Thursday, October 23, 2014

BACKSPIN TIME CAPSULE: 2004 WTA Championship & Fed Cup

Yep, it's been a full decade.

Throughout this season, I've posted a series of "Time Capsules" spotlighting the highs of the breakthrough season of the Russian Tennis Revolution of 2004. From Anastasia Myskina's surprise run at Roland Garros, to the birth of a would-be tennis legend named Sharapova at Wimbledon and an early-career flash of talent from Svetlana Kuznetsova in New York, the Hordettes took control of the grand slams ten years ago, sweeping to three consecutive titles, two of which came after an all-Russian clash in the final.

But the crowning of a trio of first-time major champions wasn't enough. The Russians weren't finished.

As the summer rolled into the fall, the leaves changed. But the level of Hordette success did not.

Maria Sharapova went on to end her season by winning her first and (so far) only Tour Championships title, becoming the only Russian to ever do so when she pulled off a sequel to her Wimbledon triumph by getting a second victory over (an injured) Serena Williams in the final in Los Angeles. Nearly a full decade later, Sharapova is still seeking win #3 over Williams. A week later, in the Fed Cup semifinals and finals competition held in Moscow (naturally), the Hordettes won the first of multiple FC championships claimed by Team Russia during the remainder of the 2000's.

Here's how I recounted it all at the time. First, the WTA Championships held in Los Angeles, and the the final, fitting result on the concluding Fed Cup weekend of the 2004 season..

November 18, 2004 - "OH, TO BE 17...and Backspin's 2004 Player-of-the-Year"

"The closer you sit, the hotter she gets."

Welcome to the ever-expanding world of Maria Sharapova, at a moment in time when she is the poster girl of the WTA Tour's big season-ending tournament in just her first appearance in the event. A moment where she's complimented on her "sexy legs" by the tour's preeminent stylist and former #1 (and, as it turned out, the Supernova's eventual opponent in the final). A moment where the 17-year old born of the cold environs of Siberia somehow manages to exceed all the slogans (such as the one above) and slick Los Angeles marketing campaign tricks that some might have found a little excessive.

Got Sharapova? Got another title. In the end, the Russian's star power outshined even that of Serena Williams, and the Superova picked up a Tour Championship title to place next to that Wimbledon champion's plate she got over the summer.

One of the great things about watching Sharapova this year has been seeing the process of her traversing her tennis learning curve while on the job, and in the spotlight. Again, her education was evident in the Championship final. After failing to convert big points late in the 1st (including tossing in a DF on set point), she fell down a break to Williams at 1-2 in the 2nd. With failure staring her in the face, she won the last five games to take the set, the final one after Williams' "well-timed" abdominal injury break. Then, Williams ran off a 4-0 lead with whipping groundstrokes while Sharapova was overhitting Serena's slow serves and was generally off-kilter against her injured, but still lethal, opponent.

It was easy to question the severity of Williams' injury at that point in the match. Or at least it was until her "painful" (to watch) series of serves after Sharapova, having kept her wits about her, had closed to within 4-3. To put it in tennis '04 terms, Serena's serve was starting make Elena Dementieva's serve look good by comparison. The Supernova's waiting game had paid off, as Serena physically wilted down the stretch and Sharapova fed on her slowing momentum like a starved animal, closing out the match, the tournament and her season by claiming the final six games of the set. Her victory completed the Russian Horde's big-tourney sweep over the last half-year (and the three straight slams, plus the Tour Championship, could soon be joined by Russia's first-ever Fed Cup crown... in Moscow, no less). All that, and Sharapova somehow avoided knocking someone out with that (literally) huge check she received during the post-match trophy presentation, too.

Sharapova's talent and star wattage not only carried the day in L.A., as her triumph further cemented her burgeoning role as possibly the women's game's most recognizable face. In record time. It also earned her Backspin's 2004 "Player of the Year" award. The final standings:

1.Maria Sharapova
2.Lindsay Davenport
3.Anastasia Myskina
4.Amelie Mauresmo
5.Justine Henin-Hardenne
6.Svetlana Kuznetsova
7.Virginia Ruano-Pascual & Paola Suarez
8.Elena Dementieva
9.Serena Williams
10.Vera Zvonareva

In my heart of hearts, I guess I wouldn't have had it any other way this year... even if I did think a week ago that Sharapova was such a longshot for PoY that the court would need to open up and swallow the likes of Davenport and Mauresmo for her to steal away with the honor. Well, as it turned out, that's pretty much what happened as Davenport stumbled in one of the year's biggest events (again), and Mauresmo (again) didn't take advantage of her great opportunity to take year-end #1 (then pulled out of her Fed Cup commitment less than two weeks before the semifinals and final).

