Thursday, September 15, 2016

3Q BSA's: Top Performers & Performances

Summer is nearly over, but the WTA's 3rd Quarter of play for 2016 is most definitely over. Really most sincerely over.

A look back at the top players, performances and, well, other things.

*3Q AWARDS - Weeks 28-36*

1. Angelique Kerber, GER
...the Year of Angie is now three-quarters complete, with the Australian & U.S. Open-winning, Olympic Silver medalist currently the newly-installed #1 player in the world. What do the closing months have in store? Well, some of that might have a bit to do with just how strong a push Serena Williams is going to make for her sixth season-ending #1 ranking (two off Steffi Graf's record) and fourth consececutive (one less than Martina Navratilova's tour-best mark). Hopefully, more great things await us in the fall.
2. Karolina Pliskova, CZE
...already a Fed Cup leader and consistent "regular" tour performer, Pliskova raised the bar with a dream (well, almost a dream) summer that included her biggest title (Cincinnati), five Top 10 (three Top 5) wins in less than a month, a new career-high ranking (#6) and her maiden appearance in a slam singles final. With her confidence surging, the Czech has "joined the party" in the increasingly competitive WTA upper echelon. Your serve, Karolina.
3. Simona Halep, ROU
...the summer of Si-mo-na came up a little BIT short in the end, but title runs in Bucharest and Montreal, as well as Top 10 wins over Kerber, Pliskova, Radwanska, Keys and Kuznetsova, as well as a tight three-set battle in the U.S. Open QF with Serena makes the past few months a confidence-building stepping stone that could prove to be essential to the Romanian reaching her ultimate goal.

4. Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina, RUS
...finally healthy and fully reunited, the Russians looked like the best doubles duo on tour for most of the summer, winning the Montreal title and becoming the first Russian pair to claim Olympic doubles Gold in Rio.

It's official. ???? #RoadtoRio2016 #teamUSA #starsandstripes

A photo posted by MATTeK-SaNDS (@matteksands) on

5. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, USA
...a Gold medalist in Mixed Doubles at the Olympics, and then a third slam title with Lucie Safarova to close out her summer at the U.S. Open. Yep, after a time not that long ago when they weren't, things are pretty well for Bethanie at the moment.
6. Monica Puig, PUR
...Monica Puig: Olympic Singles Gold medalist. There's a phrase that NO ONE said in the history of humans and/or dinosaurs before this summer. But it actually happened. Right? Yeah, I'm pretty sure it did. I think.
7. Laura Siegemund, GER
...the summer brought Siegemund a maiden tour title in Bastad, the singles QF in Rio, her first slam seed, her second 3rd Round result of the season, a new career-high ranking after another new career-high ranking AND a slam Mixed Doubles title. In the Year of Angie, another German has carved out quite a place for herself in the the WTA landscape in 2016.

8. Anastasija Sevastova, LAT
...the back-from-retirement Latvian began the 3Q by reaching the final in Bucharest, but was overwhelmed and double-bageled by Halep. She ended the summer, after upsetting Muguruza and Konta, by turning her ankle in the U.S. Open quarterfinals and nearly getting double-bageled by Wozniacki. Still, she's now at a career-best ranking of #32 and, if her body can hold up, maybe poised to be a fascinating dark horse (and entertaining personality) in every tournament she enters heading into 2017.
9. Sania Mirza, IND
...she went home from Rio both medal-less and old partner-less, but rebounded quite well, winning back-to-back titles, not with players named Martina, but Barbora (Strycova) and Monica (Niculescu) instead. Oh, and she shed what was left of her Hingisian overcoat by once again taking over sole possession of the #1 doubles ranking.

10. Aga Radwanska, POL & Johanna Konta, GBR
...Radwanska's New Haven title run earned her the U.S. Open Series title, edging out Stanford champ Konta, whose point total was doubled because she played three of the designated tournaments during the North American stretch, largely because of Aga's head-to-head 3rd Round win over the Brit in Cincinnati.

1. ChiChi Scholl, USA: ended her summer by reaching the singles and doubles finals at four straight events, winnng seven titles compiling a combined record of 31-1 (19-1 in singles, including a 15-match win streak)
2. Tamara Korpatsch, GER: won three straight titles (w/ 17 consecutive matches won in July/August)
3. Lenka Jurikova, SVK: ended 3Q on a 15-match run, with three consecutive challenger titles
4. Anna Kalinskaya, RUS: the 17-year old reached three finals (winning two) as she lifted her ranking to a career-best #192
5. Tereza Mihalikova, SVK: 18-year old former AO girls champ (2015, and RU in '16) won back-to-back $10K to end the 3Q
HM- Gabriela & Magdalena Pantuckova, CZE: the Czech sisters are making a push. 17-year old Magadalena won two ITF titles in the 3rd Quarter, while 21-year old Gabriela went 0-2 in finals, but moved into the Top 300. Combined, in 2016, they've won five singles crowns and won a doubles title together.

San Diego Aviators: With the recently-dominant Washington Kastles mostly missing their big-name top players prior to the Olympics, the Aviators -- with the likes of Shelby Rogers and Darija Jurak leading the way in the final -- took home their first World Team Tennis championship at Forest Hills vs. the Orange County Breakers

Danielle Collins, Univ. of Virginia: the reigning NCAA women's champ (who also won in '14) picked up the title at the American Collegiate Invitiational competition held at Flushing Meadows during the U.S. Open

#1 - #PicaPower For the People
In the biggest Olympic tennis shocker ever, #34-ranked Monica Puig is crowned the Olympic singles champion in Rio, becoming the first person representing Puerto Rico to ever claim a Gold medal in the summer games.

