Monday, February 07, 2005

Wk.5 - Supernovian Acts WTA BACKSPIN February 7, 2005 SUPERNOVIAN ACTS by Todd Spiker How a prospective champion reacts to failure is a sure sign of whether it will dog them for the majority of their career. After a disappointment, does the player go into an extended tailspin before righting themselves, or immediately rededicate and improve? Last fall, after her mediocre results during the American hardcourt season, Maria Sharapova showed herself to belong in the latter group by winning two minor titles and then wrapping up 2004 by claiming the Tour Championship to finish the season at #4. Last week in Tokyo, just days after blowing three match points in her Australian Open SF matchup with Serena Williams, she did it again. Anyone who questions the direction the Supernova's supertrain is heading need only to reference the teenager's actions in winning her eighth career WTA title. Melbourne showed her to be mortal, but not for very long. So far, each time a crack has appeared in her exterior, she's sured it up with the tennis equivalent of brick and mortar before it could expand and threaten her planned course of action. "My job is to go out and perform well. I have no timetable to become #1 in the world," the Russian said on Sunday, "If it happens, it happens." Anyone who still believes it won't happen before the calendar turns over to 2006 should start to reconsider. It's impossible not to sense the moment coming, so much so that a win over world #1 Lindsay Davenport in the Tokyo final for her first career Tier I title somehow feels like an afterthought, a footnote in a resume that will soon be filled with far grander accomplishments than this one. Unlike the American veteran, holding onto the top ranking despite not having won a slam crown since 2000 and grasping for the one last huge career moment that likely won't come, Sharapova is all about the future even as she zoomed to a career-best #3 ranking on Monday (just four points behind #2 Williams). He ascent is so expected at this point, that her "long-awaited" assuming of the top-ranked Russian position on the computer following the Australian Open rated nary a mention anywhere (even here). Maybe it was because Sharapova was never quite on top of things in Melbourne. She dropped every close set she played, no matter the quality of her opponent, and wasted a handful of opportunities to get another win over eventual champion Williams. It wasn't a foreign concept to think that she'd go to Tokyo and do just what she did, buzz through the field and then pull out a close match once Davenport finally stretched her to a third set tie-break. Thing is, it took her four match points to finally put Davenport down... so she still hasn't quite rounded into TOP form. Might it happen this week in Paris? Williams will be there, and the "Serena vs. the Supernova" show could produce a Part V come the semifinals. Hmmm... so, Sharapova will have an opportunity to reverse a recent disappointment, huh? You don't suppose she might just completely erase the memory of Melbourne from her mind with a win over her Oz conqueror, do you? Why that would be simply Supernovian, wouldn't it? Not to mention being no surprise at all. **WEEK 5 CHAMPIONS** TOKYO (TPP), JAPAN (I-CI) S: Maria Sharapova (#4) d. Lindsay Davenport (#1) 6-1/3-6/7-6 D: Husarova/Likhovtseva d. Davenport/Morariu ===================================== PATTAYA, THAILAND (IV-HO) S: Conchita Martinez (#43) d. Anna-Lena Groenefeld (#68) 6-3/3-6/6-3 D: Bartoli/Groenefeld d. Domachowska/Talaja **PLAYER AWARDS** PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Maria Sharapova ...Naturally. Sharapova repeated her Wimbledon triumph over Davenport with another three-set victory in Tokyo. In her last Tier I, Sharapova was defeated by Alicia Molik in Zurich (her only loss in a pro singles final). She got her revenge on the Aussie just two weeks later in Philadelphia. Hmmm... seems to be a pattern, doesn't it? Oh, Serena? ===================================== RISERS: Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Daniela Hantuchova ...the 19-year old German, maybe the long-awaited inheritor to at least a portion of the Graf legacy, battled through a series of three-setters in Pattaya to reach her first WTA singles final. She won the doubles title. Meanwhile, Wonder Girl is showing signs of breaking out after reaching the Tokyo QF and pushing Svetlana Kuznetsova to two tie-breaks once she got there. ===================================== SURPRISES: Shinobu Asagoe & Alyona Bondarenko ...Japan's Asagoe is quietly having quite an early season string of results. She upset an ailing Elena Dementieva in Tokyo and advanced to the SF, a nice companion to her Auckland RU result from a month ago. Bondarenko, Katerina's older 20-year old sis, took out Mashona Washington and Jelena Dokic in Pattaya before finally falling to Groenefeld in the QF. ===================================== VETERAN: Conchita Martinez ...with Davenport now being a combined 0-4 in singles/doubles finals in 2005, Martinez gets the sole nod here. Reports of the 32-year old's demise have been greatly exaggerated, as the Spaniard acted out her role as the experienced vet with a thing or two to teach the youngsters. In winning her 33rd career