Sharapova might be just #4 on the computer (a career-high, which could be obliterated come her re-emergence in January), but her strong 4Q finish (three titles and a RU), a slam crown (Davenport and Mauresmo didn't even reach a slam final), five titles (two of them at the biggest five events on the WTA schedule), a Tier I RU (Zurich) and more intangibles that are great for the game than you could shake a broken Marat Safin racket at (no one person did more for their sport in '04 than the Supernova did for tennis) more than qualify her for "Player of the Year." Just look at the actual crowds in L.A. last week, after so many "fans" came disguised as empty seats a year ago... you'd be a fool not to attribute the new success to the 'Nova's presence. "Person of the Year" was a given. Winning this final title gave the self-described "Renaissance Woman" just one more advantage that couldn't be ignored. With every title, the dream scenario of a player with Kournikova-like crossover appeal AND a Graf-ian sense of the moment, is starting to appear as if it might become a reality in the lithe form of the Supernova.

Maria's annexation of the tour is not yet complete, either. There are still three players ahead of her on the computer... and she's not even the top-ranked Russian yet. But that's what Melbourne is down there for, isn't it?

As for the allocation of some of that million dollars that Sharapova won on Monday night? Well, in her own words, "that's a lot of shoes." So, apparently, there are still boxes-full of new Supernova looks that we've yet to be graced by.

It should be fun.

S: Maria Sharapova d. Serena Williams 4-6/6-2/6-4
D: Petrova/Shaughnessy d. Black/Stubbs

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Maria Sharapova were expecting someone else? Oh, in a fitting conclusion, while she isn't ranked #1 (at least not yet) it should be noted that the Supernova ended up at the top of the tour's prize money list for 2004.
RISERS: Sharapova & Nadia Petrova/Meghann Shaughnessy
...the Petrova/Shaughnessy team didn't win a grand slam in 2004, but a handful of Tier I's and this WTA Championships title made for a great year anyway for two players whose singles results maybe didn't reach the heights they would have preferred.
SURPRISE: Serena Williams's not often that Serena ends up in this category, but who really saw her performance in L.A. coming? She seemed more likely to not even bother to show up than to have a shot to win the title. Of course, it wasn't a surprise that she managed to slight Davenport after losing to her in the Round Robin, sport an "I (heart) Me" t-shirt to a press conference, act (albeit somewhat playfully) as if she didn't actually play and lose that Wimbledon final against Sharapova in July, and raise questions (at least initially) about her latest injury when it occurred just as Sharapova was starting to take control of the 2nd set. But that's why Serena is Serena -- she's a lightning rod for good as well as bad vibes. And now the "Serena vs. Supernova" rivalry has surpassed the non-rivalry that was "Venus vs. Serena."
VETERAN: Lindsay Davenport
...sure, she went out with a whimper after not getting out of the Round Robin, but she still finished #1 for the third time in her career ('99,'01).
FRESH FACES: Michaella Krajicek & Hana Sromova
...15-year old Krajicek's win in Stockholm was her third ITF title of the year. But that's only half as many as Hana Sromova, #250 and another in the Czech Republic's well-stocked pool of young talent. Her win in Mumbia, India gave her six ITF titles this year, tying her for the season lead with India's own Sania Mirza.
DOWN: Amelie Mauresmo
...after Davenport failed to reach the SF, Mauresmo had a shot at year-end #1 if she could have won the Championships. But she blew a set lead on Serena in the SF, then said that #1 wasn't her "main concern." The next day, she pulled out of her Fed Cup SF/F commitment (to the dismay of angry French team coach Guy Forget) in order to get more rest and focus on her training in an attempt to win her elusive first slam title in Melbourne. Mauresmo was 6-1 in Fed Cup play this year, after leading France to the title in 2003. If she wins Oz, then this will be a good move. If not, this is a pretty low way to treat her French team at such a critical juncture.

1.F - Sharapova d. S.Williams
The long-awaited rematch of the sonic boom that sounded back in July was the fitting end to a WTA season that turned out to be subtitled "Maria's World."

2.SF - Sharapova d. Myskina
The Supernova had never beaten the Czarina before.
3.SF - S.Williams d. Mauresmo
Hey, #1 wasn't Mauresmo's "main concern," anyway. If she doesn't care, why should we?
4.RR - S.Williams d. Myskina
Myskina led 6-4/3-0 before Serena ran off eight straight games. She was up 3-2 with a BP in the 3rd, too. If the Czarina had won, Davenport would have advanced to the SF, not Serena.
5.RR - Myskina d. Davenport
This was Myskina's first match after losing to Williams -- nice to see she didn't have another Athens-like hangover.
6.RR - Davenport d. S.Williams
Too little, too late for Davenport. Considering the Williams injury woes, Capriati's struggles and the dearth of top American talent, might Davenport be the last #1-ranked woman from the USA this decade?
7.RR - Sharapova d. Zvonareva
Vera the Almost. After failing to get a RR win, she finished 60 points out of the year-end Top 10.
8.RR - Sharapova d. Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova might actually be the more talented of the two at the moment, while Sharapova has more ice in her veins in big moments. The big question for '05 might end up being which of these two teenagers can challenge for #1 first.

A week after Sharapova won the Tour Championships, Anastasia Myskina led the Russians to their first-ever Fed Cup title with little if any help from the season's other two slam champions. Svetlana Kuznetsova, who'd eventually become a FC legend (twice winning title-clinching singles matches in '07 and '08), performed well in that week's semifinal action vs. Austria, but went 0-2 in the final against France, while Sharapova wasn't even on the team, mostly because Myskina, who had issues with Maria's father Yuri, had essentially forbid it if she was going to devote her own time to the Fed Cup cause. Sharapova wouldn't make her FC debut until 2008.

