Sunday, August 30, 2015

BV: The Graf Era vs. The Serena Era, Pt.1

As Serena Williams embarks on a mission to seize history by the throat in New York City, it's inevitable that her name will often be mentioned in the same breath as Steffi Graf -- the last player to achieve a true Grand Slam in tennis -- over the coming days and, if form holds, weeks.

But Williams is not only seeking to equal Graf's single-season feat, another U.S. Open title will mean she'll match the German with a record twenty-two major titles in the Open era, as well. So, what about the players that made up both of their respective eras? Which of the two had the better, and deeper level of, competition?

The answer may not be as elementary as "conventional wisdom" might lead some to believe.

Along with ATP Backspin's Galileo West, and using this space's old "Backspin Volley" format, I decided to delve a little deeper into the subject. When the room clears, and all the glass at Backspin HQ is cleaned up, maybe we'll have some sort of answer. Maybe.

But, of course, I can't promise anything.

Blue = Todd
Orange = Galileo

Todd Spiker: So, the "Backspin Volley" returns after a long absence!

Galileo West: I have to say a more experienced volleyer could probably win this argument. But I will try to show you my point of view, if I cannot convince you.

TS: Well, we'll see. But I've come "armed with stats and long-held opinions."

GW: Of course you have. You'd have to to try and defend this era. Might I suggest we make this a yearly, or perhaps every other year-ly, event? At the end of the year previewing the next, as it was originally. Just a suggestion.

TS: Might not be a bad idea.

The whole idea of resurrecting the old "Backspin Volley" that I used to do on occasion with Head Honcho Pierre Cantin came to me when you noted on ATP Backspin a few weeks ago that, "Serena looks set to overtake Graf, though her era has been noticeably weaker than Steffi's." I thought for a second and said, "Is it really?" I know that's come to be the "conventional wisdom" in some corners. After years of seeing people fall into the old trap of saying the WTA has no depth when a small group of women sometimes dominate the sport, then the ATP lauded for being in a "golden age" when the same thing happens (for three times as long a period), needless to say, I was skeptical. Then when I began to look at the comparative fields I realized that, in this case, people tend to overlook some great recent players while elevating quite a few others from the not so distant past.

As the U.S. Open begins, and Williams looks to match Graf's own accomplishments with a 2015 Grand Slam and a 22nd overall major title, I thought a Volley on this topic would be interesting. Also, considering both players are in the "greatest of all time" discussion, it's of note that (while Graf and Williams DID play twice, splitting a pair meetings in Steffi's final season) their eras really DO have a hard dividing line between them -- three-quarters into the 1999 season. That's when Graf, eight days from turning 30 and finally healthy after having a trying few seasons, won her final slam crown at Roland Garros, reached the Wimbledon final a few weeks later, then retired before the U.S. Open... the very Open when a 17-year old Serena rose from the pack to grab her very first major crown. It was almost a "passing of the torch" moment, albeit one when the two weren't even actually in the same stadium, or likely anywhere close to each other geographically, for that matter.

GW: The key thing to remember is that there are only three, maybe four, people in the singles greatest of all time discussion (if we leave out Margaret Court). And I've got three of them in my era. I believe that's first blood to me, a break of service as it were. Graf retired while she was still world number three because she knew that the era was getting too strong for her.

TS: I will give you an early break (say, at 1-0) for noting that "your" era contains Graf, Navratilova and Evert. Hmmm, but didn't the Graf era become the Williams era as soon as Steffi retired? So... what would become "my" era (as far as this Volley is concerned) would soon be "too strong" for Graf? Heehee.

GW: Well she was aged 30 with bad knees and a host of injuries but she still managed to compete in the next era. She knew her time was up. But she was still good enough to play one more season out of her comfort zone. And that's partially her brilliance and partially the weakness of the era that followed.

TS: Actually, most of the players that would provide the Williams era with its strength (i.e. slam winners, Top 10ers, etc.) were barely junior players when Graf retired (Sharapova was 12, for example, while Henin had just turned 17). Also, Evert was hardly the player she once was by the time the "Graf era" began, so she's mostly there in name only in the last few lines of a Hall of Fame career and was no longer fully present as the all-time great version of herself. Martina was still a force, though not quite the dominant, in-her-prime G.O.A.T. contender (and probably definitive #1 in that race at the time) before Graf arrived. It was definitely a generational battle when those two met, with Navratilova only able to hold Graf off for so long before she caught and surpassed her.

GW: I think Navratilova is the greatest there will ever be in men's or women's. There is no discussion.

TS: Well, there's always discussion, since there's always opinion. But Navratilova likely changed the game more than any other player in the last century. Graf vs. Martina was a classic class of an aging great champion being overtaken by the new upstart who'd obviously assume the lead role in future years. And except in one instance, Graf DID dominate, often to the detriment of the reputation of the other players from her generation.

GW: Graf had two gaps where there was weaker competition. But Williams has had a gap of about eight years where the competition has been weaker for the most part. And is eight years really a gap? No. Even Henin struggled. Clijsters managed for a little while to match her but she only returned for what felt like a whirlwind farewell tour.

TS: While there is no true equivalent to the "powerful veteran" role that (mostly) Navratilova filled in the Graf era, I think, as a group, the top players in the game during Williams' era are equal to or (almost sneakily) better than that of Graf's, while the overall depth of the tour is better in the #35-100+ range now than it's ever been, if only because the ENTIRE world is represented on tour now and the field isn't dominated by the "old world" tennis stalwarts. The "new world" European/Baltic influence on tour was only just beginning to show its face in the back-half of Graf's career. For most of Graf's era, eastern Europe didn't have a great presence on tour, and it would take a few years before the impact of the fall of Communism would lead to tennis players emerging from the formerly Soviet-dominated nations and flooding the tour with new talent. While Graf was playing, Russia was known mostly as having produced only Anna Kournikova, and not yet much else in terms of highly-ranked players in the era, though Anastasia Myskina was just starting to pop up around the time Graf was exiting.

The Czechs -- though they still had an aging Hana Mandlikova and Helena Sukova, and the crazily-inconsistent Jana Novotna in the mix -- were at the beginning of a decline during Graf's years, as well, and the Romanians weren't even on the radar beyond Irina Spirlea. And that's not even touching on the players who have come out of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the like who never would have had such careers had the political climate remained the same. And then there's China, too. Ah, but I don't want to play my ENTIRE hand so early. Though I will throw in the additional point that while Graf was by far the dominant German face in the WTA during her career (w/ Anke Huber playing only a tiny role), Germany's contingent of relevant woman is far, far deeper in today's game.

Also, while I'm on the topic of the inclusion and deepening of the talent pool, I should note that the increasing number of African-American U.S. players (Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, etc.) only serves to play into the notion of the depth of the current era, as well, as Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil were the only players of color of note during the Graf era, as Goolagong had retired by then. In a way, the Sisters have served to make their era greater simply by their being there to inspire young American (and non-American) girls to play the sport who probably wouldn't have had tennis -- or the path to a career in it -- on their radar if not for them. Today, even black players from non-U.S. English-speaking nations like Britain (Heather Watson) and Canada (Francoise Abanda) add to the wide range of talent that now exists, as well.

