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In Ostrava, the French team was always going to be between a rock and a hard place against the host Czechs, seeking the chance to win a fourth FC title in five years. Throw in Alize Cornet's thigh injury last week in Katowice and Captain Amelie Mauresmo's choices were likely limited. Playing the same hand she did in February when the Pastries stormed back from 0-2 down in Italy, she put her trust in Kiki Mladenovic to put up a fight against Petra Kvitova in the second match of the day. As it turned out, though, it was the first match that REALLY mattered.
Czech Captain Petr Pala's decision to play FC vet Lucie Safarova over Karolina Pliskova against Caroline Garcia very nearly backfired. Garcia led 6-4/5-4 and held a five match points, but Safarova -- on a bit of a skid of late on tour after her blazing start to the season -- battled back to win a 7-1 tie-break and then took the 3rd set at 6-1. Kvitova then defeated Mladenovic 6-3/6-4, giving the Czechs fourteen straight live rubber match victories, to put the French down 2-0 in yet another tie.
It's doubtful even Amelie can find a way out of this predicament. Gee, that STILL sounds familiar.
In Sochi, the RUS/GER tie looked to be a hotly-contested battle for a berth in the final. Then Maria Sharapova pulled out and the edge seemed to shift to Germany, even with the presence of FC stalwart Svetlana Kuznetsova on the Hordette squad. But when the match-ups were released on Friday, German Captain Barbara Rittner had Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges playing singles rather than the two top-ranked team members Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber. If the latter two were tired and begged off, Rittner had little choice. Petko essentially said as much in Charleston, but she still made the trip to Russia. If Rittner's goal was to limit the participation of both players to no more than one match each it would seem to have been a better move to sneak one (Kerber) in on Saturday in order to give the team a better shot at getting out of Day 1 at no worse than 1-1. Still, the whole thing almost worked out for Rittner on Day 1. But then it didn't.
Kuznetsova took out Goerges 6-4/6-4 in match #1 to record her 27th career FC win, more than any other Russian. In the second match, Lisicki held a match point for a straight sets win over Anastasia Pavlychenkova, but lost in a contest that managed to check all the boxes in the inconsistent tennis existences of both women. In the 2:30 match, the Russian served for the 2nd set at 5-4, only to see Lisicki hold a MP two games later. Pavlyuchenkova led 4-0 and 5-1 in the 3rd, but failed to serve out the match in her first attempt. On her second try, she finally downed Lisicki on MP #3 to win 4-6/7-6(4)/6-3 to give the Russians a 2-0 advantage.
Well, I hope Petko enjoyed the ending. It might be the only good one she has this week. It remains to be seen whether either Petkovic or Kerber will be called upon to play on Sunday, and if they do what version of them we would see. This could turn out to be a what-could-have-been sitaution.
Meanwhile, SOMEONE was watching (and probably breathing a little sigh of relief that she might not have to shoulder any blame for a loss):
**WORLD GROUP PLAYOFFS**
...while the semifinals were filled with "boardroom" intrigue, well, so were the WG Playoffs.
In Flavia Pennetta's hometown of Brindisi, Italian Captain Corrado Barazzutti's decision (at least for Day 1) to hold back the veteran FC workhorse from singles play set the stage for Mary Joe Fernandez (who had to add Lauren Davis to the U.S. squad after Venus Williams pulled out) to possibly be trumped for the "Worst Fed Cup Decision" award for the first time in ages. So far, though, the jury is still out on this one.
Serena Williams, after a tight 1st set, did her job and downed Camila Giorgi 7-6(5)/6-2, then Sara Errani handled Davis 6-1/6-2 to knot the tie at 1-1. Errani is scheduled to be "sacrificed" vs. Serena on Sunday, making the second singles match a tie-saver where you'd have to think that the responsibility will be given to Pennetta over Giorgi. Otherwise, we'd have to come to the conclusion that MJF has been cloned "Orphan Black" style and installed as the acting Captain on multiple Fed Cup teams.
In 's-Hertogenbosch, the underrated Dutch team is hosting what looked to be a forminable Aussie squad led by Sam Stosur. But Stosur turned out to be a late weekend scratch, putting the pressure on Jarmila Gajdosova and Casey Dellacqua. Kiki Bertens downed Gajdosova 6-1/6-3 to give the Netherlands the lead, then Dellacqua saved the Australians' Vegemite jars by taking out Arantxa Rus 7-5/6-3 to avoid the 0-2 hole. Said Dellacqua, "Throughout the week I always practice in terms of thinking I'm going to play. After the warm-up Sam [Stosur] said she wasn't up to playing so I just had to go out there and get the win for Australia. I think my level was pretty consistent." If this tie can go to the doubles, the advantage might just tip to the Aussies with Dellacqua in play. Getting it there will be the trick.
In Zielona Gora (POL), the fanfare surrounding Martina Hingis' first FC singles action since 1998 for the Belinda Bencic-less Swiss team died down after she lost a tight 1st set to Aga Radwanska en route to a 6-4/6-0 final score. After that, it became about finding a way to win the tie. Timea Bacsinszky did her part, taking out Aga's sister Ula 6-2/6-1 to knot things at 1-1. The A-Rad/Timea Day 2 battle will be CRUCIAL. If Bacsinszky wins, the Swiss are probably locked in for the victory. If Radwandska does, we might see this come down to the doubles... with Hingis (if she's not too tired, as she might play singles AGAIN) suiting up for possibly a third time this weekend.
