Monday, August 13, 2007

Wk.32- The Star of Tomorrow... Today

This summer we've witnessed the continued step-by-step process of the making of a WTA star... so don't think it was simply a cosmic coincidence that her latest triumph took place so close to Tinseltown. For the "Star of Tomorrow," it was actually quite fitting.

With all due apologies to a certain Russian Doll, who's likely ridiculously used to being overlooked under such circumstances by now, there's a certain Serbian teenager who is currently crouched on the sport's baseline, ready to pounce on a slew of moments and opportunities that could make her a multimedia top-tier celebrity by this time next year... heck, maybe even by this time next month, actually. Remember it was Ana Ivanovic, not Maria Sharapova or Nicole Vaidisova, who won that Tennis Channel poll that ranked the "hottest" players on tour last year... so all the things that have happened over the past twelve months have only been steps along her road to stardom.

Since AnaIvo won the Rogers Cup in Montreal a season ago and clinched the '06 U.S. Open Series title, her trajectory has been nothing but onward and upward. That win in Canada was actually Ivanovic's only SF-or-better result last season, but she's been busy in 2007 making up for lost time. As a result, we might be on the literal eve of the 19-year old Serb making a serious challenge to the Justine's and Maria's of women's tennis. At a new career-high of #4, only three women remain in her path... and she's already struck the fear of the tennis Gods (or at least the fear of an AnaIvo serve) into one of them.

A few months ago, Ivanovic had a single Tier I title and one slam QF to her credit, but since then she's collected a second Tier I (in Berlin), as well as produced both slam RU (Roland Garros) and SF (Wimbledon) results. This weekend in Los Angeles, she won her fourth career title and staked a claim to another U.S. Open Series crown.

But it was the WAY she did it that's most important.

At the start of the U.S. hard court circuit, this space labeled AnaIvo as the player potentially "verging on greatness." The Supernova's many NYC scenarios aside, nothing that happened in California will dissuade that notion from firmly taking root between now and Day 1 of play on Arthur Ashe Stadium. While Ivanovic is still looking for the signature final weekend of a slam victory that remains the next logical step in her career, she has "star" written all over her, from her covergirl smile down to the blistering forehand that served her so well this weekend (not to mention that bludgeoning serve that she pulled out on the biggest points, which Jelena Jankovic termed so "scary" she felt like she "was playing against a guy").

So, what are some of the things we've learned about Ivanovic so far this summer?

Well, first, that those talked-about similarities between her big serve/big forehand game and that of the soon-to-be-returning Lindsay Davenport are hardly rumors and/or half-truths. The girl can whack the life out of the ball when she puts her mind to it.

Oh, and she's seemingly most dangerous when she has nothing to lose. Now, that's often the case with players who can blast winners from all areas of the court (see Elena Dementieva in the old "Punch-Drunk" days), but few have the weapons to scare the bejesus out of Top 5 players as AnaIvo does. Jankovic won't be the last to be frightened, though I doubt too many will use the same phraseology that she did to describe her fellow Serb (the last time anyone said anything like that it was Miss Hingis commenting on Miss Mauresmo back in 1999, after all).

At Wimbledon, Ivanovic stormed back from three match points down to evict Vaidisova from the QF. In L.A., she pulled the trick against Jankovic in the SF. Down 4-1 and a point from 5-1 in the 3rd, AnaIvo decided she didn't want to prepare so soon for her Rogers Cup defense. She saved two match points at 15-40 & 4-5 down on her own serve, then came back from Love-40 down on Jankovic's serve in the next game with four consecutive forehand winners (and forced a Jelena error with another blistering FH for good measure). At that moment, Jankovic had every reason to be fearful. Given the opportunity to serve her way into the final, Ivanovic did what Jankovic could not.

Where as Jankovic is developing a history of succumbing in matches like this, as if she's itching to inherit Dementieva's old "Punch-Drunk" moniker, Ivanovic looks to be assuming the "Henin role" in this two-headed Serbian women's tennis monster. The SF win ran her career record against Jankovic to 4-1, but perhaps the most telling stat of the match was AnaIvo being 5-of-9 on break points compared to Jankovic's 4-of-21.

In the final against Nadia Petrova, Ivanovic wrapped up her second '07 title with a love game to win 7-5/6-4, punctuated by an AnaIvo ace in the corner of the service box on match point. I guess she couldn't help herself.

Moments like that are what help to construct the foundation of a champion. Sure, we'd have a better gauge on whether AnaIvo might be ready for the next step had she faced Sharapova in the final, but a last minute shin injury ended the Russian's L.A. run with a walkover in the SF. So, this week's defense in Toronto will have to do, with the likes of Henin, Chakvetadze, Kuznetsova and Jankovic in the field. After last week, Ivanovic should be saying, "Bring 'em on."

