Monday, January 07, 2008

Wk.1- Act 1, Scene 1 (2008)

The storylines were plentiful and varied during 2008's opening Act...

The year's flashpoint could well come in August when Beijing hosts the Olympic Games, so how fitting that the season began with the most talented Cookie, Li Na (from now until the Games, I'll break from my editorial preference and not "Westernize" the Chinese players' name order... or at least I'll try to not let one slip through, at any rate), emerged from an injury-marred and disappointing 2007 season to win her first tour singles titles in three and a half years.

But the week had a distinctly American feel to it, as well:

Meghann Shaughnessy learned the hard way about the drawbacks of being a "good soldier." Both Williams sisters won titles, even if they don't "officially" count, as Venus shut down Maria Sharapova in Hong Kong and Serena seemed to have a ball winning the Hopman Cup with Mardy Fish. Count this as the first official shot across the bow of the Australian Open women's singles field. And Lindsay Davenport won her third title in four comeback events, running her post-baby record to 18-1 as she heads to Melbourne to play the role of "unwanted early round headache" for some poor highly-ranked soul in the first week.

But the Week 1 Dorothy Tour spin outs were probably the most intriguing parts of the week:

No Russians reached the semis of either tour event. The Valkyrie was upset in her opening match by a Lucky Loser, then rebounded to get some redemption by teaming with Dinara Safina to destroy a pair of grand-slam winning doubles teams en route to taking the Gold Coast title. Martina Hingis was officially banned for two years. It was learned that Anna Chakvetadze is still experiencing numbness in her fingers as a result of being tied up too tightly during that home invasion robbery last month. Julia Vakulenko managed to become the first player to pull out of two events less than a full week into the season. Nadia Petrova lost in the 1st Round, got a late wild card for a Week 2 event... and lost in the 1st Round again. But the Ex-Debutante is showing signs Down Under of maybe actually being capable of a legit comeback.

Oh, and Jelena Jankovic proved herself to be THIS CLOSE to being certified clinically insane... or deemed an alien living inside a Serb's body. (Or maybe, as Pierre Cantin suggested to me, possibly BOTH.)

If this was a preview of 2008, it's going to be one whale of a year... and speaking of Jankovic's White Whale, La Petit Taureau makes her season debut this week in Sydney.


S: Li Na def. Victoria Azarenka 4-6/6-3/6-4
D: Safina/Szavay d. Yan/Zheng

S: Lindsay Davenport def. Aravane Rezai 6-2/6-2
D: Koryttseva/Osterloh d. Muller/Zahlavova-Strycova

FINAL: USA (S.Williams/Fish) def. Serbia (Jankovic/Djokovic) 2-1

HONG KONG, CHINA (exhibition/HO)
S: Venus Williams def. Maria Sharapova 6-4/6-3
D: V.Williams/Wozniacki d. Dementieva/de Brito

the fortunes of the Cookies are already starting to have a more optimistic tone. Yan & Zheng reached the Gold Coast doubles final, while an equally newly healthy Li claimed her first tour singles titles since winning Guangzhou in September '04. Top 20 victories over Nicole Vaidisova, Patty Schnyder and Sybille Bammer, as well as Victoria Azarenka in the final, now makes one wonder if the Chinese time table might have been right-on all along.
RISERS: Aravane Rezai & Dinara Safina/Agnes Szavay
20-year old Pastry Rezai reached her second career final in Auckland (she's 0-2, though, having retired in Istanbul last year up 7-6/3-0 against Elena Dementieva) with wins over Zhang Shuai, Eleni Daniilidou and Katarina Srebotnik. Szavay lost her opening match of the season to Lucky Loser Yuliana Fedak at Gold Coast, while Safina was taken out in the QF by Shahar Peer. Needless to say, they ended up with the week's best rebound performance as they took out their frustrations by winning the doubles, easily knocking out world #1 team Black/Huber 3 & 1 in the SF, then Yan/Zheng in the final by a 2 & 2 score. Hmmm, an intriguing result.
SURPRISES: Marina Erakovic & Jelena Dokic
19-year old Kiwi Erakovic used her Auckland wild card to nearly-full advantage, taking out top-seeded Vera Zvonareva in a 3rd set tie-break in the QF to reach her first tour SF. Meanwhile, the Ex-Debutante is stirring. Yeah, we saw a similarly good start to her season the last time Dokic turned up Down Under, only to see her fortunes come crashing down in Melbourne and her season quickly drift away immediately after that. But, at this moment in time, it's not so bad to dream that her end-of-week qualifying run in Hobart -- she notched wins over Evegniya Linetskaya, Yvonne Meusburger and Yaroslava Shvedova -- and 1st Round win over Martina Muller this Monday might be the start of a refreshing, headache-free season for the player who played a large part in the birth of Backspin at the start of this decade.
VETERANS: Lindsay Davenport & Venus Williams

