Friday, September 19, 2014

Backspin Special: The Very Best of Li

Li Na, the greatest tennis player ever produced by the most populous nation in the world, and a winner of two grand slam singles titles, has retired. She will be missed, but she will never be forgotten. Ever.

Quick with a joke and a smile, but with a backstory that highlights her strong will, as she stood up and broke away from the powerful Chinese tennis establishment and found her greatest success in the final years of her career, Li will forever be the "founding mother" of Chinese tennis. She was the first player from her nation to win a WTA title, to reach the Top 20, Top 10 and Top 5 (climbing to #2 earlier this season), to reach a grand slam final and two win a major singles crown. Winning at Roland Garros in 2011, she set off an explosion of tennis popularity in Asia, the results of which will be felt across the WTA (and ATP) landscape for generations. Quite literally the "most popular athlete on earth," Li may ultimately influence more future sports champions -- starting with the little Chinese girls who witnessed her triumphs and dreamed of being just like her -- than any person, well, ever.

Said WTA chief executive Stacey Allaster, "It's hard to be a household name in a nation with 1.4 billion people, but that's what Li Na is."

In announcing her retirement today, Li said in an open letter posted online, "Most people in the tennis world know that my career has been marked by my troubled right knee. After four knee surgeries and hundreds of shots injected into my knee weekly to alleviate swelling and pain, my body is begging me to stop the pounding." She added, "As hard as I tried to get back to being 100%, my body kept telling me that, at 32, I will not be able to compete at the top level ever again. The sport is just too competitive, too good, to not be 100%."

Her work has only begun, though. The future will include a tennis academy, as well as possibly having a child with her longtime husband/sometime coach/always-the-good-sport-butt-of-so-many-of-her-jokes Jiang Shan.

"I've succeeded on the global stage in a sport that a few years ago was in its infancy in China," Li said. "What I've accomplished for myself is beyond my wildest dreams. What I accomplished for my country is one of my most proud achievements."

Li's second major win at the Australian Open earlier this season seemed to point to one final late-career rebirth under the tutelage of coach Carlos Rodriguez. But, unfortunately, it turned out to be a wonderful farewell performance that brought a smile to everyone's face. Both at the time and for as long as humans breathe air and tennis fans have any sense of history and/or heart.

Li was an original. And weren't we lucky to have experienced her in real time?

Here she is at her very, very best...

Saturday, June 04, 2011 - "The Woman with the Rose Tattoo"

Apparently, life begins at 29... at least when it comes to women's tennis players in Paris.

A year ago, a nearly-30 year old Francesca Schiavone threw herself mind, body and spirit into winning Roland Garros just weeks before her thirtieth birthday, thereby reinvigorating the notion that anything was possible in the sport as long as a player is willing to work long enough, hard enough and with as much passion as necessary to achieve the task at hand.

"It like fine wine," Schiavone said this week as she returned to France for the defense of her one and only slam title and fashioned an even more improbable run to a second consecutive final, "Stay in the bottle more is much, much better." Thing is, the same sentiments equally applied to the Italian's opponent in Saturday's women's final, 29-year old Chinese vet Li Na. "When I come here, I feel something special," Schiavone remarked of Roland Garros in recent days. She always will. But, now, so will Li. Because Paris is where she today not only claimed the first slam title of her career, but did so for the entire sporting nation of China, as well as for the budding tennis revolution filled with "wannabe Na's" that her accomplishment will undoubtably help to further spur to bigger and greater heights.

In the women's slam final with the oldest combined age of its two participants ranking the fifth-highest ever, and the highest on tour since the 1998 Wimbledon championship (Jana Novotna vs. Nathalie Tauziat), Schiavone's artistic endeavor to write yet another favorable ending to a springtime trip to the City of Lights proved to be no match for "the Henny Youngman of women's tennis" -- "take my husband, please!" -- with a few billion far away souls on her side. After her semifinal victory over the favored Maria Sharapova, Li had openly discussed the effect that her success might have on the future of many girls and boys back home. "Maybe children, they saw the match, and they think that maybe one day they can do the same or even better," she theorized, accompanied by her always-ready-to-light-up-the-immediate-surroundings smile.

Four months wiser after her losing experience in the Australian Open final against Kim Clijsters, Li didn't show up at Chatrier Court wondering how she was going to once again use her hitting partner/deposed coach Jiang Shan in another comedic punchline, which she'd done with great humor in Melbourne as well as after her come-from-behind 4th Round win over Petra Kvitova in Paris. She came to win. With Jiang, for whom Li has a rose tattoo over her heart lest there be any questions about the strength of their relationship, in the stands sitting along-side new coach Michael Mortensen, Li went about the business of becoming a groundbreaking soon-to-be-legendary figure in the minds of many of the players who'll one day make their own dreams come true in professional tennis.

As the final began, something that would become a match trend was immediately noticeable. Like the three other Top 10 players that the Chinese vet had vanquished along the way in Paris, Schiavone had a hard time breaking through Li's mix of offense and defense, two styles which she liberally intermingled in her game throughout the afternoon as the situation warranted. After having so often played defense against the big hitters from previous rounds, Li better utilized the offensive weapons that they couldn't against HER in her own tactical plan of attack against Schiavone's variety-filled game of creative angles, slices and volleys. The 1st set was decided but by a few spare points, but it was Li who was in control of them.

Li's forehand winner got her a break point chance in the opening game of the match, though the Italian managed to hold. But, later, after racing to cover a Schiavone drop shot and putting away a volley following Schiavone's scrambling retrieval, Li was gifted with two more chances to break. She only needed one. Schiavone couldn't effectively respond to another big Li forehand, and her errant shot sailed out to give Li a break and a 3-2 lead. Serving at 5-4, 30/30 Li took a Schiavone return and smacked a winner from the baseline. When the Italian's forehand sailed on set point, Li claimed the opening stanza 6-4 on the strength of a 15-3 edge in winners.

"Be that self which one truly is," said dead Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. And that was what a desperate Schiavone was in search of as the 2nd set began -- her true self. Try as she might, though, she had a hard time successfully discovering her free "Francesca flow" against Li, who was having none of it.

In game #1 of the set, Li reached triple beak point after her deep, driving groundstrokes pinned Schiavone on the baseline, keeping her off-balance and unable to utilize all her shots as well as the entire breadth of the court, as is her desire. To this point in the match, Li had actually approached the net as often as the volley-seeking Italian. Schiavone saved two break points, but Li finally grabbed a 1-0 lead on the third. From there until the end of the match, Schiavone would often briefly resemble her "old" self for a few shots in a rally, as she did in game #2, during which she abruptly ended her own potential surge by pushing a shot just beyond the lined boundaries of the court. In that same game, Schiavone DID finally get her first break point of the match after a rally in which she managed two volleys, but Li threw in an ace and held for 2-0.

With time running short, Schiavone spent most of the 2nd set simply holding on, possibly hoping that things would eventually break her way as they did in the QF match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in which she escaped a 6-1/4-1 deficit against the 19-year old Russian. Twice the Italian was threatened with going down a second break of serve, as Li continued to come out on top in rallies by ending them with winners that weren't the risky sorts of shots like those of Sharapova, but were simply solid and effective strokes often set up by the same crosscourt forehand that tends to pull opponents wide of the court that has proved to be her bread-and-butter shot throughout this Roland Garros. The Chinese woman held break points in both the 3-1 and 4-2 service games of Schiavone, but Schiavone held for 3-2 and 4-3.

After that second hold, though, the moment arrived when Schiavone found a way to get back into the match. Showing signs of slight tentativeness as her formerly deep groundstrokes began to fall a few feet short, Li blinked in the face of the occasion. Just a little. But it was enough to spur Schiavone on as the defending champion made an attempt at pulling off yet another Parisian passion play. The t-shirt donning Francesca supporters of '10 -- this time sporting clothing emblazoned with "Schiavo Another Show" -- had something tangible to cheer about for the first time. Finally with enough room to operate on her side of the net, Schiavone began to use the entire court again and force errors from Li. She got a break to knot things at 4-4, then held twice for 5-4 and 6-5 leads, the latter service game being won at love in another two-volley game played in the style that had helped her string together thirteen straight RG wins.

