Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wk.25-Welcome Back, Petit Taureau

It's a little difficult to fathom that the world's #3-ranked player, the leader in the 2006 points race who has claimed one slam this season and been runner-up in the other, the champion of four tournaments on three surfaces who's put together two double-digit winning streaks and just became the fastest woman to $2 million dollars in a calendar year in tennis history can finally be "welcomed" to the season in June... but that's sort of the case here.

Justine Henin-Hardenne has been around all year, but "Le Petit Taureau" didn't TRULY show up until Saturday in Eastbourne.

Finally, against Anastasia Myskina in the final at Devonshire Park, Justine played -- and won -- the match I know that I've personally been waiting for her to pull off all season. Down a set, down a break twice in the 3rd set... failing to convert three match points at 5-4 (up 40-0 on Myskina's serve) in the set, then a fourth in the deciding tie-break... but still not seeming to break a sweat in pulling off her 27th career singles title, and making the successful transition from clay to grass while keeping her now-eleven match winning streak intact. Masterful. Simply masterful.

Now, it's onto SW19 to play the only slam that JHH has yet to win. If she plays the way she did in Eastbourne, that last part might not be able to be said for much longer. With #1-ranked Amelie Mauresmo sliding and #2 Kim Clijsters, um, "coughing" (to avoid that athletically uglier, more descriptive word that starts with "c"), #3 Henin-Hardenne is looking suspiciously ready to reassume her royal position on the WTA throne.

So, will Justine really win Wimbledon? Well, Justine might not... but Le Petit Taureau certainly could.

The search for evidence of her arrival at the All-England Club begins on Monday.


S: Justine Henin-Hardenne d. Anastasia Myskina 4-6/6-1/7-6(5)
D: Kuznetsova/Mauresmo d. Huber/M.Navratilova

S: Michaella Krajicek d. Dinara Safina 6-3/6-4
D: Yan/Zheng d. Ivanovic/Kirilenko

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Justine Henin-Hardenne
...this second grass title of her career moved her out of a tie with Serena Williams for career singles titles (now 27) amongst active players. At Wimbledon, she'll try to break that tie with Venus with five career slam titles.
RISERS: Zi Yan/Jie Zheng & Dinara Safina
...Raymond/Stosur has been so good this year, it's easy to overlook just how great a year the world's second-best doubles team is having. Yan/Zheng's 's-Hertogenbosch title was their fourth on the season. Dinara didn't seem to be quite as vexed by the grass as her big brother Marat often is at Wimbledon. Well, at least not until she faced Richard Krajicek's younger sister in the Netherlands final.
SURPRISE: Nathalie Dechy
...Dechy hasn't had much to get excited about this season, but she finally found something to smile about with her upset of Mauresmo in the 2nd Round at Eastbourne. Unfortunately for her, she reverted back to her normal '06 form in her next match against Myskina.
VETERANS: Brenda Schultz-McCarthy & Eleni Daniilidou
...native-born Krajicek wasn't the only player to thrill the home crowd in the Netherlands, as Schultz-McCarthy's big serve pushed her into the QF with wins over Laura Granville and Marta Domachowska. In the same event, Eleni the Greek held up her affinity for grass with a SF run after wins over Jie Zheng, Gisela Dulko and Paola Suarez.
FRESH FACE: Michaella Krajicek
...Krajicek, 17, had quite the week back in her home nation. She won her second title of the season, and third of her career, with wins over the top seed (Elena Dementieva), defending champion (Klara Koukalova) and one of the OTHER little sisters (Safina, not Jaslyn Hewitt) of big brothers who've won slam titles. Hmmm, Krajicek could face Amelie Mauresmo in the 2nd Round at Wimbledon. Speaking of which...
DOWN: Amelie Mauresmo
...for a player whose year started out so winningly, Mauresmo sure has been quiet (for all the wrong reasons) lately. Another poor showing in Eastbourne, losing to fellow Frenchie Dechy in her opening match, doesn't really bode well for her holding up her #1 seed at Wimbledon for too many rounds, does it? Still, her game SHOULD fit the grass, and she DID rebound with a doubles title with Svetlana Kuznetsova. So, who knows. (Yeah, right.)

