Monday, May 04, 2009

Wk.17- Born Free

This big ol' world is full of free spirits who thrive once the yoke of authority that had been cramping their style is removed.

Case in point, apparently... Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Often referred to as the WTA tour's friendliest and most outgoing player, the last few years of the Russian's results have made it easy to forget that after she burst onto the scene by winning the U.S. Open title in 2004 Kuznetsova was thought to possibly be the most talented of all the Hordettes, capable of having her powerful groundstrokes, defensive prowess and all-surface game spark her to the very top of the game.

Almost five years later, a time span during which even Roger Federer expressed a particular affinity for Kuznetsova's game above that of all the other women's players, we're still waiting for the spark to occur. But for the first time in ages this past week in Stuttgart, where she surged to her first title in nearly two years while brushing aside several other top-ranked Russians (including new #1 Dinara Safina in straight sets in the final), Kuznetsova gave everyone a glimpse of the talent that has been struggling mightily to be fully realized since she became the third Hordette to win a grand slam singles crown.

Of course, it's not as if she's dropped off the map... she's only managed to perfect coming up just short. At Roland Garros in both 2004 and '05, Kuznetsova held match points against the eventual champion in the 4th Round. At this year's Australian Open, she served for the match in the quarterfinals against ultimate champ Serena Williams. Over the past couple of seasons, she reached ten singles finals, including the U.S. Open two years ago, but won just one... when her opponent, Agnes Szavay, retired when leading the match in New Haven in '07. So, really, Stuttgart is the first time Kuznetsova has lifted a singles trophy after winning a tournament outright since her back-to-back wins in Bali and Beijing in September '06.

So what's changed? Umm, maybe it was a case of addition by subtraction.

Leader of the first Russian tennis revolution in the 1970's, Olga Morozova has carved out a place for herself in today's game as a coach. A few years ago, she helped lead Elena Dementieva's underachieving game out of the darkness. When she signed on to attempt to do the same with Kuznetsova before the start of the '09 season, it seemed like a good idea. It never worked out, though, and the two parted ways just before the start of the Miami tournament a few weeks ago, with Kuznetsova citing their contrasting viewpoints about all sorts of things that made for a cramped and uncomfortable relationship.

Who knows, maybe Morozova has unwittingly created a new position in the sport -- that of a coach hired simply to be abruptly fired, freeing the mind of a short-time pupil who might just need to be "free" to spread his/her wings away from any sort of authority figure in order to properly focus. Surely Kuznetsova's post-Morozova results speak to SOMETHING that's worked wonders. After not advancing past the QF in any event under Morozova, in the two she's played without a full-time coach she's reached the Miami SF and won in Stuttgart.

Playing without a coach isn't an entirely new thing in tennis. Federer himself has been without a full-time second set of eyes for a while now, but hasn't had nearly the same success as Kuznetsova (at least compared to his previous exploits). Hey, but who says you have to judge a "free spirit" by everyone else's rules and society's supposed limitations? Maybe we should have known that rap-loving Kuznetsova wasn't like all the rest the moment she walked out on the court with corn rows in her hair a few years ago, huh?

Maybe it just took her a while to figure out the best way to transfer her off-court self to her on-court one. I guess you never know what you might stumble onto when you least expect it.

Born free. As free as the wind blows... all the way to Paris? In this wild, leader-less season, little moments like this might be the difference between missing an opportunity and seizing it.