But right when it looked as if a classic Roland Garros final might be about to break into the clear on Chatrier, producing the first three-set women's final in Paris since the Capriati/Clijsters 12-10 3rd set thriller in '01, one point sent things in a direction that could never be reversed. With Li serving at deuce, down 6-5, a Li shot on the right sideline of Schiavone's court was called wide. The Italian celebrated being just one point away from knotting the match a one set each. But then the chair umpire raced across the court to examine the mark in the terre battue, quickly ruling that Li's shot had hit the edge of the line. Rather than having set point, an upset Schiavone found herself down game point. After she netted a backhand to end a short rally after initially thinking that Li's previous shot wasn't going to make it over the net, causing her to relax for a moment and then have to lunge at the last instant at a ball that she wasn't properly prepared to hit, the defending champ found herself in a life-or-death tie-break. Out of sorts, Schiavone wouldn't win another point in the match. Whether the Italian's concentration was broken and she was unable to get it back, or if it was Li's continued calm under pressure after her earlier wobble, that caused the clean-sweep of the remainder of the match, it's a shame that what looked to have been budding as the 2nd set wore on wasn't allowed to fully blossom due to the natural flow of the match. But the umpire made the call that she felt was correct (and it seemed to be so), so there's no unfair blame to place in this situation.

In the tie-break, Li grabbed a first-point mini-break by winning a very Francesca-like point in which she both volleyed and lobbed over Schiavone to lock away a 1-0 lead. Later, she expertly moved Schiavone from side to side on the baseline and took a 4-0 lead. The Italian, unable to stem the Chinese's woman momentum, missed an easy volley and it was 5-0. Schiavone was three mini-breaks down and the course of history seemed assured. And it was. Schiavone's long backhand ended the tie-break with a 7-0 score, giving Li eight consecutive points following the changed line call. With her 6-4/7-6 victory in hand, ironically the same scoreline as in Schiavone's win in the final over Samantha Stosur last year, Li dropped her racket and slid onto her back in celebration behind the baseline.

"If at first you don't succeed... so much for skydiving," Henny Youngman famously joked. Well, luckily for Li, her inability to become the first Chinese grand slam singles champion didn't prevent her from taking the opportunity to succeed in her SECOND attempt to do do. As she celebrated her win with the terre battue caked on the back of her shirt being carried with her as she ventured to the net to shake Schiavone's hand, the rest of Chinese tennis history will now carry the memory of HER with it.

As Schiavone talked this past week of falling in love with Roland Garros when, as a junior, she watched the 1999 Steffi Graf/Monica Seles semifinal from the stands and said that she wanted "to be like them," the same is likely the case tonight back in China. Last year, it was Schiavone giving rise to future "little Francescas" by becoming the first Italian slam champ, "little Na's" by the thousands (millions?) will soon be running around the court with rackets as big as they are trying to emulate their new heroine.

Interestingly, at the '99 RG that Schiavone mentioned, Graf was 29 years of age when she pulled off what was a surprise title run to claim the final slam crown of her fabled 22-slam win career. Of course, that's the same age at which both Schiavone and Li have now gone down as FIRST-time slam titlists.

Sometimes things just seem to work out that way, I guess. It's just a matter of time... and life beginning whenever you desire it to do so.

January 25, 2014 - "Li Na: One Night Only"

As her career has shaped itself and will ultimately be remembered, Li Na is a pied piper. Not just for all the "first Chinese to..." accomplishments she's posted though the years, nor for the stand she made against her nation's tennis establishment in an attempt take her life into her own hands by keeping her prize money, picking her own coach and making her own schedule, but for also serving as the guiding light for all the upcoming tennis generations that will likely emerge on the WTA shores in waves hailing from Beijing to Wuhan and all points in between and beyond

But in her third appearance in an Australian Open final, all of that was background noise. For one night only, the story of Li was about securing her individual tennis legacy by claiming a second grand slam title to go along with the one she won in Paris three years ago. Even if by the end of the night it ended up being viewed as something of a prelude to a typically-entertaining post-match victory speech.

Standing in the way of the 31-year old Li's next date with tennis history was surprise finalist Dominika Cibulkova, 24, the first Slovak woman to reach a slam final. Seeded #20 but ranked outside the Top 20, the tour's shortest player (5-foot-3) had chopped down four Top 20 players (Li had to face none) in Melbourne, including two (Sharapova & A.Radwanska) ranked in the Top 5. Playing with a new larger racket, but with the same hard-working mindset that she's always possessed, Cibulkova's confidence looked to have reached an all-time high over the past two weeks as she'd taken out personal adversaries while dominating the final sets of nearly every match after having developed a career-long reputation as a talented player with a problem when it comes to closing out big wins.

Li's confidence has been a work in progress throughout her entire career. When Carlos Rodriguez, longtime mentor of seven-time slam champ Justine Henin, came aboard as her coach in the late summer of '12, bolstering Li's belief in herself was the biggest hurdle to overcome while reworking the veteran's game for the latter chapter of her career. When Li won a title in Cincinnati just days after hiring Rodriguez, there was hope that it was a sign that Li's mindset and, accordingly, results might eventually greatly improve at an age when players (not named Serena) have started to go in the opposite direction. But heading into this AO, the two had only teamed to win a pair of small titles in Shenzhen, though Li had played in and put up a great fight in the Aussie final last year against Victoria Azarenka. Before last year's Wimbledon, with pressure coming from the Chinese press and her results hitting a dry spell, Li had to be talked out of retiring by Rodriguez to give herself one final chance to be as good a player as she could be.

It was a close call. But Li's decision to stick around has proven to be a well-timed stroke of genius.

Her quarterfinal run at SW19 bolstered her confidence, and then the advantages of a mid-season "boot camp" to make sure Li was fit for success a the end of '13 began to be seen. She ended the year with a run to the Tour Championships final and entered this AO championship match on an eleven-match winning streak in 2014. After escaping a 3rd Round match against Lucie Safarova in Melbourne in which the Czech held a match point, going for but missing on a chance for a down-the-line winner, Li has often played like a woman on a mission, deftly utilizing her additional topspin on her groundstrokes (to make her shots more reliable in the clutch), improved serve and added aggressiveness, calmly assuming the role of "favorite" for the tournament title after all the other expected contenders fell by the wayside before Li had an opportunity to face them.

With these two players still possibly susceptible to feeling the tension of a slam final no matter their recent level-headedness, it was clear that the 1st set might prove to be vital. Early on, it was apparent that things weren't going to be quite as easy for Cibulkova as they'd been against Radwanska. Li went up 30/love on the Slovak's serve in the opening game, winning rallies and breaking her courtesy of a double-fault for 1-0. After seeing winners coming seemingly at will two days earlier, Cibulkova had a hard time finding them here. In game #3, Li held two break points, though Cibulkova -- saving the first with a forehand passing shot, her first winner of the match -- held and managed to avoid sliding so far behind that the set was a lost cause. With shades of Li's fall-heavy final of a season ago, the Slovak stumbled and nearly fell in the next game, then shot a forehand long to slip further behind at 3-1.

From there, Cibulkova started to slowly but surely pick of her level of play, while Li's began to waver.

Li's errors allowed the Slovak to go up 40/love and, despite two errors of her own, Cibulkova held for 3-2. It was an interesting point in the set, as Cibulkova was arguably fortunate to not be a double-break down, but that fact also meant that she wasn't letting Li off the hook and was instead forcing her to make the shots to stay ahead and win the set. And, suddenly, she wasn't hitting them.. On the first point in game #6, Cibulkova took to the net and put away a backhand crosscourt winner, then saw Li double-fault on back-to-back points to break herself and knot the set at 3-3.

While Li stared at her racket and then called for her husband to take a pair of rackets to be re-strung, Cibulkova began to get the better of the Chinese in rallies. A crosscourt forehand put the Slovak up 40/love, giving her eight points in the last nine, and a wide service winner gave her a hold to take the lead in the set for the first time at 4-3. Meanwhile, Li's first serve percent was ebbing below 30%. Still, she managed to hold on, winning a rally that featured several defensive saves from Cibulkova and holding for 4-4 then, after failing to convert a break point in game #9, firing an ace to hold for 5-5.

