Monday, July 18, 2005

Wk.28 - The Calm Before the "Real" Show

Snooooooorrrrrrrreeeeeeeee... ugh-hnksxx! Sorry, I dozed off there for a minute. Can you blame me? I mean, it's not as if a great deal was happening on the tour last week.

Oh, sure, there WAS a new tournament in Modena. But you usually get what you should expect from a Tier IV on red clay that takes place two weeks after the grass court season, sandwiched between Fed Cup and the start of the hard court circuit. It's sort of fitting, in a cruel way, that the final ended in a retirement due to heat illness before the 1st set was completed.

Thank goodness for Steffi Graf, though, who made her World Team Tennis debut last week. Six years after her retirement, it was comforting to see all her on-court mannerisms intact. That familiar, single-minded bouncing of the ball before her sky-high service toss. Her way of removing the perspiration from her jaw with a single swipe of her index finger. That famous forehand, with accompanying leap, and the sight of her hair momentarily defying gravity as she floats gently back down to the surface of the court. After all these years, they were all still there where she (and we) left them.

The competitive fire was still evident, too. She was supposed to play just two doubles matches for her Houston Wranglers team, but ended up playing singles, as well... and she held up pretty well in a set against the world #16 (and Roland Garros semifinalist just a few weeks ago), even if on occasion Steffi did resemble the 36-year old mom
of two that she is these days when she had to run around a tad too much during a single point.

Graf has an even more likable air on court now than she did after she lost a little of her luster in those few pre-Seles stabbing years when her former strangle-hold on the women's game loosened and finally turned her into something just shy of a mortal underdog... even before her '99 Roland Garros triumph put such a nice capper on a remarkable career (oh, and for all those Amelie's and Kim's out there looking for a single slam title, it should be noted that Steffi's last was her 22nd... ponder that number for a moment, boys and girls). Maybe it's because, thanks to the Las Vegas image-conscious boy turned wise elder statesman, Graf has never really gone away. She's turned into the neighbor you always wave at when she passes by, but never seem to talk to. From the tennis-made marriage and kids (whether either can ever someday beat Taylor Dent or not) to all those ever-present TV commercials, we see more of Steffi than a lot of the current players these days (Wonder Girl & the Debutante, are you blushing?). She's built up loads of good will without actually playing a single point.

So much so, that it's endearing when she momentarily forgets that in the WTT she's supposed to actually play a let serve rather than flick it aside with her racquet, as she did once (and almost twice) last week. Maybe it's because we know, if only for an instant in her mind, Steffi's focus was akin to being back battling Martina Hingis at Roland Garros again. And that's nice, in an odd way... it's kind of like she's finally doing a little more than waving as she goes by. Now, she's flashing a smile and wink.

And, who knows, maybe we'll even see "Graf vs. Hingis" again in the WTT. Come on, who wouldn't like to see the ol' Wranglers vs. Sportimes matchup as the "Game of the Week?"

But, really, even Steffi was just a prelude to the "real" story. You know, the anticipation of the big event coming up this week... the flash... the striking of poses (and tennis balls).

No, not the U.S. hardcourt season -- the Venus & Serena reality show!

"Venus & Serena: For Real" premieres this week on ABC Family. Are you on the edge of your seat like I am? Are you waiting with bated breath, wondering what deep dark secrets the cameras will expose? From the looks of the clips, the show will allow us into the "inner sanctum" of the Williams clan. The girls play ping pong (and Venus celebrates by jumping up and down... humph, imagine that). Serena hugs a little dog. The girls in bikinis... and by "girls" I mean Serena AND Venus, not just Serena.

Hmmm, now that I think about it, maybe it will be worth a look-see after all. You know, you can almost view Venus' Wimbledon title as part of a unique promotional campaign for the show, designed to give it a much-needed boost. Maybe all those classes and business-building skills are working even better for Venus than even she realized. Hmmm, maybe this explains serena's plight at Wimbledon, too. Nah, that's even too far out for the Williams clan... at least I think so.

Seriously, though, expect a report next week on what'll surely be an "Emmy-worthy" first episode. For real.


S: Anna Smashnova d. Tathiana Garbin 6-6 ret.
D: Beygelzimer/Jugic-Salkic d. G.Navratilova/Pastikova


PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anna Smashnova
...the Israeli turned 29 on Saturday, then won her tenth career title in her tenth career WTA final on Sunday. Not a bad weekend in Modena.
RISERS: Martina Hingis & Anna Kournikova
...ah, the Spice Girls are back. Well, not together. But still. Truly, Hingis is a WTT goddess. After last week's action, she's 6-1 in singles and 13-0 in doubles (including two mixed matches with none other than John McEnroe as her partner). Kournikova, for her part, was supposed to play a "supporting" role in the doubles match that served as Graf's WTT debut. But she turned out to be the star of the set, reminding everyone why she was once the #1-ranked doubles player in the world in a 5-2 win.
SURPRISES: Tathiana Garbin & Alexandra Stevenson
...Italy's own Garbin, 28, reached her first WTA final in Modena, but didn't get to enjoy it, retiring with heat illness at 6-6 in the 1st set against Smashnova. Still, it was her best week since upsetting Henin-Hardenne at Roland Garros in 2004. Stevenson, now 24 and ranked #835, finally made her way back to the court this weekend following her September shoulder surgery, getting a win the opening round of qualifying in Cincinnati. It's only one win, you say? What's so surprising about that? Well, considering Stevenson made her mark at the 1999 Wimbledon, where she reached the semifinals as a qualifier and shared the spotlight with fellow surprises Jelena Dokic and Mirjana Lucic, ANY win IS a big deal. When was the last time Dokic or Lucic could claim as much "progress?"
VETERAN: Elena Likhovtseva
...the Russian vet, 29, was actually 2-0 against Graf last week, defeating her in singles (5-4, after a 5-3 TB) and, along with Kournikova, in doubles (vs. Graf w/ Ansley Cargill). Sure, it's only WTT play. But Likhovtseva was 0-3 against Graf on tour, and since she's got that great 2004 hardcourt season (a title, a Tier I RU and four straight Top 20 wins) to follow up in a few weeks she'll need all the confidence she can get. Who knows, maybe she can pick up enough steam to even push her way into the Top 10 from her current #16 position.
FRESH FACE: Agnes Szavay
...the 16-year old Hungarian qualifier raced all the way to her first tour SF in Modena, upsetting Zuzana Ondraskova and #1 seed Francesca Schiavone. Considering Szavay was the junior Australian RU, Roland Garros champ and Wimbledon semifinalist, looks like she's another youngster who bears watching.
DOWN: Francesca Schiavone took a little longer than usual for her Fed Cup hangover to kick in (after her bageling of Marta Marrero, of course), but it did happen. She was the #1 seed in Modena, but fell in the QF to 16-year old junior Szavay. Ah, more evidence to add to the growing theory on why Schiavone's still searching for her first WTA title.


1.WTT - Likhovtseva (SAC) d. Graf (HOU)
...5-4(5-3). A last minute replacement in singles for Ansley Cargill, Graf nearly gave Hingis' WTT exploits a run for their money against the #16-ranked Russian. Of course, a Likhovtseva loss could never have been as eyebrow-raising as was Mark Philippoussis' to John McEnroe in WTT play last week.
2.WTT - Graf/Fish(HOU) d. Kournikova/Knowles(SAC)
...5-3. The end of Graf's long, three-set -- but just one win -- night.
3.Modena F - Smashnova d. Garbin
...6-6, ret. You'd win a few bets challenging someone to guess who has the better career record in finals, Smashnova or Sharapova. Anna's 10-0 mark just can't be beaten by anyone not named Federer.
4.Modena QF - Szavay d. Schiavone
...6-2/6-4. It's not so much the victory that's surprising as the relative ease of the win that the scoreline seems to indicate.
5.WTT - Hingis/McEnroe(NYS) d. Philippoussis/Sequera(HART)
...5-2. The Martina and Mac Attack is born! Hey, maybe McEnroe can talk Hingis into playing doubles with him at a slam, to make up for missing out on that slam title with Graf when Steffi pulled out of their SF match a ways back (and gave Johnny Mac a half-decade's worth of fodder for in-match commentary small talk).
HM--WTT - Likhovtseva/Kournikova(SAC) d. Graf/Cargill(HOU)
...5-2. Graf at her "worst" (as a doubles player). Anna at her best (ditto).



...check it out



Conchita Martinez (32, Pattaya)
Anna Smashnova (29, Modena)
Lindsay Davenport (28, Amelia Island)

[current streaks]
8 years...Venus Williams (1998-05)
7 years...Serena Williams (1999-05)
7 years...Amelie Mauresmo (1999-05)
7 years...Kim Clijsters (1999-05)
5 years...Justine Henin-H. (2001-05)
4 years...Anna Smashnova (2002-05)


==BATTLE ROYALE II...THE HARDER THE COURT, THE HARDER THE PREDICTION?== could Pierre and I NOT have picked Agnes Szavay to reach the SF at Modena last week? I mean, wasn't that just the "lock" of the season? Now, which "obvious" pick will we refuse to go public with this week? Let's see (or not see, as the case may be):

04 F: Davenport d. Zvonareva
05 TOP: Schnyder/Zvonareva
SF: Schnyder d. Bartoli; Groenefeld d. Granville
FINAL: Groenefeld d. Schnyder

...since I said two weeks ago that Groenefeld was one of the players to watch the rest of the season, I figure I'll go ahead and put the hex on her right now by hanging some expectations on her again. Come on, Anna-Lena... prove you're no Contessova!

04 F: Medina-Garrigues d. Pennetta
05 TOP: Farina Elia/Pennetta
SF: Medina-Garrigues d. Smashnova; Pennetta d. Safarova
FINAL: Pennetta d. Medina-Garrigues

...a rematch of the '04 final, but with a different result.

As for Webmaster Cantin:

SF: Jankovic d. Schnyder; Hantuchova d. Groenefeld
FINAL: Jankovic d. Hantuchova

SF: Smashnova d. Medina-Garrigues; Pennetta d. A.Bondarenko
FINAL: Pennetta d. Smashnova

...A second week, and this time it's true, the hard court season begins, and I'm confident it will be the start of something good for me. And, yeah, there is clay, too. I certainly did not forget as I predict the unthinkable to happen -- for Anna Smashnova to lose a first singles final.


All for now.


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