Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wk.20-The Martina Code

After Rome, where does the truth lie? With her first WTA singles title since 2002 -- a Tier I, no less -- now in hand, has Martina Hingis cracked the code required for her to be able to belatedly win her first Roland Garros crown? Or has the landscape simply been prettied-up with an impressive piece of sterling silver for the Swiss Miss' trophy case, and we really didn't learn anything from Italy that we didn't already know?

Just what is "The Martina Code" for Paris?

As with the likes of Sampras, McEnroe, Becker and (so far) Federer, decoding Roland Garros has been an impossible task for Hingis, although the seemingly complementary surface serves to neutralize the power of her more physically-imposing opponents. Even during her teenaged salad days Hingis wasn't able to leave Paris with a smile as sincere as her clever shotmaking. In 1997, at 16, she was #1 in the world and won three slam titles, but a fall from a horse in April robbed her of most of her EuroClay tuneup season, then she lost in the RG final to one-hit wonder Iva Majoli. In 1999, her infamously immature outbursts during her losing effort in the final against Steffi Graf helped send the German vet into retirement with one last superior result on her resume, and altered Hingis' "golden girl" image forever... well, at least until recently. Needless to say, Paris has not been kind to the now 25-year old (and new) #14-ranked player in the world. After that '99 final, Hingis never won another slam title, going 0-4 in slam finals in the three-plus intervening years between that memorable afternoon and her '02 retirement.

2006 has provided a wonderful stage for Hingis' successful comeback, but did this past weekend's results in Rome change any of the perceptions of Hingis that have developed over the course of the season? Quite honestly, no. We already knew that she could handle players outside the Top 10 (going 28-3 in '06) with relative ease, but was far less successful (3-7) against those residing within the Top 10. In Rome, Hingis never faced a Top 10er, and semifinal opponent #12-ranked Venus Williams is still making her way back from an extended layoff (and clay isn't exactly her best surface anyway). Even in the Williams match, that 0-6 1st set defeat perfectly illustrated the wild momentum swing that occurred during the contest.

Nothing against what Hingis accomplished in Rome, but last week only really served to prove what we already knew. She'll be a factor in Paris, a sure thing to reach the Round of 16, and will cross her fingers for a draw that helps her avoid as many elite players as possible. She could reach the SF, or even the final... but then she'd have to discover some code-breaking expertise that's eluded her during her career's first stanza, as well as during Hingis II.

Could she do it? Sure. But, ala Barbaro, her chances are probably 50-50, at best, to find the "Martina Code" key that would finally put an end to Hingis' string of exits from Paris with a smile as ironic as the Mona Lisa's is enigmatic.

The secrets will begin to unravel on Sunday.


ROME, ITALY (I-Red Clay)
S: Martina Hingis d. Dinara Safina 6-2/7-5
D: Hantuchova/Sugiyama d. Peschke/Schiavone

S: Meghann Shaughnessy d. Martina Sucha 6-2/3-6/6-3
D: Yan/Zheng d. Harkleroad/Mattek

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Martina Hingis
...career title #41 was the first since Tokyo in February '02, and came during the same week Hingis won her 500th career match (officially, she's now at 502).
RISER: Dinara Safina

...Safina wasn't able to make it six straight Russian Tier I winners, but her Roman Holiday included three Top 10 wins over Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and (most importantly) Kim Clijsters. She's now at a career-best #15.
SURPRISES: Jelena Jankovic & Alicia Molik
...Jankovic had suffered through 10 consecutive losses before her QF run in Italy. Wins over Maria Sanchez-Lorenzo and Katerina Srebotnik, far from clay court hacks, helped soothe over her eventual loss to Venus. Molik didn't get a win, losing in two quick sets to Srebotnik, but it was enough of a surprise to see her return to the court. In Istanbul, she pushed Tamira Paszek to three tight sets. Progress comes in many forms, and the Aussie Steamer's is simple and direct at the moment.
VETERANS: Hingis & Meghann Shaughnessy