In Montreal, Genie Bouchard's return to Fed Cup action gave real hope to a Canadian squad facing off against a Simona Halep-less bunch of Swarmettes. Irina-Camelia Begu, who saved the Romanian team by taking up the slack left by a Halep loss vs. Spain in February, was supposed to be the leader. But she got trumped in Match #1 by 18-year old Francoise Abanda. In a 2:39 match, Abanda won a 2:39 battle by a 4-6/7-5/6-4 score, taking a tight 2nd set and never falling behind in the 3rd en route to grabbing her first career FC win. Begu got in just 49% of her 1st serves, though the match ended up with both players winning 107 points.
Ah, but Bouchard and Montreal do not mix very well. In the second match, showing just how wonderful it is to have a very deep bench, Alexandra Dulgheru faced off with Bouchard in the injury-plagued Romanian's first FC match since 2011. She took down the Top 10er in straight sets, as Bouchard committed 42 unforced errors in the match's twenty games. Dulgheru's 6-4/6-4 win -- she served things out in a final game that included three break points and four match points -- squandered the advantage Canada had gained with Abanda's win, and brings Romania right back into this tie.
Dulgheru even managed to poke at Bouchard's distaste for post-competition handshakes.
In Novi Sad, with the Serbian Good Luck Charm in attendance, things went as expected for Serbia. The injured Jelena Jankovic (foot/Miami) was held out of play, but that just meant that Aleksandra Krunic was called upon to do what she does best. In match #1, The Bracelet handled Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg 6-1/6-3, then Ana Ivanovic came in to sweep up Montserrat Gonzalez in a 6-2/6-0 win to give Serbia a more-than-commanding 2-0 lead.
In Bratislava, new WTA titlist Anna Schmiedlova once again assumed the lead role for the Slovak team. Helped a bit by the absence of dependable Swedish FC stalwart Johanna Larsson (a late scratch, joining Sofia Arvidsson on the sidelines), the older Schmiedlova (as younger sister Kristina, a late addition to the roster, watched) handled things quite well, defeating Rebecca Peterson 6-3/6-3 in match #1. Vet Daniela Hantuchova then took out Susanne Celik 2 & 0 and give SVK a bulging 2-0 lead as, for once, the Slovaks look to have their heads in the game. What's Swedish for "cooked goose?"
In Tokyo, things could still get interesting. Vika Azarenka handled Misaki Doi 6-2/6-1 to give Belarus the lead, but the hopes that Olga Govortsova could immediately get one of her possibly-necessary singles wins in her very first attempt of the weekend didn't work out. She pushed Kurumi Nara to three sets, but the Japanese woman won 6-4/4-6/6-2. This one might go down to the doubles, with the old junior duo of Vika & Olga in charge of trying to lifting Belarus to the win against a JPN team with some doubles skills to draw upon.
In Bueonos Aires, the Spanish "B"-team is proving quite a force. No Muguruza, CSN or even Torro-Flor hasn't slowed down Spain. Teenager Sara Sorribes Tormo made her FC debut by outlasting Argentine vet Paula Ormaechea (who has her share of dramatic wins for ARG, and will need at least one more to win this home tie) 4-6/7-6(2)/6-1, twice overcoming a break disadvantage in the 2nd set. Lara Arruabarrena then -- a little shockingly, score-wise -- destroyed Maria Irigoyen 6-0/6-1 to give ESP a 2-0 lead. Irigoyen put up much more of a fight against Venus Williams in a live rubber vs. the U.S. in February. The chances and players are still there for Argentina to stage a comeback, but it's going to be tough.
**Zone Play** =ASIA/OCEANIA II at Hyderabad, India=
The A/O II zone always seemed as if it would come down to a Promotional Playoff battle between host India and the Philippines, and that's just what happened. Looking for the one promotion spot, the IND/PHI face-off came down to the deciding doubles match after Katharina Lehnert tied things up with a singles win over India's Ankita Raina.
With the tie on the line, Captain Sania Mirza (hot off her #1 doubles ranking) finally took to the court for the first time this week, teaming with Prarthana Thombare to defeat Lehnert and Anna Clarice Patrimonio in straight sets to secure the win. Mirza is currently riding a 15-match doubles win streak.
=EUROPE/AFRICA III at Ulcinj, Montenegro=
...two teams were be promoted out of this zone, and it was a teenager and a veteran that made the difference.
18-year old Akvile Parasinskaite powered Lithuania's advancement, going undefeated for the week by winning both her singles and doubles (with vet Lina Stanciute, 29) matches on Sunday to key a 2-1 victory over Moldova. Parazinskaite, a Bronze medalist in both singles and doubles at last year's Youth Olympic Games, notched three of her four career FC singles wins this week.
In the other Promotional Playoff, Karen Barbat gave the Danes an insurmountable lead over the Greeks with a hard-fought 7-5/3-6/7-6(4) first match win over Despina Papamichail. Oh, yeah -- and Caroline Wozniacki threw in a win, as well. Ha! THE Dane defeated Maria Sakkari 6-3/6-0 to secure Denmark's advancement, going 3-0 for the week. Caro has won her last ten FC singles matches back to 2008.
Yes, Bogota drew the short straw for Week 15 as the lone tour-level event on the schedule leading up to the season's second Fed Cup weekend. But, that's all right, SOMEONE will win a title in a few days. And that's good. Right?
