Monday, April 10, 2006

Wk.14-Squeaky Scarlett & the Justice League of Mother Russia

DATELINE: 9 April 2006

AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA-- With her fellow superheroines previously engaged, Scarlett (secret identity: Nadia Petrova) was called in by the forces of tennis order to save the day. And on the Isle of Amelia, she did just that.

Her Russian colleagues (from the Supernova to Punch-Sober and the Czarina, and on down the line of succession) were mostly scattered throughout the world, but the delightfully squeaky-voiced 23-year old Muscovite was present to carry forth the reputation of the entire Justice League of Mother Russia solely on her back once the Contessova (who'd performed the duty a week earlier in Miami) physically broke down in the next-to-last battle of the weekend. And after a straight sets win over the (still) title-impaired Francesca Schiavone on Sunday, Scarlett now has her eyes set on much bigger prizes.

Often overlooked for her flashier cohorts (they all have flowing capes and cool utility belts, don't you know), Scarlett is brimming with confidence and ready to tackle the clay season with a new vigor after completing her third solo save-the-day mission over the last six months, after having previously gone her entire Justice League career without a single unassisted victory. Armed with a more consistent and calm set of nerves, unlike her final opponent in Amelia Island, the thought that her upcoming European jaunt could end with her at the top of the Justice League heap isn't so far fetched a notion after all.

Alas, a superheroine doesn't have time to rest, as now it's off to the Town of Charles, where Scarlett will likely once again face off against the "forces of evil" (as well as Queen Justine, of course) as the League's sole standard-bearer (what with the Contessova still limping along after her unfortunate weekend, her full-battle participation can't be guaranteed).

So, as this space has been a long-time advocate for this particular Russian's cause, let it be asked loudly and clearly: Have you caught Scarlett Fever?

Well, what are you waiting for?



S: Nadia Petrova d. Francesca Schiavone 6-4/6-4
D: Asagoe/Srebotnik d. Huber/Mirza



...Petrova's getting a lot of practice at raising trophies lately, picking up three Tier II's in six months has made all that heavy lifting somewhat habit-forming. Having unlocked the WTA's title-winning chamber of secrets, she's a very real threat to overtake Maria Sharapova as the top-ranked Russian by the time Wimbledon rolls around. Currently, at #7 and seemingly mere weeks from a near-certain rise into the Top 5, she's just 448 points behind her #4-ranked fellow Russian... and Petrova's contesting once again in this week's Tier I in Charleston, while Sharapova (who's not quite as proficient on clay, anyhow) isn't. At 23-6 on the year (in a tie with Amelie Mauresmo for the most match wins on tour in '06), things are most definitely looking up for Backspin's fave Russian. That great week in Linz last October is turning out to be just as much of a breakthrough as anyone could have hoped.
RISERS: Francesca Schiavone & Anna-Lena Groenefeld
...count 'em up, that's seven trips to singles finals in Schiavone's career. And she's got a 0-7 record to show for it. Ouch. She may have yet to conquer those last match demons, but wins over Groenefeld and Kuznetsova (more on that in a moment) pushed her ranking to a career-best #11. Groenefeld's up to a best-ever #15 (whoops, there goes one of Pierre's predictions down in flames) after a QF result in A.I. and wins over Zvonareva and Safina.
SURPRISE: Maria Elena Camerin

...another of the phalanx of Italians assaulting the WTA scene this year, 24-year old Camerin continues to surprise. In Amelia Island, she notched a few more impressive wins over Marta Domachowska and Katerina Srebotnik.
VETERANS: Jill Craybas & Virginia Ruano-Pascual
...what has gotten into Craybas, anyway? Jankovic and Sprem were amongst her A.I. victims as she surged to another last-American-standing QF result last week. VRP qualified, then downed Nathalie Dechy and Elena Vesnina in singles and also reached the doubles SF.
FRESH FACE: Lucie Safarova far, Safarova is winning the '06 Maiden race with Nicole Vaidisova (but, remember, it's a long year), gaining Amelia's Isle wins over Michaella Krajicek, Mara Santangelo, Craybas and (yes, her) Vaidisova en route to the SF.
DOWN: Jelena Dokic
...the Debutante emerged from her shadowy hiding place in Biarritz to participate in a $25K challenger. She lost... in the first round of qualifying... in straight sets... to the world #709. Sometimes the facts say it all, don't they?


