Monday, July 28, 2014

Wk.30- Livin' the Dream

Hmmm, this is one of those moments when you can't help but ponder what it is that best exemplifies the short window of time before the kickoff of the North American hard court circuit that leads into the U.S. Open.

Is is a weekend in which a 19-year old Elina Svitolina defends the maiden tour singles crown she won last year in Baku, running her record in singles finals to 7-0 -- 2-0 WTA, 1-0 WTA $125K, and 4-0 in ITF finals -- since 2012 and becoming the most successful teenager on the WTA over the past three years, while on the same day 28-year old Peng Shuai claims the biggest singles title of her career in a $125K WTA Challenger Series event in China, while still maintaining her title-less WTA singles career despite appearing in six finals in the last nine seasons?

Or is it the notion of Taylor Townsend, in World Team Tennis playoff action, "living the dream" of so many doubles players from the last few years by (accidentally) pegging Liezel Huber in the head with a forehand? Even if it did mean that she then had to play, by you-gotta-be-kiddin'-me league rule, two-on-one "Canadian doubles" tennis the rest of the way, not even being able to return serve on Huber's vacated side of the court.

Some of Huber's past opponents would likely say it would be a small price to pay for such an opportunity.

Come now, does the question really need to be posed twice?

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN (Int'l $250K/Hard Court)
S: Elina Svitolina/UKR def. Bojana Jovanovski/SRB 6-1/7-6(2)
D: Panova/Watson (RUS/GBR) d. Olaru/Peer (ROU/ISR) 6-2/7-6(3)

NANCHANG, CHINA (WTA $125K Challenger/Hard Court)
S: Peng Shuai/CHN def. Liu Fangzhou/CHN 6-2/3-6/6-3
D: C-J.Chuang/Namigata (TPE/JPN) d. C-W.Chan/Y.Xu (TPE/CHN) 7-6(4)/6-3

S: Washington Kastles def. Springfield Lasers 25-13


...while quite a few teenagers and young twentysomethings have grabbed titles in '14, lost in the surge has been that a year ago an 18-year old Svitolina was on the leading edge of the NextGen revolution when she won her maiden tour title in Baku. Well, she made a point to remind everyone of that fact this past week by successfully defending her title. Stringing together wins over Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Pauline Parmentier, Francesca Schiavone and Bojana Jovanovski, the now 19-year old Ukrainian thus becomes the first teenager to win multiple tour singles titles since Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2010 (the Russian ultimately won three), and is just the third player under age 20 (Pavlyuchenkova & Wozniacki) to defend a singles title in the last seven seasons. Last week, Svitolina won her first tour level doubles title in Istanbul. Last year in Baku, Svitolina lost one set and defeated two Top 100 players during her title run. This time she again dropped just one set, while notching wins over four players in the Top 100.
RISERS: Bojana Jovanovski/SRB & Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith (GBR/GBR)
...Jovanovski reached her third career WTA singles final in Baku, the same event at which she claimed her maiden tour title two years ago. BoJo survived a trio of three-setters while getting past Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Katarzyna Piter, Misa Eguchi and Stefanie Voegele to reach the final, coming back from a 6-4/4-2 deficit in the QF vs. Eguchi and 4-1 in the 3rd in set in the SF against Voegele. In the final against Svitolina, the Serb fell in straight sets, losing a tie-break in the 2nd in a set that had no service breaks. A week ago, Brits Rae & Smith reached their first WTA doubles final in Bad Gastein. Last week, they were back on the ITF tour, where they kept up their winning ways, claiming the Lexington $50K in the U.S., defeating the duo of Aoyama/Wang to claim their sixth circuit doubles title of '14, and their ninth in eleven finals as a team since last November.

SURPRISES: Liu Fangzhou/CHN & Maria Sakkari/GRE, have we finally seen the first real post-Li Generation threat from the Chinese tennis establishment in 18-year old Liu? While her run last week occurred not in a regular tour event, but in a WTA 125 Challenger in Nanchang, hers was an impressive week. The world #422, Liu was the last player to gain direct entry into the main draw, but she opened the week by downing #2-seeded vet Zheng Jie, who retired down 7-6/2-0. Rather than fall by the wayside after her big win, she followed up with victories over Nastja Kolar, Zhang Ling and, even more impressively, #4 seed Luksika Kumkhum. In the final against top-seeded Peng Shuai, she forced things to a 3rd set and held 3 early break points to take the lead before falling via a late break. Liu made her tour debut in January in Shenzhen, losing to Peng in the 1st Round, and later made her Fed Cup debut, as well, going 1-3. Sure, this loss drops her to 0-5 in pro singles finals, raising the possibility that she'll be more like Peng in her WTA career than Li, but that's hardly a bad thing. Someone emerging to continue to carry the Chinese tennis torch as the leading generation reaches its expiration date is a big step, and it may have just been made. Liu's ranking jumps from #422 to #273 with this result, but she's still the eleventh-highest ranked Chinese. She the youngest in the Top 474, though, with 16-year old Xu Shilin, one of two Chinese girls ranked in the current junior Top 15, coming in at #475. On the ITF tour, 19-year old Greek Sakkari grabbed her fourth ITF title of the season (in a circuit-leading seven finals, after having gone 0-4 in finals from 2011-13) with a win in the $10K in Tampere, Finland. Sakkari defeated Anastasia Pivovarova 6-4/7-5 in the final, and also teamed with Aussie Alexandra Nancarrow to take the doubles.
VETERANS: Peng Shuai/CHN & Martina Hingis/SUI

...Peng, 28, is still looking for her first WTA singles title, but at least she's getting closer. A former Top 20 singles player, and the doubles #1 for a large chunk of this season, Peng went into the Nanchang WTA 125 Challenger event in China as the 50th ranked player in the world, and without a singles crown of any kind since winning an ITF challenger event in Taipei in 2010. Avoiding the higher-ranked players in the draw as the #1 seed, Peng got past countrywoman Wang Qiang and Zheng Saisai, the latter in a 3:22 semifinal marathon that nearly turned into another of many lost opportunities in the Chinese woman's career, to reach the final, where she met Liu Fangzhou, an 18-year old ranked #422. Even then, it wasn't easy for Peng, as she was forced to go the distance in the match and had to fight off early break points to avoid falling behind in the deciding set. After getting a late break, though, Peng served out the match to claim the title. Now, about that 0-6 record in tour-level singles finals. In the WTT final, it was Martina Hingis who was the star, as the Original Swiss Miss continues to spin a nice Second Comeback story in 2014. The 33-year old wasn't named the league Female MVP (that was Daniela Hantuchova, though Hingis had a far better winning percentage for the season with 66.1% compared to the Slovak's 53.6%, which was actually third-best in WTT play), but it was she who led the Washington Kastles to their record-tying fourth straight championship, and fifth in the last six years, as they defeated the Olga Govortsova-led Springfield Lasers 25-13 in the final. Hingis, who was named the Finals MVP, defeated Govortsova 5-2 in singles, teamed with Anastasia Rodionova to win a double set, and then did the same with Leander Paes in the concluding mixed set.