GW: You do realize how hard it was to travel back then. It was easier than the earlier years of the Open Era and journeywomen struggled. Especially with the lack of seeding protection at the big events, even maintaining a top 32 position was difficult. There was no protection from the bigger seeds. And travel was more expensive then. Imagine that on lower wages. Allowances do have to be made for that. The fact that my era was so strong despite the weaker, less advanced technologies gives my era another point. Or is that perhaps a stretch?

TS: I think you're stretching a bit. For the most part, we're talking about the 1990's, not the early days of the WTA when Billie Jean King and the rest had to scrape and claw to make the tour viable. The tour was well established, it had a title sponsor, and really had a larger piece of the "sporting pie" than it does today. I think the overall health of the tour at the time could probably be seen just by how much more important it was in the U.S.. During a typical year during the Graf era (1996, say), there were fourteen tour events played in the United States. Sponsorship wasn't wanting. As the sport has declined in America, that number is down to eight in '15. That's an anecdotal argument, of course, but I think this discussion is supposed to revolve around the overall talent of the competing eras, not the financial standing of the tour, prize money and cost of air travel and the like... at least that's how I approached this project based on your original "(Serena's) era has been noticeably weaker than Steffi's" comments.

GW: True. But it was more difficult and for the poorer players travel could affect their play. If I were playing dirty I might also add that players did not abuse the system so readily like Vika does. Particularly with the time outs. There were real injuries back then. And Halep retired 3-0 down in the final in the third set. At that point why not just tough out the last 12-20 points? But I'm not playing dirty. Teehee.

TS: Still not seeing how the abuse-the-system argument makes the overall talent of the era "less," but I'll agree that there has probably been more outright bumping up against the rules in the current era (by Vika in the past, and probably more so by Henin, Jankovic and others). As far as Halep retiring in the Toronto final, I look at that as a triumph of will over her own condition to even find a way to push the match TO a 3rd set. I suppose she might have played out the final few games, but I'm not sure watching a player just stand around while the other hits balls into an open court is particularly good for the sport, the fans or the players. We could have had a great Volley after Henin retired in the '06 Australian Open final against Mauresmo, I'm guessing! Ha!

A case could be made on either side about racket technology, I suspect. Though I think it more plays into my argument's favor, as well. Better rackets have increased the power quotient on tour, allowing players a notch below some others the chance to better keep up with players whose talent would otherwise be greater than their own. That was mostly the case during Graf's era, as well, as the wooden racket days had passed. Still, some of the players just on the cusp of contention twenty years ago might have put up a few bigger results if they were using the better rackets and strength training regimens of today. So maybe that topic is a wash.

GW: I think with the worse rackets the better players had more talent. And so I think it actually made the better players rise to the top. This isn't Communism. Surely the whole point is that some animals are more equal than others. Surely the point is to have a best player. So the fact that the rackets in this era evened it up isn't necessarily a good thing. Everybody has different game styles but it almost feels as if they're all getting similar with small tweaks here and there. It's the Nicelescus who really stand out. And it feels like they're a dying breed. And it makes me sad. Everything is from the baseline these days.

TS: Yeah, I'd agree with that. That's why it's right to cherish a player like a Radwanska, whose mind has allowed her to compete as much as her body. But now we see a player like Belinda Bencic rising, so there will always be a few who can out-think as much as out-hit, even if the overall variety of playing styles in the game isn't what it used to be. Hingis was really the last player who was able to win slams with that sort of style, but her mini-era was quite short. Now even players who employ spin, drop shots and the like need to find a way to add something to their serve, or play with more in-point aggression to take the next step. That's where the rackets can really help. Unfortunately, we won't likely EVER see a true serve-and-volleyer like Navratilova again. The power just makes such a regular style unfeasible, other than in a change-of-tactics, surprise-the-opponent sort of situation.

GW: A few weeks ago, Serena had a 7000 lead in the WTA rankings. That was the difference between the one and two. And Serena is 33. By the way, I don't think I can accept Sharapova as an actual rival of Serena's. The math speaks for itself.

TS: Yes, that ranking difference was a record twice-as-many points advantage, actually. (Of course, much of that has to do with difference in the ranking points, as when Graf had her Grand Slam in 1988 she only totaled a 325-point "final number" for the season once everything was averaged, subtracted, etc.) But don't make the mistake of automatically assuming that excellence and/or dominance means that there is no legit competition. That was the case during Graf's most overpowering runs, as well as Serena's.

GW: Serena's era has run from 1999 to the present. A long time. A very long time. She's never had a Nadal like Federer did. Serena has never had a proper rival unless you include herself. I heard the WTA described as "Bruce Hornsby and the Range" once. It seems as accurate to me now as it did then.

TS: At this very moment and the last 2-3 years, I'd "sort of" agree. Of the players still active, only Vika Azarenka has been a player Serena could call a "rival," but, other than Sharapova, that's largely because she's outlasted pretty much all (Venus excluded, but that's a separate case) the other top players from her generation who measured up. But they WERE there, and they play a large part in my argument. The fact is, Serena may just very well be THAT good, making most (but not all, as I'll point out) potential rivals seem "less" in comparison. To steal a line from the aforementioned Hornsby & the Range, "that's just the way it is." I agree that Sharapova isn't a true "rival" to Williams, but she IS a Career Slam winner. She's hardly a "paper tigress," it's just that Serena is able to mentally psyche her out, and then physically overpower her. Of course, a player doesn't necessarily have to be anywhere close to even on a won/lost comparison for a rivalry to exist, but there have to consistently be "moments" and close matches on big stages produced in their head-to-head.

GW: I don't think Steff had many negative records against players she played three times or more. Jo Durie comes to mind. She was 3-4 against the Brit and 1-2 against Turnbull. Serena actually has the same amount of losing records. They both have three, which is frankly preposterous. In a strange twist of fate, Serena is 3-4 against Sanchez Vicario.

TS: Hmmm, that's an interesting little note. I just looked that up: Sanchez won their first three meetings, when Serena was just 16, and the other win came via a 2nd set retirement after Williams had won the 1st. All those meetings came before Serena won her first major... so, considering ASV's fairly big role in the Graf era (when, technically, the matches were actually played), I'd say that says that Serena would have done very, very well if she'd played then, too.

I'm curious, who would you consider to have been Graf's true "rival" as she was winning 22 slams (almost half of them jammed into a particular four-year window at one point)? I think it's easiest to say one particular player, but I think the statement comes with a rather obvious caveat.

GW: It has to be Seles. And it is wrong that a man, not even involved with the official tennis network could influence women's history so drastically. If Seles wasn't stabbed this would be a no-brainer, I feel.

TS: I feel like this argument might not even be taking place, either, actually... just because how dramatic a long, full-throated Graf/Seles career rivalry might have been could have blotted out everything else (sort of how Roger/Rafa did on the men's side). I'd still say the same about the rest of the players, but one GREAT player at FULL strength can make a HUGE difference in perception. A full blown Seles career would singlehandedly "raise all boats." Of course, Graf wouldn't have then won 22 slams... and it might be dubbed the "Seles era" (or Graf/Seles), altering this sort of discussion even more. But more on that later. Mmmmfph. (Physically keeping my mouth closed.)

