Monday, August 14, 2006

Wk.32- Soberly Punching Away

What year is it again? I know it's not 2004, but it's been easy to be fooled the past few weeks. Somewhat quietly, the Russians are rising... again.

No member of the Horde has won a slam title since '04, but this week four Russians reside in the Top 7, and five are in the Top 11. So far this year, there have been eleven singles titles won by Russians (the same number as Belguim & France combined), twenty-two Russian singles finalists (more than Belgium & France combined), and six of the seven Tier I champions heading into Montreal have been Hordettes, as well.

The trend has continued in the 3rd Quarter, it's continued. Anastasia Myskina reached the Stockholm final, and Anna Chakvetadze's game has made noticable progress. Vera Zvonareva and Maria Sharapova won early singles titles, and this weekend in Los Angeles, Elena Dementieva pushed the number of Russian champs on the North American hard courts to three.

Sometimes Dementieva is a little lost in the Russian mix. She made two slam finals in '04, but lost them both to her countrywoman (Myskina & Svetlana Kuznetsova). Thus, in 2006, with the likes of Amelie Mauresmo and Kim Clijsters having recently won slam crowns, Dementieva is quite possibly the best player around (well, until Nicole Vaidisova stitches up a few of her game's remining seams... which could happen at any moment) without a major title.

Dementieva's doings in L.A. provided a perfect vision of what she's become over the years: a player with sometimes brilliant groundstrokes, and one who's found a way to overcome a serve that should be a consistently severe liability... but isn't. Embodying the "Punch-Sober" moniker that replaced her no-longer-necessary "Punch-Drunk" one a while back, Dementieva has learned to gird herself against any letdowns her serve might inspire (when you expect nothing, it's difficult to be disappointed if you manage to keep your double-faults under ten per match, right?).

Along with Dementieva's ability to immediately forget mistakes has also come a toughened interior and exterior. Last year at the U.S. Open, she publicly complained about Mary Pierce's bending of the time-out rules to carve out pockets of non-action during which Pierce essentially reinvigorated herself. A year later, Dementieva is routinely breaking between sets to change outfits, giving herself an additional rest period safely away from the sweltering summer heat. It's not likely a coincidence that in Sunday's final, while Dementieva was off court, Jelena Jankovic remained in the energy-sapping conditions... then proceeded to lose the first five games of the deciding 3rd set. Ultimately, Jankovic had to call for a trainer to apply ice and give her legs a rubdown (attempting to counter the additional time on the hot court that Dementieva had smartly avoided). Rather than fight 'em, Dementieva has joined 'em... and she reaped the dividends last week.

A few years ago, after blowing a set lead, then a 5-0 bulge in the 3rd set over Jankovic, Dementieva probably wouldn't have won the match, which she did on her third match point in L.A. when she broke Jankovic's serve after having seen the score tighten to 5-4. Years of weathering the storm of her own serve, and overcoming her difficulty in actually winning a singles title (she didn't get her first until she was 21), have made Punch-Sober a stronger player, both inside and out.

With the Open getting closer, and with Dementieva experiencing a belt of success along the road to New York, maybe Vaidisova will be able to unequivocally take over the "best never to win" title because Elena will no longer have the need for it.

Another Russian slam champ? Boy, then it really WOULD seem like 2004 all over again.


S: Elena Dementieva d. Jelena Jankovic 6-3/4-6/6-4
D: Ruano-Pascual/Suarez d Hantuchova/Sugiyama

S: Jie Zheng d. Anastasia Myskina 6-4/6-1
D: Birnerova/Gajdosova d. Yan/Zheng

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Elena Dementieva
...Punch-Sober's sixth singles title ties her with Svetlana Kuznetsova, leaving her behind only Maria Sharapova (12) and Anastasia Myskina (10) in career wins amongst the active Hordettes.
RISERS: Jie Zheng & Jelena Jankovic

