Wk.29- California Dreamin' with Aleksandra Wozniak and other random musings
On and off court, it was a week of highs, lows, first-ever's, same-old stories and Ashley Harkleroad's birthday suit.
First up, Aleksandra Wozniak's wild ride:
ALEKSANDRA SMILES AFP/GETTY IMAGES/Sara Wolfram
Completely flipping any prospective script in Stanford, the 20-year old Canadian became the legitimate big story of the week as she traveled an odd road to her first career title with a 7-5/6-3 win over Marion Bartoli in the final. I guess no one will be able to express as much surprise about the Quebec native winning a big match from here on out.
Her career just changed.
In March 2007, A-Woz stunned many with a trip to her first career tour final on the clay in Fes. But that was a Tier IV event, while Stanford was a Tier II that featured the likes of Serena Williams and was the opening event in the U.S. Open Series. Wozniak had been pretty quiet since that runner-up in Fes, but her modest recent success at Roland Garros (3rd Round) and Wimbledon (2nd) hinted that her game and confidence might be beginning to spark. Surely no one much considered her trip to California would turn out to be much more than a short working vacation, but with her excellent groundstrokes firing and her even more impressive natural calm preventing her from being overwhelmed by each new experience she encountered, we witnessed a Canadian become a big Series story (following Stephanie Dubois in '06 and Frank Dancevic in '07) for the third straight season.
Coming into the week ranked #85, Wozniak first had to make it through qualifying, defeating Samantha Stosur to reach the main draw. There, she upset former or current Top 20 players Francesca Schiavone and Sybille Bammer to set up a why-aren't-you-dead-yet? rematch with "lucky loser" Stosur in the QF after the Aussie had been given a reprieve when Lindsay Davenport's knee precipitated her withdrawal from the tournament. It would have surprised no one to see Wozniak's run end there, but it didn't. She outlasted Stosur in three sets, then advanced past Williams when the American retired with a knee injury in the SF. She topped off her improbable career week by taking out Bartoli, who was herself suffering from a bad hip, by rising to the occasion to break La Trufflettes's serve three straight times to take the 1st set and prevent her French opponent from serving out the stanza to claim it as her own. From there, it was... gulp... almost "easy."
We'll soon see how Wozniak handles the sudden rise in the expectation level for her career, but one would think that her admitted lack of visible on-court emotion might serve her well as she traverses the potentially newly fertile land that lies ahead.
A few other musings:
...hey, you know, I DID say in my 3Q preview that the young player who might be ready to turn heads would probably have a "Z" in her name. Yeah, of course, I didn't ACTUALLY include Wozniak in the group of potential new stars at the time. But at least I was close, right? Right? Well, it was worth a try.
...after watching the hard-to-read Wozniak, I wonder if you could watch a Wozniak-Agnieszka Radwanska match with the sound turned down and the television score box covered up and be able to decipher which player was winning? With their tendency to sometimes appear to be emotional blank slates on the court at times, it would be an interesting experiment should the opportunity ever arise.
...I know it's become a tired refrain, but what's up with ESPN? It's a dangerous thing to do, but I'm going to have to assume that the network didn't have access to video of any of last week's early matches in Stanford (like, say, the Bartoli/Chakvetadze QF that aired the previous night on Tennis Channel, or the would-have-loved-to-see-it S.Williams/Michelle Larcher de Brito three-setter from the 2nd Round) to fill the void left on Saturday when Serena's SF retirement left quite a bit of time to fill in the broadcast. Because SURELY the network couldn't have decided that the best move would be to run a three-year old Stanford final between Venus Williams and a now-retired Kim Clijsters in the heart of the 2008 U.S. Open Series, one year before ESPN takes over coverage of the 2009 U.S. Open, meaning it would probably behoove the network to take the opportunity to expose some fans to a few new faces.
Then again, would anyone really be surprised if the thinking in the production center went something along the lines of, "Well, they tuned in to see Serena, so we'll show them Venus. And they liked that Belgian gal, right? Is she the one who just retired a few weeks ago? Oh, well. What's it matter? They probably won't know the difference." As I said before, ESPN taking over the U.S. Open will either be the best or the worst thing to ever happen to the coverage of the event in America.
...speaking of exposure, since Ashley Harkleroad has put everything on the table (quite literally), now what?