COMEBACKS: Francesca Schiavone/ITA & Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP
...hmmm, don't count Francesca out just yet. A week after reaching the QF in Istanbul, the Italian vet did things one better by getting to her first semifinal since reaching the same stage in Seoul last September. Schiavone notched wins over Julia Glushko and Kristina Mladenovic (winning in a love 3rd set, a week after Kiki had outlasted her in three last week in Turkey) before pushing eventual champ Svitolina to three sets in a loss that still leaves her with a good 8-4 record in her last four events. Meanwhile, AMG is apparently through playing singles on the WTA tour, but that didn't mean she couldn't hone her solo skills over the last few weeks in WTT play for the Texas Wild. The Spaniard won the third-most games in women's singles this WTT season and, at age 31 (32 this coming Thursday), was named the Female Rookie of the Year. And, no, that's not a typo.
FRESH FACES: Taylor Townsend/USA, Tornado Black/USA & Sachia Vickery/USA
...look out, America! Here come the Bannerettes... a whole slew of them. With so many big moves made by U.S. players on the women's tour this year, the occasion of the tour winding its way back to North America offers the chance for the new young stars to enjoy the sort of home court advantage that hasn't even occurred when the U.S. Fed Cup team has played in home ties in recent seasons (hey, don't try to sneak away, MJF). Phase One took place this weekend, as a trio of Bannerette teenagers made it through qualifying in the summer hard court season's first two events. Townsend, 18, fresh off her headline-grabbing stint in the WTT as a substitute for an ailing Vicky Duval (her Philadelphia Freedoms team reached the SF) and unexpected "Canadian Doubles" star, qualified in Washington, D.C. with a Q2 win over Wimbledon star Tereza Smitkova (6-3/6-4), while 16-year old Tornado Black did the same with a 6-3/6-0 victory over Brit Emily Webley-Smith. It'll the first time the '13 U.S. Open girls runner-up has qualified for a main draw WTA event. In Stanford, 19-year old Vickery also pulled off a successful qualifying run of her own, ending things with an impressive 6-4/6-1 win over Aleksandra Wozniak, the 2008 champion of the event.
DOWN: Urszula Radwanska/POL

...Ula opened her week in Baku on a good note, getting a nice win over Alison Van Uytvanck in the 1st Round. Yeah, sure, it came via retirement in the 2nd set, but it was a victory over the world #86, the best win put up by Aga's sister all season long as she attempts to climb back up the rankings after undergoing shoulder surgery last autumn. Unfortunately, U-Rad's week ended a round later with a 6-2/6-1 loss to (ouch) qualifier Misa Eguchi, the world #186. So far, it's hard to call Radwanska's '14 anything other than a nightmare that can't be put behind her fast enough. She's 6-17 for the season, which at one point included a ten-match losing streak. With the loss, after finishing at #31 and #43 the last two seasons, Ula's current ranking fell from #117 to #133.
ITF PLAYER: Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...three years ago, the 23-year old Hordette swept the singles and doubles crowns at a $100K challenger event in Astana, Kazakhstan. This weekend, she did it all over again. Wins over Lyudmyla Kichenok, Veronika Kudermetova and Akgul Amanmuradova (the same player Diatchenko defeated in both finals in '11, guaranteeing some bad dreams tonight for the Uzbeki) preceded a 6-4/3-6/6-2 win in the final over Cagla Buyukakcay. It's Diatchenko's eight career ITF singles title (second in '14), while her win with Margarita Gasparyan raises her number of doubles crowns to ten (shared with ten different partners, by the way).
JUNIOR STARS: Aliona Bolsova Zadoinov/ESP & Sara Sorribes Tormo/ESP
...there have been a handful of young Spaniards rising to the surface this season, and here are two more. Zadoinov, currently the #8 junior in the world, has popped up to take this award a few times this season. With a WTA ranking of #606, the 16-year old's second career ITF challenger title came at this weekend's $10K in Les Contamines-Montjoie, France (she won a $10K in Spain in '13). The Spaniard took out fellow teens Katy Dunne and Katie Boulter in the early rounds before defeating Germany's Tayisiya Morderger in the final by outlasting the 17-year old in a love 3rd set. She also claimed the doubles title with Pasty Carla Touly. Meanwhile, Sorribes Tormo hadn't actually played a junior event since last year's U.S. Open, where she reached the 3rd Round after wins over Jana Fett and Francoise Abanda, and reached the girls doubles final with Belinda Bencic. SST's best pro result this season has been a runner-up (to Andreea Mitu) in the $10K Santa Margherita Di Pula challenger in April, but this weekend she returned to the junior stage in the European Junior Championships, a Grade B1 event held in Klosters, Switzerland and headlined by Wimbledon girls champ Jelena Ostapenko and SW19 runner-up Kristina Schmiedlova. The 17-year old notched wins over Iryna Shymanovich and Ioana Loredana Rosca, then completed her triumphant junior return with a win in the final over yet another Spaniard, Paula Badosa Gibert.

1. Nanchang SF - Peng d. Zheng Saisai
Peng led 6-4/5-2 and held two MP, but Zheng forced things to a 3rd. Finally, on her 6th MP, Peng advanced to the final. Where...
2. Nanchang Final - Peng d. Liu
Peng had to fight off three BP early in the 3rd, then get a late break for 5-3 before finally being able to put away her teenaged countrywoman.
3. Baku 1st Rd. - Mladenovic d. Watson 6-2/3-6/6-0
Baku 2nd Rd. - Mladenovic d. Vekic 2-6/6-3/6-0
Baku QF - Schiavone d. Mladenovic 6-3/4-6/6-0
the Mladenovic Magic worked quite well in the 3rd set in Baku. For a while. Then it went horribly wrong. Of course, one might say this was just a case of the Tennis Gods evening things out, since Mladenovic defeated Schiavone in three sets in last week's Istanbul QF.
4. Baku Final - Svitolina d. Jovanovski
BoJo had pretty much played all her cards by just getting to the final, I suppose.
5. Baku Doubles Final - Panova/Watson d. Olaru/Peer
The Russian/British pair had been down a MP in the 1st Round vs. Jovanovski/Kovinic.
6. Baku 2nd Rd. - Peer d. Dolonc 3-6/6-2/6-3
$50K Sobota Doubles Final - Krejcikova/Krunic d. Vasylyeva/Zanveska 3-6/6-0 [10-6]
the art of being a Serbian Bad Luck Charm, and a Serbian Good Luck Charm.
7. Wash.DC Q1 - Webley-Smith d. Paszek
But the week wasn't a total loss. Paszek confirmed she's dating her coach, former ATP player Andrei Pavel.

8. $50K Lexington Final - Brengle d. Gibbs
Still, former NCAA champ Gibbs' results on the circuit won her the USTA's wild card playoff entry into the U.S. Open main draw.
HM- WTT SF [WD] - Hingis/Rodionova (WAS) d. Huber/Townsend (PHI)... err, I mean Townsend (PHI)
All right, one more. Note the unintentionally humorous #RefuseToLose hashtag in the background.


1. Baku 2nd Rd. - Eguchi d. Urszula Radwanska 6-2/6-1
Baku 1st Rd. - Glushko d. Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2/2-6/7-5
U-Rad wasn't the only sister to fall in the early going in Azerbaijan.
2. $50K Sobota Final - Kristina Kucova d. Karatantcheva
Meanwhile, in Poland, Kucova followed up her tour-level Bucharest semi with a good-sized challenger win. By the way, this was Sesil's first singles final since 2012. Unfortunately for her, she's gone 1-6 in ITF finals since March 2008.
3. $10K Palic Final - Elizaveta Ianchuk d. Bukta
Ianchuk grabs her third '14 ITF singles crown in four appearances in finals. Sister Olga is 1-1 in a pair of finals this season.

