Monday, April 30, 2007

Wk.17- Lemon Harangue

Kim Clijsters is in action in Warsaw this week. Get a good look at her... while you still can. Even though it's only the end of April, this Belgian's ride is just about over.

As it is, this week's Tier II in Poland is Clijsters' only scheduled 2nd Quarter clay event, which goes along rather nicely with the fact that Wimbledon will be her only 2nd Quarter grass event, not to mention her final grand slam since she's not showing up in New York come August, either. Oh, she'll pop in a couple times in the 4th Quarter to "officially" bring down the curtain on a career that will one day be celebrated in Newport (largely because of the good will she's courted for so many years, as opposed to the S.O.P. of the other top-ranked Waffle), but, really, this week is as good to say "goodbye" as any... or at least to riff one final time on ol' KC. So I will.

I'm not here to bury Kim Clijsters once again, but I'm not here to extol the virtues of a talent whose surface was only scratched throughout her career, either. I mean, I'm not going to compromise MY principles.

Of course, I DID try to reach something of a peace accord with my memory of Clijsters back in January's "Volley," embracing the notion of a grand final season that might garner a career-reshaping second slam crown ala Amelie Mauresmo's Wimbledon title last year. Sure, I probably should have known it would turn out to be a lost cause, but I won't feel bad for trying. I mean, who would have guessed that Clijsters herself would put the kibosh on the possibility of a fairy tale ending by skipping half the slams in her final go-round (including the only one she ever won, the U.S. Open... where her '05 title run ultimately turned out to be an end rather than a new dawn for career accomplishment)?

Now, it would be easy to whine, fret and complain about Clijsters' decision to forego the vast majority of her "farewell" season. But that's been done here and elsewhere (even Pierre Cantin allowed himself an "I can't believe she's doing it" moment in recent weeks), and since part of me will honestly miss the occasional Backspin "Kim purity test" once she's gone for good, I'm tempted to put on one final "mother of all flare-ups" act here this week... but, really, why bother? At this point, it's not even fun to expose the Party Planner's machinations since there's not enough time left for her to provide enough evidence to turn the long standing opinion around. (Well, unless she were to put together a stunning SW19-winning run... but what're the odds of that?) Essentially, after this week in Warsaw, Clijsters becomes the "Soon-to-be-Mrs. Invisible."

If nothing else, I'll miss Clijsters for all the variety she's brought to these parts. She is the unquestioned queen of nicknames. Clijsters more than any other player in Backspin history has allowed your friendy neighborhood columnist/blogger to stress whatever notion he holds dear but sometimes doesn't have the heart to follow through on -- that when in doubt, always take the cynic's point of view.

Kim has made it so easy, as her entry in the Backspin Nickname Page log attests.

2003 The Waffles (w/ Henin)
2003 The Wattle (when in Australia)
2003 Kim C. Clijsters
2003 The So-Called #1
2003 Easy-Bake Kim (still my favorite)
2004 FilaKim
2005 Nice Kim
2005 Killer Kim (at U.S. Open)
2006 Tweety
2007 (My Gal) Kim
2007 The Party Planner
2007 Soon-to-be-Mrs. Invisible (or ... ........, the player formerly known as Kim Clijsters)

Ah, but I never utilized her propensity to grab a squeegee during a rain delay for yet another moniker. A missed opportunity, which is sort of fitting, if you look at it through Backspin's dark-tinted glasses.

In the end, it'd have been nice if Clijsters had been more like Henin, more focused on success on the tennis court... but then Henin wouldn't be "Le Petit Taureau," would she? So, in some ways, while Henin has often "suffered" in comparison to Clijsters over the years, she'll more than benefit from the juxtoposition of their career legacies by future generations. For better or worse, Clijsters just never had that single-mindedness in her to devote what were the prime years of her athletic life to climbing every mountain the sport presented her. As has been said here before, it's a fine and admirable trait in a friend and human being, but a world class athlete without the overwhelming desire to prove themself in the eyes of their critics, competition and history usually results in a career that is destined to fall short of expectations and possibilities. Clijsters' name is but another on an already long list. She was motivated by other things, which is all well and good... but how fantastic things might have been had she found within herself the same sort of obstinate fire that so often fuels Henin and Serena Williams. If Henin took "lemons" (her size, the loss of her mother) and made lemonade, then Clijsters took "apples" (superb athletic genes and opportunity) and made lemon marangue pie.

Sweet, but ultimately not nearly as thirstquenching. I know I love lemon marangue pie (it's my favorite), but I wouldn't want to eat it every day.

It's because of these developments that the Henin/Clijsters match-up ends up more an all-Belgian novelty than anything resembling the long-hoped-for follow-up to the Evert-Navratilova rivalry. Of course, Venus/Serena didn't live up to the hype, either (though their string of slam final meetings is something to behold). Nor did Graf/Seles (thanks, Gunther), nor Graf/Sabatini. (Actually, the Serena/Sharapova combination, if it can have a few more chapters added over the next few years, might be the top rivalry of the last 10-20 years if things work out right.)

