Monday, February 12, 2007

Wk.6- ACME Co.'s "Art of Survival"

It's a good thing Nadia Petrova has strong fingers, because she needed them as she ran her game off a cliff and then clung to the rocks -- cartoon character-style -- on the precarious edge of defeat in Paris this weekend.

Sure, many players have Wile E. Coyote personas at times. One day they flame out no matter how many Acme Co. products they utilize, only to pick themselves up and try to erase the bad memories the next time out... all the while knowing that there might be another cliff out there with their name on it. But how many cliffs does a player have to fly off the side of before she finally learns how to avoid the edge?

Petrova is in the process of finding out.

In Paris, she nearly did a nose dive on several occasions. But she held on, and won her seventh career title with a 4-6/6-1/6-4 win over Lucie Safarova in the final. After taking until age 23 to win her first tour singles title in Linz in late October '05, Petrova has shown signs of "getting the hang of things." In the nearly sixteen months since her intitial title, no women's player has won more of them than Petrova. Not Justine Henin. Not Kim Clijsters. Not Amelie Mauresmo. Not even Maria Sharapova.

Of course, none of that mattered in Paris. Or did it?

In the semifinals, Petrova faced down a 4-1 3rd set deficit against Mauresmo, saved a match point and finally won the match on her own second match point with a blazing passing shot that whizzed by the Frenchwoman with bullet-like velocity and pinpoint accuracy. After having failed in moments of adversity in her eary twenties, Petrova is finally escaping her Wile E. Coyote past in the back half of her third decade of life.

Surely, there's something to be said for not giving up... not to mention that it can bring a little luck your way on occasion. Consider, on Mauresmo's match point, Petrova saw her shot hit the net cord and pop up for her net-approaching opponent. The opportunity to end the match was on Mauresmo's racket, but when she failed to do enough with her shot, Petrova made her pay with a winner of her own. She didn't give Mauresmo another chance to end it all.

In the final, Petrova struggled to avoid the cliff again, after overcoming dropping the 1st set to Safarova, Petrova eventually found herself with match points at 5-1 and 5-2 in the 3rd. She didn't convert. Two straight double faults broke her own serve for 5-3. At 5-4, she faced another break point and that cliff was getting close yet again.

But that's when those strong fingers came in handy. Petrova hung on one more time, and finally put away the match before the Czech 20-year old morphed into the Roadrunner. Ol' Wile E. Coyote would be proud of her survival skills, but even he would have to wonder when she's going to stop flirting with such cliffs.

Did Petrova learn enough in Paris to be better equipped next time out to avoid such danger, or was it the past sixteen months that made the difference this weekend? What about the next time, or the time after that? Maybe we'll find out this week in Antwerp... or not, considering the fact that Nadia seems to have a touch of Coyote in her blood. But, hey, how many trophies does HE have?

"Beep-beep," indeed.


S: Nadia Petrova d. Lucie Safarova 4-6/6-1/64
D: Black/Huber d. Navratilova/Uhlirova

S: Sybille Bammer d. Gisela Dulko 7-5/3-6/7-5
D: Pratt/Santangelo d. Chan/Chuang


career singles title #8, no matter when it comes, won't likely come by way of the come-from-behind feats that led to #7 in Paris, but as long as Petrova recognizes that fact maybe she won't find herself in quite as many back-against-the-wall moments sa she did last week. But, then again. Petrova opened her season with a Hopman Cup title, and her Paris crown means we've already seen three different Russian singles champions (Chakvetadze & Safina) in the season's first six weeks -- and that's with the Supernova still sitting on zero.
RISERS: Gisela Dulko & Sania Mirza
after two seasons of topping "sexiest" and "most beautiful" tennis player lists off the court while racking up a slew of disappointing results on it, Dulko finally reached a singles final in Pattaya City. The last time she did that was in Hobart in January 2005. Along the way, Dulko beat Mirza in the SF, but the Indian Princess will likely take her second SF result of '07 (after reaching just one in all of '06), which included wins over Tamarine Tanasugarn & Mara Santangelo, as further proof that her career rebound is more than just a faint hope.
SURPRISES: Sybille Bammer & Maret Ani

