Friday, April 03, 2020

To HoF, or Not to HoF #3

[ As the coronavirus pandemic continues, this space continues to keep a weekly light burning in the upper left office at Backspin HQ with a continuing series of tennis-related topics each week. ]

When it comes to the list of aspiring Hall of Famers, all begin as equals. But some are more equal than others.



To Hall of Fame, or Not to Hall of Fame, Pt.1
To Hall of Fame, or Not to Hall of Fame, Pt.2

Some knocks on the doors of Newport are loud, and will likely get louder as many active players are off to good starts with seemingly great opportunities to add to their list of already-noteworthy accomplishments once they are allowed to pick up a racket once again (whenever that might be). Others have a good bit of work to do, while still more are left to dangle in the ongoing fog of history, hoping that their feats will at least be noticed by *someone* even if their enshrinement chances are far-fetched, hard to imagine or, quite simply, *not* going to happen.





GREEN - active player
ORANGE - retired 5-10 years (eligible for HOF)
RED - retired less than 5 years (not yet eligible in '20)
BLUE - more than 10 years past retirement
PURPLE - group entry/special class


...the current players who *seem* to have made good progress along the path toward Newport, but whose careers likely don't quite yet measure up to being enshrinement-worthy. In most cases, relative youth is on their side, though, and if they can reach the goal of maintaining their momentum then their chances to reach the Hall will become more and more favorable at each step. For at least one other contender, though, time is likely running short... but an "eleventh hour" push doesn't *rule out* the sort of "final act of Hingis" run in her mid-thirties that could make all the difference.

Kristina Mladenovic (with Timea Babos?) - one of, if not the best, doubles player of her generation, Mladenovic (though a brief Top 10 player as a solo act) has been a disappointment when it comes to her singles results. But she's been the doubles #1, won four doubles slams (+2 WTAF), a pair of MX crowns and led France to a Fed Cup title in 2019. Many multiple major doubles crowns seem destined for her in the future (with a possible Career Slam surely in the mix), as do her chances to pick up Olympic medals. At least one deep slam run in singles would be nice, too, but the Pastry has enough skill to build a bridge to Newport without it. Mladenovic and fellow WD #1 Babos are 3-3 in slams finals, and have picked up two WTA Finals wins (the Hungarian has won three straight), and could forge a combination Hall entry (ala G.Fernanez/Zvereva) should they continue to amass big titles.


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Naomi Osaka - already a two-time slam winner and #1-ranked player in the world -- both firsts for a Japanese player -- Osaka is the young active player whose early-career accomplishments already hint at the *possibility* of the sort of career that no one will question as being "Hall worthy" when all is said and done. That said, youth also means she's got a lot more time to slip back into her inconsistent ways and produce the sort of results that will make her an anomalous multi-slam winning NON-Hall of Famer if we've already seen the best she'll *ever* again give (sort of a two-major version of Ivanovic).
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Ash Barty - currently one of the sports most versatile stars, the Aussie followed up a slam-winning junior career and sabbatical from the sport by winning major doubles ('18 U.S., making her 1-5 in slam WD finals) and singles ('19 RG) titles while climbing to #1 in the world. She very well could become one of the few players to reach #1 in doubles (she's been as high as #5), as well. She very nearly put the Australian Fed Cup team on her shoulders and carried the nation to a title in '19, coming up one match short in the final. Barty has work to do to be HoF-worthy, but her multiple discipline (and team) abilities perhaps give her, amongst all currently active players, the greatest number of opportunities to add to her resume over the rest of her career.
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Hsieh Su-wei (with Barbora Strycova?) - Hsieh's spins-and-angles singles game is as entertaining to watch as it is confounding for her opponents to face off against, but the Thai vet has risen no higher than the Top 25 and never reached a slam QF. But in doubles she's been ranked #1 (the first from TPE to do it), won three majors and a WTA Finals. Since first teaming up with Strycova in 2018, the pair has won a major and three high Premiers (still less than Hsieh claimed in her earlier partnership with Peng Shuai), and while it's late in the game for both (and Strycova has had retirement on deck for at least a year) the duo have a slight chance for a Hingis/Mirza sort of run (prior to the coronavirus suspension, they'd reached five straight finals) that could prove beneficial for both. Strycova's *other* results might her an even more intriguing semi-contender, with a Wimbledon singles semi (2019), two junior slam singles crowns (2002-03), an Olympic doubles Bronze (2016) and her role as a cog in the Czech Fed Cup dynasty (6 titles) over the past decade.


