Monday, August 22, 2016

Wk.33- A Czech Learns to Balance

And the Most Interesting Tour in the World gets interestinger and interestinger...

But, in thumbnail sketch form, I suppose Week 33 could effectively be summed up with this:

But, really, let's talk about the Czech. No, not THAT one. Or THAT one, either. And while that OTHER one on the tip of your tongue DID have a great week, too, there was still ANOTHER that had an ever better one.

And it might even have a few lasting repercussions.


We ARE talking about a Czech, after all.

S: Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Angelique Kerber/GER 6-3/6-1
D: Sania Mirza/Barbora Strycova (IND/CZE) d. Martina Hingis/CoCo Vandeweghe (SUI/USA) 7-5/6-4

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Karolina Pliskova/CZE
...while Pliskova entered play in Cincinnati with fourteen tour singles finals to her credit (including at hardly-small events such as Stanford and Sydney), the Czech has never really been able to truly put in the sort of performance that might legitimize her as the future slam winner that her big-serving (she took her tour-leading ace total over 400 for the season this past week), sometimes-crisp-as-a-potato-chip-and-clean-as-a-whistle game, at times, hints could one day be her reality. Her clutch Fed Cup performances in recent outings have provided a supportive training ground for such a future, but Pliskova has steadfastly "refused to go there" when it's mattered most. Before her big-time Premier 5 win this weekend, Linz (an International level event, just like all her other titles) had been the biggest of her five career crowns, and her futile attempts to escape the 3rd Round of a slam draw have only served to provide a lengthy list of reasons (and jokes) revolving around Pliskova's "unfitness" for the sort of success we've seen the likes of Kerber and Muguruza grab on major stages in 2016.

But maybe something has changed.

While her sister Kristyna spent the weekend posting, umm, a somewhat "awkward" photo (at least for some of her fans) on Instagram, Karolina was sounding and playing like a player who'd discovered a "key of knowledge." Gliding her way to the Cincy title -- losing just a single set all week (to Sveta, so it's sort of a rite of passage) -- while everyone's focus was on Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, Pliskova was noticably confident and speaking with the conviction of an athlete tired of missing out, and desiring something more. After wins over Jelena Ostapenko, Misaki Doi, Svetlana Kuznetsova and (easily, in windy conditions) Garbine Muguruza, Pliskova diplomatically "approved" of Kerber's potential rise to #1 with a win in the final against her, but made it clear that she had no intention of rolling over and letting it happen, saying that she'd "do everything in my power to stop her in doing that right now."

And then she went out and did just that.

Hmmm. A Pliskova speaking decisively and carrying a big stick. And, for once, she'll enter a slam playing well AND not having played herself out by playing too much. Much like could be the case with Halep in New York, the less travel and absence of Rio from her recent schedule could prove to be a secret weapon at the Open, where some schedule-heavy (and highly-ranked) players might ultimately feel the pinch before the curtain goes down on this summer hard court season. Of course, even with this result, it would STILL be a somewhat crazy tact to think that Pliskova will suddenly now become a major slam player one week from now. That would be something of a shock... but, in a way, oh-so-very-Czech.

Either way, Cincinnati could be a truly significant step toward her getting there... maybe... someday... whenever that may be.
RISERS: Timea Babos/HUN, Dasha Gavrilova/AUS and Nicole Gibbs/USA
...Babos has been undertaking a steady climb up the WTA rankings ladder since the season began. The Hungarian ended '15 at #85, concluding her season with a WTA 125 Series title in Taipei. She entered last week just below her career-high ranking at #41 after a season highlighted by a singles final in Florianopolis, Round of 16 in Miami and Wimbledon doubles runner-up result. Coming off an unfortunate run-in with Good Petra in Rio (1 & 2, ouch), Babos qualified in Cincinnati with wins over Evgeniya Rodina and Jennifer Brady, then added still more stabilizing results to her big game (with nearly 200 aces, she's in the Top 7 on tour) with wins over Louisa Chirico, Belinda Bencic and Dominika Cibulkova en route to the QF. Her week will lift her to a career-high #33 on Monday, good enough to slip in just under the wire (w/ Azarenka's absence, and possibly a few more) for a U.S. Open seed.

Few tennis players -- or athletes, in general -- seemed to have as good a time (largely, as just an out-and-out fan) in Rio than Gavrilova, who seemed to show up at pretty much every venue to cheer on her fellow Aussies and the rest of the world's best. Her good attitude provided some nice karma as she (still with a hint of longing for her Rio days and nights) arrived in the U.S. ready to jump back into the North American hard court season. After having gone out in the 1st Round at the Olympics, Cincinnati qualifying wins over Mona Barthel and Naomi Osaka got her into the MD, where she followed up with even better victories over Caroline Garcia and Elina Svitolina.

Meanwhile, fresh off her Female MVP turn with the Orange County Breakers of World Team Tennis (who play in the WTT final later this week), Gibbs rode the momentum to a three-win qualifying run in New Haven this weekend in which she won 27 of 31 games. She notched a double bagel, a short 3-1 win over a retiring Kateryna Bondarenko and a final round victory vs. Evgeniya Rodina (which included her third Q-rounds bagel set) on Sunday.
SURPRISES: Misaki Doi/JPN and Martina Hingis/CoCo Vandweghe (SUI/USA)
...the results from these honorees weren't "surprising" in and of themselves. It's just the way they came about that caused a raised an eyebrow or two.

Doi fell in the final round of Cincinnati qualifying to young Russian Varvara Flink, squandering a 6-0/5-2 lead and failing to convert a MP. But #1-seeded Serena Williams' late withdrawal put the Japanese woman into the MD as a lucky loser, with a 1st Round bye, no less. She took advantage, putting up a win over Christina McHale before losing to eventual champ Karolina Pliskova a round later. It was enough to raise Doi's ranking from #38 to #32, earning her an eleventh hour U.S. Open seed a week from this Monday. Does Serena get a thank-you note?

Meanwhile, in the doubles draw, Hingis teamed up with the bigger-serving Vandeweghe in her first post-Sania tour event. And then they waited... and waited. They had a 1st Round bye, then were given walkovers by Bertens/Larsson and Errani/Suarez-Navarro to reach the semifinals. Finally, Julia Goerges & Karolina Pliskova (who, quite frankly, had other fish to fry) saw fit to actually make the pair PLAY a match. They won it, 1 & 4. The result pushed Hingis & Vandeweghe into their first final after having barely had enough time to recognize the back of their new partner's head. Finally, in a bit of Tennis Gods-generated fun, Hingis faced off with Mirza (and Barbora Strycova) for the title. After getting off to a 5-1 lead, though, Hingis/Vandeweghe lost in straight sets. Hmmm, maybe after a little (any?) practice, things will go a bit more smoothly. But, CoCo beware, Martina does not suffer losing with her doubles partners for long. So, you know, you've been warned... so get your snide tweets ready for the occasion when it arrives, just in case.
VETERANS: Angelique Kerber/GER and Barbora Strycova/CZE
...oh, she was close. Oh, so close. But she'll get another chance. Umm, right? Right? Hmmm.

When Serena Williams pulled out of the Cincinnati draw, Kerber's task was clear and unambiguous -- win the title and she'd be linked (yet again) with Steffi Graf, becoming the first German woman in nineteen years to top the rankings (in 1997, when Graf was replaced at #1 by, wait for it... a sixteen year old Martina Hingis), AND keep safe her countrywoman's record of 186 consecutive weeks at #1 (Serena entered the week w/ 183). After arriving from her Silver medal run in Rio, it would have been easily forgiven had Kerber been bounced early. But she battled her way to the doorstep of history, taking out Kristina Mladenovic, Barbora Strycova (w/ a tight 2nd set), Carla Suarez-Navarro (after losing the 1st) and Simona Halep (after almost blowing a set and 4-0 lead) to reach her sixth final of the season. In the final, her eleventh match in thirteen days, though, whether it be because of long-overdue fatigue, a realization of how close she was to a stupendous career achievement or, quite simply, an in-form, well-rested (a true rarity) Karolina Pliskova who was finally ready to ride her talent to a big title, Kerber was simply not the same player on Sunday that she'd been the past two weeks, and most of the '16 season.

Still, with a 19-4 mark in her last five events, Kerber now heads to New York, where she'll either be primed for her first deep Open run since her 2011 semifinal, or her heavy summer workload will lead to the sort of disappointing slam result she experienced throughout the '15 season, before pulling her game and mindset together to win her maiden slam crown, reach a second major final and play for Olympic Gold this year.

The 2016 WTA season has belonged to Kerber, but whether her inability to maneuver her way past one additional obstacle will go down as a forever career "what if?" will be determined by what comes next. It all starts (again) in one week.

As for Strycova, well, as she said in Cincinnati, "The older I get I feel awesome!"

Enjoying the Sunset #travel #newcity #newchallenges #lookingforwardforthesunrise #cincinatti ??