Ivanovic flashed the ability to raise her game to an entirely different level once she faced down match point against Jankovic. She practically glistened with slam-winning promise in the California sun. But can she maintain that aura over the span of two weeks in New York? If so, after the Herculean feat that Novak Djokovic pulled off in Montreal this weekend, it wouldn't be crazy to actually go out on a limb and utter "Serbian sweep" come U.S. Open time (just don't say it too loud, for Roger and/or Serena might hear and, well, you wouldn't want to be blamed for the collateral damage that could produce... it's sort of akin to shouting "fire" in a crowded theater). No matter, we'll soon know just how ready AnaIvo is for her turn in the spotlight.

Don't be surprised if Ana's more than ready. For the star of tomorrow, tomorrow might be just around the corner.


S: Ana Ivanovic d. Nadia Petrova 7-5/6-4
D: Peschke/Stubbs d. Molik/Santangelo

AnaIvo's impressive string of victims in Carson included not only Jankovic and Petrova, but Kirilenko and Safarova, as well. She's 23-3 in her last five events.
RISERS: Nadia Petrova & Maria Kirilenko
Petrova is in the midst of a fairly deceptive season. The general consensus is that her campaign hasn't been anything to write home to Moscow about, but she's won a title, reached two singles finals, claimed the Hopman Cup in January and carried Team Russia into the Fed Cup final. A good U.S. Open run (say, QF?) would be a nice way to send herself into the indoor season that proved to be a friendly haven for her last year. Prior to the North American hardcourt season, Kirilenko's 2007 record stood at 10-17. She's 7-3 since, with a QF in L.A. -- along with wins over Bartoli and Dulko, plus a doubles SF -- being her latest eye-opening result. But, as has often been the case with her career so far, now we're left to wonder when things will get back to "normal."
SURPRISES: Virginie Razzano & Olivia Sanchez
two Pastries, one for both the WTA and ITF tours. In L.A., Razzano's string of upsets included Shahar Peer and Sania Mirza before she finally went out in three sets to Nadia Petrova in the QF. Boy, do you think Virginie was ticked off when she realized how close she got to her second career final after Sharapova pulled out of Petrova's SF at the last minute the next day? 24-year old Sanchez polished off her second ITF title in two weeks in the $25K in Coimbra, where the world #185 knocked off Neuza Silva, who herself has won three circuit singles titles this season, in straight sets in the final.
VETERANS: Elena Dementieva & Kveta Peschke/Rennae Stubbs

after winning the L.A. title a year ago, Dementieva followed up with a respectable QF result after a win over Daniela Hantuchova. She's now all the way down to #17 in the world (just slightly below Nicole Vaidisova, who's pretty much been out of sight out of mind the last month or so), but she's managed to put together a 21-7 record since the middle of the clay court season in May. Meanwhile, 32-year old Peschke and 36-year old Stubbs combined to win their first doubles titles of the season in Carson. It was Maiden Peschke's 9th career title, and Aussie Stubbs' 56th.
FRESH FACES: Victoria Azarenka

the 18-year old Belarussian is starting to edge closer to a big breakout tournament, and nearly got over the hurdle in Los Angeles. Wins over Meghann Shaughnessy and Kateryna Bondarenko led to a QF matchup with Jelena Jankovic, which ended with a three-set loss for Azarenka. The next twelve months could see her add her name to the suddenly burgeoning list of new teenaged stars on tour.
DOWN: Martina Hingis
well, this award was supposed to go to the slumping Shahar Peer. But after Hingis' on-court spin-out continued with a 2nd Round L.A. loss to Sania Mirza, her just-announced off-court split with Radek Stepanek was just too much to overcome. Sorry, Martina... but it looks like it's time to spin the Martina Curse wheel once again. Where it stops, nobody knows.

1. L.A. SF - Ivanovic d. Jankovic
AnaIvo flashed that slam-winning potential by outdistancing Jankovic 11 aces to 0, almost all of them coming when she desperately needed them.
2. L.A. Final - Ivanovic d. Petrova
AnaIvo flashed that slam-winning potential by producing 23 forehand winners in the match, almost all of them putting rather emphatic periods at the end of sentences that will make her one of the two or three favorites in New York in a few weeks.
3. L.A. 2nd - Razzano d. Peer
The Corporal has to hope she's just having a slow start to this hardcourt season after her early loss in L.A. dropped her to 2-3 this quarter. After her win over Michaella Krajicek in Toronto on Monday, maybe that IS the case.
4. L.A. 2nd - K.Bondarenko d. Safina
Looks like it might be another toss-up when it comes to whether it'll be Dinara or Marat who lasts longer at the Open.
5. L.A. 2nd - Mirza d. Hingis
And then the Swiss Miss (and JUST "Miss" once again) was part of the announcement that she and Radek Stepanek has called off their marriage and broken up, too.
HM- L.A. Doubles Final - Peschke/Stubbs d. Molik/Santangelo
This match aside, the Steamer's doubles success has at least taken the edge off what could have been a trying few months as her comeback singles results have really tailed off (she went out to Osterloh in the 1st Round in Carson).