GW: The thing is that Graf was stopped by several players. And she retired at number three. She was not the best player in the world at that time. Her era got too good for her. That has never been the case for Serena. The only time the era has been a match for her is when she has let it. She helped Cornet and Razzano. She never loses purely because the opponent plays well.

TS: I don't think her era got too good for her, though. She just couldn't stay healthy. When she was right -- as she was in the spring/summer of '99 -- she won RG and reached the SW19 final, losing to Lindsay Davenport (who overlapped both eras). Injuries and other issues have adversely impacted Serena's fortunes, too, especially during her dip around 2005-07. Sure, losses to players like Cornet and Razzano will always be partially attributed to Williams' lacking play, but she's lost to more accomplished players in slams, as well. Graf lost to McNeil in the Wimbledon 1st Round in '94, and that can't be explained simply by saying McNeil was a "great" player, either. It was a rare instance for either player to lose when they were playing at their best.

Graf would have won more slams over the few years before her final one in '99 had she been healthier. Her absence really allowed Hingis to rise to #1 and dominate the sport for a brief window (three of her five slam wins came in majors where an injured Graf wasn't in the field) before the big power players of the Williams era stepped in. In a way, though Hingis is no doubt a Hall of Famer, that was a semi-version of the stretch when we saw the likes of Jankovic and Wozniacki rise to #1.

And I think, as I'll show later, that during the middle of Serena's career the likes of Henin and Capriati DID take out Williams on a fairly equal footing. That said, as Serena has gotten older, she's become more focused and actually become a better all-around player, as her late-career clay court success has shown.

GW: I think also once she realized she could just out-muscle all these young blonde Eastern Europeans that was game over. Physically it's just such a mismatch. And in this era of fitness trainers and cardio courses at college, etc. that seems strange. Surely that should be your ace in the hole. Well, "my era is so fit." Yet I would bet that Arantxa could in her prime have outlasted just about anyone in this era. Can you imagine Errani and Arantxa on a slow clay court in rainy weather? I don't think I'd last the set. Could you watch it all?

I found it funny when Roddick said of his loss to Serena (when they were kids) that he had to run around in the shower to get wet and she was already "bench pressing dumptrucks." I can't find the clip sadly, but I wouldn't put it past her.

TS: Ha! Well, I'm sure we'll see it when they eventually put together a big documentary on Serena's career when things are all said and done. It might even be the opening scene.

To be continued... all for now.

NEXT TIME: Of Spaniards, Belgians and Secretariat, oh my!


Wk.34- Good, Petra

The Open is nearly here, so Week 34's recap was always going to be of the (somewhat) short and sweet variety.

Luckily, Good Petra decided to show up and take things into her own hands, making it all elementary.

S: Petra Kvitova/CZE def. Lucie Safarova/CZE 6-7(6)/6-2/6-2
D: Julia Goerges/Lucie Hradecka (GER/CZE) d. Chuang Chia-Jung/Liang Chen (TPE/CHN) 6-3/6-1

...we'll know soon enough whether or not the form Kvitova showed while defending her New Haven title means anything under the spotlight of the U.S. Open. Remember, while her week included four Top 20 wins over Madison Keys, Aga Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Lucie Safarova, and she'll re-take the #4 ranking from the Dane in the new rankings (she's still seeded #5 at the Open, though), she's won this same title twice before (this was her fourth straight final at Yale) but has yet to last beyond the 4th Round in any of her trips to NYC. Truthfully, the thought is that her long week of work will probably do her more harm at the Open than good. Kvitova's third title of the season gives her seventeen for her career, tying her on the all-time list with Vika Azarenka and Mary Pierce, with Nancy Richey, Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere (both with 19) and Pam Shriver (21) next to be chased down.

RISER: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
...with her injury-tinged summer, Wozniacki's Open chances weren't looking good heading into New Haven. But, while she was still troubled by her preexisting knee issue, she put together a semifinal run at a tournament she's won four times (2008-11), defeating Alison Riske, Roberta Vinci (saving 3 MP) and Caroline Garcia before going out to Petra Kvitova. She loses her #4 ranking to Kvitova on Monday, but at least her chances to defend all or part of her '14 Open runner-up points look better now than they did a few weeks ago.

SURPRISES: Lesia Tsurenko/UKR & Victoria Rodriguez/MEX
...Tsurenko is not to be trifled with. A recent tour champion in Baku who put together a ten-match winning streak, the Ukrainian lost in qualifying (Putintseva) in New Haven, but got into the main draw when Cincinnati finalist Simona Halep (the #1 seed) withdraw. So Tsurenko filled her 1st Round bye/2nd Round spot as a "lucky loser" and put together a semifinal run with wins over Czechs Barbora Strycova and Karolina Pliskova (her fourth Top 10 win of '15) before losing to another Maiden, Lucie Safarova. Incredibly, it's Tsurenko's second career semifinal run as a LL, having done the same in Brisbane in 2013. She'll get another shot at Safarova, too, as she's up against her in the U.S. Open 1st Round. Hey, if she wears those shoes, she might have a chance.

In the $15K challenger in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, 20-year old Victoria Rodriguez is once again rising into contention with the top of the field. A two-time Silver medalist earlier this summer in the Pan-American Games, Rodriguez will play for her fifth career ITF singles title (but first of '15) on Sunday against Maria-Fernanda Alvarez-Teran. Update: Rodriguez defeated Alvarez-Teran 7-6/2-6/6-3 to take the title.
VETERAN: Lucie Safarova/CZE
...the Czech may be timing her slam form just right once again, reaching the New Haven final just days before the start of the Open. Her week included avenging her Toronto loss to Daria Gavrilova, then knocking off Irina-Camelia Begu, Dominika Cibulkova and Lesia Tsurenko to reach her third final of the season. After taking the 1st set tie-break, Safarova was the victim of a mugging, as Good Petra arrived to push her around and take the title. Still, a good week... and now she'll have to defeat Tsurenko AGAIN in the 1st Round of the Open.

COMEBACK: Dominika Cibulkova/SVK
...the Slovak is back after being out from early February until late June, during which she had Achilles' heel surgery. Eight tournaments into her season's comeback, things are starting to turn around. In New Haven, she defeated Tsvetana Pironkova, won a 2-6/7-6(1)/7-5 match over Kristina Mladenovic and then pushed eventual finalist Lucie Safarova in another three-setter in the QF. She's still just 7-8 since her return to action, but this was her first QF since the Australian Open in January.
FRESH FACE: Marie Bouzkova/CZE
...the 17-year old 2014 U.S. Open girls champ has reached the final of the $10K challenger in Portschach, Austria against Austrian Julia Grabher to be played Sunday. It's her fifth career ITF final, and she's trying to keep intact her undefeated-in-finals standing.

