #10 and #11 -- are set to fight it out for the "made it by THIS much" spot in the Top 10 during the opening weeks of 2015

Special Mention- Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley, JPN/GBR - the wheelchair duo accomplished a true Doubles Grand Slam in '14, while world #1 Kamiji won two of the three WC singles slams (in Paris and NYC) and was a finalist in the other (Melbourne).

2001 Jennifer Capriati / USA
2002 Serena Williams / USA
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne / BEL
2004 Maria Sharapova / RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters / BEL
2006 Amelie Mauresmo / FRA
2007 Justine Henin / BEL
2008 Cara Black & Liezel Huber / ZIM-USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team
2010 Francesca Schiavone / ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova / CZE
2012 Serena Williams / USA
2013 Serena Williams / USA
2014 Czech Fed Cup Team

=YEARLY "Ms. Backspin" Top 10 Lists=
1. Jennifer Capriati, USA
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Venus Williams, USA
4t. Kim Clijsters, BEL
4t. Justine Henin, BEL
6. Martina Hingis, SUI
7. Jelena Dokic, AUS
8. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
9. Serena Williams, USA
10. Monica Seles, USA
1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Venus Williams, USA
3. Jennifer Capriati, USA
4. Kim Clijsters, BEL
5. Anna Smashnova, ISR
6. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
7. Monica Seles, USA
8. Justine Henin, BEL
9. Jelena Dokic, AUS
10. Paola Suarez, ARG
1. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Kim Clijsters, BEL
4t. Anastasia Myskina, RUS
4t. Elena Dementieva, RUS
6. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
7. Maria Sharapova, RUS
8. Ai Sugiyama, JPN
9t. Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
9t. Paola Suarez, ARG
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Anastasia Myskina, RUS
4. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
5. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
6. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
7. Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
8. Elena Dementieva, RUS
9. Serena Williams, USA
10. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
1. Kim Clijsters, BEL
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Mary Pierce, FRA
4. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
5. Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
6. Maria Sharapova, RUS
7. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
8. Cara Black, ZIM
9. Patty Schnyder, SUI
10. Nadia Petrova, RUS
1. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2. Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Nadia Petrova, RUS
5. Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
6. Italian Fed Cup Team
7. Martina Hingis, SUI
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
9. Kim Clijsters, BEL
10. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
1. Justine Henin, BEL
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Venus Williams, USA
4. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
5. Serena Williams, USA
6. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
7. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
8. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
9. Maria Sharapova, RUS
10. Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
1. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
4. Maria Sharapova, RUS
5. Venus Williams, USA
6. Dinara Safina, RUS
7. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
8. Russian Fed Cup Team
9. Elena Dementieva, RUS
10. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
1. Italian Fed Cup Team
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
4. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
5. Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
6. Dinara Safina, RUS
7. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
8. Kim Clijsters, BEL
9. United States Fed Cup Team
10. Elena Dementieva, RUS
1. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2. Kim Clijsters, BEL
3. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4. Serena Williams, USA
5. Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
6. Italian Fed Cup Team
7. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
8. Samantha Stosur, AUS
9. Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
10. United States Fed Cup Team
1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Li Na, CHN
3. Liezel Huber, USA
4. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
5. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
6. Liezel Huber/Lisa Raymond, USA/USA
7. Samantha Stosur, AUS
8. Czech Republic Fed Cup Team
9. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
10. Kim Clijsters, BEL
1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3. Maria Sharapova, RUS
4. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
5. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
6. Sara Errani, ITA
7. Czech Fed Cup Team
8. Angelique Kerber, GER
9. Petra Kvitova, CZE
10. Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
3. Simona Halep, ROU
4. Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
5. Italian Fed Cup Team
6. Roberta Vinci, ITA
7. Maria Sharapova, RUS
8. Marion Bartoli, FRA
9. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
10. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS

Now, once more, here's a second opinion from Galileo West, the weekly ATP station chief over at Backspin's sister (brother??) site, ATP Backspin.

