Monday, September 18, 2006

Wk.37- Down Goes Justine... again

As the 2006 season begins to wind down, it's time to sort out who's in the running for "Ms. Backspin"... err, I mean "Player of the Year"... honors.

There are really only three candidates for the top spot (hint: they won all the grand slams this year):

(1) Amelie Mauresmo
...when all is said and done, 2006 will be known as Mauresmo's year even if she doesn't win the most titles or finish at the top of the rankings. In a sport that ultimately judges its greats on the number of grand slam trophies on their mantle, the last nine months have seen Mauresmo solidify (create, actually) her legacy and cement her Hall of Fame credentials. Mademoiselle Backspin, I presume?
(2) Justine Henin-Hardenne
...hmmm, #2. That has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it? After this weekend's Fed Cup, which could have bumped her into a dead heat with Mauresmo, JHH is becoming the "best runner-up" in the world. Not exactly the epitaph she'd like for a dwindling 2006 season that has seen Henin-Hardenne accomplish so much. But more titles than anyone else and the year-end #1 ranking still might not be enough to outshine what she DIDN'T accomplish.
(3) Maria Sharapova
...first she went supernova in 2004, then she was exquisite in the city in 2006. But one gets the feeling that Sharapova might just be scratching the surface of what she's capable of doing. The women's tour is crowded at the top, and it'll be difficult for a single player to dominate. But a short-term (one season-plus?) period of superior distinction is possible, considering Mauresmo won two slam crowns in '06 and JHH appeared in all four finals. The Sharapova Scenario is still in the cards, and will be a talking point around here for 2007.

If only doubles teams could be "Players of the Year," then these two duos would be strong contenders:

(4) Lisa Raymond/Samantha Stosur & Zi Yan/Jie Zheng
...the year's two dominant pairs have been grabbing the lioness' share of slams and Tier I titles in '06. Raymond/Stosur are co-#1's in the rankings, but the Chinese are #3 & #4. There's still a few more big titles remaining in this battle to be the best doubles team in the world, so this one could go all the way the YEC.

The list actually ends there, but a few have distinguished themselves enough above all others they that at least deserved to be mentioned:

Nadia Petrova: she had a good, sometimes stunningly so, first five months. But then she's had a bad, sometimes atrociously so, last three.
Svetlana Kuznetsova: not as good as in 2004, but she's regained her consistency, reached the Roland Garros final and is now in the Top 5.
Nicole Vaidisova: the "It Girl" of '06. But she'll forever (or at least until '07) ponder the what-if's of that SF loss to Kuznetsova in Paris.
Martina Hingis: she's flagged at times (her worst US Open ever), but if she and everyone had been told in January that she'd win a Tier I and return to the Top 10 by September it would have meant her comeback was going to be supremely -- though not "grandly" -- successful.
Shahar Peer: the Israeli has displayed champion's attributes and a fighting spirit en route to winning her first three career WTA titles.
The Serbs: Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic came of age on the North American hard courts. Now they'll have to deal with the increased expectations.
The Italians: the Noodles began '06 by showing surprising strength all over the WTA tour schedule, and they're ending it as Fed Cup champions. Viva Italia!
OTHERS: Kim Clijsters, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Vera Zvonareva

1.Amelie Mauresmo
2.Justine Henin-Hardenne
3.Maria Sharapova
4.Svetlana Kuznetsova
5.Elena Dementieva

1.Justine Henin-Hardenne
2.Nadia Petrova
3.Svetlana Kuznetsova
4.Martina Hingis
5.Nicole Vaidisova

1.Amelie Mauresmo
2.Justine Henin-Hardenne
3.Zi Yan & Jie Zheng
4.Kim Clijsters
5.Maria Sharapova

1.Maria Sharapova
2.Justine Henin-Hardenne
3t.Jelana Jankovic
3t.Ana Ivanovic
5.Vera Zvonareva


**WEEK 37*

Italy def. Belgium 3-2

S: Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Marion Bartoli 7-5/6-2
D: Davenport/Morariu d. Grandin/Musgrave

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Francesca Schiavone wasn't easy, and Schiavone was fighting some of her demons all the way (resulting in a series of dumped volleys and double-faults on crucial points), but she pulled herself and Italy through to claim the Noodles' first ever Fed Cup title.
RISER: Mara Santangelo
...Santangelo made her Fed Cup singles debut for Italy in the pressure-packed fourth match against Kirsten Flipkens, with the Noodles' survival at stake. After dropping the 1st set, she seized control of the match and ultimately ran the 20-year old Belgian off the court with a 3rd set bagel.
SURPRISE: Melinda Czink Bali, the Hungarian knocked Daniela Hantuchova down yet another peg and got a win over Angelique Widjaja in the Indonesian's home nation tournament.
VETERAN: Lindsay Davenport
...Davenport didn't defend her Bali title for her first crown of the year, but she did reach the SF (losing to eventual champion Kuznetsova in two tie-breaks) and won the doubles with Corina Morariu.
FRESH FACE: Olga Poutchkova

