Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wk.37-Twice as Nice

What do you get a horde of Russians who have everything, including a Fed Cup title? How about a second consecutive Fed Cup title?

Thanks in large part to Elena Dementieva, that's precisely what the Horde got this weekend.

But first, it's time to kick-off the "Push for the P.O.Y." Yes, as the 4th Quarter is now officially underway, the nominees for Backspin's Player of the Year are set to battle it out down the stretch. For 2005, there are six players in the running... all of which have either held the #1 ranking or won grand slams this season.

The contenders, in current order, and the up-to-date "pros" for and "cons" against their candidacy:

...Killer Kim leads the tour in the majority of the top categories: titles (7), wins (58), Tier I crowns (3) and record in finals (7-0). The U.S. Open champ leads the 2005 Points Race, and has put together two separate 17-match winning streaks (the second of which is still alive). In the "Big 6" -- the Belgians, Williams sisters, Davenport and Sharapova -- "round robin" of matches in '05 she holds a 5-3 record. She's "only" #3 in the current rankings (but with no 4Q points to defend she'll be challenging for #1 by the end of the year), and failed to reach the QF at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But, let's be serious, the POY is her's to lose at this point.
...the Roland Garros champ has returned to the Top 5, won two Tier I titles, put up a 34-4 record (including a season-best 24-match winning streak) and holds a 3-2 "Big 6" mark. But she was dumped out of Wimbledon in the 1st Round, and the U.S. in the 4th. She's played just ten matches (going 7-3) since Paris, and hasn't had much of a real presence on the tour for quite a few months now. She likely needs to win the WTA Championship to have a shot at POY.
...okay, she doesn't REALLY have a shot at POY. But she'll be situated in the #3-#4 range once the dust settles. The doubles #1 has won a tour-best five titles in '05, including Roland Garros and three Tier I's. Not only that, in the season Points Race, she's not only a member of the #2 team (with Paola Suarez), but also the #4 pairing (with Conchita Martinez). First, though, she needs to hold off Cara Black in the battle for Doubles #1.
...the Wimbledon champ is 5-4 in "Big 6" competition, but she's just 33-9 in season action, didn't reach a slam QF outside of SW19 and has only won one other title on the season (a Tier III in Istanbul). Plus, her classless habit of excuse-making (such as losing because her opponent "played so bad") -- even after winning Wimbledon -- makes a POY honor hard to swallow. But if she wins the WTA Championship, she'll be knocking on the door simply because of the huge amount of the 2005 spotlight she will have managed to have shone on her.
...despite becoming the first Russian #1, the Supernova's season has been one full of "near misses." She's 48-8 and won three titles, but after winning Wimbledon in '04 her three '05 slam SF appearances sort of make this year appear to be a transitionary one for her as she's sought to get used to her latest growth spurt. Her 4-5 record in SF, and 3-7 "Big 6" mark don't really measure up for the 2005 Backspin POY, either. Still, she has the best chance to put pressure on Clijsters in the race... though she'll need another Tier I and to defend her WTA Championship crown to do it. Don't put it past her.
...she's been #1 for most of the season, has four titles, two slam RU, an 8-0 SF record, and double-bagel win over Sharapova in her "plus" column. A 4-4 record in finals, and 4-5 "Big 6" mark in the "minus" one. Even if she regains the top ranking soon (it won't be next Monday, though, after withdrawing from Beijing), it's hard to do battle for POY when every other serious candidate has either a slam or Tier I crown to her credit, and you have zero of either.

Even though the "race" doesn't look particularly close in mid-September, it could heat up considerably very soon... say starting this week, when the possibility of a #1 vs. #2 battle looms in the Beijing final.



S: Lindsay Davenport d. Francesca Schiavone 6-2/6-4
D: Groenefeld/Shaughnessy d. Yan/Zheng
Russia def. France 3-2
SF: NY Sportimes d. Boston 25-7; Newport Beach d. Sacramento 22-14
FINAL: NY Sportimes d. Newport Beach 21-18


PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Elena Dementieva 2004, it was the Czarina who led the Russians to their first ever Fed Cup crown. All this season, it's been Punch-Sober who's led the way. She did it again in Paris in the Fed Cup final against France. She opened with a three-set win over Mary Pierce, some nice revenge for her U.S. Open SF loss. Then, after Myskina lost to Amelie Mauresmo, it was Dementieva to the rescue again. She downed Mauresmo in three sets, as well. After Myskina blew a 6-4/4-1 lead in what could have been the title-clinching match, Dementieva rose to the occasion one final time. With Dinara Safina, yet another three-set triumph over Mauresmo/Pierce closed out the Russians' title defense. All hail Team Russia. All hail Elena.
RISER: Francesca Schiavone
...the 25-year old Italian still hasn't won a WTA title (she's 0-3 in finals), but she got close once again in Bali. After defeating Flavia Pennetta, she outlasted Patty Schnyder (who retired with heat illness) in the SF before losing to Lindsay Davenport in the final.
SURPRISES: The Bondarenko sisters
...well, two of them, at least. Alyona upset both Yoon-Jeong Cho and Alicia Molik in Bali; while Kateryna won her singles match over Nicole Vaidisova in the WTT SF to lead her Newport Beach club to an upset over Sacramento.
VETERANS: Lindsay Davenport & Martina Hingis
...Davenport's title in Bali was her fourth of the season, and 49th in her career. Hingis sailed through the WTT playoffs just as she did the regular season. Her pristine weekend record, 2-0 in singles and 4-0 in doubles sets, upped her 2005 WTT mark to a combined 25-1. After providing 15 of her champion Sportimes' 21 points in the final, she was fittingly named Playoff MVP.
FRESH FACE: Ekaterina Bychkova
...her U.S. Open upset of Svetlana Kuznetsova carried over to Bali, as Bychkova knocked off fellow Flushing Meadows headline-maker Sania Mirza in the 1st Round by a 6-3/6-2 score.
DOWN: Sania Mirza
...sorry, Princess. But after her U.S. Open Round of 16 run, Mirza had to be disappointed to lose her first match in Bali. But have no fear. She has a chance to turn this occurrence right on its ear this week, as she'll no doubt be the raging crowd favorite in the WTA's inaugural tour stop in Kolkata, India. Could we be about to see a bit of "divine intervention?" My, fatwah or no fatwah, what would the clerics say about that?