1. Serena Williams
...Williams had not had the top ranking since 2009 but in February of last year she took it off Vika Azarenka. Vika ,incidentally, is now ranked #32. She has already had a whole career with ups and downs and she's only 25. Mind you by the time Williams got to 25 she had already had about five careers. By the way, Williams is 64-18 in finals. That blows my mind. No, this was not quite like 2013 which was her best year ever. She didn't win eleven titles this time, she only won seven. Williams just beat Halep 6-3/6-0 in the WTA Finals after the Romanian beat HER 6-2/6-0 four days earlier, only to get handed the beat down of her life in return. Williams had an awful year at the slams. She lost to Ivanovic, Muguruza and Cornet at the first three slams. Those are all players she should be outclassing. She won the U.S. Open, but here is the list of players she beat: Townsend, King, Lepchenko, Kanepi, Pennetta, Makarova and Wozniacki. So a poor year at the slams. But she has unquestionably been the world's best player throughout the year. She has won a title just about every month on the tour and that is very impressive. She has been the best in the world in almost every area. She may be starting to fade slightly, but she is still utterly dominant. She is still the favourite to win everything she enters. I think she will finish at number one next year, though she'll lose it several times over the course of the season.
2. Maria Sharapova
...Halep has not won a slam yet, and so it would be rather difficult to put her above any actual slam winners. Sharapova did not end the year well, as she played poorly during the WTA Finals. She had a chance at number one but could not take it. With only fourth round points to defend in Australia and not much else until the clay swing she has put herself in a great position to take the top spot. Sharapova was solid ,if not spectacular, at slam level and made the fourth round all four times but only won the French. Losses to Cibulkova, Kerber and Wozniacki were all surprising, but she did feel like the world number two for the second half of the year. She really stepped it up. She went 4-0 in finals and also made a lot of semi-finals. She was unable to crack the Williams enigma but she did well in other regards. She took time off to focus on Sochi but returned and continued to win. By now Maria must just be praying for Williams to retire. Sharapova is the best player in the world on clay and one of the best on any surface. This is especially the case if Williams isn't around.
3. Li Na
...she started the season 21-3, but injuries prevented her from taking the world number one ranking which she surely would have taken at some point. She achieved her highest ranking [#2] in the year of her retirement. She inspired a nation of two billion. She brought tennis to China. She became the highest-ranking Asian singles player ever. Titles are irrelevant. She was the best player in the world in all but name for four months. She dominated the tour early on and became a deserved world number two. She pulled a Novotna and finally won her favorite slam [the grand slam of Asia Pacific] on the third attempt. Li Na was often perplexing and always mystifying. She was an enigma but in the end she had a Hall of Fame career. She has done more for China than perhaps they realize. And she did it by disobeying one of the strictest regimes in the world. How can you not love that?
4. Petra Kvitova
...I said last year she would win another Wimbledon. I have been proved correct, but much sooner than I expected. Todd has devoted a lot of writing about Petra. I don't know if you've noticed, but she tends to be inconsistent. At the slams she went out in the first round once, the third round twice and she won Wimbledon. To illustrate her perfectly I'll list the round she reached in her tournaments:
SF, 1st, QF,2nd, QF, 4th, 2nd, SF, 2nd, 3rd, QF, W, 3rd, 2nd, W, 3rd, W, RU.
Look at that. How am I meant to dissect her season? Let's say overall it was good and leave it there.
5. Simona Halep
...I know I put all four slam champs in the top four. Can you blame me? I can see her simply dominating in Bucharest through the years and then they will call a stadium Halep and the other Simona. I watch Halep play and at the end of the match I always, no matter how comprehensive the victory, look back and wonder how she won. She just wins and that is part of her beauty -- you can watch one of her matches and not understand how she wins. But she does. Oh, boy, does she. Halep went 43-14 this year. She ascended to the second spot. She managed to make Williams blink occasionally, too. Halep dominated the rest of the top ten in this past WTA Finals. Halep is looking better and better as her career goes on. That U.S. Open upset aside, she was flawless this year at the slams. She became the slam player everyone knew she could be. At barely 23, she has the world at her feet. One of my favorite Billie Jean King quotes: “Ladies, here's a hint; if you're playing against a friend who has big boobs, bring her to the net and make her hit backhand volleys. That's the hardest shot for the well-endowed.” Halep heeded her advice reduced her breast size. That could be the key to all this winning she is doing. I've never really talked about boobs before on here. It never seems to come up on the ATP Tour.
6. Eugenie Bouchard
...she isn't here because of the amount of titles she won. She won her maiden title this year in Nurnberg, whilst Kvitova stopped her in Wuhan and at Wimbledon. She went 19-4 in slams. She made three semi-finals. Nobody else got close to that apart from Halep. She made quality opponents look like they were the inexperienced ones. She made fans all over the world. She was the best slam player this year because she won when playing well and badly. At the U.S. Open, she ground her way into the fourth round. She knows how to win in the major leagues. Next year I see her making eight finals. She looks set, after doing so well this year and rising to number five, to rise further and perhaps hit the top four. She has a lot of points too defend but I think she is fully capable.
7. Ana Ivanovic
...I thought Ivanovic was done. I thought that slump was permanent. I thought Ana was finished and I wasn't the only one. She fell to outside the top fifty and it looked to be over for her. She has proven me and others wrong. Finals in Cincy and Stuttgart compliment that quartet of titles. It was a strong year for the world number eight. That forehand was back to where it had been before. She and Sharapova had a great rivalry throughout the year. Her year was kick-started by her beating Williams and making just her second slam quarterfinal since, what, 2009? She really took it to Williams and the American struggled to handle it, though Serena helped by having a bad day. Ivanovic will not win another slam, but another final is a possibility. She has shown us what she can do throughout this year.
8. Caroline Wozniacki
...I can't really leave out a slam finalist. Well, I'm leaving out Cibulkova, but she would have been number eleven or so on this list. It feels as if the Woz had a better year than the stats suggest. Wozniacki has always had two major problems: she struggles to be aggressive and she lets her father be a little too controlling. She has solved those problems to an extent. It remains to be seen if she has the level needed to win a slam but she made another final this year. Not only that but she also managed to come back from being close to falling out of the top 20 or so to making the WTA Finals field and beating Sharapova. She has taken control of her destiny and has upped the tempo of her game. She is now primed for a strong 2015. Another slam semi or two surely beckon for the girl who came back from the wilderness.
9. Flavia Pennetta
...last year I had a surprising Italian in these as well -- Vinci. Will it be Giorgi next year? Flavia made a semi-final last year at the U.S. Open, her first. The first Italian lady to make the top ten was in form but nobody expected the consistent high level of play she delivered. She won her first Premier Mandatory in Indian Wells, the "fifth slam," if you will. She also featured in a pair of slam quarterfinals. It was an up and down year but she is the Italian number one in form and, surely, soon in ranking, too. A fairly strong year from her with a few big highlights. It's impressive. Oh and there was this too:

10. Venus Williams
...let's talk about Williams again. A different Williams this time. She won her 45th title. She also made the final of Toronto and two other smaller tournaments. She has put together a solid year. She has beaten the world number one and she has also looked good. Losses to Makarova [in three tight sets] Kvitova [she should have won and was the better player] and Errani are understandable. The bottom line is that it felt like Venus was back and healthy. Also, in 46 matches she hit 222 aces. That puts her tenth on the list. Not bad at all.
HM- Casey Dellacqua
...Casey has made two fourth rounds at slams [the same as Aga] this year and has gone from finishing at #130 last year to finishing inside the top thirty this year. No, she hasn't won anything but she has been consistently playing above her usual level. She has stepped it up this year and, hey, she's now a better player than Vika is. The rankings don't lie right. Right?
Fallen from Grace: Aga Radwanska
...no, Aga will not be in the top ten list. What has she done? For her ability and talent she should be making slam finals. She has been touted as the next Hingis and one can see that. She has a lot of craft and uses angles very well, but Henin and Hingis had that, too. She needs power nad she needs more than just soft hands. She was playing Barrois at Stuttgart a few years back and the commentator said, "she lacks a big shot to break down Barois' backhand" and she was right. Radwanska has still not added that. After that Wimbledon final I thought she would move on and up. Since then she has won a couple of small titles and the Rogers Cup. She has made just two slam semi-finals. I think we have seen her limitations now. She looks set to simply be a solid top ten player for the next few years, but no more. She can easily be out-hit and is always ripe for an upset. She hasn't even made a U.S. Open quarterfinal yet. And that is why she is not on the list, regardless of how well she did at the WTA Finals

Thanks, everyone.

Yep, that's it, go ahead and talk about Aga's season, Galileo. Maybe it means that I won't have to be the one watching my back over the next year. Whew! Heehee.