Update: Bouzkova lost 7-6(5)/6-1 to Grabher.
DOWN: Timea Bacsinszky/SUI & Karolina Pliskova/CZE????
...Bacsinszky hasn't exactly been in good form on hard courts since her Wimbledon QF run, dropping to 0-3 after her 3 & 1 1st Round loss in New Haven to Caroline Garcia. A week ago in Cincinnati, she fell 4 & 3 to Madison Keys a week after losing a two tie-break three-setter to Alison Riske in Toronto.

Meanwhile, Pliskova gets a mention here solely on principle. After all, she DID "win" the U.S. Open Series title this week off her QF result in New Haven. But, really, after the mess that the USTA's rules made of that "playoff tournament" for a Roland Garros wild card that shut out Katerina Stewart from the MD in Paris despite putting up three finals and a title over the assigned three-tournament stretch (by far the best results of any player during the period, though the "rules" stated that only two tournament results were counted in the standings), it was probably destined that the Series winner would be crowned BECAUSE she played in three events. Pliskova went a mediocre 6-4 in North America this summer, winning no titles (though she did reach the Stanford final) and losing to a "lucky loser" on the day she clinched the title. In all, Pliskova totaled 75 points, well behind Serena Williams' 145 (for 2 events) and Simona Halep's 140 (for her 2 finals), but since the Czech played in at least three events (four, actually, though she got a "zero" for an early loss in Toronto -- among the players in contention for the title, Radwanska was the only other to play in three events) she got her point total DOUBLED to 150, edging out the field for the "win." And I thought the RG Playoff was ridiculous? Oh, if I only knew...

Of course, considering Pliskova's slam history, she has no chance to actually make good on all the bonus prize money she's now eligible to win (Serena and Simona would be real threats to capitalize).
...well, it'll be a 22-year old Swarmette. It's just a matter of which one. On Sunday, Ana Bogdan and Cristina Dinu will face off in the final of the $25K challenger in Mamaia, Romania. Bogdan is playing in her second consecutive final, and is looking for her eighth career ITF title; while Dinu is going for #14 and her second this season (she's reached four finals in '15).
Update: Bogdan claimed the crown, defeating Dinu 6-7(5)/6-2/6-3 to win career title #8.
JUNIOR STARS: Jil Teichmann/SUI & Julieta Estable/ARG
...suddenly, Switzerland is full of young stars. 18-year old Teichmann, who was the runner-up in the European Junior Championships last month and reached the Roland Garros girls QF earlier in the spring, has reached the $15K Braunschweig challenger final in Germany, where she'll face off with Hordette Ekaterina Alexandrova in an attempt to win her first pro singles title. They'll play the final on Sunday.
Update: Teichmann defeated Alexandrova 6-3/6-3 to win her first pro singles title.

Meanwhile, 18-year old Estable swept the singles and and doubles titles at the $10K Koper challenger, defeating Serb Dejana Radanovic in the final. The #15-ranked junior girl, the Argentine now has two ITF singles titles to her credit.


DOUBLES: Julia Goerges/Lucie Hradecka (GER/CZE) just their second event together (they got one victory in Eastbourne), Goerges & Hradecka get a title for their troubles. It's the German's fifth career crown, while Hradecka now has nineteen (eleven with Andrea Hlavackova). #19 has been a hard get for her, too, as she was 0-3 in 2015 doubles finals (two w/ Hlavackova, one w/ Lara Arruabarrena) finals before finally getting a win over Chuang/Liang.

Maria on the potential "cover" of her (in my mind only) SECOND musical album. I'm thinking a collection of cool jazz...

Bowery Memory Lane #NYC

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

1. New Haven Final - Kvitova d. Safarova
After there were none since 2009, this was the third all-Czech final of 2015 alone.
2. New Haven 2nd Rd. - Wozniacki d. Vinci
The Italian served at 5-3 in the 3rd and had three MP in the tie-break.

3. New Haven 2nd Rd. - Kvitova d. Keys
This was Kvitova's first win on North American soil in 2015, and she got it against the Bannerette who knocked who out of Melbourne back in January. I guess it was an early sign that this was going to be her week.
4. New Haven 1st Rd. - Vinci d. Bouchard
Hmmm, you don't think Genie was just trying to get out of town early so that she could be part of THIS just a few hours later in New York, do you? I'm just sayin'.

And, of course, the answer to that rhetorical question is a 100% big, fat "YES."
5. New Haven 1st Rd. - Safarova d. Gavrilova
The Czech wins the rematch of the three-set Toronto clash won by Gavrilova two weeks ago.
HM- New Haven QF - Safarova d. Cibulkova
A loss that Cibulkova can still likely get some momentum from. She'll need it, as she faces AnaIvo in the 1st Round in Flushing Meadows.

And baby makes...

And Amelie will always be able to hold over his head that he made her miss her Hall of Fame induction, too.

1. New Haven 1st Rd. - Karolina Pliskova d. Hercog
Hercog led 6-2/4-2, but failed to secure the victory, enabling Pliskova to go on to win the U.S. Open Series with one more victory in the 2nd Round (over Olga Savchuk). "Credible" title of not, it's enough to make a twin sister smile.

???? #naveky?? @karolinapliskova

A photo posted by Kristyna Pliskova (@kristynapliskova) on

2. New Haven QF - (LL) Tsurenko d. Karolina Pliskova
I your U.S. Open Series "champ" also loses to a "lucky loser" (even if it IS Tsurenko) on the day she clinches the title, it's not exactly "good optics" for the USTA. But then who'd expect anything less... or more?
3. New Haven 1st Rd. - Aga Radwanska d. Vandeweghe
A truly ass-tastic result!


Citizen Vika?

Fika Azarenka?

Did they misspell a V letter? #nycdailypics

A photo posted by Victoria Azarenka (@vichka35) on

Vika and friend.

Not Vika... but related.

Another cover for Caro.

Caro is ready for the Open. Well, at least her nails are.

Maria awaits.

Work work work

A photo posted by Daria Gavrilova (@daria_gav) on

**2015 WTA FINALS**
5 - Serena Williams, USA (5-0)
5 - Simona Halep, ROU (3-2)
5 - Karolina Pliskova, CZE (1-4)
4 - Angelique Kerber, GER (4-0)
3 - Timea Bacsinszky, SUI (2-1)
3 - Maria Sharapova, RUS (2-1)
3 - Belinda Bencic, SUI (2-1)
3 - Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (2-1)
3 - Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (1-2)
3 - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (0-2+L)

3...Simona Halep, ROU
3...Serena Williams, USA
2...Timea Bacsinszky, SUI

Auckland - Ana Ivanovic (lost to V.Williams)
Miami - Serena Williams (def. Suarez-Navarro)
Bastad - Mona Barthel (lost to Larsson)
Cincinnati - Serena Williams (def. Halep)
New Haven - Petra Kvitova (def. Safarova)

Sydney - (CZE) - Petra Kvitova d. Karolina Pliskova
Prague - (CZE) - Karolina Pliskova d. Lucie Hradecka
Nurnburg - (ITA) - Karin Knapp d. Roberta Vinci
New Haven - (CZE) - Petra Kvitova d. Lucie Safarova