if nothing else, Bammer's first career singles title in Pattaya City erases some of the belief that her pre-Oz win over Serena Williams might have been more than 50% fluke. Surely, stringing together wins over Vasilisa Bardina, Anastasia Rodionova, Martina Sucha, Shuai Peng and Dulko is a pretty nice retort for the 26-year old Austrian. Meanwhile, 25-year old Estonian Ani won her second ITF title of the season (and third of her career) with a 5-7/7-6/7-5 win over Elisa Tamaela at the $25K in Tipton.
VETERANS: Nicole Pratt & Jill Craybas
with Martina Navratilova retired (that was GABRIELA Navratilova who was a doubles RU in Paris this weekend), the nearly 34-year old Pratt is carrying the banner as the oldest player most likely to be picking up multiple doubles titles in '07. She got her first of the season in Pattaya with Santangelo (and got some nice singles wins over youngsters Maria Kirilenko and Vania King en route to the QF, too). Craybas, 32, defeated Laura Granville in the final of the Midland $75K event.
FRESH FACE: Lucie Safarova
the Maiden is in Vaidisova's rear view mirror again in the race for Czech supremacy. In Paris, at least temporarily, she passed her by getting revenge for her Melbourne QF loss with a quick win over the Dynamova in the 2nd Round. Safarova ultimately lost to Petrova in three sets in the final, but her three Top 10 wins (Vaidisova, Kuznetsova & Henin) mean she's not going to let herself be satisfied with her surprise Australian Open showing.
DOWN: Agnieszka Radwanska
sure, this could have gone to Amelie Mauresmo for failing to close out Petrova in the Paris SF, but Radwanska's week might have been even more discouraging. After losing in the final round of qualifying in Paris, she slipped into the draw as a lucky loser... only to register just one stinkin' game in her 1st Round match against Martina Muller. Nothing "lucky" about that.

1. Paris SF - Petrova d. Mauresmo
Amelie falls to an unseeded player in Melbourne, then loses a big lead and fails to convert a match point here. Is this a sign of "year after" things to come?
2. Paris F - Petrova d. Safarova
Safarova showed great grit in fighting off two match points while overcoming a 5-1 3rd set deficit, but it was too little too late for her to notch a fourth straight Top 10 victory.
3. Patt F - Bammer d. Dulko
Bammer missed out on her first career final in Hobart when she lost to Bardina in the SF. In Pattaya City, she finally knocked off the Russian in the early rounds then went on to finish what she started last month.
4. Paris SF - Safarova d. Henin
Henin's string of seven consecutive appearances in singles finals has ended... but at least the Queen is back.
5. Paris 2nd - Safarova d. Vaidisova
Nicole would surely have taken her Melbourne QF win against Safarova over one here if she had to choose, but still...
HM- Patt Q3 - Noppawan Lertcheewakarn d. Melinda Czink
Czink was the #1 qualifying seed, so this was quite a nice little upset. But I really just included this because I wanted to use the Indian wild card's name.

**MOST SINGLES TITLES - since week of Oct.24, 2005**
6...Justine Henin
6...Amelie Mauresmo
5...Maria Sharapova
5...Kim Clijsters

15..Maria Sharapova (2003-06)
10..Anastasia Myskina (1999-05)
9...Olga Morozova (1969-75)
8...Svetlana Kuznetsova (2002-06)
7...NADIA PETROVA (2005-07)
6...Elena Dementieva (2003-06)
5...Vera Zvonareva (2003-06)
5...Dinara Safina (2002-07)

JAN - Vasilisa Bardina (Hobart RU)

2...CARA BLACK [2/0]
2...LIEZEL HUBER [2/0]
2...Elena Likhovtseva [1/1]


2006 FINAL: Mauresmo d. Clijsters
2007 TOP: Mauresmo/Clijsters

SF: Petrova d. Mauresmo; Clijsters d. Dementieva
FINAL: Clijsters d. Petrova

...sheesh! I should just give up trying to pick Petrova's results, as last season's criss-cross continued last week as she won a title in a week when I didn't predict her as a champion (if I'd gone with her, she'd surely have failed in her comeback against Mauresmo). So, while I'm going with Clijsters in what will be her final WTA tournament in Belgium (remember, Hasselt is off the schedule in '07), don't be surprised if Petrova's momentum carries over. I certainly won't.