Puig rode her fiery, aggressive game to five straight wins that got progressively more astounding as the week went on. Down went Polona Hercog and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. Then Puig took out #4-ranked RG champ Garbine Muguruza -- her first career Top 5 win -- 6-1/6-1. Next up, Laura Siegemund was held to the same two measly games in an all-unseeded QF, then two-time slam winner Petra Kvitova went out in three sets. Puig, amazingly, had reached the Olympic final, as the lowest-ranked woman to ever play for singles Gold. But it HAD to end there, right? Nope... not in Rio. Against #2-ranked AO champ Angelique Kerber, Puig's calm in the face of monumental history being on her racket carried the day. She ended Kerber's spotless Rio set record in the 1st, then pulled away in the 3rd, taking a 5-0 lead and winning 6-4/4-6/6-1.

This may not only be the Performance of the Year, but also one for the tennis ages. Two Top 5 wins, victories over three players who had won a combined four slams, including two reigning 2016 major champions (a month later, Kerber went on to win the U.S. Open, as well), is quite the feat for a player who came into the Olympics with just a single tour title (won two years ago) to her credit.

Just call Puig "The Legend." In Puerto Rico, for sure. For the rest of her life, and for generations hereafter.

#2 - The Angie of New York's Eye
Angelique Kerber's yellow brick road to never-before-seen success cut yet another brilliant path, this time through New York. By the time the U.S. Open was over, the German had swept through seven matches at a major for the second time in 2016 (dropping just one set, in the final vs. Karolina Pliskova), put behind her disappointing summer losses in the Wimbledon, Olympic and Cincinnati finals, become the first #1-ranked player from Germany since her idol (and recent confidant) Steffi Graf and, at 28, the oldest woman to ever make her debut in the top spot.

Down the stretch in the final, the keys to victory were the same things that have lifted Kerber from the tour pack to the top of the heap:
her belief in herself, her commitment to a gameplan and, of course, her greatest preparation for battle -- her fitness. She's a walking, talking, later-fully-blooming, fist-pumping, major title-lifting example of the "long game" that has become the "new normal" in the sport.

#3 - Hello, My Name is Karolina
Aside from her Fed Cup heroics, Karolina Pliskova had never really been able to truly put in the sort of performance that might legitimize her as the future slam winner that her big-serving, sometimes-crisp-as-a-potato-chip-and-clean-as-a-whistle game, at times, hinted could one day be her reality. Until Cincinnati, that is.

The Czech glided her way to her biggest career title, losing just a single set all week. While everyone's focus was on Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, Pliskova was noticably confident and speaking with the conviction of an athlete tired of missing out, and desiring something more. After wins over Jelena Ostapenko, Misaki Doi, Svetlana Kuznetsova and (easily, in windy conditions) Garbine Muguruza, Pliskova diplomatically "approved" of Kerber's potential rise to #1 after a win in the final against her, but made it clear that she had no intention of rolling over and letting it happen on that day, saying that she'd "do everything in my power to stop her in doing that right now." And then she went out and did just that.


#4 - Si-mo-na CAN Go Home Again
As it was, Simona Halep was all smiles in Bucharest, as she claimed the tournament title on Romanian soil for the second time in three years. After dropping the 1st set in the 1st Round vs. Barbora Krejcikova, she showed little mercy the rest of the way. She finished off the Czech 1 & 1, then took out Isabella Shinikova, Danka Kovinic and Vania King (though with a lost TB in the 1st) before serving Anastasija Sevastova a double-bagel in the final in just forty-six minutes. With the win, Halep moved past Virginia Ruzuci into first place on Romania's WTA title list with fourteen titles in her career.
#5 - A Brit, California Dreamin'
The rise of Johanna Konta continued in Stanford. Since finishing a season in the Top 100 (#47) for the first time in her career last year, the Sydney-born Brit has lurched forward in leaps and bounds in 2016. Her season began with a surprise semifinal run at the Australian Open (which began with a 1st Round upset of Venus Williams), and her summertime trip to California resulted in her maiden title, which included win over the likes of Dominika Cibulkova and, once more, Williams (in the final).

#6 - Another Swiss Miss Makes Good
In Gstaad, the surprising '16 season of Viktoriya Golubic added another milestone. After flashing mean skills under pressure in Fed Cup semifinal play vs. the mighty Czech squad in the spring, she rose above a field of super-achieving Swiss (three of four semifinalists, and a doubles champion) to claim the title at the first tour-level event held in Switzerland in eight years. Wins over Mona Barthel, Evgeniya Rodina, Carina Witthoeft, Rebeka Masarova and Kiki Bertens garnered Golubic her first career WTA singles title AND her first-ever Top 100 ranking, more than 100 places higher than where she finished 2015.

#7 - Simona Overcomes... Simona
I suppose the way to say it is that Simona weathered the storm in Montreal. As usual, much of it was of her own making, as her lingering questions of confidence and perfectionist notions threatened on multiple times to sandbag her own attempts to advance one additional step and win the same Rogers Cup title that eluded her in last year's Toronto final vs. Belinda Bencic. With the help of coach/sports psychologist/Simona whisperer Darren Cahill, who somehow found a way to walk the delicate line that allowed Halep to be able to find her way through her worst stretches before TOTALLY giving away the match, spread the possible "blame" around (i.e. taking some of it on himself) in order to prevent Halep from getting lost in her own head, as well as still feel loose enough to have the sense of humor to laugh at her potentially devastating competitive idiosyncrasies. Well, after the fact (and everything had turned out all right), at least.