...even while winning the Stockholm title, Zheng continued in her role as the most overlooked of the Cookies. It figures that in the same week that Zheng won her third career title (more than all other Chinese women combined) Na Li became the first Chinese woman to break into the Top 20. Zheng's already a part of the best Chinese doubles team (with Zi Yan, she was a RU in the Stockholm doubles), but she's the most successful in singles, too. After an 0-5 start this season, she's now bagged two singles titles and five in doubles. Jankovic knows all about slow starts. She began '06 in a 1-10 free fall after changing coaches, but has since rebounded with a 24-10 run that's included two SF, one Final, wins over both Williams sisters (the last to do that was Silvia Farina Elia last year), two three-setters against Kim Clijsters in North America and a week to remember in L.A., even though she didn't win the title. Wins over Serena, Sania Mirza, Lucie Safarova, Samantha Stosur and Ana Ivanovic once again showed just how much talent the 20-year old Serb has. Now, if only she could display it with greater consistency she'd have more than one singles title to her credit.
SURPRISES: Bethanie Mattek & Kelly Liggan remember Mattek. She was the 21-year old American sporting the soccer/1970's boardwalk rollerskater look at Wimbledon against Venus Williams. Well, in L.A., her play actually made the headlines as wins over Kveta Peschke, Flavia Pennetta and Alona Bondarenko got the world #130 into the QF, where she lost a three-setter to Dementieva. Meanwhile, Ireland's Liggan, 27, completed back-to-back ITF $25K title wins in Vigo and Coimbra and pushed her ranking into the Top 200.
VETERANS: Virginia Ruano-Pascual/Paola Suarez
...VRP's upset of Nadia Petrova in L.A. might have qualified her here all by herself, but she brought Suarez along with her when the formerly top-ranked pair won their first title together since Indian Wells seventeen months ago.
FRESH FACES: Caroline Wozniacki & Tszvetana Pironkova Stockholm, the Danish teen (and SW19 Jr. champ) upset vets Iveta Benesova & Eleni Daniilidou en route to the QF. Also in Sweden, Bulgarian slam upset Queen Pironkova (she defeated Venus in Oz, then Groenefeld in Paris) knocked off Catalina Castano and Na Li in reaching her first SF of 2006.
DOWN: Nadia Petrova
...oh, Nadia. This time, it was a 2nd Round loss to VRP in Los Angeles. Whew! That clay court run feels so long ago, doesn't it? Amazing how an injury can change the course of a season... but a great week in Montreal could turn it back the other way, too.

1.LA Final - Dementieva d. Jankovic
...6-3/4-6/6-4. It's easy to believe that Jankovic won herself a load of new fans with her easy going on-court style, as well as her off-court level-headedness in L.A. (not to mention the very un-tennis parent interviews her mom gave to ESPN) Of course, while Jankovic was having fun watching the scoreboard "Kiss Me Cam" between the 2nd and 3rd sets, Dementieva's refreshing of herself in the cool indoors helped create the 5-0 hole that, though she almost pulled it off, was just too deep for Jankovic to escape.
2.Stock Final - Zheng d. Myskina
...6-4/6-1. Not exactly the result the Czarina was looking for a year after another RU result in Stockholm. This makes her 0-3 in '06 finals, but she's mere points from returning to the Top 10 (she's #11, 13 points behind #10 Davenport)... and now has the chance to help her coach star in an episode of "Anastasia and Me" if she calls him to the court in Montreal this week during one of those experimental mid-match coaching sessions the WTA is allowing over the next two weeks.
3.LA 2nd - Stosur d. Davenport
...6-7/6-4/6-3. Not exactly stunning, considering Stosur's singles rise this year and Davenport's lack of match readiness after such a long layoff.
4.LA SF - Dementieva d. Sharapova
...7-5/6-2. The Supernova's tiredness is pretty much going to cede the U.S. Open Series title to Clijsters. Still, she was energetic enough to fight off six match points here before finally succumbing on #7.
5.LA 3rd - S.Williams d. Hantuchova
...1-6/6-3/6-3. This comeback, coupled with another victory from a set down against Meghann Shaughnessy, eventually came back to haunt Serena in her SF match-up with Jankovic. Too much tennis, too soon in her latest comeback... but she's making progress as the Open nears.
6.LA 2nd - Ruano-Pascual d. Petrova
...6-3/6-2. Still finding your way back from your Roland Garros injury? VRP essentially told Scarlett that, frankly, she didn't give a damn, and beat Petrova anyway. Thus, Nadia is still looking for her first win since Wimbledon after this third straight loss.
7.Stock 2nd - Myskina d. Urszula Radwanska
...7-6/6-3. A few weeks ago in Warsaw, Myskina lost to Agnieszka, the OTHER Radwanska sister. She avoided an unwanted Polish sweep by Aggie & Uzi last week.
8.LA QF - Dementieva d. Mattek
...4-6/6-1/6-1. Mattek didn't need to make a fashion scene to get some press last week in California. Wonder if she's played her way into a night match on Arthur Ashe (assuming she draws Serena or Venus, that is)?
9.LA 3rd - Ivanovic d. Groenefeld
...6-1/6-4. ALG still hasn't found her way on hard courts in '06. She's having flashbacks to her awful start Down Under.
10.LA 2st - Peer d. Peng
...6-1/6-0. Wasn't it about a year ago that Peng actually upset Clijsters in San Diego?

4...Nadia Petrova (4-0)
4...Maria Sharapova (2-2)
3...Vera Zvonareva (2-1)
3...Svetlana Kuznetsova (1-2)
2...Dinara Safina (0-2)

3...JIE ZHENG (2005: 1, 2006: 2)
1...Na Li (2004)
1...Zi Yan (2005)

4-0...Nadia Petrova
3-0...Shahar Peer
2-0...Anabel Medina-Garrigues
2-0...Michaella Krajicek

**WINLESS IN 2006 FINALS (2+)**
0-3...Flavia Pennetta
0-2...Jelena Kostanic
0-2...Dinara Safina
0-2...Francesca Schiavone
0-2...Patty Schnyder

3...Justine Henin-Hardenne
2...Svetlana Kuznetsova

...well, back to normal last week. Picked a Russian to win L.A. ... but the champion turned out to be the wrong Russian. My Stockholm pick made the final, then lost.

