Friday, November 21, 2008

2008 WTA Year in Review



The time has come. (As always, thoughts and words brought to you free of charge.)

2008: TO TAUREAU OR NOT TO TAUREAU, that is the question

"Because Justine isn't here anymore." - Elena Dementieva, earlier this year, when asked why players hadn't been able to hold onto the #1 ranking for very long in 2008




The Student Council election campaign was quite heated this year,with the polls constantly showing a different candidate leading the field. Those in the running for the top post were quite civil, but some outside observers were often heard to make discouraging comments about the merits of a few of those contending for Class President. As expected, we all persevered and in the end, in a close contest, the voting produced a winner. Still, the debate rages on.

=STUDENT COUNCIL=
CLASS PRESIDENT (with ongoing recount): Serena Williams
RESIGNED PRESIDENCY, PROMPTING NEW ELECTIONS: Justine Henin

"I decided to stop fooling myself and accept it."


VICE PRESIDENT: Venus Williams
PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE: Dinara Safina
VALEDICTORIAN: Jelena Jankovic (waiting for her Serbian flag-draped Porsche to arrive... though we told her numerous times that she's mistaken about that being her "prize" for this honor)

SALUTATORIAN: Ana Ivanovic (second-highest rated Serb, but with more post-graduation job offers)
CLASS TREASURER: Maria Sharapova
SCHOOL SPIRIT COORDINATORS: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina
SCHOOL SPIRIT COORDINATORS (ON CLASS TRIP TO BEIJING): Dinara Safina, Elena Dementieva & Vera Zvonareva


STUDENT/FACULTY LIAISON: Chelsey Gullickson (on the University of Georgia campus only)
PERMANENT DETENTION MONITOR (apparently): Martina Hingis

"I'm not even reaching my peak yet. I think if I am healthy and I'm playing my best, it's hard to beat me." - Serena Williams, in May




Backspin Academy's humble and hardworking staff experiences widespread change on a yearly basis, but the student body (of which some of our instructors are also included) is generally pleased with the hirings we make. Although we have had a few complaints about Mr. Sanchez and his ever-present stopwatch.

=FACULTY, STAFF, DEPARTMENT HEADS & APPOINTEES=
PRINCIPAL/VICE PRINCIPAL: Cara Black & LIezel Huber (in a symbolic duty-sharing setup)
GUIDANCE COUNSELOR: Zeljko Krajan (Dinara Safina's personal adviser, specializing in talking students off proverbial ledges)
CRAZY TEACHER THAT SPLITS THE STUDENTS' LOYALTY WHO THE SCHOOL BOARD WISHES IT COULD FIRE, BUT FEARS A HOTLY-CONTESTED LAWSUIT IF IT DID SO: Ricardo Sanchez (who finds an apple on his desk from Ms. Jankovic every morning
GYM/ATHLETIC TRAINER: Pat Etcheverry (he receives an apple from Jelena every day, too... we're still not sure where she gets them all)
MEDICAL SCHOOL DIRECTORS: Student Sharapova's personal doctors (POSITION NOW VACANT... apply for job at Tennisrulz)
TENURED PROFESSOR: Nick Bollettieri
ACADEMY HISTORIAN: Bud Collins
(GARBLED) COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: Corina Morariu (we think Justin Gimelstob may have rubbed off on her a little too much)
SCHOOL OF BUSINESS & MARKETING: Anna Kournikova (in absentia)
PILOT SCHOOL HEAD INSTRUCTOR: Jelena Jankovic (specializing in short helicopter trips)

*RECENTLY-APPOINTED LANGUAGE ARTS DEPT. HEADS*
UNORTHODOX RUSSIAN: Vera Zvonareva
CHINESE DEMOCRACY: Zheng Jie
FRENCH-101: Alize Cornet
GERMAN-102: Anna-Lena Groenefeld
INTRODUCTION TO ROMANIAN: Sorana Cirstea
ANCIENT JAPANESE: Kimiko Date-Krumm (back from her 12-year sabbatical)
CONVERSATIONAL SPANISH: Anabel Medina-Garrigues & Virginia Ruano-Pascual

POLISH PHYSICS: Agnieszka Radwanska
ADVANCED ITALIAN-to-SPANISH MATHEMATICS: Flavia Pennetta (2 minus 1 = a better Pennetta, and the same old Moya)
SLOVAKIAN HISTORY, vesion 2.0: Daniela Hantuchova, replaced by Dominika Cibulkova mid-lecture
LONG-OVERDUE RETIREMENT PARTY HONOREE: Monica Seles (gift registration for the Davenport, Capriati and Pierce parties are underway as I speak)
FACULTY/STUDENT (ROMANTIC) LIAISONS: Amber Liu's coach/fiance Michael Chang, and Ashley Harkleroad's coach/baby daddy Chuck Adams

"I thought maybe my last name was Williamsowski or something." - Venus Williams, on her surprisingly solid Polish fan support




"I've got tickets for X-Factor, and my mum said I couldn't have them if I banged my racket or something." - Wimbledon junior Girls champ Laura Robson, after her first WTA tour match


Our student body is a lively crop, and always on the look-out for extracurricular activities to fill up their valuable time.

