Monday, October 27, 2014

Wk.43- Game. Set. Serena.

Now that's what I'm talking about...

So far, the moving of the WTA Champio-... err, I mean WTA FINALS (all right, so things aren't PERFECT) to Singapore turned out pretty well, didn't it? A quick review:

1.The fans (they actually seemed to WANT to be there, and were HAPPY about it... maybe an Asian slam in SINGAPORE is the answer to those lingering "5th major or no?" questions?)
2.The matches (well, at least until the final... though even it had its own, seeing-the-best-at-their-best-is-never-a-bad-thing (remember those masterful mercy kills Roger Federer used to preside over in Ashe night matches?) charm

3.Simona, Caro and AnaIvo
4.Oh, La Trufflette!

Marion Bartoli's 3-0 record in Legends doubles action, which also featured Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin and Iva Majoli (above, left), resulted in the '13 Wimbledon champ being named the very first winner of the new additional competition at the event featuring retired WTA stars in Singapore.

Monica Puig won the new "Rising Stars" four-player round robin exhibition.
5.Best Participation Trophy: Maria Sharapova
...even in a disappointing week, for a pair of three-hour matches that rightly might just be in the Match of the Year conversation
HM- Serena, after a poor slam season transformed into a U.S. Open & WTA Finals two-fer that gave her a fourth year-end #1 ranking, maybe... just maybe... breaking the Kuznetsova Curse? (Or is it just a case of a "Serena Clause" that makes all curses null and void for no one but Serena?)

1.Petra (even indoors?) and Peng (in the doubles final)
2.Worst Participation non-Trophy: Genie Bouchard
...following up Aga's win of the "honor" a year ago in Instabul.
3.Martina Hingis & Flavia Pennetta, watching Errani & Vinci's use up just three games in a QF spot that, in retrospect, rightly probably should have gone to them

*THE ??????*
1.The WTA talking about putting together a team event of its own. Yeah, why let the Fed Cup hold onto any of what remains of its already-diminished cache? Think they'd try to hold in on a regularly-scheduled FC weekend, too?
2.Aga... who proved that going 1-3 can still actually be considered a "good week." Hmm, maybe this should be called the "Alize Cornet Hopman Cup Championship Award?"
3.The doubles final in Singapore featured TWO teams ending their partnership following the match. On the bright side, a player from one duo (Sania Mirza) will be teaming up with one from the other (Hsieh Su-Wei) in 2015. Weird how that worked out, huh?

HM- Why doesn't the U.S. Open trophy have a name? Seeing Serena hoist the Billie Jean King Trophy in Singapore (not to mention getting an orchid named in her honor) begs the question of why her own nation's slam hasn't given a past American champ a similar honor when it comes to the shiny cup handed the winner at the end of two weeks of work. In Melbourne, the women lift the Daphne Akhurst Trophy. In Paris, it's the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. While not named for any single person, the Wimbledon plate still has a lovely name -- the Venus Rosewater Dish. In Flushing Meadows... well, that cup doesn't have an actual name.

Since the BJK Trophy has already been "taken," how about the USTA honoring Althea Gibson, Helen Wills-Moody, Maureen Connolly or even, in a true "American melting pot" commemoration, some combination honoring both Martina & Chris? It's really an overdue, oddly overlooked detail, don't you think? Of course, the Open does have history of taking a while to follow through with doing things the other slams figured out years ago, doesn't it?

As for the rest...

WTA FINALS (Singapore; Hard Indoor)
S: Serena Williams/USA def. Simona Halep/ROU 6-3/6-0
D: Black/Mirza (ZIM/IND) d. Hsieh/Peng (TPE/CHN)
Rising Stars: Monica Puig/PUR d. Zheng Saisai/CHN 6-4/6-3
Legends Champion: Marion Bartoli/FRA

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Serena Williams/USA a typically-Serena styled route, Williams suffered her worst loss in sixteen years (6-0/6-2 vs. Simona Halep in round robin play), saw her #1 ranking flash before her eyes, only reached the semifinals because Halep took a set off Ana Ivanovic in their group's final RR match-up, barely escaped Caroline Wozniacki in the SF (the Dane served for the match and led 4-1 in a deciding tie-break)... and then, after a slow start, destroyed Halep in a rematch in the final to claim her fifth WTA Championships/Final title, and third in a row. She's won 19 of her last 20 matches in the event, and her fourth season-ending #1 ranking is topped only by players named Steffi, Martina and Chrissie.

