Saturday, August 27, 2016

US.Q- Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of...


And so it begins...


Main draw play begins in Queens on Monday (rain or shine, thanks to the you-know-what), but the preliminary battles have been taking place this week.

A look back at the U.S. Open qualifying rounds:


*TOP Q-PLAYERS*
1. Taylor Townsend, USA (20, #146)
...one of three qualifiers to win the necessary three matches to reach the MD without losing a set, Townsend lost the fewest total games (19), notching a pair of wins over two Top 10 Q-seeds (#9 Elizaveta Kulichkova and #10 Jennifer Brady). The Bannerette is still looking for her first MD win at the U.S. Open, having lost in her only previous appearance in 2014. Will the Dane provide her with #1?


2. Aleksandra Krunic, SRB (23, #153)
...she's baaaack. Remember, the Bracelet put on a Round of 16 run as a qualifier in New York two years ago. After some early-season health issues, Krunic has now qualified at back-to-back slams (and at three of the last four Opens). She notched wins over Olga Govortsova, Kristyna Pliskova and Elitsa Kostova this week. Gibbsy is her 1st Round opponent.

3. Barbara Haas, AUT (20, #140)
...the Austrian will make her slam MD debut after getting upset victories over Andreea Mitu and Jana Cepelova. Haas twice lost in the final round of 2016 slam qualifying before this successful run, falling in both Paris and SW19.

4. CiCi Bellis, USA (17, #158)
...the 17-year old earned the honor of being the second-youngest player in the main draw (16-Kayla Day), losing just eight total games vs. Julia Boserup and Grace Min, then defeating Alison Van Uytvanck in three sets. Bellis thus returns to the site of her '14 coming out party, when she shocked Dominika Cibulkova in the 1st Round at Flushing Meadows. She's the youngest slam qualifier this season.

Can you tell I'm excited??? #usopen2016 #qualified

A photo posted by CiCi Bellis (@cicibellis) on




5. Laura Robson, GBR (22, #243)
...is the Brit finally back? Maybe. Coming off her sweep of the singles and doubles titles at a recent challenger event, Robson also swept into the MD of the Open without dropping a set, putting up wins over Jang Su-jeong, Isabella Shinikova and Tatjana Maria to run her singles match winning streak to eight (and twelve, overall, when you include doubles). Robson, who reached the Open 4th Round in 2012, last won a MD slam match three years ago in New York.

THE REST...
Ana Bogdan, ROU (23, #117): a Florianoplis semifinalist earlier this month, Bogdan will make her slam MD debut thanks to victories of Ysaline Bonaventure and Francoise Abanda.
Duan Yingying, CHN (27, #103): the recent Nanchang champ, Duan's Q3 win over Rebecca Peterson puts her in her second career slam MD. The other, which she entered as a lucky loser earlier this summer at Wimbledon, included a 1st Round upset of Genie Bouchard.
Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR (22, #194): the second woman from Paraguay (w/ Cepede Royg) to qualify for a slam this season, Gonzalez's wins over Michaella Krajicek, Ivana Jorovic and Viktoriya Tomova means she'll make her slam MD debut.
Richel Hogenkamp, NED (24, #165): The Dutch woman, who shined earlier this year in Fed Cup play during the Netherlands' Miracle in Moscow weekend, defeated Bannerette Asia Muhammad in the Q3 to earn her first U.S. Open MD berth.
Kristina Kucova, SVK (26, #77): the #1 Q-seed, the recent Montreal semifinalist held her postion to reach her first career U.S. Open MD. Kucova's only slam MD win came at Wimbledon in 2009.
Antonia Lottner, GER (20, #184): the German got victories over Amra Sadikovic, Tara Moore and Myrtille Georges and will next make her slam MD debut. Lottner's had success in NYC before, reaching the girls semis at the Open in 2012 and '13.