1.AI Doub.1st - Pratt/Stewart d. Stubbs/Morariu
...7-6(5)/7-6(20). Yes, it was 22-20 in the 2nd set tie-break. And, yes, it was the longest TB in WTA history (breaking the 21-19 marathon of Snyder vs. Gagliardi in 1999 in Madrid). Pratt/Stewart had 15 match points (12 of them in the TB!), while Stubbs/Morariu failed to convert three set points.
2.AI SF - Schiavone d. Kuznetsova
...7-6/3-2 ret. Here we go again. As soon as I saw Schiavone have the "outright temerity" to be excited and celebrate her advancement to the final after Kuznetsova's retirement with an abductor injury, I figured the inevitable was about to happen -- there'd be the usual whining and bitching about "sportsmanship" and etiquette and blah-blah-blah. And guess what, that's what happened. First, it should be noted that Schiavone was playing Kuznetsova well in the 1st set before the injury and, second, that Kuznetsova continued to play (and play decently) afterward for half a set... so it wasn't as if she snapped her fibula and bled out on the court. Seriously, the whine and cry brigade should remember that, unless I'm mistaken, conditioning and health are part of the game... so Schiavone needn't act as if she'd just attended a funeral immediately after she's advanced to one of the bigger finals of her career. This is really starting to get ridiculous. Unless players set out a full tea service for their opponent after a match, they get called on the carpet for not acting like a "lady." Grow up, and get over it... you know you can't tell a fiery Italian that she can't be festive after a win. (And, yes, I'm aware of a tinge of hypocrisy here considering at least one previous Backspin soapbox moment... and because of that I vow to even leave the Sisters alone in the future -- if they ever actually play, that is -- when it comes to post-match "antics". Ummm... well, at least I will unless it's simply too easy to exploit it for hopefully comic purposes, that is.)
3.AI 3rd - Safarova d. Vaidisova
...6-1/4-6/6-4. Maybe Nicole does have a bit of the curse in her.
4.AI Final - Petrova d. Schiavone
...6-4/6-4. Nadia's been let in on the formula for WTA success, as Russians have won the last three WTA tour events. But has she gotten the codes necessary to run the Russian 2006 Tier I streak to four in Charleston?
5.Biarritz $25K Q1 - Eleonora Punzo d. Dokic
...7-5/7-5. Who?


**2006 WTA TITLES**
3...Mauresmo (Australian,Paris,Antwerp)
2...Henin-Hardenne (Sydney,Dubai)
2...Petrova (Doha,Amelia Island)

0-3...Flavia Pennetta
0-2...Jelena Kostanic
0-2...Francesca Schiavone

9...Russia (5 titles)
6...France (4)
6...Italy (1)
4...Belgium (2)



...the Battle Royale picks up again in Charleston, as Pierre and I face off in 2006's season-long competition.

05 F: Henin-Hardenne d. Dementieva
06 TOP: Henin-Hardenne/Petrova


Henin-Hardenne d. Safina
Schnyder d. Srebotnik
Groenefeld d. Shaughnessy
Petrova d. Vaidisova
Henin-Hardenne d. Schnyder
Petrova d. Groenefeld
Henin-Hardenne d. Petrova

...I'm banking on Kuznetsova pulling an injury-related disappearing act.


Henin-Hardenne d. Safina
Schnyder d. Sucha
Kuznetsova d. Medina-Garrigues
Petrova d. Vaidisova
Henin-Hardenne d. Schnyder
Kuznetsova d. Petrova
Kuznetsova d. Henin-Hardenne

All for now.


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