Tuesday, April 04, 2006

WTA Backspin 1Q Awards

Where did all the time go? The 2006 season is already a quarter over?

Amelie Mauresmo has a slam title, while Venus Williams still doesn't have a single victory. Svetlana Kuznetsova is back. Jennifer Capriati is not. Jelena Dokic is hiding behind a heavy mist of (self?) doubt, while Sesil Karatantcheva is in the WTA equivalent of judicial purgatory (and may stay there for two years). Shuai Peng and the Chinese tennis establishment are looking at each other with arched eyebrows, at the same time when the Swiss Miss has been raising eyebrows.

There are STILL so many weeks to play? The 2006 season is ONLY a quarter over?

Guess it just depends on how you look at things, huh?

And now for the awards and recollections from Weeks 1-13...

**PLAYER OF THE 1Q**

1.Amelie Mauresmo...really no contest. After taking the pressure off herself to finally win a slam, she actually won one. Go figure.
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2.Justine Henin-Hardenne...agree with it or not (not!), many will continue to hold her Oz retirement against her. At least they will until she wins enough additional slams to force them to overlook it.
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3.Maria Sharapova...getting close a lot (still), and occasionally winning a big one (like Indian Wells), the Supernova is still something of a work in progress. Should I bring up the "Sharapova Scenario" again?
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4.Svetlana Kuznetsova...she outlasts curses, not to mention #1-ranked players. Miami signalled the official return of the Contessova, and a powerful and in form Sveta could be a bear to face in Paris and SW19, not to mention Flushing Meadows.
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5.Elena Dementieva...somehow, ol' Punch-Drunk tends to get overlooked in favor of other Russians. First in favor of Sharapova, then Myskina, and then Kuznetsova. And Nadia Petrova is ranked ahead of her. But she's developed quite a reservior of on-court guts over the years (having to contend with that serve, how could she not?), and maybe a third trip to a slam final will be her deserved charm.
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6.Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur...this doubles pair came within a few tight Aussie Open match points from pulling a Federer-esque accomplishment of seizing three Tier I's AND a slam title in the season's 1st Quarter. They aren't the two top-ranked doubles players in the world for nothing.
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7.Martina Hingis...seems like she never left now, doesn't it? Has anyone so seamlessly returned to a sport after a three-year absence? She still has problems against the powerful Top 10ers that were often her downfall during Swiss Miss I, but Hingis now has the maturity to accept her physical limitations... and try to figure out ways around them.
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8.Nadia Petrova...her long-overdue first singles title late last season was bound to either enbolden or satiate our Scarlett. With delight, I say the former seems to be the reality. A big slam run might even give her a shot to end the year as the top-ranked Russian.
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9.Zi Yan & Jie Zheng...the pair of Cookies became the first Chinese slam champs when they took the Australian doubles title, overcoming five match points along the way... and putting an early stopper on a Raymond/Stosur big event sweep.
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10.Kim Clijsters...before her Melbourne injury, Clijsters was at least looking like she'd be in the mix for '06 supremacy following her maiden slam title in Flushing. Since then, she's barely played. When push comes to shove, will she still have the same desire down the season's stretch run that she had during her comeback last year?
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**RISERS**
1.Elena Dementieva
2.Samantha Stosur
3.Nadia Petrova
4.Anna-Lena Groenefeld
5.Tatiana Golovin
6.Dinara Safina
7.Sofia Arvidsson
8.Marta Domachowska
9.Marion Bartoli
10.Na Li

**SURPRISES**
1.Tszvetana Pironkova
2.Jelena Kostanic
3.Mara Santangelo
4.Maria Elena Camerin
5.Maret Ani
6.Anna Tatishvili
7.Lourdes Dominguez-Lino
8.Sybille Bammer
9.Aleksandra Wozniak
10.Shenay Perry

**VETERANS**
1.Martina Hingis
2.Lisa Raymond
3.Ai Sugiyama
4.Jill Craybas
5.Eleni Daniilidou

**FRESH FACES**
1.Michaella Krajicek
2.Lucie Safarova
3.Shahar Peer
4.Victoria Azarenka
5.Maria Kirilenko
6.Jarmila Gajdosova
7.Vania King
8.Emma Laine
9.Elena Vesnina
10.Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

**DOWN**
1.Venus & Serena Williams
2.Sesil Karatantcheva
3.Jelena Dokic
4.Sania Mirza
5.Lindsay Davenport

**BEST PERFORMANCE (in theory)**
Martina Hingis going 20-8 (18-2 vs. players outside the Top 10) after three years aways from the game, and reaching a Tier I final in Tokyo

**BEST PERFORMANCE (in reality)**
Svetlana Kuznetsova eliminates three #1-ranked players (Hingis, Mauresmo & Sharapova) in Miami en route to her first Tier I title, and first singles crown of any kind in eighteen months

**BEST MATCH**
Australian Open SF - Henin-Hardenne d. Sharapova
...4-6/6-1/6-4. Le Petit Taureau will most likely like to remember this typically hard-nosed effort under pressure than what happened in the proceding match

**WORST CHOKE (SINGLES)**
Indian Wells SF - Dementieva d. Henin-Hardenne
...JHH uncharacteristically fumbles away a 6-2/5-2 lead against Dementieva, who characteristically took her good sweet time getting into the match. But once she did, the Russian's groundstrokes never allowed the Belgian to wrestle control back from her.