Last year's "unlucky winner" at this same point was Donna Vekic in Kuala Lumpur. The teenager experienced the excitement of claiming her first-ever tour title in Malaysia last April. Sure, the bottom has totally dropped out of her game since then, as she's gone 9-23 and hasn't advanced past the 2nd Round at any event. But, hey, those are only tiny details. I'm sure the Tennis Gods had nothing to do with it.
Speaking of details. On the upcoming Fed Cup semifinal weekend, this might be the only thing that matters:
*SEMIFINALS* France at Czech Republic - Ostrava/HCI CZE: Kvitova, Ka.Pliskova, Safarova, Zahlavova-Strycova
FRA: Cornet, Garcia, Mladenovic, Parmentier
...well, Amelie. What have ya got for us this time? Truth is, even Mauresmo might not have enough rabbits to pull out of the hat to win this one (and, hey, "the rabbit died" just the other day, so there's one MORE less). Cornet was nursing a thigh injury last week, so Garcia and Mladenovic may have to lead the way again. It worked in February vs. France, but these are the Czechs in Ostava. (Anyone hearing an echo? ... "The Italians. On clay. It Italy"... yep.) As usual, this tie will rest on whether we see Good Petra, or Bad Petra. Kvitova hasn't been Good Petra since January, but is usually in fine form when she's wearing Czech colors. She's already gotten an early start:
Maria Sharapova on Facebook:
"Withdrawing from this weekend's Fed Cup was no easy decision. You probably haven't seen me post any pictures on court, that is simply because there haven't been many. I just started a couple of days ago and going to work myself up to creating a good healthy base.
I will be following the girls on my live stream this weekend, cheering them on, as I try to be ready for next week's tournament in Stuttgart."
Germany at Russia - Sochi/RCI RUS: Kuznetsova, Pavlyuchenkova, Vesnina, Zvonareva
GER: Petkovic, Kerber, Lisicki, Goerges
...once more, Germany invades Russia. It might be more successful this time. Sharapova was announced for the team, but has since been declared out (maybe that injury theory after Miami was correct?). Germany is trying to reach back-to-back FC finals for the first time since 1982-83 (West Germany, before the reunification), and arrives in Sochi loaded for Russian bear. Petkovic is in form, and has had a week of rest. Kerber just won a clay title in Charleston, and Lisicki looked good during the I.W./Miami swing. Goerges isn't shabby, either, especially indoors. Kuznetsova can become the all-time winningest Russian FC star (her 26 wins is tied w/ Dementieva, Likhovtseva and Makarova), and will have to put the team on her back this time around. It might be too much for even Sveta to handle, but if she can do it (and win another FC for Russia later in the year) she might have made her case as far as being a true Hall of Famer. I'm smelling an "upset" (though, without Maria, it's not), and maybe even the forerunner of Germany's first FC championship since 1992. PICK: Germany 3-2
United States at Italy - Brindisi/RCO ITA: Errani, Pennetta, Giorgi, Knapp
USA: S.Williams, Riske, McHale, Davis
...oh, boy. This could be intense. Mary Joe Fernandez's roster-building skills are pretty dismal, but the Sisters generally throw her a life vest before she gets embarrassed in too many consecutive ties. In February, Venus saved her by going 2-0 after Serena was too ill to compete on Day 2, and the rest of the U.S. roster wasn't equipped to fend for itself on clay on the road vs. a game Argentine team. Venus WAS on this roster, but has pulled out due to personal reasons, replaced by Lauren Davis. Italy isn't Argentina, no matter what happened in February vs. France. On the clay, where Serena will make her '15 debut, Errani, Pennetta and Giorgi will attempt to pull Team Italia back from the brink of FC irrelevence. If Serena can't play the full weekend, the U.S. team will go down in flames and we'll see how many people try to blame the Sisters rather than MJF (we KNOW where the finger would be pointing from this space). Even if she can, though, it's no given. Flavia in Fed Cup Mode isn't something to be trifled with, especially on Italian soil. If it goes to doubles, even if Serena plays, the edge still goes to the Vinci-less Italians. I think Pennetta gets two singles wins (maybe one vs. Williams, maybe not) and the Bannerettes go down. We'll be having a Draw-a-Mustache-on-Mary-Joe Party a Backspin HQ on Sunday night... Galileo is bringing chips-n-dip. PICK: Italy 3-2 (hopefully the court doesn't have holes in it this time)
Australia at Netherlands - 's-Hertogenbosch/RCI NED: Bertens, Hogenkamp, Rus, Krajicek
AUS: Stosur, Dellacqua, Gajdosova, Rogowska
...the Aussies are on the road, so that's a check mark in their column. Plus, if Stosur slips some of that Vegemite into the Dutch squad's food they might have to give AUS a walkover win or two. The Netherlands have been a surprising FC force over the last year or so, though, and will be playing in front of a partisan crowd. Australia is just a year away from playing in the semifinals, but this is going to get sticky. I think it goes to the doubles, with Stosur/Dellacqua pulling it out by the skin of their teeth (unless that's just the film left there by eating too much Vegemite, that is). PICK: Australia 3-2
Switzerland at Poland - Zielona Gora/HCI POL: A.Radwanska, U.Radwanska, Rosolska, Jans-Ignacik
SUI: Bacsinszky, Oprandi, Golubic, Hingis
...this one is really intriguing. Aga's Fed Cup luster was destroyed by the Russians in February, and now she'll be called upon to take out 2015 star Bacsinszky (an under-the-radar FC star, going 4-1 in singles since her career reboot) in front of another Polish crowd just a week after failing to win a title in Katowice. Can The People's Timea tame any possible Radwanskian threat? Hingis (could she play singles if necessary, maybe even vs. Aga?), making her first FC appearance in seventeen years, might be the key here. She and Bacsinszky could stand as the last line of defense in a deciding doubles match vs. the Rads. I'm thinking it doesn't come to that.