The '04 FC win for Team Russia would be the first of the Hordette's four FC titles in five years. After having lost in four finals with Soviet/Russian squads prior to '04, the team has since reached additional finals in '11 and '13. Myskina officially became the Russian team's Captain before the 2014 campaign.

Here's how it went...

November 28, 2004 - Fed Cup Final

Team Russia & Russian President Boris Yeltsin

FED CUP (Supreme Indoor/Moscow)
Russia d. Austria 5-0
France d. Spain 5-0
Russia d. France 3-2

Match #1- Dechy(FRA) d. Kuznetsova(RUS) 3-6/7-6/8-6
Match #2- Myskina(RUS) d. Golovin(FRA) 6-4/7-6
Match #3- Myskina(RUS) d. Dechy(FRA) 6-3/6-4
Match #4- Golovin(FRA) d. Kuznetsova(RUS) 6-4/6-1
Match #5- Myskina/Zvonareva(RUS) d. Bartoli/Loit 7-6/7-5

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anastasia Myskina
...the Czarina issued an ultimatum about Maria Sharapova joining the Horde's Fed Cup team in '05 (because of her antipathy for the Supernova's dad, she says she won't be playing if Sharapova is), then proceeded to show her value by spearheading Russia's come-from-behind first-ever Fed Cup title. In the Final versus France, after Svetlana Kuznetsova faltered twice in singles, Myskina first leveled the sinking ship then subbed for Kuznetsova in the title-deciding doubles tie and carried the day in true leading lady style. For the week, she was 4-0 in singles and 1-0 in doubles. With some additional teeth behind her assertions about the team's future makeup, will Myskina go through with her power play and attempt to block the Supernova's participation? Stay tuned.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva & Nathalie Dechy
...a year ago, an unprepared Zvonareva was thrown into her first Fed Cup action in the SF and she came up with nothing but disappointment. A year older and wiser, she teamed with Myskina to clinch Russia's first Fed Cup title in the final's fifth match. Could Vera the Almost have set the stage for her coming of age in 2005? While Dechy ultimately came up short, she took the defending champion French team's lead role (vacated by the "otherwise engaged" Mauresmo and injured Pierce) and ran with it, upsetting Kuznetsova in the final's first match and forcing Myskina into her usual heroics on Russian soil.
SURPRISE: Yvonne Meusburger
...the 21-year old, ranked #173, took the only set (off Myskina) the Austrians could muster against the Horde in the SF.
VETERAN: Kveta Peschke
...the former Miss Hrdlickova, 29, is serving notice that she might be looking for a career resurgence in '05 as she claimed her 3rd ITF title of the year in just the last few months. She defeated Alona Bondarenko, Kateryna's sister, in the Deauville final.
FRESH FACE: Tatiana Golovin
...if Dechy hadn't taken the French lead, the 16-year old Frussian Pastry showed that she was more than capable of doing so herself. Back in her birth city of Moscow, she followed up Dechy's upset of Kuznetsova with one of her own to force the deciding doubles match.
DOWN: Svetlana Kuznetsova
...2004 finally caught up with Kuznetsova, as her 0-2 singles record in the final nearly cost the Horde the Fed Cup. On a bright note, though, Kuznetsova is finally getting a long-overdue Backspin nickname. The oft-overshadowed teen isn't the Russian Czarina, and no one would consider her a Supernova... but she deserves a semi-royal title of her own. "The Contessa" has a nice ring to it, made more Russian by converting it to "The Contessova."

1.FC F - #5 - Myskina/Zvonareva d. Bartoli/Loit
The 2004 WTA #8 doubles team replaced the #3 (Kuznetsova/Likhovtseva), and the move worked as the Horde ended 2004 the only way it rightly should have -- as champions once again.
2t.FC F - #1 - Dechy d. Kuznetsova 3-6/7-6/8-6
FC F - #4 - Golovin d. Kuznetsova 6-4/6-1
The Contessova's (first nickname usage alert!) troubles will now largely be forgotten in the championship afterglow.

3.FC F - #2 - Myskina d. Golovin
In a must-win situation, the Czarina was worth her weight (and pointed opinions) in gold.
4.FC SF - #1 - Golovin d. Medina-Garrigues
The indoor surface wasn't exactly the Spaniards' cup of tea, but their sweep in the SF was still a bit shocking with the French minus both Mauresmo and Pierce.
5.FC SF - #3 - Myskina d. Meusburger
The 1st set was the only time all week that the Czarina wasn't on top of her game.

Team Russia & Captain Shamil Tarpischev

1st Round - def. Australia 4-1
QF - def. Argentina 4-1
SF - def. Austria 5-0
F - def. France 3-2

On Yuri Sharapov's behavior during her WTA Championship SF match, during which she accused him of illegally coaching his daughter: "I feel his behavior is totally incorrect, simply rude. I don't want to be around people like him."

