Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Wk.15-Scarlett Fever

As the WTA Tour, after a brief break for Fed Cup play and a little rest, readies to head off to Europe for the red clay season, 2006's top stories are coming into sharper focus.

First out of the gates was Amelie Mauresmo's title-winning run in Melbourne, along with Justine Henin-Hardenne's retirement in the final (whether that one merits being called a "story" or not). Then, the comeback of Martina Hingis consumed most of the headlines, along with the opinions about the absences and careers of the Williams sisters. Right now, though, the big story is Nadia Petrova.

She applied yet another layer of icing to her season's cake last week in Charleston, running off with another title (her third of the season, and fourth in the last six months), her biggest yet. Her first Tier I crown was the fourth claimed by a Russian in 2006.

1.Amelie Mauresmo (3511)
2.Kim Clijsters (2941)
3.Maria Sharapova (2753)
4.Justine Henin-Hardenne (2693)

3...Amelie Mauresmo
2...Justine Henin-Hardenne

The second of Petrova's back-to-back American claycourt titles made her just the sixth player to accomplish the Amelia Island-South Carolina (now in Charleston, but formerly in Hilton Head) sweep -- the previous five have combined for a total of 60 slam singles crowns -- and further secured her role as a true Roland Garros contender in a few months time.

1981...Chris Evert
1986...Steffi Graf
1987...Steffi Graf
1988...Martina Navratilova
1991...Gabriela Sabatini
1992...Gabriela Sabatini
1995...Conchita Martinez

5...Amelie Mauresmo
2...Justine Henin-Hardenne
2...Lindsay Davenport
2...Nicole Vaidisova
2...Michaella Krajicek

23-4...Amelie Mauresmo
21-4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
21-4...Maria Sharapova
21-6...Svetlana Kuznetsova
21-8...Martina Hingis

With a 17-1 record in her last eighteen matches, a string that's included three titles and a win over #1 Mauresmo (in the Doha final), Petrova is putting on a real push for Player of the Year To Date. Of course, with the Frenchwoman's Oz title sticking out like a sore thumb against Petrova's campaign, it's now apparent what Scarlett's next hurdle must be. The quest to become a champion and Tier I winner has become quite successful. A Top 5 ranking is a reality, too. Being the top-ranked Russian could be something that comes to her soon, as well. But the fourth Russian slam winner? That's still floating around in the WTA ether, with Elena Dementieva the other countrywoman vying with Petrova for the honor. Hmmm, how long before Roland Garros starts? (One day sooner than normal, with the new Sunday start of play this season, by the way.)

With a 10-0 start, the clay season couldn't have begun any better for Scarlett. Now, she joins forces with Dementieva in the Fed Cup battle against Belgium this weekend... in Belgium (uh-oh).

Did I say things couldn't get any better? Well, another successful weekend and her new coach will have to tie a rope around Petrova's leg to keep her from floating much farther above the cloud she already finds herself walking on in these early days of spring.


S: Nadia Petrova d. Patty Schnyder 6-3/4-6/6-1
D: Raymond/Stosur d. Ruano-Pascual/Shaughnessy



...Petrova beat the likes of Safarova, Groenefeld and Schnyder on the court, not to mention the searing heat that threatened to put in jeopardy the continuation of her steady, and sometimes stellar, April run. With her coach sitting in the stands wondering if she'd retire from the match, Petrova handled herself well, conserving energy but not sacrificing her game in the process. Even while physically wavering, she made Schnyder work to win a 6-4 2nd set, then got a second wind and a dose of confidence early in the 3rd (you could tell she was feeling a bit better when she headed an errant tennis ball over the net after one point... something she wouldn't have wasted the energy to do just a half hour earlier). Petrova ended up winning the deciding set at 6-1, pushing her ranking to a career-best #5 and becoming the first player since Conchita Martinez eleven years ago to pull off the Amelia Island-Charleston/Hilton Head sweep to start the clay season. Mauresmo is still the 2006 Player of the Year (so far), but Petrova is a big two weeks in Paris from nudging her aside.
RISERS: Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur & Anna-Lena Groenefeld