=CLUB HEADS=
DRAMA CLUB: Jelena Jankovic (risking her career during rehearsals for the big school production)
WELL-PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Lindsay Davenport (first student in line on the first day of school: Ashley Harkleroad)
CHOIR: Vania King
FASHION/DESIGNING: Venus Williams
PSYCHOLOGY CLUB: Ana Ivanovic (she's not the only member at meetings, but sometimes she feels that way)
DEBATE CLUB/IMPROMPTU SPEECHMAKING: Laura Robson (her application to begin the Marat Safin Appreciation Club is still pending, but all who wish to join are instructed to meet in the cafeteria after the final bell on Monday)
FASHION-DOES-NOT-DEFINE-ME CLUB: Bethanie Mattek
CAR CLUB: Jelena Jankovic (her plate is always full, as is her tank of gas... well, until December)
PHOTOGRAPHY CLUB (clothes optional and/or unnecessary): Ashley Harkleroad


*HENIN CLUB*
IN CHARGE OF SMALL SIZE/BIG WIN RATIOS: Dominika Cibulkova
BELGIAN TOUR LEADER: Yanina Wickmayer
BELGIAN JUNIOR LEADER: Tamaryn Hendler
IN CHARGE OF NEW ONE-HANDED BACKHANDERS: Carla Suarez-Navarro
MULTI-SLAM COLLECTOR: (position still vacant)
UNQUESTIONED #1: priceless (and unknown)

"Women in general, we like fashion. It's a huge industry for the athletic companies. In the past, Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals, they wore wonderful things that brought a lot of attention to women's tennis, and that's what they needed at that time. I don't think in any way that it subtracts from the competition level or how well we're playing. The fact of the matter is someone has got to win and someone has got to lose." - Venus Williams


=RUSSIAN CHESS CLUB=
CHAIRWOMAN: Dinara Safina
ASSISTANT TO THE CHAIRWOMAN: Elena Dementieva (though she assumes Chairwoman duties during meetings held in Beijing)
THE NEXT BIG THING: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
STAR-CROSSED: Anna Chakvetadze
RESURRECTED FROM LENIN'S TOMB: Elena Bovina
FULL OF LIFE (again): Nadia Petrova
ON A FACT-FINDING MISSION (or photoshoot, we're not sure which... but we'll be sure to ask when she texts us back): Maria Sharapova
TEAM LEADER: Svetlana Kuznetsova (there is no "i" in team... but there are two in "singles titles," which Svetlana never wins anymore)
NextGEN HORDETTES: Alisa Kleybanova, Evgeniya Rodina, Alla Kudryavtseva, Ekaterina Makarova, Anastasia Pivovarova, Ksenia Lykina, Elena Kulikova & Ksenia Pervak

"I don't like her outfit." - Alla Kudryavtseva, trying to jokingly answer a question about why she was able and determined to hand Maria Sharapova her worst slam loss since 2003 in the 2nd Round of Wimbledon


=JUNIOR/SENIOR PROM COMMITTEE=
PROM QUEEN: Caroline Wozniacki

LADY-IN-WAITING (still): Victoria Azarenka
JUNIOR QUEEN: Michelle Larcher de Brito
QUEEN'S COURT: Aleksandra Wozniak, Carla Suarez-Navarro, Sabine Lisicki, Casey Dellacqua, Sorana Cirstea, Petra Kvitova, Marina Erakovic, Urszula Radwanska and Olga Govortsova
JUNIOR QUEEN'S COURT: Laura Robson, Coco Vandeweghe, Kristie Haerim Ahn, Arantxa Rus, Melanie Oudin, Ksenia Lyskina, Ana Bogdan, Elena Bogdan, Simona Halep, Noppawan Lertcheewakarn and Chelsey Gullickson
PARTY-CRASHERS, circa 2026: mini-Clijsters Jada and mini-Czarina Myskina Zhenya
ON EVERYONE'S DANCE CARD, BUT SLEEPING THROUGH CLASS: Nicole Vaidisova
SUDDEN WALLFLOWER: Tamira Paszek
CLEAN(ed)-UP CREW: USA Fed Cup semifinal team (hint: no one was named Serena, Venus, Lindsay, Bethanie or Ashley)