A Li return winner and Cibulkova double-fault put Li up 30/15, then she got a break point on the strength of her favorite shot sequence this entire Australian Open -- a rally that saw her move Cibulkova back and forth across the baseline, then quickly end the point with a backhand crosscourt winner. A deep return was netted by Cibulkova and Li had the chance to serve for the set at 6-5. She appeared to blink when, at 30/30, she dumped an easy open court volley into the net that would have given her a set point. Two points later, she got a SP, but missed a backhand down the line and saw Cibulkova go on to break with her very own crosscourt backhand to force a tie-break.

In the breaker, four of the first five points were won by the returner, and Li found herself with a quick 4-1 lead. At 5-1, Li stopped play to challenge a Cibulkova ball that had been called in on the baseline. If she'd gotten the call, Li would have had five set points, but when the call was proven correct it was 5-2 and Cibulkova was seemingly back in the game. But Li didn't allow the slip to become a total slide. She got to set point at 6-3, then put it away with a deep crosscourt backhand that the Slovak failed to get over the net. Although she hadn't played her best, Li had grabbed the opening set with a 7-3 TB win.

At that point, she could finally breathe.

With the 1st set in her back pocket, it was noteworthy to know that twenty-seven of the last twenty-nine grand slams had been won by the woman who claimed the 1st set in the final. That was good news for Li. But the two times that that wasn't the case was when Li won the opening game in both her previous AO finals in 2011 and 2013. That wasn't so good.

But the latter stat wouldn't matter in the least.

After playing an up-and-down 1st set, searching for consistency on both her first serve and forehand, and having to scratch out and scrounge up winners wherever she could find them in order to take a set in which she didn't play nearly as well as she had since she stared down that match point against Safarova in the 3rd Round, Li played like the world had been lifted from her shoulders in the 2nd. And it had. Having found a way to live up to her role as "favorite" by taking the lead, Li ran away with the title.

After falling down love/30 on serve in the opening game, she reeled off four straight points to hold. In game #2, Li smacked a second serve forehand return for a down-the-line winner to get a break point. A Cibulkova forehand error made it 2-0. With her confidence growing with every shot, Li held and then looked to grab the match by the throat and choke the life out of it. She took a backhand and ripped it into the corner to reach break point in game #4, then hit a crosscourt backhand laser off Cibulkova's racket to go up 4-0. With her game flowing, Li's first serve percentage rose, while she played well within itself, and seemingly without tension.

A put-away at the net secured game #5, as by this point Cibulkova was essentially just serving in the role of "opponent" on Li's march to match point. As the inevitable got closer and closer, it was as if Li was waving to the crowd along the way. She shot off a backhand winner down the line, then another backhand crosscourt into the corner past the Slovak. A ball off the net cord was sent long by Cibulkova to get to double match point at 40/15. Li didn't get the first, then a Cibulkova forehand went long to hand her the second. Locking away the final nine games of the match, and losing just six points on serve in the final set, Li won 7-6(3)/6-0 to become the eighth woman to win a slam after her 30th birthday, and the first Asian woman to win the "grand slam of Asia/Pacific."

Of course, even as the newly-crowned multiple grand slam winner, and the oldest to woman to win the Australian Open, received her trophy during the post-match ceremony, the best was still yet to come. Somehow, with Li, that always seems to be the case. As tennis' best one woman comedy act took to the microphone, you had to know that something great might be coming. And Li didn't disappoint. In fact, she let the natural one-liners flow from her mind just as smoothly as her shots had in the final set.

To her agent Max Eisenbud, she said simply, "Max, agent.. make me rich. Thanks a lot." With that, she had the crowd at "Thanks." After telling her physio Alex Stober that her stumbles and falls in last year's AO final were her fault and not his, and thanking Rodriguez for believing in her, she turned to her husband Jiang Shan, "Dennis," the long-time focus of so many of her jokes, telling him, "My husband, you are famous in China.". She said thanks to him for "just traveling with me to be my hitting partner, fix the drink, and fix the rackets. So, he do a lot of jobs. So, thanks a lot... you're a nice guy." After everyone was laughing along with both of them, she added, "And also you are so lucky... found me," she said with big grin. By the end, she was even talking about coming back to Melbourne to play again, and saying that she knows everyone thinks she talks too much.

Li can talk all she wants. We won't get tired of listening.

(Li Na in Chinese)

And we never did, either. All for now.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Wk.37- Once Upon a Time...

Move over, Kimiko Date-Krumm. Apparently, you've got nothing on Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

When you're able to wipe out the soon-to-be 44-year old Japanese veteran's name from atop one of the many "longest time between..." lists that she heads, and replace it with your own, you know you've done something exceedingly remarkable. And that's just what the 32-year Croat, obviously still hot and confident off her U.S. Open Round of 16 run -- her best slam result in fifteen years -- did this weekend in Quebec City.

When Date-Krumm returned to the tour after an over-a-decade retirement and won her first WTA singles title in thirteen years in 2009, it seemed as if it might be a record that would never be broken. After all, she'd beaten the previous record for the most years between titles by a good five years. But who knew that Lucic-Baroni would be right around the corner? Surely not her, though she never TOTALLY went away over her decade and a half of wandering the tennis landscape.

Like a fractured fairly tale undertaking a quite wonderful final act, Lucic-Baroni's story has played out over the last few weeks as if it was a plot in a cliched movie: former child prodigy returns to form half a lifetime after recovering from being abused by her father and leading her family on a daring escape. But there's no script-doctoring necessary here, as the disturbing and courageous story is all true.

In 1996, Lucic won the U.S. Open junior title at 14. A season later, at age 15, she won the very first WTA tournament she ever played, taking the title in Bol in Croatia. She was just the third player in tour history to pull off such a thing (only three more have followed in her footsteps since, including Justine Henin, and none since 2001). In her second career event in Strasbourg that year, she reached the final, losing to Steffi Graf. Lucic also won the doubles title in the first tournament she ever played, becoming the only player to ever accomplish both first-time-winner feats in her career. The title came at some little event in Melbourne called the Australian Open, with world #1 Martina Hingis as her partner.

In 1998, a 16-year old Lucic won again in Bol, becoming the youngest player ever to successfully defend a title. Later that season at Wimbledon, she played in the Mixed Doubles final, then returned home and escaped Croatia for the United States, running from her abusive father along with her mother and family in the middle of the night. A year later in 1999, she defeated Monica Seles and reached the Wimbledon semifinals. Anything and everything seemed possible for her career.

But then it started to go away.

Her tennis career went into a tailspin over the next few years. She played regularly for a few more seasons, then lacking money she essentially spent years away from the sport. She played just two events from 2004-06 before slowly beginning a comeback in 2007, winning a main draw match here or there but still residing in the "do you remember her?" tennis file that has unfortunately grown quite full over the years. She played no grand slam main draw matches for seven and a half years, getting her first MD win since the '02 Roland Garros at the U.S. Open in '10. A year later, Lucic married a Sarasota, Florida restaurant owner. In 2012, when she reached the 3rd Round at Wimbledon as a qualifier, getting a win over Marion Bartoli (who'd win the SW19 title a year later), it seemed as if it was one last brief moment in the sun that simply recalled a time in her career when things seemed destined to be different.

This summer, still languishing outside the Top 100, Lucic-Baroni, who'd qualified for the Open in '13, came to Flushing Meadows to try to do it again, though she was on an eight-match losing streak at the time. Somehow, she woke up the echoes of her great past. She won three matches to qualify, then ran off three more -- including one over #2-seed Simona Halep, after which MLB called it "the best day of my life" -- to reach the Round of 16 at a major for the first time since her semifinal at the All-England Club fifteen years earlier.

If that had been the end of the story, it'd already be quite the tale. But she's already written another chapter.