...hey, look -- Sammy's got a new WTA website bio pic! With every passing week, those missed match points in the Australian Open Doubles final are becoming more and more of an anomaly for the Raymond/Stosur team. They won their fifth title of the season in Charleston, and have swept all four Tier I's. Meanwhile, ALG continued her upward progression by upsetting Svetlana Kuznetsova and reaching her first Tier I SF. She's now at another career-best #14 singles ranking... and is #7 in doubles, too, making her the only WTA player in the Top 15 in both (the closest others are Daniela Hantuchova at #16/#13 and Elena Likhovtseva at #19/#9).
SURPRISE: Catalina Castano
...the 25-year old from Colombia upset Nicole Vaidisova and Marion Bartoli en route to an impressive Tier I QF result.
VETERANS: Patty Schnyder & Conchita Martinez
...Schnyder reached her second career Charleston final (2002), and outlasted Henin-Hardenne in the SF for her first win in seven tries against the Belgian. But she couldn't find a way to put away a stressed Petrova, giving her entire week a "what could have been" quality. Within 24 hours of Petrova becoming the first to sweep the two American clay court events since Martinez did it in '95, the 34-year old (her birthday was on Sunday) Spaniard called it quits for an eventual Hall of Fame career. The 1994 Wimbledon champ ends with 739 wins (sixth all-time), 33 singles titles, 13 doubles titles and 3 Olympic medals (two silvers and a bronze). Adios, Conchita.
FRESH FACE: Vasilisa Bardina
...the 18-year old from Russia won the Jackson $25K event, giving her back-to-back ITF titles.
DOWN: Nicole Vaidisova & Shuai Peng
...whether it's the clay or a nagging injury, Vaidisova has been in a bit of a downturn of late. Her opening match loss to Castano in Charleston only highlighted it. Maybe playing Fed Cup this week will kick-start things. Peng lost in the 1st Round, as well. That itself wouldn't qualifying as a "Down" moment, though, if it wasn't also the fifth time in six events this season that she's been bounced from the draw without notching a victory.


1.Chas F - Petrova d. Schnyder
...6-3/4-6/6-1. It was good seasoning for Petrova to have to show some character in gutting out a win against Schnyder's many spins (and drop shots... which Patty went to so much that the Russian thankfully learned to anticipate them before she was inspired to toss her racket out of the stadium in frustration) and the South Carolina heat. Further toughening up like that is just what she'll need in Paris. For now, though... watch your back, Supernova. You've got company.
2.Chas Doub.F - Raymond/Stosur d. Ruano-Pascual/Shaughnessy
...3-6/6-1/6-1. Simply, the best in the biz right now.
3.Chas QF - Groenefeld d. Kuznetsova
...6-3/7-6. ALG's serve -- for good, as well as bad -- ruled the day. Kuznetsova just couldn't get on top of the German's power, and setting up behind the baseline (and never forcing the action) ultimately made the final result an elementary one.
4.Chas 1st - Castano d. Vaidisova
...7-5/6-2. Do you smell a curse?
5.Chas SF - Schnyder d. Henin-Hardenne
...2-6/6-3/6-2. JHH tires down the stretch again, the second time in her two three-setters since Melbourne. Thankfully, for her, Europe's weather might be a little less brutal as the Belgian tries to copy her '05 claycourt dominance.
HM- Chas SF - Petrova d. Groenefeld
...6-1/6-3. These two formed a "Backspin Dream Team" doubles combo in Charleston, too (they reached the SF).


16...Amelie Mauresmo (Jan-Feb)
11...Maria Sharapova (March)
10...Justine Henin-Hardenne (Jan)
10...NADIA PETROVA (Apr-current)

11...Maria Sharapova
10...Anastasia Myskina
9....Olga Morozova
6....Svetlana Kuznetsova
5....Elena Dementieva
4....Dinara Safina

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

Tokyo - Dementieva (RUS) d. Hingis (SUI)
I.W. - Sharapova (RUS) d. Dementieva (RUS)
Miami - Kuznetsova (RUS) d. Sharapova (RUS)
Charleston - Petrova (RUS) d. Schnyder (SUI)

1442...Martina Navratilova
1304...Chris Evert
900....Steffi Graf
839....Virginia Wade
759....Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
704....Evonne Goolagong
703....Lindsay Davenport

1661...Martina Navratilova
1448...Chris Evert
1168...Virginia Wade
1054...Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1015...Steffi Graf


==WEEK 16 - FED CUP==

A two-week break in the WTA schedule begins this week, with the Fed Cup filling the void this first "off" weekend.

Of course, the big headline-grabber will be the Russia-Belgium tie, with Henin-Hardenne and Clijsters showing up against Petrova & Dementieva (but not Myskina and, of course, Sharapova) and the rest of the two-time defending Fed Cup champion band of Russians. It should be an intense affair, but don't be surprised if it's not as close as everyone is hoping with so much firepower on home soil going the Belgians' way.

=FED CUP 1st Round Picks=
France d. Italy 3-2
Spain d. Austria 4-1
Germany d. USA 3-2 (but the Americans could pull an upset)
Belgium d. Russia 4-1

=Group II Picks=
Japan d. Switzerland 4-1
Croatia d. Argentia 5-0
Czech Republic d. Thailand 5-0
China d. Indonesia 4-1

All for now.


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