A photo posted by Barbora Strycova?? (@barborastrycova) on

The Czech has good reason to smile. After all, along with her Fed Cup success, in the season in which she turned 30, Strycova has reached two singles finals (including both WS and WD in Birmingham), reached her second career slam Round of 16 (AO), won the doubles Bronze medal in Rio (w/ Lucie Safarova) and earned her first Top 20 singles ranking just as play began in Cincinnati.

It has been a fairytale!!???????? with @lucie.safarova

A photo posted by Barbora Strycova?? (@barborastrycova) on

Last week, she knocked off Genie Bouchard and Sam Stosur in singles, pushed Angelique Kerber and, in a perfectly sweet right-place-at-the-right-time-to-showcase-her-skills moment, took Martina Hingis' place as Sania Mirza's doubles partner. The new duo coasted all the way to the doubles title, never losing a set in their very first tournament together.

Oh, and another photo from Rio (which only goes to prove that, sometimes, a slight twist of an ankle makes all the difference)...

COMEBACK: Aga Radwanska/POL
...Aga didn't have a particularly brilliant week, at least not by the (new-ish) standards she set for herself last fall. But after her long, wild and crazy series of adventures getting to and in Rio it would surely rank as "good enough" to simply land on her feet on stable ground while being something resembling on schedule would be an improvement. Let alone not being involved in any frightening transportation incidents, nor feel woefully unprepared for what is supposed to be one of the highlights of her athletic life and, largely as a result, seeing that experience snuffed out almost before it'd even begun. As it was, Radwanska arrived in Cincinnati (check), got herself into a passable practice routine (check) and then went out and extinguished Andrea Petkovic's hopes for an extended week of play (allowing the German just one game), and followed up by tossing Johanna Konta out onto the street via a love 3rd set. She was up 4-0 in the 1st vs. Simona Halep in the 3rd Round, too, but soon saw it all slip away in a straight-sets loss to a player whose Olympic absence shielded her from any of the potential difficulties that Aga herself walked right into. So... it wasn't a perfect week, but it was surely a welcome one. And it was just enough to nudge her past Halep into a Top 4 seed for the Open, too. Bam.

FRESH FACES: Donna Vekic/CRO, Louisa Chirico/USA and Maria Sakkari/GRE
...this week's FF's, though they're all essentially the same age, find themselves at different stages of their careers.

Vekic hit the "big time" early, reaching her first final (at age 16) in her tour MD debut in Tashkent in 2012. Two years later, she won her first title. She's climbed as high as #62, and reached four tour singles finals during her career. But her early success has been more elusive as she's left her teen years behind. Now 20, Vekic entered the week ranked #121 and riding a seven-match losing streak dating back to the grass season. Earlier in the year, Vekic endured another eight-match slide. But, in Cincinnati, the Croat captured at least a little of her old success in a bottle. She ended her losing streak with qualifying wins over Varvara Lepchenko (in two TB's) and Mariana Duque. In the MD, she upset #25-ranked Ana Ivanovic, notching her best win in over two years, since defeating then-#21 Roberta Vinci at Wimbledon (her previous most recent best victory had been over #24 Sorana Cirstea in Birmingham in '13, en route to an appearance in the final). Vekic will jump to #106 in the new rankings.

Chirico, also 20, has only recently experienced her first sparks of success as a pro. A 15-7 clay court mark this spring was highlighted by a 3rd Round in Charleston (def. Lucie Safarova) and a qualifier-to-semifinalist run in Madrid that included big victories over Monica Niculescu, Ana Ivanovic (why am I not surprised?) and Dasha Gavrilova. She came into this weekend's New Haven qualifying rounds without a win since her 1st Round Roland Garros victory over Lauren Davis in an 8-6 3rd set (following another Q-run), having lost four straight singles matches (and was even 0-3 in doubles!). But the New York native put together a successful run to the MD with wins over Davis (almost three months since her last defeat of her fellow Bannerette), Sorana Cirstea and Lesia Tsurenko.

Unlike the other two, Sakkari, a year older at 21, is still looking for her true "breakout" result. But the excitable Greek has been getting close. She reached the semifinals of a WTA 125 Series event in Carlsbad last November, then began 2016 with a Q-run in Melbourne and her first career MD slam win in the AO 1st Round over Wang Yafan. She then pushed Carla Suarez-Navarro to three, but didn't get the big upset of a seed. An Istanbul tour-level QF followed, as well as a narrow miss at grabbing her biggest career title when she lost in a $50K singles final. At Wimbledon, she qualified for the third time in four majors, and again put up a 1st Round win (Zheng Saisai). She pushed eventual semifinalist Venus Williams to three sets in the 2nd Round, but again failed to lock away the career-changing takedown. But the quest continues. In New Haven, coming in at a career-high #96, she's made it through qualifying with wins over Catarina Witthoeft, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Camila Giorgi.
DOWN: Serena Williams/USA Ana Ivanovic/SRB and Belinda Bencic/SUI
...whew! Serena, after pulling out of Cincinnati with that lingering shoulder issue, narrowly missed out on losing her #1 ranking (does Pliskova get a thank-you note?), and with her 184th straight week at #1 officially arriving on Monday thanks to Kerber's defeat in thef inal. Williams is now assured of at least tying Steffi Graf's all-time mark mid-way through the U.S. Open with week #186. Taking over the top spot all by herself, though, will take some work in Flushing Meadows.

So, where else to look for a "bad" week? Well, how about The Newlywed, AnaIvo? Her 1st Round loss to #121 Donna Vekic (actually her "best" loss, as far as ranking, in seven defeats at the hands of players with triple-digit standings over the past two seasons) drops the Serb to 15-15 on the season, and it's been two months (in Mallorca) since she posted a win. Ivanovic hasn't had more than two victories in row since last October, when she had a good week in Beijing that included wins over the likes of Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova en route to the semifinals. Aside from that single sterling week, Ivanovic has gone 19-19 over the last calendar year. Down to the #31 in new rankings on Monday, Ivanovic will skate through to a seed at the Open, but unless she improves her standing at least ten places by the end of the season (she might have a shot, since the fall indoor season always offers her an opportunity... though she'll have those Beijing points to defend, remember) she's on pace to have her worst ranking season since 2004.

Bencic is now more than a full year past her brilliant run to the Rogers Cup title in Toronto, and her bevy of lingering injuries (which cost her the Olympics) are now beginning to send her back down the rankings she rose through over the course of last season. She went into Cincinnati, after being in the Top 10 as recently as right before Wimbledon, having fallen out of the Top 20 for the first time since the week before her title run in Canada last summer, and her 2nd Round, straight sets loss to qualifier Timea Babos won't help her NYC prep (so she's giving it another go in New Haven). Two years ago, at 17, Bencic scored her first (and, so far, only) QF result at a slam at the U.S. Open. It's difficult seeing her getting anywhere close to such a finish this year.
ITF PLAYER: Anna Blinkova/RUS
...the 17-year old Hordette, the 2015 Wimbledon girls runner-up and '16 Junior Masters champ (def. Usue Arconada, Kayla Day and Katie Swan), grabbed her second and biggest career title at the $25K challenger in Westende, Belgium. Blinkova (WTA #380) knocked off the #5 and #4 seeds en route to her second pro final, where she took out #2-seeded Greek Valentini Grammatikopoulou, 19, in straight sets. She defeated Grammatikopoulou in her previous ITF singles final, as well, a three set win in a $10K in Stuttgart in January.
JUNIOR STARS: Kayla Day/USA and Olesya Pervushina/RUS
...a week ago, 16-year old Day won the USTA 18s National Championship, earning her a MD wild card into the upcoming U.S. Open. Perhaps still on a high from that result, the #5-ranked junior went to New Haven (as a wild card) and very nearly made her way through qualifying there. She handled Naomi Broady 2 & 3 in her opening match, took the Venus-conquering (but, not surprisingly, very little since) Kirsten Flipkens in three sets in her second and battled Anastasija Sevastova for a well-earned spot in the MD before falling in three sets. With all the pull-outs and "neverminds" (see Karolina P.) when it comes to the field, though, Day still got in as a lucky loser. She'll face qualifier Ana Konjuh in the 1st Round.

Meanwhile, Pervushina, the #2-ranked junior, lifted her career pro challenger mark in singles finals to 4-0 by claiming her biggest title yet in the $25K event in Leipzig, Germany. The 16-year, who was the girls #1 in June, grabbed her third '16 title with victories over Marie Bouzkova, Irina Maria Bara, Arantxa Rus and Julia Grabher in the final. The final three victories came in three-setters.
DOUBLES: Sania Mirza/Barbora Strycova (CZE) far, so good, for at least one half of the former Dream Team.

