Monday, April 03, 2006

Wk.12/13-Springtime for Sveta

Let the curse be officially laid to rest, at least as far as the Contessova is concerned.

Svetlana Kuznetsova ascended to the WTA mountain top in Flushing Meadows some... wow, it's already EIGHTEEN months ago. Oh, she won a title in Bali a week later, but then soon learned how quickly expectation could turn into disappointment. Since then, she hadn't felt the exileration of lifting a singles trophy since that day in Indonesia... until Saturday in Miami.

A 2005 season followed that began with rumors of a failed drug test and then only proceeded to get worse (with a 1st Round U.S. Open loss only one of the more notable crash-outs). By the end of the year, Kuznetsova's one-time #4 post-U.S. Open title ranking had morphed into one barely inside the Top 20 (#18). Having missed any chance to become the top Russian last year, Kuznetsova was faced with a treacherous climb back just to remain in the conversation, let alone mounting another assault on the peak.

But after showing consequential progress toward that goal through the first eleven weeks of the 2006 season (including notching a win over Amelie Mauresmo, ending the Aussie Open champ's season-best 16-match winning streak), the last two in south Florida finally secured a foothold for Kuznetsova's objective. Key Biscayne wins over not one (Martina Hingis), not two (Mauresmo again), but three (Maria Sharapova in the final, where Kuznetsova ended the Supernova's 11-match string, the season's SECOND-longest streak, with powerful strokes that sometimes literally pushed the Russian teenager around and even off the court) current/former #1-ranked players, claiming her sixth WTA singles title and first Tier I crown. Kuznetsova now heads into the clay season with a locomotive-like head of steam, where (unlike Sharapova) her post-Moscow Spanish roots might come in handy.

Kuznetsova's victory speaks not only of the rehabilitation of her own game, but also the re-animation the 2004 Russian hegemony as far as big-time titles are concerned... albeit on a smaller scale. Rather than the 4-for-4 slam (plus WTA Championship & Fed Cup) style of dominance of two seasons ago, the 2006 band of Russians who missed out in Melbourne have won all three Tier I titles this season, and filled five of the six finalist slots in those events. Kuznetsova's victory put her back in the Top 10, joining her three countrywomen (Sharapova, Nadia Petrova & Elena Dementieva) there. Is the Russian redistribution of WTA wealth about to begin anew? Well, it's at least a start.

A new Russian spring might not quite be a tour reality just yet but, after Miami, it's certainly "Springtime for Sveta."

Could it be "curses" for the rest of the field?


S: Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Maria Sharapova 6-4/6-3
D: Raymond/Stosur d. Huber/Navratilova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Svetlana Kuznetsova
...welcome back, Contessova. Hey, maybe Pierre and I were just a year early.
RISERS: Tatiana Golovin & Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur
...the Frussian Pastry had one of those "Yeah, But" weeks. Having recently relocated to Miami, Golovin suddenly had a homecourt advantage (rare for a player born in Russia, but representing France, after virtually growing up in America), and she took advantage of it. She thrashed Indian Wells RU Elena Dementieva, and won a tough one over Jie Zheng. In the SF against Sharapova, she overcame a 6-3/5-1 deficit and FOUR match points to push Sharapova to the wall in the 3rd set... then "pulled a Groenefeld" and severely turned her ankle (yes, it was quite ugly) and had to retire from the match. Now she'll be out for over a month with two torn ligaments. Somehow, Golovin will have to put aside the injury and focus on her great and gutsy play from the past two weeks that reminded everyone why there so much buzz about her future two years ago. Just call Raymond & Stosur the "Federers" of the WTA Doubles tour. The pair's Miami title was their third Tier I of the season, further distancing themselves from the pack as the #1 (Stosur) and #2 (Raymond) ranked doubles players. Ahh, if only they hadn't blown two match points in the Melbourne doubles final.
SURPRISES: Anna Tatishvili & Jie Zheng
...Georgia (the republic, not the home state of Atlanta) native Tatishvili, 16, came to Miami with a wild card and a #1144 ranking. All she did to back it up was upset Sania Mirza in the 1st Round. Meanwhile, Zheng had gone 0-5 in WTA singles matches before she came to Florida... then went 4-1 (with big wins over Nathalie Dechy, Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Jill Craybas, then pushed Golovin in the QF, as well) in a better season-resurrecting moment than she could have ever hoped to accomplish.
VETERANS: Eleni Daniilidou & Jill Craybas
...Daniilidou continued her resurgent season by qualifying in Miami, then getting main draw wins over Shenay Perry, Dinara Safina and Daniela Hantuchova. One would have thought Craybas' Wimbledon upset of Serena Williams last year would never have competition for "best career moment." It didn't, until she knocked out Kim Clijsters in three sets in KC's short-lived attempt to defend her Miami title.
FRESH FACES: Anna Chakvetadze & Maria Kirilenko
...the Russian teen set had a good week in Miami, as well. Chakvetadze reached the 4th Round with victories over Karolina Sprem, Shahar Peer and Virginie Razzano. Kirilenko also reached the Round of 16, knocking out fellow teens Vania King and Viktoriya Kutuzova before pushing her friend -- you know, Miss Sharapova -- to three sets.
DOWN: Venus & Serena Williams says something about the fate of the Williams sisters in the 1st Quarter when they twice made headlines during Miami without striking a single ball. First, Venus pulled out of the event with an elbow injury, then when Chris Evert publicly pleaded (in Tennis magazine, of which Chrissie is the publisher) with the currently #60-ish ranked Serena to re-dedicate herself to the game.

