Monday, August 20, 2007

Wk.33- The Power of Incumbency

Yep, Justine Henin's hold on the women's game is still mighty secure... even if her shoulder's a bit sore after proving it again this weekend.

In her first action since her shocking Wimbledon SF loss to Marion Bartoli, the Belgian world #1 wasn't exactly in fine Parisian form in Toronto, but she was still La Petit Taureau, erasing early deficits against Nadia Petrova (QF) and Jelena Jankovic (F) to grab her sixth title of the season and come within an eyelash or salting away 2007 Ms. Backspin honors before the season is even officially three-quarters old.

Of course, at various times this quarter, it's been easy to extol the virtues of a string of players after triumphant Sundays. Anna Chakvetadze. Maria Sharapova. Ana Ivanovic. At the time, they all seemed on the path to great things in New York, at least according to the temperature of their play at that precise moment. But here we are a week away from the start of the U.S. Open, and it's largely a case of grasping at straws when it comes to trying to determine who's the favorite to win the year's final grand slam.

Amelie Mauresmo won't win it. We know that. She withdrew from the Open with a groin injury and for further recovery from her early-season appendectomy, meaning her "year after" season will produce no third career slam crown. Serena Williams? Well, she's still nursing that thumb/wrist injury that hindered her at Wimbledon, and won't be in New Haven this week as previously scheduled. Venus hasn't been around much this quarter, either. Nicole Vaidisova? Nope. Meanwhile, Jankovic is still shaking her first at the sky, wondering if she'll EVER be able to beat Henin.

(Oh... I wonder if Lindsay Davenport is wondering if her baby comeback timing was just a tad off? She's in New Haven playing doubles with Lisa Raymond this week, but won't likely try to return to singles until the 4th Quarter. For once, she'd be one of the healthiest players in the draw.)

In a 3rd Quarter where few trends had been able to maintain their footing for long, variety has been the spice of WTA life. With the top players not around very much, seven different women have won the eight tournaments, with fifteen different players filling the sixteen berths in finals. Only Chakvetadze, 2-0 in championship matches, has been a repeat achiever. But, as usual, her lack of luck carried over as her Cincinnati title came at an event that's NOT a part of the U.S. Open Series. As a result, The Doll is trumped by the Supernova once again, this time in the Series standings with Sharapova making like an acrobatic hawk swooping down and scooping up some defenseless prey with nary a hint of exertion on her face. Just another example of what a strange "road trip" the 2007 USOS turned out to be.

But maybe the U.S. Open end result won't be so strange. Henin will be the top seed in a slam for the sixth time in her career next week, having won the title two of the previous five times. Of course, winning a second Open title would not be an easy task for the Waffle (ahh, an oldie but still a goodie welcomed back into the Backspin lexicon), considering the only time she's managed to win the tournament (2003) it took possibly the greatest match of her career (the SF vs. Jennifer Capriati) to do it, and even then she still needed to defeat Kim Clijsters in the final twenty-four hours later to make it official.

With the women's tour beaten down by attrition with still three months to play this season, the world #1 might be sitting in the cat bird's seat in New York. It's not as if she's been bothered by inconsistency in '07, having won six of the ten events she's played, reaching the finals in seven and the semis in the other three. Oh, and then there's that little statistic about playing in the final of five of the last six slams she's contested (with "La Trufflette" the only thing that prevented it from being six-of-six).

In the end, with so much in flux on the WTA tour at the moment, Henin just might be the best bet to emerge from the pack in New York. But, then again, with her sore shoulder sure to be a round-by-round concern (she told the Toronto organizers she was 50-50 to play the final the night before the match), maybe Henin isn't such a sure thing, either, huh?

Oh, boy. This could be a very interesting slam.


