Monday, June 06, 2005

Wk.21/22 - Long Live the Queen

The 2005 clay court season came to a fitting close on Saturday, the only way it really could -- and should -- have... with Justine Henin-Hardenne the last woman standing.

In Roland Garros' final women's singles match, the perfect ending to JHH's comeback surge had been on the line in front of mostly-partisan fans sitting on the edge of every seat, just waiting for a reason to will one of their own (albeit by way of a few North American channels) to victory. All that was necessary for Henin-Hardenne to face off against a throng of furious French backers was an inkling that Mary Pierce was up to following up her 2000 RG title with a belated encore.

But Pierce's moment never came in a 6-1/6-1 defeat... while JHH's looks to have only just arrived, with perfect punctuality, for a spectacular encore of its own.

Henin-Hardenne's second French Open crown, the fourth slam title of her career, may have "only" raised her to #7 in the WTA rankings, but it's put her in the catbird seat of women's tennis all over again. And what's to be made of the land she surveys? Well, it's vast and saturated with talent... but, save a certain celestial occurrence dressed in a tennis dress, it's matter-of-factly conquerable. Nearly all potential rivals have a characteristic that precludes them from waging a long-term, complete and total battle with the Queen, who's just a Wimbledon title away from becoming just the sixth player in the last 30 years -- male or female -- to claim at least one title at all four grand slams.

Serena Williams is one of those five other players, but the Williams sisters' dynasty is over. These days, between Venus' mounting excuse-making, we're only treated to an occasional reminder of "what used to be" from Serena, at least whenever her body isn't breaking down or she's not too busy to bother with the sport that's given her so many options to pursue off the court. Battling Henin-Hardenne on a weekly basis hardly seems possible in 2005 and beyond.

If not a Williams, who else could challenge an in-form and healthy JHH? Late-in-career Lindsay Davenport's presence is only a short-term one at this point, though her display of will in Paris could speak well for her ability to add that one final slam title to her resume at either SW19 or Flushing Meadows before she leaves the court for good. Fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, despite her own great return to form, is still more than a shade behind JHH in the "winning edge" department (with another example coming against Davenport at Roland Garros last week), and she still must contend with the ongoing battle with her ever-more-fragile body, as well.

Most of the Horde, too, have potentially fatal flaws that will likely prevent from being a "true challenger." From Elena Dementieva's serve to Vera Zvonareva's emotions, and from Anastasia Myskina's many moods to Svetlana Kuznetsova's questionable killer instinct, laid bare by JHH's own withering assessment that the Contessova was "afraid to win" their 4th Round match up at Roland Garros (in which Kuznetsova held two match points), it's always going to be something.

Unless she's struck down again by her toughest opponent to date -- the virus -- or another player emerges from the shadows of the tour (Ana Ivo, anyone?), JHH appears poised to reclaim what once was her's... and maybe not even a Supernova can stop her.

Or can she?

In JHH's twenty-eight matches in 2005, only Maria Sharapova has managed to experience a victorious handshake at the net. That match was on a hard court, which will soon become the surface of choice in the season's 3rd Quarter. On clay, Henin-Hardenne dominated Sharapova twice in recent weeks (winning 4 & 2 in the QF of Roland Garros), but the Russian's favored grass could be where their next battleground takes place. The Queen already has managed to block Sharapova from claiming Davenport's #1 ranking in recent weeks... could she go to England next month and literally steal the honor for herself, pulling the rug out from under the teenager's feet before the Supernova can "make every shot a power shot?" Or will she get her revenge at SW19,
or maybe Arthur Ashe Stadium?

Serena vs. the Supernova was the "dream" finale of last year's Wimbledon.. how about a Queen/Supernova All-England Club battle twelve months later to determine the true order of things at the top of women's tennis? One can only hope.



1.Justine Henin-Hardenne
2.Mary Pierce
3.Nadia Petrova
4.Amelie Mauresmo
5.Lindsay Davenport
6.Patty Schnyder
7.Ana Ivanovic
8.Elena Dementieva
9.Anabel Medina Garrigues
10.Lucie Safarova

1.Nadia Petrova
2.Patty Schnyder
3.Anabel Medina Garrigues
4.Dinara Safina
5.Francesca Schiavone
6.Na Li
7.Jelena Jankovic
8.Gisela Dulko
9.Marta Domachowska
10.Jelena Kostanic

1.Nuria Llagostera-Vives
2.Virginie Razzano
3.Maria Sanchez Lorenzo
4.Zuzana Ondraskova
5.Olga Savchuk

1.Mary Pierce
2.Lindsay Davenport
3.Elena Likhovtseva
4.Virginia Ruano Pascual/Paola Suarez
5.Silvia Farina Elia

1.Ana Ivanovic
2.Lucie Safarova
3.Sesil Karatantcheva
4.Nicole Vaidisova
5.Shahar Peer
6.Johanna Larsson
7.Anna Chakvetadze
8.Shuai Peng
9.Sanja Ancic
10.Agnes Szavay

1.Anastasia Myskina
2.Serena Williams
3.Karolina Sprem
4.Claudine Schaul
5.Alicia Molik

...JHH in Charleston/Warsaw. The first two titles that laid the groundwork for the Roland Garros championship and 24-match winning streak.