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...perhaps the most populated list in all of sport. And one repeated in regards to pretty much every sport that has a Hall of Fame for athletes to aspire to.

Olga Morozova (retired 1977, played FC 1979) - the "Godmother of Russian Tennis," Morozova might have a legitimate case for inclusion in Newport in the Contributor category (she's no longer eligible in the "Player" category balloting). As a player, Morozova's career, during which she ranked as high as #3, was the forerunner of the Russian Revolution of the 2000's. The Wimbledon junior champ in 1965, she was the first Soviet player to play in a slam singles final, reaching the RG and Wimbledon championship matches in '74, and was also the first USSR woman to ever play for a major title ('68 WI MX w/ countryman Alex Metreveli), and the first from her nation to win a major (taking the '74 Roland Garros WD crown with Chris Evert, and playing in four other major finals -- 2 WD/2 MX). In all, she won eight singles (and 16 doubles) titles, including posting QF+ results in 11 of her final 15 majors from 1972-76 before her WTA career ended early in '77 (at age 28) because of the USSR's ban on competition vs. South Africans. She then went on to become one of the first successful female coaches, guiding the likes of Russians Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and captained the Soviet Fed Cup squad to the semis in 1978-79 (playing in the latter year) and a first-ever final in 1988. After helping to create the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, she was hired away by the Brits to be the national coach for the LTA in 1990. In 1998, she won the Sarah Palfrey Danzig Trophy for "character, sportsmanship, manners, spirit of cooperation, and contribution to the growth of the game" as well as the help she rendered to professional players and junior players. In 2000, she was named the Russian Tennis Player of the 20th Century by the Russian Tennis Federation.

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Karolina Pliskova - a singles #1, slam finalist, and key player in three of the Czech Republic's Fed Cup title runs, the "Ace Queen" has added shown an ability to be a contender at multiple majors, reaching at least the semis at three of the four. But, though she may be the *best* active player without one, Pliskova is slam-less and won't likely even be in the slam discussion until/if she changes that fact.
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Mary Joe Fernandez (retired 2000) - MJF, as a player (not FC Captain), made the most out of what she had. In singles, she topped out at #4, reached three slam finals and six additional semis, and won Olympic Bronze (1992). She won 19 doubles titles, including two slams (and had another RU), a season-ending championships crown and two Olympic Golds (in 1992 & '96, both with Hall of Famer Gigi Fernandez). With a longtime presence is a TV commentator, Fernandez also had a post-playing career stint as the U.S. Fed Cup captain, during which she saw the team reach an early final, but then oversaw a series of roster calamities thereafter. MJF just passed the new 20-year span for consideration in the Hall's "Player" category.
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Aga Radwanska (retired 2018) - with Wozniacki's AO win, Radwanska likely became *second* to only Pliskova -- or maybe she's actually ahead of the Czech? -- as the best player of her generation to go without a slam. She did reach a slam final (Wimbledon '12, which went to three sets vs. Serena with the #1 ranking within Aga's grasp) and won a WTAF ('15) crown, but her career legacy will forever be haunted by her '13 Wimbledon semifinal loss (9-7 3rd set) to Sabine Lisicki in a tournament in which all the other "contenders" had been upset earlier in the draw. One of the most unique, creative and magical players, well, *ever* in tennis, Radwanska's fan base made her a consistent winner in the tour's fan votes for "Favorite Player" and "Best Shot," but as much as one would like to carve out a truly legit case for her being a Hall of Famer, the numbers -- though good, including 20 titles, with five of them high Premier wins (she had 24 SF+ results in such events), 49 Top 10 victories, and 500+ consecutive weeks in the Top 20 -- just don't support it.