Last week in Quebec City, the story continued as Lucic, up to #80, advanced to her first final since 1998. when she defeated Venus Williams in the final to claim her third career single title she set a new WTA standard by ending a tour-record 16-year title drought, topping Date-Krumm's "unbreakable" feat by more than three full years.

In just the last few weeks, Lucic-Baroni has picked up a few of the spare pieces that she left behind in her early career, literally half a lifetime ago. At 32, one wouldn't think she'd be able to pick up too many more.

But with a twisty, fractured fairly tale like her own, who's to assume ANYTHING?

QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC CANADA (Int'l $250K/Carpet Indoor)
S: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO def. Venus Williams 6-4/6-3
D: Hradecka/Lucic-Baroni (CZE/CRO) d. Goerges/Hlavackova (GER/CZE)

TASHKENT, UZBEKISTAN (Int'l $250K/Hard Court Ourdoor)
S: Karin Knapp/ITA def. Bojana Jovanovski/SRB 6-2/7-6(4)
D: Krunic/Siniakova (SRB/CZE) d. Gasparyan/Panova (RUS/RUS)

HONG KONG, CHINA (Int'l $250K/Hard Court Outdoor)
S: Sabine Lisicki/GER def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 7-5/6-3
D: Ka.Pliskova/Kr.Pliskova (CZE/CZE) d. Mayr-Achleitner/An.Rodionova (AUT/AUS)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO

...Lucic-Baroni's title run in Quebec City didn't end with a singles win. While her victories over Timea Babos, Sesil Karatantcheva (oh, the stories those two could share about a tennis life), Julia Goerges and Venus got her into the big winner's circle for the first time since Bol in May '98, she also claimed her third career doubles title, taking that with Lucie Hradecka. She hadn't won one of those since taking the Australian Open and Tokyo crowns with Hingis in February '98. Back at her Bol title defense tournament in '98, Lucic also reached both the singles and doubles finals. Of course, she won the singles (defeating Corina Morariu), but never got to play the doubles, handing the title over via a walkover. Her doubles partner that week was Joannette Kruger. The South African hasn't played a match on tour in eleven years. Meanwhile, Lucic-Baroni in up to #56 in the new rankings.
RISERS: Sabine Lisicki/GER & Karolina Pliskova/Kristyna Pliskova (CZE/CZE)

...Sabine is smiling, and she's not even playing on grass. You know what I meeeeeean. The German won her fourth tour title in Hong Kong, but her first since taking a small pre-U.S. Open tournament in Dallas in 2011. Wins over Monica Niculescu, Grace Min, Zheng Saisai and Francesca Schiavone got Lisicki into a final with big-serving Czech Karolina Pliskova, who's behind only Serena when it comes to dishing out aces in '14. After falling behind 5-1 in the 1st set, Lisicki won twelve of the next fifteen games to claim the title. While Karolina, who reached her fourth singles final in 2013-14 (tied for the most of any Czech, along with Kvitova and Koukalova), and Kristyna, who fell in the 1st Round, couldn't walk off with the singles glory, they DID combine to win their second tour doubles title of '14. It's the third title for the 22-year old twins, meaning that the only all-sister team with more tour doubles titles shares the names of "Williams." Hey, if you're going to finish second to someone...
SURPRISES: Nigina Abduraimova/UZB & Zhang Kai-Lin/CHN
...Abduraimova, 20, has won a pair of ITF singles titles over the past year, and as a wild card in the only WTA event in her native Uzbekistan the world #189 put on quite a show last week, far surpassing her previous best tour-level result with a semifinal run after wins over Lara Arruabarrena, Alexandra Panova and Akgul Amanmuradova. Naturally, as the tour heads to Asia, we're bound to see some unfamiliar names of rarely-heard-from Chinese players putting up notable results. Zhang is the one I'll highlight here. Ranked #316, the 24-year old qualified last week in Hong Kong with wins over Sofia Shapatava, Tamira Paszek and Misa Eguchi, then got a main draw victory over Pauline Parmentier before falling to countrywoman Zheng Jie a round later. This weekend in Guangzhou, Zhang had another successful qualifying run, notching victories over Andreja Klepac and (again, the poor thing) Shapatava. Zhang has already won a pair of ITF singles titles in '14, as well as seven doubles challenger crowns.
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA & Francesca Schiavone/ITA
...Venus has been loving Canada this season, up to a point. After reaching and losing the Montreal final this summer, Williams returned to Quebec and followed a similar pattern in the much smaller Quebec City event (minus the win over Serena, of course). Venus reached her fourth final of '14 (matching her total in her last Top 5 season in 2010) while dropping just one set, taking out Francoise Abanda, Olga Savchuk, Lucie Hradecka and Shelby Rogers. But, in her 75th career final, she went down in straights to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Meanwhile, another 34-year old continues to put up occasionally encouraging results even while her grand slam campaigns have been positively dreadful the last two seasons. In Hong Kong, Schiavone reached her second '14 semifinal (Baku in July) after advancing past Christina McHale, Kimiko Date-Krumm and Jana Cepelova. The result raised her ranking to #69 and gives her an outside shot at her fourteenth consecutive Top 50 season. NOTE: so, quite literally, she last finished outside the Top 50 when CiCi Bellis was an infant filling poopy-diapers.
COMEBACKS: Karin Knapp/ITA & Julia Goerges/GER
...Knapp, 28, has been battling back for years, so it's no surprise that her long climb out of the immediate slump that followed her 1st Round Fed Cup exploits from earlier this year has finally pushed her back on top. Back in '08, the Italian reached her first tour final in Antwerp, reaching a career-high of #35 that season. Soon, though, she was having surgery for a heart condition and struggling with an ongoing knee injury. It was no Lucic-like break, but Knapp finally returned to a WTA singles final following a six-year absence this weekend in Tashkent. Wins over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Olga Govortsova and Lesia Tsurenko got Knapp into the final, where she became just the second player this season to notch a win over a tournament's top seed and defending champ (Bojana Jovanovski) to claim the title. "I can't say how happy I am right now," Knapp said. "I've had five surgeries, so many months of layoffs in the last six years, in and out of tennis the last two years due to bad knee problems. But I knew it was possible for me to win a WTA event one day, and I'm so happy I could do it here in Tashkent." Meanwhile, two-time WTA titlist Goerges has had some pretty lean times the last two seasons. She was in and out of the Top 20 in 2011-12, and had her first season-ending Top 20 ranking the latter year. But the German dropped to #73 at the end of '13 and heading into Quebec City she was all the way down at #93 after barely being able to keep her ranking solidy in the Top 100 for most of the season. In January, Goerges had her first SF result in over a year in Pattaya but, though she stretched Flavia Pennetta to three sets in the 1st Round at the U.S. Open, she wasn't able to match it with another final four finish until this weekend. After putting up wins over Stephanie Dubois, Melanie Oudin and Andrea Hlavackova to reach the semifinals, Goerges' ranking jumps to #81 this week. She also reached the doubles final with Hlavackova.
FRESH FACES: Shelby Rogers/USA & Aleksandra Krunic/SRB Venus, Rogers has had a nice time in Canada in recent weeks. While her best result this season was a final in Bad Gastein, Austria, her victory in Montreal over Genie Bouchard was her most memorable moment. In Quebec City, she reached the semifinals after putting up victories over Asia Muhammad and Tatjana Maria. The 21-year old is up to a new career-high ranking of #70. Meanwhile, the 21-year old Serbian Good Luck Charm barely the size of a charm bracelet was at it again in Tashkent. Krunic lost her opening post-U.S. Open singles match to Lesia Tsurenko, but she rebounded quite nicely, thank you very much. Reaching her second career WTA doubles final, she followed up her Flushing Meadows run by winning her first-ever doubles title with fellow maiden champ Katerina Siniakova. Said the diminutive Serb, ""A lot of people know me and think I should win all the time, but personally I'm still the same person and don't have pressure. I'm trying to keep myself on the ground and keep my distance from the hype! It's been a great year for me and I'm just trying to stay calm and focused." Go Bracelet!
DOWN: Hsieh Su-Wei/TPE
...earlier this season, Hsieh reached #1 in the doubles rankings, and she shared a Roland Garros title with Peng Shuai. Since then, the announcement of the end of the regular partnership with her longtime friend Peng has come and gone, though the two have qualified for the WTA Finals in Singapore and plan to attempt to defend their title there. Still, while U.S. Open singles semifinalist Peng's solo game has improved, Hsieh's has sagged badly. A two-time title winner in 2012, she's just 5-12 in 2014 and is currently ranked #171. Last week in Hong Kong, Su-Wei and her younger sister Shu-Ying were knocked out in the doubles semifinals in Hong Kong... in one of the two matches that counted seven tennis-playing sisters in the group of eight players. Hsieh and Peng are the reigning '13 champs of this week's event in Guangzhou, but they won't be around to attempt to defend their title.
ITF PLAYER: Andreea Mitu/ROU
...the 22-year old Swarmette, a Wimbledon qualifier, is a perfect 5-0 in ITF singles finals this season. Her latest victory run came this weekend in a $25K event in Sofia, Bulgaria when she claimed her twelfth career circuit crown with wins over Beatriz Haddad Maia, Reka-Luca Jani (Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani!) and Hordette Victoria Kan in the final.
JUNIOR STARS: Destanee Aiava/AUS & Jelena Ostapenko/LAT