CAN: Bouchard, Dabrowski, Fichman, Abanda
ROU: Begu, Dulgheru, Mitu, Olaru
...Bouchard was a late-announced member of this team, while Simona Halep has taken some heat inside Romania for not being here. Her absence COULD put a temporary pause on the Swarmettes' chances to compete for a FC title as early as 2016, but Bouchard's recent lacking form, combined with that of Begu (who saved ROU in February when Halep faltered) and the resurgent Dulgheru (playing her first FC matches since '11) still gives the visiting squad some hope. This pick hinges largely on Bouchard not going 2-0 in singles, as the Canadians might have the slight edge if things go to the doubles. Banking on Canada not being able to get a non-Genie singles point... PICK: Romania 3-1 (keeping things on schedule)
*WORLD GROUP II PLAYOFFS* Paraguay at Serbia - Novi Sad/HCI SRB: Ivanovic, Jankovic, Krunic, Jorovic
PAR: Cepede Royg, M.Gonzalez, Gimenez, Giangreco Campiz
...has the Serbian Good Luck Charm brought her virtual rabbit's foot along with her to Novi Sad? Well, Serbia IS playing at home vs. probably the most beatable of the WG II playoff squads. Make of that what you will. Even if JJ's foot injury from Charleston limits or rules her out (which would open the door for Krunic to get onto the court), AnaIvo is here. And against Paraguay, Serbia might even be able to put youngster Jorovic out there and have as good a shot as any to survive the weekend. Barring chaos (small "c"), this should be Serbia's second straight FC win. PICK: Serbia 4-0
Sweden at Slovak Republic - Bratislava/RCI SVK: A.Schmiedlova, Hantuchova, Cepelova, K.Schmiedlova
SWE: Larsson, Celik, Peterson, Allgurin
...the Slovak team -- without or without the injured Cibulkova -- has been struggling lately, losing leads on FC weekends and getting ousted in psychologically browbeating ways. Katowice champ Schmiedlova arrives to seemingly play a large role here, despite having just one FC singles win in her career. The Swedes, without longtime vet Arvidsson, are not to be overlooked. Larsson could get a win (or two), and would be a force in a deciding doubles match with Peterson, as well. I'm tempted to say the Slovak team will stumble again, but the talent is too good to look past in a home tie. PICK: Slovak Republic 4-1 (unless it goes to doubles, then I'd give SWE the edge)
Belarus at Japan - Tokyo/HCI JPN: Nara, Doi, Aoyama, Morita
BLR: Azarenka, Govortsova, Sasnovich, Lapko
...hopefully, after what happened in February, Vika's luggage will arrive in Tokyo on time. This one could get interesting if Govortsova doesn't hold up her end, but she's a FC vet (20-7 in singles) and might be able to sneak out a win vs. either Nara or Doi. If it goes to doubles, the Japanese team is armed with specialist Aoyama, but Azarenka & Govortsova are a former junior slam-winning duo (Wimbledon '04). PICK: Belarus 3-2
Spain at Argentina - Buenos Aires/RCO ARG: Ormaechea, Irigoyen, Podoroska, Bua
ESP: Arruabarrena, Torro-Flor, Sorribes-Tormo, Medina-Garrigues
...no Muguruza. No CSN. But the Spaniards still might have enough to win on the road. I'm really "iffy" on this pick, but I'll hold my nose and go with Spain anyway. PICK:Spain 3-2 (barely, and maybe w/ a three-set doubles win, starring AMG) Nope, I can't do it. So, on a late hunch... Argentina 3-2
Zone play has already started, but I'll pick here anyway.
*ZONE PLAYOFFS - ASIA/OCEANIA II - Hyderabad, India (HC)* POOL A: Philippines(1), Singapore POOL B: Turkmenistan(2), Kyrgyzstan, Iran POOL C: India(3), Malaysia, Pakistan POOL D: Indonesia(4), Sri Lanka, Pacific Oceania
...the winner of Pool A will play the winner of Pool D and the winner of Pool B will play the winner of Pool C following a short round robin. The winners of those matches will play to determine which nation will be promoted to Asia/Oceania Zone Group I in 2016. India (with Sania Mirza serving as a playing Captain) and the Philippines (led by Katharina Lehnert) are the favorites to face off for the promotion, and it's difficult to see anything else happening here. With Ankita Raina and Prarthana Thombare both capable singles players at this level, India is the deeper squad. PICK TO ADVANCE: India def. Philippines
*ZONE PLAYOFFS - EUROPE/AFRICA III - Ulcinj, Montenegro (RC)* POOL A: Cyprus, Iceland, Lithuania(1) POOL B: Greece, Armenia, Montenegro(2) POOL C: Norway, Algeria, Denmark(3) POOL D: Moldova, Macedonia, Namibia, Mozambique
...the winners of pools A and B will be drawn against the winners of pools C and D and will play to determine which two nations are promoted to Europe/Africa Zone Group II in 2016. The highlight of the group is the presence of Caroline Wozniacki, but it might be the Greek team that is the deepest of the bunch (with Maria Sakkari, Despina Papamichail, Eleni Daniilidou and Valentini Grammatikopoulou). PICKS TO ADVANCE: Denmark & Greece
Of course, Caro has been busy putting out unintentional brush fires...
