Monday, February 16, 2009

Wk.6- The French Way

The history of French sports is littered with athletes with flair and a sense of style whose love for the dramatic moment, while often entertaining, has tended to work to the detriment of those men and women's chances to actually WIN anything.

Henri Leconte was a wonderful tennis shotmaker in his day, but you'd never want him playing if anything IMPORTANT was on the line. Jean Van de Velde had the British Open in his golf bag a few years ago, then stubbornly refused to play safe shots on the final hole of the tournament and saw his great moment devolve into farce and bare feet.



Up until a few seasons ago, Amelie Mauresmo fit rather (un)comfortably into said group of French sports stars. While her game was elegant and graceful, her big stage collapses were threatening to paint the ultimate memory of her career into an ugly, unfortunate corner.

Then came 2006, when she won both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. She didn't finish the year at #1 (Justine Henin did, and was dubbed "Player of the Year" by some after reaching all four slam finals, though she lost two of them to Mauresmo -- but that's an award argument long since gone stale, isn't it?), but her place in the sport's history was cemented forever.

Unfortunately, the past two seasons didn't provide her with much of a victory lap. Once she'd reached her career height, then won that diamond-encrusted racket in Antwerp in February of '07, she ran head first into the perfect storm of tennis troubles: injuries, coaching changes and the resulting lack of confidence that nearly drove her into retirement before the start of the '09 season.

But in a year that has seen Jelena Dokic become a star once again in Australia, and both Sania Mirza and Shahar Peer rebound from woeful '08 campaigns, perhaps "second acts" are in vogue this season.

Last week in Paris, Mauresmo wrote her very own comeback story.


AP Photo / Christophe Ena

With her flair still intact, but with a little extra grit at the end of a long, arduous road from where she once was to where she hoped to once again be, Mauresmo took Paris by storm like she never has during the two weeks of Roland Garros. With the crowd in her corner, and with Mauresmo encouraging the support whenever she needed it most, she got quick revenge on Sara Errani for her Fed Cup throttling in a meaningless rubber a week ago, easily elbowed Top 10er Agnieszka Radwanska off the court, then outlasted #3 Jelena Jankovic and #4 Elena Dementieva in three set matches in which Mauresmo had to overcome 2nd sets that could have been so discouraging that no one would have been surprised to see her go down meekly in the 3rd.

But she didn't give up, and instead got stronger. After all these years, save for one, the Frenchwoman has finally found the internal fortitude to overcome what has often been her most difficult opponent -- one Amelie Mauresmo herself. With a 7-6/2-6/6-4 win over Dementieva in the final, Mauresmo not only got her first title in two years but she also managed to push her ranking back into the Top 20.

Maybe more importantly, though, she made all her hard work and reluctance to give up pay off. In her mind, she's back. And as far as the WTA is concerned, the landscape just got a little bit more elegant all over again.

*WEEK 6 CHAMPIONS*

PARIS, FRANCE (Premiere $700K/GSI)
S: Amelie Mauresmo def. Elena Dementieva 7-6/2-6/6-4
D: Black/Huber d. Peschke/Raymond

PATTAYA CITY, THAILAND (Int'l $220K/HO)
S: Vera Zvonareva def. Sania Mirza 7-5/6-1
D: Shvedova/Tanasugarn d. Beygelzimer/Diatchenko



PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Amelie Mauresmo/FRA
...
three Top 10 wins. Two Top 4 victories. Twice allowing just two games to opponents. A new #19 ranking. Needless to say, it was her greatest week in quite some time.
=============================
RISERS: Vera Zvonareva/RUS & Shahar Peer/ISR
...
since late last summer, Zvonareva has been a safe bet to reach at least the SF in every tournament (7/9) she's played. In those nine events, she's reached the final five times, the most recent being last week in Pattaya City. She won career title #9, running off wins over the likes of Yaroslava Shvedova, Peng Shuai, Shahar Peer and a resurgent Sania Mirza. Speaking of Peer, while her week ended with a loss in the SF and a snubbing by Dubai, she proved her fine Fed Cup play wasn't confined to team competition (unlike many of the other FC stars in the "week after"). Of course, the denial of a visa to enter the UAE for a groundbreaking appearance in this week's Dubai event was the story that broke out of the sports pages and into the "regular" news. Obviously timed (as Dubai qualifying action had already started, or was about to do so) to back the WTA into a corner and make a cancellation of the event a logistical/monetary headache/near-impossibility, the emperor-has-no-clothes aspects of this story are clear, not to mention disheartening. Both Dubai & Qatar like to sell themselves as "different" from their Middle East neighbors, and sports entities have flocked there to collect the readily available money. But, apparently, at least Dubai isn't as "above" all the ages-old ill feelings as has been advertised. WTA head Larry Scott stated that Peer and her representatives backed the decision to play on, not wanting to harm so many others just because of a slight toward her... but, really, what else could Peer say under such circumstances, considering the firestorm she encountered by simply being Israeli in Melbourne during the Gaza invasion? "Promises" are made and broken, and we'll see how Scott & Co. deal with this issue in the future, even though it has been strongly hinted that this could be the end of the tour's relationship with the UAE if things do not change. Money talks, you know... especially in these cloudy economic times. If the tour truly desired to put its foot down and LEAD on this issue for every other sport/tour that deals with the UAE (including the ATP, which is scheduled to play a tournament there next week) it would have cancelled the tournament as soon as the story broke, damn the consequences, since the timing of the visa decision can't be looked at as anything other than a game of chicken that everyone involved knew was going to be lost by the WTA. Politics and tennis need not mix, most of the time. But when a government goes out of its way to exclude a particular athlete, that sport should close ranks around that player in a show of support that cannot be questioned nor broken. The WTA failed on that account this time. Things CAN be ultimately made right, but the opportunity to do the RIGHT thing at the right TIME has passed. It's a pity.
=============================
SURPRISES: Sania Mirza/IND & Emilie Loit/FRA
...
the good early signs as far as Mirza's comeback continue, as well. In Pattaya, with her ranking all the way down at #126, Mirza knocked off Tamarine Tanasugarn and Magdalena Rybarikova to reach her first tour singles final since her star-turn run to the Stanford final in 2007. The Year of the Comeback continues. Speaking of comebacks, 29-year old Loit hasn't been heard from too much of late, but that ended in Paris. After ending 2008 at #138, her first season-ending rank outside the Top 100 since 2000, Loit made it through qualifying with wins over Raluca Olaru and Camille Pin, then reached the QF with upsets of Nicole Vaidisova and Kaia Kanepi before falling to Serena Williams.
=============================
VETERANS: Elena Dementieva/RUS & Nathalie Dechy/FRA
...
Dementieva didn't win Paris (losing to Mauresmo in the final) or avenge her Oz loss to Serena (Williams pulled out of their SF match with a sore knee), but she got wins over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Nathalie Dechy and reached her third final (already) of 2009. Dechy was yet another Pastry to shine (can pastries shine?) last week in Paris. She, too, reached the QF (one of four Frenchwomen to do so) after getting victories over Sorana Cirstea and Patty Schnyder.
=============================
FRESH FACES: Magdalena Rybarikova/SVK & Vitalia Diatchenko/RUS
...
Rybarikova is quickly showing herself to be one of this season's fastest-rising players. In Pattaya, she reached her second SF of 2009, knocking off Kimiko Date-Krumm and Caroline Wozniacki along the way. Diatchenko, 18, is the latest Hordette to grad the tour's attention. In Pattaya, the world #180 made it through singles qualifying, then reached the doubles final with Yulia Beygelzimer.
=============================
DOWN: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN & Agnes Szavay/HUN
...
there wouldn't seem to be anything to worry about with C-Woz, but her results of late have shown a definite absence of what's essential for a player on the cusp of the Top 10 to have what it'll take to stay there. Before the Australian Open, she failed to convert a match point against Serena Williams in Sydney, and ever since her inconsistency has shown through. She lost that three-setter to Dokic in Melbourne, then last week barely escaped youngster Ksenia Pervak (Pervak retired in the 3rd set) before losing in straight sets to Rybarikova in Pattaya. This week, she'll face Dokic again in the 1st Round in Memphis. Another loss and a definite trend -- and not a good one -- will have been established. Meanwhile, Szavay's downfall continues. She's barely holding onto a Top 30 ranking, but if she doesn't shake out of her early-round funk soon she might find herself in triple-digits on the WTA computer before long. She lost in two sets to Li Na in Paris (not a bad loss), but then followed it up today with another 1st Round defeat at the hands of Camille Pin in Dubai despite claiming the 1st set. Over the last twelve months, she's gone 22-26.
=============================
ITF PLAYER: Lucie Hradecka/CZE
...
the Czech claimed her second ITF title on the season with a win in the $75K in Midland, Michigan. She notched victories over Stephanie Foretz, Evgeniya Rodina and Eleni Daniilidou in the final.
=============================
JUNIOR STARS: Blanka Szavay/HUN & Paola Cos/USA
...
yes, 15-year old Szavay is Agnes' little sister. She reached a Grade 2 SF in La Paz, Bolivia, losing to the ultimate champion of the event -- 16-year old American Cos.
=============================