In many ways, Clijsters is very similar to Gabriela Sabatini. They both won just a single slam (both the U.S. Open), far fewer than anticipated when they first started, but still managed Hall of Fame careers. Still, Sabatini will ultimately be lost to history thanks to the exploits of Graf and Seles during her era. Clijsters will be, as well, with both Williams sisters, Henin, Hingis, Davenport, Capriati, Mauresmo and Sharapova all winning multiple slam crowns during the era compared to KC's one. Her on-court splits will linger longer in the memory of tennis history than any single victory she had during her career.

1998 Wimbledon Jr. - lost to Srebotnik 6-7/3-6
2001 R.G. - lost to Capriati 6-1/4-6/10-12
2002 WTA Chsp - def. S.Williams 7-5/6-3
2003 R.G. - lost to Henin-Hardenne 0-6/4-6
2003 U.S. - lost to Henin-Hardenne 5-7/1-6
2003 WTA Chsp - def. Mauresmo 6-2/6-0
2004 Aust. - lost to Henin-Hardenne 3-6/6-4/3-6
2005 U.S. - def. Pierce 6-3/6-1

No matter what Clijsters accomplishes in what little remains of her '07 farewell tour, her career can be accurately summed up. Off the court, she's been more relatable than the vast majority of players she's ever faced, and equally as admirable as the best of them. On the court, she put together a career that would have been a salivating ride for 99.9% of the women's pros out there, but should have been a dissatisfying one for a player, like those in the .1% group to which Clijsters belongs, who could have done so much more. But don't expect her to lose any sleep over the ramifications of a fact such as that.... which in so many ways both condemns and solidifies the opinions of the Belgian that've been expressed here for so long.

So is the curious case of the career of Kim Clijsters. Case closed (or almost so).

...and, thus, the official hunt for a new player to be the contrarian on begins starting now.


S: Gisela Dulko d. Sorana Cirstea 6-7/6-2/6-2
D: Szavay/Uhlirova d. Muller/G.Navratilova


A few years ago, Dulko's tennis was a major talking point. In 2005, she was as high as #26 in the rankings. The year before, she'd defeated Martina Navratilova in singles at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But as her looks became more and more the topic of conversation when it came to all things Gisela, her ranking (and prospects) dimmed. She ended 2006 at #61 with a 17-25 singles record. But the Argentine finally, at age 22, won her first WTA singles title in Budapest this weekend, as the #6-seed at a Tier IV event. She finished things off with a victory in the final over a 17-year old Romania who was also attempting to win her first career tour title.
RISERS: Karin Knapp & Olga Savchuk
19-year old Italian Knapp (ranked #97 before the tournament, and #81 now) reached a career-best SF in Budapest with wins over Romina Oprandi, Karolina Sprem and Anne Kremer. 19-year old Ukrainian Savchuk rode a "lucky loser" entry into the main draw, then a walkover in the 2nd Round against top-seeded Tathiana Garbin, to a QF result, tying her career-best result.
SURPRISES: Gisela Dulko & Agnes Szavay
Dulko was the fifth first-time tour singles champion in the first four months of 2007. Hungary's Szavay, 18, received a wild card into the Budapest draw. The world #158, a tour semifinalist in Modena in '05, reached her second career SF with wins over Likhovtseva and Beygelzimer (and a walkover past Loit). She won the doubles title with Vladimira Uhlirova.
VETERAN: Anne Kremer
Luxembourg's 31-year old Kremer knocked off Maria Kirilenko and Alberta Brianti to reach the Budapest QF, her best tour result since a Seoul SF in October 2004.
FRESH FACES: Sorana Cirstea & Iona-Raluca Olaru

look out, here come the Romanians! A few weeks ago, 18-year old Olaru reached a tour SF in Memphis. In Budapest, 17-year old Cirstea did her one better, reaching the final as a qualifier ranked #325 in the world who put together a string of come from behind wins over more veteran players such as Eleni Daniilidou in the QF. On the same weekend, Olaru won an ITF title in Torrent, Spain. Sometimes it's nice when one of those "Intriguing Question" topics look even better a few months later.
DOWN: Maria Kirilenko
the Supernovette continues to fail to live up to her Russian heritage. In Budapest, she lost in the 1st Round to Kremer to drop her '07 record to 7-10.

1. Bud F - Dulko d. Cirstea
And the race is on to see which of the Romanian teenagers will become the first WTA singles champion from their country since 1998 (Irina Spirlea).
2. Cagnes-Sur-Mer $100K - Bacsinszky d. Malek
The 17-year old Swiss Missy won a $100K event (, no that's not a misprint) with wins over Zakopalova, Pin, Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova before the final.
3. Torrent $50K F - Olaru d. Petkovic
The Romanians nearly made an emphatic statement about their future prospects, but it was only Olaru who walked away with a title.
Bud QF - Cirstea d. Daniilidou
Bud SF - Cirstea d. Knapp
Maybe Cirstea should have LOST the opening set in the final? It seemed to work out well for her in previous rounds.