Of course, the soon-to-be-first-time-mom *is* still young enough to stage a comeback.
===============================================
Ai Sugiyama (retired 2009) - she won three slam WD (3/4 of a Career Doubles Slam, needing only the AO, where she reached a final) while appearing in ten finals. A mixed slam winner, Sugiyama won 38 doubles titles and was a Top 10 singles player.
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Katarina Srebotnik - the Slovenian won four singles titles early in her career (when she had an it-now-seems-surprising 27 Top 10 wins from 2000-08), but has since evolved into a doubles specialist, reaching #1 in 2011. She's won 39 titles (10 w/ Kveta Peschke), including one slam ('11 Wimbledon w/ Peschke). Her calling card, though, could be her five mixed titles. If she could win at Wimbledon she'd complete a Career Mixed Slam, and she might be able to make a legitimate case... though MX titles seem to get the least respect and attention of *all* major wins.
===============================================
Vera Zvonareva - another Russian, but one without a #1 ranking or slam singles title. Zvonareva *did* reach #2, though, won the '08 Olympic Bronze, two doubles majors, two MX and a pair of Fed Cups, while reaching two singles slam finals in 2010. After a series of injuries, motherhood and a hiatus from the sport, the Russian staged a comeback in '17 that has since seen her win multiple WD titles, return to the singles Top 100 and notch her first Top 10 in seven years.
===============================================
Zina Garrison (retired 1997) - before Venus, Serena, Sloane Stephens,and Madison Keys, Garrison became the first African-American in 32 years (Althea Gibson '58) in reach a slam final when she played Martina Navratilova for the Wimbledon title in 1990. She lost, of course, but ultimately reached three additional slam semis, ranked as high as #4, won fourteen singles titles, three MX, two Olympic medals (WD Gold and WS Bronze, both in '88) and was a part of two Fed Cup winning squads. She reached the Top 5 in doubles, as well.

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


...the clock has now run out on some of these potential honorees, or their accomplishments would appear to have insurmountable odds when it comes to ever being eventually welcomed into the Hall.

Czech Fed Cup Team - even with six titles (and counting), the Maidens can't be tapped for potential HoF enshrinement as handily as the Italians. They've just been too deep and diverse a lot. Still, the team's dominance from 2009-18 was striking: 6 titles, 10 consecutive semis, 11 straight home tie victories, and a 7-1 mark in deciding doubles matches.


Petra Kvitova (part of all six title teams, good for fourth all-time behind the U.S. trio of Evert, King and Casals) is a likely Hall of Famer in her own right, and players such as Lucie Safarova and Karolina Pliskova (and, to a far lesser extent, Barbora Strycova) have career numbers that at least give them a line into the conversation. Perhaps a way to honor the team's accomplishments (though unlikely) *might* be via longtime captain Petr Pala, whose six wins are the most ever in the competition for a captain.
===============================================
Manuela Maleeva (retired 1994) - the most successful of the trio of Maleeva sisters. She never reached a slam final, but advanced to two major semis and eight QF, reached #3, won 19 titles, and an Olympic Bronze (1988). She nearly reached the Top 10 in doubles (#11), and won a mixed slam.
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Sue Barker (retired 1984) - a teenage star who ranked in the Top 20 by age 16, Barker won 15 singles titles, including the 1976 Roland Garros. She ranked as high as #3 in 1977. Forty-four years past her lone major win, the Brit is the former champion from the Open era (since 1968) the most years beyond her maiden slam win who remains absent from the Hall of Fame. Barker has remained in the tennis spotlight for quite a while since her career, though, being a BBC commentator for the sport. She's often seen conducting on-court interviews following matches at Wimbledon, and overseeing the trophy presentation following the final.

===============================================
Anastasia Myskina (retired 2007) - she'll always be the FIRST Russian women's slam singles champ, winning RG in '04 in what would be the first of three straight major titles claimed by Hordettes that season, as well as a former world #2. An underrated achiever, she was a consistent slam performer (5 QF) and led Russia to two Fed Cup titles (2004-05) as a player before later becoming the team's captain in the 2010's. The less said about that stint, the better.
===============================================
Russian Fed Cup Team - at the height of the Russian Revolution on the women's tour, the deep talent pool of Hordettes made Russia the dominant Fed Cup nation during the 2000's, as the nation won four titles in five years from 2004-08. Though the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Myskina played the key roles during the run, Russia's stretch of success -- much like that of the Czechs -- isn't as easily rested upon the shoulders of a select few, ala with Italy's four titles from 2006-13.

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


...each of these players have something of a "calling card" that mark their careers, but none rise to the level of making them Hall of Fame-worthy. A few still have time to change that, though.