RISERS: Simona Halep/ROU & Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...Halep didn't raise the BJK Trophy in Singapore on Sunday, but that didn't diminish what she accomplished in her WTA Finals debut. She handed Williams the worst loss of her career in round robin play, destroyed fellow '14 slam finalist Genie Bouchard and battled Ana Ivanovic hard enough -- even when she didn't have to, and some said she SHOULDN'T -- to end the Serb's season and cement her own reputation as a player who doesn't sweat the small stuff, and instead just bears down and tries to accomplish the task put in front of her. While The Pride of Romania has sort of been lost in the WTA backwash the last few months, mostly due to niggling injuries, after a season of successfully backing up her '13 breakout performance she'll head to '15 viewed as a legitimate threat not only for a winning slam run, but maybe even the #1 ranking if things fall just right. Wozniacki, too, has done the work necessary to remove many of the doubts that have stuck to her like Irish glue for a few years now. Fact is, Singapore came SO CLOSE to being a remarkable career moment for the Dane. She was the only player to go 3-0 in round robin play, knocking off two Top 5 players (Sharapova & Kvitova) in an event for the first time, and serving for the match against a third (Serena) in the semifinals. Even in a loss, she out-pointed Williams 91-87 for the match. The New York City Marathon is up next for the Dane. After that? Well, maybe total redemption by this time next year? We shall see.

SURPRISES: Jil Belen Teichmann/SUI & Paula Badosa Gibert/ESP
...while they didn't pick up ITF titles, ala CiCi Bellis in recent weeks, a pair of juniors still managed to put up good professional results last week. Girls #6 Teichmann, 17, reached her first career challenger final in the $10K in Sharm El Shiekh, pulling off wins over the event's #2 and #6 seeds before losing to Russia's Polina Leykina, who took home her fouth title of the season. Badosa Gibert, the 16-year old junior #11, was the runner-up at a $25K challenger in Victoria, Mexico. Before losing to Latvian Diana Marcinkevica, the Spaniard had upset, in succession, #5-seed Patricia Maria Tig, #3 Alexandra Cadantu and #2 Heidi El Tabakh. PBG won her only challenger crown (so far) in a $10K in Spain in November of last year.

VETERANS: Cara Black/Sania Mirza (ZIM/IND) & Ana Ivanovic/SRB
...Black & Mirza made their final tournament together count -- big time -- taking their fifth title as a duo (all since last fall) and third of '14 after saving match points in both the QF and SF at the WTA Finals. In the final, they destroyed defending champs Hsieh Su-Wei & Peng Shuai, also playing their last match together, by taking the final twelve games in a 6-1/6-0 thrashing that featured Black and Mirza trading off being spectacular. It's Black's third win at the event, and Mirza's first. With Black contemplating having a second baby next year, she alerted Mirza to find a new partner for '15. It turned out to be the suddenly-available Hsieh. If you can't beat her, join her, I guess. While Ivanovic's lost 2nd set to Halep in her final round robin match kept her from the semifinals, the Serb ended her season on a high note. She went 2-1, losing only a close match to Serena while running her tour-best win total to 58 for the season. Now, about getting over the grand slam hump in '15...