12 - CZECH REPUBLIC (5 wins)
9 - United States (7)
8 - Romania (3)
7 - Germany (5)
7 - Italy (3)
6 - Switzerland (4)
6 - Russia (3)

**CAREER WTA TITLES - active**
69...Serena Williams
46...Venus Williams
35...Maria Sharapova
23...Caroline Wozniacki
17...Victoria Azarenka
15...Ana Ivanovic
ALSO: Hingis w/ 43 singles titles (1996-07)

[SF or better, 2008-15]
2008 Quebec City - Angeles Haynes (SF)
2008 Tokyo - Jarmila Gajdosova (SF)
2012 Fes - Mathilde Johansson (SF)
2012 Stanford - Coco Vandeweghe (RU)
2012 Linz - Irina-Camelia Begu (SF)
2013 Brisbane - Lesia Tsurenko (SF)
2013 Paris - Kiki Bertens (SF)
2015 Acapulco - Sesil Karatantcheva (SF)
2015 New Haven - Lesia Tsurenko (SF)
[2015 - QF+]
Acapulco - Sesil Karatantcheva, BUL (SF)
Brisbane - Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS (QF)
Katowice - Elizaveta Kulichkova, RUS (QF)
Eastbourne - Daria Gavrilova, RUS/AUS (QF)
New Haven - Lesia Tsurenko, UKR (SF)

U.S. OPEN (Grand Slam/HCO)
14 Final: S.Williams d. Wozniacki
14 Doubles Final: Makarova/Vesnina d. Hingis/Pennetta
14 Mixed Final: Mirza/Soarez d. Spears/S.Gonzalez
14 Girls Singles Final: Bouzkova d. Kalinina
14 Girls Doubles Final: Soyly/Teichmann d. Lako/Mihalikova
14 WC Singles Final: Kamiji d. Van Koot
14 WC Doubles Final: Kamiji/Whiley d. Griffioen/Van Koot
14 Billie Jean King Collegiate Final: Loeb (UNC) d. Elbaba (U-Va.)
15 Women's Singles Top Seeds: S.Williams/Halep

Serena is getting the well-deserved and, frankly, overdue attention that has so often been withheld from her over the years.

She's up first on Night 1 on Ashe, leading into a match (Nadal/Coric) with at least a touch of "big upset" potential. So, let's get down to bid-ness.

All for now.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

U.S. Open Preview: Pulp Serena

The time has come. Or nearly so. Serena Williams is at history's -- and Steffi's -- doorstep. Who dares to be the one to deny her entrance?

Sure, so far this summer, Serena's serve has been lagging just a little bit behind. But it'll catch-up.

Don't worry, they'll be dancing together at Arthur Ashe Stadium like it was Jack Rabbit Slim's in no time.

For once, all things seem lined up for Williams and the WTA to get their fair and overdue share of the attention come slam time. Serena is everywhere. On the cover of New York Magazine, the New York Times Magazine and Sports Illustrated (that has to be a rare, if not singular, feat for ANY player leading into the U.S. Open), with the prospect of a Grand Slam and an Open era record-tying 22nd major title on her racket if she can get through the next two weeks unscathed. Or as unscathed as she CAN be at a slam. She usually has to die a little before she really lives at these times of the year.

But she'll never live louder, better or with more vigor than she will if she is once again the last woman standing at the U.S. Open for the fourth straight summer, and for the fifth consecutive slam. Discussions and arguments could then ensue (or not, depending on your preference and patience for such things), but make no mistake -- Williams will forever be involved in "the conversation."

"I cant sit here and say (I'm the greatest). But I can sit here and say that I'm the greatest player that I've been able to be." - Serena

Sixteen years after her breakthrough slam performance as a 17-year old in Flushing Meadows, the soon to be 34-year old Williams is still hitting her stride.

*Serena vs. Current Top 10*
#2 Simona Halep (6-1)
#3 Maria Sharapova (18-2)
#4 Caroline Wozniacki (10-1)
#5 Petra Kvitova (5-1)
#6 Lucie Safarova (9-0)
#7 Ana Ivanovic (9-1)
#8 Karolina Pliskova (1-0)
#9 Garbine Muguruza (3-1)
#10 Carla Suarez-Navarro (6-0)

Yes, it goes without saying, that Serena is the one with the wallet that says "BMF" on it.

[Remember... language and weapons warnings here. We ARE talking Tarantino.]

Now, on with the show...

"It's all up to me. If I decide to play right, it'll be great." - Serena

5, 4, 3, 2, 1... go.

Here's a quick overview of the women's draw, quarter-by-quarter:

1. Serena Williams, USA (#1) ...history is there for the taking, and it's hard to see Serena NOT grabbing hold of it and squeezing tight. Lucic-Baroni (2nd), Stephens/Vandeweghe/Mattek-Sands (3rd) and Keys/A-Rad will put up early resistance, whiles the likes of Bencic/Pliskova/Venus (yikes!) could be there in the middle rounds. But will any one have enough to derail the biggest women's slam achievement (with only Sampras and Federer's all-time slam records possibly equaling it on the men's side) in a quarter-century? When Williams reaches the SF/Final stage at a slam, she generally kicks things into another gear, so the best chance at an upset would probably come earlier. It's not impossible that it could happen, but not likely, either.

Look back at it.

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

2. Belinda Bencic, SUI (#12) ...the 18-year old knocked off Serena in the Toronto semis en route to the title earlier this month. The Swiss reached the Open QF a year ago when few people were paying her great attention. They will be this time around. How much of a difference will it make? Before a possible QF rematch with Serena, Bencic could face Venus in the 3rd Round. If nothing else, the teenager would get the chance to become the first player this season to notch '15 victories over both Sisters. Surprise Stat of the Day: At least one player has defeated both sisters in a single season every year since 1997.
3. Aga Radwanska, POL (#15) ...Aga raised her game during the grass season, but has gradually lost a little steam on hard courts. Still, she had a shot at winning the U.S. Open Series, and comes to NYC feeling better about her game than she has in a while. She's had four Open Round of 16's during her career, but might get an interesting test from Siniakova in the 1st. Sister Ula could be her 2nd Round opponent (their only slam meeting came at the '11 U.S. Open, with Aga winning easily). The key (wink) to Radwanska's Open might be her possible 3rd Round meeting with Keys, against whom she's 4-0, having defeated her twice at Wimbledon (2013 & '15) in three-set matches in which the Pole's style of play eventually got the best of the American, frustrating her and taking her out in a hail of errors.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #29 Sloane Stephens, USA ...the D.C. champ has looked good this summer, but there are many obstacles in her path in NYC. Vandeweghe in the 1st, Mattek-Sands in the 2nd... and then someone named Serena in the 3rd.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: #19 Madison Keys, USA the last hard court slam, Keys took out Kvitova and Venus en route to the semifinals in Melbourne, where she pushed Serena (1st set TB, and she saved 8 MP in the 2nd). Her recent results don't seem to make her a dark horse, but she's capable of some draw-changing wins, including against her slam nemesis Radwanska (on a hard court, not Aga's favored AELTC grass) in the 3rd Round...a match after which she'd likely get a rematch with Serena.
DON'T COUNT HER CZECHENS: #8 Karolina Pliskova, CZE ...the (cough, cough) U.S. Open Series champ STILL hasn't advanced past the 3rd Round at a major (even her sister outlasted her at Wimbledon, though Kristyna lost in Open qualifying this week). Qualifier Tatishvili in the 1st Round, Brengle in the 2nd or Pavlyuchenkova in the 3rd could keep the Czech out of another Round of 16, where she'd likely meet either Venus or Bencic.
THE POOR SOUL: Vitalia Diatchenko, RUS ...Serena's 1st Round opponent. Serena is 59-1 in slam 1st Rounds.

