Monday, February 21, 2005

Wk.7 - Random Spins... WTA BACKSPIN February 21, 2005

Week 7 of 2005... it could turn out to be a transforming moment in the seasons of many current (and former) top players. Or maybe not... at this point, who can tell? Still, it's worth a look to see which players managed to make the headlines for all the good reasons:

Kim Clijsters -- Is the Almost Mrs. Hewitt back, for real? FilaKim opened her season in impressive fashion last week in Antwerp, one year after admitting to getting goose pimples after winning the title, her first WTA championship in her home country. She ultimately went down quickly to Venus Williams in the QF, but wins over Jelena Kostanic (good, but also expected) and Nadia Petrova (nice, especially the 6-1 3rd set) showed that Clijsters could become an immediate threat again as long as her troubling wrist holds up. Now, we're just waiting for the return of Queen Justine and then the tour can really start popping again... and maybe the faux #1 player will finally be forced to vacate the spot.

Vera Zvonareva -- Is she ready to finally become a full-fledged member of the Horde's ruling class? Vera the Almost has suffered through an extremely slow start to her '05 season, but finally shifted her game into gear in defending last year's title in Memphis last week. Maybe she'll take off from here, but as of now she's not ready to shed the "Almost" moniker.

Alica Molik -- The Aussie Steamer's SF run in Antwerp moved her up to #9 in the ranking, a new career high. Also, at #11 in doubles (just 20 points behind #10 Lisa Raymond), she's poised to join Svetlana Kuznetsova as the only players currently ranked in the Top 10 in both disciplines. Red Clay -- No, ol' Red isn't the latest umpire to make a match-turning mistake. But, as this week's season-christening results in Bogota displayed, all bets are off when it comes to tennis' messiest surface. Come now, who actually figured that the semifinals would include the world #193 (Lourdes Dominguez-Lino) and a player (Clarisa Fernandez) who hadn't won a match in nineteen months? Sure, it'd be no surprise that a Spaniard would go all the way to a clay final, but LDL? She'd never made it past a WTA QF until last week (and THAT previous QF result was all the way back in '02), and needed an 8-6 3rd set TB win in the qualifying finals to even make it into the main draw. Still, she knocked off hometown favorite and three-time defending champ Fabiola Zuluaga in two TB sets in the SF. Ah, don't you just love the clay. (Answer, from Backspin's POV, at least: not really.)

Amelie Mauresmo -- Her Antwerp title run included her second appearance in a final in the past two weeks (the third woman to do that this season, she's the only one not to go 0-2), and she'll have a shot at three in a row this week in Doha. Of more note, though, was the actual, honest-to-goodness spine she showed in coming from behind to defeat Venus Williams in the final. She won the last three games of the 2nd set, then the last four in the 3rd to overcome one break deficits in both. Such fortitude would be something to truly cheer about... if it'd been shown in Melbourne, Paris, SW19 or Flushing Meadows, that is.

Venus Williams -- Does Venus really WANT it now, or was last week in Belgium just a brief glimpse of what USED to be? Her easy win over Clijsters and three-set triumph over Anastasia Myskina speaks well of her desire... but then came the final. She served at 5-4 in the 2nd set against Mauresmo, but lost the set, then led 4-2 in the 3rd and didn't win another game. Afterward, she complained of a problem with the same stomach muscle that kept her out for six months in 2003. I'll pause here while you all express SHOCK that a Williams sister would say she was injured (or ill, or had a headache, etc.) after losing a match that she should have wrapped up in straight sets. Hard to believe, huh? I'll bet you didn't see THAT coming from Venus. Yeah, right.

Maria Sharapova -- Okay, I know she didn't even play last week. But now she's back in action in Doha, and there's no way to put a negative spin on that. In fact, it might even mean that I could get a champion prediction CORRECT this week. But, wouldn't you know it, if she does win I won't get "official credit" for the pick. I'd explain here, but then you may not stick around until the end of this column to find out what I'm talking about.