so far, there's been very little stopping Lindsay other than finding a good babysitter whenever her husband is busy. Her Auckland title makes her 18-1 in her comeback, with ten consecutive wins going back to the end of '07. Her New Zealand victims were both veterans (Medina Garrigues & Granville) and youngsters (Errani, Paszek & Rezai), and now the new world-#52 heads to Melbourne as the most dangerous floater a slam has seen in recent years who wasn't named Williams.
Venus, though, probably had the most impressive wins of the week. In the traditional opening week exhibition in Hong Kong, she handled both Elena Dementieva and Maria Sharapova to win the singles competition, then teamed with Caroline Wozniacki to claim the doubles, too. Could we be seeing a return (at least for a brief instant) of the "Williams Era" in Melbourne in a few weeks?
FRESH FACES: Victoria Azarenka & Tamira Paszek

Azarenka, 18, of Belarus reached another final in Gold Coast (her third career deciding match on tour), but she's still searching for that maiden title. Her most impressive win was a SF victory over Peer, but losing to Li after taking the opening set in the final means she still has a significant hurdle to clear. 17-year old Austrian Paszek is already making waves. In Auckland, she wiped out Maria Kirilenko 1 &3 in the QF before losing to Davenport in the SF. Szavay jumped 200+ spots in the rankings from the start of 2006 to the start of 2007, so what is Paszek going to do this year? She's already #37.
DOWN: Jelena Jankovic & Meghann Shaughnessy
you know all the benefit of the doubt talk surrounding Jankovic and her assertion that she'd cut back her schedule in '08 after playing herself into the ground last season? Well, scratch it. Sure, technically, her shenanigans in Perth last week don't really revolve around the same issue, but how can you not tie the two together considering her ridiculous actions last week? In case you missed it, she injured her hamstring in her second singles match during the round robin of the mixed competition. She retired from the match... then came out hours later and played doubles, less than two weeks before a grand slam, mind you. Then she did it again the next time out, lasting only one game before retiring in singles... then emerging later in the day to play doubles. In the team final, she skipped her match with Serena Williams (a wise choice, even without an injury) altogether, but DID play the doubles with Novak Djokovic with her leg wrapped and her mobility compromised, as it had been since the initial injury. Oh, she talked "heroically" about "risking her career" to win the Hopman Cup for her country, but putting aside the false drama for a moment, the real question should probably be whether it takes a straight jacket to get her to see the forest for the trees. After talking the talk about taking care of herself physically this season, her first meaningful decision is to attempt to play four matches with an injured hamstring... in an exhibition. Do the bad decision-making lessons provided by Kim Clijsters, as well as her own experiences last season, not register at all? Jankovic's career won't last very long, nor will she ever live up to her talent, if she doesn't one day realize that she can't play -- or entertain the crowd, which many times seems to be her top priority -- if her body won't let her. At this point, you wonder how the two could even be on "speaking" terms.

And, yes... as of today, she's still listed in the draw for this week's event in Sydney. Can you say, "Crazy as a loon?"