"I just love coats. And I don't know why, because I live in Florida, so it doesn't really add up. It's definitely not athletic attire. But it's ladylike, and I'm very ladylike... it's just delectable." - Serena Williams, about her semi-trench coat look at Wimbledon


=CLASS FAVORITES=
MOST WELL-LIKED: Ana Ivanovic
MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
POWER COUPLE: Chris Evert and Greg Norman
MOST COOLED-OFF RUSSIAN: Olga Puchkova (and Olga POUCHkova, too)
PERSONALITY PLUS: Jelena Jankovic
MOST LIKELY TO MAKE THE MOST OF A BAD SITUATION: Angela Haynes
QUIETEST: Sara Errani (w/ back-to-back titles)
QUIETEST VETERAN:Eleni Daniilidou (she won a title in '08... remember??? Yeah, we didn't, either.)
QUIETLY (still) ANONYMOUS:Pauline Parmentier (the lowest-ranked player to win at least one title in both 2007 and 2008)
PERPETUAL HEARTBREAKER: Julia Vakulenko
MOST HEART: Jelena Jankovic
MOST ADMIRED: Liezel Huber
LATE BLOOMER: Julie Coin
MAYBE NOT SO LOST A CAUSE, AFTER ALL: Jelena Dokic
HOPING TO PROVE SECOND ACTS ARE RUSSIAN, TOO: Olga Morozova
NEW/OLD KID: Sesil Karatantcheva
SMARTEST: Agnieszka Radwanska
MOST MISSED (due to injury): Tatiana Golovin
MOST MISSED (by Backspin, due to, well... life): Justine Henin
MOST MISSED (due to "other"): Nicole Vaidisova
ENDANGERED: Maria Sharapova's doctors, Anna Chakvetadze's invisible security, Svetlana Kuznetsova's trophy case supplier, Lindsay Davenport's babysitter, Anna-Lena Groenefeld's overworked lawyer, Dinara Safina's #2 position in the family tennis heriarchy, Sesil Karatantcheva's boredom and Jelena Dokic's depression
MOST UNSTOPPABLE WATCH AD: Nicole Vaidisova
LEAST UNSTOPPABLE "CAN'T MISS KID": Nicole Vaidisova
MOST TALKED-ABOUT FASHION STATEMENTS: Serena Williams' semi- trench coat, Maria Sharapova's white tuxedo and shorts, Venus Williams' EleVen line and Jelena Jankovic's understated Big (Yellow) Apple attire

BEST SYMMETRY: Venus Williams wins Hong Kong exhibition to start season, then season-ending Championships to end it
WORST SYMMETRY: Maria Sharapova wins eighteen straight matches to start season, then misses the final three months with a rotator cuff injury
MOST PROPHETIC TITLE RUN: Jelena Jankovic winning in Rome, the first tour event held in the wake of Justine Henin's retirement
MOST BITTERSWEET MOMENT: In post-match ceremony, Ana Ivanovic receives trophy for winning Roland Garros... from Justine Henin Of course, it'd been even more intriguing had it been Jankovic picking up the hardware.

*LEGACY IS...*
BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION: Amelie Mauresmo (playing on, without apologies or second thoughts)
CHANGABLE: Kimiko Date-Krumm
HOPEFULLY NOT RUINED: Martina Hingis
FINALLY EMBRACED BY ALL, a little too late: Justine Henin
EVER BETTER THAN YOU THOUGHT: Evonne Goolagong (#1 thirty-one years after the fact)

"I never thought something like this would happen to me. It was like something I had seen during the movies." - Anna Chakvetadze, on her violent home invasion experience in Moscow last December




Not everything is subjective, though. G.P.A.'s and S.A.T. scores are important, too.

=HONOR SOCIETY ROLL CALL=
HARD COURT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Serena Williams
CLAY COURT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Dinara Safina (though AnaIvo scored the highest on the S.A.T.
GRASS COURT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Venus Williams
INDOOR PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jelena Jankovic
FED CUP PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Svetlana Kuznetsova (even though she failed all her finals in every subject)

"I learnt I should always use condoms." - Sesil Karatantcheva, on what she learned from her two-year suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, which she maintains occurred because she was pregnant




"For some reason, I feel tired." - Jelena Jankovic, in February, after having played nearly every week of the season to that point despite being injured in her first event


=BACKSPIN ALL-STAR TEAMS=
*ALL-BEAUTIFUL*
Queen Chaos winning friends and influencing people, no matter how hard they fight against it