Elina Svitolina - pretty much "the first Ukrainian..." to do just about everything, we're still waiting for Svitolina to do what she's been *expected* to do for several years now. She finally reached her first slam semifinal (two, actually) in 2019, and ended a 17-month title drought in '20 with a small title in Monterrey in her first appearance in a final since what had *seemed* to be a career-changing trophy run at the WTA Finals to close out the '18 season. Svitolina has proven to be a superior "regular" tour player, going 14-3 in finals, including 4-0 in high Premier championship matches, and recording *six* #1 wins from 2016-18. But success in the majors is what will provide the fodder for how the rest of her career will be judged.
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Latisha Chan - a 33-time tour doubles champ (including 14 with sister Hao-ching, the second most ever by siblings on tour behind the Williamses), Chan reached #1 in 2017. Her lone WD slam ('17 US) came during her particularly fruitful stretch as Martina Hingis' partner during the Hall of Famer's last season, which finally gave Chan her first major win after being 0-3 in previous finals. Since then, she's won three MX titles with Ivan Dodig in 2018-19. Her twelve high Premier titles are impressive, though mightily skewed by her 6-0 mark while partnering Hingis.
===============================================

Nadia Petrova (retired 2017, last played in '14) - a good all-around talent, but one who never posted the big singles result that might have changed her career legacy. She had two slam SF, six QF, and an ill-timed ankle injury in 2006 that may have thwarted what would have been her best chance to win a major (she was ranked #3 at the time, winning 15 straight matches during the spring, including a victory over Justine Henin, and was generally considered one of the RG favorites that year). Still, she won 13 singles and 24 doubles titles,including a pair of season-ending championship doubles crowns and an Olympic Bronze medal. Oh, Nadia.
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Marion Bartoli (retired 2013) - a two-time slam finalist, Bartoli reached her career zenith with a Wimbledon title run in '13. She was set to stage a comeback from a five-year retirement in Miami in '18, but ultimately called it off. She's now maintaining a presence on tour as a member of the tennis media (particularly in her home slam at RG) and as a coach (Alona Ostapenko).

===============================================
Daniela Hantuchova (retired 2017) - despite some big singles wins (two at Indian Wells) and a Top 5 ranking, Hantuchova never quite lived up to her early billing. Still, she won seven singles, nine doubles (even with a 0-3 record in slam WD finals) and a Fed Cup crown (2002). Her calling card is her Career Mixed Slam, which she actually completed twelve years *before* her 2017 retirement. Well past the time most players her age and with her abilities might have become a doubles specialist, Hantuchova continued to focus on her singles to diminishing results in her final years. She *did* manage to lure Martina Hingis out of retirement in 2013, but their doubles partnership was short-lived, and then Hingis went on to put together a SECOND HoF-worthy career stretch after having *already* been inducted into Newport. If Hantuchova had continued on with her own "second career" in doubles, she might have put together a resume worthy of enshrinement when she was finished, but she never went down that path.
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Kimiko Date (retired 2017) - does longevity count? Date, after a 12-year retirement returned to action in 2008 and ultimately played until age 46. In her first go-around, she rose as high as #4 and reached three slam semis.
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Kiki Bertens - Bertens began her career as a Fed Cup heroine (24-4) who led the Dutch to a Cinderella semifinal run in 2016, the same season when the "clay court specialist" reached her maiden slam semi at Roland Garros. She's since developed her hard court game, raising her career title total to 10 (including two high Premier wins in Cincinnati and Madrid) rising to #4 in the rankings (2019) and recording 20 of her 23 career Top 10 wins in 2018-19 alone.
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Dominika Cibulkova (retired 2019) - admirable, but not HOF-worthy. A slam finalist ('14 AO) and surprise WTAF (2016) winner, Cibulkova never added on to her best career moments before retiring last year. Still, the Slovak left behind a series of hard-fought, epic matches, eight titles and 35 Top 10 wins (five over world #1's).
===============================================


So, there you have it. Hopefully, I didn't miss anyone. And, with luck, the Hall of Fame will ultimately be able to say the same.