Vika then:

Vika now:

Serena Williams - Brisbane
Li Na - Shenzhen
Serena Williams - Miami
Maria Sharapova - Stuttgart (2012-14)
Serena Williams - Rome
Anastasia Rodionova - Brisbane
Errani/Vinci - Australian Open
Garrigues/Shvedova - Florianopolis

17y,10m,3w - Donna Vekic, CRO (Kuala Lumpur)
19y,4m,2w - Madison Keys, USA (Eastbourne)
19y,10m,1w - ELINA SVITOLINA, UKR (Baku)

Caroline Wozniacki - New Haven 2008-09
Caroline Wozniacki - Ponta vedra Beach 2009-10
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - Monterrey 2010-11
Elina Svitolina - Baku 2013-14

9...United States (6 titles)
7...SERBIA (3)
7...Czech Republic (2)
6...Russia (5)
6...Germany (3)
6...Italy (1)

Kristina Mladenovic/FRA, Elina Svitolina/UKR
Lara Arruabarrena/ESP, Shahar Peer/ISR, Bojana Jovanovski/SRB, Zhang Shuai/CHN, Alison Van Uytvanck/BEL
Peng Shuai/CHN

**2014 ITF TITLES**
5 - Denisa Allertova, CZE
5 - Patricia Maria Tig, ROU
4 - Elise Mertens, BEL
4 - Nadia Podoroska, ARG
4 - Ana Sofia Sanchez, MEX
4 - Zhu Lin, CHN

1974 Denver Raquets
1975 Pittsburgh Triangles
1976 New York Sets
1977 New York Apples
1978 Los Angeles Strings
1981 Los Angeles Strings
1982 Dallas Stars
1983 Chicago Fyre
1984 San Diego Buds
1985 San Diego Buds
1986 San Antonio Raquets
1987 Charlotte Heat
1988 Charlotte Heat
1989 San Antonio Raquets
1990 Los Angeles Strings
1991 Atlanta Thunder
1992 Atlanta Thunder
1993 Wichita Advantage
1994 New Jersey Stars
1995 New Jersey Stars
1996 St.Louis Aces
1997 Sacramento Capitals
1998 Sacramento Capitals
1999 Sacramento Capitals
2000 Sacramento Capitals
2001 Philadelphia Freedoms
2002 Sacramento Capitals
2003 Delaware Smash
2004 Newport Beach Breakers
2005 New York Sportimes
2006 Philadelphia Freedoms
2007 Sacramento Capitals
2008 Kansas City Explorers
2009 Washington Kastles
2010 Kansas City Explorers
2011 Washington Kastles
2012 Washington Kastles
2013 Washington Kastles
2014 Washington Kastles

And, now, here comes Aga! Look out, west coast...

13 Final: Cibulkova d. A.Radwanska
13 Doubles Final: Kops-Jones/Spears d. Goerges/Jurak
14 Top Seeds: S.Williams/A.Radwanska

The U.S. Open Series begins, and the proverbial rubber suddenly is forced to meet the road. Some intriguing -- and maybe telling -- match-ups that we might get in northern California? Well, how about Vika/Venus in the 2nd Round, with the winner likely facing either Stosur or Petkovic, who could also meet in the 2nd? Not enough? Well, there's former Stanford finalist-turned-tour-title-winner Coco Vandeweghe against Angelique Kerber in the 2nd Round, Serena/AnaIvo in the QF, and then the possible resumption of some very good head-to-head series in the semifinals, be it Serena/Vika, Serena/Venus or A-Rad/Cibulkova (last year's final). Is Serena back, and does she feel like she has something to prove in order to make everyone forget her embarrassing Wimbledon exit? How about Azarenka, who is still pretty match-lite for '14? Did some time off refresh Aga? I'd really like to pick either Vika or Venus here, but I'll go the safe, "boring" route...

#1 S.Williams d. #5 Ivanovic
(WC) V.Williams d. #8 Petkovic
#6 Cibulkova d. Vandeweghe
#2 A.Radwanska d. #7 Suarez-Navarro
#1 S.Williams d. (WC) V.Williams
#6 Cibulkova d. #2 A.Radwanska
#1 S.Williams d. #6 Cibulkova

...Serena, sight unseen. It says something about her season that that doesn't sound as good as it usually does. But she's been pretty good everywhere but in the slams in '14, so it might turn out to be a smart choice. Of course, if we get another fiasco that creates unwanted headlines, well, then at least there will be something to talk about next week.

Meanwhile, I guess Aga will have a few additional moments to visit her "old friends." She was already thinking about it last week...

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Int'l $250K/HCO)
13 Final: Rybarikova d. Petkovic (Rybarikova 2012-13)
13 Doubles Final: Dushevina/Aoyama d. Bouchard/Townsend (Aoyama 2012-13)
14 Top Seeds: Safarova/Makarova

#7 Keys d. #3 Cornet
#4 Stephens d. Riske
#7 Keys d. #4 Stephens

...speaking of looking for a Wimbledon follow-up. A second title for Keys would surely soothe a bit of the lingering "what if's" associated with that missed opportunity to complete that suspended SW19 match against Yaroslava Shvedova. I just want to see Keys face off with Cornet again (a rematch of that Fed Cup career-changer), then go up against Stephens in what would rightfully be deemed a "litmus test" for Thomas Hogstedt's latest pupil. Honestly, I really don't think Stephens will reach the final (she could lose her 1st Rounder vs. McHale), but, naturally, if she does... ummm, I'll surely count it up as a "win" for me. Ha-HA! Them's just the rulz, I tell ya! Of course, last time I picked Keys to win a title (which would have been her first) she lost early, and then won her maiden crown a week later. So, if she ends up playing next week in the Rogers Cup... well, look out, Montreal!

Bouchard pulled out of this week's D.C. event, where she reached the doubles final last year with Townsend and would have been the #1 singles seed this time around, for medical reasons. She's appearing SOMEWHERE, though...

Hmmm, somehow, I doubt that she'll get the same "Sloane treatment" that Stephens got in her interview in the American version of Elle. Just an educated guess.

All for now.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Wk.29- The Dane Stands Tall in the Land of the Turks

With hints of both the good and bad aspects of the 1974 "Love Double" of Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors, in events held over 1700 miles apart this weekend, both Caroline Wozniacki and her ex-fiance Rory McIlroy seized the moment in their own special way.

Ever since the former couple's engagement was broken off via a brief, three-minute phone call from the golfer last May, Wozniacki, who soon after changed her Twitter avatar to a photo of herself dressed as a witch stirring her brew, has been making the rounds with WTA friends, smiling and making it pretty clear that she's doing just fine not having to plan on making a trip to Georgia next spring for some mid-week caddying duties. Last week, she even found a moment to take a thinly-veiled swipe at McIlroy when she posted a photo of herself enjoying a day on the town... in heels:

It only took a quick glance at some photos of a heel-wearing Wozniacki during her three-year relationship with McIlroy to get the picture.

It was a cute jab, and more than a bit funny. In a (oh-so-good) nasty way. But nothing compares to what Caro actually did on the court in Turkey, where her more focused, post-engagement, post-coaching carousel, post-lost in the woods blue period game finally got some traction and produced a string of consistent performances. In the end, she was the last woman standing in Istanbul, lifting a tour singles trophy for the 22nd time in her career.

Of course, as the "Non-Love Doubles" weekend ended, McIlroy had his own moment in Liverpool, concluding a dominant week on the links by winning the British Open to claim his third major title, something that Wozniacki had yet to be able to do on the WTA tour.

