Monday, September 26, 2005

Wk.38-Tales of Two Russians

Quick! Who's the oldest of the two Russian Marias, Sharapova or Kirilenko?

If you said Sharapova, you'd be dead wrong. Kirilenko's the senior Hordette, by about three months... though you'd never know it by reputation, not to mention accomplishment. So far, at least.

While the Supernova has risen to heights of universal proportions, her Russian friend (one of the few, considering the Spartaks' less-than-conciliatory comments of last season?) has seemed stuck in proverbial neutral, carrying with her the label of "great promise" but not quite being able to make a mark substantial enough to stake a legitimate claim for position in the Horde's wild title rush of the past two seasons. In Beijing last week, with the "help" of Sharapova, the would-be Supernovette finally strung together enough victories to rise to the surface of the deep pool of Russian talent.

As it turned out, the "other" Maria was the winner of the "it-had-to-be-someone" contest that took place in the shadow of the Forbidden City, where at times it seemed that the biggest battle of the week was for the title of the quickest to beat a hasty retreat out of town. Lindsay Davenport skipped the festivities altogether with her "injured" back after winning in Bali, while Serena Williams (a 2nd Round loss, while still struggling with that knee), Venus (pulled out of her QF match with her own hurt knee) and Sharapova (who retired in the 2nd set of her SF match with Kirilenko because of her lingering chest injury) all ducked out early while setting up appointments with their trainers.

In the final, the final two players left standing were Kirilenko and Backspin's Girl Friday Anna-Lena Groenefeld, facing off with the winner set to claim her first career WTA title. With ease, it was Kirilenko who won the right to raise her initial tour-sponsored trophy.

And so begins the rest of her career.

S: Maria Kirilenko d. Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-3/6-4
D: Llagostera-Vives/Vento-Kabchi d. Yan/Zheng
S: Anastasia Myskina d. Karolina Sprem 6-2/6-2
D: Likhovtseva/Myskina d. N.Uberoi/S.Uberoi
S: Klara Koukalova d. Katarina Srebotnik 6-2/4-6/6-3
D: Medina-Garrigues/Vinci d. Kostanic/Srebotnik


PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Anastasia Myskina
...for once, Maria Kirilenko wasn't the "other" Russian in question (or maybe she was, since the Czarina is the POW for Week 38). In the land of Mirza... err, I mean Kolkata, India... Myskina pulled a rare feat -- she made the fact that a former grand slam champion won a Tier III title a moment to rejoice. Geez, it's been a long year for Myskina. From her mother's illness, that lawsuit and her own inability to focus on the court in the face of it all, 2005 has seemed to be a never-ending nightmare. But something happened after she failed to defend her Roland Garros title. After standing at 9-10 in WTA matches after Paris, it's been as if a whole new Czarina has come out on the other end of the darkness. The numbers don't lie. She's 18-5 on tour since the end of the clay season, was part of the Russians' Fed Cup defense (she didn't exactly cover herself in glory there, but she surely filled her roll of "moral support provider"), and then this weekend swept the singles & doubles to win her first title since taking Moscow last October. She's back within shouting distance of the Top 10 (she's still #12, but is now capable of leapfrogging Schnyder & Serena soon), and her tenth career title ties her with Sharapova for the most ever by a Russian woman. Hmmm, says here that Moscow will be coming up again soon... along with the chance to turn her '05 nightmare into a story with a happy ending. So far, so good.
RISERS: Klara Koukalova & Anna-Lena Groenefeld
...Czech Maiden Koukalova won in Portoroz, Slovenia, taking out Slovenia's own Katarina Srebbotnik in the final to claim her second title this season. ALG moved into Davenport's spot in the Beijing draw and made the most of it, defeating Shuai Peng, Ai Sugiyama & Marta Domachowska before finally falling to Kirilenko in the final. She's now up to a career-high #23.
SURPRISES: Karolina Sprem & Vanessa Henke
...Croatia's Sprem is still just 20 years old, though her upset of Venus at Wimbledon the year before Williams won the title there this past July seems like a lifetime ago by now. Sprem had fallen all the way to #81 before finally reaching the Kolkata final this weekend, her first since Strasbourg in '03. She didn't put up much of a fight against Myskina, but why quibble with a good week? Henke, 24, started the week by upsetting #1-seed Silvia Farina Elia in Portoroz and carred the momentum all the way the first career WTA SF for the world-#172 German.
VETERAN: Elena Likhovtseva
...Likhovtseva might have lost to Sprem in the Kolkata SF, but she went on to take the doubles with Myskina. It was the 30-year old's fifth doubles title of the year, tying her for the most on tour in '05.
FRESH FACES: Maria Kirilenko & Tiantian Sun Sharapova (Tokyo '03), Kirilenko claimed her first career title in Asia. The now #28-ranked 18-year old is a ways from following in the Supernova's other footsteps, though. Sun has been getting some nice victories lately, but none come close to matching her win in the Beijing QF over Serena. Even if Serena is a shadow of her former self at the moment, it's still something to build on.
DOWN: Serena & Venus Williams
...knees! Serena's is still hurt, as she went down in her first Beijing match to Sun. Venus' is newly injured, forcing her to withdraw from her QF match with Domachowska in the same event. Even with her Australian Open title in her column, Serena's lack of action since actually caused her to fall out of the Top 10 on Monday.