1. Paris Final - Mauresmo d. Dementieva
...7-6/2-6/6-4.
Mauresmo failed to convert a match point at 5-2 in the 3rd, then double-faulted to give Dementieva a break point. A backhand error kept Dementieva alive in the match, and opened the door for a collapse. But Amelie wasn't going to let herself or that supportive French crowd down. Not this time.
=============================
2. Paris SF - Mauresmo d. Jankovic
...6-2/0-6/6-1.
Jelena -- and her serve -- are still a work in progress. How long until Roland Garros again?
=============================
3. Dubai 1st - U.Radwanska d. A.Radwanska
...6-4/6-3.
A-Rad is getting an early start on Week 7's "Down" award, losing in straights to her little sister today in their first-ever professional meeting. Speaking of trends, A-Rad's slow start is now something worth discussing if things don't turn around next time out.
=============================
4. Paris QF - Jankovic d. Cornet
...5-7/6-4/6-4
Safina's Ghost is still rattling chains inside Alize's attic (aka her head).
=============================
5. Fed Cup "Week After"
Paris 1st - Sprem d. Kvitova
Paris 2nd - Loit d. Kanepi
Dubai 1st - Schruff d. Kvitova

...Fed Cup heroines are often times shocked backed into reality soon after.
=============================
6. Fed Cup/Sports Illustrated "Week After"
Dubai 1st - Pavlyuchenkova d. Kirilenko
Dubai 1st - Morita d. Chakvetadze
Dubai 2nd - Vesnina d. Kuznetsova

...Chakvetadze's troubles continue. Fed Cup winner Kuznetsova's, too (the Dubai RU a year ago, she lost the 3rd set here at love!). At least Kirilenko will have more time to autograph some of her S.I. swimsuit issue photos.
=============================
7. Pattaya Final - Zvonareva d. Mirza
...7-5/6-1.
That Olympic Bronze seems to have been as much of a boon to Zvonareva's career as Dementieva's Gold has been to her's.
=============================
8. Paris 1st - Loit d. Vaidisova
...6-1/6-4
It's not even a story anymore, is it?
=============================
9. Paris SF - Dementieva w/o S.Williams
...
hmm, I wonder if Serena would have played if this was a slam SF, or not the week before an event that's essentially the current equivalent of an old Tier I?
=============================
10. Paris Doubles F - Black/Huber d. Peschke/Raymond
...6-4/3-6/10-4
Huber's Fed Cup mojo continues, and she and Black have their first title of '09.
=============================
HM- Mildura $25K Final - Spears d. Palkina
...5-7/6-3/6-2.
The American gets her second ITF title of the season.
=============================


**CAREER WTA SINGLES TITLES - ACTIVE**
39...Venus Williams, USA
33...Serena Williams, USA
25...AMELIE MAURESMO, FRA
19...Maria Sharapova, RUS
--
ALSO: Davenport-55

**2009 WTA SF**
4...Elena Dementieva (2-1 +W)
3...Serena Williams (1-1 +L)
2...Amelie Mauresmo (1-1)
2...Magdalena Rybarikova (0-2)
2...Dinara Safina (2-0)
2...Vera Zvonareva (1-1)






DUBAI, UAE (Premiere $2m-Hard Outdoor)
08 Final: Dementieva d. Kuznetsova
09 Top Seeds: S.Williams/Safina
=============================

=QF=
S.Williams d. Ivanovic
Dementieva d. V.Williams
Jankovic d. Cibulkova
Safina d. Zvonareva

=SF=
Dementieva d. S.Williams
Safina d. Jankovic

=FINAL=
Safina d. Dementieva

...the "show" goes on, with the "truth" bearing down over the entire event. The Williams sisters could meet in the SF, but Serena's knee is a question mark. The safer pick is to go with two Russians to once again meet in the final... but it'd be interesting to see "essential WTA spokeswoman" Venus win this thing just to see what she might say about the whole Peer incident when she's handed the microphone after what could very well -- but probably won't be -- the tour's final match in the UAE.


MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE USA (Int'l $220K-Hard Indoor)
08 Final: Davenport d. Govortsova
09 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Azarenka
=============================

=SF=
Dokic (Q) d. Keothavong
Azarenka d. Safarova

=FINAL=
Azarenka d. Dokic (Q)

...we'll see if Dokic's great run of results can continue, as she'll open up with a 1st Round meeting against the player against whom she scored maybe her biggest win in Melbourne -- #1-seed Wozniacki.


BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (Int'l $220K-Red Clay)
08 Final: Llagostera-Vives d. Salerni
09 Top Seeds: Pennetta/Suarez-Navarro
=============================

=SF=
Pennetta d. Dulko
Suarez-Navarro d. Llagostera-Vives

=FINAL=
Pennetta d. Suarez-Navarro

...oh, no. A clay event. I haven't missed the coming migraines. I'll go with Pennetta again, even though she's the most unreliable pick there is when it comes to these things.


All for now.



17 Comments:

Blogger xyz1903319 said...

I really hope the Dubai tournament get dropped off the calendar as well as the atp's. I'm not Jew but it's really unfair.

Shahar could have won the first round, Anna C wasn't in good shape.

Tue Feb 17, 04:02:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Tennis Channel has decided to boycott its coverage of the Dubai event. I doubt if that'll have any effect whatsoever on anything (as far as the WTA or future visa considerations are concerned), but it's a nice symbolic act of support, though.

Tue Feb 17, 10:39:00 AM EST  
Blogger dearg said...

The Big Kahuna of Media, News Corp which owns Dow Jones & company.
It's newspaper The Wall Street Journal has dropped its sponsorship of the Dubai Championship.
News Corp runs SKY TV, DTV cablevision, etc.

http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/news.html?d=159771

Tue Feb 17, 04:42:00 PM EST  
Blogger xyz1903319 said...

$300k is a joke for a country like the uae.

Todd, do you watch american idol?

Sun Feb 22, 12:40:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Uh, yeah. I watch "American Idol," though I'm almost afraid to ask why you're asking. :D

Mon Feb 23, 06:23:00 PM EST  
Blogger xyz1903319 said...

Because this year's format is really bad. I don't think Alexis got more votes than Anoop.

They promised more 'singing' this year, yet they've been more drama.

Some good contestants didn't get any air time before the semifinals. Not happy with that.

This year's seems uninteresting... Don't you think?

Tue Feb 24, 10:27:00 AM EST  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Yeah, they have swayed a little too much toward "reality TV stories" (Tatiana, Norman Gentle, etc.) over better singers, and I guess that's a byproduct of the new producer heading up the show. In the past, a few people who made it through to the SF didn't get shown at all before the live shows (Jason Castro, for one), and there isn't and never has been a good excuse for that to ever happen.

As far as the voting, Alexis might not have had more votes than Anoop. She was just the female singer with the most votes. It's possible she finished fourth in the voting, but since they're still doing the male/female thing in this case it a loophole that could cause some singers who got a lot of votes to not advance. Although as far as Anoop goes, I'm sure he'll make it through to the finals as a wild card pick by the judges, anyway (maybe Ricky Braddy, too).

The bigger question, of course, is whether Alexis Grace is a good clay court player. She seems like she'd be a Cibulkova-like scrambler. :)

Tue Feb 24, 11:46:00 AM EST  
Blogger xyz1903319 said...

I don't like the groupings as well.

Their master plan:
Danny in G1
Adam in G2
Lil in G3

Ratings boosters
Tatiana G1
Norman G2
Nathaniel G3

and Glamour, etc

Group 3 is the least-talented group! I can see 2 girls advance from that group.

Hope Ricky gets the wild card.

and, maybe you can write a blog about AI? :]

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