2006 FINAL: Santangelo d. Kostanic
2007 TOP: Santangelo/Mirza

SF: Kostanic-Tosic d. Santangelo; Mirza d. Bardina
FINAL: Mirza d. Kostanic-Tosic

...a year ago, Mirza went home and lost in the 2nd Round in singles, but managed to take the doubles title. I'll take her here again, as I did in '06, and hope she doesn't lose that tough 1st Round match against Sucha.

All for now.


Blogger Zidane said...

An interesting thing about Antwerp is the possibility for Maumo to win that famous diamond racquet, if she winds the tournament, as it would be her third consecutive win there.

But, well, what are the probabilities of THAT happening :S? Her year should be better in the summer...

Mon Feb 12, 08:40:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Now I feel better about not picking her to win. :)

Too much pressure... and she can't be filled with confidence at the moment.

Mon Feb 12, 08:55:00 PM EST  
Blogger Clibanarius said...

"finally won the match on her own second match point with a blazing passing shot that whizzed by the Frenchwoman with bullet-like velocity and pinpoint accuracy."

That's not how I remember it. IIRC Mauresmo hit a big first serve right down the T and went in after it, expecting to put away a floater ROS. Petrova managed to get her racquet on it almost by reflex, and the very pace of the serve ensured that her last ditch ROS would cross the net before Mauresmo had time to reach it. Mauresmo was indeed caught halfway on her way to the net and couldn't do anything. An unusual point.

I see you've made some more realistic picks for the Antwerp SF/winner after last week's wishful thinking for Paris GDF.

Here are mine:

SF Clijsters def. Golovin; Mauresmo def. Petrova
Final Mauresmo def. Clijsters

But I'm nowhere near as sure of these as I was about my picks for last week.

If Clijsters hasn't fixed her serve and sorted her game out in general, or if she's otherwise injured or debilitated, she'll go down to Ivanovic, and Ivanovic will go on to reach the final.

Petrova's quarter is interesting. Her tough 2R vs Zvonareva can be either a tight match or a blowout (depending on how big Petrova serves), but Chakvetadze will be an even bigger hurdle (if she doesn't fall to the on-fire Bammer first, that is).

Mauresmo was playing well in Paris - it's just that her "playing well" looks so different from the other top players. She was in doubt for Antwerp, and Petrova doesn't tend to run out of steam because her game isn't very laborious, so I don't really know who will win the upper SF. Picked Mauresmo as I could have picked Petrova.

Whoever reaches the final will probably beat Clijsters, unless she brings on her very best game (say the one she displayed vs Kuznetsova at last year's YEC).

Tue Feb 13, 07:07:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I agree with your description of the Petrova/Mauresmo point, but I really don't see that much of a difference from how I described it... your's just had more of the detials. The shot passed Mauresmo as she was going to the net (no, she wasn't quite there yet, but she almost was), going by with great speed. You might quibble with the return's "accuracy" since it was something of a stab shot, but where the ball went -- about the only place Mauresmo wouldn't have been able to make a play on it -- is certainly right where Petrova was "hoping" it would go. I'd still call that an "accurate" shot. Well, it'd be called that had Federer hit it. :)

Maybe I should have said the shot went in with "uncannily pinpoint accuracy." :)

Actually, as I've mentioned in previous Backspins, I'd almost always "wish" for Petrova to win a title... but every time I pick that to happen it doesn't. So, maybe there was a method to my Paris madness? Maybe it'll be at work in Antwerp, as well.

Thu Feb 15, 02:07:00 PM EST  

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