Friday, May 22, 2015

RG.Q- The Week Before Paris

Main draw play begins in Paris on Sunday, but work has already been done on the terre battue.

Here's a quick recap of the qualifying rounds...

Q-PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR (#174)

...the 23-year old from Paraguay, already a Fed Cup star earlier this year, has just missed out on making her slam MD debut four times in the past, losing in the final round of qualifying each time (including in Paris three years ago). She burst out in the opening round this week with a win over CiCi Bellis then didn't look back, taking out #23 Laura Siegemund before downing Sorana Cirstea in the final round. Grand slam main draw... meet Veronica.
RISERS: Teliana Pereira/BRA (#77) & Paula Kania/POL (#162) recent weeks the Brazilian, in the Q-rounds despite her Top 100, has experienced the thrill of winning a WTA singles title, as well as the sting of being defaulted in an ITF match for angrily throwing her racket into the stands after losing a tie-break. On Friday, she finished off a successful qualifying run as the #1-seeded woman in the draw. The 26-year old posted victories over Stephanie Foretz, Renata Voracova and Laura Pous Tio. Her only career slam MD win came in the 1st Round in Paris year ago. Kania, 22, doesn't have a slam MD win to her credit, but her Q-run will allow her to make her RG debut. Now the question is whether or not she'll be the Last Pole Standing in Paris. Hey, don't laugh. If she can get past her 1st Round vs. Mona Barthel (who went out in the 1st Round this past week in Strasbourg) her 2nd Round opponent would likely be... Aga Radwanska. There's something to be said for having your fate in your own hands. I'm just sayin'.
SURPRISES: Dinah Pfizenmaier/GER (#142) & Johanna Konta/GBR (#144)
...Pfizenmaier, 23, reached the 3rd Round at Roland Garros in 2013 (where she defeated U-Rad, but lost to A-Rad). The German posted wins over Akgul Amanmuradova, #22 Anna Tatishvili and Vera Dushevina this week. Australia-born Brit Konta, 24, has one MD slam win to her credit (US '12). Her week included wins over Jovana Jaksic (ret.), #7 Elizaveta Kulichkova and wild card Pastry Clothilde de Bernardi.
VETERANS: Lourdes Dominguez-Lino/ESP (#113) & Andrea Hlavackova/CZE (#191) 34, LDL is the oldest '15 slam qualifier so far. Her route to the main draw included wins over teenager Barbora Krejcikova and veteran #13 seed Shahar Peer. The Spaniard has a pair of slam 3rd Round results on her resume: at RG in '09 and the U.S. Open in '10. Hlavackova, 28, took out #10 Julia Glushko, Naomi Broady and Anastasia Rodionova to reach her third main draw in Paris. So far, she's 0-2... and next gets Serena Williams in the 1st Round.
COMEBACKS: Sesil Karatantcheva/BUL (#104), Alexa Glatch/USA (#184) & Petra Martic/CRO (#155)
...welcome back, Sesil. The Bulgarian-turned-Kazakh-turned-Bulgarian reached the QF in Paris as a personality-plus 15-year old a decade ago. Much has happened since then, but the (still only) 25-year old's successful Q-run became a reality with her Q3 win over Tamira Paszek on Friday. Her 1st Round match will be just her second main draw outing in Paris since that QF run ten years ago. And, get this. As if trying to make up for all that lost time (and potential craziness), the Draw Gods have put her up against JJ in the 1st Round. Hopefully the Serb will be physically able to make it as fun as it could be.

Glatch, 25, has won a pair of ITF titles this season. She returns to the RG main draw after competitive wins over Olga Govortsova (8-6 in the 3rd), Ekaterina Bychkova (winning in straights after saving 5 SP in the 1st) and Kateryna Bondarenko (in three sets). The American reached the RG 2nd Round in '09 and '12. Martic, another 25-year old, has qualified for her second 2015 slam. The Croat is looking to recapture a bit of the magic that saw her put up a Round of 16 result at Roland Garros three years ago.
FRESH FACES: Margarita Gasparyan/RUS (#117) & Olivia Rogowska/AUS (#196)

...hmmm, one-handed backhands have traditionally looked pretty good in Paris, and Gasparyan (an habitual winner, she's 9-0 in ITF singles finals, including three wins this season) used hers to become the youngest (20) qualifier in the RG '15 batch. The Hordette came back from 4-2 down in the 3rd set in the Q3 vs. Maryna Zanevska to ensure her slam MD debut. Meanwhile, the "Wild Card Queen" actually won her way into a slam this time around. Rogowska has appeared in ten slam main draws, but nine of those times she's gotten there via a wild card (7 consecutive times at the AO). This Paris run was her first successful qualifying attempt. The 23-year old defeated #18-seed Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round of qualifying, then staged a comeback to defeat Beatriz Haddad Maia in the third round after the Brazilian served for the match in the 2nd set. Rogowska had a MD win in Paris in '09 as a 17-year old.
DOWN: Katerina Stewart/USA
...the teenager was robbed of the USTA's wild card into the RG main draw despite putting up by far the best three-event stretch during the assigned "playoff," but her consolation prize was a wild card berth in the qualifying rounds where she'd have to win three MORE matches in order to be able to made her slam MD debut. Stewart wasn't able to get through one on the terre battue, losing to Anett Kontaveit 6-3/7-6(3) in her first match. I guess that debut will have to wait a little while long... but with a surging ranking now into the Top 170, Stewart's big day should come soon (at worst, it's hard to believe she won't at least get a WC into the U.S. Open draw).



Q1: Wang Yafan d. #15 Richel Hogenkamp
Hogenkamp served for the match at 5-4 in the 2nd, and held quadruple MP (take that, Vika!) at 6-2 in the tie-break. Wang ultimately won 8-6 in the 3rd.
Q1: Veronica Cepede Royg d. CiCi Bellis
Paris isn't Flushing Meadows.
Q1: Tereza Mrdeza d. Kimiko Date-Krumm
2015 isn't 1995, either. That the year KDK was a Roland Garros semifinalist.
Q1: Julie Coin d. Aravane Rezai
Hey, at least Rezai is finally back on the court.

Q2: Sorana Cirstea d. #2 Mariana Duque
Top seeds should beware the Swarmettes. A good sign for Simona, or a reverse hoo-doo jinx or something?
Q2: Maryna Zanevska d. Wang Yafan
Wang led this one 6-0/3-1. In the 3rd, it was a race to see who wanted the win least (or most, depending on how you look at it, I guess) as thirteen of the sixteen service games ended with breaks of serves.
Q2: Olivia Rogowska d. Tessah Andrianjafitrimo
The 16-year old Pastry didn't make it through qualifying, but she did put up a Q1 win over Patricia Mayr-Achleitner and took Rogowska to three sets here. She's surely a name to watch, though. Not to mention one to vex commentators the world over. [Evil laugh.]

Q3: #1 Teliana Pereira d. Laura Pous Tio
The 12-game 3rd set had nine breaks of serve, including eight in a row.
Q3: Olivia Rogowska d. Beatriz Haddad Maia
Haddad lead 6-3/4-2 and served for the match at 6-5.
Q3: #11 Margarita Gasparyan d. Maryna Zanevska
Zanevska led 4-2 in the 3rd, but the Hordette swept the last four games to reach her first slam MD.

=Sisters Who Will Try to Forget Paris...=
Q1 - Chan Yung-Jan d. #5 Urszula Radwanska 6-4/6-4
Q1 - Gabriela Dabrowski d. #8 Kristyna Pliskova 6-4/6-4
Q1 - Tamira Paszek d. #21 Hsieh Su-Wei 6-4/6-4
Q1 - Andrea Hlavackova d. #14 Kristina Kucova 6-3/6-0

=A Sister Who'll Try to Forget SOME of What Happened in Paris...=
Q2 - Petra Martic d. Chan Yung-Jan 6-4/6-2

=...and Two More Who'd Rather Forget Paris, as well=
Q3 - Alexa Glatch d. Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2/3-6/6-3
Q3 - Andrea Hlavackova d. Anastasia Rodionova 6-2/6-7(5)/6-3

2006 Julia Vakulenko/UKR
2007 Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Raluca Olaru/ROU
2008 Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez/ESP & Yanina Wickmayer/BEL
2009 Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
2010 Kaia Kanepi/EST
2011 Sloane Stephens/USA
2012 Kiki Bertens/NED
2013 Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
2014 Grace Min/USA
2015 Veronica Cepede Royg/PAR
[2015 slams]
AO: Renata Voracova, CZE
RG: Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR

Manon Arcangioli/FRA = the 20-year old got the final WC and will make her slam debut
Katerina Stewart/USA Louisa Chirico/USA = the "winner" of the USTA's "three-event playoff," Chirico has reached three ITF finals (winning one) this season and is making her slam MD debut
Oceane Dodin/FRA = the Pastry won her debut slam MD match as a WC in Melbourne, and lost a spirited three-set 2nd Rounder to Karolina Pliskova
Fiona Ferro/FRA = the youngest of three 18 year-old RG WC's (Dodin & Chirico), Ferro gets her second straight WC into Paris
Amandine Hesse/FRA = playing in just her third career slam MD, she's searching for her first win
Mathilde Johansson/FRA = the 30-year old had her career-best slam result (3rd Rd.) in Paris in '12
Alize Lim/FRA = Lim has lost six straight ITF singles finals since winning two in 2010, and is playing in just her second slam MD (as a WC, she lost to Serena Williams in Paris in '14)
Virginie Razzano/FRA = the 32-year old pulled off a huge upset of Serena Williams in the 1st Rd. at RG in '12. She's 14-15 in Paris since her MD debut there in 1999, reaching the Round of 16 in '09.

none so far

WC: 18-Fiona Ferro(RG), 18-Oceane Dodin(AO), 18-Oceane Dodin(RG), 18-Louisa Chirico(RG)
Q: 20-Ons Jabeur(AO), 20-Margarita Gasparyan(RG), 21-Denisa Allertova(AO)
=OLDEST 2015 SLAM...=
WC: 32-Virginie Razzano(RG), 30-Mathilde Johansson(RG)
Q: 34-Lourdes Dominguez-Lino(RG), 33-Stephanie Foretz(AO), 31-Renata Voracova(AO)

All for now. Roland Garros Preview and Week 20 recap coming soon.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Backspin Puzzle Break! (RG15 Edition)

The second slam of 2015 is nearly here. So, who's the favorite to win? Well, here are a few of the contenders (in puzzle form):

Here's what the puzzle will look like when it's finished.

All for now.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Wk.19- The Sisterhood of the Traveling Crown

Hmmm. Well, the crown never really made its way onto the head of either Serena Williams or Simona Halep, but the mythical "reigning Queen of Clay" title has surely been something of a shared bit of royal finery this spring.

First, Angie Kerber tried it on. But she left it in the back seat of her new Porsche. Karolina Pliskova wore a knock-off version of the crown in Prague, but the real one popped up again in Madrid. There, Sveta Kuznetsova was seen sporting it in public for a few days, but Petra Kvitova was the one who took it home. Still, by the time things had reached the final stages in Rome, it'd been passed around yet again. For a time, Carla Suarez-Navarro looked as if she might have to have the crown retro-fitted in order for it to properly adorn her head going into Paris. But, as it turned out, there is no retro-fitting such an illustrious piece. It may have been a bit too large for CSN but, like a perfectly-fitting glass slipper, it was suddenly discovered that it fit SOMEONE rather perfectly.

Now, who could that be?

Oh, yeah. I think we all know HER.

Of course, Maria Sharapova's title run in Rome, the surest sign yet that she may have timed out her progression in perfect alignment with the goings-on that begin next Sunday in Paris, doesn't necessarily mean that the defending Roland Garros champion will become a three-time champ on the terre battue three weeks from now.

But there's as good or better a chance that that'll happen as anyone else lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, right? I mean, Sharapova knows clay. She knows Roland Garros. And she surely knows how to handle-


Well, I guess we really have no true idea what's going to happen in Paris. But in the final stages of the pre-RG schedule, it's Sharapova who has managed to rise to the surface. She's been there before, and managed to stay there through two weeks of play in Paris, winning twice in both dominating and/or hard-bitten fashion, depending on what's been necessary at the time. We'll soon know if Sharapova can do it all over yet again.

Winning in Rome, where she managed to avoid a certain decade-long nemesis (and put herself in position to possibly do so in Paris, as well) is a good sign, though. A good sign indeed.

Before we get to the rest of Week 19, I know this isn't ATP Backspin but, really, could Federer look any more "Joe Cool-ish" on the streets of Rome?

ROME, ITALY (Premier $2.428m/RCO)
S: Maria Sharapova/RUS def. Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP 4-6/7-5/6-1
D: Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic (HUN/FRA) d. Hingis/Mirza (SUI/IND) 6-4/6-3

...Sharapova knows a little about this clay court stuff. The winner of two of the last three titles at Roland Garros, and a finalist there three years running, the Russian has mostly -- except when Serena has been on the other side of the net -- been the class of the field on the red stuff since 2012. After nursing a leg injury coming out of the North American swing, she got off to a slower start than usual this spring. But she showed signs of getting to where she wants to be a week ago in Madrid, reaching the semis, and then improved upon that while grabbing her third title in Rome (2011-12) this week. Sharapova didn't lose a set while advancing to her 58th career final, taking out Jarmila Gajdosova, Bojana Jovanovski, Vika Azarenka and Daria Gavrilova. She was forced to dig down a little deeper in the final against Carla Suarez-Navarro, dropping the 1st set and having to find a way to take the 2nd as it was a handful of points away from turning in the Spaniard's favor in the late going. As it was, Sharapova got a late break and claimed the final eight points of the set to knot the match, then turned things on to take the 3rd at 6-1 to pick up career title #35, tying Serena for the most clay court titles among active WTA players with eleven. Her week will lift Sharapova back up to #2 in the rankings, which means she'll be "safely" nestled on the opposite side of the draw from Williams in Paris. And that could make all the difference.

RISERS: Christina McHale/USA & Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU
...McHale turned 23 off court in Rome, and had her best week in quite a while on it, as well. An opening victory over Barbora Strycova (now minus the married Zahlavova) was followed by advancements past both the 2014 Rome finalists, first with an actual victory over Sara Errani (McHale's first win over a Top 20 player since Doha '12 over Lucie Safarova) and then via a walkover from Serena Williams (elbow), as she reached her first tour QF since a semifinal result last September. At 9-10 for the season, McHale will attempt to reach .500 in her 1st Round meeting with Madison Keys in Strasbourg. Also in Rome, a month after her Fed Cup heroics, Dulgheru had another banner week. While her QF result isn't her best of '15 (RU in Kuala Lumpur), it's her best big event performance since 2011 (Miami QF). Getting her first wins since Fed Cup weekend, the Romanian made it through qualifying, then knocked off Misaki Doi, Lucie Safarova (finally closing things out on her 8th MP) and Ekaterina Makarova. The win over the Russian gives Dulgheru her second Top 10 win (Bouchard in FC) of the season, though her tired loss to fellow Swarmette Simona Halep in the QF (she won just one game) surely showed that the Romanian WTA hierarchy is in no danger of being shaken up just yet.
SURPRISES: Anastasiya Komardina/RUS & Nadja Gilchrist/USA
...for over a decade now, there's always been another (or several) young Hordettes lurking in the shadows, putting up good results when no one is looking. This week it was 17-year old Komardina. The world #594 claimed her second career title ('13 Arad) in the $10K challenger in Bol, completing her first sweep of both the singles and doubles at an event. The teenager defeated the #8 and #1 seeds to reach the final, then took out #2 Lina Gjorcheska there to claim the championship.

Meanwhile, former NCAA All-American Gilchrist, 24, continues forward on her quest to play at the 2015 U.S. Open. The former team captain of the Georgia Bulldogs, where she was a fine doubles partner to longtime Backspin fave Chelsey Gullickson, has been training and trying to raise money to help her fund the travel that comes with making her tennis dreams come true. As of last week, she was only 10% of the way to the monetary goal that would help her get the chance to play at the U.S. Open this summer. Her on-court results are picking up, though. After winning a doubles title at a challenger event in her home of Hilton Head in 2008, Gilchrist attended Georgia and didn't play another ITF event until the spring of last year. A week ago she won her first career singles title at a $10K challenger in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and then followed up with another run to a final there this week. Gilchrist lost it to Hungarian Julia Terziyska (who's won three circuit crowns in '15), but she's still sporting a 12-2 record in recent weeks as the summer -- and the Bannerette's chances to play in New York -- come into sharper focus over the next few months. Assuming her Open goal likely might include trying to win the USTA's three-tournament wild card playoff swing, Nadja would be wise to not put up anymore RU results there if she knows what's good for her, since the "rules" don't really favor players who string together three consecutive good weeks (and instead give the nod to who can play best in two out of three). Just ask Katerina Stewart. Nadja's name means "hope," though, so maybe things can work out for her. After all, while Stewart didn't win that WC into the RG main draw, she DID earn a WC into RG qualifying. Playing in the Open qualifying might not be the top end of Gilchrist's dream, but it WOULD meet her 2015 goal. Crossing fingers for her.
VETERAN: Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
...sometimes it pays big time to listen to the advice of your coach. Ever since CSN, always a threat but rarely a finisher over the years, took the words of her coach to heart that she was going to need to become more aggressively offensive in her approach if she was ever going to become the player she COULD be, the Spaniard has seen her tour standing improve. She finally won her first title last year, and this year she became the first Spaniard since the Sanchez/Martinez glory days to reach the Top 10. Last week in Rome she became the first WTA player to reach the 30-win mark in 2015, notching three Top 10 wins (giving her nine this season vs. seven different players), including defeats of two players in the Top 5 to reach the biggest final of her career. Wins over Mona Barthel, Heather Watson, Genie Bouchard, Petra Kvitova (her third win over the Czech this season) and Simona Halep (she's undefeated against her on clay) put her in with Maria Sharapova in the final. She took the 1st set, but wasn't able to outlast the Russian. No one's played in more three-setters in '15 than CSN, but seemingly no one has won more of them on clay in recent seasons than Sharapova. It was no different in the Rome final. Still, CSN will climb to #8 in the rankings this week and has assured herself of a Top 8 seed in Paris, where she reached the QF a season ago nine years after she'd made her slam debut there with the same result back in 2008. For a player who has won just a single title in her career, it seems a stretch to call her a contender to WIN at Roland Garros... but she very well could be a big factor in who does. And, hey, who knows? Players without a bushel of career titles have managed to sneak through the draw in Paris before (see Majoli, Schiavone and Li). Maybe CSN could add her name to the list.

