Monday, May 09, 2005

Wk.18 - Playing Favorite WTA BACKSPIN May 9, 2005 PLAYING FAVORITE by Todd Spiker Some early Random Spins on Roland Garros, following Berlin... There's little question now, is there? Justine Henin-Hardenne is the going-away favorite to take home her fourth career grand slam title at Roland Garros. In fact, after what Le Petit Taureau has done over the past month, any other result would be a stunning surprise. Consider... Kim Clijsters' participation in Paris is in jeopardy after her leg injury last week in Germany. And even if she turns out to be healthy enough to give things a go, it's difficult to think, "gee, that sounds just like a Roland Garros champion," when Nice Kim publicly says it might be better for her ever-more-fragile body to just skip the clay season altogether. Kim's head has always been an issue come grand slam time. When the rest of her isn't fully on board, either, it feels like a disappointment waiting to happen. And speaking of disappointments... Last year, Amelie Mauresmo swept through Berlin and Rome, then proceeded to fall in the QF in Paris. This year, she went out in the QF of Berlin. Hmmm, could Amelie be pulling the ol' switcheroo of diminished expectations that'll lead to her long-overdue grand slam title? Yeah, right. Turn "long-overdue" into "virtually impossible" and you'd be closer to reality. Tatiana Golovin is now France's best shot at grand slam glory (but not in '05... not yet). But speaking of PAST glory... Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams will be in Paris looking for their first grand slam crowns since 2000 and 2001, respectively. But, hey, it's clay -- so forget about it. Serena is back this week in Rome, though. But she needs to actually FINISH a tournament without injuring a new part of her body to be considered a leading contender for anything, let alone alone a slam on a surface that's not her favorite, don't you think? But there's one group that's found grand slam success on all surfaces... The Russians, of course. In 2004, the Horde won slam titles on clay, grass and hardcourt. But 2005 has seen much of the leading edge of the revolution stumble badly (Myskina & Zvonareva), start slowly (Kuznetsova) or prove what we already suspected -- that she's not quite the same (yet) on clay (Sharapova). Still, there's a healthy contingent of Russians who might give JHH a run for her money on the dirt. Elena Dementieva, RU in '04, returns to action in Rome this week and, if healthy, could be a major force in Paris. As could the Spanish-trained/dirt familiar Kuznetsova, who pushed eventual '04 champ Myskina to an 8-6 3rd set in the Round of 16 last year. This year, despite that nasty "jinx," could be her year... but her rather easy handling by Patty Schnyder (who was nearly bageled by JHH) last week doesn't cause "champ" to be natually stamped on the Contessova's forehead. But what about Nadia Petrova? A RG semifinalist in '03, she destroyed Mauresmo last week and took JHH to three sets in the Berlin final. But she's still without a WTA singles title in her career, and it's hard to think a slam will be her first. But if she could somehow make a breakthrough in Rome this week, the 22-year old might just be the en vogue pick for Paris. Who else is there who could conceivably challenge JHH? Well, there's defending champ Myskina. But she'd need a resurrection of biblical proportions to pull her game out of the hole she finds it in at the moment. Hard to see it happening all of a sudden, though the Czarina has been known to burn scalding hot and ice cold, depending on the day. There's Zvonareva, too, I suppose. But, despite her title in Memphis, she's played even worse than Myskina for most of the season. Hmmm... who am I forgetting? Oh, yeah. There IS some girl from Siberia/Florida who's "only 18." Name's Maria, I think. The Supernova is still in search of a #1 ranking, but clay isn't her best friend (yet). She might face Kuznetsova this week in the Rome QF, and that could be a good litmus test for both to see if they'll be able to raise their games enough to be forces in Paris. Sharapova is the only player to defeat JHH in 2005 (and the only to do so in the Queen's last eight Tier I's -- more on that later), but that was on a hardcourt. Henin-Hardenne handled her in straight sets in Berlin on the red clay. Which puts us back where we started... at Henin-Hardenne. She's won three straight titles, and 17 consecutive matches. She's due for a brief rest now, so the Queen will arrive in Paris fit and ready to return to her