Elise Mertens, BEL (20, #138): the Waffle is another player who'll make her slam MB debut this coming week, after wins over Luksika Kumkhum, Sesil Karatantcheva and Kristie Ahn.
Mandy Minella, LUX (30, #110): the late-career blooming of Minella continues, as the 30-year old qualifies for her second straight slam, losing no sets along the way. The vet reached the 3rd Round of the U.S. Open in 2010 and 2012.

Main draw of the US Open ?? juppi #keepdreaming #orthomolsport @wilsontennis @orthomol_sport

A photo posted by Mandy Minella (@mandyminella) on


Jessica Pegula, USA (22, #139): Pegula qualified and notched a 1st Round win at least year's Open, then pushed Cibulkova to three sets in the 2nd. A recent semifinalist in Washington, D.C., she'll make her second career slam MD appearance.
Nadia Podoroska, ARG (19, #232): the Argentine will make her slam MD debut after wins over Oceane Dodin, Jovana Jaksic (2-6/7-6(8)/7-5 in 2:40) and Donna Vekic.
Wang Yafan, CHN (22, #163): Wang joins her countrywoman Duan with a successful qualifying run, with hers including wins over Marina Erakovic and Han Xinyun (in an all-Chinese battle to become the final qualifier on Friday). Her only other career slam MD appearance came in January in Melbourne, after having also made her way through qualifying.

LUCKY LOSER...
Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL (22, #112): the Belgian fell in the final round of qualifying to CiCi Bellis, but slipped into the MD, anyway. Problem is, she's 0-5 in her career in the MD of hard court slams, including two 1st Round exits in NYC the last two years.

NON-QUALIFIERS OF NOTE...
COMEBACK: Melanie Oudin, USA
...Little MO fell in three sets in the second round of qualifying to Myrtille Georges, but her opening win over Caroline Dolehide came in her first match of any kind at the U.S. Open since the final Q-round in 2014, and in only her second appearance at the tournament since 2012. Since being a surprise quarterfinalist in 2009, Oudin has gone 1-3 in MD and 3-1 in qualifying in New York, but that she was actually healthy enough to play at all is a victory all by itself.

FRESH FACES: Amanda Anisimova/USA and Usue Arconada/USA
...both wild card Bannerettes notched wins in the opening round of qualifying. Anisimova, 14, took out #17-seed Veronica Cepede Royg in her first pro match, barely two months since playing in the RG girls final. Meanwhile, 17-year old Arconada, last seen winning the girls doubles at Wimbledon, knocked off Lee Ya-Hsuan in her maiden career women's match at a slam. Both fell in the second round.

DOWN: Tamira Paszek, AUT
...at #3, Paszek was the highest seed to fail to make it out of the qualifying rounds, falling 4 & 2 to Viktoriya Tomova in the world #177's first career slam match of any kind. The Austrian hasn't been in the MD of the U.S. Open since 2012, but had managed to qualifying for both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year.


1. Q1: (WC) Anisimova d. #17 Cepede-Royg
...6-3/6-4.
Many active players (Venus, Oudin, Bellis, Kasatkina, etc.) have flashed big-time in New York while still in their teens, and 14-year old Anisimova added her name to the list, even if her moment in the sun lasted just one round.


===============================================
2. Q2: Hozumi d. (WC) Anisimova
...6-1/2-6/7-6(1).
Not only that, but it ended in super-disappointing fashion, as Anisimova couldn't close out Hozumi despite leading 4-0 in the 3rd and holding a MP.
===============================================
3. Q2: #15 Maria d. Soylu
...0-6/7-5/6-3.
This one didn't start until 11:15 p.m., and ended after 1 o'clock. Had Maria lost, I wonder if she'd have sued the USTA for reimbursement of the overtime she maybe had to pay a babysitter?
===============================================
4. Q2: #4 Vekic d. Lim
...4-6/7-5/6-3.
. Though she lost in the final Q-round, Vekic carried over her Cincinnati confidence to Flushing Meadows. She won this one after staging a comeback from 6-3/3-0 down vs. the Pastry.
===============================================
5. Q3: (WC) Robson d. #15 Maria
...7-6(5)/6-1.
Robson qualified, and Maria didn't threaten to sue anyone. Win-win.