In the week after the announcement of the end of the legendary-though-short-lived partnership, Mirza teamed with Strycova for the very first time and surged all the way to the final without dropping a set (def. the defending champion Chan sisters in the semis), allowing Sania to meet up with, yep, you guessed it -- Hingis. Naturally. While Mirza/Strycova had to win four matches to reach the stage, Hingis and her new partner (CoCo Vandeweghe) did the same while winning just one (after a 1st Round bye and back-to-back walkovers). Mirza and Hingis met in the Roland Garros Mixed final earlier this year, with the Swiss Miss denying the Indian Princess the crown, but Sania turned the tables this time as she and Strycova rebounded from a 5-1 1st set deficit (saving 3 SP) to win 7-5/6-4 to fully run the proverbial table in their first tournament together. Sort of like what happened with Mirza and Hingis when they first teamed up in the spring of last year. Does this mean that Mirza/Strycova are the new "it" team? Well, nothing was promised heading into this event, but one would think that the two vets might not seek to mess with such instant success. At least not immediately.

At any rate, though the two said in Rio they plan to team up for the WTA Finals in Singapore (we'll see, I say), Mirza has essentially shed her Hingis shadow with this win, as she now re-takes sole possession of the #1 ranking for the first time since Hingis joined her there in January of this year. The first Indian to ever be ranked #1, Mirza has held a share of the top doubles ranking since April '15, a 72-week stretch (as of Monday) that is the fifth-longest unbroken streak in tour history (and just one week from tying Arantxa Sanchez for the fourth-best).

The Pica homecoming...

And a Rio (and "Rio") postscript. Go figure.

1. Cincinnati SF - Kerber d. Halep
While Kerber may have more noticably hit the physical wall in the final, a case could be made that Halep pushed her up against it in the semi. Up 6-3/4-0, Kerber saw Halep up her game and finish strong, while she held on for dear life at the end of a two-week, two-continent marathon that would bring her up to the edge of a Gold medal and the #1 ranking, yet keep both feats ever-so-tantalizingly out of reach. Halep battled back to 4-3 and held BP to get back on serve. Kerber, still KNOWING what to do even if all her moving parts weren't operating in their usual unison by this point, held and soon served for the match at 5-4. Pulling ahead from 30/30, the German broke a racket string on MP, only to see Halep fire a ball out on the very next swing. Still, even with the loss, Halep highlighted her 2nd set fight after the match, providing further proof that she's learning (has LEARNED... or is that TOO optimistic?) to focus on the positive and learn from her mistakes rather than endlessly beat herself up to no end while angrily lamenting them. This might be very good.

Still all-in (well, at least until we see how Serena's shoulder is, I guess).
2. Cincinnati Doubles Final - Mirza/Strycova d. Hingis/Vandeweghe
It just HAD to work out this way, didn't it? With Mirza & Strycova dominating the field to reach the final, while Hingis/Vandeweghe floated along above the draw while playing just one match. Even a 5-1 1st set lead, and three SP, weren't enough to hold back Mirza & Strycova, two players with definitive minds of their own who could form one of the most intriguing, interesting and entertaining duos (on and off court) if this pairing takes hold beyond this summer try-out phase.
3. Cincinnati 2nd Rd. - Cibulkova d. Larsson
Larsson was cut no slack on her 28th birthday. After defeating Irina-Camelia Begu earlier in the day, the Swede was sent out again in the evening as the tournament tried to catch up after a series of rain-delays. Up until midnight, Larsson was leading the Slovak, having come back from 4-0 down to take the 1st set and taking a 3-1 lead in the 2nd. But once Larsson's birthday was officially over at 12:01 a.m., it was Cibulkova's time to shine. She reeled off five of six games to take the 2nd, then saved two MP in the 3rd en route to the win.
4. Cincinnati 1st Rd. - McHale d. Sai.Zheng 6-2/6-2
Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Tsurenko d. Sh.Zhang 6-3/6-3
in the 1st Round in Rio, Zheng upset A-Rad, while Zhang took out Bacsinszky. Ohio is a long way from Brazil.
5. Cincinnati Q2 - Flink d. Doi
Wild card Russian Flink made the comeback from 6-0/5-2 to take out #1 Q-seed Doi, but Flink was ousted in the 1st Round while Doi entered the MD as a lucky loser in Serena Williams' #1 seed slot, complete with 1st Round bye, and won her match to reach the 3rd Round. Ah, tennis.
6. Cincinnati Q1 - Konjuh d. Shvedova 5-7/6-2/7-6(7)
Cincinnati Q1 - Larsson d. Sasnovich 6-7(7)/7-6(7)/6-1
Konjuh saved a MP, while Larsson saved two.
7. Cincinnati 2nd Rd. - King/Niculescu d. Garcia/Mladenovic
...3-6/6-2 [10-4].
The Pastries are 4-4 since winning in Paris to finish off the clay season with a 21-1 mark.
8. $10K Sezze Final - Maria Marfutina d. Bianca Turati
The 19-year old Hordette wins her second straight challenger, claiming her third 2016 title.

You, too, can be a soon-to-be Tennis Hall of Famer...

You, too, can be a WTT MVP...

You, too, can be Sloane's non-athletic bestie...

Knowledge for life.

1. Cincinnati Final - KAROLINA PLISKOVA d. Kerber
Having already met in two finals (Birmingham and Stanford, both going to Kerber) last season, these two were familiar with their opponent's game. But it was Pliskova who jumped out on top and stayed there. She broke the German in the opening game and soon led 4-0. Kerber pulled to 4-3, holding from love/30, but after getting a visit from coach Jiri Vanek, Pliskova pulled her game and thoughts together and won eight of nine games. She broke to take the 1st set at 6-3, then broke for 2-0 in the 2nd. Delivering clean blows to Kerber's #1 hopes, she served at 5-1, ending things on her second MP with an ace. She's the first Czech woman to lift the Cincy title trophy.

2. Cincinnati 3rd Rd. - AGA RADWANSKA d. Konta
Imagine what Aga could do if she actually looked at the ball when she hit it...

3. Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Petkovic d. Safarova 6-4/6-7(4)/6-2
Cincinnati 2nd Rd. - AGA RADWANSKA d. Petkovic 6-0/6-1
after taking three hours to dispense of Safarova earlier in the day, Petko was no match for Aga's unique brand of torture.

4. Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Ostapenko d. ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA 1-6/7-6(6)/7-6(5)
New Haven Q1 - Kontaveit d. ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA 0-6/6-3/7-5
well, at least AKS is consistently winning 1st sets before losing now, right? Sigh. Against Ostapenko, Schmiedlova had a 6-1 and two-break lead, including two MP at 5-4 in the 2nd. In the 3rd, AKS came back from 0-2, love/40 to lead 5-2 and serve for the match, only to drop serve twice in a row and lose the deciding TB to the Latvian. In New Haven, the Slovak took the 1st set in twenty minutes, only to ultimately lose to Kontaveit in an 11-9 TB after having a MP.

5. Cincinnati QF - Halep d. AGA RADWANSKA
Radwanska led 4-0 in the 1st, only to see the Romanian charge back and serve at 5-4, holding a SP. She didn't manage to hold, but broke and got another chance two games later. In an ironic twist, she stole the set from Radwanska with a deft drop shot from the baseline.

Halep won twelve of the final fourteen games.
HM- Cincinnati QF - KAROLINA PLISKOVA d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
The only singles set Pliskova lost all week, but she won to hand Sveta just her sixth loss in twenty-two three-setters in 2016.

Happy monday and have a wonderful week #aloha

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Chef and sous chef ??

A video posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Flash back Friday to a special day! #Beijing #1 Photo credit @cw_tennis

A photo posted by Caroline Wozniacki (@carowozniacki) on

When adidas and New Balance meet...

Maria, walking toward a one-way traffic sign, with a summer "Citizen Anna hat," would make for a perfectly Sharapovian Instagram photo... if not for that stray jogger in the background. Bah!


