Monday, October 31, 2005

Wk.43-Naked No More

Backspin has always been an ardent admirer of Nadia Petrova's variety-packed game. Petrova-stroking phrases like "the most entertaining game of all the Russians" and "one of the most versatile all-surface players on tour" have come easily to mind over the past few years. But no matter what or how many adjectives were tossed around in her favor, no matter how many doubles crowns (11) she won, or how many weeks she spent in the singles Top 10, ultimately the discussion came back to one salient point -- that she'd never actually won a WTA singles title. For all her obvious talent, something was missing. "The Scarlett Empress", at age 23, truly had no clothes.

Until this weekend in Linz, that is. Hence what happened at about noon on Sunday.

As the day wore on on October 30, after playing my customary game of tennis on Sunday morning (My favorite moment? Umm, a nice scramble from the baseline to reach a short ball at the net, followed by a stretching backhand half-volley off a low bounce... and the sight of the ball travelling crosscourt and nestling safely in the corner, past my opponent. Sorry about that, just wanted to re-live the moment.) At about noon, I slipped onto the internet to check the day's scores, and caught sight of the Linz final's score:

Petrova def. Schnyder 4-6/6-3/6-1

Out loud, I found myself saying, "Good for her. Yeah!"

I don't normally react that way upon seeing that a player has won a title (well, at least not when I didn't pick them to win earlier in the week). But it was different this time. Petrova's not the most dramatic (Myskina) of the Horde, the most potentially physically dominant (Kuznetsova), the most emotional (Zvonareva), the most charismatic (pick your favorite Maria) or the most stunning (Dementieva, be in her latest photoshoot or in the way she may overcome that serve with pristine strokes all over the court). But Backspin has always rooted for her, maybe for all those reasons... and that she's generally been the member of the Horde who's just as likely to majestically crumble as she is to artistically rise to the occasion (and, therefore, all the more interesting to write about). Petrova's almost a poor woman's Mauresmo, with a little less talent to burn (and thus, a bit less frustrating).

A 2003 semifinalist at Roland Garros, Petrova had a hard time following up with similar success on the sport's biggest stages. Displaying consistency in big moments has been a slow-building process, but it's one that's finally begun to pay dividends in 2005. In her last six slams, she's advanced to at least the Round of 16 each time:

2004 Wimbledon Round of 16
2004 U.S. Open Quarterfinals
2005 Australian Open Round of 16
2005 Roland Garros Semifinals
2005 Wimbledon Quarterfinals
2005 U.S. Open Quarterfinals

After reaching a tour event singles final once in each of the past two seasons, Petrova had reached two in '05 before this weekend (most recently in Bangkok just a few weeks ago, where she lost to seven-years-her-junior Nicole Vaidisova). But she remained 0-4 in finals for her career until Sunday in Linz. What will Nadia, naked no more, do now that the "best player without a title" tag has finally been lifted?

Well, the most recent Russian to do the same (Dementieva, at age 21, in 2003) managed to rise to the Top 5 and reach two grand slam finals (and nearly a third at this year's U.S. Open). What will Petrova's Act II be?

Hmmm... I smell a "2006 Intriguing Question" coming into focus as a result of this weekend's events. Now that the Empress has new clothes (and a title), could a Russian tennis coup be in the planning stages? We shall see.

S: Nadia Petrova d. Patty Schnyder 4-6/6-3/6-1
D: Dulko/Peschke d Martinez/Ruano-Pascual
S: Kim Clijsters d. Francesca Schiavone 6-2/6-3
D: Loit/Srebotnik d. Krajicek/Szavay


PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: Nadia Petrova & Kim Clijsters
...Petrova's first title came at a place where she must have felt some level of familiarity with success. She was the Linz singles RU in 2003, and won doubles crowns (with Jelena Dokic) there in 2001-02. She's the winningest Russian on tour in 2005, with more WTA wins than Sharapova (of course, she has twice as many losses, as well). It'd been easy to have had the POW gone solely to Petrova, but Clijsters' act of winning her ninth 2005 title -- hitting the big three-oh for her career -- and her second in her home country (after winning in Antwerp last season) made Petrova share the wealth.
RISERS: Nadia Petrova & Francesca Schiavone
...with Petrova's title, #14 Schiavone is now the only Top 20 player without a career WTA title (though maybe not the best title-free player -- that might be Anna-Lena Groenefeld). She's getting closer, though, after making her third final of the 4Q in Hasselt (after Bali and Moscow). Thing is, Schiavone's now 0-5 in her career when she gets to the deciding match. With Petrova's overdue title, she finally joins the nine other Russians currently in the Top 100 who have singles titles to their names. Not surprisingly, it took her the longest to get her first:

16 - Dinara Safina (2002)
16 - Maria Sharapova (2003)
17 - Svetlana Kuznetsova (2002)
18 - Elena Likhovtseva (1993)
18 - Anastasia Myskina (1999)
18 - Vera Zvonareva (2003)
18 - Maria Kirilenko (2005)
19 - Elena Bovina (2002)
21 - Elena Dementieva (2003)
23 - Nadia Petrova (2005)