On the prospect of Sharapova playing Fed Cup for Russia in '05 (she's agreed to do so): "If she joins our team next season, you won't see me there for sure. I do not want to be on a team with people who do not respect me." the problem is Yuri, right? But didn't the Czarina make comments about Sharapova being "more American" than Russian (Dementieva echoed the sentiments), and talked about her "course" accent when speaking Russian? Yeah, Sharapova didn't train with the rest of the Horde's top players at the Spartak Club, but does that make her any "less Russian" than the rest?

...a big "boo! hiss!" to all the Supernova detractors who popped up after Sharapova's WTA Championship title.

First, I think we (the Czarina included) can agree that Yuri needs to take a "chill pill" and pull back on his becoming-tiresome post-title actions, lest he start to be grouped in the Damir Dokic/Jim Pierce class of tennis dads. But why all the post-event fuss about Sharapova's "less-than-stellar" actions?

First, she's attacked for forgetting to mention Serena during the post-match ceremony (she corrected the not-uncommon error later), but then... now let me get this straight... for also having the temerity to celebrate after her victory? Apparently, the victory was "hollow" because Williams was injured. So, a teenager wins the second-biggest title of her career (over a player who during the week had tried to lesson the impact of her victory over her at Wimbledon for her BIGGEST title) and she's supposed to walk forlornly to the net with her head down? After her supposedly seriously injured opponent ran up a 4-0 3rd set lead AFTER her injury timeout, and was so "incapacitated" that she played an exhibition against her sister a few days later? Oh, and let's not overlook the notion that Serena should be celebrated because she was "graceful" in defeat (for once). Oh, really? Let's be honest. Serena is a smart lady. She knew her injury timeouts (the first conveniently coming when she'd fallen down 2-5 in the 2nd set, but that's another story, isn't it?) meant that she didn't need to search for an excuse for her loss ("headache," anyone?)... everyone else was obviously prepared to offer one up for her.

I wonder if Serena would have performed the same "woe is my opponent, how can I be happy now?" act if the shoe had been on the other foot and Sharapova had been injured? Anyone familiar with the Williams "body of work" in front of the camera knows she's hardly so good a thespian that she could have pulled that one off with what is apparently necessary to stack up on the "grace meter" these days... unless, of course, those standards only apply to a good-looking teenage champion with more endorsement deals in the last six months than the rest of the tour seemingly combined, who's expertly built to be looked upon with intense jealousy by all but a few of her counterparts.

Is it any wonder that women's tennis tends to eat its young? A 17-year old doesn't comport herself like a member of the royal family at high tea time and the vultures are already circling, looking to pick at the meat on her bones. Talk about lacking grace.

[Tour Championship Finals]
2004 Maria Sharapova def. Serena Williams
2007 Justine Henin def. Maria Sharapova
2008 Venus Williams def. Vera Zvonareva
2012 Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova
[Fed Cup Finals]
1999 USA def. RUS 4-1
2001 BEL def. RUS 2-1
2004 RUS def. FRA 3-2
2005 RUS def. FRA 3-2
2007 RUS def. ITA 4-0
2008 RUS def. ESP 4-0
2011 CZE def. RUS 3-2
2013 ITA def. RUS 4-0

And so we come to the end of our season-long, Hordette-themed look back.

In the final '04 rankings, four Russians finished in the Top 6 and, though their numbers at the top of the sport have waned the past few years due to attrition brought on by injury and retirement, Hordettes have been a consistent force in the sport for most of the past decade. Since Anna Kournikova became the first post-Soviet era Russian to find WTA success in 1997, finishing in the Top 10 in 2000, nine additional Russian women have reached the Top 10 since '01, more than any other nation during that span. Two -- Sharapova and Dinara Safina -- reached #1. In all, they've won eight slam crowns, produced thirteen major runner-ups, one singles Gold Medalist (Elena Dementieva), as well as five others who ended up on the Olympic medal stand (including the historic sweep of all three singles spots in Beijing in '08).

Team Russia would go on to win four Fed Cup titles over a five-year stretch, and have since returned to the final in both 2011 and '13.

Kuznetsova won a second slam in Paris in '09, while Sharapova completed a Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in '13, then defended her crown earlier this year to claim her fifth career major. Heading into the 2014 WTA Finals, Sharapova still had a chance to become the first Russian to end a WTA season ranked #1, while Ekaterina Makarova (currently #11), a slam semifinalist for the first time in '14, looks to be a good bet to soon add her name to the roster of Russian Top 10ers. And, of course, there's always hope that the likes of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will finally live up to the great promise she showed during her sterling junior career and, occasionally, during the now 23-year old's time on the WTA tour.

While the lack of impact of the NextGen Hordettes that have followed the slam-winning generation isn't particularly surprising (after all, no German has won a slam crown since the Graf era, nor any Spaniards since the Sanchez/Martinez heyday, either), it doesn't diminish the accomplishments of the first wave of Hordettes. It's unlikely that any single group of players from any other nation -- well, unless that TRUE, post-Li Chinese talent wave one day arrives in full, elite force -- will ever have the impact that the Russians have had over the last decade on the WTA tour. This "Time Capsule" series was meant to provide both a few moments to remember, as well as celebrate, the unlikely nature of what happened a decade ago. Hopefully, the effort succeeded, at least on a small scale.