COMEBACKS: Kateryna Bondarenko/UKR & Naomi Cavaday/GBR
...the comeback floodgates are officially open and results are flowing as freely as an ongoing river (or maybe a Li Na acceptance speech... take your pick). In the $25K challenger in Macon, Georgia, K-Bond grabbed her second post-baby (daughter Karin, above) title of the season. The 28-year old Ukrainian made it through qualifying, then notched main draw victories over Sachia Vickery, #3 Anna Tatishvili, Julia Boserup, Petra Martic and #4 Grace Min in the final to claim her fifth career ITF singles crown. Also of note, this was the first event of the USTA's late-season Australian Open Wild Card Playoff, with the U.S. player who puts up the best combined effort getting a main draw pass into the first slam of 2015. Aside from runner-up Min, other Bannerette achievers included Irina Falconi (SF) and quarterfinalists Madison Brengle, Sanaz Marand and Ellie Halbauer. The Summer/Autumn of BrengleFly continued in doubles, as well, as she took the title with Alexa Glatch. Meanwhile, 25-year old Brit Naomi Cavaday, who retired in April '11 before returning to tennis earlier this season, won her second ITF singles title of the year at a $10K event in Stockholm. It's her fifth career challenger victory.

...#PicaPower! In the inaugural Rising Stars competition in Singapore, Puig prevailed over three other fan-voted young stars -- Zheng Saisai, Shelby Rogers & Zarina Diyas -- Puig claimed the title, going 4-0, including a pair of wins over finalist opponent Zheng. Still, even after a breakthrough season that saw the Puerto Rican win her maiden tour title in Strasbourg, she currently sports a worse (#61) ranking than she did a year ago (#55).
DOWN: Petra Kvitova/CZE & Eugenie Bouchard/CAR
...oh, there were quite a few to choose from here. Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, WTA Championships RU a year ago, went down in their QF match this year, while #1-ranked Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci didn't even make it through half a set. Maria Sharapova had a legit shot at #1, but finished 1-2 in round robin play and couldn't put away a match point that would have ultimately put her in the SF and kept all hopes alive. But I'll go with Kvitova and Bouchard. While the indoor court in Singapore was apparently a little slow, one would think the Czech would have at least BEEN COMPETITIVE in what were instead uninteresting losses to Aga Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki. On the bright side, she DID finally get past her recent slump against Sharapova. Hopefully she'll bring her "A"-game to the Fed Cup final. Bouchard was unprepared, lacking confidence and maybe still battling injury as she went a sometimes-ugly 0-3 in her WTA Finals debut, winning, in succession, five, four and two games in her trio of losses. The result was a frustrated -- and a little petulant -- Canadian who scripted a forgettable ending to what was a very memorable breakout '14 campaign. Genie was probably right on the loonie when, during a between-set coaching session with Nick Saviano, she wondered aloud, "Why did I even play this tournament?" Hmmm, maybe Bouchard has OTHER problems that explain last week, though...

#IsItHalloweenYet ??????

A photo posted by Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) on

Don't worry, though... Carol is still alive on "The Walking Dead." Right, Genie? Right!?!

...the 21-year old Hungarian claimed her twelfth career ITF singles crown, and her first $100K challenger in Poitiers, France. A one-time WTA champ (Monterrey '12), Babos defeated Pauline Parmentier, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Ana Konjuh and Pastry Oceane Dodin by a 6-3/4-6/7-5 score in the final.
...the 16-year old junior #3 who also won the Youth Olympics Gold in August, picked up the title at the Grade A Mayor's Cup event in Osaka. Xu defeated Aussie Kimberly Birrell in straight sets in the final.
Late note: Xu moved past Bellis into the girls #1 ranking with this result.

Caro Corner... exasperation vs. patience

Caro Corner II... back to work

1. WTA RR - Wozniacki d. Sharapova
It took 3:13, but Caro gets her second straight win over Sharappova, and her first over a world #2 since 2010 (Zvonareva in Doha). Again, things turned on the Russian's serve. She served at 5-4 in the 1st set, and led 4-2 in the opening tie-break, finally double-faulting on the Dane's set point. It was her ninth DF of the set, as she'd have fifteen for the match.