MORE BSA's ARE STILL TO COME: the Performance & Match Lists and, of course, the WTA Yearbook

All for now.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 BSA's: Player Award Lists

Lists have always been a stock and trade component of Backspin, and that's never more the case than with the annual Backspin Awards.

The final "Ms. Backspin" standings (as well as the performance & match lists) are still to come. But the lists that form the backbone of those lists are right here. Of course, there may be some dispute about the placement of some players in these lists, but, really, just getting an "invitation" to the party is actually meant to be an honor.

So, try not to get too bent out of shape about it, Ms. Schmiedlova.

(And, no, that's not an edited photo, by the way.)

So, here are 2014's Player Awards lists, as well as recap of some past BSA winners (yes, lists of the players who've been atop the lists included in previous posts filled with lists... not that that's redundant, confusing or anything out of the ordinary):

1t. Simona Halep, ROU & Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2. Peng Shuai, CHN
3. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
4. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
5. Garbine Muguruza, ESP

6. Andrea Petkovic, GER
7. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
8. Alize Cornet, FRA
9. Romanian Fed Cup Team
10. German Fed Cup Team
11. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
12. Caroline Garcia, FRA

13. French Fed Cup Team

14. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
15. Angelique Kerber, GER
16t. Coco Vandeweghe, USA & Madison Keys, USA

18. Garbine Muguruza/Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP/ESP
19. Lucie Safarova, CZE
20. Camila Giorgi, ITA
21. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
22. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
23. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
24. Swiss Fed Cup Team
25. Sabine Lisicki, GER
26. Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan, TPE/TPE
27. Alison Riske, USA
28. Mona Barthel, GER
29. Monica Niculescu, ROU
30. Irina-Camilia Begu, ROU
31. Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
32. Elena Vesnina, RUS
33. Polish Fed Cup Team
34. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
35. Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith, GBR/GBR
36. Kiki Bertens, NED
37. Dutch Fed Cup Team
38. Karin Knapp, ITA
39. Zhang Shuai, CHN
40. Alexandra Cadantu, ROU
41. Petra Martic, CRO
42. Stefanie Voegele, SUI
43. Romina Oprandi, SUI
44. Paula Ormaechea, ARG
45. Teliana Pereira, BRA
46. Duan Yingying, CHN
47. Michaelle Larcher de Brito, POR
48. Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
49. Anna Tatishvili, USA
50. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
HM- Brazilian Fed Cup Team

1. Belinda Bencic, SUI
2. Elina Svitolina, UKR

3. Donna Vekic, CRO
4. Annika Beck, GER
5. Monica Puig, PUR
6. Jana Cepelova, SVK
7. Taylor Townsend, USA
8. Shelby Rogers, USA
9. Kurumi Nara, JPN
10. Alexandra Krunic, SRB
11. Anna Schmiedlova, SVK

12. Zarina Diyas, KAZ
13. Tereza Smitkova, CZE
14. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
15. Ana Konjuh, CRO
16. Canadian Fed Cup Team
17. Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER
18. Luksika Kumkhum, THA
19. Ajla Tomljanovic, AUS (CRO)
20. Barbora Krejcikova, CZE
21. Zheng Saisai, CHN
22. Denisa Allertova, CZE
23. Wang Qiang, CHN
24. Carina Witthoeft, GER
25. Lauren Davis, USA
26. Ksenia Pervak, RUS
27. Timea Babos, HUN
28. Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL
29. Richel Hogenkamp, NED
30. Gabriela Dabrowski, CAN
31. Sharon Fichman, CAN
32. Grace Min, USA
33. Vicky Duval, USA
34. Nicole Gibbs, USA
35. Naomi Broady, GBR
36. Allie Kiick, USA
37. Barbara Haas, GER
38. Antonia Lottner, GER
39. Sachia Vickery, USA
40. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
41. Rebecca Peterson, SWE
42. Krystyna Pliskova, CZE
43. Ons Jabeur, TUN
44. Carol Zhao, CAN
45. Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR
46. Yulia Putintseva, RUS
47. An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
48. Daria Gavrilova, RUS
49. Ana-Sofia Sanchez, MEX
50. Victoria Rodriguez, MEX
HM- Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP

1. CiCi Bellis, USA
2. Jelena Ostapenko, LAT
3. Tornado Black, USA
4. Darya Kasatkina, RUS
5. U.S. Junior Fed Cup Team
6. Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS
7. Marie Bouzkova, CZE
8. Iryna Shymanovich, BLR
9. Anhelina Kalinia, UKR
10. Francoise Abanda, CAN
11. Ipek Soylu, TUR

12. Paula Badosa Gibert, ESP
13. Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, ESP
14. Xu Shilin, CHN
15. Jana Fett, CRO
16. UCLA Women's Tennis Team
17. Ivana Jorovic, SRB
18. Danielle Collins, USA (Univ. of Virginia)
19. Jamie Loeb, USA (Univ. of North Carolina)
20. Jennifer Brady, USA (UCLA)
21. Gabriela Elena Ruse, ROU
22. Katerina Stewart, USA
23. Louisa Chirico, USA
24. Marketa Vondrousova, CZE
25. Jil Belen Teichmann, SUI
26. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS
27. Russian ITF World Junior Chsp. Team
28. Natalia Vikhlyantseva, RUS
29. Olga Fridman, UKR
30. Greetje Minnen, BEL
31. Kristina Schmiedlova, SVK
32. Dalma Galfi, HUN
33. Anna Bondar, HUN
34. Caroline Dolehide, USA
35. Fiona Ferro, FRA
36. Robin Anderson, USA (UCLA)
38. Lynn Chi, USA (California)
39. Kimberly Birrell, AUS
39. Michaela Gordon, USA
40. Kristie Ahn, USA (Stanford)
41. Katie Boulter, GBR
42. Renata Zarazua, MEX

43. Sun Ziyue, CHN
44. Varvara Flink, RUS
45. Veronika Kudermetova, RUS
46. Julia Elbaba, USA (Univ. of Virginia)
47. Hayley Carter, USA (Univ. of North Carolina)
48. Naiktha Bains, AUS
49. Tami Grende/Qui Yu Ye, INA/CHN
50. Nina Stojanovic, SRB
HM- Maya Jansen/Erin Routliffe, USA/USA (Univ. of Alabama)

1. Tereza Smitkova, CZE
2. Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
3. Luksika Kumkhum, THA
4. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
5. Jovana Jaksic, SRB
6. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok, UKR/UKR
7. Andreea Mitu, ROU
8. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
9. Wang Yafan, CHN
10. Magda Linette, POL
11. Paula Kania, POL