Needless to say, it was quite a body of work for the Hordettes... and likely one in a single season that won't be replicated anytime soon, if ever. Wow... ten years can go by oh so fast, can't they?

All for now.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Wk.42- From Russia With Love

Ten years after the Hordettes ruled the WTA roost, the tour's annual stop in Moscow for the Kremlin Cup revolved around... wouldn't you know it, Russians.

While the week's biggest Russian-themed tennis headlines focused on eye-rolling and inexcusable comments by Russian tennis legend Shamil Tarpischev, who was fined and banned by the WTA for a year after his televised remarks about the Williams sisters (he has since issued a written apology), where WAS actually GOOD news happening on the court in Moscow, as well.

Some came at the end of the week, when the first Russian since 2007 was crowed singles champion of the event. But, actually, maybe the most Impressive Performance by a Hordette Award was wrapped up several rounds earlier.

Please, read on...

MOSCOW, RUSSIA (Premier $710K/Hard Indoor)
S: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU 6-4/5-7/6-1
D: Hingis/Pennetta (SUI/ITA) d. Garcia/Parra-Santonja (FRA/ESP)

S: Annika Beck/GER def. Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE 6-2/6-1
D: Bacsinszky/Barrois (SUI/GER) d. Hradecka/Krejcikova (CZE/CZE)

Aga, making an appearance at the WTA Finals (since, if last year's effort from her is any indication, she won't likely make much of an impression ON the court this week in Singapore)...

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS
...the player who was touted years ago as the best bet to pick up the lead and continue the Russian dominance on the WTA tour has so far had what would have to be called a "disappointing" career. Pavlyuchenkova, now 23, has led a WTA existence marked by terrible inconsistency, sparked by bright moments that seem to point to even greater things ahead, only to be soon followed by jaw-dropping upset losses and questions about whether the ball-thumping former junior #1 and three-time girls slam champ will EVER live up to her initial promise. It's been three years since Pavlyuchenkova reached a career high of #13 and had her only year-end Top 20 ranking, but what the Russian has managed to accomplish in 2014 might -- finally? again? -- point to the upcoming WTA campaign as being THE year: the season when Pavlyuchenkova is more than just an intriguing shadow. It says something about how good she COULD be that, even while she's seen as something of an "underachiever," her title run at this past week's Kremlin Cup gives Pavlyuchenkova seven career tour crowns, and her second straight multiple-title season puts her in a group that includes only players named Williams, Sharapova, Halep and Kvitova when it comes to accomplishing the feat of consistency in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Last week, wins over Ana Konjuh, Alison Riske, Vitalia Diatchenko, Katerina Siniakova and Irina-Camelia Begu led Pavlyuchenkova into the winner's circle, adding a second '14 indoor title to go along with her win at the Paris Indoors earlier this season. The titles are the biggest of the Russian's career, and her only Premier level championships thus far. Of course, she still hasn't reached a slam QF since her only two such results during the 2011 season. Perhaps 2015 will be the year she matches, or exceeds, those results and has her long-awaited "breakthrough year?" Then again, it could be just another false alarm.


I did It!!!!!?? What a nice end to the season...#7?? 25 ????????? ????? ??????...????????? #25jubileekremlincup

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RISERS: Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU & Timea Bacsinszky/SUI Moscow, Begu became the third Romanian to reach a '14 tour singles final (w/ Halep & Niculescu), though she ultimately fell for the third time in four career finals. The 24-year old put up impressive victories over Donna Vekic, Ekaterina Makarova, Tsvetana Pironkova and Lucie Safarova en route to her first championship match since winning Tashkent in 2012. Begu is up to #42 in the new rankings, just four spots behind the career-high she set back in 2011, when she was bestowed with the WTA's Newcomer of the Year award. 2014 has been one long climb back up the ladder for Bacsinszky, a Top 40 player three seasons ago. She began the year ranked at #285, and now finds herself in the Top 50. Her best result last week in Luxembourg wasn't in singles (she lost to eventual champ Annika Beck in the 1st Round), though, it was on the doubles court. The Swiss teamed with German vet Kristina Barrois to win her second career title at the event, having been crowned champion with Tathiana Garbin back in 2010. In fact, this was by far the best doubles result that Bacsinszky has ever had with anyone other than the now-retired Italian vet. The pair reached five finals in '10, the only other tour-level doubles finals Bacsinszky has played in, winning three. Just like her singles ranking, her doubles standing has risen over 200 spots, as she's climbed from #531 in January to inside the Top 230.
SURPRISES: Denisa Allertova/CZE & Kristina Barrois/GER
...Allertova, 21, has nearly climbed into the Top 100 (#109) for the first time on the back of her ITF Player of the Year-worthy (hmmm, is that the first "unofficial Backspin Award announcement" of '14?), circuit-leading seven titles this season. Last week in Luxembourg, though, the Czech's success "jumped species" and took root on the WTA tour, as well. After making her way through qualifying, Allertova notched main draw victories over Ons Jabeur, Sabine Lisicki and Varvara Lepchenko to put up her first career semifinal result. Is it too early to made a prediction about her going one more step -- at least -- in 2015? In the same event, 33-year old German vet Barrois announced her retirement after her singles qualifying loss to Lucie Hradecka. Then, wouldn't you know it, just like a fairy tale, she advanced through the doubles draw with Timea Bacsinszky and ended up claiming her first (and last, I suppose) tour-level title of any kind when the pair defeated, oddly enough, Hradecka (hello, again) and Barbora Krejcikova in the final. Quite the send-off, I'd say.