PLAYER: Meilen Tu
...continued her Birmingham grass SF momentum by making it through qualifying.
RISER: Romina Oprandi
...the Italian Noodle held match point (and lost it) against Kuznetsova in Rome, and now she'll get another shot at the Contessova in the 1st Round of Wimbledon.
SURPRISES: Ivana Abramovic & Yaroslava Shvedova many people will know them when they see their names on the Schedule of Play this week?
VETERANS: Nicole Pratt & Tamarine Tanasugarn
...33 and 29, respectively, these two's eyes usually light up a bit when grass court season comes around.
FRESH FACES: Yung-Jan Chan & Vasilisa Bardina

...Taipei's Chan, 16, reached the junior SF at Roland Garros a few weeks ago, then turned around and became the youngest Wimbledon qualifier last week. Russia's Bardina, 18, has been a force on the ITF tour this season, and now gets a shot at fellow qualifier Tu in the 1st Round of Wimbledon.
DOWN: Jelena Dokic 1999, 16-year old qualifier Dokic broke onto the scene at Wimbledon before finally losing to Alexandra Stevenson in the QF. In 2006, a 23-year old Dokic lost to Stevenson again in Wimbledon action... only this time it was in the 1st Round of qualifying.

1.East F - JHH d. Myskina
...4-6/6-1/7-6. The Czarina's been looking for signs of her game coming around? Well, she's made the final in two of her last three events, defeated Kuznetsova in the SF here, and gave Henin-Hardenne quite a run in a very entertaining final match. Saving four match points before finally succumbing to defeat has to make her feel a bit better about things, right?
2.Neth F - Krajicek d. Safina
...6-3/6-4. Hmmmm, let's see, Marat Safin has only reached one Wimbledon QF, and crashed out in the 1st or 2nd Rounds four of the six times he's played there. Meanwhile, Richard Krajicek won the Wimbledon title in 1996, defeating Pete Sampras in the QF to single-handedly split what very well could have been a run of eight straight SW19 titles by the American. Based on family history, this grass court result should have been expected.
3.East QF - Kuznetsova d. Groenefeld
...5-7/7-5/7-6. What is it about Kuznetsova outlasting these young players in matches that she should have lost? First, it was Vaidisova in Paris, and this time ALG led 4-2 in both the 2nd and 3rd sets, served at 5-4/40-15 in the 3rd before dumping three match points with nervous errors and letting the match slip away. Still, Groenefeld's serve and power could prove to be huge assets at Wimbledon, where she could be in position to make a big run if she can learn from her Eastbourne mistakes.
4.East 2nd - Dechy d. Mauresmo
...3-6/6-2/6-3. Has the rest of '06 already become anticlimactic for Amelie?
5.East SF - JHH d. Clijsters
...6-3/5-7/6-1. With JHH in form, and Clijsters looking anything but confident despite being defending champion, this was hardly the most memorable of the 23 match-ups between the Belgians. It's a series that JHH now leads 12-11, by the way.
6.East Doub F - Kuznetsova/Mauersmo d. Huber/Navratilova

...6-2/6-4. Well, Martina is still going to try to get her record 21st Wimbledon title before she turns 50.
7.Wimb Q1 - Stevenson d. Dokic
...4-6/7-6/6-2. Seven years later, 1999's big surprises meet again with singles rankings in the 600's. And, as has been the case with Dokic so often in recent matches, any inkling of adversity was met with little resistence. The one-time Wimbledon semifinalist led this match 6-4/5-4, but once she lost the 2nd set tie-break it was all over except for the handshake at the net. Hard to believe these days that she used to be known for her fighting spirit.
8.Wimb Q1 - Flipkens d. Pichet
...6-4/7-6. What did Virginie do to deserve Flipkens? First, she beat the Belgian in the final qualifying round at Roland Garros, but then got "lucky loser" Flipkens in the 1st Round of the main draw... and lost to her. A few weeks later, they met again in the opening round of Wimbledon qualifying. Pichet won't be getting a similarly immediate rematch.

4...Nadia Petrova
3...Amelie Mauresmo
3...Shahar Peer

3...Mauresmo (Aust./Paris/Antwerp)
3...Petrova (A.I./Charleston/Berlin)

17...Michaella Krajicek (Jan-Hobart)
17...Nicole Vaidisova (May-Strasbourg)

16...Amelie Mauresmo (Jan-Feb)
15...Nadia Petrova (Apr-May)
11...Maria Sharapova (March)

[2+ appearances]
.000 Flavia Pennetta (0-3)
.000 Jelena Kostanic (0-2)
.000 Dinara Safina (0-2)
.000 Francesca Schiavone (0-2)

Lucie Safarova - Gold Coast
Lourdes Dominguez-Lino - Bogota
Anna-Lena Groenefeld - Acapulco

The Wimbledon Preview arrives on Sunday, as...

...makes its debut.

All for now.


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