2. Rising Stars RR - Puig d. Sai.Zheng 7-6(3)/4-6/10-6
Rising Stars Final - Puig d. Sai.Zheng 6-4/6-3
PicaPractice makes PicaPerfect.
3. WTA RR - Kvitova d. Sharapova
Petra's only shining moment in Singapore, as she finally found a way to win the big points against Sharapova, converting five of eight BP chances, while the Hordette played the "Kvitova role" this time around by going just 2-of-7.
4. WTA Doubles QF - Peschke/Srebotnik d. Errani/Vinci
...2-1 ret.
Errani's hip injury makes the Italians' cameo in Singapore last just three games. Was that steam coming out of Martina Hingis' ears when she heard the news?
5. WTA RR - Ivanovic d. Halep
History turns on one set? In maybe the "most important" match of the week, Halep's 2nd set win sent Serena to the semifinals over AnaIvo. The rest, as they say, was, well... you know.
6. $100 Poitiers FRA Doubles Final - Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Piter/Zanevska
Hmmm, a Fed Cup pairing preview? The last time the Czechs played together was when they reached the Quebec City final in September of last year, a week after they'd won their second slam crown at the U.S. Open. As it is, they extended their string of consecutive seasons (2007-14) with a title of some kind to eight, as ITF win #8 joins their ten previous WTA victories.
7. $50K Saguenay CAN Final - Coin d. Jaksic
The 31-year old Pastry, now ranked outside the Top 300, wins her eighth career ITF singles crown with wins over Stefanie Vogt, #1 seed Taylor Townsend and the other Serbian JJ, #2 Jovana Jaksic.
8. $10 Heraklion GRE Final - Jani d. Haas
Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! Barely. The 23-year old Hungarian led 6-4/3-0 when play was suspended on Sunday, but had to gut out a 3rd set tie-break against the 18-year old on Monday to grab her seventeenth career singles challenger title, but her first since August '13 (she won eight last year). Jani also picked up her 19th ITF doubles crown.

1. WTA Doubles QF - Cara Black/Mirza d. Kops-Jones/Spears 6-3/2-6/12-10
WTA Doubles SF- Black/Mirza d. Peschke/Srebotnik 4-6/7-5/11-9
both obviously didn't want their partnership to end just yet, so they extended it the hard way. Black & Mirza blew four match points against the Americans in the QF, then saved one in a match tie-break. A match later, they escaped being triple MP down to Peschke & Srebotnik to advance to the final. They only lost one GAME there.
2. WTA SF - Serena Williams d. Wozniacki
Win or lose for the Dane, this match was going to be remembered by many for THIS Caro save (a few, actually) on match point.

3. WTA RR - Sharapova d. Aga Radwanska
A-Rad might not hold the sort of bedeviling sway she once did over the Russian (in NYC and Miami, at least), but she's still able to frustrate her on occasion. If Sharapova could have converted one of three match points she held in the 2nd set (where she led 5-1), ultimately hitting a DF on Radwanska's SP in a tie-break, all her round robin court time (6+ hours) would have at least put her into the semifinals and kept alive her chances to finish at #1. Instead, she eliminated herself. As things turned out, her 3rd set win proved once again that Sharapova is still the same ultra competitor at heart that she's always been, even if a win just meant she "saved face" and avoided the same 0-3 fate for the week that befell a certain young Canadian.
4. WTA RR - Aga Radwanska d. Kvitova
Petra has provided an odd-tasting WTA Championships/Finals sandwich for Aga. Her big wins over the Czech in 2012 and 2014 were separated by the Pole's dreadful, barely-there performance in the event last year.
5. WTA RR - Halep d. Serena Williams
Hmmm, will this result -- Serena's worst in sixteen years -- go down as the rubberband-on-the-wrist moment that Williams will carry with her as a reminder to ALWAYS be on her game when the Romanian is on the other side of the next? You know, sort of like her '04 losses to Sharapova have now preceded what has become a full decade of NOT losing to the Russian. Of course, if Serena is still playing at 43...