While it's hardly fair to compare their wins or careers, Wozniacki's jab will surely cause it to be the case now. At least in the short term.

But, hey, after the way the Dane has managed to stand tall in recent weeks after a few seasons of being lost in the WTA darkness, maybe she's finally found the inspiration to push her to be the best player she can be -- to show a certain someone just what he left behind. Spite can be a wonderful thing, and if it's focused in order to accomplish something good, it can be a pretty powerful tool, as well.

If a scorned Caro turns out to be better player, well, who's to argue with results, right? After all, the Tennis Gods do sometimes work in mysterious ways. And if she's looking to trump a British Open title... well, there could be an opportunity waiting to be taken in about a month in, depending on Serena Williams' personal situation by then, what could be as wide open a U.S. Open competition as we've seen in years.

I'm just sayin'.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY (Int'l $250K/Hard Court)
S: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN def. Roberta Vinci/ITA 6-1/6-1
D: Doi/Svitolina (JPN/UKR) d. Kalashnikova/Kania (GEO/POL) 6-4/6-0

BASTAD, SWEDEN (Int'l $250K/Red Clay)
S: Mona Barthel/GER def. Chanelle Scheepers/RSA 6-3/7-6(3)
D: Klepac/Torro-Flor (SLO/ESP) d. Rae/A.Smith (GBR/GBR) 6-1/6-1

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN was quite a week for Wozniacki. She celebrated her 24th birthday the Friday before the start of play in Istanbul, then opened the week with a double-bagel win (her first in four years) over Belinda Bencic. After getting off that feel-good shot at the height of ex-fiance McIlroy, who was soon leading the British Open, Caro survived three-setters over Karin Knapp and Karolina Pliskova before taking out Kristina Mladenovic in straights to reach the final. While McIlroy was stretching, then barely holding onto, then stretching his lead again on Sunday, Wozniacki went about her business, as well, eliminated Roberta Vinci 6-1/6-1 in the final to take her first title of the season, and the 22nd of her career. Of course, the "Caro Buzz Kill Stat of the Week" says that title #22 now makes the Dane the player with the MOST career titles (breaking a previous tie with Pam Shriver) without an accompanying slam title. But, hey, why spoil the celebration? The win also gives Wozniacki seven straight seasons with a title. The only WTA players with longer active streaks? Sharapova and Serena.
RISERS: Mona Barthel/GER & Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
...ah, but Caro wasn't the only player who just celebrated a birthday who ended up winning a title this weekend. Yep, the week's other singles champ, Barthel, was ALSO born on July 11, 1990. The German's talent has been evident for a few seasons, but her ability to sustain consistent results has been in deep question over that time. So, here we go again. Maybe the third time will be the charm. Barthel grabbed her third career tour singles title in Bastad, taking her first clay court crown and lifting a trophy for the first time since she took home a big one in the Paris Indoors last February. Barthel put up wins over Gabriela Dabrowski, Kaia Kanepi, Silvia Soler-Espinosa (SSE led 3-1 in the 3rd) and Chanelle Scheepers in the final this past week, giving her as many titles over the past three seasons as the likes of players named Cibulkova, Cornet, Ivanovic, Kerber, Pavlyuchenkova and Vinci (and just one less than Li and Wozniacki). Meanwhile, after starring most of the last year in doubles, Mladenovic has finally been asserting herself a bit more in singles lately. She upset Li Na at Roland Garros, and last week reached her first WTA singles semifinal since February '13 (Florianopolis) by reaching the final four in Istanbul. The 21-year old's victories over Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Klara Koukalova and Francesca Schiavone lifted the Pastry (who reached #36 last August) back into the Top 100 at #81 in the new rankings.
SURPRISES: Andreja Klepac/Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (SLO/ESP) & Jocelyn Rae/Anna Smith (GBR/GBR)
...a week after Klepac & Torro-Flor lost in the Bad Gastein final (where the Slovenian was the defending champ), the pair reached the championship match in Bastad, as well. This time, though, they won, taking their first tour title as a duo, while both woman won the second crown of their respective careers. Klepac has one tour level singles final to her credit (losing in Budapest in '08 to Cornet), while Torro-Flor was a first-time winner in Marrakech earlier this year. Klepac & MTTF won the final in a quick forty-three minutes over Brits Rae & Smith, who were making their maiden appearance in a WTA final. Still, the loss didn't diminish the great week they had as they carried over their ITF success to the big tour. Rae & Smith have won eight challenger crowns while reaching ten finals, including going 5-1 in '14 while reaching finals in a combination of hard, clay and grass court events. They won the Nottingham title before Wimbledon, as 25-year old Smith has claimed 21 ITF doubles titles, while 23-year old Rae has 15.

VETERANS: Roberta Vinci/ITA & Chanelle Scheepers/RSA
...has Vinci finally gotten things under control? After starting her season with a loss to a 16-year old making her tour debut, the 31-year old Italian opened '14 on a 0-6 stumble. Standing at 3-11 for the season, she won four of five matches, only to then lose five straight and fall to 7-17. Since completing a Career Doubles Slam at Wimbledon with Sara Errani, though, Vinci has gone 8-2 over the last two weeks, reaching back-to-back finals. She didn't win either one, but her victories last week in Istanbul over Anna Tatishvili, Alexandra Dulgheru, Kurumi Nara and Ana Konjuh (the aforementioned 16-year old from Week 1) brings the Top 20 again within the reach the world #23. First up... #22 Sloane Stephens? Scheepers, 30, advanced to her second career tour final (she won Guangzhou in '11) in Bastad, notching wins over Mariana Duque-Marino, Laura Siegemund, Lara Arrubarrena and Jana Cepelova. The world #91 sees her standing jump twenty spots to #71 in the new rankings.
COMEBACK: Petra Cetkovska/CZE
...the Czech's climb back from her ranking plummet after missing the first four months of '13 with a stress fracture in her foot continues. After reaching the Top 25 in '12, Cetkovska ended '13 at #132. She went into the $50K challenger in Olomouc, CZE last week having climbed back into the Top 70, and the top-seeded 29-year old ultimately put up wins over Sofia Shapatava, Barbora Krejcikova and Denisa Allertova en route to her 22nd career ITF title. She won the doubles with Renata Voracova, too, taking out Krejickova & Aleksandra Krunic for her 25th career ITF doubles win. Cetkovska has never won a tour level singles crown, having lost to Wozniacki in the '11 New Haven final. Cetkovska is #66 in the new rankings.
FRESH FACES: Jana Cepelova/SVK & Ana Konjuh/CRO
...the hope last week was that Charleston runner-up Cepelova might have turned a corner with her tight 1st Round loss to eventual Bad Gastein champ Andrea Petkovic, the same German who'd beaten her in the Family Circle Cup final last spring. Coming to Bastad on a 1-10 skid, Cepelova strung together her first back-to-back wins (over Swede Rebecca Peterson and #1 seed Alize Cornet conqueror Anett Kontaveit) since April and added a third (Yulia Putintseva) to reach the semifinals. In Istanbul, 16-year old Konjuh qualified with wins over Sesil Karatantcheva and Kristyna Pliskova, then ran off victories over Magdalena Rybarikova, Misaki Doi and Elina Svitolina to reach her first career WTA semifinal. At the end of the same week that fellow 2013 two-time junior slam winner Belinda Bencic was bounced love & love in Istanbul, the Croat's spoils following the best week of her pro career is a new best-ever ranking of #116 on the WTA computer.
DOWN: Tsvetana Pironkova/BUL
...I guess we sort of knew things would play out this way, huh? After winning a slew of big matches but never winning a tour title for so many years, a huge obstacle was cleared by Pironkova when she claimed her first WTA crown with an 8-0 run through qualifying and the main draw to take Sydney champion honors in January. Flashforward seven months, though, and the Bulgarian has gone 10-13 since, and just 6-11 in WTA MD action. She even went 0-2 on grass! Her 1st Round loss to Stefanie Voegele last week in Istanbul was her fourth straight, and her sixth in her last seven matches. But don't cry, or blink, for the Weeping Angel, for she'll surely spring an attack again... after everyone has stopped looking. In that case, I'd say the time may be coming soon, I guess.

