Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wk.45-Anatomy of a Killer

The long trek through the WTA season is effectively over except for the shouting... and bookkeeping. So, in keeping with that theme, and in a prelude to this week's 2005 Backspin Awards, it's time to take a final look -- in reverse order -- at the race for "Player of the Year":

7.AMELIE MAURESMO: Albie ended her season on a high note with back-to-back titles in Philadelphia and at the WTA Championships (her biggest win to date), after having won the Tier I at Rome earlier in the season. But the lack of consistent success at slams (other than a SF at Wimbledon) that would befit her #3 ranking prevents her from scaling to further heights on the POY list. She'll need to win a slam someday to ever get the respect her talent says she should receive.
6.MARIA SHARAPOVA: expectations can color reality, and nothing is a better example of that than the Supernova's '05 season. Despite rising to #1 for seven weeks, reaching the SF at three slams and the WTA Championships, and winning a Tier I event at Tokyo, Sharapova's season can't help but feel like a slight letdown after her series of mountain-climbing moments in 2004. The subjects of this year's "Intriguing Questions 1 & 2," Sharapova and the Horde were still a major force in 2005... just not as much so as last season. Some of the Horde went up (Petrova, Safina & Kirilenko), some went down (Kuznetsova, Myskina & Zvonareva) and some did both (Dementieva won some big matches, but failed to take a title). Sharapova won fewer titles (five to three) than in '04 and no slam, and ended the year at #4 -- precisely where she began it. As Sharapova goes, so goes the Horde. 2005 was a good year, just not a particularly memorable one.
5.VENUS & SERENA WILLIAMS: the sisters rose to tremendous heights (both winning slam crowns), and experienced predictable lows (injuries struck...again and again). Their uneven seasons nonetheless produced a combined 55-16 record in WTA action. But the enigma that will forever be the Williamses can be summed up with one ironic fact: even with both Venus and Serena winning slam titles in 2005, their singles rankings still ended up going down between the end of last season and now. Venus fell from #9 in 2004 to #10, while Serena went from #7 to #11.
4.JUSTINE HENIN-HARDENNE: as stated in the "#3 Intriguing Question", there was a cloud of doubt about whether JHH could fully escape the illness and injury troubles of 2004. They didn't go away, but they also didn't strike with such a force that they kept the Queen tied down all season long. Le Petit Taureau only played nine events, but she won four of them (including Roland Garros), went 34-5 and raised her ranking from #8 to #6.
3.MARY PIERCE: at age 30, Pierce proved to be healthy and prudent (and sneaky, if you ask Elena Dementieva) enough to fashion one of her best seasons ever. Two Tier I titles and RU results at Roland Garros, the U.S. Open and the WTA Championships got her all the way to #5 in the rankings nearly eleven years after she rose to a career-high of #3 in 1995. If 2004 was considered a "comeback" season for her, what was 2005? Maybe a preview of things to come in 2006? 31 -- which Pierce will turn in January -- could be an even luckier number for Prideful Mary.
2.LINDSAY DAVENPORT: she didn't win a slam (again), or the WTA Championships (again) and didn't take a Tier I title until the year was nearly over. But there's something to be said for consistency, and Davenport's found it at age 29. She was #1 for all but seven weeks in 2005, and will enter 2006 with a total of 95 weeks in the top position throughout her career. Her fourth year-end #1 ranking is the third time she's done so in a season in which she didn't add to her slam trophy case. Divine justice would allow her to end that six-year (as of Oz '06) drought next season. Of course, then she'd probably end the season at #2.
1.KIM CLIJSTERS: back when she was the focus of "Intriguing Question #4", Clijsters' future was in doubt after she'd ended her 2004 season in Hasselt with a wrist injury that a Belgian doctor said might end her career. A year later, Clijsters won the title in Hasselt for her ninth crown of 2005 to further dress up a season of redemption of a magnitude rarely seen on the WTA tour. Killer Kim won more titles and matches than any other woman this year, was 9-0 in finals, and ended her long slam drought by claiming the U.S. Open. The swoon at the WTA Championships that prevented her from ending the season at #1 can't cloud the fact that Clijsters was the top player on tour in 2005. Even a newly-armed assassin has to have some downtime.