Halep's Montreal wins over Daria Gavrilova, Karolina Pliskova, Svetlana Kuznetsova (after losing the 1st set), Angelique Kerber (after almost melting down following a near-perfect love 1st set win) and Madison Keys (even after twice failing to serve out the 1st) seems to have played a role in adding a thin-but-strong layer of confidence around the outer shell of the Swarmette, who rode her summertime "good vibes" to a QF result at Flushing Meadows and a pitched battle there with Serena Williams.
#8 - Aga's Summer Haven
Aga Radwanska arrived in New Haven having had a disappointing summer on the court, as well as having been the international poster child for poor air travel en route to Rio (it was a 55-hour ordeal just to get there, thene she lost in the 1st Round in both singles and doubles). She needed something to go right. Finally, it did. Wins over Jelena Ostapenko and Kirsten Flipkens led to a destruction (1 & 1) of Petra Kvitova in the semis and a quick 5-0 lead on Elina Svitolina in the final. Things tightened from there, but Radwanska used all her skills to plug the leaks in a game that looked as if it was about to hit the wall, at least as far as her ability to avoid being taken down by exhaustion and mental fatigue. As it was, she never lost a set (joining Vika Azarenka as the only women to win two '16 titles in such a fashion) while grabbing career title #19 AND picking up the U.S. Open Series crown.
#9 - The District of Yanina
Yanina Wickmayer had the full D.C. experience. She began the week by making her way around town...

And then ended the weekend by making off with ALL the trophies.

The 26-year Waffle won her fifth career tour singles title after a run of victories that included wins over Madison Brengle, Zhang Shuai, Kristina Mladenovic, Yulia Putintseva and Lauren Davis in the final. She'd already picked up career doubles title #2 with Monica Niculescu a day earlier.
#10 - The German Revelation
To Siegemund is to live. A week after the Laura Siegemund welcomed a return to clay with a semifinal result in Bucharest, the 28-year old reached her second final of the season (w/ Stuttgart, both on clay) in Bastad and walked away with her maiden tour singles title. Wins over Kateryna Kozlova, Lucie Hradecka, Lara Arruabarrena, Julia Goerges (ret. in 3rd) and Katerina Siniakova did the trick, as she rose to yet another career-best ranking. The summer swing of the German's career year was only just beginning, too. On hard courts, she went on to reach the Olympic QF, earn her first singles seed (#26) at a major and win her first slam title in the U.S. Open mixed doubles.
#11 - Begu and Brazil Go Great Together
A week after Simona Halep found her way into the winner's circle in Montreal, Irina-Camelia Begu stopped off in Florianoplis before heading off to Rio and picked up career title #3. The 25-year old, who put together such a great spring run on clay (QF in Charleston and Madrid, a SF in Rome and Round of 16 in Paris), rediscovered her success on hard courts after a poor grass campaign. Wins over Laura Pigossi, Montserrat Gonzalez, Nao Hibino and soon-to-be-Olympic-champ Monica Puig advanced her into her sixth career tour final, where she came back from a set down to defeat Timea Babos in three.

#12 - The Land that Li Built
In Nanchang, 27-year old Duan became this season's sixth maiden singles champion, and the fourth on tour since Wimbledon. Wins over Marina Melnikova, Han Xinyun, Kurumi Nara and Misa Eguchi put Duan in her first career final, making her the first Chinese woman to play for a WTA singles title since Zheng Jie at Rosmalan two years ago. Her come-from-behind win over Vania King crowned her the first Chinese singles champ on tour since Li Na took the Australian Open title in January 2014. It's a big "next step" for the rangy Duan, whose big-serving game had already flashed potential on the big stage of the AELTC. In 2015, she upset Genie Bouchard at SW19 in the 1st Round, and this summer she did the same thing there to Kristyna Pliskova. At #163, she was the lowest-ranked tour-level champion of the season, and the third-lowest since 2012.



#1 - The Golden Hordettes
Always a big event pair, Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina added Olympic Gold (a first for a Russian pair) in Rio to their career haul, doing so without dropping a set. Four years after losing to the Williams Sisters in the London QF, wins over the likes of Muguruza/CSN, Safarova/Strycova and Bacsinszky/Hingis got them title #8 as a duo, their second straight after also winning in Montreal. Echoing the words of countrywoman (and '08 singles Gold medalist) Elena Dementieva, the three-time slam WD/MX winner and '16 Wimbledon singles semifinalist Vesnina declared this win the greatest accomplishment of her tennis career.

#2 - Martina, Who?
In her first event since the announcement of the end of her legendary-though-short-lived partnership with Martina Hingis, Sania Mirza teamed with Barbora Strycova for the very first time and surged all the way to the Cincinnati final without dropping a set (def. the defending champion Chan sisters in the semis), allowing Sania to meet up with and defeat, yep, you guessed it -- Hingis, along with NEW partner CoCo Vandeweghe. A week later, Mirza teamed with another partner, Monica Niculescu, in New Haven. Six years after they last played together, they, too, walked away with a title. It was Mirza's third title at the event, all three with different partners.


#3 - Dynamic Duos
Bethanie Mattek-Sands' had a "gold rush" sort of hard court summer, while doubles partner Lucie Safarova was busy collecting hardware, as well.