===============================================

Q3 - #1 KRISTINA KUCOVA d. Sorribes-Tormo
...6-2/6-3.
The qualifying draw started with ten sisters, but only Kucova managed to survive the whole three-match stretch to play a fourth time next week.
===============================================
Q1 - Hozumi d. ULA RADWANSKA 6-4/6-0
Q2 - Krunic d. #16 KRISTYNA PLISKOVA 4-6/6-2/6-0
...
it's now up to Aga and Karolina to uphold the family honor in the main draw.
===============================================


*U.S. OPEN "Q-PLAYER OF THE WEEK" WINNERS*
2006 Chan Yung-Jan, TPE
2007 Alina Jidkova, RUS
2008 Yaroslava Shvedova, KAZ & Barbora Strycova, CZE
2009 Eva Hrdinova, CZE
2010 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
2011 Romina Oprandi, ITA
2012 Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
2013 Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
2014 Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
2015 Jessica Pegula, USA
2016 Taylor Townsend, USA
[2016 slams]
AO: Naomi Osaka, JPN
RG: Viktoriya Golubic, SUI
WI: Mandy Minella, LUX
US: Taylor Townsend, USA


*WILD CARDS*
Lauren Davis, USA - the miniature Bannerette notched a MD victory in New York last year
Kayla Day, USA - the 16-year old makes her slam debut after earning a spot by winning the USTA 18s National Championship title. She just defeated Naomi Broady and Kirsten Flipkens in New Haven qualifying.
Danielle Collins, USA - the U-Va. senior gets another Open WC as the reigning NCAA champ. In 2014, she gave Simona Halep a (brief) scare in the 1st Round in Flushing Meadows.
Sonya Kenin, USA - a year after winning the 18s Nat'l Chsp., 17-year old Kenin got her second straight Open WC after winning the USTA Wild Card Playoff during the summer challenger season. She also reached the girls final last year, losing to Dalma Galfi.
Vania King, USA - the comeback continues. King reached the 3rd Round in '09 and '11.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA - Fresh off her Rio Mixed Doubles Gold, BMS gets her second straight Open WC. Last year, she reached the 3rd Round.
Ellen Perez, AUS - the 20-year old Aussie, who's had W-SF-RU results in her three most recent challenger event appearances in Europe this summer, is making her slam debut
Virginie Razzano, FRA - the 33-year old is one of two players (w/ Dodin) awarded multiple slam WC this season. Her loss in last year's Open qualifying rounds ended Razzano's streak of fourteen straight MD appearances in NYC. Here's to starting another 14-year streak... yeah, well, maybe not.

*YOUNGEST 2016 SLAM...*
=WC=
US - Kayla Day, USA (16)
AO - Kimberly Birrell, AUS (17)
AO - Priscilla Hon, AUS (17)
AO - Maddison Inglis, AUS (17)
US - Sonya Kenin, USA (17)
RG - Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, FRA (17)
WI - Katie Swan, GBR (17)
AO - Oceane Dodin, FRA (19)
RG - Oceane Dodin, FRA (19)
AO - Samantha Crawford, USA (20)
RG - Taylor Townsend, USA (20)
US - Ellen Perez, AUS (20)
=Q=
US - CiCi Bellis, USA (17)
AO - Naomi Osaka, JPN (18)
RG - Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP (19)
US - Nadia Podoroska, ARG (19)
RG - Louisa Chirico, USA (20)
US - Barbara Haas, AUS (20)
US - Antonia Lottner, GER (20)
US - Elise Mertens, BEL (20)
AO - Maria Sakkari, GRE (20)
WI - Maria Sakkari, GRE (20)
RG - Katerina Siniakova, CZE (20)
RG - Ipek Soylu, TUR (20)
US - Taylor Townsend, USA (20)