The rest of the POY rankings, as well as the other year-end awards will be published in this week's second edition of WTA Backspin.

**WEEK 45**
S: Amelie Mauresmo d. Mary Pierce 5-7/7-6/6-4
D: Raymond/Stosur d. Black/Stubbs



PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Amelie Mauresmo
...Mary Pierce starred in this year's "L.A. Story," but Mauresmo won it. With her first YEC title (and win in Philly), Albie managed to erase her late-year slide and maybe even pick up some momentum... possibly for another Grand Slam Gambit in Melbourne? Well, let's not go too far. It should be good enough -- for now -- to say this nineteenth title has moved her out of a career tie with fellow Pastry Pierce.
RISER: Nadia Petrova
...so what if her win over Sharapova came in a meaningless match to end the round robin portion of the Championships. After getting her first title a few weeks ago, the Empress can look at any win as a truly great one to build upon now. If she can just stay healthy in 2006, maybe she can ride her great 4Q (16 victories, more than anyone else in the quarter) to an even better full season next time around.
SURPRISE: Samantha Stosur
...Slingin' Sammy started the season with surprising singles results (back-to-back finals) and doubles success. She ends it by staking a claim to being the best doubles player on the planet. Her Championships crown with Lisa Raymond (they also won the U.S. Open) gives her a tour-leading seven doubles titles for 2005, and moved her to a career-high #2 doubles ranking (just 50 points behind #1 Cara Black). Roll on Sammy... with the Steamer out indefinitely, you're the best the Aussies have to offer.
VETERANS: Mary Pierce & Lisa Raymond
...Pierce topped off her great 2005 by playing even better than she did during her resurgent summer, winning four straight YEC matches (including wins over #1 Davenport, #2 Clijsters and #3 Mauresmo) before falling in the final in a rematch with Mauresmo. She's at #5, and looking to climb even higher next year. Raymond's doubles prowess outlasting her best singles days was always an inevitable moment. Well, it's here... and she's joined up with Stosur to produce a pretty lethal team (their five titles led the tour in '05).
FRESH FACE: Romina Oprandi
...the 20-year old from Italy won her sixth ITF title of 2005 (one behind season leader Kristina Barrois' seven) at the $25K in Mexico City.
DOWN: Kim Clijsters
...well, it had to happen sometime, right? Killer Kim had to suffer a letdown after her incredible late summer journey. It finally happened in L.A., where Clijsters fumbled away a lead in her first round robin match against Pierce and effectively thwarted her own opportunity to claim the year-end #1 ranking.


1.RR - Pierce d. Clijsters
...6-1/4-6/7-6. Clijsters held triple break point for 4-1 in the 3rd, then served at 6-5. She lost anyway. After having blown a previous shot at the #1 ranking in Filderstadt by losing early to Dementieva, can it be asked whether Killer Kim has lost the killer instinct she showed at Flushing Meadows? Are her guts no longer fortified? Can the mind of an assassin go soft so quickly? Ah, that anatomy lesson can wait until the 2006 edition of the "Intriguing Questions."
2.Final - Mauresmo d. Pierce
...5-7/7-6/6-4. The all-French final, between the two women who began the 4Q by playing doubles together (and losing) in the deciding fifth match in the Fed Cup Final, ended up lasting three hours.
3.Doubles Final - Raymond/Stosur d. Black/Stubbs
...the only Australia-born doubles #1 in WTA history has been Rennae Stubbs (for three weeks back in 2000). Stosur will try to become the second in 2006.
4.SF - Pierce d. Davenport
...7-6/7-6. Davenport still ended up at #1, but Pierce unceremoniously ended her season right here.
5.RR - Sharapova d. Davenport
...3-6/7-5/6-4. This was their first meeting since the infamous double-bagel match.
HM-SF - Mauresmo d. Sharapova
...7-6/6-3. Albie is now 2-0 in her career vs. the Supernova.
HM-RR - Clijsters d. Dementieva
...6-2/6-3. After going 0-2 in the round robin, Clijsters' first (and last) win was far too little too late.