**WORST CHOKE (DOUBLES)**
Australian Open Final - Yan/Zheng d. Raymond/Stosur
...a very special 1st Quarter was lost when the world's best doubles team blew a 3-1 2nd set lead and two match points (after the Chinese pair had saved three other match points in the QF, as well). Of course, maybe this loss inspired Raymond/Stosur to take the three Tier I's that followed?

**BIGGEST UPSET**
Australian Open 1st Round - Pironkova d. V.Williams
...2-6/6-0/9-7. You would have sworn it was Dementieva out there blasting forehands past Venus from all sorts of angles. You never would have sworn it was the same Williams on the court in Melbourne who'd won Wimbledon last year... and you would have been right on that count. As Venus said, "Obviously, she benefitted from my largesse."

**HELLO...GOODBYE...JUST WAITING**
Martina Hingis, Jelena Dokic and Brenda Schultz-McCarthy returned to action. Dally Randriantefy and Daja Bedanova retired. Dokic went AWOL after her 1st Round loss in Melbourne, while once-and-currently-so-again fellow Aussie Alicia Molik's sabbatical from the tour was softened by a stint on the Australian version of "Dancing with the Stars" (and will soon be temporarily suspended for a cameo on the Aussie Fed Cup team).



**SPEAKING OF FED CUP...**
Will there by any more anticipated Fed Cup tie all season than the prospective Russia vs. Belgium meeting that could include both Henin-Hardenne AND Clijsters against... well, whichever of the slew of Hordettes is present?

**BIGGEST WIN**
Zi Yan and Jie Zheng's doubles title in the Australian, the first slam title by any Chinese player. Surviving five match points along the way was just an overly dramatic bonus.

**FALSE START**
Jelena Dokic returned to Australia for the first time in five years, then won the all-Australian mini-tournament for a wild card berth in the Oz main draw. But after prematurely celebrating on a match point against Virginie Razzano in the 1st Round in Melbourne, she lost a tight tie-break then was bageled in the 3rd set. She's pretty much been the Invisible Girl (again) ever since.

**TOO MUCH ADO ABOUT VIRTUALLY NOTHING**
The "Day After Tomorrow"-like handwringing and angry denouncing of Henin-Hardenne's retirement due to a stomach ulcer in the Australian Open final against Amelie Mauresmo. After creating so many memorable moments while playing through pain, pressure and exhaustion in the past, JHH deserved better than for one decision (whether one agreed with it or not) to be threatened to be held over her head for the rest of her career. There's criticism, and there's shameful browbeating... and Henin-Hardenne didn't deserve it.

**IN 2026, NO ONE WILL REMEMBER THE DETAILS**
Amelie Mauresmo won her first career slam in Melbourne in January 2006. In time, that she had three of her seven matches ended by an opponent's retirement will become nothing but an obscure footnote.

**FIRST-TIME WTA SINGLES CHAMPS**
Sofia Arvidsson
Marion Bartoli
Lourdes Dominguez-Lino
Anna-Lena Groenefeld
Shahar Peer
Mara Santangelo

**RUSSIAN DOMINANCE, LEVEL 2**
All three 2006 Tier I events have been won by Russians: Elena Dementieva (Tokyo), Maria Sharapova (Indian Wells), and Svetlana Kuznetsova (Miami)

**THE SERIES THAT ALMOST NEVER HAPPENED**
Remember when Tyson-Holyfield looked like it'd forever be a sports "What If?" Well, time eventually cured that ill (if not Holyfield's ear), just as it did any possible Sharapova vs. Hingis discussions. The pair met three times in the 1st Quarter, with Sharapova winning the final two matches.

**MOST DESPERATE PLEA TO BE LIKED**
In Antwerp, Kim Clijsters returned early from her ankle injury and made a very public "gift" of 11,000 bottles of champagne to the fans in attendence at her first match.

**LEAST DESPERATE PLEA TO BE LIKED**
You guessed it. JHH in Melbourne. As Justine said later, "Some understand and some don't. You can't make people like you." Kim might disagree.

**STILL WAITING**
Jennifer Capriati
Monica Seles

**STILL WINNING**
Martina Navratilova, at the tender age of 49 (the big 5-oh comes this October), reached the Miami Tier I doubles final with partner Liezel Huber

**FAVORITE QUOTE**
Tszvetana Pironkova, on what her fellow players said to her in the lockerroom after her Melbourne upset of Venus Williams: "Well job. Good done." (Hmmm... well, I'm sure that's how Tszvetana heard it, at least.)

**FRIENDLY PERSUASION**
Tennis magazine publisher Chris Evert publicly called for/pleaded with Serena Williams (currently ranked in the #60's) to rededicate herself to the sport

**NOODLE-RIFIC**
There were more WTA singles finalists from Italy in the 1st Quarter than from Belgium, the Czech Republic or Spain.


And finally...

**A WAY WAS FOUND TO SHUT SESIL KARATANTCHEVA'S MOUTH**
Who knew? All it took was a failed drug test. Hmmm... if her pregnancy claim is true, maybe this entry should have been titled "A Way Was Found to Close Sesil Karatantcheva's Legs" instead. Yeah, maybe not.



All for now.

2 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

What are the odds that the Bondarenkos will be the top-ranked sisters at the end of 2006? Might be a bet worth taking....

Wed Apr 05, 03:02:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Wow, the scary thing about that is that if Venus suffers some sort of long-term injury (of course, what are the odds of that?... yeah, right) that very well COULD happen. Wish I'd thought of that one. :)

Wed Apr 05, 09:57:00 AM EDT  

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