July is Over, and the Olympics are Almost Here... do you know where your Russians are?
Since Venus Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title a month ago, the WTA tour has been little more than a hot mess.
With the travel needed for a player to maintain a presence on the "road trip" that is the U.S. Open Series, just a few weeks after two European slams were contested over such a short span of time, the WTA schedule is hardly amenable to the multiple appearances that the Powers That Be in tennis annually hope will stir up heightened interest in the sport during the latter stages of the North American summer (well, at least it's difficult for anyone without the initials J.J. to pull it off). This season, with the Olympics taking place on the other side of the world right in the middle of the North American season, just two weeks before the start of the Open itself in New York on August 25, things were even more scattershot than usual. As it turned out, most of the top players only put in cameo appearances (if even that, considering the three '08 slam winners have played a combined total of three matches since play ceased at SW19) on tour.
Venus and Davenport never played. Serena did, but was injured. Sharapova was already injured, but didn't find out about it until after she played one match (whoops, there goes the Supernova's Olympic and Open aspirations for this season). Ivanovic returned to her early-out pre-Roland Garros title self last week, while fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic played when she probably shouldn't have, possibly setting herself up for even more drama (for good and bad) over the next few weeks.
In the interim, a string of newbies (some Z-Team members, some not) managed to become first-time finalists, maiden titlists and Top 20ers when several of the draws were thinned. But one thing WAS consistent in a noteworthy way -- the play of Dinara Safina. Normally, that might not be a good thing for the Russian Cat, but ever since she ended Justine Henin's career in April on the clay in Berlin she's been as difficult an out as there is on the entire WTA landscape.
DINARA'S NEW FRIEND Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
She won on clay in May (reaching the RG final), then carried things over to the grass in June (reaching another final). In July, she was unstoppable on hard courts. For the first time since she won her first career title at age 16 back in 2002, Safina is showing the talent, temperament and intelligence that she looked as if she might possess when she was among the first of the Russian Horde to make inroads on the tour. Back-to-back titles in L.A. and Montreal crowned her U.S. Open Series champ, and sends her to Beijing as the hottest player on tour.
2008 has been an unpredictable season, for sure. There have been four different #1 players and three different slam champions, and there's a good possibility that both those numbers could swell even more by the end of the season. Good luck determining who's going to be the "Player of the Year" come November.
But as for July (and the first few days of August)...
**July Awards - Wk.28-31*
1. Dinara Safina, RUS
...eat your heart out, Marat.
2. Sara Errani, ITA
...she pulled a "mini-Safina," winning back-to-back titles on a smaller scale in Europe.
3. Cara Black & Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
...I sure hope they can win in New York, so I can stop bringing up how they've won just about everything this season EXCEPT for a grand slam title.
4. Alize Cornet, FRA
...she threw everything against the wall in Budapest, and it finally stuck.
5. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
...what a novel concept: a Canadian WTA singles champion.
HM- Caroline Wozniacki, DEN & Pauline Parmentier, FRA
...C-Woz was one of four first-time champions over the past month, while Parmentier actually won her SECOND career title in less than a year. Really, she HAS won two titles. Look it up.