Congratulations to @JordanSpieth on winning @TheMasters! Extremely impressive how he came out firing from the start and never looked back!
Co-PLAYERS OF THE WEEK:Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza, SUI/IND
...it's a rarity that the PoW is a doubles team, but I think circumstances more than warrant it here. (Sorry, Angie.) So, the beat goes on, and on, and on. Three Premier tournaments, three titles for Hingis/Mirza. 14-0. Although, they DID slip a little in Charleston, as they opened with a tight three-set match against the Rodionova sisters (joining Makarova/Vesnina in having lost to the Dream Team twice), then dropped a set each against defending champs Medina-Garrigues/Shvedova and Hordettes Kudryavtseva/Pavlyuchenkova (another twice-victimized duo) before taking out their anger about all that extra work in the final by blitzing Dellacqua/Jurak 6-0/6-4 to claim the title. Of course, the result of all this is that Mirza is now the #1-ranked doubles player in the world, the first Indian woman to ever hold the top spot on the WTA computer. With both woman having won titles with other partners in '15 -- Mirza with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Hingis with Sabine Lisicki -- this was the fourth season title for each, with Hingis also having won the Australian Open Mixed with another Indian partner, Leander Paes. Mirza had a runner-up result with Hsieh Su-Wei before teaming with the Original Swiss Miss, as well, so she's now played in four consecutive finals. But there IS a little footnote that goes with Mirza's accomplishment. While she's the 33rd woman to be ranked #1 in doubles, while she has three Mixed slam crowns, she's the only one without a women's doubles slam title on her resume. She's not going to be hounded like a certain Dane about that little fact, but it's surely a glaring -- and surprising -- omission that needs to be addressed. Going into the final, Hingis stated that her goal was to get Mirza that #1 ranking. Well, mission accomplished. Now onto the next challenge. Hint, hint... I don't think she'll have to look very far to find it. =============================
RISERS:Anna Schmiedlova/SVK, Camila Giorgi/ITA & Madison Keys/USA
...Schmiedlova, 20, reached her second 2015 final and became the season's first maiden singles champion with her win in Katowice. The Slovak defeated the #2 (Alize Cornet, the defending champ) and #3 (Camila Giorgi, the two-time finalist) seeds in the tournament, as well as Katerina Siniakova and Alison Van Uytvanck. Already a back-to-back year-end Top 75 finisher as a teenager, Schmiedlova is now up to a career-best #46. Giorgi, the Slovak's final victim in Katowice, had yet another good week but once again failed to produce a finishing touch. The fightin' Italian -- do they make them any other way? -- put up wins over Denisa Allertova, Magda Linette, Elizaveta Kulichkova and Aga Radwanska (running her impressive career record vs. Top 10 players to 6-4), but dropped her third tour singles final in the past year -- and her second straight in the event -- with her loss to Schmiedlova. Keys' disappointing 1-2 mark during the Indian Wells/Miami swing was put into a corner in Charleston, as the AO semifinalist served through a surely-not-as-menacing-as-Petra list of foes that included two qualifiers (Kateryna Bondarenko & Lucie Hradecka), Andreea Mitu and Lauren Davis to reach her second career final. Once she got there, she found the same woman she'd defeated to win her maiden title in Eastbourne last summer -- Angelique Kerber. After not losing her serve all week, though, Keys dropped it in three of her first four service games in the final. Still, she battled through error-strewn strings, windy conditions and the German's tireless defense to serve up 4-2 in the 3rd. But she was broken again, then once more when serving at 5-5 in a dramatic game #11. Just when the title seemed to be hers, it wasn't.
SURPRISES:Lucie Hradecka/CZE & Danka Kovinic/MNE
...29-year old Hradecka has been attempting to follow in the footsteps of Sam Stosur, focusing more on her singles after years as a successful doubles star (world #4, U.S. Open champ). Sometimes it can get complicated. She and Andrea Hlavackova were playing in the Miami doubles semis last week, and she had to hustle to get north in time to play singles qualifying in Charleston. Playing her first match just a few hours after arriving in town, Hradecka made it through to the main draw (she's successfully qualified in five of her eight singles events in '15), then knocked off Zarina Diyas, Kristina Kucova, Caroline Garcia and Sara Errani to become just the second qualifier (Bencic '14) to reach the semis of the event in the last twenty years. Hradecka noticeably -- and understandably -- ran out of gas in her SF match against Madison Keys, but she won over the crowd and, with her ranking now at #72, she shouldn't have to battle her way through the Q-rounds quite as often the rest of this season. Kovinic was another qualifier who took the Charleston event by storm last week. A protege of her idol, none other than JJ herself, the 20-year old Montenegrin with a big serve put up main draw wins over Christina McHale and Belinda Bencic to set up a 3rd Round match-up with Jelena Jankovic. But JJ's foot injury forced her withdrawal (boo!), though she was on hand in the stands to lend support as Kovinic lost in the QF to another player with a Queen Chaos connection, good friend Andrea Petkovic. Kovinic is up to #109 in the new rankings, one good week from jumping into the Top 100 for the first time.
