Monday, March 03, 2008

Wk.9- S.R.O. on the S.E.T.

A little over two months into the 2008 season, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is proving to be a crowded joint.

Justine Henin is the unchallenged #1 on the computer, but in terms of '08 stories La Petit Taureau barely registers, even with two titles under her belt. So far, this has been a season with more than enough glory to go around.

Week 9 was the perfect example.


The latest list of champions includes Elena Dementieva (Dubai), Lindsay Davenport (Memphis) and Flavia Pennetta (Acapulco)... proving that everything "old" can indeed be new again.

Dementieva's career was thought to have crested and was slip-sliding down the back side of the mountain until she pulled off a surprise title in Moscow last October. On Saturday, her ninth career title proved to be enough to boost her back into the Top 10, knocking Serena Williams down a notch to #11. Davenport literally retired, but her most recent title gives her four since the beginning of her comeback last September. She's up to #36 in the rankings with just ten tournaments to her credit. Meanwhile, Pennetta, even with her tendency to record wildly inconsistent results on a week-to-week basis, has now managed to bank two titles over the past month both before and after she turned 26.

Before the three latest champions were crowed, the chink in Henin's armor was more apparent than ever in Dubai as her serve made her vulnerable to players she'd normally be expected to dispatch more handily. After falling in the QF in Oz and her just-enough-to-get-by Antwerp win, her three-hour struggle against Katarina Srebotnik (complete with 8 Henin double-faults) and eventual QF loss to Francesca Schiavone in two tie-break sets gives reason for players to hope she might come back to the field over the course of the season.

Venus Williams didn't exactly shower herself in glory, either. She came into Memphis as the defending champ and #1 seed, but left with a second straight loss to a young European (Dominika Cibulkova in Doha, Petra Kvitova in Tennessee), further solidifying the notion that her season will pretty much begin when the grass season starts and end when the proceedings are closed out at the All-England Club (with the possible exception that Beijing will inspire her to successfully strive for another Olympic Gold). Venus could win or come close to winning SW19 titles into her early thirties, but the rest of her season is now pretty much about staying in shape for a potential month of great results rather than recapturing even a piece of her past dominance.

Since reaching the Australian Open final, Ana Ivanovic has struggled a bit in Fed Cup play, retired from one tournament and gone 1-2 in WTA contests (she lost in the QF in Dubai). Fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic is still playing... and playing... and playing. She's only taken two weeks off in 2008, yet still managed to utter a so-very-Jankovician "For some reason, I feel tired" comment last week during her SF run in Dubai. By her "standards," she notes that she hasn't been playing that many matches... though the globe-trotter has still played more often than any other Top 10 player, with her Hopman and Fed Cup play factored in.

And then there's the curious case of Svetlana Kuznetsova. She was in another final this weekend in Dubai... and she lost yet again. No surprise there. If you're counting, that makes her 0-2 in 2008. 1-7 over the past two seasons, with her only win coming when Agnes Szavay retired from a match she'd turned in her favor in New Haven. The last time Kuznetsova won a singles final outright? Try her back-to-back wins in Bali and Beijing in September '06.

Maria Sharapova bowed out of the Dubai event days after winning in Doha, citing illness. But even while the Supernova's absence prevented many major tennis headlines from becoming reality last week (the most covered item ended up probably being Kim Clijsters having a baby), but that didn't stop the drumbeat of '08 plotlines from moving forward in an ever-intriguing fashion.

And to think Serena hasn't even been a blip on the radar screen since being bounced out of Melbourne... ahh, but there's always this week for that plot point to be addressed, isn't there?