...Roland Garros 4r - Davenport d. Clijsters 1-6/7-5/6-3. Clijsters blows 6-1/3-1 lead on Davenport's worst surface.

...Mary Pierce at Roland Garros

...Elena Dementieva in Fed Cup. Overcoming four match points against Francesca Schiavone, Punch-Sober pulls her defending champion Russian teammates' butts out of the fire in the 1st Round.

...Sanja Ancic. Mario's little sister won three titles and put together a 17-match winning streak.

...Roland Garros 4r - JHH d. Kuznetsova 7-6/4-6/7-5. The Contessova blows two match points at 5-3 in the 3rd set. It's the second year in a row (Myskina - '04 4th Rd.) she held match points against the eventual RG champion.

...Amelia Island QF - Farina Elia d. S.Williams 5-7/7-6 ret. SFE has wins over both Venus and Serena in 2005.

...Henin-Hardenne vs. Sharapova. Sharapova won on hard court in Miami earlier in the season, but JHH was 2-0 with a pair of easy wins on clay.

...Ashley "American Splendor" Harkleroad won two ITF doubles titles and advanced to a singles SF.

...Ana Ivanovic, just a shade away (one ranking position) from overtaking Jankovic as the top-ranked Serbian, and Sesil Karatantcheva, who Venus Williams will probably recognize the NEXT time she meets her (or maybe not... we are talking about Venus here, after all). Honorable Mention: Lucie Safarova, who was the only one of these three to actually win a title during the clay court season (actually, she did so on both the WTA & ITF circuit during the period).

...Patty Schnyder vs. JHH. Or, considering the ease with which Henin-Hardenne dispatched Schnyder in their two clay court meetings (no matter how many balls Patty shot directly at her head, or how many times she complained about JHH's shouts of "Allez!"), maybe Henin-Hardenne was the cat here... and Patty played the role of the helpless mouse the cat cruelly batted about just because it could.


S: Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Mary Pierce 6-1/6-1
D: Ruano-Pascual/Suarez d. Black/Huber
M: Hantuchova/Santoro d. Navratilova/Paes
S: Agnes Szavay d. Raluca-Ioana Olaru 6-2/6-1
D: Azarenka/Szavay d. Olaru/Rakhim

UPSET QUEENS: The French Pastries claim the honor, with the foundation built by Virginie Razzano (def. Safina), Emilie Loit (def. Frazier), Alize Cornet (def. Jidkova) and Aravane Rezai (def. Pin), then solidified by Pierce's run to the final (with three wins over Top 10 players). Runners-Up: the Spanish armada, with Maria Sanchez Lorenzo (def. Myskina), Nuria Llagostera-Vives (def. Sugiyama & Dechy) and Anabel Medina Garrigues (def. Maleeva) leading the charge.

-Monday 1st Round-
#25 Safina (lost to Razzano)
#5 Myskina (Sanchez Lorenzo)
-Tuesday 1st Round-
#23 Sugiyama (Llagostera-Vives)
#26 Suarez (Chakvetadze)

Mary Pierce, naturally.

#7 Nadia Petrova was the highest-seeded player to make the SF, out-ranking #10 JHH, #16 Likhovtseva & #21 Pierce. Petrova was the lowest-seeded top-ranked semifinalist in a slam in the Open Era (1968-present)... besting the record set last year at Roland Garros, when #6 Myskina was the top-seeded player to make it to the SF.

1)Venus Williams, after losing to teen Sesil Karatantcheva in the 3rd Round: "I'd never heard of her or seen her before the match. I think she played well, definitely. But I also felt like if I just played 10% better, you know, I'm going to win this match easily." we expect anything more (or less) of Venus these days? And, by the way, it's not as if Karatantcheva emerged from the hinterlands here. Maybe if Venus showed a little more interest in her chosen profession she wouldn't have been unaware of the Bulgarian's potential.
2)Not to be outdone, Karatantcheva easily handled her moment in thespotlight, lasting until the QF. Talking about how she was able to successfully convince Nick Bolettieri to let her play at his academy years ago, the nearly-16 girl smiled not-very-shyly and said, "Come on... who can resist me?"
3)JHH commenting on what she saw when, down 3-5 in the 3rd set and facing two match points, she looked across the net at Kuznetsova's face: "She was afraid to win the match; that was very clear."


PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT: Justine Henin-Hardenne
RISERS: Nadia Petrova (2nd week) & Francesca Schiavone (1st week)
SURPRISES: Elena Likhovtseva (2nd week) & Nuria Llagostera-Vives (1st week)
VETERANS: Mary Pierce & Virginia Ruano-Pascual (2nd week) & Lindsay Davenport (1st week)
FRESH FACES: Ana Ivanovic & Sesil Karatantcheva (1st week) & Agnes Szavay (2nd week)
DOWN: Anastasia Myskina (1st week) & Svetlana Kuznetsova (2nd week)

1.3r - Karatantcheva d. V.Williams
...6-3/1-6/6-1. Venus, meet the 2004 Roland Garros Junior champ. She's only 15, and she learned English by listening to Spice Girls albums. How old does that make you feel, Venus?
2.1r - Sanchez Lorenzo d. Myskina
...6-4/4-6/6-0. After revealing her mother's illness and her own inability to focus, the Czarina became the first defending champ to ever fall in the 1st Round.
3.3r - Ivanovic d. Mauresmo
...6-4/3-6/6-4. Ana Ivo puts Mauresmo out of her late-round misery a little earlier than usual.

1.4r - JHH d. Kuznetsova
...7-6/4-6/7-5. My, how history would be different if Kuznetsova was able to close out 4r matches in which she holds match points at Roland Garros. For one, the last two years we'd have seen different champions.
2.4r - Davenport d. Clijsters
...1-6/7-5/6-3. Gritty Lindsay. An incomplete Clijsters... take your pick whether it was the head or body that ultimately mattered more.
3.4r - Pierce d. Schnyder
...6-1/1-6/6-4. It took Pierce eleven match points to finally put Schnyder away. No word on whether she shouted "Allez!" just to tick Patty off.
4.Girls Singles F - Szavay d. Olaru
...6-2/6-1. The 16-year old Hungarian claimed the junior slam title that eluded her in Melbourne, where she lost in the final. She also claimed the girls doubles crown, teaming with Victoria Azarenka (the player that defeated her in the Oz singles final).


JANUARY: Serena Williams
FEBRUARY: Maria Sharapova
MARCH: Kim Clijsters
APRIL: Justine Henin-Hardenne
MAY: Justine Henin-Hardenne

5...Davenport (2-3)
4...Henin-Hardenne (4-0)
3...Sharapova (2-1)
3...Mauresmo (2-1)

4...Ruano Pascual
3...Stosur (1 mixed)

1 Australian Open - 2004
4 Roland Garros - 2001,2002,2004,2005
3 US Open - 2002,2003,2004

47...Davenport (2005: 2)
33...Martinez (1)
32...V.Williams (1)
26...S.Williams (1)
23...Henin-Hardenne (4)
23...Clijsters (2)

24...Henin-Hardenne - April-present
17...Clijsters - March-April
12...Sharapova - February-March
10...Pennetta - February
10...Ivanovic - January

=2005 Top 10 PLAYERS=
11-2...Davenport (+ 2-0 Fed Cup)
9-3....V.Williams (+ 2-0 Fed Cup)
7-3....Dementieva (+ 2-0 Fed Cup)

10...V.Williams (4-6)
9...S.Williams (7-2)
6...Davenport (3-3)
5...Henin-Hardenne (4-1)
5...Pierce (2-3)
4...Clijsters (0-4)
3...Capriati (3-0)
3...Martinez (1-2)
2...Dementieva (0-2)
1...Sharapova (1-0)
1...Kuznetsova (1-0)
1...Myskina (1-0)
1...Mauresmo (0-1)


**BATTLE ROYALE PREDICTIONS** the Battle Royale reaches its final stages on the grass, your friendly neighborhood Backspin predictor holds the edge over the Holy Webmaster in this extended competition, claiming both Roland Garros champs (JHH & Nadal) to Pierre Cantin's one (JHH). The updated stats:

Slam 4th Round: tied 10-10
Slam QF: Backspin leads 7-5
SF: tied 13-13
Finalists: Backspin leads 7-3
Champions: Backspin leads 4-2

**WEEK 23**
04 F: Sharapova d. Golovin
05 TOP: Sharapova/Molik
SF: Sharapova d. Golovin; Hantuchova d. Molik
FINAL: Sharapova d. Hantuchova


Well... I must admit, things ar starting to look bad after a promising start. Yes, I know that you all are aware it was something with the clay. Clearly, Todd was superior on clay... but we're back on grass and this time things will change.

SF: Sharapova d. Golovin; Molik d. Hantuchova
FINAL: Sharapova d. Molik


All for now.


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