Whether someone agrees or disagrees with Harkleroad's decision to become the first professional tennis player to pose nude for Playboy, it was her decision to make... and no one else's business to question, as far as this corner of the world is concerned. No big deal.
...hmmm, Serena retires with a knee injury. Davenport pulls out with a knee. Venus delays her return to the tour due to knee tendonitis. Hold on, are we REALLY sure these three are going to fill the top three singles slots for Team USA in Beijing?
...and finally, we learned on Sunday that you can put Chris Evert in the mix but you can't make a leopard (err, maybe I should say a Shark?) change his spots, as Evert's new husband Greg Norman squandered a final day lead and a shot at making history as a 53-year old major title winner.
Comparisons between Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters have often been made over the years, along with talk of how their respective tours were different before they arrived and will be different after they're gone. In golf's British Open, we were reminded of what THAT sport was like BEFORE Woods -- when the #1 player in the world (Norman, before Tiger) would take the lead in a major event and then choke away a title on the final day. Dramatic, yes. But cringe-inducing and, ultimately, sad. Multiple marriages and a few decades didn't change a thing for the Aussie billionaire.
It'll be a while before we see what the WTA tour will be like without the possibility that a Williams sister might suddenly rise up and smite the field at a slam. But, then again, with Serena once again being hampered by the same knee that altered the upward trajectory of her career a few years ago we might not be as far away as we'd wish from having only one of the sisters around. Unfortunate, but true.
Absences and "hibernations" aside, the sisters have usually been at their best in big moments (as long as one wasn't there with the other, that is). And isn't that what real champions are supposed to be about?
...this week, Jelena Jankovic returns. So hold onto your seat... this past week's events might look positively tame seven days from now.
*WEEK 29 CHAMPIONS*
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA USA (II-HCO)
S: Aleksandra Wozniak def. Marion Bartoli 7-5/6-3
D: Black/Huber d. Vesnina/Zvonareva
BAD GASTEIN, AUSTRIA (III-RCO)
S: Pauline Parmentier def. Lucie Hradecka 6-4/6-4
D: Hlavackova/Hradecka d. Karatantcheva/Zoric
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
...Wozniak is the first Canadian singles champion on the WTA tour since Helen Kelesi (Taranto, ITA) in April '88, and only the third in A-Woz's own lifetime (joining Jill Hetherington's Wellington, NZL win in February '88). So, the last time a woman from her country did what Aleksandra just did she was literally in diapers, having just been hatched in September '87.
RISERS: Pauline Parmentier, FRA & Marion Bartoli, FRA
...I wonder how many people realize that Parmentier is one of the sixteen players who've managed to claim titles in both the 2007 and 2008 seasons? She got her first title last October in Tashkent (defeating Victoria Azarenka in the final), and grabbed her second this weekend in Bad Gastein with a win over qualifier Lucie Hradecka. Victories over Tathiana Garbin, Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Yvonne Meusburger preceded the final win, but they won't likely be remembered. Then, again, I could see a time a year from now when the Pastry might win a third title with the relative silence of barn house mouse, as well. Hmmm, how long will it be before an ESPN tennis commentator sees her name in a draw and says, "Who's she? I've never heard of her?" Bartoli didn't win a title in Stanford, but her SF run made some noise. The '07 Wimbledon finalist seems to finally have emerged from her post-SW19 funk, notching wins last week over Anna Chakvetadze and Ai Sugiyama. Now, about that hip injury.
SURPRISES: Lucie Hradecka, CZE & Anne Keothavong, GBR
...if not for Wozniak, Czech Maiden Hradecka's story would have been the remarkable one of the week. Ranked #237, the 23-year old qualified in Bad Gastein then got main draw wins over the likes of Timea Bacsinszky and Mariya Koryttseva to reach her first tour singles final. She lost it to Parmentier, but she did win the doubles with Andrea Hlavackova. Keothavong's Wimbledon success carried over to Stanford, as the Brit qualified and upset '07 finalist Sania Mirza in the 1st Round. She was up 4-1 in the 3rd set against Bartoli in the 2nd Round, too, before the Pastry came back to win and advance. The good mojo didn't last, though, as Keothavong has already lost in Los Angeles.