12. Liu Fangzhou, CHN
13. Olga Savchuk, UKR
14. Zhang Ling, HKG
15. Sofia Shapatava, GEO
16. Danka Kovinic, MNE
17. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, BLR
18. Kristina Kucova, SVK
19. Stephanie Vogt, LIE
20. Oceane Dodin, FRA
21. Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
22. Arina Rodionova, AUS
23. Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR
24. Nastassja Burnett, FRA
25. Zhang Kailin, CHN
26. Estrella Cabeza-Candela, ESP
27. Yuliya Beygelzimer, UKR
28. Tatiana Bua/Daniela Seguel, ARG/CHI
29. Laura Siegemund, GER
30. Naomi Osaka, JPN

31. Nigina Abduraimova, UZB
32. Maria Sakkari, GRE
33. Eri Hozumi, JPN
34. Risa Ozaki, JPN
35. Wang Yan, CHN
36. Katarzyna Piter, POL
37. Gabriela Ce, BRA
38. Kateryna Kozlova, UKR
39. Liang Chen, CHN
40. Zhu Lin, CHN
41. Bernarda Pera, USA
42. Liechtenstein Fed Cup Team
43. Amy Bowtell, IRE
44. Jasmina Tinjic, BIH
45. Bosnian Fed Cup Team
HM- Demi Schuurs, NED

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Maria Sharapova, RUS
3. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
4. Li Na, CHN
5. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
6. Andrea Petkovic, GER
7. Peng Shuai, CHN
8. Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
9. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
10. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
11. Venus Williams, USA
12. Sania Mirza, IND
13. Cara Black/Sania Mirza, ZIM/IND

14. Martina Hingis, SUI
15. Cara Black, ZIM
16. Alla Kudryavtseva/Anastasia Rodionova, RUS/AUS
17. Martina Hingis/Flavia Pennetta, SUI/ITA
18. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
19. Sara Errani, ITA
20. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
21. Lucie Safarova, CZE
22. Samantha Stosur, AUS
23. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
24. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
25. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE (d)
26. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
27. Klara Koukalova, CZE
28. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
29. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
30. Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears, USA/USA
31. Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Yaroslava Shvedova, ESP/KAZ
32. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
33. Vania King, USA
34. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
35. Roberta Vinci, ITA
36. Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE
37. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
38. Johanna Larsson, SWE
39. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
40. Kaia Kanepi, EST
41. Swedish Fed Cup Team
42. Zheng Jie, CHN
43. Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
44. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (WTT)

45. Sofia Arvidsson, SWE
46. Lourdes Dominguez-Lino, ESP
47. Stephanie Foretz-Gacon, FRA
48. Renata Voracova, CZE
49. Olga Savchuk, UKR
50. Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
HM- Junri Namigata, JPN

1. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
2. German Fed Cup Team
3. Andrea Petkovic, GER

4. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
5. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
6. Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
7. Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
8. Martina Hingis, SUI
9. Petra Cetkovska, CZE
10. Madison Brengle, USA
11. Australian Fed Cup Team
12. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
13. Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE
14. Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
15. Russian Fed Cup Team
16. Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
17. Heather Watson, GBR
18. Naomi Cavaday, GBR
19. Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS
20. Christina McHale, USA
21. Edina Gallovits-Hall, ROU
22. Argentine Fed Cup Team
23. Emma Laine, FIN
24. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE

25. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
HM- Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka, CZE/CZE


1. Alize Cornet, FRA
2. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
3. Garbine Muguruza, ESP
4. Alison Riske, USA
5. Caroline Garcia, FRA
6. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
7. Maria-Teressa Torro-Flor, ESP
8. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
9. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
10. Madison Keys, USA
HM- Madison Brengle, USA

1. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2. Peng Shuai, CHN
3. Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai, TPE/TPE
4. Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS

[photo by Jen Pottheiser/USTA]
5. Sania Mirza, IND
6. Cara Black/Sania Mirza, ZIM/IND
7. Cara Black, ZIM
8. Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
9. Martina Hingis, SUI
10. Alla Kudryavtseva/Anastasia Rodionova, RUS/AUS
11. Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
12. Martina Hingis/Flavia Pennetta, SUI/ITA

13. Garbine Muguruza/Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP/ESP
14. Andrea Hlavackova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE/CZE (FC)
15. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
16. Chan Hao-Ching, TPE
17. Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears, USA/USA
18. Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
19. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
20. Shuko Aoyama, JPN
21. Timea Babos, HUN
22. Anabel Medina-Garrigues/Yaroslava Shvedova, ESP/KAZ
23. Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan, TPE/TPE
24. Karolina Pliskova/Kristyna Pliskova, CZE/CZE
25. Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith, GBR/GBR
26. Monica Niculescu/Klara Koukalova, ROU/CZE
27. Yuliya Beygelzimer/Olga Savchuk, UKR/UKR
28. Renata Voracova, CZE
29. Andreja Klepac, SLO
30. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok, UKR/UKR
HM- Luksika Kumkhum & Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA/THA

1. Czech Fed Cup Team
2. Washington Kastles (WTT)

3. German Fed Cup Team
4. Italian Fed Cup Team
5. Australian Fed Cup Team
6. French Fed Cup Team
7. French Hopman Cup Team
8. Romanian Fed Cup Team
9. U.S. Junior Fed Cup Team
10. Canadian Fed Cup Team
11. Polish Fed Cup Team
12. Swiss Fed Cup Team
13. UCLA Bruins (NCAA Champions)

14. Dutch Fed Cup Team
15. Russian Fed Cup Team
HM- Russian ITF World Junior Chsp. Team


1. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2. Sloane Stephens, USA
3. U.S. Fed Cup Team
4. Serbian Fed Cup Team
5. Slovak Fed Cup Team
6. Jamie Hampton, USA
7. Laura Robson, GBR

8. Nadia Petrova, RUS
9. Kristina Mladenovic/Flavia Pennetta, FRA/ITA
10. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
11. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
12. Liezel Huber, USA
13. Ashleigh Barty, AUS
14. Arantxa Rus, NED
15. Chinese Fed Cup Team
16. Kazakh Fed Cup Team
17. Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua, AUS/AUS
18. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
19. Ayumi Morita, JPN
20. Julia Glushko, ISR
21. Kirsten Flipkens, BEL
22. Lisa Raymond, USA
23. Roberta Vinci, ITA
24. Urszula Radwanska, POL
25. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
HM- Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA

1. Petra Kvitova, CZE
2. Lucie Safarova, CZE
3. Andrea Petkovic, GER

4. Angelique Kerber, GER
5. Caroline Garcia, FRA
6. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
7. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
8. Andrea Hlavackova/Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
9. Alize Cornet/Kristina Mladenovic, FRA

10. Samantha Stosur, AUS
11. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
12. Kiki Bertens, NED
13. Karin Knapp, ITA
14. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
15. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
16. Belinda Bencic, SUI
17. Luksika Kumkhum, THA
18t. CiCi Bellis, USA (Jr.FC) & Tornado Black, USA (Jr.FC)
19. Johanna Larsson, SWE
20. Sofia Shapatava, GEO
HM- Paula Ormaechea, ARG


1. Denisa Allertova, CZE
2. Andreea Mitu, ROU
3. Laura Pous-Tio, ESP
4. Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith, GBR/GBR

5. Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
6. Wang Qiang, CHN
7. Patricia Maria Tig, ROU
8. Conny Perrin, SUI
9. Quirine Lemoine, NED
10. Ana-Sofia Sanchez, MEX
11. Nadia Podoroska, ARG
12. Alexandra Dulgheru, ROU
13. Sharon Fichman, CAN
14. An-Sophie Mestach, BEL
15. Oceane Dodin, FRA
16. Madison Brengle, USA
17. Gabriela Pantuckova, CZE
18. Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, ESP
19. Misa Eguchi, JPN
20. Elizaveta Ianchuk, UKR
21. Polina Leykina, RUS
22. Maria Sakkari, GRE
23. Valeriya Strakhova, UKR
24. Zhu Lin, CHN
25. Elena-Teodora Cadar, ROU
HM- Pernilla Mendosova, CZE

2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Serena Williams, USA
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA

2004 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2005 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2006 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2010 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Maria Sharapova, RUS

2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2005 Venus Williams, USA
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Venus Williams, USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Serena Williams, USA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Marion Bartoli, FRA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE

2004 Anastasia Myskina, RUS
2005 Mary Pierce, FRA
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2009 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2010 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Angelique Kerber, GER
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS

2002 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2003 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2004 Maria Sharapova, RUS & Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2006 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2007 Jelena Jankovic, SRB & Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2012 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2013 Simona Halep, ROU
2014 Simona Halep, ROU & Eugenie Bouchard, CAN

2002 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2003 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2004 Tatiana Golovin, FRA
2005 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2006 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2007 Agnes Szavay, HUN
2008 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2009 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2010 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2011 Monica Niculescu, ROU
2012 Laura Robson, GBR
2013 Sloane Stephens, USA & Eugenie Bouchard, CAN
2014 Belinda Bencic, SUI

2002 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2003 Vera Dushevina, RUS
2004 Maria Kirilenko, RUS & Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2005 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2006 Olga Puchkova, RUS
2007 Tamira Paszek, AUT
2008 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
2009 Melanie Oudin, USA
2010 Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
2011 Caroline Garcia, FRA
2012 Taylor Townsend & Eugenie Bouchard, USA/CAN
2013 Belinda Bencic, SUI
2014 CiCi Bellis, USA

2002 Anna Smashnova, ISR
2003 Anca Barna, GER
2004 Claudine Schaul, LUX
2005 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2006 Severine Bremond, FRA
2007 Sybille Bammer, AUT
2008 Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
2010 Vania King/Yaroslava Shvedova, USA/KAZ
2011 Galina Voskoboeva, KAZ
2012 Sara Errani, ITA
2013 Karin Knapp, ITA
2014 Tereza Smitkova, CZE

2002 Monica Seles, USA
2003 Ai Sugiyama, JPN
2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Venus Williams, USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2011 Li Na, CHN
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA

2002 Chanda Rubin, USA
2003 Lina Krasnoroutskaya, RUS
2004 Mary Pierce, FRA
2005 Venus Williams, USA
2006 Martina Hingis, SUI
2007 Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2008 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2010 Justine Henin, BEL
2011 Sabine Lisicki, GER
2012 Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE
2013 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2014 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO

2003 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2004 Alicia Molik, AUS
2005 Kveta Peschke, CZE
2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
2007 Marion Bartoli, FRA
2008 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2009 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2010 Kaia Kanepi, EST
2011 Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2012 Varvara Lepchenko, USA
2013 Julia Glushko, ISR & Alison Riske, USA
2014 Alize Cornet, FRA

2002 Meghann Shaughnessy, USA
2003 Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
2004 Jelena Dokic, SRB
2005 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2006 Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2009 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2010 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2011 Venus Williams, USA
2012 Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2013 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2014 Victoria Azarenka, BLR

2003 Martina Navratilova, USA
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
2005 Cara Black, ZIM
2006 Lisa Raymond, USA
2007 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Nuria Llagostera-Vives/Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, ESP/ESP
2010 Gisela Dulko, ARG
2011 Liezel Huber, USA
2012 Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
2013 Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
2014 Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA

2003 Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
2004 Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez, ESP/ARG
2005 Serena Williams/Venus Williams, USA/USA
2006 Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur, USA/AUS
2007 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2008 Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2009 Italian Fed Cup Team
2010 Gisela Dulko/Flavia Pennetta, ARG/ITA
2011 Kveta Peschke/Katarina Srebotnik, CZE/SLO
2012 Czech Fed Cup Team
2013 Hsieh Su-Wei/Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
2014 Czech Fed Cup Team

2008 Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2009 Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
2010 Mathilde Johansson, FRA
2011 Casey Dellacqua, AUS
2012 Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor, ESP
2013 Reka-Luca Jani, HUN
2014 Denisa Allertova, CZE

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE

All for now.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Wk.45- One for All, and All for Three (in Four)

In the end, it was Petra and the Maidens. Again.

Fed Cup Fact #1: just three nations have won the last eleven FC titles, with the Czechs now just one championship behind the four-time winning Russian and Italian squads

Fed Cup Fact #2: the Czech Republic's three titles in four years run stands nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with the other stretches of FC dominance since the end of the U.S.'s Fed Cup dynasty (1976-82 champs) ended thirty-one years ago. The Russians won four of five crowns from 2004-08, the Spaniards took four of five from 1991-95 (three in a row from 1993-95), while Czechoslovakia won three straight from 1983-85. Another win in '15 and the current-day Czechs will have equaled or bettered them all.