ROUND OF 16: Pierre leads 51-46
QF: Backspin leads 44-39
SF: Pierre leads 31-27
F: Backspin leads 11-10
Champions: Pierre leads 2-0 (ouch)

05 FINAL: Clijsters d. JHH (Toronto)
06 TOP: Clijsters/Petrova

Clijsters d. Srebotnik
Ivanovic d. Jankovic
Vaidisova d. Li
Groenefeld d. Safina (Backspin death by Girl Friday... again?)
Hantuchova d. Hingis
Kuznetsova d. Sugiyama
Myskina d. Pennetta
Petrova d. Kirilenko
Clijsters d. Ivanovic
Vaidisova d. Groenefeld
Kuznetsova d. Hantuchova
Myskina d. Petrova
Clijsters d. Vaidisova (again)
Myskina d. Kuznetsova
Clijsters d. Myskina

*3rd Round*
Clijsters def Mirza
Ivanovic def Jankovic
Vaidisova def Li Na
Groenefeld def Safina
Hingis def Hantuchova
Kuznetsova def Sugiyama
Myskina def Bartoli
Kirilenko def Chakvetadze
Clijsters def Ivanovic
Vaidisova def Groenefeld
Kuznetsova def Hingis
Myskina def Kirilenko
Clijsters def Vaidisova
Kuznetsova def Myskina
Kuznetsova def Clijsters!

All for now.


Blogger Topaz said...

I was very happy to see you comment on Mattek's good week! I didn't think you would miss it, though the regular press did. Not a surprise there though.

A note, Elena lost *both* of her finals in 2004 to Myskina in the French and Kuznetsova at the US Open. I know much has been made of her friendship with Myskina, and I wonder if it is difficult for her to play her friends?

I don't think she'll see that grand slam win unless she can sneak through the draw without meeting someone who makes her pay on her weak serves. Still, it has been said by some players that, because her serve is so erratic, it is hard to play against. (Don't you like how I contradict myself so quickly!?) I would love to see her get a big win...she's such a down to earth player and, other than her serve, has such powerful and accurate groundstrokes. And is anybody more mentally tough than someone who has gone years with that serve and hasn't let it destroy the rest of her game?

I didn't know much about Jankovic before this week, other than the bit of press she got when she took out Venus at Wimbledon. I was *very* impressed to find out that she is going to college while playing tennis! I can not imagine how hard that must be, but it attests to her maturity and realistic thinking.

And yes, the interviews with her mom and her fans on ESPN were *great*! I hope to see her go far in future tournaments.

Oh, and one last you really think Clijsters will be able to fight off Vaidisova in another semi? I think maybe this time, Vaidisova might prevail! If not, this tournament is pretty much Kim's for the taking!

Tue Aug 15, 03:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I actually wouldn't mind seeing Vaidisova finally break through the Clijsters barrier, if for nothing else because it might mean an even bigger US Open for her. There's still one more shot for that 2006 grand slam final I predicted for her (though it SHOULD have happened in Paris), and it starts in two weeks.

As far as the friendship thing with Dementieva, a lot of the Russians are close going all the way back to the Spartak Club days. And since they always mention that the competition between them all is one of the reasons they've all become successful at about the same time, I doubt if friendship gets in the way too much during matches... at least not in the way that Venus & Serena's family ties have almost always resulted in lackluster matches because one doesn't like to beat the other.

Wed Aug 16, 10:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Zidane said...

Well, I think Vaidisova's road will be much easier, she will not have to face Kim after all. Who would have believed she would pull an injury at such a huge moment, only two weeks before her Slam defence.

At least, there is one very good consequence out of it: Dubois is the lucky one to reach the third one; that is so huge for her career. her ranking will improve a lot, not mentioning how the extra money will help her improve her game!

Wed Aug 16, 10:54:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Considering, I'm surprised Clijsters didn't retire from the match as soon as she injured the wrist and called for a trainer at 2-1 in the 2nd... rather than play on and possibly make it worse when she fell on it at 2-3.

Also, although she's played with a two-handed backhand for so many years, I've always wondered -- considering all the problems she's had with injuries to her off wrist (the left) -- why she's never at least tried to develop something of a one-handed backhand so she could at least hit something other than a one-handed slice when she didn't feel confident enough about the left wrist's stability to hit the two-handed shot.

Of course, at this point, since she's still saying she wants to retire at the end of 2007, I guess it doesn't really matter.

Thu Aug 17, 04:36:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Andrew said...

Looks like for Tier 1 in 2006 you need to bet Russian -but you never know which one! By the way, they are quite dominant, but its four in the top 10, and five in the top 11..six in the top 14

Thu Aug 17, 04:58:00 PM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home