Monday, January 10, 2005

Wk.1 - Act 1, Scene 1

The '05 production is underway, and hoping for a long and successful run (say, eleven months?).

Week 1 headlines, naturally, were often centered around the Russians, who were on both the good and bad sides of some potentially telling results a week before main draw play begins in Melbourne. Here's Backspin's 10 topics of discussion:

#1. Mary Pierce is injured. So is Nicole Pratt. Nadia Petrova pulled out of her Gold Coast QF. Maria Sharapova backed out of Hong Kong in mid-event. Jennifer Capriati pulled out of Sydney. Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters are now officially out of Melbourne. Sound familiar? Maybe Serena had the right idea about just playing doubles last week in China.
#2. Speaking of, it's time for Backspin's "Link of the Week." W hile it's hardly fulfilling Prediction #5 on the Quick Picks List, it's fairly obvious that Serena prefers to be the center of attention away from the court, as well. Imagine if she wore what she's wearing in those pics on Arthur Ashe Court this August... the USTA might have to have a few medics on hand to treat all the whiplashed necks inside the stadium.
#3. KUZNETSOVA #1 TENNISRULZ JINX UPDATE: Any progress on the formula to lift the curse that Pierre & I put on the Contessova by both picking her #1 for 2005? Well, let's just say it's not a good sign that she got stuck in the Hong Kong round robin group that DIDN'T disintegrate with injuries, or that she blew a 4-1 3rd set lead on Venus Williams in a match that would have sent her to the exhibition final against Elena Dementieva. What have we done?
#4. On the topic of Punch-Sober, Hong Kong exhibition champ Dementieva was the one Russian singles player who came out of Week 1 with a big grin. Czarina Myskina had seemed perched to claim the Hopman Cup with Russia having the decidedly "best" team (Myskina/Safin). She held up her end, going 3-0 in singles. But her teammate Marat put on a lawsuit-worthy performance: going 0-3 in singles, and then continuing to turn everything he touched to stone by going 0-3 in doubles with Myskina, too. Elsewhere, Vera Zvonareva went 0-2 in Hong Kong, Sharapova lost to Venus there and then withdrew, Kuznetsova blew a 4-1 3rd set lead, Petrova was injured, Likhovtseva lost to a 15-year old, and so on and so on. On the bright side, Lina Krasnoroutskaya is on her latest comeback attempt and the absence of JHH in Oz might open up at least another QF slot for one of the Horde contingent.
#5. The "Sony Ericsson WTA Tour?" All right, if you say so. Look at it this way, even if he joins the list of people who'll likely misspell it, at least Alan Schwartz won't be able to butcher the name the next time he hands out a trophy. No, Alan, "Sonny Erickson" isn't the new umpire we've hired to replace Mariana Alves.
#6. Hmmm, Week 1 WTA champions were Patty Schnyder and Katarina Srebotnik. Neither had won a title since 2002. Could that be good news for some of the other '02 champs who haven't won since? Such as Hantuchova, Dokic, Widjaja, Black, Mikaelian, Casanova... and Hingis and Seles?
#7. Not much singles success for the Cookies in Week 1. Many lost in tournament qualifying, then Jie Zheng and Na Li both went out at the hands of Petrova at Gold Coast. But the doubles team of Zi Yan/Jie Zheng did defeat the very interesting doubles combo of Golovin/Safina.
#8. SHEILAS WATCH: A few Aussies are priming themselves for Melbourne, as Alicia Molik (3-0) looked good in Perth (though Mark Philippoussis' injury pretty much crushed the chances of a home team victory), while Samantha Stosur made her first-ever WTA final at Gold Coast (losing to Schnyder).
#9. What'll Eleni the Greek do now? Daniilidou didn't get her Auckland three-peat. She opened her last two seasons with titles, only to see her results falter the rest of the season. This year, she went out in the 1st Round.
#10. Daniela Hantuchova was winning the Hopman in Week 1, while the Russians were preparing for Melbourne. But what of the Debutante? Yes, that was Jelena Dokic in the Serbian headlines again recently (surprise). Yawn... Damir belly-aching, the Debutante kissing a Bikic brother (which one is it? Harpo? Curly?). Does it really matter anymore? If she ever wins a few matches, it'll again be worth the effort to debate the future of the sport's fastest falling former would-be star. At this point, though, it's just as likely she'll be out of the sport a year from now as it is that she'll be back in the Top 20.

S: Patty Schnyder def. Samantha Stosur 1-6/6-3/7-5
D: Likhovtseva/Maleeva d. Camerin/Farina Elia
S: Katarina Srebotnik d. Shinobu Asagoe 5-7/7-5/6-4
D: Asagoe/Srebotnik d. L.Baker/Lubiani
F: Slovak Republic (Hantuchova/Hrbaty) def. Argentina (Dulko/Coria) 3-0
HONG KONG, CHINA (EX) (HO) F: Elena Dementieva def. Venus Williams 6-3/6-2