STUTTGART, GERMANY (Premier $700K/Red Clay Indoor)
S: Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Dinara Safina 6-4/6-3
D: Mattek-Sands/Petrova d. Dulko/Pennetta

FES, MOROCCO (Int'l $220K/Red Clay)
S: Anabel Medina-Garrigues def. Ekaterina Makarova 6-0/6-1
D: Kleybanova/Makarova d. Cirstea/Kirilenko

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
career title #10, which ironically moved the Contessova past Morozova on the all-time Russian title list, included wins over Li Na and Gisela Dulko, as well as a pair of impressively smooth straight-setters over Dementieva and Safina.
RISERS: Anabel Medina-Garrigues/ESP & Flavia Pennetta/ITA
Medina-Garrigues is always a potential champion anytime she steps onto the court at a moderate-to-small-sized clay event. It happened again in Fes, where she rebounded from losing a pair of three-setters to Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic in Fed Cup play to claim her ninth career title. She nearly double-bageled Ekaterina Makarova in the final. Meanwhile, Pennetta was still existing on the fumes of Italy's big FC semifinal win over Russia. In Stuttgart, she upended Chakvetadze, Petrova and Jankovic en route to the singles SF, and reached the doubles final with Gisela Dulko for good measure.
SURPRISE: Eva Fernandez Brugues/ESP
the #279-ranked Spaniard was a lucky loser in Fes, getting into the main draw and notching a win over Petra Cetkovska. Then, in Estoril, she made it into the MD by virtue of a final qualifying round win over Ekaterina Dzehalevich today, after having earlier upset Anastasiya Yakimova over the weekend.
VETERAN: Nadia Petrova/RUS (with Bethanie Mattek-Sands/USA)
24-year old Mattek-Sands doesn't necessarily qualify as a "veteran" yet, but her doubles partnership with vet Petrova is surely reaping benefits. After knocking off #1-ranked Black/Huber in the SF, the pair defeated Dulko/Pennetta in the final to claim their second straight title to go along with their Charleston crown. In between, of course, Mattek-Sands teamed with Liezel Huber to come back from match point to send the U.S. into the FC final with a win over the Czech Republic.
FRESH FACES: Ekaterina Makarova/RUS & Alisa Kleybanova/RUS
Makarova had quite the week in Fes, reaching her first career singles final (after fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko had lost early and opened up the bottom half of the draw) and winning her maiden doubles title with Kleybanova (who she'd beaten in the singles SF), defeating Cirstea/Kirilenko.
DOWN: Anna Chakvetadze/RUS
the Russian might right herself this week in Rome (she's off to a better start, at least), but her Fed Cup hangover took quite a toll on her last week. Chakvetadaze must have thought she was caught in a time warp, as she fell in Stuttgart to the same player who blew her out in the FC semis -- Flavia Pennetta.
ITF PLAYER: Maria Elena Camerin/ITA
Camerin won a $100K in Cagnes-Sur-Mer, France, stringing together good wins over Anne Kremer, Stephanie Dubois, Stephanie Foretz, Julia Goerges before easily handling Zuzana Ondraskova in the final, 6-1/6-2.
Babos didn't win the $10K title in Bournemouth, but the junior's recent run continued. The Hungarian has three G1 titles to her credit this season, recently jumped into the Top 5 in the Girls rankings, and reached both the singles and doubles final of the ITF event this weekend. She lost the final to Svenja Weidemann, but won the doubles title.