ITF PLAYERS: Patricia Maria Tig/ROU & Andreea Mitu/ROU
...Swarmettes rule! Tig, 19, claimed her circuit lead-tying fifth ITF title of the season with a win in the $10K Galati, Romania final over countrywoman Irina Maria Bara. Tig has raised her ranking nearly 500 spots since the start of the season, going 42-8 in all singles action. 22-year old Mitu, a recent qualifier at Wimbledon, took the $25K Darmstedt challenger in Germany, defeating Viktorija Golubic in the final to grab her third ITF title of the season, matching her biggest wins in two previous $25K tournaments. Both Romanians have now won a total of ten challenger titles in their careers.
JUNIOR STARS: Tornado Black/USA & Katie Boulter/GBR
...juniors were grabbing titles on the ITF circuit this weekend. 2013 U.S. Open girls runner-up Black, 16, won her second career (w/ the '13 Amelia Island $10K) pro singles title, taking the $10K challenger in Evansville, Indiana with a 6-4/4-6/6-2 win in the final over fellow American Caitlin Whoriskey. Meanwhile, 17-year old Boulter, the Australian Open girls doubles RU (w/ Ivana Jorovic) in January, won her third ITF doubles title in the $15K challenger in Imola, Italy along with a fellow Brit, 19-year old Katy Dunne, who also claimed the singles title. Boulter reached the singles semifinals, as well.

Meanwhile, Caro wasn't the only tennis player towering over a star from another sport last week... not with Maria Sharapova presenting an ESPY Award with boxer Floyd Mayweather:

1. Istanbul Final - Wozniacki d. Vinci
While she's only appeared in seven over the last three seasons, Caro has reached a total of 35 tour singles finals in her career. Her 22 wins place her 23rd on the all-time WTA title list. She's two behind Jana Novotna, three back of Amelie Mauresmo and has just five fewer than Gabriela Sabatini and Hana Mandlikova. All of those women are enshrined in Newport, but only Mauresmo was ranked #1 (for 39 weeks, compared to Wozniacki's 67). All won slam titles, though, while Caro still seeks her first.
2. Bastad Final - Barthel d. Scheepers
Barthel's three career titles is more than (Goerges-2), equal to (Kerber & Lisicki) or nearly as many as (Petkovic-4) all the "bigger-named" Germans of her generation.
3. Istanbul 1st Rd. - Wozniacki d. Bencic
This was the Dane's third career double-bagel victory. Oddly enough, none of them came while she was ranked #1, as she posted love & love wins over Edina Gallovits (2009 New Haven 1st Rd.) and Chang Kai-Chen (2010 U.S. Open 2nd Rd.) before she topped the rankings for the first time in October '10.
4. Bastad 1st Rd. - Kontaveit d. Cornet
Cornet took out #1 Serena at Wimbledon, but suffered the same fate as the #1 seed in Bastad in her first post-SW19 outing.
5. Istanbul 2nd Rd. - Schiavone d. Jovanovski
Schiavone came in ranked #75, while BoJo was #40. It's the Italian's fourth Top 40 victory in the past year.
6. Istanbul QF - Mladenovic d. Schiavone
Schiavone nearly pulled off her best result since reaching the SF in Seoul last October, losing out to the Pastry when Kiki bounced back after failing to convert two MP at 5-4 in the 3rd. After breaking for 6-5 on her fifth BP of the game, Mladenovic held to take the match, finally converting on her third MP.
7. Istanbul SF - Vinci d. Konjuh
Ah, sweet revenge. Back in Week 1, before the calendar had even officially turned over to 2014 (on December 31st), the just-turned-16 Konjuh made her WTA main draw debut and upset Vinci in the 1st Round in Auckland. It's taken Vinci nearly seven months to finally get her season turned around, but with back-to-back finals she seems to have righted the ship.
8. $50K Olomouc CZE Final - Cetkovska d. Allertova
Might the 21-year old Allertova at some point follow in fellow Czech Tereza Smitkova's footsteps and put on a qualifying run at a slam and take her chances in a main draw? Already a five-time ITF title winner in '14, the unseeded Maiden took out the #2 (Hlavackova) and #5 (Tsurenko) seeds to reach the final, then extended #1-seeded Cetkovska to three sets. At a new career-high of #177 in the current rankings, Allertova is now 7-2 in career ITF single finals (5-1 this season).

9. $50K Carson Final - Gibbs d. Oudin
The 21-year old, former two-time NCAA singles champion has now won $50K challengers on U.S. hard courts in each of the last three Julys.
10. Istanbul Doubles Final - Doi/Svitolina d. Kalashnikova/Kania
With her first tour level doubles crown, Svitolina has now won at least one WTA singles, WTA doubles, ITF singles, ITF doubles and WTA 125 singles title in her career. If the 19-year old can pick up a 125 doubles win later this year, she'll have collected one of all six women's pro titles out there to be had.

1. WTT - Hingis/Venus Williams d. Medina-Garrigues/Jurak

Fancy meeting you here. Washington Kastle teammates Martina & Venus combined to hand a loss to AMG & Jurak. Seventeen years ago in 1997, Hingis & Williams faced off in the U.S. Open final. The then 16-year old Swiss Miss won in straight sets, winning her third slam crown. 17-year old Venus was playing in just her third slam main draw.
2. Istanbul Doubles 1st Rd. - Kalashnikova/Kania d. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiya Kichenkok
...6-7(3)/6-4 [10-8].
If you want to put up a good doubles result, draw the Kichenoks in the early rounds. At Wimbledon, Errani/Vinci overcame 6 MP and went on to take the title. Kalashnikova/Kania won a tight one here and went on to reach the final.

Rubbin' elbows with a great in the WTT!

12 years - Maria Sharapova, 2003-14
8 years - Serena Williams, 2007-14
7 years - CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, 2008-14
5 years - Li Na, 2010-14
4 years - Dominika Cibulkova, 2011-14
4 years - Petra Kvitova, 2011-14
3 years - Alize Cornet, 2012-14
3 years - MONA BARTHEL, 2012-14
[current streaks, no 2014 title]
5 years - Victoria Azarenka, 2009-13
5 years - Roberta Vinci, 2009-13
3 years - Agnieszka Radwanska, 2011-13
3 years - Daniela Hantuchova, 2011-13
3 years - Magdalena Rybarikova, 2011-13

2...Li Na, January (2-0)
2...Klara Zakopalova, Feb-Mar (1-1)
2...Ana Ivanovic, April (1-1)
2...Maria Sharapova, Apr-May (2-0)
2...ROBERTA VINCI, July (0-2)
4...Errani/Vinci, May-Jun (2-2)
3...Peng Shuai, Feb-Mar (3-0)
2...Errani/Vinci, January (1-1)
2...Kveta Peschke, February (1-1)
2...Hsieh/Peng, Feb-Mar (2-0)
2...Chan Hao-Ching, April (1-1)
2...Chan Yung-Jan, April (0-2)
2...Black/Mirza, Apr-May (1-1)
2...KLEPAC/TORRO-FLOR, July (1-1)