First, on the final day of tennis competition in Brazil, she denied Venus Williams her record fifth career Olympic tennis Gold... but at least Mattek-Sands and her star-spangled socks were the beneficiary of the halt of history, so at least something good came of it. BMS and Jack Sock lost just one set -- the opening set of the final vs. Venus & Rajeev Ram -- en route to the top spot on the medal stand, claiming just the second Mixed Doubles Gold since 1924 (Vika Azarenka & Max Mirnyi won in '12 in the competitions return to the Olympics in London after an 88-year absence). After losing the 1st set via a TB, BMS/Sock took the 2nd 6-1 and won an alternating-momentum 10-7 TB (3-0 for Mattek-Sands/Sock, then six straight for Venus/Ram, then six straight the other way) to claim Gold. Then, Mattek-Sands re-joined forces with Safarova at the U.S. Open, where the Dynamic Duo defeated Rio Gold medalists Makarova/Vesnina (SF) and #1-seeded Roland Garros champs Garcia/Mladenovic (in the final) to claim third slam title as a pair. With the '15 wins they picked up in Melbourne and Paris, they're a Wimbledon title away from completing a Career Slam.

Safarova, meanwhile, won women's doubles Bronze in Rio with fellow Czech Barbora Strycova.

#4 - Somebody Went to Rio and All She Got was...
Early on in Rio, things looked bleak for Venus Williams. Playing with a viral illness, the player who arguably loves the Olympics more than any other, was dumped out of the 1st Round of singles on Day 1, then she and Serena lost their first Olympic doubles match ever on Day 2. After at first being noncommital about playing Mixed Doubles, thinking she'd be busy in the other two draws, Venus teamed up with Rajeev Ram (himself a late addition to the team) and very nearly wrote what could have been a storybook ending (but don't be sure, for Tokyo could well see her yet in '20) to the greatest-ever Olympic tennis career. After saving two MP in the 1st Round vs. Bertens/Rojer, the U.S. duo went all the way to the Gold Medal Match, where they won the 1st set and held a 6-3 lead in the 3rd set TB vs. Mattek-Sands/Sock. A win would have given Venus a record fifth tennis Gold, and made her the only player to win Gold in singles, doubles and mixed. But it wasn't meant to be. Still, Venus remains tied with Serena with the most tennis Golds (4), and her Silver matches 1920's star Kitty McKane's record of five career Olympic tennis medals. As usual, with Venus, we really didn't have reason to worry. And while there may be some argument about whether or not Venus loves her Olympic participation MORE than any other player on tour, one should probably take a look at her extended reaction to winning the semifinal contest over Mirza/Bopanna, which simply assured her of a fifth medal and another shot to play for Gold. It's priceless, really.

#5 - Swiss Miss Silver
As was the case with Venus, Rio didn't look good for either of Switzerland's biggest Olympic tennis stars, either. Martina Hingis lost her expected doubles partner when Belinda Bencic's wrist injury knocked her out of action, then Roger Federer's Olympic absence took away that expected dream pairing for the Original Swiss Miss, as well. Stan Wawrinka begged off, too, then skipped the games entirely. Hingis ended up not playing MX at all, then announced mid-week that her and Sania Mirza's year-and-a-half partnership (93-16 overall, 14-3 in finals, w/ three slam wins) was over. Timea Bacsinszky, meanwhile, skipped the opening ceremonies because she had a Day 1 match last Saturday, which she then promptly lost to Zheng Saisai after having held MP. So, while they weren't exactly the Olympic savior either was expecting, both Hingis and Bacsinszky played that role for each over to the hilt over the course of play in Rio. The pair lost just one set en route to the semis. There, the Swiss faced down MP -- literally, as a Hingis shot hit Andrea Hlavackova in the face to save the match -- and went on to win, assuring Hingis of her first Olympic medal, one of the few things to elude her in her Hall of Fame career. Like Venus, the storybook ending didn't include Gold. Instead, it was Silver, as the Swiss were outplayed by the more experienced-and-in-sync Russian duo of Makarova & Vesnina, but that's one thing that great about the Olympics -- one needn't WIN the final match to come away a "winner."

#6 - Siegemunding and it Feels So Good
In a season that had already seen her reach her first career tour singles final (Stuttgart), win her maiden title (Bastad), have a best-ever slam result (AO/US 3rd Rd.) and reach career-high rankings in singles (#27) and doubles (#40), 28-year old Laura Siegemund picked up her very first slam win at the U.S. Open when she claimed the Mixed Doubles title along with Mate Pavic.
#7 - STILL ANOTHER Swiss Miss
In Gstaad with Lara Arruabarrena, Xenia Knoll added still another title, with another partner, to her 2016 list of accomplishments. The Swiss has been playing the role this season that Kristina Mladenovic used to play as she's found success at every level with all sorts of players by her side. This year alone, she's 2-2 in WTA finals, 1-0 in WTA 125 finals and 2-1 on the ITF circuit. She won her first WTA title with Aleksandra Krunic (her best friend and most common partner), as well as a WTA 125 event with Petra Martic and $25K with Ysaline Bonaventure. She's reached other finals with Viktorija Golubic and Danka Kovnic.
#8 - Twinnin' Like Twins
Ukrainian twins Lyudmyla & Nadiia Kichenok took the Florianopolis title, the second of their careers after winning in Shenzhen last season, without dropping a set. A 6-3/6-1 win over Babos/Jani came in the sisters' fourth WTA final together. 21-19 in ITF finals, they're only the fifth different pair of siblings to win multiple WD titles on tour, along with players named Williams, Chan, Pliskova and Bondarenko.

Bannerette Kayla Day had a summer to remember. First, she won the U.S. 18s National Championship, earning a WC into the U.S. Open main draw. Then, in New Haven, the 16-year old notched qualifying wins over Naomi Broady and Kirsten Flipkens before losing in the final Q-round to Anastasija Sevastova (who'd later reach the U.S. Open QF) in three sets, but still made her MD tour debut as a lucky loser. A week later, she posted her first career slam win over Madison Brengle at the U.S. Open, THEN had a go in the junior competition, as well. All she did was reach the girls doubles final, then, leading the charge of ten U.S. girls in the Round of 16, was the last Bannerette standing as she won the singles crown.