...before her great run in Charleston, Kerber had been flagging a bit lately, to say the least. After a strong QF/SF start to her season, she lost in the 1st Round at the Australian Open and the bottom dropped out of her 1st Quarter campaign. A Fed Cup match loss nearly cost the Germans a spot in this weekend's semis, then Kerber cut loose her coach and dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time in 143 weeks. She was on a 3-7 skid heading into South Carolina, but after picking up her fourth career singles title (her first since Linz '13) all seems well once more as Kerber attempts to help push Germany into a second straight FC final in Sochi against the Russians. "It's unbelievable. To win here after the really difficult weeks I had, I'm feeling great. Last year I had four finals and I didn't win any of them, so it's great that I actually won this one today," Kerber said. Her run in Charleston included wins over Evgeniya Rodina, Irina-Camilia Begu (who defeated her in the 1st Round in Melbourne), FC teammate and friend Andrea Petkovic (the defending champ) and Madison Keys in a rematch (and reversal) of their meeting in the Eastbourne final last summer. ============================= COMEBACKS:Anastasiya Sevastova/LAT & Mihaela Buzarnescu/ROU ...Sevastova, 24, returned to action earlier this season after a nearly two-year injury-related retirement. The former Top 40 player has so far only lost one singles match in her comeback, and this weekend the Latvian notched her third ITF challenger win of 2015 (tying for the circuit lead) and ran her record on the year to 18-1. Sevastova claimed the $25K Ahmedabad, India title after making it through qualifying then knocking off Fatma Al Nabhani, #1-seeded Nao Hibino, Miyabi Inoue and #2-seeded Ankita Raina (the highest-ranked Indian woman in SINGLES at #248) in straight sets in the final. The title is Sevastova's biggest since her return. The last time she won a larger event came when she won her only WTA level crown in Estoril in 2010. In the $10K Port El Kantaoui challenger, 26-year old Swarmette Buzarnescu won her second title in as many weeks, nearly double-bageling Natalija Sipik in a 6-1/6-0 final, and winning the doubles (her third '15 win there, as well). A former Top 5 junior in 2006, Buzanescu was a rising Top 200 player in 2011-12 (reaching #141) before she first began to experience pain that eventually led to knee surgery. She was out two full years from September '12 until last autumn, and in the last few weeks all her hard work to get back has started to pay off. With her 13th ITF singles win in hand, Buzarnescu's WTA standing jumps from #765 to #630 in the new rankings. One step at a time. =============================
FRESH FACES:Lauren Davis/USA, Anhelina Kalinina/UKR & Alison Van Uytvanck/BEL
...21-year old Davis doesn't get nearly as much attention as many of her fellow young Bannerettes, but her fiery competitiveness hasn't prevented her from getting quite a bit out of her five-foot-two frame. Take a little Italian, make her American with a hard court preference who admires Rafa Nadal because they "have similar games and he fights no matter what"... and the mixture you end up with is Davis. Last season, she notched wins over Peng Shuai (just before her U.S. Open SF run), Flavia Pennetta (at Wimbledon), Karolina Pliskova, Daniela Hantuchova (on grass), Sara Errani and Vika Azarenka. Already this season she's added wins over the likes of Sloane Stephens and Anna Schmiedlova, then last week in Charleston got her first career Top 10 victory with a straight sets take down of #1-seeded Genie Bouchard. Avoiding a big letdown, she then followed up the win by defeating Mona Barthel before ultimately losing to Madison Keys in the QF. Davis is up to #57, within striking range of her career high of #43 from last summer. In the $25K challenger in Jackson, Mississippi it was Kalinia, 18, notching her first career ITF singles win. A girls finalist at last year's U.S. Open, the Ukrainian defeated Brit Johanna Konta in the final. Van Uytvanck, 21, reached her second career WTA semifinal (Hong Kong in September '14) in Katowice with wins over Magdalena Rybarikova, Carina Witthoeft and Kirsten Flipkens. ============================= DOWN:Genie Bouchard/CAN, Aga Radwanska/POL & Mirjana Lucic-Baroni/CRO
...welcome the land of quickly diminishing returns. Bouchard once again faltered badly in an event in which she was the #1 seed. In Charleston, the Canadian's non-slam outings continued to produce starkly different results from what she's done in the slams. This time she exited in her opening 2nd Round match, losing in straights sets to Lauren Davis. Bouchard is just 2-4 since her Australian Open QF run, but the pattern goes back quite a bit further. 23-5 in her last five slams, she's just 8-12 in non-slam tour level events since reaching the Wimbledon final last summer.
Radwanska, the Katowice #1 seed, entered the week having never won a tour title in Poland (and with just one singles and two doubles wins on the ITF circuit a decade ago) and she ended it the same way. After stringing together three easy wins, Aga was bounced in the semis in straight sets by Camila Giorgi. She's 19-17 since winning the title in Montreal last summer, and one has to wonder just how long it'll be before there's a major shake-up in the Radwanska camp, whether it would involve coach Tomasz Wiktorowski or "advisor/consultant" Martina Navratilova. Radwanska's father has already recently weighed in with his thoughts on the future of Polish Fed Cup captain Wiktorowski, so it's fair to wonder just how long it might be before Aga might react, as well. Meanwhile, at least Aga still has the fan vote on her side.