A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

14 - Serena Williams [7/5/2]
8 - Simona Halep [2/3/3]
6 - Angelique Kerber [0/4/2]
6 - Maria Sharapova [4/2/0]
6 - Petra Kvitova [3/3/0]
5 - Aga Radwanska [1/3/1]
5 - Venus Williams [1/3/1]

**2016 WTA FINALS**
5 - Serena Williams, USA (2-3)
4 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (2-2)
3 - Simona Halep, ROU (3-0)
3 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (3-0)
3 - Sloane Stephens, USA (3-0)
3 - Madison Keys, USA (1-2)

17...Serena Williams (14-3)
13...Simona Halep (8-5)
9...Venus Williams (5-4)
8...Maria Sharapova (6-2)
8...Petra Kvitova (6-2)

**2014-16 MOST WTA FINALS**
3 - Serena Williams (May/July, 2-1)
2 - Serena Williams (Jan/Mar - 0-2)
2 - Victoria Azarenka (Mar/Apr - 2-0)
2 - Simona Halep (July - 2-0)
2 - ANGELIQUE KERBER (August, 0-2)

8...S.Williams vs. Azarenka (SW 5-3)
6...S.Williams vs. Sharapova (SW 6-0)
4...Azarenka vs. Sharapova (VA 3-1)

16 - Victoria Azarenka (Mar/May)
13 - Simona Halep (Jul/Aug)
12 - Kiki Bertens (May/Jun)
10 - Aga Radwanska (Jan)

186 - Steffi Graf
184 - SERENA WILLIAMS (active)
156 - Martina Navratilova
113 - Chris Evert

181...Martina Navratilova
145...Cara Black
134...Liezel Huber
73...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
72...SANIA MIRZA (active)
70...Roberta Vinci
64...Virginia Ruano Pascual
61...Samantha Stosur

**2016 WTA WD FINALS**
8...SANIA MIRZA, IND (6-2)
6...Caroline Garcia, FRA (4-2)
6...Kristina Mladenovic, FRA (4-2)
4...Xenia Knoll, SUI (2-2)
4...Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (2-2)
4...Elena Vesnina, RUS (2-2)

2012 Vicky Duval
2013 Sachia Vickery
2014 CiCi Bellis
2015 Sonya Kenin
2016 Kayla Day

Danielle Collins, USA (NCAA champion)
Lauren Davis, USA
Kayla Day, USA (USTA 18s champion)
Sonya Kenin, USA (USTA WC Playoff Challenger champion)
Vania King, USA
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
Virginie Razzano, FRA

Lucie, recently showing signs of competing for the Silver (at least) in the Sharapova Instagram-lympics...

Serena Williams' 2015 U.S. Open 1st Round Victim Update #543: shutting up and running

Swan on a swan...

Swanning around ??

A photo posted by Katie Swan (@katieswan99) on

15 Final: Kvitova d. Safarova (Kvitova 2014-15 champ)
15 Doubles Final: Goerges/Hradecka d. Chuang/Liang
16 Singles Top Seeds: A.Radwanska/Vinci

#6 Kvitova d. #1 A.Radwanska
Vesnina d. #2 Vinci
#6 Kvitova d. Vesnina

...she's back.

With the points-doubled-with-three-events rule once again in effect, the U.S. Open Series title is still in play. The current Top 4:

1. Johanna Konta (220 points, w/ points doubled w/ 3 events)
2. Simona Halep (145, 2 events)
3. Karolina Pliskova (115, 2 events)
4. Angelique Kerber (115, 2 events)

Only Radwanska (tied for 10th w/ 40 points, but in her third Series event in NH, so her points will double) could gain enough points to catch Konta, with a title running earning 70 to give her 110, doubled to 220. I'm not sure what the tie-breaker would be, though.

Intrestingly, if Pliskova hadn't pulled out of this event, the 2015 "champion" of the Series (but more worthy of it this year) could have won it again by winning two matches in New Haven to reach the QF. But perhaps that's something an un-balanced Karolina would have done, but not the one who showed up in Cincinnati. Truthfully, she's better off not heading to Connecticut.

Maybe this IS a turning point, after all.

Of note, with all the other previous withdrawals, Pliskova's pull-out means the tournament has to go back beyond the final qualifying round to find a lucky loser to take her place in the draw... depending on who's still in town on Monday and hasn't already left for NYC. It should be Q2's highest-ranked loser Varvara Lepcheko... unless, well, you know, she's already gone.



And, finally, it goes without saying that now we can, indeed, see it from here...

All for now.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Wk.32- Pica, For the People

Well, now that was something, wasn't it?

They call it #PicaPower. And, in Rio, it turned out to be an all-consuming (well, all-GOLD consuming, at least) force.

Whoosh! Go figure.

WS: Monica Puig/PUR def. Angelique Kerber/GER 6-4/4-6/6-1
Bronze: Petra Kvitova/CZE def. Madison Keys/USA 7-5/2-6/6-2
WD: Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS) d. Timea Bacsinszky/Martina Hingis (SUI) 6-4/6-4
Bronze: Lucie Safarova/Barbora Strycova (CZE) d. Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (CZE) 7-5/6-1
MX: Bethanie Mattek-Sands/Jack Sock (USA) d. Venus Williams/Rajeev Ram (USA) 6-7(3)/6-1 [10-7]
Bronze: Lucie Hradecka/Radek Stepanek (CZE) d. Sania Mirza/Rohan Bopanna (IND) 6-1/7-5

...just call her The Legend. I mean, that's what she is. In Puerto Rico, for sure, for the rest of her life and for generations thereafter. But also in Olympic lure. For, really, who could have ever predicted that Puig would emerge from Rio with a Gold medal hanging from her neck? Even for those who'd previously acknowledged her very under-the-radar breakout season, it wasn't even in the "remotely possible" category of potential storylines at this point a week ago.

But Puig changed all that. And while she seemed amazed by her accomplishments immediately following each of her big victories in Brazil, she never once betrayed any notion that what was taking place on court -- while it was taking place on court -- was anything other than a predictable outcome.

And that speaks volumes about why Puig is now the most unlikely tennis Gold medalist ever (even more surprising than Nicolas Massu was back in 2004).

Puig's Bronze medal run at the Pan-American Games was the highlight of what was a disappointing 2015 season, her follow up to a '14 campaign in which she won her maiden title and rose as high as #41 in the rankings. She finished last season at #92. So, the Puerto Rican's rise to #34 heading into Rio (she was at a career-best #33 in July), on the back of her second career final (in Week 1), three other semifinals and a pair of 3rd Round slam results in Melbourne and Paris, had already made '16 a memorable one for the 22-year old.

But Puig had a BIG rabbit left to pull out of her hat.

In Rio, all Puig did was ride her fiery, aggressive game to five straight wins that got progressively more astounding -- largely because one had to figure her dream week would eventually run out of gas -- as the week went on. I mean, don't they always? Down went Polona Hercog and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. "All right, fine, that's nice," was the thought. But then Puig took out #4-ranked RG champ Garbine Muguruza -- her first career Top 5 win -- 6-1/6-1. Bam (but, still, one figured that'd be her Rio highlight). Next up, Laura Siegemund was held to the same two measly games in an all-unseeded QF, then two-time slam winner Petra Kvitova went down in three sets. Puig, amazingly, had reached the Olympic final, as the lowest-ranked woman to ever play for singles Gold. But it HAD to end there, right? I mean, such things just don't happen.

But in Rio they did.

Against #2-ranked AO champ Angelique Kerber, Puig's calm in the face of monumental history being on her racket carried the day. She ended Kerber's spotless Rio set record in the 1st set, then pulled away in the 3rd, taking a 5-0 lead before Kerber threatened to make things interesting in the final moments. Puig's medal makes her the first athlete representing Puerto Rico to win Olympic Gold, and the first to ever claim a tennis medal (Puerto Rican Gigi Fernandez -- a Hall of Famer -- won two WD Golds in the 1990's while representing the U.S., something which many from the nation apparently have never forgiven her for... though it was the only way she was ever going to win a medal, without another viable Puerto Rican around to partner her at the time).

As far as the actual tennis is concerned, though, we may have not only witnessed the Performance of the Year, but also one for the tennis ages. Two Top 5 wins, victories over three players who have won a combined four slams, including two who are reigning 2016 major champions, is quite the feat for a player who came into the Olympics with just a single tour title (won two years ago) to her credit.

Throughout 2016, it was easy to chart how many fans Puig was picking up with every gutsy performance and breakout result. But this is an entirely different animal of another stripe. Now she's a legend, for a Puerto Rican homeland that's been experience great economic troubles, but also for every player out there who can dare to dream, never question it, and even have a little fun with the notion along the way.

Remember, there's an aptly-named (BEFORE the trip to Rio, remember), four-legged member of the Puig household who also has a small, dog-eared stake in the #PicaPower legend...

Yup, stuff just got r-e-a-l.
RISERS: Angelique Kerber/GER, Madison Keys/USA and Elina Svitolina/UKR
...seriously, has Kerber had a SEASON or what? After being a dominant force on the "regular" tour last season, but coming up short in the slams and other "major" competitions, the German has put together a '16 campaign in which she's won the Australian Open, reached the Wimbledon final and, now, reached the Olympic Gold Medal Match, as well. And she might not finished yet, either.

Kerber hadn't dropped a set en route to the Rio final, taking out the likes of Mariana Duque, Genie Bouchard, Sam Stosur, Johanna Konta and Madison Keys. In the Gold Match vs. Monica Puig, the two split the first two sets, even while the German seemed to be hampered by possibly a lower back injury which was first hinted at mid-way through the 1st. Still, it was Puig's aggression and calm play in the face of what might have been an overwhelming moment down the stretch for, well, almost ANYONE else that ruled the day. In the final game of the match, Kerber threatened to extend Puig's wait, which may have ultimately played havoc with history. But the Puerto Rican saved six BP in the final game, finally holding serve on her fourth MP.

But, hey, this is the Olympics. While losing is immediately disappointing, ultimately, Silver shines, too.