Top-ranked Canadian Bianca Andreescu has been experiencing a few firsts on the tennis courts this summer. The 16-year old notched her first career win at a WTA event in Montreal qualifying, then she swept the titles at the pro $25K challenger in Gatineau, Quebec. As a singles wild card, she notched a win over Lauren Albanese and twice came back from a set down to reach her first career final, where she defeated Ellie Harbauer in straights, converting all eight of her BP opportunities on the day. In doubles, she teamed with best friend Charlotte Robillard-Millette to win the first doubles crown for either teen.

Andreescu reached the girls semis at the U.S. Open, falling to eventual champ Kayla Day in three sets.
The 14s junior squad from Ukraine took home the nation's first title in a decade at the ITF World Junior championships.

Playing in the competition in Prostejov, Czech Republic, the Ukrainian girls faced off in the final against the junior Bannerettes of the U.S., a meeting of the runners-up from the past two years (UKR '14, USA '15). After Alexa Noel put the U.S. up 1-0 with a three-set win over Daria Snigur, Marta Kostyuk (the Eddie Herr 14s champ from last year -- a year after current Wimbledon junior champ Anastasia Potapova won the same crown -- and the highest-ranked player in the event, at #115) defeated Whitney Osuigwe 6-3/6-0 to send things to the deciding doubles match. There, Kostyuk teamed with Dasha Lopatetska to defeat Noel/Osuigwe in a 10-6 3rd set TB to claim the title.

16-year old Californian Claire Liu swept the titles at the Grade 1 International Hard Court Championships in Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C., with a 6-3/4-6/6-3 victory in the final over China's Wang Xiyu. Liu led the match 6-3/3-1, but ultimately had to come back from a break down in the 3rd set to win. She took the doubles title with fellow Bannerette Sofia Sewing. Liu won the Wimbledon girls doubles with Usue Arconada earlier this summer.


21-year old German Tamara Korpatsch wins three consecutive challenger titles, running her winning streak to seventeen matches, including victories over the likes of Richel Hogenkamp, Tereza smitkova, Ipek Soylu and Fiona Ferro as she jumped from outside the Top 300 at the end of June to into the Top 170 in August.


A photo posted by @usopen on

#1 - Hey, Her Name is Karolina... and she's walkin' here
After a few seasons of being at or near the top of the tour lists for titles, finals and aces, but without a breakout major event performance to her credit, Karolina Pliskova's summer in North America -- especially the final two weeks in New York -- provided a sudden life change when it comes to how she's viewed on the overall landscape of the WTA tour. Her decisions to buckle down and intensely work on improving her movement, while also cutting back on her sometimes-obscenely-overpacked schedule, made her THE biggest mover-and-shaker of the 3rd Quarter. After wins on her title-winning run in Cincy over #10 Svetlana Kuznetosva, #3 Garbine Muguruza and (then-) #2 Angelique Kerber, the tall Czech went to the U.S. Open, after never having advanced past the 3rd Round in her seventeen major appearances (actually, she was the only player in the Top 20 without a QUARTERFINAL at a slam), and played like someone with the nerves of a multi-slam winner. Or maybe a solid Fed Cup leader for the dominant Czech Republic squad who'd finally figured out the right "recipe" for peaking at a major, rather than in the weeks before one. She took out the world #6 (Venus Williams, saving a MP) and #1 (Serena Williams) to blow through her old artificial Round of 16 roadblock (every Czech must have SOME cross to bear on the road to success, after all) and becoming the first woman representing her nation to reach the U.S. Open final since 1993. Just the fourth woman to defeat both Williams Sisters in the same slam, her loss to Kerber in the final prevented Pliskova from matching countrywoman Hana Mandlikova's 1985 U.S. Open title run, which included wins over the world's #1 and #2 players (Navratilova & Evert) en route. Still, at a career-high of #6, suddenly all things seem possible -- finally -- for the no-longer-the-most-underachieving, though maybe-soon-to-be-the-NEW-best-player-without-a-slam-title Czech.
#2 - The Junior Swiss Miss in Training
Mark it down, Week 28 of 2016 was when Masarova became a star. Yeah, the 16-year old spent the spring clay court season running roughshod over junior competition, winning the Roland Garros girls title (def. the #1 and #2 seeds) while going 26-3 (winning sixteen straight at one point). In all, the Swiss teen has gone 34-6 vs. junior competition in 2016. But what she did in Gstaad in another thing altogether. Making her WTA tour debut as a wild card, ranked #797 in the world, Masarova opened up by upsetting #2-seeded Jelena Jankovic, a former #1 (#27 at the time), then followed up with two more Top 100 wins over #92 Anett Kontaveit and #38 Annika Beck en route to the semifinals. Just like that, the latest Swiss Miss jumped 483 spots to #314. And so it begins.

#3 - If She Could Turn Back Time... wait, maybe she CAN
In Stanford, even while she didn't ultimately win the title, Venus Williams was THE story of the week. As great on the court as she was off it, she reached her 80th career final twenty-two years after she made her WTA tour debut as a wee fourteen year-old back in the Bank of the West Classic in 1994 (w/ a win over Shaun Stafford, then a 2nd Rd. loss to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in a love 3rd set) when the event was held in Oakland. After being forced to three sets in her opening match against Magda Linette, now 36-year old Williams dispatched younger countrywomen CiCi Bellis and Alison Riske in straight sets (with a close set vs. each) before finally not being able to corral Brit Johanna Konta in the final. Already a Wimbledon semifinalist this summer, her Stanford run week moved her up to #6, past the pregnant Vika Azarenka in the rankings.

