WTA Backspin 1Q Awards
One-quarter deep, the 2007 WTA season has already developed several major themes: Serena is back, Kim is pretty much already gone, Maria is trying to avert impending disaster (by her standards) and Justine... well, she's going to be just fine.
*PLAYERS OF THE QUARTER*
1. Serena Williams
...the best in the biz again. So far, the flu has been the only opponent to take her out (save for Sybille Bammer), and she seems to be getting better with every tournament. Uh-oh.
2. Justine Henin
...if she'd been able to convert a match point against Serena in Miami, since she missed Melbourne, Henin would have been able to mount an argument for being the 1Q's top player. Of course, I didn't say it'd have been a successful argument, though.
3. Cara Black & Liezel Huber
...their four titles (including the Oz crown) lead the tour so far.
4. Lisa Raymond & Samantha Stosur
...they missed out in Melbourne, but have three Tier I titles to keep them at least a little happy.
5. Amelie Mauresmo
...she failed to defend her Australian crown and got appendicitis, but it just means she'll savor that diamond racket she won in Antwerp even more.
6. Jelena Jankovic
...she had more 1Q wins (22) than any other Top 10 player this season.
7. Kim Clijsters
...she made the Oz SF, Antwerp final and won Sydney. She still has the goods, but her decision to already consider herself 3/4 retired means she'll only be making a few cameo appearances the rest of the season.
8. Daniela Hantuchova
...are we going to have to wait until 2012 to see Wonder Girl win title #3?
9. Shahar Peer & Anna Chakvetadze (tie)
...pretty much any time Peer plays an event, the road to the title crosses the Corporal's path. Now she needs to WIN those important matches, not just come close to doing so. Chakvetadze has shown the consistency worthy of a Top 10er, with her "worst" result being a 4th Round at Indian Wells, where she lost to Peer. Her other four losses this season have come against the #1-3 players in the world (Henin, Sharapova & Mauresmo).
HM- Martina Hingis
...she won a Tier I in Tokyo without dropping a set, so why is there a sneaking feeling that her '07 campaign is headed in the wrong direction?
1. Jelena Jankovic (SRB)
2. Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
3t. Shahar Peer (ISR)
3t. Anna Chakvetadze (RUS)
5. Nicole Vaidisova (CZE)
6. Yung-Jan Chan/Chia-Jung Chuang (TPE)
7. Dinara Safina (RUS)
8. Na Li (CHN)
9. Vera Zvonareva (RUS)
10. Ana Ivanovic (SRB)
HM- Sania Mirza (IND)
1. Sybille Bammer (AUT)
2. Yung-Jan Cha/Chia-Jung Chuang (TPE)
3. Camille Pin (FRA)
4. Maret Ani (EST)
5. Roberta Vinci (ITA)
6. Anastasiya Yakimova (BLR)
7. Madison Brengle (USA)
8. Naomi Cadavy (GBR)
9. Casey Dell'Acqua (AUS)
10. Sara Errani (ITA)
1. Cara Black (ZIM)/Liezel Huber (RSA)
2. Amelie Mauresmo (FRA)
3. Martina Hingis (SUI)
4. Lisa Raymond (USA)
5. Venus Williams (USA)
6. Tathiana Garbin (ITA)
7. Emilie Loit (FRA)
8. Ai Sugiyama (JPN)
9. Laura Granville (USA)
10. Nicole Pratt (AUS)
1. Lucie Safarova (CZE)
2. Evgenia Linetskaya (RUS)
3. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
4. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
5. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
6. Yaroslava Shvedova (RUS)
7. Vera Dushevina (RUS)
8. Vasilisa Bardina (RUS)
9. Alize Cornet (FRA)
10. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS)
HM- Ioana-Raluca Olaru & Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
1. Maria Sharapova (RUS)
2. Elena Dementieva (RUS)
3. Anna-Lena Groenefeld (GER)
4. Anastasia Myskina (RUS)
5. Jamea Jackson (USA)
6. Patty Schnyder (SUI)
7. Marion Bartoli (FRA)
8. Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
9. Zi Yan/Jie Zheng (CHN)
10. Tatiana Golovin (FRA)
1. Serena Williams (USA)
2. Evgenia Linetskaya (RUS)
3. Daniela Hantuchova (SVK)
4. Venus Williams (USA)
5. Sania Mirza (IND)
6. Alicia Molik (AUS)
7. Shuai Peng (CHN)
8. Ashley Harkleroad (USA)
9. Mirjana Lucic (CRO)
10. Zsofia Gubacsi (HUN)
TOP PERFORMANCE: Serena Williams wins her eight career slam crown at the Australian Open, taking out six seeded players and destroying Maria Sharapova in the final
Paris SF - Petrova d. Mauresmo
...5-7/6-4/7-6. Down 4-1 in the 3rd, Petrova fails to convert a match point at 6-5. Then Mauresmo matches her with a squandered match point of her own in the tie-break (thanks to a convenient net cord on a Petrova shot). Up 8-7 in the TB, Petrova finally controls a Mauresmo serve with a return that lands out of reach. The Russian goes on to win the title.