21...Pam Shriver
19...Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere
19...Nancy Richey
16...Elena Dementieva
15...Dianne Fromholtz Balestrat
14...Zina Garrison
13...Nadia Petrova *
13...Jelena Jankovic *
13...Agnieszka Radwanska *
*- active

.000 - Angelique Kerber (0-3)
.000 - Sara Errani (0-2)
.000 - Karolina Pliskova (0-2)
.000 - ROBERTA VINCI (0-2)
.333 - Dominika Cibulkova (1-2)
.333 - Simona Halep (1-2)
.333 - Klara Koukalova (1-2)

Dubai - V.Williams/USA (WC) d. A.Cornet/FRA
Marrakech - M-T.Torro-Flor/ESP d. R.Oprandi/SUI
Strasbourg - M.Puig/PUR d. S.Soler-Espinosa/ESP (Q) *
's-Herto. - C.Vandeweghe/USA (Q) d. J.Zheng/CHN
Bastad - M.Barthel/GER d. C.Scheepers/RSA #
*-all unseeded SF; #-all unseeded QF

4 USA - S.Williams,V.Williams,Keys,Vandeweghe
3 RUS - Makarova,Pavlyuchenkova,Sharapova
3 ESP - Muguruza,Suarez-Navarro,Torro-Flor
2 FRA - Cornet,Garcia
2 CZE - Koukalova,Kvitova
2 GER - Barthel,Petkofic
[recent winning nations by season]
2007: 17
2008: 18
2009: 20
2010: 21
2011: 20
2012: 23
2013: 19
2014: 17

#166 Kristina Kucova/SVK - Bucharest SF
#160 Nasstasja Burnett/ITA - Rio SF
#147 Shelby Rogers/USA - Bad Gastein RU
#140 Belinda Bencic/SUI - Charleston SF
#139 ANA KONJUH/CRO - Istanbul SF
#138 Grace Min/USA - Bad Gastein SF

**2014 ITF TITLES**
5...Denisa Allertova, CZE
4...Elise Mertens, BEL
4...Nadia Podoroska, ARG
4...Ana Sofia Sanchez, MEX
4...Zhu Lin, CHN

Laura Robson has been spotted in a photo WITHOUT her wrist brace!!!! See?

More evidence...

Just had to get that in there.

13 Final: Svitolina d. Peer
13 Doubles Final: Buryachok/Kalashnikova d. Daniilidou/Krunic (Buryachok 2012-13)
14 Top Seeds: Cirstea/Svitolina

#5 Jovanovski d. Peer
#8 Cepelova d. Mladenovic
#8 Cepelova d. #5 Jovanovski

...hmmm, bypassing #1-seed Cirstea and #2-seed/defending champ Svitolina might be a big no-no, but Cepelova's recent upswing makes her a feel-good player to root for this week, so I'll go with that.

NAN CHANG, CHINA (WTA 125 Series Challenger/HCO)
=new event=
14 Top Seeds: Peng/J.Zheng

#1 Peng d. #6 Sa.Zheng
#2 J.Zheng d. #4 Kumkum
#2 J.Zheng d. #1 Peng

...Peng has never won a WTA level singles title (0-6 in finals). A win here wouldn't, technically, give her a first... but it would be closer. It still probably won't happen. I should probably be picking Zheng Saisai, but I'll go with the veteran Zheng. The best chances for a non-Chinese winner here are Kumkhum, Doi and Minella.

13 Final: Washington Kastles d. Springfield Lasers

Washington Kastles d. San Diego Aviators

...going for the four-peat, and a fifth title in six years, with Hingis (for sure) and Venus (maybe, crossing fingers) leading the way. Although, if Vika's around for the postseason matches, look out for the dark horse Philadelphia Freedoms.

And, now, while there wasn't really anywhere to naturally fit this in this week, I can't let the week go by without using this:

While Petra Kvitova might not be able to sing a lick, it goes without saying that she at least LOOKS the part of a musician, doesn't she? Imagine if she CAN sing, though. Oh, Petra!

All for now.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Wk.28- Pride & Petkovic

Wimbledon is over and finished, so now it's time to get back to building a season. And, right on cue, Simona Halep and Andrea Petkovic stepped right up with their brick and mortar.

As great as Halep's season has been as she's climbed to a Romanian-best ever ranking of #3 in the world, reached a pair of slam semifinals and her first major final, the one thing that was the hallmark of her climb up the rankings in 2013 -- her ability to salt away singles titles -- has been mostly missing in '14. After going 6-0 in finals last year, Halep was just 1-2 heading into last week, with her only winning weekend coming in Doha five months ago. Ah, but wouldn't you know it, the Pride of Romania managed to steal the show in the inaugural Bucharest Open, racing through the draw while dropping just one set all week and firing the first shot across the bow of BOTH world #2 Li Na and Road to Singapore points leader Maria Sharapova as the '14 season nears it's turn down the back stretch when things head to North America in less than two weeks.

Meanwhile, in Bad Gastein, Petkovic was both rekindling an old flame AND staking out new territory. Five years ago, as the then-#98 ranked player in the world who'd never won back-to-back WTA main draw matches, the German went to Austria and made off with her maiden career singles title. Within eighteen months, she was starting down the path of an '11 season in which she'd reach a trio of slam quarterfinals and finish the year in the Top 10. Injuries and aggravation have ruled much of Petko's day since then, until this season. In 2014, the dancing and smiling German has returned in nearly full force, putting up big time Fed Cup wins, returning to the Top 20, winning Charleston and reaching first career slam semifinal at Roland Garros. With her career trajectory tracking upward once again, Petkovic returned to the tournament where she first cut her teeth and took another big bite. Her title run gives her multiple singles crowns in a season for the first time in her career.

With quite a few weeks left in the '14 season, it'd surprise no one if both Halep and Petkovic aren't finished their step-by-step march toward seasons they'll never forget. Crossing fingers. They're two of the main reasons that, even as the world #1 and '13 #2 have been mostly afterthoughts when it's come to on-court high points, this WTA campaign has turned out to be one of the most interesting in recent memory.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA (Int'l $250K/Red Clay)
S: Simona Halep/ROU def. Roberta Vinci/ITA 6-1/6-3
D: E.Bogdan/Cadantu (ROU/ROU) d. Buyukakcay/Knapp (TUR/ITA) 6-4/3-6 [10-5]

BAD GASTEIN, AUSTRIA (Int'l $250K/Red Clay)
S: Andrea Petkovic/GER def. Shelby Rogers/USA 6-3/6-3
D: Ka.Pliskova/Kr.Pliskova (CZE/CZE) d. Klepac/Torro-Flor (SLO/ESP) 4-6/6-3 [10-6]