Meanwhile, back in Charleston, after Lucic-Baroni's inspiring and heartfelt win last year in Quebec City, it still feels bad to include her in this category. Up until now, I've avoided it. But after her 1st Round loss last week to Kristina Kucova, the Croat has now lost four straight matches this season. She's 5-9 in '15, and 5-10 since winning and ending her sixteen-year title drought last September. Sigh... it is what it is. ============================= ITF PLAYERS:Teliana Pereira/BRA & Danielle Lao/USA
...in the $50K Medelin challenger, 26-year old Brazilian Pereira claimed the 22nd circuit singles crown of her career, and her biggest ever. The #6 seed, she took out Katerina Stewart, Patricia Mayr-Achleitner, Mariana Duque and Veronica Cepede Royg in the final. #130 Pereira is the highest-ranked player from South America.
Meanwhile, enter "The Little Giant." Five-foot-three Lao, 23, is a former two-time All-American and team captain at USC. The ex-Trojan claimed both the singles (her first) and doubles (second) career ITF circuit titles in the $15K in Leon, Mexico. The journey was quite a ride, too. In the QF, #6-seeded Lao (the world #457) saved a handful of match points against #1-seed Mayo Hibi (the 3rd set alone lasted over ninety minutes). In the final against Alexandrina Naydenova, she overcame a 4-1 3rd set deficit, served for the match at 5-4 only to be broken, then broke back to serve once more for the title at 6-5. When she finally converted match point, she'd literally edged her opponent by a single point, winning the overall match stat by a 95-94 total. And she did it while Naydenova fired seven aces to her zero (naturally, with her height), while Lao had eight DF (Naydenova had nine). Two years ago, Lao actually co-authored a tennis book with Rick Limpert. "The Invaluable Experience" recounts Lao's college tennis career and explains why playing a sport in college might be the best decision one could ever make.
A photo posted by Danielle Lao (@thelittlegiant) on
============================= JUNIOR STAR:Claire Liu/USA
...this girl just won't go away. After becoming the first player born in the 2000's to earn an official ranking earlier this season, then winning a $10K challenger in Orlando shortly afterward, 14-year old Liu was once again playing with her head handily above deep water while winning the 18-singles in the Easter Bowl junior event in Indian Wells. The #12 seed, Liu took out Ingrid Neel, #4-seed Raveena Kingsley and #5 Katie Swan, the Brit who reached the Australian Open girls final this year, in a three-set final. Swan won the Easter Bowl doubles with Sonya Kenin, and defeated Liu in the 1st Round of the girls competition at last year's U.S. Open.
============================= DOUBLES:Ysaline Bonaventure/Demi Schuurs (BEL/NED)
...while Hingis & Mirza (and, in January, Bethanie Mattek-Sands) have been stealing the doubles headlines all season, Bonaventure has quietly climbed nearly one hundred spots in the doubles rankings since the start of the year, and this weekend the Waffle became the fourth woman to claim multiple doubles titles in 2015. Two months after a surprise title run with Rebecca Peterson (the Swede with whom she's also won an ITF title this year) in Rio, the 20-year old Bonaventure took home another crown this weekend in Katowice with Demi Schuurs. Schuurs is just 21, but she's already put together an impressive history as a doubles specialist (though the Dutch woman did manage to slip in one singles title in a $10K challenger last February, as well). As a junior, she very nearly won a Doubles Grand Slam, winning girls doubles titles at the Australian and U.S. Open and reaching the finals of Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2011. Schuurs has already won fourteen ITF doubles titles with twelve different partners (and reached five additional finals with three more), and has now added her maiden tour-level honor, as well, in just her seventh tour event over the last four years. Both players rise to new career-high rankings on Monday, with Bonaventure moving into the Top 100 at #84, while Schuurs is at #113. Oh, and Schuurs -- I hope, I hope, I hope... well, I think so -- may have started a whole new trend by wearing plaid shorts in the final, as well.
1. Chas Final - Kerber d. Keys
...6-2/4-6/7-5. Things got off to an error-heavy start for both, but as the match went on it transformed into both an offensive (Keys) and defensive (Kerber) clash full of momentum swings, ultimately becoming a pretty tense and dramatic contest down the stretch. Keys' errors ultimately did her in, though, as she failed to hold in three of her first four and two of her last three service games in the match, losing a 4-1 3rd set lead. Serving at 5-5, Keys led 40/love, but Kerber edged back and the American double-faulted to give the German a break point. An unforced error gave Kerber a 6-5 lead, and she then served out the match at love.
3. Chas 3rd Rd. - Hradecka d. Garcia
...5-7/7-5/6-4. A preview of next weekend's CZE/FRA FC semifinal (even if Hradecka won't be there)? The Czech blew a 4-1, two-break lead in the 3rd, but won anyway. Of course, this sort of thing wouldn't happen with Amelie around. =============================
4. Chas 1st Rd. - Cepelova d. Vesnina 6-2/6-7(5)/7-6(4)
Chas 2nd Rd. - Errani d. Cepelova 6-3/7-6(5)
...for a brief moment, surprise '14 finalist (she defeated Serena, remember) Cepelova was re-living her glorious Charleston past. Then Errani put an end to that. Lately, she knows a lot about putting an end to things. =============================
5. Chas Final - Hingis/Mirza d. Dellacqua/Jurak
...6-0/6-4. But at least Casey had this...