COMEBACKS: Vika Azarenka/BLR & Anastasija Sevastova/LAT wasn't an easy week for Vika, but she managed to put up some good results even if the manner in which she did it sometimes made you cover your eyes rather than jump from your seat. A week after failing to take down Serena Williams in Madrid after holding triple match point, Azarenka labored to put opponents away again in Rome. She struggled in her opener against Lucie Hradecka, getting her blood pressure checked during the match but managing to push her way through. She defeated Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to get her third Top 10 win of the season, but she had to use five MP before she could finally slam the door shut on the Dane. Irina-Camelia Begu was set to go out in straight sets, but Vika failed to serve out the match and had to play a 3rd set before advancing. Azarenka fell in straights to Maria Sharapova in the QF, losing to the Russian for the fourth straight time. The progress that Vika has made in '15 is apparent, but so are the things she needs to work on. Hard courts have been, are and always will be her bread-and-butter, though, so we'll have to check in on her later this summer to see where she TRULY is in this comeback season. She DID finally win her first tie-break in fifteen months this week (vs. Caro), though, so maybe still more breakthroughs will come over the next few months. Hopefully she'll hit her peak in NYC. Meanwhile, Sevastova's comeback from early retirement really couldn't be going much more swimmingly, could it? Actually, the biggest disappointment for the 25-year old Latvian thus far might be that her final against Romina Oprandi at the $25K challenger in La Marsa this weekend had to be pushed back to Monday. Sevastova notched wins over the likes of Maria Irigoyen and Stephanie Foretz during the week to reach the final, her fifth in six events this season. She goes into the championship on a 17-match winning streak and with a 29-1 mark for 2015 as she tries for her third consecutive, and fifth overall, title this season.

FRESH FACES: Daria Gavrilova/RUS-AUS & Kajsa Rinaldo Persson/SWE
...all respect to Maria and Carla, but no one worked harder -- or longer hours -- than Gavrilova last week. Almost two months after a career week in Miami, in which the Russian-Aussie put up her first career Top 10 win in an upset of Maria Sharapova, she was even better (and more of a drama magnet) in Rome. First, Gavrilova made it through qualifying with victories over Kurumi Nara and Silvia Soler-Espinosa. That wouldn't have been a bad week right there, but she then followed up by coming back from a set and 4-2 down to defeat Belinda Bencic, fought off Ana Ivanovic to record her second career Top 10 win, didn't blink in downing Timea Bacsinszky to reach her first career WTA QF, and then had her easiest MD match against Christina McHale to go one better and put up a SF result. After around thirteen hours on the court, Gavrilova then had to face off again with Sharapova in a rematch. Even after all that work, she managed to hang close with Maria throughout the 1st set, getting broken late as Sharapova took the lead at 7-5. After being treated for an abdominal injury (no shock after her week) that caused her to take quite a bit off her serve, Gavrilova still was able to grab a 3-1 lead in the 2nd before Sharapova finally seized control and ended the 21-year old's 14+ hour on-court work week. Not that Gavrilova, a former junior star, is going to follow in the Romanian's footsteps over the next two seasons, but it's an interesting comparison when you consider that this very event is where a 21-year old Simona Halep (ranked #64 at the time) really began to make her mark, going from Rome qualifier to semifinalist over the span of a week and eventually ending that season in the Top 15. Halep's list of Roman victims in '13 included the likes of Hantuchova (Q), Kuznetsova, Radwanska, Vinci and Jankovic before she lost to Serena Williams. Gavrilova's opponents were a shade less impressive this week, but her ranking will rise to #45 on Monday after having been #78 a week ago. She ended 2014 at #233.

Now, a rare treat -- a Swede! We don't see many Swedish award winners around here these days, but 17-year old Persson is threatening to change that. After reaching the final a week ago in the $10K Bastad challenger, she reached another there this weekend. This time the #730-ranked player in the world claimed her first career title, defeating Valeria Prosperi in the final after having defeated Norway's Melanie Stokke in the QF. Also a semifinalist in a challenger event in Bol in April, Persson is 12-2 in her last three events.
DOWN: Ana Ivanovic/SRB & Angelique Kerber/GER
...well, AnaIvo is on coach, umm, well, it seems like about #167, doesn't it? While she managed to stage multiple comebacks in her 2nd Round match with Daria Gavrilova in Rome, the Serb still lost to fall to 12-9 in tour matches this season (the second-fewest match wins, after Genie Bouchard, by any current Top 10 player in '15). After going 16-10 vs. Top 20 players a year ago when she returned to the Top 5, Ivanovic is down to #7 while going 0-4 against them in '15. Her last victory over a Top 20 player? Against Simona Halep at the WTA Finals in that match where the Romanian winning a set allowed Serena Williams to slip into the semifinals (and, ultimately, take the title). Meanwhile, 2015's first "Queen of Clay" continued to see her fortunes dip heading into Paris. Kerber, who once upon a time sported an 11-match clay court win streak, fell to 1-2 since that stretch with her 6-3/6-3 loss to Irina-Camelia Begu in the 2nd Round in Rome. Rather than rest up for Roland Garros, though, the German is installed as the #2 seed this week in Strasbourg. A case could be made that she might need the work after the last few weeks, but most true contenders for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen don't necessarily feel the need to play potentially right up until the start of play next week, which Kerber would end up doing if she hits her stride once again in her final tune-up event. So, I guess even Kerber isn't quite sure whether she's the TRUE contender she appeared to be a few weeks ago, or whether she's just a caricature of her recent self.

ITF PLAYER: Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor/ESP
...all hail the Bailaoras, as the latest of the "Spanish dancers" to grab some headlines for herself is Torro-Flor. At the $50K challenger in Saint-Gaudens, the Spaniard set an ITF record when she broke Casey Dellacqua's mark (31) of consecutive singles matches won on the circuit. Sure, the 23-year old has had a two and a half year absence from ITF competition dating back to 2012 (around the time when Dellacqua set the record), but her title run this week extended her overall ITF streak to 35 victories. Record-breaking win #32 came earlier in the week over Mariana Duque, then Torro-Flor followed up with victories over Johanna Konta, Magda Linette and Jana Cepelova in a 6-1/6-0 final. MTTF, who won a WTA singles title last year in Marrakech, has now claimed twelve career ITF singles titles (in fifteen finals), including going undefeated in her last nine finals dating back to 2011.
JUNIOR STARS: Marketa Vondrousova/CZE & Anna Blinkova/RUS
...15-year old Vondrousova, the #6-ranked junior, claimed her first career ITF singles title in the Zielona Gora $10K challenger in Poland. The Czech defeated the #2 and #5 seeds en route to the final, where she downed #1-seed Natela Dzalamidze 6-3/6-3. She also won her second ITF doubles title, taking the crown with fellow Maiden Miriam Kolodziejova (who she defeated in the singles semi). The pair won the girls doubles at this year's Australian Open. Meanwhile, in the Santa Croce, Italy junior event, 16-year old Russian Blinkova swept the singles and doubles, claiming her first career Grade 1 titles. The #23-ranked junior defeated Italy's Jessica Pieri in the final, completing her improvement upon her runner-up result in the Grade 1 Yucatan Cup in March. Blinkova is being coached by recent WTA player Nina Bratchikova.