5...Justine Henin
4...Jelena Jankovic
4...Anna Chakvetadze
2...Serena Williams
2...Venus Williams

Stanford: Chakvetadze (RUS) d. Mirza (IND)
S.D.: Sharapova (RUS) d. Schnyder (SUI)
Toronto: ??
New Haven: ??

36...RENNAE STUBBS (AUG-L.A. w/ Peschke)*
33...Lisa Raymond (5)
33...Nicole Pratt (2)
33...Virginia Ruano-Pascual (1)
*-36 years, 4 months, 2 weeks

21...RUSSIA [9]
10...SERBIA [6]
10...France [3]
8....Belgium [6]
5....United States [5]
5....Italy [2]

2006 FINAL: Ivanovic d. Hingis
2007 TOP: Henin/Jankovic

Henin d. Schnyder
Ivanovic d. Kirilenko
Dementieva d. Safarova
Jankovic d. Chakvetadze

Ivanovic d. Henin
Jankovic d. Dementieva

Ivanovic d. Jankovic

...and the winner of the 2007 U.S. Open Series is... Backspin's favorite Fantastovic.

Henin(1) def Petrova(6)
Ivanovic(4) def Kirilenko
Golovin(12) def Kuznetsova(3)
Chakvetadze(6) def Jankovic(2)

Henin(1) def Ivanovic(4)
Chakvetadze(6) def Golovin(12)

Henin(1) def Chakvetadze(6)

All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

Just one thing to start, Ivanovic saved match points against Vaidisova in Wimbledon...

Hmm, possible final between Ivanovic and Jankovic, I would LOVE IT!! I followed the match they played this week right before Djokovic took care of Nadal. I like both, but I slightly prefer Jankovic to Ivanovic, so I was a bit sad she lost. But Ivanovic is truly impressive, but I believe Jankovic will go farther than Ivanovic in the US Open.

Also, for Federer losing to Djoko, it was truly due to Federer not playing right. According to me (and many people who watched the match), it was Fed's worst match ever this year. However, Djoko is impressive and has a bright future and I also like his game :)!

Hope Wosniak can reach the third round... Also hope my favourite players will be in Mtl next summer, cuz I'll be there!

Mon Aug 13, 09:38:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

So much depends on the U.S. Open draw, which is why this week is so important for Ivanovic. Since she's defending points from winning Montreal last year, she needs another great result to maintain that #4 ranking so that she can get a Top 4 seed for the Open and avoid Henin, Sharapova or Jankovic before the SF.

Well, Federer certainly should have taken that 1st set against Djokovic. How does he lose his serve from 40-Love up, and blow five set points? That wasn't the "usual" Federer. But the loss (and maybe even Tiger winning another major?) will probably just spur him on to a great U.S. Open. :)

Tue Aug 14, 09:10:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

So sad Ivanovic lost so early in the tournament, I will not have the chance to see her play.

Hmm, you predict Henin NOT winning this week. I guess it means she's gonna hold title on Sunday!

Talking about Henin, I listened to her interview she did about Wimbledon. She admitted that she didn't feel confident on grass at all. It's kind of weird for a two-time finalist at Wimbledon and winner of many titles in preparation tournaments...

Wed Aug 15, 08:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I almost always pay when I don't pick Henin to win a tournament... so it figures that Pierre DID at the same time. Worse yet, we're currently tied in "Royale" champions picks, too. :(

I hate it when "Backspinettes" are used against me. It's just so... wrong. :/

Thu Aug 16, 09:54:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Talking about Backspinettes, I just watched the match between two of your favourite: Henin and Petrova. It was an interesting match, where both players pulled good shots, and also many errors.

In all tennis matches I've ever watched, today was the most windy ever. Jankovic this afternoon was having a lot of trouble, same for Petrova and Henin. Though Petrova managed the wind better than Henin, she couldn't manage her nerves. In the most important points, especially in the tie-break, Petrova was accumulating unforced errors. Fortunately for her, Henin double-faulted twice on break point against her.

Henin's backhand seems to be back, compared to what she was showing against Bartoli in Wimbledon. She'll be a threat at the US Open.

I don't understand why tournaments are still testing coaching. It's boring for the viewers, it apparently doesn't bring anything, and it goes against the spirit of this sport. I hope there will be none next year.

The semifinals tomorrow will be very interesting: Henin vs. Yan (the surprise of the tournament) and Jankovic vs. Golovin (who beat Kuznet). I can't wait to watch that tomorrow!

Fri Aug 17, 09:40:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, the only way the on-court coaching would be interesting would be if they actually said anything that would provide some real incite... but since they have to wear microphones when they go on court they'll never actually say anything other than things the announcers are probably already saying anyway.

The coaching-on-the-sly from the stands, which they were trying to eliminate with this, is actually far more entertaining than the made-for-TV snorefest. And, by the way, if it's all right for coaches to give advice in the middle of the match ON the court, how can it be so bad for them to do so from the stands? Just wondering.

Sun Aug 19, 01:03:00 AM EDT  

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