Monday, May 05, 2008

Wk.18- Hordette-in-Waiting?

In the halls of the Justice League of Mother Russia there lurk many SuperHordettes with "special Backspin privileges."

There's Punch-Sober (formerly Punch-Drunk), The Contessova, The Empress, The Doll, The Supernova and, of course, the currently-on-leave-for-however-long-she-wishes Czarina (now sporting a stylish baby carrier for wee-one Zhenya).

But what about Vera Zvonareva? Why has she never truly been able to be awarded her own "super identity" and all that it entails? Well, she DID pick up something of one a few years back.

It was "Vera the Almost."

It sort of tells you where her career has pretty much stood since she reached the Top 10 nearly four years ago. She's never really been able to earn anything more than "second tier" status at the Justice League.

But that may be about to change.


Playing in a red clay event for the first time in two years, after a wrist injury in Charleston destroyed what might have been her summer to shine a year ago, Zvonareva stopped off in Prague on her way to Paris and picked up a singles title with a win in the final over young Belarus star Victoria Azarenka (speaking of "almost"... but more on her later).

Zvonareva did this just a week after her win over Vania King clinched Russia's Fed Cup SF victory over the United States, and but two weeks after she returned to Charleston and did her '07 self one better by healthily reaching the final to kick off her "do-over" clay season. It might not be premature to say that we just witnessed the beginning of a rather intriguing spring/summer storyline.

Zvonareva's talent has always been apparent. It's been the intangibles -- or would it be "tangibles," in her case? -- that she's always had difficulty overcoming. Usually, it's been her emotions (often dancing across the border of Breakdown City during a particularly tough match) that have done her in, but just when she seemed to be learning to control one part of herself a year ago, it was her body that let her down. That wrist injury last season came weeks after she'd upset Maria Sharapova in Indian Wells, and right as she'd reached the Charleston SF. A potentially breakthrough EuroClay season turned into four frustrating months of inactivity, two missed slams and an entire North American hard court season that nearly passed her by before the Russian was able to set foot on the court again.

She did finally return at last year's U.S. Open, pulled off a surprisingly good 3rd Round result (considering her long layoff, and then went to work. Picking up where her good '07 start had left off, she reached the QF-or-better at four of her five post-Open tournaments and finished the season ranked #23, her best year-end ranking in three years despite all her injury woes.

Enter 2008... and so far, so good.

Currently ranked #13, Zvonareva has put together a 31-7 record in '08 and is the only tour player to reach four finals (including two Tier I's) this season, as well as the sole woman with five SF results to her credit. Of course, before Sunday in Prague she had nothing concrete to show for her progress (she's reached at least the QF in eight of her nine events) since she'd failed to close out a final opponent, and even started to show a few signs of emotional regression. But now (hopefully) that's changed.

The climb can officially begin.

Of course, the distance between Zvonareva finally beginning to reach her potential and becoming the next true Hordette "heroine" is a long one. Her QF result at Roland Garros in '03 is still her best career slam result, but it's safe to say that Zvonareva is WAY overdue for another similiar-or-better run. But just how far COULD she go in Paris, under the right circumstances?

Well, Justine Henin is still the best clay courter in the world, but is she as imposing in '08 as she has been in resent seasons? We'll get a better idea this week in Berlin, where she might face off against Serena, and then still have have to face Kuznetsova and/or Ivanovic if she were to make it past the American. Sharapova reached the RG semis a year ago and recently won her first career (green) clay title, but she's still searching for her first final on the red stuff. The Serbs will be factors, but neither has been able to close the deal at a slam yet. Then, there's always the aforementioned Serena, of course.

Recent Roland Garros semifinalists have included Elena Likhovtseva and Nadia Petrova (both in '05), Nicole Vaidisova ('06) and Anna Chakvetadze ('07). Zvonareva adding her name to that list would seem to be a reasonable and reachable goal.

So, why not Vera? Or should I say "The Czarinette"?

Of course, she still has to earn a seat at the big Hordettes' table, and any new identity that might go with it. The seat is open, and waiting for her.

No more "almost" allowed.