...the appropriately -- or unintentionally cruelly -- named Aussie, at just age 14, took the title at the Grade 2 Canadian World Ranking event in Montreal. The #7 seed, Aiava defeated top seed Iryna Shymanovich in the semifinals before downing fellow Australian Kimberly Birrell, the #3 seed (and AO girls semifinalist), in the final. Ostapenko, who won the Wimbledon junior crown this summer, made her WTA tour debut in Tashkent. Granted a wild card into the main draw, she opened her career with a 1st Round upset of '09 tournament champ Shahar Peer before losing in the 2nd Round to Ksenia Pervak.

1. Tashkent Final - Knapp d. Jovanovski
This was BoJo's fourth career final. Two have come in Baku, and two in Tashkent. She's just the second '13 singles champ to reach the final in her '14 title defense attempt, only to come up short the second time around. The other? Why, her fellow Serb JJ in Bogota, of course.
2. Tashkent 1st Rd. - Tsurenko d. Krunic
Krunic took down two-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova in three sets in NYC, and nearly did the same to two-time slam winner Azarenka. #124-ranked qualifier Tsurenko proved to be too tough a Ukrainian nut to crack in Uzbekistan, though.
3. Hong Kong 2nd Rd. - Schiavone d. Date-Krumm
...6-3/4-0 ret.
If they'd met in the final it'd surpassed Venus/Lucic with a combined 67 years of age. Alas...
4. Hong Kong SF - Ka.Pliskova d. Van Uytvanck
The Belgian, who won a WTA $125K Challenger title in '13, was playing in her first career tour-level singles semifinal.
5. $50K Saint-Melo FRA Final - Carina Witthoeft d. Alberta Brianti
The 19-year old German wins her second ITF title in two weeks. Before her victory over the Italian, Witthoeft put down a series of Spaniards (Pous-Tio, Dominguez-Lino & Sorribes-Tormo) on her way to the final.
6. Quebec Doubles Final - Hradecka/Lucic-Baroni d. Goerges/Hlavackova
Andrea to Lucie: "Hey, aren't you somebody that I used to know?"
7. $25K Redding CA SF - Lauren Embree d. Alexandra Stevenson
Stevenson, now 33, was the other surprise semifinalist at Wimbledon in 1999.
8. Guangzhou 1st Rd. - Zhu Lin d. Vinci
Zhu is another of those Chinese players that are bound to pop at this time of year. Last week, while ranked #207, she qualified in Hong Kong and got a MD win over Kristyna Pliskova. The 20-year old has already started off this week by knocking out Vinci in Guangzhou.

1. Quebec Final - Lucic-Baroni d. Venus Williams
At 32 and 34, respectively, MLB and Venus combined for the oldest final pairing of 2014.
2. Hong Kong Final - Lisicki d. Karolina Pliskova 7-5/6-3
Hong Kong 1st Rd. - Zhu d. Kristyna Pliskova 1-6/6-4/6-3
the week both began and ended with Pliskova sisters losing singles matches.

3. Hong Kong Doubles Final - Pliskova/Pliskova d. Mayr-Achleitner/Anastasia Rodionova
...6-2/2-6 [10-6].
But two sisters still beat one in doubles.
4. Hong Kong Doubles SF - Pliskova/Pliskova d. Chan/Chan 6-4/4-6 [10-6]
Hong Kong Doubles SF - Mayr-Achleitner/An.Rodionova d. Hsieh/Hsieh 4-6/7-6(3) [10-3]
more semifinalist sisters than you can shake a stick at.
5. Tashkent 2nd Rd. - Urszula Radwanska d. Vekic
Still on a comeback trail following her offseason shoulder surgery, U-Rad reached her first tour-level QF of the season and lifted her ranking back into the Top 200. It could have been an even better week, as Ula won the opening set in the QF vs. Jovanovski, and was up a break on three different occasions in the 2nd (and a fourth time in the 3rd) before losing in three sets.
HM- $25K Batumi GEO Final - Mestach d. Olga Ianchuk
Olga is 1-2 in ITF finals this season, while her sister Elizaveta is 3-3.

vichka35: "That moment when u try to turn on the bath and shower thing is on instead #watereverywhere #notAfavoritewaytogetwet"

16y,4m,2.5w - MIRJANA LUCIC-B. (98 Bol => 14 Que.City)
13y,1m - Kimiko Date-Krumm (96 San Diego => 09 Seoul)
8y,8m,3w - Barbara Rittner (92 Schenectady => 01 Antwerp)
8y,8m,2w - Jelena Dokic (02 Birmingham => 11 Kuala Lumpur)
8y,5m,1w - Klara Koukalova (05 Portoroz => 14 Florianopolis)
16y,4m,2.5w - MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI (1998 Bol => Que.City)
8y,5m,1w - Klara Koukalova (2005 Portoroz => Florianopolis)
4 yr - Svetlana Kuznetsova (2010 San Diego => Wash.DC)
3y,11m - Flavia Pennetta (2010 Marbella => Indian Wells)
3y,7m,2w - Ekaterina Makarova (2010 Eastbourne => Paris)

4 USA - Keys,Vandeweghe,S.Williams,V.Williams
4 RUS - Kuznetsova,Makarova,Pavlyuchenkova,Sharapova
3 ESP - Muguruza,Suarez-Navarro,Torro-Flor
3 GER - Barthel,Lisicki,Petkovic

**2014 ITF TITLES**
7...Denisa Allertova, CZE
6...Laura Pous-Tio, ESP
6...Patricia Maria Tig, ROU
5...Quirine Lemoine, NED

28 - KARIN KNAPP, ITA (Tashkent)
26 - Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL (Sydney)
25 - Carla Suarez-Navarro, SP (Oeiras)
22 - Kurumi Nara, JPN (Rio)
22 - Coco Vandweghe, USA ('s-Hertobenbosch)

**2014 WTA FINALS**
6...Serena Williams, USA (6-0)
5...Ana Ivanovic, SRB (3-2)
4...Simona Halep, ROU (2-2)
4...Angelique Kerber, GER (0-4)

21...Serena & Venus Williams, USA
3...Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
2...Chan Hao-Ching & Yung-Jan, TPE

Hobert - Klara Koukalova (won doubles)
Bogota - Caroline Garcia (won both)
Marrakech - Romina Oprandi (won doubles)
Rome - Sara Errani (lost both)
Nurnberg - Karolina Pliskova (won doubles)
Washington, D.C. - Kurumi Nara (lost both)
Quebec City - MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI (won both)
Hong Kong - KAROLINA PLISKOVA (won doubles)

6 - Serena Williams
2 - Li Na
1 - Koukalova, LUCIC-BARONI, Pennetta, V.Williams
2 - Kveta Peschke, Abigail Spears
1 - C.Black, Hingis, LUCIC-BARONI, Srebotnik

66 years - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (32) d. Venus Williams (34)
64 years - Serena Williams (32) d. Li Na (32)

Bogota - Caroline Garcia, FRA (def. Jankovic in Final)
Tashkent - KARIN KNAPP, ITA (def. Jovanovski in Final)

Brisbane - Serena Williams (def. Azarenka)
Shenzhen - Li Na (def. Peng)
Miami - Serena Williams (def. Li)
Bogota - Jelena Jankovic (lost to Garcia)
Stuttgart - Maria Sharapova (def. Ivanovic)
Baku - Elina Svitolina (def. Jovanovski)
U.S. Open - Serena Williams (def. Wozniacki)
Tashkent - BOJANA JOVANOVSKI (lost to Knapp)

Elsewhere... Oh, no! I guess Robson didn't know she had it GOOD with that wrist brace.

