Monday, April 07, 2008

Wk.13/14- Who's That Knocking?

Don't open your door if the voice behind it answers "Land Shark" when you ask, "Who's knocking?" (Ha! How's that for an over a quarter-century old reference, huh?) Also, make sure to keep it locked tight if the knocker identifies herself as "Aneres," too... for it'd surely just be Serena Williams trying to cross you up.


Please excuse the tendency to forget about the younger Williams from time to time. Well, not really forget, per se... but intentionally avoid placing expectations and heavy responsibilities on her back when it comes to results on the court. The fact is that no one -- including Serena herself -- can ever truly count on her being present more often than not throughout a WTA season. But make no mistake, everyone is ALWAYS watching her out of the corner of their eye, just in case.

And the things that have happened over the last five weeks are more than enough reason for Miss Williams to be on EVERYONE'S radar. Or maybe not. Who really knows?

Since the start of March, Serena hasn't lost a match. She's won two titles, including defending her Tier I Miami title this weekend and somewhat avenging her three consecutive slam losses to Justine Henin by putting a pounding on her in the QF last week, a year after coming back from match point down to defeat the Belgian in the 2007 final.

Of course, we're not talking about a Tiger Woods situation here, when even a whiff of success could forecast months of nightmares for anyone brave enough to consider themselves an "opponent." Remember, after claiming this same title a year ago Williams only had one SF-or-better result the rest of the season. True to form, Serena showed all her good and bad sides in Miami, as well. Throughout the two weeks, she was at times both dominant and self-destructive, and at other turns highly fortunate and as focused as a laser. But that's just Serena, or at least the one we've seen since the heyday of the "Serena Slam" chapter of her career.

But the potential power of Serena these days is no less fearsome, just different.

Henin is #1 in the world with room to spare. Maria Sharapova has been the Player of the Year so far in 2008. Ana Ivanovic looks to be on the cusp of something great. Lindsay Davenport is back. And Jelena Jankovic goes on and on like a Serbian Energizer bunny with a seemingly inexhaustible power supply. But here's Williams tied with four other players with two titles on the season, on a 10-match run and 14-1 (plus 2-0 in Hopman Cup play) overall.

Which one should the field fear the most? Maybe Serena. Or maybe not. Surely, she COULD outrace them all... just don't count it.

Experience has taught us to never predict such a thing, but rather to let it happen. If it does, great. If it doesn't, oh well. Actually, that's usually the best way to enjoy just about everything in life, when you think about it.

So let it be so. Or not. Meanwhile, someone's knocking at my door. Something about a Candygram.


S: Serena Williams def. Jelena Jankovic 6-1/5-7/6-3
D: Srebotnik/Sugiyama d. Black/Huber

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Serena Williams

career title #30 came after surviving against Flavia Pennetta, pushing Henin off a cliff and then struggling to finally put away Jankovic on a seventh match point in the final. Serena might be the only player who can throw up 60 unforced errors in one match (as she did against Pennetta), and pull off a walk-off bagel against the #1 player in the world a few days later... and make anyone who puts too much stock in either occurrence feel like a bit of a fool.
RISERS: Jelena Jankovic & Vera Zvonareva
if nothing else, you have to admire Jankovic's spunk. No matter how many times her actions contradict her words, she's one of the more fascinating players around. She followed up her Indian Wells SF with a RU in Miami, and managed to create even more drama than Serena (which is saying something). Bookending wins over the likes of Safarova, Zheng, Dementieva and Zvonareva were a pair of matches that say more about Jankovic than any rundown of her brutal schedule ever could. In the 2nd Round against Sofia Arvidsson, she overcame a 1-5 3rd set deficit and saved five match points. Then in the final against Williams, she battled against a 0-5 3rd set deficit to get to 3-5 and force Serena to take seven match points (and destroy one innocent racquet) to put her away. She may never become the superstar her ability says she COULD be, but she'll never be accused of being boring. Meanwhile, Zvonareva is about to get her "redo" of her lost '07 clay season as she heads into the 2Q with a Miami SF result that saw her defeat Mauresmo and Safina and push her ranking to #14.
SURPRISES: Kaia Kanepi & Carly Gullickson/Chelsey Gullickson

