Monday, July 24, 2006

Wk.29- Le Tour de Zvonareva

You think Floyd Landis accomplished something big on Sunday in Paris by winning the Tour de France while overcoming a deteriorating hip and a seemingly impossible time deficit? You think Tiger Woods deserves a pat on the back for taking the British Open in Liverpool while overcoming the lingering grief resulting from the death of his father?

Well, then what's to be made of what Vera Zvonareva did in Cincinnati? She had to overcome herself in order to take what might be the biggest stand in her still-young career, and it might just change everything.

Zvonareva has always been exceptionally talented, but she's often been an emotional wreck. too... with the latter trait most times overwhelming the former, to the detriment of the Russian's career. Over the past few years, she's become so identified with her easy on-court tears that even that cliche-ridden list of nicknames that the U.S. Open Series threw out a year ago couldn't ignore it, dubbing her "The Drama Queen." In "The Rivals," Ted Tinling noted that the emotional Martina Navratilova went "from arrogance to panic with nothing in between," often from point-to-point during a match. Zvonareva perfected the art of simply zooming to Step Two in that equation, never bothering with the arrogance part.

Thing is, during the sunny Russian summer of 2004, Zvonareva was right in the thick of her nation's tennis revolution. She climbed into the Top 10 in August and looked as if she might be the next Hordette to join the slam winner's brigade. Two years can make quite a difference. Last season was interrupted by several injuries, but her overall 21-21 record spoke volumes about Zvonareva's inconsistency on levels not confined to simply her health. While she's managed to eek out at least one singles title every year since 2003, Zvonareva's only reached the QF of a slam once (RG '03) and has yet to notch a single slam match win in 2006 (she's 0-3).

Barely a month ago, Zvonareva's ranking had fallen all the way to #78 after a string of ten tournaments saw her lose five straight 1st Round matches, then follow that streak up by exiting the next five events in the 2nd Round. But her results sparked up right before Wimbledon when she won her first grass court title in Birmingham. A bad draw at SW19 led to her opening round ouster at the hands of Kim Clijsters, but Zvonareva doesn't seem to have taken the easy way out this time around. Her pre-Wimbledon course has remained true after leaving the All-England Club.

In Cincinnati, she didn't lose a set on her way to the title, all the way through her less-than-an-hour, 6-2/6-4 win over Katarina Srebotnik in the final. But her most important victory last week might have come a day earlier, where Zvonareva put an abrupt end to the tournament's biggest story -- the comeback of Serena Williams. The easy 6-2/6-3 win, even though coming in a Tier III semifinal, might end up being one of the biggest -- if not THE biggest -- in her career if the rest of the hard court season plays out in her favor. True, Williams was likely tired at the end of her first week of action in six months, but the emotional wreck that has often been the 21-year old Russian in big matches in the past very easily could have resurfaced in the match. It didn't, and that could be a significant moment in Zvonareva's career.

[active Russians]
11...Maria Sharapova
10...Anastasia Myskina
6....Svetlana Kuznetsova
5....Elena Dementieva
5....Nadia Petrova
4....Dinara Safina

Even with her disappointing results over much of the past two years, Zvonareva's career resume STILL stacks up pretty well against her Russian counterparts, save for any ever-important grand slam breakthrough, of course. That's why Cincinnati could be so very important. While the rest of the Horde members appear to be in various states of rest or rehab, she has a chance to shine. Maybe her sustained level of performance, from Birmingham to Cincinnati, and through Serena, will finally allow Zvonareva's confidence level to match her potential over the next month, and pay even bigger dividends at the end of the 3rd Quarter. She missed the U.S. Open a year ago with an ankle injury (the first slam absence of her career), so why not make her return to New York worthy of a ticker tape parade? Remember, Svetlana Kuznetsova came of age on the North American hard courts two years ago. Why can't Zvonareva do it now? Will she take advantage of her opportunity? We'll know by the time the tour hits New York.

If she does, most will say "good for her." Others will say that "it's about time" she had a breakthrough. Either way, Zvonareva is suddenly a Russian to keep a close eye on again. Finally.

Maybe next time, the tears can be ones of joy.


S: Vera Zvonareva d. Katarina Srebotnik 6-2/6-4
D: Camerin/Dulko d. Domachowska/Mirza

S: Anabel Medina-Garrigues d. Tathiana Garbin 6-4/6-4
D: Husarova/Krajicek d. Canepa/Gabba

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Vera Zvonareva 2006, she's won more events than fellow Russians Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Myskina, Dementieva and Safina... and picked up a Mixed Doubles crown at Wimbledon, as well. With this one title in Cincy, Zvonareva's ranking jumped from #50 to #37.
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva & Anabel Medina-Garrigues

