Sunday, June 18, 2006

Wk.24- Vera Z & the Georgia Peach

If what happened in Birmingham is any indication of what's going to occur a short time from now at SW19, then hold onto your seat. The tennis world might be about to do a reverse spin on its axis.

I mean, unless Jamea Jackson vs. Vera Zvonareva was precisely the final you were expecting in the grass season's opening salvo, matching a suddenly emerging American against a Russian Hordette still trying to find her way.

When the 2nd Quarter began, 19-year old, Atlanta, Georgia-born Jackson seemed to fit rather snugly into the batch of American women in the post-Venus/Serena/Lindsay/Jennifer Era... a player with some obvious athletic talent, but also one that invariably was missing the key ingredient that would ever make her more than a passing fancy (see the career of Mrs. Ashley Harkleroad Bogomolov).

It's amazing what a few months can do to perceptions.

Jackson may not have strikingly transformed into a future grand slam champion in the early stages of this spring/summer -- though her fortunes certainly bear watching when the tour returns to the American hardcourts in July -- but she's already come a long way since she ended 2005 ranked #75 and lost early '06 matches to the likes of Tzipora Obziler and Yaroslava Shvedova. In the last few months, "The Georgia Peach," daughter of an ex-NFL cornerback, has made quite a name for herself.

It's spelled J-A-M-E-A.

First, somewhat incidentally, she became the answer to a trivia question by being the first player to challenge a line call though replay in a match in Miami against Harkleroad. She lost the challenge, but her thought to take advantage of her opportunity to be "the first" seems to have become a part of her game ever since. Added to the American Fed Cup team by captain Zina Garrison, she seized the opportunity once again -- in her debut FC match, knocking off Anna-Lena Groenefeld in Germany to lead the U.S.'s 1st Round upset. Then, this past week, rather than concede the "inevitable," she took out Maria Sharapova in straight sets on English grass in the Birmingham semifinals.

Watershed Fed Cup heroics on clay. The biggest win of her career on grass. And to think that Jackson says that hard court is her favorite surface.

Of course, Jackson's week didn't have a "storybook" ending, as she was trumped in a wild final 7-6(12), 7-6(5) by Zvonareva.

Needless to say, with two-time defending champ Sharapova in the field, Zvonareva was not the Russian most expected to see hoising the trophy on Sunday. Of course, Vera Z has been battling against expectations for a while now, not always successfully.

She reached #9 in the world in August 2004, smack dab in the middle of the Russian slam feeding frenzy of that season. With all her countrywomen grabbing major titles, Zvonareva's have been akin to chum ever since. Emotions and inconsistency have usually gotten the better of her (in the Birmingham final, she was treated twice for nose bleeds, of all things). She was just 21-21 in '05, but managed to pull herself together for one week to defend her Memphis crown. This year, she reached the Auckland final (going 4-1) to start the season, but went 6-11 afterward and had fallen to #78 before righting herself with six straight wins this past week. But how long will "Good-and-Stable Vera" last this time?

The Vera the Almost days still haven't quite become a thing of the past as, even while managing to win a single title in each of the past four seasons, Zvonareva's stretches of mediocre-or-worse results are still fairly mighty. The period between her last title and this one? Sixteen months. She still hasn't found her way to shore and fully learned to pull herself onto the Russian tennis beach, evolving from a talented player into a true champion. But, at just 21, she may just get there yet.

A first ever grass court title would be a good place to start.

But other than that, the week certainly "went true to form." Boy, imagine what we'd be expecting at Wimbledon if Roger Federer, rather than winning the Halle title and tying Bjorn Borg's record 41-match grass court winning streak, hadn't saved those four match points against Olivier Rochus earlier in the tournament? Or what if Rafael Nadal, who won the 1st set against Lleyton Hewitt on grass at Queen's Club and then retired after the 2nd as a precaution against worsening a sore shoulder, had WON the grass title that Hewitt eventually claimed?

Neither happened, but imagine if they HAD. As it is, we'll have to be content with Sharapova losing the SF on grass and the world #78 facing the world #81 for the title instead.

If you're looking for some sort of comfort in a pattern for this 2006 season finally being established... keep dreaming.