Oh, and as for Shaughnessy... should she be considered Serena's first "victim" of '08? With Serena late arriving in Perth because of a bout with the flu, Shaughnessy stepped in to fill the USA's female team member role for a few days. Once Serena arrived, Shaughnessy headed off to Gold Coast. Things were going swimmingly in her 1st Round match with Francesca Schiavone, as she led in dominating fashion by a 6-0/1-0 score. Then she injured her knee, and could miss the next six months.

Look on the bright side, though. Now her coach will have more time to devote to his little tete-a-tete with Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

1. HK exhib Final - V.Williams d. Sharapova
I was going to say that Sharapova will look to head to Melbourne, where she'll have some better memories... but then I remembered her "Destruction Heard 'round the World" at the hands of Serena in the final there last year.
2. Gold Final - Li d. Azarenka
If Li has something to prove, she's off to a good start.
3. Auck Final - Davenport d. Rezai
The only player to defeat Davenport in her comeback has been Jelena Jankovic in the Beijing SF last year... sans straight jacket, of course.
4. Gold 1st - Fedak(LL) d. Szavay
The Valkyrie dispelled any "cursed" notions with her doubles rebound, so I'll partially chalk this one up to Fedak having three matches under her belt coming in while Szavay had zero.
5. Gold 1st - Schiavone d. Shaughnessy
.....0-6/0-1 ret.
There's a scoreline you don't see too often for a player who WON the match.
6. Hop rr - S.Williams d. Safarova
Serena ordered a bagel for breakfast in her first match of '08. Did that look like an if-you-only-knew-what-I-have-in-store-for-you-Justine smile on Serena's face after the final? This might be one occasion where a smile is actually scary.

7. Auck SF - Davenport d. Paszek
Am I going to regret not going for a "big shocker" and putting Paszek in my Top 10 prediction? I always like being a year early better than a year behind.
8. Gold QF - Schnyder d. Mauresmo
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Neither of you.
9. Gold QF - Li d. Vaidisova
Are thinking of ways to not answer all the Radek questions Nicole's latest liability? He retired from HIS first match last week, by the way.
10. Gold 1st - Garbin d. Petrova
Not exactly the winning start Nadia was looking for. And her 1st Round loss on Sunday in Sydney (to Bammer) didn't help, either.

377...Steffi Graf [107/22]
331...Martina Navratilova [167/18]
260...Chris Evert [154/18]
209...Martina Hingis [43/5]
178...Monica Seles [53/9]
99....JUSTINE HENIN [39/7]
98....Lindsay Davenport [54/3]

167...Martina Navratilova
154...Chris Evert
107...Steffi Graf
92....Margaret Smith-Court
68....Evonne Goolagong-Cawley
67....Billie Jean King
55....Virginia Wade
53....Monica Seles

[title years]
3...Zheng Jie [2005-06]
2...Li Na [2004, 08]
1...Yan Zi [2005]
1...Sun Tiantian [2006]

.....the Dorothy Tour continues. These are what our original picks looked like so, with the time difference already playing havoc with some of our more "cherished" predictions, our "brilliance" might not exactly be shining through based on some early results.

07 FINAL: Clijsters d. Jankovic
08 TOP: Henin/Kuznetsova

Henin d. Dementieva
Srebotnik d. Ivanovic
Golovin d. Safina
Kuznetsova d. Bartoli
Henin d. Srebotnik
Kuznetsova d. Golovin
Henin d. Kuznetsova

......Kuznetsova's attempt to catch Justine gets that much tougher.

07 FINAL: Chakvetadze d. Bardina
08 TOP: A.Bondarenko/Zvonareva

SF: K.Bondarenko d. Dokic(Q), Azarenka d. Zvonareva
FINAL: Azarenka d. K.Bondarenko

Henin d. Dementieva
Chakvetadze d. Ivanovic
Vaidisova d. Jankovic
Kuznetsova d. Bartoli
Henin d. Chakvetadze
Kuznetsova d. Vaidisova
Henin d. Kuznetsova

SF: A.Bondarenko d. A.Radwanska, Zvonareva d. Azarenka
FINAL: Zvonareva d. A.Bondarenko


All for now.


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