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Elena Dementieva could be that no one player benefitted from the first week of action more than Punch-Sober. First, she came from behind to dust off Maria Sharapova, then handled Venus Williams to take the Hong Kong exhibition title. She was a little slow starting in '04, but this type of kick-off could lead to great things in Melbourne where -- let me make the early pick now -- a Russian WILL win the title. Check back here next week to see which one I've decided on for my pick.
RISERS: Patty Schnyder & Daniela Hantuchova
...Schnyder's Gold Coast title was her first since winning Zurich in October '02, as she warmed up to try to defend her Australian Open SF from last year. Hantuchova's been through some lean times (no pun intended) the last couple years. She blew a golden opportunity to end her '04 season with a title against a sparse field in Quebec City in November, but in '05 she's burst out of the gate by teaming with Dominik Hrbaty to win the Hopman Cup title for Slovakia. A 3-1 singles record, with wins over Shaughnessy, Dulko and Krajicek, might not propel her into a great season, but a little confidence could go a long way for a player who's recently had very little of it.
SURPRISES: Katarina Srebotnik & Samantha Stosur
...#87 Srebotnik swept both the singles and doubles (with Asagoe, the player she defeated in the singles final) in Auckland. It was her third career WTA singles title, and first since Acapulco '02. She's already on the nomination list for 2005's Most Improved/Surprise Player. That Stosur, 20, hit high notes down under once again isn't a big surprise, but wins over Sprem (who she beat in Week 1 a year ago, en route to a Gold Coast SF), Maleeva and Farina Elia on the way to her first WTA singles final gives further rise to the question, "Why she can't carry over this success beyond the first few weeks of the season?"
VETERAN: Maggie Maleeva
...the 29-year old Bulgarian opened her season in Gold Coast with a singles QF, and won the doubles with fellow-29er Likhovtseva. Earlier in the week, the team knocked off Navratilova/Dechy in the QF, too.
FRESH FACES: Sesil Karatantcheva & Shahar Peer
...another award, another Bulgarian. This time it's 15-year old Karatantcheva (the newly added extra "t" is there for your protection), who qualified in Gold Coast and defeated Camerin and Likhovtsova on her way to the QF. Israeli Peer, 17, qualified in Auckland. In the main draw, she upset Morigami and Sucha before losing to eventual champ Srebotnik in the QF. By the way, both of these two girls won junior slam titles in '04... so keep an eye out for whoever wins the Girls title in Melbourne in a few weeks.
DOWN: Karolina Sprem & Eleni Daniilidou
...Sprem is still searching for her Wimbledon encore. Maybe she'll get it before Wimbledon starts up again, but it didn't happen in Gold Coast (she lost to Stosur in the 1st Round). Daniilidou's quest for an Auckland three-past crashed and burned on the launch pad (1st Rd.-Santangelo).

1.Hong Kong RR--Dementieva d. Sharapova
...6-7/6-3/6-1. And, no, it wasn't the Czarina who threw a tennis ball onto the court in the middle of the match and unnerved the Supernova. Still, score one for the Spartaks.
2.Hong Kong F--Demetieva d. V.Williams
...6-3/6-2. A pair of wins over Sharapova and Venus aren't bad little momentos to have in your hip pocket (mmmm...of those bright orange/red shorts again?) going into Melbourne.
3.Hong Kong RR--V.Williams d. Kuznetsova
...5-7/6-2/7-6. Venus didn't repeat as title-holder in China, so she'll have to settle for overcoming a 1-4 3rd set deficit here in a 2+ hour match.
4.Gold F--Schnyder d. Stosur
...1-6/6-3/7-5. So, a Swiss player wins a singles title. Think Martina H. is jealous?
5.Auck F--Srebotnik d. Asagoe
...5-7/7-5/6-4. No, doubles partners do not share championship prize winnings when they meet in a SINGLES final.
6.Gold 2r--Golovin d. Safina
...7-5/3-6/6-2. The Frussian Pastry's push for a Top 10 spot has begun. She made the Gold Coast SF.
7.Gold 2r--Karatantcheva d. Likhovtseva
...6-2/0-6/7-6. Well, Sesil the Mouth finally "kicked the ass off" a Russian.
8.Hopman Cup RR--Haas/Groenefeld d. Safin/Myskina
...7-5/1-6/0-6. After all the Fed Cup fuss, maybe the Czarina should just escape this team concept before it destroys her faith in her fellow Russians.
9.Gold SF--Stosur d. Farina Elia
...6-4/2-6/6-1. She made the SF here last year, but only the 2nd Round in Melbourne. Look out 3rd Round, here comes Samantha!
10.Auck 1r--Marina Erakovic d. Pelletier
...4-6/7-5/6-3. The 16-year old Croat wild card is yet another name to jot down on your "to watch" lists.
HM--Thailand Exhibition (Chiang Mai)--Sharapova def. V.Williams
...6-4/6-3. Before Hong Kong, Sharapova DID get a nice victory when Venus double-faulted on match point. Both players' rackets were auctioned off after the match for the benefit of tsunami relief.

...ouch, that 0-for-4 Week 1 prediction record hurts big-time. Maybe the Kuznetsova Jinx works both ways? (Watch your back, Pierre.)

04 F: JHH def. Mauresmo
05 TOP: Davenport/Myskina
SF: Davenport d. Dementieva; Myskina d. Molik
FINAL: Davenport d. Myskina least the Czarina will travel without her anchor (Marat) this week.

04 F: Suarez def. Farina Elia
05 TOP: Farina Elia/Smashnova
SF: Panova d. Ivanovic(Q); Shaughnessy d. Weingartner
FINAL: Panova d. Shaughnessy

...I have to pick a Russian. I don't have Smashnova winning here, but without her Pistolesi anchor (Mr.Pistolesi, that is) she's now free to be confused by casual fans for another new Russian girl.

04 F: Frazier d. Asagoe
05 TOP: Frazier/Dulko
SF: Koukalova d. Frazier; Safina d. Sucha
FINAL: Safina d. Koukalova

...okay, make it TWO Russians. They have to make up for the Hopman blowout, right?. If the Czarina stays hot, maybe the Horde could go 3-for-3.

Next week, it's the Waltzing Mathilda Oz preview! All for now.


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