title, and first since May '00 (in Berlin), she ran her younger opponents (like Evgenia Linetskaya) into submission and topped off her week by outlasting Groenefeld in a three-setter in the Pattaya final. ===================================== FRESH FACES: Evgenia Linetskaya & Michaella Krajicek ...18-year old Russian Linetskaya followed up her Oz 4th Round result with a SF run in Pattaya that included wins over Vera Zvonareva and Tamarine Tanasugarn before the heat (and Martinez's tendency to run her from one side of the court to the other in the intense weather) finally got to her. Krajicek, 16, earned her initital '05 ITF title (and 5th in her career) in Ortisei with good wins over the likes of Martina Sucha, Sybille Bammer and Sandra Kleinova. ===================================== DOWN: Vera Zvonareva & Ai Sugiyama ...Zvonareva's now been knocked out of successive tournaments by Russians younger than she is, as Hordettes Vera Douchevina (Australian) and Linetskaya (Pattaya) have suddenly passed her by. Sugiyama, meanwhile, dropped her 1st Round match to Roberta Vinci in Tokyo, meaning she's still looking for her first win (0-4) in 2005. **LINK OF THE WEEK** ...with no pics to be found of Jennifer Capriati and the porn star (hmmm... could Prediction #5 be getting more and more possible?), here's another side of the Aussie Steamer as Alicia Molik gets, while not "steamy," all "dolled up." **MATCHES** 1.Tokyo F - Sharapova d. Davenport ...6-1/3-6/7-6. Davenport's effort for a third straight Tokyo title were finally dashed on Sharapova's fourth MP. ===================================== 2.Patt F - Martinez d. Groenefeld ...6-3/3-6/6-3. Guess Conchita shouldn't retire yet, after all. Wonder if she was inspired by the presence of another former Wimbledon champ in the Pattaya draw (see #4)? ===================================== 3.Patt QF - Linetskaya d. Zvonareva ...6-4/6-2. Fear not, Vera the Almost, Punch-Drunk started slowly last year, too. And we know how well she rebounded. Maybe she should talk to Sharapova about how to overcome disappointment? Yeah, like THAT will happen... the Spartaks might disown her. ==================================== 4.Patt 1r - Weingartner d. Hingis ...1-6/6-2/6-2. Maybe the Blue Angel thought Hingis was a G.O.C. spy in the 1st set? Either way, Hingis eventually looked like a player who hadn't played a WTA match since October '02. Hingis, Queen of Things Coming Easily, might just realize after this that she still doesn't want to put in the work it'd take to reclaim her tennis career. ==================================== 5.Tok 2r - Hantuchova d. Kirilenko ...4-6/6-0/6-2. The road back is getting shorter and shorter. ==================================== HM-New Zealand Exhib. - Navratilova d. Seles ...6-4/6-4 and 4-6/6-2/6-4. Ah... it's like 1989 all over again. ====================================== ====================================== **LISTS** ==WTA TOP 7== 1.Lindsay Davenport (4965) 2.Serena Williams (4336) 3.Maria Sharapova (4332) 4.Amelie Mauresmo (4322) 5.Svetlana Kuznetsova (3745) 6.Anastasia Myskina (3738) 7.Elena Dementieva (3717) ==SHARAPOVA TITLES== *2002* Gunma, Japan (ITF) Vancouver, Canada (ITF) Peachtree City, USA (ITF) *2003* Tokyo Princess Cup (III) Quebec City (III) *2004* Birmingham (III) Wimbledon Seoul (IV) Tokyo Princess Cup (III) WTA Championships *2005* Tokyo TPP (I) ==MOST WTA TITLES - RUSSIANS== 9...Olga Morozova (1969-75) 9...Anastasia Myskina (1999-04) 8...Maria Sharapova (2003-05) 5...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2002-04) ==MOST WTA TITLES - ACTIVE== 45...Lindsay Davenport 33...Conchita Martinez 31...Venus Williams 26...Serena Williams 21...Kim Clijsters === (Seles-53, Hingis-40) ===================================== ===================================== **WEEK 6 PREDICTIONS** the long Backspin nightmare finally over? Sharapova's Tokyo win got the prediction corner off the hook. Ahh, if only Groenefeld had knocked off Martinez, it'd been a "miracle" 2-for-2 week. Alas, nothing comes so easily. Well, I'll give it another try this week. PARIS, FRANCE (II-GSI) 04 F: Clijsters d. Pierce 05 TOP: S.Williams/Mauresmo =========================== SF: Sharapova d. S.Williams; Dechy d. Mauresmo FINAL: Sharapova d. Dechy ...unfortunately, the presence of Mauresmo here means a potential Serena/Sharapova V is relegated to a SF match instead of a final. As the match comes closer to becoming a reality, Williams will surely be saber-rattling (or is that a bracelet?). Thing is, as Sharapova's '05 game's level climbs the ladder, Tokyo's three blown MPs showed she's still not quite to her top rung. But she nearly took out Serena in Melbourne anyway... and that was two rungs ago. If the progression continues, the Australian disappointment will be overturned in the usual Supernovian fashion. HYDERABAD, INDIA (IV-HO) 04 F: Pratt d. Kirilenko 05 TOP: Na Li/Groenefeld ======================== SF: N.Li d. Mirza; Peer d. Groenefeld FINAL: N.Li d. Peer ...I'm tempted to go with Groenefeld again, but Li should be well rested and (hopefully) ready to prove she can win outside of China. Still, I get the sneaky feeling it might be time for Peer's big tour breakthrough. I'll probably regret not picking her. All for now.

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