Friday, January 13, 2006

Wk.2-Court Royale

Did anyone else just hear the distinct sound of a shudder taking place? Hmmm... hopefully I'll figure out what that was before long. Anyway, on with Week 2...

Proving once again that everything old is sometimes new again, Daniel Craig was recently announced as the new James Bond for the upcoming "Casino Royale" film, infusing life once again into a character that never really goes away. Don't look now, but something similar might have just occurred on the WTA tour.

"Court Royale" was in Sydney this week, as a former #1 player emerged from her offseason cocoon, seemingly healthy in mind, body and spirit. Her name isn't Kim, Venus, Serena, Martina or Maria, either. It's Justine. Queen Justine, to be more precise.

Yes, Justine Henin-Hardenne has risen from the training table (after having escaped an earlier sick bed), picked up her scepter and is now eyeing the throne on which she sat not that long ago. If we've learned anything the past few years, it's that JHH is very difficult -- if not downright impossible (remember the 24-0 record on the European clay last spring?) -- to beat when she's healthy. She hasn't been in that state much the last two seasons, but she's still put up a 73-9 record, won two slams and an Olympic Gold Medal. Not bad for a "part-time" player.

(There was that sound again! Did you hear it?)

Currently, she sits at #8 (not #6... "thanks," quality points-less rankings) in the world, but judging from what happened in Sydney this week, Le Petit Taureau might be going to Melbourne this weekend, not simply Madame Henin-Hardenne. That's enough to elicit a collective "uh-oh" from the rest of the field.

(Be careful, gals. She might hear you. And if she knows you're worried, she could have all of you right where she wants you two weeks from now.)

Be afraid. Be very afraid. The Queen appears to be healthy again... and the world of women's tennis just shuddered.

(Aha!! I thought I heard something.)



S: Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Francesca Schiavone 4-6/7-5/7-5
D: Morariu/Stubbs d. Ruano-Pascual/Suarez

S: Michaella Krajicek d. Iveta Benesova 6-2/6-1
D: Loit/Pratt d. Craybas/Kostanic

S: Anabel Medina-Garrigues d. Yoon-Jeong Cho 6-4/0-6/6-4
D: Domachowska/Vinci d. Curran/Dekmeijere


PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Justine Henin-Hardenne
...this was JHH's 24th career title, making 2006 her sixth straight season with at least one singles crown. This was her second Sydney title. Just in case you're wondering, the other one came in 2004. Two weeks later, the Queen won the Australian Open. Something to think about.
RISERS: Anabel Medina-Garrigues
& Francesca Schiavone
...Medina-Garrigues is, quite simply, the most underrated player on tour. The 23-year old (who's far more than just a stereotypical clay specialist) from Spain claimed her 5th career title by winning the final against Yoon-Jeong Cho (after having battled Shahar Peer 3:40 in the SF). Schiavone, 25, had a good week, knocking off Ai Sugiyama and even Nicole Vaidisova, but her tight loss in the Sydney decider against JHH drops the Italian to 0-6 in career WTA singles finals.
SURPRISES: Yoon-Jeong Cho & Svetlana Kuznetsova
...Cho, 25, strung together wins over the likes of Emma Laine, Melinda Czink ('05 RU) and Catalina Castano en route to the Canberra final. It was the Korean's first WTA final since Auckland in 2003. As for Kuznetsova, could the Contessova be back? After a nice opening week in Perth, she took out Ana Ivanovic (that's two wins over AnaIvo already in '06) and outlasted a retiring Dinara Safina (not a good week for the Safin clan) in reaching the Sydney semis. One more week like this and she'll no longer be a "surprise."
VETERANS: Amy Frazier & Rennae Stubbs
...33-year old Frazier didn't have a very nice 2005, until the very end. An ITF and last-regular-tournament-of-the-season WTA title in Quebec City gave her season a deceptively shinier polish, though. The American's 21st year (yes, that's right) on tour has begun a little better. She lost her first match in Week 1, but reached the Hobart QF and pushed eventual RU Iveta Benesova to two tie-break sets there. Stubbs, just three months from turning 35, won the Sydney doubles title with Corina Morariu. She'll likely be the tour's oldest titlist this season (unless Martina Navratilova wins again, of course).
FRESH FACES: Michaelle Krajicek
& Nicole Vaidisova
...17-year old Krajicek won her second career title (Tashkent '05) in Hobart, beating Benesova in the final to continue the best opening weeks of any of the rising teens in '06. Yes, Krajicek won a Tier IV title, but Vaidisova's Tier II semifinal, and big wins over Samantha Stosur and Daniela Hantuchova were good stepping stones to the greater things that await her this season.
DOWN: Hmmm... who to pick here. Amelie Mauresmo for losing her season-opening match? No. Nadia Petrova for pulling up lame in her second straight event of '06? No, but it was close. Kim Clijsters, out with an injured hip in Sydney and something of a question mark for Melbourne? Nope. Come on, of course it's gotta be Sesil Karatantcheva, banned two years (she's says she'll appeal) after two failed drug tests last spring. She's saying the reason for the positive test was that she was pregnant at the time, at 15. Guess she wasn't kidding when she said last year that no one could resist her, huh?