S: Vera Zvonareva def. Victoria Azarenka 7-6/6-2
D: Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Craybas/Krajicek

S: Gisela Dulko def. Anabel Medina-Garrigues 7-6/7-6
D: Cirstea/Pavlyuchenkova d. Kleybanova/Makarova

wins in Prague over the likes of Roberta Vinci, Katarina Srebotnik and Azarenka garnered Zvonareva her sixth career title, but her first since taking Cincinnati in 2006 and her first on clay since her maiden title in Bol in 2003. She's the fifth different Hordette to take home a WTA singles crown in 2008.
RISER: Gisela Dulko, ARG

Sony Ericsson WTA Tour
.... the Argentine finally broke through with her first two career titles last season, and #3 came in Fes this weekend with a string of wins over youngsters (Sorana Cirstea & Aravane Rezai) and vets (Emilie Loit & Anabel Medina-Garrigues) alike. Only 23, and three years beyond when her career-high ranking stalled out before she could reach the Top 25, the current world #48 might just be able to carve out a little niche for herself ON tour as well as off, after all.
SURPRISES Karolina Pliskova, CZE & Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, THA

16-year old Maiden Pliskova (#416 in the world) was given a wild card into the Prague main draw and she took advantage of it. She got her first career tour victories with wins over Alicia Molik and Kaia Kanepi that put her into her first career WTA QF in her third tour level event (all in Prague, with her previous attempts ending in qualifying and the 1st Round). Thailand's Lertcheewakarn, 16, is already the world's #4-ranked junior, but it was on the ITF tour that she shined last week, winning a $25K event in Balikpapan, Indonesia. It was her first career pro singles title.
VETERANS: Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN & Klara Zakopalova, CZE
Date-Krumm nearly stole the show in her return to the tour after twelve years in retirement. Apparently, those exhibitions the 37-year old felt so good about weren't just flights of fancy. Returning in a $50K event in Gifu, Date won seven straight matches as she qualified and knocked off countrywoman Rika Fujiwara (1st Rd.) as well as #1-seeded Aiko Nakamura (in the QF). The seven-time WTA tour titlist finally lost in the final to 30-year old Tamarine Tanasugarn, who maybe should have ALSO been celebrated in this category... but I'm going with Zakopalova instead for the Maiden's impressive run of wins over Sara Errani, Vera Dushevina and Shahar Peer en route to her third '08 SF in Prague.
FRESH FACES: Victoria Azarenka, BLR & Sorana Cirstea/Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, ROU/RUS

Azarenka is still looking for that first singles title after four trips to WTA finals, but her inability to finally secure the prize doesn't dampen her accomplishments in Fes, where her wins over Petra Kvitova and Zakopalova advanced her to her second final of 2008. Meanwhile, a pair of up-and-comers named Cirstea and Pavlyuchenkova had "secondary" success in Fes by teaming to claim both the first career tour doubles title for both players. In singles, Cirstea reached the QF, defeating Marina Erakovic and, yes, Pavlyuchenkova along the way; while Pavlyuchenkova qualified and got her first tour main draw win in the 1st Round.
DOWN: Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
a year ago in Fes, Wozniak won four straight matches and made a surprise run to the final. Since then, things haven't gone so well. She's a combined 5-14 in main draw tour matches since Fes '07, and last week was taken out in the 1st Round by Alisa Kleybanova in her return to Morocco.
ITF PLAYER: Victoriya Kutuzova, UKR
the 19-year old from Odessa claimed the biggest ITF prize of the weekend, the $100K event in Cagnes-Sur-Mer that included the likes of a returning-from-injury Tatiana Golovin, Nathalie Dechy and Camille Pin in the field. Kutuzova defeated Maret Ani in the final.

1. Prag F - Zvonareva d. Azarenka
This one's final score wasn't as close as the final in Fes, but the storylines for both players are far more compelling. Zvonareva's attempt to climb back into the Top 10 for the first time in years, and Azarenka's so-far-star-crossed attempts to finish first just ONCE will be plot points in search of traction for the remainder of this season.
2. Fes F - Dulko d. Medina-Garrigues
That being said, it's hard to get much closer than this, barring a deciding set, of course.
3t. Fes 1st - Karatantcheva d.. Baltacha 7-5/6-2
Fes 2nd - Medina-Garrigues d. Karatantcheva 3-6/7-6/6-1
Sesil's long trek back finally reached the main road. Well, at least an on-ramp the leads to a less-traveled highway. A win is a win is a win, and this was her first on tour since November '05 in Philadelphia. Ultimately, she lost to Medina-Garrigues in three sets in the next match, but not before being a 2nd set tie-break away from knocking out the #1 seed and eventual RU.
4t. Fes Q2 - Dokic d. de Brito 6-3/7-5
Fes 1st - Arn d. Dokic 6-4/6-2
Dokic's first action since Oz didn't end in glory, but there was enough good news under the surface to warrant turning a hopeful eye to the future... so far.
5. Fes 2nd - Cirstea d. Pavlyuchenkova
The best opponents...
6. Fes Doubles F - Cirstea/Pavlyuchenkova d. Kleybanova/Makarova 6-2/6-2
sometimes make the best partners.
7. Berlin Q1 - Bachmann d. Llagostera-Vives
Fed Cup hangover encapsulated (though Llagostera-Vives and FC teammate Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez rebounded quickly with a win over Yan/Zheng in 1st Round today).
8. Berlin 1st - Petrova d. Srebotnik
Knock me over with a feather. Is that a real live nice win for Nadia I see?
9. Berlin 1st - Lisicki d. Peer
After her Fed Cup debacle, Peer was knocked out of the QF in Prague before going down in flames to the German today in Berlin.
10. Berlin 1st - Wozniacki d. Golovin
After losing in the 2nd Round of a challenger last week, Golovin's road back from injury got even rockier on Monday.
HM- Bucharest $10K F - Simona Halep d. Elena Bogdan
Just two 16-year old Romanians trying to make their way in the tennis world.
HM- Roland Garros Wild Card Playoff - Madison Brengle d. Ahsha Rolle
BrengleFly does it again! Whenever there's any sort of wild card playoff for a spot in a slam (in this case, the RG main draw), count on Brengle to pull through. The world #274, who didn't get onto a court during the Fed Cup SF a week ago, won the spot by claiming the U.S.'s eight-player round robin, which included Rolle, Melanie Oudin, Lauren Albanese, Alexa Glatch and CoCo Vandeweghe.