Now, Kerber heads to Cincinnati, where she's expected to play (which could be "interesting," what with a possible Olympic "hangover" and potentially lingering back issue at hand), as she very well could snatch the #1 ranking away from Serena by this time next week. Williams will need to reach the QF to assure the top spot heading into the U.S. Open and keep her weeks-at-#1 streak alive. But if she doesn't, and Kerber wins the title, the German's epic season suddenly becomes, well, more "epic-er." Considering the intangibles in play, it probably won't happen... but after these Olympics, who's to really say what's possible and what isn't?

Meanwhile, it was an Olympic week of close-but-no-cigar, umm, medal for both Keys and Svitolina.

Keys put in good work, albeit with extra long hours, early on with wins over Danka Kovinic, Kristina Mladenovic (in 3), Carla Suarez-Navarro (in 3) and Daria Kasatkina to become the eighth different U.S. woman to reach the singles medal round since 1988. But, in her fourth semifinal of the season, Keys failed to convert any of her ten BP chances and fell to Kerber in straight sets. In the Bronze match, Keys couldn't secure two set points in the 1st vs. Petra Kvitova, either. It proved to be a key moment, as the 21-year old won the 2nd, only to see her own errors dig a multi-break hole for herself in the 3rd that was too deep from which to escape. Still, she made Kvitova work to win the Bronze, making her take four MP opportunities before grabbing the final spot on the medal stand.

While Keys left Rio with an aftertaste of disappointment and without a medal, once again, her performance on a big stage should provide a stronger foundation on which to build the next four years of her career. Come Tokyo, maybe Serena Williams' assertion that Keys will one day be ranked #1 will have come to pass, and she'l head into the next Olympics as one of the favorites to come away with what eluded her this time around.

One of the key components of Justine Henin's take on the current crop of players challenging Serena is that too many of them enter into their matches with the world #1 without the confidence that they CAN indeed defeat her. Surely, Henin's coaching stint with Svitolina, which included enough early moments of success for the Ukrainian to see fit to never doubt the Hall of Fame Belgian's wisdom, has included a touch of that mixed in with the usual game style conversations and strategic tips. As it turned out, Rio provided a nice proving ground for all of the above. Svitolina's wins over Andrea Petkovic and Heather Watson set up a 3rd Round match with, naturally, Williams herself. Serena was "off," and possibly nursing the same (or worsening) shoulder injury that precipitated her Montreal withdrawal. But Svitolina, 0-4 vs. Williams and coming off winning just two games against her at Roland Garros, was on her game early in the match, and never cracked under the pressure of the moment. After being up a set and a break at 3-1, the score tightened to 3-3, but Serena's DF-filled (5) game #7 ultimately tipped the proceedings all the way in Svitolina's favor. After going up a break, she held at love for 5-3 en route to a 4 & 3 victory. Unfortunately, the thrill was short-lived, as Svitolina fell in straight sets one round later to Petra Kvitova. But the memory of her win over Williams will linger longer, and is the proper stepping stone to give her the boost to go from being a Top 20 player to possibly pushing for a Top 10 spot by this time next year.
SURPRISES: Laura Siegemund/GER and the WTT's San Diego Aviators and Orange County Breakers usual, Siegemund operated under the Olympic radar in Rio. While Angelique Kerber was the only German to medal, Siegemund's breakthrough year added yet another successful chapter as she reached the QF with wins over Tsvetana Pironkova, Zhang Shuai and the Venus-conquering Kirsten Flipkens before falling in the unseeded Final Eight match-up with Monica Puig, one victory short of the medal round. Still, her 2016 season has still included Siegemund's first tour final and maiden title, as well as a career-high ranking that leaves her behind only Kerber in Germany.

Meanwhile, while the heart and soul of the Washington Kastles (Hingis, Paes, Venus and, for at least one or two days each summer, Serena) was off playing in Rio, the team's five-year World Team Tennis reign came to an end under a different regular season format than in previous seasons. Rather than fourteen matches, each team played twelve. Rather than four teams reaching the postseason semifinals from two conferences, only the top two WTT teams advanced to the final, to be held in two weeks. The teams that advanced? The San Diego Aviators (featuring Shelby Rogers, Ryan Harrison and Raven Klaasen) and the Orange County Breakers (they played as the Austin Aces last year, reaching the league final, and were led this year by Nicole Gibbs, Alla Kudryavtseva and Dennis Novikov). Both squads finished 8-4, while Washington finished third in the league standings at 7-5.
VETERANS: Venus Williams/USA, Timea Bacsinszky/Martina Hingis (SUI) and Lucie Hradecka/CZE the start of the week, things looked bleak for Venus. Playing with a viral illness, the player who arguably loves the Olympics more than any other (and that's saying something, considering the reactions of most of the tennis medals winners at these games), was dumped out of the 1st Round of singles on Day 1, then she and Serena lost their first Olympic doubles match ever on Day 2. After at first being noncommittal about playing Mixed Doubles, thinking she'd be busy in the other two draws, Venus teamed up with Rajeev Ram (himself a late addition to the team) and very nearly wrote what could have been a storybook ending (but don't be sure, for Tokyo could well see her yet in '20) to the greatest-ever Olympic tennis career. After saving two MP in the 1st Round vs. Bertens/Rojer, the U.S. duo went all the way to the Gold Medal Match, where they won the 1st set and held a 6-3 lead in the 3rd set TB vs. Mattek-Sands/Sock. A win would have given Venus a record fifth tennis Gold, and made her the only player to win Gold in singles, doubles and mixed. But it wasn't meant to be. Still, Venus is still tied with Serena with the most tennis Golds (4), and her Silver medal matches 1920's star Kitty McKane's record of five career Olympic tennis medals. As usual, with Venus, we really didn't have reason to worry.

And while there may be some argument about whether or not Venus loves her Olympic participation MORE than any other player on tour, one should probably take a look at her extended reaction to winning the semifinal contest over Mirza/Bopanna, which simply assured her of a fifth medal and another shot to play for Gold. It's priceless, really.

As was the case with Venus, Rio didn't look good for either of the Swiss, either. Hingis lost her expected doubles partner when Belinda Bencic's wrist injury knocked her out of action, then Roger Federer's Olympic absence took away that expected dream pairing for the Original Swiss Miss, as well. Stan Wawrinka begged off, too, then skipped the games entirely. Hingis ended up not playing MX at all, then announced mid-week that her and Sania Mirza's 17-month partnership (93-16 overall, 14-3 in finals, w/ three slam wins) was over.

Bacsinszky, meanwhile, skipped the opening ceremonies because she had a Day 1 match last Saturday, which she then promptly lost to Zheng Saisai after having held MP. So, while they weren't exactly the Olympic savior either was expecting, both Hingis and Bacsinszky played that role for each over to the hilt over the course of play in Rio. The pair lost just one set en route to the semis, taking out Gavrilova/Stosur, Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe (CoCo's big serve must have impressed Martina -- they're now set to team up heading into the Open) and the Chan sisters. In the SF, the Swiss faced down MP -- literally, as a Hingis shot hit Andrea Hlavackova in the face to save the match -- and went on to win, assuring Hingis of her first Olympic medal, one of the few things to elude her in her Hall of Fame career. Like Venus, the storybook ending didn't include Gold, as the Swiss were outplayed by the more experienced-and-in-sync Russian duo of Makarova & Vesnina, but that's one thing that great about the Olympics -- one needn't WIN the final match to come away a "winner."

After losing the doubles final in London four years ago, Hradecka once again found herself up against the notion of just missing out on something bigger at a second straight Olympic games. She and Hlavackova held MP in the WD semis vs. Hingis/Bacsinszky, lost, and then fell in straight sets in the Bronze match to Safarova/Strycova despite serving for the 1st set vs. their countrywomen. Hradecka also reached the Mixed semis (after finishing up a QF match after 1 a.m. on the same night as the WD semi loss), but lost with Radek Stepanek to eventual Gold winners Mattek-Sands/Sock. But the Czech duo DID manage to claim Bronze at the eleventh hour, taking out Mirza/Bopanna in straights (denying Sania her first Olympic medal), as Hradecka became the fourth different Maiden to take home hardware from these games.
COMEBACKS: Petra Kvitova/CZE, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK and Laura Robson/GBR
...suddenly, when no one could rightly have been REALLY expecting it, Good Kvitova came out to greet the neighbors in Rio. Ranked outside the Top 10 and not on the tip of anyone's tough as a potential Olympic medalist after a disappointing first seven months of '16 that saw her reach just one semifinal, the Czech donned her nation's colors and suddenly found her game. Down went Timea Babos, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova (in a tough one in which Bad Petra was successfully held at bay) and Elina Svitolina (2 games lost!), Kvitova reached the medal round. After being outplayed by eventual Gold medalist Monica Puig, she rebounded to take the Bronze match from Madison Keys and lead the way for the Maidens' three-medal haul in Rio (one each in WS, WD and MX). Kvitova joins Jana Novotna ('96 Bronze) as the only Czechs to pick up Olympic medals in women's singles. Of course, it should be noted that with the east coast summer humidity hitting the U.S. heavy and hard at the moment, the rest of the North American hard court season might not be a "walk in Olympic park" for Petra. But, right now, that's the last thing on her mind.