Australian Open QF - S.Williams d. Peer
...3-6/6-2/8-6. In a tooth-and-nail battle that was the signature 1Q match for both players, the advantage swings back and forth for nearly three hours. In the 3rd, Williams leads 4-1, then Peer charges back and serves for the match at 6-5. But Serena, who was 3-for-3 in break point chances in the final set, makes one final push that Peer cannot answer. Shalom, Serena. Maybe the best-played match of the season.
Sydney F - Clijsters d. Jankovic
...4-6/7-6/6-4. Jankovic can't convert a match point at 5-4 in the 2nd, and twice fails to close things out while serving for the match (throwing in three double-faults in the TB). Much like against another Belgian in last year's US Open SF (she led Henin 4-0 in the 3rd), the Serb can't pull off the big win. Could this be the last big win of Clijsters' career?
Hobart QF - Bammer d. S.Williams
...3-6/7-5/6-3. It was an eyebrow raiser at the time, but Hobart was Serena's first comeback event. Since the win, Bammer has won her first career title... but Serena hasn't lost in thirteen matches. So, as of now, Bammer is the answer to a trivia question. Of course, the Austrian won't be the only player to defeat Serena all season. Umm, right?
Australian Open 3rd - Hantuchova d. Harkleroad
...6-7/7-5/6-3. A choke, or simply a great comeback? Well, Harkleroad led 7-6/4-0, served at 5-3 in the 2nd, and led 3-1 in the 3rd against a player with a recent history of emotional fragility (unlike the other two top contenders here: Razzano's blown 5-1 3rd set lead against a tough Henin, and Peer's blown 5-1 set lead on Safina that was corrupted by a long rain delay). Of course, the argument COULD be made that Hantuchova's post-Oz results show she wasn't so fragile after all... but how much of that turnaround came about because of THIS win? Hmmm.
Miami F - S.Williams d. Henin
...0-6/7-5/6-3. It's gotta be the earrings!
*BIZARRO MATCH OF THE QUARTER*
Australian 1st - Sharapova d. Pin
...6-3/4-6/9-7. Under Extreme Heat conditions, but not the roof of Rod Laver Arena, Sharapova raced to a 5-0 3rd set lead and hit the proverbial wall. Pin served at 7-6, 30/15 -- two points from knocking out the top women's Oz seed in the 1st Round for the first time since 1979 -- before Sharapova's game ignited with a forehand return that stunned the Pasty back to reality. She double-faulted on break point, then lost the last eleven points of the 2:51 match (the 3rd set alone lasted 83 minutes!). Sharapova would go on to become the pedestrian run over by Serena's truck in the final. The Serena-Maria rematch in Miami, which was an even worse showing for the Supernova, showed that she still hasn't gotten the plate number of the punishing '07 model of Williams' game.
ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL: Evgenia Linetskaya, who ended 2006 at #1192 and was without a ranking early in '07, has reached four ITF singles finals this season, winning three titles and 15 matches in a row. After being ranked as high as #35 in the summer of '05 before family difficulties forced her off the tour, the Russian hadn't played since the '06 Australian Open.
THE ANTI-COMEBACK: Jelena Dokic, one-time #4-ranked player in the world and Wimbledon semifinalist, took a step backward before the season even began when she skipped out of Niki Pilic's academy spewing some such nonsense about bad contract offers and her private life being her own business. Well, at least Sister Jelena has that... because her ranking in the #600's and 1Q losses in $10K events (in qualifying and 1st Round matches) surely puts what's left of her tennis career in jeopardy. She's a "Comeback Player of the Year" waiting to happen, but it probably never will.
DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY: Lindsay Davenport wanted a family, but she was a world class athlete still capable of competing at the top of her sport. She got married, but continued to chase a champion's dream for a few additional seasons, and finished year-end #1 in 2004-05 even though a final slam title remained elusive. In 2006, during which she turned a still young-for-regular-life 30, injuries finally created too many obstacles to overcome. Her ranking dropped to #25, and during the offseason she announced that she was pregnant and that her playing career was essentially over. Davenport, with three slam titles, over 700 wins and nearly 100 total weeks at #1, retired with the respect of all off the court and on. But, not only that, she also exits knowing that she never cheated her talent, having pushed her gifts to the limit and leaving nothing realistically unclaimed on her career table. Most superiorly-talented players worth their salt can say the same, from Serena (who, while "squandering" stretches of her career in the minds of some, always seems to come back with a vengeance to "make up" for lost time) to Maria (always striving for more in every facet of her career) and Justine (who had to get a divorce to convince some of her flesh-and-blood existence)... but not all. It's too bad, because there are few things more disappointing in sports than a great athlete who failed to reach attainable competitive summits largely because they didn't deem them important enough to strive for until they no longer could conceivably do so. George Leigh Mallory said the reason to climb Mount Everest was "because it's there." Unfortunately, it's not a universal sentiment in all corners of the WTA universe. Good luck, Lindsay.
QUOTE OF THE QUARTER:"I'm definitely in better shape than I get credit for. It's just because I have large knockers and I have a big ass... I was just in the lockerroom staring at my body, and I'm like, 'Am I really not fit? Or it is just because I have all these extra assets that I look not fit?' I think if I were not to eat for two years, I still wouldn't be a size two. We're living in a Mary-Kate Olsen world. I'm just not built that way. I'm bootylicious, and that's how it's always going to be." - Serena Williams, at the Australian Open
From Serena's World... all for now.