S: Vera Zvonareva d. Jamea Jackson 7-6/7-6
D: Jankovic/N.Li d. Craybas/Huber



PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Vera Zvonareva
...Chakvetadze, Schiavone and Jackson were amongst those left in Vera Z's wake. But what will she do with her newly-found (again) momentum?
RISER: Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez
...the 23-year old Spaniard recently won her third ITF title of the year in Mostoles, and established herself as the potential champ of the FOUR-lettered -- MJMS -- ladies, not to mention managing to combine the names of the two best-ever Spanish female players in her last name.
SURPRISE: Jamea Jackson
... Jackson alone took out both '05 finalists (Sharapova & Jelena Jankovic), the '04 champ (also Sharapova), and threw in a win over the grass court 's-Hertogenbosch '05 champ (Klara Koukalova) for good measure en route to her first ever WTA singles final.
VETERAN: Meilen Tu
...imagine this, two Americans get to the Birmingham semifinals and neither was named Williams or Davenport. 28-year old Tu lost while Jackson won, but the surprising upturn in the '06 results of the "B-team" Americans continues.
FRESH FACES: Jackson & Sanja Ancic
...Mario's little sister made some hay on the ITF tour in '05 by winning a slew of events in her native Croatia. She finally recently won an ITF title OUTSIDE of Croatia, at the $25K in Grado, Italy... where she defeated Ana Vrljic in the final. Vrljic is a Croat. Geez, what is it with this girl? There's a healthy sense of national pride... but this is just plain weird.
DOWN: Maria Sharapova
...Sharapova didn't seem all that worried about losing to Jackson in the SF of the tournament she's won the past two years, including just weeks before her '04 Wimbledon championship run. I guess we'll see if it means anything for SW19 when or if it actually means something at SW19.


1.Birm SF - Jackson d. Sharapova
...6-4/6-4. Sharapova was 25-1 in her last 26 grass matches before this one. Don't know if any pigeons were milling about for this one.
2.Birm F - Zvonareva d. Jackson
...7-6(12)/7-6(5). Zvonareva didn't make things easy on herself. After winning that 14-12 tie-break, she took a 4-0 lead in the 2nd set, then won only six total points as Jackson reeled off five straight games. In the end, though, her grass court cuisine reigned supreme. (I know that makes no sense, but I'm a fan of those old "Iron Chef" shows.)
3.Birm 2nd - Raymond d. Stosur
...4-6/6-1/7-6. "Sammy, thank you for helping me win the Roland Garros doubles title... now take that, babe."
4.Birm 1st - N.Li d. Washington
...6-3/6-3. Washington had a shot at a RG rematch in the 3rd Round with Sharapova. Again, don't know if the pigeons were in attendence.
5.Prostejov $75K F - Smashnova walkover Oprandi.
...Peer might have surpassed Smashnova on the WTA Tour, but this Israeli is so good in finals that Oprandi "didn't even bother to" play her in the final.



4...Nadia Petrova (Doha, A.I., Charleston, Berlin)
1...Maria Sharapova (Indian Wells)
1...Elena Dementieva (Tokyo)
1...Svetlana Kuznetsova (Miami)

11...Maria Sharapova (2003-06)
10...Anastasia Myskina (1999-05)
6....Svetlana Kuznetsova (2002-06)
5....Nadia Petrova (2005-06)
5....Elena Dementieva (2003-06)
4....Dinara Safina (2002-05)
4....VERA ZVONAREVA (2003-06)

#89 Lourdes Dominguez-Lino (Bogota)
#87 Meghann Shaughnessy (Rabat)
#60 Michaella Krajicek (Hobart)



==THE BEAT(ING) GOES ON...== would think that picking Maria Sharapova to win a grass court tournament would be a safe pick, huh? One would think that the unremitting drumbeat of cracked predictions would find a brief moment of respite with the clay court season a thing of the past, right? One would think. And one would be wrong, again. This is getting to be waaaaay too much of a habit.

So, here we go again. Broken, but not unbowed.

05 FINAL: Clijsters d. Dushevina
06 TOP: Mauresmo/Clijsters
SF: Kuznetsova d. Mauresmo; Clijsters d. JHH (oh, no...not again)
FINAL: Clijsters d. Kuznetsova

Mauresmo def Kuznetsova
Henin-Hardenne def Clijsters

Henin-Hardenne def Mauresmo

05 FINAL: Koukalova d. Safarova
06 TOP: Dementieva/Safina
SF: Jankovic d. Ivanovic; Safina d. Kirilenko
FINAL: Jankovic d. Safina

Ivanovic def Krajicek
Safina def Daniilidou

Safina def Ivanovic


All for now.


NEXT WEEKEND: "The Daily Backspin, SW19 Edition" begins with the Wimbledon preview


Blogger Topaz said...

Again, excellent wrap...but was Meilen Tu taken out by Zvonereva in the semis? I wish we could have seen some of these matches on TV. Also, one of the tiebreaks in the final was something like 14-12...the longest we've seen in the WTA for a while!

Tue Jun 20, 09:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Thanks, I tidied that sentence up at bit. Considering Jackson prevailed over Sharapova in one SF kind of made it difficult to play in the other one, as well. Two American semifinalists not named Williams or Davenport must have confused me for a moment there. :)

Wed Jun 21, 09:50:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Oh, and I'd mentioned the 14-12 tie-break in the match section for Zvonareva/Jackson. You must have missed it.

See, it's easy to overlook little things like that. :)

Sharapova-Jackson WOULD have been interesting to see. Well, at least the Eastbourne QF, SF and Final are on Tennis Channel this week.

You know, there was that 22-20 tie-break in a WTA doubles match a few months ago in Amelia Island, though.

Wed Jun 21, 09:59:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Topaz said...

I would love to get to see some of Martina N.'s doubles matches on TV!!! Her and Huber took out Raymond and Stubbs today (yesterday? Not sure with the time change)

It may have been here that I read about the tie-breaks!

Sat Jun 24, 12:10:00 AM EDT  

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