...another Russian teen on the prowl. This one's 18, and she upset Ana Ivanovic in the 1st Round in Bali.
DOWN: Justine Henin-Hardenne & Kirsten Flipkens
...Henin-Hardenne's retirement in the deciding doubles match of the Fed Cup final will surely provide more ammunition for all the Justine haters looking to take potshots. In truth, she probably should never have played in the match with a knee injury that had occurred just a few hours earlier in her singles win over Schiavone, but skipping out would have left the Belgian team pretty well high and dry against the deeper pool of Italian talent. Of course, if Flipkens had won one of her singles matches the final match would have been unnecessary. Flipkens gets a pass for losing to Schiavone, but not for when she got a break when Flavia Pennetta's wrist injury prevented her from playing Match #4. Replacement Santangelo is no pushover (she won a WTA title this year in Bangalore), but Flipkens had a set lead and the backing of the Belgium crowd and still fell apart down the stretch. In the end, some great matches were wasted with the anticlimactic ending precipitated by Henin-Hardenne's retirement.

1.FC Match #5 - Schiavone/Vinci(ITA) d. Flipkens/JHH(BEL)

...3-6/6-2/2-0 ret. I'm sure the "Everybody Hates Justine" campaign has printed up some new placards and pamphlets by now.
2.FC Match #4 - Santangelo(ITA) d. Flipkens(BEL)
...6-7/6-3/6-0. Flipkens' failure to secure a win here despite grabbing the 1st set and having the home crowd in her corner set the table for the already injured JHH being forced into additional action.
3.Bali F - Kuznetsova d. Bartoli
...7-5/6-2. In one of the more overlooked tour events of the season, Kuznetsova won her seventh career title with her third Bali crown in the last five years.
4.Bali 1st - Poutchkova d. Ivanovic
...6-3/4-6/6-2. Hopefully, Ana's hotel room had a nice view of the city.
5.FC Matches #2/#3 - JHH(BEL) d. Pennetta(ITA); JHH(BEL) d. Schiavone(ITA)
...6-4/7-5 (both matches). JHH battled to put away both of Italy's top singles players, but still couldn't carry the entire Belgium team on her slight shoulders.
HM-FC Match #1 - Schiavone(ITA) d. Flipkens(BEL)
...6-1/6-3. Schiavone roared out (or Flipkens rolled over, take your pick) to a 6-1/5-0 lead before suffering some flashbacks to her US Open match with Shahar Peer. She recovered. Flipkens never really did.

9...Justine Henin-Hardenne (5-4)
5...Amelie Mauresmo (4-1)
5...Maria Sharapova (3-2)
4...Nadia Petrova (4-0)
4...Kim Clijsters (2-2)

11...Justine Henin-Hardenne (9-2)
10...Maria Sharapova (5-5)
8....Amelie Mauresmo (5-3)
8....Kim Clijsters (3-5)

...two more picks, two more losses last week. Obviously, 2006 is one big joke for the ol' Backspin Picks section. I'm beginning to feel a little like Justine.

05 FINAL: Kirilenko d. Groenefeld
06 TOP: Mauresmo/Kuznetsova
SF: Davenport d. Jankovic; Vaidisova d. Li
FINAL: Vaidisova d. Davenport

...The Dynamova, like the Supernova before her, often shines rather brightly in Asia.

05 FINAL: Myskina d. Sprem
06 TOP: Hingis/Sprem
SF: Hingis d. Mirza; Sprem d. Poutchkova
FINAL: Hingis d. Sprem

...I originally had Anastasia Rodionova reaching the final here in the somewhat lacking bottom half of the draw. I changed it to Sprem, so I guess that means that Rodionova will end up playing on Sunday.

05 FINAL: Zakopalova (Koukalova) d. Srebotnik
06 TOP: Srebotnik/Gajdosova
SF: Srebotnik d. Azarenka; Oprandi d. Gajdosova
FINAL: Srebotnik d. Oprandi

...a win for Srebotnik's home country fans. Of course, Oprandi IS an Italian... and something might be in the air.

All for now.


COMING THIS WEEK: Maria Sharapova Quiz


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