DUBAI, UAE (II-Hard Outdoor)
S: Elena Dementieva def. Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6/6-3/6-2
D: Black/Huber d. Yan/Zheng

S: Flavia Pennetta def. Alize Cornet 6-0/4-6/6-1
D: Llagostera-Vives/Martinez Sanchez d. Benesova/Cetkovska

S: Lindsay Davenport def. Olga Govortsova 6-2/6-1
D: Davenport/Raymond d. Haynes/Washington

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Elena Dementieva
Dementieva tied Kuznetsova with nine career titles with a superb week that included wins over Schnyder, A.Bondarenko, Ivanovic, Schiavone and Kuznetsova herself. She's the first player to crack the Top 10 in 2008 who wasn't there when 2007 ended.
RISERS: Flavia Pennetta & Olga Govortsova

veteran Italian Pennetta, 26, won her second title in a month and the sixth of her career (five of them on clay) with Acapulco wins over Bychkova, Gallovits, Kanepi and Cornet. Belarus' Govortsova, 19, reached her first career final in Memphis. Before being run over by Davenport in the final, her biggest moment was her upset of '07 RU Shahar Peer in the SF.
SURPRISE: Petra Kvitova
the 17-year old Czech's opening round Memphis win over Venus Williams was the most house of cards-collapsing result of the week. So what if HER glory was short-lived, as she was bounced by Alla Kudryavtseva in the 2nd Round -- the experience still made for a nice week-before-her-18th-birthday present. And, yes, that's the same Kudryavtseva who missed out on HER chance to upset Venus at Wimbledon last year. Hmmm, I wonder if she appreciated the irony?
VETERANS: Lindsay Davenport & Francesca Schiavone

Davenport's list of Memphis victims was on the young side -- Lisicki (speaking of irony), Rodina, Wozniacki, Erakovic, Govortsova -- but career title #55 tied her with Virginia Wade for 7th on the all-time list. She swept the doubles with Lisa Raymond (whose 66th career win tied her with Larisa Neiland for 10th all-time), too. Schiavone's Dubai run was cut short in the SF by Dementieva, but it couldn't remove the shine from the QF upset of Henin that the Italian declared the best win of her career.
FRESH FACES: Alize Cornet & Marina Erakovic
18-year old Pastry Cornet reached her first career final in Acapulco, notching wins over Kostanic-Tosic, Koryttseva and Craybas. Kiwi qualifier Erakovic reached the Memphis SF (after a win over Kudryavtseva), her second tour SF of the season.
DOWN: Venus Williams & Agnes Szavay
what hath the Curse wrought? Two of the players who received pre-season Backspin kisses both fell flat on their faces in Week 9. Venus followed up the straight sets loss to Cibulkova with a three-set defeat by Kvitova. Meanwhile, Szavay's loss to Akiko Morigami in Dubai gives her two 1st Round losses to Lucky Losers already this season.
ITF PLAYER: Barbora Strycova-Zahlavova, CZE
in a week where Spaniard Sara Del Barrio-Aragon and Ukraine's Anastasia Kharchenko won their second ITF titles of the season (and even Kirsten Flipkens crawled out of the woodwork to win a tournament), Strycova gets the nod with her Ft.Walton Beach $25K win in the final over up-and-coming American Melanie Oudin, 6-3/5-7/7-6.