Early on in Rio, Schmiedlova showed still more signs that she may finally be finding her way through the dastardly fog of a 2016 campaign that has seen her ranking fall from #26 to #59 (not nearly as bad as one might expect, though, truthfully -- she even inches up the #57 this week). She actually put up a very nice win in singles, taking out Roberta Vinci, and even claimed the opening set vs. Ekaterina Makarova in the 2nd Round before falling in three.

Meanwhile, Robson's tough journey through the tennis wilderness found a path back to civilization this past week. Results have been slow to come in the (still only) 22-year old Brit's comeback from 2014 wrist surgery, but this summer has produced tangible evidence of good health AND improvement. A tight three-set loss to countrywoman Tara Moore in the Sacramento $50K last month was viewed from here as either a sign that Moore had officially "surpassed" Robson on the Crumpet Tennis Pyramid, or a hint that maybe Robson was getting "close" to something good. Apparently, it was the latter. Another three-set loss vs. Chanel Simmonds soon followed in a $25K on Forth Worth, but then last week happened. In a $25K challenger in Landisville, Pennsylvania, #285-ranked Robson swept both the singles and doubles titles. She came back from a set down to defeat Ksenia Lyskina in the 1st Round, survived a rematch with Moore (dropping the 1st set, but seeing Moore retire in the 2nd due to heat illness), then didn't lose another set the rest of the tournament. Down went An-Sophie Mestach, Rebecca Sramkova and Julia Elbaba. The latter came in a double-bagel final, a perfect complement to a no-sets-loss doubles title run with 18-year old Brit Freya Christie. Both were Robson's first titles since wrist surgery. Actually, her last pro singles title came in 2008 (in a $10K challenger four months after she was crowned the Wimbledon girls champ), but this was her first appearance in a singles final of any sort since September 2012, the year before the Brit reached her career-high of #27 prior to her wrist injury in her first match of the 2014 season. After missing a year and a half, Robson returned to action during the summer of '15.

FRESH FACE: Daria Kasatkina/RUS
...the Russian teen may not have had the sort of true "breakout" week in Rio that SOME were hoping for, but Kasatkina still managed to make her debut on another major stage an impressive one. As she's done in her four slam debuts (reaching the 3rd Round at each) and Fed Cup (recording the only win in Russia's disastrous 1st Round tie vs. NED in February), Kasatkina simply found a way to push herself forward in the draw. After staging a 1st Round comeback in Rio vs. Ons Jabeur (the Tunisian led 6-3/3-1 and served for the match), she followed up with wins over Zheng Saisai and Sara Errani before being dominated by Madison Keys in the QF. Still, Kasatkina was the last Hordette standing in singles, the only teen to go so far, and added a QF in doubles with Svetana Kuznetsova, as well. Come 2020, she might just be the best Russian hope for a medal in Tokyo.

And, of course, you just knew the paths of the Dashas HAD to cross while in Rio, right?

???? ???? = ?

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

DOWN: Serena Williams/USA and Garbine Muguruza/ESP
...the wonderful craziness that occurred in the women's Olympic singles draw couldn't have taken place without the "help" of Serena and Garbi, the winners of the last two slam titles.

After seeming to be on course in the early rounds for at least a legitimate run toward becoming the first repeat Olympic singles champion, Williams saw it all come tumbling down in Rio. After Venus fell in singles on Day 1, the Sisters lost their first Olympic WD match (they're now 15-1) on Day 2 of play. Two days later, Serena, looked way out of sorts and likely played with a shoulder injury (we'll see what impact this will have on her upcoming week in Cincinnai, as well as the return to the scene of her failed Grand Slam attempt in NYC) that at one point saw her have FIVE double-faults in a singles game. She fell to Elina Svitolina in the 3rd Round. With yet another big event loss to still another player, has the Williams aura and/or confidence taken still another blow since her loss to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semis last year? Or was this just a case of injury and an in-form Svitolina producing one of "those results" we saw so much of in Rio? We shall see. She'll be in Cincinnati this week, attempting to defend her '15 title as a wild card entry, as well as hold onto her #1 ranking (she'll need to at least reach the QF to assure that she'll hold off Angelique Kerber, with Steffi Graf's nearly-matched record of 186 straight weeks at #1 hanging in the balance).

Meanwhile, with Serena out, the door seemed wide open for Muguruza to advance through the top half of the draw and have a shot at Spain's first-ever Gold in women's singles. She dropped a total of six games through the first two rounds... and then WON just two vs. Monica Puig in the 3rd. The Roland Garros champion has gone 3-3 since winning in Paris, and the wait is now officially on to see if we won't see THAT Garbi again until fall, just as happened last year after she reached the Wimbledon final. Muguruza went 2-4 last summer in her SW19 runner-up aftermath before ending her '15 season on a 12-2 run that included a title, two finals and a starring role in the WTA Finals.
ITF PLAYER: Richel Hogenkamp/NED
...the 24-year old Dutch, best known for her epic Fed Cup win over Svetlana Kuznetova (she took a 10-8 3rd set in 4:00, the longest ever FC match) in February, picked up her ninth career challenger title, her first since 2014, in the $25K in Koksijde, Belgium. Hogenkamp picked up a QF win over Arantxa Rus and reachd the final by allowing just nine games through four matches. She defeated Pastry Oceane Dodin in three sets to claim the crown.

JUNIOR STARS: Bianca Andreescu/CAN and Ukraine ITF World Junior 14s Team
...girls #8 Andreescu has been experiencing a few firsts on the tennis courts this summer. Just a few weeks ago, the 16-year old notched her first career win at a WTA event in Montreal qualifying. This past week, the Canadian swept the titles at the $25K challenger in Gatineau, Quebec. As a singles wild card, she notched a win over Lauren Albanese and twice came back from a set down to reach her first career final, where she defeated Ellie Harbauer in straights, converting all eight of her BP opportunities on the day. In singles, she teamed with best friend Charlotte Robillard-Millette to win the first pro doubles crown for either teen. The duo knocked off the #2 and #4 seeds, the latter coming in the final, where they won a 10-6 3rd set TB to defeat Mana Ayukama & Samantha Murray, coming back from a set down to pull off the feat.

A week ago, the 14s junior squad from Ukraine took home the nation's first title in a decade at the ITF World Junior championships.

Playing in the competition in Prostejov, Czech Republic, the Ukrainian girls faced off in the final against the junior Bannerettes of the U.S., a meeting of the runners-up from the past two years (UKR '14, USA '15). After Alexa Noel put the U.S. up 1-0 with a three-set win over Daria Snigur, Marta Kostyuk (the Eddie Herr 14s champ from last year -- a year after current Wimbledon junior champ Anastasia Potapova won the same crown -- and the highest-ranked player in the event, at #115) defeated Whitney Osuigwe 6-3/6-0 to send things to the deciding doubles match. There, Kostyuk teamed with Dasha Lopatetska to defeat Noel/Osuigwe in a 10-6 3rd set TB to claim the title.


Russia, the two-time reigning ITF World Junior 14s champions, defeated the Czechs to claim third place in the event.

DOUBLES: Ekaterina Makarova/Elena Vesnina (RUS), Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA and Lucie Safarova/Barbora Strycova (CZE)
...don't look now, but, after not finally rejoining forces until the spring following injuries and scheduling questions that kept them apart for over eight months, Makarova/Vesnina might just be the having THE best season of any doubles duo in 2016. Hingis/Mirza burned bright at the start of the season, only to burn out and (this past week) come apart entirely (though they still plan to play together at the WTA Finals), while the Garcia/Mladenovic combo has been sterling largely only in Fed Cup play and on clay, it's been the Russians who have been able to pull it together over the long haul. Always a big event pair, Makarova & Vesnina added Olympic Gold (a first for a Russian pair) in Rio to their career haul, doing so without dropping a set. Four years after losing to the Williams Sisters in the London QF, Wins over the likes of Muguruza/CSN, Safarova/Strycova and Bacsinszky/Hingis got them title #8 as a duo, their second straight after also winning in Montreal. For the season, they're a combined 24-4, with four finals (Rome, RG before the most recent two), nine straight wins and a 13-1 mark since losing in the final in Paris. Echoing the words of countrywoman (and '08 singles Gold medalist) Elena Dementieva, the three-time slam WD/MX winner and '16 Wimbledon singles semifinalist Vesnina declared this win the greatest accomplishment of her tennis career.