=============================
Venus at the All-England Club
=============================
The U.S. Open on ESPN in 2009 (to be continued)
=============================
A happy Gal Friday. Carry on, Anna-Lena.
=============================
Monica Seles on "Dancing with the Stars" (to be continued)
=============================
The Summer of Safina
=============================
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's future
=============================
Zheng Jie finally getting her overdue respect after becoming the first-ever Chinese grand slam singles semifinalist
=============================
Meghann Shaughnessy filling in admirably for Serena Williams at the Hopman Cup (to be continued)
=============================
Vera Zvonareva believing in herself... and reaching new career heights
=============================
Four Venus-vs.-Serena matches in a single season
=============================
The Kiss of Life

=============================

"I took out two Canadians. Maybe the people will start to hate me now." - Jelena Jankovic, after defeating Aleksandra Wozniak and Stephanie Dubois in Montreal


*ALL-UGLY*
The U.S. Open on ESPN in 2009?
=============================
Ana Ivanovic after the "Kiss of Life"
=============================
Svetlana Kuznetsova's 0-5 record in singles finals
=============================
An injured Tatiana Golovin
=============================
Maria Sharapova's shoulder problems
=============================
The Chinese Fed Cup team's inability to defend home court advantage
=============================
Monica Seles' actual dancing on "Dancing with the Stars," unfortunately
=============================
Agnes Szavay in the 1st Round
=============================
FSN's coverage of the Miami and Indian Wells events, when even the players weren't able to find regularly-scheduled local coverage of the matches of their upcoming opponents
=============================
Jelena Jankovic's 0-9 career record vs. Justine Henin... unless La Petit Taureau changes her mind
=============================
Meghann Shaughnessy watching Serena Williams go on to win the Hopman Cup with Mardy Fish, then injuring her knee soon afterward and missing the rest of the season
=============================
Lindsay Davenport's breaking-down body
=============================
Nicole Vaidisova's waning desire...
=============================
...especially when it occurred during the same season that Alicia Molik's career met an undeserved early demise
=============================



=ALL BACKSPIN WANTS BY CHRISTMAS 2009=
For Nadia Petrova to begin 2009 with the same verve with which she ended 2008.
=============================
FINALLY... that long-awaited Sharapova vs Vaidisova match.

Yeah, forget about that one. At some point, we all have to grow up and stop wishing for make-believe things... (insert own Sarah Palin/George W. Bush intelligence joke here).
=============================
For Anna-Lena Groenefeld to reclaim her rightful place in the Top 20, which she held until she was so rudely interrupted.
=============================
For success for players with names like Coco, Asia, Noppawan, Apollonia and whichever other great ones comes along.
=============================
For Anna Chakvetadze's bad '08 karma to flip the other way in '09.
=============================
For a season free of trespassing, phony feet/flag controversy and injuries for Sania Mirza.
=============================
For a prononciation key to be provided to ESPN tennis announcers, and for SportsCenter to just drop the act and not show tennis highlights at all if the talking heads are just going to behave like preschool children trying to read a college textbook whenever they have to say the names of match winners.
=============================
For the nine $2 million dollar Premier-level events on the WTA's 2009 schedule to be renamed so that they can effectively replace the old "Tier I" class in the eyes of the public. Otherwise, the casual fan is just going to be too confused to bother telling the difference in importance between the twenty events dubbed "Premier" and the nearly thirty "International" tournaments on the new "Road Map" schedule.
=============================
For the U.S. Open Series to either matter MORE, or matter LESS. I'm not sure how EXACTLY I feel about it. You know, like the top players who usually only put in a token appearance in the Series that's meant to promote the sport and the Open in the U.S.
=============================
For the Road Map to be worth the effort in the long run.
=============================
For less Johnny-come-lately "praise" for Jelena Jankovic, and more guilt-less appreciation for all she IS rather than what she ISN'T. Was Lindsay Davenport constantly disregarded when she finished year-end #1 three times in seasons in which she didn't win a slam? Oh, that's right... she's American, so there wasn't an issue with sports fans not knowing her name because networks were afraid to show a "foreign" player for fear of losing viewers.
=============================
For Queen Chaos to put the issue to rest and come up HUGE on a GRAND stage in 2009.
=============================

"Winning a Grand Slam is being the best for two weeks. Being the No. 1 in the world and finishing No. 1 in the world means that you have been the best player for the whole year. That is a huge, huge difference." - Jelena Jankovic's favorable take on being year-end #1, compared to winning a grand slam title


Somehow, one gets the feeling that her thoughts might "evolve" just a bit were she to actually WIN a slam. To be continued in 2009...