1. Dub 2nd - Henin d. Srebotnik
The evidence that Henin was ready to be toppled was apparent in her 17th consecutive win in Dubai. Her 13 ace, 8 double fault performance got her through this three-hour match...
2. Dub QF - Schiavone d. Henin - 7-6/7-6.
...but her luck didn't hold up for much longer.
3. Dub Final - Dementieva d. Kuznetsova
This was the 13th all-Russian final in WTA history, but even Kuznetsova's earlier wins over Mauresmo and Jankovic can't take the spotlight off her now seemingly-inevitable crashes when the points mean the most.
4. Memph 1st - Kvitova d. V.Williams
Venus was up an early break in the 3rd.
5. Acap Final - Pennetta d. Cornet
Aha! I finally solved the Riddle of Pennetta. After her back-to-back champion and 1st Round exit results, I finally played the cards right and correctly picked her to win a title. Satisfaction.
6. Memph Final - Davenport d. Govortsova
Only Navratilova, Evert, Graf, Court, Goolagong and King have won more career singles titles than Davenport's 55.
7. Memph 1st - Davenport d. Lisicki
You get the feeling that Sabine is going to get a queasy feeling every time Davenport shows up on the other side of the net now? Veterans have such long memories.
8. Dub QF - Jankovic d. Chakvetadze
...6-1 ret.
Imagine Jelena's realization that she was in better physical condition than an opponent. Surely, it COULDN'T be a reality. Problem is, this might actually end up encouraging her -- even if she IS currently saying all the right things about her suicidal schedule this week in Bangalore. (Of note: Chakvetadze commented on the Moscow home invasion, saying, "I never thought something like this would happen to me. It was like something I had seen during the movies.")
9. Memph 1st - Mattek d. Golovin
Hey, whenever Mattek makes headlines for her tennis rather than her attire it's worth a mention.
10. Dub 1st - Morigami (LL) d. Szavay
The good news? Well, Szavay DID manage to avoid pulling off a 2008 1Q Unholy Trifecta when she defeated Shikha Uberoi in the 1st Round in Bangalore today. Another early defeat would have given her losses to two lucky losers, a qualifier AND a #989-ranked wild card in the season's first ten weeks. Whew!

2-0...Justine Henin
2-0...Maria Sharapova
0-2...Vera Zvonareva (1 w/o)

2003 Doha - Myskina d. Likhovtseva
2004 Doha - Myskina d. Kuznetsova
2004 Roland Garros - Myskina d. Kuznetsova
2004 US Open - Kuznetsova d. Dementieva
2004 Hasselt - Dementieva d. Bovina
2004 Moscow - Myskina d. Dementieva
2006 Indian Wells - Sharapova d. Dementieva
2006 Miami - Kuznetsova d. Sharapova
2006 Moscow - Chakvetadze d. Petrova
2006 Linz - Sharapova d. Petrova
2007 Hobart - Chakvetadze d. Bardina
2008 Doha - Sharapova d. Zvonareva

Wk.1 - Gold Coast - Dinara Safina (QF-Peer)
Aust.Open - Serena Williams (QF-Jankovic)
Wk.6 - Paris - Nadia Petrova (1st-K.Bondarenko)
Wk.9 - Dubai - Justine Henin (QF-Schiavone)
Wk.9 - Memphis - Venus Williams (1st-Kvitova)
Wk.10 - Bangalore - Yaroslava Shvedova (1st-Amanmuradova)

12...Justine Henin (10/2)
5...Anna Chakvetadze (4/1)
4...Jelena Jankovic (4/0)

8 years - Justine Henin, 2001-08
6 years - Maria Sharapova, 2003-08
3 years - Anna Chakvetadze, 2006-08
3 years - ELENA DEMENTIEVA, 2006-08

1442...Martina Navratilova
1304...Chris Evert
900...Steffi Graf
839...Virginia Wade
759...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
739...Conchita Martinez
704...Evonne Goolagong-Cawley

[last title]
Meghann Shaughnessy, USA [2007]
Ai Sugiyama, JPN [2004]
Nicole Vaidisova, CZE [2006]

1...China, Greece, Poland, Spain

1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
...look out, Justine. Here she comes.
2. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
...can she carry over her every-other-week momentum into the pre-Roland Garros clay season?
3. Elena Dementieva, RUS
...Punch-Sober has always been most dangerous when everyone thinks she's had "a little too much."
4. Justine Henin, BEL
...she 12-2! But Sharapova is 12-0.
5. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS have conspired to make it difficult for people to NOT root for her to achieve.
HM- Cara Black & Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
...they're not ready to give up their throne as the best doubles team in the world, but Beijing Gold won't be in the cards, of course.

1. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
2. Anna Chakvetadze, RUS
3. Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Li Na, CHN
6. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
7. Chan Yung-Jan/Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE
8. Karin Knapp, ITA
9. Olga Govortsova, BLR
10. Ashley Harkleroad, USA
HM- Sofia Arvidsson, SWE

1. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP
2. Petra Kvitova, CZE
3. Maria-Emilia Salerni, ARG
4. Mariya Koryttseva, UKR
5. Kaia Kanepi, EST
6. Jorgelina Cravero, ARG
7. Betina Jozami, ARG
8. Julia Goerges, GER
9. Pauline Parmentier FRA
10. Vesna Manasieva, RUS
HM- Andreja Klepac, SLO

1. Elena Dementieva, RUS
2. Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
3. Lindsay Davenport, USA
4. Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP
5. Kveta Peschke/Rennae Stubbs, CZE/AUS
6. Francesca Schiavone, ITA
7. Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
8. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
9. Ai Sugiyama, JPN
10. Jill Craybas, USA
HM- Akiko Morigami, JPN

1. Agnieszka Radwanska, POL
2. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
3. Marina Erakovic, NZL
4. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
5. Alize Cornet, FRA
6. Timea Bacsinszky, SUI
7. Yanina Wickmayer, BEL
8. Sabine Lisicki, GER
9. Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
10. Sorana Cirstea, ROU
11. Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
12. Monica Niculescu, ROU
HM- Arantxa Rus, NED

1. Ashley Harkleroad, USA
2. Yan Zi/Zheng Jie, CHN
HM- Alona Bondarenko/Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR

1. Nadia Petrova, RUS
2. Agnes Szavay, HUN
3. Venus Williams, USA
4. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
5. Peng Shuai, CHN
HM- Marion Bartoli, FRA

1. Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP
2. Klara Zakopalova, CZE
3. Sesil Karatantcheva, BUL
4. Iveta Benesova, CZE
5. Julia Schruff, GER

1. Johanna Larsson, SWE
2. Polona Hercog, SLO
3. Laura Granville, USA
4. Anastasia Kharchenko, UKR
5. Sara Del Barrio-Aragon, ESP
6. Sesil Karatantcheva, BUL
7. Marina Erakovic, NZL
8. Regina Kulikova, RUS
9. Barbora Strycova-Zahlavova, CZE
10. Anne Keothavong, GBR
11. Elena Chalova, RUS
12. Nicole Kriz, AUS

...Maria Sharapova runs her 2008 record to 12-0 by winning Doha Tier I

Dubai 2nd - Henin def. Srebotnik - 7-5/6-7/6-3. three hours, Henin pulled through. But questions remain. Luckily for her, the clay court season is nearly here.
SRB/ROU - Ivanovic/Jankovic def. Cirstea/Niculescu - 2-6/7-6/7-6.
...the Serbs barely survived the upset bid by the Romanian upstarts.
Chakvetadze wins in Paris, running her career record in finals to 7-0
FC USA/GER - Lisicki d. Davenport - 6-1/7-5.
...already avenged.
Doha 3rd - Cibulkova d. V.Williams - 6-3/6-3.
...the biggest tour upset of the month.
Dubai 1st - Kvitova d. V.Williams - 2-6/6-4/6-3.
...well, unless you count this one.
Doha SF - Sharapova d. A.Radwanska - 6-4/6-3.
...though it surely doesn't make up for the Open.
...Ashley Harkleroad makes her Fed Cup debut for the USA, and promptly picks up the pieces left by Davenport's early loss to Lisicki. The rest is history.
...Monica Seles finally retired, but then was announced as a participant in "Dancing with the Stars."

...Jada, the latest, littlest Clijsters.

07 FINAL: Shvedova d. Santangelo
08 TOP: Jankovic/V.Williams

SF: Jankovic d. Schnyder; Zvonareva d. S.Williams
FINAL: Jankovic d. Zvonareva "difficult" as it may be to believe (or not), Jankovic is playing here. (Ahh, she's the most unintentionally hilarious player on tour, isn't she? Ha.) The Williams sisters are in attendance, too (they're even in the doubles draw!). Sania Mirza, though, is choosing to avoid her home nation event (upped from a Tier III to a II) with all her off-season difficulties. Too bad. Still, with Jankovic and the sisters around, this could turn out to be the "wildest" tournament all season. So, how could I NOT pick Jelena to win?

All for now.


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