On the final day of tennis competition in Brazil, Venus Williams was denied her record fifth career Olympic tennis Gold... but at least Mattek-Sands and her star-spangled socks were the beneficiary of the denial of history, so at least something good came of it. BMS and Jack Sock lost just one set -- the opening set of the final vs. Venus & Rajeev Ram -- en route to the top spot on the medal stand, claiming just the second Mixed Doubles Gold since 1924 (Vika Azarenka & Max Mirnyi won in '12 in the competitions return to the Olympics in London after an 88-year absence). After losing the 1st set via a TB, BMS/Sock took the 2nd 6-1 and won an alternating-momentum 10-7 TB (3-0 for Mattek-Sands/Sock, then six straight for Venus/Ram, then six straight the other way) to claim Gold.

On Saturday, Safarova/Strycova, who'd turned over the doubles draw with their Day 2 win over Venus & Serena in the 1st Round, closed out their time in Rio by winning the, see-this-is-why-we-dominate-Fed-Cup, four-Maiden-strong doubles Bronze Medal Match over 2012 Silver medalists Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka, who'd been the hard-luck losers to Bacsinszky/Hingis (particularly Hlavackova, whose orbital bone was broken by a Hingis shot to the face on the Czech duo's MP) in the semifinals.


Hey, there's another tennis player in my nature photo...

She's got moves like Cicak...

[Rio Day 3+]

1. Rio Olympics Gold Medal Match - Puig d. Kerber
Rather than feel the pressure, Puig got stronger as the match progressed. After a slow start in the 2nd, she saved BP to avoid falling down a double-break at 3-0, then calmed her game and soon afterward broke the German to even things at 4-4. Kerber broke back for 5-4 and served out the set, but the less experienced big match player seemed the more stable and consistent force in the 3rd. Kerber, while her defense remained nothing short of stellar, had a few brain lapses in key moments, including breaking herself with a bad drop shot for 4-0 after having been up 40/15. Love/40 up on Puig's serve in game #7, the German missed on an easy overhead to even the game at deuce, allowing Puig's fight to ultimately stave off six BP before winning on MP #4 when Kerber pushed a forehand wide.

2. Rio Olympics 2nd Rd. - Keys d. Mladenovic
At least Kiki had a better time of things in singles than she did in doubles (losing in the 1st Round in both WD and MX, with the former coming equipped with a wardrobe snafu and rant against the French tennis federation). But, still, this one goes down as something of a lost opportunity. Mladenovic served for the 1st, only to see Keys steal it in the closing games. She served for the 2nd set, too, but ultimately went to a TB and had to come back from 4-1 down, winning the last six points to force a 3rd. The second-longest Olympic women's match at 3:14 ended with Mladenovic failing to secure the 3rd set TB after leading 5-3.
3. Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Puig d. Muguruza
And, here, Puig's victory over Muguruza at once seemed monumental in its brief moment in time. But things would only get better for Puig.

Rio Olympics SF - Puig d. Kvitova
Kvitova opened the match the winning twelve of the first fifteen points and taking a 3-0 lead, but the unbowed Puig managed to take the set in what turned to be a very familiar scenario for a three-set Kvitova loss.

4. Rio Olympics Bronze Medal Match - Kvitova d. Keys 7-5/2-6/6-2
Rio Olympics WD Bronze Medal Match - Safarova/Strycova d. Hlavackova/Hradecka 7-5/6-1
Rio Olympics MX Bronze Medal Match - Hradecka/Stepanek d. Mirza/Bopanna 6-1/7-5
needless to say, the Czechs ruled the Bronze medal matches in Rio. And now Lucie S. can compare medals with Bethanie... the countdown to the inevitable Instagram post begins now.
5. Rio Olympics SF - Kerber d. Keys
Hopefully, Keys will hold onto her Rio experience and overall success (including, in a way, her five saved MP vs. Kerber), rather than her 0-for-10 BP stat in this match and failed SP's in the 1st vs. Kvitova in the Bronze Match.

6. Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Konta d. Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova's quest to finally earn an Olympic medal soon ended with a QF loss in WD, but she "left her mark" in this one vs. the Brit in a defeat in which she won the 1st set, and led in both the 2nd and 3rd before losing both. Sveta was up a break at 3-2 in the final set, but then lost three straight games as Konta served for the match at 5-3, She failed to secure the hold, but came back from love/40 down in game #11 to hold for 6-5, winning five straight points, the final two with aces. In game #12, Kuznetsova denied two MP at 6-5 and held a GP to force a deciding TB, only to see Konta win on MP #3. Oh, Sveta.
7. Rio Olympics WD SF - Bacsinszky/Hingis d. Hlavackova/Hradecka
The medal rounds are serious business. See? No, really... can you still see, Andrea?

8. Rio Olympics WD QF - Safarova/Strycova d. Errani/Vinci
Is this the last time we'll see the Italians side-by-side until they are (maybe) enshrined in Newport based on their Career Doubles Slam and overall Fed Cup history?
9. Rio Olympics 2nd Rd. - Kerber d. Bouchard
Following her pattern, Bouchard followed up her 1st Round win over Stephens by taking a 4-1 1st set advantage vs. Kerber, but then losing eleven of the final thirteen games.
10. Rio Olympics MX 1st Rd. - Pereira/Melo d. #1 Garcia/Mahut 7-6(4)/7-6(1)
Rio Olympics MX 1st Rd. - Vinci/Fognini d. #2 Mladenovic/Herbert 6-4/3-6 [10-8]
well, the French mixed duos at least SEEMED to be title contenders when it all started.

11. $25K Koksijde Final - Demi Schuurs/Steffi Distelmans d. Basak Eraydin/Ilona Kremen
Schuurs picks up her fourth '16 title with a third different partner. The other wins came in $100K, $75K and $50K challengers.
12. $10K Moscow Final - Amina Anshba/Angelina Gabueva d. Ani Amiraghyan/Daria Lodikova
16-year old Russian junior (#6) Anshba reaches her third straight ITF final with fellow Hordette Gabueva, winning her second doubles title during the stretch. She also won her maiden singles crown in a $10K last month, in between junior title runs in which she posted wins over girls #3 (RG jr. champ) Rebeka Masarova (twice) and #2 Olesya Pervushina

Rodionova dreams...

And dreamy dance moves by Venus...

[Rio Day 3+]

1. Olympics 3rd Rd. - Svitolina d. SERENA WILLIAMS
Svitolina played within herself and didn't crack under the pressure of who her opponent was (and still is). But, of course, all anyone will remember here is how Williams, after breaking to get back on serve at 3-3 in the 2nd set, double-faulted and fell behind love/30 in game #7. In the most un-Serena-like game imaginable, Williams would hit an ace to go up 40/30, then a DF, then an ace, than another DF. Another DF put her BP down, and another (her fifth in the game) gave the Ukrainian back the break advantage. Importantly, though, Svitolina then held at love, while Williams followed up by going down love/40 with still another DF. Svitolina won on her third MP.
2. Olympic MX 1st Rd. - VENUS WILLIAMS/Ram d. Bertens/Rojer
...6-7(4)/7-6(3) [10-8].
Venus' road to Rio redemption began in the 1st Round of Mixed Doubles, when she and Ram saved two MP in the 2nd set, then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set TB, holding on to prevent Williams from going winless at these Olympics.
3. Olympic MX Gold Medal Match - Mattek-Sands/Sock d. VENUS WILLIAMS/Ram
...6-7(3)/6-1 [10-7].
It didn't end the way she might have hoped, but if this IS Venus' Olympic swan song, then it turned out a great better than it LOOKED like it was going to, didn't it? And that's something to feel good about.

4. Olympics 2nd Rd. - SERENA WILLIAMS d. Cornet
Cornet came in having won three straight vs. Serena (all back in 2014), and Williams had to save two SP vs. the Pastry at 4-5 in the 1st set this time around. Serving up 6-5, Serena was broken at love and double-faulted on BP (foreshadowing the Svitolina loss). Williams took the 1st set in 1:17. But, really, the "highlight" of this one may have been Mary Carillo mentioning Cornet and "the vapors" in the same sentence during NBC's coverage on Bravo.

5. Olympics 2nd Rd. - Makarova d. ANNA KAROLINA SCHMIEDLOVA
I'm sure it means SOMETHING thak AKS' best 2016 results have come in Fed Cup and Olympic play, but I'm not really sure what it is.

Me and my buddy Teddy just finished yoga #goodmorning #namaste

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Good morning! Watermelon fever ???? #jetlag

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Bonding time with little fella ?????? #wearebestfriendsforever?

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Good job neighbours! ?? @waterpoloaus #oneteam ????

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

Another great experience at the Olympics! #Rio2016 #gymnastics

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

Unreal atmosphere! Enjoyed supporting @dolphinsaus tonight! Good luck to @travismahoney in 200 IM in a few days!