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*SEASONS WITH FEWER THAN FULL SCHEDULE OF MAJORS PLAYED, w/ winners*
AO began in 2022, RG began in 1897, WI began in 1884, US began in 1887

1884-86 - only Wimbledon tournament in existence
1887-96 - only Wimbledon & U.S. Open in existence
1897-1914 - only Roland Garros, Wimbledon & U.S. Open in existence

=1915=
US: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, NOR
=1916=
US: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, NOR
=1917=
US: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, NOR
=1918=
US: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, NOR
=1919=
WI: Suzanne Lenglen, FRA
US: Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman, USA
=1920=
RG: Suzanne Lenglen, FRA
WI: Suzanne Lenglen, FRA
US: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, USA
=1921=
RG: Suzanne Lenglen, FRA
WI: Suzanne Lenglen, FRA
US: Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, USA
=1940=
AO: Nancye Wynne Bolton, AUS
US: Alice Marble, USA
=1941=
RG: Alice Weiwers, LUX *
US: Sarah Palfrey Cooke, USA
=1942=
RG: Alice Weiwers, LUX *
US Pauline Betz, USA
=1943=
RG: Simone Iribarne Lafargue, FRA *
US: Pauline Betz, USA
=1944=
RG: Raymonde Veber Jones, FRA *
US: Pauline Betz, USA
=1945=
RG: Lolette Payot, SUI *
US: Sarah Palfrey Cooke, USA
=1986=
RG: Chris Evert, USA
WI: Martina Navratilova, USA
US: Martina Navratilova, USA
=2020=
AO: Sofia Kenin, USA
RG: ?? (rescheduled for Sept.)
US: ??
--
* - unofficial "Tournoi de France"
NOTE: Australian Open (Jan/Dec) was held twice in 1977 in only year with five majors


*NON-HoF SINGLES SLAM CHAMPS IN OPEN ERA (since 1968 RG), listed by first major title*
1976 RG: Sue Barker, GBR (retired 1984)
1977 AO (Jan): Kerry Melville Reid, AUS (1979)
1977 RG: Mima Jaušovec, YUG (1988)
1978 AO: Chris O'Neil, AUS (1983)
1978 RG: Virginia Ruzici, ROU (1987)
1979 AO: Barbara Jordan, USA (1985)
1997 RG: Iva Majoli, CRO (2004)
2004 RG: Anastasia Myskina, RUS (2007)
2004 WI: Maria Sharapova, RUS (2020)
2008 RG: Ana Ivanovic, SRB (2016)
2010 RG: Francesca Schiavone, ITA (2018)
2013 WI: Marion Bartoli, FRA (2013)
2015 US: Flavia Pennetta, ITA (2015)
2018 AO: Caroline Wozniacki, DEN (2020)
[active]
1999 US: Serena Williams, USA
2000 WI: Venus Williams, USA
2004 US: Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS
2011 WI: Petra Kvitova, CZE
2011 US: Samantha Stosur, AUS
2013 AO: Victoria Azarenka, BLR
2016 AO: Angelique Kerber, GER
2016 RG: Garbine Muguruza, ESP
2017 RG: Alona Ostapenko, LAT
2017 US: Sloane Stephens, USA
2018 RG: Simona Halep, ROU
2018 US: Naomi Osaka, JPN
2019 RG: Ash Barty, AUS
2019 US: Bianca Andreescu, CAN
2020 AO: Sofia Kenin, USA




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View this post on Instagram

Only a few weeks ago, I still had the illusion of control over my schedule. Since then, a lot has changed. Going into the new season, I was looking forward to many highlights. The @olympics, for example, mean the world to me… and the thought of playing @wimbledon has always been the biggest source of my motivation! It goes without saying that I’m heavy hearted that the cancellation of the grass court season also means that I won’t be able to play in front of my home crowd in Bad Homburg and Berlin… It’s disappointing for me but also for all those who put their heart and soul into these events and for the fans who love our sport and support us players all year round. But I also know very well that there are more important things that we have to focus on right now and that professional sports have to take a step back for a while. I am sure that this phase has the potential to strengthen our community, because sport unites - in good and in bad times. And once this has passed, it may even help us appreciate our everyday routines and the beauty of our sport even more than before. Thanks to everyone who is working 24/7 to get us through this uncertain time. Love, Angie ?? #staystrong

A post shared by Angelique Kerber (@angie.kerber) on
















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I stabbed a teletubby because I'm a pimp.



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