S: Amelie Mauresmo d. Venus Williams 4-6/7-5/6-4
D: Black/Callens d. Medina-Garrigues/Safina
S: Vera Zvonareva d. Meghann Shaughnessy 7-6/6-2
D: Saeki/Yoshida d. Granville/Spears
S: Flavia Pennetta d. Lourdes Domnguez-Lino 7-6/6-4
D: Gagliardi/Pisnik d. Kurhajcova/Strycova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Amelie Mauresmo
...after showing some rare chutzpah, Mauresmo's just 111 points behind Davenport for the #1 ranking. But she's already said the top spot isn't her main concern.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva & Flavia Pennetta
...Zvonareva was the third Russian to win a WTA title this month, claiming her third career trophy by repeating in Memphis. Maybe more psychologically pleasing, though, could have been the settling-the-score SF victory over Evgenia Linetskaya. Pennetta opened the red clay year in Bogota with her second career WTA title, and heads to Acapulco this week with momentum and a #1 seeding.
SURPRISES: Lourdes Dominguez-Lino & Clarisa Fernandez
...LDL, 23, barely qualified in Bogota, but rode the high of her 8-6 3rd set TB win to get into the main draw and lasted all the way to the final after popping the bubble of hometown heroine Zuluaga in the SF. Her previous best WTA result was a QF in Estoril in '02. Also 23, one-time Roland Garros semifinalist ('02) Fernandez got her first wins in nineteen months in her own Bogota run to the SF, knocking off Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Emilie Loit to get there.
VETERAN: Els Callens 34, Callens' home country doubles title (w/ Cara Black) in Antwerp made her the oldest woman to win a WTA title this season... until Martina Navratilova finally gets another one, that is.
FRESH FACES: Nicole Vaidisova & Jamea Jackson
...Vaidisova didn't quite make the Memphis final, but her SF defeat at the hands of Meghann Shaughnessy was the unfortunate result of being on the short end of a great fight. Shaughnessy won in straight sets, but only after twin tie-breaks that ended with 10-8 and 8-6 scorelines. Also in Memphis, American Jackson made the QF after knocking off players from both ends of the age spectrum -- 32-year old #1 seed Amy Frazier and 15-year old Sesil Karatantcheva.
DOWN: Karolina Sprem
...another 1st round loss. This time in Antwerp. This time to Russian teen Anna Chakvetadze. What is it about a player's proximity to a Bikic brother and 1st round exits?

Fabiola Zuluaga's attempt to win a fourth straight title in Bogota was shut down by Lourdes Dominguez-Lino in the semifinals. With Zuluaga's loss, which player now sports the current longest-running streak as the champion of a single event?
a.Maria Sharapova (Tokyo AIG)
b.Serena Williams (Miami)
c.Justine Henin-Hardenne (Dubai)

1.Ant F--Mauresmo d. V.Williams
...4-6/7-5/6-4. Wonder if Venus would have mentioned her stomach if she'd won?
2.Ant 2r--Clijsters d. Petrova
...7-5/6-7/6-1. Hope this is a good sign. Backspin wants Kim back... if only to have the "pleasure" of kicking her around again.
3.Bog SF--Dominguez-Lino d. Zuluaga
...7-6/7-6. Talk about coming from nowhere.
4.Memph F--Zvonareva d. Shaughnessy
...7-6/6-2. When Zvonareva defeated Raymond in the '04 final, she had to survive match points against to do it in one of the best matches of the '04 season. This year it was a little easier.
5.Ant 1r--Golovin d. Safina
...6-4/6-7/6-3. Vengeance is the Frussian Pastry's. This little matchup isn't exactly Serena vs. The Supernova, but it has potential.
6.Bog F--Pennetta d. Dominguez-Lino
...7-6/6-4. If LDL had won, at #193, she'd been the fifth lowest-ranked player to ever win a WTA title.
7.Memph SF--Shaughnessy d. Vaidisova
...7-6/7-6. It took the Shillelagh five MP to finally put the Darthette away, in just about the closest straight set match you're gonna find.
8.Memph SF--Zvonareva d. Linetskaya
...6-4/6-1. Call it even now, Evgenia.
9.Ant 1r--Clijsters d. Kostanic
...6-2/6-3. Did Kim get goose pimples after this one? Hey, just knowing Hewitt wasn't waiting for her back in the room was probably enough to make her smile, right?
10.Ant SF--V.Williams d. Myskina
...6-3/3-6/6-3. Still waiting for the Czarina to arrive in '05.