VETERANS: Ai Sugiyama, JPN & Cara Black/Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
...Sugiyama is still around and her best results have always come on hard courts. That was once again the case in Stanford, where she notched wins over Daniela Hantuchova and survived being match point down against Dominika Cibulkova to reach the SF. Black & Huber won their sixth title of 2008 in Stanford. No other team has won more than two this season.
FRESH FACES: Dominika Cibulkova, SVK & Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
...sure, Cibulkova ended up blowing a match point against Sugiyama in the Stanford QF and then going down in flames due to cramping. But her wins over Nadia Petrova and Kateryna Bondarenko once again showed her to be a young player with the ability to raise her game in big tournaments (well, except for Wimbledon). Larcher de Brito, 15, was another young player who made headlines last week. She qualified in Stanford, getting a win over Marta Domachowska, and then upset Gisela Dulko in the 1st Round. She even pushed Serena Williams to three sets in their 2nd Round meeting. No question, "The Kid" is going to be good.
DOWN: Serena Williams, USA & Sania Mirza, IND
...trouble with de Brito and a retirement against Wozniak do not a first stage in a march on New York make for Serena. Meanwhile, Mirza went from being a Stanford RU a year ago to a 1st Round victim of Keothavong this time around.
ITF PLAYER: Ioana Raluca Olaru, ROU
...in a week where there were several intriguing ITF champions -- Jelena Dokic, Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ksenia Milevskaya -- I'll go with the Romanian. The 19-year old won a $50K in Contrexeville, France, defeating Stephanie Foretz in the final.
1. Stan QF - Sugiyama d. Cibulkova
...6-7/7-6/5-3 ret. Cibulkova led 5-2 in the 2nd set, and even held a match point. But the Japanese vet survived and battled to a 5-3 40/love lead before the teenager finally retired due to severe cramping.
2. Stan SF - Wozniak d. S.Williams
...6-2/3-1 ret. Serena is passing it off, and even scheduled to play this week in LA. But just how much danger is her Olympic and Open participation REALLY in doubt because of that trick knee?
3. Stan Q3 - Wozniak d. Stosur
Stan QF - Wozniak d. Stosur
...6-2/5-7/6-4. Apparently, Aleksandra finally found a stick sharp enough to finally go ALL THE WAY through Sam's heart. Hmmm... "Aleksandra the Vampire Slayer?" "Buffy," maybe?
4. Stan F - Wozniak d. Bartoli
...7-5/6-3. Lindsay Davenport. Kim Clijsters. Ana Ivanovic. Maria Sharapova. Aleksandra Wozniak? Well, she might not join the list of past champions, but for one week A-Woz IS the U.S. Open Series leader.
5. BG F - Parmentier d. Hradecka
...6-4/6-4. It didn't happen after last season, so one must now wonder if TWO titles will be enough to get Parmentier's bio into next year's WTA Guide.
6. BG 1st - De Los Rios d. Cornet
...2-6/6-3/3-2 ret. The winds were against Alize last week, as she retired due to illness just days after claiming the Budapest crown. "Weird" how things like this always seem to happen to young players after they win their first title, huh?
7. Stan 1st - K.Bondarenko d. Harkleroad
...7-5/6-2. Not surprisingly, we didn't get the "interesting" happening of Ashley taking the court after her Playboy issue had hit the newsstands. That won't happen until this week.
8. BG Doub 1st - Karatantcheva/Zoric d. Haidner/Velieva
...6-0/6-0. Serbian teenager Zoric defeated Sesil in Budapest qualifying the other week, then the very next time out they were playing doubles together in Austria. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess. It worked out pretty well for Sesil, considering they ended up reaching the final.
9. Zwevegem $25K F - Milevskaya d. Rus
...6-4/3-6/7-6 Two impressive youngsters. One winner. This time.
10. Darmstedt $25K F - Dokic d. Gerards
...6-0/6-0. With a 32-7 record, Dokic has now snared three ITF titles this season. She began the year without a computer ranking and didn't play an event in which she had a discernible one until May (#429). At the moment, she's within shouting distance (no, that's not a reference to you-know-who) of the Top 200, six years after she first reached #4 in the rankings.
HM- Portoroz Q3 - Bovina d. Martinez-Sanchez
...7-5/6-4. Dokic is making a comeback. Groenefeld, too. So why not Bovina? Hey, at least she's back in a main draw this week.