1t.October - Lindsay Davenport
1t.November - Amelie Mauresmo
3.Mary Pierce
4.Nicole Vaidisova
5.Nadia Petrova

RISER: Nadia Petrova
SURPRISE: Kveta Peschke
VETERAN: Lindsay Davenport
FRESH FACE: Nicole Vaidisova
DOWN: Vera Zvonareva

Noteworthy performances...

RUN OF THE MONTHS: Vaidisova wins three straight titles, 18 consecutive matches
CHOKE OF THE MONTHS: Moscow QF - Pierce d. Likhovtseva... the Russian blows a 6-0 lead in the 3rd set tie-break
UPSET (THAT WASN'T) OF THE MONTHS: Moscow 2nd - Sharapova d. Groenefeld... 1-6/2-4 ret. Girl Friday was knocking the Supernova upside the head and all over the court, then she turned her ankle and had to concede the match. If she'd won, she'd have had victories over both Davenport and Sharapova in '05 when they were ranked #1.


1.Lindsay Davenport
2.Nicole Vaidisova
3.Amelie Mauresmo
4.Mary Pierce
5.Kim Clijsters
6.Nadia Petrova
7.Elena Dementieva
8.Francesca Schiavone
9.Patty Schnyder
10.Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur
HM-Cara Black/Rennae Stubbs

1.Anna-Lena Groenefeld
2.Nadia Petrova
3.Elena Dementieva
4.Francesca Schiavone
5.Patty Schnyder
6.Cara Black
7.Dinara Safina
8.Klara Koukalova
9.Daniela Hantuchova
10.Tatiana Golovin
HM-Roberta Vinci

1.Nicole Vaidisova
2.Maria Kirilenko
3.Ana Ivanovic
4.Michaella Krajicek
5.Zi Yan
6.Ekaterina Bychkova
7.Viktoria Azarenka
8.Sesil Karatantcheva
9.Alisa Kleybanova
10.Jamea Jackson
HM-Sania Mirza

1.Zi Yan
2.Kveta Peschke
3.Samantha Stosur
4.Sofia Arvidsson
5.Akgul Amanmuradova

1.Lindsay Davenport
2.Mary Pierce
3.Amy Frazier
4.Lisa Raymond
5.Rennae Stubbs

1.Vera Zvonareva
2.Jelena Dokic
3.Alicia Molik
4.Maria Sharapova
5.Venus & Serena Williams

BEST PERFORMANCE: Elena Dementieva leads Russia in the Fed Cup final
BIGGEST MATCH: Fed Cup Match #5 - Dementieva/Safina(RUS) d. Mauresmo/Pierce(FRA)
...6-4/1-6/6-3. The Horde defends their FC title 3-2.
BEST COMEBACK: Zurich 2nd - Davenport d. Hantuchova
...3-6/7-5/6-2. Davenport survives two match points held by Wonder Girl, ends the week with a title and regains (for good) the #1 ranking.
TOP 4Q RUSSIAN (WTA): Nadia Petrova
TOP 4Q RUSSIAN (ITF): Alisa Kleybanova
WORST CHOKE: Moscow QF - Pierce d. Likhovtseva... 6-0 is supposed to be an insurmountable lead in a tie-break, right?
Beijing 2nd - Tiantian Sun d. S.Williams
Guangzhou QF - Zi Yan d. Na Li
BIGGEST WIN (that didn't help the winner much down the stretch): Filderstadt QF - Dementieva d. Clijsters
...6-3/3-6/6-2. Clijsters lost her shot at #1. Punch-Sober said it was her best match ever. Clijsters never got the #1 ranking. Dementieva was blown out by Killer Kim the next time they met.
...she defeated Dementieva, Kuznetsova and Mauresmo en route to a Tier I RU.
GOODBYES: Silvia Farina Elia and Maggie Maleeva retired. Alicia Molik left the tour indefinitely to get over her balance-effecting bout with vestibular neuronitis. And Kim Clijsters' coach said sayonara after being paid just $9000 of the Killer's $2.2 million take for winning the U.S. Open Series and tournament.
HELLOS: first-time titlists Nadia Petrova, Michaella Krajicek, Maria Kirilenko and Zi Yan.