=OLDEST 2016 SLAM...=
=WC=
US - Virginie Razzano, FRA (33)
RG - Virginie Razzano, FRA (33)
WI - Daniela Hantuichova, SVK (33)
US - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (31)
US - Vania King, USA (27)
WI - Marina Melnikova, RUS (27)
WI - Evgeniya Rodina, RUS (27)
=Q=
RG - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (33)
RG - Lucie Hradecka, CZE (30)
US - Mandy Minella, LUX (30)
WI - Mandy Minella, LUX (30)
WI - Marina Erakovic, NZL (28)
WI - Tatjana Maria, GER (28)
=LL=
RG - Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP (28)
WI - Duan Yingying, CHN (26)
US - Alison Van Uytvanck, BEL (22)

=LOW-RANKED 2016 SLAM QUALIFIERS=
#247 - Laura Robson, GBR (US)
#232 - Nadia Podoroska, ARG (US)
#223 - Julia Boserup USA (WI)
#213 - Ekaterina Alexandrova, RUS (WI)
#211 - Paula Kania, POL (WI)
#196 - Sara Sorribes Tormo, ESP (RG)
#194 - Montserrat Gonzalez, PAR (US)
#184 - Antonia Lottner, GER (US)
#175 - Ipek Soylu, TUR (RG)
#172 - Daniela Hantuchova, SVK (RG)
#170 - Maria Sakkari, GRE (AO)
#170 - Luksika Kumkhu, THA (WI)

=MOST 2016 SLAM Q=
2 - Viktoriya Golubic, SUI (AO/RG)
2 - Aleksandra Krunic, SRB (WI/US)
2 - Luksika Kumkhum, THA (AO/RG)
2 - Mandy Minella, LUX (WI/US)
2 - Tamira Paszek, AUT (AO/WI)
2 - Maria Sakkari, GRE (AO/WI)
2 - Wang Yafan, CHN (AO/US)
2 - Maryna Zanevska, UKR (AO/RG)

=MOST 2016 SLAM WC=
2 - Oceane Dodin, FRA (AO/RG)
2 - Virginie Razzano, FRA (RG/US)

=CONSECUTIVE SLAM Q - active streaks=
2 - Aleksandra Krunic, SRB (WI/US)
2 - Mandy Minella, LUX (WI/US)

=CONSECUTIVE U.S. OPEN Q=
2 - Aleksandra Krunic, SRB
2 - Jessica Pegula, USA

=CONSECUTIVE SLAM WC=
none

=CONSECUTIVE U.S. OPEN WC=
2 - Sonya Kenin, USA (2015-16)
2 - Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA (2015-16)

=CONSECUTIVE SLAM NON-AUTOMATIC ENTRIES - MULTIPLE WAYS=
2 - Duan Yingying, CHN (2016 WI LL, 2016 US Q)
2 - Laura Robson, GBR (2016 WI WC, 2016 US Q)

*BEST 2016 SLAM RESULTS*
[qualifiers]
QF AO - Zhang Shuai, CHN
3rd Rd. WI - Julia Boserup, USA
3rd Rd. WI - Jana Cepelova, SVK
3rd Rd. WI - Marina Erakovic, NZL
3rd Rd. AO - Naomi Osaka, JPN
2nd Rd. WI - Ekaterina Alexandrova, RUS
2nd Rd. AO - Nicole Gibbs, USA
2nd Rd. WI - Mandy Minella, LUX
2nd Rd. AO - Kristyna Pliskova, CZE
2nd Rd. AO - Maria Sakkari, GRE
2nd Rd. WI - Maria Sakkari, GRE
2nd Rd. AO - Anastasiya Sevastova, LAT
2nd Rd. AO - Wang Qiang, CHN
2nd Rd. RG - Louisa Chirico, USA
2nd Rd. RG - Veronica Cepede Royg, PAR
2nd Rd. RG - Cagla Buyukakcay, TUR
2nd Rd. RG - Viktoriya Golubic, SUI
[wild cards]
2nd Rd. AO - Han Xinyun, CHN
2nd Rd. RG - Myrtille Georges, FRA
2nd Rd. WI - Tara Moore, GBR
2nd Rd. RG - Virginie Razzano, FRA
2nd Rd. WI - Evgeniya Rodina, RUS
2nd Rd. RG - Taylor Townsend, USA
[lucky losers]
2nd Rd. WI - Duan Yingying, CHN

