Odds & Ends Between New York & Doha
Finally depressurized after the long Open, it's time for a gauge on where things stand three-quarters of the way into 2008, as well as look ahead at the season's closing weeks.
**Ms. BACKSPIN '08 UPDATE*
1. Serena Williams/USA
...back at #1 for the first time in five years, and with a tour-leading four titles on the season, Williams is the only past SEC winner who has a shot to play in Doha in what could be a win-it-and-you're-the-year-end-#1 situation.
2. Cara Black & Liezel Huber/ZIM-USA
...finally with that elusive '08 slam under their belt, Black & Huber can fully embrace their role as tennis' Dominant Duo version of Walsh & May-Treanor. They're one title away from tripling their nearest competitors for season crowns, and the dual-#1's lead the #3-ranked doubles player by 2125 points (and their nearest competitors by 2660 in the team race). If Serena falters down the stretch, in this year of multiple singles #1's, Black/Huber could end up being the first doubles team to share the "Ms. Backspin" honor.
3. Ana Ivanovic/SRB
...holding onto the #3 spot by her fingernails, thanks to a grand slam title and runner-up, as well as twelve weeks in the #1 position, more than anyone else since Henin's retirement.
4. Dinara Safina/RUS
...as great as her summer was, she wasn't able to grab the Gold or slam title that would have made her a serious Ms. Backspin/POY contender.
5. Jelena Jankovic/SRB
...Queen Chaos added some substance to go with her entertaining style in New York. Just 126 points behind Serena, she could still manage to climb her way into the season-ending #1 position with a good finish.
6. Maria Sharapova/RUS
...even with all the runs put on by multiple players in '08, no one's has been as dominant as Sharapova's almost-forgotten streak at the start of the season, which included a brilliantly-played two weeks in Melbourne. But her shoulder dooms her to also-ran status at year's end.
7. Venus Williams/USA
...everyone remembers her Wimbledon championship, but it's easy to forget that that's the only singles final Venus has reached all season. As long as she keeps collecting plates from the All-England Club, though, it's all good.
8. Elena Dementieva/RUS
...one more Tier I or SEC title away from being in the Ms. Backspin Top 5, whether Punch-Sober will be satisfied with her Beijing Gold or inspired for a 4Q push will be interesting to see. The momentum carried over to the Open, to a point.
9. Agnieszka Radwanska/POL
...A-Rad's results have slowed down a bit of late, but her three titles still put her in the running for the tour lead in '08.
10. Russian Fed Cup Team
...all right, this is going on the assumption that the Hordettes win the team's fourth title in the last five years this weekend in Madrid. If not, then Spain slips into the mix at #10.
...the final quarter of the season is something of a mish-mash. Mostly, the tour shifts to Asia... except for when it goes for little jaunts in Europe and North America before wrapping up in the Middle East. It begins outdoors, then moves indoors... then goes back outdoors again for the season's final event in Doha. No matter the venues or continents, the overriding plotlines will involve the continually evolving race for the #1 position, and whether or not current or former top players will use the schedule's closing weeks as a way to "save" their seasons or give them enough momentum to propel them to early success Down Under in January.
MOST IMPORTANT: Ana Ivanovic/SRB
...what does it say about AnaIvo that the thought-flighty Jankovic seemed more comfortable with the pressure of the expectations heaped upon her than Ivanovic did? Ivanovic needn't go on a 4Q tear, but a few good wins over high-ranked players (especially after losing in slams to players with three-digit rankings) could help her regain a little of her confidence in time to hit 2009 running.
ALSO: Any of the players who "need" good finishes to tip the scales of their seasons to the positive side with at least a somewhat encouraging finish -- such as Lindsay Davenport, Nicole Vaidisova, Nadia Petrova, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Daniela Hantuchova.
LEAST IMPORTANT: Venus Williams/USA
...aside from the grass court season, Venus could be listed in this category every quarter of every season. Throw in the Olympic Doubles Gold she just won and THIS 4Q might have even less importance than usual. Though, one could argue that Serena's Open title could push Venus to try to counter with something good over the next couple of months to keep the family business thriving. Plus, she did reach finals in Tokyo and Seoul at this time last season.
ALSO: Anna Chakvetadze/RUS -- The Doll could be in the "Also" listing for "Most Important," as well. But after bombing out of the Open, she's probably looking forward to the season ending more than any other player. Then again, that little tournament in Moscow might fancy her attention.
POISED FOR GREATNESS?: Jelena Jankovic/SRB
...well, at least poised to provide more entertainment. But after looking the part of a future slam winner in New York, with her fitness seemingly restored, confidence likely stoked and game in pretty good shape, Jankovic might just be in position to strike over the next few months and cause all the rankings-debaters to begin a new round of "Does She Deserve to Be #1? questions. Hey, at least now she HAS reached a slam final.
ALSO: Dinara Safina/RUS - she missed out in Paris, London, Beijing and New York. But a title in Doha to close out the season would be huge.
READY TO TURN HEADS?: Tamira Paszek/AUT
...this is the time of year that a young player can learn to string back-to-back good results together and send herself into offseason training with a full head of steam. After an oddly trying year that could have turned in her favor with just a game here or there, maybe it'll be Paszek. She's off to a good start in Bali.
ALSO: Maria Kirilenko/RUS - like that other Maria, she's always had good results in Asia.
LURCHING TOWARD THE END OF A DISASTER: Tatiana Golovin/FRA
...hmmm, maybe Chakvetadze has a fellow when-will-it-be-over? friend in Golovin, whose season has been maybe the most disappointing on tour this season. She's only played eight tour matches. By November, her 2008 will look ever worse since she won a title and reached another final last 4Q, which means her current #36 ranking will go bye-bye, too.
ALSO: Nicole Vaidisova/CZE -- she could be right there with Chakvetadze and Golovin when it comes to looking for an exit after a horrendous season that actually began quite well with a SF in Sydney.
*PAST "MS. BACKSPIN" WINNERS*
2001 Jennifer Capriati
2002 Serena Williams
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2004 Maria Sharapova
2005 Kim Clijsters
2006 Amelie Mauresmo
2007 Justine Henin
*WEEKS IN TOP 10*
*MOST DIFFERENT #1's IN A SEASON*
*MOST EXCHANGES OF #1 RANKING IN A SEASON*
8...2002 (between 4 different players)
8...1995 (between 3 different players)
5...2008 (between 5 different players)
*FED CUP FINALS*
1999 United States def. Russia
2000 United States def. Spain
2001 Belgium def. Russia
2002 Slovakia def. Spain
2003 France def. United States
2004 Russia def. France
2005 Russia def. France
2006 Italy def. Belgium
2007 Russia def. Italy
2008 RUSSIA VS. SPAIN
*SEASON-ENDING CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS*
2000 Martina Hingis def. Monica Seles
2001 Serena Williams def. Lindsay Davenport
2002 Kim Clijsters def. Serena Williams
2003 Kim Clijsters def. Amelie Mauresmo
2004 Maria Sharapova def. Serena Williams
2005 Amelie Mauresmo def. Mary Pierce
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne def. Amelie Mauresmo
2007 Justine Henin def. Maria Sharapova
*MOST SEC TITLES*
*SEASON-ENDING #1-RANKED PLAYER*
2001 Lindsay Davenport
2002 Serena Williams
2003 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2004 Lindsay Davenport
2005 Lindsay Davenport
2006 Justine Henin-Hardenne
2007 Justine Henin
All for now.
NEXT: 3Q Awards