...Cincinnati wins over Tatiana Golovin, Jelena Jankovic and Serena have put Zvonareva on serve for what could turn out to be the most important month of her career if she plays her cards right. Meanwhile, the perpetually underrated Medina-Garrigues, 24, rebounded rather nicely from her Fed Cup SF disappointment, winning Palermo for a third straight year to run her career WTA title total to six.
SURPRISES: Serena Williams & Karin Knapp
...sure, it's a bit of a cheat to say that Serena was a "surprise" when NOTHING she does ever really shocks anyone (including wearing a catsuit on court, or had she won Cincinnati in her return to action for the first time since losing in the 3rd Round in Melbourne). Still, the ease with which she dispatched Myskina, Bethanie Mattek and Amy Frazier en route to her SF result after such a long layoff means that if her health holds up she'll be a force again in Flushing. For the record, TRUE surprise Palermo quarterfinalist Karin Knapp, who upset Klara Koukalova along the way, is another from the heaping plate of Noodles that's perked up the tour in '06 -- she's a 19-year old Italian now ranked #200 in the world.
VETERAN: Amy Frazier
...the 34-year old American reached the Cincy QF, losing to Serena, but her wins over Jessica Kirkland and Gisela Dulko says something about the woman who'll play in her 20th straight US Open next month. When she made her Open debut in 1987, Kirkland hadn't yet been born and Dulko was experiencing the "terrible two's."
FRESH FACES: Sania Mirza & Aravane Rezai

...the North American hardcourt season is here, and 19-year old Sania might finally be ready to fight her way out of the shell in which she's been residing throughout most of 2006. An impressive, if inconsistent 6-1/0-6/6-1 win over Emma Laine, a nail-biting QF against defending champ Patty Schnyder and a trip to the doubles final highlighted Mirza's (hopefully) reinvigorating week in Cincy. 18-year old Pastry Rezai, still somewhat fresh off pushing Nicole Vaidisova to three sets in Roland Garros, knocked off Ekaterina Bychkova and Michaella Krajicek in Palermo to reach a WTA career-best QF.
DOWN: Flavia Pennetta & Tatiana Golovin
...what happened to these two is precisely what happens to many Fed Cup heroines the week after they lead their countries to impressive victories -- they lost their first matches the next time out. For Pennetta, it was a Palermo 1st Rounder to Julia Schruff. For Golovin, a humbling 3-6/0-6 crushing by Zvonareva in Cincinnati.

1.Cin 1st - S.Williams d. Myskina
...6-2/6-2. You didn't have to listen very closely to hear the collective "uh-oh" that came from the entire WTA field after this result was posted.
2.Cin SF - Zvonareva d. S.Williams
...6-2/6-3. Might this be Zvonareva's biggest win since she upset Sharapova in Montreal a few months after she'd won Wimbledon in '04?
3.Cin F - Zvonareva d. Srebotnik
...6-2/6-4. Oh, and Vera won the FINAL, as well. A bit anticlimactic, though, wasn't it? By the way, no one won more games in a set off Zvonareva last week than the four Srebotnik managed to pry away from her in the 2nd set here.
4.Pal F - Medina-Garrigues d. Garbin
...6-4/6-4. AMG is the only current three-time defending champ on tour, and no one has ever won as many titles in Palermo (four) as she has during her career.
5.Cin QF - Schnyder d. Mirza
...7-6/7-5. It was a loss, but it ended an encouraging week that might have signalled a return to significance for the Indian Princess in '06.
6.Pal SF - Medina-Garrigues d. Safarova
...6-4/6-4. Ditto for Lucie Safarova, after quite a few discouraging months of her own leading into her Fed Cup nadir of a week prior.
7.Cin Doub.F - Husarova/Krajicek d. Canepa/Gabba
...6-0/6-0. You don't see double-bagels in WTA finals very often, not even in a Tier IV event against a pair of qualifiers such as Noodles Alice Canepa & Guilia Gabba.
8.Darmstedt $25K QF - Hlavackova d. Dokic
...7-6/6-1. Why is this result here? Well, just so that I could mention that qualifier Dokic reached the QF of a sanctioned event (excluding the internal Aussie Open wild card playoff last December) for the first time since reaching the Tokyo SF in February 2004. Small steps.
9.WTT - Kutuzova (NYB) d. V.Williams (PHI)
...5-2. Sure, it was in the shortened version of a WTT set, but Vaidisova beat Sharapova in Team Tennis play before making her own huge strides on the WTA tour.
10.Cin Q1 - Cohen d. Schultz-McCarthy
...6-2/6-4. The story here was the 35-year old Schultz-McCarthy taking back the fastest-serve record from Venus Williams with a 130-mph screamer.

4...Amelie Mauresmo
4...Justine Henin-Hardenne
4...Nadia Petrova
3...Shahar Peer
2...Michaella Krajicek

2...Mauresmo (Antwerp, 2005-06)
2...Henin-Hardenne (Roland Garros 2005-06)
(ALSO: Davenport - Filderstadt, 2004-05... tournament in Stuttgart in '06)

[by nation]
7....Czech Republic

...all hail Anabel Medina-Garrigues! She finally ended Backspin's long 2006 nightmare. The streak of twenty-three tournaments in a row without a champion is history!!

05 FINAL: Clijsters d. V.Williams
06 TOP: Clijsters/Schnyder
SF: Clijsters d. Vaidisova; Groenefeld d. Hantuchova
FINAL: Clijsters d. Groenefeld

05 FINAL: Smashnova d. Castano
06 TOP: Castano/Krajicek
SF: Castano d. Sucha; Dominguez-Lino d. Krajicek
FINAL: Castano d. Dominguez-Lino

...the teams participating won't be known until the end of the week. A year ago, Martina Hingis led the N.Y. Sportimes to the title.

All for now.


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