[as of February 21]
377...Steffi Graf
331...Martina Navratilova
262...Chris Evert
209...Martina Hingis
178...Monica Seles
57....Lindsay Davenport (current)
57....Serena Williams
46....Justine Henin-Hardenne

**MOST SINGLES TITLES - last 2 years**
7...Davenport (7/0)
6...Mauresmo (5/1)
6...Sharapova (5/1)

Venus Williams (1998-04)
Serena Williams (1999-05)
Amelie Mauresmo (1999-05)
Kim Clijsters (1999-04)
Justine Henin-Hardenne (2001-04)

5...USA (1 win)
3...Russia (3 wins)
3...Australia (1 win)


B.Serena Williams. Serena's three-year run in Miami is now the tour's current long-running reign. This week, though, Myskina will attempt to stretch her Doha streak to three, before Serena can increase her title-winning Florida run to four next month. Here's the list of the WTA's standing championship streaks:

==3 years==
Serena Williams (Miami 2002-04)
==2 years==
Anastasia Myskina (Doha 2003-04)
Justine Henin-H. (Dubai 2003-04)
Maria Sharapova (Tokyo AIG 2003-04)
Anastasia Myskina (Moscow 2003-04)
Amelie Mauresmo (Philadelphia 2003-04)
Vera Zvonareva (Memphis 2004-05)


...for a while there last week, the Backspin picks were looking good. I had 9/12 seminalists picked correctly, and all six finalists were alive. Then Zuluaga lost to #193, Vaidisova lost in two TBs, and Myskina went down in three sets. So much for that. Pardon me if I feel a little punchy after the experience. So, to alleviate a little of the pressure, head honcho Cantin steps in this week to give his take on the Week 8 tournaments:

(take it, Pierre)

SF: Mauresmo def. Molik
...Ah, Alicia has been playing well this year and I think she will keep up the momentum. But running into an Amelie Mauresmo with renewed confidence will prove too much to handle for Alicia. She'll go down in a tight match!

SF: Sharapova def. Myskina
...This would be something! Clearly, these two players have a lot to prove, but while Myskina is still not at full speed, Sharapova looks like she's ready to go. And although Myskina does enjoy success indoors, if you think about it, Maria's game is a better fit.

FINAL: Sharapova def. Mauresmo
...Big occasion! This would be a good test for Maria. Can she handle the spins of Mauresmo? Actually, I think she will! I really think Maria's game has improved in 2005. Also consider that Amelie did not have much time to rest between her win in Belgium, so I think Maria will win this one!


SF: Pennetta d. Pin
...The French scrambler could have a good tournament in Mexico as the clay season really kicks in! I think she'll do well until she goes up against the much improved Italian Flavia Pennetta!

SF: Sanchez-Lorenzo d. Loit
...If the Spaniard can get things together, she has a shot in this weak part of the draw.

FINAL: Pennetta def. Sanchez-Lorenzo
...Well, this could be a good match. I guess Maria's movement would be a difference maker as she won't be able to cover as much ground.

(okay, I'm back now)

...of course, as it turned out, Pierre's picks were mirror images of mine (oddly enough, even those of Pin and MSL). So, either he'll go down in flames, too, or, since he'll have his name "on the books," if he/we go 2-for-2 we'll really know that the tennis gods are angry with me this season.

Next week, February awards.

All for now.


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