6. Chas 1st Rd. - Vekic d. Watson 6-3/4-6/7-5
Chas 2nd Rd. - Brengle d. Vekic 6-1/6-3
...in a rare win for the Croat, Vekic comes back from a break down twice in the 3rd to defeat Watson. The euphoria didn't last long. =============================
7. Chas 3rd Rd. - Petkovic d. Brengle
...6-4/6-4. Petko gets some revenge for BrengleFly's AO upset. =============================
8. Chas SF - Kerber d. Petkovic 6-4/6-4
Kato QF - Van Uytvanck d. Flipkens 6-2/6-4
...all-Germans. All-Waffles. But do Angie or Andrea have a personal logo like Flipper? (Dolphin sounds... dolphin sounds!)
10. Kato 2nd Rd - Barbieri/Knapp d. Mladenovic/Jans-Ignacik 6-3/6-4
Chas QF - Erakovic/Petkovic d. Babos/Groenefeld 6-1/6-2
...Kiki and Timea didn't fare as well apart from each other last week. On the bright side, Mladenovic hired a new fitness coach.
11. Chas 3rd Rd. - Kovinic walkover Jankovic
Chas QF - Petkovic d. Kovinic 2-6/6-3/6-1
...where there's a will there's a JJ. Kovinic hit a 122-mph serve on Petko's first MP. Yeah, just like Jankovic would have done.
12. $15K Dijon Final - Jana Fett d. Maryna Zanevska
...6-3/6-4. The Force continues to be strong with this one. 18-year old Croat Fett wins her third career ITF title. =============================
HM- $25K Chiasso Final - Reka-Luca Jani d. Alexandra Cadantu
...3-6/6-3/7-6(6).Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! Reka-Luca Jani! The 23-year old Hungarian, claiming her first '15 title in three final appearances, locks up career win #19. =============================
Bacsinszky is goin' places...
Did a photo shoot-my 1st video clip this week,not used to it,but had fun!Thx for the great team!#MemoireVive#OpenMag pic.twitter.com/oD7U8i2c4B
Best hashtag I've seen in a while: #shedoesntknowhowtocountpointsintennis
1. Kato Final - Anna Schmiedlova d. Giorgi
...6-4/6-3. Hey, at least Giorgi didn't hold match point and lose in her THIRD straight career final. Still, it has to be getting a little old, this coming in second place thing.
2. $25K Barnstaple Final - Kristyna Pliskova d. Zander
...6-3/6-2. Kristyna's results have picked up since Karolina started winning so much. This is her second challenger win of the season. Maybe it'll inspire Karolina to get her first '15 title on the WTA tour soon? =============================
3. Chas 1st Rd. - Hingis/Mirza d. Anastasia Rodionova/Arina Rodionova
...6-7(7)/6-3 [10-5]. The Chan sisters made the final in '14. That wasn't going to happen with the Rodionovas. Not with the Dream Team around. But, still, this was a little too close for comfort.
4. Kato Q2: Kulichkova d. Nadiia Kichenok 6-2/6-7(4)/6-3
Kato 1st Rd. - Kulichkova d. Ula Radwanska 6-0/6-1
...Kulichkova, who reached the Katowice draw as a lucky loser, should be winning some awards around here soon. The 19-year old (her birthday was Sunday!), who swept the AO girls singles and doubles a year ago, has gone 14-4 in her last eighteen and is 19-8 on the season. After reaching the Katowice QF, she's up to #113. =============================
5. Kato QF - Anna Schmiedlova d. Cornet
...6-2/6-0. The '14 champ was felled by the Slovak, but also a thigh injury that has to call into question whether she'll be ready to go next weekend in France's Fed Cup semi vs. the Czechs. =============================
HM- Kato SF - Giorgi d. Aga Radwanska 6-4/6-2
Kato SF - Barbieri/Knapp d. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiia Kichenok 6-3/6-1
...defeating sisters in the Katowice semis didn't bode well for your immediate future. =============================
Guess who'll be wearing the red-and-green again this week!
**2015 PLAYERS WITH INDOOR/OUTDOOR FINALS**
Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP (0-2)
Anna Schmiedlova, SVK (Outdoor=L, Indoor=W)
**2015 FINALS w/ TITLE-LESS PLAYERS**
Hobart - Madison Brengle/USA (0-0) + L
Pattaya - Ajla Tomljanovic/AUS-CRO (0-0) + L
Rio - Anna Schmiedlova/SVK (0-0) + L
Katowice - Anna Schmiedlova/SVK (0-1) + W
Katowice - Camila Giorgi/ITA (0-2) + L
Still, this retweeting of fans is a nice little habit that Sharapova has gotten into of late.
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (Int'l $250K/RCO) 14 Final: Garcia d. Jankovic
14 Doubles Final: Arruabarrena/Garcia d. King/Scheepers
15 Top Seeds: Svitolina/Puig
#1 Svitolina d. (Q) Haddad Maia
#2 Puig d. Maria =FINAL=
#1 Svitolina d. #2 Puig
...the first red clay court event of the spring, taking place during a Fed Cup week. Yeah, pretty much anything could happen, with ANYONE winning.
FED CUP SF & GROUP PLAYOFFS =SF=
France at Czech Republic
Germany at Russia =World Group Playoffs=
USA at ITA
AUS at NED
SUI at POL
ROU at CAN =World Group II Playoffs=
PAR at SRB
SVK ar SWE
BLR at JPN
ESP at ARG =Zones=
...I'll have a short Fed Cup weekend preview later this week, when the rosters are finalized after some of the injuries from this past week. Quick semifinal shorthand: Amelie & Co. are really up against it this time... but we've heard that before, and Germany hopes that an invasion of Russia works a little better this time around. (Oh, sorry... too soon for that joke?)