Kanepi notched Miami wins over Petra Kvitova and Alona Bondarenko, but it's her 4th Round destruction of Patty Schnyder (6-0/6-1!) that she'll remember. Meanwhile, during the first week of action in Miami, the Natural sisters, Carly & Chelsey Gullickson had quite the time in Hammond, Louisiana's $25K event. Prior to the event, older sister Carly's only ITF singles title had come in 2005, while 17-year old Chelsey had yet to win a match in a pro event. Both made it though qualifying in Hammond, then reached the SF and very nearly set up an all-Gullickson final. Chelsey lost to Margalita Chaknashvili, but Carly got some familial revenge by taking her out in the final. Oh, and the pair teamed to reached the doubles final, as well, in their first action as an all-sister doubles team. Watch out, Alona & Kateryna! (Note: the sisters followed up Hammond with dual QF singles results in Pelham, Alabama last week.)
VETERANS: Katerina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama
the pair teamed to win the Miami doubles with a victory over #1 Black/Huber in the final. Sugiyama, though, pulled some exquisite double duty, as she reached the 4th Round in singles after defeating former doubles partner Daniela Hantuchova.
FRESH FACES: Michelle Larcher de Brito, Caroline Wozniacki & Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

two weeks, three FF winners. The bright future of barely 15-year old Larcher de Brito looks better and better all the time. In Miami, she overcame a 3-6/1-4 deficit against Ekaterina Makarova in the 1st Round, then out A-Radded Agnieszka Radwanska by winning their 2nd Round match in a 7-5 3rd set. Pencil this girl in for something big in a year or two. Wozniacki's breakthrough year continued with wins over Pironkova, Bartoli and Srebotnik en route to the Round of 16 in Miami. And, cleaning up some "lost" results from a week ago, Pavlyuchenkova's progress continued on the ITF circuit with the Russian's sweeping of the singles and doubles titles in the Moscow $25K event.
DOWN: Nicole Vaidisova & Justine Henin
that Vaidisova lost in the 2nd Round for the second time in back-to-back Tier I events is one thing, but getting served off the court by Alisa Kleybanova (which is just what happened) in Miami is something to be concerned about. And while Henin is #1, heavy lies the crown upon her head so far in 2008. She's already been dumped out before the SF in more events this year than in all of '07, and has twice been put down with 2nd set bagels at the hands of Sharapova (Oz) and Serena (Miami). For all her mental toughness, when Henin's serve is off it plays havoc with her game... and she's yet to find her groove this season.
ITF PLAYERS: Iveta Benesova/CZE & Elena Baltacha/GBR
a week ago, Benesova's successful comeback continued with a win at the Latina $50K (she defeated Sesil in the final), then continued with a slightly less successful RU to Baltacha in the $75K in Torhout, Belgium last week. Besides Benesova, Baltacha notched nice wins over Kvitova, Flipkens and Ozegovic.

1. Mia 2nd - Jankovic d. Arvidsson
After a 1-5 3rd set deficit, a 3-6 hole in the deciding tie-break and five unconverted match points by the eventual loser, the match ended with an 11-9 tie-break score. This time Jankovic won, but it wouldn't be a shock to see her on the losing end in a similar circumstance before the end of the season, either. Oh, Magoo... err, I mean Jelena.
2. Mia F - S.Williams d. Jankovic
As if often the case, Serena's moods and whims seemed to turn the match into a metaphorical rollercoaster ride.
3. Mia 3rd - Davenport d. Ivanovic
AnaIvo couldn't follow up her Indian Wells title with a good result in Miami, as she fell victim to Davenport's heavy shots in their first career meeting. Unfortunately, the lack of a follow-up was contagious, as Lindsay lost her next match to Dinara Safina. Still, this is her best win in Davenport II.
4t. Mia QF - S.Williams d. Henin
This one had to feel good for Serena.
4t. Mia 3rd - S.Williams d. Pennetta
But what if Pennetta had been able to hold onto her 7-6/3-0 lead? Even with the 60 UE, Serena prevailed.
5t. Mia QF - Kuznetsova d. V.Williams
Kuznetsova's results appear much better when she doesn't have to suffer through the downer of a loss in a final.
5t. Mia 3rd - Kuznetsova d. Azarenka
See, what did I just say? Even falling behind 1-6/2-5 and facing a match point, as she did in this one against Azarenka, can be seen in a good light when she wins the final eleven games.
6t. Mia 2nd - Kleybanova d. Vaidisova
With 13 aces, Kleybanova put a hurtin' on Nicole.
6t. Mia 2nd - Zheng d. Petrova
...2-1 ret..
But not as much of a hurtin' as Petrova's latest quad injury might put on her season.
7. Mia 2nd - de Brito d. A.Radwanska
Such disrespect to her elder de Brito showed. I mean, A-Rad is an "ancient" 19 years, which must seem like a lifetime away for The Kid.
8. Mia QF - Jankovic d. Dementieva
...6-1/3-1 ret.
Geez, what is it about Jankovic's opponents retiring all the time? Does she travel with a witch doctor or something?
9. Mia 3rd - Lisicki d. Chakvetadze
Anna hasn't felt this violated since... nah, I'm not going there. It's still too fresh.
10. Mia 2nd - Vesnina d. Szavay
Picking up her 2007 Newcomer of the Year award (in March '08... talk about anticlimactic) in Miami didn't exactly spur Agnes on to better results.