1. Stutt Final - Kuznetsova d. Safina
Safina is suddenly the #1 player who keeps finishing 2nd (that Silver Medal in Beijing wasn't supposed to become a pattern, Dinara). In 2009, counting the Hopman Cup, she's 0-4 in finals.
2. Stutt 2nd - Jankovic d. Lisicki
Stutt QF - Pennetta d. Jankovic
Queen Chaos is still a work in progress, so she didn't get a free yellow Porsche to go along with the shoes-matching red one she won in Stuttgart last year. Even if she can't three-peat this week in Rome, a case can be made that she might be able to get her clay game to peak in Paris. Timing is everything.
3. Stutt 2nd - Dulko d. Azarenka
She's only human, I guess. Plus, Dulko is capable of beating anyone on clay on a good day.
4. Stutt 1st - Pennetta d. Chakvetadze
Shockingly, Chakvetadze won two fewer games this time against Pennetta than she did in her Fed Cup loss a few days earlier.
5. Stutt 1st - Hantuchova d Cornet
Cornet did finally get off the mat with a win in Rome against Sugiyama today, though.
6. Fes Final - Medina-Garrigues d. Makarova
AMG is now one singles title away from joining Anna Smashnova as the only player in WTA history with at least ten singles crowns but zero QF-or-better slam results.
7. Rome Q2 - Shvedova d. Vaidisova
Remember when Vaidisova was one forehand away from holding a match point to reach the 2006 Roland Garros final? I wonder if she does? I wonder if she cares anymore?
8. Stutt SF - Safina d. Pennetta
Pennetta was up 6-3/5-4 before she lost her edge and Safina seized control.
9. USA Roland Garros Wild Card Playoff Final - Lauren Embree d. Nicole Gibbs
Another of the young emerging Bannerettes, Embree is the #7-ranked junior in the world.
10. Rome 1st - Chakvetadze d. Medina-Garrigues
Hmm, over the previous week, Chakvetadze bombed out twice while AMG won a title. So, of course, they meet today and the Russian dominates on clay. A perfect example of the enigmatic results these two put up on a regular basis.

**2009 WTA FINALS**
3...Victoria Azarenka (3-0)
3...Elena Dementieva (2-1)
3...Caroline Wozniacki (1-2)

('09 titles, last title)
41...Venus Williams (2)
34...Kim Clijsters (2007)
33...Serena Williams (1)
25...Amelie Mauresmo (1)
19...Maria Sharapova (2008)
13...Elena Dementieva (2)
11...Patty Schnyder (2008)
10...Jelena Jankovic (1)
ALSO: Davenport-55, Pierce-18

19...Maria Sharapova, 2003-08
13...Elena Dementieva, 2003-09
10...Anastasia Myskina, 1999-05

9...Elena Dementieva (5-5)

Australian Open - Serena Williams (W/W)
Memphis - Victoria Azarenka (W/W)
Memphis - Caroline Wozniacki (L/W)
Bogota - Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez (W/W)
Bogota - Gisela Dulko (L/L)
Indian Wells - Vera Zvonareva (W/W)

6 years - ANABEL MEDINA-GARRIGUES (2004-09)
4 years - Elena Dementieva (2006-09)
3 years - Jelena Jankovic (2007-09)
3 years - Serena Williams (2007-09)
3 years - Venus Williams (2007-09)
ALSO: 6-Sharapova (2003-08), 4-Ivanovic (05-08), 4-Petrova (05-08), 3-Chakvetadze (06-08)

ROME, ITALY (Premier+$2m/Red Clay Outdoor)
08 Final: Jankovic d. Cornet
09 Top Seeds: Safina/S.Williams

Safina d. Suarez-Navarro
Ivanovic d. V.Williams
Jankovic d. Kuznetsova
Wozniacki d. S.Williams
Safina d. Ivanovic
Jankovic d. Wozniacki
Safina d. Jankovic

...JJ can teach Dinara a few things about being the #1 player in the wo-... umm, well, maybe not.

ESTORIL, PORTUGAL (Int'l $220K/Red Clay Outdoor)
08 Final: Kirilenko d. Benesova
09 Top Seeds: Benesova/Kirilenko

Cirstea d. Benesova
Lisicki d. Makarova
Lisicki d. Cirstea

...last year's finalists are back for another go as the top two seeds this year. Lisicki's been on a roll. Benesova hasn't. Who the heck knows what to expect from Kirilenko.

Awards for the first month of the clay court season are coming up later this week.

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

It frustrates me that Kuzzy has never won the French Open. She should have. She is such a wonderful clay competitor. Maybe this year--it seems wide open to me.

Wed May 06, 08:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger ZoĆ© said...

It seems that you surestimate Jelena... I'm happy with the two finals actually... I hope Dinara and Yanina will win...

Fri May 08, 05:58:00 PM EDT  

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