The Top 100 Hordettes still waiting? Anna Chakvetadze, Vera Dushevina (hey, check out the new spelling!), Evgenia Linetskaya and Ekaterina Bychkova.
SURPRISE: Kveta Peschke
...the 30-year old (she'll be a subject of the 2005 review column later this week, by the way, as the breakthroughs of several Czech Maidens will be discussed) had an incredible week in Linz as she made her first WTA SF since 2000 (also in Linz). She had big upsets over Ai Sugiyama, Vera Zvonareva and Elena Dementieva.
VETERAN: Patty Schnyder
...since Peschke grabs the "Surprise" award, Sneaky gets this one. She does turn 27 in December, so she qualifies. Wins over Iveta Benesova, Ana Ivanovic and Daniela Hantuchova in Linz gave her a RU follow-up to her RU in Zurich last week. Of course, her temper got the best of her in the SF, as she cut her hand breaking a racket (what else?), had to take a pain killer before the final, and then withdrew from Philadelphia for this week. She always seems to be her own worst enemy, doesn't she?
FRESH FACES: Michaella Krajicek & Ana Ivanovic
...Krajicek won in Tashkent a few weeks ago, and made the Hasselt SF last week with wins over Lucie Safarova and Nathalie Dechy (and battled Schiavone to a 7-5 3rd set in the SF). Meanwhile, AnaIvo seems to have gotten her mojo back. She made the Zurich SF, then went to Linz and made another SF after knocking off Tatiana Golovin (and was on the other side of the net when Schnyder took out her frustration on her racket).
DOWN: Vera Zvonareva & Elena Dementieva
...Petrova goes up, the other Hordettes go down (both to Peschke). Zvonareva lost another 1st Rounder, while Dementieva was bounced in the 2nd. Since Punch-Sober's "best ever" win over Clijsters, she's gone just 3-4.


1.Linz F - Petrova d. Schnyder
...4-6/6-3/6-1. Might Sneaky's anger cause her to miss out on qualifying for and/or playing in next week's Championships? She hasn't played in the YEC since 2002 (and is 0-2 there for her career).
2.Hass F - Clijsters d. Schiavone
...6-2/6-3. Clijsters has eight hardcourt titles (and one grass) in her nine 2005 crowns. She's 27-1 in her last 28 matches.
3.Linz 2nd - Peschke d. Dementieva
...6-3/7-5. If Punch-Sober's in L.A. for the YEC, she'll either be out-of-sorts or well-rested. Maybe the sight of Killer Kim will remind her of better recent days.
4.Linz 1st - Peschke d. Zvonareva
...7-5/7-5. Peschke is 3-0 vs. Vera the Almost in 2005.
5.Linz 2nd - Hantuchova d. Martinez
...2-6/6-0/3-1 ret. Hantuchova pulled out of Quebec City, so this'll be her final win of 2005. Martinez is now sixth in both career matches played and match wins in WTA history. If she returns in 2006, she'll have a good shot to catch fellow Spaniard Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (in 5th place in both categories).


9...Kim Clijsters
6...Lindsay Davenport
4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
3...Maria Sharapova
3...Nicole Vaidisova

10...Lindsay Davenport (6-4)
9....Kim Clijsters (9-0)

0-3...Anna-Lena Groenefeld
0-3...Jelena Jankovic
0-3...Francesca Schiavone
0-2...Samantha Stosur

Hobart - Jie Zheng (21, China)
Canberra - Ana Ivanovic (17, Serbia & Montenegro)
Hyderabad - Sania Mirza (18, India)
Estoril - Lucie Safarova (18, Czech Republic)
Rabat - Nuria Llagostera-Vives (24, Spain)
Netherlands - Klara Koukalova (23, Czech Republic)
Beijing - Maria Kirilenko (18, Russia)
Guangzhou - Zi Yan (20, China)
Tashkent - Michaella Krajicek (16, Netherlands)
Linz - Nadia Petrova (23, Russia)

6...Samantha Stosur (+1 mixed)
6...Emilie Loit
5...Cara Black
5...Virginia Ruano-Pascual
5...Elena Likhovtseva
5...Katarina Srebotnik

[rankings when won title]

16...USA (9 titles)
16...Russia (9)
14...Belgium (13)
11...Czech Republic (7)



...only two more events before the year-end Championships, and Davenport is giving it one more pre-L.A. go in "the battle for #1."

04 F: Mauresmo d. Zvonareva
05 TOP: Davenport/Sharapova
SF: Davenport d. Dementieva; Vaidisova d. Sugiyama
FINAL: Davenport d. Vaidisova

...unless the Supernova is finally healthy (though one suspects that won't truly be the case until January).

>>>UPDATE: Of course, both Davenport and Sharapova withdrew from this event late. Why they couldn't have done it before the draw was released, or enough tickets were sold, only they and the event organizers know. Oh, I see... so that's it. Anyway, new picks:

SF: Petrova d. Dementieva; Vaidisova d. Sugiyama
FINAL: Vaidisova d. Petrova

04 F: Sucha d. Spears
05 TOP: Dechy/Bartoli
SF: Frazier d. Dechy; Ant.Serra-Zanetti d. Laine
FINAL: Frazier d. Serra-Zanetti

...not a great draw, to say the least. It'd be easy to pick Dechy, but I won't. Frazier's had a poor season, but did win an ITF challenger recently. On that slim bit of evidence against the chalk, I'll go with her to win her eighth career title sixteen years after she won her first.

Don't forget to vote early and often for the Tennisrulz Awards!!

All for now.


Later this Week:

The 2005 tennis "revolutions" of the Czechs and the Chinese


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