Res Ipsa Loquitur. All for now.



PAST YEARBOOKS: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

2008 SEASON REVIEW EDITIONS OF WTA BACKSPIN:
...Revolving Doors - WTA '09 Guide Preview
...Intriguing Answers, Pt.1
...Intriguing Answers, Pt.2
...The Best of Jankovic 2008
...Regional Honors
...Backspin Awards
...Ms. Backspin
...WTA Yearbook

6 Comments:

Blogger Karen said...

First time posting on your blog. I have to say that your commentary is usually very refreshing as your favourites are not known to the public, which is good. I think 2009 is shaping up to be a good year for the women. I am not so sure that the ATP is going to be selling a good product in the years to come. There are a couple of guys who are moving up but their games leave me wanting not so with the women. Like you I will be happy to see the Asia's and Coco's finally make their way on to the big stage. It is not often that you can see the up and coming talent when they have just left the juniors etc. Last year I recalled that Tennis Channel showed the USO Junior boys and girls finals, not so this year, I wonder why.

Sat Nov 22, 12:35:00 PM EST  
Blogger bullfrog said...

I certainly hope that Coco and Asia can be top tier players. Realistically, however, looking at their accomplishments to-date and given Coco is about to turn 17and Asia is not far from 18; I'm afraid their wonderful names may just be another short-lived story. The ones who have made phenomenol rises all played extensive ITF juniors to build their games and their toughness(ie, Wozniacki, Cibulkova, Azarenka, Pavyluchenkova). The U.S. girls seem to be trying to skip that foundational step and I'm not sure why?

Sat Nov 22, 06:26:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Karen - I'm glad you decided to speak up. It's always nice to hear differing views and outlooks. I hope you comment more in the future. :)

With some exceptions beyond the core group at the top of the sport, I tend to see a large portion of the men's field as an extensively "faceless" group. I'm not sure if it comes across that way outside the U.S. (which I'm assuming you might be, since you used the spelling "favourites" -- haha), but it comes off that way because of the TV coverage here. The networks don't know who to focus on outside of Federer and Nadal, have been oddly slow to embrace Djokovic as an attraction and have a hard time pushing Murray since there's a certain joylessness in watching him play (or maybe that's just me ;) ). So instead they focus on Roddick (a one-slam wonder with a bigger mouth than game beyond his serve) and Blake (one of the biggest chokers on tour, though people don't like to say it because he's such a nice, classy guy off the court). So, unless it's #1 vs. #2, no one cares. It's a vicious cycle, and ESPN covering the U.S. Open might only serve to perpetuate it starting next season (though they might just surprise everyone, use the bigger TV stage to great effect, do things right and help the sport in America... though I hestitate to bank anything on that happening).

The women just have more personality. Always have, I think. Except for the brief period when McEnroe, Borg, Connors (weird story today about him getting arrested for refusing to leave a sports arena after getting into a confrontation with someone during the UNC basketball game, by the way) and Co. were all the rage. But even then you had Evert and Martina on the women's side, which in retrospect was more compelling on so many different levels.

Yeah, I wondered the same thing about the Tennis Channel not airing the Open junior finals this year. I remember it being nice seeing Pavlyuchenkova do battle with Paszek in a past Girls final on TC, and it would have been nice to see the rare occasion of an American winning the title this time around. TC didn't seem to show as many SF & Finals of regular tournaments this season as a whole (though they sure found many opportunities to show replays of matches the channel aired from 2005-07, didn't they? It so made me angry when I went there thinking they were showing something new only to see old less-than-classic matches instead.)

It could have something to do with using so much money and resources for grand slam coverage that they made cuts in coverage of other events. I guess that'd be undertandable, but still...


Bullfrog - I wonder if any development plans for young players that don't include a great deal of ITF junior competition has any link to what Richard Williams did with Venus and Serena? As usual when one of the sisters win a slam, there's a new round of stories about how Richard "was right" all along about his daughters being able to succeed without taking the usual route through the juniors. Thing is, while he WAS right... he was right about Venus and Serena, and if we've learned anything about them through the years it's that they are a unique case and few if any are likely to come even remotely close to duplicating even a small portion of their success by following the same path.

It'll be interesting to watch Chelsey Gullickson, who's taking the rarely-seen-these-days sojourn to college at Georgia. Kristie Ahn, who's said she's planning on playing NCAA tennis, too, is another similar case.

Sun Nov 23, 03:00:00 AM EST  
Blogger bullfrog said...

Thanks for the insights, Todd and Karen. All the best to Coco, Asia, Chelsey, Kristie and other young Americans.

Sun Nov 23, 01:53:00 PM EST  
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