World champions - Czech Republic!!!! Comoooon!!!! ?? ????????

A photo posted by Lucie Safarova (@lucie.safarova) on

Fed Cup Fact #3: Petra Kvitova's 2-0 mark this weekend in Prague gives her a career 23-6 mark in FC play. She's 21-3 indoors.

Fed Cup Fact #4: Martina is proud. And, really, that FC Fact is maybe the most significant of them all. She WAS 40-1 in Fed Cup singles & doubles play for her career, after all, with her only loss coming in doubles in 2004 in her final FC match. Navratilova was 47 years old at the time, having already been inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame four years earlier.

S: Czech Republic def. Germany 3-1
S: Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS def. Chan Yung-Jan/TPE 1-6/6-2/6-4
D: HC.Chan/YJ.Chan (TPE/TPE) d. Chang/Chuang (CHN/TPE)

S: Tereza Smitkova/CZE def. Kristina Mladenovic/FRA 7-6(4)/7-5
D: Siniakova/Voracova (CZE/CZE) d. Babos/Mladenovic (HUN/FRA)

...while she'd had a huge -- majority? -- role in the Czech Republic's 2011 and '12 FC title runs, one thing Kvitova hadn't done was provide the singles win that clinched a championship. That changed this weekend when, after she (def. Petkovic) and Lucie Safarova (def. Kerber) had posted a 2-0 day on Saturday, Kvitova outlasted Kerber in a 2:57 marathon match on Sunday to lock away the title. Her place in Fed Cup lore, and probably Newport quite a few years in the future, are now secure.

Champagne shower!!!!! #czechfedcupteam #pojd

A photo posted by Petra Kvitova (@petra.kvitova) on

RISERS: Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan, TPE/TPE & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
...Yung-Jan reached both the singles (her biggest since the WTA event in Bangkok in '07) and doubles finals at the WTA $125K Taipei challenger in her home nation, but it took some assistance from her younger sister Hao-Ching to take home a title. As a wild card in singles, Yung-Jan defeated Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Ekaterina Bychkova, Alla Kudryavtseva and #1-seeded Anna-Lena Friedsam before losing in three sets to Vitalia Diatchenko. In doubles, the siblings swept to the title without facing a break point in the final against Chang Kai-Chen & Chuang Jia-Ching. It's the Chan's first WTA $125K title as a duo (both have a second 125 title with other partners) after having claimed three on the ITF circuit during their careers, as well as a pair of tour-level WTA titles (including on the grass in Eastbourne earlier this year). For a while in Limoges, Mladenovic Magic was ruling the day. The Pastry reached both the singles and doubles finals at the WTA $125K challenger, putting up wins over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Maryna Zanevska, Yulia Putintseva and Oceane Dodin before falling to Tereza Smitkova in the final. If she'd won, Mladenovic would have become the very first two-time singles champion in the WTA 125 Series, having swept the titles at the inaugural tournament in the series in Taipei in October '12. She and Timea Babos, her most frequent doubles partner in '14 (eight pairings which produced four finals, but no titles), lost in the Limoges doubles final in a deciding match tie-break against Renata Voracova & Katerina Siniakova.


SURPRISES: Tereza Smitkova/CZE & Oceane Dodin/FRA
...Smitkova, 20, continues to make the case for herself being at the leading edge of the next generation of Czechs set to infiltrate the WTA tour, grabbing her biggest career singles title at the WTA $125K challenger in Limoges. Having qualified and reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon this summer, Smitkova put up wins last week over Urszula Radwanska, Alison Van Uytvanck, Lesia Tsurenko, Francesca Schiavone and Kristina Mladenovic in the final. The win jumped her ranking from #83 to a career-best #67. 18-year old Pastry Dodin has reached five ITF singles finals since May, winning three. In October, she lost in the $100K Poitiers final to Timea Babos. After getting a wild card into the WTA 125 in Limoges, she ran off victories over Pauline Parmentier, Katarzyna Piter and Ana Konjuh on her way to the SF. The result lifted her to a career-best #207. She's 38-11 for the season.
VETERANS: Lucie Safarova/CZE & Francesca Schiavone/ITA

...while it's generally known that, as far as the Czech Fed Cup team in concerned, its fate swirls around the "as Petra goes" mantra. But Safarova's recent success has provided the additional favor that has led to the current three-titles-in-four-years run of dominance. While Safarova was just 5-9 in FC play prior to 2012 (as Kvitova's first Wimbledon championship season was further fueled by her putting her countrywomen on her back and leading the Czech Republic to its first FC crown as an independent nation in '11), the team's success has fallen in line with Safarova's ever since. When she went 3-0 in singles in '12, the Czechs won title #2 as Lucie knocked off both JJ and AnaIvo in the final after an off-her-sick-bed Kvitova wasn't able to carry her usual load. Her 1-2 mark in '13 was part of a title-less campaign. She was 3-0 this year and -- what do you know? -- the Czechs picked up a third title. Safarova's Day 1 win over Kerber on Saturday put the Germans in a 2-0 hole that was essentially a death sentence in the tie, and her joining in on the celebration a day later puts a nice capper on a '14 season that has seen the Czech put up her second Top 20 finish in three years and reach her first career slam semifinal. Meanwhile, in Limoges, Schiavone proved that reports of her potential demise may be greatly exaggerated. She didn't win the title at the $125K challenger, but the 34-year old reached the semifinals after knocking off younger foes Alexandra Dulgheru, Anna Schmiedlova and Richel Hogenkamp.
COMEBACK: Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...the Seles-admiring Hordette's comeback from a 2011 knee injury has progressed in leaps and bounds in '14. After suffering the injury at the Kremlin Cup in October '11, Diatchenko missed eight months of action, then played just five singles matches from 2012 to late '13 (focusing solely on doubles) before ending her 13-month singles absence by winning a $50K challenger title in December of last year, as she went from having no computer ranking to being inside the Top 500 in one fell swoop. Since then, her climb has been somewhat astounding. Over the course of '14, she's won three more ITF titles, including a $100K in July and a challenger crown in the city where IT all "began" for the Sochi-born Russian -- Moscow. She returned a month later, three years after her knee injury in the event, and reached her first WTA singles QF at this year's Kremlin Cup, notching her first career Top 50 win with a victory over Dominika Cibulkova to climb into the Top 100 for the first time. Last week, Diatchenko knocked off Melinda Czink, Duan Yingying, Luksika Kumkhum, Ana Bogdan and Chan Yung-Jan to claim her biggest title yet at the WTA $125K challenger in Taipei. She's now at a career-best #77 after having had no ranking at all on this date last year.