pedestal. Sharapova had better grab #1 before Roland Garros gets here... or else she might have a longer wait (and tougher battle) to get there than she ever imagined just a single week ago. ====================================== ====================================== **WEEK 18** BERLIN, GERMANY (I-Red Clay) S: Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Nadia Petrova 6-3/4-6/6-3 D: Likhovtseva/Myskina d. Black/Huber -------------------------------------- RABAT, MOROCCO (IV-Red Clay) S: Nuria Llagostera-Vives d. Jie Zheng 6-4/6-2 D: Loit/Strycova d. Llagostera-Vives/Dominguez-Lino **PLAYER AWARDS** PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Justine Henin-Hardenne ...Whew! Now we realize what we missed most of last year. Berlin was JHH's seventh title in her last eight Tier I events, during which she's put together a remarkable 40-1 record. She's the first woman to three titles in '05, and the aura is back in full force. The best news for the rest of the field is that she's skipping Rome. ====================================== RISERS: Nadia Petrova & Jelena Jankovic ...Backspin likes the all-around appeal of the Supernova, but it's Petrova's varied game that is often the most entertaining of the Russians' to watch. Problem is, she usually craps out early enough to keep most people from watching her play. Not in Berlin, though. Last week she dialed in to her better impulses and played great tennis, demolishing Mauresmo and outlasting Jankovic along the way. She pushed JHH to three sets in the final, but still failed to get her initial WTA title in her third career final. If she could just break through somewhere, she could be this year's version of Kuznetsova '04. If it happens this week in Rome, Paris could even be the site of her first big star turn. Jankovic, meanwhile, fell victim to Petrova's surge in the SF, but wins over Flavia Pennetta and Elena Bovina showed that she's not quite ready to cede the "best Serb" title to Ana Ivanovic (who lost in the 1st Round, by the way). But can she keep up the momentum this week in Rome, where Serena could be in her path? ====================================== SURPRISES: Nuria Llagostera-Vives & Jelena Dokic ...24-year old Spaniard Llagostera-Vives, ranked #57, finally was able to string together the kind of tennis she occasionally shows in single matches last week in Rabat. She knocked off Arantxa Parra-Santonja and defending champ Emilie Loit before a surprisingly-easy straight sets win over Jie Zheng for her first career WTA crown. Before Morocco, Dokic hadn't strung together four straight wins in eighteen months (though she did do something even more difficult during that time -- she lost nine in a row, and fell from the Top 20 to #450), but she qualified and got a 1st Round win last week. She even took #1 seed Na Li to three sets in the 2nd Round. The Debutante isn't back yet, but at least she's showing signs of life. ====================================== VETERAN: Elena Likhovtseva ...the 29-year old Russian won the Berlin doubles title with Vera Zvonareva, her second Tier I doubles title this year. She also won Tokyo with Janette Husarova. ====================================== FRESH FACE: Maria Kirilenko ...the Supernovette's clay win over Fabiola Zuluaga and three-set loss to JHH gets her the honor this week. ====================================== DOWN: Vera Zvonareva & Anastasia Myskina ...these two seem to have taken up residence in this category. Even a doubles titles couldn't erase the fact that Vera the Almost's singles results are getting even worse. This time she lost her first Berlin match to Kveta Peschke 6-2/6-0. It was her fourth straight loss. Meanwhile, the Czarina was taken out by Julia Schruff, who'd lost in an opening round qualifying match less than a week before. Myskina is 9-9 on the season, and her mustering up something -- anything -- for her Roland Garros defense is becoming more and more difficult to fathom. **MATCHES** 1.Berlin F -- JHH d. Petrova ...6-3/4-6/6-3. It's such a great stat that it bears repeating: in her last eight Tier I events, JHH is 40-1 with seven titles! ====================================== 2,Rabat F -- Llagostera-Vives d. Zheng ...6-4/6-2. One might have thought that Zheng would have been inspired to play a great match here for injured fellow Cookie Na Li, who went out with an ankle injury in the 1st set of their SF matchup, but the opposite appears to have been the case. ====================================== 3.Berlin 2r -- Peschke d. Zvonareva ...6-2/6-0. Yikes! ====================================== 