#4 - Who Doesn't Love a Cinderella Run?
Kristina Kucova had the week of her 26-year old life in Montreal. Ranked #121, she made her way through qualifying (def. Christina McHale), which would have been a fairly satisfactory result at such a big event. But she was hardly finished. Next came a win over #9 Carla Suarez-Navarro, the biggest of the Slovak's career. Victories over Washington D.C. champ Yanina Wickmayer, former slam finalist Genie Bouchard (from a set and a break down, and admitting that she didn't feel nervous on the big court -- "I was really calm," she said. "I felt like I belong on this court."), and Stanford winner Johanna Konta (singlehandedly keeping the Brit out of the Top 10) to reach her biggest-ever tour-level semifinal (and her first since Bucharest '14).

The first qualifier to reach the semis of the event since 1996 (Kimberly Po), Kucova had never had a Top 30 win in her career before this event. The 2007 U.S. Open girls champ (she def. #1 seed and DC Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the QF, and #2 Ula Radwanska in the final) moved into the Top 100 at a new career-high of #78 the following Monday.

#5 - "You Might Remember Me, or Maybe Not... (shrug) but that doesn't matter"
Injuries and the mental fatigue and disappointment involved with dealing with them, as well as the declining on-court results they produced, led Anastasija Sevastova to retire from tennis in 2013. She returned to the sport in 2015, and was an immediate (and healthy) success on the ITF circuit. The 26-year old Latvian has returned to the WTA scene in 2016, reaching her first tour finals in six years on grass (Mallorca) and clay (Bucharest in the 3Q). In North America, she turned to the hard courts, putting on her first career slam QF run at the U.S. Open (the first by a Latvian at a major since 1994) after posting wins over Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta before, alas, an early-match turned ankle vs. Caroline Wozniacki sealed her fate.
#6 - Speaking of the Dane...
Caroline Wozniacki came into the U.S. Open with her career looking like it might be about to reach a critical point. Over a 12-month span that included an ankle injury and a growing sense that her heart might not be "in it" anymore when it came to her tennis future, she'd fallen from the Top 5 to #74 and came to New York with another coaching experiment having ended (this time by David Kotyza's hand) and off a very poor showing in the same New Haven tournament she used to dominate. She struggled to get past qualifier Taylor Townsend in the 1st Round... and then caught a whiff of the consistent-but-also-occasionally-aggressive playing style that took her to the 2014 Open final. With an upset of #8 Madison Keys in the Round of 16 her biggest "get," Caro pushed herself into a totally unexpected semifinal run that has lifted her ranking back into the Top 30 and put a whole new course of "Wozniology-101" on the schedule. Yeah, father Piotr also publicly said that his 26-year old daughter might retire by the end of the 2017 season (at about the age these days when so many players are altering the course of their careers and discovering a new level of success, I add parenthetically with absolutely no hint of irony at all), but here's to hoping that Flushing Meadows has given rise to a re-thinking of such a plan. After all, Richard Williams' timetable for Venus & Serena's careers was a BIT off.

#7 - Bronze Age Petra
Suddenly, when no one could rightly have been REALLY expecting it, Good Kvitova came out to greet the neighbors in Rio. Ranked outside the Top 10 and not on the tip of anyone's tongue as a potential Olympic medalist after a disappointing first seven months of '16 that saw her reach just one semifinal, the Czech donned her nation's colors and suddenly found her game. Down went Timea Babos, Caroline Wozniacki, Ekaterina Makarova (in a tough one in which Bad Petra was successfully held at bay) and Elina Svitolina (2 games lost!), Kvitova reached the medal round. After being outplayed by eventual Gold medalist Monica Puig, she rebounded to take the Bronze match from Madison Keys and lead the way for the Maidens' three-medal haul in Rio (one each in WS, WD and MX). Kvitova joins Jana Novotna ('96 Bronze) as the only Czechs to pick up Olympic medals in women's singles.

#8 - Finally, an Ana We Can Believe In?
Three years after she won the U.S. Open girls title, and two years after former junior Swiss rival Belinda Bencic reached the final eight at Flushing Meadows, 18-year old Croat Konjuh reached her first career slam QF in New York. And she did it by taking out Aga Radwanska, against whom she'd held three MP at Wimbledon only to ultimately injure herself while stepping on a ball and be unable to compete in the closing moments of a 2nd Round loss. And she did it in dominating fashion. There was just nothing Radwanska could do about it.