FRESH FACES: Katerina Siniakova/CZE & Anna-Lena Friedsam/GER
...18-year old Czech Siniakova continued her late season practice of knocking down career firsts. After taking her first tour doubles title in Tashkent, winning a pair of ITF singles crowns (she's 6-0 in career finals), and reaching her first tour-level singles semi in Moscow, Siniakova claimed her first WTA $125 Challenger doubles title in Limoges, teaming with Renata Voracova to defeat Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic in 10-6 match tie-break in the final. Friedsam, 20, has had a similar groundbreaking late summer/early fall run. She won the Suzhou $125K challenger that was held during the second week of the U.S. Open, and was a first-time tour semifinalist at Linz. In last week's Taipei 125, as the #1 seed, she notched wins over Shahar Peer and Ningo 125 champ Magda Linette on her way to the semis. Nestled in at #83 in the rankings, ALF is the seventh-ranked German, and the highest-ranked without a tour-level singles title. That detail could change in '15.
DOWN: Angelique Kerber/GER
...Kerber has had something of a hard luck season, reaching three singles finals but losing them all and just missing out on joining the field at the WTA Finals. Her one shining light had been her Fed Cup play, but after this weekend she's now 0-4 in 2014 finals. A 1st set-ending "hindrance" point in her first Fed Cup final match against Lucie Safarova was followed by twice being unable to hold a break advantage in the 2nd. Against Petra Kvitova on Sunday, trying to extend the tie, she led 5-2 in 1st, served for the set three times and held six set points. But she still dropped the set to concede the early advantage to the Czech. After taking the 2nd, she led 3-0 and 4-1 in the 3rd, but then failed to win another game.
ITF PLAYER: Evgeniya Rodina/RUS
...I suppose one could consider Phase One of Rodina's comeback now complete. The 25-year old Hordette, who as a teenager famously put the fear of the Tennis Gods in countrywoman Maria Sharapova in an 8-6 3rd set in the 1st Round of Roland Garros in '08, was a Top 100 player in 2011. After retiring with an injury in the Clearwater challenger in March '12, Rodina was away from the sport for fifteen months, during which she got married and had a child. She returned in August of last year with a ranking outside the Top 800, and has really kicked things into gear as '14 has moved along. Her final in the Sharm El Sheikh $25K event this weekend was her sixth of the season, and her victory over Laura Siegemund gives her four titles on the year (11 in her career). After beginning the season ranked #468, Rodina is now in the Top 150 at #148. All right... so Phase Two begins in 2015?
JUNIOR STARS: Dalma Galfi/HUN & Anhelina Kalinina/UKR
...Galfi, 16, claimed her second ITF title in as many weeks at another $10K challenger in Heraklion, defeating #5-seeded Greek Valentina Grammatikopoulou (she'd already defeated the #1 and #7 seeds at the event), and won her first career ITF doubles crown with Anna Bondar, too. 17-year old Kalinina, the U.S. Open girls singles runner-up (and Asian Games 4th place finisher and doubles Gold winner), reached the final at the $25K challenger in Equeurdreville-Hainneville, France. It was her fourth appearance in a challenger final over the past two years, though her retirement after seven games this weekend leaves her a 0-4 record in such matches.

What do former and current world #1's do when they're lounging by the pool in the offseason? Take competing POV bikini selfies, of course.

Life is good! #pooltime #nofilter

A photo posted by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

Oh, and they find time to skate...

And squeeze in a sprint triathlon in their spare time, too.

1. FC Final Match #3 - Kvitova d. Kerber
In one of more dramatic matches of the year, with the Czechs' FC title there for the taking in front of a partisan crowd, Kvitova battled against Kerber (and, naturally, herself on occasion) for 2:57 before finally clinching the title. Credit it to her 1st set comeback, when she came back from 5-2 down, saved six set points and survived the German serving three times for the set, which lasted 1:16. Kerber overcame a 3-0 deficit of her own in the 2nd to force a 3rd set, where she went up 3-0 and 4-1, but then saw the Czech cut into the lead and then surpass her down the stretch. After her fourth match point, it was finally over, and Petra's FC legacy tree grew yet another limb.
2. FC Final Match #1 - Kvitova d. Petkovic
Petkovic had slyly led Germany's charge to a first FC final since '92 by grabbing tone-setting Day 1 wins all year. It didn't happen against Kvitova, playing on indoor hard court and with the full force of a Czech crowd and her teammates behind her.
3. FC Final Match #2 - Safarova d. Kerber
Sometimes overlooked for her FC prowess during the Czech team's recent run, Safarova has been at her best in the final (especially in '12, when she took up the slack left unclaimed by an ill Kvitova to carry the day). She won a tight 1st which ended when she converted set point as the "hindrance rule" was enforced against Kerber when the German shouted, "Come on!," in celebration of a sure winner before the point was totally complete. In the 2nd, Safarova twice erased a break disadvantage. The loss put the Germans down 0-2, a deficit that had not -- and still hasn't -- ever been overcome in a FC final.
4. WTA $125K Limoges Final - Smitkova d. Mladenovic
There was so much Czech good will floating around this weekend, the Tennis Gods decided to bestow a bit of it on Smitkova, too.
WTA $125K Taipei 2nd Rd. - Linette d. Q.Wang 7-6(7)/6-3
WTA $125K Taipei QF - Friedsam d. Linette 7-6(0)/6-4
WTA $125K Taipei SF - YJ.Chan d. Friedsam 6-3/4-6/6-3
WTA $125K Taipei Final - Diatchenko d. YJ.Chan 1-6/6-2/6-4
Linette won again over Wang in a rematch of last weekend's Ningbo 125 final. Linette then fell to Friedsam, who lost to Chan, who was felled by Diatchenko in the Taipei final.
6. WTA $125K Limoges QF - Dodin d. Konjuh
The Croat's season ends here, after she'd put up nice wins over Annika Beck and Carina Witthoeft in France. She's the youngest player in the Top 100, and feels pretty good about it. As she should.