4.Berlin 2r -- Schruff d. Myskina ...6-2/1-6/6-4. Double yikes! ====================================== 5.Berlin QF -- JHH d. Sharapova ...6-2/6-4. Hey, she's only 18, right? Really, Maria. You've got to hire someone to feed you some better press conference lines. It's not like you don't have the extra cash, eh? ====================================== 6.Berlin QF -- Petrova d. Mauresmo ...6-2/6-3. Pop goes the balloon on Mauresmo's RG expectations. Or at least it would have had there been any Mauresmo RG expecatations. ====================================== 7.Berlin 3r -- Schnyder d. Clijsters ...6-7/6-5 ret. At least it wasn't her wrist. ====================================== 8.Berlin 3r -- JHH d. Peschke ...4-6/6-4/6-2. This was JHH's third straight three-setter in Berlin, with all nine sets coming in a span of just over 24 hours. ====================================== 9.Berlin SF -- JHH d. Schnyder ...6-0/6-1. A week ago, Patty was ticked that Justine shouted "Allez!" too much. Last week, she seemed to try to smack the Queen in the face with a shot rather than go for an open court. Look at the score, Patty. Allez, indeed. ====================================== 10.Berlin 1r -- Safina d. Ivanovic ...6-1/6-4. Ana Ivo's never an easy out. Except for this time, I guess. ====================================== HM- Rabat SF -- Zheng d. N.Li ...3-3 ret. Li played great the last two weeks, but has nothing but a bad ankle to show for it. Zheng's still the only Chinese woman with a title this season. ====================================== ====================================== **LISTS** ==MOST SINGLES TITLES - 2005== 3...Justine Henin-Hardenne 2...Lindsay Davenport 2...Maria Sharapova 2...Kim Clijsters 2...Flavia Pennetta ==MOST WTA FINALS== 5...Davenport (2-3) 3...Henin-Hardenne (3-0) 3...Sharapova (2-1) ==MOST CONSECUTIVE TITLES== 3...Henin-Hardenne (April/May)# 2...Pennetta (February) 2...Clijsters (March) #--active streak ==MOST SINGLES TITLES - 2004/05== 9...Davenport (7/2) 8...Henin-Hardenne (5/3) 7...Sharapova (5/2) ==TIER I TITLES - ACTIVE== 10...Davenport 9....Martinez 8....Henin-Hardenne 7....S.Williams ==TIER I TITLES - 2005== 2...Henin-Hardenne (Charleston/Berlin) 2...Clijsters (Indian Wells/Miami) 1...Sharapova (Tokyo) ==2005 FIRST-TIME CHAMPIONS== JAN - Jie Zheng (Hobart, age 21) JAN - Ana Ivanovic (Canberra, age 17) FEB - Sania Mirza (Hyderabad, age 18) APR - Lucie Safarova (Estoril, age 18) MAY - Nuria Llagostera-Vives (Rabat, age 24) ==CONSECUTIVE MATCH WINS - 2005== 17...Henin-Hardenne (April-current)# 17...Clijsters (March-April) 12...Sharapova (February-March) ====================================== ====================================== **WEEK 19 - BATTLE ROYALE, ROUND 2** ...Round 1 of the Backspin Battle Royale went to yours truly by a resounding KO. I correctly picked 5/8 semifinalists to the Holy Webmaster's 4/8. Pierre had zero finalists correct, but I actually got all four (wonders truly do never cease). Alas, I didn't get both champions, though. Only JHH came through for me (shame on you, Jie!). But, hey, it's a good week anyhow. Now, onto Round 2: ROME, ITALY (Tier I-Red Clay) 04 F: Mauresmo d. Capriati 05 TOP: Sharapova/Mauresmo ============================= SF: Kuznetsova d. Dementieva; Petrova d. Jankovic FINAL: Kuznetsova d. Petrova ...Petrova's hot on the clay. Kuznetsova and Dementieva need to be to try to have a shot at JHH in Paris. Conspicuously absent: Serena and the Supernova. PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (Tier IV-Red Clay) 05 TOP: Safina/Koukalova =============================== SF: Benesova d. Loit; Kostanic d. Parra FINAL: Benesova d. Kostanic ...fittingly, a Czech Maiden reigns supreme? Now, for "the other side": =============================
SF: Sharapova d. Schnyder; S.Williams d. Petrova
FINAL: S.Williams d. Sharapova

SF: Benesova d. Llagostera-Vives; Kostanic d. Koukalova
FINAL: Kostanic d. Benesova

...Please note: Ok, I must congratulate Todd on some great picks last week. He outplayed me badley, but it was only a clay warmup. This is where things get serious as we slowly approach the bigger challenge -- The French Open. Like the players themselves, it is only the grand slams where performances can be judged. The other events can merely be seen as a good way to prepare! So again... bust of luck, Todd. I hope you enjoyed your luck this time.


May the better predictor win. (And by that, I mean, "Please be wrong, Holy Webmaster"... unless, of course, we picked the same winners again.) All for now.


Post a Comment

<< Home