#9 - "Lucky," and a "Loser," in Name Only
In New Haven, Johanna Larsson recovered from losing to Ana Konjuh in the final round of qualifying to notch "lucky loser" victories over Timea Bacsinszky, Shelby Rogers and Roberta Vinci and reach the semifinals. Larsson was the nineteenth LL to record a MD win in 2016, but just the eighteenth player to do so. Why? Because this was actually her SECOND second-chance run on tour this season, having also just put up a 1st Round victory this summer in Cincinnati after losing in qualifying there, as well.
#10 - Vania on Nanchang Street
Vania King's comeback continued in Nanchang, but not quite enough to win her first tour singles title since 2006. She didn't drop a set while reaching her first final since 2013. After winning the 1st set over Duan Yingying and taking a break lead early in the 2nd, King fell in a 6-2 3rd set to the maiden tour title winner. The key reason for her defeat? Her inability to take full advantage of a boat-load of BP chances vs. the Davenport-like big hitter from China. Had she won, King would have become the player with the third-longest gap between tour titles (nearly 9 years, 10 months - Bangkok '06 at age 17) behind only Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (16 years) and Kimiko Date-Krumm (13).
#11 - Who Got Game? Well, Sania... but Martina & CoCo, too, sort of
Since their split, Martina Hingis has seen Sania Mirza win two tour titles with two different partners. After having coasted to the Cincinnati final with one win, a bye and two walkovers, Hingis & new partner CoCo Vandeweghe lost to Mirza/Strycova. Mirza moved past Hingis into sole possession of the #1 ranking, after having shared it with Hingis since early this season. At the U.S. Open, when Mirza/Strycova lost in the QF, ending the hopes of another match in the SF vs. Hingis/Vandeweghe, Hingis had a shot to surge past Mirza and claim the #1 spot for herself (and only herself) for the first time since 2000. But the pair lost to Garcia/Mladenovic, meaning Hingis ended the 3Q still five points behind her former partner on the WTA computer. Meanwhile, the missed-it-by-that-much trend continued for the OTHER half of Hingis/Vandeweghe duo, as CoCo missed out on her first career slam title with a loss in the U.S. Open Mixed Doubles final with Rajeev Ram. She also lost in this year's AO MX final, with Horia Tecau.
#12 - Sisters that Play Together...
What began as a disappointing week for the one Ukrainian twin turned into one of the best of both her and her sister's careers. 24-year old Lyudmyla Kichenok (world #363) lost in the final round of Florianopolis qualifying to her twin sister Nadiia, but she got into the main draw as a lucky loser. Her opponent was crowd favorite and defending champ Teliana Pereira, who she dispatched in straight sets before also knocking off Tereza Martincova to reach her first career tour-level singles quarterfinal. Later, she and Nadiia, who lost in the 1st Round of singles, combined to picked up their second career tour-level doubles title as a duo.
HM- Good, but Slowing the Roll...
Madison Keys has often played, sounded and looked like a future slam winner in 2016, but the path to such achievement is not yet complete. We had even more evidence of such this summer. She missed out on her biggest career title with a straight sets final loss to Simona Halep in Montreal, fell in the Rio Olympic medal round to Angelique Kerber and then then lost in the Bronze match to Petra Kvitova to go home empty-handed. At the U.S. Open, after coming within two points of a 1st Round loss to Alison Riske, and staging a comeback from 5-1 down in the final set in a 3rd Round win over Naomi Osaka, Keys still seemed on her way to another SF match with Kerber, only to fall in a hail of errors vs. the more consistent Caroline Wozniacki in the 4th Round. After having seemingly surpassed the likes of Simona Halep as the most likely "next first-time slam winner" earlier this season, even while she had a successful hard court campaign, Keys appears to have slipped behind the Romanian (who also defeated her at Wimbledon) once again on that imaginary list... and maybe a tall Czech, as well.

[A NEAR-MISS, A DIRECT HIT... and another near-miss]
Angelique Kerber lost in the Cincinnati final to Karolina Pliskova, failing to take control of the singles #1 ranking that would have come her way with a victory. Afterward, Pliskova said that while she thought the German derserved to be ranked #1, that "maybe next time" she gets the chance it would finally happen.

True to her word, Pliskova's win over Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals DID assure Kerber that she would become the 22nd woman ranked #1 on the WTA computer.

Of course, that didn't stop Angie from downing the Czech, appearing in her first major final, in three tough sets to win the U.S. Open championship, though. Maybe next time, Karolina.

One year after she stopped cold Serena Williams' quest for a Grand Slam in the semifinals, Vinci returned to Ashe Stadium court on Day 9 of the U.S. Open with the opportunity to thwart yet another run at history. While she talked of being tired, and was playing with a leg injury that seemed to have some impact on her movement, after advancing to her fourth Open quarterfinal in the last five years, the 33-year old looked none the worse for wear throughout the opening stretch of her QF match with Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian Open champ, Wimbledon finalist and Rio Silver medalist. But Vinci really didn't care much about all that in the opening set.

Employing her "throwback" game of slice-heavy variety, net approaches and drop shots, the Italian found ways to bedevil Kerber early and often in the 1st. And the Germany didn't particularly like it, either. Her frustration was evident as, just as she'd done vs. Serena Williams a year ago, Vinci consistently pulled and tugged Kerber to the areas of the court she desired, then sent a ball in the opposite direction for a winner, or past her while the German's feet remained plastered to the court. Vinci got a service break to open the match. It would be a common occurrence in the set, as the Italian's brand of magic often got the better of Kerber. Thing is, Vinci could never back up her breaks with service holds in order to build a lead. Every time Vinci would edge ahead, Kerber would pull her back to even by recording a break of her own, waiting for something more to go her way.

At 4-4, Kerber's efforts to problem-solve Vinci's frustrating game plan hit a major snag when she suddenly lost control of her own groundstrokes, misfiring on four consecutive points with a string on unforced errors that broke her own serve at love and gave the Italian the chance to serve out the set. When the first point of game #10 saw Vinci approach the net and fire a forehand directly into the tape, only to see the ball pop up, richochet to the left and clear the net by only an inch or two and bounce helplessly on Kerber's side of the court, well, it looked like the Tennis Gods might just be with her again in New York. But another net cord shot from Vinci failed to clear the net two points later, putting her behind 15/30. She pulled to 30/30 with a forehand winner, but the backhand and forehand errors that ended the next two points once again allowed Kerber to get back on serve with a responding break at 5-5.