*2016 SLAM QUALIFIERS BY NATION*
7...United States (1/2/1/3)
5...China (3/0/0/2)
3...Austria (1/0/1/1)
3...Czech Repubic (1/2/0/0)
3...Slovakia (0/1/1/1)
3...Switzerland (1/1/1/0)
2...Germany (0/0/1/1)
2...Greece (1/0/1/0/0)
2...Luxembourg (0/0/1/1)
2...Paraguay (0/1/0/1)
2...Romania (0/1/0/1)
2...Serbia (0/0/1/1)
2...Thailand (1/0/1/0)
2...Turkey (0/2/0/0)
2...Ukraine (1/1/0/0)
1...AO: JPN,LAT
1...RG: ESP
1...WI: NZL,POL,RUS
1...US: ARG,BEL,GBR,NED
--
LL: BEL (US), CHN (WI), ESP (RG)





All for now. Open Preview and Week 34 recap to come.

Read more...

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.

Maybe.

We ARE talking about a Czech, after all.



*WEEK 33 CHAMPIONS*
CINCINNATI, OHIO USA (Hard)
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)
...so 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
...6-3/6-4.
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
...7-5/6-4.
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
...6-7(5)/6-4/7-5.
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
...0-6/7-6(5)/6-4.
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
...6-4/6-0.
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
...6-3/6-1.
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
...6-7(1)/6-4/6-0.
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
...7-5/6-1.
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
...6-3/4-6/6-2.
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!

Saturdayzzz.

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on





**2014-16 WTA SINGLES TITLES**
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 - KAROLINA PLISKOVA [2/1/2]
5 - Aga Radwanska [1/3/1]
5 - Venus Williams [1/3/1]

**2016 WTA FINALS**
6 - ANGELIQUE KERBER, GER (2-4)
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 - KAROLINA PLISKOVA, CZE (2-1)
3 - Madison Keys, USA (1-2)

**2014-16 MOST WTA FINALS (ACTIVE)**
17...Serena Williams (14-3)
15...ANGELIQUE KERBER (6-9)
14...KAROLINA PLISKOVA (5-9)
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)

**2012-16 MOST WTA FINAL MATCH-UPS**
8...S.Williams vs. Azarenka (SW 5-3)
6...S.Williams vs. Sharapova (SW 6-0)
4...Azarenka vs. Sharapova (VA 3-1)
3...KERBER vs. KA.PLISKOVA (AK 2-1)

**2016 LONG WTA WIN STREAKS**
16 - Victoria Azarenka (Mar/May)
13 - Simona Halep (Jul/Aug)
12 - Kiki Bertens (May/Jun)
10 - Aga Radwanska (Jan)

**CONSECUTIVE WEEKS AS WTA SINGLES #1*
MOST.CON WEEKS AT #1
186 - Steffi Graf
184 - SERENA WILLIAMS (active)
156 - Martina Navratilova
113 - Chris Evert

**MOST CONSECUTIVE WEEKS AS WTA DOUBLES #1**
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**
9...MARTINA HINGIS, SUI (5-4)
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)

**RECENT USTA 18s NATIONAL CHAMPIONS**
2012 Vicky Duval
2013 Sachia Vickery
2014 CiCi Bellis
2015 Sonya Kenin
2016 Kayla Day

**2016 U.S. OPEN WOMEN'S SINGLES WILD CARDS**
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
(TBA AUS W.C.)



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









NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT USA (Premier/Hard)
15 Final: Kvitova d. Safarova (Kvitova 2014-15 champ)
15 Doubles Final: Goerges/Hradecka d. Chuang/Liang
16 Singles Top Seeds: A.Radwanska/Vinci
=============================

=SF=
#6 Kvitova d. #1 A.Radwanska
Vesnina d. #2 Vinci
=FINAL=
#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.



WORLD TEAM TENNIS FINAL (Forest Hills, NY)


U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING


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





All for now.

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