1.Fed Cup F Match #5 - Dementieva/Safina d. Mauresmo/Pierce
...6-4/1-6/6-3. Russia wins 3-2, keeping the Russian Revolution going strong.
2.Bali F - Davenport d. Schiavone
...6-2/6-4. With Sharapova on the other side of the draw, and Venus in her half, Davenport had a chance to regain the #1 ranking this week in Beijing, but she withdrew with a "back strain" after four straight weeks of action. Don't you love it when the "truth" isn't really the truth? A smart move by Davenport, though.
3.WTT SF - Hingis (NYS) d. Navratilova (Boston)
...5-2. The last time these two met in WTT action, Hingis won 5-0. Meanwhile, while Navratilova played here, Anna-Lena Groenefeld won a doubles title with Meghann Shaughnessy in Bali and moved into the doubles Top 10 for the first time.
4.Fed Cup F Match #1 - Dementieva d. Pierce
...7-6/2-6/6-1. Finally, Punch-Sober did what she should have done in New York -- rather than gripe about Pierce's injury time-out AFTER the match, she decided to take out her frustration DURING it... at Pierce's expense.
5.Bali 1r -Molik d. Diaz Oliva
...7-6/6-3. Finally, The Steamer gets a win. She has a shot at another over MDO in the Beijing 1st Round.


==MOST 2005 TITLES==

57...Clijsters (57-6)
50...Davenport (50-8)
48...Sharapova (48-8)
48...Schnyder (48-17)
45...Mauresmo (45-13)

167...Martina Navratilova
154...Chris Evert
107...Steffi Graf
92....Margaret Court
68....Evonne Goolagong
67....Billie Jean King
55....Virginia Wade
53....Monica Seles
40....Martina Hingis


1st Round - def. Italy 4-1
SF - def. USA 4-1
Final - def. France 3-2

Martina Navratilova
Billie Jean King
Jimmy Connors
Brian MacPhie



...go to to bid on items donated by some of your favorite players, with the auction proceeds going to help the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.



...well, the Backspin predictions had a great 3-for-3 weekend (thanks Martina, Lindsay & Elena!), running the season "champion total" to 15. With around 17 events left on the schedule, there's still a shot to reach the "magic" number of 20. It wouldn't be the 25 or 27 of the past two seasons, but after that horrific 1-for-15 start in the 1Q, it's not too bad.

Unfortunately, my great weekend won't count in the decisive Battle Royale 3 competition with Pierre Cantin. Hmmm... maybe he knew something? Anyway, the fight for "Backspin/Tennisrulz 2005 Champ" now enters its final phase...

BEIJING, CHINA (II-Hard Outdoor)
04 F: S.Williams d. Kuznetsova
05 TOP: Sharapova/Davenport(w/d)
SF: Sharapova d. S.Williams (for ALG, who moved to Davenport's spot in draw); V.Williams d. Groenefeld (moving from top half SF pick to bottom)
FINAL: Sharapova d. V.Williams

...the Supernova is great in Asia, having won four of her ten career titles there.

KOLKATA, INDIA (III-Greenset Indoor)
05 TOP: Myskina/Likhovtseva
SF: Myskina d. Camerin; Mirza d. Likhovtseva
FINAL: Myskina d. Mirza'll be a tough turnaround for Myskina to go from the Fed Cup final in Paris to a Tier III in India, and Mirza will be sure to have a huge dose of fan support (she won in Hyderabad in February). Of course, all of this depends on both avoiding being bopped on the head by falling debris. Have you seen the reports about the site, here and here?

05 TOP: Farina Elia/Medina Garrigues
SF: Benesova d. Mamic; Srebotnik d. Kostanic
FINAL: Srebotnik d. Benesova

...home (country) cooking for Srebotnik.

As for Pierre:

Well everyone, I have to admit, I was not able to get my predictions to Todd in time for his last edition of Backspin, so my fault, sorry!! Anyway, I'm now ready to make a last run for the year, hopefully this post-US Open will bring me more luck:)


SF: Sharapova def. S.Williams, V.Williams def. Molik (replacing Davenport)
F: Sharapova def. V.Williams


SF: Myskina def. Ruano-Pascual, Likhovtseva def. Mirza
F: Likhovtseva def. Myskina


SF: Koukalova def Farina-Elia, Medina-Garrigues def. Daniilidou
F: Koukalova def. Medina-Garrigues


Look for the 3Q/Fed Cup Quiz to go up on The Backspin Quiz Page on Monday.

All for now.


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