Our ?????? team title #RomeMasters Great week partner ???? @timibabos

A photo posted by Kristina Mladenovic (@kristinamladenovic93) on

DOUBLES: Timea Babos/Kristina Mladenovic (HUN/FRA)
...suddenly, "The Club" has gained a pair of new members, as Babos & Mladenovic joined Martic/Vogt and Mattek-Sands/Safarova as the only teams to beat the Hingis/Mirza Dream Team since it's inception a few months ago. In Rome, the veteran pair reached their fourth final in six events, but dropped to 4-3 on red clay (they're 14-0 on hard court and green clay) as they fell in straight sets for just the second time in their history to the younger duo. Babos/Mladenovic received an earlier walkover in Rome from BMS/Safarova, then defeated Kudryavtseva/Pavlyuchenkova to reach their second consecutive final before getting a second win to go with their previous title on the clay in Marrakech. It gives them three wins (w/ a hard cout title in Dubai) in 2015, matching Hingis/Mirza for the most by any team on tour this season. Both Babos and Mladenovic had birthdays over the past week, and Babos noted that they're doing better with "more experience." "We're the same age and we've known each other for a long time -- we were born just four days apart," Mladenovic added. "And Timi is my best friend - we spend a lot of time together off the court, and we also complement each others game very well."

Hmmm, just a guess, but I don't think Sania likes being a runner-up.

When in Rome... have a look at Rome.

City Guide: #Rome #IlBarSottoIlMare

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

But even with all the beautiful things to see in Rome, the Pietrangeli court is worth a mention. I mean, really, that's a great design.

1. Rome 1st Rd. - Gajdosova d. Vesnina
What do you get when you match up a pair of players with a history of dramatic losses? Well, this match. Gajdosova led 3-0 in the 3rd, but Vesnina surged to take a 5-4 lead and hold MP. Things went to a deciding TB in which both players held five MP each, trading off opportunities throughout. For the record, Vesnina was a point away from the win at 6-5, 7-6, 10-9, 12-11 and 14-13; while Gajdosova had her shots at 8-7, 9-8, 11-10, 13-12 and 15-14, the latter of which finally became a converted chance. The Aussie then promptly won just three games off Sharapova before retiring in the 2nd set in the next round.

2. Rome QF - Sharapova d. Azarenka
Sharapova now leads the head-to-head with Azarenka 8-7, including four straight wins since losing to her in the 2012 Beijing final. 2012 was the height of Vika's mastery of the Russian, as for the season she went 4-1, including 2-0 in slams and 3-1 in finals. Of note, Azarenka's one loss to Sharapova that season came on red clay.
3. Rome 1st Rd. - Gavrilova d. Bencic
Little did qualifier Gavrilova know that her escape from a 7-6/4-2 hole against the New Swiss Miss would only be the beginning of her main draw drama.
4. Rome 2nd Rd. - Gavrilova d. Ivanovic
AnaIvo made Gavrilova work for what would become a career week. The Serb came back from 7-5/4-0 down, preventing Gavrilova from serving things out at 5-4, and winning a TB to force a 3rd set. There Ivanovic erased a 4-2 deficit, saved three MP at 6-5 and then saved four more MP in the TB after falling behind 4-0 and 6-3. Finally, on MP #8, the Russian-Aussie advanced.

5. Rome 3rd Rd. - Gavrilova d. Bacsinszky
Normally, this would have been a headline-grabber, but it got lost in everything else Gavrilova did in Rome. So, take note how Bacsinszky has been such a fighter all season... and then realize that Gavrilova shut her out in the 2nd set tie-break. Timea, being Timea, was as good a "loser" as she is a winner.

6. Rome 2nd Rd. - Kvitova d. Knapp
Kvitova would ultimately fall in the QF, but the Madrid champ avoided a one-and-done trip to Italy by cutting off Knapp when the Italian was serving up 5-2 in the 3rd set. Knapp got to within two points of the win at 5-3, 40/40. But Kvitova reeled off nine straight points to pull out of that hole, turning the match in her favor. She won a 7-1 rout in the deciding TB.
7. Rome 3rd Rd. - Suarez-Navarro d. Bouchard
With the season's second slam just around the corner, Bouchard had her best week in quite a while. She ended her six-match losing streak in the 2nd Round, and nearly tripped up CSN here. She likely should have won. She served for the match at 7-6/5-4, then again at 5-4 and 6-5 in the 3rd. In the deciding TB, CSN led 6-2, but Bouchard saved four MP and got one of her own at 7-6. She failed to convert, and the Spaniard won on #5 of her own. It says something about Bouchard's recent results that this squandered match can be seen as "encouraging," I guess.

8. Rome QF - Suarez-Navarro d. Kvitova 6-3/6-2
Rome SF - Suarez-Navarro d. Halep 2-6/6-3/7-5
CSN's two Top 5 wins in Rome. Things went a bit more smoothly in her third '15 win over Kvitova than in her fourth career win on clay (4-0) over Halep. In the 3rd set against the Romanian, the two traded breaks through the first eight games, with Suarez-Navarro being unable to hold her break advantage on four straight occasions. Halep finally held in game #9, only to see CSN refuse to blink and finally close her out on her third MP. The loss, along with Sharapova's SF win, sealed Halep #3-seed fate for Paris, while Suarez-Navarro got her ninth Top 10 win of the season, as well as her fourth over a Top 5 player in '15.
9. Rome SF - Sharapova d. Gavrilova
In a rematch of Gavrilova's Miami upset, Sharapova won in straights. But what would have happened had Gavrilova not already played thirteen hours during the week to get there, and she wasn't troubled by a hardly-surprising abdominal injury after such a heavy workload? The two were knotted up deep in the opening set, and Gavrilova grabbed a 3-1 lead in the 2nd not long after being treated for the injury.
10. Rome Final - Sharapova d. Suarez-Navarro
CSN was not without her chances in the 2nd set to take this title away from Sharapova, but what happened there and in in the 3rd is the difference between being a 35-time tour singles champ and a player who has now reached eight finals and won just one title. CSN opened the 2nd with a break, but never held serve in the set and lost the last eight points. With the Spaniard tiring and Sharapova surging in the big moment, the 3rd set produced the expected result.
11. Rome 1st Rd. - Keys d. Brengle
Keys is 2-0 in "Battle of the Madisons" action in '15. Since the first match-up in Melbourne, Brengle has gone 12-11, while Keys (who lost to Bojana Jovanovski in the 2nd Rd.) is 7-6. Brengle lost in the Strasbourg 1st Round on Sunday, giving her five straight losses on red clay heading into RG. Translation: Mary Joe will now SURELY pick her to play in the next Team USA Fed Cup tie on clay.

12. Rome 2nd Rd. - Azarenka d. Wozniacki 6-2/7-6(2)
Rome 3rd Rd. - Azarenka d. Begu 6-4/5-7/6-1
while Vika is 3-0 against Caro this season, and the Dane hasn't taken a set off her since 2010, she took five MP to put her away here. On the bright side, Azarenka ended her tie-break losing streak, getting her first win since AO '14. A round later, she served for the match against Begu at 5-4, 30/30 in the 2nd set only to be forced to play the 3rd.
13. Rome QF - Halep d. Dulgheru
While Dulgheru had a good week, the true identity of the Swarmette Queen was never in question. Plus, it's never a bad thing to be called a "tough cookie."

14. Strasbourg Q1 - Muhammad d. Tatishvili
Anna T. has returned... so the path back to being able to be passed over by Mary Joe again in 2016 has officially begun.

15. $10K Mozon Final - Georgina Garcia Perez d. Cristina Sanchez Quintanar
Well, it continues. CSQ has climbed inside the Top 500, and was the #2 seed at this challenger. But yet another loss in a singles final drops her to 0-6 in 2015. One of these days.
HM- $50K Saint-Gaudens QF - Jana Cepelova d. Teliana Pereira
...7-6(5), default.
Remember when Pereira experienced the high of winning a tour title a few weeks ago? Well, she's now gotten the boot end of the results equation, as well. After losing the 1st set to Cepelova, she was defaulted from this QF match for throwing her racket into the stands in frustration.


Flavia and the determined autograph-seekers. (It just made me laugh.)

And Aga and her fan mail (oh, someone sent her five dollars!):

Meanwhile, can you find Francesca? (And, no, that's not a comment on her recent results... I mean in the photo!)

1. Rome 1st Rd. - Safarova d. Anna Schmiedlova
Schmiedlova might have been the "lucky loser" here, but Safarova was lucky she didn't lose to her in the 1st Round. The Slovak led 4-1 in the 3rd set before the Czech swept the final five games.
2. Rome 1st Rd. - Venus Williams d. Siniakova
The Czech only won four games overall, but she battled Williams through a 16-minute opening game a day after her 19th birthday (which she briefly got a little emotional about in the middle of the match when it was noted on the scoreboard). Venus lost just eleven points on serve all match.
3. Rome 3rd Rd. - McHale walkover Serena Williams (elbow)
Christina knows better than to poke the bear Serena.

HM- Rome 1st Rd. - Bacsinszky d. Karolina Pliskova 6-4/6-0
$50K Kurume SF - Hozumi d. Kristyna Pliskova 7-6(5)/6-3
both sisters have picked up singles titles (Karolina WTA, Kristyna ITF) in recent weeks, but things didn't go quite as well this week.