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS??? (#3) ...Maria says her leg injury is "day-by-day," and with Gavrilova on deck in the 1st Round (she def. Sharapova in Miami) that could be a very bad thing. It could be a "Crash-and-Burn" moment waiting to happen. Losing the #2 seed to Halep at the last moment might turn out to be a VERY big deal, and not because Sharapova could have been on the other side of the draw from Serena. A few days could make all the difference for her at this Open, and it'd been beneficial to have a somewhat less tricky opening round opponent in her first match back. Can Gavrilova take advantage of her good fortune?
2. A Serb (#21 JJ or #7 AnaIvo) ...if Sharapova isn't the "favorite" here, it might be a Serb, one of which could meet her in a potential QF match. After Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic face off in the 4th Round, that is. While AnaIvo has Cibulkova in the 1st Round and only has one Open QF on her resume, JJ faces a wild card (Dodin), then gets the Kenin/Duque winner, then probably either the slumping CSN or Vinci at the only slam at which Queen Chaos has ever reached a final (2008, when she played Serena close). Could Jankovic's resurgent summer continue? Oh, and Bojana Jovanovski is in here, too... just to cover ALL the bases.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #30 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS ...Sveta won the title in 2004, but you know how this goes. ANY result is possible, even one no one would EVER see coming. She faces Kiki Mladenovic in the 1st Round, and her Open could end right there. Also, she's in the same section as Sharapova (3rd Rd.), with the Makarova/Svitolina (4th) section survivor nearby. Of course, this could mean Kuznetsova is destined for a second week run. Sveta. (rolling eyes)
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Daria Gavrilova, RUS-AUS ...if Sharapova's leg injury lets the Russo-Aussie get her teeth into this Open, she might be THE story of the tournament in the first week. She's put up three Top 10 wins this season (one over Sharapova in Miami) and six vs. Top 20 players. She was physically compromised in her Rome rematch with Sharapova, but still put up a good fight (esp. in a 7-5 1st set). If Sharapova is healthy in their third '15 meeting in the 1st Round, Gavrilova's story will likely end before it begins. But if Gavrilova (the 2010 U.S. Jr. champ) pulls off the upset, a star will be born.
THE WILD CARD: Dominika Cibulkova, SVK ...back from her injury absence, the Slovak's results have been improving this summer (def. Stephens, close vs. Safarova). She reached the final and QF at the last two Australian Opens on hard court, but has lost in the 1st Round the last two years at Flushing Meadows. She faces Ivanovic in the 1st Round this year.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: #13 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS ...the '14 semifinalist has been battling injury and bad form this summer, and her draw doesn't appear kind to a repeat performance. She'll probably get past Pereira in the 1st, but Watson (2nd), Svitolina (3rd) and a potential "Russian-born blockade" of either Sharapova, Kuznetsova or Gavrilova (4th) would seem far too many hurdles to clear. Plus, she's the #13 seed... and maybe that means something unlucky awaits.
THE POOR SOUL: #25 Genie Bouchard, CAN ...I hope Genie gets a photo with Jimmy Connors since he won't likely be allowed to hang around practice for very much longer if the Canadian's stay in the Open draw is as short as it appears it might be. Alison Riske is an "upset" waiting to happen in the 1st Round, as would be a match against Zarina Diyas (who ended Bellis' storybook few days in NYC last year) in the 2nd. If she somehow survived to the 3rd, she'd probably face AnaIvo. But does anyone REALLY expect her to be around that long?

1. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (#4) ...the '14 runner-up, if healthy, is a threat to return to the final weekend. She was in good form in New Haven, but comes to Flushing Meadows with a nagging knee issue that begs for a few easy matches in the first week before she'd have to face Pennetta in the 3rd Round.
2. Flavia Pennetta, ITA (#26) ...the Italian vet has reached four QF and a SF in her last six Open appearances. She loves NYC, and NYC loves Flavia... especially under the lights. Hmmm, just where that 3rd Rounder vs. the Dane "surely" would be if she survives a 1st Round match vs. Gajdosova, and a possible 2nd Rounder against "unconventional" Swarmette Niculescu.

ENDANGERED SEED(s)?: #9 Garbine Muguruza, ESP or #18 Andrea Petkovic, GER a perfect world, both these two could take advantage of what could be a semi wide-open section of the draw. But Muguruza hasn't won a match since her Wimbledon final run (and could get tested as early as the 1st Round by Witthoeft, or the 2nd by qualifier Konta), while Petkovic has to stave off an upset bid from Garcia in the 1st Round in NYC. If they survive the first four days, they'll face each other in the 3rd Round BEFORE Kvitova could even come up in the draw.
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Aleksanda Krunic, SRB ...The Bracelet was the first week star of the Open in '14, qualifying and defeating Keys and Kvitova, and nearly Azarenka, too, en route to the Round of 16. She's got a tough draw again, but history could repeat itself. Potential first seed up: #32 Anna Schmiedlova in the 2nd Round.
THE WILD CARD: #32 Anna Schmiedlova, SVK ...the Slovak has had a breakthrough season in '15, winning two titles and just slipping into the seeds with a QF run in Cincinnati. She's yet to reach the 4th Round at a slam, though. She opens this week with Julia Goerges, then might get '14 star Krunic before a 3rd Rounder vs. Kvitova. She's capable of winning all those matches. But is her maiden second week run at a slam more likely to happen in 2016 than here?
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: #5 Petra Kvitova, CZE ...Kvitova isn't the highest-seeded player in this section (Caro is, though the Czech just defeated her in New Haven), so when she goes out early it won't be QUITE as big a headline as usual. Remember, she's only reached the Round of 16 twice in New York, and the last time was 2012. Her recent mono diagnosis gives hope that she might figure out her health issues soon, but it won't likely mean much here. Sure, her NH run this week has been admirable, but she won the title last year then was dumped out in the 3rd Round of the Open by Aleksanda Krunic (and the east coast humidity). Same story, different name this time around. Hmmm, or maybe not... she could face Krunic in the 3rd Round again this year.
THE POOR SOUL: #22 Samantha Stosur, AUS ...since the Aussie's title run in 2011, her Open results haven't exactly been encouraging. She followed up with a QF a year later (def. by Vika in a 3rd set TB), but was upset by Vicky Duval in the 1st Round in '13 and failed to convert a MP in a 2nd Round match vs. Kanepi last year. She faces Babos in the 1st Round this year (not a gimme). The draw -- her section is filled with #16 Errani and four qualifiers, including potentially dangerous Latvian teen Ostapenko -- says she could reach the Round of 16 and face either the Dane or Pennetta. But when we expect such things of Sam, well...