1. Serena Williams, USA... back for more?
2. Ana Ivanovic, SRB... consistency and clutch play will tell the tale
3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, RUS... so close, and yet so far
4. Jelena Jankovic, SRB... the lack of loneliness of the long distance runner
5t. Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama, SLO/JPN... "who needs Wonder Girl?," asks Ai
5t. Dinara Safina/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS... two Hordettes are better than one
HM- Vera Zvonareva, RUS... is her time finally here?

1. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
2. Jelena Jankovic, SRB
3. Dinara Safina/Elena Vesnina, RUS/RUS
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Yan Zi, CH
HM- Peng Shuai/Sun Tiantian, CHN/CHN

1. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
2. Casey Dellacqua, AUS
3. Elena Rodina, RUS
4. Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
5. Alisa Kleybanova, RUS
6. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
7. Katarzyna Piter, POL
8. Marina Erakovic, NZL
9. Carly Gullickson, USA
10. Chelsey Gullickson, USA
HM- Zhou Yi-Miao, CHN

1. Sabine Lisicki, GER
2. Ashley Harkleroad, USA
3. Kaia Kanepi, EST
4. Carly Gullickson/Chelsey Gullickson, USA/USA
5. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
HM- Asia Muhammad, USA

1. Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama, SLO/JPN
2. Lindsay Davenport, USA
3. Patty Schnyder, SUI
4. Venus Williams, USA
5. Akgul Amanmuradova, UZB
HM- Tzipora Obziler, ISR

1. Ai Sugiyama, JPN
2. Dinara Safina, RUS (doubles)
3. Peng Shuai, CHN (doubles)
4. Iveta Benesova, CZE
5. Rossana de los Rios, PAR

1. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
2. Nadia Petrova, RUS
3. Agnes Szavay, HUN
4. Marion Bartoli, FRA
5. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
HM- Michaella Krajicek, NED

1. Iveta Benesova, CZE
2. Ekaterina Dzehalevich, BLR
3. Barbora Strycova Zahlavova, CZE
4. Magdalena Rybarikova, SVK
5. Kristina Barrois, GER
HM- Elena Chalova, RUS

....Ana Ivanovic wins Indian Wells, once again showing a knack for a star-making turn in California

IW SF - Kuznetsova d. Sharapova
The Supernova's 18-match winning streak goes poof!
Miami QF - S.Williams d. Henin
Though one would think Serena would give up this one to get all those slam losses back.

Bang SF - S.Williams d. V.Williams
Their first meeting since the '05 US Open proved to be one of their most competitive.
....Svetlana Kuznetsova lost the Indian Wells final, making her 1-8 in her last nine finals (and winless without her final opponent retiring since late '06).
....Fox Sports Net's "coverage" of Indian Wells and Miami was so sparse and absurd that even the players in Miami were unable to actually watch their upcoming opponents play a match on TV. Nice move, suits and beancounters.

Miami 2nd - Jankovic d. Arvidsson
Jankovic's fight is admirable, but often times SHE'S the one losing the big lead in similar slam matches.
*BEST COMEBACK (almost)*
....Monica Seles didn't last too long in a very difficult stint on "Dancing with the Stars," but it was still nice to see her again.

Bang Doub. 2nd - Peng/Sun d. Williams/Williams
This was the only match Serena lost over the past five weeks.

07 FINAL: Golovin d. Petrova
08 TOP: Sharapova/Chakvetadze

Sharapova d. Safina
Davenport d. Srebotnik
Schnyder d. Bartoli
Chakvetadze d. A.Radwanska
Davenport d. Sharapova (Sharapova's never reached a clay final, and while Amelia Island's green clay might provide her the perfect opportunity for her first, I'll play the odds)
Schnyder d. Chakvetadze
Davenport d. Schnyder

...OMG!!! No Jelena Jankovic!!! Whatever will we do!!! Wait, this isn't April Fool's Day, is it? I know there wasn't a Backspin last week, so it's POSSIBLE.

(checks calendar)

Nope. It's April 7th. So unless Jelena has used the same sort of black magic that has caused so many of her opponents to retire mid-match against her, it's safe to say that Miss Jankovic is actually... gulp... taking a brief "rest."

I know who got an unabridged Serbian-to-English dictionary for her birthday!

All for now.

ALSO THIS WEEK: 1Q Backspin Awards & Backspin Volley: On Second Thought...


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