TOKYO, JAPAN (Premier $1m/HCO)
13 Final: Kvitova d. Kerber
13 Doubles Final: Black/Mirza d. H-C.Chan/Huber
14 Top Seeds: Kerber/Wozniacki

Azarenka d. #1 Kerber
#2 Wozniacki d. #4 Jankovic
Azarenka d. #2 Wozniacki

...while one point of interest in this tournament will be the all-Swiss Miss doubles pairing of Hingis & Bencic (the younger of which has already opened the singles action with an upset of Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3/6-0), our first look at a post-U.S. Open Azarenka -- with over a week of additional seasoning -- is sort of an intriguing notion, as well. I guess you can consider this pick a case of "drinking the Vika Kool-Aid."

vichka35: "I guess I was thirsty after practice! #hydrateYourselfWithABigAssBottle ??????"

13 Final: A.Radwanska d. Pavlyuchenkova
13 Doubles Final: C-W.Chan/Y-F.Xu d. Kops-Jones/Spears
14 Top Seeds: A.Radwanska/Ka.Pliskova

#1 A.Radwanska d. McHale
(WC) Kirilenko d. #2 Ka.Pliskova
#1 A.Radwanska d. (WC) Kirilenko

...something of a huge flier being taken on Kirilenko here, though she has always played well in Asia over the years. Of course, she could probably-more-easily lose her 1st rounder against Koukalova. Aga has never successfully defended a singles title, though, so there's that, too.

13 Final: Shu.Zhang d. King
13 Doubles Final: Hsieh/Peng d. King/Voskoboeva
14 Top Seeds: Stosur/Cornet

#4 Jovanovski d. #7 Cepelova
#2 Cornet d. Torro-Flor
#4 Jovanovski d. #2 Cornet could be tempted, what with the spotty nature of the Guangzhou draw, to pick a certain Current Bannerette to reach her first semifinal since January 2013, and maybe even more, in this tournament. But THIS one won't take that bait.

And, meanwhile, while so many are toiling on the tour's Asian swing...

serenawilliams: "Beach. Body. The first."

Such is the life of an eighteen-slam winner, I guess.

All for now.


Friday, September 12, 2014

3Q BSA's: 18 and Far From Over

"It is a pleasure for me to win my first Grand Slam here and then this #18. So I'm really emotional. I couldn't ask to do it at a better place." - Serena Williams, with her voice cracking, after winning the U.S. Open

*3Q Awards - Weeks 28-36*
1. Serena Williams, USA
...sure, she might have finished #1 anyway, but Serena "saved" her '14 season. Not with her two-title U.S. Open Series-winning run, but with her three-peat in Flushing Meadows. This season will still go down as one of Williams' least-intimidating displays, but grabbing career slam #3, U.S. Open crown #6 and running her winning streak in Queens to twenty-one matches (in the crosshairs in 2015: matching Chris Evert's four-peat from 1975-78) makes up for -- or at least comes close to it -- a whole host of season-long ills. As it is, she secures her fourth career year-end #1 ranking (fourth all-time, one behind Evert's five), a thirteenth Top 10 season (third, behind Martina Navratilova's 20 and Evert's 19) and the first-ever back-to-back USO Series + Open titles the past two years. Now... onward to (still more) history.

2. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
...the Dane turned what could have been an emotionally crushing summer into the battlefield for her own career redemption, as a renewed focus and a new gameplan decorated with aggressive tendencies made all those Wozniology-101 lectures worthwhile. All that followed was a title in Istanbul on the same weekend as you-know-who won the British Open, the best summer hard court record (19-4, with three losses to the world #1) of anyone not named Serena, three Top 10 wins, her own return to the Top 10 and a second appearance in the U.S. Open final.

3. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
...the best Hordette of the summer wasn't named Maria. After semifinal results in Washington and Montreal, Makarova finally managed to pull off back-to-back big slam victories (def. Bouchard & Azarenka) en route to her first major semifinal. The run raised her ranking to a career-best #15, and she left New York with her first U.S. Open women's doubles title, too.
4. Peng Shuai, CHN may not have ended well for Peng, who was wheeled off the court suffering from heat illness in her final match, but her summer was quite impressive. She's still without a tour-level singles title, but she's getting closer. She picked up a WTA $125K Challenger win in Nanchang, then capped things off with a terrific serve-holding run in Flushing Meadows as she became the third Chinese woman to reach a slam semifinal. It almost makes up for the disappointment of seeing her super-successful doubles pairing with longtime friend Hsieh Su-Wei -- which helped Peng become the first Chinese player to ever reach #1 -- come to an end.
5. Elena Makarova/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
...the all-Russian pair has been underperforming as a duo since since winning Roland Garros last season, but they made up for it with one sterling stretch in New York. Defeating the Williams Sisters BEFORE the semifinals (for the second time in '14), Makarova & Vesnina didn't allow themselves to peak too early and added a U.S. Open crown to their career column.
6. Aga Radwanska, POL
...once again, Radwanska's NYC results left a lot to be desired, but she finally grabbed her first title of '14 with a great run in Montreal, where she knocked off old Wimbledon '13 nemesis Sabine Lisicki, Vika Azarenka, soon-to-be Open semifinalist Makarova and Venus Williams in the final to claim her biggest crown in over two years.

7. Venus Williams, USA matter what happens next, during the summer of '14 Venus let it be know that she was still nowhere near the end, as she collected wins over three Top 10 players and returned to the Top 20. While she'll still have her "bad days," her good ones are becoming more plentiful as she better learns to deal with her Sjogren's condition. After taking eventual Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova to a 7-5 3rd set at the All-England Club, Williams came to North America and reached her biggest final in four years in Montreal, getting her first win over Serena since '09.
8. Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
...with the demise of Hsieh/Peng, the Italians would seem to have a third straight season as the top-ranked doubles duo locked down. After completing a Career Doubles Slam at Wimbledon, the Italians played just three hard court events this summer. They had a disappointing early loss in New York, but only after picking up a big title in Montreal.

9. Washington Kastles
...led by Martina Hingis, the defending World Team Tennis champions came together for a fifth title in six seasons, and a record-tying (Sacramento Capitals, 1997-00) fourth straight title.

10 Raquel Kops-Jones/Abigail Spears, USA/USA
...the veteran American duo aren't the Bryan twins, but they shine their brightest on North American hard courts. A season ago, they put up wins in Stanford and Carlsbad. This time around, they won even bigger in Cincinnati, and threw in a Stanford SF and Montreal QF for good measure. At a career-tying best-ever co-ranking of #11, the duo stands ready to reach the year-ending WTA Finals for the first time (currently standing 5th in the Race to Singapore). With the field expanding to eight, they'd stand a good chance anyway, but with the end of the Hsieh/Peng pairing, Kops-Jones & Spears might rise into a Top 4 seed that would have been enough in the previous four-team field. "Moonlighting" in Flushing Meadows, Spears even put on a run to the Mixed Doubles final with Santiago Gonzalez.