1. Simona Halep, ROU (#2) ...Halep's slam results over the last year -- 3rd-QF-2nd-1st -- leave a lot to be desired, but the Romanian seems to have turned the corner this summer on hard courts, rediscovering her defense-into-offense mojo and learning to block out some of overbearing pressure on her shoulders. But things are different in a slam. Lucic-Baroni upset her in NYC last year, and Erakovic gets the first crack this time. With so many questions hanging over other contenders, Halep might be Serena's most intriguing opponent for the final (assuming Vika isn't up to par). Much like with Williams, getting that far would seem to be on Simona's racket.
2. Angelique Kerber, GER (#11) ...Kerber's season pattern has been to have great pre-slam results, but hardly back them up when the majors come around. Still, she's the Stanford champ and a former Open semifinalist. Her 1st Rounder vs. Dulgheru is potentially worrisome, and Azarenka could be around for a big-time (nighttime!! -- he said, to surely deaf USTA ears) 3rd Round clash. 1 a.m. finish, anyone?
3. Lucie Safarova, CZE (#6) ...could the Czech be peaking right on schedule for another slam? Her week in New Haven after a mediocre hard court summer hints that it could be so. She's reached two slam semifinals in the last fifteen months. She'll have to beat Tsurenko for the second time in a handful of days in the 1st Round, though... and that won't be easy.
ENDANGERED SEED?: #24 Sabine Lisicki, GER's not Wimbledon, so it's possible that Sabine hits the ejector button early. She's only had one Round of 16 result at the Open, and has lost on hard courts this summer to players spanning the age spectrum from 18 (Bencic) to 44 (Date-Krumm). She'll get qualifier Sasnovich in the 1st Round, then maybe Camila Giorgi in the 2nd. Yep, that's the same Italian whose game Lisicki's countrywoman Petkovic said the other week "defies physics."
THE BRACKET BUSTER: Lesia Tsurenko, UKR ...the Ukrainian can get on a roll, as we've seen this season. She knocked off two Top 10 players to reach the QF at Indian Wells, won in Baku and put together a 10-match winning streak, then this past week in New Haven she was a "lucky loser" who reached the semis (the second time she's done that as a LL in her career) before losing to Safarova. She'll meet up with the Czech again in the Open 1st Round, and if she gets some revenge in that one and (once again) gets and stays hot, it's not out of the question that SHE might the one who emerges to face Halep in the QF.
THE WILD CARD: #20 Victoria Azarenka, BLR ...Vika's progress this season has always seemed aimed at a good result at the Open, but then a thigh injury ended her Cincinnati run early and put into question whether she'll even be able to be a full strength for this slam. She might be able to get past Hradecka (1st) and Wickmayer/Schiavone (2nd) if she's not 100%, but if Kerber is waiting for her in the 3rd Round, anything that hinders her movement could be lethal. If she's healthy, though, it sure would be interesting to see what would happen should the two-time U.S. Open finalist (and QF last year) last long enough to see Halep in the final eight.
DON'T COUNT HER CHICKENS: #14 Timea Bacsinszky, SUI ...the Swiss' comeback season hasn't produced much to speak of on the hard courts this summer, and she's been passed in the rankings by countrywoman Bencic. Bacsinszky HAS managed to bring out the good stuff at the slams (SF in Paris and a near upset of Serena, QF at SW19), but it's hard not to look at her 1st Rounder vs. Strycova and wonder if she might end up having a lot of time to see the sights in the Big Apple.
THE POOR SOUL: Francesca Schiavone, ITA ...the Italian vet will be appearing in her 61st consecutive slam, one off the WTA record (62) held by Ai Sugiyama. Schiavone, 35, comes to NY on a four-match losing streak (she's 12-20 on the season, 8-15 in MD), having lost in the 1st Round at the last three U.S. Opens and at eight of the last nine slams. She's in danger of finishing the season outside the Top 100 for the first time since 1999. She faces Wickmayer in the 1st.

**U.S. OPEN TOP SEEDS - since 2002**
2002 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2003 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2004 Justine Henin-Hardenne, BEL
2005 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2006 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
2007 Justine Henin, BEL (W)
2008 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2009 Dinara Safina, RUS
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2012 Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2014 Serena Williams, USA (W)
2015 Serena Williams, USA (W)

101...Chris Evert
89...Martina Navratilova
73...Steffi Graf
62...Lindsay Davenport

2006: Maria Sharapova (W), Justine Henin-Hardenne (RU), Jelena Jankovic, Amelie Mauresmo
2007: Justine Henin (W), Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU), Anna Chakvetadze, Venus Williams
2008: Serena Williams (W), Jelena Jankovic (RU), Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina
2009: Kim Clijsters (W), Caroline Wozniacki (RU), Yanina Wickmayer, Serena Williams
2010: Kim Clijsters (W), Vera Zvonareva (RU), Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki
2011: Samantha Stosur (W), Serena Williams (RU), Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki
2012: Serena Williams (W), Victoria Azarenka (RU), Maria Sharapova, Sara Errani
2013: Serena Williams (W), Victoria Azarenka (RU), Li Na, Flavia Pennetta
2015: Serena Williams (W), Caroline Wozniacki (RU), Ekaterina Makarova, Peng Shuai

2005 Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Alexa Glatch/USA
2006 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/RUS def. Tamira Paszek/AUT
2007 Kristina Kucova/SVK def. Urszula Radwanska/POL
2008 Coco Vandeweghe/USA def. Gabriela Paz/VEN
2009 Heather Watson/GBR def. Yana Buchina/RUS
2010 Daria Gavrilova/RUS def. Yulia Putintseva/RUS
2011 Grace Min/USA def. Caroline Garcia/FRA
2012 Samantha Crawford/USA def. Anett Kontaveit/EST
2013 Ana Konjuh/CRO def. Tornado Black/USA
2014 Marie Bouzkova/CZE def. Anhelina Kalinina/UKR

[Open Era]
1968 Virginia Wade, GBR
1979 Tracy Austin, USA
1990 Gabriela Sabatini, ARG
1998 Lindsay Davenport, USA
1999 Serena Williams, USA
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS

1997 U.S. Open - Venus Williams
1999 U.S. Open - Serena Williams (W)
2004 Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova (W)
2004 U.S. Open - Svetlana Kuznetsova (W)
2007 Roland Garros - Ana Ivanovic
2008 U.S. Open - Jelena Jankovic
2009 U.S. Open - Caroline Wozniacki
2010 Roland Garros - Francesca Schiavone (W)
2010 Roland Garros - Samantha Stosur
2010 Wimbledon - Vera Zvonareva
2011 Wimbledon - Petra Kvitova (W)
2012 Australian Open - Victoria Azarenka (W)
2012 Roland Garros - Sara Errani
2012 Wimbledon - Aga Radwanska
2013 Wimbledon - Sabine Lisicki
2014 Australian Open - Dominika Cibulkova
2014 Roland Garros - Simona Halep
2014 Wimbledon - Eugenie Bouchard
2015 Roland Garros - Lucie Safarova
2015 Wimbledon - Garbine Muguruza