1. Serena Williams, USA... a factor in Paris, six years after Serena Slam?
2. Maria Sharapova, RUS... the green clay hurdle has been overcome. Is red next?
3. Vera Zvonareva, RUS... ready for her close-up?
4. Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP... appearing in Cookie nightmares at this very moment.
5. Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama, SLO/JPN... hot on the tails of Cara & Liezel.
HM- Maria Kirilenko, RUS & Gisela Dulko, ARG... even the most disappointing players find a title in the dirt sometimes.

1. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
2. Maria Kirilenko, RUS
3. Gisela Dulko, ARG
4. Agnes Szavay, HUN
5. Katarina Srebotnik, SLO

1. Alize Cornet, FRA
2. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
3. Petra Kvitova, CZE
4. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
5. Carla Suarez-Navarro, ESP

1. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
2. Stefanie Vogele, SUI
3. Edina Gallovits/Olga Govortsova, ROU/BLR
4. Elena Makarova, RUS
5. Ana Jovanovic, SRB

1. Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP
2. Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama, SLO/JPN
3t. Iveta Benesova, CZE & Klara Zakopalova, CZE
4. Tzipora Obziler, ISR
5. Francesca Schiavone, ITA

1. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
2. Iveta Benesova, CZE
3. Amelie Mauresmo, FRA
4. Sesil Karatantcheva, BUL
5. Karolina Sprem, CRO

1. Chinese Fed Cup Team
2. Shahar Peer, ISR
3. Michaella Krajicek, NED
4. Daniela Hantuchova, SVK
5. Lindsay Davenport's aching body, USA

1. Soledad Esperson, ARG
2. Petra Kvitova, CZE
3. Arantxa Rus, NED
4. Victoria Azarenka, UKR
5. Stephanie Vogt, LIE
HM Cheyanne Ewijk, NED & Bethanie Mattek, USA

1. Nuria Llagostera-Vives leads Spain to upset win over China in Fed Cup SF
2. Serena Williams wins third straight event in Charleston
3. Maria Sharapova wins first career clay court title in Amelia Island

Fed Cup World Group Playoff, ITA/UKR - Schiavone d. Koryttseva
FC heroine Schiavone overcomes three match points..
*BIGGEST CHOKE* home on hard court, China stumbles under the Fed Cup pressure, losing the SF against Spain's "B" team by a 4-1 score. What does this bode for the Olympics? Well, for what it's worth, in their first action since the Fed Cup, the doubles team of Yan Zi & Zheng Jie was bounced out in the 1st Round in Berlin today. Cue the "Jaws" music.
....the USA's Fed Cup team for the SF versus Russia consisted up nary a single player ranked in the Top 100 in singles thanks to various injuries, medical issues and/or a lack of interest from the nation's top-ranked players. Maybe Vania King, Ahsha Rolle and Madison Brengle (the last of which didn't see any action) will ultimately benefit from the exposure... but what are the chances that any of them will be counted on to win a big FC match down the line if the team's coaches have their drothers?
....37-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm returned to the tour after a 12-year absence and proceeded to upset the top seed of a challenger event and reach the final. Meanwhile, after a drug suspension and some "penance" on the ITF circuit, Sesil Karatantcheva gained her first WTA tour win since 2005 with a 1st Round victory over Elena Baltacha in Fes.
Fed Cup World Group II Playoff, SUI/AUT - Stefanie Vogele d. Tamira Paszek
The Swiss teen prevented the Austrian teen from putting away the tie, which was then promptly won by the veteran doubles combo of Schnyder and Gagliardi for Switzerland
Charleston 2nd Rd. - Cirstea d. Chakvetadze
Beware the young Romanians.
*BEST DECISION (so far)*
....for once, Jelena Dokic held her horses. After being injured during the Australian Open qualifying in her latest comeback attempt, she managed to stay out of competition long enough to not risk her entire season (and maybe last chance) by playing too soon. Her reward? Good qualifying victories in Fes over youngsters Michelle Larche de Brito and Johanna Larsson. Sure, she lost in the 1st Round to veteran (and eventual semifinalist) Greta Arn, but she's also living to fight another day. And in the Ex-Debutante's case, that's never a given.