11. Elina Svitolina, UKR
...the Ukrainian (then-) teen was on the leading edge of the WTA's NextGen title winners, taking her first career crown a year ago in Baku. She became the first to grab #2 this summer, defending her title to become the first teen with multiple titles since Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2010, as well as winning her first WTA doubles title in Istanbul. In Cincinnati, Svitolina put up her first career Top 5 win, taking out SW19 champ Petra Kvitova. At #34, the only younger players ranked ahead of the now 20-year old (as of September 12) are Madison Keys and Belinda Bencic. Speaking of...
12. Belinda Bencic, SUI
...ranked one spot ahead of Svitolina, 17-year old Bencic emerged from her spring/summer mini-dip in results to become the one young breakout star to last deep into the second week at the U.S. Open. The New Swiss Miss notched two Top 10 wins in New York en route to her first slam quarterfinal. She's the youngest player ranked in the Top 100.

HM- Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
...a younger player lasted longer than the Serbian Good Luck Charm in New York, and she's still only now just breaking into the Top 100 (and she dropped her first post-Open match in Tashkent, too), but perhaps no player -- Serena included -- was as exciting in Flushing Meadows as the charm bracelet-sized 21-year old with the big shots, amazing wheels and heart as big as Serbia. After apprenticing under the likes of JJ and AnaIvo in Fed Cups past, a late coaching change brought out the offense in Krunic as she ran off three qualifying wins and three more in the main draw of the U.S. Open, upsetting Madison Keys, Petra Kvitova and very nearly two-time finalist Victoria Azarenka in a three-set Round of 16 battle. Hopefully, this won't be an Oudin-like flash, but the start of a something bigger than Krunic ever imagined for herself.

...the 20-year old from Japan has seized control of a wheelchair tour that no longer sports future Hall of Famer Esther Vergeer. Kamiji's sweep of the singles and doubles at the U.S. Open not only gives her a true Doubles Grand Slam with partner Jordanne Whiley this season, but her second singles slam means she's won six of the seven WC slam titles contested this season. The only one she failed to grab, the Australian Open singles, saw her playing into a 3rd set in the final. Bring on 2015...


"She's loyal and is fun to hang around. That's something that I think is very important in a friend." - Caroline Wozniacki, on Serena Williams, early in the 3Q

1. Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
2. Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
3. Peng Shuai, CHN

4. Aga Radwanska, POL
5. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
6. Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic, HUN/FRA
7. Garbine Muguruza & Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP/ESP
8. Coco Vandeweghe, USA
9. Camila Giorgi, ITA
10. Mona Barthel, GER
11. Kaia Kanepi, EST
12. Kristina Mladenovic, FRA
13. Madison Keys, USA
14. Kurumi Nara, JPN
15. Irina-Camelia Begu, ROU
16. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
17. Karolina Pliskova & Kristyna Pliskova, CZE/CZE
18. Ksenia Pervak, RUS
19. Jarmila Gajdosova, AUS
20. Lesia Tsurenko, UKR
HM- Teliana Pereira, BRA

1. Elina Svitolina, UKR
2. Belinda Bencic, SUI
3. Aleksandra Krunic, SRB

4. Shelby Rogers, USA
5. Duan Yingying, CHN
6. Ana Konjuh, CRO
7. Zarina Diyas, KAZ
8. Jana Cepelova, SVK
9. Nicole Gibbs, USA
10. Zheng Saisai, CHN
11. Lauren Davis, USA
12. Taylor Townsend, USA
13. Wang Qiang, CHN
14. Maryna Zanevska, UKR
15. Ons Jabeur, TUN
16. Ashleigh Barty, AUS
17. Antonia Lottner, GER
18. Jana Fett, CRO
19. Sachia Vickery, USA
20. Gabriela Dabrowski, CAN
21. Katerina Siniakova, CZE
22. Barbara Haas, AUT
23. Carol Zhao, CAN
24. Victoria Rodriguez, MEX
25. Marcela Zacarius, MEX
HM- Annika Beck, GER

1. Cici Bellis, USA
2. Marie Bouzkova, CZE
3. Jamie Loeb, USA (North Carolina)
4. Francoise Abanda, CAN
5. Anhelina Kalinina, UKR
6. Danielle Collins, USA (Virginia)

7. Gabriela Elena Ruse, ROU
8. Caroline Dolehide, USA
9. Katerina Stewart, USA
10. Julia Elbaba, USA (Virginia)
11. Tornado Black, USA
12. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS
13. Xu Shilin, CHN
14. Iryna Shymanovich, BLR
15. Jil Belen Teichmann, SUI
16. Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov, ESP
17. Greetje Minnen, BEL
18. Ipek Soylu, TUR
19. Natalia Vikhlyantseva, RUS
20. Katie Boulter, GBR
21. Olga Fridman, UKR
22. Anna Bondar, HUN
23. Akvile Parazinskaite, LTU
24. Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP
25. Usue Arconada, USA
HM- Kristie Ahn, USA (Stanford)


1. Jocelyn Rae & Anna Smith, GBR/GBR
2. Paula Kania, POL
3. Abigail Spears, USA
4. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, BLR
5. Andreja Klepac, SLO
6. Chan Yung-Jan, TPE
7. Anna-Lena Friedsam, GER
8. Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP
9. Misa Eguchi, JPN
10. Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
11. Nigina Abduraimova, UZB
12. Liu Fangzhou, CHN
13. Naomi Osaka, JPN
14. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
15. Hiroko Kuwata, JPN
HM- Zhang Ling, HKG

"People have been trying to retire me since I was, like, 25. For some reason in tennis, we always do that to our players, it's weird. We don't encourage them to stick around. It's like, 'get out of here.'" - Venus Williams

1. Serena Williams, USA
2. Peng Shuai, CHN
3. Venus Williams, USA

4. Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci, ITA/ITA
5. Sania Mirza, IND
6. Martina Hingis & Flavia Pennetta, SUI/ITA
7. Cara Black & Sania Mirza, ZIM/IND
8. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
9. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
10. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
11. Kimiko Date-Krumm & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, JPN/CZE
12. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
13. Roberta Vinci, ITA
14. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
15. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, CZE
16. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
17. Lucie Safarova, CZE
18. Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, AUT
19. Anastasia Rodionova, AUS
20. Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS
21. Johanna Larsson, SWE
22. Emma Laine, FIN
23. Shuko Aoyama, JPN
24. Chanelle Scheepers, RSA
25. Varvara Lepchenko, USA
HM- Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA

"According to Kimiko, I have another decade." - Venus Williams

1. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, CRO
3. Andrea Petkovic, GER
4. Heather Watson, GBR
5. Victoria Azarenka, BLR

6. Madison Brengle, USA
7. Petra Cetkovska, CZE
8. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (singles/WTT)
9. Samantha Stosur, AUS
10. Urszula Radwanska, POL
HM- Melanie Oudin, USA

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
3. Eugenie Bouchard, CAN

4. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
5. Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL
6. Sloane Stephens, USA
7. Donna Vekic, CRO
8. Serena Williams & Venus Williams, USA/USA
9. Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai, TPE/CHN
10. Petra Kvitova, CZE
HM- Simona Halep, ROU


1. Denisa Allertova, CZE
2. Jocelyn Rae & Anna Smith, GBR/GBR
3. Laura Pous-Tio, ESP
4. Andreea Mitu, ROU
5. Patricia Maria Tig, ROU
6. Conny Perrin, SUI
7. Lara Arruabarrena, ESP
8. Quirine Lemoine, NED
9. Gabriela Pantuckova, CZE
10. Kristina Kucova, SVK
11. Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS
12. Valeriya Strakhova, UKR
13. Maria Sakkari, GRE
14. Marta Sirotkina, RUS
15. Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
HM- Carina Witthoeft, GER

"I think everyone in general plays the match of their lives against me. So every time I step on the court, I have to always be a hundred times better. If I'm not, then I'm in trouble. If I'm not playing a great, great match, these girls when they play me, they play as if they're on the ATP Tour, and then they play other girls completely different. It's never easy being in my shoes." - Serena Williams


#1 - Serena Williams becomes the first woman in thirty-seven years to three-peat as the U.S. Open singles champion, defending her title without dropping a set
#2 - Caroline Wozniacki's summer redemption tour begins with a title in Istanbul, then ends with an appearance in the U.S. Open final

3 - Aga Radwanska wins in Montreal, her first title since last September and her biggest since 2012
#4 - Serena Williams wins her first Cincinnati title, claiming her second straight U.S. Open Series crown in the process
#5 - Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina defeat the Williams Sisters early, then go onto win their first U.S. Open doubles title

[non-title winning]
Aleksandra Krunic wins six straight matches at Flushing Meadows, qualifying and then reaching her first slam Round of 16 after upsetting Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova. She pushes Victoria Azarenka to three sets in the 4th Round.