1.Beij F - Kirilenko d. Groenefeld
...6-3/6-4. ALG is just about ready to claim the title of "best player without a singles title"... once Petrova finally wins one, that is.
2.Port F - Koukalova d. Srebotnik
...6-2/4-6/6-3. Srebotnik had a break lead in the 3rd, but she wasn't able to get that home cooking in Slovenia and walk away with her third 2005 title.
3.Kol F - Myskina d. Sprem
...6-2/6-2. Welcome back, Czarina.
4.Beij 2r - T.Sun d. S.Williams
...6-2/7-6. Serena's "defeated by" list is becoming quite the "international who's who" this season, isn't it? I mean, how often are Jill Craybas and Tiantian Sun mentioned in the same sentence?
5.Beij SF - Kirilenko d. Sharapova
...6-4/2-1 ret. It just wouldn't have been right for Maria not to defeat Maria en route to her first WTA title.
6.Beij 1st - Diaz-Oliva d. Molik
...7-6/6-7/6-4. The wins still aren't coming all too frequently for the Steamer, but at least the matches are getting closer.
7.Kol 2nd - Czink d. Mirza
...0-6/6-4/6-4. Maybe showing outright disrespect for that fatwah against you for wearing "inappropriate" on-court attire isn't the most prudent way to go, Sania. Just a thought.
8.Port 1st - Bremond d. Kostanic
...7-6/7-6. Was anyone else confused when you read "Bremond" in the WTA results last week? Who? That's what I wondered. Well, have no fear -- it was just Severine Beltrame, using her new married name (she got hitched to her coach). It seems to have done wonders for her game, at least. The 26-year old Pastry with a law degree also knocked off Kveta Peschke (formerly Hrdlickova, who's also reached new heights since going with her married name) en route to the QF.


10...Maria Sharapova
10...Anastasia Myskina
9....Olga Morozova

3...Maria Sharapova
2...Dinara Safina
1...Anastasia Myskina
1...Vera Zvonareva
1...Maria Kirilenko

17...Ana Ivanovic (1 title)
17...Maria Sharapova (2 titles)
18...Maria Sharapova (1 title)
18...Sania Mirza (1 title)
18...Lucie Safarova (2 titles)
18...Maria Kirilenko (1 title)
18...Dinara Safina (1 title)
19...Dinara Safina (1 title)

Katarina Srebotnik (Auckland)
Jie Zheng (Hobart)
Katarina Srebotnik (Stockholm)
Anastasia Myskina (Kolkata)

Jie Zheng (January-Hobart)
Ana Ivanovic (January-Canberra)
Sania Mirza (February-Hyderabad)
Lucie Safarova (April-Estoril)
Nuria Llagostera-Vives (May-Rabat)
Klara Koukalova (June-Netherlands)
Maria Kirilenko (September-Beijing)

0-2...Samantha Stosur
0-2...Jelena Jankovic
0-2...Anna-Lena Groenefeld

4....Czech Republic



...I'm feeling a tad anti-Srebotnik (or is it anti-Koukalova?) at the moment, since if she'd won in Portoroz on Sunday I'd have a 2-0 lead over Cantin in champions picked in "Royale 3," and be 5-for-6 in the 4Q. But, alas, now we're tied (5 SF/2 F/1 W) after one week of action. As for Week 39...

04 F: Molik d. Safina
05 TOP: Clijsters/Petrova
SF: Clijsters d. Chakvetadze; Safina d. Groenefeld
FINAL: Clijsters d. Safina

...Killer Kim's back (just $9000 light in her duffel bag, too -- who says coaching matters, huh?), and it's hard to go against that 23-1 hardcourt record.

04 F: N.Li d. Sucha
05 TOP: Zvonareva/Peng
SF: Kirilenko d. T.Sun; N.Li d. Peng
FINAL: N.Li d. Kirilenko

...can Kirilenko win again? Fortune Cookie Li says, "Probably not."

04 F: Sharapova d. Domachowska
05 TOP: Jankovic/Vaidisova
SF: Jankovic d. Sugiyama; Vaidisova d. Dulko
FINAL: Vaidisova d. Jankovic

...if not, all you courtside observers had better look out! You might just get a "free" Vaidisova racquet. Maybe you could sell it on eBay, though, to help pay the hospital bill for treating that nasty gash on the side of your skull that you suffered during the "transaction" with Nicole. Maybe you could just root for her instead. Otherwise... duck!

As for Pierre...


SF: Clijsters def. Chakvetadze; Schnyder def. Petrova
FINAL: Clijsters def. Schnyder

SF: Kirilenko def. Jidkova; Li def. Peng
FINAL: Kirilenko def. Li

SF: Jankovic def. Golovin; Vaidisova def. Dulko
FINAL: Vaidisova def. Jankovic


Next week: Tennisrulz Awards nominees.

All for now.


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