What's up there, anyway?

Do we look alike? Whats up there? ??

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Not The Russian Doll... because she's right next to Vika! Yep, it's a real live Anna Chakvetadze sighting!

And this...

Although... does, "Omg omg omg omg omg" really apply to meeting... umm, Ben Stiller? I'm just sayin'. (Raises eyebrow.)

Omg omg omg omg omg

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

**2015 WTA**
6...SIMONA HALEP (2-3+W)
4...Caroline Wozniacki (3-1)
4...Karolina Pliskova (3-1)
4...Serena Williams (2-1+L)
3...Simona Halep (3-0)
3...Timea Bacsinszky (2-1)
3...Caroline Wozniacki (1-2)
3...Karolina Pliskova (1-2)

10.Monica Seles (53)
11.Venus Williams (46)*
12t.Justine Henin (43)
12t.Martina Hingis (43)
14.Kim Clijsters (41)
16.Conchita Martinez (33)
17.Tracy Austin (30)
18.Arantxa Sanchez (29)
19t.Hana Mandlikova (27)
19t.Gabriela Sabatina (27)

**CSN 2015 TOP 10 WINS**
Sydney - #10 Ekaterina Makarova
Dubai - #3 Petra Kvitova
Doha - #4 Petra Kvitova
Miami - #8 Aga Radwanska
Miami - #10 Andrea Petkovic
Madrid - #7 Ana Ivanovic
Rome - #6 Genie Bouchard
Rome - #4 Petra Kvitova
Rome - #2 Simona Halep

4 - Sania Mirza, February-April (3-1)
3 - Hingis/Mirza, March-April (3-0)
2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, January (2-0)
3 - Hingis/Mirza, March-April (IW-Mia-Chas)
2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, January (Syd-AO)
2 - BABOS/MLADENOVIC, May (Marr-Rome)

Hobart - Madison Brengle (#84/USA, lost to Watson)
Prague - Lucie Hradecka (#74/CZE, lost to Ka.Pliskova)
Sydney - Tsvetana Pironkova (#67/BUL)
Charleston - Lucie Hradecka (#110/CZE)
Rome - Daria Gavrilova (#78/RUS-AUS)

5 - Martina Hingis, SUI (4/1)
4 - Sania Mirza, IND
3 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
2 - Ysaline Bonaventure, BEL
3...Hingis/Mirza - 2 HC,1 GC
2...Mattek-Sands/Safarova - 1 HC,1 RC

4 - Marcela Zacarias, MEX
3 - Katerina Stewart, USA
2 - Alexa Glatch, USA
2 - Sachia Vickery, USA
1 - Usue Arconada, USA
1 - CiCi Bellis, USA
1 - Julia Boserup, USA
1 - Louisa Chirico, USA
1 - Nadja Gilchrist, USA
1 - Allie Kiick, USA
1 - Danielle Lao, USA
1 - Gloria Liang, CAN
1 - Claire Liu, USA

[May 20-25 - visit Zoo Tennis for coverage]
1.Robin Anderson, UCLA
2.Carol Zhao, Stanford
3.Brooke Austin, Florida
4.Maegan Manasse, California
5.Lauren Herring, Georgia
6.Julia Elbaba, Virginia
7.Jamie Loeb, North Carolina
8.Sydney Campbell, Vanderbilt
-#9-16 (alphabetical)-
Hayley Carter, North Carolina
Danielle Collins, Virginia (2014 champion)
Joana Eidukonyte, Clemson
Lorraine Guillermo, Pepperdine
Julie Jones, Mississippi
Josie Kuhlman, Florida
Giuliana Olmos, USC
Stephanie Wagner, Miami
1.Maya Jansen & Erin Routliffe, Alabama (2014 champions)
2.Taylor Davidson & Carol Zhao, Stanford
3.Catherine Harrison & Kyle McPhillips, UCLA
4.Beatrice Gumulya & Jessy Rompies, Clemson
Pleun Burgmans & Emily Flickinger, Auburn
Maegan Manasse & Denise Starr, California
Klara Fabikova & Zsofi Susanyi, California
Brooke Austin & Kourtney Keegan, Florida

McHale wasn't the only one having a birthday last week...

14 Final: Puig d. Soler-Espinosa
14 Doubles Final: Barty/Dellacqua d. Bua/Seguel
15 Top Seeds: Keys/Jankovic

#4 Cornet d. Mladenovic
#3 Stosur d. #2 Jankovic
#4 Cornet d. #3 Stosur

...maybe the memory of the coffee and coconut gelato will fuel Sam to an even better result, though?

14 Final: Bouchard d. Ka.Pliskova
14 Doubles Final: Krajicek/Ka.Pliskova d. Olaru/Peer
15 Top Seeds: Petkovic/Kerber

#1 Petkovic d. Babos
#5 A.Schmiedlova d. #4 Vinci
#5 A.Schmiedlova d. #1 Petkovic

...although they're the top two seeds, what are the odds of a Petko/Kerber final actually happening?


Up next: The Roland Garros "contenders" puzzle!

Also this week: RG Q-Awards, the Week 20 recap and a (likely abbreviated, because of that cursed Sunday start) Paris preview.

And, finally, after all these years, she still manages to sneak into Backspin in the oddest ways...

But I guess that's what all-time Backspin MVP's do.

All for now.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Wk.18- Good Petra, Bad Petra... Happy Petra!!

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Well, here we go again? Right? Petra Kvitova wins something big, we all think even bigger. Then everything comes crashing down a short time later. Not in any disastrous, never-come-this-way-again-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you sort of way. But in disappointing fashion that raises frustrating doubts about our original opinions about her, but doesn't banish all hope from thee who enter these gates.

Oh, Petra. Sometimes you get the idea that the best thing that can happen to Kvitova is for her to become a champion... but that it's always possible that it's the worst thing, too.

Kvitova's run to the title last week in Madrid to claim the second clay court title of her career saw her peak as the tournament moved along, leading to her ultimate destruction of a pair of (albeit compromised, either "Serenativitally" or physically) former Roland Garros champions in Serena Williams (5 games allowed) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (3). With the season's second grand slam just a few weeks away, no player has been able to hold onto any "Queen of Clay" notions for long this spring. So that means Petra, healthy and in-form as mid-May approaches, moves right into the discussion when it comes to Paris contention, where she's been a semifinalist in the past and will enter as a Top 4 seed.

But is she REALLY a Roland Garros "favorite?" And would it be best to de-emphasize that sort of talk... you know, for her own good? Kvitova seems to think so.

“I didn't expect this. No, for sure I'm not feeling as the favorite of the French Open right now. Yeah, I had a great run for sure, but the French Open, it's different. I was there in the semifinal one year, so I know I can play good there,” Kvitova said, perhaps intentionally leaving out any instructions about -- please, for the love of the Tennis Gods! -- not placing those sort of expectations on her shoulders. It usually doesn't turn out well.

Whether it's her asthma, her fitness, or the uncomfortability in the spotlight that has been the culprit, SOMETHING has always seemed to provide a final obstacle that Kvitova hasn't been able to overcome. She even came within two victories of reaching the #1 ranking at the beginning of the 2012 season, only to come up short and re-start the climb all over again.

To her credit, unlike some first-time slam champs in recent seasons, Kvitova has never gone away. She always comes back fighting, reminding everyone why they got so excited about her future in the first place. She's won a second slam title in London, and reached the final four at two other majors. She's won the U.S. Open Series (but not the Open itself), and led the Czech Maidens to three Fed Cup championships.

But, still, it's been a time-honored tradition during Kvitova's career for her to often shine so brightly that she grabs EVERYONE'S attention, then has her results fizzle a bit (well, at least until it's time to dazzle yet again and start the process anew). Just when many are expecting her to finally climb to the tip-top of the sport, winning major titles somewhere other than at the All-England Club, she takes a step back and forces her fans to grapple with just how comfortable they'll be if she's destined to "only" be a great champion at ONE of the four majors.

That's not exactly a "normal" conundrum for an average player, or even a very good one with a resume that was nipping at the heels of being Hall of Fame-worthy before she turned 25. But it's a reality in Kvitova's case because we all KNOW that she has the ability to win everywhere.

Just don't say it too loudly. I mean, you can think about it, but don't go around casually mentioning that the last time she won a title on clay (in 2011) she ended up winning THE biggest grass court tournament in the world for the very first time, so there's evidence that Kvitova showing good form in the spring generally speaks well for her summer. Oh, no... what did I just do?

We never really know whether Good Petra or Bad Petra will be awaiting us around the corner, but we can all agree on one thing. Happy Petra is a delight to see...

Oh, Petra. Don't think TOO much and everything might just work out.