S: Justine Henin d. Jelena Jankovic 7-6/7-5
D: Srebotnik/Sugiyama d. Black/Huber

Henin's win in Toronto means five of the eight tournaments this quarter have been won the #1 seeded player.
RISERS: Tatiana Golovin & Marion Bartoli
The Good Tatiana showed up in Toronto, rebounding with wins over Vakulenko, Cibulkova, Schiavone and Kuznetsova en route to an encouraging SF in her final outing before the Open. Meanwhile, Bartoli is finally righting the ship as the fanfare of her Wimbledon final run has died down a bit. She outlasted a retiring Kirilenko and defeated Safina in Toronto, then went out to Zi Yan in the QF with a viral illness.
SURPRISES: Zi Yan & Katarzyna Piter

Yan pulled the upset of the tournament in Toronto, taking out Ivanovic in the 2nd Round in the Serb's first match after winning in Carson. Additional wins over Daniilidou and Bartoli gave the Cookie a Tier I SF, the best big event singles result of her career. 16-year old Pole Piter, a surprise unseeded semifinalist in the Wimbledon Girls last month, won her first career ITF title in a $10K in Bielefeld. And thus begins the ranking climb of the current world #822.
VETERANS: Francesca Schiavone & Katarina Srebotnik/Ai Sugiyama

the veteran Noodle's late-season charge continued in Toronto with wins over Paszek and Dementieva, then Schiavone took out Schnyder in 1st Round New Haven action on Sunday. In Toronto, Srebotnik & Sugiyama, who'd been RU at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year but hadn't won a doubles title together this season, finally took care of business after claiming a 10-5 super tie-break win in the final against the world's #1 team of Black/Huber.
FRESH FACES: Polona Hercog & Anna Lapushchenkova
Slovenia's Hercog, 16, won the first junior level event she entered earlier this year, and now she's got her first ITF title. She won the $10K Pesaco event with a win in the final over Liechtenstein's Stephanie Vogt. Hercog is currently #645. Meanwhile, another 20-year old Russian Anna -- this time it's #206 Lapushchenkova -- won her second of back-to-back ITF events when she defeated Kristina Antonyichuk in the $50K Penza final.
DOWN: Amelie Mauresmo & Serena Williams
the U.S. Open contenders keep falling by the wayside and the tournament hasn't even started yet. Mauresmo is officially out, and with Serena still having not played since Wimbledon one has to wonder if she'll be the next to go (or, if she shows up, whether she'll be physically able to last two weeks).

1. Tor F - Henin d. Jankovic
One of the more exciting two-set finals we're likely to see this season, but when Henin finally converted on her sixth match point the end result was the same as it has always been when these two have met. Henin won. Jankovic lost. The White Whale lives.
2. New Haven 1st - Schiavone d. Schnyder
Since Schnyder can now no longer win the Pilot Pen after this early loss on Sunday, Sharapova wrapped up the U.S. Open Series crown with essentially a cameo appearance in the Series.
3. Tor 2nd - Yan d. Ivanovic
And with this loss, AnaIvo lost her Top 4 U.S. Open seed and now will be seeded to possibly face either Henin or Sharapova in a potential SF. On another note, "interesting" how two weeks before the Open, Ivanovic loses her first match and Chakvetadze retires in her's. In Cincinnati, Djokovic, Nadal and Roddick all bowed out early, as well. Lucky them, huh? How "coincidental" that they didn't have to expend all that additional energy so close to the Open. I'm just saying... last week was just further proof that you can lead players to water with rules that force them to commit to a certain number of top level events but you can't make them drink, or actually play the event to win it.
4. Tor 1st - Dubois d. Sugiyama
Last year in Montreal, Quebec native Dubois got a retirement win over Kim Clijsters and reached the 3rd Round. With the Rogers Cup in Toronto this year, she received a wild card into the main draw and pulled off another upset. In the 2nd Round, she lost a three-setter to Petrova.
5. Tor 3rd - Razzano d. Peer
Razzano got her second win in two weeks over Peer, along with a retirement victory over Chakvetadze a round earlier. The Pastry has been playing well on the bigger stages against Top 20 players of late, but what will she do against "the rest" in Forest Hills this week?
HM- Bronx $50K F - Dellacqua d. Rolle
...7-5/2-0 ret.
This is the Sheila's fourth ITF title this season, and she didn't even win this one back home in Oz, either.