...Halep's second title of the year finally puts her on equal -- or nearly so -- footing with the rest of the players potentially in the running for 2014 Player of the Year. Her wins in Bucharest over Indy De Vroome, Aleksandra Krunic, Lara Arruabarrena, Monica Niculescu and Roberta Vinci get her to eight career titles, just four off the all-time Romanian lead. She's still at #3 in the rankings and 175 points behind #2 Li Na, but while the Chinese vet's level of play heading into North America is anyone's guess, Halep looks ready to tackle what comes next. Of course, Li's lead is still a huge gulf compared to the measly eleven point advantage Maria Sharapova currently holds over Halep in the Road to Singapore standings, as the Romanian's first-ever qualification for the season-ending championships is pretty much just a matter of time at this point.
RISERS: Karolina Pliskova/Kristyna Pliskova (CZE/CZE) and Monica Niculescu/ROU
...while both Pliskovas lost out to a pair of Bannerettes in singles (Karolina at least made the QF), the Power of Two proved to be too much for anyone to handle in the doubles. The 22-year olds, the only twins to share a WTA doubles title, won the second of their careers in Bad Gastein (Karolina won an additional title earlier this year w/ another partner), pulling them into a tie for third place -- behind the Williams and Bondarenko sisters -- on the all-time WTA title-winning sisters duos list. Niculescu, 26, reached her first tour singles finals in 2011 and '12, then won her first singles title last year. The Swarmette hasn't made a similar step forward in '14, but after going 0-3 in quarterfinals she did reach her first semi of the season this weekend in her own backyard in Bucharest. Befoer her three-set loss to Halep, her three wins -- including victories over Klara Koukalova and Polona Hercog -- were Niculescu's first back-to-back triumphs in a tour main draw since her attempted defense of her Florianopolis title in February (she reached the QF), and her SF result is her best since a final four finish in Monterrey in April of last year.
SURPRISES: Elena Bogdan/Alexandra Cadantu (ROU/ROU) and Kristina Kucova/SVK
...while Halep took the inaugural singles title at the Bucharest Open, fellow Swarmettes Bogdan and Cadantu grabbed the doubles. It's the first tour level doubles crown for both. Bogdan and Cadantu came into the event ranked #245 and #496, respectively, and jump to #134 and #175 in the new rankings. Also in Bucharest, #166 Kucova became the lowest-ranked semifinalist on tour this season, as the 24-year reached her first career final four with wins over Anna Schmiedlova, Cristina Dinu and Danka Kovinic.
VETERANS: Roberta Vinci/ITA & Sara Errani/ITA has often been the case with Italians in recent seasons after big results, it'd been easy for Vinci and Errani to lean back and enjoy the fruits of the Career Doubles Slam they just won at Wimbledon. But in separate tournaments, both took to the court and put up good singles results the "week after." For Errani, it wasn't a big leap, as her semifinal run in Bad Gastein after wins over Katerina Siniakova, Paula Ormaechea and Chanelle Scheepers was predictable. But Vinci entered Bucharest sporting a 7-17 singles record this season and had lost five matches in a row, so the 31-year old's run to her first final since her Palmero win exactly one year ago served as quite the potential season-turning event. Wins over Alexandra Dulgheru, Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Petra Cetkovska and Kristina Kucova gave Vinci her first four-match win streak since last year's U.S. Open, and it's the first time she's beaten three Top 100 players in an event since she did it in Cincinnati last August.
COMEBACK: Andrea Petkovic/GER

...Petkovic's Bad Gastein (2009) to Bad Gastein (2014) full circle trip managed to put a few more check marks in the column for this current season being the German's best ever, even if she's so far "only" climbed up to #18 in the new rankings. Career title #4 came via wins over a mostly-inexperienced lot -- Jana Cepelova, Dinah Pfizenmaier, Grace Min & Shelby Rogers, along with the more-experienced Stefanie Voegele -- but her trip wasn't without potential pitfalls that had to be overcome. Cepelova held set points in both sets in Petkovic's straights sets win in a rematch of the Charleston final, while Min won the 1st set in their three-set semifinal.

FRESH FACES: Shelby Rogers/USA & Grace Min/USA
...following in the pre-Wimbledon footsteps of Madison Keys and Coco Vandweghe, another pair of young Bannerettes simultaneously stretched for career-best results, only this time in the same tournament. Not only that, but they even shared a defeated opponent and BOTH knocked off a Pliskova sister. Rogers, 21, qualified in Bad Gastein and reached a tour level semifinal and final for the first time in her career, becoming the lowest-ranked (#147) singles finalist on tour in 2014 after entering the event without back-to-back WTA main draw wins on her WTA resume. Rogers, who notched the first two Top 20 wins of her career last week (def. Carla Suarez-Navarro and Sara Errani, and adding hardly-shabby wins over Camila Giorgi and Kristyna Pliskova, too), has a history of raising her game when the stakes are high, though. Remember, she put up multiple good results in challenger events over a short stretch last year while twice winning the USTA's wild card berths into Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. 20-year old Min, the '11 U.S. Open junior champ, reached her first career tour semifinal as the #138-ranked player in the world heading into the Austrian event. After getting a break and seeing top-seeded Flavia Pennetta withdraw, Min got a win over "lucky loser" Beatriz Garcia-Vidagany (who Rogers def. in qualifying), then took out Irina Falconi and Karolina Pliskova. In the semis, she was up a set on eventual champ Petkovic before losing in three. Rogers is now up to a career-best #104, while Min checks in a new high of #114.
DOWN: Serena Williams/USA
...yeah, she didn't play this past week. Meanwhile, Jana Cepelova did, and lost again... after having chances in multiple sets to win. Again. But since she "won" the Down award the week before Wimbledon, I don't have the heart to pile on the young Slovak whose results have been reeling since she reached the Charleston final. Speaking of, Cepelova lost her rematch with Charleston champ Petkovic in the 1st Round in Bad Gastein this week, but played well, even if she did squander some chances at a tournament-upending upset. So, I'll go with Serena here. Yeah, again. But this is for missing out on her Bastad defense attempt this coming week, citing whatever it was that took her out of Wimbledon as the reason. Remember, she was a somewhat surprising participant in the Swedish event last year as she added one more week to her '13 clay court season right after the completion of Wimbledon, picking up her seventh of what would be eleven singles titles last season. She's got just three so far this year, and it doesn't look like #4 will be coming anytme soon.
...the 29-year old had a disappointing Wimbledon (losing in the 2nd Rd. to Yaroslava Shvedova after defeating JJ in the 1st Rd.), but she's followed it up with back-to-back runs to $100K challanger finals. After losing last week in Contrexeville, the Estonian took the title this weekend in Biarritz with wins over Stephanie Vogt, Mandy Minella and Teliana Pereira in the final. A past winner of four WTA singles titles, this is Kanepi's first ITF win since 2010. Her first came fourteen years ago in 2000.
JUNIOR STAR: Francoise Abanda/CAN
...the 17-year old hasn't played much junior tennis in '14, appearing in just a pair of slams -- RG semis, Wimbledon 3rd Rd.. Still, she gets the honor this week for, naturally, her second career appearance in an ITF singles final. In the $25K challenger in Gatineau, Canada, Abanda lost to veteran Stephanie Foretz-Gacon, after having won her first pro title in Port St. Lucie, Florida earlier this season.


Lindsay Davenport, Nick Bollettieri and Chantal Vandierendonck (the first ITF Wheelchair World Champion in 1991) were among the group of people inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island this weekend.