2012 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2012 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2012 WI: Serena Williams, USA
2012 US: Serena Williams, USA
2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2013 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA
2013 US: Serena Williams, USA
2014 AO: Li Na, CHN
2014 RG: Maria Sharapova, RUS
2014 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2014 US: Serena Williams, USA
2015 AO: Serena Williams, USA
2015 RG: Serena Williams, USA
2015 WI: Serena Williams, USA

1999 Serena Williams, USA
2000 Venus Williams, USA
2001 Venus Williams, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2003 Justine Henin, BEL
2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2006 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2007 Justine Henin, BEL
2008 Serena Williams, USA
2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2010 Kim Clijsters, BEL
2011 Samantha Stosur, AUS
2012 Serena Williams, USA
2013 Serena Williams, USA
2014 Serena Williams, USA

8...Serena Williams (6-2)
4...Venus Williams (2-2)
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-1)
2...Victoria Azarenka (0-2)
2...Caroline Wozniacki (0-2)
1...Maria Sharapova (1-0)
1...Samantha Stosur (1-0)
1...Jelena Jankovic (0-1)
1...Vera Zvonareva (0-1)

[won Girls & Ladies titles]
Lindsay Davenport (1992 Jr. Champion; 1998 Women's champion)
Martina Hingis (1994 Junior RU; 1997 Women's Champion)
Svetlana Kuznetsova (2001 Junior RU; 2004 Women's champion)
Victoria Azarenka (2005 Junior champion; 2012-13 Women's RU)

1970 Margaret Court, AUS
1972 Billie Jean King, USA
1976 Chris Evert, USA
1982 Chris Evert-Lloyd, USA
1983 Martina Navratilova, USA
1986 Martina Navratilova, USA
1987 Martina Navratilova, USA
1988 Steffi Graf, GER *
1989 Steffi Graf, GER
1993 Steffi Graf, GER
1995 Steffi Graf, GER
1996 Steffi Graf, GER
1997 Martina Hingis, SUI
2000 Venus Williams, USA *
2001 Venus Williams, USA
2002 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Serena Williams, USA *
* - also won Olympic Gold

Unseeded - 2000 Elena Dementieva, RUS
Unseeded - 2009 Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
Unseeded - 2011 Angelique Kerber, GER
Unseeded - 2013 Flavia Pennetta, ITA
Unseeded - 2014 Peng Shuai, CHN
Wild Card - 2009 Kim Clijsters, BEL (W)
#28 - 2011 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#19 - 2006 Jelena Jankovic, SRB
#16 - 2014 Ekaterina Makarova, RUS
#12 - 2005 Mary Pierce, FRA (RU)
#12 - 2007 Venus Williams, USA
#10 - 2001 Serena Williams, USA (RU)
#10 - 2002 Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
#10 - 2012 Sara Errani, ITA
#10 - 2014 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (RU)

1970 Margaret Court (completed Grand Slam)
1984 Martina Navratilova (lost in AO semifinals in Dec.)
1988 Steffi Graf (completed "Golden Slam" w/ GS + Olympic Gold)
2015 Serena Williams (???)

1969-71 Margaret Court
1983-84 Martina Navratilova
1988-89 Steffi Graf
1993-94 Steffi Graf
2002-03 Serena Williams
2014-15 Serena Williams (active streak)
1972 Billie Jean King
1981-82 Martina Navratilova
1982-83 Chris Evert
1989-90 Steffi Graf
1991-92 Monica Seles
1995 Steffi Graf
1996 Steffi Graf
1997-98 Martina Hingis

8...Serena Williams, USA (age 30-33)
3...Martina Navratilova, USA (age 30-33)
3...Margaret Court, AUS (age 30-31)
2...Billie Jean King, USA (age 30 & 31)
2...Chris Evert, USA (age 30 & 31)
1...Virginia Wade. GBR (age 31)
1...Ann Haydon Jones, GBR (age 30)

2004 Svetlana Kuznetsova (W), Elena Dementieva (RU)
2005 Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova
2006 Maria Sharapova (W)
2007 Svetlana Kuznetsova (RU), Anna Chakvetadze
2008 Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina
2009 -
2010 Vera Zvonreva (RU)
2011 -
2012 Maria Sharapova
2013 -
2014 Ekaterina Makarova

AO (4): 1969,1970,1974,1993
RG (1): 1992
WI (10): 1973,1976,1978,1979,1988,1992,1995,2003,2006,2009
US (1): 1975

2004 Lindsay Davenport, USA
2005 Kim Clijsters, BEL *
2006 Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2007 Maria Sharapova, RUS
2008 Dinara Safina, RUS
2009 Elena Dementieva, RUS
2010 Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2011 Serena Williams, USA
2012 Petra Kvitova, CZE
2013 Serena Williams, USA *
2014 Serena Williams, USA *
2015 Karolina Pliskova, CZE
* - also won U.S. Open title

#1 S.Williams d. #19 Keys
#12 Bencic d. #8 Ka.Pliskova
Gavrilova d. #17 Svitolina
#21 Jankovic d. #7 Ivanovic
#9 Muguruza d. Krunic
#4 Wozniacki d. (Q) Ostapenko
#6 Safarova d. #11 Kerber
#2 Halep d. #14 Bacinszky

...yep, I did it. I actually DID pick Gavrilova to knock off (an injured) Sharapova in the 1st Round. Hey, why not? With the final prediction difficult to waver from, you've got to take some big chances SOMEWHERE to make things interesting, right? Of course, Gavrilova will probably lose in the 1st Round, and this prediction (and those that follow) will go up in smoke in a flash. But what if it DOES happen? Oh, it'd be nice to have picked it. So I did. A sucker... that's what I am, I guess. Well, either that or the Eternal Sunshine of the Gavrilovian Mind is contagious.

#1 S.Williams d. #12 Bencic
Gavrilova d. #21 Jankovic
#4 Wozniacki d. #9 Muguruza
#2 Halep d. #6 Safarova

...I probably should pick JJ out of the Sharapova section, which will be up for grabs big-time if Maria isn't physically ready for a run. But I can't up the Gavrilovian ghost.

#1 S.Williams d. Gavrilova
#2 Halep d. #4 Wozniacki

...hey, I'm not THAT crazy.

#1 S.Williams d. #2 Halep

...Serenativity def. Simonativity.

#1 Djokovic d. #18 Lopez
#9 Cilic d. #4 Nishikori
#3 Murray d. #5 Wawrinka
#2 Federer d. #6 Berdych

...Cilic/Nishikori is a better QF than final.

#1 Djokovic d. #9 Cilic
#2 Federer d. #3 Murray

...I'm not against Cilic maybe revving up his serve yet again and reaching another final, just like last year. But... nah.

#2 Federer d. #1 Djokovic

...that'd be a nice ending, I think. Plus, it'd keep me from writing another Djokovic-Gets-His-Due post after the final.

All for now. Day 1 -- and the Daily Backspin -- awaits, as well as a quick Week 34 recap.