VETERANS: Martina Hingis/Flavia Pennetta (SUI/ITA) & Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova/CZE
...Hingis & Pennetta didn't make the field of eight in Singapore, but that didn't stop them from putting up a great season-ending result in Moscow. The veteran pair won their second title in eight events together in '14, taking the Kremlin Cup doubles crown a full thirteen years after the Swiss Miss won her last, in 2001 with Anna Kournikova. Hingis won the singles title in 2000, as well. Hingis' third '14 title is the fortieth of her career, while Pennetta picked up #17. The win leaves Hingis & Pennetta just 64 points (behind Kudryavtseva/Rodionova) outside the Singapore field, a difference that would have been made up with one more match win in just one of five of the six events (not Tianjin) they entered but didn't win. Meanwhile, feisty Czech BZS reached her fifth career tour singles final in Luxembourg, taking down Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Alison Van Uytvanck, Johanna Larsson and Mona Barthel along the way before falling to Annika Beck, failing to get career title #2 ('11 Quebec City). 2014 is Zahlavova-Strycova's first multiple final campaign (w/ a RU on the grass in Birmingham), and she's up to a new career-high of #26 in the rankings. She'll easily have her best-ever year-end standing (which was previously #33 in '11), as well.
COMEBACK: Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...Pavlyuchenko lifted the singles trophy in Moscow, but Diatchenko was arguably the biggest winner of the week. At this year's Kremlin Cup event, Diatchenko officially pulled a tennis career back into the starting gate in full circle fashion, closing out her '14 WTA season ten months after she essentially "re-claimed" her career. What a long fight it's been, too. When the 23-year old Hordette won a $50K challenger in Ankara in December it came after a week that had included her first singles action in thirteen months. She had played just five matches in '12, as well, following an eight-month absence after suffering a knee injury at the Kremlin Cup in 2011. That single ITF result moved her from unranked into the Top 500, and she's been steadily climbing back into contention every since. She's won a $100K challenger this year, as well as two other ITF crowns, including an event held in Moscow just last month. But it was the Kremlin Cup, where all her troubles began, that the two-fisted-on-both-sides ball-striker finally officially announced her return to the WTA conversation. After making it through qualifying (def. Ekaterina Bychkova and Evgeniya Rodina), Diatchenko got her first tour main draw wins in over twenty-five months (def. Olga Govortsova, via a retirement, and then #1 seed Dominika Cibulkova) to reach her first career WTA quarterfinal. 24-4 since late July, Diatchenko now finds herself ranked just outside the Top 100 at #105, matching her career-high from July '09 when she was an 18-year old looking like a good bet to follow-up on the great success of the revolutionary Russians that had preceded her. The result qualifies her for direct entry into the 2015 Australian Open, where she'll play her first main draw slam match since the '11 U.S. Open. So... Take Two. Sometimes, hard work does pay off.