1. BG 1st Rd. - Petkovic d. Cepelova
Perhaps looking for a chance to right her season precisely where it started to go wrong, when the Slovak lost to the German in the Charleston final, Cepelova had her opportunities. After climbing out of a 5-2 hold in the 1st set, she held three set points in the tie-break, then two more in the 2nd set. Alas, she fell in straights to drop her seventh straight, and to 1-10 in her last eleven matches.
2. BG SF - Rogers d. Errani
Errani held two SP at 5-4 in the 1st, had three more in the TB, and led 2-0 in the 3rd.
3. BG 1st Rd. - Meusburger d. Smitkova
While Smitkova qualified in Bad Gastein, the Wimbledon Round of 16er couldn't take out defending champ Meusburger despite holding a pair of SP in the 1st. The Austrian finally took the set on her seventh SP in the tie-break. The 2nd set saw seven consecutive breaks of serve as the Czech teenager sent things to a 3rd, where she went up an early break and served for the match at 5-4, only to lose while dropping the final four games of the match.
4. Istanbul Q1 - Eguchi d. Smitkova
Things weren't quite as dramatic in Smitkova's next match.
5. Bucharest Final - Halep d. Vinci
Halep is tied with Ana Ivanovic for the most final appearances (4) this season.
6. BG Final - Petkovic d. Rogers
Rogers joins McHale and Keys to make it a trio of first-time finalist Bannerettes in 2014, tying the Spaniards for the '14 tour lead.
7. BG Doubles 1st Rd. - Ormaechea/Pfizenmaier d. Krejcikova/Siniakova
...4-6/7-5 [10-7].
I'm assuming there were no on-court dance routines for the young Czech Maidens after this one.
8. $50K Sacramento Final - Rogowska d. Boserup
The Aussie grabs her eleventh career ITF crown, and her second $50K event this season, both being her biggest titles ever. Rogowska whipped up on a five-pack of Bannerettes, adding wins over Macall Harkins, Peggy Porter, Sachia Vickery and Madison Brengle to her final victory over Boserup.
HM- $10K Sharm El Sheikh Final - Jan Abaza d. Pauline Payet
The 19-year old American has reached a combined six singles & doubles finals over the last three weeks in Egypt. Her sweep of the singles and doubles this weekend gives her 2-1 records in both sets of finals during the span.

1. BG Doubles Final - Karolina & Kristyna Pliskova d. Klepac/Torro-Flor

...4-6/6-3 [10-6].
Battling back from a 5-0 deficit in the match tie-break, the Pliskovas win their second tour title and prevent Klepac from defending the crown she won a year ago with Sandra Klemenschits. Oddly enough, both of the Czech sisters' titles have come in Austria, as they won in Linz last season.
2. Bucharest 1st Rd. - Kristina Kucova d. Anna Schmiedlova
Kucova won the '07 U.S. Open junior title, while Schmiedlova was the girls runner-up at RG in '12. Anna's sister, Kristina, was just the RU in the Wimbledon juniors, as well. So, I guess things held to form here... family wise.
3. $10K Bangkok Doubles Final - Varatchaya & Varunya Wongteanchai d. Kumkhum/Tanasugarn
...6-3/4-6 [10-8].
The Thai siblings take out their more-accomplished countrywomen to grab their third ITF title as a duo.

Hmmm, two to choose from as the return of Vika as a "regular" tour presence gets closer and closer. First, a nice photo.

And, second, well... this just looks like an accident waiting to happen, doesn't it?

**2014 WTA TITLES**
3...Serena Williams [Brisbane,Miami,Rome]
3...Maria Sharapova [Stuttgart,Madrid,Roland Garros]
3...Ana Ivanovic [Auckland,Monterrey,Birmingham]
2...Li Na [Shenzhen,Australian Open]
2...SIMONA HALEP [Doha,Bucharest]
2...ANDREA PETKOVIC [Charleston,Bad Gastein]

**WTA FINALS - 2012-14**
23 - Serena Williams (21-2)
17 - Maria Sharapova (8-9)
16 - Victoria Azarenka (9-7)
11 - SIMONA HALEP (8-3)
11 - Sara Errani (5-6)
11 - Li Na (4-7)

11...Serena Williams
10...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, Maria Sharapova
7...Flavia Pennetta, Venus Williams
6...Sara Errani, Jelena Jankovic
5...Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vinci
4...ANDREA PETKOVIC, Caroline Wozniacki

2 - Serena Williams = Hard,Red Clay
2 - Ana Ivanovic = Hard,Grass
2 - SIMONA HALEP = Hard,Red Clay
2 - ANDREA PETKOVIC = Green Clay,Red Clay

**2014 #1 SEED WON TITLE**
Brisbane - Serena Williams, USA
Shenzhen - Li Na, CHN
Acapulco - Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
Miami - Serena Williams, USA
Oeiras - Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
Rome - Serena Williams, USA
Birmingham - Ana Ivanovic, SRB
Bucharest - Simona Halep, ROU

#147 SHELBY ROGERS, USA - Bad Gastein (L=Petkovic)
#137 Jovana Jaksic, SRB - Monterrey (L=Ivanovic)
#118 Silvia Soler-Espinosa, ESP - Strasbourg (L=Puig)
#107 Tsvetana Pironkova, BUL - Sydney (W=Kerber)
#101 Romina Oprandi, SUI - Marrakech (L=Torro-Flor)

**2014 WTA SF**
6...SIMONA HALEP (4-2)
6...Maria Sharapova (3-3)
5...Ana Ivanovic (4-1)
5...Eugenie Bouchard (2-3)
5...Aga Radwanska (1-4)
5...Jelena Jankovic (1-4)

#160 Nasstasja Burnett/ITA - Rio SF
#147 SHELBY ROGERS/USA - Bad Gastein RU
#140 Belinda Bencic/SUI - Charleston SF
#138 GRACE MIN/USA - Bad Gastein SF
#137 Jovana Jaksic/SRB - Monterrey RU

Shenzhen - Li Na, CHN (W)
Shenzhen - Peng Shuai, CHN (L)
Miami - Serena Williams, USA (W)
Rome - Sara Errani, ITA (L)
Bucharest - Simona Halep, ROU (W)

12 - Virginia Ruzici (1975-85)
8 - SIMONA HALEP (2013-14)
4 - Irina Spirlea (1994-98)
4 - Ruxandra Dragomir (1996-97)
2...Alexandra Dulgheru
1...Irina-Camelia Begu
1...Sorana Cirstea
1...Monica Niculescu

21 - Serena & Venus Williams, USA
3 - Alona & Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
2 - Chan Hao-Ching & Yung-Jan, TPE

**2014 $100K ITF FINALS**
Midland, USA - Heather Watson/GBR d. Ksenia Pervak/RUS
Cagnes-sur-Mer, FRA - Sharon Fichman/CAN d. Timea Bacsinszky/SUI
Prague, CZE - Heather Watson/GBR d. Anna Schmiedlova/SVK
Marseille, FRA - Alexandra Dulgheru/ROU d. Johanna Larsson/SWE
Contrexeville, FRA - Irina-Camelia Begu/ROU d. Kaia Kanepi/EST
Biarritz, FRA - Kaia Kanepi/EST d. Teliana Pereira/BRA

13 Final: S.Williams d. Larsson
13 Doubles Final: Medina-Garrigues/Koukalova d. Dulgheru/Pennetta
14 Top Seeds: Cornet/Pavlyuchenkova

#1 Cornet d. #4 Shvedova
Larsson d. Min
#1 Cornet d. Larsson

...not a lot of "sure things" here, but Cornet on the clay is as good as anything available.

=last held in 2010: A.Pavlyuchenkova champion=
14 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Vinci

#7 Jovanovski d. #1 Wozniacki
#2 Vinci d. Niculescu
#2 Vinci d. #7 Jovanovski

...Vinci's on a nice run over the last week and a half, so maybe she can make it a multi-continental affair. Caro -- who just had a birthday on Friday -- might be due for a final, but I just can't pull the trigger.

All for now.