[US Open result]
2004 Lindsay Davenport [SF]
2005 Kim Clijsters [W]
2006 Ana Ivanovic [3rd]
2007 Maria Sharapova

[2007 titles]
51...Lindsay Davenport [0]
43...Martina Hingis [1]
35...Venus Williams [2]
28...Serena Williams [2]
24...Amelie Mauresmo [1]

**MOST TITLES - last 2 seasons**
12...JUSTINE HENIN [6/6]
6....Anna Chakvetadze [2/4]
6....Maria Sharapova [5/1]
6....Nadia Petrova [5/1]

**MOST 2007 FINALS**
4...Anna Chakvetadze (4-0)
4...Ana Ivanovic (2-2)
4...Amelie Mauresmo (1-3)
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova (0-4)
3...Maria Sharapova (1-2)
3...Nadia Petrova (1-2)

13...JELENA JANKOVIC (7-5 + L)
9....JUSTINE HENIN (7-2)
7....Maria Sharapova (3-3 +L)
7....Anna Chakvetadze (4-3)
6....Ana Ivanovic (4-2)
6....Svetlana Kuznetsova (4-2)

05 Charleston 1st - JHH 5-7/6-4/6-3
06 US Open SF - JHH 4-6/6-4/6-0
07 Doha SF - Henin 6-7/6-2/6-4
07 Warsaw SF - Henin 7-5/2-6/6-4
07 Berlin QF - Henin 3-6/6-4/6-4
07 Roland Garros SF - Henin 6-2/6-2
07 Toronto F - Henin 7-6/7-5

18..Martina Hingis
5...Justine Henin (pre-US Open)
5...Serena Williams
5...Lindsay Davenport
3...Amelie Mauresmo
2...Maria Sharapova
1...Venus Williams

2006 FINAL: Henin-H. d. Davenport
2007 TOP: Kuznetsova/Hantuchova

Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
Bartoli d. Dementieva
Safina d. Bammer
Mirza d. Hantuchova

Bartoli d. Schiavone
Mirza d. Safina

Mirza d. Bartoli

...I figured I'd go with an unconventional set of predictions since my luck hasn't been very good of late trying to apply a smidgen of "logic" in this section. Of course, this means the champion will be Kuznetsova, or Hantuchova, or Dementieva, or Safina, or...

Kuznetsova def. Schiavone
Dementieva def. Bartoli
Safina def. Bammer
Hantuchova def. A.Bondarenko

Kuznetsova def. Dementieva
Hantuchova def. Safina

Kuznetsova def. Hantuchova

2006 FINAL: Shaughnessy d. Smashnova
2007 TOP: Razzano/Tu

Razzano d. Kudryavtseva
Likhovtseva d. Tu

Razzano d. Likhovtseva

...of course, NOW Razzano will take a nose dive against lesser-ranked competition.

Razzano def. Vesnina
Dushevina def. Dulko

Dushevina def. Razzano


All for now.


Blogger Ian said...

Dude. I think Sharapova won the US Open Series...

Tue Aug 21, 03:01:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

You know what, you're right. I feel really stupid right about now. I was certain they'd said on ESPN that JJ would win even if she lost the final, as long as Schnyder didn't win New Haven. But I guess they said that that was the case if Jankovic defeated Henin, since now that I look at the standings Sharapova IS at the top with a slight edge over Jankovic. Sorry about that. :(

Well, good then. It would have just been wrong for Jankovic to win without having won a title. Still, to get so close without holding up a trophy leaves open the door for such an occurrence down the road unless a rules tweak is made.

Tue Aug 21, 10:00:00 AM EDT  
Blogger kourosh said...

hey Todd! i think sharapova honestly deserved to win that USOS crown! don't forget lat year AIvo won it by just winning montreal!!!
so that's good to see supernova winning some stuff at least in her worst season ever...GRrrr...

Wed Aug 22, 08:45:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Nice to hear from you Kourosh. :)

Oh, I think she had as much right to the Series title as anyone who won a title during the last few weeks, though I'm sure the higher-ups had wished the winners in recent years had had more of a presence on the hard court circuit than one great event and one other tournament from which they retired. Next year should be interesting, too, what with the Olympics taking place in August in Beijing.

It would have been nice if Chakvetadze's Cincinnati win had counted in the Series. As it is, the men's series lasted six weeks, while the women's was just five. The Cincy men's event counted, but the women's didn't.

Well, Sharapova still has a shot to make whatever disappointments she's had this season disappear if she can defend her US Open title. I mean, what will everyone remember about Serena's '07 season, that she won the Australian Open or that she's barely played since? She's got one more shot to "make right."

Wed Aug 22, 03:49:00 PM EDT  

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