1. Dinara Safina, RUS
2. Alize Cornet, FRA
3. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
4. Marion Bartoli, FRA
5. Chan Yung-Jan & Chuang Chia-Jung, TPE/TPE
HM- Bethanie Mattek, USA & Vera Dushevina, RUS
1. Sara Errani, ITA
2. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
3. Caroline Wozniacki, DEN
4. Dominika Cibulkova, SVK
5. Victoria Azarenka, BLR
6. Michelle Larcher de Brito, POR
7. Julia Goerges, GER
8. Tamira Paszek, AUT
9. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS
10. Petra Martic, CRO
HM- Alla Kudryavtseva, RUS & Alexandra Krunic, SRB
1. Aleksandra Wozniak, CAN
2. Pauline Parmentier, FRA
3. Andreja Klepac, SLO
4. Mariya Koryttseva, UKR
5. Lucie Hradecka, CZE & Tereza Hladikova, CZE
HM- Yuan Meng, CHN & Stephanie Dubois, CAN
1. Cara Black & Liezel Huber, ZIM/USA
2. Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Virginia Ruano-Pascual, ESP/ESP
3. Ai Sugiyama, JPN
4. Flavia Pennetta, ITA
5. Rennae Stubbs, AUS (WTT)
HM- Katarina Srebotnik, SLO & Greta Arn, HUN
1. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2. Jelena Dokic, AUS
3. Karolina Sprem, CRO
4. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
5. Elena Bovina, RUS
1. Maria Sharapova, RUS
2. Serena Williams, USA
3. Nicole Vaidisova, CZE
4. Vera Zvonareva, RUS
5. Ana Ivanovic, SRB
1. Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
2. Mara Santangelo, ITA
3. Jelena Dokic, AUS
4. Kimiko Date-Krumm, JPN
5. Melanie Oudin, USA
6. Patricia Mayr, AUT
7. Neuza Silva, POR
8. Bojana Jovanovski, SRB
9. Ksenia Milevskaya, BLR
10. Mariana Duque-Marino, COL
HM- Urszula Radwanska, POL & Ioana-Raluca Olaru, ROU
...Aleksandra Wozniak wins Stanford, becoming the first Canadian tour singles champion since Helen Kelesi in 1988, back when A-Woz was literally in diapers. For good measure, Wozniak beat Sam Stosur TWICE en route to the title, both in qualifying and after the Aussie entered the draw as a lucky loser.
*THE COMEBACK MOMENT*
...so many of Dinara Safina's big moments over the past few months were THIS CLOSE to never happening. After showing herself to be a Russian Cat with multiple lives in Paris, overcoming match points to win two matches, she did it again in Los Angeles. There, she faced down match point in a 3rd Round match with Alla Kudryavtseva, surviving and going on to take the title and, ultimately, the U.S. Open Series crown (even with New Haven yet to be played).
*WHAT A LONG AND STRANGE TRIP IT WAS*
...in Stanford, Dominika Cibulkova failed to convert a match point against Ai Sugiyama in the QF after being up a set and 5-2 in the 2nd. The Japanese vet forced the teenaged Slovak into a 3rd set, where she eventually had to retire due to severe cramping while down 6-7/7-6/5-3 love-40. A month later, she knocked off four Top 20 players, including soon-to-be-#1 Jelena Jankovic, and reached her first career Tier I final in Montreal. The result pushed her ranking into the Top 20 for the first time.
*THANKS, BUT NO THANKS*
...a while back, '04 Athens Silver Medalist Amelie Mauresmo was oddly replaced by out-since-seemingly-the-dawn-of-time Mary Pierce on the French Olympic Team. In July, when it became apparent that Pierce was still too injured to participate, Mauresmo was initially named to replace her. But Mauresmo told her national team "thanks, but no thanks" and pulled her name from consideration. Pauline Parmentier was named as the "new" replacement.
...after failing in Roland Garros to secure the #1 ranking, Jelena Jankovic again was not able to win enough matches to grab the top spot (hardly surprising, as she was playing with an injured knee and admittedly out of shape... not that she necessarily would have been more successful if she'd been healthy) in either Los Angeles or Montreal. But, have no fear, the WTA announced an error in the earlier computations and that Jankovic would replace fellow Serb Ana Ivanovic as the new #1 on August 11 anyway. When she thought she didn't have it, Jankovic said, "The #1 spot doesn't matter." Hmmm, I wonder if she's had a change of heart?
...first it was the Russians, now it's the Serbs. 15-year old Alexandra Krunic won her first title in her professional debut in a small ITF event in Prokuplje, Serbia.
*MOST EXPOSED TO THE WORLD*
...Ashley Harkleroad, of course, after becoming the first WTA player to pose nude in Playboy
*MOST EXPOSED TO THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE?*
...Maria Sharapova's doctors, who misdiagnosed her torn rotator cuff injury in April, causing her to play on rather than rehab. When it was finally discovered in late July, she had to pull out of both the Olympics and Beijing. You think Yuri & Co. will just let something like this go unpunished?
All for now.
THE REST OF THIS WEEK: Backspin's Olympic series