Marie Bouzkova becomes first girl representing the Czech Republic to win the U.S. Open junior title


At the World Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, Xu Shilin takes home the Gold Medal for the host Chinese, something that didn't happen when Beijing hosted the regular Olympics in 2008

World #1 Yui Kamiji wins the U.S. Open singles and doubles titles, adding two more '14 slams to her other slam wins (Wimbledon singles, and the doubles at the AO, RG and SW19) this season and coming within one match of a perfect record in the majors this season. Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley combined to win the Doubles Grand Slam.

[Mixed Doubles]
Sania Mirza wins her first U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title with Bruno Soares, moving her three-quarters of the way to a Career Mixed Slam. She needs only a Wimbledon crown to complete the set of trophies.


In the inaugural Bucharest Open in Romania, Swarmettes swept the titles. Simona Halep, in her best hard court result of the summer, took the singles, while Elena Bogdan & Alexandra Cadantu claimed the doubles.

[Comebacks Du Jour]

Andrea Petkovic wins the singles title in Bad Gastein, five years after she won her maiden tour title there in 2009
Svetlana Kuznetsova wins the Washington, D.C. title, her first singles win in four years

[Most Irrelevant Title, in retrospect?]
Petra Kvitova went 1-2 in North America after winning Wimbledon, then suddenly won four in a row to claim her second New Haven title in three years the week before the U.S. Open, as the other top-ranked players lost early and she was the only seed to reach the QF. Still, it seemed to provide a little hope for her in New York. But her run in Flushing Meadows ended in the 3rd Round at the hands of Aleksandra Krunic. Still, the Czech moved up to #3 in the rankings after the Open.

"I think the sport brings so many opportunities to women. It's brought me so many things in my life and my career. I don't regret any step I have taken. On one hand, sometimes I wake up and think, 'Well, I don't wish this on my kids!' But then when I'm playing the matches, I'm in front of thousands of people and the experience that the sport brings, I think, 'Of course I want my kinds to do this."" - Maria Sharapova

U.S. Open 4th Rd. - Victoria Azarenka d. Aleksandra Krunic
In the best women's match under the lights at this year's Open, world #145 Krunic's Cinderella run was finally brought to a close in a dramatic, momentum-shifting match chocked full of drop shots, defensive gets, lobs, fist pumps, full body thrusts, net cords and, for good or for bad, a "happy birthday" salute from Vika to Gael Monfils. In the end, the two-time finalist and former #1 Azarenka's experience won out, but the speedy Krunic's grit and surprising (maybe even to her) offensive firepower provided the fuel that made this one of those matches that will always make you smile when you think about it.
Cincinnati SF - Ana Ivanovic d. Maria Sharapova
AnaIvo led 6-2/4-0, but the ultra-competitive Sharapova's usual fight wrestled away the direction of the match. She took a 4-2 lead in the 3rd, served at 5-4 and held two match points. But back-to-back double-faults broke her own serve, and the Russian's expected 3rd set magic went with it in a match result that ultimately typified her less-than-successful '14 summer on the hard courts.
Cincinnati QF - Maria Sharapova d. Simona Halep
This rematch of the Roland Garros final had the same result as in Paris. Halep was up a break at 2-0 in both the 2nd and 3rd set, but still wasn't able to win either and grab her first win in five meetings with Sharapova.
U.S. Open 4th Rd. - Caroline Wozniacki d. Maria Sharapova
The Dane's newly-aggressive tactics pay off as Wozniacki is the latest -- and last -- to out-play Sharapova in a deciding 3rd set this summer.

Montreal SF - Venus Williams d. Serena Williams
In the Sisters' first meeting in Canada, Venus gets her first win over Serena since '09, losing serve only once thanks to a series of superior second serves. It was the only hard court match Serena lost all summer.

[1st Set]
U.S. Open 1st Round - Danielle Collins leads Simona Halep
...7-6 (2).
For one set, NCAA champ Collins looked ready to take down the #2-seed in Flushing Meadows in one of the biggest slam upsets in recent memory. But Halep stayed calm and figured one what she had to do to turn the tide. After scoring just two points in the 1st set tie-break, the Romanian lost just three total games in the 2nd and 3rd sets.

[The Quest is Complete]
U.S. Open 1st Round - Madison Brengle d. Julia Glushko
After twenty-seven failed attempts to qualify for a slam, including twenty-four straight, Brengle was mercifully given a wild card into this year's U.S. Open main draw. After being 0-4 in her previous 1st Round matches in majors, the Bannerette's 1st Round win over Glushko finally ended Brengle's ten-year quest to notch a victory at a major.

[Signs of Life... or not]
Cincinnati 2nd Rd. - Serena Williams d. Samantha Stosur 7-6(7)/7-6(7)
New Haven 1st Rd. - Samantha Stosur d. Kurumi Nara 7-6(5)/6-7(10)/6-2
U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Kaia Kanepi d. Samantha Stosur 3-6/6-3/7-6(8)
a tale of tie-breaks. After a mostly-miserable season, Stosur seemed to catch a breeze in her two tie-break loss to Serena in Cincinnati. In New Haven, in a another battle of tie-breaks, the Aussie overcame a 5-1 1st set deficit against Nara to take the lead. She then rebounded after failing to convert three MP in the 2nd set tie-break, losing 12-10, by taking the 3rd set en route to the semifinals. With her prospects for the Open looking up, Stosur... failed to convert two MP against Kanepi and lost in the 2nd Round in New York. Oh, Sam.

[To Choke or Not to Choke]
U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Johanna Larsson d. Sloane Stephens
Others may have lost bigger leads than Stephens, who led 7-5/3-0, or failed to close out matches from a more advantageous position than Current Sloane's break lead at 2-0 in the 3rd. But that Stephens' 2014 slam campaign was closed out with yet another disappointing result, even after her second coaching change since the end of last season, is worth noting largely because unless the American can pull some unexpectedly huge result out of thin air in the 4Q, the player who was the talk of the tour a year and a half ago will have already (though it may still ultimately be temporary) become an afterthought in the eyes of the WTA by the time the 2015 season kicks off. Beware, Genie?


U.S. Open 1st Rd. - CiCi Bellis d. Dominika Cibulkova
The 15-year old wild card (ranked #1208) makes her tour debut a memorable one, taking down the #12-seeded, AO finalist to become the youngest player to win a U.S. Open main draw match since Anna Kournikova in 1996.
Stanford 1st Rd. - Naomi Osaka d. Samantha Stosur
Talk about coming full circle. In 2009, Stosur won her first tour title in Osaka, Japan. Five years later, the Aussie lost to Japan's Osaka -- a #406-ranked 16-year old making her tour debut -- after holding a MP in the 2nd set tie-break and serving for the match at 5-4 in the 3rd.
U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Aleksandra Krunic d. Petra Kvitova
Once again, Kvitova proves that the bigger they are the harder they fall. In the sweltering heat of NYC, the wrung-out Czech is dispatched by the surprisingly powerful Serbian qualifier who never once showed an ounce of intimidation or fear concerning the prospect of sending the Wimbledon champ packing.

Montreal 2nd Rd. - Shelby Rogers d. Eugenie Bouchard
It's not that Rogers won the match that makes it a big upset, as the American had reached a final in Bad Gastein weeks earlier, it's that she served two bagels to the Canadian in front of her home crowd in an event that was catered to revolve around the recent Wimbledon finalist. Bouchard's summer improved a bit after this, and she reached the U.S. Open Round of 16. But, make no mistake, she'll have some "unfinished business" back in Quebec next August.

"Serena, you deserve it. You played better than me today and you deserve to be the champion. You are an inspiration on the court and off it. You're an unbelievable champion and a great friend and you definitely owe drinks later." - Caroline Wozniacki, after losing to Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final

All for now.