And finally...

....and order some spiffy invitiations for the "Graf/Clijsters/Davenport/Myskina/Bammer Family Invitational," featuring a grand doubles tournament that'll include teams made up former WTA stars and their tennis-playing daughters.. Surely, getting everything ready now will cut down on the costs, since printing will be far more expensive by the time the REAL get-together takes place sometime around 2025. Be sure to RSVP.

3...Maria Sharapova (3-0)
3...Serena Williams (3-0)
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova (0-3)

*MOST 2008 WTA SF*
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (3-1)
4...Maria Sharapova (2-1 +W)
4...Jelena Jankovic (1-3)

0-3...Svetlana Kuznetsova

3...Serena Williams (Mar/Apr, 2-1)*
2...Maria Sharapova (Jan/Feb, 2-0)#
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova (Feb/Mar, 0-2)
#-3 consecutive with '07 final

Na Li - Gold Coast - def. Vaidisova/QF
Maria Sharapova - Australian Open - def. Henin/SF
Serena Williams - Miami - def. Henin/QF

5...RUSSIA (Chakvetadze, Dementieva, Kirilenko, Sharapova, ZVONAREVA)
2...United States (Davenport, S.Williams)
1...Belgium (Henin)
1...China (Li)
1...Greece (Daniilidou)
1...Italy (Pennetta)
1...Poland (A.Radwanska)
1...Serbia (Ivanovic)
1...Spain (Llagostera-Vives)

07 FINAL: Ivanovic d. Kuznetsova
08 TOP: Henin/Ivanovic

Henin d. S.Williams
Kuznetsova d. Wozniacki
Dementieva d. Jankovic
Ivanovic d. Szavay

....will red clay allow Henin to put an end to Serena's recent non-slam dominance over her? Much pressure will be on defending champion Ivanovic this week, which should be good practice for her just weeks before she has to defend her '07 RG runner-up.

Henin d. Kuznetsova
Dementieva d. Ivanovic

....Kuznetsova upset Henin in the Berlin SF a year ago. I have a hard time judging when Punch-Sober will rise up and put together a good result.

Henin d. Dementieva
....when in doubt, more in the earlier rounds than in this one were she to make it this far, go with La Petit Taureau.

All for now.


Blogger Colette Lewis said...

You meant Top 100 for the US Fed Cup players in the Worst Timing category didn't you? King and Rolle are both in the Top 200.

Tue May 06, 09:10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Whoops! Typos are a pain (and especially aggravating when you consider how long it took me to post this last night thanks to internet "difficulties").

Thanks, Colette.

Tue May 06, 09:28:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jc valencia said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tue May 06, 11:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jc valencia said...

actually, there are a lot of typos. venus is yet to win a title in 08, serena has 3. azarenka is 0-2 in 2008 finals. sharapova was 1-3 (0-2 consecutive: AO and birmingham) in 2007 finals :)

Tue May 06, 11:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, I'll take credit (if that's the "correct" word) for the first two. Obviously, that should have been Davenport listed as the second American '08 champ, not Venus. And Azarenka is 0-2 in '08 finals, not 0-3... though, that was mentioned earlier in the post. Those were fixed.

But the Sharapova listing is correct, because it's an accounting of her two consecutive finals to begin the 2008 season, and has nothing to do with 2007. The note about 2007 at the bottom was just to mention that she actually went to three straight finals stretching back to the end of the '07 season, since she was RU at the YEC in November.

But after the hellish multiple attempts to post the thing in the first place, I'm just satisfied that there was anything posted at all. :)

Speaking of which, those troubles are going to precipitate a slight format/schedule change for future posts, at least for the time being.

Mon May 12, 01:29:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jc valencia said...

the sharapova listing now makes sense.

sorry if it sounded like im nit picking.

Mon May 12, 10:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

It's all right. :)

Believe me, I'm more than pissed off at myself when I fail to catch little things like that. I think I've done a better job this season of picking those things up (when I used to send everything to Pierre Cantin to post on Tennisrulz, I'd bug him for days to correct little things here or there, or change a phrasing of something because I suddenly thought it read better a different way... I'm sure I gave him migraines, haha) before I post, but a few slipped through last week. :(

I'd rather have it corrected after the fact than left alone in error, the thought of which is actually even more aggravating for me to think about than knowing that some stat was wrong because of an oversight.

Mon May 12, 11:01:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home