==APRIL AWARDS - WK.14-17==

1. Jelena Jankovic
2. Tatiana Golovin
3. Venus Williams
4. Zi Yan/Jie Zheng
5. Yung-Jan Chan/Chia-Jung Chuang
HM- Gisela Dulko

1. Tatiana Golovin
2. Yung-Jan Chan/Chia-Jung Chuang
3. Gisela Dulko
4. Vera Zvonareva
5. Shahar Peer
HM- Ana Ivanovic

1. Gisela Dulko
2. Sybille Bammer
3. Yuliana Fedak
4. Shuai Peng/Tiantian Sun
5. Sorana Cirstea
6. Marat Ani
7. Chin-Wei Chan
8. Olga Govortsova
9. Karin Knapp
10. Tatjana Malek

1. Venus Williams
2. Tathiana Garbin
3. Meilen Tu
4. Nathalie Dechy
5. Tzipora Obziler
HM- Anne Kremer

1. Yung-Jan Chan
2. Tamira Paszek
3. Lucie Safarova
4. Michaella Krajicek
5. Agnieszka Radwanska
6. Vania King
7. Caroline Wozniacki
8t. Iona-Raluca Olara
8t. Sorana Cirstea
8t. Edina Gallovits
9. Agnes Szavay
10. Sacha Jones
HM- Tamira Bacsinszky & Dominika Cibulkova

1. Daniela Hantuchova
2. Chinese Tennis Federation
3. Kirsten Flipkens
4. Samantha Stosur
5. Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur

1. Anna-Lena Groenefeld
2. Zi Yan/Jie Zheng
HM- Karolina Sprem

TOP PERFORMANCE: Tatiana Golovin defeats Ana Ivanovic, Venus Williams and Nadia Petrova en route to her first career singles title in Amelia Island

MATCH OF THE MONTH: Charleston SF - Jankovic d. V.Williams 3-6/6-3/7-6
Venus' mid-match stumble makes Jankovic's win over Dinara Safina in the windy final -- the Serb's first career Tier I title -- possible one day later in April's "BREAKOUT OF THE MONTH" as JJ finally won "a big one."

5-0, 5-0, 5-0, 5-0...: All four Fed Cup 1st Round ties ended in 5-0 scores.

COMEBACK OF THE MONTH: Fed Cup 1st Round (USA/BEL) - King d. Flipkens 4-6/6-4/7-5
the American "Idol" clinches the USA's win with her first career FC victory, after Flipkens failed to close out the match when serving at 5-4 in the 3rd.

SURPRISE OF THE MONTH: China has followed a determined tennis path while preparing to make a splash in the sport during the Olympics in Beijing next year. Well, until Fed Cup week, that is. After climbing into Group I with solid '07 play, the federation misread the Fed Cup/Olympic eligibility rules and intentionally sat out the nation's two best players (Na Li & Jie Zheng) during the '07 1st Round. The Italians swept Team China 5-0, with China's #3 player Shuai Peng having to retire from a singles match.

FAVORITE APRIL JOKE: In Charleston, the Doubles final included the all-Chinese teams of Zi Yan/Jie Zheng vs. Shuai Peng/Tiantian Sun. A half hour after the match was over, the crowd was hungry for more tennis. Buh-duh-bump.

BIGGEST WINS: Austria crushes Australia 4-1 in Fed Cup Group II play, on the strength of wins by Sybille Bammer and Tamira Paszek... Taiwin wins Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Zone with neither Yung-Jan Chan nor Chia-Jung Chuang in action... Romania nearly qualifies for Fed Cup Group II playoffs, then a week later Sorana Cirstea reaches WTA singles final in Budapest, while Iona-Raluca Olaru wins ITF title in Torrent, Spain.

"IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, HONEY... HONEST!": While hitting balls during on the court during a fundraiser, Andre Agassi's racket follow-through landed smack in the middle of wife Steffi Graf's face. Some blood and three stitches in her lip later, and suddenly all those items on Andre's honey-do-this list mysteriously began to be crossed off at record speed.

2006 FINAL: Zheng d. Li
2007 TOP: Bartoli/Schiavone

SF: Pennetta d. Llagostera-Vives; Daniilidou d. Loit
FINAL: Pennetta d. Daniilidou China's Fed Cup/Olympic mix-up still in effect, since neither of last year's finalists are in Estoril in '07?

2006 FINAL: Clijsters d. Kuznetsova
2007 TOP: Henin/Clijsters

SF: Henin d. Chakvetadze; Kuznetsova d. Clijsters
FINAL: Henin d. Kuznetsova

...a Henin/... ........ final could very well be the final all-Waffle match-up, but since ... ........ (just getting a head start on the "Soon-to-Be-Mrs.Invisible's" role on the tour, and in Backspin, for the rest of this season) has gone to great lengths to show that on-court fairy tales are not on her agenda in '07. So, ... ........, turn off the lights on your way out.

All for now.


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