HM- WTA Final - Serena Williams d. Halep 6-3/6-0
WTA Doubles Final - Cara Black/Mirza d. Hsieh/Peng 6-1/6-0
hmmm, a bit of a combination anticlimax on Sunday after a week's worth of great, dramatic matches. Still, Serena's bludgeoning of Halep in the 2nd set (the Romanian has zero winners, while Williams was seemingly trying to turn a few tennis balls inside out with some of her thunderous groundstrokes) IS an example of the sort of "car wreck" she sometimes creates that we can't help but crane our neck in the direction of in order to get a closer look. Serena ended up 12-1 vs. Top 10 players in 2014, with her one loss coming to Halep a few days before this match. The win by Black, which very well could be her career swan song if she does indeed become a mother again and then abandons what would be a SECOND post-baby comeback (only this time at about age 37), was the 60th of her (likely) future Hall of Fame career. That WOULD be a nice round number to end on, I guess. Meanwhile, Peng's awful performance in this farewell-to-a-partnership match -- on the heels of the U.S. Open semi when she quite literally collapsed on the court -- doesn't exactly make one think she's put her big match difficulties behind her, now does it?


My new friend Bruce! Finally There is someone who loves batman more than me! Im gonna call my dog Wayne.... KSB ??????

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

**2014 WTA TITLES**
4...Maria Sharapova, RUS
4...Ana Ivanovic, SRB
3...Petra Kvitova, CZE

Stuttgart - Maria Sharapova 2012-14
Washington, D.C. (d) - Shuko Aoyama 2012-14
U.S. Open - Serena Williams 2012-14
WTA Finals - Serena Williams 2012-14

**2014 WTA FINALS**
6...Ana Ivanovic (4-2)
5...SIMONA HALEP (2-3)
5...Karolina Pliskova (2-3)
4...Maria Sharapova (4-0)
4...Petra Kvitova (3-1)
4...Venus Williams (1-3)
4...Angelique Kerber (0-4)
18...Maria Sharapova (9-9)
16...Victoria Azarenka (9-7)
12...SIMONA HALEP (8-4)
11...Agnieszka Radwanska (7-4)
11...Sara Errani (5-6)
11...Li Na (4-7)
11...Angelique Kerber (3-8)
10...Petra Kvitova (7-3)
9...Caroline Wozniacki (4-5)

**2014 WTA SF**
8...Ana Ivanovic (6-2)
8...Maria Sharapova (4-4)
7...SIMONA HALEP (5-2)

8 - Steffi Graf
7 - Martina Navratilova
5 - Chris Evert
4 - Lindsay Davenport
[career year-end Top 10 rankings]
19 - Martian Navratilova
14 - Chris Evert
13 - Steffi Graf
13 - Monica Seles
11 - Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
11 - Venus Williams
10 - Lindsay Davenport
10 - Gabriela Sabatini

167...Martina Navratilova
154...Chris Evert
107...Steffi Graf
92...Margaret Court
68...Evonne Goolagong
67...Billie Jean King

1997 Indian Wells - lost to Alexia Dechaume-Balleret 4-6/0-6
1999 Roland Garros - lost to Mary Joe Fernandez 3-6/6-1/0-6
2005 Dubai - lost to Jelena Jankovic 0-6/3-4 ret.
2007 Miami - def. Justine Henin 0-6/7-5/6-3
2007 Zurich - lost to Patty Schnyder 0-6/0-3 ret.
2008 WTA Chsp - lost to Venus Williams 7-5/1-6/0-6
2013 Madrid - def. Anabel Medina-Garrigues 6-3/0-6/7-5
2014 WTA Finals - lost to Simona Halep 0-6/2-6
1997 Indian Wells (w/ Venus) - def. Carlsson/Sidot 0-6/6-3/6-3
1997 Indian Wells (w/ Venus) - lost to Davenport/Zvereva 3-6/0-6
[fewest games won/singles - all w/ 2]
1995 Quebec City Q - lost to Anne Miller
1998 Okla.City QF - lost to Joanette Kruger
2014 WTA Finals - lost to Simona Halep 0-6/2-6