MADRID, SPAIN (Premier Mandatory $4.185m/RCO)
S: Petra Kvitova/CZE def. Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS 6-1/6-2
D: Casey Dellacqua/Yaroslava Shvedova (AUS/KAZ) d. Garbine Muguruza/Carla Suarez-Navarro (ESP/ESP) 6-3/6-7(5) [10-5]

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Petra Kvitova/CZE never knows whether a title-winning week will prove to simply be a case of Kvitova showing what she's capable of, or something much more. Often, it's only a few weeks (or days) before she proves that nothing is ever a "sure-thing" when it comes to predicting her results. Good form and good results don't always like up perfectly for the Czech over multi-tournament stretches, so it's best to simply appreciate the wonderful moments when things go her way... then realize later whether or not any was a stepping stone victory. Or not. Who knows, maybe this win WILL be a prelude to something big, considering that no one seems to want to hold onto the "Queen of Clay" title this spring and Kvitova HAS shown she can go deep in Paris ('12 SF). See, it's just so easy to fall into the trap. In Madrid, Kvitova followed up her '14 semifinal result with her second title (2011) at the event, expertly timing her rise (and likely running into Serena Williams on the perfect day for an "upset"... which you can't ever really be sure a win over Williams is when it's Kvitova pulling off the victory, especially on clay). The Czech's wins over Olga Govortosova, Coco Vandeweghe, Irina-Camelia Begu, Serena (2 & 3) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (1 & 2) paved the way for her sixteenth career title, but just her second ever on the red stuff. Make of it what you will... or won't.

RISERS: Alize Cornet/FRA & Caroline Garcia/FRA
...the Pastries rose, but then they fell, as well. Still, it's difficult to overlook Cornet's impressive start in Madrid last Sunday, where she handed '14 runner-up Simona Halep a 1st Round loss and collected her fourth win over a Top 2 player since last February (and, finally, she got one over someone other than Serena Williams, proving that she's not a one-trick pony who can only beat one top player... and, yes, I'm kidding... sort of). Cornet wasn't able to follow up the upset, though, losing to Roberta Vinci a round later. Garcia, too, flew high, only to be unable to stay at such a high altitude for long. In the 2nd Round, she upended Prague champ Karolina Pliskova, but a round later she wasn't able to hold on in a match against Maria Sharapova that went deep into the 3rd set without either woman gaining a clear advantage. Ultimately, the Russian got a late break and then served out the match at 7-5.
SURPRISES: Marcela Zacarias/MEX, Fernanda Brito/CHI & Alexandra Stevenson/USA
...pretty much all the real surprises took place in the 1st Round in Madrid, so I'll drop down to the ITF circuit for a trio of Week 18 honorees here. First, a pair of singles winners. 21-year old Mexican Zacarias swept the singles and doubles titles at the $15K challenger in Ciudad Obregon to claim both disciplines in an event for the second straight week, running her current combined s/d winning streak to sixteen matches. She took out Vojislava Lukic when the Serb retired down 2-1 in the 3rd set, grabbing career ITF singles title #10 and tying for the 2015 circuit lead with four. Her doubles title was also her fourth of the year. After not playing with her last week (but beating her in both singles and doubles), Zacarias again teamed with successful doubles mate Victoria Rodriguez to win their eighth title as a pair (Zacarias' 12th overall), with all the titles coming since last April. Oh, and after Marcela defeated her in the singles final last week, she did it again in the semis here... so I guess V-Rod's motto for the week was, "If you can't beat her, join her." Zacarias is 7-2 in their career head-to-head.

In the $10K in Villa Maria, Chilean Fernanda Brito defeated Top 15 junior Julieta Lara Estable (the Argentine was playing on home soil) to win her ninth career crown and her third consecutive event this season. The 23-year old burst into the final having won four of the eight sets at love that she'd played during the week, including dropping just one game in her last five sets. Estable got fifteen games off her in the final, but Brito won the deciding 3rd set tie-break 7-2. The third winner here goes to Stevenson, who game up short of actually winning a title. I've sort of jumped on the uptick in the 34-year old's results of late, and it very nearly paid off in the $50K Indian Harbour Beach challenger. Stevenson reached the doubles final with Angelina Gabueva, losing to the top-seeded team of Maria Sanchez & Taylor Townsend 6-0/6-1. But her run is still noteworthy because it's just the sixth professional final she's ever played in, and only the second since 2002. Stevenson lost in the 2009 Carson $50K singles final, but before this weekend that was her only final in the last thirteen years. Her career WTA and ITF finals:

1998 $50K Midland (s) - WON def. S.Reeves
2002 Memphis WTA (s) - RU to L.Raymond
2002 Leipzig WTA (d) - WON partnering S.Williams
2002 Linz WTA (s) - RU to J.Henin
2009 $50K Carson (s) - RU to V.Tetreault
2015 $50K Indian Harbour Beach (d) - RU partnering A.Gabueva

So the last time Stevenson played in a doubles final she did it while being alongside Serena Williams. And in case you were wondering, yes, that is the only women's doubles title ever won by Serena without Venus as her partner. Stevenson came into the week just outside the Top 400 in singles, and at #1270 in doubles. That she put together a doubles run is quite an odd occurrence, as she hasn't even played enough to earn a season-ending ranking for most of the last decade-plus. She was #1026 in 2010, but that's her only year-end doubles rank since 2004. She had three Top 100 double seasons in 2000, '02 and '03.
VETERANS: Maria Sharapova/RUS & Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
...the week didn't quite turn out the way either of these two Original Hordettes might have hoped, but they left Madrid having proven something to themselves. Sharapova had three straight one-and-out results heading into the week, but the defending champ in the event (and at RG) handled Timea Bacsinszky (2 & 3) and Mariana Duque, then outlasted Caroline Garcia and Caroline Wozniacki in a pair of three-setters before losing in straight sets to Kuznetsova in the semis. The win over Wozniacki, in particular, was important for Sharapova, as she strung together back-to-back three-set wins (she won four in a row to take Paris last spring, remember). "This was an important match for me to see where my level is," said Sharapova. It might not be where she'll need it to be to win a third title at Roland Garros, but she's getting closer. Next up: Rome.

Kuznetsova isn't a likely TRUE contender in Paris, but on any given day... well, ANYTHING can happen where she's concerned. In Madrid, that's just what occurred, too. After handling Ekaterina Makarova 2 & 1, Kuznetsova outlasted Garbine Muguruza in three sets, overcame herself (and a game Sam Stosur) in another three-setter, and saved two MP against Lucie Safarova just to reach the semifinals. In all, it took Sveta eleven hours of competition to get through those four matches, and after she'd defeated Sharapova (rather quickly in comparison) for the first time in seven years to reach her first final in nine months, she didn't have much more to give. Against an in-form Petra Kvitova in the final, Kuznetsova was treated by trainers on multiple occasions, played with a strapped leg, had stomach issues and even was allowed to leave the court during the changeover at 5-2 down in the 2nd set of her 6-1/6-2 loss. Whew! Now THAT was a week. Not an easy one for Sveta, but surely super sweet since it came in her "adopted" second home of Spain.

COMEBACKS: Samantha Stosur/AUS & Vika Azarenka/BLR
...Stosur reuniting with former coach David Taylor seemed to pay immediate dividends in Madrid. The Aussie started quickly by ending Angelique Kerber's 11-match winning streak last weekend, then followed up with a victory over Kaia Kanepi. In a losing effort in the 3rd Round, she battled Svetlana Kuznetsova until the bitter end. But she leaves Spain in a good "head space." And that's SUPER important where Stosur is concerned.

Meanwhile, Vika came THIS CLOSE to the first SUPER week of her comeback. Things got off to an impressive start in Madrid with a straight sets win over Venus Williams, her second this season. After taking out Ajla Tomljanovic, Azarenka used her own aggression -- and Serena Williams' in-and-out play -- to put herself in prime position to notch her first win over the world #1 since Cincinnati '13 (when she won an 8-6 3rd set tie-break in the final). But while Vika's game and body are rounding into shape, some of the rough edges of her match toughness are still a work in progress. Remember when she opened her season in January in Brisbane by holding -- but failing to convert -- two MP vs. Karolina Pliskova? The idea then was that that would get ironed out as the season went on. It still might, but it hasn't yet. Against Williams, she squandered a 5-1 lead in the 1st set tie-break and lost the last six points of the set. But she then won the 2nd set and erased a 3-0 3rd set disadvantage, saved a MP at 4-5, then broke serve and soon found herself serving with up triple MP at 6-5, 40/love. Then her service game imploded... but only after nearly emphatically giving her the victory. On MP #3, she seemingly hit a wide ace into the Ad court and started to the net to celebrate, only to have the ball be called out. She was never able to regain her focus. On her second serve, she double-faulted. Then did it again, and a third straight time to break herself to send things to a deciding tie-break. Williams won it 7-1, winning twelve of the final thirteen points of the match after Azarenka was up triple MP. Maybe more troubling than the collapse is that her inability to win tie-breaks extends back ever further than her return to the tour this season. Azarenka is 0-5 in breakers in '15, but is now 0-8 since March 2014. Her last TB win came in the 1st Round of the '14 Australian Open. She's taking the optimistic view, among other things, noting the process of her improvement. "I think an entire tennis career is full of ups and downs," she said in Madrid. "It is very difficult to play 15, 20 years without any physical problems. I take the positive side of things. When I could not play, I had to learn to live within the margins of the competition. When you can play again it feels in an incredible manner. I love tennis. The sport is my passion. My first love."