FRESH FACES: Annika Beck/GER & Katerina Siniakova/CZE

...a year after she reached her first career tour singles final in Luxembourg, losing to Caroline Wozniacki, 20-year old Beck returned and claimed the crown as her own. The German never lost a set all week, defeating Timea Bacsinszky, Roberta Vinci, Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Denisa Allertova and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova in the final (as a qualifier, she'd also defeated the Czech in the 1st Round of this same event in '12) to become the fourteenth maiden title-winner in '14. Beck dropped a total of eight games from the QF to the final. In Moscow, 18-year old Siniakova put on quite a show. In singles, she qualified and then upset Elena Vesnina, Kristina Mladenovic and Camila Giorgi in the main draw to reach her first career WTA singles semifinal. In doubles, she and Aleksandra Krunic also knocked out Kremlin Cup crowd favorites Ekaterina Makarova & Vesnina. In fact, Siniakova was so good that her success rubbed off on others. Doubles partner Krunic upset Caroline Garcia in the 1st Round, while Barbora Krejcikova (who teamed with fellow Czech Siniakova to take the U.S. Open junior doubles last year, then the pair did a synchronized dance routine on court to celebrate) reached the doubles final in Luxembourg with another Czech, Lucie Hradecka.
DOWN: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK & Donna Vekic/CRO
...who would have thought, back in Melbourne, that NEITHER of the Australian Open's singles finalists would be playing in the WTA Finals in Singapore? Now, Li Na has a more logical reason, but what about Cibulkova? Last week in Moscow, where the Slovak was installed as the #1 seed, Cibulkova still had the chance to at least serve as the "second lady in waiting" -- aka 2nd alternate -- at this week's event, replacing Ekaterina Makarova, right behind waiting-for-an-injury Angelique Kerber. All she had to do was win one match, but she couldn't even manage to do that, losing her opener in the 2nd Round to Vitalia Diatchenko. Cibulkova's fate came down to a 3rd set in which she promptly fell down a double break at 4-0 before going on to lose it 6-2. Reaching just one QF since April -- a span that has included fourteen tournaments -- Cibulkova has just three match wins since Wimbledon. Meanwhile, Vekic has had a successful season, winning her first career title in Kuala Lumpur, but she still hasn't managed to rise into the Top 60 (she's currently just outside the Top 80, after finishing '13 at #86) nor win more than a single match at a grand slam. It's the last half of her '14 campaign that has served as her quicksand. The Croat won six straight matches and rode an 11-2 stretch back in April, but her 1st Round loss in Moscow to Irina-Camelia Begu drops her to 5-15 in her last twenty.
ITF PLAYER: Carina Witthoeft/GER
...the 19-year old -- and future German Fed Cup star? -- won the $50K challenger in Joue-les-tours, France, claiming her fourth ITF singles crown of the season, and the eighth of her career. Witthoeft, who reached three consecutive finals last month (winning two), took out Jelena Ostapenko (SF) and Urszula Radwanska (Final) on her way to the title.
...after failing to clear that second hurdle in Flushing Meadows after nothching her 1st Round upset win at the U.S. Open over the aforementioned Cibulkova, Bellis had no such trouble a week after winning her first professional singles titles in the $25K event in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Instead, she stayed in-state and moved on to Florence, where she won a second straight event this weekend in another $25K. The 15-year, #1-ranked junior knocked off fellow Bannerette teen Katerina Stewart (17) early on (for the second straight week), then allowed just three games in the final against 20-year old Waffle Ysaline Bonaventure to claim the title.

Caro Corner...

Carol Corner...

And a couple of "original Hordette" Russians being honored in Moscow.


Seems like old times ) ??

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1. Moscow QF - Siniakova d. Giorgi
Days after failing to put away a match point for the second time in a final this season, Giorgi was on the wrong end of a three-hour marathon.
2. Lux Final - Beck d. Zahlavova-Strycova
Still, Beck's title means seven of my eight pre-season first-time champion picks won maiden titles in '14. If Giorgi could have converted one of those match points I'd been eight-for-eight. Is this going to develop into a THING around here, Camila?
3. Moscow Final - Pavlyuchenkova d. Begu
The eight tour singles titles won by Russians this season are the most since since 2010.
4. Lux 1st Rd. - Parmentier d. Petkovic
Three straight losses heading into the Fed Cup final.
5. Lux 1st Rd. - Lisicki d. Hantuchova
Is The Wonder gone for good from the Slovak's game?
6. Moscow Doubles 1st Rd. - Krunic/Siniakova d. Makarova/Vesnina
Makarova and Vesnina went a combined 0-3 in singles and doubles at the Kremlin Cup. Siniakova was 2-0 against them all by herself, also defeating Vesnina in singles.
7. WTA Rising Stars Round Robin - Monica Puig d. Shelby Rogers 6-3/6-7(4)/11-9
WTA Rising Stars Round Robin - Zheng Saisai d. Zarina Diyas 6-7(4)/7-6(2)/10-5
Sunday's final two Round Robin matches in the inaugural Rising Stars competition in Singapore set up a Monday championship between Puig (3-0) and Zheng (2-1). Diyas was the only member of the four-player competition to go win-less in RR action.

8. Moscow SF - Begu d. Safarova
The Czech's only other '14 singles semifinal came at Wimbledon.
HM- $50K Tampico MEX Final - Duque-Marino d. Mestach
The 25-year old Colombian picked up her 17th career ITF singles title over the weekend.

1. Moscow 1st Rd. - Mladenovic d. Karolina Pliskova
Mladenovic Magic strikes again! Meanwhile, it looks like we'll see Karolina in the Fed Cup final (the first of many?).
2. Moscow Doubles QF - Lyudmyla Kichenok/Savchuk d. Krunic/Siniakova
3. $25K Bangkok Doubles Final - Varatchaya & Varunya Wongteanchai d. Borecka/Kerkhove
The Thai sisters win their third '14 crown as a duo, and their fourth overall.
HM- $25K Florence 1st Rd. - Tornado Black d. Tatishvili
Unfortunately, Black didn't get to meet Bellis in an all-Bannerette Junior final. She pulled out of the event before her 2nd Round match.