1.Mia SF - Sharapova d. Golovin
...6-3/6-7/4-3 ret. With Anna Kournikova watching from the stands, Sharapova led 6-3/5-1, blew 4 match points, took two oddly-timed (or not?) bathroom breaks just as things got tight, and soon found herself down break point at 1-2 in the 3rd. Then, her fortunes changed. After missing forehands more often than not all week, she blew one down the line to save the game, then broke Golovin in the next. Minutes later, Golovin tumbled into the corner of the court on a gruesome-looking turned ankle. One point later it was all over.
2.Mia Doub.F - Raymond/Stosur d. Huber/Navratilova
...6-4/7-5. Martina's back in form. Raymond/Stosur have rarely been anything but all season.
3.Mia F - Kuznetsova d. Sharapova
...6-4/6-3. So much for the Supernova's mastery of her fellow Russians. And I won't even go into her 0-for-11 streak in replay challenges.
4.Mia 3rd - Kuznetsova d. Hingis
...3-6/6-1/7-6. Much like the Sharapova vs. Hingis series, the second meeting was the charm for Kuznetsova against the Swiss Miss... but she had to save a match point to pull it off.
5.Mia SF - Kuznetsova d. Mauresmo
...6-1/6-4. Mauresmo's been dominating the tour for most of the season, but Kuznetsova's beaten her twice in '06.
6.Mia 1st - Jackson d. Harkleroad
...7-5/6-7/7-5. The first replay match in this "new era." Jackson's initial challenge resulted in Hawk-Eye saying "no-no" to an overrule. But things will never quite be the same, will they?
7.Mia 2nd - Shaughnessy d. Henin-Hardenne
...7-5/6-4. Hmmm, after JHH suffered that injury in Indian Wells, one wonders if this was at least partly the result of Miami participation being mandated by the tour.
8.Mia 2nd - Craybas d. Clijsters
...7-5/3-6/7-5. With Clijsters likely not over her ankle injury... well, just read what I said about Henin-Hardenne's loss.
9.Mia 1st - Tatishvili d. Mirza
....7-6/1-6/7-6. Whew! Sania, I hope you got the name of that #1144-ranked truck.
10.Mia 4th - Sharapova d. Kirilenko
...3-6/6-4/6-1. When the Marias meet does Sharapova let their friendship distract her? This isn't the first three-setter they've played against each other.


*TIER I EVENTS in 2006**
Tokyo - Dementieva d. Hingis
Indian Wells - Sharapova d. Dementieva
Miami - Kuznetsova d. Sharapova

*2006 TOP 10ers - WTA W/L*
23-4...Amelie Mauresmo
21-4...Maria Sharapova
18-3...Justine Henin-Hardenne
18-6...Nadia Petrova
16-4...Svetlana Kuznetsova
16-5...Elena Dementieva
11-5...Patty Schnyder
9-3....Kim Clijsters
8-3....Lindsay Davenport
4-2....Mary Pierce
0-1....Venus Williams

4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
4...Svetlana Kuznetsova
4...Amelie Mauresmo
3...Maria Sharapova
2...Elena Dementieva
2...Martina Hingis

4...Amelie Mauresmo (3-1)
3...Justine Henin-Hardenne (2-1)
3...Maria Sharapova (1-2)
3...Flavia Pennetta (0-3)

5...Amelie Mauresmo (4-1)
5...Maria Sharapova (3-2)
4...Justine Henin-Hardenne (3-1)
4...Martina Hingis (1-3)



1.Svetlana Kuznetsova
2.Maria Sharapova
3.Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur
4.Nadia Petrova
5.Anna-Lena Groenefeld
HM-Elena Dementieva

RISER: Nadia Petrova
VETERAN: Martina Hingis
FRESH FACE: Jarmila Gajdosova
DOWN: Justine Henin-Hardenne

Kuznetsova wins Miami, taking her first Tier I after three wins over current/former #1 players

Indian Wells SF - Dementieva d. Henin-Hardenne... 2-6/7-5/7-5. Punch-Sober overcomes 6-2/5-2 hole to down JHH.

After woeful starts to their seasons, Anna-Lena Groenefeld (Acapulco singles & doubles champ) and Jie Zheng (Miami QF) turn things around with some well-timed inspired play

Miami 1st - Anna Tatishvili d. Sania Mirza
...7-6/1-6/7-6. Sania...#1144?

Miami 1st - Jill Craybas d. Kim Clijsters
...7-5/3-6/7-5. Clijsters puts up 10 double-faults and 80 errors.

Dally Randriantefy retired. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy returned.

Just like Anna-Lena Groenefeld late last season in Moscow, Tatiana Golovin saw a potentially montumental win over Maria Sharapova go by the wayside thanks to a severely turned ankle.

Jarmila Gajdosova won 17 straight matches and three titles.



...after three outings in "Battle Royale 2006" -- Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami -- the standings are:

4th Rounders: tied 19-19
Quarterfinalists: Backspin 13-11
Semifinalists: Pierre Cantin 8-5
Finalists: tied 2-2
Champions: tied 0-0 (ouch!)

The Royale continues in Charleston, Berlin, Rome and Roland Garros.

As for Week 14...

05 F: Davenport d. Farina Elia
06 TOP: Petrova/Schnyder

SF: Petrova d. Sprem; Kuznetsova d. Groenefeld
FINAL: Kuznetsova d. Petrova

...why not?

All for now.


ALSO THIS WEEK: A complete wrap-up of the 2006 1st Quarter with the "WTA Backspin 1Q Awards," "ATP Backspin 1Q Awards" and the "Backspin 1Q Quiz"


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