...Hingis didn't have to defeat a Top 10 player, but she did mow through five from the Top 20 in Safina, Venus, Pennetta, Schiavone and Vaidisova. Shaughnessy, 27, won in Morocco for her first WTA title since January '03 in Canberra, and (both surprisingly and, really, not-so-surprisingly) was the first American to reach a WTA singles final this year. It was the Shillelagh's fourth career crown.
FRESH FACE: Romina Oprandi

...being in Rome, and with a Swiss woman taking the title, wouldn't you know that a Swiss-born Italian such as 20-year old Oprandi would make a name for herself. She's been popping up on Backspin in this category this season (and last) as one of the queens of the ITF, but this run to a Tier I QF was even more impressive. Oprandi knocked off Samantha Stosur and Vera Zvonareva before pushing Kuznetsova to a 7-6 3rd set.
DOWN: Marion Bartoli
...Italian Bartoli wasn't in Rome, but she was the #1 seed in Rabat (as she was in Prague a week earlier). And for the second straight week, Bartoli's top seed didn't prevent her from losing in the 1st Round. Conspicuously absent here, of course, is Kim Clijsters, who was dropped by Safina in the 3rd Round in Rome. The reason? I suppose I'm saving her for when she fails to win Roland Garros.

1.Rome F - Hingis d. Safina
...6-2/7-5. Tier I finals have almost been exclusively Russian (8 finalists) and/or Swiss (3) affairs in 2006, save for the appearance of a single Belgian RU (JHH in Berlin). Hingis was RU in Tokyo to Dementieva in February.
2.Rome 3rd - Safina d. Clijsters
...6-4/7-6. Paris isn't here yet, and Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are still months away, but I'll stand by my early prediction that Clijsters won't win a slam in '06. She's satisfied with her one from last September.
3.Rome SF - Hingis d. V.Williams
...0-6/6-3/6-3. This was Hingis' first win over Venus since the Australian Open SF in 2001.
4.Rome SF - Safina d. Kuznetsova
...3-6/6-4/7-5. Maybe the Contessova will spruce up at Roland Garros, but she's been passed over by fellow Russians on the "potential favorites" list seemingly on a weekly basis of late. She led here 6-3/4-3, but lost in 2:33.
5.Rab F - Shaughnessy d. Sucha
...6-2/3-6/6-3. TWO champions named Martina simply weren't in the cards for Week 20.
HM-Rome Doubles 2nd - Dulko/Kirilenko d. Raymond/Stosur
...6-3/7-5. Finally, this duo loses in a Tier I in '06.


11...Lindsay Davenport
8....Justine Henin-Hardenne
7....Serena Williams
6....Amelie Mauresmo
6....Venus Williams
5....Kim Clijsters
5....Mary Pierce


#89...Lourdes Dominguez-Lino (Bogota)
#60...Michaella Krajicek (Hobart)



...okay, I'll give it yet another try, for what it's worth. Which, up to this point in the season, isn't very much.

05 F: Medina-Garrigues d. Domachowska
06 TOP: Schnyder/Vaidisova
SF: Schnyder d. Garrigues; Vaidisova d. N.Li
FINAL: Schnyder d. Vaidisova

05 F: V.Williams d. Vaidisova
06 TOP: Myskina/Groenefeld
SF: Castano d. Krajicek; Groenefeld d. Peer
FINAL: Groenefeld d. Castano


All for now.


THIS WEEKEND: Roland Garros Preview, and "The Daily Backspin" begins on Sunday


Blogger mjgrace22 said...

Didn't Hingis lost to Dementieva in Tokyo, not to Sharapova?

Tue May 23, 09:33:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Whoops. Yep, Dementieva beat Hingis in the Tier I in Tokyo. Sharapova's Tier I title was in Indian Wells, where she beat... hmmm, Dementieva, of course. So confusing. :)

Wed May 24, 06:41:00 PM EDT  

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