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

Mirror mirror, this time from the #NBA offices in #NYC

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1988 Steffi Graf, West Germany
1992 Jennifer Capriati, USA
1996 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium
2008 Elena Dementieva, Russia
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2016 Monica Puig, Puerto Rico
1988 Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina
1992 Steffi Graf, Germany
1996 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain
2000 Elena Dementieva, Russia
2004 Amelie Mauresmo, France
2008 Dinara Safina, Russia
2012 Maria Sharapova, Russia
2016 Angelique Kerber, Germany
1988 Manuela Maleeva, Bulgaria & Zina Garrison, USA
1992 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain & Mary Joe Fernandez, USA
1996 Jana Novotna, Czech Republic
2000 Monica Seles, USA
2004 Alicia Molik, Australia
2008 Vera Zvonareva, Russia
2012 Victoria Azarenka, Belarus
2016 Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic
[4th place]
1996 Mary Joe Fernandez, USA
2000 Jelena Dokic, Australia
2004 Anastasia Myskina, Russia
2008 Li Na, China
2012 Maria Kirilenko, Russia
2016 Madison Keys, USA

1988 Pam Shriver / Zina Garrison, USA
1992 Mary Joe Fernandez / Gigi Fernandez, USA
1996 Mary Joe Fernandez / Gigi Fernandez, USA
2000 Serena Williams / Venus Williams, USA
2004 Li Ting / Sun Tiantian, China
2008 Serena Williams / Venus Williams, USA
2012 Serena Williams / Venus Williams, USA
2016 Ekaterina Makarova / Elena Vesnina, Russia
1988 Jana Novotna / Helena Sukova, Czechoslovakia
1992 Conchita Martinez / Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Spain
1996 Jana Novotna / Helena Sukova, Czech Republic
2000 Kristie Boogert / Miriam Oremans, The Netherlands
2004 Conchita Martinez / Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain
2008 Anabel Medina-Garrigues / Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain
2012 Andrea Hlavackova / Lucie Hradecka, Czech Republic
2016 Timea Bacsinszky / Martina Hingis, Switzerland
1988 (co) Steffi Graf / Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, West Germany
1988 (co) Liz Smylie / Wendy Turnbull, Australia
1992 (co) Natalia Zvereva / Leila Meskhi, Unified Team
1992 (co) Rachel McQuillan / Nicole Provis, Australia
1996 Conchita Martinez / Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain
2000 Els Callens / Dominique van Roost, Belgium
2004 Paola Suarez / Patricia Tarabini, Argentina
2005 Yan Zi / Zheng Jie, China
2012 Maria Kirilenko / Nadia Petrova, Russia
2016 Lucie Safarova / Barbora Strycova, Czech Republic

2012 Victoria Azarenka / Max Mirnyi, Belarus
2016 Bethanie Mattek-Sands / Jack Sock, USA
2012 Laura Robson / Andy Murray, Great Britain
2016 Venus Williams / Rajeev Ram, USA
2012 Lisa Raymond / Mike Bryan, USA
2016 Lucie Hradecka / Radek Stepanek, Czech Republic

5...Kitty McKane, GBR (1-2-2)
4...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ESP (0-2-2)
4...Serena Williams, USA (4-0-0)
4...Reggie Doherty, GBR (3-0-1)
4...Charles Dixon, GBR (1-1-2)
4...Gunnar Setterwall, SWE (0-2-2)

5...Venus Williams, USA (Rio)
4...Serena Williams, USA
4...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, ESP
3...Mike Bryan, USA
3...Mary Joe Fernandez, USA
3...Fernando Gonzalez, CHI
3...Steffi Graf, FRG/GER
3...Conchita Martinez, ESP
3...Andy Murray, GBR (Rio)
3...Rafael Nadal, ESP (Rio)
3...Jana Novotna, TCH/CZE
2...Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2...Bob Bryan, USA
2...Juan Martin del Potro, ARG (Rio)
2...Elena Dementieva, RUS
2...Roger Federer, SUI
2...Gigi Fernandez, USA
2...Zina Garrison, USA
2...Lucie Hradecka, CZE (Rio)
2...Goran Ivanisevic, CRO
2...Nicolas Massu, CHI
2...Miloslav Mecir, TCH
2...Virginia Ruano Pascual, ESP
2...Jack Sock, USA (Rio)
2...Helena Sukova, TCH/CZE
2...Todd Woodbridge, AUS
2...Mark Woodforde, AUS
[other actives w/ 1 medal]
Timea Bacsinszky, SUI (Rio)
Julien Benneteau, FRA
Novak Djokovic, SRB
Richard Gasquet, FRA
Martina Hingis, SUI (Rio)
Andrea Hlavackova, CZE
Steve Johnson, USA (Rio)
Angelique Kerber, GER (Rio)
Petra Kvitova, CZE (Rio)
Marc Lopez, ESP (Rio)
Ekaterina Makarova, RUS (Rio)
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (Rio)
Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
Florin Mergea, ROU (Rio)
Max Mirnyi, BLR
Daniel Nestor, CAN
Kei Nishikori, JPN (Rio)
Leander Paes, IND
Monica Puig, PUR (Rio)
Rajeev Ram, USA (Rio)
Laura Robson, GBR
Lucie Safarova, CZE (Rio)
Jack Sock, USA (Rio)
Maria Sharapova, RUS
Radek Stepanek, CZE (Rio)
Barbora Strycova, CZE (Rio)
Horia Tecau, ROU (Rio)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, FRA
Elena Vesnina, RUS (Rio)
Stan Wawrinka, SUI
Zheng Jie, CHN
ALSO: Haas,M.Kirilenko,N.Petrova,Zvonareva

**2016 WTA FINALS**
5 - Serena Williams, USA (2-3)
4 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (2-2)
3 - Simona Halep, ROU (3-0)
3 - Victoria Azarenka, BLR (3-0)
3 - Sloane Stephens, USA (3-0)
3 - Madison Keys, USA (1-2)

**2016 WTA SF**
6 - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK (4-2)
5 - Serena Williams, USA (5-0)
5 - MONICA PUIG, PUR (2-3)
5 - Aga Radwanska, POL (1-4)
4 - Simona Halep, ROU (3-1)
4 - Kiki Bertens, NED (2-2)
4 - Caroline Garcia, FRA (2-2)
4 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (2-2)

Daria Kasatkina, RUS - Auckland [1st-V.Williams; lost 2nd]
Ana Ivanovic, SRB - Dubai [2nd-Halep; lost QF]
Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS - Miami [4th-S.Williams; lost final]
Pauline Parmentier, FRA - Katowice [1st-AK.Schmiedlova; lost SF]
ELINA SVITOLINA, UKR - Rio Olympics [3rd-S.Williams; lost QF]

Kaohsiung - Chan/Chan, TPE/TPE
Acapulco - Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja, ESP/ESP
Madrid - Garcia/Mladenovic, FRA/FRA
Strasbourg - Medina-Garrigues/Parra-Santonja, ESP/ESP
Mallorca - Dabrowski/Martinez-Sanchez, CAN/ESP
Montreal - Makarova/Vesnina, RUS/RUS
Florianopolis - Kickenok/Kichenok, UKR/UKR

2006 Ukraine
2007 United States
2008 United States
2009 United States
2010 United States
2011 Serbia
2013 United States
2014 Russia
2015 Russia
2016 Ukraine


15 Final: S.Williams d. Halep
15 Doubles Final: Chan/Chan d. Dellacqua/Shvedova
16 Singles Top Seeds: S.Williams/Kerber

...the Cincy draw is still something a "work in progress," with a few qualifying matches to finish and qualifiers/LL's to be placed, as well as (likely) a few straggling Rio arrivals still possibly pulling out (or doing the old one-and-out dance). But since I'm still officially "all-in on Simona," I suppose I'm obligated to pick a certain Romanian to win here no matter how things shake out.

Speaking of which...

Looking at the U.S. Open Series standings, it appears as if that stupid if-you-play-three-events-you-triple-your-points rule will determine the winner yet again (really, it should have at least been removed from the equation in an Olympic year, with players a bit "occupied" in the middle of the summer). Currently, Halep leads Johanna Konta 100-95, but with the Brit currently in the Cincy draw (and Halep not playing New Haven) she's really the only player of significance at this point who'll play in three USOS events leading into the final week before the U.S. Open.

So, unless Konta loses early this week, even if Halep wins the title (she'd go to 200 points, but they wouldn't double since it's only her second USOS event), going undefeated in the Series while winning two Premier 5 events vs. Konta's one lower-level Premier win in Stanford, Konta would win due to her points being doubled (already at 190 without doing anything, as long as she plays one Cincinnati match, and earning 15 more points -- doubled to 30 -- with just one win to reach the Round of 16 to get her to 220, out of reach of the Romanian).

Why is it so difficult to get this right? It seems like it should be pretty simple. Of course, it's still better than the joke standings of '15, when Pliskova won while actually winning nothing, just because she played in more tournaments than any of the actual singles champions in the Series. But still...

And, finally...


All for now.