1979 Tracy Austin (RU)
1981 Andrea Jaeger (RU)
1994 Lindsay Davenport (RU)
1996 Martina Hingis (RU)
2001 Serena Williams (W)
2004 Maria Sharapova (W)
2011 Petra Kvitova (W)
2014 Simona Halep (RU)

8...Martina Navratilova
5...Steffi Graf
4...Chris Evert
3...Kim Clijsters
3...Monica Seles
11...Martina Navratilova
10...Pam Shriver
4...Lisa Raymond
3...Lindsay Davenport
3...Liezel Huber
3...Natasha Zvereva

[singles finals]
1972 Chris Evert d. Kerry Reid
1973 Chris Evert d. Nancy Richey
1974 Evonne Goolagong d. Chris Evert
1975 Chris Evert d. Martina Navratilova
1976 Evonne Goolagong d. Chris Evert
1977 Chris Evert d. Sue Barker
1978 Martina Navratilova d. Evonne Goolagong
1979 Martina Navratilova d. Tracy Austin
1980 Tracy Austin d. Martina Navratilova
1981 Martina Navratilova d. Andrea Jaeger
1982 Sylvia Hanika d. Martina Navratilova
1983 Martina Navratilova d. Chris Evert-Lloyd
1984 Martina Navratilova d. Chris Evert-Lloyd
1985 Martina Navratilova d. Helena Sukova
1986a Martina Navratilova d. Hana Mandlikova
1986b Martina Navratilova d. Steffi Graf
1987 Steffi Graf d. Gabriela Sabatini
1988 Gabriela Sabatini d. Pam Shriver
1989 Steffi Graf d. Martina Navratilova
1990 Monica Seles d. Gabriela Sabatini
1991 Monica Seles d. Martina Navratilova
1992 Monica Seles d. Martina Navratilova
1993 Steffi Graf d. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1994 Gabriela Sabatini d. Lindsay Davenport
1995 Steffi Graf d. Anke Huber
1996 Steffi Graf d. Martina Hingis
1997 Jana Novotna d. Mary Pierce
1998 Martina Hingis d. Lindsay Davenport
1999 Lindsay Davenport d. Martina Hingis
2000 Martina Hingis d. Monica Seles
2001 Serena Williams w/o Lindsay Davenport
2002 Kim Clijsters d. Serena Williams
2003 Kim Clijsters d. Amelie Mauresmo
2004 Maria Sharapova d. Serena Williams
2005 Amelie Mauresmo d. Mary Pierce
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Amelie Mauresmo
2007 Justine Henin d. Maria Sharapova
2008 Venus Williams d. Vera Zvonareva
2009 Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2010 Kim Clijsters d. Caroline Wozniacki
2011 Petra Kvitova d. Victoria Azarenka
2012 Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
2013 Serena Williams d. Li Na
2014 Serena Williams d. Simona Halep
[doubles champions]
1973 Rosie Casals / Margaret Court
1974 Billie Jean King / Rosie Casals
1979 Francoise Durr / Betty Stove
1980 Billie Jean King / Martina Navratilova
1981 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1982 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1983 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1984 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1985 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1986a Hana Mandlikova / Wendy Turnbull
1986b Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1987 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1988 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1989 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1990 Kathy Jordan / Liz Smylie
1991 Martina Navratilova / Pam Shriver
1992 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario / Helena Sukova
1993 Gigi Fernandez / Natalia Zvereva
1994 Gigi Fernandez / Natalia Zvereva
1995 Jana Novotna / Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1996 Lindsay Davenport / Mary Joe Fernandez
1997 Lindsay Davenport / Jana Novotna
1998 Lindsay Davenport / Natasha Zvereva
1999 Martina Hingis / Anna Kournikova
2000 Martina Hingis / Anna Kournikova
2001 Lisa Raymond / Rennae Stubbs
2002 Elena Dementieva / Janette Husarova
2003 Virginia Ruano-Pascual / Paola Suarez
2004 Nadia Petrova / Meghann Shaughnessy
2005 Lisa Raymond / Samantha Stosur
2006 Lisa Raymond / Samantha Stosur
2007 Cara Black / Liezel Huber
2008 Cara Black / Liezel Huber
2009 Nuria Llagostera-Vives / Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
2010 Gisela Dulko / Flavia Pennetta
2011 Liezel Huber / Lisa Raymond
2012 Maria Kirilenko / Nadia Petrova
2013 Hsieh Su-Wei / Peng Shuai
2014 Cara Black / Sania Mirza