1.Syd 1st - JHH d. Hingis
...6-3/6-3. Martina said that "you can't hide" from Top 10 players. She didn't this week, and the result wasn't all that pretty. Before this, Hingis was 2-0 vs. JHH, having beaten her twice in 2000 when the Queen was still a teenager.
2.Syd 2nd - Ivanovic d. Mauresmo
...6-3/7-5. A year ago, AnaIvo lost to Mauresmo in the 3rd Round in Melbourne. After losing two more times to her in '05, she knocked off Mauresmo in the 3rd Round at Roland Garros. This gives her two straight wins over the world #3 (not that she gets any "extra" points for such a big win anymore).
3.Syd F - JHH d. Schiavone
...4-6/7-5/7-5. JHH trailed 6-4/4-1, then 5-3 in the 3rd. It didn't matter, as she still calmly walked away with the 3-hour match. Looks like Le Petit Taureau is match tough, too. Uh-oh.
4.Can F - Medina-Garrigues d. Cho
...6-4/0-6/6-4. Maybe it'll take a nice slam QF run (and a major upset) to get people to notice AMG.
5.Hob F - Krajicek d. Benesova
...6-2/6-1. Michaella turned 17 on Monday. This was her belated birthday gift.
6.Syd 1st - Dushevina d. Zvonareva
...6-4/3-6/6-1. Well, I guess that "resurgence" didn't last very long, did it?
7.Syd 1st - Safina d. Groenefeld
...6-2/6-1. ALG is 0-4 so far in 2006. Don't tell me she's the one who's been cursed this time.
8.Syd QF - Kuznetsova d. Ivanovic
...7-6/6-3. Can the Contessova play AnaIvo every week?
9.Syd QF - Vaidisova d. Hantuchova
...6-3/3-1 ret. Vaidisova (so far) is following along on the path that Hantuchova wanted to travel the last few years.
10.Syd 1st - Hantuchova d. Mirza
...6-4/2-6/6-2. Sania now gets ready to return to the scene in Melbourne where she registed her first "first Indian woman to..." accomplishment last year.
HM- Syd 1st - Vaidisova d. Stosur
...6-4/4-6/6-1. Sammy, next time maybe you should skip the Hopman.
HM- Can SF - Medina-Garrigues d. Peer
...6-7/7-5/6-4. At 3:40, it was the ninth-longest match in WTA history.


[by nation]
3...Czech Rebublic


...ahh, a comforting 2-for-3 record last week (so, I'm already well ahead of last year's early "pace"), but it could have been 3-for-3 had I not gone against my usual pattern and picked Clijsters over JHH in the Sydney final. Of course Clijsters drops out of the QF with a hip injury, then Henin-Hardenne wins the title. I should have known. Serves me right. I won't make the mistake again.

All for now.


TOMORROW: Waltzing Mathilda Australian Open Preview

THE NEXT TWO WEEKS: "The Daily Backspin: Australian Open Edition" revs up with daily awards and reviews of each day's action


Anonymous Andrew said...

Agree Sesil is the most "down" this week - the whole thing is actually quite shocking if you think about it, using a pregnancy at 15 as an excuse for a drug charge. She is already making Jennifer Capriati look, Justine Henin?

Seriously, I hope she is getting help from someone as there is some good talent there

Sat Jan 14, 11:59:00 AM EST  

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