7. $25K Equeudreville-Hainneville FRA Final - Stephanie Foretz-Gacon d. Anhelina Kalinina
...5-2 ret.
The 33-year old Pastry's title is her fourth of '14, and ninth of her career.
8. $10K Casablanca Final - Ana Savic d. Valentina Kalikova
The 25-year old Croat takes her tenth career ITF crown, but her first since her comeback season on the circuit in '12.
9. $10K Oslo Final - Karen Barbat d. Cornelia Lister
So does THIS Dane run marathons or post oodles of pool-side pics on Instagram?
10. WTA $125K Taipei 1st Rd. - Tanasugarn d. Kozlova
37-year old Tammy made it through qualifying and got a main draw win.
11. $50K Captiva Island 2nd Rd. - Jennifer Brady d. Irina Falconi
Falconi lost early on to the 19-year old UCLA Bruin in South Carolina, but she claimed the USTA's three-event playoff for a wild card into next season's Australian Open. She's a little excited about it all.

12. $50K Captiva Island Final - Edina Gallovits-Hall d. Petra Martic
In a final delayed until Monday, 29-year old Romanian wild card EGH grabbed her first post-comeback title after additional wins last week over Michelle Larcher de Brito, Grace Min, Louisa Chirico and Jennifer Brady.
HM- USTA/ITA Nat'l Indoor Intercollegiate Chsp Final - Julia Elbaba (Virginia) d. Maegan Manasse (California)
The U-VA junior grabs her first NCAA major singles title, matching teammate Danielle Collins' win at the NCAA Championships last spring. Elbaba was the runner-up at the inaugural Billie Jean King Nationaal Collegiate Invitational -- losing to North Carolina's Jamie Loeb -- held at Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open.


2015 will be here before you know it. Thus, preparations begin. Madison Keys will be working with Lindsay Davenport this offseason...

Laura Robson is seemingly preparing to test (surely) ONE of the All-England Club's policies...

I have purple hair! #yolo

A photo posted by Laura Robson (@laurarobson5) on

While Melanie Oudin is recovering after undergoing a heart procedure last week. Get well soon, Little MO!

1. WTA $125K Taipei Doubles Final - Chan Hao-Ching/Chan Yung-Jan d. Chang/Chuang
This title doesn't count in the totals, but it should send a signal for 2015 to the Pliskovas, as the race to become the second-most winningest all-sisters doubles duo in WTA history IS ON. The Czechs currently have a second-best three titles, with two coming in '14; while the Chans have picked up two tour-level crowns, including one this season. Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko seperate the pairs on the list that includes only four multiple title-winning siblings. First place, of course, is quite far away, as the Williams Sisters have twenty-one tour wins.
2. $10K Oslo Doubles Final - Guarachi/Lodokova d. Maryna Kolb/Nadiya Kolb
For the second consecutive week, the Ukrainian Kolb sisters reach an ITF doubles final, but fail to take home their maiden crown as a duo. It'll come, though. Meanwhile, Nadiya also reached the QF in singles.

**FED CUP FINALS - since 2000**
2000 USA d. ESP 5-0
2001 BEL d. RUS 2-1
2002 SVK d. ESP 3-1
2003 FRA d. USA 4-1
2004 RUS d. FRA 3-2
2005 RUS d. FRA 3-2
2006 ITA d. BEL 3-2
2007 RUS d. ITA 4-0
2008 RUS d. ESP 4-0
2009 ITA d. USA 4-0
2010 ITA d. USA 3-1
2011 CZE d. RUS 3-2
2012 CZE d. SRB 3-1
2013 ITA d. RUS 4-0
2014 CZE d. GER 3-1
[most FC titles]
17...United States
3...Czech Republic
[recent FC title-clinching wins - singles]
2002 Janette Husarova, SVK
2003 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2012 Lucie Safarova, CZE
2013 Sara Errani, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE

2005 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2006 Francesca Schiavone, ITA
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2008 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2009 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2010 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Roberta Vinci, ITA
2014 Petra Kvitova, CZE

**2014 WTA/WTA 125 CHAMPIONS - 20 or under**
17 - Donna Vekic
19 - Madison Keys, Elina Svitolina
20 - Annika Beck, Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Garcia, Garbine Muguruza, Monica Puig
[WTA 125]
20 - Anna-Lena Friedsam, Tereza Smitkova

Nan Chang - Peng Shuai, CHN (W)
Nan Chang - Liu Fangzhou, CHN (L)
Suzhou - Duan Yingying, CHN (L)
Ningbo - Wang Qiang, CHN (L)
Taipei - Chan Yung-Jan, TPE (L)
Limoges - Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (L)

Hobart - Klara Zakopalova, CZE (L/W)
Bogota - Caroline Garcia, FRA (W/W)
Marrakech - Romina Oprandi, SUI (L/W)
Rome - Sara Errani, ITA (L/L)
Nurnberg - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (L/W)
Washington, D.C. - Kurumi Nara, JPN (L/L)
Quebec City - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO (W/W)
Hong Kong - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (L/W)
[WTA 125]
Taipei - Chan Yung-Jan, TPE (L/W)
Limoges - Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (L/L)

Chan Hao-Ching, TPE (2 WTA, 1 WTA 125)
Chan Yung-Jan, TPE (1 WTA, 1 WTA 125)
Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE (1 WTA, 2 WTA 125)
Olga Savchuk, UKR (1 WTA, 1 WTA 125)
Katerina Siniakova, CZE (1 WTA, 1 WTA 125)
Renata Voracova, CZE (1 WTA, 1 WTA 125)

4 - Polina Leykina
4 - Evgeniya Rodina
3 - Vitalia Diatchenko
3 - Elizaveta Kulichkova
2 - Natela Dzalamidze
2 - Darya Kasatkina
2 - Irina Khromacheva
2 - Ekaterina Lopes
2 - Anna Morgina
2 - Anastasia Rudakova

2007 Madison Brengle
2008 Madison Brengle
2009 Christina McHale
2010 Coco Vandeweghe
2011 Lauren Davis
2012 Madison Keys
2013 Madison Keys
2014 Sachia Vickery
2015 Irina Falconi
2007-14 Playoff Tournament winner; 2015 3-event USTA event points race

Sania can do glam, but she can do natural and workout-sweaty, too.

Back to work ??????

A photo posted by Sania Mirza (@mirzasaniar) on

Meanwhile, at the far end of Caro Corner...


A photo posted by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

And, last but not least, Ms. Sharapova. With questions...

And anything but...

Vacation in one picture. I'll see you soon #Philippines #nofilter

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

Up next, the Backspin Player Award Lists and, of course, the final "Ms.Backspin" countdown for 2014.

All for now.