**2014 ITF $100K CHAMPIONS**
FEB- Midland, USA - Heather Watson/GBR
MAY- Cagnes-sur-Mer, FRA - Sharon Fichman/CAN
MAY- Prague, CZE - Heather Watson/GBR
JUN- Marseille, FRA - Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU
JUL- Contrexeville, FRA - Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU
JUL- Biarritz, FRA - Kaia Kanepi/EST
JUL- Astana, KAZ - Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
AUG- Vancouver, CAN - Jarmila Gajdosova/AUS
AUG- Bogota, COL - Lara Arruabarrena/ESP
OCT- Poitiers, FRA - Timea Babos/HUN

2009 Aravane Rezai, FRA
2010 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2011 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2012 Nadia Petrova, RUS
2013 Simona Halep, ROU

2002 9 = Serena Williams, Venus Williams
2003 10 = Kim Clijsters
2004 7 = Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo
2005 9 = Kim Clijsters
2006 7 = Justine Henin-Hardenne
2007 10 = Justine Henin
2008 4 = Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Serena Williams
2009 3 = Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina, Serena Williams
2010 5 = Kim Clijsters, Caroline Wozniacki
2011 6 = Petra Kvitova
2012 7 = Serena Williams
2013 11 = Serena Williams
2014 7 = Serena Williams
2008 3 = Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
2009 2 = Maria Elena Camerin, Jelena Dokic, Gabriela Paz, Karolina Sprem, Julia Vakulenko
2010 3 = Jelena Dokic, Mathilde Johansson, Johanna Larsson
2011 2 = Irina-Camelia Begu, Marina Erakovic, Romina Oprandi, Anastasiya Yakimova
2012 4 = Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor
2013 2 = Mariana Duque-Marino, Reka-Luca Jani, Shelby Rogers, Arantxa Rus, Aliaksandra Sasnovich
2014 4 = Denisa Allertova

I may be wrong, but maybe Maria alone on the WTA tour could make an Instagram memorial dedication to Oscar De La Renta a legitimately personal goodbye...

13 Final: Halep d. Stosur
13 Doubles Final: --
14 Top Seeds: Makarova/Cibulkova

(1) Makarova 2-1*
(6) Cornet 2-1*
(7) Muguruza 1-2
(3) Pennetta 1-2
(4) Petkovic 2-1*
(2) Cibulkova 2-1*
(5) Suarez-Navarro 1-2
(8) Pironkova 1-2

#1 Makarova d. #2 Cibulkova
#6 Cornet d. #4 Petkovic
#6 Cornet d. #1 Makarova

...obviously, the TOC is a more casual affair than the WTA finals. For once, though, the "tournament of champions" is actually made up of a FULL field of players who were crowned CHAMPIONS over the previous season. That hasn't always been the case. Even perpetual TOC wild card The Weeping Angel, who actually earned her spot this year.

NINGBO, CHINA (WTA $125K Challenger/HCI)
13 Final: Jovanovski d. Sh.Zhang
13 Doubles Final: YJ.Chan/Sh.Zhang d. Buryachok/Kalashnikova
14 Top Seeds: Kumkhum/Sai.Zheng

Pervak d. #1 Kumkhum
#2 Sai.Zheng d. #5 Diatchenko
#2 Sai.Zheng d. Pervak #PicaPower outside of Miami, so...

All for now.


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.