**2008 FIRST-TIME CHAMPIONS**
Kateryna Bondarenko, UKR/age 21 (Birmingham)
Alize Cornet, FRA/age 18 (Budapest)
Sara Errani, ITA/age 21 (Palermo)
ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK, CAN/AGE 20 (STANFORD)
**2008 FINALS - NORTH AMERICANS**
4...Serena Williams, USA (3-1)
2...Lindsay Davenport, USA (2-0)
1...Venus Williams, USA (1-0)
1...ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK, CAN (1-0)
1...Jill Craybas, USA (0-1)
**QUALIFIERS IN SINGLES FINAL**
Bogota - Nuria Llagostera-Vives (#114) - W
Rome - Alize Cornet (#34) - L
's-Hertogenbosch - Tamarine Tanasugarn (#85) - W
BAD GASTEIN - LUCIE HRADECKA (#237) - L
STANFORD - ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK (#85) - W
**LOW-RANKED FINALISTS- 2005-08**
#325 Sorana Cirstea, 2007 Budapest (L)
#259 Tamira Paszek, 2006 Portoroz (W)
#257 Akgul Amanmuradova, 2005 Tashkent (L)
#237 LUCIE HRADECKA, 2008 BAD GASTEIN (L)
#234 Lindsay Davenport, 2007 Bali (W)
#221 Iroda Tulyaganova, 2006 Tashkent (L)
**LOW-RANKED 2008 CHAMPIONS**
#114 Nuria Llagostera-Vives, ESP (Bogota)
#85 ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK, CAN (STANFORD)
#85 Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA ('s-Hertogenbosch)
#72 Lindsay Davenport, USA (Auckland)
**SINGLES/DOUBLES FINAL IN SAME EVENT**
Hobart - Eleni Daniilidou, GRE (W/L)
Memphis - Lindsay Davenport, USA (W/W)
Estoril - Maria Kirilenko, RUS (W/W)
Barcelona - Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, ESP (W/L)
Wimbledon - Venus Williams, USA (W/W)
Wimbledon - Serena Williams, USA (L/W)
Budapest - Alize Cornet, FRA (W/W)
Palermo - Sara Errani, ITA (W/W)
BAD GASTEIN - LUCIE HRADECKA, CZE (L/L)
**DEFEATED #1 SEED, WON TOURNAMENT**
Gold Coast - Li Na (QF-Vaidisova)
Australian Open - Maria Sharapova (SF-Henin)
Miami - Serena Williams (QF-Henin)
Fes - Gisela Dulko (F-Medina Garrigues)
Berlin - Dinara Safina (3rd-Henin)
Istanbul - Agnieszka Radwanska (F-Dementieva)
Palermo - Sara Errani (SF-Pennetta)
BAD GASTEIN - PAULINE PARMENTIER (SF-SZAVAY)
STANFORD - ALEKSANDRA WOZNIAK (SF-S.WILLIAMS ret.)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA USA (II-Hard Outdoor)(USO Series)
07 FINAL: Ivanovic d. Petrova
08 TOP: Jankovic/S.Williams
Jankovic d. Petrova
Azarenka d. Safina
Chakvetadze d. Sugiyama
Hantuchova d. S.Williams
Jankovic d. Azarenka
Chakvetadze d. Hantuchova
Jankovic d. Chakvetadze
...largely because I wonder what the odds are that Serena will be phyically able to make it through the week without pulling out due to injury. And because a young player (A-Woz could be slotted into Sugiyama's QF spot) often follows up her first title with a lackluster week after result.
PORTOROZ, SLOVENIA (IV-Hard Outdoor)
07 FINAL: Golovin d. Srebotnik
08 TOP: Kirilenko/Srebotnik
Kirilenko d. Wozniacki
Srebotnik d. Medina-Garrigues
Kirilenko d. Srebotnik
...Maria, once again showing everyone that she's focusing on doing well in the slams. Before Wimbledon, she played on clay. Now, before the U.S.. Open, she's playing... umm, on clay. Oh, no. It's actually hard court. I guess I just expect the worst from Maria sometimes. Hopefully, she won't hold it against me and will win this title. I need the Picks victory.
All for now.