2...Kim Clijsters
1...Lindsay Davenport
1...Amelie Mauresmo
1...Maria Sharapova
1...Serena Williams

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

10...Lindsay Davenport (6-4)
9....Kim Clijsters (9-0)
7....Amelie Mauresmo (4-3)
5....Justine Henin-Hardenne (4-1)
5....Mary Pierce (2-3)
5....Patty Schnyder (2-3)
4....Maria Sharapova (3-1)
4....Nicole Vaidisova (3-1)
4....Venus Williams (2-2)

5...Lindsay Davenport (Jan-Apr)
4...Justine Henin-Hardenne (Apr-May)
4...Kim Clijsters (Aug-Oct)
4...Mary Pierce (Jul-Nov)
3...Nicole Vaidisova (Oct)
3...Lindsay Davenport (Sep-Oct)

17...USA (10 titles)
17...Russia (9)
14...Belgium (13)
13...France (6)
11...Czech Republic (7)

2...Maria Sharapova
2...Mary Pierce
1...Kim Clijsters
1...Elena Dementieva
1...Anna-Lena Groenefeld
1...Justine Henin-Hardenne
1...Maria Kirilenko
1...Dinara Safina
1...Serena Williams
1...Venus Williams

=MOST WTA TITLES - last 2 seasons=
13...Lindsay Davenport (7/6)
11...Kim Clijsters (2/9)
9....Justine Henin-Hardenne (5/4)
9....Amelie Mauresmo (5/4)
8....Maria Sharapova (5/3)

[of 45 weeks]
45...Lindsay Davenport
45...Amelie Mauresmo
45...Maria Sharapova
45...Elena Dementieva
37...Serena Williams
36...Venus Williams
35...Svetlana Kuznetsova
28...Nadia Petrova
27...Justine Henin-Hardenne
26...Anastasia Myskina
22...Alicia Molik
16...Kim Clijsters
13...Jennifer Capriati
11...Patty Schnyder
10...Mary Pierce
6....Vera Zvonareva

=4Q WON/LOST - 2005 TOP 10ers=
16-6...Nadia Petrova
14-2...Lindsay Davenport
12-3...Anastasia Myskina (0-2 FC)
12-8...Patty Schnyder
11-3...Kim Clijsters
11-4...Amelie Mauresmo (1-1 FC)
8-1....Mary Pierce (1-1 FC)
8-8....Elena Dementieva (2-0 FC)
5-4....Maria Sharapova
3-6....Vera Zvonareva
2-2....Svetlana Kuznetsova
1-0....Venus Williams
1-5....Alicia Molik
0-0....Jennifer Capriati
0-1....Justine Henin-Hardenne
0-1....Serena Williams

38...Lindsay Davenport
7....Maria Sharapova

40...Virginia Ruano-Pascual
5....Cara Black

88...Lindsay Davenport (+7 to end '05)
57...Serena Williams
45...Justine Henin-Hardenne
17...Jennifer Capriati
12...Kim Clijsters
11...Venus Williams
7....Maria Sharapova
5....Amelie Mauresmo

7...Samantha Stosur (+1 mixed)
6...Cara Black
6...Emilie Loit

All for now. Remember to vote for the Tennisrulz Awards!


Later this week: 2005 Backspin Awards

Next week: WTA Yearbook & 2005/4Q Quiz


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