Paris thank u for all these fun memories! That day and that One moment I will never ever forget! Till next time... Bisous

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Sydney - Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL, age 26)
Hobart - Garbine Muguruza (ESP, age 20)
Rio - Kurumi Nara (JPN, age 22)
Bogota - Caroline Garcia (FRA, age 20)
K.Lumpur - Donna Vekic (CRO, age 17)
Marrakech - M-T.Torro-Flor (ESP, age 21)
Oeiras - C.Suarez-Navarro (ESP, age 25)
Strasbourg- Monica Puig (PUR, age 20)
Nurnberg - Eugenie Bouchard (CAN, age 20)
Eastbourne- Madison Keys (USA, age 19)
's-Hert. - Coco Vandeweghe(USA, age 22)
Tashkent - Karin Knapp (ITA, age 27)
Tianjin - Alison Riske (USA, age 24)
Luxembourg - Annika Beck (GER, age 20)

Shenzhen - Li Na, CHN (W)
Shenzhen - Peng Shuai, CHN (L)
Miami - Serena Williams, USA (W)
Rome - Sara Errani, ITA (L)
Bucharest - Simona Halep, ROU (W)
Stanford - Serena Williams, USA (W)
Cincinnati - Serena Williams, USA (W)
U.S. Open - Serena Williams, USA (W)
Moscow - A.Pavlyuchenkova, RUS (W)

2003 Anastasia Myskina
2004 Anastasia Myskina
2006 Anna Chakvetadze
2007 Elena Dementieva
2014 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

5 - USA - S.Williams,V.Williams,Keys,Riske,Vandeweghe
4 - RUS - Sharapova,Makarova,Pavlyuchenkova,Kuznetsova
4 - GER - Petkovic,Lisicki,Petkovic,Barthel,Beck
3 - CZE - Kvitova,Ka.Pliskova,Koukalova
3 - ESP - Muguruza,Suarez-Navarro,Torro-Flor

**2014 WTA TITLES**
[Hard Court]
5...Serena Williams, USA
3...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2...Petra Kvitova, CZE
2...Li Na, CHN
2...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
1...Alize Cornet, FRA
1...Karolina Pliskova, CZE
1...Maria Sharapova, RUS

#251 Wang Yafan/CHN - Guangzhou
#189 Nigina Abduraimova/UZB - Tashkent
#166 Kristina Kucova/SVK - Bucharest
#160 Nasstasja Burnett/ITA - Rio
#155 Maria Kirilenko/RUS - Seoul
#147 Shelby Rogers/USA - Bad Gastein (RU)
#145 DENISA ALLERTOVA/CZE - Luxembourg
#140 Belinda Bencic/SUI - Charleston

Anna Kournikova (1999-02)
Jana Novotna (1997-99)
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1997)
Helena Sukova(1996,'98)
Mirjana Lucic (1998)
Flavia Pennetta (2014)
Mary Pierce(2000)
Natasha Zvereva (1997-98)
Mahesh Bhupathi (2006=Mixed)
Lindsay Davenport (1997)
Gigi Fernandez (1995)
Mary Joe Fernandez (1997)
Maria Kirilenko (2007)
Sabine Lisicki (2014)
Barbara Schett (2002)
Nathalie Tauziat (2000)

79...Lisa Raymond, USA
59...Cara Black, ZIM
53...Liezel Huber, USA
35...Katarina Srebotnik, SLO
27...Kveta Peschke, CZE

5...Sara Errani, ITA (5/0)
5...Peng Shuai (5/0)
5...Roberta Vinci, ITA (5/0)
3...Hsieh Su-Wei, TPE (3/0)
3...Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS (3/0)
3...Sania Mirza, IND (2/1)
3...Karolina Pliskova, CZE (3/0)
3...Anastasia Rodionova, AUS (3/0)

[recent champions]
2009 Serena Williams, USA
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Serena Williams, USA
[all-time titles]
8...Martina Navratilova
5...Steffi Graf
4...Chris Evert
3...Kim Clijsters
3...Monica Seles
[most finals]
14...Martina Navratiova (8-6)
8...Chris Evert (4-4)
6...Steffi Graf (5-1)
[reached final in debut appearance]
1979 Tracy Austin
1981 Andrea Jaeger
1994 Lindsay Davenport
1996 Martina Hingis
2001 Serena Williams (W)
2004 Maria Sharapova (W)
2011 Petra Kvitova (W)
[doubles titles]
11...Martina Navratilova
10...Pam Shriver
4...Lisa Raymond
3...Lindsay Davenport
3...Liezel Huber
3...Natasha Zvereva

13 Final: S.Williams d. Li
13 Doubles Final: Hsieh/Peng d. Makarova/Vesnina
14 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Sharapova

(1) S.Williams 3-0
(7) Ivanovic 2-1
(5) Bouchard 1-2
(4) Halep 0-3
(2) Sharapova 3-0
(3) Kvitova 2-1
(8) Wozniacki 1-2
(6) A.Radwanska 0-3

#1 S.Williams d. #3 Kvitova
#2 Sharapova d. #7 Ivanovic
#1 S.Williams d. #2 Sharapova

...close to #1, Maria. But no Sugarpova candy cigar.

In this instance, Genie has it right, I suspect... just on the fashion choices alone. Hmmm, which is more preferred? The outfits with a whole lot going on on the left, or the more conservative, classic choices on the right?

Overall, a good mix, I'd say.

The Regional Honors have been posted. Another quick look back at 2004 arrives soon.

All for now.