FRESH FACES: Zheng Saisai/CHN & Katerina Stewart/USA
...Zheng, 21, walked away from Anning, CHN with her second $75K challenger win in as many weeks. The #1 seed in the event and the defending singles champ, Zheng did herself one better by sweeping the singles AND doubles this time around (her first two-title weekend), defeating Han Xinyun in three sets to take the singles, and teaming with Xu Yifan in doubles. It's her 6th career ITF singles title, and 8th in doubles.

In Indian Harbour Beach, the third $50K leg of the USTA's playoff for the reciprocal wild card into the Roland Garros main draw, had a very familiar look. Two weeks ago, Louisa Chirico defeated Katerina Stewart in the Dothan final. A week later, Stewart defeated Chirico en route to the Charlottesville final, which she lost to Allie Kiick. This week, Stewart defeated Kiick en route to her third straight final, where she met and defeated Chirico for a second time during the stretch. Not that it mattered, as Chirico ended up winning the wild card berth in an inane tie-break system that gave it to her because she's ranked higher than Stewart after they "tied" in the playoff standings because only the best two results from the three-event stretch are counted. Ummm, wasn't the point of having this playoff to reward the player who earned the WC through better results over the assigned three-event period? So, it's not really a true "playoff," considering pretty much all of the contending players played in all three events. Apparently, no one thought about a tie-breaker that included the "best points average" over the playoff, which would have given the WC to Stewart.

One has to figure that this loop hole will be fixed like most things associated with the USTA -- after the point which it shouldn't have been something that needed to be corrected in the first place. Not to slight the 18-year old Chirico, who rose through qualifying to reach her second final in three weeks, but 17-year old Stewart, whose win gives her three challenger tittles this season, should be the one assured of making her slam debut later this month (I'm not sure if she'll get a shot in the Q-rounds or not). It seems fairly elementary. But, remember, this is the USTA that still employs Mary Joe Fernandez as its Fed Cup coach and Patrick McEnroe as whatever his title happens to be at the moment. I suppose we should expect unexplainable, head-shaking craziness.

DOWN: Simona Halep/ROU & Serena Williams/USA
...after what happened last Sunday in Madrid, there were quite a few victims to choose from here. But I'm only going with one of the vanquished big names from the Madrid Massacre -- Halep. The Swarmette Queen's best pre-Roland Garros result on red clay last season was her runner-up in Madrid, which set her on course for an appearance (and spirited match against Maria Sharapova) in the final in Paris, which was a rematch of their final in Spain. Halep recently moved past the Russian to reclaim the #2 ranking, but while she's said she doesn't particularly care about passing the Russian, she probably should. At least as far as being the #2 seed at RG is concerned. No matter what form Serena Williams brings to the terre battue, it's always best to be situated as far away on the other side of the draw as possible (and cross your fingers that Sharapova gets stuck in the world #1's half of the draw, too). Losing in the 1st Round in Madrid to Alize Cornet wasn't helpful to the Romanian's cause in this endeavor. Oh, and speaking of Serena... are those whispers about clay not being her best surface again? Her Fed Cup play on the surface wasn't sterling, and while she was dominant at times in Madrid she rightly should have lost early to Vika Azarenka in the 3rd Round after being down triple match point and only getting back into the match because of a barely missed ace on MP #3 and then three straight DF from the Belarusian. Williams barely registered at all against Petra Kvitova in the semifinals, winning just five games to see her string of twenty-seven matches without a defeat come to an end.

This doesn't look good for Serena's chances in Paris. But, still, she's Serena... so it might end up meaning absolutely nothing. Though it's pretty plain that Williams isn't in the top clay court, she's-got-something-to-prove form that she was when she ended her long RG title drought in 2013. For what that's worth... which might not be much in a few weeks.
ITF PLAYERS: Carina Witthoeft/GER & Danka Kovinic/MNE
...a pair of $100K winners. Witthoeft, 20, lived up to her #1 seed in Cagnes-sur-mer, France by winning the biggest title of her career with wins over Nicole Gibbs, Cagla Buyukakcay, Sharon Fichman, Kiki Bertens and Tatjana Maria (Carina's fellow German was going for her second $100K of '15) in a 7-5/6-1 final. Witthoeft had to do some heavy lifting afterward, but it'll just count as an extra sets of reps in the weight room. And I'm sure she's fine with that.

Meanwhile, Jelena Jankovic's Montenegran protege Kovinic, 20, has managed to carry over the momentum of her qualifier-to-quarterfinalist run in Charleston. In Trnava, SVK she won her first career $100K challenger (improving to 7-3 in career ITF finals) after putting up victories over Jelena Ostapenko, #1-seeded Tereza Smitkova, Yanina Wickmayer, Darya Kasatkina and Margarita Gasparyan in a 7-5/6-3 final. Gasparyan, who was going for a singles/doubles sweep in the event, had been 9-0 in career ITF singles finals before the loss, including a 3-0 mark in '15.

JUNIOR STARS: Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov/Priscilla Hon (ESP/AUS) & Hurricane Tyra Black/USA
...keeping up my recent spotlight on the NextGen Spanish players, I'll go with Bolsova, a quarterfinalist in this year's Australian Open junior competition who rose as high as #4 in the girls rankings in 2014. A two-time singles winner on the ITF circuit, the Moldova-born Bolsova reached the singles final at the $10K Pula challenger, losing to Italian Bianca Turati. Bolsova won the doubles with 16-year old Aussie Priscilla Hon, who picked up her third '15 ITF doubles crown. Hon won her maiden pro singles crown at a challenger event in March. Meanwhile, in the Delray Beach Grade 4 junior event, Hurricane Tyra Black followed up her role on the 14-and-under U.S. Fed Cup team with her third title run of the season. Already a winner of a pair of earlier G4 events -- in Barbados and Trinidad -- in April, Black defeated two seeded girls en route to the final, including #1 Karianne Pierre-Louis in the semis (via ret.). The 14-year old defeated fellow Bannerette Taylor Johnson, also 14, 6-3/6-2 in the final. Black now sports an 18-1 record this season. For her part, Johnson had defeated three seeds while seeking her first title.

DOUBLES: Casey Dellacqua/Yaroslava Shvedova (AUS/KAZ) & Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Lucie Safarova (USA/CZE)
...Dellacqua & Shvedova proved to be the last team standing in Madrid, becoming the most recent combo to end up in the winner's circle in their debut appearance as a doubles duo. The Aussie-Kazakh team's list of victims was impressive, including the likes of Hsieh/Pennetta, Mattek-Sands/Safarova and Muguruza/Suarez-Navarro in the final, won in a 3rd set super-tiebreak after Dellacqua/Shvedova had failed to convert three MP in the 2nd. The title is the biggest yet for the 30-year old Dellacqua (thanks to her and Ashleigh Barty losing three slam finals in '13), and the fifth of her career. Earlier this season, the Aussie lost in the Charleston final (w/ Darija Jurak) to the team of Hingis/Mirza, who won their first three tournaments as a duo. Shvedova, 27, has appeared in twenty tour doubles finals, and is now undefeated in her last five doubles championship matches. She's won eleven WTA doubles titles with six different partners.

Mattek-Sands & Safarova started the '15 trend of winning big titles in their first pairing when they took the Australian Open crown in January after having never played together before. The duo didn't follow up their Stuttgart title with their third of the season in Madrid, but for a day or two they could have rightly viewed themselves as the best doubles team in the world. Maybe they still do.

In the QF, what looks to be the "most fun" doubles duo on earth took out the #1-ranked Dream Team of Hingis/Mirza, dropping the veteran pair to 15-2 for the season (after a 14-0 start). If BMS/Safarova had gone on to win the title, they'd stood at 15-1. But Dellacqua/Shvedova knocked them out a round later. Still, Bethanie and Lucie were in good spirits soon afterward. What the video to the end... it's more than a bit crazy.


1. Madrid Final - Kvitova d. Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova simply hit the physical wall, though she may have been taken out by the in-form Czech on any occasion. This was just the third clay final (two at this event) of Kvitova's career, while former RG champ Sveta was playing in her 12th. The Russian is now 3-9 in those finals.

2. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Kuznetsova d. Stosur
Kuznetsova held two MP at 5-4 in the 3rd, and two more at 6-5. Between DFs and all the usual Sveta tight match drama, she was lucky to survive. But Kuznetsova has made a career out of doing just that (or threatening to, at least), hasn't she?
3. Madrid QF - Kuznetsova d. Safarova
Safarova led 3-1 and 5-2 in the 2nd set TB, then held two MP at 5-4 in the 3rd. See above about Sveta's survival skills.

4. Madrid QF - Mattek-Sands d. Hingis/Mirza 6-7(5)/6-3 (11-9)
Madrid SF - Dellacqua/Shvedova d. Mattek-Sands/Safarova 5-7/6-3 (10-7)
euphoria is fleeting.
5. Madrid Final - Dellacqua/Shvedova d. Muguruza/Suarez-Navarro
...6-3/6-7(5) (10-5).
Dellacqua/Shvedova had three MP in the 2nd, but were forced to a match tie-break. Muguruza/CSN lost seven of their eight service points in the TB, as the Spaniards repeated their '14 Madrid RU result.
6. Madrid SF - Kuznetsova d. Sharapova
Sveta's words ABOUT Sharapova may be more interesting than the result of their match, as it likely speaks to why she's one of the most popular players on tour. "I believe that people don't have a right to judge her without knowing her. I will tell you even more that I don't think I know her that well. She's really famous and has lots of fame around her, and I think it's the right thing how she takes it. She separates it away and only has close people. Otherwise it's very difficult to be in her situation and to play such a great level of tennis and have so much commercial and to be so popular. It's really hard to combine these two things," Kuznetsova said. "The real Maria, only the real people around her know that. Other people, if she doesn't let them go in her life, doesn't mean that they can tell her that she's bad. I don't believe that." That's why, even with the rollercoaster ride she's often provided her fans over the years, it's easy to root for Sveta.

7. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Pavlyuchenkova d. Errani
I guess the Fed Cup polish has worn off. Errani held three MP here: one serving at 5-4, one serving at 6-5 and a final one up 7-6 in the 2nd set tie-break.

8. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Sharapova d. Garcia
Garcia has gotten close to defeating Sharapova in the past, but she's always comes up a just a bit short. Here Sharapova got a late break for 6-5 in the 3rd and served out the win. Sharapova is 4-0 vs. the Pastry, but this loss was even closer than Garcia's other three-setter in the mix at Roland Garros in 2011. One day, youuuuu. Maybe even this week in Rome.
9. Madrid QF - Sharapova d. Wozniacki
The Dane goes three sets against a top player, but ends up losing. This is what you call a '15 trend.
10. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Suarez-Navarro d. Ivanovic
Stop me if you've heard this before.

HM- $50K Ind.Harbour Beach 1st Rd. - Erica Oosterhout d. Taylor Townsend
The #894-ranked wild card, who'll be a freshman at Harvard for 2015-16, takes down #1-seeded defending champion Townsend. Oosterhout lost her 2nd Round match to Storm Sanders, while Taylor rebounded to take the doubles title with Maria Sanchez.

Maybe Sania Mirza just has a thing about "cute." Remember, she burst onto the scene at the U.S. Open a decade ago with a string of message t-shirts worn during press conferences, including the fabled one that read, "I'm cute? No shi*..."

She stepped back into the "cute" arena this past week...

Just saying ?????????? buuhahahah ????

A photo posted by Sania Mirza (@mirzasaniar) on

No word yet on any t-shirts.

1. Madrid 1st Rd. - Azarenka d. Venus Williams 6-3/7-5
Madrid 3rd Rd. - Serena Williams d. Azarenka 7-6(5)/3-6/7-6(1)
the last time Serena saved 3 MP and won? The '09 Sydney QF vs. Wozniacki. "She almost hit an ace. She missed it by not even three centimeters. I thought, 'Wow.' This is definitely an escape. I've had some other escapes, but I don't think I've been down love/40 on someone's serve before," Serena noted. If she'd won, Vika would have become the first player since 2010 (Jankovic) to defeat both Sisters in the same event.

2. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Serena Williams d. Stephens
Serena has won six of seven sets vs. Sloane since losing to her in the 2013 AO semifinals. Stephens and Sharapova should talk.
3. Madrid 3rd Rd. - Wozniacki d. Aga Radwanska
Two ships passing in the WTA night? Speaking of, due to scheduling/travel difficulties in regards to family commitments, Arantxa Sanchez has left the Wozniacki fold with the promise to return down the line in '16. We'll see.
4. Madrid QF - Serena Williams d. Suarez-Navarro 6-1/6-3
Madrid SF - Kvitova d. Serena Williams 6-2/6-3
the win over CSN was Serena's 27th without a loss (on the court) since the WTA Finals, and her 19th in a row in Madrid. Petra wasn't in awe of the numbers.

5. $50K Fukuoka Final - Kristyna Pliskova d. Hibino
Kristyna answered the call, matching Karolina's Prague title last week with one of her own in Japan. It's the eighth of her career, and her third in four ITF finals in 2015. She also won the doubles with Naomi Broady.
HM- $10K Mytilene SF - Stamatova d. Sara Tomic
Tomic, 17, had defeated #1-seeded Daiana Negreanu in the QF to reach her first career ITF semi.

Meanwhile, on Caro Corner...

More "The Eternal Sunshine of the Gavrilovian Mind"...

And more...

3 - Simona Halep [Shenzhen,Dubai,IW]
2 - Serena Williams [AO,Miami]
2 - Petra Kvitova [Sydney,Madrid]
2 - Angelique Kerber [Charleston,Stuttgart]
2 - Timea Bacsinszky [Acapulco,Monterrey]

**CAREER WTA TITLES - active**
66...Serena Williams
46...Venus Williams
34...Maria Sharapova
23...Caroline Wozniacki
17...Victoria Azarenka
15...Ana Ivanovic
14...Svetlana Kuznetsova
14...Aga Radwanska

23.Caroline Wozniacki (23)
24.Pam Shriver (21)
25t.Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere (19)
25t.Nancy Richey (19)
27t.Victoria Azarenka (17)
27t.Mary Pierce (17)
27t.Kerry Melville Reid (17)
30t.Elena Dementieva (16)
30t.Ann Haydon Jones (16)
33t.Dianne Fromholtz Balestrat (15)
33t.Ana Ivanovic (15)

15 - Timea Bacsinszky, FEB-MAR (ended by S.Williams)
14 - Simona Halep, FEB-ARP (ended by S.Williams)
12 - Serena Williams, JAN-MAR (ended by walkover) #
12 - Serena Williams, MAR-MAY (ended by Kuznetsova) #
11 - Maria Sharapova, JAN (ended by S.Williams)
11 - Angelique Kerber, APR (ended by Stosur)
10 - Anna Schmiedlova, APR-MAY (ended by Svitolina)
# - Williams 24-0 stretch, with walkover loss after 12th victory

34...Serena Williams, 2013
32...Justine Henin, 2007-08
26...Victoria Azarenka, 2012
25...Serena Williams, 2013-14
24...Justine Henin-Hardenne, 2005
Note: S.Williams 27-0 stretch from 2014-15 (walkover loss after victory #15)

Dubai (HC) - #4 Halep def. #18 Ka.Pliskova
Indian Wells (HC) - #3 Halep def. #21 Jankovic
Miami (HC) - #1 S.Williams def. #12 Suarez-Navarro
Madrid (RC) - #4 Kvitova def. #29 Kuznetsova

2013 Shelby Rogers
2014 Taylor Townsend
2015 Louisa Chirico

[since Azarenka reached #1 in January 2012]
2012 Miami - Aga Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Marion Bartoli
2014 Australian Open - Li Na
2014 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova
2014 Montreal - Aga Radwanska
2015 Indian Wells - Simona Halep
2015 Madrid - Petra Kvitova

**2015 ITF TITLES**
4...Anastasija Sevastova, LAT
4...Marcela Zacarias, MEX
3...Fernanda Brito, CHI
3...Margarita Gasparyan, RUS
3...Sofia Kvatsabaia, GEO
3...Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
3...Anne Schaefer, GER
3...Katerina Stewart, USA

Meanwhile, comebacks coming soon to a court near you (Zheng this week in Rome, in fact)...

And another. Hopefully. At some point. She promises. I think.

ROME, ITALY (Premier 5 $2.708m/RCO)
14 Final: S.Williams d. Errani
14 Doubles Final: Peschke/Srebotnik d. Errani/Vinci
15 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Halep

#1 S.Williams d. #7 Ivanovic
Azarenka d. Garcia
#10 Suarez-Navarro d. #4 Kvitova
#2 Halep d. (LL) Mladenovic
Azarenka d. #1 S.Williams
#2 Halep d. #10 Suarez-Navarro
#2 Halep d. Azarenka

...some unconventional picks. Which, of course, means we'll have all four top seed reach the semis, with #1 Serena taking out #2 Halep in the final. That's just the way things go.

And finally...

All for now.