Kerber held a game later and, serving at 5-6, the verve had seemingly (and suddenly) gone out of the Vinci game as, perhaps, after failing to seize her moment to take the lead in the match produced the break in concentration that finally allowed all the factors working against her -- a mediocre season, bad summer, fatigue, injury and, you know, Kerber herself -- to all come to bear in a perfect storm that took her out once and for all. She quickly fell behind love/40, then saw the set end on a foot fault on a second serve at SP, as a great set of tennis ended with a whimper with Kerber taking the 1st at 7-5 while never having to swing her racket on the final point.

Vinci sarcastically gave a "thumbs up" to the linesperson who made the call (call it the "anti-Serena" reaction?) as she walked to the changeover area. It would be the Italian's last act of note in the match, as she wouldn't win another game as the "tennis paradise" that we witnessed in the opening set just wilted, dried up and went away in the 2nd... just like Vinci's game.

Williams Sisters Dance Break

Come to see Laura Siegemund win Bastad, but stick around for probably what will be the best (surprise) champagne bottle moment of the season during the trophy ceremony:

From 2013-15, Bastad had the coolest/oddest/most-cuddly-for-all-the-weird-reasons trophy on tour. No longer.


Unless you'd say...

Or, actually, I sort of prefer this one (because sometimes a simple turn of an ankle makes all the difference)...

Caught ya, Barbora.


Water wins this round... but there will be blood.




[MORE AGA... just because]


Come on, is there really any doubt?


At Justine Henin's induction ceremony into the International Hall of Fame, Monica Seles introduced La Petit Taureau. Naturally, she singled out the Belgian's one-handed backhand for praise, calling it "one of the signature shots in tennis history," adding, "And as an opponent, I hated it." Of Henin's four-title run at Roland Garros, Seles noted that the "clay court was her canvas, and her racket the paint brush." "She was an artist; power, touch, court sense, creativity. Justine's game was like a rainbow. The full spectrum of color. But Justine was also a warrior. Drive, dedicated, focused. One of the toughest competitors we'll ever see."

Coming in 2017...

Meanwhile, while belatedly picking up her 2015 HOF induction ring (she was pregnant last summer), Amelie Mauresmo spoke from the heart in the wake of a national tragedy back home in France...

[THE LATEST WTA TREND... and the start of a new one?]


A former Top 10 player and two-time slam semifinalist (at age 17), Nicoel Vaidisova was one poor shot selection away from having a MP to reach the Roland Garros final in 2006 (she'd defeated Mauresmo and Venus before squandering a lead vs. Kuznetsova). She originally retired in 2010, but after a four-and-a-half year break which included a three-year marriage to Czech player Radek Stepanek, Vaidisova returned to tennis in 2014. She never rose above #200 in her comeback attempt, and only played four total MD tour matches (1-3), though her appearance in Miami in the spring of '15 (she defeated Timea Babos and took Simona Halep to three sets) gave some hope (false, as it was) that good health and good results would eventually come for her. Vaidisova 2.0's best result on any level was a $100K challenger semifinal in Midland, Michigan in February of last year. Before announcing her second retirement in July, the Czech had been just 5-6 in 2016, losing two of her last three matches via retirement, the last in the 2nd Round of a $10K challenger in Gyor, Hungary in May. Thus, the (still only) 27-year old takes up permanent residence in the "what might have been" room of WTA history, having picked up six singles titles in her short career. She's still the sixth-youngest WTA champ ever, having won in Vancouver in 2004 at 15 years, three months and twenty-three days old. And, of course, she'll always be remembered around these parts for an epically-on-the-nose-even-if-a-bit-condescending 2005 quote in which she said, "People who never care that they lose have never won so much."

When one good idea is more than enough.

When one idea isn't enough.


Replacing what happened between the Brit and Jelena Ostapenko in Auckland earlier this year.




[MOST APTLY-NAMED DOG - Monica Puig's pooch, Rio... dubbed so BEFORE the Olympics]


Turtles are missing Vika, too. Apparently.

When court decisions in D.C. make no sense.

When some decisions do...

The best one-way back?


A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

Photo Booths, they never go out of style. This was one I can share from that fun night at Boca Grande ??

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on

The real reason Maria now has to wait until October to learn her fate? WADA is always looking for something "suspicious" to put a player through the wringer for, after all. Is appearing to levitate on the 2017 "banned actions" list?

Stranger Waiting on a Train.

Waiting for the morning train like...????

A photo posted by Maria Sharapova (@mariasharapova) on


Sticking with Gibbsy, who had the recent "audacity" to tweet an admittedly "random" thought, which amazing caught the eye of one CoCo Vandeweghe. Even more amazingly (or maybe not), of all people, Vandeweghe -- the tour leader when it comes to "politically incorrect," "snotty" or "rude" comments that somehow never seem to dent the resolve of her followers, in the media or otherwise -- took issue with Gibbs' original comment, calling it "rude". Black pot... meet black kettle (though, really, "black kettle" is really more of the "stainless steel" variety, and no matter how many times such a warped view of said kettle is stated with great confidence it doesn't gradually make it any more "true").

Here's what commenced...

What followed was a discussion on Gibbs' Twitter about whether or not she's "too political" for the oh-so-delicate sensabilities of the tennis fans who follow her on Twitter, which ultimately ended with a poll that overwhelmingly gave "approval" to her right to, you know, have a brain and an opinion.

So there.

And, umm, then there's this...

Ummm, not sure how to "top" that, so...

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Opportunities for a bunch of people who haven't won much to come away with a title the next two weeks.

And the field fillers all went to Tokyo(3 tourneys next week). Klepac, Dabrowski and Spears lost, but Rosolska still alive in qualies.

Sat Sep 17, 02:58:00 PM EDT  

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